The question persisted, as she tramped the streets despondently—as daily she drew nearer to defeat. She had discontinued to hire a piano. Everywhere she was humbled with the same reply, banished with the same gestures, maddened by the same callous unconcern. Paris was brutal! She dropped in her purse the last louis that protracted hope. When this was gone, there would be left nothing but the price of her journey to Chauville and despair.
In the first drawing of the lottery, a few days later, the ticket won a prize of twelve thousand francs.
In a crumpled copy of Le Petit Journal, in the cremerie, she read of the drawing, by chance—not having remembered for what date it was announced. And she took a copy of the paper home with her— having forgotten the number of the ticket that she had bought. And when the revelation came to her, there was, blent with her thanksgiving for the child's sake, the human, bitter consciousness that, had she rashly suggested it, half the chance might have been hers. She might have stood here to-night on the threshold of success. So simple it would have been ! The knowledge was a taunt. She felt that Fate had robbed and derided her; she felt poor, as she had never felt poor before. . . .
The thought floated across her mind impersonally. It brought no shock, because it did not present itself as a temptation, even the faintest; it was just as if she had been recognising what somebody in a tale might do. Without purpose, without questioning why the thought fascinated her, she sat seeing how easily she could steal the money.
The ticket was on the table; there was nothing to show that she hadn't any right to it—she had merely to claim the prize. There would be a fortnight's delay, at least, before she got it. Well, she could eke out the sum that was put by for her fare. She imagined her sensations on the morning that she walked from the bank with notes for twelve thousand francs in her pocket. If her pocket were picked ! Yielding even more intently to the thought, she perceived that the proper course would be to open an account before she left. ... It wouldn't be twelve thousand francs—a substantial sum would be deducted for les droits des pauvres. But it would be enough—the price of power ! The thought leapt further. She saw herself, gorgeously gowned, on a platform—heard the very piece that she was playing, the plaudits that came thundering; she trembled in the emotion of a visionary fame.
Recalling her, there sounded, in the dark emptiness again, the minor jangle of a cab-horse bell.
Then she understood. It had been no idle supposition, the thought that mastered her. " O divine Vierge Marie ! " she wailed on her knees, and knew that she wanted to be a thief.
Through the night, through the morrow, through every waking moment, a voice was saying to her : " You won't be robbing a child; you can do for it all that She did—every month, just the same thing. Long before the child is old enough to need so large a sum you will be in a position to give it to him. What will he have lost? Nothing. You are terrified by the semblance of a sin; it is not a sin really. Dare it, dare it, be bold ! "
Nothing could quell the voice. It was whispering while she prayed. And the crashing of orchestras could not drown it, when she fled to music for relief.
She learnt that the woman in Amiens was called Gaillard, and had a shop in the rue Puteaux. But now she shrank from writing to her—she didn't know how she meant to act. Once, in desperation, she did begin a letter, an avowal of the prize that had been drawn; but she hesitated again.
There was an evening when, with steps that wavered, like a woman enfeebled by illness, she packed her things to return to Chauville. . . . She sat wide-eyed, staring at the trunk.
When she had dragged the things frantically out, she wrote to Amiens, making herself responsible for the monthly payments. " All that his mother did I will do ! " she wrote, feeling less criminal for the phrase. And then one morning, tortured, she caught the express to the town to see that all was well. The place was small and poor; and though the baby looked well cared for, and the young woman and her husband seemed kind, the visit was horrible to her. Next day she spent some of the stolen money on a baby's bonnet and pelisse. And as the quality of the gift suggested means, she received, before the date for her second remittance, a scrawl declaring that the cost of provisions had risen dreadfully, and asking for twenty francs a month more.
" Recital donne par Mademoiselle Marie Lamande." A blue-and-white poster, with her name staring Paris in the face. The time came when she saw one on a wall, and stopped, thrilling at it in the rain. A week afterwards she saw one on a wall again, and passed it with a sigh, remembering the half-empty salle, and the cheques that she had drawn.
" Patience, mademoiselle, patience. An artist does not arrive in a day; one must persevere." There were plenty of persons to give her encouragement now that it might be advantageous to them.
But the expense of her debut was a warning, and she proceeded slowly. Though they made her feel very shy and cowardly, she did not succumb to the arguments of vehement people who offered " opportunities the most exceptional " at a big price, and whose attitudes of amazement implied that she must be brainless to decline. She did not waste money in bettering her abode. She did not, when she had given a recital again, continue to imagine that the prize had provided a sum abundant for her purpose.
The knowledge obsessed her that she owed this money, that one day she was to repay it. For a year she told herself, " The road is harder than I thought, but I shall reach the end of it in time ! " During the second year she struggled in a panic, while the money was melting, melting without result.
To adventure a concert meant such wearisome, such overwhelming preparation. And within a week it was as if it had never been—she was again forgotten. But she saw a little chorus-girl, who had done something more than ordinarily immodest, launch herself into celebrity in a night.