And Jean fought for France still, and already it seemed to them that the war was eternal. Twice —on two anniversaries since that terrible Saturday —they had raised trembling glasses to a photograph on the wall and pretended to be gay, and a third anniversary was approaching. " Be confident, be brave," he wrote to them; "we are going to win." But the thoughts that crowded on his little mother, in the dark, after she went to bed kept her awake for hours; and marking the change that the war had wrought in her, Picq's misgivings for his wife were sometimes hardly less acute than his anxieties for his boy. The laughing chambermaid, who had retained girlishness of disposition for two decades after girlhood was past, seemed to him all at once middle-aged. Ever the first formerly to propose trudging a long distance to save a train fare, she was now fatigued after an hour's stroll. By the time they came to Paris, too, she was subject to spells of some internal trouble, which the doctor had failed to banish permanently. There could be no question of her seeking an engagement.
" It is a shame, when the double salary would have been so nice," she repined, one evening. The trouble had recurred, and a new doctor had been no more definite than his predecessor. " We might have lived on my money, and put the whole of yours aside every week. It is a shame that you should have an invalid for a wife".
" An invalid ! " laughed Picq, affecting great amusement. " Now, is not that absurd ? To hear you talk, one would imagine it was some terrible malady, instead of a little derangement of the system that will pass and be forgotten. Very likely you will be in a show again before Jean's birthday. And it shall be a good part, also, parbleu! There are not so many stars available to-day that they can afford to put on an artist like you to flick the furniture with a feather-brush. Listen, Nanette, my best beloved, if it were anything serious that you had the matter with you, it would not right itself as it does from time to time—it would be always the same. The fact that you are sometimes as well as ever shows that it is nothing organic. Have not both doctors said so? Did not the other man tell us so again and again? "
She nodded, forcing a smile. Her smile was girlish still, and somehow it looked to him strangely poignant on her altered face. His gaze was blurred, as he muffled himself in his shabby cloak, and set forth through the sleet, to be the dashing hero. A child came towards him, calling papers, and he thought, " If only the news were that Germany sued for peace ! That would be the best medicine for her".
And on the morning before the birthday she was not " in a show again "; she was feeling so much worse that she clung to Picq, alarmed. Picq was alarmed, too, though he tried to hide it.
" Look here, I tell you what! " he exclaimed, in the most confident tone that he could summon. " We are going to call in a big man and get you cured without any more delay ! That's what we're going to do. This chap is too slow for me. I dare say his medicines might do the trick eventually, but it does not suit me to wait so long. No, it does not suit me. I am not going to see you worried like this while he potters about as if time were no object. We shall call in a big man and put an end to the nuisance at once. I wish to heaven I had done it before. I am going now. I am going to the chap's house to tell him plainly I am not content".
" Mais non, mais non! " demurred Nanette piteously. " It would cost such a lot, cheri— what are you thinking about ? I shall get all right without that. You mustn't take any notice of me; I am a coward—I have never been used to feeling ill, you see—but I shall get all right without that".
" I care nothing what it costs. That is my intention," declared Picq. " And it will not cost such a great sum either. Anyhow, whether it is forty francs or five hundred, my mind is made up. I am going to him this moment to tell him I want the highest authority in Paris. Now, be tranquil, mignonne. Try to sleep. We have chosen the shortest course at last—we were bien betes not to take it at the start—and in a week at the outside you will be yourself again".
Never in her life had Nanette contemplated spending forty francs all at once on a physician. She knew she would be unable to sleep for the awfulness of such expense. But, if his prescription cured her promptly and she could earn a salary again soon- " What a weight I have become to thee, my little husband ! " she faltered, stroking his hand.
" Hush! Thou wilt sleep while I am away, pauvrette? " asked Picq tenderly.
She closed her eyes, smiling—to lie and grieve over the " weight she had become to him " when he had gone; and Picq went apace to the doctor's.
When the motive for the inopportune call was explained, the doctor evidently resented the suggestion that his own treatment of the patient could be bettered.
"Another opinion, monsieur? Parfaitement— if you desire it." His shrug was eloquent. " But your wife has only to continue with the medicine I have prescribed-"
" She has continued," stammered Picq; " she has continued. There it is—she has continued for a long time. I grow anxious. No doubt it is unreasonable of me, but-" Truth to tell, the veteran of the boards, who faced a crowded auditorium without a tremor, found himself nervous in the room of the dignified practitioner.
" One must not expect miracles. I am not a magician. In such cases-"
" Mais enfin, another opinion would ease my mind. If you would do me the great kindness to indicate a specialist, monsieur—the best? Such a one as you would recommend if it were—I do not know what it could be, I; but such a one as you would recommend if you feared something grave? I should be thankful. I know nothing of these things. If you would be so very kind as to communicate with someone for me-" He withdrew, after five minutes, clumsily, relieved to be able to tell Nanette that, with luck, they might receive a visit from a specialist on the morrow.