At last, when she realised that she had wrecked her peace of mind for nothing, when to cross the bridge was to eye the river longingly, she knew that she wasn't free to find oblivion like that. Restitution to the child would be impossible, but it was her destiny to support him. She wrote to madame Herbelin, in Chauville, appealing for influence to regain the footing that she had kicked away. Her bent face was wet and ugly as she detailed the story of her failure; she foresaw the greetings, tactful, but galling, of acquaintances, the half-veiled satisfaction of other music-mistresses in the town.
The reply that reached her made it evident that to recover the position would be a slow process. And her means to wait were limited.
Hitherto the acknowledgments from Amiens had varied but slightly : " The remittance had come; the baby was well," or " the baby had had some infantile ailment, and was better." Now, a partially illegible letter informed her suddenly that the little business was to be given up. Circumstances compelled the woman to take a situation again, and she could not keep the orphan in her care. It was explained that " Mademoiselle should arrange to remove him in a month's time".
Already stricken, she was stupefied by this news. It seemed to her the last blow that could be dealt. What was to be done? She marvelled that she had not contemplated the contingency. She had not contemplated it—at most, she had given it a passing glance. She had questioned, agonised, whether she could manage to maintain the payments regularly; she had asked herself what lay before her when the child was older and his needs increased; she had wondered, conscience-racked, how she was to bear her life; but for this new responsibility, hurled on her when she was broken, she had been unprepared.
"Remove him?" To what? She wasn't remaining in Paris; was she blindly to answer some advertisement before she left and leave a baby behind her here, helpless in hands that might misuse him? She shuddered. No; now that he would be at the mercy of a stranger, the place must be near enough for her to visit it—often and unexpectedly. She must find a place near Chauville.
But could she do it? However secretly she arranged, wasn't it sure to be known? What was she to say? It was a misfortune that she had written to madame Herbelin too fully to be able to assert now that she had married. What was she to say ? And who would credit what she said ?
Hourly, the craven in her faltered that there were hundreds of honest homes in Paris where he would be gently treated, where he would be as safe as he had been in Amiens. And always her better self cried out: " But you'd desert him without knowing that the home you had found was one of them ! "
For three weeks she cowered at the crossways. She did not love the little child that she had wronged, as she bore him back with her to Chauville. The journey was long, and he clung to her, whimpering, and she caressed him, white-faced and abject; but there was no love for him in her heart. The dusk, when they arrived, was welcome. She led him down the station steps, her head sunk low. In the street he cried to be carried, and she picked him up—submissive to her burden. She had had to sacrifice her reputation, or the child—and mademoiselle Lamande returned to her native town with a baby in her arms.
She had booked to the Gare du Marché, the station in the poorest quarter. A porter followed, trundling the luggage over the cobbles. In a narrow bed, under a skylight, the child and anxiety allowed her little sleep.
Before she could begin her search for work, it was imperative that she should find someone to shelter him, if only during the day; and in the morning she questioned a servant who was sweeping the stairs. The girl looked as if she had been picked from a dustbin, and clothed from a rag-bag, but, compared with English girls of her class, she had brilliant intelligence. She thought it probable that the woman at the épicerie across the road might be accommodating.
The woman at the épicerie was unable to arrange, but she suggested a concierge of her acquaintance " là bas." " Là bas " proved to be remote. Chauville had not changed. As of old, the door of the Église Ste. Clothilde was lost in its vast frame of funeral black; as of old, the insistent bell was dinning for the dead. The population was still concealed, except where a cortège of priests, and acolytes, and mourners wound their slow way with another coffin to the cemetery, Chauville's most animated spot.
As a makeshift, the concierge sufficed.
To gain an interview with madame Herbelin strained patience. But after the applicant had sat for a long while, with her feet on the sawdust of the salle d'attente, where an officer, and a marquise drooped resignedly, madame la Directrice told her : " It is a sad pity that you left the town." Marie could not remember that the busy woman said anything more valuable.
There was, however, another occasion. This time the lady said : " Mademoiselle, I knew you when you were a little girl, and I knew your parents, and I have regretted, more than you may suppose, that it was not in my power to offer you an appointment at the Lycée, in your emergency. But I have recently heard something about you that is very grave—something that I trust is not true".
" Madame," said Marie, trembling, " I can guess what you have heard, and it is not true. Only this is true—I have placed a child with a concierge in the rue Lecomte and go to see it there. It is the orphan of a woman who was my friend in Paris, a widow—we lived together".
Madame Herbelin did not speak.
" Madame Branthonne was killed in a railway accident, going to England," Marie went on; " she was a teacher in the Bernstein School. Her baby c had been left in Amiens, with a woman called Gaillard. A few weeks ago the woman wrote to me that she was going away, and was unable to keep the child any longer. I couldn't abandon it to the Assistance publique".