" Where is she now, this madame Gaillard ? " inquired the Directrice coldly.
" I do not know," said Marie. And then, recognising the lameness of the reply, she burst forth into a torrent of details to corroborate the story.
Her voice, more than the details, carried conviction to the listener. After a long pause she said :
" Mademoiselle, I believe you have done a generous thing." The thief winced. " But it was an imprudent thing, a thing that you could not afford to do. I do not speak of your intention to maintain the child—may le bon Dieu aid you in the endeavour ! But you did wrong to bring it to Chauville. You should not expose yourself to calumny. I counsel you most earnestly to place the child somewhere else without delay".
" Madame, it is my duty to have him under my own eyes," she urged. " Apart from me, he might be starved, beaten, corrupted—my friend's boy might be reared as an apache. How could I know ? I should risk it all. It would be inhuman of me".
" I think you over-estimate the dangers," sighed madame Herbelin. " In fine, if you put the boy away from you, it is possible he may suffer. But if you keep him near you, it is certain you will suffer. I cannot say more".
" J must suffer," answered Marie.
A permanent home for him, not far from the rue Lecomte, was found at a bonneterie, whose humble little window contained Communion caps, and the announcement " Piqures a la Machine".
To have had him in her lodging would have cost her less. But this child that dishonoured her must be covert from the jeunes filles that she hoped would come there; and if she had to give lessons out, she could not leave him there alone.
She did have to give lessons out. It was a descent for her here to go to the pupils' houses, but she was compelled to do it. And something bitterer—she was compelled to accept a lowered fee, and affect to be unconscious why a reduction was proposed. To obtain the services of a " belle musicienne " for a trifle, there were a few mothers who engaged her, and replied to questioning relatives that she was a " slandered woman." But to her they did not say that she was slandered, and their hard eyes were an insult.
She gave a lesson twice a week for twenty francs a month now, mademoiselle Marie Lamande, who had advertised recitals in Paris, and she went short of food, to meet the charges at the bonneterie. The boy seemed to be amply nourished, and the remembrance sustained her on the days when she was dinnerless.
God ! for a chance to get away, to be free of this place, where it was an ordeal to tread the streets. When she could afford to buy a postage stamp she applied for salaried work in some distant school. Once it looked as if the child were not to live; and as she sat, obeying orders, through one endless night, she knew, before she fainted from exhaustion, that if he died, her own escape from Chauville would be made by the same road.
But he recovered—thanks partially to her—and her duty still had to be done.
He recovered, and, as time passed, began to talk like other children on the doorsteps. She recalled the refinement of his mother, and the little child in a black blouse, shrilling kitchen French, avenged himself unknowingly. " As often as we ever meet, when the boy I robbed is a poor, big, common man," she thought, " every note of his voice will be a chastisement! "
Before she accomplished her release, she bore in Chauville-le-Vieux a three-years' martyrdom.
Madame Herbelin had consented to testify to her abilities, and she went far away, to a school at Ivry-St.-Hilaire. She had pleaded that, in the letter of recommendation, she might be referred to as " madame" Lamande, but this entreaty the Directrice would not grant.
" Mademoiselle," she said, " I cannot do it for you; and if you are wise, there is no need. Remember what I told you when you returned, and be guided by me this time. Do not repeat there the blunder that you made here. Leave the child where he is; you have tested the person and you know she is honest. Occasionally, once a year, you can afford to come and see him. If you take him with you, you will not gain much by your removal. Of course, at Ivry-St.-Hilaire your parentage is unknown and there is nothing to hinder you from inventing a relationship; but it isn't worth the trouble—believe me, you would be suspected just the same. Make the most of this opportunity; go unencumbered—do not live your whole life in shadow for the sake of an ideal".
But her conscience would not allow her to see him only once a year, nor to leave him to play on the doorstep, and attend the École Communale. In view of a constant salary, she already foresaw herself alleviating his plight. She was resigned to live her life in shadow, that she might yield a little sunshine to him.
So, when she had sacrificed herself again, madame la Directrice thought : " She is strangely devoted to the child. I wonder if I was wrong to befriend her—perhaps she is a bad woman, after all ! "
She did not venture to take the boy with her, however. She was more than three months at Ivry before her furtive arrangements for him were concluded. Then she placed him with priests twenty miles distant from her, in the Établissement des Frères Eudoxie at Maison-Verte. Small as the annual charges were, they were vast in relation to her salary. Till she succeeded, by slow degrees, in obtaining a few private pupils, her self-denial was severe.
But the little chap was in better hands now. And the woman had procured a respite from disdain. A tinge of colour crept back into her cheeks, and she faced the world less fearfully. By and by, when she could afford the fare, she went to the institution sometimes, on a Sunday, and walked with him in the cour, and noted that gradually his speech improved. As she could afford the fare but seldom, the intervals were long.
Paul looked forward to her rare visits. Some of the boys had visitors more frequently than he, pale women who came to walk beside them in the cour; and the boastful shout of " Ma mère ! " was often humiliating to Paul. He had been taught to call her " mademoiselle," but one Sunday, the child, in a triumphant cry, found his own name for her : " Mademoiselle ma mère est venue ! "