She had to save him. When her mind cleared, she thought only of that. Since it was impossible to plead to Paul, she must plead to the woman. She would find out where she lived; she would say- In imagining herself in the presence of such a woman, she was as timorous as a child. She would say—what ? The wildness of the notion overwhelmed her. Suddenly she felt that she could say nothing, that she would be tongue-tied, a sight for ridicule.
But she must save Paul!
She was two days in Paris before she obtained the address; and she was no less amazing to the wanton than was the wanton to the spinster. From different worlds they marvelled at each other across a hearthrug. She said :
" He is not my son, but he is as^lear to me as if he were; indeed, the sons of many women are far less to them, I think, than he to me. I worked for him when he was a baby. Since he has been a man, he has meant the only interest in my life; it has been a wretched failure of a life—the one hope left in it is to see him succeed. Madame, his career is in your hands. I entreat you to be merciful—I beg it of you on my knees. I don't pretend to judge your feelings for him, but if you care for him really and deeply, do what you know is right for the man you love—make a memory for yourself that you'll be proud of. You're beautiful now, and young, and you don't take some things very earnestly, but one day, when you're older and memories are all you've got, a noble remembrance will be sweet. You'll say to yourself: ' I saved a man from ruining his future, I saved a woman from breaking her heart.' "
After her curiosity in the alien was exhausted, the beauty rang the bell, and said:
" What kind of a fool are you to have imagined I should give up a man I liked, because a stranger asked me to? It's about the silliest idea I ever heard of".
And then she herself did something sillier. She told Paul what had happened, mimicking the suppliant's sorrow, and jeering at her prayer. The man read into the scene the pathos that the jeerer missed, and he saw that the woman he had idealised lacked the grace of pity.
Later, when success came to him, there was no domestic tragedy darkening the home behind it, and he had owed to mademoiselle a timely rent in the veil of his illusion.
She was teaching at Ivry still when his success came. For weeks she had known by his letters, and the papers, that his new book had made a reputation for him, but one morning she heard that it was " making him rich." The hard times were over for them both, he wrote. There was to be no more labour for her, no more loneliness; they were to live together in a little appartement in Passy. She was to rest, " with flowers in the window, and her hands in her lap—he was coming to carry her away".
The letter quivered as she read it, and she put it down, in fright. The secret that had smouldered while she toiled for him, while she worked to keep herself, flared menace now that he proposed to keep her. She dared not accept her comfort of his ignorance. She saw herself as a cheat who had hidden her sin, a hypocrite who had taken gratitude to which she had no claim. Now he must be told. The confession that had terrorised her all her life could be escaped no longer; the day of her Calvary was here.
At every step in the street she shuddered, though it was not till evening that he was due. She clasped him, crying with pride and fear, when he strode in. He rattled gaily of things triumphant, things too difficult to-day for her to understand. She thanked God that it was twilight and he couldn't clearly see her face. She crept away from him and bowed her head. The young man looked forward. The old woman looked back.
In the twilight her confession came at last—in the twilight, his reverent knowledge of his boundless debt.
" But I have loved you," she sobbed. " At the beginning you were my punishment, but then I loved you ! "
" You have borne want for me, and contempt. I have taken your youth from you, and your happiness and your strength." He went to her, and knelt, and kissed the trembling hands. " How I love you," he cried, " mademoiselle ma mère ! "