Our room was many-windowed, and no matter how high Karl piled the logs, nor how close we sat to the flames, our backs never felt really warm. It was only when night had fallen and the outside shutters were firmly closed that the thermometer suspended near the chimney-piece grudgingly consented to record temperate heat.
[Illustration: A Lapful of Warmth]
But there was at least one snug chamber in Versailles, and that was the room of the Red-Cross prisoners. However extravagant the degrees of frost registered without, the boys’ sick-room was always pleasantly warm. How the good Soeur, who was on duty all day, managed to regulate the heat throughout the night-watches was her secret. A half-waking boy might catch a glimpse of her, apparently robed as by day, stealing out of the room; but so noiseless were her movements, that neither of the invalids ever saw her stealing in. They had a secret theory that in her own little apartment, which was just beyond theirs, the Soeur, garbed, hooded, and wearing rosary and the knotted rope of her Order, passed her nights in devotion. Certain it was that even the most glacial of weathers did not once avail to prevent her attending the Mass that was held at Notre Dame each morning before daybreak.
[Illustration: The Daily Round]
Frost-flowers dulled the inner glories of the shop windows with their unwelcome decoration. Even in the square on market mornings business flagged. The country folks, chilled by their cold drive to town, cowered, muffled in thick wraps, over their little charcoal stoves, lacking energy to call attention to their wares. The sage with the onions was absent, but the pretty girl in the red hood held her accustomed place, warming mittened fingers at a chaufferette which she held on her lap. The only person who gave no outward sign of misery was the boulangere who, harnessed to her heavy hand-cart, toiled unflinchingly on her rounds.
In the streets the comely little bourgeoises hid their plump shoulders under ugly black knitted capes, and concealed their neat hands in clumsy worsted gloves. But despite the rigour of the atmosphere their heads, with the hair neatly dressed a la Chinoise, remained uncovered. It struck our unaccustomed eyes oddly to see these girls thus exposed, standing on the pavement in the teeth of some icy blast, talking to stalwart soldier friends, whose noses were their only visible feature.
[Illustration: Three Babes and a Bonne]
The ladies of Versailles give a thought to their waists, but they leave their ankles to Providence, and any one having experience of Versailles winter streets can fully sympathise with their trust; for even in dry sunny weather mud seems a spontaneous production that renders goloshes a necessity. And when frost holds the high-standing city in its frigid grasp the extreme cold forbids any idea of coquetry, and thickly lined boots with cloth uppers—a species of foot-gear that in grace of outline is decidedly suggestive of “arctics”—become the only comfortable wear.