‘You have no child, madame?’ she asked me.
‘No,’ I said. ‘How I envy you!’
‘You need not,’ she observed, with a touch of hardness. ’I have been so unhappy, that I can never be as unhappy again. Nothing matters now. All I wish is to save enough money to be able to live quietly in a little cottage in the country.’
‘With your child,’ I put in.
’My child will grow up and leave me. He will become a man, and he will forget his petite mere.’
‘Do not talk like that,’ I protested.
She glanced at me almost savagely. I was astonished at the sudden change in her face.
‘Why not?’ she inquired coldly. ’Is it not true, then? Do you still believe that there is any difference between one man and another? They are all alike—all, all, all! I know. And it is we who suffer, we others.’
‘But surely you have some tender souvenir of your child’s father?’ I said.
‘Do I know who my child’s father is?’ she demanded. ’My child has thirty-six fathers!’
‘You seem very bitter,’ I said, ’for your age. You are much younger than I am.’
She smiled and shook her honey-coloured hair, and toyed with the ribbons of her peignoir.
‘What I say is true,’ she said gently. ’But, there, what would you have? We hate them, but we love them. They are beasts! beasts! but we cannot do without them!’
Her eyes rested on Diaz for a moment. He slept without the least sound, the stricken and futile witness of our confidences.
‘You will take him away from Paris soon, perhaps?’ she asked.
‘If I can,’ I said.
There was a sound of light footsteps on the stair. They stopped at the door, which I remembered we had not shut. I jumped up and went into the passage. Another girl stood in the doorway, in a peignoir the exact counterpart of my first visitor’s, but rose-coloured. And this one, too, was languorous and had honey-coloured locks. It was as though the mysterious house was full of such creatures, each with her secret lair.
‘Pardon, madame,’ said my visitor, following and passing me; and then to the newcomer: ‘What is it, Alice?’
‘It is Monsieur Duchatel who is arrived.’
‘Oh!’ with a disdainful gesture. ‘Je m’en fiche. Let him go.’
‘But it is the nephew, my dear; not the uncle.’
‘Ah, the nephew! I come. Bon soir, madams, et bonne nuit.’
The two peignoirs fluttered down the stairs together. I returned to my Diaz, and seeing his dressing-gown behind the door of the bedroom, I took it and covered him with it.
His first words were:
’Magda, you look like a ghost. Have you been sitting there like that all the time?’
‘No,’ I said; ‘I lay down.’
‘By your side.’