He was well aware that with the coming of this girl something unprecedented, wholly new to his experience, had befallen him—an awakening to a new life. He had been in love a very great many times. He was usually in love. And each time his heart had gone through the same sweet and bitter anguish, the same sleepless nights had come and gone upon him, the eternal and ever new miracle had wakened spring in his soul, had passed its summer solstice, had faded through autumnal regrets to winter’s death; but through it all something within him had waited asleep.
He found himself wondering dully what it was—wherein lay the great difference?—and he could not answer the question he asked. He knew only that whereas before he had loved, he now went down upon prayerful knees to worship. In a sudden poignant thrill the knightly fervor of his forefathers came upon him, and he saw a sweet and golden lady set far above him upon a throne. Her clear eyes gazed afar, serene and untroubled. She sat wrapped in a sort of virginal austerity, unaware of the base passions of men. The other women whom Ste. Marie had—as he was pleased to term it—loved had certainly come at least half-way to meet him, and some of them had come a good deal farther than that. He could not, by the wildest flight of imagination, conceive this girl doing anything of that sort. She was to be won by trial and high endeavor, by prayer and self-purification—not captured by a warm eye-glance, a whispered word, a laughing kiss. In fancy he looked from the crowding cohorts of these others to that still, sweet figure set on high, wrapped in virginal austerity, calm in her serene perfection, and his soul abased itself before her. He knelt in an awed and worshipful adoration.
So before quest or tournament or battle must those elder Ste. Maries—Ste. Maries de Mont-les-Roses—–have knelt, each knight at the feet of his lady, each knightly soul aglow with the chaste ardor of chivalry.
The man’s hands tightened upon the parapet of the bridge, he lifted his face again to the shining stars where-among, as his fancy had it, she sat enthroned. Exultingly he felt under his feet the rungs of the ladder, and in the darkness he swore a great oath to have done forever with blindness and grovelling, to climb and climb, forever to climb, until at last he should stand where she was—cleansed and made worthy by long endeavor—at last meet her eyes and touch her hand.
It was a fine and chivalric frenzy, and Ste. Marie was passionately in earnest about it, but his guardian angel—indeed, Fate herself—must have laughed a little in the dark, knowing what manner of man he was in less exalted hours.
It was an odd freak of memory that at last recalled him to earth. Every man knows that when a strong and, for the moment, unavailing effort has been made to recall something lost to mind, the memory, in some mysterious fashion, goes on working long after the attention has been elsewhere diverted, and sometimes hours afterward, or even days, produces quite suddenly and inappropriately the lost article. Ste. Marie had turned, with a little sigh, to take up, once more, his walk across the Pont des Invalides, when seemingly from nowhere, and certainly by no conscious effort, a name flashed into his mind. He said it aloud: