At table Jeanne plagued her mother with questions. Where had she been? what had she been about? However, as the answers she received proved somewhat curt, she began to amuse herself by giving a little dinner. Her doll was perched near her on a chair, and in a sisterly fashion she placed half of her dessert before it.
“Now, mademoiselle, you must eat like a lady. See, wipe your mouth. Oh, the dirty little thing! She doesn’t even know how to wear her napkin! There, you’re nice now. See, here is a biscuit. What do you say? You want some preserve on it. Well, I should think it better as it is! Let me pare you a quarter of this apple!”
She placed the doll’s share on the chair. But when she had emptied her own plate she took the dainties back again one after the other and devoured them, speaking all the time as though she were the doll.
“Oh! it’s delicious! I’ve never eaten such nice jam! Where did you get this jam, madame? I shall tell my husband to buy a pot of it. Do those beautiful apples come from your garden, madame?”
She fell asleep while thus playing, and stumbled into the bedroom with the doll in her arms. She had given herself no rest since morning. Her little legs could no longer sustain her—she was helpless and wearied to death. However, a ripple of laughter passed over her face even in sleep; in her dreams she must have been still continuing her play.
At last Helene was alone in her room. With closed doors she spent a miserable evening beside the dead fire. Her will was failing her; thoughts that found no utterance were stirring within the innermost recesses of her heart. At midnight she wearily sought her bed, but there her torture passed endurance. She dozed, she tossed from side to side as though a fire were beneath her. She was haunted by visions which sleeplessness enlarged to a gigantic size. Then an idea took root in her brain. In vain did she strive to banish it; it clung to her, surged and clutched her at the throat till it entirely swayed her. About two o’clock she rose, rigid, pallid, and resolute as a somnambulist, and having again lighted the lamp she wrote a letter in a disguised hand; it was a vague denunciation, a note of three lines, requesting Doctor Deberle to repair that day to such a place at such an hour; there was no explanation, no signature. She sealed the envelope and dropped the letter into the pocket of her dress which was hanging over an arm-chair. Then returning to bed, she immediately closed her eyes, and in a few minutes was lying there breathless, overpowered by leaden slumber.
It was nearly nine o’clock the next morning before Rosalie was able to serve the coffee. Helene had risen late. She was weary and pale with the nightmare that had broken her rest. She rummaged in the pocket of her dress, felt the letter there, pressed it to the very bottom, and sat down at the table without opening her lips. Jeanne too was suffering from headache, and had a pale, troubled face. She quitted her bed regretfully that morning, without any heart to indulge in play. There was a sooty color in the sky, and a dim light saddened the room, while from time to time sudden downpours of rain beat against the windows.