Indeed they knew nothing of Paris. During eighteen months it had lain beneath their gaze every hour of the day, yet they knew not a stone of it. Three times only had they gone down into the city; but on returning home, suffering from terrible headaches born of all the agitation they had witnessed, they could find in their minds no distinct memory of anything in all that huge maze of streets.
However, Jeanne at times proved obstinate. “Ah! you can tell me this!” said she: “What is that glass building which glitters there? It is so big you must know it.”
She was referring to the Palais de l’Industrie. Helene, however, hesitated.
“It’s a railway station,” said she. “No, I’m wrong, I think it is a theatre.”
Then she smiled and kissed Jeanne’s hair, at last confessing as before: “I do not know what it is, my love.”
So they continued to gaze on Paris, troubling no further to identify any part of it. It was very delightful to have it there before them, and yet to know nothing of it; it remained the vast and the unknown. It was as though they had halted on the threshold of a world which ever unrolled its panorama before them, but into which they were unwilling to descend. Paris often made them anxious when it wafted them a hot, disturbing atmosphere; but that morning it seemed gay and innocent, like a child, and from its mysterious depths only a breath of tenderness rose gently to their faces.
Helene took up her book again while Jeanne, clinging to her, still gazed upon the scene. In the dazzling, tranquil sky no breeze was stirring. The smoke from the Army Bakehouse ascended perpendicularly in light cloudlets which vanished far aloft. On a level with the houses passed vibrating waves of life, waves of all the life pent up there. The loud voices of the streets softened amidst the sunshine into a languid murmur. But all at once a flutter attracted Jeanne’s notice. A flock of white pigeons, freed from some adjacent dovecot, sped through the air in front of the window; with spreading wings like falling snow, the birds barred the line of view, hiding the immensity of Paris.
With eyes again dreamily gazing upward, Helene remained plunged in reverie. She was the Lady Rowena; she loved with the serenity and intensity of a noble mind. That spring morning, that great, gentle city, those early wall-flowers shedding their perfume on her lap, had little by little filled her heart with tenderness.
One morning Helene was arranging her little library, the various books of which had got out of order during the past few days, when Jeanne skipped into the room, clapping her hands.
“A soldier, mamma! a soldier!” she cried.
“What? a soldier?” exclaimed her mother. “What do you want, you and your soldier?”