Sarah would watch. Then, without a word, she would slip from her seat, and, walking solemnly, rather haughtily, would join some group of children. Day after day the same children came to the gardens, and they all of them knew Sarah by now. Hortense, in her turn also, sitting, stiff and superior, would watch. She would see Sarah’s pleasant approach, her smile, her amiability. Very soon, however, there would be trouble—some child would cry out; there would be blows; nurses would run forward, scoldings, protests, captives led away weeping ... and then Sarah would return slowly to her seat, her gaze aloof, cynical, remote. She would carefully explain to Hortense the reason of the uproar. She had done nothing—her conscience was clear. These silly little idiots. She would break into French, culled elaborately from Hortense, would end disdainfully—“mais, voilà,”—very old for her age.
Hortense was vicious, selfish, crude in her pursuit of pleasure, entirely unscrupulous, but, as the days passed, she was, in spite of herself, conscious of some half-acknowledged, half-decided terror of Sarah’s possibilities.
The child was eight years old. She was capable of anything; in her remote avoidance of any passion, any regret, any anticipated pleasure, any spontaneity, she was inhuman. Hortense thought that she detected in the chit’s mother something of her own fear.
There used to come to the gardens a little fat red-faced girl called Mary Kitson, the child of simple and ingenuous parents (her father was a writer of stories of adventure for boys’ papers); she was herself simple-minded, lethargic, unadventurous, and happily stupid. Walking one day slowly with Hortense down one of the garden paths, Sarah saw Mary Kitson engaged in talking to two dolls, seated on a bench with them, patting their clothes, very happy, her nurse busy over a novelette.
“I’ll sit here,” she said, walked across to the bench and sat down. Mary looked up from her dolls, and then, nervously and self-consciously, went back to her play. Sarah stared straight before her.
Hortense amiably endeavoured to draw the nurse into conversation.
“You ’ave ’ere ze fine gardens,” she said. “It calls to mind my own Paris. Ah, the gardens in Paris!”
But the nurse had been taught to distrust all foreigners, and her views of Paris were coloured by her reading. She admired Hortense’s clothes, but distrusted her advances.
She buried herself even more deeply in the paper. Poor Mary Kitson, alas! found that, in some undefinable manner, the glory had departed from her dolls. Adrian and Emily were, of a sudden, glassy and lumpy abstractions of sawdust and china. Very timidly she raised her large, stupid eyes and regarded Sarah. Sarah returned the glance and smiled. Then she came close to Mary.
“It’s better under there,” she said, pointing to the shade of a friendly tree.