Then I closed it softly after me, on so much suffering and so much love.
ONE HUNDRED AND SECOND CHAPTER
The sun was shining in the street. It was one of those clear, clean, frosty mornings when the very air of London, even in the worst places, seems to be washed by the sunlight from the sin and drink of the night before.
I was on my way to that church among the mews of Mayfair to which I had gone so frequently during the early days of my marriage when I was struggling against the mortal sin (as I thought it was) of loving Martin.
Just as I reached the church and was ascending the steps, a gorgeous landau with high-stepping horses and a powdered footman drew up at the bottom of them.
The carriage, which bore a coronet on the door, contained a lady in long furs, a rosy-faced baby-girl in squirrel skins with a large doll in her arms, and a nurse.
I could see that, like myself, the lady (a young mother) had come to confess, for as she rose from her seat she told the child to sit quiet and be good and she would not keep her long.
“Tum out soon, mummy, and dolly will lub you eber and eber,” said the child.
The lady stooped and kissed the little one, and then, with a proud and happy look, stepped out of the carriage and passed into the church, while the door-keeper opened the vestibule door for her and bowed deeply.
I stood at the top of the steps for a moment looking back at the carriage, the horses, the footman, the nurse, and, above all, the baby-girl with her doll, and then followed the lady into the church.
Apparently mass was just over. Little spirelets of smoke were rising from the candles on the altar which the sacristan was putting out, a few communicants were still on their knees, and others with light yet echoing footsteps were making for the door.
The lady in furs had already taken her place at one of the confessional boxes, and as there seemed to be no other that was occupied by a priest, I knelt on a chair in the nave and tried to fix my mind on the prayers (once so familiar) for the examination of conscience before confession:
“Oh, Lord Jesus Christ, dispel the darkness of my heart, that I may bewail my sins and rightly confess them.”
But the labouring of my spirit was like the flight of a bat in the daylight. Though I tried hard to keep my mind from wandering, I could not do so. Again and again it went back to the lady in furs with the coroneted carriage and the high-stepping horses.
She was about my own age, and she began to rise before my tightly closed eyes as a vision of what I might have been myself if I had not given up everything for love—wealth, rank, title, luxury.
God is my witness that down to that moment I had never once thought I had made any sacrifice, but now, as by a flash of cruel lightning, I saw myself as I was—a peeress who had run away from her natural condition and was living in the slums, working like any other work-girl.