“Oh, Mrs. Molyneux,” I cried, “if there be love like that in the world, then—”
The door opened and Castleman entered.
“If you please, sir, the carriage is at the door.”
The rain gradually ceased falling as we drove onward and upward to the station. It stood on high ground, overlooking a wide sweep of downland and fallow, bordered towards the west by close-set woodlands, purple that evening against a sky of limpid gold, which the storm-clouds discovered as they lifted.
I had not long to wait, for, punctual to its time, the train steamed into the station. From that part of the train to which I first looked, four or five passengers stepped out; not one of them certainly the lady that I waited for. Glancing from side to side I saw, standing at the far end of the platform, two women; one of them was tall; could this be Mrs. de Noel? And yet no, I reflected as I went towards them, for she held a baby in her arms—a baby moreover swathed, not in white and laces, but in a tattered and discoloured shawl: while her companion, lifting out baskets and bundles from a third-class carriage, was poorly and evenly miserably clad. But again, as I drew nearer, I observed that the long fine hand which supported the child was delicately gloved, and that the cloak which swung back from the encircling arm was lined and bordered with very costly fur. This and something in the whole outline—
“Mrs. de Noel?” I murmured inquiringly.
Then she turned towards me, and I saw her, as I often see her now in dreams, against that sunset background of aerial gold which the artist of circumstance had painted behind her, like a new Madonna, holding the child of poverty to her heart, pressing her cheek against its tiny head with a gesture whose exquisite tenderness, for at least that fleeting instant, seemed to bridge across the gulf which still yawns between Dives and Lazarus. So standing, she looked at me with two soft brown eyes, neither large nor beautiful, but in their outlook direct and simple as a child’s. Remembering as I met them what Mrs. Molyneux had said, I saw and comprehended as well what she meant. Benevolence is but faintly inscribed, on the faces of most men, even of the better sort. “I will love you, my neighbour,” we thereon decipher, “when I have attended to my own business, in the first place; if you are lovable, or at least likeable, in the second.” But in the transparent gaze that Cecilia de Noel turned upon her fellows beamed love poured forth without stint and without condition. It was as if every man, woman, and child who approached her became instantly to her more interesting than herself, their defects more tolerable, their wants more imperative, their sorrows more moving than her own. In this lay the source of that mysterious charm so many have felt, so few have understood, and