The boy paused.
“Was that all, Dominique?”
“No, not all.”
“’Let us make friends with
(I am so lonely.)
Give me your hand, I will hold it.
(I have no home.)
Let us go hunting together.
(I am so lonely.)
We will sleep at God’s camp to-night.
(I have no home.)’”
Dominique did not sing, but recited the words with a sort of chanting inflection.
“What does it mean when you hear a voice like that, father?”
“I don’t know. Who told—your mother—the song?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I suppose she just made them up—she and God.... There! There it is again? Don’t you hear it—don’t you hear it, daddy?”
“No, Dominique, it’s only the kettle singing.”
“A kettle isn’t a voice. Daddy—” He paused a little, then went on, hesitatingly: “I saw a white swan fly through the door over your shoulder when you came in to-night.”
“No, no, Dominique, it was a flurry of snow blowing over my shoulder.”
“But it looked at me with two shining eyes.”
“That was two stars shining through the door, my son.”
“How could there be snow flying and stars shining, too, father?”
“It was just drift-snow on a light wind, but the stars were shining above, Dominique.”
The man’s voice was anxious and unconvincing, his eyes had a hungry, haunted look. The legend of the White Swan had to do with the passing of a human soul. The Swan had come in—would it go out alone? He touched the boy’s hand—it was hot with fever; he felt the pulse—it ran high; he watched the face—it had a glowing light. Something stirred within him, and passed like a wave to the farthest course of his being. Through his misery he had touched the garment of the Master of Souls. As though a voice said to him there, “Some one hath touched me,” he got to his feet, and, with a sudden blind humility, lit two candles, and placed them on a shelf in a corner before a porcelain figure of the Virgin, as he had seen his wife do. Then he picked a small handful of fresh spruce twigs from a branch over the chimney, and laid them beside the candles. After a short pause he came slowly to the head of the boy’s bed. Very solemnly he touched the foot of the Christ on the cross with the tips of his fingers, and brought them to his lips with an indescribable reverence. After a moment, standing with eyes fixed on the face of the crucified figure, he said, in a shaking voice:
“Pardon, bon Jesu! Sauves mon enfant! Ne me laissez pas seul!”
The boy looked up with eyes again grown unnaturally heavy, and said:
“Amen!... Bon Jesu!... Encore! Encore, mon pere!”
The boy slept. The father stood still by the bed for a time, but at last slowly turned and went toward the fire.