They gave her, at any rate, during the weeks that she wore them on her heart, sensations even more complex and delicate than Deering’s actual presence had ever occasioned. To be with him was always like breasting a bright, rough sea, that blinded while it buoyed her: but his letters formed a still pool of contemplation, above which she could bend, and see the reflection of the sky, and the myriad movements of life that flitted and gleamed below the surface. The wealth of his hidden life—that was what most surprised her! It was incredible to her now that she had had no inkling of it, but had kept on blindly along the narrow track of habit, like a traveler climbing a road in a fog, who suddenly finds himself on a sunlit crag between blue leagues of sky and dizzy depths of valley. And the odd thing was that all the people about her—the whole world of the Passy pension—were still plodding along the same dull path, preoccupied with the pebbles underfoot, and unconscious of the glory beyond the fog!
There were wild hours when she longed to cry out to them what one saw from the summit—and hours of tremulous abasement when she asked herself why her happy feet had been guided there, while others, no doubt as worthy, stumbled and blundered in obscurity. She felt, in particular, a sudden urgent pity for the two or three other girls at Mme. Clopin’s—girls older, duller, less alive than she, and by that very token more appealingly flung upon her sympathy. Would they ever know? Had they ever known?—those were the questions that haunted her as she crossed her companions on the stairs, faced them at the dinner-table, and listened to their poor, pining talk in the dim-lit slippery-seated salon. One ofthe girls was Swiss, the other English; the third, Andora Macy, was ayoung lady from the Southern States who was studying French with the ultimate object of imparting it to the inmates of a girls’ school at Macon, Georgia.
Andora Macy was pale, faded, immature. She had a drooping Southern accent, and a manner which fluctuated between arch audacity and fits of panicky hauteur. She yearned to be admired, and feared to be insulted; and yet seemed tragically conscious that she was destined to miss both these extremes of sensation, or to enjoy them only at second hand in the experiences of her more privileged friends.
It was perhaps for this reason that she took a wistful interest in Lizzie, who had shrunk from her at first, as the depressing image of her own probable future, but to whom she had now suddenly become an object of sentimental pity.
MISS MACY’s room was next to Miss West’s, and the Southerner’s knock often appealed to Lizzie’s hospitality when Mme. Clopin’s early curfew had driven her boarders from the salon. It sounded thus one evening just as Lizzie, tired from an unusually long day of tuition, was in the act of removing her dress. She was in too indulgent a mood to withhold her “Come in,” and as Miss Macy crossed the threshold, Lizzie felt that Vincent Deering’s first letter—the letter from the train—had slipped from her loosened bodice to the floor.