The Faith by G. Ranger Wormser

The great lady fingered the pearls that circled her throat.

"Quite true," she murmured, and a smile crept up about the corners of her lips and lingered there. "Really, surprisingly true."

The woman with the white hair and the heavily lidded eyes bent a bit lower over her charts of stars and constellations.

"This year"—she went on in that low, undecided voice of hers—"this year Madame has had a big sorrow. It was the loss to Madame of a young man. He was tall and fair like Madame, but he had not Madame's eyes. He had courage, Madame, and a soft voice; always a soft voice. He went on, this young one, with his courage. The son of Madame died in the early Spring."

The great lady's hands dropped into her lap and clinched there: the knuckles showing white and round as her fingers strained against each other. Her eyes stared hard at the cracked walls; up over the low ceiling, toward the back of the small room that was divided off from the kitchen by a loose-hung plush curtain; out through the one window which gave on to the street. She could just see the heads of people who were passing and the faint, gray shadows of the late evening that were reaching in dark spots up along the rough, white walls of the house opposite. Her eyes came dazedly back to the room and the chairs and the table before which she sat. Two giant tears trickled down her cheeks. The smile was wiped from off her mouth.

The woman with the white hair had waited.

"There is another here. He is perhaps a little older than the one who died. He has not that one's courage. He is very careful of all the small things; like his clothes and his cigarettes and his affections. The big things he has never known. His eyes are like the eyes of Madame. Madame has this son in the war now."

"No—no!" The great lady leaned across the table. "Don't tell me—not that he—I couldn't bear it! Not—both—of—them!"

The woman with the white hair looked up quite suddenly from her charts of stars and constellations. A pitying quiver shook over her face.

"You need have no fear, Madame. He is not ready. It is a wound. It is not a wound that gives death."

The great lady fingered her pearls again.

"You—you quite carried me away. For a moment you startled me."

"I regret it, Madame. Perhaps I should not have said anything."

"Of course you should have. I told you that when I came in, didn't I? I said I wanted to hear everything. Everything you could tell me."

"Ah—yes, Madame."

"Is that all, now? You're certain that you've not forgotten anything?" And she pulled at her gold mesh bag, which was studded with sapphires.

"It is everything, Madame. Unless, perhaps, Madame has some question she would like to ask of me?"

The great lady drew her money out and tossed it on the table.

The woman with the white hair and those heavily lidded eyes did not touch it. The great lady got to her feet and started to the door. Quite suddenly she stopped.

"When—" She made an effort to steady her voice. "When will this thing—; this wound—come—?"

The woman with the white hair bent over the charts again. And then she caught up a pencil and made little signs on the yellow paper and drew a triangle through them and across them at the points.

"The fourth day of the second month from now, Madame."

The great lady came back to the table and stood there looking down.

"How do you do it?"

The woman with the white hair stared up in astonishment.

"Madame?"

The great lady's ringed fingers spread out, pale and taut at her sides. The jewels of the rings showed in dark, glistening stains against the white of her skin.

"What you've just told me—all of it. I don't see how you know—how you can know. It's true. I can't understand how it can be true. But it is. Every word of it."

The woman with the white hair fingered her pencil a bit wearily.

"But—of course, Madame."

"I came here;" the great lady spoke hurriedly. "I don't know why I came. Only I didn't think: I wouldn't have believed it possible. I couldn't tell you now why I came."

"There are many who come—these days."

"These days?"

"People would know more than they know of things they never thought of before, Madame—these days. They would follow a bit further after the lives that have been broken off so suddenly. They are impatient because they cannot see where they have never before looked and so they come to me because I have sat, staring into those places. They will see—all of them—soon. They are going on, further, because they must know. These days they must—know!"

The great lady stood quite still.

"You have a wonderful gift—wonderful."

"It is not mine, Madame."

The great lady's eyes went about the room.

"I'll be going," she said. "It's quite late."

Her eyes took in the cheap poverty of the mended carpet and the paint-scratched walls and the dingy-threaded, plush-covered chairs.

The woman with the white hair got to her feet.

"I know what you are thinking." Her voice was low. "If I can do this for others, you think, why should I not be able to do everything for myself? If I can tell to others, what may I not tell to myself? If I can give help to others, why can I not give help to myself?"

The silk of the great lady's dress gave out a faint rustle as she took a step back.

"No—" She murmured uncertainly.

"It is not 'No.'" The woman's voice trembled. "It is 'Yes.' It is what was going through your head—going around and around and fearing to be asked. But I will answer you. I will say that the power is not mine. It is the power that is given to me. It is not for myself. I do not want it for myself. I shall never touch it for myself, because it is meant for others. To help others and that is all."

"D'you mean you can't see things for yourself?"

The great lady was curious.

"But of course I can see. It is that which, sometimes—" The woman with the white hair broke off abruptly. "Do you know what it is to see and then to be able to do nothing—nothing? Not—one—thing—!"

"How can you?"

"I can, Madame, because that is what I am here for. It is by being nothing myself that this thing comes through me so that I can feel what other people are; what they are going to be. If I thought only of me, I would be so full of myself I could not think of anything else. It is from thinking a little bit beyond that the power first came. And now that I keep on thinking away from the nearest layer of thought, it works through me. And I can help. It is the wish of my life to help. It is what I am here for. Placed in the field. They told it to me—the voices. Put in the field,—by them."

The great lady shrugged her shoulders.

The woman with the white hair pulled herself up very suddenly. There was a quick, convulsive movement of her hands and for a short second her eyes closed. She went to the table and caught the money between her fingers and dragged it across the red cover to her.

"I thank Madame."

The great lady walked slowly to the door.

"Good-by. Perhaps some day I'll be back."

"Perhaps—Madame. Good-by."

The great lady went out of the room and closed the door behind her. The sound of her high-heeled footsteps tapped in sharp staccato down the uncarpeted stairs, and died away into the stillness. The long-drawn creak of rusty hinges and then the muffled thud of the front door swinging to. In the street the soft diminishing whirr of a motor grew fainter and was gone.

Silence.

The woman sank into a chair and buried her face between her two shaking hands.

Shadows crept up against the uncurtained window and pressed, quivering, against the pane. Shadows came into the room and stretched themselves along the floor. Shadows reached up across the wall and over the chairs and the table. Shadows spread in a gray, moving mass over the still figure of the woman.

A young girl came quickly and silently through the curtain that partitioned the room off from the kitchen.

"Maman—"

The woman did not move.

"I had not thought, Maman, that you were alone."

The woman slowly drew her face from out between her hands. She looked up uncertainly, her eyes only half open.

"Leave me, Angele."

"But, Maman, supper is ready."

"Let it wait, Angele."

The girl came over to the table and put her hand on the woman's shoulder.

"Was she then horrid, Maman?"

The woman sighed softly.

"It is not that, Angele. She was like the others. They come because they are curious. Something, perhaps, brings them here, but they do not know that. They are only curious. They do not believe. I tell them the truth. They are shocked for a little moment. They do not believe, Angele."

"Pauvre petite Maman, you are tired."

"Non, non, Angele."

"Will you have Jean see you tired, Maman?"

The woman stared up into the girl's small, white face that was dimmed with shifting shadows. The woman's heavily lidded eyes met the girl's wide, dark eyes.

"Jean—"

"He will be home to eat, Maman. Soon, now, he will be home."

The woman passed her hands again and again over her forehead and then she held them with the tips of her fingers pressed tight to her temples.

"He is such a child, Angele."

"Shall we have supper now?"

"Angele—"

"I will bring a light in here, Maman, and then when Jean is back we will go in to supper."

"He—is—such—a—child,—Angele."

"And never on time, Maman!"

The woman caught the girl's fingers between her own.

"Answer me, Angele. Answer me!"

The girl looked down in surprise.

"But what, Maman?"

The woman's breath came quickly.

"He is a child. Say that he is a baby. He is all that I have. You and he are all—everything! Say, Angele, that he is a child! Only yesterday, you remember—the long curls? The velvet suit? Surely it was yesterday. Say, Angele, that he—is—still—a—little—one."

The girl threw back her head and laughed. The shadows lay like long, dark fingers on the white of her throat.

"Of course. He is young—too young even now when they take the young. You have no need to worry, Maman. Maman—what is it?"

She had seen the sudden, far-away look in the woman's eyes.

She had seen her head stretch forward, the chin pointing, the mouth a little open.

"Maman—"

The woman's hand reached out in a gesture commanding silence.

"The voices," the woman whispered. "They have been after me the whole day. The voices. They—keep—coming—and—coming—to—me—I have not been able to think—for the voices—"

"Maman—"

"You say 'yes.' You are coming—nearer—nearer. No—I cannot see. But hear—Mais, it is good now! You speak distinctly. Of course I thank you for speaking so beautifully. You—say—you—want—want—"

"Petite Maman, you will make yourself ill with those old horoscopes and these voices. Petite Maman, have you not done enough for one day?"

The woman paid no attention to her. She did not seem to hear the girl. Her face was pale; there were faint, bluish smudges about her mouth and nostrils.

"You want—I cannot—cannot understand what you want. I'm trying to understand. I'm trying hard! If you will tell it to me again. And—slowly. With patience. It is better now. So that is it? More slowly,—if you can. Of course. Is it that you wish to know? Of—course—I—shall—give—you—what—you—want. I always give you what—you want. I do my best for that. You—want—"

The woman's eyes were closed. She was breathing deeply. Her whole figure was tense. The girl stood beside her, a puzzled, half incredulous look coming into her face.

"I—should—look. It does no—good—to—look. I can never see—Beyond the wood—I should look beyond.—What wood? Now? Is it perhaps that—you—mean—gate? Swings to and fro? Now—you—want—; this—moment—"

The door was flung wide open.

At the noise the woman slowly opened her eyes, staring blindly before her.

"You—want—" She murmured.

A boy stood in the doorway. He was slight and young. His face was small and rather like the girl's face, and his dark eyes were set far apart like her eyes. Through the gray of the massing shadows gleamed the brass buttons of his uniform.

The girl sprang forward.

"Jean—!"

"Maman." The boy came a step into the room. "See, Maman!"

"Hush, Jean." The girl turned to gaze at the woman sitting there with that stony, frozen stare, staying in her eyes.

"Maman, they have taken me at last!"

"Oh," for a second the girl forgot the woman. "But I am proud of you!"

"Maman, I wear the uniform. They will let me go now. I knew they would take me. Sooner or later; I knew they would have to! Aren't you glad?"

The girl remembered and interrupted him.

"Be still, Jean!"

The boy stood looking from one to the other, his eyes straining through the gloom.

"Maman," he whispered.

The woman's voice came trailing softly to them.

"They—want—"

"Maman;" the girl threw her arm protectingly over the woman's shoulders. "Jean is here. See, petite Maman; it is Jean. Your Jean."

The woman repeated the words in that gentle, plaintive singsong.

"They want—" and then she got to her feet. "Jean!—" Her voice rose shrilly crescendo. "It was that! My—Jean—"

"Maman;" the boy came and stood beside her. "You would not have me stay behind when they need me? You will be glad to have me go. Come, Maman, you must say that you are glad!"

"My little one—"

"Say, Maman, that you are glad."

"So young, Jean."

"But old enough to fight when they need me. Old enough to fight for France!"

"My baby—"

"You will not grieve, Maman."

She reached up and caught his face between her two hands and drew it down and kissed him on the mouth.

"Ah, Jean!"

"And say, how do I look?" He turned around and around in front of them. "But, Angele, fetch the lamp quickly. You cannot see in this dark. You cannot see me."

The girl laughed a bit uncertainly, and then she went quickly, rushing into the next room.

The woman gripped hold of the boy's hand. His fingers grasped hers.

"Petite Maman."

"Mon Jean—just—a—moment—still—so."

They stood there silent and very close to each other, in the room crowded with moving, splotching shadows. The girl came back through the curtain, a lighted lamp between her two hands. The flicker of it spread broadly into her eager, anxious face. The glow of it trickled before her and widened through the room. The shadows stuck to the walls in the corners and rocked up against the ceiling, black among the uneven streaks of yellow light.

"Now, Angele. Now, Maman. Put it there on the table, Angele. No, hold it higher. Like that. Keep your hands steady, Angele, or how can Maman see? Such a miserable lamp! Does not my uniform look magnificent? I am the real poilu, hein? Something to be proud of, Maman?"

"The real poilu?" The girl questioned softly. "The grandchild of the real poilu, maybe."

"She mocks me, Maman."

"Be quiet, Angele."

"I do not mock, Maman; but I will not have his head turned. The poor little cabbage!"

"See, Maman. She will not stop. Tell her that I fight for France."

For a moment the woman hesitated. They could hear the deep breath she took.

"For France. And for something else, my little son."

With great care the girl placed the lamp on the table.

"Something else, Maman?"

"The thing for which France stands—; and conquers."

He seized at her last word.

"Conquers? Of course she conquers. And I will help! I will kill the Boches. Right and left. I shall fight until France will win!"

A strange light had filtered into the woman's heavily lidded eyes.

"Bravo!" The girl clapped her hands together. "And shall we have our supper now, petite Maman, and my little rabbit?"

"Maman—when I have this uniform—"

"Go, children. In a moment I will be with you."

"Come, my cauliflower. Maman would be alone."

"Maman—"

"Jean—I do not mean to tease. Let us go in to supper. If I do not try to be pleasant I shall weep. You would not have me weep, brother Jean? I would wet the pretty shoulder of your uniform with my tears. That would be a tragedy. So come along to supper, my rascal."

Hand in hand the boy and the girl went through the loose-hung, plush curtain into the kitchen.

The woman stood rigid beside the table.

"Help me," she whispered beneath her breath. "You—"

She stumbled to her knees. Her head was pressed against the edge of the table. Her hands fumbled over the top of it, the fingers widespread and catching; clutching at whatever they touched.

From the kitchen came the sound of low voices. A knife rattled clatteringly against a plate. Once the girl laughed and her laughter snapped off in a half-smothered sob.

The woman moaned a little.

"Just to watch over him. That's all I ask.—You—across there, just—to—protect—him—"

Her hands went to her throat, the fingers tightening.

"A sign," she implored. "Dieu—that—you—hear—me!"

Her eyes stared about the room, peering frantically from under their heavy lids.

"Will you not help me?" She pleaded. "Dieu! mon Dieu,—will you not—help—me—?"

Her kneeling figure swayed a bit.

"You will not hear," she whimpered. "You will—not—hear—"

For a moment longer she waited in the tense silence. And then she rose stiffly to her feet. Her eyes riveted themselves upon a little pool of yellow light that lay in the center of the table under the lamp. The palms of her hands struck noiselessly together.

Very slowly, she went through the curtain and into the kitchen.

It was a scrupulously clean room. A stove stood in one corner. Against the wall hung a row of pots and pans that caught the light from the swinging lamp in brilliant, burnished patches.

Angele and Jean sat near to each other at the center table. Their heads were close. Their cautious whispering stopped abruptly as she came toward them.

The woman sat down with the girl on one side of her and the boy on the other. She was very silent. There was only one thing she could have said. She did not want to say it.

Mechanically she tried to eat. She watched her hands moving upward from her plate with a sort of dazed interest. It was only when she tried to swallow that she realized how each mouthful of food choked her.

The one question came to her lips again and again.

At last she asked it.

"When do you go—mon Jean?"

The boy gave a quick glance at his sister and his eyes fixed themselves upon the table before him and stayed there. She knew then what they had been speaking of when she came into the room.

"What difference does it make, petite Maman, when I go?"

"But when, my son?"

"See, Angele, she is anxious to be rid of me! She cannot wait until I go. She insists upon knowing even before we have finished this supper of ours."

"Maman;"—the girl spoke hurriedly. "Let us talk of that later."

"When?" She insisted.

"But, Maman, you have not touched your food. Was it not good? And I thought you would so like the p'tit marmite."

"It is excellent, Angele."

"Then eat, Maman."

"It is that I am not hungry, Angele."

"So, the p'tit marmite is not good, petite Maman. If it were excellent, even though you have no hunger, you would eat and eat until there was not one little bit left."

The woman took another spoonful.

"When?" She repeated.

The boy's dark eyes lifted and looked into hers.

"To-night,—Maman."

Her figure straightened itself with a quick jerk.

"To-night?"

"And what does it matter, petite Maman, when I go? Surely to-night is as nice a time as any."

"As nice a time as any;" she echoed his words.

The three of them sat there silently.

The girl was the first to move.

"Ah, but it is hot in here." She pushed her chair back from the table. "It is uncomfortable!"

The boy and the woman got to their feet.

"I'll pack, Maman. Not much, you know. Just my shaving things and soap, and some underwear. Angele will help me. I won't be long."

He went out of the kitchen door and down the narrow passage way to his room. The girl hesitated for a moment. Without a word she hurried after him.

The woman crossed slowly into the next room. For a second she stood beside the table, and then she walked over to the window.

Outside the street was dark. No light trickled through the blinds of the house opposite. No light reached its brilliant electric flare into the sky. No light from the tall lamp-post specked through the gloom. In the dim shadow of the silent street she could see the vague forms of people going to and fro. Blurred figures moving in the darkness with the echo of their footsteps trailing sharply behind them.

She stood quite still. Once her hands crept up to her mouth, the backs of them pressing against her teeth.

"Maman."

She wheeled about at the sound of Jean's voice.

He was standing just within the doorway, the girl at his side. The woman stood there staring. The girl crossed the room quickly and put her arm about the woman's waist, drawing her close.

"Petite Maman—"

"You—go—now—Jean?"

She said the words carefully and precisely with a tremendous effort for control.

"But, yes, Maman!"

She leaned a little against the girl.

"Mon Jean, you will have courage—; great—courage—my little one, you will be protected. You—will—be—protected!" She had said that in spite of herself.

He came to her then and flung his arms about her and kissed her on either cheek, and held her tightly to him.

"Good-by, petite Maman."

"Good—" She could not say it.

"Good-by, Angele."

"My little rabbit—I wish you luck. My cabbage—au revoir—;" and her lips brushed across his mouth.

For a second he did not move. Then he went across the room and out through the door.

He was gone.

The woman's eyes went to the window. The silent, darkened street. The people there below her. The somber, black lack of light.

"Maman;" the girl whispered.

"They will watch over him," the woman muttered. "They must watch—out—there. They do come back into the world again to protect. They cannot—cannot leave them in all that horror—alone."

"See, Maman." The girl's quivering face was against the window-pane. "Maman, Jean waves to you!"

Her eyes followed the pointing of the girl's finger.

"They—must—be—here—," she murmured.

"Maman,—wave to Jean!"

Her gaze rested on the dim, undefined figure of the boy standing in the street with his hat in the hand that was reached toward them above his head. Mechanically she waved back.

The woman and the girl stood close.

"Oh—petite maman;" she whispered piteously.

The woman's eyes dilated.

There, following after Jean; going through the shadow-saturated street; moving unheeded among the vague figures of the people going to and fro. Something was there. Some scant movement like a current too quiet to see. A shadow in the shadows that her sight could not hold to. In the dark, gloom-soaked street, staying close to her Jean, she could feel something. Some one was there.

Her eyes strained with desperate intentness. Her hands went up slowly across her heart.

The words that came to her lips were whispered:

"Dieu! Give me faith;—faith—not—to—disbelieve—"