SHE had read Paul et Virginie;* she had dreamed of the bamboo hut, of the negro, Domingo, of Faithful, the dog, but, above all, of the sweet friendship of a dear little brother who would have brought her redrinded fruit plucked from trees higher than church-towers, or would have run to her barefooted on the sand with a gift of birds' nests.
When she was thirteen years old, her father had gone with her to the city, in order to place her in a convent. They had alighted at an inn of the Saint-Gervais quarter, where they had eaten off plates painted with scenes from the life of Mademoiselle de la Vallière.* The explanatory legends, broken here and there by the scratches left by many knives, were all designed to glorify religion, sentiment, and the splendours of the court.
Far from feeling bored during her first term at the convent, she delighted in the company of the good sisters who, for her entertainment, took her into the chapel, whence a long corridor led to the refectory. She showed but little interest in the games which were played in the hours of recreation, displayed an excellent understanding of her catechism, and was always the one who answered the visiting priest's most difficult questions.
Living continuously in the close atmosphere of classrooms, and in the company of pale-faced women who were never without their rosaries adorned with crosses of brass, she moved in a sort of mystic dream compounded of altar scents, the cool touch of holy water, and the glow of candles. Instead of following the mass, she spent her time in church looking at the pious pictures, framed in azure borders, which ornamented her service-book, and grew to love the sick lamb, the Sacred Heart pierced with sharp arrows, and the touching image of Jesus weighed down by his cross on the road to Calvary. She tried, by way of mortification, to go one whole day without eating, and sought some vow which she might set herself to perform.
When she went to confession, she invented trivial sins, hoping thereby to remain longer on her knees in the darkness, her face pressed to the grill beneath the murmured admonitions of the priest. The metaphors of affianced lover, husband, divine wooer and eternal marriage, which were for ever recurring in the sermons that she heard, moved her heart with an unexpected sweetness.