It was all George could do to control his voice. "You—you went to see him?" he stammered.
"Yes," said his mother. "You know him?"
"No, no," he answered. "Or—that is—I have met him, I think. I don't know." And then to himself, "My God!"
There was a silence. "He is coming to talk to you," said the mother, at last.
George was hardly able to speak. "Then he is very much disturbed?"
"No, but he wants to talk to you."
"Yes. When the doctor saw the nurse, he said, 'Madame, it is impossible for me to continue to attend this child unless I have had this very day a conversation wit the father.' So I said 'Very well,' and he said he would come at once."
George turned away, and put his hands to his forehead. "My poor little daughter!" he whispered to himself.
"Yes," said the mother, her voice breaking, "she is, indeed, a poor little daughter!"
A silence fell; for what could words avail in such a situation? Hearing the door open, Madame Dupont started, for her nerves were all a-quiver with the strain she had been under. A servant came in and spoke to her, and she said to George, "It is the doctor. If you need me, I shall be in the next room."
Her son stood trembling, as if he were waiting the approach of an executioner. The other came into the room without seeing him and he stood for a minute, clasping and unclasping his hands, almost overcome with emotion. Then he said, "Good-day, doctor." As the man stared at him, surprised and puzzled, he added, "You don't recognize me?"
The doctor looked again, more closely. George was expecting him to break out in rage; but instead his voice fell low. "You!" he exclaimed. "It is you!"
At last, in a voice of discouragement than of anger, he went on, "You got married, and you have a child! After all that I told you! You are a wretch!"
"Sir," cried George, "let me explain to you!"
"Not a word!" exclaimed the other. "There can be no explanation for what you have done."
A silence followed. The young man did not know what to say. Finally, stretching out his arms, he pleaded, "You will take care of my little daughter all the same, will you not?"
The other turned away with disgust. "Imbecile!" he said.
George did not hear the word. "I was able to wait only six months," he murmured.
The doctor answered in a voice of cold self-repression, "That is enough, sir! All that does not concern me. I have done wrong even to let you see my indignation. I should have left you to judge yourself. I have nothing to do here but with the present and with the future—with the infant and with the nurse."
"She isn't in danger?" cried George.
"The nurse is in danger of being contaminated."
But George had not been thinking about the nurse. "I mean my child," he said.
"Just at present the symptoms are not disturbing."
George waited; after a while he began, "You were saying about the nurse. Will you consent that I call my mother? She knows better than I."
"As you wish," was the reply.
The young man started to the door, but came back, in terrible distress. "I have one prayer to offer you sir; arrange it so that my wife—so that no one will know. If my wife learned that it is I who am the cause—! It is for her that I implore you! She—she isn't to blame."
Said the doctor: "I will do everything in my power that she may be kept ignorant of the true nature of the disease."
"Oh, how I thank you!" murmured George. "How I thank you!"
"Do not thank me; it is for her, and not for you, that I will consent to lie."
"And my mother?"
"Your mother knows the truth."
"I pray you, sir—we have enough to talk about, and very serious matters."
So George went to the door and called his mother. She entered and greeted the doctor, holding herself erect, and striving to keep the signs of grief and terror from her face. She signed to the doctor to take a seat, and then seated herself by a little table near him.
"Madame Dupont," he began, "I have prescribed a course of treatment for the child. I hope to be able to improve its condition, and to prevent any new developments. But my duty and yours does not stop there; if there is still time, it is necessary to protect the health of the nurse."
"Tell us what it is necessary to do, Doctor?" said she.
"The woman must stop nursing the child."
"You mean we have to change the nurse?"
"Madame, the child can no longer be brought up at the breast, either by that nurse or by any other nurse."
"But why, sir?"
"Because the child would give her disease to the woman who gave her milk."
"But, Doctor, if we put her on the bottle—our little one—she will die!"
And suddenly George burst out into sobs. "Oh, my poor little daughter! My God, my God!"
Said the doctor, "If the feeding is well attended to, with sterilized milk—"
"That can do very well for healthy infants," broke in Madame Dupont. "But at the age of three months one cannot take from the breast a baby like ours, frail and ill. More than any other such an infant has need of a nurse—is that not true?"
"Yes," the doctor admitted, "that is true. But—"
"In that case, between the life of the child, and the health of the nurse, you understand perfectly well that my choice is made."
Between her words the doctor heard the sobbing of George, whose head was buried in his arms. "Madame," he said, "your love for that baby has just caused you to utter something ferocious! It is not for you to choose. It is not for you to choose. I forbid the nursing. The health of that woman does not belong to you."
"No," cried the grandmother, wildly, "nor does the health of out child belong to you! If there is a hope of saving it, that hope is in giving it more care than any other child; and you would wish that I put it upon a mode of nourishment which the doctors condemn, even for vigorous infants! You expect that I will let myself be taken in like that? I answer you: she shall have the milk which she needs, my poor little one! If there was a single thing that one could do to save her—I should be a criminal to neglect it!" And Madame Dupont broke out, with furious scorn, "The nurse! The nurse! We shall know how to do our duty—we shall take care of her, repay her. But our child before all! No sir, no! Everything that can be done to save our baby I shall do, let it cost what it will. To do what you say—you don't realize it—it would be as if I should kill the child!" In the end the agonized woman burst into tears. "Oh, my poor little angel! My little savior!"
George had never ceased sobbing while his mother spoke; at these last words his sobs became loud cries. He struck the floor with his foot, he tore his hair, as if he were suffering from violent physical pain. "Oh, oh, oh!" he cried. "My little child! My little child!" And then, in a horrified whisper to himself, "I am a wretch! A criminal!"
"Madame," said the doctor, "you must calm yourself; you must both calm yourselves. You will not help out the situation by lamentations. You must learn to take it with calmness."
Madame Dupont set her lips together, and with a painful effort recovered her self-control. "You are right, sir," she said, in a low voice. "I ask your pardon; but if you only knew what that child means to me! I lost one at that age. I am an old woman, I am a widow—I had hardly hoped to live long enough to be a grandmother. But, as you say—we must be calm." She turned to the young man, "Calm yourself, my son. It is a poor way to show our love for the child, to abandon ourselves to tears. Let us talk, Doctor, and seriously—coldly. But I declare to you that nothing will ever induce me to put the child on the bottle, when I know that it might kill her. That is all I can say."
The doctor replied: "This isn't the first time that I find myself in the present situation. Madame, I declare to you that always—ALWAYS, you understand—persons who have rejected my advice have had reason to repent it cruelly."
"The only thing of which I should repent—" began the other.
"You simply do not know," interrupted the doctor, "what such a nurse is capable of. You cannot imagine what bitterness— legitimate bitterness, you understand—joined to the rapacity, the cupidity, the mischief-making impulse—might inspire these people to do. For them the BOURGEOIS is always somewhat of an enemy; and when they find themselves in position to avenge their inferiority, they are ferocious."
"But what could the woman do?"
"What could she do? She could bring legal proceedings against you."
"But she is much too stupid to have that idea."
"Others will put it into her mind."
"She is too poor to pay the preliminary expenses."
"And do you propose then to profit by her ignorance and stupidity? Besides, she could obtain judicial assistance."
"Why, surely," exclaimed Madame Dupont, "such a thing was never heard of! Do you mean that?"
"I know a dozen prosecutions of that sort; and always when there has been certainty, the parents have lost their case."
"But surely, Doctor, you must be mistaken! Not in a case like ours—not when it is a question of saving the life of a poor little innocent!"
"Oftentimes exactly such facts have been presented."
Here George broke in. "I can give you the dates of the decisions." He rose from his chair, glad of an opportunity to be useful. "I have the books," he said, and took one from the case and brought it to the doctor.
"All of that is no use—" interposed the mother.
But the doctor said to George, "You will be able to convince yourself. The parents have been forced once or twice to pay the nurse a regular income, and at other times they have had to pay her an indemnity, of which the figure has varied between three and eight thousand francs."
Madame Dupont was ready with a reply to this. "Never fear, sir! If there should be a suit, we should have a good lawyer. We shall be able to pay and choose the best—and he would demand, without doubt, which of the two, the nurse or the child, has given the disease to the other."
The doctor was staring at her in horror. "Do you not perceive that would be a monstrous thing to do?"
"Oh, I would not have to say it," was the reply. "The lawyer would see to it—is not that his profession? My point is this: by one means or another he would make us win our case."
"And the scandal that would result," replied the other. "Have you thought of that?"
Here George, who had been looking over his law-books, broke in. "Doctor, permit me to give you a little information. In cases of this sort, the names are never printed."
"Yes, but they are spoken at the hearings."
"And are you certain that there will not be any newspaper to print the judgment?"
"What won't they stoop to," exclaimed Madame Dupont—"those filthy journals!"
"Ah," said the other, "and see what a scandal? What a shame it would be to you!"
"The doctor is right, mother," exclaimed the young man.
But Madame Dupont was not yet convinced. "We will prevent the woman from taking any steps; we will give her what she demands from us."
"But then," said the other, "you will give yourselves up to the risk of blackmail. I know a family which has been thus held up for over twelve years."
"If you will permit me, Doctor," said George, timidly, "she could be made to sign a receipt."
"For payment in full?" asked the doctor, scornfully.
"And then," added his mother, "she would be more than delighted to go back to her country with a full purse. She would be able to buy a little house and a bit of ground—in that country one doesn't need so much in order to live."
At this moment there was a tap upon the door, and the nurse entered. She was a country woman, robust, rosy-cheeked, fairly bursting with health. When she spoke one got the impression that her voice was more than she could contain. It did not belong in a drawing-room, but under the open sky of her country home. "Sir," she said, addressing the doctor, "the baby is awake."
"I will go and see her," was the reply; and then to Madame Dupont, "We will take up this conversation later on."
"Certainly," said the mother. "Will you have need of the nurse?"
"No, Madame," the doctor answered.
"Nurse," said the mother, "sit down and rest. Wait a minute, I wish to speak to you." As the doctor went out, she took her son to one side and whispered to him, "I know the way to arrange everything. If we let her know what is the matter, and if she accepts, the doctor will have nothing more to say. Isn't that so?"
"Obviously," replied the son.
"I am going to promise that we will give her two thousand francs when she goes away, if she will consent to continue nursing the child."
"Two thousand francs?" said the other. "Is that enough?"
"I will see," was the reply. "If she hesitates, I will go further. Let me attend to it."
George nodded his assent, and Madame Dupont returned to the nurse. "You know," she said, "that our child is a little sick?"
The other looked at her in surprise. "Why no, ma'am!"
"Yes," said the grandmother.
"But, ma'am, I have taken the best of care of her; I have always kept her proper."
"I am not saying anything to the contrary," said Madame Dupont, "but the child is sick, the doctors have said it."
The nurse was not to be persuaded; she thought they were getting ready to scold her. "Humph," she said, "that's a fine thing—the doctors! If they couldn't always find something wrong you'd say they didn't know their business."
"But our doctor is a great doctor; and you have seen yourself that our child has some little pimples."
"Ah, ma'am," said the nurse, "that's the heat—it's nothing but the heat of the blood breaking out. You don't need to bother yourself; I tell you it's only the child's blood. It's not my fault; I swear to you that she had not lacked anything, and that I have always kept her proper."
"I am not reproaching you—"
"What is there to reproach me for? Oh, what bad luck! She's tiny—the little one—she's a bit feeble; but Lord save us, she's a city child! And she's getting along all right, I tell you."
"No," persisted Madame Dupont, "I tell you—she has got a cold in her head, and she has an eruption at the back of the throat."
"Well," cried the nurse, angrily, "if she has, it's because the doctor scratched her with that spoon he put into her mouth wrong end first! A cold in the head? Yes, that's true; but if she has caught cold, I can't say when, I don't know anything about it— nothing, nothing at all. I have always kept her well covered; she's always had as much as three covers on her. The truth is, it was when you came, the time before last; you were all the time insisting upon opening the windows in the house!"
"But once more I tell you," cried Madame Dupont, "we are not putting any blame on you."
"Yes," cried the woman, more vehemently. "I know what that kind of talk means. It's no use—when you're a poor country woman."
"What are you imagining now?" demanded the other.
"Oh, that's all right. It's no use when you're a poor country woman."
"I repeat to you once more," cried Madame Dupont, with difficulty controlling her impatience, "we have nothing whatever to blame you for."
But the nurse began to weep. "If I had known that anything like this was coming to me—"
"We have nothing to blame you for," declared the other. "We only wish to warn you that you might possibly catch the disease of the child."
The woman pouted. "A cold in the head!" she exclaimed. "Well, if I catch it, it won't be the first time. I know how to blow my nose."
"But you might also get the pimples."
At this the nurse burst into laughter so loud that the bric-a-brac rattled. "Oh, oh, oh! Dear lady, let me tell you, we ain't city folks, we ain't; we don't have such soft skins. What sort of talk is that? Pimples—what difference would that make to poor folks like us? We don't have a white complexion like the ladies of Paris. We are out all day in the fields, in the sun and the rain, instead of rubbing cold cream on our muzzles! No offense, ma'am—but I say if you're looking for an excuse to get rid of me, you must get a better one than that."
"Excuse!" exclaimed the other. "What in the world do you mean?"
"Oh, I know!" said the nurse, nodding her head.
"It's no use, when you're only a poor country woman."
"I don't understand you! I swear to you that I don't understand you!"
"Well," sneered the other, "I understand."
"But then—explain yourself."
"No, I don't want to say it."
"But you must; I wish it."
"I'm only a poor country woman, but I am no more stupid than the others, for all that. I know perfectly well what your tricks mean. Mr. George here has been grumbling because you promised me thirty francs more a month, if I came to Paris." And then, turning upon the other, she went on—"But, sir, isn't it only natural? Don't I have to put my own child away somewheres else? And then, can my husband live on his appetite? We're nothing but poor country people, we are."
"You are making a mistake, nurse," broke in George. "It is nothing at all of that sort; mother is quite right. I am so far from wanting to reproach you, that, on the contrary, I think she had not promised enough, and I want to make you, for my part, another promise. When you go away, when baby is old enough to be weaned, by way of thanking you, we wish to give you—"
Madame Dupont broke in, hurriedly, "We wish to give you,—over and above your wages, you understand—we wish to give you five hundred francs, and perhaps a thousand, if the little one is altogether in good health. You understand?"
The nurse stared at her, stupefied. "You will give me five hundred francs—for myself?" She sought to comprehend the words. "But that was not agreed, you don't have to do that at all."
"No," admitted Madame Dupont.
"But then," whispered the nurse, half to herself, "that's not natural."
"Yes," the other hurried on, "it is because the baby will have need of extra care. You will have to take more trouble; you will have to give it medicines; your task will be a little more delicate, a little more difficult."
"Oh, yes; then it's so that I will be sure to take care of her? I understand."
"Then it's agreed?" exclaimed Madame Dupont, with relief.
"Yes ma'am," said the nurse.
"And you won't come later on to make reproaches to us? We understand one another clearly? We have warned you that the child is sick and that you could catch the disease. Because of that, because of the special need of care which she has, we promise you five hundred francs at the end of the nursing. That's all right, is it?
"But, my lady," cried the nurse, all her cupidity awakened, "you spoke just now of a thousand francs."
"Very well, then, a thousand francs."
George passed behind the nurse and got his mother by the arm, drawing her to one side. "It would be a mistake," he whispered, "if we did not make her sign an agreement to all that."
His mother turned to the nurse. "In order that there may be no misunderstanding about the sum—you see how it is, I had forgotten already that I had spoken of a thousand francs—we will draw up a little paper, and you, on your part, will write one for us."
"Very good, ma'am," said the nurse, delighted with the idea of so important a transaction. "Why, it's just as you do when you rent a house!"
"Here comes the doctor," said the other. "Come, nurse, it is agreed?"
"Yes, ma'am," was the answer. But all the same, as she went out she hesitated and looked sharply first at the doctor, and then at George and his mother. She suspected that something was wrong, and she meant to find out if she could.
The doctor seated himself in George's office chair, as if to write a prescription. "The child's condition remains the same," he said; "nothing disturbing."
"Doctor," said Madame Dupont, gravely, "from now on, you will be able to devote your attention to the baby and the nurse without any scruple. During your absence we have arranged matters nicely. The nurse has been informed about the situation, and she does not mind. She has agreed to accept an indemnity, and the amount has been stated."
But the doctor did not take these tidings as the other had hoped he might. He replied: "The malady which the nurse will almost inevitably contract in feeding the child is too grave in its consequences. Such consequences might go as far as complete helplessness, even as far as death. So I say that the indemnity, whatever it might be, would not pay the damage."
"But," exclaimed the other, "she accepts it! She is mistress of herself, and she has the right—"
"I am not at all certain that she has the right to sell her own health. And I am certain that she has not the right to sell the health of her husband and her children. If she becomes infected, it is nearly certain that she will communicate the disease to them; the health and the life of the children she might have later on would be greatly compromised. Such things she cannot possibly sell. Come, madame, you must see that a bargain of this sort isn't possible. If the evil has not been done, you must do everything to avoid it."
"Sir," protested the mother, wildly, "you do not defend our interests!"
"Madame," was the reply, "I defend those who are weakest."
"If we had called in our own physician, who knows us," she protested, "he would have taken sides with us."
The doctor rose, with a severe look on his face. "I doubt it," he said, "but there is still time to call him."
George broke in with a cry of distress. "Sir, I implore you!"
And the mother in turn cried. "Don't abandon us, sir! You ought to make allowances! If you knew what that child is to me! I tell you it seems to me as if I had waited for her coming in order to die. Have pity upon us! Have pity upon her! You speak of the weakest—it is not she who is the weakest? You have seen her, you have seen that poor little baby, so emaciated! You have seen what a heap of suffering she is already; and cannot that inspire in you any sympathy? I pray you, sir—I pray you!"
"I pity her," said the doctor, "I would like to save her—and I will do everything for her. But do not ask me to sacrifice to a feeble infant, with an uncertain and probably unhappy life, the health of a sound and robust woman. It is useless for us to continue such a discussion as that."
Whereupon Madame Dupont leaped up in sudden frenzy. "Very Well!" she exclaimed. "I will not follow your counsels, I will not listen to you!"
Said the doctor in a solemn voice: "There is already some one here who regrets that he did not listen to me."
"Yes," moaned George, "to my misfortune, to the misfortune of all of us."
But Madame Dupont was quite beside herself. "Very well!" she cried. "If it is a fault, if it is a crime, if I shall have to suffer remorse for it in this life, and all the punishments in the life to come—I accept it all for myself alone! Myself alone, I take that responsibility! It is frightfully heavy, but I accept it. I am profoundly a Christian sir; I believe in eternal damnation; but to save my little child I consent to lose my soul forever. Yes, my mind is made up—I will do everything to save that life! Let God judge me; and if he condemns me, so much the worse for me!"
The doctor answered: "That responsibility is one which I cannot let you take, for it will be necessary that I should accept my part, and I refuse it."
"What will you do?"
"I shall warn the nurse. I shall inform her exactly, completely—something which you have not done, I feel sure."
"What?" cried Madame Dupont, wildly. "You, a doctor, called into a family which gives you its entire confidence, which hands over to you its most terrible secrets, its most horrible miseries—you would betray them?"
"It is not a betrayal," replied the man, sternly. "It is something which the law commands; and even if the law were silent, I would not permit a family of worthy people to go astray so far as to commit a crime. Either I give up the case, or you have the nursing of the child stopped."
"You threaten! You threaten!" cried the woman, almost frantic. "You abuse the power which your knowledge gives you! You know that it is you whose attention we need by that little cradle; you know that we believe in you, and you threaten to abandon us! Your abandonment means the death of the child, perhaps! And if I listen to you, if we stop the nursing of the child—that also means her death!"
She flung up her hands like a mad creature. "And yet there is no other means! Ah, my God! Why do you not let it be possible for me to sacrifice myself? I would wish nothing more than to be able to do it—if only you might take my old body, my old flesh, my old bones—if only I might serve for something! How quickly would I consent that it should infect me—this atrocious malady! How I would offer myself to it—with what joys, with what delights—however disgusting, however frightful it might be, however much to be dreaded! Yes, I would take it without fear, without regret, if my poor old empty breasts might still give to the child the milk which would preserve its life!"
She stopped; and George sprang suddenly from his seat, and fled to her and flung himself down upon his knees before her, mingling his sobs and tears with hers.
The doctor rose and moved about the room, unable any longer to control his distress. "Oh, the poor people!" he murmured to himself. "The poor, poor people!"
The storm passed, and Madame Dupont, who was a woman of strong character, got herself together. Facing the doctor again, she said, "Come, sir, tell us what we have to do."
"You must stop the nursing, and keep the woman here as a dry nurse, in order that she may not go away to carry the disease elsewhere. Do not exaggerate to yourself the danger which will result to the child. I am, in truth, extremely moved by your suffering, and I will do everything—I swear it to you—that your baby may recover as quickly as possible its perfect health. I hope to succeed, and that soon. And now I must leave you until tomorrow."
"Thank you, Doctor, thank you," said Madame Dupont, faintly.
The young man rose and accompanied the doctor to the door. He could not bring himself to speak, but stood hanging his head until the other was gone. Then he came to his mother. He sought to embrace her, but she repelled him—without violence, but firmly.
Her son stepped back and put his hands over his face. "Forgive me!" he said, in a broken voice. "Are we not unhappy enough, without hating each other?"
His mother answered: "God has punished you for your debauch by striking at your child."
But, grief-stricken as the young man was, he could not believe that. "Impossible!" he said. "There is not even a man sufficiently wicked or unjust to commit the act which you attribute to your God!"
"Yes," said his mother, sadly, "you believe in nothing."
"I believe in no such God as that," he answered.
A silence followed. When it was broken, it was by the entrance of the nurse. She had opened the door of the room and had been standing there for some moments, unheeded. Finally she stepped forward. "Madame," she said, "I have thought it over; I would rather go back to my home at once, and have only the five hundred francs."
Madame Dupont stared at her in consternation. "What is that you are saying? You want to return to your home?"
"Yes, ma'am," was the answer.
"But," cried George, "only ten minutes ago you were not thinking of it."
"What has happened since then?" demanded Madame Dupont.
"I have thought it over."
"Thought it over?"
"Well, I am getting lonesome for my little one and for my husband."
"In the last ten minutes?" exclaimed George.
"There must be something else," his mother added. "Evidently there must be something else."
"No!" insisted the nurse.
"But I say yes!"
"Well, I'm afraid the air of Paris might not be good for me."
"You had better wait and try it."
"I would rather go back at once to my home."
"Come, now," cried Madame Dupont, "tell us why?"
"I have told you. I have thought it over."
"Thought what over?"
"Well, I have thought."
"Oh," cried the mother, "what a stupid reply! 'I have thought it over! I have thought it over!' Thought WHAT over, I want to know!"
"Don't you know how to tell us what?"
"I tell you, everything."
"Why," exclaimed Madame Dupont, "you are an imbecile!"
George stepped between his mother and the nurse. "Let me talk to her," he said.
The woman came back to her old formula: "I know that we're only poor country people."
"Listen to me, nurse," said the young man. "Only a little while ago you were afraid that we would send you away. You were satisfied with the wages which my mother had fixed. In addition to those wages we had promised you a good sum when you returned to your home. Now you tell us that you want to go away. You see? All at once. There must be some reason; let us understand it. There must certainly be a reason. Has anybody done anything to you?"
"No, sir," said the woman, dropping her eyes.
"I have thought it over."
George burst out, "Don't go on repeating always the same thing— 'I have thought it over!' That's not telling us anything." Controlling himself, he added, gently, "Come, tell me why you want to go away?"
There was a silence. "Well?" he demanded.
"I tell you, I have thought—"
George exclaimed in despair, "It's as if one were talking to a block of wood!"
His mother took up the conversation again. "You must realize, you have not the right to go away."
The woman answered, "I WANT to go."
"But I will not let you leave us."
"No," interrupted George angrily, "let her go; we cannot fasten her here."
"Very well, then," cried the exasperated mother, "since you want to go, go! But I have certainly the right to say to you that you are as stupid as the animals on your farm!"
"I don't say that I am not," answered the woman.
"I will not pay you the month which has just begun, and you will pay your railroad fare for yourself."
The other drew back with a look of anger. "Oho!" she cried. "We'll see about that!"
"Yes, we'll see about it!" cried George. "And you will get out of here at once. Take yourself off—I will have no more to do with you. Good evening."
"No, George," protested his mother, "don't lose control of yourself." And then, with a great effort at calmness, "That cannot be serious, nurse! Answer me."
"I would rather go off right away to my home, and only have my five hundred francs."
"WHAT?" cried George, in consternation.
"What's that you are telling me?" exclaimed Madame Dupont.
"Five hundred francs?" repeated her son.
"What five hundred francs?" echoed the mother.
"The five hundred francs you promised me," said the nurse.
"We have promised you five hundred francs? WE?"
"When the child should be weaned, and if we should be satisfied with you! That was our promise."
"No. You said you would give them to me when I was leaving. Now I am leaving, and I want them."
Madame Dupont drew herself up, haughtily. "In the first place," she said, "kindly oblige me by speaking to me in another tone; do you understand?"
The woman answered, "You have nothing to do but give me my money, and I will say nothing more."
George went almost beside himself with rage at this. "Oh, it's like that?" he shouted. "Very well; I'll show you!" And he sprang to the door and opened it.
But the nurse never budged. "Give me my five hundred francs!" she said.
George seized her by the arm and shoved her toward the door. "You clear out of here, do you understand me? And as quickly as you can!"
The woman shook her arm loose, and sneered into his face. "Come now, you—you can talk to me a little more politely, eh?"
"Will you go?" shouted George, completely beside himself. "Will you go, or must I go out and look for a policeman?"
"A policeman!" demanded the woman. "For what?"
"To put you outside! You are behaving yourself like a thief."
"A thief? I? What do you mean?"
"I mean that you are demanding money which doesn't belong to you."
"More than that," broke in Madame Dupont, "you are destroying that poor little baby! You are a wicked woman!"
"I will put you out myself!" shouted George, and seized her by the arm again.
"Oh, it's like that, is it?" retorted the nurse. "Then you really want me to tell you why I am going away?"
"Yes, tell me!" cried he.
His mother added, "Yes, yes!"
She would have spoken differently had she chanced to look behind her and seen Henriette, who at that moment appeared in the doorway. She had been about to go out, when her attention had been caught by the loud voices. She stood now, amazed, clasping her hands together, while the nurse, shaking her fist first at Madame Dupont and then at her son, cried loudly, "Very well! I'm going away because I don't want to catch a filthy disease here!"
"HUSH!" cried Madame Dupont, and sprang toward her, her hands clenched as if she would choke her.
"Be silent!" cried George, wild with terror.
But the woman rushed on without dropping her voice, "Oh, you need not be troubling yourselves for fear anyone should overhear! All the world knows it! Your other servants were listening with me at your door! They heard every word your doctor said!"
"Shut up!" screamed George.
Her mother seized the woman fiercely by the arm. "Hold your tongue!" she hissed.
But again the other shook herself loose. She was powerful, and now her rage was not to be controlled. She waved her hands in the air, shouting, "Let me be, let me be! I know all about your brat—that you will never be able to raise it—that it's rotten because it's father has a filthy disease he got from a woman of the street!"
She got no farther. She was interrupted by a frenzied shriek from Henriette. The three turned, horrified, just in time to see her fall forward upon the floor, convulsed.
"My God!" cried George. He sprang toward her, and tried to lift her, but she shrank from him, repelling him with a gesture of disgust, of hatred, of the most profound terror. "Don't touch me!" she screamed, like a maniac. "Don't touch me!"