Both children rose an hour after daybreak and repeated a short prayer, a habit learned in their babyhood. For seven years the sincere petition had been put up every morning on their mother's bed, and begun and ended by a kiss. Then the two brothers went through their morning toilet as scrupulously as any pretty woman; doubtless they had been trained in habits of minute attention to the person, so necessary to health of body and mind, habits in some sort conducive to a sense of wellbeing. Conscientiously they went through their duties, so afraid were they lest their mother should say when she kissed them at breakfast-time, "My darling children, where can you have been to have such black finger-nails already?" Then the two went out into the garden and shook off the dreams of the night in the morning air and dew, until sweeping and dusting operations were completed, and they could learn their lessons in the sitting-room until their mother joined them. But although it was understood that they must not go to their mother's room before a certain hour, they peeped in at the door continually; and these morning inroads, made in defiance of the original compact, were delicious moments for all three. Marie sprang upon the bed to put his arms around his idolized mother, and Louis, kneeling by the pillow, took her hand in his. Then came inquiries, anxious as a lover's, followed by angelic laughter, passionate childish kisses, eloquent silences, lisping words, and the little ones' stories interrupted and resumed by a kiss, stories seldom finished, though the listener's interest never failed.
"Have you been industrious?" their mother would ask, but in tones so sweet and so kindly that she seemed ready to pity laziness as a misfortune, and to glance through tears at the child who was satisfied with himself.
She knew that the thought of pleasing her put energy into the children's work; and they knew that their mother lived for them, and that all her thoughts and her time were given to them. A wonderful instinct, neither selfishness nor reason, perhaps the first innocent beginnings of sentiment teaches children to know whether or not they are the first and sole thought, to find out those who love to think of them and for them. If you really love children, the dear little ones, with open hearts and unerring sense of justice, are marvelously ready to respond to love. Their love knows passion and jealousy and the most gracious delicacy of feeling; they find the tenderest words of expression; they trust you--put an entire belief in you. Perhaps there are no undutiful children without undutiful mothers, for a child's affection is always in proportion to the affection that it receives-- in early care, in the first words that it hears, in the response of the eyes to which a child first looks for love and life. All these things draw them closer to the mother or drive them apart. God lays the child under the mother's heart, that she may learn that for a long time to come her heart must be its home. And yet--there are mothers cruelly slighted, mothers whose sublime, pathetic tenderness meets only a harsh return, a hideous ingratitude which shows how difficult it is to lay down hard-and-fast rules in matters of feeling.
Here, not one of all the thousand heart ties that bind child and mother had been broken. The three were alone in the world; they lived one life, a life of close sympathy. If Mme. Willemsens was silent in the morning, Louis and Marie would not speak, respecting everything in her, even those thoughts which they did not share. But the older boy, with a precocious power of thought, would not rest satisfied with his mother's assertion that she was perfectly well. He scanned her face with uneasy forebodings; the exact danger he did not know, but dimly he felt it threatening in those purple rings about her eyes, in the deepening hollows under them, and the feverish red that deepened in her face. If Marie's play began to tire her, his sensitive tact was quick to discover this, and he would call to his brother:
"Come, Marie! let us run in to breakfast, I am hungry!"
But when they reached the door, he would look back to catch the expression on his mother's face. She still could find a smile for him, nay, often there were tears in her eyes when some little thing revealed her child's exquisite feeling, a too early comprehension of sorrow.
Mme. Willemsens dressed during the children's early breakfast and game of play; she was coquettish for her darlings; she wished to be pleasing in their eyes; for them she would fain be in all things lovely, a gracious vision, with the charm of some sweet perfume of which one can never have enough.
She was always dressed in time to hear their lessons, which lasted from ten till three, with an interval at noon for lunch, the three taking the meal together in the summer-house. After lunch the children played for an hour, while she--poor woman and happy mother--lay on a long sofa in the summer-house, so placed that she could look out over the soft, ever-changing country of Touraine, a land that you learn to see afresh in all the thousand chance effects produced by daylight and sky and the time of year.