The Wandering Jew, v9
Part 3 out of 3
"But when this nonsense agrees with the truth," cried the prelate,
furious at being again deceived in his expectation; "but when raving is
an involuntary, providential revelation--"
"Cardinal Malipieri--your craft is no match--for my agony," answered
Rodin, in a failing voice. "The proof--that I have not told my secret--
if I have a secret--is--that you want to make me tell it!" In spite of
his pain and weakness, the Jesuit had courage to raise himself in the
bed, and look the cardinal full in the face, with a smile of bitter
irony. After which he fell back on the pillow, and pressed his hands to
his chest, with a long sigh of anguish.
"Damnation! the infernal Jesuit has found me out!" said the cardinal to
himself, as he stamped his foot with rage. "He sees that he was
compromised by his first movement; he is now upon his guard; I shall get
nothing more from him--unless indeed, profiting by the state of weakness
in which he is, I can, by entreaties, by threats, by terror--"
The prelate was unable to finish. The door opened abruptly, and Father
d'Aigrigny entered the room, exclaiming with an explosion of joy:
By the alteration in the countenance of Father d'Aigrigny, his pale
cheek, and the feebleness of his walk, one might see that the terrible
scene in the square of Notre-Dame, had violently reacted upon his health.
Yet his face was radiant and triumphant, as he entered Rodin's chamber,
exclaiming: "Excellent news!"
On these words, Rodin started. In spite of his weakness, he raised his
head, and his eves shone with a curious, uneasy, piercing expression.
With his lean hand, he beckoned Father d'Aigrigny to approach the bed,
and said to him, in a broken voice, so weak that it was scarcely audible:
"I am very ill--the cardinal has nearly finished me--but if this
excellent news--relates to the Rennepont affair--of which I hear nothing
--it might save me yet!"
"Be saved then!" cried Father d'Aigrigny, forgetting the recommendations
of Dr. Baleinier; "read, rejoice! What you foretold is beginning to be
So saying, he drew a paper from his pocket, and delivered it to Rodin,
who seized it with an eager and trembling hand. Some minutes before,
Rodin would have been really incapable of continuing his conversation
with the cardinal, even if prudence had allowed him to do so; nor could
he have read a single line, so dim had his sight become. But, at the
words of Father d'Aigrigny, he felt such a renewal of hope and vigor,
that, by a mighty effort of energy and will, he rose to a sitting
posture, and, with clear head, and look of intelligent animation, he read
rapidly the paper that Father d'Aigrigny had just delivered to him.
The cardinal, amazed at this sudden transfiguration, asked himself if he
beheld the same man, who, a few minutes before, had fallen back on his
bed, almost insensible. Hardly had Rodin finished reading, than he
uttered a cry of stifled joy, saying, with an accent impossible to
describe: "ONE gone! it works--'tis well!" And, closing his eyes in a
kind of ecstatic transport, a smile of proud triumph overspread his face,
and rendered him still more hideous, by discovering his yellow and
gumless teeth. His emotion was so violent, that the paper fell from his
"He has fainted," cried Father d'Aigrigny, with uneasiness, as he leaned
over Rodin. "It is my fault, I forgot that the doctor cautioned me not
to talk to him of serious matters."
"No; do not reproach yourself," said Rodin, in a low voice, half-raising
himself in the bed. "This unexpected joy may perhaps cure me. Yes--I
scarce know what I feel--but look at my cheeks--it seems to me, that, for
the first time since I have been stretched on this bed of pain, they are
a little warm."
Rodin spoke the truth. A slight color appeared suddenly on his livid and
icy cheeks; his voice though still very weak, became less tremulous, and
he exclaimed, in a tone of conviction that startled Father d'Aigrigny and
the prelate, "This first success answers for the others. I read the
future. Yes, yes; our cause will triumph. Every member of the execrable
Rennepont family will be crushed--and that soon you will see--"
Then, pausing, Rodin threw himself back on the pillow, exclaiming: "Oh! I
am choked with joy. My voice fails me."
"But what is it?" asked the cardinal of Father d'Aigrigny.
The latter replied, in a tone of hypocritical sanctity: "One of the heirs
of the Rennepont family, a poor fellow, worn out with excesses and
debauchery, died three days ago, at the close of some abominable orgies,
in which he had braved the cholera with sacrilegious impiety. In
consequence of the indisposition that kept me at home, and of another
circumstance, I only received to-day the certificate of the death of this
victim of intemperance and irreligion. I must proclaim it to the praise
of his reverence"--pointing to Rodin--"that he told me, the worst enemies
of the descendants of that infamous renegade would be their own bad
passions, and that the might look to them as our allies against the whole
impious race. And so it has happened with Jacques Rennepont."
"You see," said Rodin, in so faint a voice that it was almost
unintelligible, "the punishment begins already. One of the Renneponts is
dead--and believe me--this certificate," and he pointed to the paper that
Father d'Aigrigny held in his hand, "will one day be worth forty millions
to the Society of Jesus--and that--because--"
The lips alone finished the sentence. During some seconds, Rodin's voice
had become so faint, that it was at last quite imperceptible. His
larynx, contracted by violent emotion, no longer emitted any sound. The
Jesuit, far from being disconcerted by this incident, finished his
phrase, as it were, by expressive pantomime. Raising his head proudly he
tapped his forehead with his forefinger, as if to express that it was to
his ability this first success was owing. But he soon fell back again on
the bed, exhausted, breathless, sinking, with his cotton handkerchief
pressed once more to his parched lips. The good news, as Father
d'Aigrigny called it, had not cured Rodin. For a moment only, he had had
the courage to forget his pain. But the slight color on his cheek soon
disappeared; his face became once more livid. His sufferings, suspended
for a moment, were so much increased in violence, that he writhed beneath
the coverlet, and buried his face in the pillow, extending his arms above
his head, and holding them stiff as bars of iron. After this crisis,
intense as it was rapid: during which Father d'Aigrigny and the prelate
bent anxiously over him, Rodin, whose face was bathed in cold sweat, made
a sign that he suffered less, and that he wished to drink of a potion to
which he pointed. Father d'Aigrigny fetched it for him, and while the
cardinal held him up with marked disgust, the abbe administered a few
spoonfuls of the potion, which almost immediately produced a soothing
"Shall I call M. Rousselet?" said Father d'Aigrigny, when Rodin was once
more laid down in bed.
Rodin shook his head; then, with a fresh effort, he raised his right
hand, opened it, and pointed with his forefinger to a desk in a corner of
the room, to signify that, being no longer able to speak, he wished to
"I understand your reverence," said Father d'Aigrigny; "but first calm
yourself. Presently, if you require it. I will give you writing-
Two knocks at the outer door of the next room interrupted this scene.
From motives of prudence, Father d'Aigrigny had begged Rousselet to
remain in the first of the three rooms. He now went to open the door,
and Rousselet handed him a voluminous packet, saying: "I beg pardon for
disturbing you, father, but I was told to let you have these papers
"Thank you, M. Rousselet," said Father d'Aigrigny; "do you know at what
hour Dr. Baleinier will return?"
"He will not be long, father, for he wishes to perform before night the
painful operation, that will have a decisive effect on the condition of
Father Rodin. I am preparing what is necessary for it," added Rousselet,
as he pointed to a singular and formidable apparatus, which Father
d'Aigrigny examined with a kind of terror.
"I do not know if the symptom is a serious one," said the Jesuit; "but
the reverend father has suddenly lost his voice."
"It is the third time this has happened within the last week," said
Rousselet; "the operation of Dr. Baleiner will act both on the larynx and
on the lungs."
"Is the operation a very painful one?" asked Father d'Aigrigny.
"There is, perhaps, none more cruel in surgery," answered the young
doctor; "and Dr. Baleinier has partly concealed its nature from Father
"Please to wait here for Dr. Baleinier, and send him to us as soon as he
arrives," resumed Father d'Aigrigny: and, returning to the sick chamber,
he sat down by the bedside, and said to Rodin, as he showed him the
letter: "Here are different reports with regard to different members of
the Rennepont family, whom I have had looked after by others, my
indisposition having kept me at home for the last few days. I do not
know, father, if the state of your health will permit you to hear--"
Rodin made a gesture, at once so supplicating and peremptory, that Father
d'Aigrigny felt there would be at least as much danger in refusing as in
granting his request; so, turning towards the cardinal, still
inconsolable at not having discovered the Jesuit's secret, he said to him
with respectful deference, pointing at the same time to the letter: "Have
I the permission of your Eminence?"
The prelate bowed, and replied: "Your affairs are ours, my dear father.
The Church must always rejoice in what rejoices your glorious Company."
Father d'Aigrigny unsealed the packet, and found in it different notes in
different handwritings. When he had read the first, his countenance
darkened, and he said, in a grave tone: "A misfortune--a great
Rodin turned his head abruptly, and looked at him with an air of uneasy
"Florine is dead of the cholera," answered Father d'Aigrigny; "and what
is the worst," added he, crumpling the note between his hands, "before
dying, the miserable creature confessed to Mdlle. de Cardoville that she
long acted as a spy under the orders of your reverence."
No doubt the death of Florine, and the confession she had made, crossed
some of the plans of Rodin, for he uttered an inarticulate murmur, and
his countenance expressed great vexation.
Passing to another note, Father d'Aigrigny continued: "This relates to
Marshal Simon, and is not absolutely bad, but still far from
satisfactory, as it announces some amelioration in his position. We
shall see if it merits belief, by information from another source." `
Rodin made a sign of impatience, to hasten Father d'Aigrigny to read the
note, which he did as follows. "`For some days, the mind of the marshal
has appeared to be less sorrowful, anxious and agitated. He lately
passed two hours with his daughters, which had not been the case for some
time before. The harsh countenance of the soldier Dagobert is becoming
smoother--a sure sign of some amelioration in the condition of the
marshal. Detected by their handwriting, the last anonymous letters were
returned by Dagobert to the postman, without having been opened by the
marshal. Some other method must be found to get them delivered.'"
Looking at Rodin, Father d'Aigrigny said to him: "Your reverence thinks
with me that this note is not very satisfactory?"
Rodin held down his head. One saw by the expression of his countenance
how much he suffered by not being able to speak. Twice he put his hand
to his throat, and looked at Father d'Aigrigny with anguish.
"Oh!" cried Father d'Aigrigny, angrily, when he had perused another note,
"for one lucky chance, to-day brings some very black ones."
At these words turning hastily to Father d'Aigrigny, and extending his
trembling hands, Rodin questioned him with look and gesture. The
cardinal, sharing his uneasiness, exclaimed: "What do you learn by this
note, my dear father?"
"We thought the residence of M. Hardy in our house completely unknown,"
replied Father d'Aigrigny, "but we now fear that Agricola Baudoin has
discovered the retreat of his old master, and that he has even
communicated with him by letter, through a servant of the house. So,"
added the reverend father, angrily, "during the three days that I have
not been able to visit the pavilion, one of my servants must have been
bought over. There is one of them, a man blind of one eye, whom I have
always suspected--the wretch! But no: I will not yet believe this
treachery. The consequences would be too deplorable; for I know how
matters stand, and that such a correspondence might ruin everything. By
awaking in M. Hardy memories with difficulty laid asleep, they might
destroy in a single day all that has been done since he inhabits our
house. Luckily, this note contains only doubts and fears; my other
information will be more positive, and will not, I hope, confirm them."
"My dear father," said the cardinal, "do not despair. The Lord will not
abandon the good cause!"
Father d'Aigrigny seemed very little consoled by this assurance. He
remained still and thoughtful, whilst Rodin writhed his head in a
paroxysm of mute rage, as he reflected on this new check.
"Let us turn to the last note," said Father d'Aigrigny, after a moment of
thoughtful silence. "I have so much confidence in the person who sends
it, that I cannot doubt the correctness of the information it contains.
May it contradict the others!"
In order not to break the chain of facts contained in this last note,
which was to have so startling an effect on the actors in this scene, we
shall leave it to the reader's imagination to supply the exclamations of
surprise, hate, rage and fear of Father d'Aigrigny, and the terrific
pantomime of Rodin, during the perusal of this formidable document, the
result of the observations of a faithful and secret agent of the reverend
fathers. Comparing this note with the other information received, the
results appeared more distressing to the reverend fathers. Thus Gabriel
had long and frequent conferences with Adrienne, who before was unknown
to him. Agricola Baudoin had opened a communication with Francis Hardy,
and the officers of justice were on the track of the authors and
instigators of the riot which had led to the burning of the factory of
Baron Tripeaud's rival. It seemed almost certain that Mdlle. de
Cardoville had had an interview with Prince Djalma.
This combination of facts showed that, faithful to the threats she had
uttered to Rodin, when she had unmasked the double perfidy of the
reverend father, Mdlle. de Cardoville was actively engaged in uniting the
scattered members of her family, to form a league against those dangerous
enemies, whose detestable projects, once unveiled and boldly encountered,
could hardly have a chance of success. The reader will now understand
the tremendous effect of this note on Father d'Aigrigny and Rodin--on
Rodin, stretched powerless on a bed of pain at the moment when the
scaffolding, raised with so much labor, seemed to be tumbling around him.
We have given up the attempt to paint the countenance, attitude, and
gesticulation of Rodin during the reading of this note, which seemed to
ruin all his most cherished hopes. Everything was failing at once, at
the moment when only superhuman trust in the success of his plans could
give him sufficient energy to strive against mortal sickness. A single,
absorbing thought had agitated him even to delirium: What progress,
during his illness, had been made in this immense affair? He had first
heard a good piece of news, the death of Jacques Rennepont; but now the
advantages of this decease, which reduced the number of the heirs from
seven to six, were entirely lost. To what purpose would be this death,
if the other members of the family, dispersed and persecuted with such
infernal perseverance, were to unite and discover the enemies who had so
long aimed at them in darkness? If all those wounded hearts were to
console, enlighten, support each other, their cause would be gained, and
the inheritance rescued from the reverend fathers. What was to be done?
Strange power of the human will!--Rodin had one foot in the grave, he was
almost at the last gasp; his voice had failed him. And yet that
obstinate nature, so full of energy and resources, did not despair. Let
but a miracle restore his health, and that firm confidence in the success
of his projects which has given him power to struggle against disease,
tells him that he could yet save all--but then he must have health and
life! Health! life! His physician does not know if he will survive the
shock--if he can bear the pain--of a terrible operation. Health! life!
and just now Rodin heard talk of the solemn funeral they had prepared for
him. And yet--health, life, he will have them. Yes; he has willed to
live--and he has lived--why should he not live longer? He will live--
because he has willed it.
All that we have just written passed though Rodin's mind in a second.
His features, convulsed by the mental torment he endured, must have
assumed a very strange expression, for Father d'Aigrigny and the cardinal
looked at him in silent consternation. Once resolved to live, and to
sustain a desperate struggle with the Rennepont family, Rodin acted in
consequence. For a few moments Father d'Aigrigny and the prelate
believed themselves under the influence of a dream. By an effort of
unparalleled energy, and as if moved by hidden mechanism, Rodin sprang
from the bed, dragging the sheet with him, and trailing it, like a
shroud, behind his livid and fleshless body. The room was cold; the face
of the Jesuit was bathed in sweat; his naked and bony feet left their
moist print upon the stones.
"What are you doing? It is death!" cried Father d'Aigrigny, rushing
towards Rodin, to force him to lie down again.
But the latter, extending one of his skeleton arms, as hard as iron,
pushed aside Father d'Aigrigny with inconceivable vigor, considering the
state of exhaustion in which he had so long been.
"He has the strength of a man in a fit of epilepsy," said Father
d'Aigrigny, recovering his balance.
With a steady step Rodin advanced to the desk on which Dr. Baleinier
daily wrote his prescriptions. Seating himself before it, the Jesuit
took pen and paper, and began to write in a firm hand. His calm, slow,
and sure movements had in them something of the deliberateness remarked
in somnambulists. Mute and motionless, hardly knowing whether they
dreamed or not, the cardinal and Father d'Aigrigny remained staring at
the incredible coolness of Rodin, who, half-naked, continued to write
with perfect tranquillity.
"But, father," said the Abbe d'Aigrigny, advancing towards him, "this is
Rodin shrugged his shoulders, stopped him with a gesture and made him a
sign to read what he had just written.
The reverend father expected to see the ravings of a diseased brain; but
he took the note, whilst Rodin commenced another.
"My lord," exclaimed Father d'Aigrigny, "read this!"
The cardinal read the paper, and returning it to the reverend father with
equal amazement, added: "It is full of reason, ability, and resources.
We shall thus be able to neutralize the dangerous combination of Abbe
Gabriel and Mdlle. de Cardoville, who appear to be the most formidable
leaders of the coalition."
"It is really miraculous," said Father d'Aigrigny.
"Oh, my dear father!" whispered the cardinal, shaking his head; "what a
pity that we are the only witnesses of this scene! What an excellent
MIRACLE we could have made of it! In one sense, it is another Raising of
"What an idea, my lord!" answered Father d'Aigrigny, in a low voice. "It
is perfect--and we must not give it up--"
This innocent little plot was interrupted by Rodin, who, turning his
head, made a sign to Father d'Aigrigny to approach, and delivered to him
another sheet, with this note attached: "To be executed within an hour."
Having rapidly perused the paper, Father d'Aigrigny exclaimed: "Right! I
had not thought of that. Instead of being fatal, the correspondence
between Agricola and M. Hardy may thus have the best results. Really,"
added the reverend father in a low voice to the prelate, while Rodin
continued to write, "I am quite confounded. I read--I see--and yet I can
hardly believe my eyes. Just before, exhausted and dying--and now with
his mind as clear and penetrating as ever. Can this be one of the
phenomena of somnambulism, in which the mind alone governs and sustains
Suddenly the door opened, and Dr. Baleinier entered the room. At sight
of Rodin, seated half-naked at the desk, with his feet upon the cold
stones, the doctor exclaimed, in a tone of reproach and alarm: "But, my
lord--but, father--it is murder to let the unhappy man do this!--If he is
delirious from fever, he must have the strait-waistcoat, and be tied down
So saying. Dr. Baleinier hastily approached Rodin, and took him by the
arm. Instead of finding the skin dry and chilly, as he expected, he
found it flexible, almost damp. Struck with surprise, the doctor sought
to feel the pulse of the left hand, which Rodin resigned, to him, whilst
he continued working with the right.
"What a prodigy!" cried the doctor, as he counted Rodin's pulse; "for a
week past, and even this morning, the pulse has been abrupt,
intermittent, almost insensible, and now it is firm, regular--I am really
puzzled--what then has happened? I can hardly believe what I see," added
the doctor, turning towards Father d'Aigrigny and the cardinal.
"The reverend father, who had first lost his voice, was next seized with
such furious and violent despair caused by the receipt of bad news,"
answered Father d'Aigrigny, "that we feared a moment for his life; while
now, on the contrary, the reverend father has gained sufficient strength
to go to his desk, and write for some minutes, with a clearness of
argument and expression, which has confounded both the cardinal and
"There is no longer any doubt of it," cried the doctor. "The violent
despair has caused a degree of emotion, which will admirably prepare the
reactive crisis, that I am now almost certain of producing by the
"You persist in the operation?" whispered Father d'Aigrigny, whilst Rodin
continued to write.
"I might have hesitated this morning; but, disposed as he now is for it,
I must profit by the moment of excitement, which will be followed by
"Then, without the operation--" said the cardinal.
"This fortunate and unexpected crisis will soon be over, and the reaction
may kill him, my lord."
"Have you informed him of the serious nature of the operation?"
"Pretty nearly, my lord."
"But it is time to bring him to the point."
"That is what I will do, my lord," said Dr. Baleinier; and approaching
Rodin, who continued to write, he thus addressed him, in a firm voice:
"My reverend father, do you wish to be up and well in a week?"
Rodin nodded, full of confidence, as much as to say: "I am up already."
"Do not deceive yourself," replied the doctor. "This crisis is
excellent, but it will not last, and if we would profit by it, we must
proceed with the operation of which I have spoken to you--or, I tell you
plainly, I answer for nothing after such a shock."
Rodin was the more struck with these words, as, half an hour ago, he had
experienced the short duration of the improvement occasioned by Father
d'Aigrigny's good news, and as already he felt increased oppression on
Dr. Baleinier, wishing to decide him, added: "In a word, father, will you
live or die?"
Rodin wrote rapidly this answer, which he gave to the doctor: "To live, I
would let you cut me limb from limb. I am ready for anything." And he
made a movement to rise.
"I must tell you, reverend father, so as not to take you by surprise,"
added Dr. Baleinier, "that this operation is cruelly painful."
Rodin shrugged his shoulders and wrote with a firm hand: "Leave me my
head; you may take all the rest."
The doctor read these words aloud, and the cardinal and Father d'Aigrigny
looked at each other in admiration of this dauntless courage.
"Reverend father," said Dr. Baleinier, "you must lie down."
Rodin wrote: "Get everything ready. I have still some orders to write.
Let me know when it is time."
Then folding up a paper, which he had sealed with a wafer, Rodin gave
these words to Father d'Aigrigny: "Send this note instantly to the agent
who addressed the anonymous letters to Marshal Simon."
"Instantly, reverend father," replied the abbe; "I will employ a sure
"Reverend father," said Baleinier to Rodin, "since you must write, lie
down in bed, and write there, during our little preparations."
Rodin made an affirmative gesture, and rose. But already the prognostics
of the doctor were realized. The Jesuit could hardly remain standing for
a second; he fell back into a chair, and looked at Dr. Baleinier with
anguish, whilst his breathing became more and more difficult.
The doctor said to him: "Do not be uneasy. But we must make haste. Lean
upon me and Father d'Aigrigny."
Aided by these two supporters, Rodin was able to regain the bed. Once
there, he made signs that they should bring him pen, ink, and paper.
Then he continued to write upon his knees, pausing from time to time, to
breathe with great difficulty.
"Reverend father," said Baleinier to d'Aigrigny, "are you capable of
acting as one of my assistants in the operation? Have you that sort of
"No," said the reverend father; "in the army I could never assist at an
amputation. The sight of blood is too much for me."
"There will be no blood," said the doctor, "but it will be worse. Please
send me three of our reverend fathers to assist me, and ask M. Rousselet
to bring in the apparatus."
Father d'Aigrigny went out. The prelate approached the doctor, and
whispered, pointing to Rodin: "Is he out of danger?"
"If he stands the operation--yes, my lord."
"Are you sure that he can stand it?"
"To him I should say `yes,' to you `I hope so.'"
`And were he to die, would there be time to administer the sacraments in
public, with a certain pomp, which always causes some little delay?"
"His dying may continue, my lord--a quarter of an hour."
"It is short, but we must be satisfied with that," said the prelate.
And, going to one of the windows, he began to tap with his fingers on the
glass, while he thought of the illumination effects, in the event of
Rodin's lying in state. At this moment, Rousselet entered, with a large
square box under his arm. He placed it on the drawers, and began to
arrange his apparatus.
"How many have you prepared?" said the doctor.
"Four will do, but it is well to be fully provided. The cotton is not
"And how is the reverend father?" asked the pupil.
"Humph!" answered the doctor, in a whisper. "The chest is terribly
clogged, the respiration hissing, the voice gone--still there is a
"All my fear is, sir, that the reverend father will not be able to stand
the dreadful pain."
"It is another chance; but, under the circumstances, we must risk all.
Come, my dear boy, light the--taper; I hear our assistants."
Just then Father d'Aigrigny entered the room, accompanied by the three
Jesuits, who, in the morning, had walked in the garden. The two old men,
with their rosy cheeks, and the young one, with the ascetic countenance,
all three dressed in black, with their square caps and white bands,
appeared perfectly ready to assist Dr. Baleinier in his formidable
"Reverend fathers," said Dr. Baleinier, graciously, to the three, "I
thank you for your kind aid. What you have to do is very simple, and, by
the blessing of heaven, this operation will save the life of our dear
The three black-gowns cast up their eyes piously, and then bowed
altogether, like one man. Rodin, indifferent to what was passing around
him, never ceased an instant to write or reflect. Nevertheless, in spite
of his apparent calmness, he felt such difficulty in breathing, that more
than once Dr. Baleinier had turned round uneasily, as he heard the
stifled rattling in the throat of the sick man. Making a sign to his
pupil, the doctor approached Rodin and said to him: "Come, reverend
father; this is the important moment. Courage!"
No sign of alarm was expressed in the Jesuit's countenance. His features
remained impassible as those of a corpse. Only, his little reptile eyes
sparkled still more brightly in their dark cavities. For a moment, he
looked round at the spectators of this scene; then, taking his pen
between his teeth, he folded and wafered another letter, placed it on the
table beside the bed, and nodded to Dr. Baleinier, as if to say: "I am
"You must take off your flannel waistcoat, and your shirt, father." Rodin
hesitated an instant, and the doctor resumed: "It is absolutely
Aided by Baleinier, Rodin obeyed, whilst the doctor added, no doubt to
spare his modesty: "We shall only require the chest, right and left, my
And now, Rodin, stretched upon his back, with his dirty night-cap still
on his head, exposed the upper part of a livid trunk, or rather, the bony
cage of a skeleton, for the shadows of the ribs and cartilages encircled
the skin with deep, black lines. As for the arms, they resembled bones
twisted with cord and covered with tanned parchment.
"Come, M. Rousselet, the apparatus!" said Baleinier.
Then addressing the three Jesuits, he added: "Please draw near,
gentlemen; what you have to do is very simple, as you will see."
It was indeed very simple. The doctor gave to each of his four
assistants a sort of little steel tripod about two inches in diameter and
three in height; the circular centre of this tripod was filled with
cotton; the instrument was held in the left hand by means of a wooden
handle. In the right hand each assistant held a small tin tube about
eighteen inches long; at one end was a mouthpiece to receive the lips of
the operator, and the other spread out so as to form a cover to the
little tripod. These preparations had nothing alarming in them. Father
d'Aigrigny and the prelate, who looked on from a little distance, could
not understand how this operation should be so painful. They soon
Dr. Baleinier, having thus provided his four assistants, made them
approach Rodin, whose bed had been rolled into the middle of the room.
Two of them were placed on one side, two on the other.
"Now, gentlemen," said Dr. Baleinier, "set light to the cotton; place the
lighted part on the skin of his reverence, by means of the tripod which
contains the wick; cover the tripod with the broad part of the tube, and
then blow through the other end to keep up the fire. It is very simple,
as you see."
It was, in fact, full of the most patriarchal and primitive ingenuity.
Four lighted cotton rocks, so disposed as to burn very slowly, were
applied to the two sides of Rodin's chest. This is vulgarly called the
moxa. The trick is done, when the whole thickness of the skin has been
burnt slowly through. It lasts seven or eight minutes. They say that an
amputation is nothing to it. Rodin had watched the preparations with
intrepid curiosity. But, at the first touch of the four fires, he
writhed like a serpent, without being able to utter a cry. Even the
expression of pain was denied him. The four assistants being disturbed
by, the sudden start of Rodin, it was necessary to begin again.
"Courage, my dear father! offer these sufferings to the Lord!" said Dr.
Baleinier, in a sanctified tone. "I told you the operation would he very
painful; but then it is salutary in proportion. Come; you that have
shown such decisive resolution, do not fail at the last movement!"
Rodin had closed his eyes, conquered by the first agony of pain. He now
opened them, and looked at the doctor as if ashamed of such weakness.
And yet on the sides of his chest were four large, bleeding wounds--so
violent had been the first singe. As he again extended himself on the
bed of torture, Rodin made a sign that he wished to write. The doctor
gave him the pen, and he wrote as follows, by way of memorandum; "It is
better not to lose any time. Inform Baron Tripeaud of the warrant issued
against Leonard, so that he may be on his guard."
Having written this note, the Jesuit gave it to Dr. Baleinier, to hand it
to Father d'Aigrigny, who was as much amazed as the doctor and the
cardinal, at such extraordinary presence of mind in the midst of such
horrible pain. Rodin, with his eyes fixed on the reverend father, seemed
to wait with impatience for him to leave the room to execute his orders.
Guessing the thought of Rodin, the doctor whispered Father d'Aigrigny,
who went out.
"Come, reverend father," said the doctor, "we must begin again. This
time do not move."
Rodin did not answer, but clasped his hands over his head, closed his
eyes, and presented his chest. It was a strange, lugubrious, almost
fantastic spectacle. The three priests, in their long black gowns,
leaned over this body, which almost resembled a corpse, and blowing
through their tubes into the chest of the patient, seemed as if pumping
up his blood by some magic charm. A sickening odor of burnt flesh began
to spread through the silent chamber, and each assistant heard a slight
crackling beneath the smoking trivet; it was the skin of Rodin giving way
to the action of fire, and splitting open in four different parts of his
chest. The sweat poured from his livid face, which it made to shine; a
few locks of his gray hair stood up stiff and moist from his temples.
Sometimes the spasms were so violent, that the veins swelled on his
stiffened arms, and were stretched like cords ready to break.
Enduring this frightful torture with as much intrepid resignation as the
savage whose glory consists in despising pain, Rodin gathered his
strength and courage from the hope--we had almost said the certainty--of
life. Such was the make of this dauntless character, such the energy of
this powerful mind, that, in the midst of indescribable torments, his one
fixed idea never left him. During the rare intervals of suffering--for
pain is equal even at this degree of intensity--Rodin still thought of
the Rennepont inheritance, and calculated his chances, and combined his
measures, feeling that he had not a minute to lose. Dr. Baleinier
watched him with extreme attention, waiting for the effects of the
reaction of pain upon the patient, who seemed already to breathe with
Suddenly Rodin placed his hand on his forehead, as if struck with some
new idea, and turning his head towards Dr. Baleinier, made a sign to him
to suspend the operation.
"I must tell you, reverend father," answered the doctor. "that it is not
half finished, and, if we leave off, the renewal will be more painful--"
Rodin made a sign that he did not care, and that he wanted to write.
"Gentlemen, stop a moment," said Dr. Baleinier; "keep down your moxas,
but do not blow the fire."
So the fire was to burn slowly, instead of fiercely, but still upon the
skin of the patient. In spite of this pain, less intense, but still
sharp and keen, Rodin, stretched upon his back, began to write, holding
the paper above his head. On the first sheet he traced some alphabetic
signs, part of a cipher known to himself alone. In the midst of the
torture, a luminous idea had crossed his mind; fearful of forgetting it
amidst his sufferings, he now took note of it. On another paper he wrote
the following, which was instantly delivered to Father d'Aigrigny: "Send
B. immediately to Faringhea, for the report of the last few days with
regard to Djalma, and let B. bring it hither on the instant." Father
d'Aigrigny went out to execute this new order. The cardinal approached a
little nearer to the scene of the operation, for, in spite of the bad
odor of the room, he took delight in seeing the Jesuit half roasted,
having long cherished against him the rancor of an Italian and a priest.
"Come, reverend father," said the doctor to Rodin, "continue to be
admirably courageous, and your chest will free itself. You have still a
bitter moment to go through--and then I have good hope."
The patient resumed his former position. The moment Father d'Aigrigny
returned, Rodin questioned him with a look, to which the reverend father
replied by a nod. At a sign from the doctor, the four assistants began
to blow through the tubes with all their might. This increase of torture
was so horrible, that, in spite of his self-control, Rodin gnashed his
teeth, started convulsively, and so expanded his palpitating chest, that,
after a violent spasm, there rose from his throat and lungs a scream of
terrific pain--but it was free, loud, sonorous.
"The chest is free!" cried the doctor, in triumph. "The lungs have play-
-the voice returns--he is saved!--Blow, gentlemen, blow; and, reverend
father, cry out as much as you please: I shall be delighted to hear you,
for it will give you relief. Courage! I answer for the result. It is a
wonderful cure. I will publish it by sound of trumpet."
"Allow me, doctor," whispered Father d'Aigrigny, as he approached Dr.
Baleinier; "the cardinal can witness, that I claimed beforehand the
publication of this affair--as a miraculous fact."
"Let it be miraculous then," answered Dr. Baleinier, disappointed--for he
set some value on his own work.
On hearing he was saved, Rodin though his sufferings were perhaps worse
than ever, for the fire had now pierced the scarf-skin, assumed almost an
infernal beauty. Through the painful contraction of his features shone
the pride of savage triumph; the monster felt that he was becoming once
more strong and powerful, and he seemed conscious the evils that his
fatal resurrection was to cause. And so, of still writhing beneath the
flames, he pronounced these words, the first that struggled from his
chest: "I told you I should live!"
"You told us true," cried the doctor, feeling his pulse; "the circulation
is now full and regular, the lungs are free. The reaction is complete.
You are saved."
At this moment, the last shreds of cotton had burnt out. The trivets
were withdrawn, and on the skeleton trunk of Rodin were seen four large
round blisters. The skin still smoked, and the raw flesh was visible
beneath. In one of his sudden movements, a lamp had been misplaced, and
one of these burns was larger than the other, presenting as it were to
the eye a double circle. Rodin looked down upon his wounds. After some
seconds of silent contemplation, a strange smile curled his lips.
Without changing his position, he glanced at Father d'Aigrigny with an
expression impossible to describe, and said to him, as he slowly counted
the wounds touching them with his flat and dirty nail: "Father
d'Aigrigny, what an omen!--Look here! one Rennepont--two Renneponts--
three Renneponts--four Renneponts--where is then the fifth!--Ah! here--
this wound will count for two. They are twins." And he emitted a
little dry, bitter laugh. Father d'Aigrigny, the cardinal, and Dr.
Baleinier, alone understood the sense of these mysterious and fatal
words, which Rodin soon completed by a terrible allusion, as he
exclaimed, with prophetic voice, and almost inspired air: "Yes, I say it.
The impious race will be reduced to ashes, like the fragments of this
poor flesh. I say it, and it will be so. I said I would live--and I do
 Jacques Rennepont being dead, and Gabriel out of the field, in
consequence of his donation, there remained only five persons of the
family--Rose and Blanche, Djalma, Adrienne, and Hardy.
VICE AND VIRTUE.
Two days have elapsed since Rodin was miraculously restored to life. The
reader will not have forgotten the house in the Rue Clovis, where the
reverend father had an apartment, and where also was the lodging of
Philemon, inhabited by Rose-Pompon. It is about three o'clock in the
afternoon. A bright ray of light, penetrating through a round hole in
the door Mother Arsene's subterraneous shop, forms a striking contrast
with the darkness of this cavern. The ray streams full upon a melancholy
object. In the midst of fagots and faded vegetables, and close to a
great heap of charcoal, stands a wretched bed; beneath the sheet, which
covers it, can be traced the stiff and angular proportions of a corpse.
It is the body of Mother Arsene herself, who died two days before, of the
cholera. The burials have been so numerous, that there has been no time
to remove her remains. The Rue Clovis is almost deserted. A mournful
silence reigns without, often broken by the sharp whistling of the north
wind. Between the squalls, one hears a sort of pattering. It is the
noise of the large rats, running to and fro across the heap of charcoal.
Suddenly, another sound is heard, and these unclean animals fly to hide
themselves in their holes. Some one is trying to force open the door,
which communicates between the shop and the passage. It offers but
little resistance, and, in a few seconds, the worn-out lock gives way,
and a woman enters. For a short time she stands motionless in the
obscurity of the damp and icy cave. After a minute's hesitation, the
woman advances and the ray of light illumines the features of the
Bacchanal Queen. Slowly, she approached the funeral couch. Since the
death of Jacques, the alteration in the countenance of Cephyse had gone
on increasing. Fearfully pale, with her fine black hair in disorder, her
legs and feet naked, she was barely covered with an old patched petticoat
and a very ragged handkerchief.
When she came near the bed, she cast a glance of almost savage assurance
at the shroud. Suddenly she drew back, with a low cry of involuntary
terror. The sheet moved with a rapid undulation, extending from the feet
to the head of the corpse. But soon the sight of a rat, flying along the
side of the worm-eaten bedstead, explained the movement of the shroud.
Recovering from her fright, Cephyse began to look for several things, and
collected them in haste, as though she dreaded being surprised in the
miserable shop. First, she seized a basket, and filled it with charcoal;
then, looking from side to side, she discovered in a corner an earthen
pot, which she took with a burst of ominous joy.
"It is not all, it is not all," said Cephyse, as she continued to search
with an unquiet air.
At last she perceived near the stove a little tin box, containing flint,
steel and matches. She placed these articles on the top of the basket,
and took it in one hand, and the earthen pot in the other. As she passed
near the corpse of the poor charcoal-dealer, Cephyse said, with a strange
smile: "I rob you, poor Mother Arsene, but my theft will not do me much
Cephyse left the shop, reclosed the door as well as she could, went up
the passage, and crossed the little court-yard which separated the front
of the building from that part in which Rodin had lodged. With the
exception of the windows of Philemon's apartment, where Rose-Pompon had
so often sat perched like a bird, warbling Beranger, the other windows of
the house were open. There had been deaths on the first and second
floors, and, like many others, they were waiting for the cart piled up
The Bacchanal Queen gained the stairs, which led to the chambers formerly
occupied by Rodin. Arrived at the landing-place she ascended another
ruinous staircase, steep as a ladder, and with nothing but an old rope
for a rail. She at length reached the half-rotten door of a garret,
situated in the roof. The house was in such a state of dilapidation,
that, in many places the roof gave admission to the rain, and allowed it
to penetrate into this cell, which was not above ten feet square, and
lighted by an attic window. All the furniture consisted of an old straw
mattress, laid upon the ground, with the straw peeping out from a rent in
its ticking; a small earthenware pitcher, with the spout broken, and
containing a little water, stood by the side of this couch. Dressed in
rags, Mother Bunch was seated on the side of the mattress, with her
elbows on her knees, and her face concealed in her thin, white hands.
When Cephyse entered the room, the adopted sister of Agricola raised her
head; her pale, mild face seemed thinner than ever, hollow with
suffering, grief, misery; her eyes, red with weeping, were fixed on her
sister with an expression of mournful tenderness.
"I have what we want, sister," said Cephyse, in a low, deep voice; "in
this basket there is wherewith to finish our misery."
Then, showing to Mother Bunch the articles she had just placed on the
floor, she added: "For the first time in my life, I have been a thief.
It made me ashamed and frightened; I was never intended for that or
worse. It is a pity." added she, with a sardonic smile.
After a moment's silence, the hunchback said to her sister, in a heart-
rending tone: "Cephyse--my dear Cephyse--are you quite determined to
"How should I hesitate?" answered Cephyse, in a firm voice. "Come,
sister, let us once more make our reckoning. If even I could forget my
shame, and Jacques' contempt in his last moments, what would remain to
me? Two courses only: first, to be honest, and work for my living. But
you know that, in spite of the best will in the world, work will often
fail, as it has failed for the last few days, and, even when I got it, I
would have to live on four to five francs a week. Live? that is to say,
die by inches. I know that already, and I prefer dying at once. The
other course would be to live a life of infamy--and that I will not do.
Frankly, sister, between frightful misery, infamy, or death, can the
choice be doubtful? Answer me!"
Then, without giving Mother Bunch time to speak, Cephyse added, in an
abrupt tone: "Besides, what is the good of discussing it? I have made up
my mind, and nothing shall prevent my purpose, since all that you, dear
sister, could obtain from me, was a delay of a few days, to see if the
cholera would not save us the trouble. To please you I consented; the
cholera has come, killed every one else in the house, but left us. You
see, it is better to do one's own business," added she, again smiling
bitterly. Then she resumed: "Besides, dear sister, you also wish to
finish with life."
"It is true, Cephyse," answered the sempstress, who seemed very much
depressed; "but alone--one has only to answer for one's self--and to die
with you," added she, shuddering, "appears like being an accomplice in
"Do you wish, then, to make an end of it, I in one place, you in
another?--that would be agreeable!" said Cephyse, displaying in that
terrible moment the sort of bitter and despairing irony which is more
frequent than may be imagined in the midst of mortal anguish.
"Oh, no, no!" said the other in alarm, "not alone--I will not die alone!"
"Do you not see, dear sister, we are right not to part? And yet," added
Cephyse, in a voice of emotion, "my heart almost breaks sometimes, to
think that you will die like me."
"How selfish!" said the hunchback, with a faint smile. "What reasons
nave I to love life? What void shall I leave behind me?"
"But you are a martyr, sister," resumed Cephyse. "The priests talk of
saints! Is there one of them so good as you? And yet you are about to
die like me, who have always been idle, careless, sinful--while you were
so hardworking, so devoted to all who suffered. What should I say? You
were an angel on the earth; and yet you will die like me, who have fallen
as low as a woman can fall," added the unfortunate, casting down her
"It is strange," answered Mother Bunch, thoughtfully. "Starting from the
same point, we have followed different roads, and yet we have reached the
same goal--disgust of life. For you, my poor sister, but a few days ago,
life was so fair, so full of pleasure and of youth; and now it is equally
heavy with us both. After all, I have followed to the end what was my
duty," added she, mildly. "Agricola no longer needs me. He is married;
he loves, and is beloved; his happiness is secured. Mdlle. de Cardoville
wants for nothing. Fair, rich, prosperous--what could a poor creature
like myself do for her? Those who have been kind to me are happy. What
prevents my going now to my rest? I am so weary!"
"Poor sister!" said Cephyse, with touching emotion, which seemed to
expand her contracted features; "when I think that, without informing me,
and in spite of your resolution never to see that generous young lady,
who protected you, you yet had the courage to drag yourself to her house,
dying with fatigue and want, to try to interest her in my fate--yes,
dying, for your strength failed on the Champs-Elysees."
"And when I was able to reach the mansion, Mdlle. de Cardoville was
unfortunately absent--very unfortunately!" repeated the hunchback, as she
looked at Cephyse with anguish; "for the next day, seeing that our last
resource had failed us, thinking more of me than of yourself, and
determined at any price to procure us bread--"
She could not finish. She buried her face in her hands, and shuddered.
"Well, I did as so many other hapless women have done when work fails or
wages do not suffice, and hunger becomes too pressing," replied Cephyse,
in a broken voice; "only that, unlike so many others, instead of living
on my shame, I shall die of it."
"Alas! this terrible shame which kills you, my poor Cephyse, because you
have a heart, would have been averted, had I seen Mdlle. de Cardoville,
or had she but answered the letter which I asked leave to write to her at
the porter's lodge. But her silence proves to me that she is justly hurt
at my abrupt departure from her house. I can understand it; she believes
me guilty of the blackest ingratitude--for she must have been greatly
offended not to have deigned to answer me--and therefore I had not the
courage to write a second time. It would have been useless, I am sure;
for, good and just as she is, her refusals are inexorable when she
believes them deserved. And besides, for what good? It was too late;
you had resolved to die!"
"Oh, yes, quite resolved: for my infamy was gnawing at my heart. Jacques
had died in my arms despising me; and I loved him--mark me, sister,"
added Cephyse, with passionate enthusiasm, "I loved him as we love only
once in life!"
"Let our fate be accomplished, then!" said Mother Bunch with a pensive
"But you have never told me, sister, the cause of your departure from
Mdlle. de Cardoville's," resumed Cephyse, after a moment's silence.
"It will be the only secret that I shall take with me, dear Cephyse,"
said the other, casting down her eyes. And she thought, with bitter joy,
that she would soon be delivered from the fear which had poisoned the
last days of her sad life--the fear of meeting Agricola, informed of the
fatal and ridiculous love she felt for him.
For, it must be said, this fatal and despairing love was one of the
causes of the suicide of the unfortunate creature. Since the
disappearance of her journal, she believed that the blacksmith knew the
melancholy secret contained in its sad pages. She doubted not the
generosity and good heart of Agricola; but she had such doubts of
herself, she was so ashamed of this passion, however pure and noble,
that, even in the extremity to which Cephyse and herself were reduced--
wanting work, wanting bread--no power on earth could have induced her to
meet Agricola, in an attempt to ask him for assistance. Doubtless, she
would have taken another view of the subject if her mind had not been
obscured by that sort of dizziness to which the firmest characters are
exposed when their misfortunes surpass all bounds. Misery, hunger, the
influence, almost contagious in such a moment, of the suicidal ideas of
Cephyse, and weariness of a life so long devoted to pain and
mortification, gave the last blow to the sewing-girl's reason. After
long struggling against the fatal design of her sister, the poor,
dejected, broken-hearted creature finished by determining to share
Cephyse's fate, and seek in death the end of so many evils.
"Of what are you thinking, sister?" said Cephyse, astonished at the long
silence. The other replied, trembling: "I think of that which made me
leave Mdlle. de Cardoville so abruptly, and appear so ungrateful in her
eyes. May the fatality which drove me from her house have made no other
victims! may my devoted service, however obscure and powerless, never be
missed by her, who extended her noble hand to the poor sempstress, and
deigned to call me sister! May she be happy--oh, ever happy!" said
Mother Bunch, clasping her hands with the ardor of a sincere invocation.
"That is noble, sister--such a wish in such a moment!" said Cephyse.
"Oh," said her sister, with energy, "I loved, I admired that marvel of
genius, and heart, and ideal beauty--I viewed her with pious respect--for
never was the power of the Divinity revealed in a more adorable and purer
creation. At least one of my last thoughts will have been of her."
"Yes, you will have loved and respected your generous patroness to the
"To the last!" said the poor girl, after a moment's silence. "It is
true--you are right--it will soon be the last!--in a few moments, all
will be finished. See how calmly we can talk of that which frightens so
"Sister, we are calm because we are resolved."
"Quite resolved, Cephyse," said the hunchback, casting once more a deep
and penetrating glance upon her sister.
"Oh, yes, if you are only as determined as I am."
"Be satisfied; if I put off from day to day the final moment," answered
the sempstress, "it was because I wished to give you time to reflect. As
She did not finish, but she shook her head with an air of the utmost
"Well, sister, let us kiss each other," said Cephyse; "and, courage!"
The hunchback rose, and threw herself into her sister's arms. They held
one another fast in a long embrace. There followed a few seconds of deep
and solemn silence, only interrupted by the sobs of the sisters, for now
they had begun to weep.
"Oh, heaven! to love each other so, and to part forever!" said Cephyse.
"It is a cruel fate."
"To part?" cried Mother Bunch, and her pale, mild countenance, bathed in
tears, was suddenly illumined with a ray of divine hope; "to part,
sister? oh, no! What makes me so calm is the deep and certain
expectation, which I feel here at my heart, of that better world where a
better life awaits us. God, so great, so merciful, so prodigal of good,
cannot destine His creatures to be forever miserable. Selfish men may
pervert His benevolent designs, and reduce their brethren to a state of
suffering and despair. Let us pity the wicked and leave them! Come up on
high, sister; men are nothing there, where God is all. We shall do well
there. Let us depart, for it is late."
So saying, she pointed to the ruddy beams of the setting sun, which began
to shine upon the window.
Carried away by the religious enthusiasm of her sister, whose
countenance, transfigured, as it were, by the hope of an approaching
deliverance, gleamed brightly in the reflected sunset, Cephyse took her
hands, and, looking at her with deep emotion, exclaimed, "Oh, sister! how
beautiful you look now!"
"Then my beauty comes rather late in the day," said Mother Bunch, with a
"No, sister; for you appear so happy, that the last scruples I had upon
your account are quite gone."
"Then let us make haste," said the hunchback, as she pointed to the
"Be satisfied, sister--it will not be long," said Cephyse. And she took
the chafing-dish full of charcoal, which she had placed in a corner of
the garret, and brought it out into the middle of the room.
"Do you know how to manage it?" asked the sewing-girl approaching.
"Oh! it is very simple," answered Cephyse; "we have only to close the
door and window, and light the charcoal."
"Yes, sister; but I think I have heard that every opening must be well
stopped, so as to admit no current of air."
"You are right, and the door shuts so badly."
"And look at the holes in the roof."
"What is to be done, sister?"
"I will tell you," said Mother Bunch. "The straw of our mattress, well
twisted, will answer every purpose."
"Certainly," replied Cephyse. "We will keep a little to light our fire,
and with the rest we will stop up all the crevices in the roof, and make
filling for our doors and windows."
Then, smiling with that bitter irony, so frequent, we repeat, in the most
gloomy moments, Cephyse added, "I say, sister, weather-boards at our
doors and windows, to prevent the air from getting in--what a luxury! we
are as delicate as rich people."
"At such a time, we may as well try to make ourselves a little
comfortable," said Mother Bunch, trying to jest like the Bacchanal Queen.
And with incredible coolness, the two began to twist the straw into
lengths of braid, small enough to be stuffed into the cracks of the door,
and also constructed large plugs, destined to stop up the crevices in the
roof. While this mournful occupation lasted, there was no departure from
the calm and sad resignation of the two unfortunate creatures.
Cephyse and her sister continued with calmness the preparations for their
Alas! how many poor young girls, like these sisters, have been, and still
will be, fatally driven to seek in suicide a refuge from despair, from
infamy, or from a too miserable existence! And upon society will rest
the terrible responsibility of these sad deaths, so long as thousands of
human creatures, unable to live upon the mockery of wages granted to
their labor, have to choose between these three gulfs of shame and woe; a
life of enervating toil and mortal privations, causes of premature death;
prostitution, which kills also, but slowly--by contempt, brutality, and
uncleanness; suicide--which kills at once.
In a few minutes, the two sisters had constructed, with the straw of
their couch, the calkings necessary to intercept the air, and to render
suffocation more expeditious and certain.
The hunchback said to her sister, "You are the taller, Cephyse, and must
look to the ceiling; I will take care of the window and door."
"Be satisfied, sister; I shall have finished before you," answered
And the two began carefully to stop up every crevice through which a
current of air could penetrate into the ruined garret. Thanks to her
tall stature, Cephyse was able to reach the holes in the roof, and to
close them up entirely. When they had finished this sad work, the
sisters again approached, and looked at each other in silence.
The fatal moment drew near; their faces, though still calm, seemed
slightly agitated by that strange excitement which always accompanies a
"Now," said Mother Bunch, "now for the fire!"
She knelt down before the little chafing-dish, filled with charcoal. But
Cephyse took hold of her under the arm, and obliged her to rise again,
saying to her, "Let me light the fire--that is my business."
"You know, poor sister, that the smell of charcoal gives you the
At the simplicity of this speech, for the Bacchanal Queen had spoken
seriously, the sisters could not forbear smiling sadly.
"Never mind," resumed Cephyse; "why suffer more and sooner than is
Then, pointing to the mattress, which still contained a little straw,
Cephyse added, "Lie down there, good little sister; when our fire is
alight, I will come and sit down by you."
"Do not be long, Cephyse."
"In five minutes it will be done."
The tall building, which faced the street, was separated by a narrow
court from that which contained the retreat of the two sisters, and was
so much higher, that when the sun had once disappeared behind its lofty
roof, the garret soon became dark. The light, passing through the dirty
panes of the small window, fell faintly on the blue and white patchwork
of the old mattress, on which Mother Bunch was now stretched, covered
with rags. Leaning on her left arm, with her chin resting in the palm of
her hand, she looked after her sister with an expression of heart-rending
grief. Cephyse, kneeling over the chafing-dish, with her face close to
the black charcoal, above which already played a little bluish flame,
exerted herself to blow the newly-kindled fire, which was reflected on
the pale countenance of the unhappy girl.
The silence was deep. No sound was heard but the panting breath of
Cephyse, and, at intervals, the slight crackling of the charcoal, which
began to burn, and already sent forth a faint sickening vapor. Cephyse,
seeing the fire completely lighted, and feeling already a little dizzy,
rose from the ground, and said to her sister, as she approached her, "It
"Sister," answered Mother Bunch, kneeling on the mattress, whilst Cephyse
remained standing, "how shall we place ourselves? I should like to be
near you to the last."
Stop!" said Cephyse, half executing the measures of which she spoke, "I
will sit on the mattress with my back against the wall. Now, little
sister, you lie there. Lean your head upon my knees, and give me your
hand. Are you comfortable so?"
"Yes--but I cannot see you."
"That is better. It seems there is a moment--very short, it is true--in
which one suffers a good deal. And," added Cephyse, in a voice of
emotion, "it will be as well not to see each other suffer."
"You are right, Cephyse."
"Let me kiss that beautiful hair for the last time," said Cephyse, as she
pressed her lips to the silky locks which crowned the hunchback's pale
and melancholy countenance, "and then--we will remain very quiet."
"Sister, your hand," said the sewing-girl; "for the last time, your hand
--and then, as you say, we will move no more. We shall not have to wait
long, I think, for I begin to feel dizzy. And you, sister?"
"Not yet," replied Cephyse; "I only perceive the smell of the charcoal."
"Do you know where they will bury us?" said Mother Bunch, after a
"No. Why do you ask?"
"Because I should like it to be in Pere-la-Chaise. I went there once
with Agricola and his mother. What a fine view there is!--and then the
trees, the flowers, the marble--do you know the dead are better lodged--
than the living--and--"
What is the matter, sister?" said Cephyse to her companion, who had
stopped short, after speaking in a slow voice.
"I am giddy--my temples throb," was the answer. "How do you feel?"
"I only begin to be a little faint; it is strange--the effect is slower
with me than you."
"Oh! you see," said Mother Bunch, trying to smile, "I was always so
forward. At school, do you remember, they said I was before the others.
And, now it happens again."
"I hope soon to overtake you this time," said Cephyse.
What astonished the sisters was quite natural. Though weakened by sorrow
and misery, the Bacchanal Queen, with a constitution as robust as the
other was frail and delicate, was necessarily longer than her sister in
feeling the effects of the deleterious vapor. After a moment's silence,
Cephyse resumed, as she laid her hand on the head she still held upon her
knees, "You say nothing, sister! You suffer, is it not so?"
"No," said Mother Bunch, in a weak voice; "my eyelids are heavy as lead--
I am getting benumbed--I feel that I speak more slowly--but I have no
acute pain. And you, sister?"
"Whilst you were speaking, I felt giddy--and now my temples throb
"As it was with me just now. One would think it was more painful and
difficult to die."
Then after a moment's silence, the hunchback said suddenly to her sister,
"Do you think that Agricola will much regret me, and think of me for some
"How can you ask?" said Cephyse, in a tone of reproach.
"You are right," answered Mother Bunch, mildly; "there is a bad feeling
in such a doubt--but if you knew--"
The other hesitated for an instant, and then said, dejectedly, "Nothing."
Afterwards, she added, "Fortunately, I die convinced that he will never
miss me. He married a charming girl, who loves him, I am sure, and will
make him perfectly happy."
As she pronounced these last words, the speaker's voice grew fainter and
fainter. Suddenly she started and said to Cephyse, in a trembling,
almost frightened tone, "Sister! Hold me in your arms--I am afraid--
everything looks dark--everything is turning round." And the unfortunate
girl, raising herself a little, hid her face in her sister's bosom, and
threw his weak arms around her.
"Courage, sister!" said Cephyse, in a voice which was also growing faint,
as she pressed her closer to her bosom; "it will soon be over."
And Cephyse added, with a kind of envy, "Oh! why does my sister's
strength fail so much sooner than mine? I have still my perfect senses
and I suffer less than she does. Oh! if I thought she would die first!--
But, no--I will go and hold my face over the chafing-dish rather."
At the movement Cephyse made to rise, a feeble pressure from her sister
held her back. "You suffer, my poor child!" said Cephyse, trembling.
"Oh yes! a good deal now--do not leave me!"
"And I scarcely at all," said Cephyse, gazing wildly at the chafing-dish.
"Ah!" added she, with a kind of fatal! joy; "now I begin to feel it--I
choke--my head is ready to split."
And indeed the destructive gas now filled the little chamber, from which
it had, by degrees, driven all the air fit for respiration. The day was
closing in, and the gloomy garret was only lighted by the reflection of
the burning charcoal, which threw a red glare on the sisters, locked in
each other's arms. Suddenly Mother Bunch made some slight convulsive
movements, and pronounced these words in a failing voice: "Agricola--
Mademoiselle de Cardoville--Oh! farewell!--Agricola--I--"
Then she murmured some unintelligible words; the convulsive moments
ceased, and her arms, which had been clasped round Cephyse, fell inert
upon the mattress.
"Sister!" cried Cephyse, in alarm, as she raised Mother Bunch's head, to
look at her face. "Not already, sister!--And I?--and I?"
The sewing-girl's mild countenance was not paler than usual. Only her
eyes, half-closed, seemed no longer to see anything, and a half-smile of
mingled grief and goodness lingered an instant about her violet lips,
from which stole the almost imperceptible breath--and then the mouth
became motionless, and the face assumed a great serenity of expression.
"But you must not die before me!" cried Cephyse, in a heart-rending tone,
as she covered with kisses the cold cheek. "Wait for me, sister! wait
Mother Bunch did not answer. The head, which Cephyse let slip from her
hands, fell back gently on the mattress.
"My God. It is not my fault, if we do not die together!" cried Cephyse
in despair, as she knelt beside the couch, on which the other lay
"Dead!" she murmured in terror. "Dead before me!--Perhaps it is that I
am the strongest. Ah! it begins--fortunately--like her, I see everything
dark-blue--I suffer--what happiness!--I can scarcely breathe. Sister!"
she added, as she threw her arms round her loved one's neck; "I am
coming--I am here!"
At the same instant the sound of footsteps and voices was heard from the
staircase. Cephyse had still presence of mind enough to distinguish the
sound. Stretched beside the body of her sister, she raised her head
The noise approached, and a voice was heard exclaiming, not far from the
doer: "Good heavens! what a smell of fire!"
And, at the same instant, the door was violently shaken, and another
voice exclaimed: "Open! open!"
"They will come in--they will save me--and my sister is dead--Oh, no! I
will not have the baseness to survive her!"
Such was the last thought of Cephyse. Using what little strength she had
left, she ran to the window and opened it--and, at the same instant that
the half-broken door yielded to a vigorous effort from without, the
unfortunate creature precipitated herself from that third story into the
court below. Just then, Adrienne and Agricola appeared on the threshold
of the chamber. In spite of the stifling odor of the charcoal, Mdlle. de
Cardoville rushed into the garret, and, seeing the stove, she exclaimed,
"The unhappy girl has killed herself!"
"No, she has thrown herself from the window," cried Agricola: for, at the
moment of breaking open the door, he had seen a human form disappear in
that direction, and he now ran to the window.
"Oh! this is frightful!" he exclaimed, with a cry of horror, as he put
his hand before his eyes, and returned pale and terrified to Mdlle. de
But, misunderstanding the cause of his terror, Adrienne, who had just
perceived Mother Bunch through the darkness, hastened to answer: "No! she
And she pointed to the pale form stretched on the mattress, beside which
Adrienne now threw herself on her knees. Grasping the hands of the poor
sempstress, she found them as cold as ice. Laying her hand on her heart,
she could not feel it beat. Yet, in a few seconds, as the fresh air
rushed into the room from the door and window, Adrienne thought she
remarked an almost imperceptible pulsation, and she exclaimed: "Her heart
beats! Run quickly for help! Luckily, I have my smelling bottle."
"Yes, yes! help for her--and for the other too, if it is yet time!" cried
the smith in despair, as he rushed down the stairs, leaving Mdlle. de
Cardoville still kneeling by the side of the mattress.
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