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- Mysteries of Paris, V3 - 50/89 -
of which were lost in the silence of night. At the end of a quarter of an hour the priest took a sheet, which he threw over the bed.
Then he retired. One of the kneeling sisters arose, closed the curtains, and returned to her prayers alongside of her companion. Then everything became once more silent. One of the patients had just died. Among the women who did not sleep, and who had witnessed this mute scene, were three persons whose names have already been mentioned in the course of this history: Mademoiselle de Fermont, daughter of the unhappy widow ruined by the cupidity of Jacques Ferrand; La Lorraine, a poor washer-woman, to whom Fleur-de-Marie had formerly given what money she had left; and Jeanne Duport, sister of Pique-Vinaigre, the patterer of La Force. We know Mademoiselle de Fermont and the juggler's sister. La Lorraine was a woman of about twenty, with a sweet face, but extremely pale and thin: she was in the last stage of consumption; there was no hope of saving her; she knew it, and was wasting away slowly. The distance was not so great between the beds of these two women but they could speak in a low tone, and not be overheard by the sisters.
"There is another one gone," whispered La Lorraine, thinking of the dead, and speaking to herself. "She will not suffer more--she is very happy."
"She is very happy, if she has left no children," added Jeanne.
"Oh! you are not asleep, neighbor," said La Lorraine, to her. "How do you get on, for your first night here? Last night, as soon as you were brought in, you were placed in bed, and I did not dare to speak to you; I heard you sob.
"Oh! yes; I have wept much."
"You are, then, in much pain?"
"Yes, but I am used to pain; it is from sorrow I weep. At length I fell asleep; I was still sleeping when the noise of the doors awoke me. When the priest came in, and the good sisters knelt, I soon saw it was a woman who was dying; then I said to myself a pater and an ave for her."
"I also; and, as I have the same complaint, as this woman had, who is just dead, I could not prevent myself from saying, 'Here is another whose sufferings are ended; she is very happy!'"
"Yes, as I told you, if she had no children."
"You have children, then?"
"Three," said the sister of Pique-Vinaigre, with a sigh,
"I had a little girl, but I did not keep her long. I am a washer-woman at the boats; I worked as long as I could. But everything has an end; when my strength failed me, my bread failed me also. They turned me oat of my lodgings; I do not know what would have become of me, except for a poor woman who gave me shelter in a cellar, where she had concealed herself to escape from her husband, who wished to kill her. There I was confined on the straw; but, happily, this good woman knew a young girl, beautiful and charitable as an angel from heaven: this young girl had a little money; she took me from the cellar, and placed me in a furnished room, paying the rent in advance, giving me, besides, a willow cradle for my child, and forty francs for myself, with some clothes."
"Good little girl! I also have met, by chance, with one who may be called her equal, a young dressmaker, very obliging. I had gone to see my poor brother, who is a prisoner," said Jeanne, after a moment of hesitation; "and I met in the visitors' room this young girl of whom I speak; having heard me say to my brother that I was not happy, she came to me, much embarrassed, to offer what services were in her power."
"How kind that was in her!"
"I accepted; she gave me her address, and, two days after, this dear little Rigolette--that's her dear name--gave me employment."
"Rigolette!" cried La Lorraine.
"You know her?"
"No; but the young girl who was so generous to me, several times mentioned the name of Rigolette: they were friends together."
"Well!" said Jeanne, smiling sadly, "since we are neighbors in sickness, we should be friends like our two benefactresses."
"Willingly: my name is Annette Gerbier, otherwise La Lorraine, washer-woman."
"And mine, Jeanne Duport, fringe-maker. Ah! it is so good, at the hospital, to find some one who is not altogether a stranger, above all, when you come for the first time, and you have many troubles! But I do not wish to think of this. Tell me, La Lorraine, what was the name of the young girl who has been so kind to you?"
"She was called La Goualeuse. All my sorrow is that I have not seen her for a long time. She was as beautiful as the Holy Virgin, with fine flaxen hair and blue eyes, so sweet--so sweet! Unfortunately, notwithstanding her assistance, my poor child died at two months," and Lorraine wiped away a tear.
"I regret, my child, for myself, not for her, poor little dear! She would have too much to struggle with, for she soon would have been an orphan. I have not a long time to live."
"You should not have such ideas at your age. Have you been sick for a long time?"
"It will soon be three months. Bless me! when I had to work for myself and my child, I increased my labor; the winter was cold, I caught a cold on my chest; at this time I lost my little girl. In watching her I forgot myself. To that add sorrow, and I am what you see me, consumptive, doomed--as was the actress who has just died."
"At your age there is always hope."
"The actress was only two years older, and you see---"
"She whom the good sisters are watching now, was she an actress?"
"Oh, yes--what a fate! She had been beautiful as the day. She had plenty of money, equipages, diamonds, but, unfortunately, the small-pox disfigured her; then want came, then poverty--behold her dead in the hospital. Yet, she was not proud; on the contrary, she was kind and gentle to everybody; she told us that she had written to a gentleman whom she had known in her prosperity, who had loved her; she wrote to him to come and reclaim her body, because it hurt her feelings to think she would be dissected--cut in pieces."
"And this gentleman has come?"
"Oh! that is very cruel."
"At each moment the poor woman asked for him, saying continually, 'Oh! he will come! oh! he will surely come;' and yet she died, and he had not come."
"Her end must have been so much the more painful."
"Oh, Lord, yes; for she dreaded so much what they would do to her body."
"After having been rich and happy, to die here is sad! For us, it is only a change of misery."
"Speaking of that," resumed La Lorraine, after a moment's hesitation, "I wish you would render me a service."
"If I should die, as is probable, before you leave this, I wish you would claim my body--I have the same dread as the actress; and I have put aside the small amount of money I have left, so that I can be buried."
"Do not have such ideas."
"Never mind--do you promise me?"
"Yes! but Lord be praised, that will not happen."
"But, if it does happen, I shall not have, thanks to you, the same misfortune as the actress."
"Poor lady, after having been rich, to end thus!"
"The actress was not the only one in this room who has been rich, Madame Jeanne."
"Call me Jeanne, as I call you La Lorraine."
"You are very kind."
"Who is it that has been rich besides?"
"A young person not over fifteen, who was brought here last night, before you came. She was so weak that they were obliged to carry her. The sister said that this young girl and her mother were very respectable people, who had been ruined."
"Her mother is also here?"
"No: the mother was so very sick, that she could not be moved. The poor child would not leave her, and they profited by a fainting fit to bring her here. It was the proprietor of a wretched lodging-house who, for fear that they would die in his abode, applied for their admission."
"And where is she?"
"There, in the bed opposite to yours."
"And only fifteen?"
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