Two months later the ex-major was crawling slowly along in the sunlight down a lonely street of Vauchamp, when he again found himself face to face with Mme Burle and little Charles. They were both in deep mourning. He tried to avoid them, but he now only walked with difficulty, and they advanced straight upon him without hurrying or slackening their steps. Charles still had the same gentle, girlish, frightened face, and Mme Burle retained her stern, rigid demeanor, looking even harsher than ever.
As Laguitte shrank into the corner of a doorway to leave the whole street to them, she abruptly stopped in front of him and stretched out her hand. He hesitated and then took it and pressed it, but he trembled so violently that he made the old lady’s arm shake. They exchanged glances in silence.
“Charles,” said the boy’s grandmother at last, “shake hands with the major.” The boy obeyed without understanding. The major, who was very pale, barely ventured to touch the child’s frail fingers; then, feeling that he ought to speak, he stammered out: “You still intend to send him to Saint-Cyr?”
“Of course, when he is old enough,” answered Mme Burle.
But during the following week Charles was carried off by typhoid fever. One evening his grandmother had again read him the story of the Vengeur to make him bold, and in the night he had become delirious. The poor little fellow died of fright.
It was on a Saturday, at six in the morning, that I died after a three days’ illness. My wife was searching a trunk for some linen, and when she rose and turned she saw me rigid, with open eyes and silent pulses. She ran to me, fancying that I had fainted, touched my hands and bent over me. Then she suddenly grew alarmed, burst into tears and stammered:
“My God, my God! He is dead!”
I heard everything, but the sounds seemed to come from a great distance. My left eye still detected a faint glimmer, a whitish light in which all objects melted, but my right eye was quite bereft of sight. It was the coma of my whole being, as if a thunderbolt had struck me. My will was annihilated; not a fiber of flesh obeyed my bidding. And yet amid the impotency of my inert limbs my thoughts subsisted, sluggish and lazy, still perfectly clear.
My poor Marguerite was crying; she had dropped on her knees beside the bed, repeating in heart-rending tones:
“He is dead! My God, he is dead!”