To dream of life had been a cherished vision, but this could not possibly be death. I should assuredly awake presently. Yes, in a few moments I would lean over, take Marguerite in my arms and dry her tears. I would rest a little while longer before going to my office, and then a new life would begin, brighter than the last. However, I did not feel impatient; the commotion had been too strong. It was wrong of Marguerite to give way like that when I had not even the strength to turn my head on the pillow and smile at her. The next time that she moaned out, “He is dead! Dead!” I would embrace her and murmur softly so as not to startle her: “No, my darling, I was only asleep. You see, I am alive, and I love you.”
Marguerite’s cries had attracted attention, for all at once the door was opened and a voice exclaimed: “What is the matter, neighbor? Is he worse?”
I recognized the voice; it was that of an elderly woman, Mme Gabin, who occupied a room on the same floor. She had been most obliging since our arrival and had evidently become interested in our concerns. On her own side she had lost no time in telling us her history. A stern landlord had sold her furniture during the previous winter to pay himself his rent, and since then she had resided at the lodginghouse in the Rue Dauphine with her daughter Dede, a child of ten. They both cut and pinked lamp shades, and between them they earned at the utmost only two francs a day.
“Heavens! Is it all over?” cried Mme Gabin, looking at me.
I realized that she was drawing nearer. She examined me, touched me and, turning to Marguerite, murmured compassionately: “Poor girl! Poor girl!”
My wife, wearied out, was sobbing like a child. Mme Gabin lifted her, placed her in a dilapidated armchair near the fireplace and proceeded to comfort her.
“Indeed, you’ll do yourself harm if you go on like this, my dear. It’s no reason because your husband is gone that you should kill yourself with weeping. Sure enough, when I lost Gabin I was just like you. I remained three days without swallowing a morsel of food. But that didn’t help me—on the contrary, it pulled me down. Come, for the Lord’s sake, be sensible!”
By degrees Marguerite grew calmer; she was exhausted, and it was only at intervals that she gave way to a fresh flow of tears. Meanwhile the old woman had taken possession of the room with a sort of rough authority.
“Don’t worry yourself,” she said as she bustled about. “Neighbors must help each other. Luckily Dede has just gone to take the work home. Ah, I see your trunks are not yet all unpacked, but I suppose there is some linen in the chest of drawers, isn’t there?”
I heard her pull a drawer open; she must have taken out a napkin which she spread on the little table at the bedside. She then struck a match, which made me think that she was lighting one of the candles on the mantelpiece and placing it near me as a religious rite. I could follow her movements in the room and divine all her actions.