I bent down. It was a young, barely-budded rose. Two hours before I had seen that same rose on her breast.
I carefully picked up the flower which had fallen in the mire, and returning to the drawing-room, I laid it on the table, in front of her arm-chair.
And now, at last, she returned, and traversing the whole length of the room with her light footsteps, she seated herself at the table.
Her face had grown pale and animated; swiftly, with merry confusion, her lowered eyes, which seemed to have grown smaller, darted about in all directions.
She caught sight of the rose, seized it, glanced at its crumpled petals, glanced at me—and her eyes, coming to a sudden halt, glittered with tears.
“What are you weeping about?” I asked.
“Why, here, about this rose. Look what has happened to it.”
At this point I took it into my head to display profundity of thought.
“Your tears will wash away the mire,” I said with a significant expression.
“Tears do not wash, tears scorch,” she replied, and, turning toward the fireplace, she tossed the flower into the expiring flame.
“The fire will scorch it still better than tears,” she exclaimed, not without audacity,—and her beautiful eyes, still sparkling with tears, laughed boldly and happily.
I understood that she had been scorched also.
In the mire, on damp, stinking straw, under the pent-house of an old carriage-house which had been hastily converted into a field military hospital in a ruined Bulgarian hamlet, she had been for more than a fortnight dying of typhus fever.
She was unconscious—and not a single physician had even glanced at her; the sick soldiers whom she had nursed as long as she could keep on her feet rose by turns from their infected lairs, in order to raise to her parched lips a few drops of water in a fragment of a broken jug.
She was young, handsome; high society knew her; even dignitaries inquired about her. The ladies envied her, the men courted her ... two or three men loved her secretly and profoundly. Life smiled upon her; but there are smiles which are worse than tears,
A tender, gentle heart ... and such strength, such a thirst for sacrifice! To help those who needed help ... she knew no other happiness ... she knew no other and she tasted no other. Every other happiness passed her by. But she had long since become reconciled to that, and all flaming with the fire of inextinguishable faith, she dedicated herself to the service of her fellow-men. What sacred treasures she held hidden there, in the depths of her soul, in her own secret recesses, no one ever knew—and now no one will ever know.
And to what end? The sacrifice has been made ... the deed is done.
But it is sorrowful to think that no one said “thank you” even to her corpse, although she herself was ashamed of and shunned all thanks.