I left this room with all haste and went upstairs with the courage of innocence, but with despair in my soul. I waled straight to Edmee’s room, knocked, and entered at once. Mademoiselle Leblanc was coming towards the door; she gave a loud scream and ran away, hiding her face in her hands as if she had seen a wild beast. Who, then, could have been spreading hideous reports about me? Had the abbe been disloyal enough to do so? I learnt later that Edmee, though generous and unshaken in her lucid moments, had openly accused me in her delirium.
I approached her bed and, half delirious myself, forgetting that my sudden appearance might be a deathblow to her, I pulled the curtains aside with an eager hand and gazed on her. Never have I seen more marvellous beauty. Her big dark eyes had grown half as large again; they were shining with an extraordinary brilliancy, though without any expression, like diamonds. Her drawn, colourless cheeks, and her lips, as white as her cheeks, gave her the appearance of a beautiful marble head. She looked at me fixedly, with as little emotion as if she had been looking at a picture or a piece of furniture; then, turning her face slightly towards the wall, she said, with a mysterious smile:
“This is the flower they call Edmea sylvestris.”
I fell upon my knees; I took her hand; I covered it with kisses; I broke into sobs. But she gave no heed; her hand remained in mine icy and still, like a piece of alabaster.
The abbe came in and greeted me in a cold and sombre manner. Then he made a sign to me, and drawing me away from the bed, said:
“You must be mad! Return at once; and if you are wise, you will remain away. It is the only thing left for you to do.”
“And since when,” I cried, flying into a passion, “have you had the right to drive me out of the bosom of my family?”
“Alas! you have no longer a family,” he answered, with an accent of sorrow that somewhat disarmed me. “What were once father and daughter are now naught but two phantoms, whose souls are already dead and whose bodies soon will be. Show some respect for the last days of those who loved you.”
“And how can I show my respect and grief by quitting them?” I replied, quite crushed.
“On this point,” said the abbe, “I neither wish nor ought to say anything; for you know that your presence here is an act of rashness and a profanation. Go away. When they are no more (and the day cannot be far distant), if you have any claims to this house, you may return, and you will certainly not find me here to contest them or affirm them. Meanwhile, as I have no knowledge of these claims, I believe I may take upon myself to see that some respect is paid to the last hours of these two holy people.”
“Wretched man!” I said, “I do not know what prevents me from tearing you to pieces! What abominable impulse urges you to be everlastingly turning the dagger in my breast? Are you afraid that I may survive this blow? Cannot you see that three coffins will be taken out together from this house? do you imagine that I have come here for aught but a farewell look and a farewell blessing?”