The young priest was nearly thrown down by the fugitives, who rushed through the now open doorway, exclaiming: “Do not go in! he is dying of the cholera. Fly!”
On these words, pushing back the bishop, who, being the last, was trying to force a passage, Gabriel ran towards Rodin, while the prelate succeeded in making his escape. Rodin, stretched upon the carpet, his limbs twisted with fearful cramps, was writhing in the extremity of pain. The violence of his fall had, no doubt, roused him to consciousness, for he moaned, in a sepulchral voice: “They leave me to die—like a dog—the cowards!—Help!—no one—”
And the dying man, rolling on his back with a convulsive movement, turned towards the ceiling a face on which was branded the infernal despair of the damned, as he once more repeated: “No one!—not one!”
His eyes, which suddenly flamed with fury, just then met the large blue eyes of the angelic and mild countenance of Gabriel who, kneeling beside him, said to him, in his soft, grave tones: “I am here, father—to help you, if help be possible—to pray for you, if God calls you to him.”
“Gabriel!” murmured Rodin, with failing voice; “forgive me for the evil I have done you—do not leave me—do not—”
Rodin could not finish; he had succeeded in raising himself into a sitting posture; he now uttered a loud cry, and fell back without sense or motion.
The same day it was announced in the evening papers: “The cholera has broken out in Paris. The first case declared itself this day, at half past three, P.M. in the Rue de Babylone, at Saint-Dizier House.”
The square of Notre Dame.
A week had passed since Rodin was seized with the cholera, and its ravages had continually increased. That was an awful time! A funeral pall was spread over Paris, once so gay. And yet, never had the sky been of a more settled, purer blue; never had the sun shone more brilliantly. The inexorable serenity of nature, during the ravages of the deadly scourge, offered a strange and mysterious contrast. The flaunting light of the dazzling sunshine fell full upon the features, contracted by a thousand agonizing fears. Each trembled for himself, or for those dear to him; every countenance was stamped with an expression of feverish astonishment and dread. People walked with rapid steps, as if they would escape from the fate which threatened them; besides, they were in haste to return to their homes, for often they left life, health, happiness, and, two hours later, they found agony, death, and despair.