“Yes, you will have loved and respected your generous patroness to the last.”
“To the last!” said the poor girl, after a moment’s silence. “It is true—you are right—it will soon be the last!—in a few moments, all will be finished. See how calmly we can talk of that which frightens so many others!”
“Sister, we are calm because we are resolved.”
“Quite resolved, Cephyse,” said the hunchback, casting once more a deep and penetrating glance upon her sister.
“Oh, yes, if you are only as determined as I am.”
“Be satisfied; if I put off from day to day the final moment,” answered the sempstress, “it was because I wished to give you time to reflect. As for me—”
She did not finish, but she shook her head with an air of the utmost despondency.
“Well, sister, let us kiss each other,” said Cephyse; “and, courage!”
The hunchback rose, and threw herself into her sister’s arms. They held one another fast in a long embrace. There followed a few seconds of deep and solemn silence, only interrupted by the sobs of the sisters, for now they had begun to weep.
“Oh, heaven! to love each other so, and to part forever!” said Cephyse. “It is a cruel fate.”
“To part?” cried Mother Bunch, and her pale, mild countenance, bathed in tears, was suddenly illumined with a ray of divine hope; “to part, sister? oh, no! What makes me so calm is the deep and certain expectation, which I feel here at my heart, of that better world where a better life awaits us. God, so great, so merciful, so prodigal of good, cannot destine His creatures to be forever miserable. Selfish men may pervert His benevolent designs, and reduce their brethren to a state of suffering and despair. Let us pity the wicked and leave them! Come up on high, sister; men are nothing there, where God is all. We shall do well there. Let us depart, for it is late.”
So saying, she pointed to the ruddy beams of the setting sun, which began to shine upon the window.
Carried away by the religious enthusiasm of her sister, whose countenance, transfigured, as it were, by the hope of an approaching deliverance, gleamed brightly in the reflected sunset, Cephyse took her hands, and, looking at her with deep emotion, exclaimed, “Oh, sister! how beautiful you look now!”
“Then my beauty comes rather late in the day,” said Mother Bunch, with a sad smile.
“No, sister; for you appear so happy, that the last scruples I had upon your account are quite gone.”
“Then let us make haste,” said the hunchback, as she pointed to the chafing-dish.
“Be satisfied, sister—it will not be long,” said Cephyse. And she took the chafing-dish full of charcoal, which she had placed in a corner of the garret, and brought it out into the middle of the room.
“Do you know how to manage it?” asked the sewing-girl approaching.
“Oh! it is very simple,” answered Cephyse; “we have only to close the door and window, and light the charcoal.”