“Now,” said Mother Bunch, “now for the fire!”
She knelt down before the little chafing-dish, filled with charcoal. But Cephyse took hold of her under the arm, and obliged her to rise again, saying to her, “Let me light the fire—that is my business.”
“You know, poor sister, that the smell of charcoal gives you the headache!”
At the simplicity of this speech, for the Bacchanal Queen had spoken seriously, the sisters could not forbear smiling sadly.
“Never mind,” resumed Cephyse; “why suffer more and sooner than is necessary?”
Then, pointing to the mattress, which still contained a little straw, Cephyse added, “Lie down there, good little sister; when our fire is alight, I will come and sit down by you.”
“Do not be long, Cephyse.”
“In five minutes it will be done.”
The tall building, which faced the street, was separated by a narrow court from that which contained the retreat of the two sisters, and was so much higher, that when the sun had once disappeared behind its lofty roof, the garret soon became dark. The light, passing through the dirty panes of the small window, fell faintly on the blue and white patchwork of the old mattress, on which Mother Bunch was now stretched, covered with rags. Leaning on her left arm, with her chin resting in the palm of her hand, she looked after her sister with an expression of heart-rending grief. Cephyse, kneeling over the chafing-dish, with her face close to the black charcoal, above which already played a little bluish flame, exerted herself to blow the newly-kindled fire, which was reflected on the pale countenance of the unhappy girl.
The silence was deep. No sound was heard but the panting breath of Cephyse, and, at intervals, the slight crackling of the charcoal, which began to burn, and already sent forth a faint sickening vapor. Cephyse, seeing the fire completely lighted, and feeling already a little dizzy, rose from the ground, and said to her sister, as she approached her, “It is done!”
“Sister,” answered Mother Bunch, kneeling on the mattress, whilst Cephyse remained standing, “how shall we place ourselves? I should like to be near you to the last.”
“Stop!” said Cephyse, half executing the measures of which she spoke, “I will sit on the mattress with my back against the wall. Now, little sister, you lie there. Lean your head upon my knees, and give me your hand. Are you comfortable so?”
“Yes—but I cannot see you.”
“That is better. It seems there is a moment—very short, it is true—in which one suffers a good deal. And,” added Cephyse, in a voice of emotion, “it will be as well not to see each other suffer.”
“You are right, Cephyse.”
“Let me kiss that beautiful hair for the last time,” said Cephyse, as she pressed her lips to the silky locks which crowned the hunchback’s pale and melancholy countenance, “and then—we will remain very quiet.”