“Courage, sister!” said Cephyse, in a voice which was also growing faint, as she pressed her closer to her bosom; “it will soon be over.”
And Cephyse added, with a kind of envy, “Oh! why does my sister’s strength fail so much sooner than mine? I have still my perfect senses and I suffer less than she does. Oh! if I thought she would die first!—But, no—I will go and hold my face over the chafing-dish rather.”
At the movement Cephyse made to rise, a feeble pressure from her sister held her back. “You suffer, my poor child!” said Cephyse, trembling.
“Oh yes! a good deal now—do not leave me!”
“And I scarcely at all,” said Cephyse, gazing wildly at the chafing-dish. “Ah!” added she, with a kind of fatal! joy; “now I begin to feel it—I choke—my head is ready to split.”
And indeed the destructive gas now filled the little chamber, from which it had, by degrees, driven all the air fit for respiration. The day was closing in, and the gloomy garret was only lighted by the reflection of the burning charcoal, which threw a red glare on the sisters, locked in each other’s arms. Suddenly Mother Bunch made some slight convulsive movements, and pronounced these words in a failing voice: “Agricola—Mademoiselle de Cardoville—Oh! farewell!—Agricola—I—”
Then she murmured some unintelligible words; the convulsive moments ceased, and her arms, which had been clasped round Cephyse, fell inert upon the mattress.
“Sister!” cried Cephyse, in alarm, as she raised Mother Bunch’s head, to look at her face. “Not already, sister!—And I?—and I?”
The sewing-girl’s mild countenance was not paler than usual. Only her eyes, half-closed, seemed no longer to see anything, and a half-smile of mingled grief and goodness lingered an instant about her violet lips, from which stole the almost imperceptible breath—and then the mouth became motionless, and the face assumed a great serenity of expression.
“But you must not die before me!” cried Cephyse, in a heart-rending tone, as she covered with kisses the cold cheek. “Wait for me, sister! wait for me!”
Mother Bunch did not answer. The head, which Cephyse let slip from her hands, fell back gently on the mattress.
“My God. It is not my fault, if we do not die together!” cried Cephyse in despair, as she knelt beside the couch, on which the other lay motionless.
“Dead!” she murmured in terror. “Dead before me!—Perhaps it is that I am the strongest. Ah! it begins—fortunately—like her, I see everything dark-blue—I suffer—what happiness!—I can scarcely breathe. Sister!” she added, as she threw her arms round her loved one’s neck; “I am coming—I am here!”
At the same instant the sound of footsteps and voices was heard from the staircase. Cephyse had still presence of mind enough to distinguish the sound. Stretched beside the body of her sister, she raised her head hastily.