Desiree replied with a movement of her little pale face that she felt very ill and that she wanted to speak to him very close, very close. When the great man stood by her pillow, she laid her burning hand on the great man’s arm and whispered in his ear. She was very ill, hopelessly ill. She realized fully that she had not long to live.
“Then, father, you will be left alone with mamma. Don’t tremble like that. You knew that this thing must come, yes, that it was very near. But I want to tell you this. When I am gone, I am terribly afraid mamma won’t be strong enough to support the family just see how pale and exhausted she is.”
The actor looked at his “sainted wife,” and seemed greatly surprised to find that she did really look so badly. Then he consoled himself with the selfish remark:
“She never was very strong.”
That remark and the tone in which it was made angered Desiree and strengthened her determination. She continued, without pity for the actor’s illusions:
“What will become of you two when I am no longer here? Oh! I know that you have great hopes, but it takes them a long while to come to anything. The results you have waited for so long may not arrive for a long time to come; and until then what will you do? Listen! my dear father, I would not willingly hurt you; but it seems to me that at your age, as intelligent as you are, it would be easy for you—I am sure Monsieur Risler Aine would ask nothing better.”
She spoke slowly, with an effort, carefully choosing her words, leaving long pauses between every two sentences, hoping always that they might be filled by a movement, an exclamation from her father. But the actor did not understand.
“I think that you would do well,” pursued Desiree, timidly, “I think that you would do well to give up—”
She paused when she saw the effect of her words. The old actor’s mobile features were suddenly contracted under the lash of violent despair; and tears, genuine tears which he did not even think of concealing behind his hand as they do on the stage, filled his eyes but did not flow, so tightly did his agony clutch him by the throat. The poor devil began to understand.
She murmured twice or thrice:
“To give up—to give up—”
Then her little head fell back upon the pillow, and she died without having dared to tell him what he would do well to give up.
One night, near the end of January, old Sigismond Planus, cashier of the house of Fromont Jeune and Risler Aine, was awakened with a start in his little house at Montrouge by the same teasing voice, the same rattling of chains, followed by that fatal cry:
“That is true,” thought the worthy man, sitting up in bed; “day after to-morrow will be the last day of the month. And I have the courage to sleep!”