List Of Contents | Contents of The Wandering Jew v9, by Eugene Sue
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cholera.  The burials have been so numerous, that there has been no time
to remove her remains.  The Rue Clovis is almost deserted.  A mournful
silence reigns without, often broken by the sharp whistling of the north
wind.  Between the squalls, one hears a sort of pattering.  It is the
noise of the large rats, running to and fro across the heap of charcoal.

Suddenly, another sound is heard, and these unclean animals fly to hide
themselves in their holes.  Some one is trying to force open the door,
which communicates between the shop and the passage.  It offers but
little resistance, and, in a few seconds, the worn-out lock gives way,
and a woman enters.  For a short time she stands motionless in the
obscurity of the damp and icy cave.  After a minute's hesitation, the
woman advances and the ray of light illumines the features of the
Bacchanal Queen.  Slowly, she approached the funeral couch.  Since the
death of Jacques, the alteration in the countenance of Cephyse had gone
on increasing.  Fearfully pale, with her fine black hair in disorder, her
legs and feet naked, she was barely covered with an old patched petticoat
and a very ragged handkerchief.

When she came near the bed, she cast a glance of almost savage assurance
at the shroud.  Suddenly she drew back, with a low cry of involuntary
terror.  The sheet moved with a rapid undulation, extending from the feet
to the head of the corpse.  But soon the sight of a rat, flying along the
side of the worm-eaten bedstead, explained the movement of the shroud.
Recovering from her fright, Cephyse began to look for several things, and
collected them in haste, as though she dreaded being surprised in the
miserable shop.  First, she seized a basket, and filled it with charcoal;
then, looking from side to side, she discovered in a corner an earthen
pot, which she took with a burst of ominous joy.

"It is not all, it is not all," said Cephyse, as she continued to search
with an unquiet air.

At last she perceived near the stove a little tin box, containing flint,
steel and matches.  She placed these articles on the top of the basket,
and took it in one hand, and the earthen pot in the other.  As she passed
near the corpse of the poor charcoal-dealer, Cephyse said, with a strange
smile: "I rob you, poor Mother Arsene, but my theft will not do me much

Cephyse left the shop, reclosed the door as well as she could, went up
the passage, and crossed the little court-yard which separated the front
of the building from that part in which Rodin had lodged.  With the
exception of the windows of Philemon's apartment, where Rose-Pompon had
so often sat perched like a bird, warbling Beranger, the other windows of
the house were open.  There had been deaths on the first and second
floors, and, like many others, they were waiting for the cart piled up
with coffins.

The Bacchanal Queen gained the stairs, which led to the chambers formerly
occupied by Rodin.  Arrived at the landing-place she ascended another
ruinous staircase, steep as a ladder, and with nothing but an old rope
for a rail.  She at length reached the half-rotten door of a garret,
situated in the roof.  The house was in such a state of dilapidation,
that, in many places the roof gave admission to the rain, and allowed it
to penetrate into this cell, which was not above ten feet square, and
lighted by an attic window.  All the furniture consisted of an old straw
mattress, laid upon the ground, with the straw peeping out from a rent in
its ticking; a small earthenware pitcher, with the spout broken, and
containing a little water, stood by the side of this couch.  Dressed in
rags, Mother Bunch was seated on the side of the mattress, with her
elbows on her knees, and her face concealed in her thin, white hands.
When Cephyse entered the room, the adopted sister of Agricola raised her
head; her pale, mild face seemed thinner than ever, hollow with
suffering, grief, misery; her eyes, red with weeping, were fixed on her
sister with an expression of mournful tenderness.

"I have what we want, sister," said Cephyse, in a low, deep voice; "in
this basket there is wherewith to finish our misery."

Then, showing to Mother Bunch the articles she had just placed on the
floor, she added: "For the first time in my life, I have been a thief.
It made me ashamed and frightened; I was never intended for that or
worse.  It is a pity." added she, with a sardonic smile.

After a moment's silence, the hunchback said to her sister, in a heart-
rending tone: "Cephyse--my dear Cephyse--are you quite determined to

"How should I hesitate?" answered Cephyse, in a firm voice.  "Come,
sister, let us once more make our reckoning.  If even I could forget my
shame, and Jacques' contempt in his last moments, what would remain to
me?  Two courses only: first, to be honest, and work for my living.  But
you know that, in spite of the best will in the world, work will often
fail, as it has failed for the last few days, and, even when I got it, I
would have to live on four to five francs a week.  Live? that is to say,
die by inches.  I know that already, and I prefer dying at once.  The
other course would be to live a life of infamy--and that I will not do.
Frankly, sister, between frightful misery, infamy, or death, can the
choice be doubtful?  Answer me!"

Then, without giving Mother Bunch time to speak, Cephyse added, in an
abrupt tone: "Besides, what is the good of discussing it?  I have made up
my mind, and nothing shall prevent my purpose, since all that you, dear
sister, could obtain from me, was a delay of a few days, to see if the
cholera would not save us the trouble.  To please you I consented; the
cholera has come, killed every one else in the house, but left us.  You
see, it is better to do one's own business," added she, again smiling
bitterly.  Then she resumed: "Besides, dear sister, you also wish to
finish with life."

"It is true, Cephyse," answered the sempstress, who seemed very much
depressed; "but alone--one has only to answer for one's self--and to die
with you," added she, shuddering, "appears like being an accomplice in
your death."

"Do you wish, then, to make an end of it, I in one place, you in
another?--that would be agreeable!" said Cephyse, displaying in that
terrible moment the sort of bitter and despairing irony which is more
frequent than may be imagined in the midst of mortal anguish.

"Oh, no, no!" said the other in alarm, "not alone--I will not die alone!"

"Do you not see, dear sister, we are right not to part?  And yet," added
Cephyse, in a voice of emotion, "my heart almost breaks sometimes, to
think that you will die like me."

"How selfish!" said the hunchback, with a faint smile.  "What reasons
nave I to love life?  What void shall I leave behind me?"

"But you are a martyr, sister," resumed Cephyse.  "The priests talk of
saints! Is there one of them so good as you?  And yet you are about to
die like me, who have always been idle, careless, sinful--while you were
so hardworking, so devoted to all who suffered.  What should I say?  You
were an angel on the earth; and yet you will die like me, who have fallen
as low as a woman can fall," added the unfortunate, casting down her

"It is strange," answered Mother Bunch, thoughtfully.  "Starting from the
same point, we have followed different roads, and yet we have reached the
same goal--disgust of life.  For you, my poor sister, but a few days ago,
life was so fair, so full of pleasure and of youth; and now it is equally
heavy with us both.  After all, I have followed to the end what was my
duty," added she, mildly.  "Agricola no longer needs me.  He is married;
he loves, and is beloved; his happiness is secured.  Mdlle. de Cardoville
wants for nothing.  Fair, rich, prosperous--what could a poor creature
like myself do for her?  Those who have been kind to me are happy.  What
prevents my going now to my rest?  I am so weary!"

"Poor sister!" said Cephyse, with touching emotion, which seemed to
expand her contracted features; "when I think that, without informing me,
and in spite of your resolution never to see that generous young lady,
who protected you, you yet had the courage to drag yourself to her house,
dying with fatigue and want, to try to interest her in my fate--yes,
dying, for your strength failed on the Champs-Elysees."

"And when I was able to reach the mansion, Mdlle. de Cardoville was
unfortunately absent--very unfortunately!" repeated the hunchback, as she
looked at Cephyse with anguish; "for the next day, seeing that our last
resource had failed us, thinking more of me than of yourself, and
determined at any price to procure us bread--"

She could not finish.  She buried her face in her hands, and shuddered.

"Well, I did as so many other hapless women have done when work fails or
wages do not suffice, and hunger becomes too pressing," replied Cephyse,
in a broken voice; "only that, unlike so many others, instead of living
on my shame, I shall die of it."

"Alas! this terrible shame which kills you, my poor Cephyse, because you
have a heart, would have been averted, had I seen Mdlle. de Cardoville,
or had she but answered the letter which I asked leave to write to her at
the porter's lodge.  But her silence proves to me that she is justly hurt
at my abrupt departure from her house.  I can understand it; she believes
me guilty of the blackest ingratitude--for she must have been greatly
offended not to have deigned to answer me--and therefore I had not the
courage to write a second time.  It would have been useless, I am sure;
for, good and just as she is, her refusals are inexorable when she
believes them deserved.  And besides, for what good?  It was too late;
you had resolved to die!"

"Oh, yes, quite resolved: for my infamy was gnawing at my heart.  Jacques
had died in my arms despising me; and I loved him--mark me, sister,"
added Cephyse, with passionate enthusiasm, "I loved him as we love only
once in life!"

"Let our fate be accomplished, then!" said Mother Bunch with a pensive

"But you have never told me, sister, the cause of your departure from
Mdlle. de Cardoville's," resumed Cephyse, after a moment's silence.

"It will be the only secret that I shall take with me, dear Cephyse,"
said the other, casting down her eyes.  And she thought, with bitter joy,
that she would soon be delivered from the fear which had poisoned the
last days of her sad life--the fear of meeting Agricola, informed of the
fatal and ridiculous love she felt for him.

For, it must be said, this fatal and despairing love was one of the
causes of the suicide of the unfortunate creature.  Since the
disappearance of her journal, she believed that the blacksmith knew the
melancholy secret contained in its sad pages.  She doubted not the
generosity and good heart of Agricola; but she had such doubts of
herself, she was so ashamed of this passion, however pure and noble,
that, even in the extremity to which Cephyse and herself were reduced--
wanting work, wanting bread--no power on earth could have induced her to
meet Agricola, in an attempt to ask him for assistance.  Doubtless, she
would have taken another view of the subject if her mind had not been
obscured by that sort of dizziness to which the firmest characters are
exposed when their misfortunes surpass all bounds.  Misery, hunger, the
influence, almost contagious in such a moment, of the suicidal ideas of
Cephyse, and weariness of a life so long devoted to pain and
mortification, gave the last blow to the sewing-girl's reason.  After
long struggling against the fatal design of her sister, the poor,
dejected, broken-hearted creature finished by determining to share
Cephyse's fate, and seek in death the end of so many evils.

"Of what are you thinking, sister?" said Cephyse, astonished at the long
silence.  The other replied, trembling: "I think of that which made me
leave Mdlle. de Cardoville so abruptly, and appear so ungrateful in her
eyes.  May the fatality which drove me from her house have made no other
victims! may my devoted service, however obscure and powerless, never be
missed by her, who extended her noble hand to the poor sempstress, and
deigned to call me sister!  May she be happy--oh, ever happy!" said
Mother Bunch, clasping her hands with the ardor of a sincere invocation.

"That is noble, sister--such a wish in such a moment!" said Cephyse.

"Oh," said her sister, with energy, "I loved, I admired that marvel of
genius, and heart, and ideal beauty--I viewed her with pious respect--for
never was the power of the Divinity revealed in a more adorable and purer
creation.  At least one of my last thoughts will have been of her."

"Yes, you will have loved and respected your generous patroness to the

"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

"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

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