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." "Yes, sister; but I think I have heard that every opening must be well stopped, so as to admit no current of air." "You are right, and the door shuts so badly." "And look at the holes in the roof." "What is to be done, sister?" "I will tell you," said Mother Bunch. "The straw of our mattress, well twisted, will answer every purpose." "Certainly," replied Cephyse. "We will keep a little to light our fire, and with the rest we will stop up all the crevices in the roof, and make filling for our doors and windows." Then, smiling with that bitter irony, so frequent, we repeat, in the most gloomy moments, Cephyse added, "I say, sister, weather-boards at our doors and windows, to prevent the air from getting in--what a luxury! we are as delicate as rich people." "At such a time, we may as well try to make ourselves a little comfortable," said Mother Bunch, trying to jest like the Bacchanal Queen. And with incredible coolness, the two began to twist the straw into lengths of braid, small enough to be stuffed into the cracks of the door, and also constructed large plugs, destined to stop up the crevices in the roof. While this mournful occupation lasted, there was no departure from the calm and sad resignation of the two unfortunate creatures. CHAPTER XXXII. SUICIDE. Cephyse and her sister continued with calmness the preparations for their death. Alas! how many poor young girls, like these sisters, have been, and still will be, fatally driven to seek in suicide a refuge from despair, from infamy, or from a too miserable existence! And upon society will rest the terrible responsibility of these sad deaths, so long as thousands of human creatures, unable to live upon the mockery of wages granted to their labor, have to choose between these three gulfs of shame and woe; a life of enervating toil and mortal privations, causes of premature death; prostitution, which kills also, but slowly--by contempt, brutality, and uncleanness; suicide--which kills at once. In a few minutes, the two sisters had constructed, with the straw of their couch, the calkings necessary to intercept the air, and to render suffocation more expeditious and certain. The hunchback said to her sister, "You are the taller, Cephyse, and must look to the ceiling; I will take care of the window and door." "Be satisfied, sister; I shall have finished before you," answered Cephyse. And the two began carefully to stop up every crevice through which a current of air could penetrate into the ruined garret. Thanks to her tall stature, Cephyse was able to reach the holes in the roof, and to close them up entirely. When they had finished this sad work, the sisters again approached, and looked at each other in silence. The fatal moment drew near; their faces, though still calm, seemed slightly agitated by that strange excitement which always accompanies a double suicide. "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." "But, Cephyse--" "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." "Sister, your hand," said the sewing-girl; "for the last time, your hand --and then, as you say, we will move no more. We shall not have to wait long, I think, for I begin to feel dizzy. And you, sister?" "Not yet," replied Cephyse; "I only perceive the smell of the charcoal." "Do you know where they will bury us?" said Mother Bunch, after a moment's silence. "No. Why do you ask?" "Because I should like it to be in Pere-la-Chaise. I went there once with Agricola and his mother. What a fine view there is!--and then the trees, the flowers, the marble--do you know the dead are better lodged-- than the living--and--" What is the matter, sister?" said Cephyse to her companion, who had stopped short, after speaking in a slow voice. "I am giddy--my temples throb," was the answer. "How do you feel?" "I only begin to be a little faint; it is strange--the effect is slower with me than you." "Oh! you see," said Mother Bunch, trying to smile, "I was always so forward. At school, do you remember, they said I was before the others. And, now it happens again." "I hope soon to overtake you this time," said Cephyse. What astonished the sisters was quite natural. Though weakened by sorrow and misery, the Bacchanal Queen, with a constitution as robust as the other was frail and delicate, was necessarily longer than her sister in feeling the effects of the deleterious vapor. After a moment's silence, Cephyse resumed, as she laid her hand on the head she still held upon her knees, "You say nothing, sister! You suffer, is it not so?" "No," said Mother Bunch, in a weak voice; "my eyelids are heavy as lead-- I am getting benumbed--I feel that I speak more slowly--but I have no acute pain. And you, sister?" "Whilst you were speaking, I felt giddy--and now my temples throb violently." "As it was with me just now. One would think it was more painful and difficult to die." Then after a moment's silence, the hunchback said suddenly to her sister, "Do you think that Agricola will much regret me, and think of me for some time?" "How can you ask?" said Cephyse, in a tone of reproach. "You are right," answered Mother Bunch, mildly; "there is a bad feeling in such a doubt--but if you knew--" "What, sister?" The other hesitated for an instant, and then said, dejectedly, "Nothing." Afterwards, she added, "Fortunately, I die convinced that he will never miss me. He married a charming girl, who loves him, I am sure, and will make him perfectly happy." As she pronounced these last words, the speaker's voice grew fainter and fainter. Suddenly she started and said to Cephyse, in a trembling, almost frightened tone, "Sister! Hold me in your arms--I am afraid-- everything looks dark--everything is turning round." And the unfortunate girl, raising herself a little, hid her face in her sister's bosom, and threw his weak arms around her. "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. The noise approached, and a voice was heard exclaiming, not far from the doer: "Good heavens! what a smell of fire!" And, at the same instant, the door was violently shaken, and another voice exclaimed: "Open! open!" "They will come in--they will save me--and my sister is dead--Oh, no! I will not have the baseness to survive her!" Such was the last thought of Cephyse. Using what little strength she had left, she ran to the window and opened it--and, at the same instant that the half-broken door yielded to a vigorous effort from without, the unfortunate creature precipitated herself from that third story into the court below. Just then, Adrienne and Agricola appeared on the threshold of the chamber. In spite of the stifling odor of the charcoal, Mdlle. de Cardoville rushed into the garret, and, seeing the stove, she exclaimed, "The unhappy girl has killed herself!" "No, she has thrown herself from the window," cried Agricola: for, at the moment of breaking open the door, he had seen a human form disappear in that direction, and he now ran to the window. "Oh! this is frightful!" he exclaimed, with a cry of horror, as he put his hand before his eyes, and returned pale and terrified to Mdlle. de Cardoville. But, misunderstanding the cause of his terror, Adrienne, who had just perceived Mother Bunch through the darkness, hastened to answer: "No! she is here." And she pointed to the pale form stretched on the mattress, beside which Adrienne now threw herself on her knees. Grasping the hands of the poor sempstress, she found them as cold as ice. Laying her hand on her heart, she could not feel it beat. Yet, in a few seconds, as the fresh air rushed into the room from the door and window, Adrienne thought she remarked an almost imperceptible pulsation, and she exclaimed: "Her heart beats! Run quickly for help! Luckily, I have my smelling bottle." "Yes, yes! help for her--and for the other too, if it is yet time!" cried the smith in despair, as he rushed down the stairs, leaving Mdlle. de Cardoville still kneeling by the side of the mattress.
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