At last, the folding-doors were thrown open, and two servants appeared, bearing the Baron upon a mattress.
When the servants had deposited their burden in front of one of the windows, Aline threw herself upon her brother's body, uttering heartrending cries. Madame de Bergenheim did not stir; she lay upon the sofa with eyes and ears buried in the cushions, and seemed deaf and blind to all that surrounded her. Mademoiselle de Corandeuil was the only one who preserved her presence of mind. Controlling her emotion, she leaned over the Baron and sought for some sign of life.
"Is he dead?" she asked, in a low voice, of Monsieur de Camier.
"No, Mademoiselle," replied the latter, in a tone which announced that he had little hope.
"Has a physician been sent for?"
"To Remiremont, Epinal, everywhere."
At this moment Aline uttered a cry of joy. Bergenheim had just stirred, brought to life, perhaps, by the pressure of his sister's arms. He opened his eyes and, closed them several times; at last his energy triumphed over his sufferings; he sat up on his improvised cot and, leaning upon his left elbow, he glanced around the room.
"My wife!" said he, in a weak voice.
Madame de Bergenheim arose and forced her way through the group that surrounded the mattress, and silently took her place beside her husband. Her features had changed so terribly within a few moments that a murmur of pity ran through the group of men that filled the room.
"Take my sister away," said Christian, disengaging his hand from the young girl, who was covering it with kisses and tears.
"My brother! I can not leave my brother!" exclaimed Aline, as she was dragged away rather than led to her room.
"Leave me for a moment," continued the Baron; "I wish to speak to my wife."
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil gave Monsieur de Gamier a questioning glance, as if to ask if it were best to grant this request.
"We can do nothing before the doctors arrive," said the latter, in a low voice, "and perhaps it would be imprudent to oppose him."
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil recognized the correctness of this observation, and left the room, asking the others to follow her. During this time, Madame de Bergenheim remained motionless in her place, apparently insensible to all that surrounded her. The noise of the closing door aroused her from her stupor. She looked around the room as if she were seeking the others; her eyes, which were opened with the fixed look of a somnambulist, did not change their expression when they fell upon her husband.
"Come nearer," said he, "I have not strength enough to speak loud."
She obeyed mechanically. When she saw the large red stain which had soaked Christian's right sleeve, she closed her eyes, threw back her head, and her features contracted with a horrified expression.
"You women are wonderfully fastidious," said the Baron, as he noticed this movement; "you delight in causing a murder, but the slightest scratch frightens you. Pass over to the left side; you will not see so much blood-besides, it is the side where the heart is."
There was something terrible in the irony of the voice in which he spoke at this moment. Clemence fell upon her knees beside him and took his hand, crying,
The dying man took away his hand, raised his wife's head, and, looking at her a few moments attentively, he said at last:
"Your eyes are very dry. No tears! What! not one tear when you see me thus!"
"I can not weep," replied she; "I shall die!"
"It is very humiliating for me to be so poorly regretted, and it does you little honor—try to shed a few tears, Madame—it will be remarked—a widow who does not weep!"
"A widow—never!" she said, with energy.
"It would be convenient if they sold tears as they sell crape, would it not? Ah! only you women have a real talent for that—all women know how to weep."
"You will not die, Christian—oh! tell me that you will not die—and that you will forgive me."
"Your lover has killed me," said Bergenheim, slowly; "I have a bullet in my chest—I feel it—I am the one who is to die—in less than an hour I shall be a corpse—don't you see how hard it is already for me to talk?"
In reality his voice was becoming weaker and weaker. His breath grew shorter with each word; a wheezing sound within his chest indicated the extent of the lesion and the continued extravasation of blood.
"Mercy! pardon!" exclaimed the unhappy woman, prostrating herself upon the floor.
"More air—open the windows—" said the Baron, as he fell back upon the mattress, exhausted by the efforts he had just made to talk.
Madame de Bergenheim obeyed his order with the precision of an automaton. A fresh, pure breeze entered the room; when the curtains were raised, floods of light illuminated the floor, and the old portraits, suddenly lighted up, looked like ghosts who had left their graves to witness the death agonies of the last of their descendants. Christian, refreshed by the air which swept over his face, sat up again. He gazed with a melancholy eye at the radiant sun and the green woods which lay stretched out in front of the chateau.
"I lost my father on such a day as this," said he, as if talking to himself—"all our family die during the beautiful weather—ah! do you see that smoke over the Montigny rock?" he exclaimed, suddenly.
After opening the windows, Clemence stepped out upon the balcony. Leaning upon the balustrade, she gazed at the deep, rapid river which flowed at her feet. Her husband's voice calling her aroused her from this gloomy contemplation. When she returned to Christian, his eyes were flaming, a flush like that of fever had overspread his cheeks, and a writhing, furious indignation was depicted upon his face. "Were you looking at that smoke?" said he, angrily; "it is your lover's signal; he is there—he is waiting to take you away—and I, your husband, forbid you to go—you must not leave me—your place is here—close by me."
"Close by you," she repeated, not understanding what he said.
"Wait at least until I am dead," he continued, while his eyes flashed more and more—"let my body get cold—when you are a widow you can do as you like—you will be free—and even then—I forbid it—I order you to wear mourning for me—above all, try to weep—"
"Strike me with a knife! At least I should bleed," said she, bending toward him and tearing open her dress to lay bare her bosom.
He seized her by the arm, and, exerting all his wasting strength to reach her, he said, in a voice whose harshness was changed almost into supplication:
"Clemence, do not dishonor me by giving yourself to him when I am dead—I would curse you if I thought that you would do that."
"Oh! do not curse me!" she exclaimed; "do not drive me mad. Do you not know that I am about to die?"
"There are women who do not see their husband's blood upon their lover's hands—but I would curse you—"
He dropped Clemence's arm and fell back upon the mattress with a sob. His eyes closed, and some unintelligible words died on his lips, which were covered with a bloody froth. He was dying.
Madame de Bergenheim, crouched down upon the floor, heard him repeating in his expiring voice:
"I would curse you—I would curse you!"
She remained motionless for some time, her eyes fastened upon the dying man before her with a look of stupefied curiosity. Then she arose and went to the mirror; she gazed at herself for a moment as if obeying the whim of an insane woman, pushing aside, in order to see herself better, the hair which covered her forehead. Suddenly a flash of reason came to her; she uttered a horrible cry as she saw some blood upon her face; she looked at herself from head to foot; her dress was stained with it; she wrung her hands in horror, and felt that they were wet. Her husband's blood was everywhere. Then, her brain filled with the fire of raving madness, she rushed out upon the balcony, and Bergenheim, before his last breath escaped him, heard the noise of her body as it fell into the river.
Several days later, the Sentinelle des Vosges contained the following paragraph, written with the official sorrow found in all death-notices at thirty sous per line:
"A frightful event, which has just thrown two of our best families into mourning, has caused the greatest consternation throughout the Remiremont district. Monsieur le Baron de Bergenheim, one of the richest land-owners in our province, was killed by accident at a wild-boar hunt on his own domains. It was by the hand of one of his best friends, Monsieur de Gerfaut, well known by, his important literary work, which has given its author a worldwide reputation, that he received his death-blow. Nothing could equal the grief of the involuntary cause of this catastrophe. Madame de Bergenheim, upon learning of this tragic accident, was unable to survive the death of her adored husband, and drowned herself in her despair. Thus the same grave received this couple, still in the bloom of life, to whom their great mutual affection seemed to promise a most happy future."
Twenty-eight months later the Parisian journals, in their turn, inserted, with but slight variations, the following article:
"Nothing could give any idea of the enthusiasm manifested at the Theatre-Francais last evening, at the first representation of Monsieur de Gerfaut's new drama. Never has this writer, whose silence literature has deplored for too long a time, distinguished himself so highly. His early departure for the East is announced. Let us hope that this voyage will turn to the advantage of art, and that the beautiful and sunny countries of Asia will be a mine for new inspirations for this celebrated poet, who has taken, in such a glorious manner, his place at the heal of our literature."
Bergenheim's last wish had been realized; his honor was secure; nobody outraged by even an incredulous smile the purity of Clemence's winding-sheet; and the world did not refuse to their double grave the commonplace consideration that had surrounded their lives.
Clemence's death did not destroy the future of the man who loved her so passionately, but the mourning he wears for her, to this day, is of the kind that is never put aside. And, as the poet's heart was always reflected in his works, the world took part in this mourning without being initiated into its mystery. When the bitter cup of memory overflowed in them, they believed it to be a new vein which had opened in the writer's brain. Octave received, every day, congratulations upon this sadly exquisite tone of his lyre, whose vibrations surpassed in supreme intensity the sighs of Rene or Obermann's Reveries. Nobody knew that those sad pages were written under the inspiration of the most mournful of visions, and that this dark and melancholy tinge, which was taken for a caprice of the imagination, had its source in blood and in the spasms of a broken heart.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Attractive abyss of drunkenness Obstinacy of drunkenness
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS FOR THE ENTIRE GERFAULT:
Antipathy for her husband bordering upon aversion Attractions that difficulties give to pleasure Attractive abyss of drunkenness Consented to become a wife so as not to remain a maiden Despotic tone which a woman assumes when sure of her empire Evident that the man was above his costume; a rare thing! I believed it all; one is so happy to believe! It is a terrible step for a woman to take, from No to Yes Lady who requires urging, although she is dying to sing Let them laugh that win! Let ultra-modesty destroy poetry Love is a fire whose heat dies out for want of fuel Mania for fearing that she may be compromised Material in you to make one of Cooper's redskins Misfortunes never come single No woman is unattainable, except when she loves another Obstinacy of drunkenness Recourse to concessions is often as fatal to women as to kings Regards his happiness as a proof of superiority She said yes, so as not to say no These are things that one admits only to himself Those whom they most amuse are those who are best worth amusing Topics that occupy people who meet for the first time Trying to conceal by a smile (a blush) When one speaks of the devil he appears Wiped his nose behind his hat, like a well-bred orator You are playing 'who loses wins!'