Cousin Pons/Section 18
At midnight poor Schmucke sat in his easy-chair, watching with a breaking heart that shrinking of the features that comes with death; Pons looked so worn out with the day's exertions, that death seemed very near.
Presently Pons spoke. "I have just enough strength, I think, to last till to-morrow night," he said philosophically. "To-morrow night the death agony will begin; poor Schmucke! As soon as the notary and your two friends are gone, go for our good Abbe Duplanty, the curate of Saint-Francois. Good man, he does not know that I am ill, and I wish to take the holy sacrament to-morrow at noon."
There was a long pause.
"God so willed it that life has not been as I dreamed," Pons resumed. "I should so have loved wife and children and home. . . . To be loved by a very few in some corner—that was my whole ambition! Life is hard for every one; I have seen people who had all that I wanted so much and could not have, and yet they were not happy. . . . Then at the end of my life, God put untold comfort in my way, when He gave me such a friend. . . . And one thing I have not to reproach myself with—that I have not known your worth nor appreciated you, my good Schmucke. . . . I have loved you with my whole heart, with all the strength of love that is in me. . . . Do not cry, Schmucke; I shall say no more if you cry and it is so sweet to me to talk of ourselves to you. . . . If I had listened to you, I should not be dying. I should have left the world and broken off my habits, and then I should not have been wounded to death. And now, I want to think of no one but you at the last—"
"You are missdaken—"
"Do not contradict me—listen, dear friend. . . . You are as guileless and simple as a six-year-old child that has never left its mother; one honors you for it—it seems to me that God Himself must watch over such as you. But men are so wicked, that I ought to warn you beforehand . . . and then you will lose your generous trust, your saint-like belief in others, the bloom of a purity of soul that only belongs to genius or to hearts like yours. . . . In a little while you will see Mme. Cibot, who left the door ajar and watched us closely while M. Trognon was here—in a little while you will see her come for the will, as she believes it to be. . . . I expect the worthless creature will do her business this morning when she thinks you are asleep. Now, mind what I say, and carry out my instructions to the letter. . . . Are you listening?" asked the dying man.
But Schmucke was overcome with grief, his heart was throbbing painfully, his head fell back on the chair, he seemed to have lost consciousness.
"Yes," he answered, "I can hear, but it is as if you vere doo huntert baces afay from me. . . . It seem to me dat I am going town into der grafe mit you," said Schmucke, crushed with pain.
He went over to the bed, took one of Pons' hands in both his own, and within himself put up a fervent prayer.
"What is that that you are mumbling in German?"
"I asked Gott dat He vould take us poth togedders to Himself!" Schmucke answered simply when he had finished his prayer.
Pons bent over—it was a great effort, for he was suffering intolerable pain; but he managed to reach Schmucke, and kissed him on the forehead, pouring out his soul, as it were, in benediction upon a nature that recalled the lamb that lies at the foot of the Throne of God.
"See here, listen, my good Schmucke, you must do as dying people tell you—"
"I am lisdening."
"The little door in the recess in your bedroom opens into that closet."
"Yes, but it is blocked up mit bictures."
"Clear them away at once, without making too much noise."
"Clear a passage on both sides, so that you can pass from your room into mine.—Now, leave the door ajar.—When La Cibot comes to take your place (and she is capable of coming an hour earlier than usual), you can go away to bed as if nothing had happened, and look very tired. Try to look sleepy. As soon as she settles down into the armchair, go into the closet, draw aside the muslin curtains over the glass door, and watch her. . . . Do you understand?"
"I oondershtand; you belief dat die pad voman is going to purn der vill."
"I do not know what she will do; but I am sure of this—that you will not take her for an angel afterwards.—And now play for me; improvise and make me happy. It will divert your thoughts; your gloomy ideas will vanish, and for me the dark hours will be filled with your dreams. . . ."
Schmucke sat down at the piano. Here he was in his element; and in a few moments, musical inspiration, quickened by the pain with which he was quivering and the consequent irritation that followed came upon the kindly German, and, after his wont, he was caught up and borne above the world. On one sublime theme after another he executed variations, putting into them sometimes Chopin's sorrow, Chopin's Raphael-like perfection; sometimes the stormy Dante's grandeur of Liszt—the two musicians who most nearly approach Paganini's temperament. When execution reaches this supreme degree, the executant stands beside the poet, as it were; he is to the composer as the actor is to the writer of plays, a divinely inspired interpreter of things divine. But that night, when Schmucke gave Pons an earnest of diviner symphonies, of that heavenly music for which Saint Cecile let fall her instruments, he was at once Beethoven and Paganini, creator and interpreter. It was an outpouring of music inexhaustible as the nightingale's song—varied and full of delicate undergrowth as the forest flooded with her trills; sublime as the sky overhead. Schmucke played as he had never played before, and the soul of the old musician listening to him rose to ecstasy such as Raphael once painted in a picture which you may see at Bologna.
A terrific ringing of the door-bell put an end to these visions. The first-floor lodgers sent up a servant with a message. Would Schmucke please stop the racket overhead. Madame, Monsieur, and Mademoiselle Chapoulot had been wakened, and could not sleep for the noise; they called his attention to the fact that the day was quite long enough for rehearsals of theatrical music, and added that people ought not to "strum" all night in a house in the Marais.—It was then three o'clock in the morning. At half-past three, La Cibot appeared, just as Pons had predicted. He might have actually heard the conference between Fraisier and the portress: "Did I not guess exactly how it would be?" his eyes seemed to say as he glanced at Schmucke, and, turning a little, he seemed to be fast asleep.
Schmucke's guileless simplicity was an article of belief with La Cibot (and be it noted that this faith in simplicity is the great source and secret of the success of all infantine strategy); La Cibot, therefore, could not suspect Schmucke of deceit when he came to say to her, with a face half of distress, half of glad relief:
"I haf had a derrible night! a derrible dime of it! I vas opliged to play to keep him kviet, and the virst-floor lodgers vas komm up to tell me to be kviet! . . . It was frightful, for der life of mein friend vas at shtake. I am so tired mit der blaying all night, dat dis morning I am all knocked up."
"My poor Cibot is very bad, too; one more day like yesterday, and he will have no strength left. . . . One can't help it; it is God's will."
"You haf a heart so honest, a soul so peautiful, dot gif der Zipod die, ve shall lif togedder," said the cunning Schmucke.
The craft of simple, straightforward folk is formidable indeed; they are exactly like children, setting their unsuspected snares with the perfect craft of the savage.
"Oh, well go and sleep, sonny!" returned La Cibot. "Your eyes look tired, they are as big as my fist. But there! if anything could comfort me for losing Cibot, it would be the thought of ending my days with a good man like you. Be easy. I will give Mme. Chapoulot a dressing down. . . . To think of a retired haberdasher's wife giving herself such airs!"
Schmucke went to his room and took up his post in the closet.
La Cibot had left the door ajar on the landing; Fraisier came in and closed it noiselessly as soon as he heard Schmucke shut his bedroom door. He had brought with him a lighted taper and a bit of very fine wire to open the seal of the will. La Cibot, meanwhile, looking under the pillow, found the handkerchief with the key of the bureau knotted to one corner; and this so much the more easily because Pons purposely left the end hanging over the bolster, and lay with his face to the wall.
La Cibot went straight to the bureau, opened it cautiously so as to make as little noise as possible, found the spring of the secret drawer, and hurried into the salon with the will in her hand. Her flight roused Pons' curiosity to the highest pitch; and as for Schmucke, he trembled as if he were the guilty person.
"Go back," said Fraisier, when she handed over the will. "He may wake, and he must find you there."
Fraisier opened the seal with a dexterity which proved that his was no 'prentice hand, and read the following curious document, headed "My Will," with ever-deepening astonishment:
"On this fifteenth day of April, eighteen hundred and forty-five,
I, being in my sound mind (as this my Will, drawn up in concert
with M. Trognon, will testify), and feeling that I must shortly
die of the malady from which I have suffered since the beginning
of February last, am anxious to dispose of my property, and have
herein recorded my last wishes:—
"I have always been impressed by the untoward circumstances that
injure great pictures, and not unfrequently bring about total
destruction. I have felt sorry for the beautiful paintings
condemned to travel from land to land, never finding some fixed
abode whither admirers of great masterpieces may travel to see
them. And I have always thought that the truly deathless work of a
great master ought to be national property; put where every one of
every nation may see it, even as the light, God's masterpiece,
shines for all His children.
"And as I have spent my life in collecting together and choosing a
few pictures, some of the greatest masters' most glorious work,
and as these pictures are as the master left them—genuine
examples, neither repainted nor retouched,—it has been a painful
thought to me that the paintings which have been the joy of my
life, may be sold by public auction, and go, some to England, some
to Russia, till they are all scattered abroad again as if they had
never been gathered together. From this wretched fate I have
determined to save both them and the frames in which they are set,
all of them the work of skilled craftsmen.
"On these grounds, therefore, I give and bequeath the pictures
which compose my collection to the King, for the gallery in the
Louvre, subject to the charge (if the legacy is accepted) of a
life-annuity of two thousand four hundred francs to my friend
"If the King, as usufructuary of the Louvre collection, should
refuse the legacy with the charge upon it, the said pictures shall
form a part of the estate which I leave to my friend, Schmucke, on
condition that he shall deliver the Monkey's Head, by Goya, to
my cousin, President Camusot; a Flower-piece, the tulips, by
Abraham Mignon, to M. Trognon, notary (whom I appoint as my
executor): and allow Mme. Cibot, who has acted as my housekeeper
for ten years, the sum of two hundred francs per annum.
"Finally, my friend Schmucke is to give the Descent from the
Cross, Ruben's sketch for his great picture at Antwerp, to adorn
a chapel in the parish church, in grateful acknowledgment of M.
Duplanty's kindness to me; for to him I owe it that I can die as a
Christian and a Catholic."—So ran the will.
"This is ruin!" mused Fraisier, "the ruin of all my hopes. Ha! I begin to believe all that the Presidente told me about this old artist and his cunning."
"Well?" La Cibot came back to say.
"Your gentleman is a monster. He is leaving everything to the Crown. Now, you cannot plead against the Crown. . . . The will cannot be disputed. . . . We are robbed, ruined, spoiled, and murdered!"
"What has he left to me?"
"Two hundred francs a year."
"A pretty come-down! . . . Why, he is a finished scoundrel."
"Go and see," said Fraisier, "and I will put your scoundrel's will back again in the envelope."
While Mme. Cibot's back was turned, Fraisier nimbly slipped a sheet of blank paper into the envelope; the will he put in his pocket. He next proceeded to seal the envelope again so cleverly that he showed the seal to Mme. Cibot when she returned, and asked her if she could see the slightest trace of the operation. La Cibot took up the envelope, felt it over, assured herself that it was not empty, and heaved a deep sigh. She had entertained hopes that Fraisier himself would have burned the unlucky document while she was out of the room.
"Well, my dear M. Fraisier, what is to be done?"
"Oh! that is your affair! I am not one of the next-of-kin, myself; but if I had the slightest claim to any of that" (indicating the collection), "I know very well what I should do."
"That is just what I want to know," La Cibot answered, with sufficient simplicity.
"There is a fire in the grate——" he said. Then he rose to go.
"After all, no one will know about it, but you and me——" began La Cibot.
"It can never be proved that a will existed," asserted the man of law.
"I? . . . If M. Pons dies intestate, you shall have a hundred thousand francs."
"Oh yes, no doubt," returned she. "People promise you heaps of money, and when they come by their own, and there is talk of paying they swindle you like—" "Like Elie Magus," she was going to say, but she stopped herself just in time.
"I am going," said Fraisier; "it is not to your interest that I should be found here; but I shall see you again downstairs."
La Cibot shut the door and returned with the sealed packet in her hand. She had quite made up her mind to burn it; but as she went towards the bedroom fireplace, she felt the grasp of a hand on each arm, and saw—Schmucke on one hand, and Pons himself on the other, leaning against the partition wall on either side of the door.
La Cibot cried out, and fell face downwards in a fit; real or feigned, no one ever knew the truth. This sight produced such an impression on Pons that a deadly faintness came upon him, and Schmucke left the woman on the floor to help Pons back to bed. The friends trembled in every limb; they had set themselves a hard task, it was done, but it had been too much for their strength. When Pons lay in bed again, and Schmucke had regained strength to some extent, he heard a sound of sobbing. La Cibot, on her knees, bursting into tears, held out supplicating hands to them in very expressive pantomime.
"It was pure curiosity!" she sobbed, when she saw that Pons and Schmucke were paying attention to her proceedings. "Pure curiosity; a woman's fault, you know. But I did not know how else to get a sight of your will, and I brought it back again—"
"Go!" said Schmucke, standing erect, his tall figure gaining in height by the full height of his indignation. "You are a monster! You dried to kill mein goot Bons! He is right. You are worse than a monster, you are a lost soul!"
La Cibot saw the look of abhorrence in the frank German's face; she rose, proud as Tartuffe, gave Schmucke a glance which made him quake, and went out, carrying off under her dress an exquisite little picture of Metzu's pointed out by Elie Magus. "A diamond," he had called it. Fraisier downstairs in the porter's lodge was waiting to hear that La Cibot had burned the envelope and the sheet of blank paper inside it. Great was his astonishment when he beheld his fair client's agitation and dismay.
"What has happened?"
"This has happened, my dear M. Fraisier. Under pretence of giving me good advice and telling me what to do, you have lost me my annuity and the gentlemen's confidence. . . ."
One of the word-tornadoes in which she excelled was in full progress, but Fraisier cut her short.
"This is idle talk. The facts, the facts! and be quick about it."
"Well; it came about in this way,"—and she told him of the scene which she had just come through.
"You have lost nothing through me," was Fraisier's comment. "The gentlemen had their doubts, or they would not have set this trap for you. They were lying in wait and spying upon you. . . . You have not told me everything," he added, with a tiger's glance at the woman before him.
"I hide anything from you!" cried she—"after all that we have done together!" she added with a shudder.
"My dear madame, I have done nothing blameworthy," returned Fraisier. Evidently he meant to deny his nocturnal visit to Pons' rooms.
Every hair on La Cibot's head seemed to scorch her, while a sense of icy cold swept over her from head to foot.
"What?" . . . she faltered in bewilderment.
"Here is a criminal charge on the face of it. . . . You may be accused of suppressing the will," Fraisier made answer drily.
La Cibot started.
"Don't be alarmed; I am your legal adviser. I only wished to show you how easy it is, in one way or another, to do as I once explained to you. Let us see, now; what have you done that this simple German should be hiding in the room?"
"Nothing at all, unless it was that scene the other day when I stood M. Pons out that his eyes dazzled. And ever since, the two gentlemen have been as different as can be. So you have brought all my troubles upon me; I might have lost my influence with M. Pons, but I was sure of the German; just now he was talking of marrying me or of taking me with him—it is all one."
The excuse was so plausible that Fraisier was fain to be satisfied with it. "You need fear nothing," he resumed. "I gave you my word that you shall have your money, and I shall keep my word. The whole matter, so far, was up in the air, but now it is as good as bank-notes. . . . You shall have at least twelve hundred francs per annum. . . . But, my good lady, you must act intelligently under my orders."
"Yes, my dear M. Fraisier," said La Cibot with cringing servility. She was completely subdued.
"Very good. Good-bye," and Fraisier went, taking the dangerous document with him. He reached home in great spirits. The will was a terrible weapon.
"Now," thought he, "I have a hold on Mme. la Presidente de Marville; she must keep her word with me. If she did not, she would lose the property."
At daybreak, when Remonencq had taken down his shutters and left his sister in charge of the shop, he came, after his wont of late, to inquire for his good friend Cibot. The portress was contemplating the Metzu, privately wondering how a little bit of painted wood could be worth such a lot of money.
"Aha!" said he, looking over her shoulder, "that is the one picture which M. Elie Magus regretted; with that little bit of a thing, he says, his happiness would be complete."
"What would he give for it?" asked La Cibot.
"Why, if you will promise to marry me within a year of widowhood, I will undertake to get twenty thousand francs for it from Elie Magus; and unless you marry me you will never get a thousand francs for the picture."
"Because you would be obliged to give a receipt for the money, and then you might have a lawsuit with the heirs-at-law. If you were my wife, I myself should sell the thing to M. Magus, and in the way of business it is enough to make an entry in the day-book, and I should note that M. Schmucke sold it to me. There, leave the panel with me. . . . If your husband were to die you might have a lot of bother over it, but no one would think it odd that I should have a picture in the shop. . . . You know me quite well. Besides, I will give you a receipt if you like."
The covetous portress felt that she had been caught; she agreed to a proposal which was to bind her for the rest of her life to the marine-store dealer.
"You are right," said she, as she locked the picture away in a chest; "bring me the bit of writing."
Remonencq beckoned her to the door.
"I can see, neighbor, that we shall not save our poor dear Cibot," he said lowering his voice. "Dr. Poulain gave him up yesterday evening, and said that he could not last out the day. . . . It is a great misfortune. But after all, this was not the place for you. . . . You ought to be in a fine curiosity shop on the Boulevard des Capucines. Do you know that I have made nearly a hundred thousand francs in ten years? And if you will have as much some day, I will undertake to make a handsome fortune for you—as my wife. You would be the mistress—my sister should wait on you and do the work of the house, and—"
A heartrending moan from the little tailor cut the tempter short; the death agony had begun.
"Go away," said La Cibot. "You are a monster to talk of such things and my poor man dying like this—"
"Ah! it is because I love you," said Remonencq; "I could let everything else go to have you—"
"If you loved me, you would say nothing to me just now," returned she. And Remonencq departed to his shop, sure of marrying La Cibot.
Towards ten o'clock there was a sort of commotion in the street; M. Cibot was taking the Sacrament. All the friends of the pair, all the porters and porters' wives in the Rue de Normandie and neighboring streets, had crowded into the lodge, under the archway, and stood on the pavement outside. Nobody so much as noticed the arrival of M. Leopold Hannequin and a brother lawyer. Schwab and Brunner reached Pons' rooms unseen by Mme. Cibot. The notary, inquiring for Pons, was shown upstairs by the portress of a neighboring house. Brunner remembered his previous visit to the museum, and went straight in with his friend Schwab.
Pons formally revoked his previous will and constituted Schmucke his universal legatee. This accomplished, he thanked Schwab and Brunner, and earnestly begged M. Leopold Hannequin to protect Schmucke's interests. The demands made upon him by last night's scene with La Cibot, and this final settlement of his worldly affairs, left him so faint and exhausted that Schmucke begged Schwab to go for the Abbe Duplanty; it was Pons' great desire to take the Sacrament, and Schmucke could not bring himself to leave his friend.
La Cibot, sitting at the foot of her husband's bed, gave not so much as a thought to Schmucke's breakfast—for that matter had been forbidden to return; but the morning's events, the sight of Pons' heroic resignation in the death agony, so oppressed Schmucke's heart that he was not conscious of hunger. Towards two o'clock, however, as nothing had been seen of the old German, La Cibot sent Remonencq's sister to see whether Schmucke wanted anything; prompted not so much by interest as by curiosity. The Abbe Duplanty had just heard the old musician's dying confession, and the administration of the sacrament of extreme unction was disturbed by repeated ringing of the door-bell. Pons, in his terror of robbery, had made Schmucke promise solemnly to admit no one into the house; so Schmucke did not stir. Again and again Mlle. Remonencq pulled the cord, and finally went downstairs in alarm to tell La Cibot that Schmucke would not open the door; Fraisier made a note of this. Schmucke had never seen any one die in his life; before long he would be perplexed by the many difficulties which beset those who are left with a dead body in Paris, this more especially if they are lonely and helpless and have no one to act for them. Fraisier knew, moreover, that in real affliction people lose their heads, and therefore immediately after breakfast he took up his position in the porter's lodge, and sitting there in perpetual committee with Dr. Poulain, conceived the idea of directing all Schmucke's actions himself.
To obtain the important result, the doctor and the lawyer took their measures on this wise:—
The beadle of Saint-Francois, Cantinet by name, at one time a retail dealer in glassware, lived in the Rue d'Orleans, next door to Dr. Poulain and under the same roof. Mme. Cantinet, who saw to the letting of the chairs at Saint-Francois, once had fallen ill and Dr. Poulain had attended her gratuitously; she was, as might be expected, grateful, and often confided her troubles to him. The "nutcrackers," punctual in their attendance at Saint-Francois on Sundays and saints'-days, were on friendly terms with the beadle and the lowest ecclesiastical rank and file, commonly called in Paris le bas clerge, to whom the devout usually give little presents from time to time. Mme. Cantinet therefore knew Schmucke almost as well as Schmucke knew her. And Mme. Cantinet was afflicted with two sore troubles which enabled the lawyer to use her as a blind and involuntary agent. Cantinet junior, a stage-struck youth, had deserted the paths of the Church and turned his back on the prospect of one day becoming a beadle, to make his debut among the supernumeraries of the Cirque-Olympique; he was leading a wild life, breaking his mother's heart and draining her purse by frequent forced loans. Cantinet senior, much addicted to spirituous liquors and idleness, had, in fact, been driven to retire from business by those two failings. So far from reforming, the incorrigible offender had found scope in his new occupation for the indulgence of both cravings; he did nothing, and he drank with drivers of wedding-coaches, with the undertaker's men at funerals, with poor folk relieved by the vicar, till his morning's occupation was set forth in rubric on his countenance by noon.
Mme. Cantinet saw no prospect but want in her old age, and yet she had brought her husband twelve thousand francs, she said. The tale of her woes related for the hundredth time suggested an idea to Dr. Poulain. Once introduce her into the old bachelor's quarters, and it would be easy by her means to establish Mme. Sauvage there as working housekeeper. It was quite impossible to present Mme. Sauvage herself, for the "nutcrackers" had grown suspicious of every one. Schmucke's refusal to admit Mlle. Remonencq had sufficiently opened Fraisier's eyes. Still, it seemed evident that Pons and Schmucke, being pious souls, would take any one recommended by the Abbe, with blind confidence. Mme. Cantinet should bring Mme. Sauvage with her, and to put in Fraisier's servant was almost tantamount to installing Fraisier himself.
The Abbe Duplanty, coming downstairs, found the gateway blocked by the Cibots' friends, all of them bent upon showing their interest in one of the oldest and most respectable porters in the Marais.
Dr. Poulain raised his hat, and took the Abbe aside.
"I am just about to go to poor M. Pons," he said. "There is still a chance of recovery; but it is a question of inducing him to undergo an operation. The calculi are perceptible to the touch, they are setting up an inflammatory condition which will end fatally, but perhaps it is not too late to remove them. You should really use your influence to persuade the patient to submit to surgical treatment; I will answer for his life, provided that no untoward circumstance occurs during the operation."
"I will return as soon as I have taken the sacred ciborium back to the church," said the Abbe Duplanty, "for M. Schmucke's condition claims the support of religion."
"I have just heard that he is alone," said Dr. Poulain. "The German, good soul, had a little altercation this morning with Mme. Cibot, who has acted as housekeeper to them both for the past ten years. They have quarreled (for the moment only, no doubt), but under the circumstances they must have some one in to help upstairs. It would be a charity to look after him.—I say, Cantinet," continued the doctor, beckoning to the beadle, "just go and ask your wife if she will nurse M. Pons, and look after M. Schmucke, and take Mme. Cibot's place for a day or two. . . . Even without the quarrel, Mme. Cibot would still require a substitute. Mme. Cantinet is honest," added the doctor, turning to M. Duplanty.
"You could not make a better choice," said the good priest; "she is intrusted with the letting of chairs in the church."
A few minutes later, Dr. Poulain stood by Pons' pillow watching the progress made by death, and Schmucke's vain efforts to persuade his friend to consent to the operation. To all the poor German's despairing entreaties Pons only replied by a shake of the head and occasional impatient movements; till, after awhile, he summoned up all his fast-failing strength to say, with a heartrending look:
"Do let me die in peace!"
Schmucke almost died of sorrow, but he took Pons' hand and softly kissed it, and held it between his own, as if trying a second time to give his own vitality to his friend.
Just at this moment the bell rang, and Dr. Poulain, going to the door, admitted the Abbe Duplanty.
"Our poor patient is struggling in the grasp of death," he said. "All will be over in a few hours. You will send a priest, no doubt, to watch to-night. But it is time that Mme. Cantinet came, as well as a woman to do the work, for M. Schmucke is quite unfit to think of anything: I am afraid for his reason; and there are valuables here which ought to be in the custody of honest persons."
The Abbe Duplanty, a kindly, upright priest, guileless and unsuspicious, was struck with the truth of Dr. Poulain's remarks. He had, moreover, a certain belief in the doctor of the quarter. So on the threshold of the death-chamber he stopped and beckoned to Schmucke, but Schmucke could not bring himself to loosen the grasp of the hand that grew tighter and tighter. Pons seemed to think that he was slipping over the edge of a precipice and must catch at something to save himself. But, as many know, the dying are haunted by an hallucination that leads them to snatch at things about them, like men eager to save their most precious possessions from a fire. Presently Pons released Schmucke to clutch at the bed-clothes, dragging them and huddling them about himself with a hasty, covetous movement significant and painful to see.
"What will you do, left alone with your dead friend?" asked M. l'Abbe Duplanty when Schmucke came to the door. "You have not Mme. Cibot now—"
"Ein monster dat haf killed Bons!"
"But you must have somebody with you," began Dr. Poulain. "Some one must sit up with the body to-night."
"I shall sit up; I shall say die prayers to Gott," the innocent German answered.
"But you must eat—and who is to cook for you now?" asked the doctor.
"Grief haf taken afay mein abbetite," Schmucke said, simply.
"And some one must give notice to the registrar," said Poulain, "and lay out the body, and order the funeral; and the person who sits up with the body and the priest will want meals. Can you do all this by yourself? A man cannot die like a dog in the capital of the civilized world."
Schmucke opened wide eyes of dismay. A brief fit of madness seized him.
"But Bons shall not tie! . . ." he cried aloud. "I shall safe him!"
"You cannot go without sleep much longer, and who will take your place? Some one must look after M. Pons, and give him drink, and nurse him—"
"Ah! dat is drue."
"Very well," said the Abbe, "I am thinking of sending your Mme. Cantinet, a good and honest creature—"
The practical details of the care of the dead bewildered Schmucke, till he was fain to die with his friend.
"He is a child," said the doctor, turning to the Abbe Duplanty.
"Ein child," Schmucke repeated mechanically.
"There, then," said the curate; "I will speak to Mme. Cantinet, and send her to you."
"Do not trouble yourself," said the doctor; "I am going home, and she lives in the next house."
The dying seem to struggle with Death as with an invisible assassin; in the agony at the last, as the final thrust is made, the act of dying seems to be a conflict, a hand-to-hand fight for life. Pons had reached the supreme moment. At the sound of his groans and cries, the three standing in the doorway hurried to the bedside. Then came the last blow, smiting asunder the bonds between soul and body, striking down to life's sources; and suddenly Pons regained for a few brief moments the perfect calm that follows the struggle. He came to himself, and with the serenity of death in his face he looked round almost smilingly at them.
"Ah, doctor, I have had a hard time of it; but you were right, I am doing better. Thank you, my good Abbe; I was wondering what had become of Schmucke—"
"Schmucke has had nothing to eat since yesterday evening, and now it is four o'clock! You have no one with you now and it would be wise to send for Mme. Cibot."
"She is capable of anything!" said Pons, without attempting to conceal all his abhorrence at the sound of her name. "It is true, Schmucke ought to have some trustworthy person."
"M. Duplanty and I have been thinking about you both—"
"Ah! thank you, I had not thought of that."
"—And M. Duplanty suggests that you should have Mme. Cantinet—"
"Oh! Mme. Cantinet who lets the chairs!" exclaimed Pons. "Yes, she is an excellent creature."
"She has no liking for Mme. Cibot," continued the doctor, "and she would take good care of M. Schmucke—"
"Send her to me, M. Duplanty . . . send her and her husband too. I shall be easy. Nothing will be stolen here."
Schmucke had taken Pons' hand again, and held it joyously in his own. Pons was almost well again, he thought.
"Let us go, Monsieur l'Abbe," said the doctor. "I will send Mme. Cantinet round at once. I see how it is. She perhaps may not find M. Pons alive."