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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Suicide
By Edmond (1822–1896) and Jules (1830–1870) de Goncourt
 
From ‘Sister Philomène’

THE NEXT morning the whole hospital knew that Barnier, having scratched his hand on the previous day while dissecting a body in a state of purulent infection, was dying in terrible agonies.  1
  When at four o’clock Malivoire, quitting for a few moments the bedside of his friend, came to replace him in the service, the Sister went up to him. She followed from bed to bed, dogging his steps, without however accosting him, without speaking, watching him intently with her eyes fixed on his. As he was leaving the ward:—  2
  “Well?” she asked, in the brief tone with which women stop the doctor on his last visit at the threshold of the room.  3
  “No hope,” said Malivoire, with a gesture of despair; “there is nothing to be done. It began at his right ankle, went up the leg and thigh, and has attacked all the articulations. Such agonies, poor fellow! It will be a mercy when it’s over.”  4
  “Will he be dead before night?” asked the Sister calmly.  5
  “Oh no! He will live through the night. It is the same case as that of Raguideau three years ago; and Raguideau lasted forty-eight hours.”  6
  That evening, at ten o’clock, Sister Philomène might be seen entering the church of Notre Dame des Victoires.  7
  The lamps were being lowered, the lighted tapers were being put out one by one with a long-handled extinguisher. The priest had just left the vestry.  8
  The Sister inquired where he lived, and was told that his house was a couple of steps from the church, in the Rue de la Banque.  9
  The priest was just going into the house when she entered behind, pushing open the door he was closing.  10
  “Come in, Sister,” he said, unfurling his wet umbrella and placing it on the tiled floor in the ante-room. And he turned toward her. She was on her knees. “What are you doing, Sister?” he said, astonished at her attitude. “Get up, my child. This is not a fit place. Come, get up!”  11
  “You will save him, will you not?” and Philomène caught hold of the priest’s hands as he stretched them out to help her to rise. “Why do you object to my remaining on my knees?”  12
  “Come, come, my child, do not be so excited. It is God alone, remember, who can save. I can but pray.”  13
  “Ah! you can only pray,” she said in a disappointed tone. “Yes, that is true.”  14
  And her eyes sank to the ground. After a moment’s pause the priest went on:—  15
  “Come, Sister, sit down there. You are calmer now, are you not? Tell me, what is it you want?”  16
  “He is dying,” said Philomène, rising as she spoke. “He will probably not live through the night;” and she began to cry. “It is for a young man of twenty-seven years of age; he has never performed any of his religious duties, never been near a church, never prayed to God since his first communion. He will refuse to listen to anything. He no longer knows a prayer even. He will listen neither to priest nor any one. And I tell you it is all over with him,—he is dying. Then I remembered your Confraternity of Notre Dame des Victoires, since it is devoted to those who do not believe. Come, you must save him!”  17
  “My daughter—”  18
  “And perhaps he is dying at this very moment. Oh! promise me you will do all at once, all that is in the Confraternity book; the prayers,—everything, in short. You will have him prayed for at once, won’t you?”  19
  “But, my poor child, it is Friday to-day, and the Confraternity only meets on Thursday.”  20
  “Thursday only—why? It will be too late Thursday. He will never live till Thursday. Come, you must save him; you have saved many another.”  21
  Sister Philomène looked at the priest with wide-opened eyes, in which through her tears rose a glance of revolt, impatience, and command. For one instant in that room there was no longer a Sister standing before a priest, but a woman face to face with an old man.  22
  The priest resumed:—  23
  “All I can do at present for that young man, my dear daughter, is to apply to his benefit all the prayers and good works that are being carried on by the Confraternity, and I will offer them up to the Blessed and Immaculate Heart of Mary to obtain his conversion. I will pray for him to-morrow at mass, and again on Saturday and Sunday.”  24
  “Oh, I am so thankful,” said Philomène, who felt tears rise gently to her eyes as the priest spoke to her. “Now I am full of hope; he will be converted, he will have pity on himself. Give me your blessing for him.”  25
  “But Sister, I only bless from the altar, in the pulpit, or in the confessional. There only am I the minister of God. Here, my Sister, here I am but a weak man, a miserable sinner.”  26
  “That does not signify; you are always God’s minister, and you cannot, you would not, refuse me; he is at the point of death.”  27
  She fell on her knees as she spoke. The priest blessed her, and added:—  28
  “It is nearly eleven o’clock, Sister; you have nearly three miles to get home, all Paris to cross at this late hour.”  29
  “Oh, I am not afraid,” replied Philomène with a smile; “God knows why I am in the street. Moreover, I will tell my beads on the way. The Blessed Virgin will be with me.”…  30
  The same evening, Barnier, rousing himself from a silence that had lasted the whole day, said to Malivoire, “You will write to my mother. You will tell her that this often happens in our profession.”  31
  “But you are not yet as bad as all that, my dear fellow,” replied Malivoire, bending over the bed. “I am sure I shall save you.”  32
  “No, I chose my man too well for that. How well I took you in, my poor Malivoire!” and he smiled almost. “You understand, I could not kill myself. I did not wish to be the death of my old mother. But an accident—that settles everything. You will take all my books, do you hear? and my case of instruments also. I wish you to have all. You wonder why I have killed myself, don’t you? Come nearer. It is on account of that woman. I never loved but her in all my life. They did not give her enough chloroform; I told them so. Ah! if you had heard her scream when she awoke—before it was over! That scream still re-echoes in my ears! However,” he continued, after a nervous spasm, “if I had to begin again, I would choose some other way of dying, some way in which I should not suffer so much. Then, you know, she died, and I fancied I had killed her. She is ever before me,… covered with blood…. And then I took to drinking. I drank because I love her still…. That’s all!”  33
  Barnier relapsed into silence. After a long pause, he again spoke, and said to Malivoire:—  34
  “You will tell my mother to take care of the little lad.”  35
  After another pause, the following words escaped him:—  36
  “The Sister would have said a prayer.”  37
  Shortly after, he asked:—  38
  “What o’clock is it?”  39
  “Eleven.”  40
  “Time is not up yet;… I have still some hours to live…. I shall last till to-morrow.”  41
  A little later he again inquired the time, and crossing his hands on his breast, in a faint voice he called Malivoire and tried to speak to him. But Malivoire could not catch the words he muttered.  42
  Then the death-rattle began, and lasted till morn….  43
  A candle lighted up the room.  44
  It burnt slowly, it lighted up the four white walls on which the coarse ochre paint of the door and of the two cupboards cut a sharp contrast….  45
  On the iron bedstead with its dimity curtains, a sheet lay thrown over a motionless body, molding the form as wet linen might do, indicating with the inflexibility of an immutable line the rigidity, from the tip of the toes to the sharp outline of the face, of what it covered.  46
  Near a white wooden table Malivoire, seated in a large wicker arm-chair, watched and dozed, half slumbering and yet not quite asleep.  47
  In the silence of the room nothing could be heard but the ticking of the dead man’s watch.  48
  From behind the door something seemed gently to move and advance, the key turned in the lock, and Sister Philomène stood beside the bed. Without looking at Malivoire, without seeing him, she knelt down and prayed in the attitude of a kneeling marble statue; and the folds of her gown were as motionless as the sheet that covered the dead man.  49
  At the end of a quarter of an hour she rose, walked away without once looking round, and disappeared.  50
  The next day, awaking at the hollow sound of the coffin knocking against the narrow stairs, Malivoire vaguely recalled the night’s apparition, and wondered if he had dreamed it; and going mechanically up to the table by the bedside, he sought for the lock of hair he had cut off for Barnier’s mother: the lock of hair had vanished.  51
 
 
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