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The night following upon this day of emotions was a bad one for Mme.
Meyrin. She was delirious almost throughout it, watched by her mother, Marthe, and a Sister of Charity, who did not leave her for a moment.
Next day, at noon, the general's wife saw there was time only to summon a priest to her daughter's bedside. She sent word at once to the Reverend Pope Wasilieff who, for that matter, had been several times to see Lise since the beginning of her illness.
Meanwhile, Mme. Daubrel drove to the Grand Hotel.
Vera Soublaieff had arrived there the previous evening, with Alexander and Tekla. When Mme. Daubrel was announced, she foreboded some misfortune. Leaving the young prince and his sister in the care of Mme.
Bernard, she went quickly to the room into which the visitor had been shown.
"Mademoiselle," said Marthe, recognizing Vera in this beautiful girl with the sweet and serious face, "Madame Meyrin is dying; if you would have her embrace her son and daughter, there is not a moment to lose."
"You are Madame Daubrel, are you not?" said the farmer's daughter, "the devoted friend Madame la Comtesse spoke of to me at Pampeln. Yes, a.s.suredly, I will take her children to her. I am expecting the prince at every moment. He will forgive me for acting without his orders. Poor mother!"
Vera Soublaieff rang, and gave the order to the footman, who answered the bell to send for a carriage.
"You are indeed the n.o.ble woman we all love," said Marthe, offering her hand.
"I only ask for time to write two lines, in case Prince Olsdorf should come while I am away. I will ask the governess to have the children ready. Go now; we will be at the Rue d'a.s.sas as soon as you are."
"Thanks, mademoiselle, thanks. May G.o.d bless you!"
And quickly leaving the room, Mme. Daubrel went to her cab.
In ten minutes' time Vera was in the landau, with Alexander and Tekla, which had been driven up to the entrance to the Grand Hotel. The young prince and his sister knew they were going to see their mother again, and that she was dangerously ill. Alexander, who had his father's temperament, was grave; his paleness alone betrayed his emotion. Tekla was crying in the arms of Soublaieff's daughter.
In less than a quarter of an hour, the landau drew up in the Rue d'a.s.sas, at the same time as Mme. Daubrel's cab. The two women quickly crossed the vestibule, and, after asking Vera to wait with the children in the little room next to the bed-chamber, Marthe was going to pa.s.s in to Lise, when Dumesnil stopped her, saying, in a broken voice:
"The priest is with her. He came a few moments after the departure of the commissionaire Madame Podoi had sent for him. He had a presentiment that his presence was necessary."
Vera Soublaieff, to whom the old man spoke as much as to Marthe, sat in a chair and took Tekla on her knees. The little girl wished to do as she was told by her big sister--so in her simplicity she called the daughter of the farmer of Elva--who had asked her not to cry, so as not to pain her mother; and her little face was convulsed by the efforts she made to keep back her tears.
Leaning against the mantel-piece, his head lowered, the young Prince Alexander did not speak, but the nervous movements of his clasped hands showed plainly enough with what difficulty he kept command over himself.
With the heroic courage that women often possess in the most terrible circ.u.mstances, Mme. Daubrel by a look tried to calm Dumesnil. It seemed as if in this heavy silence they could hear their bruised hearts beating in unison.
Almost half an hour had pa.s.sed when the venerable J. Wasilieff left the sick-chamber. At the sight of the dying woman's children he called them to him, kissed them tenderly, and blessed them. Then, sad and deeply moved, he walked from the room, raising his eyes to heaven, and not speaking again.
Mme. Daubrel was already with her friend, whom she found calm, almost smiling. It seemed as if in freeing her soul from its agony the priest's pardon had given new strength to her body.
"Will you promise me to keep calm?" asked Marthe, in her soft voice.
"Yes," said Lise, slowly, as if seeking to guess why the question was put to her.
Then, suddenly, she cried:
"My children, my children!"
Her mother-heart had guessed. Was there any other happiness that could be given her but to see her children?
And, raising herself a little, she received in her arms Alexander and Tekla, who, brought to the threshold of the door by Vera, had heard her cry and ran to her. Pressing them to her heart, and devouring them with kisses, covering them with tears, caressing them with her smiles, she repeated:
"My son--my daughter. Thank G.o.d!"
She held them from her a little--oh! only the length of her arms--to see them better for a moment or two, then s.n.a.t.c.hed them back to her heart, raining on them again tears and kisses and a thousand endearments, to which the children replied only by their kisses, their tears, their tenderness, and one word: "Mamma."
Great as was the happiness of the poor mother, and on account indeed of the fullness of her joy, Mme. Daubrel thought it prudent to put an end to so touching a scene.
"You promised me to be good and calm," she said to Lise, calling Alexander and Tekla from her with a look.
"Already?" murmured Mme. Meyrin, who understood. "You want to take them from me already?"
"No," said Marthe; "but you must have a little rest. They shall not leave the house."
"I promise they shall not, Madame la Comtesse," said Soublaieff's daughter, taking the children by the hand.
"Is it you, Vera? Forgive me; I could see only them. Let Marthe take them, and you come here to me, while I can still speak."
The young prince and his sister went out with Mme. Daubrel.
"How beautiful you are! And you are as good as you are beautiful," said Lise to the young girl, who, before she could hinder it, had kissed her hand as in the olden time. "How worthy to be loved, too!"
"Madame la Comtesse!" said Vera, blushing.
"Oh, I am not jealous," said Mme. Meyrin, with a mournful smile. "You will always love them, will you not, when I am dead? For I am going to die; I know it; I feel it. What strength G.o.d had left me to see them I have given them just now. What would have become of them but for you these three years? What will become of them without you, without a mother to guard them? Swear that you will never leave them--swear it, I beg of you. Then I can go before my G.o.d grateful and resigned."
"I promise you, madame," said Vera, crying.
"Thank you," murmured Lise, in a voice that could scarcely be heard, her eyes closing.
The young girl sprung up. Thinking the patient was dying, she called Mme. Daubrel. She ran in with Dumesnil, leaving the young prince and his sister in the neighboring room under the care of the Sister of Charity.
But the last hour of the deserted woman was not yet come. Her heart beat feebly; with her crooked fingers now and then she tried to draw the bed-clothes about her--a movement common to the dying.
Mme. Meyrin lay thus until the evening. When Marthe, then, was about to take Alexander and Tekla to the room made ready for them, she reopened her eyes, looked round vaguely, and stammered:
Mme. Daubrel took them to the bedside. The poor mother scarcely knew them.
At this moment a carriage was heard to stop before the house; the bell was rung; some moments pa.s.sed, and a man, pale, and with uncovered head, appeared on the threshold of the room.
It was Pierre Olsdorf. On reaching the Grand Hotel he had found Vera's letter, and had hurried thither.
"The prince!" cried Mme. Podoi, with an ineffable expression of grat.i.tude.
"He," murmured Vera, growing pale.
As if the word "prince" spoken by her mother had suddenly revived her, Lise raised herself and uttered a cry.
The Russian n.o.bleman quickly drew near to the woman who had borne his name.