On the visiting day, Thursday, mademoiselle
started at half-past twelve to go and see Germinie.
It was her purpose to be at her bedside at the moment
the doors were thrown open, at one o’clock precisely.
As she rode through the streets she had passed through
four days before, she remembered the ghastly ride
of Monday. It seemed to her as if she were incommoding
a sick person in the cab, of which she was the only
occupant, and she sat close in the corner in order
to make room for the memory of Germinie. In what
condition should she find her? Should she find
her at all? Suppose her bed should be empty?
The cab passed through a narrow street
filled with orange carts, and with women sitting on
the sidewalk offering biscuit for sale in baskets.
There was something unspeakably wretched and dismal
in this open-air display of fruit and cakes, the
delicacies of the dying, the viaticum of invalids,
craved by feverish mouths, longed for by the death-agony, which
workingmen’s hands, black with toil, purchase
as they pass, to carry to the hospital and offer death
a tempting morsel. Children carried them with
sober faces, almost reverentially, and without touching
them, as if they understood.
The cab stopped before the gate of
the courtyard. It was five minutes to one.
There was a long line of women crowding about the gate,
women with their working clothes on, sorrowful, depressed
and silent. Mademoiselle de Varandeuil took her
place in the line, went forward with the others and
was admitted: they searched her. She inquired
for Salle Sainte-Josephine, and was directed to the
second wing on the second floor. She found the
hall and the bed, N, which was, as she had been
told, one of the last at the right. Indeed, she
was guided thither, as it were, from the farther end
of the hall, by Germinie’s smile the
smile of a sick person in a hospital at an unexpected
visit, which says, so gently, as soon as you enter
the room: “Here I am.”
She leaned over the bed. Germinie
tried to push her away with a gesture of humility
and the shamefacedness of a servant.
Mademoiselle de Varandeuil kissed her.
“Ah!” said Germinie, “the
time dragged terribly yesterday. I imagined it
was Thursday and I longed so for you.”
“My poor girl! How are you?”
“Oh! I’m getting
on finely now the swelling in my bowels
has all gone. I have only three weeks to stay
here, mademoiselle, you’ll see. They talk
about a month or six weeks, but I know better.
And I’m very comfortable here, I don’t
mind it at all. I sleep all night now. My!
but I was thirsty, when you brought me here Monday!
They wouldn’t give me wine and water.”
“What have you there to drink?”
“Oh! what I had at home lime-water.
Would you mind pouring me out some, mademoiselle?
their pewter things are so heavy!”
She raised herself with one arm by
the aid of the little stick that hung over the middle
of the bed, and putting out the other thin, trembling
arm, left bare by the sleeve falling back from it,
she took the glass mademoiselle held out to her, and
“There,” said she when
she had done, and she placed both her arms outside
the bed, on the coverlid.
“What a pity that I have to
put you out in this way, my poor demoiselle!”
she continued. “Things must be in a horribly
dirty state at home!”
“Don’t worry about that.”
There was a moment’s silence.
A faint smile came to Germinie’s lips. “I
am sailing under false colors,” she said, lowering
her voice; “I have confessed so as to get well.”
Then she moved her head on the pillow
in order to bring her mouth nearer to Mademoiselle
de Varandeuil’s ear:
“There are tales to tell here.
I have a funny neighbor yonder.” She indicated
with a glance and a movement of her shoulder the patient
to whom her back was turned. “There’s
a man who comes here to see her. He talked to
her an hour yesterday. I heard them say they’d
had a child. She has left her husband. He
was like a madman, the man was, when he was talking
As she spoke, Germinie’s face
lighted up as if she were still full of the scene
of the day before, still stirred up and feverish with
jealousy, so near death as she was, because she had
heard love spoken of beside her!
Suddenly her expression changed.
A woman came toward her bed. She seemed embarrassed
when she saw Mademoiselle de Varandeuil. After
a few moments, she kissed Germinie, and hurriedly
withdrew as another woman came up. The new-comer
did the same, kissed Germinie and at once took her
leave. After the women a man came; then another
woman. One and all, after a moment’s conversation,
leaned over Germinie to kiss her, and with every kiss
Mademoiselle de Varandeuil could hear an indistinct
murmur as of words exchanged; a whispered question
from those who kissed, a hasty reply from her who
“Well!” she said to Germinie,
“I hope you are well taken care of!”
“Oh! yes,” Germinie answered
in a peculiar tone, “they take excellent care
She had lost the animation that she
displayed at the beginning of the visit. The
little blood that had mounted to her cheeks remained
there in one spot only. Her face seemed closed;
it was cold and deaf, like a wall. Her drawn-in
lips were sealed, as it were. Her features were
concealed beneath the veil of infinite dumb agony.
There was nothing caressing or eloquent in her staring
eyes, absorbed as they were and filled with one fixed
thought. You would have said that all exterior
signs of her ideas were drawn within her by an irresistible
power of concentration, by a last supreme effort of
her will, and that her whole being was clinging in
desperation to a sorrow that drew everything to itself.
The visitors she had just received
were the grocer, the fish-woman, the butter woman
and the laundress all her debts, incarnate!
The kisses were the kisses of her creditors, who came
to keep on the scent of their claims and to extort
money from her death-agony!