Musotte's bedroom, neatly furnished, but without luxury. Disordered bed stands L. A screen stands L. I. E., almost hiding Musotte, who lies stretched at length upon a steamer-chair. Beside the bed is a cradle, the head of which is turned up stage. On the mantelpiece and on small tables at R. and L. are vials of medicine, cups, chafing-dish, etc. A table stands, R. I. E. Musotte is sleeping. La Babin and Mme. Flache stand C. looking at her.
LA BABIN [in low tones]
How she sleeps!
MME. FLACHE [in the same voice]
But she will not sleep long now, unless she is going into her last sleep.
Oh, there is no chance of that. That is enough to give one the horrors.
Fancy losing one's life for a child!
But how can you prevent it? Death is as necessary as birth, or the world would become too small for us all.
LA BABIN [sits R. of table]
All people ought to die in the same way and at the same age—every one of us; then one would know what to expect.
MME. FLACHE [pours out some tea]
What simple ideas you have, Madame Babin! Personally, I would rather not know the hour of my death. I would sooner finish my life while sleeping in the middle of the night—during slumber—without suffering—by a sudden failure of the heart.
Look at the sick woman. How silly of her to wish to rest upon that steamer-chair as she has done. The doctor told her plainly that such an effort would probably finish her.
MME. FLACHE [sits L. of table]
Oh, I understand her motive. When a girl like her has a lover she commits every kind of folly, and more especially, nurse, when they are at all coquettish; but you country people do not know anything about such things. They are coquettish through and through. That is the reason she wished to look her prettiest. She was afraid of being thought ugly, don't you understand? So I had to put on her peignoir, and tidy her up, and arrange her hair just as I have done.
Oh, these Parisians! It is necessary that they should have a hairdresser even to the last gasp! [A short silence.] But will this gentleman of hers come?
I do not think so. Men are not overfond of obeying the calls of their former mistresses at such times, and then, this lover of hers was married to-day, poor fellow!
Well, that is a joke.
I should say so.
Certainly, then, he won't come. In such a case would you go to see a man?
Oh, if I loved him very much I should go.
Even if you were marrying another the same day?
Just the same. For such a combination of circumstances would pierce my heart; would penetrate me with a strong emotion,—and, oh, I am so fond of such emotions!
Well, so far as I am concerned, I certainly would not go. I should be too much afraid of the shock.
But Doctor Pellerin asserts that the man will come.
Do you know this physician well?
Who, Doctor Pellerin?
Yes; he has the air of a charming man of the world.
Oh, yes; he is all that, but he is also a good physician. Then he is such good company, and has such a smooth tongue. And you know he is not physician to the Opera for nothing.
That little puppy of a—
A puppy! You don't very often find puppies among men of his caliber, and then,-oh, how he used to love the girls! Oh, oh! Although, for the matter of that, there are many physicians who are like him. It was at the Opera that I first met him.
At the Opera!
Yes, at the Opera. You know, I was a dancer there for eight years. Yes, indeed, even I—just as you see me, a dancer at the Opera.
You, Madame Flache!
Yes, my mother was a midwife, and taught me the business at the same time that she taught me dancing, because she always said it was well to have two strings to your bow. Dancing, you see, is all very well, provided you are not too ambitious of appearing on first nights, but, unhappily, that was the case with me. I was as slender as a thread when I was twenty, and very agile, but I grew fat and scant of breath, and became rather heavy in my steps; so when my mother died, as I had my diploma as a midwife, I took her apartment and her business, and I added the title of "Midwife to the Opera," for all their business comes to me. They like me very much there. When I was dancing, they used to call me Mademoiselle Flacchi the première.
Then you have been married since then?
No, but a woman in my profession should always assume the title of Madame for the sake of its dignity. You know, it gives confidence. But, how about you, nurse, from what place do you come? You know, you have only just come here, and nobody consulted me about engaging you.
I am from Yvetot.
Is this your first engagement as a nurse?
No, my third. I have had two daughters and a little boy.
And your husband, is he a farmer or a gardener?
LA BABIN [Simply]
I am not married.
MME. FLACHE [laughing]
Not married, and with three children! Upon my word, let me compliment you; you are indeed precocious.
Don't talk about it; it was not my will. It is the good God who does these things. One cannot prevent it.
How simple you are! Now you will probably have a fourth child.
That's very possible.
Well, what does your lover do? What is his business? Or perhaps you have more than one?
LA BABIN [with indignation]
There has never been more than one. I give you my word, upon my hope of salvation. He is a lemonade-seller at Yvetot.
Is he a handsome fellow?
I believe you, indeed! He is handsome! [Confidentially.] If I tell you all this, it is only because you are a midwife, and a midwife in such affairs as this is like a priest in the confessional. But you, Madame Flache, you, who have been a dancer at the Opera, you must also have had, surely—little love affairs—little intrigues?
MME. FLACHE [evidently flattered, and in a dreamy tone]
Oh, yes, one or two!
LA BABIN [laughs]
And have you never had—this sort of accident? [Points to the cradle.]
How did that come?
MME. FLACHE [rises and approaches the mantelpiece]
Probably because I was a midwife.
Well, I know one in your profession who has had five.
MME. FLACHE [with contempt]
She evidently did not come from Paris.
That's true; she came from Courbevoie.
MUSOTTE [in a feeble voice] Is no one there?
She is awakening. There, there! [Folds up the screen which hides the long steamer-chair.]
Hasn't he come yet?
He will arrive too late—my God! My God!
What an idea! He will come.
And my little darling—my child?
He is sleeping like an angel.
MUSOTTE [after looking at herself in a hand-mirror]
I must not look like this when he comes. Oh, God! Bring my child—I want to see him.
But if I show him to you he will wake up, and who knows if he will go to sleep again.
Bring the cradle here. [A gesture of refusal from Mme Flache.] Yes, yes! I insist, [Mme. Flache and the nurse gently bring the cradle to her.] Nearer, nearer, so that I can see him well—the darling! My child, my child! And I am going to leave him! Soon I shall disappear into the unknown. Oh. God, what agony!
Now don't go worrying yourself like that; you are not as ill as you think. I have seen lots worse than you. Come, come! you are going to recover. Take away the cradle, nurse. [They put the cradle again in its place; then to the nurse.] That will do, that will do. Watch me. You know very well that it is only I who can quiet it. [Sits near the cradle, and sings a lullaby while rocking it.]
"A little gray fowl
Came into the barn,
To lay a big egg
For the good boy that sleeps.
Go to sleep, go to sleep,
My little chicken!
Go to sleep, sleep, my chick!"
LA BABIN [stands near the end of the mantelpiece, drinks the sugared water, and slips loaf sugar into her pocket; aside]
I must not forget the main thing. I have just seen in the kitchen the remains of a leg of mutton, to which I should like to go and say a few words. I am breaking in two with hunger just now.
MME. FLACHE [sings softly]
"A little black fowl
Came into the room,
To lay a big egg
For the good boy that sleeps.
Sleep, sleep, my little chicken,
Sleep, oh, sleep, my chick!"
MUSOTTE [from the long chair, after moaning several times]
Has he gone to sleep again?
MME. FLACHE [goes toward Musotte]
Yes, Mademoiselle, just as if he were a little Jesus. Do you wish to know what I think about him, this young man lying here? You will lead him to the altar for his marriage. He is a jewel, like yourself, my dear.
Do you really think him pretty?
On the honor of a midwife, I have seldom brought into the world one so pretty. It is a pleasure to know that one has brought to the light such a little Cupid as he is.
And to think that in a few hours, perhaps, I shall see him no more; look at him no more; love him no more!
Oh, no, no! You are talking unreasonably.
Ah, I know it too well! I heard you talking with the nurse. I know that the end is very near; this night, perhaps. Would the doctor have written to Jean to come and see me on this evening—the evening of his marriage—if I were not at the point of death? [The bell rings. Musotte utters a cry.] Ah, there he is! it is he! Quick! quick! Oh, God, how I suffer! [Exit Mme. Flache C. Musotte gazes after her. Enter Dr. Pellerin, in evening clothes.]
Ah! it is not he!
PELLERIN [approaches Musotte]
Has he not come yet?
He will not come.
He will! I am certain of it; I know it.
I swear it! [Turns toward Mme. Flache.] Hasn't he answered the note yet?
Well, he will come. How is my patient?
She has rested a little.
MUSOTTE [in an agitated voice]
All is over! I feel that I shall not rest any more until he comes, or until I depart without having seen him.
He will come if you will go to sleep immediately and sleep until to-morrow morning.
You would not have written to him to come this evening if I had been able to wait until to-morrow morning. [The bell rings.] If that is not he, I am lost—lost! [Mme. Flache runs to open the door. Musotte listens intently, and hears from below a man's voice; then murmurs despairingly.] It is not he!
MME. FLACHE [re-enters with a vial in her hand]
It is the medicine from the chemist.
Oh, God! how horrible! He is not coming; what have I done? Doctor, show me my child. I will see him once more.
But he sleeps, my little Musotte.
Well, he has plenty of time in the future for sleep.
Come, come, calm yourself.
If Jean does not come, who will take care of my child?—for it is Jean's child, I swear to you. Do you believe me? Oh, how I loved him!
Yes, my dear little child, we believe you. But please be calm.
MUSOTTE [with increasing agitation]
Tell me, when you went away just now where did you go?
To see a patient.
That is not true. You went to see Jean, and he would not come with you, or he would be here now.
On my word of honor, no.
Yes, I feel it. You have seen him, and you do not dare to tell me for fear it would kill me.
Ah, the fever is coming back again. This must not go on. I don't wish you to be delirious when he comes. [Turns to Mme. Flache.] We must give her a hypodermic injection. Give me the morphia. [Mme. Flache brings the needle and morphia, from the mantelpiece and gives it to Dr. Pellerin.]
MUSOTTE [uncovers her own arm]
But for this relief, I do not know how I should have borne up during the last few days. [Dr. Pellerin administers the hypodermic.]
Now, you must go to sleep; I forbid you to speak. I won't answer you, and I tell you of a certainty that in a quarter of an hour Jean will be here. [Musotte stretches herself out obediently upon the couch and goes to sleep.]
LA BABIN [silently replaces the screen which hides Musotte]
How she sleeps! What a benediction that drug is! But I don't want any of it. It scares me; it is a devil's potion. [Sits near the cradle and reads a newspaper.]
MME. FLACHE [in a low voice to Dr. Pellerin]
Oh, the poor girl, what misery!
DR. PELLERIN [in the same tone]
Yes, she is a brave girl. It is some time since I first met her with Jean Martinel, who gave her three years of complete happiness. She has a pure and simple soul.
Well, will this Monsieur Martinel come?
I think so. He is a man of feeling, but it is a difficult thing for him to leave his wife and his people on such a day as this.
It certainly is a most extraordinary case. A veritable fiasco.
It is, indeed.
MME. FLACHE [changes her tone]
Where have you been just now? You did not put on evening dress and a white cravat to go and see a patient?
I went to see the first part of the Montargy ballet danced.
MME. FLACHE [interested, and leaning upon the edge of the table]
And was it good? Tell me.
DR. PELLERIN [sits L. of table]
It was very well danced.
The new directors do things in style, don't they?
Jeanne Merali and Gabrielle Poivrier are first class.
Poivrier—the little Poivrier—is it possible! As to Merali I am not so much astonished; although she is distinctly ugly, she has her good points. And how about Mauri?
Oh, a marvel—an absolute marvel, who dances as no one else can. A human bird with limbs for wings. It was absolute perfection.
Are you in love with her?
Oh, no; merely an admirer. You know how I worship the dance.
And the danseuses also, at times. [Lowering her eyes.] Come, have you forgotten?
One can never forget artists of your worth, my dear.
You are simply teasing me.
I only do you justice. You know that formerly, when I was a young doctor, I had for you a very ardent passion which lasted six weeks. Tell me, don't you regret the time of the grand fête?
A little. But reason comes when one is young no longer, and I have nothing to complain of. My business is very prosperous.
You are making money, then? They tell me that you are giving dainty little dinners.
I believe you, and I have a particularly good chef. Won't you give me the pleasure of entertaining you at dinner one of these days, my dear Doctor?
Very willingly, my dear.
Shall I have any other physicians, or do you prefer to come alone?
Alone, if you please. I am not fond of a third party. [The bell rings.]
Ah, some one rang, run and see. [Exit Mme. Flache. A short silence.]
A VOICE [without]
Madame Henriette Lévêque?
MUSOTTE [emitting an anguished cry]
Ah, it is he! There he is! [Makes an effort to rise. Enter Jean Martinel.] Jean! Jean! At last! [Springs up and stretches her arms to him.]
(The same,—with Jean Martinel.)
JEAN [comes rapidly forward, kneels near the long steamer-chair, and kisses Musotte's hands]
My poor little Musotte! [They begin to weep and dry their eyes; then they remain silent and motionless. At last Jean rises and holds up his hand to Dr. Pellerin.]
Did I do well?
You did indeed, and I thank you.
PELLERIN [introduces them]
Madame Flache, the midwife—the nurse—[indicates the cradle with a grave gesture] and there!
JEAN [approaches the cradle and lifts the little curtain, takes up the child and kisses it on the mouth; then lays it down again]
He is a splendid boy!
A very pretty child.
A superb morsel—one of my prettiest.
JEAN [in a low voice]
And Musotte, how is she?
MUSOTTE [who has heard him]
I,—I am almost lost. I know surely that all is over. [To Jean.] Take that little chair, dear, and seat yourself near me, and let us talk as long as I am able to speak. I have so many things to say to you, for we shall never be together any more. I am so glad to see you again that nothing else now seems of any importance.
JEAN [approaching her] Don't agitate yourself. Don't get excited.
How can I help being agitated at seeing you again?
JEAN [sits on the low chair, takes Musotte's hand]
My poor Musotte, I cannot tell you what a shock it was to me when I learned just now that you were so ill.
And on this day of all days! It must have shocked you greatly.
What! Do you know of it then?
Yes, since I felt so ill, I kept myself informed about you every day, in order that I might not pass away without having seen you and spoken to you again, for I have so much to say to you. [At a sign from Jean, Mme. Flache, Pellerin, and La Babin exit R.]
(Musotte and Jean.)
Then you received the letter?
And you came immediately?
Thanks—ah! thanks. I hesitated a long time before warning you—hesitated even this morning, but I heard the midwife talking with the nurse and learned that to-morrow perhaps it might be too late, so I sent Doctor Pellerin to call you immediately.
Why didn't you call me sooner?
I never thought that my illness would become so serious. I did not wish to trouble your life.
JEAN [points to the cradle]
But that child! How is it that I was not told of this sooner?
You would never have known it, if his birth had not killed me. I would have spared you this pain—this cloud upon your life. When you left me, you gave me enough to live upon. Everything was over between us; and besides, at any other moment than this, would you believe me if I said to you: "This is your child?"
Yes, I have never doubted you.
You are as good as ever, my Jean. No, no, I am not lying to you; he is yours, that little one there. I swear it to you on my deathbed; I swear it to you before God!
I have already told you that I believed you. I have always believed you.
Listen, this is all that has happened. As soon as you left me, I became very ill. I suffered so much that I thought I was going to die. The doctor ordered a change of air. You remember, it was in the spring. I went to Saint-Malo—to that old relative, of whom I have often talked to you.
It was in Saint-Malo, after some days, that I realized that you had left me a pledge of your affection. My first desire was to tell you everything, for I knew that you were an honest man—that you would have recognized this child, perhaps even have given up your marriage; but I would not have had you do that. All was over; was it not?—and it was better that it should be so. I knew that I could never be your wife [smiles], Musotte, me, Madame Martinel—oh, no!
My poor, dear girl. How brutal and hard we men are, without thinking of it and without wishing to be so!
Don't say that. I was not made for you. I was only a little model; and you, you were a rising artist, and I never thought that you would belong to me forever. [Jean sheds tears.] No, no, don't cry; you have nothing to reproach yourself with. You have always been so good to me. It is only God who has been cruel to me.
Let me go on. I remained at Saint-Malo without revealing my condition. Then I came back to Paris, and here some months afterward the little one was born—the child! When I fully understood what had happened to me, I experienced at first such fear; yes, such fear! Then I remembered that he was bone of your bone, and flesh of your flesh; that you had given him life, and that he was a pledge from you. But one is so stupid when one knows nothing. One's ideas change just as one's moods change, and I became contented all at once; contented with the thought that I would bring him up, that he would grow to be a man, that he would call me mother. [Weeps.] Now, he will never call me mother. He will never put his little arms around my neck, because I am going to leave him; because I am going away—I don't know where; but there, where everybody goes. Oh, God! My God!
Calm yourself, my little Musotte. Would you be able to speak as you do speak if you were as ill as you think you are?
You do not see that the fever is burning within me; that I am losing my head, and don't know longer what I say.
No, no; please calm yourself.
Pet me; pet me, Jean, and you will calm me.
JEAN [kisses her hair; then resumes]
There, there; don't speak any more for a minute or two. Let us remain quietly here near each other.
But I must speak to you; I have so many things to say to you yet, and do not know how to say them. My head is beyond my control. Oh, my God! how shall I do it? [Raises herself, looks around her and sees the cradle.] Ah, yes, I know; I recollect, it is he, my child. Tell me, Jean, what will you do with him? You know that I am an orphan, and when I am gone he will be here all alone—alone in the world! Poor little thing! Listen, Jean, my head is quite clear now. I shall understand very well what you answer me now, and the peace of my closing moments depends upon it. I have no one to leave the little one to but you.
I promise you that I will take him, look after him, and bring him up.
As a father?
As a father.
You have already seen him?
Go and look at him again. [Jean goes over to the cradle.]
He is pretty, isn't he?
Everybody says so. Look at him, the poor little darling, who has enjoyed only a few days of life as yet. He belongs to us. You are his father; I am his mother, but soon he will have a mother no more. [In anguish.] Promise me that he shall always have a father.
JEAN [goes over to her]
I promise it, my darling!
A true father, who will always love him well?
JEAN I promise it.
You will be good—very good—to him?
I swear it to you!
And then, there is something else—but I dare not—
Tell it to me.
Since I came back to Paris, I have sought to see you without being seen by you, and I have seen you three times. Each time you were with her—with your sweetheart, your wife, and with a gentleman—her father, I think. Oh, how I looked at her! I asked myself: "Will she love him as I have loved him? Will she make him happy? Is she good?" Tell me, do you really believe she is very good?
Yes, darling, I believe it.
You are very certain of it?
And I thought so, too, simply from seeing her pass by. She is so pretty! I have been a little jealous, and I wept on coming back. But what are you going to do now as between her and your son?
I shall do my duty.
Your duty? Does that mean by her or by him?
Listen, Jean: when I am no more, ask your wife from me, from the mouth of a dead woman, to adopt him, this dear little morsel of humanity-to love him as I would have loved him; to be a mother to him in my stead. If she is tender and kind, she will consent. Tell her how you saw me suffer—that my last prayer, my last supplication on earth was offered up for her. Will you do this?
I promise you that I will.
Ah! How good you are! Now I fear nothing; my poor little darling is safe, and I am happy and calm. Ah, how calm I am! You didn't know, did you, that I called him Jean, after you? That does not displease you, does it?
You weep—so you still love me a little, Jean? Ah, how I thank you for this! But if I only could live; it must be possible. I feel so much better since you came here, and since you have promised me all that I have asked you. Give me your hand. At this moment I can recall all our life together, and I am content—almost gay; in fact, I can laugh—see, I can laugh, though I don't know why. [Laughs.]
Oh, calm yourself for my sake, dear little Musotte.
If you could only understand how recollections throng upon me. Do you remember that I posed for your "Mendiante," for your "Violet Seller," for your "Guilty Woman," which won for you your first medal? And do you remember the breakfast at Ledoyen's on Varnishing Day? There were more than twenty-five at a table intended for ten. What follies we committed, especially that little, little—what did he call himself—I mean that little comic fellow, who was always making portraits which resembled no one? Oh, yes, Tavernier! And you took me home with you to your studio, where you had two great manikins which frightened me so, and I called to you, and you came in to reassure me. Oh, how heavenly all that was! Do you remember? [Laughs again.] Oh, if that life could only begin over again! [Cries suddenly.] Ah, what pain! [To Jean, who is going for the doctor.] No, stay, stay! [Silence. A sudden change comes over her face.] See, Jean, what glorious weather! If you like, we will take the baby for a sail on a river steamboat; that will be so jolly! I love those little steamboats; they are so pretty. They glide over the water quickly and without noise. Now that I am your wife, I can assert myself—I am armed. Darling, I never thought that you would marry me. And look at our little one—how pretty he is, and how he grows! He is called Jean after you. And I—I have my two little Jeans—mine—altogether mine! You don't know how happy I am. And the little one walks to-day for the first time! [Laughs aloud, with her arms stretched out, pointing to the child which she thinks is before her.]
Musotte! Musotte! Don't you know me?
Indeed I know you! Am I not your wife? Kiss me, darling. Kiss me, my little one.
JEAN [takes her in his arms, weeping and repeating]
Musotte! Musotte! [Musotte rises upon her couch, and with a gesture to Jean points to the cradle, toward which he goes, nodding "Yes, yes," with his head. When Jean reaches the cradle, Musotte, who has raised herself upon her hands, falls lifeless upon the long steamer-chair. Jean, frightened, calls out] Pellerin! Pellerin!
(The same: Pellerin, Mme. Flache, and La Babin, enter quickly R.)
PELLERIN [who has gone swiftly to Musotte, feels her pulse and listens at the heart]
Her heart is not beating! Give me a mirror, Madame Flache.
My God! [Mme. Flache gives a hand-mirror to Pellerin, who holds it before the lips of Musotte, Pause.]
PELLERIN [in a low voice]
She is dead!
JEAN [takes the dead woman's hand and kisses it fondly, his voice choked with emotion]
Farewell, my dear little Musotte! To think that a moment ago you were speaking to me—a moment ago you were looking at me, you saw me, and now—all is over!
PELLERIN [goes to Jean and takes him by the shoulder]
Now, you must go at once. Go! You have nothing more to do here. Your duty is over.
I go. Farewell, poor little Musotte!
I will take care of everything this evening. But the child, do you wish me to find an asylum for him?
Oh, no, I will take him. I have sworn it to that poor, dead darling. Come and join me immediately at my house, and bring him with you. Then I shall have another service to request of you. But how about Musotte, who is going to remain with her?
I, Monsieur. Have no anxiety; I am acquainted with all that must be done.
Thank you, Madame. [Approaches the bed; closes Musotte's eyes and kisses her fondly and for a long time upon her forehead.] Farewell, Musotte, forever! [Goes softly to the cradle, removes the veil, kisses the child and speaks to it in a firm voice which at the same time is full of tears.] I shall see you again directly, my little Jean!