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Suddenly Dea, disengaging herself from Gwynplaine's embrace, arose. She pressed both her hands against her heart, as if to still its throbbings.
"What is wrong with me?" said she. "There is something the matter. Joy is suffocating. No, it is nothing! That is lucky. Your reappearance, O my Gwynplaine, has given me a blow--a blow of happiness. All this heaven of joy which you have put into my heart has intoxicated me. You being absent, I felt myself dying. The true life which was leaving me you have brought back. I felt as if something was being torn away within me. It is the shadows that have been torn away, and I feel life dawn in my brain--a glowing life, a life of fever and delight. This life which you have just given me is wonderful. It is so heavenly that it makes me suffer somewhat. It seems as though my soul is enlarged, and can scarcely be contained in my body. This life of seraphim, this plenitude, flows into my brain and penetrates it. I feel like a beating of wings within my breast. I feel strangely, but happy. Gwynplaine, you have been my resurrection."
She flushed, became pale, then flushed again, and fell.
"Alas!" said Ursus, "you have killed her."
Gwynplaine stretched his arms towards Dea. Extremity of anguish coming upon extremity of ecstasy, what a shock! He would himself have fallen, had he not had to support her.
"Dea!" he cried, shuddering, "what is the matter?"
"Nothing," said she--"I love you!"
She lay in his arms, lifeless, like a piece of linen; her hands were hanging down helplessly.
Gwynplaine and Ursus placed Dea on the mattress. She said, feebly,--
"I cannot breathe lying down."
They lifted her up.
"Fetch a pillow."
"What for? I have Gwynplaine!"
She laid her head on Gwynplaine's shoulder, who was sitting behind, and supporting her, his eyes wild with grief.
"Oh," said she, "how happy I am!"
Ursus took her wrist, and counted the pulsation of the artery. He did not shake his head. He said nothing, nor expressed his thought except by the rapid movement of his eyelids, which were opening and closing convulsively, as if to prevent a flood of tears from bursting out.
"What is the matter?" asked Gwynplaine.
Ursus placed his ear against Dea's left side.
Gwynplaine repeated his question eagerly, fearful of the answer.
Ursus looked at Gwynplaine, then at Dea. He was livid. He said,--
"We ought to be parallel with Canterbury. The distance from here to Gravesend cannot be very great. We shall have fine weather all night. We need fear no attack at sea, because the fleets are all on the coast of Spain. We shall have a good passage."
Dea, bent, and growing paler and paler, clutched her robe convulsively. She heaved a sigh of inexpressible sadness, and murmured,--
"I know what this is. I am dying!"
Gwynplaine rose in terror. Ursus held Dea.
"Die! You die! No; it shall not be! You cannot die! Die now! Die at once! It is impossible! God is not ferociously cruel--to give you and to take you back in the same moment. No; such a thing cannot be. It would make one doubt in Him. Then, indeed, would everything be a snare--the earth, the sky, the cradles of infants, the human heart, love, the stars. God would be a traitor and man a dupe. There would be nothing in which to believe. It would be an insult to the creation. Everything would be an abyss. You know not what you say, Dea. You shall live! I command you to live! You must obey me! I am your husband and your master; I forbid you to leave me! O heavens! O wretched Man! No, it cannot be--I to remain in the world after you! Why, it is as monstrous as that there should be no sun! Dea! Dea! recover! It is but a moment of passing pain. One feels a shudder at times, and thinks no more about it. It is absolutely necessary that you should get well and cease to suffer. You die! What have I done to you? The very thought of it drives me mad. We belong to each other, and we love each other. You have no reason for going! It would be unjust! Have I committed crimes? Besides, you have forgiven me. Oh, you would not make me desperate--have me become a villain, a madman, drive me to perdition? Dea, I entreat you! I conjure you! I supplicate you! Do not die!"
And clenching his hands in his hair, agonized with fear, stifled with tears, he threw himself at her feet.
"My Gwynplaine," said Dea, "it is no fault of mine."
There then rose to her lips a red froth, which Ursus wiped away with the fold of her robe, before Gwynplaine, who was prostrate at her feet, could see it.
Gwynplaine took her feet in his hands, and implored her in all kinds of confused words.
"I tell you, I will not have it! You die? I have no strength left to bear it. Die? Yes; but both of us together--not otherwise. You die, my Dea? I will never consent to it! My divinity, my love! Do you understand that I am with you? I swear that you shall live! Oh, but you cannot have thought what would become of me after you were gone. If you had an idea of the necessity which you are to me, you would see that it is absolutely impossible! Dea! you see I have but you! The most extraordinary things have happened to me. You will hardly believe that I have just explored the whole of life in a few hours! I have found out one thing--that there is nothing in it! You exist! if you did not, the universe would have no meaning. Stay with me! Have pity on me! Since you love me, live on! If I have just found you again, it is to keep you. Wait a little longer; you cannot leave me like this, now that we have been together but a few minutes! Do not be impatient! O Heaven, how I suffer! You are not angry with me, are you? You know that I could not help going when the wapentake came for me. You will breathe more easily presently, you will see. Dea, all has been put right. We are going to be happy. Do not drive me to despair, Dea! I have done nothing to you."
These words were not spoken, but sobbed out. They rose from his breast--now in a lament which might have attracted the dove, now in a roar which might have made lions recoil.
Dea answered him in a voice growing weaker and weaker, and pausing at nearly every word.
"Alas! it is of no use, my beloved. I see that you are doing all you can. An hour ago I wanted to die; now I do not. Gwynplaine--my adored Gwynplaine--how happy we have been! God placed you in my life, and He takes me out of yours. You see, I am going. You will remember the Green Box, won't you, and poor blind little Dea? You will remember my song? Do not forget the sound of my voice, and the way in which I said, 'I love you!' I will come back and tell it to you again, in the night while you are asleep. Yes, we found each other again; but it was too much joy. It was to end at once. It is decreed that I am to go first. I love my father, Ursus, and my brother, Homo, very dearly. You are all so good. There is no air here. Open the window. My Gwynplaine, I did not tell you, but I was jealous of a woman who came one day. You do not even know of whom I speak. Is it not so? Cover my arms; I am rather cold. And Fibi and Vinos, where are they? One comes to love everybody. One feels a friendship for all those who have been mixed up in one's happiness. We have a kindly feeling towards them for having been present in our joys. Why has it all passed away? I have not clearly understood what has happened during the last two days. Now I am dying. Leave me in my dress. When I put it on I foresaw that it would be my shroud. I wish to keep it on. Gwynplaine's kisses are upon it. Oh, what would I not have given to have lived on! What a happy life we led in our poor caravan! How we sang! How I listened to the applause! What joy it was never to be separated from each other! It seemed to me that I was living in a cloud with you; I knew one day from another, although I was blind. I knew that it was morning, because I heard Gwynplaine; I felt that it was night, because I dreamed of Gwynplaine. I felt that I was wrapped up in something which was his soul. We adored each other so sweetly. It is all fading away; and there will be no more songs. Alas that I cannot live on! You will think of me, my beloved!"
Her voice was growing fainter. The ominous waning, which was death, was stealing away her breath. She folded her thumbs within her fingers--a sign that her last moments were approaching. It seemed as though the first uncertain words of an angel just created were blended with the last failing accents of the dying girl.
"You will think of me, won't you? It would be very sad to be dead, and to be remembered by no one. I have been wayward at times; I beg pardon of you all. I am sure that, if God had so willed it, we might yet have been happy, my Gwynplaine; for we take up but very little room, and we might have earned our bread together in another land. But God has willed it otherwise. I cannot make out in the least why I am dying. I never complained of being blind, so that I cannot have offended any one. I should never have asked for anything, but always to be blind as I was, by your side. Oh, how sad it is to have to part!"
Her words were more and more inarticulate, evaporating into each other, as if they were being blown away. She had become almost inaudible.
"Gwynplaine," she resumed, "you will think of me, won't you? I shall crave it when I am dead."
And she added,--
"Oh, keep me with you!"
Then, after a pause, she said,--
"Come to me as soon as you can. I shall be very unhappy without you, even in heaven. Do not leave me long alone, my sweet Gwynplaine! My paradise was here; above there is only heaven! Oh! I cannot breathe! My beloved! My beloved! My beloved!"
"Mercy!" cried Gwynplaine.
"Farewell!" murmured Dea.
And he pressed his mouth to her beautiful icy hands. For a moment it seemed as if she had ceased to breathe. Then she raised herself on her elbows, and an intense splendour flashed across her eyes, and through an ineffable smile her voice rang out clearly.
"Light!" she cried. "I see!"
And she expired. She fell back rigid and motionless on the mattress.
"Dead!" said Ursus.
And the poor old man, as if crushed by his despair, bowed his bald head and buried his swollen face in the folds of the gown which covered Dea's feet. He lay there in a swoon.
Then Gwynplaine became awful. He arose, lifted his eyes, and gazed into the vast gloom above him. Seen by none on earth, but looked down upon, perhaps, as he stood in the darkness, by some invisible presence, he stretched his hands on high, and said,--
And he strode across the deck, towards the side of the vessel, as if beckoned by a vision.
A few paces off was the abyss. He walked slowly, never casting down his eyes. A smile came upon his face, such as Dea's had just worn. He advanced straight before him, as if watching something. In his eyes was a light like the reflection of a soul perceived from afar off. He cried out, "Yes!" At every step he was approaching nearer to the side of the vessel. His gait was rigid, his arms were lifted up, his head was thrown back, his eyeballs were fixed. His movement was ghost-like. He advanced without haste and without hesitation, with fatal precision, as though there were before him no yawning gulf and open grave. He murmured, "Be easy. I follow you. I understand the sign that you are making me." His eyes were fixed upon a certain spot in the sky, where the shadow was deepest. The smile was still upon his face. The sky was perfectly black; there was no star visible in it, and yet he evidently saw one. He crossed the deck. A few stiff and ominous steps, and he had reached the very edge.
"I come," said he; "Dea, behold, I come!"
One step more; there was no bulwark; the void was before him; he strode into it. He fell. The night was thick and dull, the water deep. It swallowed him up. He disappeared calmly and silently. None saw nor heard him. The ship sailed on, and the river flowed.
Shortly afterwards the ship reached the sea.
When Ursus returned to consciousness, he found that Gwynplaine was no longer with him, and he saw Homo by the edge of the deck baying in the shadow and looking down upon the water.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
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