restricted access 37. A Dead Woman and a Ghost
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37 o A Dead Woman and a Ghost A Familiar Story—Baptized near Her Dying Mother— The Good Mother Was Burning the Letters—This Poor Médème    was a woman, and I do not understand how I could have been fooled even for one minute. I asked her if she wanted to get in my carriage so we could be comfortable to talk. She accepted after telling me that she was coming to take me to a woman who wanted to see me before dying. I asked her the name of the sick woman, and she replied, ‘‘To rue d’Angoulême, on the corner of the boulevard.’’1 And my coachman took off. Now I asked her to tell me more clearly who she was. ‘‘I am your age,’’ she said. ‘‘I was born the same day as you, and we apprenticed in the same house, on Rue du Temple. My mother died on Rue de Bondy, and fora long time the street vendor who is on the boulevard , at the entrance of the Ambigu-Comique, everyevening would give me some stale rye bread or some overripe cherries she had not been able to sell during the day. ‘‘I was a walk-on at Belleville when you came to play the part of a grisette in Canal Saint-Martin. For several months I have been living at a hotel on Rue d’Angoulême. Two months ago a young woman moved in the room next to mine. Well, one morning I heard moans and I went in. A doctor was immediately sent for. The poor woman remained in pain until two in the morning. She barely heard, ‘It is a girl.’ She sank into some sort of lethargy. ‘‘I entrusted the little girl to the care of a neighborhood woman. The drawers were empty, and I paid the first month for a nursemaid. Since that time, the poor woman has been getting worse. She told me, after she had written two letters that remained without answers, ‘I had a friend some time back; however, if the one I loved so much has abandoned  A Dead Woman and a Ghost me at a time like this, then why would she remember me? But go see her anyway, you will find her at the Variétés Theater.’ ’’    We had reached Rue d’Angoulême. I sent my coachman away and followed her. The house was not elegant, the stairs were straight up and narrow, and on each landing were eight or ten doors with numbers.The apartments looked like snuff boxes. Adèle cautiously opened a door. I saw a small room in disarray. I could not make out the sick woman’s features. A candle was burning on a night stand. ‘‘Thank you for coming,’’ said a voice that startled me. I was already near the bed cradling Denise’s head in my arms. It was my friend from reformatory. The first woman, perhaps the only one, who ever had a real affection for me. She led me into a life of sin without realizing what she was doing. Adèle put a cup of herbal tea on the night stand. Denise left her hands in mine for a long time. Gradually I could feel them getting warmer. I went to see the hotel manager, and I asked him to heat up a little bit of sweetened Bordeaux wine. I had Denise drink a few spoonfuls of this wine. It revived her strength and her memory. ‘‘I am all right,’’ she said, rising a little. ‘‘I feel better, but I have so many things to tell you that I do not know where to begin. Eight years ago, in Rouen, I met a young man named Edouard who worked in a shop. His mother lived in the country, and I lived with him and took his name, even though we both knew where we stood. He wanted to marry me as soon as his mother could be convinced that I loved him enough to make him happy. Several times he suggested we do it in spite of her, but I refused. A year ago Edouard changed suddenly; he became pensive and preoccupied. His boss was leaving the business and was thinking of putting him at the head of his establishment, but there was one obstacle: me. ‘‘One day I could not contain my joy, and I announced to him that I was going to be a mother...


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