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"You?" she said, raising herself as if galvanized. "Can you pardon me?"
"I think of nothing now, Lise, but that you are suffering," replied Pierre Olsdorf, pressing softly in his the suppliant hands which the unhappy woman raised to him.
"Then I can die. Pierre Alexandrowich, listen to me. Vera, come near--very near. Lose not a word, either of you. Oh, G.o.d! give me strength. Pierre, Vera loves you. She is a n.o.ble and saintly girl. When I am dead you will have the right to marry again. Promise me that she shall be the mother of my children--promise it!"
"I promise--I swear it," replied the prince, in a firm and grave voice.
The daughter of the farmer of Elva felt the blood rush to her heart.
The dying woman spoke now so low that she could hardly be heard, as if she were speaking to herself.
"With her the name of the Olsdorfs will remain unstained."
She would have fallen back heavily if the prince, who was supporting her, had not laid her gently on the pillows.
This effort was her last. In a few moments the dying woman was delirious. Her widely opened eyes were expressionless; her lips, distorted by a convulsive smile, spoke only broken words, the last expression of the last beating of her heart: "My children--Pierre--Vera--Marthe--mother--Dumesnil--all--all are here--and he--only he--"
Pierre Olsdorf understood that Lise's thoughts had turned for a moment to her husband; and he lowered his head that he might not see in a corner of the death-chamber the cradle of the child whose father he had killed.
Suddenly a cry of horror was heard.
Leaning over her daughter, Mme. Podoi had felt her last breath upon her face.
Mme. Meyrin, the ex-Princess Olsdorf, was no more.
Dumesnil, staggering, his eyes haggard, stretched out his arms as if to save himself from falling. Mme. Daubrel, deeply as she herself was moved, rushed to him to support him. But the comedian pushed her away, crying:
"She was my daughter--my daughter!"
And he fell on his knees beside the death-bed.
Despair had wrung from the old man the secret which his paternal love had made him keep so bravely for more than twenty years.
A fortnight later, after a funeral ceremony performed in the chapel at Pampeln, in presence of the prince, his children, Vera Soublaieff, and Mme. Podoi, the mortal remains of the Countess Lise were lowered into the vault of the Olsdorfs.
The "divorced princess" had come again under the roof of the man whose name she had borne--but she came a corpse.
Almost at the same hour, on one of the piers of New York, Mme. Daubrel was weeping over her son, while her husband smiled upon them.
Repentant and pardoned, the woman separated by decree from her husband had now a new future before her, and took again her place by her husband's hearth.