Before leaving for the hospital, she wanted her friends the Bohemians to stay and pass the evening with her.
"Make me laugh," said she, "cheerfulness is health to me. It is that wet blanket of a viscount made me ill. Fancy, he wanted to make me learn orthography; what the deuce should I have done with it? And his friends, what a set! A regular poultry yard, of which the viscount was the peacock. He marked his linen himself. If he ever marries I am sure that it will be he who will suckle the children."
Nothing could be more heart breaking than the almost posthumous gaiety of poor Mimi. All the Bohemians made painful efforts to hide their tears and continue the conversation in the jesting tone started by the unfortunate girl, for whom fate was so swiftly spinning the linen of her last garment.
The next morning Rodolphe received the order of admission to the hospital. Mimi could not walk, she had to be carried down to the cab. During the journey she suffered horribly from the jolts of the vehicle. Admist all her sufferings the last thing that dies in woman, coquetry, still survived; two or three times she had the cab stopped before the drapers' shops to look at the display in the windows.
On entering the ward indicated in the letter of admission Mimi felt a terrible pang at her heart, something within her told her that it was between these bare and leprous walls that her life was to end. She exerted the whole of the will left her to hide the mournful impression that had chilled her.
When she was put to bed she gave Rodolphe a final kiss and bid him goodbye, bidding him come and see her the next Sunday which was a visitors' day.
"It does not smell very nice here," said she to him, "bring me some flowers, some violets, there are still some about."
"Yes," said Rodolphe, "goodbye till Sunday."
And he drew together the curtains of her bed. On hearing the departing steps of her lover, Mimi was suddenly seized with an almost delirious attack of fever. She suddenly opened the curtains, and leaning half out of bed, cried in a voice broken with tears:
"Rodolphe, take me home, I want to go away."
The sister of charity hastened to her and tried to calm her.
"Oh!" said Mimi, "I am going to die here."
On Sunday morning, the day he was to go and see Mimi, Rodolphe remembered that he had promised her some violets. With poetic and loving superstition he went on foot in horrible weather to look for the flowers his sweetheart had asked him for, in the woods of Aulnay and Fontenay, where he had so often been with her. The country, so lively and joyful in the sunshine of the bright days of June and July, he found chill and dreary. For two hours he beat the snow covered thickets, lifting the bushes with a stick, and ended by finding a few tiny blossoms, and as it happened, in a part of the wood bordering the Le Plessis pool, which had been their favorite spot when they came into the country.
Passing through the village of Chatillon to get back to Paris, Rodolphe met in the square before the church a baptismal procession, in which he recognized one of his friends who was the godfather, with a singer from the opera.
"What the deuce are you doing here?" asked the friend, very much surprised to see Rodolphe in those parts.
The poet told him what had happened.
The young fellow, who had known Mimi, was greatly saddened at this story, and feeling in his pocket took out a bag of christening sweetmeats and handed it to Rodolphe.
"Poor Mimi, give her this from me and tell her I will come and see her."
"Come quickly, then, if you would come in time," said Rodolphe, as he left him.
When Rodolphe got to the hospital, Mimi, who could not move, threw her arms about him in a look.
"Ah, there are my flowers!" said she, with the smile of satisfied desire.
Rodolphe related his pilgrimage into that part of the country that had been the paradise of their loves.
"Dear flowers," said the poor girl, kissing the violets. The sweetmeats greatly pleased her too. "I am not quite forgotten, then. The young fellows are good. Ah! I love all your friends," said she to Rodolphe.
This interview was almost merry. Schaunard and Colline had rejoined Rodolphe. The nurses had almost to turn them out, for they had overstayed visiting time.
"Goodbye," said Mimi. "Thursday without fail, and come early."
The following day on coming home at night, Rodolphe received a letter from a medical student, a dresser at the hospital, to whose care he had recommended the invalid. The letter only contained these words:—
"My dear friend, I have very bad news for you. No. 8 is dead. This morning on going through the ward I found her bed vacant."
Rodolphe dropped on to a chair and did not shed a tear. When Marcel came in later he found his friend in the same stupefied attitude. With a gesture the poet showed him the latter.
"Poor girl!" said Marcel.
"It is strange," said Rodolphe, putting his hand to his heart; "I feel nothing here. Was my love killed on learning that Mimi was to die?"
"Who knows?" murmured the painter.
Mimi's death caused great mourning amongst the Bohemians.
A week later Rodolphe met in the street the dresser who had informed him of his mistress's death.
"Ah, my dear Rodolphe!" said he, hastening up to the poet. "Forgive me the pain I caused you by my heedlessness."
"What do you mean?" asked Rodolphe in astonishment.
"What," replied the dresser, "you do not know? You have not seen her again?"
"Seen whom?" exclaimed Rodolphe.
"What?" said the poet, turning deadly pale.
"I made a mistake. When I wrote you that terrible news I was the victim of an error. This is how it was. I had been away from the hospital for a couple of days. When I returned, on going the rounds with the surgeons, I found Mimi's bed empty. I asked the sister of charity what had become of the patient, and she told me that she had died during the night. This is what had happened. During my absence Mimi had been moved to another ward. In No. 8 bed, which she left, they put another woman who died the same day. That will explain the mistake into which I fell. The day after that on which I wrote to you, I found Mimi in the next ward. Your absence had put her in a terrible state; she gave me a letter for you and I took it on to your place at once."
"Good God!" said Rodolphe. "Since I thought Mimi dead I have not dared to go home. I have been sleeping here and there at friends' places. Mimi alive! Good heavens! What must she think of my absence? Poor girl, poor girl! How is she? When did you see her last?"
"The day before yesterday. She was neither better nor worse, but very uneasy; she fancies you must be ill."
"Let us go to La Pitie at once," said Rodolphe, "that I may see her."
"Stop here for a moment," said the dresser, when they reached the entrance to the hospital, "I will go and ask the house surgeon for permission for you to enter."
Rodolphe waited in the hall for a quarter of an hour. When the dresser returned he took him by the hand and said these words:
"My friend, suppose that the letter I wrote to you a week ago was true?"
"What!" exclaimed Rodolphe, leaning against a pillar, "Mimi—"
"This morning at four o'clock."
"Take me to the amphitheatre," said Rodolphe, "that I may see her."
"She is no longer there," said the dresser. And pointing out to the poet a large van which was in the courtyard drawn up before a building above which was inscribed, "Amphiteatre," he added, "she is there."
It was indeed the vehicle in which the corpses that are unclaimed are taken to their pauper's grave.
"Goodbye," said Rodolphe to the dresser.
"Would you like me to come with you a bit?" suggested the latter.
"No," said Rodolphe, turning away, "I need to be alone."
Henry Murger, The Bohemians of the Latin Quarter