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At nine o'clock, in the yard of the little house, she observed M. Fusellier sweeping, in the rain, while smoking his pipe. Madame Fusellier came out of her box. Both looked embarrassed. Madame Fusellier was the first to speak:
"Monsieur Jacques is not at home." And, as Therese remained silent, immovable, Fusellier came near her with his broom, hiding with his left hand his pipe behind his back--
"Monsieur Jacques has not yet come home."
"I will wait for him," said Therese.
Madame Fusellier led her to the parlor, where she lighted the fire. As the wood smoked and would not flame, she remained bent, with her hands on her knees.
"It is the rain," she said, "which causes the smoke."
Madame Martin said it was not worth while to make a fire, that she did not feel cold.
She saw herself in the glass.
She was livid, with glowing spots on her cheeks. Then only she felt that her feet were frozen. She approached the fire. Madame Fusellier, seeing her anxious, spoke softly to her:
"Monsieur Jacques will come soon. Let Madame warm herself while waiting for him."
A dim light fell with the rain on the glass ceiling.
Upon the wall, the lady with the unicorn was not beautiful among the cavaliers in a forest full of flowers and birds. Therese was repeating to herself the words: "He has not yet come home." And by dint of saying this she lost the meaning of it. With burning eyes she looked at the door.
She remained thus without a movement, without a thought, for a time the duration of which she did not know; perhaps half an hour. The noise of a footstep came to her, the door was opened. He came in. She saw that he was wet with rain and mud, and burning with fever.
She fixed on him a look so sincere and so frank that it struck him. But almost at once he recalled within himself all his sufferings.
He said to her:
"What do you want of me? You have done me all the harm you could do me."
Fatigue gave him an air of gentleness. It frightened her.
"Jacques, listen to me!"
He motioned to her that he wished to hear nothing from her.
"Jacques, listen to me. I have not deceived you. Oh, no, I have not deceived you. Was it possible? Was it--"
He interrupted her:
"Have some pity for me. Do not make me suffer again. Leave me, I pray you. If you knew the night I have passed, you would not have the courage to torment me again."
He let himself fall on the divan. He had walked all night. Not to suffer too much, he had tried to find diversions. On the Bercy Quay he had looked at the moon floating in the clouds. For an hour he had seen it veil itself and reappear. Then he had counted the windows of houses with minute care. The rain began to fall. He had gone to the market and had drunk whiskey in a wine-room. A big girl who squinted had said to him, "You don't look happy." He had fallen half asleep on the leather bench. It had been a moment of oblivion. The images of that painful night passed before his eyes. He said: "I recalled the night of the Arno. You have spoiled for me all the joy and beauty in the world." He asked her to leave him alone. In his lassitude he had a great pity for himself. He would have liked to sleep--not to die; he held death in horror--but to sleep and never to wake again. Yet, before him, as desirable as formerly, despite the painful fixity of her dry eyes, and more mysterious than ever, he saw her. His hatred was vivified by suffering.
She extended her arms to him. "Listen to me, Jacques." He motioned to her that it was useless for her to speak. Yet he wished to listen to her, and already he was listening with avidity. He detested and rejected in advance what she would say, but nothing else in the world interested him.
"You may have believed I was betraying you, that I was not living for you alone. But can you not understand anything? You do not see that if that man were my lover it would not have been necessary for him to talk to me at the play-house in that box; he would have a thousand other ways of meeting me. Oh, no, my friend, I assure you that since the day when I had the happiness to meet you, I have been yours entirely. Could I have been another's? What you imagine is monstrous. But I love you, I love you! I love only you. I never have loved any one except you."
He replied slowly, with cruel heaviness:
"'I shall be every day, at three o'clock, at our home, in the Rue Spontini.' It was not a lover, your lover, who said these things? No! it was a stranger, an unknown person."
She straightened herself, and with painful gravity said:
"Yes, I had been his. You knew it. I have denied it, I have told an untruth, not to irritate or grieve you. I saw you so anxious. But I lied so little and so badly. You knew. Do not reproach me for it. You knew; you often spoke to me of the past, and then one day somebody told you at the restaurant--and you imagined much more than ever happened. While telling an untruth, I was not deceiving you. If you knew the little that he was in my life! There! I did not know you. I did not know you were to come. I was lonely."
She fell on her knees.
"I was wrong. I should have waited for you. But if you knew how slight a matter that was in my life!"
And with her voice modulated to a soft and singing complaint she said:
"Why did you not come sooner, why?"
She dragged herself to him, tried to take his hands. He repelled her.
"I was stupid. I did not think. I did not know. I did not wish to know."
He rose and exclaimed, in an explosion of hatred:
"I did not wish him to be that man."
She sat in the place which he had left, and there, plaintively, in a low voice, she explained the past. In that time she lived in a world horribly commonplace. She had yielded, but she had regretted at once. If he but knew the sadness of her life he would not be jealous. He would pity her. She shook her head and said, looking at him through the falling locks of her hair:
"I am talking to you of another woman. There is nothing in common between that woman and me. I exist only since I have known you, since I have belonged to you."
He walked about the room madly. He laughed painfully.
"Yes; but while you loved me, the other woman--the one who was not you?"
She looked at him indignantly:
"Can you believe--"
"Did you not see him again at Florence? Did you not accompany him to the station?"
She told him that he had come to Italy to find her; that she had seen him; that she had broken with him; that he had gone, irritated, and that since then he was trying to win her back; but that she had not even paid any attention to him.
"My beloved, I see, I know, only you in the world." He shook his head.
"I do not believe you."
"I have told you everything. Accuse me, condemn me, but do not offend me in my love for you."
He shook his head.
"Leave me. You have harmed me too much. I have loved you so much that all the pain which you could have given me I would have taken, kept, loved; but this is too hideous. I hate it. Leave me. I am suffering too much. Farewell!"
She stood erect.
"I have come. It is my happiness, it is my life, I am fighting for. I will not go."
And she said again all that she had already said. Violent and sincere, sure of herself, she explained how she had broken the tie which was already loose and irritated her; how since the day when she had loved him she had been his only, without regret, without a wandering look or thought. But in speaking to him of another she irritated him. And he shouted at her:
"I do not believe you."
She only repeated her declarations.
And suddenly, instinctively, she looked at her watch:
"Oh, it is noon!"
She had often given that cry of alarm when the farewell hour had surprised them. And Jacques shuddered at the phrase which was so familiar, so painful, and was this time so desperate. For a few minutes more she said ardent words and shed tears. Then she left him; she had gained nothing.
At her house she found in the waiting-room the marketwoman, who had come to present a bouquet to her. She remembered that her husband was a State minister. There were telegrams, visiting-cards and letters, congratulations and solicitations. Madame Marmet wrote to recommend her nephew to General Lariviere.
She went into the dining-room and fell in a chair. M. Martin-Belleme was just finishing his breakfast. He was expected at the Cabinet Council and at the former Finance Minister's, to whom he owed a call.
"Do not forget, my dear friend, to call on Madame Berthier d'Eyzelles. You know how sensitive she is."
She made no answer. While he was dipping his fingers in the glass bowl, he saw she was so tired that he dared not say any more. He found himself in the presence of a secret which he did not wish to know; in presence of an intimate suffering which one word would reveal. He felt anxiety, fear, and a certain respect.
He threw down his napkin.
"Excuse me, dear."
He went out.
She tried to eat, but could swallow nothing.
At two o'clock she returned to the little house of the Ternes. She found Jacques in his room. He was smoking a wooden pipe. A cup of coffee almost empty was on the table. He looked at her with a harshness that chilled her. She dared not talk, feeling that everything that she could say would offend and irritate him, and yet she knew that in remaining discreet and dumb she intensified his anger. He knew that she would return; he had waited for her with impatience. A sudden light came to her, and she saw that she had done wrong to come; that if she had been absent he would have desired, wanted, called for her, perhaps. But it was too late; and, at all events, she was not trying to be crafty.
She said to him:
"You see I have returned. I could not do otherwise. And then it was natural, since I love you. And you know it."
She knew very well that all she could say would only irritate him. He asked her whether that was the way she spoke in the Rue Spontini.
She looked at him with sadness.
"Jacques, you have often told me that there were hatred and anger in your heart against me. You like to make me suffer. I can see it."
With ardent patience, at length, she told him her entire life, the little that she had put into it; the sadness of the past; and how, since he had known her, she had lived only through him and in him.
The words fell as limpid as her look. She sat near him. He listened to her with bitter avidity. Cruel with himself, he wished to know everything about her last meetings with the other. She reported faithfully the events of the Great Britain Hotel; but she changed the scene to the outside, in an alley of the Casino, from fear that the image of their sad interview in a closed room should irritate her lover. Then she explained the meeting at the station. She had not wished to cause despair to a suffering man who was so violent. But since then she had had no news from him until the day when he spoke to her on the street. She repeated what she had replied to him. Two days later she had seen him at the opera, in her box. Certainly, she had not encouraged him to come. It was the truth.
It was the truth. But the old poison, slowly accumulating in his mind, burned him. She made the past, the irreparable past, present to him, by her avowals. He saw images of it which tortured him. He said:
"I do not believe you."
And he added:
"And if I believed you, I could not see you again, because of the idea that you have loved that man. I have told you, I have written to you, you remember, that I did not wish him to be that man. And since--"
"You know very well that since then nothing has happened."
He replied, with violence:
"Since then I have seen him."
They remained silent for a long time. Then she said, surprised and plaintive:
"But, my friend, you should have thought that a woman such as I, married as I was--every day one sees women bring to their lovers a past darker than mine and yet they inspire love. Ah, my past--if you knew how insignificant it was!"
"I know what you can give. One can not forgive to you what one may forgive to another."
"But, my friend, I am like others."
"No, you are not like others. To you one can not forgive anything."
He talked with set teeth. His eyes, which she had seen so large, glowing with tenderness, were now dry, harsh, narrowed between wrinkled lids and cast a new glance at her. He frightened her. She went to the rear of the room, sat on a chair, and there she remained, trembling, for a long time, smothered by her sobs. Then she broke into tears.
"Why did I ever know you?"
She replied, weeping:
"I do not regret having known you. I am dying of it, and I do not regret it. I have loved."
He stubbornly continued to make her suffer. He felt that he was playing an odious part, but he could not stop.
"It is possible, after all, that you have loved me too."
She answered, with soft bitterness:
"But I have loved only you. I have loved you too much. And it is for that you are punishing me. Oh, can you think that I was to another what I have been to you?"
She looked at him without force and without courage.
"It is true that you do not believe me."
She added softly:
"If I killed myself would you believe me?"
"No, I would not believe you."
She wiped her cheeks with her handkerchief; then, lifting her eyes, shining through her tears, she said:
"Then, all is at an end!"
She rose, saw again in the room the thousand things with which she had lived in laughing intimacy, which she had regarded as hers, now suddenly become nothing to her, and confronting her as a stranger and an enemy. She saw again the nude woman who made, while running, the gesture which had not been explained to her; the Florentine models which recalled to her Fiesole and the enchanted hours of Italy; the profile sketch by Dechartre of the girl who laughed in her pretty pathetic thinness. She stopped a moment sympathetically in front of that little newspaper girl who had come there too, and had disappeared, carried away in the irresistible current of life and of events.
"Then all is at an end?"
He remained silent.
The twilight made the room dim.
"What will become of me?" she asked.
"And what will become of me?" he replied.
They looked at each other with sympathy, because each was moved with self-pity.
Therese said again:
"And I, who feared to grow old in your eyes, for fear our beautiful love should end! It would have been better if it had never come. Yes, it would be better if I had not been born. What a presentiment was that which came to me, when a child, under the lindens of Joinville, before the marble nymphs! I wished to die then."
Her arms fell, and clasping her hands she lifted her eyes; her wet glance threw a light in the shadows.
"Is there not a way of my making you feel that what I am saying to you is true? That never since I have been yours, never--But how could I? The very idea of it seems horrible, absurd. Do you know me so little?"
He shook his head sadly. "I do not know you."
She questioned once more with her eyes all the objects in the room.
"But then, what we have been to each other was vain, useless. Men and women break themselves against one another; they do not mingle."
She revolted. It was not possible that he should not feel what he was to her. And, in the ardor of her love, she threw herself on him and smothered him with kisses and tears. He forgot everything, and took her in his arms--sobbing, weak, yet happy--and clasped her close with the fierceness of desire. With her head leaning back against the pillow, she smiled through her tears. Then, brusquely he disengaged himself.
"I do not see you alone. I see the other with you always." She looked at him, dumb, indignant, desperate. Then, feeling that all was indeed at an end, she cast around her a surprised glance of her unseeing eyes, and went slowly away.
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