Theresa Raquin, by Émile Zola

Chapter X

More than three weeks passed. Laurent came to the shop every evening, looking weary and unwell. A light bluish circle surrounded his eyes, and his lips were becoming pale and chapped. Otherwise, he still maintained his obtuse tranquillity, he looked Camille in the face, and showed him the same frank friendship. Madame Raquin pampered the friend of the family the more, now that she saw him giving way to a sort of low fever.

Therese had resumed her mute, glum countenance and manner. She was more motionless, more impenetrable, more peaceful than ever. She did not seem to trouble herself in the least about Laurent. She barely looked at him, rarely exchanged a word with him, treating him with perfect indifference. Madame Raquin, who in her goodness of heart, felt pained at this attitude, sometimes said to the young man:

“Do not pay attention to the manner of my niece, I know her; her face appears cold, but her heart is warm with tenderness and devotedness.”

The two sweethearts had no more meetings. Since the evening in the Rue Saint–Victor they had not met alone. At night, when they found themselves face to face, placid in appearance and like strangers to one another, storms of passion and dismay passed beneath the calm flesh of their countenance. And while with Therese, there were outbursts of fury, base ideas, and cruel jeers, with Laurent there were sombre brutalities, and poignant indecisions. Neither dared search to the bottom of their beings, to the bottom of that cloudy fever that filled their brains with a sort of thick and acrid vapour.

When they could press the hands of one another behind a door, without speaking, they did so, fit to crush them, in a short rough clasp. They would have liked, mutually, to have carried off strips of their flesh clinging to their fingers. They had naught but this pressure of hands to appease their feelings. They put all their souls into them, and asked for nothing more from one another. They waited.

One Thursday evening, before sitting down to the game of dominoes, the guests of the Raquin family had a chat, as usual. A favourite subject of conversation was afforded by the experiences of old Michaud who was plied with questions respecting the strange and sinister adventures with which he must have been connected in the discharge of his former functions. Then Grivet and Camille listened to the stories of the commissary with the affrighted and gaping countenances of small children listening to “Blue Beard” or “Tom Thumb.” These tales terrified and amused them.

On this particular Thursday, Michaud, who had just given an account of a horrible murder, the details of which had made his audience shudder, added as he wagged his head:

“And a great deal never comes out at all. How many crimes remain undiscovered! How many murderers escape the justice of man!”

“What!” exclaimed Grivet astonished, “you think there are foul creatures like that walking about the streets, people who have murdered and are not arrested?”

Olivier smiled with an air of disdain.

“My dear sir,” he answered in his dictatorial tone, “if they are not arrested it is because no one is aware that they have committed a murder.”

This reasoning did not appear to convince Grivet, and Camille came to his assistance.

“I am of the opinion of M. Grivet,” said he, with silly importance. “I should like to believe that the police do their duty, and that I never brush against a murderer on the pavement.”

Olivier considered this remark a personal attack.

“Certainly the police do their duty,” he exclaimed in a vexed tone. “Still we cannot do what is impossible. There are wretches who have studied crime at Satan’s own school; they would escape the Divinity Himself. Isn’t that so, father?”

“Yes, yes,” confirmed old Michaud. “Thus, while I was at Vernon — you perhaps remember the incident, Madame Raquin — a wagoner was murdered on the highway. The corpse was found cut in pieces, at the bottom of a ditch. The authorities were never able to lay hands on the culprit. He is perhaps still living at this hour. Maybe he is our neighbour, and perhaps M. Grivet will meet him on his way home.”

Grivet turned pale as a sheet. He dared not look round. He fancied the murderer of the wagoner was behind him. But for that matter, he was delighted to feel afraid.

“Well, no,” he faltered, hardly knowing what he said, “well, no, I cannot believe that. But I also have a story: once upon a time a servant was put in prison for stealing a silver spoon and fork belonging to her master and mistress. Two months afterwards, while a tree was being felled, the knife and fork were discovered in the nest of a magpie. It was the magpie who was the thief. The servant was released. You see that the guilty are always punished.”

Grivet triumphed. Olivier sneered.

“Then, they put the magpie in prison,” said he.

“That is not what M. Grivet meant to say,” answered Camille, annoyed to see his chief turned into ridicule. “Mother, give us the dominoes.”

While Madame Raquin went to fetch the box, the young man, addressing Michaud, continued:

“Then you admit the police are powerless, that there are murderers walking about in the sunshine?”

“Unfortunately, yes,” answered the commissary.

“It is immoral,” concluded Grivet.

During this conversation, Therese and Laurent had remained silent. They had not even smiled at the folly of Grivet. Both leaning with their arms on the table, looking slightly pale, and with a vague expression in their eyes, listened. At one moment those dark, ardent orbs had met. And small drops of perspiration pearled at the roots of the hair of Therese, while chilly puffs of breath gave imperceptible shivers to the skin of Laurent.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 15:06