Theresa Raquin, by Émile Zola

Chapter XII

Laurent, in the dark corner of the omnibus that took him back to Paris, continued perfecting his plan. He was almost certain of impunity, and he felt heavy, anxious joy, the joy of having got over the crime. On reaching the gate at Clichy, he hailed a cab, and drove to the residence of old Michaud in the Rue de Seine. It was nine o’clock at night when he arrived.

He found the former commissary of police at table, in the company of Olivier and Suzanne. The motive of his visit was to seek protection, in case he should be suspected, and also to escape breaking the frightful news to Madame Raquin himself. Such an errand was strangely repugnant to him. He anticipated encountering such terrible despair that he feared he would be unable to play his part with sufficient tears. Then the grief of this mother weighed upon him, although at the bottom of his heart, he cared but little about it.

When Michaud saw him enter, clothed in coarse-looking garments that were too tight for him, he questioned him with his eyes, and Laurent gave an account of the accident in a broken voice, as if exhausted with grief and fatigue.

“I have come to you,” said he in conclusion, “because I do not know what to do about the two poor women so cruelly afflicted. I dare not go to the bereaved mother alone, and want you to accompany me.”

As he spoke, Olivier looked at him fixedly, and with so straight a glance that he terrified him. The murderer had flung himself head down among these people belonging to the police, with an audacity calculated to save him. But he could not repress a shudder as he felt their eyes examining him. He saw distrust where there was naught but stupor and pity.

Suzanne weaker and paled than usual, seemed ready to faint. Olivier, who was alarmed at the idea of death, but whose heart remained absolutely cold, made a grimace expressing painful surprise, while by habit he scrutinised the countenance of Laurent, without having the least suspicion of the sinister truth. As to old Michaud, he uttered exclamations of fright, commiseration, and astonishment; he fidgeted on his chair, joined his hands together, and cast up his eyes to the ceiling.

“Ah! good heavens,” said he in a broken voice, “ah! good heavens, what a frightful thing! To leave one’s home, and die, like that, all of a sudden. It’s horrible. And that poor Madame Raquin, his mother, whatever shall we say to her? Certainly, you were quite right to come and find us. We will go with you.”

Rising from his seat, he walked hither and thither about the apartment, stamping with his feet, in search of his hat and walking-stick; and, as he bustled from corner to corner, he made Laurent repeat the details of the catastrophe, giving utterance to fresh exclamations at the end of each sentence.

At last all four went downstairs. On reaching the entrance to the Arcade of the Pont Neuf, Laurent was stopped by Michaud.

“Do not accompany us any further,” said he; “your presence would be a sort of brutal avowal which must be avoided. The wretched mother would suspect a misfortune, and this would force us to confess the truth sooner than we ought to tell it to her. Wait for us here.”

This arrangement relieved the murderer, who shuddered at the thought of entering the shop in the arcade. He recovered his calm, and began walking up and down the pavement, going and coming, in perfect peace of mind. At moments, he forgot the events that were passing. He looked at the shops, whistled between his teeth, turned round to ogle the women who brushed past him. He remained thus for a full half-hour in the street, recovering his composure more and more.

He had not eaten since the morning, and feeling hungry he entered a pastrycook’s and stuffed himself with cakes.

A heartrending scene was passing at the shop in the arcade. Notwithstanding precautions, notwithstanding the soft, friendly sentences of old Michaud, there came a moment when Madame Raquin understood that her son had met with misfortune. From that moment, she insisted on knowing the truth with such a passionate outburst of despair, with such a violent flow of tears and shrieks, that her old friend could not avoid giving way to her.

And when she learnt the truth, her grief was tragic. She gave hollow sobs, she received shocks that threw her backward, in a distracting attack of terror and anguish. She remained there choking, uttering from time to time a piercing scream amidst the profound roar of her affliction. She would have dragged herself along the ground, had not Suzanne taken her round the waist, weeping on her knees, and raising her pale countenance towards her. Olivier and his father on their feet, unnerved and mute, turned aside their heads, being disagreeably affected at this painful sight which wounded them in their egotism.

The poor mother saw her son rolling along in the thick waters of the Seine, a rigid and horribly swollen corpse; while at the same time, she perceived him a babe, in his cradle, when she drove away death bending over him. She had brought him back into the world on more than ten occasions; she loved him for all the love she had bestowed on him during thirty years. And now he had met his death far away from her, all at once, in the cold and dirty water, like a dog.

Then she remembered the warm blankets in which she had enveloped him. What care she had taken of her boy! What a tepid temperature he had been reared in! How she had coaxed and fondled him! And all this to see him one day miserably drown himself! At these thoughts Madame Raquin felt a tightening at the throat, and she hoped she was going to die, strangled by despair.

Old Michaud hastened to withdraw. Leaving Suzanne behind to look after the mercer, he and Olivier went to find Laurent, so that they might hurry to Saint–Ouen with all speed.

During the journey, they barely exchanged a few words. Each of them buried himself in a corner of the cab which jolted along over the stones. There they remained motionless and mute in the obscurity that prevailed within the vehicle. Ever and anon a rapid flash from a gas lamp, cast a bright gleam on their faces. The sinister event that had brought them together, threw a sort of dismal dejection upon them.

When they at length arrived at the restaurant beside the river, they found Therese in bed with burning head and hands. The landlord told them in an undertone, that the young woman had a violent fever. The truth was that Therese, feeling herself weak in character and wanting in courage, feared she might confess the crime in one of her nervous attacks, and had decided to feign illness.

Maintaining sullen silence, she kept her lips and eyes closed, unwilling to see anyone lest she should speak. With the bedclothes to her chin, her face half concealed by the pillow, she made herself quite small, anxiously listening to all that was said around her. And, amidst the reddish gleam that passed beneath her closed lids, she could still see Camille and Laurent struggling at the side of the boat. She perceived her husband, livid, horrible, increased in height, rearing up straight above the turbid water, and this implacable vision heightened the feverish heat of her blood.

Old Michaud endeavoured to speak to her and console her. But she made a movement of impatience, and turning round, broke out into a fresh fit of sobbing.

“Leave her alone, sir,” said the restaurant keeper, “she shudders at the slightest sound. You see, she wants rest.”

Below, in the general room, was a policeman drawing up a statement of the accident. Michaud and his son went downstairs, followed by Laurent. When Olivier had made himself known as an upper official at the Prefecture of Police, everything was over in ten minutes. The boating men, who were still there, gave an account of the drowning in its smallest details, describing how the three holiday-makers had fallen into the water, as if they themselves had witnessed the misfortune. Had Olivier and his father the least suspicion, it would have been dispelled at once by this testimony.

But they had not doubted the veracity of Laurent for an instant. On the contrary, they introduced him to the policeman as the best friend of the victim, and they were careful to see inserted in the report, that the young man had plunged into the water to save Camille Raquin. The following day, the newspapers related the accident with a great display of detail: the unfortunate mother, the inconsolable widow, the noble and courageous friend, nothing was missing from this event of the day, which went the round of the Parisian press, and then found an echo in the provinces.

When the report was completed, Laurent experienced lively joy, which penetrated his being like new life. From the moment his victim had buried his teeth in his neck, he had been as if stiffened, acting mechanically, according to a plan arranged long in advance. The instinct of self-preservation alone impelled him, dictating to him his words, affording him advice as to his gestures.

At this hour, in the face of the certainty of impunity, the blood resumed flowing in his veins with delicious gentleness. The police had passed beside his crime, and had seen nothing. They had been duped, for they had just acquitted him. He was saved. This thought caused him to experience a feeling of delightful moisture all along his body, a warmth that restored flexibility to his limbs and to his intelligence. He continued to act his part of a weeping friend with incomparable science and assurance. At the bottom of his heart, he felt brutal satisfaction; and he thought of Therese who was in bed in the room above.

“We cannot leave this unhappy woman here,” said he to Michaud. “She is perhaps threatened with grave illness. We must positively take her back to Paris. Come, let us persuade her to accompany us.”

Upstairs, he begged and prayed of Therese to rise and dress, and allow herself to be conducted to the Arcade of the Pont Neuf. When the young woman heard the sound of his voice, she started, and stared at him with eyes wide open. She seemed as if crazy, and was shuddering. Painfully she raised herself into a sitting posture without answering. The men quitted the room, leaving her alone with the wife of the restaurant keeper. When ready to start, she came downstairs staggering, and was assisted into the cab by Olivier.

The journey was a silent one. Laurent, with perfect audacity and impudence, slipped his hand along the skirt of Therese and caught her fingers. He was seated opposite her, in a floating shadow, and could not see her face which she kept bowed down on her breast. As soon as he had grasped her hand, he pressed it vigorously, retaining it until they reached the Rue Mazarine. He felt the hand tremble; but it was not withdrawn. On the contrary it ever and anon gave a sudden caress.

These two hands, one in the other, were burning; the moist palms adhered, and the fingers tightly held together, were hurt at each pressure. It seemed to Laurent and Therese that the blood from one penetrated the chest of the other, passing through their joined fists. These fists became a live fire whereon their lives were boiling. Amidst the night, amidst the heartrending silence that prevailed, the furious grips they exchanged, were like a crushing weight cast on the head of Camille to keep him under water.

When the cab stopped, Michaud and his son got out the first, and Laurent bending towards his sweetheart gently murmured:

“Be strong, Therese. We have a long time to wait. Recollect.”

Then the young woman opened her lips for the first time since the death of her husband.

“Oh! I shall recollect,” said she with a shudder, and in a voice light as a puff of breath.

Olivier extended his hand, inviting her to get down. On this occasion, Laurent went as far as the shop. Madame Raquin was abed, a prey to violent delirium. Therese dragged herself to her room, where Suzanne had barely time to undress her before she gave way. Tranquillised, perceiving that everything was proceeding as well as he could wish, Laurent withdrew, and slowly gained his wretched den in the rue Saint–Victor.

It was past midnight. Fresh air circulated in the deserted, silent streets. The young man could hear naught but his own footsteps resounding on the pavement. The nocturnal coolness of the atmosphere cheered him up; the silence, the darkness gave him sharp sensations of delight, and he loitered on his way.

At last he was rid of his crime. He had killed Camille. It was a matter that was settled, and would be spoken of no more. He was now going to lead a tranquil existence, until he could take possession of Therese. The thought of the murder had at times half choked him, but now that it was accomplished, he felt a weight removed from his chest, and breathed at ease, cured of the suffering that hesitation and fear had given him.

At the bottom of his heart, he was a trifle hebetated. Fatigue had rendered his limbs and thoughts heavy. He went in to bed and slept soundly. During his slumber slight nervous crispations coursed over his face.

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