Theresa Raquin, by Émile Zola

Chapter XVIII

Therese also had been visited by the spectre of Camille, during this feverish night.

After over a year of indifference, Laurent’s sudden attentions had aroused her senses. As she tossed herself about in insomnia, she had seen the drowned man rise up before her; like Laurent she had writhed in terror, and she had said as he had done, that she would no longer be afraid, that she would no more experience such sufferings, when she had her sweetheart in her arms.

This man and woman had experienced at the same hour, a sort of nervous disorder which set them panting with terror. A consanguinity had become established between them. They shuddered with the same shudder; their hearts in a kind of poignant friendship, were wrung with the same anguish. From that moment they had one body and one soul for enjoyment and suffering.

This communion, this mutual penetration is a psychological and physiological phenomenon which is often found to exist in beings who have been brought into violent contact by great nervous shocks.

For over a year, Therese and Laurent lightly bore the chain riveted to their limbs that united them. In the depression succeeding the acute crisis of the murder, amidst the feelings of disgust, and the need for calm and oblivion that had followed, these two convicts might fancy they were free, that they were no longer shackled together by iron fetters. The slackened chain dragged on the ground. They reposed, they found themselves struck with a sort of delightful insensibility, they sought to love elsewhere, to live in a state of wise equilibrium. But from the day when urged forward by events, they came to the point of again exchanging burning sentences, the chain became violently strained, and they received such a shock, that they felt themselves for ever linked to one another.

The day following this first attack of nightmare, Therese secretly set to work to bring about her marriage with Laurent. It was a difficult task, full of peril. The sweethearts trembled lest they should commit an imprudence, arouse suspicions, and too abruptly reveal the interest they had in the death of Camille.

Convinced that they could not mention marriage themselves, they arranged a very clever plan which consisted in getting Madame Raquin herself, and the Thursday evening guests, to offer them what they dared not ask for. It then only became necessary to convey to these worthy people the idea of remarrying Therese, and particularly to make them believe that this idea originated with themselves, and was their own.

The comedy was long and delicate to perform. Therese and Laurent took the parts adapted to them, and proceeded with extreme prudence, calculating the slightest gesture, and the least word. At the bottom of their hearts, they were devoured by a feeling of impatience that stiffened and strained their nerves. They lived in a state of constant irritation, and it required all their natural cowardice to compel them to show a smiling and peaceful exterior.

If they yearned to bring the business to an end, it was because they could no longer remain separate and solitary. Each night, the drowned man visited them, insomnia stretched them on beds of live coal and turned them over with fiery tongs. The state of enervation in which they lived, nightly increased the fever of their blood, which resulted in atrocious hallucinations rising up before them.

Therese no longer dared enter her room after dusk. She experienced the keenest anguish, when she had to shut herself until morning in this large apartment, which became lit-up with strange glimmers, and peopled with phantoms as soon as the light was out. She ended by leaving her candle burning, and by preventing herself falling asleep, so as to always have her eyes wide open. But when fatigue lowered her lids, she saw Camille in the dark, and reopened her eyes with a start. In the morning she dragged herself about, broken down, having only slumbered for a few hours at dawn.

As to Laurent, he had decidedly become a poltroon since the night he had taken fright when passing before the cellar door. Previous to that incident he had lived with the confidence of a brute; now, at the least sound, he trembled and turned pale like a little boy. A shudder of terror had suddenly shaken his limbs, and had clung to him. At night, he suffered even more than Therese; and fright, in this great, soft, cowardly frame, produced profound laceration to the feelings. He watched the fall of day with cruel apprehension. On several occasions, he failed to return home, and passed whole nights walking in the middle of the deserted streets.

Once he remained beneath a bridge, until morning, while the rain poured down in torrents; and there, huddled up, half frozen, not daring to rise and ascend to the quay, he for nearly six hours watched the dirty water running in the whitish shadow. At times a fit of terror brought him flat down on the damp ground: under one of the arches of the bridge he seemed to see long lines of drowned bodies drifting along in the current. When weariness drove him home, he shut himself in, and double-locked the door. There he struggled until daybreak amidst frightful attacks of fever.

The same nightmare returned persistently: he fancied he fell from the ardent clasp of Therese into the cold, sticky arms of Camille. He dreamt, first of all, that his sweetheart was stifling him in a warm embrace, and then that the corpse of the drowned man pressed him to his chest in an ice-like strain. These abrupt and alternate sensations of voluptuousness and disgust, these successive contacts of burning love and frigid death, set him panting for breath, and caused him to shudder and gasp in anguish.

Each day, the terror of the lovers increased, each day their attacks of nightmare crushed and maddened them the more. They no longer relied on their kisses to drive away insomnia. By prudence, they did not dare make appointments, but looked forward to their wedding-day as a day of salvation, to be followed by an untroubled night.

It was their desire for calm slumber that made them wish for their union. They had hesitated during the hours of indifference, both being oblivious of the egotistic and impassioned reasons that had urged them to the crime, and which were now dispelled. It was in vague despair that they took the supreme resolution to unite openly. At the bottom of their hearts they were afraid. They had leant, so to say, one on the other above an unfathomable depth, attracted to it by its horror. They bent over the abyss together, clinging silently to one another, while feelings of intense giddiness enfeebled their limbs and gave them falling madness.

But at the present moment, face to face with their anxious expectation and timorous desires, they felt the imperative necessity of closing their eyes, and of dreaming of a future full of amorous felicity and peaceful enjoyment. The more they trembled one before the other, the better they foresaw the horror of the abyss to the bottom of which they were about to plunge, and the more they sought to make promises of happiness to themselves, and to spread out before their eyes the invincible facts that fatally led them to marriage.

Therese desired her union with Laurent solely because she was afraid and wanted a companion. She was a prey to nervous attacks that drove her half crazy. In reality she reasoned but little, she flung herself into love with a mind upset by the novels she had recently been reading, and a frame irritated by the cruel insomnia that had kept her awake for several weeks.

Laurent, who was of a stouter constitution, while giving way to his terror and his desire, had made up his mind to reason out his decision. To thoroughly prove to himself that his marriage was necessary, that he was at last going to be perfectly happy, and to drive away the vague fears that beset him, he resumed all his former calculations.

His father, the peasant of Jeufosse, seemed determined not to die, and Laurent said to himself that he might have to wait a long time for the inheritance. He even feared that this inheritance might escape him, and go into the pockets of one of his cousins, a great big fellow who turned the soil over to the keen satisfaction of the old boy. And he would remain poor; he would live the life of a bachelor in a garret, with a bad bed and a worse table. Besides, he did not contemplate working all his life; already he began to find his office singularly tedious. The light labour entrusted to him became irksome owing to his laziness.

The invariable result of these reflections was that supreme happiness consisted in doing nothing. Then he remembered that if he had drowned Camille, it was to marry Therese, and work no more. Certainly, the thought of having his sweetheart all to himself had greatly influenced him in committing the crime, but he had perhaps been led to it still more, by the hope of taking the place of Camille, of being looked after in the same way, and of enjoying constant beatitude. Had passion alone urged him to the deed, he would not have shown such cowardice and prudence. The truth was that he had sought by murder to assure himself a calm, indolent life, and the satisfaction of his cravings.

All these thoughts, avowedly or unconsciously, returned to him. To find encouragement, he repeated that it was time to gather in the harvest anticipated by the death of Camille, and he spread out before him, the advantages and blessings of his future existence: he would leave his office, and live in delicious idleness; he would eat, drink and sleep to his heart’s content; he would have an affectionate wife beside him; and, he would shortly inherit the 40,000 francs and more of Madame Raquin, for the poor old woman was dying, little by little, every day; in a word, he would carve out for himself the existence of a happy brute, and would forget everything.

Laurent mentally repeated these ideas at every moment, since his marriage with Therese had been decided on. He also sought other advantages that would result therefrom, and felt delighted when he found a new argument, drawn from his egotism, in favour of his union with the widow of the drowned man. But however much he forced himself to hope, however much he dreamed of a future full of idleness and pleasure, he never ceased to feel abrupt shudders that gave his skin an icy chill, while at moments he continued to experience an anxiety that stifled his joy in his throat.

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