Theresa Raquin, by Émile Zola

Chapter XX

In the morning, Laurent and Therese, awoke in their respective rooms, with the same feeling of profound joy in their hearts: both said to themselves that their last night of terror had passed. They would no longer have to sleep alone, and they would mutually defend themselves against the drowned man.

Therese looked around her, giving a strange smile as she measured her great bed with her eyes. She rose and began to slowly dress herself, in anticipation of the arrival of Suzanne, who was to come and assist her with her bridal toilet.

Laurent, on awakening, sat up in bed, and remained in that position for a few minutes, bidding farewell to his garret, which struck him as vile. At last he was to quit this kennel and have a wife. It was in the month of December and he shivered. He sprang on the tile floor, saying to himself that he would be warm at night.

A week previously, Madame Raquin, knowing how short he was of money, had slipped a purse into his hand containing 500 francs, which represented all her savings. The young man had accepted this present without difficulty, and had rigged himself out from tip to toe. Moreover, the money of the old mercer permitted him to make Therese the customary presents.

The black trousers, dress coat, white waistcoat, shirt and cambric tie, hung spread out on a couple of chairs. Laurent washed, perfumed himself with a bottle of eau de Cologne, and then proceeded to carefully attire himself. He wished to look handsome. As he fastened his collar, a collar which was high and stiff, he experienced keen pain in the neck. The button escaped from his fingers. He lost patience. The starched linen seemed to cut into his flesh. Wishing to see what was the matter, he raised his chin, and perceived the bite Camille had given him looking quite red. The collar had slightly galled the scar.

Laurent pressed his lips together, and turned pale; the sight of this mark seaming his neck, frightened and irritated him at this moment. He crumpled up the collar, and selected another which he put on with every precaution, and then finished dressing himself. As he went downstairs his new clothes made him look rigid. With his neck imprisoned in the inflexible linen, he dared not turn his head. At every movement he made, a pleat pinched the wound that the teeth of the drowned man had made in his flesh, and it was under the irritation of these sharp pricks, that he got into the carriage, and went to fetch Therese to conduct her to the town-hall and church.

On the way, he picked up a clerk employed at the Orleans Railway Company, and old Michaud, who were to act as witnesses. When they reached the shop, everyone was ready: Grivet and Olivier, the witnesses of Therese, were there, along with Suzanne, who looked at the bride as little girls look at dolls they have just dressed up. Although Madame Raquin was no longer able to walk, she desired to accompany the couple everywhere, so she was hoisted into a conveyance and the party set out.

Everything passed off in a satisfactory manner at the town-hall and church. The calm and modest attitude of the bride and bridegroom was remarked and approved. They pronounced the sacramental “yes” with an emotion that moved Grivet himself. They were as if in a dream. Whether seated, or quietly kneeling side by side, they were rent by raging thoughts that flashed through their minds in spite of themselves, and they avoided looking at one another. When they seated themselves in their carriage, they seemed to be greater strangers than before.

It had been decided that the wedding feast should be a family affair at a little restaurant on the heights of Belleville. The Michauds and Grivet alone were invited. Until six in the evening, the wedding party drove along the boulevards, and then repaired to the cheap eating-house where a table was spread with seven covers in a small private room painted yellow, and reeking of dust and wine.

The repast was not accompanied by much gaiety. The newly married pair were grave and thoughtful. Since the morning, they had been experiencing strange sensations, which they did not seek to fathom. From the commencement, they had felt bewildered at the rapidity with which the formalities and ceremony were performed, that had just bound them together for ever.

Then, the long drive on the boulevards had soothed them and made them drowsy. It appeared to them that this drive lasted months. Nevertheless, they allowed themselves to be taken through the monotonous streets without displaying impatience, looking at the shops and people with sparkless eyes, overcome by a numbness that made them feel stupid, and which they endeavoured to shake off by bursting into fits of laughter. When they entered the restaurant, they were weighed down by oppressive fatigue, while increasing stupor continued to settle on them.

Placed at table opposite one another, they smiled with an air of constraint, and then fell into the same heavy reverie as before, eating, answering questions, moving their limbs like machines. Amidst the idle lassitude of their minds, the same string of flying thoughts returned ceaselessly. They were married, and yet unconscious of their new condition, which caused them profound astonishment. They imagined an abyss still separated them, and at moments asked themselves how they could get over this unfathomable depth. They fancied they were living previous to the murder, when a material obstacle stood between them.

Then they abruptly remembered they would occupy the same apartment that night, in a few hours, and they gazed at one another in astonishment, unable to comprehend why they should be permitted to do so. They did not feel they were united, but, on the contrary, were dreaming that they had just been violently separated, and one cast far from the other.

The silly chuckling of the guests beside them, who wished to hear them talk familiarly, so as to dispel all restraint, made them stammer and colour. They could never make up their minds to treat one another as sweethearts in the presence of company.

Waiting had extinguished the flame that had formerly fired them. All the past had disappeared. They had forgotten their violent passion, they forgot even their joy of the morning, that profound joy they had experienced at the thought that they would no more be afraid. They were simply wearied and bewildered at all that was taking place. The events of the day turned round and round in their heads, appearing incomprehensible and monstrous. They sat there mute and smiling, expecting nothing, hoping for nothing. Mingled with their dejection of spirits, was a restless anxiety that proved vaguely painful.

At every movement Laurent made with his neck, he felt a sharp burn devouring his flesh; his collar cut and pinched the bite of Camille. While the mayor read out to him the law bearing on marriage, while the priest spoke to him of the Almighty, at every minute of this long day, he had felt the teeth of the drowned man entering his skin. At times, he imagined a streak of blood was running down his chest, and would bespatter his white waistcoat with crimson.

Madame Raquin was inwardly grateful to the newly married couple for their gravity. Noisy joy would have wounded the poor mother. In her mind, her son was there, invisible, handing Therese over to Laurent.

Grivet had other ideas. He considered the wedding party sad, and wanted to enliven it, notwithstanding the looks of Michaud and Olivier which riveted him to his chair each time he wished to get up and say something silly. Nevertheless, he managed to rise once and propose a toast.

“I drink to the offspring of monsieur and madame,” quoth he in a sprightly tone.

It was necessary to touch glasses. Therese and Laurent had turned extremely pale on hearing this sentence. They had never dreamed that they might have children. The thought flashed through them like an icy shiver. They nervously joined glasses with the others, examining one another, surprised and alarmed to find themselves there, face to face.

The party rose from table early. The guests wished to accompany the newly married pair to the nuptial chamber. It was barely half-past nine when they all returned to the shop in the arcade. The dealer in imitation jewelry was still there in her cupboard, before the box lined with blue velvet. She raised her head inquisitively, gazing at the young husband and wife with a smile. The latter caught her eyes, and was terrified. It struck her that perhaps this old woman was aware of their former meetings, by having noticed Laurent slipping into the little corridor.

When they all arrived on the upper floor, Therese withdrew almost immediately, with Madame Raquin and Suzanne, the men remaining in the dining-room, while the bride performed her toilet for the night. Laurent, nerveless and depressed, did not experience the least impatience, but listened complacently to the coarse jokes of old Michaud and Grivet, who indulged themselves to their hearts’ content, now that the ladies were no longer present. When Suzanne and Madame Raquin quitted the nuptial apartment, and the old mercer in an unsteady voice told the young man that his wife awaited him, he started. For an instant he remained bewildered. Then he feverishly grasped the hands extended to him, and entered the room, clinging to the door like a man under the influence of drink.

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