Theresa Raquin, by Émile Zola

Chapter XXXI

One morning, Laurent, instead of going to his studio, took up a position at a wine-shop situated at one of the corners of the Rue Guenegaud, opposite the studio. From there, he began to examine the persons who issued from the passage on to the pavement of the Rue Mazarine. He was watching for Therese. The previous evening, the young woman had mentioned that she intended going out next day and probably would not be home until evening.

Laurent waited fully half an hour. He knew that his wife always went by the Rue Mazarine; nevertheless, at one moment, he remembered that she might escape him by taking the Rue de Seine, and he thought of returning to the arcade, and concealing himself in the corridor of the house. But he determined to retain his seat a little longer, and just as he was growing impatient he suddenly saw Therese come rapidly from the passage.

She wore a light gown, and, for the first time, he noticed that her attire appeared remarkably showy, like a street-walker. She twisted her body about on the pavement, staring provokingly at the men who came along, and raising her skirt, which she clutched in a bunch in her hand, much higher than any respectable woman would have done, in order to display her lace-up boots and stockings. As she went up the Rue Mazarine, Laurent followed her.

It was mild weather, and the young woman walked slowly, with her head thrown slightly backward and her hair streaming down her back. The men who had first of all stared her in the face, turned round to take a back view. She passed into the Rue de l’Ecole de Medecine. Laurent was terrified. He knew that somewhere in this neighbourhood, was a Commissariat of Police, and he said to himself that there could no longer be any doubt as to the intentions of his wife, she was certainly about to denounce him. Then he made up his mind to rush after her, if she crossed the threshold of the commissariat, to implore her, to beat her if necessary, so as to compel her to hold her tongue. At a street corner she looked at a policeman who came along, and Laurent trembled with fright, lest she should stop and speak to him. In terror of being arrested on the spot if he showed himself, he hid in a doorway.

This excursion proved perfect agony. While his wife basked in the sun on the pavement, trailing her skirt with nonchalance and impudence, shameless and unconcerned, he followed behind her, pale and shuddering, repeating that it was all over, that he would be unable to save himself and would be guillotined. Each step he saw her take, seemed to him a step nearer punishment. Fright gave him a sort of blind conviction, and the slightest movement of the young woman added to his certainty. He followed her, he went where she went, as a man goes to the scaffold.

Suddenly on reaching the former Place Saint–Michel, Therese advanced towards a cafe that then formed the corner of the Rue Monsieur-le-Prince. There she seated herself in the centre of a group of women and students, at one of the tables on the pavement, and familiarly shook hands with all this little crowd. Then she called for absinthe.

She seemed quite at ease, chatting with a fair young man who no doubt had been waiting for her some time. Two girls came and leant over the table where she sat, addressing her affectionately in their husky voices. Around her, women were smoking cigarettes, men were embracing women in the open street, before the passers-by, who never even turned their heads. Low words and hoarse laughter reached Laurent, who remained motionless in a doorway on the opposite side of the street.

When Therese had finished her absinthe, she rose, and leaning on the arm of the fair young man, went down the Rue de la Harpe. Laurent followed them as far as the Rue Saint–Andre-des-Arts, where he noticed them enter a lodging-house. He remained in the middle of the street with his eyes on the front of the building. Presently his wife showed herself for an instant at an open window on the second floor, and he fancied he perceived the hands of the pale young man encircling her waist. Then, the window closed with a sharp clang.

Laurent understood. Without waiting a moment longer, he tranquilly took himself off reassured and happy.

“Bah!” said he to himself, as he went towards the quays. “It’s better, after all, that she should have a sweetheart. That will occupy her mind, and prevent her thinking of injuring me. She’s deucedly more clever than I am.”

What astonished him, was that he had not been the first to think of plunging into vice, which might have driven away his terror. But his thoughts had never turned in that direction, and, moreover, he had not the least inclination for riotous living. The infidelity of his wife did not trouble him in the least. He felt no anger at the knowledge that she was in the arms of another man. On the contrary, he seemed to enjoy the idea. He began to think that he had been following the wife of a comrade, and laughed at the cunning trick the woman was playing her husband. Therese had become such a stranger to him, that he no longer felt her alive in his heart. He would have sold her, bound hand and foot, a hundred times over, to purchase calm for one hour.

As he sauntered along, he enjoyed the sudden, delightful reaction that had just brought him from terror to peace. He almost thanked his wife for having gone to a sweetheart, when he thought her on her way to a commissary of police. This adventure had come to an unforeseen end that agreeably surprised him. It distinctly showed him that he had done wrong to tremble, and that he, in his turn, should try vice, in order to see whether such a course would not relieve him by diverting his thoughts.

On returning to the shop in the evening, Laurent decided that he would ask his wife for a few thousand francs, and that he would resort to high-handed measures to obtain them. Reflection told him that vice would be an expensive thing, for a man. He patiently awaited Therese, who had not yet come in. When she arrived, he affected gentleness, and refrained from breathing a word about having followed her in the morning. She was slightly tipsy, and from her ill-adjusted garments, came that unpleasant odour of tobacco and spirits that is met with in public drinking places. Completely exhausted, and with cheeks as pale as death, she advanced at an unsteady gait and with a head quite heavy from the shameless fatigue of the day.

The dinner passed in silence. Therese ate nothing. At dessert Laurent placed his elbows on the table, and flatly asked her for 5,000 francs.

“No,” she answered dryly. “If I were to give you a free hand, you’d bring us to beggary. Aren’t you aware of our position? We are going as fast as ever we can to the dogs.”

“That may be,” he quietly resumed. “I don’t care a fig, I intend to have money.”

“No, a thousand times no!” she retorted. “You left your place, the mercery business is in a very bad way, and the revenue from my marriage portion is not sufficient to maintain us. Every day I encroach on the principal to feed you and give you the one hundred francs a month you wrung from me. You will not get anything beyond that, do you understand? So it’s no use asking.”

“Just reflect,” he replied, “and don’t be so silly as to refuse. I tell you I mean to have 5,000 francs, and I shall have them. You’ll give them me, in spite of all.”

This quiet determination irritated Therese and put the finishing touch to her intoxication.

“Ah! I know what it is,” she cried, “you want to finish as you began. We have been keeping you for four years. You only came to us to eat and drink, and since then you’ve been at our charge. Monsieur does nothing, Monsieur has arranged so as to live at my expense with his arms folded one over the other. No, you shall have nothing, not a sou. Do you want me to tell you what you are? Well then, you are a ——— ”

And she pronounced the word. Laurent began to laugh, shrugging his shoulders. He merely replied:

“You learn some pretty expressions in the company you keep now.”

This was the only allusion he ventured to make to the love affairs of Therese. She quickly raised her head, and bitterly replied:

“Anyhow, I don’t keep the company of murderers.”

Laurent became very pale, and for a moment remained silent, with his eyes fixed on his wife; then, in a trembling voice, he resumed:

“Listen, my girl, don’t let us get angry; there is no good in that neither for you nor me. I’ve lost all courage. We had better come to an understanding if we wish to avoid a misfortune. If I ask you for 5,000 francs it is because I want them; and I will even tell you what I intend to do with them, so as to ensure our tranquillity.”

He gave her a peculiar smile, and continued:

“Come, reflect, let me have your last word.”

“I have thoroughly made up my mind,” answered the young woman, “and it is as I have told you. You shall not have a sou.”

Her husband rose violently. She was afraid of being beaten; she crouched down, determined not to give way to blows. But Laurent did not even approach her, he confined himself to telling her in a frigid tone that he was tired of life, and was about to relate the story of the murder to the commissary of police of the quarter.

“You drive me to extremes,” said he, “you make my life unbearable. I prefer to have done with it. We shall both be tried and condemned. And there will be an end to it all.”

“Do you think you’ll frighten me?” shouted his wife. “I am as weary as you are. I’ll go to the commissary of police myself, if you don’t. Ah! Indeed, I am quite ready to follow you to the scaffold, I’m not a coward like you. Come along, come along with me to the commissary.”

She had risen, and was making her way to the staircase.

“That’s it,” stammered Laurent, “let’s go together.”

When they were down in the shop they looked at once another, anxious and alarmed. It seemed as though they were riveted to the ground. The few seconds they had taken to run downstairs had suffered to show them, as in a flash, all the consequences of a confession. They saw at the same moment, suddenly and distinctly: gendarmes, prison, assize-court and guillotine. This made them feel faint, and they were tempted to throw themselves on their knees, one before the other, to implore one another to remain, and reveal nothing. Fright and embarrassment kept them motionless and mute for two or three minutes. Therese was the first to make up her mind to speak and give way.

“After all,” said she, “I am a great fool to quarrel with you about this money. You will succeed in getting hold of it and squandering it, one day or another. I may just as well give it you at once.”

She did not seek to conceal her defeat any further. She seated herself at the counter, and signed a cheque for 5,000 francs, which Laurent was to present to her banker. There was no more question of the commissary of police that evening.

As soon as Laurent had the gold in his pocket, he began to lead a riotous life, drinking to excess, and frequenting women of ill-repute. He slept all day and stayed out all night, in search of violent emotions that would relieve him of reality. But he only succeeded in becoming more oppressed than before. When the company were shouting around him, he heard the great, terrible silence within him; when one of his ladyloves kissed him, when he drained his glass, he found naught at the bottom of his satiety, but heavy sadness.

He was no longer a man for lust and gluttony. His chilled being, as if inwardly rigid, became enervated at the kisses and feasts. Feeling disgusted beforehand, they failed to arouse his imagination or to excite his senses and stomach. He suffered a little more by forcing himself into a dissolute mode of life, and that was all. Then, when he returned home, when he saw Madame Raquin and Therese again, his weariness brought on frightful fits of terror. And he vowed he would leave the house no more, that he would put up with his suffering, so as to become accustomed to it, and be able to conquer it.

For a month Therese lived, like Laurent, on the pavement and in the cafes. She returned daily for a moment, in the evening to feed Madame Raquin and put her to bed, and then disappeared again until the morrow. She and her husband on one occasion were four days without setting eyes on each other. At last, she experienced profound disgust at the life she was leading, feeling that vice succeeded no better with her than the comedy of remorse.

In vain had she dragged through all the lodging-houses in the Latin Quarter, in vain had she led a low, riotous life. Her nerves were ruined. Debauchery ceased to give her a sufficiently violent shock to render her oblivious of the past. She resembled one of those drunkards whose scorched palates remain insensible to the most violent spirits. She had done with lust, and the society of her paramours only worried and wearied her. Then, she quitted them as useless.

She now fell a prey to despondent idleness which kept her at home, in a dirty petticoat, with hair uncombed, and face and hands unwashed. She neglected everything and lived in filth.

When the two murderers came together again face to face, in this manner, after having done their best to get away from each other, they understood that they would no longer have strength to struggle. Debauchery had rejected them, it had just cast them back to their anguish. Once more they were in the dark, damp lodging in the arcade; and, henceforth, were as if imprisoned there, for although they had often attempted to save themselves, never had they been able to sever the sanguinary bond attaching them. They did not even think of attempting a task they regarded as impossible. They found themselves so urged on, so overwhelmed, so securely fastened together by events, that they were conscious all resistance would be ridiculous. They resumed their life in common, but their hatred became furious rage.

The quarrels at night began again. But for that matter, the blows and cries lasted all day long. To hatred distrust was now added, and distrust put the finishing touch to their folly.

They were afraid of each other. The scene that had followed the demand for 5,000 francs, was repeated morning and night. They had the fixed idea that they wanted to give one another up. From that standpoint they did not depart. When either of them said a word, or made a gesture, the other imagined that he or she, as the case might be, intended to go to the commissary of police. Then, they either fought or implored one another to do nothing.

In their anger, they shouted out that they would run and reveal everything, and terrified each other to death. After this they shuddered, they humbled themselves, and promised with bitter tears to maintain silence. They suffered most horribly, but had not the courage to cure themselves by placing a red-hot iron on the wound. If they threatened one another to confess the crime, it was merely to strike terror into each other and drive away the thought, for they would never have had strength to speak and seek peace in punishment.

On more than twenty occasions, they went as far as the door of the commissariat of police, one following the other. Now it was Laurent who wanted to confess the murder, now Therese who ran to give herself up. But they met in the street, and always decided to wait, after an interchange of insults and ardent prayers.

Every fresh attack made them more suspicious and ferocious than before. From morning till night they were spying upon one another. Laurent barely set his foot outside the lodging in the arcade, and if, perchance, he did absent himself, Therese never failed to accompany him. Their suspicions, their fright lest either should confess, brought them together, united them in atrocious intimacy. Never, since their marriage, had they lived so tightly tied together, and never had they experienced such suffering. But, notwithstanding the anguish they imposed on themselves, they never took their eyes off one another. They preferred to endure the most excruciating pain, rather than separate for an hour.

If Therese went down to the shop, Laurent followed, afraid that she might talk to a customer; if Laurent stood in the doorway, observing the people passing through the arcade, Therese placed herself beside him to see that he did not speak to anyone. When the guests were assembled on Thursday evenings, the murderers addressed supplicating glances to each other, listening to one another in terror, one accomplice expecting the other to make some confession, and giving an involving interpretation to sentences only just commenced.

Such a state of warfare could not continue any longer.

Therese and Laurent had both reached the point of pondering on the advisability of extricating themselves from the consequences of their first crime, by committing a second. It became absolutely necessary that one of them should disappear so that the other might enjoy some repose. This reflection came to them both at the same time; both felt the urgent necessity for a separation, and both desired that it should be eternal. The murder that now occurred to their minds, seemed to them natural, fatal and forcibly brought about by the murder of Camille. They did not even turn the matter over in their heads but welcomed the idea as the only means of safety. Laurent determined he would kill Therese because she stood in his way, because she might ruin him by a word, and because she caused him unbearable suffering. Therese made up her mind that she would kill Laurent, for the same reasons.

The firm resolution to commit another murder somewhat calmed them. They formed their plans. But in that respect they acted with feverish excitement, and without any display of excessive prudence. They only thought vaguely of the probable consequences of a murder committed without flight and immunity being ensured. They felt the invincible necessity to kill one another, and yielded to this necessity like furious brutes. They would not have exposed themselves for their first crime, which they had so cleverly concealed, and yet they risked the guillotine, in committing a second, which they did not even attempt to hide.

Here was a contradiction in their conduct that they never so much as caught sight of. Both simply said to themselves that if they succeeded in fleeing, they would go and live abroad, taking all the cash with them. Therese, a fortnight or three weeks before, had drawn from the bank the few thousand francs that remained of her marriage portion, and kept them locked up in a drawer — a circumstance that had not escaped Laurent. The fate of Madame Raquin did not trouble them an instant.

A few weeks previously, Laurent had met one of his old college friends, now acting as dispenser to a famous chemist, who gave considerable attention to toxicology. This friend had shown him over the laboratory where he worked, pointing out to him the apparatus and the drugs.

One night, after he had made up his mind in regard to the murder, and as Therese was drinking a glass of sugar and water before him, Laurent remembered that he had seen in this laboratory a small stoneware flagon, containing prussic acid, and that the young dispenser had spoken to him of the terrible effects of this poison, which strikes the victim down with sudden death, leaving but few traces behind. And Laurent said to himself, that this was the poison he required. On the morrow, succeeding in escaping the vigilance of Therese, he paid his friend a visit, and while he had his back turned, stole the small stoneware flagon.

The same day, Therese took advantage of the absence of Laurent, to send the large kitchen knife, with which they were in the habit of breaking the loaf sugar, and which was very much notched, to be sharpened. When it came back, she hid it in a corner of the sideboard.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/z/zola/emile/theresa_raquin/chapter31.html

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