Theresa Raquin, by Émile Zola

Chapter XXXII

The following Thursday, the evening party at the Raquins, as the guests continued to term the household of their hosts, was particularly merry. It was prolonged until half-past eleven, and as Grivet withdrew, he declared that he had never passed such a pleasant time.

Suzanne, who was not very well, never ceased talking to Therese of her pain and joy. Therese appeared to listen to her with great interest, her eyes fixed, her lips pinched, her head, at moments, bending forward; while her lowering eyelids cast a cloud over the whole of her face.

Laurent, for his part, gave uninterrupted attention to the tales of old Michaud and Olivier. These gentlemen never paused, and it was only with difficulty that Grivet succeeded in getting in a word edgeways between a couple of sentences of father and son. He had a certain respect for these two men whom he considered good talkers. On that particular evening, a gossip having taken the place of the usual game, he naively blurted out that the conversation of the former commissary of police amused him almost as much as dominoes.

During the four years, or thereabouts, that the Michauds and Grivet had been in the habit of passing the Thursday evenings at the Raquins’, they had not once felt fatigued at these monotonous evenings that returned with enervating regularity. Never had they for an instant suspected the drama that was being performed in this house, so peaceful and harmonious when they entered it. Olivier, with the jest of a person connected with the police, was in the habit of remarking that the dining-room savoured of the honest man. Grivet, so as to have his say, had called the place the Temple of Peace.

Latterly, on two or three different occasions, Therese explained the bruises disfiguring her face, by telling the guests she had fallen down. But none of them, for that matter, would have recognised the marks of the fist of Laurent; they were convinced as to their hosts being a model pair, replete with sweetness and love.

The paralysed woman had not made any fresh attempt to reveal to them the infamy concealed behind the dreary tranquillity of the Thursday evenings. An eye-witness of the tortures of the murderers, and foreseeing the crisis which would burst out, one day or another, brought on by the fatal succession of events, she at length understood that there was no necessity for her intervention. And from that moment, she remained in the background allowing the consequences of the murder of Camille, which were to kill the assassins in their turn, to take their course. She only prayed heaven, to grant her sufficient life to enable her to be present at the violent catastrophe she foresaw; her only remaining desire was to feast her eyes on the supreme suffering that would undo Therese and Laurent.

On this particular evening, Grivet went and seated himself beside her, and talked for a long time, he, as usual, asking the questions and supplying the answers himself. But he failed to get even a glance from her. When half-past eleven struck, the guests quickly rose to their feet.

“We are so comfortable with you,” said Grivet, “that no one ever thinks of leaving.”

“The fact is,” remarked Michaud by way of supporting the old clerk, “I never feel drowsy here, although I generally go to bed at nine o’clock.”

Olivier thought this a capital opportunity for introducing his little joke.

“You see,” said he, displaying his yellow teeth, “this apartment savours of honest people: that is why we are so comfortable here.”

Grivet, annoyed at being forestalled, began to declaim with an emphatic gesture:

“This room is the Temple of Peace!”

In the meanwhile, Suzanne, who was putting on her hat, remarked to Therese:

“I will come to-morrow morning at nine o’clock.”

“No,” hastened to answer the young woman in a strange, troubled tone, “don’t come until the afternoon I have an engagement in the morning.”

She accompanied the guests into the arcade, and Laurent also went down with a lamp in his hand. As soon as the married couple were alone, both heaved a sigh of relief. They must have been devoured by secret impatience all the evening. Since the previous day they had become more sombre, more anxious in presence of one another. They avoided looking at each other, and returned in silence to the dining-room. Their hands gave slight convulsive twitches, and Laurent was obliged to place the lamp on the table, to avoid letting it fall.

Before putting Madame Raquin to bed they were in the habit of setting the dining-room in order, of preparing a glass of sugar and water for the night, of moving hither and thither about the invalid, until everything was ready.

When they got upstairs on this particular occasion, they sat down an instant with pale lips, and eyes gazing vaguely before them. Laurent was the first to break silence:

“Well! Aren’t we going to bed?” he inquired, as if he had just started from a dream.

“Yes, yes, we are going to bed,” answered Therese, shivering as though she felt a violent chill.

She rose and grasped the water decanter.

“Let it be,” exclaimed her husband, in a voice that he endeavoured to render natural, “I will prepare the sugar and water. You attend to your aunt.”

He took the decanter of water from the hands of his wife and poured out a glassful. Then, turning half round, he emptied the contents of the small stoneware flagon into the glass at the same time as he dropped a lump of sugar into it. In the meanwhile, Therese had bent down before the sideboard, and grasping the kitchen knife sought to slip it into one of the large pockets hanging from her waist.

At the same moment, a strange sensation which comes as a warning note of danger, made the married couple instinctively turn their heads. They looked at one another. Therese perceived the flagon in the hands of Laurent, and the latter caught sight of the flash of the blade in the folds of the skirt of his wife.

For a few seconds they examined each other, mute and frigid, the husband near the table, the wife stooping down before the sideboard. And they understood. Each of them turned icy cold, on perceiving that both had the same thought. And they were overcome with pity and horror at mutually reading the secret design of the other on their agitated countenances.

Madame Raquin, feeling the catastrophe near at hand, watched them with piercing, fixed eyes.

Therese and Laurent, all at once, burst into sobs. A supreme crisis undid them, cast them into the arms of one another, as weak as children. It seemed to them as if something tender and sweet had awakened in their breasts. They wept, without uttering a word, thinking of the vile life they had led, and would still lead, if they were cowardly enough to live.

Then, at the recollection of the past, they felt so fatigued and disgusted with themselves, that they experienced a huge desire for repose, for nothingness. They exchanged a final look, a look of thankfulness, in presence of the knife and glass of poison. Therese took the glass, half emptied it, and handed it to Laurent who drank off the remainder of the contents at one draught. The result was like lightning. The couple fell one atop of the other, struck down, finding consolation, at last, in death. The mouth of the young woman rested on the scar that the teeth of Camille had left on the neck of her husband.

The corpses lay all night, spread out contorted, on the dining-room floor, lit up by the yellow gleams from the lamp, which the shade cast upon them. And for nearly twelve hours, in fact until the following day at about noon, Madame Raquin, rigid and mute, contemplated them at her feet, overwhelming them with her heavy gaze, and unable to sufficiently gorge her eyes with the hideous sight.

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