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The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005
Claude Boucher found himself awaiting with increasing dread the approach of the 12th of December.
He still called it December to himself; the new names of the divisions of the years of liberty had never taken root in his heart, which remained faithful to many of the old traditions.
Yet he was a good servant of the new Republic and had so far escaped peril during perilous times without sinking into servile insignificance. He was a clerk in the Chamber of Deputies, well paid and unmolested. From the safe vantage of a dignified obscurity he watched greater men come and go; and ate his supper and smoked his pipe in peace while the death-carts went to and from the prisons and the Place de la Revolution — which Boucher, in his mind, thought of as the Place du Louis XVI.
He had his ambitions, but he held them suspended till safer times: he was not the man for a brilliant, fiery career ending in the guillotine; he was not, either, pessimistic; a better epoch, he would declare, would certainly emerge from the present confusion (he refused to accept it as anything else), which could but be regarded as the birth-throes of a settled state.
Therefore, being young and calm and having lost nothing by the upheaval of society, he waited, as he felt he could afford to wait, until the order of things was once more stable and established. The horrors that had washed, like a sea of filth and blood, round his safety, had scarcely touched him; this terror he felt at looking forward to the 12th of December was the first fear that he had ever known.
A fear unreasonable and by no means to be explained.
The first and main cause of his dread was a trifle, an affair so slight that when he had first heard of it he had put it from his mind as a thing of no importance.
One of the Deputies of Lille had put his finger on a conspiracy in the Department of Béarn, involving several names that had hitherto passed as those of good friends of the Republic. The matter did not loom large, but required some delicacy in the handling. The Deputy for the Department concerned was away; no steps were to be taken until his return, which would be on the 12th of December; then Boucher, as a man reliable and trustworthy, was to carry all papers relating to the alleged conspiracy to his house at Saint–Cloud.
At first the young clerk had thought nothing of this; then he had been rather pleased at the slight importance the mission gave him. That night, over his supper in the little café in the Rue Saint–Germains, he began to think of Ambrosine, who had long been a forbidden memory.
She was a little actress in a light theatre that existed during the days of the Terror like a poisonous flower blooming on corruption.
She had lived in a little house on the way to Saint–Cloud, a house on the banks of the river, an innocent and modest-looking place to shelter Ambrosine, who was neither innocent nor modest.
Claude Boucher had loved her; and every night she had finished her part in the wild and indecent performance, he would drive her home in a little yellow cabriolet which had once belonged to a lady of fashion.
They had been quite happy; she was certainly fond of Claude and, he believed, faithful to him; he had rivals, and it flattered him to take her away from these and make her completely his, almost subservient to him; she was only a child of the gutters of Saint–Antoine, but she was graceful and charming, and endearing too in her simplicity and ardour, which she preserved despite her manifold deceits and vices.
She was not beautiful, but she had dark blue eyes and kept her skin lily pale, and her hair was wonderful, and untouched by bleach or powder; fair and thick and uncurling, yet full with a natural ripple, she kept it piled carelessly high with such fantastic combs as she could afford, and from these it fell continuously on to her thin bosom and slanting shoulders.
Claude, sitting in his café, remembered this fair hair, and how it would fly about her when she ran from the stage, flushed, panting, half naked from the dance by which she had amused men inflamed with blood.
He thought; ‘To take those papers I shall have to pass the house where she lived . . . ’
He checked himself then his thought continued: ‘Where she died.’ Ambrosine had been murdered three years ago.
One day in winter she had not appeared at the theatre. As there was a new topical song for her to learn, they had sent a messenger to the little house on the river.
He found her in her bed-gown on the floor of her bedchamber, stabbed through and through the fragile body. The house was in confusion and had been stripped of its few poor valuables.
No-one knew anything: the house was lonely, and Ambrosine lived alone; the old woman who worked for her came in for a portion of the day only. It was found that she had no friends or relatives and that no-one knew her real name — she was just a waif from the Faubourg Saint–Antoine.
That night Claude went to see her; they had quarrelled a little, and for two days he had kept away.
Rough care had disposed her decently on the tawdry silks of the canopied bed; she was covered to the chin, and her face, bruised and slightly distorted, had the aggrieved look of a startled child.
Her hair was smoothed and folded like a pillow beneath her head, her little peaked features looked insignificant beside this unchanged splendour of her hair.
As Claude looked at her he wondered how he could have ever loved her — a creature so thin, so charmless; his one desire was to forget her, for she now seemed something malignant.
He paid what was needful to save her from a pauper’s burial and went back to Paris to forget. No-one found it difficult to forget Ambrosine; her obscure tragedy troubled no-one — there was too much else happening in France. Thieves had obviously murdered her for her few possessions: it was left at that, for no-one really cared. The Faubourg Saint–Antoine could provide plenty such as she.
For a while she held Claude at night; with the darkness would come her image, holding him off sleep.
Always he saw her dead, with the strained, half-open lips, the half-closed, fixed eyes, the thin nose, and the cheeks and chin of sharp delicacy outlined against the pillow of yellow hair.
Always dead. Again and again he tried to picture her living face, her moving form, but he could not capture them.
He could not recall the feel of her kisses or her warm caresses, but the sensation of her cold yet soft dead cheek as he had felt it beneath a furtive touch was long with him.
But after a while he escaped from Ambrosine; he forgot.
Now, as he remembered the way his route took him on the 12th of December, he remembered.
Not that he had any horror of the house or the locality — it simply had not happened that he had ever had occasion to go there since her death. Probably there were other people living there now, or the house might even be destroyed — in any case he would take a détour round the deserted park.
But it was absurd to suppose that he was afraid of that house or unwilling to pass the way he had last passed coming from her deathbed. It was all over and he had forgotten. So he assured himself; yet he began to recall Ambrosine, and always with a sensation of faint horror.
That night was the beginning of his fear.
He went home late to his lodging near the café and, on sleeping, dreamt very exactly this dream, which had the clearness and force of a vision.
He dreamt that it was the 12th of December and that he was riding towards Saint–Cloud carrying the papers he was to take to the Béarnais Deputy.
It was a cold, clear, melancholy afternoon, and the silence of dreams encompassed him as he rode.
When he reached the great iron gates of the dismantled park, his horse fell lame. He was not very far from his destination, and he decided to go on foot. Leaving his horse at a little inn, he struck out across the park.
He saw it all perfectly plainly — the great avenues of leafless trees, the stretches of greensward scattered with dead leaves, the carp ponds and fountains with their neglected statues and choked basins, the parterres where flowers had bloomed not so long ago, and that now looked as utterly decayed; and to his right, as he walked, always the pale glimpse of the river, shining between the trees.
Now, as he proceeded and the dusk began to fill the great park with shadows, he was aware of a companion walking at his side, step for step with him. He could not discern the head and face of this man, which seemed inextricably blended with the shadows, but he saw that he wore a green coat with dark blue frogs.
And he at once began to conceive of this companion a horror and dread unspeakable. He hastened his steps; but the other, with the silent precision of dreams, was ever beside him. The day had now faded to that fixed, colourless light which is the proper atmosphere of visions, and the trees and grass were still, the water without a ripple.
They came now, Claude and the figure that dogged him, to a flat carp-basin, dried and lined with green moss. A group of trees overshadowed it with bare branches; a straight stone figure rose behind, faceless and ominous. Claude could not remember this place, well known as was Saint–Cloud to him.
His companion stopped and bent down to adjust the buckles of his shoe. Claude longed to hasten on, but could not move; the other rose, took his hand, and led him hurriedly across the dry grass.
They approached the bank of a river and a house that stood there, on the confines of the park.
Claude knew the house. It was shuttered as when he had seen it on his last visit to Ambrosine. The garden was a mass of tangled weeds — he noticed a bramble that barred the door across and across.
‘They did not find the place so easy to let,’ he found himself saying.
His companion released him, and, wrenching off the rotting shutter of one of the lower windows, climbed into the house. Claude, impelled against his will, followed.
He saw, very distinctly (as, indeed, he had seen everything very distinctly in his dream), the dreadful, bare, disordered room of Ambrosine.
Then a deeper and more utter horror descended on him. He knew, suddenly, and with utter conviction, that he was with the murderer of Ambrosine.
And while he formed a shriek, the creature came at him with raised knife and had him by the throat, and he knew that he was being killed as she had been killed, that their two fates were bound together; and that her destiny, from which he had tried to free himself, had closed on him also.
This being the culmination of the dream, he woke; he slept no more till morning, and even in the daylight hours the dream haunted him with a great and invincible dread.
It was the more horrible that reality mingled with it — remembrance of days that had really existed were blended with remembrance of that dreadful day of the dream, recollections of Ambrosine were blended with that vision of her deserted home.
The past and the dream became one, rendering the dead woman an object of horror, hateful and repellent. He could not without a shudder recall her gayest moments or think of the little theatre where she used to act.
So three days passed, and then he dreamt the dream again.
In every detail he went through it as he had been through it before, and by no effort could he awake until the dream was accomplished and he was in the grip of the murderer of Ambrosine, with the steel descending into his side.
And the day of his journey was now only a week off he hardly thought of trying to evade it, of pleading illness or asking another to take his place; it was part of the horror of the thing that he felt that it was inevitable that he should go — that his journey was not to be evaded by any effort, however frantic, that he might make.
Besides, he had his sane, reasonable moments when he was able to see the folly of being troubled by a dream which had recalled a little dancer with whom he had once been in love, and involved her with a certain journey near her dwelling that he was bound to make.
That was what it came to — just a dream and a recollection.
He argued in these quiet moments that it was not strange that his proposed journey to Saint–Cloud should arouse memories of Ambrosine and that the two should combine in a dream.
He distracted himself by taking a deeper interest in the wild, fierce life of Paris, by listening to all the tragedies daily recounted, by visiting all the quarters most lawless and most distressed. One day he even went, for the first time, to watch the executions. The real horror would check, he thought, the fanciful horror that haunted him.
But the first victim he saw was a young girl with hands red from the cold, a strained mouth and fair hair turned up on her small head; her eyes, over which the dullness of death seemed to have already passed, stared in the direction of Claude. He turned away with a movement so rough that the crowd, pressing round him, protested fiercely.
Claude strode through the chill and windy streets of Paris and thought of the approaching 12th of December as of the day of his death. So intense became his agitation that he turned instinctively towards his one friend, as one being enclosed in darkness will turn towards the one light.
René Legarais was his fellow clerk and his first confidant and counsellor — a man a few years older than himself, and, like himself, sober, quiet, industrious, and well balanced.
Claude found his lodging near the Pre-aux-Clercs empty; René was yet at the Chamber.
Claude waited; he found himself encouraged even by the sight of the cheerful, familiar room, with books, and lamp, and fire, and the coffee-service waiting for his friend’s return.
He now tried hard to reason himself out of his folly.
He would tell René, and with the telling he would see the absurdity of the whole thing and they would laugh it away together over a glass of wine.
René, he remembered, had also been in love with Ambrosine, but in a foolish, sentimental fashion — Claude smiled to think of it, but he believed that René had been ready to marry the little creature. She had even favoured his respectful wooing (so gossip said) until Claude had appeared, with bolder methods and his vivid good looks and his lavish purse.
René had retired with the best of grace, and that was all long ago and forgotten by both; Claude wondered why he thought of it now, sitting here in the warmth and light. Only because he was unnerved and unstrung and obsessed by that weird dream.
René came home at his usual hour, flushed by the sharp wind and shaking the raindrops from his frieze coat. He was a pale young man with heavy brown hair, insignificant features, and a mole on his upper lip. He looked unhealthy and pensive, and wore horn-rimmed glasses when he worked.
‘Where were you this afternoon?’ he asked. ‘Your desk was empty.’
‘I was not well,’ said Claude.
René gave him a quick glance.
Claude looked well enough now, a colour from the fire in his handsome brown face, his slim figure stretched at ease in the deep-armed leather chair and a half-mocking smile on his lips.
‘I went to see the executions,’ he added.
‘Bah!’ said René.
He came to the fire and warmed his hands, which were stiff and red with cold; they reminded Claude of the hands of the girl whom he had seen on the platform of the guillotine.
‘It is the first time,’ replied Claude, ‘and I shall not go again.’
‘I have never been,’ said René.
‘There was a girl there.’ Claude could not keep it off his tongue.
‘There always are girls, I believe.’
‘She was quite young.’
‘Yes?’ René looked up, aware that interest was expected of him.
‘And then — like Ambrosine.’
‘You remember,’ said Claude impatiently, ‘the little dancer . . . at Saint–Cloud.’
‘Oh, whatever made you think of her?’ René looked relieved, as if he had expected something more portentous and terrible.
‘That is what I wish to know — what has made me think of her? I believed that I had forgotten.’
‘I had, certainly.’
‘So had I.’
‘What has reminded you?’
Claude struggled with his trouble, which now seemed to him ridiculous.
‘I have to go to Saint–Cloud,’ he said at last.
‘On business of the Chamber?’
‘And this reminded you?’
‘Yes — you see,’ explained Claude slowly, ‘I have not been there since.’
‘Not since?’ René pondered, and seemed to understand.
‘And lately I have had a dream.’
‘Oh, dreams,’ said René; he lifted his shoulders lightly and turned to the fire.
‘Do you dream?’ asked Claude, reluctant to enter on the subject, yet driven to seek the relief of speech.
‘Who does not dream — now — in Paris?’
Claude thought of the thin girl on the steps of the guillotine. ‘There is good matter for dreams in Paris,’ he admitted, adding gloomily; ‘I wish that I had not been to the executions.’
René was making the coffee; he laughed good-naturedly.
‘Come, Claude, what is the matter with you? What have you on your conscience?’
René lifted his brows. ‘Have you not found, in Paris, in three years, a woman to make you forget Ambrosine, poor little fool?’
‘I had forgotten,’ said Claude fiercely, ‘but this cursed journey — and this cursed dream — made me remember.’
‘You are nervous, overworked,’ replied his friend; it was quite true that in these few weeks Claude had been working with a desperate energy; he snatched eagerly at the excuse.
‘Yes, yes, that is it . . . but the times . . . enough to unnerve any man — death and ruin on either side and the toils closing on so many one knew.’
René poured out the coffee, took his cup, and settled himself comfortably in the armchair opposite Claude. He drank and stretched his limbs with the satisfaction of a man pleasantly tired.
‘After all, you need not take this journey,’ he said thoughtfully; ‘there are a dozen would do it for you.’
‘That is just it — I feel impelled to go, as if no effort of mine would release me.’ He hesitated a moment, then added: ‘That is part of the horror of it.’
‘Of the whole thing — do you not see the horror?’ asked Claude impatiently.
‘My dear fellow, how can I— when you have not told me what this wonderful dream is about?’
Claude flushed, and looked into the fire; after all, he thought, René was too commonplace to understand his ghostly terrors — and the thing did seem ridiculous when he was sitting there warm and comfortable and safe.
Yet it could not be dismissed from his mind — he had to speak, even if to a listener probably unsympathetic.
‘It is like a vision,’ he said. ‘I have had it three times it is a prevision of the journey to Saint–Cloud.’
René, attentive, waited.
‘It is so very exact,’ continued Claude, ‘and each time the same.’
‘Oh, it is only that — the ride to the gate, the leaving of the lame horse, the walk through the park, and then —’
‘The appearance of a man walking beside me.’
‘You know him?’
‘I hardly saw the face.’
‘Well?’ René continued to urge Claude’s manifest reluctance.
‘We went, finally, to the house of Ambrosine.’
‘Ah yes, she lived there on the banks of the river —’
‘Surely you remember —’
‘We were never intimate,’ smiled René. ‘I do not believe that I ever went to her house. Of course, it was familiar to you?’
‘I saw it again exactly — it was shut up; deserted and in decay. My companion broke the window shutters and stepped in. I followed. The room was in disrepair, unfurnished. As I looked round the place —’
He shuddered, in spite of his strong control.
‘The fiend with me revealed himself. I knew that he was the murderer of Ambrosine, and he fell on me as he had fallen on her.’ René was silent a moment.
‘Why should the murderer of Ambrosine wish to murder you?’ he asked at length.
‘How do I know? I tell you my dream.’
‘An extraordinary dream.’
‘Would you take it as a warning?’
‘Of what will happen?’
‘It is obviously absurd,’ said René quietly.
‘Yes, absurd — yet I feel as if the 12th of December would be the day of my death.’
‘You have brooded over it — you must put it out of your mind.’
‘I cannot,’ said Claude wildly. ‘I cannot!’
‘Then don’t go.’
‘I tell you it is out of my power to stay away.’
René looked at him keenly. ‘Then how can I help you?’
Claude took this glance to mean that he doubted his wits. ‘Only by listening to my fool’s talk,’ he said, smiling.
‘Does that help?’
‘I hope it may. You see, the whole thing — that wretched girl — has become an obsession, waking and sleeping.’
‘After you had forgotten.’
‘Yes, I had forgotten,’ said Claude.
‘So had I, to tell the truth.’
‘Why should one remember? It was a curious affair.’
‘Her murder, yes.’
‘I do not see that it was so curious. A little wanton, living alone with some spoils foolishly displayed — she courted her fate.’
‘But she had so little — a few bits of imitation jewellery, a few coins; and who should have known of them?’
René shrugged and put down his empty coffee-cup.
‘And they said she was liked by the few poor folk about —’
‘There are always ruffians on the tramp on the watch for these chances.’
‘Yes; yet it was strange —’
René interrupted with an expression of distaste. ‘Why go back to this?’
Claude stared, as if amazed at himself. ‘Why, indeed?’
‘You become morbid, unreasonable, Claude; rouse yourself, forget this thing.’
The other laughed; it did not have a pleasant sound.
‘I suppose I am haunted.’
‘Why should you be? You did not do her any wrong.’
‘She cared for me.’
René laughed now.
‘By God!’ said Claude fiercely. ‘She cared for me — I believe she still cares. That is why she will not let me go . . . ’
René rose and took a step or two away from him.
‘What are you talking of?’ he asked.
‘I say, she cares — that is why she is trying to warn me.’
‘You think it is she?’
‘Ambrosine — yes.’
‘You must not allow yourself these fancies, my poor fellow.’
‘You may well pity me. I never cared for her; I think I hated her when she was dead. I hate her now. Why won’t she keep quiet in her grave and leave me alone?’
He rose and walked across the room with a lurching step. René, leaning against the table, watched him.
‘What was the house like — in your dreams?’
‘I told you.’
‘Decayed — deserted?’
‘And tainted. It had a taint of death — like a smell of stale blood.’
‘It is not likely,’ said René, ‘that the place is empty. Now, if it was inhabited, would not that shake your faith in your vision?’ Claude stopped short in his walk; he had not thought of that.
‘Now,’ smiled René, ‘send someone to look at the place.’
‘Who could live there — after that?’
‘Bah! Do you think people stop for that nowadays? If they did, half the city would be uninhabited. The place is cheap, I presume, and someone’s property. I do not suppose it has been allowed to fall into disrepair. That was your fancy.’
‘I might send someone to see,’ reflected Claude.
‘That is what I suggest — find out before the 12th, and if the house is inhabited, as I am sure it is, all this moonshine will clear away from your brain and you will undertake your journey with a good heart.’
‘I will do that,’ answered Claude gratefully. ‘I knew that you would help me — forgive me for having wearied you, René.’
His friend smiled.
‘I want you to be reasonable — nothing is going to happen. After all, these papers to the Béarnais are not of such importance; no-one would murder you to get them.’
‘Oh, it had nothing to do with the Béarnais, but with Ambrosine.’
‘You must forget Ambrosine,’ said René decidedly. ‘She has ceased to exist and there are no such things as ghosts.’
Claude smiled; he was thinking that once René had been quite sentimental over Ambrosine; certainly he was cured of that fancy. Why could not he too completely put the little dancer from his mind?
He also had long ceased to care.
But he was ashamed to refer further to his fears and imaginings.
‘You have done me good,’ he declared. ‘I shall think no more of the matter. After all, the 12th will soon come and go, and then the thing will cease to have any meaning.’
René smiled, seemingly relieved by his returned cheerfulness. ‘Still, send someone to look at the house,’ he said; ‘that will send you on your journey with a lighter heart.’
‘At once — tomorrow.’ They parted, and Claude went home through the cold streets.
As soon as he had left the lighted room and the company of his friend, the old dreary terror returned.
He hastened to his chamber, hoping to gain relief amid his own surroundings, and lit every candle he could find.
He would not go to bed, as he dreaded the return of the dream, yet he was sleepy and had nothing to do.
Presently, he went to a bottom drawer in the modest bureau that served him as a wardrobe and took out a small parcel wrapped in silver paper. He unfolded it and brought forth a chicken-skin fan, wreathed with figures of flying loves in rose and silver tones that surrounded a delicate pastoral river scene, the banks trailing with eglantine, the azure sky veiled in soft clouds, and a blue, satin-lined boat fastened by a gold cord to an alabaster pillar in readiness for amorous passengers.
The fan was not new: there were the marks of some spots that had been cleaned away, spots of blood perhaps, and the fine ivory sticks were stained in places.
Claude had bought it at a bric-à-brac shop filled with the plunder of château and hôtel; it had been cheap and valuable, and at the time he had not cared that it had probably been stolen from some scene of murder and violence and that its one-time owner had almost certainly bowed her neck to a bitter fate — no, it had rather amused him to buy for the little dancer of the Faubourg Saint–Antoine the property of some great lady.
Now it seemed a sinister and horrid omen, this toy with the bloodspots scarcely erased. It had been meant as a peace-offering for Ambrosine — after their little quarrel, which was never to be mended this side of the grave.
He had had it in his pocket when he had gone to look at her for the last time.
Since then it had lain in the drawer forgotten, it had never occurred to him to give it to another woman — it was doubly the property of the dead. Now he handled it carefully, opening and shutting it in the candlelight and staring at those cupids who brought no thoughts of love and that faery scene that brought no thoughts of peace.
And as he looked he seemed to see the delicate thing in the small hands of Ambrosine as she sat up in the big bed with the gaudy draperies, and her fair hair fell down and obscured the fan.
Her fair hair . . .
How plainly he could see her fair hair as he had last seen it, folded into a neat pillow for her head.
He put the fan away and built up a big fire, feeding it with pine knots; he was possessed by the certainty that if he slept he would again dream of the journey to Saint–Cloud.
It seemed as if Ambrosine was in the room, trying to speak to him, to tell him something; but he would not let her, he would not put himself in her power; he would not sleep.
Among the neglected books on the little shelf by his bed was an old copy of Pascal. Claude took this down and began reading it with painful exactitude and attention. With this and strong coffee he kept himself awake till morning.
Before he left for the Chamber, he paid his landlord’s son to go to Saint–Cloud and look at the house of Ambrosine, which he very carefully described, adding the excuse that he had been told of the place as a desirable house for the summer heat; above all things, the boy must notice whether it was inhabited or not.
All that day he was languid and heavy-eyed, weary from lack of sleep, with his nerves on the rack.
Through the dreary, monotonous hours he was picturing his messenger, treading unconsciously the way that had become so terrible to him, approaching the fatal house and finding it, as he had found it, three times in his dreams, deserted and decayed.
René made no reference to their conversation of the previous night, but he was more than ever friendly and pleasant.
When the intolerable day was at last over, he asked Claude to dine with him, but the other declined; his reason, which he did not give, was that he was desperately anxious to hear the news the boy had brought from Saint–Cloud.
When he reached home the fellow had returned; a boat had given him a lift each way.
Claude was foolishly relieved to see his calm cheerfulness. ‘Well?’ he asked, with the best indifference he could assume.
‘Well, Citizen Boucher, I should not take that house at Saint–Cloud.’
‘Why?’ The words came mechanically.
‘First of all, there has been a bad murder there.’
‘How did you find that out?’
‘The people on the boat told me — they go past every day.’ So the thing was known — remembered.
‘Never mind that, boy. What of the house?’
‘It is in ruins, decay —’
‘Ruins — decay?’
‘Well, all shuttered up —’
‘Yes, citizen,’ he began, staring at Claude, whose manner was certainly startling, ‘and the garden full of weeds.’
Claude made an effort to speak rationally.
‘So you did not see the house inside, eh?’ he asked.
‘No-one knew who had the key — the landlord lived in Paris, they said, and never came there. The place had a bad reputation because of the horrid murder done there.’
‘In these times,’ muttered Claude, ‘are they so sensitive?’
‘They are just ignorant people, citizen — those on the boat and those I met in the forest.’
‘And the house was impossible?’
‘It would need a good deal of repairing.’
‘And the weeds in the garden were monstrous — there was one great bramble across and across the door.’
Claude gave him a terrible look and dismissed him.
So it was all there, exactly like his dream.
There were only three days to the 12th — only three days perhaps to live.
When he reached his room he looked at the calendar, hoping he had made some mistake in the date.
No; in three days it would be the 12th.
He could not go to bed, but no coffee could keep him awake.
As soon as he was asleep he dreamed his dream of the journey to Saint–Cloud, nor could he rouse himself until the horrid sequence of events was complete.
He awoke shivering, unnerved and cold with sweat. He had to take brandy before he could fit himself to make his toilet and go to the Chamber.
As he hurried along the street fresh with the transient morning freshness of the city, the burden of his misery was lightened by a sudden thought. He would take a companion with him, he would take René.
That would defeat the dream.
The warning would have saved him; no-one would attack two of them and they could go armed; they need not go near the house, and they could proceed by water and not walk through the Park.
Claude felt almost himself again as he thought out this plan.
No sooner had he reached the Chamber than he found his friend and broached the scheme to him. René was agreeable, and readily accorded his company.
‘I thought of it myself,’ he said. ‘I can easily get permission to come with you, and we will lay this ghost once and for ever.’
Claude was so relieved that he almost lost his old foreboding.
But the night before the journey he again dreamed that he was being murdered by the murderer of Ambrosine, who wore a green coat with dark blue frogs.
At the appointed hour they set out, René endeavouring to cheer Claude, who was gloomy and taciturn, but as the journey proceeded, his spirits rose; the charm had been proved wrong in the first instance, he was not going on horseback to Saint–Cloud.
But when they reached the gates of the park, he was disappointed to find the boat stopped at the little quay and began unloading.
René had arranged with the captain; and René, it seemed, had misunderstood.
The boat went no farther.
But it was only a short walk across the park to Saint–Cloud and the Deputy’s house — the captain could not understand Claude’s discomfiture.
Well, they must walk — here again the dream was wrong.
He had a companion. René laughed at him; the walk would do them good this cold evening, and they would be at their destination long before dusk — as for the return, if they were not offered hospitality, well, there were good inns at Saint–Cloud.
They entered the magnificent iron gates, now always open, and started briskly across the grass.
Here it was, exactly as he had seen it in his dreams, the huge bare trees, the dead leaves underfoot, the pallid gleam of the river to the right, the expanse of forest to the left, through which now and then a fountain or a statue showed.
It was bitterly cold, the sky veiled, and presently a thin mist rose off the river, dimming everything with fog. Like the dim light of his dream.
‘We shall lose our way,’ he said.
‘No; I know this way well.’
‘You know it?’
‘When I was a boy I used to live at Saint–Cloud,’ said René.
They proceeded more slowly, muffled to the throats in their greatcoats, which they had worn all the journey, for it had been cold on the river also.
Claude thought of Ambrosine till his senses reeled round that one image.
Here she had walked, he with her, often enough — near was her house, near her grave.
He seemed to see her in every dimness between the trees — Ambrosine, with her fair hair mingling with the mist.
Suddenly before him a huge fountain arose with a dried basin and a featureless statue behind. And René stopped to latch up his shoe.
He was not thinking of his dream now, but he had the sensation that this had all happened before. As he looked at René, he muttered to himself, half stupidly: ‘What an extraordinary coincidence!’
Then René straightened himself and slipped his hand through his friend’s arm.
His mantle had fallen back a little, and Claude saw that he wore a new suit, dark green, frogged with dark blue, and again he muttered: ‘What an extraordinary coincidence!’
‘I know the way,’ said René, and led him, as if he had been a blind man, through the shifting mist.
In a few moments they stood on the outskirts of the park and before the decayed and deserted house of Ambrosine — as he had seen it, with the weeds in the garden and the bramble across the door.
They entered the little patch of ground.
‘Now we are here,’ said René, ‘we may as well look inside.’
So saying, he wrenched off one of the rotting shutters and climbed into the room.
Claude followed him, like a creature deprived of wits.
They stood together in the damp, dull, bare room — as they had stood together in the dream.
Claude looked at René‘s face, which had quite changed. ‘So you murdered her?’ he said in a sick voice.
‘You never guessed?’ asked René. ‘I loved her, you see, and she loved me till you came. And then I hated both of you. I was mad from then, I think, as mad as you with your infernal dreams.’
‘You murdered Ambrosine!’ whimpered Claude.
‘And your dream showed me the way to murder you. I have been waiting so long to find how to do it.’
Claude began laughing.
‘Her fair hair — if one could open her grave one might see it again — like a pillow for her head . . . ’ He looked at René, whose pale and distorted face seemed to grow larger, until it bore down on him like an evil thing blotting out hope.
Claude did not put a hand to any of the weapons he had brought; he fell on his knees and held up his hands in an attitude of prayer, while he began to gabble senseless words.
And René fell on him with the knife that had killed Ambrosine.
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