After leaving the church by the sacristy door Arlette never looked back. The abbé saw her flit past the presbytery, and the building hid her from his sight. He did not accuse her of duplicity. He had deceived himself. A heathen. White as her skin was, the blackness of her hair and of her eyes, the dusky red of her lips, suggested a strain of Saracen blood. He gave her up without a sigh.
Arlette walked rapidly towards Escampobar as if she could not get there soon enough; but as she neared the first enclosed field her steps became slower and after hesitating awhile she sat down between two olive trees, near a wall bordered by a growth of thin grass at the foot. “And if I have been possessed,” she argued to herself, “as the abbé said, what is it to me as I am now? That evil spirit cast my true self out of my body and then cast away the body too. For years I have been living empty. There has been no meaning in anything.”
But now her true self had returned matured in its mysterious exile, hopeful and eager for love. She was certain that it had never been far away from that outcast body which Catherine had told her lately was fit for no man's arms. That was all that old woman knew about it, thought Arlette, not in scorn but rather in pity. She knew better, she had gone to heaven for truth in that long prostration with its ardent prayers and its moment of ecstasy before an unlighted altar.
She knew its meaning well, and also the meaning of another — of a terrestrial revelation which had come to her that day at noon while she waited on the lieutenant. Everybody else was in the kitchen; she and Réal were as much alone together as had ever happened to them in their lives. That day she could not deny herself the delight to be near him, to watch him covertly, to hear him perhaps utter a few words, to experience that strange satisfying consciousness of her own existence which nothing but Réal's presence could give her; a sort of unimpassioned but all-absorbing bliss, warmth, courage, confidence! . . . She backed away from Réal's table, seated herself facing him and cast down her eyes. There was a great stillness in the salle except for the murmur of the voices in the kitchen. She had at first stolen a glance or two and then peeping again through her eyelashes, as it were, she saw his eyes rest on her with a peculiar meaning. This had never happened before. She jumped up, thinking that he wanted something, and while she stood in front of him with her hand resting on the table he stooped suddenly, pressed it to the table with his lips and began kissing it passionately without a sound, endlessly. . . . More startled than surprised at first, then infinitely happy, she was beginning to breathe quickly, when he left off and threw himself back in the chair. She walked away from the table and sat down again to gaze at him openly, steadily, without a smile. But he was not looking at her. His passionate lips were set hard now and his face had an expression of stern despair. No word passed between them. Brusquely he got up with averted eyes and went outside, leaving the food before him unfinished.
In the usual course of things, on any other day, she would have got up and followed him, for she had always yielded to the fascination that had first roused her faculties. She would have gone out just to pass in front of him once or twice. But this time she had not obeyed what was stronger than fascination, something within herself which at the same time prompted and restrained her. She only raised her arm and looked at her hand. It was true. It had happened. He had kissed it. Formerly she cared not how gloomy he was as long as he remained somewhere where she could look at him — which she would do at every opportunity with an open and unbridled innocence. But now she knew better than to do that. She had got up, had passed through the kitchen, meeting without embarrassment Catherine's inquisitive glance, and had gone upstairs. When she came down after a time, he was nowhere to be seen, and everybody else too seemed to have gone into hiding; Michel, Peyrol, Scevola . . . But if she had met Scevola she would not have spoken to him. It was now a very long time since she had volunteered a conversation with Scevola. She guessed, however, that Scevola had simply gone to lie down in his lair, a narrow shabby room lighted by one glazed little window high up in the end wall. Catherine had put him in there on the very day he had brought her niece home and he had retained it for his own ever since. She could even picture him to herself in there stretched on his pallet. She was capable of that now. Formerly, for years after her return, people that were out of her sight were out of her mind also. Had they run away and left her she would not have thought of them at all. She would have wandered in and out of the empty house and round the empty fields without giving anybody a thought. Peyrol was the first human being she had noticed for years. Peyrol, since he had come, had always existed for her. And as a matter of fact the rover was generally very much in evidence about the farm. That afternoon, however, even Peyrol was not to be seen. Her uneasiness began to grow, but she felt a strange reluctance to go into the kitchen where she knew her aunt would be sitting in the armchair like a presiding genius of the house taking its rest, and unreadable in her immobility. And yet she felt she must talk about Réal to somebody. This was how the idea of going down to the church had come to her. She would talk of him to the priest and to God. The force of old associations asserted itself. She had been taught to believe that one could tell everything to a priest, and that the omnipotent God who know everything could be prayed to, asked for grace, for strength, for mercy, for protection, for pity. She had done it and felt she had been heard.
Her heart had quietened down while she rested under the wall. Pulling out a long stalk of grass she twined it round her fingers absently. The veil of cloud had thickened over her head, early dusk had descended upon the earth, and she had not found out what had become of Réal. She jumped to her feet wildly. But directly she had done that she felt the need of self-control. It was with her usual light step that she approached the front of the house and for the first time in her life perceived how barren and sombre it looked when Réal was not about. She slipped in quietly through the door of the main building and ran upstairs. It was dark on the landing. She passed by the door leading into the room occupied by her aunt and herself. It had been her father and mother's bedroom. The other big room was the lieutenant's during his visits to Escampobar. Without even a rustle of her dress, like a shadow, she glided along the passage, turned the handle without noise and went in. After shutting the door behind her she listened. There was no sound in the house. Scevola was either already down in the yard or still lying open-eyed on his tumbled pallet in raging sulks about something. She had once accidentally caught, him at it, down on his face, one eye and cheek of which were buried in the pillow, the other eye glaring savagely, and had been scared away by a thick mutter: “Keep off. Don't approach me.” And all this had meant nothing to her then.
Having ascertained that the inside of the house was as still as the grave, Arlette walked across to the window, which when the lieutenant was occupying the room stood always open and with the shutter pushed right back against the wall. It was of course uncurtained, and as she came near to it Arlette caught sight of Peyrol coming down the hill on his return from the lookout. His white head gleamed like silver against the slope of the ground and by and by passed out of her sight, while her ear caught the sound of his footsteps below the window. They passed into the house, but she did not hear him come upstairs. He had gone into the kitchen. To Catherine. They would talk about her and Eugène. But what would they say? She was so new to life that everything appeared dangerous: talk, attitudes, glances. She felt frightened at the mere idea of silence between those two. It was possible. Suppose they didn't say anything to each other. That would be awful.
Yet she remained calm like a sensible person, who knows that rushing about in excitement is not the way to meet unknown dangers. She swept her eyes over the room and saw the lieutenant's valise in a corner. That was really what she had wanted to see. He wasn't gone then. But it didn't tell her, though she opened it, what had become of him. As to his return, she had no doubt whatever about that. He had always returned. She noticed particularly a large packet sewn up in sail-cloth and with three large red seals on the seam. It didn't, however, arrest her thoughts. Those were still hovering about Catherine and Peyrol downstairs. How changed they were. Had they ever thought that she was mad? She became indignant. “How could I have prevented that?” she asked herself with despair. She sat down on the edge of the bed in her usual attitude, her feet crossed, her hands lying in her lap. She felt on one of them the impress off Réal's lips, soothing, reassuring like every certitude, but she was aware of a still remaining confusion in her mind, an indefinite weariness like the strain of an imperfect vision trying to discern shifting outlines, floating shapes, incomprehensible signs. She could not resist the temptation of resting her tired body, just for a little while.
She lay down on the very edge of the bed, the kissed hand tucked under her cheek. The faculty of thinking abandoned her altogether, but she remained open-eyed, wide awake. In that position, without hearing the slightest sound, she saw the door handle move down as far as it would go, perfectly noiseless, as though the lock had been oiled not long before. Her impulse was to leap right out into the middle of the room, but she restrained herself and only swung herself into a sitting posture. The bed had not creaked. She lowered her feet gently to the ground, and by the time when holding her breath she put her ear against the door, the handle had come back into position. She had detected no sound outside. Not the faintest. Nothing. It never occurred to her to doubt her own eyes, but the whole thing had been so noiseless that it could not have disturbed the lightest sleeper. She was sure that had she been lying on her other side, that is with her back to the door, she would have known nothing. It was some time before she walked away from the door and sat on a chair which stood near a heavy and much-carved table, an heirloom more appropriate to a château than to a farmhouse. The dust of many months covered its smooth oval surface of dark, finely grained wood.
“It must have been Scevola,” thought Arlette. It could have been no one else. What could he have wanted? She gave herself up to thought, but really she did not care. The absent Réal occupied all her mind. With an unconscious slowness her finger traced in the dust on the table the initials E A and achieved a circle round them. Then she jumped up, unlocked the door and went downstairs. In the kitchen, as she fully expected, she found Scevola with the others. Directly she appeared he got up and ran upstairs, but returned almost immediately looking as if he had seen a ghost, and when Peyrol asked him some insignificant question his lips and even his chin trembled before he could command his voice. He avoided looking anybody in the face. The others too seemed shy of meeting each other's eyes, and the evening meal of the Escampobar seemed haunted by the absent lieutenant. Peyrol, besides, had his prisoner to think of. His existence presented a most interesting problem, and the proceedings of the English ship were another, closely connected with it and full of dangerous possibilities. Catherine's black and ungleaming eyes seemed to have sunk deeper in their sockets, but her face wore its habitual severe aloofness of expression. Suddenly Scevola spoke as if in answer to some thought of his own.
“What has lost us was moderation.”
Peyrol swallowed the piece of bread and butter which he had been masticating slowly, and asked:
“What are you alluding to, citoyen?”
“I am alluding to the republic,” answered Scevola, in a more assured tone than usual. “Moderation I say. We patriots held our hand too soon. All the children of the ci-devants and all the children of traitors should have been killed together with their fathers and mothers. Contempt for civic virtues and love of tyranny were inborn in them all. They grow up and trample on all the sacred principles. . . . The work of the Terror is undone!”
“What do you propose to do about it?” growled Peyrol. “No use declaiming here or anywhere for that matter. You wouldn't find anybody to listen to you — you cannibal,” he added in a good-humoured tone. Arlette, leaning her head on her left hand, was tracing with the forefinger of her right invisible initials on the table-cloth. Catherine, stooping to light a four-beaked oil lamp mounted on a brass pedestal, turned her finely carved face over her shoulder. The sans-culotte jumped up, flinging his arms about. His hair was tousled from his sleepless tumbling on his pallet. The unbuttoned sleeves of his shirt flapped against his thin hairy forearms. He no longer looked as though he had seen a ghost. He opened a wide black mouth, but Peyrol raised his finger at him calmly.
“No, no. The time when your own people up La Boyère way — don't they live up there? — trembled at the idea of you coming to visit them with a lot of patriot scallywags at your back is past. You have nobody at your back; and if you started spouting like this at large, people would rise up and hunt you down like a mad dog.”
Scevola, who had shut his mouth, glanced over his shoulder, and as if impressed by his unsupported state went out of the kitchen, reeling, like a man who had been drinking. He had drunk nothing but water. Peyrol looked thoughtfully at the door which the indignant sans-culotte had slammed after him. During the colloquy between the two men, Arlette had disappeared into the salle. Catherine, straightening her long back, put the oil lamp with its four smoky flames on the table. It lighted her face from below. Peyrol moved it slightly aside before he spoke.
“It was lucky for you,” he said, gazing upwards, “that Scevola hadn't even one other like himself when he came here.”
she admitted. “I had to face him alone from first to last. But can you see me between him and Arlette? In those days he raved terribly, but he was dazed and tired out. Afterwards I recovered myself and I could argue with him firmly. I used to say to him, `Look, she is so young and she has no knowledge of herself. Why, for months the only thing she would say that one could understand was `Look how it spurts, look how it splashes!' He talked to me of his republican virtue. He was not a profligate. He could wait. She was, he said, sacred to him, and things like that. He would walk up and down for hours talking of her and I would sit there listening to him with the key of the room the child was locked in, in my pocket. I temporized, and, as you say yourself, it was perhaps because he had no one at his back that he did not try to kill me, which he might have done any day. I temporized. And after all, why should he want to kill me? He told me more than once he was sure to have Arlette for his own. Many a time he made me shiver explaining why it must be so. She owed her life to him. Oh! that dreadful crazy life. You know he is one of those men that can be patient as far as women are concerned.”
Peyrol nodded understandingly. “Yes, some are like that. That kind is more impatient sometimes to spill blood. Still I think that your life was one long narrow escape, at least till I turned up here.”
“Things had settled down, somehow,” murmured Catherine. “But all the same I was glad when you appeared here, a grey-headed man, serious.”
“Grey hairs will come to any sort of man,” observed Peyrol acidly, “and you did not know me. You don't know anything of me even now.”
“There have been Peyrols living less than half a day's journey from here,” observed Catherine in a reminiscent tone.
“That's all right,” said the rover in such a peculiar tone that she asked him sharply: “What's the matter? Aren't you one of them? Isn't Peyrol your name?”
“I have had many names and this was one of them. So this name and my grey hair pleased you, Catherine? They gave you confidence in me, hein?”
“I wasn't sorry to see you come. Scevola too, I believe. He heard that patriots were being hunted down, here and there, and he was growing quieter every day. You roused the child wonderfully.”
“And did that please Scevola too?”
“Before you came she never spoke to anybody unless first spoken to. She didn't seem to care where she was. At the same time,” added Catherine after a pause, “she didn't care what happened to her either. Oh, I have had some heavy hours thinking it all over, in the daytime doing my work, and at night while I lay awake, listening to her breathing. And I growing older all the time, and, who knows, with my last hour ready to strike. I often thought that when I felt it coming I would speak to you as I am speaking to you now.”
“Oh, you did think,” said Peyrol in an undertone. “Because of my grey hairs, I suppose.”
“Yes. And because you came from beyond the seas,” Catherine said with unbending mien and in an unflinching voice. “Don't you know that the first time Arlette saw you she spoke to you and that it was the first time I heard her speak of her own accord since she had been brought back by that man, and I had to wash her from head to foot before I put her into her mother's bed.”
“The first time,” repeated Peyrol.
“It was like a miracle happening,” said Catherine, “and it was you that had done it.”
“Then it must be that some Indian witch has given me the power,” muttered Peyrol, so low that Catherine could not hear the words. But she did not seem to care, and presently went on again:
“And the child took to you wonderfully. Some sentiment was aroused in her at last.”
“Yes,” assented Peyrol grimly. “She did take to me. She learned to talk to — the old man.”
“It's something in you that seems to have opened her mind and unloosed her tongue,” said Catherine, speaking with a sort of regal composure down at Peyrol, like a chieftainess of a tribe. “I often used to look from afar at you two talking and wonder what she. . .”
“She talked like a child,” struck in Peyrol abruptly. “And so you were going to speak to me before your last hour came. Why, you are not making ready to die yet?”
“Listen, Peyrol. If anybody's last hour is near it isn't mine. You just look about you a little. It was time I spoke to you.”
“Why, I am not going to kill anybody,” muttered Peyrol. “You are getting strange ideas into your head.”
“It is as I said,” insisted Catherine without animation. “Death seems to cling to her skirts. She has been running with it madly. Let us keep her feet out of more human blood.”
Peyrol, who had let his head fall on his breast, jerked it up suddenly. “What on earth are you talking about?” he cried angrily. “I don't understand you at all.”
“You have not seen the state she was in when I got her back into my hands,” remarked Catherine. . . . “I suppose you know where the lieutenant is. What made him go off like that? Where did he go to?”
“I know,” said Peyrol. “And he may be back to-night.”
“You know where he is! And of course you know why he has gone away and why he is coming back,” pronounced Catherine in an ominous voice. “Well, you had better tell him that unless he has a pair of eyes at the back of his head he had better not return here — not return at all; for if he does, nothing can save him from a treacherous blow.”
“No man was ever safe from treachery,” opined Peyrol after a moment's silence. “I won't pretend not to understand what you mean.”
“You heard as well as I what Scevola said just before he went out. The lieutenant is the child of some ci-devant and Arlette of a man they called a traitor to his country. You can see yourself what was in his mind.”
“He is a chicken-hearted spouter,” said Peyrol contemptuously, but it did not affect Catherine's attitude of an old sibyl risen from the tripod to prophesy calmly atrocious disasters. “It's all his republicanism,” commented Peyrol with increased scorn. “He has got a fit of it on.”
“No, that's jealousy,” said Catherine. “Maybe he has ceased to care for her in all these years. It is a long time since he has left off worrying me. With a creature like that I thought that if I let him be master here . . . But no! I know that after the lieutenant started coming here his awful fancies have come back. He is not sleeping at night. His republicanism is always there. But don't you know, Peyrol, that there may be jealousy without love?”
“You think so,” said the rover profoundly. He pondered full of his own experience. “And he has tasted blood too,” he muttered after a pause. “You may be right.”
“I may be right,” repeated Catherine in a slightly indignant tone. “Every time I see Arlette near him I tremble lest it should come to words and to a bad blow. And when they are both out of my sight it is still worse. At this moment I am wondering where they are. They may be together and I daren't raise my voice to call her away for fear of rousing his fury.”
“But it's the lieutenant he is after,” observed Peyrol in a lowered voice. “Well, I can't stop the lieutenant coming back.”
“Where is she? Where is he?” whispered Catherine in a tone betraying her secret anguish.
Peyrol rose quietly and went into the salle, leaving the door open. Catherine heard the latch of the outer door being lifted cautiously. In a few moments Peyrol returned as quietly as he had gone out.
“I stepped out to look at the weather. The moon is about to rise and the clouds have thinned down. One can see a star here and there.” He lowered his voice considerably. “Arlette is sitting on the bench humming a little song to herself. I really wonder whether she knew I was standing within a few feet of her.”
“She doesn't want to hear or see anybody except one man,” affirmed Catherine, now in complete control of her voice. “And she was humming a song, did you say? She who would sit for hours without making a sound. And God knows what song it could have been!”
“Yes, there's a great change in her,” admitted Peyrol with a heavy sigh. “This lieutenant,” he continued after a pause, “has always behaved coldly to her. I noticed him many times turn his face away when he saw her coming towards us. You know what these epaulette-wearers are, Catherine. And then this one has some worm of his own that is gnawing at him. I doubt whether he has ever forgotten that he was a ci-devant boy. Yet I do believe that she does not want to see and hear anybody but him. Is it because she has been deranged in her head for so long?”
“No, Peyrol,” said the old woman. “It isn't that. You want to know how I can tell? For years nothing could make her either laugh or cry. You know that yourself. You have seen her every day. Would you believe that within the last month she has been both crying and laughing on my breast without knowing why?”
“This I don't understand,” said Peyrol.
“But I do. That lieutenant has got only to whistle to make her run after him. Yes, Peyrol. That is so. She has no fear, no shame, no pride. I myself have been nearly like that.” Her fine brown face seemed to grow more impassive before she went on much lower and as if arguing with herself: “Only I at least was never blood-mad. I was fit for any man's arms. . . . But then that man is not a priest.”
The last words made Peyrol start. He had almost forgotten that story. He said to himself: “She knows, she has had the experience.”
“Look here, Catherine,” he said decisively, “the lieutenant is coming back. He will be here probably about midnight. But one thing I can tell you: he is not coming back to whistle her away. Oh, no! It is not for her sake that he will come back.”
“Well, if it isn't for her that he is coming back then it must be because death has beckoned to him,” she announced in a tone of solemn unemotional conviction. “A man who has received a sign from death — nothing can stop him!”
Peyrol, who had seen death face to face many times, looked at Catherine's fine brown profile curiously.
“It is a fact,” he murmured, “that men who rush out to seek death do not often find it. So one must have a sign? What sort of sign would it be?”
“How is anybody to know?” asked Catherine, staring across the kitchen at the wall. “Even those to whom it is made do not recognize it for what it is. But they obey all the same. I tell you, Peyrol, nothing can stop them. It may be a glance, or a smile, or a shadow on the water, or a thought that passes through the head. For my poor brother and sister-in-law it was the face of their child.”
Peyrol folded his arms on his breast and dropped his head. Melancholy was a sentiment to which he was a stranger; for what has melancholy to do with the life of a sea-rover, a Brother of the Coast, a simple, venturesome, precarious life, full of risks and leaving no time for introspection or for that momentary self-forgetfulness which is called gaiety. Sombre fury, fierce merriment, he had known in passing gusts, coming from outside; but never this intimate inward sense of the vanity of all things, that doubt of the power within himself.
“I wonder what the sign for me will be,” he thought; and concluded with self-contempt that for him there would be no sign, that he would have to die in his bed like an old yard dog in his kennel. Having reached that depth of despondency, there was nothing more before him but a black gulf into which his consciousness sank like a stone.
The silence which had lasted perhaps a minute after Catherine had finished speaking was traversed suddenly by a clear high voice saying:
“What are you two plotting here?”
Arlette stood in the doorway of the salle. The gleam of light in the whites of her eyes set off her black and penetrating glance. The surprise was complete. The profile of Catherine, who was standing by the table, became if possible harder; a sharp carving of an old prophetess of some desert tribe. Arlette made three steps forward. In Peyrol even extreme astonishment was deliberate. He had been famous for never looking as though he had been caught unprepared. Age had accentuated that trait of a born leader. He only slipped off the edge of the table and said in his deep voice:
“Why, patronne! We haven't said a word to each other for ever so long.”
Arlette moved nearer still. “I know,” she cried. “It was horrible. I have been watching you two. Scevola came and dumped himself on the bench close to me. He began to talk to me, and so I went away. That man bores me. And here I find you people saying nothing. It's insupportable. What has come to you both? Say, you, Papa Peyrol — don't you like me any more?” Her voice filled the kitchen. Peyrol went to the salle door and shut it. While coming back he was staggered by the brilliance of life within her that seemed to pale the flames of the lamp. He said half in jest:
“I don't know whether I didn't like you better when you were quieter.”
“And you would like best to see me still quieter in my grave.”
She dazzled him. Vitality streamed out of her eyes, her lips, her whole person, enveloped her like a halo and . . . yes, truly, the faintest possible flush had appeared on her cheeks, played on them faintly rosy like the light of a distant flame on the snow. She raised her arms up in the air and let her hands fall from on high on Peyrol's shoulders, captured his desperately dodging eyes with her black and compelling glance, put out all her instinctive seduction — while he felt a growing fierceness in the grip of her fingers.
“No! I can't hold it in! Monsieur Peyrol, Papa Peyrol, old gunner, you horrid sea-wolf, be an angel and tell me where he is.”
The rover, whom only that morning the powerful grasp of Lieutenant Réal found as unshakable as a rock, felt all his strength vanish under the hands of that woman. He said thickly:
“He has gone to Toulon. He had to go.”
“What for? Speak the truth to me!”
“Truth is not for everybody to know,” mumbled Peyrol, with a sinking sensation as though the very ground were going soft under his feet. “On service,” he added in a growl.
Her hands slipped suddenly from his big shoulders. “On service?” she repeated. “What service?” Her voice sank and the words “Oh, yes! His service” were hardly heard by Peyrol, who as soon as her hands had left his shoulders felt his strength returning to him and the yielding earth grow firm again under his feet. Right in front of him Arlette, silent, with her arms hanging down before her with entwined fingers, seemed stunned because Lieutenant Réal was not free from all earthly connections, like a visiting angel from heaven depending only on God to whom she had prayed. She had to share him with some service that could order him about. She felt in herself a strength, a power, greater than any service.
“Peyrol,” she cried low, “don't break my heart, my new heart, that has just begun to beat. Feel how it beats. Who could bear it?” She seized the rover's thick hairy paw and pressed it hard against her breast. “Tell me when he will be back.”
“Listen, patronne, you had better go upstairs,” began Peyrol with a great effort and snatching his captured hand away. He staggered backwards a little while Arlette shouted at him:
“You can't order me about as you used to do.” In all the changes from entreaty to anger she never struck a false note, so that her emotional outburst had the heart-moving power of inspired art. She turned round with a tempestuous swish to Catherine who had neither stirred nor emitted a sound: “Nothing you two can do will make any difference now.” The next moment she was facing Peyrol again. “You frighten me with your white hairs. Come! . . . am I to go on my knees to you? . . . There!”
The rover caught her under the elbows, swung her up clear of the ground, and set her down on her feet as if she had been a child. Directly he had let her go, she stamped her foot at him.
“Are you stupid?” she cried. “Don't you understand that something has happened to-day?”
Through all this scene Peyrol had kept his head as creditably as could have been expected, in the manner of a seaman caught by a white squall in the tropics. But at those words a dozen thoughts tried to rush together through his mind, in chase of that startling declaration. Something had happened! Where? How? Whom to? What thing? It couldn't be anything between her and the lieutenant. He had, it seemed to him, never lost sight of the lieutenant from the first hour when they met in the morning till he had sent him off to Toulon by an actual push on the shoulder; except while he was having his dinner in the next room with the door open, and for the few minutes spent in talking with Michel in the yard. But that was only a very few minutes, and directly afterwards the first sight of the lieutenant sitting gloomily on the bench like a lonely crow did not suggest either elation or excitement or any emotion connected with a woman. In the face of these difficulties Peyrol's mind became suddenly a blank. “Voyons, patronne,” he began, unable to think of anything else to say. “What's all this fuss about? I expect him to be back here about midnight.”
He was extremely relieved to notice that she believed him. It was the truth. For indeed he did not know what he could have invented on the spur of the moment that would get her out of the way and induce her to go to bed. She treated him to a sinister frown and a terribly menacing, “If you have lied . . . Oh!”
He produced an indulgent smile. “Compose yourself. He will be here soon after midnight. You may go to sleep with an easy mind.”
She turned her back on him contemptuously, and said curtly, “Come along, aunt,” and went to the door leading to the passage. There she turned for a moment with her hand on the door handle.
“You are changed. I can't trust either of you. You are not the same people.”
She went out. Only then did Catherine detach her gaze from the wall to meet Peyrol's eyes. “Did you hear what she said? We! Changed! It is she herself. . .”
Peyrol nodded twice and there was a long pause, during which even the flames of the lamp did not stir.
“Go after her, Mademoiselle Catherine,” he said at last with a shade of sympathy in his tone. She did not move. “Allons — du courage,” he urged her deferentially as it were. “Try to put her to sleep.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52