The lawyer’s house looked on to the Square. Behind it, there was a nice, well-kept garden, with a back entrance into a narrow street which was almost always deserted, and from which it was separated by a wall.
At the bottom of that garden Maitre1 Moreau’s wife had promised, for the first time, to meet Captain Sommerive, who had been making love to her for a long time.
1 Maitre (Master) is the official title of French lawyers.
Her husband had gone to Paris for a week, so she was quite free for the time being. The Captain had begged so hard, and had used such loving words, she was certain that he loved her so ardently, and she felt so isolated, so misunderstood, so neglected amidst all the law business which seemed to be her husband’s sole pleasure, that she had given away her heart without even asking herself whether it would give her anything else at some future time.
Then, after some months of platonic love, of pressing of hands, of kisses rapidly stolen behind a door, the Captain had declared that he would ask permission to exchange, and leave the town immediately, if she would not grant him a meeting, a real meeting, during her husband’s absence; and so at length she yielded to his importunity.
Just then she was waiting, close against the wall, with a beating heart, trembling at the slightest sound, and when at length she heard somebody climbing up the wall, she very nearly ran away.
Suppose it were not he, but a thief? But no; someone called out softly, “Matilda!” and when she replied, “Etienne!” a man jumped on to the path with a crash.
It was he, — and what a kiss!
For a long time they remained in each other’s arms, with united lips. But suddenly a fine rain began to fall, and the drops from the leaves fell on to her neck and made her start. Whereupon he said:
“Matilda, my adored one, my darling, my angel, let us go indoors. It is twelve o’clock, we can have nothing to fear; please let us go to your room.”
“No, dearest; I am too frightened.”
But he held her in his arms, and whispered in her ear:
“Your servants sleep on the third floor, looking on to the Square, and your room, on the first, looks on to the garden, so nobody can hear us. I love you so that I wish to love you entirely, from head to foot.” And he embraced her vehemently.
She resisted still, frightened and even ashamed. But he put his arms round her, lifted her up, and carried her off under the rain, which was by this time descending in torrents.
The door was open; they groped their way upstairs; and when they were in the room he bolted the door while she lit a match.
Then she fell, half fainting, into a chair, while he knelt down beside her.
At last, she said, panting:
“No! no! Etienne, please let me remain a virtuous woman; I should be too angry with you afterwards; and after all, it is so horrid, so common. Cannot we love each other with a spiritual love only? . . . Oh! Etienne!”
But he was inexorable, and then she tried to get up and escape from his attacks.
In her fright she ran to the bed in order to hide herself behind the curtains; but it was a dangerous place of refuge, and he followed her. But in haste he took off his sword too quickly, and it fell on the floor with a crash.
And then — a prolonged, shrill child’s cry came from the next room, the door of which had remained open.
“You have awakened the child,” she whispered, “and perhaps he will not go to sleep again.”
He was only fifteen months old, and slept in a room opening out of hers, so that she might be able to hear him.
The Captain exclaimed, ardently:
“What does it matter, Matilda? How I love you; you must come to me, Matilda.”
But she struggled, and resisted in her fright.
“No! no! Just listen how he is crying; he will wake up the nurse, and what should we do if she were to come? We should be lost. Just listen to me, Etienne. When he screams at night his father always takes him into our bed, and he is quiet immediately; it is the only means of keeping him still. Do let me take him. . . . ”
The child roared, uttered shrill screams, which pierced the thickest walls, so as to be heard by passers-by in the streets.
In his consternation, the Captain got up, and Matilda jumped out and took the child into her bed, when he was quiet at once.
Etienne sat astride on a chair, and made a cigarette, and in about five minutes Andrew went to sleep again.
“I will take him back,” his mother said; and she took him back very carefully to his bed.
When she returned, the Captain was waiting for her with open arms, and put his arms round her in a transport of love, while she, embracing him more closely, said, stammering:
“Oh! Etienne, my darling, if you only knew how I love you; how. . . . ”
Andrew began to cry again, and he, in a rage, exclaimed:
“Confound it all, won’t the little brute be quiet?”
No, the little brute would not be quiet, but howled all the louder, on the contrary.
She thought she heard a noise downstairs; no doubt the nurse was coming, so she jumped up, and took the child into bed, and he grew quiet directly.
Three times she put him back, and three times she had to fetch him again, and an hour before daybreak the Captain had to go, swearing like the proverbial trooper; and, to calm his impatience, Matilda promised to receive him again the next night.
Of course he came, more impatient and ardent than ever, excited by the delay.
He took care to put his sword carefully into a corner; he took off his boots like a thief, and spoke so low that Matilda could hardly hear him. At last, he was just going to be really happy when the floor, or some piece of furniture, or perhaps the bed itself, creaked; it sounded as if something had broken; and in a moment a cry, feeble at first, but which grew louder every moment, made itself heard. Andrew was awake again.
He yapped like a fox, and there was not the slightest doubt that if he went on like that the whole house would awake; so his mother, not knowing what to do, got up and brought him. The Captain was more furious than ever, but did not move, and very carefully he put out his hand, took a small piece of the child’s skin between his two fingers, no matter where it was, the thighs or elsewhere, and pinched it. The little one struggled and screamed in a deafening manner, but his tormentor pinched everywhere furiously and more vigorously. He took a morsel of flesh and twisted and turned it, and then let go in order to take hold of another piece, and then another and another.
The child screamed like a chicken that is having its throat cut, or a dog that is being mercilessly beaten. His mother caressed him, kissed him, and tried to stifle his cries by her tenderness; but Andrew grew purple, as if he were going into convulsions, and kicked and struggled with his little arms and legs in an alarming manner.
The Captain said, softly:
“Try and take him back to his cradle; perhaps he will be quiet.”
And Matilda went into the other room with the child in her arms.
As soon as he was out of his mother’s bed he cried less loudly, and when he was in his own he was quiet, with exception of a few broken sobs.
The rest of the night was tranquil.
The next night he came again. As he happened to speak rather loudly, Andrew awoke again and began to scream. His mother went and fetched him immediately, but the Captain pinched so hard and long that the child was nearly suffocated by its cries, and its eyes turned in its head and it foamed at the mouth; as soon as it was back in its cradle it was quiet, and in four days Andrew did not cry any more to come into his mother’s bed.
On Saturday evening the lawyer returned, and took his place again at the domestic hearth and in the conjugal chamber.
As he was tired with his journey he went to bed early; but he had not long lain down when he said to his wife:
“Why, how is it that Andrew is not crying? Just go and fetch him, Matilda; I like to feel that he is between us.”
She got up and brought the child, but as soon as he saw that he was in that bed, in which he had been so fond of sleeping a few days previously, he wriggled and screamed so violently in his fright that she had to take him back to his cradle.
M. Moreau could not get over his surprise. “What a very funny thing! What is the matter with him this evening? I suppose he is sleepy?”
“He has been like that all the time that you were away; I have never been able to have him in bed with me once.”
In the morning the child woke up and began to laugh and play with his toys.
The lawyer, who was an affectionate man, got up, kissed his offspring, and took him into his arms to carry him to their bed. Andrew laughed, with that vacant laugh of little creatures whose ideas are still vague. He suddenly saw the bed and his mother in it, and his happy little face puckered up, till suddenly he began to scream furiously, and struggled as if he were going to be put to the torture.
In his astonishment his father said:
“There must be something the matter with the child,” and mechanically he lifted up his little nightshirt.
He uttered a prolonged “O— o — h!” of astonishment. The child’s calves, thighs, and buttocks were covered with blue spots as big as halfpennies.
“Just look, Matilda!” the father exclaimed; “this is horrible!” And the mother rushed forward in a fright. It was horrible; no doubt the beginning of some sort of leprosy, of one of those strange affections of the skin which doctors are often at a loss to account for.
The parents looked at one another in consternation.
“We must send for the doctor,” the father said.
But Matilda, pale as death, was looking at her child, who was spotted like a leopard. Then suddenly uttering a violent cry, as if she had seen something that filled her with horror, she exclaimed:
“Oh! the wretch!”
In his astonishment M. Moreau asked: “What are you talking about? What wretch?”
She got red up to the roots of her hair, and stammered:
“Oh, nothing! but I think I can guess — it must be — we ought to send for the doctor . . . it must be that wretch of a nurse who has been pinching the poor child to make him keep quiet when he cries.”
In his rage the lawyer sent for the nurse, and very nearly beat her. She denied it most impudently, but was instantly dismissed, and the Municipality having been informed of her conduct, she will find it a hard matter to get another situation.
Last updated Saturday, January 23, 2016 at 13:40