Madame Berthe d’Avancelles had up till that time resisted all the prayers of her despairing adorer, Baron Joseph de Croissard. He had pursued her ardently in Paris during the winter, and now he was giving fêtes and shooting parties in her honor at his Château at Carville, in Normandy.
Monsieur d’Avancelles, her husband, saw nothing and knew nothing, as usual. It was said that he lived apart from his wife on account of physical weakness, for which Madame d’Avancelles would not pardon him. He was a short, stout, bald man, with short arms, legs, neck, nose and everything else, while Madame d’Avancelles, on the contrary, was a tall, dark and determined young woman, who laughed in her husband’s face with sonorous laughter, while he called her openly Mrs. Housewife, who looked at the broad shoulders, strong build and fair moustaches of her titled admirer, Baron Joseph de Croissard, with a certain amount of tenderness.
She had not, however, granted him anything as yet. The baron was ruining himself for her, and there was a constant round of fêting, hunting parties and new pleasures, to which he invited the neighboring nobility. All day long the hounds gave tongue in the woods, as they followed the fox or the wild boar, and every night dazzling fireworks mingled their burning plumes with the boars, while the illuminated windows of the drawing-room cast long rays of light onto the wide lawns, where shadows were moving to and fro.
It was autumn, the russet-colored season of the year, and the leaves were whirling about on the grass like flights of birds. One noticed the smell of damp earth in the air, of the naked earth, like one smells the odor of the bare skin, when a woman’s dress falls off her, after a ball.
One evening, in the previous spring, during an entertainment, Madame d’Avancelles had said to Monsieur de Croissard, who was worrying her by his importunities: “If I do succumb to you, my friend, it will not be before the fall of the leaf. I have too many things to do this summer to have any time for it.” He had not forgotten that bold and amusing speech, and every day he became more pressing, every day he pushed his approaches nearer — to use a military phrase — and gained a step in the heart of the fair, audacious woman, who seemed only to be resisting for form’s sake.
It was the day before a large wild-boar hunt, and in the evening Madame Berthe said to the baron with a laugh: “Baron, if you kill the brute, I shall have something to say to you.” And so, at dawn he was up and out, to try and discover where the solitary animal had its lair. He accompanied his huntsmen, settled the places for the relays, and organized everything personally to insure his triumph, and when the horns gave the signal for setting out, he appeared in a closely fitting coat of scarlet and gold, with his waist drawn in tight, his chest expanded, his eyes radiant, and as fresh and strong as if he had just got out of bed. They set off, and the wild boar set off through the underwood as soon as he was dislodged, followed by the hounds in full cry, while the horses set off at a gallop through the narrow sides cut in the forest, while the carriage which followed the chase at a distance, drove noiselessly along the soft roads.
From mischief, Madame d’Avancelles kept the baron by her side, and lagging behind at a walk in an interminably long and straight drive, over which four rows of oaks hung, so as to form almost an arch, while he, trembling with love and anxiety, listened with one ear to the young woman’s bantering chatter, while with the other he listened to the blast of the horns and to the cry of the hounds as they receded in the distance.
“So you do not love me any longer?” she observed. “How can you say such things?” he replied. And she continued: “But you seem to be paying more attention to the sport than to me.” He groaned, and said: “Did you not order me to kill the animal myself?” And she replied gravely: “Of course I reckon upon it. You must kill it under my eyes.”
Then he trembled in his saddle, spurred his horse until it reared, and, losing all patience, exclaimed: “But, by Jove, Madame, that is impossible if we remain here.” Then she spoke tenderly to him, laying her hand on his arm, or stroking his horse’s mane, as if from abstraction, and said with a laugh: “But you must do it . . . or else . . . so much the worse for you.”
Just then they turned to the right, into a narrow path which was overhung by trees, and suddenly, to avoid a branch which barred their way, she leaned towards him so closely, that he felt her hair tickling his neck, and he suddenly threw his arms brutally round her, and putting his thick moustache onto her forehead, he gave her a furious kiss.
At first she did not move, and remained motionless under that mad caress; then she turned her head with a jerk, and either by accident or design her little lips met his, under their wealth of light hair, and a moment afterwards, either from confusion or remorse, she struck her horse with her riding-whip, and went off at full gallop, and they rode on like that for some time, without exchanging a look.
The noise of the hunt came nearer, the thickets seemed to tremble, and suddenly the wild boar broke through the bushes, covered with blood, and trying to shake off the hounds who had fastened onto him, and the baron, uttering a shout of triumph, exclaimed: “Let him who loves me, follow me!” And he disappeared in the copse, as if the wood had swallowed him up.
When she reached an open glade a few minutes later, he was just getting up, covered with mud, his coat torn, and his hands bloody, while the brute was lying stretched out at full length, with the baron’s hunting knife driven into its shoulder up to the hilt.
The quarry was cut at night by torchlight. It was a warm and dull evening, and the wan moon threw a yellow light onto the torches which made the night misty with their resinous smoke. The hounds devoured the wild boar’s stinking entrails, and snarled and fought for them, while the prickers and the gentlemen, standing in a circle round the spoil, blew their horns as loud as they could. The flourish of the hunting-horns resounded beyond the woods on that still night and was repeated by the echoes of the distant valleys, awaking the timid stags, rousing the yelping foxes, and disturbing the little rabbits in their gambols at the edge of the rides.
The frightened night-birds flew over the eager pack of hounds, while the women, who were moved by all these gentle and violent things, leaned rather heavily on the men’s arms; and turned aside into the forest rides, before the hounds had finished their meal, and Madame d’Avancelles, feeling languid after that day of fatigue and tenderness, said to the baron: “Will you take a turn in the park, my friend?” And without replying, but trembling and nervous, he went with her, and immediately they kissed each other. They walked slowly under the almost leafless trees through which the moonbeams filtered, and their love, their desires, their longing for a closer embrace became so vehement, that they nearly yielded to it at the foot of a tree.
The horns were not sounding any longer, and the tired hounds were sleeping in the kennels. “Let us return,” the young woman said, and they went back.
When they got to the château and before they went in, she said in a weak voice: “I am so tired that I shall go to bed, my friend.” And as he opened his arms for a last kiss, she ran away, saying as a last good-bye: “No. . . . I am going to sleep. . . . Let him who loves me follow me!”
An hour later, when the whole silent château seemed dead; the baron crept stealthily out of his room, and went and scratched at her door, and as she did not reply, he tried to open it, and found that it was not locked.
She was in a reverie, resting her arms against the window ledge, and he threw himself at her knees, which he kissed madly, through the nightdress. She said nothing, but buried her delicate fingers caressingly in his hair, and suddenly, as if she had formed some great resolution, she whispered with her daring look: “I shall come back, wait for me.” And stretching out her hand, she pointed with her finger to an indistinct white spot at the end of the room; it was her bed.
Then, with trembling hands and scarcely knowing what he was doing, he quickly undressed, got into the cool sheets, and stretching himself out comfortably, he almost forgot his love in the pleasure he found, tired out as he was, in the contact of the linen. She did not return, however, no doubt finding amusement in making him languish. He closed his eyes with a feeling of exquisite comfort, and reflected peaceably while waiting for what he so ardently longed for. But by degrees his limbs grew languid and his thoughts became indistinct and fleeting, until his fatigue gained the upper hand and he fell asleep.
He slept that unconquerable, heavy sleep of the worn-out hunter, and he slept until daylight; and then, as the window had remained half open, the crowing of a cock suddenly woke him, and the baron opened his eyes, and feeling a woman’s body against his, finding himself, much to his surprise, in a strange bed, and remembering nothing for a moment, he stammered:
“What? Where am I? What is the matter?”
Then she, who had not been asleep at all, looking at this unkempt man, with red eyes and swollen lips, replied in the haughty tone of voice in which she occasionally spoke to her husband:
“It is nothing; it is only a cock crowing. Go and sleep again, Monsieur, it has nothing to do with you.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53