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Title: For a Night of Love
Author: Zola, Émile
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "For a Night of Love" ***





New York

Copyright 1911, by
The Warren Press



The little town of P.... is built on a hill. At the foot of the old
ramparts runs a deep brook, the Chanteclair, doubtless so named from the
crystalline sound of its limpid waters. When one arrives by the
Versailles road, one crosses the Chanteclair at the south gate of the
city, over a stone bridge with a single arch, of which the broad
parapets, low and rounded, serve as benches for all the old people of
the suburbs. Opposite, rises Beau-Soleil Street, at the end of which is
a silent square, Quatre-Femmes, paved with huge cobbles and invaded by a
thickset weed which makes it green as a meadow. The houses sleep. Every
half hour, the dragging step of a passer-by starts a dog barking behind
a stable-door, and the one excitement in the square is the regular
appearance, twice a day, of officers who go to their table d'hôte in
Beau-Soleil Street.

In the house of a gardener, to the left, lived Julien Michon. The
gardener had rented him a large room, on the first floor; and, as the
landlord occupied the other side of the house, facing his garden, Julien
was left to himself. Having his own private entrance and stairway, he
already lived, although only twenty-five years of age, like a retired
bourgeois of small means.

The young man had lost his father and his mother while very young. An
uncle had sent the child to a boarding-school. Then, the uncle died, and
Julien had been filling a position as clerk in the post-office for the
past five years. His salary was fifteen hundred francs, without any hope
of ever getting more. But he could economize on that, and he did not
imagine a larger or a happier life than his.

Tall, strong, bony, Julien had large hands that seemed in his way.

He felt himself to be ugly, with his square head left in a sketchy state
as if roughly modeled by an indifferent sculptor. And that made him
timid, especially in the presence of young women. His awkwardness
engendered a startled attitude of mind, and a morbid desire for
mediocrity and seclusion. He seemed resigned to grow old thus, without a
comrade, without a love affair, with his tastes of a cloistered monk.

And that life did not weigh heavily upon his broad shoulders. Julien was
very happy. He had a calm, transparent soul. His daily existence, with
its fixed rules, was serenity itself. In the morning, he went to his
office, peacefully took up the work left off the preceding day; then
lunched on a small loaf, and continued his work. Afterwards, he dined,
he went to bed and slept. The next day, the sun brought with it the same

On holidays, he would go off on a tramp all alone, happily reeling off
the miles, and returning broken with fatigue.

He had never been seen in the company of a petticoat, in the evenings on
the ramparts. The working girls of P...., sharp-tongued wantons, had
ended by leaving him alone, after seeing him, on several occasions,
stand before them almost suffocated from embarrassment, and taking their
laughs of encouragement for mockery.

Julien's paradise, the one place where he breathed freely, was his room.
There only, he felt sheltered from the world. There, he straightened up;
he laughed to himself; and, when he caught sight of himself in the
mirror, he was surprised to find himself so young.

His room was vast. He had furnished it with a large canopy bed, a round
table, two chairs and an armchair. But there still remained plenty of
room for walking about. The bed was lost in the depths of an immense
alcove; a small chest of drawers, between the two windows, looked like a
child's plaything. He walked about, stretched himself, and never seemed
bored. He never wrote away from the bureau, and reading tired him. His
only passion was music. He would spend entire evenings playing the
flute. That was, above everything, his greatest recreation.

Julien had learned by himself to play the flute. For a long time, an old
yellow flute at a bric-à-brac merchant's on the market square had
aroused his covetousness. He had the money, but he did not dare enter
and buy it, for fear of exciting ridicule. At last, one evening, he grew
bold enough to get the flute and carry it away on the run, hidden under
his coat. Then, doors and windows closed, he had studied for two years
out of an old method that he had picked up at a bookseller's.

During the last six months only, he risked playing with the windows
open. He knew nothing but ancient airs, slow and simple, romances of the
last century, which acquired an infinite tenderness as he stumbled over
them with the awkwardness of a pupil filled with emotion. In the warm
evenings, when the quarter was asleep, and this light song floated from
the large room lighted by a single candle it seemed like a voice of love
confiding to the solitude of the night what it never would have uttered
in broad daylight.

Julien feared that they might complain of him in the neighborhood, but
they sleep soundly in the country towns. Besides, Quatre-Femmes Square
was inhabited only by a notary, M. Savournin, and a retired gendarme,
Captain Pidoux, very convenient neighbors who went to bed and to sleep
at nine o'clock. Julien was more anxious in regard to the inmates of a
noble mansion, the Marsanne residence, which reared itself on the other
side of the square, directly in front of his windows. It had a sad, gray
facade, of the severity of a monastery. A flight of five steps, invaded
by weeds, led up to a round door that was studded with enormous nails.
The only story had ten windows in a row, the shutters of which were
opened and closed always at the same hours, without allowing a view of
the rooms behind their heavy drawn curtains. To the left, the large
chestnut trees of the garden made a green mass that spread in a widening
wave to the ramparts.

Throughout the countryside, the mansion was celebrated, and it was said
that strangers came long distances to visit it. There were also legends
afloat concerning the wealth of the Marsannes. But Julien, during all
the hours that he had sat at his windows seeking to penetrate the
mysteries of that enormous fortune, had never seen anything but the gray
facade and the dark mass of the chestnut trees. Never had anyone mounted
the steps, never had the moss-grown door opened. The Marsannes had
ceased to use that door; they went in and out through an iron gate on
Saint-Anne Street. There was, besides, at the end of a lane near the
ramparts, a little gate opening into the garden, that Julien could not
see. For him, the house remained dead, like a palace in a fairy story
peopled by invisible inhabitants.

One Sunday, in the square before the church, one of the post-office
employees pointed out to Julien a tall old man and an old lady, telling
him that they were the Marquis and Marquise de Marsanne. Then his
companion informed him that they had a daughter still in the convent,
Mademoiselle Therese de Marsanne; and that little Colombel, M.
Savournin's clerk, was her foster-brother. As the old couple were about
to turn into Saint-Anne Street, little Colombel approached, and the
marquis held out his hand,--an honor he had not accorded anyone else.
Julien suffered from that handshake; for this Colombel, a youth of
twenty years, with sharp eyes and a mean mouth, had long been his enemy.
He made fun of Julien's timidity; he had stirred up the laundry-girls of
Beau-Soleil Street against him; and one evening, the two youths had come
to blows on the ramparts, with the result that the notary's clerk
retired with two black eyes.

Julien had lived five years on Quatre-Femmes Square when, one July
evening, an event upset his existence. The night was very warm. He was
playing his flute without a light, but absent-mindedly, when, all of a
sudden, opposite him, a window in the Marsanne mansion opened, showing a
brilliant light in the somber facade. A young girl leaned upon the
window-railing and she raised her head as if listening. Julien,
trembling, had stopped playing. He could not distinguish the face of the
young girl, he could only see the waving mass of her loosened hair. And
a light voice reached him in the midst of the silence.

"Didst thou not hear, Françoise? It sounded like music."

"A nightingale, miss," answered a coarse voice from the room. "Close the
blinds; look out for night-insects."

When the facade had grown dark again, Julien could not leave his
armchair. An hour later, he began to play again very softly. He smiled
at the thought that the young girl probably imagined that there was a
nightingale in the chestnut trees.


The next day, at the post-office, the great news was that Mademoiselle
Therese de Marsanne had left the convent. Julien did not relate that he
had seen her, with bare throat, and loosened hair. He entertained an
indefinable sentiment toward that young lady who was to derange his
habits. How could he henceforth play his flute? He played too badly to
be heard by a young lady who evidently knew music.

Julien returned home furtively that evening. He did not light a candle.
The window opposite did not open, but, towards ten o'clock a pale light
shone through the blades of the blinds. Then, the light was
extinguished, and he was left contemplating the dark window. Every
evening, in spite of himself, he began that spying. Nothing seemed
changed in the house; the old mansion slept on as before. It required
trained eyes and ears to detect the new life. Sometimes, a light ran
behind the windows, a corner of a curtain was lifted, there was a
glimpse of an immense room. At other times, a light step crossed the
garden, the sound of a piano was faintly heard accompanying a voice.
Julien explained his curiosity by pretending to be annoyed at the
noises. How he regretted the time when the empty house sent back a soft
echo of his flute!

One of his most ardent wishes, though he would not admit it, was to see
Therese again. He imagined her with pink cheeks, a mocking air, and
shining eyes. But, as he did not dare approach his window in the
daytime, he saw her only at night, enveloped by a gray shadow. One
morning, as he was about to close one of his shutters to keep out the
sun, he saw Therese standing in the middle of her room. She seemed to be
reflecting. She was tall, very pale, with beautiful, regular features.
He was almost afraid of her,--she was so different from the gay image he
had formed of her. She had a rather large mouth, of a vivid red, and
deep-set eyes, black and without a sparkle, giving her the air of a
cruel queen. She came slowly toward the window; but she did not appear
to see Julien. She went away again, and the rhythmic movement of her
neck had so strong a grace that he felt as weak as a child beside her,
in spite of his broad shoulders.

Then began a miserable existence for the young man. That beautiful young
woman, so serious and noble, living so near him, made him despair. She
never looked at him; she ignored his existence. After a month had
passed, he suffered from the disdain of the young girl. She came to the
window, looked out on the deserted pavement, and retired without
divining his proximity, as he watched, anxious, on the other side of the

On warm evenings, he began playing again. He left his shutters open, and
played, in the obscurity, those airs of bygone days, naive as the
roundels of little girls. He chose moonless nights; the square was dark;
no one knew whence came that song so sweet, brushing the sleeping houses
with the soft wing of a nocturnal bird. And, the first evening, he had
the emotion of seeing Therese approach the window, all in white
negligee. She leaned on her elbows, surprised to hear again the music
that greeted her the evening of her arrival.

"Listen, Françoise," she said, in her serious voice, turning towards the
room. "It is not a bird."

"Oh!" answered the old woman, of whom Julien could see only the shadow,
"it is some comedian amusing himself, a long distance from here."

"Yes, a long distance," repeated the young girl, after a silence.

From then on, Julien played louder every evening. His fever passed into
the old flute of yellow wood. And Therese, who listened, was astonished
at that music, the vibrant phrases of which, flitting from roof to roof,
awaited the night to make their way to her. One night, the song burst
forth so near that she surmised that it came from one of the old houses
in the square. Julien breathed into the flute all his passion; the
instrument vibrated like crystal. The darkness lent him such audacity
that he hoped to draw her to him by the force of his song. And,
effectually, Therese bent forward, as if attracted and conquered.

"Come in," said the voice of the aged lady. "The night is stormy; you
will have nightmare."

That night, Julien could not sleep. He imagined that Therese had guessed
him to be the musician, had seen him perhaps. Yet, he decided that he
would not show himself. He was in front of his window, at six o'clock
the next morning, putting his flute into its case, when the blinds of
Therese's window were suddenly thrown open.

The young girl, who never arose before eight o'clock, leaned upon the
railing. Julien did not move; he looked her in the face, unable to turn
away. Therese, in her turn, examined him with a steady and haughty
regard. She seemed to study him in his large bones, in his enormous and
badly formed body, in all the ugliness of this timid giant. When she had
judged him, with the tranquil air with which she would have asked
herself whether a dog in the street pleased her or not, she condemned
him with a slight pout. Then turning her back, she closed the window
with deliberation.

Julien, his legs giving way under him, fell into his armchair.

"Ah! mon Dieu!" he exclaimed, brokenly. "I am displeasing to her! And I
love her, and I shall die!"

He bowed his head upon his hands and sobbed. Why had he shown himself?
When one was so ugly, he should hide himself and not shock young girls.
He cursed himself, furious with his looks. He should have remained for
her a sweet music,--nothing but ancient airs descriptive of a mysterious

In effect, he vainly breathed forth the liquid tender melodies: Therese
no longer listened. She came and went in her room, leaned out of the
window, as if he had not been opposite, declaring his love in humble
little notes. One day, even, she exclaimed: "Mon Dieu! How annoying that
flute is, with its false notes!"

So, in despair, he threw the flute into a drawer, and played no more.

Little Colombel, too, scoffed at Julien. One day, on his way to the
office, he had seen Julien at his window practising, and, each time that
he passed, he laughed his mean little laugh. Julien knew that the
notary's clerk was received at the Marsanne's, and it broke his
heart,--not that he was jealous of that shrimp, but because he would
have given his life to be for one hour in his place.

Françoise, the mother of the young man, had been for years one of the
Marsanne household, and now she took care of Therese. Long ago, the
aristocratic young lady and the little peasant had grown up together,
and it seemed natural that they should preserve some of their former
comradeship. Julien suffered none the less when he met Colombel in the
streets with his lips puckered into a thin smile. His repulsion
increased when he realized that the shrimp was not bad looking. He had a
round cat-like head, but very delicate, pretty, and diabolical, with
green eyes and a light curly beard on his soft chin.

Julien did not relinquish his dream of love without a great struggle. He
remained hidden for several weeks, ashamed of his ugliness. Then, he was
shaken by rage. He felt the need to display his large limbs, to force on
her sight his rough face, burning with fever. So, he remained for weeks
at his window, he wearied her with his regard. Even, on two occasions,
he had sent her ardent kisses, with the brutality shown by timid people
when they are prompted to audacity. Therese exhibited no anger. When he
was concealed from her view he saw her going about with her royal air;
and, when he thrust himself upon her, she preserved that air and was
even colder and haughtier.

During that first year, the days followed each other without a break.
When the summer came around again, he experienced a peculiar sensation:
Therese seemed to have acquired a different manner. The same little
events took place,--the shutters were opened in the morning and closed
at night, there were the same appearances at the accustomed hours; but a
new breath seemed to emanate from her room. Therese was paler and
taller. On a very feverish day, he dared for the third time to send her
a kiss. She looked at him intently, with her disquieting seriousness. It
was he who retired from the window, his face crimson.

A single occurrence, toward the end of the summer, upset him, although
it was very simple. Nearly every day, at twilight, the casement opposite
was closed violently. The noise made him shudder, without his knowing
why. For a long time, he could not distinguish whose hand closed the
window; but, one evening, he recognized the pale hands of Therese. It
was she who turned the fastening with that furious movement. And when,
an hour later, she reopened the window,--but without haste, rather with
a dignified slowness,--she seemed weary.

One autumn evening, gray and soft, there was a terrible grinding of the
window fastening. Julien shuddered and tears sprang to his eyes. He
waited for the window to open again. It was thrown wide as violently as
it had been closed. Therese appeared. She was very white, with distended
eyes and hair falling over her shoulders. She put her ten fingers upon
her lips and sent a kiss to Julien.

Distracted, he pressed his fists against his chest and asked if that
kiss was for him. Then, Therese, thinking that he had shrunk back,
leaned forward and sent him a second kiss. She followed it with a third.
He stood rooted, thunderstruck. When she considered that he was
vanquished, she glanced over the little square. Then, in a muffled
voice, she said simply,--


He went down and approached the mansion. As he raised his head, the door
at the top of the steps opened slightly,--that rusty door that was
almost sealed with moss. But he walked in a stupor,--nothing astonished
him. As soon as he entered, the door closed, and a small icy hand led
him upstairs. He went along a corridor, passed through a room, and, at
last, found himself in a room that he knew. It was the dreamed-of
paradise, the room with the rose silk curtains. He was tempted to sink
to his knees. Therese stood before him very erect, her hands tightly
clasped, and resolutely holding under control the tremor that had
possession of her.

"You love me?" she asked in a low voice.

"Oh! yes, yes!" he stammered.

She made a gesture, as if to forestall any useless words. She continued,
with a haughty manner that seemed to render her words natural and

"If I gave myself to you, you would do anything for me,--wouldn't you?"

He could not answer,--he clasped his hands. For a kiss from her, he
would sell himself.

"Well! I have a service to exact of you. We must swear to keep the
bargain. I swear to carry out my part of it. Now, swear, swear!"

"Oh! I swear,--anything you wish!" he cried, in absolute abandonment.

The pure odor of her room intoxicated him. The curtains of the alcove
were drawn, and the thought of that virgin bed in the softened shadow of
the rose silk, filled him with a religious ecstasy.

Then, with a brutal movement, she tore the curtains apart, revealing the
alcove, into which the faint evening light penetrated. The bed was in
disorder. The coverings trailed over the sides, a pillow on the floor
was ripped open as if by teeth. And, in the midst of the rumpled laces,
lay the body of a man, thrown across the bed.

"There!" she explained in a strangled voice. "That man was my lover. I
pushed him and he fell. I know no more. Well, he is dead; and you must
carry him away! You understand? That is all,--yes, that is all! There!"


When very small, Therese de Marsanne made Colombel her fag and butt. He
was her elder by about six months, and Françoise, his mother, had
weaned him in order to nurse Therese.

Therese was a terrible child. Not that she was a noisy tomboy. On the
contrary, she had a singular seriousness that made her appear as a well
bred child before visitors, for whom she made graceful curtseys. But she
had very strange ways; she would burst into inarticulate cries, stamping
madly about, when she was alone.

No one ever knew her thoughts. Even as a child, instead of her eyes
being clear mirrors revealing her soul, they were like dark cavities, of
an inky blackness, in which it was impossible to read.

At six years of age, she began to torture Colombel. He was small and
delicate. She would take him to the bottom of the garden, under the
chestnut trees, and, jumping on his back would make him carry her. He
was the horse, she was the lady. When, dizzy, he seemed ready to fall,
she would bite his ear, clinging to him with such fury that she would
sink her nails into his flesh.

Later, in the presence of her parents, she would pinch him and forbid
his crying out under pain of being thrown out into the street. They thus
had a sort of secret existence, their attitude when alone together
changing in company. When they were alone, she treated him like a
plaything, with a desire to break him. And as she wearied of reigning
over him only when they were alone, she added the pleasure of giving him
a kick or pricking him with a pin while in company at the same time
fixing him with her somber eyes and daring him to so much as twitch.

Colombel bore that martyr's existence with dumb revolts that left him
trembling, his eyes lowered, with a desire to strangle his young
mistress. But, he was of a sly and vindictive nature. It did not
altogether displease him to be beaten; he immediately gloated in his
rancor. He would avenge himself by falling on the stones, dragging
Therese with him, so that he would escape injury and she would be
scratched and bruised. If he did not cry out when she pinched or pricked
him, it was because he wished no one to interfere between them. It was
their own affair,--a quarrel from which he intended to issue the
conqueror later on.

Meanwhile, the marquis was worried about the violent conduct of his
daughter. He considered it his duty to submit her to a rigid education.
So, he placed her in a convent, hoping that the discipline would soften
her nature. She remained there until her eighteenth year.

When Therese returned home, she was very well-behaved and very tall. Her
parents were pleased to note in her a profound piety. The marquis and
the marquise, secluded for fifteen years in the big house, prepared to
open the drawing-room again. They gave several dinners to the nobility
of the neighborhood; they had dancing. Their design was to marry
Therese. And, in spite of her coldness, she made herself very agreeable.
She adorned herself and she waltzed, but always with a face so pale that
the young men who thought of falling in love with her were uneasy.

Therese had never mentioned little Colombel. The marquis had taken an
interest in him, and, after giving him a schooling, had placed him in M.
Savournin's office. One day, Françoise led her son up to Therese and
presented to the young girl her comrade of former days. Colombel was
smiling, very clean, and without a sign of embarrassment. Therese looked
at him calmly, said she remembered him, and turned her back.

But, a week later, Colombel returned; and he had soon resumed his former
habits. He came every evening to the house, bringing music and books. He
was treated as of no consequence,--he was sent on errands like a servant
or a poor relation. So they left him alone with the young girl, without
thinking of harm. As in the old days, the two shut themselves up in the
vast rooms, or remained for hours in the shade of the garden. In verity,
they no longer played the same games. Therese walked slowly, with her
skirt brushing the grass. Colombel, dressed like the rich young men of
the town, accompanied her, whipping the path with a supple cane that he
invariably carried.

Yet, she was again the queen and he the slave. She tortured him with her
fantastic humors, affectionate one moment and hard the next. He, when
she turned her head, swept her with a glittering glance, sharp as a
sword, and his whole vicious figure stretched and watched, dreaming a

One summer evening, they had strolled in the heavy shadow of the
chestnut trees for some time in silence, when Therese suddenly remarked:

"I am tired, Colombel. Suppose you carry me as you used to."

He laughed lightly; then answered seriously:

"I am willing, Therese."

Without another word, Therese sprang upon his back with her old agility.

"Now go!" she cried.

She had snatched his cane and she lashed his legs with it, forcing him
into a gallop beneath the thick foliage. He had not said a word; he
breathed hard and tried to stiffen his slender legs, as the warm weight
of the big girl bore him down.

But, when she cried out "Enough!" he did not stop. He ran all the
faster, as if carried on by the impetus of the start. In spite of
lashings and the digging in of her nails, he made for a shed in which
the gardener kept his tools. There, he threw her roughly upon a heap of
straw, and, his vindictiveness lending strength to his puny body, he
vanquished her. At last, it was his turn to be master!

Therese became even paler, while her eyes grew blacker than ever and her
mouth a more vivid crimson. She continued her devotional life.

Several days after the first occurrence, Therese, still panting with the
desire to subjugate little Colombel, again leaped upon his back and
lashed him. But the scene had the same ending. Again, she was thrown
upon the straw and wronged.

Before the world, she maintained a sisterly attitude toward him. He,
also, was of a smiling tranquility. They were again, as at six years of
age, a couple of unruly animals, amusing themselves in secret by biting
each other. Only, to-day, the male was victorious.

Therese received Colombel in her room. She had given him a key to the
little gate that opened on the lane at the ramparts. At night, he was
obliged to pass through the first room, in which his mother slept. But
the lovers showed such calm audacity that they were never surprised.
They dared make appointments in the daytime. Colombel came before
dinner, and Therese, expecting him, would close the window to escape the
neighbors' eyes.

They felt the constant need to see each other,--not to exchange tender
expressions of love, but to continue the combat for supremacy. Often,
they would quarrel fiercely, in low voices, all the more shaken by anger
as they dared not scream or fight.

One evening, Colombel arrived before dinner. As he was walking across
the room, still with bare feet and in his shirt-sleeves, he suddenly
seized Therese and tried to lift her up, as he had seen strong men do at
the fairs. Therese tried to break away, saying:

"Leave me alone. You know I am stronger than you. I will hurt you."

Colombel laughed his little laugh.

"Well! Hurt me!" he murmured.

He shook her as a preliminary to throwing her down. She closed her arms
about him. They often played this game. It was usually Colombel who went
down on the carpet, breathless, with inert limbs. But, this day, Therese
slipped to her knees, and Colombel, with a sudden thrust, threw her over
backward. He triumphed.

"So, you see you are not the stronger," he said with an insulting laugh.

She was livid. She raised herself slowly, and dumb, she grasped him
again, her whole form so shaken by anger that he shivered. For a minute,
they struggled in silence; then, with a last and terrible effort, she
threw him backward. He struck his temple against a corner of a chest and
felt heavily to the floor.

Therese drew a deep breath. She gathered up her hair before the mirror,
she smoothed out her petticoat, affecting to pay no attention to the
conquered Colombel. He could pick himself up. Then, she touched him with
her foot. She saw that his face was of the color of wax, his eyes
glassy, and his mouth twisted. On his right temple there was a hole.
Colombel was dead.

She straightened up, chilled with horror. She spoke aloud in the

"Dead! Here he is dead now!"

A terror held her rigid above the corpse. She heard his mother passing
along the corridor! Other noises arose,--steps, voices, preparations for
an evening's entertainment. They might call her, come to look for her at
any moment. And here was this dead body of her lover, whom she had
killed and who had fallen back upon her shoulders, with the crushing
weight of their sin.

Then, crazed by the clamor in her brain, she began walking back and
forth. She sought a hole into which to cast this body that was
threatening her future. She looked under all the furniture, in the
corners, trembling with an enraged realization of her impotence. No,
there was no hole, the alcove was not deep enough, the wardrobes were
too narrow, the whole room refused its aid. And it was in this room that
they had hidden their kisses. He used to enter with his light, cat-like
step, and went away as softly. Never should she have imagined that he
could become so heavy.

She still roved about the room like a trapped animal. Suddenly, she had
an inspiration. Suppose she should throw the body out of the window? But
it would be found, and it would be easy to guess where it had come from.

Meanwhile, she had raised the curtain to look out into the street; and
there, opposite, was the imbecile who played the flute, leaning out of
his window with his tame-dog expression. She well knew his sallow face,
unceasingly turned toward her and wearying her with its avowal of timid
tenderness. The sight of Julien, so humble and so loving, stopped her
short. A smile flitted across her pale face. Here was her salvation! The
imbecile opposite loved her with the devotion of a dog who would obey
her even to the commission of a crime. Besides she would reward him with
all her heart, with all her body. She had not loved him because he was
too gentle; but she would love him, she would buy him with the gift of
her body, if he would help her conceal her crime.

Then, quickly, she took up the body of Colombel as if it were a bundle
of linen, and threw it on the bed. Immediately opening the window, she
threw kisses to Julien.


Julien walked as in a nightmare. When he recognized Colombel on the bed,
he was not astonished,--it seemed quite natural. Yes, no one but
Colombel could be in that alcove, his temple indented, his limbs spread
out in an attitude of revolting lewdness.

Meanwhile, Therese was speaking to him. He did not hear at first; the
words flowed through his stupor with a confused sound. Then, he
understood that she was giving him orders, and he listened. Now, he must
not leave the room; he must remain until midnight,--until the house grew
dark and quiet. The party that the marquis was giving would prevent
their doing anything sooner. But, in a way, it acted in their favor, for
it so occupied everybody's attention that no one would think of coming
up to the young girl's room. At the proper time, Julien was to take the
body on his back, carry it down and throw it into the Chanteclair, at
the bottom of Beau-Soleil Street Therese explained the whole plan.

She ceased talking, and, placing her hands on the young man's shoulders,
she asked:--

"You understand,--is it agreed?"

He shuddered.

"Yes, yes; everything you wish. I am yours."

Then, very serious, she leaned forward. As he did not understand, she

"Kiss me."

He kissed her on her icy brow. And then they became silent.

Therese had again drawn the curtains of the bed. She sank into an
armchair, where she rested, lost in the darkness. Julien also sat down.
Françoise was no longer in the next room; the house sent them only
muffled sounds. The room seemed to be asleep, and gradually filling with
shadows. For nearly an hour, neither moved. Julien felt within his head
great throbs, like blows, which prevented his reasoning. He was with
Therese, and that filled him with happiness. But when the thought
flashed on him that there was the corpse of a man in that alcove, he
felt as if he would swoon. Was it possible that she had loved that
shrimp? He excused her for having killed him. What fired his blood was
the bare feet of that man in the midst of the rumpled laces. With what
joy he would throw him into the Chanteclair, at the end of the bridge,
at a dark and deep spot that he knew well! They would both be well quit
of him; they could then belong to each other. At the thought of that
happiness that he had not dared dream of in the morning, he saw himself
on the bed in the very place where the corpse now lay; and the place was
cold and he felt a terrified repugnance.

The clock struck, in the midst of the great silence. Therese got up
slowly and lighted the candles on her dressing-table. She appeared
possessed of her accustomed calm, coming and going with the quiet step
of a person who busies herself in the intimacy of her room. She seemed
to have forgotten the sprawling body behind the rose silk hangings. As
she uncoiled her hair, she said, without even turning her head:--

"I am going to dress for the party. If anyone comes, hide yourself in
the end of the alcove."

He remained seated; he watched her. She already treated him like a
lover. With raised arms, she dressed her hair. He watched her with a
thrill, so desirable she appeared with her back uncovered, lazily moving
her delicate elbows and her tapering hands. Was she displaying her
seductions, showing him the lover he was to possess, in order to make
him brave?

She had just put on her slippers, when a step was heard in the corridor.

"Hide in the alcove," she said, in a low voice.

And, with a quick movement, she threw upon the stiffened body of
Colombel all the linen that she had taken off,--a linen still warm with
the perfume of her body.

It was Françoise who entered, saying,--

"They are waiting for you, Mademoiselle."

"I am coming, my good woman," peacefully answered Therese. "You can help
me put on my dress."

Julien, through a slit in the curtain, could see them both, and he
trembled at the audacity of the young girl. His teeth chattered so
loudly that he grasped his jaw and held it in his hand. Beside him,
under a chemise, he saw one of the icy feet of Colombel. If Françoise,
the mother, should draw the curtain and strike against the bare foot of
her child!

"Be careful," said Therese. "You are pulling off the flowers."

Her voice betrayed no emotion. She smiled like a girl pleased to go to a
ball. The dress was of white silk, trimmed with sweet briar,--white
flowers, with the hearts touched with red. And when she stood in the
middle of the room, she was like a large bouquet of virginal whiteness.
Her bare arms and her bare neck continued the whiteness of the silk.

"Oh! how beautiful you are! How beautiful you are!" repeated the old
Françoise. "And your garland,--wait!"

She searched for it, and was about to put her hand on the curtains to
look on the bed. Julien almost let out a cry of anguish. But Therese,
without haste, always smiling before the mirror, said:--

"It is there, on the chest. Give it to me. And don't touch my bed. I put
some things on it, and you would mix them all up."

Françoise helped her to arrange the branch of sweet briar like a crown,
with its flexible end drooping to the back of her neck. Françoise stood
admiring her. She was ready and putting on her gloves.

"Ah! well," cried Françoise, "there are no holy Virgins in the church
as white as you."

This compliment caused the young girl to smile again. She gave a last
glance into the mirror, and started for the door, saying,--

"Come along; let us go down. You can put out the candles."

In the sudden darkness, Julien heard the door close and Therese's gown
rustle along the corridor. The deep night was a veil before his eyes,
but he preserved the sensation of that bare foot near him. He remained
there, unconscious of the lapse of time, weighed down by thoughts heavy
as sleep, when the door opened. By the rustle of silk, he knew it was
Therese. She did not come in; she simply put something on the chest of
drawers, while she murmured:--

"Here; you have not dined. You must eat, you understand."

The gown rustled away again. Julien shook himself and got up. He
suffocated in the alcove; he could no longer remain near that bed,
beside Colombel. The clock struck eight,--he had four hours to wait! He
walked about muffling his footsteps. A feeble light, from the starlit
night, made it possible to distinguish the dark masses of furniture.

Three times, he thought he heard a sigh issue from the alcove. He
stopped, terrified. Then, when he listened intently, he found it was
sounds from the festivities below,--dance music, the laughing murmur of
a crowd. He closed his eyes; and, suddenly, instead of the blackness of
the room, he saw brilliant lights, a flaming drawing-room, in which was
Therese, in her white silk, waltzing to an amorous air. The whole house
vibrated to joyous music. He was alone, in this horrible corner, shaking
with fear!

Ten o'clock struck. He listened. It seemed as if he had been there
years. Then, he waited bewildered. Having found bread and fruit under
his hand, he ate avidly, with a gnawing of the stomach that he could not
assuage. When he had eaten, he was overcome by lassitude. The night
seemed never-ending. The distant music grew clearer; the dancing at
times shook the floor. Carriages began to rumble.

He was looking fixedly at the door, when he saw a light through the
keyhole. He did not hide. So much the worse, if anyone came in.

"No; thank you, Françoise," said Therese, appearing with a candle, "I
can undress quite well alone. Go to bed,--you must be tired."

She closed the door and slipped the bolt. Then, she stood for a moment
motionless, with her finger on her lip. The dance had not brought color
to her cheeks. She did not speak. She set down the candle, and sat down
opposite Julien. During a half hour, they waited, looking at each other.

The doors had banged; the mansion had gone to sleep. But what worried
Therese was the proximity of Françoise. Françoise walked about a few
minutes, then her bed creaked. For some time, she turned from side to
side, as if unable to sleep. At last, her strong and regular breathing
was heard through the wall.

Therese looked at Julien gravely. She said only one word,--"Come."

They drew aside the curtains. They wished to clothe the corpse which
already had the rigidity of a lugubrious puppet. When that task was
finished, their brows were moist.

"Come," she said a second time.

Without hesitation, Julien took up the body and threw it across his
shoulders, as butchers carry calves.

"I will go before you," murmured Therese rapidly, "I will hold your
coat,--you have only to follow. And walk softly."

They had first to pass through Françoise's room. They had crossed it,
when one of the feet of the corpse struck against a chair. At the sound,
Françoise awoke. They heard her raise her head, mumbling to herself.
They remained motionless,--she, pressed against the door; he, crushed
under the weight of the body, with the horrible fear that the mother
might surprise them carrying her son to the river. It was a moment of
anguish. Then, Françoise went to sleep again, and they stealthily
reached the corridor.

But, here, another fright awaited them. The marquise had not gone to
bed,--a streak of light came through the partly opened door. So, they
dared neither go forward, nor retreat. For a quarter of an hour, they
did not move, and Therese had the astounding courage to support the body
so that Julien should not get tired. At last, the streak of light was
obliterated. They could go on to the ground floor. They were saved.

It was Therese who again opened the ancient door. And when Julien found
himself in the middle of Quatre-Femmes Square with his burden, he saw
her standing on the flight of steps, in her white ball gown. She was
waiting for him.


Julien had the strength of a bull. When very young, in the forest near
his native village, he amused himself helping the woodcutters, carrying
tree trunks on his young shoulders. So, he carried little Colombel as
easily as a feather. It was a bird on his back, that corpse of a shrimp.
He hardly felt it,--he experienced an unholy joy in finding it so light,
so thin, so absolutely nothing. Little Colombel would never sneer at him
again, passing under his windows while he played the flute. He would
never again humiliate him with his witticisms in the town. With a
movement of the shoulder, he hoisted the body higher up, and, with set
teeth, hastened his steps.

The town was dark. Yet, there was light in Quatre-Femmes Square, in
Captain Pidoux's window. Doubtless, the captain was not feeling well;
his large profile could be seen passing back and forth behind the
curtains. Julien, anxious, slunk in the shadow of the houses. Suddenly,
a slight cough froze him. He hid in a doorway. He recognized the wife of
M. Savournin taking the air at her window. It seemed like fatality.
Ordinarily, at that hour, Quatre-Femmes Square slept soundly.
Fortunately, Madame Savournin soon returned to the side of M. Savournin,
whose snores could be heard on the pavement.

Julien quickly crossed the square and breathed more freely in the
narrowness of Beau-Soleil Street. There, the houses were so near
together that the light of the stars did not penetrate the shadowy
depths. As soon as he found himself thus sheltered, an irresistible
desire to run sent him forward in a furious gallop. It was dangerous and
stupid,--he knew it; but he still felt behind him the clear and empty
space of Quatre-Femmes Square, with the windows of Madame Savournin and
the captain lighted like two great eyes that watched him. His shoes made
such a noise on the stones that he thought himself followed. Suddenly,
he halted. He had heard, thirty yards away, the voices of the officers
who patronized the table d'hôte of the blond widow. They must have been
making merry over a punch, in honor of the exchange of one of their
comrades. The young man told himself that if they came up the street, he
was lost. There was no side street for him to turn into, and he would
not have time to go back. He listened to the tread of their boots and
the jingling of their swords with an anxiety that almost strangled him.
For a moment, he could not have told whether they were approaching or
going in the other direction. But the noises gradually grew fainter. He
waited, then went on softly. At last, he reached the city gate. He
passed through, but the sudden widening out of the country terrified
him. There was a blue haze over the earth; a fresh breeze stirred; and
it seemed to him that an immense crowd awaited him and breathed in his

Yet, there was the bridge. He could see the white roadway, the two
parapets, low and gray like granite benches; he could hear the crystal
music of the Chanteclair in the tall grasses. So, he risked it. He bent
over, avoiding open space as much as possible, fearing to be seen by the
thousand mute witnesses that he felt around him. The most terrible
ordeal would be on the bridge itself, where he would be exposed to the
view of the whole town, which was built like an amphitheatre. He had one
last wavering of the will,--and then he crossed the bridge.

He leaned over; he saw the surface with its ripples like smiles. That
was the spot. He unloaded his burden on the parapet. Before throwing the
body in, he had an irresistible impulse to look at little Colombel
again. He remained for several seconds face to face with the corpse. A
cart in the distance rumbled and creaked. So Julien made haste; and, to
avoid a noisy plunge, he let the body down slowly, leaning over as far
as possible. He did not know how it happened, but the arms of the corpse
caught around his neck and he was dragged over. He saved himself from
going down, by a miracle. Little Colombel wanted to take him with him.

When he found himself seated on the stone, he was taken with a fit of
weakness. He remained there, broken, his spine curved, his legs hanging,
in the relaxed attitude of a tired pedestrian. And he contemplated the
sleeping surface, where the laughing ripples had reappeared. One thing
was certain,--little Colombel had tried to drag him down with him.

Then, he recalled Therese. She was waiting for him. He could see her
standing at the head of the ruined steps, in her white silk dress with
its sweet briar blossoms, all white and their hearts touched with red.
But perhaps, she had felt cold and had gone to her room to wait for him.

No woman had ever waited for him before. Just one minute more, and then
he would be at the rendezvous! But his legs were numb, and he feared
that he would fall asleep. Was he a coward, then? And, to rouse himself,
he pictured Therese as he had seen her at her toilet. He saw again her
arms raised, moving her delicate elbows and her pale hands. He recalled
that room of terrible voluptuousness, where he had known a mad
intoxication. Was he to renounce that passion offered him, a foretaste
of which was burning his lips? No; he would sooner drag himself upon his
knees, if his legs refused to carry him!

But it was already a lost battle, in which his vanquished love had just
expired. The image of Therese paled; a black wall arose, separating him
from her. He had but one irresistible desire,--to sleep, to sleep
forever! He would not go to the office to-morrow,--it would be useless.
He would never again play the flute; he would never again sit by his
window. So, why not sleep forever? His existence was ended,--he could go
to bed. And he looked again at the river, trying to see if little
Colombel was still there.

The surface spread, dimpled by the rapid smiles of its currents The
Chanteclair sang musically, while the country softened under the shadow
of a sovereign peace. Julien murmured the name of "Therese." Then, he
let himself go, and, rolling over, he fell like a bundle into the water,
sending up great splashes of foam. And the Chanteclair continued its
song among the grasses.

When the two bodies were found, it was thought there had been a combat,
and a story was invented forthwith. Julien must have lain in wait for
little Colombel to avenge his mocking; and he must have jumped into the
river after killing his enemy with a blow on the temple.

Three months later, Mademoiselle Therese de Marsanne married the young
Count de Veteuil. She wore a white dress, and her face was beautiful in
its haughty purity.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "For a Night of Love" ***

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