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- Therese Raquin - 3/39 -
--an effort of strength that turned her cheeks scarlet. The cloistered life she led, the debilitating regimen to which she found herself subjected, failed to weaken her thin, robust form. Only her face took a pale, and even a slightly yellowish tint, making her look almost ugly in the shade. Ever and anon she went to the window, and contemplated the opposite houses on which the sun threw sheets of gold.
When Madame Raquin sold her business, and withdrew to the little place beside the river, Therese experienced secret thrills of joy. Her aunt had so frequently repeated to her: "Don't make a noise; be quiet," that she kept all the impetuosity of her nature carefully concealed within her. She possessed supreme composure, and an apparent tranquillity that masked terrible transports. She still fancied herself in the room of her cousin, beside a dying child, and had the softened movements, the periods of silence, the placidity, the faltering speech of an old woman.
When she saw the garden, the clear river, the vast green hillocks ascending on the horizon, she felt a savage desire to run and shout. She felt her heart thumping fit to burst in her bosom; but not a muscle of her face moved, and she merely smiled when her aunt inquired whether she was pleased with her new home.
Life now became more pleasant for her. She maintained her supple gait, her calm, indifferent countenance, she remained the child brought up in the bed of an invalid; but inwardly she lived a burning, passionate existence. When alone on the grass beside the water, she would lie down flat on her stomach like an animal, her black eyes wide open, her body writhing, ready to spring. And she stayed there for hours, without a thought, scorched by the sun, delighted at being able to thrust her fingers in the earth. She had the most ridiculous dreams; she looked at the roaring river in defiance, imagining that the water was about to leap on her and attack her. Then she became rigid, preparing for the defence, and angrily inquiring of herself how she could vanquish the torrent.
At night, Therese, appeased and silent, stitched beside her aunt, with a countenance that seemed to be dozing in the gleam that softly glided from beneath the lamp shade. Camille buried in an armchair thought of his additions. A word uttered in a low voice, alone disturbed, at moments, the peacefulness of this drowsy home.
Madame Raquin observed her children with serene benevolence. She had resolved to make them husband and wife. She continued to treat her son as if he were at death's door; and she trembled when she happened to reflect that she would one day die herself, and would leave him alone and suffering. In that contingency, she relied on Therese, saying to herself that the young girl would be a vigilant guardian beside Camille. Her niece with her tranquil manner, and mute devotedness, inspired her with unlimited confidence. She had seen Therese at work, and wished to give her to her son as a guardian angel. This marriage was a solution to the matter, foreseen and settled in her mind.
The children knew for a long time that they were one day to marry. They had grown up with this idea, which had thus become familiar and natural to them. The union was spoken of in the family as a necessary and positive thing. Madame Raquin had said:
"We will wait until Therese is one-and-twenty."
And they waited patiently, without excitement, and without a blush.
Camille, whose blood had become impoverished by illness, had remained a little boy in the eyes of his cousin. He kissed her as he kissed his mother, by habit, without losing any of his egotistic tranquillity. He looked upon her as an obliging comrade who helped him to amuse himself, and who, if occasion offered, prepared him an infusion. When playing with her, when he held her in his arms, it was as if he had a boy to deal with. He experienced no thrill, and at these moments the idea had never occurred to him of planting a warm kiss on her lips as she struggled with a nervous laugh to free herself.
The girl also seemed to have remained cold and indifferent. At times her great eyes rested on Camille and fixedly gazed at him with sovereign calm. On such occasions her lips alone made almost imperceptible little motions. Nothing could be read on her expressionless countenance, which an inexorable will always maintained gentle and attentive. Therese became grave when the conversation turned to her marriage, contenting herself with approving all that Madame Raquin said by a sign of the head. Camille went to sleep.
On summer evenings, the two young people ran to the edge of the water. Camille, irritated at the incessant attentions of his mother, at times broke out in open revolt. He wished to run about and make himself ill, to escape the fondling that disgusted him. He would then drag Therese along with him, provoking her to wrestle, to roll in the grass. One day, having pushed his cousin down, the young girl bounded to her feet with all the savageness of a wild beast, and, with flaming face and bloodshot eyes, fell upon him with clenched fists. Camille in fear sank to the ground.
Months and years passed by, and at length the day fixed for the marriage arrived. Madame Raquin took Therese apart, spoke to her of her father and mother, and related to her the story of her birth. The young girl listened to her aunt, and when she had finished speaking, kissed her, without answering a word.
At night, Therese, instead of going into her own room, which was on the left of the staircase, entered that of her cousin which was on the right. This was all the change that occurred in her mode of life. The following day, when the young couple came downstairs, Camille had still his sickly languidness, his righteous tranquillity of an egotist. Therese still maintained her gentle indifference, and her restrained expression of frightful calmness.
A week after the marriage, Camille distinctly told his mother that he intended quitting Vernon to reside in Paris. Madame Raquin protested: she had arranged her mode of life, and would not modify it in any way. Thereupon her son had a nervous attack, and threatened to fall ill, if she did not give way to his whim.
"Never have I opposed you in your plans," said he; "I married my cousin, I took all the drugs you gave me. It is only natural, now, when I have a desire of my own, that you should be of the same mind. We will move at the end of the month."
Madame Raquin was unable to sleep all night. The decision Camille had come to, upset her way of living, and, in despair, she sought to arrange another existence for herself and the married couple. Little by little, she recovered calm. She reflected that the young people might have children, and that her small fortune would not then suffice. It was necessary to earn money, to go into business again, to find lucrative occupation for Therese. The next day she had become accustomed to the idea of moving, and had arranged a plan for a new life.
At luncheon she was quite gay.
"This is what we will do," said she to her children. "I will go to Paris to-morrow. There I will look out for a small mercery business for sale, and Therese and myself will resume selling needles and cotton, which will give us something to do. You, Camille, will act as you like. You can either stroll about in the sun, or you can find some employment."
"I shall find employment," answered the young man.
The truth was that an idiotic ambition had alone impelled Camille to leave Vernon. He wished to find a post in some important administration. He blushed with delight when he fancied he saw himself in the middle of a large office, with lustring elbow sleeves, and a pen behind his ear.
Therese was not consulted: she had always displayed such passive obedience that her aunt and husband no longer took the trouble to ask her opinion. She went where they went, she did what they did, without a complaint, without a reproach, without appearing even to be aware that she changed her place of residence.
Madame Raquin came to Paris, and went straight to the Arcade of the Pont Neuf. An old maid at Vernon had sent her to one of her relatives who in this arcade kept a mercery shop which she desired to get rid of. The former mercer found the shop rather small, and rather dark; but, in passing through Paris, she had been taken aback by the noise in the streets, by the luxuriously dressed windows, and this narrow gallery, this modest shop front, recalled her former place of business which was so peaceful. She could fancy herself again in the provinces, and she drew a long breath thinking that her dear children would be happy in this out-of-the-way corner. The low price asked for the business, caused her to make up her mind. The owner sold it her for 2,000 francs, and the rent of the shop and first floor was only 1,200 francs a year. Madame Raquin, who had close upon 4,000 francs saved up, calculated that she could pay for the business and settle the rent for the first year, without encroaching on her fortune. The salary Camille would be receiving, and the profit on the mercery business would suffice, she thought, to meet the daily expenses; so that she need not touch the income of her funded money, which would capitalise, and go towards providing marriage portions for her grandchildren.
She returned to Vernon beaming with pleasure, relating that she had found a gem, a delightful little place right in the centre of Paris. Little by little, at the end of a few days, in her conversations of an evening, the damp, obscure shop in the arcade became a palace; she pictured it to herself, so far as her memory served her, as convenient, spacious, tranquil, and replete with a thousand inestimable advantages.
"Ah! my dear Therese," said she, "you will see how happy we shall be in that nook! There are three beautiful rooms upstairs. The arcade is full of people. We will make charming displays. There is no fear of our feeling dull."
But she did not stop there. All her instinct of a former shopkeeper was awakened. She gave advice to Therese, beforehand, as to buying and selling, and posted her up in all the tricks of small tradespeople. At length, the family quitted the house beside the Seine, and on the evening of the same day, were installed in the Arcade of the Pont Neuf.
When Therese entered the shop, where in future she was to live, it seemed to her that she was descending into the clammy soil of a grave. She felt quite disheartened, and shivered with fear. She looked at the dirty, damp gallery, visited the shop, and ascending to the first floor, walked round each room. These bare apartments, without furniture, looked frightful in their solitude and dilapidation. The
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