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- Therese Raquin - 6/39 -
Laurent, raising his head, saw Therese mute and motionless opposite, gazing at him with ardent fixedness. Her dull black eyes seemed like two fathomless holes, and through her parted lips could be perceived the rosy tint of the inside of her mouth. She seemed as if overpowered by what she heard, and lost in thought. She continued listening.
Laurent looked from Therese to Camille, and the former painter restrained a smile. He completed his phrase by a broad voluptuous gesture, which the young woman followed with her eyes. They were at dessert, and Madame Raquin had just run downstairs to serve a customer.
When the cloth was removed Laurent, who for some minutes had been thoughtful, turned to Camille.
"You know," he blurted out, "I must paint your portrait."
This idea delighted Madame Raquin and her son, but Therese remained silent.
"It is summer-time," resumed Laurent, "and as we leave the office at four o'clock, I can come here, and let you give me a sitting for a couple of hours in the evening. The picture will be finished in a week."
"That will be fine," answered Camille, flushed with joy. "You shall dine with us. I will have my hair curled, and put on my black frock coat."
Eight o'clock struck. Grivet and Michaud made their entry. Olivier and Suzanne arrived behind them.
When Camille introduced his friend to the company, Grivet pinched his lips. He detested Laurent whose salary, according to his idea, had risen far too rapidly. Besides, the introduction of a new comer was quite an important matter, and the guests of the Raquins could not receive an individual unknown to them, without some display of coldness.
Laurent behaved very amicably. He grasped the situation, and did his best to please the company, so as to make himself acceptable to them at once. He related anecdotes, enlivened the party by his merry laughter, and even won the friendship of Grivet.
That evening Therese made no attempt to go down to the shop. She remained seated on her chair until eleven o'clock, playing and talking, avoiding the eyes of Laurent, who for that matter did not trouble himself about her. The sanguineous temperament of this strapping fellow, his full voice and jovial laughter, troubled the young woman and threw her into a sort of nervous anguish.
Henceforth, Laurent called almost every evening on the Raquins. He lived in the Rue Saint-Victor, opposite the Port aux Vins, where he rented a small furnished room at 18 francs a month. This attic, pierced at the top by a lift-up window, measured barely nine square yards, and Laurent was in the habit of going home as late as possible at night. Previous to his meeting with Camille, the state of his purse not permitting him to idle away his time in the cafes, he loitered at the cheap eating-houses where he took his dinner, smoking his pipe and sipping his coffee and brandy which cost him three sous. Then he slowly gained the Rue Saint-Victor, sauntering along the quays, where he seated himself on the benches, in mild weather.
The shop in the Arcade of the Pont Neuf became a charming retreat, warm and quiet, where he found amicable conversation and attention. He saved the three sous his coffee and brandy cost him, and gluttonously swallowed the excellent tea prepared by Madame Raquin. He remained there until ten o'clock, dozing and digesting as if he were at home; and before taking his departure, assisted Camille to put up the shutters and close the shop for the night.
One evening, he came with his easel and box of colours. He was to commence the portrait of Camille on the morrow. A canvas was purchased, minute preparations made, and the artist at last took the work in hand in the room occupied by the married couple, where Laurent said the light was the best.
He took three evenings to draw the head. He carefully trailed the charcoal over the canvas with short, sorry strokes, his rigid, cold drawing recalling in a grotesque fashion that of the primitive masters. He copied the face of Camille with a hesitating hand, as a pupil copies an academical figure, with a clumsy exactitude that conveyed a scowl to the face. On the fourth day, he placed tiny little dabs of colour on his palette, and commenced painting with the point of the brush; he then dotted the canvas with small dirty spots, and made short strokes altogether as if he had been using a pencil.
At the end of each sitting, Madame Raquin and Camille were in ecstasies. But Laurent said they must wait, that the resemblance would soon come.
Since the portrait had been commenced, Therese no longer quitted the room, which had been transformed into a studio. Leaving her aunt alone behind the counter, she ran upstairs at the least pretext, and forgot herself watching Laurent paint.
Still grave and oppressed, paler and more silent, she sat down and observed the labour of the brushes. But this sight did not seem to amuse her very much. She came to the spot, as though attracted by some power, and she remained, as if riveted there. Laurent at times turned round, with a smile, inquiring whether the portrait pleased her. But she barely answered, a shiver ran through her frame, and she resumed her meditative trance.
Laurent, returning at night to the Rue Saint-Victor, reasoned with himself at length, discussing in his mind, whether he should become the lover of Therese, or not.
"Here is a little woman," said he to himself, "who will be my sweetheart whenever I choose. She is always there, behind my back, examining, measuring me, summing me up. She trembles. She has a strange face that is mute and yet impassioned. What a miserable creature that Camille is, to be sure."
And Laurent inwardly laughed as he thought of his pale, thin friend. Then he resumed:
"She is bored to death in that shop. I go there, because I have nowhere else to go to, otherwise they would not often catch me in the Arcade of the Pont Neuf. It is damp and sad. A woman must be wearied to death there. I please her, I am sure of it; then, why not me rather than another?"
He stopped. Self-conceit was getting the better of him. Absorbed in thought, he watched the Seine running by.
"Anyhow, come what may," he exclaimed, "I shall kiss her at the first opportunity. I bet she falls at once into my arms."
As he resumed his walk, he was seized with indecision.
"But she is ugly," thought he. "She has a long nose, and a big mouth. Besides, I have not the least love for her. I shall perhaps get myself into trouble. The matter requires reflection."
Laurent, who was very prudent, turned these thoughts over in his head for a whole week. He calculated all the possible inconveniences of an intrigue with Therese, and only decided to attempt the adventure, when he felt convinced that it could be attended by no evil consequences. Therese would have every interest to conceal their intimacy, and he could get rid of her whenever he pleased. Even admitting that Camille discovered everything, and got angry, he would knock him down, if he became spiteful. From every point of view that matter appeared to Laurent easy and engaging.
Henceforth he enjoyed gentle quietude, waiting for the hour to strike. He had made up his mind to act boldly at the first opportunity. In the future he saw comfortable evenings, with all the Raquins contributing to his enjoyment: Therese giving him her love, Madame Raquin wheedling him like a mother, and Camille chatting with him so that he might not feel too dull, at night, in the shop.
The portrait was almost completed, but the opportunity he desired did not occur. Therese, depressed and anxious, continued to remain in the room. But so did Camille, and Laurent was in despair at being unable to get rid of him. Nevertheless, the time came when he found himself obliged to mention that the portrait would be finished on the morrow, and Madame Raquin thereupon announced that they would celebrate the completion of the work of the artist by dining together.
The next day, when Laurent had given the canvas the last touch, all the family assembled to go into raptures over the striking resemblance. The portrait was vile, a dirty grey colour with large violescent patches. Laurent could not use even the brightest colours, without making them dull and muddy. In spite of himself he had exaggerated the wan complexion of his model, and the countenance of Camille resembled the greenish visage of a person who had met death by drowning. The grimacing drawing threw the features into convulsions, thus rendering the sinister resemblance all the more striking. But Camille was delighted; he declared that he had the appearance of a person of distinction on the canvas.
When he had thoroughly admired his own face, he declared he would go and fetch a couple of bottles of champagne. Madame Raquin went down to the shop, and the artist was alone with Therese.
The young woman had remained seated, gazing vaguely in front of her. Laurent hesitated. He examined the portrait, and played with his brushes. There was not much time to lose. Camille might come back, and the opportunity would perhaps not occur again. The painter abruptly turned round, and found himself face to face with Therese.
They contemplated one another for a few seconds. Then, with a violent movement, Laurent bent down, and pressed the young woman to him. Throwing back her head he crushed her mouth beneath his lips. She made a savage, angry effort at revolt, and, then all at once gave in. They exchanged not a word. The act was silent and brutal.
The two sweethearts from the commencement found their intrigue necessary, inevitable and quite natural. At their first interview they conversed familiarly, kissing one another without embarrassment, and without a blush, as if their intimacy had dated back several years.
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