CHAPTER IV

The first to arrive in the dining-room, I set out our provisions on the table: a cold yet most respectable supper, which I had brought with us from Paris. Champagne, too, — iced to perfection in her Thermos-flask.

Red carnations were standing dormant in a vase, and these I scattered over the table-cloth, where their colour suddenly appeared to become brighter. Then, awaiting the somewhat tardy Therese, I sat down. I felt slightly scatter-brained, yet profoundly calm, — nay, rather humiliated by the complete torpor of my feelings.

Therese made a brilliant arrival. With her blonde tresses coiled around her head, she had formed a sort of diadem, suggestive of some exotic Grand Duchess or other. She was truly most beautiful in her immaculately white, low-cut gown. Moreover, I recognized it to be the one she had worn on the day of our betrothal. Was this intentional?

Did she wish to suggest to me the chaste thoughts of a still timid fiance? I hardly appreciated this call to order; but at my wife’s first words I began to repent for the baseness of my suspicions.

“Do you remember, darling, how much you liked this dress? It was on the day of your arrival; at long last you returned to me from that distant East, and to me it was, as it were, a true wedding-day. I wanted to put it on again today, so that you may love me as much as you did on your return.”

I thanked Therese with a look of admiration; but my silence made her uneasy.

“Is my darling very very sad? He doesn’t even kiss his little wife, to congratulate her?”

But my desire was again awakened by the brilliant nudity of her throat and shoulders, and, still in fear of my dangerous reflexes of the afternoon, I dare not kiss her.

“Not immediately, darling. Let me get used to seeing you like this.”

“But you saw me like this already-a fortnight ago.

“With other eyes.”

“Do you love me less already?”

“It’s naughty of you to put it that way! Seriously, darling, if sometimes I appear strange to you and difficult to understand, just tell yourself that I love you too deeply and that… that I shall suffer so long as you are not absolutely my wife.”

Therese sat down to table without replying. She began to put on the airs of an affected Marchioness and sought to make me laugh. But I could not for the life of me succeed in reaching her pitch and the irritation I felt against myself increased my uneasiness. Was I going to oscillate incessantly between brutality and sullenness? Therese’s roguishness rang false and clashed with my silence; and soon, like an amateur conjurer who is intimidated by an indifferent audience, she became discouraged. Bringing her little game to an end, she gazed earnestly at me.

“Listen, my dear, I should like to say something to you. Only you must promise not to take advantage of it.”

With a movement of my head, I acquiesced.

“You promise?… Well, I want to confess to you that… I feel not the slightest regret for what happened-not a single action on your part — a short time ago. Since then you have shown exquisite delicacy towards me. However, I believe I should have appreciated it less if I had not seen you so… well as you were at the time of our coming here.

And later, when I understand everything better, it seems to me that I shall cherish that recollection, — that I shall love to picture you, once more, so crazy, so fantastically crazy on the occasion of our very first moment of solitude.”

“Yes, later. But for the time being I should prefer that you think of it no more.”

“Oh! no. On the contrary, I want to let my mind dwell on it, in order the better to feel that I love you.”

She reflected and then, as though speaking to herself, continued:

“…in order the better to feel that I love you ever so much more, already, than before our arrival here.”

Her final words were uttered in a low voice, as though her instinct gave consent, but with the disapprobation of her mind. However, this very conflict made her confession more precious to me. In the midst of the trial I had imposed on myself, so that my wife, with her whole soul and flesh, would accept the fleshly rites, it seemed to me that already her body was conniving with my feelings. I had promised not to take advantage of her confession; but, indifferent to this promise, and as though it were a being foreign to myself, my sex began to stiffen at the thought of the possibility of immediate possession. Was there not the assurance of pardon in advance? — had it not been even suggested?

Momentarily I closed my eyes, so as to relish to the full the image evoked by my desire, — the intimate contact of my imprisoned flesh within her conquered garden.

When, again, I looked in her direction, Therese smiled at me, — a most tender smile. However, as though she had suspected my mental treason, her eyes became veiled with a certain sadness. Then, from the bottom of my heart there welled a silent feeling of humility, a mute protest of loyalty. I had said “no” to my intractable desire, and I was sure of being able to dominate it, because I realized that Therese was so weak, so ready for all forms of indulgence. It was no longer against myself alone, it was against our joint instincts-already accomplices-I had now to struggle. But, stronger through all the hope springing through that complicity, I felt sure of being able to bridle their blind impatience, — until the time came when, in the full consciousness of her desire, my wife would give herself to me voluntarily.

Therese’s confession-dispelling the restraint which weighed upon us-now inspired a paean of victory in my heart. Joy at regaining confidence in myself, — joy at the thought of a future which had again become luminous! Therese read that joy in my eyes. Seizing one of the crimson carnations and kissing it, she exclaimed “Ready!” and cast the bloom in my face. Our dinner concluded amidst an atmosphere of gaiety which, but a short time before, had certainly never been my hope.

With a thousand burlesque ceremonies, Therese led me to an armchair and made me sit down, while she occupied herself with clearing away. All she had to do, however, was to place the remains of our little dinner in a turning-box (like that in convents), whence they could be removed from the outside, without disturbing our solitude. For the master of the house had seen to all intimate refinements; and we might have wandered about stark naked from cellar to garret without fear of any indiscreet surprise.

Momentarily I imagined myself in that condition, without, however, the slightest libidinous idea: above all I evoked the well-being of a state of nudity on such an exceedingly hot evening as that was. But I kept that innocent little dream to myself. My wife is not fond of that kind of humour and never will be. After many months of marriage, during which we have practiced every form of voluptuousness and obeyed every suggestion of an unfettered imagination, she would still take offence at a risky joke or vulgar gesture. The passionate priestess of our fleshly delights, and capable of overcoming all sense of shame amidst the intoxication of the senses, she would never, on the other hand, sanction either those sacrilegious pleasantries or needless indecencies which profane love without enriching sensual pleasure.

While clearing the table, Therese resumed her pranks. This time she was no longer the Marchioness of the top of a sweet-meat box but a smart little maid who scamped her household duties in order to join her lover as quickly as possible. Then she tripped towards me and, after claiming a kiss for her mimicry, sat down on my knees. Under the warm pressure of her thighs and owing to the thinness of our clothing, my sex began to swell with desire; and in response to its dull pulsations came the accelerated throbbing of my temples. With my left arm bent, I made a support for Therese, while with my free hand I pressed her legs against me, so as to prevent this hand, against my will, from fondling her breasts, which were so tantalizingly accessible beneath her lowcut dress.

Therese brought her lips to my mouth and kissed me most passionately.

I responded by advancing my tongue. For a moment her lips resisted and even drew back a little; but suddenly they half-opened, in a sort of ardent aspiration, as though they were drinking at an unknown spring.

And while with my tongue I slowly, lightly caressed those offered lips, Therese remained in a state of complete immobility, hardly breathing, and with her voluptuous attention at full stretch. Meanwhile, similar to those ground-swells which suddenly disturb the apparent calmness of the sea, a great shiver ran through her body and set her trembling when, on separating her lips, my caress became more active and persistent. Then, again, Therese surrendered herself, almost in a swoon, as though all the life in her were taking refuge in the acceptation of an unsuspected pleasure.

When, much later, I interrupted this caress, her own tongue, in its turn, advanced, slowly following the outline of my lips, — moistening and penetrating them. And soon, on this arranged double theme, we played a thousand alternated variations. Our lips set traps for us, momentarily refusing the offered tongue, so as to seize it afterwards, imprison it, and rob it of all its saliva. A clock struck the hours; but I was incapable of counting them. However, what did that matter to me?

Time had become, as it were, an inconsistent fog… Then, once more, a tremor passed through my beloved; she opened her eyes and, gently repulsing me, murmured:

“My darling, I can’t stand it any longer: your little wife is positively shattered.”

To guard her mouth from my caresses, she leaned against my neck, but her tongue continued to bestow light and furtive kisses upon me. On raising her head, she seemed appeased and smiled at me.

“I should have liked to surrender myself to your tenderness eternally; but, really, I believe I should have ended by fainting. It was as though there were a dissociation of my whole body. You cannot know into what a state you threw me.”

Alas! I knew that full well. I was well aware of that anguish of instinct, of her instinct more conscious than she was of our desire. But it was still too soon. I remained silent.

“My darling is not annoyed, — is he? He is my all-powerful Lord and I should like-oh! I should like so intensely to be wholly his slave. Yet, in spite of myself…”

Apparently embarrassed by my look, she drew my head nearer to her and rested her cheek against my eyes.

“Yes, despite myself, I remain somewhat timid.”

“Have I been clumsy again? Are you annoyed with me?”

“Oh! no. On the contrary, I am deliciously surprised. Even a little astonished that such dizziness-so sweet, so ineffably sweet-can be bought without pain. But I know that, sooner or later, you will hurt me, — that you must hurt me.”

“People have been frightening you needlessly, darling.”

“I’m not frightened on my own account. When I’m in the state into which you threw me just now, you could indeed do anything you like with me. But I am anxious on account of our love. I fear the moment when the infinitely tender and delicate being you are to-night must appear to me more violent and… how can I express it?”

“Say what you have got to say, without fear.”

“Rather bestial perhaps. But understand me clearly. I confessed it to you to-night; and I would pardon you for anything now. Only, I would first of all be saturated with your tenderness, up to the point of no longer having even to pardon you, — up to the point of accepting everything without a feeling of revolt, since I should have lost all willpower under your caresses.”

For a time we remained silent. Then she continued:

“You must find me stupidly complicated, my poor dearie. Maybe I was wrong in remaining voluntarily ignorant of too many things. But I attached such great importance to this great mystery: so ardently did I desire never to approach it until I was in a state of grace.”

“I attach an equal importance to it, darling. Nay, a more self-conscious importance, though from a different point of view. Later I will tell you how ardently-over there, in my distant place of exile-I desired your body. But I also loved the profoundness of your soul, your intelligence and seriousness, because they seemed to me to be the pledge of a richer love, because… It’s difficult to explain to you, — and I fear to give offence to your sense of delicacy.”

“Oh! no, speak on. Am I not your wife? — your loving wife? What do you want to say to me?”

“That, in advance, your very intelligence, your mystic soul brought me a promise of pleasurable sensations-of fleshly voluptuousness. I read therein the certainty of a more ardent intimacy of our flesh, because it would be nourished by all the resources of your soul as well as by your bodily instincts. Nevertheless I misunderstood you.”

“You?”

“I was incapable of seeing that all this perfection I love in you is a delicate plant. I failed to understand with what warm and patient tenderness it must be surrounded to bring it to florescence, — to make it bloom with the intense passion of which I knew you were capable. To open my eyes another person was necessary, — and I will tell you more on that score. On the other hand, since then I have reflected and taken an oath… But, after the unspeakable incident of this afternoon, you will not believe me.”

“Come now, darling, let me say once more that I love you all the more on that account. Moreover, you know quite well what absolute faith I have in your loyalty, although it may momentarily break down under the stress of that madness… That state of madness which is not yourself, — and which some day, perhaps, will be what I love most in you.”

“The oath I have taken-and I believe, despite everything, that I shall have the strength to keep it-is to wait until the moment when, with your entire consent-knowingly, you will surrender yourself. And now I wish you no longer to have the slightest fear, neither for yourself nor for our love, knowing that on you alone depends the hour for our complete union”.

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