He had begun to read the novel a few days before. He had put it down because of
some urgent business conferences, opened it again on his way back to the estate
by train; he permitted himself a slowly growing interest in the plot, in the characterization.
That afternoon, after writing a letter giving his power of attorney and discussing
a matter of joint ownership with the manager of his estate, he returned to the
book in the tranquillity of his study which looked out upon the park with its
oaks. Sprawled on his favorite armchair, its back toward the door--even the possibility
of an intrusion would have irritated him, had he thought of it--he let his left
hand caress repeatedly the green velvet upholstery and set to reading the final
chapters. He remembered effortlessly the names and his mental image of the characters;
the novel spread its glamour over him almost at once. He tasted the almost perverse
pleasure of disengaging himself line by line from the things around him, and at
the same time feeling his head rest comfortably on the green velvet of the chair
with its high back, sensing that the cigarettes rested within reach of his hands,
that beyond the great windows the air of afternoon danced under the oak trees
in the park. Word by word, licked up by the sordid dilemma of the hero and heroine,
letting himself be absorbed to the point where the images settled down and took
on color and movement, he was witness to the final encounter in the mountain cabin.
The woman arrived first, apprehensive; now the lover came, his face cut by the
backlash of a branch. Admirably, she stanched the blood with her kisses, but he
rebuffed her caresses, he had not come to perform again the ceremonies of a secret
passion, protected by a world of dry leaves and furtive paths through the forest.
The dagger warmed itself against his chest, and underneath liberty pounded, hidden
close. A lustful, panting dialogue raced down the pages like a rivulet of snakes,
and one felt it had all been decided from eternity. Even to those caresses which
writhed about the lover's body, as though wishing to keep him there, to dissuade
him from it; they sketched abominably the frame of that other body it was necessary
to destroy. Nothing had been forgotten: alibis, unforeseen hazards, possible mistakes.
From this hour on, each instant had its use minutely assigned. The cold-blooded,
twice-gone-over reexamination of the details was barely broken off so that a hand
could caress a cheek. It was beginning to get dark.
Not looking at one another now, rigidly fixed upon the task which awaited them,
they separated at the cabin door. She was to follow the trail that lead north.
On the path leading in the opposite direction, he turned for a moment to watch
her running, her hair loosened and flying. He ran in turn, crouching among the
trees and hedges until, in the yellowish fog of dusk, he could distinguish the
avenue of trees which led up to the house. The dogs were not supposed to bark,
they did not bark. The estate manager would not be there at this hour, and he
was not there. The woman's words reached him over the thudding of blood in his
ears: first a blue chamber, then a hall, then a carpeted stairway. At the top,
two doors. No one in the first room, no one in the second. The door of the salon,
and then, the knife in hand, the light from the great windows, the high back
of an armchair covered in green velvet, the head of the man in the chair reading