The following nights proved still more cruel. The murderers had wished to pass this part of the twenty-four hours together, so as to be able to defend themselves against the drowned man, and by a strange effect, since they had been doing so, they shuddered the more. They were exasperated, and their nerves so irritated, that they underwent atrocious attacks of suffering and terror, at the exchange of a simple word or look. At the slightest conversation between them, at the least talk, they had alone, they began raving, and were ready to draw blood.
The sort of remorse Laurent experienced was purely physical. His body, his irritated nerves and trembling frame alone were afraid of the drowned man. His conscience was for nothing in his terror. He did not feel the least regret at having killed Camille. When he was calm, when the spectre did not happen to be there, he would have committed the murder over again, had he thought his interests absolutely required it.
During the daytime he laughed at himself for his fright, making up his mind to be stronger, and he harshly rebuked Therese, whom he accused of troubling him. According to what he said, it was Therese who shuddered, it was Therese alone who brought on the frightful scenes, at night, in the bedroom. And, as soon as night came, as soon as he found himself shut in with his wife, icy perspiration pearled on his skin, and his frame shook with childish terror.
He thus underwent intermittent nervous attacks that returned nightly, and threw his senses into confusion while showing him the hideous green face of his victim. These attacks resembled the accesses of some frightful illness, a sort of hysteria of murder. The name of illness, of nervous affection, was really the only one to give to the terror that Laurent experienced. His face became convulsed, his limbs rigid, his nerves could be seen knotting beneath his skin. The body suffered horribly, while the spirit remained absent. The wretch felt no repentance. His passion for Therese had conveyed a frightful evil to him, and that was all.
Therese also found herself a prey to these heavy shocks. But, in her terror, she showed herself a woman: she felt vague remorse, unavowed regret. She, at times, had an inclination to cast herself on her knees and beseech the spectre of Camille to pardon her, while swearing to appease it by repentance. Maybe Laurent perceived these acts of cowardice on the part of Therese, for when they were agitated by the common terror, he laid the blame on her, and treated her with brutality.
On the first nights, they were unable to go to bed. They waited for daylight, seated before the fire, or pacing to and fro as on the evening of the wedding-day. The thought of lying down, side by side, on the bed, caused them a sort of terrifying repugnance. By tacit consent, they avoided kissing one another, and they did not even look at their couch, which Therese tumbled about in the morning.
When overcome with fatigue, they slept for an hour or two in the armchairs, to awaken with a start, under the influence of the sinister denouement of some nightmare. On awakening, with limbs stiff and tired, shivering all over with discomfort and cold, their faces marbled with livid blotches, they contemplated one another in bewilderment astonished to see themselves there. And they displayed strange bashfulness towards each other, ashamed at showing their disgust and terror.
But they struggled against sleep as much as they could. They seated themselves, one on each side of the chimney, and talked of a thousand trifles, being very careful not to let the conversation drop. There was a broad space between them in front of the fire. When they turned their heads, they imagined that Camille had drawn a chair there, and occupied this space, warming his feet in a lugubrious, bantering fashion. This vision, which they had seen on the evening of the wedding-day, returned each night.
And this corpse taking a mute, but jeering part, in their interviews, this horribly disfigured body ever remaining there, overwhelmed them with continued anxiety. Not daring to move, they half blinded themselves staring at the scorching flames, and, when unable to resist any longer, they cast a timid glance aside, their eyes irritated by the glowing coal, created the vision, and conveyed to it a reddish glow.
Laurent, in the end, refused to remain seated any longer, without avowing the cause of this whim to Therese. The latter understood that he must see Camille as she saw him; and, in her turn, she declared that the heat made her feel ill, and that she would be more comfortable a few steps away from the chimney. Pushing back her armchair to the foot of the bed, she remained there overcome, while her husband resumed his walk in the room. From time to time, he opened the window, allowing the icy air of the cold January night to fill the apartment, and this calmed his fever.
For a week, the newly-married couple passed the nights in this fashion, dozing and getting a little rest in the daytime, Therese behind the counter in the shop, Laurent in his office. At night they belonged to pain and fear. And the strangest part of the whole business was the attitude they maintained towards each other. They did not utter one word of love, but feigned to have forgotten the past; and seemed to accept, to tolerate one another like sick people, feeling secret pity for their mutual sufferings.
Both hoped to conceal their disgust and fear, and neither seemed to think of the peculiar nights they passed, which should have enlightened them as to the real state of their beings. When they sat up until morning, barely exchanging a word, turning pale at the least sound, they looked as if they thought all newly-married folk conducted themselves in the same way, during the first days of their marriage. This was the clumsy hypocrisy of two fools.
They were soon so overcome by weariness that they one night decided to lie on the bed. They did not undress, but threw themselves, as they were, on the quilt, fearing lest their bare skins should touch, for they fancied they would receive a painful shock at the least contact. Then, when they had slept thus, in an anxious sleep, for two nights, they risked removing their clothes, and slipping between the sheets. But they remained apart, and took all sorts of precautions so as not to come together.
Therese got into bed first, and lay down close to the wall. Laurent waited until she had made herself quite comfortable, and then ventured to stretch himself out at the opposite edge of the mattress, so that there was a broad space between them. It was there that the corpse of Camille lay.
When the two murderers were extended under the same sheet, and had closed their eyes, they fancied they felt the damp corpse of their victim, lying in the middle of the bed, and turning their flesh icy cold. It was like a vile obstacle separating them. They were seized with fever and delirium, and this obstacle, in their minds, became material. They touched the corpse, they saw it spread out, like a greenish and dissolved shred of something, and they inhaled the infectious odour of this lump of human putrefaction. All their senses were in a state of hallucination, conveying intolerable acuteness to their sensations.
The presence of this filthy bedfellow kept them motionless, silent, abstracted with anguish. Laurent, at times, thought of taking Therese violently in his arms; but he dared not move. He said to himself that he could not extend his hand, without getting it full of the soft flesh of Camille. Next he fancied that the drowned man came to sleep between them so as to prevent them clasping one another, and he ended by understanding that Camille was jealous.
Nevertheless, ever and anon, they sought to exchange a timid kiss, to see what would happen. The young man jeered at his wife, and ordered her to embrace him. But their lips were so cold that it seemed as if the dead man had got between their mouths. Both felt disgusted. Therese shuddered with horror, and Laurent who heard her teeth chattering, railed at her:
"Why are you trembling?" he exclaimed. "Are you afraid of Camille? Ah! the poor man is as dead as a doornail at this moment."
Both avoided saying what made them shudder. When an hallucination brought the countenance of the drowned man before Therese, she closed her eyes, keeping her terror to herself, not daring to speak to her husband of her vision, lest she should bring on a still more terrible crisis. And it was just the same with Laurent. When driven to extremities, he, in a fit of despair, accused Therese of being afraid of Camille. The name, uttered aloud, occasioned additional anguish. The murderer raved.
"Yes, yes," he stammered, addressing the young woman, "you are afraid of Camille. I can see that plain enough! You are a silly thing, you have no pluck at all. Look here! just go to sleep quietly. Do you think your husband will come and pull you out of bed by the heels, because I happen to be sleeping with you?"
This idea that the drowned man might come and pull them out of bed by the heels, made the hair of Laurent stand on end, and he continued with greater violence, while still in the utmost terror himself.
"I shall have to take you some night to the cemetery. We will open the coffin Camille is in, and you will see what he looks like! Then you will perhaps cease being afraid. Go on, he doesn't know we threw him in the water."
Therese with her head under the bedclothes, was uttering smothered groans.
"We threw him into the water, because he was in our way," resumed her husband. "And we'll throw him in again, will we not? Don't act like a child. Show a little strength. It's silly to trouble our happiness. You see, my dear, when we are dead and underground, we shall be neither less nor more happy, because we cast an idiot in the Seine, and we shall have freely enjoyed our love which will have been an advantage. Come, give me a kiss."
The young woman kissed him, but she was icy cold, and half crazy, while he shuddered as much as she did.
For a fortnight Laurent was asking himself how he could kill Camille again. He had flung him in the water; and yet he was not dead enough, because he came every night to sleep in the bed of Therese. While the murderers thought that having committed the crime, they could love one another in peace, their resuscitated victim arrived to make their touch like ice. Therese was not a widow. Laurent found that he was mated to a woman who already had a drowned man for husband.