He had no cause to regret his complaisance. Seated beside Madame de Montalais, he watched her operate the car with skilful hands, making the best of a highway none too good, if a city boulevard in comparison with that which they had covered in the barouche.
Following the meandering Dourbie, it ran snakily from patches of staring moonlight to patches of inky shadows, now on narrow ledges high over the brawling stream, now dipping so low that the tyres were almost level with the plane of broken waters.
The sweep of night air in his face was sweet and smooth, not cold—for a marvel in that altitude—and stroked his eyelids with touches as bland as caresses of a pretty woman’s fingers. He was sensible of drowsiness, a surrender to fatigue, to which the motion of the motor car, swung seemingly on velvet springs, and the shifting, blending chiaroscuro of the magic night were likewise conducive. So that there came a lessening of the tension of resentment in his humour.
It was true that Life would never let him rest in the quiet byways of his desire; but after all, unrest was Life; and it was good to be alive tonight, alive and weary and not ill-content with self, in a motor car swinging swiftly and silently along a river road in the hills of Southern France, with a woman lovely, soignee and mysterious at the wheel.
Perhaps instinctively sensible of the regard that dwelt, warm with wonder, on the fair curve of her cheek, the perfect modelling of her nose and mouth, she looked swiftly askance, after a time, surprised his admiration, and as if not displeased smiled faintly as she returned attention to the road.
Duchemin was conscious of something like a shock of emotion, a sudden surging of some hunger that had long lain dormant in his being, unsuspected, how long he could not surmise, gaining strength in latency, waiting to be awakened and set free by one careless, sidelong look and smile of a strange woman.
“Eve,” he whispered, unheard, “Eve de Montalais ...”
Then of a sudden he caught himself up sharply. It was natural enough that one should be susceptible to gentler impulses, at such a time, under circumstances so strange, so unforeseen, so romantic; but he must not, dared not, would not yield. That way danger lay.
Not that he feared danger; for like most of mankind he loved it well.
But here the danger held potentialities if not the certainty of pain—pain, it might be, not for one alone.
Besides, it was too absurd ....
Phinuit & co.