“I’m quite done up,” remarked Helene, as she leaned against the dining-room door.
She fanned her face, flushed with her exertions in the dance. Her bosom rose and fell beneath the transparent grenadine of her bodice. And she was still conscious of Henri’s breath beating on her shoulders; he was still close to her—ever behind her. Now it flashed on her that he would speak, yet she had no strength to flee from his avowal. He came nearer and whispered, breathing on her hair: “I love you! oh, how I love you!”
She tingled from head to foot, as though a gust of flame had beaten on her. O God! he had spoken; she could no longer feign the pleasurable quietude of ignorance. She hid behind her fan, her face purple with blushes. The children, whirling madly in the last of the quadrilles, were making the floor ring with the beating of their feet. There were silvery peals of laughter, and bird-like voices gave vent to exclamations of pleasure. A freshness arose from all that band of innocents galloping round and round like little demons.
“I love you! oh, how I love you!”
She shuddered again; she would listen no further. With dizzy brain she fled into the dining-room, but it was deserted, save that Monsieur Letellier sat on a chair, peacefully sleeping. Henri had followed her, and had the hardihood to seize her wrists even at the risk of a scandal, his face convulsed with such passion that she trembled before him. And he still repeated the words:
“I love you! I love you!”
“Leave me,” she murmured faintly. “You are mad—”
And, close by, the dancing still went on, with the trampling of tiny feet. Blanche Berthier’s bells could be heard ringing in unison with the softer notes of the piano; Madame Deberle and Pauline were clapping their hands, by way of beating time. It was a polka, and Helene caught a glimpse of Jeanne and Lucien, as they passed by smiling, with arms clasped round each other.
But with a sudden jerk she freed herself and fled to an adjacent room —a pantry into which streamed the daylight. That sudden brightness blinded her. She was terror-stricken—she dared not return to the drawing-room with the tale of passion written so legibly on her face. So, hastily crossing the garden, she climbed to her own home, the noises of the ball-room still ringing in her ears.
Upstairs, in her own room, in the peaceful, convent-like atmosphere she found there, Helene experienced a feeling of suffocation. Her room astonished her, so calm, so secluded, so drowsy did it seem with its blue velvet hangings, while she came to it hotly panting with the emotion which thrilled her. Was this indeed her room, this dreary, lifeless nook, devoid of air? Hastily she threw open a window, and leaned out to gaze on Paris.