“Surely not,” said Chantelouve, his figure framed in the doorway. “The book of sins is an edition ne varietur. New sins cannot be invented, but old ones may be kept from falling into oblivion. Well, what is this sin of his?”
Durtal explained the theory.
“But it is simply a refined expression of succubacy. The consort is not one’s work become animate, but a succubus which by night takes that form.”
“Admit, at any rate, that this cerebral hermaphrodism, self-fecundation, is a distinguished vice at least—being the privilege of the artist—a vice reserved for the elect, inaccessible to the mob.”
“If you like exclusive obscenity—” laughed Chantelouve. “But I must get back to the lives of the saints; the atmosphere is fresher and more benign. So excuse me, Durtal. I leave it to my wife to continue this Marivaux conversation about Satanism with you.”
He said it in the simplest, most debonair fashion to be imagined, but with just the slightest trace of irony.
Which Durtal perceived. “It must be quite late,” he thought, when the door closed after Chantelouve. He consulted his watch. Nearly eleven. He rose to take leave.
“When shall I see you?” he murmured, very low.
“Your apartment tomorrow night at nine.”
He looked at her with beseeching eyes. She understood, but wished to tease him. She kissed him maternally on the forehead, then consulted his eyes again. The expression of supplication must have remained unchanged, for she responded to their imploration by a long kiss which closed them, then came down to his lips, drinking their dolorous emotion.
Then she rang and told her maid to light Durtal through the hall. He descended, satisfied that she had engaged herself to yield tomorrow night.
He began again, as on the other evening, to clean house and establish a methodical disorder. He slipped a cushion under the false disarray of the armchair, then he made roaring fires to have the rooms good and warm when she came.
But he was without impatience. That silent promise which he had obtained, that Mme. Chantelouve would not leave him panting this night, moderated him. Now that his uncertainty was at an end, he no longer vibrated with the almost painful acuity which hitherto her malignant delays had provoked. He soothed himself by poking the fire. His mind was still full of her, but plethoric, content. When his thoughts stirred at all it was, at the very most, to revolve the question, “How shall I go about it, when the time comes, so as not to be ridiculous?” This question, which had so harassed him the other night, left him troubled but inert. He did not try to solve it, but decided to leave everything to chance, since the best planned strategy was almost always abortive.