“Everywhere obscene forms rise from the ground and spring, disordered, into a firmament which satanizes. The clouds swell into breasts, divide into buttocks, bulge as if with fecundity, scattering a train of spawn through space. They accord with the sombre bulging of the foliage, in which now there are only images of giant or dwarf hips, feminine triangles, great V’s, mouths of Sodom, glowing cicatrices, humid vents. This landscape of abomination changes. Gilles now sees on the trunks frightful cancers and horrible wens. He observes exostoses and ulcers, membranous sores, tubercular chancres, atrocious caries. It is an arboreal lazaret, a venereal clinic.
“And there, at a detour of the forest aisle, stands a mottled red beech.
“Amid the sanguinary falling leaves he feels that he has been spattered by a shower of blood. He goes into a rage. He conceives the delusion that beneath the bark lives a wood nymph, and he would feel with his hands the palpitant flesh of the goddess, he would trucidate the Dryad, violate her in a place unknown to the follies of men.
“He is jealous of the woodman who can murder, can massacre, the trees, and he raves. Tensely he listens and hears in the soughing wind a response to his cries of desire. Overwhelmed, he resumes his walk, weeping, until he arrives at the chateau and sinks to his bed exhausted, an inert mass.
“The phantoms take more definite shape, now that he sleeps. The lubric enlacements of the branches, dilated crevices and cleft mosses, the coupling of the diverse beings of the wood, disappear; the tears of the leaves whipped by the wind are dried; the white abscesses of the clouds are resorbed into the grey of the sky; and—in an awful silence—the incubi and succubi pass.
“The corpses of his victims, reduced to ashes and scattered, return to the larva state and attack his lower parts. He writhes, with the blood bursting his veins. He rebounds in a somersault, then he crawls to the crucifix, like a wolf, on all fours, and howling, strains his lips to the feet of the Christ.
“A sudden reaction overwhelms him. He trembles before the image whose convulsed face looks down on him. He adjures Christ to have pity, supplicates Him to spare a sinner, and sobs and weeps, and when, incapable of further effort, he whimpers, he hears, terrified, in his own voice, the lamentations of the children crying for their mothers and pleading for mercy.”
* * * * *
And Durtal, coming slowly out of the vision he had conjured up, closed his notebook and remarked, “Rather petty, my own spiritual conflict regarding a woman whose sin—like my own, to be sure—is commonplace and bourgeois.”
“Easy to find an excuse for this visit, though it will seem strange to Chantelouve, whom I have neglected for months,” said Durtal on his way toward the rue Bagneux. “Supposing he is home this evening—and he probably isn’t, because surely Hyacinthe will have seen to that—I can tell him that I have learned of his illness through Des Hermies and that I have come to see how he is getting along.”