Whereupon she went out.
For about a minute Maxence remained stupefied at this sudden denouement; and, when he had recovered his presence of mind and his voice, Mlle. Lucienne had disappeared, and he could hear her bolting her door, and striking a match against the wall.
He might also have thought that he was awaking from a dream, had he not had, to attest the reality, the vague perfume which filled his room, and the light shawl, which Mlle. Lucienne wore as she came in, and which she had forgotten, on a chair.
The night was almost ended: six o’clock had just struck. Still he did not feel in the least sleepy. His head was heavy, his temples throbbing, his eyes smarting. Opening his window, he leaned out to breathe the morning air. The day was dawning pale and cold. A furtive and livid light glanced along the damp walls of the narrow court of the Hotel des Folies, as at the bottom of a well. Already arose those confused noises which announce the waking of Paris, and above which can be heard the sonorous rolling of the milkmen’s carts, the loud slamming of doors, and the sharp sound of hurrying steps on the hard pavement.
But soon Maxence felt a chill coming over him. He closed the window, threw some wood in the chimney, and stretched himself on his chair, his feet towards the fire. It was a most serious event which had just occurred in his existence; and, as much as he could, he endeavored to measure its bearings, and to calculate its consequences in the future.
He kept thinking of the story of that strange girl, her haughty frankness when unrolling certain phases of her life, of her wonderful impassibility, and of the implacable contempt for humanity which her every word betrayed. Where had she learned that dignity, so simple and so noble, that measured speech, that admirable respect of herself, which had enabled her to pass through so much filth without receiving a stain?
“What a woman!” he thought.
Before knowing her, he loved her. Now he was convulsed by one of those exclusive passions which master the whole being. Already he felt himself so much under the charm, subjugated, dominated, fascinated; he understood so well that he was going to cease being his own master; that his free will was about escaping from him; that he would be in Mlle. Lucienne’s hands like wax under the modeler’s fingers; he saw himself so thoroughly at the discretion of an energy superior to his own, that he was almost frightened.
“It’s my whole future that I am going to risk,” he thought.
And there was no middle path. Either he must fly at once, without waiting for Mlle. Lucienne to awake, fly without looking behind, or else stay, and then accept all the chances of an incurable passion for a woman who, perhaps, might never care for him. And he remained wavering, like the traveler who finds himself at the intersection of two roads, and, knowing that one leads to the goal, and the other to an abyss, hesitates which to take.