Volume 1
Chapter VII
 

Mr. Ferrol slept in the large guest-chamber of the house. Above it was Christine's bedroom. Thick as were the timbers and boards of the floor, Christine could hear one sound, painfully monotonous and frequent, coming from his room the whole night--the hacking, rending cough which she had heard so often since he came. The fear of Vanne Castine, the memories of the wild, half animal-like love she had had for him in the old days, the excitement of the new events which had come into her life; these kept her awake, and she tossed and turned in feverish unrest. All that had happened since Ferrol had arrived, every word that he had spoken, every motion that he had made, every look of his face, she recalled vividly. All that he was, which was different from the people she had known, she magnified, so that to her he had a distant, overwhelming sort of grandeur. She beat the bedclothes in her restlessness. Suddenly she sat up straight in bed.

"Oh, if I hadn't been a Lavilette! If I'd only been born and brought up with the sort of people he comes from, I'd not have been ashamed of myself or him of me."

The plush bodice she had worn that day danced before her eyes. She knew how horribly ugly it was. Her fingers ran over the patchwork quilt on her bed; and although she could not see it, she loathed it, because she knew it was a painful mess of colours. With a little touch of dramatic extravagance, she leaned over and down, and drew her fingers contemptuously along the rag-carpet on the floor. Then she cried a little hysterically:

"He never saw anything like that before. How he must laugh as he sits there in that room!"

As if in reply, the hacking cough came faintly through the time-worn floor.

"That cough's going to kill him, to kill him," she said.

Then, with a little start and with a sort of cry, which she stopped by putting both hands over her mouth, she said to herself, brokenly:

"Why shouldn't he--why shouldn't he love me! I could take care of him; I could nurse him; I could wait on him; I could be better to him than any one else in the world. And it wouldn't make any difference to him at all in the end. He's going to die before long--I know it. Well, what does it matter what becomes of me afterwards? I should have had him; I should have loved him; he should have been mine for a little while anyway. I'd be good to him; oh, I'd be good to him! Who else is there? He'll get worse and worse; and what will any of the fine ladies do for him then, I'd like to know. Why aren't they here? Why isn't he with them? He's poor--Nic says so--and they're rich. Why don't they help him? I would. I'd give him my last penny and the last drop of blood in my heart. What do they know about love?"

Her little teeth clinched, she shook her brown hair back in a sort of fury.

"What do they know about love? What would they do for it? I'd have my fingers chopped off one by one for it. I'd break every one of the ten commandments for it. I'd lose my soul for it.

"I've got twenty times as much heart as any one of them, I don't care who they are. I'd lie for him; I'd steal for him; I'd kill for him. I'd watch everything that he says, and I'd say it as he says it. I'd be angry when he was angry, miserable when he was miserable, happy when he was happy. Vanne Castine--what was he! What was it that made me care for him then? And now--now he travels with a bear, and they toss coppers to him; a beggar, a tramp--a dirty, lazy tramp! He hates me, I know--or else he loves me, and that's worse. And I'm afraid of him; I know I'm afraid of him. Oh, how will it all end? I know there's going to be trouble. I could see it in Vanne's face. But I don't care, I don't care, if Mr. Ferrol--"

The cough came droning through the floor.

"If he'd only--ah! I'd do anything for him, anything; anybody would. I saw Sophie look at him as she never looked at Magon. If she did-- if she dared to care for him--"

All at once she shivered as if with shame and fright, drew the bedclothes about her head, and burst into a fit of weeping. When it passed, she lay still and nerveless between the coarse sheets, and sank into a deep sleep just as the dawn crept through the cracks of the blind.