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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAndre Cornelis - Chapter 7
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Andre Cornelis - Chapter 7 Post by :cclittle Category :Long Stories Author :Paul Bourget Date :May 2012 Read :812

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Andre Cornelis - Chapter 7

Chapter VII

The train from Paris approached, and stopped. The railway officials called out the name of the station, as they opened the doors of the carriages one after another, very slowly as it seemed to me. I went from carriage to carriage seeking my mother. Had she at the last moment decided not to come! What a trial to me if it were so! What a night I should have to pass in all the torment of suspicions which, I knew too well, her mere presence would dispel.

A voice called me. It was hers. Then I saw her, dressed in black, and never in my life did I clasp her in my arms as I did then, utterly forgetting that we were in a public place, and why she had come, in the joy of feeling my horrible imaginations vanish, melt away at the mere touch of the being whom I loved so profoundly, the only one who was dear to me, notwithstanding our differences, in the very depths of my heart, now that I had lost my Aunt Louise.

After that first movement, which resembled the grasp in which a drowning man seizes the swimmer who dives for him, I looked at my mother without speaking, holding both her hands. She had thrown back her veil, and in the flickering light of the station I saw that she was very pale and had been weeping. I had only to meet her eyes, which were still wet with tears, to know that I had been mad. I felt this, with the first words she uttered, telling me so tenderly of her grief, and that she had resolved to come at once, although my stepfather was ill. M. Termonde had suffered of late from frequent attacks of liver-complaint.

But neither her grief nor her anxiety about her husband had prevented my poor mother from providing herself, for this little excursion of a few hours, with all her customary appliances of comfort and elegance. Her maid stood behind her, accompanied by a porter, and both were laden with three or four bags of different sizes, of the best English make, carefully buttoned up in their waterproof covers; a dressing-case, a writing-case, an elegant wallet to hold the traveler's purse, handkerchief, book, and second veil; a hot-water bottle for her feet, two cushions for her head, and a little clock suspended from a swinging disc.

"You see," said she, while I was pointing out the carriage to the maid, so that she might get rid of her impedimenta, "I shall not have my right mourning until to-morrow"--and now I perceived that her gown was dark brown and only braided with black--"they could not have the things ready in time, but will send them as early as possible." Then, as I placed her in the carriage, she added: "There is still a trunk and a bonnet-box." She half smiled in saying this, to make me smile too, for the mass of luggage and the number of small parcels with which she encumbered herself had been of old a subject of mild quarrel between us.

In any other state of mind I should have been pained to find the unfailing evidence of her frivolity side by side with the mark of affection she had given me by coming. Was not this one of the small causes of my great misery? True, but her frivolity was delightful to me at that moment. This then was the woman whom I had been picturing to myself as coming to the house of death, with the sinister purpose of searching my dead aunt's papers and stealing or destroying any accusing pages which she might find among them! This was the woman whom I had represented to myself, that morning, as a criminal steeped in the guilt of a cowardly murder! Yes! I had been mad! had been like a runaway horse galloping after its own shadow. But what a relief to make sure that it was madness, what a blessed relief! It almost made me forget the dear dead woman.

I was very sad at heart in reality, and yet I was happy, while we were rattling through the town in the old coupe, past the long lines of lighted windows. I held my mother's hand; I longed to beg her pardon, to kiss the hem of her dress, to tell her again and again that I loved and revered her. She perceived my emotion very plainly; but she attributed it to the affliction that had just befallen me, and she condoled with me. She said, "My Andre," several times. How rare it was for me to have her thus, all my own, and just in that mood of feeling for which my sick heart pined!

I had had the room on the ground floor, next to the salon, prepared for my mother. I remembered that she had occupied it, when she came to Compiegne with my father, a few days after her marriage, and I felt sure that the impression which would be produced upon her by the sight of the house in the first instance, and then by the sight of the room, would help me to get rid of my dreadful suspicions. I was determined to note minutely the slightest signs of agitation which she might betray at the contact of a resuscitated past, rendered more striking by the aspect of things that do not change so quickly as the heart of a woman. And now, I blushed for that idea, worthy of a detective; for I felt it a shameful thing to judge one's mother: one ought to make an Act of Faith in her which would resist any evidence. I felt this, alas! all the more, because the innocent woman was quite off her guard, as was perfectly natural.

She entered the room with a thoughtful look, seated herself before the fire, and held her slender feet towards the flames, which touched her pale cheeks with red; and, with her jet black hair, her elegant figure, which still retained its youthful grace, she shed upon the dim twilight of the old-fashioned room that refined and aristocratic charm of which my father spoke in his letters. She looked slowly all around her, recognizing most of the things which my aunt's pious care had preserved in their former place, and said, sorrowfully: "What recollections!" But there was no bitterness in the emotion depicted on her face. Ah! no; a woman who is brought, after twenty years, into the room which she had occupied, as a bride, with the husband whose murder she had contrived after having betrayed him, has not such eyes, such a brow, such a mouth as hers.

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