Duroy affected to laugh. "To see you die?
That would not be a very amusing sight, and I should not select such an occasion to visit Cannes.
I came to give you a look in, and to rest myself a bit."
Forestier murmured, "Sit down," and then bent his head, as though lost in painful thoughts.
He breathed hurriedly and pantingly, and from time to time gave a kind of groan, as if he wanted to remind the others how ill he was.
Seeing that he would not speak, his wife came and leaned against the window-sill, and indicating the view with a motion of her head, said,
"Look! Is not that beautiful?"
Before them the hillside, dotted with villas, sloped downwards towards the town, which stretched in a half-circle along the shore with its head to the right in the direction of the pier, overlooked by the old city surmounted by its belfry, and its feet to the left towards the point of La Croisette, facing the Isles of Lerins.
These two islands appeared like two green spots amidst the blue water.
They seemed to be floating on it like two huge green leaves, so low and flat did they appear from this height.
Afar off, bounding the view on the other side of the bay, beyond the pier and the belfry, a long succession of blue hills showed up against a dazzling sky, their strange and picturesque line of summits now rounded, now forked, now pointed, ending with a huge pyramidal mountain, its foot in the sea itself.
Madame Forestier pointed it out, saying: "This is L'Estherel."
The void beyond the dark hill tops was red, a glowing red that the eye would not fear, and Duroy, despite himself, felt the majesty of the close of the day.
He murmured, finding no other term strong enough to express his admiration, "It is stunning."
Forestier raised his head, and turning to his wife, said:
"Let me have some fresh air."
"Pray, be careful," was her reply. "It is late, and the sun is setting; you will catch a fresh cold, and you know how bad that is for you."
He made a feverish and feeble movement with his right hand that was almost meant for a blow, and murmured with a look of anger, the grin of a dying man that showed all the thinness of his lips, the hollowness of the cheeks, and the prominence of all the bones of the face:
"I tell you I am stifling. What does it matter to you whether I die a day sooner or a day later, since I am done for?"
She opened the window quite wide.
The air that entered surprised all three like a caress.
It was a soft, warm breeze, a breeze of spring, already laden with the scents of the odoriferous shrubs and flowers which sprang up along this shore.
A powerful scent of turpentine and the harsh savor of the eucalyptus could be distinguished.
Forestier drank it in with short and fevered gasps.
He clutched the arm of his chair with his nails, and said in low, hissing, and savage tones:
"Shut the window.
It hurts me; I would rather die in a cellar."
His wife slowly closed the window, and then looked out in space, her forehead against the pane.
Duroy, feeling very ill at ease, would have liked to have chatted with the invalid and reassured him.
But he could think of nothing to comfort him.
At length he said: "Then you have not got any better since you have been here?"
Forestier shrugged his shoulders with low-spirited impatience.
"You see very well I have not," he replied, and again lowered his head.
Duroy went on: "Hang it all, it is ever so much nicer here than in Paris. We are still in the middle of winter there.
It snows, it freezes, it rains, and it is dark enough for the lamps to be lit at three in the afternoon."
"Anything new at the paper?" asked Forestier.
They have taken on young Lacrin, who has left the _Voltaire_, to do your work, but he is not up to it.
It is time that you came back."
The invalid muttered: "I--I shall do all my work six feet under the sod now."
This fixed idea recurred like a knell _apropos_ of everything, continually cropping up in every idea, every sentence.
There was a long silence, a deep and painful silence.
The glow of the sunset was slowly fading, and the mountains were growing black against the red sky, which was getting duller.
A colored shadow, a commencement of night, which yet retained the glow of an expiring furnace, stole into the room and seemed to tinge the furniture, the walls, the hangings, with mingled tints of sable and crimson.
The chimney-glass, reflecting the horizon, seemed like a patch of blood.
Madame Forestier did not stir, but remained standing with her back to the room, her face to the window pane.
Forestier began to speak in a broken, breathless voice, heartrending to listen to.
"How many more sunsets shall I see?
Eight, ten, fifteen, or twenty, perhaps thirty--no more. You have time before you; for me it is all over. And it will go on all the same, after I am gone, as if I was still here."