Two candles burned on the night-table beside a plate filled with holy water, in which lay a sprig of mimosa, for they had not been able to get the necessary twig of consecrated box.
They were alone, the young man and the young wife, beside him who was no more.
They sat without speaking, thinking and watching.
George, whom the darkness rendered uneasy in presence of the corpse, kept his eyes on this persistently.
His eye and his mind were both attracted and fascinated by this fleshless visage, which the vacillating light caused to appear yet more hollow.
That was his friend Charles Forestier, who was chatting with him only the day before!
What a strange and fearful thing was this end of a human being!
Oh! how he recalled the words of Norbert de Varenne haunted by the fear of death:
"No one ever comes back."
Millions on millions would be born almost identical, with eyes, a nose, a mouth, a skull and a mind within it, without he who lay there on the bed ever reappearing again.
For some years he had lived, eaten, laughed, loved, hoped like all the world.
And it was all over for him all over for ever.
Life; a few days, and then nothing.
One is born, one grows up, one is happy, one waits, and then one dies.
Farewell, man or woman, you will not return again to earth.
Plants, beast, men, stars, worlds, all spring to life, and then die to be transformed anew.
But never one of them comes back--insect, man, nor planet.
A huge, confused, and crushing sense of terror weighed down the soul of Duroy, the terror of that boundless and inevitable annihilation destroying all existence.
He already bowed his head before its menace.
He thought of the flies who live a few hours, the beasts who live a few days, the men who live a few years, the worlds which live a few centuries.
What was the difference between one and the other?
A few more days' dawn that was all.
He turned away his eyes in order no longer to have the corpse before them.
Madame Forestier, with bent head, seemed also absorbed in painful thoughts.
Her fair hair showed so prettily with her pale face, that a feeling, sweet as the touch of hope flitted through the young fellow's breast.
Why grieve when he had still so many years before him?
And he began to observe her.
Lost in thought she did not notice him.
He said to himself, "That, though, is the only good thing in life, to love, to hold the woman one loves in one's arms. That is the limit of human happiness."
What luck the dead man had had to meet such an intelligent and charming companion!
How had they become acquainted?
How ever had she agreed on her part to marry that poor and commonplace young fellow?
How had she succeeded in making someone of him?
Then he thought of all the hidden mysteries of people's lives.
He remembered what had been whispered about the Count de Vaudrec, who had dowered and married her off it was said.
What would she do now?
Whom would she marry?
A deputy, as Madame de Marelle fancied, or some young fellow with a future before him, a higher class Forestier?
Had she any projects, any plans, any settled ideas?
How he would have liked to know that.
But why this anxiety as to what she would do?
He asked himself this, and perceived that his uneasiness was due to one of those half-formed and secret ideas which one hides from even one's self, and only discovers when fathoming one's self to the very bottom.
Yes, why should he not attempt this conquest himself?
How strong and redoubtable he would be with her beside him!
How quick, and far, and surely he would fly!
And why should he not succeed too?
He felt that he pleased her, that she had for him more than mere sympathy; in fact, one of those affections which spring up between two kindred spirits and which partake as much of silent seduction as of a species of mute complicity.
She knew him to be intelligent, resolute, and tenacious, she would have confidence in him.
Had she not sent for him under the present grave circumstances?
And why had she summoned him?