Ought he not to see in this a kind of choice, a species of confession.
If she had thought of him just at the moment she was about to become a widow, it was perhaps that she had thought of one who was again to become her companion and ally?
An impatient desire to know this, to question her, to learn her intentions, assailed him.
He would have to leave on the next day but one, as he could not remain alone with her in the house.
So it was necessary to be quick, it was necessary before returning to Paris to become acquainted, cleverly and delicately, with her projects, and not to allow her to go back on them, to yield perhaps to the solicitations of another, and pledge herself irrevocably.
The silence in the room was intense, nothing was audible save the regular and metallic tick of the pendulum of the clock on the mantelpiece.
He murmured: "You must be very tired?"
She replied: "Yes; but I am, above all, overwhelmed."
The sound of their own voices startled them, ringing strangely in this gloomy room, and they suddenly glanced at the dead man's face as though they expected to see it move on hearing them, as it had done some hours before.
Duroy resumed: "Oh! it is a heavy blow for you, and such a complete change in your existence, a shock to your heart and your whole life."
She gave a long sigh, without replying, and he continued, "It is so painful for a young woman to find herself alone as you will be."
He paused, but she said nothing, and he again went on,
"At all events, you know the compact entered into between us.
You can make what use of me you will.
I belong to you."
She held out her hand, giving him at the same time one of those sweet, sad looks which stir us to the very marrow.
"Thank you, you are very kind," she said.
"If I dared, and if I could do anything for you, I, too, should say,
'You may count upon me.'"
He had taken the proffered hand and kept it clasped in his, with a burning desire to kiss it.
He made up his mind to this at last, and slowly raising it to his mouth, held the delicate skin, warm, slightly feverish and perfumed, to his lips for some time.
Then, when he felt that his friendly caress was on the point of becoming too prolonged, he let fall the little hand.
It sank back gently onto the knee of its mistress, who said, gravely: "Yes, I shall be very lonely, but I shall strive to be brave."
He did not know how to give her to understand that he would be happy, very happy, to have her for his wife in his turn.
Certainly he could not tell her so at that hour, in that place, before that corpse; yet he might, it seemed to him, hit upon one of those ambiguous, decorous, and complicated phrases which have a hidden meaning under their words, and which express all one wants to by their studied reticence.
But the corpse incommoded him, the stiffened corpse stretched out before them, and which he felt between them.
For some time past, too, he fancied he detected in the close atmosphere of the room a suspicious odor, a foetid breath exhaling from the decomposing chest, the first whiff of carrion which the dead lying on their bed throw out to the relatives watching them, and with which they soon fill the hollow of their coffin.
"Cannot we open the window a little?" said Duroy.
"It seems to me that the air is tainted."
"Yes," she replied,
"I have just noticed it, too."
He went to the window and opened it.
All the perfumed freshness of night flowed in, agitating the flame of the two lighted candles beside the bed.
The moon was shedding, as on the former evening, her full mellow light upon the white walls of the villas and the broad glittering expanse of the sea.
Duroy, drawing in the air to the full depth of his lungs, felt himself suddenly seized with hope, and, as it were buoyed up by the approach of happiness.
He turned round, saying: "Come and get a little fresh air.
It is delightful."
She came quietly, and leant on the window-sill beside him.
Then he murmured in a low tone: "Listen to me, and try to understand what I want to tell you.
Above all, do not be indignant at my speaking to you of such a matter at such a moment, for I shall leave you the day after to-morrow, and when you return to Paris it may be too late.
I am only a poor devil without fortune, and with a position yet to make, as you know.
But I have a firm will, some brains I believe, and I am well on the right track.
With a man who has made his position, one knows what one gets; with one who is starting, one never knows where he may finish.
So much the worse, or so much the better.
In short, I told you one day at your house that my brightest dream would have been to have married a woman like you.
I repeat this wish to you now.
Do not answer, let me continue.
It is not a proposal I am making to you.
The time and place would render that odious.
I wish only not to leave you ignorant that you can make me happy with a word; that you can make me either a friend and brother, or a husband, at your will; that my heart and myself are yours.