"Come, now, tell me all about it. He must have been very comical at such a time?"
She murmured, "Oh! do leave him alone."
But he went on,
"No, but tell me now, he must have been a duffer to sleep with?"
And he always wound up with, "What a donkey he was."
One evening, towards the end of June, as he was smoking a cigarette at the window, the fineness of the evening inspired him with a wish for a drive, and he said,
"Made, shall we go as far as the Bois de Boulogne?"
They took an open carriage and drove up the Champs Elysees, and then along the main avenue of the Bois de Boulogne.
It was a breezeless night, one of those stifling nights when the overheated air of Paris fills the chest like the breath of a furnace.
A host of carriages bore along beneath the trees a whole population of lovers.
They came one behind the other in an unbroken line.
George and Madeleine amused themselves with watching all these couples, the woman in summer toilet and the man darkly outlined beside her.
It was a huge flood of lovers towards the Bois, beneath the starry and heated sky.
No sound was heard save the dull rumble of wheels.
They kept passing by, two by two in each vehicle, leaning back on the seat, silent, clasped one against the other, lost in dreams of desire, quivering with the anticipation of coming caresses.
The warm shadow seemed full of kisses.
A sense of spreading lust rendered the air heavier and more suffocating.
All the couples, intoxicated with the same idea, the same ardor, shed a fever about them.
George and Madeleine felt the contagion.
They clasped hands without a word, oppressed by the heaviness of the atmosphere and the emotion that assailed them.
As they reached the turning which follows the line of the fortification, they kissed one another, and she stammered somewhat confusedly, "We are as great babies as on the way to Rouen."
The great flood of vehicles divided at the entrance of the wood.
On the road to the lake, which the young couple were following, they were now thinner, but the dark shadow of the trees, the air freshened by the leaves and by the dampness arising from the streamlets that could be heard flowing beneath them, and the coolness of the vast nocturnal vault bedecked with stars, gave to the kisses of the perambulating pairs a more penetrating charm.
George murmured, "Dear little Made," as he pressed her to him.
"Do you remember the forest close to your home, how gloomy it was?" said she.
"It seemed to me that it was full of horrible creatures, and that there was no end to it, while here it is delightful.
One feels caresses in the breeze, and I know that Sevres lies on the other side of the wood."
He replied, "Oh! in the forest at home there was nothing but deer, foxes, and wild boars, and here and there the hut of a forester."
This word, akin to the dead man's name, issuing from his mouth, surprised him just as if some one had shouted it out to him from the depths of a thicket, and he became suddenly silent, assailed anew by the strange and persistent uneasiness, and gnawing, invincible, jealous irritation that had been spoiling his existence for some time past.
After a minute or so, he asked: "Did you ever come here like this of an evening with Charles?"
"Yes, often," she answered.
And all of a sudden he was seized with a wish to return home, a nervous desire that gripped him at the heart.
But the image of Forestier had returned to his mind and possessed and laid hold of him.
He could no longer speak or think of anything else and said in a spiteful tone,
"I say, Made?"
"Did you ever cuckold poor Charles?"
She murmured disdainfully, "How stupid you are with your stock joke."
But he would not abandon the idea.
"Come, Made, dear, be frank and acknowledge it.
You cuckolded him, eh?
Come, admit that you cuckolded him?"
She was silent, shocked as all women are by this expression.
He went on obstinately, "Hang it all, if ever anyone had the head for a cuckold it was he.
It would please me to know that he was one.
What a fine head for horns."
He felt that she was smiling at some recollection, perhaps, and persisted, saying,
"Come out with it.