No, doctor Mévil hadn't gone home after all that evening.
He had gone out early, tired of being alone with his thoughts, too mournful. His drunkenness from the night before had dissipated by morning, but there were still hallucinations that swam in front of his eyes, terrifying him when they appeared. With a terrible exactness he saw again his vision from the night before, sad and horrible, and the folds of the shroud wrapped around the oustretched arm, the eyes, the rigid eyes of the Sphixn starring at him, merging with another, of an upright woman...
It chilled him to the bone, despite the heavy heat of the day that caused a feverish sweat to roll from his shoulders and his neck. Before he went out, he powdered his whole torso, then disdaining the rickshaw and the carriage, he got onto his bicycle: oddly, he hoped to settle his nerves by exhausting his muscles. The wind and the sun would be a good remedy for neurosis. He bent over the handlebars and pushed hard on the pedals. The bicycle flew over the red roads that colored the rim of the bicycle tires. A hot breeze had dried up the morning downpour, and the mud was already turning back into dust.
Previously, Mévil had found the bicycle to be a discrete and inconspicuous vehicle that he used for his mysterious or shameful errands that a chauffer would be best off not knowing about. Mévil had had some very delicate adventures among his spread of romantic intrigues, that honor and self-interest required him to keep away from public notice. In the village of Tan-Hoa, near the High Road, a little villa had often been the destination for his cycling expeditions. There was a Saigonese family there, the Marneffe, father, mother, and daughter, the man a bureaucrat, naturally, the women very worldly ladies, and all three of them spent more than they could have on their own budget. Poker and siestas helped make up the shortfall: the man played poker intelligently, and the wife was vurtious until there was a good price otherwise.
Saigon knew that of course. Saigon knew a lot of things. But the daughter, who was only sixteen years old, was seemingly innocent in the whole affair - he even ran into some good Samaritan that complained that she was growing up in an environment that would inevitably corrupt her later. They didn't know that that Rubicon had already been crossed.
Miss Marneffe was in fact, and had been for quite a while, the mistress of doctor Raymond Mévil. But the two of them were very discrete and careful, and didn't let anyone know about their liaison. The villa was isolated and perfect for rendez-vous: Mr. Marneffe set out the morning and only got back in the evening, keeping his proper ignorance of his wives' activities, a woman who was often mysteriously absent at midday. On those days, a young girl's handkerchief hung from the windows of the first floor, and the surrounding gate's fence wasn't locked, so that the serving boy wouldn't have to come out to open it. A bicycle was well hidden among the hibiscuses of the garden, and Mévil could soundless walk up the brick stairs, and open a silent door into an innocent room upholstered all in white.
But Mévil had left Espagne Street before four o'clock, at first heading towards the stadium. But trunners were training on the track. He shifted his target and found himself on the High Road. The city was already far behind, and the village of Tan-Hoa's huts spread out on the left of the path.
From force of habbit, Mévil glanced over at the Marneffe villa, where the signal handkerchief floated from the window. Mévil thought that it had probably waved there for many days, forgotten by an annoyed hand: it had been two months that had passed since his last visit. But Miss Marneffe was quite the sensible and frisky girl, too sensible to blame an unfaithful lover, too frisky to waste times in slumps that could be put to better uses otherwise. Mévil saw the gate was open. He went in.
After all, maybe this was the best cure for him..
But there are pains against which any medicine is futile. Mévil, an hour later, got back onto the bike seat, a little bit more tired and more anxious, aching to his heart. He got confused heading back and continued on towards Cholon rather than returning to Saigon.
His mistress, tired with pleasure, had let him leave without a word, without a goodbye glance peeking through her closed eyes. After the libertine and selfish hour, he had wanted some tenderness, even if it was fake. Tenderness - he thought that he had never really had it in his whole life.
Never - no more than any other emotion, or tears. Everything was so dry, reaching back to his furthest memory. But since two months, he was starting to notice other things, little unknown starts, better than the life he knew. He jolted out of his thoughts, seeing the sun casting a strange white shape on a wall. He turned suddenly and charged onto a side road, without noticing that it was the road that led to the Tombs.
The road unfurled, flat and red, across the great plain studded with tombs. A bit of grass, low bushes, and he didn't see anything other than them stretching to the horizon, everything the color of dried blood from the omnipresent red dust. In the middle of the day, the old necropolis, old and crumbling, wasn't so ferocious and sinister, but just monotonous, and even the road wasn't empty since Mévil stumbled across walkers twice.
He stopped going so quickly soon. His muscles had grown tired and aching, unfit for any activity except for love, for a long time now, and the journey in front of him was long. He was only a third of the way through, the tomb of the Bishop hadn't even appeared yet on the horizon.
Then, while he tiredly pressed against the pedals, a strange psychological transformation broke out in him: his thoughts left his body, fleeing like they do in sleep and perhaps in death. And the link which connects the two, body and mind, the link of life, atrophied and grew fragile, while his muscles grew ever more tired and soft and his fatigue became painful and all consuming.
Split in two, he saw himself from outside, like you see in a mirror. He saw his body - his double? - bent over the saddle, leaning over the handle bars, the sharp elbows, the tense legs. He saw his face and was worried to find it so pale - how! How could it be him, this aged face, the hollow eyes, the blank stare? Him, with these bloodless lips, for cold kisses that would be as repugnant as the kiss of pain? Pain - he repeated the word - and he saw his lips move to pronounce it. He was a doctor, and he knew well the death grimace of men who are going to die, and he recognized it here pitilessly. Death had to be close to him, and he imagined macabrely that it pedaled in his shadow, on a bicycle next to his own.
His forehead was very cold. The link between his bold and his double was growing ever longer without doubt, because now he saw himself from even further away, even smaller. And confusedly, the link felt less flexible, less connecting: the orders that he sent to his muscles only arrived slowly: he was like a broken machine, that only obeyed grudgingly, and ground on forever until it finally stopped or could start again. But his ethereal thought, freed from his biological brain, had become so clear, with an undreamed of flexibility, rushing from idea to idea, touching a thousand different, unrelated, contradictory things in a blink of an eye. Opium smokers dreamed like this. A forgotten image ran through his mind: the scene of Hélène Liseron, spitting at his face, the day of their fight - "They could slap you, and you wouldn't even feel it," and the raised hand hit his cheek for real but he didn't feel a thing...
He whispered "I made a mistake." My god, how these pedals were hard to move! He looked doggedly at the sun that was setting towards the west. It was late, too late. Lowering his dazzled gaze, he saw the road dark and spinning like a tunnel, a tunnel that ended in a cul-de-sac. He entered there, drawn forward irresistibly, and his life too, the whole thing a mistake, passed into the dark dead end, full of terrors and ghosts. He couldn't see anything more! He made a desperate effort, and slowly, the glare faded away, and the road, the bushes, the tombs, the blood red dust reappeared - and there, all too close, menacing, reared up the Archbishop's Tomb.
A cold sweat ran down the front of the hallucinator. He was still riding, spinning painfully the awful heavy pedals. Forward, sure of a relief, as soon as he passed the Tomb, the terrible Tomb. And then he was past, and he turned a curve in the road.
A carriage was behind the turn, coming on at full speed, a carriage pulled by two Australian horses. Mévil moved over to the right and looked: they were the horses of Mrs. Malais - and it was here, alone, haughty, who turned away when she saw him.
Thirteen hours before, the Vision had risen up in this same place.
It seemed to Mévil that his handle bar turned slowly from right to left, without any intervention from his hands. And yet they moved, definitely, the carriage coming on, quickly, ten paces at most - he had to get the wheel back over, throw his body to the right, now! Mévil tried.
The muscles wavered. How it was exhausting, trying to turn the handlebars! A mysterious weight was without doubt pulling on the left side, deviously pulling the machine to danger, to death.
Mévil fought, stiffened, a second passed, seeming to last forever...
But for what use! He was exhausted, exhausted!
Les muscles hésitèrent. Comme c'était fatigant, ce guidon à tourner! Un poids mystérieux s'accrochait certainement du côté gauche, penchant sournoisement toute la machine vers le danger, vers la mort.
Mévil lutta, se raidit,—une demi-seconde, longue.... How it would be so simple to rest here, right here, on the red road...
The hands lost their grip. The bicycle fell underneath the horses, who sreared back too late. The carriage passed, with a slight bump...
There was a strange scream that sounded like a moan: Mrs. Malais threw herself out of the carriage, before even the chauffer clutching the reins could stop them.
Raymond Mévil lay on his back, his arms crossed in front of him, his hollowed eyes wide open. On his white shirt, the dusty wheel had traced a long red gash, from his calves to his shoulder. Death had been indulgeant and had respected his face, filled with a supreme beauty, a wondrous calmness.
Mrs. Malais ran over, kneeled, seized the lolling head desperately. The eyes budged a fraction, the lips puckering like for a kiss - a red and hot kiss, one stained with blood that dribbled from his mouth - and that was all, as the heart ceased to beat, the wall of eyelids falling.
The tomb's garden came out of his house. Helped by the chauffer, he carried the body underneath the mausoleum. Silently, Mrs. Malais pulled out her handkerchief and covered the dead face. A bit of red stained the batiste from beneath, marking the bleeding lips.
Mrs. Malais bent over, and pitifully, lovingly perhaps, softly kissed the red mark...
Then she left, her mind agitated and troubled, and the perfume of her kiss evaporated on the lips of the dead. Raymond Mévil, cold and stiff, entered into eternal rest.
- Chapter 1
- Chapter 2
- Chapter 3
- Chapter 4
- Chapter 5
- Chapter 6
- Chapter 7
- Chapter 8
- Chapter 9
- Chapter 10
- Chapter 11
- Chapter 12
- Chapter 13
- Chapter 14
- Chapter 15
- Chapter 16
- Chapter 17
- Chapter 18
- Chapter 19
- Chapter 20
- Chapter 21
- Chapter 22
- Chapter 23
- Chapter 24
- Chapter 25
- Chapter 26
- Chapter 27
- Chapter 28
- Chapter 29
- Chapter 30
- Chapter 31
- Chapter 32
- Chapter 33
- Chapter 34
- Chapter 35
- Chapter 36