The Beast Within

The Beast Within by Émile Zola

Book: The Beast Within by Émile Zola Read Free Book Online
Authors: Émile Zola
white breasts when a chill ran through him and his mind suddenly became clear. He threw the scissors to the ground and fled from her, horrified. Flore lay with her eyes closed, thinking that he had rejected her because she had resisted him.
    Jacques ran off into the night. He followed a path which led up a hill and then back down into a narrow dell, running as fast as he could. His feet sent stones clattering noisily down the path in front of him. He swerved off to the left into the bushes and then went right again, coming out on to a bare hilltop. He rushed down the slope and collided with the railway fence at the bottom. A train was approaching, snorting and belching out sparks; at first he didn’t realize what it was and he was terrified. Then he remembered. Ah, yes, he thought, all those people, the never-ending stream; and here was he, alone, in torment! He got to his feet and started running again, up a hill and down the other side. Whichever way he went, he found himself back at the railway line, sometimes deep in a cutting that opened up before him like a bottomless chasm, sometimes high on an embankment that shut out the horizon like an enormous barricade. The deserted countryside with its endless succession of hills was like a maze with no way out; he was lost in a dreary wasteland of barren fields, from which his distracted mind could find no escape. He had been walking for what seemed like ages over one hill after another when he noticed in front of him a round opening: the black mouth of the tunnel. A train was disappearing into it with a great roaring and hissing of steam, making the ground shake behind it as it vanished into the bowels of the earth.
    His legs would carry him no further. He collapsed beside the railway line and wept convulsively, sprawled on his stomach, his face buried in the grass. He could not believe it. The terrible affliction, which he had thought was cured, had returned. He had wanted to kill her. He had wanted to kill this girl. Kill a woman! Kill a woman! The words had sounded in his ears since his early adolescence with the maddening, feverish insistence of unsated desire. Whereas other boys coming to puberty dreamed of possessing a woman, the only thing that had excited him was the thought of killing one. It was pointless trying to deceive himself. As soon as he had seen her naked, he had taken the scissors to plant them into her flesh, into the warm, white flesh of her breast, not simply because she had resisted him, but because he had wanted to do it. Indeed, he had wanted to do it so badly that, had he not clung with both hands to the tufts of grass beneath him, he might even then have run back and slit her throat. Good God! To think that it was Flore! The little girl he had watched growing up! That wild, unruly little girl! To think it was only now that he had discovered how much she loved him! He clenched his fists and dug his fingers into the earth, sobbing uncontrollably, choking with despair.
    Eventually he managed to calm himself. If only he could understand why this should be. What was so different about him, compared with others? Even when he was a boy, in Plassans, he had often asked himself the same question. His mother, Gervaise, it is true, had had him when she was very young, at fifteen and a half. What is more, he was her second child; she was barely fourteen years old when she had given birth to her first, Claude. But neither of his two brothers, Claude or Étienne, who had been born later, seemed to suffer any ill effects from having a mother who was so young and a father who, like her, was little more than a child too, the handsome young Lantier, the ne’er-do-well who was to cause Gervaise so much unhappiness. Perhaps his brothers had had problems they weren’t prepared to admit to, the elder especially, who wore himself out trying to become a painter. It had become an obsession with him; people said he was besotted with his own genius. It couldn’t really be

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