Again she clasped him with her delicate

From that time forward Luc the builder, the founder of cities,
recovered his self-possession, spoke his will and acted; and men and
stones arose at his bidding. He became very gay, and carried on the
struggle of La Crêcherie against the Abyss with triumphant joyousness,
little by little winning over both folk and things, thanks to the
craving for love and happiness which he inspired all around him. He
himself felt that the secure establishment of his city would bring him
back Josine. With her all the woeful ones of the whole world would be
saved. In this he set his faith, and he worked by and for love, in the
conviction that he would ultimately conquer.

One bright day, when the sky was radiantly blue, he came upon a
scene which again heightened his spirits and filled his heart with
tenderness and hope. As he was going round the dependencies of the
works, desirous of giving an eye to everything, he was surprised to
hear some light, fresh voices and bursts of laughter rising from a
corner of the property at the foot of the mountain ridge, a spot where
a wall separated the land of La Crêcherie from that of the Abyss.
Approaching prudently, for he wished to see without being seen himself,
Luc perceived to his delight a party of children playing freely in the
sunshine, restored to all the fraternal innocence of nature.

On Luc’s side of the wall, Nanet, who daily returned to La Crêcherie in
search of playmates, stood beside Lucien and Antoinette Bonnaire, whom
he had doubtless persuaded to accompany him on some terrible lizard
hunt. All three of them stood there with upturned faces, laughing and
calling, whilst on the other side of the wall, other children who could
not be seen were laughing and calling also. It was easy to understand
that Nise Delaveau had had some young friends to lunch, and that the
party on being dismissed to the garden had heard the calls of those
outside it, one and all becoming eager to see each other, join hands,
and amuse themselves together. Unfortunately, the former doorway had
been walled up, for their elders had grown tired of scolding them. At
Delaveau’s the children were even forbidden to go to the bottom of the
garden, and were punished if they were found doing so; whilst at La
Crêcherie there were many efforts to make them understand that their
disobedience might bring about some unpleasant affair, complaints,
and even a lawsuit. But, like artless young creatures yielding to the
unknown forces of the future, they continued meeting and mingling,
fraternising together in total forgetfulness of all class rancour and
hostility.

Shrill, pure, and crystalline voices continued rising, almost
suggesting the notes of skylarks.

‘Is that you, Nise? Good day, Nise!’

‘Good day, Nanet! Are you by yourself, Nanet?’

‘Oh, no! I’m with Lucien and Antoinette! And you, Nise, are you alone?’

‘Oh! no, no, I’m with Louise and Paul! Good day, good day, Nanet!’

‘Good day, good day, Nise!’

At each ‘good day,’ again and again repeated, came peals of laughter,
so amused did they feel at talking together without seeing one another.

‘I say, Nise, are you still there?’

‘Why, yes, Nanet, I’m still here.’

‘Nise, Nise, listen! Are you coming?’

‘Oh, Nanet, how can I, since the door’s walled up?’

‘Jump, jump, Nise, jump, my little Nise!’

‘Nanet, my little Nanet, jump, jump!’

Then came perfect delirium, all six of them repeated ‘jump, jump!’
whilst dancing before the wall, as if indeed they imagined that by
bounding higher and higher they would at last find themselves together.
They turned and waltzed, and bowed to the pitiless wall, and with that
childish power of imagination which suppresses all obstacles played as
if they could really see one another.

At last a flute-like voice again arose. ‘Listen, Nise! do you know
what?’

‘No, Nanet, I don’t know.’

‘Well, I’m going to get on the wall, and I’ll pull you up by the
shoulders and get you over here.’

‘Oh! that’s it, Nanet, that’s it! Climb up!’

In a trice Nanet, clinging to the stone wall with hands and feet, as
agile as a cat, found himself on the top of the wall. And as he sat
there, bestriding it, he looked quite comical, with his big round
head, his large blue eyes, and his tumbled fair hair. He was already
fourteen, but he remained little, though very strong and resolute.

‘Lucien, Antoinette!’ he cried, ‘just you keep watch.’

Then bending over Delaveau’s garden, quite proud of overlooking
everything on both sides of the wall, he added: ‘Come on, Nise, let me
catch hold of you.’

‘Oh, no! not me first, Nanet! I’ll keep watch over here.’

‘Then who’s coming, Nise?’

‘Wait a minute, Nanet, be careful. Paul’s climbing up. There’s a
trellis. He’ll try it to see if it breaks.’

Silence followed. One only heard the cracking of some old woodwork,
mingled with stifled laughter. And Luc began to ask himself if he
ought not to restore order by scattering both bands of urchins even
as one scatters sparrows on surprising them in a barn. How many times
already had not he himself scolded those children, from fear lest their
playfulness should prove the cause of some annoying trouble. Yet there
was something very charming about the bravery and joyousness which they
displayed in seeking to join one another in spite of every prohibition
and every obstacle!

At last a cry of triumph arose. Paul’s head appeared just above
the wall, and Nanet was seen hoisting him up, and then passing
him over in order that he might fall into the arms of Lucien and
Antoinette. Although Paul himself was more than fourteen, he was
not a heavy weight. He had remained slim and delicate, a handsome,
fair-complexioned lad, very good-natured and gentle, with quick and
intelligent eyes. Directly he had fallen into Antoinette’s embrace he
kissed her, for he knew her well, and was fond of being near her, for
she was tall and pretty, and very graceful, although but twelve years
old.

‘That’s done, Nise!’ cried Nanet. ‘I’ve, passed one over. Whose turn
next?’

But Nise was heard replying in a loud anxious whisper: ‘Hush, hush,
Nanet! There’s something moving near the fowls’ run. Lie down on the
wall. Quick, quick!’ Then the danger being past, she added: ‘Look out,
Nanet! It’s Louise’s turn now; I’ll push her up!’

This time, indeed, it was Louise’s head which appeared above the
wall: a comical, goatish head with black and somewhat obliquely-set
eyes, a slender nose and pointed chin. With her vivacity and gaiety
she was very amusing. At eleven years of age she had already become
a self-willed little woman, quite upsetting her parents, the worthy
Mazelles, who were stupefied to find that such a riotous, enthusiastic
wilding had sprung from their placid egotism. She did not even wait for
Nanet to pass her over, but jumped of her own accord into the arms of
Lucien, her favourite playmate, who was the oldest of all of them. A
tall, sturdy lad of fifteen, endowed with great ingenuity and inventive
talent, he made her some extraordinary playthings.

But Nanet was again calling. ‘That makes two, Nise,’ said he. ‘There’s
only you now. Come up, quick! There’s something moving again over
yonder near the well.’

A sound of cracking wood was once more heard; a large piece of the
trellis-work must have fallen to the ground, for Nise burst out: ‘Oh!
dear me, dear me, Nanet, I can’t! Louise broke it with her feet, and
now it’s all down.’

‘Never mind–it doesn’t matter! Give me your hands, Nise, and I’ll pull
you up.’

‘No, no, I can’t! I’m too little; can’t you see, Nanet?’

‘But I tell you I’ll pull you. Stretch out your arms–there! Now I’ll
stoop and you must stand on tip-toes. There we are! You see very well
that I can pull you up.’

Evincing great dexterity, he had raised Nise with his strong young
arms and seated her on the wall in front of him. She looked even more
tumbled than usual, with her fair curly pate, her pink and ever-smiling
mouth, and her pretty blue eyes. She and her friend Nanet formed a
pair, both of them with locks of the same soft golden hue, curling and
waving hither and thither.

For a moment they remained astride the wall, face to face and delighted
at finding themselves so high up.

‘Ah! all the same you’re strong, Nanet, to have pulled me up as you
did,’ said the girl.

‘But then you’ve grown quite tall, Nise. I’m fourteen now; how old are
you?’

‘I’m eleven, Nanet. But, I say, isn’t this like being on a horse, a
very tall horse, made of stone?’

‘Yes, but I say, Nise, shall I stand upright?’

‘Yes, upright, Nanet! I’ll do the same!’

But again a stir was heard down the garden, this time in the direction
of the kitchen, and the two children, full of anxiety, caught hold of
each other, and fell to the ground together, locked in a close embrace.
They might have killed themselves, but they laughed gaily, unhurt and
delighted with their tumble. Paul and Antoinette, Lucien and Louise on
their side, were already running wildly among the bushes and fallen
rocks which helped to form many a delightful nook at the feet of the
Bleuse Mountains.

Thinking it too late to intervene, Luc went off very softly. As the
children had not seen him, they would not know that he had closed his
eyes to their escapade. After all, was it not best that they should
yield to the glow of youth within them, and meet and play in spite of
all the prohibitions? They were like the very florescence of life,
which well knew for what future harvests it thus flowered in them. And
they brought with them, perchance, the reconciliation of classes, the
morrow full of justice and peace which was awaited. That which their
fathers could not accomplish would be accomplished by them, and yet
more completely by their children, thanks to the evolution which was
ever spreading. And thus Luc, as he quietly walked away, refraining
from alarming them, laughed to himself as he heard them laughing,
heedless of the difficulties that they would encounter when they might
wish to climb over the wall again. That glimpse of the kindly future
had inspired the young man with a hope, a courage to continue fighting,
and a determination to achieve victory such as he had never known
before.

For long months the desperate, pitiless struggle went on between
La Crêcherie and the Abyss. Luc, who had momentarily thought his
enterprise in jeopardy, toppling towards ruin, exerted every effort
to keep it on its legs. He did not expect to gain any more ground for
a long time to come, but he wished to lose none; and it was already
an achievement to remain stationary, to continue living amidst the
blows which were aimed at La Crêcherie from all sides. And how mighty
was the toil, and with what joyous bravery was it accomplished!
Luc was always here, there, and everywhere, encouraging the men in
the workshops, promoting brotherliness between one and all at the
common-house, and watching over the management of the co-operative
stores. He was constantly seen too in the sunlit avenues of the little
town, amidst the women and the children, with whom he liked to laugh
and play, as if he were the father of the young nation now springing
up around him. Thanks to his genius and creative fruitfulness, things
arose and grew methodically, as if in obedience to a wave of his hand.
But his greatest achievement was the conquest of his workmen, amidst
whom discord and rebellion had for a moment swept. Although his views
were not always shared by Bonnaire, he had won that brave and kindly
man’s affection in such wise as to secure in him the most faithful,
the most devoted of lieutenants, one without whose help it would have
been impossible to carry on the enterprise. And indeed the affection
which radiated from Luc had influenced all the workers of La Crêcherie,
who, finding him so loving and brotherly, intent on securing happiness
for others, in the conviction that he would therein find happiness
himself, had gradually grouped themselves around him. Thus the staff
was becoming a large family linked more and more closely together,
each ending by understanding that he worked for his own delight when
he worked for that of all. Over a period of six months not a single
hand quitted the works, and if those who had previously left did not
as yet return, the others who remained devoted themselves entirely to
the enterprise, even leaving a part of their profits untouched in order
that a substantial reserve fund might be formed.

At that critical period it was assuredly the solidarity evinced by all
the associated workers that saved La Crêcherie from falling beneath the
blows with which egotistical and jealous hatred inspired Beauclair. The
reserve fund, prudently increased and managed, proved a decisive help.
It enabled the folk of La Crêcherie to face difficult moments, and to
avoid borrowing at heavy interest. Thanks to this fund, moreover, they
were twice able to purchase new machinery, which had been rendered
requisite by changes in various processes, and which largely diminished
the cost of manufacture. Then, too, there came a few strokes of luck.
About that time there were some important enterprises: the laying down
of railways, the building of bridges and other things in which metal
work was largely used, and thus considerable quantities of rails,
girders, and structural material were required. The long peace in which
Europe lived vastly developed metallurgical industry in its pacific and
civilising branches. Never before had iron entered so largely into the
dwellings of men. Thus the output of La Crêcherie increased, though the
profits did not become very large, for Luc particularly wished to sell
cheaply, in the belief that cheapness would control the future. At the
same time he strengthened the works by wise management and constant
economy, and by gathering together that reserve fund of ready money in
order that it might be brought into use at the first sign of danger;
whilst the workers’ devotion to the common cause, their abnegation in
foregoing a portion of their due, did the rest, enabling one to wait
for the arrival of triumph without excessive hardship.

The Abyss, meantime, apparently remained in a flourishing situation;
there had been no falling-off in its turnover, and great success
seemed to attend its costly output of guns and projectiles. Still this
prosperity was only on the surface, and Delaveau, though he did not
confess it, experienced at times serious anxiety. He certainly had
on his side the whole of Beauclair–the whole of that _bourgeoise_,
capitalist society whose existence was threatened. And he remained
convinced that he represented truth, authority, and power, and that
ultimate victory was certain. Nevertheless, after a time secret doubts
began to assail him: he was disturbed at finding so much vitality in
La Crêcherie, whose prompt collapse he prophesied every three months
or so. He could no longer contend against the neighbouring works
with respect to commercial iron and steel–those rails, girders,
and structural materials which La Crêcherie turned out so well and
so cheaply. There only remained to him the manufacture of superfine
steel, of carefully made articles valued at three and four francs
per kilogramme, and as it happened these were also made at two very
important establishments in a neighbouring department. The competition
of those establishments was terrible, and Delaveau felt that of the
three–the Abyss and the two others–there was one too many. The
question was which two of them would devour the third. Weakened as it
was by the rivalry of La Crêcherie, would not the Abyss prove to be
the establishment fated to disappear? This question preyed upon the
manager, although he showed more activity than ever, and professed
serene confidence in the good cause, that religion of the wage system
of which he had constituted himself the defender. But another matter
worried him even more than the competition of rivals and the chances of
industrial warfare. This was the absence of any reserve fund, such as
might enable him to face some emergency, some unforeseen catastrophe.
If a crisis were to arise–some strike, or simply some falling-off
in trade–the result would be disastrous, for the works would not
possess the wherewithal to await a revival of business. The necessity
of purchasing some new plant had already compelled him to borrow three
hundred thousand francs, and the heavy interest on the loan now weighed
upon his annual budget. But what if he were compelled to borrow again
and again, until at last he should find himself swallowed up by an
abyss of indebtedness?

About this time Delaveau tried to make Boisgelin listen to reason.
When he had induced the latter to confide to him the remnants of his
fortune, he had certainly promised that if the Abyss were purchased
he would hand him heavy interest on his capital, and enable him to
continue leading a luxurious life. Now, however, that difficulties were
likely to arise, he wished Boisgelin to be reasonable enough to cut
down his style of living for a time. He assured him that fortune would
soon smile once more, and that he would then be able to live again on
his former footing, and indeed in finer style than ever. Delaveau’s
desire was to induce Boisgelin to content himself for a while with
one half of the profits, the other half being employed to constitute
a reserve fund which would enable the Abyss to emerge victoriously
from such bad times as might present themselves. But Boisgelin would
not listen; he demanded every penny, refusing to forego any one of the
pleasures of the costly life which he was leading. Quarrels even broke
out between the two cousins. Now that it seemed as if the invested
capital might no longer yield the expected interest, that the toil
of more than a thousand human beings might no longer suffice to keep
an idler in luxury, the capitalist accused his manager of failing to
keep his promises. Delaveau, though irritated by the other’s idiotic
thirst for perpetual enjoyment, still entertained no suspicion that
behind that coxcomb, his cousin, there stood his own wife Fernande,
the all-corrupting, devouring creature, for whom all the money was
squandered in caprices and folly. Life at La Guerdache was nought but
a round of festivities, amidst which Fernande enjoyed such pleasing
triumphs that any pause in her delights would have seemed to her to
be absolute downfall. She egged on Boisgelin, she told him that her
husband’s powers were declining, that he did not extract from the
works nearly so large a revenue as he might have done; and, according
to her, the only way to spur him on was to overwhelm him with demands
for money. The demeanour preserved by Delaveau–who was one of those
authoritative men who never take women into their confidence, making no
exception even of his wife, although he was passionately attached to
her–had ended by convincing Fernande that her view was the right one,
and that if she wished to realise her dream of returning to Paris with
millions of francs to squander, she must harass him without cessation.

One night, however, Delaveau forgot himself in Fernande’s presence. A
hunt had taken place at La Guerdache that day, and in the course of
it Fernande, whose delight it was to gallop about on horseback, had
for a time disappeared in the company of Boisgelin. A great dinner
had followed in the evening, and it was past midnight when a carriage
brought the Delaveaus back to the Abyss. The young woman, who seemed
overcome with fatigue, satiated as it were with the consuming enjoyment
of which her life was compounded, hastened to get to bed, whilst her
husband, after taking off his coat, went hither and thither about the
room, looking both angry and worried.

‘I say,’ he ended by inquiring, ‘did not Boisgelin tell you anything
when you went off with him?’

At this Fernande, who was closing her eyes, opened them again in
surprise. ‘No,’ she answered, ‘nothing interesting at all events. What
would you have him tell me?’

‘Oh! the fact is that we had previously had a discussion together,’
Delaveau resumed. ‘He asked me to let him have another ten thousand
francs for the end of the month. But this time I positively refused.
It’s impossible, it’s madness!’

Fernande raised her head, and her eyes glittered. ‘Madness–how’s
that?’ said she, ‘why don’t you give him those ten thousand francs?’

As it happened it was she herself who had suggested the application
for this money in order that Boisgelin might purchase an electrical
motor car in which she ardently desired to travel about the country at
express speed.

‘Why?’ cried Delaveau forgetting himself. ‘Because that idiot with his
extravagance will end by ruining the works. We shall have a smash up
if he doesn’t cut down his style of living. There can be nothing more
idiotic than that life of festivity which he leads, that stupid vanity
of his which prompts him to let everybody despoil him.’

Startled by these words, Fernande sat up in bed looking rather pale,
whilst Delaveau, with the _naïveté_ of a husband blind to his wife’s
misconduct, went on: ‘There’s only one sensible person left at La
Guerdache, the only one, too, who enjoys nothing there. I mean poor
Suzanne. It grieves me to see her always looking so sad. However, when
I begged her to-day to intervene with her husband she answered, forcing
back her tears, that she was resolved to meddle in nothing.’

The idea that her husband had appealed to her lover’s wife, the poor
sacrificed creature, who showed such lofty dignity in her life of
renunciation, brought Fernande’s exasperation to a climax. But she was
still more moved by the thought that the works–the very source of her
enjoyment–might be in peril.

‘We shall have a smash up–why do you say that?’ she asked, ‘I thought
that the business was going on very well?’

She put this question in so anxious a tone that Delaveau, fearing that
if she knew everything she might amplify the fears which he strove to
hide from himself, became distrustful, and forced back the truth which
anger well nigh wrung from him.

‘The business is going on all right, no doubt,’ said he, ‘only it would
go on a great deal better if Boisgelin did not perpetually empty the
safe in order to continue leading an idiotic life. The man’s a fool, I
tell you; he has only the poor paltry brain of a coxcomb.’

Reassured by this reply, Fernande stretched herself out in bed once
more. Her husband was simply an individual with a gross mind, a miser,
whose desire was to part as little as possible with the large sums
which were received at the works. As for his denunciation of Boisgelin,
this was an indirect attack upon herself.

‘My dear,’ said she by way of conclusion, ‘all people are not made to
brutify themselves with work from morning till night; and those who
have money do right to enjoy themselves and taste the pleasures of a
higher life.’

Delaveau was about to reply violently, but by an effort he managed to
calm himself. Why should he try to convert his wife to his views? He
treated her as a spoilt child, and let her act as she listed, never
complaining of any lapses on her part, such as he condemned when others
were in question. He did not even notice the folly of her life, for she
was his own folly, the prized jewel which he had longed to grasp with
his big, hard-working hands. She remained through all the object of his
admiration and adoration, the idol for whom one sets aside both dignity
and reason, and whom it is impossible to suspect.

A little later, when Delaveau in his turn had got into bed, his anxiety
with respect to the position of the works came back to him. His wife
lay fast asleep beside him, but he himself was unable to close his
eyes, and amidst his painful insomnia the difficulties by which he was
menaced seemed to become greater. Never yet, indeed, had he surveyed
the future with so much insight and seen it under darker colours. He
became fully conscious that the cause of the impending ruin was that
mad craving for enjoyment, that sickly impatience which Boisgelin
displayed to spend his money the moment it was earned. There was an
abyss somewhere into which all that money sank, some abominable sore
also by which exuded all the strength and gain which work should have
brought with it. Accustomed as he was to be very frank with himself,
Delaveau passed his life in review, and could find nothing to reproach
himself with. He rose early, and was the last to leave the workshops
at night, remaining on the watch throughout the day, directing the
labour of his large staff as he might have directed the movements of
a regiment. He incessantly brought all his remarkable faculties into
play, showing a great deal of rectitude amidst his roughness, together
with rare powers of logic and method and the loyalty of a fighter who
has vowed to conquer and is determined to do so or to perish. Thus he
suffered frightfully at feeling that in spite of all his heroism he
was gliding to disaster through the collapse of everything that he set
on foot, a kind of daily destruction which came he knew not whence and
which his energy was powerless to stay. What he called Boisgelin’s
imbecile life, that gluttonous craving for pleasure, was doubtless the
evil that preyed upon the works. But who, then, was it that made the
wretched man so stupid? whence came that insanity of his, which he,
Delaveau, could not understand, sensible and sober worker that he was
himself, hating idleness and excessive enjoyment since he knew that
they destroyed all creative health?

And still he had no suspicion that the demolisher of Boisgelin’s
fortune, the poisoner of his mind, was his own well-loved Fernande,
she who now lay beside him, looking so charming in her slumber. Whilst
he, amidst the black smoke of the Abyss and the burning glow of its
furnaces, exhausted himself in efforts to wring money from the toil
of pain-racked workmen, she on her side strolled in gay apparel under
the shady foliage of La Guerdache, flung money to the four winds of
fancy, and with her white teeth crunched the hundreds of thousands of
francs which more than a thousand wage-earners coined for her amidst
the resounding thuds of the great hammers. That night, too, whilst her
husband, with his eyes wide open in the darkness, remained tortured
by the thought of future payments, wondering by what fresh efforts he
might make the works produce the amounts promised to one and another,
she lying by his side slept off her intoxication of the day, so weary
with enjoyment that only the faintest breath came from her glutted
breast. At last Delaveau himself ended by falling asleep, and dreamt
that some weird, perverse, diabolical powers were at work beneath the
Abyss, eating away the soil in such wise that the whole establishment
would suddenly be engulfed on some fulgural, tempestuous night.

During the days which followed Fernande recalled the fears which
her husband had expressed to her that evening. Whilst making every
allowance for what she regarded as his passion for heaping up money,
and his hatred of the pleasures of luxury, she could not help
shuddering at the thought of a possibility of ruin. Boisgelin ruined
indeed! In such a case what would become of her? That ruin would not
simply mean an end to the delightful life which she had always desired
as compensation for the wretched poverty of her earlier years, but
it would imply their return to Paris like vanquished beings, with a
flat of a thousand francs annual rental in the depths of some suburban
district, and some petty employment for Delaveau in which he would
vegetate whilst she herself would relapse into all the loathsome
coarseness of a home of penurious toil. No! no! she would not consent
to that; she would not allow her golden prey to escape her; every
muscle of her covetous being hungered for triumph. Within her slender
form, instinct with such delicate charm, such light gracefulness,
there was the keen appetite of a she-wolf, the most furious predatory
instincts. She was resolved that she would in no wise check that
appetite, that she would take her pleasure to the very end, allowing
none to rob her of it. No doubt she was full of contempt for those
grimy, muddy works where day and night she heard the monstrous-looking
hammers forging pleasure for her; and as for the men, those toilers
who roasted amidst hellish flames in order that she might lead a life
of happy idleness, she regarded them as domestic animals that gave
her food and spared her all fatigue. She never risked her little feet
on the uneven soil of the workshops; she never evinced the faintest
interest in the human flock which passed to and fro before her door,
bowed down by accursed labour. Nevertheless those works and that
flock were hers, and the idea that fortune might be wrested from her
by the ruin of the business roused her to revolt, prompted her to
defend herself as energetically as if her life itself were threatened.
Whosoever harmed the works became her personal enemy, a dangerous
evil-doer, of whom she was resolved to rid herself by all imaginable
means. Thus her hatred of Luc had gone on increasing ever since the
Sunday when they had first met at lunch at La Guerdache, where, with
a woman’s keen acumen, she had guessed that he was the man who would
strive to bar her path. Since that time, moreover, she had frequently
come into collision with him, and now it was he who threatened to
destroy the Abyss and to cast her back into all the loathsomeness of
mediocrity. If she should allow him a free hand her happiness would be
over; he would rob her of everything that she cared for in life. And
thus, beneath her seeming graciousness, she was consumed by murderous
fury. One thought alone possessed her–that of suppressing that man,
and she dreamt of devising some catastrophe in which he might perish.

Eight months had now gone by since Josine had bidden farewell to Luc,
and since that time she had become _enceinte_. Ragu had discovered
the truth one day, when in a fit of drunkenness he had wished to beat
her. He himself had reverted to his old life of debauchery, leading
astray all the factory girls who were foolish enough to listen to him,
and utterly neglecting his own wife. Thus his discovery both amazed
and exasperated him, and terrible scenes followed it. At first he had
recourse to brutality, and it was a wonder that Josine escaped alive.
Then he kept her shut up for days together, or else watched her every
movement. He had long spoken of casting her into the streets, he had
long neglected her for the most shameless of creatures, but at present
he quivered with jealous fury whenever he saw her speaking with any man
out of doors. He tried by every means he could devise to wring from
her her lover’s name, but this she steadfastly refused to tell him,
whatever might be his threats, his violence, or his promises; for after
striking her he would sometimes exclaim: ‘Tell me his name, tell me his
name! And I promise you that I’ll leave you alone!’

No suspicion of Luc entered Ragu’s mind, for nobody, apart from
Sœurette, was aware of Josine’s visit to the pavilion. Thus Ragu sought
the culprit among his own mates; but however much he might watch,
however much he might question, he learnt nothing, and the efforts he
made in this respect only increased his fury.

Josine meantime hid herself as much as possible; she dreaded the result
for Luc should the truth be discovered. So far as she was personally
concerned, she was overjoyed by what had happened, and would have
gladly hastened to her lover to tell him of it. But fears for his
safety came upon her, and she thought that it was best to wait; in
such wise that a chance meeting alone apprised Luc of the truth. And
even then Josine was only able to acquaint him with her secret by a
gesture; for others were present, and it was impossible for the lovers
to exchange a word.

Filled with emotion by the tidings thus imparted to him, Luc sought for
further information, and soon heard of Ragu’s wrath and violence, and
of the close watch which he kept upon Josine. Had he, Luc, retained any
doubts on the matter, the other’s ferocious jealousy and exasperation
would have sufficed to destroy them. From that moment he regarded
Josine as his own wife. She was his, and his alone, since she was soon
to become a mother–and the father of the child, and not the other,
was the real and sole husband. Ragu had vowed that he would never be
burdened with children, and thus there was no bond whatever between
him and Josine. There can, indeed, be but one bond between man and
woman, one firm and eternal bond–the bond which comes from the birth
of a child. Apart from that, whatever human laws may say, there is no
real union, no real marriage. Thus Josine now for ever belonged to Luc
alone, and assuredly she would come back to him, and the child would be
the living florescence of their love.

All the same, Luc suffered terribly when he learnt that Josine was
constantly being reviled and ill-treated, ever in danger of receiving
some dastardly blow. It was unbearable to the young man that he should
have to leave that fondly loved woman in the clutches of Ragu, when
he longed to set her in a paradise of affection. But what could he do
since she so stubbornly cloistered herself in order to spare him all
embarrassment and worry? She even refused to see him, for fear of some
surprise that would have revealed the secret which she so tenderly
buried in the depths of her dolorous heart. Thus Luc had to watch for
her, in order to be able to say a few words. At last, one very dark
evening, while hiding in a dim corner of the wretched Rue des Trois
Lunes, he was able to stop her for a moment as she was passing.

‘Oh, Luc! is it you? How imprudent!’ she gasped. ‘Kiss me and run off,
I beg you.’

But he, quivering, had clasped her round the waist, and was whispering
passionately, ‘No, no, Josine, I want to tell you … You are suffering
too much, and it is criminal of me to leave you, who are so dear, so
precious, in such suffering…. Listen, Josine, I have come to fetch
you, and you must come with me, so that I may place you in my home,
your home, like a well-loved happy woman.’

She was already yielding to his gentle and consoling embrace. But all
at once she freed herself. ‘Oh! what are you saying, Luc? Have you no
more reason than that?’ she asked. ‘Follow you, good heavens! when that
would be confession, and would draw the greatest dangers down upon
you! It is I who would then be acting wrongly, criminally, creating
embarrassment for you in the work that you are accomplishing. Be off,
quick! He may try to kill me, but I will never, never give him your
name.’

At this Luc tried to convince her of the uselessness of such a
sacrifice to the hypocrisy of the world. ‘You are my wife, since I am
the father of your child,’ said he, ‘and me it is that you ought to
follow. By-and by, when our city of justice is built, there will be no
other law save that of love, and our union will be respected by one and
all. Why should we trouble about the people whom we may scandalise
to-day?’

Then as she seemed stubbornly bent on sacrifice, saying that she took
only the present into account, for she wished him to be spared all
obstacles, in order that he might become powerful and triumphant, he
raised a cry of grief: ‘What, will you never return to me then? Will
that child never be mine, in the presence of one and all?’

Again she clasped him with her delicate, endearing arms, and with her
lips near his she softly murmured: ‘I will come back on the day when
you need me, when I shall be not a source of embarrassment but a help,
and then I will bring with me that dear child whose presence will endow
us both with increase of strength.’

Black Beauclair, the old, pestilential den of accursed toil, lay around
them, agonising in the darkness beneath the crushing weight of its
centuries of iniquity, whilst those words, instinct with hope in a
future of peace and happiness, were spoken.

‘You are my husband,’ resumed Josine; ‘you alone will have formed part
of my life; and ah! if you only knew with what delight I refrain from
speaking your name, no matter how much I may be threatened. I keep it
secret like a hidden flower, like hidden armour, too. Oh! do not pity
me; I am strong and I am very happy.’

And Luc made answer: ‘You are my wife; I loved you on the very first
evening when I met you, so wretched yet so divine. And if you keep
my name secret so will I keep yours; it shall be my worship and my
strength till you yourself deem it time to cry our love aloud.’

‘Oh, Luc! how good, how reasonable you are, and how happy we shall be!’

‘It is you, Josine, who have made me good and reasonable, and it is
because I succoured you one evening that we shall be so very happy
later on, amidst the happiness of all.’

Without again speaking they remained yet another moment linked in a
close embrace. Then Josine freed herself and returned, glorious and
invincible, to martyrdom, whilst Luc disappeared amidst the gloom,
strengthened by that interview and ready to resume the battle which
would lead to victory.

A few weeks later, however, chance placed Josine’s secret in
Fernande’s hands. Fernande knew Ragu, whose sudden return to the
Abyss had created quite a sensation there, in such wise that Delaveau
had made a pretence of esteeming him, and had even appointed him
master-puddler, and favoured him in other ways, although his conduct
was execrable. That Fernande should have heard of the drama which had
upset Ragu’s home was not surprising. He made no attempt whatever
to conceal the facts, but openly denounced his wife as a shameless
creature, with the result that the affair became a common subject
of conversation in the workshops. It was even spoken about at the
manager’s house, and one day in Fernande’s presence Delaveau expressed
his great annoyance at it all; for Ragu, now that he was wild with
jealousy, worked like a madman, at times never touching a tool for
three days in succession, and at others rushing upon his task and
stirring the fusing metal with all the fury of a man who is seized with
a longing to strike and kill.

At last one winter morning, when Delaveau was absent in Paris, whither
he had gone the previous day, Fernande questioned her maid, who had
just brought her the tea and toast which composed her first breakfast.
Nise was seated there drinking her own milk and casting covetous eyes
at her mother’s tea, for tea was a thing which she was not usually
allowed to drink, though she was very fond of it.

‘Is it true, Félicie,’ Fernande inquired, ‘that the Ragus have been
quarrelling again? The laundress told me that Ragu had half killed his
wife.’

‘I don’t know if that’s so, madame,’ replied the maid, ‘but I think she
must have exaggerated, for I saw Josine pass the house a little while
ago, and she looked no worse than she usually does.’

A pause followed, and then the maid, as she went off, added, ‘All the
same, it’s pretty certain that he will end by killing her one of these
days. He tells everybody that he means to do so.’

Silence fell again, and Fernande slowly ate her toast, absorbed the
while in a gloomy reverie. But all at once, amidst the heavy stillness,
Nise, letting her thoughts escape her unawares, began to hum in an
undertone: ‘Ragu isn’t Josine’s real husband; her husband is Monsieur
Luc, Monsieur Luc, Monsieur Luc!’

At this her mother raised her eyes in stupefaction, and gazed at the
child fixedly. ‘What is that you are saying, Nise?’ she exclaimed. ‘Why
are you saying it?’

Thunderstruck at having unwittingly hummed those words aloud, Nise
lowered her face over her cup, and strove to assume an innocent air.
‘Oh, for nothing! I don’t know.’

‘You don’t know, you little falsehood-teller! You certainly did not
make up those words yourself. If you repeat them somebody must have
told them you.’

Nise, although she was becoming more and more disturbed, feeling that
she had landed herself in a nasty scrape which might have far-reaching
consequences, nevertheless held out against all evidence. ‘I assure
you, mamma,’ said she, in the most artless manner that she could
assume, ‘one sings things without knowing, just as they come into one’s
head.’

Then Fernande, seeing her repeat her fib with all the demeanour of a
genuine _gamine_, suddenly felt enlightened: ‘It was Nanet who told you
what you sang; it can only have been Nanet.’

Nise blinked; it was indeed Nanet who had told her. But she was afraid
of being again scolded and punished, as on the day when her mother had
caught her returning from La Crêcherie with Paul Boisgelin and Louise
Mazelle by climbing over the wall, so she persisted in her falsehood:
‘Oh! Nanet, Nanet–but I haven’t seen him at all since you forbade it.’

Feverishly desirous of ascertaining the truth, her mother suddenly
assumed great gentleness of manner. Such was her emotion that she
forgot all question of scolding–Nise’s escapades with Nanet being of
little moment compared with the important matter on which she desired
full enlightenment. ‘Listen, little girl,’ she said, ‘it is very wrong
to tell falsehoods. That day when I said that you should have no
dessert it was because you wanted to make me believe that you and the
others had climbed over the wall simply to fetch a ball. Well, to-day,
if you tell me the truth, I promise that you shall not be punished.
Come, be frank–it was Nanet?’

Nise, who at bottom was a good little girl, immediately replied: ‘Yes,
mamma, it _was_ Nanet.’

‘And he told you that Josine’s real husband was Monsieur Luc?’

‘Yes, mamma.’

‘And, pray, what does he know about it? Why does he say that Monsieur
Luc is Josine’s real husband?’

Thereupon Nise became perplexed, and innocently lowered her face over
her cup again. ‘Oh! he knows–he knows–well, he says he knows it.’

Greatly as Fernande desired to obtain precise information on the
subject, she felt that she could not put any further questions to her
child. And by way of precaution she sought to destroy the effect of
the eager curiosity which she had hitherto displayed: ‘Nanet knows
nothing,’ she said; ‘he talks foolishly, and you are a little stupid to
repeat what he says. Don’t go singing such silly things again, or else
you shall never have any dessert at all.’

Then the meal was finished in silence, the mother absorbed in what she
had learnt, and the child well pleased at having escaped so lightly.

Fernande spent the day in her room, reflecting. She began by asking
herself if what Nanet had said could really be the truth. But how was
she to doubt it? The lad had certainly heard something–discovered
something–and he was too much attached to his sister to tell any
falsehood about her. Moreover, a number of little incidents which
Fernande now recalled rendered the story quite probable–in fact,
certain. But then how could she make use of the weapon which chance
had placed in her hand? In a confused way she dreamt of steeping that
weapon in poison, so as to render it deadly. Never had she hated Luc
so much as she hated him now. If Delaveau was at present in Paris, it
was solely for the purpose of trying to negotiate a fresh loan, for
the Abyss was sinking a little more each day. How great, then, would
be her victory if she could succeed in suppressing the hated master of
La Crêcherie, the man who threatened her life of luxury and pleasure!
The enemy killed, the competition would be killed as well. With such a
man as Ragu, a drunkard, full of jealousy and wrath, a prompt finish
might be expected. It would doubtless suffice to inflame him, to prompt
him to draw his knife. But then, again, how was she to bring this
about–how was she to act? The proper course was evidently to warn
Ragu, to acquaint him with the name of the man whom he had been trying
to discover for three months past. Then, however, came a difficulty:
how was she to warn him, where, and by whom? At first she thought of
sending him an anonymous letter, and decided that she would cut the
words she needed out of some old newspaper, paste them on a sheet of
paper, and post the letter in the evening. She had, indeed, already
begun to cut out such words as she desired, when it suddenly occurred
to her that her plan might not prove efficacious, for Ragu might pay
little heed to a letter, whereas it was necessary to exasperate him. If
he were not excited, fired to the point of madness, perhaps he would
never strike. The truth must be cast at him like a blow–a whip stroke
in the face, and under such circumstances as might madden him. But whom
could she send? Whom could she choose to poison the man’s mind? When
night came and she went to bed, she had grown convinced that there was
nobody whom she could employ, and that she herself must speak the fatal
words. Chance favoured her in this design. Her husband was absent,
and, on awaking at an early hour, she was able to go down and waylay
Ragu as he quitted the night shift. She had an excuse quite ready; she
would tell him that she wanted a woman to do some needlework, and had
thought of employing his wife, if he were willing to let her come.
That proposal would enable her to raise the subject which she had at
heart. And, indeed, at the first words that Fernande addressed to him
with respect to his wife, Ragu burst into invectives; and when she,
in a seemingly innocent way, declared that she imagined he had become
reconciled to the position, for she had heard that the child was to
be provided for by its father, Monsieur Luc, the man’s fury became
uncontrollable. The die was cast, and it was certain that he would
wreak summary vengeance, for there was murder in his glance as he
wildly rushed away.

It was nearly nine o’clock, and the pale morning light of winter was
rising, when Luc was stabbed by Ragu. The former was about to pay his
usual morning visit to the school–his greatest daily pleasure–when
Ragu, who had been watching for him, secreted the while behind a clump
of spindle trees, suddenly sprang forward and thrust his knife into his
back, between his shoulders. Luc, standing at that moment on the very
threshold of the school, laughing with some of the little girls who
had come forward to meet him, gave a loud cry and fell to the ground,
whilst his assailant fled up the Bleuse Mountains, where he disappeared
amidst the rocks and the bushes. As it happened Sœurette had not yet
arrived; she was busy at the dairy on the other side of the park. The
children present fled in their terror, calling for help, and shrieking
that Ragu had just killed Monsieur Luc. Some minutes elapsed, however,
before some of the men of the works heard these calls and were able
to pick up the stricken man, who had swooned away. The blood that had
gushed from him already formed quite a pool, and the steps of the right
wing of the common-house, which the school occupied, seemed to have
been baptized with gore. For the time being nobody thought of pursuing
Ragu, who must have been far away already. The attention of one and all
was given to Luc, who, just as the men were about to carry him into a
hall adjoining the class-rooms, emerged from his swoon and gasped in a
faint, entreating voice; ‘No, no! to my home, my friends.’

They had to obey him, and carry him to the pavilion on a stretcher;
but it was only with difficulty that they were able to lay him on his
bed, and then such was the agony he experienced that he again lost
consciousness.

At that moment Sœurette arrived. One of the little girls, retaining her
presence of mind, had gone to warn her at the dairy, whilst, on the
other hand, one of the workmen ran down to Beauclair in order to fetch
Doctor Novarre. When Sœurette entered the pavilion and saw Luc lying
there, with his face quite white and his body covered with blood, she
believed him to be dead. Thus she at once fell upon her knees beside
the bedstead, a prey to such keen grief that the secret of her love
escaped her. She took hold of one of Luc’s inert hands and kissed it,
and sobbed, and stammered forth all the passion against which she
had battled, and which she had buried deep within her. In losing him
she felt that she was losing her own heart; she would love no more,
she would be unable to live another day. And amidst her despair she
did not perceive that Luc, upon whom her tears were falling, had at
last recovered consciousness, and was listening to her with infinite
affection, infinite tenderness. At last he faintly breathed the words,
‘You love me. Ah! poor, poor Sœurette!’

Full of blissful surprise at finding him yet alive, Sœurette regretted
nought of her confession; rather was she delighted at no longer having
to lie to him, for she felt that her love was so great and so lofty it
would never bring suffering on him.

‘Yes, I love you, Luc!’ she gasped, ‘but do I count, I? You live, and
that is sufficient. I am not jealous of your happiness. Oh, Luc, you
must live! you must live! and I will be your servant.’

At that tragic moment, when death seemed so near at hand, the discovery
of Sœurette’s mute and absolute love, which had long surrounded and
accompanied him like that of some guardian angel, filled Luc with
immense but dolorous rapture.

‘Poor, poor Sœurette! Oh, my divine, sad friend!’ he murmured in his
failing voice.

But the door opened and Doctor Novarre entered in a state of keen
emotion. He immediately wished to examine the wound, with the
assistance of Sœurette, with whose skill as a nurse he was well
acquainted. Deep silence fell. There came a moment of inexpressible
anguish; then followed unhoped-for relief, a glow of hope. The knife
had struck the shoulder-blade and had swerved, reaching no vital
organ, but simply gashing the flesh. At the same time the wound was a
frightful one, and it seemed as if the bone might be broken, in which
event complications might arise. Even if there were no immediate danger
convalescence would at all events be a long time coming. Yet how joyful
was the thought that death had been averted!

Luc was holding Sœurette’s hand and smiling feebly at the sight of her
happiness. ‘And my good Jordan, does he know of it?’ he asked.

‘No, he knows nothing as yet; for three days past he has shut himself
up in his laboratory. But I will bring him to you. Ah! my friend, how
happy the doctor’s assurance makes me!’

In her rapture Sœurette still let her hand rest in Luc’s, when once
again the door of the room opened. And this time it was Josine who
entered. At the first news of the crime she had hastened to the spot,
distracted, wild with grief. That which she had feared had happened!
Some scoundrel had surprised and revealed her secret, and Ragu had
killed Luc, her husband, the father of her child. Her life was over,
there was nothing more for her to hide, she would die there, in her
real home.

Luc raised a light cry at the sight of her. And quickly dropping
Sœurette’s hand, he held out both his arms.

‘Ah! Josine,’ he gasped, ‘it is you–you have come back to me!’

Then, as she, staggering forward, sank down beside him, he understood
her anguish, and sought to reassure her. ‘Do not grieve,’ he said, ‘you
have come back to me with the dear little one, and I shall live–the
doctor tells me so–live for both of you.’

She listened and drew a long breath, as though recovering life. Had she
then reached the realisation of her hopes, that which she had awaited
from life, which seems so harsh whilst it accomplishes its needful
work? He would live! And it was that abominable knife-thrust which
brought them together once more–they who were already for ever linked
one to the other.

‘Yes, yes, I have come back to you, Luc,’ she said, ‘and it is all
over; we shall never part again since now we have nothing more to hide.
Remember that I promised to return to you whenever you might have need
of me, whenever I should no longer be a source of embarrassment to you.
All other ties are severed: I am your wife before one and all, and my
place is here, at your bedside.’

Luc was so moved, so thrilled with rapture, that tears gathered in his
eyes. ‘Ah! dear, dear Josine, love and happiness have come with you.’

But all at once he remembered Sœurette, and then he raised his eyes and
saw her standing erect once more, on the other side of the bed; and
although she looked very pale she was smiling. With an affectionate
gesture he took hold of her hand again.

‘My good Sœurette,’ he said, ‘this was a secret which I was compelled
to hide from you.’

She shivered slightly, then simply answered: ‘Oh! I knew it, I had seen
Josine leave the pavilion one morning.’

‘What! you knew it!’

Then he divined everything, and the compassion, the admiration, the
affection he felt for her became infinite. Her renunciation of hope,
the love which she still retained for him, and which she manifested in
boundless affection, in a gift of her whole life, touched him like an
act of the loftiest heroism. Drawing quite close to him she whispered:
‘Have no fear, Luc, I knew it; and I shall never be aught but the most
devoted and most sisterly of friends.’

‘Ah, Sœurette!’ he repeated, in so faint a breath that he could
scarcely be heard, ‘ah! my divine, sad friend!’

Noticing his exhaustion, Doctor Novarre intervened, and forbade
any further talking. The doctor smiled discreetly at all that he
had learnt at that bedside. It was very nice that the injured man
should have a sister, a wife to nurse him. But it was necessary to be
reasonable and to refrain from encouraging fever by excess of emotion.
Luc promised, however, that he would be very good; he spoke no more,
but only turned soft glances upon Josine and Sœurette, his two good
angels, who stood one on the right, the other on the left of his bed.

A long pause followed. The blood of the reformer had flowed, and this
was the Calvary, the passion whence triumph would arise. As the two
women moved gently around him the injured man opened his eyes to smile
at them again. Then he fell asleep, murmuring: ‘Love has come at last,
and now we shall be the conquerors.’