At last the carriage stopped

On the morrow, Sunday, just as Luc had risen, he received a friendly
note from Madame Boisgelin, inviting him to lunch at La Guerdache.
Having learnt that he was at Beauclair, and that the Jordans would
only return home on the Monday, she told him how happy she would be
to see him again, in order that they might chat together about their
old friendship in Paris, where they had secretly conducted some big
charitable enterprises together in the needy district of the Faubourg
St. Antoine. And Luc, who regarded Madame Boisgelin with a kind of
affectionate reverence, at once accepted her invitation, writing word
that he would be at La Guerdache by eleven o’clock.

Superb weather had suddenly followed the week of heavy rain by which
Beauclair had almost been submerged. The sun had risen radiantly in
the sky, which was now of a pure blue, as if it had been cleansed
by all the showers. And the bright sun of September still diffused
so much warmth that the roads were already dry. Luc was, therefore,
well pleased to walk the couple of thousand yards which separated La
Guerdache from the town. When, about a quarter past ten, he passed
through the latter–that is, the new town, which stretched from the
Place de la Mairie to the fields fringing La Roumagne–he was surprised
by its brightness, cheerfulness, and trimness, and sorrowfully recalled
the dismal aspect of the poverty-stricken quarter which he had seen
the previous night. In the new town were assembled the sub-prefecture,
the law court, and the prison, the last being a handsome new building,
whose plaster-work was scarcely dry. As for the church of St. Vincent,
an elegant sixteenth-century church astride the old and the now towns,
it had lately been repaired, for its steeple had shown an inclination
to topple down upon the faithful. And as Luc went on he noticed that
the sunlight gilded the smart houses of the _bourgeois_, and brightened
even the Place de la Mairie, which spread out beyond the populous Rue
de Brias, displaying a huge and ancient building which served as both a
town hall and a school.

Luc, however, speedily reached the fields by way of the Rue de
Formerie, which stretched straight away beyond the square like a
continuation of the Rue de Brias. La Guerdache was on the Formerie
road, just outside Beauclair. Thus Luc had no occasion to hurry; and
indeed he strolled along like one in a dreamy mood. At times he even
turned round, and then, northward, beyond the town, whose houses
descended a slight slope, he perceived the huge bar of the Bleuse
Mountains parted by the precipitously enclosed gorge through which
the Mionne torrent flowed. In that kind of estuary opening into the
plain one could distinctly perceive the close-set buildings and lofty
chimneys of the Abyss as well as the blast-furnace of La Crêcherie–in
fact, quite an industrial city, which was visible from every side of La
Roumagne, leagues and leagues away. Luc remained gazing at the scene
for some little time, and when he slowly resumed his walk towards La
Guerdache, which he could already discern beyond some clusters of
magnificent trees, he recalled the typical history of the Qurignons,
which his friend Jordan had once told him.

It was in 1823 that Blaise Qurignon, the workman by whom the Abyss had
been founded, had installed himself there, on the bank of the torrent,
with his two tilt-hammers. He had never employed more than a score
of hands, and making but a small fortune, had contented himself with
building near the works a little brick pavilion in which Delaveau,
the present manager, now resided. It was Jérôme Qurignon, the second
of the line, born in the year when his father founded the Abyss, who
became a real king of industry. In him met all the creative power
derived from a long ancestry of workmen, all the incipient efforts,
the century-old growth and rise of ‘the people.’ Hundreds of years of
latent energy, a long line of ancestors obstinately seeking happiness,
wrathfully battling in the gloom, working themselves at times to
death, now at last yielded fruit, culminated in the advent of this
victor who could toil eighteen hours a day, and whose intelligence,
good sense, and will swept all obstacles aside. In less than twenty
years he caused a town to spring from the ground, gave employment to
twelve hundred workpeople, and gained millions of francs. And at last,
stifling in the humble little house erected by his father, he expended
eight hundred thousand francs[1] on the purchase of La Guerdache, a
large and sumptuous residence in which ten families might have found
accommodation, whilst around it stretched a park and a farm, the whole
forming in fact a large estate. Jérôme was convinced that La Guerdache
would become as it were the patriarchal home of his descendants, all
the bright and loving couples who would assuredly spring from his
wealth as from some blessed soil. For them he prepared a future of
domination based on his dream of subjugating labour and utilising it
for the enjoyment of an _élite_; for was not all the power that he felt
within him definitive and infinite, and would it not even increase
among his children, free from all danger of diminution and exhaustion
during long, long years? But all at once a first misfortune fell upon
this man, who seemed to be as vigorous as an oak-tree. Whilst he was
still young–in his very prime, indeed, only two and fifty years of
age–paralysis deprived him of the use of both his legs, and he had to
surrender the management of the Abyss to Michel, his eldest son.

Michel Qurignon, the third of the line, was then just thirty. He had a
younger brother, Philippe, who, much against his father’s wishes, had
married in Paris a wonderfully beautiful but very flighty woman. And
between the two boys there was a girl, Laure, already five-and-twenty
years old, who greatly distressed her parents by the extreme
religiosity into which she had fallen.

Michel for his part had, when very young, married an extremely gentle,
loving, but delicate woman, by whom he had two children, Gustave and
Suzanne, the former being five and the latter three years old when
their father was suddenly obliged to assume the management of the
Abyss. It was understood that he should do so in the name and for the
benefit of the whole family, each member of which was to draw a share
of the profits, according to an agreement which had been arrived at.
Although Michel did not in the same high degree possess his father’s
admirable qualities, his power of work, his quick intelligence, and
his methodical habits, he none the less at first proved an excellent
manager, and for ten years succeeded in preventing any decline in the
business, which, indeed, he at one moment increased by replacing the
old plant by new appliances. But sorrows and family losses fell upon
him like premonitory signs of a coming disaster. His mother died, his
father was not only paralysed and wheeled about by a servant, but sank
into absolute dumbness after experiencing a difficulty in uttering
certain words. Then Michel’s sister, Laure, her brain quite turned
by mystical notions, took the veil, in spite of all the efforts made
to detain her at La Guerdache amidst the joys of the world. And from
Paris, too, Michel received deplorable tidings of the affairs of his
brother Philippe, whose wife was taking to scandalous adventures,
dragging him, moreover, into a wild life of gambling, extravagance,
and folly. Finally Michel lost his own delicate and gentle wife, which
proved, indeed, his supreme loss, for it threw him off his balance
and cast him into a life of disorder. He had already yielded to his
passions, but in a discreet way, for fear of saddening his wife, who
was always ill. But when death had carried her away, nothing was left
to restrain him, and he took freely to a life of pleasure, which
consumed the best part of his time and his energies.

Then came another period of ten years during which the Abyss declined,
since it was no longer directed by the victorious chief of the days of
conquest, but by a tired and satiated master who squandered all the
booty it yielded. A feverish passion for luxury now possessed Michel,
his existence became all festivity and pleasure, the spending of money
for the merely material joys of life. And the worst was that in
addition to this cause of ruin, in addition, moreover to bad management
and ever-increasing loss of energy, there came a commercial crisis, in
which the whole metallurgie industry of the region nearly perished. It
became impossible to manufacture steel rails and girders cheaply enough
in face of the victorious competition of the works of Northern and
Eastern France, which, thanks to a newly discovered chemical process,
were now able to employ defective ore which formerly it had been
impossible to utilise. Thus, after a struggle of two years’ duration,
Michel felt the Abyss crumbling to pieces beneath him, and one day,
when he was already unhinged by having to borrow three hundred thousand
francs to meet some heavy bills then reaching maturity, a horrible
drama drove him to desperation.

He was then nearly fifty-four years old, and was madly in love with a
pretty girl whom he had brought from Paris and concealed in Beauclair.
At times he indulged in the wild dream of fleeing with her to some
land of the sun, far away from all financial worries. His son Gustave,
who after failing in his studies led an idle life at seven-and-twenty
years of age, resided with him on a footing of friendly equality, well
acquainted with the intrigue, about which indeed he often jested. He
made fun also of the Abyss, refusing to set foot amongst all that
grimy, evil-smelling old iron, for he greatly preferred to ride,
hunt, and shoot, and generally lead the empty life of an amiable
_fin-de-race_ young man, as if he could count several centuries of
illustrious ancestry. And thus it happened that one fine evening,
after ‘lifting’ out of a _secrétaire_ the single hundred thousand
francs which his father had as yet managed to get together for his
payments, Master Gustave carried off the pretty girl, who had flung her
arms around his neck at the sight of so much money. And on the morrow
Michel, struck both in heart and brain by this collapse of his passion
and his fortune, yielded to the vertigo of horror and shot himself dead
with a revolver.

Three years had already elapsed since that suicide. And the speedy
downfall of one Qurignon had been followed by that of another and
another, as if by way of example to show how great might prove the
severity of destiny. Shortly after Gustave’s departure it was learnt
that he had been killed in a carriage accident at Nice, a pair of
runaway horses having carried him over a precipice. Then Michel’s
younger brother Philippe likewise disappeared from the scene, being
killed in a duel, the outcome of a dirty affair into which he had been
drawn by his terrible wife, who was said to be now in Russia with a
tenor, whilst the only child born to them, André Qurignon, the last of
the line, had been sent perforce to a private asylum, since he suffered
from an affection of the spine complicated by mental disorder. Apart
from that sufferer and Laure, who still led a cloistral life, so that
she also seemed to be dead, there remained of all the Qurignons only
old Jérôme and Michel’s daughter, Suzanne.

She, when twenty years of age–that is, five years before her father’s
death–had married Boisgelin, who had met her whilst visiting at a
country house. Although the Abyss was then already in peril, Michel
in his ostentatious way had made arrangements which enabled him to
give his daughter a dowry of a million francs. Boisgelin on his side
was very wealthy, having inherited from his grandfather and father a
fortune of more than six millions, amassed in all sorts of suspicious
affairs, redolent of usury and theft–by which he, however, was not
personally besmirched, since he had lived in perfect idleness ever
since his entry into the world. He was held in great esteem and envy,
and people were always eager to bow to him, for he resided in a superb
mansion near the Parc Monceau in Paris, and led a life of wild display
and extravagance. After seeking distinction by remaining invariably the
last of his class at the Lycée Condorcet,[2] which he had astonished by
his elegance, he had never done anything, but imagined himself to be
a modern-style aristocrat, one who established his claim to nobility
by the magnificence he showed in spending the fortune acquired by
his forerunners without even lowering himself to earn a copper. The
misfortune was that Boisgelin’s six millions no longer sufficed at last
to keep his establishment on the high footing which it had reached,
and that he allowed himself to be drawn into financial speculations of
which he understood nothing. The Bourse was just then going mad over
some new gold mines, and he was told that by venturing his fortune
he might treble it in two years’ time. All at once, however, came
disaster and downfall, and for a moment he almost thought that he was
absolutely ruined, to such a point indeed as to retain not even a crust
of bread for the morrow. He wept like a child at the thought, and
looked at his hands, which had ever idled, wondering what he would now
be able to do, since he knew not how to work with them. It was then
that Suzanne his wife evinced admirable affection, good sense, and
courage, in such wise as to set him on his feet again. She reminded him
that her own million, her dowry, was intact. And she insisted on having
the situation retrieved by selling the Parc-Monceau mansion, which they
would now be unable to keep up. Another million was found in that way.
But how were they to live, particularly in Paris, on the proceeds of
two millions of francs, when six had not sufficed, for temptation would
assuredly come again at the sight of all the luxury consuming the great
city? A chance encounter at last decided the future.

Boisgelin had a poor cousin, a certain Delaveau, the son of one of his
father’s sisters, whose husband, an unlucky inventor, had left her
miserably poor. Delaveau, a petty engineer, occupied a modest post at
a Brias coal-pit at the time when Michel Qurignon committed suicide.
Devoured by a craving to succeed, urged on too by his wife, and very
well acquainted with the situation of the Abyss, which he felt certain
he could restore to prosperity by a new system of organisation, he
went to Paris in search of capitalists, and there, one evening in
the street, he suddenly found himself face to face with his cousin
Boisgelin. Inspiration at once came to him. How was it that he had
not previously thought of that wealthy relative who, as it happened,
had married a Qurignon? On learning what was the present position of
the Boisgelins, now reduced to a couple of millions which they wished
to invest as advantageously as possible, Delaveau extended his plans,
and at several interviews which he had with his cousin displayed so
much assurance, intelligence, and energy, that he ended by convincing
him of success. There was really genius in the plan he had devised.
The Boisgelins must profit by the catastrophe which had fallen on
Michel Qurignon, buy the works for a million francs when they were
worth two millions, and start making steel of superior quality which
would rapidly bring in large profits. Moreover, why should not the
Boisgelins also buy La Guerdache? In the forced liquidation of the
Qurignon fortune they would easily secure it for five hundred thousand
francs, although it had cost eight hundred thousand; and Boisgelin
out of his two millions would then still have half a million left
to serve as working capital for the Abyss. He, Delaveau, absolutely
contracted to increase that capital tenfold and supply the Boisgelins
with a princely income. They would simply have to leave Paris, and live
happily and comfortably at La Guerdache, pending the accumulation of
the large fortune which they would assuredly possess some day, when
they might once more return to Parisian life to enjoy it amidst all the
magnificence they could dream of.

It was Suzanne who at last secured the compliance of her husband, who
felt anxious at the idea of leading a provincial life in which he would
probably be bored to death. She herself was delighted to return to La
Guerdache, where she had spent her childhood and youth. Thus matters
were settled as Delaveau had foreseen. The liquidation of the Qurignon
estate took place; and the fifteen hundred thousand francs which the
Boisgelins paid for the Abyss and La Guerdache proved barely sufficient
to meet the liabilities, in such wise that Suzanne and her husband
became absolute masters of everything, having no further accounts to
render to the other surviving heirs–that is, Aunt Laure the nun, and
André, the infirm and mentally afflicted young fellow who had been sent
to a private asylum. On the other hand Delaveau carried out all his
engagements, reorganised the works, renewed the plant, and proved so
successful in his management that at the end of the first twelve months
the profits were already superb. In three years the Abyss recovered its
position as one of the most prosperous steel works of the region; and
the money earned for Boisgelin by its twelve hundred workpeople enabled
him to instal himself at La Guerdache on a footing of great luxury:
he had six horses in his stables, five carriages in his coach-house,
and organised shooting-parties, dinner-parties, and all sorts of
festivities, to which the local authorities eagerly sought invitations.
Thus he who during the earlier months had gone about idle and dreary,
quite Paris-sick, now seemed to have accustomed himself to provincial
life, having discovered as it were a little empire, where his vanity
found every satisfaction. Moreover there was a secret cause behind
all other things, an element of victorious conceit in the quietly
condescending manner in which he reigned over Beauclair.

Delaveau had installed himself at the Abyss, where he occupied Blaise
Qurignon’s former house with his wife Fernande and their little girl
Nise, who at that time was only a few months old. He had then completed
his thirty-seventh year, and his wife was ten years younger. Her
mother, a music teacher, had formerly resided on the same floor as
himself in a dark house of the Rue Saint-Jacques in Paris. Fernande was
of such dazzling, sovereign beauty that for more than a twelvemonth,
whenever Delaveau met her on the stairs, he drew back trembling against
the wall like one who felt ashamed of his ugliness and his poverty.
At last, however, salutes were exchanged, and an acquaintance having
sprung up, the girl’s mother confided to him that she had lived for
twelve years in Russia as a governess, and that Fernande was her
daughter by a Russian prince by whom she had been deceived. This
prince, who was extremely attached to her, would certainly have dowered
her with a fortune, but one evening at the close of a day’s hunt he
was accidentally shot dead, and she then had to return penniless to
Paris with her little girl, and once more give lessons there. Only by
the most desperate hard work did she manage to bring up the child, for
whom, in spite of everything, she dreamt of some prodigious destiny.

Fernande, reared amidst adulation from her cradle, convinced that her
beauty destined her for a throne, encountered in lieu thereof the
blackest wretchedness, unable to throw her worn-out boots aside since
she knew not how to replace them, and being for ever obliged to repair
and refurbish her old gowns and hats. Anger and such a craving for
victory soon took possession of her, that from her tenth year onward
she did not live a day without learning more and more hatred, envy,
and cruelty, in this wise amassing extraordinary force of perversity
and destructiveness. The climax came when, imagining that her beauty
was bound to conquer by virtue of its all-mightiness, she yielded to a
man of wealth and power who, on the morrow, refused to have anything
more to do with her. This adventure, which she sought to bury in the
bitterest depths of her being, taught her the arts of falsehood,
hypocrisy, and craftiness, which she had not previously mastered. She
vowed that she would not stumble in that way again, for she was far too
ambitious to lead a life of open shame. She realised that it was not
sufficient for a woman to be beautiful; that she must find the proper
opportunity to display her beauty, and must meet a man such as she
could bewitch and turn into her obedient slave. And her mother having
died after trudging for a quarter of a century through the mud of
Paris to give lessons which barely yielded enough money to buy bread,
she, Fernande, felt a first opportunity arise on finding herself in
presence of Delaveau, who, whilst neither handsome nor rich, offered
to marry her. She did not care a pin for him, but she perceived that
he was very much in love with her, and she decided to avail herself
of his arm to enter the world of respectable women in which he would
prove a support and a means towards the end that she had in view. He
had to buy her a trousseau, taking her just as he found her, with
all the faith of a devotee for whom she was a goddess. And from that
time forward destiny followed its course even as she, Fernande, had
desired. Within two months of being introduced at La Guerdache by her
husband, she designedly entered upon an intrigue with Boisgelin, who
had become passionately enamoured of her. In that handsome clubman
and horseman she found the ideal lover for whom she had sought, the
lover all vanity, folly and liberality, who was capable of the worst
things in order to retain his beautiful mistress beside him. And it
so happened, moreover, that she thus satisfied all sorts of spite and
rancour, the covert hatred which she bore her husband, whose toilsome
life and quiet blindness humiliated her, and the growing jealousy which
she felt towards the quiet Suzanne, whom she had detested from the very
first day; this, indeed, being one of the reasons why she had listened
to Boisgelin, for she hoped thereby to make Suzanne suffer. And now all
was festivity at La Guerdache: Fernande reigned there like a beautiful
guest, realising her dream of a life of display, in which she helped
Boisgelin to squander the money which Delaveau wrung in perspiration
from the twelve hundred toilers of the Abyss. And, indeed, she even
hoped that she would some fine day be able to return to Paris and
triumph there with all the promised millions.

Such were the stories which occupied Luc’s thoughts as, sauntering
along, he repaired to La Guerdache in accordance with Suzanne’s
invitation. If he did not know everything as yet, he at least already
suspected certain matters, which the near future was to enable him
to fathom completely. At last, as he raised his head, he perceived
that he was only a hundred yards or so from the fine park whose great
trees spread their greenery over a large expanse. Then he paused,
whilst before his mind’s eye there arose above all other figures that
of Monsieur Jérôme, the second Qurignon, the founder of the family
fortune, the infirm paralysed man whom only the day before he had met
in his bath-chair, pushed along by a servant near the very entrance of
the Abyss. He pictured him with his lifeless, stricken legs, his silent
lips, and his clear eyes which for a quarter of a century had been
gazing at the disasters that overwhelmed his race. There was his son
Michel, hungering for pleasure and luxury, imperilling the works, and
killing himself as the result of a frightful family drama. There was
his grandson Gustave, carrying off his father’s mistress and dashing
his brains out in the depths of a precipice, as beneath the vengeful
pursuit of the Furies. There was his daughter Laure, in a convent, cut
off from the world; and there was his younger son Philippe, marrying
an unworthy woman, gliding with her into the mire, and losing his
life in a duel after the most disgraceful adventures; and there was
his other grandson André, the last of the name, a cripple, shut up
amongst the insane. And yet even now the disaster was continuing; the
annihilation of the family was being completed by an evil ferment,
that Fernande who had appeared among them as if to consummate their
ruin with those terrible, sharp, white teeth of hers. Amidst his long
silence Jérôme had witnessed and was witnessing all those things. But
did he remark them, did he judge them? It was said that his mind had
become weak, and yet how deep and limpid were his eyes! And if he
could think, what thoughts were those that filled his long hours of
immobility? All his hopes had crumbled; the victorious strength amassed
through a long ancestry of toilers, the energy which he thought he was
bound to bequeath to a long line of descendants whose fortune would
ever and ever increase, had now blazed away like a heap of straw in
the fire of worldly enjoyment! In three generations the reserve of
creative power which had required so many centuries of wretchedness
and effort to accumulate had been gluttonously consumed. Amidst the
eager satisfaction of material cravings, the nerves of the race had
become unstrung, refinement had led to destructive degeneracy. Gorged
too quickly, unhinged by possession, the race had collapsed amidst all
the folly born of wealth. And that royal domain La Guerdache, which he
Jérôme had purchased, dreaming of some day peopling it with numerous
descendants, happy couples who would diffuse the blessed glory of his
name, how sad he must feel at seeing half its rooms empty, what anger
he must experience at seeing it virtually handed over to that strange
woman, who brought the final poisonous ferment in the folds of her
skirts! He himself lived there in solitude, keeping up an affectionate
intercourse solely with his granddaughter Suzanne, who was the only
person still admitted to the large room which he occupied on the ground
floor. She, when only ten years old, had already helped to nurse him
there, like a loving little girl touched by her poor grandpapa’s
misfortune. And when she had returned to the spot, a married woman,
after the purchase of the family property, she had insisted on her
grandfather remaining there, although nothing belonged to him, for he
had divided his whole property among his children at the time when
paralysis had fallen on him like a thunderbolt.

Suzanne was not without scruples in this matter. It seemed to her
that in following Delaveau’s advice she and her husband had despoiled
the two remaining members of the family, Aunt Laure and André, the
cripple. As a matter of fact they were provided for; and thus it was on
grandfather Jérôme that she lavished her affection, watching over him
like a good angel. But although a smile would appear in the depths of
his clear eyes when he fixed them upon her, there remained as it were
but two cavities seemingly full of spring water in his frigid, deeply
marked countenance, directly the wild life of La Guerdache flitted past
him. Was he conscious of it, and did he think about it, and if so were
not his thoughts compounded of despair?

Luc found himself at last before the monumental iron gate opening into
the Formerie highway at a point whence started a road leading to the
neighbouring village of Les Combettes, and he simply had to push a
little side gate open in order to reach the royal avenue of elm-trees.
Beyond them one saw the château, a huge seventeenth-century pile, quite
imposing in its simplicity, with its two upper stories each showing a
line of twelve windows, and its raised ground floor, which was reached
by a double flight of steps, decorated with some handsome vases. The
park, which was of great extent, all copses and lawns, was traversed
by the Mionne, which fed a large piece of ornamental water where swans
swam to and fro.

Luc was already going towards the steps when a light welcoming
laugh made him turn his head. Under an oak-tree, near a stone table
surrounded by some rustic chairs, he then perceived Suzanne, who sat
there with her son Paul playing near her.

‘Why, yes, my friend!’ said she, ‘I have come down to await my guests,
like a countrywoman who is not afraid of the open air. How kind of you
to accept my abrupt invitation!’

She smiled at him while offering her hand. She was not pretty, but she
was charming, very fair and small, with a delicate round head, curly
hair, and eyes of a soft blue. Her husband had always considered her
to be somewhat insignificant, never suspecting, it seemed, all the
delightful kindness of heart and sterling good sense which lurked
beneath her great simplicity.

Luc had taken her hand, and retained it for a moment between both his
own.

‘It was you who were kind to think of me! I am very, very pleased to
meet you again,’ he said.

She was three years his elder, and had first met him in a wretched
house in the Rue de Bercy, where he had resided when beginning life
as an assistant engineer at some adjacent works. Very discreet, and
practising charity in person and by stealth, she had been in the habit
of calling at this house to see a mason who had been left a widower
with six children, two of them little girls. And the young man being
in the garret, with these little girls on his knees, one evening when
she had brought some food and linen, they had become acquainted. Luc
had afterwards had occasion to visit her at the mansion near the Parc
Monceau in connection with other charitable undertakings in which they
were both interested. A feeling of great sympathy had then gradually
drawn them together, and he had become her assistant and messenger in
matters known to them alone. Thus he had ended by visiting the mansion
regularly, being invited to most of the entertainments there during
two successive winters. And it was there too that he had first met the
Jordans.

‘If you only knew how people regret you, how your departure was
lamented!’ he added by way of allusion to their former benevolent
alliance.

Suzanne made a little gesture of emotion, and replied in a low, voice:
‘Whenever I think of you, I am distressed that you are not here, for
there is so much to be done.’

Luc, however, had just noticed Paul, who ran up with some wild flowers
in his hand; and the young man burst into exclamations at seeing how
much the boy had grown. Very fair and slim, he had a gentle, smiling
face, and greatly resembled his mother.

‘Well,’ said the latter gaily, ‘he will now soon be seven years old. He
is already a little man.’

Seated and talking together like brother and sister in the warm
radiance of that September day, Luc and Suzanne became so absorbed in
their happy recollections that they did not even perceive Boisgelin
descend the steps and advance towards them. Smart of mien, wearing
a well-cut country jacket, and a single eye-glass, the master of La
Guerdache was a brawny coxcomb with grey eyes, a large nose, and waxed
moustaches. He brought his dark brown hair in curls over his narrow
brow, which was already being denuded by baldness.

‘Good day, my dear Froment,’ he exclaimed, with a lisp which he
exaggerated so as to be the more in the fashion. ‘A thousand thanks for
consenting to make one of us.’

Then, without more ado, after a vigorous hand-shake _à l’Anglaise_, he
turned to his wife: ‘I say, my dear, I hope orders were given to send
the victoria to Delaveau’s.’

There was no occasion for Suzanne to reply, for just then the victoria
came up the avenue of elms, and the Delaveaus alighted before the
stone table. Delaveau was a short, broad-shouldered man, possessing a
bull-dog’s head, massive, low, and with projecting jaw-bones. With his
snub nose, big goggle eyes, and fresh-coloured cheeks half hidden by
a thick black beard, he carried himself in a military, authoritative
manner. A delightful contrast was presented by his wife Fernande, a
tall and supple brunette with blue eyes and superb shoulders. Never
had more sumptuous or blacker hair crowned a more pure or whiter
countenance, with large azure eyes of glowing tenderness, and a small
fresh mouth whose little teeth seemed to be of unchangeable brilliancy,
and strong enough to break pebbles. She herself, however, was proudest
of her delicately shaped feet, in which she found an incontestable
proof of her princely origin.

She immediately apologised to Suzanne, whilst making a maid alight with
her daughter Nise, who was now three years of age and as fair as her
mother was dark, having a curly tumbled head, eyes blue like the sky,
and a pink mouth which was ever laughing, dimpling the while both her
cheeks and her chin.

‘You must excuse me, my dear,’ said Fernande, ‘but I profited by your
authorisation to bring Nise.’

‘Oh, you have done quite right,’ Suzanne responded; ‘I told you there
would be a little table.’

The two women appeared to be on friendly terms. One could scarcely
detect a slight fluttering of Suzanne’s eyelids when she saw Boisgelin
hasten to Fernande, who, however, must have been sulking with him,
for she received him in the icy manner which she was wont to assume
whenever he tried to escape one of her caprices. Looking somewhat
anxious, he came back to Luc and Delaveau, who had made one another’s
acquaintance during the previous spring, and were now shaking hands
together. Nevertheless, the young man’s presence at Beauclair seemed
somewhat to upset the manager of the Abyss.

‘What! you arrived here yesterday? Of course then you did not find
Jordan at home, since he was so suddenly called to Cannes. Yes, yes, I
was aware of that, but I did not know that he had sent for you. He has
some trouble in hand with respect to his blast-furnace.’

Luc was surprised at the other’s keen emotion, and divined that he
was about to ask him why Jordan had summoned him to La Crêcherie. He
did not understand the reason of such sudden disquietude, and so he
answered chancewise: ‘Trouble, do you think so? Everything seems to be
going on all right.’

However, Delaveau prudently changed the subject, and gave Boisgelin
some good news. China, said he, had just purchased a stock of defective
shells which he had intended to recast. And a diversion came when Luc,
who was extremely fond of children, made merry on seeing Paul give his
flowers to Nise, who was his very particular friend. ‘What a pretty
little girl!’ exclaimed the young man, ‘she is so golden that she looks
like a little sun. How is it possible when her papa and mamma are so
dark?’

Fernande, who had bowed to Luc, while giving him a keen glance to
ascertain if he were likely to prove a friend or an enemy, was fond of
having such questions put to her; for, putting on a glorious air, she
invariably replied by some allusions to the child’s grandfather, the
famous Russian prince.

‘Oh! a superbly built man, very fair and fresh-coloured. I am sure that
Nise will be the very image of him.’

By this time Boisgelin had apparently come to the conclusion that it
was not the correct thing to await one’s guests under an oak tree–only
commonplace _bourgeois_ after retiring from business into the country
could venture to do so–and accordingly he led the whole party towards
the drawing-room. At that moment Monsieur Jérôme made his appearance,
in his little conveyance propelled by a servant. The old man had
insisted on living quite apart from the other inmates of La Guerdache;
he had his own hours for rising, going to bed, and going out; and he
invariably took his meals by himself. He would not let the others
occupy themselves with him, and indeed it was an established rule in
the house that he should not even be spoken to. Thus, when he suddenly
appeared before them they contented themselves with bowing in silence,
Suzanne alone smiling and giving him a long and affectionate glance.
On his side Monsieur Jérôme, who was starting on one of those long
promenades which at times kept him out of doors the whole afternoon,
gazed at the others fixedly like some forgotten onlooker who has
ceased to belong to the world and no longer responds to salutations.
And beneath the cold keenness of the old man’s stare Luc felt his
uneasiness, his torturing doubts return.

The drawing-room was a rich and extremely large apartment, hung with
red brocatelle and furnished sumptuously in the Louis-Quatorze style.
The party had scarcely entered it when some other guests arrived,
Sub-Prefect Châtelard, followed by Mayor Gourier, the latter’s wife
Léonore, and their son Achille. Châtelard, who at forty could still
claim to be a good-looking man, was bald, with an aquiline nose, a
discreet mouth, and large eyes which shone keenly behind the glasses
he wore. He was a piece of Parisian wreckage, who, after losing his
hair and his digestion in the capital, had secured the sub-prefecture
of Beauclair as an asylum, thanks to an intimate friend who had been
pitchforked into office as a minister of state. Deficient in ambition,
suffering from a liver complaint, and realising the necessity of rest,
he had fallen upon pleasant lines there through making the acquaintance
of the beautiful Madame Gourier, with whom he carried on an unclouded
_liaison_, which was favourably viewed by those he governed, and even
accepted, it was said, by the lady’s husband, the latter’s thoughts
being given elsewhere. Léonore was still a fine-looking woman at
eight-and-thirty, fair, with large regular features, and she outwardly
displayed extreme piety, prudishness, and coldness; though according
to some accounts an everlasting brazier of passions blazed within her.
Gourier, a fat, common-looking man, ruddy, with a swollen neck and a
moon-like face, spoke of his wife with an indulgent smile. He paid far
more attention to the girls of his boot factory, which he had inherited
from his father, and in which he had personally made a fortune. The
only remaining tie between his wife and himself was their son Achille,
a youth of eighteen, who, although he was very dark, had his mother’s
regular features and fine eyes, and evinced an amount of intelligence
and independence which confounded and annoyed both his parents. On
whatever terms they themselves lived together, they at all events
showed perfect agreement in the presence of strangers; and, indeed,
since Châtelard had made their acquaintance the happiness of their
household was cited as an example. Moreover, the administration of the
town was greatly facilitated by the close intercourse that prevailed
between the sub-prefect and the mayor.

But other guests were now arriving; for instance, Judge Gaume,
accompanied by his daughter Lucile, and followed by the latter’s
betrothed, Jollivet, a captain on the retired list. Gaume, a man with a
long head, a lofty brow, and a fleshy chin, was barely five-and-forty,
but seemed desirous of remaining forgotten in that out-of-the-way nook
Beauclair on account of the terrible tragedy which had wrecked his
life. His wife, forsaken by a lover, had one evening killed herself
before him, after confessing her fault. And however frigid and severe
the judge might seem to be, he had really remained inconsolable,
tortured by that terrible catastrophe, and at the present time full
of fears for the future of his daughter, to whom he was extremely
attached, and who, as she grew up, had become more and more like her
mother. Short, and slight, and refined, and of an amorous disposition,
with melting eyes set in a bright face crowned with hair of a
golden-chestnut hue, Lucile ever reminded her father of her mother’s
transgression, and for fear lest something similar should happen
to her, he had betrothed her as soon as she was twenty to Captain
Jollivet, though he realised in doing so that it would be painful for
him to part with her and that he would afterwards sink into bitter
solitude.

Captain Jollivet, though he looked rather worn for a man only
five-and-thirty years old, was none the less a handsome fellow with a
stubborn brow and victorious moustaches. Fever contracted in Madagascar
had compelled him to send in his papers; and having just then inherited
an income of twelve thousand francs a year, he had decided to establish
himself at Beauclair, his native place, and marry Lucile, whose cooing
turtle-dove ways had quite upset him. Gaume, who had no fortune of
his own, and lived poorly on his pay as a presiding judge, could not
decline the proposals of such a suitor. Yet his secret despair seemed
to increase, for never had he evinced more severity in applying the
law, rigorously following the strict, stern wording of the Code. People
said, however, that implacable as he might seem to be, he was really a
disheartened man, a disconsolate pessimist who doubted everything, and
particularly human justice. If that were true, what must have been his
sufferings, the sufferings of a judge who, while asking himself if he
has any right to do so, passes sentences on unhappy wretches who are
really the victims of everybody’s crime?

Soon after the Gaumes came the Mazelles with their daughter Louise, a
child three years of age, another guest for the little table. These
Mazelles were a perfectly happy couple, two stout folks of the same
age–that is, little more than forty–and they had grown so much
alike in course of time that each now had the same rosy smiling face,
the same gentle parental way as the other. They had spent a hundred
thousand francs to install themselves in true _bourgeois_ fashion in
a fine substantial house surrounded by a fairly large garden near the
sub-prefecture; and they lived therein on an income of some fifteen
thousand francs a year derived from investments in Rentes, which to
their fancy alone seemed safe. Their happiness, the beatitude of their
life, which was now spent in doing nothing, had become proverbial.
Often were people heard to say: ‘Ah! if one could only be like Monsieur
Mazelle who does nothing! He’s lucky and no mistake!’

To this he answered that he had worked hard during ten years, and was
fully entitled to his fortune. The fact was that, after beginning life
as a petty commission agent in the coal trade, he had found a bride
with a dowry of fifty thousand francs, and had been skilful or perhaps
simply lucky enough to foresee the strikes, whose frequent recurrence
over a period of nearly ten years were destined to bring about a
considerable rise in the prices of French coal. His great stroke had
consisted in making sure at the lowest possible prices of some very
large stocks of coal abroad and in re-selling them at a huge profit
to French manufacturers when a sudden failure in their own supplies
was forcing them to close their works. At the same time Mazelle had
shown himself a perfect sage, retiring from business when he was nearly
forty–that is, as soon as he found himself in possession of the six
hundred thousand francs which, according to his calculation, would
ensure his wife and himself a life of perfect felicity. He had not
even yielded to the temptation of trying to make a million, for he was
far too much afraid that fortune might play him false. And never had
egotism triumphed more serenely, never had optimism a greater right to
say that everything was for the best in the best of worlds, than in
the case of these perfectly worthy people, who were very fond of one
another and of that tardy arrival, their little girl. Fully satisfied,
free from all feverishness, having no further ambition to satisfy,
they presented a perfect picture of happiness–the happiness which
shuts itself up and does not even glance at the unhappiness of others.
The only little flaw in this happiness lay in the circumstance that
Madame Mazelle, a very plump and blooming dame, imagined that she was
afflicted with some serious, nameless, undefinable complaint, on which
account she was all the more coddled by her ever-smiling husband, who
spoke with a kind of tender vanity about ‘my wife’s illness’ in the
same way as he might have spoken of ‘my wife’s wonderful golden hair.’
Withal, this supposed illness gave rise to no sadness or fear. And it
was simply with astonishment that the worthy couple contemplated their
little girl, Louise, who was growing up so unlike either of them–that
is, dark, thin, and quick, with an amusing little head, which, with
its obliquely set eyes and slender nose, suggested that of a young
goat. This astonishment of theirs was rapturous, as if the child had
fallen from heaven as a present, to bring a little life into their
sunshiny house, which fell asleep so easily during their long hours of
placid digestion. Beauclair society willingly made fun of the Mazelles,
comparing them to pullets in a fattening pen, but it none the less
respected them, bowed to them, and invited them to its entertainments;
for with their fortune, which was so safe and substantial, they reigned
over the workers, the poorly, paid officials, and even the millionaire
capitalists, since the latter were always liable to some catastrophe.

At last the only other guest expected at La Guerdache that day, Abbé
Marle, the rector of St. Vincent, the rich parish of Beauclair,
arrived, none too soon, however, for the others were about to enter
the dining-room. He apologised for being late, saying that his duties
had detained him. He was a tall, strong man, with a square-shaped
face, a beak-like nose, and a large firm mouth. Still young, only
six-and-thirty, he would willingly have battled for the Faith had it
not been for a slight impediment of speech which rendered preaching
difficult. This explained why he was resigned to burying himself
alive at Beauclair. The expression of his dark stubborn eyes alone
testified to his past dream of a militant career. He was not without
intelligence, he perfectly understood the crisis through which
Catholicism was passing, and whilst preserving silence with respect
to the fears which he sometimes experienced when he saw his church
deserted by the masses, he clung strictly to the letter of the Church’s
dogmas, feeling certain that the whole of the ancient edifice would
be swept away should science and the spirit of free examination
ever effect a breach in it. Moreover, he accepted the invitations
to La Guerdache without any illusions concerning the virtues of the
_bourgeoisie_. Indeed, he lunched and dined there in some measure from
a spirit of duty, in order to hide the sores whose existence he divined
there under the cloak of religion.

Luc was delighted with the gay brightness and pleasant luxuriousness of
the spacious dining-room which occupied one end of the ground floor,
and had a number of large windows overlooking the lawns and trees
of the park. All that verdure seemed to belong to the room, which,
with its pearl-grey woodwork and hangings of a soft sea-green, became
like the banqueting-hall of some idyllic _féerie champêtre_. And the
richness of the table, the whiteness of the napery, the blaze of the
silver and crystal, the flowers, too, spread over the board, were a
festival for the eyes amidst a wondrous setting of light and perfume.
So keenly was Luc impressed by it all, that his experiences on the
previous evening suddenly arose before his mind’s eyes, and he pictured
the black and hungry toilers tramping through the mud of the Rue de
Brias, the puddlers and drawers roasting themselves before the hellish
flames of the furnaces, and particularly Bonnaire in his wretched home,
and the woeful Josine seated on the stairs, saved from starving that
night, thanks to the loaf which her little brother had stolen. How
much unjust misery there was! And on what accursed toil, what hateful
suffering was based the luxury of the idle and the happy!

At table, where covers were laid for fifteen, Luc found himself placed
between Fernande and Delaveau. Contrary to proper usage, Boisgelin,
who had Madame Mazelle on his right, had placed Fernande on his left.
He ought to have assigned that seat to Madame Gourier, but in friendly
houses it was understood that Léonore ought always to be placed near
her friend Sub-Prefect Châtelard. The latter naturally occupied the
place of honour on Suzanne’s right hand, Judge Gaume being on her
left. As for Abbé Marle, he had been placed next to Léonore, his most
assiduous and preferred penitent. Then the betrothed couple, Captain
Jollivet and Lucile, sat at one end of the table facing young Achille
Gourier, who, at the other end, remained silent between Delaveau and
the abbé. And Suzanne, full of foresight, had given orders for the
little table to be set behind her, so that she might be near to watch
it. Seven-year-old Paul presided over it between three-year-old Nise
and three-year-old Louise, who both behaved in a somewhat disquieting
fashion, for their little paws were continually straying over the
plates and into the glasses. Luckily a maid remained beside them, while
at the larger table the waiting was done by the two valets, whom the
coachman assisted.

As soon as the scrambled eggs, accompanied by sauterne, had been
served, a general conversation was started. Reference was made to the
bread supplied by the Beauclair bakers.

‘It was impossible for me to get used to it,’ said Boisgelin. ‘Their
fancy bread is uneatable, so I get mine from Paris.’

He said this in the simplest manner possible, but they all glanced with
vague respect at their rolls. However, the unpleasant occurrences of
the previous evening still haunted every mind, and Fernande exclaimed:
‘By the way, do you know that they pillaged a baker’s shop in the Rue
de Brias last night?’

Luc could not help laughing. ‘Oh, madame, pillaged!’ said he, ‘I was
there. It was simply a wretched child who stole a loaf.’

‘We were there too,’ declared Captain Jollivet, ruffled by the
compassionate, excusing tone of the young man’s voice. ‘It is much to
be regretted that the child was not arrested, at least for example’s
sake.’

‘No doubt, no doubt,’ Boisgelin resumed. ‘It seems that there has been
a lot of thievery since that wretched strike. I have been told of a
woman who broke open a butcher’s till. All the tradespeople complain
that prowlers fill their pockets with things set out for sale…. And
so our beautiful new prison is now receiving tenants–is that not so,
Monsieur le Président?’

Gaume was about to answer when the Captain violently resumed: ‘Yes,
theft unpunished begets pillage and murder. The spirit predominating
among the working-class population is becoming something frightful.
Some of you were out in the town yesterday evening like I was. Didn’t
you notice that spirit of revolt, of passing menace–a kind of terror
that made the town tremble? Besides, that Anarchist, Lange, did not
hesitate to tell you what he intended doing. He shouted that he would
blow up Beauclair and sweep away the ruins. As he, at any rate, is
under lock and key, I hope that he will be sharply looked after.’

Jollivet’s outspokenness astonished everybody. What was the use of
recalling that gust of terror of which he spoke, and which the others
like himself had felt passing–why revive it, as it were, at that
pleasant table laden with such nice and beautiful things? A chill
spread round; the threat of what the morrow might bring forth resounded
in the ears of all those nervous _bourgeois_ amidst the deep silence,
whilst the valets came and went, offering trout.

Realising that the silence was embarrassing everybody, Delaveau at last
exclaimed: ‘Lange shows a detestable spirit. The Captain’s right; as
the rascal is under lock and key he should be kept there.’

But Judge Gaume was wagging his head. At last, in his severe way, his
countenance quite rigid, in such wise that one could not tell what
might lurk behind his professional stiffness, he retorted, ‘I must
inform you that this morning the investigating magistrate, acting on my
advice, after subjecting the man to a simple interrogatory, made up his
mind to release him.’

Protests arose, concealing real fear beneath humorous exaggeration:
‘Oh, do you want us all to be murdered then, Monsieur le Président?’

Gaume replied by slowly waving his hand, a gesture which might mean
many things. After all, the wise course was certainly to refrain from
imparting, by some uproarious trial at law, any excessive importance
to the words which Lange had cast to the winds, for the more those
words were spread, the more would they bear fruit.

Jollivet, who had calmed down, sat gnawing his moustaches, for he did
not wish to contradict his future father-in-law openly. But Sub-Prefect
Châtelard, who had hitherto contented himself with smiling, in the
affable way of a man who puts faith in nothing, exclaimed: ‘Ah! I quite
understand your views, Monsieur le Président. What you have done is,
in my opinion, excellent policy. The spirit of the masses is not worse
at Beauclair than it is elsewhere. That spirit is everywhere the same;
one must strive to accustom oneself to it; and the proper course is to
prolong the present state of things as much as possible, for it seems
certain that when a change comes it will be for the worse.’

Luc fancied that he could detect some jeering irony in the words and
manner of that ex-reveller of Paris, who was doubtless amused by the
covert terror of the provincial _bourgeois_ around him. Moreover,
Châtelard’s practical policy was summed up entirely in what he had
said; apart from that he evinced superb indifference, no matter what
minister might be in office. The old Government machine continued
working from force of acquired motion; there was grating and there were
jolts, and things would fall to pieces and crumble into dust as soon as
the new social system might appear. There would be a nasty tumble at
the end of the journey, as Châtelard, laughing, was wont to say among
his intimates. The machine rolled on because it was wound up, but at
the first really serious jolt it would go to the deuce. Even the vain
efforts that were attempted to strengthen the crazy old coach, the
timid reforms which were essayed, the useless new laws which men voted
without even daring to put the old ones into force, the furious surging
of ambitions and personalities, the wild, rageful battling of parties,
were only calculated to aggravate and hasten the supreme agony. Such
a _régime_ must feel astonished every morning at finding itself still
erect, and must say to itself that the downfall would surely occur on
the morrow. He, Châtelard, being in no wise a fool, arranged matters
so as to last as long as the _régime_ did. A prudent Republican, as
it was needful to be, he represented the Government just sufficiently
to retain his post, doing only what was necessary, and desiring above
all things to live in peace with those under his jurisdiction. And if
everything should topple over, he at all events would try not to be
under the ruins!

‘You see very well,’ he concluded, ‘that the unfortunate strike which
rendered us all so anxious has ended in the best manner possible.’

Mayor Gourier was not endowed with the sub-prefect’s caustic
philosophy, although as a rule they agreed together in such wise as to
facilitate the administration of the town. He now protested: ‘Allow
me, allow me, my dear friend, too many concessions might carry us a
long way. I know the working classes, I am fond of them, I am an old
Republican, a democrat of the early days. But if I grant the workers
the right to improve their lot, I will never accept the subversive
theories, those ideas of the Collectivists, which would bring all
civilised society to an end.’

In his loud but trembling voice rang out the fears which he had lately
experienced, the ferocity of a threatened _bourgeois_, the innate
desire for repression which had at one moment displayed itself in a
desire to summon the military, in order that the strikers might be
forced to resume work under the penalty of being shot.

‘Well, for my part, I’ve done everything for the workpeople at my
factory,’ he continued; ‘they’ve got relief funds, pension funds, cheap
dwellings, every advantage imaginable. So what more can they want? It
seems as if the world were coming to an end–is that not so, Monsieur
Delaveau?’

The manager of the Abyss had so far continued eating ravenously, and
listening, scarcely taking part in the conversation.

‘Oh, coming to an end,’ said he, in his quiet energetic manner; ‘I
certainly hope that we sha’n’t allow the world to end without fighting
a little to make it last. I am of the same opinion as Monsieur le
Sous-Préfet, the strike has ended very well. And I have even had some
good news. Bonnaire, the Collectivist, the leader whom I was compelled
to take back, has done justice to himself–he quitted the works last
night. He is an excellent workman, no doubt; but he’s wrong-headed–a
dangerous dreamer. And it is dreaming that leads one to precipices.’

He went on talking, striving to appear very loyal and just. Each had a
right to defend his own interests. By going out on strike the workmen
fancied that they were serving their interests. He, as manager of the
works, defended the capital, the plant, the property entrusted to
him. And he was willing to show some indulgence, since he felt himself
to be the stronger. His one duty was simply to maintain what existed,
the working of the wage-system such as it had been organised by the
wisdom born of experience. All practical truth centred in that; apart
from it there were but criminal dreams, such as that Collectivism,
the enforcement of which would have brought about the most frightful
catastrophes. He also spoke of workmen’s unions and syndicates, which
he resisted energetically, for he divined that they might prove a
powerful engine of war. At the same time he triumphed like an active
hard-working manager, who was well pleased that the strike had not
caused greater ravages or become a positive disaster, in such wise as
to prevent him from carrying out his engagements with his cousin that
year.

Just then the two valets were handing round some roast partridges,
whilst the coachman, acting as butler, offered some St. Émilion.

‘And so,’ said Boisgelin, in a bantering way, ‘you promise me that we
sha’n’t be reduced to potatoes, and that we may eat those partridges
without any twinges of remorse?’

A loud burst of laughter greeted this jest, which was deemed extremely
witty.

‘I promise it,’ gaily said Delaveau, who laughed like the others. ‘You
may eat and sleep in peace–the revolution which is to carry away your
income won’t take place to-morrow.’

Luc, who remained silent, could feel his heart beating. That was indeed
the position, the wage system, the capitalist exploiting the labour of
the others. He advanced five francs, made them produce seven francs,
by making the workmen toil, and spent the two francs profit. At least,
however, that man Delaveau worked, exerted his brain and his muscles;
but by what right did Boisgelin, who had never done anything, live and
eat in such luxury? Luc was struck, too, by the demeanour of Fernande,
who sat beside him. She appeared to be greatly interested in that
conversation, though it seemed little suited to women. She grew both
excited and delighted over the defeat of the toilers and the victory
of that wealth which she devoured like the young wolf she was. Her red
lips curved over, displaying her sharp teeth while she laughed the
laugh of cruelty, as if indeed she were at last satisfying her rancour
and her cravings, in front of the gentle woman whom she was deceiving,
between her foppish lover, whom she dominated, and her blind husband,
who was gaining future millions for her. She seemed to be already
intoxicated by the flowers, the wines, and the viands, intoxicated
especially by perverse delight at employing her radiant beauty to bring
disorder and destruction into that home.

‘Isn’t there some question of a charity bazaar at the sub-prefecture?’
asked Suzanne of Châtelard in a soft voice. ‘Suppose we talk of
something else besides politics?’

The gallant sub-prefect immediately adhered to her views: ‘Yes,
certainly, it is unpardonable on our part. I will give every _fête_ you
may desire, dear madame.’

From that moment the general conversation ceased; each reverted to
his or her favourite subject. Abbé Marle had contented himself with
nodding approvingly in response to certain declarations made by
Delaveau. The priest behaved with great prudence in that circle, for he
was distressed by the misconduct of Boisgelin, the scepticism of the
sub-prefect, and the open hostility of the mayor, who made a parade of
anti-clerical ideas. Ah! how the abbé’s gorge rose at the thought of
that social system which he was called upon to support, and which ended
in such a _débâcle_! His only consolation was the devout sympathy of
Léonore, who sat beside him, muttering pretty phrases whilst the others
argued. She likewise transgressed, but at least she confessed her
faults, and he could already picture her at the tribunal of penitence,
accusing herself of having derived too much pleasure at that lunch from
the attentions of Sub-Prefect Châtelard, who sat on her other hand.

Like the priest, worthy Monsieur Mazelle, who remained almost forgotten
between Judge Gaume and Captain Jollivet, had only opened his mouth
to take in quantities of food, which he chewed very slowly, owing to
his fears of indigestion. Political matters no longer interested him,
since, thanks to his income, he had placed himself beyond the reach
of storms. Nevertheless he was compelled to lend ear to the theories
of the captain, who was eager to pour forth his feelings on such a
quiet listener. The army, so the captain said, was the school of the
country. France, in accordance with her immutable traditions, could
only be a warlike nation, and would only recover equilibrium when she
reconquered Europe and reigned by force of arms. It was stupid of
people to accuse military service of disorganising labour. What labour,
whose labour, indeed? Did anything of that exist? Socialism! why it
was a stupendous farce! There would always be soldiers, and down below
there must be people to do the fatigue duties. A sabre could at any
rate be seen, but who had ever seen the Idea, that famous Idea, the
pretended Queen of the Earth. The captain laughed at his own wit; and
worthy Mazelle, who felt profound respect for the army, complacently
laughed with him; whilst Lucile, his betrothed, examined him in silence
with the side-long glances of an enigmatical _amorosa_, smiling faintly
and strangely the while, as if amused to think what a husband he would
make. Meantime, at the other end of the table, young Achille Gourier
immured himself in the silence of a witness and a judge, his eyes
gleaming with all the contempt which he felt for his parents and the
friends with whom they compelled him to take lunch.

However, at the moment when a _pâté_ of ducks’ liver, a perfect marvel,
was being served, another voice arose, and was heard by everybody–it
was that of Madame Mazelle, hitherto silent, busy with her plate and
her mysterious complaint which required ample nourishment. Finding
herself neglected by Boisgelin, whose attention was given entirely
to Fernande, she had ultimately fallen on Gourier, to whom she gave
particulars about her home, her perfect agreement with her husband, and
her ideas of the manner in which she meant to have her daughter Louise
educated.

‘I won’t let them worry her brain, ah! no, indeed! why should she
worry? She’s an only child, she will inherit all our Rentes.’

All at once, without reflecting, Luc yielded to his desire to protest:
‘But don’t you know, madame,’ said he, ‘that they are going to suppress
the right of inheritance? Oh yes, very soon, directly the new social
system is organised.’

All round the table it was thought that he was jesting, and Madame
Mazelle’s stupefaction was so comical to behold that everybody helped
on the joke. The right of inheritance suppressed! How infamous! What!
the money earned by the father would be taken from the children, and
they in their turn would have to earn their own bread? Why, yes, of
course, that was the logical outcome of Collectivism. Mazelle, quite
scared by it all, came to his wife’s help, saying that he did not feel
anxious, for his whole fortune was invested in State Rentes, and nobody
would ever dare to touch the national ledgers.

‘That’s just where you make a mistake, monsieur,’ Luc quietly resumed;
‘the national ledgers will be burnt and Rentes will be abolished. It is
already resolved upon.’

At this the Mazelles nearly suffocated. Rentes abolished! It seemed
to them that this was as impossible as the fall of the sky upon their
heads. And they were so distracted, so terrified by the threat of
such an inversion of the laws of nature that Châtelard good-naturedly
decided to reassure them. Turning slightly towards the little table,
where, in spite of Paul’s fine example, the little girls Nise and
Louise had not behaved particularly well, he said in a bantering
fashion: ‘No, no, all that won’t happen to-morrow; your little girl
will have time to grow up and have children of her own–only it will be
as well to clean her, for I fancy that she has been dipping her face in
the whipped cream.’

They went on jesting and laughing. Yet one and all had felt the great
breath of To-morrow passing, the breeze of the Future blowing across
the table, whence it swept away iniquitous luxury and poisonous
enjoyment. And they all rushed to the help of Rentes and capital, the
_bourgeois_ and capitalist society based upon the wage system.

‘The Republic will kill itself on the day it touches property,’ said
Mayor Gourier.

‘There are laws, and everything would crumble to pieces on the day they
might cease to be enforced,’ said Judge Gaume.

‘Dash it! the army’s there at all events, and the army won’t allow the
rogues to triumph,’ said Captain Jollivet.

‘Let God act, He is all kindness and justice,’ said Abbé Marle.

Boisgelin and Delaveau contented themselves with approving, for it was
to their help that all the social forces hastened. And Luc understood
the position clearly: it was the Government, the administration, the
magistracy, the army, the clergy which sustained the decaying social
system, the monstrous structure of iniquity in which the murderous toil
of the greater number fed the corrupting sloth of the few. This was
another phase of the terrible vision which he had beheld the previous
day. After gazing upon the rear he now saw the front of that rotting
social edifice which was collapsing upon every side. And even here,
amidst all that luxury and those triumphal surroundings, he had again
heard it cracking. He could detect that those people were all anxious
but strove to forget and to divert their minds whilst rushing on
towards the precipice.

The dessert was now being served, and the table was covered with pastry
and magnificent fruit. The better to bring back the good spirits of
the Mazelles, the others, as soon as the champagne was poured out,
began to sing the praises of idleness, divine idleness, which belongs
not to this world. And then Luc, as he continued reflecting, suddenly
understood what it was that weighed upon his mind: it was the problem
of how the future might be freed, in presence of those folks who
represented the unjust and tyrannical authority of the past.

After coffee, which was served in the drawing-room, Boisgelin suggested
a stroll through the park as far as the farm. Throughout the repast he
had been prodigal in his attentions to Fernande, but she still gave him
the cold shoulder, refraining even from answering him, and reserving
her bright smiles for the sub-prefect seated in front of her. Matters
had been like this for a week past, and were always so when he did
not immediately satisfy one of her caprices. The real cause of their
present quarrel was that she had insisted on his giving a stag-hunt
for the sole delight of showing herself at it in a new and appropriate
costume. He had taken the liberty to refuse, as the expenses would be
very great; and, moreover, Suzanne, having been warned of the matter,
had begged him to be a little reasonable. Thus a struggle had ended by
breaking out between the two women, and it was a question which of them
would win the victory, the wife or the other.

During lunch Suzanne’s sad and gentle eyes had missed nothing of
Fernande’s affected coldness and her husband’s anxious attentions. And
so when the latter proposed a stroll she understood that he was simply
seeking an opportunity to be alone with her sulky rival, in order to
defend himself and win her back. Greatly hurt by this, but incapable
of battling, Suzanne sought refuge in her suffering dignity, saying
that she should remain indoors in order to keep the Mazelles company.
For they, from considerations of health, never bestirred themselves on
leaving table. Judge Gaume, his daughter Lucile, and Captain Jollivet
also declared that they should not go out; and this led to Abbé Marle
proposing to play the judge a game of chess. Young Achille Gourier
had already taken leave, under pretext that he was preparing for
an examination, but in reality to indulge freely in his favourite
reveries as he strolled about the country. And so only Boisgelin, the
sub-prefect, the Delaveaus, the Gouriers, and Luc repaired to the farm,
walking slowly towards it under the lofty trees.

On the way thither things passed off very correctly; the five men
walked on together, whilst Fernande and Léonore brought up the rear,
deep apparently in some confidential chat. Among the men Boisgelin
had now begun to bewail the misfortunes of agriculture: the soil was
becoming bankrupt, said he, and all who tilled it were hastening to
ruin. Châtelard and Gourier agreed that the terrible problem for
which no solution had hitherto been found lay in the direction of
agriculture: for in order that the industrial workman might produce,
it was necessary that bread should be cheap, and if corn fetched only
a low price, the peasant, reduced to beggary, could no longer purchase
the products of industry. Delaveau, for his part, believed that a
solution might be found in an intelligent system of protection. As for
Luc, who took a passionate interest in the matter, he did his utmost to
make the others talk, and Boisgelin ended by confessing that his own
despair came largely from the continual difficulties that he had with
his farmer Feuillat, whose demands increased year by year. He would
doubtless have to part with the man when the renewal of the lease was
discussed, for the farmer had asked for a reduction of terms amounting
to no less than ten per cent. The worst was that, fearing his lease
might not be renewed, he had ceased to take proper care of the land,
which he no longer manured, since it was not for him, he said, to work
for his successor’s benefit. This, of course, meant the sterilisation
of the property, whose value would thus be annihilated.

‘And it’s everywhere the same,’ continued Boisgelin; ‘people don’t
agree; the workers want to take the places of the owners, and
agriculture suffers from the quarrel. At Les Combettes now, that
village yonder, whose land is only separated from mine by the Formerie
road, you can’t imagine what little agreement there is among the
peasants, what efforts each of them makes to harm his neighbour,
paralysing himself the while! Ah, there was something good in feudality
after all! Those fine fellows would walk straight enough if they had
nothing of their own, and were convinced that they would never have
anything!’

This abrupt conclusion made Luc smile. Nevertheless, he was struck by
the unconscious confession that the pretended bankruptcy of the soil
came from a lack of agreement among those who tilled it. The party
was now quitting the park, and the young man’s glance ranged over the
great plain of La Roumagne, formerly so famous for its fruitfulness,
but now accused of growing cold and sterile, and of no longer yielding
sustenance for its inhabitants. On the left spread the extensive lands
of Boisgelin’s farm, whilst on the right Luc perceived the humble roofs
of Les Combettes, around which were grouped many small fields, cut
up into little morsels by repeated partition amongst numerous heirs,
in such wise that the whole resembled a stretch of patchwork. And
Luc asked himself what could possibly be done in order that cordial
agreement might return, in order that from so many contradictory
and barren efforts a great impulse of solidarity might spring, with
universal happiness for its object.

It so happened that as the promenaders were approaching the farmhouse,
a large and fairly well-kept building, they heard some loud swearing
and thumping of fists upon a table–in fact, all the uproar of a
violent quarrel. Then they saw two peasants, one stout and heavy,
and the other thin and nervous, come out of the house, and after
threatening one another for a last time, go off, each by a different
path, through the fields towards Les Combettes.

‘What’s the matter, Feuillat?’ Boisgelin inquired of the farmer who had
come to his threshold.

‘Oh! it’s nothing, monsieur; only two more fellows of Les Combettes who
had a dispute about a boundary, and wanted me to umpire between them.
The Lenfants and the Yvonnots have been disputing together from father
to son for years and years past, and it maddens them nowadays merely to
catch sight of one another. It’s of no use my talking reason to them.
You heard them just now! They’d like to devour one another. And, _mon
Dieu_, what fools they are! they’d be so happy and well off if they
would only reflect and agree together a little bit.’

Then, sorry, perhaps, that he had allowed this remark to escape him,
for it was not one which the master should have heard, Feuillat let his
eyelids fall, and with an expressionless, impenetrable face, resumed in
a husky voice: ‘Would the ladies and gentlemen like to come in and rest
a moment?’

Luc, however, had previously seen the man’s eyes glittering. He was
surprised to find him so wan and dry, as if his tall slim figure were
already grilled by the sunlight, although he was but forty years of
age. At the same time Feuillat was possessed of quick intelligence, as
the young man soon discovered on listening to his conversation with
Boisgelin. When the latter, in a laughing way, inquired if he had
thought over the matter of the lease, the farmer wagged his head and
answered briefly, like a careful diplomatist desirous of gaining his
point. He evidently kept back his real thoughts–the thought that the
land ought to belong to those who tilled it, to one and all of them, in
order that they might once more love and fertilise it. ‘Love the soil!’
said he, with a shrug of the shoulders. His father and his grandfather
had loved it passionately, but what good had that done to them? For
his part, his love could wait until he was able to fertilise the soil
for himself and his kindred, and not for a landlord, whose one thought
would be to raise the rent as soon as the crops should increase. And
there was something else beneath the man’s reticence, something that
he pictured whenever he tried to peer into the future: a reasonable
agreement among the peasantry, the reunion of all the subdivided
fields so that they might be worked in common, so that tillage might
be carried on upon a vast scale with the help of machinery. Such,
indeed, were the few ideas which had gradually come to his mind, ideas
which were best kept from the _bourgeoisie_, but which, all the same,
occasionally escaped him.

The promenaders had ended by entering the farmhouse to sit down there
and rest a moment; and Luc there again found the coldness and bareness,
the odour of toil and poverty with which he had been struck so much on
the previous evening at Bonnaire’s home in the Rue des Trois Lunes.
Dry and ashen, like her man, La Feuillat stood there in an attitude of
silent resignation beside her one child, Léon, a big boy of twelve, who
already helped his father in the fields. And it was evident to Luc that
on all sides, among the peasants as among the industrial workmen, one
found labour accursed, dishonoured, regarded as a stain, a disgrace,
since it did not even provide food for the slave, who was riveted to
his toil as to a chain. In the neighbouring village of Les Combettes
the sufferings were certainly greater than at that farm; the dwellings
there were sordid dens, the life was that of domestic animals fed
upon sops; the Lenfants, with their son Arsène and their daughter
Olympe, the Yvonnots, who also had two children, Eugénie and Nicolas,
all found themselves in filthy abject wretchedness, and added to their
woes by their rageful passion to prey on one another. Luc, listening
and glancing around him, pictured all the horrors of that social hell,
telling himself the while, however, that the solution of the problem
lay in that direction, for as soon as a new social system should be
perfected one would necessarily have to come back to the earth, the
eternal nurse, the common mother who alone could provide men with daily
bread.

At last, on leaving the farm, Boisgelin said to Feuillat: ‘Well you
must think it over, my good fellow. The land has gained in value, and
it’s only just that I should profit by it.’

‘Oh! it’s all thought over now, monsieur,’ the farmer answered. ‘It
will suit me just as well to starve on the road as in your farm.’ That
was his last word.

On the way back to La Guerdache, by another more solitary and shady
road of the park, the party of ladies and gentlemen broke up. The
sub-prefect and Léonore lingered in the rear, and soon found themselves
far behind the others, whilst Boisgelin and Fernande gradually drew
upon one side, and disappeared as if mistaking their way, straying
into lonely paths amidst their animated conversation. Meantime the
two husbands, Gourier and Delaveau, placidly continued following the
avenue, talking as they went about an article on the end of the strike
that had appeared in the ‘Journal de Beauclair,’ a little print with
a circulation of five hundred copies which was published by a certain
Lebleu, a petty clerical-minded bookseller, and which counted among
its contributors both Abbé Marle and Captain Jollivet. The mayor
deplored that the Deity should have been introduced into the affair,
though, like the manager of the Abyss, he approved of the general tone
of the article, which was a perfect chant of triumph celebrating the
victory of capital over the wage-earners in the most lyric style. Luc,
walking near the others, grew weary of hearing their comments on this
article; and at last, after manœuvring so as to let them distance him,
he plunged among the trees, confident that he would find La Guerdache
again as soon as was necessary.

How charming was the solitude amidst those dense thickets through which
the warm September sun sent a rain of golden sparks! For a time the
young man wandered at random, well pleased at finding himself alone,
at being able to breathe freely in the midst of nature, relieved of
the load that had oppressed him in the presence of all those folks who
weighed upon his mind and heart. Yet he was thinking of joining them
once more, when all at once near the Formerie road he came out into
some extensive meadows through which a little branch of the Mionne
coursed, feeding a large pond. And the scene which he there encountered
greatly amused him, fraught as it was with charm and hope.

Paul Boisgelin had obtained permission to take his two little guests,
Nise Delaveau and Louise Mazelle, to this spot. The maids in charge of
them were lying down under a willow and gossiping, paying no further
attention to the children. But the great feature of the adventure was
that the heir of La Guerdache and the young ladies in bibs had found
the pond in the possession of some working-class invaders, three
youngsters who had either climbed a wall or slipped through a hedge.
To his surprise Luc found that the leader and soul of the trespassing
expedition was Nanet, behind whom were Lucien and Antoinette Bonnaire.
Evidently enough it was Nanet who, profiting by the freedom of Sunday,
had led the others astray far from the Rue des Trois Lunes. And the
explanation of it all was simple enough. Lucien had fitted a little
boat with a mechanism that carried it over the water; and Nanet having
offered to take him to a fine pond he knew, one where nobody was ever
met, the little boat was now sailing unaided over the clear unrippled
pool. To the children it seemed quite a prodigy.

Lucien’s stroke of genius had simply consisted in adapting the wheels
and clockwork springs of a little toy cart to a boat which he had
fashioned out of a piece of deal. This boat travelled quite thirty feet
through the water without the spring requiring to be wound afresh; but
unfortunately, in order to bring the boat back again it was necessary
to use a long pole, which on each occasion almost made the little
vessel sink.

Speechless with admiration, Paul and his young lady friends stood on
the bank of the pond, watching the wonderful boat. But Louise, with her
eyes glittering in her slender face, which suggested that of a playful
little goat, was soon carried away by a boundless desire to possess the
toy, and thrusting out her little fists she cried repeatedly: ‘Want it!
Want it!’

Then, as Lucien, with the aid of his pole, brought the boat back to
shore, in order to wind up the spring afresh, she eagerly ran towards
him. Good nature and the pleasure of play brought them together.

‘I made it, you know,’ said the lad.

‘Oh! let me see! give it me!’ replied the damsel.

But that was asking him too much, and he energetically defended the
boat from the approach of her pillaging hands.

‘No, no,’ said he, ‘it gave me too much trouble. Leave go or you’ll
break it.’

However, finding her very pretty and gay, he became more cordial, and
said to her: ‘I’ll make you another one if you like.’

Then he put the boat in the water again, and the wheels once more
began to revolve, whilst Louise accepted his offer, clapping her hands
and sitting down on the grass by his side, in her turn won over, and
treating him as if he were an habitual playfellow.

Meantime it vaguely occurred to Paul, who was the oldest of the whole
party, quite a little man of seven, that he ought to find out who the
others were. Noticing Antoinette, he felt emboldened by her amiable
demeanour, her healthy, pretty face, so he inquired: ‘How old are you?’

‘I’m four years old, but papa says I look as if I was six.’

‘Who’s your papa?’

‘Who is papa? why, papa, of course, silly!’

The little minx laughed in such a pretty way that Paul regarded her
answer as decisive, and questioned her no further, but sat down by her
side, in such wise that they at once became the best friends in the
world. She looked so pleasant with her good health and pert expression
that he doubtless failed to notice that she wore a very simple woollen
frock devoid of all pretensions to elegance.

‘And your papa,’ said she. ‘Do all these trees belong to him? What a
lot of room you have to play in! We got in through the hole in the
hedge over there, you know.’

‘It isn’t allowed,’ said Paul. ‘And I’m not often allowed to come here,
since I might fall into the water. But it’s so amusing! You mustn’t say
anything, because we should get punished if you did.’

But all at once a dramatic incident occurred. Master Nanet, who was
so fair and wavy-haired, had been standing in admiration before Nise,
who was yet fairer and more wavy-haired than himself. They looked like
two toys, and they speedily ran towards one another, as if indeed it
were needful that they should pair off, and had been awaiting that
meeting. Catching hold of each other’s hands they laughed face to face,
and played at pushing. Then Nanet, in a spirit of bravado, exclaimed:
‘There’s no need of a pole to get his boat. I’d go and fetch it in the
water, I would!’

Stirred to enthusiasm, Nise, who likewise favoured extraordinary
diversions, seconded the proposal: ‘Yes, yes, we all ought to get into
the water! Let’s all take our shoes off!’

Then, however, as she leant over the pond she almost fell into it. At
this, all her girlish boastfulness abandoned her, and she raised a
piercing shriek when she saw the water wetting her boots. But the lad
bravely rushed forward, caught hold of her with his little arms, which
were already strong, and carried her like a trophy to the grass, where
she again began to laugh and play with him, the pair of them rolling
about like a couple of romping kids. Unfortunately the shrill cry which
Nise had raised in her fright had roused the maids from their forgetful
gossiping under the willow. They rose, and were stupefied at the sight
of the invaders, those youngsters who had sprung they knew not whence,
and who had the impudence to romp with the children of well-to-do
_bourgeois_. The servants hurried up with such angry mien that Lucien
hastened to take possession of his boat, for fear lest it should be
confiscated, and ran off as fast as his little legs would carry him,
followed by Antoinette and even Nanet, who was likewise panic-stricken.
They rushed to the hedge, fell flat upon their stomachs, slipped out
and disappeared, whilst the servants returned to La Guerdache with
their three charges, agreeing between themselves that they would say
nothing of what had occurred, in order that nobody might be scolded.

Luc remained alone, laughing, amused by the scene that he had thus come
upon, under the paternal sun, in the midst of friendly nature. Ah!
the dear little ones, how soon they agreed together, how easily they
overcame all difficulties, ignorant as they were of all fratricidal
struggles; and what hope of a triumphant future they brought with them!

In five minutes the young man reached La Guerdache again, and there
he once more fell into the horrible present, reeking of egotism, the
hateful battle-field un which all evil passions contended. It was now
four o’clock, and the Boisgelins’ guests were taking leave.

Luc was most struck, however, on perceiving Monsieur Jérôme reclining
in his bath-chair on the left of the flight of steps. The old gentleman
had just returned from his long promenade, and had signed to his
servant to leave him there a little while in the warmth of the sun, as
if indeed he desired to witness the departure of the guests invited
to the house that day. On the steps, amongst the ladies and gentlemen
all ready to depart, stood Suzanne, waiting for her husband, who had
lingered in the park with Fernande. Some minutes had elapsed after
the return of the others when she at last saw Boisgelin appear with
the young woman. They were walking quietly side by side, and chatting
together as if their long stroll were the most natural thing in the
world. Suzanne asked no explanations, but Luc plainly saw that her
hands trembled, and that an expression of dolorous bitterness passed
over her face between her smiles, for she had to play the part of a
good hostess and affect amiability. And she felt keenly wounded, and
could not help starting when Boisgelin, addressing Captain Jollivet,
declared that he should soon go to see him, in order that they might
consult together and organise that stag-hunt which hitherto he had but
vaguely thought of. Thus the die was cast, the wife was defeated, the
other had won the day, had imposed her foolish and wasteful whim upon
her lover during that long stroll which for impudence was tantamount
to a publicly given assignation. Suzanne’s heart rose rebelliously at
the thought of it all. Why should she not take her son and go away
with him? Then by a visible effort she calmed herself, becoming very
dignified and lofty, bent on shielding the honour of her name and her
house with all the abnegation of a virtuous woman, relapsing into the
silence of heroic affection, that silence in which she had resolved to
live, since it would protect her from all the mire around her. Luc, who
could divine everything, now only detected her torment in the quiver of
her feverish hand when he pressed it on bidding her good-bye.

Monsieur Jérôme, meanwhile, had watched the scene with those eyes of
his, clear like spring water, in which one wondered whether there
yet lingered intelligence to understand and judge things. And he
afterwards witnessed the departure of the guests–that departure which
suggested a _défilé_ of all the elements of human power, all the
social authorities, the masters who served as examples to the masses.
Châtelard went off in his carriage with Gourier and Léonore, the
latter of whom offered a seat to Abbé Marle, in such wise that she and
the priest sat face to face with the sub-prefect and the mayor. Then
Captain Jollivet, who drove a hired tilbury, carried off Judge Gaume
and his betrothed Lucile, the former anxiously watching his daughter’s
languishing turtle-dove airs. Next the Mazelles, who had arrived in a
huge landau, climbed into it again as into a soft bed, where they lay
back, completing their digestion. And Monsieur Jérôme, to whom they all
bowed in silence, according to the custom of the house, watched them
all go, like a child may watch passing shadows, without the faintest
expression of any feeling appearing on his cold face.

Only the Delaveaus remained, and the manager of the Abyss insisted on
giving Luc a lift in Boisgelin’s victoria, in order to spare him the
necessity of walking. It would be easy enough to set the young man down
at his door, since they would pass La Crêcherie on their way. As there
was only a folding bracket seat Fernande would take Nise on her lap,
and the maid would sit beside the coachman.

‘Come, Monsieur Froment, it will be a real pleasure for me to drive you
home,’ Delaveau insisted in his most obliging way.

Luc ended by accepting the offer. Then Boisgelin clumsily referred to
the hunt again, inquiring if the young man would still be at Beauclair
in order to attend it. Luc answered that he could not tell how long he
might be in the district, but at all events they must not rely on him.
Suzanne listened with a smile. Then, her eyes moistening at the thought
of his brotherly sympathy, she again pressed his hand, saying: ‘_Au
revoir_, my friend.’

When the victoria eventually started, Luc’s eyes for the last time met
those of Monsieur Jérôme, which, it seemed to him, were travelling from
Fernande to Suzanne, slowly taking note of the supreme destruction with
which his race was threatened. But was not that an illusion on Luc’s
part, was there not in the depths of those eyes merely the emotion, the
vague smile which always gleamed therein whenever the old man looked at
his dear granddaughter, the only one whom he still loved, and whom he
was still willing to recognise?

Whilst the victoria was rolling towards Beauclair Luc promptly learnt
why Delaveau had been so anxious to drive him home, for the manager
again began to question him about his sudden journey–what its purpose
might be, and what Jordan would do with reference to the management
of his blast-furnace now that the old engineer Laroche was dead.
One of Delaveau’s secret projects had been to buy the blast-furnace
as well as the extensive tract of land which separated it from the
steel-works, in such wise as to double the value of the Abyss. But the
whole constituted a big mouthful, and as he did not expect to have
the necessary money for such a purchase for a long time to come, he
had only thought of slow, progressive extension. On the other hand,
the sudden death of Laroche had now quickened his desires, and he
had fancied that he might perhaps be able to come to arrangements
with Jordan, whom he knew to be immersed in his favourite scientific
studies, and desirous of ridding himself of a business which brought
him a deal of worry. This was why the sudden arrival of Luc in response
to a summons from Jordan had greatly disturbed Delaveau, who feared
that the young man might upset the plans of which he had hitherto only
spoken indirectly. At the first questions which the manager put to him
in a good-natured way, Luc, although unable to understand everything,
became suspicious, and he therefore replied evasively:

‘I know nothing, I have not seen Jordan for more than six months,’
said he. ‘As for his blast-furnace, why, I suppose that he will simply
confide the management to some clever young engineer.’

Whilst he spoke, he noticed that Fernande’s eyes never left him. Nise
had fallen asleep on the young woman’s lap, and she kept silence,
seemingly greatly interested in the conversation of the others, as if
she could divine that her future was at stake, for she had already
detected that this young man was an enemy. Had he not sided with
Suzanne in the matter of the hunt; had not she, Fernande, seen them in
cordial agreement, with their hands clasped like brother and sister?
Then, feeling that war was virtually declared between them, she smiled
a keen, cruel smile, like one determined on victory.

‘Oh! I merely mention the matter,’ repeated Delaveau, beating a
retreat, ‘because I was told that Jordan thought of confining himself
to his studies and discoveries. Some of the latter are admirable!’

‘Yes, admirable!’ repeated Luc, with the conviction of an enthusiast.

At last the carriage stopped before La Crêcherie, and the young man
alighted, thanked Delaveau, and found himself alone. He again felt
the great quiver that had come upon him during those two days which
beneficent destiny had granted him since his arrival at Beauclair. He
had there seen both sides of the hateful world whose framework was
falling to pieces from sheer rottenness: the iniquitous misery of
some, the pestilential wealth of others. Work, badly remunerated, held
in contempt, unjustly apportioned, had become mere torture and shame
when it should have been the very nobility, health, and happiness of
mankind. Luc’s heart was bursting at the thought of it all, and his
brain seemed to open as if to give birth to the ideas which he had felt
within him for months past. And a cry for justice sprang from his whole
being. Ay, there was no other possible mission nowadays than that of
hastening to the succour of the wretched, and setting a little justice
once more upon the earth.