For a few days old Hermeline

Ten more years went by, and love which had united so many couples,
victorious and fruitful love, brought each household a florescence
of children, a new growth going towards the future. At each fresh
generation a little more truth, justice, and peace would spread and
reign throughout the world.

Luc, who was already sixty-five years old, evinced, with increasing
age, a livelier, a keener affection for children. Now that he saw
his long-dreamt-of city in being, his mind went out to the rising
generations. To them he gave all his time with the thought that the
future rested with them. Ripe men, who have long lived amidst certain
beliefs and habits, and who perchance are chained to the past by
atavism, cannot be altered; whereas children may be influenced, freed
from false ideas, helped to grow and progress, in accordance with the
natural inclination towards evolution which is within them.

Thus, during the visits which on two mornings every week Luc continued
to pay to his work, he devoted most of his attention and time to the
schools and the _crèches_ where the very little ones were kept. He
began by inspecting them before proceeding to the workshops and the
stores, and as he changed his visiting days every week, he generally
took all the turbulent young people by surprise.

One Tuesday, a delightful morning in spring, he set out for the schools
at about eight o’clock. The sunrays were scattering golden rain amidst
the young greenery, and as Luc walked slowly down one of the avenues
past the house where the Boisgelins resided, he heard a well-loved
voice calling him. It was that of Suzanne, who, having seen him
passing, had come to the garden-gate. ‘Oh! pray come in for a moment,
my friend,’ said she. ‘The poor man has another attack, and I feel very
anxious.’

She was speaking of Boisgelin, her husband. As his idleness made him
feel ill at ease in that busy hive, he had at one time tried to work,
and Luc, at Suzanne’s request, had given him a kind of inspectorship
at the general stores. But the man who has never done anything, who
has been an idler from birth, lacks will-power, and can no longer bend
to rule or method. Thus Boisgelin soon found that he was incapable of
following any continuous occupation. His mind fled, his limbs ceased to
obey him, he became sleepy, overwhelmed. He suffered from his impotence
and gradually relapsed into the emptiness of his former life, a
succession of idle days, all spent in the most futile fashion. As there
was no longer any round of pleasure and luxury to daze him he sank into
increasing boredom, from which he could not be roused. He was spending
his last years in a state of stupor, like a man who had fallen from
another planet, amazed at the unexpected, extraordinary things which
took place around him.

‘Does he have any violent fits?’ Luc inquired of Suzanne.

‘Oh, no!’ she replied. ‘He simply remains very sombre and suspicious;
but my anxiety comes from his insane fancies having taken hold of him
again.’

It seemed indeed that Boisgelin’s mind had been weakened by the idle
life he led in that city of activity and work. From dawn till dusk
he was to be seen wandering, like a pale, scared phantom, about the
bustling streets, the buzzing schools, and the resounding workshops.
He alone did nothing, whereas all the others busied themselves,
overflowing with the delight and health which come from action. And, by
degrees, as he found that he himself was the only one who did not work
amidst that nation of workers, the insane idea seized upon him that he
was the king, the master, and that this nation was a nation of slaves,
working solely for his benefit, amassing incalculable wealth, which he
would dispose of as he pleased for his sole enjoyment. Although olden
society was crumbling to pieces, the capitalist idea had survived in
him, and he remained the mad capitalist, the god-capitalist, who,
possessing all the capital of the earth, had made all other men his
slaves, the wretched artisans of his own egotistical happiness.

Luc found Boisgelin on the threshold of the house, dressed with all the
care that he still evinced as regards his personal appearance. Even at
seventy years of age he remained a vain-looking coxcomb, always well
groomed, freshly shaved, and wearing that distinctive mark of conceit,
a single eyeglass. His wavering glance and weak mouth alone revealed
the collapse of his mind. At that moment he was about to go out, and a
light cane was in his hand, and a shiny hat was tilted over his ear.

‘What, already up! Already out and about!’ exclaimed Luc, affecting a
good-natured manner.

‘Oh, it’s necessary, my dear fellow,’ replied Boisgelin, after giving
him a suspicious glance. ‘Everybody deceives me. How can I sleep in
peace with all those millions which my money brings me in, and which
this nation of workmen earns for me every day? I am obliged to see to
things, for otherwise there would be a leakage of hundreds of thousands
of francs every hour.’

Suzanne made a sign of despair, then addressing Luc she said: ‘I was
advising him not to go out to-day. What is the use of worrying like
that.’

But her husband silenced her: ‘It isn’t merely to-day’s money that
worries me, there are all the sums piled up already–those milliards
which fresh millions increase every evening. I quite lose myself among
them; I no longer know how to live in the midst of such a colossal
fortune. It is necessary that I should invest it, manage it, watch
over it, in order to save myself from being robbed–is that not so?
And, oh! it’s hard work, terribly hard work, and makes me absolutely
wretched–more wretched even than the poor who have neither fire nor
bread.’

His voice had begun to tremble dolorously, and big tears rolled down
his cheeks. He looked a pitiable object, and, although he generally
annoyed Luc, who regarded him as an anomaly in that industrious city,
the other was now stirred to the depths of his heart. ‘Oh!’ said he,
‘you can at least take a day’s rest. I’m of your wife’s opinion. If
I were you I shouldn’t go out to-day, I should stop in my garden and
watch my flowers bloom.’

But Boisgelin again scrutinised him and, as if yielding to a desire
to confide in him, as in a safe friend, resumed: ‘No, no, it is
indispensable that I should go out. What bothers me even more than
exercising supervision over my men and my fortune, is that I don’t even
know where to put my money. Just think of it! there are milliards and
milliards! They end by becoming an encumbrance–no rooms are built big
enough to hold them. And so it has occurred to me to have a look round
and try to find some pit which might be deep enough. Only, don’t say a
word of it; nobody ought even to suspect it.’

Then as Luc, shuddering and terrified, turned towards Suzanne, who was
very pale, and scarce able to restrain her tears, Boisgelin profited
by the opportunity to slip out of the garden and go off. He could
still walk rapidly, and, turning down the sunlit avenue, he speedily
disappeared. Luc’s first impulse was to run after him and bring him
back by force.

‘I assure you, my friend,’ he said to Suzanne, ‘that you act wrongly
in letting him wander about; I can never meet him prowling around
the schools or through the workshops and stores without fearing some
disaster.’

However, Suzanne strove to reassure him. ‘He is inoffensive, I am
sure of it,’ she said. ‘True, I sometimes tremble for him, for he
becomes so gloomy beneath the burden of all that imaginary money of
his that a sudden impulse to have done with it all is to be feared.
But how can I shut him up? He is only happy out of doors, and to place
him in confinement would be useless cruelty, especially as he never
even speaks to anybody, but remains as wild and as timid as a truant
schoolboy.’

Then the tears, which she had been restraining, flowed forth. ‘Ah! the
unhappy man, he has caused me much suffering; but never before did I
feel so grieved.’

On learning that Luc was going to the schools Suzanne resolved to
accompany him. She also had aged; she was sixty-eight already. But she
had remained healthy and active, ever desirous of showing her interest
in others, and helping on good work. And since she had been living at
La Crêcherie, and had had nothing more to do for her son Paul, who
was now married and the father of several children, she had created
a larger family for herself by becoming a teacher of _solfeggio_ and
singing for some of the youngest pupils in the schools. This helped
her to live happily. It delighted her to arouse the musical instinct
in those little children. She herself was a good musician, but after
all her ambition was not so much to impart exceptional science to
them, as to render their singing natural, like that of the warblers
of the woods. And she had obtained marvellous results–there was all
the sonorous gaiety of an aviary in her class, and the young ones who
left her hands afterwards filled the other classes, the workshops, and
indeed the whole town, with perpetual mirthful melody.

‘But you don’t give your lesson to-day, do you?’ Luc inquired.

‘No, I only want to profit by the play-hour to make my little cherubs
rehearse a chorus. But there are also some matters for me to consider
with Sœurette and Josine.’

The three women had become great, and indeed inseparable, friends.
Sœurette had retained the management of the central _crèche_, where
she watched over the very little ones–the children still in their
cradles and those who could scarcely walk. As for Josine, she directed
the needlework and household lessons, turning all the girls who passed
through the schools into good wives and mothers, well able to manage
their homes. In addition, the three friends formed together a kind of
council which looked into all important questions concerning women in
the new city.

Luc and Suzanne, following the avenue, at last reached the large square
where the common-house arose, surrounded by green lawns decked with
shrubs and flower-beds. The building was not the modest pile of earlier
years; in its stead there had been erected a perfect palace, with a
long polychromatic façade, in which decorated stoneware and painted
faïence were blended with ironwork. In the large halls erected for
meetings, theatrical performances, spectacular displays, and games,
the people found themselves at their ease, at home as it were. They
frequently fraternised at the festivities which were interspersed among
the days of work. If the little houses, where each lived as he listed,
were modest ones, the common-house, on the contrary, displayed dazzling
luxury and beauty, such as was appropriate for the sovereign abode
of the people-king. The common-house even tended to become a town in
the town, so frequently was it enlarged in accordance with increasing
needs. Other buildings, too, arose behind it–libraries, laboratories,
and lecture-halls, which facilitated free study, research, experiment,
and the diffusion of the acquired truths. There were also courts and
covered buildings for athletic exercises, without mentioning some
admirable free baths, flooded with the fresh and pure water captured on
the slopes of the Bleuse Mountains, that water to whose inexhaustible
abundance the city owed its cleanliness, health, and gaiety. But the
schools especially had become a little world by themselves, occupying
a number of buildings near the common-house, for several thousand
children now studied in them. To avoid all unhealthy crowding numerous
divisions had been arranged, each occupying its own pavilions, whose
large bay windows overlooked spacious gardens. Thus the whole formed,
as it were, a city of childhood and youth, in which one found children
of all ages, from infants still in their cradles to big lads and
lassies who were completing their apprenticeships after passing through
the five classes in which education proper was imparted to them.

‘Oh!’ said Luc, with his kindly smile, ‘I always begin at the
beginning; I always go first to see those little friends of mine who
are still being suckled.’

‘Well, of course,’ replied Suzanne, smiling also. ‘I will go in with
you.’

In the first pavilion on the right-hand, amidst a garden planted
with roses, Sœurette reigned over a hundred cradles and as many
rolling-chairs. She also watched over some of the adjacent pavilions,
but she invariably returned to this one, which sheltered three of Luc’s
granddaughters and one of his grandsons, of whom she was very fond.
Luc and Josine, knowing how the city benefited by the rearing of the
children together, had set an example in this respect, desiring that
their own grandchildren should be brought up with those of others.

As it happened, Josine was in the pavilion with Sœurette that morning.
The former was now fifty-eight, and the latter sixty-five years of
age. But Josine retained her supple gracefulness and fair delicacy
beneath her beautiful hair, whose golden hue had simply paled; whilst
Sœurette, as often happens with plain, thin, dark women, did not appear
to age, but seemed to acquire with advancing years a particular charm,
derived from her active kindliness and persistent youth. Suzanne, now
sixty-eight, was the elder of both of them; and all three surrounded
Luc like a trio of faithful hearts, one the loving wife and the others
devoted friends.

When Luc went in with Suzanne, Josine was holding on her knees a little
boy scarcely two years old, whose right hand Sœurette was examining.

‘Why, what is the matter with my little Olivier?’ asked Luc, already
feeling anxious. ‘Has he hurt himself?’

The little fellow was his last-born grandson, Olivier Froment, the
child of his eldest son Hilaire, and of Colette, the daughter of Nanet
and Nise.

‘Oh!’ replied Sœurette, ‘it is merely a splinter which must have come
from the table of his chair. There, it’s out now!’

The boy had raised a slight cry of pain and then had begun to laugh
again; while a little girl, a four-year-old, who ran about in all
freedom, hastened up with open arms as if to take hold of him and carry
him off.

‘Will you let him be, Mariette?’ exclaimed Josine, full of alarm. ‘One
must not turn one’s little brother into a doll.’

Mariette protested, declaring that she would be very good. And Josine,
like a kind grandmother, already calmed, glanced at Luc, and the pair
of them smiled, well pleased to see all those young folk who had sprung
from their love around them. However, Suzanne was bringing them two
other fair-headed little granddaughters, Hélène and Berthe, who were
twins, in their fourth year. Their mother was Pauline, Luc’s second
daughter, now the wife of André Jollivet, who had been brought up by
his grandfather Judge Gaume, after the captain’s tragical death and
Lucile’s disappearance. Of their five children, Luc and Josine had
already married three, Hilaire, Thérèse, and Pauline, whilst the two
others, Charles and Jules, were as yet merely ‘engaged.’

‘And these darlings–you were forgetting them,’ said Suzanne gaily.

Hélène and Berthe, the twins, threw their arms around the neck of their
grandfather, of whom they were extremely fond; Mariette also tried to
climb upon his knees, whilst little Olivier thrust out his hands, which
no longer hurt him, and frantically implored grandpapa to take him on
his shoulders. Luc, half stifled by caresses, began to jest:

‘That’s it, my friend, you have now only to fetch Maurice, your
nightingale as you call him. Then there would be five of them to devour
me. Good heavens! what shall I do when there are dozens?’

Then, setting the twins and Mariette on the floor, he took hold of
Olivier and threw him up into the air, at which the child raised cries
of rapturous delight.

‘Come, be reasonable, all of you,’ Luc resumed when he had set the boy
on his chair again, ‘one can’t be always playing, you know; I must
attend to the others.’

Guided by Sœurette and followed by Josine and Suzanne, he next went
round the rooms. Those nurseries of the little folk were very charming
with their white walls, their white cradles, their babes in white,
a universal whiteness which seemed so gay in the sunshine which
streamed through the lofty windows. Here also there was an abundance
of water–one could feel its crystalline freshness, hear its murmur,
as if indeed clear streams were flowing through the place, ensuring
all the extreme cleanliness which was apparent on every side. Cries
occasionally came from the cradles, but for the most part one only
heard the pretty prattle, the silvery laughter of those who could
already walk. Amongst them there was yet another little community, a
silent community of toys, dolls, jumping-jacks, horses, and carts, all
leading a naïve and comical existence. And these were the property of
one and all, of both the boys and the girls who mingled like members of
one sole family, growing up together from their cradles, and destined
hereafter to live side by side, now as brothers and sisters, now as
husbands and wives.

This practice of bringing up the children of both sexes together had
already yielded good results. Among the young married couples Suzanne
noticed a happy peacefulness, a closer blending of intelligence and
sentiment, something resembling fraternity in love. And in the schools
she observed that the presence of the sexes side by side aroused a new
spirit of emulation, imparting gentleness to the boys, decision to the
girls, and preparing both for a more perfect intermingling of natures,
in such wise that they would become one joint spirit at the family
hearth. Nothing of that which some had feared had taken place; on the
contrary the moral level was higher than formerly, and it was wonderful
to see those lads and girls seek the studies which might prove most
useful to them, in accordance with the liberty which was granted to
each pupil to work out his or her future in conformity with individual
taste.

‘They are virtually betrothed in their cradles,’ said Suzanne
jestingly, ‘and divorce is done away with, for they know one another
too well to select either wife or husband lightly. But come, my dear
Luc, playtime has begun and I want you to hear my pupils sing.’

Sœurette remained with her little folk, for it was also the time when
some of them took their baths, and Josine for her part had to go into
her needlework ward, where several of the little girls preferred to
spend their play-hour in learning to make dresses for their dolls. Thus
Luc alone followed Suzanne down the covered gallery into which opened
the five class-rooms.

It had long since been necessary to subdivide the classes, provide
more spacious buildings, and even enlarge the dependencies, the
gymnasiums, the apprenticeship workshops, and the gardens into which
the children were turned in all liberty every two hours. After a few
trials a definite system of education had been arrived at, and this
system, which rendered study attractive by leaving the pupil all his
personality, and only requiring of him attention to such lessons as he
preferred, as he freely chose, yielded admirable results, providing the
city each year with a new generation that tended more and more towards
truth and justice. This was, indeed, the only good way to hasten the
future, to create such men as might be entrusted with the realisation
of to-morrow, free from all lying dogmas, reared amidst the necessary
realities of life, and won over to proven scientific facts. And now
that the new system worked so well nothing seemed more logical or more
profitable than to abstain from bending a whole class beneath the rod
of some master who would have tried to impose his personal views upon
some fifty pupils of varying disposition and sensibility. It seemed
indeed quite natural that one should simply awaken a desire to learn
among those pupils, then direct them on their journey of discovery,
and favour the individual faculties which each might display. The
five classes had thus become experimental grounds, where the children
gradually explored the field of human knowledge, not to devour that
knowledge gluttonously without digesting any of it, but to awaken
individual intellect, assimilate knowledge in accordance with personal
comprehension, and in particular make sure of one’s specialities.

Luc and Suzanne had to wait another moment for the school work to
cease. From the covered gallery they were able to glance into the large
class-rooms, where each pupil had his or her little table and chair.
Long tables and forms had been discarded, and the new system made the
pupil feel as if he were virtually his own master. But how gay was the
sight of all these lads and girls mingled together promiscuously! And
with what deep attention they listened to the professor who went from
one to another, teaching in a conversational manner, and at times even
provoking contradiction. As there were no longer any punishments or
prizes the children set their budding desire for glory in competing
together as to who could best show that he or she had understood some
knotty point. It often happened that the professor ceased speaking to
listen to those whom he guessed to be full of the subject, and the
lesson then acquired all the interest of a discussion. Indeed one of
the chief objects that the masters had in view was to put life into
the studies, to draw the pupils from inanimate books, to make them
cognisant of living things, and impart to them the passion of ideas.
And pleasure was born of it all, the pleasure of learning and knowing;
and through the five classes was spread the _ensemble_ of human
knowledge, the real stirring drama of the world, which each of us ought
to know, if he wishes to take part in it and find happiness in its
midst.

But a joyous clamour arose, playtime had come round. Every two hours
the gardens were invaded by a rush of boys and girls, fraternising
together. A sturdy, good-looking lad, some nine years old, ran up and
flung himself in Luc’s arms, exclaiming: ‘Good morning, grandfather.’

This was Maurice, the son of Thérèse Froment, who had married Raymond
Morfain.

‘Ah!’ said Suzanne gaily, ‘here’s my nightingale! Come, children, shall
we repeat our pretty chorus on that lawn between those big chestnut
trees?’

Quite a band already surrounded her. Among a score of others there were
two boys and a girl whom Luc kissed. Of the former one was Ludovic
Boisgelin, a lad eleven years old, the son of Paul Boisgelin and
Antoinette Bonnaire, whose marriage had first announced the fusion of
the classes. Then there was Félicien Bonnaire, now fourteen, the son
of Séverin Bonnaire and Léonie Gourier, the daughter of Achille and
Ma-Bleue, whose love had flowered among the wild perfumed rocks of the
Bleuse Mountains. And the girl was Germaine Yvonnot, a granddaughter
of Auguste Laboque and Marthe Bourron. A handsome, dark-haired
laughing girl she was, and in her one found blended the blood of
workman, peasant, and petty trader, who had so long warred one against
the other. It amused Luc to unravel the intricate skeins of those
alliances, those frequent crossings of the race; and he was skilful in
identifying the young faces, whose endless increase enraptured him.

But Suzanne spoke: ‘You shall hear them,’ she said; ‘it is a hymn to
the rising sun, a salute on the part of childhood to the planet which
will ripen the crops.’

Some fifty children assembled together on the lawn amidst the chestnut
trees. And the chant arose, very fresh, pure, and gay. There was no
great musical science in it. It was merely a series of couplets, sung
by a girl and a boy alternately, and emphasised by choral repetition.
But it was so lively, so expressive of naïve faith in the planet of
light and kindliness, that it possessed a stirring charm as sung by
those young and somewhat shrill voices. For his part Maurice Morfain,
the little boy who replied to Germaine Yvonnot, the girl, possessed,
even as Suzanne had said, an angel voice of crystalline lightness,
rising to the most delightful, high-toned, flute-like notes. And the
chorus-singing suggested the warbling and chirruping of birds in
freedom on the branches. Nothing could have been more amusing.

Luc laughed, like a well-pleased grandpapa, and Maurice, full of pride,
again rushed into his arms.

‘Why, it’s true, my lad,’ said Luc, ‘you sing like a little
nightingale! And do you know that is very nice, because in life, you
see, you will be able to sing in your hours of worry, and your songs
will bring back your courage. One ought never to weep, one ought always
to sing.’

‘That is what I tell them!’ exclaimed Suzanne. Everybody ought to sing,
and I teach them in order that they may sing here, and in studying, and
in their workshops, and afterwards throughout their lives. The nation
that sings is a nation of health and gaiety.’

She displayed no severity nor vanity in the lessons which she gave in
this fashion amidst the garden greenery. Her only ambition was to open
those young souls to the mirth of fraternal song and the clear beauty
of harmony. As she expressed it, whenever the day of universal justice
and peace should dawn, the whole happy city would sing beneath the sun.

‘Come, my little friends,’ she exclaimed, ‘once again, and carefully,
in time. There is no occasion to hurry.’

Once again the chant arose, but towards the finish of it the young
vocalists were disturbed. A man appeared amidst some shrubbery behind
the chestnut trees–a man who furtively turned round as if to hide
himself. Luc, however, perceived that it was Boisgelin, and was greatly
surprised by the maniac’s strange behaviour; for he stooped and
explored the grass as if seeking some hiding-place, some secret cavity.
At last Luc understood the meaning of it. The poor fellow was looking
for some nook where he might store away his incalculable wealth in
order that it might not be stolen from him. He was often met behaving
in this wild way, trembling with fear, at a loss where he might bury
all that surplus fortune, the weight of which bowed him down. Luc
shuddered with pity at the sight, and became yet more concerned when he
perceived that the children were alarmed by the apparition, even like a
party of gay chaffinches put to flight by the wild fluttering of some
night-bird.

However, Suzanne, who had turned somewhat pale, repeated in a louder
voice: ‘Keep time, keep time, my dears! Bring out the last bar with all
your fervour!’

Haggard and suspicious, Boisgelin had disappeared, like a black
shadow vanishing from amidst the flowering shrubs. And as soon as the
children, recovering their composure, had saluted the sovereign sun
with a last joyful cry, Luc and Suzanne complimented them on their
efforts and dismissed them to their play. Then they walked together
towards the apprenticeship workshops on the other side of the garden.

‘Did you see him?’ Suzanne asked in a low voice, after a moment’s
silence. ‘Ah! the unhappy man, how anxious he makes me!’ But as Luc
thereupon expressed his regret that he had been unable to follow
Boisgelin and take him home again, she once more protested: ‘Oh! he
would not have followed you; you would have had to struggle with him,
and there would have been quite a scandal. My only fear, I repeat it to
you, is that he may be found some day in a pit with his head broken.’

They relapsed into silence, for they were now reaching the workshops.
A good many pupils spent a part of their playtime there, planing wood,
filing iron, sewing or embroidering, whilst others who reigned over a
neighbouring strip of ground busied themselves with digging, sowing,
and weeding. And now Luc and Suzanne again met Josine, standing in a
large room where sewing, knitting, and weaving machines, placed side by
side, were worked sometimes by girls and sometimes by boys. Here again
several of the children were singing, and a joyous spirit of emulation
seemed to animate the workshop.

‘Do you hear them?’ exclaimed Suzanne, whose gaiety had returned.
‘They will always sing, those warblers of mine.’

Josine was explaining to a big girl of sixteen, named Clémentine
Bourron, the manner in which she ought to manage a sewing-machine in
order to do certain embroidery, whilst another pupil, a girl of nine,
Aline Boisgelin by name, was waiting to be shown how she ought to turn
down a seam. Clémentine was the daughter of Sébastien Bourron and
Agathe Fauchard, her grandfather on her mother’s side being Fauchard,
the old drawer of the Abyss, and on her father’s Bourron the puddler.
Aline, who was a younger sister of Ludovic, the son of Paul Boisgelin
and Antoinette Bonnaire, laughed affectionately when she perceived her
grandmother, Suzanne, who was very fond of her.

‘Oh, grandmamma!’ said she, ‘I can’t turn my seams down very well as
yet, but I sew them very straight–don’t I, friend Josine?’

Suzanne kissed her, then watched Josine, who turned down a seam to
serve as a pattern for the child. Luc himself took an interest in these
little matters, aware as he was that everything has its importance,
that happy life depends upon the happy employment of one’s hours. Then,
as Sœurette came up, at the moment when he was about to quit Josine
and Suzanne in order to repair to the works, he found himself for a
moment in the flower garden with the three women, those three loving
and devoted hearts that helped him so powerfully to bring about the
fulfilment of his dream of goodness and happiness. They surrounded him
like symbols of the affectionate solidarity, the universal love which
he wished to disseminate among mankind. Taking each other by the hand
they stood there smiling at him, old no doubt, with their white hair,
but still beautiful, with the wondrous beauty of kindliness. And when,
after discussing some details of organisation with them, Luc departed,
going towards the works, their loving eyes long followed his footsteps.

The factory halls and workshops, which were now much more extensive
than formerly, were full of the healthy gaiety which comes from an
abundance of sunshine and air. On all sides fresh water washed the
cement pavement, carrying off the slightest particles of dust in such
wise that the abode of work, once so grimy, muddy, and pestilential,
now shone with cleanliness. Most of the work, too, was now performed
by machines which stood around in serried array, like an army of
docile, indefatigable artisans, ever ready for the effort required of
them. If their metal arms wore out they simply had to be replaced. They
themselves did not know what pain was, and they had in part suppressed
human pain. They, too, were friendly machines, not the machines of
the earlier days, the competitors which aggravated the workman’s want
by producing a fall in wages, but liberating machines, universal
tools toiling for man whilst man rested. Around those sturdy workers,
propelled by electricity, there were only so many drivers and watchers,
whose sole duties consisted in moving levers or switches, and in making
sure that the mechanism acted properly. The working day did not exceed
four hours, and a workman never spent more than two upon one task,
being relieved at the expiration of his two hours by a mate, whilst he
himself passed to some other form of work, industrial art, agriculture,
or public function. Again, the general employment of electric power had
virtually done away with the uproar with which the workshops had once
resounded, and now they were enlivened by the songs of the workmen,
the vocal mirth which the latter had brought from their schools like
a florescence of harmony embellishing their whole lives. And the
singing of those men around that silent machinery, at once so powerful
and so easy to manage, proclaimed the delight of just, glorious, and
all-saving work.

As Luc passed through the hall containing the puddling furnaces, he
paused for a moment to exchange a few friendly words with a strong
young man of twenty or thereabouts, who managed one of those furnaces
without any need of assistance.

‘Well, Adolphe, are things going on satisfactorily, are you satisfied?’
Luc inquired.

‘Oh! certainly they are! I’ve just completed my two hours, and the
“bloom” is just fit for removal.’

Adolphe was a son of Auguste Laboque and Marthe Bourron. Unlike his
maternal grandfather, Bourron the puddler, who had now retired, he did
not have to perform the terrible task of stirring the ball of fusing
metal with a long bar amidst all the flaring of the fire. The stirring
was now performed by mechanical means, and, indeed, an ingenious
contrivance brought the dazzling ball out of the furnace and placed it
on the chariot which carried it to the helve hammer without the workman
having to intervene.

‘You shall see,’ Adolphe gaily resumed, ‘it’s of first-rate quality,
and the work’s so easy.’

He lowered a lever, a door opened, and the ball, like some planet,
setting the horizon aglow with its luminous trail, slid down to the
chariot, whilst the young man continued smiling, without a drop of
perspiration appearing on his brow, his limbs remaining nimble and
supple, undeformed by excessive toil. The chariot had already started
off to deposit its burden under the hammer, one of a new pattern,
worked by electricity, and doing everything that had to be done by
itself, without need of any smith to turn the lump over, now upon this
side and now upon that. And the hammer also worked so easily and the
sound it gave out was so clear and light that it became like a musical
accompaniment to the mirth of the workmen.

‘I must make haste,’ said Adolphe again, after washing his hands. ‘I
have to finish a table in which I’m greatly interested, and I shall do
a couple of hours in the carpenters’ workshop.’

He was indeed a carpenter as well as a puddler, having learnt various
callings, like all the young folk of his age, in order that he might
not be brutified by clinging to some particular specialty. Varied in
this manner, work became both delight and recreation.

‘Well, amuse yourself!’ cried Luc, sharing his delight.

‘Yes, yes, thanks, Monsieur Luc. That’s the right thing to say–good
work, good amusement.’

One spot where Luc spent a few enjoyable minutes on the mornings when
he visited the works was the hall where the crucible furnaces were
installed. He there felt himself to be far indeed from the old hall at
the Abyss, that hall with its glowing pits growling like volcanoes,
whence the wretched workers, amidst a blaze of fire, had to lift at
arm’s length their hundred pounds’ weight of fusing metal. Instead of
the old-time grimy, filthy place, there was now a spacious gallery,
having broad windows through which the sunshine streamed, and a
pavement of large slabs between which opened batteries of symmetrically
disposed furnaces. As electricity was employed to work them they
remained cold, silent, clean, and bright. And here again mechanical
appliances performed all the work, lowered the crucibles, lifted them
all aglow, and emptied them into moulds under the eyes of the men
directing them. Women were even employed in this department, attending
to the distribution of the electric power, for it had been noticed that
they displayed more care and precision than men in working the delicate
appliances.

Luc walked up to a tall and good-looking girl of twenty, Laure
Fauchard, daughter of Louis Fauchard and Julienne Dacheux, who,
standing near one apparatus, was carefully directing the current
towards one of the furnaces in accordance with the indications of a
young workman, who on his side watched the progress of the fusion.

‘Well, Laure, you are not tired, are you?’ Luc asked her.

‘Oh! no, Monsieur Luc, it amuses me. How can I get tired from merely
turning this little switch?’

The young workman, Hippolyte Mitaine, who was now nearly
three-and-twenty, had drawn near. He was the son of Évariste Mitaine
and Olympe Lenfant, and was reported to be betrothed to Laure Fauchard.

‘Monsieur Luc,’ said he, ‘if you would like to see some billets cast we
are ready.’

The machinery on being started quietly and easily removed the
incandescent crucibles, and then emptied them into the moulds, which
another mechanism brought forward in turn. In five minutes, whilst the
young man and the girl looked on, the work was properly performed and
the furnace was ready to receive yet another charge.

‘There!’ exclaimed Laure, laughing. ‘When I think of all the terrible
stories which my poor grandfather Fauchard used to tell me when I was a
child I can hardly believe them. He hadn’t got much of his wits left,
and he related things about his old calling as a drawer that were fit
to make one shudder. It was as if he had spent his life in the midst of
a fire, with the flames licking his limbs. All the old folk think us
very happy nowadays.’

Luc had become grave, and emotion moistened his eyes. ‘Yes, yes,’
said he, ‘the grandfathers suffered a great deal. And that is why the
grandchildren enjoy a better life. Work well, and love one another
well, the lives of your sons and daughters will be better still.’

Then Luc resumed his round, and wherever he repaired throughout those
spacious works he found the same healthy cleanliness, the same tuneful
gaiety, the same easy and attractive work, thanks to the variety of the
duties entrusted to the staff and the sovereign help of the machinery.
The worker was no longer an overpowered beast of burden, held in
contempt; with freedom he had recovered conscience and intelligence.

As Luc concluded his inspection in the hall where the rolling-machinery
had its place, near the puddling furnaces, he again paused to say a few
friendly words to a young man, about twenty-six years of age, who was
just arriving.

‘Yes, Monsieur Luc,’ was the reply, ‘I’ve come from Les Combettes,
where I’ve been helping my father. There was some sowing to finish, so
I did two hours at it over yonder. And now I mean to do another two
hours here, for there is an urgent order for some rails.’

The young man was named Alexandre, and was a son of Léon Feuillat and
Eugénie Yvonnot. Gifted with a lively fancy, he amused himself after
completing his regular four-hours’ work by preparing ornamental designs
for Lange the potter.

However, he had already set himself to his task, which was the
superintendence of a train of rollers for the making of rails. Luc,
who felt very happy, looked on in a kindly way. Since electrical force
had been employed the terrible uproar of the machinery had ceased; one
only heard the silvery ring of each rail as it spurted forth, following
those which were cooling. ‘Twas all the good and constant production
of an epoch of peace, rails and yet more rails, in order that every
frontier might be crossed, and that the nations, drawn closer and
closer together, might become but one sole nation, spread over the
surface of the earth, which was becoming a perfect network of roads.
And in addition to the rails there were the great steel ships–not
the hateful vessels of war, carrying devastation and death across the
ocean, but vessels of solidarity and brotherliness, enabling continents
to exchange their products, and helping on the increase of mankind’s
fortune to such a degree that prodigious abundance reigned everywhere.
And there were also the bridges facilitating communication, and the
girders and all the structural materials for the erection of the
innumerable edifices which the reconciled communities needed for their
public life, the common-houses, the libraries, the museums, the asylums
for infancy and old age, the huge general stores and the granaries,
all vast enough for the life and keep of the federated nations. And
finally, there were the innumerable machines and appliances which upon
all sides and in all forms of labour replaced the arms of men: those
which tilled the soil, those which toiled in the workshops, those which
travelled along the roads, athwart the waves and through the sky. And
Luc rejoiced that all that iron and steel should have become pacific,
that the metal of conquest which mankind had so long employed solely
to make the swords and spears that it needed for its bloodthirsty
struggles, which it had afterwards turned into the guns and shells
of its latter days of carnage, should be used, now that peace was
won, solely for the erection of its city of fraternity, justice, and
happiness.

Before returning home that day Luc desired to give a last glance at the
battery of electrical furnaces which had replaced Morfain’s smeltery.
The battery, as it happened, was then at work, amidst a blaze of
sunshine which filled the glazed shed where it was placed. Every five
minutes the mechanism charged the furnaces afresh, after the rolling
way had carried off the ten pigs whose glow was dimmed by the bright
light of the planet. And here again, watching over the electrical
appliances, there were two girls each about twenty, one of them a
charming blonde, Claudine, the daughter of Lucien Bonnaire and Louise
Mazelle, and the other a superb brunette, Céline, the daughter of
Arsène Lenfant and Eulalie Laboque. As it was needful that they should
give all their attention to switching the current on and off, they were
at first only able to smile at Luc. But a short rest ensued, and on
perceiving a group of children who stood inquisitively on the threshold
of the shed, they came forward.

‘Good-day, my little Maurice! Good-day, my little Ludovic! Good-day, my
little Aline! Are lessons over, since you have come to see us?’

It should be mentioned that the children by way of recreation, and in
the idea that they would acquire some first notions of various forms of
work, were allowed to run about the place in comparative freedom. Luc,
well pleased at seeing his grandson Maurice again, made the whole party
enter the shed. And he answered their numerous questions, and explained
the mechanism of the furnaces, and even made the appliances work again
by way of showing the children how it sufficed for Claudine or Céline
to turn a little lever, in order to fuse the metal and enable it to
flow forth in a dazzling stream.

But Maurice, with all the importance of a little man who, though only
nine years old had already learnt a great many things, exclaimed ‘Oh!
I know, I’ve already seen it. Grandfather Morfain showed me everything
one day. But tell me, grandfather Froment, is it true that there used
to be furnaces as high as mountains, and that one had to burn one’s
face day and night in order to get anything out of them?’

The others all began to laugh at this, and it was Claudine who
answered: ‘Of course there were! Grandfather Bonnaire has often
told me of it, and you, Maurice, ought to know the story, for your
great-grandfather–the great Morfain as he is still called–was the
last to wrestle with fire like a hero. He lived up yonder in a cavern
in the rocks, and never came down to the town, but from one end of
the year to the other watched over his gigantic furnace, the monster
whose ruins one can still see on the mountain-side, like those of some
storm-rent castle-keep of the ancient days.’

Maurice’s eyes dilated with astonishment, and he listened with all the
passionate interest of a child to whom some prodigious fairy-tale is
being told. ‘Oh! I know, I know! Grandfather Morfain told me all about
his father and the furnace as high as a mountain. But, all the same,
I thought he was inventing it just to amuse us, for he does invent
stories when he wants to make us laugh. And so it’s true?’

‘Why yes, it’s true!’ Claudine continued. ‘Up above there were workmen
who loaded the furnace, by emptying into it truck-loads of ore and
coal, and down below there were other workmen ever on the watch, ever
nursing the monster so that it might not have an attack of indigestion
which would have prevented the work from being properly performed.’

‘And that lasted seven and eight years at a stretch,’ said Céline, the
other young woman; ‘the monster remained alight all that time, always
flaming like a crater, without it being possible for one to let it
cool, for if it did cool, there was a great loss, it had to be broken
open, and cleaned, and almost entirely rebuilt.’

Then Claudine resumed: ‘So you see, my little Maurice, your
great-grandfather Morfain had a vast deal of work to do, since he could
hardly quit that fire for a moment during seven or eight years; besides
which, every five hours, he had to clear the tap-hole with an iron bar,
in order to release the smelted ore, which ran out like a perfect river
of flames, hot enough to roast one, as if one were a duck on the spit.’

At this the hitherto stupefied children burst into loud laughter. Oh!
the idea of it, a duck on the spit, Old Morfain roasting like a duck!

‘Ah well!’ said Ludovic Boisgelin, ‘it can’t have been very amusing to
work in those days. It must have given one too much trouble.’

‘Of course,’ his sister Aline exclaimed, ‘I’m glad that I was born
after all that, for it’s very amusing to work nowadays.’

Maurice, however, had become serious and thoughtful, turning over
in his mind all the incredible things which had been told him. And
by way of summing up everything, he ended by saying: ‘All the same,
grandfather’s father must have been awfully strong, and if things go
better nowadays it is perhaps because he had such a lot of trouble
formerly.’

Luc, who hitherto had contented himself with smiling, was delighted by
this remark. He caught up Maurice and kissed him on both cheeks. ‘You
are right, my boy,’ said he. ‘And in the same way, if you work with all
your heart nowadays, your great-grandchildren will be yet happier than
you are–even now, you see, one no longer roasts like a duck.’

By his orders the battery of electrical furnaces was started once
more, Claudine and Céline turning the current on or off by a simple
gesture. The children wished to direct the mechanism themselves, and
how delightful did that easy work seem after the legend-like narrative
of Morfain’s hard toil–the toil, it seemed, of some pain-racked giant
living in a world that had disappeared!

All at once, however, there came an apparition, and the children,
perturbed by it, ran off. Then Luc again perceived Boisgelin, who this
time stood at one of the doorways of the shed, watching the work in an
angry, mistrustful way, like some master who is for ever afraid that
his men may rob him. He was often to be seen in this fashion in one or
another part of the works, distracted by the idea that the place was
too vast to be properly inspected by him, and maddened more and more
by the thought of all the millions that he must every day be losing
through his inability to check the work of all those people who were
earning milliards for him. They were too numerous, he was never able
to see them all. He looked so haggard, so exhausted by his fruitless
roaming through the workshops, that Luc, stirred by pity, this time
wished to join him, calm him, and lead him gently home. But Boisgelin
was on his guard, and springing back, ran off towards the large
workshops.

His morning ramble over, Luc now returned home, and just as the
daylight was waning in the afternoon, after glancing round the general
stores, he went to spend an hour with the Jordans. In the little
drawing-room overlooking the park he found Sœurette chatting with
schoolmaster Hermeline and Abbé Marle; whilst Jordan, stretched on a
sofa and wrapped in a rug, remained thinking, according to his wont,
with his eyes fixed upon the setting sun. Amiable Doctor Novarre had
lately been carried off after an illness of a few hours, his only
regret being that he would not behold the realisation of so many
beautiful things in the possibility of which he had at the outset
scarcely believed. Thus Sœurette nowadays received but the schoolmaster
and the priest, and these only called at long intervals, when yielding
to their old habit of meeting at her house. Hermeline, now seventy
years of age and retired, was ending his days in a state of growing
bitterness and anger against all that passed before him. He had reached
such a point in this respect that he reproached the old priest with
lack of warmth. As a matter of fact Abbé Marle, who was five years
older than the other, sought refuge in dolorous dignity, silence which
became more and more haughty as he beheld his church becoming empty and
his religion expiring.

As Luc entered and took a chair beside Sœurette, who sat there silent,
gentle, and patient, it so happened that the schoolmaster was again
badgering the priest, like the sectarian and dictatorial republican
that he still was. ‘Come, come, abbé,’ he said, ‘since I fall in with
your views you ought to help me. This is surely the end of the world.
Children’s passions, evil growths which we the educators were formerly
appointed to crush, are nowadays cultivated, it seems. How is it
possible for the State to have any disciplined citizens reared for its
service when a free rein is given to anarchical individuality? If we,
the men of method and sense, don’t manage to save the Republic, it is
surely lost!’

Since the day when he had thus begun to speak of saving the Republic
from those whom he called the Socialists and the Anarchists, he had
gone over to the side of reaction, joining the priest in his hatred
of all who dared to free themselves otherwise than by his own narrow
Jacobin formula.

And he went on yet more violently: ‘I tell you, abbé, that your
church will be swept away if you do not defend it! Your religion, no
doubt, was never mine. But I have always admitted the necessity of a
religion for the people; and Catholicism was certainly an admirable
governing machine. So stir yourself! We are with you, and we will have
an explanation afterwards, when we have re-conquered the lost ground
together.’

At first Abbé Marle simply shook his head. As a rule nowadays he did
not take the trouble to answer or get angry. At last he slowly said: ‘I
do the whole of my duty–I am at my altar every morning, even when my
church is empty, and I implore God to perform a miracle. He will surely
do so, if He deems it necessary.’

This brought the old schoolmaster’s exasperation to a climax. ‘Pooh!
one must help oneself! It is cowardly to do nothing.’

Sœurette, smiling and full of tolerance for those vanquished men,
thereupon thought it necessary to intervene: ‘If the good doctor was
still here,’ said she, ‘he would beg you not to agree so well together,
since your seeming agreement only makes your quarrel worse. You grieve
me, my friends; I should have been so happy–not to convert you to our
ideas, but to see you admit, by virtue of experience, a little of all
the good which our ideas have effected in this region.’

They had both retained great deference for Sœurette, and indeed their
presence in that little drawing-room, beside the very hearth, so to
say, of the new city, showed what ascendancy she still exercised over
them. For her sake they even put up with the presence of Luc, their
victorious adversary, though he, it should be admitted, discreetly
avoided all appearance of triumphing over them. Thus, on this occasion,
he refrained from intervening, however furiously Hermeline might deny
all that he had created. After all, thought Luc, this was simply the
last revolt of the principle of authority against the liberation of
man both naturally and socially. On seeing the nations so near the
point of escaping from civil as well as religious servitude, the
once all-powerful State and the once all-powerful Church, which had
voraciously contended for possession of them, now tried to come to an
agreement, and league themselves together in order to reconquer the
nations.

‘Ah!’ cried Hermeline again, ‘if you own yourself beaten, abbé, it
must be all over. In that case I can only keep silent as you do, and
withdraw into my corner to die.’

The priest once more shook his head, preserving silence. But
eventually, for the last time, he said: ‘God cannot be beaten; it is
for God Himself to act.’

The night was now slowly falling over the park, lengthening shadows
were filling the little _salon_, and nobody spoke any further. Only a
great quiver, coming from the melancholy past, swept through the room.
Finally the schoolmaster rose and took his leave. Then, as the priest
was about to do the same, Sœurette wished to slip into his hand the sum
which at each recurring visit she had been accustomed to give him for
his poor. This time, however, he refused the alms which he had been
accepting so regularly for more than forty years; and in a low voice he
slowly said: ‘No, thank you, mademoiselle; keep that money. I should
not know what to do with it; there are no more poor!’

Ah! what words those were for Luc: ‘No more poor!’ His heart had leapt
as he heard them. No more poor, no more starvelings in that town of
Beauclair, which he had known so black, so wretched, peopled by such
an accursed race of famished toilers! Would all the frightful sores
which had come from the wage-system be healed then? would shame and
crime soon disappear, even as want did? The reorganisation of work in
accordance with justice had sufficed already to bring about a better
apportionment of wealth. And thus, when work should on all sides become
honour and health and joy, an entirely peaceful and a brotherly race
would assuredly people the happy city.

Jordan, who still lay upon the sofa, wrapped in his rug, had hitherto
remained motionless, his eyes fixed upon space, through which no
doubt his mind was roaming. At last, Abbé Marle and Hermeline having
departed, he woke up, and without taking his eyes off the sunset which
he seemed to be watching with passionate interest, he said in a dreamy
manner: ‘Each time that I see the sun set I become dreadfully sad and
anxious. Suppose it were not to come back, suppose it were never to
rise again over the black and frost-bound earth, what a terrible death
would then overtake all life! The sun is the father, the fructifier,
without whom all germs would wither or rot. And it is in the sun that
we must place our hope of relief and future happiness, for if it were
not to help us life would some day dry up.’

Luc had begun to smile. He knew that Jordan, in spite of his great
age–he was now nearly seventy-five–had for some years been studying
the problem of how he might capture solar heat and store it in vast
reservoirs in order to distribute it afterwards as the one, great,
eternal, living force. A time would come when the coal in the mines
would be exhausted, and where would one then find the necessary energy
for the torrent of electricity which had become so needful for life?
Thanks to his first discoveries, Jordan had succeeded in supplying an
abundance of electrical force for next to nothing. But what a victory
it would be if he should succeed in making the sun the universal
motor–if he should be able to take from it direct the caloric power
which was now found slumbering in coal–if he should manage to employ
it as the one sole fructifier, the very father of immortal life! He had
but a last discovery to effect, and then his work would be accomplished
and he would be ready to die.

‘Don’t alarm yourself!’ said Luc gaily, ‘the sun will rise to-morrow
and you will succeed at last in snatching the sacred fire from it.’

However, Sœurette, whom the evening breeze now coming in cool gusts
through the open window rendered somewhat anxious, stepped forward to
ask her brother: ‘Don’t you feel cold? Wouldn’t you like me to shut the
window?’

He declined the offer with a motion of his hand, and all that he would
allow was that she should wrap him round with the rug to his very chin.
He now seemed to live solely by a miracle, solely because he wished
to live, having adjourned death until the evening of his last day of
work, the triumphant evening when, his task accomplished, he might at
last sink into the good sleep of a loyal and contented worker. His
sister surrounded him with greater precautions than ever; her extreme
care prolonged his strength, and still gave him two hours of physical
and intellectual energy each day–two hours which by force of method
he put to wonderful use. And thus that poor, old, puny being, whom the
slightest draught threatened with annihilation, was completing the
conquest of the world simply because he was still a stubborn worker,
one who did not throw his task aside.

‘You will live to be a hundred years old!’ said Luc, with an
affectionate laugh.

At this Jordan likewise made merry. ‘No doubt,’ said he, ‘if a hundred
years prove necessary.’

Again deep silence fell in the little _salon_, full of such
affectionate intimacy. It was delightful to see the warm twilight
stealing slowly over the park, whose deep paths were gradually steeped
in the gloom. Vague gleams still hovered just above the lawns, whilst
the great trees faded away and became like light and quivering
apparitions in the blue distance. And it was now the sweethearts’
hour–the sweethearts to whom the park of La Crêcherie remained open,
and who therefore came thither in the twilight after their daily work.
Nobody troubled about the roaming, shadowy couples, who, holding one
another by the hand, gradually melted away and disappeared amidst the
greenery. They were confided to the keeping of the friendly old oaks.
Reliance was placed on the freedom to love that was granted them, for
this would render them gentle and chaste, like future spouses whose
embrace becomes an indissoluble tie if mutually desired. To love always
one need only know why and how one loves. Those who choose one another,
knowing and consenting, never part. And already, along the dim avenues,
over the lawns where the shadows stretched, there came sauntering
couples, who peopled, as with apparitions, the mysterious gloom amidst
the quiver of delight which the fresh odours of spring brought from the
earth.

As other couples arrived Luc recognised among them several of the
lads and girls whom he had seen in the workshops that morning. Were
not yonder shadowy forms, so close one to the other that they seemed
carried by one and the same flight over the tips of the grass, those
of Adolphe Laboque and Germaine Yvonnot? And those others, whose hair
mingled, their heads resting one against the other, were they not
Hippolyte Mitaine and Laure Fauchard? And those others too, whose arms
were tightly clasped around each other’s waist, were they not Alexandre
Feuillat and Clémence Bourron? Yet softer emotion came to Luc’s heart
when he fancied that he recognised his son Charles with his arm around
the dark-haired Céline Lenfant, and his son Jules leading away in his
embrace the fair Claudine Bonnaire. Ah! the young folk, the messengers
of the new springtide, the last to awaken to love, to feel kindling
within them the glow of life which the generations transmit one to
the other! As yet they knew but the chaste quiver which comes at the
first whispered words, and the innocent caress, the clasp in which
ignorant hearts seek one another, and the furtive kiss whose sweetness
suffices to open the portals of heaven. But before long the sovereign
flame would unite and blend them in order that yet other artisans of
love might spring from them, other couples, who in years to come would
repair to this same park to exchange the vows of budding affection.
For there would ever be more and more happiness and more and more free
passion tending to increase of harmony. Even now other couples, and
others still, were arriving, the park was gradually becoming populous
with all the sweethearts of the happy city. This was the exquisite
evening after the good day of work, the gloaming spent amidst lawn and
cover, shadowy like dreamland, steeped in mystery and perfume, with
nought breaking upon the silence save light sounds of laughter and
kisses.

All at once, however, a shadowy form stopped outside the _salon_. It
was Suzanne, who had anxiously been seeking Luc. And on finding him
there she told him how greatly she was worried by Boisgelin’s prolonged
absence, for he had not yet returned home. Never before had he lingered
like this out of doors after nightfall.

‘You were right,’ she repeated; ‘I did wrong in leaving him to his mad
fancies. Ah! the unhappy man, the poor old child!’

Luc, who shared her fears, bade her go home again. ‘He may return at
any moment,’ he said; ‘it is best that you should be there. For my part
I will have a look round and bring you tidings.’

He at once took two men with him and crossed the park, with the
intention of beginning the search among the workshops. But he had
scarcely taken three hundred steps, and was near the little lake,
fringed with willows, quite a nook of paradise, when he halted on
hearing a light cry of terror which came from an adjacent clump of
greenery. From amidst that foliage there ran a pair of frightened
lovers, who he fancied were his son Jules and the fair Claudine
Bonnaire. ‘What is the matter? What has alarmed you?’ he called.

But they did not answer, they fled as beneath a blast of terror,
like love birds whose caresses have been disturbed by some frightful
encounter. And when Luc himself decided to enter the copse, he also
gave vent to an exclamation of horror. For he had almost knocked
against a body which hung from a branch there, blocking the narrow
pathway. In the last gleam of light falling from the sky where the
stars were now appearing Luc recognised the body as that of Boisgelin.

‘Ah! the unhappy man, the poor old child!’ he murmured, repeating
Suzanne’s words, and feeling quite upset by that horrible tragedy which
would cause her such deep grief.

With the help of his companions he cut down the body and laid it on
the ground. But it was already quite cold. The unhappy man must have
hanged himself there early in the afternoon, after his desperate ramble
through the busy works. Luc fancied that he could divine everything
when at the foot of the tree he noticed a large hole which Boisgelin
had apparently dug with his hands, a hole in which he had no doubt
meant to bury the prodigious fortune which his people of workers
earned for him, that fortune which he knew not how to manage or how to
store away. And despairing, perchance, of his power to make a pit of
sufficient size for so much wealth, he had ended by resolving to die
there and thus rid himself of the horrible embarrassment in which he
was placed by his ever-growing and crushing fortune. His day of wild
roaming, his madness, his inability to live, idler that he was, in the
new city of just work, had culminated in that tragic death, and he had
hung there whilst the park, in the clasp of warm and nuptial night, was
filled with the rustling of caresses and the whispering of loving vows.

In order to avoid frightening the shadowy couples gliding between the
trees around him, Luc at once sent the two men to fetch a stretcher
at La Crêcherie, at the same time begging them to tell nobody of the
lugubrious discovery. And when they had returned and laid the lifeless
body between the little curtains of grey canvas, the mournful _cortège_
set off along the blackest of the paths in order to escape observation.
In this wise death, frightful death, passed along silently, steeped in
shadows, through the delightful awakening of spring, now all a-quiver
with new life. Lovers seemed to arise on all sides, springing up at
the bends of each avenue, in the recesses of each clump of bushes.
A perfume of flowers made the air quite balmy, hands sought hands,
and lips met. Love was budding, a fresh wave was coming to increase
humanity’s broad stream, death was incessantly vanquished, to-morrow
and to-morrow were ever sprouting in order that there might be yet more
truth, more justice, more happiness in the world.

Suzanne stood waiting in a state of anguish, at the door of the house,
her eyes gazing into the night. When she perceived the stretcher she
understood, and gave vent to a low moan. And when Luc in a few words
had acquainted her with the wretched end of the useless being now
slumbering there, she was only able to repeat, as she thought of that
empty, poisoned, and poisonous life which had brought her so much
suffering: ‘Ah, the unhappy man, the poor old child!’

Other catastrophes took place amidst the crumbling of the rotten
society of the old days now fated to disappear. But the greatest stir
of all was caused by one that occurred during the ensuing month–the
collapse of the old church of Saint Vincent one bright sunshiny morning
when Abbé Marle was at the altar celebrating mass solely for the
sparrows which flew through the deserted nave.

The priest had long been aware that his church would some day fall
upon him. It dated from the sixteenth century, and was in a very
damaged condition, cracking upon all sides. The steeple had certainly
been repaired some forty years previously, but from lack of funds it
had been necessary to postpone all work on the roofing, whose beams,
half eaten away, were already yielding. And since that time every
application for a grant had been made in vain. The State, overburdened
with debts, abandoned that church of a remote region. The town of
Beauclair refused to contribute anything, Mayor Gourier having never
been on the side of the priests. Thus Abbé Marle, reduced to his own
resources, had been obliged to seek among the faithful the large sum
which became more and more urgently required if the edifice was not
to fall upon his shoulders. But in vain did he knock at the doors of
wealthy parishioners, the faithful were dwindling away, their zeal was
fast cooling. During the lifetime of the beautiful Léonore, the mayor’s
wife, whose extreme piety proved some compensation for her husband’s
atheism, the priest had found precious help in her. Subsequently,
however, only Madame Mazelle had remained to him, and not only did her
fervour decline, but she was in no wise of a generous disposition.
In course of time worries respecting her fortune consumed her, and
she came less and less frequently to Saint Vincent, in such wise that
nobody was left to the priest save a few poor creatures who in their
wretchedness clung obstinately to the hope of a better life. And
finally when no poor remained, the church became quite empty, and the
abbé lived there in solitude, amidst the abandonment in which mankind
now at last left his religion of error and wretchedness.

The abbé then felt that a world was indeed expiring around him.
His complaisance had been powerless to save the life of the lying,
poisonous _bourgeoisie_ which was devoured by its own iniquities. In
vain had he cast the cloak of religion over its last agony; it had
died amidst a final scandal. And in vain, too, had he sought a refuge
in the strict letter of dogma, in order that he might concede nothing
to the truths of science, which, he could realise, were mounting to
the supreme and victorious assault by which the ancient edifice of
Catholicism would be destroyed. Science, indeed, had at last effected
its breach, dogma was finally swept away, and the Kingdom of God was
about to be set, not in some fabulous paradise, but upon this very
earth, in the name of triumphant justice. A new religion, the religion
of man, at last truly conscious, free, and master of his destiny, was
sweeping away the ancient mythologies, the forms of symbolism amidst
which he had lost himself during the anguish of his long struggle
against nature. After the temples of ancient idolatry, the Catholic
churches in their turn had to disappear, now that a fraternal people
set its certain happiness in the sole force of its living solidarity
without need of any political system of punishments and rewards. Thus
the priest, since confessional and holy table alike had been deserted,
since the faithful had departed from his church, beheld each day when
he celebrated mass there the cracks in the walls spreading, and the
beams of the roofs yielding more and more. It was a constant crumbling,
a gradual process of destruction and ruin, the slightest premonitory
sounds of which he could detect. But since he had been unable to summon
the builders even for the most urgent repairs, he must necessarily
allow the work of death to follow its course and culminate in the
natural end of things. Thus he simply waited and continued to say his
mass, like a hero of faith, alone with his forsaken creed, whilst the
roof cracked more and more above the altar.

A morning came when Abbé Marle perceived that another large stretch
of the vaulting of the nave had split during the previous night.
And although he now felt certain of the downfall which he had been
anticipating for months past, he nevertheless came to celebrate
his last mass, clad in his richest vestments. Very tall and
broad-shouldered, with a nose like an eagle’s beak, he still held
himself firm and upright in spite of his advanced age. He dispensed
with servers now, he came and went, spoke the sacramental words, and
made the usual gestures, as if a great throng were pressing together
before him, docile to his voice. But in the state of abandonment
in which the church was left, only some broken chairs lay upon the
flag-stones, suggesting the wretched-looking mouldy garden seats that
are left forgetfully out of doors exposed to the rains of winter. Weeds
grew round the columns, over which moss was spreading. All the winds of
heaven streamed in through the broken windows, and the great doorway
being half unhinged, remained partially open, allowing the animals of
the neighbourhood to flock in. On that fine bright day, however, it
was particularly the sunshine that poured into the edifice, like a
conqueror, setting as it were a triumphal invasion of life amidst that
tragic ruin where birds flew hither and thither, and where wild oats
germinated even among the stone mantles of the old saints. Above the
altar, however, there still reigned a great crucifix of painted and
gilded wood, displaying a long, livid, pain-racked effigy, splashed
with some blackish blood that dripped like tears.

Whilst Abbé Marle was reading the Gospel he heard a louder cracking,
and some dust and some fragments of plaster fell upon the altar. Then,
at the moment of the Offertory, the sinister rending began again,
and it seemed as if the edifice were shaking before it fell. But the
priest, collecting all the remaining strength of his faith together for
the Elevation, prayed with his whole soul for the miracle for whose
glorious, all-saving splendour he had so long been waiting. If it
should so please God, the church would regain its vigorous youth, and
be endowed with sturdy pillars upholding an indestructible nave. Masons
were not necessary, the Almighty power would suffice, and a magnificent
sanctuary would arise there, with chapels of gold, windows of purple,
wood-work marvellously carved, and dazzling marble, whilst a multitude
of the faithful on their knees would sing the hymn of Resurrection
amidst the blaze of thousands of candles and the loud pealing of bells.
But at the very moment when the priest, finishing his prayer, raised
the chalice, it was not the miracle he asked for that came, it was
annihilation. He stood there erect, with both arms raised in a superb
gesture of heroic belief, and the vaulted roof was rent asunder as if
by a bolt from heaven, and crashed downward in a whirlwind of fragments
with a roar like that of thunder. The shaken steeple tottered and then
in its turn fell, ripping the remainder of the roof open, and dragging
down the rest of the sundered walls. And nought remained beneath the
bright sun save a huge litter of stones and tiles, amidst which a
fruitless search was made for Abbé Marle. He had disappeared as if
the remnants of the shattered altar had consumed his flesh, drunk his
blood. And in like way nothing was ever found of the great crucifix of
painted and gilded wood. That also had been shattered to atoms, reduced
to dust. Thus yet another religion was dead, the last priest saying his
last mass had perished with the last of the churches.

For a few days old Hermeline, the retired schoolmaster, was seen
prowling about the ruins, and talking aloud as old folk are wont to
do when haunted by some fixed idea. His words could not be plainly
distinguished, but he seemed to be still arguing and reproaching
the abbé for having failed to obtain the needed miracle. Then, one
morning, he was found dead in his bed. And later on, when the ruins
of the church had been cleared away, a garden was planted there, with
fine trees and shady walks, skirting sweet-smelling lawns. Lovers went
thither on pleasant evenings, even as they went to the park of La
Crêcherie. The happy city was ever spreading, children were growing and
becoming lovers in their turn, lovers whose kisses in the shade again
sowed future harvests. After the gay day of work came love amidst the
roses blooming upon every side. And in that delightful garden where
slept the dust of a religion of wretchedness and death, one now beheld
the growth of human joy, the overflowing florescence of life.