Why, nothing happier could have befallen him

The blow was a terrible one at La Guerdache. Ruin suddenly fell upon
that residence of luxury and pleasure, which had continually resounded
with festivities. A hunt had to be countermanded, and it was necessary
to stop the grand Tuesday dinners. The numerous domestics would have
to be discharged _en masse_, and there was already some talk of the
sale of the carriages, horses, and kennels. All the noisy life of the
gardens and park, the endless affluence of visitors, had ceased. In
the huge house itself the drawing-rooms, dining-room, billiard-room,
and smoking-room became so many deserts, quivering with the blast of
disaster. It was a stricken dwelling agonising in the sudden solitude
born of misfortune.

To and fro through that infinite sadness went Boisgelin like a woeful
shadow. Utterly overcome, with his mind almost unhinged, he spent the
most frightful days, at a loss what to do with himself, wandering about
like a soul in distress amidst the downfall of his life of enjoyment.
He was at bottom a sorry being, a horseman and clubman, an amiable
mediocrity whose fine presence and correct, proud mien–the mien of
the fool who wears a single eyeglass–collapsed entirely at the first
tragic gust of truth and justice. He had hitherto taken his pleasures
like one convinced that they were due to him; he had never done the
slightest work in his life; he imagined himself to be different from
others–a privileged being, one of the elect, born to be fed and amused
by the labour of others–and so how could he have understood the
catastrophe which had so logically fallen upon him? His egotistical
creed had received too severe a shock, and he remained in dismay
before the future, respecting which he had not previously felt any
disquietude. In the depths of his bewilderment there was particularly
the terror of the idler, the kept-man, one who was utterly upset by the
thought that he was incapable of earning his living. As Delaveau was
gone, from whom could he now demand the profits which had been promised
him on the day when he had invested his capital in the Abyss? The works
were burnt, the capital had vanished in the ruins, and where would
he now find the money to live? He roamed like a madman through the
deserted gardens and the lugubrious house without finding an answer to
that question.

At first, on the evening following the tragedy, Boisgelin was haunted
by thoughts of the frightful death of Delaveau and Fernande. He could
have no doubt on the matter, for he remembered in what a mood the young
woman had left him–full of wrath and pouring forth threats against her
husband. It was certainly Delaveau who, after some terrible scene, had
set fire to the house in order to destroy both the guilty woman and
himself. In that vengeance, for a mere enjoyer of life like Boisgelin,
there was a sombre ferocity, a monstrous violence, which inspired him
with unending fright. But the greatest blow was to understand that
he was deficient in strength of intellect, and that he lacked the
necessary energy to set his affairs in order. From morning till evening
he ruminated over various plans without knowing which to adopt. Would
it be best to try to resuscitate the works, seek money and an engineer,
endeavour to establish a company to carry on the business? He feared
that he might not succeed in such attempts, for the losses were very
great, and must in the first instance be made good. Ought he not rather
to wait for a purchaser who would take the land, and such plant and
materials as had been saved, at his risk and peril? But Boisgelin
greatly doubted whether such a purchaser would ever turn up, and in
particular he doubted whether he would obtain from him a sufficiently
large sum to liquidate the situation. Moreover, the question of
his future life still remained to be settled; for the estate of La
Guerdache was an expensive one to keep up, and perhaps at the end of
the month he would no longer have enough money to buy even bread.

In this emergency one sole creature took pity on the wretched,
trembling, forsaken man, who roamed about his empty house like a lost
child, and this was Suzanne, his wife, that woman full of heroic
gentleness whom he had so cruelly outraged. At the outset, when he had
imposed his _liaison_ with Fernande upon her, she had again and again
resolved upon asserting herself and driving the intruder, the strange
woman, from her house; but in the end she had invariably refrained from
taking that course, for she felt certain that if she were to drive
Fernande away, her infatuated husband would follow her. Then, their
relative positions being settled, Suzanne had taken a room for herself
and had become a wife in name only, keeping up appearances in the
presence of visitors, but devoting herself entirely to the education
of Paul, whom she wished to save from disaster. Had it not been for
that dear child, fair and gentle like herself, she would never have
become, resigned to the position. It was he who had brought about her
renunciation, her sacrifice. She had removed him as much as possible
from the influence of his unworthy father, anxious that his mind and
heart, in which by way of consolation she hoped to cultivate sense and
kindliness, should belong to herself alone. In this wise years went by,
amidst the delight of seeing him grow up reasonable and affectionate;
and it was only from a distance, so to say, that Suzanne had beheld
the slow ruin of the Abyss and the growing prosperity of La Crêcherie.
Like her husband, she had no doubt whatever that Delaveau, informed
of the truth, had personally fired that huge pyre in order to destroy
himself with that corrupting, devouring creature, his guilty wife.
Suzanne shuddered as she thought of it, and asked herself if she had
not in some small degree contributed to the catastrophe by her own
resignation, her weakness, in tolerating betrayal and shame in her own
home during so many years. If she had only rebelled at the outset,
perhaps the crime would never have reached that climax. And her qualms
of conscience quite upset her, and moved her to compassion for the
wretched man whom, since the days of the catastrophe, she had seen
roaming about like one demented, through the deserted garden and the
empty house.

One morning, as she herself was crossing the grand drawing-room where
Boisgelin had given so many _fêtes_, she perceived him there huddled up
on an arm-chair, and sobbing and weeping like a child. She was quite
stirred, filled with pity at the sight. And she, who for many years had
never spoken to him unless it were necessary to do so in the presence
of guests, drew near and said, ‘It is not in despairing that you will
find the strength you need.’

Amazed at seeing her there, at hearing her speak to him, he looked at
her through the tears which blurred his eyes.

‘Yes,’ she continued, ‘it is of no use roaming about from morning
till night–you must find courage in yourself, you will not find it
elsewhere.’

He made a gesture expressive of desolation, and answered in a faint
voice: ‘I am so much alone.’

He was not by nature an evilly disposed man; he was simply a fool and
a weakling, one of those cowards whom egotistical pleasure turns into
brutes. And it was with such utter dejection that he complained of the
solitude in which she left him amidst his misfortune, that she again
felt very touched.

‘You mean,’ she said, ‘that you wished to be alone. Since those
frightful occurrences why have you not come to me?’

‘Good God!’ he stammered, ‘can you forgive me?’

Then he caught hold of her hands, which she left in his grasp, and,
overwhelmed and wildly repentant, confessed his fault. He acknowledged
nothing but what she knew already, his long betrayal, the mistress whom
he had brought into his home, that woman who had maddened him and urged
him on to ruin; but in accusing himself he displayed such passionate
frankness that Suzanne was touched as by some spontaneous confession
which he might have spared himself.

‘It is true,’ he ended by saying, ‘I have wronged you so long, I have
behaved abominably. Ah! why did you abandon me, why did you try nothing
to win me back?’

His words awoke in her those qualms of conscience, the covert remorse
which she felt at the thought that she had perhaps not done all her
duty, that she had erred in not trying to stop him on his downward
course. And the reconciliation which pity had initiated was completed
by a feeling of indulgence. Are not the most pure, the most heroic
partially responsible at times, when the weak and the erring succumb
around them?

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I ought to have battled more, but I was too intent
on sparing my pride and procuring quietude. We both have need of
forgetfulness, we must regard all the past as dead.’

Then, as their son Paul happened to pass through the garden under the
windows, she called him indoors. He was now a big fellow of eighteen,
intelligent and refined, a son after her own image, very affectionate
and very sensible, free from all caste prejudices, and ready to live on
the fruit of his own exertions whenever circumstances might require it.
He had begun to take a passionate interest in the land, and spent whole
days at the farm, busy with questions of culture, the germination of
seed and harvesting of crops. As it happened, when his mother asked him
to come in for a moment, he was about to repair to Feuillat’s to see a
new type of plough.

‘Come in, my boy, your father is in great grief, and I wish you to kiss
him,’ said Suzanne.

There had been a rupture between father and son as between husband
and wife. Won over entirely to his mother’s side, Paul, in growing
up, had felt nothing but cold respect for his father, whose conduct,
he divined, must be the cause of his mother’s frequent sorrow. Thus
he now came into the drawing-room, feeling both surprised and moved,
and for a few seconds remained gazing at his parents, whom he found so
pale, so upset by emotion. Then, understanding the position, he kissed
his father very affectionately, and flung his arms around his mother’s
neck, anxious to embrace her also with all his heart. The family bond
was formed once more, and there came a happy moment, when one might
have believed that agreement would henceforth be complete between them.

When Suzanne in her turn had kissed her son, Boisgelin had to restrain
a fresh flow of tears. ‘Good, good! now we all agree. Ah! that gives me
some courage again. We are in such a terrible position! We shall have
to come to some arrangement, take some decision.’

They went on talking for a little while, all three of them seated there
together; for Boisgelin felt a desire to unburden himself and confide
in that woman and that lad after roaming about alone so distressfully.
He reminded Suzanne how they had bought the Abyss for a million, and
La Guerdache for five hundred thousand francs, out of the two millions
which had remained to them, the one which had formed her dowry, and
the other which had been saved in the wreck of his own fortune. The
five hundred thousand francs left out of the two millions had been
handed to Delaveau, and had served as working capital for the Abyss.
All their money was thus invested in that enterprise, but unfortunately
during recent financial embarrassments it had been necessary to borrow
six hundred thousand francs, a debt which had weighed heavily upon
the business. It really seemed as if the works were quite dead since
they were burnt, and besides, before erecting them afresh it would be
necessary to pay the debt of six hundred thousand francs.

‘Then what do you intend to do?’ Suzanne inquired.

Boisgelin thereupon explained the two solutions between which he
hesitated, unable to adopt either, so great were the difficulties
which attended both. On the one hand they might rid themselves
of everything, sell what remained of the Abyss for what it would
fetch–that is, no doubt, barely enough to pay the outstanding debt of
six hundred thousand francs; or, on the other hand, they might try to
find fresh funds, and establish a company, to which he would belong by
contributing the land and the plant that had been saved. But here again
there seemed little hope of effecting such a combination. Meantime,
a solution was every day becoming more necessary, for their ruin was
growing more and more complete.

‘We also have La Guerdache–we can sell it,’ remarked Suzanne.

‘Oh! sell La Guerdache!’ he answered in a despairing way. ‘Part with
this property to which we are so accustomed, so attached! And all to go
and hide ourselves in some wretched hovel! What a downfall it would be,
what a lot more grief it would bring!’

Suzanne became grave again, for she well perceived that he was not
resigned to the idea of leading a reasonable modest life. ‘We shall
inevitably have to come to it, my friend,’ said she. ‘We cannot
continue living upon such a footing.’

‘No doubt, no doubt, we shall sell La Guerdache, but later on, when an
opportunity presents itself. If we were to put it up for sale now we
should not obtain half its value, for in doing so we should confess
our ruin, and the whole district would league itself against us to
rejoice and speculate on our misfortunes.’ Then he added more direct
arguments: ‘Besides, my dear, La Guerdache belongs to you. As is stated
in the deeds, the five hundred thousand francs of the purchase money
were taken from your dowry, the remaining five hundred thousand francs
of which formed half of the million which the Abyss cost us. Whilst
we are co-proprietors of the works, La Guerdache is entirely your own
property, and I simply desire to keep it for you as long as possible.’

Suzanne did not wish to insist on the subject, but she made a gesture
as if to say that she had long since resigned herself to every
sacrifice. Her husband was looking at her, and all at once he seemed to
remember something.

‘Oh, by the way,’ he exclaimed, ‘I’ve a question to ask you. Have you
ever seen your old friend, Monsieur Luc Froment, again?’

She remained for a moment stupefied. Following upon the foundation
of La Crêcherie and the acute rivalry which had ensued between that
enterprise and the Abyss, had come a rupture with Luc, a rupture which
had not been the slightest of her sorrows amongst her many bitter
experiences. She felt that she had lost in Luc a cordial, consoling,
brotherly friend who would have helped and sustained her. But once
again she had resigned herself, and whenever she had chanced to meet
him at long intervals, on one of the few occasions when she went
out, she had never spoken to him. He imitated her discretion and
renunciation, and it seemed as if their old intimacy were quite dead.
Still this did not prevent Suzanne from taking quite a passionate
interest in Luc’s enterprise, an interest of which she spoke to nobody.
In secret she remained upon his side in the generous efforts which
he was making to set a little more justice and love upon the earth.
Thus she had suffered with him and triumphed with him, and when at one
moment she had imagined him to be dead, killed by Ragu’s knife-thrust,
she had for forty-eight hours shut herself up alone, far away from
everybody.

In the depths of her grief she had then discovered an intolerable
anguish; that _liaison_ with Josine which Ragu’s crime had revealed
to her left a torturing wound in her heart. Had she then been in love
with Luc without knowing it? Perhaps so, for had she not dreamt of
the joy, the pride that she would have felt at having such a husband
as he, one who would have turned fortune to such good and magnificent
use? Had she not thought, too, that she would have helped him, and that
between them they would have accomplished prodigies in the cause of
peace and kindness? But he grew well again, and was now the husband of
Josine; and Suzanne felt everything crumbling once more, leaving her
nought but the abnegation of a sacrificed wife, of a mother who only
continued living for her son’s sake. From that moment Luc ceased to
exist for her, and the question which her husband had now put revived
what seemed to be such a distant past that she was unable to hide her
surprise.

‘How can I have seen Monsieur Froment again?’ she at last answered.
‘You know that for more than ten years all intercourse between us has
been broken off.’

But Boisgelin quietly shrugged his shoulders. ‘Oh! that doesn’t prevent
it; you might have met him and have spoken to him. You agreed so well
together formerly. So you have kept up no relations with him at all?’

‘No,’ she answered, somewhat sharply. ‘If I had, you would know it.’

Her astonishment was increasing; she felt hurt by her husband’s
insistence; ashamed, too, at being questioned in that manner. What
could be his object? why did he wish that she had kept up relations
with Luc? In her turn she felt inquisitive, and inquired: ‘Why do you
ask me that?’

‘Oh! for nothing–only an idea which occurred to me just now.’

Finally, he reverted to the subject, and revealed what he had on his
mind. ‘This is it. I was telling you a little while ago that we could
adopt one of two courses; either sell the Abyss, rid ourselves of
everything, or start a company to which I should belong. Well, there’s
also a third course, a combination, as it were, of both the others,
and that would be to sell the Abyss to La Crêcherie, but in such a
way as to reserve to ourselves the larger part of the profits. Do you
understand?’

‘No, not exactly.’

‘But it is very simple. That fellow Luc must have a great desire to
acquire our land. Well, he has done us enough harm; is that not so?
And it is quite legitimate that we should get a large sum out of him.
And our salvation certainly lies in that direction, particularly if we
acquire an interest in the business which would enable us to keep La
Guerdache without need of retrenchment in our manner of life.’

Suzanne listened with sorrow and dismay. What! he was still the same
man as formerly; that frightful lesson had not corrected him! He only
dreamt of speculating on others, of deriving profit from the situation
in which they found themselves. And in particular he still had one
sole object, that of doing nothing, of remaining an idler, a kept-man,
otherwise a capitalist. In the wild despair amidst which he had been
struggling since the catastrophe there had been but terror, hatred of
work, and one haunting thought: how could he so arrange matters that he
might continue to live, doing nothing? His tears were already dry, and
now, all at once, he reappeared such as he really was–a man intent on
enjoyment.

However, Suzanne wished to know everything.

‘But what have I to do with this matter?’ she inquired; ‘why did you
ask me if I had kept up any relations with Monsieur Froment?’

‘Oh, _mon Dieu!_’ he quietly replied; ‘because that would have
facilitated the overtures which I think of making to him. As you can
understand, after years of rupture, it is not easy to approach a man to
discuss questions of interest, whereas things would be much easier if
he had remained your friend. In that case you yourself, perhaps, might
have seen him, spoken to him—-‘

With a sudden wave of her hand Suzanne stopped her husband: ‘I would
never have spoken to Monsieur Froment under such circumstances. You
forget that I had a sisterly affection for him.’

Ah, the wretched being! So now he had sunk to so low a degree of
baseness that he was ready to speculate on such affection as Luc might
have retained for her, and it was she whom he thought of employing to
touch his adversary, in such wise that the latter might then be more
easily conquered.

Boisgelin must have understood that he had hurt Suzanne’s feelings, for
he could see that she had become much paler and colder, as if she had
again withdrawn from him. He wished to efface that bad impression. ‘You
are right,’ said he, ‘business is not a thing for women to attend to.
As you say, also, you could not have undertaken such a commission. But
all the same I am well pleased with my idea, for the more I think it
over, the more convinced I feel that our salvation lies in it. I shall
prepare my plan of attack, and find a means of opening up intercourse
with the director of La Crêcherie–unless, indeed, I allow him to take
the first steps, which would be a more skilful course.’

He was quite enlivened by the hope of duping another and deriving
sustenance and pleasure from him as he had hitherto done. There would
still be something good in life if one could live it with white and
idle hands, ignorant of work. He rose, gave a sigh of relief, and
looked on the great park. It seemed more extensive still on that
clear winter day, and he hoped to give fêtes in it again as soon as
the spring should come. Finally he exclaimed: ‘It would really be too
stupid for us to distress ourselves. Can folk like ourselves ever
become paupers?’

Suzanne, who had remained seated, felt her painful sadness increase.
For a moment she had entertained the naïve hope of reforming that man,
and now she perceived that every tempest and revolution might pass over
him without bringing amendment, or even understanding of the new times.
The ancient system of the exploitation of man by man was in his blood,
he could only live on others. He would always remain a big bad child
who would fall to her charge later on should justice ever do its work.
And thus she could only regard him with great and bitter pity.

Throughout that long conversation Paul had remained motionless,
listening to his parents with his usual gentle, intelligent, and loving
expression. All the feelings which in turn agitated his mother were
reflected in his large pensive eyes. He was in constant communion with
her, and suffered like herself at seeing how unworthy his father was.
She at last perceived his painful embarrassment, and asked him: ‘Where
were you going just now, my child?’

‘I was going to the farm, mother; Feuillat must have received the new
plough for the winter ploughing.’

Boisgelin laughed: ‘And that interests you?’ he asked.

‘Why yes, father. At Les Combettes they have steam ploughs which turn
up furrows several thousand yards long now that all the fields have
been joined together; and it is superb to see the land turned up like
that and fertilised.’

He was overflowing with youthful enthusiasm. His mother, who felt
touched by it, smiled at him. ‘Go, go, my boy,’ she said, ‘go and see
the new plough, and work–your health will be all the better for it.’

During the ensuing days Suzanne noticed that her husband evinced no
haste in putting his project into execution. It seemed as if he deemed
it sufficient to have discovered a solution which in his opinion would
save them all. That done he relapsed into indolence, incapable of any
effort. However, there was another big child at La Guerdache, whose
manner suddenly caused Suzanne considerable disquietude. Monsieur
Jérôme, her grandfather, who had just reached the advanced age of
eighty-eight, in spite of the species of living death to which
paralysis had reduced him, still led a silent and retired existence,
having no intercourse with the outer world apart from his frequent
promenades in the bath-chair which a servant propelled. Suzanne alone
entered his room and ministered to his wants, evincing the same loving
attention as she had already shown when a mere girl, thirty years
previously, in that same large ground-floor room looking towards the
park. She was so accustomed to the old man’s clear, fathomless eyes,
which seemed, as it were, full of spring water, that she was able
to detect the slightest shadow that passed over them. Now, since
the recent tragical events, those eyes had darkened somewhat after
the fashion of water when rising sand renders it turbid. For many
monotonous years Suzanne had seen nothing in them, and finding them so
limpid and so empty had imagined that power of thought had for ever
departed from her grandfather. But was it now returning? Did not those
shadows in Monsieur Jérôme’s eyes, and his feverishness of manner,
indicate a possible awakening? Perhaps, indeed, he had always retained
his consciousness and intelligence; perhaps, too, by some kind of
miracle, now when he was drawing nigh to death, the hard physical bond
of paralysis was relaxing in some slight measure, releasing him from
the silence and immobility in which he had so long lived imprisoned.
It was with growing astonishment and anguish that Suzanne watched that
slow work of deliverance.

One night the servant who propelled Monsieur Jérôme’s bath-chair
ventured to stop her just as she was coming from the old man’s room,
quite stirred by the living glance with which he had watched her
depart. ‘Madame,’ said the servant, ‘I made up my mind to tell you. It
seems to me that there is a change in Monsieur. To-day he spoke.’

‘What! he spoke?’ she answered, thunderstruck.

‘Yes, even yesterday I fancied that I could hear him stammering words
in an undertone when we halted for a little while on the Brias road in
front of the Abyss. But to-day, when we passed before La Crêcherie, he
certainly spoke, I’m sure of it.’

‘And what did he say?’

‘Ah, madame, I did not understand, his words were disconnected, one
couldn’t make sense of them.’

From that moment Suzanne, full of anxious solicitude, had a close watch
kept upon her grandfather. The servant received orders to report to
her every evening what had happened during the day. In this wise she
was able to follow the growing fever which seemed to have come upon
Monsieur Jérôme. He was possessed by a desire to see and hear, he made
it plain by signs that he wished to have his outings prolonged, as if
he were eager for the sights which he found upon the roads. But he
particularly insisted on being taken each day to the same spots, either
the Abyss or La Crêcherie, and he never wearied of contemplating the
former’s sombre ruins and the latter’s gay prosperity. He compelled his
servant to slacken his pace, made him go past the same spot several
times, and all the while he more and more distinctly stammered those
disjointed words, whose sense was not yet apparent. Suzanne, quite
upset by this awakening, at last sent for Doctor Novarre, whoso opinion
she was anxious to ascertain.

‘Doctor,’ said she, after explaining the case to him, ‘you cannot
conceive how it frightens me. It is as if I were witnessing a
resurrection. My heart contracts, it all appears to me like some
prodigious sign announcing extraordinary events.’

Novarre smiled at her nervousness, and wished to see things himself.
But it was not easy to deal with Monsieur Jérôme; he had closed his
door to doctors as well as to others; and besides, as his ailment
admitted of no treatment, Novarre had for years abstained from making
any attempt to enter his room. In the present instance the doctor had
to wait for the old man in the park, where he bowed to him as he passed
in his bath-chair. Next he followed him along the road, and on drawing
near saw that his eyes began to gleam whilst his lips parted, and a
vague stammering came from them. In his turn Novarre felt astonished
and stirred.

‘You were quite right, Madame,’ he came to tell Suzanne, ‘the case
is a very singular one. We are evidently in presence of some crisis
affecting the whole organism, and arising from some great internal
shock.’

‘But what do you expect will happen, doctor?’ Suzanne anxiously
inquired, ‘and what can we do?’

‘Oh, we can do nothing, that is unfortunately certain, and as for
foreseeing what such a condition may lead to, I won’t attempt it. Yet I
ought to tell you that if such cases are very rare they do occasionally
occur. Thus I remember examining at the asylum of Saint-Cron an old
man who had been shut up there for nearly forty years, and whom the
keepers, to the best of their remembrance, had never once heard speak.
Quite suddenly, however, he appeared to awake, at first speaking in
a confused manner, and then very plainly, whereupon an interminable
flow of speech set in–whole hours of ceaseless chatter. But the
extraordinary part of it was that this old man, who was regarded as
an idiot, had seen, heard, and understood everything during his forty
years of apparent slumber. And when he recovered the power of speech
it was an endless narrative of his sensations and recollections stored
within him since his entry into the asylum that poured from his lips.’

Although Suzanne strove to hide the frightful emotion into which this
example threw her, she could not help shuddering. ‘And what became of
that unhappy man?’ she asked.

Novarre hesitated for a second, then replied: ‘He died three days
afterwards. I must own it, madame, a crisis of that sort is almost
always a symptom of approaching dissolution. One finds in it the
eternal symbol of the lamp which throws up a last flame before going
out.’

Deep silence reigned. Suzanne had become very pale. The icy breath of
death swept by. But it was not so much the thought that her unhappy
grandfather would soon die that pained her–she had another poignant
fear. Had he seen, heard, and understood everything throughout his long
paralysis, even after the fashion of the old man of Saint-Cron?

At last she summoned sufficient bravery to ask another question: ‘Do
you think, doctor,’ she inquired, ‘that intelligence has quite departed
from our dear patient? In your opinion does he understand, does he
think?’

Novarre made a vague gesture, the gesture of the scientist who does not
consider it right to venture on any pronouncement respecting matters
outside the pale of scientific certainty.

‘Oh! you ask me too much, madame,’ said he. ‘Everything is possible in
that mystery, the human brain, into which we still penetrate with so
much difficulty. Intelligence can certainly remain intact after the
loss of speech; because one cannot speak it does not follow that one
is unable to think. However, I may say that I should formerly have
believed in a permanent weakening of all Monsieur Jérôme’s mental
faculties, I should have thought him sunk in senile infancy for ever.’

‘Still, it is possible that he may have retained his faculties intact.’

‘Quite possible; I even begin to suspect that such is the case, as is
indicated by that awakening of his whole being, and that return of
speech which seems to be coming back to him gradually.’

This conversation left Suzanne in a state of dolorous horror. She
could no longer linger in her grandfather’s room and witness his slow
resurrection without a secret feeling of alarm. If amidst the mute
rigidity in which he had been chained by paralysis he had indeed seen,
heard, and understood everything, what a terrible drama must have
filled his long silence! For more than thirty years he had remained
an impassive witness, as it were, of the decline of his race, those
clear eyes of his had beheld the rout of his descendants, a downfall
accelerated from father to son by the vertigo born of wealth. In the
devouring blaze of enjoyment two generations had sufficed to consume
the fortune which his father and he had built up, and which he had
deemed so firm. He had seen his son Michel ruin himself for worthless
women directly he became a widower, and blow his brains out with a
pistol-shot; whilst his daughter Laure, losing her head in mysticism,
entered a convent; and his second son, Philippe, married to a hussy,
perished in a duel after an imbecile career. He had also seen his
grandson Gustave impel his father Michel to suicide by robbing him of
his mistress and of the hundred thousand francs that he had collected
for his business payments; whilst at the same time his other grandson
André, Philippe’s child, was relegated to a lunatic asylum. He had
further seen Boisgelin, the husband of his granddaughter Suzanne,
purchase the imperilled Abyss, and confide its management to a poor
cousin, Delaveau, who, after restoring it to prosperity for a brief
period, had reduced it to ashes on the night when he had discovered the
betrayal of his wife Fernande and that coxcomb Boisgelin–the pair of
them maddened by such a craving for luxury and pleasure that they had
destroyed all around them. And he had seen the Abyss, his well-loved
work, so small and modest when he had inherited it from his father, so
greatly enlarged by himself, he had seen that Abyss, which he had hoped
his race would make a city, the empire as it were of iron and steel,
decline so rapidly that with the second generation of his descendants
not a stone of it remained standing. Finally, he had seen his race, in
which creative power had accumulated so slowly through a long line of
wretched toilers, till it had burst forth at last in his father and
himself; he had seen his race spoilt, debased, and destroyed by the
abuse of wealth, as if nothing of the Qurignons’ heroic passion for
work glowed among his grandchildren. And thus how frightful must be
the story amassed in the brain of that octogenarian, what a procession
of terrible occurrences, synthetising a whole century of effort, and
casting light on the past, the present, and the future of a family!
And what a terrifying thing, too, it was that the brain in which that
story had seemed to slumber should at last slowly awaken to life, and
that everything should threaten to come forth from it, in a great flood
of truth, if indeed the tongue that already stammered should end by
speaking plainly!

It was for that terrible awakening that Suzanne now waited with
growing anxiety. She and her son were the last of the race; Paul was
the sole heir of the Qurignons. Aunt Laure had lately died in the
Carmelite convent where she had lived for nearly forty years; and
Cousin André, cut off from the world since infancy, had been dead for
many years already. Thus nowadays, whenever Paul went with his mother
into Monsieur Jérôme’s room, the old man’s eyes, once more gleaming
with intelligence, rested on him for a long while. That lad was the
sole frail wattle of the oak from whose powerful trunk he had once
hoped to see a number of vigorous branches, a whole swarming family,
fork and grow. Was not that family tree full of new sap, health, and
vigour, derived from sturdy, toiling forerunners? Would not his line
blossom forth and spread around to conquer all the wealth and all the
joy of the world? But, behold the sap was already exhausted with the
coming of his grandchildren; in less than half a century a misspent
life of wealth had consumed the whole strength amassed through a long
ancestry! How bitter it was when that unhappy grandfather, the supreme
witness surviving amidst so much ruin, found himself confronted by one
sole heir, that gentle, delicate, refined Paul, who was like the last
gift vouchsafed by life, which perhaps had left him to the Qurignons
in order that they might grow afresh and flower in new soil! But what
dolorous irony there was in the fact that only that quiet, thoughtful
lad remained in that huge, royal residence of La Guerdache which
Monsieur Jérôme had originally purchased at such great cost, in the
hope of seeing it some day peopled by his numerous descendants. He had
pictured its spacious rooms occupied by ten households; he had imagined
that he could hear the laughter of an ever-increasing troop of boys
and girls; in his imagination the place became the happy, luxurious
family estate where the ever-fruitful dynasty of the Qurignons would
reign. But, on the contrary, the rooms had grown emptier day by day;
drunkenness, madness, and death had swept by, accomplishing their
destructive work; and then a final corrupting creature had come
to complete the ruin of the house; and since the last catastrophe
two-thirds of the rooms were kept closed, the whole of the second floor
was abandoned to the dust, and even the ground-floor reception-rooms
were only opened on Saturdays in order to admit a little sunshine. The
race would end if Paul did not raise it up afresh; the empire in which
it should have prospered was already naught but a large empty dwelling
which would crumble away in abandonment unless new life were imparted
to it.

Another week went by. The servant who attended Monsieur Jérôme could
now distinguish certain words amidst his stammering. At last a distinct
phrase was detected, and the man came to repeat it to Suzanne.

‘Oh! he did not manage it without difficulty, madame, but I assure you
that this morning Monsieur repeated: “One must give back, one must give
back.”‘

Suzanne was incredulous. The words seemed to have no meaning. What was
to be given back?

‘You must listen more attentively,’ she said to the servant; ‘try to
distinguish the words better.’

On the morrow, however, the man was still more positive. ‘I assure
madame,’ said he, ‘that Monsieur really says: “One must give back, one
must give back.” He says it twenty and thirty times in succession in a
low but persistent voice, as if putting all his strength into it.’

That same evening Suzanne determined to watch her grandfather herself,
in order that she might understand things better. On the following day
the old man was unable to get up. Whilst his brain seemed to be freeing
itself from its bonds, his legs and soon his trunk were attacked by
paralysis, and became quite lifeless. Suzanne was greatly alarmed by
this, and again sent for Novarre, who was unable to do anything, and
warned her that the end was approaching. From that moment she did not
quit the room.

It was a very large room, with very thick carpets and heavy hangings.
A deep ruddy hue and a substantial and rather sombre luxury prevailed
there. The furniture was of carved rosewood, the bed was a large
four-poster, and there was a tall mirror in which the park was
reflected. When the windows were open the view, beyond the lawns,
between the old trees, stretched over an immense panorama in which one
saw first the jumbled roofs of Beauclair, and then the Bleuse Mountains
with La Crêcherie and its smeltery, and the Abyss, whose gigantic
chimneys still rose erect.

One morning Suzanne sat down near the bed, after drawing back the
window curtains, in order to admit the winter sunshine; and all at once
she felt greatly moved on hearing Monsieur Jérôme speak. For a few
moments his face had been turned towards one of the windows through
which he had been looking at the distant horizon. And at first he only
uttered two words:

‘Monsieur Luc.’

Suzanne, who had distinctly heard them, was quite overcome with
surprise. Why Monsieur Luc? Her grandfather had never had any
intercourse with Luc, he ought to have been ignorant of his existence,
unless indeed he was aware of what had lately occurred, had seen
everything, and understood everything, even as hitherto she had only
suspected and feared. Indeed, those words ‘Monsieur Luc,’ falling from
his lips which had been sealed so long, were like a first proof that he
had retained a lively intelligence amidst his silence, and could see
and understand. Suzanne felt her anguish increasing.

‘Is it really Monsieur Luc that you say, grandfather?’ she asked.

‘Yes, yes, Monsieur Luc.’

He pronounced the name with increasing distinctness and energy, keeping
his ardent glance fixed upon her.

‘But why do you speak to me of Monsieur Luc?’ she said. ‘Do you know
him then? Have you something to say to me about him?’

Monsieur Jérôme hesitated, doubtless because he could not find the
words he wished; then with childish impatience he repeated:

‘Monsieur Luc!’

‘He used to be my best friend,’ resumed Suzanne, ‘but for long years
now he has ceased coming here.’

Monsieur Jérôme quickly nodded his head, and then, as if his tongue
were gradually acquiring the power of speech, he said: ‘I know, I
know–I wish him to come.’

‘You wish Monsieur Luc to come to see you–you wish to speak to him,
grandfather?’

‘Yes, yes, it is that. Let him come at once–I will speak to him.’

The surprise and the vague fright that possessed Suzanne were now
increasing. What could Monsieur Jérôme wish to say to Luc? There were
such painful possibilities, that for a moment she tried to avoid
granting the old man’s request, as if indeed she imagined him to be
delirious. But he was in full possession of his senses, and entreated
her with increasing fervour, all the strength indeed remaining in his
poor infirm frame. And at this Suzanne felt profoundly disturbed,
asking herself if it would not be wrong of her to refuse the dying
man’s request for that interview, although she shuddered at the thought
of the dimly threatening things which might result from it.

‘Cannot you say what you wish to me, grandfather?’ she ultimately asked.

‘No, no–to Monsieur Luc. I will speak to him at once–oh, at once!’

‘Very well, then, grandfather, I will write to him, and I hope that he
will come.’

When Suzanne sat down to write, however, her hand trembled. She
penned only two lines: ‘My friend, I have need of you, come at once.’
Nevertheless she was twice compelled to pause, for she lacked strength
to trace even those few words, so painful were the memories that they
aroused within her–memories of her lost life and of the happiness
beside which she had passed, and which she would never know. At last,
however, the note was written, and it was scarcely ten in the morning
when one of the servants, a lad, set out to take it to La Crêcherie.

Luc, as it happened, was standing outside the common-house, finishing
his morning inspection, when the note was handed to him; and without
delay he followed the young messenger. But how great was the emotion
which he felt on reading those simple yet touching words: ‘My friend,
I have need of you, come at once.’ Events had parted him from Suzanne
for twelve long years, yet she wrote to him as if they had met only the
previous day–like one, too, who was certain that he would respond to
her appeal. She had not doubted his friendship for a moment, and he was
touched to tears at finding her ever the same, still full of sisterly
affection as in former times. The most frightful tragedies had burst
forth around them, every passion had run riot, sweeping away men and
things, yet after those years of separation they found themselves hand
in hand once more. Whilst walking on quickly, and drawing near to La
Guerdache, Luc began to wonder, however, why she had sent for him. He
was not ignorant of Boisgelin’s desire to speculate on the situation
and sell the Abyss for as much money as possible; but he had resolved
that he would never buy it. The only acceptable solution of the matter
in his opinion was the entry of the Abyss into the association of La
Crêcherie, after the fashion of the other smaller factories. For a
moment it occurred to him that Boisgelin might have asked his wife to
make overtures to him, but he knew her, and felt that she was incapable
of playing such a part. It seemed to him that she must be exhausted
by some great anxiety, that she must need his help in some tragic
circumstance. And so he puzzled his mind no more–she herself would
soon tell him what service she required of his affection.

Suzanne was waiting for him in one of the little drawing-rooms, and
when Luc entered it she thought she was about to faint, so great became
her perturbation. He himself felt upset, and at first neither of them
could utter a word. They looked at one another in silence.

‘Oh, my friend, my friend!’ Suzanne murmured when she was at last able
to speak.

Those simple words were fraught with all the emotion she felt at the
thought of those last twelve years–their separation, broken only by a
few silent chance meetings, the cruel life which she herself had led in
her defiled home, and the work which he meantime had accomplished, and
which she had watched from afar, enthusiastically. He had become a hero
for her, she had worshipped him, and had longed to throw herself at his
knees, nurse his wounds, and become his consoling helpmate. But another
had stepped between them–Josine, who had caused her so much suffering
that now all passionate love seemed dead. Nevertheless, at the sight
of Luc standing once more before her all those hidden things rose from
the depths of her being, and the intensity of her emotion moistened
her eyes and made her hands quiver.

‘Oh, my friend, my friend!’ she repeated, ‘so it was sufficient that I
should send for you!’

Luc quivered with a similar sympathy, and he also recalled the past. He
knew how unhappily she had lived beneath the horrible insult offered to
her, the presence of her husband’s mistress in her home. He knew, too,
what dignity and heroism she had shown in remaining in that home with
head erect, for her son’s sake and her own. Thus in spite of separation
she had never been absent from his mind and heart–he had pitied her
more and more at each fresh trial that fell upon her. He had often
wondered how he might help her. It would have greatly delighted him to
be able to prove that he had forgotten nothing, that he was still the
same good friend as formerly. And this was why he had now hastened to
respond to her first summons, full of an anxious affection which made
his heart swell and prevented him from speaking.

At last, however, he was able to reply: ‘Yes, your friend, one who has
never ceased to be so, and who only awaited your summons to hasten
here.’

They were at that moment so keenly conscious of the bond that for ever
united them like brother and sister, that they embraced and kissed each
other on the cheeks, even as friends who fear nought of human folly or
suffering, but are certain that they will only impart peacefulness and
courage to one another. All the strength and tenderness with which the
friendship of man and woman may be instinct bloomed in their smiles.

‘If you only knew, my friend,’ said Luc, ‘how great my fears were when
I realised that my competition would end by destroying the Abyss! Was
it not you whom I was ruining? And what faith in my work I needed
to prevent those thoughts from staying my hand! Great sorrow often
came upon me–I believed that you must curse me, that you would never
forgive me for being the cause of the worries in which you must be
struggling.’

‘Curse you, my friend! But I was with you, I prayed for you–your
victories were my only joy. And living in a sphere that hated you,
it was very sweet for me to have a secret affection, to be able to
understand and love you, unknown to everybody.’

‘None the less I have ruined you, my friend,’ Luc retorted. ‘What will
become of you now, accustomed as you have been since childhood to a
life of luxury?’

‘Oh, ruined! That would have come about without you! It was the others
who ruined me. And you will see how brave I can be, no matter how
delicate you may think me.’

‘But Paul, your son?’

‘Paul! Why, nothing happier could have befallen him. He will work. You
know what wealth has done to my people.’

Then Suzanne at last told Luc why she had sent him such a pressing
summons. Monsieur Jérôme, the wondrous awakening of whose intelligence
she revealed, wished to speak to him. It was the desire of a dying man,
for Doctor Novarre believed in his imminent dissolution. Astonished
by these tidings even as she had been, seized too, like herself, with
vague alarm at the thought of this resurrection in which he was so
strangely desired to intervene, Luc none the less answered that he was
entirely at her disposal, and ready to do whatever she might request.

‘Have you warned your husband of Monsieur Jérôme’s desire and my
visit?’ he inquired.

Suzanne looked at him and shrugged her shoulders. ‘No, I did not think
of it–besides, it is useless,’ said she; ‘for a long time past it has
seemed as if my grandfather no longer knew that my husband existed. He
does not speak to him, he does not even seem to see him. Moreover, my
husband went out shooting early this morning, and he has not yet come
home.’ Then she added, ‘If you will follow me, I will take you to my
grandfather at once.’

When they entered Monsieur Jérôme’s room, the old man, who was sitting
up in the large rosewood bed supported by several pillows, still had
his eyes turned towards the window whose curtains had been drawn back.
In all probability he had never ceased gazing over the park and the
spreading horizon, with the Abyss and La Crêcherie showing yonder,
beside the Bleuse Mountains, above the jumbled roofs of Beauclair.
It was a scene which seemed to attract him irresistibly, like some
symbolism of the past, the present, and the future, which he had had
before him during all his long silent years.

‘Grandfather,’ said Suzanne, ‘I have had Monsieur Luc Froment fetched
for you. Here he is, he was kind enough to come at once.’

The old man slowly turned his head, and looked at Luc with his large
eyes, which had grown it seemed yet larger than formerly, and which
were now full of deep light. He said nothing, no word of greeting
or thanks came from his lips, and the heavy silence lasted several
minutes, whilst he kept his gaze fixed upon that stranger, the founder
of La Crêcherie, as if he were anxious to know him thoroughly, to dive
indeed into his very soul.

At last Suzanne, who felt slightly embarrassed, resumed, ‘You do not
know Monsieur Froment, grandfather; but perhaps you may have noticed
him when you were out.’

Monsieur Jérôme did not appear to hear his granddaughter, for he still
returned no answer. After a moment, however, he once more turned his
head and looked round the room. And failing to find what he sought he
ended by speaking one word–a name–‘Boisgelin.’

This caused Suzanne fresh astonishment as well as anxiety and
embarrassment. ‘You are asking for my husband, grandfather–do you wish
him to come here?’ she inquired.

‘Yes, yes, Boisgelin.’

‘But I am afraid that he has not come home yet. Meantime you ought to
tell Monsieur Froment why you wished to see him.’

‘No, no, Boisgelin, Boisgelin.’

It was evident that he wished to speak in Boisgelin’s presence. Suzanne
therefore apologised to Luc and left the room to seek her husband.
Meanwhile Luc remained face to face with Monsieur Jérôme, conscious
that the latter’s bright glance was still and ever fixed upon him.
In his turn he then began to scrutinise the old man, and found him
looking wondrously handsome in his extreme old age, with his white
face and regular features, to which the approach of death seemed to
impart an expression of sovereign majesty. The wait was a long one,
and not a word was exchanged by those two men, whose eyes dived into
one another’s. All around them the room with its heavy hangings and
massive furniture seemed to be slumbering. Not a sound arose–there
was naught but the quiver which came through the walls from the large
empty closed rooms, the stories and stories which had been abandoned
to dust. And nothing could have been more tragical or solemn than that
spell of silent waiting. At last Suzanne returned, bringing with her
Boisgelin, who had just come home. He still wore his shooting-jacket,
gloves, and gaiters, for she had not allowed him time to change his
clothes. And he came in with an anxious, bewildered air, astonished at
such an adventure. All that his wife had just rapidly told him of the
summoning of Luc, his presence in Monsieur Jérôme’s room, the old man’s
recovery of his intelligence, and the statement that he was awaiting
him–Boisgelin–before speaking, all those unforeseen occurrences quite
upset Suzanne’s husband, who had not been allowed even a few minutes of
reflection.

‘Well, grandfather,’ said Suzanne, ‘here is my husband. Speak if you
have something to tell us. We are listening.’

But again the old man looked round the room, and once more he asked,
‘Paul, where is Paul?’

‘Do you want Paul to be here too?’

‘Yes, yes, I want him.’

‘But the fact is that he must be at the farm. Fully a quarter of an
hour will be necessary to fetch him.’

‘He must come–I want him, I want him!’

Suzanne yielded, and hastily despatched a servant for her son. And then
the waiting began afresh, and proved even more solemn and tragic than
before. Luc and Boisgelin had simply bowed to one another, finding
nothing to say on meeting after so many years in that room which an
august breath already seemed to fill. Nobody spoke, and amidst the
quiver of the air one only heard the somewhat heavy respiration of
Monsieur Jérôme. Once again his large eyes, full of light, were turned
towards the window, towards that horizon symbolical of the labour of
manhood, where the past had undergone accomplishment, and where the
future would be born. And the minutes went by, slowly, regularly, in
that anxious wait for what was to come, the act of sovereign grandeur
whose approach could be divined.

Some light footsteps were heard at last, and Paul came in, his face
glowing healthily from contact with the open air.

‘My boy,’ said Suzanne, ‘it is your grandfather who has brought us all
together here. He wishes you to be present while he speaks.’

On the hitherto rigid lips of Monsieur Jérôme a smile of infinite
tenderness had at last appeared. He signed to Paul to approach, and
made him sit down as near as possible, on the edge of the bed. It was
particularly for him, the last heir of the Qurignons, through whom
the race might flower anew and yet yield excellent fruit, that he
desired to speak. And on seeing how moved the youth looked, full of
grief at the thought of a last farewell, he continued for a moment
trying to reassure him with his affectionate glances, like one to whom
death was sweet since he was about to bequeath as inheritance to his
great-grandson an act of goodness, justice, and pacification.

At last he began to speak, amidst the religious silence of one and
all. He had turned his face towards Boisgelin, and at first he merely
repeated the words which his servant had for two days past heard him
stammering in an undertone, amidst other confused utterances:

‘One must give back, one must give back!’

Then, seeing that the others did not appear to understand what he
meant, he turned to Paul and repeated with growing energy:

‘One must give back, my child, give back!’

Suzanne shuddered, and exchanged a glance with Luc, who also was
quivering; whilst Boisgelin, seized with uneasiness and alarm,
pretended to detect in all this some rambling on the old man’s part.
But Suzanne inquired: ‘What do you desire to tell us, grandfather–what
is it that we must give back?’

Monsieur Jérôme’s speech was fast becoming easier and more distinct.
‘Everything, my child–the Abyss yonder must be given back; La
Guerdache must be given back. One must give back the land of the farm.
Everything must be given, because nothing ought to belong to us,
because everything ought to belong to all.’

‘But explain to us, grandfather–to whom are we to give these things?’

‘I tell you, my girl, they must be given back to all. Nothing of what
we thought to be our property belongs to us. If that property has
poisoned and destroyed us, it is because it belonged to others. For our
happiness, and the happiness of all, it must be given back, given back!’

Then came a scene of sovereign beauty, incomparable grandeur. The
old man did not always find the words he desired, but his gestures
indicated his meaning. Amidst the silence of those who surrounded
him, he went on slowly, and in spite of all difficulties succeeded in
making himself understood. He had seen everything, heard everything,
understood everything, and even as Suzanne had divined with quivering
anguish, it was all the past which now came back, all the truth of the
terrible past, pouring forth in a flood from that hitherto silent,
impassive witness, so long imprisoned within his own body. It seemed as
if he had only survived the many disasters, a whole family of happy,
then stricken, beings, in order to draw from everything the great
lesson. On the day of awakening, before going to his death, he spread
out all the torture he had suffered as one who, after believing in the
triumphant reign of his race over an empire established by himself, had
lived long enough to see both race and empire swept away by the blast
of the future. And he told why all this had happened, he judged it, and
offered reparation.

At the outset came the first Qurignon, the drawer who with a few mates
had founded the Abyss, he being as poor as they were, but probably more
skilful and economical. Then came himself, the second Qurignon, the
one who had gained a fortune, and piled up millions in the course of
a stubborn struggle, in which he had displayed heroic determination,
ceaseless and ever-intelligent energy. But if he had accomplished
prodigies of activity and creative genius, if he had gained money,
thanks to his skill in adapting the conditions of production to those
of sale, he knew very well that he was simply the outcome of long
generations of toilers from whom he had derived all his strength and
triumph. How many peasants perspiring as they tilled the glebe, how
many workmen exhausted by the handling of tools had been required for
the advent of those two first Qurignons who had conquered fortune!
Among those forerunners there had been a keen passion to fight for
life, to make money, to rise from one class to another, to pursue all
the slow enfranchisement of the poor wretch who bends in servitude
over his appointed task. And at last one Qurignon had been strong
enough to conquer, to escape from the gaol of poverty, to acquire the
long-desired wealth, and become in his turn a rich man, a master! But
immediately afterwards, that is in two generations, his descendants
collapsed, fell once more into the dolorous struggle for existence,
exhausted already as they were by enjoyment, consumed by it as by a
flame.

‘One must give back, one must give back, one must give back!’ repeated
Monsieur Jérôme.

There was his son Michel, who after years of excesses had killed
himself on the eve of a pay-day; there was his other son Philippe,
who, having married a hussy, had been ruined by her, and had lost his
life in a foolish duel. There was his daughter Laure, who had died
in a convent, her mind weakened by mystical visions. There were his
two grandsons, André, a rachitic semi-maniac, who had passed away in
an asylum, and Gustave, who had met a tragic death in Italy after
impelling his father to suicide by robbing him of his mistress and
the money he needed for his business payments. Finally, there was
his granddaughter Suzanne, the tender-hearted, sensible, well-loved
creature, whose husband after repurchasing the Abyss and La Guerdache
had completed the work of destruction. The Abyss was now in ashes,
and La Guerdache, where he had hoped to see his race swarming, had
become a desert. And whilst his race had been collapsing, carrying off
both his father’s work and his own, he had seen another work arise,
La Crêcherie, which was now full of prosperity, throbbing with the
future that it brought with it. He knew all those things because his
clear eyes had witnessed them in the course of his daily outings, those
hours of silent contemplation, when he had found himself outside the
Abyss at the moment when one or another shift was leaving, or outside
La Crêcherie where the men who had deserted his own foundation took
off their caps to him. And again he had passed before the Abyss on
the morning when of that well-loved creation he had found nought but
smoking ruins left.

‘One must give back, one must give back, one must give back!’

That cry, which he constantly repeated amidst his slowly flowing words,
which he emphasised each time with more and more energy, ascended from
his heart like the natural consequence of all the disastrous events
which had caused him so much suffering. If everything around him had
crumbled away so soon, was it not because the fortune which he had
acquired by the labour of others was both poisoned and poisonous? The
enjoyment that such fortune brings is the most certain of destructive
ferments–it bastardises a race, disorganises a family, leads to
abominable tragedies. In less than half a century it had consumed the
strength, the intelligence, the genius which the Qurignons had amassed
during several centuries of rough toil. The mistake of those robust
workers had been their belief that to secure personal happiness they
ought to appropriate and enjoy the wealth created by the exertions of
their companions. And the wealth they had dreamt of, the wealth they
had acquired, had proved their chastisement. Nothing can be worse from
the moral point of view than to cite as an example the workman who
grows rich, who becomes an employer, the sovereign master of thousands
of his fellow-men who bend perspiring over their toil, producing
the wealth by which he triumphs! When a writer says: ‘You see very
well that with order and intelligence a mere blacksmith may attain
to everything,’ he simply contributes to the work of iniquity, and
aggravates social disequilibrium. The happiness of the elect is really
compounded of the unhappiness of others, for it is their happiness
which he cuts down and purloins. The comrade who makes his way, as the
saying goes, bars the road to thousands of other comrades, lives upon
their misery and their suffering. And it often happens that the happy
one is punished by success, by fortune itself, which coming too quickly
and disproportionately, proves murderous. This is why the only right
course is to revert to salutary work, work on the part of all–all
earning their livings and owing their happiness solely to the exertion
of their minds and their muscles.

‘One must give back, one must give back, one must give back!’ repeated
Monsieur Jérôme.

One must give back, indeed; one must restitute because one is liable
to die of that which one steals from another. One must give back,
because the sole cure, the only certainty of happiness lies in doing
so. One must give back in a spirit of justice, and even more in one’s
own personal interest, since the happiness of each can only reside in
the happiness of all. One must give back in order that one may enjoy
better health and live a happy life in the midst of universal peace.
One must give back because if all the unjust victors of life, all the
egotistical holders of the public fortune, were to restore the wealth
that they squander for their personal pleasures–the great estates,
the great industrial enterprises, the roads, the towns–peace would be
restored to-morrow, love would flower once more among men, and there
would be such an abundance of possessions that not one single being
would be left in penury. One must give back because one must set the
example if one desires that other wealthy folk may understand, may
realise whence have come all the evils from which they suffer, and may
be inspired to endow their descendants with renewed vigour by plunging
them once more into active life, daily work. One must give back, too,
whilst there is yet time to do so, whilst there is still some nobility
in returning to one’s comrades, in showing them that one was mistaken,
and that one returns to one’s place in the ranks to participate in
the common effort, with the hope that the hour of justice and peace
will soon strike. And one must give back in order to die with a clear
conscience, a heart joyful at having accomplished one’s duty, at
leaving a repairing and liberating lesson to the last of one’s race,
so that he may restore it, save it from error, and perpetuate it in
strength, delight, and beauty.

‘One must give back, one must give back!’

Tears had appeared in Suzanne’s eyes as she perceived the exaltation
with which her son Paul was filled by her grandfather’s words; whilst
Boisgelin expressed his irritation by impatient movements.

‘But, grandfather,’ said she, ‘to whom and how are we to give back?’

The old man turned his bright eyes upon Luc. ‘If I desired the founder
of La Crêcherie to be present,’ said he, ‘it was in order that he might
hear me and help you, my children. He has already done much for the
work of reparation, he alone can intervene and restore what remains of
our fortune to the sons and grandsons of those who were my own and my
father’s comrades.’

Luc was filled with emotion by the wondrous nobility of the scene,
yet he hesitated, for he could divine Boisgelin’s keen hostility. ‘I
can only do one thing,’ said he–‘that is, if the owners of the Abyss
are willing I will procure them admission into our association at La
Crêcherie. In the same way as other factories have already done, the
Abyss will increase our family–double, in fact, the importance of our
growing town. If by ‘giving back’ you mean a return to increase of
justice, a step towards the absolute justice of the future, I will help
you, I will consent to what you say with all my heart.’

‘I know you will,’ Monsieur Jérôme slowly answered; ‘I ask nothing
more.’

But Boisgelin, unable to restrain himself any longer, began to protest.
‘Ah! that is not what I desire. However much it may distress me to do
so, I am willing to sell the Abyss to La Crêcherie. A price will have
to be agreed upon, and in addition to the amount which may be fixed I
desire to retain an interest in the enterprise, which also will have to
be arranged. I need money and I wish to sell.’

This was the plan which he had been maturing for some days past, in the
idea that Luc was eager to secure possession of the Abyss land, and
that he would be able to obtain a considerable sum from him at once,
as well as a future income. But this plan entirely collapsed when Luc
declared in a voice expressive of irrevocable determination: ‘It is
impossible for us to buy. It is contrary to the spirit which guides us.
We are simply an association, a family open to all those brothers who
may wish to join us.’

Then Monsieur Jérôme, whose bright eyes had been fixed on Boisgelin,
resumed with sovereign tranquillity of manner: ‘It is I who wish
it and who order it. My granddaughter, Suzanne, here present, is
co-proprietress of the Abyss, and she will refuse her consent to any
other arrangement than that which I desire. And, like myself, I am sure
that she will have but one regret, that of being unable to restore
everything, of having to accept interest on her capital, which she will
dispose of as her heart may dictate.’

And as Boisgelin remained silent, submitting to the others with the
weakness that had come with his ruin, the old man continued: ‘But that
is not all, there remain La Guerdache and the farm–they must be given
back, given back.’

Then, though he was again experiencing a difficulty in speaking and
was well-nigh exhausted, he made his last desires known. As the Abyss
would be blended with La Crêcherie, he wished the farm to join the
association of Les Combettes, so as to enlarge the fields which had
been united by Lenfant, Yvonnot, and all the other peasants, who had
been living together like brothers since a proper understanding of
their interests had reconciled them. There would be but one stretch
of earth, one common mother, loved by all, tilled by all, and feeding
all. The whole plain of La Roumagne would end by yielding one vast
harvest to fill the granaries of regenerated Beauclair. And as for
La Guerdache, which entirely belonged to Suzanne, he charged her to
restore it to the poor and suffering, so that she might keep nothing of
the property which had poisoned the Qurignons. Then, reverting to Paul,
who still sat on the edge of the bed, and taking his hand in his own,
and looking at him earnestly with his eyes which were now growing dim,
Monsieur Jérôme said in a lower and lower voice: ‘One must give back,
one must give back, my child. You will keep nothing, you will give
yonder park to the old comrades, so that they may rejoice there on high
days, and so that their wives and children may walk there and enjoy
hours of gaiety and good health under the fine trees. And you will also
give back this house, this huge residence which we did not know how to
fill in spite of all our money, for I wish it to belong to the wives
and the children of poor workmen. They will be welcomed here and nursed
when they are ailing or when they are weary. Keep nothing, give all,
all back, my child, if you wish to save yourself from poison. And work
and live solely on the fruits of your work, and seek out the daughter
of some old comrade who still works and marry her, so that she may
bring you handsome children, who also will work, who will be just and
happy beings, and in their turn have handsome children for the eternal
work of futurity. Keep nothing, my child, give everything back, for
therein alone lies salvation, peace, and joy.’

They were all weeping now–never had a more beautiful, a loftier, a
more heroic breath passed over human souls. The great room had become
august. And the eyes of the old man, which had filled it with light,
faded slowly, whilst his voice likewise became fainter, returning
to eternal silence. He had at last accomplished his sublime work of
reparation, truth, and justice, to help on the advent of the happiness
which is the primordial right of every man. And his duty done, that
same evening he died.

Before then, however, when Suzanne and Luc left Monsieur Jérôme’s
room together, they found themselves alone for a moment in the little
_salon_. They were so overcome by emotion that their hearts rose to
their lips.

‘Rely on me,’ said Luc. ‘I swear to you that I will watch over the
fulfilment of the supreme desires which have been committed to you. I
will attend to matters from this moment.’

She had taken hold of his hands. ‘Oh! my friend,’ she answered, ‘I
place my faith in you. I know what miracles you have already performed,
and I do not doubt the prodigy which you will accomplish by reconciling
us all. Ah! there is nothing but love. Ah! if I had only been loved as
I myself loved!’

She was trembling. The secret of which she herself had been ignorant so
long, escaped her at that solemn moment. ‘My friend, my friend,’ she
repeated, ‘what strength I should have had for doing good, what help
might I not have given had I felt beside me the arm of a just man, a
hero, one whom I should have made my god! But if it be too late for
that, will you at least accept what help I may be able to give as a
friend, a sister—-‘

He understood her. It was a repetition of Sœurette’s sweet, sad case.
She had loved him without revealing it, without even owning it to
herself, like an honest woman eager for tenderness, who amidst the
torments of her household dreamt of happy love. And now that Josine was
chosen, now that all else was dead without possibility of resurrection,
she gave herself, even as Sœurette had done, as a sisterly companion, a
devoted friend, who longed to participate in his mission.

‘If I will accept your help!’ cried Luc, who was touched to tears. ‘Ah!
yes indeed, there is never enough affection, enough help and active
tenderness. The work is vast, and you will have ample opportunities for
giving without stint your heart. Come with us, my friend, and stay with
us, and you will be part of my thoughts and my love.’

She was transported by his words, she threw herself into his arms,
and they kissed. An indissoluble bond was being formed between
them, a marriage of sentiment, of exquisite purity, in which there
was nought but a common passion for the poor and the suffering, an
inextinguishable desire to obliterate the misery of the world.

Months went by, and the liquidation of the affairs of the Abyss,
which were extremely involved, proved a most laborious matter. Before
everything else it was necessary to get rid of the debt of six hundred
thousand francs. Arrangements were at last entered into with the
creditors, who agreed to accept payment in annuities levied upon the
share of profits to which the Abyss would be entitled when it entered
the Crêcherie association. Then it was necessary to value the plant
and materials saved from the fire. These, with all the land stretching
along the Mionne as far as Old Beauclair, formed the share of capital
which the Boisgelins brought into the association; and a modest income,
levied on the profits before they were divided among the creditors, was
ensured them. Old Qurignon’s desires were but half fulfilled during
that period of transition, when capital still held a position similar
to that of work and intelligence, pending the time when, with the
victory of sovereign work, it would altogether disappear.

At least, however, La Guerdache and the farm returned completely to the
commonalty, the heirs of the toilers, who had formerly paid for them
with the sweat of their brows, for as soon as the farm lands–entering
the Combettes association in accordance with the long-planned schemes
of Feuillat–began to prosper and yield gain, the whole of the money
was employed to transform La Guerdache into a convalescent home for
weak children and women who had recently become mothers. Free beds were
installed there, with gratuitous board, and the park now belonged to
the humble ones of the world, forming a huge garden, a paradise as of
dreamland, where children played, where mothers recovered their health,
where the multitude enjoyed recreation as in some palace of nature
which had become the palace of one and all.

Years went by. Luc had ceded one of the little houses of La Crêcherie,
near the pavilion which he still occupied, to the Boisgelins. And at
first that modest life proved very hard for Boisgelin, who did not
become resigned to it without violent fits of revolt. At one moment
he even wished to go to Paris to live there chancewise, as he listed.
But his innate sloth and the impossibility of earning his own living
rendered him as weak as a child, and placed him in the hands of whoever
cared to take him. Since his downfall Suzanne, so sensible, so gentle,
and yet so firm, had acquired absolute authority over him, and he
always ended by doing what she wished, like a poor rudderless creature
carried away by the stream of life. Soon, too, among that active world
of workers he felt idleness weighing upon him to such a degree that
he began to desire some occupation. He felt weary of dragging himself
about all day long, he suffered from a secret feeling of shame, a need
of action, for he could no longer tire himself with the management and
squandering of a large fortune. Shooting remained a resource for him
during the winter months, but as soon as the fine weather came there
was nothing for him to do except to ride out occasionally, and dismal
_ennui_ then crushed him down. And so when Suzanne prevailed on Luc to
confide an inspectorship to him, a kind of control over a department
of the general stores, which meant employment for three hours of his
time every day, he ended by accepting the offer. His health, which had
suffered, then improved; still he always displayed anxiety, wearing a
lost, unhappy air, such as one might find in a man who had fallen from
one planet to another.

And years again went by. Suzanne had become the friend and sister
of Josine and Sœurette, in whose work she participated. All
three surrounded Luc, sustaining him and completing him, like
personifications of kindness, love, and gentleness. He called them with
a smile his three virtues. They busied themselves with the _crèches_,
the schools, the infirmaries, and the convalescent homes, they went
wherever there might be weakness to protect, pain to assuage, joy to
initiate. Sœurette and Suzanne, in particular, took on themselves the
most ungrateful tasks, those which require personal abnegation, entire
renunciation; whilst Josine, having to attend to her children, her
ever-growing home, naturally bestowed less of her time upon others.
She, moreover, was the _amorosa_, the flower of beauty and desire,
whilst Sœurette and Suzanne were the friends, the consolers, and the
counsellors. At times some very bitter trials still fell on Luc, and
often, on quitting his wife’s embrace, it was to his two friends that
he listened, charging them to dress the wounds they spoke of and devote
themselves to the common work of salvation. It was by and for women
that the future city had to be founded.

Eight years had already elapsed when Paul Boisgelin, who was
seven-and-twenty, married Bonnaire’s eldest daughter, then twenty-four
years old. As soon as the lands of La Guerdache had entered the
Combettes association, Paul, with Feuillat, the former farmer, had
begun to take a passionate interest in promoting the fertility of
the vast expanse which those fields had enlarged. He had become an
agriculturist, and directed one of the sections of the domain, which
it had been necessary to divide into several groups. And it was at his
parents’ little house at La Crêcherie, whither he returned to sleep
every night, that he had renewed his acquaintance with Antoinette,
who lived with her parents in a neighbouring house. Close intercourse
had sprung up between that simple family of workers and the former
heiress of the Qurignons, who now lived so modestly and welcomed every
one so kindly. And although Madame Bonnaire, the terrible La Toupe,
had remained a rather difficult customer to deal with, the simple
nobility of character displayed by Bonnaire, that hero of work, one of
the founders of the new city, had sufficed to render the intercourse
intimate. It was charming to see the children loving one another, and
drawing yet closer the links which had thus been formed between the
representatives of two classes which had formerly fought one against
the other. Antoinette, who resembled her father, being a good-looking,
sturdy brunette, possessed of no little natural gracefulness, had
passed through Sœurette’s schools, and now helped her at the big dairy
which was installed at the end of the park beside the ridge of the
Bleuse Mountains. As she said with a laugh, she was simply a dairymaid,
expert with milk, and cheese, and butter. When the young people
married, he, Paul, a _bourgeois_ by birth, who had gone back to the
soil, and she, Antoinette, a daughter of the people working with her
hands, a great _fête_ was given, for there was a desire to celebrate as
gloriously as possible those symbolical nuptials, which proclaimed the
reconciliation, the union of repentant capitalism and triumphant work.

During the ensuing year, one warm June day, shortly after the birth
of Antoinette’s first child, the Boisgelins, accompanied by Luc, once
more found themselves together at La Guerdache. Nearly ten years had
now elapsed since the death of Monsieur Jérôme and the restitution of
the estate to the people in accordance with his desire. Antoinette had
for some time been a _pensionnaire_ in the convalescent home which
had been installed in the château where the Qurignons had reigned;
and, leaning on the arm of her husband, she was now able to stroll
under the beautiful foliage of the park, whilst Suzanne, like a good
grandmother, carried the baby. A few paces in the rear walked Luc
and Boisgelin. And what memories arose at the sight of that princely
house, those copses, those lawns, those avenues where the uproar of
costly _fêtes_, the galloping of horses and the baying of hounds no
longer resounded, but where the humble of the world at last enjoyed
the health-giving open air, and the restful delight that came from
the great trees! All the luxury of that magnificent domain was now
theirs, the convalescent home opened its bright bed-rooms, its pleasant
_salons_, its well-stocked larders to them, the park reserved for them
its shady paths, its crystalline springs, its lawns where for their
delight gardeners cultivated beds of perfume-shedding flowers. They
found there their long-withheld share of beauty and grace. And it was
delightful to see infancy, youth, and motherhood–which for centuries
had been condemned to suffering, shut up in sunless hovels, dying of
filthy wretchedness–suddenly summoned to partake of the joy of life,
the share of happiness belonging by right to every human creature, that
luxury of happiness at which innumerable generations of starvelings had
gazed from afar without ever being able to touch it!

As the young married couple, followed by the others, at last reached a
pool of water glistening with mirror-like limpidity under the blue sky,
beyond a row of willows, Luc began to laugh softly.

‘Ah, my friends!’ said he, ‘what a gay and pretty scene this recalls to
me! You know nothing about it, eh? Nevertheless it was at the edge of
this calm water that Paul and Antoinette were betrothed a score or so
of years ago.’

Then he spoke of the delightful scene which he had witnessed beside
that pond on the occasion of his first visit to La Guerdache–the
invasion of the park by three youngsters of the streets, Nanet bringing
his companions, Lucien and Antoinette Bonnaire, through a gap in the
hedge in order that they might play beside the pond; then Lucien’s
ingenious invention, the little boat which travelled all alone over the
water; and the arrival of the three little _bourgeois_, Paul Boisgelin,
Nise Delaveau, and Louise Mazelle, who all marvelled at the boat, and
immediately made friends with the intruders. And couples had been
formed quite naturally, there had been betrothals at once, Paul with
Antoinette, Nise with Nanet, Louise with Lucien, amidst the smiling
complicity of kind-hearted Nature, the eternal mother.

‘Don’t you remember it?’ asked Luc gaily.

The young couple, who joined in his laughter, declared that he went
back too far. ‘If I was only four years old,’ said Antoinette, who felt
highly amused, ‘my memory could not have been a very strong one.’

But Paul, gazing fixedly into the past, was making an effort to recall
the scene. ‘I was seven,’ said he. ‘Wait a moment! It seems to me that
I vaguely remember–the little boat had to be brought back with a pole
whenever its wheels ceased turning; and then one of the little girls
narrowly missed falling into the pond; and afterwards the intruders,
the little bandits, ran away on seeing some people approach.’

‘That was it!’ cried Luc. ‘Ah! so you remember! Well, for my part, I
remember that day experiencing a quiver of hope in the future, for that
scene in some measure suggested the reconciliation which was to come.
Childhood in its naïve fraternity was at work here, taking a first
step towards justice and peace. And whatever fresh happiness you may
bring about, you know, will be yet increased by that little gentleman
yonder.’

He pointed to the baby, little Ludovic, now lying in the arms of
Suzanne, who felt so happy at being a grandmother. She, on her side,
jestingly retorted: ‘For the time being he is very good, because he
is asleep. Later on, my dear Luc, we will marry him to one of your
granddaughters, and in that manner the reconciliation will be complete,
all the combatants of yesterday will be united and pacified in the
persons of their descendants. Are you willing? Shall we have the
betrothal to-day?’

‘Am I willing? Certainly I am! Our great-grandchildren will push on our
work hand in hand.’

Paul and Antoinette felt moved, and kissed one another, whilst
Boisgelin, who was not listening, looked round the park, his former
estate, in a mournful manner, though without any bitterness, to such a
degree indeed had the new world upset and stupefied him. And then they
all resumed their walk along the shady paths, Luc and Suzanne silently
exchanging smiles which told their joy.

When they all came back to the house they paused for a moment before
it, to the left of the steps, under the windows of the very room where
Monsieur Jérôme had died. From that point one perceived–between the
crests of the great trees–the distant roofs of Beauclair, and then La
Crêcherie and the Abyss. They gazed upon that spreading panorama in
silence. They could plainly distinguish the Abyss, now built afresh on
the same plan as La Crêcherie, and forming with it one sole city of
work–work, reorganised and ennobled, transformed into man’s pride,
health, and gaiety. More justice and more love were born there every
morning. And the waves of little smiling houses, set in greenery, those
waves which the anxious Delaveau had seen always advancing, had flowed
over the once black land without a halt, ever enlarging the future
city. They now occupied the whole expanse from the ridge of the Bleuse
Mountains to the Mionne, and they would soon cross the narrow torrent,
to sweep away Old Beauclair, that sordid agglomeration of the hovels
of servitude and agony. And as they advanced they built up stone by
stone–under the fraternal sun, even to the verge of the fertile fields
of La Roumagne–the city where all at last would be freedom, justice,
and happiness.