EVER since the execution of Salvat, Guillaume had become extremely taciturn. He seemed worried and absent-minded. He would work for hours at the manufacture of that dangerous powder of which he alone knew the formula, and the preparation of which was such a delicate matter that he would allow none to assist him. Then, at other times he would go off, and return tired out by some long solitary ramble. He remained very gentle at home, and strove to smile there. But whenever anybody spoke to him he started as if suddenly called back from dreamland.
Pierre imagined his brother had relied too much upon his powers of renunciation, and found the loss of Marie unbearable. Was it not some thought of her that haunted him now that the date fixed for the marriage drew nearer and nearer? One evening, therefore, Pierre ventured to speak out, again offering to leave the house and disappear.
But at the first words he uttered Guillaume stopped him, and affectionately replied: “Marie? Oh! I love her, I love her too well to regret what I have done. No, no! you only bring me happiness, I derive all my strength and courage from you now that I know you are both happy. . . . And I assure you that you are mistaken, there is nothing at all the matter with me; my work absorbs me, perhaps, but that is all.”
That same evening he managed to cast his gloom aside, and displayed delightful gaiety. During dinner he inquired if the upholsterer would soon call to arrange the two little rooms which Marie was to occupy with her husband over the workroom. The young woman, who since her marriage with Pierre had been decided had remained waiting with smiling patience, thereupon told Guillaume what it was she desired-first some hangings of red cotton stuff, then some polished pine furniture which would enable her to imagine she was in the country, and finally a carpet on the floor, because a carpet seemed to her the height of luxury. She laughed as she spoke, and Guillaume laughed with her in a gay and fatherly way. His good spirits brought much relief to Pierre, who concluded that he must have been mistaken in his surmises.
On the very morrow, however, Guillaume relapsed into a dreamy state. And so disquietude again came upon Pierre, particularly when he noticed that Mere-Grand also seemed to be unusually grave and silent. Not daring to address her, he tried to extract some information from his nephews, but neither Thomas nor Francois nor Antoine knew anything. Each of them quietly devoted his time to his work, respecting and worshipping his father, but never questioning him about his plans or enterprises. Whatever he might choose to do could only be right and good; and they, his sons, were ready to do the same and help him at the very first call, without pausing to inquire into his purpose. It was plain, however, that he kept them apart from anything at all perilous, that he retained all responsibility for himself, and that Mere-Grand alone was his
One day, however, Pierre caught sight of Guillaume as he came out of it, carrying a little valise which appeared to be very heavy. And Pierre thereupon remembered both his brother’s powder, one pound weight of which would have sufficed to destroy a cathedral, and the destructive engine which he had purposed bestowing upon France in order that she might be victorious over all other nations, and become the one great initiatory and liberative power. Pierre remembered too that the only person besides himself who knew his brother’s secret was Mere-Grand, who, at the time when Guillaume was fearing some perquisition on the part of the police, had long slept upon the cartridges of the terrible explosive. But now why was Guillaume removing all the powder which he had been preparing for some time past? As this question occurred to Pierre, a sudden suspicion, a vague dread, came upon him, and gave him strength to ask his brother: “Have you reason to fear anything, since you won’t keep things here? If they embarrass you, they can all be deposited at my house, nobody will make a search there.”
Guillaume, whom these words astonished, gazed at Pierre fixedly, and then replied: “Yes, I have learnt that the arrests and perquisitions have begun afresh since that poor devil was guillotined; for they are in terror at the thought that some despairing fellow may avenge him. Moreover, it is hardly prudent to keep destructive agents of such great power here. I prefer to deposit them in a safe place. But not at Neuilly-oh! no indeed! they are not a present for you, brother.” Guillaume spoke with outward calmness; and if he had started with surprise at the first moment, it had been scarcely perceptible.
“So everything is ready?” Pierre resumed. “You will soon be handing your engine of destruction over to the Minister of War, I presume?”
A gleam of hesitation appeared in the depths of Guillaume’s eyes, and he was for a moment about to tell a falsehood. However, he ended by replying “No, I have renounced that intention. I have another idea.”
He spoke these last words with so much energy and decision that Pierre did not dare to question him further, to ask him, for instance, what that other idea might be. From that moment, however, he quivered with anxious expectancy. From hour to hour Mere-Grand’s lofty silence and Guillaume’s rapt, energetic face seemed to tell him that some huge and terrifying scheme had come into being, and was growing and threatening the whole of Paris.
One afternoon, just as Thomas was about to repair to the Grandidier works, some one came to Guillaume’s with the news that old Toussaint, the workman, had been stricken with a fresh attack of paralysis. Thomas thereupon decided that he would call upon the poor fellow on his way, for he held him in esteem and wished to ascertain if he could render him any help. Pierre expressed a desire to accompany his nephew, and they started off together about four o’clock.
On entering the one room which the Toussaints occupied, the room where they ate and slept, the visitors found the mechanician seated on a low chair near the table. He looked half dead, as if struck by lightning. It was a case of hemiplegia, which had paralysed the whole of his right side, his right leg and right arm, and had also spread to his face in such wise that he could no longer speak. The only sound he could raise was an incomprehensible guttural grunt. His mouth was drawn to the right, and his once round, good-natured-looking face, with tanned skin and bright eyes, had been twisted into a frightful mask of anguish. At fifty years of age, the unhappy man was utterly done for. His unkempt beard was as white as that of an octogenarian, and his knotty limbs, preyed upon by toil, were henceforth dead. Only his eyes remained alive, and they travelled around the room, going from one to another. By his side, eager to do what she could for him, was his wife, who remained stout even when she had little to eat, and still showed herself active and clear-headed, however great her misfortunes.
“It’s a friendly visit, Toussaint,” said she. “It’s Monsieur Thomas who has come to see you with Monsieur l’Abbe.” Then quietly correcting herself she added: “With Monsieur Pierre, his uncle. You see that you are not yet forsaken.”
Toussaint wished to speak, but his fruitless efforts only brought two big tears to his eyes. Then he gazed at his visitors with an expression of indescribable woe, his jaws trembling convulsively.
“Don’t put yourself out,” repeated his wife. “The doctor told you that it would do you no good.”
At the moment of entering the room, Pierre had already noticed two persons who had risen from their chairs and drawn somewhat on one side. And now to his great surprise he recognised that they were Madame Theodore and Celine, who were both decently clad, and looked as if they led a life of comfort. On hearing of Toussaint’s misfortune they had come to see him, like good-hearted creatures, who, on their own side, had experienced the most cruel suffering. Pierre, on noticing that they now seemed to be beyond dire want, remembered what he had heard of the wonderful sympathy lavished on the child after her father’s execution, the many presents and donations offered her, and the generous proposals that had been made to adopt her. These last had ended in her being adopted by a former friend of Salvat, who had sent her to school again, pending the time when she might be apprenticed to some trade, while, on the other hand, Madame Theodore had been placed as a nurse in a convalescent home. In such wise both had been saved.
When Pierre drew near to little Celine in order to kiss her, Madame Theodore told her to thank Monsieur l’Abbe-for so she still respectfully called him-for all that he had previously done for her. “It was you who brought us happiness, Monsieur l’Abbe,” said she. “And that’s a thing one can never forget. I’m always telling Celine to remember you in her prayers.”
“And so, my child, you are now going to school again,” said Pierre.
“Oh yes, Monsieur l’Abbe, and I’m well pleased at it. Besides, we no longer lack anything.” Then, however, sudden emotion came over the girl, and she stammered with a sob: “Ah! if poor papa could only see us!”
Madame Theodore, meanwhile, had begun to take leave of Madame Toussaint. “Well, good by, we must go,” said she. “What has happened to you is very sad, and we wanted to tell you how much it grieved us. The worry is that when misfortune falls on one, courage isn’t enough to set things right. . . . Celine, come and kiss your uncle. . . . My poor brother, I hope you’ll get back the use of your legs as soon as possible.”
They kissed the paralysed man on the cheeks, and then went off. Toussaint had looked at them with his keen and still intelligent eyes, as if he longed to participate in the life and activity into which they were returning. And a jealous thought came to his wife, who usually was so placid and good-natured. “Ah! my poor old man!” said she, after propping him up with a pillow, “those two are luckier than we are. Everything succeeds with them since that madman, Salvat, had his head cut off. They’re provided for. They’ve plenty of bread on the shelf.”
Then, turning towards Pierre and Thomas, she continued: “We others are done for, you know, we’re down in the mud, with no hope of getting out of it. But what would you have? My poor husband hasn’t been guillotined, he’s done nothing but work his whole life long; and now, you see, that’s the end of him, he’s like some old animal, no longer good for anything.”
Having made her visitors sit down she next answered their compassionate questions. The doctor had called twice already, and had promised to restore the unhappy man’s power of speech, and perhaps enable him to crawl round the room with the help of a stick. But as for ever being able to resume real work that must not be expected. And so what was the use of living on? Toussaint’s eyes plainly declared that he would much rather die at once. When a workman can no longer work and no longer provide for his wife he is ripe for the grave.
“Savings indeed!” Madame Toussaint resumed. “There are folks who ask if we have any savings. . . . Well, we had nearly a thousand francs in the Savings Bank when Toussaint had his first attack. And some people don’t know what a lot of prudence one needs to put by such a sum; for, after all, we’re not savages, we have to allow ourselves a little enjoyment now and then, a good dish and a good bottle of wine. . . . Well, what with five months of enforced idleness, and the medicines, and the underdone meat that was ordered, we got to the end of our thousand francs; and now that it’s all begun again we’re not likely to taste any more bottled wine or roast mutton.”
Fond of good cheer as she had always been, this cry, far more than the tears she was forcing back, revealed how much the future terrified her. She was there erect and brave in spite of everything; but what a downfall if she were no longer able to keep her room tidy, stew a piece of veal on Sundays, and gossip with the neighbours while awaiting her husband’s return from work! Why, they might just as well be thrown into the gutter and carried off in the scavenger’s cart.
However, Thomas intervened: “Isn’t there an Asylum for the Invalids of Labour, and couldn’t your husband get admitted to it?” he asked. “It seems to me that is just the place for him.”
“Oh dear, no,” the woman answered. “People spoke to me of that place before, and I got particulars of it. They don’t take sick people there. When you call they tell you that there are hospitals for those who are ill.”
With a wave of his hand Pierre confirmed her statement: it was useless to apply in that direction. He could again see himself scouring Paris, hurrying from the Lady President, Baroness Duvillard, to Fonsegue, the General Manager, and only securing a bed for Laveuve when the unhappy man was dead.
However, at that moment an infant was heard wailing, and to the amazement of both visitors Madame Toussaint entered the little closet where her son Charles had so long slept, and came out of it carrying a child, who looked scarcely twenty months old. “Well, yes,” she explained, “this is Charles’s boy. He was sleeping there in his father’s old bed, and now you hear him, he’s woke up. . . . You see, only last Wednesday, the day before Toussaint had his stroke, I went to fetch the little one at the nurse’s at St. Denis, because she had threatened to cast him adrift since Charles had got into bad habits, and no longer paid her. I said to myself at the time that work was looking up, and that my husband and I would always be able to provide for a little mouth like that. . . . But just afterwards everything collapsed! At the same time, as the child’s here now I can’t go and leave him in the street.”
While speaking in this fashion she walked to and fro, rocking the baby in her arms. And naturally enough she reverted to Charles’s folly with the girl, who had run away, leaving that infant behind her. Things might not have been so very bad if Charles had still worked as steadily as he had done before he went soldiering. In those days he had never lost an hour, and had always brought all his pay home! But he had come back from the army with much less taste for work. He argued, and had ideas of his own. He certainly hadn’t yet come to bomb-throwing like that madman Salvat, but he spent half his time with Socialists and Anarchists, who put his brain in a muddle. It was a real pity to see such a strong, good-hearted young fellow turning out badly like that. But it was said in the neighbourhood that many another was inclined the same way; that the best and most intelligent of the younger men felt tired of want and unremunerative labour, and would end by knocking everything to pieces rather than go on toiling with no certainty of food in their old age.
“Ah! yes,” continued Madame Toussaint, “the sons are not like the fathers were. These fine fellows won’t be as patient as my poor husband has been, letting hard work wear him away till he’s become the sorry thing you see there. . . . Do you know what Charles said the other evening when he found his father on that chair, crippled like that, and unable to speak? Why, he shouted to him that he’d been a stupid jackass all his life, working himself to death for those
The baby was no longer wailing, still the good woman continued walking to and fro, rocking it in her arms and pressing it to her affectionate heart. Her son Charles could do no more for them, she said; perhaps he might be able to give them a five-franc piece now and again, but even that wasn’t certain. It was of no use for her to go back to her old calling as a seamstress, she had lost all practice of it. And it would even be difficult for her to earn anything as charwoman, for she had that infant on her hands as well as her infirm husband-a big child, whom she would have to wash and feed. And so what would become of the three of them? She couldn’t tell; but it made her shudder, however brave and motherly she tried to be.
For their part, Pierre and Thomas quivered with compassion, particularly when they saw big tears coursing down the cheeks of the wretched, stricken Toussaint, as he sat quite motionless in that little and still cleanly home of toil and want. The poor man had listened to his wife, and he looked at her and at the infant now sleeping in her arms. Voiceless, unable to cry his woe aloud, he experienced the most awful anguish. What dupery his long life of labour had been! how frightfully unjust it was that all his efforts should end in such sufferings! how exasperating it was to feel himself powerless, and to see those whom he loved and who were as innocent as himself suffer and die by reason of his own suffering and death! Ah! poor old man, cripple that he was, ending like some beast of burden that has foundered by the roadside-that goal of labour! And it was all so revolting and so monstrous that he tried to put it into words, and his desperate grief ended in a frightful, raucous grunt.
“Be quiet, don’t do yourself harm!” concluded Madame Toussaint. “Things are like that, and there’s no mending them.”
Then she went to put the child to bed again, and on her return, just as Thomas and Pierre were about to speak to her of Toussaint’s employer, M. Grandidier, a fresh visitor arrived. Thereupon the others decided to wait.
The new comer was Madame Chretiennot, Toussaint’s other sister, eighteen years younger than himself. Her husband, the little clerk, had compelled her to break off almost all intercourse with her relatives, as he felt ashamed of them; nevertheless, having heard of her brother’s misfortune, she had very properly come to condole with him. She wore a gown of cheap flimsy silk, and a hat trimmed with red poppies, which she had freshened up three times already; but in spite of this display her appearance bespoke penury, and she did her best to hide her feet on account of the shabbiness of her boots. Moreover, she was no longer the beautiful Hortense. Since a recent miscarriage, all trace of her good looks had disappeared.
The lamentable appearance of her brother and the bareness of that home of suffering chilled her directly she crossed the threshold. And as soon as she had kissed Toussaint, and said how sorry she was to find him in such a condition, she began to lament her own fate, and recount her troubles, for fear lest she should be asked for any help.
“Ah! my dear,” she said to her sister-in-law, “you are certainly much to be pitied! But if you only knew! We all have our troubles. Thus in my case, obliged as I am to dress fairly well on account of my husband’s position, I have more trouble than you can imagine in making both ends meet. One can’t go far on a salary of three thousand francs a year, when one has to pay seven hundred francs’ rent out of it. You will perhaps say that we might lodge ourselves in a more modest way; but we can’t, my dear, I must have a
Then she spoke of all the worries which she had had with her husband on account of Salvat’s ignominious death. Chretiennot, vain, quarrelsome little fellow that he was, felt exasperated at now having a
“All the same, my dear,” at last said Madame Toussaint, weary of her sister-in-law’s endless narrative of worries, “you have had one piece of luck. You won’t have the trouble of bringing up a third child, now.”
“That’s true,” replied Hortense, with a sigh of relief. “How we should have managed, I don’t know. . . . Still, I was very ill, and I’m far from being in good health now. The doctor says that I don’t eat enough, and that I ought to have good food.”
Then she rose for the purpose of giving her brother another kiss and taking her departure; for she feared a scene on her husband’s part should he happen to come home and find her absent. Once on her feet, however, she lingered there a moment longer, saying that she also had just seen her sister, Madame Theodore, and little Celine, both of them comfortably clad and looking happy. And with a touch of jealousy she added: “Well, my husband contents himself with slaving away at his office every day. He’ll never do anything to get his head cut off; and it’s quite certain that nobody will think of leaving an income to Marcelle and Lucienne. . . . Well, good by, my dear, you must be brave, one must always hope that things will turn out for the best.”
When she had gone off, Pierre and Thomas inquired if M. Grandidier had heard of Toussaint’s misfortune and agreed to do anything for him. Madame Toussaint answered that he had so far made only a vague promise; and on learning this they resolved to speak to him as warmly as they could on behalf of the old mechanician, who had spent as many as five and twenty years at the works. The misfortune was that a scheme for establishing a friendly society, and even a pension fund, which had been launched before the crisis from which the works were now recovering, had collapsed through a number of obstacles and complications. Had things turned out otherwise, Thomas might have had a pittance assured him, even though he was unable to work. But under the circumstances the only hope for the poor stricken fellow lay in his employer’s compassion, if not his sense of justice.
As the baby again began to cry, Madame Toussaint went to fetch it, and she was once more carrying it to and fro, when Thomas pressed her husband’s sound hand between both his own. “We will come back,” said the young man; “we won’t forsake you, Toussaint. You know very well that people like you, for you’ve always been a good and steady workman. So rely on us, we will do all we can.”
Then they left him tearful and overpowered, in that dismal room, while, up and down beside him, his wife rocked the squealing infant-that other luckless creature, who was now so heavy on the old folks’ hands, and like them was fated to die of want and unjust toil.
Toil, manual toil, panting at every effort, this was what Pierre and Thomas once more found at the works. From the slender pipes above the roofs spurted rhythmical puffs of steam, which seemed like the very breath of all that labour. And in the work-shops one found a continuous rumbling, a whole army of men in motion, forging, filing, and piercing, amidst the spinning of leather gearing and the trembling of machinery. The day was ending with a final feverish effort to complete some task or other before the bell should ring for departure.
On inquiring for the master Thomas learnt that he had not been seen since
Pierre and Thomas looked at one another, pale and quivering. And all at once, as the cries ceased and the pavilion sank into death-like silence once more, the latter said in an undertone: “She is usually very gentle, she will sometimes spend whole days sitting on a carpet like a little child. He is fond of her when she is like that; he lays her down and picks her up, caresses her and makes her laugh as if she were a baby. Ah! how dreadfully sad it is! When an attack comes upon her she gets frantic, tries to bite herself, and kill herself by throwing herself against the walls. And then he has to struggle with her, for no one else is allowed to touch her. He tries to restrain her, and holds her in his arms to calm her. . . . But how terrible it was just now! Did you hear? I do not think she has ever had such a frightful attack before.”
For a quarter of an hour longer profound silence prevailed. Then Grandidier came out of the pavilion, bareheaded and still ghastly pale. Passing the little glazed work-shop on his way, he perceived Thomas and Pierre there, and at once came in. But he was obliged to lean against a bench like a man who is dazed, haunted by a nightmare. His good-natured, energetic face retained an expression of acute anguish; and his left ear was scratched and bleeding. However, he at once wished to talk, overcome his feelings, and return to his life of activity. “I am very pleased to see you, my dear Thomas,” said he, “I have been thinking over what you told me about our little motor. We must go into the matter again.”
Seeing how distracted he was, it occurred to the young man that some sudden diversion, such as the story of another’s misfortunes, might perhaps draw him from his haunting thoughts. “Of course I am at your disposal,” he replied; “but before talking of that matter I should like to tell you that we have just seen Toussaint, that poor old fellow who has been stricken with paralysis. His awful fate has quite distressed us. He is in the greatest destitution, forsaken as it were by the roadside, after all his years of labour.”
Thomas dwelt upon the quarter of a century which the old workman had spent at the factory, and suggested that it would be only just to take some account of his long efforts, the years of his life which he had devoted to the establishment. And he asked that he might be assisted in the name both of equity and compassion.
“Ah! monsieur,” Pierre in his turn ventured to say. “I should like to take you for an instant into that bare room, and show you that poor, aged, worn-out, stricken man, who no longer has even the power of speech left him to tell people his sufferings. There can be no greater wretchedness than to die in this fashion, despairing of all kindliness and justice.”
Grandidier had listened to them in silence. But big tears had irresistibly filled his eyes, and when he spoke it was in a very low and tremulous voice: “The greatest wretchedness, who can tell what it is? Who can speak of it if he has not known the wretchedness of others? Yes, yes, it’s sad undoubtedly that poor Toussaint should be reduced to that state at his age, not knowing even if he will have food to eat on the morrow. But I know sorrows that are just as crushing, abominations which poison one’s life in a still greater degree. . . . Ah! yes, food indeed! To think that happiness will reign in the world when everybody has food to eat! What an idiotic hope!”
The whole grievous tragedy of his life was in the shudder which had come over him. To be the employer, the master, the man who is making money, who disposes of capital and is envied by his workmen, to own an establishment to which prosperity has returned, whose machinery coins gold, apparently leaving one no other trouble than that of pocketing one’s profits; and yet at the same time to be the most wretched of men, to know no day exempt from anguish, to find each evening at one’s hearth no other reward or prop than the most atrocious torture of the heart! Everything, even success, has to be paid for. And thus that triumpher, that money-maker, whose pile was growing larger at each successive inventory, was sobbing with bitter grief.
However, he showed himself kindly disposed towards Toussaint, and promised to assist him. As for a pension that was an idea which he could not entertain, as it was the negation of the wage-system such as it existed. He energetically defended his rights as an employer, repeating that the strain of competition would compel him to avail himself of them so long as the present system should endure. His part in it was to do good business in an honest way. However, he regretted that his men had never carried out the scheme of establishing a relief fund, and he said that he would do his best to induce them to take it in hand again.
Some colour had now come back to his checks; for on returning to the interests of his life of battle he felt his energy restored. He again reverted to the question of the little motor, and spoke of it for some time with Thomas, while Pierre waited, feeling quite upset. Ah! he thought, how universal was the thirst for happiness! Then, in spite of the many technical terms that were used he caught a little of what the others were saying. Small steam motors had been made at the works in former times; but they had not proved successes. In point of fact a new propelling force was needed. Electricity, though everyone foresaw its future triumph, was so far out of the question on account of the weight of the apparatus which its employment necessitated. So only petroleum remained, and the inconvenience attaching to its use was so great that victory and fortune would certainly rest with the manufacturer who should be able to replace it by some other hitherto unknown agent. In the discovery and adaptation of the latter lay the whole problem.
“Yes, I am eager about it now,” at last exclaimed Grandidier in an animated way. “I allowed you to prosecute your experiments without troubling you with any inquisitive questions. But a solution is becoming imperative.”
Thomas smiled: “Well, you must remain patient just a little longer,” said he; “I believe that I am on the right road.”
Then Grandidier shook hands with him and Pierre, and went off to make his usual round through his busy, bustling works, whilst near at hand, awaiting his return, stood the closed pavilion, where every evening he was fated to relapse into endless, incurable anguish.
The daylight was already waning when Pierre and Thomas, after re-ascending the height of Montmartre, walked towards the large work-shop which Jahan, the sculptor, had set up among the many sheds whose erection had been necessitated by the building of the Sacred Heart. There was here a stretch of ground littered with materials, an extraordinary chaos of building stone, beams and machinery; and pending the time when an army of navvies would come to set the whole place in order, one could see gaping trenches, rough flights of descending steps and fences, imperfectly closing doorways which conducted to the substructures of the basilica.
Halting in front of Jahan’s work-shop, Thomas pointed to one of these doorways by which one could reach the foundation works. “Have you never had an idea of visiting the foundations?” he inquired of Pierre. “There’s quite a city down there on which millions of money have been spent. They could only find firm soil at the very base of the height, and they had to excavate more than eighty shafts, fill them with concrete, and then rear their church on all those subterranean columns. . . . Yes, that is so. Of course the columns cannot be seen, but it is they who hold that insulting edifice aloft, right over Paris!”
Having drawn near to the fence, Pierre was looking at an open doorway beyond it, a sort of dark landing whence steps descended as if into the bowels of the earth. And he thought of those invisible columns of concrete, and of all the stubborn energy and desire for domination which had set and kept the edifice erect.
Thomas was at last obliged to call him. “Let us make haste,” said he, “the twilight will soon be here. We shan’t be able to see much.”
They had arranged to meet Antoine at Jahan’s, as the sculptor wished to show them a new model he had prepared. When they entered the work-shop they found the two assistants still working at the colossal angel which had been ordered for the basilica. Standing on a scaffolding they were rough-hewing its symmetrical wings, whilst Jahan, seated on a low chair, with his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, and his hands soiled with clay, was contemplating a figure some three feet high on which he had just been working.
“Ah! it’s you,” he exclaimed. “Antoine has been waiting more than half an hour for you. He’s gone outside with Lise to see the sun set over Paris, I think. But they will soon be back.”
Then he relapsed into silence, with his eyes fixed on his work.
This was a bare, erect, lofty female figure, of such august majesty, so simple were its lines, that it suggested something gigantic. The figure’s abundant, outspread hair suggested rays around its face, which beamed with sovereign beauty like the sun. And its only gesture was one of offer and of greeting; its arms were thrown slightly forward, and its hands were open for the grasp of all mankind.
Still lingering in his dream Jahan began to speak slowly: “You remember that I wanted a pendant for my figure of Fecundity. I had modelled a Charity, but it pleased me so little and seemed so commonplace that I let the clay dry and spoil. . . . And then the idea of a figure of Justice came to me. But not a gowned figure with the sword and the scales! That wasn’t the Justice that inspired me. What haunted my mind was the other Justice, the one that the lowly and the sufferers await, the one who alone can some day set a little order and happiness among us. And I pictured her like that, quite bare, quite simple, and very lofty. She is the sun as it were, a sun all beauty, harmony and strength; for justice is only to be found in the sun which shines in the heavens for one and all, and bestows on poor and rich alike its magnificence and light and warmth, which are the source of all life. And so my figure, you see, has her hands outstretched as if she were offering herself to all mankind, greeting it and granting it the gift of eternal life in eternal beauty. Ah! to be beautiful and strong and just, one’s whole dream lies in that.”
Jahan relighted his pipe and burst into a merry laugh. “Well, I think the good woman carries herself upright. . . . What do you fellows say?”
His visitors highly praised his work. Pierre for his part was much affected at finding in this artistic conception the very idea that he had so long been revolving in his mind-the idea of an era of Justice rising from the ruins of the world, which Charity after centuries of trial had failed to save.
Then the sculptor gaily explained that he had prepared his model there instead of at home, in order to console himself a little for his big dummy of an angel, the prescribed triteness of which disgusted him. Some fresh objections had been raised with respect to the folds of the robe, which gave some prominence to the thighs, and in the end he had been compelled to modify all of the drapery.
“Oh! it’s just as they like!” he cried; “it’s no work of mine, you know; it’s simply an order which I’m executing just as a mason builds a wall. There’s no religious art left, it has been killed by stupidity and disbelief. Ah! if social or human art could only revive, how glorious to be one of the first to bear the tidings!”
Then he paused. Where could the youngsters, Antoine and Lise, have got to, he wondered. He threw the door wide open, and, a little distance away, among the materials littering the waste ground, one could see Antoine’s tall figure and Lise’s short slender form standing out against the immensity of Paris, which was all golden amidst the sun’s farewell. The young man’s strong arm supported Lise, who with this help walked beside him without feeling any fatigue. Slender and graceful, like a girl blossoming into womanhood, she raised her eyes to his with a smile of infinite gratitude, which proclaimed that she belonged to him for evermore.
“Ah! they are coming back,” said Jahan. “The miracle is now complete, you know. I’m delighted at it. I did not know what to do with her; I had even renounced all attempts to teach her to read; I left her for days together in a corner, infirm and tongue-tied like a lack-wit. . . . But your brother came and took her in hand somehow or other. She listened to him and understood him, and began to read and write with him, and grow intelligent and gay. Then, as her limbs still gained no suppleness, and she remained infirm, ailing and puny, he began by carrying her here, and then helped her to walk in such wise that she can now do so by herself. In a few weeks’ time she has positively grown and become quite charming. Yes, I assure you, it is second birth, real creation. Just look at them!”
Antoine and Lise were still slowly approaching. The evening breeze which rose from the great city, where all was yet heat and sunshine, brought them a bath of life. If the young man had chosen that spot, with its splendid horizon, open to the full air which wafted all the germs of life, it was doubtless because he felt that nowhere else could he instil more vitality, more soul, more strength into her. And love had been created by love. He had found her asleep, benumbed, without power of motion or intellect, and he had awakened her, kindled life in her, loved her, that he might be loved by her in return. She was his work, she was part of himself.
“So you no longer feel tired, little one?” said Jahan.
She smiled divinely. “Oh! no, it’s so pleasant, so beautiful, to walk straight on like this. . . . All I desire is to go on for ever and ever with Antoine.”
The others laughed, and Jahan exclaimed in his good-natured way: “Let us hope that he won’t take you so far. You’ve reached your destination now, and I shan’t be the one to prevent you from being happy.”
Antoine was already standing before the figure of Justice, to which the falling twilight seemed to impart a quiver of life. “Oh! how divinely simple, how divinely beautiful!” said he.
For his own part he had lately finished a new wood engraving, which depicted Lise holding a book in her hand, an engraving instinct with truth and emotion, showing her awakened to intelligence and love. And this time he had achieved his desire, making no preliminary drawing, but tackling the block with his graver, straight away, in presence of his model. And infinite hopefulness had come upon him, he was dreaming of great original works in which the whole period that he belonged to would live anew and for ever.
Thomas now wished to return home. So they shook hands with Jahan, who, as his day’s work was over, put on his coat to take his sister back to the Rue du Calvaire.
“Till to-morrow, Lise,” said Antoine, inclining his head to kiss her.
She raised herself on tip-toes, and offered him her eyes, which he had opened to life. “Till to-morrow, Antoine,” said she.
Outside, the twilight was falling. Pierre was the first to cross the threshold, and as he did so, he saw so extraordinary a sight that for an instant he felt stupefied. But it was certain enough: he could plainly distinguish his brother Guillaume emerging from the gaping doorway which conducted to the foundations of the basilica. And he saw him hastily climb over the palings, and then pretend to be there by pure chance, as though he had come up from the Rue Lamarck. When he accosted his two sons, as if he were delighted to meet them, and began to say that he had just come from Paris, Pierre asked himself if he had been dreaming. However, an anxious glance which his brother cast at him convinced him that he had been right. And then he not only felt ill at ease in presence of that man whom he had never previously known to lie, but it seemed to him that he was at last on the track of all he had feared, the formidable mystery that he had for some time past felt brewing around him in the little peaceful house.
When Guillaume, his sons and his brother reached home and entered the large workroom overlooking Paris, it was so dark that they fancied nobody was there.
“What! nobody in?” said Guillaume.
But in a somewhat low, quiet voice Francois answered out of the gloom: “Why, yes, I’m here.”
He had remained at his table, where he had worked the whole afternoon, and as he could no longer read, he now sat in a dreamy mood with his head resting on his hands, his eyes wandering over Paris, where night was gradually falling. As his examination was now near at hand, he was living in a state of severe mental strain.
“What, you are still working there!” said his father. “Why didn’t you ask for a lamp?”
“No, I wasn’t working, I was looking at Paris,” Francois slowly answered. “It’s singular how the night falls over it by degrees. The last district that remained visible was the Montague Ste. Genevieve, the plateau of the Pantheon, where all our knowledge and science have grown up. A sun-ray still gilds the schools and libraries and laboratories, when the low-lying districts of trade are already steeped in darkness. I won’t say that the planet has a particular partiality for us at the Ecole Normale, but it’s certain that its beams still linger on our roofs, when they are to be seen nowhere else.”
He began to laugh at his jest. Still one could see how ardent was his faith in mental effort, how entirely he gave himself to mental labour, which, in his opinion, could alone bring truth, establish justice and create happiness.
Then came a short spell of silence. Paris sank more and more deeply into the night, growing black and mysterious, till all at once sparks of light began to appear.
“The lamps are being lighted,” resumed Francois; “work is being resumed on all sides.”
Then Guillaume, who likewise had been dreaming, immersed in his fixed idea, exclaimed: “Work, yes, no doubt! But for work to give a full harvest it must be fertilised by will. There is something which is superior to work.”
Thomas and Antoine had drawn near. And Francois, as much for them as for himself, inquired: “What is that, father?”
For a moment the three young men remained silent, impressed by the solemnity of the hour, quivering too beneath the great waves of darkness which rose from the vague ocean of the city. Then a young voice remarked, though whose it was one could not tell: “Action is but work.”
And Pierre, who lacked the respectful quietude, the silent faith, of his nephews, now felt his nervousness increasing. That huge and terrifying mystery of which he was dimly conscious rose before him, while a great quiver sped by in the darkness, over that black city where the lamps were now being lighted for a whole passionate night of work.