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Title: The Wicker Work Woman
Author: France, Anatole
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Libraries.)



  THIS EDITION IS LIMITED TO
  FIVE HUNDRED COPIES FOR
  SALE IN THE UNITED STATES
  OF AMERICA



  THE WORKS OF ANATOLE FRANCE
  IN AN ENGLISH TRANSLATION
  EDITED BY FREDERIC CHAPMAN

  THE WICKER-WORK WOMAN

  [Illustration]



  THE WICKER
  WORK WOMAN

  A CHRONICLE OF OUR OWN TIMES

  BY ANATOLE FRANCE

  A TRANSLATION BY
  M. P. WILLCOCKS

  [Illustration]

  LONDON: JOHN LANE, THE BODLEY HEAD
  NEW YORK: JOHN LANE COMPANY: MCMX



  WM. BRENDON AND SON, LTD., PRINTERS, PLYMOUTH



THE WICKER-WORK WOMAN

I


In his study M. Bergeret, professor of literature at the University,
was preparing his lesson on the eighth book of the _Æneid_ to the
shrill mechanical accompaniment of the piano, on which, close by, his
daughters were practising a difficult exercise. M. Bergeret’s room
possessed only one window, but this was a large one, and filled up one
whole side. It admitted, however, more draught than light, for the
sashes were ill-fitting and the panes darkened by a high contiguous
wall. M. Bergeret’s table, pushed close against this window, caught
the dismal rays of niggard daylight that filtered through. As a matter
of fact this study, where the professor polished and repolished his
fine, scholarly phrases, was nothing more than a shapeless cranny, or
rather a double recess, behind the framework of the main staircase
which, spreading out most inconsiderately in a great curve towards
the window, left only room on either side for two useless, churlish
corners. Trammelled by this monstrous, green-papered paunch of masonry,
M. Bergeret had with difficulty discovered in his cantankerous study—a
geometrical abortion as well as an æsthetic abomination—a scanty flat
surface where he could stack his books along the deal shelves, upon
which yellow rows of Teubner classics were plunged in never-lifted
gloom. M. Bergeret himself used to sit squeezed close up against the
window, writing in a cold, chilly style that owed much to the bleakness
of the atmosphere in which he worked. Whenever he found his papers
neither torn nor topsy-turvy and his pens not gaping cross-nibbed, he
considered himself a lucky man! For such was the usual result of a
visit to the study from Madame Bergeret or her daughters, where they
came to write up the laundry list or the household accounts. Here, too,
stood the dressmaker’s dummy, on which Madame Bergeret used to drape
the skirts she cut out at home. There, bolt upright, over against the
learned editions of Catullus and Petronius, stood, like a symbol of the
wedded state, this wicker-work woman.

M. Bergeret was preparing his lesson on the eighth book of the
_Æneid_, and he ought to have been devoting himself exclusively to
the fascinating details of metre and language. In this task he would
have found, if not joy, at any rate mental peace and the priceless
balm of spiritual tranquillity. Instead, he had turned his thoughts
in another direction: he was musing on the soul, the genius, the
outward features of that classic world whose books he spent his life in
studying. He had given himself up to the longing to behold with his own
eyes those golden shores, that azure sea, those rose-hued mountains,
those lovely meadows through which the poet leads his heroes. He was
bemoaning himself bitterly that it had never been his lot to visit the
shores where once Troy stood, to gaze on the landscape of Virgil, to
breathe the air of Italy, of Greece and holy Asia, as Gaston Boissier
and Gaston Deschamps had done. The melancholy aspect of his study
overwhelmed him and great waves of misery submerged his mind. His
sadness was, of course, the fruit of his own folly, for all our real
sorrows come from within and are self-caused. We mistakenly believe
that they come from outside, but we create them within ourselves from
our own personality.

So sat M. Bergeret beneath the huge plaster cylinder, manufacturing
his own sadness and weariness as he reflected on his narrow, cramped,
and dismal life: his wife was a vulgar creature, who had by now lost
all her good looks; his daughters, even, had no love for him, and
finally the battles of Æneas and Turnus were dull and boring. At last
he was aroused from this melancholy train of thought by the arrival of
his pupil, M. Roux, who made his appearance in red trousers and a blue
coat, for he was still going through his year of military service.

“Ha!” said M. Bergeret, “so I see they’ve turned my best Latin scholar
into a hero.”

And when M. Roux denied the heroic impeachment, the professor
persisted: “I know what I’m talking about. I call a man who wears a
sabre a hero, and I’m quite right in so doing. And if you only wore a
busby, I should call you a great hero. The least one can decently do is
to bestow a little flattery on the people one sends out to get shot.
One couldn’t possibly pay them for their services at a cheaper rate.
But may you never be immortalised by any act of heroism, and may you
only earn the praises of mankind by your attainments in Latin verse! It
is my patriotism, and nothing else, that moves me to this sincere wish.
For I am persuaded by the study of history that heroism is mainly to
be found among the routed and vanquished. Even the Romans, a people by
no means so eager for war as is commonly supposed, a people, too, who
were often beaten, even the Romans only produced a Decius in a moment
of defeat. At Marathon, too, the heroism of Kynegeirus was shown
precisely at the moment of disaster for the Athenians, who, if they did
succeed in arresting the march of the barbarian army, could not prevent
them from embarking with all the Persian cavalry which had just been
recuperating on the plains. Besides, it is not at all clear that the
Persians made any special effort in this battle.”

M. Roux deposited his sabre in a corner of the study and sat down in a
chair offered him by the professor.

“It is now four months,” said he, “since I have heard a single
intelligent word. During these four months I have been concentrating
all the powers of my mind on the task of conciliating my corporal and
my sergeant-major by carefully calculated tips. So far, that is the
only side of the art of warfare that I can really say I have mastered.
It is, however, the most important side. Yet I have in the process
lost all power of grasping a general idea or of following a subtle
thought. And here you are, my dear sir, telling me that the Greeks were
conquered at Marathon and that the Romans were not warlike. My head
whirls.”

M. Bergeret calmly replied:

“I merely said that Miltiades did not succeed in breaking through the
forces of the barbarians. As for the Romans, they were not essentially
a military people, since they made profitable and lasting conquests, in
contradistinction to the true military nations, such as the French, for
instance, who seize all, but retain nothing.

“It is also to be noted that in Rome, in the time of the kings, aliens
were not allowed to serve as soldiers. But in the reign of the good
king Servius Tullius the citizens, being by no means anxious to reserve
to themselves alone the honour of fatigue and perils, admitted aliens
resident in the city to military service. There are such things as
heroes, but there are no nations of heroes, nor are there armies of
heroes. Soldiers have never marched save under penalty of death.
Military service was hateful even to those Latin herdsmen who gained
for Rome the sovereignty of the world and the glorious name of goddess
among the nations. The wearing of the soldier’s belt was to them such
a hardship that the very name of this belt, _ærumna_, eventually
expressed for them the ideas of dejection, weariness of body and mind,
wretchedness, misfortune and disaster. When well led they made, not
heroes, but good soldiers and good navvies; little by little they
conquered the world and covered it with roads and highways. The Romans
never sought glory: they had no imagination. They only waged absolutely
necessary wars in defence of their own interests. Their triumph was
the triumph of patience and good sense.

“The make of a man is shown by his ruling passion. With soldiers, as
with all crowds, the ruling passion, the predominant thought, is fear.
They go to meet the enemy as the foe from whom the least danger is to
be feared. Troops in line are so drawn up on both sides that flight
is impossible. In that lies all the art of battle. The armies of the
Republic were victorious because the discipline of the olden times
was maintained in them with the utmost severity, while it was relaxed
in the camp of the Allied Armies. Our generals of the second year
after the Revolution were none other than sergeants like that la Ramée
who used to have half a dozen conscripts shot every day in order to
encourage the others, as Voltaire put it, and to arouse them with the
trumpet-note of patriotism.”

“That’s very plausible,” said M. Roux. “But there is another point.
There is such a thing as the innate joy of firing a musket-shot. As you
know, my dear sir, I am by no means a destructive animal. I have no
taste for military life. I have even very advanced humanitarian ideas,
and I believe that the brotherhood of the nations will be brought about
by the triumph of socialism. In a word, I am filled with the love of
humanity. But as soon as they put a musket in my hand I want to fire at
everyone. It’s in the blood....”

M. Roux was a fine hearty fellow who had quickly shaken down in his
regiment. Violent exercise suited his robust temperament, and being
in addition very adaptable, although he had acquired no special taste
for the profession, he found life in barracks quite bearable, and so
remained both healthy and happy.

“You have left the power of suggestion out of your calculations, sir,”
said he. “Only give a man a bayonet at the end of a musket and he will
instantly be ready to plunge it into the body of the first comer and so
make himself a hero, as you call it.”

The rich southern tones of M. Roux were still echoing through the room
when Madame Bergeret came in. As a rule she seldom entered the study
when her husband was there. To-day M. Bergeret noticed that she wore
her fine pink and white _peignoir_.

Expressing great surprise at finding M. Roux in the study, she
explained that she had just come in to ask her husband for a volume of
poems with which she might while away an hour or two.

She was suddenly a charming, good-tempered woman: the professor noticed
the fact, as a fact, though he felt no special interest in it.

Removing Freund’s Dictionary from an old leather arm-chair, M. Roux
cleared a seat for Madame Bergeret, while her husband’s thoughts
strayed, first to the quartos stacked against the wall and then to his
wife who had taken their place in the arm-chair. These two masses of
matter, the dictionary and the lady, thought he, were once but gases
floating in the primitive nebulosity. Though now they are strangely
different from one another in look, in nature and in function, they
were once for long ages exactly similar.

“For,” thought he to himself, “Madame Bergeret once swam in the vasty
abyss of the ages, shapeless, unconscious, scattered in light gleams of
oxygen and carbon. At the same time, the molecules that were one day
to make up this Latin dictionary were whirling in this same vapour,
which was destined at last to give birth to monstrous forms, to minute
insects and to a slender thread of thought. These imperfect and often
harassing creations, these monuments of my weary life, my wife and my
dictionary, needed the travail of eternity to produce them. Yet Amélie
is just a paltry mind in a coarsened body, and my dictionary is full of
mistakes. We can see from this example alone that there is very little
hope that even new æons of time would ever give us perfect knowledge
and beauty. As it is, we live but for a moment, yet by living for ever
we should gain nothing. The faults we see in nature, and how faulty she
is we know, are produced neither by time nor space!”

And in the restless perturbation of his thoughts M. Bergeret continued:

“But what is time itself, save just the movements of nature, and how
can I judge whether these are long or short? Granted that nature is
cruel in her cast-iron laws, how comes it that I recognise the fact?
And how do I manage to place myself outside her, so that I can weigh
her deeds in my scales? Had I but another standpoint in it, perchance
the universe might even seem to me a happier place.”

M. Bergeret hereupon suddenly emerged from his day-dream, and leant
forward to push the tottering pile of quartos close against the wall.

“You are somewhat sunburnt, Monsieur Roux,” said Madame Bergeret, “and
rather thinner, I fancy. But it suits you well enough.”

“The first few months are trying,” answered M. Roux. “Drill, of course,
in the barrack-yard at six o’clock in the morning and with eight
degrees of frost is rather a painful process, and just at first one
finds it difficult to look on the mess as appetising. But weariness
is, after all, a great blessing, stupefaction a priceless remedy and
the stupor in which one lives is as soporific as a feather-bed. And
because at night one only sleeps in snatches, by day one is never wide
awake. And this state of automatic lethargy in which we all live is
admirably conducive to discipline, it suits the tone of military life
and produces physical and moral efficiency in the ranks.”

In short, M. Roux had nothing to complain of, but one of his friends, a
certain Deval, a student of Malay at the school of Oriental languages,
was plunged in the depths of misery and despair. Deval, an intelligent,
well-educated, intrepid man, was cursed with a sort of rigidity of mind
and body that made him tactless and awkward. In addition to this he was
harassed by a painfully exact sense of justice which gave him peculiar
views of his rights and duties. This unfortunate turn of mind landed
him in all sorts of troubles, and he had not been more than twenty-four
hours in barracks before Sergeant Lebrec demanded, in terms which must
needs be softened for Madame Bergeret’s sake, what ill-conducted being
had given birth to such a clumsy cub as Number Five. It took Deval a
long time to make sure that he, and none other, was actually Number
Five. He had, in fact, to be put under arrest before he was convinced
on the subject. Even then he could not see why the honour of Madame
Deval, his mother, should be called in question because he himself was
not exactly in line. His sense of justice was outraged by his mother’s
being unexpectedly declared responsible in this matter, and at the end
of four months he was still a prey to melancholy amazement at the idea.

“Your friend Deval,” answered M. Bergeret, “put a wrong construction on
a warlike speech that I should be inclined to count among those which
exalt men’s moral tone. Such speeches, in fact, arouse the spirit of
emulation by exciting a desire to earn the good-conduct stripes, which
confer on their wearers the right to make similar speeches in their
turn, speeches which obviously stamp the speaker of them as head and
shoulders above those humble beings to whom they are addressed. The
authority of officers in the army should never be weakened, as was done
in a recent circular issued by a War Minister, which laid down the law
that officers and non-commissioned officers were to avoid the practice
of addressing the men with the contemptuous ‘thou.’ The minister,
himself a well-bred, courteous, urbane and honourable man, was full of
the idea of the dignified position of the citizen soldier and failed,
therefore, to perceive that the power of scorning an inferior is
the guiding principle in emulation and the foundation-stone of all
governance. Sergeant Lebrec spoke like a hero who is schooling heroes,
for, being a philologist, I am able to reconstruct the original form
his speech took. This being the case, I have no hesitation in declaring
that, in my opinion, Sergeant Lebrec rose to sublimity when he
associated the good fame of a family with the port of a conscript, when
he thus linked the life of Number Five, even before he saw the light,
with the regiment and the flag. For, in truth, does not the issue of
all warfare rest on the discipline of the recruit?

“After this, you will probably tell me that I am indulging in the
weakness common to all commentators and reading into the text of my
author meanings which he never intended. I grant you that there is
a certain element of unconsciousness in Sergeant Lebrec’s memorable
speech. But therein lies the genius of it. Unaware of his own range, he
hurls his bolts broadcast.”

M. Roux answered with a smile that there certainly was an unconscious
element in Sergeant Lebrec’s inspiration. He quite agreed with M.
Bergeret there. But Madame Bergeret interposed drily:

“I don’t understand you at all, Lucien. You always laugh when there is
nothing funny, and really one never knows whether you are joking or
serious. It’s positively impossible to talk rationally to you.”

“My wife reasons after the dean’s fashion,” said M. Bergeret, “and the
only thing to do with either is to give in.”

“Ah!” exclaimed Madame Bergeret, “you do well to talk about the dean!
You have always set yourself to annoy him and now you are paying for
your folly. You have also managed to fall out with the rector. I met
him on Sunday when I was out with the girls and he hardly so much as
bowed.” And turning towards the young soldier, she continued:

“I know that my husband is very much attached to you, Monsieur Roux.
You are his favourite pupil and he foretells a brilliant future for
you.”

M. Roux’s swarthy face, with its mat of frizzy hair, flashed into a
bold smile that showed the brilliant whiteness of his teeth.

“Do try, Monsieur Roux, to get my husband to use a little tact with
people who may be useful to him. His conduct is making life a howling
wilderness for us all.”

“Surely not, Madame,” murmured M. Roux, turning the conversation.

“The peasants,” said he, “drag out a wretched three years of service.
They suffer horribly, but no one ever guesses it, for they are
quite inarticulate when it comes to expressing subtleties. Loving
the land as they do with all the intensity of animal passion, when
they are separated from it their existence is full of deep, silent,
monotonous melancholy, with nothing whatever to distract them from
their sense of exile and imprisonment, save fear of their officers and
weariness of their occupation. Everything around them is strange and
incomprehensible. In my company, for instance, there are two Bretons
who have not learnt the colonel’s name after six months’ training.
Every morning we are drawn up before the sergeant to repeat this name
with them, for every one in the regiment receives exactly the same
instruction. Our colonel’s name is Dupont. It’s the same in all our
exercises: quick, clever men are kept back for ever to wait for the
dolts.”

M. Bergeret inquired whether, like Sergeant Lebrec, the officers also
cultivated the art of martial eloquence.

“Not at all,” said M. Roux. “My captain—quite a young man he is,
too—is the very pink of courtesy. He is an æsthete, a Rosicrucian, and
he paints pictures of angels and pallid virgins, against a background
of pink and green skies. I devise the legends for his pictures, and
whilst Deval is on fatigue-duty in the barrack-square, I am on duty
with the captain, who employs me to produce verses for him. He really
is a charming fellow. His name is Marcel de Lagère; he exhibits at
L’Œuvre under the pseudonym of Cyne.”

“Is he a hero too?” asked M. Bergeret.

“Say rather a Saint George,” answered M. Roux. “He has conceived a
mystic ideal of the military profession and declares that it is the
perfect way of life. We are marching, unawares, to an unknown goal.
Piously, solemnly, chastely, we advance towards the altar of mystic,
fated sacrifice. He is exquisite. I am teaching him to write _vers
libre_ and prose poems and he is beginning to compose prose sketches of
military life. He is happy, placid and gentle, and the only sorrow he
has is the flag. He considers its red, white and blue an intolerably
violent colour scheme and yearns for one of rose-pink or lilac. His
dreams are of the banner of Heaven. ‘If even,’ he says sadly, ‘the
three colours rose from a flower-stalk, like the three flames of the
oriflamme, it would be bearable. But when they are perpendicular, they
cut the floating folds painfully and ridiculously.’ He suffers, but he
bears his suffering bravely and patiently. As I said before, he is a
true Saint George.”

“From your description,” said Madame Bergeret, “I feel keenly for
the poor young man.” So speaking, she threw a severe glance in M.
Bergeret’s direction.

“But aren’t the other officers amazed at him?” asked M. Bergeret.

“Not at all,” answered M. Roux. “For at mess, or in society, he says
nothing about his opinions and he looks just like any other officer.”

“And what do the men think of him?”

“The men never come in contact with their officers in quarters.”

“You will dine with us, won’t you, Monsieur Roux?” said Madame
Bergeret. “It will give us great pleasure if you will stay.”

Her words instantly suggested to M. Bergeret’s mind the vision of a
pie, for whenever Madame Bergeret had informally invited anyone to
dinner she always ordered a pie from Magloire, the pastry-cook, and
usually a pie without meat, as being more dainty. By a purely mental
impetus that had no connection with greed, M. Bergeret now called up
a picture of an egg or fish pie, smoking in a blue-patterned dish on
a damask napkin. Homely and prophetic vision! But if Madame Bergeret
invited M. Roux to dinner, she must think a great deal of him, for
it was most unusual for Amélie to offer the pleasures of her humble
table to a stranger. She dreaded the expense and fuss of doing so, and
justly, for the days when she had a guest to dinner were made hideous
by the noise of broken dishes, by yells of alarm and tears of rage
from the young maid, Euphémie, by an acrid smoke-reek that filled the
whole flat and by a smell of cooking which found its way to the study
and disturbed M. Bergeret among the shades of Æneas, Turnus, and the
bashful Lavinia. However, the professor was delighted at the idea that
his pupil, M. Roux, would feed to-night at his table. For there was
nothing he liked better than men’s talk, and a long discussion filled
him with joy.

Madame Bergeret continued:

“You know, Monsieur Roux, it will be just pot-luck.”

Then she departed to give Euphémie her orders.

“My dear sir,” said M. Bergeret to his pupil, “are you still asserting
the pre-eminence of _vers libre_? Of course, I am aware that poetic
forms vary according to time and place. Nor am I ignorant of the fact
that, in the course of ages, French verse has undergone incessant
alterations, and, hidden behind my books of notes on metre, I can smile
discreetly at the pious prejudices of the poets who refuse to allow
anyone to lay an unhallowed finger on the instrument consecrated by
their genius. I have noticed that they give no reasons for the rules
they follow, and I am inclined to think that one must not search for
these reasons in the verse itself, but rather in the music which in
primitive times accompanied it. It is the scientific spirit which I
acknowledge as my guide, and as that is naturally far less conservative
than the artistic spirit, I am therefore ready to welcome innovations.
But I must, nevertheless, confess that _vers libre_ baffles me and I
cannot even grasp the definition of it. The vagueness of the limits to
which it must conform is a worry to me and ...”

At that moment a visitor came into the study. It was a well-built
man in the prime of life, with handsome sunburnt features. Captain
Aspertini of Naples was a student of philology and agriculture and a
member of the Italian Parliament who for the last ten years had been
carrying on a learned correspondence with M. Bergeret, after the style
of the great scholars of the Renaissance and the seventeenth century,
and whenever he visited France he made it his practice to come and
see his correspondent. Savants the world over held a high opinion of
Carlo Aspertini for having deciphered a complete treatise by Epicurus
on one of the charred scrolls from Pompeii. Although his energies
were now absorbed in agriculture, politics and business, he was still
passionately devoted to the art of numismatics and his sensitive hands
still itched to have the fingering of medals. Indeed, there were two
attractions which drew him to * * *—the pleasure of seeing M. Bergeret
and the delight of looking once more at the priceless collection of
ancient coins bequeathed to the town library by Boucher de La Salle.
He also came to collate the letters of Muratori which were preserved
there. The two men greeted each other with great pleasure, for a
common love of knowledge had made them fellow-citizens. Then, when the
Neapolitan perceived that they had a soldier with them in the study, M.
Bergeret hastened to inform him that this Gallic warrior was a budding
philologist, inspired by enthusiasm for the Latin tongue.

“This year, however,” said M. Bergeret, “he is learning in a
barrack-square to put one foot before the other, and in him you see
what our witty commandant, General Cartier de Chalmot, calls the
primary tool of tactics, commonly known as a soldier. My pupil, M.
Roux, is a warrior, and having a high-bred soul, he feels the honour
of the position. Truth to tell, it is an honour which he shares at
this identical moment with all the young men of haughty Europe. Your
Neapolitans, too, rejoice in it, since they became part of a great
nation.”

“Without wishing in any way to show disloyalty to the house of Savoy,
to which I am genuinely attached,” said the captain, “I feel that
military service and taxation weigh so heavily on the Neapolitans as
to make them sometimes regret the happy days of King Bomba and the
pleasure of living ingloriously under an easy-going government. Neither
tax nor conscription is popular with the Neapolitan. What is wanted
is that statesmen should really open their eyes to the necessities of
national life. But, as you know, I have always been an opponent of
megalomaniac politics and have always deplored those great armaments
which hinder all progress in Europe, whether it be intellectual, moral,
or material. It is a great, a ruinous folly which can only culminate in
farce.”

“I foresee no end to it at all,” replied M. Bergeret. “No one wishes
it to end save certain thinkers who have no means of making their
ideas known. The rulers of states cannot desire disarmament, for such
a movement would render their position difficult and precarious and
would take an admirable tool of empire out of their hands. For armed
nations meekly submit to government. Military discipline shapes them to
obedience, and in a nation so disciplined, neither insurrections, nor
riots, nor tumults of any kind need be feared. When military service is
obligatory upon all, when all the citizens either are, or have been,
soldiers, then all the forces of social life are so calculated as to
support power, or even the lack of it. This fact the history of France
can prove.”

Just as M. Bergeret reached this point in his political reflections,
from the kitchen close by there burst out the noise of grease pouring
over on the fire; from this the professor inferred that the youthful
Euphémie, according to her usual practice on gala days, had upset her
saucepan on the stove, after rashly balancing it on a pyramid of coal.
He had learnt by now that such an event must recur again and again
with the inexorable certainty of the laws that govern the universe. A
shocking smell of burnt meat filled the study, while M. Bergeret traced
the course of his ideas as follows:

“Had not Europe,” said he, “been turned into a barrack, we should have
seen insurrections bursting out in France, Germany, or Italy, as they
did in former times. But nowadays those obscure forces which from time
to time uplift the very pavements of our city find regular vent in
the fatigue duty of barrack-yards, in the grooming of horses and the
sentiment of patriotism.

“The rank of corporal supplies an admirable outlet for the energies
of young heroes who, had they been left in freedom, would have been
building barricades to keep their arms lissom. I have only this moment
been told of the sublime speeches made by a certain Sergeant Lebrec.
Were he dressed in the peasant’s blouse this hero would be thirsting
for liberty, but clad in a uniform, it is tyranny for which he yearns,
and to help in the maintenance of order the thing for which he craves.
In armed nations it is easy enough to preserve internal peace, and you
will notice that, although in the course of the last twenty-five years,
Paris has been a little agitated on one occasion, it was only when the
commotion was the work of a War Minister. That is, a general was able
to do what a demagogue could not have done. And the moment this general
lost his hold on the army, he also lost it on the nation, and his power
was gone. Therefore, whether the State be a monarchy, an empire, or a
republic, its rulers have an interest in keeping up obligatory military
service for all, in order that they may command an army, instead of
governing a nation.

“And, while the rulers have no desire for disarmament, the people have
lost all wish for it, too. The masses endure military service quite
willingly, for, without being exactly pleasurable, it gives an outlet
to the rough, crude instincts of the majority and presents itself as
the simplest, roughest and strongest expression of their sense of duty.
It overawes them by the gorgeous splendour of its outward paraphernalia
and by the amount of metal used in it. In short, it exalts them
through the only ideals of power, of grandeur and of glory, which
they are capable of conceiving. Often they rush into it with a song;
if not, they are perforce driven to it. For these reasons I foresee
no termination to this honourable calling which is brutalising and
impoverishing Europe.”

“There are,” said Captain Aspertini, “two ways out of it: war and
bankruptcy.”

“War!” exclaimed M. Bergeret. “It is patent that great armaments only
hinder that by aggravating the horrors of it and rendering it of
doubtful issue for both combatants. As for bankruptcy, I foretold it
the other day to Abbé Lantaigne, the principal of our high seminary, as
we sat on a bench on the Mall. But you need not pin your faith on me.
You have studied the history of the Lower Empire too deeply, my dear
Aspertini, not to be perfectly aware that, in questions of national
finance, there are mysterious resources which escape the scrutiny of
political economists. A ruined nation may exist for five hundred years
on robbery and extortion, and how is one to guess what a great people,
out of its poverty, will manage to supply to its defenders in the way
of cannon, muskets, bad bread, bad shoes, straw and oats?”

“This argument sounds plausible enough,” answered Aspertini. “Yet, with
all due deference to your opinion, I believe I can already discern the
dawn of universal peace.”

Then, in a sing-song voice, the kindly Neapolitan began to describe
his hopes and dreams for the future, to the accompaniment of the heavy
thumping of the chopper with which the youthful Euphémie was preparing
a mince for M. Roux on the kitchen table just the other side of the
wall.

“Do you remember, Monsieur Bergeret,” said Captain Aspertini, “the
place in _Don Quixote_ where Sancho complains of being obliged to
endure a never-ending series of misfortunes and the ready-witted knight
tells him that this protracted wretchedness is merely a sign that
happiness is at hand? ‘For,’ says he, ‘fortune is a fickle jade and our
troubles have already lasted so long that they must soon give place to
good-luck.’ The law of change alone....”

The rest of these optimistic utterances was lost in the boiling over of
the kettle of water, followed by the unearthly yells of Euphémie, as
she fled in terror from her stove.

Then M. Bergeret’s mind, saddened by the sordid ugliness of his cramped
life, fell to dreaming of a villa where, on white terraces overlooking
the blue waters of a lake, he might hold peaceful converse with M. Roux
and Captain Aspertini, amid the scent of myrtles, when the amorous moon
rides high in a sky as clear as the glance of a god and as sweet as
the breath of a goddess.

But he soon emerged from this dream and began once more to take part in
the discussion.

“The results of war,” said he, “are quite incalculable. My good
friend William Harrison writes to me that French scholarship has been
despised in England since 1871, and that at the Universities of Oxford,
Cambridge and Dublin it is the fashion to ignore Maurice Raynouard’s
text-book of archæology, though it would be more helpful to their
students than any other similar work. But they refuse to learn from the
vanquished. And in order that they may feel confidence in a professor
when he speaks on the characteristics of the art of Ægina or on the
origins of Greek pottery, it is considered necessary that he should
belong to a nation which excels in the casting of cannon. Because
Marshal Mac-Mahon was beaten in 1870 at Sedan and General Chanzy lost
his army at the Maine in the same year, my colleague Maurice Raynouard
is banished from Oxford in 1897. Such are the results of military
inferiority, slow-moving and illogical, yet sure in their effects. And
it is, alas, only too true that the fate of the Muses is settled by a
sword-thrust.”

“My dear sir,” said Aspertini, “I am going to answer you with all
the frankness permissible in a friend. Let us first grant that French
thought circulates freely through the world, as it has always done. And
although the archæological manual of your learned countryman Maurice
Raynouard may not have found a place on the desks of the English
Universities, yet your plays are acted in all the theatres of the
world; the novels of Alphonse Daudet and of Émile Zola are translated
into every language; the canvases of your painters adorn the galleries
of two worlds; the achievements of your scientists win renown in
every quarter of the globe. And if your soul no longer thrills the
soul of the nations, if your voice no longer quickens the heart-beats
of mankind, it is because you no longer choose to play the part of
apostles of brotherhood and justice, it is because you no longer utter
the holy words that bring strength and consolation; it is because
France is no longer the lover of the human race, the comrade of the
nations; it is because she no longer opens her hands to fling broadcast
those seeds of liberty which once she scattered in such generous and
sovereign fashion that for long years it seemed that every beautiful
human idea was a French idea; it is because she is no longer the France
of the philosophers and of the Revolution: in the garrets round the
Panthéon and the Luxembourg there are no longer to be found young
leaders, writing on deal tables night after night, with all the fire of
youth, those pages which make the nations tremble and the despots grow
pale with fear. Do not then complain that the glory which you cannot
view without misgivings has passed away.

“Especially, do not say that your defeats are the sources of your
misfortunes: say, rather, that they are the outcome of your faults.
A nation suffers no more injury from a battle lost than a robust man
suffers from a sword-scratch received in a duel. It is an injury that
only produces a transient illness in the system, a perfectly curable
weakness. To cure it, all that is needed is a little courage, skill and
political good sense. The first act of policy, the most necessary and
certainly the easiest, is to make the defeat yield all the military
glory it is capable of producing. For in the true view of things, the
glory of the vanquished equals that of the conquerors, and it is, in
addition, the more moving spectacle. In order to make the best of a
disaster it is desirable to fête the general and the army which has
sustained it, and to blazon abroad all the beautiful incidents which
prove the moral superiority of misfortune. Such incidents are to be
found even in the most headlong retreats. From the very first moment,
then, the defeated side ought to decorate, to embellish, to gild their
defeat, and to distinguish it with unmistakably grand and beautiful
symbols. In Livy it may be read how the Romans never failed to do
this, and how they hung palms and wreaths on the swords broken at the
battles of the Trebbia, of Trasimene and of Cannæ. Even the disastrous
inaction of Fabius has been so extolled by them that, after the lapse
of twenty-two centuries, we still stand amazed at the wisdom of the
Cunctator, the Lingerer, as he was nicknamed. Yet, after all, he was
nothing but an old fool. In this lies the great art of defeat.”

“It is by no means a lost art,” said M. Bergeret. “In our own days
Italy showed that she knew how to practise it after Novara, after
Lissa, after Adowa.”

“My dear sir,” said Captain Aspertini, “whenever an Italian army
capitulates, we rightly reckon this capitulation glorious. A government
which succeeds in throwing a glamour of poetry over a defeat rouses
the spirit of patriotism within the country and at the same time makes
itself interesting in the eyes of foreigners. And to bring about these
two results is a fairly considerable achievement. In the year 1870 it
rested entirely with you Frenchmen to produce them for yourselves.
After Sedan, had the Senate, the Chamber of Deputies, and all the
State officials publicly and unanimously congratulated the Emperor
Napoleon and Marshal Mac-Mahon on not having despaired of the salvation
of their country when they gave battle to the enemy, do you not think
that France would have gained a radiant halo of glory from the defeat
of its army? At the same time it would have given forcible expression
of its will to conquer. And pray believe, dear Monsieur Bergeret, that
I am not impertinent enough to be trying to give your country lessons
in patriotism. In doing that, I should be putting myself in a wrong
position. I am merely presenting you with some of the marginal notes
that will be found, after my death, pencilled in my copy of Livy.”

“It is not the first time,” said M. Bergeret, “that the commentary on
the Decades has been worth more than the text. But go on.”

With a smile Captain Aspertini once more took up the thread of his
argument.

“The wisest thing for the country to do is to cast huge handfuls of
lilies over the wounds of war. Then, skilfully and silently, with
a swift glance, she will examine the wound. If the blow has been
a knock-down one, and if the strength of the country is seriously
impaired, she will instantly start negotiating. In treating with the
victorious side, it will be found that the earliest moment is the
most propitious. In the first surprise of triumph, the enemy welcomes
with joy any proposal which tends to turn a favourable beginning into
a definite advantage. He has not yet had time for repeated successes
to go to his head, nor for long-continued resistance to drive him to
rage. He will not demand huge damages for an injury that is still
trifling, nor, as yet, have his budding aspirations had time to grow.
It is possible that even under these circumstances he may not grant
you peace on easy terms. But you are sure to have to pay dearer for
it, if you delay in applying for it. The wisest policy is to open
negotiations before one has revealed all one’s weakness. It is possible
then to obtain easy terms, which are usually rendered easier still by
the intervention of neutral powers. As for seeking safety in despair
and only making peace after a victory, these ideas are doubtless fine
enough as maxims, but very difficult to carry out at a time when, for
one thing, the industrial and commercial needs of modern life, and
for another, the immense size of the armies which have to be equipped
and fed, do not permit an indefinite continuance of warfare, and
consequently do not leave the weaker side enough time to straighten out
its affairs. France in 1870 was inspired by the noblest of sentiments,
but if she had acted in accordance with reason, she would have started
negotiations immediately after her first reverses, honourable as they
were. She had a government which could have undertaken the task, and
which ought to have done so, a government which was, indeed, in a
better position for bringing it to a successful issue than any that
might follow. The sensible thing to have done would have been to
exact this last service from it before getting rid of it altogether.
Instead, they acted the wrong way about. After having maintained that
government for twenty years, France conceived the ill-considered notion
of overturning it just at the very moment when it ought to have been
useful to her, and of substituting another government for it. This
administration, not being jointly liable with the former one, had to
begin the war over again, without, however, bringing any new strength
to its prosecution. After that a third government tried to establish
itself.

“If it had succeeded, the war would have begun again a third time,
because the first two unfortunate attempts did not count. Honour, say
you, must be satisfied. But you had given satisfaction with your blood
to two honours: the honour of the Empire, as well as of the Republic;
you were also ready to satisfy a third, the honour of the Commune. Yet
it seems to me that even the proudest nation in the world has but one
honour to satisfy. You were thrown by this excess of generosity into a
state of great weakness from which you are now happily recovering....”

“In fact,” said M. Bergeret, “if Italy had been beaten at Weissenburg
and at Reichshoffen, these defeats would have been as valuable to her
as the whole of Belgium. But we are a people of heroes, who always
fancy that we have been betrayed. That sums up our history. Take note
also of the fact that we are a democracy; and that is the state in
which negotiations present most difficulties. Nobody can, however,
deny that we made a long and courageous stand. Moreover, we have a
reputation for magnanimity, and I believe we deserve it. Anyhow, the
feats of the human race have always been but melancholy farces, and the
historians who pretend to discover any sequence in the flow of events
are merely great rhetoricians. Bossuet...”

Just as M. Bergeret was uttering this name the study door opened with
such a crash that the wicker-work woman was upheaved by it and fell at
the feet of the astonished young soldier. Then there appeared in the
doorway a ruddy, squint-eyed wench, with no forehead worth mentioning.
Her sturdy ugliness shone with the glow of youth and health. Her round
cheeks and bare arms were a fine military red. Planting herself in
front of M. Bergeret, she brandished the coal-shovel and shouted:

“I’m off!”

Euphémie, having quarrelled with Madame Bergeret, was now giving
notice. She repeated:

“I’m going off home!”

Said M. Bergeret:

“Then go quietly, my child.”

Again and again she shouted:

“I’m off! Madame wants to turn me into a regular beast of burden.”

Then, lowering her shovel, she added in lower tones:

“Besides, things are always happening here that I would rather not see.”

Without attempting to unravel the mystery of these words, M. Bergeret
merely remarked that he would not delay her, and that she could go.

“Well, then, give me my wages.”

“Leave the room,” answered M. Bergeret. “Don’t you see that I have
something to do besides settling with you? Go and wait elsewhere.”

But Euphémie, once more waving the dull, heavy shovel, yelled:

“Give me my money! My wages! I want my wages!”



II


At six o’clock in the evening Abbé Guitrel got out of the train in
Paris and called a cab in the station-yard. Then, driving in the dusk
through the murky, rain-swept streets, dotted with lights, he made
for Number 5, Rue des Boulangers. There, in a narrow, rugged, hilly
street, above the coopers and the cork-dealers, and amidst a smell of
casks, lived his old friend Abbé Le Génil, chaplain to the Convent of
the Seven Wounds, who was a popular Lenten preacher in one of the most
fashionable parishes in Paris. Here Abbé Guitrel was in the habit of
putting up, whenever he visited Paris in the hope of expediting the
progress of his tardy fortunes. All day long the soles of his buckled
shoes tapped discreetly upon the pavements, staircases and floors of
all sorts of different houses. In the evening he supped with M. Le
Génil. The two old comrades from the seminary spun each other merry
yarns, chatted over the rates charged for mass and sermon, and played
their game of manille. At ten o’clock Nanette, the maid, rolled into
the dining-room an iron bedstead for M. Guitrel, who always gave her
when he left the same tip—a brand-new twenty-sou piece.

On this occasion, as in the past, M. Le Génil, who was a tall, stout
man, smacked his great hand down on Guitrel’s flinching shoulder, and
rumbling out a good-day in his deep organ note, instantly challenged
him in his usual jolly style:

“Well, old miser, have you brought me twelve dozen masses at a crown
each, or are you, as usual, going to keep to yourself the gold that
your pious provincials swamp you with?”

Being a poor man, and knowing that Guitrel was as poor as himself, he
regarded this sort of talk as a good jest.

Guitrel went so far as to understand a joke, though, being of a gloomy
temperament, he never jested himself. He had, he explained, been
obliged to come to Paris to carry out several commissions with which
he had been charged, more especially the purchase of books. Would his
friend, then, put him up for a day or two, three at the most?

“Now do tell the truth for once in your life!” answered M. Le Génil.
“You have just come up to smell out a mitre, you old fox! To-morrow
morning you will be showing yourself to the nuncio with a sanctimonious
expression. Guitrel, you are going to be a bishop!”

Hereupon the chaplain of the Convent of the Seven Wounds, the preacher
at the church of Sainte-Louise, made a bow to the future bishop.
Mingled with his ironic courtesy there was, perhaps, a certain strain
of instinctive deference. Then once more his face fell into the harsh
lines that revealed the temperament of a second Olivier Maillard.[1]

    [1] An eccentric priest of the fifteenth century. His sermons
        were full of denunciations against his enemies. He once
        attacked Louis XI, who threatened to throw him into the
        Seine. Maillard replied: “The King is master, but tell
        him that I shall get to heaven by water sooner than he
        will by his post-horses.”

“Come in, then! Will you take some refreshment?”

M. Guitrel was a reserved man, whose compressed lips showed his
determination not to be pumped. As a matter of fact, it was quite true
that he had come up to enlist powerful influence in support of his
candidature, but he had no wish to explain all his wily courses to this
naturally frank friend of his. For M. Le Génil made, not only a virtue
of his natural frankness, but even a policy.

M. Guitrel stammered:

“Don’t imagine ... dismiss this notion that ...”

M. Le Génil shrugged his shoulders, exclaiming, “You old
mystery-monger!”

Then, conducting his friend to his bedroom, he sat down once more
beneath the light of his lamp and resumed his interrupted task, which
was that of mending his breeches.

M. Le Génil, popular preacher as he was both in Paris and Versailles,
did his own mending, partly to save his old servant the trouble and
partly because he was fond of handling a needle, a taste he had
acquired during the years of grinding poverty that he had endured when
he first entered the Church. And now this giant with lungs of brass,
who fulminated against atheists from the elevation of a pulpit, was
meekly sitting on a rush-bottomed chair, occupied in drawing a needle
in and out with his huge red hands. In the midst of his task he raised
his head and glancing shyly towards Guitrel with his big, kindly eyes,
exclaimed:

“We’ll have a game of manille to-night, you old trickster.”

But Guitrel, hesitating, yet firm, stammered out that he would be
obliged to go out after dinner. He was full of plans, and after pushing
on the preparations for a meal, he gobbled down his food, to the great
disgust of his host, who was not only a great eater, but a great
talker. He refused to wait for dessert, but, retiring to another room,
shut himself in, drew a layman’s suit from his portmanteau and put it
on.

When he appeared again, his friend saw that he was dressed in a long,
severe, black frock-coat, which seemed to have the drollery of a
disguise. With his head crowned by a rusty opera-hat of prodigious
height, he hastily gulped down his coffee, mumbled a grace and slipped
out. Leaning over the stair-rail, Abbé Le Génil shouted to him:

“Don’t ring when you come in, or you’ll wake Nanette. You’ll find the
key under the mat. One moment, Guitrel, I know where you’re going. You
old Quintilian, you, you’re just going to take an elocution lesson.”

Through the damp fog, Abbé Guitrel followed the quays along by
the river, passed the bridge of Saint-Pères, crossed the Place du
Carrousel, unnoticed by the indifferent passers-by, who scarcely took
the trouble even to glance at his huge hat. Finally he halted under the
Tuscan porch of the Comédie-Française. He carefully read the playbill
in order to make sure that the arrangements had not been changed, and
that _Andromaque_ and the _Malade Imaginaire_ would be presented. Then
he asked at the second pay-box for a pit ticket.

The narrow seats behind the empty stalls were already almost filled
when he sat down and opened an old newspaper, not to read, but to keep
himself in countenance, while he listened to the talk going on around
him. He had a quick ear, and it was always by the ear that he observed,
just as M. Worms-Clavelin listened with his mouth. His neighbours were
shop-hands and artists’ assistants who had obtained seats through
friendship with a scene-shifter or a dresser. It is a little world of
simple-minded folk, keenly bent on sight-seeing, very well satisfied
with themselves, and busied with bets and bicycles. The younger members
are peaceful enough in reality, although they assume a jaunty military
air, being automatically democratic and republican, but conservative
in their jokes about the President of the Republic. As Abbé Guitrel
caught the words that flew hither and thither all round him, words
which revealed this frame of mind, he thought of the fancies cherished
by Abbé Lantaigne, who still dreamt, in his hermit-like seclusion,
of bringing such a class as this back to obedience to monarchy and
priestcraft. Behind his paper Abbé Guitrel chuckled at the idea.

“These Parisians,” thought he, “are the most adaptable people in the
world. To the provincial mind they are quite incomprehensible, but
would to God that the republicans and freethinkers of the diocese of
Tourcoing were cut out on the same model! But the spirit of Northern
France is as bitter as the wild hops of its plains. And in my diocese
I shall find myself placed with violent Socialists on one side and
fervid Catholics on the other.”

He foresaw the trials that awaited him in the see once held by the
blessed Loup, and so far was he from shrinking at the contemplation of
them, that he invoked them on himself, with an accompaniment of such
loud sighs that his neighbour looked at him to see if he were ill.
Thus Abbé Guitrel’s head seethed with fancies of his bishopric amid
the murmur of frivolous chatter, the banging of doors and the restless
movements of the work-girls.

But when at the signal the curtain slowly rose, he instantly became
absorbed in the play. It was the delivery and the gestures of the
actors on which his attention was riveted. He studied the notes of
their voices, their gait, the play of their features, with all the
intent interest of an experienced preacher who would fain learn the
secret of noble gesture and pathetic intonation. Whenever a long speech
echoed through the theatre, he redoubled his attention and only longed
to be listening to Corneille, whose speeches are longer, who is more
fond of oratorical effects and more skilful in emphasising the separate
points of a speech.

At the moment when the actor who played Orestes was reciting the great
classic harangue “_Avant que tous les Grecs ..._” the professor of
sacred elocution set himself to store up in his mind every attitude and
intonation. Abbé Le Génil knew his old friend well; he was perfectly
aware that the crafty preacher was in the habit of going to the theatre
to learn the tricks of oratory.

To the actresses M. Guitrel paid far less attention. He held women
in contempt, which fact by no means implies that his thoughts had
always been chaste. Priest as he was, he had in his time known the
promptings of the flesh. Heaven only knows how often he had dodged,
evaded or transgressed the seventh commandment! And one had better ask
no questions as to the kind of women who also knew this about him. _Si
iniquitates observaveris, Domine, Domine quis sustinebit?_ But he was
a priest, and had the priestly horror of the woman’s body. Even the
perfume of long hair was abhorrent to him, and when his neighbour, a
young shop-assistant, began to extol the beautiful arms of a famous
actress, he replied by a contemptuous sneer that was by no means
hypocritical.

However, he remained full of interest right up to the final fall of
the curtain, as he saw himself in fancy transferring the passion of
Orestes, as rendered by an expert interpreter, into some sermon on
the torments of the damned or the miserable end of the sinner. He was
troubled by a provincial accent which spoilt his delivery, and between
the acts he sat busily trying to correct it in his mind, modelling
his correction on what he had just heard. “The voice of a bishop of
Tourcoing,” thought he, “ought not to savour of the roughness of the
cheap wines of our hills of the Midlands.”

He was immensely tickled by the play of Molière with which the
performance concluded. Incapable of seeing the humorous side of things
for himself, he was very pleased when anyone else pointed them out to
him. An absurd physical mishap filled him with infinite joy and he
laughed heartily at the grosser scenes.

In the middle of the last act he drew a roll of bread from his pocket
and swallowed it morsel by morsel, keeping his hand over his mouth as
he ate, and watching carefully lest he should be caught in this light
repast by the stroke of midnight; for next morning he was to say Mass
in the chapel of the Convent of the Seven Wounds.

He returned home after the play by way of the deserted quays, which he
crossed with his short, tapping steps. The hollow moan of the river
alone filled the silence, as M. Guitrel walked along through the midst
of a reddish fog which doubled the size of everything and made his hat
look an absurd height in the dimness. As he stole by, close to the
dripping walls of the ancient Hôtel-Dieu, a bare-headed woman came
limping forward to meet him. She was a fat, ugly creature, no longer
young, and her white chemise barely covered her bosom. Coming abreast
of him, she seized the tail of his coat and made proposals to him. Then
suddenly, even before he had time to free himself, she rushed away,
crying:

“A priest! What ill luck! Plague take it! What misfortune is coming to
me?”

M. Guitrel was aware that some ignorant women still cherish the
superstition that it is unlucky to meet a priest; but he was surprised
that this woman should have recognised his profession even in the dress
of a layman.

“That’s the penalty of the unfrocked,” thought he. “The priest, which
still lives in him, will always peep out. _Tu es sacerdos in æternum_,
Guitrel.”



III


Blown by the north wind over the hard, white ground along with a
whirl of dead leaves, M. Bergeret crossed the Mall between the
leafless elms and began to climb Duroc Hill. His footsteps echoed
on the uneven pavements as he walked towards the louring, smoky sky
which painted a barrier of violet across the horizon; to the right he
left the farrier’s forge and the front of a dairy decorated with a
picture of two red cows, to the left stretched the long, low walls of
market-gardens. He had that morning prepared his tenth and last lesson
on the eighth book of the _Æneid_, and now he was mechanically turning
over in his mind the points in metre and grammar which had particularly
caught his notice. Guiding the rhythm of his thoughts by the beat of
his footsteps, at regular intervals he repeated to himself the rhythmic
words: _Patrio vocat agmina sistro_.... But every now and then his
keen, versatile mind flitted away to critical appreciation of a wider
range. The martial rhetoric of this eighth book annoyed him, and it
seemed to him absurd that Venus should give Æneas a shield embossed
with pictures of the scenes of Roman history up to the battle of Actium
and the flight of Cleopatra. _Patrio vocat agmina sistro._ Having
reached the cross-roads at the Bergères, which give toward Duroc Hill,
he paused for a moment before the wine-coloured front of Maillard’s
tavern, now damp, deserted and shuttered. Here the thought occurred
to him that these Romans, although he had devoted his whole life to
the study of them, were, after all, but terrors of pomposity and
mediocrity. As he grew older and his taste became more mellowed, there
was scarcely one of them that he prized, save Catullus and Petronius.
But, after all, it was his business to make the best of the lot to
which fate had called him. _Patrio vocat agmina sistro._ Would Virgil
and Propertius try to make one believe, said he to himself, that the
timbrel, whose shrill sound accompanied the frenzied religious dances
of the priests, was also the instrument of the Egyptian soldiers and
sailors? It was really incredible.

As he descended the street of the Bergères, on the side opposite Duroc
Hill, he suddenly noticed the mildness of the air. Just here the road
winds downward between walls of limestone, where the roots of tiny
oak-trees find a difficult foothold. Here M. Bergeret was sheltered
from the wind, and in the eye of the December sun which filtered down
on him in a half-hearted, rayless fashion, he still murmured, but more
softly: _Patrio vocat agmina sistro_. Doubtless Cleopatra had fled from
Actium to Egypt, but still it was through the fleet of Octavius and
Agrippa which tried to stop her passage.

Allured by the sweetness of air and sun, M. Bergeret sat down by the
side of the road, on one of the blocks which had been quarried out of
the mountain years ago, and which were now covered with a coating of
black moss. Through the delicate tracery of the branches overhead he
noticed the lilac hue of the sky, streaked here and there with smoke
trails. Thus to plunge in lonely reverie filled his soul with peaceful
sadness.

In attacking Agrippa’s galleys which blocked their way, he reflected,
Antony and Cleopatra had but one object, and that was to clear a
passage. It was this precise feat that Cleopatra, who raised the
blockade of her sixty ships, succeeded in accomplishing. Seated in the
cutting, M. Bergeret enjoyed the harmless elation of settling the fate
of the world on the far-famed waves of Acarnania. Then, as he happened
to throw a glance three paces in front of him, he caught sight of an
old man who was sitting on a heap of dead leaves on the other side of
the road and leaning against the grey wall. It was scarcely possible
to distinguish between this wild figure and its surroundings, for his
face, his beard and his rags were exactly the colour of the stones
and the leaves. He was slowly scraping a piece of wood with an old
knife-blade ground thin on the millstone of the years.

“Good-day to you, sir,” said the old fellow. “The sun is pretty. And
I’ll tell you what’s more—it isn’t going to rain.”

M. Bergeret recognised the man: it was Pied d’Alouette, the tramp whom
M. Roquincourt, the magistrate, had wrongly implicated in the murder
that took place in Queen Marguerite’s house and whom he had imprisoned
for six months in the vague hope that unforeseen charges would be laid
at his door. This he did, either because he thought that the longer the
imprisonment continued the more justifiable it would seem, or merely
through spite against a simpleton who had misled the officers of the
law. M. Bergeret, who always had a fellow-feeling for the oppressed,
answered Pied d’Alouette in a kindly style that reflected the old
fellow’s good-will.

“Good-day, friend,” said he. “I see that you know all the pleasant
nooks. This hillside is warm and well sheltered.”

There was a moment’s silence, and then Pied d’Alouette answered:

“I know better spots than this. But they are far away from here. One
mustn’t be afraid of a walk. Feet are all right. Shoes aren’t. I can’t
wear good shoes because they’re strange to my feet. I only rip them up,
when they give me sound ones.”

And raising his foot from the cushion of dead leaves, he pointed to his
big toe sticking out, wrapped in wads of linen, through the slits in
the leather of his boot.

Relapsing into silence once more, he began to polish the piece of hard
wood.

M. Bergeret soon returned to his own thoughts.

_Pallentem morte futura._ Agrippa’s galleys could not bar the way to
Antony’s purple-sailed trireme. This time, at least, the dove escaped
the vulture.

But hereupon Pied d’Alouette began again:

“They have taken away my knife!”

“Who have?”

Lifting his arm, the tramp waved it in the direction of the town and
gave no other answer. Yet he was following the course of his own slow
thought, for presently he said:

“They never gave it back to me.”

He sat on in solemn silence, powerless to express the ideas that
revolved in his darkened mind. His knife and his pipe were the only
possessions he had in the world. It was with his knife that he cut
the lump of hard bread and the bacon rind they gave him at farm-house
doors, food which his toothless gums would not bite; it was with his
knife that he chopped up cigar-ends to stuff them into his pipe; it was
with his knife that he scraped out the rotten bits in fruit and with it
he managed to drag out from the dung-heaps things good to eat. It was
with his knife that he shaped his walking-sticks and cut down branches
to make a bed of leaves for himself in the woods at night. With his
knife he carved boats out of oak-bark for the little boys, and dolls
out of deal for the little girls. His knife was the tool with which he
practised all the arts of life, the most skilled, as well as the most
homely, everyday ones. Always famished and often full of ingenuity, he
not only supplied his own wants, but also made dainty reed fountains
which were much admired in the town.

For, although the man would not work, he was yet a jack of all trades.
When he came out of prison nothing would induce them to restore his
knife to him; they kept it in the record office. And so he went on
tramp once more, but now weaponless, stripped, weaker than a child,
wretched wherever he went. He wept over his loss: tiny tear-drops
came, that scorched his bloodshot eyes without overflowing. Then, as
he went out of the town, his courage returned, for in the corner of
a milestone he came upon an old knife-blade. Now he had cut a strong
beechen handle for it in the woods of the Bergères, and was fitting it
on with skilful hands.

The idea of his knife suggested his pipe to him. He said:

“They let me keep my pipe.”

Drawing from the woollen bag which he wore against his breast, a kind
of black, sticky thimble, he showed the bowl of a pipe without the
fragment of a stem.

“My poor fellow,” said M. Bergeret, “you don’t look at all like a great
criminal. How do you manage to get put in gaol so often?”

Pied d’Alouette had not acquired the dialogue habit and he had no
notion of how to carry on a conversation. Although he had a kind of
deep intelligence, it took him some time to grasp the sense of the
words addressed to him. It was practice that he lacked and at first,
therefore, he made no attempt to answer M. Bergeret, who sat tracing
lines with the point of his stick in the white dust of the road. But at
last Pied d’Alouette said:

“I don’t do any wrong things. Then I am punished for other things.”

At length he seemed able to talk connectedly, with but few breaks.

“Do you mean to say that they put you in prison for doing nothing
wrong?”

“I know the people who do the wrong things, but I should do myself harm
if I blabbed.”

“You herd, then, with vagabonds and evil-doers?”

“You are trying to make me peach. Do you know Judge Roquincourt?”

“I know him a little. He’s rather stern, isn’t he?”

“Judge Roquincourt, he is a good talker. I never heard anyone speak so
well and so quickly. A body hasn’t time to understand him. A body can’t
answer. There isn’t anybody who speaks one half as well.”

“He kept you in solitary confinement for long months and yet you bear
him no grudge. What a humble example of mercy and long-suffering.”

Pied d’Alouette resumed the polishing of his knife-handle. As the work
progressed, he became quieter and seemed to recover his peace of mind.
Suddenly he demanded:

“Do you know a man called Corbon?”

“Who is he, this Corbon?”

It was too difficult to explain. Pied d’Alouette waved his arm in a
vague semicircle that covered a quarter of the horizon. Yet his mind
was busy with the man he had just mentioned, for again he repeated:

“Corbon.”

“Pied d’Alouette,” said M. Bergeret, “they say you are a queer sort
of vagabond and that, even when you are in absolute want, you never
steal anything. Yet you live with evil-doers and you are the friend of
murderers.”

Pied d’Alouette answered:

“There are some who think one thing and others who think another. But
if I myself thought of doing wrong, I should dig a hole under a tree on
Duroc Hill and bury my knife at the bottom of the hole. Then I should
pound down the earth on top of it with my feet. For when people have
the notion of doing wrong, it’s the knife that leads them on. It’s also
pride which leads them on. As for me, I lost my pride when I was a lad,
for men, women and children in my own parts all made fun of me.”

“And have you never had wicked, violent thoughts?”

“Sometimes, when I came upon women alone on the roads, for the fancy I
had for them. But that’s all over now.”

“And that fancy never comes back to you?”

“Time and again it does.”

“Pied d’Alouette, you love liberty and you are free. You live without
toil. I call you a happy man.”

“There are some happy folks. But not me.”

“Where are these happy folks, then?”

“At the farms.”

M. Bergeret rose and slipping a ten-sou piece into Pied d’Alouette’s
hand, said:

“So you fancy, Pied d’Alouette, that happiness is to be found under a
roof, by the chimney-corner, or on a feather-bed. I thought you had
more sense.”



IV


On New Year’s Day M. Bergeret was always in the habit of dressing
himself in his black suit the first thing in the morning. Nowadays,
it had lost all its gloss and the grey wintry light made it look
ashen-colour. The gold medal that hung from M. Bergeret’s buttonhole
by a violet riband, although it gave him a false air of splendour,
testified clearly to the fact that he was no Knight of the Legion
of Honour. In fact, in this dress he always felt strangely thin and
poverty-stricken. Even his white tie seemed to his fancy a wretchedly
paltry affair, for to tell the truth, it was not even a fresh one. At
length, after vainly crumpling the front of his shirt, he recognised
the fact that it is impossible to make mother-of-pearl buttons stay in
buttonholes that have been stretched by long wear: at the thought he
became utterly disconsolate, for he recognised the fact sorrowfully
that he was no man of the world. And sitting down on a chair, he fell
into a reverie:

“But, after all, does there in truth exist a world populated by men of
the world? For it seems to me, indeed, that what is commonly called the
world is but a cloud of gold and silver hung in the blue of heaven.
To the man who has actually entered it, it seems but a mist. In fact,
social distinctions are matters of much confusion. Men are drawn
together in flocks by their common prejudices or their common tastes.
But tastes often war against prejudices, and chance sets everything at
variance. All the same, a large income and the leisure given by it tend
to produce a certain style of life and special habits. This fact is the
bond which links society people, and this kinship produces a certain
standard which rules manners, physique and sport. Hence we derive the
‘tone’ of society. This ‘tone’ is purely superficial and for that very
reason fairly perceptible. There are such things as society manners
and appearances, but there is no such thing as society human nature,
for what truly decides our character is passion, thought and feeling.
Within us is a tribunal with which the world has no concern.”

Still, the wretched look of his shirt and tie continued to harass
him, till at last he went to look at himself in the sitting-room
mirror. Somehow his face assumed a far-off appearance in the glass,
quite obscured as it was by an immense basket of heather festooned
with ribands of red satin. The basket was of wicker, in the shape of a
chariot with gilded wheels, and stood on the piano between two bags of
_marrons glacés_. To its gilded shaft was affixed M. Roux’s card, for
the basket was a present from him to Madame Bergeret.

The professor made no attempt to push aside the beribboned tufts
of heather; he was satisfied with catching a glimpse of his left
eye in the glass behind the flowers, and he continued to gaze at it
benevolently for some little time. M. Bergeret, firmly convinced as
he was that no one loved him, either in this world or in any other,
sometimes treated himself to a little sympathy and pity. For he always
behaved with the greatest consideration to all unhappy people, himself
included. Now, dropping further consideration of his shirt and tie, he
murmured to himself:

“You interpret the bosses on the shield of Æneas and yet your own tie
is crumpled. You are ridiculous on both counts. You are no man of the
world. You should teach yourself, then, at least, how to live the inner
life and should cultivate within yourself a wealthy kingdom.”

On New Year’s Day he had always grounds for bewailing his destiny,
before he set out to pay his respects to two vulgar, offensive fellows,
for such were the rector and the dean. The rector, M. Leterrier,
could not bear him. This feeling was a natural antipathy that grew as
regularly as a plant and brought forth fruit every year. M. Leterrier,
a professor of philosophy and the author of a text-book which summed
up all systems of thought, had the blind dogmatic instincts of the
official teacher. No doubt whatever remained in his mind touching the
questions of the good, the beautiful and the true, the characteristics
of which he had summarised in one chapter of his work (pages 216 to
262). Now he regarded M. Bergeret as a dangerous and misguided man, and
M. Bergeret, in his turn, fully appreciated the perfect sincerity of
the dislike he aroused in M. Leterrier. Nor, in fact, did he make any
complaint against it; sometimes he even treated it with an indulgent
smile. On the other hand, he felt abjectly miserable whenever he met
the dean, M. Torquet, who never had an idea in his head, and who,
although he was crammed with learning, still retained the brain of a
positive ignoramus. He was a fat man with a low forehead and no cranium
to speak of, who did nothing all day but count the knobs of sugar in
his house and the pears in his garden, and who would go on hanging
bells, even when one of his professional colleagues paid him a visit.
In doing mischief he showed an activity and a something approaching
intelligence which filled M. Bergeret with amazement. Such thoughts as
these were in the professor’s mind, as he put on his overcoat to go and
wish M. Torquet a happy New Year.

Yet he took a certain pleasure in being out of doors, for in the street
he could enjoy that most priceless blessing, the liberty of the mind.
In front of the Two Satyrs at the corner of the Tintelleries, he paused
for a moment to give a friendly glance at the little acacia which
stretched its bare branches over the wall of Lafolie’s garden.

“Trees in winter,” thought he, “take on an aspect of homely beauty
that they never show in all the pomp of foliage and flowers. It is
in winter that they reveal their delicate structure, that they show
their charming framework of black coral: these are no skeletons, but a
multitude of pretty little limbs in which life slumbers. If I were a
landscape-painter....”

As he stood wrapt in these reflections, a portly man called him by
name, seized his arm and walked on with him. This was M. Compagnon, the
most popular of all the professors, the idolised master who gave his
mathematical lectures in the great amphitheatre.

“Hullo! my dear Bergeret, happy New Year. I bet you’re going to call on
the dean. So am I. We’ll walk on together.”

“Gladly,” answered M. Bergeret, “since in that way I shall travel
pleasantly towards a painful goal. For I must confess it is no pleasure
to me to see M. Torquet.”

On hearing this uncalled-for confidence, M. Compagnon, whether
instinctively or inadvertently it was hard to say, withdrew the hand
which he had slipped under his colleague’s arm.

“Yes, yes, I know! You and the dean don’t get on very well. Yet in
general he isn’t a man who is difficult to get on with.”

“In speaking to you as I have done,” answered M. Bergeret, “I was
not even thinking of the hostility which, according to report, the
dean persists in keeping up towards me. But it chills me to the
very marrow whenever I come in contact with a man who is totally
lacking in imagination of any kind. What really saddens is not the
idea of injustice and hatred, nor is it the sight of human misery.
Quite the contrary, in fact, for we find the misfortunes of our
fellows quite laughable, if only they are shown to us from a humorous
standpoint. But those gloomy souls on whom the outer world seems to
make no impression, those beings who have the faculty of ignoring the
entire universe—the very sight of them reduces me to distress and
desperation. My intercourse with M. Torquet is really one of the most
painful misfortunes of my life.”

“Just so!” said M. Compagnon. “Our college is one of the most splendid
in France, on account of the high attainments of the lecturers and the
convenience of the buildings. It is only the laboratories that still
leave something to be desired. But let us hope that this regrettable
defect will soon be remedied, thanks to the combined efforts of our
devoted rector and of so influential a senator as M. Laprat-Teulet.”

“It is also desirable,” said M. Bergeret, “that the Latin lectures
should cease to be given in a dark, unwholesome cellar.”

As they crossed the Place Saint-Exupère, M. Compagnon pointed to
Deniseau’s house.

“We no longer,” said he, “hear any chatter about the prophetess who
held communion with Saint Radegonde and several other saints from
Paradise. Did you go to see her, Bergeret? I was taken to see her by
Lacarelle, the _préfet’s_ chief secretary, just at the time when she
was at the height of her popularity. She was sitting with her eyes
shut in an arm-chair, while a dozen of the faithful plied her with
questions. They asked her if the Pope’s health was satisfactory,
what would be the result of the Franco-Russian alliance, whether
the income-tax bill would pass, and whether a remedy for consumption
would soon be found. She answered every question poetically and with a
certain ease. When my turn came, I asked her this simple question:

“‘What is the logarithm of 9’? Well, Bergeret, do you imagine that she
said 0,954?”

“No, I don’t,” said M. Bergeret.

“She never answered a word,” continued M. Compagnon; “never a word. She
remained quite silent. Then I said: ‘How is it that Saint Radegonde
doesn’t know the logarithm of 9? It is incredible!’ There were present
at the meeting a few retired colonels, some priests, old ladies and
a few Russian doctors. They seemed thunderstruck and Lacarelle’s
face grew as long as a fiddle. I took to my heels amid a torrent of
reproaches.”

As M. Compagnon and M. Bergeret were crossing the square chatting
in this way, they came upon M. Roux, who was going through the town
scattering visiting-cards right and left, for he went into society a
good deal.

“Here is my best pupil,” said M. Bergeret.

“He looks a sturdy fellow,” said M. Compagnon, who thought a great deal
of physical strength. “Why the deuce does he take Latin?”

M. Bergeret was much piqued by this question and inquired whether the
mathematical professor was of opinion that the study of the classics
ought to be confined exclusively to the lame, the halt, the maimed and
the blind.

But already M. Roux was bowing to the two professors with a flashing
smile that showed his strong, white teeth. He was in capital spirits,
for his happy temperament, which had enabled him to master the secret
of the soldier’s life, had just brought him a fresh stroke of good
luck. Only that morning M. Roux had been granted a fortnight’s leave
that he might recover from a slight injury to the knee that was
practically painless.

“Happy man!” cried M. Bergeret. “He needn’t even tell a lie to reap
all the benefits of deceit.” Then, turning towards M. Compagnon, he
remarked: “In my pupil, M. Roux, lie all the hopes of Latin verse.
But, by a strange anomaly, although this young scholar scans the lines
of Horace and Catullus with the utmost severity, he himself composes
French verses that he never troubles to scan, verses whose irregular
metre I must confess I cannot grasp. In a word, M. Roux writes _vers
libres_.”

“Really,” said M. Compagnon politely.

M. Bergeret, who loved acquiring information and looked indulgently on
new ideas, begged M. Roux to recite his last poem, _The Metamorphosis
of the Nymph_, which had not yet been given to the world.

“One moment,” said M. Compagnon. “I will walk on your left, Monsieur
Roux, so that I may have my best ear towards you.”

It was settled that M. Roux should recite his poem while he walked with
the two professors as far as the dean’s house on the Tournelles, for on
such a gentle slope as that he would not lose his breath.

Then M. Roux began to declaim _The Metamorphosis of the Nymph_ in a
slow, drawling, sing-song voice. In lines punctuated here and there by
the rumbling of cart-wheels he recited:

  The snow-white nymph,
  Who glides with rounded hips
  Along the winding shore,
  And the isle where willows grey
  Girdle her waist with the belt of Eve,
  In leafage of oval shape,
  And palely disappears.[2]

    [2] La nymphe blanche
        Qui coule à pleines hanches,
        Le long du rivage arrondi
        Et de l’île où les saules grisâtres
        Mettent à ses flancs la ceinture d’Ève,
        En feuillages ovales,
        Et qui fuit pâle.

Then he painted a shifting kaleidoscope of:

  Green banks shelving down,
  With the hostel of the town
  And the frying of gudgeons within.[3]

    [3] De vertes berges,
        Avec l’auberge
        Et les fritures de goujons.

Restless, unquiet, the nymph takes to flight.

She draws near the town and there the metamorphosis takes place.

  Fretted are her hips by the rough stone of the quay,
  Her breast is a thicket of rugged hair
  And black with the coal, which mingled with sweat,
  Has turned the nymph to a stevedore wet.
  And below is the dock
  For the coke.[4]

    [4] La pierre du quai dur lui rabote les hanches,
        Sa poitrine est hérissée d’un poil rude,
        Et noire de charbons, que délaye la sueur,
        La nymphe est devenue un débardeur.
        Et là-bas est le dock
        Pour le coke.

Next the poet sang of the river flowing through the city:

  And the river, from henceforth municipal and historic,
  And worthy of archives, of annals and records,
  Worthy of glory.
  Deriving something solemn and even stern
  From the grey stone walls,
  Flows under the heavy shadow of the basilica
  Where linger still the shades of Eudes, of Adalberts,
  In the golden fringes of the past,
  Bishops who bless not the nameless dead,
  The nameless dead,
  No longer bodies, but leather bottèls,
  Who will to go hence,
  Along the isles in the form of boats
  With, for masts, but the chimney-tops.
  For the drownèd will out beyond.
  But pause you on the erudite parapets
  Where, in boxes, lies many a fable strange,
  And the red-edged conjuring book whereon the plane-tree
  Sheds its leaves,
  Perchance there you’ll discover potent words:
  “For you’re no stranger to the value of runes
  Nor to the true power of signs traced on the sheets.”[5]

    [5] Et le fleuve, d’ores en avant municipal et historique,
        Et dignement d’archives, d’annales, de fastes,
        De gloire.
        Prenant du sérieux et même du morose
        De pierre grise,
        Se traîne sous la lourde ombre basilicale
        Que hantent encore des Eudes, des Adalberts,
        Dans les orfrois passés,
        Évêques qui ne bénissent pas les noyés anonymes,
        Anonymes,
        Non plus des corps, mais des outres,
        Qui vont outre,
        Le long des îles en forme de bateaux plats
        Avec, pour mâtures, des tuyaux de cheminées.
        Et les noyés vont outre.
        Mais arrête-toi aux parapets doctes
        Où, dans les boîtes, gît mainte anecdote,
        Et le grimoire à tranches rouges sur lequel le platane
        Fait pleuvoir ses feuilles,
        Il se peut que, là, tu découvres une bonne écriture:
        Car tu n’ignores pas la vertu des runes
        Ni le pouvoir des signes tracés sur les lames.

For a long, long while M. Roux traced the course of this marvellous
river, nor did he finish his recital till they reached the dean’s
doorstep.

“That’s very good,” said M. Compagnon, for he had no grudge against
literature, though for want of practice he could barely distinguish
between a line of Racine and a line of Mallarmé.

But M. Bergeret said to himself:

“Perhaps, after all, this is a masterpiece?”

And, for fear of wronging beauty in disguise, he silently pressed the
poet’s hand.



V


As he came out of the dean’s house, M. Bergeret met Madame de Gromance
returning from Mass. This gave him great pleasure, for he always
considered that the sight of a pretty woman is a stroke of good luck
when it comes in the way of an honest man, and in his eyes Madame de
Gromance was a most charming woman. She alone, of all the women in the
town, knew how to dress herself with the skilful art that conceals art:
and he was grateful to her for this, as well as for her carriage that
displayed the lissom figure and the supple hips, mere hints though they
were of a beauty veiled from the sight of the humble, poverty-stricken
scholar, but which could yet serve him as an apposite illustration of
some line of Horace, Ovid or Martial. His heart went out towards her
for her sweetness and the amorous atmosphere that floated round her. In
his mind he thanked her for that heart of hers that yielded so easily;
he felt it as a personal favour, although he had no hope at all of
ever sunning himself in the light of her smile. Stranger as he was in
aristocratic circles, he had never been in the lady’s house, and it was
merely by a stroke of extraordinary luck that someone introduced him
to her in M. de Terremondre’s box, after the procession at the Jeanne
d’Arc celebrations. Moreover, being a wise man with a sense of the
becoming, he did not even hope for closer acquaintance. It was enough
for him to catch a chance glimpse of her fair face as he passed in the
street, and to remember, whenever he saw her, the tales they told about
her in Paillot’s shop. Thus he owed some pleasant moments to her and
accordingly felt a sort of gratitude towards her.

This New Year’s morning he caught sight of her in the porch of
Saint-Exupère, as she stood lifting her petticoat with one hand so as
to emphasise the pliant bending of the knee, while with the other she
held a great prayer-book bound in red morocco. As he gazed, he offered
up a mental hymn of thanksgiving to her for thus acting as a charming
fairy-tale, a source of subtle pleasure to all the town. This idea he
tried to throw into his smile as he passed.

Madame de Gromance’s notion of ideal womanhood was not quite the same
as M. Bergeret’s. Hers was mingled with many society interests, and
being of the world, she had a keen eye to worldly affairs. She was by
no means ignorant of the reputation she enjoyed in the town, and hence,
whenever she had no special desire to stand in anyone’s good graces,
she treated him with cold hauteur. Among such persons she classed M.
Bergeret, whose smile seemed merely impertinent. She replied to it,
therefore, by a supercilious look which made him blush. As he continued
his walk, he said to himself penitently:

“She has been a minx. But on my side, I have just made an ass of
myself. I see that now; and now that it’s too late, I also see that my
smile, which said ‘You are the joy of all the town,’ must have seemed
an impertinence. This delicious being is no philosopher emancipated
from common prejudices. Of course, she would not understand me: it
would be impossible for her to see that I consider her beauty one of
the prime forces of the world, and regard the use she makes of it only
as a splendid sovereignty. I have been tactless and I am ashamed of
it. Like all honourable people, I have sometimes transgressed a human
law and yet have felt no repentance for it whatever. But certain other
acts of my life, which were merely opposed to those subtle and lofty
niceties that we call the conventions, have often filled me with
sharp regret and even with a kind of remorse. At this moment I want to
hide myself for very shame. Henceforth I shall flee whenever I see the
charming vision of this lady of the supple figure, _crispum ... docta
movere latus_. I have, indeed, begun the year badly!”

“A happy New Year to you,” said a voice that emerged from a beard
beneath a straw hat.

It belonged to M. Mazure, the archivist to the department. Ever since
the Ministry had refused him academic honours on the ground that he had
no claim, and since all classes in the town steadily refused to return
Madame Mazure’s calls, because she had been both cook and mistress to
the two officials previously in charge of the archives, M. Mazure had
been seized with a horror of all government and become disgusted with
society. He lived now the life of a gloomy misanthrope.

This being a day when friendly or, at any rate, courteous visits are
customary, he had put on a shabby knitted scarf, the bluish wool of
which showed under his overcoat decorated with torn buttonholes: this
he did to show his scorn of the human race. He had also donned a broken
straw hat that his good wife, Marguerite, used to stick on a cherry
tree in the garden when the cherries were ripe. He cast a pitying
glance at M. Bergeret’s white tie.

“You have just bowed,” said he, “to a pretty hussy.”

It pained M. Bergeret to have to listen to such harsh and unphilosophic
language. But as he could forgive a good deal to a nature warped by
misanthropy, it was with gentleness that he set about reproving M.
Mazure for the coarseness of his speech.

“My dear Mazure,” said he, “I expected from your wide experience a
juster estimate of a lady who harms no one.”

M. Mazure answered drily that he objected to light women. From him
it was by no means a sincere expression of opinion, for, strictly
speaking, M. Mazure had no moral code. But he persisted in his bad
temper.

“Come now,” said M. Bergeret with a smile, “I’ll tell you what is wrong
with Madame de Gromance. She was born just a hundred and fifty years
too late. In eighteenth-century society no man of brains would have
disapproved of her.”

M. Mazure began to relent under this flattery. He was no sullen
Puritan, but he respected the civil marriage, to which the statesmen
of the Revolution had imparted fresh dignity. For all that, he did not
deny the claim of the heart and the senses. He acknowledged that the
mistress has her place in society as well as the wife.

“And, by the way, how is Madame Bergeret?” he inquired.

As the north wind whistled across the Place Saint-Exupère M. Bergeret
watched M. Mazure’s nose getting redder and redder under the
turned-down brim of the straw hat. His own feet and knees were frozen,
and he suffered his thoughts to play round the idea of Madame de
Gromance just to get a little warmth and joy into his veins.

Paillot’s shop was not open, and the two professors, thus fireless and
houseless, stood looking at each other in sad sympathy.

In the depths of his friendly heart M. Bergeret thought to himself:

“As soon as I leave this fellow with his limited, boorish ideas, I
shall be once more alone in the desert waste of this hateful town. It
will be wretched.”

And his feet remained glued to the sharp stones of the square, whilst
the wind made his ears burn.

“I will walk back with you as far as your door,” said the archivist of
the department.

Then they walked on side by side, bowing from time to time to
fellow-citizens who hurried along in their Sunday clothes, carrying
dolls and bags of sweets.

“This Countess de Gromance,” said the archivist, “was a Chapon.
There was never but one Chapon heard of—her father, the most arrant
skinflint in the province. But I have hunted up the record of the
Gromance family, who belong to the lesser nobility of the place. There
was a Demoiselle Cécile de Gromance who in 1815 gave birth to a child
by a Cossack father. That will make a capital subject for an article in
a local paper. I am writing a regular series of them.”

M. Mazure spoke the truth: every day, from sunrise to sunset, alone in
his dusty garret under the roof of the prefecture, he eagerly ransacked
the six hundred and thirty-seven thousand pigeonholes which were there
huddled together. His gloomy hatred of his fellow-townsmen drove him to
this research, merely in the hope that he would succeed in unearthing
some scandalous facts about the most respected families in the
neighbourhood. Amid piles of ancient parchments and papers stamped by
the registrars of the last two centuries with the arms of six kings,
two emperors and three republics he used to sit, laughing in the midst
of the clouds of dust, as he stirred up the evidences, now half eaten
up by mice and worms, of bygone crimes and sins long since expiated.

As they followed the windings of the Tintelleries, it was with the
tale of these cruel revelations that he continued to entertain M.
Bergeret, a man who always cultivated an attitude of particular
indulgence towards our forefathers’ faults, and who was inquisitive
merely in the matter of their habits and customs. Mazure had, or so he
averred, discovered in the archives a certain Terremondre who, being a
terrorist and president of a local club of Sans-Culottes in 1793, had
changed his Christian names from Nicolas-Eustache to Marat-Peuplier.
Instantly Mazure hastened to supply M. Jean de Terremondre, his
colleague in the Archæological Society, who had gone over to the
monarchical and clerical party, with full information touching this
forgotten forbear of his, this Marat-Peuplier Terremondre, who had
actually written a hymn to Saint Guillotine. He had also unearthed a
great-great-uncle of the diocesan Vicar-General, a Sieur de Goulet, or
rather, more precisely, a Goulet-Trocard as he signed himself, who,
as an army contractor, was condemned to penal servitude in 1812 for
having supplied glandered horseflesh instead of beef. The documents
relating to this trial he had published in the most rabid journal in
the department. M. Mazure promised still more terrible revelations
about the Laprat family, revelations full of cases of incest; about
the Courtrai family, with one of its members branded for high treason
in 1814; about the Dellion family, whose wealth had been gained by
gambling in wheat; about the Quatrebarbe family, whose ancestors, two
stokers, a man and a woman, were hanged by lynch law on a tree on Duroc
Hill at the time of the consulate. In fact, as late as 1860, old people
were still to be met who remembered having seen in their childhood
the branches of an oak from which hung a human form with long, black,
floating tresses that used to frighten the horses.

“She remained hanging there for three years,” exclaimed the archivist,
“and she was own grandmother to Hyacinthe Quatrebarbe, the diocesan
architect!”

“It’s very singular,” said M. Bergeret, “but, of course, one ought to
keep that kind of thing to oneself.”

But Mazure paid no heed. He longed to publish everything, to
bruit everything abroad, in direct opposition to the opinion of
M. Worms-Clavelin, the _préfet_, who wisely said: “One ought most
carefully to avoid giving occasion to scandal and dissension.” He had
threatened, in fact, to get the archivist dismissed, if he persisted in
revealing old family secrets.

“Ah!” cried Mazure, chuckling in his tangled forest of beard, “it shall
be known that in 1815 there was a little Cossack who came into the
world through the exertions of a Demoiselle de Gromance.”

Only a moment since M. Bergeret had reached his own door, and he still
held the handle of the bell.

“What does it matter, after all?” said he. “The poor lady did what she
couldn’t help doing. She is dead, and the little Cossack also is dead.
Let us leave their memory in peace, or if we recall it for a moment,
let it be with a kindly thought. What zeal is it that so carries you
away, dear Monsieur Mazure?”

“The zeal for justice.”

M. Bergeret pulled the bell.

“Good-bye, Mazure,” said he; “don’t be just, and do be merciful. I wish
you a very happy New Year.”

M. Bergeret looked through the dirty window of the hall to see if there
were any letter or paper in the box; he still took an interest in
letters from a distance or in literary reviews. But to-day there were
only visiting-cards, which suggested to him nothing more interesting
than personalities as shadowy and pale as the cards themselves, and a
bill from Mademoiselle Rose, the modiste of the Tintelleries. As his
eyes fell on this, the thought suddenly occurred to him that Madame
Bergeret was becoming extravagant and that the house was stuffy. He
could feel the weight of it on his shoulders, and as he stood in the
hall, he seemed to be bearing on his back the whole flooring of his
flat, in addition to the drawing-room piano and that terrible wardrobe
that swallowed up his little store of money and yet was always empty.
Thus weighted with domestic troubles, M. Bergeret grasped the iron
handrail with its ample curves of florid metal-work, and began, with
bent head and short breath, to climb the stone steps. These were now
blackened, worn, cracked, patched, and ornamented with worn bricks and
squalid paving-stones, but once, in the bygone days of their early
youth, they had known the tread of fine gentlemen and pretty girls,
hurrying to pay rival court to Pauquet, the revenue-tax farmer who had
enriched himself by the spoils of a whole province. For it was in the
mansion of Pauquet de Sainte-Croix that M. Bergeret lived, now fallen
from its glory, despoiled of its splendour and degraded by a plaster
top-storey which had taken the place of its graceful gable and majestic
roof. Now the building was darkened by tall houses built all round
it, on ground where once there were gardens with a thousand statues,
ornamental waters and a park, and even on the main courtyard where
Pauquet had erected an allegorical monument to his king, who was in the
habit of making him disgorge his booty every five or six years, after
which he was left for another term to stuff himself again with gold.

This courtyard, which was flanked by a splendid Tuscan portico, had
vanished in 1857 when the Rue des Tintelleries was widened. Now Pauquet
de Sainte-Croix’s mansion was nothing but an ugly tenement-house badly
neglected by two old caretakers, Gaubert by name, who despised M.
Bergeret for his quietness and had no sense of his true generosity,
because it was that of a man of moderate means. Yet whatever M. Raynaud
gave they regarded with respect, although he gave little when he was
well able to give much: to the Gauberts, his hundred-sou piece was
valuable because it came from great wealth.

M. Raynaud, who owned the land near the new railway station, lived
on the first storey. Over the doorway of this there was a bas-relief
which, as usual, caught M. Bergeret’s eye as he passed. It depicted old
Silenus on his ass surrounded by a group of nymphs. This was all that
remained of the interior decoration of the mansion which, belonging
to the reign of Louis XV, had been built at a period when the French
style was aiming at the classic, but, lucky in missing its aim, had
acquired that note of chastity, stability and noble elegance which
one associates more especially with Gabriel’s designs. As a matter of
fact Pauquet de Sainte-Croix’s mansion had actually been designed by a
pupil of that great architect. Since then it had been systematically
disfigured. Although, for economy’s sake and just to save a little
trouble and expense, they had not torn down the little bas-relief of
Silenus and the nymphs, they had at any rate painted it, like the rest
of the staircase, with a sham decoration of red granite. The tradition
of the place would have it that in this Silenus one might see a
portrait of Pauquet himself, who was reputed to have been the ugliest
man of his time, as well as the most popular with women. M. Bergeret,
although no great connoisseur in art, made no such mistake as this, for
in the grotesque, yet sublime, figure of the old god he recognised a
type well known in the Renaissance, and transmitted from the Greeks and
Romans. Yet, whenever he saw this Silenus and his nymphs, his thoughts
naturally turned to Pauquet, who had enjoyed all the good things of
this world in the very house where he himself lived a life that was not
only toilsome, but thankless.

“This financier,” he thought as he stood on the landing, “merely sucked
money from a king who in turn sucked it from him. This made them quits.
It is unwise to brag about the finances of the monarchy, since, in the
end, it was the financial deficit that brought about the downfall of
the system. But this point is noteworthy, that the king was then the
sole owner of all property, both real and personal, throughout the
kingdom. Every house belonged to the king, and in proof of this, the
subject who actually enjoyed the possession of it had to place the
royal arms on the slab at the back of the hearth. It was therefore as
owner, and not in pursuance of his right of taxation, that Louis XIV
sent his subjects’ plate to the Mint in order to defray the expenses of
his wars. He even had the treasures of the churches melted down, and I
read lately that he carried off the votive-offerings of Notre-Dame de
Liesse in Picardy, among which was found the breast that the Queen of
Poland had deposited there in gratitude for her miraculous recovery.
Everything then belonged to the king, that is to say, to the state.
And yet neither the Socialists, who to-day demand the nationalisation
of private property, nor the owners who intend to hold fast their
possessions, pay any heed to the fact that this nationalisation would
be, in some respects, a return to the ancient custom. It gives one a
philosophic pleasure to reflect that the Revolution really was for
the benefit of those who had acquired private ownership of national
possessions and that the Declaration of the Rights of Man has become
the landlords’ charter.

“This Pauquet, who used to bring here the prettiest girls from the
opera, was no knight of Saint-Louis. To-day he would be commander of
the Legion of Honour and to him the finance ministers would come for
their instructions. Then it was money he enjoyed; now it would be
honours. For money has become honourable. It is, in fact, the only
nobility we possess. We have destroyed all the others to put in their
place the most oppressive, the most insolent, and the most powerful of
all orders of nobility.”

M. Bergeret’s reflections were distracted at this point by the sight of
a group of men, women, and children coming out of M. Raynaud’s flat.
He saw that it was a band of poor relations who had come to wish the
old man a happy New Year: he fancied he could see them smelling about,
under their new hats, for some profit to themselves. He went on up the
stairs, for he lived on the third floor, which he delighted to call
the third “room,” using the seventeenth-century phrase for it. And to
explain this ancient term he loved to quote La Fontaine’s lines:

  Where is the good of life to men of make like you,
  To live and read for ever in a poor third room?
  Chill winter always finds you in the dress of June,
  With for lackey but the shadow that is each man’s due.[6]

    [6] Que sert à vos pareils de lire incessamment?
        Ils sont toujours logés à la troisième chambre,
        Vêtus au mois de juin comme au mois de décembre,
        Ayant pour tout laquais leur ombre seulement.

Possibly the use he made of this quotation and of this kind of talk was
unwise, for it exasperated Madame Bergeret, who was proud of living
in a flat in the middle of the town, in a house that was inhabited by
people of good position.

“Now for the third ‘room,’” said M. Bergeret to himself. Drawing out
his watch, he saw that it was eleven o’clock. He had told them not
to expect him before noon, as he had intended to spend an hour in
Paillot’s shop. But there he had found the shutters up: holidays and
Sundays were days of misery to him, simply because the bookseller’s was
closed on those days. To-day he had a feeling of annoyance, because he
had not been able to pay his usual call on Paillot.

On reaching the third storey he turned his key noiselessly in the
lock and entered the dining-room with his cautious footstep. It was
a dismal room, concerning which M. Bergeret had formed no particular
opinion, although in Madame Bergeret’s eyes it was quite artistic,
on account of the brass chandelier which hung above the table, the
chairs and sideboard of carved oak with which it was furnished, the
mahogany whatnot loaded with little cups, and especially on account of
the painted china plates that adorned the wall. On entering this room
from the dimly lit hall one had the door of the study on the left, and
on the right the drawing-room door. Whenever M. Bergeret entered the
flat he was in the habit of turning to the left into his study, where
solitude, books and slippers awaited him. This time, however, for no
particular motive or reason, without thinking what he was doing, he
went to the right. He turned the handle, opened the door, took one step
and found himself in the drawing-room.

He then saw on the sofa two figures linked together in a violent
attitude that suggested either endearment or strife, but which was, as
a matter of fact, very compromising. Madame Bergeret’s head was turned
away and could not be seen, but her feelings were plainly expressed
in the generous display of her red stockings. M. Roux’s face wore
that strained, solemn, set, distracted look that cannot be mistaken,
although one seldom sees it; it agreed with his disordered array. Then,
the appearance of everything changed in less than a second, and now M.
Bergeret saw before him two quite different persons from those whom he
had surprised; two persons who were much embarrassed and whose looks
were strange and even rather comical. He would have fancied himself
mistaken had not the first picture engraved itself on his sight with a
strength that was only equalled by its suddenness.



VI


M. Bergeret’s first impulse at this shameful sight was to act
violently, like a plain man, even with the ferocity of an animal.
Born as he was of a long line of unknown ancestors, amongst whom
there were, of course, many cruel and savage souls, heir as he was of
those innumerable generations of men, apes, and savage beasts from
whom we are all descended, the professor had been endowed, along with
the germ of life, with the destructive instinct of the older races.
Under this shock these instincts awoke. He thirsted for slaughter
and burned to kill M. Roux and Madame Bergeret. But his desire was
feeble and evanescent. With the four canine teeth which he carried
in his mouth and the nails of the carnivorous beast which armed his
fingers, M. Bergeret had inherited the ferocity of the beast, but the
original force of this instinct had largely disappeared. He did, it
is true, feel a desire to kill M. Roux and Madame Bergeret, but it
was a very feeble one. He felt fierce and cruel, but the sensation
was so short-lived and so weak that no act was born of the thought,
and even the expression of the idea was so swift that it entirely
escaped the notice of the two witnesses who were most concerned in
its manifestation. In less than a second M. Bergeret had ceased to
be purely instinctive, primitive, and destructive, without, however,
ceasing at the same time to be jealous and irritated. On the contrary,
his indignation went on increasing. In this new frame of mind his
thoughts were no longer simple; they began to centre round the social
problem; confusedly there seethed in his mind fragments of ancient
theologies, bits of the Decalogue, shreds of ethics, Greek, Scotch,
German and French maxims, scattered portions of the moral code which,
by striking his brain like so many flint stones, set him on fire. He
felt patriarchal, the father of a family after the Roman style, an
overlord and justiciar. He had the virtuous idea of punishing the
guilty. After having wanted to kill Madame Bergeret and M. Roux by
mere bloodthirsty instinct, he now wanted to kill them out of regard
for justice. He mentally sentenced them to terrible and ignominious
punishments. He lavished upon them every ignominy of mediæval custom.
This journey across the ages of civilisation was longer than the first.
It lasted for two whole seconds, and during that time the two culprits
so discreetly changed their attitude that these changes, though
imperceptible, were fundamental, and completely altered the character
of their relationship.

Finally, religious and moral ideas becoming completely confounded
with one another in his mind, M. Bergeret felt nothing but a sense of
misery, while disgust, like a vast wave of dirty water, poured across
the flame of his wrath. Three full seconds passed; he was plunged in
the depths of irresolution and did nothing. By an obscure, confused
instinct which was characteristic of his temperament, from the first
moment he had turned his eyes away from the sofa and fixed them on
the round table near the door. This was covered with a table-cloth
of olive-green cotton on which were printed coloured figures of
mediæval knights in imitation of ancient tapestry. During these three
interminable seconds M. Bergeret clearly made out a little page-boy who
held the helmet of one of the tapestry knights. Suddenly he noticed
on the table, among the gilt-edged, red-bound books that Madame
Bergeret had placed there as handsome ornaments, the yellow cover of
the _University Bulletin_ which he had left there the night before.
The sight of this magazine instantly suggested to him the act most
characteristic of his turn of mind: putting out his hand, he took up
the _Bulletin_ and left the drawing-room, which a most unlucky instinct
had led him to enter.

Once alone in the dining-room a flood of misery overwhelmed him. He
longed for the relief of tears, and was obliged to hold on by the
chairs in order to prevent himself from falling. Yet with his pain
was mingled a certain bitterness that acted like a caustic and burnt
up the tears in his eyes. Only a few seconds ago he had crossed this
little dining-room, yet now it seemed that, if ever he had set eyes on
it before, it must have been in another life. It must surely have been
in some far-off stage of existence, in some earlier incarnation, that
he had lived in intimate relations with the small sideboard of carved
oak, the mahogany shelves loaded with painted cups, the china plates
on the wall, that he had sat at this round table between his wife and
daughters. It was not his happiness that was dead, for he had never
been happy; it was his poor little home life, his domestic relations
that were gone. These had always been chilly and unpleasant, but now
they were degraded and destroyed; they no longer even existed.

When Euphémie came in to lay the cloth he trembled at the sight of her;
she seemed one of the ghosts of the vanished world in which he had once
lived.

Shutting himself up in his study, he sat down at his table, and opening
the _University Bulletin_ quite at random, leant his head deliberately
between his hands and, through sheer force of habit, began to read.

He read:

“_Notes on the purity of language._—Languages are like nothing so much
as ancient forests in which words have pushed a way for themselves, as
chance or opportunity has willed. Among them we find some weird and
even monstrous forms, yet, when linked together in speech, they compose
into splendid harmonies, and it would be a barbarous act to prune
them as one trims the lime-trees on the public roads. One must tread
with reverence on what, in the grand style, is termed _the boundless
peaks_....”

“And my daughters!” thought M. Bergeret. “She ought to have thought of
them. She ought to have thought of our daughters....”

He went on reading without comprehending a word:

“Of course, such a word as this is a mere abortion. We say _le
lendemain_, that is to say, _le le en demain_, when, evidently, what we
ought to say is _l’en demain_; we say _le lierre_ for _l’ierre_, which
alone is correct. The foundations of language were laid by the people.
Everywhere in it we find ignorance, error, whim; in its simplicity
lies its greatest beauty. It is the work of ignorant minds, to whom
everything save nature is a sealed book. It comes to us from afar, and
those who have handed it down to us were by no means grammarians after
the style of Noël and Chapsal.”

Then he thought:

“At her age, in her humble, struggling position.... I can understand
that a beautiful, idle, much idolised woman ... but she!”

Yet, as he was a reader by instinct, he still went on reading:

“Let us treat it as a precious inheritance, but, at the same time, let
us never look too closely into it. In speaking, and even in writing, it
is a mistake to trouble too much about etymology....”

“And he, my favourite pupil, whom I have invited to my house ... ought
he not?...”

“Etymology teaches us that God is _He Who shines_, and that the _soul_
is a _breath_, but into these old words men have read meanings which
they did not at first possess.”

“Adultery!”

This word came to his lips with such force that he seemed to feel it in
his mouth like a coin, like a thin medal. Adultery!...

Suddenly he saw a picture of all that this word implied, its
associations—commonplace, domestic, absurd, clumsily tragic, sordidly
comic, ridiculous, uncouth; even in his misery he chuckled.

Being well read in Rabelais, La Fontaine, and Molière, he called
himself by the downright, outspoken name that he knew beyond the shadow
of a doubt was fitted to his case. But that stopped his laugh, if it
could be truthfully said that he had laughed.

“Of course,” said he to himself, “it is a petty, commonplace incident
in reality. But I am myself suitably proportioned to it, being but
an unimportant item in the social structure. It seems, therefore, an
important thing to me, and I ought to feel no shame at the misery it
brings me.”

Following up this thought, he drew his grief round him like a cloak,
and wrapped himself in it. Like a sick man full of pity for himself,
he pursued the painful visions and the haunting ideas which swarmed
endlessly in his burning head. What he had seen caused him physical
pain; noticing this fact, he instantly set himself to find the cause
of it, for he was always ruled by the philosophical bent of his
temperament.

“The objects,” thought he, “which are associated with the most powerful
desires of the flesh cannot be regarded with indifference, for when
they do not give delight, they cause disgust. It is not in herself
that Madame Bergeret possesses the power of putting me between these
two alternatives; it is as a symbol of that Venus who is the joy of
gods and men. For to me, although she may indeed be one of the least
lovable and least mysterious of these symbols of Venus, yet at the same
time she must needs be one of the most characteristic and vivid. And
the sight of her linked in community of act and feeling with my pupil,
M. Roux, reduced her instantly to that elementary type-form which, as
I said, must either inspire attraction or repulsion. Thus we may see
that every sexual symbol either satisfies or disappoints desire, and
for that reason attracts or repels our gaze with equal force, according
to the physiological condition of the spectators, and sometimes even
according to the successive moods of the same witness.

“This observation brings one to the true reason for the fact that, in
all nations and at all periods, sexual rites have been performed in
secret, in order that they might not produce violent and conflicting
emotions in the spectators. At length it became customary to conceal
everything that might suggest these rites. Thus was born Modesty, which
governs all men, but particularly the more lascivious nations.”

Then M. Bergeret reflected:

“Accident has enabled me to discover the origin of this virtue which
varies most of all, merely because it is the most universal, this
Modesty, which the Greeks call Shame. Very absurd prejudices have
become connected with this habit which arises from an attitude of
mind peculiar to man and common to all men, and these prejudices have
obscured its true character. But I am now in a position to formulate
the true theory of Modesty. It was at a smaller cost to himself that
Newton discovered the laws of gravitation under a tree.”

Thus meditated M. Bergeret from the depths of his arm-chair. But
his thoughts were still so little under control that he rolled his
bloodshot eyes, gnashed his teeth and clenched his fists, until he
drove his nails into his palms. Painted with merciless accuracy on his
inner eye was the picture of his pupil, M. Roux, in a condition which
ought never to be seen by a spectator, for reasons which the professor
had first accurately deduced. M. Bergeret possessed a measure of that
faculty which we call visual memory. Without possessing the rich power
of vision of the painter, who stores numberless vast pictures in a
single fold of his brain, he could yet recall, accurately and easily
enough, sights seen long ago which had caught his attention. Thus there
lived in the album of his memory the outline of a beautiful tree, of
a graceful woman, when once these had been impressed on the retina of
his eye. But never had any mental impression appeared to him as clear,
as exact, as vividly, accurately and powerfully coloured, as full,
compact, solid and masterful, as there appeared to him at this moment
the daring picture of his pupil, M. Roux, in the act of embracing
Madame Bergeret. This accurate reproduction of reality was hateful;
it was also false, inasmuch as it indefinitely prolonged an action
which must necessarily be a fleeting one. The perfect illusion which
it produced showed up the two characters with obstinate cynicism and
unbearable permanence. Again M. Bergeret longed to kill his pupil, M.
Roux. He made a movement as if to kill; the idea of murder that his
brain formulated had the force of a deed and left him overwhelmed.

Then came a moment of reflection and slowly, quietly he strayed away
into a labyrinth of irresolution and contradiction. His ideas flowed
together and intermingled, losing their distinctive tints like specks
of paint in a glass of water. Soon he even failed to grasp the actual
event that had happened.

He cast miserable looks around him, examined the flowers on the
wall-paper and noticed that there were badly-joined bunches, so
that the halves of the red carnations never met. He looked at the
books stacked on the deal shelves. He looked at the little silk and
crochet pin-cushion that Madame Bergeret had made and given him some
years before on his birthday. Then he softened at the thought of the
destruction of their home life. He had never been deeply in love with
this woman, whom he had married on the advice of friends, for he had
always found a difficulty in settling his own affairs. Although he no
longer loved her at all, she still made up a large part of his life.
He thought of his daughters, now staying with their aunt at Arcachon,
especially of his favourite Pauline, the eldest, who resembled him. At
this he shed tears.

Suddenly through his tears he caught sight of the wicker-work woman
on which Madame Bergeret draped her dresses and which she always kept
in her husband’s study in front of the book-case, disregarding the
professor’s resentment when he complained that every time he wanted to
put his books on the shelves, he had to embrace the wicker-work woman
and carry her off. At the best of times M. Bergeret’s teeth were set
on edge by this contrivance which reminded him of the hen-coops of the
cottagers, or of the idol of woven cane which he had seen as a child in
one of the prints of his ancient history, and in which, it was said,
the Phœnicians burnt their slaves. Above all, the thing reminded him
of Madame Bergeret, and although it was headless, he always expected
to hear it burst out screaming, moaning, or scolding. This time the
headless thing seemed to be none other than Madame Bergeret herself,
Madame Bergeret, the hateful, the grotesque. Flinging himself upon
it, he clasped the thing in his arms and made its wicker breast crack
under his fingers, as though it were the gristles of ribs that broke.
Overturning it, he stamped on it with his feet and carrying it off,
threw it creaking and mutilated, out of window into the yard belonging
to Lenfant, the cooper, where it fell among buckets and tubs. In doing
this, he felt as though he were performing an act that symbolised a
true fact, yet was at the same time ridiculous and absurd. On the
whole, however, he felt somewhat relieved, and when Euphémie came to
tell him that déjeuner was getting cold, he shrugged his shoulders, and
walking resolutely across the still deserted dining-room, took up his
hat in the hall and went downstairs.

In the gateway he remembered that he knew neither where to go nor what
to do and that he had come to no decision at all. Once outside, he
noticed that it was raining and that he had no umbrella. He was rather
annoyed at the fact, though the sense of annoyance came quite as a
relief. As he stood hesitating as to whether he should go out into the
shower or not, he caught sight of a pencil drawing on the plaster of
the wall, just below the bell and just at the height which a child’s
arm would reach. It represented an old man; two dots and two lines
within a circle made the face, and the body was depicted by an oval;
the arms and legs were shown by single lines which radiated outwards
like wheel-spokes and imparted a certain air of jollity to this scrawl,
which was executed in the classic style of mural ribaldry. It must
have been drawn some time ago, for it showed signs of friction and in
places was already half rubbed out. But this was the first time that M.
Bergeret had noticed it, doubtless because his powers of observation
were just now in a peculiarly wide-awake condition.

“A _graffito_,” said the professor to himself.

He noticed next that two horns stuck out from the old man’s head and
that the word _Bergeret_ was written by the side, so that no mistake
might be made.

“It is a matter of common talk, then,” said he, when he saw this name.
“Little rascals on their way to school proclaim it on the walls and
I am the talk of the town. This woman has probably been deceiving me
for a long time, and with all sorts of men. This mere scrawl tells me
more of the truth than I could have gained by a prolonged and searching
investigation.”

And standing in the rain, with his feet in the mud, he made a closer
examination of the _graffito_; he noticed that the letters of the
inscription were badly written and that the lines of the drawing
corresponded with the slope of the writing.

As he went away in the falling rain, he remembered the _graffiti_ once
traced by clumsy hands on the walls of Pompeii and now uncovered,
collected and expounded by philologists. He recalled the clumsy furtive
character of the Palatine _graffito_ scratched by an idle soldier on
the wall of the guard-house.

“It is now eighteen hundred years since that Roman soldier drew a
caricature of his comrade Alexandros in the act of worshipping an
ass’s head stuck on a cross. No monument of antiquity has been more
carefully studied than this Palatine _graffito_: it is reproduced in
numberless collections. Now, following the example of Alexandros, I,
too, have a _graffito_ of my own. If to-morrow an earthquake were to
swallow up this dismal, accursed town, and preserve it intact for the
scientists of the thirtieth century, and if in that far distant future
my _graffito_ were to be discovered, I wonder what these learned men
would say about it. Would they understand its vulgar symbolism? Or
would they even be able to spell out my name written in the letters of
a lost alphabet?”

With a fine rain falling through the dreary dimness, M. Bergeret
finally reached the Place Saint-Exupère. Between the two buttresses
of the church he could see the stall which bore a red boot as a sign.
At the sight, he suddenly remembered that his shoes, being worn out
by long service, were soaked with water; now, too, he remembered that
henceforth he must look after his own clothes, although hitherto he had
always left them to Madame Bergeret. With this thought in his mind,
he went straight into the cobbler’s booth. He found the man hammering
nails into the sole of a shoe.

“Good-day, Piedagnel!”

“Good-day, Monsieur Bergeret! What can I do for you, Monsieur Bergeret?”

So saying, the fellow, turning his angular face towards his customer,
showed his toothless gums in a smile. His thin face, which ended in a
projecting chin and was furrowed by the dark chasm of his eyes, shared
the stern, poverty-stricken air, the yellow tint, the wretched aspect
of the stone figures carved over the door of the ancient church under
whose shadow he had been born, had lived, and would die.

“All right, Monsieur Bergeret, I have your size and I know that you
like your shoes an easy fit. You are quite in the right, Monsieur
Bergeret, not to try to pinch your feet.”

“But I have a rather high instep and the sole of my foot is arched,”
protested M. Bergeret. “Be sure you remember that.”

M. Bergeret was by no means vain of his foot, but it had so happened
one day that in his reading he came upon a passage describing how
M. de Lamartine once showed his bare foot with pride, that its high
curve, which rested on the ground like the arch of a bridge, might be
admired. This story made M. Bergeret feel that he was quite justified
in deriving pleasure from the fact that he was not flat-footed. Now,
sinking into a wicker chair decorated with an old square of Aubusson
carpet, he looked at the cobbler and his booth. On the wall, which
was whitewashed and covered with deep cracks, a sprig of box had been
placed behind the arms of a black, wooden cross. A little copper figure
of Christ nailed to this cross inclined its head over the cobbler,
who sat glued to his stool behind the counter, which was heaped with
pieces of cut leather and with the wooden models which all bore leather
shields to mark the places where the feet that the models represented
were afflicted with painful excrescences. A small cast-iron stove was
heated white-hot and a strong smell of leather and cookery combined was
perceptible.

“I am glad,” said M. Bergeret, “to see that you have as much work as
you can wish for.”

In answer to this remark, the man began to give vent to a string of
vague, rambling complaints which yet had an element of truth in them.
Things were not as they used to be in days gone by. Nowadays, nobody
could stand out against factory competition. Customers just bought
ready-made shoes, in stores exactly like the Paris ones.

“My customers die, too,” added he. “I have just lost the curé, M. Rieu.
There is nothing left but the re-soling business and there isn’t much
profit in that.”

The sight of this ancient cobbler groaning under his own little
crucifix filled M. Bergeret with sadness. He asked, rather hesitatingly:

“Your son must be quite twenty by now. What has become of him?”

“Firmin? I expect you know,” said the man, “that he left the seminary
because he had no vocation. But the gentlemen there were kind enough to
interest themselves in him, after they had expelled him. Abbé Lantaigne
found a place for him as tutor at a Marquis’s house in Poitou. But
Firmin refused it just out of spite. He is in Paris now, teaching at an
institution in the Rue Saint-Jacques, but he doesn’t earn much.” And
the cobbler added sadly:

“What I want....”

He stopped and then began again.

“I have been a widower for twelve years. What I want is a wife, because
it needs a woman to manage a house.”

Relapsing into silence, he drove three nails into the leather of the
sole and added:

“Only I must have a steady woman.”

He returned to his task. Then suddenly raising his worn and sorrowful
face towards the foggy sky, he muttered:

“And besides, it is so sad to be alone!”

M. Bergeret felt pleased, for he had just caught sight of Paillot
standing on the threshold of his shop. He got up to leave:

“Good-day, Piedagnel!” said he. “Mind and keep the instep high enough!”

But the cobbler would not let him go, asking with an imploring glance
whether he did not know of any woman who would suit him. She must be
middle-aged, a good worker, and a widow who would be willing to marry a
widower with a small business.

M. Bergeret stood looking in astonishment at this man who actually
wanted to get married; Piedagnel went on meditating aloud:

“Of course,” said he, “there’s the woman who delivers bread on the
Tintelleries. But she likes a drop. Then there’s the late curé of
Sainte-Agnès’s servant, but she is too haughty, because she has saved
a little.”

“Piedagnel,” said M. Bergeret, “go on re-soling the townsfolks’ shoes,
remain as you are, alone and contented in the seclusion of your shop.
Don’t marry again, for that would be a mistake.”

Closing the glazed door behind him, he crossed the Place Saint-Exupère
and entered Paillot’s shop.

The shop was deserted, save for the bookseller himself. Paillot’s
mind was a barren and illiterate one; he spoke but little and thought
of nothing but his business and his country-house on Duroc Hill.
Notwithstanding these facts, M. Bergeret had an inexplicable fondness
both for the bookseller and for his shop. At Paillot’s he felt quite at
ease and there ideas came on him in a flood.

Paillot was rich, and never had any complaints to make. Yet he
invariably told M. Bergeret that one no longer made the profit on
educational books that was once customary, for the practice of allowing
discount left but little margin. Besides, the supplying of schools had
become a veritable puzzle on account of the changes that were always
being made in the curricula.

“Once,” said he, “they were much more conservative.”

“I don’t believe it,” replied M. Bergeret. “The fabric of our
classical instruction is constantly in course of repair. It is an
old monument which embodies in its structure the characteristics of
every period. One sees in it a pediment in the Empire style on a
Jesuit portico; it has rusticated galleries, colonnades like those of
the Louvre, Renaissance staircases, Gothic halls, and a Roman crypt.
If one were to expose the foundations, one would come upon _opus
spicatum_[7] and Roman cement. On each of these parts one might place
an inscription commemorating its origin: ‘The Imperial University of
1808—Rollin—The Oratorians—Port-Royal—The Jesuits—The Humanists
of the Renaissance—The Schoolmen—The Latin Rhetoricians of Autun and
Bordeaux.’ Every generation has made some change in this palace of
wisdom, or has added something to it.”

    [7] Brickwork laid in the shape of ears of corn.

M. Paillot rubbed the red beard that hung from his huge chin and looked
stupidly at M. Bergeret. Finally he fled panic-stricken and took refuge
behind his counter. But M. Bergeret followed up his argument to its
logical conclusion:

“It is thanks to these successive additions that the house is still
standing. It would soon crumble to pieces if nothing were ever changed
in it. It is only right to repair the parts that threaten to fall
in ruin and to add some halls in the new style. But I can hear some
ominous cracking in the structure.”

As honest Paillot carefully refrained from making any answer to this
occult and terrifying talk, M. Bergeret plunged silently into the
corner where the old books stood.

To-day, as always, he took up the thirty-eighth volume of _l’Histoire
Générale des Voyages_. To-day, as always, the book opened of its own
accord at page 212. Now on this page he saw the picture of M. Roux and
Madame Bergeret embracing.... Now he re-read the passage he knew so
well, without paying any heed to what he read, but merely continuing
to think the thoughts that were suggested by the present state of his
affairs:

“‘a passage to the North. It is to this check,’ said he (I know that
this affair is by no means an unprecedented one, and that it ought not
to astonish the mind of a philosopher), ‘that we owe the opportunity of
being able to visit the Sandwich Islands again’ (It is a domestic event
that turns my house upside down. I have no longer a home), ‘and to
enrich our voyage with a discovery (I have no home, no home any more)
which, although the last (I am morally free though, and that is a great
point), seems in many respects to be the most important that Europeans
have yet made in the whole expanse of the Pacific Ocean....’”

M. Bergeret closed the book. He had caught a glimpse of liberty,
deliverance, and a new life. It was only a glimmer in the darkness,
but bright and steady before him. How was he to escape from this dark
tunnel? That he could not tell, but at any rate he perceived at the
end of it a tiny white point of light. And if he still carried about
with him a vision of Madame Bergeret embraced by M. Roux, it was to
him but an indecorous sight which aroused in him neither anger nor
disgust—just a vignette, the Belgian frontispiece of some lewd book.
He drew out his watch and saw that it was now two o’clock. It had taken
him exactly ninety minutes to arrive at this wise conclusion.



VII


After M. Bergeret had taken the _University Bulletin_ from the table
and gone out of the room without saying a word, M. Roux and Madame
Bergeret together emitted a long sigh of relief.

“He saw nothing,” whispered M. Roux, trying to make light of the affair.

But Madame Bergeret shook her head with an expression of anxious doubt.
For her part, what she wanted was to throw on her partner’s shoulders
the whole responsibility for any consequences that might ensue.
She felt uneasy and, above all, thwarted. She was also a prey to a
certain feeling of shame at having allowed herself, like a fool, to be
surprised by a creature who was so easily hoodwinked as M. Bergeret,
whom she despised for his credulity. Finally, she was in that state of
anxiety into which a new and unprecedented situation always throws one.

M. Roux repeated the comforting assurance which he had first made to
himself:

“I am sure he did not see us. He only looked at the table.”

And when Madame Bergeret still remained doubtful, he declared that
anyone sitting on the couch could not be seen from the doorway. Of this
Madame Bergeret tried to make sure. She went and stood in the doorway,
while M. Roux stretched himself on the sofa, to represent the surprised
lovers.

The test did not seem conclusive, and it fell next to M. Roux’s turn to
go to the door, while Madame Bergeret reconstructed their love scene.

Solemnly, coldly, and even with some show of sulkiness to each other,
they repeated this process several times. But M. Roux did not succeed
in soothing Madame Bergeret’s doubts.

At last he lost his temper and exclaimed:

“Well! if he did see us, anyway he’s a precious——.”

Here he used a word which was unfamiliar to Madame Bergeret’s ears, but
which sounded to her coarse, unseemly and abominably offensive. She was
disgusted with M. Roux for having permitted himself to use such a term.

Thinking that he would only injure Madame Bergeret more by remaining
longer in her company, M. Roux whispered a few consoling phrases in
her ear and then began to tiptoe towards the door. His natural sense
of decorum made him unwilling to risk a meeting with the kindly master
whom he had wronged. Left alone in this way, Madame Bergeret went to
her own room to think.

It did not seem to her that what had just taken place was important in
itself. In the first place, if this was the first time that she had
permitted herself to be compromised by M. Roux, it was not the first
time that she had been indiscreet with others, few in number as they
might be. Besides, an act like this may be horrible in thought, while
in actual performance it merely appears commonplace, dependent upon
circumstances and naturally innocent. In face of reality, prejudice
dies away. Madame Bergeret was not a woman carried away from her
homely, middle-class destiny by invincible forces hidden in the secret
depths of her nature. Although she possessed a certain temperament, she
was still rational and very careful of her reputation. She never sought
for adventures, and at the age of thirty-six she had only deceived M.
Bergeret three times. But these three occasions were enough to prevent
her from exaggerating her fault. She was still less disposed to do so,
since this third adventure was in essentials only a repetition of the
first two, and these had been neither painful nor pleasurable enough
to play a large part in her memory. No phantoms of remorse started
up before the matron’s large, fishy eyes. She regarded herself as an
honourable woman in the main, and only felt irritated and ashamed at
having allowed herself to be caught by a husband for whom she had the
most profound scorn. She felt this misfortune the more, because it had
come upon her in maturity, when she had arrived at the period of calm
reflection. On the two former occasions the intrigue had begun in the
same way. Usually Madame Bergeret felt much flattered whenever she made
a favourable impression on any man of position. She watched carefully
for any signs of interest they might show in her, and she never
considered them exaggerated in any way, for she believed herself to be
very alluring. Twice before the affair with M. Roux, she had allowed
things to go on up to the point where, for a woman, there is henceforth
neither physical power to put a stop to them, nor moral advantage to
be gained by so doing. The first time the intrigue had been with an
elderly man who was very experienced, by no means egotistic, and very
anxious to please her. But her pleasure in him was spoilt by the worry
which always accompanies a first lapse. The second time she took more
interest in the affair, but unfortunately her accomplice was lacking
in experience, and now M. Roux had caused her so much annoyance that
she was unable even to remember what had happened before they were
surprised. If she attempted to recall to herself their posture on the
sofa, it was only in order to guess at what M. Bergeret had been able
to deduce from it, so that she might make sure up to what point she
could still lie to him and deceive him.

She was humiliated and annoyed, and whenever she thought of her big
girls, she felt ashamed: she knew that she had made herself ridiculous.
But fear was the last feeling in her mind, for either by craft or
audacity, she felt sure she could manage this gentle, timid man, so
ignorant of the ways of the world, so far inferior to herself.

She had never lost the idea that she was immeasurably superior to M.
Bergeret. This notion inspired all her words and acts, nay, even her
silence. She suffered from the pride of race, for she was a Pouilly,
the daughter of Pouilly, the University Inspector, the niece of Pouilly
of the Dictionary, the great-granddaughter of a Pouilly who, in 1811,
composed _la Mythologie des Demoiselles_ and _l’Abeille des Dames_. She
had been encouraged by her father in this sentiment of family pride.

What was a Bergeret by the side of a Pouilly? She had, therefore, no
misgivings as to the result of the struggle which she foresaw, and she
awaited her husband’s return with an attitude of boldness dashed with
cunning. But when, at lunch time, she heard him going downstairs, a
shade of anxiety crept over her mind. When he was out of her sight,
this husband of hers disquieted her: he became mysterious, almost
formidable. She wore out her nerves in imagining what he would say to
her and in preparing different deceitful or defiant answers, according
to the circumstances. She strained and stiffened her courage, in order
to repel attack. She pictured to herself pitiable attitudes and threats
of suicide followed by a scene of reconciliation. By the time evening
came, she was thoroughly unnerved. She cried and bit her handkerchief.
Now she wanted, she longed for explanations, abuse, violent speeches.
She waited for M. Bergeret with burning impatience, and at nine o’clock
she at last recognised his step on the landing. But he did not come
into her room; the little maid came instead:

“Monsieur says,” she announced, with a sly, pert grin, “that I’m to put
up the iron bedstead for him in the study.”

Madame Bergeret said not a word, for she was thunderstruck.

Although she slept as soundly as usual that night, yet her audacious
spirit was quelled.



VIII


The curé of Saint-Exupère, the arch-priest Laprune, had been invited to
déjeuner by Abbé Guitrel. They were now both seated at the little round
table on which Joséphine had just set a flaming rum omelette.

M. Guitrel’s maid had reached the canonical age some years ago; she
wore a moustache; and assuredly bore no resemblance to the imaginary
portrait of her which set the town guffawing in the ribald tales of the
old Gallic type that were bandied about. Her face gave the lie to the
jovial slanders which circulated from the Café du Commerce to Paillot’s
shop, and from the pharmacy of the radical M. Mandar, to the jansenist
salon of M. Lerond, the retired judge. Even if it were true that the
professor of rhetoric used to allow his servant to sit at table with
him when he was dining alone, if he was in the habit of sharing with
her the little cakes that he chose with such anxious care at Dame
Magloire’s, it was only because of his pure and innocent regard for
a poor old woman, who was, in truth, both illiterate and rough, but
at the same time full of crafty wisdom and devoted to her master. She
was, in fact, filled with ambition for him and ready in her loyalty to
betray the whole world for his sake.

Unfortunately Abbé Lantaigne, the principal of the high seminary, paid
too much heed to these prurient tales about Guitrel and his domestic,
which everyone repeated and which no one believed, not even M. Mandar,
the chemist of the Rue Culture, the most rabid of the town councillors.
He had, in fact, added too much out of his own stock-in-trade to these
merry tales not to suspect in his own mind the authenticity of the
whole collection. For quite a voluminous cycle of romance had grown up
round these two prosaic people. Had he only known the _Decameron_, the
_Heptameron_ and the _Cent Nouvelles nouvelles_ better, M. Lantaigne
would frequently have discovered the source of this droll adventure, or
of that weird anecdote, which the county town generously added to the
legend of M. Guitrel and his servant Joséphine. M. Mazure, the keeper
of the municipal archives, never failed for his part, whenever he had
found some lewd story of a Churchman in an old book, to assign it to
M. Guitrel. Only M. Lantaigne actually swallowed what everyone else
said without believing.

“Patience, Monsieur l’abbé!” said Joséphine; “I will go and fetch a
spoon to baste it with.”

So saying she took a long-handled pewter spoon from the sideboard
drawer and handed it to M. Guitrel. Whilst the priest poured the
flaming spirit over the frizzling sugar, which gave out a smell of
caramel, the servant leant against the sideboard with her arms crossed
and stared at the musical clock which hung on the wall in a gilt frame;
a Swiss landscape, with a train coming out of a tunnel, a balloon in
the air, and the enamelled dial affixed to a little church tower. The
observant woman was really watching her master, for his short arm was
beginning to ache with wielding the hot spoon. She began to spur him on:

“Look sharp, Monsieur l’abbé! Don’t let it go out.”

“This dish,” said the arch-priest, “really gives out a most delicious
odour. The last time I had one like it made for me, the dish split on
account of the heat and the rum ran over the table-cloth. I was much
vexed, and what annoyed me still more was to see the consternation on
M. Tabarit’s face, for it happened when he was dining with me.”

“That’s just it!” exclaimed the servant. “M. _l’archiprêtre_ had it
served on a dish of fine porcelain. Of course, nothing could be too
fine for Monsieur. But the finer the china is, the worse it stands
fire. This dish here is of earthenware, and heat or cold makes no odds
to it. When my master is a bishop he’ll have his omelettes soufflées
served on a silver dish.”

All of a sudden the flame flickered out in the pewter spoon and M.
Guitrel stopped basting the omelette. Then he turned towards the woman
and said with a stern glance:

“Joséphine, you must never, in future, let me hear you talk in that
fashion.”

“But, my dear Guitrel,” said the curé of Saint-Exupère, “it is only
you yourself who can take exception to such words, for to others it
would seem only natural. You have been endowed with the precious gift
of intelligence. Your knowledge is profound and, were you raised to
a bishopric, it would only seem a fitting thing. Who knows whether
this simple woman has not uttered a true prophecy? Has not your name
been mentioned among those of the priests considered eligible for the
episcopal chair of Tourcoing?”

M. Guitrel pricked up his ears and gave a side-long glance, with one
eye full on the other’s profile.

He was, indeed, feeling very anxious, for his affairs were by no means
in a promising state. At the nunciature he had been obliged to content
himself with vague promises and he was beginning to be afraid of their
Roman caution. It seemed to him that M. Lantaigne was in good odour at
the Department of Religion, and, in short, his visit to Paris had only
filled him with disquieting fancies. And now, if he was giving a lunch
to the curé of Saint-Exupère, it was merely because the latter had the
key to all the wire-pulling in M. Lantaigne’s party. M. Guitrel hoped,
therefore, to worm out of the worthy curé all his opponent’s secrets.

“And why,” continued the arch-priest, “should you not be a bishop one
of these days, like M. Lantaigne?”

In the silence that followed the utterance of this name, the musical
clock struck out a shrill little tune of the olden days. It was the
hour of noon.

The hand with which Abbé Guitrel passed the earthenware dish to the
arch-priest trembled a little.

“There is,” said the latter, “a mellowness about this dish, a
mellowness that is not insipid. Your servant is a first-rate cook.”

“You were speaking of M. Lantaigne?” queried Abbé Guitrel.

“I was,” replied the arch-priest. “I don’t mean to say that at this
precise moment M. Lantaigne is the bishop-designate of Tourcoing,
for to say that would be to anticipate the course of events. But I
heard this very morning from someone who is very intimate with the
Vicar-General that the nunciature and the ministry are practically in
agreement as to the appointment of M. Lantaigne. But this, of course,
still lacks confirmation and it is quite possible that M. de Goulet
may have taken his hopes for accomplished facts, for, as you know,
he ardently desires M. Lantaigne’s success. But that the principal
will be successful seems quite probable. It is true that some time
ago a certain uncompromising attitude, which it was believed might be
justly attributed to M. Lantaigne’s opinions, may perchance have given
offence to the powers that be, inspired as they were with a harassing
distrust of the clergy. But times are changed. These heavy clouds of
mistrust have rolled away. Certain influences, too, that were formerly
considered outside the sphere of politics are beginning to work now,
even in governmental circles. They tell me, in fact, that General
Cartier de Chalmot’s support of M. Lantaigne’s candidature has been
all-powerful. This is the gossip, the still unauthenticated report,
that I have heard.”

The servant Joséphine had left the room, but her anxious shadow still
flashed from moment to moment through the half-open door.

M. Guitrel neither spoke nor ate.

“This omelette,” said the arch-priest, “has a curious mixture of
flavours which tickles the palate without allowing one to distinguish
just what it is that is so delightful. Will you permit me to ask your
servant for the recipe?”

An hour later M. Guitrel bade farewell to his guest, and set out, with
shoulders bent low, for the seminary. Buried in thought, he descended
the winding, slanting street of the Chantres, crossing his great-coat
over his chest against the icy wind which was buffeting the gable of
the cathedral. It was the coldest, darkest corner of the town. He
hastened his pace as far as the Rue du Marché, and there he stopped
before the butcher’s shop kept by Lafolie.

It was barred like a lion’s cage. Under the quarters of mutton hung
up by hooks, the butcher lay asleep on the ground, close against the
board used for cutting up the meat. His brawny limbs were now relaxed
in utter weariness, for his day’s work had begun at daybreak. With
his bare arms crossed, he lay slowly nodding his head. His steel was
still hanging at his side and his legs were stretched out under a
blood-stained white apron. His red face was shining, and under the
turned-down collar of his pink shirt the veins of his neck swelled up.
From the recumbent figure breathed a sense of quiet power. M. Bergeret,
indeed, always used to say of Lafolie that from him one could gather
some idea of the Homeric heroes, because his manner of life resembled
theirs since, like them, he shed the blood of victims.

Butcher Lafolie slept. Near him slept his son, tall and strong like
his father, and with ruddy cheeks. The butcher’s boy, with his head
in his hands, was asleep on the marble slab, with his hair dangling
among the spread-out joints of meat. Behind her glazed partition at the
entrance of the shop sat Madame Lafolie, bolt upright, but with heavy
eyes weighed down by sleep. She was a fat woman, with a huge bosom, her
flesh saturated with the blood of beasts. The whole family had a look
of brutal, yet masterly, power, an air of barbaric royalty.

With his quick glance shifting from one to the other, M. Guitrel
stood watching them for a long while. Again and again he turned with
special interest towards the master, the colossus whose purpled cheeks
were barred by a long reddish moustache, and who, now that his eyes
were shut, showed on his temples the little wrinkles that speak of
cunning. Then, surfeited of the sight of this violent, crafty brute,
and gripping his old umbrella under his arm, he crossed his great-coat
over his chest once more, and continued his way. He was quite in good
spirits once more, as he thought to himself:

“Eight thousand, three hundred and twenty-five francs last year. One
thousand, nine hundred and six this year. Abbé Lantaigne, principal of
the high seminary, owes ten thousand, two hundred and thirty-one francs
to Lafolie the butcher, who is by no means an easy-going creditor. Abbé
Lantaigne will not be a bishop.”

For a long while he had been aware that M. Lantaigne was in financial
straits, and that the college was heavily in debt. To-day his servant
Joséphine had just informed him that Lafolie was showing his teeth and
talking of suing the seminary and the archbishopric for debt. Trotting
along with his mincing step, M. Guitrel murmured:

“M. Lantaigne will never be a bishop. He is honest enough, but he is a
bad manager. Now a bishopric is just an administration. Bossuet said
so in express terms when he was delivering the funeral oration of the
Prince de Condé.”

And in mentally recalling the horrible face of Lafolie the butcher, M.
Guitrel felt no repugnance whatever.



IX


Meanwhile M. Bergeret was re-reading the meditations of Marcus
Aurelius. He had a fellow-feeling for Faustina’s husband, yet he found
it impossible really to appreciate all the fine thought contained in
this little book, so false to nature seemed its sentiments, so harsh
its philosophy, so scornful of the softer side of life its whole tone.
Next he read the tales of Sieur d’Ouville, and those of Eutrapel, the
_Cymbalum_ of Despériers, the _Matinées_ of Cholière and the _Serées_
of Guillaume Bouchet. He took more pleasure in this course of reading,
for he perceived that it was suitable to one in his position and
therefore edifying, that it tended to diffuse serene peace and heavenly
gentleness in his soul. He returned grateful thanks to the whole band
of romance-writers who all, from the dweller in old Miletus, where was
told the Tale of the Wash-tub, to the wielders of the spicy wit of
Burgundy, the charm of Touraine, and the broad humour of Normandy,
have helped to turn the sorrow of harassed hearts into the ways of
pleasant mirth by teaching men the art of indulgent laughter.[8]

    [8] In his study of mediæval romances, M. Bergeret devotes
        himself to the _Conte badin_, or jesting tale of ludicrous
        adventure by which so much of Chaucer’s work was inspired.
        This school of short stories starts with the tales of
        Aristeides of Miletus, a writer of the second century
        B.C. His _Milésiaques_, as they are called,
        were followed by the fabliaux of the Middle Ages, and in
        the fifteenth century and onwards by the _Cent Nouvelles
        nouvelles_ of Louis XI’s time, by the _Heptaméron_ of the
        Queen of Navarre, the _Decameron_ of Boccaccio and the
        _Contes_ of Despériers, of Guillaume Bouchet, of Noël du
        Fail and others. La Fontaine retold many of the older tales
        in verse and Balzac tried to revive the Gallic wit and even
        the language of the fabliaux in his _Contes drôlatiques_.

“These romancers,” thought he, “who make austere moralists knit their
brows, are themselves excellent moralists, who should be loved and
praised for having gracefully suggested the simplest, the most natural,
the most humane solutions of domestic difficulties, difficulties which
the pride and hatred of the savage heart of man would fain solve by
murder and bloodshed. O Milesian romancers! O shrewd Petronius! O Noël
du Fail,” cried he, “O forerunners of Jean de La Fontaine! what apostle
was wiser or better than you, who are commonly called good-for-nothing
rascals? O benefactors of humanity! you have taught us the true science
of life, a kindly scorn of the human race!”

Thus did M. Bergeret fortify himself with the thought that our pride
is the original source of all our misery, that we are, in fact, but
monkeys in clothes, and that we have solemnly applied conceptions of
honour and virtue to matters where these are ridiculous. Pope Boniface
VIII, in fact, was wise in thinking that, in his own case, a mountain
was being made out of a mole-hill, and Madame Bergeret and M. Roux
were just about as worthy of praise or blame as a pair of chimpanzees.
Yet, he was too clear-sighted to pretend to deny the close bond that
united him to these two principal actors in his drama. But he only
regarded himself as a meditative chimpanzee, and he derived from the
idea a sensation of gratified vanity. For wisdom invariably goes astray
somewhere.

M. Bergeret’s, indeed, failed in another point: he did not really
adapt his conduct to his maxims, and although he showed no violence,
he never gave the least hint of forbearance. Thus he by no means
proved himself the follower of those Milesian, Latin, Florentine, or
Gallic romance-writers whose smiling philosophy he admired as being
well suited to the absurdity of human nature. He never reproached
Madame Bergeret, it is true, but neither did he speak a word, or throw
a glance in her direction. Even when seated opposite her at table,
he seemed to have the power of never seeing her. And if by chance he
met her in one of the rooms of the flat, he gave the poor woman the
impression that she was invisible.

He ignored her, he treated her not only as a stranger, but as
non-existent. He ousted her both from visual and mental consciousness.
He annihilated her. In the house, among the numberless preoccupations
of their life together, he neither saw her, heard her, nor formed any
perception of her. Madame Bergeret was a coarse-grained, troublesome
woman, but she was a homely, moral creature after all; she was human
and living, and she suffered keenly at not being allowed to burst
out into vulgar chatter, into threatening gestures and shrill cries.
She suffered at no longer feeling herself the mistress of the house,
the presiding genius of the kitchen, the mother of the family, the
matron. Worst of all, she suffered at feeling herself done away with,
at feeling that she no longer counted as a person, or even as a thing.
During meals she at last reached the point of longing to be a chair
or a plate, so that her presence might at least be recognised. If M.
Bergeret had suddenly drawn the carving-knife on her, she would have
cried for joy, although she was by nature timid of a blow. But not to
count, not to matter, not to be seen, was insupportable to her dull,
heavy temperament. The monotonous and incessant punishment that M.
Bergeret inflicted on her was so cruel that she was obliged to stuff
her handkerchief into her mouth to stifle her sobs. And M. Bergeret,
shut up in his study, used to hear her noisily blowing her nose in the
dining-room while he himself was placidly sorting the slips for his
_Virgilius nauticus_, unmoved by either love or hate.

Every evening Madame Bergeret was sorely tempted to follow her husband
into the study that had now become his bedroom as well, and the
impregnable fastness of his impregnable will. She longed either to ask
his forgiveness, or to overwhelm him with the lowest abuse, to prick
his face with the point of a kitchen-knife or to slash herself in the
breast—one or the other, indifferently, for all she wanted was to
attract his notice to herself, just to exist for him. And this thing
which was denied her, she needed with the same overpowering need with
which one craves bread, water, air, salt.

She still despised M. Bergeret, for this feeling was hereditary and
filial in her nature. It came to her from her father and flowed in her
blood. She would no longer have been a Pouilly, the niece of Pouilly of
the Dictionary, if she had acknowledged any kind of equality between
herself and her husband. She despised him because she was a Pouilly
and he was a Bergeret, and not because she had deceived him. She had
the good sense not to plume herself too much on this superiority, but
it is more than probable that she despised him for not having killed
M. Roux. Her scorn was a fixed quantity, capable neither of increase
nor decrease. Nevertheless, she felt no hatred for him, although until
lately, she had rather enjoyed tormenting and annoying him in the
ordinary affairs of every day, by scolding him for the untidiness of
his clothes and the tactlessness of his behaviour, or by telling him
interminable anecdotes about the neighbours, trivial and silly stories
in which even the malice and ill-nature were but commonplace. For this
windbag of a mind produced neither bitter venom nor strange poison and
was but puffed up by the breath of vanity.

Madame Bergeret was admirably calculated to live on good terms with a
mate whom she could betray and brow-beat in the calm assurance of her
power and by the natural working of her vigorous physique. Having no
inner life of her own and being exuberantly healthy of body, she was
a gregarious creature, and when M. Bergeret was suddenly withdrawn
from her life, she missed him as a good wife misses an absent husband.
Moreover, this meagre little man, whom she had always considered
insignificant and unimportant, but not troublesome, now filled her
with dread. By treating her as an absolute nonentity, M. Bergeret made
her really feel that she no longer existed. She seemed to herself
enveloped in nothingness. At this new, unknown, nameless state, akin
to solitude and death, she sank into melancholy and terror. At night,
her anguish became cruel, for she was sensitive to nature and subject
to the influence of time and space. Alone in her bed, she used to
gaze in horror at the wicker-work woman on which she had draped her
dresses for so many years and which, in the days of her pride and
light-heartedness, used to stand in M. Bergeret’s study, proudly
upright, all body and no head. Now, bandy-legged and mutilated, it
leant wearily against the glass-fronted wardrobe, in the shadow of
the curtain of purple rep. Lenfant the cooper had found it in his
yard amongst the tubs of water with their floating corks, and when he
brought it to Madame Bergeret, she dared not set it up again in the
study, but had carried it instead into the conjugal chamber where,
wounded, drooping, and struck by emblematic wrath, it now stood like a
symbol that represented notions of black magic to her mind.

She suffered cruelly. When she awoke one morning a melancholy ray
of pale sunlight was shining between the folds of the curtain on
the mutilated wicker dummy and, as she lay watching it, she melted
with self-pity at the thought of her own innocence and M. Bergeret’s
cruelty. She felt instinct with rebellion. It was intolerable, she
thought, that Amélie Pouilly should suffer by the act of a Bergeret.
She mentally communed with the soul of her father and so strengthened
herself in the idea that M. Bergeret was too paltry a man to make her
unhappy. This sense of pride gave her relief and supplied her with
confidence to bedeck herself, buoying her mind with the assurance that
she had not been humiliated and that everything was as it always had
been.

It was Madame Leterrier’s At Home day, and Madame Bergeret set out,
therefore, to call on the rector’s highly respected wife. In the blue
drawing-room she found her hostess sitting with Madame Compagnon, the
wife of the mathematical professor, and after the first greetings were
over, she heaved a deep sigh. It was a provocative sigh, rather than a
down-trodden one, and while the two university ladies were still giving
ear to it, Madame Bergeret added:

“There are many reasons for sadness in this life, especially for anyone
who is not naturally inclined to put up with everything.... You are a
happy woman, Madame Leterrier, and so are you, Madame Compagnon!...”

And Madame Bergeret, becoming humble, discreet and self-controlled,
said nothing more, though fully conscious of the inquiring glances
directed towards her. But this was quite enough to give people to
understand that she was ill-used and humiliated in her home. Before,
there had been whispers in the town about M. Roux’s attentions to her,
but from that day forth Madame Leterrier set herself to put an end
to the scandal, declaring that M. Roux was a well-bred, honourable
young man. Speaking of Madame Bergeret, she added, with moist lips and
tear-filled eyes:

“That poor woman is very unhappy and very sensitive.”

Within six weeks the drawing-rooms of the county town had made up their
minds and come over to Madame Bergeret’s side. They declared that M.
Bergeret, who never paid calls, was a worthless fellow. They suspected
him of secret debauchery and hidden vice, and his friend, M. Mazure,
his comrade at the academy of old books, his colleague at Paillot’s,
was quite sure that he had seen him one evening going into the
restaurant in the Rue des Hebdomadiers, a place of questionable repute.

Whilst M. Bergeret was thus being tried by the tribunal of society
and found wanting, the popular voice was crowning him with quite a
different reputation. Of the vulgar symbol that had lately appeared on
the front of his own house only very indistinct traces remained. But
phantoms of the same design began to increase and multiply in the town,
and now M. Bergeret could not go to the college, nor on the Mall, nor
to Paillot’s shop, without seeing his own portrait on some wall, drawn
in the primitive style of all such ribaldries, surrounded by obscene,
suggestive, or idiotic scrawls, and either pencilled or chalked or
traced with the point of a stone and accompanied by an explanatory
legend.

M. Bergeret was neither angered nor vexed at the sight of these
_graffiti_; he was only annoyed at the increasing number of them. There
was one on the white wall of Goubeau’s cow-house on the Tintelleries;
another on the yellow frontage of Deniseau’s agency in the Place
Saint-Exupère; another on the grand theatre under the list of admission
rates at the second pay-box; another at the corner of the Rue de la
Pomme and the Place du Vieux-Marché; another on the outbuildings of
the Nivert mansion, next to the Gromances’ residence; another on the
porter’s lodge at the University; and yet another on the wall of the
gardens of the prefecture. And every morning M. Bergeret found yet
newer ones. He noted, too, that these _graffiti_ were not all from the
same hand. In some, the man’s figure was drawn in quite primitive
style; others were better drawn, without showing, however, upon
examination, any approach to individual likeness or the difficult art
of portraiture. But in every case the bad drawing was supplemented by a
written explanation, and in all these popular caricatures M. Bergeret
wore horns. He noticed that sometimes these horns projected from a bare
skull, sometimes from a tall hat.

“Two schools of art!” thought he.

But his refined nature suffered.



X


M. Worms-Clavelin had insisted on his old friend, Georges Frémont,
staying to déjeuner. Frémont, an inspector of fine art, was going
on circuit through the department. When they had first met in the
painters’ studios at Montmartre, Frémont was young and Worms-Clavelin
very young. They had not a single idea in common, and they had
no points of agreement at all. Frémont loved to contradict, and
Worms-Clavelin put up with it; Frémont was fluent and violent in
speech, Worms-Clavelin always yielded to his vehemence and spoke but
little. For a time they were comrades, and then life separated them.
But every time that they happened to meet, they once more became
intimate and quarrelled zestfully. For Georges Frémont, middle-aged,
portly, beribboned, well-to-do, still retained something of his
youthful fire. This morning, sitting between Madame Worms-Clavelin in
a morning gown and M. Worms-Clavelin in a breakfast jacket, he was
telling his hostess how he had discovered in the garrets at the museum,
where it had been buried in dust and rubbish, a little wooden figure
in the purest style of French art. It was a Saint Catherine habited in
the garb of a townswoman of the fifteenth century, a tiny figure with
wonderful delicacy of expression and with such a thoughtful, honest
look that he felt the tears rise to his eyes as he dusted her. M.
Worms-Clavelin inquired if it were a statue or a picture, and Georges
Frémont, glancing at him with a look of kindly scorn, said gently:

“Worms, don’t try to understand what I am saying to your wife! You are
utterly incapable of conceiving the Beautiful in any form whatever.
Harmonious lines and noble thoughts will always be written in an
unknown tongue as far as you are concerned.”

M. Worms-Clavelin shrugged his shoulders:

“Shut up, you old communard!” said he.

Georges Frémont actually was an old communard. A Parisian, the son
of a furniture maker in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, and a pupil at
the Beaux-Arts, he was twenty at the time of the German invasion, and
had enlisted in a regiment of _francs-tireurs_ who never saw service.
For this slight Frémont had never forgiven Trochu. At the time of the
capitulation he was one of the most excited, and shouted with the
rest that Paris had been betrayed. But he was no fool, and really
meant that Paris had been badly defended, which was true enough, of
course. He was for war to the knife. When the Commune was proclaimed,
he declared for it. On the proposition of one of his father’s old
workmen, a certain citizen Charlier, delegate for the Beaux-Arts, he
was appointed assistant sub-director of the Museum of the Louvre.
It was an honorary appointment and he performed his duties booted,
with cartridges in his belt, and on his head a Tyrolese hat adorned
with cock feathers. At the beginning of the siege the canvases had
been rolled up, put into packing-cases and carried away to warehouses
from which he never succeeded in unearthing them. The only duty that
remained to him was to smoke his pipe in galleries that had been
transformed into guard-rooms and to gossip with the National Guard, to
whom he denounced Badinguet for having destroyed the Rubens pictures by
a cleaning process which had removed the glaze. He based his grounds
for this accusation on the authority of a newspaper article, backed up
by M. Vitet’s opinion. The federalists sat on the benches and listened
to him, with their guns between their legs, whilst they drank their
pints of wine in the palace precincts, for it was warm weather. When,
however, the people of Versailles forced their way into Paris by the
broken-down Porte du Point-du-Jour and the cannonade approached the
Tuileries, Georges Frémont was much distressed to see the National
Guard of the federalists rolling casks of petroleum into the Apollo
gallery. It was with great difficulty that he at length succeeded in
dissuading them from saturating the wainscoting to make it blaze. Then,
giving them money for drink, he got rid of them. After they had gone,
he managed, with the assistance of the Bonapartist guards, to roll
these dangerous casks to the foot of the staircase and to push them
as far as the bank of the Seine. When the colonel of the federalists
was informed of this, he suspected Frémont of betraying the popular
cause and ordered him to be shot. But as soon as the Versailles mob
was approaching and the smoke of the blazing Tuileries rising into the
air, Frémont fled, cheek by jowl with the squad that had been ordered
out to execute him. Two days later, being denounced to the Versailles
party, he was a fugitive from the military tribunal for having taken
part in a rebellion against the established Government. And it was
perfectly certain that the Versailles party was in direct succession,
since having followed the Empire on September 4th, 1870, it had adopted
and retained the recognised procedure of the preceding Government,
whilst the Commune, which had never succeeded in establishing those
telegraphic communications that are absolutely essential to a
recognised government, found itself undone and destroyed—and, in
fact, very much in the wrong. Besides, the Commune was the outcome of
a revolution carried out in face of the enemy, and this the Versailles
administration could never forgive, for its origin recalled their
own. It was for this reason that a captain of the winning side, being
employed in shooting rebels in the neighbourhood of the Louvre, ordered
his men to search for Frémont and shoot him. At last, after remaining
in hiding for a fortnight with citizen Charlier, a member of the
Commune, under a roof in the Place de la Bastille, Frémont left Paris
in a smock-frock, with a whip in his hand, behind a market-gardener’s
cart. And whilst a court-martial at Versailles was condemning him to
death, he was earning his livelihood in London by drawing up a complete
catalogue of Rowlandson’s works for a rich City amateur. Being an
intelligent, industrious and honourable man, he soon became well known
and respected among the English artists. He loved art passionately,
but politics scarcely interested him at all. He remained friendly
towards the Commune through loyalty alone and in order to avoid the
shame of deserting vanquished friends. But he dressed well and moved
in good society. He worked strenuously and, at the same time, knew how
to profit by his work. His _Dictionnaire des monogrammes_ not only
established his reputation, but brought him in some money. After the
amnesty had been passed and the last fluttering rags of civil strife
had blown away, there landed at Boulogne, after Gambetta’s motion, a
certain gentleman, haughty and smiling, yet not unsociable. He was
youngish, but a little worn by work, and with a few grey hairs; he was
correctly dressed in a travelling costume and carried a portmanteau
packed with sketches and manuscripts. Establishing himself in modest
style at Montmartre, Georges Frémont quickly became intimate with
the artist colony there. But the labours upon the emoluments from
which he had mainly supported himself in England only brought him the
satisfaction of gratified vanity in France. Then Gambetta obtained
for him an appointment as inspector of museums, and Frémont fulfilled
his duties in this department both conscientiously and skilfully.
He had a true and delicate taste in art. The nervous sensitiveness
which had moved him deeply in his youth before the spectacle of his
country’s wounds, still affected him, now that he was growing old,
when confronted by unhappy social conditions, but enabled him, too,
to derive delight from the graceful expression of human thought, from
exquisite shapes, from the classic line, and the heroic cast of a face.
With all this he was patriotic even in art, never jesting about the
Burgundian school, faithful to political sentiment, and relying on
France to bring justice and liberty to the universe.

“You old communard!” repeated M. Worms-Clavelin.

“Hold your tongue, Worms! Your soul is ignoble and your mind obtuse.
You have no meaning in yourself, but, in the phrase of to-day, you are
a representative type. Just Heavens! how many victims were butchered
during a whole century of civil war just that M. Worms-Clavelin might
become a republican _préfet_! Worms, you are lower in the scale than
the _préfets_ of the Empire.”

“The Empire!” exclaimed M. Worms-Clavelin. “Blast the Empire! First of
all it swept us all into the abyss, and then it made me an official.
But, all the same, wine is made, corn is grown, just as in the time
of the Empire; they bet on the Bourse, as under the Empire; one eats,
drinks, and makes love, as under the Empire. At bottom, life is just
the same. How could government and administration be different?
There are certain shades of difference, I grant you. We have more
liberty; we even have too much of it. We have more security. We enjoy
a government which suits the ideals of the people. As far as such a
thing is possible, we are the masters of our fate. All the social
forces are now held in just balance, or nearly so. Now just you show me
what there is that could be changed. The colour of our postage stamps
perhaps ... and after that!... As old Montessuy used to say, ‘No, no,
friend, short of changing the French, there is nothing in France to
change.’ Of course, I am all for progress. One must talk about moving,
were it only in order to dispense with movement. ‘Forward! forward!’
The _Marseillaise_ must have been useful in _not_ carrying one to the
frontier!...”

The look which Georges Frémont turned on the _préfet_ was full of deep,
affectionate, kindly, thoughtful scorn:

“Everything is as perfect as it can be, then, Worms?”

“Don’t make out that I speak like an utter dolt. Nothing is perfect,
but all things cling together, prop one another up, dovetail with one
another. It is just like père Mulot’s wall which you can see from here
behind the orangery. It is all warped and cracked and leans forward.
For the last thirty years that fool of a Quatrebarbe, the diocesan
architect, has been stopping dead in front of Mulot’s house. Then, with
his nose in air, his hands behind his back and his legs apart, he says:
‘I really don’t see how that holds together!’ The little imps coming
out from school stand behind him and shout in mockery of his gruff
tones: ‘I really don’t see how that holds together!’ He turns round
and, seeing nobody, looks at the pavement as though the echo of his
voice had risen from the earth. Then he goes away repeating, ‘I really
don’t see how that holds together!’ It holds together because nobody
touches it; because père Mulot summons neither masons nor architects;
above all, because he takes good care not to ask M. Quatrebarbe for his
advice. It holds together because up till now it has held together. It
holds together, you old dreamer, because they neither revise the taxes
nor reform the Constitution.”

“That is to say, it holds together through fraud and iniquity,” said
Georges Frémont. “We have fallen into a cauldron of shame. Our finance
ministers are under the thumb of the cosmopolitan banking-houses.
And, sadder still, it is France—France, of old the deliverer of
the nations—that has no care in European politics save to avenge
the rights of titled sovereigns. Without even daring to shudder, we
permitted the massacre of three hundred thousand Christians in the
East, although, by our traditions, we had been constituted their
revered and august protectors. We have betrayed not only the interests
of humanity, but our own; and now you may see the Republic floating in
Cretan waters among the Powers of Europe, like a guinea-fowl amid a
flock of gulls. It was to this point, then, that our friendship with
our ally was to lead us.”

The _préfet_ protested:

“Don’t attack the Russian entente, Frémont. It’s the very best of all
the electioneering baits.”

“The Russian alliance,” replied Frémont, waving his fork, “I hailed
the birth of it with joyful expectation. But, alas, did it not, at the
very first test, fling us into the arms of that assassin the Sultan and
lead us to Crete, there to hurl melinite shell at Christians whose only
fault was the long oppression they had suffered? But it was not Russia
that we took such pains to humour, it was the great bankers interested
in Ottoman bonds. And you saw how the glorious victory of Canea was
hailed by the Jewish financiers with a burst of generous enthusiasm.”

“There you go,” cried the _préfet_, “that’s just sentimental politics!
You ought to know, at any rate, where that sort of thing leads. And why
the deuce you should be excited about the Greeks, I don’t see. They’re
not at all interesting.”

“You are right, Worms,” said the inspector of fine arts. “You are
perfectly right. The Greeks are not interesting, for they are poor.
They have nothing but their blue sea, their violet hills and the
fragments of their statues. The honey of Hymettus is never quoted
on the Bourse. The Turks, on the contrary, are well worthy of the
attention of European financiers. They have internal dissensions; above
all they have resources. They pay badly and they pay much. One can do
business with them. Stocks rise. All is well then. Such are the ideals
of our foreign policy!”

M. Worms-Clavelin interrupted him hurriedly, and casting on him a
reproachful look, said:

“Ah, now! Georges, don’t be disingenuous. You know well enough that we
neither have, nor can have, any foreign policy.”



XI


“It seems that it is fixed for to-morrow,” said M. de Terremondre as he
entered Paillot’s shop.

Everyone understood the allusion: he was referring to the execution
of Lecœur, the butcher’s assistant, who had been sentenced to
death on the 27th of November, for the murder of Madame Houssieu.
This young criminal supplied the entire township with an interest in
life. Judge Roquincourt, who had a reputation in society as a ladies’
man, had courteously admitted Madame Dellion and Madame de Gromance
to the prison and allowed them a glimpse of the prisoner through the
barred grating of the cell where he was playing cards with a gaoler.
In his turn, the governor of the prison, M. Ossian Colot, an officer
of the Academy, gladly did the honours of his condemned prisoner to
journalists as well as to prominent townsmen. M. Ossian Colot had
written with the knowledge of an expert on various questions of the
penal code. He was proud of his establishment, which was run on the
most up-to-date lines, and he by no means despised popularity. The
visitors cast curious glances at Lecœur, while they speculated on
the relationship between this youth of twenty and the nonagenarian
widow who had become his victim. They stood stupefied by astonishment
before this monstrous brute. Yet Abbé Tabarit, the prison chaplain,
told with tears in his eyes how the poor lad had expressed the most
edifying sentiments of repentance and piety. Meanwhile, from morning
to night throughout three whole months, Lecœur played cards with
his gaolers and disputed the points in their own slang, for they were
of the same class. His darkened soul never revealed its sufferings
in words, but the rosy, chubby lad who, only ten months before, was
to be met whistling in the street with his basket on his head, and
his white apron knotted round his muscular loins, now shivered in his
strait waistcoat with pale, cadaverous face and looked like a sick man
of forty. His herculean neck was wasted and now protruded from his
drooping shoulders, thin and disproportionately long. By this time it
was agreed on all sides that he had exhausted the abhorrence, the pity
and the curiosity of his fellow-citizens, and that it was high time to
put an end to him.

“For six o’clock to-morrow. I heard it from Surcouf himself,” added M.
de Terremondre. “They’ve got the guillotine at the station.”

“That’s a good thing,” said Dr. Fornerol. “For three nights the crowd
has been congregating at the cross-roads of les Évées and there have
been several accidents. Julien’s son fell from a tree on his head and
cracked his skull. I’m afraid it’s impossible to save him.

“As for the condemned,” continued the doctor, “nobody, not even the
President of the Republic, could prolong his life. For this young lad
who was vigorous and sound up to the time of his arrest is now in the
last stage of consumption.”

“Have you seen him in his cell, then?” asked Paillot.

“Several times,” answered Dr. Fornerol, “and I have even attended him
professionally at Ossian Colot’s request, for he is always deeply
interested in the moral and physical well-being of his boarders.”

“He’s a real philanthropist,” answered M. de Terremondre. “And the
fact ought to be recognised that, in its way, our municipal prison is
an admirable institution, with its clean, white cells, all radiating
from a central watch-tower, and so skilfully arranged that all the
occupants are constantly under observation without being aware of the
fact. Nothing can be said against it, it is complete and modern and
all on the newest lines. Last year, when I was on a walking tour in
Morocco, I saw at Tangier, in a courtyard shaded by a mulberry tree,
a wretched building of mud and plaster, with a huge negro dressed in
rags lying asleep in front of it. Being a soldier, he was armed with a
cudgel. Swarthy hands clasping wicker baskets were projecting from the
narrow windows of the building. These belonged to the prisoners, who
were offering the passers-by the products of their lazy efforts, in
exchange for a copper or two. Their guttural voices whined out prayers
and complaints, which were harshly punctuated at intervals by curses
and furious shouts. For they were all shut up together in a vast hall
and spent the time in quarrelling with one another about the apertures,
through which they all wanted to pass their baskets. Whenever a dispute
was too noisy, the black soldier would wake up and force both baskets
and suppliant hands back within the walls by a vigorous onslaught of
his cudgel. In a few seconds, however, more hands would appear, all
sunburnt and tattooed in blue like the first ones. I had the curiosity
to peep into the prison hall through the chinks in an old wooden door.
I could see in the dim-lit, shadowy place a horde of tatterdemalions
scattered over the damp ground, bronzed bodies sleeping on piles of red
rags, solemn faces with long venerable beards beneath their turbans,
nimble blackamoors weaving baskets with shouts of laughter. On swollen
limbs here and there could be seen soiled linen bandages barely hiding
sores and ulcers, and one could see and hear the vermin wave and rustle
in all directions. Sometimes a laugh passed round the room. And a black
hen was pecking at the filthy ground with her beak. The soldier allowed
me to watch the prisoners as long as I liked, waiting for me to go,
before he begged of me. Then I thought of the governor of our splendid
municipal prison, and I said to myself: ‘If only M. Ossian Colot were
to come to Tangier he would soon discover and sweep away this crowding,
this horrible promiscuity.’”

“You paint a picture of barbarism which I recognise,” answered M.
Bergeret. “It is far less cruel than civilisation. For these Mussulman
prisoners have no sufferings to undergo, save such as arise from the
indifference or the occasional savagery of their gaolers. At least the
philanthropists leave them alone and their life is endurable, for they
escape the torture of the cell system, and in comparison with the cell
invented by the penal code of science, every other sort of prison is
quite pleasant.

“There is,” continued M. Bergeret, “a peculiar savagery in civilised
peoples, which surpasses in cruelty all that the imagination of
barbarism can conceive. A criminal expert is a much fiercer being than
a savage, and a philanthropist will invent tortures unknown in China or
Persia. A Persian executioner kills his prisoners by starving them, but
it required a philanthropist to conceive the idea of killing them with
solitude. It is on the principle of solitude that the punishment of the
cell system depends, and no other penalty can be compared with it for
duration and cruelty. The sufferer, if he is lucky, becomes mad through
it, and madness mercifully destroys in him all sense of his sufferings.
People imagine they are justifying this abominable system when they
allege that the prisoner must be withdrawn from the bad influence of
his fellows and put in a position where he cannot give way to immoral
or criminal instincts. People who reason in this way are really such
great fools that one can scarcely call them hypocrites.”

“You are right,” said M. Mazure. “But let us be just to our own age.
The Revolution not only accomplished a reform in judicial procedure,
but also much improved the lot of the prisoner. The dungeons of the
olden times were generally dark, pestilential dens.”

“It is true,” replied M. Bergeret, “that men have been cruel and
malicious in every age and have always delighted in tormenting the
wretched. But before philanthropists arose, at any rate, men were only
tortured through a simple feeling of hatred and desire for revenge, and
not for the good of their morals.”

“You forget,” answered M. Mazure, “that the Middle Ages gave birth to
the most accursed form of philanthropy ever known—the spiritual. For
it is just this name that suits the spirit of the holy Inquisition. It
was through pure charity alone that this tribunal handed heretics over
to the stake, and if it destroyed the body, it was, so they said, only
in order to save the soul.”

“They never said that,” answered M. Bergeret, “and they never thought
it. Victor Hugo did, indeed, believe that Torquemada ordered men to be
burnt for their good, in order that their eternal happiness might be
secured at the price of a short pain. On this theory he constructed
a drama that sparkles with the play of antithesis. But there is no
foundation whatever for this idea of his, and I should never have
imagined that a scholar like you, fattening, as you have done, on old
parchments, would have been led astray by a poet’s lies. The truth
is that the tribunal of the Inquisition, in handing the heretic over
to the secular arm, was simply cutting away a diseased limb from the
Church, for fear lest the whole body should be contaminated. As for
the limb thus cut off, its fate was in the hands of God. Such was the
spirit of the Inquisition, frightful enough, but by no means romantic.
But where the Holy Office showed what you rightly call spiritual
philanthropy was in the treatment it meted out to those converted from
the error of their ways. It charitably condemned them to perpetual
imprisonment, and immured them for the good of their souls. But I was
merely referring to the State prisons, just now, such as they were in
the Middle Ages and in modern times up to the reign of Louis XIV.”

“It is true,” said M. de Terremondre, “that the system of solitary
confinement has not produced all the happy results that were expected
from it in the reformation of prisoners.”

“This system,” said Dr. Fornerol, “often produces rather serious mental
disorders. Yet it is only fair to add that criminals are naturally
predisposed to troubles of this kind. We recognise to-day that the
criminal is a degenerate. Thus, for instance, thanks to M. Ossian
Colot’s courtesy, I have been allowed to make an examination of our
murderer, this fellow Lecœur. I found many physiological defects in
him.... His teeth, for instance, are quite abnormal. I argue from that
fact that he is only partially responsible for his acts.”

“Yet,” said M. Bergeret, “one of the sisters of Mithridates had a
double row of teeth in each jaw, and in her brother’s estimation, at
any rate, she was a woman of noble courage. So dearly did he love her
that when he was a fugitive pursued by Lucullus, he gave orders that
she should be strangled by a mute to prevent her falling alive into the
hands of the Romans. Nor did she then fail to live up to her brother’s
lofty estimation of her character, but suffering death by the bowstring
with joyous calmness, said: ‘I thank the king, my brother, for having
had a care to my honour, even in the midst of his own besetting
troubles.’ You see from this example that heroism is not impossible
even with a row of abnormal teeth.”

“Lecœur’s case,” replied the doctor, “presents many other
peculiarities which cannot fail to be significant in the eyes of a
scientist. Like so many born criminals his senses are blunted. Thus I
found, when I examined him, that he was tattooed in every part of his
body. You would be surprised at the lewd fancy shown in the choice of
scenes and symbols painted on his skin.”

“Really?” said M. de Terremondre.

“The skin of this patient,” said Dr. Fornerol, “really ought to be
properly prepared and preserved in our museum. But it is not the
character of the tattooing that I want to insist upon, but rather the
number of the pictures and their arrangement on the body. Certain parts
of the operation must have caused the patient an amount of pain which
could scarcely have been bearable to a person of ordinary sensibility.”

“There you are making a mistake!” exclaimed M. de Terremondre. “It
is evident that you don’t know my friend Jilly. Yet he is a very
well-known man. Jilly was quite young when, in 1885 or ’86, he made
the tour of the world with his friend Lord Turnbridge on the yacht
_Old Friend_. Jilly swears that throughout the whole voyage, through
storms and calm, neither Lord Turnbridge nor himself ever put foot on
deck for a single moment. The whole time they remained in the cabin
drinking champagne with an old top-man of the marines who had been
taught tattooing by a Tasmanian chief. In the course of the voyage
this old top-man covered the two friends from head to foot with tattoo
marks, and Jilly returned to France adorned with a fox-hunt that
comprises as many as three hundred and twenty-four figures of men,
women, horses and dogs. He is always delighted to show it when he sups
with boon companions at an inn. Now I really cannot say whether Jilly
is abnormally insensitive to pain, but what I can tell you is that he
is a fine fellow, and a man of honour and that he is incapable of....”

“But,” asked M. Bergeret, “do you think it right that this butcher’s
boy should be guillotined? For you confess that there are such things
as born criminals, and in your own phrase it seems that Lecœur
was only partially responsible for his acts, through a congenital
predisposition to crime.”

The doctor shrugged his shoulders.

“Then what would you do with him?” he asked.

“As a matter of fact,” replied M. Bergeret, “I am but little interested
in the fate of this particular man. But I am, nevertheless, opposed to
the death penalty.”

“Let’s hear your reasons, Bergeret,” said Mazure, the archivist, for
to him, living as he did in admiration of ’93 and the Terror, the idea
of the guillotine carried with it mystic suggestions of moral beauty.
“For my part, I would prohibit the death penalty in common law, but
re-establish it in political cases.”

M. de Terremondre had appointed Paillot’s shop as a rendezvous for M.
Georges Frémont, the inspector of fine arts, and just at the moment
when this civic discussion was in progress, he entered the shop. They
were going together to inspect Queen Marguerite’s house. Now, M.
Bergeret stood rather in awe of M. Frémont, for he felt himself a poor
creature by the side of such a great man. For M. Bergeret, who feared
nothing in the world of ideas, was very diffident where living men were
concerned.

M. de Terremondre had not got the key of the house, so he sent Léon to
fetch it, while he made M. Georges Frémont sit down in the corner among
the old books.

“Monsieur Bergeret,” said he, “is singing the praises of the
old-fashioned prisons.”

“Not at all,” said M. Bergeret, a little annoyed, “not at all. They
were nothing but sewers where the poor wretches lived chained to the
wall. But, at any rate, they were not alone—they had companions—and
the citizens, as well as the lords and ladies, used to come and visit
them. Visiting the prisons was one of the seven works of mercy. Nobody
is tempted to do that now, and if they were, the prison regulations
would not allow it.”

“It is true,” said M. de Terremondre, “that in olden times it was
customary to visit the prisoners. In my portfolios I have an engraving
by Abraham Bosse, which represents a nobleman wearing a plumed felt
hat, accompanying a lady in a veil of Venice point and a peaked brocade
bodice, into a dungeon which is swarming with beggars clothed in a few
shreds of filthy rags. The engraving is one of a set of seven original
proofs which I possess. And with these one always has to be on one’s
guard, for nowadays they reprint them from the old worn plates.”

“Visiting the prisons,” said Georges Frémont, “is a common subject
of Christian art in Italy, Flanders and France. It is treated with
peculiar vigour and truth in the Della Robbias on the frieze of painted
terra-cotta that surrounds the hospital at Pistoia in its superb
embrace.... You know Pistoia, Monsieur Bergeret?...”

The Professor had to acknowledge that he had never been in Tuscany.

Here M. de Terremondre, who was standing near the door, touched M.
Frémont’s arm.

“Look, Monsieur Frémont,” said he, “towards the square at the right of
the church. You will see the prettiest woman in the town go by.”

“That’s Madame de Gromance,” said M. Bergeret. “She is charming.”

“She occasions a lot of gossip,” said M. Mazure. “She was a Demoiselle
Chapon. Her father was a solicitor, and the greatest skinflint in the
department. Yet she is a typical aristocrat.”

“What is called the aristocratic type,” said Georges Frémont, “is a
pure conception of the brain. There is no more reality in it than in
the classic type of the Bacchante or the Muse. I have often wondered
how this aristocratic type of womanhood arose, how it managed to
root itself in the popular conception. It takes its origin, I think,
from several elements of real life. Among these I should point to
the actresses in tragedy and comedy, both those of the old Gymnase
and of the Théâtre-Français, as well as of the Boulevard du Crime
and the Porte-Saint-Martin. For a whole century these actresses have
been presenting to our spectacle-loving people numberless studies of
princesses and great ladies. Besides these, one must include the models
from whom painters create queens and duchesses for their genre, or
historical pictures. Nor must one overlook the more recent and less
far-reaching, yet still powerful, influence of the mannequins, or
lay-figures, of the great dressmakers, those beautiful girls with tall
figures who show off a dress so superbly. Now these actresses, these
models, these shop-girls, are all women of the lower class. From this
I deduce the fact that the aristocratic type proceeds entirely from
plebeian elegance. Hence there is nothing surprising in the fact that
Madame de Gromance, _née_ Chapon, should be found to belong to this
type. She is graceful, and what is a rare thing in our towns, with
their sharp paving-stones and dirty footpaths—she walks well. But I
rather fancy she falls a little short of perfection as regards the
hips. That’s a serious defect!”

Lifting his nose from the thirty-eighth volume of _l’Histoire générale
des Voyages_, M. Bergeret looked with admiring awe at this red-bearded
Parisian who could thus pass judgment on Madame de Gromance’s
delicious beauty and worshipful shape in the cold and measured accents
of an inquisitor.

“Now I know your tastes,” said M. de Terremondre, “I will introduce you
to my aunt Courtrai. She is heavily built and can only sit down in a
certain family arm-chair, which, for the past three hundred years, has
been in the habit of receiving all the old ladies of Courtrai-Maillan
within its capaciously wide and complacent embrace. As for her face,
it suits well with the rest of her, and I hope you will like it.
My aunt Courtrai is as red as a tomato, with fair moustaches that
wave negligently in their beauty. Ah! my aunt Courtrai’s type has no
connection with your actresses, models, and dressmakers’ dummies.”

“I feel myself,” said M. Frémont, “already much enamoured of your
worthy aunt.”

“The ancient nobility,” said M. Mazure, “used to live the life of
our large farmers of to-day, and, of course, they could not avoid
resembling those whose lives they led.”

“It is a well-proved fact,” said Dr. Fornerol, “that the human race is
degenerating.”

“Do you really think so?” asked M. Frémont. “Yet in France and Italy,
during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the flower of their
chivalry must have been very slender. The royal coats of mail belonging
to the end of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance times were skilfully
wrought, and damascened and chased with exquisite art, yet so narrow
in the shoulders are they and so meagre in figure, that a man of our
day could only wear them with difficulty. They were almost all made
for small, slight men, and in fact, French portraits of the fifteenth
century, and the miniatures of Jehan Foucquet show us a world of almost
stunted folk.”

Léon entered with the key, in a great state of excitement.

“It is fixed for to-morrow,” he said to his master. “Deibler and his
assistants came by the half-past three train. They went to the Hôtel
de Paris, but there they wouldn’t take them in. Then they went to the
inn at the bottom of Duroc Hill, _le Cheval Bleu_, a regular cut-throat
place.”

“Ah, yes,” said Frémont, “I heard this morning at the prefecture that
there was an execution in your town. The topic was in everybody’s
mouth.”

“There are so few amusements in the provinces!” said M. de Terremondre.

“But that spirit,” said M. Bergeret, “is revolting. A legal execution
takes place in secret. But why should we still carry it on at all,
if we are ashamed of it? President Grévy, who was a man of great
insight, practically abolished the death penalty, by never passing a
sentence of death. Would that his successors had followed his example!
Personal security in the modern state is not obtained by mere fear of
punishment. Many European nations have now abolished the death penalty,
and in such countries crime is no more common than in the nations where
this base custom yet exists. And even in countries where this practice
is still found, it is in a weak and languishing condition, no longer
retaining power or efficacy. It is nothing but a piece of useless
unseemliness, for the practice is a mere survival of the principle on
which it rested. Those ideas of right and justice which formerly laid
men’s heads low in majestic fashion are now shaken to their roots by
the morality which has blossomed upon the natural sciences. And since
the death penalty is visibly on the point of death, the wisest thing
would be to let it die.”

“You are right,” said M. Frémont. “The death penalty has become an
intolerable practice, since now we no longer connect any idea of
expiation with it, for expiation is a purely theological notion.”

“The President would certainly have sent a pardon,” said Léon, with a
consequential air. “But the crime was too horrible.”

“The power of pardon,” said M. Bergeret, “was one of the attributes
of divine right. The king could only exercise it because, as the
representative of God on earth, he was above the ordinary human
justice. In passing from the king to the President of the Republic,
this right lost its essential character and therefore its legality.
It thenceforth became a flimsy prerogative, a judicial power
outside justice and yet no longer above it; it created an arbitrary
jurisdiction, foreign to our conception of the lawgiver. In practice
it is good, since by its action the wretched are saved. But bear in
mind that it has become ridiculous. The mercy of the king was the mercy
of God Himself, but just imagine M. Félix Faure invested with the
attributes of divinity! M. Thiers, who did not fancy himself the Lord’s
Anointed, and who, indeed, was not consecrated at Rheims, released
himself from this right of pardon by appointing a commission which was
entrusted with the task of being merciful for him.”

“It was only moderately so,” said M. Frémont.

Here a young soldier entered the shop and asked for _Le Parfait
Secrétaire_.

“Remains of barbarism,” said M. Bergeret, “still persist in modern
civilisation. Our code of military justice, for instance, will make
our memory hateful in the eyes of the near future. That code was
framed to deal with the bands of armed brigands who ravaged Europe in
the eighteenth century. It was perpetuated by the Republic of ’92
and reduced to a system during the first half of this century. When a
nation had taken the place of an army, they forgot to change the code,
for one cannot think of everything. Those brutal laws which were framed
in the first place to curb a savage soldiery are now used to govern
scared young peasants, or the children of our towns, who could easily
be led by kindness. And that is considered a natural proceeding!”

“I don’t follow you,” said M. de Terremondre. “Our military code,
prepared, I believe, at the Restoration, only dates from the Second
Empire. About 1875 it was revised and made to suit the new organisation
of the army. You cannot, therefore, say that it was framed for the
armies of former times.”

“I can with truth,” answered M. Bergeret, “for this code is nothing
more than a mere collection of orders respecting the armies of
Louis XIV and Louis XV. Everyone knows what these armies were, a
conglomeration of kidnappers and kidnapped, the scourings of the
country, divided into lots which were bought by the young nobles, often
mere children. In such regiments discipline was maintained by perpetual
threats of death. But everything is now changed: the soldiery of the
monarchy and the two Empires has given place to a vast and peaceful
national guard. There is no longer any fear of mutiny or violence.
Nevertheless, death at every turn still threatens these gentle flocks
of peasants and artisans clumsily disguised as soldiers. The contrast
between their harmless conduct and the savage laws in force against
them is almost laughable. And a moment’s reflection would prove that
it is as absurd as it is hateful to punish with death crimes which
could easily be dealt with by the simple penal code devised for the
maintenance of public order.”

“But,” said M. de Terremondre, “the soldiers of to-day are armed as
were the soldiers of former ages, and it is quite necessary that a
small, unarmed body of officers should be able to ensure obedience and
respect from a mob of men armed with muskets and cartridges. That’s the
gist of the whole matter.”

“It is an ancient prejudice,” said M. Bergeret, “to believe in the
necessity of punishment and to fancy that the severer the punishment
the more efficacious it is. The death penalty for assaulting a superior
officer is a survival of the time when the officers were not of the
same blood as the soldiers. These penalties were still retained in the
republican armies. Brindamour, who became a general in 1792, employed
the customs of bygone days in the service of the Revolution and shot
volunteers in grand style. At any rate, it may be said that Brindamour
waged war and fought strenuously from the time that he became general.
It was a matter of keeping the upper hand: it was not a man’s life that
was at stake, but the safety of the country.”

“It was theft especially,” said M. Mazure, “that the generals of the
year II punished with relentless severity. A light-infantry man in the
Army of the North, who had merely exchanged his old hat for a new one,
was shot. Two drummers, the eldest of whom was only eighteen, were shot
in sight of their comrades for having stolen some worthless ornaments
from an old peasant. It was the heroic age.”

“It was not only thieves,” answered M. Bergeret, “who were shot down
from day to day in the republican armies, it was also mutineers. And
those soldiers, who have been so much belauded since, were dragooned
like convicts, even to the point of semi-starvation. It is true that
they were occasionally in an awkward mood. Witness the three hundred
gunners of the 33rd demi-brigade who, at Mantua in the year IV,
demanded their pay by turning their cannon on the generals.

“They were jolly dogs with whom jesting was not safe! If enemies
were not come-at-able they were capable of spitting a dozen of their
superior officers. Such is the heroic temperament. But Dumanet is not
a hero nowadays, since peace no longer produces such beings. Sergeant
Bridoux has nothing to fear in his peaceful quarters, yet it pleases
him to be still able to say that a man cannot raise a hand against him
without being immediately shot with musical honours. However, in the
present state of our manners and in time of peace, such a circumstance
is out of proportion, although nobody can see it. It is true that
when a sentence of death has been passed by court-martial it is never
carried out, save in Algeria, and that, as far as possible, we avoid
giving these martial and musical entertainments in France. It is
recognised that here they would produce a bad effect: and in that fact
you have a tacit condemnation of the military code.”

“Take care,” said M. de Terremondre, “lest you impair discipline in any
way.”

“If,” answered M. Bergeret, “you had only seen a batch of raw recruits
filing into the barrack yard, you would no longer think it necessary
to be for ever hurling threats of death at these sheep-like creatures
in order to maintain discipline among them. They are thinking of
nothing but of how to get through their three years, as they put it,
and Sergeant Bridoux would be touched even to tears by their pitiful
docility, were it not that he thirsts to terrify them in order that
he may enjoy his own sense of power. It is not that Sergeant Bridoux
was born with a more callous heart than anyone else. But he is doubly
perverted, both as slave and tyrant, and if Marcus Aurelius had been a
non-commissioned officer I would not go so far as to promise that he
would never have tyrannised over his men. However that may be, this
tyranny suffices to produce that submission tempered by deceit that is
the soldier’s most useful virtue in time of peace.

“It is high time that our military codes of law, with their
paraphernalia of death, should be seen no more, save in the chamber of
horrors, by the side of the keys of the Bastille and the thumb-screws
of the Inquisition.”

“Army affairs,” said M. de Terremondre, “require most cautious
handling. The army means safety and it means hope. It is also the
training school of duty. Where else, save there, can be found
self-sacrifice and devotion?”

“It is true,” said M. Bergeret, “that men consider it the primary
social duty to learn to kill their fellows according to rule, and
that, in civilised nations, the glory of massacre is the greatest
glory known. And, after all, though man may be irredeemably evil and
mischievous, the bad work he does is but small in comparison with the
whole universe. For this planet is but a clod of earth in space and
the sun but a gaseous bubble that will soon dissolve.”

“I see,” said M. Frémont, “that you are no positivist. For you treat
the great fetich but scornfully.”

“What is the great fetich?” asked M. de Terremondre.

“You know,” answered M. Frémont, “that the positivists classify man
as the worshipping animal. Auguste Comte was very anxious to provide
for the wants of this worshipping animal and, after long reflection,
supplied him with a fetich. But his choice fell on the earth and not
on God. This was not because he was an atheist. On the contrary, he
held that the existence of a creative power is quite probable. Only
he opined that God was too difficult for comprehension, and therefore
his disciples, who are very religious men, practise the worship of the
dead, of great men, of woman, and of the great fetich, which is the
earth. Hence it comes about that the followers of this cult make plans
for the happiness of men and busy themselves in regulating the affairs
of the planet with a view to our happiness.”

“They will have a great deal to do,” said M. Bergeret, “and it is
quite evident that they are optimists. They must be optimistic to a
degree, and this temperament of theirs fills me with astonishment, for
it is difficult to realise that intelligent and thoughtful men such
as these can cherish the hope of some day making our sojourn on this
petty ball bearable to us. For this earth, revolving clumsily round a
yellow, half-darkened sun, carries us with it as though we were vermin
on a mouldy crust. The great fetich does not seem to me in any way
worshipful.”

Dr. Fornerol stooped down to whisper in M. de Terremondre’s ear:

“Bergeret wouldn’t gird at the universe in this way if he hadn’t some
special trouble. It isn’t natural to see the seamy side of everything.”

“You’re right,” said M. de Terremondre.



XII


The elm-trees on the Mall were slowly clothing their dusky limbs with
a delicate drapery of pale gauzy green. But on the slope of the hill
crowned with its ancient ramparts, the flowering trees of the orchards
showed their round white heads, or distaffs of rosy bloom, against a
background of cloudless, sunny sky that smiled between the showers.
In the distance flowed the river, swollen with spring rains, a line
of bare, white water, that fretted with its rounded curves the rows
of slender poplars which outlined its course. Beautiful, invincible,
fruitful and eternal, flowed the river, a true goddess, as in the days
when the boatmen of Roman Gaul made their offerings of copper coins to
it and raised, before the temple of Venus and Augustus, a votive pillar
on which they had roughly carved a boat with its oars. Everywhere in
this open valley, the sweet, trembling youth of the year shivered along
the surface of the ancient earth. Under the elm-trees on the Mall
walked M. Bergeret with slow, irregular steps. As he wandered on, his
mind glanced hither and thither; shifting it was and confused; old as
the earth itself, yet young as the flowers on the apple-boughs; empty
of thought, yet full of vague visions; lonely, yet full of desire;
gentle, innocent, wanton, melancholy; dragging behind it a weight of
weariness, yet still pursuing Hopes and Illusions whose very names,
shapes and faces were unknown to him.

At last he drew near the wooden bench on which he was in the habit of
sitting in summer time, at the hour when the birds are silent on the
trees. Here, where he often sat resting with Abbé Lantaigne, under the
beautiful elm that overheard all their grave talk, he saw that some
words had been recently traced by a clumsy hand in chalk on the green
back of the seat. At first he was seized with a fear lest he should
find his own name written there, for it was quite familiar by now to
all the blackguards of the town. But he soon saw that he need have
no trouble on that score, since it was merely a lewd inscription in
which Narcissus announced to the world the pleasures he had enjoyed on
this very bench in the arms of his Ernestine, doubtless under cover of
the kindly night. The style of the legend was simple and concise, but
coarse and uncomely in its terms.

M. Bergeret was just about to sit down in his accustomed place, but
he changed his mind, since it did not seem a fitting action for a
decent man to lean publicly against this obscene memorial, dedicated
to the Venus of cross-roads and gardens, especially as it stood on the
very spot where he had expressed so many noble and ironic thoughts
and had so often invoked the muse of seemly meditation. Turning away,
therefore, from the bench, he said to himself:

“O vain desire for fame! We long to live in the memory of men, and
unless we are consummately well-bred men of the world, we would fain
publish in the market-place our loves, our joys, our sorrows and our
hates. Narcissus, here, can only really believe that he has actually
won his Ernestine, when all the world has heard of it. It was the same
spirit that drove Phidias to trace a beloved name on the great toe of
the Olympian Jove. O thirst of the soul to unburden itself, to plunge
into the ocean of the not-self! ‘_To-day, on this bench, Narcissus...._’

“Yet,” thought M. Bergeret once more, “the first virtue of civilised
man and the corner-stone of society is dissimulation. It is just as
incumbent on us to hide our thoughts as it is for us to wear clothes.
A man who blurts out all his thoughts, just as they arise in his mind,
is as inconceivable as the spectacle of a man walking naked through a
town. Talk in Paillot’s shop is free enough, yet were I, for instance,
to express all the fancies that crowd my mind at this moment, all the
notions which pass through my head, like a swarm of witches riding on
broomsticks down a chimney, if I were to describe the manner in which I
suddenly see Madame de Gromance, the incongruous attitudes in which I
picture her, the vision of her which comes to me, more ludicrous, more
weird, more chimerical, more quaint, more monstrous, more perverted
and alien to all seemly conventions, a thousand times more waggish and
indecent than that famous figure introduced in the scene of the Last
Judgment on the north portal of Saint-Exupère by a masterly craftsman
who had caught a glimpse of Lust himself as he leant over a vent-hole
of hell; if I were accurately to reveal the strangeness of my dream,
it would be concluded that I am a prey to some repulsive mania. Yet,
all the same, I know that I am an honourable man, naturally inclined to
purity, disciplined by life and reflection to self-control, a modest
man wholly dedicated to the peaceful pleasures of the mind, a foe to
all excess, and hating vice as a deformity.”

As he walked on, deep in this singular train of thought, M. Bergeret
caught sight, along the Mall, of Abbé Lantaigne, the principal of the
high seminary, and Abbé Tabarit, the chaplain of the prison. The two
were in close conversation and M. Tabarit was waggling his long body,
with his little pointed head, while he emphasised his words by sweeping
gestures of his bony arms. Abbé Lantaigne, with head erect and chest
projecting, held his breviary under his arm and listened gravely with
far-away gaze and lips locked tightly between stolid cheeks that were
never distended by a smile.

M. Lantaigne answered M. Bergeret’s bow by a gesture and a word of
greeting:

“Stop, Monsieur Bergeret,” he cried, “M. Tabarit is not afraid of
infidels.”

But the prison chaplain was not to be interrupted in the full tide of
his thoughts.

“Who,” said he, “could have remained unmoved at what I saw? This lad
has taught every one of us a lesson by the sincerity of his repentance,
by the simple, truthful expression of the most Christian sentiments.
His bearing, his looks, his words, his whole being spoke plainly enough
of gentleness and humility, of utter submission to the will of God.
He never ceased to offer a most consoling spectacle, a most salutary
example. Perfect resignation, an awakened faith too long stifled in his
heart, a supreme abasement before the God who pardons: such were the
blessed fruits of my exhortations.”

The old man was moved with the easy earnestness of the blameless,
buoyant, self-absorbed nature. Real grief stirred in his great,
prominent eyes and his poor, meagre red nose. After a momentary sigh,
he began again, this time turning towards M. Bergeret:

“Ah, sir,” said he, “in the course of my painful ministry I have
encountered many thorns. But also what fruit I find! Many times in the
course of my long life have I snatched lost souls from the devil, who
was on the alert to lay hold of them. But none of the poor creatures
with whom I have journeyed to the gates of death presented such an
edifying spectacle in their last moments as this young Lecœur.”

“What!” cried M. Bergeret, “you surely are not speaking like this of
the murderer of Madame Houssieu? Isn’t it well known that——”

He was just going on to say that, according to the unanimous account
of all those who had witnessed the execution, the poor wretch had been
carried to the scaffold, already half dead with fear. He stopped short,
however, lest he should afflict the old man, who continued in his own
way:

“It is true that he made no long speeches and indulged in no noisy
demonstrations. But if you had only heard the sighs, the ejaculations,
by which he testified to his repentance! In his melancholy journey from
the prison to the place of expiation, when I reminded him of his mother
and his first communion, he wept.”

“Certainly,” said M. Bergeret, “Madame Houssieu didn’t die so
edifyingly.”

At these words M. Tabarit rolled his great eyes from east to west. He
always sought for the solution of metaphysical problems, not within
himself, but without, and whenever he fell into a day dream at table
his old servant, misunderstanding his look, would inquire: “Are you
looking for the cork of the bottle, sir? It’s in your hand.”

But M. Tabarit’s roving glance had fallen on a great bearded man
in cyclist’s dress who was passing along the Mall. This was Eusèbe
Boulet, editor in chief of the radical paper _le Phare_. Instantly
M. Tabarit bade a hasty good-bye to the professor and the head of
the seminary, and hurrying up to the journalist with great strides,
wished him good-day. Then, with a face reddened by excitement, he drew
some crumpled papers out of his pocket and handed them to him with
a hand that trembled. These were rectifications and supplementary
communications as to the last moments of young Lecœur. For at the
end of his secluded life and humble ministry, a passion for print, a
thirst for interviews and articles, had come upon this holy man.

It was with something approaching a smile that M. Lantaigne watched the
poor old fellow, with his quick, birdlike movements, handing up his
scrawls to the radical editor.

“Look!” said he to M. Bergeret, “the miasma of this age has even
infected a man who was marching deathwards by a path long paved with
goodness and virtue. This old fellow, though he is humble and modest
about everything else, is craving for notoriety. He yearns to appear in
print at any cost, even though it be in the pages of an anti-clerical
paper.”

Then, vexed at having betrayed one of his own people to the enemy, M.
Lantaigne added with a brisk air of indifference:

“Not much harm done. It’s absurd, that’s all.”

Thereupon, relapsing into silence, he was his own gloomy self once more.

M. Lantaigne was a masterful man, and his will forced M. Bergeret
towards their usual seat. Entirely indifferent to the vulgar phenomena
by which the world outside themselves is manifested to the generality
of men, he scorned to notice the lewd inscription of Narcissus and
Ernestine, written in chalk in large running characters on the back
of the seat. Sinking down on the bench with a placid air of mental
detachment, he covered a third of this inscribed memorial with his
broad back. M. Bergeret sat down by M. Lantaigne’s side, first,
however, spreading out his newspaper over the back, so as to conceal
that part of the text which seemed to him the most outspoken. In
his estimation this was the verb—a word which, according to the
grammarians, denotes the existence of an attribute to the subject. But
inadvertently, he had merely substituted one inscription for another.
The paper, in fact, announced in a side-note one of those episodes that
have become so common in parliamentary life since the memorable triumph
of democratic institutions. This spring the scandal period had come
round once more with astronomical exactitude, following the change of
the Seasons and the Dance of the Hours, and during the month several
deputies had been prosecuted, according to custom. The sheet unfolded
by M. Bergeret bore in huge letters this notice: “A Senator at Mazas.
Arrest of M. Laprat-Teulet.” Although there was nothing unusual about
the fact itself, which merely indicated the regular working of the
parliamentary machine, it struck M. Bergeret that there was perhaps
an uncalled-for display of indifference in posting up this notice on
a bench on the Mall, in the very shadow of those elms under which
the honourable M. Laprat-Teulet had so often been the recipient of
the honours which democracy loves to bestow on her greatest citizens.
Here on the Mall, M. Laprat-Teulet, sitting at the right hand of the
President of the Republic, on a rostrum draped in ruby velvet beneath
a trophy of flags, had, on different ceremonial occasions in honour
of great local or national rejoicings, uttered those words which are
so well calculated to exalt the blessings of government, while at the
same time they recommend patience to the toiling and devoted masses.
Laprat-Teulet, who had started as a republican, had now been for
five-and-twenty years the powerful and highly respected leader of the
opportunist party in the department. Now that his hair had grown white
with age and parliamentary toil, he stood out in his native town like
an oak adorned with tricoloured garlands. His enemies had been ruined
and his friends enriched through his exertions and he was loaded with
public honours. He was, moreover, not only august, but also affable,
and every year at prize distributions, he spoke of his poverty to the
little children: he could call himself poor without injuring himself
in any way, for no one believed him, and everyone felt certain that he
was very rich. The sources of his wealth, in fact, were well known,
the thousand channels by means of which his labour and his astuteness
had drained off the money into his own pockets. They could calculate
perfectly what funds had poured into his coffers from the undertakings
that were based on his political credit and from all the concessions
granted on account of his parliamentary interest. For he was a deputy
with famous business capacities, a capital financial orator, and his
friends knew, as well as, and even better, than his enemies, what he
had pocketed through the Panama affair and similar enterprises. Very
far-seeing, moderate in his desires and, above all, anxious not to
tempt fortune too far, this great guardian of our industrious and
intelligent democracy had given up high finance for the last ten years,
thus bowing before the first breath of the storm. He had even left the
Palais-Bourbon and retired to the Luxembourg, to that great Council of
the Commons of France where his wisdom and devotion to the Republic
were duly appreciated. There he was able to pull the strings without
being seen by the public. He only spoke on secret commissions. But
there he still showed those brilliant qualities which for many years
the princes of cosmopolitan finance had justly learnt to appraise
at a high value. He remained the outspoken defender of the fiscal
system introduced at the Revolution and founded, as we are all aware,
on the principles of liberty and justice. He upheld the rights of
capital with that emotion which is always so touching in an old hand
at the game. Even the turn-coats themselves revered in the person of
Laprat-Teulet a pacific and truly conservative mind, regarding him as
the guardian angel of personal property.

“His notions are honourable enough,” said M. de Terremondre. “But the
worst aspect of it is that to-day he is burdened with the weight of
a difficult past.” But Laprat-Teulet had enemies who were implacable
in their hatred of him. “I have earned this hatred,” said he
magnanimously, “by defending the interests which were entrusted to me.”

His enemies pursued him even into the sacred precincts of the Senate,
where his misfortunes gave him an air of still greater dignity, for he
had once before been in difficulties and even actually on the verge
of ruin. This came about through a mistake made by a Keeper of the
Seals who was not a member of the syndicate and who had rashly handed
him over into the astonished hands of justice. Neither the honourable
M. Laprat-Teulet, nor his examining judge, nor his barrister, nor the
Public Prosecutor, nor the Keeper of the Seals himself, was capable of
foreseeing, or even understanding, the cause of those sudden partial
cleavages in the machine of government, those catastrophes, farcical
as the collapse of a platform at a show and terrible as the outcome of
what the orator called immanent justice, catastrophes which sometimes
hurl the most respected statesmen from their seats in both Chambers. M.
Laprat-Teulet felt a melancholy surprise at his fate and he scorned to
give any explanation to the authorities, but the number and splendour
of his connections saved him. A plea that there was not sufficient
cause for prosecution was interposed. At first Laprat-Teulet accepted
it with humble gratitude, and next he bore it into the official world
as a regular certificate of innocence. “Almighty God,” said Madame
Laprat-Teulet, who was pious, “Almighty God has been very merciful
to my husband, for to him He has granted the stay of proceedings
he so much desired.” It is matter of common knowledge that Madame
Laprat-Teulet was so grateful that she had a votive-offering hung up
in the chapel of Saint-Antoine, a marble slab bearing the following
inscription: “From a Christian wife, in gratitude for an unhoped-for
blessing.”

This stay of proceedings reassured Laprat-Teulet’s political friends,
the crowd of ex-ministers and big officials who had shared with him,
not only the time of struggle, but the fruitful years, who had known
both the seven lean kine and the seven fat kine. This stay was a
safeguard, or at any rate was regarded as such. It could be relied
upon for several years to come. Then suddenly, by a stroke of bad luck,
by one of those ill-omened and unforeseen accidents that come secretly
and from underneath, like sudden leaks in rotten vessels, without any
political or moral reason, in the full glory of his honours, this
old servant of the democracy, this heir of its achievements whom M.
Worms-Clavelin had instanced only the night before in the comitia as a
shining light to the whole department, this man of order and progress,
this defender of capital and opponent of clericalism, this intimate
friend of ex-ministers and ex-presidents, this Senator Laprat-Teulet,
this man, though exculpated on the former occasion, was sent to prison
with a batch of members of parliament. And the local paper announced
in large type: “A Senator at Mazas. Arrest of M. Laprat-Teulet.” M.
Bergeret, being a man of delicacy, turned the paper round on the back
of the seat.

“Well,” said M. Lantaigne in a morose voice, “do you like the look of
what you see there, and do you think it can last long?”

“What do you mean?” asked M. Bergeret. “Are you referring to the
parliamentary scandals? But let us first ask what a scandal really
is. A scandal is the effect that usually results from the revelation
of some secret deed. For men don’t in general act furtively, save
when they are doing something that runs counter to morality and public
opinion. It is also noticeable that, although public scandals occur
in every period and every nation, they happen most frequently when
the Government is least skilled in dissimulation. It is also evident
that state secrets are never well kept in a democracy. The number of
people concerned, indeed, and the powerful party jealousies invite
revelations, sometimes hushed up, sometimes startling. It should
also be observed that the parliamentary system actually multiplies
the number of those who betray trusts, by putting a crowd of people
in a position where they can do it easily. Louis XIV was robbed by
Fouquet on a large and splendid scale. But in our days, all the while
the melancholy President, who had been chosen merely as a creditable
figure-head, confronted the chastened departments with the mute
countenance of a bearded Minerva, he was distributing largesse at the
Palais Bourbon at a rate past checking. In itself this was no great
evil, for every Government always has a number of needy folks hanging
about it, and it is too much to demand of human nature to ask that they
shall all be honest. Besides, what these paltry thieves have taken is
very little in comparison with what our honest administration wastes
every hour of the day. One point alone should be observed, for it is
of primary importance. The revenue farmers of olden days, this Pauquet
de Sainte-Croix, for instance, who in the time of Louis XV heaped up
the wealth of the province in the very mansion where I now live ‘in the
third room,’ those shameless plunderers robbed their nation and their
king without being in collusion with any of their country’s enemies.
Now, on the contrary, our parliamentary sharks are betraying France to
a foreign power, Finance, to wit. For it is true that Finance is to-day
one of the Powers of Europe, and of her it may be said, as was formerly
said of the Church, that among the nations she remains a splendid
alien. Our representatives, whom she buys over, are not only robbers
but traitors. And, in truth, they rob and betray in paltry, huckstering
fashion. Each one in himself is merely an object of pity: it is their
rapid swarming that alarms me.

“Meanwhile the honourable M. Laprat-Teulet is at Mazas! He was taken
there on the morning of the very day on which he was due here to
preside over the Social Defence League banquet. This arrest, which was
carried out on the day after the vote that authorised the prosecution,
has taken M. Worms-Clavelin completely by surprise. He had arranged for
M. Dellion to preside at the banquet, since his integrity, guaranteed
by inherited wealth and by forty years of commercial prosperity, is
universally respected. Though the _préfet_ deplores the fact that
the most prominent officials of the Republic are continually subject
to suspicion, yet, at the same time, he congratulates himself on the
loyalty of their constituents, who remain true to the established
system, even when it seems the general wish to bring it into disrepute.
He declares, in fact, that parliamentary episodes such as the one which
has just occurred, even when they follow on others of the same kind,
leave the working-classes of the department absolutely indifferent.
And M. Worms-Clavelin is quite right: he is by no means exaggerating
the phlegmatic calm of these classes, which seem no longer capable of
surprise. The herd of nobodies read in the newspapers that Senator
Laprat-Teulet has been sent to solitary confinement; they manifest no
surprise at the news, and they would have received with the same phlegm
the information that he had been sent as ambassador to some foreign
court. It is even probable that, if the arm of justice sends him back
to parliamentary life, M. Laprat-Teulet will sit next year on the
budget commission. There is, at any rate, no doubt whatever that at the
end of his sentence he will be re-elected.”

The abbé here interrupted M. Bergeret.

“There, Monsieur Bergeret, you put your finger on the weak point;
there you make the void to echo. The public is becoming used to the
spectacle of wrong-doing and is losing the power to discriminate
between good and evil. That’s where the danger lies. Now one public
scandal after another arises, only to be at once hushed up. Under the
Monarchy and the Empire there was such a thing as public opinion;
there is none to-day. This nation, once so high-spirited and generous,
has suddenly become incapable of either hatred or love, of either
admiration or scorn.”

“Like you,” said M. Bergeret, “I have been struck by this change and
I have sought in vain for the causes of it. We read in many Chinese
fables of a very ugly spirit, of lumpish gait, but subtle mind,
who loves to play pranks. He makes his way by night into inhabited
houses, then opening a sleeper’s brain, as though it were a box, he
takes out the brain, puts another in its place and softly closes the
skull. He takes infinite delight in passing thus from house to house,
interchanging brains as he goes, and when, at dawn, this tricksy
elf has returned to his temple, the mandarin awakes with the mind
of a courtesan, and the young girl with the dreams of a hardened
opium-eater. Some spirit of this sort must assuredly have been busy
bartering French brains for those of some tame, spiritless people, who
drag out a melancholy existence without rising to the height of a new
desire, indifferent alike to justice and injustice. For, indeed, we are
no longer at all like ourselves.”

Stopping suddenly, M. Bergeret shrugged his shoulders. Then he went on,
in a tone of gentle sadness:

“Yet, it is the effect of age and the sign of a certain wisdom. Infancy
is the age of awe and wonder; youth, of fiery revolt. It is the
mere passing of the years that has brought us this mood of peaceful
indifference: I ought to have understood it better. Our condition of
mind, at any rate, assures us both internal and external peace.”

“Do you think so?” asked Abbé Lantaigne. “And have you no presentiment
of approaching catastrophe?”

“Life in itself is a catastrophe,” answered M. Bergeret. “It is a
constant catastrophe, in fact, since it can only manifest itself in
an unstable environment, and since the essential condition of its
existence is the instability of the forces which produce it. The life
of a nation, like that of an individual, is a never-ceasing ruin, a
series of downfalls, an endless prospect of misery and crime. Our
country, though it is the finest in the world, only exists, like
others, by the perpetual renewal of its miseries and mistakes. To live
is to destroy. To act is to injure. But at this particular moment,
Monsieur Lantaigne, the finest country in the world is feeble in
action, and plays but a sluggard’s part in the drama of existence. It
is that fact which reassures me, for I detect no signs in the heavens.
I foresee no evils approaching with special and peculiar menace to our
peaceful land. Tell me, Monsieur l’abbé, when you foretell catastrophe,
is it from within or from without that you see it coming?”

“The danger is all round us,” answered M. Lantaigne, “and yet you
laugh.”

“I feel no desire whatever to laugh,” answered M. Bergeret. “There
is little enough for me to laugh at in this sublunary world, on this
terrestrial globe whose inhabitants are almost all either hateful
or ridiculous. But I do not believe that either our peace or our
independence is threatened by any powerful neighbour. We inconvenience
no one. We are not a menace to the comity of nations. We are restrained
and reasonable. So far as we know, our statesmen are not formulating
extravagant schemes which, if successful, would establish our power, or
if unsuccessful, would bring about our ruin. We make no claim to the
sovereignty of the globe. Europe of to-day finds us quite bearable: the
feeling must be a happy novelty.

“Just look for a moment at the portraits of our statesmen that Madame
Fusellier, the stationer, keeps in her shop-window. Tell me if there
is a single one of them who looks as if he were made to unleash the
dogs of war and lay the world waste. Their talents match their power,
for both are but mediocre. They are not made to be the perpetrators
of great crimes, for, thank God! they are not great men. Hence, we
can sleep in peace. Besides, although Europe is armed to the teeth,
I believe she is by no means inclined to war. For in war there
breathes a generous spirit unpopular nowadays. True, they set the
Turks fighting the Greeks: that is, they bet on them, as men bet on
cocks or horses. But they will not fight between themselves. In 1840
Auguste Comte foretold the end of war and, of course, the prophecy
was not exactly and literally fulfilled. Yet possibly the vision of
this great man penetrated into the far-distant future. War is, indeed,
the everyday condition of a feudal and monarchical Europe, but the
feudal system is now dead and the ancient despotisms are opposed by
new forces. The question of peace or war in our days depends less on
absolute sovereigns than on the great international banking interests,
more influential than the Powers themselves. Financial Europe is in
a peaceful temper, or, if that be not quite true, she certainly has
no love for war as war, no respect for any sentiment of chivalry.
Besides, her barren influence is not destined to live long and she will
one day be engulfed in the abyss of industrial revolution. Socialistic
Europe will probably be friendly to peace, for there will be a
socialistic Europe, Monsieur Lantaigne, if indeed that unknown power
which is approaching can be rightly called Socialism.”

“Sir,” answered Abbé Lantaigne, “only one Europe is possible, and
that is Christian Europe. There will always be wars, for peace is not
ordained for this world. If only we could recover the courage and faith
of our ancestors! As a soldier of the Church militant, I know well that
war will only end with the consummation of the ages. And, like Ajax
in old Homer, I pray God that I may fight in the light of day. What
terrifies me is neither the number nor the boldness of our enemies, but
the weakness and indecision which prevail in our own camp. The Church
is an army, and I grieve when I see chasms and openings right along
her battle-front; I rage when I see atheists slipping into her ranks
and the worshippers of the Golden Calf volunteering for the defence
of the sanctuary. I groan when I see the struggle going on all around
me, amidst the confusion of a great darkness propitious to cowards and
traitors. The will of God be done! I am certain of the final triumph,
of the ultimate conquest of sin and error at the last day, which will
be the day of glory and justice.”

He rose with firm and steady glance, yet his heavy face was downcast.
His soul within him was sorrowful, and not without good reason. For
under his administration the high seminary was on its way to ruin.
There was a financial deficit, and now that he was being prosecuted
by Lafolie the butcher, to whom he owed ten thousand, two hundred and
thirty-one francs, his pride lived in perpetual dread of a rebuke from
the Cardinal-Archbishop. The mitre towards which he had stretched out
his hand was eluding his grasp and already he saw himself banished to
some poor country benefice. Turning towards M. Bergeret, he said:

“The most terrible storm-cloud is ready to burst over France.”



XIII


Just now M. Bergeret was on his way to the restaurant, for every
evening he spent an hour at the Café de la Comédie. Everybody blamed
him for doing so, but here he could enjoy a cheery warmth which had
nothing to do with wedded bliss. Here, too, he could read the papers
and look on the faces of people who bore him no ill-will. Sometimes,
too, he met M. Goubin here—M. Goubin, who had become his favourite
pupil since M. Roux’s treachery. M. Bergeret had his favourites, for
the simple reason that his artistic soul took pleasure in the very
act of making a choice. He had a partiality for M. Goubin, though
he could scarcely be said to love him, and, as a matter of fact, M.
Goubin was not lovable. Thin and lank, poverty-stricken in physique,
in hair, in voice, and in brain, his weak eyes hidden by eye-glasses,
his lips close-locked, he was petty in every way, and endowed, not only
with the foot, but with the mind of a young girl. Yet, with these
characteristics, he was accurate and painstaking, and to his puny frame
had been fitted vast and powerful protruding ears, the only riches with
which nature had blessed this feeble organism. M. Goubin was naturally
qualified to be a capital listener.

M. Bergeret was in the habit of talking to M. Goubin, while they sat
with two large beer-glasses in front of them, amidst the noise of the
dominoes clicking on the marble tables all around them. At eleven
o’clock the master rose and the pupil followed his example. Then they
walked across the empty Place du Théâtre and by back ways until they
reached the gloomy Tintelleries.

In such fashion they proceeded one night in May when the air, which had
been cleared by a heavy storm of rain, was fresh and limpid and full of
the smell of earth and leaves. In the purple depths of the moonless,
cloudless sky hung points of light that sparkled with the white gleam
of diamonds. Amid them, here and there, twinkled bright facets of red
or blue. Lifting his eyes to the sky, M. Bergeret watched the stars.
He knew the constellations fairly well, and, with his hat on the back
of his head and his face turned upwards, he pointed out Gemini with
the end of his stick to the vague, wandering glance of M. Goubin’s
ignorance. Then he murmured:

  “Would that the clear star of Helen’s twin brothers
   Might ’neath thy barque the wild waters assuage,
   Would that to Pœstum o’er seas of Ionia ...”[9]

    [9] “Oh! soit que l’astre pur des deux frères d’Hélène
         Calme sous ton vaisseau la vague ionienne,
         Soit qu’aux bords de Pœstum ...”

Then he said abruptly:

“Have you heard, Monsieur Goubin, that news of Venus has reached us
from America and that the news is bad?”

M. Goubin tried obediently to look for Venus in the sky, but the
professor informed him that she had set.

“That beautiful star,” he continued, “is a hell of fire and ice. I have
it from M. Camille Flammarion himself, who tells me every month, in the
excellent articles he writes, all the news from the sky. Venus always
turns the same side to the sun, as the moon does to the earth. The
astronomer at Mount Hamilton swears that it is so. If we pin our faith
to him, one of the hemispheres of Venus is a burning desert, the other,
a waste of ice and darkness, and that glorious luminary of our evenings
and mornings is filled with naught but silence and death.”

“Really!” said M. Goubin.

“Such is the prevailing creed this year,” answered M. Bergeret. “For
my part, I am not far from being convinced that life, at any rate
in the form which it presents on earth, is the result of a disease
in the constitution of the planet, that it is a morbid growth, a
leprosy, something loathsome, in fact, which would never be found in
a healthy, well-constituted star. By life I mean, of course, that
state of activity manifested by organic matter in plants and animals.
I derive pleasure and consolation from this idea. For, indeed, it is
a melancholy thing to fancy that all these suns that flame above our
heads bring warmth to other planets as miserable as our own, and that
the universe gives birth to suffering and squalor in never-ending
succession.

“We cannot speak of the planets attendant on Sirius or Aldebaran,
on Altaïr or Vega, of those dark masses of dust that may perchance
accompany these points of fire that lie scattered over the sky, for
even that they exist is not known to us, and we only suspect it by
virtue of the analogy existing between our sun and the other stars of
the universe. But if we try to form some conception of the planets in
our own system, we cannot possibly imagine that life exists there in
the mean forms which she usually presents on our earth. One cannot
suppose that beings constructed on our model are to be found in the
weltering chaos of the giants Saturn and Jupiter. Uranus and Neptune
have neither light nor heat, and therefore that form of corruption
which we call organic life cannot exist on them. Neither is it credible
that life can be manifested in that star-dust dispersed in the ether
between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, for that dust is but the
scattered material of a planet. The tiny ball Mercury seems too blazing
hot to produce that mouldy dampness which we call animal and vegetable
life. The moon is a dead world, and we have just discovered that the
temperature of Venus does not suit what we call organic life. Thus, we
can imagine nothing at all comparable with man in all the solar system,
unless it be on the planet Mars, which, unfortunately for itself,
has some points in common with the earth. It has both air and water;
it has, alas! maybe, the materials for the making of animals like
ourselves.”

“Isn’t it true that it is believed to be inhabited?” asked M. Goubin.

“We have sometimes been disposed to imagine so,” answered M. Bergeret.
“The appearance of this planet is not very well known to us. It seems
to vary and to be always in confusion. On it canals can be seen, whose
nature and origin we cannot understand. We cannot be absolutely certain
that this neighbour of ours is saddened and degraded by human beings
like ourselves.”

M. Bergeret had reached his door. He stopped and said:

“I would fain believe that organic life is an evil peculiar to this
wretched little planet of ours. It is a ghastly idea that in the
infinitude of heaven they eat and are eaten in endless succession.”



XIV


The cab which was carrying Madame Worms-Clavelin into Paris passed
through the Porte Maillot between the gratings crowned in civic style
with a hedge of pike-heads. Near these lay dusty custom-house officers
and sunburnt flower-girls asleep in the sun. As it passed, it left, on
the right, the Avenue de la Révolte, where low, mouldy, red-bedaubed
inns and stunted arbours face the Chapel of Saint-Ferdinand, which
crouches, lonely and dwarfish, on the edge of a gloomy military moat
covered with sickly patches of scorched grass. Thence it emerged into
the melancholy Rue de Chartres, with its everlasting pall of dust
from the stone-cutting yards, and passed down it into the beautiful
shady roads that open into the royal park, now cut up into small,
middle-class estates. As the cab rumbled heavily along the causeway
down an avenue of plane-trees, every second or so, through the silent
solitude, there passed lightly-clad bicyclists who skimmed by with
bent backs and heads cutting the air like quick-moving animals.
With their rapid flight and long, swift, bird-like movements, they
were almost graceful through sheer ease, almost beautiful by the
mere amplitude of the curves they described. Between the bordering
tree-trunks Madame Worms-Clavelin could see lawns, little ponds, steps,
and glass-door canopies in the most correct taste, cut off by rows of
palings. Then she lost herself in a vague dream of how, in her old age,
she would live in a house like those whose fresh plaster and slate she
could see through the leaves. She was a sensible woman and moderate in
her desires, so that now she felt a dawning love of fowls and rabbits
rising in her breast. Here and there, in the larger avenues, big
buildings stood out, chapels, schools, asylums, hospitals, an Anglican
church with its gables of stern Gothic, religious houses, severely
peaceful in appearance, with a cross on the gate and a very black bell
against the wall and, hanging down, the chain by which to ring it. Then
the cab plunged into the low-lying, deserted region of market-gardens,
where the glass roofs of hot-houses glittered at the end of narrow,
sandy paths, or where the eye was caught by the sudden appearance of
one of those ridiculous summer-houses that country builders delight to
construct, or by the trunks of dead trees imitated in stoneware by an
ingenious maker of garden ornaments. In this Bas-Neuilly district one
can feel the freshness of the river hard by. Vapours rise there from a
soil that is still damp with the waters which covered it, up to quite a
late period, according to the geologists—exhalations from marshes on
which the wind bent the reeds scarcely a thousand or fifteen hundred
years ago.

Madame Worms-Clavelin looked out of the carriage window: she had nearly
arrived. In front of her the pointed tops of the poplars which fringe
the river rose at the end of the avenue. Once more the surroundings
were varied and bustling. High walls and zigzag roof-ridges followed
one another uninterruptedly. The cab stopped in front of a large
modern house, evidently built with special regard to economy and even
stinginess, in defiance of all considerations of art or beauty. Yet the
effect was neat and pleasant on the whole. It was pierced with narrow
windows, among which one could distinguish those of the chapel by the
leaden tracery that bound the window-panes. On its dull, plain façade
one was discreetly reminded of the traditions of French religious art
by means of triangular dormer windows set in the woodwork of the roof
and capped with trefoils. On the pediment of the front door an ampulla
was carved, typifying the phial in which was contained the blood of the
Saviour that Joseph of Arimathæa had carried away in a glove. This was
the escutcheon of the Sisters of the Precious Blood, a confraternity
founded in 1829 by Madame Marie Latreille, which received state
recognition in 1868, thanks to the goodwill of the Empress Eugénie. The
Sisters of the Precious Blood devoted themselves to the training of
young girls.

Jumping from the carriage, Madame Worms-Clavelin rang at the door,
which was carefully and circumspectly half opened for her. Then she
went into the parlour, while the sister who attended to the turnstile
gave notice through the wicket that Mademoiselle de Clavelin was
wanted to come and see her mother. The parlour was only furnished with
horsehair chairs. In a niche on the whitewashed wall there stood a
figure of the Holy Virgin, painted in pale colours. There was a certain
air of archness about the figure, which stood erect, with the feet
hidden and the hands extended. This large, cold, white room carried
with it a suggestion of peace, order and rectitude. One could feel in
it a secret power, a social force that remained unseen.

Madame Worms-Clavelin sniffed the air of this parlour with a solemn
sense of satisfaction, though it was damp, and suffused with the stale
smell of cooking. Her own girlhood had been spent in the noisy little
schools of Montmartre, amidst daubs of ink and lumps of sweetmeats, and
in the perpetual interchange of offensive words and vulgar gestures.
She therefore appreciated very highly the austerity of an aristocratic
and religious education. In order that her daughter might be admitted
into a famous convent, she had had her baptized, for she thought to
herself, “Jeanne will then be better bred and she will have a chance of
making a better marriage.”

Jeanne had accordingly been baptized at the age of eleven and with the
utmost secrecy, because they were then under a radical administration.
Since then the Church and the Republic had become more reconciled
to each other, but in order to avoid displeasing the bigots of the
department, Madame Worms-Clavelin still concealed the fact that her
daughter was being educated in a nunnery. Somehow, however, the secret
leaked out, and now and then the clerical organ of the department
published a paragraph which M. Lacarelle, counsel to the prefecture,
blue-pencilled and sent to M. Worms-Clavelin. For instance, M.
Worms-Clavelin read:

    “Is it a fact that the Jewish persecutor whom the freemasons
    have placed at the head of our departmental administration, in
    order that he may oppose the cause of God among the faithful,
    has actually sent his daughter to be educated in a convent?”

M. Worms-Clavelin shrugged his shoulders and threw the paper into the
waste-paper basket. Two days later the Catholic editor inserted another
paragraph, as, after reading the first, one would have prophesied his
doing.

    “I asked whether our Jewish _préfet_, Worms-Clavelin, was
    really having his daughter educated in a convent. And now that
    this freemason has, for good reasons of his own, avoided giving
    me any answer, I will myself reply to my own question. After
    having had his daughter baptized, this dishonourable Jew sent
    his daughter to a Catholic place of education.

    “_Mademoiselle Worms-Clavelin is at Neuilly-sur-Seine, being
    educated by the Sisters of the Precious Blood._

    “What a pleasure it is to witness the sincerity of jesters like
    these!

    “A lay, atheistic, homicidal education is good enough for the
    people who maintain them! Would that our people’s eyes were
    opened to discern on which side are the Tartuffes!”

M. Lacarelle, the counsel to the prefecture, first blue-pencilled the
paragraph and then placed the open sheet on the _préfet’s_ desk. M.
Worms-Clavelin threw it into his waste-paper basket and warned the
meddlesome papers not to engage in discussions of that sort. Hence this
little episode was soon forgotten and fell into the bottomless pit of
oblivion, into that black darkness of night which, after one outburst
of excitement, swallows up the shame and the honour, the scandals and
the glories of an administration. In view of the wealth and power of
the Church, Madame Worms-Clavelin had stuck energetically to her point
that Jeanne should be left to these nuns who would train the young girl
in good principles and good manners.

She modestly sat down, hiding her feet under her dress, like the red,
white and blue Virgin of the niche, and holding in her finger-tips by
the string the box of chocolates she had brought for Jeanne.

A tall girl, looking very lanky in her black dress with the red girdle
of the Middle School, burst into the room.

“Good morning, mamma!”

Madame Worms-Clavelin looked her up and down with a curious mixture of
motherly solicitude and horse-dealer’s curiosity. Drawing her close,
she glanced at her teeth, made her stand upright; looked at her figure,
her shoulders and her back, and seemed pleased.

“Heavens! how tall you are!” she exclaimed. “You have such long
arms!...”

“Don’t worry me about them, mamma! As it is, I never know what to do
with them.”

She sat down and clasped her red hands across her knees. She replied
with a graceful air of boredom to the questions which her mother asked
about her health, and listened wearily to her instructions about
healthy habits and to her advice in the matter of cod-liver oil. Then
she asked:

“And how is papa?”

Madame Worms-Clavelin was almost astonished whenever anyone asked her
about her husband, not because she was herself indifferent to him, but
because she felt it was impossible to say anything new about this firm,
unchangeable, stolid man, who was never ill and who never said or did
anything original.

“Your father? What could happen to him? We have a very good position
and no wish to change it.”

All the same, she thought it would soon be advisable to look out for
a suitable sinecure, either in the treasury, or, perhaps rather, in
the Council of State. At the thought her beautiful eyes grew dim with
reverie.

Her daughter asked what she was thinking about.

“I was thinking that one day we might return to Paris. I like Paris for
my part, but there we should hardly count.”

“Yet papa has great abilities. Sister Sainte-Marie-des-Anges said so
once in class. She said: ‘Mademoiselle de Clavelin, your father has
shown great administrative talents.’”

Madame Worms-Clavelin shook her head. “One wants so much money to live
in style in Paris.”

“You like Paris, mamma, but for my part I like the country best.”

“You know nothing about it, pet.”

“But, mamma, one doesn’t care only for what one knows.”

“There is, perhaps, some truth in what you say.”

“You haven’t heard, mamma?... I have won the prize for history
composition. Madame de Saint-Joseph said I was the only one who had
treated the subject thoroughly.”

Madame Worms-Clavelin asked gently:

“What subject?”

“The Pragmatic Sanction.”

Madame Worms-Clavelin asked, this time with an accent of real surprise:

“What is that?”

“It was one of Charles VII’s mistakes. It was, indeed, the greatest
mistake he ever made.”

Madame Worms-Clavelin found this answer by no means enlightening. But
since she took no interest in the history of the Middle Ages, she
was willing to let the matter drop. But Jeanne, who was full of her
subject, went on in all seriousness:

“Yes, mamma. It was the greatest crime of that reign, a flagrant
violation of the rights of the Holy See, a criminal robbery of the
inheritance of St. Peter. But happily the error was set right by
Francis I. And whilst we are on this subject, mamma, do you know we
have found out that Alice’s governess was an old wanton?...”

Madame Worms-Clavelin begged her daughter anxiously and earnestly not
to join her young friends in research work of this kind. Then she flew
into a rage:

“You are perfectly absurd, Jeanne, for you use words without paying any
heed...”

Jeanne looked at her in mysterious silence. Then she said suddenly:

“Mamma, I must tell you that my drawers are in such a state that they
are a positive sight. You know you have never been overwhelmingly
interested in the question of linen. I don’t say this as a reproach,
for one person goes in for linen, another for dresses, another for
jewels. You, mamma, have always gone in for jewels. For my part it’s
linen that I’m mad about.... And besides, we’ve just had a nine days’
prayer. I prayed hard both for you and for papa, I can tell you! And,
then, I’ve earned four thousand nine hundred and thirty-seven days of
indulgence.”



XV


“I am rather religiously inclined,” said M. de Terremondre, “but I
still think that the words spoken in Notre Dame by Père Ollivier were
ill advised. And that is the general opinion.”

“Of course,” replied M. Lantaigne, “you blame him for having explained
this disaster as a lesson given by God against pride and infidelity.
You think him wrong in describing the favoured people as being suddenly
punished for their faithlessness and rebellion. Ought one, then, to
give up attempting to trace a cause for such terrible events?”

“There are,” answered M. de Terremondre, “certain conventions which
ought to be observed. The mere fact that the head of the State was
present made a certain reserve incumbent on him.”

“It is true,” said M. Lantaigne, “that this monk actually dared to
declare before the President and the ministers of the Republic, and
before the rich and powerful, who are either the authors or accomplices
of our shame, that France had failed in her age-long vocation, when she
turned her back on the Christians of the East who were being massacred
by thousands, and, like a coward, supported the Crescent against the
Cross. He dared to declare that this once Christian nation had driven
the true God from both its schools and its councils. This is the speech
that you consider a crime, you, Monsieur de Terremondre, one of the
leaders of the Catholic party in our department.”

M. de Terremondre protested that he was deeply devoted to the interests
of religion, but he still persisted in the opinion he had first held.
In the first place, he was not for the Greeks, but for the Turks,
or, if he could not go so far as that, he was at least for peace and
order. And he knew many Catholics who regarded the Eastern Church with
absolute indifference. Ought one, then, to give offence to them by
attacking perfectly lawful convictions? It is not incumbent on everyone
to be friendly towards Greece. The Pope, for one, is not.

“I have listened, M. Lantaigne,” said he, “with all the deference in
the world to your opinions. But I still think one ought to use a more
conciliatory style when one has to preach on a day which was one of
mourning and yet, at the same time, one full of a hope that bade fair
to bring about the reconciliation of opposing classes....”

“Especially while stocks are going up, thus proving the wisdom of the
course pursued by France and Europe on the Eastern question,” added M.
Bergeret, with a malicious laugh.

“Exactly so,” answered M. de Terremondre. “A Government which fights
the Socialists and in which religious and conservative ideas have made
an undeniable advance ought to be treated with respect. Our _préfet_,
M. Worms-Clavelin, although he is both a Jew and a freemason, shows
keen anxiety to protect the rights of the Church. Madame Worms-Clavelin
has not only had her daughter baptized, but has sent her to a Parisian
convent, where she is receiving an excellent education. I know this
to be the case, for Mademoiselle Jeanne Clavelin is in the same class
as my nieces, the d’Ansey girls. Madame Worms-Clavelin is patroness
of several of our institutions, and in spite of her origin and her
official position, she scarcely attempts the slightest concealment of
her aristocratic and religious sympathies.”

“I don’t doubt what you say in the least,” said M. Bergeret, “and
you might even go so far as to say that at the present time French
Catholicism has no stronger support than among the rich Jews.”

“You are not far wrong,” answered M. de Terremondre. “The Jews give
generously in support of Catholic charities.... But the shocking part
of Père Ollivier’s sermon is that he was ready, as it were, to imply
that God Himself was the original author and inspirer of this disaster.
According to his words, it would seem that the God of mercy Himself
actually set fire to the bazaar. My aunt d’Ansey, who was present at
the service, came away in a great state of indignation. I feel sure,
Monsieur l’abbé, that you cannot approve of such errors as these.”

Usually M. Lantaigne refused to rush into random theological
discussions with worldly-minded people who knew nothing about the
subject, and although he was an ardent controversialist, his priestly
habit of mind deterred him from engaging in disputes on frivolous
occasions, such as the present one. He therefore remained silent, and
it was M. Bergeret who replied to M. de Terremondre:

“You would have preferred then,” said he, “that this monk should make
excuses for a merciful God who had carelessly allowed a disaster to
happen in a badly-inspected point in His creation. You think that he
should have ascribed to the Almighty the sad, regretful, and chastened
attitude of a police inspector who has made a mistake.”

“You are making fun of me now,” said M. de Terremondre. “But was it
really necessary to talk about expiatory victims and the destroying
angel? Surely these are ideas that belong to a past age?”

“They are Christian ideas,” said M. Bergeret. “M. Lantaigne won’t deny
that.”

But as the priest was still silent, M. Bergeret continued:

“I advise you to read, in a book of whose teaching M. Lantaigne
approves, in the famous _Essai sur l’indifférence_, a certain theory
of expiation. I remember one sentence in it which I can quote almost
verbatim: “We are ruled,” said Lamennais, “by one law of destiny, an
inexorable law whose tyranny we can never avoid: this law is expiation,
the unbending axis of the moral world on which turns the whole destiny
of humanity.”

“That may be so,” said M. de Terremondre. “But is it possible that God
can have actually willed to aim a blow at honourable and charitable
women like my cousin Courtrai and my nieces Laneux and Felissay, who
were terribly burnt in this fire? God is neither cruel nor unjust.”

M. Lantaigne gripped his breviary under his left arm and made a
movement as if to go away. Then, changing his mind, he turned towards
M. de Terremondre and lifting his right hand said solemnly:

“God was neither cruel nor unjust towards these women when, in His
mercy, He made them sacrificial offerings and types of the Victim
without stain or spot. But since even Christians have lost, not only
the sentiment of sacrifice, but also the practice of contrition,
since they have become utterly ignorant of the most holy mysteries of
religion, before we utterly despair of their salvation, we must expect
warnings still more terrible, admonitions still more urgent, portents
of still greater significance. Good-bye, Monsieur de Terremondre. I
leave you with M. Bergeret, who, having no religion at all, at any rate
avoids the misery and shame of an easy-going faith, and who will play
at the game of refuting your arguments with the feeble resources of the
intellect unsupported by the instincts of the heart.”

When he had finished his speech, he walked away with a firm, stiff gait.

“What is the matter with him?” said M. de Terremondre, as he looked
after him. “I believe he has a grudge against me. He is very difficult
to get on with, although he is a man worthy of all respect. The
incessant disputes he engages in have soured his temper and he is at
loggerheads with his Archbishop, with the professors at the college,
and with half the clergy in the diocese. It is more than doubtful
if he will get the bishopric, and I really begin to think that, for
the Church’s sake, as well as for his own, it is better to leave him
where he is. His intolerance would make him a dangerous bishop. What a
strange notion to approve of Père Ollivier’s sermon!”

“I also approve of his sermon,” said M. Bergeret.

“It’s quite a different matter in your case,” said M. de Terremondre.
“You are merely amusing yourself. You are not a religious man.”

“I am not religious,” said M. Bergeret, “but I am a theologian.”

“On my side,” said M. de Terremondre, “it may be said that I am
religious, but not a theologian; and I am revolted when I hear it said
in the pulpit that God destroyed some poor women by fire, in order that
He might punish our country for her crimes, inasmuch as she no longer
takes the lead in Europe. Does Père Ollivier really believe that, as
things now are, it is so very easy to take the lead in Europe?”

“He would make a great mistake if he did believe it,” said M. Bergeret.
“But you are, as you have just been told, one of the leading members of
the Catholic party in the department, and therefore you ought to know
that your God used in Biblical times to show a lively taste for human
sacrifices and that He rejoiced in the smell of blood. Massacre was
one of His chief joys, and He particularly revelled in extermination.
Such was His character, Monsieur de Terremondre. He was as bloodthirsty
as M. de Gromance, who, from the beginning of the year to the end,
spends his time in shooting deer, partridges, rabbits, quails, wild
ducks, pheasants, grouse and cuckoos—all according to the season. So
God sacrificed the innocent and the guilty, warriors and virgins, fur
and feather. It even appears that He savoured the blood of Jephthah’s
daughter with delight.”

“There you are wrong,” said M. de Terremondre. “It is true that she was
dedicated to Him, but that was not a sacrifice of blood.”

“They argue so, I know,” said M. Bergeret; “but that is just out of
regard for your sensitiveness. But, as a matter of actual fact, she
was butchered, and Jehovah showed Himself a regular epicure for
fresh meat. Little Joas, who had been brought up in the temple, knew
perfectly well the way in which this God showed His love for children,
and when good Jehosheba began to try on him the kingly fillet, he was
much disturbed, and asked this pointed question:

  ‘Must then a holocaust to-day be offered,
   And must I now, as once did Jephthah’s daughter,
   By death assuage the fervent wrath of God?’[10]

    [10] Est-ce qu’en holocauste aujourd’hui présenté,
         Je dois, comme autrefois la fille de Jephté,
         Du Seigneur par un mort apaiser la colère?

“At this time Jehovah bears the closest resemblance to His rival
Chamos; he was a savage being, compact of cruelty and injustice. This
was what he said: ‘You may know that I am the Lord by the corpses laid
out along your path.’ Don’t make any mistake about this, Monsieur de
Terremondre—in passing down from Judaism to Christianity, He still
retains His savagery, and about Him there still lingers a taste for
blood. I don’t go so far as to say that in the present century, at
the close of the age, He has not become somewhat softened. We are
all, nowadays, gliding downwards on an inclined plane of tolerance
and indifference, and Jehovah along with us. At any rate, He has
ceased to pour out a perpetual flood of threats and curses, and at the
present moment He only proclaims His vengeance through the mouth of
Mademoiselle Deniseau, and no one listens to her. But His principles
are the same as of old, and there has been no essential change in His
moral system.”

“You are a great enemy to our religion,” said M. de Terremondre.

“Not at all,” said M. Bergeret. “It is true that I find in it what I
will call moral and intellectual stumbling-blocks. I even find cruelty
in it. But this cruelty is now an ancient thing, polished by the
centuries, rolled smooth like a pebble with all its points blunted.
It has become almost harmless. I should be much more afraid of a new
religion, framed with scrupulous exactitude. Such a religion, even if
it were based on the most beautiful and kindly morality, would act
at first with inconvenient austerity and painful accuracy. I prefer
intolerance rubbed smooth, to charity with a fresh edge to it. Taking
one thing with another, it is Abbé Lantaigne who is in the wrong, it
is I who am wrong, and it is you, Monsieur de Terremondre, who are
right. Over this ancient Judaic-Christian religion so many centuries
of human passions, of human hatreds and earthly adorations, so many
civilisations—barbaric or refined, austere or self-indulgent, pitiless
or tolerant, humble or proud, agricultural, pastoral, warlike,
mercantile, industrial, oligarchical, aristocratic, democratic—have
passed, that all is now rolled smooth. Religions have practically no
effect on systems of morality and they merely become what morality
makes them....”



XVI


Madame Bergeret had a horror of silence and solitude, and now that M.
Bergeret never spoke to her and lived apart from her, her room was
as terrifying as a tomb to her mind. She never entered it without
turning white. Her daughters would, at least, have supplied the noise
and movement needed if she were to remain sane; but when an epidemic
of typhus broke out in the autumn she sent them to visit their aunt,
Mademoiselle Zoé Bergeret, at Arcachon. There they had spent the
winter, and there their father meant to leave them, in the present
state of his affairs. Madame Bergeret was a domesticated woman, with a
housewifely mind. To her, adultery had been nothing more than a mere
extension of wedded life, a gleam from her hearth-fire. She had been
driven to it by a matronly pride in her position far more than by the
wanton promptings of the flesh. She had always intended that her slight
lapse with young M. Roux should remain a secret, homely habit, just a
taste of adultery that would merely involve, imply, and confirm that
state of matrimony which is held in honour by the world, as well as
sanctified by the Church, and which secures a woman in a position of
personal safety and social dignity. Madame Bergeret was a Christian
wife and knew that marriage is a sacrament whose lofty and lasting
results cannot be effaced by any fault such as she had committed, for
serious though it might be, it was yet a pardonable and excusable
lapse. Without being in a position to estimate her offence with great
moral perspicuity, she felt instinctively that it was trifling and
simple, being neither malicious, nor inspired by that deep passion
which alone can dignify error with the splendour of crime and hurl the
guilty woman into the abyss. She not only felt that she was no great
criminal, but also that she had never had the chance of being one.
Yet now she had to stand watching the entirely unforeseen results of
such a trifling episode, as to her terror they slowly and gloomily
unfolded themselves before her. She suffered cruel pangs at finding
herself alone and fallen within her own house, at having lost the
sovereignty of her home, and at having been despoiled, as it were, of
her cares of kitchen and store-cupboard. Suffering was not good for
her and brought no purification in its train; it merely awoke in her
paltry mind, at one moment the instinct of revolt, and at another, a
passion for self-humiliation. Every day, about three o’clock in the
afternoon, she went out and paid visits at her friends’ houses. On
these expeditions she walked with great strides, a grim, stiff figure
with bright eyes, flaming cheeks and gaudy dress. She called on all the
lower-middle-class ladies of the town, on Madame Torquet, the dean’s
wife; on Madame Leterrier, the rector’s wife; on Madame Ossian Colot,
the wife of the prison governor, and on Madame Surcouf, the recorder’s
wife. She was not received by the society ladies, nor by the wives of
the great capitalists. Wherever she went, she poured out a flood of
complaints against M. Bergeret, and charged her husband with every
variety of fantastic crime that occurred to her feeble imagination,
focussed on the one point only. Her usual accusations were that he had
separated her from her daughters, had left her penniless, and finally
had deserted his home to run about in cafés and, most probably, in
less reputable resorts. Wherever she went, she gained sympathy and
became an object of the tenderest interest. The pity she aroused grew,
spread, and rose in volume. Even Madame Dellion, the ironmaster’s
wife, although she was prevented from asking her to call, because they
belonged to different sets, yet sent a message to her that she pitied
her with all her heart, and felt the deepest disgust at M. Bergeret’s
shameful behaviour. In this way Madame Bergeret went about the town
every day, fortifying her hungry soul with the social respect and fair
reputation that it craved. But as she mounted her own staircase in the
evening, her heart sank within her. Her weak knees would hardly sustain
her and she forgot her pride, her longing for vengeance, forgot even
the abuse and frivolous scandal that she had spread through the town.
To escape from loneliness she longed sincerely to be on good terms with
M. Bergeret once more. In such a shallow soul as hers this desire was
absolutely sincere and arose quite naturally. Yet it was a vain and
useless thought, for M. Bergeret went on ignoring the existence of his
wife.

This particular evening Madame Bergeret said as she went into the
kitchen:

“Go and ask your master, Euphémie, how he would like his eggs to be
cooked.”

It was quite a new departure on her side to submit the bill of fare
to the master of the house. For of old, in the days of her lofty
innocence, she had habitually forced him to partake of dishes which
he disliked and which upset the delicate digestion of the sedentary
student. Euphémie’s mind was not of wide range, but it was impartial
and unwavering, and she protested to Madame Bergeret, as she had done
several times before on similar occasions, that it was absolutely
useless for her mistress to ask Monsieur anything. He never answered
a word, because he was in a “contrairy” mood. But Madame, turning her
face away and dropping her eyelids as a sign of determination, repeated
the order she had just given.

“Euphémie,” she said, “do as I tell you. Go and ask your master how he
would like the eggs cooked, and don’t forget to tell him that they are
new-laid and come from Trécul’s.”

M. Bergeret was sitting in his study at work on the _Virgilius
nauticus_, which a publisher had commissioned him to prepare as an
extra embellishment of a learned edition of the _Æneid_, at which three
generations of philologists had been working for more than thirty
years, and the first sheets of which were already through the press.
And now, slip by slip, the professor sat compiling this special lexicon
for it. He conceived a sort of veneration for himself as he worked at
it, and congratulated himself in these words:

“Here am I, a land-lubber who has never sailed on anything more
important than the Sunday steamboat which carries the townsfolk up
the river to drink sparkling wine on the slopes of Tuillières in
summer time; here am I, a good Frenchman, who has never seen the
sea except at Villers; here am I, Lucien Bergeret, acting as the
interpreter of Virgil, the seaman. Here I sit in my study explaining
the nautical terms used by a poet who is accurate, learned and exact,
in spite of all his rhetoric, who is a mathematician, a mechanician,
a geometrician, a well-informed Italian, who was trained in seafaring
matters by the sailors who basked in the sun on the sea-shores of
Naples and Misenum, who had, maybe, his own galley, and under the clear
stars of Helen’s twin-brothers, ploughed the blue furrows of the sea
between Naples and Athens. Thanks to the excellence of my philological
methods I am able to reach this point of perfection, but my pupil, M.
Goubin, would be as fully equipped for the task as I.”

M. Bergeret took the greatest pleasure in this work, for it kept his
mind occupied without any accompanying sense of anxiety or excitement.
It filled him with real satisfaction to trace on thin sheets of
pasteboard his delicate, regular letters, types and symbols as they
were of the mental accuracy demanded in the study of philology. All his
senses joined and shared in this spiritual satisfaction, so true is it
that the pleasures which man can enjoy are more varied than is commonly
supposed. Just now M. Bergeret was revelling in the peaceful joy of
writing thus:

    “Servius believes that Virgil wrote _Attolli malos_[11] in
    mistake for _Attolli vela_,[12] and the reason which he gives
    for this rendering is that _cum navigarent, non est dubium quod
    olli erexerant arbores_.[13] Ascencius takes the same side as
    Servius, being either forgetful or ignorant of the fact that,
    on certain occasions, ships at sea are dismasted. When the
    state of the sea was such that the masts....”

        [11] _Attolli malos_, for the masts to be raised.

        [12] _Attolli vela_, for the sails to be raised.

        [13] _Cum navigarent, non est dubium quod olli erexerant
             arbores_, when they were at sea, there is no doubt
             that the masts were already up.

M. Bergeret had reached this point in his work when Euphémie opened
the study door with the noise that always accompanied her slightest
movement, and repeated the considerate message sent by Madame Bergeret
to her husband:

“Madame wants to know how you would like your eggs cooked?”

M. Bergeret’s only reply was a gentle request to Euphémie to withdraw.
He went on writing:

    “ran the risk of breaking, it was customary to lower them,
    by lifting them out of the well in which their heels were
    inserted....”

Euphémie stood fixed against the door, while M. Bergeret finished his
slip.

    “The masts were then stored abaft either on a crossbar or a
    bridge.”

“Sir, Madame told me to say that the eggs come from Trécul’s.”

    “Una omnes fecere pedem.”[14]

        [14] _Una omnes fecere pedem_, then with one accord they
             veered out the sheet.

Filled with a sense of sadness M. Bergeret laid down his pen, for he
was suddenly overwhelmed with a perception of the uselessness of his
work. Unfortunately for his own happiness, he was intelligent enough to
recognise his own mediocrity, and, at times, it would actually appear
to him in visible shape, like a thin, little, clumsy figure dancing
about on his table between the inkstand and the file. He knew it well
and hated it, for he would fain have seen his personality come to him
under the guise of a lissom nymph. Yet it always appeared to him in its
true form, as a lanky, unlovely figure. It shocked him to see it, for
he had delicate perceptions and a taste for dainty conceits.

“Monsieur Bergeret,” he said to himself, “you are a professor of
some distinction, an intelligent provincial, a university man with
a tendency to the florid, an average scholar shackled by the barren
quests of philology, a stranger to the true science of language, which
can be plumbed only by men of broad, unbiassed and trenchant views.
Monsieur Bergeret, you are not a scholar, for you are incapable of
grasping or classifying the facts of language. Michel Bréal will never
mention your poor, little, humble name. You will die without fame, and
your ears will never know the sweet accents of men’s praise.”

“Sir ... Sir,” put in Euphémie in urgent tones, “do answer me. I have
no time to hang about. I have my work to do. Madame wants to know how
you’d like your eggs done. I got them at Trécul’s and they were laid
this morning.”

Without so much as turning his head, M. Bergeret answered the girl in a
tone of relentless gentleness:

“I want you to go and never again to enter my study—at any rate, not
until I call you.”

Then the professor returned to his day-dream: “How happy is Torquet,
our dean! How happy is Leterrier, our rector! No distrust of
themselves, no rash misgivings to interrupt the smooth course of their
equable lives! They are like that old fellow Mesange, who was so
beloved by the immortal goddesses that he survived three generations
and attained to the Collège de France and the Institute without having
learnt anything new since the holy days of his innocent childhood.
He carried with him to his grave the same amount of Greek as he had
at the age of fifteen. He died at the close of this century, still
revolving in his little head the mythological fancies that the poets of
the First Empire had turned into verse beside his cradle. But I—how
comes it that I have such a cruel sense of my own inadequacy and of the
laughable folly of all I undertake? For I have a mind as weak as that
Greek scholar’s, who had a bird’s brain as well as a bird’s name; I am
fully as incapable as Torquet the dean, and Leterrier, the rector, of
either system or initiative. I am, in fact, but a foolish, melancholy
juggler with words. May it not be a sign of mental supereminence
and a mark of my superiority in the realm of abstract thought? This
_Virgilius nauticus_, which I use as the touchstone of my powers,
is it really my own work and the fruit of my mind? No, it is a task
foisted on my poverty by a grasping bookseller in league with a pack of
pseudo-scholars who, on the pretext of freeing French scholarship from
German tutelage, are bringing back the trivial methods of former times,
and forcing me to take part in the philological pastimes of 1820. May
the responsibility for it rest on them and not on me! It was no zeal
for knowledge, but the thirst for gain, that induced me to undertake
this _Virgilius nauticus_, at which I have now been working for three
years and which will bring me in five hundred francs: to wit, two
hundred and fifty francs on delivery of the manuscript, and two hundred
and fifty francs on the day of publication of the volume containing
this article. I determined to slake my horrible thirst for gold! I
have failed, not in brain power, but in force of character. That’s a
very different matter!”

In this way did M. Bergeret marshal the flock of his wandering
thoughts. All this time Euphémie had not moved, but at last, for the
third time, she spoke to her master:

“Sir.... Sir....”

But at this attempt her voice stuck in her throat, strangled by sobs.

When M. Bergeret at last glanced at her, he could see the tears rolling
down her round, red, shining cheeks.

She tried to speak, but nothing came from her throat save hoarse
croaks, like the call that the shepherds of her native village sound
on their goat-horns of an evening. Then she crossed her two arms, bare
to the elbow, over her face, showing the fat, white flesh furrowed
with long red scratches, and wiped her eyes with the back of her brown
hands. Sobs tore her narrow chest and shook her stomach, abnormally
enlarged by the tabes from which she had suffered in her seventh year
and which had left her deformed. Then she dropped her arms to her
side, hid her hands under her apron, stifled her sobs, and exclaimed
peevishly, as soon as she could get the words out:

“I cannot live any longer in this house. I cannot any more. Besides,
it isn’t a life at all. I would rather go away than see what I do.”

There was as much rage as misery in her voice, and she looked at M.
Bergeret with inflamed eyes.

She was really very indignant at her master’s behaviour, and this
not at all because she had always been attached to her mistress. For
till quite recently, in the days of her pride and prosperity, Madame
Bergeret had overwhelmed her with insult and humiliation and kept
her half starved. Neither was it because she knew nothing of her
mistress’s lapse from virtue, and believed, with Madame Dellion and
the other ladies, that Madame Bergeret was innocent. She knew every
detail of her mistress’s liaison with M. Roux, as did the concierge,
the bread-woman, and M. Raynaud’s maid. She had discovered the truth
long before M. Bergeret knew it. Neither, on the other hand, was it
because she approved of the affair; for she strongly censured both M.
Roux and Madame Bergeret. For a girl who was mistress of her own person
to have a lover seemed a small thing to her, not worth troubling about,
when one knows how easily these things happen. She had had a narrow
escape herself one night after the fair, when she was close pressed
by a lad who wanted to play pranks at the edge of a ditch. She knew
that an accident might happen all in a moment. But in a middle-aged
married woman with children such conduct was disgusting. She confessed
to the bread-woman one morning that really mistress turned her sick.
Personally, she had no hankering after this kind of thing, and if there
were no one but her to supply the babies, why then, the world might
come to an end for all she cared. But if her mistress felt differently,
there was always a husband for her to turn to. Euphémie considered that
Madame Bergeret had committed a horribly wicked sin, but she could not
bring herself to feel that any sin, however serious, should never be
forgiven and should always remain unpardoned. During her childhood,
before she hired herself out to service, she used to work with her
parents in the fields and vineyards. There she had seen the sun scorch
up the vine-flowers, the hail beat down all the corn in the fields in
a few minutes; yet, the very next year, her father, mother and elder
brothers would be out in the fields, training the vine and sowing the
furrow. There, amid the eternal patience of nature, she had learnt the
lesson that in this world, alternately scorching and freezing, good and
bad, there is nothing that is irreparable, and that, as one pardons the
earth itself, so one must pardon man and woman.

It was according to this principle that the people at home acted, and
after all, they were very likely quite as good as townsfolk. When
Robertet’s wife, the buxom Léocadie, gave a pair of braces to her
footman to induce him to do what she wanted, she was not so clever that
Robertet did not find out the trick. He caught the lovers just in the
nick of time, and chastised his wife so thoroughly with a horsewhip
that she lost all desire to sin again for ever and ever. Since then
Léocadie has been one of the best women in the country: her husband
hasn’t _that_ to find fault with her for. M. Robertet is a man of sense
and knows how to drive men as well as cattle: why don’t people just do
as he did?

Having been often beaten by her respected father, and being, moreover,
a simple, untamed being herself, Euphémie fully understood an act
of violence. Had M. Bergeret broken the two house brooms on Madame
Bergeret’s guilty back, she would have quite approved of his act. One
broom, it is true, had lost half its bristles, and the other, older
still, had no more hair than the palm of the hand, and served, with
the aid of a dishcloth, to wash down the kitchen tiles. But when her
master persisted in a mood of prolonged and sullen spite, the peasant
girl considered it hateful, unnatural and positively fiendish. What
brought home to Euphémie all M. Bergeret’s crimes with still greater
force, was that his behaviour made her work difficult and confusing.
For since Monsieur refused to take his meals with Madame, he had to be
served in one place and she in another, for although M. Bergeret might
stubbornly refuse to recognise his wife’s existence, yet she could
not sustain even non-existence without sustenance of some sort. “It’s
like an inn,” sighed the youthful Euphémie. Then, since M. Bergeret no
longer supplied her with housekeeping money, Madame Bergeret used to
say to Euphémie: “You must settle with your master.” And in the evening
Euphémie would tremblingly carry her book to her master, who would wave
her off with an imperious gesture, for he found it difficult to meet
the increased expenditure. Thus lived Euphémie, perpetually overwhelmed
by difficulties with which she could not cope. In this poisoned air
she was losing all her cheerfulness: she was no longer to be heard in
the kitchen, mingling the noise of laughter and shouts with the crash
of saucepans, with the sizzling of the frying-pan upset on the stove,
or with the heavy blows of the knife, as on the chopping-block she
minced the meat, together with one of her finger-tips. She no longer
revelled in joy, or in noisy grief. She said to herself: “This house is
driving me crazy.” She pitied Madame Bergeret, for now she was kindly
treated. They used to spend the evening, sitting side by side in the
lamp-light, exchanging confidences. It was with her heart full of all
these emotions that Euphémie said to M. Bergeret:

“I am going away. You are too wicked. I want to leave.”

And again she shed a flood of tears.

M. Bergeret was by no means vexed at this reproach. He pretended, in
fact, not to hear it, for he had too much sense not to be able to
make allowances for the rudeness shown by an ignorant girl. He even
smiled within himself, for in the secret depths of his heart, beneath
layers of wise thoughts and fine sayings, he still retained that
primitive instinct which persists even in modern men of the gentlest
and sweetest character, and which makes them rejoice whenever they
see they are taken for ferocious beings, as if the mere power of
injuring and destroying were the motive force of living things, their
essential quality and highest merit. This, on reflection, is indeed
true, since, as life is supported and nourished only upon murder, the
best men must be those who slaughter most. Then again, those who,
under the stimulus of racial and food-conquering instincts, deal the
hardest knocks, obtain the reputation of magnanimity, and please
women, who are naturally interested in securing the strongest mates,
and who are mentally incapable of separating the fruitful from the
destructive element in man, since these two forces are, in actual fact,
indissolubly linked by nature. Hence, when Euphémie in a voice as
countrified as a fable by Æsop, told him he was wicked, M. Bergeret, by
virtue of his philosophical temperament, felt flattered and fancied he
heard a murmur which filled out the gaps in the maid’s simple speech,
and said: “Learn, Lucien Bergeret, that you are a wicked man, in the
vulgar sense of the word—that is to say, you are able to injure
and destroy; in other words, you are in a state of defence, in full
possession of life, on the road to victory. In your own way, you must
know, you are a giant, a monster, an ogre, a man of terror.”

But, being a sceptical man and never given to accepting men’s opinions
unchallenged, he began to ask himself if he were really what Euphémie
said. At the first glance into the inner recesses of his nature he
concluded that, on the whole, he was not wicked; that, on the contrary,
he was full of pity, highly sensitive to the woes of others, and full
of sympathy for the wretched; that he loved his fellow-men, and would
have gladly satisfied their needs by fulfilling all their desires,
whether innocent or guilty, for he refused to trammel his human charity
with the nets of any moral system, and for every kind of misery he
had compassion at his call. And to him everything that harmed no one
was innocent. In this way his heart was kinder than it ought to have
been, according to the laws, the morals, and the varying creeds of the
nations. Looking at himself in this way, he perceived the truth—that
he was not wicked, and the thought caused him some bewilderment. It
pained him to recognise in himself those contemptible qualities of mind
which do nothing to strengthen the life-force.

With praiseworthy thoroughness, he next set himself to inquire whether
he had not thrown off his kindly temper and his peaceable disposition
in certain matters, and particularly in this affair of Madame Bergeret.
He saw at once that on this special occasion he had acted in opposition
to his general principles and habitual sentiments, and that on this
point his conduct presented several marked singularities of which he
noted down the strangest.

“Chief singularities: I feign to consider her a criminal, and I act
as if I had really fallen into this vulgar error. And all the time
that her conscience condemns her for having committed adultery with my
pupil, M. Roux, I myself regard her adultery as an innocent act, since
it has harmed no one. Hence Madame Bergeret’s morality is higher than
mine, for, although she believes herself guilty, she forgives herself,
while I, who do not consider her guilty at all, refuse to forgive her.
My judgment of her is immoral, but merciful; my conduct, however, is
moral, but cruel. What I condemn so pitilessly is not her act, which
I consider to be merely ridiculous and unseemly: it is herself that I
condemn, as being guilty, not of what she has done, but of what she is.
The girl Euphémie is in the right: I _am_ wicked!”

He patted himself on the back, and revolving these new considerations,
said again to himself:

“I am wicked because I act. I knew, before this experience happened to
me, that there is no such thing as an innocent action, for to act is to
injure or destroy. As soon as I began to act, I became a malefactor.”

He had an excellent excuse for speaking thus to himself, since all this
time he had been performing a systematic, continuous, and consistent
act, in making Madame Bergeret’s life unbearable to her, by depriving
her of all the comforts needed by her homely common nature, her
domesticated character, and her gregarious mind. In a word, he was
engaged in driving from his house a disobedient and troublesome wife
who had done him good service by being unfaithful to him.

The opportunity she gave he seized gladly, doing his work with
wonderful vigour, considering the weak character he showed in ordinary
affairs. For, although M. Bergeret was usually vacillating in
purpose and without a will of his own, at this crisis he was driven
on by desire, by an invincible Lust. For it is desire, far stronger
than will, that, having created the world, now upholds it. In this
undertaking of his, M. Bergeret was sustained by unutterable desire, by
a masterful Lust to see Madame Bergeret no more. And this untempered,
transparent desire had the happy force of a great love, for it was
ruffled by no feeling of hatred.

All this time Euphémie stood waiting for her master to answer her, or,
at any rate, to hurl furious words at her. For on this point she agreed
with Madame Bergeret, and considered silence far more cruel than insult
and invective.

At last M. Bergeret broke the silence. He said in a quiet voice: “I
discharge you. You will leave this house in a week’s time.”

Euphémie’s sole response was a plaintive, animal cry. For a moment she
stood motionless. Then, thunderstruck, heart-broken and wretched, she
returned to her kitchen and gazed at the saucepans, now dented like
battle-armour by her valiant hands. She looked at the chair which had
lost its seat—without causing her any inconvenience, however, for the
poor girl hardly ever sat down; at the cistern whose waters had often
swamped the house at night by overflowing from a tap left full on; at
the sink with its wastepipe perpetually choked; at the table notched by
the chopping-knife; at the cast-iron stove all eaten away by the fire;
at the black coal-hole; at the shelves adorned with paper-lace; at the
blacking-box and the bottle of brass-polish. And standing in the midst
of all these witnesses of her weary life, she wept.

On the next day—that is, as they used to say, _l’en demain_, which
happened to be market-day—M. Bergeret set out early to call on
Deniseau, who kept a registry office for country servants in the Place
Saint-Exupère. In the waiting-room he found a score of country girls
waiting, some young, some old, some short, ruddy and chubby-cheeked,
others tall, yellow and wizened, all differing in face and figure,
but all alike in one respect—that is, in the anxious fixity of their
gaze, for they all saw their own fate in the person of every caller who
happened to open the door. For a moment M. Bergeret stood looking at
the group of girls who waited to be hired. Then he passed on into the
office adorned with calendars, where Deniseau sat at a table covered
with dirty registers and old horse-shoes that served as paper-weights.

He told the man that he required a servant, and apparently he wanted
one with quite unusual qualities, for after ten minutes’ conversation
he came out in very low spirits. Then, as he crossed the waiting-room
a second time, he caught sight of a woman in a dark corner whom he had
not noticed the first time. It was a long, thin shape that he beheld,
ageless and sexless, crowned by a bald, bony head, with a forehead
set like an enormous sphere on a short nose that seemed nothing but
nostril. Through her open mouth her great horse-teeth were visible in
all their nakedness, and under her drooping lip there was no chin to
speak of. She stayed in her corner, neither moving nor looking, perhaps
realising that she would not easily find anyone to hire her, and that
others would be taken in preference to her. Yet she seemed quite
satisfied with herself and quite easy in her mind. She was dressed like
the women of the low-lying, agueish lands, and to her wide-brimmed,
knitted hat clung pieces of straw.

For a long time M. Bergeret stood looking at her with saturnine
admiration. Then, pointing her out to Deniseau, he said: “The one over
there will suit me.”

“Marie?” asked the man in a tone of surprise.

“Marie,” answered M. Bergeret.



XVII


Now that M. Mazure, the archivist, had at last attained to academic
honours, he began to regard the government with genial tolerance.
But, as he was never happy unless he was at variance with someone,
he now turned his wrath against the clericals, and began to denounce
the scheming of the bishops. Meeting M. Bergeret in the Place
Saint-Exupère, he warned him of the peril threatening from the clerical
party.

“Finding it impossible,” said he, “to overturn the Republic, the curés
now want to divert it to their own ends.”

“That is the ambition of every party,” answered M. Bergeret, “and the
natural result of our democratic institutions, for democracy itself
consists entirely in the struggle of parties, since the nation itself
is not at one either in sentiments or interests.”

“But,” answered M. Mazure, “the unbearable part of this is that the
clericals should put on the mask of liberty in order to deceive the
electors.”

To this M. Bergeret replied:

“Every party which finds itself shut out from the Government demands
liberty, because to do so strengthens the opposition and weakens
the party in power. For the same reason the party in power curtails
liberty as much as possible and it passes, in the sacred name of the
sovereign people, the most despotic laws. For there is no charter
which can safeguard liberty against the acts of the sovereign nation.
Democratic despotism theoretically has no limits, but in actual fact,
and considering only the present period, I grant that its power is not
boundless. Democracy has given us ‘the black laws,’ but it never puts
them in force.”

“Monsieur Bergeret,” said the archivist, “let me give you a piece
of good advice. You are a Republican: then don’t fire on your own
friends. If we don’t look out, we shall fall back into the rule of the
Church. Reaction is making terrible progress. The whites are always
the whites; the blues are always the blues, as Napoleon said. You are
a blue, Monsieur Bergeret. The clerical party will never forgive you
for calling Jeanne d’Arc a mascotte, and even I can scarcely pardon you
for it, for Jeanne d’Arc and Danton are my two special idols. You are a
free-thinker. Then join us in our anti-clerical campaign! Let us unite
our forces! It is union alone that can give us the strength to conquer.
The highest interests are at stake in the fight against the church
party.”

“It is just party interest that I see mainly at work in that conflict,”
answered M. Bergeret. “But if I were obliged to join a party at all,
it must needs be yours, since it is the only one I could help without
too much hypocrisy. But, happily, I am not reduced to this extremity,
and I am by no means tempted to clip the wings of my mind in order to
force it into a political compartment. To tell the truth, I am quite
indifferent to your disputes, because I feel how empty they are. The
dividing line between you and the clericals is a trifling matter at
bottom. They would succeed you in office, provided there were no change
in the position of the individual. And in the State it is the position
of the individual that alone matters. Opinions are but verbal jugglery,
and it is only opinions that separate you from the church party. You
have no moral system to oppose to theirs, for the simple reason that
in France we have no religious code existing in opposition to a code
of civil morality. Those who believe that we have these two opposing
systems of morality are merely deceived by appearances. I will prove
this to you in a few words.

“In every era we find that there are habits of life which determine a
line of thought common to all men. Our moral ideas are not the fruit of
thought, but the result of habit. No one dares openly to resist these
ideas, because obedience to them is followed by honours, and revolt
against them by humiliation. They are adopted by the entire community
without question, independently of religious creeds and philosophic
opinions, and they are as keenly upheld by those whose deeds by no
means conform to their dictates, as they are by those who constrain
themselves to live according to the rules laid down by them. The origin
of these ideas is the only point that admits of discussion: so-called
free-thinkers believe that the rules which direct their conduct are
natural in origin, whilst pious souls discern the origin of the rules
they obey in their religion, and these rules are found to agree, or
nearly so, not because they are universal, that is, divine and natural,
as people delight to say, but, on the contrary, because they are the
product of the period and clime, deduced from the same habits, derived
from the same prejudices. Each epoch has its predominant moral idea,
which springs neither from religion nor from philosophy, but from
habit, the sole force that is capable of linking men in the same bond
of feeling, for the moment we touch reason we touch the dividing
principle in humanity, and the human race can only exist on condition
that it never reflects on what is essential to its own existence.
Morality governs creeds, which are ever matters of dispute, whilst
morality itself is never analysed.

“And simply because a moral code is the sum-total of the prejudices
of the community, there cannot possibly exist two rival codes at the
same time and in the same place. I could illustrate this truth by a
great number of examples, but none of them could be more to the point
than that of the Emperor Julian, with whose works I have lately been
making myself somewhat familiar. Julian, who fought on the side of
the Pagan gods with such staunchness and magnanimity—Julian, who
was a sun-worshipper, yet professed all the moral sentiments of the
Christians. Like them, he scorned the pleasures of the flesh and
vaunted the efficacy of fasting, because it brings a man into union
with the divine. Like them, he upheld the doctrine of atonement
and believed in the purifying effect of suffering. He had himself
initiated, too, into mysteries which satisfied his keen desire for
purity, renunciation and divine love, quite as efficaciously as the
mysteries of the Christian religion. In a word, his neo-paganism was,
morally speaking, own brother to the rising cult of Christianity.
And what is there surprising in that? The two creeds were the twin
children of Rome and of the East. They both corresponded to the same
human habits, to the same deep instincts in the Asiatic and Latin
worlds. Their souls were alike, though in name and phraseology they
differed from each other. This difference was enough to make them
deadly enemies, for it is about mere words that men usually quarrel. It
is for the sake of words that they most willingly kill and are killed.
Historians are in the habit of asking anxiously what would have become
of civilisation, if the philosopher-emperor had conquered the Galilean
by winning a victory that he had rightly earned by his constancy and
moderation. It is no easy game thus to reconstruct history. Yet it
seems clear enough that in this case, polytheism, which had already
by the reign of Julian been reduced to a species of monotheism, would
have submitted to the new mental habits of the time and would have
assumed precisely the same moral form that one sees it taking under
Christianity. Look at all the great revolutionary leaders and tell me
if there is a single one who showed himself in any way an original
thinker, as far as morality is concerned. Robespierre’s ideas of
righteousness were to the end those in which he had been trained by the
priests of Arras.

“You are a free-thinker, Monsieur Mazure, and you think that man’s
object on this planet ought to be to get the maximum amount of
happiness out of it. M. de Terremondre, who is a Catholic, believes,
on the contrary, that we are all here in a place of expiation in order
that we may gain eternal life through suffering. Yet, notwithstanding
the contradiction in your creeds, you have both practically the same
moral code, because morality is independent of creeds.”

“You make fun of things,” said M. Mazure, “and you make me want to
swear like a trooper. Religious ideas, when all is said and done, enter
into the formation of moral ideas to a degree that one cannot ignore.
I am therefore right in saying that there is such a thing as Christian
morality, and that I heartily disapprove of it.”

“But, my dear sir,” answered the professor gently, “there are as many
Christian codes of morality as there are ages during which Christianity
has lasted and countries into which she has penetrated. Religions,
like chameleons, copy the colours of the soil over which they run.
Morality, though it is peculiar to each generation, since it is the one
link to bind it together, changes incessantly along with the habits
and customs of which she is the most striking representative, like
an enlarged reflection on a wall. So true is this fact that it may
actually be affirmed that the morality of these Catholics who offend
you resembles your own very closely, and yet differs widely from that
of a Catholic at the time of the League—to say nothing of those
Christians of the apostolic ages who would seem to M. de Terremondre
most extraordinary beings, were it possible for him to see them at
close quarters. Be impartial and just, if you can, and tell me this:
in what essential respect does your morality as a free-thinker differ
from the morality of those good people who to-day go to Mass? They
profess, as the bedrock of their creed, the doctrine of the atonement,
but they are as indignant as you when that doctrine is put before them
in a striking manner by their own priests. They profess to believe that
suffering is good and pleasing to God. But—do you ever see them sit
down on nails? You have proclaimed toleration for every creed: they
marry Jewesses and have stopped burning their fathers-in-law. What
ideas have you which they do not share with you about sexual questions,
about the family, about marriage, except that you allow divorce, though
you take good care not to recommend it? They believe it is damnation
to look at a woman and lust after her. Yet at dinners and parties
are the necks of their women any less bare than the necks of yours?
Do they wear dresses that reveal less of their figures? And do they
bear in mind the words of Tertullian about widows’ raiment? Are they
veiled and do they hide their hair? Do you not settle their fashions?
Do you insist that they shall go naked because you don’t believe
that Eve covered herself with a branch of a fig-tree under the curse
of Javeh? In what way do your ideas about your country differ from
theirs? For they exhort you to serve and defend it, just as if their
own abiding city were not in the heavens. Or about forced military
service, to which they submit, with the solitary reservation of one
point in ecclesiastical discipline, which in practice they yield? Or
on war, in which they will fight side by side with you, whenever you
wish, although their God gave them the command: “Thou shalt not kill.”
Are you anarchical and cosmopolitan enough to separate from them on
these important questions in practical life? What can you name which
is peculiar to you alone? You cannot even adduce the duel, which, on
account of its being fashionable, is a part of their code as of yours,
although it is neither in accordance with their principles, since both
their kings and priests forbid it, nor with yours, for it is based
on the incredible intervention of God Himself. Have you not the same
moral code with respect to the organisation of labour, to private
property and capital, to the whole organisation of society as it is
to-day, under which you both endure injustice with equal patience—as
long as you don’t personally suffer from it? You would have to
become Socialists for things to be otherwise, and were you to become
socialistic, so doubtless would they. You are willing to tolerate
injustice that survives from bygone days, every time that it works in
your favour. And, on their side, your ostensible opponents gratefully
accept the results of the Revolution, whenever it is a question of
acquiring a fortune derived from some former impropriator of national
property. They are parties to the Concordat, and so are you; so that
even religion links you together.

“Their creed has so little effect on their feelings that they love the
life they ought to despise, quite as much as you do; and they cling as
closely to their possessions, which are a stumbling-block in the way of
their salvation. Having practically the same customs as you, they have
practically the same moral code. You quibble with them as to matters
which only interest politicians and which have no connection with the
organisation of a society which cares not a whit about your rival
claims. Faithful to the same traditions, ruled by the same prejudices,
living in the same depths of ignorance, you devour one another like
crabs in a basket. As one watches your conflicts of frogs and mice, one
no longer craves for undiluted civil government.”



XVIII


The coming of Marie was like the entrance of death into the house. At
the very first sight of her, Madame Bergeret knew that her day was over.

Euphémie sat for a long while on her caneless chair, silent and
motionless, but with flushed cheeks. Her deep-rooted attachment to her
employers and her employers’ house was instinctive, but sure, and, like
a dog’s love, not dependent on reason. She shed no tears, but fever
spots came out on her lips. Her good-bye to Madame Bergeret was said
with all the solemnity of a pious, countrified heart. During the five
years of her service in the house she had endured at Madame Bergeret’s
hands, not only abusive violence, but hard avarice, for she was fed
but meagrely; on her side, she had given way to fits of insolence
and disobedience, and she had slandered her mistress among the other
servants. But she was a Christian, and at the bottom of her heart
she revered her pastors and masters as she did her father and mother.
Snivelling with grief, she said:

“Good-bye, Madame. I will pray to the good God for you, that He may
make you happy. I wish I could have said good-bye to the young ladies.”

Madame Bergeret knew that she was being hunted out of the house, like
this young girl, but she would not show how moved she was, for fear of
seeming undignified.

“Go, child,” said she, “and settle your wages with Monsieur.”

When M. Bergeret handed her her wages, she slowly counted out the
amount and moving her lips as though in prayer, made her calculations
three times over. She examined the coins anxiously, not being sure
of her bearings among so many different varieties. Then she put this
little property, her sole wealth in all the world, into the pocket of
her skirt, under her handkerchief. Next she dug her hand deep into her
pocket, and having taken all these precautions, said:

“You have always been good to me, Monsieur, and I wish you every
happiness. But, all the same, you have driven me away.”

“You think I am a wicked man,” answered M. Bergeret. “But if I send
you away, my good girl, I do it regretfully and only because it is
absolutely necessary. If I can help you in any way, I shall be very
glad to do so.”

Euphémie passed the back of her hand over her eyes, sniffed aloud and
said softly, with big tears flowing down her cheeks:

“There’s nobody wicked here.”

She went out, closing the door behind her as noiselessly as possible,
and M. Bergeret began to picture her standing at the bottom of the
waiting-room in Deniseau’s office, with anxious looks fixed on the
door, among the melancholy crowd of girls waiting to be hired, in her
white head-dress with her blue cotton umbrella stuck between her knees.

Meanwhile Marie, the stable-girl, who had never in her life waited on
anything but beasts, was filled with amazement and stupefaction at
the ways of these townsfolk, till the terror that she communicated to
others began to overwhelm her own mind. She squatted in her kitchen and
gazed at the saucepans. Bacon soup was the only thing she could make
and dialect the only language she understood. She was not even well
recommended, for it turned out that she had not only lived loosely, but
was in the habit of drinking brandy and even spirits of wine.

The first visitor to whom she opened the door was Captain Aspertini,
who, in passing through the town, had called to see M. Bergeret. She
evidently made a deep impression on the Italian savant’s mind, for no
sooner had he greeted his host than he began to speak of the maid with
that interest which ugliness always inspires when it is overwhelmingly
terrible.

“Your maid, Monsieur Bergeret,” said he, “reminds me of that expressive
face which Giotto has painted on an arch of the church at Assisi. It
represents that Being to whom no one ever opens the door with a smile,
and was suggested by a verse in Dante.

“That reminds me,” continued the Italian; “have you seen the portrait
of Virgil in mosaic that your compatriots have just discovered at
Sousse in Algeria? It is a picture of a Roman with a wide, low
forehead, a square head and a strong jaw, and is not in the least like
the beautiful youth whom they used to tell us was Virgil. The bust
which for a long time was taken for a portrait of the poet is really a
Roman copy of a Greek original of the fourth century and represents a
young god worshipped in the mysteries of Eleusis. I think I may claim
the honour of being the first to give the true explanation of this
figure in my pamphlet on the child Triptolemus. But do you know this
Virgil in mosaic, Monsieur Bergeret?”

“As well as I can judge from the photograph I have seen,” answered
M. Bergeret, “this African mosaic seems the copy of an original full
of character. This portrait might quite stand for Virgil, and it
is by no means impossible that it is an authentic portrait of him.
Your Renaissance scholars, Monsieur Aspertini, always depicted the
author of the _Æneid_ with the features of a sage. The old Venetian
editions of Dante that I have turned over in our library are full of
wood engravings in which Virgil wears the beard of a philosopher.
The next age made him as beautiful as a young god. Now we have him
with a square jaw and wearing a fringe of hair across his forehead in
the Roman style. The mental effect produced by his work has varied
just as much. Every literary age creates pictures from it which are
entirely different according to the period. And without recalling the
legends of the Middle Ages about Virgil the necromancer, it is a fact
that the Mantuan is admired for reasons that change according to the
period. In him Macrobius hailed the Sibyl of the Empire. It was his
philosophy that Dante and Petrarch seized upon, while Chateaubriand
and Victor Hugo discovered in him the forerunner of Christianity. For
my part, being but a juggler with words, I only use his works as a
philological pastime. You, Monsieur Aspertini, see him in the guise
of a great storehouse of Roman antiquities, and that is perhaps the
most solidly valuable part of the _Æneid_. The truth is that we are
in the habit of hanging our ideas upon the letter of these ancient
texts. Each generation forms a new conception of these masterpieces of
antiquity and thus endows them with a kind of progressive immortality.
My colleague Paul Stapfer has said many good things on this head.”

“Very noteworthy things indeed,” answered Captain Aspertini. “But he
does not entertain such hopeless views as yours as to the ebb and flow
of human opinions.”

Thus did these two good fellows toss from one to the other those
glorious and beautiful ideas by which life is embellished.

“Do tell me what has become,” asked Captain Aspertini, “of that
soldierly Latinist whom I met here, that charming M. Roux, who seemed
to value military glory at its true worth, for he disdained to be a
corporal.”

M. Bergeret replied curtly that M. Roux had returned to his regiment.

“When last I passed through the town,” continued Captain Aspertini, “on
the second of January I think it was, I caught this young savant under
the lime-tree in the courtyard of the library, chatting with the young
porteress, whose ears, I remember, were very red. And you know that is
a sign that she was listening with pleased excitement. There could be
nothing prettier than that dainty little ruby shell clinging above the
white neck. With great discretion I pretended not to see them, in order
that I might not be like the Pythagorean philosopher who used to harass
lovers in Metapontus. That is a very charming young girl, with her red,
flame-like hair and her delicate skin, faintly dappled with freckles,
yet so pearly that it seems lit up from within. Have you ever noticed
her, Monsieur Bergeret?”

M. Bergeret replied by a nod, for he had often noticed her, and found
her very much to his taste. He was too honourable a man and had too
much prudence and respect for his position ever to have taken any
liberty with the young porteress at the library. But the delicate
colouring, the thin, supple figure, the graceful beauty of this girl
had more than once floated before his eyes in the yellow pages of
Servius and Domat, when he had been sitting over them a long while.
Her name was Mathilde and she had the reputation of being fond of
pretty lads. Although M. Bergeret was usually very indulgent towards
lovers, the idea of M. Roux finding favour with Mathilde was distinctly
distasteful to him.

“It was in the evening, after I had been reading there,” continued
Captain Aspertini. “I had copied three unpublished letters of Muratori,
which were not in the catalogue. As I was crossing the court where
they keep the remains of ancient buildings in the town, I saw, under
the lime-tree near the well and not far from the pillar of the
Romano-Gallic boatmen, the young porteress with the golden hair. She
was listening with downcast eyes to the remarks of your pupil, M. Roux,
while she balanced the great keys at the end of her fingers. What he
said was doubtless very like what the herdsman of the Oaristys[15] said
to the goat-girl. There was little doubt as to the gist of his remarks.
I felt sure, in fact, that he was making an assignation. For, thanks to
the skill I have acquired in interpreting the monuments of ancient art,
I immediately grasped the meaning of this group.”

    [15] First idyll of André Chénier.

He went on with a smile:

“I cannot, Monsieur Bergeret, really feel all the subtleties, all the
niceties of your beautiful French tongue, but I do not like to use the
word ‘girl’ or ‘young girl’ to describe a child like this porteress of
your municipal library. Neither can one use the word maid,[16] which is
obsolete and has degenerated in meaning. And I would say in passing,
it is a pity that this is the case. It would be ungracious to call
her a young person, and I can see nothing but the word nymph to suit
her. But, pray, Monsieur Bergeret, do not repeat what I told you about
the nymph of the library, lest it should get her into trouble. These
secrets need not be divulged to the mayor or the librarians. I should
be most distressed, if I thought I had inadvertently done the slightest
harm to your nymph.”

    [16] _Pucelle._

“It is true,” thought M. Bergeret, “that my nymph is pretty.”

He felt vexed, and at this moment could scarcely have told whether he
was more angry with M. Roux for having found favour in the eyes of the
library porteress, or for having seduced Madame Bergeret.

“Your nation,” said Captain Aspertini, “has attained to the highest
mental and moral culture. But it still retains, as a relic of the
barbarism in which it was so long plunged, a kind of uncertainty and
awkwardness in dealing with love affairs. In Italy love is everything
to the lovers, but of no concern to the outside world. Society in
general feels no interest in a matter which only concerns the chief
actors in it. An unbiassed estimate of licence and passion saves us
from cruelty and hypocrisy.”

For some considerable time Captain Aspertini continued to entertain his
French friend with his views on different points in morals, art and
politics. Then he rose to take leave, and catching sight of Marie in
the hall, said to M. Bergeret:

“Pray don’t take offence at what I said about your cook. Petrarch also
had a servant of rare and peculiar ugliness.”



XIX


As soon as he had removed from Madame Bergeret, deposed, the management
of his house, M. Bergeret himself took command, and a very bad job he
made of it. Yet in excuse it should be said that the maid Marie never
carried out his orders, since she never understood them. But since
action is the essential condition of life and one can by no means avoid
it, Marie acted, and was led by her natural gifts into the most unlucky
decisions and the most noxious deeds. Sometimes, however, the light
of her genius was quenched by drunkenness. One day, having drunk all
the spirits of wine kept for the lamp, she lay stretched unconscious
on the kitchen tiles for forty hours. Her awaking was always terrible,
and every movement she made was followed by catastrophe. She succeeded
in doing what had been beyond the powers of anyone else—in splitting
the marble chimney-piece by dashing a candlestick on it. She took to
cooking all the food in a frying-pan, amid deafening clamour and
poisonous smells, and nothing that she served was eatable.

Shut up alone in the solitude of her bedroom, Madame Bergeret screamed
and sobbed with mingled grief and rage, as she watched the ruin of her
home. Her misery took on strange, unheard-of shapes that were agony
to her conventional soul and became ever more formidable. Until now
M. Bergeret had always handed over to her the whole of his monthly
salary, without even keeping back his cigarette money from it. But
she no longer received a penny from him, and as she had dressed
expensively during the gay time of her liaison with M. Roux, and even
more expensively during her troublous times when she was upholding her
dignity by constantly visiting her entire circle, she was now beginning
to be dunned by her milliner and dressmaker, and Messrs. Achard, a firm
of outfitters, who did not regard her as a regular customer, actually
issued a writ against her, which on this particular evening struck
consternation into the proud heart of the daughter of Pouilly. When
she perceived that these unprecedented trials were the unexpected, but
fatal, results of her sin, she began to perceive the heinousness of
adultery. With this thought came a memory of all she had been taught in
her youth about this unparalleled, this unique crime; for, in truth,
neither envy, nor avarice, nor cruelty bring such shame to the sinner
as this one offence of adultery.

As she stood on the hearthrug before stepping into bed, she opened the
neck of her nightdress, and dropping her chin, looked down at the shape
of her body. Foreshortened in this way beneath the cambric, it looked
like a warm white mass of cushions and pillows, lit up by the rays
of the lamplight. She knew nothing of the beauty of the simple human
form, having merely the dressmaker’s instinct for style, and never
asked herself whether these outlines below her eyes were lovely or not.
Neither did she find grounds for humiliation or self-glorification
in this fleshly envelope; she never even recalled the memory of past
pleasures: the only feeling that came was one of troubled anxiety
at the sight of the body whose secret impulses had worked such
consequences in her home and outside it.

She was a being of moral and religious instincts, and sufficiently
philosophic to grasp the absolute value of the points in a game of
cards: the idea came to her then that an act in itself entirely trivial
might be great in the world of ideas. She felt no remorse, because she
was devoid of imagination, and having a rational conception of God,
felt that she had already been sufficiently punished. But, at the
same time, since she followed the ordinary line of thought in morality
and conceived that a woman’s honour could only be judged by the common
criterion, since she had formed no colossal plan of overthrowing
the moral scheme in order to manufacture for herself an outrageous
innocence, she could feel no quietness, no satisfaction in life, nor
could she enjoy any sense of the inner peace that sustains the mind in
tribulation.

Her troubles were the more harassing because they were so mysterious,
so indefinitely prolonged. They unwound themselves like the ball
of red string that Madame Magloire, the confectioner in the Place
Saint-Exupère, kept on her counter in a boxwood case, and which she
used to tie up hundreds of little parcels by means of the thread that
passed through a hole in the cover. It seemed to Madame Bergeret that
she would never see the end of her worries; she even, under sadness and
regret, began to acquire a certain look of spiritual beauty.

One morning she looked at an enlarged photograph of her father, whom
she had lost during the first year of her married life, and standing in
front of it, she wept, as she thought of the days of her childhood, of
the little white cap worn at her first communion, of her Sunday walks
when she went to drink milk at the Tuilerie with her cousins, the two
Demoiselles Pouilly of the Dictionary, of her mother, still alive, but
now an old lady living in her little native town, far away at the other
end of France in the _département du Nord_. Madame Bergeret’s father,
Victor Pouilly, a headmaster and the author of a popular edition of
Lhomond’s grammar, had entertained a lofty notion of his social dignity
in the world and of his intellectual prowess. Being overshadowed and
patronised by his elder brother, the great Pouilly of the Dictionary,
being also under the thumb of the University authorities, he took it
out of everybody else and became prouder and prouder of his name, his
Grammar, and his gout, which was severe. In his pose he expressed the
Pouilly dignity, and to his daughter his portrait seemed to say: “My
child, I pass over, I purposely pass over everything in your conduct
which cannot be considered exactly conventional. You should recognise
the fact that all your troubles come from having married beneath you.
In vain I flattered myself that I had raised him to our level. This
Bergeret is an uneducated man, and your original mistake, the source
of all your troubles, my daughter, was your marriage.” And Madame
Bergeret gave ear to this speech, while the wisdom and kindness of her
father, so clearly stamped on it, sustained her drooping courage in a
measure. Yet, step by step, she began to yield to fate. She ceased to
pay denunciatory visits in the town, where, in fact, she had already
tired out the curiosity of her friends by the monotonous tenour of her
complaints. Even at the rector’s house they began to believe that the
stories which were told in the town about her liaison with M. Roux were
not entirely fables. She had allowed herself to be compromised, and
she wearied them; they let her plainly see both facts. The only person
whose sympathy she still retained was Madame Dellion, and to this lady
she remained a sort of allegorical figure of injured innocence. But
although Madame Dellion, being of higher rank, pitied her, respected
her, admired her, she would not receive her. Madame Bergeret was
humiliated and alone, childless, husbandless, homeless, penniless.

One last effort she made to resume her rightful position in the house.
It was on the morning after the most miserable and wretched day that
she had ever spent. After having endured the insolent demands of
Mademoiselle Rose, the modiste, and of Lafolie, the butcher, after
having caught Marie stealing the three francs seventy-five centimes
left by the laundress on the dining-room sideboard, Madame Bergeret
went to bed so full of misery and fear that she could not sleep. Her
overwhelming troubles brought on an attack of romantic fancy, and in
the shades of night she saw a vision of Marie pouring out a poisonous
potion that M. Bergeret had prepared for her. With the dawn her fevered
terrors fled, and having dressed carefully, she entered M. Bergeret’s
study with an air of quiet gravity. So little had he expected her that
she found the door open.

“Lucien! Lucien!” said she.

She called upon the innocent names of their three daughters. She begged
and implored, while she gave a fair enough description of the wretched
state of the house. She promised that for the future she would be good,
faithful, economical and good-tempered. But M. Bergeret would not
answer.

Kneeling at his feet, she sobbed and twisted the arms that had once
been so imperious in their gestures. He deigned neither to see nor to
hear her.

She showed him the spectacle of a Pouilly at his feet. But he only took
up his hat and went out. Then she got up and ran after him, and with
outstretched fist and lips drawn back shouted after him from the hall:

“I never loved you. Do you hear that? Never, not even when I first
married you! You are hideous, you are ridiculous and everything else
that’s horrid. And everyone in the town knows that you are nothing but
a ninnyhammer ... yes, a ninnyhammer....”

She had never heard this word save on the lips of Pouilly of the
Dictionary, who had been in his grave for more than twenty years, and
now it recurred to her mind suddenly, as though by a miracle. She
attached no definite meaning to it, but as it sounded excessively
insulting, she shouted down the staircase after him, “Ninnyhammer,
ninnyhammer!”

It was her last effort as a wife. A fortnight after this interview
Madame Bergeret appeared before her husband and said, this time in
quiet, resolute tones, “I cannot remain here any longer. It is your
doing entirely. I am going to my mother’s; you must send me Marianne
and Juliette. Pauline I will let you have....”

Pauline was the eldest; she was like her father, and between them there
existed a certain sympathy.

“I hope,” added Madame Bergeret, “that you will make a suitable
allowance for your two daughters who will live with me. For myself I
ask nothing.”

When M. Bergeret heard these words, when he saw her at the goal whither
he had guided her by foresight and firmness, he tried to conceal his
joy, for fear lest, if he let it be detected, Madame Bergeret might
abandon an arrangement that suited him admirably.

He made no answer, but he bent his head in sign of consent.



Transcriber’s Note:

Hyphenation and spelling have been retained as appeared in the original
publication except as follows:

  Page 68
  For you’re no stranger to _changed to_
  “For you’re no stranger to

  Page 76
  tho most respected families _changed to_
  the most respected families

  Page 93
  which are associdate _changed to_
  which are associated

  Page 229
  Servius believes that Virgil wrote _changed to_
  “Servius believes that Virgil wrote

  masts were already up _changed to_
  masts were already up.





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this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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