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Title: Doctor Pascal
Author: Zola, Émile
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Doctor Pascal" ***

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DOCTOR PASCAL

By Emile Zola


Translated By Mary J. Serrano



I.

In the heat of the glowing July afternoon, the room, with blinds
carefully closed, was full of a great calm. From the three windows,
through the cracks of the old wooden shutters, came only a few scattered
sunbeams which, in the midst of the obscurity, made a soft brightness
that bathed surrounding objects in a diffused and tender light. It
was cool here in comparison with the overpowering heat that was felt
outside, under the fierce rays of the sun that blazed upon the front of
the house.

Standing before the press which faced the windows, Dr. Pascal was
looking for a paper that he had come in search of. With doors wide
open, this immense press of carved oak, adorned with strong and handsome
mountings of metal, dating from the last century, displayed within its
capacious depths an extraordinary collection of papers and manuscripts
of all sorts, piled up in confusion and filling every shelf to
overflowing. For more than thirty years the doctor had thrown into it
every page he wrote, from brief notes to the complete texts of his great
works on heredity. Thus it was that his searches here were not always
easy. He rummaged patiently among the papers, and when he at last found
the one he was looking for, he smiled.

For an instant longer he remained near the bookcase, reading the note by
a golden sunbeam that came to him from the middle window. He himself,
in this dawnlike light, appeared, with his snow-white hair and beard,
strong and vigorous; although he was near sixty, his color was so fresh,
his features were so finely cut, his eyes were still so clear, and
he had so youthful an air that one might have taken him, in his
close-fitting, maroon velvet jacket, for a young man with powdered hair.

“Here, Clotilde,” he said at last, “you will copy this note. Ramond
would never be able to decipher my diabolical writing.”

And he crossed the room and laid the paper beside the young girl, who
stood working at a high desk in the embrasure of the window to the
right.

“Very well, master,” she answered.

She did not even turn round, so engrossed was her attention with the
pastel which she was at the moment rapidly sketching in with broad
strokes of the crayon. Near her in a vase bloomed a stalk of hollyhocks
of a singular shade of violet, striped with yellow. But the profile
of her small round head, with its short, fair hair, was clearly
distinguishable; an exquisite and serious profile, the straight forehead
contracted in a frown of attention, the eyes of an azure blue, the nose
delicately molded, the chin firm. Her bent neck, especially, of a milky
whiteness, looked adorably youthful under the gold of the clustering
curls. In her long black blouse she seemed very tall, with her slight
figure, slender throat, and flexible form, the flexible slenderness
of the divine figures of the Renaissance. In spite of her twenty-five
years, she still retained a childlike air and looked hardly eighteen.

“And,” resumed the doctor, “you will arrange the press a little. Nothing
can be found there any longer.”

“Very well, master,” she repeated, without raising her head;
“presently.”

Pascal had turned round to seat himself at his desk, at the other end
of the room, before the window to the left. It was a plain black wooden
table, and was littered also with papers and pamphlets of all sorts. And
silence again reigned in the peaceful semi-obscurity, contrasting with
the overpowering glare outside. The vast apartment, a dozen meters long
and six wide, had, in addition to the press, only two bookcases, filled
with books. Antique chairs of various kinds stood around in disorder,
while for sole adornment, along the walls, hung with an old _salon_
Empire paper of a rose pattern, were nailed pastels of flowers of
strange coloring dimly visible. The woodwork of three folding-doors,
the door opening on the hall and two others at opposite ends of the
apartment, the one leading to the doctor’s room, the other to that of
the young girl, as well as the cornice of the smoke-darkened ceiling,
dated from the time of Louis XV.

An hour passed without a sound, without a breath. Then Pascal, who, as
a diversion from his work, had opened a newspaper--_Le Temps_--which had
lain forgotten on the table, uttered a slight exclamation:

“Why! your father has been appointed editor of the _Epoque_, the
prosperous republican journal which has the publishing of the papers of
the Tuileries.”

This news must have been unexpected by him, for he laughed frankly, at
once pleased and saddened, and in an undertone he continued:

“My word! If things had been invented, they could not have been finer.
Life is a strange thing. This is a very interesting article.”

Clotilde made no answer, as if her thoughts were a hundred leagues away
from what her uncle was saying. And he did not speak again, but taking
his scissors after he had read the article, he cut it out and pasted it
on a sheet of paper, on which he made some marginal notes in his large,
irregular handwriting. Then he went back to the press to classify this
new document in it. But he was obliged to take a chair, the shelf being
so high that he could not reach it notwithstanding his tall stature.

On this high shelf a whole series of enormous bundles of papers were
arranged in order, methodically classified. Here were papers of all
sorts: sheets of manuscript, documents on stamped paper, articles cut
out of newspapers, arranged in envelopes of strong blue paper, each of
which bore on the outside a name written in large characters. One felt
that these documents were tenderly kept in view, taken out continually,
and carefully replaced; for of the whole press, this corner was the only
one kept in order.

When Pascal, mounted on the chair, had found the package he was looking
for, one of the bulkiest of the envelopes, on which was written the name
“Saccard,” he added to it the new document, and then replaced the whole
under its corresponding alphabetical letter. A moment later he had
forgotten the subject, and was complacently straightening a pile of
papers that were falling down. And when he at last jumped down off the
chair, he said:

“When you are arranging the press, Clotilde, don’t touch the packages at
the top; do you hear?”

“Very well, master,” she responded, for the third time, docilely.

He laughed again, with the gaiety that was natural to him.

“That is forbidden.”

“I know it, master.”

And he closed the press with a vigorous turn of the key, which he
then threw into a drawer of his writing table. The young girl was
sufficiently acquainted with his researches to keep his manuscripts in
some degree of order; and he gladly employed her as his secretary; he
made her copy his notes when some _confrere_ and friend, like Dr. Ramond
asked him to send him some document. But she was not a _savante_; he
simply forbade her to read what he deemed it useless that she should
know.

At last, perceiving her so completely absorbed in her work, his
attention was aroused.

“What is the matter with you, that you don’t open your lips?” he said.
“Are you so taken up with the copying of those flowers that you can’t
speak?”

This was another of the labors which he often intrusted to her--to make
drawings, aquarelles, and pastels, which he afterward used in his works
as plates. Thus, for the past five years he had been making some curious
experiments on a collection of hollyhocks; he had obtained a whole
series of new colorings by artificial fecundations. She made these sorts
of copies with extraordinary minuteness, an exactitude of design and
of coloring so extreme that he marveled unceasingly at the
conscientiousness of her work, and he often told her that she had a
“good, round, strong, clear little headpiece.”

But, this time, when he approached her to look over her shoulder, he
uttered a cry of comic fury.

“There you are at your nonsense! Now you are off in the clouds again!
Will you do me the favor to tear that up at once?”

She straightened herself, her cheeks flushed, her eyes aglow with the
delight she took in her work, her slender fingers stained with the red
and blue crayon that she had crushed.

“Oh, master!”

And in this “master,” so tender, so caressingly submissive, this term
of complete abandonment by which she called him, in order to avoid using
the words godfather or uncle, which she thought silly, there was, for
the first time, a passionate accent of revolt, the revindication of a
being recovering possession of and asserting itself.

For nearly two hours she had been zealously striving to produce an exact
and faithful copy of the hollyhocks, and she had just thrown on another
sheet a whole bunch of imaginary flowers, of dream-flowers, extravagant
and superb. She had, at times, these abrupt shiftings, a need of
breaking away in wild fancies in the midst of the most precise of
reproductions. She satisfied it at once, falling always into this
extraordinary efflorescence of such spirit and fancy that it never
repeated itself; creating roses, with bleeding hearts, weeping tears of
sulphur, lilies like crystal urns, flowers without any known form, even,
spreading out starry rays, with corollas floating like clouds. To-day,
on a groundwork dashed in with a few bold strokes of black crayon, it
was a rain of pale stars, a whole shower of infinitely soft petals;
while, in a corner, an unknown bloom, a bud, chastely veiled, was
opening.

“Another to nail there!” resumed the doctor, pointing to the wall, on
which there was already a row of strangely curious pastels. “But what
may that represent, I ask you?”

She remained very grave, drawing back a step, the better to contemplate
her work.

“I know nothing about it; it is beautiful.”

At this moment appeared Martine, the only servant, become the real
mistress of the house, after nearly thirty years of service with the
doctor. Although she had passed her sixtieth year, she, too, still
retained a youthful air as she went about, silent and active, in her
eternal black gown and white cap that gave her the look of a nun, with
her small, white, calm face, and lusterless eyes, the light in which
seemed to have been extinguished.

Without speaking, she went and sat down on the floor before an
easy-chair, through a rent in the old covering of which the hair was
escaping, and drawing from her pocket a needle and a skein of worsted,
she set to work to mend it. For three days past she had been waiting for
an hour’s time to do this piece of mending, which haunted her.

“While you are about it, Martine,” said Pascal jestingly, taking between
both his hands the mutinous head of Clotilde, “sew me fast, too, this
little noodle, which sometimes wanders off into the clouds.”

Martine raised her pale eyes, and looked at her master with her habitual
air of adoration?

“Why does monsieur say that?”

“Because, my good girl, in very truth, I believe it is you who have
stuffed this good little round, clear, strong headpiece full of notions
of the other world, with all your devoutness.”

The two women exchanged a glance of intelligence.

“Oh, monsieur! religion has never done any harm to any one. And when
people have not the same ideas, it is certainly better not to talk about
them.”

An embarrassed silence followed; this was the one difference of opinion
which, at times, brought about disagreements among these three united
beings who led so restricted a life. Martine was only twenty-nine, a
year older than the doctor, when she entered his house, at the time when
he made his _debut_ as a physician at Plassans, in a bright little house
of the new town. And thirteen years later, when Saccard, a brother of
Pascal, sent him his daughter Clotilde, aged seven, after his wife’s
death and at the moment when he was about to marry again, it was she
who brought up the child, taking it to church, and communicating to it
a little of the devout flame with which she had always burned; while the
doctor, who had a broad mind, left them to their joy of believing,
for he did not feel that he had the right to interdict to any one the
happiness of faith; he contented himself later on with watching over
the young girl’s education and giving her clear and sound ideas about
everything. For thirteen years, during which the three had lived this
retired life at La Souleiade, a small property situated in the outskirts
of the town, a quarter of an hour’s walk from St. Saturnin, the
cathedral, his life had flowed happily along, occupied in secret great
works, a little troubled, however, by an ever increasing uneasiness--the
collision, more and more violent, every day, between their beliefs.

Pascal took a few turns gloomily up and down the room. Then, like a man
who did not mince his words, he said:

“See, my dear, all this phantasmagoria of mystery has turned your pretty
head. Your good God had no need of you; I should have kept you for
myself alone; and you would have been all the better for it.”

But Clotilde, trembling with excitement, her clear eyes fixed boldly
upon his, held her ground.

“It is you, master, who would be all the better, if you did not shut
yourself up in your eyes of flesh. That is another thing, why do you not
wish to see?”

And Martine came to her assistance, in her own style.

“Indeed, it is true, monsieur, that you, who are a saint, as I say
everywhere, should accompany us to church. Assuredly, God will save
you. But at the bare idea that you should not go straight to paradise, I
tremble all over.”

He paused, for he had before him, in open revolt, those two whom he had
been accustomed to see submissive at his feet, with the tenderness of
women won over by his gaiety and his goodness. Already he opened his
mouth, and was going to answer roughly, when the uselessness of the
discussion became apparent to him.

“There! Let us have peace. I would do better to go and work. And above
all, let no one interrupt me!”

With hasty steps he gained his chamber, where he had installed a sort of
laboratory, and shut himself up in it. The prohibition to enter it was
formal. It was here that he gave himself up to special preparations, of
which he spoke to no one. Almost immediately the slow and regular sound
of a pestle grinding in a mortar was heard.

“Come,” said Clotilde, smiling, “there he is, at his devil’s cookery, as
grandmother says.”

And she tranquilly resumed her copying of the hollyhocks. She completed
the drawing with mathematical precision, she found the exact tone of
the violet petals, striped with yellow, even to the most delicate
discoloration of the shades.

“Ah!” murmured Martine, after a moment, again seated on the ground, and
occupied in mending the chair, “what a misfortune for a good man like
that to lose his soul wilfully. For there is no denying it; I have known
him now for thirty years, and in all that time he has never so much as
spoken an unkind word to any one. A real heart of gold, who would take
the bit from his own mouth. And handsome, too, and always well, and
always gay, a real blessing! It is a murder that he does not wish
to make his peace with the good God. We will force him to do it,
mademoiselle, will we not?”

Clotilde, surprised at hearing her speak so long at one time on the
subject, gave her word with a grave air.

“Certainly, Martine, it is a promise. We will force him.”

Silence reigned again, broken a moment afterward by the ringing of the
bell attached to the street door below. It had been attached to the door
so that they might have notice when any one entered the house, too vast
for the three persons who inhabited it. The servant appeared surprised,
and grumbled a few words under her breath. Who could have come in such
heat as this? She rose, opened the door, and went and leaned over the
balustrade; then she returned, saying:

“It is Mme. Felicite.”

Old Mme. Rougon entered briskly. In spite of her eighty years, she had
mounted the stairs with the activity of a young girl; she was still the
brown, lean, shrill grasshopper of old. Dressed elegantly now in
black silk, she might still be taken, seen from behind, thanks to the
slenderness of her figure, for some coquette, or some ambitious woman
following her favorite pursuit. Seen in front, her eyes still lighted
up her withered visage with their fires, and she smiled with an engaging
smile when she so desired.

“What! is it you, grandmother?” cried Clotilde, going to meet her. “Why,
this sun is enough to bake one.”

Felicite, kissing her on the forehead, laughed, saying:

“Oh, the sun is my friend!”

Then, moving with short, quick steps, she crossed the room, and turned
the fastening of one of the shutters.

“Open the shutters a little! It is too gloomy to live in the dark in
this way. At my house I let the sun come in.”

Through the opening a jet of hot light, a flood of dancing sparks
entered. And under the sky, of the violet blue of a conflagration, the
parched plain could be seen, stretching away in the distance, as if
asleep or dead in the overpowering, furnace-like heat, while to the
right, above the pink roofs, rose the belfry of St. Saturnin, a gilded
tower with arises that, in the blinding light, looked like whitened
bones.

“Yes,” continued Felicite, “I think of going shortly to the Tulettes,
and I wished to know if Charles were here, to take him with me. He is
not here--I see that--I will take him another day.”

But while she gave this pretext for her visit, her ferret-like eyes were
making the tour of the apartment. Besides, she did not insist, speaking
immediately afterward of her son Pascal, on hearing the rhythmical noise
of the pestle, which had not ceased in the adjoining chamber.

“Ah! he is still at his devil’s cookery! Don’t disturb him, I have
nothing to say to him.”

Martine, who had resumed her work on the chair, shook her head, as if
to say that she had no mind to disturb her master, and there was silence
again, while Clotilde wiped her fingers, stained with crayon, on a
cloth, and Felicite began to walk about the room with short steps,
looking around inquisitively.

Old Mme. Rougon would soon be two years a widow. Her husband who had
grown so corpulent that he could no longer move, had succumbed to an
attack of indigestion on the 3d of September, 1870, on the night of the
day on which he had learned of the catastrophe of Sedan. The ruin of the
government of which he flattered himself with being one of the founders,
seemed to have crushed him. Thus, Felicite affected to occupy herself no
longer with politics, living, thenceforward, like a dethroned queen, the
only surviving power of a vanished world. No one was unaware that the
Rougons, in 1851, had saved Plassans from anarchy, by causing the _coup
d’etat_ of the 2d of December to triumph there, and that, a few
years later, they had won it again from the legitimist and republican
candidates, to give it to a Bonapartist deputy. Up to the time of the
war, the Empire had continued all-powerful in the town, so popular that
it had obtained there at the plebiscite an overwhelming majority. But
since the disasters the town had become republican, the quarter St. Marc
had returned to its secret royalist intrigues, while the old quarter and
the new town had sent to the chamber a liberal representative, slightly
tinged with Orleanism, and ready to take sides with the republic, if
it should triumph. And, therefore, it was that Felicite, like the
intelligent woman she was, had withdrawn her attention from politics,
and consented to be nothing more than the dethroned queen of a fallen
government.

But this was still an exalted position, surrounded by a melancholy
poetry. For eighteen years she had reigned. The tradition of her two
_salons_, the yellow _salon_, in which the _coup d’etat_ had matured,
and the green _salon_, later the neutral ground on which the conquest
of Plassans was completed, embellished itself with the reflection of the
vanished past, and was for her a glorious history. And besides, she was
very rich. Then, too, she had shown herself dignified in her fall, never
uttering a regret or a complaint, parading, with her eighty years,
so long a succession of fierce appetites, of abominable maneuvers, of
inordinate gratifications, that she became august through them. Her only
happiness, now, was to enjoy in peace her large fortune and her past
royalty, and she had but one passion left--to defend her past, to extend
its fame, suppressing everything that might tarnish it later. Her pride,
which lived on the double exploit of which the inhabitants still
spoke, watched with jealous care, resolved to leave in existence only
creditable documents, those traditions which caused her to be saluted
like a fallen queen when she walked through the town.

She went to the door of the chamber and listened to the persistent noise
of the pestle, which did not cease. Then, with an anxious brow, she
returned to Clotilde.

“Good Heavens! What is he making? You know that he is doing himself the
greatest harm with his new drug. I was told, the other day, that he came
near killing one of his patients.”

“Oh, grandmother!” cried the young girl.

But she was now launched.

“Yes, exactly. The good wives say many other things, besides! Why, go
question them, in the faubourg! They will tell you that he grinds dead
men’s bones in infants’ blood.”

This time, while even Martine protested, Clotilde, wounded in her
affection, grew angry.

“Oh, grandmother, do not repeat such abominations! Master has so great a
heart that he thinks only of making every one happy!”

Then, when she saw that they were both angry, Felicite, comprehending
that she had gone too far, resumed her coaxing manner.

“But, my kitten, it is not I who say those frightful things. I repeat
to you the stupid reports they spread, so that you may comprehend that
Pascal is wrong to pay no heed to public opinion. He thinks he has found
a new remedy--nothing could be better! and I will even admit that he
will be able to cure everybody, as he hopes. Only, why affect these
mysterious ways; why not speak of the matter openly; why, above all, try
it only on the rabble of the old quarter and of the country, instead of,
attempting among the well-to-do people of the town, striking cures which
would do him honor? No, my child, you see your uncle has never been able
to act like other people.”

She had assumed a grieved tone, lowering her voice, to display the
secret wound of her heart.

“God be thanked! it is not men of worth who are wanting in our family;
my other sons have given me satisfaction enough. Is it not so? Your
Uncle Eugene rose high enough, minister for twelve years, almost
emperor! And your father himself handled many a million, and had a part
in many a one of the great works which have made Paris a new city. Not
to speak at all of your brother, Maxime, so rich, so distinguished, nor
of your cousin, Octave Mouret, one of the kings of the new commerce, nor
of our dear Abbe Mouret, who is a saint! Well, then, why does Pascal,
who might have followed in the footsteps of them all, persist in living
in his hole, like an eccentric old fool?”

And as the young girl was again going to protest, she closed her mouth,
with a caressing gesture of her hand.

“No, no, let me finish. I know very well that Pascal is not a fool, that
he has written remarkable works, that his communications to the Academy
of Medicine have even won for him a reputation among _savants_. But what
does that count for, compared to what I have dreamed of for him?
Yes, all the best practice of the town, a large fortune, the
decoration--honors, in short, and a position worthy of the family. My
word! I used to say to him when he was a child: ‘But where do you come
from? You are not one of us!’ As for me, I have sacrificed everything
for the family; I would let myself be hacked to pieces, that the family
might always be great and glorious!”

She straightened her small figure, she seemed to grow tall with the
one passion that had formed the joy and pride of her life. But as she
resumed her walk, she was startled by suddenly perceiving on the floor
the copy of the _Temps_, which the doctor had thrown there, after
cutting out the article, to add it to the Saccard papers, and the light
from the open window, falling full upon the sheet, enlightened her, no
doubt, for she suddenly stopped walking, and threw herself into a chair,
as if she at last knew what she had come to learn.

“Your father has been appointed editor of the _Epoque_,” she said
abruptly.

“Yes,” answered Clotilde tranquilly, “master told me so; it was in the
paper.”

With an anxious and attentive expression, Felicite looked at her,
for this appointment of Saccard, this rallying to the republic, was
something of vast significance. After the fall of the empire he had
dared return to France, notwithstanding his condemnation as director of
the Banque Universelle, the colossal fall of which had preceded that
of the government. New influences, some incredible intrigue must have
placed him on his feet again, for not only had he received his pardon,
but he was once more in a position to undertake affairs of considerable
importance, launched into journalism, having his share again of all the
good things going. And the recollection came to her of the quarrels of
other days between him and his brother Eugene Rougon, whom he had so
often compromised, and whom, by an ironical turn of events, he was
perhaps going to protect, now that the former minister of the Empire
was only a simple deputy, resigned to the single role of standing by
his fallen master with the obstinacy with which his mother stood by
her family. She still obeyed docilely the orders of her eldest son, the
genius, fallen though he was; but Saccard, whatever he might do, had
also a part in her heart, from his indomitable determination to succeed,
and she was also proud of Maxime, Clotilde’s brother, who had taken up
his quarters again, after the war, in his mansion in the Avenue of the
Bois de Boulogne, where he was consuming the fortune left him by his
wife, Louise de Mareuil, become prudent, with the wisdom of a man struck
in a vital part, and trying to cheat the paralysis which threatened him.

“Editor of the _Epoque_,” she repeated; “it is really the position of
a minister which your father has won. And I forgot to tell you, I have
written again to your brother, to persuade him to come and see us. That
would divert him, it would do him good. Then, there is that child, that
poor Charles--”

She did not continue. This was another of the wounds from which her
pride bled; a son whom Maxime had had when seventeen by a servant, and
who now, at the age of fifteen, weak of intellect, a half-idiot, lived
at Plassans, going from the house of one to that of another, a burden to
all.

She remained silent a moment longer, waiting for some remark from
Clotilde, some transition by which she might come to the subject she
wished to touch upon. When she saw that the young girl, occupied in
arranging the papers on her desk, was no longer listening, she came to
a sudden decision, after casting a glance at Martine, who continued
mending the chair, as if she were deaf and dumb.

“Your uncle cut the article out of the _Temps_, then?”

Clotilde smiled calmly.

“Yes, master put it away among his papers. Ah! how many notes he buries
in there! Births, deaths, the smallest event in life, everything goes in
there. And the genealogical tree is there also, our famous genealogical
tree, which he keeps up to date!”

The eyes of old Mme. Rougon flamed. She looked fixedly at the young
girl.

“You know them, those papers?”

“Oh, no, grandmother; master has never spoken to me of them; and he has
forbidden me to touch them.”

But she did not believe her.

“Come! you have them under your hands, you must have read them.”

Very simple, with her calm rectitude, Clotilde answered, smilingly
again.

“No, when master forbids me to do anything, it is because he has his
reasons, and I do not do it.”

“Well, my child,” cried Felicite vehemently, dominated by her passion,
“you, whom Pascal loves tenderly, and whom he would listen to, perhaps,
you ought to entreat him to burn all that, for if he should chance to
die, and those frightful things which he has in there were to be found,
we should all be dishonored!”

Ah, those abominable papers! she saw them at night, in her nightmares,
revealing in letters of fire, the true histories, the physiological
blemishes of the family, all that wrong side of her glory which she
would have wished to bury forever with the ancestors already dead! She
knew how it was that the doctor had conceived the idea of collecting
these documents at the beginning of his great studies on heredity; how
he had found himself led to take his own family as an example, struck by
the typical cases which he saw in it, and which helped to support laws
discovered by him. Was it not a perfectly natural field of observation,
close at hand and with which he was thoroughly familiar? And with the
fine, careless justness of the scientist, he had been accumulating for
the last thirty years the most private data, collecting and classifying
everything, raising this genealogical tree of the Rougon-Macquarts,
of which the voluminous papers, crammed full of proofs, were only the
commentary.

“Ah, yes,” continued Mme. Rougon hotly, “to the fire, to the fire with
all those papers that would tarnish our name!”

And as the servant rose to leave the room, seeing the turn the
conversation was taking, she stopped her by a quick gesture.

“No, no, Martine; stay! You are not in the way, since you are now one of
the family.”

Then, in a hissing voice:

“A collection of falsehoods, of gossip, all the lies that our enemies,
enraged by our triumph, hurled against us in former days! Think a little
of that, my child. Against all of us, against your father, against your
mother, against your brother, all those horrors!”

“But how do you know they are horrors, grandmother?”

She was disconcerted for a moment.

“Oh, well; I suspect it! Where is the family that has not had
misfortunes which might be injuriously interpreted? Thus, the mother of
us all, that dear and venerable Aunt Dide, your great-grandmother,
has she not been for the past twenty-one years in the madhouse at the
Tulettes? If God has granted her the grace of allowing her to live to
the age of one hundred and four years, he has also cruelly afflicted her
in depriving her of her reason. Certainly, there is no shame in that;
only, what exasperates me--what must not be--is that they should say
afterward that we are all mad. And, then, regarding your grand-uncle
Macquart, too, deplorable rumors have been spread. Macquart had his
faults in past days, I do not seek to defend him. But to-day, is he not
living very reputably on his little property at the Tulettes, two steps
away from our unhappy mother, over whom he watches like a good son? And
listen! one last example. Your brother, Maxime, committed a great fault
when he had by a servant that poor little Charles, and it is certain,
besides, that the unhappy child is of unsound mind. No matter. Will
it please you if they tell you that your nephew is degenerate; that he
reproduces from four generations back, his great-great-grandmother the
dear woman to whom we sometimes take him, and with whom he likes so much
to be? No! there is no longer any family possible, if people begin to
lay bare everything--the nerves of this one, the muscles of that. It is
enough to disgust one with living!”

Clotilde, standing in her long black blouse, had listened to her
grandmother attentively. She had grown very serious; her arms hung by
her sides, her eyes were fixed upon the ground. There was silence for a
moment; then she said slowly:

“It is science, grandmother.”

“Science!” cried Felicite, trotting about again. “A fine thing, their
science, that goes against all that is most sacred in the world! When
they shall have demolished everything they will have advanced greatly!
They kill respect, they kill the family, they kill the good God!”

“Oh! don’t say that, madame!” interrupted Martine, in a grieved voice,
her narrow devoutness wounded. “Do not say that M. Pascal kills the good
God!”

“Yes, my poor girl, he kills him. And look you, it is a crime, from the
religious point of view, to let one’s self be damned in that way. You do
not love him, on my word of honor! No, you do not love him, you two who
have the happiness of believing, since you do nothing to bring him back
to the right path. Ah! if I were in your place, I would split that press
open with a hatchet. I would make a famous bonfire with all the insults
to the good God which it contains!”

She had planted herself before the immense press and was measuring
it with her fiery glance, as if to take it by assault, to sack it, to
destroy it, in spite of the withered and fragile thinness of her eighty
years. Then, with a gesture of ironical disdain:

“If, even with his science, he could know everything!”

Clotilde remained for a moment absorbed in thought, her gaze lost in
vacancy. Then she said in an undertone, as if speaking to herself:

“It is true, he cannot know everything. There is always something else
below. That is what irritates me; that is what makes us quarrel: for I
cannot, like him, put the mystery aside. I am troubled by it, so much
so that I suffer cruelly. Below, what wills and acts in the shuddering
darkness, all the unknown forces--”

Her voice had gradually become lower and now dropped to an indistinct
murmur.

Then Martine, whose face for a moment past had worn a somber expression,
interrupted in her turn:

“If it was true, however, mademoiselle, that monsieur would be damned on
account of those villainous papers, tell me, ought we to let it happen?
For my part, look you, if he were to tell me to throw myself down from
the terrace, I would shut my eyes and throw myself, because I know that
he is always right. But for his salvation! Oh! if I could, I would work
for that, in spite of him. In every way, yes! I would force him; it is
too cruel to me to think that he will not be in heaven with us.”

“You are quite right, my girl,” said Felicite approvingly. “You, at
least, love your master in an intelligent fashion.”

Between the two, Clotilde still seemed irresolute. In her, belief did
not bend to the strict rule of dogma; the religious sentiment did not
materialize in the hope of a paradise, of a place of delights, where she
was to meet her own again. It was in her simply a need of a beyond, a
certainty that the vast world does not stop short at sensation, that
there is a whole unknown world, besides, which must be taken into
account. But her grandmother, who was so old, this servant, who was so
devoted, shook her in her uneasy affection for her uncle. Did they not
love him better, in a more enlightened and more upright fashion, they
who desired him to be without a stain, freed from his manias as a
scientist, pure enough to be among the elect? Phrases of devotional
books recurred to her; the continual battle waged against the spirit of
evil; the glory of conversions effected after a violent struggle. What
if she set herself to this holy task; what if, after all, in spite of
himself, she should be able to save him! And an exaltation gradually
gained her spirit, naturally inclined to adventurous enterprises.

“Certainly,” she said at last, “I should be very happy if he would not
persist in his notion of heaping up all those scraps of paper, and if he
would come to church with us.”

Seeing her about to yield, Mme. Rougon cried out that it was necessary
to act, and Martine herself added the weight of all her real authority.
They both approached the young girl, and began to instruct her, lowering
their voices as if they were engaged in a conspiracy, whence was to
result a miraculous benefit, a divine joy with which the whole house
would be perfumed. What a triumph if they reconciled the doctor with
God! and what sweetness, afterward, to live altogether in the celestial
communion of the same faith!

“Well, then, what must I do?” asked Clotilde, vanquished, won over.

But at this moment the doctor’s pestle was heard in the silence, with
its continued rhythm. And the victorious Felicite, who was about to
speak, turned her head uneasily, and looked for a moment at the door of
the adjoining chamber. Then, in an undertone, she said:

“Do you know where the key of the press is?”

Clotilde answered only with an artless gesture, that expressed all her
repugnance to betray her master in this way.

“What a child you are! I swear to you that I will take nothing; I will
not even disturb anything. Only as we are alone and as Pascal never
reappears before dinner, we might assure ourselves of what there is in
there, might we not? Oh! nothing but a glance, on my word of honor.”

The young girl stood motionless, unwilling, still, to give her consent.

“And then, it may be that I am mistaken; no doubt there are none of
those bad things there that I have told you of.”

This was decisive; she ran to take the key from the drawer, and she
herself opened wide the press.

“There, grandmother, the papers are up there.”

Martine had gone, without a word, to station herself at the door of the
doctor’s chamber, her ear on the alert, listening to the pestle, while
Felicite, as if riveted to the spot by emotion, regarded the papers. At
last, there they were, those terrible documents, the nightmare that had
poisoned her life! She saw them, she was going to touch them, to
carry them away! And she reached up, straining her little legs, in the
eagerness of her desire.

“It is too high, my kitten,” she said. “Help me; give them to me!”

“Oh! not that, grandmother! Take a chair!”

Felicite took a chair, and mounted slowly upon it. But she was still too
short. By an extraordinary effort she raised herself, lengthening her
stature until she was able to touch the envelopes of strong blue paper
with the tips of her fingers; and her fingers traveled over them,
contracting nervously, scratching like claws. Suddenly there was a
crash--it was a geological specimen, a fragment of marble that had been
on a lower shelf, and that she had just thrown down.

Instantly the pestle stopped, and Martine said in a stifled voice:

“Take care; here he comes!”

But Felicite, grown desperate, did not hear, did not let go her hold
when Pascal entered hastily. He had supposed that some accident had
happened, that some one had fallen, and he stood stupefied at what he
saw--his mother on the chair, her arm still in the air, while Martine
had withdrawn to one side, and Clotilde, very pale, stood waiting,
without turning her head. When he comprehended the scene, he himself
became as white as a sheet. A terrible anger arose within him.

Old Mme. Rougon, however, troubled herself in no wise. When she saw that
the opportunity was lost, she descended from the chair, without making
any illusion whatever to the task at which he had surprised her.

“Oh, it is you! I do not wish to disturb you. I came to embrace
Clotilde. But here I have been talking for nearly two hours, and I must
run away at once. They will be expecting me at home; they won’t know
what has become of me at this hour. Good-by until Sunday.”

She went away quite at her ease, after smiling at her son, who stood
before her silent and respectful. It was an attitude that he had long
since adopted, to avoid an explanation which he felt must be cruel, and
which he had always feared. He knew her, he was willing to pardon her
everything, in his broad tolerance as a scientist, who made allowance
for heredity, environment, and circumstances. And, then, was she not
his mother? That ought to have sufficed, for, in spite of the frightful
blows which his researches inflicted upon the family, he preserved a
great affection for those belonging to him.

When his mother was no longer there, his anger burst forth, and fell
upon Clotilde. He had turned his eyes away from Martine, and fixed them
on the young girl, who did not turn hers away, however, with a courage
which accepted the responsibility of her act.

“You! you!” he said at last.

He seized her arm, and pressed it until she cried. But she continued
to look him full in the face, without quailing before him, with
the indomitable will of her individuality, of her selfhood. She was
beautiful and provoking, with her tall, slender figure, robed in
its black blouse; and her exquisite, youthful fairness, her straight
forehead, her finely cut nose, her firm chin, took on something of a
warlike charm in her rebellion.

“You, whom I have made, you who are my pupil, my friend, my other mind,
to whom I have given a part of my heart and of my brain! Ah, yes! I
should have kept you entirely for myself, and not have allowed your
stupid good God to take the best part of you!”

“Oh, monsieur, you blaspheme!” cried Martine, who had approached him, in
order to draw upon herself a part of his anger.

But he did not even see her. Only Clotilde existed for him. And he was
as if transfigured, stirred up by so great a passion that his handsome
face, crowned by his white hair, framed by his white beard, flamed with
youthful passion, with an immense tenderness that had been wounded and
exasperated.

“You, you!” he repeated in a trembling voice.

“Yes, I! Why then, master, should I not love you better than you love
me? And why, if I believe you to be in peril, should I not try to save
you? You are greatly concerned about what I think; you would like well
to make me think as you do!”

She had never before defied him in this way.

“But you are a little girl; you know nothing!”

“No, I am a soul, and you know no more about souls than I do!”

He released her arm, and waved his hand vaguely toward heaven, and
then a great silence fell--a silence full of grave meaning, of the
uselessness of the discussion which he did not wish to enter upon.
Thrusting her aside rudely, he crossed over to the middle window and
opened the blinds, for the sun was declining, and the room was growing
dark. Then he returned.

But she, feeling a need of air and space, went to the open window. The
burning rain of sparks had ceased, and there fell now, from on high,
only the last shiver of the overheated and paling sky; and from the
still burning earth ascended warm odors, with the freer respiration of
evening. At the foot of the terrace was the railroad, with the outlying
dependencies of the station, of which the buildings were to be seen in
the distance; then, crossing the vast arid plain, a line of trees marked
the course of the Viorne, beyond which rose the hills of Sainte-Marthe,
red fields planted with olive trees, supported on terraces by walls of
uncemented stones and crowned by somber pine woods--broad amphitheaters,
bare and desolate, corroded by the heats of summer, of the color of old
baked brick, which this fringe of dark verdure, standing out against the
background of the sky, bordered above. To the left opened the gorges of
the Seille, great yellow stones that had broken away from the soil, and
lay in the midst of blood-colored fields, dominated by an immense band
of rocks like the wall of a gigantic fortress; while to the right, at
the very entrance to the valley through which flowed the Viorne, rose,
one above another, the discolored pink-tiled roofs of the town of
Plassans, the compact and confused mass of an old town, pierced by the
tops of ancient elms, and dominated by the high tower of St. Saturnin,
solitary and serene at this hour in the limpid gold of sunset.

“Ah, my God!” said Clotilde slowly, “one must be arrogant, indeed, to
imagine that one can take everything in one’s hand and know everything!”

Pascal had just mounted on the chair to assure himself that not one of
his packages was missing. Then he took up the fragment of marble, and
replaced it on the shelf, and when he had again locked the press with a
vigorous turn of the hand, he put the key into his pocket.

“Yes,” he replied; “try not to know everything, and above all, try
not to bewilder your brain about what we do not know, what we shall
doubtless never know!”

Martine again approached Clotilde, to lend her her support, to show her
that they both had a common cause. And now the doctor perceived her,
also, and felt that they were both united in the same desire for
conquest. After years of secret attempts, it was at last open war; the
_savant_ saw his household turn against his opinions, and menace them
with destruction. There is no worse torture than to have treason in
one’s own home, around one; to be trapped, dispossessed, crushed, by
those whom you love, and who love you!

Suddenly this frightful idea presented itself to him.

“And yet both of you love me!” he cried.

He saw their eyes grow dim with tears; he was filled with an infinite
sadness, on this tranquil close of a beautiful day. All his gaiety, all
his kindness of heart, which came from his intense love of life, were
shaken by it.

“Ah, my dear! and you, my poor girl,” he said, “you are doing this for
my happiness, are you not? But, alas, how unhappy we are going to be!”



II.

On the following morning Clotilde was awake at six o’clock. She had gone
to bed angry with Pascal; they were at variance with each other. And her
first feeling was one of uneasiness, of secret distress, an instant need
of making her peace, so that she might no longer have upon her heart the
heavy weight that lay there now.

Springing quickly out of bed, she went and half opened the shutters of
both windows. The sun, already high, sent his light across the chamber
in two golden bars. Into this drowsy room that exhaled a sweet odor of
youth, the bright morning brought with it fresh, cheerful air; but the
young girl went back and sat down on the edge of the bed in a thoughtful
attitude, clad only in her scant nightdress, which made her look still
more slender, with her long tapering limbs, her strong, slender body,
with its round throat, round neck, round and supple arms; and her
adorable neck and throat, of a milky whiteness, had the exquisite
softness and smoothness of white satin. For a long time, at the
ungraceful age between twelve and eighteen, she had looked awkwardly
tall, climbing trees like a boy. Then, from the ungainly hoyden had been
evolved this charming, delicate and lovely creature.

With absent gaze she sat looking at the walls of the chamber. Although
La Souleiade dated from the last century, it must have been refurnished
under the First Empire, for it was hung with an old-fashioned printed
calico, with a pattern representing busts of the Sphinx, and garlands
of oak leaves. Originally of a bright red, this calico had faded to a
pink--an undecided pink, inclining to orange. The curtains of the
two windows and of the bed were still in existence, but it had been
necessary to clean them, and this had made them still paler. And this
faded purple, this dawnlike tint, so delicately soft, was in truth
exquisite. As for the bed, covered with the same stuff, it had come down
from so remote an antiquity that it had been replaced by another bed
found in an adjoining room; another Empire bed, low and very broad,
of massive mahogany, ornamented with brasses, its four square pillars
adorned also with busts of the Sphinx, like those on the wall. The
rest of the furniture matched, however--a press, with whole doors and
pillars; a chest of drawers with a marble top, surrounded by a railing;
a tall and massive cheval-glass, a large lounge with straight feet, and
seats with straight, lyre-shaped backs. But a coverlet made of an old
Louis XV. silk skirt brightened the majestic bed, that occupied the
middle of the wall fronting the windows; a heap of cushions made the
lounge soft; and there were, besides, two _etageres_ and a table also
covered with old flowered silk, at the further end of the room.

Clotilde at last put on her stockings and slipped on a morning gown of
white _pique_, and thrusting the tips of her feet into her gray canvas
slippers, she ran into her dressing-room, a back room looking out on the
rear of the house. She had had it hung plainly with an _ecru_ drill with
blue stripes, and it contained only furniture of varnished pine--the
toilette table, two presses, and two chairs. It revealed, however, a
natural and delicate coquetry which was very feminine. This had grown
with her at the same time with her beauty. Headstrong and boyish though
she still was at times, she had become a submissive and affectionate
woman, desiring to be loved, above everything. The truth was that she
had grown up in freedom, without having learned anything more than to
read and write, having acquired by herself, later, while assisting her
uncle, a vast fund of information. But there had been no plan settled
upon between them. He had not wished to make her a prodigy; she had
merely conceived a passion for natural history, which revealed to her
the mysteries of life. And she had kept her innocence unsullied like a
fruit which no hand has touched, thanks, no doubt, to her unconscious
and religious waiting for the coming of love--that profound feminine
feeling which made her reserve the gift of her whole being for the man
whom she should love.

She pushed back her hair and bathed her face; then, yielding to her
impatience, she again softly opened the door of her chamber and ventured
to cross the vast workroom, noiselessly and on tiptoe. The shutters were
still closed, but she could see clearly enough not to stumble against
the furniture. When she was at the other end before the door of the
doctor’s room, she bent forward, holding her breath. Was he already up?
What could he be doing? She heard him plainly, walking about with short
steps, dressing himself, no doubt. She never entered this chamber in
which he chose to hide certain labors; and which thus remained closed,
like a tabernacle. One fear had taken possession of her; that of being
discovered here by him if he should open the door; and the agitation
produced by the struggle between her rebellious pride and a desire
to show her submission caused her to grow hot and cold by turns, with
sensations until now unknown to her. For an instant her desire for
reconciliation was so strong that she was on the point of knocking.
Then, as footsteps approached, she ran precipitately away.

Until eight o’clock Clotilde was agitated by an ever-increasing
impatience. At every instant she looked at the clock on the mantelpiece
of her room; an Empire clock of gilded bronze, representing Love leaning
against a pillar, contemplating Time asleep.

Eight was the hour at which she generally descended to the dining-room
to breakfast with the doctor. And while waiting she made a careful
toilette, arranged her hair, and put on another morning gown of white
muslin with red spots. Then, having still a quarter of an hour on her
hands, she satisfied an old desire and sat down to sew a piece of narrow
lace, an imitation of Chantilly, on her working blouse, that black
blouse which she had begun to find too boyish, not feminine enough.
But on the stroke of eight she laid down her work, and went downstairs
quickly.

“You are going to breakfast entirely alone,” said Martine tranquilly to
her, when she entered the dining-room.

“How is that?”

“Yes, the doctor called me, and I passed him in his egg through the
half-open door. There he is again, at his mortar and his filter. We
won’t see him now before noon.”

Clotilde turned pale with disappointment. She drank her milk standing,
took her roll in her hand, and followed the servant into the
kitchen. There were on the ground floor, besides this kitchen and the
dining-room, only an uninhabited room in which the potatoes were stored,
and which had formerly been used as an office by the doctor, when he
received his patients in his house--the desk and the armchair had years
ago been taken up to his chamber--and another small room, which opened
into the kitchen; the old servant’s room, scrupulously clean, and
furnished with a walnut chest of drawers and a bed like a nun’s with
white hangings.

“Do you think he has begun to make his liquor again?” asked Clotilde.

“Well, it can be only that. You know that he thinks of neither eating
nor drinking when that takes possession of him!”

Then all the young girl’s vexation was exhaled in a low plaint:

“Ah, my God! my God!”

And while Martine went to make up her room, she took an umbrella from
the hall stand and went disconsolately to eat her roll in the garden,
not knowing now how she should occupy her time until midday.

It was now almost seventeen years since Dr. Pascal, having resolved
to leave his little house in the new town, had bought La Souleiade for
twenty thousand francs, in order to live there in seclusion, and also
to give more space and more happiness to the little girl sent him by his
brother Saccard from Paris. This Souleiade, situated outside the town
gates on a plateau dominating the plain, was part of a large estate
whose once vast grounds were reduced to less than two hectares in
consequence of successive sales, without counting that the construction
of the railroad had taken away the last arable fields. The house itself
had been half destroyed by a conflagration and only one of the two
buildings remained--a quadrangular wing “of four walls,” as they say in
Provence, with five front windows and roofed with large pink tiles.
And the doctor, who had bought it completely furnished, had contented
himself with repairing it and finishing the boundary walls, so as to be
undisturbed in his house.

Generally Clotilde loved this solitude passionately; this narrow
kingdom which she could go over in ten minutes, and which still retained
remnants of its past grandeur. But this morning she brought there
something like a nervous disquietude. She walked for a few moments along
the terrace, at the two extremities of which stood two secular cypresses
like two enormous funeral tapers, which could be seen three leagues off.
The slope then descended to the railroad, walls of uncemented stones
supporting the red earth, in which the last vines were dead; and on
these giant steps grew only rows of olive and almond trees, with sickly
foliage. The heat was already overpowering; she saw the little lizards
running about on the disjointed flags, among the hairy tufts of caper
bushes.

Then, as if irritated by the vast horizon, she crossed the orchard and
the kitchen garden, which Martine still persisted in cultivating in
spite of her age, calling in a man only twice a week for the heavier
labors; and she ascended to a little pine wood on the right, all that
remained of the superb pines which had formerly covered the plateau;
but, here, too, she was ill at ease; the pine needles crackled under her
feet, a resinous, stifling odor descended from the branches. And walking
along the boundary wall past the entrance gate, which opened on the
road to Les Fenouilleres, three hundred meters from the first houses of
Plassans, she emerged at last on the threshing-yard; an immense yard,
fifteen meters in radius, which would of itself have sufficed to prove
the former importance of the domain. Ah! this antique area, paved with
small round stones, as in the days of the Romans; this species of vast
esplanade, covered with short dry grass of the color of gold as with a
thick woolen carpet; how joyously she had played there in other days,
running about, rolling on the grass, lying for hours on her back,
watching the stars coming out one by one in the depths of the
illimitable sky!

She opened her umbrella again, and crossed the yard with slower steps.
Now she was on the left of the terrace. She had made the tour of the
estate, so that she had returned by the back of the house, through the
clump of enormous plane trees that on this side cast a thick shade. This
was the side on which opened the two windows of the doctor’s room. And
she raised her eyes to them, for she had approached only in the sudden
hope of at last seeing him. But the windows remained closed, and she
was wounded by this as by an unkindness to herself. Then only did
she perceive that she still held in her hand her roll, which she had
forgotten to eat; and she plunged among the trees, biting it impatiently
with her fine young teeth.

It was a delicious retreat, this old quincunx of plane trees, another
remnant of the past splendor of La Souleiade. Under these giant trees,
with their monstrous trunks, there was only a dim light, a greenish
light, exquisitely cool, even on the hottest days of summer. Formerly
a French garden had been laid out here, of which only the box borders
remained; bushes which had habituated themselves to the shade, no doubt,
for they grew vigorously, as tall as trees. And the charm of this
shady nook was a fountain, a simple leaden pipe fixed in the shaft of
a column; whence flowed perpetually, even in the greatest drought, a
thread of water as thick as the little finger, which supplied a large
mossy basin, the greenish stones of which were cleaned only once in
three or four years. When all the wells of the neighborhood were dry,
La Souleiade still kept its spring, of which the great plane trees were
assuredly the secular children. Night and day for centuries past this
slender thread of water, unvarying and continuous, had sung the same
pure song with crystal sound.

Clotilde, after wandering awhile among the bushes of box, which reached
to her shoulder, went back to the house for a piece of embroidery, and
returning with it, sat down at a stone table beside the fountain. Some
garden chairs had been placed around it, and they often took coffee
here. And after this she affected not to look up again from her work,
as if she was completely absorbed in it. Now and then, while seeming to
look between the trunks of trees toward the sultry distance, toward the
yard, on which the sun blazed fiercely and which glowed like a brazier,
she stole a glance from under her long lashes up to the doctor’s
windows. Nothing appeared, not a shadow. And a feeling of sadness, of
resentment, arose within her at this neglect, this contempt in which he
seemed to hold her after their quarrel of the day before. She who had
got up with so great a desire to make peace at once! He was in no hurry,
however; he did not love her then, since he could be satisfied to live
at variance with her. And gradually a feeling of gloom took possession
of her, her rebellious thoughts returned, and she resolved anew to yield
in nothing.

At eleven o’clock, before setting her breakfast on the fire, Martine
came to her for a moment, the eternal stocking in her hand which she
was always knitting even while walking, when she was not occupied in the
affairs of the house.

“Do you know that he is still shut up there like a wolf in his hole, at
his villainous cookery?”

Clotilde shrugged her shoulders, without lifting her eyes from her
embroidery.

“And then, mademoiselle, if you only knew what they say! Mme. Felicite
was right yesterday when she said that it was really enough to make one
blush. They threw it in my face that he had killed old Boutin, that
poor old man, you know, who had the falling sickness and who died on
the road. To believe those women of the faubourg, every one into whom he
injects his remedy gets the true cholera from it, without counting that
they accuse him of having taken the devil into partnership.”

A short silence followed. Then, as the young girl became more gloomy
than before, the servant resumed, moving her fingers still more rapidly:

“As for me, I know nothing about the matter, but what he is making there
enrages me. And you, mademoiselle, do you approve of that cookery?”

At last Clotilde raised her head quickly, yielding to the flood of
passion that swept over her.

“Listen; I wish to know no more about it than you do, but I think that
he is on a very dangerous path. He no longer loves us.”

“Oh, yes, mademoiselle; he loves us.”

“No, no; not as we love him. If he loved us, he would be here with us,
instead of endangering his soul and his happiness and ours, up there, in
his desire to save everybody.”

And the two women looked at each other for a moment with eyes burning
with affection, in their jealous anger. Then they resumed their work in
silence, enveloped in shadow.

Above, in his room, Dr. Pascal was working with the serenity of perfect
joy. He had practised his profession for only about a dozen years, from
his return to Paris up to the time when he had retired to La Souleiade.
Satisfied with the hundred and odd thousand francs which he had
earned and which he had invested prudently, he devoted himself almost
exclusively to his favorite studies, retaining only a practise among
friends, never refusing to go to the bedside of a patient but never
sending in his account. When he was paid he threw the money into a
drawer in his writing desk, regarding this as pocket-money for his
experiments and caprices, apart from his income which sufficed for his
wants. And he laughed at the bad reputation for eccentricity which his
way of life had gained him; he was happy only when in the midst of his
researches on the subjects for which he had a passion. It was matter for
surprise to many that this scientist, whose intellectual gifts had been
spoiled by a too lively imagination, should have remained at Plassans,
this out-of-the-way town where it seemed as if every requirement for his
studies must be wanting. But he explained very well the advantages which
he had discovered here; in the first place, an utterly peaceful
retreat in which he might live the secluded life he desired; then, an
unsuspected field for continuous research in the light of the facts of
heredity, which was his passion, in this little town where he knew every
family and where he could follow the phenomena kept most secret, through
two or three generations. And then he was near the seashore; he went
there almost every summer, to study the swarming life that is born
and propagates itself in the depths of the vast waters. And there was
finally, at the hospital in Plassans, a dissecting room to which he was
almost the only visitor; a large, bright, quiet room, in which for more
than twenty years every unclaimed body had passed under his scalpel. A
modest man besides, of a timidity that had long since become shyness,
it had been sufficient for him to maintain a correspondence with his old
professors and his new friends, concerning the very remarkable papers
which he from time to time sent to the Academy of Medicine. He was
altogether wanting in militant ambition.

Ah, this heredity! what a subject of endless meditation it was for him!
The strangest, the most wonderful part of it all, was it not that
the resemblance between parents and children should not be perfect,
mathematically exact? He had in the beginning made a genealogical tree
of his family, logically traced, in which the influences from generation
to generation were distributed equally--the father’s part and the
mother’s part. But the living reality contradicted the theory almost
at every point. Heredity, instead of being resemblance, was an effort
toward resemblance thwarted by circumstances and environment. And he had
arrived at what he called the hypothesis of the abortion of cells. Life
is only motion, and heredity being a communicated motion, it happened
that the cells in their multiplication from one another jostled one
another, pressed one another, made room for themselves, putting forth,
each one, the hereditary effort; so that if during this struggle the
weaker cells succumbed, considerable disturbances took place, with
the final result of organs totally different. Did not variation, the
constant invention of nature, which clashed with his theories, come from
this? Did not he himself differ from his parents only in consequence of
similar accidents, or even as the effect of larvated heredity, in which
he had for a time believed? For every genealogical tree has roots which
extend as far back into humanity as the first man; one cannot proceed
from a single ancestor; one may always resemble a still older, unknown
ancestor. He doubted atavism, however; it seemed to him, in spite of a
remarkable example taken from his own family, that resemblance at the
end of two or three generations must disappear by reason of accidents,
of interferences, of a thousand possible combinations. There was then
a perpetual becoming, a constant transformation in this communicated
effort, this transmitted power, this shock which breathes into matter
the breath of life, and which is life itself. And a multiplicity
of questions presented themselves to him. Was there a physical and
intellectual progress through the ages? Did the brain grow with the
growth of the sciences with which it occupied itself? Might one hope,
in time, for a larger sum of reason and of happiness? Then there were
special problems; one among others, the mystery of which had for a long
time irritated him, that of sex; would science never be able to predict,
or at least to explain the sex of the embryo being? He had written a
very curious paper crammed full of facts on this subject, but which left
it in the end in the complete ignorance in which the most exhaustive
researches had left it. Doubtless the question of heredity fascinated
him as it did only because it remained obscure, vast, and unfathomable,
like all the infant sciences where imagination holds sway. Finally, a
long study which he had made on the heredity of phthisis revived in him
the wavering faith of the healer, arousing in him the noble and wild
hope of regenerating humanity.

In short, Dr. Pascal had only one belief--the belief in life. Life was
the only divine manifestation. Life was God, the grand motor, the
soul of the universe. And life had no other instrument than heredity;
heredity made the world; so that if its laws could be known and
directed, the world could be made to one’s will. In him, to whom
sickness, suffering, and death had been a familiar sight, the militant
pity of the physician awoke. Ah! to have no more sickness, no more
suffering, as little death as possible! His dream ended in this
thought--that universal happiness, the future community of perfection
and of felicity, could be hastened by intervention, by giving health to
all. When all should be healthy, strong, and intelligent, there would
be only a superior race, infinitely wise and happy. In India, was not
a Brahmin developed from a Soudra in seven generations, thus raising,
experimentally, the lowest of beings to the highest type of humanity?
And as in his study of consumption he had arrived at the conclusion that
it was not hereditary, but that every child of a consumptive carried
within him a degenerate soil in which consumption developed with
extraordinary facility at the slightest contagion, he had come to think
only of invigorating this soil impoverished by heredity; to give it
the strength to resist the parasites, or rather the destructive leaven,
which he had suspected to exist in the organism, long before the microbe
theory. To give strength--the whole problem was there; and to give
strength was also to give will, to enlarge the brain by fortifying the
other organs.

About this time the doctor, reading an old medical book of the fifteenth
century, was greatly struck by a method of treating disease called
signature. To cure a diseased organ, it was only necessary to take from
a sheep or an ox the corresponding organ in sound condition, boil it,
and give the soup to the patient to drink. The theory was to cure like
by like, and in diseases of the liver, especially, the old work stated
that the cures were numberless. This set the doctor’s vivid imagination
working. Why not make the trial? If he wished to regenerate those
enfeebled by hereditary influences, he had only to give them the normal
and healthy nerve substance. The method of the soup, however, seemed to
him childish, and he invented in its stead that of grinding in a mortar
the brain of a sheep, moistening it with distilled water, and then
decanting and filtering the liquor thus obtained. He tried this liquor
then mixed with Malaga wine, on his patients, without obtaining any
appreciable result. Suddenly, as he was beginning to grow discouraged,
he had an inspiration one day, when he was giving a lady suffering
from hepatic colics an injection of morphine with the little syringe of
Pravaz. What if he were to try hypodermic injections with his liquor?
And as soon as he returned home he tried the experiment on himself,
making an injection in his side, which he repeated night and morning.
The first doses, of a gram only, were without effect. But having
doubled, and then tripled the dose, he was enchanted, one morning on
getting up, to find that his limbs had all the vigor of twenty. He went
on increasing the dose up to five grams, and then his respiration became
deeper, and above all he worked with a clearness of mind, an ease,
which he had not known for years. A great flood of happiness, of joy in
living, inundated his being. From this time, after he had had a syringe
made at Paris capable of containing five grams, he was surprised at the
happy results which he obtained with his patients, whom he had on their
feet again in a few days, full of energy and activity, as if endowed
with new life. His method was still tentative and rude, and he divined
in it all sorts of dangers, and especially, that of inducing embolism,
if the liquor was not perfectly pure. Then he suspected that the
strength of his patients came in part from the fever his treatment
produced in them. But he was only a pioneer; the method would improve
later. Was it not already a miracle to make the ataxic walk, to bring
consumptives back to life, as it were; even to give hours of lucidity to
the insane? And at the thought of this discovery of the alchemy of the
twentieth century, an immense hope opened up before him; he believed he
had discovered the universal panacea, the elixir of life, which was
to combat human debility, the one real cause of every ill; a veritable
scientific Fountain of Youth, which, in giving vigor, health, and will
would create an altogether new and superior humanity.

This particular morning in his chamber, a room with a northern aspect
and somewhat dark owing to the vicinity of the plane trees, furnished
simply with an iron bedstead, a mahogany writing desk, and a large
writing table, on which were a mortar and a microscope, he was
completing with infinite care the preparation of a vial of his liquor.
Since the day before, after pounding the nerve substance of a sheep in
distilled water, he had been decanting and filtering it. And he had
at last obtained a small bottle of a turbid, opaline liquid, irised by
bluish gleams, which he regarded for a long time in the light as if he
held in his hand the regenerating blood and symbol of the world.

But a few light knocks at the door and an urgent voice drew him from his
dream.

“Why, what is the matter, monsieur? It is a quarter-past twelve; don’t
you intend to come to breakfast?”

For downstairs breakfast had been waiting for some time past in the
large, cool dining-room. The blinds were closed, with the exception of
one which had just been half opened. It was a cheerful room, with pearl
gray panels relieved by blue mouldings. The table, the sideboard, and
the chairs must have formed part of the set of Empire furniture in
the bedrooms; and the old mahogany, of a deep red, stood out in strong
relief against the light background. A hanging lamp of polished brass,
always shining, gleamed like a sun; while on the four walls bloomed four
large bouquets in pastel, of gillyflowers, carnations, hyacinths, and
roses.

Joyous, radiant, Dr. Pascal entered.

“Ah, the deuce! I had forgotten! I wanted to finish. Look at this, quite
fresh, and perfectly pure this time; something to work miracles with!”

And he showed the vial, which he had brought down in his enthusiasm. But
his eye fell on Clotilde standing erect and silent, with a serious
air. The secret vexation caused by waiting had brought back all her
hostility, and she, who had burned to throw herself on his neck in the
morning, remained motionless as if chilled and repelled by him.

“Good!” he resumed, without losing anything of his gaiety, “we are still
at odds, it seems. That is something very ugly. So you don’t admire my
sorcerer’s liquor, which resuscitates the dead?”

He seated himself at the table, and the young girl, sitting down
opposite him, was obliged at last to answer:

“You know well, master, that I admire everything belonging to you. Only,
my most ardent desire is that others also should admire you. And there
is the death of poor old Boutin--”

“Oh!” he cried, without letting her finish, “an epileptic, who succumbed
to a congestive attack! See! since you are in a bad humor, let us talk
no more about that--you would grieve me, and that would spoil my day.”

There were soft boiled eggs, cutlets, and cream. Silence reigned for a
few moments, during which in spite of her ill-humor she ate heartily,
with a good appetite which she had not the coquetry to conceal. Then he
resumed, laughing:

“What reassures me is to see that your stomach is in good order.
Martine, hand mademoiselle the bread.”

The servant waited on them as she was accustomed to do, watching them
eat, with her quiet air of familiarity.

Sometimes she even chatted with them.

“Monsieur,” she said, when she had cut the bread, “the butcher has
brought his bill. Is he to be paid?”

He looked up at her in surprise.

“Why do you ask me that?” he said. “Do you not always pay him without
consulting me?”

It was, in effect, Martine who kept the purse. The amount deposited
with M. Grandguillot, notary at Plassans, produced a round sum of six
thousand francs income. Every three months the fifteen hundred francs
were remitted to the servant, and she disposed of them to the best
interests of the house; bought and paid for everything with the
strictest economy, for she was of so saving a disposition that they
bantered her about it continually. Clotilde, who spent very little, had
never thought of asking a separate purse for herself. As for the doctor,
he took what he required for his experiments and his pocket money from
the three or four thousand francs which he still earned every year, and
which he kept lying in the drawer of his writing desk; so that there was
quite a little treasure there in gold and bank bills, of which he never
knew the exact amount.

“Undoubtedly, monsieur, I pay, when it is I who have bought the things;
but this time the bill is so large on account of the brains which the
butcher has furnished you--”

The doctor interrupted her brusquely:

“Ah, come! so you, too, are going to set yourself against me, are you?
No, no; both of you--that would be too much! Yesterday you pained me
greatly, and I was angry. But this must cease. I will not have the house
turned into a hell. Two women against me, and they the only ones who
love me at all? Do you know, I would sooner quit the house at once!”

He did not speak angrily, he even smiled; but the disquietude of his
heart was perceptible in the trembling of his voice. And he added with
his indulgent, cheerful air:

“If you are afraid for the end of the month, my girl, tell the butcher
to send my bill apart. And don’t fear; you are not going to be asked for
any of your money to settle it with; your sous may lie sleeping.”

This was an allusion to Martine’s little personal fortune. In thirty
years, with four hundred francs wages she had earned twelve thousand
francs, from which she had taken only what was strictly necessary for
her wants; and increased, almost trebled, by the interest, her savings
amounted now to thirty thousand francs, which through a caprice, a
desire to have her money apart, she had not chosen to place with M.
Grandguillot. They were elsewhere, safely invested in the funds.

“Sous that lie sleeping are honest sous,” she said gravely. “But
monsieur is right; I will tell the butcher to send a bill apart, as all
the brains are for monsieur’s cookery and not for mine.”

This explanation brought a smile to the face of Clotilde, who was always
amused by the jests about Martine’s avarice; and the breakfast ended
more cheerfully. The doctor desired to take the coffee under the plane
trees, saying that he felt the need of air after being shut up all
the morning. The coffee was served then on the stone table beside the
fountain; and how pleasant it was there in the shade, listening to the
cool murmur of the water, while around, the pine wood, the court, the
whole place, were glowing in the early afternoon sun.

The doctor had complacently brought with him the vial of nerve
substance, which he looked at as it stood on the table.

“So, then, mademoiselle,” he resumed, with an air of brusque pleasantry,
“you do not believe in my elixir of resurrection, and you believe in
miracles!”

“Master,” responded Clotilde, “I believe that we do not know
everything.”

He made a gesture of impatience.

“But we must know everything. Understand then, obstinate little girl,
that not a single deviation from the invariable laws which govern the
universe has ever been scientifically proved. Up to this day there has
been no proof of the existence of any intelligence other than the human.
I defy you to find any real will, any reasoning force, outside of life.
And everything is there; there is in the world no other will than
this force which impels everything to life, to a life ever broader and
higher.”

He rose with a wave of the hand, animated by so firm a faith that she
regarded him in surprise, noticing how youthful he looked in spite of
his white hair.

“Do you wish me to repeat my ‘Credo’ for you, since you accuse me of not
wanting yours? I believe that the future of humanity is in the progress
of reason through science. I believe that the pursuit of truth, through
science, is the divine ideal which man should propose to himself. I
believe that all is illusion and vanity outside the treasure of truths
slowly accumulated, and which will never again be lost. I believe that
the sum of these truths, always increasing, will at last confer on man
incalculable power and peace, if not happiness. Yes, I believe in the
final triumph of life.”

And with a broader sweep of the hand that took in the vast horizon, as
if calling on these burning plains in which fermented the saps of all
existences to bear him witness, he added:

“But the continual miracle, my child, is life. Only open your eyes, and
look.”

She shook her head.

“It is in vain that I open my eyes; I cannot see everything. It is you,
master, who are blind, since you do not wish to admit that there is
beyond an unknown realm which you will never enter. Oh, I know you are
too intelligent to be ignorant of that! Only you do not wish to take it
into account; you put the unknown aside, because it would embarrass
you in your researches. It is in vain that you tell me to put aside the
mysterious; to start from the known for the conquest of the unknown. I
cannot; the mysterious at once calls me back and disturbs me.”

He listened to her, smiling, glad to see her become animated, while he
smoothed her fair curls with his hand.

“Yes, yes, I know you are like the rest; you do not wish to live without
illusions and without lies. Well, there, there; we understand each other
still, even so. Keep well; that is the half of wisdom and of happiness.”

Then, changing the conversation:

“Come, you will accompany me, notwithstanding, and help me in my round
of miracles. This is Thursday, my visiting day. When the heat shall have
abated a little, we will go out together.”

She refused at first, in order not to seem to yield; but she at last
consented, seeing the pain she gave him. She was accustomed to accompany
him on his round of visits. They remained for some time longer under the
plane trees, until the doctor went upstairs to dress. When he came
down again, correctly attired in a close-fitting coat and wearing a
broad-brimmed silk hat, he spoke of harnessing Bonhomme, the horse
that for a quarter of a century had taken him on his visits through the
streets and the environs of Plassans. But the poor old beast was growing
blind, and through gratitude for his past services and affection for
himself they now rarely disturbed him. On this afternoon he was very
drowsy, his gaze wandered, his legs were stiff with rheumatism. So that
the doctor and the young girl, when they went to the stable to see him,
gave him a hearty kiss on either side of his nose, telling him to rest
on a bundle of fresh hay which the servant had brought. And they decided
to walk.

Clotilde, keeping on her spotted white muslin, merely tied on over her
curls a large straw hat adorned with a bunch of lilacs; and she looked
charming, with her large eyes and her complexion of milk-and-roses under
the shadow of its broad brim. When she went out thus on Pascal’s arm,
she tall, slender, and youthful, he radiant, his face illuminated, so
to say, by the whiteness of his beard, with a vigor that made him still
lift her across the rivulets, people smiled as they passed, and turned
around to look at them again, they seemed so innocent and so happy. On
this day, as they left the road to Les Fenouilleres to enter Plassans, a
group of gossips stopped short in their talk. It reminded one of one
of those ancient kings one sees in pictures; one of those powerful and
gentle kings who never grew old, resting his hand on the shoulder of a
girl beautiful as the day, whose docile and dazzling youth lends him its
support.

They were turning into the Cours Sauvair to gain the Rue de la Banne,
when a tall, dark young man of about thirty stopped them.

“Ah, master, you have forgotten me. I am still waiting for your notes on
consumption.”

It was Dr. Ramond, a young physician, who had settled two years before
at Plassans, where he was building up a fine practise. With a superb
head, in the brilliant prime of a gracious manhood, he was adored by
the women, but he had fortunately a great deal of good sense and a great
deal of prudence.

“Why, Ramond, good day! Not at all, my dear friend; I have not forgotten
you. It is this little girl, to whom I gave the notes yesterday to copy,
and who has not touched them yet.”

The two young people shook hands with an air of cordial intimacy.

“Good day, Mlle. Clotilde.”

“Good day, M. Ramond.”

During a gastric fever, happily mild, which the young girl had had
the preceding year, Dr. Pascal had lost his head to the extent of
distrusting his own skill, and he had asked his young colleague to
assist him--to reassure him. Thus it was that an intimacy, a sort of
comradeship, had sprung up among the three.

“You shall have your notes to-morrow, I promise you,” she said, smiling.

Ramond walked on with them, however, until they reached the end of the
Rue de la Banne, at the entrance of the old quarter whither they were
going. And there was in the manner in which he leaned, smiling, toward
Clotilde, the revelation of a secret love that had grown slowly,
awaiting patiently the hour fixed for the most reasonable of
_denouements_. Besides, he listened with deference to Dr. Pascal, whose
works he admired greatly.

“And it just happens, my dear friend, that I am going to Guiraude’s,
that woman, you know, whose husband, a tanner, died of consumption five
years ago. She has two children living--Sophie, a girl now going on
sixteen, whom I fortunately succeeded in having sent four years before
her father’s death to a neighboring village, to one of her aunts; and
a son, Valentin, who has just completed his twenty-first year, and
whom his mother insisted on keeping with her through a blind affection,
notwithstanding that I warned her of the dreadful results that might
ensue. Well, see if I am right in asserting that consumption is not
hereditary, but only that consumptive parents transmit to their children
a degenerate soil, in which the disease develops at the slightest
contagion. Now, Valentin, who lived in daily contact with his father,
is consumptive, while Sophie, who grew up in the open air, has superb
health.”

He added with a triumphant smile:

“But that will not prevent me, perhaps, from saving Valentin, for he
is visibly improved, and is growing fat since I have used my injections
with him. Ah, Ramond, you will come to them yet; you will come to my
injections!”

The young physician shook hands with both of them, saying:

“I don’t say no. You know that I am always with you.”

When they were alone they quickened their steps and were soon in the Rue
Canquoin, one of the narrowest and darkest streets of the old quarter.
Hot as was the sun, there reigned here the semi-obscurity and the
coolness of a cave. Here it was, on a ground floor, that Guiraude lived
with her son Valentin. She opened the door herself. She was a thin,
wasted-looking woman, who was herself affected with a slow decomposition
of the blood. From morning till night she crushed almonds with the end
of an ox-bone on a large paving stone, which she held between her knees.
This work was their only means of living, the son having been obliged to
give up all labor. She smiled, however, to-day on seeing the doctor, for
Valentin had just eaten a cutlet with a good appetite, a thing which
he had not done for months. Valentin, a sickly-looking young man, with
scanty hair and beard and prominent cheek bones, on each of which was
a bright red spot, while the rest of his face was of a waxen hue,
rose quickly to show how much more sprightly he felt! And Clotilde
was touched by the reception given to Pascal as a saviour, the awaited
Messiah. These poor people pressed his hands--they would like to have
kissed his feet; looking at him with eyes shining with gratitude. True,
the disease was not yet cured: perhaps this was only the effect of the
stimulus, perhaps what he felt was only the excitement of fever. But
was it not something to gain time? He gave him another injection while
Clotilde, standing before the window, turned her back to them; and when
they were leaving she saw him lay twenty francs upon the table. This
often happened to him, to pay his patients instead of being paid by
them.

He made three other visits in the old quarter, and then went to see a
lady in the new town. When they found themselves in the street again, he
said:

“Do you know that, if you were a courageous girl, we should walk to
Seguiranne, to see Sophie at her aunt’s. That would give me pleasure.”

The distance was scarcely three kilometers; that would be only a
pleasant walk in this delightful weather. And she agreed gaily, not
sulky now, but pressing close to him, happy to hang on his arm. It was
five o’clock. The setting sun spread over the fields a great sheet of
gold. But as soon as they left Plassans they were obliged to cross
the corner of the vast, arid plain, which extended to the right of the
Viorne. The new canal, whose irrigating waters were soon to transform
the face of the country parched with thirst, did not yet water this
quarter, and red fields and yellow fields stretched away into the
distance under the melancholy and blighting glare of the sun, planted
only with puny almond trees and dwarf olives, constantly cut down and
pruned, whose branches twisted and writhed in attitudes of suffering
and revolt. In the distance, on the bare hillsides, were to be seen only
like pale patches the country houses, flanked by the regulation cypress.
The vast, barren expanse, however, with broad belts of desolate fields
of hard and distinct coloring, had classic lines of a severe grandeur.
And on the road the dust lay twenty centimeters thick, a dust like snow,
that the slightest breath of wind raised in broad, flying clouds, and
that covered with white powder the fig trees and the brambles on either
side.

Clotilde, who amused herself like a child, listening to this dust
crackling under her little feet, wished to hold her parasol over Pascal.

“You have the sun in your eyes. Lean a little this way.”

But at last he took possession of the parasol, to hold it himself.

“It is you who do not hold it right; and then it tires you. Besides, we
are almost there now.”

In the parched plain they could already perceive an island of verdure,
an enormous clump of trees. This was La Seguiranne, the farm on which
Sophie had grown up in the house of her Aunt Dieudonne, the wife of
the cross old man. Wherever there was a spring, wherever there was a
rivulet, this ardent soil broke out in rich vegetation; and then
there were walks bordered by trees, whose luxuriant foliage afforded a
delightful coolness and shade. Plane trees, chestnut trees, and young
elms grew vigorously. They entered an avenue of magnificent green oaks.

As they approached the farm, a girl who was making hay in the meadow
dropped her fork and ran toward them. It was Sophie, who had recognized
the doctor and the young lady, as she called Clotilde. She adored them,
but she stood looking at them in confusion, unable to express the glad
greeting with which her heart overflowed. She resembled her brother
Valentin; she had his small stature, his prominent cheek bones, his
pale hair; but in the country, far from the contagion of the paternal
environment, she had, it seemed, gained flesh; acquired with her
robust limbs a firm step; her cheeks had filled out, her hair had grown
luxuriant. And she had fine eyes, which shone with health and gratitude.
Her Aunt Dieudonne, who was making hay with her, had come toward them
also, crying from afar jestingly, with something of Provencal rudeness:

“Ah, M. Pascal, we have no need of you here! There is no one sick!”

The doctor, who had simply come in search of this fine spectacle of
health, answered in the same tone:

“I hope so, indeed. But that does not prevent this little girl here from
owing you and me a fine taper!”

“Well, that is the pure truth! And she knows it, M. Pascal. There is not
a day that she does not say that but for you she would be at this time
like her brother Valentin.”

“Bah! We will save him, too. He is getting better, Valentin is. I have
just been to see him.”

Sophie seized the doctor’s hands; large tears stood in her eyes, and she
could only stammer:

“Oh, M. Pascal!”

How they loved him! And Clotilde felt her affection for him increase,
seeing the affection of all these people for him. They remained chatting
there for a few moments longer, in the salubrious shade of the green
oaks. Then they took the road back to Plassans, having still another
visit to make.

This was to a tavern, that stood at the crossing of two roads and was
white with the flying dust. A steam mill had recently been established
opposite, utilizing the old buildings of Le Paradou, an estate dating
from the last century, and Lafouasse, the tavern keeper, still carried
on his little business, thanks to the workmen at the mill and to the
peasants who brought their corn to it. He had still for customers on
Sundays the few inhabitants of Les Artauds, a neighboring hamlet. But
misfortune had struck him; for the last three years he had been dragging
himself about groaning with rheumatism, in which the doctor had finally
recognized the beginning of ataxia. But he had obstinately refused to
take a servant, persisting in waiting on his customers himself, holding
on by the furniture. So that once more firm on his feet, after a dozen
punctures, he already proclaimed his cure everywhere.

He chanced to be just then at his door, and looked strong and vigorous,
with his tall figure, fiery face, and fiery red hair.

“I was waiting for you, M. Pascal. Do you know that I have been able to
bottle two casks of wine without being tired!”

Clotilde remained outside, sitting on a stone bench; while Pascal
entered the room to give Lafouasse the injection. She could hear
them speaking, and the latter, who in spite of his stoutness was very
cowardly in regard to pain, complained that the puncture hurt, adding,
however, that after all a little suffering was a small price to pay for
good health. Then he declared he would be offended if the doctor did
not take a glass of something. The young lady would not affront him by
refusing to take some syrup. He carried a table outside, and there was
nothing for it but they must touch glasses with him.

“To your health, M. Pascal, and to the health of all the poor devils to
whom you give back a relish for their victuals!”

Clotilde thought with a smile of the gossip of which Martine had spoken
to her, of Father Boutin, whom they accused the doctor of having killed.
He did not kill all his patients, then; his remedy worked real miracles,
since he brought back to life the consumptive and the ataxic. And her
faith in her master returned with the warm affection for him which
welled up in her heart. When they left Lafouasse, she was once more
completely his; he could do what he willed with her.

But a few moments before, sitting on the stone bench looking at the
steam mill, a confused story had recurred to her mind; was it not here
in these smoke-blackened buildings, to-day white with flour, that a
drama of love had once been enacted? And the story came back to her;
details given by Martine; allusions made by the doctor himself; the
whole tragic love adventure of her cousin the Abbe Serge Mouret,
then rector of Les Artauds, with an adorable young girl of a wild and
passionate nature who lived at Le Paradou.

Returning by the same road Clotilde stopped, and pointing to the vast,
melancholy expanse of stubble fields, cultivated plains, and fallow
land, said:

“Master, was there not once there a large garden? Did you not tell me
some story about it?”

“Yes, yes; Le Paradou, an immense garden--woods, meadows, orchards,
parterres, fountains, and brooks that flowed into the Viorne. A garden
abandoned for an age; the garden of the Sleeping Beauty, returned to
Nature’s rule. And as you see they have cut down the woods, and cleared
and leveled the ground, to divide it into lots, and sell it by auction.
The springs themselves have dried up. There is nothing there now but
that fever-breeding marsh. Ah, when I pass by here, it makes my heart
ache!”

She ventured to question him further:

“But was it not in Le Paradou that my cousin Serge and your great friend
Albine fell in love with each other?”

He had forgotten her presence. He went on talking, his gaze fixed on
space, lost in recollections of the past.

“Albine, my God! I can see her now, in the sunny garden, like a great,
fragrant bouquet, her head thrown back, her bosom swelling with joy,
happy in her flowers, with wild flowers braided among her blond tresses,
fastened at her throat, on her corsage, around her slender, bare brown
arms. And I can see her again, after she had asphyxiated herself; dead
in the midst of her flowers; very white, sleeping with folded hands, and
a smile on her lips, on her couch of hyacinths and tuberoses. Dead for
love; and how passionately Albine and Serge loved each other, in the
great garden their tempter, in the bosom of Nature their accomplice! And
what a flood of life swept away all false bonds, and what a triumph of
life!”

Clotilde, she too troubled by this passionate flow of murmured words,
gazed at him intently. She had never ventured to speak to him of another
story that she had heard--the story of the one love of his life--a love
which he had cherished in secret for a lady now dead. It was said that
he had attended her for a long time without ever so much as venturing to
kiss the tips of her fingers. Up to the present, up to near sixty, study
and his natural timidity had made him shun women. But, notwithstanding,
one felt that he was reserved for some great passion, with his feelings
still fresh and ardent, in spite of his white hair.

“And the girl that died, the girl they mourned,” she resumed, her voice
trembling, her cheeks scarlet, without knowing why. “Serge did not love
her, then, since he let her die?”

Pascal started as though awakening from a dream, seeing her beside him
in her youthful beauty, with her large, clear eyes shining under the
shadow of her broad-brimmed hat. Something had happened; the same breath
of life had passed through them both; they did not take each other’s
arms again. They walked side by side.

“Ah, my dear, the world would be too beautiful, if men did not spoil it
all! Albine is dead, and Serge is now rector of St. Eutrope, where
he lives with his sister Desiree, a worthy creature who has the good
fortune to be half an idiot. He is a holy man; I have never said the
contrary. One may be an assassin and serve God.”

And he went on speaking of the hard things of life, of the blackness
and execrableness of humanity, without losing his gentle smile. He loved
life; and the continuous work of life was a continual joy to him
in spite of all the evil, all the misery, that it might contain. It
mattered not how dreadful life might appear, it must be great and good,
since it was lived with so tenacious a will, for the purpose no doubt
of this will itself, and of the great work which it unconsciously
accomplished. True, he was a scientist, a clear-sighted man; he did not
believe in any idyllic humanity living in a world of perpetual peace; he
saw, on the contrary, its woes and its vices; he had laid them bare; he
had examined them; he had catalogued them for thirty years past, but
his passion for life, his admiration for the forces of life, sufficed to
produce in him a perpetual gaiety, whence seemed to flow naturally his
love for others, a fraternal compassion, a sympathy, which were
felt under the roughness of the anatomist and under the affected
impersonality of his studies.

“Bah!” he ended, taking a last glance at the vast, melancholy plains.
“Le Paradou is no more. They have sacked it, defiled it, destroyed it;
but what does that matter! Vines will be planted, corn will spring up,
a whole growth of new crops; and people will still fall in love in
vintages and harvests yet to come. Life is eternal; it is a perpetual
renewal of birth and growth.”

He took her arm again and they returned to the town thus, arm in arm
like good friends, while the glow of the sunset was slowly fading away
in a tranquil sea of violets and roses. And seeing them both pass again,
the ancient king, powerful and gentle, leaning against the shoulder of
a charming and docile girl, supported by her youth, the women of the
faubourg, sitting at their doors, looked after them with a smile of
tender emotion.

At La Souleiade Martine was watching for them. She waved her hand to
them from afar. What! Were they not going to dine to-day? Then, when
they were near, she said:

“Ah! you will have to wait a little while. I did not venture to put on
my leg of mutton yet.”

They remained outside to enjoy the charm of the closing day. The pine
grove, wrapped in shadow, exhaled a balsamic resinous odor, and from
the yard, still heated, in which a last red gleam was dying away, a
chillness arose. It was like an assuagement, a sigh of relief, a resting
of surrounding Nature, of the puny almond trees, the twisted olives,
under the paling sky, cloudless and serene; while at the back of the
house the clump of plane trees was a mass of black and impenetrable
shadows, where the fountain was heard singing its eternal crystal song.

“Look!” said the doctor, “M. Bellombre has already dined, and he is
taking the air.”

He pointed to a bench, on which a tall, thin old man of seventy was
sitting, with a long face, furrowed with wrinkles, and large, staring
eyes, and very correctly attired in a close-fitting coat and cravat.

“He is a wise man,” murmured Clotilde. “He is happy.”

“He!” cried Pascal. “I should hope not!”

He hated no one, and M. Bellombre, the old college professor, now
retired, and living in his little house without any other company than
that of a gardener who was deaf and dumb and older than himself, was the
only person who had the power to exasperate him.

“A fellow who has been afraid of life; think of that! afraid of life!
Yes, a hard and avaricious egotist! If he banished woman from his
existence, it was only through fear of having to pay for her shoes.
And he has known only the children of others, who have made him
suffer--hence his hatred of the child--that flesh made to be flogged.
The fear of life, the fear of burdens and of duties, of annoyances and
of catastrophes! The fear of life, which makes us through dread of its
sufferings refuse its joys. Ah! I tell you, this cowardliness enrages
me; I cannot forgive it. We must live--live a complete life--live
all our life. Better even suffering, suffering only, than such
renunciation--the death of all there is in us that is living and human!”

M. Bellombre had risen, and was walking along one of the walks with
slow, tranquil steps. Then, Clotilde, who had been watching him in
silence, at last said:

“There is, however, the joy of renunciation. To renounce, not to live;
to keep one’s self for the spiritual, has not this always been the great
happiness of the saints?”

“If they had not lived,” cried Pascal, “they could not now be saints.
Let suffering come, and I will bless it, for it is perhaps the only
great happiness!”

But he felt that she rebelled against this; that he was going to lose
her again. At the bottom of our anxiety about the beyond is the secret
fear and hatred of life. So that he hastily assumed again his pleasant
smile, so affectionate and conciliating.

“No, no! Enough for to-day; let us dispute no more; let us love each
other dearly. And see! Martine is calling us, let us go in to dinner.”



III.

For a month this unpleasant state of affairs continued, every day
growing worse, and Clotilde suffered especially at seeing that Pascal
now locked up everything. He had no longer the same tranquil confidence
in her as before, and this wounded her so deeply that, if she had at
any time found the press open, she would have thrown the papers into
the fire as her grandmother Felicite had urged her to do. And the
disagreements began again, so that they often remained without speaking
to each other for two days together.

One morning, after one of these misunderstandings which had lasted since
the day before, Martine said as she was serving the breakfast:

“Just now as I was crossing the Place de la Sous-Prefecture, I saw a
stranger whom I thought I recognized going into Mme. Felicite’s house.
Yes, mademoiselle, I should not be surprised if it were your brother.”

On the impulse of the moment, Pascal and Clotilde spoke.

“Your brother! Did your grandmother expect him, then?”

“No, I don’t think so, though she has been expecting him at any time for
the past six months, I know that she wrote to him again a week ago.”

They questioned Martine.

“Indeed, monsieur, I cannot say; since I last saw M. Maxime four years
ago, when he stayed two hours with us on his way to Italy, he may
perhaps have changed greatly--I thought, however, that I recognized his
back.”

The conversation continued, Clotilde seeming to be glad of this event,
which broke at last the oppressive silence between them, and Pascal
ended:

“Well, if it is he, he will come to see us.”

It was indeed Maxime. He had yielded, after months of refusal, to the
urgent solicitations of old Mme. Rougon, who had still in this quarter
an open family wound to heal. The trouble was an old one, and it grew
worse every day.

Fifteen years before, when he was seventeen, Maxime had had a child by
a servant whom he had seduced. His father Saccard, and his stepmother
Renee--the latter vexed more especially at his unworthy choice--had
acted in the matter with indulgence. The servant, Justine Megot,
belonged to one of the neighboring villages, and was a fair-haired
girl, also seventeen, gentle and docile; and they had sent her back to
Plassans, with an allowance of twelve hundred francs a year, to bring up
little Charles. Three years later she had married there a harness-maker
of the faubourg, Frederic Thomas by name, a good workman and a sensible
fellow, who was tempted by the allowance. For the rest her conduct was
now most exemplary, she had grown fat, and she appeared to be cured of
a cough that had threatened a hereditary malady due to the alcoholic
propensities of a long line of progenitors. And two other children born
of her marriage, a boy who was now ten and a girl who was seven, both
plump and rosy, enjoyed perfect health; so that she would have been the
most respected and the happiest of women, if it had not been for the
trouble which Charles caused in the household. Thomas, notwithstanding
the allowance, execrated this son of another man and gave him no peace,
which made the mother suffer in secret, being an uncomplaining and
submissive wife. So that, although she adored him, she would willingly
have given him up to his father’s family.

Charles, at fifteen, seemed scarcely twelve, and he had the infantine
intelligence of a child of five, resembling in an extraordinary degree
his great-great-grandmother, Aunt Dide, the madwoman at the Tulettes.
He had the slender and delicate grace of one of those bloodless little
kings with whom a race ends, crowned with their long, fair locks, light
as spun silk. His large, clear eyes were expressionless, and on his
disquieting beauty lay the shadow of death. And he had neither brain
nor heart--he was nothing but a vicious little dog, who rubbed himself
against people to be fondled. His great-grandmother Felicite, won by
this beauty, in which she affected to recognize her blood, had at first
put him in a boarding school, taking charge of him, but he had been
expelled from it at the end of six months for misconduct. Three times
she had changed his boarding school, and each time he had been expelled
in disgrace. Then, as he neither would nor could learn anything, and
as his health was declining rapidly, they kept him at home, sending him
from one to another of the family. Dr. Pascal, moved to pity, had tried
to cure him, and had abandoned the hopeless task only after he had kept
him with him for nearly a year, fearing the companionship for Clotilde.
And now, when Charles was not at his mother’s, where he scarcely ever
lived at present, he was to be found at the house of Felicite, or that
of some other relative, prettily dressed, laden with toys, living like
the effeminate little dauphin of an ancient and fallen race.

Old Mme. Rougon, however, suffered because of this bastard, and she
had planned to get him away from the gossiping tongues of Plassans, by
persuading Maxime to take him and keep him with him in Paris. It would
still be an ugly story of the fallen family. But Maxime had for a
long time turned a deaf ear to her solicitations, in the fear which
continually haunted him of spoiling his life. After the war, enriched by
the death of his wife, he had come back to live prudently on his fortune
in his mansion on the avenue of the Bois de Boulogne, tormented by the
hereditary malady of which he was to die young, having gained from his
precocious debauchery a salutary fear of pleasure, resolved above all
to shun emotions and responsibilities, so that he might last as long as
possible. Acute pains in the limbs, rheumatic he thought them, had been
alarming him for some time past; he saw himself in fancy already an
invalid tied down to an easy-chair; and his father’s sudden return to
France, the fresh activity which Saccard was putting forth, completed
his disquietude. He knew well this devourer of millions; he trembled at
finding him again bustling about him with his good-humored, malicious
laugh. He felt that he was being watched, and he had the conviction that
he would be cut up and devoured if he should be for a single day at his
mercy, rendered helpless by the pains which were invading his limbs. And
so great a fear of solitude had taken possession of him that he had now
yielded to the idea of seeing his son again. If he found the boy gentle,
intelligent, and healthy, why should he not take him to live with him?
He would thus have a companion, an heir, who would protect him against
the machinations of his father. Gradually he came to see himself, in his
selfish forethought, loved, petted, and protected; yet for all that he
might not have risked such a journey, if his physician had not just at
that time sent him to the waters of St. Gervais. Thus, having to go
only a few leagues out of his way, he had dropped in unexpectedly that
morning on old Mme. Rougon, firmly resolved to take the train again in
the evening, after having questioned her and seen the boy.

At two o’clock Pascal and Clotilde were still beside the fountain under
the plane trees where they had taken their coffee, when Felicite arrived
with Maxime.

“My dear, here’s a surprise! I have brought you your brother.”

Startled, the young girl had risen, seeing this thin and sallow
stranger, whom she scarcely recognized. Since their parting in 1854 she
had seen him only twice, once at Paris and again at Plassans. Yet his
image, refined, elegant, and vivacious, had remained engraven on her
mind; his face had grown hollow, his hair was streaked with silver
threads. But notwithstanding, she found in him still, with his
delicately handsome head, a languid grace, like that of a girl, even in
his premature decrepitude.

“How well you look!” he said simply, as he embraced his sister.

“But,” she responded, “to be well one must live in the sunshine. Ah, how
happy it makes me to see you again!”

Pascal, with the eye of the physician, had examined his nephew
critically. He embraced him in his turn.

“Goodday, my boy. And she is right, mind you; one can be well only out
in the sunshine--like the trees.”

Felicite had gone hastily to the house. She returned, crying:

“Charles is not here, then?”

“No,” said Clotilde. “We went to see him yesterday. Uncle Macquart has
taken him, and he is to remain for a few days at the Tulettes.”

Felicite was in despair. She had come only in the certainty of finding
the boy at Pascal’s. What was to be done now? The doctor, with his
tranquil air, proposed to write to Uncle Macquart, who would bring him
back in the morning. But when he learned that Maxime wished positively
to go away again by the nine o’clock train, without remaining over
night, another idea occurred to him. He would send to the livery stable
for a landau, and all four would go to see Charles at Uncle Macquart’s.
It would even be a delightful drive. It was not quite three leagues from
Plassans to the Tulettes--an hour to go, and an hour to return, and they
would still have almost two hours to remain there, if they wished to
be back by seven. Martine would get dinner, and Maxime would have time
enough to dine and catch his train.

But Felicite objected, visibly disquieted by this visit to Macquart.

“Oh, no, indeed! If you think I am going down there in this frightful
weather, you are mistaken. It is much simpler to send some one to bring
Charles to us.”

Pascal shook his head. Charles was not always to be brought back when
one wished. He was a boy without reason, who sometimes, if the whim
seized him, would gallop off like an untamed animal. And old Mme.
Rougon, overruled and furious at having been unable to make any
preparation, was at last obliged to yield, in the necessity in which she
found herself of leaving the matter to chance.

“Well, be it as you wish, then! Good Heavens, how unfortunately things
have turned out!”

Martine hurried away to order the landau, and before three o’clock had
struck the horses were on the Nice road, descending the declivity which
slopes down to the bridge over the Viorne. Then they turned to the left,
and followed the wooded banks of the river for about two miles. After
this the road entered the gorges of the Seille, a narrow pass between
two giant walls of rock scorched by the ardent rays of the summer
sun. Pine trees pushed their way through the clefts; clumps of trees,
scarcely thicker at the roots than tufts of grass, fringed the crests
and hung over the abyss. It was a chaos; a blasted landscape, a mouth of
hell, with its wild turns, its droppings of blood-colored earth sliding
down from every cut, its desolate solitude invaded only by the eagles’
flight.

Felicite did not open her lips; her brain was at work, and she seemed
completely absorbed in her thoughts. The atmosphere was oppressive,
the sun sent his burning rays from behind a veil of great livid clouds.
Pascal was almost the only one who talked, in his passionate love for
this scorched land--a love which he endeavored to make his nephew share.
But it was in vain that he uttered enthusiastic exclamations, in vain
that he called his attention to the persistence of the olives, the fig
trees, and the thorn bushes in pushing through the rock; the life of the
rock itself, that colossal and puissant frame of the earth, from which
they could almost fancy they heard a sound of breathing arise. Maxime
remained cold, filled with a secret anguish in presence of those blocks
of savage majesty, whose mass seemed to crush him. And he preferred to
turn his eyes toward his sister, who was seated in front of him. He was
becoming more and more charmed with her. She looked so healthy and
so happy, with her pretty round head, with its straight, well-molded
forehead. Now and then their glances met, and she gave him an
affectionate smile which consoled him.

But the wildness of the gorge was beginning to soften, the two walls of
rock to grow lower; they passed between two peaceful hills, with gentle
slopes covered with thyme and lavender. It was the desert still, there
were still bare spaces, green or violet hued, from which the faintest
breeze brought a pungent perfume.

Then abruptly, after a last turn they descended to the valley of the
Tulettes, which was refreshed by springs. In the distance stretched
meadows dotted by large trees. The village was seated midway on the
slope, among olive trees, and the country house of Uncle Macquart stood
a little apart on the left, full in view. The landau turned into the
road which led to the insane asylum, whose white walls they could see
before them in the distance.

Felicite’s silence had grown somber, for she was not fond of exhibiting
Uncle Macquart. Another whom the family would be well rid of the day
when he should take his departure. For the credit of every one he
ought to have been sleeping long ago under the sod. But he persisted
in living, he carried his eighty-three years well, like an old drunkard
saturated with liquor, whom the alcohol seemed to preserve. At Plassans
he had left a terrible reputation as a do-nothing and a scoundrel,
and the old men whispered the execrable story of the corpses that lay
between him and the Rougons, an act of treachery in the troublous days
of December, 1851, an ambuscade in which he had left comrades with their
bellies ripped open, lying on the bloody pavement. Later, when he had
returned to France, he had preferred to the good place of which he had
obtained the promise this little domain of the Tulettes, which Felicite
had bought for him. And he had lived comfortably here ever since; he had
no longer any other ambition than that of enlarging it, looking out once
more for the good chances, and he had even found the means of obtaining
a field which he had long coveted, by making himself useful to his
sister-in-law at the time when the latter again reconquered Plassans
from the legitimists--another frightful story that was whispered also,
of a madman secretly let loose from the asylum, running in the night
to avenge himself, setting fire to his house in which four persons were
burned. But these were old stories and Macquart, settled down now, was
no longer the redoubtable scoundrel who had made all the family tremble.
He led a perfectly correct life; he was a wily diplomat, and he had
retained nothing of his air of jeering at the world but his bantering
smile.

“Uncle is at home,” said Pascal, as they approached the house.

This was one of those Provencal structures of a single story, with
discolored tiles and four walls washed with a bright yellow. Before the
facade extended a narrow terrace shaded by ancient mulberry trees, whose
thick, gnarled branches drooped down, forming an arbor. It was here
that Uncle Macquart smoked his pipe in the cool shade, in summer. And on
hearing the sound of the carriage, he came and stood at the edge of the
terrace, straightening his tall form neatly clad in blue cloth, his head
covered with the eternal fur cap which he wore from one year’s end to
the other.

As soon as he recognized his visitors, he called out with a sneer:

“Oh, here come some fine company! How kind of you; you are out for an
airing.”

But the presence of Maxime puzzled him. Who was he? Whom had he come to
see? They mentioned his name to him, and he immediately cut short the
explanations they were adding, to enable him to straighten out the
tangled skein of relationship.

“The father of Charles--I know, I know! The son of my nephew Saccard,
_pardi_! the one who made a fine marriage, and whose wife died--”

He stared at Maxime, seeming happy to find him already wrinkled at
thirty-two, with his hair and beard sprinkled with snow.

“Ah, well!” he added, “we are all growing old. But I, at least, have no
great reason to complain. I am solid.”

And he planted himself firmly on his legs with his air of ferocious
mockery, while his fiery red face seemed to flame and burn. For a
long time past ordinary brandy had seemed to him like pure water; only
spirits of 36 degrees tickled his blunted palate; and he took such
draughts of it that he was full of it--his flesh saturated with it--like
a sponge. He perspired alcohol. At the slightest breath whenever he
spoke, he exhaled from his mouth a vapor of alcohol.

“Yes, truly; you are solid, uncle!” said Pascal, amazed. “And you have
done nothing to make you so; you have good reason to ridicule us. Only
there is one thing I am afraid of, look you, that some day in lighting
your pipe, you may set yourself on fire--like a bowl of punch.”

Macquart, flattered, gave a sneering laugh.

“Have your jest, have your jest, my boy! A glass of cognac is worth more
than all your filthy drugs. And you will all touch glasses with me, hey?
So that it may be said truly that your uncle is a credit to you all.
As for me, I laugh at evil tongues. I have corn and olive trees, I have
almond trees and vines and land, like any _bourgeois_. In summer I smoke
my pipe under the shade of my mulberry trees; in winter I go to smoke it
against my wall, there in the sunshine. One has no need to blush for an
uncle like that, hey? Clotilde, I have syrup, if you would like some.
And you, Felicite, my dear, I know that you prefer anisette. There is
everything here, I tell you, there is everything here!”

He waved his arm as if to take possession of the comforts he enjoyed,
now that from an old sinner he had become a hermit, while Felicite, whom
he had disturbed a moment before by the enumeration of his riches, did
not take her eyes from his face, waiting to interrupt him.

“Thank you, Macquart, we will take nothing; we are in a hurry. Where is
Charles?”

“Charles? Very good, presently! I understand, papa has come to see his
boy. But that is not going to prevent you taking a glass.”

And as they positively refused he became offended, and said, with his
malicious laugh:

“Charles is not here; he is at the asylum with the old woman.”

Then, taking Maxime to the end of the terrace, he pointed out to him the
great white buildings, whose inner gardens resembled prison yards.

“Look, nephew, you see those three trees in front of you? Well, beyond
the one to the left, there is a fountain in a court. Follow the ground
floor, and the fifth window to the right is Aunt Dide’s. And that is
where the boy is. Yes, I took him there a little while ago.”

This was an indulgence of the directors. In the twenty years that she
had been in the asylum the old woman had not given a moment’s uneasiness
to her keeper. Very quiet, very gentle, she passed the days motionless
in her easy-chair, looking straight before her; and as the boy liked to
be with her, and as she herself seemed to take an interest in him,
they shut their eyes to this infraction of the rules and left him there
sometimes for two or three hours at a time, busily occupied in cutting
out pictures.

But this new disappointment put the finishing stroke to Felicite’s
ill-humor; she grew angry when Macquart proposed that all five should go
in a body in search of the boy.

“What an idea! Go you alone, and come back quickly. We have no time to
lose.”

Her suppressed rage seemed to amuse Uncle Macquart, and perceiving how
disagreeable his proposition was to her, he insisted, with his sneering
laugh:

“But, my children, we should at the same time have an opportunity of
seeing the old mother; the mother of us all. There is no use in talking;
you know that we are all descended from her, and it would hardly be
polite not to go wish her a good-day, when my grandnephew, who has come
from such a distance, has perhaps never before had a good look at her.
I’ll not disown her, may the devil take me if I do. To be sure she is
mad, but all the same, old mothers who have passed their hundredth year
are not often to be seen, and she well deserves that we should show
ourselves a little kind to her.”

There was silence for a moment. A little shiver had run through every
one. And it was Clotilde, silent until now, who first declared in a
voice full of feeling:

“You are right, uncle; we will all go.”

Felicite herself was obliged to consent. They re-entered the landau,
Macquart taking the seat beside the coachman. A feeling of disquietude
had given a sallow look to Maxime’s worn face; and during the short
drive he questioned Pascal concerning Charles with an air of paternal
interest, which concealed a growing anxiety. The doctor constrained
by his mother’s imperious glances, softened the truth. Well, the boy’s
health was certainly not very robust; it was on that account, indeed,
that they were glad to leave him for weeks together in the country with
his uncle: but he had no definite disease. Pascal did not add that he
had for a moment cherished the dream of giving him a brain and muscles
by treating him with his hypodermic injections of nerve substance,
but that he had always been met by the same difficulty; the slightest
puncture brought on a hemorrhage which it was found necessary to stop
by compresses; there was a laxness of the tissues, due to degeneracy; a
bloody dew which exuded from the skin; he had especially, bleedings at
the nose so sudden and so violent that they did not dare to leave him
alone, fearing lest all the blood in his veins should flow out. And the
doctor ended by saying that although the boy’s intelligence had been
sluggish, he still hoped that it would develop in an environment of
quicker mental activity.

They arrived at the asylum and Macquart, who had been listening to the
doctor, descended from his seat, saying:

“He is a gentle little fellow, a very gentle little fellow! And then, he
is so beautiful--an angel!”

Maxime, who was still pale, and who shivered in spite of the stifling
heat, put no more questions. He looked at the vast buildings of the
asylum, the wings of the various quarters separated by gardens, the
men’s quarters from those of the women, those of the harmless insane
from those of the violent insane. A scrupulous cleanliness reigned
everywhere, a gloomy silence--broken from time to time by footsteps and
the noise of keys. Old Macquart knew all the keepers. Besides, the doors
were always to open to Dr. Pascal, who had been authorized to attend
certain of the inmates. They followed a passage and entered a court; it
was here--one of the chambers on the ground floor, a room covered with
a light carpet, furnished with a bed, a press, a table, an armchair, and
two chairs. The nurse, who had orders never to quit her charge, happened
just now to be absent, and the only occupants of the room were the
madwoman, sitting rigid in her armchair at one side of the table, and
the boy, sitting on a chair on the opposite side, absorbed in cutting
out his pictures.

“Go in, go in!” Macquart repeated. “Oh, there is no danger, she is very
gentle!”

The grandmother, Adelaide Fouque, whom her grandchildren, a whole swarm
of descendants, called by the pet name of Aunt Dide, did not even turn
her head at the noise. In her youth hysterical troubles had unbalanced
her mind. Of an ardent and passionate nature and subject to nervous
attacks, she had yet reached the great age of eighty-three when a
dreadful grief, a terrible moral shock, destroyed her reason. At that
time, twenty-one years before, her mind had ceased to act; it had become
suddenly weakened without the possibility of recovery. And now, at the
age of 104 years, she lived here as if forgotten by the world, a
quiet madwoman with an ossified brain, with whom insanity might remain
stationary for an indefinite length of time without causing death. Old
age had come, however, and had gradually atrophied her muscles. Her
flesh was as if eaten away by age. The skin only remained on her bones,
so that she had to be carried from her chair to her bed, for it had
become impossible for her to walk or even to move. And yet she held
herself erect against the back of her chair, a yellow, dried-up
skeleton--like an ancient tree of which the bark only remains--with only
her eyes still living in her thin, long visage, in which the wrinkles
had been, so to say, worn away. She was looking fixedly at Charles.

Clotilde approached her a little tremblingly.

“Aunt Dide, it is we; we have come to see you. Don’t you know me, then?
Your little girl who comes sometimes to kiss you.”

But the madwoman did not seem to hear. Her eyes remained fixed upon the
boy, who was finishing cutting out a picture--a purple king in a golden
mantle.

“Come, mamma,” said Macquart, “don’t pretend to be stupid. You may very
well look at us. Here is a gentleman, a grandson of yours, who has come
from Paris expressly to see you.”

At this voice Aunt Dide at last turned her head. Her clear,
expressionless eyes wandered slowly from one to another, then rested
again on Charles with the same fixed look as before.

They all shivered, and no one spoke again.

“Since the terrible shock she received,” explained Pascal in a low
voice, “she has been that way; all intelligence, all memory seem
extinguished in her. For the most part she is silent; at times she pours
forth a flood of stammering and indistinct words. She laughs and cries
without cause, she is a thing that nothing affects. And yet I should
not venture to say that the darkness of her mind is complete, that no
memories remain stored up in its depths. Ah! the poor old mother, how I
pity her, if the light has not yet been finally extinguished. What
can her thoughts have been for the last twenty-one years, if she still
remembers?”

With a gesture he put this dreadful past which he knew from him. He
saw her again young, a tall, pale, slender girl with frightened eyes,
a widow, after fifteen months of married life with Rougon, the clumsy
gardener whom she had chosen for a husband, throwing herself immediately
afterwards into the arms of the smuggler Macquart, whom she loved with
a wolfish love, and whom she did not even marry. She had lived thus for
fifteen years, with her three children, one the child of her marriage,
the other two illegitimate, a capricious and tumultuous existence,
disappearing for weeks at a time, and returning all bruised, her arms
black and blue. Then Macquart had been killed, shot down like a dog by a
_gendarme_; and the first shock had paralyzed her, so that even then she
retained nothing living but her water-clear eyes in her livid face; and
she shut herself up from the world in the hut which her lover had left
her, leading there for forty years the dead existence of a nun, broken
by terrible nervous attacks. But the other shock was to finish her, to
overthrow her reason, and Pascal recalled the atrocious scene, for he
had witnessed it--a poor child whom the grandmother had taken to live
with her, her grandson Silvere, the victim of family hatred and strife,
whose head another _gendarme_ shattered with a pistol shot, at the
suppression of the insurrectionary movement of 1851. She was always to
be bespattered with blood.

Felicite, meanwhile, had approached Charles, who was so engrossed with
his pictures that all these people did not disturb him.

“My darling, this gentleman is your father. Kiss him,” she said.

And then they all occupied themselves with Charles. He was very prettily
dressed in a jacket and short trousers of black velvet, braided with
gold cord. Pale as a lily, he resembled in truth one of those king’s
sons whose pictures he was cutting out, with his large, light eyes and
his shower of fair curls. But what especially struck the attention at
this moment was his resemblance to Aunt Dide; this resemblance which
had overleaped three generations, which had passed from this withered
centenarian’s countenance, from these dead features wasted by life, to
this delicate child’s face that was also as if worn, aged, and wasted,
through the wear of the race. Fronting each other, the imbecile child of
a deathlike beauty seemed the last of the race of which she, forgotten
by the world, was the ancestress.

Maxime bent over to press a kiss on the boy’s forehead; and a chill
struck to his heart--this very beauty disquieted him; his uneasiness
grew in this chamber of madness, whence, it seemed to him, breathed a
secret horror come from the far-off past.

“How beautiful you are, my pet! Don’t you love me a little?”

Charles looked at him without comprehending, and went back to his play.

But all were chilled. Without the set expression of her countenance
changing Aunt Dide wept, a flood of tears rolled from her living eyes
over her dead cheeks. Her gaze fixed immovably upon the boy, she wept
slowly, endlessly. A great thing had happened.

And now an extraordinary emotion took possession of Pascal. He caught
Clotilde by the arm and pressed it hard, trying to make her understand.
Before his eyes appeared the whole line, the legitimate branch and the
bastard branch, which had sprung from this trunk already vitiated by
neurosis. Five generations were there present--the Rougons and the
Macquarts, Adelaide Fouque at the root, then the scoundrelly old uncle,
then himself, then Clotilde and Maxime, and lastly, Charles. Felicite
occupied the place of her dead husband. There was no link wanting; the
chain of heredity, logical and implacable, was unbroken. And what a
world was evoked from the depths of the tragic cabin which breathed
this horror that came from the far-off past in such appalling shape that
every one, notwithstanding the oppressive heat, shivered.

“What is it, master?” whispered Clotilde, trembling.

“No, no, nothing!” murmured the doctor. “I will tell you later.”

Macquart, who alone continued to sneer, scolded the old mother. What an
idea was hers, to receive people with tears when they put themselves out
to come and make her a visit. It was scarcely polite. And then he turned
to Maxime and Charles.

“Well, nephew, you have seen your boy at last. Is it not true that he is
pretty, and that he is a credit to you, after all?”

Felicite hastened to interfere. Greatly dissatisfied with the turn which
affairs were taking, she was now anxious only to get away.

“He is certainly a handsome boy, and less backward than people think.
Just see how skilful he is with his hands. And you will see when you
have brightened him up in Paris, in a different way from what we have
been able to do at Plassans, eh?”

“No doubt,” murmured Maxime. “I do not say no; I will think about it.”

He seemed embarrassed for a moment, and then added:

“You know I came only to see him. I cannot take him with me now as I am
to spend a month at St. Gervais. But as soon as I return to Paris I will
think of it, I will write to you.”

Then, taking out his watch, he cried:

“The devil! Half-past five. You know that I would not miss the nine
o’clock train for anything in the world.”

“Yes, yes, let us go,” said Felicite brusquely. “We have nothing more to
do here.”

Macquart, whom his sister-in-law’s anger seemed still to divert,
endeavored to delay them with all sorts of stories. He told of the days
when Aunt Dide talked, and he affirmed that he had found her one morning
singing a romance of her youth. And then he had no need of the carriage,
he would take the boy back on foot, since they left him to him.

“Kiss your papa, my boy, for you know now that you see him, but you
don’t know whether you shall ever see him again or not.”

With the same surprised and indifferent movement Charles raised his
head, and Maxime, troubled, pressed another kiss on his forehead.

“Be very good and very pretty, my pet. And love me a little.”

“Come, come, we have no time to lose,” repeated Felicite.

But the keeper here re-entered the room. She was a stout, vigorous girl,
attached especially to the service of the madwoman. She carried her to
and from her bed, night and morning; she fed her and took care of her
like a child. And she at once entered into conversation with Dr. Pascal,
who questioned her. One of the doctor’s most cherished dreams was to
cure the mad by his treatment of hypodermic injections. Since in their
case it was the brain that was in danger, why should not hypodermic
injections of nerve substance give them strength and will, repairing
the breaches made in the organ? So that for a moment he had dreamed
of trying the treatment with the old mother; then he began to have
scruples, he felt a sort of awe, without counting that madness at
that age was total, irreparable ruin. So that he had chosen another
subject--a hatter named Sarteur, who had been for a year past in the
asylum, to which he had come himself to beg them to shut him up to
prevent him from committing a crime. In his paroxysms, so strong an
impulse to kill seized him that he would have thrown himself upon the
first passer-by. He was of small stature, very dark, with a retreating
forehead, an aquiline face with a large nose and a very short chin, and
his left cheek was noticeably larger than his right. And the doctor had
obtained miraculous results with this victim of emotional insanity, who
for a month past had had no attack. The nurse, indeed being questioned,
answered that Sarteur had become quiet and was growing better every day.

“Do you hear, Clotilde?” cried Pascal, enchanted. “I have not the time
to see him this evening, but I will come again to-morrow. It is my
visiting day. Ah, if I only dared; if she were young still--”

His eyes turned toward Aunt Dide. But Clotilde, whom his enthusiasm made
smile, said gently:

“No, no, master, you cannot make life anew. There, come. We are the
last.”

It was true; the others had already gone. Macquart, on the threshold,
followed Felicite and Maxime with his mocking glance as they went away.
Aunt Dide, the forgotten one, sat motionless, appalling in her leanness,
her eyes again fixed upon Charles with his white, worn face framed in
his royal locks.

The drive back was full of constraint. In the heat which exhaled from
the earth, the landau rolled on heavily to the measured trot of the
horses. The stormy sky took on an ashen, copper-colored hue in the
deepening twilight. At first a few indifferent words were exchanged;
but from the moment in which they entered the gorges of the Seille all
conversation ceased, as if they felt oppressed by the menacing walls of
giant rock that seemed closing in upon them. Was not this the end of the
earth, and were they not going to roll into the unknown, over the edge
of some abyss? An eagle soared by, uttering a shrill cry.

Willows appeared again, and the carriage was rolling lightly along the
bank of the Viorne, when Felicite began without transition, as if she
were resuming a conversation already commenced.

“You have no refusal to fear from the mother. She loves Charles dearly,
but she is a very sensible woman, and she understands perfectly that it
is to the boy’s advantage that you should take him with you. And I must
tell you, too, that the poor boy is not very happy with her, since,
naturally, the husband prefers his own son and daughter. For you ought
to know everything.”

And she went on in this strain, hoping, no doubt, to persuade Maxime and
draw a formal promise from him. She talked until they reached Plassans.
Then, suddenly, as the landau rolled over the pavement of the faubourg,
she said:

“But look! there is his mother. That stout blond at the door there.”

At the threshold of a harness-maker’s shop hung round with horse
trappings and halters, Justine sat, knitting a stocking, taking the air,
while the little girl and boy were playing on the ground at her feet.
And behind them in the shadow of the shop was to be seen Thomas, a
stout, dark man, occupied in repairing a saddle.

Maxime leaned forward without emotion, simply curious. He was greatly
surprised at sight of this robust woman of thirty-two, with so sensible
and so commonplace an air, in whom there was not a trace of the wild
little girl with whom he had been in love when both of the same age were
entering their seventeenth year. Perhaps a pang shot through his heart
to see her plump and tranquil and blooming, while he was ill and already
aged.

“I should never have recognized her,” he said.

And the landau, still rolling on, turned into the Rue de Rome. Justine
had disappeared; this vision of the past--a past so different from the
present--had sunk into the shadowy twilight, with Thomas, the children,
and the shop.

At La Souleiade the table was set; Martine had an eel from the Viorne,
a _sauted_ rabbit, and a leg of mutton. Seven o’clock was striking, and
they had plenty of time to dine quietly.

“Don’t be uneasy,” said Dr. Pascal to his nephew. “We will accompany you
to the station; it is not ten minutes’ walk from here. As you left your
trunk, you have nothing to do but to get your ticket and jump on board
the train.”

Then, meeting Clotilde in the vestibule, where she was hanging up her
hat and her umbrella, he said to her in an undertone:

“Do you know that I am uneasy about your brother?”

“Why so?”

“I have observed him attentively. I don’t like the way in which he
walks; and have you noticed what an anxious look he has at times?
That has never deceived me. In short, your brother is threatened with
ataxia.”

“Ataxia!” she repeated turning very pale.

A cruel image rose before her, that of a neighbor, a man still young,
whom for the past ten years she had seen driven about in a little
carriage by a servant. Was not this infirmity the worst of all ills, the
ax stroke that separates a living being from social and active life?

“But,” she murmured, “he complains only of rheumatism.”

Pascal shrugged his shoulders; and putting a finger to his lip he went
into the dining-room, where Felicite and Maxime were seated.

The dinner was very friendly. The sudden disquietude which had sprung up
in Clotilde’s heart made her still more affectionate to her brother, who
sat beside her. She attended to his wants gayly, forcing him to take the
most delicate morsels. Twice she called back Martine, who was passing
the dishes too quickly. And Maxime was more and more enchanted by this
sister, who was so good, so healthy, so sensible, whose charm enveloped
him like a caress. So greatly was he captivated by her that gradually
a project, vague at first, took definite shape within him. Since little
Charles, his son, terrified him so greatly with his deathlike beauty,
his royal air of sickly imbecility, why should he not take his sister
Clotilde to live with him? The idea of having a woman in his house
alarmed him, indeed, for he was afraid of all women, having had too
much experience of them in his youth; but this one seemed to him truly
maternal. And then, too, a good woman in his house would make a change
in it, which would be a desirable thing. He would at least be left no
longer at the mercy of his father, whom he suspected of desiring his
death so that he might get possession of his money at once. His hatred
and terror of his father decided him.

“Don’t you think of marrying, then?” he asked, wishing to try the
ground.

The young girl laughed.

“Oh, there is no hurry,” she answered.

Then, suddenly, looking at Pascal, who had raised his head, she added:

“How can I tell? Oh, I shall never marry.”

But Felicite protested. When she saw her so attached to the doctor, she
often wished for a marriage that would separate her from him, that would
leave her son alone in a deserted home, where she herself might become
all powerful, mistress of everything. Therefore she appealed to him. Was
it not true that a woman ought to marry, that it was against nature to
remain an old maid?

And he gravely assented, without taking his eyes from Clotilde’s face.

“Yes, yes, she must marry. She is too sensible not to marry.”

“Bah!” interrupted Maxime, “would it be really sensible in her to
marry? In order to be unhappy, perhaps; there are so many ill-assorted
marriages!”

And coming to a resolution, he added:

“Don’t you know what you ought to do? Well, you ought to come and live
with me in Paris. I have thought the matter over. The idea of taking
charge of a child in my state of health terrifies me. Am I not a child
myself, an invalid who needs to be taken care of? You will take care of
me; you will be with me, if I should end by losing the use of my limbs.”

There was a sound of tears in his voice, so great a pity did he feel
for himself. He saw himself, in fancy, sick; he saw his sister at his
bedside, like a Sister of Charity; if she consented to remain unmarried
he would willingly leave her his fortune, so that his father might not
have it. The dread which he had of solitude, the need in which he should
perhaps stand of having a sick-nurse, made him very pathetic.

“It would be very kind on your part, and you should have no cause to
repent it.”

Martine, who was serving the mutton, stopped short in surprise; and
the proposition caused the same surprise at the table. Felicite was the
first to approve, feeling that the girl’s departure would further her
plans. She looked at Clotilde, who was still silent and stunned, as it
were; while Dr. Pascal waited with a pale face.

“Oh, brother, brother,” stammered the young girl, unable at first to
think of anything else to say.

Then her grandmother cried:

“Is that all you have to say? Why, the proposition your brother has just
made you is a very advantageous one. If he is afraid of taking Charles
now, why, you can go with him, and later on you can send for the child.
Come, come, that can be very well arranged. Your brother makes an appeal
to your heart. Is it not true, Pascal, that she owes him a favorable
answer?”

The doctor, by an effort, recovered his self-possession. The chill that
had seized him made itself felt, however, in the slowness with which he
spoke.

“The offer, in effect, is very kind. Clotilde, as I said before, is very
sensible and she will accept it, if it is right that she should do so.”

The young girl, greatly agitated, rebelled at this.

“Do you wish to send me away, then, master? Maxime is very good, and I
thank him from the bottom of my heart. But to leave everything, my God!
To leave all that love me, all that I have loved until now!”

She made a despairing gesture, indicating the place and the people,
taking in all La Souleiade.

“But,” responded Pascal, looking at her fixedly, “what if Maxime should
need you, what if you had a duty to fulfil toward him?”

Her eyes grew moist, and she remained for a moment trembling and
desperate; for she alone understood. The cruel vision again arose before
her--Maxime, helpless, driven, about in a little carriage by a servant,
like the neighbor whom she used to pity. Had she indeed any duty toward
a brother who for fifteen years had been a stranger to her? Did not
her duty lie where her heart was? Nevertheless, her distress of mind
continued; she still suffered in the struggle.

“Listen, Maxime,” she said at last, “give me also time to reflect. I
will see. Be assured that I am very grateful to you. And if you should
one day really have need of me, well, I should no doubt decide to go.”

This was all they could make her promise. Felicite, with her usual
vehemence, exhausted all her efforts in vain, while the doctor now
affected to say that she had given her word. Martine brought a cream,
without thinking of hiding her joy. To take away mademoiselle! what an
idea, in order that monsieur might die of grief at finding himself all
alone. And the dinner was delayed, too, by this unexpected incident.
They were still at the dessert when half-past eight struck.

Then Maxime grew restless, tapped the floor with his foot, and declared
that he must go.

At the station, whither they all accompanied him he kissed his sister a
last time, saying:

“Remember!”

“Don’t be afraid,” declared Felicite, “we are here to remind her of her
promise.”

The doctor smiled, and all three, as soon as the train was in motion,
waved their handkerchiefs.

On this day, after accompanying the grandmother to her door, Dr. Pascal
and Clotilde returned peacefully to La Souleiade, and spent a delightful
evening there. The constraint of the past few weeks, the secret
antagonism which had separated them, seemed to have vanished. Never had
it seemed so sweet to them to feel so united, inseparable. Doubtless it
was only this first pang of uneasiness suffered by their affection, this
threatened separation, the postponement of which delighted them. It was
for them like a return to health after an illness, a new hope of life.
They remained for long time in the warm night, under the plane trees,
listening to the crystal murmur of the fountain. And they did not even
speak, so profoundly did they enjoy the happiness of being together.



IV.

Ten days later the household had fallen back into its former state of
unhappiness. Pascal and Clotilde remained entire afternoons without
exchanging a word; and there were continual outbursts of ill-humor. Even
Martine was constantly out of temper. The home of these three had again
become a hell.

Then suddenly the condition of affairs was still further aggravated. A
Capuchin monk of great sanctity, such as often pass through the towns
of the South, came to Plassans to conduct a mission. The pulpit of
St. Saturnin resounded with his bursts of eloquence. He was a sort of
apostle, a popular and fiery orator, a florid speaker, much given to the
use of metaphors. And he preached on the nothingness of modern science
with an extraordinary mystical exaltation, denying the reality of this
world, and disclosing the unknown, the mysteries of the Beyond. All the
devout women of the town were full of excitement about his preaching.

On the very first evening on which Clotilde, accompanied by Martine,
attended the sermon, Pascal noticed her feverish excitement when
she returned. On the following day her excitement increased, and she
returned home later, having remained to pray for an hour in a dark
corner of a chapel. From this time she was never absent from the
services, returning languid, and with the luminous eyes of a seer; and
the Capuchin’s burning words haunted her; certain of his images stirred
her to ecstasy. She grew irritable, and she seemed to have conceived a
feeling of anger and contempt for every one and everything around her.

Pascal, filled with uneasiness, determined to have an explanation
with Martine. He came down early one morning as she was sweeping the
dining-room.

“You know that I leave you and Clotilde free to go to church, if
that pleases you,” he said. “I do not believe in oppressing any one’s
conscience. But I do not wish that you should make her sick.”

The servant, without stopping in her work, said in a low voice:

“Perhaps the sick people are those who don’t think that they are sick.”

She said this with such an air of conviction that he smiled.

“Yes,” he returned; “I am the sick soul whose conversion you pray for;
while both of you are in possession of health and of perfect wisdom.
Martine, if you continue to torment me and to torment yourselves, as you
are doing, I shall grow angry.”

He spoke in so furious and so harsh a voice that the servant stopped
suddenly in her sweeping, and looked him full in the face. An infinite
tenderness, an immense desolation passed over the face of the old maid
cloistered in his service. And tears filled her eyes and she hurried out
of the room stammering:

“Ah, monsieur, you do not love us.”

Then Pascal, filled with an overwhelming sadness, gave up the contest.
His remorse increased for having shown so much tolerance, for not having
exercised his authority as master, in directing Clotilde’s education
and bringing up. In his belief that trees grew straight if they were
not interfered with, he had allowed her to grow up in her own way, after
teaching her merely to read and write. It was without any preconceived
plan, while aiding him in making his researches and correcting his
manuscripts, and simply by the force of circumstances, that she had
read everything and acquired a fondness for the natural sciences. How
bitterly he now regretted his indifference! What a powerful impulse he
might have given to this clear mind, so eager for knowledge, instead
of allowing it to go astray, and waste itself in that desire for the
Beyond, which Grandmother Felicite and the good Martine favored. While
he had occupied himself with facts, endeavoring to keep from going
beyond the phenomenon, and succeeding in doing so, through his
scientific discipline, he had seen her give all her thoughts to the
unknown, the mysterious. It was with her an obsession, an instinctive
curiosity which amounted to torture when she could not satisfy it. There
was in her a longing which nothing could appease, an irresistible call
toward the unattainable, the unknowable. Even when she was a child, and
still more, later, when she grew up, she went straight to the why and
the how of things, she demanded ultimate causes. If he showed her a
flower, she asked why this flower produced a seed, why this seed would
germinate. Then, it would be the mystery of birth and death, and the
unknown forces, and God, and all things. In half a dozen questions she
would drive him into a corner, obliging him each time to acknowledge his
fatal ignorance; and when he no longer knew what to answer her, when he
would get rid of her with a gesture of comic fury, she would give a gay
laugh of triumph, and go to lose herself again in her dreams, in
the limitless vision of all that we do not know, and all that we
may believe. Often she astounded him by her explanations. Her mind,
nourished on science, started from proved truths, but with such an
impetus that she bounded at once straight into the heaven of the
legends. All sorts of mediators passed there, angels and saints and
supernatural inspirations, modifying matter, endowing it with life; or,
again, it was only one single force, the soul of the world, working to
fuse things and beings in a final kiss of love in fifty centuries more.
She had calculated the number of them, she said.

For the rest, Pascal had never before seen her so excited. For the
past week, during which she had attended the Capuchin’s mission in the
cathedral, she had spent the days visibly in the expectation of the
sermon of the evening; and she went to hear it with the rapt exaltation
of a girl who is going to her first rendezvous of love. Then, on the
following day, everything about her declared her detachment from the
exterior life, from her accustomed existence, as if the visible world,
the necessary actions of every moment, were but a snare and a folly.
She retired within herself in the vision of what was not. Thus she had
almost completely given up her habitual occupations, abandoning herself
to a sort of unconquerable indolence, remaining for hours at a time
with her hands in her lap, her gaze lost in vacancy, rapt in the
contemplation of some far-off vision. Now she, who had been so active,
so early a riser, rose late, appearing barely in time for the second
breakfast, and it could not have been at her toilet that she spent these
long hours, for she forgot her feminine coquetry, and would come down
with her hair scarcely combed, negligently attired in a gown buttoned
awry, but even thus adorable, thanks to her triumphant youth. The
morning walks through La Souleiade that she had been so fond of, the
races from the top to the bottom of the terraces planted with olive and
almond trees, the visits to the pine grove balmy with the odor of resin,
the long sun baths in the hot threshing yard, she indulged in no more;
she preferred to remain shut up in her darkened room, from which not a
movement was to be heard. Then, in the afternoon, in the work room, she
would drag herself about languidly from chair to chair, doing nothing,
tired and disgusted with everything that had formerly interested her.

Pascal was obliged to renounce her assistance; a paper which he gave
her to copy remained three days untouched on her desk. She no longer
classified anything; she would not have stooped down to pick up a paper
from the floor. More than all, she abandoned the pastels, copies of
flowers from nature that she had been making, to serve as plates to a
work on artificial fecundations. Some large red mallows, of a new and
singular coloring, faded in their vase before she had finished copying
them. And yet for a whole afternoon she worked enthusiastically at
a fantastic design of dream flowers, an extraordinary efflorescence
blooming in the light of a miraculous sun, a burst of golden
spike-shaped rays in the center of large purple corollas, resembling
open hearts, whence shot, for pistils, a shower of stars, myriads of
worlds streaming into the sky, like a milky way.

“Ah, my poor girl,” said the doctor to her on this day, “how can you
lose your time in such conceits! And I waiting for the copy of those
mallows that you have left to die there. And you will make yourself ill.
There is no health, nor beauty, even, possible outside reality.”

Often now she did not answer, intrenching herself behind her fierce
convictions, not wishing to dispute. But doubtless he had this time
touched her beliefs to the quick.

“There is no reality,” she answered sharply.

The doctor, amused by this bold philosophy from this big child, laughed.

“Yes, I know,” he said; “our senses are fallible. We know this world
only through our senses, consequently it is possible that the world
does not exist. Let us open the door to madness, then; let us accept
as possible the most absurd chimeras, let us live in the realm of
nightmare, outside of laws and facts. For do you not see that there is
no longer any law if you suppress nature, and that the only thing that
gives life any interest is to believe in life, to love it, and to put
all the forces of our intelligence to the better understanding of it?”

She made a gesture of mingled indifference and bravado, and the
conversation dropped. Now she was laying large strokes of blue crayon
on the pastel, bringing out its flaming splendor in strong relief on the
background of a clear summer night.

But two days later, in consequence of a fresh discussion, matters went
still further amiss. In the evening, on leaving the table, Pascal went
up to the study to write, while she remained out of doors, sitting on
the terrace. Hours passed by, and he was surprised and uneasy, when
midnight struck, that he had not yet heard her return to her room. She
would have had to pass through the study, and he was very certain that
she had not passed unnoticed by him. Going downstairs, he found that
Martine was asleep; the vestibule door was not locked, and Clotilde
must have remained outside, oblivious of the flight of time. This often
happened to her on these warm nights, but she had never before remained
out so late.

The doctor’s uneasiness increased when he perceived on the terrace the
chair, now vacant, in which the young girl had been sitting. He had
expected to find her asleep in it. Since she was not there, why had she
not come in. Where could she have gone at such an hour? The night was
beautiful: a September night, still warm, with a wide sky whose dark,
velvety expanse was studded with stars; and from the depths of this
moonless sky the stars shone so large and bright that they lighted the
earth with a pale, mysterious radiance. He leaned over the balustrade of
the terrace, and examined the slope and the stone steps which led down
to the railroad; but there was not a movement. He saw nothing but the
round motionless tops of the little olive trees. The idea then occurred
to him that she must certainly be under the plane trees beside the
fountain, whose murmuring waters made perpetual coolness around. He
hurried there, and found himself enveloped in such thick darkness that
he, who knew every tree, was obliged to walk with outstretched hands
to avoid stumbling. Then he groped his way through the dark pine grove,
still without meeting any one. And at last he called in a muffled voice:

“Clotilde! Clotilde!”

The darkness remained silent and impenetrable.

“Clotilde! Clotilde!” he cried again, in a louder voice. Not a sound,
not a breath. The very echoes seemed asleep. His cry was drowned in the
infinitely soft lake of blue shadows. And then he called her with all
the force of his lungs. He returned to the plane trees. He went back to
the pine grove, beside himself with fright, scouring the entire domain.
Then, suddenly, he found himself in the threshing yard.

At this cool and tranquil hour, the immense yard, the vast circular
paved court, slept too. It was so many years since grain had been
threshed here that grass had sprung up among the stones, quickly
scorched a russet brown by the sun, resembling the long threads of
a woolen carpet. And, under the tufts of this feeble vegetation, the
ancient pavement did not cool during the whole summer, smoking from
sunset, exhaling in the night the heat stored up from so many sultry
noons.

The yard stretched around, bare and deserted, in the cooling atmosphere,
under the infinite calm of the sky, and Pascal was crossing it to hurry
to the orchard, when he almost fell over a form that he had not
before observed, extended at full length upon the ground. He uttered a
frightened cry.

“What! Are you here?”

Clotilde did not deign even to answer. She was lying on her back, her
hands clasped under the back of her neck, her face turned toward the
sky; and in her pale countenance, only her large shining eyes were
visible.

“And here I have been tormenting myself and calling you for an hour
past! Did you not hear me shouting?”

She at last unclosed her lips.

“Yes.”

“Then that is very senseless! Why did you not answer me?”

But she fell back into her former silence, refusing all explanation, and
with a stubborn brow kept her gaze fixed steadily on the sky.

“There, come in and go to bed, naughty child. You will tell me
to-morrow.”

She did not stir, however; he begged her ten times over to go into the
house, but she would not move. He ended by sitting down beside her on
the short grass, through which penetrated the warmth of the pavement
beneath.

“But you cannot sleep out of doors. At least answer me. What are you
doing here?”

“I am looking.”

And from her large eyes, fixed and motionless, her gaze seemed to mount
up among the stars. She seemed wholly absorbed in the contemplation of
the pure starry depths of the summer sky.

“Ah, master!” she continued, in a low monotone; “how narrow and limited
is all that you know compared to what there is surely up there. Yes,
if I did not answer you it was because I was thinking of you, and I was
filled with grief. You must not think me bad.”

In her voice there was a thrill of such tenderness that it moved him
profoundly. He stretched himself on the grass beside her, so that their
elbows touched, and they went on talking.

“I greatly fear, my dear, that your griefs are not rational. It gives
you pain to think of me. Why so?”

“Oh, because of things that I should find it hard to explain to you; I
am not a _savante_. You have taught me much, however, and I have learned
more myself, being with you. Besides, they are things that I feel.
Perhaps I might try to tell them to you, as we are all alone here, and
the night is so beautiful.”

Her full heart overflowed, after hours of meditation, in the peaceful
confidence of the beautiful night. He did not speak, fearing to disturb
her, but awaited her confidences in silence.

“When I was a little girl and you used to talk to me about science, it
seemed to me that you were speaking to me of God, your words burned so
with faith and hope. Nothing seemed impossible to you. With science you
were going to penetrate the secret of the world, and make the perfect
happiness of humanity a reality. According to you, we were progressing
with giant strides. Each day brought its discovery, its certainty. Ten,
fifty, a hundred years more, perhaps, and the heavens would open and we
should see truth face to face. Well, the years pass, and nothing opens,
and truth recedes.”

“You are an impatient girl,” he answered simply. “If ten centuries more
be necessary we must only wait for them to pass.”

“It is true. I cannot wait. I need to know; I need to be happy at once,
and to know everything at once, and to be perfectly and forever happy.
Oh, that is what makes me suffer, not to be able to reach at a bound
complete knowledge, not to be able to rest in perfect felicity, freed
from scruples and doubts. Is it living to advance with tortoiselike pace
in the darkness, not to be able to enjoy an hour’s tranquillity, without
trembling at the thought of the coming anguish? No, no! All knowledge
and all happiness in a single day? Science has promised them to us, and
if she does not give them to us, then she fails in her engagements.”

Then he, too, began to grow heated.

“But what you are saying is folly, little girl. Science is not
revelation. It marches at its human pace, its very effort is its glory.
And then it is not true that science has promised happiness.”

She interrupted him hastily.

“How, not true! Open your books up there, then. You know that I have
read them. Do they not overflow with promises? To read them one would
think we were marching on to the conquest of earth and heaven. They
demolish everything, and they swear to replace everything--and that
by pure reason, with stability and wisdom. Doubtless I am like the
children. When I am promised anything I wish that it shall be given
me at once. My imagination sets to work, and the object must be very
beautiful to satisfy me. But it would have been easy not to have
promised anything. And above all, at this hour, in view of my eager and
painful longing, it would be very ill done to tell me that nothing has
been promised me.”

He made a gesture, a simple gesture of protestation and impatience, in
the serene and silent night.

“In any case,” she continued, “science has swept away all our past
beliefs. The earth is bare, the heavens are empty, and what do you wish
that I should become, even if you acquit science of having inspired the
hopes I have conceived? For I cannot live without belief and without
happiness. On what solid ground shall I build my house when science
shall have demolished the old world, and while she is waiting to
construct the new? All the ancient city has fallen to pieces in this
catastrophe of examination and analysis; and all that remains of it is a
mad population vainly seeking a shelter among its ruins, while anxiously
looking for a solid and permanent refuge where they may begin life
anew. You must not be surprised, then, at our discouragement and our
impatience. We can wait no longer. Since tardy science has failed in her
promises, we prefer to fall back on the old beliefs, which for centuries
have sufficed for the happiness of the world.”

“Ah! that is just it,” he responded in a low voice; “we are just at the
turning point, at the end of the century, fatigued and exhausted with
the appalling accumulation of knowledge which it has set moving. And it
is the eternal need for falsehood, the eternal need for illusion which
distracts humanity, and throws it back upon the delusive charm of the
unknown. Since we can never know all, what is the use of trying to know
more than we know already? Since the truth, when we have attained it,
does not confer immediate and certain happiness, why not be satisfied
with ignorance, the darkened cradle in which humanity slept the deep
sleep of infancy? Yes, this is the aggressive return of the mysterious,
it is the reaction against a century of experimental research. And this
had to be; desertions were to be expected, since every need could not
be satisfied at once. But this is only a halt; the onward march will
continue, up there, beyond our view, in the illimitable fields of
space.”

For a moment they remained silent, still motionless on their backs,
their gaze lost among the myriads of worlds shining in the dark sky. A
falling star shot across the constellation of Cassiopeia, like a flaming
arrow. And the luminous universe above turned slowly on its axis, in
solemn splendor, while from the dark earth around them arose only a
faint breath, like the soft, warm breath of a sleeping woman.

“Tell me,” he said, in his good-natured voice, “did your Capuchin turn
your head this evening, then?”

“Yes,” she answered frankly; “he says from the pulpit things that
disturb me. He preaches against everything you have taught me, and it is
as if the knowledge which I owe to you, transformed into a poison, were
consuming me. My God! What is going to become of me?”

“My poor child! It is terrible that you should torture yourself in
this way! And yet I had been quite tranquil about you, for you have
a well-balanced mind--you have a good, little, round, clear, solid
headpiece, as I have often told you. You will soon calm down. But what
confusion in the brains of others, at the end of the century, if you,
who are so sane, are troubled! Have you not faith, then?”

She answered only by a heavy sigh.

“Assuredly, viewed from the standpoint of happiness, faith is a strong
staff for the traveler to lean upon, and the march becomes easy and
tranquil when one is fortunate enough to possess it.”

“Oh, I no longer know whether I believe or not!” she cried. “There are
days when I believe, and there are other days when I side with you and
with your books. It is you who have disturbed me; it is through you I
suffer. And perhaps all my suffering springs from this, from my revolt
against you whom I love. No, no! tell me nothing; do not tell me that I
shall soon calm down. At this moment that would only irritate me still
more. I know well that you deny the supernatural. The mysterious for you
is only the inexplicable. Even you concede that we shall never know all;
and therefore you consider that the only interest life can have is the
continual conquest over the unknown, the eternal effort to know more.
Ah, I know too much already to believe. You have already succeeded but
too well in shaking my faith, and there are times when it seems to me
that this will kill me.”

He took her hand that lay on the still warm grass, and pressed it hard.

“No, no; it is life that frightens you, little girl. And how right you
are in saying that happiness consists in continual effort. For from this
time forward tranquil ignorance is impossible. There is no halt to be
looked for, no tranquillity in renunciation and wilful blindness.
We must go on, go on in any case with life, which goes on always.
Everything that is proposed, a return to the past, to dead religions,
patched up religions arranged to suit new wants, is a snare. Learn to
know life, then; to love it, live it as it ought to be lived--that is
the only wisdom.”

But she shook off his hand angrily. And her voice trembled with
vexation.

“Life is horrible. How do you wish me to live it tranquil and happy?
It is a terrible light that your science throws upon the world. Your
analysis opens up all the wounds of humanity to display their horror.
You tell everything; you speak too plainly; you leave us nothing but
disgust for people and for things, without any possible consolation.”

He interrupted her with a cry of ardent conviction.

“We tell everything. Ah, yes; in order to know everything and to remedy
everything!”

Her anger rose, and she sat erect.

“If even equality and justice existed in your nature--but you
acknowledge it yourself, life is for the strongest, the weak infallibly
perishes because he is weak--there are no two beings equal, either in
health, in beauty, or intelligence; everything is left to haphazard
meeting, to the chance of selection. And everything falls into ruin,
when grand and sacred justice ceases to exist.”

“It is true,” he said, in an undertone, as if speaking to himself,
“there is no such thing as equality. No society based upon it could
continue to exist. For centuries, men thought to remedy evil by
character. But that idea is being exploded, and now they propose
justice. Is nature just? I think her logical, rather. Logic is perhaps
a natural and higher justice, going straight to the sum of the common
labor, to the grand final labor.”

“Then it is justice,” she cried, “that crushes the individual for the
happiness of the race, that destroys an enfeebled species to fatten
the victorious species. No, no; that is crime. There is in that only
foulness and murder. He was right this evening in the church. The earth
is corrupt, science only serves to show its rottenness. It is on high
that we must all seek a refuge. Oh, master, I entreat you, let me save
myself, let me save you!”

She burst into tears, and the sound of her sobs rose despairingly on
the stillness of the night. He tried in vain to soothe her, her voice
dominated his.

“Listen to me, master. You know that I love you, for you are everything
to me. And it is you who are the cause of all my suffering. I can
scarcely endure it when I think that we are not in accord, that we
should be separated forever if we were both to die to-morrow. Why will
you not believe?”

He still tried to reason with her.

“Come, don’t be foolish, my dear--”

But she threw herself on her knees, she seized him by the hands, she
clung to him with a feverish force. And she sobbed louder and louder, in
such a clamor of despair that the dark fields afar off were startled by
it.

“Listen to me, he said it in the church. You must change your life and
do penance; you must burn everything belonging to your past errors--your
books, your papers, your manuscripts. Make this sacrifice, master, I
entreat it of you on my knees. And you will see the delightful existence
we shall lead together.”

At last he rebelled.

“No, this is too much. Be silent!”

“If you listen to me, master, you will do what I wish. I assure you
that I am horribly unhappy, even in loving you as I love you. There
is something wanting in our affection. So far it has been profound but
unavailing, and I have an irresistible longing to fill it, oh, with all
that is divine and eternal. What can be wanting to us but God? Kneel
down and pray with me!”

With an abrupt movement he released himself, angry in his turn.

“Be silent; you are talking nonsense. I have left you free, leave me
free.”

“Master, master! it is our happiness that I desire! I will take you far,
far away. We will go to some solitude to live there in God!”

“Be silent! No, never!”

Then they remained for a moment confronting each other, mute and
menacing. Around them stretched La Souleiade in the deep silence of the
night, with the light shadows of its olive trees, the darkness of its
pine and plane trees, in which the saddened voice of the fountain was
singing, and above their heads it seemed as if the spacious sky, studded
with stars, shuddered and grew pale, although the dawn was still far
off.

Clotilde raised her arm as if to point to this infinite, shuddering sky;
but with a quick gesture Pascal seized her hand and drew it down toward
the earth in his. And no word further was spoken; they were beside
themselves with rage and hate. The quarrel was fierce and bitter.

She drew her hand away abruptly, and sprang backward, like some proud,
untamable animal, rearing; then she rushed quickly through the darkness
toward the house. He heard the patter of her little boots on the stones
of the yard, deadened afterward by the sand of the walk. He, on his
side, already grieved and uneasy, called her back in urgent tones. But
she ran on without answering, without hearing. Alarmed, and with a heavy
heart, he hurried after her, and rounded the clump of plane trees just
in time to see her rush into the house like a whirlwind. He darted in
after her, ran up the stairs, and struck against the door of her room,
which she violently bolted. And here he stopped and grew calm, by a
strong effort resisting the desire to cry out, to call her again, to
break in the door so as to see her once more, to convince her, to have
her all to himself. For a moment he remained motionless, chilled by the
deathlike silence of the room, from which not the faintest sound issued.
Doubtless she had thrown herself on the bed, and was stifling her cries
and her sobs in the pillow. He determined at last to go downstairs
again and close the hall door, and then he returned softly and listened,
waiting for some sound of moaning. And day was breaking when he went
disconsolately to bed, choking back his tears.

Thenceforward it was war without mercy. Pascal felt himself spied upon,
trapped, menaced. He was no longer master of his house; he had no longer
any home. The enemy was always there, forcing him to be constantly on
his guard, to lock up everything. One after the other, two vials of
nerve-substance which he had compounded were found in fragments, and he
was obliged to barricade himself in his room, where he could be heard
pounding for days together, without showing himself even at mealtime.
He no longer took Clotilde with him on his visiting days, because she
discouraged his patients by her attitude of aggressive incredulity. But
from the moment he left the house, the doctor had only one desire--to
return to it quickly, for he trembled lest he should find his locks
forced, and his drawers rifled on his return. He no longer employed
the young girl to classify and copy his notes, for several of them had
disappeared, as if they had been carried away by the wind. He did not
even venture to employ her to correct his proofs, having ascertained
that she had cut out of an article an entire passage, the sentiment of
which offended her Catholic belief. And thus she remained idle, prowling
about the rooms, and having an abundance of time to watch for an
occasion which would put in her possession the key of the large press.
This was her dream, the plan which she revolved in her mind during her
long silence, while her eyes shone and her hands burned with fever--to
have the key, to open the press, to take and burn everything in an
_auto da fe_ which would be pleasing to God. A few pages of manuscript,
forgotten by him on a corner of the table, while he went to wash his
hands and put on his coat, had disappeared, leaving behind only a little
heap of ashes in the fireplace. He could no longer leave a scrap of
paper about. He carried away everything; he hid everything. One evening,
when he had remained late with a patient, as he was returning home in
the dusk a wild terror seized him at the faubourg, at sight of a thick
black smoke rising up in clouds that darkened the heavens. Was it not
La Souleiade that was burning down, set on fire by the bonfire made with
his papers? He ran toward the house, and was reassured only on seeing in
a neighboring field a fire of roots burning slowly.

But how terrible are the tortures of the scientist who feels himself
menaced in this way in the labors of his intellect! The discoveries
which he has made, the writings which he has counted upon leaving
behind him, these are his pride, they are creatures of his blood--his
children--and whoever destroys, whoever burns them, burns a part of
himself. Especially, in this perpetual lying in wait for the creatures
of his brain, was Pascal tortured by the thought that the enemy was in
his house, installed in his very heart, and that he loved her in spite
of everything, this creature whom he had made what she was. He was left
disarmed, without possible defense; not wishing to act, and having
no other resources than to watch with vigilance. On all sides the
investment was closing around him. He fancied he felt the little
pilfering hands stealing into his pockets. He had no longer any
tranquillity, even with the doors closed, for he feared that he was
being robbed through the crevices.

“But, unhappy child,” he cried one day, “I love but you in the world,
and you are killing me! And yet you love me, too; you act in this way
because you love me, and it is abominable. It would be better to have
done with it all at once, and throw ourselves into the river with a
stone tied around our necks.”

She did not answer, but her dauntless eyes said ardently that she would
willingly die on the instant, if it were with him.

“And if I should suddenly die to-night, what would happen to-morrow?
You would empty the press, you would empty the drawers, you would make
a great heap of all my works and burn them! You would, would you not?
Do you know that that would be a real murder, as much as if you
assassinated some one? And what abominable cowardice, to kill the
thoughts!”

“No,” she said at last, in a low voice; “to kill evil, to prevent it
from spreading and springing up again!”

All their explanations only served to kindle anew their anger. And they
had terrible ones. And one evening, when old Mme. Rougon had chanced in
on one of these quarrels, she remained alone with Pascal, after Clotilde
had fled to hide herself in her room. There was silence for a moment. In
spite of the heartbroken air which she had assumed, a wicked joy shone
in the depths of her sparkling eyes.

“But your unhappy house is a hell!” she cried at last.

The doctor avoided an answer by a gesture. He had always felt that his
mother backed the young girl, inflaming her religious faith, utilizing
this ferment of revolt to bring trouble into his house. He was not
deceived. He knew perfectly well that the two women had seen each
other during the day, and that he owed to this meeting, to a skilful
embittering of Clotilde’s mind, the frightful scene at which he still
trembled. Doubtless his mother had come to learn what mischief had been
wrought, and to see if the _denouement_ was not at last at hand.

“Things cannot go on in this way,” she resumed. “Why do you not separate
since you can no longer agree. You ought to send her to her brother
Maxime. He wrote to me not long since asking her again.”

He straightened himself, pale and determined.

“To part angry with each other? Ah, no, no! that would be an eternal
remorse, an incurable wound. If she must one day go away, I wish that we
may be able to love each other at a distance. But why go away? Neither
of us complains of the other.”

Felicite felt that she had been too hasty. Therefore she assumed her
hypocritical, conciliating air.

“Of course, if it pleases you both to quarrel, no one has anything to
say in the matter. Only, my poor friend, permit me, in that case, to say
that I think Clotilde is not altogether in the wrong. You force me to
confess that I saw her a little while ago; yes, it is better that you
should know, notwithstanding my promise to be silent. Well, she is not
happy; she makes a great many complaints, and you may imagine that I
scolded her and preached complete submission to her. But that does not
prevent me from being unable to understand you myself, and from thinking
that you do everything you can to make yourself unhappy.”

She sat down in a corner of the room, and obliged him to sit down with
her, seeming delighted to have him here alone, at her mercy. She had
already, more than once before, tried to force him to an explanation in
this way, but he had always avoided it. Although she had tortured
him for years past, and he knew her thoroughly, he yet remained
a deferential son, he had sworn never to abandon this stubbornly
respectful attitude. Thus, the moment she touched certain subjects, he
took refuge in absolute silence.

“Come,” she continued; “I can understand that you should not wish to
yield to Clotilde; but to me? How if I were to entreat you to make me
the sacrifice of all those abominable papers which are there in the
press! Consider for an instant if you should die suddenly, and those
papers should fall into strange hands. We should all be disgraced. You
would not wish that, would you? What is your object, then? Why do you
persist in so dangerous a game? Promise me that you will burn them.”

He remained silent for a time, but at last he answered:

“Mother, I have already begged of you never to speak on that subject. I
cannot do what you ask.”

“But at least,” she cried, “give me a reason. Any one would think our
family was as indifferent to you as that drove of oxen passing below
there. Yet you belong to it. Oh, I know you do all you can not to belong
to it! I myself am sometimes astonished at you. I ask myself where you
can have come from. But for all that, it is very wicked of you to run
this risk, without stopping to think of the grief you are causing to me,
your mother. It is simply wicked.”

He grew still paler, and yielding for an instant to his desire to defend
himself, in spite of his determination to keep silent, he said:

“You are hard; you are wrong. I have always believed in the necessity,
the absolute efficacy of truth. It is true that I tell the truth about
others and about myself, and it is because I believe firmly that in
telling the truth I do the only good possible. In the first place, those
papers are not intended for the public; they are only personal notes
which it would be painful to me to part with. And then, I know well that
you would not burn only them--all my other works would also be thrown
into the fire. Would they not? And that is what I do not wish; do you
understand? Never, while I live, shall a line of my writing be destroyed
here.”

But he already regretted having said so much, for he saw that she was
urging him, leading him on to the cruel explanation she desired.

“Then finish, and tell me what it is that you reproach us with. Yes, me,
for instance; what do you reproach me with? Not with having brought you
up with so much difficulty. Ah, fortune was slow to win! If we enjoy
a little happiness now, we have earned it hard. Since you have seen
everything, and since you put down everything in your papers, you can
testify with truth that the family has rendered greater services to
others than it has ever received. On two occasions, but for us, Plassans
would have been in a fine pickle. And it is perfectly natural that we
should have reaped only ingratitude and envy, to the extent that even
to-day the whole town would be enchanted with a scandal that should
bespatter us with mud. You cannot wish that, and I am sure that you will
do justice to the dignity of my attitude since the fall of the Empire,
and the misfortunes from which France will no doubt never recover.”

“Let France rest, mother,” he said, speaking again, for she had touched
the spot where she knew he was most sensitive. “France is tenacious of
life, and I think she is going to astonish the world by the rapidity of
her convalescence. True, she has many elements of corruption. I have not
sought to hide them, I have rather, perhaps, exposed them to view. But
you greatly misunderstand me if you imagine that I believe in her final
dissolution, because I point out her wounds and her lesions. I believe
in the life which ceaselessly eliminates hurtful substances, which makes
new flesh to fill the holes eaten away by gangrene, which infallibly
advances toward health, toward constant renovation, amid impurities and
death.”

He was growing excited, and he was conscious of it, and making an angry
gesture, he spoke no more. His mother had recourse to tears, a few
little tears which came with difficulty, and which were quickly dried.
And the fears which saddened her old age returned to her, and she
entreated him to make his peace with God, if only out of regard for the
family. Had she not given an example of courage ever since the downfall
of the Empire? Did not all Plassans, the quarter of St. Marc, the
old quarter and the new town, render homage to the noble attitude she
maintained in her fall? All she asked was to be helped; she demanded
from all her children an effort like her own. Thus she cited the example
of Eugene, the great man who had fallen from so lofty a height, and who
resigned himself to being a simple deputy, defending until his latest
breath the fallen government from which he had derived his glory. She
was also full of eulogies of Aristide, who had never lost hope, who had
reconquered, under the new government, an exalted position, in spite of
the terrible and unjust catastrophe which had for a moment buried him
under the ruins of the Union Universelle. And would he, Pascal, hold
himself aloof, would he do nothing that she might die in peace, in the
joy of the final triumph of the Rougons, he who was so intelligent, so
affectionate, so good? He would go to mass, would he not, next Sunday?
and he would burn all those vile papers, only to think of which made
her ill. She entreated, commanded, threatened. But he no longer answered
her, calm and invincible in his attitude of perfect deference. He wished
to have no discussion. He knew her too well either to hope to convince
her or to venture to discuss the past with her.

“Why!” she cried, when she saw that he was not to be moved, “you do not
belong to us. I have always said so. You are a disgrace to us.”

He bent his head and said:

“Mother, when you reflect you will forgive me.”

On this day Felicite was beside herself with rage when she went away;
and when she met Martine at the door of the house, in front of the plane
trees, she unburdened her mind to her, without knowing that Pascal, who
had just gone into his room, heard all. She gave vent to her resentment,
vowing, in spite of everything, that she would in the end succeed in
obtaining possession of the papers and destroying them, since he did
not wish to make the sacrifice. But what turned the doctor cold was
the manner in which Martine, in a subdued voice, soothed her. She was
evidently her accomplice. She repeated that it was necessary to wait;
not to do anything hastily; that mademoiselle and she had taken a vow to
get the better of monsieur, by not leaving him an hour’s peace. They had
sworn it. They would reconcile him with the good God, because it was
not possible that an upright man like monsieur should remain without
religion. And the voices of the two women became lower and lower, until
they finally sank to a whisper, an indistinct murmur of gossiping and
plotting, of which he caught only a word here and there; orders given,
measures to be taken, an invasion of his personal liberty. When his
mother at last departed, with her light step and slender, youthful
figure, he saw that she went away very well satisfied.

Then came a moment of weakness, of utter despair. Pascal dropped into a
chair, and asked himself what was the use of struggling, since the only
beings he loved allied themselves against him. Martine, who would have
thrown herself into the fire at a word from him, betraying him in this
way for his good! And Clotilde leagued with this servant, plotting with
her against him in holes and corners, seeking her aid to set traps for
him! Now he was indeed alone; he had around him only traitresses, who
poisoned the very air he breathed. But these two still loved him. He
might perhaps have succeeded in softening them, but when he knew that
his mother urged them on, he understood their fierce persistence, and
he gave up the hope of winning them back. With the timidity of a man
who had spent his life in study, aloof from women, notwithstanding
his secret passion, the thought that they were there to oppose him, to
attempt to bend him to their will, overwhelmed him. He felt that some
one of them was always behind him. Even when he shut himself up in his
room, he fancied that they were on the other side of the wall; and
he was constantly haunted by the idea that they would rob him of his
thought, if they could perceive it in his brain, before he should have
formulated it.

This was assuredly the period in his life in which Dr. Pascal was most
unhappy. To live constantly on the defensive, as he was obliged to do,
crushed him, and it seemed to him as if the ground on which his house
stood was no longer his, as if it was receding from beneath his feet.
He now regretted keenly that he had not married, and that he had no
children. Had not he himself been afraid of life? And had he not been
well punished for his selfishness? This regret for not having children
now never left him. His eyes now filled with tears whenever he met on
the road bright-eyed little girls who smiled at him. True, Clotilde was
there, but his affection for her was of a different kind--crossed at
present by storms--not a calm, infinitely sweet affection, like that for
a child with which he might have soothed his lacerated heart. And then,
no doubt what he desired in his isolation, feeling that his days were
drawing to an end, was above all, continuance; in a child he would
survive, he would live forever. The more he suffered, the greater the
consolation he would have found in bequeathing this suffering, in the
faith which he still had in life. He considered himself indemnified
for the physiological defects of his family. But even the thought that
heredity sometimes passes over a generation, and that the disorders of
his ancestors might reappear in a child of his did not deter him; and
this unknown child, in spite of the old corrupt stock, in spite of the
long succession of execrable relations, he desired ardently at certain
times: as one desires unexpected gain, rare happiness, the stroke of
fortune which is to console and enrich forever. In the shock which his
other affections had received, his heart bled because it was too late.

One sultry night toward the end of September, Pascal found himself
unable to sleep. He opened one of the windows of his room; the sky
was dark, some storm must be passing in the distance, for there was a
continuous rumbling of thunder. He could distinguish vaguely the dark
mass of the plane trees, which occasional flashes of lightning detached,
in a dull green, from the darkness. His soul was full of anguish; he
lived over again the last unhappy days, days of fresh quarrels, of
torture caused by acts of treachery, by suspicions, which grew stronger
every day, when a sudden recollection made him start. In his fear of
being robbed, he had finally adopted the plan of carrying the key of the
large press in his pocket. But this afternoon, oppressed by the heat, he
had taken off his jacket, and he remembered having seen Clotilde hang
it up on a nail in the study. A sudden pang of terror shot through him,
sharp and cold as a steel point; if she had felt the key in the pocket
she had stolen it. He hastened to search the jacket which he had a
little before thrown upon a chair; the key was not here. At this very
moment he was being robbed; he had the clear conviction of it. Two
o’clock struck. He did not again dress himself, but, remaining in his
trousers only, with his bare feet thrust into slippers, his chest bare
under his unfastened nightshirt, he hastily pushed open the door, and
rushed into the workroom, his candle in his hand.

“Ah! I knew it,” he cried. “Thief! Assassin!”

It was true; Clotilde was there, undressed like himself, her bare feet
covered by canvas slippers, her legs bare, her arms bare, her shoulders
bare, clad only in her chemise and a short skirt. Through caution, she
had not brought a candle. She had contented herself with opening one of
the window shutters, and the continual lightning flashes of the storm
which was passing southward in the dark sky, sufficed her, bathing
everything in a livid phosphorescence. The old press, with its broad
sides, was wide open. Already she had emptied the top shelf, taking down
the papers in armfuls, and throwing them on the long table in the middle
of the room, where they lay in a confused heap. And with feverish haste,
fearing lest she should not have the time to burn them, she was making
them up into bundles, intending to hide them, and send them afterward
to her grandmother, when the sudden flare of the candle, lighting up
the room, caused her to stop short in an attitude of surprise and
resistance.

“You rob me; you assassinate me!” repeated Pascal furiously.

She still held one of the bundles in her bare arms. He wished to take
it away from her, but she pressed it to her with all her strength,
obstinately resolved upon her work of destruction, without showing
confusion or repentance, like a combatant who has right upon his side.
Then, madly, blindly, he threw himself upon her, and they struggled
together. He clutched her bare flesh so that he hurt her.

“Kill me!” she gasped. “Kill me, or I shall destroy everything!”

He held her close to him, with so rough a grasp that she could scarcely
breathe, crying:

“When a child steals, it is punished!”

A few drops of blood appeared and trickled down her rounded shoulder,
where an abrasion had cut the delicate satin skin. And, on the instant,
seeing her so breathless, so divine, in her virginal slender height,
with her tapering limbs, her supple arms, her slim body with its
slender, firm throat, he released her. By a last effort he tore the
package from her.

“And you shall help me to put them all up there again, by Heaven! Come
here: begin by arranging them on the table. Obey me, do you hear?”

“Yes, master!”

She approached, and helped him to arrange the papers, subjugated,
crushed by this masculine grasp, which had entered into her flesh, as it
were. The candle which flared up in the heavy night air, lighted them;
and the distant rolling of the thunder still continued, the window
facing the storm seeming on fire.



V.

For an instant Pascal looked at the papers, the heap of which seemed
enormous, lying thus in disorder on the long table that stood in the
middle of the room. In the confusion several of the blue paper envelopes
had burst open, and their contents had fallen out--letters, newspaper
clippings, documents on stamped paper, and manuscript notes.

He was already mechanically beginning to seek out the names written on
the envelopes in large characters, to classify the packages again, when,
with an abrupt gesture, he emerged from the somber meditation into which
he had fallen. And turning to Clotilde who stood waiting, pale, silent,
and erect, he said:

“Listen to me; I have always forbidden you to read these papers, and I
know that you have obeyed me. Yes, I had scruples of delicacy. It is not
that you are an ignorant girl, like so many others, for I have allowed
you to learn everything concerning man and woman, which is assuredly bad
only for bad natures. But to what end disclose to you too early these
terrible truths of human life? I have therefore spared you the history
of our family, which is the history of every family, of all humanity; a
great deal of evil and a great deal of good.”

He paused as if to confirm himself in his resolution and then resumed
quite calmly and with supreme energy:

“You are twenty-five years old; you ought to know. And then the life we
are leading is no longer possible. You live and you make me live in a
constant nightmare, with your ecstatic dreams. I prefer to show you the
reality, however execrable it may be. Perhaps the blow which it will
inflict upon you will make of you the woman you ought to be. We will
classify these papers again together, and read them, and learn from them
a terrible lesson of life!”

Then, as she still continued motionless, he resumed:

“Come, we must be able to see well. Light those other two candles
there.”

He was seized by a desire for light, a flood of light; he would have
desired the blinding light of the sun; and thinking that the light of
the three candles was not sufficient, he went into his room for a pair
of three-branched candelabra which were there. The nine candles were
blazing, yet neither of them, in their disorder--he with his chest
bare, she with her left shoulder stained with blood, her throat and arms
bare--saw the other. It was past two o’clock, but neither of them had
any consciousness of the hour; they were going to spend the night in
this eager desire for knowledge, without feeling the need of sleep,
outside time and space. The mutterings of the storm, which, through the
open window, they could see gathering, grew louder and louder.

Clotilde had never before seen in Pascal’s eyes the feverish light which
burned in them now. He had been overworking himself for some time past,
and his mental sufferings made him at times abrupt, in spite of his
good-natured complacency. But it seemed as if an infinite tenderness,
trembling with fraternal pity, awoke within him, now that he was about
to plunge into the painful truths of existence; and it was something
emanating from himself, something very great and very good which was to
render innocuous the terrible avalanche of facts which was impending. He
was determined that he would reveal everything, since it was necessary
that he should do so in order to remedy everything. Was not this an
unanswerable, a final argument for evolution, the story of these beings
who were so near to them? Such was life, and it must be lived. Doubtless
she would emerge from it like the steel tempered by the fire, full of
tolerance and courage.

“They are setting you against me,” he resumed; “they are making you
commit abominable acts, and I wish to restore your conscience to you.
When you know, you will judge and you will act. Come here, and read with
me.”

She obeyed. But these papers, about which her grandmother had spoken so
angrily, frightened her a little; while a curiosity that grew with
every moment awoke within her. And then, dominated though she was by the
virile authority which had just constrained and subjugated her, she did
not yet yield. But might she not listen to him, read with him? Did she
not retain the right to refuse or to give herself afterward? He spoke at
last.

“Will you come?”

“Yes, master, I will.”

He showed her first the genealogical tree of the Rougon-Macquarts. He
did not usually lock it in the press, but kept it in the desk in his
room, from which he had taken it when he went there for the candelabra.
For more than twenty years past he had kept it up to date, inscribing
the births, deaths, marriages, and other important events that had taken
place in the family, making brief notes in each case, in accordance with
his theory of heredity.

It was a large sheet of paper, yellow with age, with folds cut by wear,
on which was drawn boldly a symbolical tree, whose branches spread and
subdivided into five rows of broad leaves; and each leaf bore a name,
and contained, in minute handwriting, a biography, a hereditary case.

A scientist’s joy took possession of the doctor at sight of this labor
of twenty years, in which the laws of heredity established by him were
so clearly and so completely applied.

“Look, child! You know enough about the matter, you have copied enough
of my notes to understand. Is it not beautiful? A document so complete,
so conclusive, in which there is not a gap? It is like an experiment
made in the laboratory, a problem stated and solved on the blackboard.
You see below, the trunk, the common stock, Aunt Dide; then the three
branches issuing from it, the legitimate branch, Pierre Rougon, and the
two illegitimate branches, Ursule Macquart and Antoine Macquart; then,
new branches arise, and ramify, on one side, Maxime, Clotilde, and
Victor, the three children of Saccard, and Angelique, the daughter of
Sidonie Rougon; on the other, Pauline, the daughter of Lisa Macquart,
and Claude, Jacques, Etienne, and Anna, the four children of Gervaise,
her sister; there, at the extremity, is Jean, their brother, and here in
the middle, you see what I call the knot, the legitimate issue and the
illegitimate issue, uniting in Marthe Rougon and her cousin Francois
Mouret, to give rise to three new branches, Octave, Serge, and Desiree
Mouret; while there is also the issue of Ursule and the hatter Mouret;
Silvere, whose tragic death you know; Helene and her daughter Jean;
finally, at the top are the latest offshoots, our poor Charles, your
brother Maxime’s son, and two other children, who are dead, Jacques
Louis, the son of Claude Lantier, and Louiset, the son of Anna Coupeau.
In all five generations, a human tree which, for five springs already,
five springtides of humanity, has sent forth shoots, at the impulse of
the sap of eternal life.”

He became more and more animated, pointing out each case on the sheet of
old yellow paper, as if it were an anatomical chart.

“And as I have already said, everything is here. You see in direct
heredity, the differentiations, that of the mother, Silvere, Lisa,
Desiree, Jacques, Louiset, yourself; that of the father, Sidonie,
Francois, Gervaise, Octave, Jacques, Louis. Then there are the three
cases of crossing: by conjugation, Ursule, Aristide, Anna, Victor;
by dissemination, Maxime, Serge, Etienne; by fusion, Antoine, Eugene,
Claude. I even noted a fourth case, a very remarkable one, an
even cross, Pierre and Pauline; and varieties are established, the
differentiation of the mother, for example, often accords with the
physical resemblance of the father; or, it is the contrary which takes
place, so that, in the crossing, the physical and mental predominance
remains with one parent or the other, according to circumstances. Then
here is indirect heredity, that of the collateral branches. I have but
one well established example of this, the striking personal resemblance
of Octave Mouret to his uncle Eugene Rougon. I have also but one
example of transmission by influence, Anna, the daughter of Gervaise and
Coupeau, who bore a striking resemblance, especially in her childhood,
to Lantier, her mother’s first lover. But what I am very rich in is in
examples of reversion to the original stock--the three finest cases,
Marthe, Jeanne, and Charles, resembling Aunt Dide; the resemblance
thus passing over one, two, and three generations. This is certainly
exceptional, for I scarcely believe in atavism; it seems to me that
the new elements brought by the partners, accidents, and the infinite
variety of crossings must rapidly efface particular characteristics, so
as to bring back the individual to the general type. And there remains
variation--Helene, Jean, Angelique. This is the combination, the
chemical mixture in which the physical and mental characteristics of the
parents are blended, without any of their traits seeming to reappear in
the new being.”

There was silence for a moment. Clotilde had listened to him with
profound attention, wishing to understand. And he remained absorbed in
thought, his eyes still fixed on the tree, in the desire to judge his
work impartially. He then continued in a low tone, as if speaking to
himself:

“Yes, that is as scientific as possible. I have placed there only the
members of the family, and I had to give an equal part to the partners,
to the fathers and mothers come from outside, whose blood has mingled
with ours, and therefore modified it. I had indeed made a mathematically
exact tree, the father and the mother bequeathing themselves, by halves,
to the child, from generation to generation, so that in Charles, for
example, Aunt Dide’s part would have been only a twelfth--which would
be absurd, since the physical resemblance is there complete. I have
therefore thought it sufficient to indicate the elements come from
elsewhere, taking into account marriages and the new factor which each
introduced. Ah! these sciences that are yet in their infancy, in which
hypothesis speaks stammeringly, and imagination rules, these are the
domain of the poet as much as of the scientist. Poets go as pioneers
in the advance guard, and they often discover new countries, suggesting
solutions. There is there a borderland which belongs to them, between
the conquered, the definitive truth, and the unknown, whence the
truth of to-morrow will be torn. What an immense fresco there is to be
painted, what a stupendous human tragedy, what a comedy there is to
be written with heredity, which is the very genesis of families, of
societies, and of the world!”

His eyes fixed on vacancy, he remained for a time lost in thought. Then,
with an abrupt movement, he came back to the envelopes and, pushing the
tree aside, said:

“We will take it up again presently; for, in order that you may
understand now, it is necessary that events should pass in review before
you, and that you should see in action all these actors ticketed here,
each one summed up in a brief note. I will call for the envelopes, you
will hand them to me one by one, and I will show you the papers in each,
and tell you their contents, before putting it away again up there on
the shelf. I will not follow the alphabetical order, but the order of
events themselves. I have long wished to make this classification. Come,
look for the names on the envelopes; Aunt Dide first.”

At this moment the edge of the storm which lighted up the sky caught La
Souleiade slantingly, and burst over the house in a deluge of rain.
But they did not even close the window. They heard neither the peals of
thunder nor the ceaseless beating of the rain upon the roof. She handed
him the envelope bearing the name of Aunt Dide in large characters; and
he took from it papers of all sorts, notes taken by him long ago, which
he proceeded to read.

“Hand me Pierre Rougon. Hand me Ursule Macquart. Hand me Antoine
Macquart.”

Silently she obeyed him, her heart oppressed by a dreadful anguish at
all she was hearing. And the envelopes were passed on, displayed their
contents, and were piled up again in the press.

First was the foundress of the family, Adelaide Fouque, the tall, crazy
girl, the first nervous lesion giving rise to the legitimate branch,
Pierre Rougon, and to the two illegitimate branches, Ursule and Antoine
Macquart, all that _bourgeois_ and sanguinary tragedy, with the _coup
d’etat_ of December, 1854, for a background, the Rougons, Pierre and
Felicite, preserving order at Plassans, bespattering with the blood of
Silvere their rising fortunes, while Adelaide, grown old, the miserable
Aunt Dide, was shut up in the Tulettes, like a specter of expiation and
of waiting.

Then like a pack of hounds, the appetites were let loose. The supreme
appetite of power in Eugene Rougon, the great man, the disdainful genius
of the family, free from base interests, loving power for its own sake,
conquering Paris in old boots with the adventurers of the coming
Empire, rising from the legislative body to the senate, passing from the
presidency of the council of state to the portfolio of minister; made by
his party, a hungry crowd of followers, who at the same time supported
and devoured him; conquered for an instant by a woman, the beautiful
Clorinde, with whom he had been imbecile enough to fall in love, but
having so strong a will, and burning with so vehement a desire to rule,
that he won back power by giving the lie to his whole life, marching to
his triumphal sovereignty of vice emperor.

With Aristide Saccard, appetite ran to low pleasures, the whole hot
quarry of money, luxury, women--a devouring hunger which left him
homeless, at the time when millions were changing hands, when the
whirlwind of wild speculation was blowing through the city, tearing
down everywhere to construct anew, when princely fortunes were made,
squandered, and remade in six months; a greed of gold whose ever
increasing fury carried him away, causing him, almost before the body
of his wife Angele was cold in death, to sell his name, in order to have
the first indispensable thousand francs, by marrying Renee. And it
was Saccard, too, who, a few years later, put in motion the immense
money-press of the Banque Universelle. Saccard, the never vanquished;
Saccard, grown more powerful, risen to be the clever and daring grand
financier, comprehending the fierce and civilizing role that money
plays, fighting, winning, and losing battles on the Bourse, like
Napoleon at Austerlitz and Waterloo; engulfing in disaster a world of
miserable people; sending forth into the unknown realms of crime his
natural son Victor, who disappeared, fleeing through the dark night,
while he himself, under the impassable protection of unjust nature, was
loved by the adorable Mme. Caroline, no doubt in recompense of all the
evil he had done.

Here a tall, spotless lily had bloomed in this compost, Sidonie Rougon,
the sycophant of her brother, the go-between in a hundred suspicious
affairs, giving birth to the pure and divine Angelique, the little
embroiderer with fairylike fingers who worked into the gold of
the chasubles the dream of her Prince Charming, so happy among her
companions the saints, so little made for the hard realities of
life, that she obtained the grace of dying of love, on the day of her
marriage, at the first kiss of Felicien de Hautecoeur, in the triumphant
peal of bells ringing for her splendid nuptials.

The union of the two branches, the legitimate and the illegitimate,
took place then, Marthe Rougon espousing her cousin Francois Mouret,
a peaceful household slowly disunited, ending in the direst
catastrophes--a sad and gentle woman taken, made use of, and crushed in
the vast machine of war erected for the conquest of a city; her three
children torn from her, she herself leaving her heart in the rude grasp
of the Abbe Faujas. And the Rougons saved Plassans a second time, while
she was dying in the glare of the conflagration in which her husband was
being consumed, mad with long pent-up rage and the desire for revenge.

Of the three children, Octave Mouret was the audacious conqueror, the
clear intellect, resolved to demand from the women the sovereignty of
Paris, fallen at his _debut_ into the midst of a corrupt _bourgeois_
society, acquiring there a terrible sentimental education, passing from
the capricious refusal of one woman to the unresisting abandonment
of another, remaining, fortunately, active, laborious, and combative,
gradually emerging, and improved even, from the low plotting, the
ceaseless ferment of a rotten society that could be heard already
cracking to its foundations. And Octave Mouret, victorious,
revolutionized commerce; swallowed up the cautious little shops that
carried on business in the old-fashioned way; established in the midst
of feverish Paris the colossal palace of temptation, blazing with
lights, overflowing with velvets, silks, and laces; won fortunes
exploiting woman; lived in smiling scorn of woman until the day when
a little girl, the avenger of her sex, the innocent and wise Denise,
vanquished him and held him captive at her feet, groaning with anguish,
until she did him the favor, she who was so poor, to marry him in the
midst of the apotheosis of his Louvre, under the golden shower of his
receipts.

There remained the two other children, Serge Mouret and Desiree Mouret,
the latter innocent and healthy, like some happy young animal; the
former refined and mystical, who was thrown into the priesthood by a
nervous malady hereditary in his family, and who lived again the story
of Adam, in the Eden of Le Paradou. He was born again to love Albine,
and to lose her, in the bosom of sublime nature, their accomplice; to be
recovered, afterward by the Church, to war eternally with life, striving
to kill his manhood, throwing on the body of the dead Albine the handful
of earth, as officiating priest, at the very time when Desiree, the
sister and friend of animals, was rejoicing in the midst of the swarming
life of her poultry yard.

Further on there opened a calm glimpse of gentle and tragic life, Helene
Mouret living peacefully with her little girl, Jeanne, on the heights of
Passy, overlooking Paris, the bottomless, boundless human sea, in face
of which was unrolled this page of love: the sudden passion of Helene
for a stranger, a physician, brought one night by chance to the bedside
of her daughter; the morbid jealousy of Jeanne--the instinctive jealousy
of a loving girl--disputing her mother with love, her mother already
so wasted by her unhappy passion that the daughter died because of
her fault; terrible price of one hour of desire in the entire cold and
discreet life of a woman, poor dead child, lying alone in the silent
cemetery, in face of eternal Paris.

With Lisa Macquart began the illegitimate branch; appearing fresh and
strong in her, as she displayed her portly, prosperous figure, sitting
at the door of her pork shop in a light colored apron, watching the
central market, where the hunger of a people muttered, the age-long
battle of the Fat and the Lean, the lean Florent, her brother-in-law,
execrated, and set upon by the fat fishwomen and the fat shopwomen, and
whom even the fat pork-seller herself, honest, but unforgiving, caused
to be arrested as a republican who had broken his ban, convinced that
she was laboring for the good digestion of all honest people.

From this mother sprang the sanest, the most human of girls, Pauline
Quenu, the well-balanced, the reasonable, the virgin; who, knowing
everything, accepted the joy of living in so ardent a love for others
that, in spite of the revolt of her youthful heart, she resigned to her
friend her cousin and betrothed, Lazare, and afterward saved the child
of the disunited household, becoming its true mother; always triumphant,
always gay, notwithstanding her sacrificed and ruined life, in her
monotonous solitude, facing the great sea, in the midst of a little
world of sufferers groaning with pain, but who did not wish to die.

Then came Gervaise Macquart with her four children: bandy-legged,
pretty, and industrious Gervaise, whom her lover Lantier turned into
the street in the faubourg, where she met the zinc worker Coupeau, the
skilful, steady workman whom she married, and with whom she lived
so happily at first, having three women working in her laundry,
but afterward sinking with her husband, as was inevitable, to the
degradation of her surroundings. He, gradually conquered by alcohol,
brought by it to madness and death; she herself perverted, become a
slattern, her moral ruin completed by the return of Lantier, living
in the tranquil ignominy of a household of three, thenceforward the
wretched victim of want, her accomplice, to which she at last succumbed,
dying one night of starvation.

Her eldest son, Claude, had the unhappy genius of a great painter struck
with madness, the impotent madness of feeling within him the masterpiece
to which his fingers refused to give shape; a giant wrestler always
defeated, a crucified martyr to his work, adoring woman, sacrificing his
wife Christine, so loving and for a time so beloved, to the increate,
divine woman of his visions, but whom his pencil was unable to delineate
in her nude perfection, possessed by a devouring passion for producing,
an insatiable longing to create, a longing so torturing when it could
not be satisfied, that he ended it by hanging himself.

Jacques brought crime, the hereditary taint being transmuted in him into
an instinctive appetite for blood, the young and fresh blood from the
gashed throat of a woman, the first comer, the passer-by in the street:
a horrible malady against which he struggled, but which took possession
of him again in the course of his _amour_ with the submissive and
sensual Severine, whom a tragic story of assassination caused to live in
constant terror, and whom he stabbed one evening in an excess of frenzy,
maddened by the sight of her white throat. Then this savage human beast
rushed among the trains filing past swiftly, and mounted the snorting
engine of which he was the engineer, the beloved engine which was one
day to crush him to atoms, and then, left without a guide, to rush
furiously off into space braving unknown disasters.

Etienne, in his turn driven out, arrived in the black country on a
freezing night in March, descended into the voracious pit, fell in love
with the melancholy Catherine, of whom a ruffian robbed him; lived with
the miners their gloomy life of misery and base promiscuousness, until
one day when hunger, prompting rebellion, sent across the barren plain a
howling mob of wretches who demanded bread, tearing down and burning
as they went, under the menace of the guns of the band that went off of
themselves, a terrible convulsion announcing the end of the world. The
avenging blood of the Maheus was to rise up later; of Alzire dead of
starvation, Maheu killed by a bullet, Zacharie killed by an explosion of
fire-damp, Catherine under the ground. La Maheude alone survived to weep
her dead, descending again into the mine to earn her thirty sons, while
Etienne, the beaten chief of the band, haunted by the dread of future
demands, went away on a warm April morning, listening to the secret
growth of the new world whose germination was soon to dazzle the earth.

Nana then became the avenger; the girl born among the social filth of
the faubourgs; the golden fly sprung from the rottenness below, that
was tolerated and concealed, carrying in the fluttering of its wings
the ferment of destruction, rising and contaminating the aristocracy,
poisoning men only by alighting upon them, in the palaces through whose
windows it entered; the unconscious instrument of ruin and death--fierce
flame of Vandeuvres, the melancholy fate of Foucarmont, lost in the
Chinese waters, the disaster of Steiner, reduced to live as an honest
man, the imbecility of La Faloise and the tragic ruin of the Muffats,
and the white corpse of Georges, watched by Philippe, come out of prison
the day before, when the air of the epoch was so contaminated that she
herself was infected, and died of malignant smallpox, caught at the
death-bed of her son Louiset, while Paris passed beneath her windows,
intoxicated, possessed by the frenzy of war, rushing to general ruin.

Lastly comes Jean Macquart, the workman and soldier become again a
peasant, fighting with the hard earth, which exacts that every grain of
corn shall be purchased with a drop of sweat, fighting, above all, with
the country people, whom covetousness and the long and difficult battle
with the soil cause to burn with the desire, incessantly stimulated, of
possession. Witness the Fouans, grown old, parting with their fields as
if they were parting with their flesh; the Buteaus in their eager greed
committing parricide, to hasten the inheritance of a field of lucern;
the stubborn Francoise dying from the stroke of a scythe, without
speaking, rather than that a sod should go out of the family--all this
drama of simple natures governed by instinct, scarcely emerged from
primitive barbarism--all this human filth on the great earth, which
alone remains immortal, the mother from whom they issue and to whom they
return again, she whom they love even to crime, who continually remakes
life, for its unknown end, even with the misery and the abomination of
the beings she nourishes. And it was Jean, too, who, become a widower
and having enlisted again at the first rumor of war, brought the
inexhaustible reserve, the stock of eternal rejuvenation which the earth
keeps; Jean, the humblest, the staunchest soldier at the final downfall,
swept along in the terrible and fatal storm which, from the frontier
to Sedan, in sweeping away the Empire, threatened to sweep away the
country; always wise, circumspect, firm in his hope, loving with
fraternal affection his comrade Maurice, the demented child of the
people, the holocaust doomed to expiation, weeping tears of blood when
inexorable destiny chose himself to hew off this rotten limb, and after
all had ended--the continual defeats, the frightful civil war, the lost
provinces, the thousands of millions of francs to pay--taking up the
march again, notwithstanding, returning to the land which awaited him,
to the great and difficult task of making a new France.

Pascal paused; Clotilde had handed him all the packages, one by one,
and he had gone over them all, laid bare the contents of all, classified
them anew, and placed them again on the top shelf of the press. He was
out of breath, exhausted by his swift course through all this humanity,
while, without voice, without movement, the young girl, stunned by
this overflowing torrent of life, waited still, incapable of thought
or judgment. The rain still beat furiously upon the dark fields. The
lightning had just struck a tree in the neighborhood, that had split
with a terrible crash. The candles flared up in the wind that came in
from the open window.

“Ah!” he resumed, pointing to the papers again, “there is a world in
itself, a society, a civilization, the whole of life is there, with its
manifestations, good and bad, in the heat and labor of the forge which
shapes everything. Yes, our family of itself would suffice as an example
to science, which will perhaps one day establish with mathematical
exactness the laws governing the diseases of the blood and nerves
that show themselves in a race, after a first organic lesion, and
that determine, according to environment, the sentiments, desires, and
passions of each individual of that race, all the human, natural and
instinctive manifestations which take the names of virtues and vices.
And it is also a historical document, it relates the story of the Second
Empire, from the _coup d’etat_ to Sedan; for our family spring from
the people, they spread themselves through the whole of contemporary
society, invaded every place, impelled by their unbridled appetites, by
that impulse, essentially modern, that eager desire that urges the lower
classes to enjoyment, in their ascent through the social strata. We
started, as I have said, from Plassans, and here we are now arrived once
more at Plassans.”

He paused again, and then resumed in a low, dreamy voice:

“What an appalling mass stirred up! how many passions, how many joys,
how many sufferings crammed into this colossal heap of facts! There is
pure history: the Empire founded in blood, at first pleasure-loving
and despotic, conquering rebellious cities, then gliding to a slow
disintegration, dissolving in blood--in such a sea of blood that the
entire nation came near being swamped in it. There are social studies:
wholesale and retail trade, prostitution, crime, land, money, the
_bourgeoisie_, the people--that people who rot in the sewer of
the faubourgs, who rebel in the great industrial centers, all that
ever-increasing growth of mighty socialism, big with the new century.
There are simple human studies: domestic pages, love stories, the
struggle of minds and hearts against unjust nature, the destruction
of those who cry out under their too difficult task, the cry of virtue
immolating itself, victorious over pain, There are fancies, flights
of the imagination beyond the real: vast gardens always in bloom,
cathedrals with slender, exquisitely wrought spires, marvelous tales
come down from paradise, ideal affections remounting to heaven in a
kiss. There is everything: the good and the bad, the vulgar and the
sublime, flowers, mud, blood, laughter, the torrent of life itself,
bearing humanity endlessly on!”

He took up again the genealogical tree which had remained neglected
on the table, spread it out and began to go over it once more with his
finger, enumerating now the members of the family who were still living:
Eugene Rougon, a fallen majesty, who remained in the Chamber, the
witness, the impassible defender of the old world swept away at the
downfall of the Empire. Aristide Saccard, who, after having changed his
principles, had fallen upon his feet a republican, the editor of a great
journal, on the way to make new millions, while his natural son Victor,
who had never reappeared, was living still in the shade, since he was
not in the galleys, cast forth by the world into the future, into the
unknown, like a human beast foaming with the hereditary virus, who must
communicate his malady with every bite he gives. Sidonie Rougon, who
had for a time disappeared, weary of disreputable affairs, had lately
retired to a sort of religious house, where she was living in monastic
austerity, the treasurer of the Marriage Fund, for aiding in the
marriage of girls who were mothers. Octave Mouret, proprietor of the
great establishment _Au Bonheur des Dames_, whose colossal fortune still
continued increasing, had had, toward the end of the winter, a third
child by his wife Denise Baudu, whom he adored, although his mind was
beginning to be deranged again. The Abbe Mouret, cure at St. Eutrope, in
the heart of a marshy gorge, lived there in great retirement, and very
modestly, with his sister Desiree, refusing all advancement from his
bishop, and waiting for death like a holy man, rejecting all medicines,
although he was already suffering from consumption in its first stage.
Helene Mouret was living very happily in seclusion with her second
husband, M. Rambaud, on the little estate which they owned near
Marseilles, on the seashore; she had had no child by her second husband.
Pauline Quenu was still at Bonneville at the other extremity of France,
in face of the vast ocean, alone with little Paul, since the death
of Uncle Chanteau, having resolved never to marry, in order to devote
herself entirely to the son of her cousin Lazare, who had become a
widower and had gone to America to make a fortune. Etienne Lantier,
returning to Paris after the strike at Montsou, had compromised himself
later in the insurrection of the Commune, whose principles he had
defended with ardor; he had been condemned to death, but his sentence
being commuted was transported and was now at Noumea. It was even said
that he had married immediately on his arrival there, and that he had
had a child, the sex of which, however, was not known with certainty.
Finally, Jean Macquart, who had received his discharge after the Bloody
Week, had settled at Valqueyras, near Plassans, where he had had the
good fortune to marry a healthy girl, Melanie Vial, the daughter of a
well-to-do peasant, whose lands he farmed, and his wife had borne him a
son in May.

“Yes, it is true,” he resumed, in a low voice; “races degenerate. There
is here a veritable exhaustion, rapid deterioration, as if our family,
in their fury of enjoyment, in the gluttonous satisfaction of their
appetites, had consumed themselves too quickly. Louiset, dead in
infancy; Jacques Louis, a half imbecile, carried off by a nervous
disease; Victor returned to the savage state, wandering about in who
knows what dark places; our poor Charles, so beautiful and so frail;
these are the latest branches of the tree, the last pale offshoots into
which the puissant sap of the larger branches seems to have been unable
to mount. The worm was in the trunk, it has ascended into the fruit, and
is devouring it. But one must never despair; families are a continual
growth. They go back beyond the common ancestor, into the unfathomable
strata of the races that have lived, to the first being; and they
will put forth new shoots without end, they will spread and ramify to
infinity, through future ages. Look at our tree; it counts only five
generations. It has not so much importance as a blade of grass, even,
in the human forest, vast and dark, of which the peoples are the great
secular oaks. Think only of the immense roots which spread through the
soil; think of the continual putting forth of new leaves above, which
mingle with other leaves of the ever-rolling sea of treetops, at the
fructifying, eternal breath of life. Well, hope lies there, in the daily
reconstruction of the race by the new blood which comes from without.
Each marriage brings other elements, good or bad, of which the effect
is, however, to prevent certain and progressive regeneration.
Breaches are repaired, faults effaced, an equilibrium is inevitably
re-established at the end of a few generations, and it is the average
man that always results; vague humanity, obstinately pursuing its
mysterious labor, marching toward its unknown end.”

He paused, and heaved a deep sigh.

“Ah! our family, what is it going to become; in what being will it
finally end?”

He continued, not now taking into account the survivors whom he had just
named; having classified these, he knew what they were capable of, but
he was full of keen curiosity regarding the children who were
still infants. He had written to a _confrere_ in Noumea for precise
information regarding the wife whom Etienne had lately married there,
and the child which she had had, but he had heard nothing, and he feared
greatly that on that side the tree would remain incomplete. He was more
fully furnished with documents regarding the two children of Octave
Mouret, with whom he continued to correspond; the little girl was
growing up puny and delicate, while the little boy, who strongly
resembled his mother, had developed superbly, and was perfectly healthy.
His strongest hope, besides these, was in Jean’s children, the eldest of
whom was a magnificent boy, full of the youthful vigor of the races that
go back to the soil to regenerate themselves. Pascal occasionally went
to Valqueyras, and he returned happy from that fertile spot, where the
father, quiet and rational, was always at his plow, the mother cheerful
and simple, with her vigorous frame, capable of bearing a world. Who
knew what sound branch was to spring from that side? Perhaps the wise
and puissant of the future were to germinate there. The worst of it, for
the beauty of his tree, was that all these little boys and girls were
still so young that he could not classify them. And his voice grew
tender as he spoke of this hope of the future, these fair-haired
children, in the unavowed regret for his celibacy.

Still contemplating the tree spread out before him, he cried:

“And yet it is complete, it is decisive. Look! I repeat to you that all
hereditary cases are to be found there. To establish my theory, I
had only to base it on the collection of these facts. And indeed, the
marvelous thing is that there you can put your finger on the cause
why creatures born of the same stock can appear radically different,
although they are only logical modifications of common ancestors. The
trunk explains the branches, and these explain the leaves. In your
father Saccard and your Uncle Eugene Rougon, so different in their
temperaments and their lives, it is the same impulse which made the
inordinate appetites of the one and the towering ambition of the other.
Angelique, that pure lily, is born from the disreputable Sidonie, in the
rapture which makes mystics or lovers, according to the environment. The
three children of the Mourets are born of the same breath which makes of
the clever Octave the dry goods merchant, a millionaire; of the devout
Serge, a poor country priest; of the imbecile Desiree, a beautiful and
happy girl. But the example is still more striking in the children of
Gervaise; the neurosis passes down, and Nana sells herself; Etienne is
a rebel; Jacques, a murderer; Claude, a genius; while Pauline, their
cousin german, near by, is victorious virtue--virtue which struggles
and immolates itself. It is heredity, life itself which makes imbeciles,
madmen, criminals and great men. Cells abort, others take their place,
and we have a scoundrel or a madman instead of a man of genius, or
simply an honest man. And humanity rolls on, bearing everything on its
tide.”

Then in a new shifting of his thought, growing still more animated, he
continued:

“And animals--the beast that suffers and that loves, which is the rough
sketch, as it were, of man--all the animals our brothers, that live our
life, yes, I would have put them in the ark, I would give them a place
among our family, show them continually mingling with us, completing our
existence. I have known cats whose presence was the mysterious charm of
the household; dogs that were adored, whose death was mourned, and left
in the heart an inconsolable grief. I have known goats, cows, and asses
of very great importance, and whose personality played such a part that
their history ought to be written. And there is our Bonhomme, our poor
old horse, that has served us for a quarter of a century. Do you not
think that he has mingled his life with ours, and that henceforth he
is one of the family? We have modified him, as he has influenced us a
little; we shall end by being made in the same image, and this is so
true that now, when I see him, half blind, with wandering gaze, his legs
stiff with rheumatism, I kiss him on both cheeks as if he were a poor
old relation who had fallen to my charge. Ah, animals, all creeping and
crawling things, all creatures that lament, below man, how large a place
in our sympathies it would be necessary to give them in a history of
life!”

This was a last cry in which Pascal gave utterance to his passionate
tenderness for all created beings. He had gradually become more and more
excited, and had so come to make this confession of his faith in the
continuous and victorious work of animated nature. And Clotilde, who
thus far had not spoken, pale from the catastrophe in which her plans
had ended, at last opened her lips to ask:

“Well, master, and what am I here?”

She placed one of her slender fingers on the leaf of the tree on
which she saw her name written. He had always passed this leaf by. She
insisted.

“Yes, I; what am I? Why have you not read me my envelope?”

For a moment he remained silent, as if surprised at the question.

“Why? For no reason. It is true, I have nothing to conceal from you.
You see what is written here? ‘Clotilde, born in 1847. Selection of the
mother. Reversional heredity, with moral and physical predominance
of the maternal grandfather.’ Nothing can be clearer. Your mother has
predominated in you; you have her fine intelligence, and you have
also something of her coquetry, at times of her indolence and of her
submissiveness. Yes, you are very feminine, like her. Without your being
aware of it, I would say that you love to be loved. Besides, your mother
was a great novel reader, an imaginative being who loved to spend whole
days dreaming over a book; she doted on nursery tales, had her fortune
told by cards, consulted clairvoyants; and I have always thought that
your concern about spiritual matters, your anxiety about the unknown,
came from that source. But what completed your character by giving you a
dual nature, was the influence of your grandfather, Commandant Sicardot.
I knew him; he was not a genius, but he had at least a great deal
of uprightness and energy. Frankly, if it were not for him, I do not
believe that you would be worth much, for the other influences
are hardly good. He has given you the best part of your nature,
combativeness, pride, and frankness.”

She had listened to him with attention. She nodded slightly, to signify
that it was indeed so, that she was not offended, although her lips
trembled visibly at these new details regarding her people and her
mother.

“Well,” she resumed, “and you, master?”

This time he did not hesitate.

“Oh, I!” he cried, “what is the use of speaking of me? I do not belong
to the family. You see what is written here. ‘Pascal, born in 1813.
Individual variation. Combination in which the physical and moral
characters of the parents are blended, without any of their traits
seeming to appear in the new being.’ My mother has told me often enough
that I did not belong to it, that in truth she did not know where I
could have come from.”

Those words came from him like a cry of relief, of involuntary joy.

“And the people make no mistake in the matter. Have you ever heard
me called Pascal Rougon in the town? No; people always say simply Dr.
Pascal. It is because I stand apart. And it may not be very affectionate
to feel so, but I am delighted at it, for there are in truth
inheritances too heavy to bear. It is of no use that I love them all.
My heart beats none the less joyously when I feel myself another being,
different from them, without any community with them. Not to be of them,
my God! not to be of them! It is a breath of pure air; it is what
gives me the courage to have them all here, to put them, in all their
nakedness, in their envelopes, and still to find the courage to live!”

He stopped, and there was silence for a time. The rain had ceased, the
storm was passing away, the thunderclaps sounded more and more distant,
while from the refreshed fields, still dark, there came in through the
open window a delicious odor of moist earth. In the calm air the candles
were burning out with a tall, tranquil flame.

“Ah!” said Clotilde simply, with a gesture of discouragement, “what are
we to become finally?”

She had declared it to herself one night, in the threshing yard; life
was horrible, how could one live peaceful and happy? It was a terrible
light that science threw on the world. Analysis searched every wound
of humanity, in order to expose its horror. And now he had spoken still
more bluntly; he had increased the disgust which she had for persons and
things, pitilessly dissecting her family. The muddy torrent had rolled
on before her for nearly three hours, and she had heard the most
dreadful revelations, the harsh and terrible truth about her people, her
people who were so dear to her, whom it was her duty to love; her father
grown powerful through pecuniary crimes; her brother dissolute; her
grandmother unscrupulous, covered with the blood of the just; the
others almost all tainted, drunkards, ruffians, murderers, the monstrous
blossoming of the human tree.

The blow had been so rude that she could not yet recover from it,
stunned as she was by the revelation of her whole family history,
made to her in this way at a stroke. And yet the lesson was rendered
innocuous, so to say, by something great and good, a breath of profound
humanity which had borne her through it. Nothing bad had come to her
from it. She felt herself beaten by a sharp sea wind, the storm wind
which strengthens and expands the lungs. He had revealed everything,
speaking freely even of his mother, without judging her, continuing to
preserve toward her his deferential attitude, as a scientist who does
not judge events. To tell everything in order to know everything, in
order to remedy everything, was not this the cry which he had uttered on
that beautiful summer night?

And by the very excess of what he had just revealed to her, she remained
shaken, blinded by this too strong light, but understanding him at last,
and confessing to herself that he was attempting in this an immense
work. In spite of everything, it was a cry of health, of hope in the
future. He spoke as a benefactor who, since heredity made the world,
wished to fix its laws, in order to control it, and to make a new and
happy world. Was there then only mud in this overflowing stream, whose
sluices he had opened? How much gold had passed, mingled with the grass
and the flowers on its borders? Hundreds of beings were still flying
swiftly before her, and she was haunted by good and charming faces,
delicate girlish profiles, by the serene beauty of women. All passion
bled there, hearts swelled with every tender rapture. They were
numerous, the Jeannes, the Angeliques, the Paulines, the Marthes, the
Gervaises, the Helenes. They and others, even those who were least good,
even terrible men, the worst of the band, showed a brotherhood with
humanity.

And it was precisely this breath which she had felt pass, this broad
current of sympathy, that he had introduced naturally into his exact
scientific lesson. He did not seem to be moved; he preserved the
impersonal and correct attitude of the demonstrator, but within him
what tender suffering, what a fever of devotion, what a giving up of
his whole being to the happiness of others? His entire work, constructed
with such mathematical precision, was steeped in this fraternal
suffering, even in its most cruel ironies. Had he not just spoken of
the animals, like an elder brother of the wretched living beings that
suffer? Suffering exasperated him; his wrath was because of his
too lofty dream, and he had become harsh only in his hatred of the
factitious and the transitory; dreaming of working, not for the polite
society of a time, but for all humanity in the gravest hours of its
history. Perhaps, even, it was this revolt against the vulgarity of the
time which had made him throw himself, in bold defiance, into theories
and their application. And the work remained human, overflowing as it
was with an infinite pity for beings and things.

Besides, was it not life? There is no absolute evil. Most often a virtue
presents itself side by side with a defect. No man is bad to every one,
each man makes the happiness of some one; so that, when one does not
view things from a single standpoint only, one recognizes in the end
the utility of every human being. Those who believe in God should say
to themselves that if their God does not strike the wicked dead, it is
because he sees his work in its totality, and that he cannot descend
to the individual. Labor ends to begin anew; the living, as a whole,
continue, in spite of everything, admirable in their courage and their
industry; and love of life prevails over all.

This giant labor of men, this obstinacy in living, is their excuse,
is redemption. And then, from a great height the eye saw only this
continual struggle, and a great deal of good, in spite of everything,
even though there might be a great deal of evil. One shared the general
indulgence, one pardoned, one had only an infinite pity and an ardent
charity. The haven was surely there, waiting those who have lost faith
in dogmas, who wish to understand the meaning of their lives, in the
midst of the apparent iniquity of the world. One must live for the
effort of living, for the stone to be carried to the distant and unknown
work, and the only possible peace in the world is in the joy of making
this effort.

Another hour passed; the entire night had flown by in this terrible
lesson of life, without either Pascal or Clotilde being conscious of
where they were, or of the flight of time. And he, overworked for some
time past, and worn out by the life of suspicion and sadness which he
had been leading, started nervously, as if he had suddenly awakened.

“Come, you know all; do you feel your heart strong, tempered by the
truth, full of pardon and of hope? Are you with me?”

But, still stunned by the frightful moral shock which she had received,
she too, started, bewildered. Her old beliefs had been so completely
overthrown, so many new ideas were awakening within her, that she did
not dare to question herself, in order to find an answer. She felt
herself seized and carried away by the omnipotence of truth. She endured
it without being convinced.

“Master,” she stammered, “master--”

And they remained for a moment face to face, looking at each other. Day
was breaking, a dawn of exquisite purity, far off in the vast, clear
sky, washed by the storm. Not a cloud now stained the pale azure tinged
with rose color. All the cheerful sounds of awakening life in the
rain-drenched fields came in through the window, while the candles,
burned down to the socket, paled in the growing light.

“Answer; are you with me, altogether with me?”

For a moment he thought she was going to throw herself on his neck and
burst into tears. A sudden impulse seemed to impel her. But they saw
each other in their semi-nudity. She, who had not noticed it before, was
now conscious that she was only half dressed, that her arms were bare,
her shoulders bare, covered only by the scattered locks of her unbound
hair, and on her right shoulder, near the armpit, on lowering her eyes,
she perceived again the few drops of blood of the bruise which he had
given her, when he had grasped her roughly, in struggling to master her.
Then an extraordinary confusion took possession of her, a certainty that
she was going to be vanquished, as if by this grasp he had become her
master, and forever. This sensation was prolonged; she was seized and
drawn on, without the consent of her will, by an irresistible impulse to
submit.

Abruptly Clotilde straightened herself, struggling with herself, wishing
to reflect and to recover herself. She pressed her bare arms against
her naked throat. All the blood in her body rushed to her skin in a rosy
blush of shame. Then, in her divine and slender grace, she turned to
flee.

“Master, master, let me go--I will see--”

With the swiftness of alarmed maidenhood, she took refuge in her
chamber, as she had done once before. He heard her lock the door
hastily, with a double turn of the key. He remained alone, and he asked
himself suddenly, seized by infinite discouragement and sadness, if he
had done right in speaking, if the truth would germinate in this dear
and adored creature, and bear one day a harvest of happiness.



VI.

The days wore on. October began with magnificent weather--a sultry
autumn in which the fervid heat of summer was prolonged, with a
cloudless sky. Then the weather changed, fierce winds began to blow, and
a last storm channeled gullies in the hillsides. And to the melancholy
household at La Souleiade the approach of winter seemed to have brought
an infinite sadness.

It was a new hell. There were no more violent quarrels between Pascal
and Clotilde. The doors were no longer slammed. Voices raised in dispute
no longer obliged Martine to go continually upstairs to listen outside
the door. They scarcely spoke to each other now; and not a single word
had been exchanged between them regarding the midnight scene, although
weeks had passed since it had taken place. He, through an inexplicable
scruple, a strange delicacy of which he was not himself conscious, did
not wish to renew the conversation, and to demand the answer which he
expected--a promise of faith in him and of submission. She, after the
great moral shock which had completely transformed her, still reflected,
hesitated, struggled, fighting against herself, putting off her decision
in order not to surrender, in her instinctive rebelliousness. And the
misunderstanding continued, in the midst of the mournful silence of the
miserable house, where there was no longer any happiness.

During all this time Pascal suffered terribly, without making any
complaint. He had sunk into a dull distrust, imagining that he was still
being watched, and that if they seemed to leave him at peace it was
only in order to concoct in secret the darkest plots. His uneasiness
increased, even, and he expected every day some catastrophe to
happen--the earth suddenly to open and swallow up his papers, La
Souleiade itself to be razed to the ground, carried away bodily,
scattered to the winds.

The persecution against his thought, against his moral and intellectual
life, in thus hiding itself, and so rendering him helpless to defend
himself, became so intolerable to him that he went to bed every night in
a fever. He would often start and turn round suddenly, thinking he
was going to surprise the enemy behind him engaged in some piece of
treachery, to find nothing there but the shadow of his own fears. At
other times, seized by some suspicion, he would remain on the watch
for hours together, hidden, behind his blinds, or lying in wait in
a passage; but not a soul stirred, he heard nothing but the violent
beating of his heart. His fears kept him in a state of constant
agitation; he never went to bed at night without visiting every room;
he no longer slept, or, if he did, he would waken with a start at the
slightest noise, ready to defend himself.

And what still further aggravated Pascal’s sufferings was the constant,
the ever more bitter thought that the wound was inflicted upon him by
the only creature he loved in the world, the adored Clotilde, whom for
twenty years he had seen grow in beauty and in grace, whose life had
hitherto bloomed like a beautiful flower, perfuming his. She, great God!
for whom his heart was full of affection, whom he had never analyzed,
she, who had become his joy, his courage, his hope, in whose young life
he lived over again. When she passed by, with her delicate neck, so
round, so fresh, he was invigorated, bathed in health and joy, as at the
coming of spring.

His whole life, besides, explained this invasion, this subjugation of
his being by the young girl who had entered into his heart while she
was still a little child, and who, as she grew up, had gradually taken
possession of the whole place. Since he had settled at Plassans, he had
led a blest existence, wrapped up in his books, far from women. The only
passion he was ever known to have had, was his love for the lady who had
died, whose finger tips he had never kissed. He had not lived; he had
within him a reserve of youthfulness, of vigor, whose surging flood now
clamored rebelliously at the menace of approaching age. He would have
become attached to an animal, a stray dog that he had chanced to pick up
in the street, and that had licked his hand. And it was this child whom
he loved, all at once become an adorable woman, who now distracted him,
who tortured him by her hostility.

Pascal, so gay, so kind, now became insupportably gloomy and harsh. He
grew angry at the slightest word; he would push aside the astonished
Martine, who would look up at him with the submissive eyes of a beaten
animal. From morning till night he went about the gloomy house, carrying
his misery about with him, with so forbidding a countenance that no one
ventured to speak to him.

He never took Clotilde with him now on his visits, but went alone. And
thus it was that he returned home one afternoon, his mind distracted
because of an accident which had happened; having on his conscience, as
a physician, the death of a man.

He had gone to give a hypodermic injection to Lafouasse, the tavern
keeper, whose ataxia had within a short time made such rapid progress
that he regarded him as doomed. But, notwithstanding, Pascal still
fought obstinately against the disease, continuing the treatment, and as
ill luck would have it, on this day the little syringe had caught up at
the bottom of the vial an impure particle, which had escaped the filter.
Immediately a drop of blood appeared; to complete his misfortune, he had
punctured a vein. He was at once alarmed, seeing the tavern keeper turn
pale and gasp for breath, while large drops of cold perspiration broke
out upon his face. Then he understood; death came as if by a stroke of
lightning, the lips turning blue, the face black. It was an embolism;
he had nothing to blame but the insufficiency of his preparations, his
still rude method. No doubt Lafouasse had been doomed. He could
not, perhaps, have lived six months longer, and that in the midst of
atrocious sufferings, but the brutal fact of this terrible death was
none the less there, and what despairing regret, what rage against
impotent and murderous science, and what a shock to his faith! He
returned home, livid, and did not make his appearance again until the
following day, after having remained sixteen hours shut up in his room,
lying in a semi-stupor on the bed, across which he had thrown himself,
dressed as he was.

On the afternoon of this day Clotilde, who was sitting beside him in the
study, sewing, ventured to break the oppressive silence. She looked up,
and saw him turning over the leaves of a book wearily, searching for
some information which he was unable to find.

“Master, are you ill? Why do you not tell me, if you are. I would take
care of you.”

He kept his eyes bent upon the book, and muttered:

“What does it matter to you whether I am ill or not? I need no one to
take care of me.”

She resumed, in a conciliating voice:

“If you have troubles, and can tell them to me, it would perhaps be a
relief to you to do so. Yesterday you came in looking so sad. You must
not allow yourself to be cast down in that way. I have spent a very
anxious night. I came to your door three times to listen, tormented by
the idea that you were suffering.”

Gently as she spoke, her words were like the cut of a whip. In his weak
and nervous condition a sudden access of rage made him push away the
book and rise up trembling.

“So you spy upon me, then. I cannot even retire to my room without
people coming to glue their ears to the walls. Yes, you listen even to
the beatings of my heart. You watch for my death, to pillage and burn
everything here.”

His voice rose and all his unjust suffering vented itself in complaints
and threats.

“I forbid you to occupy yourself about me. Is there nothing else that
you have to say to me? Have you reflected? Can you put your hand in mine
loyally, and say to me that we are in accord?”

She did not answer. She only continued to look at him with her large
clear eyes, frankly declaring that she would not surrender yet, while
he, exasperated more and more by this attitude, lost all self-control.

“Go away, go away,” he stammered, pointing to the door. “I do not wish
you to remain near me. I do not wish to have enemies near me. I do not
wish you to remain near me to drive me mad!”

She rose, very pale, and went at once out of the room, without looking
behind, carrying her work with her.

During the month which followed, Pascal took refuge in furious and
incessant work. He now remained obstinately, for whole days at a time,
alone in the study, sometimes passing even the nights there, going over
old documents, to revise all his works on heredity. It seemed as if a
sort of frenzy had seized him to assure himself of the legitimacy of his
hopes, to force science to give him the certainty that humanity could be
remade--made a higher, a healthy humanity. He no longer left the house,
he abandoned his patients even, and lived among his papers, without air
or exercise. And after a month of this overwork, which exhausted him
without appeasing his domestic torments, he fell into such a state of
nervous exhaustion that illness, for some time latent, declared itself
at last with alarming violence.

Pascal, when he rose in the morning, felt worn out with fatigue, wearier
and less refreshed than he had been on going to bed the night before. He
constantly had pains all over his body; his limbs failed him, after
five minutes’ walk; the slightest exertion tired him; the least movement
caused him intense pain. At times the floor seemed suddenly to sway
beneath his feet. He had a constant buzzing in his ears, flashes of
light dazzled his eyes. He took a loathing for wine, he had no longer
any appetite, and his digestion was seriously impaired. Then, in the
midst of the apathy of his constantly increasing idleness he would have
sudden fits of aimless activity. The equilibrium was destroyed, he
had at times outbreaks of nervous irritability, without any cause. The
slightest emotion brought tears to his eyes. Finally, he would shut
himself up in his room, and give way to paroxysms of despair so violent
that he would sob for hours at a time, without any immediate cause of
grief, overwhelmed simply by the immense sadness of things.

In the early part of December Pascal had a severe attack of neuralgia.
Violent pains in the bones of the skull made him feel at times as if his
head must split. Old Mme. Rougon, who had been informed of his illness,
came to inquire after her son. But she went straight to the kitchen,
wishing to have a talk with Martine first. The latter, with a
heart-broken and terrified air, said to her that monsieur must certainly
be going mad; and she told her of his singular behavior, the continual
tramping about in his room, the locking of all the drawers, the rounds
which he made from the top to the bottom of the house, until two o’clock
in the morning. Tears filled her eyes and she at last hazarded the
opinion that monsieur must be possessed with a devil, and that it would
be well to notify the cure of St. Saturnin.

“So good a man,” she said, “a man for whom one would let one’s self be
cut in pieces! How unfortunate it is that one cannot get him to go to
church, for that would certainly cure him at once.”

Clotilde, who had heard her grandmother’s voice, entered at this moment.
She, too, wandered through the empty rooms, spending most of her time in
the deserted apartment on the ground floor. She did not speak, however,
but only listened with her thoughtful and expectant air.

“Ah, goodday! It is you, my dear. Martine tells me that Pascal is
possessed with a devil. That is indeed my opinion also; only the devil
is called pride. He thinks that he knows everything. He is Pope and
Emperor in one, and naturally it exasperates him when people don’t agree
with him.”

She shrugged her shoulders with supreme disdain.

“As for me, all that would only make me laugh if it were not so sad. A
fellow who knows nothing about anything; who has always been wrapped up
in his books; who has not lived. Put him in a drawing-room, and he would
know as little how to act as a new-born babe. And as for women, he does
not even know what they are.”

Forgetting to whom she was speaking, a young girl and a servant, she
lowered her voice, and said confidentially:

“Well, one pays for being too sensible, too. Neither a wife nor a
sweetheart nor anything. That is what has finally turned his brain.”

Clotilde did not move. She only lowered her eyelids slowly over her
large thoughtful eyes; then she raised them again, maintaining her
impenetrable countenance, unwilling, unable, perhaps, to give expression
to what was passing within her. This was no doubt all still confused, a
complete evolution, a great change which was taking place, and which she
herself did not clearly understand.

“He is upstairs, is he not?” resumed Felicite. “I have come to see him,
for this must end; it is too stupid.”

And she went upstairs, while Martine returned to her saucepans, and
Clotilde went to wander again through the empty house.

Upstairs in the study Pascal sat seemingly in a stupor, his face bent
over a large open book. He could no longer read, the words danced before
his eyes, conveying no meaning to his mind. But he persisted, for it
was death to him to lose his faculty for work, hitherto so powerful.
His mother at once began to scold him, snatching the book from him,
and flinging it upon a distant table, crying that when one was sick one
should take care of one’s self. He rose with a quick, angry movement,
about to order her away as he had ordered Clotilde. Then, by a last
effort of the will, he became again deferential.

“Mother, you know that I have never wished to dispute with you. Leave
me, I beg of you.”

She did not heed him, but began instead to take him to task about his
continual distrust. It was he himself who had given himself a fever,
always fancying that he was surrounded by enemies who were setting traps
for him, and watching him to rob him. Was there any common sense in
imagining that people were persecuting him in that way? And then she
accused him of allowing his head to be turned by his discovery, his
famous remedy for curing every disease. That was as much as to think
himself equal to the good God; which only made it all the more cruel
when he found out how mistaken he was. And she mentioned Lafouasse, the
man whom he had killed--naturally, she could understand that that had
not been very pleasant for him; indeed there was cause enough in it to
make him take to his bed.

Pascal, still controlling himself, very pale and with eyes cast on the
ground, contented himself with repeating:

“Mother, leave me, I beg of you.”

“No, I won’t leave you,” she cried with the impetuosity which was
natural to her, and which her great age had in no wise diminished. “I
have come precisely to stir you up a little, to rid you of this fever
which is consuming you. No, this cannot continue. I don’t wish that we
should again become the talk of the whole town on your account. I wish
you to take care of yourself.”

He shrugged his shoulders, and said in a low voice, as if speaking to
himself, with an uneasy look, half of conviction, half of doubt:

“I am not ill.”

But Felicite, beside herself, burst out, gesticulating violently:

“Not ill! not ill! Truly, there is no one like a physician for not being
able to see himself. Why, my poor boy, every one that comes near you is
shocked by your appearance. You are becoming insane through pride and
fear!”

This time Pascal raised his head quickly, and looked her straight in the
eyes, while she continued:

“This is what I had to tell you, since it seems that no one else would
undertake the task. You are old enough to know what you ought to do.
You should make an effort to shake off all this; you should think of
something else; you should not let a fixed idea take possession of you,
especially when you belong to a family like ours. You know it; have
sense, and take care of yourself.”

He grew paler than before, looking fixedly at her still, as if he were
sounding her, to know what there was of her in him. And he contented
himself with answering:

“You are right, mother. I thank you.”

When he was again alone, he dropped into his seat before the table, and
tried once more to read his book. But he could not succeed, any more
than before, in fixing his attention sufficiently to understand the
words, whose letters mingled confusedly together before his eyes. And
his mother’s words buzzed in his ears; a vague terror, which had some
time before sprung up within him, grew and took shape, haunting him now
as an immediate and clearly defined danger. He who two months before
had boasted triumphantly of not belonging to the family, was he about
to receive the most terrible of contradictions? Ah, this egotistic joy,
this intense joy of not belonging to it, was it to give place to
the terrible anguish of being struck in his turn? Was he to have the
humiliation of seeing the taint revive in him? Was he to be dragged
down to the horror of feeling himself in the clutches of the monster
of heredity? The sublime idea, the lofty certitude which he had of
abolishing suffering, of strengthening man’s will, of making a new and a
higher humanity, a healthy humanity, was assuredly only the beginning of
the monomania of vanity. And in his bitter complaint of being watched,
in his desire to watch the enemies who, he thought, were obstinately
bent on his destruction, were easily to be recognized the symptoms of
the monomania of suspicion. So then all the diseases of the race were
to end in this terrible case--madness within a brief space, then general
paralysis, and a dreadful death.

From this day forth Pascal was as if possessed. The state of nervous
exhaustion into which overwork and anxiety had thrown him left him an
unresisting prey to this haunting fear of madness and death. All the
morbid sensations which he felt, his excessive fatigue on rising, the
buzzing in his ears, the flashes of light before his eyes, even
his attacks of indigestion and his paroxysms of tears, were so many
infallible symptoms of the near insanity with which he believed himself
threatened. He had completely lost, in his own case, the keen power
of diagnosis of the observant physician, and if he still continued to
reason about it, it was only to confound and pervert symptoms, under the
influence of the moral and physical depression into which he had fallen.
He was no longer master of himself; he was mad, so to say, to convince
himself hour by hour that he must become so.

All the days of this pale December were spent by him in going deeper
and deeper into his malady. Every morning he tried to escape from the
haunting subject, but he invariably ended by shutting himself in the
study to take up again, in spite of himself, the tangled skein of the
day before.

The long study which he had made of heredity, his important researches,
his works, completed the poisoning of his peace, furnishing him with
ever renewed causes of disquietude. To the question which he put to
himself continually as to his own hereditary case, the documents were
there to answer it by all possible combinations. They were so numerous
that he lost himself among them now. If he had deceived himself, if he
could not set himself apart, as a remarkable case of variation, should
he place himself under the head of reversional heredity, passing
over one, two, or even three generations? Or was his case rather a
manifestation of larvated heredity, which would bring anew proof to the
support of his theory of the germ plasm, or was it simply a singular
case of hereditary resemblance, the sudden apparition of some unknown
ancestor at the very decline of life?

From this moment he never rested, giving himself up completely to the
investigation of his case, searching his notes, rereading his books. And
he studied himself, watching the least of his sensations, to deduce from
them the facts on which he might judge himself. On the days when his
mind was most sluggish, or when he thought he experienced particular
phenomena of vision, he inclined to a predominance of the original
nervous lesion; while, if he felt that his limbs were affected, his feet
heavy and painful, he imagined he was suffering the indirect influence
of some ancestor come from outside. Everything became confused, until at
last he could recognize himself no longer, in the midst of the imaginary
troubles which agitated his disturbed organism. And every evening the
conclusion was the same, the same knell sounded in his brain--heredity,
appalling heredity, the fear of becoming mad.

In the early part of January Clotilde was an involuntary spectator of a
scene which wrung her heart. She was sitting before one of the windows
of the study, reading, concealed by the high back of her chair, when
she saw Pascal, who had been shut up in his room since the day before,
entering. He held open before his eyes with both hands a sheet of
yellow paper, in which she recognized the genealogical tree. He was so
completely absorbed, his gaze was so fixed, that she might have come
forward without his observing her. He spread the tree upon the table,
continuing to look at it for a long time, with the terrified expression
of interrogation which had become habitual to him, which gradually
changed to one of supplication, the tears coursing down his cheeks.

Why, great God! would not the tree answer him, and tell him what
ancestor he resembled, in order that he might inscribe his case on his
own leaf, beside the others? If he was to become mad, why did not the
tree tell him so clearly, which would have calmed him, for he believed
that his suffering came only from his uncertainty? Tears clouded his
vision, yet still he looked, he exhausted himself in this longing to
know, in which his reason must finally give way.

Clotilde hastily concealed herself as she saw him walk over to the
press, which he opened wide. He seized the envelopes, threw them on
the table, and searched among them feverishly. It was the scene of the
terrible night of the storm that was beginning over again, the gallop
of nightmares, the procession of phantoms, rising at his call from this
heap of old papers. As they passed by, he addressed to each of them a
question, an ardent prayer, demanding the origin of his malady, hoping
for a word, a whisper which should set his doubts at rest. First, it was
only an indistinct murmur, then came words and fragments of phrases.

“Is it you--is it you--is it you--oh, old mother, the mother of us
all--who are to give me your madness? Is it you, inebriate uncle, old
scoundrel of an uncle, whose drunkenness I am to pay for? Is it you,
ataxic nephew, or you, mystic nephew, or yet you, idiot niece, who are
to reveal to me the truth, showing me one of the forms of the lesion
from which I suffer? Or is it rather you, second cousin, who hanged
yourself; or you, second cousin, who committed murder; or you, second
cousin, who died of rottenness, whose tragic ends announce to me
mine--death in a cell, the horrible decomposition of being?”

And the gallop continued, they rose and passed by with the speed of the
wind. The papers became animate, incarnate, they jostled one another,
they trampled on one another, in a wild rush of suffering humanity.

“Ah, who will tell me, who will tell me, who will tell me?--Is it he
who died mad? he who was carried off by phthisis? he who was killed
by paralysis? she whose constitutional feebleness caused her to die
in early youth?--Whose is the poison of which I am to die? What is it,
hysteria, alcoholism, tuberculosis, scrofula? And what is it going to
make of me, an ataxic or a madman? A madman. Who was it said a madman?
They all say it--a madman, a madman, a madman!”

Sobs choked Pascal. He let his dejected head fall among the papers, he
wept endlessly, shaken by shuddering sobs. And Clotilde, seized by a
sort of awe, feeling the presence of the fate which rules over races,
left the room softly, holding her breath; for she knew that it would
mortify him exceedingly if he knew that she had been present.

Long periods of prostration followed. January was very cold. But the sky
remained wonderfully clear, a brilliant sun shone in the limpid blue;
and at La Souleiade, the windows of the study facing south formed a sort
of hothouse, preserving there a delightfully mild temperature. They did
not even light a fire, for the room was always filled with a flood of
sunshine, in which the flies that had survived the winter flew about
lazily. The only sound to be heard was the buzzing of their wings. It
was a close and drowsy warmth, like a breath of spring that had lingered
in the old house baked by the heat of summer.

Pascal, still gloomy, dragged through the days there, and it was there,
too, that he overheard one day the closing words of a conversation
which aggravated his suffering. As he never left his room now before
breakfast, Clotilde had received Dr. Ramond this morning in the study,
and they were talking there together in an undertone, sitting beside
each other in the bright sunshine.

It was the third visit which Ramond had made during the last week.
Personal reasons, the necessity, especially, of establishing definitely
his position as a physician at Plassans, made it expedient for him not
to defer his marriage much longer: and he wished to obtain from Clotilde
a decisive answer. On each of his former visits the presence of a third
person had prevented him from speaking. As he desired to receive her
answer from herself directly he had resolved to declare himself to her
in a frank conversation. Their intimate friendship, and the discretion
and good sense of both, justified him in taking this step. And he ended,
smiling, looking into her eyes:

“I assure you, Clotilde, that it is the most reasonable of
_denouements_. You know that I have loved you for a long time. I have a
profound affection and esteem for you. That alone might perhaps not be
sufficient, but, in addition, we understand each other perfectly, and we
should be very happy together, I am convinced of it.”

She did not cast down her eyes; she, too, looked at him frankly, with a
friendly smile. He was, in truth, very handsome, in his vigorous young
manhood.

“Why do you not marry Mlle. Leveque, the lawyer’s daughter?” she asked.
“She is prettier and richer than I am, and I know that she would gladly
accept you. My dear friend, I fear that you are committing a folly in
choosing me.”

He did not grow impatient, seeming still convinced of the wisdom of his
determination.

“But I do not love Mlle. Leveque, and I do love you. Besides, I have
considered everything, and I repeat that I know very well what I am
about. Say yes; you can take no better course.”

Then she grew very serious, and a shadow passed over her face, the
shadow of those reflections, of those almost unconscious inward
struggles, which kept her silent for days at a time. She did not see
clearly yet, she still struggled against herself, and she wished to
wait.

“Well, my friend, since you are really serious, do not ask me to give
you an answer to-day; grant me a few weeks longer. Master is indeed very
ill. I am greatly troubled about him; and you would not like to owe my
consent to a hasty impulse. I assure you, for my part, that I have a
great deal of affection for you, but it would be wrong to decide at this
moment; the house is too unhappy. It is agreed, is it not? I will not
make you wait long.”

And to change the conversation she added:

“Yes, I am uneasy about master. I wished to see you, in order to tell
you so. The other day I surprised him weeping violently, and I am
certain the fear of becoming mad haunts him. The day before yesterday,
when you were talking to him, I saw that you were examining him. Tell me
frankly, what do you think of his condition? Is he in any danger?”

“Not the slightest!” exclaimed Dr. Ramond. “His system is a little out
of order, that is all. How can a man of his ability, who has made so
close a study of nervous diseases, deceive himself to such an extent? It
is discouraging, indeed, if the clearest and most vigorous minds can go
so far astray. In his case his own discovery of hypodermic injections
would be excellent. Why does he not use them with himself?”

And as the young girl replied, with a despairing gesture, that he would
not listen to her, that he would not even allow her to speak to him now,
Ramond said:

“Well, then, I will speak to him.”

It was at this moment that Pascal came out of his room, attracted by
the sound of voices. But on seeing them both so close to each other,
so animated, so youthful, and so handsome in the sunshine--clothed with
sunshine, as it were--he stood still in the doorway. He looked fixedly
at them, and his pale face altered.

Ramond had a moment before taken Clotilde’s hand, and he was holding it
in his.

“It is a promise, is it not? I should like the marriage to take place
this summer. You know how much I love you, and I shall eagerly await
your answer.”

“Very well,” she answered. “Before a month all will be settled.”

A sudden giddiness made Pascal stagger. Here now was this boy, his
friend, his pupil, who had introduced himself into his house to rob him
of his treasure! He ought to have expected this _denouement_, yet the
sudden news of a possible marriage surprised him, overwhelmed him like
an unforeseen catastrophe that had forever ruined his life. This girl
whom he had fashioned, whom he had believed his own, she would leave
him, then, without regret, she would leave him to die alone in his
solitude. Only the day before she had made him suffer so intensely that
he had asked himself whether he should not part from her and send her to
her brother, who was always writing for her. For an instant he had even
decided on this separation, for the good of both. Yet to find her here
suddenly, with this man, to hear her promise to give him an answer, to
think that she would marry, that she would soon leave him, this stabbed
him to the heart.

At the sound of his heavy step as he came forward, the two young people
turned round in some embarrassment.

“Why, master, we were just talking about you,” said Ramond gaily. “Yes,
to be frank with you, we were conspiring. Come, why do you not take care
of yourself? There is nothing serious the matter with you; you would be
on your feet again in a fortnight if you did.”

Pascal, who had dropped into a chair, continued to look at them. He had
still the power to control himself, and his countenance gave no evidence
of the wound which he had just received. He would assuredly die of it,
and no one would suspect the malady which had carried him off. But it
was a relief to him to be able to give vent to his feelings, and he
declared violently that he would not take even so much as a glass of
tisane.

“Take care of myself!” he cried; “what for? Is it not all over with my
old carcass?”

Ramond insisted, with a good-tempered smile.

“You are sounder than any of us. This is a trifling disturbance, and
you know that you have the remedy in your own hands. Use your hypodermic
injection.”

Pascal did not allow him to finish. This filled the measure of his rage.
He angrily asked if they wished him to kill himself, as he had killed
Lafouasse. His injections! A pretty invention, of which he had good
reason to be proud. He abjured medicine, and he swore that he would
never again go near a patient. When people were no longer good for
anything they ought to die; that would be the best thing for everybody.
And that was what he was going to try to do, so as to have done with it
all.

“Bah! bah!” said Ramond at last, resolving to take his leave, through
fear of exciting him still further; “I will leave you with Clotilde; I
am not at all uneasy, Clotilde will take care of you.”

But Pascal had on this morning received the final blow. He took to his
bed toward evening, and remained for two whole days without opening
the door of his room. It was in vain that Clotilde, at last becoming
alarmed, knocked loudly at the door. There was no answer. Martine went
in her turn and begged monsieur, through the keyhole, at least to tell
her if he needed anything. A deathlike silence reigned; the room seemed
to be empty.

Then, on the morning of the third day, as the young girl by chance
turned the knob, the door yielded; perhaps it had been unlocked for
hours. And she might enter freely this room in which she had never set
foot: a large room, rendered cold by its northern exposure, in which she
saw a small iron bed without curtains, a shower bath in a corner, a long
black wooden table, a few chairs, and on the table, on the floor, along
the walls, an array of chemical apparatus, mortars, furnaces, machines,
instrument cases. Pascal, up and dressed, was sitting on the edge of his
bed, in trying to arrange which he had exhausted himself.

“Don’t you want me to nurse you, then?” she asked with anxious
tenderness, without venturing to advance into the room.

“Oh, you can come in,” he said with a dejected gesture. “I won’t beat
you. I have not the strength to do that now.”

And from this day on he tolerated her about him, and allowed her to wait
on him. But he had caprices still. He would not let her enter the room
when he was in bed, possessed by a sort of morbid shame; then he made
her send him Martine. But he seldom remained in bed, dragging himself
about from chair to chair, in his utter inability to do any kind of
work. His malady continued to grow worse, until at last he was reduced
to utter despair, tortured by sick headaches, and without the strength,
as he said, to put one foot before the other, convinced every morning
that he would spend the night at the Tulettes, a raving maniac. He grew
thin; his face, under its crown of white hair--which he still cared
for through a last remnant of vanity--acquired a look of suffering,
of tragic beauty. And although he allowed himself to be waited on, he
refused roughly all remedies, in the distrust of medicine into which he
had fallen.

Clotilde now devoted herself to him entirely. She gave up everything
else; at first she attended low mass, then she left off going to church
altogether. In her impatience for some certain happiness, she felt as if
she were taking a step toward that end by thus devoting all her moments
to the service of a beloved being whom she wished to see once more well
and happy. She made a complete sacrifice of herself, she sought to
find happiness in the happiness of another; and all this unconsciously,
solely at the impulse of her woman’s heart, in the midst of the crisis
through which she was still passing, and which was modifying her
character profoundly, without her knowledge. She remained silent
regarding the disagreement which separated them. The idea did not again
occur to her to throw herself on his neck, crying that she was his, that
he might return to life, since she gave herself to him. In her thoughts
she grieved to see him suffer; she was only an affectionate girl,
who took care of him, as any female relative would have done. And
her attentions were very pure, very delicate, occupying her life so
completely that her days now passed swiftly, exempt from tormenting
thoughts of the Beyond, filled with the one wish of curing him.

But where she had a hard battle to fight was in prevailing upon him
to use his hypodermic injections upon himself. He flew into a passion,
disowned his discovery, and called himself an imbecile. She too cried
out. It was she now who had faith in science, who grew indignant at
seeing him doubt his own genius. He resisted for a long time; then
yielding to the empire which she had acquired over him, he consented,
simply to avoid the affectionate dispute which she renewed with him
every morning. From the very first he experienced great relief from
the injections, although he refused to acknowledge it. His mind became
clearer, and he gradually gained strength. Then she was exultant, filled
with enthusiastic pride in him. She vaunted his treatment, and became
indignant because he did not admire himself, as an example of the
miracles which he was able to work. He smiled; he was now beginning to
see clearly into his own condition. Ramond had spoken truly, his illness
had been nothing but nervous exhaustion. Perhaps he would get over it
after all.

“Ah, it is you who are curing me, little girl,” he would say, not
wishing to confess his hopes. “Medicines, you see, act according to the
hand that gives them.”

The convalescence was slow, lasting through the whole of February. The
weather remained clear and cold; there was not a single day in which
the study was not flooded with warm, pale sunshine. There were hours
of relapse, however, hours of the blackest melancholy, in which all the
patient’s terrors returned; when his guardian, disconsolate, was obliged
to sit at the other end of the room, in order not to irritate him still
more. He despaired anew of his recovery. He became again bitter and
aggressively ironical.

It was on one of those bad days that Pascal, approaching a window, saw
his neighbor, M. Bellombre, the retired professor, making the round of
his garden to see if his fruit trees were well covered with blossoms.
The sight of the old man, so neat and so erect, with the fine placidity
of the egoist, on whom illness had apparently never laid hold, suddenly
put Pascal beside himself.

“Ah!” he growled, “there is one who will never overwork himself, who
will never endanger his health by worrying!”

And he launched forth into an ironical eulogy on selfishness. To be
alone in the world, not to have a friend, to have neither wife nor
child, what happiness! That hard-hearted miser, who for forty years
had had only other people’s children to cuff, who lived aloof from the
world, without even a dog, with a deaf and dumb gardener older than
himself, was he not an example of the greatest happiness possible on
earth? Without a responsibility, without a duty, without an anxiety,
other than that of taking care of his dear health! He was a wise man, he
would live a hundred years.

“Ah, the fear of life! that is cowardice which is truly the best wisdom.
To think that I should ever have regretted not having a child of my own!
Has any one a right to bring miserable creatures into the world? Bad
heredity should be ended, life should be ended. The only honest man is
that old coward there!”

M. Bellombre continued peacefully making the round of his pear trees in
the March sunshine. He did not risk a too hasty movement; he economized
his fresh old age. If he met a stone in his path, he pushed it aside
with the end of his cane, and then walked tranquilly on.

“Look at him! Is he not well preserved; is he not handsome? Have not all
the blessings of heaven been showered down upon him? He is the happiest
man I know.”

Clotilde, who had listened in silence, suffered from the irony of
Pascal, the full bitterness of which she divined. She, who usually took
M. Bellombre’s part, felt a protest rise up within her. Tears came to
her eyes, and she answered simply in a low voice:

“Yes; but he is not loved.”

These words put a sudden end to the painful scene. Pascal, as if he had
received an electric shock, turned and looked at her. A sudden rush of
tenderness brought tears to his eyes also, and he left the room to keep
from weeping.

The days wore on in the midst of these alternations of good and bad
hours. He recovered his strength but slowly, and what put him in despair
was that whenever he attempted to work he was seized by a profuse
perspiration. If he had persisted, he would assuredly have fainted. So
long as he did not work he felt that his convalescence was making little
progress. He began to take an interest again, however, in his accustomed
investigations. He read over again the last pages that he had written,
and, with this reawakening of the scientist in him, his former anxieties
returned. At one time he fell into a state of such depression, that the
house and all it contained ceased to exist for him. He might have been
robbed, everything he possessed might have been taken and destroyed,
without his even being conscious of the disaster. Now he became again
watchful, from time to time he would feel his pocket, to assure himself
that the key of the press was there.

But one morning when he had overslept himself, and did not leave
his room until eleven o’clock, he saw Clotilde in the study, quietly
occupied in copying with great exactness in pastel a branch of flowering
almond. She looked up, smiling; and taking a key that was lying beside
her on the desk, she offered it to him, saying:

“Here, master.”

Surprised, not yet comprehending, he looked at the object which she held
toward him.

“What is that?” he asked.

“It is the key of the press, which you must have dropped from your
pocket yesterday, and which I picked up here this morning.”

Pascal took it with extraordinary emotion. He looked at it, and then at
Clotilde. Was it ended, then? She would persecute him no more. She was
no longer eager to rob everything, to burn everything. And seeing her
still smiling, she also looking moved, an immense joy filled his heart.

He caught her in his arms, crying:

“Ah, little girl, if we might only not be too unhappy!”

Then he opened a drawer of his table and threw the key into it, as he
used to do formerly.

From this time on he gained strength, and his convalescence progressed
more rapidly. Relapses were still possible, for he was still very weak.
But he was able to write, and this made the days less heavy. The sun,
too, shone more brightly, the study being so warm at times that it
became necessary to half close the shutters. He refused to see visitors,
barely tolerated Martine, and had his mother told that he was sleeping,
when she came at long intervals to inquire for him. He was happy only in
this delightful solitude, nursed by the rebel, the enemy of yesterday,
the docile pupil of to-day. They would often sit together in silence
for a long time, without feeling any constraint. They meditated, or lost
themselves in infinitely sweet reveries.

One day, however, Pascal seemed very grave. He was now convinced
that his illness had resulted from purely accidental causes, and that
heredity had had no part in it. But this filled him none the less with
humility.

“My God!” he murmured, “how insignificant we are! I who thought myself
so strong, who was so proud of my sane reason! And here have I barely
escaped being made insane by a little trouble and overwork!”

He was silent, and sank again into thought. After a time his eyes
brightened, he had conquered himself. And in a moment of reason and
courage, he came to a resolution.

“If I am getting better,” he said, “it is especially for your sake that
I am glad.”

Clotilde, not understanding, looked up and said:

“How is that?”

“Yes, on account of your marriage. Now you will be able to fix the day.”

She still seemed surprised.

“Ah, true--my marriage!”

“Shall we decide at once upon the second week in June?”

“Yes, the second week in June; that will do very well.”

They spoke no more; she fixed her eyes again on the piece of sewing on
which she was engaged, while he, motionless, and with a grave face, sat
looking into space.



VII.

On this day, on arriving at La Souleiade, old Mme. Rougon perceived
Martine in the kitchen garden, engaged in planting leeks; and, as she
sometimes did, she went over to the servant to have a chat with her, and
find out from her how things were going on, before entering the house.

For some time past she had been in despair about what she called
Clotilde’s desertion. She felt truly that she would now never obtain
the documents through her. The girl was behaving disgracefully, she was
siding with Pascal, after all she had done for her; and she was becoming
perverted to such a degree that for a month past she had not been seen
in Church. Thus she returned to her first idea, to get Clotilde away and
win her son over when, left alone, he should be weakened by solitude.
Since she had not been able to persuade the girl to go live with her
brother, she eagerly desired the marriage. She would like to throw her
into Dr. Ramond’s arms to-morrow, in her impatience at so many delays.
And she had come this afternoon with a feverish desire to hurry on
matters.

“Good-day, Martine. How is every one here?”

The servant, kneeling down, her hands full of clay, lifted up her pale
face, protected against the sun by a handkerchief tied over her cap.

“As usual, madame, pretty well.”

They went on talking, Felicite treating her as a confidante, as a
devoted daughter, one of the family, to whom she could tell everything.
She began by questioning her; she wished to know if Dr. Ramond had come
that morning. He had come, but they had talked only about indifferent
matters. This put her in despair, for she had seen the doctor on the
previous day, and he had unbosomed himself to her, chagrined at not
having yet received a decisive answer, and eager now to obtain at least
Clotilde’s promise. Things could not go on in this way, the young girl
must be compelled to engage herself to him.

“He has too much delicacy,” she cried. “I have told him so. I knew very
well that this morning, even, he would not venture to demand a positive
answer. And I have come to interfere in the matter. We shall see if I
cannot oblige her to come to a decision.”

Then, more calmly:

“My son is on his feet now; he does not need her.”

Martine, who was again stooping over the bed, planting her leeks,
straightened herself quickly.

“Ah, that for sure!”

And a flush passed over her face, worn by thirty years of service. For a
wound bled within her; for some time past the master scarcely tolerated
her about him. During the whole time of his illness he had kept her at
a distance, accepting her services less and less every day, and finally
closing altogether to her the door of his room and of the workroom.
She had a vague consciousness of what was taking place, an instinctive
jealousy tortured her, in her adoration of the master, whose chattel she
had been satisfied to be for so many years.

“For sure, we have no need of mademoiselle. I am quite able to take care
of monsieur.”

Then she, who was so discreet, spoke of her labors in the garden, saying
that she made time to cultivate the vegetables, so as to save a few
days’ wages of a man. True, the house was large, but when one was not
afraid of work, one could manage to do all there was to be done. And
then, when mademoiselle should have left them, that would be always one
less to wait upon. And her eyes brightened unconsciously at the thought
of the great solitude, of the happy peace in which they should live
after this departure.

“It would give me pain,” she said, lowering her voice, “for it would
certainly give monsieur a great deal. I would never have believed that
I could be brought to wish for such a separation. Only, madame, I agree
with you that it is necessary, for I am greatly afraid that mademoiselle
will end by going to ruin here, and that there will be another soul
lost to the good God. Ah, it is very sad; my heart is so heavy about it
sometimes that it is ready to burst.”

“They are both upstairs, are they not?” said Felicite. “I will go up and
see them, and I will undertake to oblige them to end the matter.”

An hour later, when she came down again, she found Martine still on
her knees on the soft earth, finishing her planting. Upstairs, from her
first words, when she said that she had been talking with Dr. Ramond,
and that he had shown himself anxious to know his fate quickly, she saw
that Dr. Pascal approved--he looked grave, he nodded his head as if
to say that this wish seemed to him very natural. Clotilde, herself,
ceasing to smile, seemed to listen to him with deference. But she
manifested some surprise. Why did they press her? Master had fixed the
marriage for the second week in June; she had, then, two full months
before her. Very soon she would speak about it with Ramond. Marriage was
so serious a matter that they might very well give her time to reflect,
and let her wait until the last moment to engage herself. And she said
all this with her air of good sense, like a person resolved on coming to
a decision. And Felicite was obliged to content herself with the evident
desire that both had that matters should have the most reasonable
conclusion.

“Indeed I believe that it is settled,” ended Felicite. “He seems to
place no obstacle in the way, and she seems only to wish not to act
hastily, like a girl who desires to examine her heart closely, before
engaging herself for life. I will give her a week more for reflection.”

Martine, sitting on her heels, was looking fixedly on the ground with a
clouded face.

“Yes, yes,” she murmured, in a low voice, “mademoiselle has been
reflecting a great deal of late. I am always meeting her in some corner.
You speak to her, and she does not answer you. That is the way people
are when they are breeding a disease, or when they have a secret on
their mind. There is something going on; she is no longer the same, no
longer the same.”

And she took the dibble again and planted a leek, in her rage for work;
while old Mme. Rougon went away, somewhat tranquillized; certain, she
said, that the marriage would take place.

Pascal, in effect, seemed to accept Clotilde’s marriage as a thing
settled, inevitable. He had not spoken with her about it again, the
rare allusions which they made to it between themselves, in their hourly
conversations, left them undisturbed; and it was simply as if the two
months which they still had to live together were to be without end, an
eternity stretching beyond their view.

She, especially, would look at him smiling, putting off to a future
day troubles and decisions with a pretty vague gesture, as if to leave
everything to beneficent life. He, now well and gaining strength daily,
grew melancholy only when he returned to the solitude of his chamber
at night, after she had retired. He shuddered and turned cold at the
thought that a time would come when he would be always alone. Was it the
beginning of old age that made him shiver in this way? He seemed to
see it stretching before him, like a shadowy region in which he already
began to feel all his energy melting away. And then the regret of having
neither wife nor child filled him with rebelliousness, and wrung his
heart with intolerable anguish.

Ah, why had he not lived! There were times when he cursed science,
accusing it of having taken from him the best part of his manhood.
He had let himself be devoured by work; work had consumed his brain,
consumed his heart, consumed his flesh. All this solitary, passionate
labor had produced only books, blackened paper, that would be scattered
to the winds, whose cold leaves chilled his hands as he turned them
over. And no living woman’s breast to lean upon, no child’s warm locks
to kiss! He had lived the cold, solitary life of a selfish scientist,
and he would die in cold solitude. Was he indeed going to die thus?
Would he never taste the happiness enjoyed by even the common porters,
by the carters who cracked their whips, passing by under his windows?
But he must hasten, if he would; soon, no doubt, it would be too late.
All his unemployed youth, all his pent-up desires, surged tumultuously
through his veins. He swore that he would yet love, that he would live
a new life, that he would drain the cup of every passion that he had not
yet tasted, before he should be an old man. He would knock at the doors,
he would stop the passers-by, he would scour the fields and town.

On the following day, when he had taken his shower bath and left his
room, all his fever was calmed, the burning pictures had faded away,
and he fell back into his natural timidity. Then, on the next night, the
fear of solitude drove sleep away as before, his blood kindled again,
and the same despair, the same rebelliousness, the same longing not to
die without having known family joys returned. He suffered a great deal
in this crisis.

During these feverish nights, with eyes wide open in the darkness, he
dreamed always, over and over again the same dream. A girl would come
along the road, a girl of twenty, marvelously beautiful; and she would
enter and kneel down before him in an attitude of submissive adoration,
and he would marry her. She was one of those pilgrims of love such as
we find in ancient story, who have followed a star to come and restore
health and strength to some aged king, powerful and covered with glory.
He was the aged king, and she adored him, she wrought the miracle, with
her twenty years, of bestowing on him a part of her youth. In her love
he recovered his courage and his faith in life.

Ah, youth! he hungered fiercely for it. In his declining days this
passionate longing for youth was like a revolt against approaching age,
a desperate desire to turn back, to be young again, to begin life over
again. And in this longing to begin life over again, there was not only
regret for the vanished joys of youth, the inestimable treasure of dead
hours, to which memory lent its charm; there was also the determined
will to enjoy, now, his health and strength, to lose nothing of the joy
of loving! Ah, youth! how eagerly he would taste of its every pleasure,
how eagerly he would drain every cup, before his teeth should fall out,
before his limbs should grow feeble, before the blood should be chilled
in his veins. A pang pierced his heart when he remembered himself, a
slender youth of twenty, running and leaping agilely, vigorous and hardy
as a young oak, his teeth glistening, his hair black and luxuriant. How
he would cherish them, these gifts scorned before, if a miracle could
restore them to him!

And youthful womanhood, a young girl who might chance to pass by,
disturbed him, causing him profound emotion. This was often even
altogether apart from the individual: the image, merely, of youth, the
perfume and the dazzling freshness which emanated from it, bright eyes,
healthy lips, blooming cheeks, a delicate neck, above all, rounded
and satin-smooth, shaded on the back with down; and youthful womanhood
always presented itself to him tall and slight, divinely slender in its
chaste nudeness. His eyes, gazing into vacancy, followed the vision,
his heart was steeped in infinite longing. There was nothing good or
desirable but youth; it was the flower of the world, the only beauty,
the only joy, the only true good, with health, which nature could bestow
on man. Ah, to begin life over again, to be young again, to clasp in his
embrace youthful womanhood!

Pascal and Clotilde, now that the fine April days had come, covering the
fruit trees with blossoms, resumed their morning walks in La Souleiade.
It was the first time that he had gone out since his illness, and she
led him to the threshing yard, along the paths in the pine wood, and
back again to the terrace crossed by the two bars of shadows thrown by
the secular cypresses. The sun had already warmed the old flagstones
there, and the wide horizon stretched out under a dazzling sky.

One morning when Clotilde had been running, she returned to the house in
such exuberant spirits and so full of pleasant excitement that she went
up to the workroom without taking off either her garden hat or the lace
scarf which she had tied around her neck.

“Oh,” she said, “I am so warm! And how stupid I am, not to have taken
off my things downstairs. I will go down again at once.”

She had thrown the scarf on a chair on entering.

But her feverish fingers became impatient when she tried to untie the
strings of her large straw hat.

“There, now! I have fastened the knot. I cannot undo it, and you must
come to my assistance.”

Pascal, happy and excited too by the pleasure of the walk, rejoiced to
see her so beautiful and so merry. He went over and stood in front of
her.

“Wait; hold up your chin. Oh, if you keep moving like that, how do you
suppose I can do it?”

She laughed aloud. He could see the laughter swelling her throat, like
a wave of sound. His fingers became entangled under her chin, that
delicious part of the throat whose warm satin he involuntarily touched.
She had on a gown cut sloping in the neck, and through the opening he
inhaled all the living perfume of the woman, the pure fragrance of her
youth, warmed by the sunshine. All at once a vertigo seized him and he
thought he was going to faint.

“No, no! I cannot do it,” he said, “unless you keep still!”

The blood throbbed in his temples, and his fingers trembled, while she
leaned further back, unconsciously offering the temptation of her fresh
girlish beauty. It was the vision of royal youth, the bright eyes,
the healthy lips, the blooming cheeks, above all, the delicate neck,
satin-smooth and round, shaded on the back by down. And she seemed
to him so delicately graceful, with her slender throat, in her divine
bloom!

“There, it is done!” she cried.

Without knowing how, he had untied the strings. The room whirled round,
and then he saw her again, bareheaded now, with her starlike face,
shaking back her golden curls laughingly. Then he was seized with a fear
that he would catch her in his arms and press mad kisses on her bare
neck, and arms, and throat. And he fled from the room, taking with him
the hat, which he had kept in his hand, saying:

“I will hang it in the hall. Wait for me; I want to speak to Martine.”

Once downstairs, he hurried to the abandoned room and locked himself
into it, trembling lest she should become uneasy and come down here
to seek him. He looked wild and haggard, as if he had just committed
a crime. He spoke aloud, and he trembled as he gave utterance for the
first time to the cry that he had always loved her madly, passionately.
Yes, ever since she had grown into womanhood he had adored her. And
he saw her clearly before him, as if a curtain had been suddenly torn
aside, as she was when, from an awkward girl, she became a charming and
lovely creature, with her long tapering limbs, her strong slender body,
with its round throat, round neck, and round and supple arms. And it was
monstrous, but it was true--he hungered for all this with a devouring
hunger, for this youth, this fresh, blooming, fragrant flesh.

Then Pascal, dropping into a rickety chair, hid his face in his hands,
as if to shut out the light of day, and burst into great sobs. Good God!
what was to become of him? A girl whom his brother had confided to
him, whom he had brought up like a good father, and who was now--this
temptress of twenty-five--a woman in her supreme omnipotence! He felt
himself more defenseless, weaker than a child.

And above this physical desire, he loved her also with an immense
tenderness, enamored of her moral and intellectual being, of her
right-mindedness, of her fine intelligence, so fearless and so clear.
Even their discord, the disquietude about spiritual things by which she
was tortured, made her only all the more precious to him, as if she
were a being different from himself, in whom he found a little of the
infinity of things. She pleased him in her rebellions, when she held her
ground against him,--she was his companion and pupil; he saw her such
as he had made her, with her great heart, her passionate frankness,
her triumphant reason. And she was always present with him; he did
not believe that he could exist where she was not; he had need of her
breath; of the flutter of her skirts near him; of her thoughtfulness and
affection, by which he felt himself constantly surrounded; of her looks;
of her smile; of her whole daily woman’s life, which she had given him,
which she would not have the cruelty to take back from him again. At the
thought that she was going away, that she would not be always here, it
seemed to him as if the heavens were about to fall and crush him; as if
the end of all things had come; as if he were about to be plunged in
icy darkness. She alone existed in the world, she alone was lofty and
virtuous, intelligent and beautiful, with a miraculous beauty. Why,
then, since he adored her and since he was her master, did he not go
upstairs and take her in his arms and kiss her like an idol? They were
both free, she was ignorant of nothing, she was a woman in age. This
would be happiness.

Pascal, who had ceased to weep, rose, and would have walked to the door.
But suddenly he dropped again into his chair, bursting into a fresh
passion of sobs. No, no, it was abominable, it could not be! He felt on
his head the frost of his white hair; and he had a horror of his age,
of his fifty-nine years, when he thought of her twenty-five years. His
former chill fear again took possession of him, the certainty that
she had subjugated him, that he would be powerless against the daily
temptation. And he saw her giving him the strings of her hat to untie;
compelling him to lean over her to make some correction in her work; and
he saw himself, too, blind, mad, devouring her neck with ardent kisses.
His indignation against himself at this was so great that he arose,
now courageously, and had the strength to go upstairs to the workroom,
determined to conquer himself.

Upstairs Clotilde had tranquilly resumed her drawing. She did not even
look around at his entrance, but contented herself with saying:

“How long you have been! I was beginning to think that Martine must have
made a mistake of at least ten sous in her accounts.”

This customary jest about the servant’s miserliness made him laugh.
And he went and sat down quietly at his table. They did not speak again
until breakfast time. A great sweetness bathed him and calmed him, now
that he was near her. He ventured to look at her, and he was touched by
her delicate profile, by her serious, womanly air of application. Had
he been the prey of a nightmare, downstairs, then? Would he be able to
conquer himself so easily?

“Ah!” he cried, when Martine called them, “how hungry I am! You shall
see how I am going to make new muscle!”

She went over to him, and took him by the arm, saying:

“That’s right, master; you must be gay and strong!”

But that night, when he was in his own room, the agony began again. At
the thought of losing her he was obliged to bury his face in the pillow
to stifle his cries. He pictured her to himself in the arms of another,
and all the tortures of jealousy racked his soul. Never could he find
the courage to consent to such a sacrifice. All sorts of plans clasped
together in his seething brain; he would turn her from the marriage, and
keep her with him, without ever allowing her to suspect his passion;
he would take her away, and they would go from city to city,
occupying their minds with endless studies, in order to keep up their
companionship as master and pupil; or even, if it should be necessary,
he would send her to her brother to nurse him, he would lose her forever
rather than give her to a husband. And at each of these resolutions he
felt his heart, torn asunder, cry out with anguish in the imperious
need of possessing her entirely. He was no longer satisfied with her
presence, he wished to keep her for himself, with himself, as she
appeared to him in her radiant beauty, in the darkness of his chamber,
with her unbound hair falling around her.

His arms clasped the empty air, and he sprang out of bed, staggering
like a drunken man; and it was only in the darkness and silence of the
workroom that he awoke from this sudden fit of madness. Where, then,
was he going, great God? To knock at the door of this sleeping child?
to break it in, perhaps, with a blow of his shoulder? The soft, pure
respiration, which he fancied he heard like a sacred wind in the midst
of the profound silence, struck him on the face and turned him back. And
he returned to his room and threw himself on his bed, in a passion of
shame and wild despair.

On the following day when he arose, Pascal, worn out by want of sleep,
had come to a decision. He took his daily shower bath, and he felt
himself stronger and saner. The resolution to which he had come was to
compel Clotilde to give her word. When she should have formally promised
to marry Ramond, it seemed to him that this final solution would calm
him, would forbid his indulging in any false hopes. This would be a
barrier the more, an insurmountable barrier between her and him. He
would be from that moment armed against his desire, and if he still
suffered, it would be suffering only, without the horrible fear of
becoming a dishonorable man.

On this morning, when he told the young girl that she ought to delay
no longer, that she owed a decisive answer to the worthy fellow who had
been awaiting it so long, she seemed at first astonished. She looked
straight into his eyes, but he had sufficient command over himself not
to show confusion; he insisted merely, with a slightly grieved air, as
if it distressed him to have to say these things to her. Finally, she
smiled faintly and turned her head aside, saying:

“Then, master, you wish me to leave you?”

“My dear,” he answered evasively, “I assure you that this is becoming
ridiculous. Ramond will have the right to be angry.”

She went over to her desk, to arrange some papers which were on it.
Then, after a moment’s silence, she said:

“It is odd; now you are siding with grandmother and Martine. They, too,
are persecuting me to end this matter. I thought I had a few days more.
But, in truth, if you all three urge me--”

She did not finish, and he did not press her to explain herself more
clearly.

“When do you wish me to tell Ramond to come, then?”

“Why, he may come whenever he wishes; it does not displease me to see
him. But don’t trouble yourself. I will let him know that we will expect
him one of these afternoons.”

On the following day the same scene began over again. Clotilde had taken
no step yet, and Pascal was now angry. He suffered martyrdom; he had
crises of anguish and rebelliousness when she was not present to calm
him by her smiling freshness. And he insisted, in emphatic language,
that she should behave seriously and not trifle any longer with an
honorable man who loved her.

“The devil! Since the thing is decided, let us be done with it. I warn
you that I will send word to Ramond, and that he will be here to-morrow
at three o’clock.”

She listened in silence, her eyes fixed on the ground. Neither seemed
to wish to touch upon the question as to whether the marriage had really
been decided on or not, and they took the standpoint that there had been
a previous decision, which was irrevocable. When she looked up again he
trembled, for he felt a breath pass by; he thought she was on the point
of saying that she had questioned herself, and that she refused this
marriage. What would he have done, what would have become of him, good
God! Already he was filled with an immense joy and a wild terror. But
she looked at him with the discreet and affectionate smile which never
now left her lips, and she answered with a submissive air:

“As you please, master. Send him word to be here to-morrow at three
o’clock.”

Pascal spent so dreadful a night that he rose late, saying, as an
excuse, that he had one of his old headaches. He found relief only under
the icy deluge of the shower bath. At ten o’clock he left the house,
saying he would go himself to see Ramond; but he had another object
in going out--he had seen at a show in Plassans a corsage of old point
d’Alencon; a marvel of beauty which lay there awaiting some lover’s
generous folly, and the thought had come to him in the midst of the
tortures of the night, to make a present of it to Clotilde, to adorn her
wedding gown. This bitter idea of himself adorning her, of making her
beautiful and fair for the gift of herself, touched his heart, exhausted
by sacrifice. She knew the corsage, she had admired it with him one day
wonderingly, wishing for it only to place it on the shoulders of the
Virgin at St. Saturnin, an antique Virgin adored by the faithful. The
shopkeeper gave it to him in a little box which he could conceal,
and which he hid, on his return to the house, in the bottom of his
writing-desk.

At three o’clock Dr. Ramond presented himself, and he found Pascal and
Clotilde in the parlor, where they had been awaiting him with secret
excitement and a somewhat forced gaiety, avoiding any further allusion
to his visit. They received him smilingly with exaggerated cordiality.

“Why, you are perfectly well again, master!” said the young man. “You
never looked so strong.”

Pascal shook his head.

“Oh, oh, strong, perhaps! only the heart is no longer here.”

This involuntary avowal made Clotilde start, and she looked from one to
the other, as if, by the force of circumstances, she compared them with
each other--Ramond, with his smiling and superb face--the face of the
handsome physician adored by the women--his luxuriant black hair and
beard, in all the splendor of his young manhood; and Pascal, with his
white hair and his white beard. This fleece of snow, still so abundant,
retained the tragic beauty of the six months of torture that he had
just passed through. His sorrowful face had aged a little, only his eyes
remained still youthful; brown eyes, brilliant and limpid. But at this
moment all his features expressed so much gentleness, such exalted
goodness, that Clotilde ended by letting her gaze rest upon him with
profound tenderness. There was silence for a moment and each heart
thrilled.

“Well, my children,” resumed Pascal heroically, “I think you have
something to say to each other. I have something to do, too, downstairs.
I will come up again presently.”

And he left the room, smiling back at them.

And soon as they were alone, Clotilde went frankly straight over to
Ramond, with both hands outstretched. Taking his hands in hers, she held
them as she spoke.

“Listen, my dear friend; I am going to give you a great grief. You must
not be too angry with me, for I assure you that I have a very profound
friendship for you.”

He understood at once, and he turned very pale.

“Clotilde give me no answer now, I beg of you; take more time, if you
wish to reflect further.”

“It is useless, my dear friend, my decision is made.”

She looked at him with her fine, loyal look. She had not released his
hands, in order that he might know that she was not excited, and that
she was his friend. And it was he who resumed, in a low voice:

“Then you say no?”

“I say no, and I assure you that it pains me greatly to say it. Ask me
nothing; you will no doubt know later on.”

He sat down, crushed by the emotion which he repressed like a strong and
self-contained man, whose mental balance the greatest sufferings cannot
disturb. Never before had any grief agitated him like this. He remained
mute, while she, standing, continued:

“And above all, my friend, do not believe that I have played the
coquette with you. If I have allowed you to hope, if I have made you
wait so long for my answer, it was because I did not in very truth see
clearly myself. You cannot imagine through what a crisis I have just
passed--a veritable tempest of emotions, surrounded by darkness from out
of which I have but just found my way.”

He spoke at last.

“Since it is your wish, I will ask you nothing. Besides, it is
sufficient for you to answer one question. You do not love me,
Clotilde?”

She did not hesitate, but said gravely, with an emotion which softened
the frankness of her answer:

“It is true, I do not love you; I have only a very sincere affection for
you.”

He rose, and stopped by a gesture the kind words which she would have
added.

“It is ended; let us never speak of it again. I wished you to be happy.
Do not grieve for me. At this moment I feel as if the house had just
fallen about me in ruins. But I must only extricate myself as best I
can.”

A wave of color passed over his pale face, he gasped for air, he crossed
over to the window, then he walked back with a heavy step, seeking
to recover his self-possession. He drew a long breath. In the painful
silence which had fallen they heard Pascal coming upstairs noisily, to
announce his return.

“I entreat you,” murmured Clotilde hurriedly, “to say nothing to master.
He does not know my decision, and I wish to break it to him myself, for
he was bent upon this marriage.”

Pascal stood still in the doorway. He was trembling and breathless, as
if he had come upstairs too quickly. He still found strength to smile at
them, saying:

“Well, children, have you come to an understanding?”

“Yes, undoubtedly,” responded Ramond, as agitated as himself.

“Then it is all settled?”

“Quite,” said Clotilde, who had been seized by a faintness.

Pascal walked over to his work-table, supporting himself by the
furniture, and dropped into the chair beside it.

“Ah, ah! you see the legs are not so strong after all. It is this old
carcass of a body. But the heart is strong. And I am very happy, my
children, your happiness will make me well again.”

But when Ramond, after a few minutes’ further conversation, had gone
away, he seemed troubled at finding himself alone with the young girl,
and he again asked her:

“It is settled, quite settled; you swear it to me?”

“Entirely settled.”

After this he did not speak again. He nodded his head, as if to repeat
that he was delighted; that nothing could be better; that at last they
were all going to live in peace. He closed his eyes, feigning to
drop asleep, as he sometimes did in the afternoon. But his heart beat
violently, and his closely shut eyelids held back the tears.

That evening, at about ten o’clock, when Clotilde went downstairs for a
moment to give an order to Martine before she should have gone to bed,
Pascal profited by the opportunity of being left alone, to go and lay
the little box containing the lace corsage on the young girl’s bed. She
came upstairs again, wished him the accustomed good-night, and he had
been for at least twenty minutes in his own room, and was already in his
shirt sleeves, when a burst of gaiety sounded outside his door. A little
hand tapped, and a fresh voice cried, laughing:

“Come, come and look!”

He opened the door, unable to resist this appeal of youth, conquered by
his joy.

“Oh, come, come and see what a beautiful little bird has put on my bed!”

And she drew him to her room, taking no refusal. She had lighted the two
candles in it, and the antique, pleasant chamber, with its hangings of
faded rose color, seemed transformed into a chapel; and on the bed, like
a sacred cloth offered to the adoration of the faithful, she had spread
the corsage of old point d’Alencon.

“You would not believe it! Imagine, I did not see the box at first. I
set things in order a little, as I do every evening. I undressed, and
it was only when I was getting into bed that I noticed your present. Ah,
what a surprise! I was overwhelmed by it! I felt that I could never wait
for the morning, and I put on a skirt and ran to look for you.”

It was not until then that he perceived that she was only half dressed,
as on the night of the storm, when he had surprised her stealing his
papers. And she seemed divine, with her tall, girlish form, her tapering
limbs, her supple arms, her slender body, with its small, firm throat.

She took his hands and pressed them caressingly in her little ones.

“How good you are; how I thank you! Such a marvel of beauty, so lovely
a present for me, who am nobody! And you remember that I had admired
it, this antique relic of art. I said to you that only the Virgin of St.
Saturnin was worthy of wearing it on her shoulders. I am so happy!
oh, so happy! For it is true, I love beautiful things; I love them so
passionately that at times I wish for impossibilities, gowns woven of
sunbeams, impalpable veils made of the blue of heaven. How beautiful I
am going to look! how beautiful I am going to look!”

Radiant in her ecstatic gratitude, she drew close to him, still looking
at the corsage, and compelling him to admire it with her. Then a sudden
curiosity seized her.

“But why did you make me this royal present?”

Ever since she had come to seek him in her joyful excitement, Pascal
had been walking in a dream. He was moved to tears by this affectionate
gratitude; he stood there, not feeling the terror which he had dreaded,
but seeming, on the contrary, to be filled with joy, as at the approach
of a great and miraculous happiness. This chamber, which he never
entered, had the religious sweetness of holy places that satisfy all
longings for the unattainable.

His countenance, however, expressed surprise. And he answered:

“Why, this present, my dear, is for your wedding gown.”

She, in her turn, looked for a moment surprised as if she had not
understood him. Then, with the sweet and singular smile which she had
worn of late she said gayly:

“Ah, true, my marriage!”

Then she grew serious again, and said:

“Then you want to get rid of me? It was in order to have me here no
longer that you were so bent upon marrying me. Do you still think me
your enemy, then?”

He felt his tortures return, and he looked away from her, wishing to
retain his courage.

“My enemy, yes. Are you not so? We have suffered so much through each
other these last days. It is better in truth that we should separate.
And then I do not know what your thoughts are; you have never given me
the answer I have been waiting for.”

She tried in vain to catch his glance, which he still kept turned away.
She began to talk of the terrible night on which they had gone together
through the papers. It was true, in the shock which her whole being had
suffered, she had not yet told him whether she was with him or against
him. He had a right to demand an answer.

She again took his hands in hers, and forced him to look at her.

“And it is because I am your enemy that you are sending me away? I am
not your enemy. I am your servant, your chattel, your property. Do you
hear? I am with you and for you, for you alone!”

His face grew radiant; an intense joy shone within his eyes.

“Yes, I will wear this lace. It is for my wedding day, for I wish to be
beautiful, very beautiful for you. But do you not understand me, then?
You are my master; it is you I love.”

“No, no! be silent; you will make me mad! You are betrothed to another.
You have given your word. All this madness is happily impossible.”

“The other! I have compared him with you, and I have chosen you. I have
dismissed him. He has gone away, and he will never return. There are
only we two now, and it is you I love, and you love me. I know it, and I
give myself to you.”

He trembled violently. He had ceased to struggle, vanquished by the
longing of eternal love.

The spacious chamber, with its antique furniture, warmed by youth, was
as if filled with light. There was no longer either fear or suffering;
they were free. She gave herself to him knowingly, willingly, and he
accepted the supreme gift like a priceless treasure which the strength
of his love had won. Suddenly she murmured in his ear, in a caressing
voice, lingering tenderly on the words:

“Master, oh, master, master!”

And this word, which she used formerly as a matter of habit, at this
hour acquired a profound significance, lengthening out and prolonging
itself, as if it expressed the gift of her whole being. She uttered
it with grateful fervor, like a woman who accepts, and who surrenders
herself. Was not the mystic vanquished, the real acknowledged, life
glorified with love at last confessed and shared.

“Master, master, this comes from far back. I must tell you; I must make
my confession. It is true that I went to church in order to be happy.
But I could not believe. I wished to understand too much; my reason
rebelled against their dogmas; their paradise appeared to me an
incredible puerility. But I believed that the world does not stop at
sensation; that there is a whole unknown world, which must be taken
into account; and this, master, I believe still. It is the idea of the
Beyond, which not even happiness, found at last upon your neck, will
efface. But this longing for happiness, this longing to be happy at
once, to have some certainty--how I have suffered from it. If I went to
church, it was because I missed something, and I went there to seek it.
My anguish consisted in this irresistible need to satisfy my longing.
You remember what you used to call my eternal thirst for illusion and
falsehood. One night, in the threshing yard, under the great starry
sky, do you remember? I burst out against your science, I was indignant
because of the ruins with which it strews the earth, I turned my eyes
away from the dreadful wounds which it exposes. And I wished, master,
to take you to a solitude where we might both live in God, far from the
world, forgotten by it. Ah, what torture, to long, to struggle, and not
to be satisfied!”

Softly, without speaking, he kissed her on both eyes.

“Then, master, do you remember again, there was the great moral shock on
the night of the storm, when you gave me that terrible lesson of life,
emptying out your envelopes before me. You had said to me already: ‘Know
life, love it, live it as it ought to be lived.’ But what a vast, what
a frightful flood, rolling ever onward toward a human sea, swelling it
unceasingly for the unknown future! And, master, the silent work within
me began then. There was born, in my heart and in my flesh, the bitter
strength of the real. At first I was as if crushed, the blow was so
rude. I could not recover myself. I kept silent, because I did not know
clearly what to say. Then, gradually, the evolution was effected. I
still had struggles, I still rebelled against confessing my defeat. But
every day after this the truth grew clearer within me, I knew well that
you were my master, and that there was no happiness for me outside of
you, of your science and your goodness. You were life itself, broad and
tolerant life; saying all, accepting all, solely through the love of
energy and effort, believing in the work of the world, placing the
meaning of destiny in the labor which we all accomplish with love, in
our desperate eagerness to live, to love, to live anew, to live always,
in spite of all the abominations and miseries of life. Oh, to live, to
live! This is the great task, the work that always goes on, and that
will doubtless one day be completed!”

Silent still, he smiled radiantly, and kissed her on the mouth.

“And, master, though I have always loved you, even from my earliest
youth, it was, I believe, on that terrible night that you marked me for,
and made me your own. You remember how you crushed me in your grasp. It
left a bruise, and a few drops of blood on my shoulder. Then your being
entered, as it were into mine. We struggled; you were the stronger, and
from that time I have felt the need of a support. At first I thought
myself humiliated; then I saw that it was but an infinitely sweet
submission. I always felt your power within me. A gesture of your hand
in the distance thrilled me as though it had touched me. I would have
wished that you had seized me again in your grasp, that you had crushed
me in it, until my being had mingled with yours forever. And I was
not blind; I knew well that your wish was the same as mine, that the
violence which had made me yours had made you mine; that you struggled
with yourself not to seize me and hold me as I passed by you. To nurse
you when you were ill was some slight satisfaction. From that time,
light began to break upon me, and I at last understood. I went no more
to church, I began to be happy near you, you had become certainty and
happiness. Do you remember that I cried to you, in the threshing yard,
that something was wanting in our affection. There was a void in it
which I longed to fill. What could be wanting to us unless it were God?
And it was God--love, and life.”



VIII.

Then came a period of idyllic happiness. Clotilde was the spring, the
tardy rejuvenation that came to Pascal in his declining years. She came,
bringing to him, with her love, sunshine and flowers. Their rapture
lifted them above the earth; and all this youth she bestowed on him
after his thirty years of toil, when he was already weary and worn
probing the frightful wounds of humanity. He revived in the light of her
great shining eyes, in the fragrance of her pure breath. He had faith
again in life, in health, in strength, in the eternal renewal of nature.

On the morning after her avowal it was ten o’clock before Clotilde left
her room. In the middle of the workroom she suddenly came upon Martine
and, in her radiant happiness, with a burst of joy that carried
everything before it, she rushed toward her, crying:

“Martine, I am not going away! Master and I--we love each other.”

The old servant staggered under the blow. Her poor worn face, nunlike
under its white cap and with its look of renunciation, grew white in the
keenness of her anguish. Without a word, she turned and fled for refuge
to her kitchen, where, leaning her elbows on her chopping-table, and
burying her face in her clasped hands, she burst into a passion of sobs.

Clotilde, grieved and uneasy, followed her. And she tried to comprehend
and to console her.

“Come, come, how foolish you are! What possesses you? Master and I will
love you all the same; we will always keep you with us. You are not
going to be unhappy because we love each other. On the contrary, the
house is going to be gay now from morning till night.”

But Martine only sobbed all the more desperately.

“Answer me, at least. Tell me why you are angry and why you cry. Does
it not please you then to know that master is so happy, so happy! See, I
will call master and he will make you answer.”

At this threat the old servant suddenly rose and rushed into her own
room, which opened out of the kitchen, slamming the door behind her. In
vain the young girl called and knocked until she was tired; she
could obtain no answer. At last Pascal, attracted by the noise, came
downstairs, saying:

“Why, what is the matter?”

“Oh, it is that obstinate Martine! Only fancy, she began to cry when she
knew that we loved each other. And she has barricaded herself in there,
and she will not stir.”

She did not stir, in fact. Pascal, in his turn, called and knocked. He
scolded; he entreated. Then, one after the other, they began all over
again. Still there was no answer. A deathlike silence reigned in
the little room. And he pictured it to himself, this little room,
religiously clean, with its walnut bureau, and its monastic bed
furnished with white hangings. No doubt the servant had thrown herself
across this bed, in which she had slept alone all her woman’s life, and
was burying her face in the bolster to stifle her sobs.

“Ah, so much the worse for her?” said Clotilde at last, in the egotism
of her joy, “let her sulk!”

Then throwing her arms around Pascal, and raising to his her charming
face, still glowing with the ardor of self-surrender, she said:

“Master, I will be your servant to-day.”

He kissed her on the eyes with grateful emotion; and she at once set
about preparing the breakfast, turning the kitchen upside down. She
had put on an enormous white apron, and she looked charming, with her
sleeves rolled up, showing her delicate arms, as if for some great
undertaking. There chanced to be some cutlets in the kitchen which she
cooked to a turn. She added some scrambled eggs, and she even succeeded
in frying some potatoes. And they had a delicious breakfast, twenty
times interrupted by her getting up in her eager zeal, to run for the
bread, the water, a forgotten fork. If he had allowed her, she would
have waited upon him on her knees. Ah! to be alone, to be only they two
in this large friendly house, and to be free to laugh and to love each
other in peace.

They spent the whole afternoon in sweeping and putting things in order.
He insisted upon helping her. It was a play; they amused themselves like
two merry children. From time to time, however, they went back to knock
at Martine’s door to remonstrate with her. Come, this was foolish, she
was not going to let herself starve! Was there ever seen such a mule,
when no one had said or done anything to her! But only the echo of their
knocks came back mournfully from the silent room. Not the slightest
sound, not a breath responded. Night fell, and they were obliged to make
the dinner also, which they ate, sitting beside each other, from the
same plate. Before going to bed, they made a last attempt, threatening
to break open the door, but their ears, glued to the wood, could not
catch the slightest sound. And on the following day, when they went
downstairs and found the door still hermetically closed, they began to
be seriously uneasy. For twenty-four hours the servant had given no sign
of life.

Then, on returning to the kitchen after a moment’s absence, Clotilde and
Pascal were stupefied to see Martine sitting at her table, picking some
sorrel for the breakfast. She had silently resumed her place as servant.

“But what was the matter with you?” cried Clotilde. “Will you speak
now?”

She lifted up her sad face, stained by tears. It was very calm, however,
and it expressed now only the resigned melancholy of old age. She looked
at the young girl with an air of infinite reproach; then she bent her
head again without speaking.

“Are you angry with us, then?”

And as she still remained silent, Pascal interposed:

“Are you angry with us, my good Martine?”

Then the old servant looked up at him with her former look of adoration,
as if she loved him sufficiently to endure all and to remain in spite of
all. At last she spoke.

“No, I am angry with no one. The master is free. It is all right, if he
is satisfied.”

A new life began from this time. Clotilde, who in spite of her
twenty-five years had still remained childlike, now, under the influence
of love, suddenly bloomed into exquisite womanhood. Since her heart had
awakened, the serious and intelligent boy that she had looked like,
with her round head covered with its short curls, had given place to an
adorable woman, altogether womanly, submissive and tender, loving to be
loved. Her great charm, notwithstanding her learning picked up at random
from her reading and her work, was her virginal _naivete_, as if her
unconscious awaiting of love had made her reserve the gift of her whole
being to be utterly absorbed in the man whom she should love. No doubt
she had given her love as much through gratitude and admiration as
through tenderness; happy to make him happy; experiencing a profound joy
in being no longer only a little girl to be petted, but something of his
very own which he adored, a precious possession, a thing of grace and
joy, which he worshiped on bended knees. She still had the religious
submissiveness of the former devotee, in the hands of a master mature
and strong, from whom she derived consolation and support, retaining,
above and beyond affection, the sacred awe of the believer in the
spiritual which she still was. But more than all, this woman, so
intoxicated with love, was a delightful personification of health and
gaiety; eating with a hearty appetite; having something of the valor
of her grandfather the soldier; filling the house with her swift and
graceful movements, with the bloom of her satin skin, the slender grace
of her neck, of all her young form, divinely fresh.

And Pascal, too, had grown handsome again under the influence of
love, with the serene beauty of a man who had retained his vigor,
notwithstanding his white hairs. His countenance had no longer the
sorrowful expression which it had worn during the months of grief and
suffering through which he had lately passed; his eyes, youthful still,
had recovered their brightness, his features their smiling grace; while
his white hair and beard grew thicker, in a leonine abundance which
lent him a youthful air. He had kept himself, in his solitary life as a
passionate worker, so free from vice and dissipation that he found now
within him a reserve of life and vigor eager to expend itself at last.
There awoke within him new energy, a youthful impetuosity that broke
forth in gestures and exclamations, in a continual need of expansion, of
living. Everything wore a new and enchanting aspect to him; the smallest
glimpse of sky moved him to wonder; the perfume of a simple flower threw
him into an ecstasy; an everyday expression of affection, worn by use,
touched him to tears, as if it had sprung fresh from the heart and had
not been hackneyed by millions of lips. Clotilde’s “I love you,” was
an infinite caress, whose celestial sweetness no human being had ever
before known. And with health and beauty he recovered also his gaiety,
that tranquil gaiety which had formerly been inspired by his love of
life, and which now threw sunshine over his love, over everything that
made life worth living.

They two, blooming youth and vigorous maturity, so healthy, so gay,
so happy, made a radiant couple. For a whole month they remained in
seclusion, not once leaving La Souleiade. The place where both now liked
to be was the spacious workroom, so intimately associated with their
habits and their past affection. They would spend whole days there,
scarcely working at all, however. The large carved oak press remained
with closed doors; so, too, did the bookcases. Books and papers lay
undisturbed upon the tables. Like a young married couple they were
absorbed in their one passion, oblivious of their former occupations,
oblivious of life. The hours seemed all too short to enjoy the charm of
being together, often seated in the same large antique easy-chair, happy
in the depths of this solitude in which they secluded themselves, in
the tranquillity of this lofty room, in this domain which was altogether
theirs, without luxury and without order, full of familiar objects,
brightened from morning till night by the returning gaiety of the April
sunshine. When, seized with remorse, he would talk about working, she
would link her supple arms through his and laughingly hold him prisoner,
so that he should not make himself ill again with overwork. And
downstairs, they loved, too, the dining-room, so gay with its light
panels relieved by blue bands, its antique mahogany furniture, its large
flower pastels, its brass hanging lamp, always shining. They ate in it
with a hearty appetite and they left it, after each meal, only to go
upstairs again to their dear solitude.

Then when the house seemed too small, they had the garden, all La
Souleiade. Spring advanced with the advancing sun, and at the end of
April the roses were beginning to bloom. And what a joy was this domain,
walled around, where nothing from the outside world could trouble
them! Hours flew by unnoted, as they sat on the terrace facing the
vast horizon and the shady banks of the Viorne, and the slopes of
Sainte-Marthe, from the rocky bars of the Seille to the valley of
Plassans in the dusty distance. There was no shade on the terrace but
that of the two secular cypresses planted at its two extremities, like
two enormous green tapers, which could be seen three leagues away. At
times they descended the slope for the pleasure of ascending the giant
steps, and climbing the low walls of uncemented stones which supported
the plantations, to see if the stunted olive trees and the puny almonds
were budding. More often there were delightful walks under the delicate
needles of the pine wood, steeped in sunshine and exhaling a strong odor
of resin; endless walks along the wall of inclosure, from behind which
the only sound they could hear was, at rare intervals, the grating noise
of some cart jolting along the narrow road to Les Fenouilleres; and they
spent delightful hours in the old threshing yard, where they could see
the whole horizon, and where they loved to stretch themselves, tenderly
remembering their former tears, when, loving each other unconsciously
to themselves, they had quarreled under the stars. But their favorite
retreat, where they always ended by losing themselves, was the quincunx
of tall plane trees, whose branches, now of a tender green, looked like
lacework. Below, the enormous box trees, the old borders of the French
garden, of which now scarcely a trace remained, formed a sort of
labyrinth of which they could never find the end. And the slender stream
of the fountain, with its eternal crystalline murmur, seemed to sing
within their hearts. They would sit hand in hand beside the mossy basin,
while the twilight fell around them, their forms gradually fading into
the shadow of the trees, while the water which they could no longer see,
sang its flutelike song.

Up to the middle of May Pascal and Clotilde secluded themselves in this
way, without even crossing the threshold of their retreat. One morning
he disappeared and returned an hour later, bringing her a pair of
diamond earrings which he had hurried out to buy, remembering this was
her birthday. She adored jewels, and the gift astonished and delighted
her. From this time not a week passed in which he did not go out once or
twice in this way to bring her back some present. The slightest excuse
was sufficient for him--a _fete_, a wish, a simple pleasure. He brought
her rings, bracelets, a necklace, a slender diadem. He would take out
the other jewels and please himself by putting them all upon her in
the midst of their laughter. She was like an idol, seated on her chair,
covered with gold,--a band of gold on her hair, gold on her bare arms
and on her bare throat, all shining with gold and precious stones. Her
woman’s vanity was delightfully gratified by this. She allowed herself
to be adored thus, to be adored on bended knees, like a divinity,
knowing well that this was only an exalted form of love. She began at
last to scold a little, however; to make prudent remonstrances; for, in
truth, it was an absurdity to bring her all these gifts which she must
afterward shut up in a drawer, without ever wearing them, as she went
nowhere.

They were forgotten after the hour of joy and gratitude which they gave
her in their novelty was over. But he would not listen to her, carried
away by a veritable mania for giving; unable, from the moment the idea
of giving her an article took possession of him, to resist the desire
of buying it. It was a munificence of the heart; an imperious desire to
prove to her that he thought of her always; a pride in seeing her the
most magnificent, the happiest, the most envied of women; a generosity
more profound even, which impelled him to despoil himself of everything,
of his money, of his life. And then, what a delight, when he saw he had
given her a real pleasure, and she threw herself on his neck, blushing,
thanking him with kisses. After the jewels, it was gowns, articles of
dress, toilet articles. Her room was littered, the drawers were filled
to overflowing.

One morning she could not help getting angry. He had brought her another
ring.

“Why, I never wear them! And if I did, my fingers would be covered to
the tips. Be reasonable, I beg of you.”

“Then I have not given you pleasure?” he said with confusion.

She threw her arms about his neck, and assured him with tears in her
eyes that she was very happy. He was so good to her! He was so unwearied
in his devotion to her! And when, later in the morning, he ventured to
speak of making some changes in her room, of covering the walls with
tapestry, of putting down a carpet, she again remonstrated.

“Oh! no, no! I beg of you. Do not touch my old room, so full of
memories, where I have grown up, where I told you I loved you. I should
no longer feel myself at home in it.”

Downstairs, Martine’s obstinate silence condemned still more strongly
these excessive and useless expenses. She had adopted a less familiar
attitude, as if, in the new situation, she had fallen from her role
of housekeeper and friend to her former station of servant. Toward
Clotilde, especially, she changed, treating her like a young lady, like
a mistress to whom she was less affectionate but more obedient than
formerly. Two or three times, however, she had appeared in the morning
with her face discolored and her eyes sunken with weeping, answering
evasively when questioned, saying that nothing was the matter, that she
had taken cold. And she never made any remark about the gifts with which
the drawers were filled. She did not even seem to see them, arranging
them without a word either of praise or dispraise. But her whole nature
rebelled against this extravagant generosity, of which she could never
have conceived the possibility. She protested in her own fashion;
exaggerating her economy and reducing still further the expenses of
the housekeeping, which she now conducted on so narrow a scale that she
retrenched even in the smallest expenses. For instance, she took only
two-thirds of the milk which she had been in the habit of taking, and
she served sweet dishes only on Sundays. Pascal and Clotilde, without
venturing to complain, laughed between themselves at this parsimony,
repeating the jests which had amused them for ten years past, saying
that after dressing the vegetables she strained them in the colander, in
order to save the butter for future use.

But this quarter she insisted upon rendering an account. She was in the
habit of going every three months to Master Grandguillot, the notary,
to receive the fifteen hundred francs income, of which she disposed
afterward according to her judgment, entering the expenses in a book
which the doctor had years ago ceased to verify. She brought it to him
now and insisted upon his looking over it. He excused himself, saying
that it was all right.

“The thing is, monsieur,” she said, “that this time I have been able to
put some money aside. Yes, three hundred francs. Here they are.”

He looked at her in amazement. Generally she just made both ends meet.
By what miracle of stinginess had she been able to save such a sum?

“Ah! my poor Martine,” he said at last, laughing, “that is the reason,
then, that we have been eating so many potatoes of late. You are a pearl
of economy, but indeed you must treat us a little better in the future.”

This discreet reproach wounded her so profoundly that she allowed
herself at last to say:

“Well, monsieur, when there is so much extravagance on the one hand, it
is well to be prudent on the other.”

He understood the allusion, but instead of being angry, he was amused by
the lesson.

“Ah, ah! it is you who are examining my accounts! But you know very
well, Martine, that I, too, have my savings laid by.”

He alluded to the money which he still received occasionally from his
patients, and which he threw into a drawer of his writing-desk. For more
than sixteen years past he had put into this drawer every year about
four thousand francs, which would have amounted to a little fortune
if he had not taken from it, from day to day, without counting them,
considerable sums for his experiments and his whims. All the money for
the presents came out of this drawer, which he now opened continually.
He thought that it would never be empty; he had been so accustomed to
take from it whatever he required that it had never occurred to him to
fear that he would ever come to the bottom of it.

“One may very well have a little enjoyment out of one’s savings,” he
said gayly. “Since it is you who go to the notary’s, Martine, you are
not ignorant that I have my income apart.”

Then she said, with the colorless voice of the miser who is haunted by
the dread of an impending disaster:

“And what would you do if you hadn’t it?”

Pascal looked at her in astonishment, and contented himself with
answering with a shrug, for the possibility of such a misfortune had
never even entered his mind. He fancied that avarice was turning her
brain, and he laughed over the incident that evening with Clotilde.

In Plassans, too, the presents were the cause of endless gossip. The
rumor of what was going on at La Souleiade, this strange and sudden
passion, had spread, no one could tell how, by that force of expansion
which sustains curiosity, always on the alert in small towns. The
servant certainly had not spoken, but her air was perhaps sufficient;
words perhaps had dropped from her involuntarily; the lovers might have
been watched over the walls. And then came the buying of the presents,
confirming the reports and exaggerating them. When the doctor, in the
early morning, scoured the streets and visited the jeweler’s and the
dressmaker’s, eyes spied him from the windows, his smallest purchases
were watched, all the town knew in the evening that he had given her a
silk bonnet, a bracelet set with sapphires. And all this was turned into
a scandal. This uncle in love with his niece, committing a young man’s
follies for her, adorning her like a holy Virgin. The most extraordinary
stories began to circulate, and people pointed to La Souleiade as they
passed by.

But old Mme. Rougon was, of all persons, the most bitterly indignant.
She had ceased going to her son’s house when she learned that Clotilde’s
marriage with Dr. Ramond had been broken off. They had made sport of
her. They did nothing to please her, and she wished to show how deep her
displeasure was. Then a full month after the rupture, during which she
had understood nothing of the pitying looks, the discreet condolences,
the vague smiles which met her everywhere, she learned everything with a
suddenness that stunned her. She, who, at the time of Pascal’s illness,
in her mortification at the idea of again becoming the talk of the town
through that ugly story, had raised such a storm! It was far worse
this time; the height of scandal, a love affair for people to regale
themselves with. The Rougon legend was again in peril; her unhappy son
was decidedly doing his best to find some way to destroy the family
glory won with so much difficulty. So that in her anger she, who had
made herself the guardian of this glory, resolving to purify the legend
by every means in her power, put on her hat one morning and hurried to
La Souleiade with the youthful vivacity of her eighty years.

Pascal, whom the rupture with his mother enchanted, was fortunately
not at home, having gone out an hour before to look for a silver buckle
which he had thought of for a belt. And Felicite fell upon Clotilde
as the latter was finishing her toilet, her arms bare, her hair loose,
looking as fresh and smiling as a rose.

The first shock was rude. The old lady unburdened her mind, grew
indignant, spoke of the scandal they were giving. Suddenly her anger
vanished. She looked at the young girl, and she thought her adorable. In
her heart she was not surprised at what was going on. She laughed at it,
all she desired was that it should end in a correct fashion, so as to
silence evil tongues. And she cried with a conciliating air:

“Get married then! Why do you not get married?”

Clotilde remained silent for a moment, surprised. She had not thought of
marriage. Then she smiled again.

“No doubt we will get married, grandmother. But later on, there is no
hurry.”

Old Mme. Rougon went away, obliged to be satisfied with this vague
promise.

It was at this time that Pascal and Clotilde ceased to seclude
themselves. Not through any spirit of bravado, not because they wished
to answer ugly rumors by making a display of their happiness, but as a
natural amplification of their joy; their love had slowly acquired the
need of expansion and of space, at first beyond the house, then beyond
the garden, into the town, as far as the whole vast horizon. It filled
everything; it took in the whole world.

The doctor then tranquilly resumed his visits, and he took the young
girl with him. They walked together along the promenades, along the
streets, she on his arm, in a light gown, with flowers in her hat, he
buttoned up in his coat with his broad-brimmed hat. He was all white;
she all blond. They walked with their heads high, erect and smiling,
radiating such happiness that they seemed to walk in a halo. At first
the excitement was extraordinary. The shopkeepers came and stood at
their doors, the women leaned out of the windows, the passers-by stopped
to look after them. People whispered and laughed and pointed to them.
Then they were so handsome; he superb and triumphant, she so youthful,
so submissive, and so proud, that an involuntary indulgence gradually
gained on every one. People could not help defending them and loving
them, and they ended by smiling on them in a delightful contagion of
tenderness. A charm emanated from them which brought back all hearts to
them. The new town, with its _bourgeois_ population of functionaries
and townspeople who had grown wealthy, was the last conquest. But the
Quartier St. Marc, in spite of its austerity, showed itself at once kind
and discreetly tolerant when they walked along its deserted grass-worn
sidewalks, beside the antique houses, now closed and silent, which
exhaled the evaporated perfume of the loves of other days. But it was
the old quarter, more especially, that promptly received them with
cordiality, this quarter of which the common people, instinctively
touched, felt the grace of the legend, the profound myth of the couple,
the beautiful young girl supporting the royal and rejuvenated master.
The doctor was adored here for his goodness, and his companion quickly
became popular, and was greeted with tokens of admiration and approval
as soon as she appeared. They, meantime, if they had seemed ignorant
of the former hostility, now divined easily the forgiveness and the
indulgent tenderness which surrounded them, and this made them more
beautiful; their happiness charmed the entire town.

One afternoon, as Pascal and Clotilde turned the corner of the Rue de la
Banne, they perceived Dr. Ramond on the opposite side of the street. It
had chanced that they had learned the day before that he had asked and
had obtained the hand of Mlle. Leveque, the advocate’s daughter. It was
certainly the most sensible course he could have taken, for his business
interests made it advisable that he should marry, and the young girl,
who was very pretty and very rich, loved him. He, too, would certainly
love her in time. Therefore Clotilde joyfully smiled her congratulations
to him as a sincere friend. Pascal saluted him with an affectionate
gesture. For a moment Ramond, a little moved by the meeting, stood
perplexed. His first impulse seemed to have been to cross over to them.
But a feeling of delicacy must have prevented him, the thought that it
would be brutal to interrupt their dream, to break in upon this solitude
_a deux_, in which they moved, even amid the elbowings of the street.
And he contented himself with a friendly salutation, a smile in which he
forgave them their happiness. This was very pleasant for all three.

At this time Clotilde amused herself for several days by painting
a large pastel representing the tender scene of old King David and
Abishag, the young Shunammite. It was a dream picture, one of those
fantastic compositions into which her other self, her romantic self, put
her love of the mysterious. Against a background of flowers thrown on
the canvas, flowers that looked like a shower of stars, of barbaric
richness, the old king stood facing the spectator, his hand resting on
the bare shoulder of Abishag. He was attired sumptuously in a robe heavy
with precious stones, that fell in straight folds, and he wore the royal
fillet on his snowy locks. But she was more sumptuous still, with only
the lilylike satin of her skin, her tall, slender figure, her round,
slender throat, her supple arms, divinely graceful. He reigned over, he
leaned, as a powerful and beloved master, on this subject, chosen from
among all others, so proud of having been chosen, so rejoiced to give to
her king the rejuvenating gift of her youth. All her pure and triumphant
beauty expressed the serenity of her submission, the tranquillity with
which she gave herself, before the assembled people, in the full light
of day. And he was very great and she was very fair, and there radiated
from both a starry radiance.

Up to the last moment Clotilde had left the faces of the two figures
vaguely outlined in a sort of mist. Pascal, standing behind her, jested
with her to hide his emotion, for he fancied he divined her intention.
And it was as he thought; she finished the faces with a few strokes of
the crayon--old King David was he, and she was Abishag, the Shunammite.
But they were enveloped in a dreamlike brightness, it was themselves
deified; the one with hair all white, the other with hair all blond,
covering them like an imperial mantle, with features lengthened by
ecstasy, exalted to the bliss of angels, with the glance and the smile
of immortal youth.

“Ah, dear!” he cried, “you have made us too beautiful; you have wandered
off again to dreamland--yes, as in the days, do you remember, when I
used to scold you for putting there all the fantastic flowers of the
Unknown?”

And he pointed to the walls, on which bloomed the fantastic _parterre_
of the old pastels, flowers not of the earth, grown in the soil of
paradise.

But she protested gayly.

“Too beautiful? We could not be too beautiful! I assure you it is thus
that I picture us to myself, thus that I see us; and thus it is that we
are. There! see if it is not the pure reality.”

She took the old fifteenth century Bible which was beside her, and
showed him the simple wood engraving.

“You see it is exactly the same.”

He smiled gently at this tranquil and extraordinary affirmation.

“Oh, you laugh, you look only at the details of the picture. It is
the spirit which it is necessary to penetrate. And look at the other
engravings, it is the same theme in all--Abraham and Hagar, Ruth and
Boaz. And you see they are all handsome and happy.”

Then they ceased to laugh, leaning over the old Bible whose pages she
turned with her white fingers, he standing behind her, his white beard
mingling with her blond, youthful tresses.

Suddenly he whispered to her softly:

“But you, so young, do you never regret that you have chosen me--me, who
am so old, as old as the world?”

She gave a start of surprise, and turning round looked at him.

“You old! No, you are young, younger than I!”

And she laughed so joyously that he, too, could not help smiling. But he
insisted a little tremulously:

“You do not answer me. Do you not sometimes desire a younger lover, you
who are so youthful?”

She put up her lips and kissed him, saying in a low voice:

“I have but one desire, to be loved--loved as you love me, above and
beyond everything.”

The day on which Martine saw the pastel nailed to the wall, she looked
at it a moment in silence, then she made the sign of the cross, but
whether it was because she had seen God or the devil, no one could
say. A few days before Easter she had asked Clotilde if she would
not accompany her to church, and the latter having made a sign in the
negative, she departed for an instant from the deferential silence which
she now habitually maintained. Of all the new things which
astonished her in the house, what most astonished her was the sudden
irreligiousness of her young mistress. So she allowed herself to resume
her former tone of remonstrance, and to scold her as she used to do when
she was a little girl and refused to say her prayers. “Had she no longer
the fear of the Lord before her, then? Did she no longer tremble at the
idea of going to hell, to burn there forever?”

Clotilde could not suppress a smile.

“Oh, hell! you know that it has never troubled me a great deal. But you
are mistaken if you think I am no longer religious. If I have left off
going to church it is because I perform my devotions elsewhere, that is
all.”

Martine looked at her, open-mouthed, not comprehending her. It was all
over; mademoiselle was indeed lost. And she never again asked her to
accompany her to St. Saturnin. But her own devotion increased until it
at last became a mania. She was no longer to be met, as before, with the
eternal stocking in her hand which she knitted even when walking, when
not occupied in her household duties. Whenever she had a moment to
spare, she ran to church and remained there, repeating endless prayers.
One day when old Mme. Rougon, always on the alert, found her behind a
pillar, an hour after she had seen her there before, Martine excused
herself, blushing like a servant who had been caught idling, saying:

“I was praying for monsieur.”

Meanwhile Pascal and Clotilde enlarged still more their domain, taking
longer and longer walks every day, extending them now outside the
town into the open country. One afternoon, as they were going to La
Seguiranne, they were deeply moved, passing by the melancholy fields
where the enchanted gardens of Le Paradou had formerly extended. The
vision of Albine rose before them. Pascal saw her again blooming like
the spring, in the rejuvenation which this living flower had brought
him too, feeling the pressure of this pure arm against his heart. Never
could he have believed, he who had already thought himself very old when
he used to enter this garden to give a smile to the little fairy within,
that she would have been dead for years when life, the good mother,
should bestow upon him the gift of so fresh a spring, sweetening his
declining years. And Clotilde, having felt the vision rise before them,
lifted up her face to his in a renewed longing for tenderness. She was
Albine, the eternal lover. He kissed her on the lips, and though no word
had been uttered, the level fields sown with corn and oats, where Le
Paradou had once rolled its billows of luxuriant verdure, thrilled in
sympathy.

Pascal and Clotilde were now walking along the dusty road, through the
bare and arid country. They loved this sun-scorched land, these fields
thinly planted with puny almond trees and dwarf olives, these stretches
of bare hills dotted with country houses, that showed on them like pale
patches accentuated by the dark bars of the secular cypresses. It was
like an antique landscape, one of those classic landscapes represented
in the paintings of the old schools, with harsh coloring and well
balanced and majestic lines. All the ardent sunshine of successive
summers that had parched this land flowed through their veins, and lent
them a new beauty and animation, as they walked under the sky forever
blue, glowing with the clear flame of eternal love. She, protected from
the sun by her straw hat, bloomed and luxuriated in this bath of light
like a tropical flower, while he, in his renewed youth, felt the burning
sap of the soil ascend into his veins in a flood of virile joy.

This walk to La Seguiranne had been an idea of the doctor’s, who had
learned through Aunt Dieudonne of the approaching marriage of Sophie to
a young miller of the neighborhood; and he desired to see if every
one was well and happy in this retired corner. All at once they were
refreshed by a delightful coolness as they entered the avenue of tall
green oaks. On either side the springs, the mothers of these giant shade
trees, flowed on in their eternal course. And when they reached the
house of the shrew they came, as chance would have it, upon the two
lovers, Sophie and her miller, kissing each other beside the well; for
the girl’s aunt had just gone down to the lavatory behind the willows
of the Viorne. Confused, the couple stood in blushing silence. But the
doctor and his companion laughed indulgently, and the lovers, reassured,
told them that the marriage was set for St. John’s Day, which was a long
way off, to be sure, but which would come all the same. Sophie, saved
from the hereditary malady, had improved in health and beauty, and was
growing as strong as one of the trees that stood with their feet in the
moist grass beside the springs, and their heads bare to the sunshine.
Ah, the vast, glowing sky, what life it breathed into all created
things! She had but one grief, and tears came to her eyes when she spoke
of her brother Valentin, who perhaps would not live through the week.
She had had news of him the day before; he was past hope. And the doctor
was obliged to prevaricate a little to console her, for he himself
expected hourly the inevitable termination. When he and his companion
left La Seguiranne they returned slowly to Plassans, touched by this
happy, healthy love saddened by the chill of death.

In the old quarter a woman whom Pascal was attending informed him that
Valentin had just died. Two of the neighbors were obliged to take away
La Guiraude, who, half-crazed, clung, shrieking, to her son’s body. The
doctor entered the house, leaving Clotilde outside. At last, they again
took their way to La Souleiade in silence. Since Pascal had resumed
his visits he seemed to make them only through professional duty; he no
longer became enthusiastic about the miracles wrought by his treatment.
But as far as Valentin’s death was concerned, he was surprised that
it had not occurred before; he was convinced that he had prolonged
the patient’s life for at least a year. In spite of the extraordinary
results which he had obtained at first, he knew well that death was the
inevitable end. That he had held it in check for months ought then to
have consoled him and soothed his remorse, still unassuaged, for having
involuntarily caused the death of Lafouasse, a few weeks sooner than it
would otherwise have occurred. But this did not seem to be the case,
and his brow was knitted in a frown as they returned to their beloved
solitude. But there a new emotion awaited him; sitting under the plane
trees, whither Martine had sent him, he saw Sarteur, the hatter,
the inmate of the Tulettes whom he had been so long treating by his
hypodermic injections, and the experiment so zealously continued seemed
to have succeeded. The injections of nerve substance had evidently given
strength to his will, since the madman was here, having left the asylum
that morning, declaring that he no longer had any attacks, that he was
entirely cured of the homicidal mania that impelled him to throw himself
upon any passer-by to strangle him. The doctor looked at him as he
spoke. He was a small dark man, with a retreating forehead and aquiline
features, with one cheek perceptibly larger than the other. He was
perfectly quiet and rational, and filled with so lively a gratitude that
he kissed his saviour’s hands. The doctor could not help being greatly
affected by all this, and he dismissed the man kindly, advising him to
return to his life of labor, which was the best hygiene, physical and
moral. Then he recovered his calmness and sat down to table, talking
gaily of other matters.

Clotilde looked at him with astonishment and even with a little
indignation.

“What is the matter, master?” she said. “You are no longer satisfied
with yourself.”

“Oh, with myself I am never satisfied!” he answered jestingly. “And with
medicine, you know--it is according to the day.”

It was on this night that they had their first quarrel. She was angry
with him because he no longer had any pride in his profession. She
returned to her complaint of the afternoon, reproaching him for not
taking more credit to himself for the cure of Sarteur, and even for the
prolongation of Valentin’s life. It was she who now had a passion for
his fame. She reminded him of his cures; had he not cured himself? Could
he deny the efficacy of his treatment? A thrill ran through him as
he recalled the great dream which he had once cherished--to combat
debility, the sole cause of disease; to cure suffering humanity; to make
a higher, and healthy humanity; to hasten the coming of happiness, the
future kingdom of perfection and felicity, by intervening and giving
health to all! And he possessed the liquor of life, the universal
panacea which opened up this immense hope!

Pascal was silent for a moment. Then he murmured:

“It is true. I cured myself, I have cured others, and I still think that
my injections are efficacious in many cases. I do not deny medicine.
Remorse for a deplorable accident, like that of Lafouasse, does not
render me unjust. Besides, work has been my passion, it is in work that
I have up to this time spent my energies; it was in wishing to prove to
myself the possibility of making decrepit humanity one day strong and
intelligent that I came near dying lately. Yes, a dream, a beautiful
dream!”

“No, no! a reality, the reality of your genius, master.”

Then, lowering his voice almost to a whisper, he breathed this
confession:

“Listen, I am going to say to you what I would say to no one else in
the world, what I would not say to myself aloud. To correct nature, to
interfere, in order to modify it and thwart it in its purpose, is this
a laudable task? To cure the individual, to retard his death, for his
personal pleasure, to prolong his existence, doubtless to the injury of
the species, is not this to defeat the aims of nature? And have we the
right to desire a stronger, a healthier humanity, modeled after our idea
of health and strength? What have we to do in the matter? Why should we
interfere in this work of life, neither the means nor the end of which
are known to us? Perhaps everything is as it ought to be. Perhaps we
should risk killing love, genius, life itself. Remember, I make the
confession to you alone; but doubt has taken possession of me, I tremble
at the thought of my twentieth century alchemy. I have come to believe
that it is greater and wiser to allow evolution to take its course.”

He paused; then he added so softly that she could scarcely hear him:

“Do you know that instead of nerve-substance I often use only water with
my patients. You no longer hear me grinding for days at a time. I told
you that I had some of the liquor in reserve. Water soothes them,
this is no doubt simply a mechanical effect. Ah! to soothe, to prevent
suffering--that indeed I still desire! It is perhaps my greatest
weakness, but I cannot bear to see any one suffer. Suffering puts me
beside myself, it seems a monstrous and useless cruelty of nature. I
practise now only to prevent suffering.”

“Then, master,” she asked, in the same indistinct murmur, “if you no
longer desire to cure, do you still think everything must be told? For
the frightful necessity of displaying the wounds of humanity had no
other excuse than the hope of curing them.”

“Yes, yes, it is necessary to know, in every case, and to conceal
nothing; to tell everything regarding things and individuals. Happiness
is no longer possible in ignorance; certainty alone makes life tranquil.
When people know more they will doubtless accept everything. Do you not
comprehend that to desire to cure everything, to regenerate everything
is a false ambition inspired by our egotism, a revolt against life,
which we declare to be bad, because we judge it from the point of view
of self-interest? I know that I am more tranquil, that my intellect has
broadened and deepened ever since I have held evolution in respect. It
is my love of life which triumphs, even to the extent of not questioning
its purpose, to the extent of confiding absolutely in it, of losing
myself in it, without wishing to remake it according to my own
conception of good and evil. Life alone is sovereign, life alone knows
its aim and its end. I can only try to know it in order to live it as it
should be lived. And this I have understood only since I have possessed
your love. Before I possessed it I sought the truth elsewhere, I
struggled with the fixed idea of saving the world. You have come, and
life is full; the world is saved every hour by love, by the immense and
incessant labor of all that live and love throughout space. Impeccable
life, omnipotent life, immortal life!”

They continued to talk together in low tones for some time longer,
planning an idyllic life, a calm and healthful existence in the country.
It was in this simple prescription of an invigorating environment that
the experiments of the physician ended. He exclaimed against cities.
People could be well and happy only in the country, in the sunshine, on
the condition of renouncing money, ambition, even the proud excesses of
intellectual labor. They should do nothing but live and love, cultivate
the soil, and bring up their children.



IX.

Dr. Pascal then resumed his professional visits in the town and the
surrounding country. And he was generally accompanied by Clotilde,
who went with him into the houses of the poor, where she, too, brought
health and cheerfulness.

But, as he had one night confessed to her in secret, his visits were now
only visits of relief and consolation. If he had before practised with
repugnance it was because he had felt how vain was medical science.
Empiricism disheartened him. From the moment that medicine ceased to be
an experimental science and became an art, he was filled with disquiet
at the thought of the infinite variety of diseases and of their
remedies, according to the constitution of the patient. Treatment
changed with every new hypothesis; how many people, then, must the
methods now abandoned have killed! The perspicacity of the physician
became everything, the healer was only a happily endowed diviner,
himself groping in the dark and effecting cures through his fortunate
endowment. And this explained why he had given up his patients almost
altogether, after a dozen years of practise, to devote himself entirely
to study. Then, when his great labors on heredity had restored to him
for a time the hope of intervening and curing disease by his hypodermic
injections, he had become again enthusiastic, until the day when his
faith in life, after having impelled him, to aid its action in this way,
by restoring the vital forces, became still broader and gave him the
higher conviction that life was self-sufficing, that it was the only
giver of health and strength, in spite of everything. And he continued
to visit, with his tranquil smile, only those of his patients who
clamored for him loudly, and who found themselves miraculously relieved
when he injected into them only pure water.

Clotilde now sometimes allowed herself to jest about these hypodermic
injections. She was still at heart, however, a fervent worshiper of his
skill; and she said jestingly that if he performed miracles as he did it
was because he had in himself the godlike power to do so. Then he would
reply jestingly, attributing to her the efficacy of their common visits,
saying that he cured no one now when she was absent, that it was she
who brought the breath of life, the unknown and necessary force from the
Beyond. So that the rich people, the _bourgeois_, whose houses she did
not enter, continued to groan without his being able to relieve them.
And this affectionate dispute diverted them; they set out each time as
if for new discoveries, they exchanged glances of kindly intelligence
with the sick. Ah, this wretched suffering which revolted them, and
which was now all they went to combat; how happy they were when they
thought it vanquished! They were divinely recompensed when they saw the
cold sweats disappear, the moaning lips become stilled, the deathlike
faces recover animation. It was assuredly the love which they brought to
this humble, suffering humanity that produced the alleviation.

“To die is nothing; that is in the natural order of things,” Pascal
would often say. “But why suffer? It is cruel and unnecessary!”

One afternoon the doctor was going with the young girl to the little
village of Sainte-Marthe to see a patient, and at the station, for they
were going by train, so as to spare Bonhomme, they had a reencounter.
The train which they were waiting for was from the Tulettes.
Sainte-Marthe was the first station in the opposite direction, going to
Marseilles. When the train arrived, they hurried on board and, opening
the door of a compartment which they thought empty, they saw old Mme.
Rougon about to leave it. She did not speak to them, but passing them
by, sprang down quickly in spite of her age, and walked away with a
stiff and haughty air.

“It is the 1st of July,” said Clotilde when the train had started.
“Grandmother is returning from the Tulettes, after making her monthly
visit to Aunt Dide. Did you see the glance she cast at me?”

Pascal was at heart glad of the quarrel with his mother, which freed him
from the continual annoyance of her visits.

“Bah!” he said simply, “when people cannot agree it is better for them
not to see each other.”

But the young girl remained troubled and thoughtful. After a few moments
she said in an undertone:

“I thought her changed--looking paler. And did you notice? she who is
usually so carefully dressed had only one glove on--a yellow glove, on
the right hand. I don’t know why it was, but she made me feel sick at
heart.”

Pascal, who was also disturbed, made a vague gesture. His mother would
no doubt grow old at last, like everybody else. But she was very active,
very full of fire still. She was thinking, he said, of bequeathing
her fortune to the town of Plassans, to build a house of refuge, which
should bear the name of Rougon. Both had recovered their gaiety when he
cried suddenly:

“Why, it is to-morrow that you and I are to go to the Tulettes to see
our patients. And you know that I promised to take Charles to Uncle
Macquart’s.”

Felicite was in fact returning from the Tulettes, where she went
regularly on the first of every month to inquire after Aunt Dide. For
many years past she had taken a keen interest in the madwoman’s health,
amazed to see her lasting so long, and furious with her for persisting
in living so far beyond the common term of life, until she had become a
very prodigy of longevity. What a relief, the fine morning on which
they should put under ground this troublesome witness of the past, this
specter of expiation and of waiting, who brought living before her the
abominations of the family! When so many others had been taken she, who
was demented and who had only a spark of life left in her eyes, seemed
forgotten. On this day she had found her as usual, skeleton-like, stiff
and erect in her armchair. As the keeper said, there was now no reason
why she should ever die. She was a hundred and five years old.

When she left the asylum Felicite was furious. She thought of Uncle
Macquart. Another who troubled her, who persisted in living with
exasperating obstinacy! Although he was only eighty-four years old,
three years older than herself, she thought him ridiculously aged, past
the allotted term of life. And a man who led so dissipated a life, who
had gone to bed dead drunk every night for the last sixty years!
The good and the sober were taken away; he flourished in spite of
everything, blooming with health and gaiety. In days past, just after
he had settled at the Tulettes, she had made him presents of wines,
liqueurs and brandy, in the unavowed hope of ridding the family of a
fellow who was really disreputable, and from whom they had nothing to
expect but annoyance and shame. But she had soon perceived that all this
liquor served, on the contrary, to keep up his health and spirits and
his sarcastic humor, and she had left off making him presents, seeing
that he throve on what she had hoped would prove a poison to him. She
had cherished a deadly hatred toward him since then. She would have
killed him if she had dared, every time she saw him, standing firmly on
his drunken legs, and laughing at her to her face, knowing well that she
was watching for his death, and triumphant because he did not give her
the pleasure of burying with him all the old dirty linen of the family,
the blood and mud of the two conquests of Plassans.

“You see, Felicite,” he would often say to her with his air of wicked
mockery, “I am here to take care of the old mother, and the day on
which we both make up our minds to die it would be through compliment
to you--yes, simply to spare you the trouble of running to see us so
good-naturedly, in this way, every month.”

Generally she did not now give herself the disappointment of going to
Macquart’s, but inquired for him at the asylum. But on this occasion,
having learned there that he was passing through an extraordinary attack
of drunkenness, not having drawn a sober breath for a fortnight, and
so intoxicated that he was probably unable to leave the house, she was
seized with the curiosity to learn for herself what his condition really
was. And as she was going back to the station, she went out of her way
in order to stop at Macquart’s house.

The day was superb--a warm and brilliant summer day. On either side of
the path which she had taken, she saw the fields that she had given him
in former days--all this fertile land, the price of his secrecy and his
good behavior. Before her appeared the house, with its pink tiles and
its bright yellow walls, looking gay in the sunshine. Under the ancient
mulberry trees on the terrace she enjoyed the delightful coolness and
the beautiful view. What a pleasant and safe retreat, what a happy
solitude was this for an old man to end in joy and peace a long and
well-spent life!

But she did not see him, she did not hear him. The silence was profound.
The only sound to be heard was the humming of the bees circling around
the tall marshmallows. And on the terrace there was nothing to be seen
but a little yellow dog, stretched at full length on the bare ground,
seeking the coolness of the shade. He raised his head growling, about to
bark, but, recognizing the visitor, he lay down again quietly.

Then, in this peaceful and sunny solitude she was seized with a strange
chill, and she called:

“Macquart! Macquart!”

The door of the house under the mulberry trees stood wide open. But she
did not dare to go in; this empty house with its wide open door gave her
a vague uneasiness. And she called again:

“Macquart! Macquart!”

Not a sound, not a breath. Profound silence reigned again, but the
humming of the bees circling around the tall marshmallows sounded louder
than before.

At last Felicite, ashamed of her fears, summoned courage to enter. The
door on the left of the hall, opening into the kitchen, where Uncle
Macquart generally sat, was closed. She pushed it open, but she could
distinguish nothing at first, as the blinds had been closed, probably
in order to shut out the heat. Her first sensation was one of choking,
caused by an overpowering odor of alcohol which filled the room; every
article of furniture seemed to exude this odor, the whole house was
impregnated with it. At last, when her eyes had become accustomed to the
semi-obscurity, she perceived Macquart. He was seated at the table,
on which were a glass and a bottle of spirits of thirty-six degrees,
completely empty. Settled in his chair, he was sleeping profoundly, dead
drunk. This spectacle revived her anger and contempt.

“Come, Macquart,” she cried, “is it not vile and senseless to put one’s
self in such a state! Wake up, I say, this is shameful!”

His sleep was so profound that she could not even hear him breathing. In
vain she raised her voice, and slapped him smartly on the hands.

“Macquart! Macquart! Macquart! Ah, faugh! You are disgusting, my dear!”

Then she left him, troubling herself no further about him, and walked
around the room, evidently seeking something. Coming down the dusky road
from the asylum she had been seized with a consuming thirst, and she
wished to get a glass of water. Her gloves embarrassed her, and she took
them off and put them on a corner of the table. Then she succeeded in
finding the jug, and she washed a glass and filled it to the brim, and
was about to empty it when she saw an extraordinary sight--a sight which
agitated her so greatly that she set the glass down again beside her
gloves, without drinking.

By degrees she had begun to see objects more clearly in the room, which
was lighted dimly by a few stray sunbeams that filtered through the
cracks of the old shutters. She now saw Uncle Macquart distinctly,
neatly dressed in a blue cloth suit, as usual, and on his head the
eternal fur cap which he wore from one year’s end to the other. He had
grown stout during the last five or six years, and he looked like a
veritable mountain of flesh overlaid with rolls of fat. And she noticed
that he must have fallen asleep while smoking, for his pipe--a short
black pipe--had fallen into his lap. Then she stood still, stupefied
with amazement--the burning tobacco had been scattered in the fall, and
the cloth of the trousers had caught fire, and through a hole in the
stuff, as large already as a hundred-sous piece, she saw the bare thigh,
whence issued a little blue flame.

At first Felicite had thought that it was linen--the drawers or the
shirt--that was burning. But soon doubt was no longer possible, she saw
distinctly the bare flesh and the little blue flame issuing from it,
lightly dancing, like a flame wandering over the surface of a vessel of
lighted alcohol. It was as yet scarcely higher than the flame of a night
light, pale and soft, and so unstable that the slightest breath of air
caused it to change its place. But it increased and spread rapidly, and
the skin cracked and the fat began to melt.

An involuntary cry escaped from Felicite’s throat.

“Macquart! Macquart!”

But still he did not stir. His insensibility must have been complete;
intoxication must have produced a sort of coma, in which there was an
absolute paralysis of sensation, for he was living, his breast could be
seen rising and falling, in slow and even respiration.

“Macquart! Macquart!”

Now the fat was running through the cracks of the skin, feeding the
flame, which was invading the abdomen. And Felicite comprehended vaguely
that Uncle Macquart was burning before her like a sponge soaked with
brandy. He had, indeed, been saturated with it for years past, and
of the strongest and most inflammable kind. He would no doubt soon be
blazing from head to foot, like a bowl of punch.

Then she ceased to try to awaken him, since he was sleeping so soundly.
For a full minute she had the courage to look at him, awe-stricken,
but gradually coming to a determination. Her hands, however, began
to tremble, with a little shiver which she could not control. She was
choking, and taking up the glass of water again with both hands, she
emptied it at a draught. And she was going away on tiptoe, when she
remembered her gloves. She went back, groped for them anxiously on the
table and, as she thought, picked them both up. Then she left the room,
closing the door behind her carefully, and as gently as if she were
afraid of disturbing some one.

When she found herself once more on the terrace, in the cheerful
sunshine and the pure air, in face of the vast horizon bathed in light,
she heaved a sigh of relief. The country was deserted; no one could have
seen her entering or leaving the house. Only the yellow dog was still
stretched there, and he did not even deign to look up. And she went
away with her quick, short step, her youthful figure lightly swaying. A
hundred steps away, an irresistible impulse compelled her to turn round
to give a last look at the house, so tranquil and so cheerful on the
hillside, in the declining light of the beautiful day.

Only when she was in the train and went to put on her gloves did she
perceive that one of them was missing. But she supposed that it had
fallen on the platform at the station as she was getting into the car.
She believed herself to be quite calm, but she remained with one hand
gloved and one hand bare, which, with her, could only be the result of
great agitation.

On the following day Pascal and Clotilde took the three o’clock train to
go to the Tulettes. The mother of Charles, the harness-maker’s wife,
had brought the boy to them, as they had offered to take him to Uncle
Macquart’s, where he was to remain for the rest of the week. Fresh
quarrels had disturbed the peace of the household, the husband having
resolved to tolerate no longer in his house another man’s child, that
do-nothing, imbecile prince’s son. As it was Grandmother Rougon who had
dressed him, he was, indeed, dressed on this day, again, in black velvet
trimmed with gold braid, like a young lord, a page of former times going
to court. And during the quarter of an hour which the journey lasted,
Clotilde amused herself in the compartment, in which they were alone,
by taking off his cap and smoothing his beautiful blond locks, his
royal hair that fell in curls over his shoulders. She had a ring on her
finger, and as she passed her hand over his neck she was startled to
perceive that her caress had left behind it a trace of blood. One
could not touch the boy’s skin without the red dew exuding from it;
the tissues had become so lax through extreme degeneration that the
slightest scratch brought on a hemorrhage. The doctor became at once
uneasy, and asked him if he still bled at the nose as frequently as
formerly. Charles hardly knew what to answer; first saying no, then,
recollecting himself, he said that he had bled a great deal the other
day. He seemed, indeed, weaker; he grew more childish as he grew older;
his intelligence, which had never developed, had become clouded. This
tall boy of fifteen, so beautiful, so girlish-looking, with the color of
a flower that had grown in the shade, did not look ten.

At the Tulettes Pascal decided that they would first take the boy to
Uncle Macquart’s. They ascended the steep road. In the distance the
little house looked gay in the sunshine, as it had looked on the day
before, with its yellow walls and its green mulberry trees extending
their twisted branches and covering the terrace with a thick, leafy
roof. A delightful sense of peace pervaded this solitary spot, this
sage’s retreat, where the only sound to be heard was the humming of the
bees, circling round the tall marshmallows.

“Ah, that rascal of an uncle!” said Pascal, smiling, “how I envy him!”

But he was surprised not to have already seen him standing at the edge
of the terrace. And as Charles had run off dragging Clotilde with him to
see the rabbits, as he said, the doctor continued the ascent alone, and
was astonished when he reached the top to see no one. The blinds were
closed, the hill door yawned wide open. Only the yellow dog was at the
threshold, his legs stiff, his hair bristling, howling with a low and
continuous moan. When he saw the visitor, whom he no doubt recognized,
approaching, he stopped howling for an instant and went and stood
further off, then he began again to whine softly.

Pascal, filled with apprehension, could not keep back the uneasy cry
that rose to his lips:

“Macquart! Macquart!”

No one answered; a deathlike silence reigned over the house, with its
door yawning wide open, like the mouth of a cavern. The dog continued to
howl.

Then Pascal grew impatient, and cried more loudly.

“Macquart! Macquart!”

There was not a stir; the bees hummed, the sky looked down serenely on
the peaceful scene. Then he hesitated no longer. Perhaps Macquart was
asleep. But the instant he pushed open the door of the kitchen on the
left of the hall, a horrible odor escaped from it, an odor of burned
flesh and bones. When he entered the room he could hardly breathe, so
filled was it by a thick vapor, a stagnant and nauseous cloud, which
choked and blinded him. The sunbeams that filtered through the cracks
made only a dim light. He hurried to the fireplace, thinking that
perhaps there had been a fire, but the fireplace was empty, and the
articles of furniture around appeared to be uninjured. Bewildered, and
feeling himself growing faint in the poisoned atmosphere, he ran to the
window and threw the shutters wide open. A flood of light entered.

Then the scene presented to the doctor’s view filled him with amazement.
Everything was in its place; the glass and the empty bottle of spirits
were on the table; only the chair in which Uncle Macquart must have been
sitting bore traces of fire, the front legs were blackened and the straw
was partially consumed. What had become of Macquart? Where could he
have disappeared? In front of the chair, on the brick floor, which was
saturated with grease, there was a little heap of ashes, beside which
lay the pipe--a black pipe, which had not even broken in falling. All of
Uncle Macquart was there, in this handful of fine ashes; and he was in
the red cloud, also, which floated through the open window; in the layer
of soot which carpeted the entire kitchen; the horrible grease of burnt
flesh, enveloping everything, sticky and foul to the touch.

It was the finest case of spontaneous combustion physician had ever
seen. The doctor had, indeed, read in medical papers of surprising
cases, among others that of a shoemaker’s wife, a drunken woman who had
fallen asleep over her foot warmer, and of whom they had found only
a hand and foot. He had, until now, put little faith in these cases,
unwilling to admit, like the ancients, that a body impregnated
with alcohol could disengage an unknown gas, capable of taking fire
spontaneously and consuming the flesh and the bones. But he denied the
truth of them no longer; besides, everything became clear to him as
he reconstructed the scene--the coma of drunkenness producing absolute
insensibility; the pipe falling on the clothes, which had taken fire;
the flesh, saturated with liquor, burning and cracking; the fat melting,
part of it running over the ground and part of it aiding the combustion,
and all, at last--muscles, organs, and bones--consumed in a general
blaze. Uncle Macquart was all there, with his blue cloth suit, and his
fur cap, which he wore from one year’s end to the other. Doubtless, as
soon as he had begun to burn like a bonfire he had fallen forward, which
would account for the chair being only blackened; and nothing of him was
left, not a bone, not a tooth, not a nail, nothing but this little heap
of gray dust which the draught of air from the door threatened at every
moment to sweep away.

Clotilde had meanwhile entered, Charles remaining outside, his attention
attracted by the continued howling of the dog.

“Good Heavens, what a smell!” she cried. “What is the matter?”

When Pascal explained to her the extraordinary catastrophe that had
taken place, she shuddered. She took up the bottle to examine it, but
she put it down again with horror, feeling it moist and sticky with
Uncle Macquart’s flesh. Nothing could be touched, the smallest objects
were coated, as it were, with this yellowish grease which stuck to the
hands.

A shudder of mingled awe and disgust passed through her, and she burst
into tears, faltering:

“What a sad death! What a horrible death!”

Pascal had recovered from his first shock, and he was almost smiling.

“Why horrible? He was eighty-four years old; he did not suffer. As for
me, I think it a superb death for that old rascal of an uncle, who, it
may be now said, did not lead a very exemplary life. You remember his
envelope; he had some very terrible and vile things upon his conscience,
which did not prevent him, however, from settling down later and growing
old, surrounded by every comfort, like an old humbug, receiving the
recompense of virtues which he did not possess. And here he lies like
the prince of drunkards, burning up of himself, consumed on the burning
funeral pile of his own body!”

And the doctor waved his hand in admiration.

“Just think of it. To be drunk to the point of not feeling that one is
on fire; to set one’s self aflame, like a bonfire on St. John’s day; to
disappear in smoke to the last bone. Think of Uncle Macquart starting
on his journey through space; first diffused through the four corners of
the room, dissolved in air and floating about, bathing all that belonged
to him; then escaping in a cloud of dust through the window, when I
opened it for him, soaring up into the sky, filling the horizon. Why,
that is an admirable death! To disappear, to leave nothing of himself
behind but a little heap of ashes and a pipe beside it!”

And he picked up the pipe to keep it, as he said, as a relic of Uncle
Macquart; while Clotilde, who thought she perceived a touch of bitter
mockery in his eulogistic rhapsody, shuddered anew with horror and
disgust. But suddenly she perceived something under the table--part of
the remains, perhaps.

“Look at that fragment there.”

He stooped down and picked up with surprise a woman’s glove, a yellow
glove.

“Why!” she cried, “it is grandmother’s glove; the glove that was missing
last evening.”

They looked at each other; by a common impulse the same explanation
rose to their lips, Felicite was certainly there yesterday; and a sudden
conviction forced itself on the doctor’s mind--the conviction that his
mother had seen Uncle Macquart burning and that she had not quenched
him. Various indications pointed to this--the state of complete coolness
in which he found the room, the number of hours which he calculated to
have been necessary for the combustion of the body. He saw clearly the
same thought dawning in the terrified eyes of his companion. But as it
seemed impossible that they should ever know the truth, he fabricated
aloud the simplest explanation:

“No doubt your grandmother came in yesterday on her way back from
the asylum, to say good day to Uncle Macquart, before he had begun
drinking.”

“Let us go away! let us go away!” cried Clotilde. “I am stifling here; I
cannot remain here!”

Pascal, too, wished to go and give information of the death. He went out
after her, shut up the house, and put the key in his pocket. Outside,
they heard the little yellow dog still howling. He had taken refuge
between Charles’ legs, and the boy amused himself pushing him with his
foot and listening to him whining, without comprehending.

The doctor went at once to the house of M. Maurin, the notary at the
Tulettes, who was also mayor of the commune. A widower for ten years
past, and living with his daughter, who was a childless widow, he had
maintained neighborly relations with old Macquart, and had occasionally
kept little Charles with him for several days at a time, his daughter
having become interested in the boy who was so handsome and so much
to be pitied. M. Maurin, horrified at the news, went at once with the
doctor to draw up a statement of the accident, and promised to make out
the death certificate in due form. As for religious ceremonies, funeral
obsequies, they seemed scarcely possible. When they entered the kitchen
the draught from the door scattered the ashes about, and when they
piously attempted to collect them again they succeeded only in gathering
together the scrapings of the flags, a collection of accumulated dirt,
in which there could be but little of Uncle Macquart. What, then,
could they bury? It was better to give up the idea. So they gave it
up. Besides, Uncle Macquart had been hardly a devout Catholic, and the
family contented themselves with causing masses to be said later on for
the repose of his soul.

The notary, meantime, had immediately declared that there existed a
will, which had been deposited with him, and he asked Pascal to meet him
at his house on the next day but one for the reading; for he thought he
might tell the doctor at once that Uncle Macquart had chosen him as
his executor. And he ended by offering, like a kindhearted man, to keep
Charles with him until then, comprehending how greatly the boy, who was
so unwelcome at his mother’s, would be in the way in the midst of all
these occurrences. Charles seemed enchanted, and he remained at the
Tulettes.

It was not until very late, until seven o’clock, that Clotilde and
Pascal were able to take the train to return to Plassans, after the
doctor had at last visited the two patients whom he had to see. But
when they returned together to the notary’s on the day appointed for the
meeting, they had the disagreeable surprise of finding old Mme. Rougon
installed there. She had naturally learned of Macquart’s death, and had
hurried there on the following day, full of excitement, and making a
great show of grief; and she had just made her appearance again to-day,
having heard the famous testament spoken of. The reading of the will,
however, was a simple matter, unmarked by any incident. Macquart
had left all the fortune that he could dispose of for the purpose of
erecting a superb marble monument to himself, with two angels with
folded wings, weeping. It was his own idea, a reminiscence of a similar
tomb which he had seen abroad--in Germany, perhaps--when he was a
soldier. And he had charged his nephew Pascal to superintend the
erection of the monument, as he was the only one of the family, he said,
who had any taste.

During the reading of the will Clotilde had remained in the notary’s
garden, sitting on a bench under the shade of an ancient chestnut tree.
When Pascal and Felicite again appeared, there was a moment of great
embarrassment, for they had not spoken to one another for some months
past. The old lady, however, affected to be perfectly at her ease,
making no allusion whatever to the new situation, and giving it to be
understood that they might very well meet and appear united before the
world, without for that reason entering into an explanation or becoming
reconciled. But she committed the mistake of laying too much stress
on the great grief which Macquart’s death had caused her. Pascal, who
suspected the overflowing joy, the unbounded delight which it gave her
to think that this family ulcer was to be at last healed, that this
abominable uncle was at last out of the way, became gradually possessed
by an impatience, an indignation, which he could not control. His eyes
fastened themselves involuntarily on his mother’s gloves, which were
black.

Just then she was expressing her grief in lowered tones:

“But how imprudent it was, at his age, to persist in living alone--like
a wolf in his lair! If he had only had a servant in the house with him!”

Then the doctor, hardly conscious of what he was saying, terrified at
hearing himself say the words, but impelled by an irresistible force,
said:

“But, mother, since you were there, why did you not quench him?”

Old Mme. Rougon turned frightfully pale. How could her son have known?
She looked at him for an instant in open-mouthed amazement; while
Clotilde grew as pale as she, in the certainty of the crime, which was
now evident. It was an avowal, this terrified silence which had fallen
between the mother, the son, and the granddaughter--the shuddering
silence in which families bury their domestic tragedies. The doctor, in
despair at having spoken, he who avoided so carefully all disagreeable
and useless explanations, was trying desperately to retract his words,
when a new catastrophe extricated him from his terrible embarrassment.

Felicite desired to take Charles away with her, in order not to trespass
on the notary’s kind hospitality; and as the latter had sent the boy
after breakfast to spend an hour or two with Aunt Dide, he had sent the
maid servant to the asylum with orders to bring him back immediately. It
was at this juncture that the servant, whom they were waiting for in the
garden, made her appearance, covered with perspiration, out of breath,
and greatly excited, crying from a distance:

“My God! My God! come quickly. Master Charles is bathed in blood.”

Filled with consternation, all three set off for the asylum. This day
chanced to be one of Aunt Dide’s good days; very calm and gentle she sat
erect in the armchair in which she had spent the hours, the long hours
for twenty-two years past, looking straight before her into vacancy. She
seemed to have grown still thinner, all the flesh had disappeared, her
limbs were now only bones covered with parchment-like skin; and her
keeper, the stout fair-haired girl, carried her, fed her, took her
up and laid her down as if she had been a bundle. The ancestress, the
forgotten one, tall, bony, ghastly, remained motionless, her eyes, only
seeming to have life, her eyes shining clear as spring water in her thin
withered face. But on this morning, again a sudden rush of tears had
streamed down her cheeks, and she had begun to stammer words without
any connection; which seemed to prove that in the midst of her senile
exhaustion and the incurable torpor of madness, the slow induration of
the brain and the limbs was not yet complete; there still were memories
stored away, gleams of intelligence still were possible. Then her face
had resumed its vacant expression. She seemed indifferent to every one
and everything, laughing, sometimes, at an accident, at a fall, but most
often seeing nothing and hearing nothing, gazing fixedly into vacancy.

When Charles had been brought to her the keeper had immediately
installed him before the little table, in front of his
great-great-grandmother. The girl kept a package of pictures for
him--soldiers, captains, kings clad in purple and gold, and she gave
them to him with a pair of scissors, saying:

“There, amuse yourself quietly, and behave well. You see that to-day
grandmother is very good. You must be good, too.”

The boy raised his eyes to the madwoman’s face, and both looked at each
other. At this moment the resemblance between them was extraordinary.
Their eyes, especially, their vacant and limpid eyes, seemed to lose
themselves in one another, to be identical. Then it was the physiognomy,
the whole face, the worn features of the centenarian, that passed over
three generations to this delicate child’s face, it, too, worn already,
as it were, and aged by the wear of the race. Neither smiled, they
regarded each other intently, with an air of grave imbecility.

“Well!” continued the keeper, who had acquired the habit of talking to
herself to cheer herself when with her mad charge, “you cannot deny each
other. The same hand made you both. You are the very spit-down of
each other. Come, laugh a bit, amuse yourselves, since you like to be
together.”

But to fix his attention for any length of time fatigued Charles, and
he was the first to lower his eyes; he seemed to be interested in his
pictures, while Aunt Dide, who had an astonishing power of fixing her
attention, as if she had been turned into stone, continued to look at
him fixedly, without even winking an eyelid.

The keeper busied herself for a few moments in the little sunny room,
made gay by its light, blue-flowered paper. She made the bed which she
had been airing, she arranged the linen on the shelves of the press.
But she generally profited by the presence of the boy to take a little
relaxation. She had orders never to leave her charge alone, and now that
he was here she ventured to trust her with him.

“Listen to me well,” she went on, “I have to go out for a little, and if
she stirs, if she should need me, ring for me, call me at once; do you
hear? You understand, you are a big enough boy to be able to call one.”

He had looked up again, and made a sign that he had understood and that
he would call her. And when he found himself alone with Aunt Dide he
returned to his pictures quietly. This lasted for a quarter of an hour
amid the profound silence of the asylum, broken only at intervals by
some prison sound--a stealthy step, the jingling of a bunch of keys,
and occasionally a loud cry, immediately silenced. But the boy must have
been tired by the excessive heat of the day, for sleep gradually stole
over him. Soon his head, fair as a lily, drooped, and as if weighed down
by the too heavy casque of his royal locks, he let it sink gently on the
pictures and fell asleep, with his cheek resting on the gold and purple
kings. The lashes of his closed eyelids cast a shadow on his delicate
skin, with its small blue veins, through which life pulsed feebly. He
was beautiful as an angel, but with the indefinable corruption of a
whole race spread over his countenance. And Aunt Dide looked at him with
her vacant stare in which there was neither pleasure nor pain, the stare
of eternity contemplating things earthly.

At the end of a few moments, however, an expression of interest seemed
to dawn in the clear eyes. Something had just happened, a drop of blood
was forming on the edge of the left nostril of the boy. This drop fell
and another formed and followed it. It was the blood, the dew of blood,
exuding this time, without a scratch, without a bruise, which issued
and flowed of itself in the laxity of the degenerate tissues. The drops
became a slender thread which flowed over the gold of the pictures. A
little pool covered them, and made its way to a corner of the table;
then the drops began again, splashing dully one by one upon the floor.
And he still slept, with the divinely calm look of a cherub, not even
conscious of the life that was escaping from him; and the madwoman
continued to look at him, with an air of increasing interest, but
without terror, amused, rather, her attention engaged by this, as by the
flight of the big flies, which her gaze often followed for hours.

Several minutes more passed, the slender thread had grown larger, the
drops followed one another more rapidly, falling on the floor with a
monotonous and persistent drip. And Charles, at one moment, stirred,
opened his eyes, and perceived that he was covered with blood. But
he was not frightened; he was accustomed to this bloody spring, which
issued from him at the slightest cause. He merely gave a sigh of
weariness. Instinct, however, must have warned him, for he moaned more
loudly than before, and called confusedly in stammering accents:

“Mamma! mamma!”

His weakness was no doubt already excessive, for an irresistible stupor
once more took possession of him, his head dropped, his eyes closed, and
he seemed to fall asleep again, continuing his plaint, as if in a dream,
moaning in fainter and fainter accents:

“Mamma! mamma!”

Now the pictures were inundated; the black velvet jacket and trousers,
braided with gold, were stained with long streaks of blood, and the
little red stream began again to flow persistently from his left
nostril, without stopping, crossed the red pool on the table and fell
upon the ground, where it at last formed a veritable lake. A loud cry
from the madwoman, a terrified call would have sufficed. But she did
not cry, she did not call; motionless, rigid, emaciated, sitting there
forgotten of the world, she gazed with the fixed look of the ancestress
who sees the destinies of her race being accomplished. She sat there as
if dried up, bound; her limbs and her tongue tied by her hundred years,
her brain ossified by madness, incapable of willing or of acting. And
yet the sight of the little red stream began to stir some feeling in
her. A tremor passed over her deathlike countenance, a flush mounted to
her cheeks. Finally, a last plaint roused her completely:

“Mamma! mamma!”

Then it was evident that a terrible struggle was taking place in Aunt
Dide. She carried her skeleton-like hand to her forehead as if she felt
her brain bursting. Her mouth was wide open, but no sound issued
from it; the dreadful tumult that had arisen within her had no doubt
paralyzed her tongue. She tried to rise, to run, but she had no longer
any muscles; she remained fastened to her seat. All her poor body
trembled in the superhuman effort which she was making to cry for help,
without being able to break the bonds of old age and madness which
held her prisoner. Her face was distorted with terror; memory gradually
awakening, she must have comprehended everything.

And it was a slow and gentle agony, of which the spectacle lasted for
several minutes more. Charles, silent now, as if he had again fallen
asleep, was losing the last drops of blood that had remained in his
veins, which were emptying themselves softly. His lily-like whiteness
increased until it became a deathlike pallor. His lips lost their rosy
color, became a pale pink, then white. And, as he was about to expire,
he opened his large eyes and fixed them on his great-great-grandmother,
who watched the light dying in them. All the waxen face was already
dead, the eyes only were still living. They still kept their limpidity,
their brightness. All at once they became vacant, the light in them was
extinguished. This was the end--the death of the eyes, and Charles had
died, without a struggle, exhausted, like a fountain from which all
the water has run out. Life no longer pulsed through the veins of his
delicate skin, there was now only the shadow of its wings on his white
face. But he remained divinely beautiful, his face lying in blood,
surrounded by his royal blond locks, like one of those little bloodless
dauphins who, unable to bear the execrable heritage of their race, die
of decrepitude and imbecility at sixteen.

The boy exhaled his latest breath as Dr. Pascal entered the room,
followed by Felicite and Clotilde. And when he saw the quantity of blood
that inundated the floor, he cried:

“Ah, my God! it is as I feared, a hemorrhage from the nose! The poor
darling, no one was with him, and it is all over!”

But all three were struck with terror at the extraordinary spectacle
that now met their gaze. Aunt Dide, who seemed to have grown taller, in
the superhuman effort she was making, had almost succeeded in raising
herself up, and her eyes, fixed on the dead boy, so fair and so gentle,
and on the red sea of blood, beginning to congeal, that was lying around
him, kindled with a thought, after a long sleep of twenty-two years.
This final lesion of madness, this irremediable darkness of the mind,
was evidently not so complete but that some memory of the past, lying
hidden there, might awaken suddenly under the terrible blow which had
struck her. And the ancestress, the forgotten one, lived again, emerged
from her oblivion, rigid and wasted, like a specter of terror and grief.

For an instant she remained panting. Then with a shudder, which made her
teeth chatter, she stammered a single phrase:

“The _gendarme_! the _gendarme_!”

Pascal and Felicite and Clotilde understood. They looked at one another
involuntarily, turning very pale. The whole dreadful history of the old
mother--of the mother of them all--rose before them, the ardent love
of her youth, the long suffering of her mature age. Already two moral
shocks had shaken her terribly--the first, when she was in her ardent
prime, when a _gendarme_ shot down her lover Macquart, the smuggler,
like a dog; the second, years ago, when another _gendarme_ shattered
with a pistol shot the skull of her grandson Silvere, the insurgent, the
victim of the hatred and the sanguinary strife of the family. Blood
had always bespattered her. And a third moral shock finished her; blood
bespattered her again, the impoverished blood of her race, which she
had just beheld flowing slowly, and which lay upon the ground, while the
fair royal child, his veins and his heart empty, slept.

Three times--face to face with her past life, her life red with passion
and suffering, haunted by the image of expiation--she stammered:

“The _gendarme_! the _gendarme_! the _gendarme_!”

Then she sank back into her armchair. They thought she was dead, killed
by the shock.

But the keeper at this moment at last appeared, endeavoring to excuse
herself, fearing that she would be dismissed. When, aided by her, Dr.
Pascal had placed Aunt Dide on the bed, he found that the old mother was
still alive. She was not to die until the following day, at the age of
one hundred and five years, three months, and seven days, of congestion
of the brain, caused by the last shock she had received.

Pascal, turning to his mother, said:

“She will not live twenty-four hours; to-morrow she will be dead. Ah!
Uncle Macquart, then she, and this poor boy, one after another. How much
misery and grief!”

He paused and added in a lower tone:

“The family is thinning out; the old trees fall and the young die
standing.”

Felicite must have thought this another allusion. She was sincerely
shocked by the tragic death of little Charles. But, notwithstanding,
above the horror which she felt there arose a sense of immense relief.
Next week, when they should have ceased to weep, what a rest to be able
to say to herself that all this abomination of the Tulettes was at an
end, that the family might at last rise, and shine in history!

Then she remembered that she had not answered the involuntary accusation
made against her by her son at the notary’s; and she spoke again of
Macquart, through bravado:

“You see now that servants are of no use. There was one here, and yet
she prevented nothing; it would have been useless for Uncle Macquart
to have had one to take care of him; he would be in ashes now, all the
same.”

She sighed, and then continued in a broken voice:

“Well, well, neither our own fate nor that of others is in our hands;
things happen as they will. These are great blows that have fallen upon
us. We must only trust to God for the preservation and the prosperity of
our family.”

Dr. Pascal bowed with his habitual air of deference and said:

“You are right, mother.”

Clotilde knelt down. Her former fervent Catholic faith had revived in
this chamber of blood, of madness, and of death. Tears streamed down her
cheeks, and with clasped hands she was praying fervently for the dear
ones who were no more. She prayed that God would grant that their
sufferings might indeed be ended, their faults pardoned, and that they
might live again in another life, a life of unending happiness. And she
prayed with the utmost fervor, in her terror of a hell, which after this
miserable life would make suffering eternal.

From this day Pascal and Clotilde went to visit their sick side by side,
filled with greater pity than ever. Perhaps, with Pascal, the feeling
of his powerlessness against inevitable disease was even stronger than
before. The only wisdom was to let nature take its course, to eliminate
dangerous elements, and to labor only in the supreme work of giving
health and strength. But the suffering and the death of those who are
dear to us awaken in us a hatred of disease, an irresistible desire to
combat and to vanquish it. And the doctor never tasted so great a joy
as when he succeeded, with his hypodermic injections, in soothing a
paroxysm of pain, in seeing the groaning patient grow tranquil and fall
asleep. Clotilde, in return, adored him, proud of their love, as if it
were a consolation which they carried, like the viaticum, to the poor.



X.

Martine one morning obtained from Dr. Pascal, as she did every three
months, his receipt for fifteen hundred francs, to take it to the notary
Grandguillot, to get from him what she called their “income.” The doctor
seemed surprised that the payment should have fallen due again so soon;
he had never been so indifferent as he was now about money matters,
leaving to Martine the care of settling everything. And he and Clotilde
were under the plane trees, absorbed in the joy that filled their life,
lulled by the ceaseless song of the fountain, when the servant returned
with a frightened face, and in a state of extraordinary agitation. She
was so breathless with excitement that for a moment she could not speak.

“Oh, my God! Oh, my God!” she cried at last. “M. Grandguillot has gone
away!”

Pascal did not at first comprehend.

“Well, my girl, there is no hurry,” he said; “you can go back another
day.”

“No, no! He has gone away; don’t you hear? He has gone away forever--”

And as the waters rush forth in the bursting of a dam, her emotion
vented itself in a torrent of words.

“I reached the street, and I saw from a distance a crowd gathered
before the door. A chill ran through me; I felt that some misfortune
had happened. The door closed, and not a blind open, as if there was
somebody dead in the house. They told me when I got there that he had
run away; that he had not left a sou behind him; that many families
would be ruined.”

She laid the receipt on the stone table.

“There! There is your paper! It is all over with us, we have not a sou
left, we are going to die of starvation!” And she sobbed aloud in the
anguish of her miserly heart, distracted by this loss of a fortune, and
trembling at the prospect of impending want.

Clotilde sat stunned and speechless, her eyes fixed on Pascal, whose
predominating feeling at first seemed to be one of incredulity. He
endeavored to calm Martine. Why! why! it would not do to give up in
this way. If all she knew of the affair was what she had heard from the
people in the street, it might be only gossip, after all, which always
exaggerates everything. M. Grandguillot a fugitive; M. Grandguillot a
thief; that was monstrous, impossible! A man of such probity, a house
liked and respected by all Plassans for more than a century past. Why
people thought money safer there than in the Bank of France.

“Consider, Martine, this would not have come all of a sudden, like a
thunderclap; there would have been some rumors of it beforehand. The
deuce! an old reputation does not fall to pieces in that way, in a
night.”

At this she made a gesture of despair.

“Ah, monsieur, that is what most afflicts me, because, you see, it
throws some of the responsibility on me. For weeks past I have been
hearing stories on all sides. As for you two, naturally you hear
nothing; you don’t even know whether you are alive or dead.”

Neither Pascal nor Clotilde could refrain from smiling; for it was
indeed true that their love lifted them so far above the earth that none
of the common sounds of existence reached them.

“But the stories I heard were so ugly that I didn’t like to worry you
with them. I thought they were lies.”

She was silent for a moment, and then added that while some people
merely accused M. Grandguillot of having speculated on the Bourse, there
were others who accused him of still worse practises. And she burst into
fresh sobs.

“My God! My God! what is going to become of us? We are all going to die
of starvation!”

Shaken, then, moved by seeing Clotilde’s eyes, too, filled with tears,
Pascal made an effort to remember, to see clearly into the past. Years
ago, when he had been practising in Plassans, he had deposited at
different times, with M. Grandguillot, the twenty thousand francs on the
interest of which he had lived comfortably for the past sixteen years,
and on each occasion the notary had given him a receipt for the sum
deposited. This would no doubt enable him to establish his position as
a personal creditor. Then a vague recollection awoke in his memory; he
remembered, without being able to fix the date, that at the request of
the notary, and in consequence of certain representations made by him,
which Pascal had forgotten, he had given the lawyer a power of attorney
for the purpose of investing the whole or a part of his money, in
mortgages, and he was even certain that in this power the name of the
attorney had been left in blank. But he was ignorant as to whether this
document had ever been used or not; he had never taken the trouble to
inquire how his money had been invested. A fresh pang of miserly anguish
made Martine cry out:

“Ah, monsieur, you are well punished for your sin. Was that a way to
abandon one’s money? For my part, I know almost to a sou how my account
stands every quarter; I have every figure and every document at my
fingers’ ends.”

In the midst of her distress an unconscious smile broke over her face,
lighting it all up. Her long cherished passion had been gratified; her
four hundred francs wages, saved almost intact, put out at interest for
thirty years, at last amounted to the enormous sum of twenty thousand
francs. And this treasure was put away in a safe place which no one
knew. She beamed with delight at the recollection, and she said no more.

“But who says that our money is lost?” cried Pascal.

“M. Grandguillot had a private fortune; he has not taken away with him
his house and his lands, I suppose. They will look into the affair; they
will make an investigation. I cannot make up my mind to believe him a
common thief. The only trouble is the delay: a liquidation drags on so
long.”

He spoke in this way in order to reassure Clotilde, whose growing
anxiety he observed. She looked at him, and she looked around her at La
Souleiade; her only care his happiness; her most ardent desire to live
here always, as she had lived in the past, to love him always in this
beloved solitude. And he, wishing to tranquilize her, recovered his fine
indifference; never having lived for money, he did not imagine that one
could suffer from the want of it.

“But I have some money!” he cried, at last. “What does Martine mean
by saying that we have not a sou left, and that we are going to die of
starvation!”

And he rose gaily, and made them both follow him saying:

“Come, come, I am going to show you some money. And I will give some of
it to Martine that she may make us a good dinner this evening.”

Upstairs in his room he triumphantly opened his desk before them. It
was in a drawer of this desk that for years past he had thrown the money
which his later patients had brought him of their own accord, for he had
never sent them an account. Nor had he ever known the exact amount of
his little treasure, of the gold and bank bills mingled together in
confusion, from which he took the sums he required for his pocket money,
his experiments, his presents, and his alms. During the last few months
he had made frequent visits to his desk, making deep inroads into
its contents. But he had been so accustomed to find there the sums he
required, after years of economy during which he had spent scarcely
anything, that he had come to believe his savings inexhaustible.

He gave a satisfied laugh, then, as he opened the drawer, crying:

“Now you shall see! Now you shall see!”

And he was confounded, when, after searching among the heap of notes and
bills, he succeeded in collecting only a sum of 615 francs--two notes of
100 francs each, 400 francs in gold, and 15 francs in change. He shook
out the papers, he felt in every corner of the drawer, crying:

“But it cannot be! There was always money here before, there was a heap
of money here a few days ago. It must have been all those old bills that
misled me. I assure you that last week I saw a great deal of money. I
had it in my hand.”

He spoke with such amusing good faith, his childlike surprise was so
sincere, that Clotilde could not keep from smiling. Ah, the poor master,
what a wretched business man he was! Then, as she observed Martine’s
look of anguish, her utter despair at sight of this insignificant sum,
which was now all there was for the maintenance of all three, she was
seized with a feeling of despair; her eyes filled with tears, and she
murmured:

“My God, it is for me that you have spent everything; if we have nothing
now, if we are ruined, it is I who am the cause of it!”

Pascal had already forgotten the money he had taken for the presents.
Evidently that was where it had gone. The explanation tranquilized him.
And as she began to speak in her grief of returning everything to the
dealers, he grew angry.

“Give back what I have given you! You would give a piece of my heart
with it, then! No, I would rather die of hunger, I tell you!”

Then his confidence already restored, seeing a future of unlimited
possibilities opening out before him, he said:

“Besides, we are not going to die of hunger to-night, are we, Martine?
There is enough here to keep us for a long time.”

Martine shook her head. She would undertake to manage with it for
two months, for two and a half, perhaps, if people had sense, but not
longer. Formerly the drawer was replenished; there was always some money
coming in; but now that monsieur had given up his patients, they had
absolutely no income. They must not count on any help from outside,
then. And she ended by saying:

“Give me the two one-hundred-franc bills. I’ll try and make them last
for a month. Then we shall see. But be very prudent; don’t touch the
four hundred francs in gold; lock the drawer and don’t open it again.”

“Oh, as to that,” cried the doctor, “you may make your mind easy. I
would rather cut off my right hand.”

And thus it was settled. Martine was to have entire control of this
last purse; and they might trust to her economy, they were sure that she
would save the centimes. As for Clotilde, who had never had a private
purse, she would not even feel the want of money. Pascal only would
suffer from no longer having his inexhaustible treasure to draw upon,
but he had given his promise to allow the servant to buy everything.

“There! That is a good piece of work!” he said, relieved, as happy as
if he had just settled some important affair which would assure them a
living for a long time to come.

A week passed during which nothing seemed to have changed at La
Souleiade. In the midst of their tender raptures neither Pascal nor
Clotilde thought any more of the want which was impending. And one
morning during the absence of the latter, who had gone with Martine to
market, the doctor received a visit which filled him at first with a
sort of terror. It was from the woman who had sold him the beautiful
corsage of old point d’Alencon, his first present to Clotilde. He felt
himself so weak against a possible temptation that he trembled. Even
before the woman had uttered a word he had already begun to defend
himself--no, no, he neither could nor would buy anything. And with
outstretched hands he prevented her from taking anything out of her
little bag, declaring to himself that he would look at nothing. The
dealer, however, a fat, amiable woman, smiled, certain of victory. In an
insinuating voice she began to tell him a long story of how a lady, whom
she was not at liberty to name, one of the most distinguished ladies
in Plassans, who had suddenly met with a reverse of fortune, had been
obliged to part with one of her jewels; and she then enlarged on the
splendid chance--a piece of jewelry that had cost twelve hundred francs,
and she was willing to let it go for five hundred. She opened her bag
slowly, in spite of the terrified and ever-louder protestations of the
doctor, and took from it a slender gold necklace set simply with seven
pearls in front; but the pearls were of wonderful brilliancy--flawless,
and perfect in shape. The ornament was simple, chaste, and of exquisite
delicacy. And instantly he saw in fancy the necklace on Clotilde’s
beautiful neck, as its natural adornment. Any other jewel would have
been a useless ornament, these pearls would be the fitting symbol of her
youth. And he took the necklace in his trembling fingers, experiencing
a mortal anguish at the idea of returning it. He defended himself still,
however; he declared that he had not five hundred francs, while the
dealer continued, in her smooth voice, to push the advantage she had
gained. After another quarter an hour, when she thought she had him
secure, she suddenly offered him the necklace for three hundred francs,
and he yielded; his mania for giving, his desire to please his idol, to
adorn her, conquered. When he went to the desk to take the fifteen
gold pieces to count them out to the dealer, he felt convinced that the
notary’s affairs would be arranged, and that they would soon have plenty
of money.

When Pascal found himself once more alone, with the ornament in his
pocket, he was seized with a childish delight, and he planned his little
surprise, while waiting, excited and impatient, for Clotilde’s return.
The moment she made her appearance his heart began to beat violently.
She was very warm, for an August sun was blazing in the sky, and she
laid aside her things quickly, pleased with her walk, telling him,
laughing, of the good bargain Martine had made--two pigeons for eighteen
sous. While she was speaking he pretended to notice something on her
neck.

“Why, what have you on your neck? Let me see.”

He had the necklace in his hand, and he succeeded in putting it around
her neck, while feigning to pass his fingers over it, to assure himself
that there was nothing there. But she resisted, saying gaily:

“Don’t! There is nothing on my neck. Here, what are you doing? What have
you in your hand that is tickling me?”

He caught hold of her, and drew her before the long mirror, in which she
had a full view of herself. On her neck the slender chain showed like a
thread of gold, and the seven pearls, like seven milky stars, shone with
soft luster against her satin skin. She looked charmingly childlike.
Suddenly she gave a delighted laugh, like the cooing of a dove swelling
out its throat proudly.

“Oh, master, master, how good you are! Do you think of nothing but me,
then? How happy you make me!”

And the joy which shone in her eyes, the joy of the woman and the lover,
happy to be beautiful and to be adored, recompensed him divinely for his
folly.

She drew back her head, radiant, and held up her mouth to him. He bent
over and kissed her.

“Are you happy?”

“Oh, yes, master, happy, happy! Pearls are so sweet, so pure! And these
are so becoming to me!”

For an instant longer she admired herself in the glass, innocently vain
of her fair flower-like skin, under the nacre drops of the pearls. Then,
yielding to a desire to show herself, hearing the servant moving about
outside, she ran out, crying:

“Martine, Martine! See what master has just given me! Say, am I not
beautiful!”

But all at once, seeing the old maid’s severe face, that had suddenly
turned an ashen hue, she became confused, and all her pleasure was
spoiled. Perhaps she had a consciousness of the jealous pang which
her brilliant youth caused this poor creature, worn out in the dumb
resignation of her servitude, in adoration of her master. This, however,
was only a momentary feeling, unconscious in the one, hardly suspected
by the other, and what remained was the evident disapprobation of the
economical servant, condemning the present with her sidelong glance.

Clotilde was seized with a little chill.

“Only,” she murmured, “master has rummaged his desk again. Pearls are
very dear, are they not?”

Pascal, embarrassed, too, protested volubly, telling them of the
splendid opportunity presented by the dealer’s visit. An incredibly good
stroke of business--it was impossible to avoid buying the necklace.

“How much?” asked the young girl with real anxiety.

“Three hundred francs.”

Martine, who had not yet opened her lips, but who looked terrible in her
silence, could not restrain a cry.

“Good God! enough to live upon for six weeks, and we have not bread!”

Large tears welled from Clotilde’s eyes. She would have torn the
necklace from her neck if Pascal had not prevented her. She wished to
give it to him on the instant, and she faltered in heart-broken tones:

“It is true, Martine is right. Master is mad, and I am mad, too, to keep
this for an instant, in the situation in which we are. It would burn my
flesh. Let me take it back, I beg of you.”

Never would he consent to this, he said. Now his eyes, too, were moist,
he joined in their grief, crying that he was incorrigible, that they
ought to have taken all the money away from him. And running to the desk
he took the hundred francs that were left, and forced Martine to take
them, saying:

“I tell you that I will not keep another sou. I should spend this, too.
Take it, Martine; you are the only one of us who has any sense. You will
make the money last, I am very certain, until our affairs are settled.
And you, dear, keep that; do not grieve me.”

Nothing more was said about this incident. But Clotilde kept the
necklace, wearing it under her gown; and there was a sort of delightful
mystery in feeling on her neck, unknown to every one, this simple,
pretty ornament. Sometimes, when they were alone, she would smile at
Pascal and draw the pearls from her dress quickly, and show them to him
without a word; and as quickly she would replace them again on her warm
neck, filled with delightful emotion. It was their fond folly which she
thus recalled to him, with a confused gratitude, a vivid and radiant
joy--a joy which nevermore left her.

A straitened existence, sweet in spite of everything, now began for
them. Martine made an exact inventory of the resources of the house, and
it was not reassuring. The provision of potatoes only promised to be
of any importance. As ill luck would have it, the jar of oil was almost
out, and the last cask of wine was also nearly empty. La Souleiade,
having neither vines nor olive trees, produced only a few vegetables and
some fruits--pears, not yet ripe, and trellis grapes, which were to be
their only delicacies. And meat and bread had to be bought every day. So
that from the first day the servant put Pascal and Clotilde on rations,
suppressing the former sweets, creams, and pastry, and reducing the food
to the quantity barely necessary to sustain life. She resumed all
her former authority, treating them like children who were not to be
consulted, even with regard to their wishes or their tastes. It was
she who arranged the menus, who knew better than themselves what they
wanted; but all this like a mother, surrounding them with unceasing
care, performing the miracle of enabling them to live still with comfort
on their scanty resources; occasionally severe with them, for their own
good, as one is severe with a child when it refuses to eat its food. And
it seemed as if this maternal care, this last immolation, the illusory
peace with which she surrounded their love, gave her, too, a little
happiness, and drew her out of the dumb despair into which she had
fallen. Since she had thus watched over them she had begun to look like
her old self, with her little white face, the face of a nun vowed to
chastity; her calm ash-colored eyes, which expressed the resignation of
her thirty years of servitude. When, after the eternal potatoes and the
little cutlet at four sous, undistinguishable among the vegetables, she
was able, on certain days, without compromising her budget, to give them
pancakes, she was triumphant, she laughed to see them laugh.

Pascal and Clotilde thought everything she did was right, which did not
prevent them, however, from jesting about her when she was not present.
The old jests about her avarice were repeated over and over again. They
said that she counted the grains of pepper, so many grains for each
dish, in her passion for economy. When the potatoes had too little oil,
when the cutlets were reduced to a mouthful, they would exchange a quick
glance, stifling their laughter in their napkins, until she had left
the room. Everything was a source of amusement to them, and they laughed
innocently at their misery.

At the end of the first month Pascal thought of Martine’s wages. Usually
she took her forty francs herself from the common purse which she kept.

“My poor girl,” he said to her one evening, “what are you going to do
for your wages, now that we have no more money?”

She remained for a moment with her eyes fixed on the ground, with an air
of consternation, then she said:

“Well, monsieur, I must only wait.”

But he saw that she had not said all that was in her mind, that she had
thought of some arrangement which she did not know how to propose to
him, so he encouraged her.

“Well, then, if monsieur would consent to it, I should like monsieur to
sign me a paper.”

“How, a paper?”

“Yes, a paper, in which monsieur should say, every month, that he owes
me forty francs.”

Pascal at once made out the paper for her, and this made her quite
happy. She put it away as carefully as if it had been real money.
This evidently tranquilized her. But the paper became a new subject of
wondering amusement to the doctor and his companion. In what did the
extraordinary power consist which money has on certain natures? This
old maid, who would serve him on bended knees, who adored him above
everything, to the extent of having devoted to him her whole life, to
ask for this silly guarantee, this scrap of paper which was of no value,
if he should be unable to pay her.

So far neither Pascal nor Clotilde had any great merit in preserving
their serenity in misfortune, for they did not feel it. They lived high
above it, in the rich and happy realm of their love. At table they did
not know what they were eating; they might fancy they were partaking of
a princely banquet, served on silver dishes. They were unconscious of
the increasing destitution around them, of the hunger of the servant
who lived upon the crumbs from their table; and they walked through the
empty house as through a palace hung with silk and filled with riches.
This was undoubtedly the happiest period of their love. The workroom had
pleasant memories of the past, and they spent whole days there, wrapped
luxuriously in the joy of having lived so long in it together. Then, out
of doors, in every corner of La Souleiade, royal summer had set up his
blue tent, dazzling with gold. In the morning, in the embalsamed walks
on the pine grove; at noon under the dark shadow of the plane trees,
lulled by the murmur of the fountain; in the evening on the cool
terrace, or in the still warm threshing yard bathed in the faint blue
radiance of the first stars, they lived with rapture their straitened
life, their only ambition to live always together, indifferent to all
else. The earth was theirs, with all its riches, its pomps, and its
dominions, since they loved each other.

Toward the end of August however, matters grew bad again. At times they
had rude awakenings, in the midst of this life without ties, without
duties, without work; this life which was so sweet, but which it would
be impossible, hurtful, they knew, to lead always. One evening Martine
told them that she had only fifty francs left, and that they would have
difficulty in managing for two weeks longer, even giving up wine. In
addition to this the news was very serious; the notary Grandguillot was
beyond a doubt insolvent, so that not even the personal creditors would
receive anything. In the beginning they had relied on the house and the
two farms which the fugitive notary had left perforce behind him, but it
was now certain that this property was in his wife’s name and, while
he was enjoying in Switzerland, as it was said, the beauty of the
mountains, she lived on one of the farms, which she cultivated
quietly, away from the annoyances of the liquidation. In short, it was
infamous--a hundred families ruined; left without bread. An assignee had
indeed been appointed, but he had served only to confirm the disaster,
since not a centime of assets had been discovered. And Pascal, with his
usual indifference, neglected even to go and see him to speak to him
about his own case, thinking that he already knew all that there was
to be known about it, and that it was useless to stir up this ugly
business, since there was neither honor nor profit to be derived from
it.

Then, indeed, the future looked threatening at La Souleiade. Black want
stared them in the face. And Clotilde, who, in reality, had a great
deal of good sense, was the first to take alarm. She maintained her
cheerfulness while Pascal was present, but, more prescient than he, in
her womanly tenderness, she fell into a state of absolute terror if he
left her for an instant, asking herself what was to become of him at
his age with so heavy a burden upon his shoulders. For several days she
cherished in secret a project--to work and earn money, a great deal of
money, with her pastels. People had so often praised her extraordinary
and original talent that, taking Martine into her confidence, she sent
her one fine morning to offer some of her fantastic bouquets to the
color dealer of the Cours Sauvaire, who was a relation, it was said, of
a Parisian artist. It was with the express condition that nothing was to
be exhibited in Plassans, that everything was to be sent to a distance.
But the result was disastrous; the merchant was frightened by the
strangeness of the design, and by the fantastic boldness of the
execution, and he declared that they would never sell. This threw her
into despair; great tears welled her eyes. Of what use was she? It was
a grief and a humiliation to be good for nothing. And the servant was
obliged to console her, saying that no doubt all women were not born for
work; that some grew like the flowers in the gardens, for the sake
of their fragrance; while others were the wheat of the fields that is
ground up and used for food.

Martine, meantime, cherished another project; it was to urge the doctor
to resume his practise. At last she mentioned it to Clotilde, who at
once pointed out to her the difficulty, the impossibility almost, of
such an attempt. She and Pascal had been talking about his doing so only
the day before. He, too, was anxious, and had thought of work as the
only chance of salvation. The idea of opening an office again was
naturally the first that had presented itself to him. But he had been
for so long a time the physician of the poor! How could he venture now
to ask payment when it was so many years since he had left off doing so?
Besides, was it not too late, at his age, to recommence a career? not to
speak of the absurd rumors that had been circulating about him, the name
which they had given him of a crack-brained genius. He would not find a
single patient now, it would be a useless cruelty to force him to make
an attempt which would assuredly result only in a lacerated heart and
empty hands. Clotilde, on the contrary, had used all her influence to
turn him from the idea. Martine comprehended the reasonableness of these
objections, and she too declared that he must be prevented from running
the risk of so great a chagrin. But while she was speaking a new idea
occurred to her, as she suddenly remembered an old register, which she
had met with in a press, and in which she had in former times entered
the doctor’s visits. For a long time it was she who had kept the
accounts. There were so many patients who had never paid that a list
of them filled three of the large pages of the register. Why, then, now
that they had fallen into misfortune, should they not ask from these
people the money which they justly owed? It might be done without saying
anything to monsieur, who had never been willing to appeal to the
law. And this time Clotilde approved of her idea. It was a perfect
conspiracy. Clotilde consulted the register, and made out the bills, and
the servant presented them. But nowhere did she receive a sou; they told
her at every door that they would look over the account; that they would
stop in and see the doctor himself. Ten days passed, no one came, and
there were now only six francs in the house, barely enough to live upon
for two or three days longer.

Martine, when she returned with empty hands on the following day from a
new application to an old patient, took Clotilde aside and told her that
she had just been talking with Mme. Felicite at the corner of the Rue de
la Banne. The latter had undoubtedly been watching for her. She had
not again set foot in La Souleiade. Not even the misfortune which had
befallen her son--the sudden loss of his money, of which the whole
town was talking--had brought her to him; she still continued stern and
indignant. But she waited in trembling excitement, she maintained her
attitude as an offended mother only in the certainty that she would at
last have Pascal at her feet, shrewdly calculating that he would sooner
or later be compelled to appeal to her for assistance. When he had not a
sou left, when he knocked at her door, then she would dictate her
terms; he should marry Clotilde, or, better still, she would demand the
departure of the latter. But the days passed, and he did not come. And
this was why she had stopped Martine, assuming a pitying air, asking
what news there was, and seeming to be surprised that they had not had
recourse to her purse, while giving it to be understood that her dignity
forbade her to take the first step.

“You should speak to monsieur, and persuade him,” ended the servant. And
indeed, why should he not appeal to his mother? That would be entirely
natural.

“Oh! never would I undertake such a commission,” cried Clotilde.
“Master would be angry, and with reason. I truly believe he would die of
starvation before he would eat grandmother’s bread.”

But on the evening of the second day after this, at dinner, as Martine
was putting on the table a piece of boiled beef left over from the day
before, she gave them notice.

“I have no more money, monsieur, and to-morrow there will be only
potatoes, without oil or butter. It is three weeks now that you have had
only water to drink; now you will have to do without meat.”

They were still cheerful, they could still jest.

“Have you salt, my good girl?”

“Oh, that; yes, monsieur, there is still a little left.”

“Well, potatoes and salt are very good when one is hungry.”

That night, however, Pascal noticed that Clotilde was feverish; this was
the hour in which they exchanged confidences, and she ventured to tell
him of her anxiety on his account, on her own, on that of the whole
house. What was going to become of them when all their resources should
be exhausted? For a moment she thought of speaking to him of his mother.
But she was afraid, and she contented herself with confessing to him
what she and Martine had done--the old register examined, the bills made
out and sent, the money asked everywhere in vain. In other circumstances
he would have been greatly annoyed and very angry at this confession;
offended that they should have acted without his knowledge, and contrary
to the attitude he had maintained during his whole professional life. He
remained for a long tine silent, strongly agitated, and this would have
sufficed to prove how great must be his secret anguish at times, under
his apparent indifference to poverty. Then he forgave Clotilde, clasping
her wildly to his breast, and finally he said that she had done right,
that they could not continue to live much longer as they were living,
in a destitution which increased every day. Then they fell into silence,
each trying to think of a means of procuring the money necessary for
their daily wants, each suffering keenly; she, desperate at the thought
of the tortures that awaited him; he unable to accustom himself to the
idea of seeing her wanting bread. Was their happiness forever ended,
then? Was poverty going to blight their spring with its chill breath?

At breakfast, on the following day, they ate only fruit. The doctor was
very silent during the morning, a prey to a visible struggle. And it was
not until three o’clock that he took a resolution.

“Come, we must stir ourselves,” he said to his companion. “I do not
wish you to fast this evening again; so put on your hat, we will go out
together.”

She looked at him, waiting for an explanation.

“Yes, since they owe us money, and have refused to give it to you, I
will see whether they will also refuse to give it to me.”

His hands trembled; the thought of demanding payment in this way, after
so many years, evidently made him suffer terribly; but he forced
a smile, he affected to be very brave. And she, who knew from the
trembling of his voice the extent of his sacrifice, had tears in her
eyes.

“No, no, master; don’t go if it makes you suffer so much. Martine can go
again.”

But the servant, who was present, approved highly of monsieur’s
intention.

“And why should not monsieur go? There’s no shame in asking what is owed
to one, is there? Every one should have his own; for my part, I think it
quite right that monsieur should show at last that he is a man.”

Then, as before, in their hours of happiness, old King David, as Pascal
jestingly called himself, left the house, leaning on Abishag’s arm.
Neither of them was yet in rags; he still wore his tightly buttoned
overcoat; she had on her pretty linen gown with red spots, but doubtless
the consciousness of their poverty lowered them in their own estimation,
making them feel that they were now only two poor people who occupied
a very insignificant place in the world, for they walked along by the
houses, shunning observation. The sunny streets were almost deserted. A
few curious glances embarrassed them. They did not hasten their steps,
however; only their hearts were oppressed at the thought of the visits
they were about to make.

Pascal resolved to begin with an old magistrate whom he had treated
for an affection of the liver. He entered the house, leaving Clotilde
sitting on the bench in the Cours Sauvaire. But he was greatly relieved
when the magistrate, anticipating his demand, told him that he did not
receive his rents until October, and that he would pay him then. At
the house of an old lady of seventy, a paralytic, the rebuff was of a
different kind. She was offended because her account had been sent to
her through a servant who had been impolite; so that he hastened to
offer her his excuses, giving her all the time she desired. Then he
climbed up three flights of stairs to the apartment of a clerk in the
tax collector’s office, whom he found still ill, and so poor that he did
not even venture to make his demand. Then followed a mercer, a lawyer’s
wife, an oil merchant, a baker--all well-to-do people; and all turned
him away, some with excuses, others by denying him admittance; a few
even pretended not to know what he meant. There remained the Marquise
de Valqueyras, the sole representative of a very ancient family, a widow
with a girl of ten, who was very rich, and whose avarice was notorious.
He had left her for the last, for he was greatly afraid of her. Finally
he knocked at the door of her ancient mansion, at the foot of the Cours
Sauvaire, a massive structure of the time of Mazarin. He remained so
long in the house that Clotilde, who was walking under the trees, at
last became uneasy.

When he finally made his appearance, at the end of a full half hour, she
said jestingly, greatly relieved:

“Why, what was the matter? Had she no money?”

But here, too, he had been unsuccessful; she complained that her tenants
did not pay her.

“Imagine,” he continued, in explanation of his long absence, “the little
girl is ill. I am afraid that it is the beginning of a gastric fever. So
she wished me to see the child, and I examined her.”

A smile which she could not suppress came to Clotilde’s lips.

“And you prescribed for her?”

“Of course; could I do otherwise?”

She took his arm again, deeply affected, and he felt her press it
against her heart. For a time they walked on aimlessly. It was all over;
they had knocked at every debtor’s door, and nothing now remained for
them to do but to return home with empty hands. But this Pascal refused
to do, determined that Clotilde should have something more than the
potatoes and water which awaited them. When they ascended the Cours
Sauvaire, they turned to the left, to the new town; drifting now whither
cruel fate led them.

“Listen,” said Pascal at last; “I have an idea. If I were to speak to
Ramond he would willingly lend us a thousand francs, which we could
return to him when our affairs are arranged.”

She did not answer at once. Ramond, whom she had rejected, who was now
married and settled in a house in the new town, in a fair way to become
the fashionable physician of the place, and to make a fortune! She knew,
indeed, that he had a magnanimous soul and a kind heart. If he had not
visited them again it had been undoubtedly through delicacy. Whenever
they chanced to meet, he saluted them with so admiring an air, he seemed
so pleased to see their happiness.

“Would that be disagreeable to you?” asked Pascal ingenuously. For his
part, he would have thrown open to the young physician his house, his
purse, and his heart.

“No, no,” she answered quickly. “There has never been anything between
us but affection and frankness. I think I gave him a great deal of pain,
but he has forgiven me. You are right; we have no other friend. It is to
Ramond that we must apply.”

Ill luck pursued them, however. Ramond was absent from home, attending a
consultation at Marseilles, and he would not be back until the following
evening. And it young Mme. Ramond, an old friend of Clotilde’s,
some three years her junior, who received them. She seemed a little
embarrassed, but she was very amiable, notwithstanding. But the doctor,
naturally, did not prefer his request, and contented himself with
saying, in explanation of his visit, that he had missed Ramond. When
they were in the street again, Pascal and Clotilde felt themselves once
more abandoned and alone. Where now should they turn? What new effort
should they make? And they walked on again aimlessly.

“I did not tell you, master,” Clotilde at last ventured to murmur, “but
it seems that Martine met grandmother the other day. Yes, grandmother
has been uneasy about us. She asked Martine why we did not go to her, if
we were in want. And see, here is her house.”

They were in fact, in the Rue de la Banne. They could see the corner of
the Place de la Sous-Prefecture. But he at once silenced her.

“Never, do you hear! Nor shall you go either. You say that because it
grieves you to see me in this poverty. My heart, too, is heavy, to think
that you also are in want, that you also suffer. But it is better to
suffer than to do a thing that would leave one an eternal remorse. I
will not. I cannot.”

They emerged from the Rue de la Banne, and entered the old quarter.

“I would a thousand times rather apply to a stranger. Perhaps we still
have friends, even if they are only among the poor.”

And resolved to beg, David continued his walk, leaning on the arm of
Abishag; the old mendicant king went from door to door, leaning on the
shoulder of the loving subject whose youth was now his only support.
It was almost six o’clock; the heat had abated; the narrow streets were
filling with people; and in this populous quarter where they were loved,
they were everywhere greeted with smiles. Something of pity was mingled
with the admiration they awakened, for every one knew of their ruin. But
they seemed of a nobler beauty than before, he all white, she all blond,
pressing close to each other in their misfortune. They seemed more
united, more one with each other than ever; holding their heads erect,
proud of their glorious love, though touched by misfortune; he shaken,
while she, with a courageous heart, sustained him. And in spite of the
poverty that had so suddenly overtaken them they walked without shame,
very poor and very great, with the sorrowful smile under which they
concealed the desolation of their souls. Workmen in dirty blouses passed
them by, who had more money in their pockets than they. No one ventured
to offer them the sou which is not refused to those who are hungry. At
the Rue Canoquin they stopped at the house of Gulraude. She had died
the week before. Two other attempts which they made failed. They were
reduced now to consider where they could borrow ten francs. They had
been walking about the town for three hours, but they could not resolve
to go home empty-handed.

Ah, this Plassans, with its Cours Sauvaire, its Rue de Rome, and its Rue
de la Banne, dividing it into three quarters; this Plassans; with its
windows always closed, this sun-baked town, dead in appearance, but
which concealed under this sleeping surface a whole nocturnal life of
the clubhouse and the gaming table. They walked through it three times
more with slackened pace, on this clear, calm close of a glowing August
day. In the yard of the coach office a few old stage-coaches, which
still plied between the town and the mountain villages, were standing
unharnessed; and under the thick shade of the plane trees at the doors
of the cafes, the customers, who were to be seen from seven o’clock
in the morning, looked after them smiling. In the new town, too, the
servants came and stood at the doors of the wealthy houses; they met
with less sympathy here than in the deserted streets of the Quartier St.
Marc, whose antique houses maintained a friendly silence. They returned
to the heart of the old quarter where they were most liked; they went as
far as St. Saturnin, the cathedral, whose apse was shaded by the garden
of the chapter, a sweet and peaceful solitude, from which a beggar drove
them by himself asking an alms from them. They were building rapidly in
the neighborhood of the railway station; a new quarter was growing up
there, and they bent their steps in that direction. Then they returned a
last time to the Place de la Sous-Prefecture, with a sudden reawakening
of hope, thinking that they might meet some one who would offer them
money. But they were followed only by the indulgent smile of the town,
at seeing them so united and so beautiful. Only one woman had tears in
her eyes, foreseeing, perhaps, the sufferings that awaited them. The
stones of the Viorne, the little sharp paving stones, wounded their
feet. And they had at last to return to La Souleiade, without having
succeeded in obtaining anything, the old mendicant king and his
submissive subject; Abishag, in the flower of her youth, leading back
David, old and despoiled of his wealth, and weary from having walked the
streets in vain.

It was eight o’clock, and Martine, who was waiting for them,
comprehended that she would have no cooking to do this evening. She
pretended that she had dined, and as she looked ill Pascal sent her at
once to bed.

“We do not need you,” said Clotilde. “As the potatoes are on the fire we
can take them up very well ourselves.”

The servant, who was feverish and out of humor, yielded. She muttered
some indistinct words--when people had eaten up everything what was the
use of sitting down to table? Then, before shutting herself into her
room, she added:

“Monsieur, there is no more hay for Bonhomme. I thought he was looking
badly a little while ago; monsieur ought to go and see him.”

Pascal and Clotilde, filled with uneasiness, went to the stable. The old
horse was, in fact, lying on the straw in the somnolence of expiring old
age. They had not taken him out for six months past, for his legs, stiff
with rheumatism, refused to support him, and he had become completely
blind. No one could understand why the doctor kept the old beast.
Even Martine had at last said that he ought to be slaughtered, if only
through pity. But Pascal and Clotilde cried out at this, as much excited
as if it had been proposed to them to put an end to some aged relative
who was not dying fast enough. No, no, he had served them for more than
a quarter of a century; he should die comfortably with them, like the
worthy fellow he had always been. And to-night the doctor did not scorn
to examine him, as if he had never attended any other patients than
animals. He lifted up his hoofs, looked at his gums, and listened to the
beating of his heart.

“No, there is nothing the matter with him,” he said at last. “It is
simply old age. Ah, my poor old fellow, I think, indeed, we shall never
again travel the roads together.”

The idea that there was no more hay distressed Clotilde. But Pascal
reassured her--an animal of that age, that no longer moved about, needed
so little. She stooped down and took a few handfuls of grass from a heap
which the servant had left there, and both were rejoiced when Bonhomme
deigned, solely and simply through friendship, as it seemed, to eat the
grass out of her hand.

“Oh,” she said, laughing, “so you still have an appetite! You cannot be
very sick, then; you must not try to work upon our feelings. Good night,
and sleep well.”

And they left him to his slumbers after having each given him, as usual,
a hearty kiss on either side of his nose.

Night fell, and an idea occurred to them, in order not to remain
downstairs in the empty house--to close up everything and eat their
dinner upstairs. Clotilde quickly took up the dish of potatoes, the
salt-cellar, and a fine decanter of water; while Pascal took charge of
a basket of grapes, the first which they had yet gathered from an early
vine at the foot of the terrace. They closed the door, and laid the
cloth on a little table, putting the potatoes in the middle between the
salt-cellar and the decanter, and the basket of grapes on a chair beside
them. And it was a wonderful feast, which reminded them of the delicious
breakfast they had made on the morning on which Martine had obstinately
shut herself up in her room, and refused to answer them. They
experienced the same delight as then at being alone, at waiting upon
themselves, at eating from the same plate, sitting close beside each
other. This evening, which they had anticipated with so much dread, had
in store for them the most delightful hours of their existence. As soon
as they found themselves at home in the large friendly room, as far
removed from the town which they had just been scouring as if they had
been a hundred leagues away from it, all uneasiness and all sadness
vanished--even to the recollection of the wretched afternoon wasted in
useless wanderings. They were once more indifferent to all that was
not their affection; they no longer remembered that they had lost their
fortune; that they might have to hunt up a friend on the morrow in order
to be able to dine in the evening. Why torture themselves with fears
of coming want, when all they required to enjoy the greatest possible
happiness was to be together?

But Pascal felt a sudden terror.

“My God! and we dreaded this evening so greatly! Is it wise to be happy
in this way? Who knows what to-morrow may have in store for us?”

But she put her little hand over his mouth; she desired that he should
have one more evening of perfect happiness.

“No, no; to-morrow we shall love each other as we love each other
to-day. Love me with all your strength, as I love you.”

And never had they eaten with more relish. She displayed the appetite of
a healthy young girl with a good digestion; she ate the potatoes with a
hearty appetite, laughing, thinking them delicious, better than the
most vaunted delicacies. He, too, recovered the appetite of his youthful
days. They drank with delight deep draughts of pure water. Then the
grapes for dessert filled them with admiration; these grapes so fresh,
this blood of the earth which the sun had touched with gold. They ate
to excess; they became drunk on water and fruit, and more than all on
gaiety. They did not remember ever before to have enjoyed such a feast
together; even the famous breakfast they had made, with its luxuries of
cutlets and bread and wine, had not given them this intoxication, this
joy in living, when to be together was happiness enough, changing the
china to dishes of gold, and the miserable food to celestial fare such
as not even the gods enjoyed.

It was now quite dark, but they did not light the lamp. Through the
wide open windows they could see the vast summer sky. The night breeze
entered, still warm and laden with a faint odor of lavender. The moon
had just risen above the horizon, large and round, flooding the room
with a silvery light, in which they saw each other as in a dream light
infinitely bright and sweet.



XI.

But on the following day their disquietude all returned. They were now
obliged to go in debt. Martine obtained on credit bread, wine, and
a little meat, much to her shame, be it said, forced as she was to
maneuver and tell lies, for no one was ignorant of the ruin that had
overtaken the house. The doctor had indeed thought of mortgaging La
Souleiade, but only as a last resource. All he now possessed was this
property, which was worth twenty thousand francs, but for which he would
perhaps not get fifteen thousand, if he should sell it; and when these
should be spent black want would be before them, the street, without
even a stone of their own on which to lay their heads. Clotilde
therefore begged Pascal to wait and not to take any irrevocable step so
long as things were not utterly desperate.

Three or four days passed. It was the beginning of September, and
the weather unfortunately changed; terrible storms ravaged the entire
country; a part of the garden wall was blown down, and as Pascal was
unable to rebuild it, the yawning breach remained. Already they were
beginning to be rude at the baker’s. And one morning the old servant
came home with the meat from the butcher’s in tears, saying that he had
given her the refuse. A few days more and they would be unable to obtain
anything on credit. It had become absolutely necessary to consider how
they should find the money for their small daily expenses.

One Monday morning, the beginning of another week of torture, Clotilde
was very restless. A struggle seemed to be going on within her, and it
was only when she saw Pascal refuse at breakfast his share of a piece of
beef which had been left over from the day before that she at last came
to a decision. Then with a calm and resolute air, she went out after
breakfast with Martine, after quietly putting into the basket of the
latter a little package--some articles of dress which she was giving
her, she said.

When she returned two hours later she was very pale. But her large eyes,
so clear and frank, were shining. She went up to the doctor at once and
made her confession.

“I must ask your forgiveness, master, for I have just been disobeying
you, and I know that I am going to pain you greatly.”

“Why, what have you been doing?” he asked uneasily, not understanding
what she meant.

Slowly, without removing her eyes from him, she drew from her pocket
an envelope, from which she took some bank-notes. A sudden intuition
enlightened him, and he cried:

“Ah, my God! the jewels, the presents I gave you!”

And he, who was usually so good-tempered and gentle, was convulsed with
grief and anger. He seized her hands in his, crushing with almost brutal
force the fingers which held the notes.

“My God! what have you done, unhappy girl? It is my heart that you have
sold, both our hearts, that had entered into those jewels, which
you have given with them for money! The jewels which I gave you, the
souvenirs of our divinest hours, your property, yours only, how can
you wish me to take them back, to turn them to my profit? Can it be
possible--have you thought of the anguish that this would give me?”

“And you, master,” she answered gently, “do you think that I could
consent to our remaining in the unhappy situation in which we are, in
want of everything, while I had these rings and necklaces and earrings
laid away in the bottom of a drawer? Why, my whole being would rise in
protest. I should think myself a miser, a selfish wretch, if I had
kept them any longer. And, although it was a grief for me to part with
them--ah, yes, I confess it, so great a grief that I could hardly find
the courage to do it--I am certain that I have only done what I ought to
have done as an obedient and loving woman.”

And as he still grasped her hands, tears came to her eyes, and she added
in the same gentle voice and with a faint smile:

“Don’t press so hard; you hurt me.”

Then repentant and deeply moved, Pascal, too, wept.

“I am a brute to get angry in this way. You acted rightly; you could
not do otherwise. But forgive me; it was hard for me to see you despoil
yourself. Give me your hands, your poor hands, and let me kiss away the
marks of my stupid violence.”

He took her hands again in his tenderly; he covered them with kisses; he
thought them inestimably precious, so delicate and bare, thus
stripped of their rings. Consoled now, and joyous, she told him of her
escapade--how she had taken Martine into her confidence, and how both
had gone to the dealer who had sold him the corsage of point d’Alencon,
and how after interminable examining and bargaining the woman had given
six thousand francs for all the jewels. Again he repressed a gesture
of despair--six thousand francs! when the jewels had cost him more than
three times that amount--twenty thousand francs at the very least.

“Listen,” he said to her at last; “I will take this money, since, in
the goodness of your heart, you have brought it to me. But it is clearly
understood that it is yours. I swear to you that I will, for the future,
be more miserly than Martine herself. I will give her only the few sous
that are absolutely necessary for our maintenance, and you will find in
the desk all that may be left of this sum, if I should never be able to
complete it and give it back to you entire.”

He clasped her in an embrace that still trembled with emotion.
Presently, lowering his voice to a whisper, he said:

“And did you sell everything, absolutely everything?”

Without speaking, she disengaged herself a little from his embrace,
and put her fingers to her throat, with her pretty gesture, smiling and
blushing. Finally, she drew out the slender chain on which shone the
seven pearls, like milky stars. Then she put it back again out of sight.

He, too, blushed, and a great joy filled his heart. He embraced her
passionately.

“Ah!” he cried, “how good you are, and how I love you!”

But from this time forth the recollection of the jewels which had been
sold rested like a weight upon his heart; and he could not look at
the money in his desk without pain. He was haunted by the thought
of approaching want, inevitable want, and by a still more bitter
thought--the thought of his age, of his sixty years which rendered him
useless, incapable of earning a comfortable living for a wife; he had
been suddenly and rudely awakened from his illusory dream of eternal
love to the disquieting reality. He had fallen unexpectedly into
poverty, and he felt himself very old--this terrified him and filled him
with a sort of remorse, of desperate rage against himself, as if he had
been guilty of a crime. And this embittered his every hour; if through
momentary forgetfulness he permitted himself to indulge in a little
gaiety his distress soon returned with greater poignancy than ever,
bringing with it a sudden and inexplicable sadness. He did not dare to
question himself, and his dissatisfaction with himself and his suffering
increased every day.

Then a frightful revelation came to him. One morning, when he was alone,
he received a letter bearing the Plassans postmark, the superscription
on which he examined with surprise, not recognizing the writing. This
letter was not signed; and after reading a few lines he made an
angry movement as if to tear it up and throw it away; but he sat down
trembling instead, and read it to the end. The style was perfectly
courteous; the long phrases rolled on, measured and carefully worded,
like diplomatic phrases, whose only aim is to convince. It was
demonstrated to him with a superabundance of arguments that the scandal
of La Souleiade had lasted too long already. If passion, up to a certain
point, explained the fault, yet a man of his age and in his situation
was rendering himself contemptible by persisting in wrecking the
happiness of the young relative whose trustfulness he abused. No one
was ignorant of the ascendency which he had acquired over her; it was
admitted that she gloried in sacrificing herself for him; but ought he
not, on his side, to comprehend that it was impossible that she should
love an old man, that what she felt was merely pity and gratitude, and
that it was high time to deliver her from this senile love, which would
finally leave her with a dishonored name! Since he could not even assure
her a small fortune, the writer hoped he would act like an honorable
man, and have the strength to separate from her, through consideration
for her happiness, if it were not yet too late. And the letter concluded
with the reflection that evil conduct was always punished in the end.

From the first sentence Pascal felt that this anonymous letter came from
his mother. Old Mme. Rougon must have dictated it; he could hear in it
the very inflections of her voice. But after having begun the letter
angry and indignant, he finished it pale and trembling, seized by the
shiver which now passed through him continually and without apparent
cause. The letter was right, it enlightened him cruelly regarding the
source of his mental distress, showing him that it was remorse for
keeping Clotilde with him, old and poor as he was. He got up and walked
over to a mirror, before which he stood for a long time, his eyes
gradually filling with tears of despair at sight of his wrinkles and his
white beard. The feeling of terror which arose within him, the mortal
chill which invaded his heart, was caused by the thought that separation
had become necessary, inevitable. He repelled the thought, he felt
that he would never have the strength for a separation, but it still
returned; he would never now pass a single day without being assailed by
it, without being torn by the struggle between his love and his reason
until the terrible day when he should become resigned, his strength and
his tears exhausted. In his present weakness, he trembled merely at the
thought of one day having this courage. And all was indeed over, the
irrevocable had begun; he was filled with fear for Clotilde, so young
and so beautiful, and all there was left him now was the duty of saving
her from himself.

Then, haunted by every word, by every phrase of the letter, he tortured
himself at first by trying to persuade himself that she did not love
him, that all she felt for him was pity and gratitude. It would make the
rupture more easy to him, he thought, if he were once convinced that she
sacrificed herself, and that in keeping her with him longer he was only
gratifying his monstrous selfishness. But it was in vain that he studied
her, that he subjected her to proofs, she remained as tender and devoted
as ever, making the dreaded decision still more difficult. Then he
pondered over all the causes that vaguely, but ceaselessly urged their
separation. The life which they had been leading for months past, this
life without ties or duties, without work of any sort, was not good. He
thought no longer of himself, he considered himself good for nothing now
but to go away and bury himself out of sight in some remote corner; but
for her was it not an injurious life, a life which would deteriorate
her character and weaken her will? And suddenly he saw himself in fancy
dying, leaving her alone to perish of hunger in the streets. No, no!
this would be a crime; he could not, for the sake of the happiness
of his few remaining days, bequeath to her this heritage of shame and
misery.

One morning Clotilde went for a walk in the neighborhood, from which she
returned greatly agitated, pale and trembling, and as soon as she
was upstairs in the workroom, she almost fainted in Pascal’s arms,
faltering:

“Oh, my God! oh, my God! those women!”

Terrified, he pressed her with questions.

“Come, tell me! What has happened?”

A flush mounted to her face. She flung her arms around his neck and hid
her head on his shoulder.

“It was those women! Reaching a shady spot, I was closing my parasol,
and I had the misfortune to throw down a child. And they all rose
against me, crying out such things, oh, such things--things that I
cannot repeat, that I could not understand!”

She burst into sobs. He was livid; he could find nothing to say to her;
he kissed her wildly, weeping like herself. He pictured to himself
the whole scene; he saw her pursued, hooted at, reviled. Presently he
faltered:

“It is my fault, it is through me you suffer. Listen, we will go away
from here, far, far away, where we shall not be known, where you will be
honored, where you will be happy.”

But seeing him weep, she recovered her calmness by a violent effort. And
drying her tears, she said:

“Ah! I have behaved like a coward in telling you all this. After
promising myself that I would say nothing of it to you. But when I found
myself at home again, my anguish was so great that it all came out. But
you see now it is all over, don’t grieve about it. I love you.”

She smiled, and putting her arms about him she kissed him in her turn,
trying to soothe his despair.

“I love you. I love you so dearly that it will console me for
everything. There is only you in the world, what matters anything that
is not you? You are so good; you make me so happy!”

But he continued to weep, and she, too, began to weep again, and there
was a moment of infinite sadness, of anguish, in which they mingled
their kisses and their tears.

Pascal, when she left him alone for an instant, thought himself a
wretch. He could no longer be the cause of misfortune to this child,
whom he adored. And on the evening of the same day an event took place
which brought about the solution hitherto sought in vain, with the fear
of finding it. After dinner Martine beckoned him aside, and gave him a
letter, with all sorts of precautions, saying:

“I met Mme. Felicite, and she charged me to give you this letter,
monsieur, and she told me to tell you that she would have brought it
to you herself, only that regard for her reputation prevented her
from returning here. She begs you to send her back M. Maxime’s letter,
letting her know mademoiselle’s answer.”

It was, in fact, a letter from Maxime, and Mme. Felicite, glad to have
received it, used it as a new means of conquering her son, after having
waited in vain for misery to deliver him up to her, repentant and
imploring. As neither Pascal nor Clotilde had come to demand aid or
succor from her, she had once more changed her plan, returning to her
old idea of separating them; and, this time, the opportunity seemed
to her decisive. Maxime’s letter was a pressing one; he urged his
grandmother to plead his cause with his sister. Ataxia had declared
itself; he was able to walk now only leaning on his servant’s arm. His
solitude terrified him, and he urgently entreated his sister to come to
him. He wished to have her with him as a rampart against his father’s
abominable designs; as a sweet and upright woman after all, who would
take care of him. The letter gave it to be understood that if she
conducted herself well toward him she would have no reason to repent it;
and ended by reminding the young girl of the promise she had made him,
at the time of his visit to Plassans, to come to him, if the day ever
arrived when he really needed her.

Pascal turned cold. He read the four pages over again. Here an
opportunity to separate presented itself, acceptable to him and
advantageous for Clotilde, so easy and so natural that they ought to
accept it at once; yet, in spite of all his reasoning he felt so weak,
so irresolute still that his limbs trembled under him, and he was
obliged to sit down for a moment. But he wished to be heroic, and
controlling himself, he called to his companion.

“Here!” he said, “read this letter which your grandmother has sent me.”

Clotilde read the letter attentively to the end without a word, without
a sign. Then she said simply:

“Well, you are going to answer it, are you not? I refuse.”

He was obliged to exercise a strong effort of self-control to avoid
uttering a great cry of joy, as he pressed her to his heart. As if it
were another person who spoke, he heard himself saying quietly:

“You refuse--impossible! You must reflect. Let us wait till to-morrow to
give an answer; and let us talk it over, shall we?”

Surprised, she cried excitedly:

“Part from each other! and why? And would you really consent to it? What
folly! we love each other, and you would have me leave you and go away
where no one cares for me! How could you think of such a thing? It would
be stupid.”

He avoided touching on this side of the question, and hastened to speak
of promises made--of duty.

“Remember, my dear, how greatly affected you were when I told you that
Maxime was in danger. And think of him now, struck down by disease,
helpless and alone, calling you to his side. Can you abandon him in that
situation? You have a duty to fulfil toward him.”

“A duty?” she cried. “Have I any duties toward a brother who has never
occupied himself with me? My only duty is where my heart is.”

“But you have promised. I have promised for you. I have said that you
were rational, and you are not going to belie my words.”

“Rational? It is you who are not rational. It is not rational to
separate when to do so would make us both die of grief.”

And with an angry gesture she closed the discussion, saying:

“Besides, what is the use of talking about it? There is nothing simpler;
it is only necessary to say a single word. Answer me. Are you tired of
me? Do you wish to send me away?”

He uttered a cry.

“Send you away! I! Great God!”

“Then it is all settled. If you do not send me away I shall remain.”

She laughed now, and, running to her desk, wrote in red pencil across
her brother’s letter two words--“I refuse;” then she called Martine and
insisted upon her taking the letter back at once. Pascal was radiant;
a wave of happiness so intense inundated his being that he let her have
her way. The joy of keeping her with him deprived him even of his power
of reasoning.

But that very night, what remorse did he not feel for having been so
cowardly! He had again yielded to his longing for happiness. A deathlike
sweat broke out upon him when he saw her in imagination far away;
himself alone, without her, without that caressing and subtle essence
that pervaded the atmosphere when she was near; her breath, her
brightness, her courageous rectitude, and the dear presence, physical
and mental, which had now become as necessary to his life as the light
of day itself. She must leave him, and he must find the strength to
die of it. He despised himself for his want of courage, he judged the
situation with terrible clear-sightedness. All was ended. An honorable
existence and a fortune awaited her with her brother; he could not carry
his senile selfishness so far as to keep her any longer in the misery in
which he was, to be scorned and despised. And fainting at the thought of
all he was losing, he swore to himself that he would be strong, that he
would not accept the sacrifice of this child, that he would restore her
to happiness and to life, in her own despite.

And now the struggle of self-abnegation began. Some days passed; he
had demonstrated to her so clearly the rudeness of her “I refuse,” on
Maxime’s letter, that she had written a long letter to her grandmother,
explaining to her the reasons for her refusal. But still she would not
leave La Souleiade. As Pascal had grown extremely parsimonious, in his
desire to trench as little as possible on the money obtained by the sale
of the jewels, she surpassed herself, eating her dry bread with merry
laughter. One morning he surprised her giving lessons of economy to
Martine. Twenty times a day she would look at him intently and then
throw herself on his neck and cover his face with kisses, to combat the
dreadful idea of a separation, which she saw always in his eyes. Then
she had another argument. One evening after dinner he was seized with a
palpitation of the heart, and almost fainted. This surprised him; he had
never suffered from the heart, and he believed it to be simply a return
of his old nervous trouble. Since his great happiness he had felt less
strong, with an odd sensation, as if some delicate hidden spring had
snapped within him. Greatly alarmed, she hurried to his assistance.
Well! now he would no doubt never speak again of her going away. When
one loved people, and they were ill, one stayed with them to take care
of them.

The struggle thus became a daily, an hourly one. It was a continual
assault made by affection, by devotion, by self-abnegation, in the one
desire for another’s happiness. But while her kindness and tenderness
made the thought of her departure only the more cruel for Pascal,
he felt every day more and more strongly the necessity for it. His
resolution was now taken. But he remained at bay, trembling and
hesitating as to the means of persuading her. He pictured to himself her
despair, her tears; what should he do? how should he tell her? how could
they bring themselves to give each other a last embrace, never to see
each other again? And the days passed, and he could think of nothing,
and he began once more to accuse himself of cowardice.

Sometimes she would say jestingly, with a touch of affectionate malice:

“Master, you are too kind-hearted not to keep me.”

But this vexed him; he grew excited, and with gloomy despair answered:

“No, no! don’t talk of my kindness. If I were really kind you would have
been long ago with your brother, leading an easy and honorable life,
with a bright and tranquil future before you, instead of obstinately
remaining here, despised, poor, and without any prospect, to be the sad
companion of an old fool like me! No, I am nothing but a coward and a
dishonorable man!”

She hastily stopped him. And it was in truth his kindness of heart,
above all, that bled, that immense kindness of heart which sprang from
his love of life, which he diffused over persons and things, in his
continual care for the happiness of every one and everything. To be
kind, was not this to love her, to make her happy, at the price of his
own happiness? This was the kindness which it was necessary for him to
exercise, and which he felt that he would one day exercise, heroic and
decisive. But like the wretch who has resolved upon suicide, he waited
for the opportunity, the hour, and the means, to carry out his design.
Early one morning, on going into the workroom, Clotilde was surprised
to see Dr. Pascal seated at his table. It was many weeks since he had
either opened a book or touched a pen.

“Why! you are working?” she said.

Without raising his head he answered absently:

“Yes; this is the genealogical tree that I had not even brought up to
date.”

She stood behind him for a few moments, looking at him writing. He was
completing the notices of Aunt Dide, of Uncle Macquart, and of little
Charles, writing the dates of their death. Then, as he did not stir,
seeming not to know that she was there, waiting for the kisses and the
smiles of other mornings, she walked idly over to the window and back
again.

“So you are in earnest,” she said, “you are really working?”

“Certainly; you see I ought to have noted down these deaths last month.
And I have a heap of work waiting there for me.”

She looked at him fixedly, with that steady inquiring gaze with which
she sought to read his thoughts.

“Very well, let us work. If you have papers to examine, or notes to
copy, give them to me.”

And from this day forth he affected to give himself up entirely to work.
Besides, it was one of his theories that absolute rest was unprofitable,
that it should never be prescribed, even to the overworked. As the fish
lives in the water, so a man lives only in the external medium which
surrounds him, the sensations which he receives from it transforming
themselves in him into impulses, thoughts, and acts; so that if there
were absolute rest, if he continued to receive sensations without giving
them out again, digested and transformed, an engorgement would result, a
_malaise_, an inevitable loss of equilibrium. For himself he had always
found work to be the best regulator of his existence. Even on the
mornings when he felt ill, if he set to work he recovered his equipoise.
He never felt better than when he was engaged on some long work,
methodically planned out beforehand, so many pages to so many hours
every morning, and he compared this work to a balancing-pole, which
enabled him to maintain his equilibrium in the midst of daily miseries,
weaknesses, and mistakes. So that he attributed entirely to the idleness
in which he had been living for some weeks past, the palpitation which
at times made him feel as if he were going to suffocate. If he wished to
recover his health he had only to take up again his great work.

And Pascal spent hours developing and explaining these theories to
Clotilde, with a feverish and exaggerated enthusiasm. He seemed to be
once more possessed by the love of knowledge and study in which, up
to the time of his sudden passion for her, he had spent his life
exclusively. He repeated to her that he could not leave his work
unfinished, that he had still a great deal to do, if he desired to leave
a lasting monument behind him. His anxiety about the envelopes seemed
to have taken possession of him again; he opened the large press twenty
times a day, taking them down from the upper shelf and enriching them
by new notes. His ideas on heredity were already undergoing a
transformation; he would have liked to review the whole, to recast the
whole, to deduce from the family history, natural and social, a vast
synthesis, a resume, in broad strokes, of all humanity. Then, besides,
he reviewed his method of treatment by hypodermic injections, with the
purpose of amplifying it--a confused vision of a new therapeutics;
a vague and remote theory based on his convictions and his personal
experience of the beneficent dynamic influence of work.

Now every morning, when he seated himself at his table, he would lament:

“I shall not live long enough; life is too short.”

He seemed to feel that he must not lose another hour. And one morning
he looked up abruptly and said to his companion, who was copying a
manuscript at his side:

“Listen well, Clotilde. If I should die--”

“What an idea!” she protested, terrified.

“If I should die,” he resumed, “listen to me well--close all the doors
immediately. You are to keep the envelopes, you, you only. And when you
have collected all my other manuscripts, send them to Ramond. These are
my last wishes, do you hear?”

But she refused to listen to him.

“No, no!” she cried hastily, “you talk nonsense!”

“Clotilde, swear to me that you will keep the envelopes, and that you
will send all my other papers to Ramond.”

At last, now very serious, and her eyes filled with tears, she gave
him the promise he desired. He caught her in his arms, he, too, deeply
moved, and lavished caresses upon her, as if his heart had all at once
reopened to her. Presently he recovered his calmness, and spoke of his
fears. Since he had been trying to work they seemed to have returned. He
kept constant watch upon the press, pretending to have observed Martine
prowling about it. Might they not work upon the fanaticism of this girl,
and urge her to a bad action, persuading her that she was securing her
master’s eternal welfare? He had suffered so much from suspicion! In the
dread of approaching solitude his former tortures returned--the tortures
of the scientist, who is menaced and persecuted by his own, at his own
fireside, in his very flesh, in the work of his brain.

One evening, when he was again discussing this subject with Clotilde, he
said unthinkingly:

“You know that when you are no longer here--”

She turned very pale and, as he stopped with a start, she cried:

“Oh, master, master, you have not given up that dreadful idea, then?
I can see in your eyes that you are hiding something from me, that you
have a thought which you no longer share with me. But if I go away and
you should die, who will be here then to protect your work?”

Thinking that she had become reconciled, to the idea of her departure,
he had the strength to answer gaily:

“Do you suppose that I would allow myself to die without seeing you once
more. I will write to you, of course. You must come back to close my
eyes.”

Now she burst out sobbing, and sank into a chair.

“My God! Can it be! You wish that to-morrow we should be together no
longer, we who have never been separated!”

From this day forth Pascal seemed more engrossed than ever in his
work. He would sit for four or five hours at a time, whole mornings and
afternoons, without once raising his head. He overacted his zeal.
He would allow no one to disturb him, by so much as a word. And when
Clotilde would leave the room on tiptoe to give an order downstairs or
to go on some errand, he would assure himself by a furtive glance that
she was gone, and then let his head drop on the table, with an air
of profound dejection. It was a painful relief from the extraordinary
effort which he compelled himself to make when she was present; to
remain at his table, instead of going over and taking her in his arms
and covering her face with sweet kisses. Ah, work! how ardently he
called on it as his only refuge from torturing thoughts. But for the
most part he was unable to work; he was obliged to feign attention,
keeping his eyes fixed upon the page, his sorrowful eyes that grew dim
with tears, while his mind, confused, distracted, filled always with one
image, suffered the pangs of death. Was he then doomed to see work fail
now its effect, he who had always considered it of sovereign power,
the creator and ruler of the world? Must he then throw away his pen,
renounce action, and do nothing in future but exist? And tears would
flow down his white beard; and if he heard Clotilde coming upstairs
again he would seize his pen quickly, in order that she might find him
as she had left him, buried seemingly in profound meditation, when his
mind was now only an aching void.

It was now the middle of September; two weeks that had seemed
interminable had passed in this distressing condition of things, without
bringing any solution, when one morning Clotilde was greatly surprised
by seeing her grandmother, Felicite, enter. Pascal had met his mother
the day before in the Rue de la Banne, and, impatient to consummate the
sacrifice, and not finding in himself the strength to make the rupture,
he had confided in her, in spite of his repugnance, and begged her to
come on the following day. As it happened, she had just received another
letter from Maxime, a despairing and imploring letter.

She began by explaining her presence.

“Yes, it is I, my dear, and you can understand that only very weighty
reasons could have induced me to set my foot here again. But, indeed,
you are getting crazy; I cannot allow you to ruin your life in this way,
without making a last effort to open your eyes.”

She then read Maxime’s letter in a tearful voice. He was nailed to an
armchair. It seemed he was suffering from a form of ataxia, rapid in its
progress and very painful. Therefore he requested a decided answer
from his sister, hoping still that she would come, and trembling at the
thought of being compelled to seek another nurse. This was what he would
be obliged to do, however, if they abandoned him in his sad condition.
And when she had finished reading the letter she hinted that it would be
a great pity to let Maxime’s fortune pass into the hands of strangers;
but, above all, she spoke of duty; of the assistance one owed to a
relation, she, too, affecting to believe that a formal promise had been
given.

“Come, my dear, call upon your memory. You told him that if he should
ever need you, you would go to him; I can hear you saying it now. Was it
not so, my son?”

Pascal, his face pale, his head slightly bent, had kept silence since
his mother’s entrance, leaving her to act. He answered only by an
affirmative nod.

Then Felicite went over all the arguments that he himself had employed
to persuade Clotilde--the dreadful scandal, to which insult was now
added; impending want, so hard for them both; the impossibility of
continuing the life they were leading. What future could they hope for,
now that they had been overtaken by poverty? It was stupid and cruel to
persist longer in her obstinate refusal.

Clotilde, standing erect and with an impenetrable countenance, remained
silent, refusing even to discuss the question. But as her grandmother
tormented her to give an answer, she said at last:

“Once more, I have no duty whatever toward my brother; my duty is here.
He can dispose of his fortune as he chooses; I want none of it. When
we are too poor, master shall send away Martine and keep me as his
servant.”

Old Mme. Rougon wagged her chin.

“Before being his servant it would be better if you had begun by being
his wife. Why have you not got married? It would have been simpler and
more proper.”

And Felicite reminded her how she had come one day to urge this
marriage, in order to put an end to gossip, and how the young girl had
seemed greatly surprised, saying that neither she nor the doctor had
thought of it, but that, notwithstanding, they would get married later
on, if necessary, for there was no hurry.

“Get married; I am quite willing!” cried Clotilde. “You are right,
grandmother.”

And turning to Pascal:

“You have told me a hundred times that you would do whatever I wished.
Marry me; do you hear? I will be your wife, and I will stay here. A wife
does not leave her husband.”

But he answered only by a gesture, as if he feared that his voice
would betray him, and that he should accept, in a cry of gratitude, the
eternal bond which she had proposed to him. His gesture might signify a
hesitation, a refusal. What was the good of this marriage _in extremis_,
when everything was falling to pieces?

“Those are very fine sentiments, no doubt,” returned Felicite. “You have
settled it all in your own little head. But marriage will not give you
an income; and, meantime, you are a great expense to him; you are the
heaviest of his burdens.”

The effect which these words had upon Clotilde was extraordinary. She
turned violently to Pascal, her cheeks crimson, her eyes filled with
tears.

“Master, master! is what grandmother has just said true? Has it come to
this, that you regret the money I cost you here?”

Pascal grew still paler; he remained motionless, in an attitude of utter
dejection. But in a far-away voice, as if he were talking to himself, he
murmured:

“I have so much work to do! I should like to go over my envelopes, my
manuscripts, my notes, and complete the work of my life. If I were
alone perhaps I might be able to arrange everything. I would sell La
Souleiade, oh! for a crust of bread, for it is not worth much. I should
shut myself and my papers in a little room. I should work from morning
till night, and I should try not to be too unhappy.”

But he avoided her glance; and, agitated as she was, these painful and
stammering utterances were not calculated to satisfy her. She grew every
moment more and more terrified, for she felt that the irrevocable word
was about to be spoken.

“Look at me, master, look me in the face. And I conjure you, be brave,
choose between your work and me, since you say, it seems, that you send
me away that you may work the better.”

The moment for the heroic falsehood had come. He lifted his head and
looked her bravely in the face, and with the smile of a dying man who
desires death, recovering his voice of divine goodness, he said:

“How excited you get! Can you not do your duty quietly, like everybody
else? I have a great deal of work to do, and I need to be alone; and
you, dear, you ought to go to your brother. Go then, everything is
ended.”

There was a terrible silence for the space of a few seconds. She looked
at him earnestly, hoping that he would change his mind. Was he really
speaking the truth? was he not sacrificing himself in order that she
might be happy? For a moment she had an intuition that this was the
case, as if some subtle breath, emanating from him, had warned her of
it.

“And you are sending me away forever? You will not permit me to come
back to-morrow?”

But he held out bravely; with another smile he seemed to answer that
when one went away like this it was not to come back again on the
following day. She was now completely bewildered; she knew not what to
think. It might be possible that he had chosen work sincerely; that the
man of science had gained the victory over the lover. She grew still
paler, and she waited a little longer, in the terrible silence; then,
slowly, with her air of tender and absolute submission, she said:

“Very well, master, I will go away whenever you wish, and I will not
return until you send for me.”

The die was cast. The irrevocable was accomplished. Each felt that
neither would attempt to recall the decision that had been made; and,
from this instant, every minute that passed would bring nearer the
separation.

Felicite, surprised at not being obliged to say more, at once desired
to fix the time for Clotilde’s departure. She applauded herself for her
tenacity; she thought she had gained the victory by main force. It
was now Friday, and it was settled that Clotilde should leave on the
following Sunday. A despatch was even sent to Maxime.

For the past three days the mistral had been blowing. But on this
evening its fury was redoubled, and Martine declared, in accordance with
the popular belief, that it would last for three days longer. The winds
at the end of September, in the valley of the Viorne, are terrible. So
that the servant took care to go into every room in the house to assure
herself that the shutters were securely fastened. When the mistral blew
it caught La Souleiade slantingly, above the roofs of the houses of
Plassans, on the little plateau on which the house was built. And now it
raged and beat against the house, shaking it from garret to cellar, day
and night, without a moment’s cessation. The tiles were blown off, the
fastenings of the windows were torn away, while the wind, entering the
crevices, moaned and sobbed wildly through the house; and the doors, if
they were left open for a moment, through forgetfulness, slammed to with
a noise like the report of a cannon. They might have fancied they were
sustaining a siege, so great were the noise and the discomfort.

It was in this melancholy house shaken by the storm that Pascal, on
the following day, helped Clotilde to make her preparations for her
departure. Old Mme. Rougon was not to return until Sunday, to say
good-by. When Martine was informed of the approaching separation,
she stood still in dumb amazement, and a flash, quickly extinguished,
lighted her eyes; and as they sent her out of the room, saying that they
would not require her assistance in packing the trunks, she returned
to the kitchen and busied herself in her usual occupations, seeming to
ignore the catastrophe which was about to revolutionize their household
of three. But at Pascal’s slightest call she would run so promptly and
with such alacrity, her face so bright and so cheerful, in her zeal
to serve him, that she seemed like a young girl. Pascal did not leave
Clotilde for a moment, helping her, desiring to assure himself that she
was taking with her everything she could need. Two large trunks stood
open in the middle of the disordered room; bundles and articles of
clothing lay about everywhere; twenty times the drawers and the presses
had been visited. And in this work, this anxiety to forget nothing, the
painful sinking of the heart which they both felt was in some measure
lessened. They forgot for an instant--he watching carefully to see that
no space was lost, utilizing the hat-case for the smaller articles of
clothing, slipping boxes in between the folds of the linen; while she,
taking down the gowns, folded them on the bed, waiting to put them
last in the top tray. Then, when a little tired they stood up and found
themselves again face to face, they would smile at each other at first;
then choke back the sudden tears that started at the recollection of the
impending and inevitable misfortune. But though their hearts bled they
remained firm. Good God! was it then true that they were to be no
longer together? And then they heard the wind, the terrible wind, which
threatened to blow down the house.

How many times during this last day did they not go over to the window,
attracted by the storm, wishing that it would sweep away the world.
During these squalls the sun did not cease to shine, the sky remained
constantly blue, but a livid blue, windswept and dusty, and the sun was
a yellow sun, pale and cold. They saw in the distance the vast white
clouds rising from the roads, the trees bending before the blast,
looking as if they were flying all in the same direction, at the same
rate of speed; the whole country parched and exhausted by the unvarying
violence of the wind that blew ceaselessly, with a roar like thunder.
Branches were snapped and whirled out of sight; roofs were lifted up and
carried so far away that they were never afterward found. Why could not
the mistral take them all up together and carry them off to some unknown
land, where they might be happy? The trunks were almost packed when
Pascal went to open one of the shutters that the wind had blown to, but
so fierce a gust swept in through the half open window that Clotilde had
to go to his assistance. Leaning with all their weight, they were able
at last to turn the catch. The articles of clothing in the room were
blown about, and they gathered up in fragments a little hand mirror
which had fallen from a chair. Was this a sign of approaching death, as
the women of the faubourg said?

In the evening, after a mournful dinner in the bright dining-room,
with its great bouquets of flowers, Pascal said he would retire early.
Clotilde was to leave on the following morning by the ten o’clock
train, and he feared for her the long journey--twenty hours of railway
traveling. But when he had retired he was unable to sleep. At first he
thought it was the wind that kept him awake. The sleeping house was
full of cries, voices of entreaty and voices of anger, mingled together,
accompanied by endless sobbing. Twice he got up and went to listen at
Clotilde’s door, but he heard nothing. He went downstairs to close a
door that banged persistently, like misfortune knocking at the walls.
Gusts blew through the dark rooms, and he went to bed again, shivering
and haunted by lugubrious visions.

At six o’clock Martine, fancying she heard her master knocking for her
on the floor of his room, went upstairs. She entered the room with the
alert and excited expression which she had worn for the past two days;
but she stood still, astonished and uneasy, when she saw him lying,
half-dressed, across his bed, haggard, biting the pillow to stifle his
sobs. He got out of bed and tried to finish dressing himself, but a
fresh attack seized him, and, his head giddy and his heart palpitating
to suffocation, recovering from a momentary faintness, he faltered in
agonized tones:

“No, no, I cannot; I suffer too much. I would rather die, die now--”

He recognized Martine, and abandoning himself to his grief, his strength
totally gone, he made his confession to her:

“My poor girl, I suffer too much, my heart is breaking. She is taking
away my heart with her, she is taking away my whole being. I cannot live
without her. I almost died last night. I would be glad to die before her
departure, not to have the anguish of seeing her go away. Oh, my God!
she is going away, and I shall have her no longer, and I shall be left
alone, alone, alone!”

The servant, who had gone upstairs so gaily, turned as pale as wax, and
a hard and bitter look came into her face. For a moment she watched him
clutching the bedclothes convulsively, uttering hoarse cries of despair,
his face pressed against the coverlet. Then, by a violent effort, she
seemed to make up her mind.

“But, monsieur, there is no sense in making trouble for yourself in
this way. It is ridiculous. Since that is how it is, and you cannot do
without mademoiselle, I shall go and tell her what a state you have let
yourself get into.”

At these words he got up hastily, staggering still, and, leaning for
support on the back of a chair, he cried:

“I positively forbid you to do so, Martine!”

“A likely thing that I should listen to you, seeing you like that! To
find you some other time half dead, crying your eyes out! No, no! I
shall go to mademoiselle and tell her the truth, and compel her to
remain with us.”

But he caught her angrily by the arm and held her fast.

“I command you to keep quiet, do you hear? Or you shall go with her!
Why did you come in? It was this wind that made me ill. That concerns no
one.”

Then, yielding to a good-natured impulse, with his usual kindness of
heart, he smiled.

“My poor girl, see how you vex me? Let me act as I ought, for the
happiness of others. And not another word; you would pain me greatly.”

Martine’s eyes, too, filled with tears. It was just in time that they
made peace, for Clotilde entered almost immediately. She had risen
early, eager to see Pascal, hoping doubtless, up to the last moment,
that he would keep her. Her own eyelids were heavy from want of sleep,
and she looked at him steadily as she entered, with her inquiring air.
But he was still so discomposed that she began to grow uneasy.

“No, indeed, I assure you, I would even have slept well but for the
mistral. I was just telling you so, Martine, was I not?”

The servant confirmed his words by an affirmative nod. And Clotilde,
too, submitted, saying nothing of the night of anguish and mental
conflict she had spent while he, on his side, had been suffering the
pangs of death. Both of the women now docilely obeyed and aided him, in
his heroic self-abnegation.

“What,” he continued, opening his desk, “I have something here for you.
There! there are seven hundred francs in that envelope.”

And in spite of her exclamations and protestations he persisted in
rendering her an account. Of the six thousand francs obtained by the
sale of the jewels two hundred only had been spent, and he had kept one
hundred to last till the end of the month, with the strict economy, the
penuriousness, which he now displayed. Afterward he would no doubt sell
La Souleiade, he would work, he would be able to extricate himself from
his difficulties. But he would not touch the five thousand francs which
remained, for they were her property, her own, and she would find them
again in the drawer.

“Master, master, you are giving me a great deal of pain--”

“I wish it,” he interrupted, “and it is you who are trying to break my
heart. Come, it is half-past seven, I will go and cord your trunks since
they are locked.”

When Martine and Clotilde were alone and face to face they looked at
each other for a moment in silence. Ever since the commencement of the
new situation, they had been fully conscious of their secret antagonism,
the open triumph of the young mistress, the half concealed jealousy of
the old servant about her adored master. Now it seemed that the victory
remained with the servant. But in this final moment their common emotion
drew them together.

“Martine, you must not let him eat like a poor man. You promise me that
he shall have wine and meat every day?”

“Have no fear, mademoiselle.”

“And the five thousand francs lying there, you know belong to him. You
are not going to let yourselves starve to death, I suppose, with those
there. I want you to treat him very well.”

“I tell you that I will make it my business to do so, mademoiselle, and
that monsieur shall want for nothing.”

There was a moment’s silence. They were still regarding each other.

“And watch him, to see that he does not overwork himself. I am going
away very uneasy; he has not been well for some time past. Take good
care of him.”

“Make your mind easy, mademoiselle, I will take care of him.”

“Well, I give him into your charge. He will have only you now; and it is
some consolation to me to know that you love him dearly. Love him with
all your strength. Love him for us both.”

“Yes, mademoiselle, as much as I can.”

Tears came into their eyes; Clotilde spoke again.

“Will you embrace me, Martine?”

“Oh, mademoiselle, very gladly.”

They were in each other’s arms when Pascal reentered the room. He
pretended not to see them, doubtless afraid of giving way to his
emotion. In an unnaturally loud voice he spoke of the final preparations
for Clotilde’s departure, like a man who had a great deal on his hands
and was afraid that the train might be missed. He had corded the trunks,
a man had taken them away in a little wagon, and they would find them at
the station. But it was only eight o’clock, and they had still two long
hours before them. Two hours of mortal anguish, spent in unoccupied
and weary waiting, during which they tasted a hundred times over the
bitterness of parting. The breakfast took hardly a quarter of an hour.
Then they got up, to sit down again. Their eyes never left the clock.
The minutes seemed long as those of a death watch, throughout the
mournful house.

“How the wind blows!” said Clotilde, as a sudden gust made all the doors
creak.

Pascal went over to the window and watched the wild flight of the
storm-blown trees.

“It has increased since morning,” he said. “Presently I must see to the
roof, for some of the tiles have been blown away.”

Already they had ceased to be one household. They listened in silence to
the furious wind, sweeping everything before it, carrying with it their
life.

Finally Pascal looked for a last time at the clock, and said simply:

“It is time, Clotilde.”

She rose from the chair on which she had been sitting. She had for an
instant forgotten that she was going away, and all at once the dreadful
reality came back to her. Once more she looked at him, but he did not
open his arms to keep her. It was over; her hope was dead. And from this
moment her face was like that of one struck with death.

At first they exchanged the usual commonplaces.

“You will write to me, will you not?”

“Certainly, and you must let me hear from you as often as possible.”

“Above all, if you should fall ill, send for me at once.”

“I promise you that I will do so. But there is no danger. I am very
strong.”

Then, when the moment came in which she was to leave this dear house,
Clotilde looked around with unsteady gaze; then she threw herself on
Pascal’s breast, she held him for an instant in her arms, faltering:

“I wish to embrace you here, I wish to thank you. Master, it is you who
have made me what I am. As you have often told me, you have corrected
my heredity. What should I have become amid the surroundings in which
Maxime has grown up? Yes, if I am worth anything, it is to you alone
I owe it, you, who transplanted me into this abode of kindness and
affection, where you have brought me up worthy of you. Now, after having
taken me and overwhelmed me with benefits, you send me away. Be it as
you will, you are my master, and I will obey you. I love you, in spite
of all, and I shall always love you.”

He pressed her to his heart, answering:

“I desire only your good, I am completing my work.”

When they reached the station, Clotilde vowed to herself that she would
one day come back. Old Mme. Rougon was there, very gay and very brisk,
in spite of her eighty-and-odd years. She was triumphant now; she
thought she would have her son Pascal at her mercy. When she saw them
both stupefied with grief she took charge of everything; got the ticket,
registered the baggage, and installed the traveler in a compartment
in which there were only ladies. Then she spoke for a long time
about Maxime, giving instructions and asking to be kept informed of
everything. But the train did not start; there were still five cruel
minutes during which they remained face to face, without speaking to
each other. Then came the end, there were embraces, a great noise of
wheels, and waving of handkerchiefs.

Suddenly Pascal became aware that he was standing alone upon the
platform, while the train was disappearing around a bend in the road.
Then, without listening to his mother, he ran furiously up the slope,
sprang up the stone steps like a young man, and found himself in three
minutes on the terrace of La Souleiade. The mistral was raging there--a
fierce squall which bent the secular cypresses like straws. In the
colorless sky the sun seemed weary of the violence of the wind, which
for six days had been sweeping over its face. And like the wind-blown
trees Pascal stood firm, his garments flapping like banners, his beard
and hair blown about and lashed by the storm. His breath caught by the
wind, his hands pressed upon his heart to quiet its throbbing, he saw
the train flying in the distance across the bare plain, a little train
which the mistral seemed to sweep before it like a dry branch.



XII.

From the day following Clotilde’s departure, Pascal shut himself up in
the great empty house. He did not leave it again, ceasing entirely the
rare professional visits which he had still continued to make, living
there with doors and windows closed, in absolute silence and solitude.
Martine had received formal orders to admit no one under any pretext
whatever.

“But your mother, monsieur, Mme. Felicite?”

“My mother, less than any one else; I have my reasons. Tell her that
I am working, that I require to concentrate my thoughts, and that I
request her to excuse me.”

Three times in succession old Mme. Rougon had presented herself. She
would storm at the hall door. He would hear her voice rising in anger as
she tried in vain to force her way in. Then the noise would be stilled,
and there would be only a whisper of complaint and plotting between her
and the servant. But not once did he yield, not once did he lean over
the banisters and call to her to come up.

One day Martine ventured to say to him:

“It is very hard, all the same, monsieur, to refuse admittance to one’s
mother. The more so, as Mme. Felicite comes with good intentions, for
she knows the straits that monsieur is in, and she insists only in order
to offer her services.”

“Money!” he cried, exasperated. “I want no money, do you hear? And
from her less than anybody. I will work, I will earn my own living; why
should I not?”

The question of money, however, began to grow pressing. He obstinately
refused to take another sou from the five thousand francs locked up
in the desk. Now that he was alone, he was completely indifferent to
material things; he would have been satisfied to live on bread and
water; and every time the servant asked him for money to buy wine, meat,
or sweets, he shrugged his shoulders--what was the use? there remained a
crust from the day before, was not that sufficient? But in her affection
for her master, whom she felt to be suffering, the old servant was
heart-broken at this miserliness which exceeded her own; this utter
destitution to which he abandoned himself and the whole house. The
workmen of the faubourgs lived better. Thus it was that for a whole day
a terrible conflict went on within her. Her doglike love struggled with
her love for her money, amassed sou by sou, hidden away, “making more,”
 as she said. She would rather have parted with a piece of her flesh.
So long as her master had not suffered alone the idea of touching her
treasure had not even occurred to her. And she displayed extraordinary
heroism the morning when, driven to extremity, seeing her stove cold
and the larder empty, she disappeared for an hour and then returned with
provisions and the change of a hundred-franc note.

Pascal, who just then chanced to come downstairs, asked her in
astonishment where the money had come from, furious already, and
prepared to throw it all into the street, imagining she had applied to
his mother.

“Why, no; why, no, monsieur!” she stammered, “it is not that at all.”

And she told him the story that she had prepared.

“Imagine, M. Grandguillot’s affairs are going to be settled--or at least
I think so. It occurred to me this morning to go to the assignee’s to
inquire, and he told me that you would undoubtedly recover something,
and that I might have a hundred francs now. Yes, he was even satisfied
with a receipt from me. He knows me, and you can make it all right
afterward.”

Pascal seemed scarcely surprised. She had calculated correctly that he
would not go out to verify her account. She was relieved, however, to
see with what easy indifference he accepted her story.

“Ah, so much the better!” he said. “You see now that one must never
despair. That will give me time to settle my affairs.”

His “affairs” was the sale of La Souleiade, about which he had been
thinking vaguely. But what a grief to leave this house in which Clotilde
had grown up, where they had lived together for nearly eighteen years!
He had taken two or three weeks already to reflect over the matter. Now
that he had the hope of getting back a little of the money he had lost
through the notary’s failure, he ceased to think any more about it. He
relapsed into his former indifference, eating whatever Martine served
him, not even noticing the comforts with which she once more surrounded
him, in humble adoration, heart-broken at giving her money, but very
happy to support him now, without his suspecting that his sustenance
came from her.

But Pascal rewarded her very ill. Afterward he would be sorry, and
regret his outbursts. But in the state of feverish desperation in which
he lived this did not prevent him from again flying into a passion with
her, at the slightest cause of dissatisfaction. One evening, after he
had been listening to his mother talking for an interminable time with
her in the kitchen, he cried in sudden fury:

“Martine, I do not wish her to enter La Souleiade again, do you hear? If
you ever let her into the house again I will turn you out!”

She listened to him in surprise. Never, during the thirty-two years in
which she had been in his service, had he threatened to dismiss her in
this way. Big tears came to her eyes.

“Oh, monsieur! you would not have the courage to do it! And I would not
go. I would lie down across the threshold first.”

He already regretted his anger, and he said more gently:

“The thing is that I know perfectly well what is going on. She comes
to indoctrinate you, to put you against me, is it not so? Yes, she is
watching my papers; she wishes to steal and destroy everything up there
in the press. I know her; when she wants anything, she never gives up
until she gets it. Well, you can tell her that I am on my guard; that
while I am alive she shall never even come near the press. And the key
is here in my pocket.”

In effect, all his former terror--the terror of the scientist who feels
himself surrounded by secret enemies, had returned. Ever since he
had been living alone in the deserted house he had had a feeling of
returning danger, of being constantly watched in secret. The circle had
narrowed, and if he showed such anger at these attempts at invasion,
if he repulsed his mother’s assaults, it was because he did not deceive
himself as to her real plans, and he was afraid that he might yield. If
she were there she would gradually take possession of him, until she had
subjugated him completely. Therefore his former tortures returned,
and he passed the days watching; he shut up the house himself in the
evening, and he would often rise during the night, to assure himself
that the locks were not being forced. What he feared was that the
servant, won over by his mother, and believing she was securing his
eternal welfare, would open the door to Mme. Felicite. In fancy he saw
the papers blazing in the fireplace; he kept constant guard over them,
seized again by a morbid love, a torturing affection for this icy heap
of papers, these cold pages of manuscript, to which he had sacrificed
the love of woman, and which he tried to love sufficiently to be able to
forget everything else for them.

Pascal, now that Clotilde was no longer there, threw himself eagerly
into work, trying to submerge himself in it, to lose himself in it. If
he secluded himself, if he did not set foot even in the garden, if
he had had the strength, one day when Martine came up to announce Dr.
Ramond, to answer that he would not receive him, he had, in this bitter
desire for solitude, no other aim than to kill thought by incessant
labor. That poor Ramond, how gladly he would have embraced him! for
he divined clearly the delicacy of feeling that had made him hasten
to console his old master. But why lose an hour? Why risk emotions and
tears which would leave him so weak? From daylight he was at his table,
he spent at it his mornings and his afternoons, extended often into the
evening after the lamp was lighted, and far into the night. He wished
to put his old project into execution--to revise his whole theory
of heredity, employing the documents furnished by his own family to
establish the laws according to which, in a certain group of human
beings, life is distributed and conducted with mathematical precision
from one to another, taking into account the environment--a vast bible,
the genesis of families, of societies, of all humanity. He hoped that
the vastness of such a plan, the effort necessary to develop so colossal
an idea, would take complete possession of him, restoring to him his
health, his faith, his pride in the supreme joy of the accomplished
work. But it was in vain that he threw himself passionately,
persistently, without reserve, into his work; he succeeded only in
fatiguing his body and his mind, without even being able to fix his
thoughts or to put his heart into his work, every day sicker and more
despairing. Had work, then, finally lost its power? He whose life
had been spent in work, who had regarded it as the sole motor, the
benefactor, and the consoler, must he then conclude that to love and
to be loved is beyond all else in the world? Occasionally he would
have great thoughts, he continued to sketch out his new theory of the
equilibrium of forces, demonstrating that what man receives in sensation
he should return in action. How natural, full, and happy would life
be if it could be lived entire, performing its functions like a
well-ordered machine, giving back in power what was consumed in fuel,
maintaining itself in vigor and in beauty by the simultaneous and
logical play of all its organs. He believed physical and intellectual
labor, feeling and reasoning should be in equal proportions, and
never excessive, for excess meant disturbance of the equilibrium and,
consequently, disease. Yes, yes, to begin life over again and to know
how to live it, to dig the earth, to study man, to love woman, to attain
to human perfection, the future city of universal happiness, through the
harmonious working of the entire being, what a beautiful legacy for
a philosophical physician to leave behind him would this be! And this
dream of the future, this theory, confusedly perceived, filled him with
bitterness at the thought that now his life was a force wasted and lost.

At the very bottom of his grief Pascal had the dominating feeling that
for him life was ended. Regret for Clotilde, sorrow at having her no
longer beside him, the certainty that he would never see her again,
filled him with overwhelming grief. Work had lost its power, and he
would sometimes let his head drop on the page he was writing, and weep
for hours together, unable to summon courage to take up the pen again.
His passion for work, his days of voluntary fatigue, led to terrible
nights, nights of feverish sleeplessness, in which he would stuff the
bedclothes into his mouth to keep from crying out Clotilde’s name. She
was everywhere in this mournful house in which he secluded himself.
He saw her again, walking through the rooms, sitting on the chairs,
standing behind the doors. Downstairs, in the dining-room, he could not
sit at table, without seeing her opposite him. In the workroom upstairs
she was still his constant companion, for she, too, had lived so long
secluded in it that her image seemed reflected from everything; he felt
her constantly beside him, he could fancy he saw her standing before her
desk, straight and slender--her delicate face bent over a pastel. And if
he did not leave the house to escape from the dear and torturing memory
it was because he had the certainty that he should find her everywhere
in the garden, too: dreaming on the terrace; walking with slow steps
through the alleys in the pine grove; sitting under the shade of the
plane trees; lulled by the eternal song of the fountain; lying in the
threshing yard at twilight, her gaze fixed on space, waiting for
the stars to come out. But above all, there existed for him a sacred
sanctuary which he could not enter without trembling--the chamber where
she had confessed her love. He kept the key of it; he had not moved
a single object from its place since the sorrowful morning of her
departure; and a skirt which she had forgotten lay still upon her
armchair. He opened his arms wildly to clasp her shade floating in the
soft half light of the room, with its closed shutters and its walls hung
with the old faded pink calico, of a dawnlike tint.

In the midst of his unremitting toil Pascal had another melancholy
pleasure--Clotilde’s letters. She wrote to him regularly twice a week,
long letters of eight or ten pages, in which she described to him all
her daily life. She did not seem to lead a very happy life in Paris.
Maxime, who did not now leave his sick chair, evidently tortured her
with the exactions of a spoiled child and an invalid. She spoke as if
she lived in complete retirement, always waiting on him, so that she
could not even go over to the window to look out on the avenue, along
which rolled the fashionable stream of the promenaders of the Bois; and
from certain of her expressions it could be divined that her brother,
after having entreated her so urgently to go to him, suspected her
already, and had begun to regard her with hatred and distrust, as he did
every one who approached him, in his continual fear of being made use of
and robbed. He did not give her the keys, treating her like a servant to
whom he found it difficult to accustom himself. Twice she had seen her
father, who was, as always, very gay, and overwhelmed with business; he
had been converted to the Republic, and was at the height of political
and financial success. Saccard had even taken her aside, to sympathize
with her, saying that poor Maxime was really insupportable, and that she
would be truly courageous if she consented to be made his victim. As she
could not do everything, he had even had the kindness to send her,
on the following day, the niece of his hairdresser, a fair-haired,
innocent-looking girl of eighteen, named Rose, who was assisting her
now to take care of the invalid. But Clotilde made no complaint; she
affected, on the contrary, to be perfectly tranquil, contented, and
resigned to everything. Her letters were full of courage, showing
neither anger nor sorrow at the cruel separation, making no desperate
appeal to Pascal’s affection to recall her. But between the lines, he
could perceive that she trembled with rebellious anger, that her
whole being yearned for him, that she was ready to commit the folly of
returning to him immediately, at his lightest word.

And this was the one word that Pascal would not write. Everything would
be arranged in time. Maxime would become accustomed to his sister; the
sacrifice must be completed now that it had been begun. A single line
written by him in a moment of weakness, and all the advantage of the
effort he had made would be lost, and their misery would begin again.
Never had Pascal had greater need of courage than when he was answering
Clotilde’s letters. At night, burning with fever, he would toss about,
calling on her wildly; then he would get up and write to her to come
back at once. But when day came, and he had exhausted himself with
weeping, his fever abated, and his answer was always very short, almost
cold. He studied every sentence, beginning the letter over again when
he thought he had forgotten himself. But what a torture, these dreadful
letters, so short, so icy, in which he went against his heart, solely
in order to wean her from him gradually, to take upon himself all the
blame, and to make her believe that she could forget him, since he
forgot her. They left him covered with perspiration, and as exhausted as
if he had just performed some great act of heroism.

One morning toward the end of October, a month after Clotilde’s
departure, Pascal had a sudden attack of suffocation. He had had,
several times already, slight attacks, which he attributed to overwork.
But this time the symptoms were so plain that he could not mistake
them--a sharp pain in the region of the heart, extending over the whole
chest and along the left arm, and a dreadful sensation of oppression and
distress, while cold perspiration broke out upon him. It was an attack
of angina pectoris. It lasted hardly more than a minute, and he was
at first more surprised than frightened. With that blindness which
physicians often show where their own health is concerned, he never
suspected that his heart might be affected.

As he was recovering his breath Martine came up to say that Dr. Ramond
was downstairs, and again begged the doctor to see him. And Pascal,
yielding perhaps to an unconscious desire to know the truth, cried:

“Well, let him come up, since he insists upon it. I will be glad to see
him.”

The two men embraced each other, and no other allusion was made to the
absent one, to her whose departure had left the house empty, than an
energetic and sad hand clasp.

“You don’t know why I have come?” cried Ramond immediately. “It is about
a question of money. Yes, my father-in-law, M. Leveque, the advocate,
whom you know, spoke to me yesterday again about the funds which you had
with the notary Grandguillot. And he advises you strongly to take some
action in the matter, for some persons have succeeded, he says, in
recovering something.”

“Yes, I know that that business is being settled,” said Pascal. “Martine
has already got two hundred francs out of it, I believe.”

“Martine?” said Ramond, looking greatly surprised, “how could she
do that without your intervention? However, will you authorize my
father-in-law to undertake your case? He will see the assignee, and sift
the whole affair, since you have neither the time nor the inclination to
attend to it.”

“Certainly, I authorize M. Leveque to do so, and tell him that I thank
him a thousand times.”

Then this matter being settled, the young man, remarking the doctor’s
pallor, and questioning him as to its cause, Pascal answered with a
smile:

“Imagine, my friend, I have just had an attack of angina pectoris. Oh,
it is not imagination, all the symptoms were there. And stay! since you
are here you shall sound me.”

At first Ramond refused, affecting to turn the consultation into a
jest. Could a raw recruit like him venture to pronounce judgment on
his general? But he examined him, notwithstanding, seeing that his face
looked drawn and pained, with a singular look of fright in the eyes. He
ended by auscultating him carefully, keeping his ear pressed closely to
his chest for a considerable time. Several minutes passed in profound
silence.

“Well?” asked Pascal, when the young physician stood up.

The latter did not answer at once. He felt the doctor’s eyes looking
straight into his; and as the question had been put to him with quiet
courage, he answered in the same way:

“Well, it is true, I think there is some sclerosis.”

“Ah! it was kind of you not to attempt to deceive me,” returned the
doctor, smiling. “I feared for an instant that you would tell me an
untruth, and that would have hurt me.”

Ramond, listening again, said in an undertone:

“Yes, the beat is strong, the first sound is dull, while the second, on
the contrary, is sharp. It is evident that the apex has descended and is
turned toward the armpit. There is some sclerosis, at least it is very
probable. One may live twenty years with that,” he ended, straightening
himself.

“No doubt, sometimes,” said Pascal. “At least, unless one chances to die
of a sudden attack.”

They talked for some time longer, discussed a remarkable case of
sclerosis of the heart, which they had seen at the hospital at Plassans.
And when the young physician went away, he said that he would return as
soon as he should have news of the Grandguillot liquidation.

But when he was alone Pascal felt that he was lost. Everything was now
explained: his palpitations for some weeks past, his attacks of vertigo
and suffocation; above all that weakness of the organ, of his poor
heart, overtasked by feeling and by work, that sense of intense fatigue
and impending death, regarding which he could no longer deceive himself.
It was not as yet fear that he experienced, however. His first thought
was that he, too, would have to pay for his heredity, that sclerosis
was the species of degeneration which was to be his share of the
physiological misery, the inevitable inheritance bequeathed him by his
terrible ancestry. In others the neurosis, the original lesion, had
turned to vice or virtue, genius, crime, drunkenness, sanctity; others
again had died of consumption, of epilepsy, of ataxia; he had lived
in his feelings and he would die of an affection of the heart. And
he trembled no longer, he rebelled no longer against this manifest
heredity, fated and inevitable, no doubt. On the contrary, a feeling
of humility took possession of him; the idea that all revolt against
natural laws is bad, that wisdom does not consist in holding one’s self
apart, but in resigning one’s self to be only a member of the whole
great body. Why, then, was he so unwilling to belong to his family
that it filled him with triumph, that his heart beat with joy, when he
believed himself different from them, without any community with them?
Nothing could be less philosophical. Only monsters grew apart. And to
belong to his family seemed to him in the end as good and as fine as
to belong to any other family, for did not all families, in the main,
resemble one another, was not humanity everywhere identical with the
same amount of good and evil? He came at last, humbly and gently, even
in the face of impending suffering and death, to accept everything life
had to give him.

From this time Pascal lived with the thought that he might die at any
moment. And this helped to perfect his character, to elevate him to a
complete forgetfulness of self. He did not cease to work, but he had
never understood so well how much effort must seek its reward in itself,
the work being always transitory, and remaining of necessity incomplete.
One evening at dinner Martine informed him that Sarteur, the journeyman
hatter, the former inmate of the asylum at the Tulettes, had just hanged
himself. All the evening he thought of this strange case, of this man
whom he had believed he had cured of homicidal mania by his treatment of
hypodermic injections, and who, seized by a fresh attack, had evidently
had sufficient lucidity to hang himself, instead of springing at the
throat of some passer-by. He again saw him, so gentle, so reasonable,
kissing his hands, while he was advising him to return to his life of
healthful labor. What then was this destructive and transforming force,
the desire to murder, changing to suicide, death performing its task
in spite of everything? With the death of this man his last vestige of
pride as a healer disappeared; and each day when he returned to his work
he felt as if he were only a learner, spelling out his task, constantly
seeking the truth, which as constantly receded from him, assuming ever
more formidable proportions.

But in the midst of his resignation one thought still troubled him--what
would become of Bonhomme, his old horse, if he himself should die before
him? The poor brute, completely blind and his limbs paralyzed, did
not now leave his litter. When his master went to see him, however, he
turned his head, he could feel the two hearty kisses which were pressed
on his nose. All the neighbors shrugged their shoulders and joked about
this old relation whom the doctor would not allow to be slaughtered. Was
he then to be the first to go, with the thought that the knacker would
be called in on the following day. But one morning, when he entered the
stable, Bonhomme did not hear him, did not raise his head. He was dead;
he lay there, with a peaceful expression, as if relieved that death had
come to him so gently. His master knelt beside him and kissed him again
and bade him farewell, while two big tears rolled down his cheeks.

It was on this day that Pascal saw his neighbor, M. Bellombre, for the
last time. Going over to the window he perceived him in his garden, in
the pale sunshine of early November, taking his accustomed walk; and the
sight of the old professor, living so completely happy in his solitude,
filled him at first with astonishment. He could never have imagined such
a thing possible, as that a man of sixty-nine should live thus, without
wife or child, or even a dog, deriving his selfish happiness from
the joy of living outside of life. Then he recalled his fits of anger
against this man, his sarcasms about his fear of life, the catastrophes
which he had wished might happen to him, the hope that punishment would
come to him, in the shape of some housekeeper, or some female relation
dropping down on him unexpectedly. But no, he was still as fresh as
ever, and Pascal was sure that for a long time to come he would continue
to grow old like this, hard, avaricious, useless, and happy. And yet
he no longer execrated him; he could even have found it in his heart
to pity him, so ridiculous and miserable did he think him for not being
loved. Pascal, who suffered the pangs of death because he was alone!
He whose heart was breaking because he was too full of others. Rather
suffering, suffering only, than this selfishness, this death of all
there is in us of living and human!

In the night which followed Pascal had another attack of angina
pectoris. It lasted for five minutes, and he thought that he would
suffocate without having the strength to call Martine. Then when he
recovered his breath, he did not disturb himself, preferring to speak to
no one of this aggravation of his malady; but he had the certainty that
it was all over with him, that he might not perhaps live a month longer.
His first thought was Clotilde. Should he then never see her again? and
so sharp a pang seized him that he believed another attack was coming
on. Why should he not write to her to come to him? He had received a
letter from her the day before; he would answer it this morning. Then
the thought of the envelopes occurred to him. If he should die suddenly,
his mother would be the mistress and she would destroy them; and not
only the envelopes, but his manuscripts, all his papers, thirty years of
his intelligence and his labor. Thus the crime which he had so greatly
dreaded would be consummated, the crime of which the fear alone, during
his nights of fever, had made him get up out of bed trembling, his ear
on the stretch, listening to hear if they were forcing open the press.
The perspiration broke out upon him, he saw himself dispossessed,
outraged, the ashes of his work thrown to the four winds. And when his
thoughts reverted to Clotilde, he told himself that everything would be
satisfactorily arranged, that he had only to call her back--she would be
here, she would close his eyes, she would defend his memory. And he sat
down to write at once to her, so that the letter might go by the morning
mail.

But when Pascal was seated before the white paper, with the pen between
his fingers, a growing doubt, a feeling of dissatisfaction with himself,
took possession of him. Was not this idea of his papers, this fine
project of providing a guardian for them and saving them, a suggestion
of his weakness, an excuse which he gave himself to bring back Clotilde,
and see her again? Selfishness was at the bottom of it. He was thinking
of himself, not of her. He saw her returning to this poor house,
condemned to nurse a sick old man; and he saw her, above all, in her
grief, in her awful agony, when he should terrify her some day by
dropping down dead at her side. No, no! this was the dreadful moment
which he must spare her, those days of cruel adieus and want afterward,
a sad legacy which he could not leave her without thinking himself a
criminal. Her tranquillity, her happiness only, were of any consequence,
the rest did not matter. He would die in his hole, then, abandoned,
happy to think her happy, to spare her the cruel blow of his death. As
for saving his manuscripts he would perhaps find a means of doing so,
he would try to have the strength to part from them and give them to
Ramond. But even if all his papers were to perish, this was less of a
sacrifice than to resign himself not to see her again, and he accepted
it, and he was willing that nothing of him should survive, not even his
thoughts, provided only that nothing of him should henceforth trouble
her dear existence.

Pascal accordingly proceeded to write one of his usual answers,
which, by a great effort, he purposely made colorless and almost cold.
Clotilde, in her last letter, without complaining of Maxime, had given
it to be understood that her brother had lost his interest in her,
preferring the society of Rose, the niece of Saccard’s hairdresser, the
fair-haired young girl with the innocent look. And he suspected strongly
some maneuver of the father: a cunning plan to obtain possession of the
inheritance of the sick man, whose vices, so precocious formerly, gained
new force as his last hour approached. But in spite of his uneasiness he
gave Clotilde very good advice, telling her that she must make allowance
for Maxime’s sufferings, that he had undoubtedly a great deal of
affection and gratitude for her, in short that it was her duty to devote
herself to him to the end. When he signed the letter tears dimmed
his sight. It was his death warrant--a death like that of an old and
solitary brute, a death without a kiss, without the touch of a friendly
hand--that he was signing. Never again would he embrace her. Then
doubts assailed him; was he doing right in leaving her amid such evil
surroundings, where he felt that she was in continual contact with every
species of wickedness?

The postman brought the letters and newspapers to La Souleiade every
morning at about nine o’clock; and Pascal, when he wrote to Clotilde,
was accustomed to watch for him, to give him his letter, so as to
be certain that his correspondence was not intercepted. But on this
morning, when he went downstairs to give him the letter he had just
written, he was surprised to receive one from him from Clotilde,
although it was not the usual day for her letters. He allowed his own to
go, however. Then he went upstairs, resumed his seat at his table, and
tore open the envelope.

The letter was short, but its contents filled Pascal with a great joy.

* * * * *

But the sound of footsteps made him control himself. He turned round and
saw Martine, who was saying:

“Dr. Ramond is downstairs.”

“Ah! let him come up, let him come up,” he said.

It was another piece of good fortune that had come to him. Ramond cried
gaily from the door:

“Victory, master! I have brought you your money--not all, but a good
sum.”

And he told the story--an unexpected piece of good luck which his
father-in-law, M. Leveque, had brought to light. The receipts for
the hundred and twenty thousand francs, which constituted Pascal the
personal creditor of Grandguillot, were valueless, since the latter was
insolvent. Salvation was to come from the power of attorney which the
doctor had sent him years before, at his request, that he might invest
all or part of his money in mortgages. As the name of the proxy was in
blank in the document, the notary, as is sometimes done, had made use
of the name of one of his clerks, and eighty thousand francs, which had
been invested in good mortgages, had thus been recovered through the
agency of a worthy man who was not in the secrets of his employer. If
Pascal had taken action in the matter, if he had gone to the public
prosecutor’s office and the chamber of notaries, he would have
disentangled the matter long before. However, he had recovered a sure
income of four thousand francs.

He seized the young man’s hands and pressed them, smiling, his eyes
still moist with tears.

“Ah! my friend, if you knew how happy I am! This letter of Clotilde’s
has brought me a great happiness. Yes, I was going to send for her; but
the thought of my poverty, of the privations she would have to endure
here, spoiled for me the joy of her return. And now fortune has come
back, at least enough to set up my little establishment again!”

In the expansion of his feelings he held out the letter to Ramond, and
forced him to read it. Then when the young man gave it back to him,
smiling, comprehending the doctor’s emotion, and profoundly touched by
it, yielding to an overpowering need of affection, he caught him in
his arms, like a comrade, a brother. The two men kissed each other
vigorously on either cheek.

“Come, since good fortune has sent you, I am going to ask another
service from you. You know I distrust every one around me, even my old
housekeeper. Will you take my despatch to the telegraph office!”

He sat down again at the table, and wrote simply, “I await you; start
to-night.”

“Let me see,” he said, “to-day is the 6th of November, is it not? It is
now near ten o’clock; she will have my despatch at noon. That will give
her time enough to pack her trunks and to take the eight o’clock express
this evening, which will bring her to Marseilles in time for breakfast.
But as there is no train which connects with it, she cannot be here
until to-morrow, the 7th, at five o’clock.”

After folding the despatch he rose:

“My God, at five o’clock to-morrow! How long to wait still! What shall I
do with myself until then?”

Then a sudden recollection filled him with anxiety, and he became grave.

“Ramond, my comrade, will you give me a great proof of your friendship
by being perfectly frank with me?”

“How so, master?”

“Ah, you understand me very well. The other day you examined me. Do you
think I can live another year?”

He fixed his eyes on the young man as he spoke, compelling him to look
at him. Ramond evaded a direct answer, however, with a jest--was it
really a physician who put such a question?

“Let us be serious, Ramond, I beg of you.”

Then Ramond answered in all sincerity that, in his opinion, the doctor
might very justly entertain the hope of living another year. He gave his
reasons--the comparatively slight progress which the sclerosis had made,
and the absolute soundness of the other organs. Of course they must
make allowance for what they did not and could not know, for a sudden
accident was always possible. And the two men discussed the case as if
they been in consultation at the bedside of a patient, weighing the
pros and cons, each stating his views and prognosticating a fatal
termination, in accordance with the symptoms as defined by the best
authorities.

Pascal, as if it were some one else who was in question, had recovered
all his composure and his heroic self-forgetfulness.

“Yes,” he murmured at last, “you are right; a year of life is still
possible. Ah, my friend, how I wish I might live two years; a mad wish,
no doubt, an eternity of joy. And yet, two years, that would not
be impossible. I had a very curious case once, a wheelwright of
the faubourg, who lived for four years, giving the lie to all my
prognostications. Two years, two years, I will live two years! I must
live two years!”

Ramond sat with bent head, without answering. He was beginning to
be uneasy, fearing that he had shown himself too optimistic; and the
doctor’s joy disquieted and grieved him, as if this very exaltation,
this disturbance of a once strong brain, warned him of a secret and
imminent danger.

“Did you not wish to send that despatch at once?” he said.

“Yes, yes, go quickly, my good Ramond, and come back again to see us the
day after to-morrow. She will be here then, and I want you to come and
embrace us.”

The day was long, and the following morning, at about four o’clock,
shortly after Pascal had fallen asleep, after a happy vigil filled with
hopes and dreams, he was wakened by a dreadful attack. He felt as if an
enormous weight, as if the whole house, had fallen down upon his chest,
so that the thorax, flattened down, touched the back. He could not
breathe; the pain reached the shoulders, then the neck, and paralyzed
the left arm. But he was perfectly conscious; he had the feeling that
his heart was about to stop, that life was about to leave him, in the
dreadful oppression, like that of a vise, which was suffocating him.
Before the attack reached its height he had the strength to rise and to
knock on the floor with a stick for Martine. Then he fell back on his
bed, unable to speak or to move, and covered with a cold sweat.

Martine, fortunately, in the profound silence of the empty house, heard
the knock. She dressed herself, wrapped a shawl about her, and went
upstairs, carrying her candle. The darkness was still profound; dawn
was about to break. And when she perceived her master, whose eyes alone
seemed living, looking at her with locked jaws, speechless, his face
distorted by pain, she was awed and terrified, and she could only rush
toward the bed crying:

“My God! My God! what is the matter, monsieur? Answer me, monsieur, you
frighten me!”

For a full minute Pascal struggled in vain to recover his breath. Then,
the viselike pressure on his chest relaxing slowly, he murmured in a
faint voice:

“The five thousand francs in the desk are Clotilde’s. Tell her that the
affair of the notary is settled, that she will recover from it enough to
live upon.”

Then Martine, who had listened to him in open-mouthed wonder, confessed
the falsehood she had told him, ignorant of the good news that had been
brought by Ramond.

“Monsieur, you must forgive me; I told you an untruth. But it would be
wrong to deceive you longer. When I saw you alone and so unhappy, I took
some of my own money.”

“My poor girl, you did that!”

“Oh, I had some hope that monsieur would return it to me one day.”

By this time the attack had passed off, and he was able to turn his head
and look at her. He was amazed and moved. What was passing in the heart
of this avaricious old maid, who for thirty years had been saving up
her treasure painfully, who had never taken a sou from it, either for
herself or for any one else? He did not yet comprehend, but he wished to
show himself kind and grateful.

“You are a good woman, Martine. All that will be returned to you. I
truly think I am going to die--”

She did not allow him to finish, her whole being rose up in rebellious
protest.

“Die; you, monsieur! Die before me! I do not wish it. I will not let you
die!”

She threw herself on her knees beside the bed; she caught him wildly
in her arms, feeling him, to see if he suffered, holding him as if she
thought that death would not dare to take him from her.

“You must tell me what is the matter with you. I will take care of you.
I will save you. If it were necessary to give my life for you, I would
give it, monsieur. I will sit up day and night with you. I am strong
still; I will be stronger than the disease, you shall see. To die!
to die! oh, no, it cannot be! The good God cannot wish so great an
injustice. I have prayed so much in my life that he ought to listen to
me a little now, and he will grant my prayer, monsieur; he will save
you.”

Pascal looked at her, listened to her, and a sudden light broke in upon
his mind. She loved him, this miserable woman; she had always loved him.
He thought of her thirty years of blind devotion, her mute adoration,
when she had waited upon him, on her knees, as it were, when she
was young; her secret jealousy of Clotilde later; what she must have
secretly suffered all that time! And she was here on her knees now
again, beside his deathbed; her hair gray; her eyes the color of ashes
in her pale nun-like face, dulled by her solitary life. And he felt that
she was unconscious of it all; that she did not even know with what sort
of love she loved him, loving him only for the happiness of loving him:
of being with him, and of waiting on him.

Tears rose to Pascal’s eyes; a dolorous pity and an infinite human
tenderness flowed from his poor, half-broken heart.

“My poor girl,” he said, “you are the best of girls. Come, embrace me,
as you love me, with all your strength.”

She, too, sobbed. She let her gray head, her face worn by her long
servitude, fall on her master’s breast. Wildly she kissed him, putting
all her life into the kiss.

“There, let us not give way to emotion, for you see we can do nothing;
this will be the end, just the same. If you wish me to love you, obey
me. Now that I am better, that I can breathe easier, do me the favor to
run to Dr. Ramond’s. Waken him and bring him back with you.”

She was leaving the room when he called to her, seized by a sudden fear.

“And remember, I forbid you to go to inform my mother.”

She turned back, embarrassed, and in a voice of entreaty, said:

“Oh, monsieur, Mme. Felicite has made me promise so often--”

But he was inflexible. All his life he had treated his mother with
deference, and he thought he had acquired the right to defend himself
against her in the hour of his death. He would not let the servant go
until she had promised him that she would be silent. Then he smiled once
more.

“Go quickly. Oh, you will see me again; it will not be yet.”

Day broke at last, the melancholy dawn of the pale November day. Pascal
had had the shutters opened, and when he was left alone he watched the
brightening dawn, doubtless that of his last day of life. It had rained
the night before, and the mild sun was still veiled by clouds. From the
plane trees came the morning carols of the birds, while far away in the
sleeping country a locomotive whistled with a prolonged moan. And he
was alone; alone in the great melancholy house, whose emptiness he felt
around him, whose silence he heard. The light slowly increased, and
he watched the patches it made on the window-panes broadening and
brightening. Then the candle paled in the growing light, and the whole
room became visible. And with the dawn, as he had anticipated, came
relief. The sight of the familiar objects around him brought him
consolation.

But Pascal, although the attack had passed away, still suffered
horribly. A sharp pain remained in the hollow of his chest, and his left
arm, benumbed, hung from his shoulder like lead. In his long waiting
for the help that Martine had gone to bring, he had reflected on
the suffering which made the flesh cry out. And he found that he was
resigned; he no longer felt the rebelliousness which the mere sight of
physical pain had formerly awakened in him. It had exasperated him, as
if it had been a monstrous and useless cruelty of nature. In his doubts
as a physician, he had attended his patients only to combat it, and to
relieve it. If he ended by accepting it, now that he himself suffered
its horrible torture, was it that he had risen one degree higher in his
faith of life, to that serene height whence life appeared altogether
good, even with the fatal condition of suffering attached to it;
suffering which is perhaps its spring? Yes, to live all of life, to live
it and to suffer it all without rebellion, without believing that it is
made better by being made painless, this presented itself clearly to
his dying eyes, as the greatest courage and the greatest wisdom. And to
cheat pain while he waited, he reviewed his latest theories; he dreamed
of a means of utilizing suffering by transforming it into action, into
work. If it be true that man feels pain more acutely according as he
rises in the scale of civilization, it is also certain that he becomes
stronger through it, better armed against it, more capable of resisting
it. The organ, the brain which works, develops and grows stronger,
provided the equilibrium between the sensations which it receives and
the work which it gives back be not broken. Might not one hope, then,
for a humanity in which the amount of work accomplished would so exactly
equal the sum of sensations received, that suffering would be utilized
and, as it were, abolished?

The sun had risen, and Pascal was confusedly revolving these distant
hopes in his mind, in the drowsiness produced by his disease, when he
felt a new attack coming on. He had a moment of cruel anxiety--was
this the end? Was he going to die alone? But at this instant hurried
footsteps mounted the stairs, and a moment later Ramond entered,
followed by Martine. And the patient had time to say before the attack
began:

“Quick! quick! a hypodermic injection of pure water.”

Unfortunately the doctor had to look for the little syringe and then
to prepare everything. This occupied some minutes, and the attack was
terrible. He followed its progress with anxiety--the face becoming
distorted, the lips growing livid. Then when he had given the injection,
he observed that the phenomena, for a moment stationary, slowly
diminished in intensity. Once more the catastrophe was averted.

As soon as he recovered his breath Pascal, glancing at the clock, said
in his calm, faint voice:

“My friend, it is seven o’clock--in twelve hours, at seven o’clock
to-night, I shall be dead.”

And as the young man was about to protest, to argue the question, “No,”
 he resumed, “do not try to deceive me. You have witnessed the attack.
You know what it means as well as I do. Everything will now proceed with
mathematical exactness; and, hour by hour, I could describe to you the
phases of the disease.”

He stopped, gasped for breath, and then added:

“And then, all is well; I am content. Clotilde will be here at five; all
I ask is to see her and to die in her arms.”

A few moments later, however, he experienced a sensible improvement. The
effect of the injection seemed truly miraculous; and he was able to sit
up in bed, his back resting against the pillows. He spoke clearly, and
with more ease, and never had the lucidity of his mind appeared greater.

“You know, master,” said, Ramond, “that I will not leave you. I have
told my wife, and we will spend the day together; and, whatever you may
say to the contrary, I am very confident that it will not be the last.
You will let me make myself at home, here, will you not?”

Pascal smiled, and gave orders to Martine to go and prepare breakfast
for Ramond, saying that if they needed her they would call her. And the
two men remained alone, conversing with friendly intimacy; the one with
his white hair and long white beard, lying down, discoursing like a
sage, the other sitting at his bedside, listening with the respect of a
disciple.

“In truth,” murmured the master, as if he were speaking to himself, “the
effect of those injections is extraordinary.”

Then in a stronger voice, he said almost gaily:

“My friend Ramond, it may not be a very great present that I am giving
you, but I am going to leave you my manuscripts. Yes, Clotilde has
orders to send them to you when I shall be no more. Look through them,
and you will perhaps find among them things that are not so very bad. If
you get a good idea from them some day--well, that will be so much the
better for the world.”

And then he made his scientific testament. He was clearly conscious
that he had been himself only a solitary pioneer, a precursor, planning
theories which he tried to put in practise, but which failed because
of the imperfection of his method. He recalled his enthusiasm when he
believed he had discovered, in his injections of nerve substance, the
universal panacea, then his disappointments, his fits of despair, the
shocking death of Lafouasse, consumption carrying off Valentin in spite
of all his efforts, madness again conquering Sarteur and causing him to
hang himself. So that he would depart full of doubt, having no longer
the confidence necessary to the physician, and so enamored of life that
he had ended by putting all his faith in it, certain that it must draw
from itself alone its health and strength. But he did not wish to close
up the future; he was glad, on the contrary, to bequeath his hypotheses
to the younger generation. Every twenty years theories changed;
established truths only, on which science continued to build, remained
unshaken. Even if he had only the merit of giving to science a momentary
hypothesis, his work would not be lost, for progress consisted assuredly
in the effort, in the onward march of the intellect.

And then who could say that he had died in vain, troubled and weary, his
hopes concerning the injections unrealized--other workers would come,
young, ardent, confident, who would take up the idea, elucidate it,
expand it. And perhaps a new epoch, a new world would date from this.

“Ah, my dear Ramond,” he continued, “if one could only live life over
again. Yes, I would take up my idea again, for I have been struck lately
by the singular efficacy of injections even of pure water. It is not the
liquid, then, that matters, but simply the mechanical action. During the
last month I have written a great deal on that subject. You will
find some curious notes and observations there. In short, I should be
inclined to put all my faith in work, to place health in the harmonious
working of all the organs, a sort of dynamic therapeutics, if I may
venture to use the expression.”

He had gradually grown excited, forgetting his approaching death in his
ardent curiosity about life. And he sketched, with broad strokes, his
last theory. Man was surrounded by a medium--nature--which irritated
by perpetual contact the sensitive extremities of the nerves. Hence the
action, not only of the senses, but of the entire surface of the body,
external and internal. For it was these sensations which, reverberating
in the brain, in the marrow, and in the nervous centers, were there
converted into tonicity, movements, and thoughts; and he was convinced
that health consisted in the natural progress of this work, in receiving
sensations, and in giving them back in thoughts and in actions, the
human machine being thus fed by the regular play of the organs. Work
thus became the great law, the regulator of the living universe. Hence
it became necessary if the equilibrium were broken, if the external
excitations ceased to be sufficient, for therapeutics to create
artificial excitations, in order to reestablish the tonicity which is
the state of perfect health. And he dreamed of a whole new system of
treatment--suggestion, the all-powerful authority of the physician,
for the senses; electricity, friction, massage for the skin and for the
tendons; diet for the stomach; air cures on high plateaus for the
lungs, and, finally, transfusion, injections of distilled water, for the
circulatory system. It was the undeniable and purely mechanical action
of these latter that had put him on the track; all he did now was to
extend the hypothesis, impelled by his generalizing spirit; he saw the
world saved anew in this perfect equilibrium, as much work given as
sensation received, the balance of the world restored by unceasing
labor.

Here he burst into a frank laugh.

“There! I have started off again. I, who was firmly convinced that the
only wisdom was not to interfere, to let nature take its course. Ah,
what an incorrigible old fool I am!”

Ramond caught his hands in an outburst of admiration and affection.

“Master, master! it is of enthusiasm, of folly like yours that genius is
made. Have no fear, I have listened to you, I will endeavor to be worthy
of the heritage you leave; and I think, with you, that perhaps the great
future lies entirely there.”

In the sad and quiet room Pascal began to speak again, with the
courageous tranquillity of a dying philosopher giving his last lesson.
He now reviewed his personal observations; he said that he had often
cured himself by work, regular and methodical work, not carried to
excess. Eleven o’clock struck; he urged Ramond to take his breakfast,
and he continued the conversation, soaring to lofty and distant heights,
while Martine served the meal. The sun had at last burst through the
morning mists, a sun still half-veiled in clouds, and mild, whose golden
light warmed the room. Presently, after taking a few sips of milk,
Pascal remained silent.

At this moment the young physician was eating a pear.

“Are you in pain again?” he asked.

“No, no; finish.”

But he could not deceive Ramond. It was an attack, and a terrible one.
The suffocation came with the swiftness of a thunderbolt, and he fell
back on the pillow, his face already blue. He clutched at the bedclothes
to support himself, to raise the dreadful weight which oppressed his
chest. Terrified, livid, he kept his wide open eyes fixed upon the
clock, with a dreadful expression of despair and grief; and for ten
minutes it seemed as if every moment must be his last.

Ramond had immediately given him a hypodermic injection. The relief was
slow to come, the efficacy less than before.

When Pascal revived, large tears stood in his eyes. He did not speak
now, he wept. Presently, looking at the clock with his darkening vision,
he said:

“My friend, I shall die at four o’clock; I shall not see her.”

And as his young colleague, in order to divert his thoughts, declared,
in spite of appearances, that the end was not so near, Pascal, again
becoming enthusiastic, wished to give him a last lesson, based on direct
observation. He had, as it happened, attended several cases similar to
his own, and he remembered especially to have dissected at the hospital
the heart of a poor old man affected with sclerosis.

“I can see it--my heart. It is the color of a dead leaf; its fibers are
brittle, wasted, one would say, although it has augmented slightly in
volume. The inflammatory process has hardened it; it would be difficult
to cut--”

He continued in a lower voice. A little before, he had felt his heart
growing weaker, its contractions becoming feebler and slower. Instead
of the normal jet of blood there now issued from the aorta only a red
froth. Back of it all the veins were engorged with black blood; the
suffocation increased, according as the lift and force pump, the
regulator of the whole machine, moved more slowly. And after the
injection he had been able to follow in spite of his suffering the
gradual reviving of the organ as the stimulus set it beating again,
removing the black venous blood, and sending life into it anew, with
the red arterial blood. But the attack would return as soon as the
mechanical effect of the injection should cease. He could predict it
almost within a few minutes. Thanks to the injections he would have
three attacks more. The third would carry him off; he would die at four
o’clock.

Then, while his voice grew gradually weaker, in a last outburst of
enthusiasm, he apostrophized the courage of the heart, that persistent
life maker, working ceaselessly, even during sleep, when the other
organs rested.

“Ah, brave heart! how heroically you struggle! What faithful, what
generous muscles, never wearied! You have loved too much, you have beat
too fast in the past months, and that is why you are breaking now,
brave heart, who do not wish to die, and who strive rebelliously to beat
still!”

But now the first of the attacks which had been announced came on.
Pascal came out of this panting, haggard, his speech sibilant and
painful. Low moans escaped him, in spite of his courage. Good God! would
this torture never end? And yet his most ardent desire was to prolong
his agony, to live long enough to embrace Clotilde a last time. If he
might only be deceiving himself, as Ramond persisted in declaring. If he
might only live until five o’clock. His eyes again turned to the clock,
they never now left the hands, every minute seeming an eternity. They
marked three o’clock. Then half-past three. Ah, God! only two hours of
life, two hours more of life. The sun was already sinking toward the
horizon; a great calm descended from the pale winter sky, and he heard
at intervals the whistles of the distant locomotives crossing the bare
plain. The train that was passing now was the one going to the Tulettes;
the other, the one coming from Marseilles, would it never arrive, then!

At twenty minutes to four Pascal signed to Ramond to approach. He could
no longer speak loud enough to be heard.

“You see, in order that I might live until six o’clock, the pulse should
be stronger. I have still some hope, however, but the second movement is
almost imperceptible, the heart will soon cease to beat.”

And in faint, despairing accents he called on Clotilde again and again.
The immeasurable grief which he felt at not being able to see her again
broke forth in this faltering and agonized appeal. Then his anxiety
about his manuscripts returned, an ardent entreaty shone in his eyes,
until at last he found the strength to falter again:

“Do not leave me; the key is under my pillow; tell Clotilde to take it;
she has my directions.”

At ten minutes to four another hypodermic injection was given, but
without effect. And just as four o’clock was striking, the second attack
declared itself. Suddenly, after a fit of suffocation, he threw himself
out of bed; he desired to rise, to walk, in a last revival of his
strength. A need of space, of light, of air, urged him toward the skies.
Then there came to him an irresistible appeal from life, his whole life,
from the adjoining workroom, where he had spent his days. And he went
there, staggering, suffocating, bending to the left side, supporting
himself by the furniture.

Dr. Ramond precipitated himself quickly toward him to stop him, crying:

“Master, master! lie down again, I entreat you!”

But Pascal paid no heed to him, obstinately determined to die on his
feet. The desire to live, the heroic idea of work, alone survived in
him, carrying him onward bodily. He faltered hoarsely:

“No, no--out there, out there--”

His friend was obliged to support him, and he walked thus, stumbling and
haggard, to the end of the workroom, and dropped into his chair beside
his table, on which an unfinished page still lay among a confusion of
papers and books.

Here he gasped for breath and his eyes closed. After a moment he opened
them again, while his hands groped about, seeking his work, no doubt.
They encountered the genealogical tree in the midst of other papers
scattered about. Only two days before he had corrected some dates in it.
He recognized it, and drawing it toward him, spread it out.

“Master, master! you will kill yourself!” cried Ramond, overcome with
pity and admiration at this extraordinary spectacle.

Pascal did not listen, did not hear. He felt a pencil under his fingers.
He took it and bent over the tree, as if his dying eyes no longer saw.
The name of Maxime arrested his attention, and he wrote: “Died of ataxia
in 1873,” in the certainty that his nephew would not live through the
year. Then Clotilde’s name, beside it, struck him and he completed the
note thus: “Has a son, by her Uncle Pascal, in 1874.” But it was his own
name that he sought wearily and confusedly. When he at last found it
his hand grew firmer, and he finished his note, in upright and bold
characters: “Died of heart disease, November 7, 1873.” This was the
supreme effort, the rattle in his throat increased, everything was
fading into nothingness, when he perceived the blank leaf above
Clotilde’s name. His vision grew dark, his fingers could no longer hold
the pencil, but he was still able to add, in unsteady letters, into
which passed the tortured tenderness, the wild disorder of his poor
heart: “The unknown child, to be born in 1874. What will it be?” Then he
swooned, and Martine and Ramond with difficulty carried him back to bed.

The third attack came on about four o’clock. In this last access of
suffocation Pascal’s countenance expressed excruciating suffering. Death
was to be very painful; he must endure to the end his martyrdom, as a
man and a scientist. His wandering gaze still seemed to seek the clock,
to ascertain the hour. And Ramond, seeing his lips move, bent down and
placed his ear to the mouth of the dying man. The latter, in effect, was
stammering some vague words, so faint that they scarcely rose above a
breath:

“Four o’clock--the heart is stopping; no more red blood in the
aorta--the valve relaxes and bursts.”

A dreadful spasm shook him; his breathing grew fainter.

“Its progress is too rapid. Do not leave me; the key is under the
pillow--Clotilde, Clotilde--”

At the foot of the bed Martine was kneeling, choked with sobs. She
saw well that monsieur was dying. She had not dared to go for a priest
notwithstanding her great desire to do so; and she was herself reciting
the prayers for the dying; she prayed ardently that God would pardon
monsieur, and that monsieur might go straight to Paradise.

Pascal was dying. His face was quite blue. After a few seconds of
immobility, he tried to breathe: he put out his lips, opened his poor
mouth, like a little bird opening its beak to get a last mouthful of
air. And he was dead.



XIII.

It was not until after breakfast, at about one o’clock, that Clotilde
received the despatch. On this day it had chanced that she had quarreled
with her brother Maxime, who, taking advantage of his privileges as an
invalid, had tormented her more and more every day by his unreasonable
caprices and his outbursts of ill temper. In short, her visit to him had
not proved a success. He found that she was too simple and too serious
to cheer him; and he had preferred, of late, the society of Rose, the
fair-haired young girl, with the innocent look, who amused him. So that
when his sister told him that their uncle had sent for her, and that she
was going away, he gave his approval at once, and although he asked her
to return as soon as she should have settled her affairs at home, he did
so only with the desire of showing himself amiable, and he did not press
the invitation.

Clotilde spent the afternoon in packing her trunks. In the feverish
excitement of so sudden a decision she had thought of nothing but the
joy of her return. But after the hurry of dinner was over, after she had
said good-by to her brother, after the interminable drive in a hackney
coach along the avenue of the Bois de Boulogne to the Lyons railway
station, when she found herself in the ladies’ compartment, starting
on the long journey on a cold and rainy November night, already rolling
away from Paris, her excitement began to abate, and reflections forced
their way into her mind and began to trouble her. Why this brief and
urgent despatch: “I await you; start this evening.” Doubtless it was the
answer to her letter; but she knew how greatly Pascal had desired that
she should remain in Paris, where he thought she was happy, and she was
astonished at his hasty summons. She had not expected a despatch, but
a letter, arranging for her return a few weeks later. There must be
something else, then; perhaps he was ill and felt a desire, a longing to
see her again at once. And from this time forward this fear seized her
with the force of a presentiment, and grew stronger and stronger, until
it soon took complete possession of her.

All night long the rain beat furiously against the windows of the train
while they were crossing the plains of Burgundy, and did not cease until
they reached Macon. When they had passed Lyons the day broke. Clotilde
had Pascal’s letters with her, and she had waited impatiently for the
daylight that she might read again carefully these letters, the
writing of which had seemed changed to her. And noticing the unsteady
characters, the breaks in the words, she felt a chill at her heart. He
was ill, very ill--she had become certain of this now, by a divination
in which there was less of reasoning than of subtle prescience. And the
rest of the journey seemed terribly long, for her anguish increased
in proportion as she approached its termination. And worse than all,
arriving at Marseilles at half-past twelve, there was no train for
Plassans until twenty minutes past three. Three long hours of waiting!
She breakfasted at the buffet in the railway station, eating hurriedly,
as if she was afraid of missing this train; then she dragged herself
into the dusty garden, going from bench to bench in the pale, mild
sunshine, among omnibuses and hackney coaches. At last she was once more
in the train, which stopped at every little way station. When they were
approaching Plassans she put her head out of the window eagerly, longing
to see the town again after her short absence of two months. It seemed
to her as if she had been away for twenty years, and that everything
must be changed. When the train was leaving the little station of
Sainte-Marthe her emotion reached its height when, leaning out, she
saw in the distance La Souleiade with the two secular cypresses on the
terrace, which could be seen three leagues off.

It was five o’clock, and twilight was already falling. The train
stopped, and Clotilde descended. But it was a surprise and a keen grief
to her not to see Pascal waiting for her on the platform. She had been
saying to herself since they had left Lyons: “If I do not see him at
once, on the arrival of the train, it will be because he is ill.” He
might be in the waiting-room, however, or with a carriage outside. She
hurried forward, but she saw no one but Father Durieu, a driver whom the
doctor was in the habit of employing. She questioned him eagerly. The
old man, a taciturn Provencal, was in no haste to answer. His wagon was
there, and he asked her for the checks for her luggage, wishing to see
about the trunks before anything else. In a trembling voice she repeated
her question:

“Is everybody well, Father Durieu?”

“Yes, mademoiselle.”

And she was obliged to put question after question to him before she
succeeded in eliciting the information that it was Martine who had told
him, at about six o’clock the day before, to be at the station with his
wagon, in time to meet the train. He had not seen the doctor, no one had
seen him, for two months past. It might very well be since he was not
here that he had been obliged to take to his bed, for there was a report
in the town that he was not very well.

“Wait until I get the luggage, mademoiselle,” he ended, “there is room
for you on the seat.”

“No, Father Durieu, it would be too long to wait. I will walk.”

She ascended the slope rapidly. Her heart was so tightened that
she could scarcely breathe. The sun had sunk behind the hills of
Sainte-Marthe, and a fine mist was falling from the chill gray November
sky, and as she took the road to Les Fenouilleres she caught another
glimpse of La Souleiade, which struck a chill to her heart--the front
of the house, with all its shutters closed, and wearing a look of
abandonment and desolation in the melancholy twilight.

But Clotilde received the final and terrible blow when she saw Ramond
standing at the hall door, apparently waiting for her. He had indeed
been watching for her, and had come downstairs to break the dreadful
news gently to her. She arrived out of breath; she had crossed the
quincunx of plane trees near the fountain to shorten the way, and on
seeing the young man there instead of Pascal, whom she had in spite of
everything expected to see, she had a presentiment of overwhelming ruin,
of irreparable misfortune. Ramond was pale and agitated, notwithstanding
the effort he made to control his feelings. At the first moment he could
not find a word to say, but waited to be questioned. Clotilde, who was
herself suffocating, said nothing. And they entered the house thus; he
led her to the dining-room, where they remained for a few seconds, face
to face, in mute anguish.

“He is ill, is he not?” she at last faltered.

“Yes,” he said, “he is ill.”

“I knew it at once when I saw you,” she replied. “I knew when he was not
here that he must be ill. He is very ill, is he not?” she persisted.

As he did not answer but grew still paler, she looked at him fixedly.
And on the instant she saw the shadow of death upon him; on his hands
that still trembled, that had assisted the dying man; on his sad face;
in his troubled eyes, which still retained the reflection of the death
agony; in the neglected and disordered appearance of the physician who,
for twelve hours, had maintained an unavailing struggle against death.

She gave a loud cry:

“He is dead!”

She tottered, and fell fainting into the arms of Ramond, who with a
great sob pressed her in a brotherly embrace. And thus they wept on each
other’s neck.

When he had seated her in a chair, and she was able to speak, he said:

“It was I who took the despatch you received to the telegraph office
yesterday, at half-past ten o’clock. He was so happy, so full of hope!
He was forming plans for the future--a year, two years of life. And this
morning, at four o’clock, he had the first attack, and he sent for me.
He saw at once that he was doomed, but he expected to last until
six o’clock, to live long enough to see you again. But the disease
progressed too rapidly. He described its progress to me, minute by
minute, like a professor in the dissecting room. He died with your name
upon his lips, calm, but full of anguish, like a hero.”

Clotilde listened, her eyes drowned in tears which flowed endlessly.
Every word of the relation of this piteous and stoical death penetrated
her heart and stamped itself there. She reconstructed every hour of the
dreadful day. She followed to its close its grand and mournful drama.
She would live it over in her thoughts forever.

But her despairing grief overflowed when Martine, who had entered the
room a moment before, said in a harsh voice:

“Ah, mademoiselle has good reason to cry! for if monsieur is dead,
mademoiselle is to blame for it.”

The old servant stood apart, near the door of her kitchen, in such a
passion of angry grief, because they had taken her master from her,
because they had killed him, that she did not even try to find a word
of welcome or consolation for this child whom she had brought up. And
without calculating the consequences of her indiscretion, the grief or
the joy which she might cause, she relieved herself by telling all she
knew.

“Yes, if monsieur has died, it is because mademoiselle went away.”

From the depths of her overpowering grief Clotilde protested. She had
expected to see Martine weeping with her, like Ramond, and she was
surprised to feel that she was an enemy.

“Why, it was he who would not let me stay, who insisted upon my going
away,” she said.

“Oh, well! mademoiselle must have been willing to go or she would
have been more clear-sighted. The night before your departure I found
monsieur half-suffocated with grief; and when I wished to inform
mademoiselle, he himself prevented me; he had such courage. Then I could
see it all, after mademoiselle had gone. Every night it was the same
thing over again, and he could hardly keep from writing to you to come
back. In short, he died of it, that is the pure truth.”

A great light broke in on Clotilde’s mind, making her at the same time
very happy and very wretched. Good God! what she had suspected for a
moment, was then true. Afterward she had been convinced, seeing Pascal’s
angry persistence, that he was speaking the truth; that between her and
work he had chosen work sincerely, like a man of science with whom love
of work has gained the victory over the love of woman. And yet he
had not spoken the truth; he had carried his devotion, his
self-forgetfulness to the point of immolating himself to what he
believed to be her happiness. And the misery of things willed that he
should have been mistaken, that he should have thus consummated the
unhappiness of both.

Clotilde again protested wildly:

“But how could I have known? I obeyed; I put all my love in my
obedience.”

“Ah,” cried Martine again, “it seems to me that I should have guessed.”

Ramond interposed gently. He took Clotilde’s hands once more in his, and
explained to her that grief might indeed have hastened the fatal issue,
but that the master had unhappily been doomed for some time past. The
affection of the heart from which he had suffered must have been of long
standing--a great deal of overwork, a certain part of heredity, and,
finally, his late absorbing love, and the poor heart had broken.

“Let us go upstairs,” said Clotilde simply. “I wish to see him.”

Upstairs in the death-chamber the blinds were closed, shutting out even
the melancholy twilight. On a little table at the foot of the bed burned
two tapers in two candlesticks. And they cast a pale yellow light on
Pascal’s form extended on the bed, the feet close together, the hands
folded on the breast. The eyes had been piously closed. The face, of a
bluish hue still, but already looking calm and peaceful, framed by the
flowing white hair and beard, seemed asleep. He had been dead scarcely
an hour and a half, yet already infinite serenity, eternal silence,
eternal repose, had begun.

Seeing him thus, at the thought that he no longer heard her, that he no
longer saw her, that she was alone now, that she was to kiss him for the
last time, and then lose him forever, Clotilde, in an outburst of
grief, threw herself upon the bed, and in broken accents of passionate
tenderness cried:

“Oh, master, master, master--”

She pressed her lips to the dead man’s forehead, and, feeling it still
warm with life, she had a momentary illusion: she fancied that he
felt this last caress, so cruelly awaited. Did he not smile in his
immobility, happy at last, and able to die, now that he felt her here
beside him? Then, overcome by the dreadful reality, she burst again into
wild sobs.

Martine entered, bringing a lamp, which she placed on a corner of
the chimney-piece, and she heard Ramond, who was watching Clotilde,
disquieted at seeing her passionate grief, say:

“I shall take you away from the room if you give way like this. Consider
that you have some one else to think of now.”

The servant had been surprised at certain words which she had overheard
by chance during the day. Suddenly she understood, and she turned paler
even than before, and on her way out of the room, she stopped at the
door to hear more.

“The key of the press is under his pillow,” said Ramond, lowering his
voice; “he told me repeatedly to tell you so. You know what you have to
do?”

Clotilde made an effort to remember and to answer.

“What I have to do? About the papers, is it not? Yes, yes, I remember; I
am to keep the envelopes and to give you the other manuscripts. Have no
fear, I am quite calm, I will be very reasonable. But I will not leave
him; I will spend the night here very quietly, I promise you.”

She was so unhappy, she seemed so resolved to watch by him, to remain
with him, until he should be taken away, that the young physician
allowed her to have her way.

“Well, I will leave you now. They will be expecting me at home. Then
there are all sorts of formalities to be gone through--to give notice
at the mayor’s office, the funeral, of which I wish to spare you the
details. Trouble yourself about nothing. Everything will be arranged
to-morrow when I return.”

He embraced her once more and then went away. And it was only then that
Martine left the room, behind him, and locking the hall door she ran out
into the darkness.

Clotilde was now alone in the chamber; and all around and about her, in
the unbroken silence, she felt the emptiness of the house. Clotilde was
alone with the dead Pascal. She placed a chair at the head of the bed
and sat there motionless, alone. On arriving, she had merely removed her
hat: now, perceiving that she still had on her gloves, she took them
off also. But she kept on her traveling dress, crumpled and dusty, after
twenty hours of railway travel. No doubt Father Durieu had brought the
trunks long ago, and left them downstairs. But it did not occur to her,
nor had she the strength to wash herself and change her clothes, but
remained sitting, overwhelmed with grief, on the chair into which she
had dropped. One regret, a great remorse, filled her to the exclusion of
all else. Why had she obeyed him? Why had she consented to leave him?
If she had remained she had the ardent conviction that he would not have
died. She would have lavished so much love, so many caresses upon him,
that she would have cured him. If one was anxious to keep a beloved
being from dying one should remain with him and, if necessary, give
one’s heart’s blood to keep him alive. It was her own fault if she had
lost him, if she could not now with a caress awaken him from his
eternal sleep. And she thought herself imbecile not to have understood;
cowardly, not to have devoted herself to him; culpable, and to be
forever punished for having gone away when plain common sense, in
default of feeling, ought to have kept her here, bound, as a submissive
and affectionate subject, to the task of watching over her king.

The silence had become so complete, so profound, that Clotilde lifted
her eyes for a moment from Pascal’s face to look around the room. She
saw only vague shadows--the two tapers threw two yellow patches on the
high ceiling. At this moment she remembered the letters he had written
to her, so short, so cold; and she comprehended his heroic sacrifice,
the torture it had been to him to silence his heart, desiring to
immolate himself to the end. What strength must he not have required
for the accomplishment of the plan of happiness, sublime and disastrous,
which he had formed for her. He had resolved to pass out of her life in
order to save her from his old age and his poverty; he wished her to be
rich and free, to enjoy her youth, far away from him; this indeed was
utter self-effacement, complete absorption in the love of another. And
she felt a profound gratitude, a sweet solace in the thought, mingled
with a sort of angry bitterness against evil fortune. Then, suddenly,
the happy years of her childhood and her long youth spent beside him who
had always been so kind and so good-humored, rose before her--how he had
gradually won her affection, how she had felt that she was his, after
the quarrels which had separated them for a time, and with what a
transport of joy she had at last given herself to him.

Seven o’clock struck. Clotilde started as the clear tones broke the
profound silence. Who was it that had spoken? Then she remembered, and
she looked at the clock. And when the last sound of the seven strokes,
each of which had fallen like a knell upon her heart, had died away, she
turned her eyes again on the motionless face of Pascal, and once more
she abandoned herself to her grief.

It was in the midst of this ever-increasing prostration that Clotilde, a
few minutes later, heard a sudden sound of sobbing. Some one had rushed
into the room; she looked round and saw her Grandmother Felicite. But
she did not stir, she did not speak, so benumbed was she with grief.
Martine, anticipating the orders which Clotilde would undoubtedly have
given her, had hurried to old Mme. Rougon’s, to give her the dreadful
news; and the latter, dazed at first by the suddenness of the
catastrophe, and afterward greatly agitated, had hurried to the house,
overflowing with noisy grief. She burst into tears at sight of her son,
and then embraced Clotilde, who returned her kiss, as in a dream. And
from this instant the latter, without emerging from the overwhelming
grief in which she isolated herself, felt that she was no longer alone,
hearing a continual stir and bustle going on around her. It was Felicite
crying, coming in and going out on tiptoe, setting things in order,
spying about, whispering, dropping into a chair, to get up again a
moment afterward, after saying that she was going to die in it. At nine
o’clock she made a last effort to persuade her granddaughter to eat
something. Twice already she had lectured her in a low voice; she came
now again to whisper to her:

“Clotilde, my dear, I assure you you are wrong. You must keep up your
strength or you will never be able to hold out.”

But the young woman, with a shake of her head, again refused.

“Come, you breakfasted at the buffet at Marseilles, I suppose, but you
have eaten nothing since. Is that reasonable? I do not wish you to fall
ill also. Martine has some broth. I have told her to make a light soup
and to roast a chicken. Go down and eat a mouthful, only a mouthful, and
I will remain here.”

With the same patient gesture Clotilde again refused. At last she
faltered:

“Do not ask me, grandmother, I entreat you. I could not; it would choke
me.”

She did not speak again, falling back into her former state of apathy.
She did not sleep, however, her wide open eyes were fixed persistently
on Pascal’s face. For hours she sat there, motionless, erect, rigid, as
if her spirit were far away with the dead. At ten o’clock she heard a
noise; it was Martine bringing up the lamp. Toward eleven Felicite, who
was sitting watching in an armchair, seemed to grow restless, got up and
went out of the room, and came back again. From this forth there was a
continual coming and going as of impatient footsteps prowling around
the young woman, who was still awake, her large eyes fixed motionless on
Pascal. Twelve o’clock struck, and one persistent thought alone pierced
her weary brain, like a nail, and prevented sleep--why had she obeyed
him? If she had remained she would have revived him with her youth, and
he would not have died. And it was not until a little before one
that she felt this thought, too, grow confused and lose itself in a
nightmare. And she fell into a heavy sleep, worn out with grief and
fatigue.

When Martine had announced to Mme. Rougon the unexpected death of her
son Pascal, in the shock which she received there was as much of anger
as of grief. What! her dying son had not wished to see her; he had made
this servant swear not to inform her of his illness! This thought sent
the blood coursing swiftly through her veins, as if the struggle between
them, which had lasted during his whole life, was to be continued beyond
the grave. Then, when after hastily dressing herself she had hurried
to La Souleiade, the thought of the terrible envelopes, of all the
manuscripts piled up in the press, had filled her with trembling rage.
Now that Uncle Macquart and Aunt Dide were dead, she no longer feared
what she called the abomination of the Tulettes; and even poor little
Charles, in dying, had carried with him one of the most humiliating
of the blots on the family. There remained only the envelopes, the
abominable envelopes, to menace the glorious Rougon legend which she had
spent her whole life in creating, which was the sole thought of her old
age, the work to the triumph of which she had persistently devoted
the last efforts of her wily and active brain. For long years she had
watched these envelopes, never wearying, beginning the struggle over
again, when he had thought her beaten, always alert and persistent. Ah!
if she could only succeed in obtaining possession of them and destroying
them! It would be the execrable past destroyed, effaced; it would be the
glory of her family, so hardly won, at last freed from all fear, at last
shining untarnished, imposing its lie upon history. And she saw herself
traversing the three quarters of Plassans, saluted by every one, bearing
herself as proudly as a queen, mourning nobly for the fallen Empire. So
that when Martine informed her that Clotilde had come, she quickened her
steps as she approached La Souleiade, spurred by the fear of arriving
too late.

But as soon as she was installed in the house, Felicite at once regained
her composure. There was no hurry, they had the whole night before them.
She wished, however, to win over Martine without delay, and she knew
well how to influence this simple creature, bound up in the doctrines of
a narrow religion. Going down to the kitchen, then, to see the chicken
roasting, she began by affecting to be heartbroken at the thought of her
son dying without having made his peace with the Church. She questioned
the servant, pressing her for particulars. But the latter shook her head
disconsolately--no, no priest had come, monsieur had not even made the
sign of the cross. She, only, had knelt down to say the prayers for the
dying, which certainly could not be enough for the salvation of a soul.
And yet with what fervor she had prayed to the good God that monsieur
might go straight to Paradise!

With her eyes fixed on the chicken turning on the spit, before a bright
fire, Felicite resumed in a lower voice, with an absorbed air:

“Ah, my poor girl, what will most prevent him from going to Paradise are
the abominable papers which the unhappy man has left behind him up there
in the press. I cannot understand why it is that lightning from heaven
has not struck those papers before this and reduced them to ashes. If
they are allowed to leave this house it will be ruin and disgrace and
eternal perdition!”

Martine listened, very pale.

“Then madame thinks it would be a good work to destroy them, a work that
would assure the repose of monsieur’s soul?”

“Great God! Do I believe it! Why, if I had those dreadful papers in my
hands, I would throw every one of them into the fire. Oh, you would not
need then to put on any more sticks; with the manuscripts upstairs alone
you would have fuel enough to roast three chickens like that.”

The servant took a long spoon and began to baste the fowl. She, too,
seemed now to reflect.

“Only we haven’t got them. I even overheard some words on the subject,
which I may repeat to madame. It was when mademoiselle went upstairs.
Dr. Raymond spoke to her about the papers, asking her if she remembered
some orders which she had received, before she went away, no doubt; and
she answered that she remembered, that she was to keep the envelopes and
to give him all the other manuscripts.”

Felicite trembled; she could not restrain a terrified movement. Already
she saw the papers slipping out of her reach; and it was not the
envelopes only which she desired, but all the manuscripts, all that
unknown, suspicious, and secret work, from which nothing but scandal
could come, according to the obtuse and excitable mind of the proud old
_bourgeoise_.

“But we must act!” she cried, “act immediately, this very night!
To-morrow it may be too late.”

“I know where the key of the press is,” answered Martine in a low voice.
“The doctor told mademoiselle.”

Felicite immediately pricked up her ears.

“The key; where is it?”

“Under the pillow, under monsieur’s head.”

In spite of the bright blaze of the fire of vine branches the air seemed
to grow suddenly chill, and the two old women were silent. The only
sound to be heard was the drip of the chicken juice falling into the
pan.

But after Mme. Rougon had eaten a hasty and solitary dinner she went
upstairs again with Martine. Without another word being spoken they
understood each other, it was decided that they would use all possible
means to obtain possession of the papers before daybreak. The simplest
was to take the key from under the pillow. Clotilde would no doubt at
last fall asleep--she seemed too exhausted not to succumb to fatigue.
All they had to do was to wait. They set themselves to watch, then,
going back and forth on tiptoe between the study and the bedroom,
waiting for the moment when the young woman’s large motionless eyes
should close in sleep. One of them would go to see, while the other
waited impatiently in the study, where a lamp burned dully on the table.
This was repeated every fifteen minutes until midnight. The fathomless
eyes, full of gloom and of an immense despair, did not close. A little
before midnight Felicite installed herself in an armchair at the foot of
the bed, resolved not to leave the spot until her granddaughter should
have fallen asleep. From this forth she did not take her eyes off
Clotilde, and it filled her with a sort of fear to remark that the girl
scarcely moved her eyelids, looking with that inconsolable fixity which
defies sleep. Then she herself began to feel sleep stealing over her.
Exasperated, trembling with nervous impatience, she could remain where
she was no longer. And she went to rejoin the servant, who was watching
in the study.

“It is useless; she will not sleep,” she said in a stifled and trembling
voice. “We must find some other way.”

It had indeed occurred to her to break open the press.

But the old oaken boards were strong, the old iron held firmly. How
could they break the lock--not to speak of the noise they would make and
which would certainly be heard in the adjoining room?

She stood before the thick doors, however, and felt them with her
fingers, seeking some weak spot.

“If I only had an instrument,” she said.

Martine, less eager, interrupted her, objecting: “Oh, no, no, madame!
We might be surprised! Wait, I will go again and see if mademoiselle is
asleep now.”

She went to the bedroom on tiptoe and returned immediately, saying:

“Yes, she is asleep. Her eyes are closed, and she does not stir.”

Then both went to look at her, holding their breath and walking with the
utmost caution, so that the boards might not creak. Clotilde had indeed
just fallen asleep: and her stupor seemed so profound that the two old
women grew bold. They feared, however, that they might touch and waken
her, for her chair stood close beside the bed. And then, to put
one’s hand under a dead man’s pillow to rob him was a terrible and
sacrilegious act, the thought of which filled them with terror. Might it
not disturb his repose? Might he not move at the shock? The thought made
them turn pale.

Felicite had advanced with outstretched hand, but she drew back,
stammering:

“I am too short. You try, Martine.”

The servant in her turn approached the bed. But she was seized with such
a fit of trembling that she was obliged to retreat lest she should fall.

“No, no, I cannot!” she said. “It seems to me that monsieur is going to
open his eyes.”

And trembling and awe-struck they remained an instant longer in the
lugubrious chamber full of the silence and the majesty of death, facing
Pascal, motionless forever, and Clotilde, overwhelmed by the grief of
her widowhood. Perhaps they saw, glorifying that mute head, guarding
its work with all its weight, the nobility of a life spent in honorable
labor. The flame of the tapers burned palely. A sacred awe filled the
air, driving them from the chamber.

Felicite, who was so brave, who had never in her life flinched from
anything, not even from bloodshed, fled as if she was pursued, saying:

“Come, come, Martine, we will find some other way; we will go look for
an instrument.”

In the study they drew a breath of relief. Felicite looked in vain among
the papers on Pascal’s work-table for the genealogical tree, which
she knew was usually there. She would so gladly have begun her work of
destruction with this. It was there, but in her feverish excitement she
did not perceive it.

Her desire drew her back again to the press, and she stood before it,
measuring it and examining it with eager and covetous look. In spite of
her short stature, in spite of her eighty-odd years, she displayed an
activity and an energy that were truly extraordinary.

“Ah!” she repeated, “if I only had an instrument!”

And she again sought the crevice in the colossus, the crack into which
she might introduce her fingers, to break it open. She imagined plans
of assault, she thought of using force, and then she fell back on
stratagem, on some piece of treachery which would open to her the doors,
merely by breathing upon them.

Suddenly her glance kindled; she had discovered the means.

“Tell me, Martine; there is a hook fastening one of the doors, is there
not?”

“Yes, madame; it catches in a ring above the middle shelf. See, it is
about the height of this molding.”

Felicite made a triumphant gesture.

“Have you a gimlet--a large gimlet? Give me a gimlet!”

Martine went down into her kitchen and brought back the tool that had
been asked.

“In that way, you see, we shall make no noise,” resumed the old woman,
setting herself to her task.

With a strength which one would not have suspected in her little hands,
withered by age, she inserted the gimlet, and made a hole at the height
indicated by the servant. But it was too low; she felt the point, after
a time, entering the shelf. A second attempt brought the instrument in
direct contact with the iron hook. This time the hole was too near. And
she multiplied the holes to right and left, until finally she succeeded
in pushing the hook out of the ring. The bolt of the lock slipped, and
both doors opened.

“At last!” cried Felicite, beside herself.

Then she remained motionless for a moment, her ear turned uneasily
toward the bedroom, fearing that she had wakened Clotilde. But silence
reigned throughout the dark and sleeping house. There came from the
bedroom only the august peace of death; she heard nothing but the clear
vibration of the clock; Clotilde fell asleep near one. And the press
yawned wide open, displaying the papers with which it overflowed, heaped
up on its three shelves. Then she threw herself upon it, and the work of
destruction began, in the midst of the sacred obscurity of the infinite
repose of this funereal vigil.

“At last!” she repeated, in a low voice, “after thirty years of waiting.
Let us hurry--let us hurry. Martine, help me!”

She had already drawn forward the high chair of the desk, and mounted on
it at a bound, to take down, first of all, the papers on the top shelf,
for she remembered that the envelopes were there. But she was surprised
not to see the thick blue paper wrappers; there was nothing there but
bulky manuscripts, the doctor’s completed but unpublished works, works
of inestimable value, all his researches, all his discoveries, the
monument of his future fame, which he had left in Ramond’s charge.
Doubtless, some days before his death, thinking that only the envelopes
were in danger, and that no one in the world would be so daring as to
destroy his other works, he had begun to classify and arrange the papers
anew, and removed the envelopes out of sight.

“Ah, so much the worse!” murmured Felicite; “let us begin anywhere;
there are so many of them that if we wish to get through we must
hurry. While I am up here, let us clear these away forever. Here, catch
Martine!”

And she emptied the shelf, throwing the manuscripts, one by one, into
the arms of the servant, who laid them on the table with as little noise
as possible. Soon the whole heap was on it, and Felicite sprang down
from the chair.

“To the fire! to the fire! We shall lay our hands on the others,
and too, by and by, on those I am looking for. These can go into it,
meantime. It will be a good riddance, at any rate, a fine clearance,
yes, indeed! To the fire, to the fire with them all, even to the
smallest scrap of paper, even to the most illegible scrawl, if we wish
to be certain of destroying the contamination of evil.”

She herself, fanatical and fierce, in her hatred of the truth, in her
eagerness to destroy the testimony of science, tore off the first page
of one of the manuscripts, lighted it at the lamp, and then threw this
burning brand into the great fireplace, in which there had not been a
fire for perhaps twenty years, and she fed the fire, continuing to
throw on it the rest of the manuscript, piece by piece. The servant, as
determined as herself, came to her assistance, taking another enormous
notebook, which she tore up leaf by leaf. From this forth the fire did
not cease to burn, filling the wide fireplace with a bright blaze, with
tongues of flame that seemed to die away from time to time, only to
burn up more brightly than ever when fresh fuel fed them. The fire
grew larger, the heap of ashes rose higher and higher--a thick bed of
blackened leaves among which ran millions of sparks. But it was a long,
a never-ending task; for when several pages were thrown on at a time,
they would not burn; it was necessary to move them and turn them over
with the tongs; the best way was to stir them up and then wait until
they were in a blaze, before adding more. The women soon grew skilful at
their task, and the work progressed at a rapid rate.

In her haste to get a fresh armful of papers Felicite stumbled against a
chair.

“Oh, madame, take care,” said Martine. “Some one might come!”

“Come? who should come? Clotilde? She is too sound asleep, poor girl.
And even if any one should come, once it is finished, I don’t care;
I won’t hide myself, you may be sure; I shall leave the empty press
standing wide open; I shall say aloud that it is I who have purified
the house. When there is not a line of writing left, ah, good heavens! I
shall laugh at everything else!”

For almost two hours the fireplace blazed. They went back to the press
and emptied the two other shelves, and now there remained only the
bottom, which was heaped with a confusion of papers. Little by little,
intoxicated by the heat of the bonfire, out of breath and perspiring,
they gave themselves up to the savage joy of destruction. They stooped
down, they blackened their hands, pushing in the partially consumed
fragments, with gestures so violent, so feverishly excited, that their
gray locks fell in disorder over their shoulders. It was like a dance of
witches, feeding a hellish fire for some abominable act--the martyrdom
of a saint, the burning of written thought in the public square; a whole
world of truth and hope destroyed. And the blaze of this fire, which
at moments made the flame of the lamp grow pale, lighted up the vast
apartment, and made the gigantic shadows of the two women dance upon the
ceiling.

But as she was emptying the bottom of the press, after having burned,
handful by handful, the papers with which it had been filled, Felicite
uttered a stifled cry of triumph.

“Ah, here they are! To the fire! to the fire!”

She had at last come upon the envelopes. Far back, behind the rampart
formed by the notes, the doctor had hidden the blue paper wrappers. And
then began a mad work of havoc, a fury of destruction; the envelopes
were gathered up in handfuls and thrown into the flames, filling the
fireplace with a roar like that of a conflagration.

“They are burning, they are burning! They are burning at last! Here
is another, Martine, here is another. Ah, what a fire, what a glorious
fire!”

But the servant was becoming uneasy.

“Take care, madame, you are going to set the house on fire. Don’t you
hear that roar?”

“Ah! what does that matter? Let it all burn. They are burning, they are
burning; what a fine sight! Three more, two more, and, see, now the last
is burning!”

She laughed with delight, beside herself, terrible to see, when some
fragment of lighted soot fell down. The roar was becoming more and more
fierce; the chimney, which was never swept, had caught fire. This seemed
to excite her still more, while the servant, losing her head, began to
scream and run about the room.

Clotilde slept beside the dead Pascal, in the supreme calm of the
bedroom, unbroken save by the light vibration of the clock striking
the hours. The tapers burned with a tall, still flame, the air was
motionless. And yet, in the midst of her heavy, dreamless sleep, she
heard, as in a nightmare, a tumult, an ever-increasing rush and roar.
And when she opened her eyes she could not at first understand. Where
was she? Why this enormous weight that crushed her heart? She came back
to reality with a start of terror--she saw Pascal, she heard Martine’s
cries in the adjoining room, and she rushed out, in alarm, to learn
their cause.

But at the threshold Clotilde took in the whole scene with cruel
distinctness--the press wide open and completely empty; Martine maddened
by her fear of fire; Felicite radiant, pushing into the flames with her
foot the last fragments of the envelopes. Smoke and flying soot filled
the study, where the roaring of the fire sounded like the hoarse gasping
of a murdered man--the fierce roar which she had just heard in her
sleep.

And the cry which sprang from her lips was the same cry that Pascal
himself had uttered on the night of the storm, when he surprised her in
the act of stealing his papers.

“Thieves! assassins!”

She precipitated herself toward the fireplace, and, in spite of the
dreadful roaring of the flames, in spite of the falling pieces of soot,
at the risk of setting her hair on fire, and of burning her hands,
she gathered up the leaves which remained yet unconsumed and bravely
extinguished them, pressing them against her. But all this was very
little, only some _debris_; not a complete page remained, not even a
few fragments of the colossal labor, of the vast and patient work of
a lifetime, which the fire had destroyed there in two hours. And with
growing anger, in a burst of furious indignation, she cried:

“You are thieves, assassins! It is a wicked murder which you have just
committed. You have profaned death, you have slain the mind, you have
slain genius.”

Old Mme. Rougon did not quail. She advanced, on the contrary, feeling
no remorse, her head erect, defending the sentence of destruction
pronounced and executed by her.

“It is to me you are speaking, to your grandmother. Is there nothing,
then, that you respect? I have done what I ought to have done, what you
yourself wished to do with us before.”

“Before, you had made me mad; but since then I have lived, I have loved,
I have understood, and it is life that I defend. Even if it be terrible
and cruel, the truth ought to be respected. Besides, it was a sacred
legacy bequeathed to my protection, the last thoughts of a dead man, all
that remained of a great mind, and which I should have obliged every one
to respect. Yes, you are my grandmother; I am well aware of it, and it
is as if you had just burned your son!”

“Burn Pascal because I have burned his papers!” cried Felicite. “Do
you not know that I would have burned the town to save the honor of our
family!”

She continued to advance, belligerent and victorious; and Clotilde, who
had laid on the table the blackened fragments rescued by her from
the burning flames, protected them with her body, fearing that her
grandmother would throw them back again into the fire. She regarded the
two women scornfully; she did not even trouble herself about the fire
in the fireplace, which fortunately went out of itself, while Martine
extinguished with the shovel the burning soot and the last flames of the
smoldering ashes.

“You know very well, however,” continued the old woman, whose little
figure seemed to grow taller, “that I have had only one ambition, one
passion in life--to see our family rich and powerful. I have fought, I
have watched all my life, I have lived as long as I have done, only to
put down ugly stories and to leave our name a glorious one. Yes, I have
never despaired; I have never laid down my arms; I have been continually
on the alert, ready to profit by the slightest circumstance. And all I
desired to do I have done, because I have known how to wait.”

And she waved her hand toward the empty press and the fireplace, where
the last sparks were dying out.

“Now it is ended, our honor is safe; those abominable papers will no
longer accuse us, and I shall leave behind me nothing to be feared. The
Rougons have triumphed.”

Clotilde, in a frenzy of grief, raised her arm, as if to drive her out
of the room. But she left it of her own accord, and went down to the
kitchen to wash her blackened hands and to fasten up her hair. The
servant was about to follow her when, turning her head, she saw her
young mistress’ gesture, and she returned.

“Oh! as for me, mademoiselle, I will go away the day after to-morrow,
when monsieur shall be in the cemetery.”

There was a moment’s silence.

“But I am not sending you away, Martine. I know well that it is not you
who are most to blame. You have lived in this house for thirty years.
Remain, remain with me.”

The old maid shook her gray head, looking very pale and tired.

“No, I have served monsieur; I will serve no one after monsieur.”

“But I!”

“You, no!”

Clotilde looked embarrassed, hesitated a moment, and remained silent.
But Martine understood; she too seemed to reflect for an instant, and
then she said distinctly:

“I know what you would say, but--no!”

And she went on to settle her account, arranging the affair like a
practical woman who knew the value of money.

“Since I have the means, I will go and live quietly on my income
somewhere. As for you, mademoiselle, I can leave you, for you are not
poor. M. Ramond will explain to you to-morrow how an income of four
thousand francs was saved for you out of the money at the notary’s.
Meantime, here is the key of the desk, where you will find the five
thousand francs which monsieur left there. Oh? I know that there will
be no trouble between us. Monsieur did not pay me for the last three
months; I have papers from him which prove it. In addition, I advanced
lately almost two hundred francs out of my own pocket, without his
knowing where the money came from. It is all written down; I am not at
all uneasy; mademoiselle will not wrong me by a centime. The day after
to-morrow, when monsieur is no longer here, I will go away.”

Then she went down to the kitchen, and Clotilde, in spite of the
fanaticism of this woman, which had made her take part in a crime,
felt inexpressibly sad at this desertion. When she was gathering up the
fragments of the papers, however, before returning to the bedroom, she
had a thrill of joy, on suddenly seeing the genealogical tree, which
the two women had not perceived, lying unharmed on the table. It was the
only entire document saved from the wreck. She took it and locked it,
with the half-consumed fragments, in the bureau in the bedroom.

But when she found herself again in this august chamber a great emotion
took possession of her. What supreme calm, what immortal peace, reigned
here, beside the savage destruction that had filled the adjoining room
with smoke and ashes. A sacred serenity pervaded the obscurity; the two
tapers burned with a pure, still, unwavering flame. Then she saw that
Pascal’s face, framed in his flowing white hair and beard, had become
very white. He slept with the light falling upon him, surrounded by a
halo, supremely beautiful. She bent down, kissed him again, felt on her
lips the cold of the marble face, with its closed eyelids, dreaming its
dream of eternity. Her grief at not being able to save the work which he
had left to her care was so overpowering that she fell on her knees and
burst into a passion of sobs. Genius had been violated; it seemed to her
as if the world was about to be destroyed in this savage destruction of
a whole life of labor.



XIV.

In the study Clotilde was buttoning her dress, holding her child, whom
she had been nursing, still in her lap. It was after lunch, about
three o’clock on a hot sunny day at the end of August, and through the
crevices of the carefully closed shutters only a few scattered sunbeams
entered, piercing the drowsy and warm obscurity of the vast apartment.
The rest and peace of the Sunday seemed to enter and diffuse itself
in the room with the last sounds of the distant vesper bell. Profound
silence reigned in the empty house in which the mother and child were to
remain alone until dinner time, the servant having asked permission to
go see a cousin in the faubourg.

For an instant Clotilde looked at her child, now a big boy of three
months. She had been wearing mourning for Pascal for almost ten
months--a long and simple black gown, in which she looked divinely
beautiful, with her tall, slender figure and her sad, youthful face
surrounded by its aureole of fair hair. And although she could not
smile, it filled her with sweet emotion to see the beautiful child, so
plump and rosy, with his mouth still wet with milk, whose gaze had
been arrested by the sunbeam full of dancing motes. His eyes were fixed
wonderingly on the golden brightness, the dazzling miracle of light.
Then sleep came over him, and he let his little, round, bare head,
covered thinly with fair hair, fall back on his mother’s arm.

Clotilde rose softly and laid him in the cradle, which stood beside the
table. She remained leaning over him for an instant to assure herself
that he was asleep; then she let down the curtain in the already
darkened room. Then she busied herself with supple and noiseless
movements, walking with so light a step that she scarcely touched the
floor, in putting away some linen which was on the table. Twice she
crossed the room in search of a little missing sock. She was very
silent, very gentle, and very active. And now, in the solitude of the
house, she fell into a reverie and all the past year arose before her.

First, after the dreadful shock of the funeral, came the departure of
Martine, who had obstinately kept to her determination of going away at
once, not even remaining for the customary week, bringing to replace her
the young cousin of a baker in the neighborhood--a stout brunette, who
fortunately proved very neat and faithful. Martine herself lived at
Sainte-Marthe, in a retired corner, so penuriously that she must be
still saving even out of her small income. She was not known to have any
heir. Who, then, would profit by this miserliness? In ten months she had
not once set foot in La Souleiade--monsieur was not there, and she had
not even the desire to see monsieur’s son.

Then in Clotilde’s reverie rose the figure of her grandmother Felicite.
The latter came to see her from time to time with the condescension of a
powerful relation who is liberal-minded enough to pardon all faults when
they have been cruelly expiated. She would come unexpectedly, kiss
the child, moralize, and give advice, and the young mother had adopted
toward her the respectful attitude which Pascal had always maintained.
Felicite was now wholly absorbed in her triumph. She was at last about
to realize a plan that she had long cherished and maturely deliberated,
which would perpetuate by an imperishable monument the untarnished glory
of the family. The plan was to devote her fortune, which had become
considerable, to the construction and endowment of an asylum for the
aged, to be called Rougon Asylum. She had already bought the ground,
a part of the old mall outside the town, near the railway station; and
precisely on this Sunday, at five o’clock, when the heat should have
abated a little, the first stone was to be laid, a really solemn
ceremony, to be honored by the presence of all the authorities, and of
which she was to be the acknowledged queen, before a vast concourse of
people.

Clotilde felt, besides, some gratitude toward her grandmother, who
had shown perfect disinterestedness on the occasion of the opening
of Pascal’s will. The latter had constituted the young woman his
sole legatee; and the mother, who had a right to a fourth part,
after declaring her intention to respect her son’s wishes, had simply
renounced her right to the succession. She wished, indeed, to disinherit
all her family, bequeathing to them glory only, by employing her large
fortune in the erection of this asylum, which was to carry down to
future ages the revered and glorious name of the Rougons; and after
having, for more than half a century, so eagerly striven to acquire
money, she now disdained it, moved by a higher and purer ambition. And
Clotilde, thanks to this liberality, had no uneasiness regarding the
future--the four thousand francs income would be sufficient for her and
her child. She would bring him up to be a man. She had sunk the five
thousand francs that she had found in the desk in an annuity for him;
and she owned, besides, La Souleiade, which everybody advised her
to sell. True, it cost but little to keep it up, but what a sad and
solitary life she would lead in that great deserted house, much too
large for her, where she would be lost. Thus far, however, she had not
been able to make up her mind to leave it. Perhaps she would never be
able to do so.

Ah, this La Souleiade! all her love, all her life, all her memories were
centered in it. It seemed to her at times as if Pascal were living here
still, for she had changed nothing of their former manner of living.
The furniture remained in the same places, the hours were the same, the
habits the same. The only change she had made was to lock his room,
into which only she went, as into a sanctuary, to weep when she felt her
heart too heavy. And although indeed she felt very lonely, very lost, at
each meal in the bright dining-room downstairs, in fancy she heard there
the echoes of their laughter, she recalled the healthy appetite of her
youth; when they two had eaten and drank so gaily, rejoicing in their
existence. And the garden, too, the whole place was bound up with the
most intimate fibers of her being, for she could not take a step in it
that their united images did not appear before her--on the terrace; in
the slender shadow of the great secular cypresses, where they had so
often contemplated the valley of the Viorne, closed in by the ridges of
the Seille and the parched hills of Sainte-Marthe; the stone steps among
the puny olive and almond trees, which they had so often challenged
each other to run up in a trial of speed, like boys just let loose from
school; and there was the pine grove, too, the warm, embalsamed shade,
where the needles crackled under their feet; the vast threshing yard,
carpeted with soft grass, where they could see the whole sky at night,
when the stars were coming out; and above all there were the giant plane
trees, whose delightful shade they had enjoyed every day in summer,
listening to the soothing song of the fountain, the crystal clear song
which it had sung for centuries. Even to the old stones of the house,
even to the earth of the grounds, there was not an atom at La Souleiade
in which she did not feel a little of their blood warmly throbbing, with
which she did not feel a little of their life diffused and mingled.

But she preferred to spend her days in the workroom, and here it was
that she lived over again her best hours. There was nothing new in it
but the cradle. The doctor’s table was in its place before the window to
the left--she could fancy him coming in and sitting down at it, for his
chair had not even been moved. On the long table in the center, among
the old heap of books and papers, there was nothing new but the cheerful
note of the little baby linen, which she was looking over. The bookcases
displayed the same rows of volumes; the large oaken press seemed to
guard within its sides the same treasure, securely shut in. Under the
smoky ceiling the room was still redolent of work, with its confusion of
chairs, the pleasant disorder of this common workroom, filled with the
caprices of the girl and the researches of the scientist. But what most
moved her to-day was the sight of her old pastels hanging against the
wall, the copies which she had made of living flowers, scrupulously
exact copies, and of dream flowers of an imaginary world, whither her
wild fancy sometimes carried her.

Clotilde had just finished arranging the little garments on the table
when, lifting her eyes, she perceived before her the pastel of old
King David, with his hand resting on the shoulder of Abishag the young
Shunammite. And she, who now never smiled, felt her face flush with a
thrill of tender and pleasing emotion. How they had loved each other,
how they had dreamed of an eternity of love the day on which she had
amused herself painting this proud and loving allegory! The old king,
sumptuously clad in a robe hanging in straight folds, heavy with
precious stones, wore the royal bandeau on his snowy locks; but she was
more sumptuous still, with only her tall slender figure, her delicate
round throat, and her supple arms, divinely graceful. Now he was gone,
he was sleeping under the ground, while she, her pure and triumphant
beauty concealed by her black robes, had only her child to express the
love she had given him before the assembled people, in the full light of
day.

Then Clotilde sat down beside the cradle. The slender sunbeams
lengthened, crossing the room from end to end, the heat of the warm
afternoon grew oppressive in the drowsy obscurity made by the closed
shutters, and the silence of the house seemed more profound than
before. She set apart some little waists, she sewed on some tapes with
slow-moving needle, and gradually she fell into a reverie in the warm
deep peacefulness of the room, in the midst of the glowing heat outside.
Her thoughts first turned to her pastels, the exact copies and the
fantastic dream flowers; she said to herself now that all her dual
nature was to be found in that passion for truth, which had at times
kept her a whole day before a flower in order to copy it with exactness,
and in her need of the spiritual, which at other times took her outside
the real, and carried her in wild dreams to the paradise of flowers such
as had never grown on earth. She had always been thus. She felt that she
was in reality the same to-day as she had been yesterday, in the midst
of the flow of new life which ceaselessly transformed her. And then she
thought of Pascal, full of gratitude that he had made her what she was.
In days past when, a little girl, he had removed her from her execrable
surroundings and taken her home with him, he had undoubtedly followed
the impulses of his good heart, but he had also undoubtedly desired
to try an experiment with her, to see how she would grow up in the
different environment, in an atmosphere of truthfulness and affection.
This had always been an idea of his. It was an old theory of his
which he would have liked to test on a large scale: culture through
environment, complete regeneration even, the improvement, the salvation
of the individual, physically as well as morally. She owed to him
undoubtedly the best part of her nature; she guessed how fanciful and
violent she might have become, while he had made her only enthusiastic
and courageous.

In this retrospection she was clearly conscious of the gradual change
that had taken place within her. Pascal had corrected her heredity,
and she lived over again the slow evolution, the struggle between the
fantastic and the real in her. It had begun with her outbursts of anger
as a child, a ferment of rebellion, a want of mental balance that had
caused her to indulge in most hurtful reveries. Then came her fits
of extreme devotion, the need of illusion and falsehood, of immediate
happiness in the thought that the inequalities and injustices of this
wicked world would he compensated by the eternal joys of a future
paradise. This was the epoch of her struggles with Pascal, of the
torture which she had caused him, planning to destroy the work of his
genius. And at this point her nature had changed; she had acknowledged
him for her master. He had conquered her by the terrible lesson of life
which he had given her on the night of the storm. Then, environment had
acted upon her, evolution had proceeded rapidly, and she had ended by
becoming a well-balanced and rational woman, willing to live life as it
ought to be lived, satisfied with doing her work in the hope that the
sum of the common labor would one day free the world from evil and pain.
She had loved, she was a mother now, and she understood.

Suddenly she remembered the night which they had spent in the threshing
yard. She could still hear her lamentation under the stars--the cruelty
of nature, the inefficacy of science, the wickedness of humanity, and
the need she felt of losing herself in God, in the Unknown. Happiness
consisted in self-renunciation. Then she heard him repeat his creed--the
progress of reason through science, truths acquired slowly and forever
the only possible good, the belief that the sum of these truths, always
augmenting, would finally confer upon man incalculable power and peace,
if not happiness. All was summed up in his ardent faith in life. As he
expressed it, it was necessary to march with life, which marched always.
No halt was to be expected, no peace in immobility and renunciation, no
consolation in turning back. One must keep a steadfast soul, the only
ambition to perform one’s work, modestly looking for no other reward
of life than to have lived it bravely, accomplishing the task which it
imposes. Evil was only an accident not yet explained, humanity appearing
from a great height like an immense wheel in action, working ceaselessly
for the future. Why should the workman who disappeared, having finished
his day’s work, abuse the work because he could neither see nor know its
end? Even if it were to have no end why should he not enjoy the delight
of action, the exhilarating air of the march, the sweetness of sleep
after the fatigue of a long and busy day? The children would carry on
the task of the parents; they were born and cherished only for this, for
the task of life which is transmitted to them, which they in their turn
will transmit to others. All that remained, then, was to be courageously
resigned to the grand common labor, without the rebellion of the ego,
which demands personal happiness, perfect and complete.

She questioned herself, and she found that she did not experience that
anguish which had filled her formerly at the thought of what was to
follow death. This anxiety about the Beyond no longer haunted her until
it became a torture. Formerly she would have liked to wrest by force
from heaven the secrets of destiny. It had been a source of infinite
grief to her not to know why she existed. Why are we born? What do we
come on earth to do? What is the meaning of this execrable existence,
without equality, without justice, which seemed to her like a fevered
dream? Now her terror was calmed; she could think of these things
courageously. Perhaps it was her child, the continuation of herself,
which now concealed from her the horror of her end. But her regular life
contributed also to this, the thought that it was necessary to live for
the effort of living, and that the only peace possible in this world was
in the joy of the accomplishment of this effort. She repeated to herself
a remark of the doctor, who would often say when he saw a peasant
returning home with a contented look after his day’s work: “There is a
man whom anxiety about the Beyond will not prevent from sleeping.” He
meant to say that this anxiety troubles and perverts only excitable
and idle brains. If all performed their healthful task, all would sleep
peacefully at night. She herself had felt the beneficent power of work
in the midst of her sufferings and her grief. Since he had taught her to
employ every one of her hours; since she had been a mother, especially,
occupied constantly with her child, she no longer felt a chill of
horror when she thought of the Unknown. She put aside without an effort
disquieting reveries; and if she still felt an occasional fear, if
some of her daily griefs made her sick at heart, she found comfort and
unfailing strength in the thought that her child was this day a day
older, that he would be another day older on the morrow, that day
by day, page by page, his work of life was being accomplished. This
consoled her delightfully for all her miseries. She had a duty, an
object, and she felt in her happy serenity that she was doing surely
what she had been sent here to do.

Yet, even at this very moment she knew that the mystic was not entirely
dead within her. In the midst of the profound silence she heard a slight
noise, and she raised her head. Who was the divine mediator that
had passed? Perhaps the beloved dead for whom she mourned, and whose
presence near her she fancied she could divine. There must always be
in her something of the childlike believer she had always been, curious
about the Unknown, having an instinctive longing for the mysterious.
She accounted to herself for this longing, she even explained it
scientifically. However far science may extend the limits of human
knowledge, there is undoubtedly a point which it cannot pass; and it
was here precisely that Pascal placed the only interest in life--in
the effort which we ceaselessly make to know more--there was only one
reasonable meaning in life, this continual conquest of the unknown.
Therefore, she admitted the existence of undiscovered forces surrounding
the world, an immense and obscure domain, ten times larger than the
domain already won, an infinite and unexplored realm through which
future humanity would endlessly ascend. Here, indeed, was a field vast
enough for the imagination to lose itself in. In her hours of reverie
she satisfied in it the imperious need which man seems to have for the
spiritual, a need of escaping from the visible world, of interrogating
the Unknown, of satisfying in it the dream of absolute justice and of
future happiness. All that remained of her former torture, her last
mystic transports, were there appeased. She satisfied there that hunger
for consoling illusions which suffering humanity must satisfy in order
to live. But in her all was happily balanced. At this crisis, in an
epoch overburdened with science, disquieted at the ruins it has made,
and seized with fright in the face of the new century, wildly desiring
to stop and to return to the past, Clotilde kept the happy mean; in her
the passion for truth was broadened by her eagerness to penetrate the
Unknown. If sectarian scientists shut out the horizon to keep strictly
to the phenomenon, it was permitted to her, a good, simple creature, to
reserve the part that she did not know, that she would never know. And
if Pascal’s creed was the logical deduction from the whole work, the
eternal question of the Beyond, which she still continued to put to
heaven, reopened the door of the infinite to humanity marching ever
onward. Since we must always learn, while resigning ourselves never
to know all, was it not to will action, life itself, to reserve the
Unknown--an eternal doubt and an eternal hope?

Another sound, as of a wing passing, the light touch of a kiss upon her
hair, this time made her smile. He was surely here; and her whole being
went out toward him, in the great flood of tenderness with which her
heart overflowed. How kind and cheerful he was, and what a love for
others underlay his passionate love of life! Perhaps he, too, had been
only a dreamer, for he had dreamed the most beautiful of dreams, the
final belief in a better world, when science should have bestowed
incalculable power upon man--to accept everything, to turn everything
to our happiness, to know everything and to foresee everything, to
make nature our servant, to live in the tranquillity of intelligence
satisfied. Meantime faith in life, voluntary and regular labor, would
suffice for health. Evil was only the unexplained side of things;
suffering would one day be assuredly utilized. And regarding from above
the enormous labor of the world, seeing the sum total of humanity, good
and bad--admirable, in spite of everything, for their courage and
their industry--she now regarded all mankind as united in a common
brotherhood, she now felt only boundless indulgence, an infinite
pity, and an ardent charity. Love, like the sun, bathes the earth, and
goodness is the great river at which all hearts drink.

Clotilde had been plying her needle for two hours, with the same regular
movement, while her thoughts wandered away in the profound silence. But
the tapes were sewed on the little waists, she had even marked some new
wrappers, which she had bought the day before. And, her sewing finished,
she rose to put the linen away. Outside the sun was declining, and
only slender and oblique sunbeams entered through the crevices of the
shutters. She could not see clearly, and she opened one of the shutters,
then she forgot herself for a moment, at the sight of the vast horizon
suddenly unrolled before her. The intense heat had abated, a delicious
breeze was blowing, and the sky was of a cloudless blue. To the left
could be distinguished even the smallest clumps of pines, among the
blood-colored ravines of the rocks of the Seille, while to the right,
beyond the hills of Sainte-Marthe, the valley of the Viorne stretched
away in the golden dust of the setting sun. She looked for a moment at
the tower of St. Saturnin, all golden also, dominating the rose-colored
town; and she was about to leave the window when she saw a sight that
drew her back and kept her there, leaning on her elbow for a long time
still.

Beyond the railroad a multitude of people were crowded together on the
old mall. Clotilde at once remembered the ceremony. She knew that her
Grandmother Felicite was going to lay the first stone of the Rougon
Asylum, the triumphant monument destined to carry down to future ages
the glory of the family. Vast preparations had been going on for a week
past. There was talk of a silver hod and trowel, which the old lady was
to use herself, determined to figure to triumph, with her eighty-two
years. What swelled her heart with regal pride was that on this occasion
she made the conquest of Plassans for the third time, for she compelled
the whole town, all the three quarters, to range themselves around her,
to form an escort for her, and to applaud her as a benefactress. For, of
course, there had to be present lady patronesses, chosen from among the
noblest ladies of the Quartier St. Marc; a delegation from the
societies of working-women of the old quarter, and, finally, the
most distinguished residents of the new town, advocates, notaries,
physicians, without counting the common people, a stream of people
dressed in their Sunday clothes, crowding there eagerly, as to a
festival. And in the midst of this supreme triumph she was perhaps
most proud--she, one of the queens of the Second Empire, the widow who
mourned with so much dignity the fallen government--in having
conquered the young republic itself, obliging it, in the person of the
sub-prefect, to come and salute her and thank her. At first there had
been question only of a discourse of the mayor; but it was known with
certainty, since the previous day, that the sub-prefect also would
speak. From so great a distance Clotilde could distinguish only a moving
crowd of black coats and light dresses, under the scorching sun. Then
there was a distant sound of music, the music of the amateur band of the
town, the sonorous strains of whose brass instruments were borne to her
at intervals on the breeze.

She left the window and went and opened the large oaken press to put
away in it the linen that had remained on the table. It was in this
press, formerly so full of the doctor’s manuscripts, and now empty,
that she kept the baby’s wardrobe. It yawned open, vast, seemingly
bottomless, and on the large bare shelves there was nothing but the baby
linen, the little waists, the little caps, the little socks, all the
fine clothing, the down of the bird still in the nest. Where so many
thoughts had been stored up, where a man’s unremitting labor for thirty
years had accumulated in an overflowing heap of papers, there was now
only a baby’s clothing, only the first garments which would protect it
for an hour, as it were, and which very soon it could no longer use.
The vastness of the antique press seemed brightened and all refreshed by
them.

When Clotilde had arranged the wrappers and the waists upon a shelf,
she perceived a large envelope containing the fragments of the documents
which she had placed there after she had rescued them from the fire. And
she remembered a request which Dr. Ramond had come only the day before
to make her--that she would see if there remained among this _debris_
any fragment of importance having a scientific interest. He was
inconsolable for the loss of the precious manuscripts which the master
had bequeathed to him. Immediately after the doctor’s death he had made
an attempt to write from memory his last talk, that summary of vast
theories expounded by the dying man with so heroic a serenity; but he
could recall only parts of it. He would have needed complete notes,
observations made from day to day, the results obtained, and the laws
formulated. The loss was irreparable, the task was to be begun over
again, and he lamented having only indications; he said that it would be
at least twenty years before science could make up the loss, and take up
and utilize the ideas of the solitary pioneer whose labors a wicked and
imbecile catastrophe had destroyed.

The genealogical tree, the only document that had remained intact, was
attached to the envelope, and Clotilde carried the whole to the table
beside the cradle. After she had taken out the fragments, one by one,
she found, what she had been already almost certain of, that not a
single entire page of manuscript remained, not a single complete note
having any meaning. There were only fragments of documents, scraps of
half-burned and blackened paper, without sequence or connection. But as
she examined them, these incomplete phrases, these words half consumed
by fire, assumed for her an interest which no one else could have
understood. She remembered the night of the storm, and the phrases
completed themselves, the beginning of a word evoked before her persons
and histories. Thus her eye fell on Maxime’s name, and she reviewed
the life of this brother who had remained a stranger to her, and whose
death, two months before, had left her almost indifferent. Then, a
half-burned scrap containing her father’s name gave her an uneasy
feeling, for she believed that her father had obtained possession of the
fortune and the house on the avenue of Bois de Boulogne through the good
offices of his hairdresser’s niece, the innocent Rose, repaid, no doubt,
by a generous percentage. Then she met with other names, that of
her uncle Eugene, the former vice emperor, now dead, the cure
of Saint-Eutrope, who, she had been told yesterday, was dying of
consumption. And each fragment became animated in this way; the
execrable family lived again in these scraps, these black ashes, where
were now only disconnected words.

Then Clotilde had the curiosity to unfold the genealogical tree and
spread it out upon the table. A strong emotion gained on her; she was
deeply affected by these relics; and when she read once more the notes
added in pencil by Pascal, a few moments before his death, tears rose to
her eyes. With what courage he had written down the date of his death!
And what despairing regret for life one divined in the trembling words
announcing the birth of the child! The tree ascended, spread out
its branches, unfolded its leaves, and she remained for a long time
contemplating it, saying to herself that all the work of the master
was to be found here in the classified records of this family tree.
She could still hear certain of his words commenting on each hereditary
case, she recalled his lessons. But the children, above all, interested
her; she read again and again the notes on the leaves which bore their
names. The doctor’s colleague in Noumea, to whom he had written for
information about the child born of the marriage of the convict Etienne,
had at last made up his mind to answer; but the only information he gave
was in regard to the sex--it was a girl, he said, and she seemed to be
healthy. Octave Mouret had come near losing his daughter, who had always
been very frail, while his little boy continued to enjoy superb health.
But the chosen abode of vigorous health and of extraordinary fecundity
was still the house of Jean, at Valqueyras, whose wife had had two
children in three years and was about to have a third. The nestlings
throve in the sunshine, in the heart of a fertile country, while the
father sang as he guided his plow, and the mother at home cleverly made
the soup and kept the children in order. There was enough new vitality
and industry there to make another family, a whole race. Clotilde
fancied at this moment that she could hear Pascal’s cry: “Ah, our
family! what is it going to be, in what kind of being will it end?” And
she fell again into a reverie, looking at the tree sending its latest
branches into the future. Who could tell whence the healthy branch would
spring? Perhaps the great and good man so long awaited was germinating
there.

A slight cry drew Clotilde from her reflections. The muslin curtain of
the cradle seemed to become animate. It was the child who had wakened up
and was moving about and calling to her. She at once took him out of the
cradle and held him up gaily, that he might bathe in the golden light of
the setting sun. But he was insensible to the beauty of the closing day;
his little vacant eyes, still full of sleep, turned away from the vast
sky, while he opened wide his rosy and ever hungry mouth, like a bird
opening its beak. And he cried so loud, he had wakened up so ravenous,
that she decided to nurse him again. Besides, it was his hour; it would
soon be three hours since she had last nursed him.

Clotilde sat down again beside the table. She took him on her lap, but
he was not very good, crying louder and louder, growing more and more
impatient; and she looked at him with a smile while she unfastened her
dress, showing her round, slender throat. Already the child knew, and
raising himself he felt with his lips for the breast. When she placed
it in his mouth he gave a little grunt of satisfaction; he threw himself
upon her with the fine, voracious appetite of a young gentleman who was
determined to live. At first he had clutched the breast with his little
free hand, as if to show that it was his, to defend it and to guard it.
Then, in the joy of the warm stream that filled his throat he raised his
little arm straight up, like a flag. And Clotilde kept her unconscious
smile, seeing him so healthy, so rosy, and so plump, thriving so well
on the nourishment he drew from her. During the first few weeks she had
suffered from a fissure, and even now her breast was sensitive; but she
smiled, notwithstanding, with that peaceful look which mothers wear,
happy in giving their milk as they would give their blood.

When she had unfastened her dress, showing her bare throat and breast,
in the solitude and silence of the study, another of her mysteries,
one of her sweetest and most hidden secrets, was revealed at the same
time--the slender necklace with the seven pearls, the seven fine, milky
stars which the master had put around her neck on a day of misery, in
his mania for giving. Since it had been there no one else had seen it.
It seemed as if she guarded it with as much modesty as if it were a part
of her flesh, so simple, so pure, so childlike. And all the time the
child was nursing she alone looked at it in a dreamy reverie, moved by
the tender memory of the kisses whose warm perfume it still seemed to
keep.

A burst of distant music seemed to surprise Clotilde. She turned her
head and looked across the fields gilded by the oblique rays of the sun.
Ah, yes! the ceremony, the laying of the corner stone yonder! Then
she turned her eyes again on the child, and she gave herself up to the
delight of seeing him with so fine an appetite. She had drawn forward a
little bench, to raise one of her knees, resting her foot upon it,
and she leaned one shoulder against the table, beside the tree and the
blackened fragments of the envelopes. Her thoughts wandered away in an
infinitely sweet reverie, while she felt the best part of herself, the
pure milk, flowing softly, making more and more her own the dear being
she had borne. The child had come, the redeemer, perhaps. The bells
rang, the three wise men had set out, followed by the people, by
rejoicing nature, smiling on the infant in its swaddling clothes. She,
the mother, while he drank life in long draughts, was dreaming already
of his future. What would he be when she should have made him tall and
strong, giving herself to him entirely? A scientist, perhaps, who would
reveal to the world something of the eternal truth; or a great captain,
who would confer glory on his country; or, still better, one of those
shepherds of the people who appease the passions and bring about the
reign of justice. She saw him, in fancy, beautiful, good and powerful.
Hers was the dream of every mother--the conviction that she had brought
the expected Messiah into the world; and there was in this hope, in this
obstinate belief, which every mother has in the certain triumph of her
child, the hope which itself makes life, the belief which gives humanity
the ever renewed strength to live still.

What would the child be? She looked at him, trying to discover whom
he resembled. He had certainly his father’s brow and eyes, there
was something noble and strong in the breadth of the head. She saw a
resemblance to herself, too, in his fine mouth and his delicate chin.
Then, with secret uneasiness, she sought a resemblance to the others,
the terrible ancestors, all those whose names were there inscribed on
the tree, unfolding its growth of hereditary leaves. Was it this one, or
this, or yet this other, whom he would resemble? She grew calm, however,
she could not but hope, her heart swelled with eternal hope. The
faith in life which the master had implanted in her kept her brave and
steadfast. What did misery, suffering and wickedness matter! Health was
in universal labor, in the effort made, in the power which fecundates
and which produces. The work was good when the child blessed love. Then
hope bloomed anew, in spite of the open wounds, the dark picture of
human shame. It was life perpetuated, tried anew, life which we can
never weary of believing good, since we live it so eagerly, with all its
injustice and suffering.

Clotilde had glanced involuntarily at the ancestral tree spread out
beside her. Yes, the menace was there--so many crimes, so much filth,
side by side with so many tears, and so much patient goodness; so
extraordinary a mixture of the best and the most vile, a humanity in
little, with all its defects and all its struggles. It was a question
whether it would not be better that a thunderbolt should come and
destroy all this corrupt and miserable ant-hill. And after so many
terrible Rougons, so many vile Macquarts, still another had been born.
Life did not fear to create another of them, in the brave defiance of
its eternity. It continued its work, propagated itself according to its
laws, indifferent to theories, marching on in its endless labor. Even
at the risk of making monsters, it must of necessity create, since, in
spite of all it creates, it never wearies of creating in the hope, no
doubt, that the healthy and the good will one day come. Life, life,
which flows like a torrent, which continues its work, beginning it over
and over again, without pause, to the unknown end! life in which we
bathe, life with its infinity of contrary currents, always in motion,
and vast as a boundless sea!

A transport of maternal fervor thrilled Clotilde’s heart, and she
smiled, seeing the little voracious mouth drinking her life. It was a
prayer, an invocation, to the unknown child, as to the unknown God! To
the child of the future, to the genius, perhaps, that was to be, to the
Messiah that the coming century awaited, who would deliver the people
from their doubt and their suffering! Since the nation was to be
regenerated, had he not come for this work? He would make the experiment
anew, he would raise up walls, give certainty to those who were in
doubt, he would build the city of justice, where the sole law of
labor would insure happiness. In troublous times prophets were to be
expected--at least let him not be the Antichrist, the destroyer, the
beast foretold in the Apocalypse--who would purge the earth of its
wickedness, when this should become too great. And life would go on
in spite of everything, only it would be necessary to wait for other
myriads of years before the other unknown child, the benefactor, should
appear.

But the child had drained her right breast, and, as he was growing
angry, Clotilde turned him round and gave him the left. Then she began
to smile, feeling the caress of his greedy little lips. At all events
she herself was hope. A mother nursing, was she not the image of the
world continued and saved? She bent over, she looked into his limpid
eyes, which opened joyously, eager for the light. What did the child say
to her that she felt her heart beat more quickly under the breast which
he was draining? To what cause would he give his blood when he should
be a man, strong with all the milk which he would have drunk? Perhaps he
said nothing to her, perhaps he already deceived her, and yet she was so
happy, so full of perfect confidence in him.

Again there was a distant burst of music. This must be the apotheosis,
the moment when Grandmother Felicite, with her silver trowel, laid the
first stone of the monument to the glory of the Rougons. The vast blue
sky, gladdened by the Sunday festivities, rejoiced. And in the warm
silence, in the solitary peace of the workroom, Clotilde smiled at the
child, who was still nursing, his little arm held straight up in the
air, like a signal flag of life.





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