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

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THE ALKAHEST


By Honore De Balzac


Translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley



  DEDICATION

  To Madame Josephine Delannoy nee Doumerc.

  Madame, may God grant that this, my book, may live longer than I,
  for then the gratitude which I owe to you, and which I hope will
  equal your almost maternal kindness to me, would last beyond the
  limits prescribed for human affection. This sublime privilege of
  prolonging life in our hearts for a time by the life of the work
  we leave behind us would be (if we could only be sure of gaining
  it at last) a reward indeed for all the labor undertaken by those
  who aspire to such an immortality.

  Yet again I say--May God grant it!

  DE BALZAC.



THE ALKAHEST

(THE HOUSE OF CLAES)



CHAPTER I

There is a house at Douai in the rue de Paris, whose aspect, interior
arrangements, and details have preserved, to a greater degree than those
of other domiciles, the characteristics of the old Flemish buildings, so
naively adapted to the patriarchal manners and customs of that excellent
land. Before describing this house it may be well, in the interest
of other writers, to explain the necessity for such didactic
preliminaries,--since they have roused a protest from certain ignorant
and voracious readers who want emotions without undergoing the
generating process, the flower without the seed, the child without
gestation. Is Art supposed to have higher powers than Nature?

The events of human existence, whether public or private, are so closely
allied to architecture that the majority of observers can reconstruct
nations and individuals, in their habits and ways of life, from the
remains of public monuments or the relics of a home. Archaeology is to
social nature what comparative anatomy is to organized nature. A mosaic
tells the tale of a society, as the skeleton of an ichthyosaurus
opens up a creative epoch. All things are linked together, and all
are therefore deducible. Causes suggest effects, effects lead back to
causes. Science resuscitates even the warts of the past ages.

Hence the keen interest inspired by an architectural description,
provided the imagination of the writer does not distort essential facts.
The mind is enabled by rigid deduction to link it with the past; and to
man, the past is singularly like the future; tell him what has been,
and you seldom fail to show him what will be. It is rare indeed that
the picture of a locality where lives are lived does not recall to
some their dawning hopes, to others their wasted faith. The comparison
between a present which disappoints man’s secret wishes and a future
which may realize them, is an inexhaustible source of sadness or of
placid content.

Thus, it is almost impossible not to feel a certain tender sensibility
over a picture of Flemish life, if the accessories are clearly given.
Why so? Perhaps, among other forms of existence, it offers the best
conclusion to man’s uncertainties. It has its social festivities, its
family ties, and the easy affluence which proves the stability of its
comfortable well-being; it does not lack repose amounting almost to
beatitude; but, above all, it expresses the calm monotony of a frankly
sensuous happiness, where enjoyment stifles desire by anticipating it.
Whatever value a passionate soul may attach to the tumultuous life
of feeling, it never sees without emotion the symbols of this Flemish
nature, where the throbbings of the heart are so well regulated that
superficial minds deny the heart’s existence. The crowd prefers
the abnormal force which overflows to that which moves with steady
persistence. The world has neither time nor patience to realize the
immense power concealed beneath an appearance of uniformity. Therefore,
to impress this multitude carried away on the current of existence,
passion, like a great artist, is compelled to go beyond the mark, to
exaggerate, as did Michael Angelo, Bianca Capello, Mademoiselle de la
Valliere, Beethoven, and Paganini. Far-seeing minds alone disapprove
such excess, and respect only the energy represented by a finished
execution whose perfect quiet charms superior men. The life of this
essentially thrifty people amply fulfils the conditions of happiness
which the masses desire as the lot of the average citizen.

A refined materialism is stamped on all the habits of Flemish life.
English comfort is harsh in tone and arid in color; whereas the
old-fashioned Flemish interiors rejoice the eye with their mellow tints,
and the feelings with their genuine heartiness. There, work implies
no weariness, and the pipe is a happy adaptation of Neapolitan
“far-niente.” Thence comes the peaceful sentiment in Art (its most
essential condition), patience, and the element which renders its
creations durable, namely, conscience. Indeed, the Flemish character
lies in the two words, patience and conscience; words which seem at
first to exclude the richness of poetic light and shade, and to make the
manners and customs of the country as flat as its vast plains, as cold
as its foggy skies. And yet it is not so. Civilization has brought her
power to bear, and has modified all things, even the effects of climate.
If we observe attentively the productions of various parts of the globe,
we are surprised to find that the prevailing tints from the temperate
zones are gray or fawn, while the more brilliant colors belong to the
products of the hotter climates. The manners and customs of a country
must naturally conform to this law of nature.

Flanders, which in former times was essentially dun-colored and
monotonous in tint, learned the means of irradiating its smoky
atmosphere through its political vicissitudes, which brought it under
the successive dominion of Burgundy, Spain, and France, and threw
it into fraternal relations with Germany and Holland. From Spain it
acquired the luxury of scarlet dyes and shimmering satins, tapestries of
vigorous design, plumes, mandolins, and courtly bearing. In exchange for
its linen and its laces, it brought from Venice that fairy glass-ware in
which wine sparkles and seems the mellower. From Austria it learned the
ponderous diplomacy which, to use a popular saying, takes three steps
backward to one forward; while its trade with India poured into it the
grotesque designs of China and the marvels of Japan.

And yet, in spite of its patience in gathering such treasures, its
tenacity in parting with no possession once gained, its endurance of all
things, Flanders was considered nothing more than the general storehouse
of Europe, until the day when the discovery of tobacco brought into
one smoky outline the scattered features of its national physiognomy.
Thenceforth, and notwithstanding the parcelling out of their territory,
the Flemings became a people homogeneous through their pipes and
beer.[*]

    [*] Flanders was parcelled into three divisions; of which Eastern
    Flanders, capital Ghent, and Western Flanders, capital Bruges, are
    two provinces of Belgium. French Flanders, capital Lille, is the
    Departement du Nord of France. Douai, about twenty miles from
    Lille, is the chief town of the arrondissement du Nord.

After assimilating, by constant sober regulation of conduct, the
products and the ideas of its masters and its neighbors, this country of
Flanders, by nature so tame and devoid of poetry, worked out for itself
an original existence, with characteristic manners and customs which
bear no signs of servile imitation. Art stripped off its ideality and
produced form alone. We may seek in vain for plastic grace, the swing of
comedy, dramatic action, musical genius, or the bold flight of ode and
epic. On the other hand, the people are fertile in discoveries, and
trained to scientific discussions which demand time and the midnight
oil. All things bear the ear-mark of temporal enjoyment. There men look
exclusively to the thing that is: their thoughts are so scrupulously
bent on supplying the wants of this life that they have never risen, in
any direction, above the level of this present earth. The sole idea
they have ever conceived of the future is that of a thrifty, prosaic
statecraft: their revolutionary vigor came from a domestic desire to
live as they liked, with their elbows on the table, and to take their
ease under the projecting roofs of their own porches.

The consciousness of well-being and the spirit of independence which
comes of prosperity begot in Flanders, sooner than elsewhere, that
craving for liberty which, later, permeated all Europe. Thus the
compactness of their ideas, and the tenacity which education grafted
on their nature made the Flemish people a formidable body of men in
the defence of their rights. Among them nothing is half-done,--neither
houses, furniture, dikes, husbandry, nor revolutions; and they hold a
monopoly of all that they undertake. The manufacture of linen, and that
of lace, a work of patient agriculture and still more patient industry,
are hereditary like their family fortunes. If we were asked to show in
human form the purest specimen of solid stability, we could do no better
than point to a portrait of some old burgomaster, capable, as was
proved again and again, of dying in a commonplace way, and without the
incitements of glory, for the welfare of his Free-town.

Yet we shall find a tender and poetic side to this patriarchal life,
which will come naturally to the surface in the description of an
ancient house which, at the period when this history begins, was one of
the last in Douai to preserve the old-time characteristics of Flemish
life.

Of all the towns in the Departement du Nord, Douai is, alas, the most
modernized: there the innovating spirit has made the greatest strides,
and the love of social progress is the most diffused. There the old
buildings are daily disappearing, and the manners and customs of
a venerable past are being rapidly obliterated. Parisian ideas and
fashions and modes of life now rule the day, and soon nothing will be
left of that ancient Flemish life but the warmth of its hospitality, its
traditional Spanish courtesy, and the wealth and cleanliness of Holland.
Mansions of white stone are replacing the old brick buildings, and
the cosy comfort of Batavian interiors is fast yielding before the
capricious elegance of Parisian novelties.

The house in which the events of this history occurred stands at about
the middle of the rue de Paris, and has been known at Douai for more
than two centuries as the House of Claes. The Van Claes were formerly
one of the great families of craftsmen to whom, in various lines of
production, the Netherlands owed a commercial supremacy which it has
never lost. For a long period of time the Claes lived at Ghent, and
were, from generation to generation, the syndics of the powerful Guild
of Weavers. When the great city revolted under Charles V., who tried
to suppress its privileges, the head of the Claes family was so deeply
compromised in the rebellion that, foreseeing a catastrophe and bound to
share the fate of his associates, he secretly sent wife, children, and
property to France before the Emperor invested the town. The syndic’s
forebodings were justified. Together with other burghers who were
excluded from the capitulation, he was hanged as a rebel, though he was,
in reality, the defender of the liberties of Ghent.

The death of Claes and his associates bore fruit. Their needless
execution cost the King of Spain the greater part of his possessions in
the Netherlands. Of all the seed sown in the earth, the blood of martyrs
gives the quickest harvest. When Philip the Second, who punished revolt
through two generations, stretched his iron sceptre over Douai, the
Claes preserved their great wealth by allying themselves in marriage
with the very noble family of Molina, whose elder branch, then poor,
thus became rich enough to buy the county of Nourho which they had long
held titularly in the kingdom of Leon.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, after vicissitudes which
are of no interest to our present purpose, the family of Claes was
represented at Douai in the person of Monsieur Balthazar Claes-Molina,
Comte de Nourho, who preferred to be called simply Balthazar Claes. Of
the immense fortune amassed by his ancestors, who had kept in motion
over a thousand looms, there remained to him some fifteen thousand
francs a year from landed property in the arrondissement of Douai, and
the house in the rue de Paris, whose furniture in itself was a fortune.
As to the family possessions in Leon, they had been in litigation
between the Molinas of Douai and the branch of the family which remained
in Spain. The Molinas of Leon won the domain and assumed the title of
Comtes de Nourho, though the Claes alone had a legal right to it. But
the pride of a Belgian burgher was superior to the haughty arrogance of
Castile: after the civil rights were instituted, Balthazar Claes cast
aside the ragged robes of his Spanish nobility for his more illustrious
descent from the Ghent martyr.

The patriotic sentiment was so strongly developed in the families exiled
under Charles V. that, to the very close of the eighteenth century, the
Claes remained faithful to the manners and customs and traditions of
their ancestors. They married into none but the purest burgher families,
and required a certain number of aldermen and burgomasters in the
pedigree of every bride-elect before admitting her to the family. They
sought their wives in Bruges or Ghent, in Liege or in Holland; so that
the time-honored domestic customs might be perpetuated around their
hearthstones. This social group became more and more restricted, until,
at the close of the last century, it mustered only some seven or eight
families of the parliamentary nobility, whose manners and flowing robes
of office and magisterial gravity (partly Spanish) harmonized well with
the habits of their life.

The inhabitants of Douai held the family in a religious esteem that was
well-nigh superstition. The sturdy honesty, the untainted loyalty of
the Claes, their unfailing decorum of manners and conduct, made them the
objects of a reverence which found expression in the name,--the House
of Claes. The whole spirit of ancient Flanders breathed in that mansion,
which afforded to the lovers of burgher antiquities a type of the modest
houses which the wealthy craftsmen of the Middle Ages constructed for
their homes.

The chief ornament of the facade was an oaken door, in two sections,
studded with nails driven in the pattern of a quineunx, in the centre of
which the Claes pride had carved a pair of shuttles. The recess of the
doorway, which was built of freestone, was topped by a pointed arch
bearing a little shrine surmounted by a cross, in which was a statuette
of Sainte-Genevieve plying her distaff. Though time had left its mark
upon the delicate workmanship of portal and shrine, the extreme care
taken of it by the servants of the house allowed the passers-by to note
all its details.

The casing of the door, formed by fluted pilasters, was dark gray in
color, and so highly polished that it shone as if varnished. On either
side of the doorway, on the ground-floor, were two windows, which
resembled all the other windows of the house. The casing of white stone
ended below the sill in a richly carved shell, and rose above the window
in an arch, supported at its apex by the head-piece of a cross, which
divided the glass sashes in four unequal parts; for the transversal bar,
placed at the height of that in a Latin cross, made the lower sashes of
the window nearly double the height of the upper, the latter rounding
at the sides into the arch. The coping of the arch was ornamented with
three rows of brick, placed one above the other, the bricks alternately
projecting or retreating to the depth of an inch, giving the effect of
a Greek moulding. The glass panes, which were small and diamond-shaped,
were set in very slender leading, painted red. The walls of the house,
of brick jointed with white mortar, were braced at regular distances,
and at the angles of the house, by stone courses.

The first floor was pierced by five windows, the second by three,
while the attic had only one large circular opening in five divisions,
surrounded by a freestone moulding and placed in the centre of the
triangular pediment defined by the gable-roof, like the rose-window of
a cathedral. At the peak was a vane in the shape of a weaver’s shuttle
threaded with flax. Both sides of the large triangular pediment which
formed the wall of the gable were dentelled squarely into something like
steps, as low down as the string-course of the upper floor, where the
rain from the roof fell to right and left of the house through the jaws
of a fantastic gargoyle. A freestone foundation projected like a step at
the base of the house; and on either side of the entrance, between the
two windows, was a trap-door, clamped by heavy iron bands, through which
the cellars were entered,--a last vestige of ancient usages.

From the time the house was built, this facade had been carefully
cleaned twice a year. If a little mortar fell from between the bricks,
the crack was instantly filled up. The sashes, the sills, the copings,
were dusted oftener than the most precious sculptures in the Louvre. The
front of the house bore no signs of decay; notwithstanding the deepened
color which age had given to the bricks, it was as well preserved as
a choice old picture, or some rare book cherished by an amateur, which
would be ever new were it not for the blistering of our climate and the
effect of gases, whose pernicious breath threatens our own health.

The cloudy skies and humid atmosphere of Flanders, and the shadows
produced by the narrowness of the street, sometimes diminished the
brilliancy which the old house derived from its cleanliness; moreover,
the very care bestowed upon it made it rather sad and chilling to the
eye. A poet might have wished some leafage about the shrine, a little
moss in the crevices of the freestone, a break in the even courses of
the brick; he would have longed for a swallow to build her nest in
the red coping that roofed the arches of the windows. The precise and
immaculate air of this facade, a little worn by perpetual rubbing, gave
the house a tone of severe propriety and estimable decency which would
have driven a romanticist out of the neighborhood, had he happened to
take lodgings over the way.

When a visitor had pulled the braided iron wire bell-cord which hung
from the top of the pilaster of the doorway, and the servant-woman,
coming from within, had admitted him through the side of the double-door
in which was a small grated loop-hole, that half of the door escaped
from her hand and swung back by its own weight with a solemn, ponderous
sound that echoed along the roof of a wide paved archway and through the
depths of the house, as though the door had been of iron. This archway,
painted to resemble marble, always clean and daily sprinkled with fresh
sand, led into a large court-yard paved with smooth square stones of
a greenish color. On the left were the linen-rooms, kitchens, and
servants’ hall; to the right, the wood-house, coal-house, and offices,
whose doors, walls, and windows were decorated with designs kept
exquisitely clean. The daylight, threading its way between four red
walls chequered with white lines, caught rosy tints and reflections
which gave a mysterious grace and fantastic appearance to faces, and
even to trifling details.

A second house, exactly like the building on the street, and called in
Flanders the “back-quarter,” stood at the farther end of the court-yard,
and was used exclusively as the family dwelling. The first room on the
ground-floor was a parlor, lighted by two windows on the court-yard,
and two more looking out upon a garden which was of the same size as the
house. Two glass doors, placed exactly opposite to each other, led at
one end of the room to the garden, at the other to the court-yard, and
were in line with the archway and the street door; so that a visitor
entering the latter could see through to the greenery which draped the
lower end of the garden. The front building, which was reserved for
receptions and the lodging-rooms of guests, held many objects of art and
accumulated wealth, but none of them equalled in the eyes of a Claes,
nor indeed in the judgment of a connoisseur, the treasures contained in
the parlor, where for over two centuries the family life had glided on.

The Claes who died for the liberties of Ghent, and who might in these
days be thought a mere ordinary craftsman if the historian omitted to
say that he possessed over forty thousand silver marks, obtained by
the manufacture of sail-cloth for the all-powerful Venetian navy,--this
Claes had a friend in the famous sculptor in wood, Van Huysum of Bruges.
The artist had dipped many a time into the purse of the rich craftsman.
Some time before the rebellion of the men of Ghent, Van Huysum, grown
rich himself, had secretly carved for his friend a wall-decoration in
ebony, representing the chief scenes in the life of Van Artevelde,--that
brewer of Ghent who, for a brief hour, was King of Flanders. This
wall-covering, of which there were no less than sixty panels, contained
about fourteen hundred principal figures, and was held to be Van
Huysum’s masterpiece. The officer appointed to guard the burghers
whom Charles V. determined to hang when he re-entered his native town,
proposed, it is said, to Van Claes to let him escape if he would give
him Van Huysum’s great work; but the weaver had already despatched it to
Douai.

The parlor, whose walls were entirely panelled with this carving, which
Van Huysum, out of regard for the martyr’s memory, came to Douai to
frame in wood painted in lapis-lazuli with threads of gold, is therefore
the most complete work of this master, whose least carvings now sell for
nearly their weight in gold. Hanging over the fire-place, Van Claes
the martyr, painted by Titian in his robes as president of the Court
of Parchons, still seemed the head of the family, who venerated him as
their greatest man. The chimney-piece, originally in stone with a very
high mantle-shelf, had been made over in marble during the last century;
on it now stood an old clock and two candlesticks with five twisted
branches, in bad taste, but of solid silver. The four windows were
draped by wide curtains of red damask with a flowered black design,
lined with white silk; the furniture, covered with the same material,
had been renovated in the time of Louis XIV. The floor, evidently
modern, was laid in large squares of white wood bordered with strips
of oak. The ceiling, formed of many oval panels, in each of which Van
Huysum had carved a grotesque mask, had been respected and allowed to
keep the brown tones of the native Dutch oak.

In the four corners of this parlor were truncated columns, supporting
candelabra exactly like those on the mantle-shelf; and a round table
stood in the middle of the room. Along the walls card-tables were
symmetrically placed. On two gilded consoles with marble slabs there
stood, at the period when this history begins, two glass globes filled
with water, in which, above a bed of sand and shells, red and gold and
silver fish were swimming about. The room was both brilliant and sombre.
The ceiling necessarily absorbed the light and reflected none. Although
on the garden side all was bright and glowing, and the sunshine danced
upon the ebony carvings, the windows on the court-yard admitted
so little light that the gold threads in the lapis-lazuli scarcely
glittered on the opposite wall. This parlor, which could be gorgeous
on a fine day, was usually, under the Flemish skies, filled with soft
shadows and melancholy russet tones, like those shed by the sun on the
tree-tops of the forests in autumn.

It is unnecessary to continue this description of the House of Claes, in
other parts of which many scenes of this history will occur: at present,
it is enough to make known its general arrangement.



CHAPTER II

Towards the end of August, 1812, on a Sunday evening after vespers, a
woman was sitting in a deep armchair placed before one of the windows
looking out upon the garden. The sun’s rays fell obliquely upon the
house and athwart the parlor, breaking into fantastic lights on the
carved panellings of the wall, and wrapping the woman in a crimson halo
projected through the damask curtains which draped the window. Even an
ordinary painter, had he sketched this woman at this particular moment,
would assuredly have produced a striking picture of a head that was full
of pain and melancholy. The attitude of the body, and that of the
feet stretched out before her, showed the prostration of one who loses
consciousness of physical being in the concentration of powers absorbed
in a fixed idea: she was following its gleams in the far future, just as
sometimes on the shores of the sea, we gaze at a ray of sunlight which
pierces the clouds and draws a luminous line to the horizon.

The hands of this woman hung nerveless outside the arms of her chair,
and her head, as if too heavy to hold up, lay back upon its cushions. A
dress of white cambric, very full and flowing, hindered any judgment
as to the proportions of her figure, and the bust was concealed by the
folds of a scarf crossed on the bosom and negligently knotted. If the
light had not thrown into relief her face, which she seemed to show
in preference to the rest of her person, it would still have been
impossible to escape riveting the attention exclusively upon it. Its
expression of stupefaction, which was cold and rigid despite hot tears
that were rolling from her eyes, would have struck the most thoughtless
mind. Nothing is more terrible to behold than excessive grief that is
rarely allowed to break forth, of which traces were left on this woman’s
face like lava congealed about a crater. She might have been a
dying mother compelled to leave her children in abysmal depths of
wretchedness, unable to bequeath them to any human protector.

The countenance of this lady, then about forty years of age and not
nearly so far from handsome as she had been in her youth, bore none of
the characteristics of a Flemish woman. Her thick black hair fell in
heavy curls upon her shoulders and about her cheeks. The forehead, very
prominent, and narrow at the temples, was yellow in tint, but beneath it
sparkled two black eyes that were capable of emitting flames. Her face,
altogether Spanish, dark skinned, with little color and pitted by the
small-pox, attracted the eye by the beauty of its oval, whose outline,
though slightly impaired by time, preserved a finished elegance and
dignity, and regained at times its full perfection when some effort of
the soul restored its pristine purity. The most noticeable feature in
this strong face was the nose, aquiline as the beak of an eagle, and
so sharply curved at the middle as to give the idea of an interior
malformation; yet there was an air of indescribable delicacy about it,
and the partition between the nostrils was so thin that a rosy light
shone through it. Though the lips, which were large and curved, betrayed
the pride of noble birth, their expression was one of kindliness and
natural courtesy.

The beauty of this vigorous yet feminine face might indeed be
questioned, but the face itself commanded attention. Short, deformed,
and lame, this woman remained all the longer unmarried because the world
obstinately refused to credit her with gifts of mind. Yet there were
men who were deeply stirred by the passionate ardor of that face and its
tokens of ineffable tenderness, and who remained under a charm that was
seemingly irreconcilable with such personal defects.

She was very like her grandfather, the Duke of Casa-Real, a grandee of
Spain. At this moment, when we first see her, the charm which in earlier
days despotically grasped the soul of poets and lovers of poesy now
emanated from that head with greater vigor than at any former period of
her life, spending itself, as it were, upon the void, and expressing a
nature of all-powerful fascination over men, though it was at the same
time powerless over destiny.

When her eyes turned from the glass globes, where they were gazing at
the fish they saw not, she raised them with a despairing action, as if
to invoke the skies. Her sufferings seemed of a kind that are told to
God alone. The silence was unbroken save for the chirp of crickets and
the shrill whirr of a few locusts, coming from the little garden then
hotter than an oven, and the dull sound of silver and plates, and the
moving of chairs in the adjoining room, where a servant was preparing to
serve the dinner.

At this moment, the distressed woman roused herself from her abstraction
and listened attentively; she took her handkerchief, wiped away her
tears, attempted to smile, and so resolutely effaced the expression of
pain that was stamped on every feature that she presently seemed in the
state of happy indifference which comes with a life exempt from
care. Whether it were that the habit of living in this house to which
infirmities confined her enabled her to perceive certain natural effects
that are imperceptible to the senses of others, but which persons under
the influence of excessive feeling are keen to discover, or whether
Nature, in compensation for her physical defects, had given her more
delicate sensations than better organized beings,--it is certain that
this woman had heard the steps of a man in a gallery built above the
kitchens and the servants’ hall, by which the front house communicated
with the “back-quarter.” The steps grew more distinct. Soon, without
possessing the power of this ardent creature to abolish space and meet
her other self, even a stranger would have heard the foot-fall of a man
upon the staircase which led down from the gallery to the parlor.

The sound of that step would have startled the most heedless being into
thought; it was impossible to hear it coolly. A precipitate, headlong
step produces fear. When a man springs forward and cries, “Fire!” his
feet speak as loudly as his voice. If this be so, then a contrary
gait ought not to cause less powerful emotion. The slow approach, the
dragging step of the coming man might have irritated an unreflecting
spectator; but an observer, or a nervous person, would undoubtedly have
felt something akin to terror at the measured tread of feet that seemed
devoid of life, and under which the stairs creaked loudly, as though two
iron weights were striking them alternately. The mind recognized at once
either the heavy, undecided step of an old man or the majestic tread of
a great thinker bearing the worlds with him.

When the man had reached the lowest stair, and had planted both feet
upon the tiled floor with a hesitating, uncertain movement, he stood
still for a moment on the wide landing which led on one side to the
servants’ hall, and on the other to the parlor through a door concealed
in the panelling of that room,--as was another door, leading from the
parlor to the dining-room. At this moment a slight shudder, like the
sensation caused by an electric spark, shook the woman seated in the
armchair; then a soft smile brightened her lips, and her face, moved by
the expectation of a pleasure, shone like that of an Italian Madonna.
She suddenly gained strength to drive her terrors back into the depths
of her heart. Then she turned her face to the panel of the wall which
she knew was about to open, and which in fact was now pushed in with
such brusque violence that the poor woman herself seemed jarred by the
shock.

Balthazar Claes suddenly appeared, made a few steps forward, did not
look at the woman, or if he looked at her did not see her, and stood
erect in the middle of the parlor, leaning his half-bowed head on his
right hand. A sharp pang to which the woman could not accustom herself,
although it was daily renewed, wrung her heart, dispelled her smile,
contracted the sallow forehead between the eyebrows, indenting that line
which the frequent expression of excessive feeling scores so deeply;
her eyes filled with tears, but she wiped them quickly as she looked at
Balthazar.

It was impossible not to be deeply impressed by this head of the family
of Claes. When young, he must have resembled the noble family martyr who
had threatened to be another Artevelde to Charles V.; but as he stood
there at this moment, he seemed over sixty years of age, though he
was only fifty; and this premature old age had destroyed the honorable
likeness. His tall figure was slightly bent,--either because his labors,
whatever they were, obliged him to stoop, or that the spinal column
was curved by the weight of his head. He had a broad chest and square
shoulders, but the lower parts of his body were lank and wasted, though
nervous; and this discrepancy in a physical organization evidently once
perfect puzzled the mind which endeavored to explain this anomalous
figure by some possible singularities of the man’s life.

His thick blond hair, ill cared-for, fell over his shoulders in the
Dutch fashion, and its very disorder was in keeping with the general
eccentricity of his person. His broad brow showed certain protuberances
which Gall identifies with poetic genius. His clear and full blue eyes
had the brusque vivacity which may be noticed in searchers for occult
causes. The nose, probably perfect in early life, was now elongated, and
the nostrils seemed to have gradually opened wider from an involuntary
tension of the olfactory muscles. The cheek-bones were very prominent,
which made the cheeks themselves, already withered, seem more sunken;
his mouth, full of sweetness, was squeezed in between the nose and a
short chin, which projected sharply. The shape of the face, however, was
long rather than oval, and the scientific doctrine which sees in every
human face a likeness to an animal would have found its confirmation in
that of Balthazar Claes, which bore a strong resemblance to a horse’s
head. The skin clung closely to the bones, as though some inward fire
were incessantly drying its juices. Sometimes, when he gazed into space,
as if to see the realization of his hopes, it almost seemed as though
the flames that devoured his soul were issuing from his nostrils.

The inspired feelings that animate great men shone forth on the pale
face furrowed with wrinkles, on the brow haggard with care like that of
an old monarch, but above all they gleamed in the sparkling eye, whose
fires were fed by chastity imposed by the tyranny of ideas and by the
inward consecration of a great intellect. The cavernous eyes seemed
to have sunk in their orbits through midnight vigils and the terrible
reaction of hopes destroyed, yet ceaselessly reborn. The zealous
fanaticism inspired by an art or a science was evident in this man;
it betrayed itself in the strange, persistent abstraction of his mind
expressed by his dress and bearing, which were in keeping with the
anomalous peculiarities of his person.

His large, hairy hands were dirty, and the nails, which were very long,
had deep black lines at their extremities. His shoes were not cleaned
and the shoe-strings were missing. Of all that Flemish household, the
master alone took the strange liberty of being slovenly. His black cloth
trousers were covered with stains, his waistcoat was unbuttoned, his
cravat awry, his greenish coat ripped at the seams,--completing an array
of signs, great and small, which in any other man would have betokened
a poverty begotten of vice, but which in Balthazar Claes was the
negligence of genius.

Vice and Genius too often produce the same effects; and this misleads
the common mind. What is genius but a long excess which squanders time
and wealth and physical powers, and leads more rapidly to a hospital
than the worst of passions? Men even seem to have more respect for vices
than for genius, since to the latter they refuse credit. The profits
accruing from the hidden labors of the brain are so remote that the
social world fears to square accounts with the man of learning in his
lifetime, preferring to get rid of its obligations by not forgiving his
misfortunes or his poverty.

If, in spite of this inveterate forgetfulness of the present, Balthazar
Claes had abandoned his mysterious abstractions, if some sweet and
companionable meaning had revisited that thoughtful countenance, if the
fixed eyes had lost their rigid strain and shone with feeling, if he had
ever looked humanly about him and returned to the real life of common
things, it would indeed have been difficult not to do involuntary homage
to the winning beauty of his face and the gracious soul that would then
have shone from it. As it was, all who looked at him regretted that the
man belonged no more to the world at large, and said to one another: “He
must have been very handsome in his youth.” A vulgar error! Never was
Balthazar Claes’s appearance more poetic than at this moment. Lavater,
had he seen him, would fain have studied that head so full of patience,
of Flemish loyalty, and pure morality,--where all was broad and noble,
and passion seemed calm because it was strong.

The conduct of this man could not be otherwise than pure; his word
was sacred, his friendships seemed undeviating, his self-devotedness
complete: and yet the will to employ those qualities in patriotic
service, for the world or for the family, was directed, fatally,
elsewhere. This citizen, bound to guard the welfare of a household,
to manage property, to guide his children towards a noble future, was
living outside the line of his duty and his affections, in communion
with an attendant spirit. A priest might have thought him inspired by
the word of God; an artist would have hailed him as a great master; an
enthusiast would have taken him for a seer of the Swedenborgian faith.

At the present moment, the dilapidated, uncouth, and ruined clothes that
he wore contrasted strangely with the graceful elegance of the woman who
was sadly admiring him. Deformed persons who have intellect, or nobility
of soul, show an exquisite taste in their apparel. Either they dress
simply, convinced that their charm is wholly moral, or they make others
forget their imperfections by an elegance of detail which diverts the
eye and occupies the mind. Not only did this woman possess a noble soul,
but she loved Balthazar Claes with that instinct of the woman which
gives a foretaste of the communion of angels. Brought up in one of the
most illustrious families of Belgium, she would have learned good taste
had she not possessed it; and now, taught by the desire of constantly
pleasing the man she loved, she knew how to clothe herself admirably,
and without producing incongruity between her elegance and the defects
of her conformation. The bust, however, was defective in the shoulders
only, one of which was noticeably much larger than the other.

She looked out of the window into the court-yard, then towards the
garden, as if to make sure she was alone with Balthazar, and presently
said, in a gentle voice and with a look full of a Flemish woman’s
submissiveness,--for between these two love had long since driven out
the pride of her Spanish nature:--

“Balthazar, are you so very busy? this is the thirty-third Sunday since
you have been to mass or vespers.”

Claes did not answer; his wife bowed her head, clasped her hands,
and waited: she knew that his silence meant neither contempt nor
indifference, only a tyrannous preoccupation. Balthazar was one of those
beings who preserve deep in their souls and after long years all their
youthful delicacy of feeling; he would have thought it criminal to
wound by so much as a word a woman weighed down by the sense of physical
disfigurement. No man knew better than he that a look, a word, suffices
to blot out years of happiness, and is the more cruel because it
contrasts with the unfailing tenderness of the past: our nature leads us
to suffer more from one discord in our happiness than pleasure coming in
the midst of trouble can bring us joy.

Presently Balthazar appeared to waken; he looked quickly about him, and
said,--

“Vespers? Ah, yes! the children are at vespers.”

He made a few steps forward, and looked into the garden, where
magnificent tulips were growing on all sides; then he suddenly stopped
short as if brought up against a wall, and cried out,--

“Why should they not combine within a given time?”

“Is he going mad?” thought the wife, much terrified.

To give greater interest to the present scene, which was called forth
by the situation of their affairs, it is absolutely necessary to glance
back at the past lives of Balthazar Claes and the granddaughter of the
Duke of Casa-Real.

Towards the year 1783, Monsieur Balthazar Claes-Molina de Nourho, then
twenty-two years of age, was what is called in France a fine man. He
came to finish his education in Paris, where he acquired excellent
manners in the society of Madame d’Egmont, Count Horn, the Prince
of Aremberg, the Spanish ambassador, Helvetius, and other Frenchmen
originally from Belgium, or coming lately thence, whose birth or wealth
won them admittance among the great seigneurs who at that time gave the
tone to social life. Young Claes found several relations and friends
ready to launch him into the great world at the very moment when that
world was about to fall. Like other young men, he was at first more
attracted by glory and science than by the vanities of life. He
frequented the society of scientific men, particularly Lavoisier, who
at that time was better known to the world for his enormous fortune as
a “fermier-general” than for his discoveries in chemistry,--though later
the great chemist was to eclipse the man of wealth.

Balthazar grew enamored of the science which Lavoisier cultivated,
and became his devoted disciple; but he was young, and handsome as
Helvetius, and before long the Parisian women taught him to distil wit
and love exclusively. Though he had studied chemistry with such ardor
that Lavoisier commended him, he deserted science and his master for
those mistresses of fashion and good taste from whom young men take
finishing lessons in knowledge of life, and learn the usages of good
society, which in Europe forms, as it were, one family.

The intoxicating dream of social success lasted but a short time.
Balthazar left Paris, weary of a hollow existence which suited neither
his ardent soul nor his loving heart. Domestic life, so calm, so tender,
which the very name of Flanders recalled to him, seemed far more fitted
to his character and to the aspirations of his heart. No gilded Parisian
salon had effaced from his mind the harmonies of the panelled parlor and
the little garden where his happy childhood had slipped away. A man
must needs be without a home to remain in Paris,--Paris, the city of
cosmopolitans, of men who wed the world, and clasp her with the arms of
Science, Art, or Power.

The son of Flanders came back to Douai, like La Fontaine’s pigeon to
its nest; he wept with joy as he re-entered the town on the day of the
Gayant procession,--Gayant, the superstitious luck of Douai, the glory
of Flemish traditions, introduced there at the time the Claes family
had emigrated from Ghent. The death of Balthazar’s father and mother had
left the old mansion deserted, and the young man was occupied for a time
in settling its affairs. His first grief over, he wished to marry; he
needed the domestic happiness whose every religious aspect had fastened
upon his mind. He even followed the family custom of seeking a wife in
Ghent, or at Bruges, or Antwerp; but it happened that no woman whom he
met there suited him. Undoubtedly, he had certain peculiar ideas as
to marriage; from his youth he had been accused of never following the
beaten track.

One day, at the house of a relation in Ghent, he heard a young lady,
then living in Brussels, spoken of in a manner which gave rise to a long
discussion. Some said that the beauty of Mademoiselle de Temninck was
destroyed by the imperfections of her figure; others declared that she
was perfect in spite of her defects. Balthazar’s old cousin, at whose
house the discussion took place, assured his guests that, handsome or
not, she had a soul that would make him marry her were he a marrying
man; and he told how she had lately renounced her share of her parents’
property to enable her brother to make a marriage worthy of his name;
thus preferring his happiness to her own, and sacrificing her future
to his interests,--for it was not to be supposed that Mademoiselle de
Temninck would marry late in life and without property when, young and
wealthy, she had met with no aspirant.

A few days later, Balthazar Claes made the acquaintance of Mademoiselle
de Temninck; with whom he fell deeply in love. At first, Josephine de
Temninck thought herself the object of a mere caprice, and refused to
listen to Monsieur Claes; but passion is contagious; and to a poor girl
who was lame and ill-made, the sense of inspiring love in a young and
handsome man carries with it such strong seduction that she finally
consented to allow him to woo her.

It would need a volume to paint the love of a young girl humbly
submissive to the verdict of a world that calls her plain, while she
feels within herself the irresistible charm which comes of sensibility
and true feeling. It involves fierce jealousy of happiness, freaks of
cruel vengeance against some fancied rival who wins a glance,--emotions,
terrors, unknown to the majority of women, and which ought, therefore,
to be more than indicated. The doubt, the dramatic doubt of love, is the
keynote of this analysis, where certain souls will find once more the
lost, but unforgotten, poetry of their early struggles; the passionate
exaltations of the heart which the face must not betray; the fear
that we may not be understood, and the boundless joy of being so; the
hesitations of the soul which recoils upon itself, and the magnetic
propulsions which give to the eyes an infinitude of shades; the
promptings to suicide caused by a word, dispelled by an intonation;
trembling glances which veil an inward daring; sudden desires to speak
and act that are paralyzed by their own violence; the secret eloquence
of common phrases spoken in a quivering voice; the mysterious workings
of that pristine modesty of soul and that divine discernment which
lead to hidden generosities, and give so exquisite a flavor to silent
devotion; in short, all the loveliness of young love, and the weaknesses
of its power.

Mademoiselle Josephine de Temninck was coquettish from nobility of soul.
The sense of her obvious imperfections made her as difficult to win as
the handsomest of women. The fear of some day displeasing the eye roused
her pride, destroyed her trustfulness, and gave her the courage to hide
in the depths of her heart that dawning happiness which other women
delight in making known by their manners,--wearing it proudly, like a
coronet. The more love urged her towards Balthazar, the less she dared
to express her feelings. The glance, the gesture, the question and
answer as it were of a pretty woman, so flattering to the man she loves,
would they not be in her case mere humiliating speculation? A beautiful
woman can be her natural self,--the world overlooks her little follies
or her clumsiness; whereas a single criticising glance checks the
noblest expression on the lips of an ugly woman, adds to the ill-grace
of her gesture, gives timidity to her eyes and awkwardness to her whole
bearing. She knows too well that to her alone the world condones no
faults; she is denied the right to repair them; indeed, the chance to do
so is never given. This necessity of being perfect and on her guard at
every moment, must surely chill her faculties and numb their exercise?
Such a woman can exist only in an atmosphere of angelic forbearance.
Where are the hearts from which forbearance comes with no alloy of
bitter and stinging pity.

These thoughts, to which the codes of social life had accustomed her,
and the sort of consideration more wounding than insult shown to her by
the world,--a consideration which increases a misfortune by making it
apparent,--oppressed Mademoiselle de Temninck with a constant sense of
embarrassment, which drove back into her soul its happiest expression,
and chilled and stiffened her attitudes, her speech, her looks. Loving
and beloved, she dared to be eloquent or beautiful only when alone.
Unhappy and oppressed in the broad daylight of life, she might have been
enchanting could she have expanded in the shadow. Often, to test the
love thus offered to her, and at the risk of losing it, she refused to
wear the draperies that concealed some portion of her defects, and her
Spanish eyes grew entrancing when they saw that Balthazar thought her
beautiful as before.

Nevertheless, even so, distrust soiled the rare moments when she yielded
herself to happiness. She asked herself if Claes were not seeking a
domestic slave,--one who would necessarily keep the house? whether he
had himself no secret imperfection which obliged him to be satisfied
with a poor, deformed girl? Such perpetual misgivings gave a priceless
value to the few short hours during which she trusted the sincerity and
the permanence of a love which was to avenge her on the world. Sometimes
she provoked hazardous discussions, and probed the inner consciousness
of her lover by exaggerating her defects. At such times she often wrung
from Balthazar truths that were far from flattering; but she loved the
embarrassment into which he fell when she had led him to say that what
he loved in a woman was a noble soul and the devotion which made each
day of life a constant happiness; and that after a few years of married
life the handsomest of women was no more to a husband than the ugliest.
After gathering up what there was of truth in all such paradoxes tending
to reduce the value of beauty, Balthazar would suddenly perceive the
ungraciousness of his remarks, and show the goodness of his heart by the
delicate transitions of thought with which he proved to Mademoiselle de
Temninck that she was perfect in his eyes.

The spirit of devotion which, it may be, is the crown of love in a
woman, was not lacking in this young girl, who had always despaired of
being loved; at first, the prospect of a struggle in which feeling
and sentiment would triumph over actual beauty tempted her; then, she
fancied a grandeur in giving herself to a man in whose love she did not
believe; finally, she was forced to admit that happiness, however short
its duration might be, was too precious to resign.

Such hesitations, such struggles, giving the charm and the
unexpectedness of passion to this noble creature, inspired Balthazar
with a love that was well-nigh chivalric.



CHAPTER III

The marriage took place at the beginning of the year 1795. Husband and
wife came to Douai that the first days of their union might be spent
in the patriarchal house of the Claes,--the treasures of which were
increased by those of Mademoiselle de Temninck, who brought with her
several fine pictures of Murillo and Velasquez, the diamonds of her
mother, and the magnificent wedding-gifts, made to her by her brother,
the Duke of Casa-Real.

Few women were ever happier than Madame Claes. Her happiness lasted for
fifteen years without a cloud, diffusing itself like a vivid light
into every nook and detail of her life. Most men have inequalities of
character which produce discord, and deprive their households of the
harmony which is the ideal of a home; the majority are blemished with
some littleness or meanness, and meanness of any kind begets bickering.
One man is honorable and diligent, but hard and crabbed; another kindly,
but obstinate; this one loves his wife, yet his will is arbitrary and
uncertain; that other, preoccupied by ambition, pays off his affections
as he would a debt, bestows the luxuries of wealth but deprives the
daily life of happiness,--in short, the average man of social life is
essentially incomplete, without being signally to blame. Men of talent
are as variable as barometers; genius alone is intrinsically good.

For this reason unalloyed happiness is found at the two extremes of
the moral scale. The good-natured fool and the man of genius alone
are capable--the one through weakness, the other by strength--of that
equanimity of temper, that unvarying gentleness, which soften the
asperities of daily life. In the one, it is indifference or stolidity;
in the other, indulgence and a portion of the divine thought of which he
is the interpreter, and which needs to be consistent alike in principle
and application. Both natures are equally simple; but in one there is
vacancy, in the other depth. This is why clever women are disposed to
take dull men as the small change for great ones.

Balthazar Claes carried his greatness into the lesser things of life. He
delighted in considering conjugal love as a magnificent work; and like
all men of lofty aims who can bear nothing imperfect, he wished to
develop all its beauties. His powers of mind enlivened the calm of
happiness, his noble nature marked his attentions with the charm of
grace. Though he shared the philosophical tenets of the eighteenth
century, he installed a chaplain in his home until 1801 (in spite of the
risk he ran from the revolutionary decrees), so that he might not thwart
the Spanish fanaticism which his wife had sucked in with her mother’s
milk: later, when public worship was restored in France, he accompanied
her to mass every Sunday. His passion never ceased to be that of
a lover. The protecting power, which women like so much, was never
exercised by this husband, lest to that wife it might seem pity. He
treated her with exquisite flattery as an equal, and sometimes mutinied
against her, as men will, as though to brave the supremacy of a pretty
woman. His lips wore a smile of happiness, his speech was ever tender;
he loved his Josephine for herself and for himself, with an ardor that
crowned with perpetual praise the qualities and the loveliness of a
wife.

Fidelity, often the result of social principle, religious duty, or
self-interest on the part of a husband, was in this case involuntary,
and not without the sweet flatteries of the spring-time of love. Duty
was the only marriage obligation unknown to these lovers, whose love was
equal; for Balthazar Claes found the complete and lasting realization of
his hopes in Mademoiselle de Temninck; his heart was satisfied but not
wearied, the man within him was ever happy.

Not only did the daughter of Casa-Real derive from her Spanish blood the
intuition of that science which varies pleasure and makes it infinite,
but she possessed the spirit of unbounded self-devotion, which is the
genius of her sex as grace is that of beauty. Her love was a blind
fanaticism which, at a nod, would have sent her joyously to her death.
Balthazar’s own delicacy had exalted the generous emotions of his
wife, and inspired her with an imperious need of giving more than she
received. This mutual exchange of happiness which each lavished upon
the other, put the mainspring of her life visibly outside of her
personality, and filled her words, her looks, her actions, with an
ever-growing love. Gratitude fertilized and varied the life of each
heart; and the certainty of being all in all to one another excluded the
paltry things of existence, while it magnified the smallest accessories.

The deformed woman whom her husband thinks straight, the lame woman whom
he would not have otherwise, the old woman who seems ever young--are
they not the happiest creatures of the feminine world? Can human passion
go beyond it? The glory of a woman is to be adored for a defect. To
forget that a lame woman does not walk straight may be the glamour of
a moment, but to love her because she is lame is the deification of
her defects. In the gospel of womanhood it is written: “Blessed are the
imperfect, for theirs is the kingdom of Love.” If this be so, surely
beauty is a misfortune; that fugitive flower counts for too much in
the feeling that a woman inspires; often she is loved for her beauty as
another is married for her money. But the love inspired or bestowed by a
woman disinherited of the frail advantages pursued by the sons of Adam,
is true love, the mysterious passion, the ardent embrace of souls, a
sentiment for which the day of disenchantment never comes. That woman
has charms unknown to the world, from whose jurisdiction she withdraws
herself: she is beautiful with a meaning; her glory lies in making her
imperfections forgotten, and thus she constantly succeeds in doing so.

The celebrated attachments of history were nearly all inspired by women
in whom the vulgar mind would have found defects,--Cleopatra, Jeanne
de Naples, Diane de Poitiers, Mademoiselle de la Valliere, Madame de
Pompadour; in fact, the majority of the women whom love has rendered
famous were not without infirmities and imperfections, while the greater
number of those whose beauty is cited as perfect came to some tragic end
of love.

This apparent singularity must have a cause. It may be that man lives
more by sentiment than by sense; perhaps the physical charm of beauty is
limited, while the moral charm of a woman without beauty is infinite. Is
not this the moral of the fable on which the Arabian Nights are based?
An ugly wife of Henry VIII. might have defied the axe, and subdued to
herself the inconstancy of her master.

By a strange chance, not inexplicable, however, in a girl of Spanish
origin, Madame Claes was uneducated. She knew how to read and write, but
up to the age of twenty, at which time her parents withdrew her from a
convent, she had read none but ascetic books. On her first entrance into
the world, she was eager for pleasure and learned only the flimsy art of
dress; she was, moreover, so deeply conscious of her ignorance that she
dared not join in conversation; for which reason she was supposed to
have little mind. Yet, the mystical education of a convent had one good
result; it left her feelings in full force and her natural powers of
mind uninjured. Stupid and plain as an heiress in the eyes of the world,
she became intellectual and beautiful to her husband. During the first
years of their married life, Balthazar endeavored to give her at least
the knowledge that she needed to appear to advantage in good society:
but he was doubtless too late, she had no memory but that of the
heart. Josephine never forgot anything that Claes told her relating
to themselves; she remembered the most trifling circumstances of their
happy life; but of her evening studies nothing remained to her on the
morrow.

This ignorance might have caused much discord between husband and wife,
but Madame Claes’s understanding of the passion of love was so simple
and ingenuous, she loved her husband so religiously, so sacredly, and
the thought of preserving her happiness made her so adroit, that she
managed always to seem to understand him, and it was seldom indeed that
her ignorance was evident. Moreover, when two persons love one another
so well that each day seems for them the beginning of their passion,
phenomena arise out of this teeming happiness which change all the
conditions of life. It resembles childhood, careless of all that is not
laughter, joy, and merriment. Then, when life is in full activity, when
its hearths glow, man lets the fire burn without thought or discussion,
without considering either the means or the end.

No daughter of Eve ever more truly understood the calling of a wife than
Madame Claes. She had all the submission of a Flemish woman, but her
Spanish pride gave it a higher flavor. Her bearing was imposing; she
knew how to command respect by a look which expressed her sense of birth
and dignity: but she trembled before Claes; she held him so high, so
near to God, carrying to him every act of her life, every thought of
her heart, that her love was not without a certain respectful fear
which made it keener. She proudly assumed all the habits of a Flemish
bourgeoisie, and put her self-love into making the home life liberally
happy,--preserving every detail of the house in scrupulous cleanliness,
possessing nothing that did not serve the purposes of true comfort,
supplying her table with the choicest food, and putting everything
within those walls into harmony with the life of her heart.

The pair had two sons and two daughters. The eldest, Marguerite, was
born in 1796. The last child was a boy, now three years old, named
Jean-Balthazar. The maternal sentiment in Madame Claes was almost equal
to her love for her husband; and there rose in her soul, especially
during the last days of her life, a terrible struggle between those
nearly balanced feelings, of which the one became, as it were, an enemy
of the other. The tears and the terror that marked her face at the
moment when this tale of a domestic drama then lowering over the quiet
house begins, were caused by the fear of having sacrificed her children
to her husband.

In 1805, Madame Claes’s brother died without children. The Spanish law
does not allow a sister to succeed to territorial possessions, which
follow the title; but the duke had left her in his will about sixty
thousand ducats, and this sum the heirs of the collateral branch did not
seek to retain. Though the feeling which united her to Balthazar Claes
was such that no thought of personal interest could ever sully it,
Josephine felt a certain pleasure in possessing a fortune equal to that
of her husband, and was happy in giving something to one who had so
nobly given everything to her. Thus, a mere chance turned a marriage
which worldly minds had declared foolish, into an excellent alliance,
seen from the standpoint of material interests. The use to which this
sum of money should be put became, however, somewhat difficult to
determine.

The House of Claes was so richly supplied with furniture, pictures, and
objects of art of priceless value, that it was difficult to add anything
worthy of what was already there. The tastes of the family through long
periods of time had accumulated these treasures. One generation
followed the quest of noble pictures, leaving behind it the necessity
of completing a collection still unfinished; and thus the taste became
hereditary in the family. The hundred pictures which adorned the gallery
leading from the family building to the reception-rooms on the first
floor of the front house, as well as some fifty others placed about the
salons, were the product of the patient researches of three centuries.
Among them were choice specimens of Rubens, Ruysdael, Vandyke, Terburg,
Gerard Dow, Teniers, Mieris, Paul Potter, Wouvermans, Rembrandt,
Hobbema, Cranach, and Holbein. French and Italian pictures were in a
minority, but all were authentic and masterly.

Another generation had fancied Chinese and Japanese porcelains: this
Claes was eager after rare furniture, that one for silver-ware; in fact,
each and all had their mania, their passion,--a trait which belongs in
a striking degree to the Flemish character. The father of Balthazar, a
last relic of the once famous Dutch society, left behind him the finest
known collection of tulips.

Besides these hereditary riches, which represented an enormous capital,
and were the choice ornament of the venerable house,--a house that was
simple as a shell outside but, like a shell, adorned within by pearls
of price and glowing with rich color,--Balthazar Claes possessed a
country-house on the plain of Orchies, not far from Douai. Instead of
basing his expenses, as Frenchmen do, upon his revenues, he followed the
old Dutch custom of spending only a fourth of his income. Twelve hundred
ducats a year put his costs of living at a level with those of the
richest men of the place. The promulgation of the Civil Code proved
the wisdom of this course. Compelling, as it did, the equal division of
property, the Title of Succession would some day leave each child with
limited means, and disperse the treasures of the Claes collection.
Balthazar, therefore, in concert with Madame Claes, invested his wife’s
property so as to secure to each child a fortune eventually equal to his
own. The house of Claes still maintained its moderate scale of living,
and bought woodlands somewhat the worse for wars that had laid waste the
country, but which in ten years’ time, if well-preserved, would return
an enormous value.

The upper ranks of society in Douai, which Monsieur Claes frequented,
appreciated so justly the noble character and qualities of his wife
that, by tacit consent she was released from those social duties to
which the provinces cling so tenaciously. During the winter season, when
she lived in town, she seldom went into society; society came to her.
She received every Wednesday, and gave three grand dinners every month.
Her friends felt that she was more at ease in her own house; where,
indeed, her passion for her husband and the care she bestowed on the
education of her children tended to keep her.

Such had been, up to the year 1809, the general course of this
household, which had nothing in common with the ordinary run of
conventional ideas, though the outward life of these two persons,
secretly full of love and joy, was like that of other people. Balthazar
Claes’s passion for his wife, which she had known how to perpetuate,
seemed, to use his own expression, to spend its inborn vigor and
fidelity on the cultivation of happiness, which was far better than the
cultivation of tulips (though to that he had always had a leaning), and
dispensed him from the duty of following a mania like his ancestors.

At the close of this year, the mind and the manners of Balthazar Claes
underwent a fatal change,--a change which began so gradually that at
first Madame Claes did not think it necessary to inquire the cause. One
night her husband went to bed with a mind so preoccupied that she felt
it incumbent on her to respect his mood. Her womanly delicacy and her
submissive habits always led her to wait for Balthazar’s confidence;
which, indeed, was assured to her by so constant an affection that she
had never had the slightest opening for jealousy. Though certain of
obtaining an answer whenever she should make the inquiry, she still
retained enough of the earlier impressions of her life to dread a
refusal. Besides, the moral malady of her husband had its phases, and
only came by slow degrees to the intolerable point at which it destroyed
the happiness of the family.

However occupied Balthazar Claes might be, he continued for several
months cheerful, affectionate, and ready to talk; the change in his
character showed itself only by frequent periods of absent-mindedness.
Madame Claes long hoped to hear from her husband himself the nature of
the secret employment in which he was engaged; perhaps, she thought, he
would reveal it when it developed some useful result; many men are led
by pride to conceal the nature of their efforts, and only make them
known at the moment of success. When the day of triumph came, surely
domestic happiness would return, more vivid than ever when Balthazar
became aware of this chasm in the life of love, which his heart would
surely disavow. Josephine knew her husband well enough to be certain
that he would never forgive himself for having made his Pepita less than
happy during several months.

She kept silence therefore, and felt a sort of joy in thus suffering by
him for him: her passion had a tinge of that Spanish piety which allows
no separation between religion and love, and believes in no sentiment
without suffering. She waited for the return of her husband’s affection,
saying daily to herself, “To-morrow it may come,”--treating her
happiness as though it were an absent friend.

During this stage of her secret distress, she conceived her last child.
Horrible crisis, which revealed a future of anguish! In the midst of
her husband’s abstractions love showed itself on this occasion an
abstraction even greater than the rest. Her woman’s pride, hurt for
the first time, made her sound the depths of the unknown abyss which
separated her from the Claes of earlier days. From that time Balthazar’s
condition grew rapidly worse. The man formerly so wrapped up in his
domestic happiness, who played for hours with his children on the parlor
carpet or round the garden paths, who seemed able to exist only in the
light of his Pepita’s dark eyes, did not even perceive her pregnancy,
seldom shared the family life, and even forgot his own.

The longer Madame Claes postponed inquiring into the cause of his
preoccupation the less she dared to do so. At the very idea, her blood
ran cold and her voice grew faint. At last the thought occurred to
her that she had ceased to please her husband, and then indeed she was
seriously alarmed. That fear now filled her mind, drove her to despair,
then to feverish excitement, and became the text of many an hour of
melancholy reverie. She defended Balthazar at her own expense, calling
herself old and ugly; then she imagined a generous though humiliating
consideration for her in this secret occupation by which he secured
to her a negative fidelity; and she resolved to give him back his
independence by allowing one of those unspoken divorces which make the
happiness of many a marriage.

Before bidding farewell to conjugal life, Madame Claes made some attempt
to read her husband’s heart, and found it closed. Little by little,
she saw him become indifferent to all that he had formerly loved; he
neglected his tulips, he cared no longer for his children. There could
be no doubt that he was given over to some passion that was not of the
heart, but which, to a woman’s mind, is not less withering. His love
was dormant, not lost: this might be a consolation, but the misfortune
remained the same.

The continuance of such a state of things is explained by one
word,--hope, the secret of all conjugal situations. It so happened
that whenever the poor woman reached a depth of despair which gave her
courage to question her husband, she met with a few brief moments of
happiness when she was able to feel that if Balthazar was indeed in the
clutch of some devilish power, he was permitted, sometimes at least, to
return to himself. At such moments, when her heaven brightened, she
was too eager to enjoy its happiness to trouble him with importunate
questions: later, when she endeavored to speak to him, he would suddenly
escape, leave her abruptly, or drop into the gulf of meditation from
which no word of hers could drag him.

Before long the reaction of the moral upon the physical condition began
its ravages,--at first imperceptibly, except to the eyes of a loving
woman following the secret thought of a husband through all its
manifestations. Often she could scarcely restrain her tears when she saw
him, after dinner, sink into an armchair by the corner of the fireplace,
and remain there, gloomy and abstracted. She noted with terror the slow
changes which deteriorated that face, once, to her eyes, sublime
through love: the life of the soul was retreating from it; the structure
remained, but the spirit was gone. Sometimes the eyes were glassy, and
seemed as if they had turned their gaze and were looking inward. When
the children had gone to bed, and the silence and solitude oppressed
her, Pepita would say, “My friend, are you ill?” and Balthazar would
make no answer; or if he answered, he would come to himself with a
quiver, like a man snatched suddenly from sleep, and utter a “No” so
harsh and grating that it fell like a stone on the palpitating heart of
his wife.

Though she tried to hide this strange state of things from her friends,
Madame Claes was obliged sometimes to allude to it. The social world
of Douai, in accordance with the custom of provincial towns, had made
Balthazar’s aberrations a topic of conversation, and many persons
were aware of certain details that were still unknown to Madame Claes.
Disregarding the reticence which politeness demanded, a few friends
expressed to her so much anxiety on the subject that she found herself
compelled to defend her husband’s peculiarities.

“Monsieur Claes,” she said, “has undertaken a work which wholly absorbs
him; its success will eventually redound not only to the honor of the
family but to that of his country.”

This mysterious explanation was too flattering to the ambition of a
town whose local patriotism and desire for glory exceed those of other
places, not to be readily accepted, and it produced on all minds a
reaction in favor of Balthazar.

The supposition of his wife was, to a certain extent, well-founded.
Several artificers of various trades had long been at work in the garret
of the front house, where Balthazar went early every morning. After
remaining, at first, for several hours, an absence to which his wife and
household grew gradually accustomed, he ended by being there all day.
But--unexpected shock!--Madame Claes learned through the humiliating
medium of some women friends, who showed surprise at her ignorance,
that her husband constantly imported instruments of physical science,
valuable materials, books, machinery, etc., from Paris, and was on the
highroad to ruin in search of the Philosopher’s Stone. She ought, so her
kind friends added, to think of her children, and her own future; it was
criminal not to use her influence to draw Monsieur Claes from the fatal
path on which he had entered.

Though Madame Claes, with the tone and manner of a great lady, silenced
these absurd speeches, she was inwardly terrified in spite of her
apparent confidence, and she resolved to break through her present
system of silence and resignation. She brought about one of those little
scenes in which husband and wife are on an equal footing; less timid at
such a moment, she dared to ask Balthazar the reason for his change,
the motive of his constant seclusion. The Flemish husband frowned, and
replied:--

“My dear, you could not understand it.”

Soon after, however, Josephine insisted on being told the secret, gently
complaining that she was not allowed to share all the thoughts of one
whose life she shared.

“Very well, since it interests you so much,” said Balthazar, taking his
wife upon his knee and caressing her black hair, “I will tell you that
I have returned to the study of chemistry, and I am the happiest man on
earth.”



CHAPTER IV

Two years after the winter when Monsieur Claes returned to chemistry,
the aspect of his house was changed. Whether it were that society was
affronted by his perpetual absent-mindedness and chose to think itself
in the way, or that Madame Claes’s secret anxieties made her less
agreeable than before, certain it is that she no longer saw any but
her intimate friends. Balthazar went nowhere, shut himself up in his
laboratory all day, sometimes stayed there all night, and only appeared
in the bosom of his family at dinner-time.

After the second year he no longer passed the summer at his
country-house, and his wife was unwilling to live there alone. Sometimes
he went to walk and did not return till the following day, leaving
Madame Claes a prey to mortal anxiety during the night. After causing
a fruitless search for him through the town, whose gates, like those of
other fortified places, were closed at night, it was impossible to send
into the country, and the unhappy woman could only wait and suffer
till morning. Balthazar, who had forgotten the hour at which the gates
closed, would come tranquilly home next day, quite unmindful of the
tortures his absence had inflicted on his family; and the happiness of
getting him back proved as dangerous an excitement of feeling to his
wife as her fears of the preceding night. She kept silence and dared not
question him, for when she did so on the occasion of his first absence,
he answered with an air of surprise:--

“Well, what of it? Can I not take a walk?”

Passions never deceive. Madame Claes’s anxieties corroborated the rumors
she had taken so much pains to deny. The experience of her youth had
taught her to understand the polite pity of the world. Resolved not to
undergo it a second time, she withdrew more and more into the privacy of
her own house, now deserted by society and even by her nearest friends.

Among these many causes of distress, the negligence and disorder of
Balthazar’s dress, so degrading to a man of his station, was not the
least bitter to a woman accustomed to the exquisite nicety of Flemish
life. At first Josephine endeavored, in concert with Balthazar’s valet,
Lemulquinier, to repair the daily devastation of his clothing, but
even that she was soon forced to give up. The very day when Balthazar,
unaware of the substitution, put on new clothes in place of those that
were stained, torn, or full of holes, he made rags of them.

The poor wife, whose perfect happiness had lasted fifteen years, during
which time her jealousy had never once been roused, was apparently and
suddenly nothing in the heart where she had lately reigned. Spanish
by race, the feelings of a Spanish woman rose within her when she
discovered her rival in a Science that allured her husband from her:
torments of jealousy preyed upon her heart and renewed her love.
What could she do against Science? Should she combat that tyrannous,
unyielding, growing power? Could she kill an invisible rival? Could
a woman, limited by nature, contend with an Idea whose delights are
infinite, whose attractions are ever new? How make head against the
fascination of ideas that spring the fresher and the lovelier out of
difficulty, and entice a man so far from this world that he forgets even
his dearest loves?

At last one day, in spite of Balthazar’s strict orders, Madame Claes
resolved to follow him, to shut herself up in the garret where his life
was spent, and struggle hand to hand against her rival by sharing
her husband’s labors during the long hours he gave to that terrible
mistress. She determined to slip secretly into the mysterious laboratory
of seduction, and obtain the right to be there always. Lemulquinier
alone had that right, and she meant to share it with him; but to prevent
his witnessing the contention with her husband which she feared at the
outset, she waited for an opportunity when the valet should be out of
the way. For a while she studied the goings and comings of the man with
angry impatience; did he not know that which was denied to her--all that
her husband hid from her, all that she dared not inquire into? Even a
servant was preferred to a wife!

The day came; she approached the place, trembling, yet almost happy. For
the first time in her life she encountered Balthazar’s anger. She had
hardly opened the door before he sprang upon her, seized her, threw her
roughly on the staircase, so that she narrowly escaped rolling to the
bottom.

“God be praised! you are still alive!” he cried, raising her.

A glass vessel had broken into fragments over Madame Claes, who saw her
husband standing by her, pale, terrified, and almost livid.

“My dear, I forbade you to come here,” he said, sitting down on the
stairs, as though prostrated. “The saints have saved your life! By what
chance was it that my eyes were on the door when you opened it? We have
just escaped death.”

“Then I might have been happy!” she exclaimed.

“My experiment has failed,” continued Balthazar. “You alone could I
forgive for that terrible disappointment. I was about to decompose
nitrogen. Go back to your own affairs.”

Balthazar re-entered the laboratory and closed the door.

“Decompose nitrogen!” said the poor woman as she re-entered her chamber,
and burst into tears.

The phrase was unintelligible to her. Men, trained by education to have
a general conception of everything, have no idea how distressing it is
for a woman to be unable to comprehend the thought of the man she loves.
More forbearing than we, these divine creatures do not let us know when
the language of their souls is not understood by us; they shrink from
letting us feel the superiority of their feelings, and hide their pain
as gladly as they silence their wishes: but, having higher ambitions in
love than men, they desire to wed not only the heart of a husband, but
his mind.

To Madame Claes the sense of knowing nothing of a science which absorbed
her husband filled her with a vexation as keen as the beauty of a rival
might have caused. The struggle of woman against woman gives to her who
loves the most the advantage of loving best; but a mortification
like this only proved Madame Claes’s powerlessness and humiliated the
feelings by which she lived. She was ignorant; and she had reached a
point where her ignorance parted her from her husband. Worse than all,
last and keenest torture, he was risking his life, he was often in
danger--near her, yet far away, and she might not share, nor even know,
his peril. Her position became, like hell, a moral prison from which
there was no issue, in which there was no hope. Madame Claes resolved
to know at least the outward attractions of this fatal science, and
she began secretly to study chemistry in the books. From this time the
family became, as it were, cloistered.

Such were the successive changes brought by this dire misfortune upon
the family of Claes, before it reached the species of atrophy in which
we find it at the moment when this history begins.

The situation grew daily more complicated. Like all passionate
women, Madame Claes was disinterested. Those who truly love know that
considerations of money count for little in matters of feeling and are
reluctantly associated with them. Nevertheless, Josephine did not hear
without distress that her husband had borrowed three hundred thousand
francs upon his property. The apparent authenticity of the transaction,
the rumors and conjectures spread through the town, forced Madame
Claes, naturally much alarmed, to question her husband’s notary and,
disregarding her pride, to reveal to him her secret anxieties or let him
guess them, and even ask her the humiliating question,--

“How is it that Monsieur Claes has not told you of this?”

Happily, the notary was almost a relation,--in this wise: The
grandfather of Monsieur Claes had married a Pierquin of Antwerp, of the
same family as the Pierquins of Douai. Since the marriage the latter,
though strangers to the Claes, claimed them as cousins. Monsieur
Pierquin, a young man twenty-six years of age, who had just succeeded
to his father’s practice, was the only person who now had access to the
House of Claes.

Madame Balthazar had lived for several months in such complete solitude
that the notary was obliged not only to confirm the rumor of the
disasters, but to give her further particulars, which were now well
known throughout the town. He told her that it was probably that her
husband owed considerable sums of money to the house which furnished him
with chemicals. That house, after making inquiries as to the fortune and
credit of Monsieur Claes, accepted all his orders and sent the supplies
without hesitation, notwithstanding the heavy sums of money which became
due. Madame Claes requested Pierquin to obtain the bill for all the
chemicals that had been furnished to her husband.

Two months later, Messieurs Protez and Chiffreville, manufacturers
of chemical products, sent in a schedule of accounts rendered, which
amounted to over one hundred thousand francs. Madame Claes and Pierquin
studied the document with an ever-increasing surprise. Though
some articles, entered in commercial and scientific terms, were
unintelligible to them, they were frightened to see entries of precious
metals and diamonds of all kinds, though in small quantities. The large
sum total of the debt was explained by the multiplicity of the articles,
by the precautions needed in transporting some of them, more especially
valuable machinery, by the exorbitant price of certain rare chemicals,
and finally by the cost of instruments made to order after the designs
of Monsieur Claes himself.

The notary had made inquiries, in his client’s interest, as to Messieurs
Protez and Chiffreville, and found that their known integrity was
sufficient guarantee as to the honesty of their operations with Monsieur
Claes, to whom, moreover, they frequently sent information of results
obtained by chemists in Paris, for the purpose of sparing him expense.
Madame Claes begged the notary to keep the nature of these purchases
from the knowledge of the people of Douai, lest they should declare the
whole thing a mania; but Pierquin replied that he had already delayed to
the very last moment the notarial deeds which the importance of the
sum borrowed necessitated, in order not to lessen the respect in which
Monsieur Claes was held. He then revealed the full extent of the evil,
telling her plainly that if she could not find means to prevent her
husband from thus madly making way with his property, in six months the
patrimonial fortune of the Claes would be mortgaged to its full value.
As for himself, he said, the remonstrances he had already made to his
cousin, with all the consideration due to a man so justly respected, had
been wholly unavailing. Balthazar had replied, once for all, that he was
working for the fame and the fortune of his family.

Thus, to the tortures of the heart which Madame Claes had borne for two
years--one following the other with cumulative suffering--was now added
a dreadful and ceaseless fear which made the future terrifying. Women
have presentiments whose accuracy is often marvellous. Why do they fear
so much more than they hope in matters that concern the interests of
this life? Why is their faith given only to religious ideas of a future
existence? Why do they so ably foresee the catastrophes of fortune and
the crises of fate? Perhaps the sentiment which unites them to the
men they love gives them a sense by which they weigh force, measure
faculties, understand tastes, passions, vices, virtues. The perpetual
study of these causes in the midst of which they live gives them, no
doubt, the fatal power of foreseeing effects in all possible relations
of earthly life. What they see of the present enables them to judge
of the future with an intuitive ability explained by the perfection
of their nervous system, which allows them to seize the lightest
indications of thought and feeling. Their whole being vibrates in
communion with great moral convulsions. Either they feel, or they see.

Now, although separated from her husband for over two years, Madame
Claes foresaw the loss of their property. She fully understood the
deliberate ardor, the well-considered, inalterable steadfastness of
Balthazar; if it were indeed true that he was seeking to make gold, he
was capable of throwing his last crust into the crucible with absolute
indifference. But what was he really seeking? Up to this time maternal
feeling and conjugal love had been so mingled in the heart of this woman
that the children, equally beloved by husband and wife, had never come
between them. Suddenly she found herself at times more mother than wife,
though hitherto she had been more wife than mother. However ready she
had been to sacrifice her fortune and even her children to the man who
had chosen her, loved her, adored her, and to whom she was still the
only woman in the world, the remorse she felt for the weakness of her
maternal love threw her into terrible alternations of feeling. As a
wife, she suffered in heart; as a mother, through her children; as a
Christian, for all.

She kept silence, and hid the cruel struggle in her soul. Her husband,
sole arbiter of the family fate, was the master by whose will it must be
guided; he was responsible to God only. Besides, could she reproach him
for the use he now made of his fortune, after the disinterestedness he
had shown to her for many happy years? Was she to judge his purposes?
And yet her conscience, in keeping with the spirit of the law, told
her that parents were the depositaries and guardians of property, and
possessed no right to alienate the material welfare of the children. To
escape replying to such stern questions she preferred to shut her eyes,
like one who refuses to see the abyss into whose depths he knows he is
about to fall.

For more than six months her husband had given her no money for the
household expenses. She sold secretly, in Paris, the handsome diamond
ornaments her brother had given her on her marriage, and placed
the family on a footing of the strictest economy. She sent away the
governess of her children, and even the nurse of little Jean. Formerly
the luxury of carriages and horses was unknown among the burgher
families, so simple were they in their habits, so proud in their
feelings; no provision for that modern innovation had therefore been
made at the House of Claes, and Balthazar was obliged to have his stable
and coach-house in a building opposite to his own house: his present
occupations allowed him no time to superintend that portion of his
establishment, which belongs exclusively to men. Madame Claes suppressed
the whole expense of equipages and servants, which her present isolation
from the world rendered unnecessary, and she did so without pretending
to conceal the retrenchment under any pretext. So far, facts had
contradicted her assertions, and silence for the future was more
becoming: indeed the change in the family mode of living called for no
explanation in a country where, as in Flanders, any one who lives up to
his income is considered a madman.

And yet, as her eldest daughter, Marguerite, approached her sixteenth
birthday, Madame Claes longed to procure for her a good marriage, and to
place her in society in a manner suitable to a daughter of the Molinas,
the Van Ostron-Temnincks, and the Casa-Reals. A few days before the
one on which this story opens, the money derived from the sale of the
diamonds had been exhausted. On the very day, at three o’clock in the
afternoon, as Madame Claes was taking her children to vespers, she met
Pierquin, who was on his way to see her, and who turned and accompanied
her to the church, talking in a low voice of her situation.

“My dear cousin,” he said, “unless I fail in the friendship which binds
me to your family, I cannot conceal from you the peril of your position,
nor refrain from begging you to speak to your husband. Who but you can
hold him back from the gulf into which he is plunging? The rents from
the mortgaged estates are not enough to pay the interest on the sums he
has borrowed. If he cuts the wood on them he destroys your last chance
of safety in the future. My cousin Balthazar owes at this moment thirty
thousand francs to the house of Protez and Chiffreville. How can you pay
them? What will you live on? If Claes persists in sending for reagents,
retorts, voltaic batteries, and other such playthings, what will become
of you? Your whole property, except the house and furniture, has been
dissipated in gas and carbon; yesterday he talked of mortgaging the
house, and in answer to a remark of mine, he cried out, ‘The devil!’ It
was the first sign of reason I have known him show for three years.”

Madame Claes pressed the notary’s arm, and said in a tone of suffering,
“Keep it secret.”

Overwhelmed by these plain words of startling clearness, the poor woman,
pious as she was, could not pray; she sat still on her chair between
her children, with her prayer-book open, but not turning its leaves; her
mind was sunk in meditations as absorbing as those of her husband. The
Spanish sense of honor, the Flemish integrity, resounded in her
soul with a peal louder than any organ. The ruin of her children was
accomplished! Between them and their father’s honor she must no longer
hesitate. The necessity of a coming struggle with her husband terrified
her; in her eyes he was so great, so majestic, that the mere prospect of
his anger made her tremble as at a vision of the divine wrath. She must
now depart from the submission she had sacredly practised as a wife. The
interests of her children compelled her to oppose, in his most cherished
tastes, the man she idolized. Must she not daily force him back to
common matters from the higher realms of Science; drag him forcibly from
a smiling future and plunge him into a materialism hideous to artists
and great men? To her, Balthazar Claes was a Titan of science, a man big
with glory; he could only have forgotten her for the riches of a mighty
hope. Then too, was he not profoundly wise? she had heard him talk
with such good sense on every subject that he must be sincere when he
declared he worked for the glory and prosperity of his family. His love
for his wife and family was not only vast, it was infinite. That feeling
could not be extinct; it was magnified, and reproduced in another form.

Noble, generous, timid as she was, she prepared herself to ring into the
ears of this noble man the word and the sound of money, to show him the
sores of poverty, and force him to hear cries of distress when he was
listening only for the melodious voice of Fame. Perhaps his love for her
would lessen! If she had had no children, she would bravely and joyously
have welcomed the new destiny her husband was making for her. Women who
are brought up in opulence are quick to feel the emptiness of material
enjoyments; and when their hearts, more wearied than withered, have once
learned the happiness of a constant interchange of real feelings, they
feel no shrinking from reduced outward circumstances, provided they
are still acceptable to the man who has loved them. Their wishes, their
pleasures, are subordinated to the caprices of that other life outside
of their own; to them the only dreadful future is to lose him.

At this moment, therefore, her children came between Pepita and her true
life, just as Science had come between herself and Balthazar. And thus,
when she reached home after vespers, and threw herself into the deep
armchair before the window of the parlor, she sent away her children,
directing them to keep perfectly quiet, and despatched a message to her
husband, through Lemulquinier, saying that she wished to see him.
But although the old valet did his best to make his master leave the
laboratory, Balthazar scarcely heeded him. Madame Claes thus gained time
for reflection. She sat thinking, paying no attention to the hour nor
the light. The thought of owing thirty thousand francs that could not be
paid renewed her past anguish and joined it to that of the present
and the future. This influx of painful interests, ideas, and feelings
overcame her, and she wept.

As Balthazar entered at last through the panelled door, the expression
of his face seemed to her more dreadful, more absorbed, more distracted
than she had yet seen it. When he made her no answer she was magnetized
for a moment by the fixity of that blank look emptied of all expression,
by the consuming ideas that issued as if distilled from that bald brow.
Under the shock of this impression she wished to die. But when she heard
the callous voice, uttering a scientific wish at the moment when her
heart was breaking, her courage came back to her; she resolved to
struggle with that awful power which had torn a lover from her arms, a
father from her children, a fortune from their home, happiness from all.
And yet she could not repress a trepidation which made her quiver; in
all her life no such solemn scene as this had taken place. This dreadful
moment--did it not virtually contain her future, and gather within it
all the past?

Weak and timid persons, or those whose excessive sensibility magnifies
the smallest difficulties of life, men who tremble involuntarily before
the masters of their fate, can now, one and all, conceive the rush of
thoughts that crowded into the brain of this woman, and the feelings
under the weight of which her heart was crushed as her husband slowly
crossed the room towards the garden-door. Most women know that agony of
inward deliberation in which Madame Claes was writhing. Even one whose
heart has been tried by nothing worse than the declaration to a husband
of some extravagance, or a debt to a dress-maker, will understand how
its pulses swell and quicken when the matter is one of life itself.

A beautiful or graceful woman might have thrown herself at her husband’s
feet, might have called to her aid the attitudes of grief; but to Madame
Claes the sense of physical defects only added to her fears. When she
saw Balthazar about to leave the room, her impulse was to spring towards
him; then a cruel thought restrained her--she should stand before him!
would she not seem ridiculous in the eyes of a man no longer under the
glamour of love--who might see true? She resolved to avoid all dangerous
chances at so solemn a moment, and remained seated, saying in a clear
voice,

“Balthazar.”

He turned mechanically and coughed; then, paying no attention to his
wife, he walked to one of the little square boxes that are placed at
intervals along the wainscoting of every room in Holland and Belgium,
and spat in it. This man, who took no thought of other persons, never
forgot the inveterate habit of using those boxes. To poor Josephine,
unable to find a reason for this singularity, the constant care which
her husband took of the furniture caused her at all times an unspeakable
pang, but at this moment the pain was so violent that it put her beside
herself and made her exclaim in a tone of impatience, which expressed
her wounded feelings,--

“Monsieur, I am speaking to you!”

“What does that mean?” answered Balthazar, turning quickly, and casting
a look of reviving intelligence upon his wife, which fell upon her like
a thunderbolt.

“Forgive me, my friend,” she said, turning pale. She tried to rise and
put out her hand to him, but her strength gave way and she fell back. “I
am dying!” she cried in a voice choked by sobs.

At the sight Balthazar had, like all abstracted persons, a vivid
reaction of mind; and he divined, so to speak, the secret cause of this
attack. Taking Madame Claes at once in his arms, he opened the door
upon the little antechamber, and ran so rapidly up the ancient wooden
staircase that his wife’s dress having caught on the jaws of one of the
griffins that supported the balustrade, a whole breadth was torn off
with a loud noise. He kicked in the door of the vestibule between their
chambers, but the door of Josephine’s bedroom was locked.

He gently placed her on a chair, saying to himself, “My God! the key,
where is the key?”

“Thank you, dear friend,” said Madame Claes, opening her eyes. “This
is the first time for a long, long while that I have been so near your
heart.”

“Good God!” cried Claes, “the key!--here come the servants.”

Josephine signed to him to take a key that hung from a ribbon at her
waist. After opening the door, Balthazar laid his wife on a sofa, and
left the room to stop the frightened servants from coming up by giving
them orders to serve the dinner; then he went back to Madame Claes.

“What is it, my dear life?” he said, sitting down beside her, and taking
her hand and kissing it.

“Nothing--now,” she answered. “I suffer no longer. Only, I would I had
the power of God to pour all the gold of the world at thy feet.”

“Why gold?” he asked. He took her in his arms, pressed her to him and
kissed her once more upon the forehead. “Do you not give me the greatest
of all riches in loving me as you do love me, my dear and precious
wife?”

“Oh! my Balthazar, will you not drive away the anguish of our lives as
your voice now drives out the misery of my heart? At last, at last, I
see that you are still the same.”

“What anguish do you speak of, dear?”

“My friend, we are ruined.”

“Ruined!” he repeated. Then, with a smile, he stroked her hand, holding
it within his own, and said in his tender voice, so long unheard:
“To-morrow, dear love, our wealth may perhaps be limitless. Yesterday,
in searching for a far more important secret, I think I found the means
of crystallizing carbon, the substance of the diamond. Oh, my dear
wife! in a few days’ time you will forgive me all my forgetfulness--I
am forgetful sometimes, am I not? Was I not harsh to you just now? Be
indulgent for a man who never ceases to think of you, whose toils are
full of you--of us.”

“Enough, enough!” she said, “let us talk of it all to-night, dear
friend. I suffered from too much grief, and now I suffer from too much
joy.”

“To-night,” he resumed; “yes, willingly: we will talk of it. If I fall
into meditation, remind me of this promise. To-night I desire to leave
my work, my researches, and return to family joys, to the delights of
the heart--Pepita, I need them, I thirst for them!”

“You will tell me what it is you seek, Balthazar?”

“Poor child, you cannot understand it.”

“You think so? Ah! my friend, listen; for nearly four months I have
studied chemistry that I might talk of it with you. I have read
Fourcroy, Lavoisier, Chaptal, Nollet, Rouelle, Berthollet, Gay-Lussac,
Spallanzani, Leuwenhoek, Galvani, Volta,--in fact, all the books
about the science you worship. You can tell me your secrets, I shall
understand you.”

“Oh! you are indeed an angel,” cried Balthazar, falling at her feet,
and shedding tears of tender feeling that made her quiver. “Yes, we will
understand each other in all things.”

“Ah!” she cried, “I would throw myself into those hellish fires which
heat your furnaces to hear these words from your lips and to see you
thus.” Then, hearing her daughter’s step in the anteroom, she sprang
quickly forward. “What is it, Marguerite?” she said to her eldest
daughter.

“My dear mother, Monsieur Pierquin has just come. If he stays to dinner
we need some table-linen; you forgot to give it out this morning.”

Madame Claes drew from her pocket a bunch of small keys and gave them
to the young girl, pointing to the mahogany closets which lined the
ante-chamber as she said:

“My daughter, take a set of the Graindorge linen; it is on your right.”

“Since my dear Balthazar comes back to me, let the return be complete,”
 she said, re-entering her chamber with a soft and arch expression on her
face. “My friend, go into your own room; do me the kindness to dress for
dinner, Pierquin will be with us. Come, take off this ragged clothing;
see those stains! Is it muratic or sulphuric acid which left these
yellow edges to the holes? Make yourself young again,--I will send you
Mulquinier as soon as I have changed my dress.”

Balthazar attempted to pass through the door of communication,
forgetting that it was locked on his side. He went out through the
anteroom.

“Marguerite, put the linen on a chair, and come and help me dress; I
don’t want Martha,” said Madame Claes, calling her daughter.

Balthazar had caught Marguerite and turned her towards him with a joyous
action, exclaiming: “Good-evening, my child; how pretty you are in your
muslin gown and that pink sash!” Then he kissed her forehead and pressed
her hand.

“Mamma, papa has kissed me!” cried Marguerite, running into her mother’s
room. “He seems so joyous, so happy!”

“My child, your father is a great man; for three years he has toiled for
the fame and fortune of his family: he thinks he has attained the object
of his search. This day is a festival for us all.”

“My dear mamma,” replied Marguerite, “we shall not be alone in our joy,
for the servants have been so grieved to see him unlike himself. Oh! put
on another sash, this is faded.”

“So be it; but make haste, I want to speak to Pierquin. Where is he?”

“In the parlor, playing with Jean.”

“Where are Gabriel and Felicie?”

“I hear them in the garden.”

“Run down quickly and see that they do not pick the tulips; your father
has not seen them in flower this year, and he may take a fancy to look
at them after dinner. Tell Mulquinier to go up and assist your father in
dressing.”



CHAPTER V

As Marguerite left the room, Madame Claes glanced at the children
through the windows of her chamber, which looked on the garden, and saw
that they were watching one of those insects with shining wings spotted
with gold, commonly called “darning-needles.”

“Be good, my darlings,” she said, raising the lower sash of the window
and leaving it up to air the room. Then she knocked gently on the door
of communication, to assure herself that Balthazar had not fallen into
abstraction. He opened it, and seeing him half-dressed, she said in
joyous tones:--

“You won’t leave me long with Pierquin, will you? Come as soon as you
can.”

Her step was so light as she descended that a listener would never have
supposed her lame.

“When monsieur carried madame upstairs,” said the old valet, whom she
met on the staircase, “he tore this bit out of her dress, and he broke
the jaw of that griffin; I’m sure I don’t know who can put it on again.
There’s our staircase ruined--and it used to be so handsome!”

“Never mind, my poor Mulquinier; don’t have it mended at all--it is not
a misfortune,” said his mistress.

“What can have happened?” thought Lemulquinier; “why isn’t it a
misfortune, I should like to know? has the master found the Absolute?”

“Good-evening, Monsieur Pierquin,” said Madame Claes, opening the parlor
door.

The notary rushed forward to give her his arm; as she never took any but
that of her husband she thanked him with a smile and said,--

“Have you come for the thirty thousand francs?”

“Yes, madame; when I reached home I found a letter of advice from
Messieurs Protez and Chiffreville, who have drawn six letters of
exchange upon Monsieur Claes for five thousand francs each.”

“Well, say nothing to Balthazar to-day,” she replied. “Stay and dine
with us. If he happens to ask why you came, find some plausible pretext,
I entreat you. Give me the letter. I will speak to him myself about
it. All is well,” she added, noticing the lawyer’s surprise. “In a few
months my husband will probably pay off all the sums he has borrowed.”

Hearing these words, which were said in a low voice, the notary looked
at Mademoiselle Claes, who was entering the room from the garden
followed by Gabriel and Felicie, and remarked,--

“I have never seen Mademoiselle Marguerite as pretty as she is at this
moment.”

Madame Claes, who was sitting in her armchair with little Jean upon her
lap, raised her head and looked at her daughter, and then at the notary,
with a pretended air of indifference.

Pierquin was a man of middle height, neither stout nor thin, with vulgar
good looks, a face that expressed vexation rather than melancholy, and a
pensive habit in which there was more of indecision than thought. People
called him a misanthrope, but he was too eager after his own interests,
and too extortionate towards others to have set up a genuine divorce
from the world. His indifferent demeanor, his affected silence, his
habitual custom of looking, as it were, into the void, seemed to
indicate depth of character, while in fact they merely concealed the
shallow insignificance of a notary busied exclusively with earthly
interests; though he was still young enough to feel envy. To marry into
the family of Claes would have been to him an object of extreme desire,
if an instinct of avarice had not underlain it. He could seem generous,
but for all that he was a keen reckoner. And thus, without explaining
to himself the motive for his change of manner, his behavior was harsh,
peremptory, and surly, like that of an ordinary business man, when he
thought the Claes were ruined; accommodating, affectionate, and almost
servile, when he saw reason to believe in a happy issue to his cousin’s
labors. Sometimes he beheld an infanta in Margeurite Claes, to whom no
provincial notary might aspire; then he regarded her as any poor girl
too happy if he deigned to make her his wife. He was a true provincial,
and a Fleming; without malevolence, not devoid of devotion and
kindheartedness, but led by a naive selfishness which rendered all his
better qualities incomplete, while certain absurdities of manner spoiled
his personal appearance.

Madame Claes recollected the curt tone in which the notary had spoken to
her that afternoon in the porch of the church, and she took note of the
change which her present reply had wrought in his demeanor; she guessed
its meaning and tried to read her daughter’s mind by a penetrating
glance, seeking to discover if she thought of her cousin; but the young
girl’s manner showed complete indifference.

After a few moments spent in general conversation on the current topics
of the day, the master of the house came down from his bedroom, where
his wife had heard with inexpressible delight the creaking sound of his
boots as he trod the floor. The step was that of a young and active man,
and foretold so complete a transformation, that the mere expectation
of his appearance made Madame Claes quiver as he descended the stairs.
Balthazar entered, dressed in the fashion of the period. He wore highly
polished top-boots, which allowed the upper part of the white silk
stockings to appear, blue kerseymere small-clothes with gold buttons,
a flowered white waistcoat, and a blue frock-coat. He had trimmed his
beard, combed and perfumed his hair, pared his nails, and washed his
hands, all with such care that he was scarcely recognizable to those
who had seen him lately. Instead of an old man almost decrepit, his
children, his wife, and the notary saw a Balthazar Claes who was forty
years old, and whose courteous and affable presence was full of its
former attractions. The weariness and suffering betrayed by the thin
face and the clinging of the skin to the bones, had in themselves a sort
of charm.

“Good-evening, Pierquin,” said Monsieur Claes.

Once more a husband and a father, he took his youngest child from his
wife’s lap and tossed him in the air.

“See that little fellow!” he exclaimed to the notary. “Doesn’t such a
pretty creature make you long to marry? Take my word for it, my dear
Pierquin, family happiness consoles a man for everything. Up, up!” he
cried, tossing Jean into the air; “down, down! up! down!”

The child laughed with all his heart as he went alternately to the
ceiling and down to the carpet. The mother turned away her eyes that she
might not betray the emotion which the simple play caused her,--simple
apparently, but to her a domestic revolution.

“Let me see how you can walk,” said Balthazar, putting his son on the
floor and throwing himself on a sofa near his wife.

The child ran to its father, attracted by the glitter of the gold
buttons which fastened the breeches just above the slashed tops of his
boots.

“You are a darling!” cried Balthazar, kissing him; “you are a Claes,
you walk straight. Well, Gabriel, how is Pere Morillon?” he said to his
eldest son, taking him by the ear and twisting it. “Are you struggling
valiantly with your themes and your construing? have you taken sharp
hold of mathematics?”

Then he rose, and went up to the notary with the affectionate courtesy
that characterized him.

“My dear Pierquin,” he said, “perhaps you have something to say to me.”
 He took his arm to lead him to the garden, adding, “Come and see my
tulips.”

Madame Claes looked at her husband as he left the room, unable to
repress the joy she felt in seeing him once more so young, so affable,
so truly himself. She rose, took her daughter round the waist and kissed
her, exclaiming:--

“My dear Marguerite, my darling child! I love you better than ever
to-day.”

“It is long since I have seen my father so kind,” answered the young
girl.

Lemulquinier announced dinner. To prevent Pierquin from offering her his
arm, Madame Claes took that of her husband and led the way into the next
room, the whole family following.

The dining-room, whose ceiling was supported by beams and decorated with
paintings cleaned and restored every year, was furnished with tall oaken
side-boards and buffets, on whose shelves stood many a curious piece of
family china. The walls were hung with violet leather, on which designs
of game and other hunting objects were stamped in gold. Carefully
arranged here and there above the shelves, shone the brilliant plumage
of strange birds, and the lustre of rare shells. The chairs, which
evidently had not been changed since the beginning of the sixteenth
century, showed the square shape with twisted columns and the low back
covered with a fringed stuff, common to that period, and glorified by
Raphael in his picture of the Madonna della Sedia. The wood of these
chairs was now black, but the gilt nails shone as if new, and the stuff,
carefully renewed from time to time, was of an admirable shade of red.

The whole life of Flanders with its Spanish innovations was in this
room. The decanters and flasks on the dinner-table, with their graceful
antique lines and swelling curves, had an air of respectability. The
glasses were those old goblets with stems and feet which may be seen
in the pictures of the Dutch or Flemish school. The dinner-service of
faience, decorated with raised colored figures, in the manner of Bernard
Palissy, came from the English manufactory of Wedgwood. The silver-ware
was massive, with square sides and designs in high relief,--genuine
family plate, whose pieces, in every variety of form, fashion, and
chasing, showed the beginnings of prosperity and the progress towards
fortune of the Claes family. The napkins were fringed, a fashion
altogether Spanish; and as for the linen, it will readily be supposed
that the Claes’s household made it a point of honor to possess the best.

All this service of the table, silver, linen, and glass, were for
the daily use of the family. The front house, where the social
entertainments were given, had its own especial luxury, whose marvels,
being reserved for great occasions, wore an air of dignity often lost
to things which are, as it were, made common by daily use. Here, in
the home quarter, everything bore the impress of patriarchal use and
simplicity. And--for a final and delightful detail--a vine grew outside
the house between the windows, whose tendrilled branches twined about
the casements.

“You are faithful to the old traditions, madame,” said Pierquin, as he
received a plate of that celebrated thyme soup in which the Dutch and
Flemish cooks put little force-meat balls and dice of fried bread. “This
is the Sunday soup of our forefathers. Your house and that of my uncle
des Racquets are the only ones where we still find this historic soup
of the Netherlands. Ah! pardon me, old Monsieur Savaron de Savarus of
Tournai makes it a matter of pride to keep up the custom; but everywhere
else old Flanders is disappearing. Now-a-days everything is changing;
furniture is made from Greek models; wherever you go you see helmets,
lances, shields, and bows and arrows! Everybody is rebuilding his house,
selling his old furniture, melting up his silver dishes, or exchanging
them for Sevres porcelain,--which does not compare with either old
Dresden or with Chinese ware. Oh! as for me, I’m Flemish to the core;
my heart actually bleeds to see the coppersmiths buying up our beautiful
inlaid furniture for the mere value of the wood and the metal. The fact
is, society wants to change its skin. Everything is being sacrificed,
even the old methods of art. When people insist on going so fast,
nothing is conscientiously done. During my last visit to Paris I was
taken to see the pictures in the Louvre. On my word of honor, they
are mere screen-painting,--no depth, no atmosphere; the painters were
actually afraid to put colors on their canvas. And it is they who talk
of overturning our ancient school of art! Ah, bah!--”

“Our old masters,” replied Balthazar, “studied the combination of colors
and their endurance by submitting them to the action of sun and rain.
You are right enough, however; the material resources of art are less
cultivated in these days than formerly.”

Madame Claes was not listening to the conversation. The notary’s remark
that porcelain dinner-services were now the fashion, gave her the
brilliant idea of selling a quantity of heavy silver-ware which she
had inherited from her brother,--hoping to be able thus to pay off the
thirty thousand francs which her husband owed.

“Ha! ha!” Balthazar was saying to Pierquin when Madame Claes’s mind
returned to the conversation, “so they are discussing my work in Douai,
are they?”

“Yes,” replied the notary, “every one is asking what it is you spend so
much money on. Only yesterday I heard the chief-justice deploring that a
man like you should be searching for the Philosopher’s stone. I ventured
to reply that you were too wise not to know that such a scheme was
attempting the impossible, too much of a Christian to take God’s work
out of his hands; and, like every other Claes, too good a business man
to spend your money for such befooling quackeries. Still, I admit that I
share the regret people feel at your absence from society. You might as
well not live here at all. Really, madame, you would have been delighted
had you heard the praises showered on Monsieur Claes and on you.”

“You acted like a faithful friend in repelling imputations whose least
evil is to make me ridiculous,” said Balthazar. “Ha! so they think me
ruined? Well, my dear Pierquin, two months hence I shall give a fete in
honor of my wedding-day whose magnificence will get me back the respect
my dear townsmen bestow on wealth.”

Madame Claes colored deeply. For two years the anniversary had been
forgotten. Like madmen whose faculties shine at times with unwonted
brilliancy, Balthazar was never more gracious and delightful in
his tenderness than at this moment. He was full of attention to his
children, and his conversation had the charms of grace, and wit,
and pertinence. This return of fatherly feeling, so long absent, was
certainly the truest fete he could give his wife, for whom his looks
and words expressed once more that unbroken sympathy of heart for heart
which reveals to each a delicious oneness of sentiment.

Old Lemulquinier seemed to renew his youth; he came and went about
the table with unusual liveliness, caused by the accomplishment of
his secret hopes. The sudden change in his master’s ways was even more
significant to him than to Madame Claes. Where the family saw happiness
he saw fortune. While helping Balthazar in his experiments he had come
to share his beliefs. Whether he really understood the drift of his
master’s researches from certain exclamations which escaped the chemist
when expected results disappointed him, or whether the innate tendency
of mankind towards imitation made him adopt the ideas of the man in
whose atmosphere he lived, certain it is that Lemulquinier had conceived
for his master a superstitious feeling that was a mixture of terror,
admiration, and selfishness. The laboratory was to him what a
lottery-office is to the masses,--organized hope. Every night he went
to bed saying to himself, “To-morrow we may float in gold”; and every
morning he woke with a faith as firm as that of the night before.

His name proved that his origin was wholly Flemish. In former days the
lower classes were known by some name or nickname derived from their
trades, their surroundings, their physical conformation, or their moral
qualities. This name became the patronymic of the burgher family which
each established as soon as he obtained his freedom. Sellers of linen
thread were called in Flanders, “mulquiniers”; and that no doubt was
the trade of the particular ancestor of the old valet who passed from
a state of serfdom to one of burgher dignity, until some unknown
misfortune had again reduced his present descendant to the condition of
a serf, with the addition of wages. The whole history of Flanders and
its linen-trade was epitomized in this old man, often called, by way of
euphony, Mulquinier. He was not without originality, either of character
or appearance. His face was triangular in shape, broad and long, and
seamed by small-pox which had left innumerable white and shining patches
that gave him a fantastic appearance. He was tall and thin; his whole
demeanor solemn and mysterious; and his small eyes, yellow as the wig
which was smoothly plastered on his head, cast none but oblique glances.

The old valet’s outward man was in keeping with the feeling of curiosity
which he everywhere inspired. His position as assistant to his master,
the depositary of a secret jealously guarded and about which he
maintained a rigid silence, invested him with a species of charm. The
denizens of the rue de Paris watched him pass with an interest mingled
with awe; to all their questions he returned sibylline answers big with
mysterious treasures. Proud of being necessary to his master, he assumed
an annoying authority over his companions, employing it to further his
own interests and compel a submission which made him virtually the ruler
of the house. Contrary to the custom of Flemish servants, who are deeply
attached to the families whom they serve, Mulquinier cared only for
Balthazar. If any trouble befell Madame Claes, or any joyful event
happened to the family, he ate his bread and butter and drank his beer
as phlegmatically as ever.

Dinner over, Madame Claes proposed that coffee should be served in
the garden, by the bed of tulips which adorned the centre of it. The
earthenware pots in which the bulbs were grown (the name of each flower
being engraved on slate labels) were sunk in the ground and so
arranged as to form a pyramid, at the summit of which rose a certain
dragon’s-head tulip which Balthazar alone possessed. This flower, named
“tulipa Claesiana,” combined the seven colors; and the curved edges of
each petal looked as though they were gilt. Balthazar’s father, who had
frequently refused ten thousand florins for this treasure, took such
precautions against the theft of a single seed that he kept the plant
always in the parlor and often spent whole days in contemplating it. The
stem was enormous, erect, firm, and admirably green; the proportions
of the plant were in harmony with the proportions of the flower, whose
seven colors were distinguishable from each other with the clearly
defined brilliancy which formerly gave such fabulous value to these
dazzling plants.

“Here you have at least thirty or forty thousand francs’ worth of
tulips,” said the notary, looking alternately at Madame Claes and at the
many-colored pyramid. The former was too enthusiastic over the beauty
of the flowers, which the setting sun was just then transforming into
jewels, to observe the meaning of the notary’s words.

“What good do they do you?” continued Pierquin, addressing Balthazar;
“you ought to sell them.”

“Bah! am I in want of money?” replied Claes, in the tone of a man to
whom forty thousand francs was a matter of no consequence.

There was a moment’s silence, during which the children made many
exclamations.

“See this one, mamma!”

“Oh! here’s a beauty!”

“Tell me the name of that one!”

“What a gulf for human reason to sound!” cried Balthazar, raising
his hands and clasping them with a gesture of despair. “A compound of
hydrogen and oxygen gives off, according to their relative proportions,
under the same conditions and by the same principle, these manifold
colors, each of which constitutes a distinct result.”

His wife heard the words of his proposition, but it was uttered so
rapidly that she did not seize its exact meaning; and Balthazar, as
if remembering that she had studied his favorite science, made her a
mysterious sign, saying,--

“You do not yet understand me, but you will.”

Then he apparently fell back into the absorbed meditation now habitual
to him.

“No, I am sure you do not understand him,” said Pierquin, taking his
coffee from Marguerite’s hand. “The Ethiopian can’t change his skin, nor
the leopard his spots,” he whispered to Madame Claes. “Have the goodness
to remonstrate with him later; the devil himself couldn’t draw him out
of his cogitation now; he is in it for to-day, at any rate.”

So saying, he bade good-bye to Claes, who pretended not to hear him,
kissed little Jean in his mother’s arms, and retired with a low bow.

When the street-door clanged behind him, Balthazar caught his wife round
the waist, and put an end to the uneasiness his feigned reverie was
causing her by whispering in her ear,--

“I knew how to get rid of him.”

Madame Claes turned her face to her husband, not ashamed to let him
see the tears of happiness that filled her eyes: then she rested her
forehead against his shoulder and let little Jean slide to the floor.

“Let us go back into the parlor,” she said, after a pause.

Balthazar was exuberantly gay throughout the evening. He invented games
for the children, and played with such zest himself that he did not
notice two or three short absences made by his wife. About half-past
nine, when Jean had gone to bed, Marguerite returned to the parlor after
helping her sister Felicie to undress, and found her mother seated in
the deep armchair, and her father holding his wife’s hand as he talked
to her. The young girl feared to disturb them, and was about to retire
without speaking, when Madame Claes caught sight of her, and said:--

“Come in, Marguerite; come here, dear child.” She drew her down, kissed
her tenderly on the forehead, and said, “Carry your book into your own
room; but do not sit up too late.”

“Good-night, my darling daughter,” said Balthazar.

Marguerite kissed her father and mother and went away. Husband and wife
remained alone for some minutes without speaking, watching the last
glimmer of the twilight as it faded from the trees in the garden, whose
outlines were scarcely discernible through the gathering darkness.
When night had almost fallen, Balthazar said to his wife in a voice of
emotion,--

“Let us go upstairs.”

Long before English manners and customs had consecrated the wife’s
chamber as a sacred spot, that of a Flemish woman was impenetrable. The
good housewives of the Low Countries did not make it a symbol of
virtue. It was to them a habit contracted from childhood, a domestic
superstition, rendering the bedroom a delightful sanctuary of tender
feelings, where simplicity blended with all that was most sweet and
sacred in social life. Any woman in Madame Claes’s position would have
wished to gather about her the elegances of life, but Josephine had done
so with exquisite taste, knowing well how great an influence the aspect
of our surroundings exerts upon the feelings of others. To a pretty
creature it would have been mere luxury, to her it was a necessity.
No one better understood the meaning of the saying, “A pretty woman is
self-created,”--a maxim which guided every action of Napoleon’s first
wife, and often made her false; whereas Madame Claes was ever natural
and true.

Though Balthazar knew his wife’s chamber well, his forgetfulness of
material things had lately been so complete that he felt a thrill of
soft emotion when he entered it, as though he saw it for the first time.
The proud gaiety of a triumphant woman glowed in the splendid colors of
the tulips which rose from the long throats of Chinese vases judiciously
placed about the room, and sparkled in the profusion of lights whose
effect can only be compared to a joyous burst of martial music. The
gleam of the wax candles cast a mellow sheen on the coverings of
pearl-gray silk, whose monotony was relieved by touches of gold, soberly
distributed here and there on a few ornaments, and by the varied colors
of the tulips, which were like sheaves of precious stones. The secret
of this choice arrangement--it was he, ever he! Josephine could not tell
him in words more eloquent that he was now and ever the mainspring of
her joys and woes.

The aspect of that chamber put the soul deliciously at ease, cast out
sad thoughts, and left a sense of pure and equable happiness. The
silken coverings, brought from China, gave forth a soothing perfume
that penetrated the system without fatiguing it. The curtains, carefully
drawn, betrayed a desire for solitude, a jealous intention of guarding
the sound of every word, of hiding every look of the reconquered
husband. Madame Claes, wearing a dressing-robe of muslin, which was
trimmed by a long pelerine with falls of lace that came about her
throat, and adorned with her beautiful black hair, which was exquisitely
glossy and fell on either side of her forehead like a raven’s wing, went
to draw the tapestry portiere that hung before the door and allowed no
sound to penetrate the chamber from without.



CHAPTER VI

At the doorway Josephine turned, and threw to her husband, who was
sitting near the chimney, one of those gay smiles with which a sensitive
woman whose soul comes at moments into her face, rendering it beautiful,
gives expression to irresistible hopes. Woman’s greatest charm lies
in her constant appeal to the generosity of man by the admission of a
weakness which stirs his pride and wakens him to the nobler sentiments.
Is not such an avowal of weakness full of magical seduction? When the
rings of the portiere had slipped with a muffled sound along the wooden
rod, she turned towards Claes, and made as though she would hide her
physical defects by resting her hand upon a chair and drawing herself
gracefully forward. It was calling him to help her. Balthazar, sunk for
a moment in contemplation of the olive-tinted head, which attracted
and satisfied the eye as it stood out in relief against the soft gray
background, rose to take his wife in his arms and carry her to her sofa.
This was what she wanted.

“You promised me,” she said, taking his hand which she held between her
own magnetic palms, “to tell me the secret of your researches. Admit,
dear friend, that I am worthy to know it, since I have had the courage
to study a science condemned by the Church that I might be able to
understand you. I am curious; hide nothing from me. Tell me first how
it happened, that you rose one morning anxious and oppressed, when over
night I had left you happy.”

“Is it to hear me talk of chemistry that you have made yourself so
coquettishly delightful?”

“Dear friend, a confidence which puts me in your inner heart is the
greatest of all pleasures for me; is it not a communion of souls which
gives birth to the highest happiness of earth? Your love comes back to
me not lessened, pure; I long to know what dream has had the power to
keep it from me so long. Yes, I am more jealous of a thought than of
all the women in the world. Love is vast, but it is not infinite, while
Science has depths unfathomed, to which I will not let you go alone.
I hate all that comes between us. If you win the glory for which
you strive, I must be unhappy; it will bring you joy, while I--I
alone--should be the giver of your happiness.”

“No, my angel, it was not an idea, not a thought; it was a man that
first led me into this glorious path.”

“A man!” she cried in terror.

“Do you remember, Pepita, the Polish officer who stayed with us in
1809?”

“Do I remember him!” she exclaimed; “I am often annoyed because my
memory still recalls those eyes, like tongues of fire darting from coals
of hell, those hollows above the eyebrows, that broad skull stripped
of hair, the upturned moustache, the angular, worn face!--What awful
impassiveness in his bearing! Ah! surely if there had been a room in any
inn I would never have allowed him to sleep here.”

“That Polish gentleman,” resumed Balthazar, “was named Adam de
Wierzchownia. When you left us alone that evening in the parlor, we
happened by chance to speak of chemistry. Compelled by poverty to give
up the study of that science, he had become a soldier. It was, I think,
by means of a glass of sugared water that we recognized each other as
adepts. When I ordered Mulquinier to bring the sugar in pieces, the
captain gave a start of surprise. ‘Have you studied chemistry?’ he
asked. ‘With Lavoisier,’ I answered. ‘You are happy in being rich and
free,’ he cried; then from the depths of his bosom came the sigh of a
man,--one of those sighs which reveal a hell of anguish hidden in the
brain or in the heart, a something ardent, concentrated, not to be
expressed in words. He ended his sentence with a look that startled
me. After a pause, he told me that Poland being at her last gasp he
had taken refuge in Sweden. There he had sought consolation for his
country’s fate in the study of chemistry, for which he had always felt
an irresistible vocation. ‘And I see you recognize as I do,’ he added,
‘that gum arabic, sugar, and starch, reduced to powder, each yield a
substance absolutely similar, with, when analyzed, the same qualitative
result.’

“He paused again; and then, after examining me with a searching eye, he
said confidentially, in a low voice, certain grave words whose general
meaning alone remains fixed on my memory; but he spoke with a force of
tone, with fervid inflections, with an energy of gesture, which stirred
my very vitals, and struck my imagination as the hammer strikes the
anvil. I will tell you briefly the arguments he used, which were to me
like the live coal laid by the Almighty upon Isaiah’s tongue; for my
studies with Lavoisier enabled me to understand their full bearing.

“‘Monsieur,’ he said, ‘the parity of these three substances, in
appearance so distinct, led me to think that all the productions of
nature ought to have a single principle. The researches of modern
chemistry prove the truth of this law in the larger part of natural
effects. Chemistry divides creation into two distinct parts,--organic
nature, and inorganic nature. Organic nature, comprising as it does all
animal and vegetable creations which show an organization more or less
perfect,--or, to be more exact, a greater or lesser motive power, which
gives more or less sensibility,--is, undoubtedly, the more important
part of our earth. Now, analysis has reduced all the products of
this nature to four simple substances, namely: three gases, nitrogen,
hydrogen, and oxygen, and another simple substance, non-metallic and
solid, carbon. Inorganic nature, on the contrary, so simple, devoid of
movement and sensation, denied the power of growth (too hastily
accorded to it by Linnaeus), possesses fifty-three simple substances, or
elements, whose different combinations make its products. Is it probable
that means should be more numerous where a lesser number of results are
produced?

“‘My master’s opinion was that these fifty-three primary bodies have
one originating principle, acted upon in the past by some force the
knowledge of which has perished to-day, but which human genius ought to
rediscover. Well, then, suppose that this force does live and act again;
we have chemical unity. Organic and inorganic nature would apparently
then rest on four essential principles,--in fact, if we could decompose
nitrogen which we ought to consider a negation, we should have but
three. This brings us at once close upon the great Ternary of the
ancients and of the alchemists of the Middle Ages, whom we do wrong to
scorn. Modern chemistry is nothing more than that. It is much, and yet
little,--much, because the science has never recoiled before difficulty;
little, in comparison with what remains to be done. Chance has served
her well, my noble Science! Is not that tear of crystallized pure
carbon, the diamond, seemingly the last substance possible to create?
The old alchemists, who thought that gold was decomposable and therefore
creatable, shrank from the idea of producing the diamond. Yet we have
discovered the nature and the law of its composition.

“‘As for me,’ he continued, ‘I have gone farther still. An experiment
proved to me that the mysterious Ternary, which has occupied the human
mind from time immemorial, will not be found by physical analyses, which
lack direction to a fixed point. I will relate, in the first place, the
experiment itself.

“‘Sow cress-seed (to take one among the many substances of organic
nature) in flour of brimstone (to take another simple substance).
Sprinkle the seed with distilled water, that no unknown element may
reach the product of the germination. The seed germinates, and sprouts
from a known environment, and feeds only on elements known by analysis.
Cut off the stalks from time to time, till you get a sufficient quantity
to produce after burning them enough ashes for the experiment. Well,
by analyzing those ashes, you will obtain silicic acid, aluminium,
phosphate and carbonate of lime, carbonate of magnesia, the sulphate and
carbonate of potassium, and oxide of iron, precisely as if the cress
had grown in ordinary earth, beside a brook. Now, those elements did not
exist in the brimstone, a simple substance which served for soil to the
cress, nor in the distilled water with which the plant was nourished,
whose composition was known. But since they are no more to be found
in the seed itself, we can explain their presence in the plant only by
assuming the existence of a primary element common to all the substances
contained in the cress, and also to all those by which we environed
it. Thus the air, the distilled water, the brimstone, and the various
elements which analysis finds in the cress, namely, potash, lime,
magnesia, aluminium, etc., should have one common principle floating in
the atmosphere like light of the sun.

“‘From this unimpeachable experiment,’ he cried, ‘I deduce the existence
of the Alkahest, the Absolute,--a substance common to all created
things, differentiated by one primary force. Such is the net meaning
and position of the problem of the Absolute, which appears to me to
be solvable. In it we find the mysterious Ternary, before whose shrine
humanity has knelt from the dawn of ages,--the primary matter, the
medium, the product. We find that terrible number THREE in all things
human. It governs religions, sciences, and laws.

“‘It was at this point,’ he went on, ‘that poverty put an end to my
researches. You were the pupil of Lavoisier, you are rich, and master of
your own time, I will therefore tell you my conjectures. Listen to the
conclusions my personal experiments have led me to foresee. The PRIME
MATTER must be the common principle in the three gases and in carbon.
The MEDIUM must be the principle common to negative and positive
electricity. Proceed to the discovery of the proofs that will establish
those two truths; you will then find the explanation of all phenomenal
existence.

“‘Oh, monsieur!’ he cried, striking his brow, ‘when I know that I
carry here the last word of Creation, when intuitively I perceive the
Unconditioned, is it LIVING to be dragged hither and thither in the ruck
of men who fly at each other’s throats at the word of command without
knowing what they are doing? My actual life is an inverted dream. My
body comes and goes and acts; it moves amid bullets, and cannon, and
men; it crosses Europe at the will of a power I obey and yet despise. My
soul has no consciousness of these acts; it is fixed, immovable, plunged
in one idea, rapt in that idea, the Search for the Alkahest,--for that
principle by which seeds that are absolutely alike, growing in the same
environments, produce, some a white, others a yellow flower. The same
phenomenon is seen in silkworms fed from the same leaves, and apparently
constituted exactly alike,--one produces yellow silk, another white; and
if we come to man himself, we find that children often resemble neither
father nor mother. The logical deduction from this fact surely involves
the explanation of all the phenomena of nature.

“‘Ah, what can be more in harmony with our ideas of God than to believe
that he created all things by the simplest method? The Pythagorean
worship of ONE, from which come all other numbers, and which represented
Primal Matter; that of the number TWO, the first aggregation and the
type of all the rest; that of the number THREE, which throughout
all time has symbolized God,--that is to say, Matter, Force, and
Product,--are they not an echo, lingering along the ages, of some
confused knowledge of the Absolute? Stahl, Becker, Paracelsus, Agrippa,
all the great Searchers into occult causes took the Great Triad for
their watchword,--in other words, the Ternary. Ignorant men who despise
alchemy, that transcendent chemistry, are not aware that our work is
only carrying onward the passionate researches of those great men. Had
I found the Absolute, the Unconditioned, I meant to have grappled with
Motion. Ah! while I am swallowing gunpowder and leading men uselessly to
their death, my former master is piling discovery upon discovery! he
is soaring towards the Absolute, while I--I shall die like a dog in the
trenches!’

“When this poor grand man recovered his composure, he said, in a
touching tone of brotherhood, ‘If I see cause for a great experiment
I will bequeath it to you before I die.’--My Pepita,” cried Balthazar,
taking his wife’s hands, “tears of anguish rolled down his hollow
cheeks, as he cast into my soul the fiery arguments that Lavoisier had
timidly recognized without daring to follow them out--”

“Oh!” cried Madame Claes, unable to refrain from interrupting her
husband, “that man, passing one night under our roof, was able to
deprive us of your love, to destroy with a phrase, a word, the happiness
of a family! Oh, my dear Balthazar, did he make the sign of the cross?
did you examine him? The Tempter alone could have had that flaming eye
which sent forth the fire of Prometheus. Yes, none but the devil could
have torn you from me. From that day you have been neither husband, nor
father, nor master of your family.”

“What!” exclaimed Balthazar, springing to his feet and casting a
piercing glance at his wife, “do you blame your husband for rising above
the level of other men that he may lay at your feet the divine purple
of his glory, as a paltry offering in exchange for the treasures of your
heart! Ah, my Pepita,” he cried, “you do not know what I have done. In
these three years I have made giant strides--”

His face seemed to his wife at this moment more transfigured under the
fires of genius than she had ever seen it under the fires of love; and
she wept as she listened to him.

“I have combined chlorine and nitrogen; I have decomposed many
substances hitherto considered simple; I have discovered new metals.
Why!” he continued, noticing that his wife wept, “I have even decomposed
tears. Tears contain a little phosphate of lime, chloride of sodium,
mucin, and water.”

He went on speaking, without observing the spasm of pain that contracted
Josephine’s features; he was again astride of Science, which bore him
with outspread wings far away from material existence.

“This analysis, my dear,” he went on, “is one of the most convincing
proofs of the theory of the Absolute. All life involves combustion.
According to the greater or the lesser activity of the fire on its
hearth is life more or less enduring. In like manner, the destruction
of mineral bodies is indefinitely retarded, because in their case
combustion is nominal, latent, or imperceptible. In like manner, again,
vegetables, which are constantly revived by combinations producing
dampness, live indefinitely; in fact, we still possess certain
vegetables which existed before the period of the last cataclysm. But
each time that nature has perfected an organism and then, for some
unknown reason, has introduced into it sensation, instinct, or
intelligence (three marked stages of the organic system), these three
agencies necessitate a combustion whose activity is in direct proportion
to the result obtained. Man, who represents the highest point of
intelligence, and who offers us the only organism by which we arrive at
a power that is semi-creative--namely, THOUGHT--is, among all zoological
creations, the one in which combustion is found in its most intense
degree; whose powerful effects may in fact be seen to some extent in the
phosphates, sulphates, and carbonates which a man’s body reveals to
our analysis. May not these substances be traces left within him of
the passage of the electric fluid which is the principle of all
fertilization? Would not electricity manifest itself by a greater
variety of compounds in him than in any other animal? Should not he have
faculties above those of all other created beings for the purpose of
absorbing fuller portions of the Absolute principle? and may he not
assimilate that principle so as to produce, in some more perfect
mechanism, his force and his ideas? I think so. Man is a retort. In my
judgment, the brain of an idiot contains too little phosphorous or other
product of electro-magnetism, that of a madman too much; the brain of an
ordinary man has but little, while that of a man of genius is saturated
to its due degree. The man constantly in love, the street-porter, the
dancer, the large eater, are the ones who disperse the force resulting
from their electrical apparatus. Consequently, our feelings--”

“Enough, Balthazar! you terrify me; you commit sacrilege. What, is my
love--”

“An ethereal matter disengaged, an emanation, the key of the Absolute.
Conceive if I--I, the first, should find it, find it, find it!”

As he uttered the words in three rising tones, the expression of his
face rose by degrees to inspiration. “I shall make metals,” he cried; “I
shall make diamonds, I shall be a co-worker with Nature!”

“Will you be the happier?” she asked in despair. “Accursed science!
accursed demon! You forget, Claes, that you commit the sin of pride, the
sin of which Satan was guilty; you assume the attributes of God.”

“Oh! oh! God!”

“He denies Him!” she cried, wringing her hands. “Claes, God wields a
power that you can never gain.”

At this argument, which seemed to discredit his beloved Science, he
looked at his wife and trembled.

“What power?” he asked.

“Primal force--motion,” she replied. “This is what I learn from the
books your mania has constrained me to read. Analyze fruits, flowers,
Malaga wine; you will discover, undoubtedly, that their substances come,
like those of your water-cress, from a medium that seems foreign to
them. You can, if need be, find them in nature; but when you have them,
can you combine them? can you make the flowers, the fruits, the Malaga
wine? Will you have grasped the inscrutable effects of the sun, of the
atmosphere of Spain? Ah! decomposing is not creating.”

“If I discover the magistral force, I shall be able to create.”

“Will nothing stop him?” cried Pepita. “Oh! my love, my love! it is
killed! I have lost him!”

She wept bitterly, and her eyes, illumined by grief and by the sanctity
of the feelings that flooded her soul, shone with greater beauty than
ever through her tears.

“Yes,” she resumed in a broken voice, “you are dead to all. I see it
but too well. Science is more powerful within you than your own self;
it bears you to heights from which you will return no more to be the
companion of a poor woman. What joys can I still offer you? Ah! I would
fain believe, as a wretched consolation, that God has indeed created you
to make manifest his works, to chant his praises; that he has put within
your breast the irresistible power that has mastered you--But no; God is
good; he would keep in your heart some thoughts of the woman who adores
you, of the children you are bound to protect. It is the Evil One alone
who is helping you to walk amid these fathomless abysses, these clouds
of outer darkness, where the light of faith does not guide you,--nothing
guides you but a terrible belief in your own faculties! Were it
otherwise, would you not have seen that you have wasted nine hundred
thousand francs in three years? Oh! do me justice, you, my God on earth!
I reproach you not; were we alone I would bring you, on my knees, all
I possess and say, ‘Take it, fling it into your furnace, turn it into
smoke’; and I should laugh to see it float away in vapor. Were you poor,
I would beg without shame for the coal to light your furnace. Oh! could
my body yield your hateful Alkahest, I would fling myself upon those
fires with joy, since your glory, your delight is in that unfound
secret. But our children, Claes, our children! what will become of them
if you do not soon discover this hellish thing? Do you know why Pierquin
came to-day? He came for thirty thousand francs, which you owe and
cannot pay. I told him that you had the money, so that I might spare you
the mortification of his questions; but to get it I must sell our family
silver.”

She saw her husband’s eyes grow moist, and she flung herself
despairingly at his feet, raising up to him her supplicating hands.

“My friend,” she cried, “refrain awhile from these researches; let us
economize, let us save the money that may enable you to take them up
hereafter,--if, indeed, you cannot renounce this work. Oh! I do not
condemn it; I will heat your furnaces if you ask it; but I implore you,
do not reduce our children to beggary. Perhaps you cannot love them,
Science may have consumed your heart; but oh! do not bequeath them a
wretched life in place of the happiness you owe them. Motherhood has
sometimes been too weak a power in my heart; yes, I have sometimes
wished I were not a mother, that I might be closer to your soul, your
life! And now, to stifle my remorse, must I plead the cause of my
children before you, and not my own?”

Her hair fell loose and floated over her shoulders, her eyes shot forth
her feelings as though they had been arrows. She triumphed over her
rival. Balthazar lifted her, carried her to the sofa, and knelt at her
feet.

“Have I caused you such grief?” he said, in the tone of a man waking
from a painful dream.

“My poor Claes! yes, and you will cause me more, in spite of yourself,”
 she said, passing her hand over his hair. “Sit here beside me,” she
continued, pointing to the sofa. “Ah! I can forget it all now, now that
you come back to us; all can be repaired--but you will not abandon
me again? say that you will not! My noble husband, grant me a woman’s
influence on your heart, that influence which is so needful to the
happiness of suffering artists, to the troubled minds of great men. You
may be harsh to me, angry with me if you will, but let me check you a
little for your good. I will never abuse the power if you will grant it.
Be famous, but be happy too. Do not love Chemistry better than you love
us. Hear me, we will be generous; we will let Science share your heart;
but oh! my Claes, be just; let us have our half. Tell me, is not my
disinterestedness sublime?”

She made him smile. With the marvellous art such women possess, she
carried the momentous question into the regions of pleasantry where
women reign. But though she seemed to laugh, her heart was violently
contracted and could not easily recover the quiet even action that was
habitual to it. And yet, as she saw in the eyes of Balthazar the rebirth
of a love which was once her glory, the full return of a power she
thought she had lost, she said to him with a smile:--

“Believe me, Balthazar, nature made us to feel; and though you may wish
us to be mere electrical machines, yet your gases and your ethereal
disengaged matters will never explain the gift we possess of looking
into futurity.”

“Yes,” he exclaimed, “by affinity. The power of vision which makes the
poet, the power of deduction which makes the man of science, are based
on invisible affinities, intangible, imponderable, which vulgar minds
class as moral phenomena, whereas they are physical effects. The prophet
sees and deduces. Unfortunately, such affinities are too rare and too
obscure to be subjected to analysis or observation.”

“Is this,” she said, giving him a kiss to drive away the Chemistry she
had so unfortunately reawakened, “what you call an affinity?”

“No; it is a compound; two substances that are equivalents are neutral,
they produce no reaction--”

“Oh! hush, hush,” she cried, “you will make me die of grief. I can never
bear to see my rival in the transports of your love.”

“But, my dear life, I think only of you. My work is for the glory of my
family. You are the basis of all my hopes.”

“Ah, look me in the eyes!”

The scene had made her as beautiful as a young woman; of her whole
person Balthazar saw only her head, rising from a cloud of lace and
muslin.

“Yes, I have done wrong to abandon you for Science,” he said. “If I fall
back into thought and preoccupation, then, my Pepita, you must drag me
from them; I desire it.”

She lowered her eyes and let him take her hand, her greatest beauty,--a
hand that was both strong and delicate.

“But I ask more,” she said.

“You are so lovely, so delightful, you can obtain all,” he answered.

“I wish to destroy that laboratory, and chain up Science,” she said,
with fire in her eyes.

“So be it--let Chemistry go to the devil!”

“This moment effaces all!” she cried. “Make me suffer now, if you will.”

Tears came to Balthazar’s eyes, as he heard these words.

“You were right, love,” he said. “I have seen you through a veil; I have
not understood you.”

“If it concerned only me,” she said, “willingly would I have suffered
in silence, never would I have raised my voice against my sovereign. But
your sons must be thought of, Claes. If you continue to dissipate your
property, no matter how glorious the object you have in view the world
will take little account of it, it will only blame you and yours. But
surely, it is enough for a man of your noble nature that his wife has
shown him a danger he did not perceive. We will talk of this no more,”
 she cried, with a smile and a glance of coquetry. “To-night, my Claes,
let us not be less than happy.”



CHAPTER VII

On the morrow of this evening so eventful for the Claes family,
Balthazar, from whom Josephine had doubtless obtained some promise as
to the cessation of his researches, remained in the parlor, and did not
enter his laboratory. The succeeding day the household prepared to
move into the country, where they stayed for more than two months, only
returning to town in time to prepare for the fete which Claes determined
to give, as in former years, to commemorate his wedding-day. He now
began by degrees to obtain proof of the disorder which his experiments
and his indifference had brought into his business affairs.

Madame Claes, far from irritating the wound by remarking on it,
continually found remedies for the evil that was done. Of the seven
servants who customarily served the family, there now remained only
Lemulquinier, Josette the cook, and an old waiting-woman, named Martha,
who had never left her mistress since the latter left her convent. It
was of course impossible to give a fete to the whole society of Douai
with so few servants, but Madame Claes overcame all difficulties by
proposing to send to Paris for a cook, to train the gardener’s son as
a waiter, and to borrow Pierquin’s manservant. Thus the pinched
circumstances of the family passed unnoticed by the community.

During the twenty days of preparation for the fete, Madame Claes was
cleverly able to outwit her husband’s listlessness. She commissioned him
to select the rarest plants and flowers to decorate the grand staircase,
the gallery, and the salons; then she sent him to Dunkerque to order one
of those monstrous fish which are the glory of the burgher tables in the
northern departments. A fete like that the Claes were about to give is a
serious affair, involving thought and care and active correspondence, in
a land where traditions of hospitality put the family honor so much
at stake that to servants as well as masters a grand dinner is like a
victory won over the guests. Oysters arrived from Ostend, grouse were
imported from Scotland, fruits came from Paris; in short, not the
smallest accessory was lacking to the hereditary luxury.

A ball at the House of Claes had an importance of its own. The
government of the department was then at Douai, and the anniversary fete
of the Claes usually opened the winter season and set the fashion to the
neighborhood. For fifteen years, Balthazar had endeavored to make it
a distinguished occasion, and had succeeded so well that the fete was
talked of throughout a circumference of sixty miles, and the toilettes,
the guests, the smallest details, the novelties exhibited, and the
events that took place, were discussed far and wide. These preparations
now prevented Claes from thinking, for the time being, of the Alkahest.
Since his return to social life and domestic bliss, the servant of
science had recovered his self-love as a man, as a Fleming, as the
master of a household, and he now took pleasure in the thought of
surprising the whole country. He resolved to give a special character
to this ball by some exquisite novelty; and he chose, among all
other caprices of luxury, the loveliest, the richest, and the most
fleeting,--he turned the old mansion into a fairy bower of rare plants
and flowers, and prepared choice bouquets for all the ladies.

The other details of the fete were in keeping with this unheard-of
luxury, and nothing seemed likely to mar the effect. But the
Twenty-ninth Bulletin and the news of the terrible disasters of the
grand army in Russia, and at the passage of the Beresina, were made
known on the afternoon of the appointed day. A sincere and profound
grief was felt in Douai, and those who were present at the fete, moved
by a natural feeling of patriotism, unanimously declined to dance.

Among the letters which arrived that day in Douai, was one for Balthazar
from Monsieur de Wierzchownia, then in Dresden and dying, he wrote,
from wounds received in one of the late engagements. He remembered his
promise, and desired to bequeath to his former host several ideas on the
subject of the Absolute, which had come to him since the period of their
meeting. The letter plunged Claes into a reverie which apparently did
honor to his patriotism; but his wife was not misled by it. To her, this
festal day brought a double mourning: and the ball, during which the
House of Claes shone with departing lustre, was sombre and sad in spite
of its magnificence, and the many choice treasures gathered by the hands
of six generations, which the people of Douai now beheld for the last
time.

Marguerite Claes, just sixteen, was the queen of the day, and on this
occasion her parents presented her to society. She attracted all eyes by
the extreme simplicity and candor of her air and manner, and especially
by the harmony of her form and countenance with the characteristics of
her home. She was the embodiment of the Flemish girl whom the painters
of that country loved to represent,--the head perfectly rounded and
full, chestnut hair parted in the middle and laid smoothly on the brow,
gray eyes with a mixture of green, handsome arms, natural stoutness
which did not detract from her beauty, a timid air, and yet, on the
high square brow an expression of firmness, hidden at present under an
apparent calmness and docility. Without being sad or melancholy, she
seemed to have little natural enjoyment. Reflectiveness, order, a
sense of duty, the three chief expressions of Flemish nature, were the
characteristics of a face that seemed cold at first sight, but to which
the eye was recalled by a certain grace of outline and a placid pride
which seemed the pledges of domestic happiness. By one of those freaks
which physiologists have not yet explained, she bore no likeness to
either father or mother, but was the living image of her maternal
great-grandmother, a Conyncks of Bruges, whose portrait, religiously
preserved, bore witness to the resemblance.

The supper gave some life to the ball. If the military disasters forbade
the delights of dancing, every one felt that they need not exclude the
pleasures of the table. The true patriots, however, retired early; only
the more indifferent remained, together with a few card players and the
intimate friends of the family. Little by little the brilliantly lighted
house, to which all the notabilities of Douai had flocked, sank into
silence, and by one o’clock in the morning the great gallery was
deserted, the lights were extinguished in one salon after another,
and the court-yard, lately so bustling and brilliant, grew dark and
gloomy,--prophetic image of the future that lay before the family. When
the Claes returned to their own appartement, Balthazar gave his wife the
letter he had received from the Polish officer: Josephine returned it
with a mournful gesture; she foresaw the coming doom.

From that day forth, Balthazar made no attempt to disguise the weariness
and the depression that assailed him. In the mornings, after the family
breakfast, he played for awhile in the parlor with little Jean, and
talked to his daughters, who were busy with their sewing, or embroidery
or lace-work; but he soon wearied of the play and of the talk, and
seemed at last to get through with them as a duty. When his wife came
down again after dressing, she always found him sitting in an easy-chair
looking blankly at Marguerite and Felicie, quite undisturbed by the
rattle of their bobbins. When the newspaper was brought in, he read it
slowly like a retired merchant at a loss how to kill the time. Then he
would get up, look at the sky through the window panes, go back to his
chair and mend the fire drearily, as though he were deprived of all
consciousness of his own movements by the tyranny of ideas.

Madame Claes keenly regretted her defects of education and memory. It
was difficult for her to sustain an interesting conversation for any
length of time; perhaps this is always difficult between two persons who
have said everything to each other, and are forced to seek for subjects
of interest outside the life of the heart, or the life of material
existence. The life of the heart has its own moments of expansion which
need some stimulus to bring them forth; discussions of material life
cannot long occupy superior minds accustomed to decide promptly; and the
mere gossip of society is intolerable to loving natures. Consequently,
two isolated beings who know each other thoroughly ought to seek their
enjoyments in the higher regions of thought; for it is impossible to
satisfy with paltry things the immensity of the relation between them.
Moreover, when a man has accustomed himself to deal with great subjects,
he becomes unamusable, unless he preserves in the depths of his heart
a certain guileless simplicity and unconstraint which often make great
geniuses such charming children; but the childhood of the heart is a
rare human phenomenon among those whose mission it is to see all, know
all, and comprehend all.

During these first months, Madame Claes worked her way through this
critical situation, by unwearying efforts, which love or necessity
suggested to her. She tried to learn backgammon, which she had never
been able to play, but now, from an impetus easy to understand, she
ended by mastering it. Then she interested Balthazar in the education of
his daughters, and asked him to direct their studies. All such resources
were, however, soon exhausted. There came a time when Josephine’s
relation to Balthazar was like that of Madame de Maintenon to Louis
XIV.; she had to amuse the unamusable, but without the pomps of power or
the wiles of a court which could play comedies like the sham embassies
from the King of Siam and the Shah of Persia. After wasting the revenues
of France, Louis XIV., no longer young or successful, was reduced to the
expedients of a family heir to raise the money he needed; in the midst
of his grandeur he felt his impotence, and the royal nurse who had
rocked the cradles of his children was often at her wit’s end to rock
his, or soothe the monarch now suffering from his misuse of men and
things, of life and God. Claes, on the contrary, suffered from too much
power. Stifling in the clutch of a single thought, he dreamed of the
pomps of Science, of treasures for the human race, of glory for himself.
He suffered as artists suffer in the grip of poverty, as Samson suffered
beneath the pillars of the temple. The result was the same for the two
sovereigns; though the intellectual monarch was crushed by his inward
force, the other by his weakness.

What could Pepita do, singly, against this species of scientific
nostalgia? After employing every means that family life afforded her,
she called society to the rescue, and gave two “cafes” every week. Cafes
at Douai took the place of teas. A cafe was an assemblage which, during
a whole evening, the guests sipped the delicious wines and liqueurs
which overflow the cellars of that ever-blessed land, ate the Flemish
dainties and took their “cafe noir” or their “cafe au lait frappe,”
 while the women sang ballads, discussed each other’s toilettes, and
related the gossip of the day. It was a living picture by Mieris or
Terburg, without the pointed gray hats, the scarlet plumes, or the
beautiful costumes of the sixteenth century. And yet, Balthazar’s
efforts to play the part of host, his constrained courtesy, his forced
animation, left him the next day in a state of languor which showed but
too plainly the depths of the inward ill.

These continual fetes, weak remedies for the real evil, only increased
it. Like branches which caught him as he rolled down the precipice, they
retarded Claes’s fall, but in the end he fell the heavier. Though he
never spoke of his former occupations, never showed the least regret for
the promise he had given not to renew his researches, he grew to have
the melancholy motions, the feeble voice, the depression of a sick
person. The ennui that possessed him showed at times in the very manner
with which he picked up the tongs and built fantastic pyramids in the
fire with bits of coal, utterly unconscious of what he was doing. When
night came he was evidently relieved; sleep no doubt released him from
the importunities of thought: the next day he rose wearily to encounter
another day,--seeming to measure time as the tired traveller measures
the desert he is forced to cross.

If Madame Claes knew the cause of this languor she endeavored not to see
the extent of its ravages. Full of courage against the sufferings of the
mind, she was helpless against the generous impulses of the heart. She
dared not question Balthazar when she saw him listening to the laughter
of little Jean or the chatter of his girls, with the air of a man
absorbed in secret thoughts; but she shuddered when she saw him shake
off his melancholy and try, with generous intent, to seem cheerful, that
he might not distress others. The little coquetries of the father with
his daughters, or his games with little Jean, moistened the eyes of
the poor wife, who often left the room to hide the feelings that heroic
effort caused her,--a heroism the cost of which is well understood by
women, a generosity that well-nigh breaks their heart. At such times
Madame Claes longed to say, “Kill me, and do what you will!”

Little by little Balthazar’s eyes lost their fire and took the glaucous
opaque tint which overspreads the eyes of old men. His attentions to his
wife, his manner of speaking, his whole bearing, grew heavy and inert.
These symptoms became more marked towards the end of April, terrifying
Madame Claes, to whom the sight was now intolerable, and who had all
along reproached herself a thousand times while she admired the Flemish
loyalty which kept her husband faithful to his promise.

At last, one day when Balthazar seemed more depressed than ever, she
hesitated no longer; she resolved to sacrifice everything and bring him
back to life.

“Dear friend,” she said, “I release you from your promise.”

Balthazar looked at her in amazement.

“You are thinking of your researches, are you not?” she continued.

He answered by a gesture of startling eagerness. Far from remonstrating,
Madame Claes, who had had leisure to sound the abyss into which they
were about to fall together, took his hand and pressed it, smiling.

“Thank you,” she said; “now I am sure of my power. You sacrificed more
than your life to me. In future, be the sacrifices mine. Though I have
sold some of my diamonds, enough are left, with those my brother gave
me, to get the necessary money for your experiments. I intended those
jewels for my daughters, but your glory shall sparkle in their stead;
and, besides, you will some day replace them with other and finer
diamonds.”

The joy that suddenly lighted her husband’s face was like a death-knell
to the wife: she saw, with anguish, that the man’s passion was stronger
than himself. Claes had faith in his work which enabled him to walk
without faltering on a path which, to his wife, was the edge of a
precipice. For him faith, for her doubt,--for her the heavier burden:
does not the woman ever suffer for the two? At this moment she chose to
believe in his success, that she might justify to herself her connivance
in the probable wreck of their fortunes.

“The love of all my life can be no recompense for your devotion,
Pepita,” said Claes, deeply moved.

He had scarcely uttered the words when Marguerite and Felicie entered
the room and wished him good-morning. Madame Claes lowered her eyes
and remained for a moment speechless in presence of her children,
whose future she had just sacrificed to a delusion; her husband, on the
contrary, took them on his knees, and talked to them gaily, delighted to
give vent to the joy that choked him.

From this day Madame Claes shared the impassioned life of her husband.
The future of her children, their father’s credit, were two motives as
powerful to her as glory and science were to Claes. After the diamonds
were sold in Paris, and the purchase of chemicals was again begun, the
unhappy woman never knew another hour’s peace of mind. The demon of
Science and the frenzy of research which consumed her husband now
agitated her own mind; she lived in a state of continual expectation,
and sat half-lifeless for days together in the deep armchair, paralyzed
by the very violence of her wishes, which, finding no food, like those
of Balthazar, in the daily hopes of the laboratory, tormented her spirit
and aggravated her doubts and fears. Sometimes, blaming herself for
compliance with a passion whose object was futile and condemned by the
Church, she would rise, go to the window on the courtyard and gaze with
terror at the chimney of the laboratory. If the smoke were rising, an
expression of despair came into her face, a conflict of thoughts and
feelings raged in her heart and mind. She beheld her children’s future
fleeing in that smoke, but--was she not saving their father’s life? was
it not her first duty to make him happy? This last thought calmed her
for a moment.

She obtained the right to enter the laboratory and remain there; but
even this melancholy satisfaction was soon renounced. Her sufferings
were too keen when she saw that Balthazar took no notice of her, or
seemed at times annoyed by her presence; in that fatal place she went
through paroxysms of jealous impatience, angry desires to destroy the
building,--a living death of untold miseries. Lemulquinier became to
her a species of barometer: if she heard him whistle as he laid the
breakfast-table or the dinner-table, she guessed that Balthazar’s
experiments were satisfactory, and there were prospects of a coming
success; if, on the other hand, the man were morose and gloomy, she
looked at him and trembled,--Balthazar must surely be dissatisfied.
Mistress and valet ended by understanding each other, notwithstanding
the proud reserve of the one and the reluctant submission of the other.

Feeble and defenceless against the terrible prostrations of thought, the
poor woman at last gave way under the alternations of hope and despair
which increased the distress of the loving wife, and the anxieties of
the mother trembling for her children. She now practised the doleful
silence which formerly chilled her heart, not observing the gloom that
pervaded the house, where whole days went by in that melancholy parlor
without a smile, often without a word. Led by sad maternal foresight,
she trained her daughters to household work, and tried to make them
skilful in womanly employments, that they might have the means of
living if destitution came. The outward calm of this quiet home covered
terrible agitations. Towards the end of the summer Balthazar had used
the money derived from the diamonds, and was twenty thousand francs in
debt to Messieurs Protez and Chiffreville.

In August, 1813, about a year after the scene with which this history
begins, although Claes had made a few valuable experiments, for which,
unfortunately, he cared but little, his efforts had been without result
as to the real object of his researches. There came a day when he ended
the whole series of experiments, and the sense of his impotence crushed
him; the certainty of having fruitlessly wasted enormous sums of money
drove him to despair. It was a frightful catastrophe. He left the
garret, descended slowly to the parlor, and threw himself into a chair
in the midst of his children, remaining motionless for some minutes as
though dead, making no answer to the questions his wife pressed upon
him. Tears came at last to his relief, and he rushed to his own chamber
that no one might witness his despair.

Josephine followed him and drew him into her own room, where, alone with
her, Balthazar gave vent to his anguish. These tears of a man, these
broken words of the hopeless toiler, these bitter regrets of the husband
and father, did Madame Claes more harm than all her past sufferings. The
victim consoled the executioner. When Balthazar said to her in a tone of
dreadful conviction: “I am a wretch; I have gambled away the lives of
my children, and your life; you can have no happiness unless I kill
myself,”--the words struck home to her heart; she knew her husband’s
nature enough to fear he might at once act out the despairing wish: an
inward convulsion, disturbing the very sources of life itself, seized
her, and was all the more dangerous because she controlled its violent
effects beneath a deceptive calm of manner.

“My friend,” she said, “I have consulted, not Pierquin, whose friendship
does not hinder him from feeling some secret satisfaction at our ruin,
but an old man who has been as good to me as a father. The Abbe de
Solis, my confessor, has shown me how we can still save ourselves from
ruin. He came to see the pictures. The value of those in the gallery is
enough to pay the sums you have borrowed on your property, and also all
that you owe to Messieurs Protez and Chiffreville, who have no doubt an
account against you.”

Claes made an affirmative sign and bowed his head, the hair of which was
now white.

“Monsieur de Solis knows the Happe and Duncker families of Amsterdam;
they have a mania for pictures, and are anxious, like all parvenus,
to display a luxury which ought to belong only to the old families:
he thinks they will pay the full value of ours. By this means we can
recover our independence, and out of the purchase money, which will
amount to over one hundred thousand ducats, you will have enough to
continue the experiments. Your daughters and I will be content with very
little; we can fill up the empty frames with other pictures in course of
time and by economy; meantime you will be happy.”

Balthazar raised his head and looked at his wife with a joy that was
mingled with fear. Their roles were changed. The wife was the protector
of the husband. He, so tender, he, whose heart was so at one with his
Pepita’s, now held her in his arms without perceiving the horrible
convulsion that made her palpitate, and even shook her hair and her lips
with a nervous shudder.

“I dared not tell you,” he said, “that between me and the Unconditioned,
the Absolute, scarcely a hair’s breadth intervenes. To gasify metals, I
only need to find the means of submitting them to intense heat in some
centre where the pressure of the atmosphere is nil,--in short, in a
vacuum.”

Madame Claes could not endure the egotism of this reply. She expected a
passionate acknowledgment of her sacrifices--she received a problem in
chemistry! The poor woman left her husband abruptly and returned to the
parlor, where she fell into a chair between her frightened daughters,
and burst into tears. Marguerite and Felicie took her hands, kneeling
one on each side of her, not knowing the cause of her grief, and asking
at intervals, “Mother, what is it?”

“My poor children, I am dying; I feel it.”

The answer struck home to Marguerite’s heart; she saw, for the first
time on her mother’s face, the signs of that peculiar pallor which only
comes on olive-tinted skins.

“Martha, Martha!” cried Felicie, “come quickly; mamma wants you.”

The old duenna ran in from the kitchen, and as soon as she saw the livid
hue of the dusky skin usually high-colored, she cried out in Spanish,--

“Body of Christ! madame is dying!”

Then she rushed precipitately back, told Josette to heat water for a
footbath, and returned to the parlor.

“Don’t alarm Monsieur Claes; say nothing to him, Martha,” said her
mistress. “My poor dear girls,” she added, pressing Marguerite and
Felicie to her heart with a despairing action; “I wish I could live
long enough to see you married and happy. Martha,” she continued, “tell
Lemulquinier to go to Monsieur de Solis and ask him in my name to come
here.”

The shock of this attack extended to the kitchen. Josette and Martha,
both devoted to Madame Claes and her daughters, felt the blow in their
own affections. Martha’s dreadful announcement,--“Madame is dying;
monsieur must have killed her; get ready a mustard-bath,”--forced
certain exclamations from Josette, which she launched at Lemulquinier.
He, cold and impassive, went on eating at the corner of a table before
one of the windows of the kitchen, where all was kept as clean as the
boudoir of a fine lady.

“I knew how it would end,” said Josette, glancing at the valet and
mounting a stool to take down a copper kettle that shone like gold.
“There’s no mother could stand quietly by and see a father amusing
himself by chopping up a fortune like his into sausage-meat.”

Josette, whose head was covered by a round cap with crimped borders,
which made it look like a German nut-cracker, cast a sour look at
Lemulquinier, which the greenish tinge of her prominent little eyes
made almost venomous. The old valet shrugged his shoulders with a motion
worthy of Mirobeau when irritated; then he filled his large mouth with
bread and butter sprinkled with chopped onion.

“Instead of thwarting monsieur, madame ought to give him more money,” he
said; “and then we should soon be rich enough to swim in gold. There’s
not the thickness of a farthing between us and--”

“Well, you’ve got twenty thousand francs laid by; why don’t you give ‘em
to monsieur? he’s your master, and if you are so sure of his doings--”

“You don’t know anything about them, Josette. Mind your pots and pans,
and heat the water,” remarked the old Fleming, interrupting the cook.

“I know enough to know there used to be several thousand ounces of
silver-ware about this house which you and your master have melted up;
and if you are allowed to have your way, you’ll make ducks and drakes of
everything till there’s nothing left.”

“And monsieur,” added Martha, entering the kitchen, “will kill madame,
just to get rid of a woman who restrains him and won’t let him swallow
up everything he’s got. He’s possessed by the devil; anybody can see
that. You don’t risk your soul in helping him, Mulquinier, because you
haven’t got any; look at you! sitting there like a bit of ice when
we are all in such distress; the young ladies are crying like two
Magdalens. Go and fetch Monsieur l’Abbe de Solis.”

“I’ve got something to do for monsieur. He told me to put the laboratory
in order,” said the valet. “Besides, it’s too far--go yourself.”

“Just hear the brute!” cried Martha. “Pray who is to give madame her
foot-bath? do you want her to die? she has got a rush of blood to the
head.”

“Mulquinier,” said Marguerite, coming into the servants’ hall, which
adjoined the kitchen, “on your way back from Monsieur de Solis, call at
Dr. Pierquin’s house and ask him to come here at once.”

“Ha! you’ve got to go now,” said Josette.

“Mademoiselle, monsieur told me to put the laboratory in order,”
 said Lemulquinier, facing the two women and looking them down, with a
despotic air.

“Father,” said Marguerite, to Monsieur Claes who was just then
descending the stairs, “can you let Mulquinier do an errand for us in
town?”

“Now you’re forced to go, you old barbarian!” cried Martha, as she heard
Monsieur Claes put Mulquinier at his daughter’s bidding.

The lack of good-will and devotion shown by the old valet for the family
whom he served was a fruitful cause of quarrel between the two women and
Lemulquinier, whose cold-heartedness had the effect of increasing the
loyal attachment of Josette and the old duenna.

This dispute, apparently so paltry, was destined to influence the future
of the Claes family when, at a later period, they needed succor in
misfortune.



CHAPTER VIII

Balthazar was again so absorbed that he did not notice Josephine’s
condition. He took Jean upon his knee and trotted him mechanically,
pondering, no doubt, the problem he now had the means of solving. He saw
them bring the footbath to his wife, who was still in the parlor,
too weak to rise from the low chair in which she was lying; he gazed
abstractedly at his daughters now attending on their mother, without
inquiring the cause of their tender solicitude. When Marguerite or
Jean attempted to speak aloud, Madame Claes hushed them and pointed to
Balthazar. Such a scene was of a nature to make a young girl think; and
Marguerite, placed as she was between her father and mother, was old
enough and sensible enough to weigh their conduct.

There comes a moment in the private life of every family when the
children, voluntarily or involuntarily, judge their parents. Madame
Claes foresaw the dangers of that moment. Her love for Balthazar
impelled her to justify in Marguerite’s eyes conduct that might, to the
upright mind of a girl of sixteen, seem faulty in a father. The very
respect which she showed at this moment for her husband, making
herself and her condition of no account that nothing might disturb his
meditation, impressed her children with a sort of awe of the paternal
majesty. Such self-devotion, however infectious it might be, only
increased Marguerite’s admiration for her mother, to whom she was more
particularly bound by the close intimacy of their daily lives. This
feeling was based on the intuitive perception of sufferings whose causes
naturally occupied the young girl’s mind. No human power could have
hindered some chance word dropped by Martha, or by Josette, from
enlightening her as to the real reasons for the condition of her home
during the last four years. Notwithstanding Madame Claes’s reserve,
Marguerite discovered slowly, thread by thread, the clue to the domestic
drama. She was soon to be her mother’s active confidante, and later,
under other circumstances, a formidable judge.

Madame Claes’s watchful care now centred upon her eldest daughter,
to whom she endeavored to communicate her own self-devotion towards
Balthazar. The firmness and sound judgment which she recognized in
the young girl made her tremble at the thought of a possible struggle
between father and daughter whenever her own death should make the
latter mistress of the household. The poor woman had reached a point
where she dreaded the consequences of her death far more than death
itself. Her tender solicitude for Balthazar showed itself in the
resolution she had this day taken. By freeing his property from
encumbrance she secured his independence, and prevented all future
disputes by separating his interests from those of her children. She
hoped to see him happy until she closed her eyes on earth, and she
studied to transmit the tenderness of her own heart to Marguerite,
trusting that his daughter might continue to be to him an angel of
love, while exercising over the family a protecting and conservative
authority. Might she not thus shed the light of her love upon her dear
ones from beyond the grave? Nevertheless, she was not willing to lower
the father in the eyes of his daughter by initiating her into the secret
dangers of his scientific passion before it became necessary to do so.
She studied Marguerite’s soul and character, seeking to discover if the
girl’s own nature would lead her to be a mother to her brothers and her
sister, and a tender, gentle helpmeet to her father.

Madame Claes’s last days were thus embittered by fears and mental
disquietudes which she dared not confide to others. Conscious that the
recent scene had struck her death-blow, she turned her thoughts wholly
to the future. Balthazar, meanwhile, now permanently unfitted for the
care of property or the interests of domestic life, thought only of the
Absolute.

The heavy silence that reigned in the parlor was broken only by the
monotonous beating of Balthazar’s foot, which he continued to trot,
wholly unaware that Jean had slid from his knee. Marguerite, who was
sitting beside her mother and watching the changes on that pallid,
convulsed face, turned now and again to her father, wondering at his
indifference. Presently the street-door clanged, and the family saw the
Abbe de Solis leaning on the arm of his nephew and slowly crossing the
court-yard.

“Ah! there is Monsieur Emmanuel,” said Felicie.

“That good young man!” exclaimed Madame Claes; “I am glad to welcome
him.”

Marguerite blushed at the praise that escaped her mother’s lips. For
the last two days a remembrance of the young man had stirred mysterious
feelings in her heart, and wakened in her mind thoughts that had lain
dormant. During the visit made by the Abbe de Solis to Madame Claes on
the occasion of his examining the pictures, there happened certain of
those imperceptible events which wield so great an influence upon life;
and their results were sufficiently important to necessitate a brief
sketch of the two personages now first introduced into the history of
this family.

It was a matter of principle with Madame Claes to perform the duties
of her religion privately. Her confessor, who was almost unknown in the
family, now entered the house for the second time only; but there, as
elsewhere, every one was impressed with a sort of tender admiration at
the aspect of the uncle and his nephew.

The Abbe de Solis was an octogenarian, with silvery hair, and a withered
face from which the vitality seemed to have retreated to the eyes.
He walked with difficulty, for one of his shrunken legs ended in a
painfully deformed foot, which was cased in a species of velvet bag, and
obliged him to use a crutch when the arm of his nephew was not at hand.
His bent figure and decrepit body conveyed the impression of a delicate,
suffering nature, governed by a will of iron and the spirit of religious
purity. This Spanish priest, who was remarkable for his vast learning,
his sincere piety, and a wide knowledge of men and things, had been
successively a Dominican friar, the “grand penitencier” of Toledo,
and the vicar-general of the archbishopric of Malines. If the French
Revolution had not intervened, the influence of the Casa-Real family
would have made him one of the highest dignitaries of the Church;
but the grief he felt for the death of the young duke, Madame Claes’s
brother, who had been his pupil, turned him from active life, and he now
devoted himself to the education of his nephew, who was made an orphan
at an early age.

After the conquest of Belgium, the Abbe de Solis settled at Douai to be
near Madame Claes. From his youth up he had professed an enthusiasm for
Saint Theresa which, together with the natural bent of his mind, led
him to the mystical time of Christianity. Finding in Flanders, where
Mademoiselle Bourignon and the writings of the Quietists and Illuminati
made the greatest number of proselytes, a flock of Catholics devoted to
those ideas, he remained there,--all the more willingly because he
was looked up to as a patriarch by this particular communion, which
continued to follow the doctrines of the Mystics notwithstanding the
censures of the Church upon Fenelon and Madame Guyon. His morals were
rigid, his life exemplary, and he was believed to have visions. In spite
of his own detachment from the things of life, his affection for his
nephew made him careful of the young man’s interests. When a work of
charity was to be done, the old abbe put the faithful of his flock
under contribution before having recourse to his own means; and his
patriarchal authority was so well established, his motives so pure, his
discernment so rarely at fault, that every one was ready to answer
his appeal. To give an idea of the contrast between the uncle and the
nephew, we may compare the old man to a willow on the borders of a
stream, hollowed to a skeleton and barely alive, and the young man to a
sweet-brier clustering with roses, whose erect and graceful stems spring
up about the hoary trunk of the old tree as if they would support it.

Emmanuel de Solis, rigidly brought up by his uncle, who kept him at his
side as a mother keeps her daughter, was full of delicate sensibility,
of half-dreamy innocence,--those fleeting flowers of youth which bloom
perennially in souls that are nourished on religious principles. The old
priest had checked all sensuous emotions in his pupil, preparing him for
the trials of life by constant study and a discipline that was almost
cloisteral. Such an education, which would launch the youth unstained
upon the world and render him happy, provided he were fortunate in his
earliest affections, had endowed him with a purity of spirit which gave
to his person something of the charm that surrounds a maiden. His modest
eyes, veiling a strong and courageous soul, sent forth a light that
vibrated in the soul as the tones of a crystal bell sound their
undulations on the ear. His face, though regular, was expressive, and
charmed the eye with its clear-cut outline, the harmony of its
lines, and the perfect repose which came of a heart at peace. All was
harmonious. His black hair, his brown eyes and eyebrows, heightened
the effect of a white skin and a brilliant color. His voice was such as
might have been expected from his beautiful face; and something feminine
in his movements accorded well with the melody of its tones and with
the tender brightness of his eyes. He seemed unaware of the charm he
exercised by his modest silence, the half-melancholy reserve of his
manner, and the respectful attentions he paid to his uncle.

Those who saw the young man as he watched the uncertain steps of the
old abbe, and altered his own to suit their devious course, looking
for obstructions that might trip his uncle’s feet and guiding him to
a smoother way, could not fail to recognize in Emmanuel de Solis the
generous nature which makes the human being a divine creation. There
was something noble in the love that never criticised his uncle, in
the obedience that never cavilled at the old man’s orders; it seemed as
though there were prophecy in the gracious name his godmother had given
him. When the abbe gave proof of his Dominican despotism, in their own
home or in the presence of others, Emmanuel would sometimes lift his
head with so much dignity, as if to assert his metal should any other
man assail him, that men of honor were moved at the sight like artists
before a glorious picture; for noble sentiments ring as loudly in the
soul from living incarnations as from the imagery of art.

Emmanuel had accompanied his uncle when the latter came to examine the
pictures of the House of Claes. Hearing from Martha that the Abbe de
Solis was in the gallery, Marguerite, anxious to see so celebrated a
man, invented an excuse to join her mother and gratify her curiosity.
Entering hastily, with the heedless gaiety young girls assume at times
to hide their wishes, she encountered near the old abbe, clothed in
black and looking decrepit and cadaverous, the fresh, delightful face
of a young man. The naive glances of the youthful pair expressed their
mutual astonishment. Marguerite and Emmanuel had no doubt seen each
other in their dreams. Both lowered their eyes and raised them again
with one impulse; each, by the action, made the same avowal. Marguerite
took her mother’s arm, and spoke to her to cover her confusion and
find shelter under the maternal wing, turning her neck with a swan-like
motion to keep sight of Emmanuel, who still supported his uncle on his
arm. The light was cleverly arranged to give due value to the pictures,
and the half-obscurity of the gallery encouraged those furtive glances
which are the joy of timid natures. Neither went so far, even in
thought, as the first note of love; yet both felt the mysterious trouble
which stirs the heart, and is jealously kept secret in our youth from
fastidiousness or modesty.

The first impression which forces a sensibility hitherto suppressed
to overflow its borders, is followed in all young people by the same
half-stupefied amazement which the first sounds of music produce upon a
child. Some children laugh and think; others do not laugh till they have
thought; but those whose hearts are called to live by poetry or love,
listen stilly and hear the melody with a look where pleasure
flames already, and the search for the infinite begins. If, from an
irresistible feeling, we love the places where our childhood first
perceived the beauties of harmony, if we remember with delight the
musician, and even the instrument, that taught them to us, how much more
shall we love the being who reveals to us the music of life? The first
heart in which we draw the breath of love,--is it not our home, our
native land? Marguerite and Emmanuel were, each to each, that Voice of
music which wakes a sense, that hand which lifts the misty veil, and
reveals the distant shores bathed in the fires of noonday.

When Madame Claes paused before a picture by Guido representing an
angel, Marguerite bent forward to see the impression it made upon
Emmanuel, and Emmanuel looked at Marguerite to compare the mute thought
on the canvas with the living thought beside him. This involuntary and
delightful homage was understood and treasured. The old abbe gravely
praised the picture, and Madame Claes answered him, but the youth and
the maiden were silent.

Such was their first meeting: the mysterious light of the picture
gallery, the stillness of the old house, the presence of their elders,
all contributed to trace upon their hearts the delicate lines of this
vaporous mirage. The many confused thoughts that surged in Marguerite’s
mind grew calm and lay like a limpid ocean traversed by a luminous ray
when Emmanuel murmured a few farewell words to Madame Claes. That voice,
whose fresh and mellow tone sent nameless delights into her heart,
completed the revelation that had come to her,--a revelation which
Emmanuel, were he able, should cherish to his own profit; for it often
happens that the man whom destiny employs to waken love in the heart
of a young girl is ignorant of his work and leaves it unfinished.
Marguerite bowed confusedly; her true farewell was in the glance which
seemed unwilling to lose so pure and lovely a vision. Like a child
she wanted her melody. Their parting took place at the foot of the old
staircase near the parlor; and when Marguerite re-entered the room she
watched the uncle and the nephew till the street-door closed upon them.

Madame Claes had been so occupied with the serious matters which caused
her conference with the abbe that she did not on this occasion observe
her daughter’s manner. When Monsieur de Solis came again to the house
on the occasion of her illness, she was too violently agitated to notice
the color that rushed into Marguerite’s face and betrayed the tumult of
a virgin heart conscious of its first joy. By the time the old abbe was
announced, Marguerite had taken up her sewing and appeared to give it
such attention that she bowed to the uncle and nephew without looking at
them. Monsieur Claes mechanically returned their salutation and left
the room with the air of a man called away by his occupations. The good
Dominican sat down beside Madame Claes and looked at her with one of
those searching glances by which he penetrated the minds of others; the
sight of Monsieur Claes and his wife was enough to make him aware of a
catastrophe.

“My children,” said the mother, “go into the garden; Marguerite, show
Emmanuel your father’s tulips.”

Marguerite, half abashed, took Felicie’s arm and looked at the young
man, who blushed and caught up little Jean to cover his confusion. When
all four were in the garden, Felicie and Jean ran to the other side,
leaving Marguerite, who, conscious that she was alone with young de
Solis, led him to the pyramid of tulips, arranged precisely in the same
manner year after year by Lemulquinier.

“Do you love tulips?” asked Marguerite, after standing for a moment in
deep silence,--a silence Emmanuel seemed little disposed to break.

“Mademoiselle, these flowers are beautiful, but to love them we must
perhaps have a taste of them, and know how to understand their beauties.
They dazzle me. Constant study in the gloomy little chamber in which I
live, close to my uncle, makes me prefer those flowers that are softer
to the eye.”

Saying these words he glanced at Marguerite; but the look, full as it
was of confused desires, contained no allusion to the lily whiteness,
the sweet serenity, the tender coloring which made her face a flower.

“Do you work very hard?” she asked, leading him to a wooden seat with
a back, painted green. “Here,” she continued, “the tulips are not so
close; they will not tire your eyes. Yes, you are right, those colors
are dazzling; they give pain.”

“Do I work hard?” replied the young man after a short silence, as he
smoothed the gravel with his foot. “Yes; I work at many things. My uncle
wished to make me a priest.”

“Oh!” exclaimed Marguerite, naively.

“I resisted; I felt no vocation for it. But it required great courage
to oppose my uncle’s wishes. He is so good, he loves me so much! Quite
recently he bought a substitute to save me from the conscription--me, a
poor orphan!”

“What do you mean to be?” asked Marguerite; then, immediately checking
herself as though she would unsay the words, she added with a pretty
gesture, “I beg your pardon; you must think me very inquisitive.”

“Oh, mademoiselle,” said Emmanuel, looking at her with tender
admiration, “except my uncle, no one ever asked me that question. I am
studying to be a teacher. I cannot do otherwise; I am not rich. If I
were principal of a college-school in Flanders I should earn enough to
live moderately, and I might marry some single woman whom I could love.
That is the life I look forward to. Perhaps that is why I prefer a
daisy in the meadows to these splendid tulips, whose purple and gold
and rubies and amethysts betoken a life of luxury, just as the daisy is
emblematic of a sweet and patriarchal life,--the life of a poor teacher
like me.”

“I have always called the daisies marguerites,” she said.

Emmanuel colored deeply and sought an answer from the sand at his feet.
Embarrassed to choose among the thoughts that came to him, which he
feared were silly, and disconcerted by his delay in answering, he said
at last, “I dared not pronounce your name”--then he paused.

“A teacher?” she said.

“Mademoiselle, I shall be a teacher only as a means of living: I shall
undertake great works which will make me nobly useful. I have a strong
taste for historical researches.”

“Ah!”

That “ah!” so full of secret thoughts added to his confusion; he gave a
foolish laugh and said:--

“You make me talk of myself when I ought only to speak of you.”

“My mother and your uncle must have finished their conversation, I
think,” said Marguerite, looking into the parlor through the windows.

“Your mother seems to me greatly changed,” said Emmanuel.

“She suffers, but she will not tell us the cause of her sufferings; and
we can only try to share them with her.”

Madame Claes had, in fact, just ended a delicate consultation which
involved a case of conscience the Abbe de Solis alone could decide.
Foreseeing the utter ruin of the family, she wished to retain, unknown
to Balthazar who paid no attention to his business affairs, part of the
price of the pictures which Monsieur de Solis had undertaken to sell in
Holland, intending to hold it secretly in reserve against the day when
poverty should overtake her children. With much deliberation, and after
weighing every circumstance, the old Dominican approved the act as one
of prudence. He took his leave to prepare at once for the sale, which
he engaged to make secretly, so as not to injure Monsieur Claes in the
estimation of others.

The next day Monsieur de Solis despatched his nephew, armed with letters
of introduction, to Amsterdam, where Emmanuel, delighted to do a service
to the Claes family, succeeded in selling all the pictures in the
gallery to the noted bankers Happe and Duncker for the ostensible sum of
eighty-five thousand Dutch ducats and fifteen thousand more which were
paid over secretly to Madame Claes. The pictures were so well known that
nothing was needed to complete the sale but an answer from Balthazar to
the letter which Messieurs Happe and Duncker addressed to him. Emmanuel
de Solis was commissioned by Claes to receive the price of the pictures,
which were thereupon packed and sent away secretly, to conceal the sale
from the people of Douai.

Towards the end of September, Balthazar paid off all the sums that he
had borrowed, released his property from encumbrance, and resumed his
chemical researches; but the House of Claes was deprived of its noblest
ornament. Blinded by his passion, the master showed no regret; he felt
so sure of repairing the loss that in selling the pictures he reserved
the right of redemption. In Josephine’s eyes a hundred pictures were
as nothing compared to domestic happiness and the satisfaction of her
husband’s mind; moreover, she refilled the gallery with other paintings
taken from the reception-rooms, and to conceal the gaps which these left
in the front house, she changed the arrangement of the furniture.

When Balthazar’s debts were all paid he had about two hundred thousand
francs with which to carry on his experiments. The Abbe de Solis and his
nephew took charge secretly of the fifteen thousand ducats reserved by
Madame Claes. To increase that sum, the abbe sold the Dutch ducats, to
which the events of the Continental war had given a commercial value.
One hundred and sixty-five thousand francs were buried in the cellar of
the house in which the abbe and his nephew resided.

Madame Claes had the melancholy happiness of seeing her husband
incessantly busy and satisfied for nearly eight months. But the shock
he had lately given her was too severe; she sank into a state of languor
and debility which steadily increased. Balthazar was now so completely
absorbed in science that neither the reverses which had overtaken
France, nor the first fall of Napoleon, nor the return of the Bourbons,
drew him from his laboratory; he was neither husband, father, nor
citizen,--solely chemist.

Towards the close of 1814 Madame Claes declined so rapidly that she
was no longer able to leave her bed. Unwilling to vegetate in her own
chamber, the scene of so much happiness, where the memory of vanished
joys forced involuntary comparisons with the present and depressed her,
she moved into the parlor. The doctors encouraged this wish by declaring
the room more airy, more cheerful, and therefore better suited to her
condition. The bed in which the unfortunate woman ended her life was
placed between the fireplace and a window looking on the garden. There
she passed her last days, sacredly occupied in training the souls of
her young daughters, striving to leave within them the fire of her own.
Conjugal love, deprived of its manifestations, allowed maternal love
to have its way. The mother now seemed the more delightful because her
motherhood had blossomed late. Like all generous persons, she passed
through sensitive phases of feeling that she mistook for remorse.
Believing that she had defrauded her children of the tenderness that
should have been theirs, she sought to redeem those imaginary wrongs;
bestowing attentions and tender cares which made her precious to them;
she longed to make her children live, as it were, within her heart; to
shelter them beneath her feeble wings; to cherish them enough in the few
remaining days to redeem the time during which she had neglected them.
The sufferings of her mind gave to her words and her caresses a glowing
warmth that issued from her soul. Her eyes caressed her children, her
voice with its yearning intonations touched their hearts, her hand
showered blessings on their heads.



CHAPTER IX

The good people of Douai were not surprised that visitors were no longer
received at the House of Claes, and that Balthazar gave no more fetes on
the anniversary of his marriage. Madame Claes’s state of health seemed a
sufficient reason for the change, and the payment of her husband’s debts
put a stop to the current gossip; moreover, the political vicissitudes
to which Flanders was subjected, the war of the Hundred-days, and the
occupation of the Allied armies, put the chemist and his researches
completely out of people’s minds. During those two years Douai was so
often on the point of being taken, it was so constantly occupied either
by the French or by the enemy, so many foreigners came there, so many of
the country-people sought refuge within its walls, so many lives were
in peril, so many catastrophes occurred, that each man thought only of
himself.

The Abbe de Solis and his nephew, and the two Pierquins, doctor and
lawyer, were the only persons who now visited Madame Claes; for whom
the winter of 1814-1815 was a long and dreary death-scene. Her husband
rarely came to see her. It is true that after dinner he remained some
hours in the parlor, near her bed; but as she no longer had the strength
to keep up a conversation, he merely said a few words, invariably the
same, sat down, spoke no more, and a dreary silence settled down upon
the room. The monotony of this existence was broken only on the days
when the Abbe de Solis and his nephew passed the evening with Madame
Claes.

While the abbe played backgammon with Balthazar, Marguerite talked with
Emmanuel by the bedside of her mother, who smiled at their innocent joy,
not allowing them to see how painful and yet how soothing to her wounded
spirit were the fresh breezes of their virgin love, murmuring in fitful
words from heart to heart. The inflection of their voices, to them
so full of charm, to her was heart-breaking; a glance of mutual
understanding surprised between the two threw her, half-dead as she
was, back to the young and happy past which gave such bitterness to
the present. Emmanuel and Marguerite with intuitive delicacy of feeling
repressed the sweet half-childish play of love, lest it should hurt the
saddened woman whose wounds they instinctively divined.

No one has yet remarked that feelings have an existence of their own, a
nature which is developed by the circumstances that environ them, and in
which they are born; they bear a likeness to the places of their growth,
and keep the imprint of the ideas that influenced their development.
There are passions ardently conceived which remain ardent, like that of
Madame Claes for her husband: there are sentiments on which all life
has smiled; these retain their spring-time gaiety, their harvest-time
of joy, seasons that never fail of laughter or of fetes; but there are
other loves, framed in melancholy, circled by distress, whose pleasures
are painful, costly, burdened by fears, poisoned by remorse, or
blackened by despair. The love in the heart of Marguerite and Emmanuel,
as yet unknown to them for love, the sentiment that budded into life
beneath the gloomy arches of the picture-gallery, beside the stern old
abbe, in a still and silent moment, that love so grave and so discreet,
yet rich in tender depths, in secret delights that were luscious to the
taste as stolen grapes snatched from a corner of the vineyard, wore in
coming years the sombre browns and grays that surrounded the hour of its
birth.

Fearing to give expression to their feelings beside that bed of pain,
they unconsciously increased their happiness by a concentration which
deepened its imprint on their hearts. The devotion of the daughter,
shared by Emmanuel, happy in thus uniting himself with Marguerite and
becoming by anticipation the son of her mother, was their medium
of communication. Melancholy thanks from the lips of the young girl
supplanted the honeyed language of lovers; the sighing of their
hearts, surcharged with joy at some interchange of looks, was scarcely
distinguishable from the sighs wrung from them by the mother’s
sufferings. Their happy little moments of indirect avowal, of unuttered
promises, of smothered effusion, were like the allegories of Raphael
painted on a black ground. Each felt a certainty that neither avowed;
they knew the sun was shining over them, but they could not know what
wind might chase away the clouds that gathered about their heads. They
doubted the future; fearing that pain would ever follow them, they
stayed timidly among the shadows of the twilight, not daring to say to
each other, “Shall we end our days together?”

The tenderness which Madame Claes now testified for her children nobly
concealed much that she endeavored to hide from herself. Her children
caused her neither fear nor passionate emotion: they were her
comforters, but they were not her life: she lived by them; she died
through Balthazar. However painful her husband’s presence might be to
her, lost as he was for hours together in depths of thought from which
he looked at her without seeing her, it was only during those cruel
moments that she forgot her griefs. His indifference to the dying woman
would have seemed criminal to a stranger, but Madame Claes and her
daughters were accustomed to it; they knew his heart and they forgave
him. If, during the daytime, Josephine was seized by some sudden
illness, if she were worse and seemed near dying, Claes was the
only person in the house or in the town who remained ignorant of it.
Lemulquinier knew it, but neither the daughters, bound to silence by
their mother, nor Josephine herself let Balthazar know the danger of the
being he had once so passionately loved.

When his heavy step sounded in the gallery as he came to dinner, Madame
Claes was happy--she was about to see him! and she gathered up her
strength for that happiness. As he entered, the pallid face blushed
brightly and recovered for an instant the semblance of health. Balthazar
came to her bedside, took her hand, saw the misleading color on her
cheek, and to him she seemed well. When he asked, “My dear wife, how are
you to-day?” she answered, “Better, dear friend,” and made him think she
would be up and recovered on the morrow. His preoccupation was so great
that he accepted this reply, and believed the illness of which his wife
was dying a mere indisposition. Dying to the eyes of the world, in his
alone she was living.

A complete separation between husband and wife was the result of this
year. Claes slept in a distant chamber, got up early in the morning, and
shut himself into his laboratory or his study. Seeing his wife only in
presence of his daughters or of the two or three friends who came to
visit them, he lost the habit of communicating with her. These two
beings, formerly accustomed to think as one, no longer, unless at rare
intervals, enjoyed those moments of communion, of passionate unreserve
which feed the life of the heart; and finally there came a time when
even these rare pleasures ceased. Physical suffering was now a boon
to the poor woman, helping her to endure the void of separation, which
might have killed her had she been truly living. Her bodily pain became
so great that there were times when she was joyful in the thought that
he whom she loved was not a witness of it. She lay watching Balthazar
in the evening hours, and knowing him happy in his own way, she lived
in the happiness she had procured for him,--a shadowy joy, and yet it
satisfied her. She no longer asked herself if she were loved, she forced
herself to believe it; and she glided over that icy surface, not daring
to rest her weight upon it lest it should break and drown her soul in a
gulf of awful nothingness.

No events stirred the calm of this existence; the malady that was slowly
consuming Madame Claes added to the household stillness, and in this
condition of passive gloom the House of Claes reached the first weeks
of the year 1816. Pierquin, the lawyer, was destined, at the close of
February, to strike the death-blow of the fragile woman who, in the
words of the Abbe de Solis, was well-nigh without sin.

“Madame,” said Pierquin, seizing a moment when her daughters could not
hear the conversation, “Monsieur Claes has directed me to borrow three
hundred thousand francs on his property. You must do something to
protect the future of your children.”

Madame Claes clasped her hands and raised her eyes to the ceiling; then
she thanked the notary with a sad smile and a kindly motion of her head
which affected him.

His words were the stab that killed her. During that day she had yielded
herself up to sad reflections which swelled her heart; she was like the
wayfarer walking beside a precipice who loses his balance and a mere
pebble rolls him to the depth of the abyss he had so long and so
courageously skirted. When the notary left her, Madame Claes told
Marguerite to bring writing materials; then she gathered up her
remaining strength to write her last wishes. Several times she paused
and looked at her daughter. The hour of confidence had come.

Marguerite’s management of the household since her mother’s illness had
amply fulfilled the dying woman’s hopes that Madame Claes was able to
look upon the future of the family without absolute despair, confident
that she herself would live again in this strong and loving angel. Both
women felt, no doubt, that sad and mutual confidences must now be made
between them; the daughter looked at the mother, the mother at the
daughter, tears flowing from their eyes. Several times, as Madame Claes
rested from her writing, Marguerite said: “Mother?” then she dropped as
if choking; but the mother, occupied with her last thoughts, did not ask
the meaning of the interrogation. At last, Madame Claes wished to seal
the letter; Marguerite held the taper, turning aside her head that she
might not see the superscription.

“You can read it, my child,” said the mother, in a heart-rending voice.

The young girl read the words, “To my daughter Marguerite.”

“We will talk to each other after I have rested awhile,” said Madame
Claes, putting the letter under her pillow.

Then she fell back as if exhausted by the effort, and slept for several
hours. When she woke, her two daughters and her two sons were kneeling
by her bed and praying. It was Thursday. Gabriel and Jean had been
brought from school by Emmanuel de Solis, who for the last six months
was professor of history and philosophy.

“Dear children, we must part!” she cried. “You have never forsaken me,
never! and he who--”

She stopped.

“Monsieur Emmanuel,” said Marguerite, seeing the pallor on her mother’s
face, “go to my father, and tell him mamma is worse.”

Young de Solis went to the door of the laboratory and persuaded
Lemulquinier to make Balthazar come and speak to him. On hearing of the
urgent request of the young man, Claes answered, “I will come.”

“Emmanuel,” said Madame Claes when he returned to her, “take my
sons away, and bring your uncle here. It is time to give me the last
sacraments, and I wish to receive them from his hand.”

When she was alone with her daughters she made a sign to Marguerite, who
understood her and sent Felicie away.

“I have something to say to you myself, dear mamma,” said Marguerite
who, not believing her mother so ill as she really was, increased
the wound Pierquin had given. “I have had no money for the household
expenses during the last ten days; I owe six months’ wages to the
servants. Twice I have tried to ask my father for money, but did not
dare to do so. You don’t know, perhaps, that all the pictures in the
gallery have been sold, and all the wines in the cellar?”

“He never told me!” exclaimed Madame Claes. “My God! thou callest me to
thyself in time! My poor children! what will become of them?”

She made a fervent prayer, which brought the fires of repentance to her
eyes.

“Marguerite,” she resumed, drawing the letter from her pillow, “here is
a paper which you must not open or read until a time, after my death,
when some great disaster has overtaken you; when, in short, you are
without the means of living. My dear Marguerite, love your father, but
take care of your brothers and your sister. In a few days, in a few
hours perhaps, you will be the head of this household. Be economical.
Should you find yourself opposed to the wishes of your father,--and it
may so happen, because he has spent vast sums in searching for a secret
whose discovery is to bring glory and wealth to his family, and he will
no doubt need money, perhaps he may demand it of you,--should that time
come, treat him with the tenderness of a daughter, strive to reconcile
the interests of which you will be the sole protector with the duty
which you owe to a father, to a great man who sacrificed his happiness
and his life to the glory of his family; he can only do wrong in act,
his intentions are noble, his heart is full of love; you will see him
once more kind and affectionate--YOU! Marguerite, it is my duty to say
these words to you on the borders of the grave. If you wish to soften
the anguish of my death, promise me, my child, to take my place beside
your father; to cause him no grief; never to reproach him; never to
condemn him. Be a gentle, considerate guardian of the home until--his
work accomplished--he is again the master of his family.”

“I understand you, dear mother,” said Marguerite, kissing the swollen
eyelids of the dying woman. “I will do as you wish.”

“Do not marry, my darling, until Gabriel can succeed you in the
management of the property and the household. If you married, your
husband might not share your feelings, he might bring trouble into the
family and disturb your father’s life.”

Marguerite looked at her mother and said, “Have you nothing else to say
to me about my marriage?”

“Can you hesitate, my child?” cried the dying woman in alarm.

“No,” the daughter answered; “I promise to obey you.”

“Poor girl! I did not sacrifice myself for you,” said the mother,
shedding hot tears. “Yet I ask you to sacrifice yourself for all.
Happiness makes us selfish. Be strong; preserve your own good sense to
guard others who as yet have none. Act so that your brothers and your
sister may not reproach my memory. Love your father, and do not oppose
him--too much.”

She laid her head on her pillow and said no more; her strength was
gone; the inward struggle between the Wife and the Mother had been too
violent.

A few moments later the clergy came, preceded by the Abbe de Solis,
and the parlor was filled by the children and the household. When the
ceremony was about to begin, Madame Claes, awakened by her confessor,
looked about her and not seeing Balthazar said quickly,--

“Where is my husband?”

Those words--summing up, as it were, her life and her death--were
uttered in such lamentable tones that all present shuddered. Martha, in
spite of her great age, darted out of the room, ran up the staircase and
through the gallery, and knocked loudly on the door of the laboratory.

“Monsieur, madame is dying; they are waiting for you, to administer the
last sacraments,” she cried with the violence of indignation.

“I am coming,” answered Balthazar.

Lemulquinier came down a moment later, and said his master was following
him. Madame Claes’s eyes never left the parlor door, but her husband
did not appear until the ceremony was over. When at last he entered,
Josephine colored and a few tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Were you trying to decompose nitrogen?” she said to him with an angelic
tenderness which made the spectators quiver.

“I have done it!” he cried joyfully; “Nitrogen contains oxygen and a
substance of the nature of imponderable matter, which is apparently the
principle of--”

A murmur of horror interrupted his words and brought him to his senses.

“What did they tell me?” he demanded. “Are you worse? What is the
matter?”

“This is the matter, monsieur,” whispered the Abbe de Solis, indignant
at his conduct; “your wife is dying, and you have killed her.”

Without waiting for an answer the abbe took the arm of his nephew and
went out followed by the family, who accompanied him to the court-yard.
Balthazar stood as if thunderstruck; he looked at his wife, and a few
tears dropped from his eyes.

“You are dying, and I have killed you!” he said. “What does he mean?”

“My husband,” she answered, “I only lived in your love, and you have
taken my life away from me; but you knew not what you did.”

“Leave us,” said Claes to his children, who now re-entered the room.
“Have I for one moment ceased to love you?” he went on, sitting down
beside his wife, and taking her hands and kissing them.

“My friend, I do not blame you. You made me happy--too happy, for I have
not been able to bear the contrast between our early married life, so
full of joy, and these last days, so desolate, so empty, when you are
not yourself. The life of the heart, like the life of the body, has its
functions. For six years you have been dead to love, to the family, to
all that was once our happiness. I will not speak of our early married
days; such joys must cease in the after-time of life, but they ripen
into fruits which feed the soul,--confidence unlimited, the tender
habits of affection: you have torn those treasures from me! I go in
time: we live together no longer; you hide your thoughts and actions
from me. How is it that you fear me? Have I ever given you one word,
one look, one gesture of reproach? And yet, you have sold your last
pictures, you have sold even the wine in your cellar, you are borrowing
money on your property, and have said no word to me. Ah! I go from
life weary of life. If you are doing wrong, if you delude yourself in
following the unattainable, have I not shown you that my love could
share your faults, could walk beside you and be happy, though you led me
in the paths of crime? You loved me too well,--that was my glory; it is
now my death. Balthazar, my illness has lasted long; it began on the
day when here, in this place where I am about to die, you showed me that
Science was more to you than Family. And now the end has come; your wife
is dying, and your fortune lost. Fortune and wife were yours,--you could
do what you willed with your own; but on the day of my death my property
goes to my children, and you cannot touch it; what will then become of
you? I am telling you the truth; I owe it to you. Dying eyes see far;
when I am gone will anything outweigh that cursed passion which is now
your life? If you have sacrificed your wife, your children will count
but little in the scale; for I must be just and own you loved me
above all. Two millions and six years of toil you have cast into the
gulf,--and what have you found?”

At these words Claes grasped his whitened head in his hands and hid his
face.

“Humiliation for yourself, misery for your children,” continued the
dying woman. “You are called in derision ‘Claes the alchemist’; soon
it will be ‘Claes the madman.’ For myself, I believe in you. I know
you great and wise; I know your genius: but to the vulgar eye genius is
mania. Fame is a sun that lights the dead; living, you will be unhappy
with the unhappiness of great minds, and your children will be ruined.
I go before I see your fame, which might have brought me consolation for
my lost happiness. Oh, Balthazar! make my death less bitter to me, let
me be certain that my children will not want for bread--Ah, nothing,
nothing, not even you, can calm my fears.”

“I swear,” said Claes, “to--”

“No, do not swear, that you may not fail of your oath,” she said,
interrupting him. “You owed us your protection; we have been without it
seven years. Science is your life. A great man should have neither wife
nor children; he should tread alone the path of sacrifice. His virtues
are not the virtues of common men; he belongs to the universe, he cannot
belong to wife or family; he sucks up the moisture of the earth about
him, like a majestic tree--and I, poor plant, I could not rise to the
height of your life, I die at its feet. I have waited for this last day
to tell you these dreadful thoughts: they came to me in the lightnings
of desolation and anguish. Oh, spare my children! let these words echo
in your heart. I cry them to you with my last breath. The wife is dead,
dead; you have stripped her slowly, gradually, of her feelings, of her
joys. Alas! without that cruel care could I have lived so long? But
those poor children did not forsake me! they have grown beside my
anguish, the mother still survives. Spare them! Spare my children!”

“Lemulquinier!” cried Claes in a voice of thunder.

The old man appeared.

“Go up and destroy all--instruments, apparatus, everything! Be careful,
but destroy all. I renounce Science,” he said to his wife.

“Too late,” she answered, looking at Lemulquinier. “Marguerite!” she
cried, feeling herself about to die.

Marguerite came through the doorway and uttered a piercing cry as she
saw her mother’s eyes now glazing.

“MARGUERITE!” repeated the dying woman.

The exclamation contained so powerful an appeal to her daughter, she
invested that appeal with such authority, that the cry was like a dying
bequest. The terrified family ran to her side and saw her die; the vital
forces were exhausted in that last conversation with her husband.

Balthazar and Marguerite stood motionless, she at the head, he at the
foot of the bed, unable to believe in the death of the woman whose
virtues and exhaustless tenderness were known fully to them alone.
Father and daughter exchanged looks freighted with meaning: the daughter
judged the father, and already the father trembled, seeing in his
daughter an instrument of vengeance. Though memories of the love with
which his Pepita had filled his life crowded upon his mind, and gave to
her dying words a sacred authority whose voice his soul must ever
hear, yet Balthazar knew himself helpless in the grasp of his attendant
genius; he heard the terrible mutterings of his passion, denying him the
strength to carry his repentance into action: he feared himself.

When the grave had closed upon Madame Claes, one thought filled the
minds of all,--the house had had a soul, and that soul was now departed.
The grief of the family was so intense that the parlor, where the noble
woman still seemed to linger, was closed; no one had the courage to
enter it.



CHAPTER X

Society practises none of the virtues it demands from individuals: every
hour it commits crimes, but the crimes are committed in words; it paves
the way for evil actions with a jest; it degrades nobility of soul by
ridicule; it jeers at sons who mourn their fathers, anathematizes those
who do not mourn them enough, and finds diversion (the hypocrite!) in
weighing the dead bodies before they are cold.

The evening of the day on which Madame Claes died, her friends cast a
few flowers upon her memory in the intervals of their games of whist,
doing homage to her noble qualities as they sorted their hearts and
spades. Then, after a few lachrymal phrases,--the fi, fo, fum of
collective grief, uttered in precisely the same tone, and with
neither more nor less of feeling, at all hours and in every town in
France,--they proceeded to estimate the value of her property. Pierquin
was the first to observe that the death of this excellent woman was
a mercy, for her husband had made her unhappy; and it was even more
fortunate for her children: she was unable while living to refuse her
money to the husband she adored; but now that she was dead, Claes was
debarred from touching it. Thereupon all present calculated the fortune
of that poor Madame Claes, wondered how much she had laid by (had she,
in fact, laid by anything?), made an inventory of her jewels, rummaged
in her wardrobe, peeped into her drawers, while the afflicted family
were still weeping and praying around her death-bed.

Pierquin, with an appraising eye, stated that Madame Claes’s possessions
in her own right--to use the notarial phrase--might still be recovered,
and ought to amount to nearly a million and a half of francs; basing
this estimate partly on the forest of Waignies,--whose timber, counting
the full-grown trees, the saplings, the primeval growths, and the recent
plantations, had immensely increased in value during the last twelve
years,--and partly on Balthazar’s own property, of which enough remained
to “cover” the claims of his children, if the liquidation of their
mother’s fortune did not yield sufficient to release him. Mademoiselle
Claes was still, in Pierquin’s slang, “a four-hundred-thousand-franc
girl.” “But,” he added, “if she doesn’t marry,--a step which would
of course separate her interests and permit us to sell the forest and
auction, and so realize the property of the minor children and reinvest
it where the father can’t lay hands on it,--Claes is likely to ruin them
all.”

Thereupon, everybody looked about for some eligible young man worthy to
win the hand of Mademoiselle Claes; but none of them paid the lawyer the
compliment of suggesting that he might be the man. Pierquin, however,
found so many good reasons to reject the suggested matches as unworthy
of Marguerite’s position, that the confabulators glanced at each
other and smiled, and took malicious pleasure in prolonging this truly
provincial method of annoyance. Pierquin had already decided that Madame
Claes’s death would have a favorable effect upon his suit, and he began
mentally to cut up the body in his own interests.

“That good woman,” he said to himself as he went home to bed, “was as
proud as a peacock; she would never gave given me her daughter. Hey,
hey! why couldn’t I manage matters now so as to marry the girl? Pere
Claes is drunk on carbon, and takes no care of his children. If, after
convincing Marguerite that she must marry to save the property of her
brothers and sister, I were to ask him for his daughter, he will be glad
to get rid of a girl who is likely to thwart him.”

He went to sleep anticipating the charms of the marriage contract, and
reflecting on the advantages of the step and the guarantees afforded for
his happiness in the person he proposed to marry. In all the provinces
there was certainly not a better brought-up or more delicately lovely
young girl than Mademoiselle Claes. Her modesty, her grace, were like
those of the pretty flower Emmanuel had feared to name lest he
should betray the secret of his heart. Her sentiments were lofty, her
principles religious, she would undoubtedly make him a faithful wife:
moreover, she not only flattered the vanity which influences every man
more or less in the choice of a wife, but she gratified his pride by
the high consideration which her family, doubly ennobled, enjoyed in
Flanders,--a consideration which her husband of course would share.

The next day Pierquin extracted from his strong-box several
thousand-franc notes, which he offered with great friendliness to
Balthazar, so as to relieve him of pecuniary annoyance in the midst
of his grief. Touched by this delicate attention, Balthazar would, he
thought, praise his goodness and his personal qualities to Marguerite.
In this he was mistaken. Monsieur Claes and his daughter thought it was
a very natural action, and their sorrow was too absorbing to let them
even think of the lawyer.

Balthazar’s despair was indeed so great that persons who were disposed
to blame his conduct could not do otherwise than forgive him,--less
on account of the Science which might have excused him, than for
the remorse which could not undo his deeds. Society is satisfied by
appearances: it takes what it gives, without considering the intrinsic
worth of the article. To the world real suffering is a show, a species
of enjoyment, which inclines it to absolve even a criminal; in its
thirst for emotions it acquits without judging the man who raises a
laugh, or he who makes it weep, making no inquiry into their methods.

Marguerite was just nineteen when her father put her in charge of the
household; and her brothers and sister, whom Madame Claes in her last
moments exhorted to obey their elder sister, accepted her authority with
docility. Her mourning attire heightened the dewy whiteness of her skin,
just as the sadness of her expression threw into relief the gentleness
and patience of her manner. From the first she gave proofs of feminine
courage, of inalterable serenity, like that of angels appointed to shed
peace on suffering hearts by a touch of their waving palms. But although
she trained herself, through a premature perception of duty, to hide her
personal grief, it was none the less bitter; her calm exterior was not
in keeping with the deep trouble of her thoughts, and she was destined
to undergo, too early in life, those terrible outbursts of feeling
which no heart is wholly able to subdue: her father was to hold her
incessantly under the pressure of natural youthful generosity on the one
hand, and the dictates of imperious duty on the other. The cares which
came upon her the very day of her mother’s death threw her into a
struggle with the interests of life at an age when young girls are
thinking only of its pleasures. Dreadful discipline of suffering, which
is never lacking to angelic natures!

The love which rests on money or on vanity is the most persevering of
passions. Pierquin resolved to win the heiress without delay. A few days
after Madame Claes’s death he took occasion to speak to Marguerite, and
began operations with a cleverness which might have succeeded if
love had not given her the power of clear insight and saved her from
mistaking appearances that were all the more specious because Pierquin
displayed his natural kindheartedness,--the kindliness of a notary who
thinks himself loving while he protects a client’s money. Relying on
his rather distant relationship and his constant habit of managing the
business and sharing the secrets of the Claes family, sure of the
esteem and friendship of the father, greatly assisted by the careless
inattention of that servant of science who took no thought for the
marriage of his daughter, and not suspecting that Marguerite could
prefer another,--Pierquin unguardedly enabled her to form a judgment
on a suit in which there was no passion except that of self-interest,
always odious to a young soul, and which he was not clever enough to
conceal. It was he who on this occasion was naively above-board, it was
she who dissimulated,--simply because he thought he was dealing with a
defenceless girl, and wholly misconceived the privileges of weakness.

“My dear cousin,” he said to Marguerite, with whom he was walking about
the paths of the little garden, “you know my heart, you understand how
truly I desire to respect the painful feelings which absorb you at this
moment. I have too sensitive a nature for a lawyer; I live by my heart
only, I am forced to spend my time on the interests of others when I
would fain let myself enjoy the sweet emotions which make life happy. I
suffer deeply in being obliged to talk to you of subjects so discordant
with your state of mind, but it is necessary. I have thought much
about you during the last few days. It is evident that through a fatal
delusion the fortune of your brothers and sister and your own are in
jeopardy. Do you wish to save your family from complete ruin?”

“What must I do?” she asked, half-frightened by his words.

“Marry,” answered Pierquin.

“I shall not marry,” she said.

“Yes, you will marry,” replied the notary, “when you have soberly
thought over the critical position in which you are placed.”

“How can my marriage save--”

“Ah! I knew you would consider it, my dear cousin,” he exclaimed,
interrupting her. “Marriage will emancipate you.”

“Why should I be emancipated?” asked Marguerite.

“Because marriage will put you at once into possession of your property,
my dear little cousin,” said the lawyer in a tone of triumph. “If you
marry you take your share of your mother’s property. To give it to you,
the whole property must be liquidated; to do that, it becomes necessary
to sell the forest of Waignies. That done, the proceeds will be
capitalized, and your father, as guardian, will be compelled to invest
the fortune of his children in such a way that Chemistry can’t get hold
of it.”

“And if I do not marry, what will happen?” she asked.

“Well,” said the notary, “your father will manage your estate as he
pleases. If he returns to making gold, he will probably sell the timber
of the forest of Waignies and leave his children as naked as the little
Saint Johns. The forest is now worth about fourteen hundred thousand
francs; but from one day to another you are not sure your father won’t
cut it down, and then your thirteen hundred acres are not worth three
hundred thousand francs. Isn’t it better to avoid this almost certain
danger by at once compelling the division of property on your marriage?
If the forest is sold now, while Chemistry has gone to sleep, your
father will put the proceeds into the Grand-Livre. The Funds are at
59; those dear children will get nearly five thousand francs a year for
every fifty thousand francs: and, inasmuch as the property of minors
cannot be sold out, your brothers and sister will find their fortunes
doubled in value by the time they come of age. Whereas, in the other
case,--faith, no one knows what may happen: your father has already
impaired your mother’s property; we shall find out the deficit when we
come to make the inventory. If he is in debt to her estate, you will
take a mortgage on his, and in that way something may be recovered--”

“For shame!” said Marguerite. “It would be an outrage on my father.
It is not so long since my mother uttered her last words that I have
forgotten them. My father is incapable of robbing his children,” she
continued, giving way to tears of distress. “You misunderstand him,
Monsieur Pierquin.”

“But, my dear cousin, if your father gets back to chemistry--”

“We are ruined; is that what you mean?”

“Yes, utterly ruined. Believe me, Marguerite,” he said, taking her hand
which he placed upon his heart, “I should fail of my duty if I did not
persist in this matter. Your interests alone--”

“Monsieur,” said Marguerite, coldly withdrawing her hand, “the true
interests of my family require me not to marry. My mother thought so.”

“Cousin,” he cried, with the earnestness of a man who sees a fortune
escaping him, “you commit suicide; you fling your mother’s property into
a gulf. Well, I will prove the devotion I feel for you: you know not
how I love you. I have admired you from the day of that last ball, three
years ago; you were enchanting. Trust the voice of love when it speaks
to you of your own interests, Marguerite.” He paused. “Yes, we must call
a family council and emancipate you--without consulting you,” he added.

“But what is it to be emancipated?”

“It is to enjoy your own rights.”

“If I can be emancipated without being married, why do you want me to
marry? and whom should I marry?”

Pierquin tried to look tenderly at his cousin, but the expression
contrasted so strongly with his hard eyes, usually fixed on money, that
Marguerite discovered the self-interest in his improvised tenderness.

“You would marry the person who--pleases you--the most,” he said. “A
husband is indispensable, were it only as a matter of business. You are
now entering upon a struggle with your father; can you resist him all
alone?”

“Yes, monsieur; I shall know how to protect my brothers and sister when
the time comes.”

“Pshaw! the obstinate creature,” thought Pierquin. “No, you will not
resist him,” he said aloud.

“Let us end the subject,” she said.

“Adieu, cousin, I shall endeavor to serve you in spite of yourself; I
will prove my love by protecting you against your will from a disaster
which all the town foresees.”

“I thank you for the interest you take in me,” she answered; “but I
entreat you to propose nothing and to undertake nothing which may give
pain to my father.”

Marguerite stood thoughtfully watching Pierquin as he departed; she
compared his metallic voice, his manners, flexible as a steel spring,
his glance, servile rather than tender, with the mute melodious poetry
in which Emmanuel’s sentiments were wrapped. No matter what may be said,
or what may be done, there exists a wonderful magnetism whose effects
never deceive. The tones of the voice, the glance, the passionate
gestures of a lover may be imitated; a young girl can be deluded by a
clever comedian; but to succeed, the man must be alone in the field.
If the young girl has another soul beside her whose pulses vibrate in
unison with hers, she is able to distinguish the expressions of a true
love. Emmanuel, like Marguerite, felt the influence of the chords which,
from the time of their first meeting had gathered ominously about their
heads, hiding from their eyes the blue skies of love. His feeling for
the Elect of his heart was an idolatry which the total absence of hope
rendered gentle and mysterious in its manifestations. Socially too far
removed from Mademoiselle Claes by his want of fortune, with nothing but
a noble name to offer her, he saw no chance of ever being her husband.
Yet he had always hoped for certain encouragements which Marguerite
refused to give before the failing eyes of her dying mother. Both
equally pure, they had never said to one another a word of love. Their
joys were solitary joys tasted by each alone. They trembled apart,
though together they quivered beneath the rays of the same hope. They
seemed to fear themselves, conscious that each only too surely belonged
to the other. Emmanuel trembled lest he should touch the hand of the
sovereign to whom he had made a shrine of his heart; a chance contact
would have roused hopes that were too ardent, he could not then have
mastered the force of his passion. And yet, while neither bestowed the
vast, though trivial, the innocent and yet all-meaning signs of love
that even timid lovers allow themselves, they were so firmly fixed
in each other’s hearts that both were ready to make the greatest
sacrifices, which were, indeed, the only pleasures their love could
expect to taste.

Since Madame Claes’s death this hidden love was shrouded in mourning.
The tints of the sphere in which it lived, dark and dim from the first,
were now black; the few lights were veiled by tears. Marguerite’s
reserve changed to coldness; she remembered the promise exacted by
her mother. With more freedom of action, she nevertheless became more
distant. Emmanuel shared his beloved’s grief, comprehending that the
slightest word or wish of love at such a time transgressed the laws
of the heart. Their love was therefore more concealed than it had ever
been. These tender souls sounded the same note: held apart by grief, as
formerly by the timidities of youth and by respect for the sufferings of
the mother, they clung to the magnificent language of the eyes, the mute
eloquence of devoted actions, the constant unison of thoughts,--divine
harmonies of youth, the first steps of a love still in its infancy.
Emmanuel came every morning to inquire for Claes and Marguerite, but he
never entered the dining-room, where the family now sat, unless to bring
a letter from Gabriel or when Balthazar invited him to come in.
His first glance at the young girl contained a thousand sympathetic
thoughts; it told her that he suffered under these conventional
restraints, that he never left her, he was always with her, he shared
her grief. He shed the tears of his own pain into the soul of his dear
one by a look that was marred by no selfish reservation. His good heart
lived so completely in the present, he clung so firmly to a happiness
which he believed to be fugitive, that Marguerite sometimes reproached
herself for not generously holding out her hand and saying, “Let us at
least be friends.”

Pierquin continued his suit with an obstinacy which is the unreflecting
patience of fools. He judged Marguerite by the ordinary rules of the
multitude when judging of women. He believed that the words marriage,
freedom, fortune, which he had put into her mind, would geminate and
flower into wishes by which he could profit; he imagined that her
coldness was mere dissimulation. But surround her as he would with
gallant attentions, he could not hide the despotic ways of a man
accustomed to manage the private affairs of many families with a high
hand. He discoursed to her in those platitudes of consolation common to
his profession, which crawl like snails over the suffering mind, leaving
behind them a trail of barren words which profane its sanctity. His
tenderness was mere wheedling. He dropped his feigned melancholy at the
door when he put on his overshoes, or took his umbrella. He used the
tone his long intimacy authorized as an instrument to work himself still
further into the bosom of the family, and bring Marguerite to a marriage
which the whole town was beginning to foresee. The true, devoted,
respectful love formed a striking contrast to its selfish, calculating
semblance. Each man’s conduct was homogenous: one feigned a passion and
seized every advantage to gain the prize; the other hid his love and
trembled lest he should betray his devotion.

Some time after the death of her mother, and, as it happened, on the
same day, Marguerite was enabled to compare the only two men of whom she
had any opportunity of judging; for the social solitude to which she
was condemned kept her from seeing life and gave no access to those who
might think of her in marriage. One day after breakfast, a fine morning
in April, Emmanuel called at the house just as Monsieur Claes was going
out. The aspect of his own house was so unendurable to Balthazar that he
spent part of every day in walking about the ramparts. Emmanuel made a
motion as if to follow him, then he hesitated, seemed to gather up his
courage, looked at Marguerite and remained. The young girl felt sure
that he wished to speak with her, and asked him to go into the garden;
then she sent Felicie to Martha, who was sewing in the antechamber on
the upper floor, and seated herself on a garden-seat in full view of her
sister and the old duenna.

“Monsieur Claes is as much absorbed by grief as he once was by science,”
 began the young man, watching Balthazar as he slowly crossed the
court-yard. “Every one in Douai pities him; he moves like a man who has
lost all consciousness of life; he stops without a purpose, he gazes
without seeing anything.”

“Every sorrow has its own expression,” said Marguerite, checking her
tears. “What is it you wish to say to me?” she added after a pause,
coldly and with dignity.

“Mademoiselle,” answered Emmanuel in a voice of feeling, “I scarcely
know if I have the right to speak to you as I am about to do. Think only
of my desire to be of service to you, and give me the right of a teacher
to be interested in the future of a pupil. Your brother Gabriel is over
fifteen; he is in the second class; it is now necessary to direct his
studies in the line of whatever future career he may take up. It is for
your father to decide what that career shall be: if he gives the matter
no thought, the injury to Gabriel would be serious. But then, again,
would it not mortify your father if you showed him that he is neglecting
his son’s interests? Under these circumstances, could you not yourself
consult Gabriel as to his tastes, and help him to choose a career, so
that later, if his father should think of making him a public officer,
an administrator, a soldier, he might be prepared with some special
training? I do not suppose that either you or Monsieur Claes would wish
to bring Gabriel up in idleness.”

“Oh, no!” said Marguerite; “when my mother taught us to make lace, and
took such pains with our drawing and music and embroidery, she often
said we must be prepared for whatever might happen to us. Gabriel ought
to have a thorough education and a personal value. But tell me, what
career is best for a man to choose?”

“Mademoiselle,” said Emmanuel, trembling with pleasure, “Gabriel is
at the head of his class in mathematics; if he would like to enter the
Ecole Polytechnique, he could there acquire the practical knowledge
which will fit him for any career. When he leaves the Ecole he can
choose the path in life for which he feels the strongest bias. Thus,
without compromising his future, you will have saved a great deal of
time. Men who leave the Ecole with honors are sought after on all sides;
the school turns out statesmen, diplomats, men of science, engineers,
generals, sailors, magistrates, manufacturers, and bankers. There is
nothing extraordinary in the son of a rich or noble family preparing
himself to enter it. If Gabriel decides on this course I shall ask you
to--will you grant my request? Say yes!”

“What is it?”

“Let me be his tutor,” he answered, trembling.

Marguerite looked at Monsieur de Solis; then she took his hand, and
said, “Yes”--and paused, adding presently in a broken voice:--

“How much I value the delicacy which makes you offer me a thing I can
accept from you. In all that you have said I see how much you have
thought for us. I thank you.”

Though the words were simply said, Emmanuel turned away his head not to
show the tears that the delight of being useful to her brought to his
eyes.

“I will bring both boys to see you,” he said, when he was a little
calmer; “to-morrow is a holiday.”

He rose and bowed to Marguerite, who followed him into the house; when
he had crossed the court-yard he turned and saw her still at the door of
the dining-room, from which she made him a friendly sign.

After dinner Pierquin came to see Monsieur Claes, and sat down between
father and daughter on the very bench in the garden where Emmanuel had
sat that morning.

“My dear cousin,” he said to Balthazar, “I have come to-night to talk
to you on business. It is now forty-two days since the decease of your
wife.”

“I keep no account of time,” said Balthazar, wiping away the tears that
came at the word “decease.”

“Oh, monsieur!” cried Marguerite, looking at the lawyer, “how can you?”

“But, my dear Marguerite, we notaries are obliged to consider the limits
of time appointed by law. This is a matter which concerns you and your
co-heirs. Monsieur Claes has none but minor children, and he must
make an inventory of his property within forty-five days of his wife’s
decease, so as to render in his accounts at the end of that time. It is
necessary to know the value of his property before deciding whether to
accept it as sufficient security, or whether we must fall back on the
legal rights of minors.”

Marguerite rose.

“Do not go away, my dear cousin,” continued Pierquin; “my words concern
you--you and your father both. You know how truly I share your grief,
but to-day you must give your attention to legal details. If you do not,
every one of you will get into serious difficulties. I am only doing my
duty as the family lawyer.”

“He is right,” said Claes.

“The time expires in two days,” resumed Pierquin; “and I must begin the
inventory to-morrow, if only to postpone the payment of the legacy-tax
which the public treasurer will come here and demand. Treasurers have no
hearts; they don’t trouble themselves about feelings; they fasten their
claws upon us at all seasons. Therefore for the next two days my clerk
and I will be here from ten till four with Monsieur Raparlier, the
public appraiser. After we get through the town property we shall go
into the country. As for the forest of Waignies, we shall be obliged to
hold a consultation about that. Now let us turn to another matter.
We must call a family council and appoint a guardian to protect the
interests of the minor children. Monsieur Conyncks of Bruges is your
nearest relative; but he has now become a Belgian. You ought,” continued
Pierquin, addressing Balthazar, “to write to him on this matter; you can
then find out if he has any intention of settling in France, where he
has a fine property. Perhaps you could persuade him and his daughter to
move into French Flanders. If he refuses, then I must see about making
up the council with the other near relatives.”

“What is the use of an inventory?” asked Marguerite.

“To put on record the value and the claims of the property, its debts
and its assets. When that is all clearly scheduled, the family council,
acting on behalf of the minors, makes such dispositions as it sees fit.”

“Pierquin,” said Claes, rising from the bench, “do all that is necessary
to protect the rights of my children; but spare us the distress
of selling the things that belonged to my dear--” he was unable to
continue; but he spoke with so noble an air and in a tone of such deep
feeling that Marguerite took her father’s hand and kissed it.

“To-morrow, then,” said Pierquin.

“Come to breakfast,” said Claes; then he seemed to gather his scattered
senses together and exclaimed: “But in my marriage contract, which was
drawn under the laws of Hainault, I released my wife from the obligation
of making an inventory, in order that she might not be annoyed by it: it
is very probable that I was equally released--”

“Oh, what happiness!” cried Marguerite. “It would have been so
distressing to us.”

“Well, I will look into your marriage contract to-morrow,” said the
notary, rather confused.

“Then you did not know of this?” said Marguerite.

This remark closed the interview; the lawyer was far too much confused
to continue it after the young girl’s comment.

“The devil is in it!” he said to himself as he crossed the court-yard.
“That man’s wandering memory comes back to him in the nick of
time,--just when he needed it to hinder us from taking precautions
against him! I have cracked my brains to save the property of those
children. I meant to proceed regularly and come to an understanding
with old Conyncks, and here’s the end of it! I shall lose ground with
Marguerite, for she will certainly ask her father why I wanted an
inventory of the property, which she now sees was not necessary; and
Claes will tell her that notaries have a passion for writing documents,
that we are lawyers above all, above cousins or friends or relatives,
and all such stuff as that.”

He slammed the street door violently, railing at clients who ruin
themselves by sensitiveness.

Balthazar was right. No inventory could be made. Nothing, therefore, was
done to settle the relation of the father to the children in the matter
of property.



CHAPTER XI

Several months went by and brought no change to the House of Claes.
Gabriel, under the wise management of his tutor, Monsieur de Solis,
worked studiously, acquired foreign languages, and prepared to pass the
necessary examinations to enter the Ecole Polytechnique. Marguerite and
Felicie lived in absolute retirement, going in summer to their father’s
country place as a measure of economy. Monsieur Claes attended to his
business affairs, paid his debts by borrowing a considerable sum of
money on his property, and went to see the forest at Waignies.

About the middle of the year 1817, his grief, slowly abating, left him
a prey to solitude and defenceless under the monotony of the life he
was leading, which heavily oppressed him. At first he struggled bravely
against the allurements of Science as they gradually beset him; he
forbade himself even to think of Chemistry. Then he did think of it.
Still, he would not actively take it up, and only gave his mind to his
researches theoretically. Such constant study, however, swelled his
passion which soon became exacting. He asked himself whether he was
really bound not to continue his researches, and remembered that his
wife had refused his oath. Though he had pledged his word to himself
that he would never pursue the solution of the great Problem, might he
not change that determination at a moment when he foresaw success? He
was now fifty-nine years old. At that age a predominant idea contracts a
certain peevish fixedness which is the first stage of monomania.

Circumstances conspired against his tottering loyalty. The peace
which Europe now enjoyed encouraged the circulation of discoveries
and scientific ideas acquired during the war by the learned of
various countries, who for nearly twenty years had been unable to hold
communication. Science was making great strides. Claes found that the
progress of chemistry had been directed, unknown to chemists themselves,
towards the object of his researches. Learned men devoted to the higher
sciences thought, as he did, that light, heat, electricity, galvanism,
magnetism were all different effects of the same cause, and that the
difference existing between substances hitherto considered simple must
be produced by varying proportions of an unknown principle. The fear
that some other chemist might effect the reduction of metals and
discover the constituent principle of electricity,--two achievements
which would lead to the solution of the chemical Absolute,--increased
what the people of Douai called a mania, and drove his desires to a
paroxysm conceivable to those who devote themselves to the sciences, or
who have ever known the tyranny of ideas.

Thus it happened that Balthazar was again carried away by a passion all
the more violent because it had lain dormant so long. Marguerite,
who watched every evidence of her father’s state of mind, opened the
long-closed parlor. By living in it she recalled the painful memories
which her mother’s death had caused, and succeeded for a time in
re-awaking her father’s grief, and retarding his plunge into the gulf to
the depths of which he was, nevertheless, doomed to fall. She determined
to go into society and force Balthazar to share in its distractions.
Several good marriages were proposed to her, which occupied Claes’s
mind, but to all of them she replied that she should not marry until
after she was twenty-five. But in spite of his daughter’s efforts, in
spite of his remorseful struggles, Balthazar, at the beginning of the
winter, returned secretly to his researches. It was difficult, however,
to hide his operations from the inquisitive women in the kitchen; and
one morning Martha, while dressing Marguerite, said to her:--

“Mademoiselle, we are as good as lost. That monster of a Mulquinier--who
is a devil disguised, for I never saw him make the sign of the
cross--has gone back to the garret. There’s monsieur on the high-road to
hell. Pray God he mayn’t kill you as he killed my poor mistress.”

“It is not possible!” exclaimed Marguerite.

“Come and see the signs of their traffic.”

Mademoiselle Claes ran to the window and saw the light smoke rising from
the flue of the laboratory.

“I shall be twenty-one in a few months,” she thought, “and I shall know
how to oppose the destruction of our property.”

In giving way to his passion Balthazar necessarily felt less respect
for the interests of his children than he formerly had felt for the
happiness of his wife. The barriers were less high, his conscience was
more elastic, his passion had increased in strength. He now set forth in
his career of glory, toil, hope, and poverty, with the fervor of a man
profoundly trustful of his convictions. Certain of the result, he worked
night and day with a fury that alarmed his daughters, who did not know
how little a man is injured by work that gives him pleasure.

Her father had no sooner recommenced his experiments than Marguerite
retrenched the superfluities of the table, showing a parsimony worthy of
a miser, in which Josette and Martha admirably seconded her. Claes never
noticed the change which reduced the household living to the merest
necessaries. First he ceased to breakfast with the family; then he only
left his laboratory when dinner was ready; and at last, before he went
to bed, he would sit some hours in the parlor between his daughters
without saying a word to either of them; when he rose to go upstairs
they wished him good-night, and he allowed them mechanically to kiss
him on both cheeks. Such conduct would have led to great domestic
misfortunes had Marguerite not been prepared to exercise the authority
of a mother, and if, moreover, she were not protected by a secret love
from the dangers of so much liberty.

Pierquin had ceased to come to the house, judging that the family ruin
would soon be complete. Balthazar’s rural estates, which yielded sixteen
thousand francs a year, and were worth about six hundred thousand, were
now encumbered by mortgages to the amount of three hundred thousand
francs; for, in order to recommence his researches, Claes had borrowed
a considerable sum of money. The rents were exactly enough to pay the
interest of the mortgages; but, with the improvidence of a man who
is the slave of an idea, he made over the income of his farm lands to
Marguerite for the expenses of the household, and the notary calculated
that three years would suffice to bring matters to a crisis, when the
law would step in and eat up all that Balthazar had not squandered.
Marguerite’s coldness brought Pierquin to a state of almost hostile
indifference. To give himself an appearance in the eyes of the world of
having renounced her hand, he frequently remarked of the Claes family in
a tone of compassion:--

“Those poor people are ruined; I have done my best to save them. Well,
it can’t be helped; Mademoiselle Claes refused to employ the legal means
which might have rescued them from poverty.”

Emmanuel de Solis, who was now principal of the college-school in Douai,
thanks to the influence of his uncle and to his own merits which made
him worthy of the post, came every evening to see the two young girls,
who called the old duenna into the parlor as soon as their father had
gone to bed. Emmanuel’s gentle rap at the street-door was never missing.
For the last three months, encouraged by the gracious, though mute
gratitude with which Marguerite now accepted his attentions, he became
at his ease, and was seen for what he was. The brightness of his pure
spirit shone like a flawless diamond; Marguerite learned to understand
its strength and its constancy when she saw how inexhaustible was the
source from which it came. She loved to watch the unfolding, one by one,
of the blossoms of his heart, whose perfume she had already breathed.
Each day Emmanuel realized some one of Marguerite’s hopes, and illumined
the enchanted regions of love with new lights that chased away the
clouds and brought to view the serene heavens, giving color to the
fruitful riches hidden away in the shadow of their lives. More at his
ease, the young man could display the seductive qualities of his heart
until now discreetly hidden, the expansive gaiety of his age, the
simplicity which comes of a life of study, the treasures of a delicate
mind that life has not adulterated, the innocent joyousness which goes
so well with loving youth. His soul and Marguerite’s understood each
other better; they went together to the depths of their hearts and
found in each the same thoughts,--pearls of equal lustre, sweet fresh
harmonies like those the legends tell of beneath the waves, which
fascinate the divers. They made themselves known to one another by an
interchange of thought, a reciprocal introspection which bore the signs,
in both, of exquisite sensibility. It was done without false shame, but
not without mutual coquetry. The two hours which Emmanuel spent with the
sisters and old Martha enabled Marguerite to accept the life of anguish
and renunciation on which she had entered. This artless, progressive
love was her support. In all his testimonies of affection Emmanuel
showed the natural grace that is so winning, the sweet yet subtile mind
which breaks the uniformity of sentiment as the facets of a diamond
relieve, by their many-sided fires, the monotony of the stone,--adorable
wisdom, the secret of loving hearts, which makes a woman pliant to the
artistic hand that gives new life to old, old forms, and refreshes with
novel modulations the phrases of love. Love is not only a sentiment, it
is an art. Some simple word, a trifling vigilance, a nothing, reveals to
a woman the great, the divine artist who shall touch her heart and yet
not blight it. The more Emmanuel was free to utter himself, the more
charming were the expressions of his love.

“I have tried to get here before Pierquin,” he said to Marguerite one
evening. “He is bringing some bad news; I would rather you heard it from
me. Your father has sold all the timber in your forest at Waignies
to speculators, who have resold it to dealers. The trees are already
felled, and the logs are carried away. Monsieur Claes received three
hundred thousand francs in cash as a first instalment of the price,
which he has used towards paying his bills in Paris; but to clear off
his debts entirely he has been forced to assign a hundred thousand
francs of the three hundred thousand still due to him on the
purchase-money.”

Pierquin entered at this moment.

“Ah! my dear cousin,” he said, “you are ruined. I told you how it
would be; but you would not listen to me. Your father has an insatiable
appetite. He has swallowed your woods at a mouthful. Your family
guardian, Monsieur Conyncks, is just now absent in Amsterdam, and Claes
has seized the opportunity to strike the blow. It is all wrong. I have
written to Monsieur Conyncks, but he will get here too late; everything
will be squandered. You will be obliged to sue your father. The suit
can’t be long, but it will be dishonorable. Monsieur Conyncks has no
alternative but to institute proceedings; the law requires it. This
is the result of your obstinacy. Do you now see my prudence, and how
devoted I was to your interests?”

“I bring you some good news, mademoiselle,” said young de Solis in his
gentle voice. “Gabriel has been admitted to the Ecole Polytechnique. The
difficulties that seemed in the way have all been removed.”

Marguerite thanked him with a smile as she said:--

“My savings will now come in play! Martha, we must begin to-morrow on
Gabriel’s outfit. My poor Felicie, we shall have to work hard,” she
added, kissing her sister’s forehead.

“To-morrow you shall have him at home, to remain ten days,” said
Emmanuel; “he must be in Paris by the fifteenth of November.”

“My cousin Gabriel has done a sensible thing,” said the lawyer, eyeing
the professor from head to foot; “for he will have to make his own way.
But, my dear cousin, the question now is how to save the honor of the
family: will you listen to what I say this time?”

“No,” she said, “not if it relates to marriage.”

“Then what will you do?”

“I?--nothing.”

“But you are of age.”

“I shall be in a few days. Have you any course to suggest to me,” she
added, “which will reconcile our interests with the duty we owe to our
father and to the honor of the family?”

“My dear cousin, nothing can be done till your uncle arrives. When he
does, I will call again.”

“Adieu, monsieur,” said Marguerite.

“The poorer she is the more airs she gives herself,” thought the notary.
“Adieu, mademoiselle,” he said aloud. “Monsieur, my respects to you”;
and he went away, paying no attention to Felicie or Martha.

“I have been studying the Code for the last two days, and I have
consulted an experienced old lawyer, a friend of my uncle,” said
Emmanuel, in a hesitating voice. “If you will allow me, I will go
to Amsterdam to-morrow and see Monsieur Conyncks. Listen, dear
Marguerite--”

He uttered her name for the first time; she thanked him with a smile and
a tearful glance, and made a gentle inclination of her head. He paused,
looking at Felicie and Martha.

“Speak before my sister,” said Marguerite. “She is so docile and
courageous that she does not need this discussion to make her resigned
to our life of toil and privation; but it is best that she should see
for herself how necessary courage is to us.”

The two sisters clasped hands and kissed each other, as if to renew some
pledge of union before the coming disaster.

“Leave us, Martha.”

“Dear Marguerite,” said Emmanuel, letting the happiness he felt in
conquering the lesser rights of affection sound in the inflections of
his voice, “I have procured the names and addresses of the purchasers
who still owe the remaining two hundred thousand francs on the felled
timber. To-morrow, if you give consent, a lawyer acting in the name
of Monsieur Conyncks, who will not disavow the act, will serve an
injunction upon them. Six days hence, by which time your uncle will have
returned, the family council can be called together, and Gabriel put
in possession of his legal rights, for he is now eighteen. You and your
brother being thus authorized to use those rights, you will demand your
share in the proceeds of the timber. Monsieur Claes cannot refuse you
the two hundred thousand francs on which the injunction will have been
put; as to the remaining hundred thousand which is due to you, you
must obtain a mortgage on this house. Monsieur Conyncks will demand
securities for the three hundred thousand belonging to Felicie and Jean.
Under these circumstances your father will be obliged to mortgage his
property on the plain of Orchies, which he has already encumbered to the
amount of three hundred thousand francs. The law gives a retrospective
priority to the claims of minors; and that will save you. Monsieur
Claes’s hands will be tied for the future; your property becomes
inalienable, and he can no longer borrow on his own estates because they
will be held as security for other sums. Moreover, the whole can be
done quietly, without scandal or legal proceedings. Your father will be
forced to greater prudence in making his researches, even if he cannot
be persuaded to relinquish them altogether.”

“Yes,” said Marguerite, “but where, meantime, can we find the means of
living? The hundred thousand francs for which, you say, I must obtain a
mortgage on this house, would bring in nothing while we still live
here. The proceeds of my father’s property in the country will pay the
interest on the three hundred thousand francs he owes to others; but how
are we to live?”

“In the first place,” said Emmanuel, “by investing the fifty thousand
francs which belong to Gabriel in the public Funds you will get,
according to present rates, more than four thousand francs’ income,
which will suffice to pay your brother’s board and lodging and all his
other expenses in Paris. Gabriel cannot touch the capital until he is of
age, therefore you need not fear that he will waste a penny of it, and
you will have one expense the less. Besides, you will have your own
fifty thousand.”

“My father will ask me for them,” she said in a frightened tone; “and I
shall not be able to refuse him.”

“Well, dear Marguerite, even so, you can evade that by robbing yourself.
Place your money in the Grand-Livre in Gabriel’s name: it will bring you
twelve or thirteen thousand francs a year. Minors who are emancipated
cannot sell property without permission of the family council; you will
thus gain three years’ peace of mind. By that time your father will
either have solved his problem or renounced it; and Gabriel, then of
age, will reinvest the money in your own name.”

Marguerite made him explain to her once more the legal points which she
did not at first understand. It was certainly a novel sight to see this
pair of lovers poring over the Code, which Emmanuel had brought with him
to show his mistress the laws which protected the property of
minors; she quickly caught the meaning of them, thanks to the natural
penetration of women, which in this case love still further sharpened.

Gabriel came home to his father’s house on the following day. When
Monsieur de Solis brought him up to Balthazar and told of his admission
to the Ecole Polytechnique, the father thanked the professor with a wave
of his hand, and said:--

“I am very glad; Gabriel may become a man of science.”

“Oh, my brother,” cried Marguerite, as Balthazar went back to his
laboratory, “work hard, waste no money; spend what is necessary, but
practise economy. On the days when you are allowed to go out, pass your
time with our friends and relations; contract none of the habits which
ruin young men in Paris. Your expenses will amount to nearly three
thousand francs, and that will leave you a thousand francs for your
pocket-money; that is surely enough.”

“I will answer for him,” said Emmanuel de Solis, laying his hand on his
pupil’s shoulder.

A month later, Monsieur Conyncks, in conjunction with Marguerite,
had obtained all necessary securities from Claes. The plan so wisely
proposed by Emmanuel de Solis was fully approved and executed. Face to
face with the law, and in presence of his cousin, whose stern sense
of honor allowed no compromise, Balthazar, ashamed of the sale of the
timber to which he had consented at a moment when he was harassed by
creditors, submitted to all that was demanded of him. Glad to repair the
almost involuntary wrong that he had done to his children, he signed the
deeds in a preoccupied way. He was now as careless and improvident as a
Negro who sells his wife in the morning for a drop of brandy, and cries
for her at night. He gave no thought to even the immediate future, and
never asked himself what resources he would have when his last ducat was
melted up. He pursued his work and continued his purchases, apparently
unaware that he was now no more than the titular owner of his house and
lands, and that he could not, thanks to the severity of the laws, raise
another penny upon a property of which he was now, as it were, the legal
guardian.

The year 1818 ended without bringing any new misfortune. The sisters
paid the costs of Jean’s education and met all the expenses of the
household out of the thirteen thousand francs a year from the sum placed
in the Grand-Livre in Gabriel’s name, which he punctually remitted to
them. Monsieur de Solis lost his uncle, the abbe, in December of that
year.

Early in January Marguerite learned through Martha that her father had
sold his collection of tulips, also the furniture of the front house,
and all the family silver. She was obliged to buy back the spoons and
forks that were necessary for the daily service of the table, and
these she now ordered to be stamped with her initials. Until that day
Marguerite had kept silence towards her father on the subject of his
depredations, but that evening after dinner she requested Felicie to
leave her alone with him, and when he seated himself as usual by the
corner of the parlor fireplace, she said:--

“My dear father, you are the master here, and can sell everything,
even your children. We are ready to obey you without a murmur; but I am
forced to tell you that we are without money, that we have barely enough
to live on, and that Felicie and I are obliged to work night and day to
pay for the schooling of little Jean with the price of the lace dress
we are now making. My dear father, I implore you to give up your
researches.”

“You are right, my dear child; in six weeks they will be finished;
I shall have found the Absolute, or the Absolute will be proved
undiscoverable. You will have millions--”

“Give us meanwhile the bread to eat,” replied Marguerite.

“Bread? is there no bread here?” said Claes, with a frightened air. “No
bread in the house of a Claes! What has become of our property?”

“You have cut down the forest of Waignies. The ground has not been
cleared and is therefore unproductive. As for your farms at Orchies,
the rents scarcely suffice to pay the interest of the sums you have
borrowed--”

“Then what are we living on?” he demanded.

Marguerite held up her needle and continued:--

“Gabriel’s income helps us, but it is insufficient; I can make both ends
meet at the close of the year if you do not overwhelm me with bills that
I do not expect, for purchases you tell me nothing about. When I think
I have enough to meet my quarterly expenses some unexpected bill for
potash, or zinc, or sulphur, is brought to me.”

“My dear child, have patience for six weeks; after that, I will be
judicious. My little Marguerite, you shall see wonders.”

“It is time you should think of your affairs. You have sold
everything,--pictures, tulips, plate; nothing is left. At least, refrain
from making debts.”

“I don’t wish to make any more!” he said.

“Any more?” she cried, “then you have some?”

“Mere trifles,” he said, but he dropped his eyes and colored.

For the first time in her life Marguerite felt humiliated by the
lowering of her father’s character, and suffered from it so much that
she dared not question him.

A month after this scene one of the Douai bankers brought a bill of
exchange for ten thousand francs signed by Claes. Marguerite asked the
banker to wait a day, and expressed her regret that she had not been
notified to prepare for this payment; whereupon he informed her that
the house of Protez and Chiffreville held nine other bills to the same
amount, falling due in consecutive months.

“All is over!” cried Marguerite, “the time has come.”

She sent for her father, and walked up and down the parlor with hasty
steps, talking to herself:--

“A hundred thousand francs!” she cried. “I must find them, or see my
father in prison. What am I to do?”

Balthazar did not come. Weary of waiting for him, Marguerite went up to
the laboratory. As she entered she saw him in the middle of an immense,
brilliantly-lighted room, filled with machinery and dusty glass vessels:
here and there were books, and tables encumbered with specimens and
products ticketed and numbered. On all sides the disorder of scientific
pursuits contrasted strongly with Flemish habits. This litter of retorts
and vaporizers, metals, fantastically colored crystals, specimens hooked
upon the walls or lying on the furnaces, surrounded the central figure
of Balthazar Claes, without a coat, his arms bare like those of a
workman, his breast exposed, and showing the white hair which covered
it. His eyes were gazing with horrible fixity at a pneumatic trough.
The receiver of this instrument was covered with a lens made of
double convex glasses, the space between the glasses being filled
with alchohol, which focussed the light coming through one of the
compartments of the rose-window of the garret. The shelf of the receiver
communicated with the wire of an immense galvanic battery. Lemulquinier,
busy at the moment in moving the pedestal of the machine, which was
placed on a movable axle so as to keep the lens in a perpendicular
direction to the rays of the sun, turned round, his face black with
dust, and called out,--

“Ha! mademoiselle, don’t come in.”

The aspect of her father, half-kneeling beside the instrument,
and receiving the full strength of the sunlight upon his head, the
protuberances of his skull, its scanty hairs resembling threads
of silver, his face contracted by the agonies of expectation, the
strangeness of the objects that surrounded him, the obscurity of parts
of the vast garret from which fantastic engines seemed about to spring,
all contributed to startle Marguerite, who said to herself, in terror,--

“He is mad!”

Then she went up to him and whispered in his ear, “Send away
Lemulquinier.”

“No, no, my child; I want him: I am in the midst of an experiment no one
has yet thought of. For the last three days we have been watching
for every ray of sun. I now have the means of submitting metals, in a
complete vacuum, to concentrated solar fires and to electric currents.
At this very moment the most powerful action a chemist can employ is
about to show results which I alone--”

“My father, instead of vaporizing metals you should employ them in
paying your notes of hand--”

“Wait, wait!”

“Monsieur Merkstus has been here, father; and he must have ten thousand
francs by four o’clock.”

“Yes, yes, presently. True, I did sign a little note which is payable
this month. I felt sure I should have found the Absolute. Good God! If I
could only have a July sun the experiment would be successful.”

He grasped his head and sat down on an old cane chair; a few tears
rolled from his eyes.

“Monsieur is quite right,” said Lemulquinier; “it is all the fault of
that rascally sun which is too feeble,--the coward, the lazy thing!”

Master and valet paid no further attention to Marguerite.

“Leave us, Mulquinier,” she said.

“Ah! I see a new experiment!” cried Claes.

“Father, lay aside your experiments,” said his daughter, when they were
alone. “You have one hundred thousand francs to pay, and we have not
a penny. Leave your laboratory; your honor is in question. What will
become of you if you are put in prison? Will you soil your white hairs
and the name of Claes with the disgrace of bankruptcy? I will not allow
it. I shall have strength to oppose your madness; it would be dreadful
to see you without bread in your old age. Open your eyes to our
position; see reason at last!”

“Madness!” cried Balthazar, struggling to his feet. He fixed his
luminous eyes upon his daughter, crossed his arms on his breast, and
repeated the word “Madness!” so majestically that Marguerite trembled.

“Ah!” he cried, “your mother would never have uttered that word to me.
She was not ignorant of the importance of my researches; she learned
a science to understand me; she recognized that I toiled for the human
race; she knew there was nothing sordid or selfish in my aims. The
feelings of a loving wife are higher, I see it now, than filial
affection. Yes, Love is above all other feelings. See reason!” he went
on, striking his breast. “Do I lack reason? Am I not myself? You say
we are poor; well, my daughter, I choose it to be so. I am your father,
obey me. I will make you rich when I please. Your fortune? it is a
pittance! When I find the solvent of carbon I will fill your parlor
with diamonds, and they are but a scintilla of what I seek. You can well
afford to wait while I consume my life in superhuman efforts.”

“Father, I have no right to ask an account of the four millions you have
already engulfed in this fatal garret. I will not speak to you of
my mother whom you killed. If I had a husband, I should love him,
doubtless, as she loved you; I should be ready to sacrifice all to him,
as she sacrificed all for you. I have obeyed her orders in giving myself
wholly to you; I have proved it in not marrying and compelling you to
render an account of your guardianship. Let us dismiss the past and
think of the present. I am here now to represent the necessity which you
have created for yourself. You must have money to meet your notes--do
you understand me? There is nothing left to seize here but the portrait
of your ancestor, the Claes martyr. I come in the name of my mother, who
felt herself too feeble to defend her children against their father;
she ordered me to resist you. I come in the name of my brothers and my
sister; I come, father, in the name of all the Claes, and I command
you to give up your experiments, or earn the means of pursuing them
hereafter, if pursue them you must. If you arm yourself with the power
of your paternity, which you employ only for our destruction, I have on
my side your ancestors and your honor, whose voice is louder than that
of chemistry. The Family is greater than Science. I have been too long
your daughter.”

“And you choose to be my executioner,” he said, in a feeble voice.

Marguerite turned and fled away, that she might not abdicate the part
she had just assumed: she fancied she heard again her mother’s voice
saying to her, “Do not oppose your father too much; love him well.”



CHAPTER XII

“Mademoiselle has made a pretty piece of work up yonder,” said
Lemulquinier, coming down to the kitchen for his breakfast. “We were
just going to put our hands on the great secret, we only wanted a scrap
of July sun, for monsieur,--ah, what a man! he’s almost in the shoes
of the good God himself!--was almost within THAT,” he said to Josette,
clicking his thumbnail against a front tooth, “of getting hold of the
Absolute, when up she came, slam bang, screaming some nonsense about
notes of hand.”

“Well, pay them yourself,” said Martha, “out of your wages.”

“Where’s the butter for my bread?” said Lemulquinier to the cook.

“Where’s the money to buy it?” she answered, sharply. “Come, old
villain, if you make gold in that devil’s kitchen of yours, why don’t
you make butter? ‘Twouldn’t be half so difficult, and you could sell it
in the market for enough to make the pot boil. We all eat dry bread. The
young ladies are satisfied with dry bread and nuts, and do you expect to
be better fed than your masters? Mademoiselle won’t spend more than one
hundred francs a month for the whole household. There’s only one dinner
for all. If you want dainties you’ve got your furnaces upstairs where
you fricassee pearls till there’s nothing else talked of in town. Get
your roast chickens up there.”

Lemulquinier took his dry bread and went out.

“He will go and buy something to eat with his own money,” said Martha;
“all the better,--it is just so much saved. Isn’t he stingy, the old
scarecrow!”

“Starve him! that’s the only way to manage him,” said Josette. “For a
week past he hasn’t rubbed a single floor; I have to do his work, for
he is always upstairs. He can very well afford to pay me for it with the
present of a few herrings; if he brings any home, I shall lay hands on
them, I can tell him that.”

“Ah!” exclaimed Martha, “I hear Mademoiselle Marguerite crying. Her
wizard of a father would swallow the house at a gulp without asking
a Christian blessing, the old sorcerer! In my country he’d be burned
alive; but people here have no more religion than the Moors in Africa.”

Marguerite could scarcely stifle her sobs as she came through the
gallery. She reached her room, took out her mother’s letter, and read as
follows:--

  My Child,--If God so wills, my spirit will be within your heart
  when you read these words, the last I shall ever write; they are
  full of love for my dear ones, left at the mercy of a demon whom I
  have not been able to resist. When you read these words he will
  have taken your last crust, just as he took my life and squandered
  my love. You know, my darling, if I loved your father: I die
  loving him less, for I take precautions against him which I never
  could have practised while living. Yes, in the depths of my coffin
  I shall have kept a resource for the day when some terrible
  misfortune overtakes you. If when that day comes you are reduced
  to poverty, or if your honor is in question, my child, send for
  Monsieur de Solis, should he be living,--if not, for his nephew,
  our good Emmanuel; they hold one hundred and seventy thousand
  francs which are yours and will enable you to live.

  If nothing shall have subdued his passion; if his children prove
  no stronger barrier than my happiness has been, and cannot stop
  his criminal career,--leave him, leave your father, that you may
  live. I could not forsake him; I was bound to him. You,
  Marguerite, you must save the family. I absolve you for all you
  may do to defend Gabriel and Jean and Felicie. Take courage; be
  the guardian angel of the Claes. Be firm,--I dare not say be
  pitiless; but to repair the evil already done you must keep some
  means at hand. On the day when you read this letter, regard
  yourself as ruined already, for nothing will stay the fury of that
  passion which has torn all things from me.

  My child, remember this: the truest love is to forget your heart.
  Even though you be forced to deceive your father, your
  dissimulation will be blessed; your actions, however blamable they
  may seem, will be heroic if taken to protect the family. The
  virtuous Monsieur de Solis tells me so; and no conscience was ever
  purer or more enlightened than his. I could never have had the
  courage to speak these words to you, even with my dying breath.

  And yet, my daughter, be respectful, be kind in the dreadful
  struggle. Resist him, but love him; deny him gently. My hidden
  tears, my inward griefs will be known only when I am dead. Kiss my
  dear children in my name when the hour comes and you are called
  upon to protect them.

  May God and the saints be with you!

Josephine.


To this letter was added an acknowledgment from the Messieurs de Solis,
uncle and nephew, who thereby bound themselves to place the money
entrusted to them by Madame Claes in the hands of whoever of her
children should present the paper.

“Martha,” cried Marguerite to the duenna, who came quickly; “go to
Monsieur Emmanuel de Solis, and ask him to come to me.--Noble, discreet
heart! he never told me,” she thought; “though all my griefs and cares
are his, he never told me!”

Emmanuel came before Martha could get back.

“You have kept a secret from me,” she said, showing him her mother’s
letter.

Emmanuel bent his head.

“Marguerite, are you in great trouble?” he asked.

“Yes,” she answered; “be my support,--you, whom my mother calls ‘our
good Emmanuel.’” She showed him the letter, unable to repress her joy in
knowing that her mother approved her choice.

“My blood and my life were yours on the morrow of the day when I first
saw you in the gallery,” he said; “but I scarcely dared to hope the time
might come when you would accept them. If you know me well, you know
my word is sacred. Forgive the absolute obedience I have paid to your
mother’s wishes; it was not for me to judge her intentions.”

“You have saved us,” she said, interrupting him, and taking his arm to
go down to the parlor.

After hearing from Emmanuel the origin of the money entrusted to him,
Marguerite confided to him the terrible straits in which the family now
found themselves.

“I must pay those notes at once,” said Emmanuel. “If Merkstus holds them
all, you can at least save the interest. I will bring you the remaining
seventy thousand francs. My poor uncle left me quite a large sum in
ducats, which are easy to carry secretly.”

“Oh!” she said, “bring them at night; we can hide them when my father is
asleep. If he knew that I had money, he might try to force it from me.
Oh, Emmanuel, think what it is to distrust a father!” she said, weeping
and resting her forehead against the young man’s heart.

This sad, confiding movement, with which the young girl asked
protection, was the first expression of a love hitherto wrapped in
melancholy and restrained within a sphere of grief: the heart, too full,
was forced to overflow beneath the pressure of this new misery.

“What can we do; what will become of us? He sees nothing, he cares for
nothing,--neither for us nor for himself. I know not how he can live in
that garret, where the air is stifling.”

“What can you expect of a man who calls incessantly, like Richard III.,
‘My kingdom for a horse’?” said Emmanuel. “He is pitiless; and in that
you must imitate him. Pay his notes; give him, if you will, your whole
fortune; but that of your sister and of your brothers is neither yours
nor his.”

“Give him my fortune?” she said, pressing her lover’s hand and looking
at him with ardor in her eyes; “you advise it, you!--and Pierquin told a
hundred lies to make me keep it!”

“Alas! I may be selfish in my own way,” he said. “Sometimes I long for
you without fortune; you seem nearer to me then! At other times I want
you rich and happy, and I feel how paltry it is to think that the poor
grandeurs of wealth can separate us.”

“Dear, let us not speak of ourselves.”

“Ourselves!” he repeated, with rapture. Then, after a pause, he added:
“The evil is great, but it is not irreparable.”

“It can be repaired only by us: the Claes family has now no head.
To reach the stage of being neither father nor man, to have no
consciousness of justice or injustice (for, in defiance of the laws, he
has dissipated--he, so great, so noble, so upright--the property of
the children he was bound to defend), oh, to what depths must he have
fallen! My God! what is this thing he seeks?”

“Unfortunately, dear Marguerite, wrong as he is in his relation to his
family, he is right scientifically. A score of men in Europe admire him
for the very thing which others count as madness. But nevertheless
you must, without scruple, refuse to let him take the property of his
children. Great discoveries have always been accidental. If your father
ever finds the solution of the problem, it will be when it costs him
nothing; in a moment, perhaps, when he despairs of it.”

“My poor mother is happy,” said Marguerite; “she would have suffered
a thousand deaths before she died: as it was, her first encounter with
Science killed her. Alas! the strife is endless.”

“There is an end,” said Emmanuel. “When you have nothing left, Monsieur
Claes can get no further credit; then he will stop.”

“Let him stop now, then,” cried Marguerite, “for we are without a
penny!”

Monsieur de Solis went to buy up Claes’s notes and returned, bringing
them to Marguerite. Balthazar, contrary to his custom, came down a few
moments before dinner. For the first time in two years his daughter
noticed the signs of a human grief upon his face: he was again a father,
reason and judgment had overcome Science; he looked into the court-yard,
then into the garden, and when he was certain he was alone with his
daughter, he came up to her with a look of melancholy kindness.

“My child,” he said, taking her hand and pressing it with persuasive
tenderness, “forgive your old father. Yes, Marguerite, I have done
wrong. You spoke truly. So long as I have not FOUND I am a miserable
wretch. I will go away from here. I cannot see Van Claes sold,” he went
on, pointing to the martyr’s portrait. “He died for Liberty, I die for
Science; he is venerated, I am hated.”

“Hated? oh, my father, no,” she cried, throwing herself on his breast;
“we all adore you. Do we not, Felicie?” she said, turning to her sister
who came in at the moment.

“What is the matter, dear father?” said his youngest daughter, taking
his hand.

“I have ruined you.”

“Ah!” cried Felicie, “but our brothers will make our fortune. Jean is
always at the head of his class.”

“See, father,” said Marguerite, leading Balthazar in a coaxing, filial
way to the chimney-piece and taking some papers from beneath the clock,
“here are your notes of hand; but do not sign any more, there is nothing
left to pay them with--”

“Then you have money?” whispered Balthazar in her ear, when he recovered
from his surprise.

His words and manner tortured the heroic girl; she saw the delirium of
joy and hope in her father’s face as he looked about him to discover the
gold.

“Father,” she said, “I have my own fortune.”

“Give it to me,” he said with a rapacious gesture; “I will return you a
hundred-fold.”

“Yes, I will give it to you,” answered Marguerite, looking gravely at
Balthazar, who did not know the meaning she put into her words.

“Ah, my dear daughter!” he cried, “you save my life. I have thought of a
last experiment, after which nothing more is possible. If, this time, I
do not find the Absolute, I must renounce the search. Come to my arms,
my darling child; I will make you the happiest woman upon earth. You
give me glory; you bring me back to happiness; you bestow the power to
heap treasures upon my children--yes! I will load you with jewels, with
wealth.”

He kissed his daughter’s forehead, took her hands and pressed them, and
testified his joy by fondling caresses which to Marguerite seemed almost
obsequious. During the dinner he thought only of her; he looked at
her eagerly with the assiduous devotion displayed by a lover to his
mistress: if she made a movement, he tried to divine her wish, and
rose to fulfil it; he made her ashamed by the youthful eagerness of his
attentions, which were painfully out of keeping with his premature old
age. To all these cajoleries, Marguerite herself presented the contrast
of actual distress, shown sometimes by a word of doubt, sometimes by a
glance along the empty shelves of the sideboards in the dining-room.

“Well, well,” he said, following her eyes, “in six months we shall fill
them again with gold, and marvellous things. You shall be like a queen.
Bah! nature herself will belong to us, we shall rise above all created
beings--through you, you my Marguerite! Margarita,” he said, smiling,
“thy name is a prophecy. ‘Margarita’ means a pearl. Sterne says so
somewhere. Did you ever read Sterne? Would you like to have a Sterne? it
would amuse you.”

“A pearl, they say, is the result of a disease,” she answered; “we have
suffered enough already.”

“Do not be sad; you will make the happiness of those you love; you shall
be rich and all-powerful.”

“Mademoiselle has got such a good heart,” said Lemulquinier, whose
seamed face stretched itself painfully into a smile.

For the rest of the evening Balthazar displayed to his daughters all
the natural graces of his character and the charms of his conversation.
Seductive as the serpent, his lips, his eyes, poured out a magnetic
fluid; he put forth that power of genius, that gentleness of spirit,
which once fascinated Josephine and now drew, as it were, his daughters
into his heart. When Emmanuel de Solis came he found, for the first
time in many months, the father and the children reunited. The young
professor, in spite of his reserve, came under the influence of the
scene; for Claes’s manners and conversation had recovered their former
irresistible seduction!

Men of science, plunged though they be in abysses of thought and
ceaselessly employed in studying the moral world, take notice,
nevertheless, of the smallest details of the sphere in which they live.
More out of date with their surroundings than really absent-minded, they
are never in harmony with the life about them; they know and forget
all; they prejudge the future in their own minds, prophesy to their own
souls, know of an event before it happens, and yet they say nothing of
all this. If, in the hush of meditation, they sometimes use their
power to observe and recognize that which goes on around them, they are
satisfied with having divined its meaning; their occupations hurry them
on, and they frequently make false application of the knowledge they
have acquired about the things of life. Sometimes they wake from their
social apathy, or they drop from the world of thought to the world of
life; at such times they come with well-stored memories, and are by no
means strangers to what is happening.

Balthazar, who joined the perspicacity of the heart to that of the
brain, knew his daughter’s whole past; he knew, or he had guessed, the
history of the hidden love that united her with Emmanuel: he now showed
this delicately, and sanctioned their affection by taking part in it.
It was the sweetest flattery a father could bestow, and the lovers were
unable to resist it. The evening passed delightfully,--contrasting
with the griefs which threatened the lives of these poor children. When
Balthazar retired, after, as we may say, filling his family with light
and bathing them with tenderness, Emmanuel de Solis, who had shown some
embarrassment of manner, took from his pockets three thousand ducats in
gold, the possession of which he had feared to betray. He placed them
on the work-table, where Marguerite covered them with some linen she
was mending; and then he went to his own house to fetch the rest of the
money. When he returned, Felicie had gone to bed. Eleven o’clock struck;
Martha, who sat up to undress her mistress, was still with Felicie.

“Where can we hide it?” said Marguerite, unable to resist the pleasure
of playing with the gold ducats,--a childish amusement which proved
disastrous.

“I will lift this marble pedestal, which is hollow,” said Emmanuel;
“you can slip in the packages, and the devil himself will not think of
looking for them there.”

Just as Marguerite was making her last trip but one from the work-table
to the pedestal, carrying the gold, she suddenly gave a piercing cry,
and let fall the packages, the covers of which broke as they fell, and
the coins were scattered about the room. Her father stood at the parlor
door; the avidity of his eyes terrified her.

“What are you doing,” he said, looking first at his daughter, whose
terror nailed her to the floor, and then at the young man, who had
hastily sprung up,--though his attitude beside the pedestal was
sufficiently significant. The rattle of the gold upon the ground was
horrible, the scattering of it prophetic.

“I could not be mistaken,” said Balthazar, sitting down; “I heard the
sound of gold.”

He was not less agitated than the young people, whose hearts were
beating so in unison that their throbs might be heard, like the ticking
of a clock, amid the profound silence which suddenly settled on the
parlor.

“Thank you, Monsieur de Solis,” said Marguerite, giving Emmanuel a
glance which meant, “Come to my rescue and help me to save this money.”

“What gold is this?” resumed Balthazar, casting at Marguerite and
Emmanuel a glance of terrible clear-sightedness.

“This gold belongs to Monsieur de Solis, who is kind enough to lend it
to me that I may pay our debts honorably,” she answered.

Emmanuel colored and turned as though to leave the room: Balthazar
caught him by the arm.

“Monsieur,” he said, “you must not escape my thanks.”

“Monsieur, you owe me none. This money belongs to Mademoiselle
Marguerite, who borrows it from me on the security of her own property,”
 Emmanuel replied, looking at his mistress, who thanked him with an
almost imperceptible movement of her eyelids.

“I shall not allow that,” said Claes, taking a pen and a sheet of
paper from the table where Felicie did her writing, and turning to the
astonished young people. “How much is it?” His eager passion made him
more astute than the wiliest of rascally bailiffs: the sum was to be
his. Marguerite and Monsieur de Solis hesitated.

“Let us count it,” he said.

“There are six thousand ducats,” said Emmanuel.

“Seventy thousand francs,” remarked Claes.

The glance which Marguerite threw at her lover gave him courage.

“Monsieur,” he said, “your note bears no value; pardon this purely
technical term. I have to-day lent Mademoiselle Claes one hundred
thousand francs to redeem your notes of hand which you had no means
of paying: you are therefore unable to give me any security. These one
hundred and seventy thousand francs belong to Mademoiselle Claes, who
can dispose of them as she sees fit; but I have lent them on a pledge
that she will sign a deed securing them to me on her share of the now
denuded land of the forest of Waignies.”

Marguerite turned away her head that her lover might not see the tears
that gathered in her eyes. She knew Emmanuel’s purity of soul. Brought
up by his uncle to the practice of the sternest religious virtues, the
young man had an especial horror of falsehood: after giving his heart
and life to Marguerite Claes he now made her the sacrifice of his
conscience.

“Adieu, monsieur,” said Balthazar, “I thought you had more confidence in
a man who looked upon you with the eyes of a father.”

After exchanging a despairing look with Marguerite, Emmanuel was shown
out by Martha, who closed and fastened the street-door.

The moment the father and daughter were alone Claes said,--

“You love me, do you not?”

“Come to the point, father. You want this money: you cannot have it.”

She began to pick up the coins; her father silently helped her to gather
them together and count the sum she had dropped; Marguerite allowed
him to do so without manifesting the least distrust. When two thousand
ducats were piled on the table, Balthazar said, with a desperate air,--

“Marguerite, I must have that money.”

“If you take it, it will be robbery,” she replied coldly. “Hear me,
father: better kill us at one blow than make us suffer a hundred deaths
a day. Let it now be seen which of us must yield.”

“Do you mean to kill your father?”

“We avenge our mother,” she said, pointing to the spot where Madame
Claes died.

“My daughter, if you knew the truth of the matter, you would not use
those words to me. Listen, and I will endeavor to exlain the great
problem--but no, you cannot comprehend me,” he cried in accents of
despair. “Come, give me the money; believe for once in your father. Yes,
I know I caused your mother pain: I have dissipated--to use the word
of fools--my own fortune and injured yours; I know my children are
sacrificed for a thing you call madness; but my angel, my darling,
my love, my Marguerite, hear me! If I do not now succeed, I will give
myself up to you; I will obey you as you are bound to obey me; I will do
your will; you shall take charge of all my property; I will no longer be
the guardian of my children; I pledge myself to lay down my authority. I
swear by your mother’s memory!” he cried, shedding tears.

Marguerite turned away her head, unable to bear the sight. Claes,
thinking she meant to yield, flung himself on his knees beside her.

“Marguerite, Marguerite! give it to me--give it!” he cried. “What are
sixty thousand francs against eternal remorse? See, I shall die, this
will kill me. Listen, my word is sacred. If I fail now I will abandon my
labors; I will leave Flanders,--France even, if you demand it; I will go
away and toil like a day-laborer to recover, sou by sou, the fortunes
I have lost, and restore to my children all that Science has taken from
them.”

Marguerite tried to raise her father, but he persisted in remaining on
his knees, and continued, still weeping:--

“Be tender and obedient for this last time! If I do not succeed, I will
myself declare your hardness just. You shall call me a fool; you shall
say I am a bad father; you may even tell me that I am ignorant and
incapable. And when I hear you say those words I will kiss your hands.
You may beat me, if you will, and when you strike I will bless you as
the best of daughters, remembering that you have given me your blood.”

“If it were my blood, my life’s blood, I would give it to you,” she
cried; “but can I let Science cut the throats of my brothers and sister?
No. Cease, cease!” she said, wiping her tears and pushing aside her
father’s caressing hands.

“Sixty thousand francs and two months,” he said, rising in anger; “that
is all I want: but my daughter stands between me and fame and wealth.
I curse you!” he went on; “you are no daughter of mine, you are not a
woman, you have no heart, you will never be a mother or a wife!--Give it
to me, let me take it, my little one, my precious child, I will love you
forever,”--and he stretched his hand with a movement of hideous energy
towards the gold.

“I am helpless against physical force; but God and the great Claes see
us now,” she said, pointing to the picture.

“Try to live, if you can, with your father’s blood upon you,” cried
Balthazar, looking at her with abhorrence. He rose, glanced round the
room, and slowly left it. When he reached the door he turned as a beggar
might have done and implored his daughter with a gesture, to which she
replied by a negative motion of her head.

“Farewell, my daughter,” he said, gently, “may you live happy!”

When he had disappeared, Marguerite remained in a trance which separated
her from earth; she was no longer in the parlor; she lost consciousness
of physical existence; she had wings, and soared amid the immensities
of the moral world, where Thought contracts the limits both of Time and
Space, where a divine hand lifts the veil of the Future. It seemed to
her that days elapsed between each footfall of her father as he went up
the stairs; then a shudder of dread went over her as she heard him enter
his chamber. Guided by a presentiment which flashed into her soul with
the piercing keenness of lightning, she ran up the stairway, without
light, without noise, with the velocity of an arrow, and saw her father
with a pistol at his head.

“Take all!” she cried, springing towards him.

She fell into a chair. Balthazar, seeing her pallor, began to weep as
old men weep; he became like a child, he kissed her brow, he spoke in
disconnected words, he almost danced with joy, and tried to play with
her as a lover with a mistress who has made him happy.

“Enough, father, enough,” she said; “remember your promise. If you do
not succeed now, you pledge yourself to obey me?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, mother!” she cried, turning towards Madame Claes’s chamber, “YOU
would have given him all--would you not?”

“Sleep in peace,” said Balthazar, “you are a good daughter.”

“Sleep!” she said, “the nights of my youth are gone; you have made me
old, father, just as you slowly withered my mother’s heart.”

“Poor child, would I could re-assure you by explaining the effects of
the glorious experiment I have now imagined! you would then comprehend
the truth.”

“I comprehend our ruin,” she said, leaving him.

The next morning, being a holiday, Emmanuel de Solis brought Jean to
spend the day.

“Well?” he said, approaching Marguerite anxiously.

“I yielded,” she replied.

“My dear life,” he said, with a gesture of melancholy joy, “if you had
withstood him I should greatly have admired you; but weak and feeble, I
adore you!”

“Poor, poor Emmanuel; what is left for us?”

“Leave the future to me,” cried the young man, with a radiant look; “we
love each other, and all is well.”



CHAPTER XIII

Several months went by in perfect tranquillity. Monsieur de Solis made
Marguerite see that her petty economies would never produce a fortune,
and he advised her to live more at ease, by taking all that remained
of the sum which Madame Claes had entrusted to him for the comfort and
well-being of the household.

During these months Marguerite fell a prey to the anxieties which beset
her mother under like circumstances. However incredulous she might
be, she had come to hope in her father’s genius. By an inexplicable
phenomenon, many people have hope when they have no faith. Hope is the
flower of Desire, faith is the fruit of Certainty. Marguerite said
to herself, “If my father succeeds, we shall be happy.” Claes and
Lemulquinier alone said: “We shall succeed.” Unhappily, from day to day
the Searcher’s face grew sadder. Sometimes, when he came to dinner he
dared not look at his daughter; at other times he glanced at her in
triumph. Marguerite employed her evenings in making young de Solis
explain to her many legal points and difficulties. At last her masculine
education was completed; she was evidently preparing herself to execute
the plan she had resolved upon if her father were again vanquished in
his duel with the Unknown (X).

About the beginning of July, Balthazar spend a whole day sitting on a
bench in the garden, plunged in gloomy meditation. He gazed at the mound
now bare of tulips, at the windows of his wife’s chamber; he shuddered,
no doubt, as he thought of all that his search had cost him: his
movements betrayed that his thoughts were busy outside of Science.
Marguerite brought her sewing and sat beside him for a while before
dinner.

“You have not succeeded, father?”

“No, my child.”

“Ah!” said Marguerite, in a gentle voice. “I will not say one word of
reproach; we are both equally guilty. I only claim the fulfilment of
your promise; it is surely sacred to you--you are a Claes. Your children
will surround you with love and filial respect; but you now belong to
me; you owe me obedience. Do not be uneasy; my reign will be gentle,
and I will endeavor to bring it quickly to an end. Father, I am going
to leave you for a month; I shall be busy with your affairs; for,” she
said, kissing him on his brow, “you are now my child. I take Martha with
me; to-morrow Felicie will manage the household. The poor child is
only seventeen, and she will not know how to resist you; therefore be
generous, do not ask her for money; she has only enough for the barest
necessaries of the household. Take courage: renounce your labors and
your thoughts for three or four years. The great problem may ripen
towards discovery; by that time I shall have gathered the money that
is necessary to solve it,--and you will solve it. Tell me, father, your
queen is clement, is she not?”

“Then all is not lost?” said the old man.

“No, not if you keep your word.”

“I will obey you, my daughter,” answered Claes, with deep emotion.

The next day, Monsieur Conyncks of Cambrai came to fetch his
great-niece. He was in a travelling-carriage, and would only remain
long enough for Marguerite and Martha to make their last arrangements.
Monsieur Claes received his cousin with courtesy, but he was obviously
sad and humiliated. Old Conyncks guessed his thoughts, and said with
blunt frankness while they were breakfasting:--

“I have some of your pictures, cousin; I have a taste for pictures,--a
ruinous passion, but we all have our manias.”

“Dear uncle!” exclaimed Marguerite.

“The world declares that you are ruined, cousin; but the treasure of
a Claes is there,” said Conyncks, tapping his forehead, “and here,”
 striking his heart; “don’t you think so? I count upon you: and for that
reason, having a few spare ducats in my wallet, I put them to use in
your service.”

“Ah!” cried Balthazar, “I will repay you with treasures--”

“The only treasures we possess in Flanders are patience and labor,”
 replied Conyncks, sternly. “Our ancestor has those words engraved upon
his brow,” he said, pointing to the portrait of Van Claes.

Marguerite kissed her father and bade him good-bye, gave her last
directions to Josette and to Felicie, and started with Monsieur Conyncks
for Paris. The great-uncle was a widower with one child, a daughter
twelve years old, and he was possessed of an immense fortune. It was not
impossible that he would take a wife; consequently, the good people of
Douai believed that Mademoiselle Claes would marry her great-uncle. The
rumor of this marriage reached Pierquin, and brought him back in hot
haste to the House of Claes.

Great changes had taken place in the ideas of that clever speculator.
For the last two years society in Douai had been divided into hostile
camps. The nobility formed one circle, the bourgeoisie another; the
latter naturally inimical to the former. This sudden separation took
place, as a matter of fact, all over France, and divided the country
into two warring nations, whose jealous squabbles, always augmenting,
were among the chief reasons why the revolution of July, 1830,
was accepted in the provinces. Between these social camps, the
one ultra-monarchical, the other ultra-liberal, were a number of
functionaries of various kinds, admitted, according to their importance,
to one or the other of these circles, and who, at the moment of the fall
of the legitimate power, were neutral. At the beginning of the struggle
between the nobility and the bourgeoisie, the royalist “cafes” displayed
an unheard-of splendor, and eclipsed the liberal “cafes” so brilliantly
that these gastronomic fetes were said to have cost the lives of some
of their frequenters who, like ill-cast cannon, were unable to withstand
such practice. The two societies naturally became exclusive.

Pierquin, though rich for a provincial lawyer, was excluded from
aristocratic circles and driven back upon the bourgeoisie. His self-love
must have suffered from the successive rebuffs which he received when
he felt himself insensibly set aside by people with whom he had rubbed
shoulders up to the time of this social change. He had now reached his
fortieth year, the last epoch at which a man who intends to marry can
think of a young wife. The matches to which he was able to aspire were
all among the bourgeoisie, but ambition prompted him to enter the upper
circle by means of some creditable alliance.

The isolation in which the Claes family were now living had hitherto
kept them aloof from these social changes. Though Claes belonged to the
old aristocracy of the province, his preoccupation of mind prevented him
from sharing the class antipathies thus created. However poor a daughter
of the Claes might be, she would bring to a husband the dower of social
vanity so eagerly desired by all parvenus. Pierquin therefore returned
to his allegiance, with the secret intention of making the necessary
sacrifices to conclude a marriage which should realize all his
ambitions. He kept company with Balthazar and Felicie during
Marguerite’s absence; but in so doing he discovered, rather late in the
day, a formidable competitor in Emmanuel de Solis. The property of the
deceased abbe was thought to be considerable, and to the eyes of a man
who calculated all the affairs of life in figures, the young heir seemed
more powerful through his money than through the seductions of the
heart--as to which Pierquin never made himself uneasy. In his mind the
abbe’s fortune restored the de Solis name to all its pristine value.
Gold and nobility of birth were two orbs which reflected lustre on one
another and doubled the illumination.

The sincere affection which the young professor testified for Felicie,
whom he treated as a sister, excited Pierquin’s spirit of emulation. He
tried to eclipse Emmanuel by mingling a fashionable jargon and sundry
expressions of superficial gallantry with anxious elegies and business
airs which sat more naturally on his countenance. When he declared
himself disenchanted with the world he looked at Felicie, as if to let
her know that she alone could reconcile him with life. Felicie, who
received for the first time in her life the compliments of a man,
listened to this language, always sweet however deceptive; she took
emptiness for depth, and needing an object on which to fix the vague
emotions of her heart, she allowed the lawyer to occupy her mind.
Envious perhaps, though quite unconsciously, of the loving attentions
with which Emmanuel surrounded her sister, she doubtless wished to be,
like Marguerite, the object of the thoughts and cares of a man.

Pierquin readily perceived the preference which Felicie accorded him
over Emmanuel, and to him it was a reason why he should persist in
his attentions; so that in the end he went further than he at first
intended. Emmanuel watched the beginning of this passion, false perhaps
in the lawyer, artless in Felicie, whose future was at stake. Soon,
little colloquies followed, a few words said in a low voice behind
Emmanuel’s back, trifling deceptions which give to a look or a word a
meaning whose insidious sweetness may be the cause of innocent mistakes.
Relying on his intimacy with Felicie, Pierquin tried to discover the
secret of Marguerite’s journey, and to know if it were really a
question of her marriage, and whether he must renounce all hope; but,
notwithstanding his clumsy cleverness in questioning them, neither
Balthazar nor Felicie could give him any light, for the good reason
that they were in the dark themselves: Marguerite in taking the reins
of power seemed to have followed its maxims and kept silence as to her
projects.

The gloomy sadness of Balthazar and his great depression made it
difficult to get through the evenings. Though Emmanuel succeeded in
making him play backgammon, the chemist’s mind was never present; during
most of the time this man, so great in intellect, seemed simply stupid.
Shorn of his expectations, ashamed of having squandered three fortunes,
a gambler without money, he bent beneath the weight of ruin, beneath the
burden of hopes that were betrayed rather than annihilated. This man of
genius, gagged by dire necessity and upbraiding himself, was a tragic
spectacle, fit to touch the hearts of the most unfeeling of men. Even
Pierquin could not enter without respect the presence of that caged
lion, whose eyes, full of baffled power, now calmed by sadness and faded
from excess of light, seemed to proffer a prayer for charity which the
mouth dared not utter. Sometimes a lightning flash crossed that withered
face, whose fires revived at the conception of a new experiment; then,
as he looked about the parlor, Balthazar’s eyes would fasten on the spot
where his wife had died, a film of tears rolled like hot grains of sand
across the arid pupils of his eyes, which thought had made immense,
and his head fell forward on his breast. Like a Titan he had lifted the
world, and the world fell on his breast and crushed him.

This gigantic grief, so manfully controlled, affected Pierquin and
Emmanuel powerfully, and each felt moved at times to offer this man the
necessary money to renew his search,--so contagious are the convictions
of genius! Both understood how it was that Madame Claes and Marguerite
had flung their all into this gulf; but reason promptly checked the
impulse of their hearts, and their emotion was spent in efforts at
consolation which still further embittered the anguish of the doomed
Titan.

Claes never spoke of his eldest daughter, and showed no interest in her
departure nor any anxiety as to her silence in not writing either to him
or to Felicie. When de Solis or Pierquin asked for news of her he seemed
annoyed. Did he suspect that Marguerite was working against him? Was he
humiliated at having resigned the majestic rights of paternity to his
own child? Had he come to love her less because she was now the father,
he the child? Perhaps there were many of these reasons, many of these
inexpressible feelings which float like vapors through the soul, in the
mute disgrace which he laid upon Marguerite. However great may be the
great men of earth, be they known or unknown, fortunate or unfortunate
in their endeavors, all have likenesses which belong to human nature.
By a double misfortune they suffer through their greatness not less than
through their defects; and perhaps Balthazar needed to grow accustomed
to the pangs of wounded vanity. The life he was leading, the evenings
when these four persons met together in Marguerite’s absence, were full
of sadness and vague, uneasy apprehensions. The days were barren like
a parched-up soil; where, nevertheless, a few flowers grew, a few
rare consolations, though without Marguerite, the soul, the hope, the
strength of the family, the atmosphere seemed misty.

Two months went by in this way, during which Balthazar awaited the
return of his daughter. Marguerite was brought back to Douai by her
uncle who remained at the house instead of returning to Cambrai, no
doubt to lend the weight of his authority to some coup d’etat planned
by his niece. Marguerite’s return was made a family fete. Pierquin and
Monsieur de Solis were invited to dinner by Felicie and Balthazar. When
the travelling-carriage stopped before the house, the four went to meet
it with demonstrations of joy. Marguerite seemed happy to see her home
once more, and her eyes filled with tears as she crossed the court-yard
to reach the parlor. When embracing her father she colored like a guilty
wife who is unable to dissimulate; but her face recovered its serenity
as she looked at Emmanuel, from whom she seemed to gather strength to
complete a work she had secretly undertaken.

Notwithstanding the gaiety which animated all present during the dinner,
father and daughter watched each other with distrust and curiosity.
Balthazar asked his daughter no questions as to her stay in Paris,
doubtless to preserve his parental dignity. Emmanuel de Solis imitated
his reserve; but Pierquin, accustomed to be told all family secrets,
said to Marguerite, concealing his curiosity under a show of
liveliness:--

“Well, my dear cousin, you have seen Paris and the theatres--”

“I have seen little of Paris,” she said; “I did not go there for
amusement. The days went by sadly, I was so impatient to see Douai once
more.”

“Yes, if I had not been angry about it she would not have gone to the
Opera; and even there she was uneasy,” said Monsieur Conyncks.

It was a painful evening; every one was embarrassed and smiled vaguely
with the artificial gaiety which hides such real anxieties. Marguerite
and Balthazar were a prey to cruel, latent fears which reacted on the
rest. As the hours passed, the bearing of the father and daughter grew
more and more constrained. Sometimes Marguerite tried to smile, but
her motions, her looks, the tones of her voice betrayed a keen anxiety.
Messieurs Conyncks and de Solis seemed to know the meaning of the secret
feelings which agitated the noble girl, and they appeared to encourage
her by expressive glances. Balthazar, hurt at being kept from a
knowledge of the steps that had been taken on his behalf, withdrew
little by little from his children and friends, and pointedly kept
silence. Marguerite would no doubt soon disclose what she had decided
upon for his future.

To a great man, to a father, the situation was intolerable. At his age
a man no longer dissimulates in his own family; he became more and more
thoughtful, serious, and grieved as the hour approached when he would be
forced to meet his civil death. This evening covered one of those crises
in the inner life of man which can only be expressed by imagery. The
thunderclouds were gathering in the sky, people were laughing in the
fields; all felt the heat and knew the storm was coming, but they held
up their heads and continued on their way. Monsieur Conyncks was the
first to leave the room, conducted by Balthazar to his chamber.
During the latter’s absence Pierquin and Monsieur de Solis went away.
Marguerite bade the notary good-night with much affection; she said
nothing to Emmanuel, but she pressed his hand and gave him a tearful
glance. She sent Felicie away, and when Claes returned to the parlor he
found his daughter alone.

“My kind father,” she said in a trembling voice, “nothing could have
made me leave home but the serious position in which we found
ourselves; but now, after much anxiety, after surmounting the greatest
difficulties, I return with some chances of deliverance for all of us.
Thanks to your name, and to my uncle’s influence, and to the support
of Monsieur de Solis, we have obtained for you an appointment under
government as receiver of customs in Bretagne; the place is worth, they
say, eighteen to twenty thousand francs a year. Our uncle has given
bonds as your security. Here is the nomination,” she added, drawing
a paper from her bag. “Your life in Douai, in this house, during the
coming years of privation and sacrifice would be intolerable to you. Our
father must be placed in a situation at least equal to that in which he
has always lived. I ask nothing from the salary you will receive from
this appointment; employ it as you see fit. I will only beg you to
remember that we have not a penny of income, and that we must live on
what Gabriel can give us out of his. The town shall know nothing of
our inner life. If you were still to live in this house you would be
an obstacle to the means my sister and I are about to employ to restore
comfort and ease to the home. Have I abused the authority you gave me by
putting you in a position to remake your own fortune? In a few years, if
you so will, you can easily become the receiver-general.”

“In other words, Marguerite,” said Balthazar, gently, “you turn me out
of my own house.”

“I do not deserve that bitter reproach,” replied the daughter, quelling
the tumultuous beatings of her heart. “You will come back to us in a
manner becoming to your dignity. Besides, father, I have your promise.
You are bound to obey me. My uncle has stayed here that he might himself
accompany you to Bretagne, and not leave you to make the journey alone.”

“I shall not go,” said Balthazar, rising; “I need no help from any one
to restore my property and pay what I owe to my children.”

“It would be better, certainly,” replied Marguerite, calmly. “But now I
ask you to reflect on our respective situations, which I will explain in
a few words. If you stay in this house your children will leave it, so
that you may remain its master.”

“Marguerite!” cried Balthazar.

“In that case,” she said, continuing her words without taking notice of
her father’s anger, “it will be necessary to notify the minister of your
refusal, if you decide not to accept this honorable and lucrative post,
which, in spite of our many efforts, we should never have obtained but
for certain thousand-franc notes my uncle slipped into the glove of a
lady.”

“My children leave me!” he exclaimed.

“You must leave us or we must leave you,” she said. “If I were your only
child, I should do as my mother did, without murmuring against my fate;
but my brothers and sister shall not perish beside you with hunger and
despair. I promised it to her who died there,” she said, pointing to
the place where her mother’s bed had stood. “We have hidden our troubles
from you; we have suffered in silence; our strength is gone. My father,
we are not on the edge of an abyss, we are at the bottom of it.
Courage is not sufficient to drag us out of it; our efforts must not be
incessantly brought to nought by the caprices of a passion.”

“My dear children,” cried Balthazar, seizing Marguerite’s hand, “I will
help you, I will work, I--”

“Here is the means,” she answered, showing him the official letter.

“But, my darling, the means you offer me are too slow; you make me lose
the fruits of ten years’ work, and the enormous sums of money which my
laboratory represents. There,” he said, pointing towards the garret,
“are our real resources.”

Marguerite walked towards the door, saying:--

“Father, you must choose.”

“Ah! my daughter, you are very hard,” he replied, sitting down in an
armchair and allowing her to leave him.

The next morning, on coming downstairs, Marguerite learned from
Lemulquinier that Monsieur Claes had gone out. This simple announcement
turned her pale; her face was so painfully significant that the old
valet remarked hastily:--

“Don’t be troubled, mademoiselle; monsieur said he would be back at
eleven o’clock to breakfast. He didn’t go to bed all night. At two in
the morning he was still standing in the parlor, looking through the
window at the laboratory. I was waiting up in the kitchen; I saw him; he
wept; he is in trouble. Here’s the famous month of July when the sun is
able to enrich us all, and if you only would--”

“Enough,” said Marguerite, divining the thoughts that must have assailed
her father’s mind.

A phenomenon which often takes possession of persons leading sedentary
lives had seized upon Balthazar; his life depended, so to speak, on the
places with which it was identified; his thought was so wedded to his
laboratory and to the house he lived in that both were indispensable to
him,--just as the Bourse becomes a necessity to a stock-gambler, to whom
the public holidays are so much lost time. Here were his hopes; here the
heavens contained the only atmosphere in which his lungs could breathe
the breath of life. This alliance of places and things with men, which
is so powerful in feeble natures, becomes almost tyrannical in men of
science and students. To leave his house was, for Balthazar, to renounce
Science, to abandon the Problem,--it was death.

Marguerite was a prey to anxiety until the breakfast hour. The former
scene in which Balthazar had meant to kill himself came back to her
memory, and she feared some tragic end to the desperate situation in
which her father was placed. She came and went restlessly about the
parlor, and quivered every time the bell or the street-door sounded.

At last Balthazar returned. As he crossed the courtyard Marguerite
studied his face anxiously and could see nothing but an expression of
stormy grief. When he entered the parlor she went towards him to bid him
good-morning; he caught her affectionately round the waist, pressed her
to his heart, kissed her brow, and whispered,--

“I have been to get my passport.”

The tones of his voice, his resigned look, his feeble movements, crushed
the poor girl’s heart; she turned away her head to conceal her tears,
and then, unable to repress them, she went into the garden to weep at
her ease. During breakfast, Balthazar showed the cheerfulness of a man
who had come to a decision.

“So we are to start for Bretagne, uncle,” he said to Monsieur Conyncks.
“I have always wished to go there.”

“It is a place where one can live cheaply,” replied the old man.

“Is our father going away?” cried Felicie.

Monsieur de Solis entered, bringing Jean.

“You must leave him with me to-day,” said Balthazar, putting his son
beside him. “I am going away to-morrow, and I want to bid him good-bye.”

Emmanuel glanced at Marguerite, who held down her head. It was a
gloomy day for the family; every one was sad, and tried to repress
both thoughts and tears. This was not an absence, it was an exile.
All instinctively felt the humiliation of the father in thus publicly
declaring his ruin by accepting an office and leaving his family, at
Balthazar’s age. At this crisis he was great, while Marguerite was firm;
he seemed to accept nobly the punishment of faults which the tyrannous
power of genius had forced him to commit. When the evening was over, and
father and daughter were again alone, Balthazar, who throughout the day
had shown himself tender and affectionate as in the first years of his
fatherhood, held out his hand and said to Marguerite with a tenderness
that was mingled with despair,--

“Are you satisfied with your father?”

“You are worthy of HIM,” said Marguerite, pointing to the portrait of
Van Claes.

The next morning Balthazar, followed by Lemulquinier, went up to
the laboratory, as if to bid farewell to the hopes he had so fondly
cherished, and which in that scene of his toil were living things to
him. Master and man looked at each other sadly as they entered the
garret they were about to leave, perhaps forever. Balthazar gazed at the
various instruments over which his thoughts so long had brooded; each
was connected with some experiment or some research. He sadly ordered
Lemulquinier to evaporate the gases and the dangerous acids, and to
separate all substances which might produce explosions. While taking
these precautions, he gave way to bitter regrets, like those uttered by
a condemned man before going to the scaffold.

“Here,” he said, stopping before a china capsule in which two wires of
a voltaic pile were dipped, “is an experiment whose results ought to be
watched. If it succeeds--dreadful thought!--my children will have driven
from their home a father who could fling diamonds at their feet. In a
combination of carbon and sulphur,” he went on, speaking to himself,
“carbon plays the part of an electro-positive substance; the
crystallization ought to begin at the negative pole; and in case of
decomposition, the carbon would crop into crystals--”

“Ah! is that how it would be?” said Lemulquinier, contemplating his
master with admiration.

“Now here,” continued Balthazar, after a pause, “the combination is
subject to the influence of the galvanic battery, which may act--”

“If monsieur wishes, I can increase its force.”

“No, no; leave it as it is. Perfect stillness and time are the
conditions of crystallization--”

“Confound it, it takes time enough, that crystallization,” cried the old
valet impatiently.

“If the temperature goes down, the sulphide of carbon will crystallize,”
 said Balthazar, continuing to give forth shreds of indistinct thoughts
which were parts of a complete conception in his own mind; “but if the
battery works under certain conditions of which I am ignorant--it must
be watched carefully--it is quite possible that--Ah! what am I thinking
of? It is no longer a question of chemistry, my friend; we are to keep
accounts in Bretagne.”

Claes rushed precipitately from the laboratory, and went downstairs to
take a last breakfast with his family, at which Pierquin and Monsieur
de Solis were present. Balthazar, hastening to end the agony Science had
imposed upon him, bade his children farewell and got into the carriage
with his uncle, all the family accompanying him to the threshold.
There, as Marguerite strained her father to her breast with a despairing
pressure, he whispered in her ear, “You are a good girl; I bear you no
ill-will”; then she darted through the court-yard into the parlor, and
flung herself on her knees upon the spot where her mother had died, and
prayed to God to give her strength to accomplish the hard task that lay
before her. She was already strengthened by an inward voice, sounding in
her heart the encouragement of angels and the gratitude of her mother,
when her sister, her brother, Emmanuel, and Pierquin came in, after
watching the carriage until it disappeared.



CHAPTER XIV

“And now, mademoiselle, what do you intend to do!” said Pierquin.

“Save the family,” she answered simply. “We own nearly thirteen hundred
acres at Waignies. I intend to clear them, divide them into three farms,
put up the necessary buildings, and then let them. I believe that in a
few years, with patience and great economy, each of us,” motioning to
her sister and brother, “will have a farm of over four-hundred acres,
which may bring in, some day, a rental of nearly fifteen thousand
francs. My brother Gabriel will have this house, and all that now stands
in his name on the Grand-Livre, for his portion. We shall then be able
to redeem our father’s property and return it to him free from all
encumbrance, by devoting our incomes, each of us, to paying off his
debts.”

“But, my dear cousin,” said the lawyer, amazed at Marguerite’s
understanding of business and her cool judgment, “you will need at least
two hundred thousand francs to clear the land, build your houses, and
purchase cattle. Where will you get such a sum?”

“That is where my difficulties begin,” she said, looking alternately at
Pierquin and de Solis; “I cannot ask it from my uncle, who has already
spent much money for us and has given bonds as my father’s security.”

“You have friends!” cried Pierquin, suddenly perceiving that the
demoiselles Claes were “four-hundred-thousand-franc girls,” after all.

Emmanuel de Solis looked tenderly at Marguerite. Pierquin, unfortunately
for himself, was a notary still, even in the midst of his enthusiasm,
and he promptly added,--

“I will lend you these two hundred thousand francs.”

Marguerite and Emmanuel consulted each other with a glance which was a
flash of light to Pierquin; Felicie colored highly, much gratified to
find her cousin as generous as she desired him to be. She looked at her
sister, who suddenly guessed the fact that during her absence the
poor girl had allowed herself to be caught by Pierquin’s meaningless
gallantries.

“You shall only pay me five per cent interest,” went on the lawyer,
“and refund the money whenever it is convenient to do so; I will take a
mortgage on your property. And don’t be uneasy; you shall only have the
outlay on your improvements to pay; I will find you trustworthy farmers,
and do all your business gratuitously, so as to help you like a good
relation.”

Emmanuel made Marguerite a sign to refuse the offer, but she was too
much occupied in studying the changes of her sister’s face to perceive
it. After a slight pause, she looked at the notary with an amused smile,
and answered of her own accord, to the great joy of Monsieur de Solis:--

“You are indeed a good relation,--I expected nothing less of you; but an
interest of five per cent would delay our release too long. I shall wait
till my brother is of age, and then we will sell out what he has in the
Funds.”

Pierquin bit his lip. Emmanuel smiled quietly.

“Felicie, my dear child, take Jean back to school; Martha will go with
you,” said Marguerite to her sister. “Jean, my angel, be a good boy;
don’t tear your clothes, for we shall not be rich enough to buy you as
many new ones as we did. Good-bye, little one; study hard.”

Felicie carried off her brother.

“Cousin,” said Marguerite to Pierquin, “and you, monsieur,” she said
to Monsieur de Solis, “I know you have been to see my father during my
absence, and I thank you for that proof of friendship. You will not do
less I am sure for two poor girls who will be in need of counsel. Let us
understand each other. When I am at home I shall receive you both with
the greatest of pleasure, but when Felicie is here alone with Josette
and Martha, I need not tell you that she ought to see no one, not even
an old friend or the most devoted of relatives. Under the circumstances
in which we are placed, our conduct must be irreproachable. We are vowed
to toil and solitude for a long, long time.”

There was silence for some minutes. Emmanuel, absorbed in contemplation
of Marguerite’s head, seemed dumb. Pierquin did not know what to say. He
took leave of his cousin with feelings of rage against himself; for
he suddenly perceived that Marguerite loved Emmanuel, and that he,
Pierquin, had just behaved like a fool.

“Pierquin, my friend,” he said, apostrophizing himself in the street,
“if a man said you were an idiot he would tell the truth. What a fool
I am! I’ve got twelve thousand francs a year outside of my business,
without counting what I am to inherit from my uncle des Racquets, which
is likely to double my fortune (not that I wish him dead, he is so
economical), and I’ve had the madness to ask interest from Mademoiselle
Claes! I know those two are jeering at me now! I mustn’t think of
Marguerite any more. No. After all, Felicie is a sweet, gentle little
creature, who will suit me much better. Marguerite’s character is iron;
she would want to rule me--and--she would rule me. Come, come, let’s be
generous; I wish I was not so much of a lawyer: am I never to get that
harness off my back? Bless my soul! I’ll begin to fall in love with
Felicie, and I won’t budge from that sentiment. She will have a farm
of four hundred and thirty acres, which, sooner or later, will be worth
twelve or fifteen thousand francs a year, for the soil about Waignies
is excellent. Just let my old uncle des Racquets die, poor dear man,
and I’ll sell my practice and be a man of leisure, with
fifty--thou--sand--francs--a--year. My wife is a Claes, I’m allied
to the great families. The deuce! we’ll see if those Courtevilles and
Magalhens and Savaron de Savarus will refuse to come and dine with a
Pierquin-Claes-Molina-Nourho. I shall be mayor of Douai; I’ll obtain the
cross, and get to be deputy--in short, everything. Ha, ha! Pierquin, my
boy, now keep yourself in hand; no more nonsense, because--yes, on my
word of honor--Felicie--Mademoiselle Felicie Van Claes--loves you!”

When the lovers were left alone Emmanuel held out his hand to
Marguerite, who did not refuse to put her right hand into it. They rose
with one impulse and moved towards their bench in the garden; but as
they reached the middle of the parlor, the lover could not resist his
joy, and, in a voice that trembled with emotion, he said,--

“I have three hundred thousand francs of yours.”

“What!” she cried, “did my poor mother entrust them to you? No? then
where did you get them?”

“Oh, my Marguerite! all that is mine is yours. Was it not you who first
said the word ‘ourselves’?”

“Dear Emmanuel!” she exclaimed, pressing the hand which still held hers;
and then, instead of going into the garden, she threw herself into a low
chair.

“It is for me to thank you,” he said, with the voice of love, “since you
accept all.”

“Oh, my dear beloved one,” she cried, “this moment effaces many a grief
and brings the happy future nearer. Yes, I accept your fortune,” she
continued, with the smile of an angel upon her lips, “I know the way to
make it mine.”

She looked up at the picture of Van Claes as if calling him to witness.
The young man’s eyes followed those of Marguerite, and he did not notice
that she took a ring from her finger until he heard the words:--

“From the depths of our greatest misery one comfort rises. My father’s
indifference leaves me the free disposal of myself,” she said, holding
out the ring. “Take it, Emmanuel. My mother valued you--she would have
chosen you.”

The young man turned pale with emotion and fell on his knees beside her,
offering in return a ring which he always wore.

“This is my mother’s wedding-ring,” he said, kissing it. “My Marguerite,
am I to have no other pledge than this?”

She stooped a little till her forehead met his lips.

“Alas, dear love,” she said, greatly agitated, “are we not doing wrong?
We have so long to wait!”

“My uncle used to say that adoration was the daily bread of
patience,--he spoke of Christians who love God. That is how I love you;
I have long mingled my love for you with my love for Him. I am yours as
I am His.”

They remained for a few moments in the power of this sweet enthusiasm.
It was the calm, sincere effusion of a feeling which, like an
overflowing spring, poured forth its superabundance in little wavelets.
The events which separated these lovers produced a melancholy which only
made their happiness the keener, giving it a sense of something sharp,
like pain.

Felicie came back too soon. Emmanuel, inspired by that delightful tact
of love which discerns all feelings, left the sisters alone,--exchanging
a look with Marguerite to let her know how much this discretion cost
him, how hungry his soul was for that happiness so long desired, which
had just been consecrated by the betrothal of their hearts.

“Come here, little sister,” said Marguerite, taking Felicie round the
neck. Then, passing into the garden they sat down on the bench where
generation after generation had confided to listening hearts their words
of love, their sighs of grief, their meditations and their projects. In
spite of her sister’s joyous tone and lively manner, Felicie experienced
a sensation that was very like fear. Marguerite took her hand and felt
it tremble.

“Mademoiselle Felicie,” said the elder, with her lips at her sister’s
ear. “I read your soul. Pierquin has been here often in my absence, and
he has said sweet words to you, and you have listened to them.” Felicie
blushed. “Don’t defend yourself, my angel,” continued Marguerite, “it
is so natural to love! Perhaps your dear nature will improve his; he is
egotistical and self-interested, but for all that he is a good man, and
his defects may even add to your happiness. He will love you as the best
of his possessions; you will be a part of his business affairs. Forgive
me this one word, dear love; you will soon correct the bad habit he has
acquired of seeing money in everything, by teaching him the business of
the heart.”

Felicie could only kiss her sister.

“Besides,” added Marguerite, “he has property; and his family belongs
to the highest and the oldest bourgeoisie. But you don’t think I would
oppose your happiness even if the conditions were less prosperous, do
you?”

Felicie let fall the words, “Dear sister.”

“Yes, you may confide in me,” cried Marguerite, “sisters can surely tell
each other their secrets.”

These words, so full of heartiness, opened the way to one of those
delightful conversations in which young girls tell all. When Marguerite,
expert in love, reached an understanding of the real state of Felicie’s
heart, she wound up their talk by saying:--

“Well, dear child, let us make sure he truly loves you, and--then--”

“Ah!” cried Felicie, laughing, “leave me to my own devices; I have a
model before my eyes.”

“Saucy child!” exclaimed Marguerite, kissing her.

Though Pierquin belonged to the class of men who regard marriage as the
accomplishment of a social duty and the means of transmitting property,
and though he was indifferent to which sister he should marry so long as
both had the same name and the same dower, he did perceive that the
two were, to use his own expression, “romantic and sentimental girls,”
 adjectives employed by commonplace people to ridicule the gifts which
Nature sows with grudging hand along the furrows of humanity. The lawyer
no doubt said to himself that he had better swim with the stream;
and accordingly the next day he came to see Marguerite, and took
her mysteriously into the little garden, where he began to talk
sentiment,--that being one of the clauses of the primal contract which,
according to social usage, must precede the notarial contract.

“Dear cousin,” he said, “you and I have not always been of one mind as
to the best means of bringing your affairs to a happy conclusion; but
you do now, I am sure, admit that I have always been guided by a great
desire to be useful to you. Well, yesterday I spoiled my offer by a
fatal habit which the legal profession forces upon us--you understand
me? My heart did not share in the folly. I have loved you well; but I
have a certain perspicacity, legal perhaps, which obliges me to see
that I do not please you. It is my own fault; another has been more
successful than I. Well, I come now to tell you, like an honest man,
that I sincerely love your sister Felicie. Treat me therefore as a
brother; accept my purse, take what you will from it,--the more you
take the better you prove your regard for me. I am wholly at your
service--WITHOUT INTEREST, you understand, neither at twelve nor at one
quarter per cent. Let me be thought worthy of Felicie, that is all I
ask. Forgive my defects; they come from business habits; my heart is
good, and I would fling myself into the Scarpe sooner than not make my
wife happy.”

“This is all satisfactory, cousin,” answered Marguerite; “but my
sister’s choice depends upon herself and also on my father’s will.”

“I know that, my dear cousin,” said the lawyer, “but you are the mother
of the whole family; and I have nothing more at heart than that you
should judge me rightly.”

This conversation paints the mind of the honest notary. Later in life,
Pierquin became celebrated by his reply to the commanding officer at
Saint-Omer, who had invited him to be present at a military fete; the
note ran as follows: “Monsieur Pierquin-Claes de Molina-Nourho, mayor of
the city of Douai, chevalier of the Legion of honor, will have THAT of
being present, etc.”

Marguerite accepted the lawyer’s offer only so far as it related to his
professional services, so that she might not in any degree compromise
either her own dignity as a woman, or her sister’s future, or her
father’s authority.

The next day she confided Felicie to the care of Martha and Josette (who
vowed themselves body and soul to their young mistress, and seconded
all her economies), and started herself for Waignies, where she began
operations, which were judiciously overlooked and directed by Pierquin.
Devotion was now set down as a good speculation in the mind of that
worthy man; his care and trouble were in fact an investment, and he
had no wish to be niggardly in making it. First he contrived to save
Marguerite the trouble of clearing the land and working the ground
intended for the farms. He found three young men, sons of rich farmers,
who were anxious to settle themselves in life, and he succeeded, through
the prospect he held out to them of the fertility of the land, in making
them take leases of the three farms on which the buildings were to be
constructed. To gain possession of the farms rent-free for three years
the tenants bound themselves to pay ten thousand francs a year the
fourth year, twelve thousand the sixth year, and fifteen thousand for
the remainder of the term; to drain the land, make the plantations, and
purchase the cattle. While the buildings were being put up the farmers
were to clear the land.

Four years after Balthazar Claes’s departure from his home Marguerite
had almost recovered the property of her brothers and sister. Two
hundred thousand francs, lent to her by Emmanuel, had sufficed to put up
the farm buildings. Neither help nor counsel was withheld from the brave
girl, whose conduct excited the admiration of the whole town. Marguerite
superintended the buildings, and looked after her contracts and leases
with the good sense, activity, and perseverance, which women know so
well how to call up when they are actuated by a strong sentiment. By the
fifth year she was able to apply thirty thousand francs from the rental
of the farms, together with the income from the Funds standing in her
brother’s name, and the proceeds of her father’s property, towards
paying off the mortgages on that property, and repairing the devastation
which her father’s passion had wrought in the old mansion of the Claes.
This redemption went on more rapidly as the interest account decreased.
Emmanuel de Solis persuaded Marguerite to take the remaining one hundred
thousand francs of his uncle’s bequest, and by joining to it twenty
thousand francs of his own savings, pay off in the third year of her
management a large slice of the debts. This life of courage,
privation, and endurance was never relaxed for five years; but all went
well,--everything prospered under the administration and influence of
Marguerite Claes.

Gabriel, now holding an appointment under government as engineer in
the department of Roads and Bridges, made a rapid fortune, aided by his
great-uncle, in a canal which he was able to construct; moreover, he
succeeded in pleasing his cousin Mademoiselle Conyncks, the idol of her
father, and one of the richest heiresses in Flanders. In 1824 the whole
Claes property was free, and the house in the rue de Paris had repaired
its losses. Pierquin made a formal application to Balthazar for the hand
of Felicie, and Monsieur de Solis did the same for that of Marguerite.

At the beginning of January, 1825, Marguerite and Monsieur Conyncks left
Douai to bring home the exiled father, whose return was eagerly desired
by all, and who had sent in his resignation that he might return to his
family and crown their happiness by his presence. Marguerite had often
expressed a regret at not being able to replace the pictures which had
formerly adorned the gallery and the reception-rooms, before the day
when her father would return as master of his house. In her absence
Pierquin and Monsieur de Solis plotted with Felicie to prepare
a surprise which should make the younger sister a sharer in the
restoration of the House of Claes. The two bought a number of fine
pictures, which they presented to Felicie to decorate the gallery.
Monsieur Conyncks had thought of the same thing. Wishing to testify to
Marguerite the satisfaction he had taken in her noble conduct and in the
self-devotion with which she had fulfilled her mother’s dying mandate,
he arranged that fifty of his fine pictures, among them several of
those which Balthazar had formerly sold, should be brought to Douai
in Marguerite’s absence, so that the Claes gallery might once more be
complete.

During the years that had elapsed since Balthazar Claes left his home,
Marguerite had visited her father several times, accompanied by her
sister or by Jean. Each time she had found him more and more changed;
but since her last visit old age had come upon Balthazar with alarming
symptoms, the gravity of which was much increased by the parsimony with
which he lived that he might spend the greater part of his salary in
experiments the results of which forever disappointed him. Though he was
only sixty-five years of age, he appeared to be eighty. His eyes were
sunken in their orbits, his eyebrows had whitened, only a few hairs
remained as a fringe around his skull; he allowed his beard to grow, and
cut it off with scissors when its length annoyed him; he was bent like a
field-laborer, and the condition of his clothes had reached a degree of
wretchedness which his decrepitude now rendered hideous. Thought still
animated that noble face, whose features were scarcely discernible
under its wrinkles; but the fixity of the eyes, a certain desperation
of manner, a restless uneasiness, were all diagnostics of insanity, or
rather of many forms of insanity. Sometimes a flash of hope gave him the
look of a monomaniac; at other times impatient anger at not seizing a
secret which flitted before his eyes like a will o’ the wisp brought
symptoms of madness into his face; or sudden bursts of maniacal laughter
betrayed his irrationality: but during the greater part of the time, he
was sunk in a state of complete depression which combined all the phases
of insanity in the cold melancholy of an idiot. However fleeting and
imperceptible these symptoms may have been to the eye of strangers, they
were, unfortunately, only too plain to those who had known Balthazar
Claes sublime in goodness, noble in heart, stately in person,--a Claes
of whom, alas, scarcely a vestige now remained.

Lemulquinier, grown old and wasted like his master with incessant
toil, had not, like him, been subjected to the ravages of thought. The
expression of the old valet’s face showed a singular mixture of
anxiety and admiration for his master which might easily have misled
an onlooker. Though he listened to Balthazar’s words with respect, and
followed his every movement with tender solicitude, he took charge of
the servant of science very much as a mother takes care of her child,
and even seemed to protect him, because in the vulgar details of life,
to which Balthazar gave no thought, he actually did protect him. These
old men, wrapped in one idea, confident of the reality of their hope,
stirred by the same breath, the one representing the shell, the other
the soul of their mutual existence, formed a spectacle at once tender
and distressing.

When Marguerite and Monsieur Conyncks arrived, they found Claes living
at an inn. His successor had not been kept waiting, and was already in
possession of his office.



CHAPTER XV

Through all the preoccupations of science, the desire to see his native
town, his house, his family, agitated Balthazar’s mind. His daughter’s
letters had told him of the happy family events; he dreamed of crowning
his career by a series of experiments that must lead to the solution
of the great Problem, and he awaited Marguerite’s arrival with extreme
impatience.

The daughter threw herself into her father’s arms and wept for joy. This
time she came to seek a recompense for years of pain, and pardon for the
exercise of her domestic authority. She seemed to herself criminal, like
those great men who violate the liberties of the people for the safety
of the nation. But she shuddered as she now contemplated her father
and saw the change which had taken place in him since her last visit.
Monsieur Conyncks shared the secret alarm of his niece, and insisted on
taking Balthazar as soon as possible to Douai, where the influence
of his native place might restore him to health and reason amid the
happiness of a recovered domestic life.

After the first transports of the heart were over,--which were far
warmer on Balthazar’s part than Marguerite had expected,--he showed a
singular state of feeling towards his daughter. He expressed regret at
receiving her in a miserable inn, inquired her tastes and wishes, and
asked what she would have to eat, with the eagerness of a lover; his
manner was even that of a culprit seeking to propitiate a judge.

Marguerite knew her father so well that she guessed the motive of this
solicitude; she felt sure he had contracted debts in the town which he
wished to pay before his departure. She observed him carefully for
a time, and saw the human heart in all its nakedness. Balthazar had
dwindled from his true self. The consciousness of his abasement, and
the isolation of his life in the pursuit of science made him timid and
childish in all matters not connected with his favorite occupations. His
daughter awed him; the remembrance of her past devotion, of the energy
she had displayed, of the powers he had allowed her to take away from
him, of the wealth now at her command, and the indefinable feelings that
had preyed upon him ever since the day when he had abdicated a paternity
he had long neglected,--all these things affected his mind towards her,
and increased her importance in his eyes. Conyncks was nothing to him
beside Marguerite; he saw only his daughter, he thought only of her, and
seemed to fear her, as certain weak husbands fear a superior woman
who rules them. When he raised his eyes and looked at her, Marguerite
noticed with distress an expression of fear, like that of a child
detected in a fault. The noble girl was unable to reconcile the majestic
and terrible expression of that bald head, denuded by science and by
toil, with the puerile smile, the eager servility exhibited on the lips
and countenance of the old man. She suffered from the contrast of that
greatness to that littleness, and resolved to use her utmost influence
to restore her father’s sense of dignity before the solemn day on which
he was to reappear in the bosom of his family. Her first step when they
were alone was to ask him,--

“Do you owe anything here?”

Balthazar colored, and replied with an embarrassed air:--

“I don’t know, but Lemulquinier can tell you. That worthy fellow knows
more about my affairs than I do myself.”

Marguerite rang for the valet: when he came she studied, almost
involuntarily, the faces of the two old men.

“What does monsieur want?” asked Lemulquinier.

Marguerite, who was all pride and dignity, felt an oppression at her
heart as she perceived from the tone and manner of the servant that some
mortifying familiarity had grown up between her father and the companion
of his labors.

“My father cannot make out the account of what he owes in this place
without you,” she said.

“Monsieur,” began Lemulquinier, “owes--”

At these words Balthazar made a sign to his valet which Marguerite
intercepted; it humiliated her.

“Tell me all that my father owes,” she said.

“Monsieur owes, here, about three thousand francs to an apothecary who
is a wholesale dealer in drugs; he has supplied us with pearl-ash and
lead, and zinc and the reagents--”

“Is that all?” asked Marguerite.

Again Balthazar made a sign to Lemulquinier, who replied, as if under a
spell,--

“Yes, mademoiselle.”

“Very good,” she said, “I will give them to you.”

Balthazar kissed her joyously and said,--

“You are an angel, my child.”

He breathed at his ease and glanced at her with eyes that were less sad;
and yet, in spite of this apparent joy, Marguerite easily detected the
signs of deep anxiety upon his face, and felt certain that the three
thousand francs represented only the pressing debts of his laboratory.

“Be frank with me, father,” she said, letting him seat her on his knee;
“you owe more than that. Tell me all, and come back to your home without
an element of fear in the midst of the general joy.”

“My dear Marguerite,” he said, taking her hands and kissing them with a
grace that seemed a memory of her youth, “you would scold me--”

“No,” she said.

“Truly?” he asked, giving way to childish expressions of delight. “Can I
tell you all? will you pay--”

“Yes,” she said, repressing the tears which came into her eyes.

“Well, I owe--oh! I dare not--”

“Tell me, father.”

“It is a great deal.”

She clasped her hands, with a gesture of despair.

“I owe thirty thousand francs to Messieurs Protez and Chiffreville.”

“Thirty thousand francs,” she said, “is just the sum I have laid by. I
am glad to give it to you,” she added, respectfully kissing his brow.

He rose, took his daughter in his arms, and whirled about the room,
dancing her as though she were an infant; then he placed her in the
chair where she had been sitting, and exclaimed:--

“My darling child! my treasure of love! I was half-dead: the
Chiffrevilles have written me three threatening letters; they were about
to sue me,--me, who would have made their fortune!”

“Father,” said Marguerite in accents of despair, “are you still
searching?”

“Yes, still searching,” he said, with the smile of a madman, “and I
shall FIND. If you could only understand the point we have reached--”

“We? who are we?”

“I mean Mulquinier: he has understood me, he loves me. Poor fellow! he
is devoted to me.”

Conyncks entered at the moment and interrupted the conversation.
Marguerite made a sign to her father to say no more, fearing lest he
should lower himself in her uncle’s eyes. She was frightened at the
ravages thought had made in that noble mind, absorbed in searching for
the solution of a problem that was perhaps insoluble. Balthazar, who
saw and knew nothing outside of his furnaces, seemed not to realize the
liberation of his fortune.

On the morrow they started for Flanders. During the journey Marguerite
gained some confused light upon the position in which Lemulquinier and
her father stood to each other. The valet had acquired an ascendancy
over his master such as common men without education are able to obtain
over great minds to whom they feel themselves necessary; such men,
taking advantage of concession after concession, aim at complete
dominion with the persistency that comes of a fixed idea. In this case
the master had contracted for the man the sort of affection that grows
out of habit, like that of a workman for his creative tool, or an Arab
for the horse that gives him freedom. Marguerite studied the signs of
this tyranny, resolving to withdraw her father from its humiliating yoke
if it were real.

They stopped several days in Paris on the way home, to enable Marguerite
to pay off her father’s debts and request the manufacturers of chemical
products to send nothing to Douai without first informing her of any
orders given by Claes. She persuaded her father to change his style of
dress and buy clothes that were suitable to a man of his station. This
corporal restoration gave Balthazar a certain physical dignity which
augured well for a change in his ideas; and Marguerite, joyous in the
thought of all the surprises that awaited her father when he entered his
own house, started for Douai.

Nine miles from the town Balthazar was met by Felicie on horseback,
escorted by her two brothers, Emmanuel, Pierquin, and some of the
nearest friends of the three families. The journey had necessarily
diverted the chemist’s mind from its habitual thoughts; the aspect of
his own Flanders acted on his heart; when, therefore, he saw the joyous
company of his family and friends gathering about him his emotion was
so keen that the tears came to his eyes, his voice trembled, his eyelids
reddened, and he held his children in so passionate an embrace, seeming
unable to release them, that the spectators of the scene were moved to
tears.

When at last he saw the House of Claes he turned pale, and sprang from
the carriage with the agility of a young man; he breathed the air of the
court-yard with delight, and looked about him at the smallest details
with a pleasure that could express itself only in gestures: he drew
himself erect, and his whole countenance renewed its youth. The tears
came into his eyes when he entered the parlor and noticed the care
with which his daughter had replaced the old silver candelabra that he
formerly had sold,--a visible sign that all the other disasters had been
repaired. Breakfast was served in the dining-room, whose sideboards and
shelves were covered with curios and silver-ware not less valuable than
the treasures that formerly stood there. Though the family meal lasted
a long time, it was still too short for the narratives which Balthazar
exacted from each of his children. The reaction of his moral being
caused by this return to his home wedded him once more to family
happiness, and he was again a father. His manners recovered their former
dignity. At first the delight of recovering possession kept him from
dwelling on the means by which the recovery had been brought about. His
joy therefore was full and unalloyed.

Breakfast over, the four children, the father and Pierquin went into
the parlor, where Balthazar saw with some uneasiness a number of legal
papers which the notary’s clerk had laid upon a table, by which he
was standing as if to assist his chief. The children all sat down, and
Balthazar, astonished, remained standing before the fireplace.

“This,” said Pierquin, “is the guardianship account which Monsieur Claes
renders to his children. It is not very amusing,” he added, laughing
after the manner of notaries who generally assume a lively tone in
speaking of serious matters, “but I must really oblige you to listen to
it.”

Though the phrase was natural enough under the circumstances, Monsieur
Claes, whose conscience recalled his past life, felt it to be a
reproach, and his brow clouded.

The clerk began the reading. Balthazar’s amazement increased as little
by little the statement unfolded the facts. In the first place, the
fortune of his wife at the time of her decease was declared to have been
sixteen hundred thousand francs or thereabouts; and the summing up of
the account showed clearly that the portion of each child was intact and
as well-invested as if the best and wisest father had controlled it. In
consequence of this the House of Claes was free from all lien, Balthazar
was master of it; moreover, his rural property was likewise released
from encumbrance. When all the papers connected with these matters were
signed, Pierquin presented the receipts for the repayment of the moneys
formerly borrowed, and releases of the various liens on the estates.

Balthazar, conscious that he had recovered the honor of his manhood,
the life of a father, the dignity of a citizen, fell into a chair, and
looked about for Marguerite; but she, with the distinctive delicacy of
her sex, had left the room during the reading of the papers, as if to
see that all the arrangements for the fete were properly prepared. Each
member of the family understood the old man’s wish when the failing
humid eyes sought for the daughter,--who was seen by all present, with
the eyes of the soul, as an angel of strength and light within the
house. Gabriel went to find her. Hearing her step, Balthazar ran to
clasp her in his arms.

“Father,” she said, at the foot of the stairs, where the old man caught
her and strained her to his breast, “I implore you not to lessen your
sacred authority. Thank me before the family for carrying out your
wishes, and be the sole author of the good that has been done here.”

Balthazar lifted his eyes to heaven, then looked at his daughter, folded
his arms, and said, after a pause, during which his face recovered an
expression his children had not seen upon it for ten long years,--

“Pepita, why are you not here to praise our child!”

He strained Marguerite to him, unable to utter another word, and went
back to the parlor.

“My children,” he said, with the nobility of demeanor that in former
days had made him so imposing, “we all owe gratitude and thanks to
my daughter Marguerite for the wisdom and courage with which she has
fulfilled my intentions and carried out my plans, when I, too absorbed
by my labors, gave the reins of our domestic government into her hands.”

“Ah, now!” cried Pierquin, looking at the clock, “we must read the
marriage contracts. But they are not my affair, for the law forbids
me to draw up such deeds between my relations and myself. Monsieur
Raparlier is coming.”

The friends of the family, invited to the dinner given to celebrate
Claes’s return and the signing of the marriage contracts, now began to
arrive; and their servants brought in the wedding-presents. The company
quickly assembled, and the scene was imposing as much from the quality
of the persons present as from the elegance of the toilettes. The three
families, thus united through the happiness of their children, seemed to
vie with each other in contributing to the splendor of the occasion. The
parlor was soon filled with the charming gifts that are made to bridal
couples. Gold shimmered and glistened; silks and satins, cashmere
shawls, necklaces, jewels, afforded as much delight to those who gave
as to those who received; enjoyment that was almost childlike shone
on every face, and the mere value of the magnificent presents was lost
sight of by the spectators,--who often busy themselves in estimating it
out of curiosity.

The ceremonial forms used for generations in the Claes family for
solemnities of this nature now began. The parents alone were seated,
all present stood before them at a little distance. To the left of the
parlor on the garden side were Gabriel and Mademoiselle Conyncks, next
to them stood Monsieur de Solis and Marguerite, and farther on, Felicie
and Pierquin. Balthazar and Monsieur Conyncks, the only persons who were
seated, occupied two armchairs beside the notary who, for this occasion,
had taken Pierquin’s duty. Jean stood behind his father. A score of
ladies elegantly dressed, and a few men chosen from among the nearest
relatives of the Pierquins, the Conyncks, and the Claes, the mayor of
Douai, who was to marry the couples, the twelve witnesses chosen from
among the nearest friends of the three families, all, even the curate of
Saint-Pierre, remained standing and formed an imposing circle at the
end of the parlor next the court-yard. This homage paid by the whole
assembly to Paternity, which at such a moment shines with almost regal
majesty, gave to the scene a certain antique character. It was the only
moment for sixteen long years when Balthazar forgot the Alkahest.

Monsieur Raparlier went up to Marguerite and her sister and asked if all
the persons invited to the ceremony and to the dinner had arrived; on
receiving an affirmative reply, he returned to his station and took up
the marriage contract between Marguerite and Monsieur de Solis, which
was the first to be read, when suddenly the door of the parlor opened
and Lemulquinier entered, his face flaming.

“Monsieur! monsieur!” he cried.

Balthazar flung a look of despair at Marguerite, then, making her a
sign, he drew her into the garden. The whole assembly were conscious of
a shock.

“I dared not tell you, my child,” said the father, “but since you
have done so much, you will save me, I know, from this last trouble.
Lemulquinier lent me all his savings--the fruit of twenty years’
economy--for my last experiment, which failed. He has come no doubt,
finding that I am once more rich, to insist on having them back. Ah! my
angel, give them to him; you owe him your father; he alone consoled me
in my troubles, he alone has had faith in me,--without him I should have
died.”

“Monsieur! monsieur!” cried Lemulquinier.

“What is it?” said Balthazar, turning round.

“A diamond!”

Claes sprang into the parlor and saw the stone in the hands of the old
valet, who whispered in his ear,--

“I have been to the laboratory.”

The chemist, forgetting everything about him, cast a terrible look on
the old Fleming which meant, “You went before me to the laboratory!”

“Yes,” continued Lemulquinier, “I found the diamond in the china capsule
which communicated with the battery which we left to work, monsieur--and
see!” he added, showing a white diamond of octahedral form, whose
brilliancy drew the astonished gaze of all present.

“My children, my friends,” said Balthazar, “forgive my old servant,
forgive me! This event will drive me mad. The chance work of seven years
has produced--without me--a discovery I have sought for sixteen years.
How? My God, I know not--yes, I left sulphide of carbon under the
influence of a Voltaic pile, whose action ought to have been watched
from day to day. During my absence the power of God has worked in my
laboratory, but I was not there to note its progressive effects! Is it
not awful? Oh, cursed exile! cursed chance! Alas! had I watched that
slow, that sudden--what can I call it?--crystallization, transformation,
in short that miracle, then, then my children would have been richer
still. Though this result is not the solution of the Problem which I
seek, the first rays of my glory would have shone from that diamond upon
my native country, and this hour, which our satisfied affections have
made so happy, would have glowed with the sunlight of Science.”

Every one kept silence in the presence of such a man. The disconnected
words wrung from him by his anguish were too sincere not to be sublime.

Suddenly, Balthazar drove back his despair into the depths of his own
being, and cast upon the assembly a majestic look which affected
the souls of all; he took the diamond and offered it to Marguerite,
saying,--

“It is thine, my angel.”

Then he dismissed Lemulquinier with a gesture, and motioned to the
notary, saying, “Go on.”

The two words sent a shudder of emotion through the company such as
Talma in certain roles produced among his auditors. Balthazar, as he
reseated himself, said in a low voice,--

“To-day I must be a father only.”

Marguerite hearing the words went up to him and caught his hand and
kissed it respectfully.

“No man was ever greater,” said Emmanuel, when his bride returned to
him; “no man was ever so mighty; another would have gone mad.”

After the three contracts were read and signed, the company hastened
to question Balthazar as to the manner in which the diamond had been
formed; but he could tell them nothing about so strange an accident. He
looked through the window at his garret and pointed to it with an angry
gesture.

“Yes, the awful power resulting from a movement of fiery matter which no
doubt produces metals, diamonds,” he said, “was manifested there for one
moment, by one chance.”

“That chance was of course some natural effect,” whispered a guest
belonging to the class of people who are ready with an explanation
of everything. “At any rate, it is something saved out of all he has
wasted.”

“Let us forget it,” said Balthazar, addressing his friends; “I beg you
to say no more about it to-day.”

Marguerite took her father’s arm to lead the way to the reception-rooms
of the front house, where a sumptuous fete had been prepared. As he
entered the gallery, followed by his guests, he beheld it filled with
pictures and garnished with choice flowers.

“Pictures!” he exclaimed, “pictures!--and some of the old ones!”

He stopped short; his brow clouded; for a moment grief overcame him; he
felt the weight of his wrong-doing as the vista of his humiliation came
before his eyes.

“It is all your own, father,” said Marguerite, guessing the feelings
that oppressed his soul.

“Angel, whom the spirits in heaven watch and praise,” he cried, “how
many times have you given life to your father?”

“Then keep no cloud upon your brow, nor the least sad thought in your
heart,” she said, “and you will reward me beyond my hopes. I have been
thinking of Lemulquinier, my darling father; the few words you said a
little while ago have made me value him; perhaps I have been unjust to
him; he ought to remain your humble friend. Emmanuel has laid by nearly
sixty thousand francs which he has economized, and we will give them
to Lemulquinier. After serving you so well the man ought to be made
comfortable for his remaining years. Do not be uneasy about us. Monsieur
de Solis and I intend to lead a quiet, peaceful life,--a life without
luxury; we can well afford to lend you that money until you are able to
return it.”

“Ah, my daughter! never forsake me; continue to be thy father’s
providence.”

When they entered the reception-rooms Balthazar found them restored and
furnished as elegantly as in former days. The guests presently descended
to the dining-room on the ground-floor by the grand staircase, on every
step of which were rare plants and flowering shrubs. A silver service of
exquisite workmanship, the gift of Gabriel to his father, attracted all
eyes to a luxury which was surprising to the inhabitants of a town where
such luxury is traditional. The servants of Monsieur Conyncks and of
Pierquin, as well as those of the Claes household, were assembled to
serve the repast. Seeing himself once more at the head of that table,
surrounded by friends and relatives and happy faces beaming with
heartfelt joy, Balthazar, behind whose chair stood Lemulquinier, was
overcome by emotions so deep and so imposing that all present kept
silence, as men are silent before great sorrows or great joys.

“Dear children,” he cried, “you have killed the fatted calf to welcome
home the prodigal father.”

These words, in which the father judged himself (and perhaps prevented
others from judging him more severely), were spoken so nobly that all
present shed tears; they were the last expression of sadness, however,
and the general happiness soon took on the merry, animated character of
a family fete.

Immediately after dinner the principal people of the city began to
arrive for the ball, which proved worthy of the almost classic splendor
of the restored House of Claes. The three marriages followed this happy
day, and gave occasion to many fetes, and balls, and dinners, which
involved Balthazar for some months in the vortex of social life. His
eldest son and his wife removed to an estate near Cambrai belonging
to Monsieur Conyncks, who was unwilling to separate from his daughter.
Madame Pierquin also left her father’s house to do the honors of a fine
mansion which Pierquin had built, and where he desired to live in
all the dignity of rank; for his practise was sold, and his uncle des
Racquets had died and left him a large property scraped together by slow
economy. Jean went to Paris to finish his education, and Monsieur and
Madame de Solis alone remained with their father in the House de Claes.
Balthazar made over to them the family home in the rear house, and took
up his own abode on the second floor of the front building.



CHAPTER XVI

Marguerite continued to keep watch over her father’s material comfort,
aided in the sweet task by Emmanuel. The noble girl received from
the hands of love that most envied of all garlands, the wreath that
happiness entwines and constancy keeps ever fresh. No couple ever
afforded a better illustration of the complete, acknowledged, spotless
felicity which all women cherish in their dreams. The union of two
beings so courageous in the trials of life, who had loved each other
through years with so sacred an affection, drew forth the respectful
admiration of the whole community. Monsieur de Solis, who had long held
an appointment as inspector-general of the University, resigned those
functions to enjoy his happiness more freely, and remained at Douai
where every one did such homage to his character and attainments that
his name was proposed as candidate for the Electoral college whenever
he should reach the required age. Marguerite, who had shown herself so
strong in adversity, became in prosperity a sweet and tender woman.

Throughout the following year Claes was grave and preoccupied; and yet,
though he made a few inexpensive experiments for which his ordinary
income sufficed, he seemed to neglect his laboratory. Marguerite
restored all the old customs of the House of Claes, and gave a family
fete every month in honor of her father, at which the Pierquins and the
Conyncks were present; and she also received the upper ranks of
society one day in the week at a “cafe” which became celebrated. Though
frequently absent-minded, Claes took part in all these assemblages and
became, to please his daughter, so willingly a man of the world that the
family were able to believe he had renounced his search for the solution
of the great problem.

Three years went by. In 1828 family affairs called Emmanuel de Solis to
Spain. Although there were three numerous branches between himself
and the inheritance of the house of Solis, yellow fever, old age,
barrenness, and other caprices of fortune, combined to make him the last
lineal descendant of the family and heir to the titles and estates of
his ancient house. Moreover, by one of those curious chances which
seem impossible except in a book, the house of Solis had acquired the
territory and titles of the Comtes de Nourho. Marguerite did not wish
to separate from her husband, who was to stay in Spain long enough to
settle his affairs, and she was, moreover, curious to see the castle
of Casa-Real where her mother had passed her childhood, and the city of
Granada, the cradle of the de Solis family. She left Douai, consigning
the care of the house to Martha, Josette, and Lemulquinier. Balthazar,
to whom Marguerite had proposed a journey into Spain, declined to
accompany her on the ground of his advanced age; but certain experiments
which he had long meditated, and to which he now trusted for the
realization of his hopes were the real reason of his refusal.

The Comte and Comtesse de Solis y Nourho were detained in Spain longer
than they intended. Marguerite gave birth to a son. It was not until the
middle of 1830 that they reached Cadiz, intending to embark for Italy
on their way back to France. There, however, they received a letter from
Felicie conveying disastrous news. Within a few months, their father
had completely ruined himself. Gabriel and Pierquin were obliged to
pay Lemulquinier a monthly stipend for the bare necessaries of the
household. The old valet had again sacrificed his little property to his
master. Balthazar was no longer willing to see any one, and would not
even admit his children to the house. Martha and Josette were dead. The
coachman, the cook, and the other servants had long been dismissed;
the horses and carriages were sold. Though Lemulquinier maintained the
utmost secrecy as to his master’s proceedings, it was believed that the
thousand francs supplied by Gabriel and Pierquin were spent chiefly
on experiments. The small amount of provisions which the old valet
purchased in the town seemed to show that the two old men contented
themselves with the barest necessaries. To prevent the sale of the House
of Claes, Gabriel and Pierquin were paying the interest of the sums
which their father had again borrowed on it. None of his children had
the slightest influence upon the old man, who at seventy years of age
displayed extraordinary energy in bending everything to his will,
even in matters that were trivial. Gabriel, Conyncks, and Pierquin had
decided not to pay off his debts.

This letter changed all Marguerite’s travelling plans, and she
immediately took the shortest road to Douai. Her new fortune and her
past savings enabled her to pay off Balthazar’s debts; but she wished
to do more, she wished to obey her mother’s last injunction and save him
from sinking dishonored to the grave. She alone could exercise enough
ascendancy over the old man to keep him from completing the work
of ruin, at an age when no fruitful toil could be expected from his
enfeebled faculties. But she was also anxious to control him without
wounding his susceptibilities,--not wishing to imitate the children of
Sophocles, in case her father neared the scientific result for which he
had sacrificed so much.

Monsieur and Madame de Solis reached Flanders in the last days of
September, 1831, and arrived at Douai during the morning. Marguerite
ordered the coachman to drive to the house in the rue de Paris, which
they found closed. The bell was loudly rung, but no one answered. A
shopkeeper left his door-step, to which he had been attracted by the
noise of the carriages; others were at their windows to enjoy a sight
of the return of the de Solis family to whom all were attached, enticed
also by a vague curiosity as to what would happen in that house on
Marguerite’s return to it. The shopkeeper told Monsieur de Solis’s
valet that old Claes had gone out an hour before, and that Monsieur
Lemulquinier was no doubt taking him to walk on the ramparts.

Marguerite sent for a locksmith to force the door,--glad to escape a
scene in case her father, as Felicie had written, should refuse to
admit her into the house. Meantime Emmanuel went to meet the old man and
prepare him for the arrival of his daughter, despatching a servant to
notify Monsieur and Madame Pierquin.

When the door was opened, Marguerite went directly to the parlor. Horror
overcame her and she trembled when she saw the walls as bare as if a
fire had swept over them. The glorious carved panellings of Van Huysum
and the portrait of the great Claes had been sold. The dining-room was
empty: there was nothing in it but two straw chairs and a common deal
table, on which Marguerite, terrified, saw two plates, two bowls, two
forks and spoons, and the remains of a salt herring which Claes and his
servant had evidently just eaten. In a moment she had flown through her
father’s portion of the house, every room of which exhibited the same
desolation as the parlor and dining-room. The idea of the Alkahest had
swept like a conflagration through the building. Her father’s bedroom
had a bed, one chair, and one table, on which stood a miserable pewter
candlestick with a tallow candle burned almost to the socket. The house
was so completely stripped that not so much as a curtain remained at
the windows. Every object of the smallest value,--everything, even the
kitchen utensils, had been sold.

Moved by that feeling of curiosity which never entirely leaves us even
in moments of misfortune, Marguerite entered Lemulquinier’s chamber and
found it as bare as that of his master. In a half-opened table-drawer
she found a pawnbroker’s ticket for the old servant’s watch which he had
pledged some days before. She ran to the laboratory and found it filled
with scientific instruments, the same as ever. Then she returned to her
own appartement and ordered the door to be broken open--her father had
respected it!

Marguerite burst into tears and forgave her father all. In the midst
of his devastating fury he had stopped short, restrained by paternal
feeling and the gratitude he owed to his daughter! This proof of
tenderness, coming to her at a moment when despair had reached its
climax, brought about in Marguerite’s soul one of those moral reactions
against which the coldest hearts are powerless. She returned to the
parlor to wait her father’s arrival, in a state of anxiety that was
cruelly aggravated by doubt and uncertainty. In what condition was she
about to see him? Ruined, decrepit, suffering, enfeebled by the fasts
his pride compelled him to undergo? Would he have his reason? Tears
flowed unconsciously from her eyes as she looked about the desecrated
sanctuary. The images of her whole life, her past efforts, her useless
precautions, her childhood, her mother happy and unhappy,--all, even her
little Joseph smiling on that scene of desolation, all were parts of a
poem of unutterable melancholy.

Marguerite foresaw an approaching misfortune, yet she little expected
the catastrophe that was to close her father’s life,--that life at once
so grand and yet so miserable.

The condition of Monsieur Claes was no secret in the community. To the
lasting shame of men, there were not in all Douai two hearts generous
enough to do honor to the perseverance of this man of genius. In the
eyes of the world Balthazar was a man to be condemned, a bad father
who had squandered six fortunes, millions, who was actually seeking the
philosopher’s stone in the nineteenth century, this enlightened century,
this sceptical century, this century!--etc. They calumniated his
purposes and branded him with the name of “alchemist,” casting up to
him in mockery that he was trying to make gold. Ah! what eulogies are
uttered on this great century of ours, in which, as in all others,
genius is smothered under an indifference as brutal a that of the gate
in which Dante died, and Tasso and Cervantes and “tutti quanti.” The
people are as backward as kings in understanding the creations of
genius.

These opinions on the subject of Balthazar Claes filtered, little by
little, from the upper society of Douai to the bourgeoisie, and from
the bourgeoisie to the lower classes. The old chemist excited pity among
persons of his own rank, satirical curiosity among the others,--two
sentiments big with contempt and with the “vae victis” with which the
masses assail a man of genius when they see him in misfortune. Persons
often stopped before the House of Claes to show each other the rose
window of the garret where so much gold and so much coal had been
consumed in smoke. When Balthazar passed along the streets they pointed
to him with their fingers; often, on catching sight of him, a mocking
jest or a word of pity would escape the lips of a working-man or some
mere child. But Lemulquinier was careful to tell his master it was
homage; he could deceive him with impunity, for though the old man’s
eyes retained the sublime clearness which results from the habit of
living among great thoughts, his sense of hearing was enfeebled.

To most of the peasantry, and to all vulgar and superstitious minds,
Balthazar Claes was a sorcerer. The noble old mansion, once named by
common consent “the House of Claes,” was now called in the suburbs and
the country districts “the Devil’s House.” Every outward sign, even the
face of Lemulquinier, confirmed the ridiculous beliefs that were current
about Balthazar. When the old servant went to market to purchase the few
provisions necessary for their subsistence, picking out the cheapest
he could find, insults were flung in as make-weights,--just as butchers
slip bones into their customers’ meat,--and he was fortunate, poor
creature, if some superstitious market-woman did not refuse to sell him
his meagre pittance lest she be damned by contact with an imp of hell.

Thus the feelings of the whole town of Douai were hostile to the grand
old man and to his attendant. The neglected state of their clothes added
to this repulsion; they went about clothed like paupers who have seen
better days, and who strive to keep a decent appearance and are ashamed
to beg. It was probable that sooner or later Balthazar would be insulted
in the streets. Pierquin, feeling how degrading to the family any public
insult would be, had for some time past sent two or three of his own
servants to follow the old man whenever he went out, and keep him
in sight at a little distance, for the purpose of protecting him if
necessary,--the revolution of July not having contributed to make the
citizens respectful.

By one of those fatalities which can never be explained, Claes and
Lemulquinier had gone out early in the morning, thus evading the secret
guardianship of Monsieur and Madame Pierquin. On their way back from
the ramparts they sat down to sun themselves on a bench in the place
Saint-Jacques, an open space crossed by children on their way to school.
Catching sight from a distance of the defenceless old men, whose faces
brightened as they sat basking in the sun, a crowd of boys began to
talk of them. Generally, children’s chatter ends in laughter; on this
occasion the laughter led to jokes of which they did not know the
cruelty. Seven or eight of the first-comers stood at a little distance,
and examined the strange old faces with smothered laughter and remarks
which attracted Lemulquinier’s attention.

“Hi! do you see that one with a head as smooth as my knee?”

“Yes.”

“Well, he was born a Wise Man.”

“My papa says he makes gold,” said another.

The youngest of the troop, who had his basket full of provisions and was
devouring a slice of bread and butter, advanced to the bench and said
boldly to Lemulquinier,--

“Monsieur, is it true you make pearls and diamonds?”

“Yes, my little man,” replied the valet, smiling and tapping him on the
cheek; “we will give you some of you study well.”

“Ah! monsieur, give me some, too,” was the general exclamation.

The boys all rushed together like a flock of birds, and surrounded the
old men. Balthazar, absorbed in meditation from which he was drawn by
these sudden cries, made a gesture of amazement which caused a general
shout of laughter.

“Come, come, boys; be respectful to a great man,” said Lemulquinier.

“Hi, the old harlequin!” cried the lads; “the old sorcerer! you are
sorcerers! sorcerers! sorcerers!”

Lemulquinier sprang to his feet and threatened the crowd with his cane;
they all ran to a little distance, picking up stones and mud. A workman
who was eating his breakfast near by, seeing Lemulquinier brandish his
cane to drive the boys away, thought he had struck them, and took their
part, crying out,--

“Down with the sorcerers!”

The boys, feeling themselves encouraged, flung their missiles at the
old men, just as the Comte de Solis, accompanied by Pierquin’s servants,
appeared at the farther end of the square. The latter were too late,
however, to save the old man and his valet from being pelted with mud.
The shock was given. Balthazar, whose faculties had been preserved by a
chastity of spirit natural to students absorbed in a quest of discovery
that annihilates all passions, now suddenly divined, by the phenomenon
of introsusception, the true meaning of the scene: his decrepit body
could not sustain the frightful reaction he underwent in his feelings,
and he fell, struck with paralysis, into the arms of Lemulquinier, who
brought him to his home on a shutter, attended by his sons-in-law and
their servants. No power could prevent the population of Douai from
following the body of the old man to the door of his house, where
Felicie and her children, Jean, Marguerite, and Gabriel, whom his sister
had sent for, were waiting to receive him.

The arrival of the old man gave rise to a frightful scene; he struggled
less against the assaults of death than against the horror of seeing
that his children had entered the house and penetrated the secret of
his impoverished life. A bed was at once made up in the parlor and every
care bestowed upon the stricken man, whose condition, towards evening,
allowed hopes that his life might be preserved. The paralysis, though
skilfully treated, kept him for some time in a state of semi-childhood;
and when by degrees it relaxed, the tongue was found to be especially
affected, perhaps because the old man’s anger had concentrated all
his forces upon it at the moment when he was about to apostrophize the
children.

This incident roused a general indignation throughout the town. By a
law, up to that time unknown, which guides the affects of the masses,
this event brought back all hearts to Monsieur Claes. He became once
more a great man; he excited the admiration and received the good-will
that a few hours earlier were denied to him. Men praised his patience,
his strength of will, his courage, his genius. The authorities wished
to arrest all those who had a share in dealing him this blow. Too
late,--the evil was done! The Claes family were the first to beg that
the matter might be allowed to drop.

Marguerite ordered furniture to be brought into the parlor, and the
denuded walls to be hung with silk; and when, a few days after his
seizure, the old father recovered his faculties and found himself once
more in a luxurious room surrounded by all that makes life easy, he
tried to express his belief that his daughter Marguerite had returned.
At that moment she entered the room. When Balthazar caught sight of her
he colored, and his eyes grew moist, though the tears did not fall. He
was able to press his daughter’s hand with his cold fingers, putting
into that pressure all the thoughts, all the feelings he no longer had
the power to utter. There was something holy and solemn in that farewell
of the brain which still lived, of the heart which gratitude revived.
Worn out by fruitless efforts, exhausted in the long struggle with the
gigantic problem, desperate perhaps at the oblivion which awaited his
memory, this giant among men was about to die. His children surrounded
him with respectful affection; his dying eyes were cheered with images
of plenty and the touching picture of his prosperous and noble family.
His every look--by which alone he could manifest his feelings--was
unchangeably affectionate; his eyes acquired such variety of expression
that they had, as it were, a language of light, easy to comprehend.

Marguerite paid her father’s debts, and restored a modern splendor to
the House of Claes which removed all outward signs of decay. She never
left the old man’s bedside, endeavoring to divine his every thought and
accomplish his slightest wish.

Some months went by with those alternations of better and worse which
attend the struggle of life and death in old people; every morning his
children came to him and spent the day in the parlor, dining by his
bedside and only leaving him when he went to sleep for the night. The
occupation which gave him most pleasure, among the many with which his
family sought to enliven him, was the reading of newspapers, to which
the political events then occurring gave great interest. Monsieur Claes
listened attentively as Monsieur de Solis read them aloud beside his
bed.

Towards the close of the year 1832, Balthazar passed an extremely
critical night, during which Monsieur Pierquin, the doctor, was summoned
by the nurse, who was greatly alarmed at the sudden change which took
place in the patient. For the rest of the night the doctor remained to
watch him, fearing he might at any moment expire in the throes of inward
convulsion, whose effects were like those of a last agony.

The old man made incredible efforts to shake off the bonds of his
paralysis; he tried to speak and moved his tongue, unable to make a
sound; his flaming eyes emitted thoughts; his drawn features expressed
an untold agony; his fingers writhed in desperation; the sweat stood
out in drops upon his brow. In the morning when his children came to his
bedside and kissed him with an affection which the sense of coming death
made day by day more ardent and more eager, he showed none of his usual
satisfaction at these signs of their tenderness. Emmanuel, instigated by
the doctor, hastened to open the newspaper to try if the usual reading
might not relieve the inward crisis in which Balthazar was evidently
struggling. As he unfolded the sheet he saw the words, “DISCOVERY OF THE
ABSOLUTE,”--which startled him, and he read a paragraph to Marguerite
concerning a sale made by a celebrated Polish mathematician of the
secret of the Absolute. Though Emmanuel read in a low voice, and
Marguerite signed to him to omit the passage, Balthazar heard it.

Suddenly the dying man raised himself by his wrists and cast on his
frightened children a look which struck like lightning; the hairs that
fringed the bald head stirred, the wrinkles quivered, the features were
illumined with spiritual fires, a breath passed across that face and
rendered it sublime; he raised a hand, clenched in fury, and uttered
with a piercing cry the famous word of Archimedes, “EUREKA!”--I have
found.

He fell back upon his bed with the dull sound of an inert body, and
died, uttering an awful moan,--his convulsed eyes expressing to the
last, when the doctor closed them, the regret of not bequeathing to
Science the secret of an Enigma whose veil was rent away,--too late!--by
the fleshless fingers of Death.



ADDENDUM

The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.

Note: The Alkahest is also known as The Quest of the Absolute and is
referred to by that title when mentioned in other addendums.

     Casa-Real, Duc de
       The Quest of the Absolute
       A Marriage Settlement

     Chiffreville, Monsieur and Madame
       Cesar Birotteau
       The Quest of the Absolute

     Claes, Josephine de Temninck, Madame
       The Quest of the Absolute
       A Marriage Settlement

     Protez and Chiffreville
       The Quest of the Absolute
       Cesar Birotteau

     Savaron de Savarus
       The Quest of the Absolute
       Albert Savarus

     Savarus, Albert Savaron de
       The Quest of the Absolute
       Albert Savarus





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