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LIFE'S WORK AND PROMISE
FIFTEEN months later, one fine golden day in September, Bache and
Theophile Morin were taking /dejeuner/ at Guillaume's, in the big
workroom overlooking the immensity of Paris.
Near the table was a cradle with its little curtains drawn. Behind them
slept Jean, a fine boy four months old, the son of Pierre and Marie. The
latter, simply in order to protect the child's social rights, had been
married civilly at the town-hall of Montmartre. Then, by way of pleasing
Guillaume, who wished to keep them with him, and thus enlarge the family
circle, they had continued living in the little lodging over the
work-shop, leaving the sleepy house at Neuilly in the charge of Sophie,
Pierre's old servant. And life had been flowing on happily for the
fourteen months or so that they had now belonged to one another.
There was simply peace, affection and work around the young couple.
Francois, who had left the Ecole Normale provided with every degree,
every diploma, was now about to start for a college in the west of
France, so as to serve his term of probation as a professor, intending to
resign his post afterwards and devote himself, if he pleased, to science
pure and simple. Then Antoine had lately achieved great success with a
series of engravings he had executed--some views and scenes of Paris
life; and it was settled that he was to marry Lise Jahan in the ensuing
spring, when she would have completed her seventeenth year. Of the three
sons, however, Thomas was the most triumphant, for he had at last devised
and constructed his little motor, thanks to a happy idea of his father's.
One morning, after the downfall of all his huge chimerical schemes,
Guillaume, remembering the terrible explosive which he had discovered and
hitherto failed to utilise, had suddenly thought of employing it as a
motive force, in the place of petroleum, in the motor which his eldest
son had so long been trying to construct for the Grandidier works. So he
had set to work with Thomas, devising a new mechanism, encountering
endless difficulties, and labouring for a whole year before reaching
success. But now the father and son had accomplished their task; the
marvel was created, and stood there riveted to an oak stand, and ready to
work as soon as its final toilet should have been performed.
Amidst all the changes which had occurred, Mere-Grand, in spite of her
great age, continued exercising her active, silent sway over the
household, which was now again so gay and peaceful. Though she seldom
seemed to leave her chair in front of her work-table, she was really
here, there and everywhere. Since the birth of Jean, she had talked of
rearing the child in the same way as she had formerly reared Thomas,
Francois and Antoine. She was indeed full of the bravery of devotion, and
seemed to think that she was not at all likely to die so long as she
might have others to guide, love and save. Marie marvelled at it all. She
herself, though she was always gay and in good health, felt tired at
times now that she was suckling her infant. Little Jean indeed had two
vigilant mothers near his cradle; whilst his father, Pierre, who had
become Thomas's assistant, pulled the bellows, roughened out pieces of
metal, and generally completed his apprenticeship as a working
On the particular day when Bache and Theophile Morin came to Montmartre,
the /dejeuner/ proved even gayer than usual, thanks perhaps to their
presence. The meal was over, the table had been cleared, and the coffee
was being served, when a little boy, the son of a doorkeeper in the Rue
Cortot, came to ask for Monsieur Pierre Froment. When they inquired his
business, he answered in a hesitating way that Monsieur l'Abbe Rose was
very ill, indeed dying, and that he had sent him to fetch Monsieur Pierre
Froment at once.
Pierre followed the lad, feeling much affected; and on reaching the Rue
Cortot he there found Abbe Rose in a little damp ground-floor room
overlooking a strip of garden. The old priest was in bed, dying as the
boy had said, but he still retained the use of his faculties, and could
speak in his wonted slow and gentle voice. A Sister of Charity was
watching beside him, and she seemed so surprised and anxious at the
arrival of a visitor whom she did not know, that Pierre understood she
was there to guard the dying man and prevent him from having intercourse
with others. The old priest must have employed some stratagem in order to
send the doorkeeper's boy to fetch him. However, when Abbe Rose in his
grave and kindly way begged the Sister to leave them alone for a moment,
she dared not refuse this supreme request, but immediately left the room.
"Ah! my dear child," said the old man, "how much I wanted to speak to
you! Sit down there, close to the bed, so that you may be able to hear
me, for this is the end; I shall no longer be here to-night. And I have
such a great service to ask of you."
Quite upset at finding his friend so wasted, with his face white like a
sheet, and scarce a sign of life save the sparkle of his innocent, loving
eyes, Pierre responded: "But I would have come sooner if I had known you
were in need of me! Why did you not send for me before? Are people being
kept away from you?"
A faint smile of shame and confession appeared on the old priest's
embarrassed face. "Well, my dear child," said he, "you must know that I
have again done some foolish things. Yes, I gave money to some people
who, it seems, were not deserving of it. In fact, there was quite a
scandal; they scolded me at the Archbishop's palace, and accused me of
compromising the interests of religion. And when they heard that I was
ill, they put that good Sister beside me, because they said that I should
die on the floor, and give the very sheets off my bed if I were not
He paused to draw breath, and then continued: "So you understand, that
good Sister--oh! she is a very saintly woman--is here to nurse me and
prevent me from still doing foolish things. To overcome her vigilance I
had to use a little deceit, for which God, I trust, will forgive me. As
it happens, it's precisely my poor who are in question; it was to speak
to you about them that I so particularly wished to see you."
Tears had come to Pierre's eyes. "Tell me what you want me to do," he
answered; "I am yours, both heart and soul."
"Yes, yes, I know it, my dear child. It was for that reason that I
thought of you--you alone. In spite of all that has happened, you are the
only one in whom I have any confidence, who can understand me, and give
me a promise which will enable me to die in peace."
This was the only allusion he would venture to make to the cruel rupture
which had occurred after the young man had thrown off his cassock and
rebelled against the Church. He had since heard of Pierre's marriage, and
was aware that he had for ever severed all religious ties. But at that
supreme moment nothing of this seemed of any account to the old priest.
His knowledge of Pierre's loving heart sufficed him, for all that he now
desired was simply the help of that heart which he had seen glowing with
such passionate charity.
"Well," he resumed, again finding sufficient strength to smile, "it is a
very simple matter. I want to make you my heir. Oh! it isn't a fine
legacy I am leaving you; it is the legacy of my poor, for I have nothing
else to bestow on you; I shall leave nothing behind me but my poor."
Of these unhappy creatures, three in particular quite upset his heart. He
recoiled from the prospect of leaving them without chance of succour,
without even the crumbs which he had hitherto distributed among them, and
which had enabled them to live. One was the big Old'un, the aged
carpenter whom he and Pierre had vainly sought one night with the object
of sending him to the Asylum for the Invalids of Labour. He had been sent
there a little later, but he had fled three days afterwards, unwilling as
he was to submit to the regulations. Wild and violent, he had the most
detestable disposition. Nevertheless, he could not be left to starve. He
came to Abbe Rose's every Saturday, it seemed, and received a franc,
which sufficed him for the whole week. Then, too, there was a bedridden
old woman in a hovel in the Rue du Mont-Cenis. The baker, who every
morning took her the bread she needed, must be paid. And in particular
there was a poor young woman residing on the Place du Tertre, one who was
unmarried but a mother. She was dying of consumption, unable to work, and
tortured by the idea that when she should have gone, her daughter must
sink to the pavement like herself. And in this instance the legacy was
twofold: there was the mother to relieve until her death, which was near
at hand, and then the daughter to provide for until she could be placed
in some good household.
"You must forgive me, my dear child, for leaving you all these worries,"
added Abbe Rose. "I tried to get the good Sister, who is nursing me, to
take an interest in these poor people, but when I spoke to her of the big
Old'un, she was so alarmed that she made the sign of the cross. And it's
the same with my worthy friend Abbe Tavernier. I know nobody of more
upright mind. Still I shouldn't be at ease with him, he has ideas of his
own. . . . And so, my dear child, there is only you whom I can rely upon,
and you must accept my legacy if you wish me to depart in peace."
Pierre was weeping. "Ah! certainly, with my whole soul," he answered. "I
shall regard your desires as sacred."
"Good! I knew you would accept. . . . So it is agreed: a franc for the
big Old'un every Saturday, the bread for the bedridden woman, some help
for the poor young mother, and then a home for her little girl. Ah! if
you only knew what a weight it is off my heart! The end may come now, it
will be welcome to me."
His kind white face had brightened as if with supreme joy. Holding
Pierre's hand within his own he detained him beside the bed, exchanging a
farewell full of serene affection. And his voice weakening, he expressed
his whole mind in faint, impressive accents: "Yes, I shall be pleased to
go off. I could do no more, I could do no more! Though I gave and gave, I
felt that it was ever necessary to give more and more. And how sad to
find charity powerless, to give without hope of ever being able to stamp
out want and suffering! I rebelled against that idea of yours, as you
will remember. I told you that we should always love one another in our
poor, and that was true, since you are here, so good and affectionate to
me and those whom I am leaving behind. But, all the same, I can do no
more, I can do no more; and I would rather go off, since the woes of
others rise higher and higher around me, and I have ended by doing the
most foolish things, scandalising the faithful and making my superiors
indignant with me, without even saving one single poor person from the
ever-growing torrent of want. Farewell, my dear child. My poor old heart
goes off aching, my old hands are weary and conquered."
Pierre embraced him with his whole soul, and then departed. His eyes were
full of tears and indescribable emotion wrung his heart. Never had he
heard a more woeful cry than that confession of the impotence of charity,
on the part of that old candid child, whose heart was all simplicity and
sublime benevolence. Ah! what a disaster, that human kindness should be
futile, that the world should always display so much distress and
suffering in spite of all the compassionate tears that had been shed, in
spite of all the alms that had fallen from millions and millions of hands
for centuries and centuries! No wonder that it should bring desire for
death, no wonder that a Christian should feel pleased at escaping from
the abominations of this earth!
When Pierre again reached the workroom he found that the table had long
since been cleared, and that Bache and Morin were chatting with
Guillaume, whilst the latter's sons had returned to their customary
occupations. Marie, also, had resumed her usual place at the work-table
in front of Mere-Grand; but from time to time she rose and went to look
at Jean, so as to make sure that he was sleeping peacefully, with his
little clenched fists pressed to his heart. And when Pierre, who kept his
emotion to himself, had likewise leant over the cradle beside the young
woman, whose hair he discreetly kissed, he went to put on an apron in
order that he might assist Thomas, who was now, for the last time,
regulating his motor.
Then, as Pierre stood there awaiting an opportunity to help, the room
vanished from before his eyes; he ceased to see or hear the persons who
were there. The scent of Marie's hair alone lingered on his lips amidst
the acute emotion into which he had been thrown by his visit to Abbe
Rose. A recollection had come to him, that of the bitterly cold morning
when the old priest had stopped him outside the basilica of the Sacred
Heart, and had timidly asked him to take some alms to that old man
Laveuve, who soon afterwards had died of want, like a dog by the wayside.
How sad a morning it had been; what battle and torture had Pierre not
felt within him, and what a resurrection had come afterwards! He had that
day said one of his last masses, and he recalled with a shudder his
abominable anguish, his despairing doubts at the thought of nothingness.
Two experiments which he had previously made had failed most miserably.
First had come one at Lourdes, where the glorification of the absurd had
simply filled him with pity for any such attempt to revert to the
primitive faith of young nations, who bend beneath the terror born of
ignorance; and, secondly, there had been an experiment at Rome, which he
had found incapable of any renewal, and which he had seen staggering to
its death amidst its ruins, a mere great shadow, which would soon be of
no account, fast sinking, as it was, to the dust of dead religions. And,
in his own mind, Charity itself had become bankrupt; he no longer
believed that alms could cure the sufferings of mankind, he awaited
naught but a frightful catastrophe, fire and massacre, which would sweep
away the guilty, condemned world. His cassock, too, stifled him, a lie
alone kept it on his shoulders, the idea, unbelieving priest though he
was, that he could honestly and chastely watch over the belief of others.
The problem of a new religion, a new hope, such as was needful to ensure
the peace of the coming democracies tortured him, but between the
certainties of science and the need of the Divine, which seemed to
consume humanity, he could find no solution. If Christianity crumbled
with the principle of Charity, there could remain nothing else but
Justice, that cry which came from every breast, that battle of Justice
against Charity in which his heart must contend in that great city of
Paris. It was there that began his third and decisive experiment, the
experiment which was to make truth as plain to him as the sun itself, and
give him back health and strength and delight in life.
At this point of his reverie Pierre was roused by Thomas, who asked him
to fetch a tool. As he did so he heard Bache remarking: "The ministry
resigned this morning. Vignon has had enough of it, he wants to reserve
his remaining strength."
"Well, he has lasted more than a twelvemonth," replied Morin. "That's
already an achievement."
After the crime of Victor Mathis, who had been tried and executed within
three weeks, Monferrand had suddenly fallen from power. What was the use
of having a strong-handed man at the head of the Government if bombs
still continued to terrify the country? Moreover, he had displeased the
Chamber by his voracious appetite, which had prevented him from allowing
others more than an infinitesimal share of all the good things. And this
time he had been succeeded by Vignon, although the latter's programme of
reforms had long made people tremble. He, Vignon, was honest certainly,
but of all these reforms he had only been able to carry out a few
insignificant ones, for he had found himself hampered by a thousand
obstacles. And thus he had resigned himself to ruling the country as
others had done; and people had discovered that after all there were but
faint shades of difference between him and Monferrand.
"You know that Monferrand is being spoken of again?" said Guillaume.
"Yes, and he has some chance of success. His creatures are bestirring
themselves tremendously," replied Bache, adding, in a bitter, jesting
way, that Mege, the Collectivist leader, played the part of a dupe in
overthrowing ministry after ministry. He simply gratified the ambition of
each coterie in turn, without any possible chance of attaining to power
Thereupon Guillaume pronounced judgment. "Oh! well, let them devour one
another," said he. "Eager as they all are to reign and dispose of power
and wealth, they only fight over questions of persons. And nothing they
do can prevent the evolution from continuing. Ideas expand, and events
occur, and, over and above everything else, mankind is marching on."
Pierre was greatly struck by these words, and he again recalled the past.
His dolorous Parisian experiment had begun, and he was once more roaming
through the city. Paris seemed to him to be a huge vat, in which a world
fermented, something of the best and something of the worst, a frightful
mixture such as sorceresses might have used; precious powders mingled
with filth, from all of which was to come the philter of love and eternal
youth. And in that vat Pierre first marked the scum of the political
world: Monferrand who strangled Barroux, who purchased the support of
hungry ones such as Fonsegue, Duthil and Chaigneux, who made use of those
who attained to mediocrity, such as Taboureau and Dauvergne; and who
employed even the sectarian passions of Mege and the intelligent ambition
of Vignon as his weapons. Next came money the poisoner, with that affair
of the African Railways, which had rotted the Parliament and turned
Duvillard, the triumphant /bourgeois/, into a public perverter, the very
cancer as it were of the financial world. Then as a just consequence of
all this there was Duvillard's own home infected by himself, that
frightful drama of Eve contending with her daughter Camille for the
possession of Gerard, then Camille stealing him from her mother, and
Hyacinthe, the son, passing his crazy mistress Rosemonde on to that
notorious harlot Silviane, with whom his father publicly exhibited
himself. Then there was the old expiring aristocracy, with the pale, sad
faces of Madame de Quinsac and the Marquis de Morigny; the old military
spirit whose funeral was conducted by General de Bozonnet; the magistracy
which slavishly served the powers of the day, Amadieu thrusting himself
into notoriety by means of sensational cases, Lehmann, the public
prosecutor, preparing his speeches in the private room of the Minister
whose policy he defended; and, finally, the mendacious and cupid Press
which lived upon scandal, the everlasting flood of denunciation and filth
which poured from Sagnier, and the gay impudence shown by the
unscrupulous and conscienceless Massot, who attacked all and defended
all, by profession and to order! And in the same way as insects, on
discovering one of their own kind dying, will often finish it off and
fatten upon it, so the whole swarm of appetites, interests and passions
had fallen upon a wretched madman, that unhappy Salvat, whose idiotic
crime had brought them all scrambling together, gluttonously eager to
derive some benefit from that starveling's emaciated carcass. And all
boiled in the huge vat of Paris; the desires, the deeds of violence, the
strivings of one and another man's will, the whole nameless medley of the
bitterest ferments, whence, in all purity, the wine of the future would
at last flow.
Then Pierre became conscious of the prodigious work which went on in the
depths of the vat, beneath all the impurity and waste. As his brother had
just said, what mattered the stains, the egotism and greed of
politicians, if humanity were still on the march, ever slowly and
stubbornly stepping forward! What mattered, too, that corrupt and
emasculate /bourgeoisie/, nowadays as moribund as the aristocracy, whose
place it took, if behind it there ever came the inexhaustible reserve of
men who surged up from the masses of the country-sides and the towns!
What mattered the debauchery, the perversion arising from excess of
wealth and power, the luxuriousness and dissoluteness of life, since it
seemed a proven fact that the capitals that had been queens of the world
had never reigned without extreme civilisation, a cult of beauty and of
pleasure! And what mattered even the venality, the transgressions and the
folly of the press, if at the same time it remained an admirable
instrument for the diffusion of knowledge, the open conscience, so to
say, of the nation, a river which, though there might be horrors on its
surface, none the less flowed on, carrying all nations to the brotherly
ocean of the future centuries! The human lees ended by sinking to the
bottom of the vat, and it was not possible to expect that what was right
would triumph visibly every day; for it was often necessary that years
should elapse before the realisation of some hope could emerge from the
fermentation. Eternal matter is ever being cast afresh into the crucible
and ever coming from it improved. And if in the depths of pestilential
workshops and factories the slavery of ancient times subsists in the
wage-earning system, if such men as Toussaint still die of want on their
pallets like broken-down beasts of burden, it is nevertheless a fact that
once already, on a memorable day of tempest, Liberty sprang forth from
the vat to wing her flight throughout the world. And why in her turn
should not Justice spring from it, proceeding from those troubled
elements, freeing herself from all dross, flowing forth with dazzling
limpidity and regenerating the nations?
However, the voices of Bache and Morin, rising in the course of their
chat with Guillaume, once more drew Pierre from his reverie. They were
now speaking of Janzen, who after being compromised in a fresh outrage at
Barcelona had fled from Spain. Bache fancied that he had recognised him
in the street only the previous day. To think that a man with so clear a
mind and such keen energy should waste his natural gifts in such a
"When I remember," said Morin slowly, "that Barthes lives in exile in a
shabby little room at Brussels, ever quivering with the hope that the
reign of liberty is at hand--he who has never had a drop of blood on his
hands and who has spent two-thirds of his life in prison in order that
the nations may be freed!"
Bache gently shrugged his shoulders: "Liberty, liberty, of course," said
he; "only it is worth nothing if it is not organised."
Thereupon their everlasting discussion began afresh, with Saint-Simon and
Fourier on one side and Proudhon and Auguste Comte on the other. Bache
gave a long account of the last commemoration which had taken place in
honour of Fourier's memory, how faithful disciples had brought wreaths
and made speeches, forming quite a meeting of apostles, who all
stubbornly clung to their faith, as confident in the future as if they
were the messengers of some new gospel. Afterwards Morin emptied his
pockets, which were always full of Positivist tracts and pamphlets,
manifestos, answers and so forth, in which Comte's doctrines were
extolled as furnishing the only possible basis for the new, awaited
religion. Pierre, who listened, thereupon remembered the disputes in his
little house at Neuilly when he himself, searching for certainty, had
endeavoured to draw up the century's balance-sheet. He had lost his
depth, in the end, amidst the contradictions and incoherency of the
various precursors. Although Fourier had sprung from Saint-Simon, he
denied him in part, and if Saint-Simon's doctrine ended in a kind of
mystical sensuality, the other's conducted to an inacceptable regimenting
of society. Proudhon, for his part, demolished without rebuilding
anything. Comte, who created method and declared science to be the one
and only sovereign, had not even suspected the advent of the social
crisis which now threatened to sweep all away, and had finished
personally as a mere worshipper of love, overpowered by woman.
Nevertheless, these two, Comte and Proudhon, entered the lists and fought
against the others, Fourier and Saint-Simon; the combat between them or
their disciples becoming so bitter and so blind that the truths common to
them all at first seemed obscured and disfigured beyond recognition. Now,
however, that evolution had slowly transformed Pierre, those common
truths seemed to him as irrefutable, as clear as the sunlight itself.
Amidst the chaos of conflicting assertions which was to be found in the
gospels of those social messiahs, there were certain similar phrases and
principles which recurred again and again, the defence of the poor, the
idea of a new and just division of the riches of the world in accordance
with individual labour and merit, and particularly the search for a new
law of labour which would enable this fresh distribution to be made
equitably. Since all the precursory men of genius agreed so closely upon
those points, must they not be the very foundations of to-morrow's new
religion, the necessary faith which this century must bequeath to the
coming century, in order that the latter may make of it a human religion
of peace, solidarity and love?
Then, all at once, there came a leap in Pierre's thoughts. He fancied
himself at the Madeleine once more, listening to the address on the New
Spirit delivered by Monseigneur Martha, who had predicted that Paris, now
reconverted to Christianity, would, thanks to the Sacred Heart, become
the ruler of the world. But no, but no! If Paris reigned, it was because
it was able to exercise its intelligence freely. To set the cross and the
mystic and repulsive symbolism of a bleeding heart above it was simply so
much falsehood. Although they might rear edifices of pride and domination
as if to crush Paris with their very weight, although they might try to
stop science in the name of a dead ideal and in the hope of setting their
clutches upon the coming century, these attempts would be of no avail.
Science will end by sweeping away all remnants of their ancient
sovereignty, their basilica will crumble beneath the breeze of Truth
without any necessity of raising a finger against it. The trial has been
made, the Gospel as a social code has fallen to pieces, and human wisdom
can only retain account of its moral maxims. Ancient Catholicism is on
all sides crumbling into dust, Catholic Rome is a mere field of ruins
from which the nations turn aside, anxious as they are for a religion
that shall not be a religion of death. In olden times the overburdened
slave, glowing with a new hope and seeking to escape from his gaol,
dreamt of a heaven where in return for his earthly misery he would be
rewarded with eternal enjoyment. But now that science has destroyed that
false idea of a heaven, and shown what dupery lies in reliance on the
morrow of death, the slave, the workman, weary of dying for happiness'
sake, demands that justice and happiness shall find place upon this
earth. Therein lies the new hope--Justice, after eighteen hundred years
of impotent Charity. Ah! in a thousand years from now, when Catholicism
will be naught but a very ancient superstition of the past, how amazed
men will be to think that their ancestors were able to endure that
religion of torture and nihility! How astonished they will feel on
finding that God was regarded as an executioner, that manhood was
threatened, maimed and chastised, that nature was accounted an enemy,
that life was looked upon as something accursed, and that death alone was
pronounced sweet and liberating! For well-nigh two thousand years the
onward march of mankind has been hampered by the odious idea of tearing
all that is human away from man: his desires, his passions, his free
intelligence, his will and right of action, his whole strength. And how
glorious will be the awakening when such virginity as is now honoured by
the Church is held in derision, when fruitfulness is again recognised as
a virtue, amidst the hosanna of all the freed forces of nature--man's
desires which will be honoured, his passions which will be utilised, his
labour which will be exalted, whilst life is loved and ever and ever
creates love afresh!
A new religion! a new religion! Pierre remembered the cry which had
escaped him at Lourdes, and which he had repeated at Rome in presence of
the collapse of old Catholicism. But he no longer displayed the same
feverish eagerness as then--a puerile, sickly desire that a new Divinity
should at once reveal himself, an ideal come into being, complete in all
respects, with dogmas and form of worship. The Divine certainly seemed to
be as necessary to man as were bread and water; he had ever fallen back
upon it, hungering for the mysterious, seemingly having no other means of
consolation than that of annihilating himself in the unknown. But who can
say that science will not some day quench the thirst for what lies beyond
us? If the domain of science embraces the acquired truths, it also
embraces, and will ever do so, the truths that remain to be acquired. And
in front of it will there not ever remain a margin for the thirst of
knowledge, for the hypotheses which are but so much ideality? Besides, is
not the yearning for the divine simply a desire to behold the Divinity?
And if science should more and more content the yearning to know all and
be able to do all, will not that yearning be quieted and end by mingling
with the love of acquired truth? A religion grafted on science is the
indicated, certain, inevitable finish of man's long march towards
knowledge. He will come to it at last as to a natural haven, as to peace
in the midst of certainty, after passing every form of ignorance and
terror on his road. And is there not already some indication of such a
religion? Has not the idea of the duality of God and the Universe been
brushed aside, and is not the principle of unity, /monisme/, becoming
more and more evident--unity leading to solidarity, and the sole law of
life proceeding by evolution from the first point of the ether that
condensed to create the world? But if precursors, scientists and
philosophers--Darwin, Fourier and all the others--have sown the seed of
to-morrow's religion by casting the good word to the passing breeze, how
many centuries will doubtless be required to raise the crop! People
always forget that before Catholicism grew up and reigned in the
sunlight, it spent four centuries in germinating and sprouting from the
soil. Well, then, grant some centuries to this religion of science of
whose sprouting there are signs upon all sides, and by-and-by the
admirable ideas of some Fourier will be seen expanding and forming a new
gospel, with desire serving as the lever to raise the world, work
accepted by one and all, honoured and regulated as the very mechanism of
natural and social life, and the passions of man excited, contented and
utilised for human happiness! The universal cry of Justice, which rises
louder and louder, in a growing clamour from the once silent multitude,
the people that have so long been duped and preyed upon, is but a cry for
this happiness towards which human beings are tending, the happiness that
embodies the complete satisfaction of man's needs, and the principle of
life loved for its own sake, in the midst of peace and the expansion of
every force and every joy. The time will come when this Kingdom of God
will be set upon the earth; so why not close that other deceptive
paradise, even if the weak-minded must momentarily suffer from the
destruction of their illusions; for it is necessary to operate even with
cruelty on the blind if they are to be extricated from their misery, from
their long and frightful night of ignorance!
All at once a feeling of deep joy came over Pierre. A child's faint cry,
the wakening cry of his son Jean had drawn him from his reverie. And he
had suddenly remembered that he himself was now saved, freed from
falsehood and fright, restored to good and healthy nature. How he
quivered as he recalled that he had once fancied himself lost, blotted
out of life, and that a prodigy of love had extricated him from his
nothingness, still strong and sound, since that dear child of his was
there, sturdy and smiling. Life had brought forth life; and truth had
burst forth, as dazzling as the sun. He had made his third experiment
with Paris, and this had been conclusive; it had been no wretched
miscarriage with increase of darkness and grief, like his other
experiments at Lourdes and Rome. In the first place, the law of labour
had been revealed to him, and he had imposed upon himself a task, as
humble a one as it was, that manual calling which he was learning so late
in life, but which was, nevertheless, a form of labour, and one in which
he would never fail, one too that would lend him the serenity which comes
from the accomplishment of duty, for life itself was but labour: it was
only by effort that the world existed. And then, moreover, he had loved;
and salvation had come to him from woman and from his child. Ah! what a
long and circuitous journey he had made to reach this finish at once so
natural and so simple! How he had suffered, how much error and anger he
had known before doing what all men ought to do! That eager, glowing love
which had contended against his reason, which had bled at sight of the
arrant absurdities of the miraculous grotto of Lourdes, which had bled
again too in presence of the haughty decline of the Vatican, had at last
found contentment now that he was husband and father, now that he had
confidence in work and believed in the just laws of life. And thence had
come the indisputable truth, the one solution--happiness in certainty.
Whilst Pierre was thus plunged in thought, Bache and Morin had already
gone off with their customary handshakes and promises to come and chat
again some evening. And as Jean was now crying more loudly, Marie took
him in her arms and unhooked her dress-body to give him her breast.
"Oh! the darling, it's his time, you know, and he doesn't forget it!" she
said. "Just look, Pierre, I believe he has got bigger since yesterday."
She laughed; and Pierre, likewise laughing, drew near to kiss the child.
And afterwards he kissed his wife, mastered as he was by emotion at the
sight of that pink, gluttonous little creature imbibing life from that
lovely breast so full of milk.
"Why! he'll eat you," he gaily said to Marie. "How he's pulling!"
"Oh! he does bite me a little," she replied; "but I like that the better,
it shows that he profits by it."
Then Mere-Grand, she who as a rule was so serious and silent, began to
talk with a smile lighting up her face: "I weighed him this morning,"
said she, "he weighs nearly a quarter of a pound more than he did the
last time. And if you had only seen how good he was, the darling! He will
be a very intelligent and well-behaved little gentleman, such as I like.
When he's five years old, I shall teach him his alphabet, and when he's
fifteen, if he likes, I'll tell him how to be a man. . . . Don't you
agree with me, Thomas? And you, Antoine, and you, too, Francois?"
Raising their heads, the three sons gaily nodded their approval, grateful
as they felt for the lessons in heroism which she had given them, and
apparently finding no reason why she might not live another twenty years
in order to give similar lessons to Jean.
Pierre still remained in front of Marie, basking in all the rapture of
love, when he felt Guillaume lay his hands upon his shoulders from
behind. And on turning round he saw that his brother was also radiant,
like one who felt well pleased at seeing them so happy. "Ah! brother,"
said Guillaume softly, "do you remember my telling you that you suffered
solely from the battle between your mind and your heart, and that you
would find quietude again when you loved what you could understand? It
was necessary that our father and mother, whose painful quarrel had
continued beyond the grave, should be reconciled in you. And now it's
done, they sleep in peace within you, since you yourself are pacified."
These words filled Pierre with emotion. Joy beamed upon his face, which
was now so open and energetic. He still had the towering brow, that
impregnable fortress of reason, which he had derived from his father, and
he still had the gentle chin and affectionate eyes and mouth which his
mother had given him, but all was now blended together, instinct with
happy harmony and serene strength. Those two experiments of his which had
miscarried, were like crises of his maternal heredity, the tearful
tenderness which had come to him from his mother, and which for lack of
satisfaction had made him desperate; and his third experiment had only
ended in happiness because he had contented his ardent thirst for love in
accordance with sovereign reason, that paternal heredity which pleaded so
loudly within him. Reason remained the queen. And if his sufferings had
thus always come from the warfare which his reason had waged against his
heart, it was because he was man personified, ever struggling between his
intelligence and his passions. And how peaceful all seemed, now that he
had reconciled and satisfied them both, now that he felt healthy, perfect
and strong, like some lofty oak, which grows in all freedom, and whose
branches spread far away over the forest.
"You have done good work in that respect," Guillaume affectionately
continued, "for yourself and for all of us, and even for our dear parents
whose shades, pacified and reconciled, now abide so peacefully in the
little home of our childhood. I often think of our dear house at Neuilly,
which old Sophie is taking care of for us; and although, out of egotism,
a desire to set happiness around me, I wished to keep you here, your Jean
must some day go and live there, so as to bring it fresh youth."
Pierre had taken hold of his brother's hands, and looking into his eyes
he asked: "And you--are you happy?"
"Yes, very happy, happier than I have ever been; happy at loving you as I
do, and happy at being loved by you as no one else will ever love me."
Their hearts mingled in ardent brotherly affection, the most perfect and
heroic affection that can blend men together. And they embraced one
another whilst, with her babe on her breast, Marie, so gay, healthful and
loyal, looked at them and smiled, with big tears gathering in her eyes.
Thomas, however, having finished his motor's last toilet, had just set it
in motion. It was a prodigy of lightness and strength, of no weight
whatever in comparison with the power it displayed. And it worked with
perfect smoothness, without noise or smell. The whole family was gathered
round it in delight, when there came a timely visit, one from the learned
and friendly Bertheroy, whom indeed Guillaume had asked to call, in order
that he might see the motor working.
The great chemist at once expressed his admiration; and when he had
examined the mechanism and understood how the explosive was employed as
motive power--an idea which he had long recommended,--he tendered
enthusiastic congratulations to Guillaume and Thomas. "You have created a
little marvel," said he, "one which may have far-reaching effects both
socially and humanly. Yes, yes, pending the invention of the electrical
motor which we have not yet arrived at, here is an ideal one, a system of
mechanical traction for all sorts of vehicles. Even aerial navigation may
now become a possibility, and the problem of force at home is finally
solved. And what a grand step! What sudden progress! Distance again
diminished, all roads thrown open, and men able to fraternise! This is a
great boon, a splendid gift, my good friends, that you are bestowing on
Then he began to jest about the new explosive, whose prodigious power he
had divined, and which he now found put to such a beneficent purpose.
"And to think, Guillaume," he said, "that I fancied you acted with so
much mysteriousness and hid the formula of your powder from me because
you had an idea of blowing up Paris!"
At this Guillaume became grave and somewhat pale. And he confessed the
truth. "Well, I did for a moment think of it."
However, Bertheroy went on laughing, as if he regarded this answer as
mere repartee, though truth to tell he had felt a slight chill sweep
through his hair. "Well, my friend," he said, "you have done far better
in offering the world this marvel, which by the way must have been both a
difficult and dangerous matter. So here is a powder which was intended to
exterminate people, and which in lieu thereof will now increase their
comfort and welfare. In the long run things always end well, as I'm quite
tired of saying."
On beholding such lofty and tolerant good nature, Guillaume felt moved.
Bertheroy's words were true. What had been intended for purposes of
destruction served the cause of progress; the subjugated, domesticated
volcano became labour, peace and civilisation. Guillaume had even
relinquished all idea of his engine of battle and victory; he had found
sufficient satisfaction in this last invention of his, which would
relieve men of some measure of weariness, and help to reduce their labour
to just so much effort as there must always be. In this he detected some
little advance towards Justice; at all events it was all that he himself
could contribute to the cause. And when on turning towards the window he
caught sight of the basilica of the Sacred Heart, he could not explain
what insanity had at one moment cone over him, and set him dreaming of
idiotic and useless destruction. Some miasmal gust must have swept by,
something born of want that scattered germs of anger and vengeance. But
how blind it was to think that destruction and murder could ever bear
good fruit, ever sow the soil with plenty and happiness! Violence cannot
last, and all it does is to rouse man's feeling of solidarity even among
those on whose behalf one kills. The people, the great multitude, rebel
against the isolated individual who seeks to wreak justice. No one man
can take upon himself the part of the volcano; this is the whole
terrestrial crust, the whole multitude which internal fire impels to rise
and throw up either an Alpine chain or a better and freer society. And
whatever heroism there may be in their madness, however great and
contagious may be their thirst for martyrdom, murderers are never
anything but murderers, whose deeds simply sow the seeds of horror. And
if on the one hand Victor Mathis had avenged Salvat, he had also slain
him, so universal had been the cry of reprobation roused by the second
crime, which was yet more monstrous and more useless than the first.
Guillaume, laughing in his turn, replied to Bertheroy in words which
showed how completely he was cured: "You are right," he said, "all ends
well since all contributes to truth and justice. Unfortunately, thousands
of years are sometimes needed for any progress to be accomplished. . . .
However, for my part, I am simply going to put my new explosive on the
market, so that those who secure the necessary authorisation may
manufacture it and grow rich. Henceforth it belongs to one and all. . . .
And I've renounced all idea of revolutionising the world."
But Bertheroy protested. This great official scientist, this member of
the Institute laden with offices and honours, pointed to the little
motor, and replied with all the vigour of his seventy years: "But that is
revolution, the true, the only revolution. It is with things like that
and not with stupid bombs that one revolutionises the world! It is not by
destroying, but by creating, that you have just done the work of a
revolutionist. And how many times already have I not told you that
science alone is the world's revolutionary force, the only force which,
far above all paltry political incidents, the vain agitation of despots,
priests, sectarians and ambitious people of all kinds, works for the
benefit of those who will come after us, and prepares the triumph of
truth, justice and peace. . . . Ah, my dear child, if you wish to
overturn the world by striving to set a little more happiness in it, you
have only to remain in your laboratory here, for human happiness can
spring only from the furnace of the scientist."
He spoke perhaps in a somewhat jesting way, but one could feel that he
was convinced of it all, that he held everything excepting science in
utter contempt. He had not even shown any surprise when Pierre had cast
his cassock aside; and on finding him there with his wife and child he
had not scrupled to show him as much affection as in the past.
Meantime, however, the motor was travelling hither and thither, making no
more noise than a bluebottle buzzing in the sunshine. The whole happy
family was gathered about it, still laughing with delight at such a
victorious achievement. And all at once little Jean, Monsieur Jean,
having finished sucking, turned round, displaying his milk-smeared lips,
and perceived the machine, the pretty plaything which walked about by
itself. At sight of it, his eyes sparkled, dimples appeared on his plump
cheeks, and, stretching out his quivering chubby hands, he raised a crow
Marie, who was quietly fastening her dress, smiled at his glee and
brought him nearer, in order that he might have a better view of the toy.
"Ah! my darling, it's pretty, isn't it? It moves and it turns, and it's
strong; it's quite alive, you see."
The others, standing around, were much amused by the amazed, enraptured
expression of the child, who would have liked to touch the machine,
perhaps in the hope of understanding it.
"Yes," resumed Bertheroy, "it's alive and it's powerful like the sun,
like that great sun shining yonder over Paris, and ripening men and
things. And Paris too is a motor, a boiler in which the future is
boiling, while we scientists keep the eternal flame burning underneath.
Guillaume, my good fellow, you are one of the stokers, one of the
artisans of the future, with that little marvel of yours, which will
still further extend the influence of our great Paris over the whole
These words impressed Pierre, and he again thought of a gigantic vat
stretching yonder from one horizon to the other, a vat in which the
coming century would emerge from an extraordinary mixture of the
excellent and the vile. But now, over and above all passions, ambitions,
stains and waste, he was conscious of the colossal expenditure of labour
which marked the life of Paris, of the heroic manual efforts in
work-shops and factories, and the splendid striving of the young men of
intellect whom he knew to be hard at work, studying in silence,
relinquishing none of the conquests of their elders, but glowing with
desire to enlarge their domain. And in all this Paris was exalted,
together with the future that was being prepared within it, and which
would wing its flight over the world bright like the dawn of day. If
Rome, now so near its death, had ruled the ancient world, it was Paris
that reigned with sovereign sway over the modern era, and had for the
time become the great centre of the nations as they were carried on from
civilisation to civilisation, in a sunward course from east to west.
Paris was the world's brain. Its past so full of grandeur had prepared it
for the part of initiator, civiliser and liberator. Only yesterday it had
cast the cry of Liberty among the nations, and to-morrow it would bring
them the religion of Science, the new faith awaited by the democracies.
And Paris was also gaiety, kindness and gentleness, passion for knowledge
and generosity without limit. Among the workmen of its faubourgs and the
peasants of its country-sides there were endless reserves of men on whom
the future might freely draw. And the century ended with Paris, and the
new century would begin and spread with it. All the clamour of its
prodigious labour, all the light that came from it as from a beacon
overlooking the earth, all the thunder and tempest and triumphant
brightness that sprang from its entrails, were pregnant with that final
splendour, of which human happiness would be compounded.
Marie raised a light cry of admiration as she pointed towards the city.
"Look! just look!" she exclaimed; "Paris is all golden, covered with a
harvest of gold!"
They all re-echoed her admiration, for the effect was really one of
extraordinary magnificence. The declining sun was once more veiling the
immensity of Paris with golden dust. But this was no longer the city of
the sower, a chaos of roofs and edifices suggesting brown land turned up
by some huge plough, whilst the sun-rays streamed over it like golden
seed, falling upon every side. Nor was it the city whose divisions had
one day seemed so plain to Pierre: eastward, the districts of toil, misty
with the grey smoke of factories; southward, the districts of study,
serene and quiet; westward, the districts of wealth, bright and open; and
in the centre the districts of trade, with dark and busy streets. It now
seemed as if one and the same crop had sprung up on every side, imparting
harmony to everything, and making the entire expanse one sole, boundless
field, rich with the same fruitfulness. There was corn, corn everywhere,
an infinity of corn, whose golden wave rolled from one end of the horizon
to the other. Yes, the declining sun steeped all Paris in equal
splendour, and it was truly the crop, the harvest, after the sowing!
"Look! just look," repeated Marie, "there is not a nook without its
sheaf; the humblest roofs are fruitful, and every blade is full-eared
wherever one may look. It is as if there were now but one and the same
soil, reconciled and fraternal. Ah! Jean, my little Jean, look! see how
beautiful it is!"
Pierre, who was quivering, had drawn close beside her. And Mere-Grand and
Bertheroy smiled upon that promise of a future which they would not see,
whilst beside Guillaume, whom the sight filled with emotion, were his
three big sons, the three young giants, looking quite grave, they who
ever laboured and were ever hopeful. Then Marie, with a fine gesture of
enthusiasm, stretched out her arms and raised her child aloft, as if
offering it in gift to the huge city.
"See, Jean! see, little one," she cried, "it's you who'll reap it all,
who'll store the whole crop in the barn!"
And Paris flared--Paris, which the divine sun had sown with light, and
where in glory waved the great future harvest of Truth and of Justice.
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