There’s nothing the matter with

On the following Saturday, when Louise, who had come on a two months’
visit to the Chanteaus, stepped on to the terrace, she found the family
there. The hot August day was drawing to a close, and a cool breeze
rose up from the sea. Abbé Horteur had already made his appearance,
and was playing draughts with Chanteau. Madame Chanteau sat near them,
embroidering a handkerchief; and, a few yards further away, Pauline
stood in front of a stone seat on which she had placed four children
from the village, two little lads and two little girls.

‘What! you have got here already!’ cried Madame Chanteau. ‘I was just
folding up my work to go and meet you at the cross-roads.’

Louise gaily explained that old Malivoire had flown along like the
wind. She was all right, she said, and did not even want to change her
dress; and, while her godmother went off to see about her room, she
hung her hat on the hasp of a shutter. She kissed them all round, and
then, all smiling and caressing, threw her arms round Pauline’s waist.

‘Now, look at me,’ she said. ‘Good gracious! how we have grown! I’m
turned nineteen now, you know, and am getting quite an old maid.’

And after a moment’s silence she added rapidly:

‘By the way, I must congratulate you. Oh! don’t look so shy! I hear it
is settled for next month.’

Pauline had returned her caresses with the grave affection of an elder
sister, although in reality she was the younger by some eighteen
months. A slight blush rose to her cheeks at the reference to her
marriage with Lazare.

‘Oh, no! you have been misinformed, really,’ she replied. ‘Nothing is
definitely fixed, but it will perhaps be some time in the autumn.’

Madame Chanteau, when pressed on the subject, had indeed spoken of
the autumn, in spite of her unwillingness to commit herself to the
match, an unwillingness which the two young people were beginning to
notice. She was again beginning to harp upon her old excuse for delay,
saying that she should much prefer them waiting till Lazare should have
acquired some definite position.

‘Ah! I see,’ said Louise, ‘you want to make a secret of it. Well, never
mind; but you’ll ask me to come, won’t you? Where’s Lazare? Isn’t he
here?’

Chanteau, who had just suffered a defeat at the hands of the priest,
here joined in the conversation, saying:

‘Haven’t you seen anything of him, Louise? We were expecting you to
get here together. He has gone to Bayeux to make an application to the
Sub-Prefect, but he will be back again this evening–almost directly, I
should think.’

Then he turned to the draught-board to commence a fresh game.

‘I move first this time, Abbé. We shall manage to get those famous
dykes made, I fancy; for the department surely can’t refuse to make us
a grant to help on the undertaking.’

He was referring to a new scheme which Lazare had taken up with his
usual enthusiasm. During the spring-tides of the previous March the sea
had again carried away a couple of houses at Bonneville. Devoured bit
by bit on its narrow bed of shingle, the village, it was clear, would
be driven to the very cliff unless some substantial protecting works
were quickly built. But the little place, with its thirty cottages, was
of such slight importance in the world that Chanteau, as Mayor, had for
the last ten years been vainly calling the Sub-Prefect’s attention to
the perilous position of the villagers. At last Lazare, spurred on by
Pauline, whose great wish was to see her cousin actively employed, had
conceived a grand idea of a system of piles and breakwaters which would
keep back the ravages of the sea. However, money was wanted, and at
least twelve thousand francs would be necessary.

‘Ah! I must huff you, my friend,’ said the priest, taking one of
Chanteau’s pieces.

Then he launched out into details of old Bonneville.

‘The old folks say that there was once a farm below the church, quite
half a mile and more from the present shore. For five hundred years the
sea has been gradually eating away the land. It is surely a punishment
for the sins of their ancestors.’

Pauline, however, had now returned to the stone seat, where the four
young ones were waiting, dirty, ragged, and open-mouthed.

‘Who is it you’ve got there?’ Louise asked her, not daring to venture
too near them.

‘Oh! they are some little friends of mine,’ Pauline replied.

The girl’s active charity now spread all over the neighbourhood. She
had an instinctive affection for the wretched, and she was never
repelled by their forlorn condition. She even carried this feeling so
far as to patch up the broken legs of fowls with splinters of wood,
and to set bowls of pap outside at night for homeless cats. Distress
of every kind was a source of continual occupation to her, and to
alleviate it was her great pleasure. So the poor flocked round her with
outstretched hands, just as pilfering sparrows swarm round the open
windows of a corn-loft. All Bonneville, with its handful of fishermen
thrown into distress by the sweeping spring-tides, came up to see the
‘young lady,’ as they called her. But it was the children who were her
especial favourites, the little things with ragged clothes, through
which their pink flesh peeped, poor, frail-looking, half-fed creatures,
whose eyes glistened wolfishly at the slices of bread and butter
that she brought out for them. The cunning parents took advantage of
Pauline’s love for the children, making it a custom to send her the
most sickly and ragged that they had, in order that they might increase
her commiseration.

‘You see,’ she said, with a smile, ‘I have my day at home, Saturday,
just like a fashionable lady, and my friends come to see me. Now, now!
little Gonin, just give over pinching that silly Houtelard. I shall be
cross with you if you don’t behave better. Now, we will begin in order.’

Then the distribution commenced. She lectured them, and hustled them
about in quite a maternal manner. The first she called up to her was
young Houtelard, a lad of some ten years, with a sallow complexion and
a gloomy timid expression. He began to show her his leg. A big strip of
skin had been torn from the knee, and his father had sent him to let
the young lady see it, so that she might give him something for it.
It was Pauline who supplied arnica and liniments to all the country
round. The pleasure she took in healing had resulted in the gradual
acquisition of a complete collection of drugs, of which she was very
proud. When she had attended to the lad’s knee, she lowered her voice
and proceeded to give Louise some particulars about his relations.

‘They are quite well-to-do people, those Houtelards, you know; the
only well-to-do fisher-folks in Bonneville. That big smack, you know,
belongs to them. But they are frightfully avaricious, and live real
dogs’ lives in the midst of the most horrible filth. The worst of it
all is that the father, after beating his wife to death, has married
his servant, a dreadful woman, who is even harsher than himself, and
between them they are gradually murdering the poor child.’

Then, without taking notice of her friend’s repugnance, she raised her
voice again, and called another of the children.

‘Now, little one, you come here; have you drunk your bottle of
quinine-wine?’

This child was the little daughter of Prouane, the verger. She looked
like an infant Saint Theresa, marked all over with scrofula, flushed
and frightfully thin, with big eyes, in which hysteria was already
gleaming. She was eleven years old, but seemed to be scarcely seven.

‘Yes, Mademoiselle,’ she stammered; ‘I have drunk it all.’

‘You little story-teller!’ cried the priest, without taking his eyes
from the draught-board. ‘Your father smelt strongly of wine last night.’

Pauline looked extremely annoyed. The Prouanes had no boat, but made
their living by catching crabs and shrimps and gathering mussels. With
the additional profits of the vergership they might have lived in
decent comfort if it had not been for their drinking habits. The father
and mother were often to be seen lying in their doorway stupefied by
‘calvados,’ the strong, raw, cyder-brandy of Normandy, while the little
girl stepped over their legs to drain their glasses. When no ‘calvados’
was to be had, Prouane drank his daughter’s quinine-wine.

‘And to think I took so much trouble to make it for you!’ said Pauline.
‘Well, for the future, I shall keep the bottle here, and you will have
to come up every afternoon at five o’clock. And I will give you a
little minced raw meat. The doctor has ordered it for you.’

It was next the turn of a big twelve-year-old boy, Cuche’s son, a lean
and scraggy stripling. Pauline gave him a loaf, some stewed meat, and
also a five-franc piece. His was another wretched story. After the
destruction of their house Cuche had deserted his wife, and gone to
live with a female cousin, and the wife was now taking refuge in an
old dilapidated Coastguard watch-house, where she led an immoral life.
The lad, who kept with her and shared the little she had, was almost
starving, but whenever any suggestion was made of rescuing him from
that wretched den he bolted off like a wild goat. Louise turned her
head away with an air of disgust when Pauline, without the slightest
embarrassment, told her the boy’s story. She, Pauline, had grown up
in a free unrestrained way, and looked with charity’s unflinching eye
upon the vices of humanity. Louise, on the other hand, initiated into
knowledge of life by ten years spent at boarding-schools, blushed at
the ideas which Pauline’s words suggested. In her estimation these were
matters which people thought of, but should not mention.

‘The other little girl there,’ Pauline went on, ‘that fair-haired
little child, who is so rosy and bonny, is the daughter of the Gonins,
with whom that rascal Cuche has taken up his quarters. She is nine
years old. The Gonins were once very comfortably off, and had a smack
of their own, but the father was attacked with paralysis in the legs,
a very common complaint in our villages about here, and Cuche, who
was only a common seaman to begin with, soon made himself the master.
Now the whole house belongs to him, and he bullies the poor old man,
who passes his days and nights inside an old coal-chest, while Cuche
and the wife lord it over him. I look after the child myself, but I
am sorry to say she comes in for a good many cuffings at home, and is
unfortunately much too shrewd and noticing.’

Here Pauline stopped and turned to the child to question her.

‘How are they all getting on at home?’ she asked.

The child had watched Pauline while the latter was explaining matters
in an undertone. Her pretty but vicious face smiled slyly at what she
guessed was being said.

‘Oh, they’ve beaten him again,’ she said, still continuing to smile.
‘Last night mother got up and caught hold of a log of wood. Ah!
Mademoiselle, it would be very good of you to give father a little
wine, for they have put an empty jug by the chest, telling him that he
may drink till he bursts.’

Louise made a gesture of disgust. What horrible people! How could
Pauline take any interest in such dreadful things? Was it really
possible that near a big town like Caen there existed such hideous
places, where people lived in that utterly barbarous fashion?[4] For,
surely, they could be nothing less than savages, to thus trample under
foot all law, both divine and human.

‘There! there! I have had quite enough of your young friends,’ she
said, in a low tone, as she went to sit down near Chanteau. ‘I should
not mourn for them very much if the sea were to sweep them all away.’

The Abbé had just crowned a king.

‘Sodom and Gomorrah!’ he cried. ‘I have been warning them for the last
twenty years. Well, it will be so much the worse for them.’

‘I have asked to have a school built here,’ said Chanteau, feeling a
little distressed, as he saw the game going against him; ‘but there
aren’t people enough. The children ought to go to Verchemont, but they
don’t like school, and only play about on the roads when they are sent
there.’

Pauline looked up in surprise. If the poor things were clean, she was
thinking, there would be no necessity to attempt to make them so.
Wickedness and wretchedness went together, and she felt in no way
repelled by suffering, even when it seemed to be the consequence of
vice. But she confined herself to asserting her charitable tolerance
with a gesture of protest. Then she went on to promise little Gonin
that she would go to see her father; and while she was doing so
Véronique appeared upon the scene, pushing another little girl in front
of her.

‘Here’s another, Mademoiselle.’

The new-comer, who was very young, certainly not more than five years
old, was completely in rags, with black face and matted hair. With all
the readiness of one already accustomed to begging on the high-roads
she at once began to whine and groan:

‘Please take pity upon me. My poor father has broken his leg—-‘

‘It’s Tourmal’s girl, isn’t it?’ asked Pauline of Véronique.

But before the servant could reply the priest broke out angrily:

‘The little hussy! Don’t take any notice of her. Her father has been
pretending to break his leg for the last five-and-twenty years. They
are a family of swindlers, who only live by thieving. The father helps
the smugglers. The mother pilfers in all the fields about Verchemont,
and the grandfather prowls about at night, stealing oysters from the
Government beds at Roqueboise. You can see for yourselves what they are
making of their daughter–a little thief and a beggar, whom they send
to people’s houses to lay her hands upon anything that may happen to be
lying about. Just look how she is glancing at my snuff-box!’

The child’s eyes, indeed, after inquisitively examining every corner of
the terrace, had flashed brightly on catching sight of the priest’s old
snuff-box. She was not in the slightest degree abashed by the Abbé’s
account of her family history, but repeated her petition as calmly as
though he had not spoken a word.

‘He has broken his leg. Please, kind young lady, help us with a
trifle.’

This time Louise broke out into a laugh. That little five-year-old
impostor, who was already as scampish as her parents, quite amused her.
Pauline, however, remained perfectly grave and serious, and took a new
five-franc piece from her purse.

‘Now, listen to me,’ she said; ‘I will give you as much every Saturday
if I hear a good account of you during the week.’

‘Look after the spoons, then,’ Abbé Horteur cried, ‘or she will walk
off with some of them.’

Pauline made no reply to this remark, but dismissed the children, who
slouched off with exclamations of ‘Thank you kindly’ and ‘May God
reward you!’

While this scene had been taking place Madame Chanteau, who had just
come back from the house, whither she had gone to give a glance at
Louise’s room, was muttering with vexation at Véronique. It was quite
intolerable that the servant should take upon herself to introduce
those wretched beggars. Mademoiselle herself brought quite sufficient
of them to the house. A lot of scum, who robbed her of her money and
then laughed at her! Of course the money was her own, and she could
play ducks and drakes with it if she were so disposed, but it was
really becoming quite immoral to encourage vice in this way. She had
heard Pauline promise a hundred sous a week to the little Tourmal girl.
Another twenty francs a month! The fortune of an emperor would not
suffice for such perpetual extravagance!

‘You know very well,’ she said to Pauline, ‘that I hate to see that
little thief here. Though you are now the mistress of your fortune,
I cannot allow you to ruin yourself so foolishly. I am morally
responsible. Yes, my dear, I repeat that you are ruining yourself, and
more quickly than you have any notion of.’

Véronique, who had gone back to her kitchen, fuming with anger at
Madame Chanteau’s reprimand, now reappeared.

‘The butcher’s here!’ she cried roughly. ‘He wants his bill settled;
forty-six francs ten centimes.’

A pang of vexation curtailed Madame Chanteau’s remarks. She fumbled in
her pocket, and then, assuming an expression of surprise, she whispered
to Pauline:

‘Have you got as much about you, my dear? I have no change here, and I
shall have to go upstairs. I will give it you back very shortly.’

Pauline went off with the servant to pay the butcher. Since she had
begun to keep her money in her chest of drawers the same old comedy
had been enacted each time a bill was presented for payment. It was a
systematic levy of small amounts which had grown to be quite a matter
of course. Her aunt no longer troubled to go and withdraw the money
herself, but asked Pauline for it, and thus made the girl rob herself
with her own hands. At first there had been a pretence of settling
accounts, and sums of ten and fifteen francs had been repaid to her,
but afterwards matters got so complicated that a settlement was
deferred till later on, when the marriage should take place. Yet, in
spite of all this, they took care that she should pay for her board
with the greatest punctuality on the first day of every month, the sum
due in this respect being now raised to ninety francs.

‘There’s some more of your money making itself scarce!’ growled
Véronique in the passage. ‘If I had been you, I would have told her to
go and find her change. It is abominable that you should be plundered
in this way!’

When Pauline came back with the receipted account, which she handed to
her aunt, the priest was radiant with triumph. Chanteau was vanquished;
he had not a piece which he could move. The sun was setting, and the
sea was crimsoned by its oblique rays, while the tide lazily rose.
Louise, with a far-off look in her eyes, smiled at the bright and
wide-stretching horizon.

‘There’s our little Louise up in the clouds,’ said Madame Chanteau.
‘I have had your trunk taken upstairs, Louisette. We are next-door
neighbours again.’

Lazare did not return home till the following day. After his visit to
the Sub-Prefect at Bayeux he had taken it into his head to go on to
Caen and see the Prefect. And, though he was not bringing an actual
subvention back in his pocket, he was convinced, he said, that the
General Council[5] would vote at the least a sum of twelve thousand
francs. The Prefect had accompanied him to the door and had bound
himself by formal promises, saying that it was impossible Bonneville
should be left to its fate, and that the authorities were quite
prepared to back up the efforts of the inhabitants. Lazare, however,
could not help feeling despondent, for he foresaw all sorts of delays,
and the least delay in the carrying-out of one of his schemes proved
agony to him.

‘Upon my word of honour,’ he cried, ‘if I had the twelve thousand
francs myself, I should be delighted to advance them! For the first
experimental proceedings, indeed, so much would not be necessary. When
we do get the money voted, you will see what a heap of worries and
delays we shall have to go through. We shall have all the engineers in
the department down here on our backs. But if we could make a start
without them, they would be obliged to acquiesce in what had actually
been done. The Prefect, to whom I briefly explained our plans, was
quite struck with their advantage and simplicity.’

The hope of overpowering the sea now thrilled him feverishly. He
had felt bitter rancour against it ever since he had considered it
responsible for his failure with the sea-weed scheme; and, though he
did not venture to openly revile it, he harboured the thought of coming
vengeance. And what revenge could be better than to stay it in its
course of blind destruction, and call out to it, like its master, ‘Thus
far and no farther’?

There was, also, in this enterprise an element of philanthropy
which, joined to the grandeur of the contemplated struggle, brought
his excitement to a climax. When his mother saw him spending his
days cutting out pieces of wood and burying his nose in treatises
on mechanics, she thought, with trembling, of his grandfather, the
enterprising but blundering carpenter, whose useless masterpiece lay
slumbering in its glass case on the mantelshelf. Was the old man going
to live over again in his grandson to consummate the ruin of the
family? Then she gradually allowed herself to be convinced and won over
by the son whom she worshipped. If he were successful, and, of course,
he would be successful, this would be the first step to fame, glorious
and disinterested work which would make him celebrated. With this as a
starting-point he might easily soar as high as ambition might prompt
him. Henceforth the whole family dreamt of nothing but conquering the
sea and of chaining it to the foot of the terrace, submissive like a
whipped dog.

Lazare’s scheme was, as he had said, one of great simplicity. He
proposed to drive big piles into the sand, and to cover them with
planks. Behind these the shingle, swept up by the tide, would form
a sort of impregnable wall against which the waves would break
powerlessly, and, by this means, the sea itself would build the barrier
which was to keep it back. A number of groynes, built of long beams
carried upon strong rafters forming a breakwater in front of the wall
of shingle, would complete the works. Afterwards, if they had the
necessary funds, they might construct two or three big stockades, whose
solid mass would restrain the very highest tides. Lazare had found
the first idea of his scheme in a ‘Carpenter’s Complete Handbook,’ a
little volume with quaint engravings, which had probably been bought
long ago by his grandfather. He elaborated and perfected the idea,
and went into the matter pretty deeply, studying the theory of forces
and the resistance of which the different materials were capable, and
manifesting considerable pride in a certain disposition and inclination
of the beams, which, said he, could not fail to insure absolute success.

Pauline once more showed great interest in her cousin’s studies. Like
the young man’s, her curiosity was always aroused by experiments in
strange things. But, with her more calculating nature, she did not
deceive herself as to the possibility of failure. When she saw the tide
mount up, her eyes wandered with an expression of doubt to the models
which Lazare had made, the miniature piles and groynes and stockades.
The big room was now quite full of them.

One night the girl lingered till very late at her window. For the last
two days her cousin had been talking of burning all his models; and one
evening, as they all sat round the table, he had exclaimed in a sudden
outburst that he was going off to Australia, as there was no room for
him in France. Pauline was meditating over all this by her window,
while the flood-tide dashed against Bonneville in the darkness. Each
shock of the waves made her quiver, and she seemed to hear, at regular
intervals, the cries of poor creatures whom the sea was swallowing up.
Then the struggle which was still waging within her between love of
money and natural kindliness became unendurable, and she closed the
window, that she might no longer hear. But the distant blows still
seemed to shake her as she lay in bed. Why not try to attempt even what
seemed impossible? What would it matter, throwing all this money into
the sea, if there were yet a single chance of saving the village? And
she fell asleep at daybreak dreaming of the joy her cousin would feel
when he should find himself released from all his brooding melancholy,
set at last perhaps on the right path, happy through her, indebted to
her for everything.

In the morning, before going downstairs, she called him. She was
laughing.

‘Do you know that last night I dreamt that I had lent you those twelve
thousand francs?’

But Lazare became angry and refused in violent words: ‘Do you want to
make me set off and never come back again? No! we lost quite enough
over the sea-weed works. I am really dying of shame about it, though I
told you nothing.’

Two hours later, however, he accepted Pauline’s offer, and pressed her
hands in a passionate outburst of gratitude. It was to be an advance
and nothing more. Her money would be running no risk, for there was
not the least doubt that the subvention would be voted by the Council,
the more especially if operations were actually commenced. That very
evening the Arromanches carpenter was called in. There were endless
consultations and walks along the coast, with a perpetual discussion of
estimates. The whole family went wild over the scheme.

Madame Chanteau, however, had first flown into a tantrum on hearing of
the loan of the twelve thousand francs. Lazare was astonished, unable
to understand. His mother overwhelmed him with strange arguments. No
doubt, said she, Pauline advanced small sums to them from time to
time, but, if this kind of thing were to go on, she would begin to
think herself indispensable. It would have been better to have asked
Louise’s father for an advance. Louise herself, who would have a dowry
of two hundred thousand francs, did not make nearly so much fuss about
her money. Those two hundred thousand francs of Louise’s were ever on
Madame Chanteau’s lips, and seemed to fill her with angry contempt
for the remnants of that other fortune which had dwindled away in the
secrétaire and was still dwindling in the chest of drawers.

Chanteau, too, instigated by his wife, pretended to be greatly vexed.
Pauline felt very much hurt. She recognised that they loved her less
now, even though she was giving them her money. There seemed to be a
bitter feeling against her, which increased day by day, though she
could not even guess the cause of it. As for Doctor Cazenove, he found
fault with her, too, when she mentioned the subject to him as a matter
of form, but he had been obliged to acquiesce in all the loans, the
large as well as the small ones. His office of trustee was a mere
fiction; he found himself quite disarmed in that house, where he was
always received as an old friend. On the day when the twelve thousand
francs were lent to Lazare he renounced all further responsibility.

‘My dear,’ he said, as he took Pauline aside, ‘I cannot go on being
your accomplice. Don’t consult me any more; ruin yourself just as you
like. You know very well that I can never resist your entreaties; but
I am really very much troubled about them afterwards. I would rather
remain ignorant of what I cannot approve.’

Pauline looked at him, deeply moved. After a moment’s silence she
replied:

‘Thank you, my dear friend. But am I not really taking the right
course? If it makes me happy, what does anything else matter?’

He took her hands within his own and pressed them in a fatherly manner,
with an expression of affection that was tinged with sadness.

‘Well! if it does make you happy! After all, one has to pay quite as
much sometimes to make one’s self miserable.’

As might have been expected, in the enthusiasm of his approaching
struggle with the sea Lazare had entirely abandoned his music. There
was a coating of dust upon the piano, and the score of his great
symphony was put away at the bottom of a drawer; a service which he
owed to Pauline, who collected the different sheets together, finding
some of them hidden even behind the furniture. With certain portions of
the work he had grown much dissatisfied, and had begun to think that
the celestial joy of final annihilation, which he had expressed in a
somewhat commonplace fashion in waltz time, would be better rendered by
a very slow march. One evening, indeed, he had declared that he would
re-write the whole work when he had the leisure.

His flash of desire and feeling of uneasiness in the society of his
young cousin seemed to disappear when his musical enthusiasm drooped.
His masterpiece must be deferred to a more suitable time, and his
passion, which he also seemed able to advance or retard, must be
similarly postponed. He again began to treat Pauline as an old friend
or long since wedded wife, who would fall into his arms as soon as ever
he chose to open them. Since April they had not shut themselves up in
the house so much, and the fresh air brought life and colour to their
cheeks. The big room was deserted, while they rambled about the rocky
shore of Bonneville, studying the best situations for the piles and
stockades. And, after dabbling about in the water, they came home as
tired and as easy in mind as in the far-away days of childhood. When
Pauline sometimes played the famous March of Death to tease him, Lazare
would cry out:

‘Do be quiet! What a lot of rubbish!’

On the evening of the carpenter’s visit, however, Chanteau was seized
with another attack of gout. He now had a fresh attack almost every
month. The salicylic treatment, which at first had given him some
relief, seemed in the end to add to the violence of his seizures. For
a fortnight Pauline remained a close prisoner at her uncle’s bedside.
Lazare, who was continuing his investigations on the beach, then
invited Louise to go with him, by way of freeing her from the cries of
the sick man, which quite frightened her. As she occupied the guests’
bedroom, the one just above Chanteau’s, she had to stuff her fingers
into her ears and bury her head in the pillows at night-time in order
to get some sleep. But when she was out of doors she became radiant
again, enjoying the walk immensely and forgetting all about the poor
man groaning in the house.

They had a delightful fortnight. The young man had at first gazed on
his companion with surprise. She was a great change from Pauline;
she cried out whenever a crab scuttled past her shoe, and was so
frightened of the sea that she thought she was going to be drowned
whenever she had to jump over a pool. The shingle hurt her little feet,
she never relinquished her sunshade, and was for ever gloved up to
her elbows, being in a constant state of fear lest her delicate skin
should be exposed to the sun’s rays. After his first astonishment,
however, Lazare allowed himself to be attracted by her pretty airs
of timidity, and her weakness, that ever seemed to be appealing to
him for assistance. She did not smell simply of the breezy air, like
Pauline; she intoxicated him with a warm odour of heliotrope, and he
no longer had a boy-like companion at his side, but a young woman,
whose presence now and then sent his blood pulsing hotly through his
veins. True, she was not as pretty as Pauline; she was older, and
seemed already a little faded, but there was a bewitching charm about
her; her small limbs moved with easy supple motion, and her whole
coquettish figure seemed instinct with promises of bliss. She appeared
to Lazare to be quite a discovery on his part; he could recognise in
her no trace of the scraggy little girl he had formerly known. Was it
really possible that long years at boarding-school had turned that very
ordinary-looking child into such a disquieting young woman, who, maiden
though she was, seemed by no means shy? Little by little Lazare found
himself possessed by growing admiration, disturbing passion, in which
the mere friendship of childhood disappeared.

When Pauline was able to leave her uncle’s bedroom and resume
companionship with Lazare, she immediately noticed a change between him
and Louise, unaccustomed glances and laughs, in which she had no share.
For the first few days she maintained a sort of maternal attitude,
treating the pair as foolish young things whom a mere nothing was
sufficient to amuse. But she soon grew low-spirited, and the walks they
all took abroad seemed to weary her. She never made any complaint, she
simply spoke of persistent headaches; but, later on, when her cousin
advised her to stay at home, she became vexed, and would not quit him
even in the house. On one occasion, about two o’clock in the morning,
Lazare, who had sat up in his room working at a plan, thought he heard
some steps outside, and opened his door to look. Thereupon he was
astonished to see Pauline in her petticoats leaning over the banisters
in the dark, and listening. She declared that she thought she had heard
a cry downstairs. But she blushed as she told this fib, and Lazare did
the same, for a suspicion flashed through his mind. From that night
forward, without anything being said, friendly relations suffered.
Lazare considered that Pauline made herself very ridiculous by pouting
and sulking about mere nothings, while she, continually growing more
gloomy, never once left her cousin alone with Louise, but kept a strict
watch over them, and tortured herself with fancies at night if she had
caught them speaking softly to each other as they walked home from the
shore.

However, the work had begun. A body of carpenters, after nailing a
number of heavy planks across a framework of piles, succeeded in
completing a first buttress against the sea’s attack. This was simply
meant as a trial, which they hurried along with, in expectation of a
flood tide. If the timbers should be able to resist the sea’s approach,
then the system of defence would be completed. It unfortunately
happened that the weather was execrable. Rain fell continually, and all
Bonneville got soaked to the skin in going out to see the piles rammed
into the sand. Then, on the morning when the high tide was expected, an
inky pall hung over the sea, and, from eight o’clock the rain fell with
redoubled violence, hiding the horizon with a dense cold mist. There
was immense disappointment, for the Chanteaus had been planning to go
in a family party to watch the victory which their beams and piles
would win over the attacking flood.

Madame Chanteau determined to remain at home with her husband, who was
still far from well. Great efforts, too, were made to induce Pauline to
stay indoors, as she had been suffering from a sore throat for a week
past, and always grew a little feverish towards the evening. But she
rejected all the prudent advice that was offered her, resolving to go
down to the beach, since Lazare and Louise were going. Louise, fragile
as she appeared to be, ever, so it seemed, on the verge of fainting,
really proved a girl of great physical endurance, particularly when any
kind of pleasure made her excited.

They all three set off after breakfast. A sudden breeze had swept away
the clouds, and glad smiles hailed the unexpected change. The patches
of blue sky overhead were so large, though they still mingled with
black masses, that the girls refused to take any other protection than
their sun-shades. Lazare alone carried an umbrella. He would see that
they came to no harm, he said, and would place them under shelter
somewhere should the rain begin to fall again.

Pauline and Louise walked on in front. However, on the steep slope
leading down towards Bonneville, the latter stumbled on the wet
and slippery soil, and Lazare rushed up to support her. Pauline
then followed behind them. Her high spirits quickly fell, as with a
jealous glance she noticed her cousin’s arm pressed closely against
Louise’s waist. The contact of the two soon absorbed her; all else
disappeared–the beach, where the fishermen of the neighbourhood stood
waiting in a somewhat scoffing mood, and the rising tide, and the
stockade already white with foam. Away on the right arose a mass of
dark clouds, lashed on by the gale.

‘What a nuisance!’ said the young man; ‘we are going to have more rain.
But we shall have time to see things before it comes on, I think, and
then we can take refuge close at hand with the Houtelards.’

The tide, which had the wind against it, was rising with irritating
slowness. The wind would certainly keep it from mounting as high as
had been expected. Still no one left the shore. The new groyne, which
was now half covered, seemed to work very satisfactorily, parting
the waves, whose diverted waters foamed up to the very feet of the
spectators. But the greatest triumph was the successful resistance of
the piles. As each wave dashed against them, sweeping the shingle with
it, they heard the stones falling and collecting on the other side
of the beams with a noise like the sudden discharge of a cartload of
pebbles; and this wall which was thus gradually building itself up
seemed to guarantee success.

‘Didn’t I tell you so?’ cried Lazare. ‘You won’t make any more jokes
about it now, I think!’

Prouane, who was standing near him, and had not been sober for the last
three days, shook his head, however, as he stammered: ‘We shall see
about that when the wind blows against it.’

The other fishermen kept silent. But the expression on the faces of
Cuche and Houtelard plainly showed that they felt little confidence in
all such contrivances; indeed, they would scarcely have felt pleased
to see their enemy the sea, which crushed them so victoriously, beaten
back by that stripling of a landsman. How they would laugh when the
waves some day carried off those beams like so many straws! The very
village might be dashed to pieces at the same time; it would be rare
fun all the same!

Suddenly the rain began to fall; great drops poured from the lurid
clouds, which had covered three-quarters of the sky.

‘Oh! this is nothing!’ cried Lazare in a state of wild enthusiasm.
‘Let’s stay a little longer. Just look! not a single pile moves!’
While speaking he set his umbrella over Louise’s head. She pressed to
his side with the air of a frightened turtle-dove. Pauline, whom they
seemed to have forgotten, never ceased to watch them. She felt enraged;
the warmth of their clasp seemed to set her cheeks on fire. But the
rain was now coming down in a perfect torrent, and Lazare suddenly
turned round and called to her: ‘What are you thinking of? Are you mad?
At all events, open your sunshade!’

She was standing stiffly erect beneath the downpour, which she did not
seem to notice. And she simply answered in a hoarse voice: ‘Leave me
alone. I am all right.’

‘Oh! Lazare!’ cried Louise, quite distressed, ‘make her come here!
There is room under the umbrella for all three of us.’

But Pauline, in her angry obstinacy, did not condescend to notice the
invitation. She was all right; why couldn’t they let her alone? And
when Lazare, at the conclusion of his fruitless entreaties, finished by
saying: ‘It’s folly! Let’s run to the Houtelards!’ she answered rudely,
‘Run wherever you like. I came here to see, and I mean to stop.’

The fishermen had fled. Pauline remained alone beneath the pouring
rain, with her eyes turned towards the piles, which were now covered by
the waves. The spectacle seemed to absorb all her attention, in spite
of the grey mist which was rising from the rain-beaten sea, obscuring
everything. Big black marks appeared on her streaming dress, about her
shoulders and arms, but she would not leave her place till the west
wind had swept the storm-cloud away.

They all three returned home in silence. Not a word of what had
happened was mentioned to Madame Chanteau. Pauline hurried off to
change her clothes, while Lazare recounted the complete success of
the experiment. In the evening, as they sat at table, Pauline became
feverish, but she pretended there was nothing the matter with her, in
spite of the evident difficulty she had in swallowing her food; and she
even ended by speaking very roughly to Louise, who evinced solicitude
in her caressing way, and perpetually asked her how she felt.

‘The girl is really growing quite unbearable with her bad disposition,’
murmured Madame Chanteau behind Pauline’s back. ‘We had better give
over speaking to her.’

About one o’clock in the morning Lazare was roused by a hoarse cough,
which sounded so distressingly that he sat up in bed to listen. At
first he thought it came from his mother; then, as he went on straining
his ear, he heard a noise as of something falling, and his floor shook.
Forthwith he jumped out of bed and hastily put on his clothes. It could
only be Pauline, who must have fallen on the other side of the wall.
He broke several matches with his trembling hands, but, at last, when
he had succeeded in lighting his candle and came out of his room, he
found the door opposite wide open, and the young girl lying on her side
and barring the entrance.

‘What is the matter?’ Lazare cried in amazement. ‘Have you fallen?’

It had just flashed through his mind that she was prowling about again,
playing the spy. But she made no reply, and never even stirred; in
fact, with her closed eyes, she seemed to him to be dead. There could
be no doubt that just as she was leaving her room to seek assistance a
fainting-fit had thrown her on the ground.

‘Pauline, speak to me, I beg you! What is the matter with you?’

He had bent down and was holding the light to her face. She was
extremely flushed, and seemed a prey to violent fever. Then all
hesitation on his part vanished, and he took her up in his arms and
carried her to her bed full of fraternal anxiety. When he had placed
her in bed again, he began to question her once more, ‘For goodness’
sake, do speak to me! Have you hurt yourself?’

She had just opened her eyes, but she could not yet speak, and merely
looked at him with a fixed gaze. Then, as he still continued to press
her with questions, she carried her hand to her throat.

‘It is your throat that hurts you, is it?’

At last, in a strange voice, that seemed to come with immense
difficulty, she gasped:

‘Don’t make me speak, please. It hurts me so.’

As she said this she was seized with another attack of coughing, the
same hoarse guttural cough that he had heard from his bedroom. Her face
turned bluish, and her distress became so great that her eyes filled
with tears. She lifted her hands to her poor trembling brow, which was
quivering with the hammer-like throbs of a frightful headache.

‘You caught that to-day!’ he stammered, quite distracted. ‘It was very
foolish of you to act as you did, when you were already far from well!’
But he checked himself, as he saw her looking up at him with a gaze of
entreaty.

‘Just open your mouth and let me look at your throat.’

It was all she could do to open her jaws. Lazare brought the candle
close to her, and was with difficulty able to espy the back of her
throat, which was dry, and gleamed with a bright crimson. It was
evidently a case of angina, and her burning fever and terrible headache
filled him with alarm as to its precise nature. The poor girl’s face
wore such an agonised expression of choking that he was seized with a
horrible fear of seeing her suffocated before his very eyes. She was
not able to swallow; every attempt to do so made her whole body quiver.
At last a fresh attack of coughing threw her into another fainting-fit;
and thereupon in a state of complete panic he flew off to thump at
Véronique’s door.

‘Véronique! Véronique! Get up! Pauline is dying.’

When Véronique, half-dressed and scared, entered the girl’s room, she
found Lazare excitedly talking to himself in the middle of it.

‘What a forsaken hole to be in! One might die here like a dog! There is
no help to be had nearer than a couple of miles!’

He strode up to Véronique.

‘Try and get someone to go for the Doctor immediately,’ he said.

The servant stepped up to the bed and looked at the sick girl. She was
quite alarmed at seeing her so flushed, and in her increasing affection
for Pauline, whom she had at first so cordially detested, she felt a
painful shock.

‘I’ll go myself,’ she said quietly. ‘That will be the quickest way.
Madame will be quite able to light a fire downstairs, if you want one.’

Then, scarcely yet fully awake, she put on her heavy boots and wrapped
a shawl round her; and, after telling Madame Chanteau what the matter
was as she went downstairs, she set off, striding along the muddy road.
Two o’clock rang out from the church, and the night was so dark that
she stumbled every now and then against heaps of stones.

‘What is it, then?’ asked Madame Chanteau, as she came upstairs.

Lazare scarcely answered her. He had just been ferreting about in the
cupboard for his old medical treatises, and was now bending down before
the chest of drawers, turning over the pages of one of his books with
trembling fingers, while trying to remember something of what he had
formerly learnt. But he grew more and more confused, and perpetually
turned to the index without being able to find what he wanted.

‘It’s only a bad sick headache,’ said Madame Chanteau, who had sat
down. ‘The best thing we can do is to leave her to sleep.’

At this Lazare burst out angrily:

‘A sick headache! A sick headache indeed! You will drive me quite mad,
mother, by standing there so unconcernedly. Go down stairs and get some
water to boil.’

‘There is no necessity to disturb Louise, is there?’ she asked.

‘No, indeed, not the least. I don’t require anybody’s assistance. If I
want anything I will call you.’

When he was alone again, he went and took hold of Pauline’s wrist to
try her pulse. He counted one hundred and fifteen pulsations; and he
felt the girl’s burning hand cling closely and lingeringly to his
own. Her heavy eyelids remained closed, but she was thanking him and
forgiving him with that pressure of her hand. Though she was unable to
smile, she still wanted to let him understand that she had heard and
was pleased to know that he was there alone with her, without a thought
for anybody else. Generally, he had a horror of all suffering, and took
himself off at the slightest appearance of indisposition in any of his
relatives, for he was a shockingly bad nurse, and was so unable to
control his nerves that he ever feared lest he should burst out crying.
And so it was a pleasant surprise to Pauline to see him now so anxious
and devoted. He himself could not have explained the warmth of feeling
that was upbuoying him, or the necessity he felt of relying on himself
alone to give her relief. The pressure of her little hand upset him,
and he tried to cheer her.

‘It’s nothing at all, my dear. I am expecting Cazenove directly; but we
needn’t feel the least alarm.’

She still kept her eyes closed as she murmured, apparently still in
pain: ‘Oh! I’m not at all frightened. What troubles me most is to see
you so much disturbed.’

Then, in a still lower voice, barely a whisper, she added: ‘Have you
forgiven me yet? I behaved very wickedly this morning.’

He bent down and kissed her brow as though she were his wife. Then he
stepped aside, for his tears were blinding him. The idea occurred to
him that he might as well prepare a sleeping-draught while waiting for
the doctor’s arrival. Pauline’s little medicine-chest was in a small
cupboard in the room. He felt a little afraid lest he should make
some mistake, and he looked closely at the different phials; finally
he poured a few drops of morphia into a glass of sugared water. When
she swallowed a spoonful of it, the pain in her throat became so great
that he hesitated about giving her a second. There was nothing else
he could do. That spell of inactive waiting was becoming terribly
painful to him. When he could no longer endure to stand beside her bed
and see her suffering, he turned to his books again, hoping to find
therein an account of her malady and its remedy. Could it be a case of
diphtheritic angina? He had certainly not seen any malignant growth on
the roof of her mouth, but he plunged into the perusal of a description
of that complaint and its treatment, losing himself in a maze of long
sentences whose meaning he could not gather, and striving to grope
through superfluous details, like a child battling with some lesson he
cannot understand. By-and-by a sigh brought him hurrying back to the
bedside, with his head buzzing with scientific terms, whose uncouth
syllables only served to increase his anxiety.

‘Well, how is she getting on?’ inquired Madame Chanteau, who had come
softly upstairs again.

‘Oh! she keeps just the same,’ Lazare replied.

Then, in a burst of impatience, he added:

‘It is terrible, this delay on the Doctor’s part! The girl might die
twenty times over!’

The doors had been left open, and Matthew, who slept under the table
in the kitchen, had also just come up the stairs, for it was his habit
to follow people into every room of the house. His big paws pattered
over the floor like old woollen slippers. He seemed quite gay at all
this commotion in the middle of the night, and wanted to jump up to
Pauline, and even tried to wheel round after his tail, like an animal
unconscious of his master’s trouble. But Lazare, irritated by his
inopportune gaiety, gave him a kick.

‘Be off with you, or I’ll choke you! Can’t you understand, you idiot?’

The dog, afraid of a beating, and, it may be, suddenly grasping the
situation, went to lie down under the bed. But Lazare’s rough behaviour
had aroused Madame Chanteau’s indignation. Without waiting any longer
she went down to the kitchen again, saying drily: ‘The water will be
ready whenever you want it.’

As she descended the stairs Lazare heard her muttering that it was
abominable to kick an animal like that, and that he would probably
have kicked her also if she had remained in the room. Every moment he
went to the bedside to glance at Pauline. She now seemed to be quite
overcome with fever, utterly prostrate; the only sign of life that came
from her was the wheezing of her breath amidst the mournful silence of
the room, a wheezing that began to sound like a death-rattle. Then wild
unreasoning fear again seized upon Lazare. He felt quite certain that
the girl would soon choke if help did not arrive. He fidgeted about the
room on tip-toes, glancing perpetually at the timepiece. It was not
three o’clock, and Véronique could hardly have got to the Doctor’s yet.
He followed her in imagination through the black night all along the
road to Arromanches. By this time she would be passing the oak-wood;
then she would cross the little bridge, and then she would save five
minutes by running down the hill. At last a longing for tidings of some
sort led him to throw open the window, though it was quite impossible
for him to distinguish anything amidst the profound darkness. Down in
the depths of Bonneville only a single light was gleaming, the lantern,
probably, of some fisherman preparing to put out to sea. Everything
was wrapped in mournful sadness, far-reaching abandonment, in which
all life appeared to die away. He closed the window and then opened it
again, only to close it quickly once more. He began to lose all idea
of the flight of time, and was startled when he heard three o’clock
strike. By this time the Doctor must have got his horse harnessed, and
his gig would be spinning along the road, transpiercing the darkness
with the yellow glare of its lamp. Lazare grew so distracted with
impatience as he watched the sick girl’s increasing suffocation that
he started up as from a dream, when, at about four o’clock, he finally
heard some rapid footsteps on the stairs.

‘Ah! here you are at last!’ he cried.

Doctor Cazenove at once ordered a second candle to be lighted, in order
that he might examine Pauline properly. Lazare held one of the candles,
while Véronique, whose hair the wind had thrown into wild disorder, and
who was splashed with mud to the waist, stood at the head of the bed
with the other. Madame Chanteau looked on. The sick girl was in a state
of semi-somnolence, and could not open her mouth without a groan of
pain. When the Doctor had laid her back in bed again, he, who upon his
first entrance had shown signs of great uneasiness, stepped into the
middle of the room with an expression of relief.

‘That Véronique of yours put me into a pretty fright,’ said he. ‘She
told me such a lot of terrible things that I thought the girl must have
got poisoned, and you see that I have come with my pockets crammed full
of drugs.’

‘It is angina, is it not?’ Lazare asked.

‘Yes, simple angina. There is no occasion for alarm at present.’

Madame Chanteau indulged in a little gesture of triumph, as much as to
say that she had known that from the first.

‘”No occasion for alarm at present”!’ repeated Lazare, his fears rising
again. ‘Are you afraid of complications?’

‘No,’ answered the Doctor, after some slight hesitation; ‘but with
these tiresome throat complaints one can never feel quite sure of
anything.’

He added that nothing more could be done just then, and that he would
prefer waiting till the morrow to bleed the patient. But as the young
man pressed him to attempt at any rate some alleviating measures, he
expressed his readiness to apply some sinapisms. Véronique brought
up a bowl of warm water, and the Doctor himself placed the damped
mustard-leaves in position, slipping them along the girl’s legs from
her ankles to her knees. But they only increased her discomfort,
for the fever continued unabated and her head was still throbbing
frightfully. Emollient gargles were also suggested, and Madame Chanteau
prepared a decoction of nettle-leaves, which had to be laid aside,
however, after a first attempt to administer it, for pain rendered
Pauline unable to swallow. It was nearly six o’clock, and dawn was
breaking when the Doctor went away.

‘I will come back about noon,’ he said to Lazare on the landing. ‘Be
quite easy. She is all right, except for the pain.’

‘And is the pain nothing?’ cried the young man. ‘One never ought to
suffer like that!’

Cazenove glanced at him, and then raised his hands to heaven at such an
extraordinary pretension.

When Lazare returned to Pauline’s room, he sent his mother and
Véronique to get a little sleep. He himself could not have slept if
he had tried. He watched the day breaking in that disorderly room:
the mournful dawn it was that follows a night of agony. With his
brow pressed to the window-pane, he was looking out hopelessly at
the gloomy sky, when a sudden noise made him turn. He thought it was
Pauline getting up in bed, but it was Matthew, who had been forgotten
by everybody, and who had at last crept from under the bed to go to
the girl, whose hand hung down over the counterpane. And the dog began
licking that hand with such affectionate gentleness that Lazare, quite
touched at the sight, put his arm round his neck, and said:

‘Ah! my poor fellow, your mistress is ill, you see; but she’ll soon be
all right, and then we’ll all three go on our rambles once more.’

Pauline had opened her eyes, and, though it pained her, she smiled.

A period of suffering and sadness followed. Lazare, acting upon an
impulse of wild affection, almost refused to let the others enter the
sick-room. He would barely allow his mother and Louise there in the
morning to inquire after Pauline; Véronique, in whom he now recognised
a genuine affection for his cousin, was the only one whose presence he
tolerated. At the outset of Pauline’s illness Madame Chanteau tried
to make him understand the impropriety of a young man thus nursing
a girl; but he retorted by asking if he were not her husband, and
by saying that doctors attended women equally with men. Between the
young people themselves there was never the slightest embarrassment.
Suffering and, it might be, the approach of death obliterated all other
considerations. The world ceased to have any existence for them. The
chief matters of interest were that the draughts should be taken at the
proper times, and such little details, whilst they waited hour by hour
for the illness to take a more favourable turn. Thus minor matters of
mere physical life suddenly assumed enormous importance, as on them
depended joy or sorrow. The nights followed the days, and Lazare’s
existence seemed to hang in the balance over a deep abyss into whose
black darkness he ever feared to fall.

Doctor Cazenove came to see Pauline each morning, and sometimes called
again in the evening after dinner. Upon his second visit he had
determined to bleed her freely. The fever, however, though checked
for a time, reappeared. Two days passed, and the Doctor was evidently
disturbed in his mind, unable to understand the tenacity with which the
fever clung to his patient. As the girl felt ever-increasing pain in
opening her mouth, he could not make any proper examination of the back
of her throat, which seemed to him to be much swollen and of a livid
hue. At last, as Pauline complained of increasing tightness, which
made her throat feel as though it would burst, the Doctor one morning
remarked to Lazare:

‘I am beginning to suspect the presence of a phlegmon.’

The young man then drew him into his own room. The previous evening,
while turning over the pages of an old Manual of Pathology, he had
read the chapter on retro-pharyngeal abscesses which project into the
œsophagus, and are apt to cause death by suffocation from compressing
the windpipe.

He turned very pale as he asked:

‘Then she is going to die?’

‘I trust not,’ the Doctor answered. ‘We must wait and see what happens.’

But Cazenove himself could not conceal his uneasiness. He confessed
that he was almost powerless in the present circumstances of the case.
How could they search for an abscess at the back of a contracted mouth?
And, besides, to open the abscess too soon would be attended with
grave danger. The best thing they could do was to leave the matter
in the hands of Nature, though the illness would probably prove very
protracted and painful.

‘Well, I am not the Divinity,’ he exclaimed, when Lazare reproached him
with the uselessness of his science.

The affection which Doctor Cazenove felt for Pauline showed itself in
an increased assumption of brusque carelessness. That tall old man, who
seemed as dry as a branch of brier, was really much affected. For more
than thirty years he had knocked about the world, changing from vessel
to vessel, and working in hospitals all over the colonies. He had
treated epidemics on board ship, frightful diseases in tropical climes,
elephantiasis at Cayenne, serpent bites in India; and he had killed
men of every colour; had studied the effects of poison on Chinese, and
risked the lives of Negroes in delicate experiments in vivisection.
But now this girl, with a soreness in her throat, so wrought upon his
feelings that he could not sleep. His iron hands trembled, and his
callousness to death failed him, fearful as he was of a fatal issue.
And so, wishing to conceal an emotion which he considered unworthy of
him, he made a pretence of contempt for suffering. ‘People were born
to suffer,’ said he, ‘so why make a fuss about it?’

Every morning Lazare said to him:

‘Do try something else, Doctor, I beg you. It is terrible. She cannot
get a moment’s rest. She has been crying out all the night.’

‘Well, but, dash it all, it isn’t my fault!’ the Doctor replied,
working himself up to a high pitch of indignation. ‘I can’t cut off her
neck to cure her.’

Thereupon the young man grew vexed in his turn, and exclaimed:

‘So medicine is worth nothing?’

‘Nothing at all when the human machine is out of order. Quinine arrests
fever, and purgatives act on the bowels, and bleeding is useful in
apoplexy, but it’s a happy-go-lucky business with almost everything
else. We must leave the case to Nature.’

These remarks were wrung from him by his anger at being unable to
discover what course of treatment to adopt. It was not his ordinary
custom to deny the power of medicine so roundly, for he had practised
it too much to be sceptical or modest as to its merits. For whole hours
he would sit by the girl’s bedside, watching her and studying her, and
then he would go off without even leaving a single instruction behind
him, for indeed he knew not what to do, and was compelled to leave the
abscess developing, though he recognised that a hair’s breadth more or
less in its size might make all the difference between life and death.

For a whole week Lazare gave himself up to the most terrible alarm.
He, too, was in perpetual fear of seeing Nature’s work suddenly cease.
At every painful, difficult gasp that the girl gave he thought that
all was over. He formed in his mind a vivid picture of the phlegmon,
he fancied he could see it blocking Pauline’s windpipe; if it were
only to swell a little more her breath would no longer be able to
pass. His two years of imperfect medical study served to increase his
alarm. His fears made him lose his head, and he broke out into nervous
mutiny, excited protest against life. Why was such frightful suffering
permitted? Was not all such bodily torture, all such writhing and
burning pain cruelly purposeless when disease fell on a poor weak girl?
He was for ever at her bedside, questioning her, even at the risk of
fatiguing her. Was she still in pain? How was she feeling now?

Sometimes he would take her hand and lay it upon his neck. It felt like
an intolerable weight there, like a ball of molten lead, which throbbed
till he almost choked. Her headache never left her. She did not know
where or how to rest her head, and she was tortured by sleeplessness.
During the ten days that the fever racked her she scarcely slept
for a couple of hours. One evening, to make things still worse, she
experienced a frightful pain in her ears, and fainted from sheer
suffering. But she did not confess to Lazare all the agony she endured.
She showed great courage and fortitude, recognising that he was almost
as ill as she herself was, his own blood hot with fever, and his throat
choked as by an abscess. She frequently even told fibs, and forced
a smile to her lips when racked by the keenest suffering. She felt
easier, she would say, and she would beg him to go and take a little
rest. One of the most painful features of her illness was that she
could not even swallow her saliva without giving a cry, at which Lazare
would start up in alarm, and begin to question her afresh. What was the
matter, and where did she feel pain? Then, with her eyes closed, and
her face distorted by agony, she would try to deceive him and whisper
that it was a mere nothing, that something had tickled her, and that
was all.

‘Go to sleep and don’t be uneasy. I am going to sleep myself now.’

Every evening she went through this pretence of going to sleep, in
order to induce him to lie down, but he persisted in watching over her
from his arm-chair. The nights were so full of anguish that they never
saw the evening fall without a sort of superstitious terror. Would they
ever see the sun again?

One night Lazare was leaning against the bed, holding Pauline’s hand
in his own, as he often did, to let her know that he was there and
was not deserting her. Doctor Cazenove had gone off at ten o’clock,
angrily exclaiming that he could answer for nothing more. The young man
derived some consolation from the thought that Pauline herself was not
aware that she was in any imminent danger. In her hearing, only a mere
inflammation of the throat was spoken of, which, though very painful,
would pass away as easily as a cold in the head. The girl seemed quite
tranquil as to the outcome, and bravely retained a cheerful countenance
in spite of her sufferings. She smiled as she heard them forming plans
for the time when she would be well again. That very night she had once
more listened to Lazare arranging a stroll along the shore for the
first day that she might be able to go out. Then they grew silent, and
she seemed to sleep, but after an interval of a quarter of an hour or
so she said distinctly:

‘You will have to marry some other girl, I think, my dear.’

He stared at her in amazement, feeling chilled to his bones.

‘Why do you say that?’ he asked.

She had opened her eyes, and was looking at him with an expression of
brave resignation.

‘Ah! I know what is the matter with me, and I am glad that I do, for I
shall be able to kiss you all before I go.’

Then Lazare grew quite angry. It was insane to think such things.
Before a week was over she would be walking about. But he dropped her
hand and made an excuse for hurrying to his own room, for sobs were
choking him; and he threw himself down in the darkness upon his bed,
on which he had not slept for a long time now. A frightful conviction
suddenly wrung his heart. Pauline was going to die, perhaps that
very night. And the thought that she knew it, and that her silence
on the subject hitherto had been due to courageous consideration
for the feelings of others, even in the imminent presence of death,
completed his despair. She knew the truth; she would see her death
agony approach, and he would be there powerless! Already he saw them
saying their last good-bye. The whole mournful scene unfolded itself
before his eyes with heart-rending detail in the darkness of his room.
It was the end of everything, and he grasped his pillow in his arms
convulsively, and buried his head in it to drown the sound of his sobs.

The night, however, passed away without any misfortune. Then two days
went by without any noticeable change in the patient’s condition.
Between her and Lazare a new bond had sprung up; the thought of death
was with them. Pauline made no further allusion to her critical
condition; she even forced herself to look cheerful; and Lazare, too,
succeeded in feigning perfect tranquillity, complete confidence in
seeing her leave her bed in a few days’ time; yet both knew that they
were ever bidding each other good-bye in the long, loving glances which
their eyes exchanged. At night-time especially, as Lazare sat watching
by the girl’s bedside, they recognised that each other’s thoughts were
of that threatened eternal separation which kept them so reflective and
silent. Never before had they experienced such melting sadness or felt
such a complete blending of their beings.

One morning, as the sun was rising, Lazare felt quite astonished at the
calmness with which he was able to contemplate the idea of death. He
ransacked his memory, and he could only recall one occasion since the
commencement of Pauline’s illness when he had felt a cold shudder at
the thought of ceasing to be. He had trembled, indeed, at the idea of
losing his companion; but that was another kind of fear, into which no
thought of the destruction of his own personality entered. His heart
bled within him, indeed, but it seemed as though this combat which he
was waging with death put him upon an equality with the foe, and gave
him courage to look it calmly in the face. Perhaps, too, his fatigue
and anxiety filled him with a drowsiness and weariness which numbed his
personal fears. He closed his eyes so that he might not see the rising
sun, and tried to recall all his old thrills of horror, by telling
himself that he, too, would have to die some day. But no reply came;
all that seemed to have become quite indifferent to him and to have
ceased to have any power to affect him. Even his pessimism seemed to
disappear in the presence of that sick-bed; and, far from plunging him
into hatred and contempt of the world, his mutinous outburst against
suffering was but a passionate longing for robust health, a wild love
of life. He no longer talked of blowing the earth into bits, as a
worn-out and uninhabitable planet. The one image which ever haunted
his mind was Pauline, hearty once more and walking with him arm in
arm beneath the bright sunshine; the only craving he felt was to lead
her, gay and firm of step, along the paths through which they had once
rambled together.

Yet it was that same day that Lazare felt sure of death’s approach. At
eight o’clock in the morning Pauline was seized with attacks of nausea,
and each brought on dangerous symptoms of suffocation. Soon trembling
fits supervened, and the poor girl shook so terribly that her teeth
could be heard chattering. Lazare, in a state of frightful alarm,
shouted from the window that a lad should be sent to Arromanches at
once, although the doctor was expected, as usual, at eleven o’clock.
The house had fallen into mournful silence, and there had been a sad
void since Pauline’s gay activity had no longer animated it. Chanteau
spent his days downstairs in moody silence, with his eyes fixed on his
legs, fearing lest he should be seized with another attack of gout
while there was no one to nurse him. Madame Chanteau usually forced
Louise to go out, and the pair of them, spending most of their time
in the open air, had by this time become very intimate and familiar.
Only Véronique’s heavy step came and went everlastingly up and down the
stairs, breaking the silence of the landings and empty rooms. Lazare
had gone three times to lean over the banisters in his impatience
to learn whether the servant had been able to get anybody to take a
message to the doctor. He had just returned to Pauline’s room and was
looking at the girl, who appeared to be a little easier, when the door,
which he had left ajar, creaked slightly.

‘Well, Véronique?’ he said.

But it was not Véronique; it was his mother. She had that day intended
to take Louise to see some of her friends in the neighbourhood of
Verchemont.

‘Little Cuche has just gone,’ she said. ‘He can run fast.’

Then, after a short interval of silence, she asked: ‘Is she no better?’

Lazare made no answer, but with a hopeless gesture pointed to Pauline,
who was lying motionless, as though she were quite dead, with her pale
face bathed in cold perspiration.

‘Ah! we won’t go to Verchemont, then,’ his mother continued. ‘It
seems very tenacious, this mysterious illness which no one seems to
understand. The poor girl has been sorely tried.’

She sat down and went on chattering in the same subdued monotonous
voice.

‘We had meant to start at seven o’clock, but it happened that Louise
overslept herself. Everything seems to be falling on one this morning;
it almost looks as though it were done on purpose. The grocer from
Arromanches has just called with his bill, and I have been obliged to
pay him, and now the baker is downstairs. We spent forty francs on
bread again last month. I can’t imagine where it all goes to!’

Lazare was not paying the least attention to what she said; he was too
much absorbed in his fears of a return of the shivering-fits. But that
monotonous flood of talk irritated him, and he tried to get his mother
to leave the room.

‘Will you give Véronique a couple of towels and tell her to bring them
up to me?’ he said.

‘Of course I shall have to pay the baker,’ his mother resumed, as
though she had not heard him. ‘He has spoken to me, and so Véronique
can’t tell him that I have gone out. Upon my word, I’ve had quite
enough of this house. It is becoming quite a burden. If Pauline were
not unfortunately so ill, she would advance me the ninety francs for
her board. It is the 20th to-day, so that there are only ten days to
wait before it will be due. The poor child seems so very weak—-‘

Lazare suddenly turned towards her.

‘Well, what is it you want?’ he asked.

‘You don’t happen to know where she keeps her money, do you?’

‘No!’

‘I dare say it’s in her chest of drawers. You might just look.’

He refused with an angry gesture, and his hands quivered.

‘I beseech you, mother, for pity’s sake, do go away.’

These last remarks had been hurriedly exchanged at the far end of the
room. There was a moment’s painful silence, which was broken by a clear
voice speaking from the bed:

‘Lazare, just come and take the key from under my pillow, and give my
aunt what she wants.’

They were both quite startled. Lazare began to protest, for he was
very unwilling to open the drawer; but he was obliged to give way in
order that he might not distress Pauline. When he had given his mother
a hundred-franc note, and had slipped the key under Pauline’s pillow
again, he saw that the girl was taken with another trembling-fit, which
shook her like a young aspen, and seemed likely to rend her in twain.
Two big tears trickled from her closed eyes and rolled down her cheeks.

Doctor Cazenove did not arrive before his usual time. He had seen
nothing of little Cuche, who was probably larking about amongst the
hedges. As soon as he heard what Lazare had to say and cast a hasty
glance at Pauline, he cried out: ‘She is saved!’

That sickness and those alarming fits of trembling were simply
indications that the abscess had at last broken. There was no more
occasion to fear suffocation; the complaint would now gradually go off
of itself. Their joy was great; Lazare accompanied the Doctor out of
the room; and as Martin, the old sailor who had taken service with the
Doctor, drank a bumper of wine in the kitchen, everyone wanted to clink
glasses with him. Madame Chanteau and Louise drank some walnut liqueur.

‘I never felt really alarmed,’ said the former. ‘I was sure there could
be nothing serious the matter with her.’

‘That didn’t prevent the poor dear from having an awful time of it!’
exclaimed Véronique. ‘I’m more pleased than if some one had given me a
hundred sous.’

Just at that moment Abbé Horteur came in. He had called to make
inquiries, and he drank a glass of wine by way of doing like the rest.
Every day he had come in this way like a kindly neighbour; for, on his
first visit, Lazare had told him that he could not see the patient for
fear of alarming her, whereupon the priest had quietly replied that
he understood it, and had contented himself with mentioning the poor
girl’s name when saying his masses. Chanteau, as he clinked glasses
with him, complimented him upon his spirit of tolerance.

‘Well, you see, she is coming round nicely, without the help of an
_Oremus_!’

‘Everyone is saved after his own fashion,’ the priest declared
sententiously, as he drained his glass.

When the Doctor had left, Louise wanted to go upstairs to kiss Pauline.
The poor girl was still suffering much pain, but this was not now
regarded as of much account. Lazare gaily bade her take courage, and,
quite dropping all pretence, began even to exaggerate the danger
through which she had passed, telling her that three times already he
had believed that she was lying dead in his arms. Pauline, however,
manifested no exuberant delight at being saved; but she was conscious
of the joy of life, after having found the courage to look calmly upon
death’s approach. An expression of loving emotion passed over her worn,
sad face as she pressed her cousin’s hand and murmured to him, smiling:

‘Ah! my dear, you can’t escape after all, you see. I shall be your wife
yet.’

Her convalescence was heralded in by long slumbers. She slept for
whole days, quite calmly, breathing easily and regularly, steeped in
a strength-restoring torpor. Minouche, who had been banished from the
room during her period of prostration, took advantage of this quietness
to slip in again. She jumped lightly upon the bed, and immediately
lay down there, nestling beside her mistress. Indeed, she spent whole
days on it, revelling in the warmth of the blankets, or making an
interminable toilet, wearing away her fur by constant licking, but
performing each operation with such supple lightness that Pauline could
not even tell she was moving. At the same time Matthew, who, equally
with Minouche, was now granted free access to the room, snored like a
human being on the carpet by the side of the bed.

One of Pauline’s first fancies was to have her young friends from the
village brought up to her room on the following Saturday. They had
just begun to allow her to eat boiled eggs after the very spare diet
to which she had been subjected for three weeks. Though she was still
very weak, she was able to sit up to receive the children. Lazare had
to go to the drawer again to find her some five-franc pieces. After she
had questioned her pensioners and had insisted on paying off what she
called her arrears, she became so thoroughly exhausted that she lay
back in a fainting condition. But she manifested great interest in the
piles, groynes, and stockades, and every day inquired if they still
remained firmly in position. Some of the timbers had already weakened,
and her cousin told a falsehood when he asserted that only the nailing
of a plank or two had ceased to hold. One morning, when she was alone,
she slipped out of bed, wishing to see the high tide dash against the
stockades in the distance; and this time again her budding strength
failed her, and she would have fallen to the ground if Véronique had
not come into the room in time to catch her in her arms.

‘Ah! you naughty girl! I shall have to fasten you down in bed if you
don’t behave more sensibly!’ said Lazare with a smile.

He still persisted in watching over her, but he was completely worn
out with fatigue, and would drop asleep in his arm-chair. At first he
had felt a lively joy in seeing her drink her broth. The young girl’s
restored health became a source of exquisite pleasure to him; it was
a renewal of life of which he himself partook. But afterwards, when he
had grown accustomed to it, and all the girl’s suffering had passed
away, he ceased to rejoice as over some unhoped-for blessing. All that
was left to him was a sort of hebetation, a slackening of the nerves
now that the struggle was over, a confused notion that the hollowness
and mockery of everything was becoming manifest again.

One night when he had been sleeping soundly Pauline heard him awake
with a sigh of agony. By the feeble glimmer of the night-light she
caught a glimpse of his terror-stricken face, his eyes staring wildly
with horror, and his hands clasped together in an attitude of entreaty.
He stammered out some incoherent words: ‘O God! O God!’

She leant towards him with hasty anxiety, and called: ‘What is the
matter with you, Lazare? Are you in pain?’

The sound of her voice made him start. He had been seen, then. He sat
silent and vexed, and could only contrive to tell a clumsy fib.

‘There’s nothing the matter with me. It was you yourself who were
crying out just now.’

But in reality the horror of death had just come back to him in his
sleep–a horror without cause, born of blank nothingness–a horror
whose icy breath had awakened him with a great shudder. O God! he
thought, so he would have to die some day. And that thought took
possession of him, and choked him; while Pauline, who had laid her
head back again on her pillow, watched him with an air of motherly
compassion.

Every evening, in the dining-room, when Véronique had cleared the
table, Madame Chanteau and Louise chatted together; while Chanteau,
buried in his newspaper, gave brief replies to his wife’s few
questions. During the fortnight when he had thought Pauline in danger,
Lazare had never joined the family at dinner; but he now dined
downstairs again, though, directly the meal was over, he returned to
his post at the invalid’s bedside. He scarcely closed the door behind
him before Madame Chanteau began with her old complaints.

At first she affected loving anxiety.

‘Poor boy!’ she said, ‘he is quite wearing himself out. It is really
foolish of him to go on endangering his health in this way. He has
scarcely had any sleep for the last three weeks. He is paler than ever
to-day.’

Then she would have a word or two of pity for Pauline. The poor dear
seemed to suffer so much that it was impossible to stay in her room
without a heartache. But she soon began to harp upon the manner in
which that illness upset the house. Everything remained in a state of
confusion; their meals were always cold, and there was no relying upon
anything. Then she broke off suddenly, and, turning to her husband,
asked him:

‘Has Véronique found time to give you your marshmallow water?’

‘Yes, yes,’ he replied from behind his newspaper. Then she lowered her
voice and addressed herself to Louise.

‘It is very peculiar, but that poor Pauline seems to have brought us
nothing but misfortune. And yet some people persist in looking upon her
as our good angel! I know the stories that are floating about. At Caen,
they say–don’t they, Louise?–that we have grown quite rich through
her. Rich, indeed! I should just think so! You may speak to me quite
frankly, for I am above taking any notice of their slanderous gossip.’

‘Well, indeed, they do talk about you, just as they talk about
everybody else,’ the girl murmured. ‘Only last month I was obliged
to snub a notary’s wife, who dared to speak on the subject, without
knowing anything at all about it. You can’t prevent people talking, you
know.’

After that, Madame Chanteau made no attempt to veil her real feelings.
There was no doubt, she said, that they were suffering from their own
generosity. Had they wanted anyone’s assistance before Pauline came?
And where would she have been now, in what Paris slum, if they had not
consented to take her into their house? It was all very fine for people
to talk about her money, but that money had never been anything but a
source of trouble to them; indeed, it seemed to have brought ruin with
it. The facts spoke clearly enough for themselves. Her son would never
have launched out into those idiotic speculations in seaweed, nor have
wasted his time in trying to prevent the sea from sweeping Bonneville
away, if that unlucky Pauline had not turned his head. If she had
lost her money, well, it was her own fault. The poor young fellow had
wrecked both his health and his future. Madame Chanteau could hardly
find words strong enough with which to inveigh against those hundred
and fifty thousand francs of which her secrétaire still reeked. It was,
indeed, all the large sums which had been swallowed up, and the small
amounts which were still being daily abstracted and thus increasing
the deficit, that embittered her, as though therein lay the ferment
in which her honesty had rotted away. By this time putrefaction was
complete, and she hated Pauline for all the money she owed her.

‘What is the good of talking to such an obstinate creature?’ she
resumed bitterly. ‘She is horribly miserly at heart, and, at the same
time, she is recklessness itself. She will toss twelve thousand francs
to the bottom of the sea for the Bonneville fishermen, who only laugh
at us, and feed all the filthy brats in the neighbourhood; while I
perfectly tremble, upon my word of honour I do, if I have to ask her
for only forty sous. What do you think of that? With all her pretence
of charity to others, she has got a heart of stone.’

During all the talk of this kind Véronique was often in and out of the
room, clearing away the dinner things or bringing in the tea, and she
loitered to listen to what was being said, and sometimes even ventured
on a remark.

‘Mademoiselle Pauline got a heart of stone! Oh, Madame! how can you say
so?’

Madame Chanteau reduced her to silence by a stern look. Then, resting
her elbows on the table, she entered into a series of complicated
calculations, talking as to herself.

‘I’ve nothing more to do with her money now, thank goodness, but I
should like to know how much of it there’s left. Not more than seventy
thousand francs, I’ll be bound. Just let us reckon it up a little.
Three thousand have gone already in that experimental stockade; then
there are, at least, two hundred francs going every month in charity,
and ninety francs for her board here. All that mounts up quickly. Will
you take a bet, Louise, that she’ll ruin herself? You will see her
reduced to a pallet one of these days. And when she has quite ruined
herself, who will take her in?–how will she manage to live?’

At this Véronique could not restrain herself, but broke out: ‘I’m sure
Madame could never think of turning her out of doors?’

‘What do you mean? What are you speaking about?’ her mistress demanded
angrily. ‘There’s no question of anyone being turned out of doors. I
never turned anybody out of doors. What I said was that nothing can be
more foolish, when one has had a fortune of one’s own, to go frittering
it all away and becoming dependent upon other people. Go off to your
kitchen.’

The servant went off, grinding out muttered protests from between her
teeth. Then there came an interval of silence, while Louise poured out
the tea. The only sound in the room was the slight rustling of the
newspaper, which Chanteau read from end to end, not missing even the
advertisements. Now and then he spoke a word or two to the young girl.

‘You might give me another piece of sugar, please. Have you had a
letter from your father yet?’

‘No, indeed,’ she answered with a smile. ‘But if I am in the way I
can leave at any time, you know. You have quite sufficient trouble
with Pauline’s illness. I would rather have gone away before, but you
insisted upon my staying.’

‘You mustn’t talk like that,’ he interrupted. ‘It is only too kind of
you to give us the pleasure of your society till poor Pauline can get
downstairs again.’

‘I can go to Arromanches till my father comes, if I am in the way,’ she
continued, as though she had not heard him, merely by way of teasing.
‘My aunt Léonie has taken a chalet there, and there are plenty of
people there, and a good beach where one can bathe at any rate. But she
is very wearisome is my aunt Léonie.’

Chanteau laughed at the girl’s playful, fondling ways. Though he dare
not confess it to his wife, he was entirely on the side of Pauline,
who nursed him so kindly and carefully. He buried himself in his
newspaper again; while Madame Chanteau, who had been immersed in deep
reflections, suddenly started up, as though awaking from a dream.

‘There’s one thing which I can’t forgive her. She has completely taken
possession of my son. He scarcely stops at the table for a quarter of
an hour, and I can hardly get a single word with him.’

‘That will soon be over,’ said Louise. ‘She must have someone with her.’

Madame Chanteau shook her head and tightened her lips, but the words
which she seemed trying to keep back broke out, apparently in spite of
herself.

‘It’s all very well to say that, but it’s a little peculiar for a young
man to be always shut up with a sick girl. There! I’ve said what I mean
and haven’t kept it back, and if it doesn’t please others I can’t help
it.’

Then, noticing Louise’s embarrassed look, she added: ‘It isn’t healthy
to breathe the atmosphere of a sick-room. She may easily infect him
with her sore throat. Those girls who seem so vigorous have sometimes
all sorts of impurities in their blood. Well, I don’t know why I
shouldn’t say it, but I don’t think she is quite sound and healthy.’

Louise then feebly defended her friend. She had always found her so
nice and kind; that was the only argument which she contrived to bring
forward–in reply to the accusation of a stony heart and ill-health. An
instinctive desire for tranquil peace and quietness induced her to try
to mitigate Madame Chanteau’s rough ill-feeling, although every day she
listened to her trying to excel her bitterness of the day before. While
making some kind of protest against the harshness of Madame Chanteau’s
language, Louise indeed flushed with secret pleasure at finding herself
preferred to Pauline, promoted to the position of favourite. She was
like Minouche in this respect, content to be caressing so long as her
own enjoyment was not interfered with.

Every evening the conversation, after flowing along the same channels,
ended invariably in the same way, Madame Chanteau slowly saying:

‘No, Louisette, the girl that my son ought to marry—-‘

And from that starting-point she would launch out into a disquisition
upon the qualities of an ideal daughter-in-law, while her eyes all
the time remained fixed upon Louise, trying to make her understand
more than she was willing to actually say. It was the girl’s own self
that was gradually being described. A young person who had been well
brought up and educated, who had acquired a knowledge of society, and
who was fit to play the part of a hostess, who was graceful rather than
beautiful, and, what was especially desirable, who was truly feminine
and lady-like; for a boy-like girl, a hoyden who made frankness a
pretence for being rough and rude, was, said she, her detestation. Then
there was the question of money–which was really the only one that
influenced her–and this she made a pretence of dismissing with a word,
saying that, though she made no account of a dowry, her son had great
schemes and aims for the future, and could not, of course, afford to
contract a marriage that would be likely to lead to ruin.

‘I may tell you, my dear, that if Pauline had come here penniless, with
nothing but the chemise she wore, the marriage would probably have
taken place years ago. But you can’t be surprised at my hesitation and
distrust, when I see money slipping through her hands like water. The
sixty thousand francs she still has left won’t trouble her much longer,
I fancy. No! Lazare deserves a better fate than that, and I will never
consent to his marrying a mad creature who would stint the house in
food so that she might ruin herself with idiotic follies.’

‘Ah, no! money’s nothing,’ said Louise, lowering her eyes; ‘still one
needs some.’

Although Louise’s dowry was not directly referred to, her two hundred
thousand francs seemed to be lying there upon the table, glistening
beneath the glow of the hanging lamp. It was because Madame Chanteau
felt and saw them there that she became thus excited, and swept aside
Pauline’s paltry sixty thousand in her dream of winning for her son
that other girl whose big fortune was still intact. She had noticed
how Lazare had been drawn towards Louise before all this tiresome
business, which now kept him in seclusion upstairs. If the girl was
equally attracted towards him, why shouldn’t they make a match of it?
Her husband would give his consent, and that the more readily when he
saw it was a case of mutual affection. Thus she did all she could to
fan Louise’s love into life, spending the rest of the evening in making
such remarks as she thought likely to excite the girl’s passion.

‘My Lazare is so good! No one knows half how good he is. You yourself,
Louisette, have no notion how affectionate is his nature. Nobody will
pity the girl who gets him for a husband. She will be quite certain of
being passionately loved. And he is such a handsome vigorous fellow,
too! His skin is as white as a chicken’s. My grandfather, the Chevalier
de la Vignière, had such a white skin that he used to wear his clothes
cut quite low like a woman’s when he went to masked balls.’

Louise blushed and smiled, and was much amused with Madame Chanteau’s
details. The mother’s advocacy of her son, and the confidences which
she poured out to Louise with the object of inclining her to a union
with Lazare, might have kept her there all night if Chanteau had not
begun to feel very drowsy over his newspaper.

‘Isn’t it about time for us all to go to bed?’ he asked with a yawn.

Then, as though he had been quite unconscious for some time of what
had been going on, and was taking up the thread of Madame Chanteau’s
earlier conversation, he added:

‘You are quite mistaken. She is a good girl, and I shall be very glad
when she is able to come downstairs again and eat her soup beside me.’

‘We shall all be glad,’ cried his wife, with considerable bitterness.
‘We may speak and say what we think, without ceasing to be fond of
those of whom we talk.’

‘The poor little dear!’ exclaimed Louise, in her turn; ‘I should be
very glad to bear half the pain for her, if such a thing were possible.
She is so amiable!’

Véronique, who was just bringing them their candles, once more put in
her word.

‘You are quite right to be her friend, Mademoiselle Louise, for no
one, unless she had a paving-stone for a heart, could ever wish her
unkindly.’

‘That will do,’ said Madame Chanteau. ‘We didn’t ask for your opinion.
It would be very much better if you cleaned the candlesticks. This one
here is quite filthy.’

They all rose from their seats. Chanteau lost no time in escaping from
his wife’s snappishness, and shut himself up in his room on the ground
floor. But when the two women reached the landing upstairs, where their
rooms adjoined each other, they did not at once go to bed. Madame
Chanteau almost always took Louise into her own room for a little
time and there resumed her remarks about Lazare, showing the girl one
and another portrait of him, and even exhibiting little memorials and
souvenirs, such as a tooth which had been extracted when he was quite
young, or a look of the pale hair of his infancy, or even some of his
old clothes; for instance, the bow he had worn at his first communion,
or his first pair of trousers.

‘See!’ she said, one night, ‘these are some locks of his hair. I have a
number, cut at all stages of his life.’

Thus, when Louise got to bed she could not sleep for thinking of the
young man whom his mother was trying to force on her.

Up above, Pauline’s convalescence was progressing gradually. Although
the patient was now out of danger, she still remained very feeble, worn
out and exhausted by feverish attacks which astonished the doctor.
As Lazare said, doctors were always being astonished. He himself was
growing more irritable every hour. The sudden lassitude which had
fallen upon him when the crisis was over seemed to be turning into
a kind of uneasy restlessness. Now that he was no longer wrestling
against death, he began to feel distressed by the close atmosphere of
the apartment and the spoonfuls of physic which had to be administered
at regular hours, and all the other little duties of a sick-room, which
he had so enthusiastically taken upon himself at first. Pauline was
able to do without him now, and he sank back into the boredom of an
aimless empty existence–a boredom which kept him fidgeting from chair
to chair, with his hands hanging listlessly by his side, or wandering
about the room, staring hopelessly at the walls, or deep in gloomy
abstraction in front of the window, looking out, but seeing nothing.

‘Lazare,’ Pauline said to him one day, ‘you must go out. Véronique will
be quite able to do everything.’

But he hotly refused. ‘Couldn’t she bear his presence any longer,’ he
asked, ‘that she wanted to send him away? It would be very nice of him,
wouldn’t it, if he were to desert her like that before she was quite
strong again?’

But he grew calm as she gently explained to him:

‘You wouldn’t be deserting me by just going out to get a little fresh
air. Go out in the afternoon. We should be in a pretty way if you were
to fall ill too.’

Then, however, she unfortunately added:

‘I have seen you yawning all the morning.’

‘You’ve seen me yawning!’ he cried. ‘Say at once that I have no heart!
This is a nice way to thank me!’

The next morning Pauline was more diplomatic. She pretended that
she was very anxious that the construction of the stockades should
be proceeded with; the high winter tides were coming on, and the
experimental works would be swept away if the system of defence was not
completed. But Lazare no longer glowed with his early enthusiasm; he
was dissatisfied with the resistance of the timbers as he had arranged
them, and fresh study would be necessary. Then, too, the estimate would
be exceeded, and the authorities had not yet voted a single sou. For
two days Pauline tried to fan his inventive _amour-propre_ into fresh
life. She asked him if he was going to let himself be beaten by the
sea, with all the neighbourhood looking on and smiling; as for the
money, it would certainly be paid back, if she advanced it, as they had
settled she should. By degrees Lazare then seemed to work himself up to
his old pitch of enthusiasm. He made fresh designs and again called in
the carpenter from Arromanches, and had long consultations with him in
his own room, the door of which he left open so that he might be ready
to go to Pauline at the first summons.

‘Now,’ said he one morning as he kissed the girl, ‘the sea won’t be
able to break anything. I am quite sure we shall be successful. As soon
as you are able to walk, you must go and see how the works are getting
on.’

Louise had just come up into the room to inquire after Pauline’s
health, and as she, too, kissed her, the patient whispered to her:

‘Take him away with you.’

Lazare at first refused to go. He was expecting the doctor, he said.
But Louise laughed and told him that she was sure he was much too
gallant to let her go alone to the Gonins, where she was going to
choose some lobsters to send to Caen. Besides, he could give a look at
the works on the way.

‘Yes, do go,’ said Pauline. ‘It will please me if you do. Take his arm,
Louise. There, now, don’t let him get away again.’

She grew quite merry as the two others jokingly pushed each other
about; but when they had left the room she became very thoughtful,
and leaned over the edge of her bed to listen to their laughter and
footsteps dying away down the stairs.

A quarter of an hour later Véronique came in with the doctor. By-and-by
she installed herself at Pauline’s bedside, but without abandoning
her saucepans, for she kept perpetually running to and fro between
the kitchen and the bedroom, spending an hour or so there, as she was
able, in the intervals of her work. She did not, however, take over all
the duties of nurse at once. Lazare came back in the evening after
going out with Louise, but he set off again the next morning; and each
succeeding day, carried away as he was, absorbed more and more in
outdoor life, his visits to Pauline grew shorter and shorter, till he
soon stayed only long enough to inquire after her. Pauline, too, always
told him to run off, if he merely spoke of sitting down; and when he
and Louise returned together she made them tell her all about their
walk, and grew quite bright amidst their animation and the touch of the
fresh breezes which still seemed to cling to their hair. They seemed
such good friends, and nothing else, that all her old suspicions of
them had vanished. And when she saw Véronique coming towards her, with
her draught in her hand, she cried out to her gaily:

‘Oh! be off! You worry me!’

Sometimes she called Lazare to her to tell him to look after Louise, as
though she had been a child.

‘See that she doesn’t get bored. She wants amusing. Take her for a good
long walk; I shall get on very well without you for the rest of the
day.’

When she was left alone, her eyes seemed to be following them from a
distance. She spent her time in reading, waiting till she should be
strong again, for she was still so weak that it quite exhausted her to
sit up for two or three hours in an easy-chair. She would often let
her book slip on to her lap, while her thoughts dreamily wandered off
after her cousin and her friend. She wondered whether they were walking
along the beach, and had got to the caves, where it was so pleasant
on the sands amidst the fresh breezes and rising tide. In those long
reveries she fancied that the feeling of sorrow which depressed her
came merely from the fact that she was unable to be with them. She
soon grew weary of reading. The novels which lay about the house,
love-stories abounding in romantic falsity and treason, had always
offended her sense of honour, for she felt how impossible it would be,
after once giving her heart, to withdraw it again. Was it true, then,
that people’s hearts could lie so, and that, after having once loved,
they could ever cease to love? She threw the books from her in disgust;
and with her wandering gaze saw, in imagination, her cousin bringing
her friend home, he supporting her weary steps, as they came along side
by side, whispering and laughing.

‘Here is your draught, Mademoiselle,’ suddenly said Véronique, whose
deep voice, coming from behind, aroused Pauline from her reverie with a
start.

By the end of the first week Lazare never came to her room without
first knocking. One morning as he opened the door he caught sight of
her, combing her hair as she sat up in bed, with her arms bare.

‘Oh! I beg your pardon!’ he cried, stepping back.

‘What’s the matter?’ said she. ‘Are you frightened of me?’ Then he took
courage, but he was afraid lest he should embarrass her, and turned his
head aside until she had finished fastening up her hair.

A fortnight before, when he had thought that she was dying, he had
lifted her in his arms as though she had been a child, without
even noticing her nakedness. But now the very disorder of the room
disquieted him. And the girl herself, catching his feeling of
uneasiness, soon refrained from asking of him any of the little
services that he had lately been accustomed to render her.

‘Shut the door, Véronique!’ she cried one morning, as she heard the
young man’s step on the landing. ‘Put all those things out of sight and
give me that fichu.’

She was gradually growing stronger, and her great pleasure, when she
was able to stand up and lean against the window, was to watch the
progress that was being made with the defensive works. She could
distinctly hear the blows of the hammers, and see the gang of seven or
eight men, who bustled about like big ants over the yellowish shingle
on the beach. Between the tides they worked away energetically, but
they were obliged to retire before the rising water. It was with
special interest, too, that Pauline’s eyes followed Lazare’s white
jacket and Louise’s pink gown, both of which glittered conspicuously
in the sun. She followed them constantly with her gaze, and could have
told their every action, almost their every gesture, throughout the
day. Now that the operations were being pushed so vigorously forward
they could no longer wander off together, or ramble to the caves inside
the cliffs; and thus Pauline constantly had them within half a mile of
her, always plainly visible beneath the wide expanse of sky, though
their stature was reduced by distance to that of dolls. Quite unknown
to herself, this jealous pleasure of accompanying them in fancy did
much to cheer her convalescence and recruit her strength.

‘It amuses you, eh, to watch the workmen?’ Véronique used to repeat
every day as she dusted the room. ‘Well, it’s much better for you than
reading. Whenever I try to read I get a headache. And, besides, when
one wants to get back strength, one must go and open one’s mouth in the
sunshine like the turkeys do, and drink in great mouthfuls of it.’

Véronique was not naturally of a talkative nature; she was even
considered a little morose and taciturn; but with Pauline she chatted
freely from a friendly impulse, believing that she did the girl good.

‘It’s a funny piece of business all the same! But it seems to please
Monsieur Lazare. Though, indeed, he does not appear to be quite so full
of it just now as he was. But he is so proud and obstinate that he will
go on persisting in a thing, even if he is really sick to death of it.
And if he just leaves those drunken fellows for a minute, they drive
the nails in all crooked.’

After she had swept the floor under the bed she added:

‘And as for the duchess–‘

Pauline, who was scarcely listening to the woman, caught this word with
surprise.

‘The duchess? Whom are you talking of?’

‘Mademoiselle Louise, of course! Wouldn’t anyone say that she had
sprung straight from Jupiter’s thigh? If you were to go and look in her
room and see all her little pots and pomades and scents—-Why, as soon
as ever you open the door, it all catches you at the throat, the place
smells so! But she can’t match you in good looks, for all that!’

‘Oh, nonsense! I’m a mere country girl,’ Pauline said with a smile;
‘Louise is very graceful and refined.’

‘Well, she may be all that; but she hasn’t got a pretty face, all the
same. I have had a good look at her when she has been washing herself;
and I know that, if I were a man, I shouldn’t be long in making up my
mind between you.’

Carried off by her feeling of enthusiastic conviction, she came and
leaned against the window, close to Pauline.

‘Just glance at her there on the beach! Doesn’t she look a mere shrimp?
She is certainly a long way off, and one can’t expect her to appear
as big as a church, but she ought to show a figure of some sort! Ah!
there’s Monsieur Lazare lifting her up, so that she mayn’t wet her
pretty little shoes. She can’t weigh very much in his arms, that’s
certain! But there are some men who seem to prefer bones!’

Véronique checked herself suddenly, as she felt Pauline quivering by
her side. She was ever harping on this subject, as if she itched to
talk of it. All that she heard and all that she saw–the conversations
in the evening when Pauline was calumniated, the furtive smiles of
Lazare and Louise, and the utter ingratitude of the whole family,
which was rapidly growing into treason–stuck in her throat and made
her choke. If she had gone up to the sick girl’s room at the times
when her honest heart glowed with a sense of some fresh injustice, she
could not have restrained herself from revealing everything to Pauline,
but her fear of making her ill kept her stamping about her kitchen,
knocking her pots and pans about, and swearing that she could not go
on much longer in that way, but would soon be driven into telling them
all very roundly what she thought about them. However, when she got
upstairs into Pauline’s room, and a word that might vex or disturb the
girl escaped her lips, she tried to recall it or explain it away with a
touching awkwardness.

‘But, thank goodness, Monsieur Lazare isn’t the kind to fall in love
with a bag of bones. He has been in Paris, and knows what’s what. He
has too much good taste. Look! he has set her on the ground again just
as if he were throwing a match away!’

Then Véronique, in fear of letting her tongue slip again, began to
flourish her feather brush once more; while Pauline, buried in deep
thought, watched till evening Louise’s pink gown and Lazare’s white
jacket both gleaming in the distance amidst the dark forms of the
workmen. When she was beginning to feel fairly well again, Chanteau was
seized with another violent attack of the gout; and this induced the
young girl to come downstairs at once. The first time that she left her
room it was to go and sit by the sick man’s bedside. As Madame Chanteau
said, very bitterly, the house was becoming quite a hospital. For some
time her husband had not left his chair. After repeated seizures his
whole body was now attacked by his foe; the disease mounted from his
feet to his knees, and then to his elbows and hands. The little white
pearl on his ear had fallen away, but others, of larger size, had
appeared. All his joints became swollen, and spots of chalky tophus
showed whitely, like lobster’s eyes, through his skin in all parts. It
was from chronic gout that he now suffered, chronic and incurable; the
kind of gout which stiffens and deforms the body.

‘Good heavens! what agony I’m in!’ Chanteau kept repeating. ‘My left
knee is as stiff as a log; I can’t move either my foot or my knee; and
my elbow burns as though it were on fire. Just look at it!’

Pauline looked, and observed an inflamed swelling on his left elbow.
He complained bitterly of the agony he was suffering there; indeed, it
very soon became unendurable. He kept his arm stiffly stretched, as he
sighed and groaned, with his eyes constantly fixed upon his hand, which
was a pitiable sight, with all the finger-joints knotted and swollen,
and the thumb warped as though it had been beaten with a hammer.

‘I cannot keep like this. You must come and help me to move. I thought
just now that I had got myself fairly comfortable, but I am as bad
again as ever I was. It is just as though my bones were being scraped
with a saw. Try to raise me a little.’

Twenty times in an hour did he have to be helped to change his
position. He was in a continual state of anxious restlessness, always
hoping to find relief in some new change. But Pauline still felt too
weak to venture to move him without assistance.

‘Véronique,’ she would say softly, ‘take hold of him very gently and
help me to move him.’

‘No, no! not Véronique!’ Chanteau would cry out, ‘she shakes me so!’

Then Pauline was obliged to make the effort herself, and her shoulders
gave way under the strain. And, however gently she turned him round,
he groaned and screamed so terribly that Véronique rushed hastily out
of the room. She said that one needed to be a saint, like Mademoiselle
Pauline, to be able to do such work, for the good God Himself would run
away if He were to hear her master bellowing.

The paroxysms, however, became less acute, though they did not cease,
but recurred frequently both day and night, keeping the sick man in a
state of perpetual exasperation. It was no longer merely in his feet
that he felt as though sharp teeth were gnawing at him, his whole body
seemed bruised, as though it were being crushed beneath a millstone.
It was impossible to afford him any relief; all that Pauline could do
was to remain by his side and yield submissively to his caprices, ever
changing his position for him, though without succeeding in giving
him any lasting ease. The worst of the matter was that pain made him
unjust and violent, and he spoke to her harshly, as though she were a
very clumsy servant.

‘Oh, stop! stop! you are as awkward as Véronique! Can’t you manage it
without digging your fingers into my body like that? Your hands are as
clumsy as a gendarme’s. Go away and leave me alone. I don’t want you to
touch me any more.’

But Pauline, without a word of self-defence, showing a submissive
resignation nothing could ruffle, resumed her efforts with increased
gentleness. When she imagined he was getting irritated with her she
would conceal herself for a moment behind the curtains, hoping that
his anger would cool when he no longer saw her. And often she would
give way to silent tears in her hiding-place, not for the poor man’s
harshness towards her, but for the frightful martyrdom which made him
so hasty and violent. She listened to him as he talked to himself
amidst his sighing and groaning.

‘She has gone away, the heartless girl! Ah! if I were to die, there
would only be Minouche left to close my eyes. It is abominable to
desert a human being in this way! I’ll be bound she’s gone off to the
kitchen to have some broth!’

Then, after a little wrestling and struggling, he groaned more loudly,
and ended by calling: ‘Pauline, are you there? Come and raise me a
little. I can’t get easy as I am. Shall we try how the left side will
do–shall we?’

Every now and then he would be suddenly seized with deep regret, and
would beg the girl’s pardon for having treated her unkindly. Sometimes
he would tell her to fetch Matthew, for the sake of having another
companion, fancying that the dog’s presence would somehow or other
alleviate his pain. But it was in Minouche rather than in Matthew that
he found a faithful associate, for the cat revelled in the close, warm
atmosphere of sick rooms, and spent her days lying on a couch near the
bed. However, when the patient gave a more than usually loud cry she
seemed surprised, and turned upon him, sitting on her tail, and staring
at him with her big round eyes, in which glistened the indignant
astonishment of a sober philosophic nature whose tranquillity had been
deeply disturbed. What could possess him to make all that disagreeable
and useless noise?

Every time that Pauline went out of the room with Doctor Cazenove she
preferred the same request.

‘Can’t you inject a little morphia? It makes my heart bleed to hear
him.’

But the doctor refused. It would do no good; the paroxysms would return
again with increased violence. Since the salicylic treatment appeared
only to have aggravated the disease, he preferred not to try any other
drug. He spoke, however, of seeing what a milk diet might do as soon as
the violence of the attack was over. Until then the patient was to keep
to the most sparing diet and diuretic drinks, and nothing else.

‘The truth is,’ said Cazenove, ‘that your uncle is a gourmand who is
now paying dearly for all his fine dishes. He has been eating game; I
know he has, for I saw the feathers in the yard. It will be much the
worse for him in the end. I have warned him over and over again that
the reason of his suffering is that, instead of denying himself such
things, he prefers to yield to his appetite and take the consequences.
But you yourself will act still more foolishly, my dear, if you
over-exert yourself and make yourself ill again. Do be careful! You
will, won’t you? Your health still requires looking after.’

But she looked after it very little; she devoted herself to her uncle
entirely, and all notion of time and even of life itself seemed to
depart from her during the long days and nights that she passed by his
bedside, with her ears buzzing with the groans and cries which ever
filled the room. Her devotion and self-sacrifice were so complete that
she actually forgot all about Louise and Lazare. She just exchanged
a few words with them now and then, when she ran across them as she
passed through the dining-room. By this time the work on the shore was
finished, and heavy rains had kept the young people in the house for
a week past; and, when the idea that they were together once suddenly
occurred to Pauline, she felt quite happy to know that they were near
her.

Never before had Madame Chanteau appeared so busy. She was taking
advantage, she said, of the confusion into which her husband’s illness
threw the household to go through her papers, make up her accounts,
and clear off arrears of correspondence. So in the afternoons she shut
herself up in her bedroom, leaving Louise to her own resources; and the
girl immediately went upstairs to Lazare, for she detested being alone.
They thus got into the way of being together, remaining undisturbed
till dinner-time in the big room on the second floor, that room which
had so long served Pauline both for study and amusement. The young
man’s little iron bedstead was still there, hidden away behind the
screen. The piano was covered with dust, and the table buried beneath
an accumulation of papers, books, and pamphlets. In the middle of it,
between two piles of dry seaweed, was a little model of a stockade, cut
out of deal with a knife, and recalling the grandfather’s masterpiece,
the bridge which, in its glass case, adorned the mantelpiece in the
dining-room.

For some time Lazare had been falling into a nervous condition. His
workmen had irritated him, and he had just rid himself of the works
on the shore as of a burden beyond his strength, without tasting the
pleasure of seeing his work accomplished. Other plans now filled his
head–vague projects for the future, appointments at Caen, operations
which would bring him great fame. Yet he never took any definite
active steps, but relapsed into a state of idleness which seemed to
render him weaker, less courageous, every hour. The great shock which
he had received from Pauline’s illness added to mental disquietude a
perpetual craving for the open air, a peculiar physical longing, as
though he felt some imperious necessity of recouping himself after
his struggle against pain and sorrow. The presence of Louise still
further excited his feverishness. She did not seem able to speak to him
without leaning upon his shoulder; she smiled close to his face, and
her cat-like graces, the warmth that came from her person, and all the
disturbing freedom of her manner quite turned his head. He was seized
with a feeling against which his conscience struggled. With a friend
of his childhood, in his mother’s house, any idea of the sort, he told
himself, was not to be thought of for a moment; and his sense of honour
made his arms tingle with pain whenever he caught hold of Louise as
they played together, and a thrill sent his blood surging through his
veins. It was no thought of Pauline that kept him back. She would never
have known anything about the matter. Amidst all his strange fancies
he began to indulge in ferocious, pessimistic sallies respecting women
and love. Every evil originated in women, who were, said he, foolish
and fickle, and perpetuated grief by desire; while love was nothing but
delusion, the onslaught of future generations which wished to come into
existence. He thus retailed all Schopenhauer’s views, over which the
blushing girl grew very merry.

By degrees Lazare became more deeply enamoured of her, genuine passion
arose from amidst his disdainful prejudices, and he threw himself
into that fresh love with all his early enthusiasm, which was still
straining after a happiness that ever seemed to evade him.

On Louise’s side there had long been nothing but every-day coquetry.
She delighted in receiving attentions and compliments, and flirting
with pleasant men; and when one of them ceased to appear interested
in her she seemed quite melancholy and out of her element. If Lazare
neglected her for a moment or two, to write a letter, or to plunge into
one of his sudden apparently groundless fits of melancholy, she felt so
unhappy that she began to tease and provoke him, preferring danger to
neglect. Later on, however, she experienced some alarm as she felt the
young man’s burning breath fanning her neck like a flame. But though
aware of the danger, she seemed unable to change her ways.

On the day when Chanteau’s attack reached its worst point the whole
house shook with his bellowing: prolonged heart-rending plaints, like
the death-cries of a beast in the hands of the slaughterer. After
breakfast, of which she had hastily partaken in a state of nervous
irritation, Madame Chanteau rushed from the room, saying:

‘I can’t endure it any longer; I shall begin to scream myself if I stop
here. If anyone wants me, I shall be in my own room writing. And you,
Lazare, take Louise upstairs with you and try to amuse her, for the
poor girl is not having a very gay time here.’

They heard her bang her door on the first floor, while her son and the
girl climbed to the one above.

Pauline had gone back to her uncle. She, in her pity for so much
suffering, was the only one who retained her calmness. If she could
do nothing but just sit with him, she wished, at any rate, to afford
the poor man whatever comfort could be derived from not being left to
suffer in solitude. She fancied that he bore up more bravely against
his pain when she looked at him, even if she did not speak a single
word. For hours she would sit in this way by his bedside, and the gaze
of her big compassionate eyes indeed soothed him somewhat. But that
day, with his head hanging over the bolster, his arm stretched out,
and his elbow racked with agony, he did not even recognise her, and
screamed yet more loudly whenever she approached him.

About four o’clock Pauline, in a state of desperation, went into the
kitchen to speak to Véronique, leaving the door open behind her, as she
intended returning immediately.

‘Something must really be done,’ she said. ‘I should like to try some
cold compresses. The doctor says they are dangerous, though they are
successful sometimes. Can you give me some linen?’

Véronique was in a frightfully bad temper.

‘Linen? I’ve just been upstairs to get some dusters, and a nice
reception I got! I had no business to come disturbing them up there!
Oh, it’s a nice state of things!’

‘But you might ask Lazare for some,’ Pauline continued, without yet
understanding Véronique’s remarks.

Then the servant, carried away by her anger, set her arms a-kimbo, and,
without taking time to think of what she was saying, burst out: ‘Yes, I
should think so, indeed! They are much too busy gallivanting up there!’

‘What do you mean?’ the girl stammered, growing very pale.

Véronique, alarmed at what she had said, attempted to recall those
words which she had so long been keeping to herself. She tried to
think of some explanation, some fib to tell Pauline, but she could hit
upon nothing that seemed of any service. By way of precaution she had
grasped the girl’s wrists, but Pauline freed herself with a sudden
jerk, and bounded wildly up the staircase, so choked, so convulsed
by anger that Véronique dared not follow her, trembling as she did
with fear at the sight of that pallid face, which she could scarcely
recognise. The house seemed to be asleep; the upper floors were wrapped
in silence, and nothing but Chanteau’s yell came from below to disturb
the perfect quietude. The girl sprang with a bound to the landing of
the first floor, where she jostled against her aunt, who stood there,
like a sentinel, barring any further advance. She had probably been
keeping guard in this way for some little time.

‘Where are you going?’ she asked.

Pauline, still choking with emotion, and exasperated at this hindrance
to her progress, could not at first answer.

‘Let me pass!’ she at last managed to stammer, making on angry gesture,
before which Madame Chanteau quailed. Then, with another bound she
rushed up to the second floor, while her aunt, rooted to the spot,
threw up her arms, but spoke no word. Pauline was possessed by one of
those stormy fits of rebellion which broke out amidst all the gentle
gaiety of her nature, and which, even when she was a mere child, had
afterwards left her in a prostrate fainting condition. For some years
past she believed that she had cured herself of them. But an impulse
of jealousy had just thrilled her so violently that she could not have
restrained herself without shattering herself entirely.

When she reached Lazare’s door on the top floor, she threw herself
against it. The key was bent by her impetuous onset, and the door
clattered back against the wall. And the sight she then beheld
brought her indignation to a climax. Lazare was clasping Louise in
his arms against the wardrobe and raining kisses on her chin and
neck, she passive, half-fainting, unable to resist his embrace. They
had begun, no doubt, in mere sport, but the sport seemed likely to
have a disastrous ending. At Pauline’s appearance there was a moment
of stupefaction. They all three looked at each other. Then, at last,
Pauline burst out:

‘Oh! you hussy! you hussy!’

It was the girl’s treason that angered her more than anything. With a
scornful gesture she pushed Lazare aside, as though he were a child
of whose pitiful weakness she was well aware. But this girl, her own
familiar friend, had stolen her husband from her while she was busy
nursing a sick man down below! She caught her by the shoulders, shook
her, and was scarcely able to keep from striking her.

‘What do you mean by this? Tell me! You have been behaving infamously,
shamelessly! Do you hear me?’

Then Louise, still in a state of stupor, and with her eyes wandering
vacantly, stammered:

‘He held me; I could not get away.’

‘He! Why, he would have burst into tears if you had simply pushed him
with your little finger!’

The sight of the room itself increased her anger–that room where she
and Lazare had loved each other, where she, too, had felt her blood
pulse more quickly through her veins at the warm touch of the young
man’s breath. What should she do to this girl to satisfy her vengeance?

Lazare, dazed, overcome with embarrassment, had just resolved to
attempt some interference, when Pauline dashed Louise from her so
violently that the girl’s shoulders struck the wardrobe.

‘Ah! I’m afraid of myself. Be off!’

And that was all she could now find to say. She chased the other
through the room, drove her out upon the landing and down the
staircase, crying after her perpetually:

‘Be off! be off! Get your things together and be off!’

Madame Chanteau was still standing on the landing of the first floor.
The rapidity of the scene had given her no opportunity to interfere.
But she now recovered her power of speech and signed to Lazare to shut
himself in his own room, while she tried to soothe Pauline, pretending
at first to be very much surprised at what had happened. Meantime
Pauline, having driven Louise into her bedroom, still kept on repeating:

‘Be off! be off!’

‘What do you mean?’ her aunt asked her. ‘Why is she to be off? Are you
losing your head?’

Then the young girl stammered out the whole story. She was overcome
with disgust. To her frank, honourable nature such conduct appeared
utterly shameless and incapable of either excuse or pardon. The more
she thought about it the more indignant she felt, rebelling against it
all in her horror of deceit and her faithfulness of heart. When one had
once bestowed one’s self, one could not withdraw the gift.

‘Be off! Pack up your things at once and be off!’ she repeated.

Louise, completely overcome, unable to find a word to say in her own
defence, had already opened her drawers to get her clothes together.
But Madame Chanteau was growing angry.

‘Stay where you are, Louisette. Am I the mistress of my own house? Who
is it that presumes to give orders here and allows herself to send my
guests away? Such behaviour is infamous! We are not living in a slum
here!’

‘Didn’t you hear me, then?’ cried Pauline. ‘I caught her up there with
Lazare. He had her in his arms, and was kissing her!’

Madame Chanteau shrugged her shoulders. All her stored-up bitterness
broke out in words of base suspicion.

‘They were only playing; where was the harm of it? When he was nursing
you in your room, did we ever interfere?’

The young girl’s excitement suddenly subsided. She stood quite
motionless, pale, astounded at the accusation which was thus launched
against her. It was she who was now being arraigned as guilty; her aunt
appeared to suspect her of disgraceful conduct.

‘What do you mean?’ she cried. ‘If you had really thought anything
wrong you would not have allowed it for a moment!’

‘Well, you are not children! But I don’t want my son to lead a whole
life of misconduct. And you had better leave off harassing those who
still remain honest women.’

For a moment Pauline continued silent, with her big pure eyes fixed
upon Madame Chanteau, who turned her own away. Then she went up the
stairs to her room, saying curtly:

‘Very well, it is I who will leave.’

Then silence fell again, a heavy silence, in which the whole house
seemed to collapse. Athwart that sudden quietude Chanteau’s groans
suddenly rose once more like those of an agonized deserted animal. They
seemed to grow louder and louder; they made themselves distinctly heard
till they drowned all other sound.

And now Madame Chanteau began to regret the words which had escaped
her. She recognised the irreparable nature of the insult, and felt much
disturbed in mind lest Pauline should actually carry out her threat
of immediate departure. With such a girl everything was possible,
and what would people say of herself and her husband if their ward
should set off scouring the country and telling the story of their
rupture? Perhaps she would take refuge with Doctor Cazenove, which
would certainly give rise to a dreadful scandal in the district. At the
bottom of Madame Chanteau’s embarrassment there lurked a fear of the
past; of all the money which had been lost–a loss which might suddenly
be brought up against them.

‘Don’t cry, Louisette,’ she said, feeling angry with Pauline again.
‘Here we are, in a bother again all through her folly. She’s always
going on in this mad, violent way. It’s impossible to live quietly with
her. But I will try to make matters comfortable.’

‘Oh no, let me go away, I beg you,’ Louise cried. ‘It would be too
painful for me to stop here. She is right; I had better go.’

‘Not to-night, at any rate. I must see you safely to your father’s
house. Just wait a moment, and I will go upstairs and see if she is
really packing her things.’

Madame Chanteau gently went upstairs and listened at Pauline’s door.
She heard her walking hurriedly about the room, opening and shutting
her drawers. For a moment she thought of entering, provoking an
explanation, and bringing the affair to an end with a flood of tears.
But she was afraid; she felt that she would stammer and blush before
the girl, and this feeling served to increase her hatred of her. So,
instead of knocking at the door, she went downstairs to the kitchen,
treading as silently as she could. An idea had just occurred to her.

‘Have you heard the row to which Mademoiselle Pauline has just been
treating us?’ she asked Véronique, who had begun furiously polishing
her brass-ware.

The servant, with her head bent over the polish, made no answer.

‘She is getting quite unbearable! I can do nothing with her. Would you
believe that she is actually talking about leaving us at once? She is
packing her things at this moment. I wish you would go upstairs and try
to reason with her.’

Then, as she still got no answer, she added:

‘Are you deaf?’

‘If I don’t answer, it’s because I don’t choose,’ Véronique cried
snappishly, bursting with angry excitement, and rubbing a candlestick
violently enough to hurt her fingers. ‘She is quite right in going
away. If I had been in her place, I would have taken myself off long
ago.’

Madame Chanteau listened with gaping lips, quite stupefied by this
mutinous outburst of loquacity.

‘I’m not talkative,’ Véronique continued, ‘but you mustn’t press me
too far or I shall let out all I think. I should have liked to fling
Mademoiselle Pauline into the sea on the day you first brought her
here as a little girl, but I can’t bear to see anyone ill-treated, and
you have all of you treated her so abominably that one of these days
I shall give anyone who hurts her a swinging box on the ears. You can
give me warning, if you like; I don’t care a button; but I will let
her into some nice secrets. Yes, she shall know all about how you have
treated her, with all your fine pretences to honour and honesty.’

‘Hold your tongue! You are quite mad!’ cried Madame Chanteau, much
disquieted by this fresh explosion.

‘No, I will not hold my tongue! It is all too shameful! Shameful, I
say! Do you hear me? I have been choking with it all for years and
years! Wasn’t it bad enough of you to rob her of her money? Couldn’t
you have been content with that, without tearing her poor little
heart to shreds? Oh yes! I know all about it; I have seen through all
your underhand plottings. Monsieur Lazare is perhaps not quite so
calculating as you are; but in other respects he’s not much better than
you, for he wouldn’t much mind giving her her death-blow out of mere
selfishness, just to save himself from feeling bored! Ah, me! there
are some people who come into this world only to be preyed upon and
devoured by others.’

She flourished the candlestick about, and then caught hold of a pan,
which rumbled like a drum under the violent rubbing she gave it. Madame
Chanteau had been sorely tempted to turn her out of the house at once,
but she succeeded in restraining herself and said to her icily:

‘So you won’t go up and speak to the girl? It would be for her own
good, to prevent her from committing a piece of folly.’

Véronique became silent again, but at last she growled out:

‘I’ll go up to her. Reason is reason, after all, and an inconsiderate
act never does any good.’

She stayed for a minute or two to wash her hands, and then took off her
dirty apron. When she opened the door in the passage to make her way to
the stairs a loud wail rushed in. It was the ceaseless heart-rending
wail of Chanteau. Madame Chanteau, who was following Véronique,
thereupon seemed struck with an idea, and exclaimed in an undertone,
emphasising her words:

‘Tell her that she can’t think of leaving her uncle in the dreadful
state in which he is. Do you hear?’

‘Well, he certainly is bellowing hard; there’s no doubt of that,’
Véronique replied.

She went up the stairs, while her mistress, who had stretched out her
hand towards her husband’s room, purposely refrained from closing the
door. The sick man’s groans ascended the staircase, increasing in
volume at every fresh storey. When Véronique reached Pauline’s room
she found her just on the point of leaving, having fastened up in a
bundle what little linen she would absolutely require, and intending
to send old Malivoire to fetch the rest in the morning. She had calmed
down again, and, though very pale and low-spirited, was simply obeying
the dictates of her reason without any feeling of anger.

‘Either she or I,’ was the only answer she returned to all that
Véronique said, and she sedulously avoided mentioning Louise’s name.

When Véronique conveyed this reply to Madame Chanteau, she found the
latter in Louise’s room, where the girl, having dressed herself–for on
her side she was determined to go away–stood trembling, alarmed at the
slightest creaking of the door. Madame Chanteau was obliged to yield,
and sent to Verchemont for the baker’s trap, saying that she would take
Louise to her Aunt Léonie at Arromanches. They would invent some story
to tell this lady; they would make the violence of Chanteau’s attack a
pretext, alleging that his screams had become quite unendurable.

After the departure of the two ladies, whom Lazare safely seated in the
baker’s trap, Véronique shouted in the passage at the top of her voice:

‘You can come downstairs now, Mademoiselle Pauline; there is nobody
here.’

The house seemed empty; the heavy gloomy silence was broken only by
Chanteau’s perpetual groans, which became louder and louder. As Pauline
came down the last step Lazare, returning to the house from the yard,
met her face to face. His whole body shook with a nervous trembling; he
paused for a moment, as though anxious to confess his fault and implore
forgiveness, but a rush of tears choked his voice, and he hurried up to
his own room, without having been able to say a word.

Chanteau was still lying with his head across the bolster and his arm
rigidly outstretched. He no longer dared make the slightest movement;
doubtless he had not even been aware of Pauline’s absence, as he lay
there with his eyes closed and his mouth open to yell and groan. None
of the sounds of the house reached him; and all he thought of was to
complain as long and as loudly as his breath would let him. His cries
grew more and more desperate, till they at last seriously disturbed
Minouche, who had had a family of four kittens thrown away that
morning, and who, already quite forgetful of them, had been purring
lazily on an arm-chair.

When Pauline took her place again, her uncle howled so loudly that
the cat got up, unable to endure the din. She fixed her eyes steadily
on the sick man, with the indignation of a well-behaved person whose
serenity is disturbed. If she could not be allowed to purr in peace, it
would be impossible for her to stop there. And she took herself off,
with her tail in the air.

When Madame Chanteau returned home again in the evening, a few minutes
before dinner, no further mention was made of Louise. She merely called
to Véronique to come and take her boots off. Her left foot was paining
her.

‘Little wonder of that!’ the servant murmured. ‘It’s quite swollen.’

The seams of the leather had indeed left crimson marks on the soft
white skin. Lazare, who had just come downstairs, looked at his
mother’s foot and said:

‘You have been walking too much.’

But she had really only walked through Arromanches. Besides the pain in
her foot, she that day experienced a difficulty in breathing, such as
had been increasingly affecting her at intervals for some months past.
Presently she began to blame her boots for the pain she was enduring.

‘Those tiresome bootmakers don’t ever seem to make the instep high
enough! As soon as ever I get my boots on I’m in a state of torture.’

However, as she felt no further pain after she had put on her slippers,
nothing more was thought of the matter. Next morning the swelling
had extended to her ankle, but by the following night it disappeared
altogether.

A week passed. From the very first dinner at which Pauline had again
found herself in the presence of Madame Chanteau and Lazare they had
all forced themselves to resume their ordinary demeanour towards each
other. No allusion was made to what had occurred; everything seemed
to be just the same as usual. The family life went on in the old
mechanical way, with the same customary expressions of affection, the
same good-mornings and good-nights, and the same lifeless kisses given
at fixed hours. A feeling of great relief came, however, that they
were at last able to wheel Chanteau to his place at table. This time
his knees had remained stiff with ankylosis, and he could not stand
upright. But none the less he enjoyed his freedom from actual pain,
and was so entirely wrapped up in egotistical satisfaction at his own
well-being that he never gave a thought to the joys or cares of the
other members of the family. When Madame Chanteau ventured to mention
Louise’s sudden departure, he begged her not to speak to him of such
melancholy matters. Pauline, now freed from her attendance in her
uncle’s room, tried to find some other means of occupying herself, but
she could not conceal the grief oppressing her. She found the evenings
especially painful, and her distress was plainly visible despite all
her affectation of calmness. Ostensibly everything was just the same as
usual, and the old every-day routine was gone through; but every now
and then a nervous gesture or even a momentary pause would make them
all conscious of the hidden breach, the rift of which they never spoke,
but which was, all the same, always widening.

At first Lazare had felt contempt for himself. The moral superiority
of Pauline, who was so upright and just, had filled him with shame
and vexation. Why had he lacked the courage to go to her, confess his
fault, and ask her pardon? He might have told her the whole truth,
how he had suddenly been excited and carried away by the presence of
Louise, whose glamour had intoxicated him; and his cousin was too
generous and large-hearted not to understand and make allowances. But
insurmountable embarrassment had kept him back; he felt afraid of
cutting a still more contemptible figure in the girl’s eyes by entering
upon an explanation in which he would very likely stammer and hesitate
like a child. Beneath his hesitation, too, there lurked the fear of
telling another falsehood, for his thoughts were still full of Louise,
her image was perpetually haunting him. In spite of himself, his long
walks always seemed to lead him into the neighbourhood of Arromanches.
One evening he went right on to Aunt Léonie’s little house and prowled
round it, hurriedly taking flight as he heard a shutter move, all
confusion at the baseness he had contemplated. It was the sense of
his own unworthiness that doubled his feeling of shame in Pauline’s
presence; and he freely condemned himself, though he could not quench
his passion. The struggle was perpetually going on within his mind, and
never before had his natural irresolution proved such a source of pain
to him. He only had sufficient honesty and strength of purpose left
him to avoid Pauline and thus escape the last dishonour of perjuring
himself. It was possible that he still loved his cousin, but the
alluring image of her friend was ever before him, blotting out the past
and barring the future.

Pauline, on her side, waited for his defence and apology. In her first
outburst of indignation she had sworn that she would never forgive him.
Then she had begun to suffer secretly at finding that her forgiveness
had not been asked. Why did he keep silence, and seem so feverish and
restless, spending all his time out of doors, as though he were afraid
to find himself alone with her? She was quite ready to listen to him
and to forget everything, if only he would show a little repentance.
As the hoped-for explanation failed to come, she racked her mind to
find reasons for her cousin’s silence. Her own pride kept her from
making the first advance; and, as the days painfully and slowly passed,
she succeeded in conquering herself so far as to resume all her old
cheerful activity. But beneath that brave show of calmness there lurked
everlasting unhappiness, and in her own room at night she burst into
fits of tears, and had to stifle the sound of her sobs by burying her
head in her pillow. Nobody spoke about the wedding, though it was
evident that they all thought of it. The autumn was coming on; what was
to be done? Nobody seemed to care to say anything on the matter; they
all avoided coming to a decision till they should feel able to discuss
it again.

It was about this time that Madame Chanteau completely lost her head.
She had always been excitable and restless, but the dim causes which
had undermined all her good principles had now reached a period of
great destructiveness. Never before had she found herself so completely
off her balance, so nervously feverish as now. The necessity for
restraint exasperated her torment. She suffered from her rageful
longing for money, which grew stronger day by day and ended by carrying
off her reason and her heart. She was continually attacking Pauline,
whom she now began to blame for Louise’s departure, accusing her of
it as of an act of robbery that had despoiled her son. She felt an
ever-open wound which would not close; the smallest trifles assumed
monstrous proportions; she remembered the slightest incidents of the
horrid scene; she could still hear Pauline crying, ‘Be off! Be off!’
And she began to imagine that she herself was being driven away,
that all the joy and the fortune of the family was being flung into
the streets. At night-time, as she rolled about in bed in a restless
semi-somnolent state, she even regretted that death had not freed them
from that accursed Pauline. Intricate schemes and calculations sprang
up in wild confusion in her brain, but she was never able to hit upon
any practicable means of getting rid of the girl.

At the same time a kind of reaction seemed to increase her affection
for her own son, and she worshipped him now almost more than she had
done when she had held him in her arms as an infant and had possessed
his undivided love. From morning till night she followed him with her
anxious eyes; and when they were alone together she would throw her
arms around him and kiss him, and beg him not to distress himself.
She swore to him that everything should be put right, that she would
strangle those who opposed her rather than have him unhappy. After a
fortnight of this continual struggling, her face had become as pale as
wax, though she grew no thinner. The swelling in her feet had twice
appeared again, and had then subsided.

One morning she rang for Véronique, to whom she showed her legs, which
had swollen to the thighs during the night.

‘Just look at the state I’m in! Isn’t it provoking? I wanted to go out
so much to-day, and now I shall be obliged to stay in bed! Don’t say
anything about it for fear of alarming Lazare.’

She did not seem to be at all alarmed herself. She merely remarked that
she felt a little tired, and the members of the family simply supposed
that she was suffering from a slight attack of lumbago. As Lazare had
gone off on one of his rambles along the shore, and Pauline refrained
from entering her aunt’s room, knowing that her presence there would be
unwelcome, the sick woman occupied herself by dinning furious charges
against her niece into the servant’s ears. She seemed to have lost all
control of herself. The immobility to which she was condemned and the
palpitations of the heart which stifled her at the slightest movement
goaded her into ever-increasing exasperation.

‘What’s she doing downstairs? Up to some fresh wickedness, I’m sure!
She’ll never think of bringing me even a glass of water, you’ll see!’

‘But, Madame,’ urged Véronique, ‘it is you who drive her from you.’

‘Ah! you don’t know her! There never was such a hypocrite as she
is. Before other people she pretends to be kind and generous, but
there’s nothing she wouldn’t do or say when your back’s turned. Yes,
my good girl, you were the only one who saw things clearly on the day
I first brought her here. If she had never come, we shouldn’t now be
in the state we are. She will prove the ruin of us all. Your master
has suffered all the agonies of the damned since she has been in
this house, and she has worried and distressed me till she has quite
undermined my health; while as for my son, she made him lose his head
entirely.’

‘Oh, Madame! how can you say that when she is so kind and good to you
all?’

Right up to the evening Madame Chanteau thus unburdened herself of her
anger. She raved about everything, particularly about the abominable
way in which Louise had been turned out of the house, though it was the
money question that aroused her greatest anger. When Véronique, after
dinner, was able to go down to the kitchen again she found Pauline
there, occupying herself by putting the crockery away; and so the
servant, in her turn, took the opportunity of unburdening herself of
the angry indignation which was choking her.

‘Ah! Mademoiselle, it is very good of you to bother about their plates.
If I were you, I should smash the whole lot to bits!’

‘What for?’ the girl asked in astonishment.

‘Because, whatever you were to do, you couldn’t come up to half of what
they accuse you of!’

Then she broke out angrily, raking up everything from the day of
Pauline’s arrival there.

‘It would put God Almighty Himself into a rage to see such things! She
has drained your money away sou by sou, and she has done it in the most
shameless manner imaginable. Upon my word, to hear her talk one would
suppose that it was she who had been keeping you. When she had your
money in her secrétaire she made ever so much fuss about keeping it
safe and untouched, but all that didn’t prevent her greedy hands from
digging pretty big holes in it. It’s a nice piece of play-acting that
she’s been keeping up all this time, contriving to make you pay for
those salt workshops and then keeping the pot boiling with what was
left! Ah! I daresay you don’t know, but if it hadn’t been for you they
would all have starved! She got into a pretty flurry when the people
in Paris began to worry her about the accounts! Yes, indeed, you could
have had her sent right off to the assize court if you had liked. But
that didn’t teach her any lesson; she’s still robbing you, and she’ll
end by stripping you of your very last copper. I daresay you think I’m
not speaking the truth, but I swear that I am! I have seen it all with
my eyes and heard it with my ears; and I have too much respect for
you, Mademoiselle, to tell you the worst things, such as how she went
on when you were ill and she couldn’t go rummaging in your chest of
drawers.’

Pauline listened without finding a single word with which to interrupt
the narrative. The thought that the family were actually living upon
her and rapaciously plundering her had, indeed, frequently cast a
gloom over her happiest days. But she had always refused to allow her
mind to dwell on the subject; she had preferred to go on living in
ignorance and accusing herself secretly of avarice. To-day, however,
she had to hear the whole truth of the matter, and Véronique’s
outspokenness seemed to make facts worse than she had believed. At
each fresh sentence the young girl’s memory awoke within her; she
recalled old incidents, the exact meaning of which she had not at the
time understood, and she now saw clearly through all Madame Chanteau’s
machinations to get hold of her money. Whilst listening she had slowly
dropped upon a chair, as though suddenly overcome with great fatigue,
and an expression of grief and pain appeared upon her lips.

‘You are exaggerating!’ she murmured.

‘Exaggerating! I!’ Véronique continued violently. ‘It isn’t so much
the money part of the business that makes me so angry. But what I
can’t forgive her is for having taken Monsieur Lazare from you after
once having given him to you. Oh yes! it was very nice of her to rob
you of your money and then to turn against you because you were no
longer rich enough, and Monsieur Lazare must needs marry an heiress!
Yes, indeed; what do you think of it? They first pillage you, and
then toss you aside because you are no longer rich enough for them!
No, Mademoiselle, I will not give over! There is no need to tear
people’s hearts to shreds after emptying their pockets. As you loved
your cousin, and it was his duty to pay you back with affection and
kindness, why, it was abominable of your aunt to steal him from you!
She did everything. I saw through it all! Yes, every evening she
excited the girl; she made her fall in love with the young man by all
her talk about him. As certainly as that lamp is shining, it was she
who threw them into each other’s arms. Bah! she would have been only
too glad to have seen them compelled to marry; and it isn’t her fault
if that didn’t take place. Try and defend her if you can, she who
trampled you under foot and caused you so much grief, for you sob in
the night like a Magdalene! I can hear you from my room! I feel beside
myself with all that cruelty and injustice!’

‘Don’t say any more, I beseech you!’ stammered Pauline, whose courage
failed her. ‘You are giving me too great pain.’

Big tears rolled down her cheeks. She felt quite conscious that
Véronique was only telling her the truth, and her heart bled within
her. All the past sprang up before her eyes in lively reality, and she
again saw Lazare pressing Louise to his breast, while Madame Chanteau
kept guard on the landing. Ah, God! what had she done that everyone
should join in deceiving her, when she herself had kept faith with all?

‘I beg you, say no more! I am choking with it all!’

Then Véronique, seeing that she was painfully overcome, contented
herself with adding:

‘Well, it’s for your sake and not for hers that I don’t go on. She’s
been spitting out a string of abominations about you ever since the
morning. She quite exhausts my patience and makes my blood boil when
I hear her turning all the kindnesses you’ve done her into evil. Yes,
indeed! She pretends that you have been the ruin of the family, and
that now you are killing her son! Go and listen at the door, if you
don’t believe me!’

Then, as Pauline burst into a fit of sobbing, Véronique, quite
unnerved, flung her arms round her neck and kissed her hair, saying:

‘There, there, Mademoiselle, I’ll say no more. But it’s only right that
you should know. It’s too shameful for you to be treated in such a
way. But there, I won’t say another word, so don’t take on so!’

They were silent for a time, while the servant raked out the embers
still burning in the grate, but she could not refrain from growling:

‘I know very well why she’s swelling out! All her wickedness has
gathered in her knees!’

Pauline, who was looking intently at the tiled floor, her mind upset
and heavy with grief, raised her eyes and asked Véronique what she
meant. Had the swelling, then, come back again? The servant showed some
embarrassment, as she had to break the promise of silence which she
had given to Madame Chanteau. Though she allowed herself full liberty
to judge her mistress, she still obeyed her orders. Now, however, she
was obliged to admit that her legs had again swollen badly during the
night, though Monsieur Lazare was not to know it. While the servant
gave details of Madame Chanteau’s condition the expression of Pauline’s
face changed–depression gave place to anxiety. In spite of all that
she had just learned of the old lady’s conduct, she was painfully
alarmed by the appearance of symptoms which she knew betokened grave
danger.

‘But she mustn’t be left alone like this!’ she exclaimed, springing up.
‘She is in danger!’

‘In danger, indeed?’ cried Véronique, unfeelingly. ‘She doesn’t at all
look like it, and she certainly doesn’t think so herself, for she’s
far too busy befouling other folks and giving herself airs in her
bed like a Pasha. Besides, she’s asleep just now, and we must wait
till to-morrow, which is just the day when the Doctor always comes to
Bonneville.’

The next day it was no longer possible to conceal from Lazare his
mother’s condition. All night long had Pauline listened, constantly
awakened from brief dozes, and ever believing that she heard groans
ascending through the floor. Then in the morning she fell into so deep
a sleep that it was only at nine o’clock she was roused by the slamming
of a door. When, after hastily dressing herself, she went downstairs
to make inquiries, she encountered Lazare on the landing of the first
floor. He had just left his mother’s room. The swelling was reaching
her stomach, and Véronique had come to the conclusion that the young
man must be warned.

‘Well?’ asked Pauline.

At first Lazare, who looked utterly upset, made no reply. Yielding to a
habit that had grown upon him, he grasped his chin with his trembling
fingers, and when at last he tried to speak he could scarcely stammer:

‘It is all over with her!’

He went upstairs to his own room with a dazed air. Pauline followed
him. When they reached that big room on the second floor, which she
had never entered since the day she had surprised Louise there in her
cousin’s arms, Pauline closed the door and tried to reassure the young
man.

‘You don’t even know what is the matter with her. Wait till the Doctor
comes, at any rate, before you begin to alarm yourself. She is very
strong, and we may always hope for the best.’

But he was possessed by a sudden presentiment, and repeated obstinately:

‘It is all over with her; all over.’

It was a perfectly unexpected blow, and quite overcame him. When he
had risen that morning, he had looked at the sea, as he always did,
yawning with boredom and complaining of the idiotic emptiness of life.
Then, his mother having shown him her knees, the sight of her poor
swollen limbs, puffed out by œdema, huge and pallid, looking already
like lifeless trunks, had thrilled him with panic-stricken tenderness.
It was always like this. At every moment fresh trouble came. Even now,
as he sat upon the edge of his big table, trembling from head to foot,
he did not dare to give the name of the disease whose symptoms he
had recognised. He had ever been haunted by a dread of heart disease
seizing upon himself and his relations, for his two years of medical
study had not sufficed to show him that all diseases were liable to
lead to death. To be stricken at the heart, at the very source of life,
that to him seemed the all-terrible, pitiless cause of death. And it
was this death that his mother was going to die, and which he himself
would infallibly die also in his own turn!

‘Why should you distress yourself in this way?’ Pauline asked him.
‘Plenty of dropsical people live for a very long time. Don’t you
remember Madame Simonnot? She died in the end of inflammation of the
lungs.’

But Lazare only shook his head. He was not a child, to be deceived
in that manner. His feet went on swinging to and fro, and he still
continued trembling, while he kept his eyes fixed persistently on the
window. Then, for the first time since their rupture, Pauline kissed
him on the brow in her old manner. They were together again, side by
side, in that big room, where they had grown up, and all their feeling
against one another had died away before the great grief which was
threatening them. The girl wiped the tears from her eyes, but Lazare
could not cry, and simply went on repeating, mechanically, as it were:
‘It is all over with her; all over.’

When Doctor Cazenove called, about eleven o’clock, as he generally did
every week after his round through Bonneville, he appeared very much
astonished at finding Madame Chanteau in bed. ‘What was the matter
with the dear lady?’ he asked. He even grew jocular, and declared that
they were quite turning the house into an ambulance. But when he had
examined and sounded the patient, he became more serious, and, indeed,
needed all his great experience to conceal the fact that he was much
alarmed.

Madame Chanteau herself had no idea of the gravity of her condition.

‘I hope you are going to get me out of this, Doctor,’ she said gaily.
‘There’s only one thing I’m frightened about, and that is that this
swelling may stifle me if it goes on mounting higher and higher.’

‘Oh! keep yourself easy about that,’ he replied, smiling in turn. ‘It
won’t go any higher, and if it does we shall know how to stop it.’

Lazare, who had come into the room after the Doctor’s examination,
listened to him trembling, burning to take him aside and question him,
so that he might know the worst.

‘Now, my dear Madame,’ Doctor Cazenove resumed, ‘don’t worry yourself.
I will come and have a little chat with you again to-morrow.
Good-morning; I will write my prescription downstairs.’

When they got down, Pauline prevented the Doctor and Lazare from
entering the dining-room, for in Chanteau’s presence nothing more
serious than ordinary lumbago had ever been mentioned. The girl had
already put ink and paper on the table in the kitchen. And, noticing
their impatient anxiety, Doctor Cazenove confessed that the case was
a grave one; but he spoke in long and involved sentences, and avoided
telling them anything definite.

‘You mean that it is all over with her, eh?’ Lazare cried at last, in a
kind of irritation. ‘It’s the heart, isn’t it?’

Pauline gave the Doctor a glance full of entreaty, which he understood.

‘The heart? Well, I’m not quite so sure about that,’ he replied. ‘But,
at any rate, even if we can’t quite cure her, she may go on for a long
time yet, with care.’

The young man shrugged his shoulders in the angry fashion of a child
who is not to be taken in by fine stories. Then he exclaimed:

‘And you never gave me any warning, Doctor, though you attended her
quite recently! These dreadful diseases never come on all at once. Had
you no idea of it?’

‘Well, yes,’ Cazenove murmured, ‘I had indeed noticed some faint
indications.’

Then, as Lazare broke out into a sneering laugh, he added:

‘Listen to me, my fine fellow. I don’t think that I’m a greater fool
than others, and yet this is not the first time when it has happened
to me to have had no inkling of what was coming, and to find myself
taken by surprise. It is absurd of you to expect us to be able to
know everything; it is already a great deal to be able to spell out
the first few lines of what is going on in that intricate piece of
mechanism–the human body.’

He seemed vexed, and dashed his pen about angrily as he wrote his
prescription, tearing the thin paper provided for him. The naval
surgeon cropped up once more in the brusque movements of his big frame.
However, when he stood up again, with his old face tanned brown with
the sea air, he softened as he saw both Pauline and Lazare hanging
their heads hopelessly in front of him.

‘My poor children,’ he said, ‘we will try our best to bring her round.
You know that I never put on grand airs before you. So I tell you
frankly that I can say nothing. But it seems to me that there is, at
any rate, no immediate danger.’

Then he left the house, having ascertained that Lazare had a supply
of tincture of digitalis. The prescription simply ordered some
applications of this tincture to the patient’s legs, and a few drops
of it to be taken in a glass of sugar and water. This treatment, said
the Doctor, would suffice for the moment; he would bring some pills
with him in the morning. It was possible, too, that he might make up
his mind to bleed her. Pauline went out with him to his gig in order
to ask him to tell her the real truth, but the real truth was that he
did not dare to say one thing or the other. When she returned into the
kitchen the girl found Lazare re-perusing the prescription. The mere
word digitalis had made him turn pale once more.

‘Don’t distress yourself so much,’ said Véronique, who had begun to
pare some potatoes, as an excuse for remaining where they were and
hearing what was said. ‘The doctors are all croakers. And surely there
can’t be much the matter when they can’t tell you what it is.’

They began to discuss the question round the bowl into which the cook
was cutting the potatoes, and Pauline appeared to grow a little easier
in her mind. She had gone that morning to kiss her aunt, and had found
her looking well. A person with cheeks like hers could not surely be
dying. But Lazare went on twisting the prescription with his feverish
fingers. The word digitalis blazed before his eyes. His mother was
doomed.

‘I am going up again,’ he said at last.

As he reached the door he seemed to hesitate, and turned to his cousin
and asked:

‘Won’t you come, just for a minute?’

Pauline then seemed to hesitate in her turn, and finally murmured:

‘I’m afraid she mightn’t be pleased if I did.’

And so, after a moment of silent embarrassment, Lazare went upstairs by
himself, without saying another word.

When Lazare, for fear lest his father should be disquieted by his
absence, appeared again at luncheon, he was very pale. From time to
time during the day a ring of the bell summoned Véronique, who ran up
with platefuls of soup, which the patient could scarcely be induced to
taste; and when she came downstairs again she told Pauline that the
poor young man was growing perfectly distracted. It was heart-breaking,
she said, to see him shivering with fever by his mother’s bedside,
wringing his hands and with his face racked by grief, as though he
every moment feared that he should see her torn from him. About three
o’clock, as the servant came downstairs once more, she leant over
the balustrade and called to Pauline; and as the girl reached the
first-floor landing she said to her:

‘You ought to go in, Mademoiselle, and help him a little. So much
the worse if it displeases her. She wants Monsieur Lazare to turn her
round, and he can only groan, without daring to touch her. And she
won’t let me go near her!’

Pauline entered the room. Madame Chanteau lay back, propped up by three
pillows, and, as far as mere appearances went, if it had not been for
the quick, distressful breathing which set her shoulders heaving, she
might have been keeping her bed from sheer idleness. Lazare stood
before her, stammering:

‘It’s on your right side, then, that you want me to turn you?’

‘Yes; just turn me a little. Ah! my poor boy, how difficult it seems to
make you understand!’

But Pauline had already taken hold gently of her aunt and turned her,
saying:

‘Let me do it! I am used to doing it for my uncle. There! Are you
comfortable now?’

But Madame Chanteau irritably exclaimed that they were shaking her to
pieces. She seemed unable to make the slightest movement without being
almost suffocated, and for a moment, indeed, she lay panting, with her
face quite livid. Lazare had stepped behind the bed-curtains to conceal
his expression of despair; still, he remained present while Pauline
rubbed her aunt’s legs with the tincture of digitalis. At first he
turned his head aside, but some fascination ever made his eyes return
to those swollen limbs, those inert masses of pale flesh, the sight of
which made him almost choke with agony. When his cousin saw how utterly
upset he was she thought it safer to send him out of the room. She went
up to him, and, as Madame Chanteau dozed off, tired out by the mere
changing of her position, she whispered to him softly:

‘You would do better to go away.’

For a moment or two he resisted; his tears blinded him, Then he yielded
and went down, ashamed, and sobbing:

‘Oh, God! God! I cannot endure it! I cannot endure it!’

When the sick woman again awoke, she did not at first notice her son’s
absence. She seemed to be in a state of stupor, and as if egotistically
seeking to make sure that she was really alive. Pauline’s presence
alone appeared to disquiet her, although the girl sat far away and
neither spoke nor moved. As her aunt bent forward, however, she felt
that she must just say a word to let her know why Lazare was absent.

‘It is I. Don’t worry. Lazare has gone to Verchemont, where he has to
see the carpenter.’

‘All right,’ Madame Chanteau murmured.

‘You are not so ill that he should neglect his business, are you?’

‘Oh! certainly not.’

From that moment she spoke but seldom of her son, notwithstanding
the adoration she had manifested for him only the previous night. He
became obliterated from the rest of her life, after being so long
the sole reason and object of her existence. The softening of her
brain, which was now beginning, merely left her a physical anxiety
about her own health. She accepted her niece’s care and attendance,
without apparently being conscious of the change, merely following her
constantly with her eyes, as though she were troubled by increasing
suspicions as she saw the girl pass to and fro before the bed.

Lazare had gone down into the kitchen, where he remained nerveless,
beside himself. The whole house frightened him. He could not stay in
his own room, the emptiness of which oppressed him, and he dared not
cross the dining-room, where the sight of his father, quietly reading
a newspaper, threw him into sobs. So it was to the kitchen that he
constantly betook himself, as being the one warm, cheerful spot in the
house–one where he was comforted by the sight of Véronique, bustling
about amongst her pans, as in the old tranquil times. As she saw him
seat himself near the fireplace on a rush-bottomed chair, which he made
his own, she frankly told him what she thought of his lack of courage.

‘It’s not much use you are, Monsieur Lazare. It’s poor Mademoiselle
Pauline who will have everything to do again. Anyone would suppose, to
see you, that there had never been a sick woman in the house before,
and yet, when your cousin nearly died of her sore throat, you nursed
her so attentively. Yes, you know you did, and you stayed with her for
a whole fortnight helping her to change her position whenever it was
necessary.’

Lazare listened to Véronique with a feeling of surprise. This
inconsistency of his had not struck him before, and he could not
understand his own illogical and varying feelings and thoughts.

‘Yes; that is quite true,’ he said, ‘quite true.’

‘You would not let anybody enter the room,’ the servant continued,
‘and Mademoiselle was even a more distressing sight than Madame is,
her suffering was so great. Whenever I came away from her room I felt
completely upset, and couldn’t have eaten a mouthful of anything. But
now the mere sight of your mother in bed makes your heart faint. You
can’t even take her a cup of gruel. Whatever your mother may be, you
ought to remember that she’s still your mother.’

Lazare no longer heard her; he was gazing before him into space. At
last he said:

‘I can’t help it; I really can’t. It’s perhaps because it is my mother,
but I can’t do anything. When I see her and those poor legs of hers,
and think that she is dying, something seems to be snapping inside me,
and I should burst out crying if I did not rush from the room.’

He began to tremble all over again. He had picked up a knife which
had fallen from the table, and gazed at it with his tear-dimmed eyes
without seeing it. For some time neither spoke. Véronique busied
herself over her soup, which was cooking, to conceal the emotion which
choked her. At last she resumed:

‘You had better go down to the beach for a little while, Monsieur
Lazare. You bother me by always being here in my way. And take Matthew
with you. He is very tiresome, and no more knows what to do with
himself than you do. I have no end of trouble to keep him from going
upstairs to Madame’s room.’

The next morning Doctor Cazenove was still doubtful. A sudden
catastrophe was possible, he said, or the patient might recover for
a longer or shorter time, if the swelling could be reduced. He gave
up the idea of bleeding her, and confined himself to ordering her
to take some pills which he brought, and to continue the use of the
tincture of digitalis. His air of vexation showed that he felt little
confidence in those remedies in a case of organic disorder, when the
successive derangement of every organ renders a physician’s skill of
no avail. However, he was able to assure them that the sick woman
suffered no pain; and, indeed, Madame Chanteau made no complaint of
actual suffering. Her legs felt as heavy as lead, and she breathed with
constantly increasing difficulty whenever she moved; but, whilst she
lay there quietly on her back, her voice remained so firm and strong,
and her eyes so bright and clear, that even she herself was deceived
as to the gravity of her condition. Her son was the only one of those
around her who did not venture to be hopeful at seeing her looking so
calm. When the Doctor went away in his gig, he told them not to grieve
too much, for that it was a great mercy both for herself and for them
that she was quite unaware of her danger.

The first night had been a very hard one for Pauline. Reclining in
an easy chair, she had not been able to get any sleep, for the heavy
breathing of the sick woman constantly filled her ears. Whenever she
was on the point of dropping off, her aunt’s breath seemed to shake
the house; and then, when she opened her eyes again, she felt sad and
oppressed; all the troubles which had been marring her life for the
last few months sprang up in her mind with fresh force. Even by the
side of that death-bed she could not feel at peace, she could not
constrain herself to forgive. Amidst her nightmare-like vigil during
the mournful night hours Véronique’s assertions caused her great
torture. Old outbursts of anger and bitter jealousy surged up in her
again, as she mentally recapitulated the painful details. To be loved
no more! To find herself deceived, betrayed by those she had loved! And
to find herself all alone, full of contempt and revolt! Her heart’s
wound opened and bled afresh, and never before had she experienced such
bitter pain from Lazare’s insulting faithlessness. Since they had, so
to say, murdered her, it mattered little to her now who died! And,
amidst her aunt’s heavy breathing, she went on brooding ceaselessly
over the robbery of her money and her affections.

The next morning she still felt contrary influences at work within her;
she experienced no return of affection; it was a sense of duty alone
which kept her in her aunt’s room. The consciousness of this made her
unhappy, and she wondered if she too were growing as wicked as the
others. In this troubled state the day passed away, and, discontented
with herself, repelled by her aunt’s suspicions, she forced herself
into attentive activity. Madame Chanteau received her ministrations
snappishly, and followed her movements with suspicious eyes, carefully
watching her every action. If she asked her niece for a handkerchief,
she always sniffed it before using it, and when she saw the girl bring
her a hot-water bottle she wanted to examine the jug.

‘What’s the matter with her?’ Pauline whispered very softly to
Véronique. ‘Does she think me capable of trying to do her harm?’

When Véronique gave her a dose of her draught after the Doctor had gone
away, Madame Chanteau, not noticing her niece, who was looking for some
linen in the wardrobe, inquired of the servant: ‘Did the Doctor prepare
this?’

‘No, Madame, it was Mademoiselle Pauline.’

Then the sick woman just sipped it with her lips, and made a grimace.

‘Ah! it tastes of copper. I don’t know what she has been making me
take, but I’ve never had the taste of copper out of my mouth since
yesterday.’

And suddenly she tossed the spoon away behind the bed. Véronique looked
on in amazement.

‘Whatever’s the matter? What an idea to get into your head!’

‘I don’t want to go away before my time,’ replied Madame Chanteau, as
she laid her head back again upon her pillow. ‘Listen! my lungs are
quite sound; and it’s not impossible that she may go before I do, for
she isn’t very healthy.’

Pauline had heard her. She turned with a heart-pang and looked at
Véronique; and instead of coming any nearer she stepped further away,
feeling quite ashamed of her aunt for her abominable suspicions. A
sudden change came over her feelings. The idea of that unhappy woman,
consumed by fear and hatred, moved her to the deepest pity; far from
feeling any increase of bitterness, it was sorrowful emotion that she
experienced as her eyes caught sight of all the medicine which her aunt
had thrown away under the bed, from a fear of being poisoned. Until
the evening she evinced persevering gentleness, and did not appear
to notice the distrustful glances with which her aunt followed every
motion of her hands. Her one ardent desire was to overcome the dying
woman’s fears by affectionate attentions, in order that she might not
carry such frightful suspicions to the grave. And she forbade Véronique
to distress Lazare further by telling him the truth.

Only once since morning had Madame Chanteau asked for her son, and she
had appeared quite content with the first excuse made for his absence,
evincing no surprise at not seeing him again. She said nothing about
her husband, expressed no uneasiness whatever about his being left
alone in the dining-room. All the world was gradually disappearing for
her, and, minute by minute, the icy coldness of her limbs seemed to
mount higher till it chilled her very heart. Whenever meal-time came
round, Pauline had to go downstairs and tell some fib to her uncle.
In the evening she told one to Lazare as well, assuring him that the
swelling was subsiding.

In the night, however, the disease made alarming progress, and the
next morning, soon after daybreak, when Pauline and the servant beheld
the sick woman they were terrified by the wandering look in her eyes.
Her face was not changed, and there was no feverishness, but her mind
appeared to be failing her, a fixed idea seemed to be destroying her
reason. She had reached the last phase; her brain, gradually wrought
upon by a single absorbing passion, had now become a prey to insanity.

That morning, before Doctor Cazenove’s arrival, they had a terrible
time. Madame Chanteau would not even let her niece come near her.

‘Do let me nurse you, I beg you!’ Pauline said. ‘Just let me raise you
a little, as you are lying so uncomfortably.’

But her aunt began to struggle as though they were trying to suffocate
her.

‘No, no! You have got a pair of scissors there! Ah! you are sticking
them into me! I can feel them! I can feel them! I’m bleeding all over!’

The heart-broken girl was obliged to keep at a distance from her aunt.
She was quite overcome with fatigue and distress, breaking down with
her useless kindly endeavours. She was obliged to put up with insults
and accusations which made her burst into tears before she could
induce her aunt to accept the slightest service from her. Sometimes
all her efforts were in vain, and she fell weeping upon a chair,
despairing of ever winning back again that affection of former days,
which was now replaced by insane animosity. Still she would become
all resignation once more, and strive to find some way of making her
assistance acceptable by manifesting even greater care and tenderness.
That morning, however, her persistent entreaties ended by provoking a
paroxysm which long left her trembling.

‘Aunt,’ she said, as she was preparing a dose of medicine, ‘it’s time
for you to take your draught. The Doctor, you know, particularly said
that you were to take it regularly.’

Madame Chanteau insisted upon seeing the bottle, and then smelt its
contents.

‘Is it the same as I had yesterday?’

‘Yes, aunt.’

‘Then I won’t have any of it!’

However, by much affectionate wheedling and entreaties, her niece
prevailed on her to take just one spoonful. The sick woman’s face wore
an expression of deep suspicion, and no sooner was the spoonful of
physic in her mouth than she spat it out again upon the floor, torn by
a violent fit of coughing, and screaming out between her hiccoughs:

‘It’s vitriol! It is burning me!’

Amidst this supreme paroxysm her hatred and terror of Pauline,
which had gradually increased ever since the day when she had first
abstracted a twenty-franc piece of the other’s money, now found vent
in a flood of wild words, to which the poor girl listened, quite
thunderstruck, unable to say a single syllable in her defence.

‘Ah! you fancied I shouldn’t detect it! You put verdigris and vitriol
into everything! It’s that which is killing me! There was nothing the
matter with me, and I should have been able to get up this morning if
you hadn’t mixed some verdigris with my broth yesterday evening. Yes,
you are tired of me, and want to get me buried and done with. But I’m
very tough, and it is I who will bury you yet.’

Her speech became thicker, she choked, and her lips turned so black
that an immediate catastrophe seemed probable.

‘Oh! aunt, aunt!’ cried Pauline, overcome with terror, ‘you are making
yourself so much worse by going on like this!’

‘Well, that’s what you want, I’m sure! Oh! I know you. You have been
planning it for a long time; ever since you have been here your only
thought has been how to kill us off and get hold of our money. You
want to have the house for your own, and I am in your way. Ah! hussy,
I ought to have choked you the first day you came here! I hate you! I
hate you!’

Pauline stood there motionless, weeping in silence. Only one word
rose to her lips, as though in involuntary protest against her aunt’s
accusations. ‘Oh God! God!’

But Madame Chanteau was completely exhausted by the violence of her
fury, and her mad outburst gave place to a childish terror. She fell
back on her pillow, crying:

‘Don’t come near me! Don’t touch me! If you do I shall scream out for
help! No, no! I won’t drink it; it’s poison!’

She pulled the bed-clothes over her with her twitching hands, buried
her head amongst the pillows, and kept her mouth tightly closed. When
her niece, who was terribly alarmed, came to her bedside to try to calm
her, she broke out into frightful screams.

‘Aunt dear, be reasonable. I won’t make you take any against your will.’

‘Yes, you will! You’ve got the bottle! Oh! I’m terrified! I’m
terrified!’

She was almost at the last gasp; her head had got too low, and purple
blotches appeared upon her face. Pauline, imagining that her aunt was
dying, rang the bell for Véronique; and it was as much as the two of
them could do to raise her up and lay her properly on her pillows.

Then Pauline’s own personal sufferings and heartaches disappeared
amidst her intense grief. She thought no more about the last wound
which her heart had received; all her passion and jealousy vanished
in presence of that great wretchedness. Every other feeling became
lost in one of deep pity, and she would have gladly endured injustice
and insult and have sacrificed herself still more if by so doing she
could only have given comfort and consolation to the others. She set
herself bravely to bear the principal share of life’s woes; and from
that moment she never once gave way, but manifested beside her aunt’s
death-bed all the quiet resignation which she had shown when threatened
by death herself. She was always ready; she never recoiled from
anything. Even her old gentle affection came back to her; she forgave
her aunt for all her mad violence during her paroxysms, and wept with
pity at finding that she had gradually become insane; forcing herself
to think of her as she had been in earlier years, loving her as she
had done on that stormy evening when she had first come with her to
Bonneville.

That day Doctor Cazenove did not call till after luncheon. An accident
had detained him at Verchemont; a farmer there had broken his arm,
and the Doctor had stayed to set it. After seeing Madame Chanteau he
came down into the kitchen, and made no attempt to conceal his alarm.
Lazare was sitting there by the fire, in that feverish idleness which
preyed upon him.

‘There is no more hope, is there?’ he asked. ‘I was reading Bouillaud’s
Treatise on the Diseases of the Heart again last night.’

Pauline, who had come downstairs with the Doctor, once more gave him an
entreating look, which prompted him to interrupt the young man in his
usual brusque fashion. Whenever an illness turned out badly, he always
showed a little anger.

‘Ah! the heart, my good fellow, the heart seems to be the only idea
you have got! One can’t be certain of anything. For my own part, I
believe it’s rather the liver that is affected. But, of course, when
the machine gets out of order, everything in turn is more or less
affected–the lungs, the stomach, and the heart itself. Instead of
reading Bouillaud last night, which has only upset you, you would have
done much better to go to sleep.’

This dictum of the Doctor’s was like an order given to the house. In
Lazare’s presence it was always said that his mother was dying from a
diseased liver; but he refused to believe it, and spent his sleepless
hours in turning over the pages of his old books. He grew quite
confused over the different symptoms, and the remark made by the Doctor
that the various organs of the human body became successively deranged
only served to increase his alarm.

‘Well,’ he said with difficulty, ‘how long, then, do you think she will
last?’

Cazenove made a gesture of doubt.

‘A fortnight; perhaps a month. You had better not question me, for I
might make a mistake, and then you would be right in saying that we
know nothing and can do nothing. But the progress that the disease has
made since yesterday is terrible.’

Véronique, who was washing some glasses, looked at him in alarm. Could
it really be true, then, that Madame was so very ill and was going to
die? Until then she had been unable to believe there was any actual
danger, and had gone about her work muttering to herself of people
who tried to frighten folks out of pure malice. But she now seemed
stupefied, and when Pauline told her to go upstairs to Madame Chanteau,
that there might be some one with her, she wiped her hands on her
apron and left the kitchen, ejaculating:

‘Oh, well, in that case–in that case—-‘

‘We must not forget my uncle, Doctor,’ said Pauline, who seemed to be
the only one who retained self-possession. ‘Don’t you think we ought to
warn him? Will you see him before you go?’

Just at that moment Abbé Horteur came in. He had only heard that
morning of what he called ‘Madame Chanteau’s indisposition.’ When he
learned how seriously ill she really was, an expression of genuine
sorrow passed over his tanned face, so cheerful a moment before as he
came in from the fresh air. The poor lady! Could it be possible? She
who had seemed so well and strong only three days ago!

Then after a moment’s silence he asked if he could see her; at the same
time glancing anxiously at Lazare, whom he knew to be little given to
religion. On that account he seemed to anticipate a refusal. But the
young man, who was quite broken down, did not appear to have noticed
the priest’s question, and it was Pauline who answered it.

‘No, not to-day, your reverence. She does not know the danger she is
in, and your presence might have an alarming effect upon her. We will
see to-morrow.’

‘Very well,’ the priest at once replied; ‘there is no great urgency,
I hope. But we must all do our duty, you know. And as the Doctor here
refuses to believe in God—-‘

For the last moment or two the Doctor had been gazing earnestly at the
table, absorbed in thought, lost in a maze of doubt, as was always the
case when he could not overcome illness. He had just caught the Abbé’s
last words, however, and he interrupted him, saying:

‘Who told you that I didn’t believe in God? God is not an
impossibility; one sees very strange things! And, after all, who can be
sure?’

Then he shook his head and roused himself from his reverie.

‘Stay!’ he went on, ‘you shall come with me and shake hands with our
good friend Monsieur Chanteau. He will soon stand in need of all the
courage he can muster.’

‘If you think it will cheer him at all,’ the priest obligingly replied,
‘I shall be glad to stay and play a few games of draughts with him.’

Then they both went off to the dining-room, while Pauline hastened back
to her aunt. Lazare, when he was left alone, rose and hesitated for a
moment as to whether he also should not go upstairs; then he went to
the dining-room door to listen to his father’s voice, without mustering
enough courage to enter; and finally he came back to the kitchen again,
and sank down upon the same chair as before, surrendering himself to
his despair.

The priest and the Doctor had found Chanteau rolling a paper ball
across the table–a ball formed of a prospectus discovered inside a
newspaper. Minouche, who was lying near, looked on with her green eyes.
She appeared to disdain such an elementary plaything, for she had her
paws stowed away beneath her, never deigning to strike out at it with
her claws, though it had rolled close to her nose.

‘Hallo! is it you?’ cried Chanteau. ‘It is very good of you to come and
see me. I’m very dull–all by myself. Well, Doctor, she’s getting on
all right, I hope? Oh! I don’t feel at all uneasy about her; she’s by
far the strongest of all of us; she will see us all buried.’

It occurred to the Doctor that this would be a good opportunity for
informing Chanteau of the real state of affairs.

‘Well, certainly, there’s nothing very alarming in her condition, but
she seems to me to be very weak.’

‘Ah! Doctor,’ Chanteau exclaimed, ‘you don’t know her. She has an
incredible fund of strength; you will see her on her feet again in a
day or two!’

In his complete belief in his wife’s vigorous constitution, he quite
failed to understand the Doctor’s hints; and the latter, not wishing to
tell him the dreadful truth in plain words, could say no more. Besides,
he thought that it would be as well to wait a little longer; for just
then Chanteau was free from pain, his gout only troubling him in his
legs, though these were sufficiently incapacitated to make it necessary
to wheel him to bed in his chair.

‘If it were not for these wretched legs of mine,’ he said, ‘I would go
upstairs and see her myself.’

‘Resign yourself, my friend,’ said Abbé Horteur, who in his turn now
tried to carry out his office of consoler. ‘We each have our own cross
to bear, and we are all in the hands of God—-‘

But he did not fail to notice that these words, so far from consoling
Chanteau, only appeared to bore and even disquiet him, so he cut his
exhortation short and substituted for it something more efficacious.

‘Would you like to have a game at draughts? It will do you good.’

He went in person to take the draught-board from the cupboard. Chanteau
was delighted, and shook hands with the Doctor, who then took his
departure. The two others were soon deep in their game, quite forgetful
of all else in the world, when all at once Minouche, who had probably
got tired of seeing the paper ball under her nose, sprang forward, sent
it spinning away, and bounded in wild antics after it all round the
room.

‘What a capricious creature!’ cried Chanteau, put out in his play. ‘She
wouldn’t have a game with me on any account a little while ago, and now
she prevents one from thinking by playing all by herself.’

‘Never mind her, said the priest mildly: ‘cats have their own way of
amusing themselves.’

Meantime, passing through the kitchen, Doctor Cazenove had experienced
sudden emotion on seeing Lazare still sorrowfully brooding on the
same chair; and he caught the young man in his big arms and kissed
him paternally without saying a word. Just at that moment Véronique
came downstairs, driving Matthew before her. The dog was perpetually
prowling about the staircase, making a sort of hissing sound, which
somewhat resembled the plaint of a bird; and, whenever he found the
door of the sick woman’s room open, he went in and there vented those
sharp notes of his, which were ear-piercing in their persistency.

‘Get away with you, do! Be off!’ the servant cried. ‘That noise of
yours isn’t likely to do her any good.’

And as she caught sight of Lazare she added: ‘Take him for a walk
somewhere. He will be out of our way, and it will do you good too.’

It was really an order of Pauline’s that Véronique was conveying. The
girl had told her to get Lazare to go out and take some long walks.
But he refused to go; it even seemed to require an effort on his part
to get upon his feet. However, the dog came and stood before him, and
began wailing again.

‘That poor Matthew isn’t as young as he was once,’ said the Doctor, who
was watching him.

‘No indeed!’ said Véronique. ‘He is fourteen years old now, but that
doesn’t prevent him from being as wild as ever after mice. Look how
he has rubbed the skin off his nose, and how red his eyes are! He
scented a mouse under the grate last night, and never closed his eyes
afterwards; he turned my kitchen upside down, poking about everywhere.
And such a great big dog, too, to worry about such tiny creatures, it’s
quite ridiculous! But it isn’t only mice that he runs after. Anything
that’s little or crawls, newly hatched chickens or Minouche’s kittens,
anything of that sort, excites him to such a point that he even forgets
to eat and drink. Just now I’m sure he scents something out of the
common in the house—-‘

She checked herself as she caught sight of Lazare’s eyes filling with
tears.

‘Go out for a walk, my lad,’ the Doctor said to him. ‘You can’t be of
any use here, and it will do you good to go out a little.’

The young man at last rose painfully to his feet. ‘Well, we’ll go,’ he
said. ‘Come along, my poor old Matthew.’

When he had accompanied the Doctor to his gig, he set off along the
cliffs with the dog. From time to time he had to stop and wait for
Matthew, for the dog was really ageing quickly. His hind-quarters were
becoming paralysed, and his heavy paws sounded like slippers as he
dragged them along. He was now unable to go scooping out holes in the
kitchen-garden, and quickly rolled over with dizziness when he set
himself spinning after his tail. He had fits of coughing, too, whenever
he plunged into the water, and after a quarter of an hour’s walk he
wanted to lie down and snore. He trudged along the beach just in front
of his master’s legs.

Lazare stood for a moment watching a fishing-smack coming from
Port-en-Bessin, with its sail skimming over the sea like the wing of
a gull. Then he went his way. The thought that his mother was dying
kept on thrilling him painfully; if ever it left him for a moment, it
was only to come back and rack him more violently than before. And it
brought him perpetual surprise; it was an idea to which he could not
grow reconciled, and which prevented him from thinking of anything
else. If at times it lost distinctness he felt the vague oppression of
a nightmare, in which he remained conscious of some great impending
misfortune. Everything around him then seemed to disappear, and when he
again beheld the sands and seaweed, the distant sea and far-reaching
horizon, he started as if they were all new and strange to him. Could
they be the objects that were so familiar to his eyes? Everything
seemed to have changed; never before had he thus been struck by varying
forms and hues. His mother was dying! And he walked on and on, trying
to escape from that buzzing refrain which was ever sounding in his ears.

Suddenly he heard a deep sigh behind him. He turned and saw the dog
completely exhausted, with his tongue hanging from his mouth.

‘Ah! my poor old Matthew,’ he said to him, ‘you can’t get on any
farther. Well, we’ll go back again. However far I may go, I shan’t rid
myself of my thoughts.’

That evening they hurried over dinner. Lazare, who could only swallow
a few mouthfuls of bread, hastened away upstairs to his own room,
excusing himself to his father by alleging some pressing work. When
he reached the first floor, he went into his mother’s room, where he
forced himself to sit for some five minutes before kissing her and
wishing her good-night. She seemed to be forgetting all about him, and
never expressed the least anxiety as to what he might be doing during
the day. When he bent over her, she offered him her cheek and seemed to
consider his hasty good-night quite natural, absorbed as she was in the
instinctive egotism which attends the approach of death. And Pauline
took care to cut his visit as short as possible by inventing an excuse
for sending him out of the room.

But in his own big room on the second floor his mental torment
increased. It was in the night, the long weary night, that his anguish
weighed heaviest upon him. He took up a supply of candles, so that he
might never be without a light, and he kept them burning, one after
another, till morning, terror-stricken by the thought of darkness. When
he got into bed he tried in vain to read. His old medical treatises
were the only books that had now any interest for him; but they filled
him with fear, and he ended by throwing them away. Then he remained
lying upon his back, with his eyes wide open, solely conscious of the
fact that close to him, on the other side of the wall, there was an
awful presence which weighed upon him and suffocated him. His dying
mother’s panting breath was for ever in his ears, that panting breath
which had become so loud that for the last two days he had heard it
whenever he climbed the staircase, which he never ascended now without
hastening his steps.

The whole house seemed full of that plaint, which thrilled him as he
lay in bed; the occasional intervals of quiet inspiring him with such
alarm that he would run barefooted to the landing and lean over the
banisters to listen. Pauline and Véronique, who kept watch together
below, left the door of the room open for the sake of ventilation,
and Lazare could see the pale patch of sleepy light which the night
lamp threw upon the tiled floor, and could again hear his mother’s
heavy panting, which became louder and more prolonged in the darkness.
When he went back to bed he, too, left his door open, and so intently
did he listen to his mother’s breathing that even in the snatches of
sleep into which he fell towards morning he was still pursued by it.
His personal horror of death had vanished again as at the time of his
cousin’s illness. His mother was going to die; everything was going to
die! He abandoned himself to the contemplation of that collapse of life
without any other feeling than one of exasperation at his powerlessness
to prevent it.

The next morning saw the commencement of Madame Chanteau’s death agony,
a loquacious agony which lasted for twenty-four hours. She was calm,
the dread of poison no longer terrified her, but she rambled on rapidly
in a clear voice, without raising her head from her pillow. What she
said was in no way conversation; she did not address herself to anyone;
it was as though, in the general derangement of her faculties, her
brain hastened to finish its work like a clock running down. That flood
of rapid words seemed to be indeed the last tick-tack of the unwound
chain of her mind. The events of her past life defiled before her; but
she never said a word about the present, about her husband, or her son,
or her niece, or her home at Bonneville, where, with her ambitious
nature, she had suffered for ten long years. She was still Mademoiselle
de la Vignière, giving music-lessons in the most distinguished families
in Caen, and she familiarly spoke of people whom neither Pauline nor
Véronique had ever heard of. She broke out into long rambling stories,
whose details were incomprehensible even to the servant who had
grown old in her service. She seemed to be emptying her brain of the
recollections of her youth before she died; just as one may turn the
faded letters of former days out of a desk in which they have long been
lying.

In spite of her courage, Pauline could not help shuddering slightly as
all those little involuntary confessions were poured out in the very
throes of death. It was no longer difficult, panting breathing that
filled the room, but a weird, rambling babble, of which Lazare caught
fragments as he passed the door. But, however much he might turn them
over in his mind, he was unable to understand them, and grew full of
alarm, as though his mother were already speaking from the other side
of the grave amidst invisible beings to whom she was relating those
strange stories.

When Doctor Cazenove arrived he found Chanteau and Abbé Horteur playing
draughts in the dining-room. From all appearances, they might still
have been engaged on the game which they had commenced the day before,
and have never stirred from the room since the Doctor’s previous visit.
Minouche sat near them, intently studying the draught-board. The priest
had arrived at an early hour to resume his duties as consoler. Pauline
no longer felt that his proposed visit to her aunt would be attended
with inconvenience; and so, when the Doctor went upstairs to see her,
the priest accompanied him to the sick woman’s bedside, presenting
himself simply as a friend anxious to know how she was getting on.

Madame Chanteau recognised them both, and, having been raised up on
her pillows, she smilingly welcomed them with all the airs of a Caen
lady holding a reception. The dear Doctor was surely quite satisfied
with her, she said; she would soon be able to leave her bed. Then she
questioned the Abbé about his own health. The latter, who had come
upstairs with the intention of fulfilling his priestly duties, was
so overcome by the dying woman’s rambling chatter that he could not
open his mouth; and, besides, Pauline, who was in the room, would
have stopped him if he had mentioned certain subjects. The girl had
sufficient control over herself to feign confident cheerfulness. When
the two men went away, she accompanied them to the landing, where the
Doctor, in low tones, gave her instructions as to what she should do
at the last moment. Such words as ‘rapid decomposition’ and ‘carbolic
acid’ were frequently mentioned, while the ceaseless chatter from the
dying woman still buzzed through the open doorway.

‘You think, then, that she will see the day out?’ the girl inquired.

‘Yes, I feel sure that she will live till to-morrow,’ Cazenove
answered. ‘But don’t lift her up any more, or she might die in your
arms. I shall come again this evening.’

It was settled that Abbé Horteur should remain with Chanteau and
gradually prepare him for the fatal issue. Véronique stood listening
near the door while this was being agreed upon, and her face assumed
a scared expression. Ever since the probability of her mistress’s
death had become clear to her she had scarcely opened her lips, but
sought to render all possible service with the silent devotion of a
faithful animal. But the conversation was hushed, for Lazare, wandering
over the house, now came up the staircase; he had lacked the courage
to be present at the Doctor’s visit and to inquire the truth as to
his mother’s danger. However, the mournful silence with which he was
greeted forced the knowledge upon him in spite of himself, and he
turned very pale.

‘My dear boy,’ said the Doctor, ‘you had better come along with me. I
will give you some lunch and bring you back with me in the evening.’

The young man turned yet more pallid and replied: ‘No, thank you; I
would rather not go away.’

From that moment Lazare waited, feeling a terrible pressure upon his
breast, as if an iron band were drawn tightly round him. The day
seemed as though it would never end, and yet it passed away without
any consciousness on his part of how the hours went by. He had no
recollection of how he had spent them, wandering restlessly up and
down the stairs, and gazing out upon the distant sea, the sight of
whose ceaseless rocking dazed him yet more. At certain moments the
irresistible flight of the minutes seemed to be materialised, and to
become the onslaught of a mass of granite driving everything into the
abyss of nothingness. Then he grew exasperated and longed for the end,
in order that he might be released from the strain of that terrible
waiting. About four o’clock, as he was once more creeping up to his own
room, he turned suddenly aside and entered his mother’s chamber. He
felt a desire to see her and kiss her once again. But, as he bent over
her, she went on pouring out her incoherent talk, and did not even turn
her cheek towards him in that weary manner with which she had received
him ever since the beginning of her illness. Perhaps she did not see
him, he thought; indeed, it was no longer his mother who lay there with
that livid face and lips already blackened.

‘Go away,’ Pauline said to him gently. ‘Go out for a little while. I
assure you that the hour has not yet come.’

And then, instead of going up to his room, Lazare rushed downstairs and
out of the house, ever with the sight of that woeful face, which he
could no longer recognise, before him. He told himself that his cousin
had lied, that the hour was really at hand; but then he was stifling,
and needed space and air, and so he rushed on like a madman. The
thought that he would never, never again see his mother tortured him
terribly. But he fancied he heard some one running after him, and when
he turned and saw Matthew, who was trying to overtake him at a heavy
run, he flew without cause into a violent passion, and picked up stones
and hurled them at the dog, storming at him the while, to drive him
back to the house. Matthew, amazed at this reception, trotted back some
distance, and then turned and gazed at his master with his gentle eyes,
in which tears seemed to glisten. He persisted in following Lazare from
a distance, as though to keep watch over his despair, and the young
man found it impossible to drive him away. But the immensity of the
sea had an irritating effect upon Lazare, and he fled into the fields
and wandered about them, looking for out-of-the-way corners where he
could feel alone and concealed. He prowled up and down till night fell,
tramping over ploughed land, breaking his way through hedges. At last,
worn out, he was returning homewards, when he beheld a sight which
thrilled him with superstitious terror. At the edge of a lonely road
there stood a lofty poplar, black and solitary, over which the rising
moon showed like a yellow flame; and the tree suggested a gigantic
taper burning in the dusk at the bedside of some giantess lying out
there across the open country.

‘Come, Matthew! Come!’ he cried in a choking voice. ‘Let us get on!’

He reached the house running, as he had left it. The dog had ventured
to draw near, and licked his hands.

Although the night had now fallen, there was no light in the kitchen.
It was empty and dark, with only the glow of the charcoal embers
reddening the ceiling. The gloom weighed upon Lazare, and he lacked
the courage to go further. Overcome with fear and emotion, he remained
standing amidst the litter of pots and dusters, and strained his ears
to catch the sounds with which the house was quivering. On one side he
heard a slight cough; it came from his father, to whom Abbé Horteur was
talking in low continuous tones. But what most frightened the young
man was the sound of hushed voices and hasty steps on the stairs,
and a muffled noise on the upper floor, which he could not account
for, though it suggested something being hurriedly accomplished with
as little noise as possible. He did not dare to go and see what it
meant. Could it be all was over? He was still standing there perfectly
motionless, without courage enough to go and inquire the truth, when he
saw Véronique come down. She rushed into the kitchen, lighted a candle,
and carried it away with her so hurriedly that she neither spoke to
the young man nor looked at him. The kitchen, after being lighted for
a moment, relapsed into darkness. Up above the stir was ceasing. Once
more did the servant come down, this time to get a bowl, and again she
displayed silent, desperate haste. Lazare no longer felt any doubt.
All must be over. Then, overcome, he sank down upon the edge of the
table, and waited amidst that darkness, without knowing for what he was
waiting, his ears buzzing the while in the deep silence that had just
fallen.

Upstairs, for two hours past, Madame Chanteau’s last agony–an agony
so awful that it thrilled Pauline and Véronique with horror–had been
following its course. Her dread of poison having reappeared, she raised
herself up in bed, still wildly rambling on, gradually mastered by
furious delirium. She wished to jump out of bed and escape from the
house, where someone wanted to kill her; and it was all that the young
girl and the servant could do to restrain her.

‘Let me go! I shall be murdered! I must escape at once, at once!’

Véronique tried to calm her.

‘Oh! Madame, don’t you see us? You can’t suppose that we should let any
harm come to you.’

The dying woman, exhausted by her violent struggles, lay for a moment
panting. Her dim eyes wandered anxiously round the room, as though she
were looking for something. Then she resumed:

‘Shut up the secrétaire! It is in the drawer. Ah! there she is coming
upstairs! Oh! I am afraid! I tell you that I can hear her! Don’t give
her the key. Let me go, at once, at once!’

Then again she began to struggle, while Pauline held her in her arms.

‘Aunt, there is no one here. There are only ourselves.’

‘No! no! Listen! There she is! Oh, God! God! I shall die! The hussy
has made me drink it all–I am going to die! I am going to die!’

Her teeth chattered, and she sought protection in the arms of her
niece, whom she did not recognise. Pauline mournfully strained her to
her heart, no longer fighting against that horrible suspicion, but
resigning herself to the knowledge that her aunt would carry it to her
grave.

Fortunately Véronique was watching, and threw her arms forward crying:

‘Take care, Mademoiselle! Take care!’

It was the supreme convulsive struggle. By a violent effort Madame
Chanteau had succeeded in throwing her swollen legs out of bed, and,
but for the servant’s presence, she would have fallen on the floor. Her
whole body was shaken by delirium; she broke into incoherent spasmodic
cries, while her fists clenched as though she were engaging in a close
struggle, defending herself against some phantom that clutched her by
the throat. At that supreme moment she must have understood that she
was dying; there was an expression of intelligence in her eyes which
horror dilated. For a moment a frightful spasm of pain made her press
her hands to her breast. Then she fell back on her pillow and turned
black. She was dead.

Deep silence fell. Pauline closed her aunt’s eyes, but she was
exhausted, and incapable of doing anything further. When she left the
room, leaving there both Véronique and Prouane’s wife, whom she had
sent for after the Doctor’s visit, her strength gave way; she was
obliged to sit down for a moment on the stairs, and no longer felt the
courage to go and tell Lazare and Chanteau the truth. The walls seemed
to be turning round her. A few minutes went by; then she again laid
her hand upon the banister, but on hearing Abbé Horteur’s voice in the
dining-room she preferred to enter the kitchen. And there she found
Lazare, whose gloomy face showed against the red glow of the embers
in the grate. Without speaking a word she stepped towards him and
opened her arms. He understood, and threw himself upon the young girl’s
shoulder, while she pressed him to her in a long embrace. They kissed
each other on the face, while she wept silently; but he was unable
to shed a single tear; emotion was stifling him, he could scarcely
breathe. At last the girl unclasped her arms, saying the first words
that came to her lips:

‘Why are you here without a light?’

He made a gesture, as though to signify that he had no need of any
light in his great sorrow.

‘We must light a candle,’ she said.

Lazare had fallen upon a chair again, incapable, as he was, of keeping
on his feet. Matthew restlessly wandered about the yard, sniffing the
damp night air. At last he came back into the kitchen and looked keenly
at them in turn, and then went and rested his head on his master’s
knee, remaining there and silently questioning him, with his eyes fixed
upon the young man’s. Lazare began to tremble at the dog’s persistent
gaze, and suddenly the tears gushed from his eyes and he burst into
sobs, throwing his arms the while round the neck of the old dog which
his mother had loved for fourteen years. And he began to stammer in
broken words:

‘Ah! my poor old fellow! my poor old fellow! We shall never see her
again!’

Notwithstanding her emotion, Pauline had succeeded in finding and
lighting a candle. She made no attempt to console Lazare; she was glad
to find him able to shed tears. There was still a painful task before
her, that of informing her uncle of his wife’s death. Just as she was
making up her mind to go into the dining-room, whither Véronique had
taken a lamp at the beginning of the evening, Abbé Horteur had managed
to explain to Chanteau, in long ecclesiastical phrases, that there
was no chance of his wife’s recovery, and that her death was only a
question of hours. And so when the old man saw his niece enter the
room, overcome with emotion and her eyes red from weeping, he knew what
had happened, and his first words were:

‘_Mon Dieu_! there was only one thing that I would have asked for: I
should have liked to see her once more while she lived!–But, ah, these
wretched legs of mine! These wretched legs!’

He said scarcely anything else. He shed a few bitter tears which
quickly dried, and vented a few sighs, but he speedily returned to
the subject of his legs, falling foul of them and ending by pitying
himself. For a few moments they discussed the possibility of carrying
him to the first floor in order that he might give the dead woman
a last kiss; but, apart from the difficulties of the task, they
considered that the emotion of such a farewell might have a dangerous
effect on him; and, besides, he did not seem very anxious about
the matter himself. So he remained in the dining-room near the
draught-board, without knowing how to occupy his poor weak hands, and
not even having his head clear enough, he said, to be able to read and
understand the newspaper. When they carried him to bed, old memories
seemed to awaken in him, for he shed many tears.

Then came two long nights and a day that seemed endless: those terrible
hours during which death dwells in the house. Cazenove had only
returned to certify the death, once more surprised by the rapidity with
which the end had come. Lazare did not go to bed the first night, but
spent his time till morning in writing to his relations at a distance.
The body was to be taken to the cemetery at Caen and buried in the
family vault there. The Doctor had kindly promised to see to all the
formalities, and the only painful matter in connection with them was
the necessity for Chanteau, as Mayor of Bonneville, to receive the
declaration of his wife’s death. As Pauline had no suitable black
dress, she hastened to make one out of an old skirt and a merino shawl,
which she cut into a bodice. In the midst of these occupations the
first night and the following day passed; but the second night seemed
endless, rendered the more interminable by the mournful prospect of the
morrow. No one was able to get any sleep; the doors remained open, and
lighted candles were left upon the stairs and tables, while even the
most distant rooms reeked of carbolic acid. They were all in the grasp
of grief, and went about with blurred eyes and clammy lips, feeling but
one dim need, that of clutching hold of life once more.

At last, about ten o’clock the next morning, the bell of the little
church on the other side of the road began to toll. Out of respect
to Abbé Horteur, who had behaved so well and kindly under the sad
circumstances, the family had determined that the religious ceremony
should be performed at Bonneville, before the body was removed to the
cemetery at Caen. As soon as Chanteau heard the bell toll, he began to
wriggle about in his chair.

‘I must see her go away, at any rate,’ he repeated, ‘Oh! these
wretched legs of mine! What a misery it is to have such wretched legs
as mine are!’

It was to no purpose that they tried to keep him from beholding the
mournful spectacle. As the bell began to toll more quickly, he grew
angry and exclaimed:

‘Wheel me out into the passage. I can hear them bringing her down. Be
quick! be quick! I must see her go away!’

Pauline and Lazare, who were in full mourning and had already put on
their gloves, were obliged to do as he bade them. Standing, the one
on his right and the other on his left, they wheeled the arm-chair
to the foot of the staircase. Four men were just bringing the corpse
downstairs, bending beneath its great weight. As Chanteau caught sight
of the coffin, with its new wood and glittering handles and large brass
name-plate, he made an instinctive effort to rise, but his leaden
legs kept him down, and he was obliged to remain seated in his chair,
shaken by such a convulsive trembling that his very jaws chattered. The
narrowness of the staircase made the descent difficult, and he gazed at
the big yellow box as it slowly came towards him, and, as it passed his
feet, he bent over to read the inscription on the plate. There was more
room in the passage, whence the bearers moved quickly towards the bier,
which was standing before the door. Chanteau’s eyes were still fixed on
the coffin, and with it he saw forty years of his life depart, happy
years and unhappy years, which he sadly regretted, as one ever does
regret one’s youth. Pauline and Lazare were weeping behind his chair.

‘No, no! Leave me here!’ he said to them, as he saw them prepare to
wheel him back again to his place in the dining-room. ‘You go along; I
will stay here and watch.’

The bearers had laid the coffin on the bier, which was lifted by some
other attendants. The little procession was formed in the yard, which
was full of people of the neighbourhood. Matthew, who had been shut up
since early morning, was whining from under the door of the coach-house
amidst the profound silence; while Minouche, seated on the kitchen
window-sill, examined with an air of surprise both the concourse of
people and the box that was being carried away. As they still continued
to linger, the cat grew tired of watching and began to lick her stomach.

‘You are not going, then?’ Chanteau said to Véronique, whom he had just
perceived near him.

‘No, sir,’ she replied in a choking voice. ‘Mademoiselle told me to
stay with you.’

The church-bell was still tolling, and at last the coffin left
the yard, followed by Pauline and Lazare, whose blackness seemed
intensified by the sunlight. And, sitting in his invalid’s chair in the
open doorway of the hall, Chanteau watched his wife’s body being borne
away.

The funeral matters and certain business affairs that had to be
attended to detained Lazare and Pauline in Caen for a couple of days.
When they set out on their journey home, after paying a farewell visit
to the cemetery, the weather had broken up and there was a strong
gale blowing. They left Arromanches in a storm of rain, and the wind
blew so strongly that it threatened to carry the hood of their trap
away. Pauline thought of her first journey when Madame Chanteau had
brought her from Paris. It was just such a stormy day as this, and
her poor aunt had kept warning her not to lean out of the conveyance,
while perpetually refastening a muffler that she wore round her neck.
Lazare, too, in his corner of the trap, sat thinking of the past, and
in his mind’s eye saw his mother waiting to welcome him after each of
his journeys along that road as she had ever done. One December, he
remembered, she had walked a couple of leagues to meet him, and he had
found her seated on yonder milestone. Thus reflecting, amidst the rain
which poured unceasingly, the girl and her cousin did not exchange a
single word between Arromanches and Bonneville.

Just as they were reaching home, however, the downpour stopped, but the
wind’s violence increased, and the driver was obliged to alight from
his seat and take hold of the horse’s bridle. At the moment of reaching
the house Houtelard, the fisherman, ran past them.

‘Ah! Monsieur Lazare!’ he cried; ‘it’s all done for this time! The
sea’s breaking all your timbers to bits down yonder!’

The sea was not visible from that bend of the road. The young man, who
had raised his head, had just caught sight of Véronique standing on the
terrace and gazing towards the shore. On the other side, sheltering
himself behind his garden wall, for fear lest the wind should rend his
cassock, Abbé Horteur stood straining his eyes in the same direction.
He bent forward and cried:

‘It’s washing your piles away!’

Thereupon Lazare walked down the hill, followed by Pauline, in spite of
the storminess of the weather. When they came to the foot of the cliff
they were amazed by the sight which they beheld. It was one of the
September flood-tides, and the sea was rushing up in wild commotion.
No warning had been issued of any probable danger, but the gale, which
had been blowing from the north since the previous day, had thrown the
sea into such tumult that mountains of water towered up in the distance
and, rolling onward, broke with a mighty roar over the rocks. In the
far distance the sea looked black beneath the shadow of the clouds
which raced over the livid sky.

‘Get into the trap again,’ said the young man to his cousin. ‘I will
just see how things look, and come back directly.’

Pauline made no reply, but followed Lazare as far as the shore. There
the piles and a great stockade which had been recently constructed were
being subjected to a frightful assault. The waves, which ever seemed
to be growing larger, rushed against them in quick succession, like
so many battering-rams. They came on like an innumerable army; fresh
masses sprang forward without a moment’s cessation. Their huge green
backs, crested with foam, curved on every side, and sped forward with
giant strength; and, as these monsters dashed against the stockades,
they burst into a mighty rain of drops, then fell in a mass of white
boiling foam, which the sea seemed to suck in and carry away. The
timbers cracked beneath the violence of each of those furious onsets.
The supports of one groyne were already broken, and a great central
beam, still secured at one end, swayed hopelessly like the dead trunk
of a tree whose branches had been stripped off by grape-shot. Two
others offered more resistance, but they were shaking in their fixings,
as though gradually overpowered in that surging grasp, which seemed
bent on wearing out their strength in order to dash them to pieces.

‘I told you how it would be!’ repeated Prouane, who was very drunk, and
stood leaning against the broken shell of an old boat. ‘I told you how
it would be when the wind blew like this. A lot the sea cares about
that young man and his bits of sticks!’

Jeers greeted these words. All Bonneville was there, men, women, and
children; and they were all very much amused at seeing the thundering
slaps which fell upon the stockades. The sea might smash their hovels
to fragments; they still loved it with an admiring awe, and they would
have felt it a personal insult if the first young man who tried had
been able to conquer it with a few beams and a couple of dozen bolts.
And they grew excited as with a feeling of individual triumph as they
saw the sea at last awake, unmuzzle itself, and throw its great jaws
forward.

‘Look! look!’ cried Houtelard. ‘That’s a smasher! It has swept a couple
of beams away!’

They called to each other, and Cuche tried to reckon up the waves.

‘It will take three more, and then you’ll see! There’s one! That’s
loosened it! There’s two! Ah! that’s swept it away! Two have sufficed
to do it, you see! Ah, the old hussy she is!’

He referred to the sea, uttering the word ‘hussy’ as if it were a
term of endearment. Affectionate oaths arose, children began to dance
whenever a heavier wave than usual crashed and snapped another of the
timbers. Yet another broke, and yet another; there would soon be not
one left, they would all be crushed like fleas. But though the tide
still rose, the great stockade still remained firm. It was the sea’s
struggle against this which was most anxiously awaited, for it would
be the decisive contest. At last the mounting waves dashed between the
timbers, and the spectators prepared themselves to laugh.

‘It’s a pity the young man isn’t here,’ said that rascal Tourmal in a
jeering voice, ‘or he might lean against it and try to keep it up.’

A ‘Hush!’ made him silent, for some of the fishermen had just caught
sight of Lazare and Pauline. The latter, who were very pale, had heard
Tourmal’s sneer, and they continued to gaze at the disaster in silence.
It was a mere trifle, the smashing of those beams, but the tide would
go on rising for another two hours, and the village would certainly
suffer if the stockade did not hold out. Lazare had passed his arm
round his cousin’s waist, and was holding her close to him to protect
her from the squalls which, as cutting as scythe-blades, blew against
them. A mournful gloom fell from the black sky and the waves howled,
and the two young people, in their deep mourning, remained motionless
amidst the flying foam and the clamour that was ever growing louder.
Around them the fishermen were now waiting, still with a jeering
expression on their lips, but feeling increasing anxiety.

‘It won’t last much longer now!’ Houtelard murmured. The stockade still
resisted, however. At each wave that struck it its black, pitch-coated
timbers still showed forth amidst the white waters. But as soon as
one of the beams was broken, the adjoining ones began to fall away,
piece by piece. For fifty years past the oldest men there had not
known such a heavy sea. Soon they had to retire, the beams which had
been torn away were dashed violently against the others, and gradually
wrought the complete destruction of the stockade, whose fragments were
furiously hurled ashore. There was but one left upright, standing
there like a post marking a sandbank. The Bonneville folks had given
over laughing now; the women were carrying off their crying children.
The ‘hussy’ had fallen upon them again, and the stupor that came of
despairing resignation to the ruin which was certainly at hand now
fell on that little spot, nestling so closely to the sea which both
supported and destroyed it. There was a hasty retreat, a gallop of
heavy boots. Everyone took refuge behind the walls of shingle, by
which alone the houses were now protected. Some of the piles here were
already yielding, planks had been knocked out, and enormous waves
swept right over the walls which were too low to stay their course.
Soon there was nothing left to offer resistance, and a mass of water,
dashing against Houtelard’s house, smashed the windows and deluged the
kitchen. Then there came perfect rout, and only the victorious sea
remained dashing unimpeded up the beach.

‘Don’t go inside!’ the men shouted to Houtelard. ‘The roof will fall
in.’

Lazare and Pauline had slowly retired before the flood. It was
impossible to render any assistance, and, climbing the hill homewards,
they were about half-way up it when the girl turned, and gave a last
look at the threatened village.

‘Poor people!’ she murmured.

But Lazare could not pardon them for their idiotic laughter. He was
wounded to the heart by that disaster, which for him was a personal
defeat; and, making an angry gesture, he at last opened his mouth and
growled:

‘Let the sea lie in their beds, since they’re so fond of it! I
certainly won’t try to prevent it!’

Véronique came to meet them with an umbrella, for the rain had begun
falling heavily again. Abbé Horteur, who was still sheltering himself
behind his wall, called a few words to them which they could not catch.
The frightful weather, the destruction of the stockade, and the woe
and danger in which they were leaving the village, cast additional
sadness upon their return home. The house seemed cold and bare as they
entered it; nothing but the wind, with its ceaseless moaning, disturbed
the silence of the mournful rooms. Chanteau, who was dozing before a
coke-fire, began to cry as soon as they appeared. They refrained from
going upstairs to change their clothes, in order that they might escape
the terrible associations of the staircase. The table was already laid
and the lamp lighted, so they sat down to dinner immediately.

It was a sinister night; the deafening shocks of the waves, which made
the walls tremble, broke in upon the few words that were spoken. When
Véronique brought the tea into the room she announced that Houtelard’s
house and five others were already swept away, and that half the
village would certainly share the same fate this time. Chanteau, in
despair at not yet having recovered his mental equilibrium after the
sufferings he had gone through, silenced her by saying that he had
enough troubles of his own, and didn’t want to hear about those of
other people. When they had put him to bed, the others went off to rest
also, worn out as they were with fatigue. Lazare kept a light burning
till morning; and half a score times at least during the night Pauline
anxiously slipped out of bed and gently opened her door to listen; but
only death-like silence now ascended from the first floor.

The next day there commenced for the young man a succession of those
lingering, poignant hours which come in the train of great sorrows. He
awoke with the sensation of recovering from unconsciousness after some
painful fall, from which his body was still stiff and bruised. Now that
the troubled dreams which had oppressed him had passed away, his mind
vividly recalled the past. Each little detail presented itself clearly
before him, and he lived all his griefs again. The reality of death,
which had never been within his personal experience, was brought home
to him by the loss of his poor mother, who had been so suddenly carried
off after a few days’ illness. His horror of ceasing to be seemed to
assume a more tangible form. There had been four of them, but now there
was a yawning gap in their midst, and three of them were left behind
to shiver painfully in their wretchedness, and cling desperately to
each other in their attempts to regain some fragment of lost vital
warmth. This, then, was death: this was the ‘Nevermore’–a circling of
trembling arms around a shadow, of which naught remained save a wild
regret.

Every hour, as the image of his mother arose before him, Lazare seemed
to be losing her over again. At first he had not suffered so much,
not even when his cousin had come downstairs and thrown herself into
his arms, nor during the prolonged misery of the funeral. It was only
since his return to the empty house that he had felt the full weight
of his loss; and he grew wild with remorse that he had not wept more
and manifested greater grief while there yet remained in the house
something of her who was now for ever gone.

Sometimes he would almost choke with sobs as he reproached himself
with not having loved his mother sufficiently. He was perpetually
recalling her; and her form was ever before his eyes. When he went up
the stairs he half expected to see her come out of her room with the
quick, short steps with which she had been wont to hurry along the
landing. He often turned, fancying he heard her behind him, and he was
so absorbed in thinking of her that sometimes he even felt sure that he
heard the rustling of her dress behind the door. At night he did not
dare to extinguish his candle, and in the dim light he fancied that he
heard furtive sounds approaching his bed, and a faint breath hovering
over his brow. His grief, instead of being assuaged, grew keener; at
the least recollection came a nervous shock, a vivid but fugitive
apparition, which, as it faded away, left him in all the anguish which
the thought of death inspired.

Everything in the house reminded him of his mother. Her room remained
untouched; nothing had been changed, a thimble was still lying upon
the table beside a piece of embroidery. The clock on the mantelpiece
had been stopped at twenty-three minutes to eight, the time of her
death. He usually shunned the room, though sometimes, as he was
hastily rushing upstairs, a sudden impulse constrained him to enter
it; and then, as his heart throbbed wildly within him, it seemed to
him that the old familiar furniture–the secrétaire, the table, and
especially the bed–had acquired an awe-inspiring aspect, which made
them different from what they had formerly been. Through the shutters,
which were kept closed, there filtered a pale light, whose vague
glimmer added to his distress as he went to kiss the pillow on which
his mother’s head had lain in the icy cold of death. One morning when
he went into the room he paused astounded. The shutters had been thrown
wide open and the full light of day poured into the chamber. A bright
sheet of sunshine streamed over the bed to the very pillow, and the
room was decked with flowers, placed in all the vases that the house
possessed. Then he recollected that it was an anniversary, the birthday
of her who had departed; a day which had been observed every year, and
which his cousin had remembered. There were only the flowers of autumn
there–some asters, marguerites, and the last lingering roses, already
touched by frost–but they were sweetly redolent of life, and they set
joyous colours round the lifeless dial, which seemed to mark the arrest
of time’s progress. That pious womanly observance filled Lazare with
emotion, and for a long time he remained there weeping.

The dining-room, the kitchen, and the terrace, too, equally reminded
him of his mother. All the little objects he saw lying about suggested
her to him. He was quite beset by his mother’s image, though he never
spoke of it, and indeed, with a feeling of uneasy shame, tried to
conceal the constant torture which he experienced. He even avoided
mentioning his mother’s name, so that it might have been supposed that
he had already forgotten her, whereas all the time never a moment
passed without memory bringing a bitter pang to his heart. It was only
his cousin who penetrated his secret, and when she spoke to him about
it he took refuge in falsehoods, protesting that he had put out his
light at midnight, and had been very busy over some work or other.
And he almost worked himself into an angry passion if he were further
pressed. He took refuge in his room, and there abandoned himself to his
reflections, feeling calmer in that retreat where he had grown up, free
from the fear of revealing to others the secret of his distress.

At first he had tried to force himself to go out and resume his
long walks, thinking that by doing so he would at any rate escape
Véronique’s grumpy taciturnity and the painful sight of his father, who
lay listlessly in his chair, not knowing how to occupy himself. But
he now felt an invincible distaste for walking; out of doors he grew
weary with a weariness that almost amounted to discomfort. The sea with
its perpetual surging, its stubborn waves that broke against the cliffs
twice a day, irritated him as being a mere senseless force that recked
nothing of his grief, and had gone on wearing the same rocks away for
centuries, without ever shedding a single tear for the death of a human
being. It was too vast, too cold; and he hurried back home again and
shut himself up in his room, that he might feel less conscious of his
own littleness, less crushed between the boundlessness of sea and sky.
There was only one spot that had any attraction for him, and that was
the graveyard which surrounded the church. His mother was not there,
but he could think of her there with a melting tenderness; and, despite
his horror of death, the place had a singularly calming effect upon
him. The tombs lay asleep, as it were, amongst the grass; there were
yew-trees which had sprung up in the protecting shade of the church,
and not a sound was to be heard save the call of the curlews, hovering
in the wind from the open. There he forgot himself for hours amongst
the old tombstones, whence the very names of those who had long since
passed away had been obliterated by the heavy rains from the west.

If Lazare had felt any belief in another world, if he had been able to
think that he would one day again meet those he loved at the other side
of the grave’s black wall, he would have been far happier; but this
consolation was denied him, he felt no doubt as to death being the end
and extinction of individual life. And yet his own individuality, which
ill-brooked the thought of being snuffed out, rose up in mutiny against
his convictions. What joy there would have been in entering upon a
fresh life elsewhere, far away amongst the stars, a new existence in
which he would have been once again surrounded by all he loved! Ah!
if he could only believe in that, how the agony he now suffered would
be turned to sweetness, in looking forward to rejoin lost loved ones!
How thrilling would be their kisses at meeting, and what blessedness
it would be to live all together again in some realm where there would
be no more death! He was racked with agony at the thought of the
charitable falsehoods of creeds compassionately designed to hide the
terrible truth from those too weak to bear it. No! Death was the end
of everything; nothing that we had loved could ever bud into fresh
life, the good-bye was said for ever. Oh! those awful words–‘for
ever’! It was they that carried his brain into the dizzy vertigo of
empty nothingness.

One morning, as Lazare was brooding beneath the shadow of the yews, he
caught sight of Abbé Horteur at the bottom of his vegetable garden,
which was only separated from the graveyard by a low wall. Wearing an
old grey blouse and a pair of wooden shoes, the priest was digging a
cabbage-bed; and, with his face browned by the keen sea air and the
back of his neck scorched by the sun, he looked like an old peasant
bending over his work. With a miserable stipend, and without any casual
remuneration in the shape of fees in that little out-of-the-way parish,
he would have died of sheer starvation if he had not been able to eke
out his livelihood by growing a few vegetables. What little money he
had went in charity, and he lived quite alone, assisted only by a
young girl from the village, and often obliged to cook his own meals.
To make matters worse, the soil of that rocky spot was scarcely good
for anything, and the wind withered the young plants, so that it was
scarcely worth while to cultivate the stony ground for the sake of the
meagre return he got. When he put his blouse on, he always tried to
keep himself from notice, for fear lest it should give anyone cause to
scoff at religion; and Lazare, knowing this, was about to withdraw when
he saw him take his pipe out of his pocket, fill it with tobacco, and
then light it with a loud smacking of his lips. Just as he was enjoying
his first puffs, however, the Abbé caught sight of the young man. He
then made a hasty movement, as though he wished to hide his pipe, but
finally broke into a laugh, and called:

‘Ah! you are enjoying the fresh air. Come in and have a look at my
garden.’

And, as Lazare came up to him, he added gaily:

‘Well, you see, you find me in the midst of a debauch. It is the only
pleasure I get, my friend, and I’m sure that it will not offend God.’

Thereupon he put his pipe in his mouth again, and puffed away freely,
only taking it out at times to make a short remark. For instance,
the priest of Verchemont worried him. That priest was a happy man,
possessing a really fine garden with a good and fruitful soil; but he
never so much as touched a garden tool. And next the Abbé complained
to Lazare about his potatoes, which had been falling off for the last
two years, though the soil, he said, was exactly suited to them.

‘Don’t let me disturb you,’ Lazare replied. ‘Please go on with what you
were doing.’

The Abbé then resumed his digging.

‘Yes, indeed, I must get on,’ he said. ‘The youngsters will be here
for the catechism class presently, and I want to get this bed finished
before they come.’

Lazare had seated himself on a slab of granite, some ancient tombstone,
placed against the low wall of the churchyard. He watched Abbé Horteur
struggling with the stones and listened to him while he talked on in a
shrill voice that suggested a child’s; and, as the young fellow watched
and listened, he wished that he could be as poor and as simple-minded
as the priest, with a brain as empty and a body as tranquil. The mere
fact that the Bishop had allowed Abbé Horteur to grow old in that
wretched cure showed how innocent and guileless the good man had the
reputation of being. Besides, he was one of those who never complain,
and whose ambition is satisfied so long as they have bread to eat and
water to drink.

‘It isn’t very cheerful living amongst all these tombs,’ the young man
remarked, thinking aloud.

The priest stopped digging in surprise.

‘What! not cheerful?’

‘Well, you have got death perpetually before your eyes. I should think
you must dream about it at nights.’

The priest took his pipe out of his mouth and spat upon the ground.

‘No, indeed, I never dream about it at all. We are all in the hands of
God.’

Then, he began to dig again, driving his spade into the ground with
a blow of his heel. His faith kept him free from fear, and his
imagination never strayed beyond what was revealed in the catechism.
Good folks died and went to heaven. Nothing could be simpler and
more encouraging. He smiled in a convinced sort of way; that stolid,
unwavering theory of salvation sufficed for his narrow brain.

From that time forward Lazare visited the priest almost every morning
in his garden, He would sit down on the old tombstone and forget his
thoughts as he watched the Abbé cultivating his vegetables; he even
gained a temporary tranquillity by the contemplation of the other’s
blind faith which enabled him to live in the midst of death without
disquiet. Why couldn’t he himself, he thought, become a simple child
again, like that old man? In the depths of his heart he harboured some
lurking hope that his dead faith might be fanned into life again by
his converse with the guileless, simple-minded priest, whose tranquil
ignorance had such a charm for him. He began to bring a pipe with
him, and the pair of them smoked together while they chatted about
the slugs that devoured the salad plants, or the manure that was too
expensive, for it was seldom that the priest spoke of God. With his
spirit of tolerance and long experience he reserved the Divinity for
his own personal salvation. Other people looked after their affairs in
their way and he looked after his in his fashion. After thirty years
of unavailing preaching and warning he now strictly confined himself
to the observance of his ministerial duties. It was very kind of that
young man, he thought, to come and see him every day, and as, with his
tolerant and charitable disposition, he did not want to cavil with him
nor to inveigh against the theories which he must have brought back
from Paris, he preferred to keep on talking with him about the garden;
and thus Lazare, with his head buzzing with all the priest’s simple
gossip, sometimes thought that he was really on the point of relapsing
into that happy age of ignorance when fear is unknown.

But though the mornings thus glided away, Lazare every night, up in
his room, still brooded over the memory of his mother, without being
able to summon up enough courage to put out his candle. His faith was
dead. One day, as he sat smoking with Abbé Horteur, the latter hastily
put his pipe out of sight on hearing the sound of footsteps behind the
pear-trees. It was Pauline, who had come to look for her cousin.

‘The Doctor is in the house,’ said she, ‘and I have asked him to stay
to lunch. You’ll come in soon, won’t you?’

She was smiling, for she had caught sight of the Abbé’s pipe beneath
his blouse. The priest quickly pulled it out again, with that cheerful
laugh to which he was addicted whenever he was discovered smoking.

‘It’s very silly of me,’ he said. ‘People would think I had been
committing a crime. See! I am going to light it again before you!’

‘I tell you what, your reverence!’ Pauline exclaimed gaily; ‘come and
lunch with us and the Doctor, and you can smoke your pipe afterwards.’

The priest was delighted, and immediately replied:

‘Well yes, I accept. I will follow you directly. I must just put my
cassock on. And I will bring my pipe with me; I promise I will.’

It was the first luncheon, since Madame Chanteau’s death, at which the
dining-room had re-echoed with the sound of laughter. Abbé Horteur
smoked his pipe after dessert, and this made them all merry, but he
evinced such genial humour over this indulgence that it at once seemed
quite natural. Chanteau, who had eaten heartily, grew quite lively
under the cheering influence of this fresh stir of life in the house.
Doctor Cazenove told stories about savages, while Pauline beamed with
pleasure at hearing all the noise, hoping that it might perhaps draw
Lazare from his moody despondency.

After that luncheon, Pauline determined to revert to the Saturday
dinners, which had been broken off by her aunt’s death. The Abbé and
the Doctor came regularly to these repasts, and the family life was
resumed on its old lines once more. They jested together, and the
widower would clap his hands on his legs and protest that, if it wasn’t
for that confounded gout, he would get up and dance, so jovial did he
feel. It was only Lazare who still remained in an unsettled state; his
gaiety was forced, and he often shook with a sudden shudder while he
was noisily chattering.

One Saturday evening, in the middle of dinner, Abbé Horteur was
summoned to the bedside of a dying man. He did not even wait to empty
his glass, but set off at once, without paying any heed to the Doctor,
who had visited the man before coming to dine and had told the Abbé he
would find him already dead. The priest had shown himself so weak in
intellect that evening that as soon as his back was turned Chanteau
remarked:

‘There are times when there seems to be very little in him.’

‘I would willingly change places with him,’ Lazare roughly rejoined.
‘He is much happier than we are.’

The Doctor laughed.

‘That may be so. Matthew and Minouche are also happier than we are. Ah!
I recognise in that remark of yours the young man of to-day, who has
nibbled at the sciences and filled himself with discontent because they
have not enabled him to satisfy his old ideas of the absolute, ideas
which he sucked in with his mother’s milk. At the very first attempt
you want to discover every truth in the sciences, whereas we can barely
decipher them, when, maybe, the inquiry will go on for ever. Then you
begin to say that there is nothing in them, and you try to fall back
upon your old faith, which will have nothing more to do with you, and
so you drop into pessimism. Yes! pessimism is the disease of the end of
the century. You are a set of Werthers turned upside down!’

This was the Doctor’s favourite subject, and he grew quite animated
over it. Lazare, on his side, exaggerated his denial of all certainty,
and his belief in final and universal evil.

‘How can we live,’ he asked, ‘when at every moment things give way
beneath our feet?’

The old man yielded to an impulse of youthful passion as he retorted:

‘Why, just go on living! Isn’t life itself sufficient? Happiness
consists in action.’

Then he abruptly addressed himself to Pauline, who was listening with a
smile on her face.

‘Come now!’ he said, ‘tell us what you do to be always cheerful!’

‘Oh!’ she replied, in a joking tone, ‘I try to forget all about myself,
for fear lest I should grow melancholy, and I think about others; that
occupies my mind, and makes me bear my troubles patiently.’

This reply seemed to irritate Lazare, who, prompted by a spirit of
malicious contradiction, asserted that women ought to be religious;
and he pretended that he could not understand why Pauline had ceased
to fulfil her duties for so long a time. Thereupon the girl gave her
reasons in her tranquil manner.

‘It is very easily explained,’ she said. ‘Confession proved very
distasteful to me and hurt my feelings, and it affects many women, I
think, in the same way. Then, again, I can’t bring myself to believe
things that seem contrary to reason. And, that being so, why should I
tell a lie by pretending that I do believe them? And, besides, the
unknown in no way disquiets me; it can only be a logical outcome of
life, and it seems to me best to await it as tranquilly as possible.’

‘Hush! Here’s the Abbé!’ interrupted Chanteau, whom this conversation
was beginning to bore.

The man was dead, and the Abbé placidly finished his dinner, after
which they each drank a little glass of chartreuse.

Pauline had now assumed the management of the household. All the
purchases and every detail of the establishment came under her
inspection, and a big bunch of keys dangled from her waist. She took
over the control as a matter of course, and Véronique showed no sign
of displeasure at it. The servant had been very morose, however,
since Madame Chanteau’s death, and almost appeared to be in a state
of stupor. Her affection for the dead woman seemed to revive, and she
once more began to treat Pauline with suspicious surliness. It was
to no purpose that the latter spoke softly and soothingly to her;
she took offence at a word, and could often be heard muttering and
grumbling to herself in the kitchen. And whenever, after intervals of
obstinate silence, she indulged in those muttered soliloquies, she
always appeared to be overwhelmed by stupefaction at Madame Chanteau’s
death. Had she known that her mistress was going to die, she moaned to
herself? If she had had any notion of such a thing, she would never
have thought of saying what she had said. Justice before everything!
It wasn’t right to kill people, even if they had their faults. But
she washed her hands of it all, she growled; it would be so much the
worse for the person who was the real cause of the misfortune. Still,
this assurance did not seem to calm her, for she went on growling and
struggling against imaginary transgressions.

‘What’s the matter that you are perpetually worrying yourself like
this?’ Pauline asked her one day. ‘We both did all we could; but we can
do nothing against death.’

Véronique shook her head.

‘Ah! people don’t usually die like that. Madame Chanteau was what she
was, but she took me in when I was quite a little girl, and I could
cut my tongue out if I thought that anything I ever said had aught to
do with her death. Don’t let us talk about it any more; it would end
badly.’

No further reference had been made by Pauline and Lazare to their
marriage. Chanteau, who was desirous of bringing the matter to a
conclusion, now that the main obstacle to it had disappeared, had
ventured to allude to it one day when Pauline came and sat near him
with her sewing to keep him company. He felt a keen desire to retain
her beside him and a great horror of again falling into the hands of
Véronique should his niece ever leave him. Pauline, however, gave him
to understand that nothing could be settled until the completion of
the period of mourning. It was not a feeling of propriety alone that
prompted her to make that vague reply, but she was also looking to time
to answer a question which she dared not attempt to answer herself. The
suddenness of her aunt’s death, that terrible blow from which neither
she nor her cousin had yet recovered, had brought about a kind of
truce between their wounded affections, from which they were gradually
awaking, only to suffer the more on finding themselves, amidst their
irreparable loss, face to face with their own distressful story: Louise
driven out of the house; their love shattered, and, perhaps, the whole
course of their existences modified. What was to be done now? Did
they still love each other? Was their marriage possible or advisable?
Questions like these floated through their minds, amidst the stupor in
which they were left by the sudden blow that had fallen upon them, and
neither the one nor the other seemed anxious to force on a solution.

With Pauline, however, the recollection of the insult offered to her
had lost much of its bitterness. She had long ago forgiven Lazare,
and was quite ready to place her hand in his whenever he should show
repentance. She had not the least jealous desire to see him humiliate
himself before her; her only thought was for him, so that she might
give him back his promise if he no longer loved her. Her whole anguish
lay in that doubt: did he still love Louise?–or had he forgotten her
and returned to the old affections of his early youth? However, as she
thus thought of giving Lazare up rather than make him unhappy her heart
sank, for, though she trusted she would have the courage to do so, if
necessary, she hoped she would die soon afterwards.

Ever since her aunt’s death an impulse of generosity had moved her to
bring about a reconciliation between herself and Louise. Chanteau might
write to Louise, and she herself would just add a line to say that she
had forgotten what had happened. They all felt so lonely and dull that
the other’s presence would distract them from their gloomy thoughts.
Since the terrible shock of her aunt’s death, all that had happened
previously seemed very far away, and Pauline had often regretted that
she had behaved so violently. Yet, whenever she thought of speaking
to her uncle on the subject, a feeling of repugnance held her back.
Wouldn’t it mean imperilling the future, tempting Lazare, and perhaps
losing him altogether? However, perhaps she might still have found
courage and pride enough to subject him to this risk, if her sense of
justice had not risen in revolt against it. It was the treason alone
that seemed to her so unpardonable. And then, again, was she not
capable of restoring happiness and life to the house? Why call in a
stranger, when she was conscious that she herself was brimming over
with willing devotion and affection? Without being aware of it, there
was a touch of pride in her abnegation, and she was a little jealous in
her devotion. She yearned to be her relatives’ one and only solace.

From this time all Pauline’s endeavours were turned in that direction.
She laid herself out in every way, to make those about her cheerful
and happy. Never before had she shown herself so persistently cheerful
and kindly. Every morning she came down with a bright smile and fixed
determination to conceal her own griefs in order that she might do
nothing to add to those of others. Her gentle amiability seemed to
set all troubles at defiance, and she possessed a sweet evenness
of disposition which disarmed all feeling against her. She was now
in perfect health again, strong and sound as a young tree, and the
happiness that she spread around her was the emanation of her own
healthy brightness. The arrival of each fresh day delighted her,
and she found a pleasure in doing what she had done the day before,
perfectly contented and quiet in mind, and looking forward to the
morrow without any touch of feverish expectation. Though Véronique went
on muttering in her kitchen, and indulged in strange and inexplicable
caprices, a fresh burst of life was driving all mournfulness from the
house; the merry laughter of former days rang through the rooms and
echoed up the staircase. Chanteau himself seemed particularly delighted
by the change, for the gloominess of the house had always weighed on
him. Existence, in his case, had really become abominable, yet he
clung to it with the desperate clutch of a sick man who holds dearly
to life, though it be but pain to him. Every day that he managed to
live seemed to be a victory achieved, and his niece appeared to him to
brighten and warm the house like a beam of sunlight, beneath whose rays
death could not lay its chilly touch upon him.

Pauline, however, had one source of trouble. Lazare seemed proof
against all her attempts to console him, and she grew distressed as
she saw him falling again into a sombre mood. Lurking behind his grief
for his mother, there was a revival of his terror of death. Now that
the lapse of time was beginning to mitigate his original sorrow, this
terror of death asserted all its old sway over him, heightened by the
fear of hereditary disease. He felt sure that he too would succumb to
some derangement of his heart, and he brooded over the certainty of
a speedy and tragic end. He was constantly listening to the sounds
of life within him, observing, in a state of nervous excitement, the
working of his stomach, kidneys, and liver; but it was particularly his
heart-beats which absorbed him. If he laid his elbow upon the table,
he heard his heart beating in his elbow; if he rested his neck against
the back of a chair, he heard it throbbing there; if he sat down, if he
went to bed, he heard it beating in his thighs, his sides, his stomach;
and ever and ever its throbbing seemed to him to be telling out his
life like a clock that is running down. Dazed by this constant study
of his organism, he perpetually alarmed himself with the fear that he
was on the point of breaking down. All his organs were worn out, he
fancied, and his heart, which disease had distended to a monstrous
size, was about to rend his frame in pieces by its hammer-like beating.

In this way Lazare’s mental sufferings went on increasing. For many
years, every night as he lay down in bed the thought of death had
frozen him to the marrow, and now he dared not go to sleep, racked
as he was with the fear of never awaking. Sleep was hateful to him,
and he experienced all the horror of dying as he felt himself growing
drowsy, falling into the unconsciousness of slumber. His sudden waking
gave him still a greater shock, dragging him out of black darkness,
as though some giant hand had clutched him by the hair and hurled
him back into life again, shivering and stammering with horror of
the mysterious unknown through which he had passed. He clasped his
hands convulsively, more desperate and panic-stricken than ever at the
thought that he must die. He suffered such torture every night that
he preferred not to go to bed. He found that he could lie down on the
sofa and sleep in the daytime in perfect peace, and it was probably
that heavy slumber during the day which made his nights so terrible.
By degrees he gave over going to bed at night at all, preferring his
long siestas of the afternoon, and afterwards only dozing off towards
daybreak, when the fear of darkness was driven away.

He had, however, intervals of calmness, and at times he would remain
free from his haunting fears of death for two or three nights in
succession. One day Pauline found an almanack in his room, dotted over
with red ink. She asked him the meaning of the marks.

‘What have you marked it for like this? Why are all those days dotted?’

‘I haven’t marked anything,’ he stammered. ‘I know nothing about it.’

Then his cousin said gaily: ‘I thought it was only girls who trusted to
their diaries things that they wouldn’t tell anyone else. If you have
been thinking about us on all the days you have marked, it is very nice
of you indeed. Ah! I see you have secrets now!’

However, as she saw him become more and more disturbed, she was
good-natured enough to press him no further. On the young man’s pale
brow she saw the shadow which she knew so well, the shadow left by that
secret trouble which she seemed powerless to alleviate.

For some time past he had also been astonishing her by fresh
eccentricities. Possessed by a firm conviction that his end was close
at hand, he never left a room, or closed a book, or used anything
without thinking that it was the last time he would do so, and that he
would never again see the thing he had used, the book he had closed,
or the room he had left; and he had thus contracted a habit of bidding
continual farewells, yielding to a morbid craving to take up and handle
different objects that he might see them once more. With all this were
mingled certain ideas of symmetry. He would take three steps to the
right and then as many to the left, and touch the different articles
of furniture on either side of a window or door the same number of
times. And beneath this there lurked the superstitious fancy that
a certain number of touchings, some five or seven, for instance,
distributed in a particular fashion, would prevent the farewell from
being a final one. In spite of his keen intelligence and his denial of
the supernatural, he carried out these foolish superstitious practices
with animal-like docility, though trying to hide them as though they
were some shameful failing. This was the revenge taken by the deranged
nervous system of this pessimist and positivist, who declared that
he believed only in what was actually known. He was becoming quite a
nuisance, though.

‘Why are you pacing up and down like that?’ Pauline cried at times.
‘That’s three times you’ve gone up to that cupboard and touched the
key. It won’t run off!’

In the evening it seemed as though he would never be able to get away
from the dining-room. He arranged all the chairs in a certain order,
tapped the door a particular number of times, and then entered the
room again to lay his hands, first the right and then the left, on his
grandfather’s masterpiece. Pauline, who waited for him at the foot of
the stairs, at last broke out into a peal of laughter.

‘What idiotic behaviour for a man of twenty-four! Where is the sense, I
should like to know, in touching things in that way?’

But after a time she ceased to make a jest of him, for she felt
much distressed by his disquietude. One morning she surprised him
kissing–seven times in succession–the framework of the bed on which
his mother had died. The sight filled her with alarm, and she began
to guess the torments which embittered his existence. When she saw
him turn pale as he came upon a reference to the twentieth century in
a newspaper, she gave him a compassionate glance which made him turn
his head aside. He recognised that she understood him, and he rushed
off and hid himself in his own room, all shame and confusion. Over
and over again did he upbraid himself as a coward, and swear that
he would resist the influence of this weakness. He would argue with
himself and bring himself to look death in the face, and then in a
spirit of bravado, instead of passing the night awake on his couch,
he would quickly undress and jump into bed. Death, he would then say
to himself, might come and would be welcome; he would await it there
as deliverance. But immediately the throbbing of his heart drove all
his oaths away, an icy breath seemed to freeze his bones, and he
frantically stretched out his hands as he broke into a despairing cry
of ‘O God! God!’ It was these terrible backslidings which filled him
with shame and despair. His cousin’s tender pity, too, only served to
overwhelm him. The days grew so heavy that as he saw them begin he
scarcely dared to hope that they would ever end. In this gradual decay
of his vitality, his cheerfulness had been the first to depart, and now
physical strength seemed to be failing him in its turn.

Pauline, however, in the pride of her self-devotion, was determined to
gain the victory. She recognised the source of her cousin’s disease,
and tried to impart to him some of her own courage by giving him a
love of life. But her compassionate kindliness seemed to receive a
continual check. At first she made open attacks upon him with her old
jests and jokes about ‘that silly, stupid pessimism.’ ‘What!’ she
said, ‘was it she now who had to chant the praises of the great Saint
Schopenhauer, while he, like all the humbugging pessimists, was quite
willing to see the world blown to pieces, but refused to be blown up
himself?’ These jests wrung a constrained smile from the young man,
but he seemed to suffer from them so much that she did not persist
in them. She next tried the effect of such caressing consolations as
might be lavished upon a child, and encompassed him with cheerful
amiability and placid laughter. She always let him see her beaming with
happiness and revelling in, the pleasantness of life. The house seemed
full of sunshine. There was nothing more required of him than to take
advantage of it and let his life flow quietly on, but this he could
not do; the happiness that was offered to him only made his feeling of
horror at what was to come hereafter all the keener. Then Pauline tried
stratagem, and racked her brain to promote enthusiasm in something or
other which might have the effect of making him forget himself. But
his idleness had become a sort of disease; he had no inclination for
anything whatever, and found even reading too great an exertion, so
that he spent his whole time in gnawing at himself.

For a moment Pauline had a glimpse of hope. They had gone one day for
a short walk on the sands, when Lazare, as they reached the ruins of
the stockades, a few of the beams of which were still standing upright,
began to explain a new system of protective works which, he assured
her, could not fail to prove successful. The collapse of the former
ones had been caused by the weakness of the supporting timbers. It
would only be necessary to double their thickness and to give a greater
inclination to the central beams. His voice vibrated and his eyes
lighted up with all his old enthusiasm as he spoke, and his cousin
besought him to take up the task again and make another effort. The
village was gradually being destroyed; every high tide swept away a
further portion of it; and there could be no doubt that, if he went to
see the Prefect, he would succeed in obtaining the subvention, while
she herself would be only too glad to make further advances in order to
assist such a noble work. She was so anxious to spur him into action
that she would willingly have sacrificed the remains of her fortune to
bring about that end. But he only shrugged his shoulders. What would
be the good of it, he asked? He turned pale as the thought struck him
that, if he were to commence the work, he would be dead before he could
finish it; and, to hide the perturbation which this reflection caused
him, he began to inveigh against the Bonneville fishermen.

‘A pack of grinning idiots, who jeered at me when that wolfish sea
swept everything away! No! no! they may do things for themselves now! I
won’t give them another chance of laughing at my “bits of sticks,” as
they called them.’

Pauline tried to soothe him. The poor folk were in a terrible state
of wretchedness. Since the sea had carried off the Houtelards’ house,
the most solidly built of all the village, together with three
others, cottages of the poorer fishermen, their misery had increased.
Houtelard, who had once been the rich man of the district, had now
taken up his quarters in an old barn, some twenty yards behind his
former dwelling; but the others, who had no such refuge, were housing
themselves in clumsy huts made out of the shells of old boats. They
were living in a miserable state of nudity and promiscuousness; the
women and children were wallowing in vice and vermin. All that was
bestowed upon them in charity went in drink. The wretched creatures
sold all the food that was given them, with their clothes, pots, and
pans, and what little furniture they had left, in order to buy drams
of the terrible ‘calvados,’ which stretched them on the ground across
their doorways like so many corpses. Pauline was the only one who
still continued to say a word for them. Abbé Horteur had given them
up, and Chanteau talked of sending in his resignation, being unwilling
to remain any longer the Mayor of such a drove of swine. Lazare, too,
when his cousin tried to excite his pity on behalf of that little
colony of drunkards, beaten down by the fierceness of the elements,
only repeated his father’s eternal refrain:

‘No one compels them to remain here. All that they have to do is to go
elsewhere. Only a pack of idiots would come and stick themselves right
under the waves.’

This was the general feeling of the neighbourhood, and everyone looked
upon the Bonneville folk as obstinate fools. The villagers, on the
other hand, were mistrustfully unwilling to go elsewhere. They had been
born there, they said, and why should they have to leave the place?
The same sort of thing had been going on for hundreds and hundreds of
years, and there was nothing for them to do anywhere else. Prouane,
when he was exceptionally tipsy, always concluded by saying that
wherever they might go they would always be devoured by something or
other.

Pauline used to smile at this and nod her head in approval, for
happiness, in her opinion, depended neither upon people nor
circumstances, but on the more or less reasonable way in which people
conformed themselves to their circumstances. She redoubled her care and
attention, and distributed still larger doles and alms than before. At
last she was able to induce Lazare to associate himself with her in her
charities; she hoped that she might thereby rouse him from his gloomy
broodings, and lead him to forget his own troubles by awaking in him
pity for those of others. Every Saturday afternoon he remained at home
with her, and from four o’clock till six they received the young folk
from the village, the ragged draggle-tail urchins whom their parents
sent up to get what they could out of Mademoiselle Pauline. It was an
invasion of snivelling little lads and dirty little girls.

One Saturday it was raining, and Pauline could not distribute her alms
on the terrace, as was her custom. Lazare had to fetch a bench and
place it in the kitchen.

‘Good gracious, sir!’ Véronique exclaimed. ‘Surely Mademoiselle Pauline
isn’t going to bring all that dirty lot in here? It’s a nice idea,
indeed; if they do come, I won’t answer for the state of the soup.’

At that moment the girl entered the kitchen with her bag of silver
and her medicine-chest. She merrily replied to Véronique’s indignant
outburst:

‘Oh! a turn of your broom will make things all right again; and,
besides, it’s raining so heavily that they will have had a good washing
before they come in, poor little things!’

And, indeed, the cheeks of the first to enter were quite bright
and rosy from the downpour. They were so soaked that pools of
water trickled from their ragged clothes on to the tiles of the
kitchen-floor, thereby increasing the servant’s wrath, which was by no
means diminished when Pauline told her to light a faggot of wood to
dry them a little. The bench was carried near the fire, and was soon
occupied by a shivering row of impudent, leering brats, who cast greedy
eyes at what was lying about–some half-emptied wine-bottles, the
remains of a joint, and a bunch of carrots lying on a block.

‘Children indeed!’ Véronique went on growling. ‘Children that are grown
up and ought to be earning their own living. They’ll go on pretending
to be children till they’re five-and-twenty, if only you’ll let them!’

But Pauline bade her be silent.

‘There! have you done now? Talking like that won’t fill their mouths or
help them to grow up.’

The girl sat down at the table, with her money and the other articles
she intended to distribute in front of her; and she was just about
to call the children to her in turn, when Lazare, who had remained
standing, caught sight of Houtelard’s boy amongst the other youngsters,
and shouted out:

‘Didn’t I forbid you to come here again, you young vulture? Your
parents ought to be ashamed of themselves for sending you here, for
they are quite able to feed you, whereas there are so many others who
are dying of hunger.’

Houtelard’s son, an overgrown lad of fifteen, with a timid and sad
expression, began to cry.

‘They beat me if I don’t come,’ he said. ‘The missis got hold of the
rope and father drove me out.’

He turned up his sleeve to show a big violet bruise on his arm which
had been caused by a blow from a piece of knotted rope. The ‘missis’
was the old servant whom the lad’s father had married, and who was
gradually killing the boy by her ill-treatment. Since the loss of their
house, their harshness and miserly filthiness had increased, and now
their home was a perfect pigsty, where they tortured the lad, as if to
revenge themselves for their misfortunes on him.

‘Put an arnica compress on his arm,’ said Pauline softly to Lazare.

Then she herself gave the lad a five-franc piece. ‘Here! give them
this so that they shan’t beat you any more, and tell them that if
they strike you again, and if there are any bruises on your body next
Saturday, they will never get another sou out of me.’

All along the bench the other children, cheered by the warming blaze,
were now tittering and digging each other in the ribs with their
elbows. One tiny little thing had stolen a carrot and was munching it
furtively.

‘Come here, Cuche!’ said Pauline. ‘Have you told your mother that I
hope to get her admitted very soon into the Hospital for Incurables at
Bayeux?’

Cuche’s wife, a miserable abandoned woman, had broken her leg in July,
and had remained infirm ever since.

‘Yes, I told her,’ the lad replied in a hoarse voice; ‘but she says she
won’t go.’

He had grown into a strong young fellow, and was now nearly seventeen
years old. With his hands hanging at his sides, he swayed about in an
awkward manner.

‘What! She won’t go!’ cried Lazare. ‘And you won’t come, either; for I
told you to come up this week and help a little in the garden, and I’m
still waiting for you.’

The lad still swayed himself about. ‘I haven’t had any time,’ he
replied.

At this Pauline, seeing her cousin about to lose his temper, interposed
and said to the lad:

‘Sit down again now, and we will speak about it presently. Just reflect
a little or you will make me angry too.’

It was next the turn of the Gonins’ little girl. She was thirteen years
old, and still had a pretty rosy face beneath a mop of fair hair.
Without waiting to be questioned, she poured out a flood of prattle,
telling them how her father’s paralysis was ascending to his arms and
even his tongue, and that he could now only grunt like an animal.
Cousin Cuche, the sailor who had deserted his wife and installed
himself in Gonin’s house, had made a violent attack upon the old man
that very morning, in the hope of finishing him off.

‘Mother sets on him too. She gets up at night and empties bowls of
cold water over father, because he snores so loud and disturbs her. If
you could only see what a state they have left him in, Mademoiselle
Pauline! He is quite naked, and he wants some sheets very badly, for
all his skin is getting grazed and peeling off!’

‘There! That will do; hold your tongue!’ said Lazare, interrupting her
chatter; while Pauline, moved to pity, sent Véronique off to look out a
pair of sheets.

Lazare considered the girl much too wide-awake for her age, and he
believed that, although she did perhaps sometimes ward off a blow
meant for her father, she treated him in the long run no better than
the others did. Moreover, he felt quite sure that whatever was given
to her, whether it was money, or meat, or bed-linen, instead of
being of any service to the infirm old man, would only serve for the
gratification of his wife and cousin Cuche.

He began to question her sternly, for he had seen her gadding about
with several lads of the neighbourhood. However, Pauline laid her hand
upon his arm, for the other children, even the youngest amongst them,
were sniggering and smiling with all the impudence of precocious vice.
How was it possible to arrest that spreading rottenness when the men
and women set so bad an example? When Pauline had given the girl a pair
of sheets and a bottle of wine, she whispered to her for a moment or
two, trying to frighten her as to the consequences which might result
from misbehaviour. Warnings of this kind were the only ones that might
hold her in check.

Meantime Lazare, wishing to hasten the distribution, the length of
which was beginning to disgust and irritate him, called up Prouane’s
daughter.

‘Your father and mother were tipsy again last night,’ he said, ‘and I
hear that you were worse than either of them.’

‘Oh! no, sir! I had a very bad headache.’

He placed before her a plate in which were a few pieces of raw meat.

‘Eat that!’

She was devoured with scrofula again, and her nervous disorders had
reappeared. Drunkenness increased her precocious infirmities, for she
had acquired the habit of drinking with her parents. When she had
swallowed three lumps of the meat, she stopped and made a grimace of
disgust.

‘I’ve had enough; I can’t eat any more.’

But Pauline had taken up a bottle.

‘Very well,’ she said! ‘if you don’t eat the meat, you shan’t have your
glass of quinine wine.’

On hearing this, the girl fixed her glistening eyes on the glass,
which Pauline filled, and overcame her repugnance against the meat.
Then she seized the glass and tossed its contents down her throat with
all a drunkard’s knowing readiness. But she did not then retire; she
begged Pauline to let her take the bottle away with her, saying that
it interfered too much with what she had to do to come up to the house
every day; and she promised to take the bottle to bed with her, and to
keep it so securely hidden that her father and mother would never be
able to find it and drink the wine. Pauline, however, refused to let
her have it.

‘You’d swallow every drop of it before you got to the bottom of the
hill,’ said Lazare. ‘It’s yourself that we suspect now, you little
wine-cask!’

One by one the children left the bench to receive money, or bread, or
meat. Some of them, after receiving their share of the distribution,
seemed inclined to linger before the blazing fire, but Véronique, who
had just noticed that half her carrots had been devoured, drove them
off pitilessly into the rain. ‘Had anyone ever seen anything like
it before?’ she cried. ‘Carrots, too, that still had all the earth
sticking to them!’

Soon there was no one left but young Cuche, who looked very depressed
in the expectation of receiving a severe lecture from Pauline. She
called him to her, spoke to him for a long time in low tones, and
finished by giving him his loaf and the hundred sous which he received
from her every Saturday. Then he went off, with his clumsy swaying,
having duly promised to work, but having no intention whatever of doing
anything of the kind.

The servant was just giving a sigh of relief when she suddenly
exclaimed:

‘Hallo! they haven’t all gone yet, then! There’s one of them over there
in the corner still!’

It was the Tourmals’ little girl, the little abortion of the high
roads, who, notwithstanding her ten years, was still quite a dwarf. It
was only in shamelessness and effrontery that she seemed to grow, and
she groaned more miserably and seemed more wretched than ever, trained
for the profession of begging from her cradle, just as some infants
have their bones manipulated in order that they may become acrobats.
She crouched between the dresser and the fireplace, as though she had
stowed herself in that corner for fear of being surprised in some
wrong-doing.

‘What are you up to there?’ Pauline asked her.

‘I am warming myself.’

Véronique cast an anxious glance round her kitchen. On previous
Saturdays, even when the children had assembled on the terrace, various
little articles had disappeared. That day, however, everything seemed
in its place, and the little girl, who had hurriedly risen to her feet,
began to deafen them with her shrill voice:

‘Father is in the hospital, and grandfather has hurt himself at his
work, and mother hasn’t a gown to go out in. Please have pity upon us,
kind young lady—‘

‘Do you want to split our ears, you little liar?’ Lazare cried angrily.
‘Your father is in gaol for smuggling, and when your grandfather
sprained his wrist he was robbing the oyster-beds at Roqueboise, and,
if your mother hasn’t got a dress, she must manage to go out stealing
in her chemise, for she is charged with having strangled five fowls
belonging to the innkeeper at Verchemont. Do you think you can befool
us with your lies about matters that we know more of than you do
yourself?’

The child did not even appear to have heard him. She went on
immediately with all her impudent coolness:

‘Have pity upon us, kind young lady! My father and grandfather are both
ill, and my mother dare not leave them. God Almighty will bless you for
it.’

‘There! that will do! Now go away and don’t tell any more lies!’
Pauline said to her, giving her a piece of money to get rid of her.

She did not want telling twice, but hurried from the kitchen and
through the yard as quickly as her little legs would carry her. Just at
that moment the servant uttered a cry:

‘Ah! the cup that was on the dresser! She’s gone off with your cup,
Mademoiselle Pauline!’

Then she bolted off in pursuit of the young thief, and a couple of
minutes afterwards dragged her back into the kitchen with all the stern
ferocity of a gendarme. It was as much as they could do to search the
child, for she struggled and bit and scratched and screamed as though
they were trying to murder her. The cup was not in her pocket, but they
discovered it next to her skin, hidden away in the rag which served
her as a chemise. Thereupon ceasing to weep, she impudently asserted
that she did not know it was there, that it must have dropped into her
clothes while she was sitting on the floor.

‘His reverence was quite right when he said she would rob you!’
Véronique exclaimed. ‘If I were you I would send for the police.’

Lazare, too, began to speak about sending her to prison, provoked as he
was by the demeanour of the girl, who perked herself up like a young
viper whose tail had been trodden upon. He felt inclined to smack her.

‘Hand back the money that was given to you!’ he cried. ‘Where is it?’

The child had already raised the coin to her lips in order to swallow
it, when Pauline set her free, saying:

‘Well, you may keep it this time, but you can tell them at home that it
is the last they will get. In future I shall come myself to see what
you are in need of. Now, be off with you!’

They could hear the girl’s naked feet splashing through the puddles,
and then all became silent. Véronique pushed the bench aside and
stooped down to sponge away the pools of water that had trickled from
the children’s rags. Her kitchen was in a fine state, she grumbled;
it reeked of all that filth to such a degree that she would have to
keep all the windows and doors open. Pauline, who seemed very grave,
gathered up her money and drugs without saying a word, while Lazare,
with an air of disgust and _ennui_, went out to wash his hands at the
yard tap.

It was great grief to Pauline to see that her cousin took but little
interest in her young friends from the village. Though he was willing
to help her on the Saturday afternoons, it was only out of mere
complaisance; his heart was not in the work. Whereas neither poverty
nor vice repelled her, their hideousness depressed and annoyed Lazare.
She could remain cheerful and tranquil in her love for others, whereas
he could not cease to think of himself without finding fresh reasons
for gloomy broodings. Little by little, those disorderly, ill-behaved
children, in whom all the sins of grown-up men and women were already
fermenting, began to cause him real suffering. The sight of them proved
like an additional blight to his existence, and when he left them he
felt hopeless, weary, full of hatred and disgust of the human species.
The hours that were spent in good works only hardened him, made him
deny the utility of almsgiving and jeer at charity. He protested that
it would be far more sensible to crush that nest of pernicious vermin
under foot than to help the young ones to grow up. Pauline listened to
this, surprised by his violence, and pained to find how different were
their views.

That Saturday, when they were alone again, the young man revealed all
his suffering by a single remark.

‘I feel as though I had just come out of a sewer,’ said he. Then he
added: ‘How can you care for such horrible monsters?’

‘I care for them for their own good and not for mine,’ the girl
replied. ‘You yourself would pick up a mangy dog in the road.’

Lazare made a gesture of protest. ‘A dog isn’t a man,’ he said.

‘To help for the sake of helping, is not that something?’ Pauline
resumed. ‘It is vexing that they don’t improve in conduct, for, if they
did, perhaps they would suffer less. But I am content when they have
got food and warmth; that is one trouble less for them, at any rate.
Why should you want them to recompense us for what we do for them?’

Then she concluded sadly:

‘My poor boy, I see that all this only bores you, and it will be better
for you not to come and help me in future. I don’t want to harden your
heart and make you more uncharitable than you already are.’

Thus Lazare eluded all her attempts, and she felt heart-broken at
finding how utterly powerless she was to free him from his fear and
_ennui_. When she saw him so nervous and despondent, she could scarcely
believe that it was the result merely of his secret trouble; she
imagined there must be other causes for his sadness, and the idea of
Louise recurred to her. She felt sure that he must still be thinking
about the girl, and suffered from not seeing her. A cold chill came
upon her at this thought, and she tried to recover her old feeling of
proud self-sacrifice, telling herself that she was quite capable of
spreading sufficient brightness and joy about her to make them all
happy.

One evening Lazare made a remark that hurt her cruelly.

‘How lonely it is here!’ he said, with a yawn.

She looked at him. Had he got Louise in his mind? But she had not the
courage to question him. Her kindliness struggled within her, and life
became a torture again.

There was another shock awaiting Lazare. His old dog, Matthew, was
far from well. The poor animal, who had completed his fourteenth year
in the previous March, was getting more and more paralysed in his
hind-quarters. His attacks left him so stiff that he could scarcely
crawl along; and he would lie out in the yard, stretching himself in
the sun, and watching the members of the family with his melancholy
eyes. It was the old dog’s eyes, now dimmed by a bluish cloudiness,
blank like those of a blind man, that especially wrought upon Lazare’s
feelings. The poor animal, however, could still see, and used to
drag himself along, lay his big head on his master’s knee, and look
up at him fixedly with a sad expression that seemed to say that he
understood all. His beauty had departed. His curly white coat had
turned yellowish, and his nose, once so black, was becoming white. His
dirtiness, and a kind of expression of shame that hung about him–for
they dared not wash him any more on account of his great age–rendered
him yet more pitiable. All his playfulness had vanished; he never now
rolled on his back, or circled round after his tail, or showed any
impulses of pity for Minouche’s kittens when Véronique carried them
off to drown in the sea. He now spent his days in drowsing like an old
man, and he had so much difficulty in getting up on his legs again, and
dragged his poor soft feet so heavily, that often one of the household,
moved to pity at the sight, stooped to support him for a moment or two
in order that he might be able to walk a little.

He grew weaker every day from loss of blood. They had sent for a
veterinary surgeon, who burst out laughing on seeing him. What! were
they making a fuss about a dog like that? The best thing they could do
was to put him out of the way at once. It was all very well to try and
keep a human being alive as long as possible, but what was the good
of allowing a dying animal to linger on in pain? At this they quickly
bustled the vet out of the house, after paying him his fee of six
francs.

One Saturday Matthew lost so much blood that it was found necessary
to shut him up in the coach-house. A stream of big red drops trickled
after him. Doctor Cazenove, who bad arrived rather early, offered to
go and see the dog, who was treated quite as a member of the family.
They found him lying down, in a state of great weakness, but with his
head raised very high, and the light of life still shining in his
eyes. The Doctor made a long examination of him, with all the care and
thoughtfulness which he displayed at the bedside of his human patients.
At last he said:

‘That abundant loss of blood denotes a cancerous degeneration of the
kidneys. There is no hope for him, but he may linger for a few days
yet, unless some sudden hæmorrhage carries him off.’

Matthew’s hopeless condition threw a gloom over the dinner-table. They
recalled how fond Madame Chanteau had been of him, all the wild romps
of his youth, the dogs he had worried, the cutlets he had stolen off
the gridiron, and the eggs that he gobbled up warm from the nest. But
at dessert, when Abbé Horteur brought out his pipe, they grew lively
again and listened with attention to the priest as he told them about
his pear-trees, which promised to do splendidly that year. Chanteau,
notwithstanding certain prickings which foreboded another attack of
gout, finished off by singing one of the merry songs of his youth. Thus
the evening passed away delightfully, and even Lazare himself grew
cheerful.

About nine o’clock, just as tea was being served, Pauline suddenly
cried out:

‘Oh look! There’s poor Matthew!’

And, in truth, the poor dog, all bleeding and shrunken, was dragging
himself on his tottering legs into the dining-room. Then immediately
afterwards they heard Véronique, who was rushing after him with a
cloth. She burst into the room, crying:

‘I had to go into the coach-house, and he made his escape. He still
insists upon being where the rest of us are, and one can’t take a step
without finding him between one’s legs. Come! come! you can’t stop
here.’

The dog lowered his old trembling head with an expression of
affectionate entreaty.

‘Oh! let him stop, do!’ Pauline cried.

But the servant seemed displeased.

‘No! indeed, not in such a state as that. I have had quite enough to
do, as it is, with wiping up after him. It’s really quite disgusting.
You’ll have the dining-room in a nice state if he goes dragging himself
all over the place in this way. Come along! Come along! Be a little
quicker, do!’

‘Let him stay here, and you go away!’ said Lazare.

Then, as Véronique furiously banged the door behind her, Matthew,
who seemed to understand the situation perfectly well, came and laid
his head on his master’s knee. Everyone wanted to lavish dainties on
him; they broke up lumps of sugar, and tried to brighten him up into
liveliness. In times past they had been accustomed every evening to
amuse themselves by placing a lump of sugar upon the table on the
opposite side to that at which the dog was stationed, and then as
Matthew ran round they caught up the sugar and deposited it on the
other side, in such wise that the dog went rushing round the table in
pursuit of the dainty which was ever being removed from him, till at
last he grew quite dizzy with the perpetual flitting, and broke out
into wild and noisy barking. Lazare tried to set this little game going
again, in the hope of cheering the poor animal. Matthew wagged his
tail for a moment, went once round the table, and then staggered and
fell against Pauline’s chair. He could not see the sugar, and his poor
shrunken body rolled over on its side. Chanteau had stopped humming,
and everyone felt keen sorrow at the sight of that poor dying dog, who
had vainly tried to summon up the romping energies of the past.

‘Don’t do anything to tire him,’ the Doctor said gently, ‘or you will
kill him.’

Then the priest, who was smoking in silence, let fall a remark which
was probably intended to account for his emotion.

‘One might almost imagine,’ he said, ‘that these big dogs were human
beings.’

About ten o’clock, when the priest and the Doctor had left, Lazare,
before going to his own room, went to lock Matthew in the coach-house
again. He laid him carefully down upon some fresh straw, and saw that
his bowl was full of water; then he kissed him and was about to leave
him, but the dog raised himself on his feet with a painful effort,
and tried to follow the young man. Lazare, had to put him back three
times, and then at last the dog yielded, but he raised his head with
so sad an expression to watch his master depart that Lazare, who felt
heart-broken, came back and kissed him again.

When he reached his room at the top of the house the young man tried
to read till midnight. Then he went to bed. But he could not sleep;
his mind dwelt continually upon Matthew; the image of the poor animal,
lying on his bed of straw, with his failing eyes turned towards the
door, never ceased to haunt him. On the morrow, he thought, Matthew
would be dead. Every minute he caught himself involuntarily sitting
up in bed and listening, fancying he heard a bark in the yard. His
straining ears caught all sorts of imaginary sounds. About two o’clock
in the morning he heard a groaning which made him jump out of bed.
Who could be groaning like that? He rushed out on to the landing,
but the house was wrapped in darkness and silence, not a breath came
from Pauline’s room. Then he could no longer resist his impulse to go
downstairs. The hope of once more seeing his old dog alive made him
hasten his steps; he scarcely gave himself time to thrust his legs into
a pair of trousers, before he started off, taking his candle with him.

When he reached the coach-house Matthew was no longer lying on the
straw; he had dragged himself some distance away from it, and was
stretched upon the hard ground. When he saw his master enter, he no
longer had enough strength to raise his head. Lazare placed his candle
on some old boards, and was filled with astonishment when he bent down
and saw the ground all black. Then a spasm of pain came to him as he
knelt and found that the poor animal was weltering in his death-throes
in a perfect pool of blood. Life was quickly ebbing from him; he wagged
his tail very feebly, while a faint light glistened in the depths of
his eyes.

‘Oh! my poor old dog!’ sobbed Lazare; ‘oh! my poor old dog!’

Then, aloud, he said:

‘Wait a moment! I will move you. Ah! I’m afraid it hurts you, but you
are drenched lying here; and I haven’t even got a sponge. Would you
like something to drink?’

Matthew still gazed at him earnestly. Gradually the death-rattle
shook his sides, and the pool of blood grew bigger and bigger, quite
silently, and as though it were fed by some hidden spring.

Various ladders and broken barrels in the coach-house cast great
shadows around, and the candle burnt very dimly. But suddenly there
came a rustling among the straw. It was the cat, Minouche, who was
reposing on the bed made for Matthew, and had been disturbed by the
light.

‘Would you like something to drink, my poor old fellow?’ Lazare
repeated.

He had found a cloth, which he dipped in the pan of water and pressed
against the dying animal’s mouth. It seemed to relieve him; and his
nose, which was excoriated through fever, became a little cooler. Half
an hour passed, during which Lazare constantly dipped the cloth in the
water, while his eyes filled with tears at the painful sight before
him, and his heart ached with all the bitterness of grief. Wild hopes
came to him at times, as they do to the watchers at a bedside; perhaps,
he thought, he might recall ebbing life by that simple application of
cold water.

‘Ah! what is the matter? What do you want to do?’ he cried suddenly.
‘You want to get on your feet, eh?’

Matthew, shaken by a fit of shivering, made desperate efforts to
raise himself. He stiffened his limbs, while his neck was distended
by his hiccoughs. But the end was close at hand, and he fell across
his master’s knees, with eyes still straining from beneath their heavy
lids to catch sight of him. Quite overcome by that glance, so full
of intelligence, Lazare held Matthew there on his knees, while the
animal’s big body, heavy like that of a man, was racked by a human-like
death-agony in his sorrowing embrace. It lasted for some minutes, and
then Lazare saw real tears–heavy tears–roll down from the dog’s
mournful eyes, while his tongue showed forth from his convulsed mouth,
as though for a last caress.

‘Oh! my poor old dog!’ cried Lazare, bursting into sobs.

Matthew was dead. A little bloody foam frothed round his jaws. As
Lazare laid him down on the floor he looked as though he were asleep.

Then once more the young man felt that all was over. His dog was dead
now, and this filled him with unreasonable grief and seemed to cast a
gloom over his whole life. That death awoke in him the memory of other
deaths, and he had not felt more heart-broken even when walking through
the yard behind his mother’s coffin. Some last portion of her seemed
to be torn away from him; she had gone from him now entirely. The
recollection of his months of secret anguish, of his nights disturbed
by nightmare visions, of his walks to the little graveyard, and of all
his terror at the thought of annihilation, surged up in his mind.

However, he heard a sound, and when he turned he saw Minouche quietly
making her toilet on the straw. But the door creaked, and Pauline then
entered the coach-house, impelled thither by an impulse similar to that
of her cousin. When he saw her his tears fell faster, and he who had
carefully concealed all his grief at his mother’s death, as though it
had been some shameful folly, now cried:

‘Oh, God! God! She loved him so dearly! You remember, don’t you? She
first had him when he was quite a tiny little thing, and it was she who
always fed him, and he used to follow her all over the house!’

Then he added;

‘There is no one left now, and we are utterly alone!’

Tears sprang up in Pauline’s eyes. She had stooped to look at poor
Matthew’s body lying there beneath the dim glimmer of the candle. And
she did not seek to console Lazare. She made but a gesture of despair,
for she felt that she was utterly powerless.