You see how we are situated

There years went by, and Luc established his new factory, which gave
birth to a whole town of workers. The land which lay below the ridge
of the Bleuse Mountains extended over a space of some twelve hundred
square yards, a great moor, which, sloping slightly, stretched from
the park of La Crêcherie to the jumbled buildings of the Abyss. And
the beginnings were necessarily modest, only a part of the moor was at
first utilised, the rest being reserved for the extensions which it was
hoped the future would justify.
The works stood against the rocky promontory, just below the
blast-furnace, with which they communicated by two lifts. Pending
the revolution which Jordan’s electrical furnaces would effect, Luc
had done little to the smeltery; he had improved it in a few matters
of detail, and then left it in Morfain’s hands to continue working
according to old-time routine. But in the new works, both as regards
the buildings and the plant, he had availed himself of all possible
improvements in order to increase the output and diminish the labour
of the workers. In a like spirit he desired that the houses of the
workers, each of which stood in a garden, should be homes of comfort
where family life might flourish. Some fifty were already built on the
land near La Crêcherie, forming quite a little town advancing towards
Beauclair. The building of each new house, indeed, was like a fresh
step taken by the future city towards the conquest of the old, guilty
and condemned one. Then, in the centre of the land, Luc had erected the
common-house, a large building containing schools, a library, a hall
for meetings and festivities, baths and so forth. This was all that he
had retained of Fourier’s phalanstery, leaving everybody free to build
as he pleased, and only deeming collective action to be necessary for
certain public services. Finally, in the rear of the property some
general stores had been established, and grew daily in importance.
There was a bakery, a butcher’s, a grocery department, not to mention
others for clothes, utensils, all sorts of small indispensable
articles, the whole being conducted on the principles of a cooperative
society of consumers corresponding with the cooperative society of
producers which controlled the works. All this, no doubt, was simply
a beginning, but there was no dearth of life, and one could already
see and judge the work. Luc would not have succeeded in making such
rapid progress had not the happy thought occurred to him of interesting
workmen of the building trades in the enterprise. One thing, too, which
particularly delighted him was that he had managed to capture all the
springs scattered among the higher rocks, for they yielded an abundance
of fresh and pure water, which cleansed the works and the common-house,
gave moisture to the gardens, where thick greenery arose, and brought
health and delight to every home.
Now, one morning, Fauchard, the drawer at the Abyss, came strolling up
to La Crêcherie to see some of his old mates. He, ever undecided and
doleful, had remained under Delaveau, whereas Bonnaire had repaired
to the new works, taking with him his brother-in-law Ragu, who in his
turn had induced Bourron to follow. Those three then worked with Luc,
and Fauchard wished to question them. In the state of hebetude to which
fifteen years of labour, ever the same, ever a repetition of similar
gestures amidst a similar glare, had reduced him, he felt incapable
of arriving at any decision by himself. Such, indeed, had become his
indolence of mind, that for long months he had been thinking of this
visit without finding sufficient strength of will to make it. From the
moment of entering the works of La Crêcherie he felt astonished.
Coming as he did from the grimy, dusty Abyss, into whose heavy,
tumbledown halls the light scarcely entered, he marvelled, in the first
instance, at the sight of the light airy halls of La Crêcherie, all
brick and iron, through whose broad windows the sunshine streamed.
All the workshops were paved with slabs of cement, in such wise that
there was little dust; and the abundance of water facilitated frequent
washings. Moreover, the place remained clean and was easily kept in
such a condition, by reason of the new smoke-consuming apparatus with
which all the fires were provided. Thus, in lieu of an infernal,
cyclopean den there were bright, shiny, spacious workshops in which
toil seemed to lose much of its harshness. No doubt the employment of
electricity was still very limited; there was still a deafening roar
of machinery, and but little relief had been found for human efforts.
Only among some of the furnaces had there been trials of mechanical
appliances, which, although hitherto defective, encouraged the hope
that man would some day be freed from excessive labour. At La Crêcherie
they were feeling their way, so to say; and yet how great was the
improvement which already resulted from cleanliness, air, and sunlight!
Fauchard had expected to find Bonnaire, the master-puddler, at his
furnace, and was surprised to come upon him watching over a large
rolling-machine for the making of rails.
‘Hallo!’ exclaimed the visitor, ‘have you given up puddling then?’
‘No,’ Bonnaire replied, ‘but we do a little bit of everything here.
That’s the rule of the place: two hours on one thing, two hours on
another; and really, it’s quite true that it rests one.’
As a matter of fact Luc did not easily induce the men whom he took on
to quit whatever might be their specialty. Later, however, reforms
would be realised, for the children were already passing through
several apprenticeships, since work could only be made attractive by
varying it, and giving but a few hours to any one particular form.
‘Ah!’ sighed Fauchard, ‘wouldn’t it just amuse me to do something else
than draw crucibles out of my furnace! But then I can’t, I don’t know
how!’
The noise made by the rolling-machinery was so violent that he had
to raise his voice to its highest pitch. At last he profited by a
brief interval to shake hands with Ragu and Bourron, who were busily
engaged in receiving the rails. All this again was quite a sight for
Fauchard. The rails were not made in the same way as at the Abyss. He
looked at them with confused thoughts, which he could not have put
into words. That which more particularly made him suffer amidst his
downfall, reduced as he was to the status of a mere tool, was the dim
consciousness that he might have been a man of intelligence and will.
It was indeed so sad to think what a free, healthy, joyful man he might
have become if slavery had not cast him into that brutifying gaol, the
Abyss! The rails, which ever grew longer before his eyes, seemed to
him like an endless railroad over which his thoughts glided away into
the future, of which he had neither hope nor clear conception.
Under the hall adjacent to the great foundry the steel was melted in a
special furnace, and the fusing metal was received in a large cast-iron
pocket lined with refractory clay, which afterwards discharged it
into moulds. Electrical rolling bridges, powerful cranes, raised and
transported the heavy masses, brought them to the rolling-machines, and
conveyed them to the riveting and bolting workshops. There were various
sorts of rolling-presses, some of them gigantic, one for large pieces
of steel required for bridges, for the frameworks of buildings and so
forth; and others for such simple things as girders and rails whose
dimensions did not vary. These were made with extraordinary speed and
regularity. The steel billet, as dazzling as the sun, but short, and
as thick as a man’s trunk, was caught in the first cage between two
rollers revolving inversely, and when it came forth from the throat
it was already more slender. But it entered a second cage and came
forth more slender still, and thus from cage to cage it was gradually
shaped, till it at last assumed the correct outline and the regulation
length of ten mètres. All this, however, was not accomplished without a
deafening uproar, a terrible noise of jaws between the cages, something
akin to the mastication of a colossus, whom one could imagine munching
all that steel. And rails succeeded rails with extraordinary rapidity;
you could scarcely follow the billet as it grew thinner and longer, and
sprang out at last as a rail, to be added to others and others, as if
indeed railways were extending endlessly, penetrating into the depths
of the least known lands, and girdling the whole earth.
‘Who’s all that for?’ asked Fauchard in his bewilderment.
‘For the Chinese!’ answered Ragu by way of a joke.
But Luc was now passing the rolling-mills. He generally spent his
mornings in the works, glancing into each hall and chatting like a
mate with the men. He had been compelled to retain part of the old
hierarchy, master workmen, foremen, engineers, and an office staff for
account-keeping and commercial management. Nevertheless, he already
effected considerable economy by constant care in reducing the number
of managers and clerks. On the other hand, his immediate hopes had been
realised. Although high-class lodes like those of former times had not
yet been found in the mine, the ore now extracted yielded by chemical
treatment cheap iron of fair quality; in such wise that the manufacture
of girders and rails, being sufficiently remunerative, ensured the
prosperity of the works. They paid their way, the amount of business
increased each year, and this was the important point for Luc, whose
efforts were directed towards the future of the enterprise, convinced
as he was that he should conquer if, at each division of profits, the
workmen saw their comfort and happiness increase. None the less his
daily life was full of alarms amidst that complicated creation of his;
there were considerable advances to make, an entire little army to
lead, and worries assailed him both as a reformer, as an engineer, and
as a financier. Success seemed certain, yet he fully understood that
the enterprise was still in a precarious stage, at the mercy of events.
Amidst the uproar, he only paused for a moment to smile at Bonnaire,
Ragu, and Bourron, and he did not even notice Fauchard. He liked that
hall where the rolling-machinery was installed, he was cheered by
the sight of all the girders and rails made there; it was the good
forge of peace, he sometimes exclaimed gaily. And he contrasted it
with the evil forge of war–that neighbouring forge, the Abyss, where
guns and projectiles were made at such great cost, and with so much
care. To think of it! Such perfect appliances, metal worked with so
much delicacy and skill, and all that simply to produce monstrous
engines of warfare which cost nations millions upon millions, and
ruined them whilst they waited for war, when indeed war did not arise
to exterminate them. Ah! might the steel girders and frameworks be
multiplied, might they build up useful edifices and happy cities,
bridges to cross rivers and valleys, might rails for ever gush from
the presses and form endless lines to abolish frontiers, bring nations
together, and win the whole world over to the brotherly civilisation of
to-morrow!
However, just as Luc passed into the large foundry where the great
steam-hammer began to pound away, forging the armature of a gigantic
bridge, the rolling-machinery was suddenly stopped, and an interval
ensued pending the starting of another section. Fauchard then drew
nearer to his old mates, and some conversation ensued between them.
‘So things are going all right here; you are satisfied, eh?’ he
inquired.
‘Satisfied, no doubt,’ Bonnaire replied. ‘The working day is only one
of eight hours, and as what one does is diversified, one doesn’t get so
tired as formerly, and the work seems pleasanter.’
He, so tall and strong, with his broad, good-natured, healthy face, was
one of the chief mainstays of the new works. He belonged to the council
of management, and felt very grateful to Luc for having taken him on
at the moment when he had been obliged to quit the Abyss, and could
not think of the morrow without apprehension. With his uncompromising
Collectivist principles, however, he suffered at seeing La Crêcherie
governed by a _régime_ of mere association, in which capital retained
its great influence. The revolutionary within him, the dreamer of the
absolute, protested against such a thing. But at the same time he was
sensible, he worked, and urged his mates to work with all devotion,
until they should be able to judge the result of the experiment.
‘And so,’ resumed Fauchard, ‘you earn a lot of money, double what you
used to, eh?’
Ragu, with that evil laugh of his, began to jest: ‘Oh! the double,
indeed! Say a hundred francs a day, without counting the champagne and
the cigars!’
He had simply followed Bonnaire’s example in taking work at La
Crêcherie. And though he did not find himself badly off, thanks to the
relative comfort he enjoyed there, on the other hand the orderliness
and preciseness of everything could scarcely be to his taste, for he
was again becoming a railer, turning his happiness into derision.
‘A hundred francs!’ cried Fauchard in stupefaction. ‘You earn a hundred
francs, you do?’
Bourron, who still remained Ragu’s shadow, then tried to improve on
what his mate had said: ‘Oh! a hundred francs just to begin with!’ said
he. ‘And one is treated to the roundabouts on Sundays.’
But whilst the others sneered, Bonnaire shrugged his shoulders with
disdainful gravity. ‘Can’t you see,’ he exclaimed, ‘that they are
talking folly and making fun of you? Everything considered, after the
division of the profits our daily earnings do not amount to much more
than they did formerly. Only at each settlement they increase a little,
and it’s certain that they will some day become superb. Then, too, we
have all sorts of advantages, our future is assured, and living costs
us much less than formerly, thanks to our co-operative stores and the
gay little houses which are let to us almost for nothing. Certainly
this isn’t yet real justice, but all the same we are on the road to it.’
Ragu continued sneering, and a desire came to him to satisfy another
hatred, for if he jested about La Crêcherie, he never spoke of the
Abyss otherwise than with ferocious rancour.
‘And what kind of face does that animal Delaveau pull nowadays?’ he
inquired. ‘It amuses me to think that he must be quite wild at having
another show erected close to his own, and one too that seems likely to
do good business. He’s in a rage, isn’t he?’
Fauchard waved his arm vaguely and replied: ‘Of course he must be in a
rage, only he doesn’t show it over much. And yet I really don’t know,
because I’ve enough worries of my own without troubling about those
of other people. I’ve heard say that he doesn’t care a fig about your
works and the competition. He says, it seems, that cannons and shells
will always be wanted, because men are fools and will always go on
murdering one another.’
Luc, who was just then returning from the foundry, heard those last
words. For three years past, since the day when he had prevailed on
Jordan to keep the blast-furnace and establish forges and steel-works,
he had known that he had an enemy in Delaveau. The blow had been a
severe one for the latter, who had hoped to acquire La Crêcherie for
a comparatively small sum payable over a term of years, and who in
lieu thereof saw it pass into the hands of an audacious young man,
full of intelligence and activity, possessed of such creative vigour
that at the very outset of his operations he raised the nucleus of a
town. Nevertheless after the anger born of his first shock of surprise,
Delaveau had felt full of confidence. He would confine himself to the
manufacture of ordnance and projectiles, in which line the profits were
large ones, and in which he feared no competition. The announcement
that the neighbouring works would resume the making of rails and
girders had at first filled him with merriment, ignorant as he was that
the mine would be worked afresh. Then, on understanding the situation,
realising that large profits might be made by treating the defective
ore chemically, he did not lose his temper, but declared to everybody
that there was room for all enterprises, and that he would willingly
leave the making of rails and girders to his fortunate neighbour if
the latter left him that of guns and shells. In appearance, then, peace
was not disturbed, cold but polite intercourse was kept up. But in
the depths of Delaveau’s mind lurked covert anxiety, a fear of that
centre of just and free work, so near to him, for in time its spirit
might gain upon his own workshops and men. And there was yet other
uneasiness on his part, an unacknowledged feeling that old scaffoldings
were gradually cracking under him, that there were causes of rottenness
which he could not control, and that on the day when the power of
capital might fail him, his arms, however stubborn and vigorous they
might be, would prove powerless to keep up the edifice, which would
fall in its entirety to the ground.
In the inevitable and ever fiercer warfare which had begun between La
Crêcherie and the Abyss, and which could only end by the downfall of
one or the other of the works, Luc felt no pity for the Delaveaus. If
he had some esteem for the man on seeing how energetically he worked,
and how bravely he defended his opinions, he despised the woman,
Fernande, though with his contempt there was mingled a kind of terror
on divining in her a terrible force of corruption and destruction. That
evil intrigue which he had detected at La Guerdache, the imperious
subjugation of Boisgelin, that dull-witted coxcomb whose fortune was
melting away in the hands of a devouring creature, filled him with
growing anxiety, as if he foresaw in it some future tragedy. All his
affection went out towards the good-hearted and gentle Suzanne, for
she was the real victim, the only one worthy of his pity. He had been
compelled to break off all intercourse with La Guerdache, and his
only knowledge of what went on there was derived from chance reports.
These indicated, however, that things were going from bad to worse,
Fernande’s wild demands increasing, whilst Suzanne only found energy to
remain silent, closing her eyes for fear of some scandal. One day when
Luc met her, holding her little boy Paul by the hand, in one of the
streets of Beauclair, she gave him a long look in which he could read
all her distress, and the friendship that she still retained for him in
spite of the deadly struggle which now parted their lives.
As soon as Luc recognised Fauchard, he put himself on the defensive,
for it was part of his plan to avoid all unnecessary conflicts with
the Abyss. He was willing that men should come from the neighbouring
works to offer their services, but he did not wish it to be said that
he tried to attract them. As a matter of fact, it was the workers of
La Crêcherie who decided whether a new hand should be admitted or not.
Accordingly, as Bonnaire had on various previous occasions spoken to
him of Fauchard, Luc feigned a belief that the latter was trying to
gain admittance from his former comrades. ‘Ah! it’s you, my friend,’
said he; ‘you’ve come to see if your old mates will make room for you,
eh?’
The other, once more full of doubt, incapable of prompt resolution,
began to stammer disjointed words. All novelty frightened him,
accustomed as he was to blind routine. Those new works, those large,
light, clean halls, filled him with emotion as if they formed part of
some awesome place where it would be impossible for him to live. He
was already eager to return to his black and pain-fraught _inferno_.
Ragu had derided him. What was the good of changing, when nothing was
certain? Besides, he dimly realised, perhaps, that it was too late for
him to make a change.
‘No, no, monsieur, not yet,’ he stuttered; ‘I should like to, but I
don’t know. I’ll see a little later–I’ll consult my wife.’
Luc smiled. ‘Quite so, quite so–one has to please the women. _Au
revoir_, my friend.’
Then Fauchard went off in an awkward way, astonished at the turn that
his visit had taken, for he had certainly made it with the intention
of asking for work, if he found the place to his liking, and one could
earn more money there than at the Abyss.
For a moment Luc remained speaking to Bonnaire about some improvements
which he wished to introduce into the rolling-machinery. But Ragu had
a complaint to make. ‘Monsieur Luc,’ said he, ‘a gust of wind has
broken three more panes in the window of our bed-room. And I must warn
you that this time we really won’t pay. It all comes from our house
being the first in the line of the wind that comes from the plain. One
freezes in it.’
He was always complaining, always finding reasons for discontent.
‘Besides, it’s very simple, Monsieur Luc,’ he added, ‘you’ve only got
to call at our house to see how it happens. Josine will show you.’
Since Ragu had been working at La Crêcherie Sœurette had prevailed on
him to marry Josine; and thus they lived together in one of the little
houses of the new town of workers, a house which stood between those
of Bonnaire and Bourron, As Ragu had considerably amended his ways,
thanks to his new surroundings, there did not as yet seem to be any
serious disagreement in his home. Only a few quarrels had broken out,
caused chiefly by the presence of Nanet, who also lived in the house.
Moreover, whenever Josine was sorrowful and inclined to shed tears, she
carefully closed the window in order that her neighbours might not hear
her weeping.
But a shadow had passed over Luc’s brow. ‘Very well, Ragu,’ he simply
said, ‘I will call at your house.’
Then the conversation ceased, the machinery had begun to work once
more, drowning the voices of one and all with a tremendous noise,
which suggested the mastication of a giant. For another moment Luc
watched the work, smiling at Bonnaire, encouraging Bourron and Ragu,
striving to promote brotherly love among each gang of workers, for
he was convinced that nothing can prove substantial and effective if
love be lacking. At last he quitted the workshops, and repaired to the
common-house, as he did each morning, in order to visit the schools.
If it pleased him to linger in the halls of work, dreaming of future
peace, he tasted the delight of a yet keener hope among the little
world of children, by whom the future was personified.
The common-house, naturally enough, was as yet only a large, clean, gay
building, in erecting which Luc had aimed at little beyond making the
place as commodious as possible at a small cost. The schools occupied
one wing of it, the library, recreation-hall, and baths being installed
in the other one, whilst the meeting and festival-hall, together with
various offices, occupied the central pile. The schools were divided
into three distinct sections, first a kind of infant asylum, where
mothers following various avocations could place their little ones,
even when these were mere babes in swaddling clothes; secondly a
school proper, comprising five divisions, in which a complete system
of education was in force; and thirdly a series of workshops for
apprentices. The pupils frequented the latter even whilst following
their studies, acquiring familiarity with manual callings as their
general knowledge developed. And the sexes were not separated, boys
and girls grew up side by side, from the cradle to the workshop of
apprenticeship, which they quitted in order to marry, passing meantime
through the five classes of the school, where they sat side by side
on the forms, mingling there as they were bound to mingle in after
life. To separate the sexes from infancy, to bring up boys and girls
and educate them differently, one in ignorance of the other, does not
this render them inimical, and does it not tend to pervert them by
heightening the mystery of the laws of natural attraction? Peace will
only be complete between the sexes on the common interest which ought
to unite them becoming apparent to both, reared as comrades, knowing
one another, deriving their knowledge of life from the same source, and
setting forth on its road in order to live it logically and healthily
even as it ought to be lived.
Sœurette had greatly aided Luc in organising the schools. Whilst
Jordan, after giving the money he had promised, had shut himself up
in his laboratory, refusing to examine accounts, or to discuss what
measures should be adopted, his sister had begun to take a passionate
interest in that new town which she saw germinating, rising before her
eyes. The feelings of a teacher and a nurse had always been latent
within her, and her benevolence, which hitherto had been unable to
go beyond a few poor folk pointed out to her by Abbé Marle, Doctor
Novarre, or Hermeline the schoolmaster, suddenly expanded in presence
of Luc’s large family of workers, who needed to be taught and guided
and loved. She had at the outset chosen her special task; she did
not refuse to help in organising the classes and the workshops for
the apprentices, but she more particularly devoted herself to the
infant-asylum, where she spent her mornings, satisfying her love for
the little ones. One day, when it was suggested that she ought to marry
she replied with some slight confusion and a pretty laugh: ‘But haven’t
I all the children of others to look after?’
She had ended by finding an assistant in Josine, who, although now
married to Ragu, remained childless. Each morning Sœurette employed her
among the infants; and drawn together as they were by solicitude for
the little ones, they had become good friends, however different in
other respects might be the bent of their natures.
That morning, when Luc entered the white cool ward, he found Sœurette
alone there. ‘Josine hasn’t been,’ she explained; ‘she sent word that
she was not feeling well. Oh! it’s merely a trifling indisposition, I
believe.’
To Luc, however, there came a vague suspicion, and a shadow again
darkened his glance. ‘I have to call at her house–I will see if she
needs anything,’ he simply replied.
Then came the delightful visit to the cradles. They stood all white
alongside the white walls. Little pink faces lay smiling or sleeping
in them. And there were some willing women with large dazzling aprons,
soft eyes, and motherly hands, who, speaking gentle words, watched over
all those little ones, those germs of humanity in whom the future was
rising. Some of the children, however, were growing fast–there were
little men and little women of three and four years of age, and these
were at liberty, toddling or running about on their little legs without
encountering too many falls. The ward opened on to a flowery verandah,
whence a garden extended, and the whole troop disported itself in
sunshine and warm air. Toys, such as jumping jacks, hung down from
strings to amuse the smallest, whilst the others had dolls, or horses,
or carts, which they dragged about noisily like future heroes in whom
the need of action was awaking. And it warmed the heart to see those
young folk growing thus gaily, and in comfort, for all the tasks of
to-morrow.
‘Nobody ill?’ asked Luc, who lingered with delight amidst all the
dawn-like whiteness.
‘Oh no! they are all lively this morning,’ Sœurette replied. ‘We had
two children taken with the measles the day before yesterday. But I did
not receive them afterwards–they have been isolated.’
She and Luc had now gone out to the verandah, along which they went to
visit the adjoining school. The glazed doors of the five class-rooms
followed one after the other, allowing a view over the greenery of the
garden, and the weather being warm these doors were at that moment wide
open, in such wise that Luc and Sœurette were able to glance into each
room without entering.
Since the establishment of the school the masters had arranged quite
a new programme of education. From the first class, in which they
took the child before he could even read, to the fifth, in which they
parted from him, after teaching him the elements of general knowledge
necessary to life, they particularly strove to place him in presence
of things and facts, in order that he might derive his learning from
the realities of the world. They also sought to awaken a spirit of
orderliness and method in each child; for without method there can
be no useful work. It is method which classifies and enables one to
go on learning without losing aught of the knowledge one has already
acquired. The science of books was not condemned in the school at La
Crêcherie, but it was put back to its rightful secondary place, for a
child only learns well such things as he sees, touches, or understands
by himself. He was no longer bent like a slave over indisputable
dogmas; his masters appealed to his initiative to discover, penetrate,
and make the truth his own. By this system the individual energy of
each pupil was awakened and stimulated. In like manner punishments and
rewards had been abolished, no further recourse was had to threats or
caresses to force idle lads to work. As a matter of fact there are no
idlers, there are only ailing children, children who understand badly
what is badly explained to them, children into whose brains obstinate
attempts are made to force knowledge for which they are not prepared.
This being so, in order to have good pupils at La Crêcherie it was
found sufficient to utilise the immense craving for knowledge which
glows within each human being, that inextinguishable curiosity of the
child for all that surrounds him, a curiosity so great that he never
ceases to weary people with questions. Thus learning ceased to be
torture; it became a constant pleasure by being rendered attractive,
the master contenting himself with arousing the child’s intelligence,
and then simply guiding it in its discoveries. Each has the right and
the duty to develop himself. And self-development is necessary if one
wishes a child to become a real man of active energy, with will-power
to decide and direct.
Thus the five classes spread out, offering from the very first notions
to the acquirement of all the scientific truths, a means for the
logical, graduated emancipation of the intelligence. In the garden
gymnastic appliances were installed, there were games, exercises of
all kinds, in order that the body might be fortified, provided with
health and strength whilst the brain developed and enriched itself
with learning. In the first classes especially, a great deal of time
was allowed for play and recreation. At the outset only short and
varied studies, proportionate to the child’s powers of endurance, were
required. The rule was to confine the children within doors as little
as possible: lessons were frequently given in the open air; walks were
arranged and the pupils were taught amidst the things on which their
lessons turned, now in workshops, now in presence of the phenomena
of nature, among animals and plants, or beside watercourses and
mountains. Then, too, efforts were made to give the children a notion
of what mankind really was, and of the necessity for solidarity. They
were growing up side by side, they would always live side by side.
Love alone was the bond of union, justice and happiness. In love was
found the indispensable and all-sufficient social compact, for it was
sufficient for men to love one another to ensure the reign of peace.
That universal love which will spread in time from the family to the
nation, and from the nation to all mankind, will be the sole law of
the happy community of the future. It was developed among the children
at La Crêcherie by interesting them in one another, the strong being
taught to watch over the weak, and all giving rein to their studies,
diversions, and budding passions in common. From all this would arise
the awaited harvest–men fortified by bodily exercise, instructed in
experience amidst nature, drawn together by brain and heart, and in
this wise becoming true brothers.
However, some laughter and some shouts suddenly arose, and Luc felt a
little anxious, for at times things did not pass off without disorder.
In the middle of one of the class-rooms he perceived Nanet standing up.
It was he, no doubt, who had caused the tumult.
‘Does Nanet still give you trouble?’ he asked Sœurette. ‘He’s a little
demon, I fear.’
She smiled and made a gesture of indulgent excuse. ‘Yes, he is not
always easily managed,’ she said. ‘And we have others too who are very
turbulent. They push and fight one another, and show little obedience.
But all the same they are dear little fellows. Nanet is very brave and
good-natured. Besides, when they keep over-quiet we feel anxious, we
imagine that they must be ill.’
After the class-rooms, beyond the garden, came the workshops for the
apprentices. Instruction was given there in the principal manual
callings, which the children practised less in order to acquire them
perfectly, than to form an acquaintance with their _ensemble_ and
determine their own vocations. This teaching went on concurrently with
the other studies. Whilst a child was acquiring the first notions
of reading and writing, a tool was already placed in his hand; and
if during the morning he studied grammar, arithmetic, and history,
thereby ripening his intelligence, in the afternoon he worked with his
little arms in order to impart vigour and skill to his muscles. This
was like useful recreation, rest for the brain, a joyous competition
in activity. The principle was adopted that every man ought to know a
manual calling, in such wise that each pupil on leaving the school
simply had to choose the calling he himself preferred, and perfect
himself in it in a real workshop. In like manner beauty flourished;
the children passed through courses of music, drawing, painting, and
sculpture, and in souls that were well awakened the joys of existence
were then born. Even for those who had to confine themselves to the
first elements such studies tended to an enlargement of the world,
the whole earth taking a voice, and splendour in one or another form
embellishing the humblest lives. And in the garden, at the close of
fine days, amidst radiant sunsets, the children were gathered together
to sing songs of peace and glory, or to be braced by spectacles of
truth and immortal beauty.
Luc was finishing his daily visit when he was informed that two
peasants of Les Combettes, Lenfant and Yvonnot, were waiting to speak
to him in the little office opening into the large meeting-hall.
‘Have they come about the stream?’ asked Sœurette.
‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘they asked me to fix an appointment. And for my
part I greatly desired to see them, for I was talking again to Feuillat
only the other day, and I am convinced that an understanding is
necessary between La Crêcherie and Les Combettes if we desire to win
the day.’
She listened to him smiling, like one who knew all his plans; and after
pressing his hand she returned with her discreet, quiet step to her
white cradles, whence would arise the future people that he needed for
the fulfilment of his dream.
Feuillat, the farmer of La Guerdache, had ended by renewing his lease
with Boisgelin under disastrous conditions for both parties. But it was
necessary to live, as Feuillat said; and the farming system had become
so defective that it could no longer yield any good results. It was
leading, indeed, to the very bankruptcy of the soil. And so Feuillat,
like the stubborn man he was, haunted by an idea which he imparted to
nobody, covertly continued urging on certain experimental work which he
desired to see tried near his farm. That is, the reconciliation of the
peasants of Les Combettes, whom ancient hatreds parted, the gathering
together in a commonalty of all their patches of land, now cut up into
little strips, and the creation of one great estate, whence they would
derive real wealth by applying the principles of high cultivation on
a large scale. And the idea which Feuillat kept back in the depths
of his mind most have been that of persuading Boisgelin to let the
farm enter the new association, when the first experiments should have
succeeded. If Boisgelin should refuse, facts would end by compelling
him to consent. In Feuillat moreover, silent man that he was, bending
beneath such servitude as appeared inevitable, there was something
of the nature of a patient, crafty apostle, who was resolved to gain
ground by degrees, undeterred therefrom by any feeling of weariness.
He had just achieved a first success by reconciling Lenfant and
Yvonnot, whose families had been quarrelling for centuries. The former
having been chosen mayor of the village and the latter ‘adjoint,’
or deputy mayor, he had given them to understand that they would
be the real masters if they could only agree together. Then he had
slowly won them to his idea of a general agreement, by which alone
the village could emerge from the wretchedness born of routine in
which it vegetated, and once more find in the earth an inexhaustible
source of fortune. As the works of La Crêcherie were at that time
being established, he cited them as an example, spoke of their growing
prosperity, and profiting by some water question which had to be
settled between La Crêcherie and Les Combettes, he even ended by
putting Lenfant and Yvonnot in communication with Luc. Thus it was that
the village mayor and his deputy happened, that morning, to be at the
works.
Luc immediately consented to what they came to ask him, and the good
nature he evinced in doing so in some degree dispelled their habitual
distrust.
‘It’s understood, messieurs,’ said he, ‘La Crêcherie will henceforth
canalise all the springs captured among the rocks, and turn those which
it does not employ into the Grand-Jean rivulet, which crosses the lands
of your village before joining the Mionne. At little cost, if you only
establish some reservoirs, you will have abundant means for watering
your land and increasing its bearing qualities three times over.’
Lenfant, who was short and stout, wagged his big head and reflected:
‘It will certainly cost too much,’ said he. Then Yvonnot, who was short
and slim, with a dark face and bad-tempered mouth, added: ‘Besides,
monsieur, one thing that troubles us is that this water will lead to
a lot more disputes among us when we divide it. You act like a good
neighbour in giving it to us, and we are much obliged to you. Only,
how are we to manage so that each may have his proper share without
thinking that the others are robbing him?’
Luc smiled. The question pleased him, for it would enable him to broach
the subject which he had on his mind, and on account of which he had so
particularly desired to see the two men. ‘But water which fertilises,’
said he, ‘ought to belong to everybody, just like the sun which shines
and warms, and the land, too, which brings forth and nourishes. As for
the best way to divide the water, why, the best is not to divide it at
all. What Nature gives to all men should be left to all of them.’

The two peasants understood his meaning. For a moment they remained
silent, with their eyes fixed on the floor. It was Lenfant, the greater
thinker of the two, who at last replied. ‘Yes, yes, we know. The farmer
of La Guerdache spoke to us of all that. No doubt it’s a good idea for
folk to come to an agreement as you have done here, and put their money
and land and arms and tools in common, and then share the profits. It
seems certain that one would gain more and be happier in that fashion.
But, all the same, there would be some risk in it, and I think that
one will have to talk of it a good deal longer before all of us at Les
Combettes are convinced.’
‘Ah! yes, that’s certain,’ put in Yvonnot with a sudden wave of his
arm. ‘We two, you see, are now pretty well in agreement, and are not so
much opposed to such novelties. But all the others have to be gained
over, and that will take a lot of doing, I warn you.’
In those words lurked the peasant’s distrust of all social changes
affecting the conditions under which property is now held. Luc
knew it well; he had expected resistance of this kind. However, he
continued smiling. How heart-rending to some was the idea of having
to give up one’s strip of land, which from father to son one had
loved for centuries, and to see it merged into the strips of others!
Nevertheless all the many bitter disappointments due to that bankruptcy
of the over-divided soil, which ended by filling agriculturists with
despair and disgust, must help to convince them that the only possible
salvation lay in union and joint effort. Luc explained that success
would henceforth belong to associations, that it was necessary to
operate over large tracts of land with powerful machines for ploughing,
sowing, and reaping, with an abundance of manure too, chemically
prepared in neighbouring factories, and with continuous waterings by
which the crops would be greatly increased. The efforts of the peasant
who worked alone, in isolation, were leading to famine, but prodigious
plenty would ensue if the peasants of a village would only combine
together so as to work upon a large scale and procure the necessary
machinery, manure, and water. Extraordinary fertility would be created
thereby. Two or three acres would suffice to feed two or three
families. The population of France might be trebled, its soil would
amply suffice to nourish it if it were cultivated logically, all the
creative forces working harmoniously together. And that would also mean
happiness; the peasants’ labour would not be one-third as painful as
now; he would be liberated from all sorts of ancient servitude, that of
the moneylender who preys upon him and that of the large landowner and
the State, who likewise do their best to crush him.
‘Oh! it’s too fine!’ declared Lenfant in his thoughtful way.
But Yvonnot took fire more readily. ‘Ah! dash it!’ said he, ‘if that be
true we should be fools not to try it.’
‘You see how we are situated at La Crêcherie,’ resumed Luc, who had
been keeping a final argument in reserve. ‘We have hardly been three
years in existence, and our business prospers, all our hands who have
combined together eat meat and drink wine, and they have no debts left
and no fear for the future. Question them, and visit our workshops, our
homes, our common house, all that we have managed to create in so short
a time. It’s all the fruit of union, and you yourselves will accomplish
prodigies as soon as you become united.’
‘Yes, yes, we’ve seen, we know,’ the two peasants answered in chorus.
This was true; before asking for Luc they had inquisitively visited
La Crêcherie, appraising the wealth already acquired, feeling amazed
at the sight of that happy town which was springing up so rapidly,
and wondering what gain there might be for themselves if they should
combine in the same manner. The force of example was gradually winning
them over.
‘Well, since you know, it’s all simple enough,’ Luc gaily retorted.
‘We need bread; our men can’t live if you don’t grow the corn that’s
necessary. And you others need tools, spades, ploughs, machines made of
the steel which we manufacture. And so the solution of the problem is
simple enough–we have only to come to an understanding together–we
will give you steel, you will give us corn, and we shall all live very
happily. Since we are neighbours, since your land adjoins our works,
and we absolutely have need of one another, is it not best to live as
brothers, to combine together for the benefit of every one of us, so as
to form in future but one sole family?’
Luc’s good-natured way of putting the proposal made Lenfant and Yvonnot
merry. Never had the desirability of reconciliation and agreement
between the peasant and the industrial worker been set forth more
plainly. Luc dreamt, indeed, of incorporating in his association all
the secondary factories and industries which lived on it or beside
it. It was sufficient that there should be a centre producing a raw
material–steel–for other manufactories to swarm around. There were
the Chodorge works which made nails, the Hausser works which made
scythes, the Mirande works which made agricultural machinery; and there
was even an old wire-drawer, one Hordoir, whose couple of hammers,
worked by water power derived from a torrent, were still active in one
of the gorges of the Bleuse Mountains. All of these, if they desired
to live, would some day be compelled to join their brothers of La
Crêcherie, apart from whom existence would prove impossible. Even
the men of the building trades and those of the clothing trades–as
for instance Mayor Gourier’s boot-works–would be dragged into the
combination, and supply houses and garments and shoes even, if in
exchange they desired to have tools and bread. The future city would
only come about through some such universal agreement, a community of
labour.
‘Well, Monsieur Luc,’ at last said Lenfant in his wise way, ‘all these
matters are too big to be decided in an offhand manner. But we promise
you that we will think them over and do our best to bring about a
cordial agreement at Les Combettes, such as you have here.’
‘That is just it, Monsieur Luc,’ said Yvonnot, seconding his companion.
‘Since we have got so far as to be reconciled, Lenfant and I, we may
well do all we can to get the others reconciled in the same way.
Feuillat, who’s a clever fellow, will help us.’
Then, before going off, they once more referred to the water which
Luc had promised to turn into the Grand-Jean rivulet. Everything was
settled; and the young man accompanied them as far as the garden,
where their children Arsène and Olympe, Eugénie and Nicolas, were
waiting. They had doubtless brought the little ones in order to show
them that famous Crêcherie, which the whole region was talking about.
And, as it happened, the pupils of the five classes had just come into
the garden to play, so that it was full of turbulent gaiety. The skirts
of the girls flew about in the bright sunshine, the boys bounded hither
and thither like young goats, there was laughter, and singing, and
shouting, a perfect florescence of childish happiness amidst the grass
and the foliage.
But Luc caught sight of Sœurette, who stood scolding somebody amidst
a cluster of little heads both fair and dark. In the front rank stood
Nanet, now nearly ten years old, with a gay, round, bold face under
a tumbled shock of hair of the hue of ripe oats, but suggesting the
fleece of a young sheep. Behind him were grouped other children from
five to ten years of age, the four Bonnaires–Lucien, Antoinette, Zoé,
and Séverin–and the two Bourrons–Sébastien and Marthe–all of whom,
no doubt, had been detected in fault. It seemed, indeed, as if Nanet
had been the leader of the guilty band, for it was he who was answering
Sœurette, arguing matters with her like an obstinate urchin who would
never admit himself to be in the wrong.
‘What is the matter?’ Luc inquired.
‘Ah! it’s Nanet,’ Sœurette replied, ‘he has again been to the Abyss,
though it is strictly forbidden. I have just learnt that he led these
others there yesterday evening; and this time they even climbed over
the wall.’
At the end of the Crêcherie lands, indeed, there stood a party-wall
separating them from those of the Abyss. And at one corner, where
Delaveau’s garden was situated, there was an old door, which since all
intercourse had ceased was kept strongly bolted.
But Nanet raised his voice in protest. ‘First of all,’ said he, ‘it
isn’t true that we all got over the wall. I got over by myself, and
then I opened the door for the others.’
Luc, who felt greatly displeased, in his turn lost his temper. ‘You
know very well,’ he exclaimed, ‘that you have been told more than a
dozen times that you are not to go there. You will end by bringing on
us some serious unpleasantness, and I repeat it to all of you that it
is very wrong and wicked to disobey in this fashion.’
Nanet stood listening and looking with his eyes wide open. A good
little fellow at bottom, but unable to appreciate the importance of
his transgression, he felt moved at seeing Luc so disturbed. If he
had climbed over the wall to let the others in, it was because Nise
Delaveau had some playmates with her that afternoon, Paul Boisgelin,
Louise Mazelle, and other amusing little _bourgeois_, and because they
all wanted to play together. She was very pleasant was Nise Delaveau,
according to Nanet.
‘Why was it so wrong?’ the boy repeated with an air of stupefaction.
‘We didn’t do harm to anybody, we all amused ourselves together.’
Then he named the children who had been present, and gave a truthful
account of what they had done. They had only played as was allowable;
they had not broken any plants, nor had they thrown the stones lying in
the paths on to the flower-beds.
‘Nise gets on very well with us,’ he said in conclusion. ‘She likes me,
she told me so, and I like her since we’ve played together.’
Luc forced back a smile. But in his heart a vision was arising–he saw
the children of the two rival classes scaling walls to fraternise, and
play, and laugh together, in spite of all the hatred and warfare which
separated their fathers. Would the peacefulness of the future community
flower forth in them?
‘It is quite possible,’ said he, ‘that Nise may be charming, and that
you may agree very well together; only it is understood that she is
to remain on her land and you on ours, in order that there may be no
complaints.’
Then Sœurette, won over by all the charm of that innocent childhood,
looked at him with eyes so suggestive of forgiveness that he added more
gently: ‘Well, you must not do it again, little ones, because you might
bring some real worry on us.’
When Lenfant and Yvonnot had finally taken leave, carrying off their
children, who, after mingling in the play of the others, departed very
regretfully, Luc, whose daily visit was now finished, thought of going
home again. But he suddenly remembered that he had promised to see
Josine, and so he resolved to call on her. His morning had hitherto
been a good one, and by-and-by he would be able to return home with his
heart full of hope.
The house occupied by Ragu and Josine, one of the first that had been
built, stood near the park of La Crêcherie, between the houses occupied
by the Bonnaires and the Bourrons. Luc was crossing the road when, at
some distance, at a corner of the foot pavement, he saw a small group
of women, who appeared to be busily chattering. And he soon recognised
Madame Bonnaire and Madame Bourron, who were apparently giving some
information to Madame Fauchard, she having come that morning, like
her husband, to see if the new works were indeed such a Tom Tiddler’s
ground as some folk asserted. Judging by the sharp voice and harsh
gestures of Madame Bonnaire–La Toupe as folks called her–it seemed
evident that she was not painting a very seductive picture of the new
concern. Cross-grained as she was, she could be happy nowhere, but
invariably spent her time in spoiling her own life and that of others.
At the very beginning she had seemed pleased to find her husband
obtaining work at La Crêcherie, but after dreaming of immediately
securing a big share of the profits, she was now enraged at having
to wait for it, perhaps for a considerable time to come. Her great
grievance, however, was that she could not even succeed in buying
herself a watch, an article of which she had coveted the possession for
several years already. Quite a contrast to her was Babette Bourron,
who was ever in a state of delight, and did not cease extolling the
advantages of her new home, her keenest satisfaction arising perhaps
from the fact that her husband no longer came home drunk with Ragu.
Between the two of them–La Toupe and La Bourron–Madame Fauchard,
looking more emaciated, unlucky, and mournful than ever, remained in a
state of some perplexity, but she was naturally inclined to favour the
pessimism of La Toupe, the more particularly as she was convinced that
there was no more joy for her in this life.
The sight of La Toupe and La Fauchard thus distressfully chattering was
very disagreeable to Luc. It robbed him of his good humour, the more
especially as he knew what a disturbance in the future organisation
of work, peace, and justice was threatened by women. He felt that
they were all-powerful, and it was by and for them that he would have
liked to found his city. Thus his courage often failed him when he met
such as were evil, hostile, or simply indifferent–women who, instead
of proving a help such as he awaited, might become an obstacle, a
destructive force indeed by which his labour might be annihilated.
However, he passed the gossips, lifting his hat as he did so, and they
suddenly became silent and anxious, as if he had caught them doing
wrong.
When he entered Ragu’s house he perceived Josine seated beside a
window. She had been sewing, but her work had fallen in her lap and,
gazing far away, she was now plunged in so deep a reverie that she
did not even hear him enter. For a moment he paused and looked at
her. She was no longer the wretched girl that he had known scouring
the pavements, dying of starvation, badly clad, with a pinched and
woeful face under a wild tangle of hair. She was one-and-twenty now,
and looked charming in her simple gown of blue linen stuff, her figure
supple and slim but by no means thin. And her beautiful hair, light as
silk, seemed like a delicate florescence above her rather long face
with its laughing blue eyes and its little mouth as fresh as a rosebud.
She seemed also to be seated in a fitting frame-work, in that gay and
clean little parlour furnished with varnished deal–the room that she
most preferred in the little house which she had entered so happily,
and in tidying and embellishing which she had taken so much pride and
pleasure for three years past.
But of what could Josine now be dreaming, with so sorrowful an
expression on her pale face? When Bonnaire had prevailed on Ragu to
follow him and join the others at La Crêcherie she had deemed herself
saved from all future trials. Thenceforward she would have a nice
little home, her daily bread would be assured, and Ragu himself, having
no further worries with respect to work, would amend his ways. Luck
apparently had not failed her: Ragu had even married her at the express
desire of Sœurette; though truth to tell she, Josine, was by no means
so pleased with the idea of that marriage as she would have been at
the time when she had first met Ragu. Indeed, she had only consented
to it after consulting Luc, who for her remained both God and master.
And deep in her being there lurked a rapturous feeling born of the
momentary hesitation which she had divined in him before he signified
his approval. But after all was not that the best, and indeed the only
possible, solution? She could not do otherwise than marry Ragu since
he was willing. Luc had to appear pleased for her sake, retaining for
her the same affection after her marriage as before it, and looking at
her with a smile at each of their meetings, as if to ask her whether
she were happy. But at those times she often felt her poor heart
succumbing to despair, melting with an unsatisfied craving for true
affection.
As if some breath had warned her, Josine started and shivered slightly
amidst her dolorous reverie. Then turning round she recognised Luc
smiling at her in a gentle and anxious way.
‘My dear child,’ said he, ‘I’ve come because Ragu asserts that you are
very badly lodged in this house, exposed to all the winds from the
plain, which, it seems, have broken three panes of your bedroom window.’
She listened, looking surprised and confused, at a loss indeed how to
contradict her husband and avoid telling a lie.
‘Yes, there are some panes broken, Monsieur Luc,’ said she, ‘but I’m
not sure whether it was the wind that did it. True enough, when it
blows from the plain, we get our full share of it.’
Her voice trembled as she spoke, and she was unable to restrain two big
tears which rolled down her cheeks. As a matter of fact the windows had
been broken by Ragu the previous evening when, in a fit of passion, he
had wanted to throw everything out of doors.
‘What, Josine! Are you crying? What is the matter? Come, tell me all
about it. You know that I am your friend,’ said Luc eagerly.
He had seated himself beside her, full of emotion, sharing her
distress. But she had already wiped her tears away. ‘No, no, it is
nothing,’ said she; ‘I beg your pardon, but you’ve come at a bad
moment, and found me unreasonable and worrying.’
Struggle as she might, however, he at last wrung a full confession
from her. Ragu did not become acclimatised to that sphere of order,
peacefulness, and slow and continuous effort towards a better life.
He seemed to suffer from nostalgia, to regret the misery and the
suffering of that wage-system amidst which he had lived, growling
against the masters yet habituated to slavery, and consoling himself
for it in the wine shops, where he intoxicated himself and poured
forth rebellious but powerless words. He regretted the black and dirty
workshops, the covert warfare waged with one’s superiors, the noisy
freaks with comrades, all the abominable days fraught with hatred,
which one finished up by beating one’s wife and children when one at
last returned home. And after beginning with jests he was ending with
accusations, calling La Crêcherie a big barracks, a prison where no
liberty was left one, not even that of drinking a glass too many if one
felt so inclined. Besides, so far, one earned there no more than one
had earned at the Abyss; and there were all sorts of worries, anxiety
as to whether things were going well, and whether there might be no
money for one to take when the time came round for profit-sharing.
For instance, during the last two months some very bad rumours had
been spreading; it was said that they would all have to tighten their
waistbands that year, as a great deal of money had been expended in
buying new machinery. Then again the co-operative stores often worked
very badly: at times potatoes were sent you when you had asked for
paraffin oil; or else you were forgotten and had to return three times
to the distribution office before you could get served. For these
various reasons Ragu had begun to deride the place, and grow wrathful
with it, calling it a dirty hole whence he hoped to ‘sling his hook,’
as soon as might be possible.
Painful silence fell between Josine and Luc. The young man had become
gloomy, for there was some truth beneath all those recriminations. It
was the inevitable grating of new machinery at the first stage of its
work. The rumours which were afloat respecting the difficulties of the
current year affected Luc particularly, since he did indeed fear that
he might be obliged to ask the men to make a few sacrifices in order to
prevent the prosperity of the establishment from being compromised.
‘And Bourron says “ditto” to Ragu, does he not?’ Luc inquired of
Josine. ‘But you have never heard Bonnaire complain, have you?’
Josine was shaking her head, by way of answering no, when, through the
open window, the breeze wafted the voices of the three women who had
remained on the foot-pavement. La Toupe was again forgetting herself,
carried away by her incessant desire to bark and bite. If Bonnaire
remained silent, like a thoughtful man whose sensible mind admitted the
necessity of an experiment of considerable duration, that wife of his
sufficed to gather together all the backbiters of the rising town. As
Luc glanced out of the window he saw her again frightening La Fauchard
by predicting the approaching ruin of La Crêcherie.
‘And so, Josine,’ he slowly resumed, ‘you are not happy?’
She again tried to protest: ‘Oh! Monsieur Luc, why should I not be
happy, when you have done so much for me?’
But her strength failed her, and again two big tears appeared in her
eyes and rolled down her cheeks.
‘You see very well, Josine, you are not happy,’ repeated the young man.
‘I am not happy, it’s true, Monsieur Luc,’ she at last answered, ‘only
you can do nothing in the matter. It is no fault of yours. You have
been a Providence for me, and what can one do if there’s nothing that
can change Ragu’s heart? He is becoming quite malicious again; he
can no longer abide Nanet; he nearly broke everything here yesterday
evening, and he struck me, because the child, so he said, answered him
improperly. But leave me, Monsieur Luc–those are things which only
concern me; at all events I promise you that I’ll worry as little as I
can.’
Sobs broke upon her trembling voice, which was scarcely audible. And
he, powerless as he was, experienced increasing sadness. A shadow was
cast over the whole of his happy morning; he was chilled by doubt and
despair–he usually so brave, whose strength lay so much in joyous
hope. Although things obeyed him, although material success seemed
assured, was he to find himself powerless to change men and develop
divine love, the fruitful flower of kindliness and solidarity, in
their hearts? If men should remain in a state of hatred and violence
his work would never be accomplished. Yet how was he to awaken them
to affection, how was he to teach them happiness? That dear Josine,
whom he had sought in the very depths, whom he had saved from such
awful misery, she to him seemed the very image of his work. That work
would not really exist until she was happy. She was woman, wretched
woman, the slave, the beast of burden and the toy, that he had dreamt
of saving. And if she was still and ever unhappy, nothing substantial
could have been founded, everything still remained to be done. Amidst
his grief Luc foresaw many dolorous days; a keen perception came to him
of the fact that a terrible struggle was about to open between the past
and the future, and that he himself would shed in it both tears and
blood.
‘Do not cry, Josine,’ said he; ‘be brave, and I promise you that you
shall be happy, for you must be happy in order that everybody may be
so.’
He spoke so gently that she smiled.
‘Oh! I am brave, Monsieur Luc,’ she answered; ‘I know very well that
you won’t forsake me, and that you will end by conquering, since you
are so full of kindness and courage. I will wait, I promise you, even
if I have to wait all my life.’
It was like an engagement, an exchange of promises instinct with hope
in coming happiness. Luc rose, and as he stood there clasping both her
hands he could feel the pressure of her own. And that was the only
token of affection between them, the union of their hands for a few
brief seconds. Ah! what a simple life of peacefulness and joy might
have been lived in that little parlour, so cheerful and so clean with
its furniture of varnished deal!
‘_Au revoir_, Josine.’
‘_Au revoir_, Monsieur Luc.’
Then Luc turned his steps homeward. And he was following the terrace,
below which ran the road to Les Combettes, when a final encounter
made him pause for a moment. He had just caught sight of Monsieur
Jérôme, who, in his bath-chair, propelled by a man-servant, was
skirting the Crêcherie lands. The sight of the old man recalled to
Luc other frequent chance meetings with him, now here, now there, and
particularly the first meeting of all, when he had seen him passing the
Abyss and gazing with his clear eyes at the smoky and noisy pile where
he had formerly founded the fortune of the Qurignons. In like fashion
he was now passing La Crêcherie and gazing at its new buildings, so gay
in the sunlight, with those same clear and seemingly empty eyes of his.
Why had he signed to his servant to bring him so far?–was he making a
complete round of the place in order to examine everything? What did he
think of it then, what comparisons did he wish to establish? Perhaps,
after all, this was merely some chance promenade, some mere caprice
on the part of a poor old man who had lapsed into second childhood.
However, whilst the servant slackened his pace, Monsieur Jérôme, grave
and impassive, raised his broad and regular countenance, on either
side of which fell his long white hair, and seemingly scrutinised
everything, letting neither a wall nor a chimney pass without giving it
a glance, as if indeed he wished to thoroughly understand that new town
now springing up beside the establishment which he had formerly created.
But a fresh incident occurred, and Luc’s emotion increased. Another
old man, also infirm, but still able to drag himself about on his
swollen legs, was coming slowly along the road in the direction of the
bath-chair. It was Daddy Lunot, corpulent, pale, and flabby, whom the
Bonnaires had kept with them, and who in sunny weather took short walks
past the works. At first, no doubt, he failed to recognise Monsieur
Jérôme, for his sight was weak. Then, however, he started, and drew
back close to the wall as if the road were not wide enough for two,
and, raising his straw hat, he bent double, bowed profoundly. It was
to the Qurignons’ ancestor, to the master and founder, that the eldest
of the Ragus, wage-earner and father of wage-earners, thus rendered
homage. Years–and behind him centuries–of toil, suffering, and
poverty, humbled themselves in that trembling salute. The master might
be stricken, but the former slave, in whose blood coursed the cowardice
of ancient servitude, became disturbed and bowed as he passed. And
Monsieur Jérôme did not even see him, but passed on, staring like a
stupefied idol, his gaze still and ever fixed on the new workshops of
La Crêcherie, which perhaps he likewise failed to see.
Luc shuddered. What a past there was to be destroyed, what evil, deadly
tares there were to pluck away! He looked at his town scarce rising
from the ground, and understood what trouble, what obstacles it would
encounter in growing and prospering. Love alone, and woman, and child
could end by achieving victory.