Long must she have remained striving

From that time forward, at each fresh disaster which fell upon La
Crêcherie, when men refused to follow Luc or impeded him in his
endeavours to establish a community of work, justice, and peace, he
invariably exclaimed: ‘But they don’t love! If they only loved, all
would prove fruitful, all would grow and triumph in the sunlight.’
His work had reached the torturing all-deciding hour of regression,
that hour when, in every forward march, there comes a struggle, a
forced halt. One ceases to advance, one even recedes, the ground that
has been gained seems to crumble away, and it appears even as if one
would never reach one’s goal. And this, too, is the hour when with
firmness of mind and unconquerable faith in final victory heroes make
themselves manifest.
Luc strove to restrain Ragu when he found him desirous of withdrawing
from the association and returning to the Abyss. But he was confronted
by an evilly disposed ranter, one who felt happy in doing wrong, since
defection on the part of the men might ruin the new works. Besides
there was something deeper in Ragu’s case, a form of nostalgia, a
craving to return to slavish labour and black misery, all that horrid
past which he carried with him in his blood. In the warm sunlight,
amidst the gay cleanliness of his little home, girt round with
verdure, he had ever regretted the narrow evil-smelling streets of
Old Beauclair, the soiled hovels through which swept a pestilential
atmosphere. Whenever he spent an hour in the large clear hall of the
common-house, where alcohol was not allowed, he was haunted by the
acrid smells of Caffiaux’s tavern. Even the orderly manner in which the
co-operative stores were now managed angered him, and prompted him to
spend his money after his own fashion with the dealers of the Rue de
Brias, whom he himself called thieves, but with whom he at least had
the pleasure of quarrelling. And the more Luc insisted, pointing out
how senseless was his departure, the more stubborn did Ragu become,
full of the idea that if such efforts were made to retain him, it must
be because his departure would deal the works a severe blow.
‘No, no, Monsieur Luc,’ said he, ‘there’s no arrangement possible.
Perhaps I am acting stupidly, though I don’t think so. You promised us
all sorts of marvels–we were all to become rich men; but the truth is
that we don’t earn more than elsewhere, and that we have additional
worries that are not at all to my taste.’
It was indeed a fact that the shares in the profits made at La
Crêcherie had, so far, amounted to little more than the salaries
earned at the Abyss. But Luc made haste to answer. ‘We live, and is
it not everything to live when the future is certain? If I have asked
sacrifices of you, it has been in the conviction that everybody’s
happiness lies at the end. But patience and courage are certainly
necessary, together with faith in the task and a great deal of work
Such language was not of a nature to influence Ragu. One expression
alone had struck him. ‘Oh! everybody’s happiness,’ he said jeeringly,
‘that’s very pretty. Only I prefer to begin by my own.’
Luc then told him that he was free, that his account would be settled,
and that he might leave when he pleased. After all, he had no interest
in retaining a malicious man, whose evil disposition might prove
fatally contagious. But the thought of Josine’s departure wrung Luc’s
heart, and he felt slightly ashamed when he realised that he had only
shown so much warmth in seeking to retain Ragu at La Crêcherie because
he wished to retain her there. The thought that she would go back to
live amidst the filth of Old Beauclair, with that man who, relapsing
into his passion for drink, would assuredly treat her with violence,
was unbearable to Luc. He pictured her once more in the Rue des Trois
Lunes, in a filthy room, a prey to sordid, deadly misery; and he would
no longer be near to watch over her. Yet she was his now, and he would
have liked to have had her always with him in order to render her life
a happy one. On the following night she came back to see him, and
there was then a heart-rending scene between them: tears, vows, wild
suggestions and plans. But reason prevailed; it was needful that they
should accept facts as they were, if they did not wish to compromise
the success of the work which was now common to both of them. Josine
would follow Ragu, since she could not refuse to do so without raising
a dangerous scandal; whilst Luc at La Crêcherie would continue battling
for everybody’s happiness in the conviction that victory would some
day unite them. They were strong, since love, the invincible, was with
them. She promised that she would come back to see him; nevertheless
how painful was the rending when she bade him good-bye, and when, on
the morrow, he saw her quit La Crêcherie, walking behind Ragu, who with
Bourron was pushing a little hand-cart containing their few chattels!
Three days later Bourron followed Ragu, whom he had met each evening
at Caffiaux’s wine-shop. His mate had joked to such a degree about the
‘syrups’ of the common-house, that he fancied he was acting as became
a free man when in his turn he again went to live in the Rue des Trois
Lunes. His wife, Babette, after at first attempting to prevent such
foolish conduct, ended by resigning herself to it with all her usual
gaiety. _Bah!_ things would go on right enough, for her husband was a
good fellow at bottom, and sooner or later would see things clearly.
Thereupon she laughed, and moved her goods, simply saying _au revoir_
to her neighbours; for she could not believe that she would never
return to those pretty gardens which she had found so pleasant. She
particularly hoped to bring back her daughter, Marthe, and her son,
Sébastien, who were making so much progress at the schools. And,
Sœurette having spoken of keeping them there, she consented to it.
However, the situation at La Crêcherie became yet worse, for other
workmen yielded to the contagion of bad example by taking themselves
off in the same fashion as Bourron and Ragu had done. They lacked
faith quite as much as love, and Luc found himself battling with human
bad will, cowardice, defection in various forms, such as one always
encounters when one works for the happiness of others. He felt that
even Bonnaire, always so reasonable and loyal, was secretly shaken. His
home was troubled by the daily quarrels picked by his wife, La Toupe,
whose vanity remained unsatisfied, for she had not yet been able to
buy either the silk gown or the watch which she had been coveting ever
since her youth. Besides, she was one of those women who regret that
they have not been born princesses; and thus ideas of equality and of
a community of interests angered her. She kept a hurricane perpetually
blowing in the house, rationed out Daddy Lunot’s tobacco more gingerly
than ever, and was for ever hustling her children, Lucien and
Antoinette. Two more had been born to her, Zoé and Séverin, and this
again she regarded as a disaster, for ever complaining of it to her
husband. Bonnaire, however, remained very calm; he was accustomed to
those storms, and they simply saddened him. He did not even answer when
she shouted to him that he was a poor beast, a mere dupe, who would end
by leaving his bones at La Crêcherie.
All the same Luc fully perceived that Bonnaire was scarcely with him.
The man never allowed himself to speak a word of censure, he remained
an active, punctual, conscientious worker, setting a good example to
all his mates. But, in spite of this, there was disapproval, almost
lassitude and discouragement, in his demeanour. Luc suffered greatly
from it; he felt something like despair on finding such a man, whose
heroism he knew and for whom he had so much esteem, drifting away so
soon. If he, Bonnaire, was losing faith, could it be that the work was
They had an explanation on the subject one evening, whilst seated on a
bench at the door of the workshops. They had met just as the sun was
setting in a quiet sky, and, sitting down, they talked together.
‘It is quite true, monsieur,’ said Bonnaire frankly, in reply to a
question from Luc, ‘I have great doubts about your success. Besides,
you will remember that I never quite shared your ideas, and that your
attempt seemed to me regrettable on account of the concessions you
made. If I joined in it, it was, so to say, by way of experiment.
But the further things go the more I see that I wasn’t wrong. The
experiment is made now, and something else, revolutionary action, will
have to be attempted.’
‘What! the experiment made!’ exclaimed Luc. ‘Why, we are only beginning
it! It will require years–several lifetimes possibly; it may be a
century-long effort of will and courage. And it is you, my friend, you
a man of energy and bravery, who begin to doubt at this stage?’
As he spoke Luc gazed at Bonnaire, with his giant build, and broad,
peaceful face on which one read so much honest strength. But the man
gently shook his head. ‘No, no,’ said he, ‘goodwill and courage will do
nothing. It’s your method which is too gentle, which places too much
reliance on men’s wisdom. Your association of capital, talent, and
work will go on always at a jog-trot, without establishing anything
substantial and final. The fact is the evil has reached such a degree
of abomination that one can only heal it by applying a red-hot iron.’
‘Then what ought one to do, my friend?’
‘It is necessary that the people should at once seize all the
implements of labour; it is necessary that it should dispossess the
_bourgeoise_ class and dispose of all the capital itself in order to
organise compulsory universal work.’
Once more did Bonnaire explain his ideas. He had remained entirely
on the side of Collectivism, and Luc, who listened sorrowfully, felt
astonished that he had in no wise won over that thoughtful but rather
obtuse mind. Even as he had heard him speaking in the Rue des Trois
Lunes on the night when he had quitted the Abyss, so did he find him
speaking now, still holding to the same revolutionary conceptions, his
faith in no degree modified by the five years which he had spent at
La Crêcherie. He held evolution to be too slow, saying that progress
merely by association would demand far too many years for realisation;
and he was weary of such an attempt, and only believed in immediate and
violent revolution.
‘We shall never be given what we don’t take,’ said he by way of
conclusion. ‘To have everything we must take everything.’
Silence fell. The sun had set, and the night shifts had started work
in the resounding galleries. Luc, whilst listening to those renewed
efforts of labour, could feel an indescribable sadness stealing over
him as he foresaw that his work would be compromised by the eager haste
of even the best to bring about their social ideal. Indeed, was it not
often the furious battling of ideas which hindered and retarded the
realisation of facts?
‘I won’t argue with you again, my friend,’ he at last replied. ‘I
don’t think that any decisive revolution is possible or likely to give
good results in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. And I
am convinced that association and co-operation offer the preferable
road, one along which progress may be slow, but which will all the
same end by leading us to the promised city. We have often talked of
those matters without altogether agreeing. So what use would it be to
begin afresh and thereby sadden ourselves? One thing that I do hope of
you is, that in the difficulties through which we are passing you will
remain faithful to the enterprise we founded together.’
Bonnaire made a sudden gesture of annoyance. ‘Oh, Monsieur Luc!’ he
exclaimed, ‘have you doubted me? You know very well that I am not a
traitor, and that since you one day saved me from starving, I’m ready
to eat my dry bread with you as long as may be necessary. Don’t be
anxious; I never say to others what I’ve just said to you; those are
matters between you and me. Naturally, I’m not going to discourage our
men here by announcing that we shall soon be ruined. We are associated,
and we will remain associated until the walls fall down on our heads.’
Greatly moved, Luc pressed both his hands. And during the ensuing
week he witnessed a scene in the hall where the rolling-machinery was
installed, which touched him even more. He had been warned that two
or three wrong-headed fellows wished to follow Ragu’s example and
carry off with them as many of their mates as possible. Just as he
was arriving to restore order, however, he saw Bonnaire intervening
vehemently in the midst of the mutineers. He thereupon stopped short
and listened. Bonnaire was saying precisely what it was requisite one
should say in such a difficulty, recalling the benefits that had come
from the works, and calming the anxiety of his mates by promises of
a better future, provided that they all worked bravely. He looked so
superb, so handsome, and spoke so well that the others speedily became
quiet. Influenced by the fact that one of themselves had used such
sensible arguments, none spoke any further of quitting the association;
and thus defection was stopped. Luc could never forget that spectacle
of Bonnaire pacifying his revolted comrades with the broad gestures of
a good giant, the courage of a hero of work, full of respect for freely
accepted toil. Since they were fighting for the happiness of all, he
would indeed have thought himself a coward had he deserted his post,
even though he was of opinion that they ought to have fought the battle
in another manner.
When Luc, however, expressed his thanks he was again distressed by
this quiet reply. ‘It was simple enough,’ said Bonnaire; ‘I merely did
what it was my duty to do. All the same, Monsieur Luc, I shall have to
bring you round to my ideas, for otherwise we shall all end by dying of
starvation here.’
A few days later Luc’s gloom was increased by another conversation. He
was coming down from the smeltery–with Bonnaire as it happened–when
the pair of them passed before the kilns of Lange the potter, who
obstinately clung to the narrow strip of land which had been left
him beside the rocky ridge of the Bleuse Mountains, and which he
had enclosed with a little wall of stones. In vain had Luc proposed
to take him on at La Crêcherie, offering him the management of
a crucible-making department which he had found it necessary to
establish. Lange’s reply was that he wished to remain free ‘without
either God or master.’ So he continued dwelling in his wild den
and making common pottery, pans, stock-pots, and pitchers, which
he afterwards carted to the markets and fairs of the neighbouring
villages, he himself drawing the cart whilst Barefeet pushed it from
behind. That evening, as it happened, they were returning together from
one of their rounds when Luc and Bonnaire passed before their little
‘Well, Lange, is business prospering?’ the young man cordially inquired.
‘Oh! always well enough to give us bread, Monsieur Luc. As you’re
aware, that is all that I ask for,’ answered Lange.
Indeed, he only carted his wares about when bread was lacking in his
home. Throughout his spare time he lingered over pottery which was not
intended for sale, remaining for hours in contemplation of the things
he thus made, his eyes having the dreamy expression of those of some
rustic poet full of a passion to impart life to things. Even the coarse
goods which he fashioned, his very pans and stock-pots, displayed
a _naïveté_ and purity of lines, a proud and simple gracefulness
which bespoke poetic fancy. A son of the people, as he was, he had
instinctively lighted upon the old primitive popular beauty, that
beauty of the humble domestic utensil which arises from perfection of
proportions and absolute adaptability to the uses to which the utensil
is intended to be put.
Luc was struck by that beauty on examining a few unsold pieces in
the little hand-cart. And the sight of Barefeet, that tall, dark,
comely girl, with the strong, slender limbs of a wrestler and the firm
bosom of an Amazon, likewise filled him with mingled admiration and
‘It is hard to push that along all day, isn’t it?’ he said to her.
But she was a silent creature, and contented herself with smiling with
her big, wild eyes, whilst the potter answered in her stead: ‘Oh! we
rest in the shade by the wayside when we come upon a spring,’ said he.
‘Things are all right, aren’t they, Barefeet, and we are happy.’
The young woman had turned her eyes on him, and they glowed with
boundless adoration, as for some beloved, powerful, benign master, a
saviour, a god. Then without a word she pushed the little hand-cart
into the enclosure and set it in place under a shed.
Lange, on his side, had watched her with a glance of deep affection.
At times he feigned some roughness, as if he still regarded her as a
mere gipsy picked up by the wayside, But truth to tell she was now the
mistress. He loved her with a passion which he did not confess, which
he hid beneath the demeanour of an uncouth peasant. In point of fact
that thick-set little man with square-shaped head, bushy with a tangle
of hair and beard, was of a very gentle and amorous nature.
All at once, again turning towards Luc, whom he affected to treat as
a ‘comrade,’ he said to him in his rough, frank way: ‘Well, isn’t
everybody’s happiness getting on, then? Aren’t those idiots who consent
to shut themselves up in your barracks willing to be happy in the
fashion you want?’
Each time that he met Luc he thus jeered at the attempt at Fourierist
Communism which was being made at La Crêcherie. And as the young man
contented himself with smiling, he added: ‘I’m hoping that before
another six months have gone by you’ll be with us, the Anarchists. I
tell you once again that everything is rotten, and that the only thing
is to blow old society to pieces with bombs!’
At this Bonnaire, hitherto silent, abruptly intervened. ‘Oh! with
bombs–that’s idiotic!’
He, a pure Collectivist, was not in favour of crime, so called
‘propaganda by deeds,’ although he believed in the necessity of a
general and violent revolution.
‘What, idiotic?’ cried Lange, who felt hurt. ‘Do you imagine that
if the _bourgeois_ are not properly prepared for it your famous
socialisation of the instruments of labour will ever take place? It’s
your disguised Capitalism which is idiotic. Just begin by destroying
everything so as to have the ground clear for building up things
They went on arguing, the Anarchism of one contending with the
Collectivism of the other, and Luc remained listening to them. The
distance between Lange and Bonnaire, he noticed, was as great as the
distance between Bonnaire and himself. By the extreme bitterness
of their dispute one might have taken them to be men of different
races, hereditary enemies, ready to devour one another, and beyond all
possibility of agreement. Yet they desired the very same happiness
for one and all, they met at the very same point: justice, peace, and
a reorganisation of work giving bread and joy to all. But what fury,
what aggressive, deadly hatred became manifest on either side as soon
as there was a question of agreeing on the means to be employed to
attain that end! All along the rough road of progress at each halt the
brothers on the march, one and all inflamed by the same desire for
enfranchisement, waged bloody battles together on the simple question
whether they would do best to turn to the right or to the left.
‘After all each of us is his own master,’ Lange ended by declaring. ‘Go
to sleep in your _bourgeoise_ niche, if it amuses you, mate. I know
what I myself have got to do. They are getting on, they are getting on,
those little presents of mine, those little pots which we shall deposit
some fine morning at the sub-prefect’s, the mayor’s, the judge’s, and
the parson’s. Isn’t that so, Barefeet? We shall have a fine round that
morning! Ah! shan’t we push our cart on gaily?’
The tall and beautiful girl had now returned to the threshold, and
stood out sculpturally, in sovereign fashion amongst the ruddy clay of
the little enclosure. Her eyes again blazed, and she smiled like one
who is all submission, ready to follow her master to the point of crime.
‘She belongs to it, mate,’ added Lange in all simplicity. ‘She helps
When Luc and Bonnaire had quitted him, without any show of animosity
on either side, though they agreed together so little, they walked on
for a few moments in silence. Then Bonnaire felt a desire to renew his
argument and demonstrate yet once again that no salvation was possible
outside of the Collectivist faith. He anathematised the Anarchists,
even as he anathematised the Fourierists–the latter because they did
not immediately possess themselves of the capital, now in the hands of
the _bourgeois_, the former because they suppressed it by violence; and
it again appeared to Luc that reconciliation would only be possible
when the future community should be founded, for then, in presence of
the realisation of the common dream, all sects would necessarily be
contented. But what a long road yet remained to be travelled, and how
grievously he feared lest his brothers should devour one another on the
He returned home saddened by all that constant clashing which impeded
the progress of his work. No sooner, apparently, had two men resolved
to act than they began to disagree. Then, on finding himself alone, the
cry which ever inflated Luc’s heart burst forth from him: ‘But they do
not love! If they loved, all would prove fruitful and grow and triumph
in the sunlight!’
Morfain was also now causing the young man a deal of worry. In vain had
he tried to civilise the smelter by offering him one of the gay little
houses of La Crêcherie if he would only quit his cave in the rocks. The
other stubbornly refused, on the pretext that up yonder he was near his
work and able to watch over it unceasingly. Luc had now confided to him
the whole management of the smeltery, which worked on in the ancient
fashion, pending the invention of those electrical furnaces which
Jordan, never wearying, was still striving to devise.
However, the real cause of Morfain’s obstinacy in refusing to come
down and dwell among the men peopling the new town was the disdain,
the hatred almost, with which he regarded them. He who personified
the Vulcan of the primitive days, a tamer of fire, later on crushed
down by prolonged slavery, toiling with heroic resignation, and ending
by loving the sombre grandeur of the inferno in which fate kept him,
felt irritated with those new works where toilers were to become
gentlemen, using their arms but sparingly, since they would be replaced
by machinery, which mere children would soon know how to drive. That
desire to toil as little as possible, to cease battling personally with
fire and iron, seemed to Morfain abject and wretched. He could not even
understand it, but simply shrugged his shoulders whenever he thought of
it during his long days of silence. And, alone and proud, he remained
on his mountain-ridge reigning over the smeltery and looking down upon
the new works, which the dazzling flow of liquid metal crowned as with
flames four times every four-and-twenty hours.
But there was yet another reason which angered Morfain with those new
times which he wished to ignore; and this was a reason which must have
made the heart of the taciturn smelter bleed frightfully. Ma-Bleue, his
daughter, whose blue eyes were to him like the blue of heaven, that
tall and beautiful creature, who since her mother’s death had worked
as the well-loved housewife of the wild home, had become _enceinte_.
Morfain flew into a rage when he discovered it, and then forgave her,
saying to himself that she would assuredly some day have got married.
But forgiveness was suddenly recalled, and became impossible when his
daughter gave him her lover’s name–that of Achille Gourier, the son
of the mayor of Beauclair. The intrigue had been going on for years
now, amidst the evening breezes, under the starry sky, along the paths
of the Bleuse Mountains, and over their rocks and patches of thyme and
lavender. Achille, breaking off all intercourse with his family, like
a young _bourgeois_ whom the _bourgeoisie_ bored and disgusted, had at
last begged Luc to take him on at La Crêcherie, where he had become
a designer. He thus severed every tie connecting him with his former
life; he lived as he listed, resolved to toil for her whom he had
chosen, like a scion of the old condemned social system whom evolution
led towards the new age. What angered Morfain to such a point that
he drove his daughter from home was precisely the fact that she had
suffered herself to be led astray by a _monsieur_, in such wise that
to him there seemed naught but rebellion and devilry in her conduct.
The whole antique edifice must be tumbling to pieces since so good
and beautiful a girl had shaken it by listening to, and perhaps even
angling for, the son of the mayor.
As Ma-Bleue, on being turned out of doors, naturally sought a refuge
with Achille, Luc was compelled to intervene. The young people did not
even speak of marriage. What was the use of any such ceremony since
they were quite sure that they loved one another, and would never part?
Besides, in order to get married Achille would have had to address
‘judicial summonses’ to his father; and this seemed to him useless and
vexatious trouble. In vain did Sœurette insist on the matter, in the
idea that morality and the good repute of La Crêcherie still required
that there should be a legal marriage. Luc ended by prevailing on her
to close her eyes, for he felt that with the new generations one would
be gradually compelled to accept the principle of free union.
Morfain, however, did not consent to the position so readily, and Luc
had to go up one evening to reason with him. Since he had driven his
daughter away the master-smelter lived alone with his son, Petit-Da,
and between them they cooked their meals, and attended to the various
household duties in their rocky cave. That evening, after partaking of
some soup, they had remained seated on their stools at the roughly-hewn
table which they had made themselves, while the little lamp which
lighted them threw the shadows of their burly figures upon the smoky
stone walls.
‘Yet the world advances, father,’ Petit-Da was saying. ‘One can’t
remain motionless.’
Morfain banged his fist on the table and made it shake. ‘I lived as my
father lived,’ said he, ‘and your duty is to live as I do.’
As a rule the two men scarcely exchanged four words a day. But for some
time past a feeling of uneasiness had been growing up between them, and
although they did all they could to avert it, disputes sometimes arose.
The son, who could read and write, was being more and more affected
by the evolution of the times, which penetrated even to the depths
of the mountain gorges. And the father, in his proud and stubborn
determination to remain merely a strong toiler, able to subjugate fire
and conquer iron, indulged in sorrowful outbursts, as if his race were
degenerating through all the science and useless ideas of the new era.
‘If your sister hadn’t read books and hadn’t busied herself about what
went on down below, she’d still be with us,’ said he. ‘Ah! it was that
new town, that cursed town, that took her from us!’
This time he did not strike the table, but thrust his fist through the
open doorway, into the dark night, towards La Crêcherie, whose lights
twinkled like stars below the rocky ridge.
Petit-Da did not answer, in part from a sense of respect, in part
because he felt embarrassed, for he knew that his father had been
displeased with him ever since meeting him one day with Honorine, the
daughter of Caffiaux, the tavern-keeper. Honorine, short, slender, and
dark, with a gay wide-awake face, had fallen passionately in love with
that gentle young giant; and he for his part thought her charming. In
the discussion which had broken out that evening between the father and
the son, the question at bottom was really one of Honorine. And thus
the direct attack which Petit-Da had all along anticipated ended by
‘And you,’ suddenly said his father, ‘when are you going to leave me?’
This idea of a separation seemed to upset Petit-Da. ‘Why, do you want
me to leave you, father?’ he asked.
‘Oh, when a girl’s in question there can only be quarrels and ruin. And
besides, what girl have you chosen? Will her people even let you have
her? Is there any sense in such marriages, which mix one class with
another, and turn the world topsy-turvy? It’s the end of everything.
I’ve lived too long.’
Gently and tenderly his son strove to pacify him. The young man did
not deny his love for Honorine. Only he spoke like a sensible lad, who
was resolved to remain patient as long as might be necessary. They
would see about the matter later on. Nevertheless, when he and the
girl chanced to meet what harm could there be in wishing one another a
friendly good day? Although folks might not be of the same position,
that did not always prevent them from caring for one another. And even
if different classes were to mingle a little, would that not have its
good side, since they would thus learn to know each other and esteem
each other more?
Morfain, however, full of wrath and bitterness, did not listen to those
arguments. He suddenly rose up, and with a great tragic wave of his
arm under the rocky ceiling which his head almost touched, he replied:
‘Be off! be off as soon as you like! Do as your sister has done! Spit
on everything that’s respectable, leap into shamelessness and madness.
You are no longer my children, I no longer recognise you; somebody has
changed you! So leave me here alone in this wild den, where I hope the
rocks will soon fall down on me and crush me to death!’
Luc, at that moment just arriving, paused on the threshold and heard
those last words. He was greatly affected by them, for he held Morfain
in much esteem. For a long time he reasoned with him. But the smelter,
on the arrival of the young man whom he regarded as a master, had
forced back his grief to become once more a mere workman, a submissive
subordinate with no thoughts beyond his duties. He did not even allow
himself to judge Luc, although the latter was the primary cause of the
abominations which were upsetting the region and causing him so much
pain. The masters after all had a right to act as they pleased, and it
was for the workmen to remain honest and do their work as their elders
had done it before them.
‘Do not be alarmed, Monsieur Luc,’ he said, ‘if I happen to have some
ideas of my own, and get angry when I find them thwarted. It seldom
happens, for you know that I’m no talker. And you may be quite sure
that the work does not suffer from it; for I always keep one eye open,
and no metal is ever run out otherwise than in my presence. After all,
when one’s heart is full one works all the harder. Isn’t that so?’
Then, however, as Luc again strove to make peace in that unhappy
family, ravaged by the evolution of which he had made himself the
apostle, the master-smelter all but flew into a passion once more.
‘No, no, that’s enough, let me be! If you came up, Monsieur Luc, to
speak to me about Ma-Bleue you did wrong, because that’s the very way
to make things worse. Let her stop where she is, while I stop where I
Then, desirous of changing the conversation, he brusquely gave Luc some
bad news, which indeed had largely brought about his fit of ill-temper.
‘I should probably have gone down to you by-and-by,’ he said, ‘for I
wanted to tell you that I went to the mine again this morning, and that
we’ve again been disappointed in our hope of finding the rich vein.
Yet I could have sworn that it would certainly be met at the end of
the gallery I indicated. What would you have? An evil spell seems to
have been cast over all we have undertaken for some time past. Nothing
Those words resounded in Luc’s ears like the knell of his great hopes.
He lingered for a moment talking with the father and the son, and then
went down the hillside again, overcome by bitter sadness, and wondering
upon what ever-increasing mass of ruins he would have to found his city.
Even at La Crêcherie he encountered reasons for discouragement.
Sœurette still received Abbé Marle, Schoolmaster Hermeline, and
Doctor Novarre, and it apparently gave her so much pleasure to have
her friend Luc to lunch on those occasions that he dared not decline
her invitations, in spite of the secret discomfort into which he was
thrown by the everlasting disputes of the schoolmaster and the priest.
Sœurette, whose mind was at peace, did not suffer from them, and even
thought that they interested Luc; whilst Jordan, wrapped in his rugs
and dreaming of some experiment which he had begun, seemed to listen
with a vague smile.
One Tuesday, after they had risen from table, the dispute in the
little drawing-room became exceptionally violent. Hermeline had
tackled Luc with respect to the education which was being given to the
children at La Crêcherie; he spoke of the boys and girls mingling in
the five classes, of the long intervals of play that were allowed, and
of the numerous hours spent in the workshops. This new school, where
methods diametrically opposed to his own were pursued, had robbed him
of several of his own pupils, a thing which he could not forgive. And
his angular face, with its long brow and thin lips, turned pale with
suppressed rage at the idea that anybody could believe otherwise than
‘I might consent to see those boys and girls brought up together,’ said
he, ‘though it seems to me scarcely proper, for they already evince
an abundance of evil instincts when the sexes are separated, and the
extraordinary idea of uniting them can only pervert them the more.
But what I hold to be inadmissible is that the master’s authority is
destroyed and discipline reduced to nothingness. Did you not tell me
that each pupil followed his own bent, applied himself to those studies
which pleased him, and was free to argue about his lessons? You call
that raising energy, it seems. But what can those studies be when the
pupils are always at play, when books are held in contempt, when the
master’s word ceases to be infallible, and when the time not spent
in the garden is spent in workshops, planing wood or filing iron? A
manual calling is a good thing to learn, no doubt; but there is a time
for everything, and the first thing is to force as much grammar and
arithmetic as possible into the brains of all those idlers!’
Luc had ceased arguing, weary as he was of coming into collision with
the stubborn uncompromising views of that sectarian, who having decreed
a dogma of progress according to his own lights refused to stir from
it. Thus the young man quietly contented himself with replying: ‘Yes,
we think it necessary to render the pupils’ work attractive, to change
classical studies into constant lessons of things, and our object above
all else is to create will, to create men!’
Hermeline thereupon exploded: ‘Well, do you know what you will create?’
he cried. ‘You will create so many _déclassés_, so many rebels! There
is only one way to give citizens to the State, and that is to make
them expressly for it, such as it needs them in order to be strong and
glorious. Thence comes the necessity for discipline and a system of
education preparing, according to the programmes which are recognised
as the best, the workmen, the professional men, and the functionaries
which the country needs. Outside the pale of authority there is
no certainty. For my part I am an old republican, a free-thinker,
an atheist. Nobody, I hope, will ever picture me as a man with a
retrograde mind; and yet your system of education sets me beside
myself, because in half a century, with such a system of work, there
would be no more citizens, no more soldiers, no more patriots. Yes,
indeed, I defy you to make soldiers of your so-called free men; and in
that case how could the country defend itself in the event of war?’
‘No doubt, in the event of war, it would be necessary to defend it,’
answered Luc, unmoved. ‘But of what use will soldiers be some day,
if men no longer fight? You talk like Captain Jollivet writes in the
“Journal de Beauclair,” when he accuses us of being traitors–men
without a country.’
This touch of sarcasm, although slight, brought Hermeline’s anger
to a climax. ‘Captain Jollivet is an idiot for whom I feel nothing
but contempt,’ said he. ‘But it is none the less true that you are
preparing a disorderly generation, in rebellion against the State, and
one which would assuredly lead the Republic to the worst catastrophes.’
‘All liberty, all truth, all justice are catastrophes,’ said Luc, again
But Hermeline went on drawing a frightful picture of to-morrow’s social
system, if indeed the schools should cease to turn out citizens on a
given pattern for the needs of his authoritarian republic. There would
be no more political discipline, no more government possible, no more
sovereignty of the State, but in lieu thereof would come disorderly
license, leading to the worst forms of corruption and debauchery. And
all at once Abbé Marle, who had been listening and nodding his head
approvingly, could not resist an impulse to exclaim, ‘Ah! yes, you are
quite right, and all that is put very well indeed!’
His broad, full face, with its regular features and aquiline nose,
was radiant with delight at that furious attack upon the new society,
in which he felt his Deity would be condemned, regarded simply as the
historical idol of a dead religion. He himself, each Sunday in the
pulpit, brought forward the same accusations, prophesied the same
disasters as Hermeline. But he was scarcely listened to, his church
became emptier every day, and he felt deep, unacknowledged grief
thereat, confining himself more and more, as his sole consolation,
within his narrow doctrines. Never had he shown himself more attached
to the letter of dogma, never had he inflicted severer penance on his
penitents, as if indeed he were desirous that the _bourgeois_ world,
over whose rottenness he threw the cloak of religion, might at least
show a brave demeanour when it was submerged. On the day when his
church would fall, he at any rate would be at his altar, and would
finish his last mass beneath the ruins.
‘It is quite true,’ said he to Hermeline, ‘that the reign of Satan is
near at hand, what with all those lads and girls brought up together,
every evil passion let loose, authority destroyed, the kingdom of God
set, not in Heaven, but on earth as in the time of the pagans. The
picture that you have drawn of it all is so correct that I myself could
add nothing stronger.’
Embarrassed at being thus praised by the priest, with whom he never
agreed on anything, the schoolmaster suddenly became silent, and gazed
at the lawns of the park as if he did not hear.
‘But,’ resumed Abbé Marle, addressing himself this time to Luc, ‘apart
from the demoralising education given in your schools, there is one
thing that I cannot pardon, which is that you have turned the Divinity
out of doors, and have voluntarily neglected to build a church in the
centre of your new town, among so many handsome and useful edifices.
Do you pretend then that you can live without God? No State hitherto
has been able to do so. A religion has always been necessary for the
government of men.’
‘I pretend nothing,’ Luc replied. ‘Each man is free with respect to
his belief, and if no church has been built it is because none of us
has yet felt the need of one. But one can be built should there be
faithful to attend it. It will always be allowable for a group of
citizens to meet together for such satisfactions as may please them.
And with regard to the necessity of a religion, that is indeed a
real necessity when one desires to govern men. But we do not desire
to govern them at all; on the contrary, we wish them to live free in
the free city. Let me tell you, Monsieur l’Abbé, it is not we who are
destroying Catholicism, it is destroying itself, it is dying slowly of
old age, like all religions, after accomplishing their historical task,
necessarily die at the hour indicated by human evolution. Science
destroys all dogmas one by one; the religion of humanity is born and
will conquer the world. What is the use of a Catholic church at La
Crêcherie, since yours at Beauclair is already too large, growing more
and more deserted, and destined one of these days to topple over?’
The priest was very pale, but he would not understand. With the
stubbornness of a believer who places his strength in affirmation
without reason or proof, he contented himself with repeating: ‘If God
is not with you, your defeat is certain. Believe me, build a church.’
Hermeline was unable to restrain himself any longer. The priest’s words
of praise were still suffocating him, particularly as they had been
followed by that declaration of the necessity of a religion. ‘Ah, no!
ah, no, Abbé!’ he shouted, ‘no church, please! I make no concealment
of the fact that matters are hardly organised in the new town in
accordance with my tastes. But if there is one thing that I approve,
it is certainly the relinquishment of any State religion. Govern men?
Why yes, only instead of the priests in their churches, it is we, the
citizens in our municipal buildings, who will govern them. As for the
churches, they will be turned into public granaries, barns for the
Then as Abbé Marle, losing his temper, declared that he would not allow
sacrilegious language to be used in his presence, the dispute became
so bitter that Doctor Novarre, as usual, was forced to intervene. He
had hitherto listened to the others with his shrewd air, like a gentle
and somewhat sceptical man who was not put out by any words, however
violent, that might be exchanged. However, he fancied he could detect
that the dispute was beginning to pain Sœurette.
‘Come, come!’ said he, ‘you almost agree, since both of you put the
churches to use. The Abbé will always be able to say mass provided he
leaves a little space in his church for the fruits of the earth, in
years of great abundance.’ Then the doctor went on to speak of a new
rose that he had just raised, a superb flower, its outer petals very
white and pure, and its heart warmed by a pronounced flush of carmine.
He had brought a bunch of the flowers, which had been placed in a
vase on the table, and Sœurette looking at it smiled once more at the
sight of that florescence all charm and perfume, though she still felt
saddened and tired by the violence which nowadays marked the quarrels
attending her Tuesday lunches. If things went on in that fashion, it
would soon be impossible for them to see one another.
And it was only now that Jordan emerged from his reverie. He had
not ceased to appear attentive, as if indeed he were listening to
the others. But he made a remark which showed how far away his mind
had been. ‘Do you know,’ exclaimed he, ‘that a learned electrician
in America has succeeded in storing enough solar heat to produce
When the priest, the schoolmaster, and the doctor had departed and Luc
found himself alone with the Jordans profound silence fell. The thought
of all the poor men who tore one another and crushed one another in
their blind struggle for happiness rent the young man’s heart. As time
went by, seeing with what difficulty one worked for the common weal,
having to contend against the revolts even of those whom one worked to
save, Luc was sometimes seized with discouragement which he would not
as yet confess, but which left both his limbs and his mind strengthless
as after some great useless exertion. For a moment his will would
capsize and seem on the point of sinking. And again that day he raised
his cry of distress: ‘But they don’t love! If they loved all would
prove fruitful, all would grow and triumph in the sunlight!’
A few days later, one autumn morning, at a very early hour, Sœurette
experienced a terrible heart-blow which threw her into the greatest
anguish. She invariably rose betimes, and that morning she was going to
give some orders at a dairy which she had established for the infants
of her _créche_, when, as she went along the terrace which ended at
the pavilion occupied by Luc, it occurred to her to glance down at the
road which the terrace overlooked. And precisely at that moment the
door of the pavilion opening into the road was set ajar, and she saw a
woman steal out, a woman of slender form, who immediately afterwards
disappeared amidst the pinkish morning mist. Nevertheless Sœurette had
time to recognise her: it was Josine, leaving Luc at break of day.
Since Ragu’s departure from La Crêcherie Josine, indeed, had returned
to see Luc every now and then. On this occasion she had come to tell
him that she should not again return, for she feared lest she might
be surprised when leaving her home or returning thither by some of
her inquisitive neighbours. Moreover, the idea of lying and hiding
herself in order to join the man whom she regarded as a god had become
so painful to her that she preferred to await the day when she might
proclaim her love aloud. Luc, understanding her, had resigned himself
to this separation; but how full of passion and despair was their hour
of farewell! They lingered there, exchanging vows, and the daylight
had already come when Josine was at last able to tear herself away.
Only the morning mist in some degree veiled her flitting, though not
sufficiently to prevent Jordan’s sister from recognising her.
Sœurette, in the shock of her discovery, had stopped short, rooted to
the spot, as if she saw the earth opening before her. Such was her
agitation, such a buzzing filled her ears, that at first she could not
reason. She forgot that she was going to the dairy to give an order,
and all at once she fled, retracing her steps at a run, returning
to the house and climbing wildly to her room, the door of which she
locked behind her. And then she flung herself upon her bed, striving
to cover both her eyes and her ears with her hands, so that she might
see and hear nothing more. She did not weep, she had not recovered full
consciousness as yet, but a feeling of awful desolation, blended with
boundless fright, filled her being.
Why did she suffer thus, why did she feel such a rending within her?
She had hitherto thought herself to be simply Luc’s affectionate
friend, his disciple and helper, one who was passionately devoted to
the work which he was striving to accomplish. Yet now she was all
aglow, shaken by burning fever, and this because her eyes could ever
picture that other woman quitting him at daybreak. Did she love Luc
then? And had she only become conscious of it on the day when it was
too late for her to win his love? That, indeed, was the disaster: to
learn in such a brutal fashion that she loved, and that another already
possessed the heart over which she might perchance have reigned like
some all-powerful, beloved queen. All the rest vanished: she recalled
neither how her love had sprung up, nor how it had grown, nor how
it was that she had remained ignorant of it, artless still in her
thirtieth year, happy simply in the enjoyment of affectionate intimacy,
untouched till now by passion’s dart. Her tears gushed forth at last,
and she sobbed over her discovery, over the sudden obstacle which had
risen to part her from the man to whom unknowingly she had given both
heart and soul. And now naught but the knowledge of her love existed
for her; and she asked herself, What should she do–how should she
succeed in making herself loved? For it seemed impossible that she
should not be loved in return, since she herself loved and would never
cease to love. Now that her love was known to her, it began to consume
her heart, and she felt that she would no longer be able to live unless
it were shared. At the same time all remained confusion within her,
she struggled amidst vague and contradictory thoughts, obscure plans,
like a woman who, despite her years, has remained childish and suddenly
finds herself confronted by the torturing realities of life.
Long must she have remained striving to annihilate herself, with her
face close pressed to her pillow. The sun climbed the heavens, the
morning sped on; and yet in her increasing distress she could devise no
practical solution for the problem that tortured her. Ever and ever did
the haunting questions come back: how would she manage to say that she
loved, and how would she manage to secure love in return? All at once,
however, she bethought herself of her brother. It was in him that she
must confide, since he alone really knew her–knew that her heart had
never lied. He was a man, he would surely understand her, and he would
teach her what it is meet for one to do when a craving for happiness
possesses one. Accordingly, without reasoning any further, she sprang
off her bed and went downstairs to the laboratory, like a child who has
at last discovered a solution for its grief.

That morning Jordan himself had experienced a disastrous check. Of
recent months he had believed that he had devised a safe and cheap
system for the transport of electric force. He burnt coal beside the
pit it came from, and he carried electricity over long distances
without the slightest loss of power, in such wise as to lessen cost
price considerably. He had given four years of study to that problem
amidst all the recurring ailments to which his puny frame was subject.
He made the best use possible of his weak health, sleeping a great
deal, wrapped round with rugs, and then methodically employing the few
hours which he was able to wrest from his unkind mother Nature. For
fear of disturbing his studies, the crisis through which La Crêcherie
was passing had been hidden from him. He thought that things were
going on satisfactorily at the works, and, besides, it was out of the
question for him to take any interest in such matters, cloistered as he
was in his laboratory, absorbed in his work, apart from which nothing
seemed to exist in the whole world. That very morning at an early
hour he had resumed his studies, feeling his mind to be quite clear,
and wishing to profit by it, in order to make a last experiment. And
that experiment had absolutely failed; he found himself confronted by
an unforeseen obstacle, some error in his calculations, some detail
which he had neglected, and which suddenly became important and
all-destructive, indefinitely postponing the solution that he had long
sought with respect to his electrical furnaces.
It was the downfall of his hopes: so much hard work had yielded
nothing, so much more of it would be necessary! Yet he remained calm,
and had just wrapped himself in his rugs again, and ensconced himself
in the arm-chair in which he spent so many hours, when his sister came
into the laboratory. She looked so pale, so greatly distressed, that
he immediately felt anxious on her account, he who had witnessed the
failure of his experiment with unruffled brow, like a man whom nothing
can discourage.
‘What is the matter, my dear?’ he asked her; ‘are you not well?’
Her confession in no wise embarrassed her. Without any hesitation, like
a poor creature whose heart opens with a sob, she said: ‘The matter,
brother dear, is that I love Luc, and that he does not love me. Ah! I
am very unhappy!’
Then, simple and artless, she told her brother the whole story–how she
had seen Josine leaving the pavilion, and how she had then felt such
a heart-pang that she had come in search of consolation and cure: she
loved Luc, and Luc did not love her!
Jordan listened in a state of stupefaction, as if she had apprised him
of some unexpected, extraordinary cataclysm.
‘You love Luc! you love Luc!’ he repeated. ‘Love, why love?’ The
thought that love possessed that fondly treasured sister whom he had
always seen beside him like his second self, filled him with amazement.
He had never thought that she might some day love, and from that cause
become unhappy. Love was a craving of which he himself knew nothing, a
sphere into which he had never entered. And thus, artless and ignorant
as he himself was, his embarrassment became extreme.
‘Oh! tell me, brother, why does Luc love that Josine, why does he not
love me?’ Sœurette repeated. She was sobbing now. She had wound her
arms around her brother’s neck, resting her head upon his shoulder, so
weighed down by distress that he was utterly distracted. And yet what
could he say to console her?
‘I don’t know, little sister; I don’t know,’ he answered. ‘No doubt
he loves her because it is his nature to love. There can be no other
reason. He would love you if he had loved you the first.’
There was truth in this. Luc loved Josine because she was an _amorosa_,
a woman of charm and passion, whom he had found suffering, and who had
kindled into flame all the love of his heart. And besides, beauty was
hers, with the passion which peoples the world.
‘But, brother,’ said Sœurette, ‘he knew me before he knew her, so why
did he not love me first?’
More and more embarrassed by these questions, Jordan anxiously sought
for delicate and kindly words: ‘Perhaps,’ he answered, ‘it was because
he lived here like a friend, a brother. He has become a brother for you
and me.’
Whilst speaking thus, Jordan looked at his sister, and this time he
did not tell her all that he thought. He observed her resemblance to
himself. She was so slender, so frail, so insignificant. She did not
represent love; she was too pale and puny. Charming no doubt, very
gentle and very kind; but then, ever clad in black, sombre-looking and
sad, as are all the silent and devoted ones. For Luc she had never been
aught but an intelligent and a benevolent creature.
‘You will understand, little sister,’ Jordan presently resumed, ‘that
if he has become as it were your brother and mine, he cannot love you
in the same way as he loves Josine. Such a thing would not have entered
his mind. But none the less I am sure that he loves you a great deal;
he loves you indeed all the more, as much in fact as I myself love you.’
But Sœœurette would not admit it. Her whole being protested dolorously,
and amidst a fresh explosion of sobs she cried her distress aloud: ‘No,
no; he does not love me the more; he does not love me at all! To love
a woman as a brother! what is that when I suffer as I am suffering
now that I see him lost to me? If I knew naught of all those things a
little while ago, at least I divine them now, and I feel as if I should
die–yes, die!’
Like herself, Jordan was becoming more and more distressed, and only
with difficulty was he able to restrain his tears. ‘Little sister,
little sister,’ said he, ‘you grieve me deeply. It is scarcely
reasonable of you to make yourself ill like this. I no longer recognise
you. You are usually so calm and sensible, and you are well aware what
firmness of spirit one ought to evince in order to resist the worries
of life.’
Then he wished to reason with her. ‘Come,’ he said, ‘you have no
reproach to address to Luc?’
‘Oh! none. I know that he has a great deal of affection for me. We are
very good friends,’ she answered plaintively.
‘Then you must not complain. He loves you as he is able to love, and
you do wrong in getting angry with him.’
‘But I am not angry! I have no hate for anybody; I only suffer.’
Again did her sobs burst forth; again did distress master her, and
wring from her lips the cry: ‘Why does he not love me? Why does he not
love me?’
‘If he does not love you as you desire to be loved, little sister,’
said Jordan, ‘it is because he does not know you well enough. No, he
does not know you as I do; he does not know that you are the best,
the gentlest, the most devoted and affectionate of women. You would
have been a fit companion and helper; the one that makes life’s
pathway softer and easier. But the other came with her beauty, and
that assuredly was a powerful force, since he followed her without
perceiving you, and this although you already loved him. Come, my dear,
you must resign yourself.’
He had taken her in his arms, and he kissed her hair. But she still
went on struggling.
‘No! no! I cannot.’
‘Yes, you will resign yourself; you are too good, too intelligent to do
otherwise. Some day you will forget.’
‘No! Never!’
‘I did wrong to say that; I will not ask you to forget. Keep the
memory of it in your heart. But I do ask you to be resigned, because
I well know that you are capable of resignation, even to the point of
sacrifice. Think of all the disasters which would follow if you were
to rebel–to speak out! Our life would be broken up, our enterprises
shattered, and you would suffer a thousand times more than you do now.’
She interrupted him, quivering: ‘Well, let our life be broken up! let
our enterprises be shattered! At least I shall have satisfied myself.
It is cruel of you, brother, to speak to me like that. You are an
‘An egotist!’ replied Jordan. ‘When I am only thinking of you, my dear
little sister. At this moment grief is turning your wonted kindliness
to exasperation. But how bitter would be your remorse if I were to
allow you to destroy everything! You would no longer be able to live in
presence of the ruins that you would have piled up. Poor, dear girl!
you will resign yourself, and find happiness in abnegation and pure
Tears were choking him, and their sobs mingled. That battle between
brother and sister, both so artless and so loving, was fraught with the
most exquisite fraternal affection. In a tone of intense compassion,
blended with boundless kindliness, Jordan repeated: ‘You will resign
yourself; you will resign yourself.’
She still protested, but like one who is surrendering. Her moan now was
that of a poor, stricken creature whose hurt one strives to soothe:
‘Oh, no! I cannot, I do not resign myself.’
* * * * *
As it happened, Luc that very day was to take _déjeuner_ with the
Jordans, and when at half-past eleven he joined the brother and sister
in the laboratory, he found them still agitated, with red, blurred
eyes. But he himself was so distressed, so downcast, that he noticed
nothing. Josine’s farewell, the necessity of that separation, filled
him with despair. The severance of the love which he deemed essential
for his mission seemed to deprive him of his last strength. If he did
not save Josine he would never save the unhappy multitude to whom he
had given his heart. And that day, from the moment of rising, all the
obstacles which hindered his advance had risen up before him like
insurmountable impediments. A black vision of La Crêcherie had appeared
to him. La Crêcherie on the path to ruin, wrecked already, to such a
point indeed that it was madness to hope to save it. Men devoured one
another there; it had been impossible to establish brotherly accord
between them; every human fatality weighed upon the enterprise. And
thus, bowed down by the most frightful discouragement he had ever
known, Luc lost his faith. The heroism within him wavered; he was
almost on the point of renouncing his task, fearing as he did that
defeat was near at hand.
Sœurette noticed his perturbation directly she saw him, and, with
divine solicitude, she expressed her anxiety: ‘Are you not well, my
friend?’ she asked him.
‘No, I do not feel well,’ he answered. ‘I spent an awful morning. I
have heard of nothing but misfortunes since I rose.’
She did not insist, but gazed at him with increasing anxiety, wondering
what his sufferings could be, since he loved and was loved in return.
To hide in some slight degree her own intense emotion, she had seated
herself at her little table, and pretended to be writing out some notes
for her brother; whilst the latter, who now seemed overwhelmed, again
lay back in his arm-chair.
‘In that case, my good Luc,’ said he, ‘none of us is any better off
than the others; for if I felt well enough when I got up this morning,
I have since had no end of worry.’
For a moment Luc walked about the room, silent, with a frown upon
his face. He came and went, pausing at times before one of the large
windows to glance over La Crêcherie, the budding town, whose roofs
spread out before him. At last, unable to restrain his despair any
longer, he exploded: ‘I must speak out, my friend. I owe you the truth.
We did not wish to worry you in the midst of your researches, and we
have hitherto hidden from you the fact that things are going on very
badly at La Crêcherie. Our men are leaving us; disunion and revolt have
sprung up among them, the fruit of egotism and hatred. All Beauclair
is rising against us, the traders, and even the workmen themselves,
whose long-acquired habits we interfere with; and thus our position is
day by day becoming more and more disquieting. I don’t know if I see
things in too gloomy a light this morning, but they appear to me to be
beyond cure. Everything seems to be lost, and I cannot hide from you
any longer that we are going towards a catastrophe.’
Jordan listened with an expression of astonishment, though he remained
very calm. He even smiled slightly: ‘Are you not exaggerating things a
little, my friend?’ said he.
‘Suppose that I am exaggerating; suppose that ruin will not actually
fall on us to-morrow, none the less I should be acting wrongly if
I failed to tell you that I fear ruin is approaching. When I asked
you for your land and your money, to undertake that work of social
salvation which I dreamt of, did I not promise you not only the
accomplishment of something great and beautiful, worthy of a man like
you, but also a good investment? And now it appears that I did not
speak the truth, for your money is likely to be swallowed up in the
disaster. Is it not natural therefore that I should be haunted by
Jordan tried to interrupt him by waving his hand, as if to say that the
pecuniary question was of no importance. But Luc continued: ‘It is not
merely a question of the large sums which have already been swallowed
up; more money is, each day, becoming necessary to continue the
struggle. And I no longer dare to ask it of you; for if I can sacrifice
myself entirely, I have no right to pull you and your sister down with
He sank upon a chair like one overcome, whilst Sœurette, still very
pale, and seated at her little table, looked both at him and at her
brother, awaiting developments in a state of deep emotion.
‘Ah, really! so things are so very bad,’ Jordan quietly resumed. ‘Yet
your idea was a very good one; you ended by convincing me of that.
I did not hide from you that I took no personal interest in such
political and social enterprises, being convinced that science is
the only revolutionary, and will alone bring about the evolution of
to-morrow, leading man towards truth and justice in their entirety.
But your theory of solidarity was so beautiful. Sitting at this window
after my day’s work, I often looked at your town, and it was with
interest that I saw it growing. It amused me; and I said to myself that
I was working for it, since electricity would one day prove its chief
helpmate. Must everything be abandoned, then?’
A cry of supreme renunciation came from Luc: ‘My energy is exhausted,’
he exclaimed, ‘I have no courage left, all my faith has departed. It
is all over, and I came to tell you that I am prepared to abandon
everything rather than impose a fresh sacrifice upon you. How could you
give me the money which we should need? How could I even have audacity
enough to ask you for it?’
Never had man raised a more despairing cry. This was the evil hour,
the black hour, well known to all heroes, all apostles, the hour when
grace departs, when the mission becomes obscured, and the task appears
impossible. Forsooth a passing defeat, a momentary spell of cowardice,
accompanied, however, by the most frightful suffering.
But Jordan again smiled quietly. He did not immediately answer the
remark which Luc with a shudder had addressed to him respecting the
large amount of money which would be needed if the work were to be
carried on. In a chilly way he pulled his rugs over his spare limbs,
then gently said: ‘Do you know, my good friend, I’m not very well
pleased either. Yes, a perfect disaster befell me this morning. You
know how I thought that I had planned a perfect scheme for transmitting
electric force cheaply and without any loss over long distances. Well,
I was mistaken; I have discovered nothing of what I thought I had. An
experiment which I made this morning by way of checking everything
failed completely, and I have convinced myself that it is necessary to
begin all over again. That means a fresh labour of years, and you will
understand how worrying it is to encounter defeat when one imagines
victory to be certain.’
Sœurette had turned towards her brother, quite upset at hearing of that
defeat of which she had hitherto been ignorant. In like manner Luc,
prompted to compassion by his own despair, stretched out his hand in
order to grasp his friend’s with brotherly sympathy. And Jordan alone
remained calm, apart from the slight feverish tremulousness which
always came over him when he had exerted himself unduly.
‘In that case what do you intend to do?’ Luc inquired.
‘What do I intend to do, my good friend? Why, I shall set to work
again. I shall make a fresh start to-morrow; I shall begin my work
anew from the very beginning. There is evidently nothing else to be
done. It is simple enough. You hear me! One ought never to throw up a
task. If it needs twenty years, thirty years, a whole lifetime, one
still ought to persevere with it. If one makes a mistake, one must
retrace one’s steps and go over the whole ground afresh as many times
as may be necessary. Obstacles and hindrances are inevitable on the
road, and must be anticipated. A task, an _œuvre_, however, is like
a sacred child, and it would be criminal not to persevere during the
period of gestation. There is some of our blood in it, we have no right
to refuse to perfect it, we owe it all our strength, soul, flesh, and
mind. Even as a mother dies at times through the dear little one whom
she hopes to bring into the world, so should we be ready to die if our
task exhaust us. And if it does not cost us life, we have but one thing
to do when it is accomplished, and that is to begin another, never
pausing, but taking up one task after another as long as we are erect,
full of intelligence and virility.’
As Jordan spoke he seemed to become tall and strong–shielded against
all discouragement by his belief in human effort, convinced of
conquering provided that he devoted to the fight the last drop of blood
in his veins. And to Luc, who was listening, it seemed as if a gust of
energy came to him from that weak and puny being.
‘Work! work!’ continued Jordan; ‘there is no other force in the world.
When one has set one’s faith in work one is invincible. Why should we
doubt of to-morrow since it is we ourselves who create to-morrow by
our work to-day? All that is now being sown by our work will prove
to-morrow’s harvest. Ah! holy work, creative, all-saving work, thou art
my life, the one sole reason why I live!’
His eyes wandered afar as communing with himself he repeated those last
words–that hymn to work which ever returned to his lips in moments of
great emotion. And once again he related how work had ever consoled
and sustained him. If he were still alive it was because he had taken
into his life a task for which he had regulated all the functions of
his being. He was convinced that he would not die so long as his work
should remain unfinished. Bad as was his health, he had never entered
his laboratory without feeling relief. How many times had he not sat
down to his task with pain-racked limbs and tearful heart; yet on each
occasion work had healed him. His uncertainties, his infrequent moments
of discouragement had only come from his hours of idleness.
All at once he turned towards Luc with his kindly smile, and said by
way of conclusion: ‘You see, my friend, if you let La Crêcherie die,
you yourself will die of it. That task is your very life, and you must
live it to the end.’
Luc had risen, upbuoyed once more, for his friend’s faith in work, his
passionate love for his chosen task, filled him again with a spirit of
heroism and restored both his faith and his strength. In his hours of
lassitude and doubt there was nothing like the bath of energy which he
found beside Jordan, that weak and sickly friend of his from whom peace
and certainty seemed to radiate.
‘Ah! you are right,’ he cried; ‘I am a coward, I feel ashamed that
I despaired. Human happiness only exists in the glorification and
reorganisation of all-saving work. It will found our city. But then, my
friend, that money–all that money which must again be risked!’
Jordan, exhausted by his own passionate outburst, was now drawing his
rugs more closely around his puny shoulders, and in a faint voice he
simply said, ‘I will give you the money. We will economise; we shall
always be able to get on. Here we need very little, you know–milk,
eggs, and fruit. Provided that I am still able to pay the expenses of
my experiments, the rest will be all right.’
Luc had caught hold of his hands, and was pressing them with deep
‘But my friend, my friend,’ said he; ‘there is your sister. Are we to
ruin her also?’
‘True,’ replied Jordan, ‘we have forgotten Sœurette.’
They turned towards her. She was silently weeping at her little table,
on which she had leant her elbows, whilst her chin rested between her
hands. Big tears were streaming down her cheeks. Her poor, tortured,
bleeding heart was venting all its woe. She, as well as Luc, had
been stirred to the depths of her being by all that she had heard.
Everything which her brother had said to his friend had resounded with
equal energy within her own heart. The necessity of work, of abnegation
in the presence of one’s task, did that not also mean acceptance of
life, whatever it might be, and resolution to live it loyally in order
that all possible harmony might accrue therefrom? Like Luc, she now
would have thought herself evil-minded and cowardly had she sought
to hinder the great work, had she not devoted herself to it even to
renunciation of all else besides. The great courage of her simple,
kindly, sublime nature had returned to her once more.
She rose and pressed a long kiss upon her brother’s brow; and whilst
she remained beside him, with her head resting on his shoulder, she
whispered to him gently, ‘Thank you, brother. You have healed me; I
will sacrifice myself.’
Luc, however, once again eager for action, was now bestirring himself.
He had gone back towards the window, and was gazing at the glow which
fell upon the roofs of La Crêcherie from the broad blue heavens. And
as he came back towards the others he once more repeated his favourite
cry: ‘Ah! they do not love! On the day they love all will prove
fruitful; all will spread, and grow, and triumph in the sunlight!’
Then, with a last quiver of her subjugated flesh, Sœurette, who had
affectionately drawn near to him, replied: ‘And one must love even
without wishing to be loved in return, for it is only by loving others
that the great work can ever be.’
Those words, from one who gave herself unreservedly, for the sole
joy of doing so and without hope of reward, were followed by a deep,
quivering silence. They no longer spoke, but all three, united by close
brotherliness, gazed towards the greenery amidst which the rising city
of justice and happiness would gradually but ever spread its roofs, now
that so much love was sown.