By way of conclusion he took up the two others

During yet another ten years the city continued growing, and organising
new society in accordance with the principles of justice and peace. And
at last, one 20th of June, on the eve of one of the great Festivals of
Work, which took place four times a year, coinciding with the seasons,
Bonnaire met with a strange experience.
He, Bonnaire, now nearly eighty-five years of age, had become the
patriarch, the hero of work. Still straight and tall, with an energetic
head under a crown of thick white hair, he remained active and gay,
in the enjoyment of good health. Old revolutionary that he was, a
theoretical Collectivist pacified by the sight of his comrades’
happiness, he now tasted all the reward of his long efforts–the
conquest of that harmonious solidarity amidst which he saw his
grandchildren and great-grandchildren growing in all felicity.
That evening then, just as the daylight was waning, Bonnaire happened
to be strolling near the entrance of the Brias gorges. He often walked
abroad in this fashion, with the sole assistance of a stick, for the
pleasure of viewing the countryside once more and recalling old-time
memories. On this occasion he had just reached the spot where in
former days had stood the gates of the Abyss, which had long since
disappeared. Near that spot also a wooden bridge had once spanned the
Mionne, but no trace of it remained, for the torrent had been covered
over for a distance of about a hundred yards, to admit of the passage
of a broad boulevard.
What changes there were! thought Bonnaire. Who would ever have
recognised the former black and muddy threshold of the accursed factory
in that broad, open space, over which there now passed a quiet,
bright-looking avenue, lined with smiling houses? As he lingered there
for a moment, erect and handsome, like the happy old man he was, he
experienced great surprise on perceiving another old man, a stranger,
huddled up on a wayside bench near him. And this other seemed to have
been wrecked by misery, for his clothes were in tatters, his face
ravaged and bushy with hair, his frame emaciated and trembling as if
with some evil fever.
‘A poor man!’ muttered Bonnaire, speaking aloud in his astonishment.
It was certainly a poor man, and years had now gone by since Bonnaire
had seen one. It was evident, however, that he who sat on the bench did
not belong to the region. His shoes and clothes were white with dust,
and he must have sunk upon that bench near the entry of the town from
sheer fatigue, after tramping the roads for days and days. His staff
and his empty wallet had fallen from his weary hands and lay at his
feet. With an air of exhaustion he let his gaze wander around him, like
one who is lost, who knows not where he may be.
Full of pity Bonnaire drew near to him. ‘Can I help you, my poor
fellow?’ he asked; ‘your strength is exhausted, and you seem to be in
great distress.’
Then, as the other did not answer, but still let his eyes roam in
a scared way from one point of the horizon to the other, Bonnaire
continued: ‘Are you hungry? do you need a good bed? Let me guide
you–you will here find all the help you need.’
Thereupon the old and wretched-looking beggar began to stammer in a low
voice, as if speaking to himself: ‘Beauclair, Beauclair–is this really
Beauclair?’
‘Of course it is; you are at Beauclair, that’s certain,’ declared the
former master-puddler with a smile. But on seeing the other give signs
of increasing surprise and anxiety, he ended by understanding the
truth: ‘You knew Beauclair formerly, no doubt,’ said he. ‘It is perhaps
a long time since you were last here?’
‘Yes, it was more than fifty years ago,’ the stranger answered in a
husky voice.
Then Bonnaire burst into good-natured laughter. ‘In that case I am
not astonished if you find a difficulty in recognising the place,’
he retorted. ‘There have been some changes. For instance, here the
Abyss works have disappeared, whilst yonder the sordid hovels of
old Beauclair have been razed to the ground. And you can see that a
new city has been built; the park of La Crêcherie has spread over
everything, invading the former town with its greenery and turning it
into a vast garden, where the little white houses peep brightly from
among the trees. And thus one naturally has to reflect before one can
recognise the place.’
The stranger had followed the explanations, turning his glance upon
the various points which Bonnaire with gentle gaiety indicated. But
again he wagged his head as if he could not believe what was told him.
‘No, no,’ said he, ‘I don’t recognise it; this can’t be Beauclair.
Yonder are the two promontories of the Bleuse Mountains, between which
the Brias gorge opens; and yonder, too, far away, is the plain of La
Roumagne. That’s certain, but all the rest–those fine gardens and
those houses belong to some other spot, some wealthy and smiling land
which I never saw before. Ah! well, I shall have to walk further; I
must have made a mistake in the road.’
After picking up his staff and his wallet, he was making an effort to
rise from the bench when his eyes at last rested on the old man who
had shown himself so obliging and friendly. And at the first glance
which he gave Bonnaire he shuddered, and became anxious to depart.
Had he recognised Bonnaire then, although he could not recognise the
town? Bonnaire, for his part, was so stirred by the sudden flame which
shot from the other’s hairy countenance that he examined him more
attentively. Where had he previously seen those bright eyes, which
blazed in moments of savage violence? All at once his memory awoke, and
in his turn he shuddered, whilst all the past lived anew in the cry
which burst from his lips:
‘Ragu!’
For fifty years people had believed him to be dead! But the crushed
and mutilated body found in a gorge of the Bleuse Mountains, on the
morrow of his flight, after his crime, had not been his. He lived,
he lived, good heavens! He had come back, and to Bonnaire that
extraordinary resurrection after so many events and so many years
brought anguish–anguish respecting all that had happened in the past,
and all that might happen to-morrow.
‘Ragu, Ragu, it is you!’ Bonnaire repeated.
The other already had his staff in his hand, his wallet on his
shoulder. But as he was recognised why should he go off? It was certain
now that he had not mistaken his road.
‘It’s me, sure enough, my old Bonnaire,’ he replied; ‘and since you are
still alive, though you are ten years older than I, I have certainly a
right to be alive also–though it’s true that I’m very battered.’
Then, in the jeering tone of former times, he resumed: ‘So you give me
your word for it, that splendid big garden yonder, with those pretty
houses, is really Beauclair? Well, since I’ve got here, I’ve only to
look for an inn where they’ll let me sleep in a corner of the stables.’
Why had he come back? What plans were rife under that bald skull,
behind that wrinkled face, ravaged by so many years of evil and
vagabond life? Bonnaire, who grew more and more anxious, could already
picture Ragu disturbing the festival on the morrow by some scandal or
other. He dared not question him at once, but he felt that it would
be best to have him in his charge. Moreover, he was full of pity; his
heart was quite stirred at finding the unhappy man in such a state of
destitution.
‘There are no more inns,’ he answered; ‘you will have to come to my
place. You’ll be able to eat as much as you like there, and you will
sleep in a comfortable bed. Then we can have a chat. You’ll tell me
what you want, and I’ll help you to content yourself if possible.’
But Ragu jeered again: ‘Oh! what I want,’ he retorted–‘why, the wishes
of an old beggar like me, more or less infirm, are of no account at
all. What I want, indeed! Why, I wanted to see you all again, to give a
glance in passing at the place where I was born. The idea worried me,
and I shouldn’t have died easy in mind if I hadn’t come for a stroll in
this direction. That’s a thing anybody may do, isn’t it? The roads are
still free.’
‘No doubt.’
‘Well, so I started–oh! years ago. When a man’s got bad legs and never
a copper, he doesn’t make much progress. All the same, one reaches
one’s destination at last, since here I am. And, it’s understood, let’s
go to your place, since you offer me hospitality like a good comrade.’
The night was falling, and the two old men were able to cross new
Beauclair without being remarked. On the way Ragu’s astonishment
increased; he glanced to right and to left, but could not recognise
a single spot. At last, when Bonnaire stopped before one of the most
charming of the dwellings, a house standing amidst a clump of fine
trees, an exclamation escaped Ragu, showing that he still retained his
ideas of former times: ‘What! you’ve made your fortune; you’ve become a
_bourgeois_ now!’
The former master-puddler began to laugh. ‘No, no; I’ve never been
anything but a workman, and I’m only one to-day. But in a sense it’s
true that we’ve all made our fortunes and all become _bourgeois_.’
As if his envious fears were quieted by that answer, Ragu began to
sneer once more: ‘A workman can’t be a _bourgeois_,’ said he, ‘and if a
man still works it’s because he hasn’t made his fortune.’
‘All right, my good fellow, we’ll have a chat about it, and I’ll
explain things to you. Meantime go in, go in.’
Bonnaire for the time being was dwelling alone in this house, which was
that of his granddaughter, Claudine, now the wife of Charles Froment.
Daddy Lunot had long since been dead, and his daughter, Ragu’s sister,
the terrible Toupe, had followed him to his grave during the previous
year, after a frightful quarrel, which, as she expressed it, had turned
her blood. When Ragu heard of the loss of his sister and father, he
simply made a little gesture, as if to say that by reason of their age
he had anticipated it. After an absence of half a century one is not
surprised to find nobody one knew left among the living.
‘So here we are in the house of my granddaughter, Claudine,’ continued
Bonnaire; ‘she’s the daughter of my eldest son, Lucien, who married
Louise Mazelle, the daughter of the Rentiers, whom you must remember.
Claudine herself has married Charles Froment, a son of the master of
La Crêcherie. But she and Charles have taken their daughter Aline, a
little girl of eight, to see an aunt at Formeries, and they won’t be
back till to-morrow evening.’ Then he concluded gaily: ‘For some months
now the children have taken me to live with them, by way of petting me.
Come, the house is ours; you must eat and drink your fill, and then
I’ll show you to your bed. To-morrow, when it’s daylight, we’ll see to
all the rest.’
Ragu’s head swam as he listened. All those names, those marriages,
those three generations flitting by at a gallop quite scared him. How
was he ever to understand things when so many unknown events and so
many marriages and births had taken place? He did not speak again, but,
seated at a well-spread table, ate some cold meat and fruit ravenously
in the gay room, which was brilliantly illumined by an electric lamp.
The comfort and ease which he felt around him must have weighed heavily
upon the old vagabond’s shoulders, for he seemed yet more aged, more
utterly ‘done for,’ as with his face lowered over his plate he devoured
the food, glancing askance the while at all the encompassing happiness
in which he had no share. His very silence, his downcast mien at the
sight of so much comfort, was expressive of all his long stored-up
rancour, his powerless thirst for vengeance, his now irrealisable dream
of triumphing and seeing disaster fall on others. And Bonnaire, again
uneasy at the sight of his gloominess, wondered through what adventures
he had rolled during the last half-century, and felt more and more
astonished at finding him still alive and in such destitution.
‘Where have you come from?’ he ended by inquiring.
‘Oh, from everywhere more or less!’ Ragu answered with a sweeping
gesture.
‘Ah! so you’ve seen a good many countries and people and things?’
‘Oh, yes; in France, Germany, England and America, and elsewhere. I’ve
dragged my carcase, indeed, from one end of the world to the other.’
Then, lighting his pipe, he gave Bonnaire, before retiring to bed,
some idea of his life as a wanderer, in rebellion against work, idle
by nature and coveting enjoyment. He typified the spoilt fruit of the
wage-system–the wage-earner who dreams of suppressing the masters in
order to take their place, and in his turn crush down his fellows. In
his estimation there could be no other happiness than that of making a
big fortune and enjoying it, with the satisfaction that one had known
how to exploit the misery of the poor. And, violent in language, but
all the same cowardly in the master’s presence, dishonest, addicted
to drink, and incapable of steady work, he had rolled from workshop
to workshop, from country to country, at times dismissed, at others
impelled by some silly whim to take himself off. He had never been
able to put a copper by, wherever he had found himself want had become
his companion, each succeeding year bringing about a fresh decline in
his fortunes. When old age arrived it was a wonder that he did not
die, famished and forsaken, in some gutter. Until he was nearly sixty,
however, he had still found some petty jobs to do. Then he had stranded
in a hospital, but had been obliged to leave it, though only to fall
into another one. For the last fifteen years he had thus been clinging
to life–how, he could hardly tell; and now he begged and tramped the
roads for the crust of bread and truss of straw that he needed. And
nothing of his old nature had departed from him, neither his covert
rage and jealousy, nor his eager desire to be a master and enjoy
himself.
Restraining a flood of questions which rose to his lips, Bonnaire at
last exclaimed, ‘But all the countries you passed through must now be
in a state of revolution! I know very well that we have progressed
quickly here, and are in advance of the others. But the whole world is
now stirring, is it not?’
‘Yes, yes,’ Ragu answered in his jeering way, ‘they are fighting and
building up a new society on all sides, but all that did not prevent me
from starving.’
He had passed through strikes and terrible risings in Germany, in
England, and especially in the United States. In all the countries
through which his rancour and idleness had carried him, he had
witnessed tragic events. The last empires were crumbling, republics
were springing up in their place, while frontiers were being suppressed
by the confederation of neighbouring nations. It was like a smash
up of the ice at the advent of springtide, when the ice melts and
disappears, uncovering the fertilised soil, where germs sprout and
flower forth in a few days, under the glow of the great brotherly sun.
All mankind was certainly in evolution, busying itself at last with the
foundation of the happy city. But he, Ragu, bad workman, discontented
reveller that he was, had simply suffered from all the catastrophes he
had witnessed, merely encountering blows therein without ever finding
an opportunity even to pillage a rich man’s cellar, and, for once in
his life, drink his fill. Nowadays, having become a confirmed old
vagabond and beggar, he cared not a curse for the so-called city of
justice and peace. It would not bring him back his twentieth birthday,
it would not give him a palace full of slaves, where he might have
ended his days amidst a round of pleasures, like the kings that books
speak of. And he jeered bitterly at the idiocy of the human race which
took so much trouble to prepare a somewhat cleaner social edifice for
the great-grandchildren of the next century–an edifice which the men
of nowadays would only know in dreams!
‘But that dream has long sufficed for happiness,’ quietly said
Bonnaire. ‘However, what you say is not true, the edifice is almost
rebuilt even now, and is very beautiful and healthy and gay. I will
show it to you to-morrow, and you will see if one does not taste
pleasure in dwelling in it.’
Then he explained that on the following day he would take Ragu to
witness one of the four Festivals of Work, which filled Beauclair with
delight on the first day of each season. Each of these festivals was
marked by some particular rejoicings appropriate to the seasons. The
one on the morrow, the summer festival, would be bright with all the
flowers and fruits of the earth, overflowing in prodigious abundance,
amidst the sovereign splendour of horizon and sky, in which the
powerful sun of June would blaze.
Ragu, however, relapsed into gloomy anxiety, a covert fear, indeed,
lest he should really find the ancient dream of social happiness
fulfilled at Beauclair. Was it a fact then that after traversing
so many countries where the society of to-morrow was coming forth
amidst such frightful struggles–was it a fact that he would behold
it virtually installed in that town, his own, whence he had fled on a
day of murderous madness? Had that happiness, for which he had sought
so frantically on all sides, come into being on his native spot,
during his absence? Had he returned merely to behold the felicity of
others, now that he himself could no longer expect any joy in life? The
idea that he had spoilt his existence to the very end seemed to him
like a supreme crushing blow amidst his misery and weariness whilst
he sat there silently finishing the bottle of wine which had been
placed before him. And when Bonnaire rose to show him to his room–a
sweet-smelling white room with a large white bed in it–he followed
with a heavy step, suffering from the open-handed brotherly hospitality
offered to him with such happy ease.
‘Sleep well, my good fellow,’ said Bonnaire, ’till to-morrow morning!’
‘Yes, till to-morrow–unless this cursed world should fall to pieces
during the night.’
Bonnaire, who also went to bed, found some difficulty in getting to
sleep, for he still felt worried with respect to Ragu’s intentions. He
had a dozen times resisted his desire to put plain questions to him on
the subject, from fear of provoking some dangerous explanation; for he
thought it might be preferable to keep the matter in reserve and act
hereafter according to circumstances. He feared some frightful scene;
for perhaps that wretched vagabond, maddened by want and disaster,
might have come back in order to provoke a scandal, insult Luc, insult
Josine, and even attempt murder again. Bonnaire therefore resolved
that he would not leave him alone for a moment on the following day.
Moreover, in his desire to show him everything at Beauclair, there
was the hope of morally paralysing him by an exhibition of such an
abundance of wealth and power as would make him realise how futile
would be the rage and rebellion of any one individual. When he should
have seen and learnt everything he would no longer dare to stir, his
defeat would be definitive. And thus Bonnaire at last fell asleep,
resolved on waging that final battle for the sake of general harmony,
peace, and love.
Already at six o’clock on the following morning a joyous flourish of
trumpets sped over the roofs of Beauclair, announcing the Festival of
Work. The sun was already high in the beautiful blue heavens. Windows
opened, greetings flew through the greenery from one house to another,
and one could feel that joy was already stirring the soul of the city,
whilst the trumpet calls continued, arousing from garden to garden the
cries of children and the laughter of loving couples.
Bonnaire, having quickly dressed himself, found Ragu up, washed and
clad in some clean garments, which had been laid for him the previous
evening on a chair. Now that he had well rested, the vagabond had
become quite the jeerer of former days, resolved upon deriding
everything and refusing to acknowledge the existence of the slightest
progress. On seeing his host enter he indulged once more in his old
evil insulting laugh.
‘I say, old man!’ he exclaimed, ‘what a row they make with those
trumpets! That must be precious disagreeable for those who don’t like
to be startled out of their sleep. Are you wakened every morning in
your barracks by that music?’
The old master-puddler preferred to find his guest in this mood. He
smiled quietly, and answered: ‘No, no, that’s only the _réveil_ of our
high days and holidays. On other mornings one can oversleep oneself if
one chooses, for the quiet is delightful. But when life’s so pleasant
one always gets up early, and only the infirm regret having to lie in
bed.’
Then, with his attentive kindness, he added: ‘Have you slept well? Did
you find everything you wanted?’
Ragu tried to make himself disagreeable again. ‘Oh! I can sleep
anywhere,’ said he. ‘For years past I’ve been sleeping among hayricks,
and they are worth the best beds in the world. It’s just the same as
regards all those inventions you have here–baths, and cold and hot
water taps, and electrical heating appliances, which you only have to
switch on. They may be useful, no doubt, when one’s in a hurry, but
it’s still preferable to wash in the river and warm oneself before
a good old stove.’ And, as his host did not reply, he concluded by
saying: ‘You have too much water in your houses, they must be damp!’
What blasphemy! The idea of it, those streaming beneficent waters, so
pure and so fresh, which were now the very health and joy and strength
of Beauclair, whose streets and gardens they bathed as with eternal
youth!
‘Our water is our friend, the good fairy of our happy destiny,’
Bonnaire replied. ‘You will see it gushing forth on every side and
fertilising our city. But come and have some breakfast; we will go out
directly afterwards.’
That first breakfast in the bright dining-room, illumined by the
rising sun, was delightful. On the white cloth there were eggs, milk,
and fruit, with bread which was so golden and smelt so sweet that one
could divine it had been kneaded by carefully worked machinery for a
happy people. And the old host lavished on his wretched guest the most
delicate attentions, a simple and affectionate hospitality, which set
an atmosphere of gentleness and kindness all around.
Whilst they ate they again began to chat. As on the previous evening,
Bonnaire prudently refrained from asking Ragu any direct questions. Yet
he felt persuaded that the other, after the fashion of all criminals,
had returned to the scene of his crime, consumed by an invincible
craving to behold it again and know what had taken place during his
absence. Was Josine still alive, and if so what was she doing? Had Luc
been saved from death, and had he taken her to live with him? At all
events, what had become of them both? Surely it was an ardent curiosity
with respect to all those matters which glittered in the vagabond’s
bright eyes. As he did not mention them, however–preferring apparently
to keep his secret locked within him–Bonnaire had to content himself
with putting into execution the plan which he had thought of the
previous night. Without mentioning Luc’s name he began to explain the
greatness of his work.
‘For you to understand things properly, my good fellow,’ said he, ‘it’s
necessary that I should tell you something about our position before we
take a stroll through Beauclair. We have now got to the triumph, the
full florescence of the movement, which was scarcely beginning when you
went away.’
Then he reverted to the origin of the evolution, the establishment of
the works of La Crêcherie, based on an association between capital,
labour, and brains, and its struggle with the Abyss, where the
barbarous wage-system had been enforced. At last the latter had been
vanquished and replaced, and La Crêcherie, with its pleasant white
houses, had gradually spread over the site of Old Beauclair, the
wretched home of want. Then Bonnaire showed how, both in a spirit of
imitation and by reason of the necessities of the position, all the
neighbouring works had ended by joining the original association; and
how in due course other groups had been formed, every calling of a
similar kind gradually being syndicated together, every family, as
it were, meeting and uniting. Then the co-operation of producers on
the one hand and of consumers on the other had completed the victory,
work being reorganised on a basis of human solidarity, and bringing
in its train a new form of society. There was now only four hours’
work a day, and it was work freely chosen and constantly varied, in
order that it might remain attractive; whilst machinery, the enemy of
former days, had at present become a docile slave, upon whom all great
efforts were cast. Then, moreover, the co-operation of consumers had
swept away old-time trade, which had simply absorbed so much energy
and gain. Huge general stores centralised products of all kinds, and
distributed them according to consumers’ needs, and in this manner
millions of money were saved, agiotage and theft abstracting nothing
on the way. Indeed, life was becoming greatly simplified: there was a
tendency towards the complete suppression of specie and the closing of
law courts and prisons; for disputes on matters of private interest
ceased, and no longer urged man against man in some mad fit of fraud,
pillage, or murder. Why should there be any crime left since there were
no more poor, no more disinherited ones, since brotherly peace was
being established more and more firmly every day, all being at last
convinced that individual happiness came from the happiness of all? A
long peace reigned, the blood tax–the conscription–had disappeared
like all other taxes; there were no longer any rates of any kind or
any prohibitive laws, but in lieu thereof full liberty for production
and exchange. And in particular, since the parasites–the innumerable
_employés_, functionaries, magistrates, barrack-men, and churchmen–had
been suppressed, the greatest wealth had set in, such a prodigious heap
of riches accumulating that from year to year the granaries became too
small and threatened to burst beneath the ever-growing abundance of the
public fortune.
‘That’s all right,’ interrupted Ragu when Bonnaire had reached this
point. ‘But all the same, the real pleasure is to do nothing; and if
you still work you are not a gentleman. To my idea there’s no getting
away from that. Besides, in one manner or another you are still paid,
so that you still have a wage-system. But you are converted, eh?–you,
who always demanded the absolute destruction of capital?’
Bonnaire laughed with joyous frankness. ‘It’s true, they’ve ended by
converting me,’ he said. ‘I believed in the necessity of a sudden
revolution, some stroke which would have placed power in our hands,
together with possession of the soil and all the instruments of work.
But how can one resist the force of experience? For so many years past
I’ve been witnessing here the assured victory of social justice and
brotherly happiness, which I dreamt of so long! And thus patience has
come to me; I’m weak enough–if you like to put it that way–to rest
content with to-day’s conquests, certain as I am of to-morrow’s final
victory. Of course, I’m ready to grant that a great deal remains to
be done–our liberty and justice are not complete, capital and the
wage-system must entirely disappear, the social pact must be rid of
all forms of authority, we must have the free individual in the free
community. And we try to act in such wise that our grandchildren’s
children may bring about the reign of justice and liberty in their
entirety.’
Then he explained the new educational methods which were in force, the
working of the _crèches_, schools, and apprenticeship workshops, the
adoption and cultivation of all the forms of energy springing from
the passions, and the up-bringing of boys and girls together with
the view of drawing yet closer the ties of love on which the city’s
strength would depend. The cause of greater freedom in the future
rested with the couples of to-morrow; it might be taken that each
generation growing up amidst an increase of equity and kindliness would
contribute its stone to the final edifice. Meantime, the city’s wealth
would continue accumulating now that the suppression of the right of
inheritance–almost entirely accomplished–prevented the building up of
huge, scandalous, and poisonous individual fortunes; in such wise that
the prodigious output of the work of all was becoming the property of
all. Such things as the State Funds were also falling to pieces, the
Rentiers, the idlers who lived on the work of others or on egotistical
savings of their own, were disappearing. All citizens were equally
rich, since the city–overflowing with work, freed from obstacles and
hindrances, preserved from waste and theft–was piling up such immense
wealth, that production would assuredly some day have to be moderated.
Enjoyments once reserved for a few privileged beings were to-day
already within the reach of all, and if family life remained simple the
public edifices had become wonderfully sumptuous, large enough to hold
huge multitudes, and so charming and so commodious as to be indeed true
palaces of the people, centres of enjoyment where it loved to live.
There were museums, and libraries, theatres, bathing establishments,
places for diversions of one and another kind, together with simple
‘porches,’ opening out of meeting and lecture halls which the whole
town frequented in its hours of rest. There was also a great number of
hospitals, special isolated hospitals, for each kind of disease, and
asylums which the infirm and the aged could enter freely; others, too,
particularly for mothers and children, for pregnant women, who were
carefully nursed from an early stage until their babes were born, and
they themselves had fully recovered their strength. In this wise the
new city affirmed its faith in motherhood and childhood–the mother
who is the source of eternal life, the child who is the victorious
messenger of the future.
‘And now,’ Bonnaire gaily concluded, ‘since you have finished
breakfast, let us go to see all those fine things, our Beauclair in its
festive gaiety. I shan’t spare you a single interesting nook of it.’
At this Ragu, who had resolved upon no surrender, simply shrugged his
shoulders, repeating what he deemed to be his decisive argument: ‘As
you like; but all the same you are not gentlemen, you are still poor
devils if you still work. Work’s your master, and, when all’s said,
you’ve remained a people of slaves.’
At the door of the house a little electric car with accommodation for
two persons was waiting. Similar cars were at the disposal of all. The
old master-puddler, who, despite his advanced years, had retained a
clear eyesight and a firm hand, made his companion get in, and then
took his own seat as driver.
‘You don’t mean to cripple me for good with this mechanism, eh?’ asked
Ragu.
‘No, no, don’t be alarmed. We get on very well together, electricity
and I,’ Bonnaire replied, adding: ‘You will find it everywhere; it is
the one force which drives our machinery, and it is in general use in
our homes, just like a domestic servant. Oh! it has been necessary to
produce it in incalculable quantities, and yet it seems that there’s
not enough, and that the former master of La Crêcherie is trying to
provide us with a still larger supply, in order that we may have
something like a planet blazing over Beauclair at night-time, and live
amidst the glow of eternal day.’
He laughed at this idea of putting all darkness to flight, whilst
the car glided rapidly along the broad avenues. Before exploring
Beauclair he proposed to go as far as Les Combettes, in order to show
his companion the magnificent estate which was changing La Roumagne
into a paradise of fertility. The festive morning was bright with
sunshine, the roads resounded with gaiety, laughter and songs arising
from all the other electric cars which were continually met on the
way. A great many foot passengers were also arriving from neighbouring
villages, mostly in bands, lads and girls brave in their ribbons, who
joyously saluted Bonnaire the patriarch. And on either side of the
road stretched a perfect sea of grain. Instead of the old-time narrow
patches of ground, badly manured and badly tilled, one found but
one sole, huge field, richly cultivated by thousands of associates.
Whenever the soil showed sign of impoverishment, the properties it
lacked were imparted to it by a chemical dressing; it was warmed,
too, and screened, and high cultivation brought forth two crops of
vegetables and fruit each season. Thanks to machinery, man was spared
many efforts: the harvests sprang up as if by enchantment over leagues
and leagues of ploughed land. It was even said that one would become
master of the clouds, directing them upon one or another point at one’s
will by means of electric currents, in such wise as to obtain days of
rain or days of sunshine, according to the needs of cultivation.
‘You see, my good fellow,’ resumed Bonnaire with a sweeping gesture,
‘we have the wherewithal for bread–bread for all, the bread to which
each acquires a right as soon as he is born.’
‘So you feed even those who don’t work?’ asked Ragu.
‘Certainly we do; but with very few exceptions only the sick and the
infirm refrain from working. When one’s in good health it bores one too
much to remain doing nothing.’
The car was now traversing some orchards, and the endless rows of
cherry trees covered with red fruit presented a delightful spectacle.
The apricots, farther on, were not yet ripe, and green was the fruit
which weighed down the apple and pear trees. Nevertheless there was
extraordinary abundance, enough dessert indeed for a whole nation until
the ensuing spring. But they were at last reaching Les Combettes.
The sordid village of former days had disappeared, and white houses
had been built among the greenery alongside the Grand-Jean, the once
filthy stream, which was now canalised, its pure water contributing to
all the surrounding fertility. One no longer beheld the country side
of the old times, all abandonment, dirt, and wretchedness, in which
the peasantry had wallowed for centuries with the obstinacy born of
routine and hatred of each other. The spirit of truth and liberty had
visited that spot, and an evolution had set in towards science and
harmony, enlightening minds, reconciling hearts, and bringing health,
wealth, and joy in its train. Since all had consented to co-operate the
happiness of each had come into being.
‘You remember old Combettes,’ said Bonnaire, ‘the hovels standing in
mud and dung, and the fierce-looking peasants, who complained of dying
of starvation? See what association has done for all that!’
In his savage jealousy, however, Ragu would not let himself be
convinced. With that hatred of work which had remained in his blood,
the hereditary hatred of a wage-earner chained to toil, he replied:
‘If they work they are not happy. Their happiness is mendacious; the
sovereign enjoyment is to do nothing.’ And though in former times he
had often reviled the priests, he now added: ‘Doesn’t the catechism say
that work is man’s punishment and mark of degradation? When once one
gets to heaven one has nothing to do there.’
On the way back to Beauclair the car passed La Guerdache, which was now
enlarged, and whose grounds were full of young mothers, their babes,
and playful children. But even the sight of that palace of the people
and its beautiful park did not influence Ragu. ‘After all, what’s the
value of luxury and enjoyment which everybody can share?’ said he. ‘A
thing that one can’t have entirely to oneself isn’t worth much.’
However, the little car was still speeding along, and they soon found
themselves in Beauclair once more. The town, as Ragu had remarked on
first perceiving it, did indeed present the aspect of a large garden.
The houses, instead of being pressed close one to the other, as in the
days of tyranny and terror, seemed to have dispersed in order that
their inmates might enjoy more freedom, quietude, and health. Land
cost nothing since all had been put in common from one to the other
promontory of the Bleuse Mountains. Why, therefore, should folk have
heaped themselves together when the whole great plain spread before
them? Are a few thousand square yards of land too much for a family
when so many immense tracts of the earth are absolutely uninhabited?
Thus, each family had chosen its lot, and had built according to its
fancy. Broad avenues ran past the gardens, supplying abundant means
of communication, but people were not required to build their houses
in line; they simply set them amongst the trees in the manner they
pleased. Still, the dwellings had a family aspect, for all were clean
and gay, and decorated with stoneware and faïence of bright colours,
enamelled tiles, and so forth, which formed gables, borders, panels,
friezes, and cornices, the convolvulus-blue, the dandelion-yellow,
and the poppy-red of all this ornamentation imparting to the houses
much the appearance of huge nosegays amidst the verdure of the trees.
Then, on the squares, at the points where the avenues met, rose the
many public buildings, huge piles in which triumphed steel and iron.
Their magnificence was compounded of simplicity, of logical fitness for
the purpose for which they were intended, and of intelligence in the
choice of materials and style of decoration. In these buildings it was
intended that the people should be at home; the museums, libraries,
theatres, baths, laboratories, meeting and amusement halls were but
so many common-houses, open to the entire community. Moreover, some
portions of the avenues were already being covered with glass, and it
was proposed to warm them in winter, so as to enable people to stroll
there in comfort during cold and rainy weather.
Ragu gave so many signs of surprise, and seemed so lost, that Bonnaire
began to laugh. ‘Ah! it isn’t easy to identify the place,’ said he,
‘but we are now on the old Place de la Mairie, whence started the four
great thoroughfares–the Rue de Brias, the Rue de Formeries, the Rue de
Saint-Cron, and the Rue de Magnolles. Only, as the old town-hall was
falling to pieces from sheer rottenness, it was demolished, together
with the old schools, where the boys learned to spell under the
master’s rod. And now, you see, there is a series of large pavilions,
chemical and physical laboratories, where all are free to study and
experiment when they think they have made some discovery which may
prove useful to the community. Then, too, the four streets have been
transformed, their hovels have been swept away, and little of them
remains save the gardens and houses of the gentlefolk, in which sundry
marriages have ended by placing the children of the poor devils of
former times.’
Then Bonnaire went on to explain other transformations brought about
by the victory of the new social system. For instance, although the
sub-prefecture had been preserved and two wings had even been added to
it, it had been converted into a public library. In the same way the
law-courts had become a museum, whilst it had been possible at no very
great cost to turn the prison with its cells into a bath-house where
water abounded. Then there was the garden, which had been planted on
the site of the fallen church–a garden where some fine shady verdure
already arose around a little lake which now filled the ancient
underground crypt. In this wise, as the various forms of authority
disappeared, the buildings once allotted to them had reverted to the
people, who had disposed of them in such a manner as to increase their
own comfort and enjoyment.
However, whilst the car was ascending another fine long avenue Ragu
again felt lost, and inquired of his guide: ‘Where are we now?’
‘In the old Rue de Brias,’ Bonnaire answered. ‘Ah! its aspect has
greatly changed. Petty trade having completely disappeared, the shops
shut up one after the other, and at last the old houses were demolished
to make room for those new ones which smile so pleasantly among the
hawthorns and lilac bushes. The Clouque, that poisonous sewer, has been
covered up, and the side walk of this avenue, on the right, passes over
it.’
He went on recalling the narrow, dark Rue de Brias of former times,
with its ever-muddy pavement, over which weary workers had trudged day
by day. Hunger and prostitution had prowled there at night, whilst
poor housewives went from shop to shop to beg a petty credit. There
had reigned the Laboques, levying tribute on all purchasers, whilst
Caffiaux poisoned the workers with doctored alcohol, and Dacheux kept
jealous watch over his meat, holy meat–the chosen food of the wealthy.
Only the beautiful Madame Mitaine had been willing to close her eyes
when a loaf or two happened to disappear from her shop-front on the
days when the street urchins were unable to restrain their hunger. But
now all the misery and suffering had been swept away, and the avenue
ascended, broad, clean, and flooded with sunlight, with only the houses
of happy workers upon either hand, whilst the multitude strolled about
laughing and singing on that bright festive morning.
‘But if La Clouque flow’s under that grassy bank,’ exclaimed Ragu
suddenly, ‘Old Beauclair must have been over yonder, on the site of
that new park, where the white house-fronts are peeping out of the
greenery?’
And this time he remained aghast. The spot he mentioned had indeed
been Old Beauclair, the sordid mass of hovels spread out like an
evil-smelling stagnant pond, with its streets lacking both light and
air, and infected by their open drains. He particularly remembered the
Rue des Trois Lunes, the darkest, narrowest, and filthiest of them all.
But the blast of avenging justice had purified the spot, carried away
the abominable cloaca, and in place thereof had set that greenery,
amidst which had sprung dwellings of health and joy.
Bonnaire, amused by Ragu’s astonishment, now drove him more slowly
along the new thoroughfares of the happy City of Work. In honour of
that day of rejoicing all the houses were gay with bunting; bright
oriflammes flapped in the light morning breeze, and vivid drapery
hung about doors and windows. The thresholds of the houses, too, were
covered with roses, the streets even were bestrewn with them; such
an abundance of roses being grown in the vast plantations of the
neighbourhood that the whole town was able to adorn itself with them,
like a woman on her bridal morn. Music resounded on all sides, the
chorus singing of maids and youths flew past in sonorous waves, whilst
the pure voices of the children soared aloft to the very sun itself. It
seemed as if the limpid and rejoicing orb were also participating in
the festival, as it cast great sheets of gold under the sky’s sumptuous
tent, so aerial and silken, and so delightfully blue. All the people
were now flocking into the streets, arrayed in light-coloured garments
adorned with beautiful stuffs, which had once been so dear and which
were now at the disposal of all. New fashions, very simple in their
magnificence, made the women look adorable. Gold–since money had
gradually disappeared–was now simply used for purposes of adornment.
Each little girl that was born found in her cradle her necklets, her
bracelets, and her rings, even as the little ones of former days had
found their toys. But jewellery now had no value, gold had simply
become so much beauty. And, moreover, the electrical furnaces were
about to produce incalculable quantities of diamonds and precious
stones, sacks of rubies, emeralds, and sapphires–gems enough, indeed,
to cover all the women of the world. The maids who passed hanging on
their lovers’ arms already had their hair adorned with constellations
of flashing stars. And there was an endless procession of couples,
those whom love in its freedom had just betrothed; the young folk
of twenty, too, who had recently mated and were never more to part;
and those also who had grown old amidst mutual affection, and whose
hand-clasp had tightened with each succeeding year.
‘Where are they all going like that?’ Ragu at last inquired.
‘Oh! they are calling on one another,’ Bonnaire answered, ‘inviting
one another to the grand dinner which is to be given this evening,
and which you will attend. And many are just strolling about in the
sunshine for the love of the thing, because they feel gay and at home
in our beautiful brotherly streets. Besides, there are entertainments
and games on all sides, with admission gratis, of course, for one may
freely enter all our public establishments. Those parties of children
are being taken to one or another circus, and others of the crowd are
going to meetings, theatrical performances, and concerts. Our theatres,
you know, enter into our system of social education.’
Then, all at once, on reaching a house whose occupiers, it seemed, were
about to go out, Bonnaire stopped the car. ‘Would you like to visit
one of our new houses?’ he asked. ‘This is where my grandson Félicien
lives, and as we have just caught him at home, he will receive us.’
Félicien was the son of Séverin Bonnaire, who had married Léonie,
the daughter of Ma-Bleue and Achille Gourier. He, Félicien, only
a fortnight previously had for his part espoused Hélène Jollivet,
daughter of André Jollivet and Pauline Froment. But when Bonnaire
wished to explain those relationships to Ragu, the latter made
the gesture of a man who feels quite lost amidst such a tangle of
alliances. The young people were charming–the wife very young and
adorably fair; the husband also fair, and tall and strong. Love
perfumed all the bright, gay, simple, yet elegantly furnished rooms
of their home, which, like the streets, was that day full of roses;
for it seemed as if roses had rained upon Beauclair–there were some
everywhere, even on the roofs. The whole house was visited, and then
they returned to a room which served as a workshop–a large, square
apartment, where an electrical motor was installed. Besides following
three or four other callings, Félicien was by taste a metal-turner, and
preferred to work at this avocation in his own home. Several of his
comrades, young men of his own age, were similarly inclined, and a new
movement was thus arising among the generation just reaching manhood.
One found the worker on a small scale following some calling at home
in all freedom, irrespective of work in the great general workshops.
For these individual artisans the supply of electric power, which they
found in their homes even as they found water there, was of wonderful
assistance. Home-work under such conditions proved easy, and clean, and
light, and some houses were gradually becoming family workshops and
tending to the realisation of the formula: The free workman in the free
city.
‘Till this evening, my children,’ said Bonnaire, taking leave. ‘Shall
you dine at our table?’
‘Oh! it’s impossible this time, grandfather,’ was the reply; ‘we have
our places at grandmother Morfain’s table. But we shall see one another
at dessert.’
Ragu took his seat in the car again without speaking a word. He had
remained silent throughout the visit, though for a moment he had paused
before the little motor. At last, he once again managed to throw off
the emotion which he had felt in the midst of so much comfort and
happiness.
‘Come,’ he exclaimed, ‘can one call those the houses of well-to-do
_bourgeois_, when there’s machinery in the largest room? I grant that
your men are better lodged, and have more enjoyment, since want has
disappeared. But they are still workmen, mercenaries condemned to
labour! In the old days there were at least a few happy, privileged
folk who did nothing. All your progress consists in reducing the entire
community to common slavery!’
At this despairing cry from that devotee of sloth, whose religion
was fast crumbling, Bonnaire gently shrugged his shoulders. ‘One
must understand, my good fellow,’ said he, ‘what it is that you call
slavery. If it be slavery to breathe and eat and sleep–in a word, to
live–why, then work is slavery. But if you live you must necessarily
work; one cannot live an hour without doing work of some kind. However,
we’ll talk of all that by-and-by. For the present let us go home to
lunch, and we’ll spend the afternoon in visiting the workshops and the
stores.’
After their meal, indeed, they went out again, but this time on foot,
walking along leisurely. They crossed the entire works, all the
sunlit halls, where the steel and copper of the new machinery shone
like jewels in the bright radiance. That morning, moreover, some of
the workers–parties of youths and girls–had come to decorate the
machinery with garlands of verdure and roses; for was it not right that
it should participate in the festival of work, powerful, gentle, and
docile artisan that it was, bringing relief both to man and to beast?
And nothing could have been gayer or more touching. The roses that
adorned the presses, the huge hammers, the giant planing, rolling, and
turning machines, proclaimed how attractive work had become, bringing
comfort to the body and delight to the mind. Songs rang out, too,
chains were formed, and amidst general laughter quite a _farandole_
began, spreading gradually from one hall to another, and transforming
the entire works into an immense palace of rejoicing.
Ragu, who still remained impassive, walked about, raising his eyes to
the lofty windows, which were bright with sunshine, or glancing now at
the slabs under foot, and now at the walls of speckless brightness,
or else examining the machines, many of which were unknown to him.
They were huge creatures, provided with all sorts of intricate works,
in order that they might perform most of the tasks once allotted to
man, the most trying as well as the most delicate. Some had legs,
arms, feet, and hands, so that they might move, embrace, clutch, and
manipulate metal with fingers at once supple, nimble, and strong. The
new puddling furnaces, in which the ‘bloom’ was kneaded mechanically,
particularly struck Ragu. Was it possible that the ‘bloom’ came out
like that, quite ready to pass under the hammer! And then there was the
electricity that propelled the bridges, that set the huge hammers in
motion, that worked the rolling-machinery, which could have covered the
whole world with rails. On each and every side one found that sovereign
electric force. It had become like the very blood of the factory,
circulating from one to the other end of the workshops, giving life to
all things, acting as the one source of movement, heat, and light.
‘It’s good, no doubt,’ Ragu grunted. ‘The place is very clean and very
large, and ever so much better than our dirty dens of former times,
where we found ourselves like pigs in their styes. There has certainly
been a good deal of progress; but the worry is that one hasn’t yet
found a way to give each man an income of a hundred thousand francs.’
‘Oh! but we have our income of a hundred thousand francs,’ retorted
Bonnaire jestingly. ‘Just come and see.’
Then he took the other to the general stores–great barns, huge
granaries, vast magazines–where all the produce and wealth of the city
was accumulated. They had been enlarged, perforce, year by year; for
one no longer knew where to store the crops, and indeed it had even
been necessary to check the production of manufactured goods, to avoid
encumbrance. Nowhere else could one better realise what an incalculable
fortune a nation might amass when all intermediaries were done away
with–the drones and the thieves, all those who had lived upon the work
of others without producing anything themselves.
‘There are our Rentes!’ Bonnaire repeated; ‘each of us can help himself
here without counting. And don’t you think that it all represents a
hundred thousand francs’ worth of happy life for each of us? We are all
equally rich, it’s true, and, as you have said, that would spoil your
pleasure, fortune being nothing to you unless it be seasoned with the
misery of others. Yet it has an advantage; for one no longer incurs the
risk of being robbed or murdered some evening at a street corner, just
for the sake of gain.’
Then he mentioned a movement that was setting in, quite apart from the
working of the general stores–that is, a movement of direct exchange
between producers, a movement which had originated among the petty
family workshops. Perhaps then the great workshops and the huge general
stores would end by disappearing in the course of the advance towards
increase of liberty: the sovereign freedom of the individual amidst the
freedom of all mankind.
Ragu listened, more and more upset by that conquest of happiness which
he still wished to deny. And at a loss as to how he might hide the fact
that he was sorely shaken, he exclaimed: ‘So you’re an Anarchist now!’
This time Bonnaire burst into noisy merriment. ‘Oh! my good fellow, I
used to be a Collectivist, and you reproached me for having ceased to
be one. Now you make an Anarchist of me. But the truth is that we are
no longer anything at all since the common dream of happiness, truth,
and justice has been realised. But, now that I think of it, come a
little way with me and see something else by way of finishing up our
visit.’
He led him to the rear of the general stores, to the base of the
mountain ridge, to the very spot, indeed, where Lange the potter had
formerly installed his rudimentary kilns in an enclosure barricaded
with dry stones. To-day a large building stood there, a manufactory of
stoneware and faïence, whence came the enamelled bricks and tiles, the
thousand bright-hued decorations which adorned the whole city. Yielding
indeed to the friendly entreaties of Luc, and seeing a little equity
arise to relieve the misery of the people, Lange had decided to take
some pupils. Since the masses were reviving to joy he would be able
to realise an old dream of his by making and scattering broadcast all
the bright earthenware, glowing like golden wheatears, cornflowers and
poppies, with which he had so long desired to enliven the house-fronts
peeping out of the garden greenery. And beauty had blossomed forth
under the touch of his big, genial hands–beauty in an admirable form
of art, coming from the people and returning to it, instinct with all
the popular primitive strength and grace. He had not renounced the
making of humble utensils, kitchen and table pottery, pans, pots,
pitchers, and plates–all exquisite in form and colour, setting the
glorious charm of art in the most commonplace daily life; but he had
each year increased his production, adorning the public buildings
with superb friezes, peopling the promenades with graceful statues,
setting up in the squares lofty fountains which looked like nosegays,
and whence the water of the springs flowed with all the freshness of
eternal youth. And the band of artists whom he had created in his own
image now set the beauty of art in the very pots which the housewives
used as receptacles for their preserves and jam.
As it happened, Lange was at the top of the little flight of steps on
the threshold of the factory. Although he had nearly completed his
seventy-fifth year, his short squat figure had remained robust. He
still had the same rustic-looking square head, bushy with hair and
beard, now white like snow. But at present all the kindliness, long
hidden beneath his rough bark, gleamed from his eyes in clear smiles. A
party of playful children stood before him, boys and girls, who pushed
one another and stretched out their hands whilst he went on with a
distribution of little presents, as was indeed his habit every _fête_
day. He thus apportioned among them some little clay figures modelled
with a few thumbstrokes, coloured and baked by the gross, yet very
graceful, and in some instances charmingly comical. They represented
the most simple subjects, everyday occupations, the petty incidents and
fugitive delights of the passing hour. There were children laughing
or crying, young girls attending to their household duties, men at
work–in fact, all life in its everlasting, marvellous florescence.
‘Come, come, my children,’ said Lange, ‘don’t be in a hurry, there
are enough for all of you. Here, my pet, take this little girl who’s
putting on her stockings; and for you, my lad, here’s this boy coming
back from school. Ah! you little darky, yonder, take this smith with
his hammer.’
He shouted and laughed, vastly amusing himself in the midst of all
those children, who struggled for the possession of his exquisite
little figures.
‘Ah! be careful!’ he cried, ‘you must not break them. Put them in your
rooms, so that you may have some pretty colours and pleasant lines
before your eyes. And in that wise when you grow up you will love
what’s beautiful and good, and be handsome and good yourselves.’
It was his theory that the people needed beauty in order to become
healthy and brotherly. Everything that surrounded them, particularly
all objects of current use–utensils, furniture, and dwellings–ought
to suggest beauty. And belief in the superiority of aristocratic art
was imbecile. The greatest, most touching and most human art was that
into which most life entered. Moreover, the work that proved immortal
and defied the centuries was one that sprang from the multitude and
summed up for it an epoch or a civilisation. And it was ever from the
people that art flowered forth in order that it might embellish the
people themselves and impart to them the perfume and the radiance which
were as necessary to their life as was daily bread.
‘Ah! here’s a peasant reaping, and a woman washing linen. Take that
one, my big lassie; and you, my little man, there’s one for you. Well,
it’s over now. Mind you are very good; kiss your mammas and papas for
me. Ah! my little lambs, my little chicks, life is beautiful, life is
good!’
Ragu had listened motionless and silent, but he was evidently more
and more surprised. At last, with a ferocious sneer he exploded: ‘Ah!
Master Anarchist!’ said he, ‘so you no longer talk of blowing up the
whole show, eh?’
Lange turned sharply and looked at Ragu without recognising him.
However, he displayed no anger, but simply began to laugh again: ‘Ah!
so you know me,’ he said, ‘though what your name is I can’t remember.
Well, yes, it’s true, I did wish to blow up the whole show. I cried
it everywhere, to all the winds of the sky, and I heaped malediction
after malediction upon the accursed city, announcing its approaching
destruction by iron and fire. I had even resolved to do justice myself
and raze Beauclair as by lightning. But things turned out otherwise.
Enough justice came to disarm me. The town was purified, and rebuilt,
and I can’t destroy it now that all I wanted, all I dreamt of, is being
realised–isn’t that so, Bonnaire; we’ve made peace, eh?’
Thereupon Lange, the former Anarchist, held out his hand to the
ex-Collectivist with whom he had once had such bitter quarrels: ‘We
were ready to eat one another, were we not, Bonnaire?’ he resumed. ‘We
agreed as to the city of liberty, equity, and cordial understanding
which we wished to reach; only we differed as to the best road to
follow, and those who thought that they ought to turn to the right were
ready to massacre those who showed a desire to turn to the left. But
now that we’ve all reached our destination, it would be too stupid of
us to continue quarrelling. Is that not so, Bonnaire? As I said before,
peace is made.’
Bonnaire, who had retained the potter’s hand in his grasp, pressed and
shook it affectionately.
‘Yes, yes, Lange,’ he replied; ‘we did wrong in not coming to an
understanding, it was perhaps that which prevented us from making
progress. Or perhaps we were all right, since now here we are, hand in
hand, willing to admit that at bottom we all wanted the same thing.’
‘And if things are not yet altogether such as absolute justice would
require,’ Lange resumed, ‘we can rely on those lads and lassies to
continue the work and some day finish it. You hear, my little chicks,
my little lambs, love each other well.’
The shouting and laughing was beginning afresh, when Ragu in his brutal
fashion intervened once more: ‘But I say, you spoilt Anarchist, what
about your Barefeet, have you made her your wife, eh?’
Tears started to Lange’s eyes. Nearly twenty years previously the
tall and beautiful creature whom he had compassionately picked up on
the roads, and who had worshipped him like a slave, had died in his
arms, the victim of a frightful and mysterious accident. He had spoken
of an explosion in one of his kilns, saying that its iron door had
been carried away, and had struck Barefeet full in the bosom. But the
truth was assuredly different. She had assisted him in his experiments
with explosives, and must have been struck down during some attempts
to charge those famous little ‘stock-pots,’ of which he had spoken
so complacently, intending to deposit them at the town-hall, the
sub-prefecture, the law-courts–in all the places, indeed, where there
was any form of authority to be destroyed. For months and for years
that tragic death had made Lange’s heart bleed, and even nowadays,
after the attainment of so much happiness, he still wept for the loss
of that gentle yet impassioned woman who, in return for the alms of
a piece of bread, had for ever bestowed on him the royal gift of her
beauty.
He strode roughly towards Ragu: ‘You are a bad man,’ he cried, ‘why do
you stab me in the heart like that? Who are you? Where have you sprung
from? Don’t you know that my dear wife is dead, and that every evening
I still ask her forgiveness, accusing myself of having caused her
death? If I haven’t become a bad man, I owe it to her dear memory, for
she is always with me, she is my good counsellor. But you, you are a
bad man, I don’t want to recognise you, I don’t want to know your name.
Go away, go away from our city!’
He was superb in his dolorous violence. The poetic spirit that dwelt
within his rugged form, and which had formerly manifested itself in
vengeful flights of fancy of a sombre grandeur, had now softened,
tempering his heart with infinite quivering kindliness.
‘Have you recognised him then?’ asked Bonnaire anxiously. ‘Who is he?
Tell me.’
‘I do not wish to recognise him,’ Lange repeated yet more rigorously.
‘I shall not say anything–let him go his way, let him go his way at
once! He isn’t fit to be one of us.’
Thereupon Bonnaire, feeling convinced that the potter had recognised
Ragu, gently led the latter away in order to avoid any painful
explanations. For his part Ragu evinced no desire to linger and
quarrel, but retired in silence. All that he had seen and heard had
dealt him blow after blow in the heart, filling him with bitter regret
and boundless envy. He had begun to stagger beneath the shock of that
happiness, in which he had not, and would never have, the slightest
part.
But it was particularly the aspect of Beauclair in the evening that
upset him. It had become a custom for each family to set its table in
the street and dine there on that first day of summer. The repast was
like a fraternal communion of the whole city, the bread was broken,
and the wine was drunk in public, and the tables were at last brought
together in such wise that they formed but one table, the whole town
changing into a vast banqueting-hall, where the people became one sole
family.
At seven o’clock, whilst the sun was still shining, the tables were
set out, decorated with roses, that rain of roses which had perfumed
Beauclair ever since the morning. The white cloths, the decorated
crockery, the glass and the silver reflected the purple glow of the
sunset. As silver money, like gold money, was fast disappearing, each
now had his or her silver goblet, even as in olden time one had goblets
or mugs of pewter. And Bonnaire insisted on Ragu taking his seat at his
table, or rather at that of his granddaughter Claudine, who had married
Luc’s son, Charles Froment.
‘I have brought you a guest,’ he simply said to the others, without
naming Ragu. ‘He is a stranger, a friend.’
And all made answer: ‘He is welcome.’
Bonnaire kept Ragu near him. But the table was a long one, for four
generations elbowed one another. When Bonnaire the patriarch looked
round he could see his son Lucien and his daughter-in-law Louise
Mazelle, both of whom were now over fifty. He could also see his
granddaughter Claudine and his grandson-in-law, Charles Froment, both
in their prime; and he could likewise see his great-granddaughter
Alice, a charming little maid, eight years of age. And all manner of
kith and kin followed. Bonnaire explained to Ragu that a gigantic table
would have been needed if his three other children, Antoinette, Zoé,
and Séverin, had not arranged to dine at other tables with their own
offspring. At dessert, however, they would bring the tables together
in a neighbourly fashion, in suchwise that they would end by being all
together.
Ragu more particularly turned his eyes upon Louise Mazelle, who still
looked very charming and active. He was no doubt surprised by the sight
of that daughter of the _bourgeoisie_, who invariably displayed so much
affection for her husband Lucien, the scion of a working-class stock.
Leaning towards Bonnaire, the old vagabond at last asked him in an
undertone: ‘Are the Mazelles dead then?’
‘Yes; the dread of losing their money killed them. The conversions
which upset everything and foreshadowed the approaching suppression
of Rentes altogether, fell upon them like so many thunderbolts. The
husband was the first to die, killed by the idea that his idle days
were over and that he would perhaps have to work again. Then the wife
dragged on for a while, cloistering herself at home and no longer
daring to go out, convinced as she was that as violent hands had been
laid on Rentes people must nowadays be murdered at every street-corner.
It was in vain that her daughter proposed to take her with her; she
stifled at the thought of being fed by others, and at last one day she
was found dead–stricken by apoplexy, her face quite black, and resting
among a package of her Rente certificates, which had virtually lost all
value. Poor people! They died in a state of stupefaction, absolutely
overcome, and declaring that the world had been turned topsy-turvy.’
Ragu wagged his head. He was not inclined to weep for those
_bourgeois_, but at the same time he was of opinion that a world whence
idleness was banished was not worth living in. Then he again looked
round him, and became yet gloomier as he noticed the rising spirits
of one and all, and the abundance and luxury which prevailed at the
table, though to the others those things were now only natural, and
gave no cause for vanity. The women were all arrayed in similar festive
garb, similar light, charming silks; and precious stones–rubies and
sapphires and emeralds–glittered in the hair of all. But the roses,
the superb roses, were preferred to the gems by far, for they lived,
and were therefore the more precious.
Already in the middle of the meal, which was made up of delicate and
simple viands, vegetables, and fruit especially, everything being
served on silver dishes, joyous songs began to arise, saluting the
setting sun and bidding it _au revoir_, in the certainty that in
a few hours’ time it would happily arise again. And all at once,
amidst the singing, a delightful incident occurred. All the birds of
the neighbourhood–the robins, the blackcaps, the finches, even the
sparrows, flew down on the tables before retiring to rest among the
darkening greenery. They alighted boldly on one’s shoulders, hopped
down to peck the crumbs on the cloth, and accepted dainties from the
hands of the children and the women. Since Beauclair had become a town
of concord and peace they had been aware of the change there; they no
longer feared aught from its kindly inhabitants–neither snares nor
gunshots. And they had grown familiar in their way; they formed part of
the various families; each garden had its denizens, who at meal-time
flew down to take their share of the common food.
‘Ah! here are our little friends!’ cried Bonnaire. ‘How they chatter!
They know very well that to-day is a festival. Crumble some bread for
them, Alice!’
Ragu, with his face darkening and a dolorous expression in his eyes,
watched the birds as they flew down from every side, like a very
whirlwind of small light feathers to which the last sunbeams imparted
a golden glow. Those birds made the dessert quite lively, so many were
the little feet hopping jauntily among the cherries and the roses. And
of all the felicity and splendour that Ragu had witnessed since the
morning, nothing had so clearly and so charmingly told him how peaceful
and how happy was that young community. For him it was like a supreme
blow; he suddenly arose and said to Bonnaire: ‘I’m stifling, I must
walk about. And besides, I want to see everything, all the tables, all
the people.’
Bonnaire understood him well. Was it not Luc and Josine whom he wished
to see? Was not all the ardent curiosity that he had displayed since
his return culminating in a desire to behold them? Still avoiding a
decisive explanation, Bonnaire answered: ‘Very well, I will show you;
we will make the round of the tables.’
The first they reached–the one set out before the next house–was
that of the Morfains. Petit-Da presided over it beside his wife,
Honorine Caffiaux, both of them with snowy hair; and with them were
their son Raymond, their daughter-in-law Thérèse Froment, and their
eldest grandson, Maurice Morfain, a tall youth, nineteen years of age
already. Then, on the other side, came Achille Gourier’s line, with
his widow, Ma-Bleue, whose large sky-blue eyes retained all their
intensity, though she was now nearly seventy years old. She would soon
be a great-grandmother, through her daughter Léonie, married to Séverin
Bonnaire, and her grandson, Félicien, born of that marriage, and lately
wedded to Hélène, the daughter of Pauline Froment and André Jollivet.
All were present, even both of the last named, who had come with their
daughter. And some of them were making merry with Hélène, suggesting
that if her firstborn should be a son he ought to be called Grégoire.
Meantime her sister Berthe, though she was scarcely fifteen, already
laughed at the soft things said to her by her cousin Raymond, thus
offering promise of another love-match in the future.
The arrival of Bonnaire was hailed with joyous acclamations. Ragu,
who was losing himself more and more amidst the tangle of matrimonial
alliances, particularly desired that the two Froments seated at this
table should be pointed out to him. They were two of Luc’s daughters,
Thérèse and Pauline, both well on the road to their fortieth year,
but still displaying a bright and healthy beauty. Then, as the sight
of Ma-Bleue reminded Ragu of old Mayor Gourier and Sub-Prefect
Châtelard, he wished to know how they had ended. Bonnaire told him
that they had passed away, one a few days later than the other, after
spending their last years in close intimacy, linked together by the
loss of the beautiful Léonore. Gourier, the first to depart, had with
difficulty accustomed himself to the new state of things. He had often
raised his arms to heaven in astonishment at being an employer of
labour no longer; and he had been wont to talk of the past with all
the melancholy of an aged man, who, although he would willingly have
devoured the priests in former days, had actually begun to regret
the ceremonies of the Catholic Church, the First Communions and
processions, the incense and the pealing bells. Châtelard, on the other
hand, had gallantly fallen asleep in the skin of an Anarchist, for
such he had gradually become in the midst of his diplomatic reserve,
accomplishing his destiny such as he had wished it to be–living happy
and forgotten in the midst of that Beauclair which was now rebuilt
and triumphant–and at last disappearing in silence with the _régime_
whose funeral procession he had so complacently followed, he himself
swallowed up, as it were, in the collapse of the last ministry.
But there was a finer, a more noble, death to be mentioned, the death
of Judge Gaume, which was recalled by the presence at that table of his
grandson André and his great-granddaughters Hélène and Berthe. Alone
with his grandson, Gaume had lived to the age of ninety-two in all
the desolation of his spoilt and dolorous life. On the day, however,
when the law courts and the prison were closed, he had felt himself
in a measure delivered from the haunting torture of his career as a
judge. A man judging men, consenting to play the part of infallible
truth, absolute justice, in spite of all the possible infirmities of
his mind and his heart, the thought of it made Gaume shudder, filled
him with excessive scruples, dreadful remorse, terror lest he should
indeed have been a bad judge. However, the justice which he had
long awaited, which he had feared he might never see, had dawned at
last–not the justice of an iniquitous social system, reigning with the
sword, with which it defends a small minority of despoilers, and with
which it strikes the great multitude of wretched slaves, but justice as
between free man and free man–justice allotting to each his share of
legitimate happiness, and bringing in its train truth and brotherliness
and peace.
On the morning of the day he died Gauine sent for an old poacher
whom he had formerly condemned to a heavy punishment for killing a
gendarme who had dealt him a sabre stroke, and he publicly expressed
his contrition, and cried aloud all the doubts which had poisoned his
career. He proclaimed all the crimes of the Code, all the errors and
falsehoods of the Statutes, those weapons of social oppression and
hatred, those corrupt foundations of the social system whence spring
perfect epidemics of theft and murder.
‘And so,’ Ragu resumed, ‘those young folk seated at that table, that
Félicien and his wife Hélène, at whose house we called this morning,
are at once the grandchildren of the Froments, the Morfains, the
Jollivets, and the Gaumes? But doesn’t the blood of such enemies poison
those in whose veins it now flows?’
‘No, indeed,’ Bonnaire quietly replied, ‘that commingling of blood
has brought reconciliation, and the race has acquired more beauty and
strength from it.’
Fresh bitterness awaited Ragu at the next table–that of Bourron, his
old chum, the boon companion of his days of sloth and drunkenness,
whom he had ruled and led astray so easily. The idea of it! Bourron
happy, Bourron saved, when he himself remained in his hell! In spite
of his many years Bourron did indeed look quite triumphant as he sat
there beside his wife Babette, she who had ever remained cheerful,
whose unchangeable hopes and optimism had found fulfilment without even
moving her to astonishment. Was it not natural? One was happy because
one always ends by being happy.
And around the Bourrons there had been no limit to the swarming of
offspring. There was first their eldest daughter, Marthe, who had
married Auguste Laboque and had given birth to Adolphe, who in his
turn had married Germaine, the daughter of Zoé Bonnaire and Nicholas
Yvonnot. There was next their son Sébastien, who had married Agathe
Fauchard, and had begotten Clémentine, who on her side had married
Alexandre Feuillat, the son of Léon Feuillat and of Eugénie Yvonnot.
The fourth generation proceeding from those two branches of Bourron’s
family was already represented by two little girls, Simonne Laboque
and Amélie Feuillat, each of them in their fifth year. And by virtue
of the kinship established by marriage the party further included
Louis Fauchard, married to Julienne Dacheux, who had given him a
daughter, Laure; and Évariste Mitaine, married to Olympe Lenfant, by
whom he had had a son Hippolyte. Then there was the aforesaid Hippolyte
himself, now the husband of Laure Fauchard, and the father of a lad
in his eighth year, named François, in such wise that the fourth
generation was sprouting vigorously on this side also. Throughout
festive Beauclair one could not have found a larger table than that
where intermingled the descendants of the Bourrons, the Laboques, the
Bonnaires, the Yvonnots, the Fauchards, the Feuillats, the Dacheux, the
Lenfants, and the Mitaines.
Bonnaire, who here again found one of his own children, Zoé, gave
Ragu some particulars respecting those whom death had carried off.
Old Fauchard and his wife Natalie–he always in a state of stupor and
she always complaining–had gone off without understanding the great
changes which were taking place. Feuillat, on his side, had beheld
the triumph of his work, that vast estate of Les Combettes, ere he
departed. Lenfant and Yvonnot had lately followed him to their graves,
in that earth which was now loved with intelligence and fertilised with
virile power. And after the Dacheux, the Caffiaux and the Laboques,
those relics of the vanished trading system, the beautiful bakeress,
the good Madame Mitaine, had passed away full of years, kindliness, and
beauty.
But Ragu was no longer listening–he could not take his eyes from
Bourron. ‘He looks quite young,’ he muttered, ‘and his Babette still
has her pretty laugh.’
He recalled the sprees of other days, Bourron and he lingering late in
Caffiaux’s den, railing against the masters, and at last staggering
home, dead drunk. And he recalled his own long life of wretchedness,
the fifty years that he had squandered in rolling from workshop to
workshop through the world. To-day the experiment had been made and
made successfully. Work, reorganised and regenerated, had saved his
old chum when he was already half lost, whereas he, Ragu, had come back
annihilated by the old labour system, full of misery and suffering,
that iniquitous wage-system, which poisoned and destroyed.
All at once there came a charming incident which brought Ragu’s anguish
to a climax. Simonne Laboque, the daughter of Adolphe and Germaine, a
fair-haired little maid about five years old, took some rose petals,
scattered over the table, in her chubby little hands, and smilingly
poured them over her great-grandfather’s white head.
‘There! grandpa Bourron, there you are, and there’s some more! They’re
to make you a crown. Oh! you’ve some in your hair, and in your ears,
and on your nose too. You’ve some everywhere! And _bonne fête, bonne
fête_, grandpa Bourron!’
The whole table laughed, applauded, and acclaimed the old man. But Ragu
fled, dragging Bonnaire with him. He was trembling, he could scarcely
remain erect. When they had got a little distance away, however, he
suddenly said to Bonnaire in a husky voice: ‘Listen, what’s the use of
keeping it back any longer? I only came to see _them_. Where are they?
Show them me!’
He was speaking of Luc and Josine; and, as Bonnaire, who had fully
understood it, delayed replying, he continued: ‘You have been taking
me about ever since this morning and I have seemed to be interested in
everything, yet I can only think of them. It was the thought of them
indeed that brought me back here amidst so much fatigue and suffering.
I heard while I was far away that I hadn’t killed him. They are both
still alive, are they not? They have had several children–they are
happy, triumphant, is that not so?’
Bonnaire was reflecting. For fear of a scandal he had hitherto delayed
the inevitable meeting. But had not his tactics succeeded? Had not
a kind of holy awe come over Ragu in presence of the grandeur of
the accomplished work? Bonnaire could tell that his companion was
quivering, distracted, too nerveless to think of committing another
crime. And so, with his air of serene good nature, he finished by
replying, ‘You want to see them, my good fellow; well, I will show them
to you. And it’s quite true, you will see happy folk.’
Luc’s table came immediately after that of Bourron. He sat on one side
of it, in the centre, with Josine on his right, whilst on his left
hand were Sœurette and Jordan. Suzanne also was present, seated in
front of Luc; and near her Nanet and Nise had taken their places. They
in their turn would soon be great-grandparents, but their eyes still
laughed under their fair hair, which had now become somewhat paler
in hue, as in the distant days when they had looked like two little
toys–two little curly lambs. All around the table sat the younger
members of Luc’s family. There was Hilaire, his eldest son, who had
married Colette, the daughter of Nanette and Nise, and had become the
father of Mariette, now nearly fifteen years of age. In like manner
from Paul Boisgelin and Antoinette Bonnaire had sprung Ludovic, who
would soon be twenty; and there was a promise of marriage between
Ludovic and Mariette, who dined side by side, spending much of their
time in whispering together, having little secrets of their own to
communicate. Then came Jules, the last of the Froments, who had married
Céline, the daughter of Arsène Lenfant and Eulalie Laboque; this pair
having a boy of six named Richard, a child of angelic beauty, the
particular favourite of his grandfather Luc. And afterwards followed
all the kinsfolk; this being the table where the blood of old-time
enemies was most closely blended, that of the Froments, the Boisgelins,
and the Delaveaus mingling with that of the Bonnaires, the Laboques,
and the Lenfants, the artisans, traders, and tillers of the soil; in
such wise that the whole social communion whence the new city, the
Beauclair of justice and peace, had sprung, was represented here.
At the moment when Ragu drew near to the table, a last ray of the
setting sun enveloped it as with a glory, and the clumps of roses, the
silver plate, the light silk gowns and the diamond-spangled hair of the
women coruscated amidst the splendour. But the most charming incident
that attended the orb’s farewell was another flight of the birds of the
vicinity, who yet once again flew around the diners before retiring to
rest among the branches. There came such coveys and such a flapping of
little wings that the table was covered as with a snow of warm living
down. Friendly hands took hold of the birds, caressed them, and then
let them go. And the confidence thus displayed by the robins and the
finches was fraught with adorable sweetness. In that calm evening
atmosphere it seemed like a sign that an alliance was henceforth formed
between all creatures, that universal peace reigned at last between men
and animals and things.
‘Oh, Grandpa Luc!’ cried little Richard, ‘just look, there is a
blackcap drinking water out of Grandma Josine’s glass!’
It was true; and Luc, the founder of the city, felt both amused and
touched by it. The water came from those fresh and pure springs which
he had captured among the rocks of the Bleuse Mountains, and which
had given birth to the whole town of gardens and avenues and plashing
fountains. When the bird had flown away Luc took up the glass, and
raised it amidst the purple glow of the sunset, saying: ‘Josine! we
must drink–we must drink to the health of our happy city!’
And when Josine, who all her life had remained an _amorosa_, a creature
of tender heart beneath her white hair, had laughingly moistened her
lips with the water, Luc in his turn drank of it and resumed, ‘To the
health of our city, whose _fête_ it is to-day! May it ever increase and
spread, may it grow in liberty, prosperity, and beauty, and may it win
the whole world over to the work of universal harmony!’
In the last sunray, which set an aureola round his head, he looked
superb–still young even, overflowing with triumphant faith and joy.
Without pride or emphasis he simply expressed the delight he felt at
seeing his work so full of life and strength. He was the founder,
the creator, the father; and all those joyous people, all who sat at
those tables celebrating work and the fruitfulness of summer, were his
people, his friends, his kinsfolk, his ever-spreading, brotherly, and
prosperous family. An acclamation greeted the ardently loving wishes
which he offered up for his city, ascending into the evening air, and
rolling from table to table even to the most distant avenues. One and
all had risen to their feet, in their turn holding their glasses aloft
and drinking the health of Luc and Josine, the heroes, the patriarchs
of work; she, the redeemed one, glorified as spouse and as mother, and
he the saviour, who, to save her, had saved the whole wretched world of
the wage-earners from iniquity and suffering. And it was a moment full
of exaltation and magnificence, testifying to the passionate gratitude
of the vast throng for all the active faith which had been shown, and
proclaiming the community’s final entry into the reign of glory and
love.
Ragu turned ghastly pale and trembled in all his limbs as that gust of
triumph swept by. He could not endure the sight of Luc and Josine, so
radiant with beauty and kindliness. He recoiled and staggered, and was
on the point of fleeing when Luc, who had noticed him, turned towards
Bonnaire.
‘Ah! my friend, you were lacking to make my joy complete,’ said he.
‘You have ever been like my other self, the bravest, sturdiest, most
sensible artisan of our work, and people must not praise me without
praising you also. But who is that old man that I see with you?’
‘He is a stranger.’
‘A stranger! Let him approach then. Let him break with us the bread of
our harvests, and drink the water of our springs. Our city is a city
of welcome and peace for all men. Make room, Josine! And you, friend,
whom we do not know, come, seat yourself between my wife and me, for
we should like to honour in you all our unknown brothers of the other
cities of the world.’
But Ragu, as if seized with holy horror, retreated yet farther away.
‘No, no, I cannot.’
‘Why not?’ Luc gently asked. ‘If you come from afar, if you are weary,
you will here find helping and comforting hands. We ask you neither
your name nor your past. Here all is forgiven; brotherliness reigns
alone, in order that the happiness of all may produce the happiness
of each. And you, dear wife, repeat all that to him–the words will
come gently and convincingly from your lips, for it seems as if I only
frighten him.’
Thereupon Josine herself spoke: ‘Here! my friend,’ said she, ‘here is
our glass, why should you not drink our health and your own? You come
from afar, and you are a brother, in you we shall have the pleasure of
still enlarging our family. It is a custom at Beauclair now, on days of
festival, to exchange a kiss of peace which effaces everything. Take
this glass and drink, for the love of all!’
But Ragu again recoiled, paler and trembling more violently than
before, stricken with terror indeed as at some idea of sacrilege: ‘No,
no, I cannot!’
Did Luc and Josine at that moment suspect the truth, did they recognise
the wretched man who had returned merely to experience fresh suffering
after so long dragging about with him his destiny of sloth and
corruption? As they looked at him an expression of deep sadness came
into their eyes which had beamed so kindly. And by way of conclusion
Luc simply said: ‘Go then, since you desire it, since you cannot
belong to our family, at the hour when it is drawing yet more closely
together, pressing around on all sides, hand in hand. Look! it is
mingling, tables are joining tables, and soon there will be but one
board for the whole of our city of brothers!’
This was true; the people were gathering together in neighbourly
fashion–each table seemed to set out on the march towards the next
one, in such wise that they all met and joined, as invariably happened
at the close of that repast in honour of the festival of Summer. And
it was all quite natural, the children at first served as messengers,
going from table to table, for there was a tendency among the scattered
members of particular families to gather together and seat themselves
side by side. How could Séverin Bonnaire, who sat at the table of the
Morfains, Zoé Bonnaire, who sat at that of the Bourrons, and Antoinette
Bonnaire, who sat at that of Luc, help feeling drawn towards the
paternal table, where their elder brother Lucien had his place? And was
it not natural that the Froments, scattered like the seed corn which
one casts into different furrows–Charles being among the Bonnaires,
Thérèse and Pauline among the Morfains–should desire to join their
father, the founder and creator of the city? Thus one beheld the
tables marching and uniting together in such wise that not a break
soon remained along the avenues, before the doors of the gay houses.
The paschal feast of that brotherly people was about to continue under
the stars, in a vast communion, all being seated elbow to elbow, at
the same board, among the same scattered rose petals. The whole city
thus became a gigantic banqueting-hall, the families were blended into
one, the same spirit animated every breast, and the same love made
every heart beat. Meantime from the far-spreading pure heavens fell a
delightful, sovereign peace, the harmony of spheres and men.
Bonnaire had not intervened, but he had kept his eyes on Ragu, watching
for the change that he expected after that day of surprises which, one
by one, had shaken the wanderer until at last he was terrified and
transported by that final blaze of glory. At last realising that he
was sorely stricken, and tottering, Bonnaire gave him his hand. ‘Come,
let us walk a little,’ he said, ‘the evening air is so mild. And tell
me, do you now believe in our happiness? Surely you must now see that
one may work and at the same time be happy. Indeed, joy and health
and perfect life are to be found in work. To work is to live. And only
a religion of suffering and death could have made work a curse, and
eternal sloth the happiness of heaven! Work is not our master, it is
the breath of our lungs, the blood of our veins, the one sole reason
why we love and create and form immortal humanity!
But Ragu, as if exhausted by fatigue, weary unto death amidst his
defeat, ceased arguing: ‘Oh, leave me, leave me,’ said he. ‘I am only
a coward, a child would have had more courage, and I hold myself in
contempt.’ Then in a whisper he went on: ‘I came to kill them both.
Ah! that never-ending journey, the roads that followed the roads,
the years of roaming through unknown lands with one rageful thought
in my heart–that of returning to Beauclair, of finding that man and
that woman once more, and of planting in their flesh the knife I had
used so clumsily! But you met me, amused me, and just now I trembled
before them, and retreated like a coward, when I saw them looking so
beautiful, so great, so radiant!’
Bonnaire shuddered on hearing that confession. Already on the previous
night he had apprehended a crime. But now, at the sight of the woeful
wretch’s collapse, he felt stirred by pity. ‘Come, come, you unhappy
being,’ he exclaimed, ‘come and sleep again to-night at my house.
To-morrow we’ll see—-‘
‘Sleep again at your house! Oh! no, no! I’m going, I’m going at once!’
‘But you cannot start off at this hour–you are too tired, too weak.
Why won’t you stay with us? You will become calmer, you will know our
happiness.’
‘No, no! I must start at once, at once. The potter said the truth, I’m
not of the sort to make one of you.’ And like some damned and tortured
wretch full of suppressed wrath Ragu added: ‘Your happiness–why, I
can’t bear the sight of it! It would make me suffer too much!’
Bonnaire then ceased to insist; secret horror and uneasiness had come
over him also. In silence he led Ragu to his house again, and the
other, unwilling even to wait till the end of the meal, took up his
wallet and his staff. Not a word was exchanged between them, not even a
gesture of farewell. Bonnaire watched the miserable old man go off with
tottering steps, and vanish at last, far away in the night, which was
gradually falling.
It was impossible, however, for Ragu to lose sight of festive Beauclair
in a moment. He slowly went up the Brias gorge, and at each step
climbed higher and higher among the rocks of the Bleuse Mountains.
Before long he was above the town, the whole of which on turning round
he once more beheld. The sky, of a dark yet pure blue, was glittering
with stars. And, beneath the sweetness of the lovely June night, the
town spread out like another stretch of sky, swarming, as it were, with
innumerable little planets–the thousands and thousands of electric
lamps which had just been lighted on the banquet tables and amidst
the greenery. Once more then Ragu beheld those tables, outlined, so
to say, with fire, and thus emerging victoriously from the darkness.
They spread along without end till they filled the whole space below
him. And he could hear laughter and singing arising, and still and ever
behold that giant festival of a whole people, gathered together at
table in one sole brotherly family.
Then he once more sought to flee the sight, and ascended still higher;
but when he next turned round, he again saw the city glowing yet more
brightly than before. He went higher still, he ever and ever climbed
upward, but at each further ascent, each time that he turned round
the city seemed to have grown, till at last it spread over the entire
plain, becoming like the very heavens with its infinite expanse of
sombre blue and glittering stars. The sounds of laughter and of song
reached him more and more distinctly; it was as if the whole great
human family were celebrating the joy of work, upon the fruitful earth.
Then, for the last time, he again set out, and walked for hours and for
hours until he became lost in the darkness.
V
Yet other years rolled by, and death, necessary death, the good
helpmate of eternal life, performed his work, carrying off one by one
those who had accomplished their tasks. Bourron was the first to go,
followed by his wife Babette, who retained her good humour to the last.
Then came the turn of Petit-Da and that of Ma-Bleue, whose blue eyes
partook of the infinite of the blue heavens. Lange died too, whilst
putting the finishing touch to a last little figure, a delightful
barefooted girl, the very image of the Barefeet he had loved. Then
Nanet and Nise went off, exchanging a last kiss, whilst still young;
and finally Bonnaire succumbed like a hero amidst the stir of work one
day when he had repaired to the factory to see a new giant hammer,
whose every stroke forged a great piece of metal-work.
Of all their generation, of all the founders and creators of triumphant
Beauclair, Luc and Jordan alone remained, loved and surrounded with the
affectionate attentions of Josine, Sœurette, and Suzanne. It seemed
as if the three women, whose health and courage in their old age were
marvellous, lived on simply to be the helpmates and nurses of the men.
Since Luc had scarcely been able to walk, his legs gradually failing
him till he was almost fastened to his arm-chair, Suzanne had come to
reside in his house, lovingly sharing with Josine the glory of waiting
upon him. He was more than eighty now, of unchangeable gaiety and in
full possession of his intelligence–quite young indeed, as he said
with a laugh, had it not been for those wretched legs of his which
were becoming like lead. And in the same way Sœurette did not quit her
brother Jordan, who now never left his laboratory, but worked there in
the day-time and slept there at night. He was Luc’s elder by ten years,
and had retained at ninety the slow and methodical activity to which he
was indebted for the accomplishment of such a vast amount of work–ever
seemingly on the point of expiring, but introducing such logic and such
well-reasoned determination into his labour, that he was still working
when the sturdiest toilers of his generation had long been sleeping in
the grave.
He had often said in his weak little voice: ‘People die because they’re
willing; one doesn’t die when one still has something to do. My health
is very bad, but all the same I shall live to a good old age, I shall
only die on the day when my work is finished. You’ll see, you’ll see!
I shall know when the time has come, and I will warn you, my good
friends, saying: “Good-night, my day’s over, I’m going to sleep now.”‘
Thus Jordan still worked because in his estimation his work was not yet
finished. He lived on, wrapped in rugs; his drinks were warmed in order
that he might not catch cold, and he took long rests on a couch between
the brief hours which he was able to devote to his researches. Two or
three such hours sufficed him, however, for the accomplishment of a
considerable amount of work, in such a methodical manner did he exert
himself. Sœurette, all attention and abnegation, was like his second
self, at once a nurse, a secretary, and a preparator, allowing nobody
to approach and disturb him. On the days, moreover, when his hands were
too weak for any exertion, it was she who carried out his thoughts for
him, becoming as it were a prolongation of his own life.
To Jordan’s thinking his work would only be completed when the new
city’s supply of beneficent electricity should be as unlimited as the
inexhaustible water of the rivers, or the air which one can breathe
in all freedom. During the past sixty years he had accomplished a
great deal of work tending to that solution. He had diminished the
cost of electricity by burning coals when they quitted the pit, and
then despatching the electric force he obtained by cable to numerous
factories. And after long researches he had devised a new appliance by
which he even transformed the calorical energy contained in coal into
electrical energy, without mechanical energy having to be employed.
He had in this manner done away with boilers, which meant a saving of
more than fifty per cent, in the cost price. The dynamos being charged
direct, by the simple combustion of the coal, he had been able to work
his electrical furnaces cheaply and well, revolutionise metallurgy, and
provide the town with an abundance of electricity for all social and
domestic purposes. Nevertheless, in his opinion it still remained too
costly; he wished to have it for nothing, like the passing breeze which
is at the disposal of all. Besides, a fear had come to him, born of
the possibility–in fact, the certainty–that the coal mines would in
time become exhausted. Before another century perhaps coal would fail
one; and would not that mean the death of the world, the cessation of
all industry, the suppression of the chief means of locomotion–mankind
reduced to immobility, a prey to the cold, like some big body whose
blood has ceased to circulate? It was with growing anxiety that Jordan
saw each ton of coals burnt; that made a ton the less, he often said.
And although he was so puny, feverish, racked by coughing, already with
one foot in the grave, he incessantly tortured his mind in thinking of
the catastrophe which threatened the future generations. He vowed that
he would not die until he should have presented those generations with
a flood of power, a flood of endless life, which would prove the source
of their civilisation and their happiness. Thus he had set to work
again, and for more than ten years already he had been working on the
problem.
In the first instance Jordan had naturally thought of the waterfalls.
They constituted a primitive mechanical force which had been employed
successfully in mountain regions in spite of the capriciousness
of the torrents, and the interruptions which dry seasons brought
about. Unfortunately, the few watercourses still to be found in the
Bleuse Mountains–apart from the springs utilised for the town’s
water-supply–did not possess the necessary energy. And, besides, no
mountain spring would ever yield such a constant, regular, and abundant
motive power as was necessary for his great design. Jordan therefore
thought of the tides, the continual flux and reflux of the ocean, whose
power, ever on the march, beats against the coasts of the continents.
Scientists had already given attention to the tides, and he turned to
their researches and even devised some experimental appliances. The
distance of Beauclair from the sea was not an obstacle, for electrical
force could already be transmitted without loss over considerable
distances. But another idea haunted him, and gradually took complete
possession of him, throwing him into a prodigious dream, full of the
thought that if he could bring it to fulfilment he would give happiness
to the whole world.

Puny and chilly as he was, Jordan had always evinced a passion for the
sun. He often watched it pursuing its course. With a quivering fear of
the spreading darkness he saw it set at evening, and at times he rose
early in the morning in order that he might have the joy of seeing
it appear again. If it should be drowned in the sea; if it should
some day never reappear, what endless, icy, deadly night would fall
upon mankind! Thus Jordan almost worshipped the sun, regarding it as
something divine, the father of our world, the creator and regulator,
which after drawing beings from the clay, had warmed them, helped them
to develop and spread, and nourished them with the fruits of the earth,
throughout an incalculable number of centuries. The sun was the eternal
source of life since it was the source of light, heat, and motion. It
reigned in its glory like a very powerful, very good, and very just
king, a necessary god, without whom there would be nothing, and whose
disappearance would bring about the death of all things. This being
so, Jordan asked himself why should not the sun continue and complete
his work? During thousands of years it had stored its beneficent heat
away in the trees of which coal was made. During thousands of years
the earth had preserved in its bosom that immense reserve stock of
heat, which had come to us like a priceless gift at the hour when our
civilisation needed new splendour. And it was to the all-helping sun
that one must again apply, it was the sun which would continue giving
to that which it had created, the world and man, increase of life, and
truth, and justice, all the happiness indeed of which one had dreamt
so long. Since the sun vanished each evening, since it disappeared
at winter-time, one must ask it to leave us a plentiful share of its
blaze, in order that one might without suffering await its return at
dawn, and take patience during the cold seasons. The problem was at
once a simple and a formidable one; it was necessary to address oneself
direct to the sun, capture some of the solar heat, and by special
appliances transform it into electricity, of which immense quantities
must be stored in air-tight reservoirs. In this fashion one would
always have an unlimited source of power, of which one might dispose as
one pleased. The rays would be harvested during the scorching days of
summer, and stored away in endless granaries. And when the nights grew
long, when winter arrived with its darkness and its ice, there would
be light and warmth and motion for all mankind. That electrical power,
ravished from the all-creating sun and domesticated by man, would then
at last prove his docile and ever-ready servant, relieving him of much
exertion, and helping him to make of work not only gaiety and health,
and just apportionment of wealth, but the very law and cult of life.
The dream which possessed Jordan had already occupied other minds.
Scientists had succeeded in devising little appliances which
captured solar heat and transformed it into electricity, but in
infinitesimal quantities, the instruments being suited merely for
laboratory experiments. It was necessary to be able to operate on a
large scale, and in a thoroughly practical manner, in order to fill
the huge reservoirs which would be needed for the requirements of a
whole nation. For years, then, Jordan was seen superintending the
building–in the old park of La Crêcherie–of some strange appliances,
species of towers, whose purpose could not be divined. For a long
while he would not speak out, but kept the secret of his researches
from everybody. In fine weather, during the hours when he felt strong
enough, he repaired with the short, slow step of a weak old man to
the new works which he had set up, and shut himself up inside them
with some chosen men. And in spite of repeated failures he clung to
his task, wrestled with it, and ended by overcoming the sovereign
planet–he, the little hard-working ant, whom too hot a sunray would
have killed. Never was there greater heroism, never did the pursuit
of an idea afford the spectacle of a loftier victory over the natural
forces–forces which yesterday had been deadly thunderbolts for man,
and which to-day were conquered, subjected to his service. He succeeded
in solving the problem, the great and glorious sun parted with some
little of that inexhaustible glow with which, never cooling, it has
warmed the earth through so many centuries. After some final trials new
works were definitively planned and erected, and supplied Beauclair
throughout a whole year with as much electricity as its inhabitants
required, even as the springs of the mountains supplied them with
water. Nevertheless, an annoying defect was observed: the loss from the
reservoirs remained very large, and some last improvements had to be
devised, a means of storing without fear of diminution the necessary
winter reserve of power, in such wise that another sun, as it were,
might be lighted above the town throughout the long cold nights of
December.
Again did Jordan set to work. He sought, he struggled still, resolved
upon keeping alive until his task should be completed. His strength
declined, he was at last unable to go out, and had to rest content with
sending his orders to the works respecting the final, long-debated
ameliorations. In this fashion several months went by. Shut up in his
laboratory he there perfected his work, resolved to die there on the
day when this work should be ended. And that day arrived: he found a
means of preventing all loss, of rendering his reservoirs absolutely
impermeable, capable of holding their store of electric force for a
long period. And then he had but one desire–to bid farewell to his
work, embrace his friends, and return again into universal life.
The month of October had come, and the sun was still gilding the last
leaves with warm, clear gold. Jordan requested Sœurette to have him
carried in an arm-chair, for the last time, to the works where the new
reservoirs had been installed. He wished to gaze upon his creation, to
make sure that enough sunshine was stored away to enable Beauclair to
wait for the return of spring. And so one delightful afternoon he was
taken to the works, and spent two hours in them, inspecting everything
and regulating the action of the appliances. The works were built at
the very foot of the Bleuse Mountains, in a part of the old park which
looked towards the south, and which had formerly been an overflowing
paradise of fruit and flowers. There were towers rising above large
buildings with long roofs of steel and glass, but nothing connected
with the work could be seen from the outside, for all the conducting
cables passed underground.
At last, by way of finishing his visit, Jordan bade his bearers halt
for a moment in the central courtyard, where he gave a long supreme
glance around him at that nucleus of a new world, endowed with the
source of eternal life, his creation, the passion of his whole life.
And finally he turned towards Sœurette, who, never quitting him, had
followed his arm-chair step by step. ‘Well,’ said he with a smile,
‘it’s finished, and it seems quite satisfactory; so now I can go off.
Let us return to the house, sister.’
He was very gay, radiant like a toiler who thinks that he will at
last be able to rest since his work is done. However, his sister,
hoping that he might benefit by the sunshine, told the men carrying
the arm-chair not to hurry, but to go back to the house by a somewhat
roundabout way. And thus it happened that on emerging from one of the
paths Jordan suddenly found himself in front of the pavilion where Luc
still dwelt, reduced like his friend to immobility, since he had lost
the use of his legs. For some months now the two friends had not seen
one another. They could only correspond, obtain news of each other
through their dear nurses, their guardian angels, who were ever coming
and going between them. And a final desire, the last desire of his
heart, suddenly upbuoyed the sinking Jordan.
‘Oh! sister, I beg you,’ said he, ‘let them stop and place my chair
yonder, under that tree, at the edge of the tall grass. And go up to
Luc at once and tell him that I am here, at his door, waiting for him.’
Sœurette hesitated for a moment, feeling somewhat anxious at the
thought of all the emotion which such an interview would bring with it.
‘But Luc is like yourself, my friend,’ she said, ‘he cannot stir. How
would you have him come downstairs?’
The gay smile which revived the brilliancy of Jordan’s eyes, again
appeared upon his face.
‘My bearers will carry him down, sister,’ he replied. ‘Since I have
come so far in my arm-chair he can surely come here in his.’ And he
added tenderly: ‘It is so pleasant here, we can have a last chat
together, and bid one another goodbye. How can we part for ever without
embracing?’
It was impossible for Sœurette to refuse his request any longer, so
she went into the pavilion for Luc. Jordan waited quietly amidst the
caress of the declining sun; and his sister soon returned, announcing
that his friend was coming. Deep was the emotion when Luc appeared,
likewise carried by the men in his arm-chair. He was brought towards
the greenery, followed by Josine and Suzanne, who did not leave him.
At last the bearers deposited him near Jordan, the chairs touching one
another, and the two friends were then able to press each other’s hands.
‘Ah! my good Jordan, how much I thank you,’ said Luc; ‘how kind of you
to have thought of bringing us together in order that we might see one
another again and bid one another a last good-bye!’
‘You would have done the same, my dear Luc,’ Jordan answered. ‘As I was
passing and you were there it was natural that we should meet for the
last time on this grass, under one of our dear trees, whose shade we
have loved so well.’
The tree under which they sat was a big silvery lime-tree, a superb
giant that had already shed its leaves. But the sunshine still gilded
it delightfully, and the golden dust of the planet fell in a warm rain
athwart its branches. The evening too was exquisite, an evening of
intense peacefulness, fraught with the sweetest charm. A broad sun ray
enveloped the two old men as with a loving splendour, whilst the three
women, standing in the rear, watched over them with solicitude.
‘Just think of it, my friend!’ Jordan resumed. ‘For so many years
past whilst we have been pursuing parallel tasks, our lives have been
mingled. I should have gone off full of remorse if I had not again
excused myself for having placed such little faith in your work when
you first came to me and asked my help to build the future city of
Justice. I was at that time convinced that you would encounter defeat.’
Luc began to laugh: ‘Yes, yes, as you said, my friend, political,
economical, and social struggles were not your business. No doubt
there has been much futile agitation among men. But was one to abstain
on that account from taking part in what went on, was one to allow
evolution to take place as it listed, and refrain from hastening the
hour of deliverance? All the compromises–often necessary ones–all the
base devices to which the leaders of men have stooped, have had their
excuse in the double march which they have at times helped mankind to
effect.’
Jordan hastily interrupted him: ‘You were right, my friend,’ said he,
‘and you have proved it magnificently. Your battle here has created,
hastened the advent of a new world. Perhaps you have snatched a
hundred years from human wretchedness. At all events this new town of
Beauclair, where more justice and happiness now flower, proclaims the
excellence of your mission, the beneficent glory of your achievement. I
am with you entirely, you see, in mind and in heart, and I do not wish
to quit you without telling you once more how thoroughly you won me
over to your work, and with what growing affection I watched you whilst
you were realising so many great things. You were often an example for
me.’
But Luc protested: ‘Oh! do not let us speak of any example of mine,
my friend. It was you who ever gave me one, the loftiest, the most
magnificent! Remember my lassitude, my occasional attacks of weakness,
whereas I always found you erect, endowed with more courage, more and
more faith in your work, even on the days when everything seemed to
be crumbling around you. That which made you invincible was that you
believed solely in work, in which, alone, you set health and the one
reason for living and doing. And your own work became your very heart
and brain, the blood pulsing in your veins, the thought ever on the
alert in the depths of your mind. Your work alone existed for you,
building itself up with all the life that you bestowed on it, hour by
hour. And what an imperishable monument, what a gift of splendour and
happiness you will leave to mankind! I might never have been able to
carry out my own work, as a builder of towns, and leader of men, and at
all events it would as yet be as nothing, had it not been for yours.’
Silence fell, and some birds flew by, whilst through the bare branches
of the lime-tree the autumn sunshine streamed more gently as evening
advanced. Sœurette, in her motherly fashion, became anxious, and drew
Jordan’s rug over his knees, whilst Josine and Suzanne bent over Luc,
fearing lest he should tire himself.
But the latter replied to Jordan: ‘Science remains the great
revolutionary. You told me so at the outset, and every forward step
in our long lives has shown me how right you were. Would our town of
Beauclair, now all comfort and solidarity, have been possible as yet
if you had not placed at its disposal that electrical power which has
become the necessary agent of all work, all social life? Science,
truth, will alone emancipate man, make him master of his destiny, and
give him sovereignty over the world by reducing the natural forces to
the status of obedient servants. Whilst I was building, my friend, you
gave me what was needed to infuse life into my stones and mortar.’
‘It is true, no doubt, that science will free man,’ Jordan quietly
replied in his weak little voice, ‘for at bottom truth is the one
powerful artisan of fraternity and justice. And I’m going off, feeling
well pleased with myself, for I’ve just paid my last visit to our
factory, and it is working now as I desired it to work, for the relief
and felicity of all.’
He went on giving explanations and instructions respecting the working
of the new appliances, the employment of those reservoirs of force, as
if indeed he were dictating his last will and testament to his friend.
Electricity already cost nothing, and was so abundant that it might be
given to the inhabitants of Beauclair in whatever measure they desired,
like the streams whose flood was inexhaustible; like the air which came
freely from the four corners of the heavens. And given in this wise
electricity was life.
In every public edifice and private house, even the most modest, light,
heat, and motive power were distributed without counting. It was only
necessary to turn on a few switches and the house was illumined and
warmed, food was cooked, and various trade and household appliances
were set working. All sorts of ingenious little mechanisms were being
invented for household requirements, relieving women of the work which
they had formerly done, substituting mechanical action for manual toil.
In a word, from the housewife to the factory-worker, the ancient human
beast of burden had been altogether relieved of physical exertion and
useless suffering; a subjugated and domesticated natural force now
replacing the old-time toilers and performing all the work allotted
to it, in silence and cleanliness, with merely an attendant to check
its action. And this also meant relief and freedom for the mind, a
moral and intellectual rise for every brain, hitherto weighed down by
excessive work, badly apportioned and fraught with savage iniquity
for the greater number of the disinherited, whom it had plunged in
ignorance, baseness and crime. And it was not slothful idleness that
now reigned in the place of excessive toil, but work into which more
freedom and conscience entered; man really becoming the king of work,
devoting himself to the occupations he preferred, and creating more
truth and beauty according to his tastes, after the few hours of
general work which he gave to the community. And meantime also the
unhappy domestic animals, the sad-looking horses, all the beasts used
for draught, burden, and servitude were freed from the carts they had
been compelled to drag, the millstones they had turned, the loads they
had carried, and were restored to happy life in the fields and the
woods.
But the purposes for which the electric force could be used were
innumerable, and each day brought with it some fresh benefit. Jordan
had invented some lamps of such great power that two or three sufficed
to illumine an avenue. Thus the dream of lighting another sun above
Beauclair at night-time would assuredly be fulfilled. Some huge and
splendid glass houses had also been erected, in which by means of an
improved system of heating, flowers, vegetables, and fruits could be
easily grown at all seasons. The town was full of them, they were
distributed broadcast, and winter, like night, ceased to exist.
Moreover, transport and locomotion were facilitated more and more,
thanks to the free motive power which was applied to an infinity of
vehicles, bicycles, carriages, carts, and trains of several coaches.
‘Yes, I am going off feeling well pleased,’ Jordan repeated with serene
gaiety. ‘I’ve done my own work, and the general task is sufficiently
well advanced to allow me to fall asleep in all peacefulness. To-morrow
the secret of aerial navigation will be discovered, and man will
conquer the atmosphere even as he conquered the oceans. To-morrow he
will be able to correspond from one to the other end of the earth
without wire or cable. Human speech, human gesture will dart round
the world with the rapidity of lightning. And that indeed, my friend,
is the deliverance of the nations by science, the great invincible
revolutionary, who will ever bring them increase of peace and truth.
You yourself long ago obliterated the frontiers, so to say, by your
rails, your railway lines which have extended further and further,
crossing rivers, transpiercing mountains, gathering the nations
together in a closer and closer network of intercourse. And what will
it be when one capital can chat in friendly fashion with another,
however far away, when the same thought at the same minute occupies
the attention of distant continents, and when the balloon cars travel
freely through the infinite, man’s common patrimony, without knowing
aught of customs’ tariffs? The air which we all breathe, that space
which is the property of all, will prove a field of harmony, in which
the men of to-morrow will assuredly become reconciled. And this is
why you have always seen me so composed, my friend, so convinced of
final deliverance. Men might do all they could to devour one another,
religions might pile error upon error in order to retain their
domination, but science was taking a step forward every day, creating
more light, more brotherliness, more happiness. And by the irresistible
force of truth it will at last sweep away all the dark and hateful
past, liberate the minds of men, and draw their hearts closer and
closer together under the great and beneficent sun, the father of us
all.’
Jordan was growing tired, and his voice became very faint. Nevertheless
he laughed again as he concluded: ‘You see, my friend, I was as much of
a revolutionist as you.’
‘I know it,’ Luc replied with affectionate gentleness. ‘You have
been my master in all things. I shall never be able to thank you
sufficiently for the admirable lesson of energy you gave me by your
superb faith in work.’
The sun was now fast declining, and a light quiver had passed between
the branches of the great lime-tree, whence fell the planet’s golden
dust, now of a paler hue. Night approached, and a delightful stillness
spread slowly over the tall herbage. The three women, still standing
there, silent and attentive, full of respect for that supreme
interview, nevertheless became anxious, and gently intervened. However,
as Josine and Sœurette covered Luc, in his turn, with a rug, he said to
them: ‘I don’t feel cold, the evening is so beautiful.’
But Sœurette turned to glance at the sun, which was about to disappear
from the horizon, and Jordan following her glance, exclaimed: ‘Yes,
night is falling. But the sun may go to bed now–it has left some of
its beneficence and power in our granaries. If it now sets the meaning
is that my day is over. I am going to sleep. Good-bye, my friend.’
‘Good-bye, my friend,’ Luc rejoined; ‘I shall soon go to sleep also.’
This was their farewell, full of poignant affection, simple yet
wondrous grandeur. They knew that they would never more see one
another, and they exchanged a last glance and spoke a few last words.
‘Good-bye, my friend,’ Jordan repeated. ‘Do not be sad, death is good
and necessary. One lives again in others, one remains immortal. We have
already given ourselves to others, we have worked for them only, and
we shall be born again in them, and thus enjoy our share of our work.
Goodbye, my friend.’
Then Luc once again repeated: ‘Good-bye, my friend, all that will
remain of us will tell how much we loved and hoped. Each is born for
his task, that is the sole reason of life; nature brings a fresh being
into the world each time that she needs another workman. And when his
day’s work is over, the workman can lie down, the earth will take him
again for other uses. Good-bye, my friend.’
He leant forward, for he wished to embrace Jordan; but he was unable
to do so until the three affectionate women came to the help of both
of them, sustaining them whilst they exchanged that last embrace. They
laughed at it like children, they were full of gaiety and serenity at
that moment of separation, feeling neither regret nor remorse, since
they had done all their duty, all their work as men. And they had no
fears, no terror of the morrow of death, certain as they were of the
deep quietude in which good workmen slumber. They exchanged a long and
very tender embrace, putting all the strength that remained to them
into that last kiss.
‘Good-bye, my dear Jordan.’
‘Good-bye, my dear Luc.’
Then they spoke no more. The silence became intense and holy. The sun
disappeared from the great heavens, vanishing behind the vague and
distant horizon. A bird perched on the lime-tree ceased singing, and
delicate shadows stole over the branches, whilst the lofty herbage, and
all the park with its clumps of trees, its paths and its lawns, sank
into the delightful quietude of twilight.
Then, at a sign from Sœurette, the bearers took up Jordan’s chair, and
slowly, gently carried him away. Luc had asked that he might be allowed
to remain under the tree a little longer, and as he still sat there he
watched his friend going off along a broad, straight pathway. At one
moment Jordan looked round, and a last glance and a half-stifled laugh
were exchanged. Then all was over, Luc saw the arm-chair disappear,
whilst the park was invaded by the gathering gloom. And Jordan, on
returning to his laboratory, went to bed there; and even as he had said
to Luc–his work being done, his day being ended–he let death take
him, dying on the morrow very peacefully, with a smile upon his lips,
in Sœurette’s loving arms.
Luc was destined to live five years longer in that arm-chair of
his which he seldom quitted, and which was placed near a window of
his room whence he could see his city spreading and growing day by
day. A week after Jordan’s death Sœurette came to join Josine and
Suzanne, and from that day forward all three women encompassed Luc
with their loving attentions. During the long hours which he spent
gazing upon his happy city he often lived through the past again. He
once more saw his point of departure, the distant night of insomnia
when he had taken up a little book in which the doctrines of Fourier
were set forth. And Fourier’s ideas of genius: the honouring, the
utilisation, the acceptance of the human passions as the very forces
of life; the extrication of work from its prison, its ennoblement,
its transformation into something attractive, into a new social code,
liberty and justice being gradually won by pacific means, thanks to a
confederation of capital, work, and brain power–all those ideas of
genius had suddenly illumined Luc’s mind and prompted him to action on
the very morrow. It was to Fourier that he was indebted if he had dared
to make that experiment at La Crêcherie. The first common-house with
its school, the first bright clean workshops, the first dwelling-houses
with their white walls smiling amidst the greenery, had all sprung
from Fourierist ideas, ideas which had been left slumbering like
good grain in winter fields, ever ready to germinate and flower.
Even like Catholicism, the Religion of Humanity might need centuries
to be firmly established. But what an evolution afterwards, what a
continuous broadening of principles as love grew and the city spread!
By proposing combination between capital, work, and brain power as an
immediate experiment, Fourier, the evolutionist, a man of method and
practicability, virtually led one first to the social organisation of
the Collectivists, and afterwards even to the Libertarian dream of the
Anarchists. In that association capital gradually became annihilated,
and work and intelligence became the only regulators and basis of the
new social compact. At the end lay the disappearance of ordinary
trade, and the suppression of money, the first a cumbersome cogwheel
levying toll and consuming energy, the second a fictitious value, which
became useless in a community in which all contributed to produce
prodigious wealth, that circulated in continual exchanges. And thus,
starting with Fourier’s experiment, the new city was fated to transform
itself at each fresh advance, marching on to more and more liberty and
equity, and conquering on its way all the socialists of the various
hostile sects, the Collectivists and even the Anarchists, and finally
grouping them in a brotherly people, reconciled amidst the fulfilment
of their common ideal, the kingdom of heaven set at last upon the earth.
And that was the admirable spectacle which Luc ever had before his
eyes, a spectacle summed up in that city of happiness whose bright
roofs spread out among the trees before his window. The march which
the first generation, imbued with all the ancient errors, spoilt
by iniquitous surroundings, had begun so painfully, amidst so many
obstacles and so much hatred, was pursued with a joyous easy step
by the ensuing generations which the new schools and workshops had
created. They were attaining to heights which had once been declared
inaccessible. Thanks to continuous change, the children and the
children’s children seemed to have hearts and brains different from
those of their forerunners, and brotherliness became easy to them in a
community in which the happiness of each was virtually compounded of
the happiness of all.
With trade, theft had disappeared. With money, all criminal cupidity
had vanished. Inheritance no longer existed, and so no more privileged
idlers were born, and men no longer butchered each other to benefit
by somebody’s will. What was the use of hating one another, of being
envious of one another, of seeking to acquire somebody’s property
by ruse or force, when the public fortune belonged to one and all,
each being born, living and dying, in as good circumstances as his
neighbour? Crime became senseless, idiotic, and the whole savage
apparatus of repression and chastisement, instituted to protect
the thefts of a few rich beings from the rebellion of the wretched
multitude, had fallen to pieces like something useless, gendarmes
and law courts and prisons alike being swept away. Living among that
people who knew not the horrors of war, who obeyed the one law of work,
with a solidarity simply based upon reason and individual interest,
properly understood, a people, too, saved from the monstrous falsehoods
of religion, well informed, knowing the truth and bent on justice,
one realised how possible became the alleged ‘utopia’ of universal
happiness. Since the passions, instead of being combated and stifled,
had been cultivated like the very forces of life, they had lost all
criminal bitterness, and had become social virtues, a continuous
flowering of individual energies. Legitimate happiness lay in the
development and education of the five senses and the sense of love. The
long efforts of mankind ended in the free expansion of the individual,
and in a social system satisfying every need, man being man in his
entirety, and living life in its entirety also. And the happy city had
thus secured realisation in the practice of the religion of life, the
religion of humanity freed from dogmas, finding in itself its _raison
d’être_, its end, its joy, and its glory.
But Luc particularly beheld the triumph of Work, the saviour, creator,
regulator of the world. He had at the very outset desired to destroy
the iniquitous wage-system, and had dreamt of a new compact which would
allow of a just apportionment of wealth. But what a deal of ground it
had been necessary to traverse! In this respect again the evolution
had started from Fourier, for to him could be traced the association
of workers, the varied, attractive, limited labour of the workshops,
the groups of workers forming successive series, parting to meet again
and mingling with all the constant play of free organs–the play of
life itself. The germs of the Libertarian Commune may be found in
Fourier, for if he repudiated brutal revolution, and began by making
use of the existing mechanism of society, his doctrines tended in
their result to that society’s destruction. No doubt the wage-system
had long lingered at the works of La Crêcherie, passing through
various stages of association, division of profits, a percentage of
interest in the common toil. At last it had been transformed in such
a manner as to satisfy the Collectivists, realising their formula, a
regulated circulation of ‘vouchers for work.’ Nevertheless it still
remained the wage-system, attenuated, disguised, but refusing to die.
And the doctrine of the Libertarian Commune alone had swept it away
in the course of a last advance, that of deliverance by liberty and
justice in their entirety, that chimera of other days, that unity and
harmony which now really lived. At present no authority remained, the
new social compact was based solely on the bond of necessary work,
accepted by all, and constituting both law and cult. An infinity of
groups practised it, starting with the old groups of the building,
clothing, and metal trades, the industrial workers and the tillers
of the soil, but multiplying and varying incessantly, in such wise
as to be adapted to all individual desires as well as to all the
needs of the community. Nothing hindered individual expansion, each
citizen formed part of as many groups as he desired, passed from the
cultivation of the soil to factory work, gave his time as best suited
his faculties and his desires. And there was no longer any contention
between classes, since only one class existed, a whole nation of
workers, equally rich, equally happy, educated to the same level, with
no difference either in attire, or in dwelling-place, or in manners and
customs. Work was king, the only guide, only master, and only deity,
instinct with sovereign nobility, since it had redeemed mankind when it
was dying of falsehood and injustice, and had restored it to vigour and
to the joy of life, and to love, and to beauty.
Luc laughed gaily when the morning breeze wafted towards him all
the sonorous gaiety of his city. How good, easy, and delightful was
the work performed there! It lasted only a few hours each day, and
so much of it, the most delicate as well as the mightiest task, was
performed by the new machinery which completed man’s conquest of
nature and loaded him with wealth and abundance. Freed from long hours
of rough toil, man was the better able to exert his mind; art and
science soared; the level of current mentality was ever rising; great
intelligence ceased to be an exception, and men of genius sprang up in
crowds.
The science of alimentation had already been revolutionised by
chemistry, the earth might have yielded no more wheat, no more olives,
no more grapes, and yet enough bread, oil, and wine for the whole city
would have come from its laboratories. In physics, in electricity
especially, fresh inventions were ever and ever enlarging the domain
of the possible, and endowing men with the power of gods, knowing all,
seeing all, and capable of all. Then came the flight of art, the growth
and diffusion of beauty in every respect, an extraordinary florescence
of all the arts, now that the soul of the multitude throbbed in every
soul, and that life was lived with all its passions freed, love
given and received in its entirety. Inspired by the universal loving
kindness, music became the very voice of the happy people, through and
for whom musicians found the most sublime chants, in whose continual
harmony theatres, workshops, dwellings, and streets were ever steeped.
And for the people architects built vast and superb palaces, made in
its own image, of a size and a majesty at once varied and yet all one,
like the multitude itself, all the charming variations of thousands
of individualities finding expression in them. Then sculptors peopled
the gardens and museums with living bronze and marble; and painters
decorated the public edifices, the railway stations, the markets,
the libraries, the theatres, and the halls for study and diversion
with scenes borrowed from daily life. Writers moreover gave to that
innumerable people, who all read them, vast, strong, and powerful
works, born of them, created for them. Genius expanded, acquiring fresh
strength from increase of knowledge and freedom among the community;
never before had it displayed such splendour. The narrow, cramped,
aristocratic, hot-house literature of the past had been swept away by
the literature of humanity, poems overflowing with life, which all had
helped to create with their blood, and which returned to the hearts of
all.
Full of serenity, without fear for the future, Luc watched his town
growing like a beautiful being, endowed with eternal youth. It had
descended from the Brias gorges, between the two promontories of
the Bleuse Mountains, and was now spread over the meadow-land of La
Roumagne. In fine weather its white house-fronts smiled amidst the
verdure without a single puff of smoke besmirching the pure atmosphere,
for there were no chimneys left, electricity having everywhere replaced
coal and wood for heating purposes. The light silk canopy of the
broad blue sky spread over all, immaculate, without a speck of soot.
Thus in aspect the town remained a new one, bright and gay under the
refreshing breezes, whilst on all sides one heard the carolling of
water, the crystalline streaming of springs, whose purity brought
health and perpetual delight. The population steadily increased, fresh
houses were built, fresh gardens were planted. A happy people, free
and brotherly, becomes a centre of attraction, and thus the little
towns of the neighbourhood, Saint-Cron, Formerie, and Magnolles, had
found it necessary to follow the example of Beauclair, and had ended
by becoming so many prolongations of the original city. It had been
sufficient to make an experiment on a small scale, and by degrees
the _arrondissement_, the department, the whole region was won over.
Irresistible happiness was on the march, and nothing will be able to
withstand the force of happiness when men possess a clear and decisive
perception of it. Mankind has known but one struggle through the ages,
the struggle for happiness, which is to be found beneath every form of
religion, every form of government. Egotism is merely an individual
effort to acquire the greatest possible sum of happiness for self;
and why should not each set his egotism in treating his fellows as
brothers when he becomes convinced that the happiness of each rests
in the happiness of all? If there was contention between different
interests in the past, it was because the old social pact opposed them
one to the other, making warfare the very soul of society. But let it
be demonstrated that work reorganised will apportion wealth justly, and
that the passions, playing freely, will lead to harmony and unity, and
then peace will at once ensue, and happiness will be established in
a brotherly contract of solidarity. Why should one fight one against
the other, when interests cease to clash? If all the desperate,
pain-fraught exertions of generations, the prodigious sum of efforts,
blood, and tears that mankind has given to mutual slaughter throughout
so many centuries, had only been devoted to the conquest of the world,
the subjugation of the natural forces, man would long since have been
the absolute, happy sovereign of creatures and things. When humanity
at last became conscious of its imbecile dementia, when man ceased to
be wolfishly inclined towards his brother, and resolved to devote some
of the genius and wealth hitherto squandered in mutual annihilation,
to the common work of happiness, the mastery of the elements, on that
day the nations first started on their march towards the happy city.
And no! it is not true that a nation having its every need satisfied,
having to battle no longer for existence, would thereby gradually lose
the strength it requires to live, and sink into torpor and catalepsy.
The human dream will always be without a limit, there will always
remain much of the Unknown to be conquered. Each time a new craving is
contented, desire will give birth to another, the satisfaction of which
will exalt men and make them heroes of science and beauty. Desire is
infinite, and if men long battled together in order to steal happiness
one from the other, they will battle side by side to increase it, to
make it an immense banquet, resplendent with joy and glory, vast enough
to satiate the passions of thousands of millions of human creatures.
And there will be only heroes left, and each fresh child born into the
world will receive as his birthgift the whole earth, the unbounded
expanse of heaven, and the paternal sun, the source of immortal life.
As Luc gaily contemplated his triumphant town he often repeated that
love alone had created all the prodigies he beheld. He had sown the
seed, and now he reaped inexhaustible harvests of kindliness and
brotherliness. At the very outset he had felt that it was necessary to
found his city by and for woman if it was to prove fruitful and for
ever desirable and beautiful. Woman saved–Josine set in her due place
of beauty, dignity, and tenderness–was not that the symbol of the
future alliance, the union of the sexes, ensuring social peace, and
free and just life in common? Then, too, the new system of education,
the sexes being reared together and acquiring the same knowledge, had
brought them to a complete understanding, and made them sincerely
desirous of attaining to the one object of life, that object which was
reached by loving a great deal in order that one might be loved a great
deal in return. True wisdom lay in creating happiness, it was thus
that one logically became happy oneself. And now love chose freely; no
law, mutual consent alone, regulated marriage. A young man, a young
girl had known one another since their schooldays, had passed through
the same workshops together, and when they bestowed themselves one
on the other, that bestowal was simply like the florescence of their
long intimacy. They gave themselves to one another for life, long and
faithful unions predominating; they grew old together, even as they had
grown up together, in a bestowal of their whole beings, their rights
being equal, their love equal also. Yet their liberty remained entire,
separation was always possible for those who ceased to agree, and their
offspring remained with one or the other, as they decided, or when
difficulties supervened in the charge of the community. The bitter duel
of man and woman, all the questions which had so long set the sexes one
against the other, like savage, irreconcilable enemies, came to an end
in that solution: woman free in all respects, woman the free companion
of man, resuming her position as an equal, as an indispensable factor
in the union of love. She had a right to abstain from marrying, to
live as a man, to play a man’s part as far as she desired, if she
chose; but why should she deny desire, and set herself apart from
life? Only one thing is sensible and beautiful, and that is life in
its entirety. And so the natural order of things had come about, peace
was signed between the reconciled sexes, each finding happiness in the
happiness of a common home tasting at last all the delights of the bond
of love, which was freed from the baseness of pecuniary and social
considerations. One could no longer sell himself for the other’s dowry,
families could no longer barter their sons and daughters like mere
merchandise.
Thus the fulness of love reigned in the community. The sense of love,
developed and purified, became the perfume, the flame, the focus of
existence. It was widespread, general, universal love, springing from
the mated couple, and passing to the mother, the father, the children,
the relations, the neighbours, the citizens, the men and women of the
whole world in ever-broadening waves, a sea of love which ended by
bathing the entire earth. Loving kindness was like the pure air on
which every breast fed; there remained but one breath of brotherly
affection, and that alone had at last brought about the long-dreamt-of
unity, the divine harmony. Humanity–equilibrated like the planets, by
force of attraction, by the law of justice, solidarity and love–would
henceforth journey happily through the eternal infinite. And such was
the ever-recurring harvest, the immense harvest of tenderness and
kindliness, which Luc each morning saw arising from all sides; from
all the furrows which he had sown so abundantly; from his entire city,
where for so many years he had cast the good seed by the handful into
the schools, into the workshops, into every home, and even into every
heart.
‘Look! look!’ he said with a laugh some morning when Josine, Sœurette,
and Suzanne remained near his arm-chair before the open window. ‘Look,
there are trees which have flowered since last night, and it seems as
if kisses were winging their flight, like song-birds, from some of the
roofs. There, yonder, both on the right and on the left, love flaps his
wings, as it were, in the rising sunlight.’
The three women joined in his laughter, and jested in a tender way to
please him. ‘Certainly,’ Josine would say, ‘on that side, above that
house with the blue tiles spangled with white stars, there is a great
quiver of the sunlight, telling of internal rapture. That must be the
house of some newly-wedded pair.’
‘And straight before us,’ said Sœurette, ‘see how the window-panes are
flashing with the splendour of a rising planet, in that house-front
where the faïence ornaments are decorated with roses! Assuredly a child
has been born there.’
‘And on all sides, over all the dwellings, over the whole town the rays
are pouring,’ said Suzanne in her turn. ‘They form sheaves of wheat, a
field of prodigious fertility. Is it not the peace springing from the
love of all that grows and is harvested there each day?’
Luc listened to them with rapture. What a delightful reward was that
which he himself had won from love, which had surrounded him with the
sublime affection of those three women, whose presence filled his
last days with perfume and brilliancy! They were full of solicitude,
infinitely good, infinitely loving, with serene eyes which ever
brought him joy in life, and gentle hands which sustained him to the
very threshold of the grave. And they were very old and quite white,
light and aerial like souls, like gay, active, pure flames, glowing
with youthful, eternal passion. He lived on; and they lived on also,
and were like his force, his activity and intelligence, healthy and
strong as they were in spite of everything, coming and going for him
when he himself could no longer move, like guardians, housewives, and
companions, who prolonged and broadened his life far beyond the usual
limits.
At seventy-eight years of age Josine remained the _amorosa_, the Eve,
who had long ago been saved from error and suffering. Extremely slim,
suggesting a dry, pallid flower that had retained its perfume, she
had preserved her supple gracefulness, her delicate charm. In the
bright sunlight her white hair seemed to recover some of its golden
hue, the sovereign gold of youth. And Luc adored her still, as on
the distant day when he had succoured her, setting in his love for
her his love for the whole suffering people, for all tortured women;
choosing her, indeed, as the most wretched, the most dolorous, in
order that with her–should he save her–he might likewise save all
the disinherited of the world whom shame and hunger were clutching
at the throat. Even nowadays it was religiously that he kissed her
mutilated hand, the wound dealt by iniquitous labour, in the prison
of the wage-system, from which his compassion and love for her had
helped him to extricate the workers. He had not remained unfruitful in
his mission of redemption and deliverance; he had felt the need of
woman, the necessity of being strong and complete in order to redeem
his brothers. It was the mated couple, the fruitful spouse, that had
given birth to the new people. When she had borne him children his work
itself had begun to create, had become lasting. And on her side she
likewise adored him, with the adoration of their first meeting, a flame
of tender gratitude, a gift of her whole person, a passion and a desire
for the infinite of love, whose inextinguishable flame age had not
weakened.
Sœurette, born the same year as Luc, her eighty-fifth birthday being
near at hand, was the most active of the three women, on her feet,
busy the whole day long. It had long seemed as if she had ceased to
grow older. Small of frame, shrunken even, she had nevertheless been
beautified by gentle age. So dark, so thin, so graceless in former
times, she had become a delightful little old woman, a little white
mouse, whose eyes were full of light. Long ago, in the distressing
crisis of her love for Luc, amidst her grief at loving and remaining
unloved, her good brother Jordan had told her that she would become
resigned, and would sacrifice her passion to the love of others.
And each day she had indeed become more and more resigned, her
renunciation proving at last a source of pure joy, a force of divine
delight. She still loved Luc, she loved him in each of his children
and grandchildren, with whom she had long assisted Josine. And she
loved him with a deeper and deeper love, freed from all egotism, a
chaste flame, that glowed with sisterly affection and motherliness.
The delicate attentions, the discreet comforts which she had lavished
on her brother, were now bestowed on her friend. She was always on the
watch, in order to make his every hour delight. And all her happiness
lay in that: to feel how greatly he himself was attached to her, to end
almost a century of life in that passionate friendship, which was as
sweet as love itself.
Suzanne, now eight-and-eighty years of age, was the eldest, the most
serious, the most venerable of the women. Slender of figure, she
remained upright, showing a tender countenance, whose only charm, as
in days before, rested in its expression of kindliness, indulgence,
and sterling good sense. But nowadays she could scarcely walk, and her
compassionate eyes alone expressed her craving to interest herself in
others and expend her strength in good work. As a rule she remained
seated near Luc, keeping him company, whilst Josine and Sœurette
quietly and attentively trotted around them. She, on her side, had
loved Luc so tenderly in her sad younger days, loved him with a
consoling love, of which she had long remained ignorant. She had given
herself without knowing it amidst her dream of a hero whom she would
have liked to encourage, assist with her affection. And on the day when
her heart had spoken, the hero was already in another’s arms, and only
room for a friend remained at his hearth. She had been that friend for
numerous years now, and had found perfect peace in the communion of
heart and mind in which she had lived with the man who had become her
brother. Doubtless, too, as in the case of Sœurette, if that friendship
proved so delightful, it was because it had sprung from a brasier of
love, and retained its eternal fire.
Thus Luc, very aged, glorious, and handsome, lived his last days
encompassed by the love of those three women, who also were very old,
glorious, and beautiful. His eighty-five years had failed to bend his
lofty figure, he remained healthy and strong, save for that stiffening
of his legs which kept him at his window like a happy spectator of the
city he had founded. His hair had not fallen from above his lofty,
towering brow, it had simply whitened, surrounding his head with a
great white mane, like that of some old, resting lion. And his last
days were brightened and perfumed by the adoration with which Josine,
Sœurette, and Suzanne surrounded him. He had loved all three of them,
and still loved them with that vast love of his, whence flowed so much
desire, so much brotherliness and kindness. But signs appeared. As with
Jordan, no doubt, the work being done, Luc was soon to die. Somnolence
came over him, like a foretaste of the well-earned repose whose advent
he awaited with joyous serenity. It was with good spirits that he saw
death approaching, for he knew it to be necessary and gentle, and he
had no need of any mendacious promise of a heaven in order to accept
it with a brave heart. Heaven henceforth was set upon the earth,
where the greatest possible sum of truth and justice realised the
ideal, the entirety of human happiness. Each being remained immortal
in the generations born of him, the torrent of love was increased by
each fresh love that came into being, and rolled and rolled along,
assuring eternity to all who had lived, loved, and created. And Luc
knew that, although he might die, he would continually be born anew in
the innumerable men whose lives he had desired to see improved, more
fortunate. That was the only certainty of survival, and it brought him
delightful peace. He had loved others so much, and had expended his
strength so much for the relief of their wretchedness, that he found
reward and beatitude in falling asleep in them, in profiting himself by
his work in the bosom of generations which would ever become happier
and happier.
Anxious though they felt at seeing him thus gently sinking, Josine,
Sœurette, and Suzanne did not wish to be sad. They opened the windows
every morning in order that the sun might enter freely, they decorated
and perfumed the room with flowers, huge nosegays possessing all
the brightness and aroma of youth. And knowing how attached Luc was
to children, they surrounded him with a joyous party of little lads
and lassies, whose fair and dark heads were like other nosegays–the
flowery to-morrow, the strength and beauty of the years to come. And
when all those little folk were present, laughing and playing around
his arm-chair, Luc smiled at them tenderly and watched their play with
an air of amusement, enraptured at heart at departing amidst such pure
delight, such living hope.
Now, on the day when death, very just and very good, was to come upon
Luc with the twilight, the three women, who divined its approach by
the expression in the clear eyes of the grand old man, sent for his
great-grandchildren, the very little ones, those who would set the most
childhood, the most future promise around him in his last moments.
And these children brought others, playmates and so forth, some of
them their elders, and all of them descendants of the workers by whose
solidarity and exertion La Crêcherie had formerly been founded. It was
a charming spectacle, that sunlit room full of children and roses,
and the hero, the old lion with the white mane, still cheerfully and
lovingly taking an interest in the little ones. He recognised them all,
named them, and questioned them.
A tall lad of eighteen, François, the son of Hippolyte Mitaine and
Laure Fauchard, strove to restrain his tears as he looked at him.
‘Come and shake hands with me, my handsome François,’ said Luc. ‘You
must not be sad, you see how cheerful we all are. And be a good man.
You have grown taller lately, you will make a superb sweetheart for
some charming girl.’
Then came the turn of two girls of fifteen, Amélie, the daughter of
Alexandre Feuillat and Clémentine Bourron, and Simonne, the daughter
of Adolphe Laboque and Germaine Yvonnot. ‘Ah! you at least are gay,
my pretty ones,’ said Luc, ‘and it is right that you should be so.
Come and let me kiss you on your fresh cheeks, and be always gay and
beautiful, for therein lies happiness.’
Then he only recognised his own descendants, whose number was destined
to multiply without cessation. Two of his grandchildren were present,
a granddaughter aged eighteen, Alice, who had sprung from Charles
Froment and Claudine Bonnaire, and a grandson of sixteen, Richard, who
had sprung from Jules Froment and Céline Lenfant. Only the unmarried
grandchildren had been invited, for the room could not have held the
married ones with their wives and families. And Luc laughed yet more
tenderly as he called Alice and Richard to him. ‘Sly fair Alice,’ said
he, ‘you are of an age to marry now. Choose a lad who is joyous and
healthy like yourself. Ah! is it done already? Then love one another
well, and may your children be as healthy and joyous as you are.–And
you Richard, my big fellow, you are about to begin your apprenticeship
as a bootmaker, I hear, and you also have a perfect passion for music.
Well, work and sing, and be a genius!’
But at this moment he was surrounded by a stream of little ones. Three
boys and a girl, all of them his grandchildren, tried to climb upon
his knees. He began by taking the eldest, a boy of seven, Georges, the
son of a pair of cousins, Maurice Morfain and Berthe Jollivet, Maurice
being the son of Raymond Morfain and Thérèse Froment, whilst Berthe was
one of the daughters of André Jollivet and Pauline Froment.
‘Ah! my dear little Georges, the dear little grandson of my two
daughters–Thérèse the brunette, and Pauline the blonde. Your eyes
used to be like my Pauline’s, but now they are becoming like those
of my Thérèse. And your fresh and laughing mouth, whose is that? Is
it Thérèse’s or Pauline’s? Give me a good kiss, a good kiss, my dear
little Georges, so that you may remember me for a long, long time.’
Then came the turn of Grégoire Bonnaire, who was barely five years
old. He was the son of Félicien Bonnaire and Hélène Jollivet; Félicien
having sprung from Séverin Bonnaire and Léonie Gourier, and Hélène
being the daughter of André Jollivet and Pauline Froment.
‘Another of my Pauline’s little men!’ said Luc. ‘Eh, my little
Grégoire, isn’t grandmamma Pauline very kind, hasn’t she always
plenty of nice things in her hands? And you love me, too, your
great-grandpapa, don’t you, Grégoire? And you will always wish to be
good and handsome when you remember me, eh? Kiss me, give me a good
kiss.’
By way of conclusion he took up the two others, Clément and Luce,
brother and sister, one on his right and the other on his left knee.
Clément was five and Luce two years old. They were the children of
Ludovic Boisgelin and Mariette Froment. But at the thought of Ludovic
and Mariette a host of memories arose, for he was the son of Paul
Boisgelin and Antoinette Bonnaire, and she, the daughter of Hilaire
Froment and Colette, the eldest child of Nanet and Nise. The Delaveaus,
the Boisgelins, the Bonnaires mingling with the Froments, were born
anew in those pure brows, that light and curly hair.
‘Come, little Clément, come little Luce, my pets,’ said Luc. ‘If you
only knew all that I recognise, all that I read in the depths of your
bright eyes. You are already very good and strong, little Clément, I
know it well, for grandfather Hilaire has told me, and is well pleased
to hear you always laughing! And you, little Luce, my little mite who
can scarcely talk, one knows that you are a brave little girl, for you
never cry, but gaily stretch your chubby little hands towards the good
sun. You also must kiss me, my beautiful well-loved children, the best
of myself, all my strength and all my hope!’
The others had drawn near, and he would have liked to have had arms
long enough to embrace and press every one of them to his heart. It was
to them that he confided the future, that he bequeathed his work as to
new forces which would ever enlarge it. He had always relied on the
children, the future generations, to complete the work of happiness.
And those dear children who had sprung from him and by whom he was so
lovingly surrounded in the serene peacefulness of his last hour, what a
testament of justice, truth, and kindness he left them, and with what
intense passion he appointed them the executors of his will, his dream
of humanity freed more and more, and dwelling together in happiness!
‘Go, go, my dear children! Be good, very good, and very just with one
another! Remember that you all kissed me to-day; and always love me
well, and love each other well also! You will know everything some day,
you will do as we have done, and it will be for your children to do
as you do. Let there be plenty of work, plenty of life, and plenty of
love! Meantime, my dear children, go and play, and keep full of health
and gaiety!’
Josine, Sœurette, and Suzanne then wished to send the joyous band home,
for fear of a noise, as they could see that Luc was growing weaker and
weaker. But he would not consent to this–he desired that the children
might remain near him, in order that he might gently depart amidst the
joyous sounds of their laughter. It was then arranged that they should
play in the garden under his window. He could thus hear and see them,
and felt well pleased.
The sun–a great summer sun which made the whole town resplendent–was
already sinking on the horizon. It gilded the room as with a glory,
and Luc, seated in his arm-chair amidst that splendour, long remained
silent, gazing the while far away. Josine and Sœurette, silent like
himself, came and leant one on his right, the other on his left, whilst
Suzanne, seated close by, appeared to be sharing his dream. At last,
in a voice which seemed to become more and more distant, he slowly
said: ‘Yes, our town is yonder. Regenerated Beauclair scintillates in
the pure atmosphere, and I know that the neighbouring towns–Brias,
Magnolles, Formerie, and Saint-Cron–have followed us, won over by our
example to the cause of all-powerful happiness. But what is becoming
of the world beyond the horizon, on the other side of the Bleuse
Mountains, and beyond the great dim plain of La Roumagne–what point
have the provinces and nations reached in the long struggle, the
difficult and bloody march towards the happy city?’
Again he became silent, full of thought. He was aware that the
evolution was in progress everywhere, spreading each hour with
increasing speed. From the towns the movement had gained the provinces,
then the whole nation, and then the neighbouring nations; and
there were no more frontiers, no more insurmountable mountains and
oceans–deliverance flew from continent to continent, sweeping away
governments and religions and uniting races. However, things did not on
all sides take the same course. Whilst the evolution, in the form of
a slow advance towards the conquest of every liberty, had progressed
at Beauclair without too much battling, thanks to the experiment of
association made there, on other sides it was revolution which had
broken out, and blood had flowed amidst massacre and conflagration. No
two neighbouring states indeed had taken the same road; it was after
following the most varied and contrary paths that the nations were to
meet at last in one and the same fraternal city, the metropolis of the
human federation.
And Luc, as in a dream, repeated in his failing voice: ‘Ah! I should
like to know–yes, before quitting my work I should like to know how
far the great task has now advanced. I should sleep better; I should
carry yet more certainty and hope away with me.’
Silence fell again. Josine, Sœurette, and Suzanne, very old, very
beautiful, and very good, were, like himself, still dreaming, with
their glances wandering afar.
It was at last Josine who began: ‘I have heard of things–a traveller
told them me,’ she said. ‘In one great Republic the Collectivists
became the masters of power. For years they had waged the most
desperate of political battles in order to gain possession of the
legislature and the government. And as they were unable to do so in
legal fashion, they had recourse to a _coup d’état_ when they felt
strong enough for one, and certain of substantial support among the
nation. On the morrow, by laws and decrees, they put their entire
programme into force. Expropriation _en masse_ began, all private
wealth became the wealth of the nation, all the instruments of
work reverted to the workers. No landowners, nor capitalists, nor
employers were left; the State reigned alone, master of everything,
both landowner and capitalist and employer, regulator and distributor
of social life. But, of course, that tremendous shock, those sudden
radical changes, could not take place without terrible troubles
arising. The classes would not allow themselves to be dispossessed even
of property they had stolen, and there were frightful outbreaks on all
sides. Landowners preferred to get killed on the threshold of their
estates. Other people destroyed their property, flooded mines, broke up
railroads, annihilated factories and goods, whilst capitalists burnt
their scrip and flung their gold into the sea. Certain houses had to
be besieged, whole towns had to be taken by assault. That frightful
civil war lasted for years, and the pavements of the towns became red
with blood, whilst the rivers still and ever carried corpses to the
ocean. Then the sovereign State experienced all sorts of difficulties
in getting the new order of things to work smoothly. An hour’s work
became the standard of value, exchanges being facilitated by a system
of vouchers. At first a statistical commission was established to
watch over production and distribute products in accordance with each
person’s amount of work. Then other controlling offices were found
necessary, and little by little an intricate organisation grew up,
impeding the working of the new social system. People fell into a kind
of regimentation and barrack life; never had men been penned up in
smaller compartments. And yet evolution was taking place, even this was
a step towards justice; for work rose to honour once more, and wealth
was each day divided with more equity. At the end, assuredly, there lay
the disappearance of the wage-system and of capital–the suppression
of trade and money. And I have been told that this Collectivist State,
ravaged by so many catastrophes, deluged with so much blood, is
to-day entering the sphere of peace, coming at last to the fraternal
solidarity of the free, working nations.’
Josine ceased speaking, and again relapsed into a mute contemplation
of the great horizon. But Luc gently replied: ‘Yes, that was one of
the bloody paths, one of those which I would not follow. But now, what
matters it, since it has led them to the same unity, the same harmony
as our own?’
Then Sœurette, still gazing far away, as if exploring the world behind
the gigantic promontories of the Bleuse Mountains, in her turn took
up the tale: ‘I also heard a story–some eye-witnesses told me these
frightful things. They happened in a vast neighbouring empire where
the Anarchists by means of bombs and shrapnel succeeded in blowing
up the old social framework. The people had suffered so dreadfully
that they ended by leaguing themselves with the Anarchists in order
to complete the liberating work of destruction, and sweep away the
last crumbs of the rotten world. For a long time the cities flared
like torches in the night, amidst the howling of the old butchers of
the people, who in their turn were now being slaughtered, and who did
not wish to die. And this was the prophesied deluge of blood, the
fruitful necessity of which had long been foretold by the prophets of
Anarchy. Afterwards the new times began. The cry was no longer: “To
each according to his work,” but: “To each according to his needs.”
Man had a right to life, lodging, clothing, and daily bread. So all
the wealth was heaped together and divided, people only being rationed
when there was a lack of abundance. But with all mankind at work, and
nature exploited scientifically and methodically, there must come
incalculable produce, an immense fortune, sufficient to satisfy the
appetites of all. When the thieving and parasitic society of olden time
had disappeared, together with money, the source of all crimes, and the
savage laws of restriction and repression which had been the sources
of every iniquity, peace would reign in the Libertarian community, in
which the happiness of each would be derived from the happiness of all.
And there was to be no more authority of any kind, no more laws, no
more government. If the Anarchists had accepted iron and fire as their
instruments, believing in the sanguinary necessity of extermination as
a first step, it was because they were convinced that they could not
utterly destroy monarchical and religious atavism, and for ever crush
the last surviving germs of authority, unless the ancient sore should
be thus brutally cauterised. In order that one might not be caught
in the toils again it was necessary to sever every living link with
a past of error and despotism. All politics were evil and poisonous,
because they were fatally compounded of compromises and bargains, in
which the disinherited were duped. And the lofty, pure dream of Anarchy
had sought realisation when the old world had been ruined and swept
away. That dream was the broadest and the most ideal conception of a
just and peaceful human race, man free in a free state of society, and
each man delivered from every hindrance and shackle, living in the
full enjoyment of all his senses and faculties, fully exercising his
right to live and to be happy through his share in the possession of
all the wealth of the earth. But then, Anarchy had gradually become
merged into the Communist evolution, for in reality it was only a
form of political negation, and simply differed from other kinds of
socialism by its determination to throw everything down before building
up afresh. It accepted association, the constitution of free groups
living by exchanges, constantly circulating, expending their strength
and reconstituting themselves, like the very blood of the human body;
and thus the great empire where it triumphed amidst massacre and
conflagration, has now joined the other freed nations in the universal
federation.’
Sœurette ceased speaking and remained motionless and dreamy, with her
elbow resting on the back of Luc’s arm-chair. He, whose voice was
thickening, slowly said: ‘Yes, the Anarchists, after the Collectivists,
were bound to follow the disciples of Fourier on the last day on
reaching the threshold of the promised land. If the roads were
different, the goal remained identical.’ And after thinking a while he
resumed: ‘Yet, how many tears, how much blood, how many abominable wars
there have been in order to win that fraternal peace which all equally
desired! How many centuries of fratricidal slaughter have followed one
after the other when the question was simply whether one ought to turn
to right or left in order to reach happiness more quickly!’
Then Suzanne, who hitherto had remained silent, and whose eyes also
had been wandering beyond the horizon, at last spoke in a voice which
quivered with compassion: ‘Ah! the last war, the last battle! It was
so frightful that when it was over men for ever destroyed their swords
and their guns. It took place during the earlier stage of the great
social crises which have renewed the world, and I was told of it by
men who had well nigh lost their senses amidst that supreme shock of
the nations. In that crisis which distracted them, whilst they were
pregnant with the future, one-half of Europe rushed upon the other
half, and other continents followed them, and fleets of ships battled
on all the oceans for dominion over water and earth. Not a single
nation was able to remain apart, in a state of neutrality, they all
dragged one another forward; and two immense armies entered into
line, glowing with hereditary fury, and resolved upon exterminating
one another, as if out of every two men there was one too many in the
empty, barren fields. And the two huge armies of hostile brothers
met in the centre of Europe, on some vast plains where millions of
beings had space to murder one another. Over leagues and leagues did
the troops deploy, followed by reinforcements; such a torrent of men,
indeed, that the battle lasted for a month. Each day that dawned there
still remained human flesh for bullets and shells. The combatants did
not even take time to remove their dead; the piles of corpses formed
walls, behind which new regiments ever advanced in order to get killed.
And night did not stay the battle, men murdered one another in the
darkness. Each time that the sun arose it illumined yet larger pools
of blood, a field of carnage where death in his horrible harvesting
piled the corpses of the soldiers in loftier and loftier ricks. And on
all sides there was lightning, entire army corps disappeared amidst a
clap of thunder. It was not necessary that the combatants should draw
near or even see each other, their guns carried long miles, and threw
shells which in exploding swept acres of ground bare, and asphyxiated
and poisoned all around. Balloons also threw bombs from the very
heavens, setting towns ablaze as they passed. Science had invented
explosives and murderous engines which carried death over prodigious
distances, and annihilated a whole community as suddenly as an
earthquake might have done. And what a monstrous massacre showed forth
on the last evening of that gigantic battle! Never before had such a
huge human sacrifice smoked beneath the heavens! More than a million
men lay there in the great ravaged fields, alongside the watercourses,
across the meadows. One could walk for hours and hours, and one ever
met a yet larger harvest of slaughtered soldiers, who lay there with
their eyes wide open, and their black mouths agape, as if to cry aloud
that mankind was mad! And that was the last battle, to such a degree
did horror freeze every heart when men awakened from that frightful
intoxication, born of greed for dominion, lust for power; whilst the
conviction came to all that war was no longer possible, since science
in its almightiness was destined to be the sovereign creator of life,
and not the artisan of destruction.’
Then Suzanne in her turn relapsed into silence, quivering the while,
but with bright eyes, radiant indeed with the peace of the future. And
Luc, whose voice was becoming a mere breath, concluded: ‘Yes, war is
dead, the supreme _étape_ has been reached, the brotherly kiss comes
after the long, rough, dolorous journey. And my day is over, I can now
go to sleep.’
He spoke no more. That last minute was august and sweet. Josine,
Sœurette, and Suzanne did not stir, but waited, exempt from sadness,
full indeed of tender fervour in that calm room, gay with flowers and
sunshine. Under the window the joyous children were still playing–one
could hear the shrill cries of the very little ones, and the laughter
of their elders, all the mirth of the future on the march to broader
and broader joys. And then there was the friendly sun resplendent on
the horizon, the sun, the fertiliser, the father, whose creative
force had been captured and domesticated. And under the flaring of its
rays of glory appeared the glittering roofs of triumphant Beauclair,
the busy hive where by a just apportionment of this world’s riches
regenerated work now only created happy folk. And yet again beyond La
Roumagne, and on the other side of the Bleuse Mountains, there was
the coming federation of the peoples, the one sole brotherly nation,
mankind at last fulfilling its destiny of truth and justice and peace.
Then, for the last time, Luc gazed around him, his glance embracing the
town, the horizon, the whole earth, where the evolution which he had
started was progressing, and drawing nigh to completion. The work was
done, the city was founded. And Luc expired, entered into the torrent
of universal love and of everlasting life.