two long-deferred weddings at last took place

When October arrived, Marc with joyous serenity repaired to Jonville,
to take the modest post of village schoolmaster which he had formerly
occupied there. Great quietude had now fallen on him, new courage
and hope had followed the despair and weariness by which he had been
prostrated after the monstrous trial of Rozan.

The whole of one’s ideal is never realised, and Marc almost reproached
himself for having relied on a splendid triumph. Human affairs do not
progress by superb leaps and bounds, glorious _coups-de-théâtre_. It
was chimerical to imagine that justice would be acclaimed by millions
of lips, that the innocent prisoner would return amid a great national
festival, transforming the country into a nation of brothers. All
progress, the very slightest, the most legitimate, has been won by
centuries of battling. Each forward step taken by mankind has demanded
torrents of blood and tears, hecatombs of victims, sacrificing
themselves for the good of future generations. Thus, in the eternal
battle with the evil powers, it was unreasonable to expect a decisive
victory, a supreme triumph, such as would fulfil all one’s hopes, all
one’s dream of fraternity and equity among mankind.

Besides, Marc had ended by perceiving what a considerable step had
been taken, after all, along that road of progress, which is so rough
and deadly. While one is still in the thick of the fight, exposed to
taunts and wounds, one does not always notice what ground one gains.
One may even think oneself defeated when one has really made much
progress and drawn very near to the goal. In this way, if the second
condemnation of Simon had at first sight seemed a frightful defeat, it
soon became apparent that the moral victory of his defenders was a
great one. And there were all sorts of gains, a grouping of free minds
and generous hearts, a broadening of human solidarity from one to the
other end of the world, a sowing of truth and justice, which would
end by sprouting up, even if the good grain should require many long
winters to germinate in the furrows. And, again, it was only with the
greatest difficulty that the reactionary castes, by dint of falsehoods
and crimes, had for a time saved the rotten fabric of the past from
utter collapse. It was none the less cracking on all sides; the blow
dealt to it had rent it from top to bottom, and the blows of the future
would complete its destruction and cast it down in a litter of wretched
remnants.

Thus the only regret which Marc now experienced was that he had not
been able to utilise that prodigious Simon affair as an admirable
lesson of things which would have instructed the masses, enlightened
them like a blaze of lightning. Never again, perhaps, would there
be so complete and decisive a case. There was the complicity of all
the powerful and all the oppressors banding themselves together to
crush a poor innocent man, whose innocence imperilled the compact
of human exploitation which the great ones of the world had signed
together. There were all the averred crimes of the priests, soldiers,
magistrates, and ministers, who, to continue deceiving the people, had
piled the most extraordinary infamies one on another, and who had all
been caught lying and assassinating, with no resource left them but
to sink in an ocean of mud; and finally there had been the division
of the country into two camps–on one hand the old authoritarian,
antiquated, and condemned social order, on the other the young society
of the future, free in mind already and ever tending towards increase
of truth, equity, and peace. If Simon’s innocence had been recognised,
the reactionary past would have been struck down at one blow, and the
joyous future would have appeared to the simplest, whose eyes, at last,
would have been opened. Never before would the revolutionary axe have
sunk so deeply into the old worm-eaten social edifice. Irresistible
enthusiasm would have carried the nation towards the future city. In a
few months the Simon affair would have done more for the emancipation
of the masses and the reign of justice than a hundred years of ardent
politics. And grief that things should have become so spoilt, and
should have shattered the admirable work in their hands, was destined
to abide in the hearts of the combatants as long as they might live.

But life continued, and it was necessary to fight again, fight on for
ever. A step had been taken forward, and other steps remained to be
taken. Duty demanded that, day by day, whatever the bitterness and
often the obscurity of life, one should again give one’s blood and
one’s tears, satisfied with gaining ground inch by inch, without even
the reward of ever beholding the victory. Marc accepted that sacrifice,
no longer hoping to see Simon’s innocence recognised legally,
definitively, and triumphantly by the whole people. He felt it was
impossible to revive the affair amid the passions of the moment, for
the innocent man’s enemies would begin their atrocious campaign again,
helped on by the cowardice of the multitude. It would be necessary,
no doubt, to wait for the death of the personages involved in the
case, for some transformation of parties, some new phase of politics,
before the Government would be bold enough to apply once more to the
Court of Cassation and ask it to efface that abominable page from the
history of France. Such seemed to be the conviction of even David and
Simon, who, while leading a sequestered life, busy with their Pyrenean
enterprise, watched for favourable incidents and circumstances, but
felt that the situation tied their hands, and that it was necessary to
remain waiting, unless indeed they wished to stir up another useless
and dangerous onslaught.

Marc, being thus compelled to live in patience, reverted to his
mission, to the one work on which he set his hopes–the instruction of
the humble, the dissemination of truth by knowledge which alone could
render a nation capable of equity. Great serenity had come to him, and
he accepted the fact that generations of pupils would be necessary to
rouse France from her numbness, deliver her from the poisons with which
she had been gorged, and fill her with new blood which would transform
her into the France of his old dreams–a generous, freedom-giving, and
justice-dealing nation.

Never had Marc loved truth so passionately as he did now. In former
times he had needed it, even as one needs the air one breathes; he
had felt unable to live without it, sinking into intolerable anguish
whenever it escaped him. At present, after seeing it attacked so
furiously, denied, and hidden away in the depths of lies, like a corpse
which would never revive, he believed in it still more; he felt that
it was irresistible, possessed of sufficient power to blow up the
world should men again try to bury it underground. It followed its
road without ever taking an hour’s rest; it marched on to its goal of
light, and nothing would ever stop it. Marc shrugged his shoulders with
ironical contempt when he beheld guilty men imagining that they had
annihilated truth, that it lay beneath their feet as if it had ceased
to exist. When the right moment came, truth would explode, scatter
them like dust, and shine forth serenely and radiantly. And it was the
certainty that truth, ever victorious, even after the lapse of ages,
was upon his side, that lent Marc all necessary strength and composure
to return to his work, and wait cheerfully for truth’s triumph, even
though it might only come after his own lifetime.

Moreover, the Simon case had imparted solidity to his convictions,
breadth to his faith. He had previously passed condemnation on the
_bourgeoisie_, which was exhausted by the abuse of its usurped power,
which, from being a liberal class, had become a reactionary one,
passing from free thought to the basest clericalism as it had felt the
Church to be its natural ally in its career of rapine and enjoyment.
And now he had seen the French _bourgeoisie_ at work, he had seen it
full of cowardice and falsehood, weak but tyrannical, denying all
justice to the innocent, ready for every crime in order that it might
not have to part with any of its millions, terrified as it was by the
gradual awakening of the masses who claimed their due. And finding
that _bourgeoisie_ to be even more rotten, more stricken, than he had
imagined, he held that it must promptly disappear if the nation did
not desire to perish of incurable infection. Henceforth salvation was
only to be found in the masses, in that new force–that inexhaustible
reservoir of men, work, and energy. Marc felt that the masses were ever
rising, like a new, rejuvenated race, bringing to social life more
power for truth, justice, and happiness. And this confirmed him in the
mission he had assumed, that seemingly modest mission of a village
schoolmaster, which was in reality the apostolate of modern times,
the only important work that could fashion the society of to-morrow.
There was no loftier duty than that of striking down the errors and
impostures of the Church and setting in their place truth as proclaimed
by science, and human peace, based upon knowledge and solidarity. The
France of the future was growing up in the rural districts, in the
humblest, loneliest hamlets, and it was there that one must work and
conquer.

Marc speedily set to work. He had to repair all the harm which Jauffre
had caused by abandoning Jonville to Abbé Cognasse. But during the
earlier days, while Marc and Geneviève were settling down, how
delightful it was for them–reconciled as they were and renewing the
love of youthful times–to find themselves again in the poor little
nest of long ago! Sixteen years had passed, yet nothing seemed to be
changed; the little school was just the same, with its tiny lodging and
its strip of garden. The walls had merely been whitewashed, but the
place seemed fairly clean, thanks to a good scouring which Geneviève
superintended. She was never weary of summoning Marc to remind him of
one thing and another, laughing happily at all that recalled the past.

‘Oh! come and look at the picture of Useful Insects which you hung up
in the classroom! It is still there…. I myself put up those pegs for
the boys’ hats…. In the cupboard yonder, you’ll find the collection
of solid bodies, which you cut out of beech wood.’

Marc hastened to her and joined in her laughter. And in his turn he
summoned her to him: ‘Come upstairs–make haste! Do you see that date
cut with a knife in the wall of the alcove? Don’t you remember that I
did that the day Louise was born?… And just recollect, when we were
in bed, we used to look at that crack in the ceiling, and jest about
it, saying that the stars were watching and smiling at us.’

Then, as they went through the little garden, they burst into
exclamations: ‘Why, look at the old fig tree! It hasn’t changed a
bit; we might have left it only yesterday…. Ah! we had a border of
strawberries in the place of that sorrel; we shall have to plant one
again…. The pump has been changed–that’s a blessing! Perhaps we
shall be able to get water with this one…. Why, there’s our seat, our
seat under the creeper! We must sit down and kiss each other–all the
young kisses of long ago in a good kiss of to-day.’

They felt moved to tears, and for an instant they lingered embracing,
amid that delightful renewal of their happiness. Great courage came
to them from the sight of those friendly surroundings, where they had
never shed a tear. Everything they saw drew them more closely together,
and seemed to promise them victory.

With respect to their daughter Louise, a separation had become
necessary at the very outset. She had been obliged to leave them for
the Training School of Fontenay, to which she had secured admission.
Her tastes and her love for her father had made her desirous of
becoming a mere schoolmistress, even as he was a mere village
schoolmaster. And Marc and Geneviève, remaining alone with little
Clément, saddened by their daughter’s departure, though they knew it to
be necessary, drew yet closer together, in order to deaden their sense
of that sudden void. True, Clément remained with them, and gave them
occupation. He was now becoming quite a little man, and it was with
affectionate solicitude that they watched over the awakening of his
faculties.

Besides, Marc prevailed on Geneviève to undertake the management of the
adjoining girls’ school–that is after requesting Salvan to intervene
with Le Barazer with a view to her appointment to the post. It will be
remembered that immediately after her convent days she had obtained
the necessary certificates, and that if she had not taken charge of
the girls’ school when her husband was first appointed to Jonville,
it had been because Mademoiselle Mazeline had then held the post. But
the advancement now given to Jauffre and his wife had left both posts
vacant, and it seemed best that the two schools should be confided
to Marc and Geneviève, the husband taking the boys and the wife the
girls–this indeed being an arrangement which the authorities always
preferred.

Marc, for his part, perceived all sorts of advantages in it: the
teaching would proceed on the same lines in both schools; he would
have a devoted collaborator who would help instead of trying to thwart
him in his advance towards the future. And, again, though Geneviève
had given him no cause for anxiety since her return, she would find
occupation for her mind; she would be compelled to recover and exert
her reason in acting as a teacher, a guardian of the little maids who
would be the wives and mothers of to-morrow. Besides, would not their
union be perfected? would they not be blended for ever, if, with all
faith and all affection, they should share the same blessed work of
teaching the poor and lowly, from whom the felicity of the future would
spring? When a notification of the appointment arrived, fresh joy came
to them; it was as if they now had but one heart and one brain.

But in what a ruinous and uneasy state did Marc now find that village
of Jonville which he had loved so well! He remembered his first
struggles with the terrible Abbé Cognasse, and how he had triumphed by
securing the support of Mayor Martineau, that well-to-do, illiterate
but sensible peasant, who retained all a peasant’s racial antipathy
for the priests–those lazy fellows, who lived well and did nothing.
Between them, Marc and Martineau had begun to secularise the parish;
the schoolmaster no longer sang in the choir, no longer rang the bell
for Mass, no longer conducted his pupils to the Catechism classes;
while the Mayor and the parish council escaped from routine and
favoured the evolution which gave the school precedence over the
Church. Thanks to the action Marc brought to bear on his boys and their
parents, and the influence he exercised at the parish offices, where he
held the post of secretary, he had seen great prosperity set in around
him. But as soon as he had been transferred to Maillebois, Martineau,
falling into the hands of Jauffre, the man of the Congregations, had
speedily weakened. Indeed, he was incapable of action when he did not
feel himself supported by a resolute will. Racial prudence deterred
him from expressing an opinion of his own; he sided with the priest or
with the schoolmaster according as one or the other proved to be the
stronger. Thus, while Jauffre, thinking merely of his own advancement,
chanted the litanies, rang the bell, and attended the Communion, Abbé
Cognasse gradually became master of the parish, setting the Mayor and
the council beneath his heel, to the secret delight of the beautiful
Madame Martineau, who, though not piously inclined, was very fond of
displaying new gowns at High Mass on days of festival. Never had there
been a plainer demonstration of the axiom, ‘According to the worth of
the schoolmaster, such is the worth of the school; and according to
the worth of the school, such is the worth of the parish.’ In very few
years, indeed, the prosperity which had declared itself in Jonville,
the ground which had been gained, thanks to Marc, was lost. The village
retrograded, its life died away in increasing torpor after Jauffre had
delivered Martineau and his fellow-parishioners into the hands of the
triumphant Cognasse.

In this way sixteen years elapsed, bringing disaster. All moral and
intellectual decline leads inevitably to material misery. There is no
country where the Roman Church has reigned as absolute sovereign that
is not now a dead country. Ignorance, error, and base credulity render
men powerless. And what can be the use of exercising one’s will, acting
and progressing, if one be a mere toy in the hands of a Deity who
plays with one according to his fancy? That Deity suffices, supplies
the place of everything. At the end of such a religion of terrestrial
and human nothingness, there is but stupidity, inertia, surrender
into the hands of Providence, mere routine in the avocations of life,
idleness, and want. Jauffre let his boys gorge themselves with Bible
history and Catechism, while in their peasant families all ideas of any
improved system of cultivating the land were regarded with increasing
suspicion. They knew nothing of those matters, they would not learn.
Fields remained unproductive, crops were lost for want of intelligent
care. Then effort seemed excessive and useless, and the countryside
became impoverished, deserted, though above it there still shone the
all-powerful and fructifying sun–that ignored, insulted god of life.

The decline of Jonville had become yet more marked after Abbé Cognasse
had prevailed on the weak Martineau to allow the parish to be dedicated
to the Sacred Heart in a pompous and well-remembered ceremony. The
peasants were still waiting for that Sacred Heart to bring them the
wondrous promised harvests by dispelling the hailstorms and granting
rain and fine weather in due season. By way of result one only found
more imbecility weighing on the parish, a sleepy waiting for divine
intervention, the slow agony of fanatical believers, in whom all power
of initiative has been destroyed, and who, if their Deity did not
nourish them, would let themselves starve rather than raise an arm.

During the first days that followed his return, Marc, on taking a
few country walks with Geneviève, felt quite distressed by all the
incompetency and neglect he beheld. The fields were ill-kept, the
roads scarcely passable. One morning they went as far as Le Moreux,
where they found Mignot installing himself in his wretched school, and
feeling as grieved as they were that the district should have fallen
into such a deplorable state.

‘You have no idea, my friends,’ said he, ‘of the ravages of that
terrible Cognasse. He exercises some little restraint at Jonville;
but here, in this lonely village, whose inhabitants are too miserly
to pay for a priest of their own, he terrorises and sabres everybody.
Of late years, he and his creature Chagnat, while reigning here,
virtually suppressed the Mayor, Saleur, who felt flattered at being
re-elected every time, but who turned all the worries of his office
over to his secretary, Chagnat, and by way of exhibiting his person,
let himself be taken to Mass, though at heart he scarcely cared for the
priests…. Ah! how well I now understand the torments of poor Férou,
his exasperation, and the fit of lunacy which led to his martyrdom.’

With a quivering gesture Marc indicated that he was haunted by the
thought of that unhappy man, struck down by a revolver-shot yonder,
under the burning sun. ‘When I came in just now, he seemed to rise
before me. Famished, having only his scanty pay to provide for himself,
his wife, and his children, he endured untold agony at feeling that
he was the only intelligent, the only educated, man among all those
ignorant dolts living at their ease, who disdained him for his poverty
and feared him for his attainments, which humiliated them…. That
explains, too, the power acquired by Chagnat over the Mayor, the
latter’s one desire being to live in peace on his income, in the
somnolent state of a man whose appetite is satisfied.’

‘But the whole parish is like that,’ Mignot replied. ‘There are no
poor, and each peasant remains content with what he harvests, not in a
spirit of wisdom, but from a kind of egotism, ignorance, and laziness.
If they are perpetually quarrelling with the priest, it is because
they accuse him of slighting them, of not giving them the Masses and
other ceremonies to which they consider themselves entitled. Thanks to
Chagnat, in his time something like an understanding was arrived at,
and, indeed, all that was said and done here in honour of St. Antony of
Padua can hardly be pictured…. But the result of Chagnat’s _régime_
is deplorable; I found the school as dirty as a cowshed; one might have
thought that the Chagnats had lodged all the cattle of the district
in it, and I had to engage a woman to help me to scour and scrape
everything.’

Geneviève, meantime, had become dreamy; her glance seemed to wander
away to far-off memories. ‘Ah! poor Férou!’ she murmured, ‘I was not
always kind to him and his family. That is one of my regrets. But how
can one remedy so much suffering and disaster? We have so little power,
we are still so few. There are times when I despair.’ Then, suddenly
waking up, as it were, and smiling, she nestled close to her husband
and resumed: ‘There, there, don’t scold me, my dear, I did wrong to
speak like that. But you must allow me enough time to become fearless
and reproachless as you yourself are…. Come, it’s understood, we are
going to set to work, and we shall conquer.’

Thereupon they all became merry, and Mignot, who wished to escort his
friends a little way, ended by accompanying them almost to Jonville.
There, at the roadside, stood a large square building, a kind of
factory, the branch establishment of the Good Shepherd of Beaumont,
which had been promised at the time of the consecration of the parish
to the Sacred Heart, and which had now been working for several years.
The fine clerical folk had made a great noise about the prosperity
which such an establishment would bring with it: all the daughters of
the peasants would find employment and become skilful workwomen, there
would be a great improvement in their morality, drones and gadabouts
would be duly corrected, and the business might end by endowing the
district with quite an industry.

The specialty of the Good Shepherd establishments was to provide the
big drapery shops of Paris with petticoats, knickers, and chemises–the
finest, most ornamental, and most delicate feminine body linen. At
Jonville, under the superintendence of some ten sisters, two hundred
girls worked from morning till night, trying their eyes over all that
rich and fashionable underwear, which was often destined for strange
festivities. And those two hundred little _lingères_ constituted but
a tiny fraction of all the poor hirelings who were thus exploited,
for the Order had establishments from one to the other end of France;
nearly fifty thousand girls toiled in its workshops, scantily paid,
ill-treated, and ill-fed, while they earned for it millions of francs.
At Jonville, there had been speedy disenchantment, none of the fine
promises had been fulfilled, the establishment seemed a gulf which
swallowed up the last energies of the region. The farms were raided and
their women folk carried off, the peasants could no longer keep their
daughters with them,–the girls all dreamt of becoming young ladies,
of spending their days on chairs, engaged in light work. But they soon
repented of their folly, for what with the long hours of enforced
immobility, the exhausting strain of unremitting application, never was
there more frightful drudgery; the stomach remained empty, the head
became heavy, there was no time for sleep in summer, and there was no
fire in winter. The place was a prison-house, where, under the pretext
of practising charity, of promoting morality, woman was exploited in
the most frightful manner, sweated in her flesh, stupefied in her
intelligence, turned into a beast of burden, from whom the greatest
gain possible was extracted. And scandals burst forth at Jonville; one
girl nearly perished of cold and starvation, another became half mad,
while another, turned out of doors penniless after years of crushing
toil, rebelled, and threatened the good sisters with a sensational
lawsuit.[1]

[Footnote 1: In the above account of the Good Shepherd establishments,
M. Zola has made use of numerous incidents brought to light by
proceedings in the French law courts, and also by the action
of the Bishop of Nancy, who, in attempting to put a stop to
abominable practices, incurred the odium of all the money-grubbing
Congregations.–_Trans._]

Marc, stopping short on the road, looked at the big factory, silent
like a prison, deathly like a cloister, where so many young lives were
wearing themselves away, nothing carolling, meanwhile, the happiness of
fruitful work.

‘One source of the Church’s strength,’ said he, ‘a very simple matter
in practice, is that she stoops to present-day requirements and borrows
our own weapons to fight us. She manufactures and she trades; there is
no object or article of daily consumption that she does not produce or
sell, from clothes to _liqueurs_. Several Orders are merely industrial
associations, which undersell other people, as they secure labour
for next to nothing, and thus compete disloyally with our smaller
producers. The millions of francs they gain go into the cash-boxes
of the Black Band, supplying sinews for the war of extermination
which is waged against us, swelling the thousands of millions which
the Congregations possess already, and which may render them so
redoubtable.’

Geneviève and Mignot had listened thoughtfully. And a moment of anxious
silence now followed amid the evening quietude, while the sunset cast a
great pink glow on the closed and mournful factory of the Good Shepherd.

‘Why, I myself seem to be despairing now!’ Marc resumed gaily. ‘They
are still very powerful, it is certain. But we have a book on our
side, the little book of elementary knowledge, which brings truth with
it, and which will end by for ever overcoming the falsehoods they
have circulated for so many centuries. All our strength is in that,
Mignot. They may accumulate ruins here, they may lead poor ignorant
folk backward, and destroy the little good done by us formerly; but
it will suffice for us to resume our efforts to bring about progress
by knowledge, and we shall regain the lost ground, and continue to
advance until we at last reach the City of solidarity and peace.
Their prison-house of the Good Shepherd will crumble like all others,
their Sacred Heart will go whither all the gross fetiches of the dead
religions have gone. You hear me, Mignot; each pupil in whom you instil
a little truth will be another helper in the cause of justice. So to
work, to work! Victory is certain, whatever difficulties and sufferings
may be encountered on the road!’

That cry of faith and everlasting hope rang out across the quiet
countryside amid the calm setting of the planet which foretold a bright
to-morrow. And Mignot bravely returned to his task at Le Moreux, while
Marc and Geneviève went homeward to begin their work at Jonville.

Arduous work it was, requiring much will and patience, for it was
necessary to free Mayor Martineau, the parish council, and indeed the
whole village from the hands of the priest, who was determined not
to relax his hold. On hearing of Marc’s appointment, Abbé Cognasse,
instead of evincing any anger or fear of the redoubtable adversary who
was being sent to face him, had contented himself with shrugging his
shoulders and affecting extreme contempt. He said on all sides that
this beaten man, this disgraced mediocrity, who had lost all honour
by his complicity in the Simon case, would not remain six months at
Jonville. His superiors had merely sent him there in order to finish
him off, not wishing to execute him at one blow. In reality, no doubt,
Abbé Cognasse scarcely felt at ease, for he knew the man he had to
deal with–a man all calmness and strength, derived from his reliance
on truth. And that the priest plainly scented danger was shown by the
prudence and _sangfroid_ which he himself strove to preserve, for fear
of spoiling everything if he should yield to some of his customary fits
of passion. Thus the unexpected spectacle of a superbly diplomatic
Abbé Cognasse, who left to Providence the duty of striking down the
enemy, was presented to the village. As his servant Palmyre, who with
increasing age had become quite terrible, did not possess sufficient
self-restraint to imitate his silent contempt, he scolded her in public
when she ventured to declare that the new schoolmaster had stolen some
consecrated wafers from the church at Maillebois for the purpose of
profaning them in the presence of his pupils. That was not proved, said
the Abbé, nor was there any proof of the story that hell had lent Marc
a devil, who, on being summoned, stepped out of the wall and helped
him with his class-work. Indoors, however, all was agreement between
the priest and the servant, who both displayed extraordinary greed and
avarice, the former picking up as many Masses as possible, the latter
keeping the accounts, and growling angrily when money did not come
in. With reference to Marc, then, there ensued, on the Abbé’s part, a
stealthy and venomous campaign, with the object of destroying both the
master and his school, in order that he, Cognasse, might continue to
reign over the parish.

Marc, on his side, behaved as if the Church and the priest did not
exist. To win back Martineau, the council, and the inhabitants, he
contented himself with teaching the truth, with promoting the triumph
of reason over ridiculous dogmas, limiting himself strictly to his
duties as a master, convinced as he was that the true and the good
would prove victorious when he should have fashioned hearts and minds
capable of will and understanding. He had necessarily resumed the
duties of secretary at the parish office, but he there contented
himself with discreetly advising Martineau, who at heart was well
pleased by his return. The Mayor had already had a quarrel with his
wife respecting the chanting of Mass, which chanting Abbé Cognasse had
done away with now that Jauffre was no longer there. And there was also
the ancient and everlasting quarrel about the church clock, which would
not work. The first thing which showed that a change had taken place at
Jonville was the vote of a sum of three hundred francs by the council
for the purchase of a new clock which was fixed to the pediment of the
parish offices. This seemed a very bold step to take, but it met with
the approval of the villagers. They would at last know the correct
time, which the rusty, old, worn-out clock of the church no longer
gave. However, Marc avoided any semblance of triumph; he knew that
years would be needed to regain all the lost ground. Each day would
bring a little progress, and he patiently sowed the future, convinced
that those peasants would come over to his side when they found in
truth the one sole source of health, prosperity, and peace.

And now, for Marc and Geneviève, came fruitful years of work and
happiness. He, in particular, had never felt so courageous and strong.
The loving return of his wife, and the complete union which had
followed it, brought him fresh power, for his life now accorded with
his work. In former times he had greatly suffered at finding that,
while he claimed to teach truth to others, he could not convince the
companion of his life, the wife he loved, the mother of his children;
and he had felt hampered in his task of wresting others from error
when, from weakness or powerlessness, he tolerated error in his own
home. But now he possessed irresistible strength, all the authority
which comes to one from example, from the realisation of happiness at
the family hearth through perfect agreement and a common faith. And
what healthy delight there was in the prosecution of the same work by
the husband and the wife, acting in conjunction one with the other, and
yet freely, each retaining the exercise of his or her individuality!
Moments of weakness still came occasionally to Geneviève, but Marc
scarcely intervened; he preferred to let her regret and repair the
errors arising from the past, of her own accord.

Every evening, when the boys and girls had gone home, the master and
the mistress found themselves together in their little lodging, and
talked of the children confided to them, taking account of the day’s
work, and coming to an understanding respecting the work of the morrow,
though without binding themselves to identical programmes. Geneviève,
being sentimentally inclined, endeavoured the more particularly to make
sincere and happy creatures of her girls, trying to free them from the
ancient slavery less by knowledge than by sense and love, for fear
of casting them into pride and solitude. Marc, perhaps, would have
gone further, and have fed both boys and girls on the same knowledge,
leaving life to indicate the social _rôle_ of each sex. Before long
the great regret experienced by himself and his wife was that they
did not direct a mixed school, like Mignot’s at Le Moreux, whose
population of little more than two hundred souls supplied scarcely a
dozen boys and as many girls. At Jonville, which numbered nearly eight
hundred inhabitants, the master had some thirty boys under him, and the
mistress some thirty girls. Had they been united, what a fine class
there would have been–Marc acting as director, and Geneviève as his
assistant! Such indeed was their idea; had they been in authority they
would no longer have separated the girls from the boys; they would
have entrusted all those little folk to a married couple, a father
and a mother, who would have educated and reared them one with the
other as if they all belonged to their own family. They held that all
sorts of advantages would result from such a course, a more logical
apprenticeship of life, excellent emulation, more frank and gentle
manners. In particular, the adjunction of the wife to the husband as
an assistant seemed likely to prove fruitful in good results. Briefly,
they would have liked to pull down the wall which separated their
pupils from one another, in such wise as to have had but one school, a
little miniature world in which he would have set his virility, she her
tenderness, and what good work would they not then have accomplished,
devoting themselves entirely to those little couples of the future!

But the regulations had to be observed, and Marc, on resuming his work,
pursued the methods that he had followed at Maillebois for fifteen
years. His class was smaller than it had been there, and his resources
were more limited; but he had the satisfaction of being almost _en
famille_, and his action became more direct and efficacious. After
all, what did it matter if the number of pupils whom he fashioned into
men was only a score or so? Had each schoolmaster in all the little
villages followed Marc’s example, so as to endow the nation with
twenty just and sensible men, the result would have sufficed to make
France the emancipator of the world. Another source of contentment
for Marc was that he secured almost complete liberty of action from
Mauraisin’s successor, the new Elementary Inspector, M. Mauroy, to
whom Le Barazer, whose friend he was, had discreetly given special
instructions. The village was so small that Marc’s doings could not
attract much attention, and thus he was able to pursue his methods
without any great interference. As a first step, he again got rid of
all religious emblems, all pictures, copybooks, and books in which
the supernatural was shown triumphant, and in which war, massacre,
and rapine appeared as ideals of power and beauty. He considered that
it was a crime to poison a lad’s brain with a belief in miracles,
and to set brute force, assassination, and theft in the front rank
as manly and patriotic duties. Such teaching could only produce
imbecile inertia, sudden criminal frenzy, iniquity, and wretchedness.
Marc’s dream, on the contrary, was to set pictures of work and peace
before his pupils, to show sovereign reason ruling the world, justice
establishing brotherliness among men, the ancient violence of warlike
ages being condemned, and giving place to agreement among all nations,
in order that they might arrive at the greatest possible happiness.
And having rid his class of the poisonous ferments of the past, Marc
particularly instructed his pupils in civic morality, striving to make
each a citizen well informed about his country, and able to serve
and love it, without setting it apart from the rest of mankind. Marc
held that France ought no longer to dream of conquering the world by
arms, but rather by the irresistible force of ideas, and by setting an
example of so much freedom, truth, and equity, that she would deliver
all other countries and enjoy the glory of founding with them the great
confederation of free and brotherly nations.

For the rest, Marc tried to conform to the school programmes, though,
as they were very heavy, he occasionally set them aside. Experience had
taught him that learning was nothing if one did not understand what
one learnt and if one could not put it to use. Accordingly, without
excluding books, he gave great development to oral lessons, and, once
again, he strove to rejuvenate himself, to share the pastimes of his
pupils, and descend, as it were, to their mental level, in such wise
that, like them, he seemed to be learning, seeking truth, and making
discoveries. It was in the fields also that he explained to them how
the soil ought to be cultivated, and he took them to carpenters,
locksmiths, and masons in order that they might acquire correct ideas
of manual work. In his opinion, moreover, it was fit that gymnastics
should partake of the character of amusement, and thus playtime was
largely devoted to bodily exercise. Again, Marc took on himself the
office of a judge; he requested his boys to lay all their little
differences before him, and he strove to make his decisions acceptable
to all parties; for not only did he possess absolute faith in the
beneficent power of truth upon young minds, but he was also convinced
of the necessity of equity to content and ripen them. By truth and
justice towards love: such was his motto. A boy to whom one never
tells a falsehood, whom one treats invariably with justice, becomes
a friendly, sensible, intelligent, and healthy man. And this was why
Marc kept such a careful watch over the books which the curriculum
compelled him to place in the hands of his pupils; for he well knew
that the best of them, written with the most excellent intentions, were
still full of ancient falsehoods, the great iniquities consecrated by
history. If he distrusted phrases and words, the sense of which seemed
likely to escape his little peasants, and endeavoured to interpret
them in clear and simple language, he feared yet more the dangerous
legends, the errors of articles of faith, the abominable notions set
forth in the name of a mendacious religion and a false patriotism.
There was often no difference between the books written by clerics
for the Brothers’ schools and those which university men prepared for
the secular ones. The intentional errors contained in the former were
reproduced in the latter, and it was impossible for Marc to refrain
from intervening and refuting those errors by verbal explanations,
since it was essentially his task to fight the Congregational system of
teaching, that source of all falsehood and all misery.

For four years Marc and Geneviève worked on, modestly but
efficaciously, silently accomplishing as much good as was possible in
their little sphere. Generations of children followed one another; and
to the master and the mistress it seemed that fifty years would have
sufficed to rejuvenate the world, if each child, on reaching maturity,
had contributed to it a little more truth and justice. Four years
of effort had certainly not yielded a marked result, but many good
symptoms were manifest; the future was already rising from the fruitful
soil, sown so perseveringly.

Salvan, after being pensioned off, had ended by taking up his abode at
Jonville, in a little house left him by a cousin. He lived there like
a sage, with just enough money to provide for his wants and indulge
in the cultivation of a few flowers. In his garden, under an arbour
of roses and clematis, there was a large stone table, round which
on Sundays he liked to assemble a few friends, former pupils of the
Training College, who chatted, fraternised, and indulged together in
fine dreams. Salvan was the patriarch of the gathering, which Marc
joined every Sunday, his satisfaction being complete whenever he
there met Joulic, his successor at Maillebois, from whom he obtained
information about his old school. Joulic was a tall, slim, fair young
man, gentle yet energetic, who had taken to the teaching profession by
taste, and in order to escape the brutifying office life from which
his father, a petty clerk, had suffered. One of Salvan’s best pupils,
he brought to his work a mind liberated from all absurd dogmas, won
over entirely to experimental methods. And thanks to a great deal of
shrewdness and quiet firmness, which had enabled him to avoid the
traps set for him by the Congregations, he proved very successful at
Maillebois. He had lately married a schoolmaster’s daughter, a fair
little creature, gentle like himself, and this had helped to make his
school an abode of gaiety and peace.

One Sunday, when Marc reached Salvan’s, he found Joulic already
chatting with the master of the house at the stone table in the flowery
arbour, and they, at the sight of him, at once made merry.

‘Come on, my friend!’ cried Salvan; ‘here’s Joulic telling me that some
more boys have left the Brothers’ school at Maillebois. People say
that we are beaten, but we work on quietly, and our action spreads and
triumphs more and more each year!’

‘Yes,’ Joulic added, ‘everything is progressing at Maillebois, which
once seemed to be the rotten borough of clericalism…. Brother
Joachim, Fulgence’s successor, is certainly a very clever man, as
artful and as prudent as the other was wild and rough, but he cannot
overcome the distrust of the families of the town–the turn which
public opinion has taken against the Congregational schools, where
the studies are indifferent and the morals doubtful. Simon may have
been reconvicted, but, all the same, the ghost of Gorgias returns to
the spot which he polluted, and his very defenders are haunted by
the memory of his crime. And thus I recruit each boy who leaves the
Ignorantines.’

Marc, who had now seated himself, laughed and thanked his young
colleague. ‘You don’t know how much your news pleases me, my dear
Joulic,’ he replied. ‘When I quitted Maillebois I left a part of my
heart there, and I felt worried as to what might become of the work
which I had been pursuing for fifteen years; but I have long ceased to
feel any anxiety, knowing my old school to be in such capable hands as
yours. Yes, if some of the poison which infected Maillebois has been
eliminated, it is because the pupils who quit you, year by year, become
men of sense and equity…. Ask your old master, Salvan, what he thinks
of you.’

But Joulic with a gesture curtailed Marc’s praises. ‘No, no,’ said he,
‘I am only a pawn in the great battle. If I am worth anything I owe
it to my training, so that the chief merit belongs to our master.
Besides, I am not alone at Maillebois; I derive the most precious help,
I will even say the greatest support, from Mademoiselle Mazeline. She
has often consoled and encouraged me. You cannot imagine how much
moral energy that gentle and sensible woman possesses. A large part
of our success is due to her, for it is she who has gradually won
family people over to our cause by turning out so many good wives and
mothers…. When a woman personifies truth, justice, and love, she
becomes the greatest power in the world—-‘

Joulic paused, for at that moment Mignot made his appearance. Those
Sunday meetings brought delightful relaxation to Marc’s former
assistant, who cheerfully walked the two and a half miles which
separated Le Moreux from Jonville. Having caught Joulic’s last words,
he at once exclaimed: ‘Ah! Mademoiselle Mazeline–do you know that I
wanted to marry her? I never mentioned it, but I may admit it now….
It is all very well to say that she is plain; but at Maillebois, on
seeing how good and sensible, how admirable she was, I dreamt of her.
And one day I told her of my idea. You should have seen how moved she
was–grave, yet smiling, quite sisterly! She explained her position to
me, saying that she was too old–already five and thirty, just my own
age. Besides, she added, her girls had become her family, and she had
long renounced all idea of living for herself…. Yet I fancy that my
proposal stirred up some old regrets…. Briefly, we continued good
friends, and I decided to remain a bachelor, though this occasionally
embarrasses me at Le Moreux, on account of my girl pupils, who would be
better cared for by a woman.’

Then he, also, gave some good news of the state of feeling in
his parish. All the crass ignorance and error, which Chagnat had
voluntarily allowed to accumulate there, were beginning to disappear.
Saleur, the Mayor, had experienced great trouble with his son, Honoré,
whom he had sent to the Lycée of Beaumont, where he had been stuffed
by the chaplain with as much religious knowledge as he would have
acquired in a seminary–in such wise that, after being appointed to
the management of a little Catholic bank in Paris, he had come to
grief there by practices which had nearly landed him in a criminal
court. Since then his father, the ex-grazier, who at heart had never
liked the priests, never wearied of denouncing what he called the
Black Band, exasperated as he was by the downfall of his son, which
had quite upset his comfortable life as an enriched peasant. And thus,
at each fresh quarrel with Abbé Cognasse, he sided with schoolmaster
Mignot, carrying the parish council with him, and threatening to have
nothing more to do with the Church if the priest should still treat
the inhabitants as a subjugated flock. Indeed, never before had that
lonely sluggish village of Le Moreux so freely granted admittance to
the new ideas. In part this was due to the better position which the
schoolmasters had secured of recent years. Various laws had been passed
improving their circumstances, and the lowest annual salaries were now
fixed at twelve hundred francs without any deductions.[2] It had not
been necessary to wait long for the result of this change. If Férou,
ill-paid, ragged, and wretched, had formerly incurred the contempt
of the peasantry on being compared by them with Abbé Cognasse, who
waxed fat on surplice-fees and presents, and was therefore honoured
and feared, Mignot, on the contrary, being able to live in a dignified
way, had risen to his proper position–that is the first. Indeed, in
that century-old struggle between the Church and the school, the whole
region was now favouring the latter, whose victory appeared to be
certain.

[Footnote 2: It is true that such laws have been passed, but in
various respects they are merely of a permissive character, and
the financial circumstances of the French Government have hitherto
prevented the realisation of provisions favoured by the Legislature.
Several publications issued in the autumn of 1902, since M. Zola’s
death, have shown this to be the case. M. Zola, however, in this last
section of ‘Truth,’ anticipates rather than follows events, as will
plainly appear in the final chapters; and, as a strong movement in
favour of the secular schoolmasters is now following the suppression of
the Congregational schools, considerable improvement in the former’s
position will probably take place before long.–_Trans._]

‘My peasants are still very ignorant,’ Mignot continued. ‘You cannot
imagine what a sluggish spot Le Moreux is, all numbness and routine.
The peasants have lands of their own, they have never lacked bread,
and they would submit to be fleeced as in former times rather than
turn to anything novel and strange…. But there is some change all
the same; I can see it by the way they take off their hats to me, and
the more and more preponderating position which the school assumes in
their estimation. And, by the way, this morning, when Abbé Cognasse
came over to say Mass, there were just three women and a boy in the
church. When the Abbé went off he banged the vestry door behind him,
threatening that he wouldn’t come back any more, as it was useless for
him to walk all that distance for nobody.’

Marc began to laugh. ‘Yes,’ said he, ‘I’ve heard that the Abbé is
getting surly again at Le Moreux. Here he still restrains himself, and
strives to win the battle by diplomatic artfulness, particularly with
the women, for his superiors have taught him, no doubt, that one is
never beaten so long as one has the women on one’s side. I have been
told that he frequently goes to Valmarie to see Father Crabot, and it
is surely there that he acquires that unctuous, caressing way with the
ladies which surprises one so much in a rough, brutal man of his stamp.
When he again loses his temper, as he will some day, it will be all
over…. Besides, things are quite satisfactory at Jonville. We gain
a little ground every year; the parish is regaining prosperity and
health. In consequence of the recent scandals the peasants no longer
allow their daughters to work at the factory of the Good Shepherd. And
it seems that the parish council–Martineau at the head of it–greatly
regrets its imbecility in having allowed Abbé Cognasse and Jauffre
to dedicate Jonville to the Sacred Heart. I am on the lookout for an
opportunity to efface that remembrance, and I shall end by finding one.’

There came a short pause. Then Salvan, who had listened complacently,
said, by way of conclusion, in his quiet, cheerful manner: ‘All that
is very encouraging. Maillebois, Jonville, and Le Moreux are advancing
towards those better times for which we have battled. The others
thought they would conquer us, exterminate us for ever, and indeed, for
months, it seemed as if we were dead; but now comes the slow awakening,
the seed has germinated in the ground; it was sufficient for us to
resume our work in silence, and the good grain grows and flowers once
more. And now nothing will hinder the future harvest. The fact is that
we have been on the side of truth, which nothing can destroy, nothing
arrest in its splendour…. No doubt, things are not quite satisfactory
at Beaumont. The sons of Doutrequin, that old Republican of the heroic
times who lapsed into clericalism, have obtained advancement, and
Mademoiselle Rouzaire still gorges her girls with Bible history and
Catechism. But even public feeling at Beaumont is beginning to change.
Moreover, Mauraisin has not succeeded at the Training College. Some
of the students have told me jocularly that my ghost appears to him
there, and paralyses him with fear. The fact is that the impulse had
been given, and he has found it impossible to stop the emancipation
of the schoolmaster. I even hope that we shall soon be rid of him….
And a very hopeful symptom is that, behind Maillebois, Jonville, and
Le Moreux, there are other small towns and villages, nearly all in
fact, where the schoolmaster is defeating the priest, and setting the
secular school erect on the ruins of the Congregational school. Reason
is triumphing, and justice and truth are slowly increasing their sphere
of conquest at Dherbecourt, Juilleroy, Rouville, and Les Bordes. It is
a general awakening, an irresistible movement, carrying France towards
her liberating mission.’

‘But it is your work!’ cried Marc with sudden enthusiasm. ‘There is
a pupil of yours in each of the localities you have named. They are
the children of your heart and mind; it was you who sent them as
missionaries into lonely country districts to diffuse the new gospel of
truth and justice. If people are at last awaking, returning to manly
dignity, becoming an equitable, free, and healthy democracy, it is
because a generation of your pupils is now installed in our classrooms,
instructing the young, and making true citizens of them. You are the
good workman; you realised that no progress is possible save by reason
and knowledge.’

Then Joulic and Mignot seconded Marc with similar enthusiasm: ‘Yes,
yes, you have been the father, we are your children! The country will
only be worth what the schoolmasters may make it, and the schoolmasters
themselves can only be worth what the training colleges have made them.’

Salvan, who seemed very moved, protested with modest _bonhomie_. ‘Men
like me, my friends? Why, there are some everywhere; there will be
plenty when they are allowed to act. Le Barazer helped me a great
deal by keeping me at my post, and not tying me down too much. What
I did? Why, Mauraisin himself is almost obliged to do the same, for
the evolution carries him on; the work, once begun, never stops. And
you’ll see, Mauraisin’s successor will turn out even better masters
than those who passed through my hands…. One thing which delights
me, and which you have not mentioned, is that nowadays students are
recruited much more easily for the training colleges. What made me most
anxious in former times was the distrust, the contempt into which the
teaching profession had fallen, ill-paid, unhonoured as it was. But
since the salaries have been increased, now that real honour attaches
to the humblest members of the profession, candidates arrive from all
quarters, so that one is able to pick and choose, and form an excellent
staff…. And if I have rendered any services you may be sure that,
on seeing my work continued and fulfilled, I feel rewarded beyond all
my hopes. At present I desire to remain a mere spectator of things; I
applaud your efforts, and live happily in my little garden, delighted
to be forgotten by everybody–excepting you, my lads.’

He ceased speaking, and a thrill of feeling passed through the others
as they sat there at the large stone table in the arbour, balmy with
the perfume of the roses, while from the verdant garden, from the whole
stretch of country around them, infinite serenity was wafted.

Every year since her parents had removed to Jonville, Louise had spent
the vacation with them. Her brother Clément would now soon be ten years
old, and Marc still kept him in his school, giving him that elementary
education which he would have liked to have seen generalised, applied
to all the children of the nation to whatever class they might belong,
in order that one might have based upon it, in accordance with the
tastes and talents of the pupils, a system of general and gratuitous
secondary education. If his own tastes should be shared by his son,
he intended to prepare him for the Training College of Beaumont, for
the great national work of salvation would lie in the humble village
schools for many years longer. Louise also had disinterestedly set her
ambition upon becoming an elementary teacher. And, indeed, on quitting
the school of Fontenay with the necessary certificates, she was, to
her great delight, appointed assistant to her former and well-loved
mistress, Mademoiselle Mazeline, at Maillebois.

At that time Louise was nineteen years of age. Salvan had intervened
with Le Barazer to secure her appointment, which passed virtually
unnoticed. The times were changing more and more; the period of
delirium–when the mere names of Simon and Froment had sufficed to
raise a tempest–was quite over. And this emboldened Le Barazer, six
months later, to appoint Simon’s son Joseph as assistant to Joulic.
Joseph, it should be said, had made his _début_ at Dherbecourt after
quitting the Training College two years previously with an excellent
record. As advancement his transfer to Maillebois was of little
account, but it was a somewhat bold action to place him in a school
where his presence implied at least some preliminary rehabilitation of
his father. For a moment there was a slight outcry, the Congregations
tried to stir up the parents of the town; but the new assistant soon
won their favour, for he behaved very discreetly, gently, yet firmly,
in all his intercourse with the children.

One incident which at that time plainly indicated the change in public
opinion was the little revolution that took place at the Milhommes’
stationery shop. One day Madame Edouard, so long the absolute mistress
of the establishment, disappeared into the back shop, where Madame
Alexandre had remained so many years. And Madame Alexandre took her
place at the counter and served the customers. Nobody mistook the
meaning of that revolution,–the customers were changing, the secular
school was triumphing over its Congregational rival, and thus, in the
interests of the business, Madame Edouard, like a good trader, made
way for her sister-in-law. It must be said, too, that Madame Edouard
now had some great worries with her son Victor, who, entering the
army after his departure from the Brothers’ school, and reaching the
rank of sergeant, had lately been compromised in a very unpleasant
affair; whereas Madame Alexandre had every right to be proud of her son
Sébastien, who had been one of Simon’s and Marc’s best pupils, then
Joseph’s companion at the Training College, and was now, for three
years past, assistant-master at Rouville. Indeed, all those young folk,
Sébastien, Joseph, and Louise, after growing up together, had at last
reached active life, bringing with them broad minds, ripened early in
the midst of tears, to continue the bitterly-contested work of their
elders.

A year went by. Louise was now twenty, and, repairing to Jonville every
Sunday, spent the day with her parents. She then often met Joseph
and Sébastien, who had remained great friends and were very fond of
visiting their former masters, Marc and Salvan. It also frequently
happened that Joseph was accompanied by his sister Sarah, who was
well pleased to spend a day in the open air among her best friends.
For three years past she had been residing with her grandparents,
the Lehmanns, displaying so much activity and skill that a little
prosperity had returned to the dismal shop in the Rue du Trou.
Customers had returned to it, and Sarah, retaining the connection
formed with some of the large Paris clothiers, had recruited several
work girls and banded them together in a kind of co-operative group.
Madame Lehmann had lately died, however, and her husband, now
seventy-five years old, lingered on with only one regret, which was
that his age deprived him of all hope of ever witnessing Simon’s
rehabilitation. Every year he spent a week or two with Simon, David,
and Rachel among the Pyrenees, and returned home well pleased to have
found them working quietly in their lonely retreat, but also very
sad when he realized that they would know no real happiness as long
as the monstrous proceedings of Rozan should remain unrevised. Sarah
had tried to induce the old man to stay with the others in the south,
but he obstinately returned to the Rue du Trou, under the pretence of
making himself useful there by superintending the workroom. And, as
it happened, this circumstance enabled the girl to take an occasional
holiday when, on accompanying her brother Joseph to Jonville, she
chanced to feel somewhat tired.

The reunion of the young people at Jonville, the days they spent there
so gaily, brought about the long-foreseen marriages. At first it was a
question of Sébastien marrying Sarah, which surprised nobody; though
it was regarded as an indication of the changing times that young
Milhomme should marry Simon’s daughter not only with the consent of his
mother but also with the approval of Madame Edouard, his aunt. A little
later, when the wedding was postponed for a few months in order that
it might coincide with that of Louise and Joseph, a little excitement
arose at Maillebois, for this time the proposed union was one between
the condemned man’s son and the daughter of his most valiant defender.
But the idyl of their love, which was the outcome of the old bitter
battle and all the heroism that had been displayed in it, touched
many a heart, and even tended to pacify the onlookers, though all
were curious to learn how Louise’s marriage would be regarded by her
great-grandmother, Madame Duparque, who, for three years past, had not
quitted her little house on the Place des Capucins. And, indeed, the
marriage was postponed for another month in order that Madame Duparque
might come to some decision respecting it.

Though Louise was now twenty years old, she had not made her first
Communion, and it had been settled that only the civil ceremony should
be performed at her wedding with Joseph, as at that of Sébastien with
Sarah. Anxious as she was for an interview with Madame Duparque, the
girl wrote her an entreating letter; but all in vain, for she did not
even receive an answer. The old lady’s door had not been opened to
Geneviève and her children since they had returned to Marc. For nearly
five years now the great-grandmother had clung to her fierce oath that
she would cast off all her relatives and live cloistered, alone with
God. Geneviève, touched by the thought of that woman of fourscore
years leading in solitude a life of gloom and silence, had made a few
attempts at a _rapprochement_, but they had been savagely, obstinately
repulsed. Nevertheless, Louise desired to make a last attempt,
distressed as she was at not having the approval of all her kinsfolk in
her happiness.

One evening, then, at sunset, she repaired to the little house,
which was already steeped in the dimness of twilight. But, to her
astonishment, on pulling the bell-knob, she heard no sound; it seemed
as if somebody had cut the wire. Gathering courage, she then ventured
to knock, at first lightly, and then loudly; and at last she heard a
slight noise, the board of a little judas cut in the door, as in the
door of a convent, having been pulled aside.

‘Is it you, Pélagie?’ Louise inquired. ‘Is it you? Answer me!’

It was only with difficulty, after placing her ear close to the judas,
that she at last heard the servant’s deadened and almost unrecognisable
voice: ‘Go away, go away,’ Pélagie answered; ‘madame says that you are
to go away at once!’

‘Well, no, Pélagie, I won’t go away,’ Louise promptly retorted. ‘Go
back and tell grandmother that I shall not leave the door until she has
come and answered me herself.’

The girl remained waiting for ten minutes, or perhaps a quarter of
an hour. From time to time she knocked again–not angrily, but with
respectful, solicitous persistence. And all at once the judas was
re-opened, but this time in a tempestuous fashion, and a rough,
subterranean voice called to her: ‘What have you come here for? You
wrote to me about a fresh abomination, a marriage, the very shame of
which might well suffice to kill me! What is the use of speaking of it?
Are you even fit to marry? Have you made your first Communion? No, eh?
You amused yourself with me, you were to have made it when you were
twenty years old; but to-day, no doubt, you have decided that you will
never do so…. So it is useless for you to come here. Be off, I tell
you, I am dead to you!’

Louise, quite upset, shuddering as if she had felt an icy breath
from the grave sweeping across her cheek, had barely time to cry:
‘Grandmother, I will wait a little longer; I will come back in a
month’s time!’ Then the judas was shut violently, and the little dim
and silent house became quite deathly in the darkness, which had now
gathered all around.

During the previous five years Madame Duparque had gradually
relinquished all intercourse with the world. At first, on the morrow of
Madame Berthereau’s death and Geneviève’s departure, she had contented
herself with ceasing to receive her relations, restricting herself to
the society of a few pious friends of her own sex, and of the priests
and other clerics whom she had made her familiars. Among these was
Abbé Coquard, who had succeeded Abbé Quandieu at St. Martin’s. He was
a rigid man, full of a sombre faith, and it delighted Madame Duparque
to hear the threats which he addressed to the wicked–threats of hell
with its consuming flames, its red forks, and its boiling oil. Thus,
morning and evening she was seen repairing now to the parish church,
now to the Capuchin Chapel, in order to attend the various offices and
ceremonies. But as time went by she went out less and less, and at last
a day came when she ceased to cross her threshold. It was as if she
were gradually sinking into gloom and silence, burying herself by slow
degrees. One day even the shutters of her house, which had still been
opened every morning and closed at night, remained closed, the façade
becoming blind, as it were, the house dead, neither a glimmer nor a
breath of life emanating from it any more. One might have thought that
it was abandoned, uninhabited, if sundry frocks and gowns had not been
seen slipping through the doorway at nightfall. They were the gowns of
Abbé Coquard, Father Théodose, and at times–so people said–Father
Crabot, who thus paid the old lady friendly visits. Her little fortune,
now a matter of two or three thousand francs a year, which she had
arranged to leave, one half to the College of Valmarie, the other to
the Capuchin Chapel, hardly sufficed to explain the fidelity of her
clerical friends. Their visits must also have been due in part to her
exacting and despotic nature, which overcame the most powerful, and in
part to their apprehensions of some deed of mystical madness, of which
they knew her to be capable. It was said, too, that she had obtained an
authorisation to hear Mass and take the Communion at home; and this, no
doubt, explained why she no longer set foot out of doors. By the force
of her piety she had compelled even the Deity to come to her house, in
order that she might be spared the affliction of going to His; for the
idea of seeing the streets and the people in them, of again setting
her eyes on that abominable age in which Holy Church was agonising,
had become such torture to her that she had caused her shutters to be
nailed in position, and every chink in the woodwork to be stopped up,
in order that no sound or gleam of the world might again reach her.

This was the supreme crisis. She spent her days in prayer. She was
not content with having broken off all intercourse with her impious
and accursed relations, she asked herself if her own salvation were
not in danger through having incurred, perhaps, some responsibility
in the damnation of her kinsfolk. She was haunted by a recollection
of Madame Berthereau’s sacrilegious revolt on her death-bed, and
believed that unhappy woman to be not merely in purgatory, but in
hell. Then, too, came the thought of Geneviève, whom the demon had
assailed so terribly, and who had gone back to her errors like a dog
to his vomit. And, finally, there was Louise, the pagan, the godless
creature, who had rejected even the gift of the Divine Body of Jesus.
Those two–Geneviève and Louise–belonged, both in body and in spirit,
to the devil; and if Madame Duparque caused Masses to be said and
candles burnt for the repose of her dead daughter’s soul, she had
abandoned those who still lived to the just wrath of her God of anger
and punishment. But, at the same time, her anguish remained extreme;
she wondered why Heaven had thus stricken her in her posterity, and
strove to interpret this visitation as a terrible trial, whence her own
holiness would emerge dazzling and triumphant. The confined, claustral
life she led, entirely devoted to religious practices, seemed to her
to be necessary reparation, for which she would be rewarded by an
eternity of delight. In this wise she expiated the monstrous sinfulness
of her descendants, those women guilty of free thought, who, in three
generations, had escaped from the Church and ended madly by putting
their belief in a religion of human solidarity. Thus, wishing to
redeem the apostasy of her grandchildren, Madame Duparque set all her
pride in humbling herself, in living for God alone, in seeking to slay
what little womanliness still lingered in her; for it was from that
womanliness that her condemned descendants had sprung.

So stern and sombre was her ardour that she wearied the few clerics who
alone now linked her to the world. She was conscious of the decline
of the Church; she could detect the collapse of Catholicism under the
efforts of those diabolical times from which she had withdrawn by way
of protest against Satan’s victory–as if, indeed, she denied that
victory by not beholding it. And in her opinion her renunciation, her
fancied martyrdom, might perhaps impart new vigour to the soldiers
of religion. She would have liked to have seen them as ardent, as
resolute, as fierce as she herself was, encasing themselves in the
rigidity of dogmas, carrying fire and sword into the midst of the
unbelievers, and aiding the great Exterminator to conquer His people
by dint of thunderbolts. She never felt satisfied; she found Father
Crabot, Father Théodose, even the sombre Abbé Coquard, altogether too
lukewarm. She accused them of compounding with the hateful worldly
spirit of the times, and of completing the ruin of the Church with
their own hands by adapting religion to the tastes of the day. She
dictated their duty to them, preached a campaign of frankness and
violence, unhinged as she was, thrown into extreme exaltation by her
lonely life, and ever athirst with some supreme longings in spite of
all the penitence heaped upon her.

Father Crabot was the first to grow tired of that strange penitent,
who, at eighty-three years of age, treated herself so harshly, and bore
herself like a despairing prophetess, whose uncompromising Catholicism
was really a condemnation of the long efforts made by his own Order to
humanise the terrible Deity of the stakes and the massacres. Thus the
Jesuit allowed long intervals to elapse between his discreet visits,
and, finally, he altogether ceased to call, being of opinion, no doubt,
that the legacy he had hoped to receive for Valmarie would not be
sufficient compensation for the dangers he might incur with a woman
whose soul was ever in a tempest. A few months later Abbé Coquard
likewise withdrew, not because he had any cowardly fears of being
compromised, but because each of his discussions with the old lady
degenerated into a horrible battle. Eager and despotic like herself,
the Abbé was bent on retaining all his power and authority as a priest;
and one day, when Madame Duparque began to thunder in the name of God,
reproaching him with inaction, in such wise that he appeared to be a
mere transgressing sinner, he became quite angry, for he declined to
accept such a reversal of their respective positions. Then, for nearly
another year, only Father Théodose’s frock was to be seen slipping into
the little, silent, closed house of the Place des Capucins.

Father Théodose, no doubt, regarded Madame Duparque’s little fortune as
worth taking, for the times were hard with poor St. Antony of Padua. In
vain did the Capuchin scatter prospectuses broadcast; money did not now
flow into the collection boxes as it had done in the happy days when,
by a stroke of genius, he had induced Monseigneur Bergerot to bless one
of the saint’s bones. In those days the miracle lottery had put people
into quite a fever; the sick, the idle, and the poor had all dreamt of
winning happiness from heaven in return for an investment of twenty
sous; whereas, now that a little sense and truth were spreading through
the district, thanks to the secular schools, the base commerce of the
Capuchin Chapel stood revealed in all its shameful imbecility.

For a time, it is true, another stroke of genius on the part of Father
Théodose, the creation of some wonderful mortgage bonds on heaven,
had again stirred the souls of the humble and the suffering, who, as
life below proved so cruel to them, hungered for felicity beyond the
grave. Then, during several months, the money of dupes had flowed
in; all the savings hidden in old stockings had been brought forth
by believers anxious to secure the chance of a little peace in the
Unknown. But finally, being confronted by growing incredulity, Father
Théodose had found it difficult to place his remaining bonds, and had
thereupon planned a third stroke of genius–this time the invention
of some private, reserved gardens in the ever-flowery Fields of the
Blessed. According to him there were to be some delightful little
nooks in Eternity, garnished with roses and lilies of the very best
varieties, under foliage set out to please the eyes, and near springs
which would be particularly pure and fresh. And thanks once more to
the decisive intervention of St. Antony of Padua, one might book
those little nooks in advance, thereby ensuring to oneself the eternal
enjoyment of them. Naturally, the booking was very expensive if one
desired something spacious and comfortable, though there were indeed
gardens at all prices, which varied in accordance with site, charm, and
proximity to the abodes of the angels. Two old ladies, it appeared, had
already bequeathed their fortunes to the Capuchins in order that the
miracle-working saint might reserve for them two of the best gardens
that were still vacant, one being in the style of an old French park,
whereas the other was more of the ‘romantic’ type, with a maze and a
waterfall. And it was also said that Madame Duparque had in a like way
made her choice, this being a golden grotto on the slope of an azure
mount, among clumps of myrtle bushes and oleanders.

Father Théodose, then, alone continued to visit the old lady, putting
up with her fits of temper, and returning to the house even after she
had driven him from it in exasperation at finding him so lukewarm and
resigned to the triumph of the Church’s enemies. And the Capuchin had
actually ended by securing a latch-key in order that he might enter the
house whenever he pleased, instead of having to ring the bell again
and again, for poor Pélagie had become extremely deaf. It was also
at this same moment that the two women, the two recluses as they may
be called, cut the bell wire; for of what use was it to retain that
connecting link with the outer world? The only living being whom they
now received had a key to admit himself, and by cutting the wire they
were spared the nervous starts that came upon them whenever they heard
that jangling bell which they did not wish to answer. Pélagie, indeed,
had become as fierce and as maniacal as her mistress. She had begun by
curtailing her chats in the tradespeople’s shops, scarcely speaking to
anybody when she went out, but gliding swiftly past the houses like a
shadow. Next, she had decided to go shopping twice a week only, in this
wise condemning her mistress and herself to live on stale bread and a
few vegetables–such fare as might have suited a pair of hermits in the
desert. And now the few tradespeople came themselves to the house at
nightfall on Saturday evenings, and left their goods at the doorway in
a basket, which they found waiting for them on the ensuing Saturday,
with the money due to them wrapped in a scrap of newspaper.

At the same time Pélagie had one great worry–her nephew Polydor, who
had entered a Beaumont monastery in a menial capacity, and who came
and made frightful scenes with her whenever he wished to extort money.
He alarmed the old woman to such a degree that she did not even dare
to leave him at the door, for she felt sure that on some pretext or
other he would collect a crowd and force his way in. And when she had
admitted him, she trembled still more; for she knew that he was a man
to deal her a nasty blow should she refuse to give him a ten-franc
piece. For many long years she had caressed the dream of employing
all her savings–some ten thousand francs, scraped together copper by
copper–to procure some happiness in the other world; and if the little
treasure was still carefully hidden away inside her palliasse, this
was because she hesitated as to the best, the most efficacious mode of
investment. Should she found a perpetual Mass for the repose of her
soul, or should she book one of Father Théodose’s reserved gardens,
a modest little nook in heaven, by the side of her mistress’s lordly
grotto? And she was still hesitating in this respect when misfortune
fell upon her.

One night, when she had been obliged to admit Polydor, the rascal did
not murder her, but rushed in turn upon every article of furniture in
her garret, finally ripping up the palliasse and fleeing with the ten
thousand francs, while Pélagie, whom he had thrust aside and who had
fallen beside the bed, groaned with despair at seeing that bandit–who
was of her own flesh and blood–make off with the blessed money which
St. Antony of Padua was to have given her back in eternal delight.
Would she be damned, then, as she no longer possessed the wherewithal
to speculate in the miraculous lottery? Such was the shock the old
woman experienced that two days later she died; and it was Father
Théodose who found her, already stark and cold, in her bare and dirty
garret, to which he climbed in his surprise and anxiety at discovering
her nowhere else. He was obliged to attend to everything–declare the
death, make arrangements for the funeral, and busy himself as to how
the last remaining inmate of the little house would live now that she
had nobody left to serve her.

For several weeks past Madame Duparque, whose legs had become too
feeble to support her weight, had taken to her bed, in which, however,
she remained in a sitting posture, erect and tall, though withered.
Little breath was left her, yet she still seemed to reign despotically
over that silent, dark, and empty house, whence she had driven all her
kith and kin, and where the only creature, the domestic animal, whom
she had been willing to tolerate, had just died. When Father Théodose,
on returning from Pélagie’s funeral, tried to ascertain Madame
Duparque’s intentions with respect to her future mode of life, he could
not even extract an answer from her. Greatly embarrassed, he insisted,
and offered to send her a sister, pointing out that it was impossible
for her to attend to any household duties as she could not even leave
her bed. But she at once flew into a temper, growled like some mighty
animal stricken unto death and unwilling to be disturbed in its final
hour. Vague charges gurgled in her throat; they were all cowards, all
traitors to their God, all egotists who abandoned the Church in order
that the vaults might not fall upon their heads! Thereupon Father
Théodose, in his turn growing exasperated, left her, deciding that
he would return the following morning to see if she had become more
reasonable.

A night and a day elapsed, for the Superior of the Capuchins was only
able to return at dusk, four and twenty hours later. During that night
and day, then, Madame Duparque remained alone, absolutely alone, behind
the nailed shutters, the carefully closed doors and windows of her
dark room, where neither a sound nor a ray of light from the outer
world penetrated. She herself had willed it thus, severing all carnal
ties with her relations, withdrawing from the world in protest against
the hateful society of the times in which sin had proved triumphant.
And, after giving herself wholly to the Church, she had gradually
become disgusted with its ministers–those priests who lacked all
militant faith, those monks who had no heroic bravery, but who were all
worldly men bent on personal enjoyment. Thus she had dismissed them
also, and now she remained alone with her Deity–an implacable and
stubborn Deity, who ruled with absolute, exterminating, and vengeful
power. All light and all life had departed from that cold, dismal,
fast-closed, and tomb-like house, where there only remained a feeble
octogenarian woman, sitting up in bed, gazing into the black darkness,
and waiting for her jealous God to carry her away, in order that
lukewarm souls might have an example of a really pious end. And when
Father Théodose presented himself at the house at dusk he found, to
his intense surprise, that the door would not open, that it resisted
all his efforts. The key turned readily enough in the lock, and it
seemed, therefore, that the door must have been bolted. But who could
have bolted it? There was nobody inside except the ailing woman, who
could not leave her bed. The Capuchin then made fresh attempts, but in
vain; and at last, feeling frightened, unwilling to incur any further
responsibility, he hastened to the Town Hall to explain the matter
to the authorities. A messenger was at once sent to Mademoiselle
Mazeline’s for Louise; and, as it happened, Marc and Geneviève were
there, having come over from Jonville as the news of Pélagie’s death
had made them feel anxious.

A tragical business followed. The whole family repaired to the Place
des Capucins. As the door would not yield, a locksmith was sent for,
but he declared he could do nothing, for assuredly the bolts were
fastened. It therefore became necessary to send for a mason, who, with
his pick, unsealed the door hinges set in the stone work. At each blow
the silent house re-echoed like a closed vault. And when the door had
been torn down it was with a quiver that Marc and Geneviève, followed
by Louise, re-entered that family abode whence they had been banished.
An icy dampness reigned there; it was only with difficulty that they
managed to light a candle. And upstairs, in the bed, they found Madame
Duparque, still in a sitting posture, propped up by pillows, but quite
dead, with a large crucifix between her long, thin, shrivelled hands.

In a superhuman effort she had assuredly found the supreme energy to
leave her bed, crawl down the stairs, and shoot the bolts in order
that no living soul, not even a priest, might disturb her in her last
communion with God. And then she had crawled upstairs again, and
had died there. When Father Théodose saw her he fell on his knees,
shuddering, and stammering a prayer. He was distraught, for he detected
in that death not merely the end of a terrible old woman, raised to a
fierce grandeur, as it were, by her uncompromising faith, but also the
end of all superstitious and mendacious religion. And Marc, in whose
arms Geneviève and Louise had sought a refuge, seemed to feel a great
gust sweeping by, as though eternal life were springing from that death.

When the family, after leaving the funeral arrangements to Abbé
Coquard, made a search in the old lady’s drawers, they found
nothing–neither will nor securities of any kind. It could not be
said that Father Théodose had purloined any property, for he had not
returned to the house. Was it to be assumed, then, that the old lady
had previously handed her securities to him or to another? Or had she
destroyed them, unwilling that her relatives should benefit by her
fortune? The mystery was never solved, not a copper was ever found.
Only the little house remained, and it was sold, the proceeds being
given to the poor at the request of Geneviève, who said that in taking
that course she was certainly doing what her grandmother would have
desired.

In the evening, after returning from the funeral, Geneviève cast her
arms round her husband’s neck, and made him a frank confession: ‘If you
only knew!’ said she. ‘I was beset again when I heard that grandmother
was all alone, so bravely and loftily adhering to her stubborn
faith…. Yes, I asked myself if my place were not beside her, and if
I had done right in leaving her…. But what can you expect, dear? I
shall never be quite cured. In the depths of my being I shall always
retain a little of my old belief…. Yet, what a frightful death that
was! And how right you are in asking that people should live as they
ought to; that women should be liberated, set in their right position
as the equals and companions of men, and that life should partake of
all that is good and true and just!’

A month later the two long-deferred weddings at last took place. Louise
was married to Joseph, Sarah to Sébastien; and in those espousals Marc
perceived a beginning of victory. The good crop, sown with so much
difficulty in the midst of persecution and outrage, was germinating and
growing already.