The real festival

Years went by, and Marc continued his work, sturdy yet at sixty years
of age, and as passionately attached to truth and justice as he had
been at the outset of the great struggle. And one day, when he happened
to go to Beaumont to call on Delbos, the latter suddenly said to him:
‘By the way, my dear fellow, I have had a strange encounter…. The
other evening, at dusk, while I was returning home I noticed a man of
about your age, looking wretched and ravaged, walking ahead of me along
the Avenue des Jaffres…. And, all at once, in the blaze of light
coming from the confectioner’s shop at the corner of the Rue Gambetta,
it seemed to me that I recognised our Gorgias.’

‘Eh, our Gorgias?’

‘Why, yes, Brother Gorgias, not wearing an Ignorantine’s cassock,
but a greasy frock-coat, and slipping alongside the walls, with the
suspicious gait of an emaciated old wolf…. He must have come back
secretly, and must be living in some dark nook or other, still trying
to frighten and exploit his old accomplices.’

Marc, whom the announcement had greatly surprised, remained full of
doubt. ‘You must have been mistaken,’ said he; ‘Gorgias attaches too
much value to his skin to return to Beaumont and run the risk of being
sent to the galleys–that is whenever the discovery of a new fact may
enable us to apply for the quashing of the Rozan judgment.’

‘It is you who are mistaken, my friend,’ Delbos answered. ‘Our man has
nothing more to fear. According to our law of limitation there can
be no public action in a criminal matter after the expiration of ten
years, and so, even nowadays, little Zéphirin’s murderer can walk the
streets in the daylight without any fear of arrest…. However, I may
have been deceived by a mere resemblance; and in any case the return of
Gorgias can have no interest for us, for you agree with me, do you not,
that we can derive nothing useful from him?’

‘No, nothing whatever. He lied so much at the time of the affair that
if he should say anything now he would certainly lie again…. The
long-sought truth can never come to us from him.’

In this wise, at long intervals, Marc called upon Delbos in order to
chat with him about that everlasting Simon case, which, after the
lapse of so many years, still remained like a cancer gnawing at the
heart of the country. People might deny its existence, believe it to
be dead, cease to speak of it, but nevertheless it still stealthily
prosecuted its ravages, like some secret venom poisoning life. Twice
a year David quitted his lonely retreat in the Pyrenees and came to
Beaumont in order to confer with Delbos and Marc; for, in spite of the
pardon granted to his brother, he had not for an hour relinquished his
hope of eventual acquittal and rehabilitation. They, David, Delbos, and
Marc, were convinced that the monstrous verdict would be some day set
aside, and that the affair would end by the victory of the innocent.
But, even as in previous years, after the judgment of the Court of
Cassation, they found themselves struggling amidst an intricate network
of falsehoods. After hesitating for a time as to which scent they might
best follow, they had decided to investigate a second crime committed
by ex-President Gragnon, a crime which they had already suspected at
Rozan, and of which they were now convinced.

Gragnon, at the time of the Rozan proceedings, had repeated his illegal
communication trick. On this second occasion, however, he had availed
himself, not of one of Simon’s letters with a forged postscript and
paraph, but of a confession alleged to have been written by the
workman who was said to have made a false stamp for the Maillebois
schoolmaster–this confession having been handed, it was alleged, to
one of the nuns of the Beaumont hospital by the workman in question
when he was near his death. Assuredly Gragnon had walked about Beaumont
with that confession in his pocket, speaking of it as a thunderbolt
which he would hurl at the Simonists if they drove him to extremities,
showing it also, or causing it to be shown, to certain members of
the jury, those who were pious and weak-minded, but at the same time
affecting a keen desire to save the holy nun to whom the confession
had been given from being publicly mixed up in such a scandal. And
this explained everything. The abominable behaviour of the jury in
reconvicting the innocent prisoner became excusable. Those men of
average intelligence and honesty had been deceived like the jurors
of Beaumont, and had yielded to motives which had remained secret.
Marc and David well remembered that they had heard some juryman ask
certain questions which had then seemed to them ridiculous. But they
now understood that this juryman had referred to the terrible document
which Gragnon had stealthily hawked about, and of which it was not
prudent to speak plainly. Delbos therefore busied himself with that
new fact, that second criminal communication, which, if proved,
would entail the immediate annulment of the proceedings at Rozan.
But, unfortunately, nothing could be more difficult to prove, and
for years Delbos and his friends had striven vainly. Only one hope
remained to them: a juror, a retired medical man, named Beauchamp, had
acquired a certainty that the workman’s alleged confession was simply
a gross forgery. In a measure things repeated themselves, as is not
infrequently the case in real life, Beauchamp being assailed by remorse
like his predecessor, architect Jacquin. He himself, it is true, was
not a clerical, but he had an extremely devout wife and did not wish
to plunge her into desolation by relieving his conscience. Thus it was
necessary to wait.[1]

[Footnote 1: It may be held that M. Zola has perpetrated an artistic
blunder by introducing into his narrative a repetition, so to say, of
the Jacquin episode; but it should be remembered that the Simon affair
is based on the Dreyfus case, in which there were several repetitions
of that character. Among those who sat in judgment on Dreyfus,
Esterhazy, and Picquart, there were repeated instances of belated
conscientious scruples, some indeed known to the initiated but never
made public. Thus, if M. Zola is inartistic in making two characters
of his story adopt virtually the same course, he is at least true to
life.–_Trans._]

However, as the years went by, circumstances became more favourable.
Thanks to the spread of secular education the social evolution was
being hastened and giving great results. All France was being renewed,
a new nation was coming from its thousands of parish schools, whose
influence was to be found beneath each fresh reform that was effected,
each fresh step that was taken toward solidarity and peace. Things
which had seemed impossible in former times were easily accomplished
now that the nation was delivered from error and falsehood, endowed
with knowledge and force of will.

Thus, at the general elections which took place in May that year,
Delbos at last defeated Lemarrois, who had been Mayor of Beaumont for
so long a period. At one time it had seemed as if the latter would
never lose his seat, personifying as he did the great mass of average
public opinion. But the _bourgeoisie_ had denied its revolutionary
past, and allied itself with the Church in order that it might not
have to abandon any of its usurped power. It clung to the privileges
it had acquired, and, rather than share its royalty or its wealth
with the masses, it preferred to make use of all the old reactionary
forces in order to thrust the now awakened and enlightened people into
servitude once more. Lemarrois was a typical example of the _bourgeois_
Republican, who, wishing to defend his class, sank into a kind of
involuntary reaction, and was therefore condemned and swept away in
the inevitable _débâcle_ of that _bourgeoisie_ which a hundred years
of trafficking and enjoyment had sufficed to rot. It was inevitable
that the people should ascend to power as soon as it became conscious
of its strength, of the inexhaustible reserve of energy, intelligence,
and will slumbering within it; and it was sufficient that it should be
emancipated, roused from the heavy sleep of ignorance by the schools
in order that it might take its due place and rejuvenate the nation.
The _bourgeoisie_ was now at the point of death, and the people would
necessarily become the great liberating, justice-dealing France of
to-morrow. And there was, so to say, an annunciation of all those
things in the victory achieved at Beaumont by Delbos, the man who had
been Simon’s counsel, who had been denied and insulted so long, at
first securing only a few Socialist votes, which by degrees had become
an overwhelming majority.

Another proof of the people’s accession to power was to be found in
the complete change which had come over Marcilly. He had formerly
figured in a Radical ministry; then, after the reconviction of Simon,
he had entered a Moderate administration; and now he affected extreme
Socialist principles; and, by harnessing himself to Delbos’s triumphal
car, had managed to get re-elected. It is true that the popular
victory was not complete throughout the department, for Count Hector
de Sanglebœuf had also been re-elected, this time as an uncompromising
reactionary; for the usual phenomenon of troublous times had appeared,
only plain, frank, extreme opinions finding support. The party
vanquished for ever was the old Liberal _bourgeoisie_, which had become
Conservative from egotism and fright, and which, lacking all strength
and logic, was ripe for its fall. And the ascending class, the great
mass of those who only the day before had been called the disinherited,
would naturally take the place of the _bourgeoisie_ after sweeping away
the few stubborn defenders that remained to the Church.

But the election of Delbos was particularly notable as being the first
great success achieved by one of those rascals without God or country,
one of those traitors who had publicly declared Simon to be innocent.
After the monstrous proceedings of Rozan all the notable Simonists
had suffered in their persons or their pockets for having dared to
desire truth and justice. Insult, persecution, summary dismissal had
been heaped upon them. There was Delbos, to whom no client had dared
to confide his interests; there was Salvan dismissed, compulsorily
retired; there was Marc disgraced, sent to a little village; and behind
the leaders how many others there were, relations and friends, who for
merely behaving in an upright manner were assailed with worries, and at
times even ruined!

Full of mute grief at the sight of such aberration, well understanding
that all rebellion was useless, the friends of truth had simply turned
to their work, awaiting the inevitable hour when reason and equity
would triumph. And that hour seemed to be approaching; for now Delbos,
one of the most deeply involved in the affair, had defeated Lemarrois,
who had long pursued a pusillanimous policy, refusing to take sides
either for or against Simon. Was not this a proof that opinion had
changed, that a great advance had been effected? Moreover, Salvan
secured consolation, for one of his old pupils was appointed to the
directorship of the Training College after Mauraisin had been virtually
dismissed for incapacity. Great was the delight of the sage when those
tidings reached him, not because it pleased him to crow over his
vanquished adversary, but because he at last saw the continuation of
his work entrusted to one who was brave and faithful. And, finally,
a day came when Le Barazer, who now felt strong enough to repair
former injustice, sent for Marc and offered him the head mastership
of a school at Beaumont. Such an offer, on the part of that prudent
diplomatist, the Academy Inspector, was extremely significant, and Marc
was pleased indeed; nevertheless he declined it, for he did not wish to
leave Jonville, where his task was not yet finished.

There were also other precursory signs of the great impending change
in the country. Prefect Hennebise had been replaced by a very energetic
and sensible functionary who had immediately demanded the revocation
of Depinvilliers, under whose management the Lycée of Beaumont had
become a kind of seminary. Rector Forbes had been compelled to rouse
himself from the study of ancient history, in order to dismiss the
chaplains, rid the classrooms of the religious emblems placed in them,
and secularise secondary as well as elementary education. Then General
Jarousse, having been placed on the retired list, had decided to quit
Beaumont; for, though his wife owned a house there, he was exasperated
with the new spirit which reigned in the town, and did not wish to come
into contact with his successor, a Republican general, whom some people
even declared to be a Socialist. Moreover, ex-investigating Magistrate
Daix had met a wretched death, haunted as he was by spectres, in spite
of his belated confession at Rozan; while the former Procureur de la
République, Raoul de La Bissonnière, after having a fine career in
Paris, seemed likely to come to grief there amidst the collapse of a
colossal swindle[2] which he had in some way befriended. And, as a last
and excellent symptom of the times, nobody now saluted Gragnon, the
ex-presiding judge, when, thin and yellow, he anxiously threaded the
Avenue des Jaffres, hanging his head but glancing nervously to right
and left as if he feared that somebody might spit upon him as he passed.

[Footnote 2: All newspaper readers know that various judicial
personages have been compromised in recent French swindles.–_Trans._]

The happy effects of free and secular education, which brought light
and health in its train, were also manifest at Maillebois, whither
Marc often repaired to see his daughter Louise, who, with Joseph
her husband, lived in the little lodging which Mignot had so long
occupied at the Communal school. Maillebois, indeed, was no longer
that intensely clerical little town, where the Congregations had
succeeded in raising their creature Philis to the mayoralty. In
former times the eight hundred working men of the _faubourg_, being
divided among themselves, could return only a few Republicans to the
Municipal Council, in which they were reduced to inaction. But at the
recent elections the whole Republican and Socialist list had passed,
by a large majority, in such wise that Darras, defeating his rival
Philis, had now again become Mayor. And his delight at returning to
that office, whence the priests had driven him, was the keener as he
was now supported by a compact majority which would enable him to act
frankly instead of being continually reduced to compromises.

Marc met Darras one day and found him quite radiant. ‘Yes, I remember,’
said he, ‘you did not think me very brave in former times. That poor
Simon! I was convinced of his innocence, yet I refused to act when you
came to me at the municipal offices. But how could I help it? I had a
bare majority of two, the council constantly escaped my control, and
the proof is that it ended by overthrowing me…. Ah! if I had then
only had the majority we now possess! We are the masters at last, and
things will move quickly, I promise you.’

Marc smiled and asked him what had become of Philis, his defeated
adversary.

‘Philis–oh! he has been greatly tried. A certain person–you know whom
I mean–died recently, and so he has had to resign himself to living
alone with his daughter Octavie, a very pious young woman who does not
care to marry. His son Raymond, being a naval officer, is always far
away, and the house cannot be very cheerful, unless indeed Philis is
already seeking consolation, which may be the case, for I saw a new
servant there the other day–yes, quite a sturdy, fresh-looking girl!’

Darras burst into a loud laugh. For his own part, having retired from
business with a handsome fortune, he was living his last years in
perfect union with his wife, their only regret being that they had no
children.

‘Well,’ Marc resumed, ‘Joulic may now feel certain that he will not
be worried any more…. It is he, you know, who, in spite of all
difficulties, transformed the town with his school, and made your
election possible.’

‘Oh! you were the first great worker,’ Darras exclaimed. ‘I don’t
forget the immense services which you rendered…. But you may be
quite easy, Joulic is now safe from all vexations, and I will help
him as much as I can in his efforts to make Maillebois free and
intelligent…. Besides, your daughter Louise and Simon’s son Joseph
are now, in their turn, continuing the work of liberation. You are
a knot of brave but modest workers, to whom we shall all feel very
grateful hereafter.’

Then, for a moment, they chatted about the now distant times when Marc
had been first appointed to the Maillebois school. More than thirty
years had elapsed! And how many were the events that had occurred,
and how many were the children who had passed through the schoolroom
and carried some of the new spirit into the district around them!
Marc recalled some of his old, his first, pupils. Fernand Bongard,
the little peasant with the hard nut, who had married Lucille Doloir,
an intelligent girl, whom Mademoiselle Rouzaire had tried to rear in
sanctimonious fashion, was now the father of a girl eleven years of
age, named Claire, whom Mademoiselle Mazeline was freeing somewhat from
clerical servitude. Then Auguste Doloir, the mason’s undisciplined son,
who had married Angèle Bongard, an obstinate young woman of narrow
ambition, had a son of fifteen, Adrien, a remarkably intelligent
youth whom Joulic, his master, greatly praised. Charles Doloir, the
locksmith, who had been as bad a pupil as his brother, but who had
improved somewhat since his marriage with his master’s daughter, Marthe
Dupuis, also had a son, Marcel, who was now thirteen, and had left
the school with excellent certificates. There was also Léon Doloir,
who, thanks to Marc, had taken to the teaching profession, and after
becoming one of Salvan’s best students, now directed the school at Les
Bordes, assisted by his wife, Juliette Hochard, who had quitted the
Training School at Fontenay with ‘No. I’ against her name. That young
couple was all health and good sense, and their life was brightened by
the presence of a little four-year-old urchin, Edmond, who was sharp
for his age, already knowing his letters thoroughly. Then came the twin
Savins: first Achille, so sly, so addicted to falsehoods as a boy, then
placed with a process-server, dulled like his father by years of office
work, and married to a colleague’s sister, Virginie Deschamps, a lean
and insignificant _blonde_, by whom he had a charming little girl,
Léontine, who at eleven years of age had just secured her certificate,
and was one of Mademoiselle Mazeline’s favourite pupils. Then came
Philippe Savin, who, long remaining without employment, had been
rendered better by a life of hardship, and was now still a bachelor,
and manager of a model farm, being associated in that enterprise
with his younger brother Jules, the most intelligent of the two, who
had given himself to the soil and married a peasant girl, Rosalie
Bonin–their firstborn, Pierre, now six years old, having lately
entered Joulic’s school. Thus generation followed generation, each
going towards increase of knowledge, reason, truth, and justice, and it
was assuredly from that constant evolution which education produced,
that the happiness of the communities of the future would spring.

But Marc was more particularly interested in the home of Louise and
Joseph, and in that of his dearest pupil, Sébastien Milhomme, who
had married Sarah. That day, on quitting Darras, he repaired to the
Communal school in order to see his daughter. Mademoiselle Mazeline,
now more than sixty years of age, with a record of forty years spent
in elementary teaching, had, like Salvan, lately retired to Jonville,
where she now dwelt in a very modest little house near his beautiful
garden. She might still have rendered some services in her profession
had not her eyesight failed her. Indeed, she was nearly blind. In
retiring, however, she at least had the consolation of handing her
duties over to her well-loved assistant Louise, who was appointed head
mistress in her stead. Moreover, a headmastership at Beaumont was now
being spoken of for Joulic, in such wise that his assistant Joseph
might succeed him at Maillebois; and thus the young couple would share
the school which still re-echoed the names of Simon and Marc, whose
good work they would continue. Louise, who was now two and thirty, had
presented her husband with a son, François, who at twelve years of age
was already wonderfully like his grandfather Marc. And the ambition
of that big bright-eyed boy with the lofty brow was to enter the
Training College like his forerunners, for he also wished to become an
elementary teacher.

It was a Thursday–half-holiday day-=-and Marc found Louise just
quitting a housework class which she held once a week outside the
regulation hours. Joseph, with his son and some other boys, had gone on
a geological and botanical ramble along the banks of the Verpille. But
Sarah happened to be with Louise, for she was very much attached to her
sister-in-law, and always visited her when she came over from Rouville,
where her husband Sébastien was now head-master.

They had a charming little girl, Thérèse, in whom all the beauty of her
grandmother Rachel had reappeared. And three times a week Sarah came
from Rouville to Maillebois–the journey by rail lasting barely ten
minutes–in order to superintend the tailoring business which was still
carried on at old Lehmann’s in the Rue du Trou. He was now very old
indeed, more than eighty, and as it had become difficult for Sarah to
superintend the establishment she thought of disposing of it.

As soon as Marc had kissed Louise he pressed both of Sarah’s hands.
‘And how is my faithful Sébastien?’ he asked. ‘How is your big girl
Thérèse, and how are you yourself, my dear?’

‘Everybody is in the best of health,’ Sarah answered gaily. ‘Even
grandfather Lehmann is as strong as an oak-tree in spite of his
advanced years…. And I have had good news from yonder, you know.
Uncle David has written to say that my father has got over the attacks
of fever which have been troubling him occasionally.’

Marc jogged his head gently. ‘Yes, yes, his wound is not altogether
healed. To restore him completely to health one needs that long-desired
rehabilitation which it is so difficult to obtain. We are advancing
towards it, however; I am still full of hope, for glorious times are
coming…. Remind Sébastien that each boy he makes a man of will be
another worker in the cause of truth and justice.’

Then Marc chatted a while with Louise, giving her news of Mademoiselle
Mazeline, who lived a very retired life at Jonville in the company of
birds and flowers. And he made his daughter promise to send her son
François to spend the Sunday there, for it was a great delight for his
grandmother to have the boy with her occasionally. ‘And why not come
yourself?’ he added. ‘Tell Joseph to come as well; we will all call on
Salvan, who will be well pleased to see such a gathering of teachers,
whose father in a measure he is…. And you, Sarah, you ought to come
with Sébastien and your daughter Thérèse. Let it be a general outing
and our pleasure will be complete…. Come, it is understood, eh? Till
Sunday, then!’

He kissed the two young women and hurried away, for he wished to catch
the six-o’clock train. But he nearly missed it by reason of a strange
encounter which for a moment delayed him. He was turning out of the
High Street into the avenue leading to the railway station, when he
espied two individuals who were disputing violently behind a clump of
spindle trees. One of them, who seemed to be a man of forty, attracted
Marc’s attention by his long, livid, and doltish face. Where was it
that he had previously seen that stupid, vicious countenance? All at
once he remembered: that man was certainly Polydor, Pélagie’s nephew.
For more than twenty years Marc had not met him, but he was aware
that he had been dismissed, long ago, from the Beaumont convent which
he had entered as a servant, and that he led a chance existence among
the knaves of disreputable neighbourhoods. However, Polydor, noticing
and probably recognising the bystander who was looking at him so
attentively, hastened to lead his companion away. And then, as Marc
glanced at the other man, he started with surprise. Clad in a dirty
frock-coat, looking both wretched and fierce, Polydor’s companion
had the haggard countenance of an old bird of prey. Surely he was
Brother Gorgias! Marc at once remembered what Delbos had told him; and
thereupon, wishing to arrive at a certainty, he started after the two
men, who had already turned into a little side street. But though he
gave the street a good look, he could see nobody. Polydor and the other
had disappeared into one of the houses of suspicious aspect which lined
it. Then Marc again began to doubt. Was it really Gorgias whom he had
seen? He was not prepared to swear it; he feared that he had perhaps
yielded to some fancy.

At present Marc triumphed at Jonville. By degrees, as healthy and
reasonable men had emerged from his school, the mentality of the
region had improved, and not only was there increase of knowledge,
logic, frankness, and brotherliness, but great material prosperity
was appearing, for a land’s fortune and happiness depend solely upon
the mental culture and the civic morality of its inhabitants. Again,
then, was abundance returning to clean and well-kept homes; the fields,
thanks to newly adopted methods of culture, displayed magnificent
crops; the countryside was once more becoming a joy for the eyes in the
bright summer sunshine. And thus a happy stretch of land was at last
advancing towards that perpetual peace which for centuries had been so
ardently desired.

Martineau the Mayor, followed by the whole parish council, now acted
in agreement with Marc. A series of incidents had hastened that good
understanding by which all desirable reforms were accelerated. Abbé
Cognasse, after for some time restraining himself, in accordance
with the advice given him at Valmarie, which was to retain his
influence over the women,–for whoever possesses their support proves
invincible,–had relapsed into his wonted violence, incapable as he
was of long remaining patient, and enraged, too, at seeing the women
gradually escape from him, owing to the ill grace with which he sought
to detain them. At last, like the vengeful minister of a ravaging
and exterminating Deity, he became absolutely brutal, distributing
outrageous punishment in his wrath at the slightest offences. One day,
for instance, he rubbed little Moulin’s ears till they positively bled,
merely because the lad had playfully pulled the skirts of the terrible
Palmyre, who, in her time, had administered smacks and whippings so
freely. Another day the Abbé boxed young Catherine’s ears in church
because she laughed during Mass on seeing him blow his nose at the
altar. And finally, one Sunday, quite beside himself at finding that
the district was escaping from his control, he actually launched a
kick at Madame Martineau the mayoress, imagining that she defied him
because she did not make room for him to pass as quickly as he desired.
This time it was held that his behaviour exceeded all bounds, and
Martineau, quite enraged, cited him before the Tribunal of Correctional
Police, with the result that the battle became a furious one, Cognasse
retaliating with fresh acts of violence, and gathering quite a quantity
of lawsuits around him.

Marc meanwhile, anxious to complete his work in the village, had been
nursing an idea, which he was at last able to carry into effect. In
consequence of some new laws enacted by the Legislature, the Sisters
of the Good Shepherd, who carried on the factory in which two hundred
work-girls were sweated and starved, had been obliged to quit Jonville.
And it was a good riddance for the district, a plague-spot, a shame
the less. Marc, however, persuaded the parish council to purchase the
large factory buildings, when they were offered for sale by auction;
his idea being to modify and turn them into a Common House, in which
recreation and dancing rooms, a library, a museum, and even some free
baths might be gradually installed as by degrees the resources of the
parish increased. In this wise he dreamt of setting, in full view of
the church, a kind of civic palace, which would become a meeting and
recreation place for the hard-working community. If the women for
years past had only continued to go to Mass in order to show their
new gowns and see those of their acquaintances, they would yet more
willingly repair to that cheerful palace of solidarity, where a little
healthy amusement would await them. Thus, the recreation rooms were
the first inaugurated, and the ceremony gave rise to a great popular
demonstration.

The desire of the inhabitants was to efface and redeem that former
consecration of the parish to the Sacred Heart, which had filled the
mayor and the council with keen remorse ever since they had recovered
their senses. Martineau, for his part, accounted for that proceeding
by accusing Jauffre of having abandoned him to Abbé Cognasse, after
disturbing his mind by threatening both the parish and himself with all
sorts of misfortunes if he did not submit to the Church, which would
always be the most powerful of the social forces. Martineau, who now
perceived that this was not correct, for the Church was already being
beaten, and the more the district drew away from it the more prosperous
it became, was very desirous of setting himself on the winning side,
like a practical peasant, one who talked little but who always kept his
eye fixed on the main chance. He would therefore have liked some kind
of abjuration, some ceremony such as might allow him to come forward
at the head of the council, and restore the parish to the worship of
reason and truth, in order to wipe out that former ceremony when it
had dedicated itself to dementia and falsehood. And it was this desire
which Marc thought of fulfilling by arranging that the mayor and the
council should in a fitting manner inaugurate the recreation rooms of
the new Common House, in which it was proposed that the inhabitants of
the district should meet every Sunday to take part in suitable civic
festivities.

Great preparations were made. It was arranged that the pupils of Marc
and Geneviève should act a little play, dance, and sing. An orchestra
was soon recruited among the young men of the region. Maidens clad in
white were also to sing and dance in honour of the work of the fields
and the joys of life. Indeed it was particularly life, lived healthily
and fully, overflowing with duties and felicities, that was to be
celebrated as the universal source of strength and certainty. And the
various games and recreations which had been provided, games of skill
and energy, gymnastic appliances, with running tracks and lawns set
out in the adjoining grounds, were to be handed over to the young folk
who would meet there every week, while shady nooks would be reserved
for wives and mothers, who would be drawn together and enlivened by
having a _salon_, a meeting place, assigned to them. For the inaugural
ceremony, the rooms were decorated with flowers and foliage, and
already at an early hour the inhabitants of Jonville, clad in their
Sunday best, filled the village streets with their mirth.

By Marc’s desire, and with the consent of the parents, Mignot, that
Sunday, brought his pupils over from Le Moreux in order that they might
participate in the festivity. He was met by Marc near the church just
as old Palmyre double-locked the door of the edifice in a violent,
wrathful fashion. That morning Abbé Cognasse had said Mass to empty
benches, and it was he who, in a fit of furious anger, had ordered his
servant to close the church. Nobody should enter it again, said he,
as those impious people were bent on offering sacrifices to the idols
of human bestiality. He himself had disappeared, hiding away in the
parsonage whose garden wall bordered the road leading to the new Common
House.

‘This is the second Sunday that he has not gone to Le Moreux,’ Mignot
said to Marc. ‘He declares with some truth that it is not worth his
while to trudge so many miles to say Mass in the presence of two old
women and three little girls. The whole village has rebelled against
him, you know, since he brutally spanked little Eugénie Louvard for
having put out her tongue to him; though that is only one of the acts
of violence in which he has indulged since he has felt himself to be
defeated. Curiously enough, it is I who am obliged to defend him now
for fear lest the indignant villagers should do him an injury.’

Mignot laughed and, on being questioned, gave further particulars.
‘Yes, Saleur, our mayor, has talked of bringing an action against him
and writing to his bishop. As a matter of fact, if I at first had some
difficulty in extricating Le Moreux from the ignorance and credulity
in which it was steeped by my predecessor Chagnat, at present I simply
have to let events follow their course. The whole population is
rallying around me, the school will soon reign without a rival, for, as
the church is being shut up, the battle is virtually over.’

‘Oh! we have not got to that point yet,’ Marc answered. ‘Here, at
Jonville, Cognasse will resist till the last moment–that is, as long
as he is paid by the State and imposed on us by Rome. But I have often
thought that the lonely little hamlets like Le Moreux, particularly
when life is easy there, would be the first to free themselves from
the priests, because the latter’s departure would make virtually no
alteration in their social life. When people don’t like their priest,
when they go to church less and less, the disappearance of the priest
is witnessed without regret.’

However, Marc and Mignot could not linger chatting any longer, for
the ceremony would soon begin. So they repaired to the Common House,
where their pupils had now assembled. They there found Geneviève with
Salvan and Mademoiselle Mazeline, both the latter having emerged
from their retirement to attend that festival which was, so to say,
their work, the celebration of their teaching. And everything passed
off in a very simple, fraternal, and joyous manner. The authorities,
Martineau wearing his scarf of office at the head of the council, took
possession of that little Palace of the People in the name of the
parish. Then the schoolchildren acted, played, and sang, inaugurating,
as it were, the future of happy peace and beneficent work with their
healthy and innocent hands. It was, indeed, ever-reviving youth, it
was the children, who would overcome the last obstacles on the road to
the future city of perfect solidarity. That which the child of to-day
had been unable to do would be done by the child of to-morrow. And
when the little ones had raised their cry of hope, the youths and the
maidens came forward, displaying the promise of early fruitfulness.
One found, too, maturity and harvest in all the assembled fathers and
mothers, behind whom were the old folk typifying the happy evening
which attends life when it has been lived as it should be lived. And
all were now acquiring a true consciousness of things, setting their
ideal no longer in any mysticism, but in the proper regulation of human
life, which needed to be all reason, truth, and justice in order that
mankind might dwell together in peace, brotherliness, and happiness.
Henceforth Jonville would have a meeting hall in that fraternal house
where joy and health would take the place of threat and punishment,
where enlightenment would gladden the hearts of one and all. No heart
nor mind would be disturbed there by mystical impostures, no shares in
any false paradise would be offered for sale. Those who came forth from
that building would be cheerful citizens, happy to live for the sake of
the joy of life. And all the cruel and grotesque absurdity of dogmas
would crumble in the presence of that simple gaiety, that beneficent
light.

The dancing lasted until the evening. Never had the comely peasant
women of Jonville participated in such a festival. Everybody noticed
the radiant countenance of Madame Martineau, who had remained one of
Abbé Cognasse’s last worshippers, though, in reality, she had only gone
to church in order to show off her new gowns. She wore a new gown that
day, and was delighted at being able to display it without any fear
that it might become soiled by trailing over damp and dirty flagstones.
Again, she knew that she ran no risk of being kicked if she did not
get soon enough out of somebody’s way. Briefly, in that Common House
Jonville would at last have a fitting _salon_ where one and all might
freely meet and chat, and even indulge in a little harmless coquetry.

But it so happened that an extraordinary incident marked the close
of that great day. Marc and Geneviève were escorting their pupils
homeward, with Mignot, who also had marshalled his children together;
and Salvan and Mademoiselle Mazeline likewise figured in the party,
which was all gaiety, jest, and laughter. Near by, too, there was
Madame Martineau, accompanied by a group of women, to whom she
recounted the result of the legal proceedings which her husband had
brought against the priest for kicking her. Fifteen witnesses had
given evidence before the Court, and after some uproarious proceedings
Abbé Cognasse had been sentenced to a fine of five and twenty francs,
this being the chief cause of the fury which he had displayed for
several days past. And, all at once, as Madame Martineau–finishing her
narrative as she passed the parsonage garden–remarked that the fine
was no more than the priest deserved, Abbé Cognasse in person popped
his head over the garden wall and began to vociferate insults.

‘Ah! you vain hussy!’ he cried, ‘you lying thing! how dare you spit on
God? I’ll force your serpent tongue back into your throat!’

How was it that the priest happened to be there at that particular
moment? Nobody could tell. Perhaps he had been waiting behind the
wall for the return of the villagers. Perhaps he had set a ladder in
readiness in order that he might climb and look over. At all events,
when he perceived La Martineau in her new gown, surrounded by a number
of other sprucely dressed women, who had deserted the church to attend
an impious ceremony in the devil’s house, he completely lost his head.

‘You shameless creatures, you make the very angels weep!’ he shouted.
‘You cursed creatures, you poison the whole district with your filth!
But wait, wait a moment, I will settle your accounts for you without
waiting for Satan to come and take you!’

And forthwith, exasperated as he was at no longer having even the women
with him,–those unhappy, feared, and execrated women whom the Church
captures and employs as its instruments,–he tore some stones from the
ruined coping of the wall and flung them with his lean dark hands at
Madame Martineau and her companions.

‘That’s one for you, La Mathurine!’ he shouted. ‘I know of your goings
on with your husband’s farm hands!… That’s one for you, La Durande!
You robbed your sister of her share of your father’s property…. And
here’s for you, La Désirée! You haven’t yet paid for the three Masses
which I said for the repose of your child’s soul!… And as for you,
you, La Martineau, who got the judges to condemn God and me, here’s one
stone, and two, and three! Yes, wait a moment, you shall have a stone
for every one of those five and twenty francs!’

The scandal was tremendous; two women were struck, and the rural guard,
who had now come up, at once began to scribble an official report.
Amidst the shouting and hooting Abbé Cognasse suddenly recovered his
senses. Like some deity threatening the world with destruction he made
a last fierce gesture, then sprang down his ladder, and disappeared
like a Jack into his box. He had just set another fine lawsuit on his
shoulders, which bent already beneath a pile of citations.

On the following Thursday Marc repaired to Maillebois, and a fancy
which had been haunting him for some time past was then suddenly
changed into certainty. While crossing the little Place des Capucins,
his attention was attracted by a wretched-looking man, who stood in
front of the Brothers’ school gazing fixedly at the dilapidated walls.
And Marc immediately recognised this man to be the one whom he had
perceived with Polydor, in the avenue leading to the railway station, a
month previously. This time he had no cause for hesitation. He was able
to examine the man at his ease, in the broad sunlight, and he saw that
he was, indeed, Brother Gorgias–Gorgias, in old and greasy clothing,
with hollow cheeks and bent limbs, but still easily recognisable by
the large, fierce beak which jutted out from between his projecting
cheek-bones. Thus Delbos had not been mistaken; Gorgias had really
returned, and, doubtless, had been prowling about the region for a
good many months already.

The Ignorantine, amid the reverie into which he had sunk as he stood
on that sleepy and almost invariably deserted little square, must have
become conscious of the scrutinising gaze which was being directed upon
him. He slowly turned round, and his eyes then met those of the man who
stood only a few steps away. And he, on his side, assuredly recognised
Marc. Instead, however, of evincing any alarm, instead of taking to his
heels as he had done on the first occasion, he lingered there, and his
old sneer, that involuntary twitching of the lips which disclosed some
of his wolfish teeth in a manner suggesting both contempt and cruelty,
appeared upon his face. Then, pointing to the tumble-down walls of the
Brothers’ school, he said quietly: ‘That sight must please you every
time you pass this way–eh, Monsieur Froment?… It angers me; I’d like
to set fire to the shanty, and burn the last of those cowards in it!’

Then, as Marc shuddered without replying, thunderstruck as he was by
the bandit’s audacity in addressing him, Gorgias again grinned in his
silent, evil way, and added: ‘Are you astonished that I should confess
myself to you? You, no doubt, were my worst enemy. But, after all, why
should I bear you malice? You owed me nothing, you were fighting for
your own opinions…. The men I hate and whom I mean to pursue until my
last breath are my superiors, my brothers in Jesus Christ, all those
whose duty it was to cover and save me, but who flung me into the
streets, hoping I should die of shame and starvation…. I myself, it
may be allowed, am but a poor and erring creature, but it was God whom
those wretched cowards betrayed and sold, for it is their fault, the
fault of their imbecile weakness if the Church is now near to defeat,
and if that poor school yonder is already falling to pieces…. Ah!
when one remembers what a position it held in my time! We were the
victors then; we had reduced your secular schools to next to nothing.
But now they are triumphing, and will soon be the only ones left. The
thought of it fills me with regret and anger!’

Then, as two old women crossed the square and a Capuchin came out of
the neighbouring chapel, Gorgias, after glancing anxiously about him,
added swiftly in an undertone: ‘Listen to me, Monsieur Froment; for
a long time past I have wished to have a chat with you. If you are
willing I will call on you at Jonville some day, after nightfall.’

Then he hurried off, disappearing before Marc could say a word. The
schoolmaster, who was quite upset by that meeting, spoke of it to
nobody excepting his wife, who felt alarmed when she heard of it. They
agreed that they would not admit that man if he should venture to
call on them, for the visit he announced might well prove to be some
machination of treachery and falsehood. Gorgias had always lied, and
he would lie again; so it was absurd to expect from him any useful new
fact such as had been sought so long. However, some months elapsed and
the other made no sign; in such wise that Marc who, at the outset, had
remained watchful with a view of keeping his door shut, gradually grew
astonished and impatient. He wondered what might be the things which
Gorgias had wished to tell him; and a desire to know them worried him
more and more. After all, why should he not receive the scamp? Even
if he learnt nothing useful from him, he would have an opportunity of
fathoming his nature. And having come to that conclusion, Marc lived on
in suspense, waiting for the visit which was so long deferred.

At last, one winter evening, when the rain was pouring in torrents,
Brother Gorgias presented himself, clad in an old cloak, streaming
with mud and water. As soon as he had rid himself of that rag, Marc
showed him into his classroom, which was still warm, for the fire in
the faïence stove was only just dying out. A little oil lamp alone
cast some light over a portion of that large and silent room around
which big shadows had gathered. And Geneviève, trembling slightly
with a vague fear of some possible attempt upon her husband, remained
listening behind a door.

As for Brother Gorgias, he, without any ado, resumed the conversation
interrupted on the Place des Capucins, as if it had taken place that
very afternoon.

‘You know, Monsieur Froment,’ he began, ‘the Church is dying because
she no longer possesses any priests resolute enough to support her by
fire and steel, if need be. Not one of the poor fools, the whimpering
clowns of the present day, loves or even knows the real God–He who
at once exterminated the nations that dared to disobey Him, and who
reigned over the bodies and souls of men like an absolute master, ever
armed with resistless thunderbolts…. How can you expect the world to
be different from what it is, if the Deity now merely has poltroons
and fools to speak in His name?’

Then Gorgias enumerated his superiors, his brothers in Christ, as he
called them, one by one, and a perfect massacre ensued. Monseigneur
Bergerot, who had lately died at the advanced age of eighty-seven, had
never been aught than a poor, timid, incoherent creature, lacking the
necessary courage to secede from Rome and establish that famous liberal
and rationalist Church of France which he had dreamt of, and which
would have been little else than a new Protestant sect. Those lettered
Bishops gifted with inquiring minds, but destitute of all sturdiness
of faith, suffered the incredulous masses to desert the altars instead
of flagellating them mercilessly with the dread of hell. But Gorgias’s
most intense hatred was directed against Abbé Quandieu, who still
survived though his eightieth year was past. For the Ignorantine the
ex-priest of St. Martin’s was a perjurer, an apostate, a bad priest who
had spat upon his own religion by openly upholding God’s enemies at the
time of the Simon case. Moreover, he had abandoned his ministry, and
gone to dwell in a little house in a lonely neighbourhood, impudently
saying that he was disgusted with the base superstition of the last
believers, and carrying his audacity so far as to pretend that the
monks, whom he called the traders of the Temple, were demolishers
who unconsciously hastened the downfall of the Church. But if there
was a demolisher it was he himself, for his desertion had served as
an argument to the enemies of Catholicism. Surely indeed it was an
abominable example that he had set–forswearing all his past life,
breaking his vows, and preferring a sleek and shameful old age to
martyrdom. As for that big, lean, stern Abbé Coquart, his successor
at St. Martin’s, however imposing the newcomer might look he was in
reality only a fool.

Marc had, for a while, listened in silence, determined to offer no
interruption. But his feelings rebelled when he heard Gorgias’s violent
attack upon Abbé Quandieu. ‘You do not know that priest,’ he said
quietly. ‘Your judgment is that of an enemy, blinded by spite…. As
a matter of fact, Abbé Quandieu was the only priest of this region
who, at the outset, understood what frightful harm the Church would
do herself by openly and passionately defying truth and justice. She
claims to represent a Deity of certainty and equity, kindness and
innocence; she was founded to exalt the suffering and the meek, and
yet, all at once, in order to retain temporal authority, she makes
common cause with oppressors and liars and forgers! It was certain that
the consequences would be terrible for her as soon as Simon’s innocence
should become manifest. Such conduct was suicide on the Church’s
part. With her own hands she prepared her condemnation, showing the
world that she was no longer the abode of the true and the just,
of everlasting purity and goodness! And her expiation is only just
beginning; she will slowly die of that denial of justice which she took
upon herself and which has become a devouring sore…. Abbé Quandieu
foresaw it and said it. It is not true that he fled from the Church in
any spirit of cowardice; he quitted his ministry bleeding and weeping,
and it is in grief that he is ending a life of misery and bitterness.’

By a rough gesture Gorgias signified that he did not intend to argue.
With his glowing eyes gazing far away into the galling memories of his
personal experiences, he scarcely listened to Marc, impatient as he was
to continue his own rageful diatribe.

‘Good, good, I say what I think,’ he resumed, ‘but I don’t prevent you
from thinking whatever you please…. There are, at all events, other
imbeciles and cowards whom you won’t defend, for instance, that rascal
Father Théodose, the mirror of the devotees, the thieving cashier of
heaven!’

Thereupon Gorgias assailed the superior of the Capuchins with murderous
fury. He did not blame the worship of St. Antony of Padua. On the
contrary he praised it; he set all his hopes in miracles, he would
have liked to have seen the whole world bringing money to the shrine
of the Saint in order that the latter might persuade the Deity to
hurl His thunderbolts upon the cities of sin. But Father Théodose
was a mere conscienceless mountebank, who amassed money for himself
alone, and gave no assistance whatever to the afflicted servants of
God. Though hundreds of thousands of francs had formerly overflowed
from his collection boxes, he had not devoted even an occasional
five-franc piece to render life a little less hard than it was to the
poor Brothers of the Christian Doctrine, his neighbours. And now that
the gifts he received were dwindling year by year his avarice was even
greater. He had refused the smallest alms to him, Brother Gorgias, at a
time when he was in the most desperate circumstances, when, indeed, a
ten-franc piece might have saved his life.

They all abandoned him, yes, all–not only that lecherous
money-mongering Father Théodose, but even the other, the great chief,
the great culprit, who was as big a fool as he was a rascal. Then
Gorgias blurted out the name of Father Crabot which had been burning
his lips. Ah! Father Crabot, Father Crabot, he had worshipped him in
former times, he had served him on his knees in respectful silence,
ready to carry his devotion to the point of crime. He had then regarded
him as an all-powerful, able, and valiant master, favoured by Jesus,
who had promised him eternal victory in this world. By Father Crabot’s
side he, Gorgias, had thought himself protected from the wicked,
assured of success in every enterprise, even the most dangerous. And
yet that venerated master to whom he had dedicated his life, that
glorious Father Crabot, now denied him and left him without shelter and
without a crust. He did worse indeed; he cast him upon the waters as
if he were a troublesome accomplice, whose disappearance was desired.
Besides, had he not always displayed the most monstrous egotism? Had
he not previously sacrificed poor Father Philibin, who had lately died
in the Italian convent where he had lingered, virtually dead, for many
years already? Father Philibin had been a hero, a victim, who had
invariably obeyed his superior, who had carried devotion so far as to
take upon his shoulders all the punishment for the deeds which had been
commanded of him and which he had done in silence. Yet another victim
was that hallucinated Brother Fulgence, a perfect nincompoop with his
excitable sparrow’s brain, but who, none the less, had not deserved
to be swept away into the nothingness in which, somewhere or other,
he was dying. What good purpose had been served by all that villainy
and ingratitude? Had it not been as stupid as it was cruel on Father
Crabot’s part to abandon in that fashion all his old friends, all the
instruments of his fortune? Had not his own position been shaken by
his conduct in allowing the others to be struck down? And had he never
thought that one of them might at last grow weary of it all, and rise
up and cast terrible truths in his face?

‘Beneath all Crabot’s grand manners,’ cried Brother Gorgias excitedly,
‘beneath all his reputation for cleverness and diplomatic skill, there
is rank stupidity. He must be quite a fool to treat me in the way he
does. But let him take care, let him take care, or else one of these
days, before long, I shall speak out!’

At this, Marc, who had been listening with passionate interest, made an
effort to hasten the other’s revelations: ‘Speak out? What have you to
say then?’ he inquired.

‘Nothing, nothing, there are only some matters between him and me–I
shall tell them to God alone, in a confession.’ Then, reverting to his
bitter catalogue of accusations, Gorgias exclaimed: ‘And, to finish,
there’s that Brother Joachim, whom they have set at the head of our
school at Maillebois in Brother Fulgence’s place. Joachim is another
of Father Crabot’s creatures, a hypocrite, chosen on account of his
supposed skill and artfulness–one who imagines himself to be a great
man because he does not pull the ears of the little vermin entrusted to
him. You know the result–the school will soon have to be closed for
lack of pupils! If the wretched offspring of men are to grow up fairly
well, they must be trained by kicks and blows, as God requires….
And–if you want my opinion–there is only one priest imbued with the
right spirit in the whole region, and that is your Abbé Cognasse. He,
too, went to seek advice at Valmarie, and they nearly rotted him as
they rotted the others, by advising him to be supple and crafty. But he
fortunately regained possession of himself; it is with stones that he
now pursues the enemies of the Church! That is the right course for the
real saints to follow, that is the way in which God, when He chooses to
interfere, will end by reconquering the world!’

Thus speaking, Gorgias raised his clenched fists and brandished them
wildly, vehemently, in that usually quiet classroom where the little
lamp shed but a faint glimmer of light. Then, for a moment, came deep
silence, amid which one only heard the pouring rain pattering on the
window-panes.

‘Well, at all events,’ said Marc with a touch of irony, ‘God seems to
have forsaken and sacrificed you even as your superiors have done.’

Brother Gorgias glanced at his wretched clothes and emaciated hands
which testified to his sufferings. ‘It is true,’ he answered, ‘God has
chastised me severely for my transgressions and for those of others.
I bow to His will, He is working my salvation. But I do not forget, I
do not forgive the others for having aggravated my misery. Ah, the
bandits! Have they not condemned me to the most frightful existence
ever since they compelled me to quit Maillebois? It is in misery that I
have had to come back here to endeavour to wring from them the crust of
bread which is my due!’

He was unwilling to say more on that subject, but his tragic story
could be well divined by the shudder that came over him–the shudder of
a wild beast driven from the woods by hunger. The Order, no doubt, had
sent him from community to community, the poorest, the most obscure,
until at last it had finally cast him out altogether as being by far
too compromising. And then he had quitted his gown and rolled along
the roads, carrying with him the stigma attaching to a disfrocked
cleric. One would never know through what distant lands he had roamed,
what a life of privation and chance he had led, what unacknowledgeable
adventures he had met with, what shameful vices he had indulged in: one
could only read a little of all that on the tanned skin of his eager
face, in the depths of his eyes which glowed with suffering and hatred.
The greater part of his resources must certainly have come from his
former confederates, who had wished to purchase his silence and keep
him at a distance. Every now and again, when he had written letter upon
letter, when he had furiously threatened crushing revelations, some
small sum had been sent to him, and then for a few months he had been
able to prolong the wretched life he led as a waif whom all rejected.

But at last a time had come when he had no longer received any answer
to his applications, when his letters and his threats had remained
without any effect; for his former superiors had grown weary of his
voracious demands, and regarded him, perhaps, as being no longer
dangerous after the lapse of so many years. He himself was intelligent
enough to understand that his confessions could no longer have any very
serious consequences for his accomplices, but might even deprive him
of his last chance of extracting money from them. Nevertheless he had
resolved to return and prowl around Maillebois. He knew the Code, he
was aware that the law of limitation covered him. And thus for long
months he had been living, in some dark nook, on the five-franc pieces
which he wrung from the fears of Simon’s accusers, who still trembled
at the thought of their shameful victory at Rozan. Yet they must again
have been growing weary of his persecution, for his bitterness was too
great; he would never have heaped so many insults upon them if they
had let him dip his hands in their purses, the previous day, by way of
once more purchasing his silence.

Marc readily understood the position. Brother Gorgias only sprang out
of the suspicious darkness in which he concealed himself when he had
spent his money in crapulous debauchery. And if he had come to Jonville
that winter night, in the pouring rain, it was assuredly because his
pockets were empty and because he expected to derive some profit from
that visit. But what profit could it be? What motive lurked beneath his
long and furious denunciation of the men of whom, according to his own
account, he had only been a docile instrument?

‘So you are living at Maillebois?’ inquired Marc, whose curiosity was
fully awakened.

‘No, no, not at Maillebois…. I live where I can.’

‘But I thought I had already seen you there before meeting you
on the Place des Capucins…. You were with one of your former
pupils–Polydor, I fancy.’

A faint smile appeared on Brother Gorgias’s ravaged face. ‘Polydor,’
said he, ‘yes, yes, I was always very fond of him. He was a pious and
discreet lad. Like myself he has suffered from the maliciousness of
men. He has been accused of all sorts of crimes, cast out unjustly by
people who did not understand his nature. And I was glad to meet him
when I returned here; we set our wretchedness together, and consoled
each other, abandoning ourselves to the divine arms of our Lord…. But
Polydor is young, and he will end by treating me as the others have
done. For a month past I have been looking for him: he has disappeared.
Ah! everything is going wrong, there must be an end to it all!’

A raucous sigh escaped him, and Marc shuddered, for Gorgias’s manner
and tone as he referred to Polydor afforded a glimpse of yet another
hell. But there was no time for reflection. Drawing nearer to the
schoolmaster the disfrocked brother resumed: ‘Now, listen to me,
Monsieur Froment; I have had enough of it, I have come to tell you
everything…. Yes, if you will promise to listen to me as a priest
would listen, I will tell you the truth, the real truth. You are the
only man to whom I can make such a confession without doing violence
to my dignity or pride, for you alone have always been a disinterested
and loyal enemy…. So receive my confession, on the one understanding
that you will keep it secret until I authorise you to divulge it.’

But Marc hastily interrupted him: ‘No, no, I will not enter into such a
compact. I have done nothing to provoke any revelations on your part;
you have come here of your own accord, and you say what you please.
Should you really place the truth in my hands, I mean to remain at
liberty to make use of it according as my conscience may bid me.’

Brother Gorgias scarcely hesitated. ‘Well, let it be so; it is in your
conscience that I will confide,’ said he.

Nevertheless he did not immediately speak out. Silence fell once more.
The rain was still streaming down the window panes, and gusts of wind
howled along the deserted streets, while the flame of the little
lamp began to flare amid the vague shadows which hovered about the
quiet room. Marc, gradually growing uncomfortable, suffering from all
the abominable memories which that man’s presence aroused, glanced
anxiously at the door behind which Geneviève must have remained. Had
she heard what had been said? If so how uncomfortable must the stirring
up of all that old mud have made her feel also!

At last, after long remaining silent as if to impart yet more solemnity
to his confession, Brother Gorgias raised his hand towards the ceiling
in a dramatic manner, and after a fresh interval said slowly, in a
rough voice: ‘It is true, I confess it before God, I entered little
Zéphirin’s room on the night of the crime!’

At this, although Marc awaited the promised confession with a good deal
of scepticism, expecting to hear merely some more falsehoods, he was
unable to overcome a great shudder, a feeling of horror, which made him
spring to his feet. But Gorgias quietly motioned him to his chair again.

‘I entered the room,’ said he, ‘or rather I leant from outside on
the window-bar at about twenty minutes past ten o’clock, before the
crime. And that is what I wished to tell you, in order to relieve my
conscience…. On leaving the Capuchin Chapel that night I undertook to
escort little Polydor to the cottage of his father, the road-mender,
on the way to Jonville, for fear of any mishap befalling the lad. We
left the chapel at ten o’clock, and if I took ten minutes to escort
Polydor home and ten minutes to return, it must, you see, have been
about twenty minutes past ten when I again passed before the school. As
I crossed the little deserted square I was surprised to see Zéphirin’s
window lighted up and wide open. I drew near, and I saw the dear child
in his nightdress, setting out some religious prints, which some of
his companions at the first Communion had given him. And I scolded
him for not having closed his window, for the first passer-by might
easily have sprung into his room. But he laughed in his pretty way,
and complained of feeling very hot. It was, as you must remember, a
close and stormy night…. Well, I was making him promise that he would
do as I told him, and go to bed as soon as possible, when, among the
religious pictures set out on his table, I saw a copy-slip which had
come from my class, and which was stamped and initialled by me. It made
me angry to see it there, and I reminded Zéphirin that the boys were
forbidden to take away anything belonging to the school. He turned very
red, and tried to excuse himself, saying that he had taken the slip
home in order to finish an exercise. And he asked me to leave the slip
with him, promising to bring it back the next morning, and restore it
to me…. Then he closed his window, and I went off. That is the truth,
the whole truth, I swear it before God!’

Marc, who had how recovered his calmness, gazed at Gorgias fixedly,
endeavouring to conceal his impressions. ‘You are quite sure that the
boy shut his window when you went away?’ he asked.

‘He shut it, and I heard him putting up the shutter-bar.’

‘Then you still assert that Simon was guilty, for nobody could have got
in from outside; and you hold that Simon, after the crime, opened the
shutters again in order to cast suspicion on some unknown prowler?’

‘Yes, it is still my opinion that Simon was the culprit. But there is
also this chance, that Zéphirin, oppressed by the heat, may have opened
the window again after I had gone.’

Marc was not deceived by that supposition, which was offered him as a
guide that might lead to a new fact. He even shrugged his shoulders,
feeling that as Gorgias still accused another of his crime, his
pretended confession had little value. At the same time, however, that
medley of fact and fiction cast just a little more light on the affair,
and this Marc desired to establish.

‘Why did you not relate at the Assizes what you have now stated?’ he
inquired. ‘A great act of injustice might then have been avoided.’

‘Why I did not relate it?’ Gorgias replied. ‘Why, because I should have
compromised myself to no good purpose! My own innocence would have been
doubted, and besides, I was then already convinced of Simon’s guilt
even as I am now; and thus my silence was quite natural…. Moreover, I
repeat it, I had seen the copy-slip lying on the table.’

‘Yes, only you now admit that it came from your school and that you
had stamped and initialled it yourself. You did not always say that,
remember.’

‘Oh! those fools, Father Crabot and the others, imposed a ridiculous
story on me; and to prop up their senseless theory with the help of
their grotesque experts they afterwards invented the still more foolish
idea of a forged stamp…. For my part, I at once desired to admit the
authenticity of the copy-slip, which was self-evident. But I had to bow
to their authority, accept their ridiculous inventions, under penalty
of being abandoned and sacrificed…. You saw how furious they became
before the trial at Rozan, when I ended by acknowledging that the
paraph was mine. They wanted to save that unfortunate Philibin; they
fancied they were clever enough to spare the Church even the shadow of
a suspicion, and for that very reason they do not even now forgive me
for having ceased to repeat their lies!’

Then Marc, noticing that Gorgias was gradually becoming exasperated,
said, as if thinking aloud and by way of spurring him on: ‘All the
same, it is very strange that the copy-slip should have been on the
child’s table.’

‘Strange! why? It often happened that one of the boys took a slip away
with him. Little Victor Milhomme had taken one, and it was that very
circumstance that made you suspect the truth as to the origin of the
slip…. But do you still accuse me of being the murderer? Do you still
believe that I walked about with that slip in my pocket? Come, is it
reasonable–eh?’

Gorgias spoke with such jeering, aggressive violence, his lips
twitching the while with that rictus which disclosed his wolfish teeth,
that Marc slightly lost countenance. In spite of his conviction of the
brother’s guilt, that slip, which had come nobody knew whence, had
always seemed to him a very obscure feature of the affair. Even as the
Ignorantine constantly repeated, it was scarcely likely that he had
carried the paper in his pocket that evening on quitting the ceremony
at the Capuchin Chapel. Whence had it come then? How was it that
Gorgias had found it mingled with a copy of _Le Petit Beaumontais_?
Marc felt that if he had been able to penetrate that mystery the whole
affair would have been perfectly clear. To conceal his perplexity he
tried an argument: ‘It wasn’t necessary for you to have the slip in
your pocket,’ said he, ‘for you have said that you saw it lying on the
table.’

But Brother Gorgias had now risen, either yielding to his usual
vehemence or playing some comedy in order to end the interview, which
was not taking the course he desired. Black and bent, he walked up and
down the shadowy room, gesticulating wildly.

‘On the table, yes, of course I saw it on the table! If I say that, it
is because I have nothing to fear from such an admission. You suppose
me to be guilty, but in that case do you imagine I should give you a
weapon by telling you where I took the slip!… We say it was on the
table, eh? So it would follow that I took it up, and took a newspaper
also out of my pocket, and crumpled it up with the slip, in order to
turn both into a gag. What an operation–eh?–at such a moment, how
logical and simple it would have been!… But no, no! If the newspaper
was in my pocket the slip must have been there also. Prove that it was;
for otherwise you have nothing substantial and decisive to go upon. And
it wasn’t in my pocket, for I saw it on the table, I swear it again
before God!’

Wildly, savagely, he drew near to Marc and cast in his face those words
in which one detected a kind of audacious provocation, compounded of
scraps of truth, impudently set forth in the shape of suppositions,
falsehoods that barely masked the frightful scene which he must have
lived afresh with a frightful, demoniacal delight.

But Marc, cast into disturbing perplexity, feeling that he would
learn nothing useful from his visitor, had also decided to end the
interview. ‘Listen,’ said he, ‘why should I believe you? You come here
and you tell me a tale which is the third version you have given of the
affair…. At the outset you agreed with the prosecution; the slip, you
said, belonged to the secular school; you did not initial it; it was
Simon who had done so in order to cast his crime on you. Then, on the
discovery of the stamped corner torn off by Father Philibin, you felt
it impossible to shelter yourself any longer behind the stupid report
of the experts; you admitted that the initialling was your work, and
that the slip had come from you. At present, with what motive I do not
know, you make a fresh confession to me; you assert that you saw little
Zéphirin in his room a few minutes before the crime, that the copy-slip
was then lying on his table, that you scolded him, and that he closed
his shutters…. Well, think it over; there is no reason why I should
regard this version as final. I shall wait to hear the plain truth, if
indeed it ever pleases you to tell it.’

Pausing in his stormy perambulations, Brother Gorgias drew up his gaunt
and tragic figure. His eyes were blazing, an evil laugh distorted his
face once more. For a moment he remained silent. Then in a jeering way
he said: ‘As you choose, Monsieur Froment! I came here in a friendly
spirit to give you some particulars about the affair, which still
interests you as you have not renounced the hope of getting Simon
rehabilitated. You can make use of those particulars; I authorise you
to make them known. And I ask you for no thanks, for I no longer expect
any gratitude from men.’

Then he wrapped himself in his ragged cloak, and went off as he had
come, opening the doors himself, and giving never a glance behind.
Outside the icy rain was coming down in furious squalls, the wind
filled the street with its howls, and Gorgias vanished like a ghost
into the depths of the lugubrious darkness.

Geneviève had now opened the door behind which she had remained
listening. Stupefied by all she had heard she let her arms drop,
and for a moment remained gazing at Marc, who likewise stood there
motionless, at a loss whether to laugh or to feel angry.

‘He is mad, my friend,’ said Geneviève. ‘If I had been in your place
I should not have had the patience to listen to him so long; he lies
as he has always lied!’ Then, as Marc seemed inclined to take things
gaily, she continued: ‘No, no, it is not at all amusing. The revival of
all those horrid things has made me feel quite ill and anxious also,
for I do not understand what can have been his purpose in coming here.
Why did he make that pretended confession? Why did he select you to
hear it?’

‘Oh! I think I know, my dear,’ Marc answered. ‘In all probability
Father Crabot and the others no longer give him a copper, that is,
apart from some petty monthly allowance which they may have arranged to
make him. And as the rascal has a huge appetite he tries to terrify
them from time to time, in order to extract some big sum from them.
I have had information; they have done their utmost to induce him to
leave the region. Twice already, by filling his pockets they have
prevailed on him to do so; but as soon as his pockets were empty he
came back. They dare not employ the police in the affair, otherwise the
gendarmes would have rid them of him long ago. And so, once again, as
they have refused to let him have more money, he wishes to give them a
good fright by threatening to tell me everything. And he has told me
just a little truth mixed with a great deal of falsehood, in the hope
that I may speak of it, and that the others in their fright may pay him
well to prevent him from telling me all the rest.’

This logical explanation restored the calmness of Geneviève, who merely
added: ‘The rest–the full, plain truth–he will never tell it!’

‘Who knows?’ Marc retorted. ‘His craving for money is great, but
there is yet more hatred in his heart. And he is courageous; he would
willingly risk his skin to revenge himself on those old accomplices who
have cowardly forsaken him. Moreover, in spite of all his crimes, he
really belongs to his Deity of extermination; he glows with a sombre,
devouring faith, which would prompt him to martyrdom if he only thought
that he might thereby win salvation and cast his enemies into the
torments of hell.’

‘Shall you try to make any use of what he told you?’ Geneviève inquired.

‘No, I think not. I shall talk it over with Delbos; but he, I know, has
resolved that he will only move when he has a certainty to act upon….
Ah! poor Simon, I despair of ever seeing him rehabilitated; I have
become so old!’

All at once, however, the new fact, awaited for so many years, became
manifest, and Marc then beheld the realisation of the most ardent
desire of his life. Delbos, who placed no faith in any help from
Brother Gorgias, had set all his hopes on the Rozan medical man, that
Dr. Beauchamp, a juror at the second trial, to whom Judge Gragnon
was said to have made his second illegal communication, and who was
reported to be tortured by remorse. This scent Delbos followed with
infinite patience, having a watch kept upon the doctor, who preserved
silence in compliance with the entreaties of his wife, a very pious
and also sickly woman, whose death would probably have been hastened
by any scandal. All at once indeed she died, and Delbos then no
longer doubted the success of his enterprise. It took him another six
months to perfect his arrangements; he managed to enter into direct
relations with Beauchamp, whom he found all anxiety and indecision,
assailed by a variety of scruples. But at last the doctor made up
his mind to hand the advocate a signed statement in which he related
how one day a friend, acting on behalf of Gragnon, had shown him the
pretended confession which a workman, dying at the Beaumont hospital,
was said to have made to one of the sisters–a confession in which
this man acknowledged that he had engraved a false stamp for Simon,
the Maillebois schoolmaster. And Beauchamp added that this secret
communication alone had convinced him of the guilt of Simon, whom
previously he had been disposed to acquit for lack of all serious proof.

Having secured this decisive statement Delbos did not act
precipitately. He waited a little longer. He gathered together other
documents, which showed that Gragnon had communicated his extravagant
forgery to other jurors, men of the most amazing credulity. Equally
extraordinary was it to find that the ex-presiding judge had dared to
repeat the trick of Beaumont, carrying a gross forgery in his pocket,
circulating it secretly through Rozan, exploiting human imbecility
with the most sovereign contempt. And twice had the trick succeeded,
Gragnon on the second occasion saving himself from the galleys by sheer
criminal audacity. He was now beyond the reach of punishment, for he
had lately died, perishing miserably, quite withered away, his features
furrowed, it seemed, by invisible claws. And it was certainly his death
which had induced Dr. Beauchamp to speak out.

Marc and David had long thought that the Simon affair would be quite
settled when the personages compromised in it should have disappeared.
At present ex-investigating Magistrate Daix was also dead, while the
former Procureur de la République, Raoul de La Bissonnière, had lately
been retired with the grant of a Commandership of the Legion of Honour.
Then Counsellor Guybaraud, who had presided at the Assizes at Rozan,
having been stricken with hemiplegia, was passing away between his
confessor and a servant-mistress; whereas Pacard, the ex-demagogue
who in spite of a nasty story of cheating at cards had managed to
become a public prosecutor, had quitted the magistracy to take up
somewhat mysterious duties at Rome as legal adviser to some of the
congregations. Again, at Beaumont there were great changes in the
political, administrative, clerical, and teaching worlds. Other men
had succeeded Lemarrois, Marcilly, Hennebise, Bergerot, Forbes, and
Mauraisin. Of the direct accomplices in the crime, Father Philibin
had died far away, Brother Fulgence had disappeared, being also dead
perhaps, in such wise that there only remained Father Crabot, the great
chief. But even he had withdrawn from among the living, cloistered, it
was alleged, in some lonely cell, where he was spending his last years
in great penitence.

And thus there was quite a new social atmosphere; politics had
altogether changed, men’s passions were no longer the same when Delbos,
having at last collected the weapons he desired, brought the affair
forward once more with masterly energy. Of recent years he had risen
to a position of influence in the Chamber of Deputies, so he took his
documents straight to the Minister of Justice and speedily prevailed
on him to lay the new fact before the Court of Cassation. It is true
that a debate on the subject ensued the very next day, but the Minister
contented himself with stating that the matter was purely and simply a
legal one, and that the Government could not allow it to be turned once
more into a political question. And then, amid the indifference with
which this old Simon affair was now regarded, a vote of confidence in
the Government was passed by a considerable majority. As for the Court
of Cassation, which still smarted from the smack it had received at
Rozan, it tried the case with extraordinary despatch, purely and simply
annulling the Rozan verdict without sending Simon before any other
tribunal. It was all, so to say, a mere formality; in three phrases
everything was effaced, and justice was done at last.

Thus, then, in all simplicity, the innocence of Simon was recognised
and proclaimed amid the pure glow of truth triumphant after so many
years of falsehood and of crime.

On the morrow of the court’s judgment there came an extraordinary
revival of emotion at Maillebois. There was no surprise, for those who
now believed in Simon’s innocence were very numerous; but the material
fact of that decisive legal rehabilitation upset everybody. And the
same thought came to men of the most varied views. They approached one
another, and they said:

‘What! can no possible reparation be offered to that unfortunate man
who suffered so dreadfully? Doubtless neither money nor honours of any
kind could indemnify him for his horrible martyrdom. But when a whole
people has been guilty of such an abominable error, when it has turned
a fellow-being into such a pitiable, suffering creature, it would be
good that it should acknowledge its fault, and confer some triumph on
that man by a great act of frankness, in which truth and justice would
find recognition.’

From that moment, indeed, the idea that reparation was necessary
gained ground, spreading by degrees through the entire region. One
circumstance touched every heart. While the Court of Cassation was
examining the documents respecting the illegal communication made at
Rozan, old Lehmann, the tailor, who had reached his ninetieth year, lay
dying in that wretched house of the Rue du Trou which had been saddened
by so many tears and so much mourning. His daughter Rachel had hastened
from her Pyrenean retreat in order that she might be beside him at
the last hour. But every morning, by some effort of will, the old man
seemed to revive; being unwilling to die, said he, so long as justice
should not have been done to the honour of his son-in-law and his
grandchildren. And, indeed, it was only on the night of the day when
the news of the acquittal reached him that he at last expired, radiant
with supreme joy.

After the funeral Rachel immediately rejoined Simon and David in their
solitude, where they intended to remain for another four or five
years, when perhaps they might sell their marble quarry and liquidate
their little fortune. And it so happened that the old house of the Rue
du Trou was now demolished, a happy inspiration coming to the Municipal
Council of Maillebois to purify that sordid district of the town by
carrying a broad thoroughfare through it, and laying out a small
recreation-ground for the working-class children. Sarah, whose husband
Sébastien had now been appointed head-master of one of the Beaumont
schools, had sold the tailoring business to a Madame Savin, a relative
of those Savins who in former times had pelted her brother Joseph and
herself with stones; and thus no trace remained of the spot where the
Simon family had wept so bitterly in the distant days, when each letter
arriving from the innocent prisoner in the penal settlement yonder
had brought them fresh torture. Trees now grew there in the sunshine,
flowers shed their perfume beside the lawns, and it seemed as if it
were from that health-bringing spot that spread the covert remorse of
Maillebois, its desire to repair the frightful iniquity of the past.

Nevertheless, things slumbered for a long time yet. A period of four
years went by, during which only individual suggestions were made,
no general agreement being arrived at. But generation was following
generation; after the children had come the grandchildren, and then the
great-grandchildren of those who had persecuted Simon, in such wise
that quite a new population ended by dwelling in Maillebois. Yet it was
necessary for the great evolution towards other social conditions to
be entirely accomplished, in order that the seed which had been sown
should yield a harvest of citizens freed from error and falsehood, to
whom one might look for a great manifestation of equity.

Meantime life continued, and the valiant workers whose task was
completed made way for their children. Marc and Geneviève, now nearly
seventy years old, retired, and the Jonville schools were entrusted to
their son Clément and his wife Charlotte, Hortense Savin’s daughter,
who, like himself, had adopted the teaching profession. Mignot, on
his side, had quitted Le Moreux and retired to Jonville, in order to
be near Marc and Geneviève, who dwelt in a small house near their
old school. Thus the village held quite a little colony of the first
participators in the great enterprise, for Salvan and Mademoiselle
Mazeline were still alive, enjoying a smiling and kindly old age.
Then, at Maillebois, the boys’ school was in the hands of Joseph, and
the girls’ school in those of his wife Louise. He was now forty-four,
she two years younger; and they had a big son, François, who, in his
twenty-second year, had married his cousin Thérèse, the daughter of
Sébastien and Sarah, by whom he had a beautiful baby-girl named Rose,
now barely a twelvemonth old. Joseph and Louise were bent on never
quitting Maillebois, and they gently chaffed Sébastien and Sarah
respecting the honours which awaited them; for there was now a question
of appointing Sébastien to the directorship of the Training College
where Salvan had worked so well. As for François and Thérèse, who by
hereditary vocation had also adopted the scholastic profession, they
now dwelt at Dherbecourt, where both had become assistant teachers. And
what a swarming of the sowers of truth there was on certain Sundays
when the whole family assembled at Jonville round the grandparents,
Marc and Geneviève! And what fine, bright health was brought from
Beaumont by Sébastien and Sarah, from Maillebois by Joseph and Louise,
from Dherbecourt by François and Thérèse, who came carrying their
little Rose; while at Jonville they were met by Clément and Charlotte,
who also had a daughter, Lucienne, now a big girl, nearly seven years
of age! And, again, what a table had to be laid for that gathering of
the four generations, particularly when their good friends Salvan,
Mignot, and Mademoiselle Mazeline were willing to join them to drink
to the defeat of Ignorance, the parent of every evil and every form of
servitude!

The times of human liberation, which had been so long in coming,
which had been awaited so feverishly, were now being brought to pass
by sudden evolutions. A terrible blow had been dealt to the Church,
for the last Legislature had voted the complete separation of Church
and State,[1] and the millions formerly given to the priests, who
had employed them to perpetuate among the people both hatred of the
Republic and such abasement as was suited to a flock kept merely to
be sheared, would now be better employed in doubling the salaries of
the elementary schoolmasters. Thus the situation was entirely changed:
the schoolmaster ceased to be the poor devil, the ill-paid varlet,
whom the peasant regarded with so much contempt when he thought of
the well-paid priest, who waxed fat on surplice fees and the presents
of the devout. The priest ceased to be a functionary, drawing pay
from the State revenue, supported both by the prefect and by the
bishop; and thus he lost the respect of the country-folk. They no
longer feared him; he was but a kind of chance sacristan, dependent
on a few remaining believers, who from time to time paid him for a
Mass. Again, the churches ceased to be State institutions, and became
theatres run on commercial lines, subsisting on the payments made
by the spectators, the last admirers of the ceremonies performed in
them. It was certain, too, that before long many would have to close
their doors, business already being so bad with some that they were
threatened with bankruptcy. And nothing could be more typical than the
position of that terrible Abbé Cognasse, whose outbursts of passion
had so long upset Le Moreux and Jonville. His numerous lawsuits had
remained famous; one could no longer count the number of times he
had been fined for pulling boys’ ears, kicking women, and flinging
stones from his garden wall upon those passers who declined to make
the sign of the Cross. Nevertheless, he had retained his office amid
all the worries brought upon him by the citations he received, for he
was virtually irremovable and exercised a paid State function. When,
however, in consequence of the separation of Church and State, he
suddenly became merely the representative of an opinion, a belief,
when he ceased to receive State pay to impose that belief on others,
he lapsed into such nothingness that people no longer bowed to him. In
a few months’ time he found himself almost alone in his church with
his old servant Palmyre, for, however much the latter might pull the
bell-rope with her shrivelled arms, only some five or six women still
came to Mass. A little later there were but three, and finally only one
came. She, fortunately, persevered, and the Abbé was pleased to be able
to celebrate the offices in her presence, for he feared lest he should
have the same deplorable experience at Jonville as he had encountered
at Le Moreux. During a period of three months he had gone every Sunday
to the latter village in order to say Mass without even being able to
get a child as server, so that he had been obliged to take his little
clerk with him from Jonville. And during those three months nobody had
come to worship; he had officiated in solitude in the dank, dark,
empty church. Naturally, he had ended by no longer returning thither,
and at present the closed church was rotting away and falling into
ruins. When, indeed, one of the functions of social life disappears,
the building and the man associated with it become useless and likewise
disappear. And in spite of the violent demeanour which Abbé Cognasse
still preserved, his great dread was that he might see his last
parishioner forsake him and his church closed, crumbling away amidst an
invading growth of brambles.

[Footnote 1: It will be understood that in the above passage M. Zola
anticipates events; but it may be remarked that the separation of
Church and State in France within a few years has never appeared more
likely than it does now (1902-3).–_Trans._]

At Maillebois the separation of Church and State had dealt a last blow
to the once prosperous School of the Christian Brothers. Victorious
over the secular school at the time of the Simon case, it had fallen
into increasing disfavour as the truth had gradually become manifest.
But with true clerical obstinacy it had been kept in existence even
when only four and five pupils could be recruited for it; and the new
laws and the dispersion of the community had been needed to close its
doors. The Church was now driven from the national educational service.
Henceforth to the sixteen hundred thousand children whom year by year
the Congregations had poisoned, a system of purely secular instruction
was to be applied. And the reform had spread from the primary to the
secondary establishments. Even the celebrated College of Valmarie,
already weakened by the expulsion of the Jesuits, was stricken unto
death by the great work of renovation which was in progress. The
principle of integral and gratuitous instruction for all citizens was
beginning to prevail. Why should there be two Frances? Why should
there be a lower class doomed to ignorance, and an upper class alone
endowed with instruction and culture? Was not this nonsense? Was it
not a fault, a danger in a democracy, all of whose children should be
called upon to increase the nation’s sum of intelligence and strength?
In the near future all the children of France, united in a bond of
brotherliness, would begin their education in the primary schools,
and would thence pass into the secondary and the superior schools,
according to their aptitudes, their choice, and their tastes. This was
an urgent reform, a great work of salvation and glory, the necessity of
which was plainly indicated by the great contemporary social movement,
that downfall of the exhausted _bourgeoisie_ and the irresistible rise
of the masses, in whom quivered the energies of to-morrow. Henceforth
it was on them one would have to draw; and among them, as in some huge
reservoir of accumulated force, one would find the men of sense, truth,
and equity, who, in the name of happiness and peace, would build the
city of the future. But, as a first step, the bestowal of gratuitous
national education on all the children would finish killing off those
pretended free and voluntary schools, those hotbeds of clerical
infection, where the only work accomplished was a work of servitude
and death. And after the Brothers’ school of Maillebois, now empty
and long since virtually dead, after the College of Valmarie, whose
buildings and grounds were shortly to be sold, the last religious
communities would soon disappear, together with all their teaching
establishments, their factories of divers kinds, and their princely
domains, which represented millions of money filched from human
imbecility and expended to maintain the human flock in subjection under
the slaughterer’s knife.

Nevertheless, near the dismal Brothers’ school of Maillebois, where the
shutters were closed and where spiders spun their webs in the deserted
classrooms, the Capuchin community maintained its chapel dedicated to
St. Antony, whose painted and gilded statue still stood there erect
in a place of honour. But in vain did Father Théodose, now very aged,
exert himself to invent some more extraordinary financial devices.
The zeal of the masses was exhausted, and only a few old devotees
occasionally slipped half-franc pieces into the dusty collection-boxes.
It was rumoured, indeed, that the saint had lost his power. He could
no longer even find lost things. One day, too, an old woman actually
climbed upon a chair in the chapel and slapped the cheeks of his statue
because, instead of healing her sick goat, he had allowed the animal
to die. Briefly, thanks to public good sense, aroused at last by the
acquirement of a little knowledge, one of the basest of superstitions
was dying.

Meantime, at the ancient and venerable parish church of St. Martin’s,
Abbé Coquard, encountering much the same experience as Abbé Cognasse
at Jonville, found himself more and more forsaken, in such wise that
it seemed as if he would soon officiate in the solitude and darkness
of a necropolis. Unlike Cognasse, however, he evinced no violence.
Rigid, gloomy, and silent, he seemed to be leading religion to the
grave, preserving the while a sombre stubbornness, refusing to concede
anything whatever to the impious men of the age. In his distress he
more particularly sought refuge in the worship of the Sacred Heart,
decorating his church with all the flags which the neighbouring
parishes refused to keep–large red, white, and blue flags, on which
huge gory hearts were embroidered in silk and gold. One of his altars,
too, was covered with other hearts–of metal, porcelain, goffered
leather, and painted mill-board. Of all sizes were these, and one
might have thought them just plucked from some bosom, for they seemed
to be still warm, to palpitate and shed tears of blood, in such wise
that the altar looked like some butcher’s gory stall. But that gross
re-incarnation no longer touched the masses, which had learnt that a
people stricken by disaster raises itself afresh by work and reason,
and not by penitence at the feet of monstrous idols. As religions grow
old and sink into carnal and base idolatries they seem to rot and
fritter away in mouldiness. If the Roman Church, however, was thus
at the last gasp, it was, as Abbé Quandieu had said, because it had
virtually committed suicide on the day when it had become an upholder
of iniquity and falsehood. How was it that it had not foreseen that by
siding with liars and forgers it must disappear with them, and share
the shame of their infamy on the inevitable day when the innocent and
the just would triumph in the full sunlight? Its real master was no
longer the Jesus of innocence, of gentleness and charity; it had openly
denied Him, driven Him from His temple; and all it retained was that
heart of flesh, that barbarous fetish with which it hoped to influence
the sick nerves of the poor in spirit. Laden with years and bitterness,
Abbé Quandieu had lately passed away repeating: ‘They have for the
second time condemned and crucified the Lord–the Church will die of
it.’ And dying it was.

Moreover, it was not passing away alone; the aristocratic and
_bourgeois_ classes, on which it had vainly sought to lean, were
collapsing also. All the ancient noble and military forces, even the
financial powers, were collapsing, stricken with madness and impotence,
since the reorganisation of the conditions of work had been leading to
an equitable distribution of the national wealth. Some characteristic
incidents which occurred at La Désirade showed what a wretched fate
fell on the whilom rich and powerful, whose millions flowed away like
water. Hector de Sanglebœuf lost his seat in the Chamber when the
electorate, enlightened and moralised by the new schools, at last rid
itself of all reactionary and violent representatives. But a greater
misfortune was the death of the Marchioness de Boise, that intelligent
and broad-minded woman who had so long promoted prosperity and peace
at La Désirade. When she was gone the vain and foolish Sanglebœuf
went altogether wrong, becoming a gambler, losing huge sums at play,
and descending to ignoble amours; with the result that he was one day
brought home beaten unmercifully–so battered, indeed, that three
days later he died; no complaint, however, being lodged with the
authorities, for fear of all the mud which would soil his memory if the
real facts of his death were brought to light.

His wife, the once beautiful and indolent Léa, the pious and ever
sleepy Marie of later times, then remained alone amid the splendours
of that large estate. When her father, Baron Nathan, the millionaire
Jew banker, suddenly died after being confined by paralysis to his
sumptuous mansion in the Champs Élysées, he had long ceased to see
her; and he left her as little as possible of his fortune, slices
of which had already gone to all sorts of aristocratic charitable
enterprises, and even to certain ladies of society who, during the
final years of his life, had procured him the illusion of imagining
that he had become really one of their set, and was quite cleansed of
all his Jewry. However, his supine and indolent daughter, who had never
known a passion in her life, not even one for money, paid due honour
to his memory, even ordering Masses to be said for his soul, by way
of compelling heaven to admit him within its precincts; for, as she
often repeated, he had rendered quite enough services to Catholicism to
be entitled to a place on the Deity’s right hand. And now, having no
children, Léa led a lonely life at La Désirade, which remained empty
and deathly, enclosed on every side by walls and railings, which shut
out the public as if it were some forbidden paradise. Yet there were
rumours to the effect that, on the closing of the College of Valmarie,
the Countess had granted an asylum to her old friend Father Crabot, who
had now reached a very great age. His removal to La Désirade was said
by some to be a mere change of cell, for in an ascetic spirit he was
content to occupy a little garret formerly assigned to a servant, and
furnished with merely an iron bedstead, a deal table, and a rush-seated
chair. But he none the less reigned over the estate, as if he were
its sovereign master; the only visitors being a few priests and other
clerics, who came to take counsel of him, and whose gowns might be
seen occasionally gliding between the clumps of verdure or past the
marble basins and their plashing waters. Though his ninetieth year
was past, Crabot, ever a conqueror of women, a bewitcher of pious
souls, repeated the triumphant stroke of his earlier days. He had
lost Valmarie, that royal gift, which he had owed to the love of the
Countess de Quédeville, but he won La Désirade from the good grace
of that ever-beautiful Léa, whom he so fervently called ‘my sister
Marie in Jesus Christ.’ As manager and almoner he set his hands on her
fortune, financing all sorts of religious enterprises, and subscribing
lavishly to the funds which the reactionary parties established for the
purpose of carrying on their desperate campaign against the Republic
and its institutions. And thus, when the Countess was found dead on her
couch one evening, looking as if in her indolence she had just fallen
asleep, she was ruined; her millions had all passed into the cash-boxes
of the Black Band, and there only remained the estate of La Désirade,
which was willed to Father Crabot on the one condition that he should
there establish some such Christian enterprise as he might choose to
select.

But these were merely the last convulsions of an expiring world. All
Maillebois was now passing into the hands of those Socialists whom the
pious dames of other times had pictured as bandits, cut-throats, and
footpads. That whilom clerical centre had now gone so completely over
to the cause of reason that not a single reactionary member remained
in its Municipal Council. Both Philis, once the priests’ mayor, and
Darras, the so-called traitors’ mayor, were dead, and the latter,
who was remembered as a man of weak, timorous, hesitating mind, had
been replaced by a mayor of great good sense and industrious energy;
this being Jules Savin, the younger brother of the twins, those
mediocrities, Achille and Philippe. Jules, after marrying a peasant
girl named Rosalie Bonin, had worked most courageously, in fifteen
years establishing an admirable model farm, which had revolutionised
the agricultural methods of the region and greatly increased its
wealth. He was now barely more than forty years old, and rather
stubborn by nature, for he only yielded to substantial arguments which
tended to the general good. And it was under his presidency that the
Municipal Council at last found itself called upon to examine a scheme
for offering some public reparation to Simon–that idea which had
slumbered for a few years, and which now awoke once more.

The subject had frequently been mentioned to Marc, who, indeed, could
never come to Maillebois without encountering somebody who spoke to him
about it. In this respect he was particularly moved one day when he
happened to meet Adrien Doloir, a son of his former pupil Auguste by
his wife Angèle. Adrien, after studying successfully under Joulic, had
become an architect of great merit, and though barely eight and twenty
years of age, had been lately elected to the Municipal Council; of
which, indeed, he was the youngest member, one whose schemes were said
to be somewhat bold, though none the less practical.

‘Ah! my dear Monsieur Froment, how pleased I am to meet you!’ he
exclaimed as he accosted Marc. ‘It so happens that I wished to go over
to Jonville to speak to you.’

Like all the young men of the new generation, who loved and venerated
Marc as a patriarch, as one of the great workers of the heroic times,
Adrien addressed him most deferentially, standing uncovered, with his
hat in his hand. Personally, he had only been a pupil of Marc for a
very brief period, when he was very young indeed; but his brother and
his uncles had all grown up in the old master’s class.

‘What do you desire of me, my dear lad?’ inquired Marc, who felt both
brightened and moved whenever he met any of his former boys or their
children.

‘Well, it is like this. Can you tell me if it is true that the Simon
family will soon return to Maillebois? It is said that Simon and
his brother David have decided to quit the Pyrenees and settle here
again…. Is it true? You must be well acquainted with their views.’

‘Such is certainly their intention,’ Marc responded with his pleasant
smile. ‘But I do not think one can expect them till next year; for,
though they have found a purchaser for their marble quarry, they are to
carry it on for another twelvemonth. Besides, a variety of matters will
have to be settled, and they themselves cannot yet tell exactly how and
when they will install themselves here.’

‘But if we have only a year before us,’ exclaimed Adrien with
sudden excitement, ‘we shall barely have the necessary time for the
realisation of a plan I have formed…. I wish to submit it to you
before doing anything decisive. What day would be convenient for me to
call on you at Jonville?’

Marc, who intended to spend the day at Maillebois with his daughter
Louise, pointed out that it would be preferable to profit by this
opportunity, and Adrien assenting, it was eventually arranged that he
should call at the latter’s house in the afternoon. This house was a
pleasant dwelling, built by Adrien himself on one of the fields of
the farm which had belonged to the old Bongards, in the outskirts of
Maillebois. They had long been dead, and the property had remained
in the hands of Fernand, the father of Claire, to whom Adrien was
married. Thus many memories arose in Marc’s mind when, with a still
firm and brave step, he walked past the old farm-buildings on his way
to the architect’s little house. Had he not repaired to that same
spot forty years previously–on the very day, indeed, of Simon’s
arrest–with the object of collecting information in his friend’s
favour? In imagination Marc again accosted Bongard, the stoutly built
and narrow-minded peasant, and his bony and suspicious wife, and found
them both stubbornly determined to say nothing, for fear lest they
might compromise themselves. He well remembered that he had been unable
to extract anything from them, incapable as they were of any act of
justice, since they knew nothing and would learn nothing, being, so to
say, only so much brute matter steeped in a thick layer of ignorance.

With a sigh, Marc passed on and rang at the gate of Adrien’s house. The
young architect was awaiting him under an old apple tree, whose strong
branches, laden with fruit, sheltered a few garden chairs and a table.
‘Ah, master!’ Adrien exclaimed, ‘what an honour you do me by coming to
sit here for a little while! But I have another favour to ask of you.
You must kiss my little Georgette, for it will bring her good luck!’

Beside Adrien was Claire, his wife, a smiling blonde, scarcely in her
twenty-fourth year, with a limpid face and eyes all intelligence and
kindness. It was she who presented the little girl, a pretty child,
fair like her mother, and already very knowing for her five years.

‘You must remember, my treasure, that Monsieur Froment has kissed you,
for it will make you glorious all your life!’

‘Oh, I know, mamma! I often hear you talk of him,’ said Georgette. ‘It
is as if a little of the sun came down to see me.’

At this the others began to laugh; but all at once Claire’s father and
mother, Fernand Bongard and his wife Lucille, made their appearance,
having heard that the old schoolmaster intended to call, and wishing to
show him some politeness. Although Fernand, with his hard nut, had been
anything but a satisfactory pupil in bygone years, Marc was pleased to
see him once more. The farmer, now near his fiftieth year, still looked
very dull and heavy, as if he were scarcely awake, and his manner
remained an uneasy one.

‘Well, Fernand,’ Marc said to him, ‘you ought to be pleased; this has
been a good year for the grain crops.’

‘Yes, Monsieur Froment, there’s some truth in that. But the year’s
never a really good one. When things go well in one respect they go
badly in another. And, besides, I never had any luck, you know.’

His wife, whose mind was sharper than his, thereupon ventured to
intervene. ‘He says that, Monsieur Froment, because he always used to
be the last of his class, and because he imagines that a spell was cast
on him by some gipsy when he was quite a little child. A spell, indeed!
As if there were any sense in such an idea! It would be different if he
believed in the devil, for there is a devil sure enough. Mademoiselle
Rouzaire, whose best pupil I was, showed him to me one day, a short
time before my first Communion.’

Then, as Claire made merry over this statement, and even little
Georgette laughed very irreverently at the idea of there being any
such thing as a devil, Lucille continued: ‘Oh! I know that you believe
in nothing. None of the young folks of nowadays have any religious
principles left. Mademoiselle Mazeline made strong-minded women of
you all. Nevertheless, one evening, as I well remember, Mademoiselle
Rouzaire showed us a shadow passing over the wall, and told us it was
the devil. And it was, indeed!’

Adrien, somewhat embarrassed by his mother-in-law’s chatter, now
interrupted her, and addressed Marc on the subject of his visit. They
had all seated themselves, Claire taking Georgette on her lap, while
her father and mother kept a little apart from the others, the former
smoking his pipe and the latter knitting a stocking.

‘Well, master, this is the question,’ said Adrien. ‘Many young people
of the district feel that great dishonour will rest on the name of
Maillebois as long as the town has not repaired, as well as it can, the
frightful iniquity which it allowed, and in which, indeed, it became
an accomplice, when Simon was condemned. His legal acquittal does not
suffice; for us–the children and grandchildren of the persecutors–it
is a duty to confess and efface the transgression of our forerunners.
Yesterday evening, at my father’s house, on seeing my grandfather and
my uncles there, I again asked them: “How was it that you ever allowed
such stupid and monstrous iniquity, when the exercise of a little
reason ought to have sufficed to prevent it?” And, as usual, they made
vague gestures and answered that they did not know, that they could not
know.’

Silence fell, and all eyes turned towards Fernand, who belonged to the
incriminated generations. But he likewise rid himself of the question
by taking his pipe from his mouth and gesticulating in an embarrassed
way, while he remarked: ‘Well, to be sure, we didn’t know–how could we
have known? My father and mother could scarcely sign their names, and
they were not so imprudent as to meddle in their neighbours’ affairs,
for they might have got punished for it. And though I had learnt rather
more than they had, I wasn’t learned by any means; and so I distrusted
the whole business, for a man does not care to risk his skin and his
money when he feels he is ignorant…. To you young men nowadays it
seems very easy to be brave and wise, because you’ve been well taught.
But I should have liked to have seen you as we were–with no means of
telling right from wrong, with our minds at sea amid a lot of affairs
in which nobody could distinguish anything certain.’

‘That’s true,’ said Lucille. ‘I never thought myself a fool, but all
the same I could not understand much of that business, and I tried not
to think of it, for my mother was always repeating that poor folk ought
not to meddle with the affairs of the rich, unless they wanted to get
poorer still.’

Marc had listened with silent gravity. All the past came back: he heard
old Bongard and his wife refuse to answer him, like the illiterate
peasants they were, whose one desire was to continue toiling and
moiling in quietude; and he also remembered Fernand’s demeanour on the
morrow of the trial at Rozan, when he had still shrugged his shoulders,
still persisted in his desire to know nothing. How many years and what
prolonged teaching of human reason and civic courage had been needed
before a new generation had at last opened its eyes to truth, dared to
recognise and admit it! And as Marc looked at Fernand he began to nod,
as if to say that he thought the farmer’s excuses good ones; for he was
already inclined to forgive those persecutors whose ignorance had been
the chief cause of their crime. And he ended by smiling at Georgette,
in whom, on the other hand, the future seemed to be flowering, as she
sat there with her beautiful eyes wide open and her keen ears on the
alert, waiting, one might have thought, for some fine story.

‘And so, master,’ Adrien resumed, ‘my plan is a very simple one. As you
are aware, some great improvements have been effected at Maillebois
lately, with the view of rendering the old quarter of the town more
salubrious. An avenue has replaced those sewers, the Rue Plaisir and
the Rue Fauche, while on the site of the filthy Rue du Trou is a
recreation-ground, which the children of the neighbourhood fill with
their play and their laughter. Well, among the building land in front
of that square is the very spot on which stood old Lehmann’s wretched
house, that house of mourning, which our forerunners used to stone. It
is my idea, then, to propose to the Municipal Council the erection of
a new house on that site–not a palace, but a modest, bright, cheerful
dwelling, which might be offered to Simon, so that he might end his
days in it encompassed by the respect and affection of everybody. The
gift would have no great pecuniary value–it would simply represent
delicate and brotherly homage.’

Tears had risen to the eyes of Marc, who was greatly touched by the
kind thought thus bestowed on his old friend, the persecuted, innocent
man.

‘Do you approve of my idea?’ inquired Adrien, who on his side was
stirred by the sight of Marc’s emotion.

The old schoolmaster rose and embraced him: ‘Yes, my lad, I approve of
it, and I owe you one of the greatest joys of my life.’

‘Thank you, master. But that is not everything. Wait a moment. I wish
to show you a plan of the house, which I have already prepared, for I
should like to direct the work gratuitously, and I feel certain that I
should find contractors and men prepared to undertake the building at
very low rates.’

He withdrew for a moment, and on returning with the plan he spread it
out upon the garden-table, under the old apple tree. And everybody
approached and leant over to examine it. The house, such as it had been
depicted, was, indeed, a very simple but also a very pleasant one, two
storeys high, with a white frontage, and a garden enclosed by some iron
railings. Above the entrance a marble slab was figured.

‘Is there to be an inscription, then?’ Marc inquired.

‘Certainly; the house is intended for one. This is what I shall suggest
to the Council: “Presented by the Town of Maillebois to Schoolmaster
Simon, in the name of Truth and Justice, and in reparation for
the torture inflicted on him.” And the whole will be signed: “The
Grandchildren of his Persecutors.”‘

With gestures of protest and anxiety Fernand and Lucille glanced at
their daughter Claire. Surely that was going too far! She must not let
her husband compromise himself to such a point! But Claire, who was
leaning lovingly against Adrien’s shoulder, smiled, and responded to
the consternation of her parents by saying: ‘I helped to prepare the
inscription, Monsieur Froment; I should like that to be known.’

‘Oh! I will make it known, you may depend on it,’ Marc answered gaily.
‘But the inscription must be accepted, and, first of all, there is the
question of the house.’

‘Quite so,’ replied Adrien. ‘I wished to show you my plan with the view
of securing your approval and help. The question of the expense will
hardly affect the Council. I am more apprehensive of certain scruples,
some last attempts at resistance, inspired by the old spirit. Though
the members of the Council are nowadays all convinced of Simon’s
innocence, some of them are timid men, who will only yield to the force
of public opinion. And our Mayor, Jules Savin, has said to me, truly
enough, that it is essential the scheme should be voted unanimously on
the day it is brought forward.’

Then, as a fresh idea occurred to him, Adrien added: ‘Do you know,
master, as you have been good enough to come so far, you ought to cap
your kindness by accompanying me to Jules Savin’s at once. He was a
pupil of yours, and I feel certain that our cause would make great
progress if you would only have a short chat with him.’

‘I will do so willingly,’ Marc answered. ‘Let us start; I will go
wherever you like.’

Fernand and Lucille protested no longer. She had returned to her
knitting, while he, pulling at his pipe, relapsed into the indifference
of a dullard unable to understand the new times. Claire, however,
suddenly had to defend the plan from the enterprising hands of little
Georgette, who wished to appropriate ‘the pretty picture.’ Then, as
Marc and Adrien made ready to go, there came more embraces, handshakes,
and laughter.

The farm of Les Amettes, where Jules Savin resided, was on the other
side of Maillebois, and in order to reach it Marc and the young
architect had to pass the new recreation-ground. For a moment,
therefore, they paused before the plot of land on which the architect
proposed to build the projected house.

‘You see,’ said he, ‘all the requirements for a house will be found
united here—-‘

But he broke off on seeing a stout and smiling man approach him. ‘Why,
here’s uncle Charles!’ he exclaimed. ‘I say, uncle, when we build the
house for Simon the martyr, which I have told you about, you will
undertake to provide all the locksmith’s work at cost price, will you
not?’

‘Well, I don’t mind, my boy, if it pleases you,’ said Charles Doloir.
‘And I’ll do it also for your sake, Monsieur Froment, for it pains me
at times to think of how I used to worry you.’

Charles, after marrying Marthe Dupuis, his employer’s daughter, had for
a long time been managing the business. He had a son named Marcel, who
was about the same age as Adrien, and who, having married a carpenter’s
daughter, Laure Dumont, had become a contractor for house carpentry.

‘I am going to your father’s,’ Charles resumed, addressing his nephew;
‘I have an appointment with Marcel about some work. Come with me,
for if you build this house you will have some work to give them as
well…. And you will come also, Monsieur Froment? It will please you,
perhaps, to meet some more of your old pupils.’

‘Yes, indeed it will,’ Marc answered gaily. ‘Besides, we shall be able
to settle the specifications.’

‘The specifications! Oh! we have not got to that point yet,’ Adrien
retorted. ‘Moreover, my father isn’t an enthusiast…. But no matter;
I’ll go to see him.’

Auguste Doloir, thanks to the friendly protection of Darras; the former
mayor, had become a building contractor in a small way. After his
father’s death he had taken his mother to live with him, and since the
demolition of the Rue Plaisir he had been residing in the new avenue,
where he occupied a ground floor flanked by a large yard, in which he
stored some of his materials. The lodging was very clean, very healthy,
and full of sunlight.

When Marc found himself in the bright dining-room, face to face with
Madame Doloir the elder, some more memories of the past returned
to him. The old woman, now sixty-nine years old, had retained the
demeanour of a good and prudent housewife, one who was instinctively
conservative, and allowed neither her husband nor her children to
compromise themselves by dabbling in politics. Marc also recalled
her husband, Doloir the mason, that big, fair, ignorant fellow,
good-natured in his way, but spoilt by barrack-life, haunted as he was
by idiotic notions of the army being disorganised by those who knew no
country, and of France being sold to the foreigners by the Jews. One
day, unfortunately, he had been brought home dead on a stretcher, after
falling from a scaffolding; and it seemed as if he had been drinking
previously, though Madame Doloir would not acknowledge it, for she was
one of those who never admit the existence of family failings.

On perceiving Marc she at once said to him: ‘Ah! monsieur, we are no
longer young; we are very old acquaintances indeed. Auguste and Charles
were not more than eight and six years old when I first saw you.’

‘Quite so, madame; I well remember it. I called on you, on behalf of
my colleague Simon, to ask you to let your boys tell the truth if they
should be questioned.’

At this, though the case was now such a very old one, Madame Doloir
became grave and suspicious. ‘That affair was no concern of ours,’ she
answered, ‘and I acted rightly in refusing to let it enter our home,
for it did great harm to many people.’

Charles, however, perceiving his brother Auguste in the yard with
Marcel, ready for the appointment, now called him into the room: ‘Come
here a moment; I’ve brought somebody to see you. Besides, your son
Adrien is here, and wants to give us an order.’

Auguste, who was as tall and sturdy as his father had been, pressed
Marc’s hand vigorously. ‘Ah, Monsieur Froment,’ said he, ‘we often
talk about you–Charles and I–when we remember our school-days! I was
a very bad pupil, and I’ve regretted it at times. Yet I hope I haven’t
disgraced you too much; and, in any case, my son Adrien is becoming
a man after your own heart.’ Then he added, laughing: ‘I know what
Adrien’s order is! Yes, indeed, the house which he wants to build for
your friend Simon!… All the same, a house is perhaps a good deal to
give to an ex-convict.’

In spite of the bantering _bonhomie_ of Auguste’s tone, Marc felt
grieved by that last remark. ‘Do you still think Simon guilty?’ he
inquired. ‘At one time you became convinced of his innocence. But you
began to doubt it again after that monstrous trial at Rozan.’

‘Well, of course, Monsieur Froment, one feels impressed when a man is
found guilty by two juries in succession…. But no! I no longer say
that he was the culprit. And besides, at bottom it is all one to us. We
are even quite willing that a present should be made to him, if by that
means the affair can be brought to an end once and for all, so that we
shall never have it dinned into our ears again. Isn’t that so, brother?’

‘That’s correct,’ responded Charles. ‘If those big fellows were
listened to, we ourselves should be the only real criminals, on the
ground that we tolerated the injustice. It vexes me. There must be an
end to it all!’

The two cousins, Adrien and Marcel, who took an equally passionate
interest in the affair, laughed triumphantly. ‘So it is settled!’
exclaimed Marcel, as he tapped his father on the shoulder. ‘You will
take charge of the locksmith’s work, uncle Auguste of the masonry,
and I of the timber work. In that way your share in the crime, as you
put it, will be repaired. And we will never mention the matter to you
again, we swear it!’

Adrien was laughing and nodding his approval when old Madame Doloir,
who had remained standing there, stiff and silent, intervened in her
obstinate way. ‘Auguste and Charles,’ said she, ‘have nothing to
repair. It will never be known whether Schoolmaster Simon was guilty
or not. We little folk ought never to poke our noses into affairs
which only concern the Government. And I pity you boys–yes, both of
you, Adrien and Marcel–if you imagine that you are strong enough to
change things. You fancy that you now know everything, whereas you
know nothing at all…. For instance, my poor dead husband, your
grandfather, knew that a general meeting of all the Jew millionaires
was held in Paris, in a subterranean gallery near the fortifications,
every Saturday, when it was decided what sums should be paid to the
traitors who betrayed France to Germany. And he knew the story to be a
true one, for it had been told him by his own captain, who vouched for
it on his honour.’

Marc gazed at the old woman in wonderment, for it was as if he had
been carried forty years back. He recognised in her tale one of those
extraordinary stories which Doloir the mason had picked up while he was
soldiering. For their part, Auguste and Charles had listened to the
anecdote in quite a serious way, without any sign of embarrassment, for
it was amid similar imbecilities that they had spent their childhood.
But neither Adrien nor Marcel could refrain from smiling, however great
might be their affectionate deference for their grandmother.

‘The Jew syndicate in a cellar! Ah, what an idea, grandmother!’ said
Adrien softly. ‘There are no more Jews, for there will soon be no more
Catholics… The disappearance of the Churches means the end of all
religious warfare.’

Then, as his mother now came into the room, he went to kiss her. Angèle
Bongard, who had married Auguste Doloir when a shrewd young peasant
girl, had largely contributed to her husband’s success, though she
had no very exceptional gifts. She now at once asked for news of her
brother Fernand, her sister-in-law Lucille, and their daughter Claire,
Who had married her son. Then the whole family became interested in the
latest addition to its number, this being a baby-boy named Célestin, to
whom Marcel’s wife had given birth a fortnight previously.

‘You see, Monsieur Froment,’ remarked old Madame Doloir, ‘I have become
a great-grandmother for the second time; after Georgette has come this
little fellow, Célestin. My younger son, Léon, also has a big boy,
Edmond, now twelve years old; but he is only my grandson, so with him I
don’t seem to be quite so old.’

The old woman was becoming amiable–anxious, it seemed, to efface the
recollection of her former stiffness, for she continued: ‘And, by the
way, Monsieur Froment, we never seem to agree; but there is one thing
for which I really have to thank you, and that is for having almost
compelled me to make Léon a schoolmaster. I didn’t care for that
profession, for it seemed to me hardly a tempting one; but you took all
sorts of pains; you gave lessons to Léon, and now, though he’s not yet
forty, he already has a good position.’

She had become, indeed, very proud of her youngest son, Léon, who had
lately succeeded Sébastien Milhomme in the headmastership of a school
at Beaumont, Sébastien having been appointed director of the Training
College. The schoolmistress whom Léon had married, Juliette Hochard,
had also been transferred to Beaumont, there taking the former post of
Mademoiselle Rouzaire; and their eldest son, Edmond, now a pupil at the
Lycée, was studying brilliantly.

Well pleased at seeing his grandmother so amiable with Marc, Adrien
kissed her, and then said jestingly: ‘That’s very nice of you,
grandmother; you are now on Monsieur Froment’s side. And, do you know,
on the day when Simon returns we will choose you to offer him a bouquet
at the railway station.’

But she again became grave and suspicious. ‘Ah, no; not that; certainly
not! I don’t want to get myself into trouble. You young men are mad
with your new ideas!’

After a merry leave-taking, Adrien and Marc at last retired in order
to make their way to Jules Savin’s. The model farm of Les Amettes
spread over some two hundred and fifty acres in the outskirts of
Maillebois, just beyond the new district. Jules, after his mother’s
death, had given a home to his father, the former petty clerk, who was
now seventy-one years old; and he had been obliged to do the same for
his elder brother, Achille, one of the twins, who, after being for
many years a clerk like his father, had been suddenly stricken with
paralysis. Philippe, the other twin, and at one time the partner of
Jules, was now dead.

It so happened that Marc had become a connection of this family by
reason of the marriage of his son Clément with Charlotte, the daughter
of Hortense Savin, who had died some years previously. But the marriage
had taken place somewhat against Marc’s desires, and thus, while
allowing Clément all latitude to follow the dictates of his heart, he
had preferred personally to hold aloof. He was too broad-minded to make
Charlotte responsible for the flighty conduct of her mother, who, after
being led astray in her sixteenth year and marrying her seducer, had
ended by eloping with another lover, meeting at last with a wretched
death in some other part of France. And thus, while imputing nothing
to her daughter, Marc harboured certain prejudices against the Savin
family generally, and, whatever alacrity he had professed, it had been
necessary for him to do violence to his feelings when Adrien had begged
him to go to Les Amettes.

As it happened Jules was not at home, but his return was expected every
moment. In the meantime the visitors found themselves in the presence
of Savin senior, who was watching over his son Achille in a little
sitting-room, where the paralysed man now spent his life in an armchair
placed near the window. Directly Savin senior caught sight of Marc he
raised a cry of surprise: ‘Ah! Monsieur Froment,’ said he, ‘I thought
you were angry with me. Well, it is kind of you to call.’

He was still as thin and as puny as ever, still racked, too, by a
dreadful cough, yet he had contrived to survive his fresh, pretty, and
plump wife, whom, indeed, he had killed by dint of daily vexations
inspired by his bitter jealousy.

‘Angry?’ Marc quietly responded. ‘Why should I be angry with you,
Monsieur Savin?’

‘Oh! because our ideas have never been the same,’ said the ex-clerk.
‘Your son may have married my granddaughter, but that does not suffice
to reconcile our opinions…. For instance, you and your friends are
now driving away all the priests and monks, which I regard as very
unfortunate, for it will only lead to an increase of immorality. Heaven
knows that I don’t like those gentry, for I am an old Republican, a
Socialist–yes, a Socialist, Monsieur Froment! But then, women and
children need the threats of religion to check them from evil courses,
as I have never grown tired of saying.’

An involuntary smile escaped Marc as he listened. Religion a police
service!’ said he; ‘I know your theory. But how can religion exercise
any power when people no longer believe, and there is no longer any
reason to fear the priests?’

‘No longer a reason to fear them!’ cried Savin. ‘Good Heavens! you are
much mistaken. I myself have always been one of their victims. If I
had sided with them, do you think that I should have vegetated all my
life in a little office, and now be a charge on my son Jules, after
losing my wife, who was killed by all sorts of privations? And my son
Achille, whom you see here, so grievously afflicted–he again is a
victim of the priests. I ought to have sent him to a seminary, and he
would now be a prefect or a judge, instead of having contracted all
sorts of aches and pains in a horrible office, which he left unable
to use either his legs or his arms, so that now he cannot even take a
basin of soup unassisted…. The priests are dirty scamps; is it not
so, Achille? But all the same, it is better to have them on one’s side
than against one.’

The cripple, who had greeted his old master with a friendly nod, now
remarked slowly, his speech being already impeded by paralysis: ‘The
priests long controlled the weather, no doubt; nevertheless, one is
beginning to do without them very well.’ Then, with something like a
sneer, he added: ‘And so it has become easy enough to settle their
account, and play the judge.’

As he spoke he looked at Adrien, for whom that uncomplimentary allusion
was doubtless intended. Achille’s unfortunate position, the death of
his wife, and a quarrel which had arisen between him and his daughter
Léontine, who was married to a Beaumont ironmonger, had embittered
his nature. And deeming his allusion insufficient, wishing to be more
precise, he continued: ‘You will remember, Monsieur Froment, that I
told you I was still convinced of Simon’s innocence at the time when
he was recondemned at Rozan. But what could I do? Could I have made
a revolution by myself? No, of course not; so it was best to remain
silent…. Nevertheless, I now see a number of young gentlemen calling
us cowards, and trying to give us a lesson by raising triumphal arches
to the martyr. It is brave work indeed!’

On being challenged in this fashion Adrien immediately understood
that Jules Savin must have spoken of the great plan. And instead of
losing his temper he strove to be very amiable and conciliatory: ‘Oh!
everybody is brave on becoming just,’ he replied. ‘I know very well,
monsieur, that you were always among the reasonable folk, and I confess
that some members of my own family showed even greater blindness and
obstinacy than others. But to-day the general desire ought to be to
unite, so that all may mingle in the same flame of solidarity and
justice.’

Savin senior, who had been listening with an air of stupefaction,
now suddenly understood why Marc and Adrien were there, awaiting the
return of his son Jules. At the outset he had attributed their visit
to politeness only. ‘Ah! of course, you have come about that stupid
scheme for offering reparation,’ said he. ‘Well, like those relatives
you speak of, I have nothing to do with that business! No, indeed! My
son Jules will act as he pleases, of course; but that will not prevent
me from keeping my own opinion…. The Jews, monsieur, the Jews, always
the Jews!’

Adrien looked at him, in his turn full of stupefaction. The Jews,
indeed! Why did he speak of the Jews! Anti-Semitism was dead–to such
a degree, indeed, that the new generation failed to understand what
was meant when people accused the Jews of every crime. As Adrien had
said to his grandmother, Madame Doloir, there were no Jews left, since
only citizens, freed from the tyranny of dogmas, remained. It was
essentially the Roman Church which had exploited anti-Semitism, in the
hope of thereby winning back the incredulous masses; and anti-Semitism
had disappeared when that Church sank into the darkness of expiring
religions.

Marc had followed the scene with great interest, comparing the past
with the present, recalling the incidents and the words of forty years
ago, the better to discern the moral of those of to-day. However, Jules
Savin at last came in, accompanied by his son Robert, a tall youth of
sixteen, whom he was already initiating into the farmwork. And directly
he learnt the purpose of his visitors he appeared to be much touched,
and addressing Marc with great deference, exclaimed:

‘Monsieur Froment, you cannot doubt my desire to be agreeable to you.
We all regard you nowadays as a just and venerable master. Besides,
as my friend Adrien must have told you, I am in no sense opposed to
his plan. On the contrary, I will employ all the authority I possess
to second it, for I am entirely of his opinion. Maillebois will only
regain its honour when it has offered reparation for its fault….
Only, I repeat it, there must be absolute unanimity in the Municipal
Council. I am working in that sense, and I beg you to do the same.’

Then, as his father began to sneer, Jules said to him, smiling: ‘Come,
don’t pretend to be so hard-headed; you admitted Simon’s innocence to
me the other day.’

‘His innocence? Oh! I don’t dispute that. I also am innocent, but
nobody builds me a house.’

‘You have mine,’ Jules retorted somewhat roughly.

At bottom it was precisely that circumstance which hurt Savin’s
feelings. The hospitality he received at his son’s house, the fate that
had befallen him of ending his days peacefully, in the home of one who
had succeeded by dint of great personal efforts, gave the lie to his
everlasting recriminations, the regret he was always expressing at not
having sided with the priests in spite of the hatred with which he
regarded them. Thus, losing his temper, he cried: ‘Well, if you choose
you can build a cathedral for your Simon! It won’t matter to me, for I
shall stay at home.’

Then Achille, who, tortured by the pains in his legs, had just raised a
pitiful moan, exclaimed: ‘Alas! I shall stay at home as well. But if I
were not nailed to this armchair I would willingly go with you, my dear
Jules, for I belong to the generation which did not, perhaps, do all
its duty, but which was not ignorant of it, and is ready to do it now.’

After those words Marc and Adrien withdrew, delighted, feeling certain
of success. And when Marc found himself alone again, returning to his
daughter Louise by way of the broad thoroughfares of the new district,
he summed up all he had just seen and heard; the far-off memories,
which at the same time returned to him, enabling him to gauge the
distance which had been travelled during the last forty years. The
whole story of his life, his efforts and his triumph, was spread out,
and he felt that he had been right in former days, when he had said
that if France did not protest and rise to do justice in the Simon
case, it was because she was steeped in too much ignorance, because she
was debased and poisoned by religious imbecility and malice, because
she was kept in childish superstitions and notions by a Press given
over to lucre, scandal, and blackmailing. And, in the same way, a clear
intuition had come to him of the only possible remedy–instruction,
education, which would liberate one and all, endow them with solidarity
and the intelligent bravery of life, by killing falsehood, destroying
error, sweeping away the senseless dogmas of the Church, with its
hell, its heaven, and its doctrines of social death. That was what
Marc had desired, and that, indeed, was the work which was being
accomplished–the liberation of the people by the primary schools, the
rescue of all citizens from the state of iniquity in which they had
been plunged, in order that they might at last become capable of truth
and justice.

But it was particularly a feeling of appeasement which now came over
Marc. Only forgiveness, tolerance, and kindliness surged from his
heart. In former times he had greatly suffered, and he had often felt
passionately angry with men on seeing with what stupid cruelty they
behaved, and how obstinately they persisted in evil. At present,
however, he could not forget the words spoken by Fernand Bongard and
Achille Savin. They had tolerated injustice, no doubt; but as they
now said, this was because they had not known, and because they had
not felt strong enough to contend with that injustice. The slumber of
their intelligence could not be imputed to the disinherited scions
of ignorance as a crime. And Marc willingly forgave one and all; he
no longer harboured any rancour even against the obstinate ones, who
refused to open their minds to facts; he would simply have liked the
festival planned for Simon’s return to become a festival of general
reconciliation, one in which the whole of Maillebois would embrace
and mingle in brotherly concord, resolving to work henceforth for the
happiness of all.

On reaching Louise’s quarters at the school, where Geneviève had
awaited him, and where they were to dine in company with Clément,
Charlotte, and Lucienne, Marc was pleased to find that Sébastien and
Sarah were also there, having just arrived from Beaumont to share the
meal. Indeed, it was a general family gathering, and several leaves had
to be added to the table. There were Marc and Geneviève; then Clément
and Charlotte, with their daughter Lucienne, who was already seven
years old; then Joseph Simon and Louise; then Sébastien Milhomme and
Sarah; then François Simon, Joseph’s son, and Thérèse Milhomme, Sarah’s
daughter, two cousins who had married, and who were already the parents
of a little two-year-old named Rose. Altogether they made a dozen, full
of health and appetite.

Acclamations arose when Marc recounted his afternoon, describing
Adrien’s plan and expressing his belief in its success. Joseph alone
felt doubtful, for he was not convinced, he said, of the Mayor’s
favourable disposition. But Charlotte immediately intervened. ‘You are
mistaken,’ she exclaimed; ‘my uncle Jules is altogether on our side….
We can rely on him. He is the only one of the family who ever showed me
any kindness.’

Charlotte, it should be said, had become dependent on her grandfather,
Savin senior, at the time when her mother had eloped, for it had
become necessary to place her father in an asylum on account of the
alcoholism to which he had given way. The girl had then experienced
much suffering, being often cuffed and sparsely fed. Savin, who seemed
oblivious of the deplorable result of the pious hypocrisy in which his
daughter Hortense had been reared by Mademoiselle Rouzaire, accused
his grandchild of being an atheist, a rebel, full of deplorable ways,
which were due to the teaching of Mademoiselle Mazeline. As a matter of
fact, however, Charlotte was delightful, free from all false prudery,
and gifted with healthy uprightness, sense, and tenderness. And Clément
having married her in spite of all obstacles, they had since lived
together in the happiest and the closest of unions.

‘Charlotte is right,’ said Marc, who also desired to defend Jules
Savin; ‘the Mayor is on our side. But the best of all is that, among
the contractors for the house which it is proposed to present to Simon,
there will be the two Doloirs, Auguste the mason and Charles the
locksmith; besides which, by their ties of relationship, even Fernand
Bongard and Achille Savin will be indirectly concerned in it…. Ah!
Sébastien, my friend, who would have thought that would come to pass in
the days when you and those fine fellows attended my school?’

At this sally Sébastien Milhomme began to laugh; though his mood was
scarcely a cheerful one, for a recent family loss, a very tragical
affair, had affected him painfully. During the previous spring his
aunt, Madame Edouard, had died, leaving the stationery business to her
sister-in-law, Madame Alexandre. Her son Victor having disappeared,
she had of recent years seemed to waste away, no longer attending to
the business, in which she had once taken such a passionate interest,
and feeling, indeed, quite at sea amidst those new times, which
she altogether failed to understand. Madame Alexandre on remaining
alone had continued carrying on the business, for she did not wish
to inconvenience her son Sébastien, though the latter’s position
was becoming extremely good. One evening, however, Victor suddenly
reappeared, emerging hungry and sordid from the depths in which he had
been leading a crapulous life. He had heard of his mother’s death, and
he instantly demanded that the business should be put up for sale and
the old partnership liquidated, in order that he might carry off his
share of the proceeds. Such, then, was the end of the little shop in
the Rue Courte, where many generations of schoolboys had purchased
their copybooks and their pens. For a short time Victor showed himself
here and there in Maillebois, leading a merry life, almost invariably
in the company of his old chum, Polydor Souquet, who had fallen to
the gutter. One evening Marc, having to cross a street of ill-repute,
caught sight of them with another man, whose black figure strikingly
resembled that of Brother Gorgias. And finally, barely a week before
the family dinner given by Louise, the police had found a man lying
dead, with his skull split, outside a haunt of debauchery. The dead man
was Victor. There had evidently been some dim, ignoble tragedy, which
the interested parties endeavoured to hush up.

‘Yes, yes,’ said Sébastien in reply to Marc, ‘I remember my
schoolfellows. With a few unfortunate exceptions they have not turned
out so badly. But in life one is at times exposed to certain poisons,
which prove pitiless.’

The others did not insist. They preferred to inquire after his mother,
whom he had now taken to live with him at the Beaumont Training
College, and who still enjoyed good health in spite of her great
age. Sébastien’s new position gave him a great deal of occupation,
particularly as he desired to perfect the work of his venerated master,
Salvan. ‘Ah!’ he exclaimed, ‘that public reparation offered to Simon,
that glorification of a schoolmaster, will be a great joy for all of
us. I want my pupils to participate in it, and for that purpose I shall
endeavour to obtain a day’s holiday for them.’

Marc, who had rejoiced at Sébastien’s appointment as if it were a
personal triumph, at once signified his approval. ‘Quite so,’ said he,
‘and we will bring the old ones as well–Salvan, Mademoiselle Mazeline,
and Mignot. Besides, speaking of school-teachers, there is already a
fine battalion here present.’

The others began to laugh. With the exception of the two children
they were, indeed, all teachers. Clément and Charlotte still carried
on the Jonville schools, Joseph and Louise had decided that they
would never quit Maillebois, Sébastien and Sarah relied on remaining
at the Beaumont Training College until the former reached the age
limit; while as for the younger couple, François and Thérèse, they
had not long been appointed to the Dherbecourt schools, where their
parents had previously made their _débuts_. François, in whom one
traced a likeness to his parents, Joseph and Louise, also resembled
his grandfather Marc, for he had much the same lofty brow and bright
eyes, though the latter in his case glowed with what seemed to be a
flame of insatiable desire. In Thérèse, on the other hand, one found
the great beauty of her mother Sarah softened, quieted, as it were, by
the intellectual refinement which she had inherited from her father,
Sébastien. And Rose, the young couple’s little girl, the last born of
the family, and as such worshipped by one and all, seemed to personify
the budding future.

The dinner proved delightfully gay. How joyful for Joseph and Sarah,
the children of the innocent martyr, tortured for so many years,
was the thought of the festival of reparation which was now being
planned! Their own children and their grandchild–all that had come
from their blood mingled with that of Marc, the martyr’s most heroic
defender–would participate in that glorification. Four generations,
indeed, would be present to celebrate the truth, and the _cortège_
would be formed of all the good workers who, having suffered for its
sake, were entitled to share its triumph.

Laughter, and again laughter, arose. They all drank to the return of
Simon, and even when ten o’clock struck the happy family continued to
give expression to its delight, quite forgetful of the trains by which
some of its members were to return to Beaumont and others to Jonville.

From that day forward things moved with unexpected rapidity.
Adrien’s scheme on being laid before the Municipal Council was voted
unanimously, as Jules Savin, the Mayor, had desired. Nobody even
thought of opposing the suggested inscription. None of the applications
and pleadings, which the promoters of the scheme had imagined
necessary, were required, for the idea to which they gave expression
already existed, in embryo, in the minds of all. There was remorse
for the past, uneasiness at the thought of the unhealed iniquity, and
a craving to repair it for the sake of the town’s honour. Everybody
now felt that it was impossible to be happy outside the pale of civic
solidarity, for durable happiness can only come to a people when it is
just. And so in a few weeks’ time the subscription lists were filled.
As the amount required was a comparatively small one, being no more
than thirty thousand francs,[2]–for the site of the house was given
by the municipality,–people contented themselves with subscribing two,
three, or at the utmost five francs, in order that a larger number
of subscribers might participate. The workmen of the _faubourg_ and
the peasants of the environs contributed their half-francs and their
francs; and at the end of March the building was put in hand, for it
was desired that everything should be in readiness, the last woodwork
in position, and the last paint dry, by mid-September, the date which
Simon had ended by fixing for his return.

[Footnote 2: $6000.]

In September, then, the simple but cheerful house stood completed in
its pleasant garden, which was faced by a railing on the side of the
square. Its affectionately-awaited owner might come to take possession
of it when he pleased, for nothing was lacking. True, a drapery hung
before the marble slab bearing an inscription over the doorway; but
this inscription, so far as Simon was concerned, was to be the great
surprise, and would only be uncovered at the last moment. Adrien
repaired to the Pyrenees to plan the final arrangements with Simon and
David, and it was then decided that the former’s wife, who was in a
very weak state of health, should in the first instance install herself
in the house, with the help of her children, Joseph and Sarah. Then,
on the appointed day, Simon would arrive with his brother David. There
would be an official reception at the railway station, and afterwards
he would be conducted in triumph to his new home, the gift of his
fellow-townsmen, where his wife and children would await him.

At last, on the Twentieth of September, a Sunday, the solemnity was
enacted amid radiant sunshine and a warm and pure atmosphere. The
streets of Maillebois were decorated with flags, the last flowers
of the season were scattered along the procession’s line of route.
And early in the morning–although the train would only arrive at
three o’clock in the afternoon–the population assembled out of
doors, gathering together in a happy, singing, laughing multitude,
whose numbers were swollen by all the visitors who flocked in from
neighbouring parishes. At noon one could no longer circulate outside
the house on the large new square, whose recreation-ground was invaded
by the working-class families of the neighbourhood. There were people,
too, at all the windows, and the very roadways were blocked by waves of
spectators eager to see and to cry their passion for justice. Nothing
could have been grander or more inspiring.

Marc and Geneviève had arrived from Jonville, with Clément, Charlotte,
and little Lucienne, early in the day. It was arranged that they
should await Simon in the garden of the house, grouped around Madame
Simon, her children, Joseph and Sarah, her grandchildren, François and
Thérèse, and her great-granddaughter, little Rose. Louise, of course,
was there, beside her husband Joseph, and Sébastien beside his wife
Sarah. These constituted the three generations which had sprung from
the blood of the innocent man mingled with that of his champions. Then,
also, places had been reserved for the first defenders, the survivors
of the heroic days,–Salvan, Mademoiselle Mazeline, and Mignot,–as
well as for the fervent artisans of the work of reparation, the now
conquered and enthusiastic members of the Bongard, Doloir, and Savin
families. It was rumoured that Delbos, the ex-advocate, the hero of
the two trials, who for four years recently had held the office of
Minister of the Interior, had gone to join Simon and David, in order
to reach the town in their company. Only the Mayor and a deputation of
the Municipal Council were to meet the brothers at the railway station
and conduct them to the house, decked with banners and garlands, where
the ceremony of presentation would take place. And there, in accordance
with this programme, Marc remained waiting with the rest of the family,
in spite of all his joyous eagerness to embrace the triumpher.

Two o’clock struck; there was still an hour to be spent patiently.
Meanwhile the crowd steadily increased. Marc, having left the garden
to mingle with the groups and hear what was being said, found that
the one subject of conversation was that extraordinary story emerging
from the past, that condemnation of an innocent man, which had become
both abominable and inexplicable in the eyes of the new generations.
From the younger folk a long cry of indignant amazement arose; while
the old people, those who had witnessed the iniquity, tried to defend
themselves with vague gestures and shamefaced explanations. Now that
the truth had become manifest in the full sunlight, endowed with all
the force of invincible certainty, the children and the grandchildren
could not understand how their parents and grandparents had carried
blindness and egotism so far as to fail to fathom so simple an affair.
And doubtless many of the older folk shared the astonishment of the
younger ones, and were at a loss to account for the credulity into
which they had fallen. That, indeed, was their best answer to the
reproaches they heard; it was necessary to have lived in those times
to understand the power of falsehood over ignorance. One old man
penitently confessed his error; another related how he had hissed Simon
on the day of his arrest, and how he had now been waiting two hours in
order to acclaim him, anxious as he was not to die with his bad action
upon his conscience. And a youth, his grandson, thereupon threw himself
on the old man’s neck and kissed him, laughing, with tears in his eyes.
Marc was delightfully touched by the scene, and continued to walk
about, looking and listening.

But all at once he stopped short. He had just recognised Polydor
Souquet, clad in rags, with a ravaged countenance, as if still under
the effects of a night of intoxication. And Marc was thunderstruck when
by the side of Polydor he perceived Brother Gorgias, clad as usual in
black, without a sign of linen, his greasy old frock-coat clinging fast
to his dark hide. He, Gorgias, was not drunk. Silent and fierce of
aspect, erect in all his tragic leanness, he darted fiery glances at
the crowd. And Marc could hear that Polydor, with a drunkard’s stupid
obstinacy, was deriding him respecting the affair, of which everybody
was talking around them. Slabbering and stammering, the scamp went on:

‘I say, old man, the copy-slip–you remember, eh? The copy-slip! It
was I who sneaked it. I had it in my pocket, and I was stupid enough
to give it you back while you were seeing me home…. Ah, yes! that
wretched copy-slip.’

A sudden flash of light illumined Marc’s mind. He now knew the
whole truth. The one gap in the affair, which had still worried him
occasionally, was now filled. Polydor had given the slip to Gorgias,
and that explained how it had chanced to be in his pocket, and how
it had become mingled with a copy of _Le Petit Beaumontais_ when,
terrified by his victim’s cries, he had hastily sought a handkerchief,
a stopper of any kind, to use as a gag.

‘But you know, old man,’ stammered Polydor, ‘we liked each other very
much, and we didn’t tell our business to other folk. And yet, if I
_had_ chattered, what a rumpus there would have been! Ah! what a face
my Aunt Pélagie would have pulled!’

Half-fuddled, in an ignoble state, the rascal went on jeering,
unconscious, it seemed, of the presence of the people around him. And
Gorgias, who from time to time gave him a contemptuous glance, must
suddenly have understood that Marc had heard the drunkard’s involuntary
confession, for in a low voice he growled: ‘Be quiet, you wine-bag! Be
quiet, you rotten cur! You stink of your sin and mine; you have damned
me again by your ignominy! Be quiet, you filthy thing; it is I who will
speak! Yes, I will confess my fault, in order that God may pardon me!’

Then, addressing himself to Marc, who was still lost in silent
amazement, he went on: ‘You heard him, Monsieur Froment, didn’t you?
Well, it’s necessary that all should hear. I have been consumed long
enough by a desire to confess myself to men, even as I have confessed
to God, in order that my salvation may be the more glorious. And,
besides, all these people exasperate me! They know absolutely nothing;
they keep on repeating my name with execration, as if I were the only
culprit! But wait a moment; they will see it is not so, for I will tell
them everything!’

Then, though he was over seventy years old, he contrived to spring upon
the low wall supporting the garden railing of the house where Simon,
the innocent man, was soon to be received in triumph. And clinging with
one hand to that railing, he turned and faced his mighty audience.
During the hour he had spent roaming through the groups, he had heard
his name fall from every tongue as a name of infamy. And he had
gradually been fired by a sombre fever, the bravery of a fine bandit,
who denies none of his actions, but is ready to cast them in the teeth
of men, full of a mad pride that he should have dared to commit them.
What caused him most suffering, however, was that he alone should be
named, that all the weight of the general execration should be cast
upon his shoulders, for the others, his accomplices, seemed to be quite
forgotten. Only the previous day, his resources again being exhausted,
he had attempted to force himself upon Father Crabot, who was shut up
at the estate of La Désirade, and he had been flung out with the alms
of a twenty-franc piece, the very last that would be given him, so he
had been told. And now, amid all the insulting words that were levelled
at him, nobody shouted the name of Father Crabot. Why, as he was ready
to expiate his transgression, why should not Father Crabot expiate
his also? No doubt he, Gorgias, would extract no more twenty-franc
pieces from that coward if he were to reveal everything; but his hatred
was now dearer to him than money, and it would be blissful to cast
his enemy into the flames of hell, while he himself ascended to the
delights of paradise by virtue of the penance of a public confession,
the idea of which had long haunted him.

Thus an unexpected, an extraordinary scene began. With a violent,
sweeping gesture, Gorgias sought to gather the crowd together and
attract its attention. And in a shrill but still powerful voice he
called: ‘Listen to me! listen to me! I will tell you everything!’

But at first he was not heard, and he had to raise the same cry twice,
thrice, a dozen times, with increasing, unwearying energy. By degrees
he was noticed and people became attentive; and when some of the old
folk had recognised him, when his name had flown from mouth to mouth
amid a quiver of horror, a death-like silence at last fell from one to
the other end of the great square.

‘Listen to me! listen to me! I will tell you everything!’

Raised above the heads of all the others, with the broad sunlight
streaming on him, he clung with one hand to the iron railing, while
with the other he went on making vehement gesticulations as if he
were sabring the air. His threadbare frock-coat hung closely to his
withered, knotty frame, and with his dusky face, from which jutted the
big beak of a bird of prey, he looked quite terrible, like some phantom
of the past, whose eyes glowed with the flames of all the abominable
passions of long ago.

‘You speak of truth and justice,’ he cried. ‘But you know nothing,
and you are not just!… You all fall upon me, you treat me as if I
were the only culprit, whereas others sinned more even than I did. I
may have been a criminal, but others accepted my crime, hid it, and
continued it…. Wait a little while; you will see by-and-by that I
don’t lack the courage to confess my sin. But why am I the only one
ready to confess? Why isn’t my master, my chief, the all-powerful
Father Crabot, here also, ready to humiliate himself and tell
everything? Let him come! Go and fetch him from his hiding-place,
and let him confess his sins before you and do penitence beside me.
Otherwise I shall speak out; I shall proclaim his crime with mine, for
though I be the most humble, the most miserable of sinners, God is in
me, and it is God who demands expiation of him as of me.’

Then, in the bitterest language, he declared that all his superiors,
Father Crabot at the head of them, were but degenerate Catholics,
poltroons, and enjoyers of life. The Church was dying by reason
of their cowardice, their compromises with the weaknesses and the
vanities of the world. It was, indeed, his favourite theory that all
true religious spirit had departed from those monks, those priests,
and those bishops, who ought to have ensured the reign of Jesus by
fire and sword. Earth and mankind belonged to God alone, and God had
given them to His Church, the sovereign delegate of His power. The
Church therefore possessed everything, and held absolute dominion over
everybody and everything. To her belonged the disposal of wealth;
none could be wealthy save by her permission. To her belonged even
the disposal of life, for every living man was her subject, whom she
allowed to live or suppressed according to the interests of Heaven.
Such was the doctrine from which the true saints had never departed.
He, a mere humble Ignorantine, had always practised and exalted that
doctrine, and his superiors, though they had wronged him in other
respects, had always recognised in him the rare merit of possessing
the true, absolute religious spirit; whereas they themselves–the
Crabots, the Philibins, and the Fulgences–had ruined religion by
their compromises, their trickery with the Freethinkers, the Jews, the
Protestants, and the Freemasons. Like opportunists, anxious to please,
they had gradually abandoned dogmas and concealed the asperity of
doctrines, whereas they ought to have fought openly against impiety,
and have slaughtered and burnt all heretics. He himself dreamt of
seeing a huge sacrificial pyre set up in the midst of Paris, on which
he would have cast the whole guilty nation, in order that the flames
and the stench from all those millions of bodies might have ascended to
the glowing skies to rejoice and appease the Deity.

And he next exclaimed: ‘As soon as a sinner confesses and does penance,
he is no longer guilty, he again recovers the grace of his Sovereign
Master. What man is there who never sins? All who are made of flesh
are liable to err. Even like the layman, he who is in holy orders and
whom the beast, which is in all men, precipitates into crime has but
one obligation cast upon him–that of confession; and if he receives
absolution, if he expiates his sin with firm repentance, he redeems
himself, he becomes again as white as snow, worthy to enter into
Heaven, among the roses and lilies of Mary…. I confessed my sin to
Father Théodose, who absolved me, and I owed nothing more to anybody,
since God, who ordains and knows all things, had pardoned me by the
sacrament of one of His ministers. And in the same way, from that day
forward, each time that I lied, each time that my superiors compelled
me to lie, I went back to the confessional, and I washed my soul clean
of all the impurities with which human fragility had soiled it. Alas! I
have often and I have greatly sinned, for God, in order no doubt to try
me, has allowed the devil to assail me with all the fires of hell. But
I have battered my chest with my fists, I have made my knees bleed by
dragging them over the flagstones of chapels–I have paid, and I repeat
that I owe nothing whatever. A flight of archangels would bear me
straight to Paradise if I should die by-and-by, ere lapsing again into
the original mire, whence in common with all men I have sprung. And in
particular I owe nothing to men; I have never owed them anything; my
crime lies between God and me, His servant. But He has forgiven me, and
so, if I speak here to-day, it is because I choose to do so, because
I desire to couple with the Divine mercy the martyrdom of a last
humiliation, in order that I may enter Paradise in triumph–a celestial
joy which, whatever my abjection, I shall assuredly taste, thanks to
my penitence; whereas you will never taste it–race of unbelievers and
blasphemers that you are, destined, one and all, to the flames of hell!’

Amid his sombre fury, that transport of savage faith which had raised
him there, alone and impudent, face to face with the multitude, Gorgias
again began to jeer. And there came to him that habitual twitching of
the lips, which disclosed some of his teeth in a grimace suggestive
of both scorn and cruelty. Polydor, who for a moment had seemed
quite scared, and had gazed at him with dilated eyes, blurred by his
drunkenness, had now fallen beside the railing, overcome by sleepiness
and already snoring. The crowd, in horrified expectancy of the promised
confession, had hitherto preserved death-like silence. But it was
now growing weary of that long oration, in which it found all the
unconquerable pride and insolence of the Churchman who deems himself
all-powerful and inviolate. What did the scamp mean by that speech?
Why did he not content himself with stating the facts? What was the use
of such a long preamble when a dozen words would have sufficed? Thus a
growl arose, and a rush would have swept Gorgias away if Marc, now very
attentive and fully master of himself, had not stepped forward and with
a gesture calmed the growing impatience and anger. Moreover, Gorgias
remained imperturbable. Despite all interruptions, he went on repeating
in the same shrill voice that he alone was brave, that he alone was
really upon God’s side, and that the other sinners, the cowards, would
after all have to pay for their transgressions, since God had set him
there to make public confession on their behalf as well as his own,
this being a supreme expiation, whence the Church, compromised by her
unworthy leaders, would emerge rejuvenated and for ever victorious.

Then all at once, as if he were a prey to the wildest remorse, he beat
his chest violently with both fists, and cried in distressful, tearful
accents: ‘I have sinned, O God! O God, do Thou forgive me! Release
me from the claws of the devil, O God, that I may yet bless Thy holy
name!… Yes, God wills it! Listen to me, listen to me; I will tell you
everything!’

Then he laid himself bare, as it were, before the assembled throng. He
spoke plainly of his gross appetites; he set forth that he had been
a big eater, a deep drinker, and that vice had dogged him from his
childhood. In spite of all his intelligence he had then refused to
study; he had preferred to play the truant, to roam the fields, and
hide in the woods with little hussies. His father, Jean Plumet, after
being a poacher, had been turned into a gamekeeper by the Countess
de Quédeville. His mother, a hussy, had disappeared after giving him
birth. He could still picture his father as he had appeared to him
lying on a stretcher in the courtyard at Valmarie, whither he had been
brought dead, after two bullets had been lodged in his chest by one of
his former companions, a poacher. And subsequently he, Gorgias, had
been brought up with the Countess’s grandson, Gaston, an unmanageable
lad, who also refused to study, preferring to hide himself away with
little hussies, climb poplar trees for magpies’ nests, and wade the
rivers in search of crawfish. At that time he, Gorgias, had become
acquainted with Father Philibin, Gaston’s tutor, and Father Crabot,
who was then in all his manly prime, adored by the old Countess, and
already the real master of Valmarie. Then, with sudden abruptness,
plainly and brutally, Gorgias related how Gaston, the grandson and
heir, had come by his death–a death which he had witnessed from a
distance, and of which he had kept the terrible secret for so many
years. The boy had been deliberately pushed into the river and drowned
there, the misfortune being attributed to an accident, in such wise
that a few months later the old Countess finally bestowed her property
upon Father Crabot.

Striking his breast with increasing fury, beside himself with
contrition, Gorgias continued amid his sobs: ‘I have sinned, I have
sinned, O God! And my superiors have sinned still more frightfully than
I, for it was they, O God! who ever set me an evil example!… But
since I am here to expiate their sins as well as mine by confessing
everything, O God, perchance Thou wilt pardon them in Thine infinite
mercy, even as Thou wilt assuredly pardon me also!’

But a quiver of indignant revolt now sped through the crowd. Fists
were raised and voices demanded vengeance; while Gorgias, resuming
his narrative, related that from that time forward Fathers Crabot and
Philibin had never abandoned him, linked to him as they were by a bond
of blood, relying on him as he relied on them. This was the old pact
which Marc had long suspected–Gorgias being admitted to the Church and
becoming an Ignorantine, an _enfant terrible_ of the Deity, one who
both alarmed and enraptured his superiors by the wonderful religious
spirit which glowed in his guilty flesh. Again the wretched man sobbed
aloud, and all at once he passed to the horrid crime of which Simon had
been accused.

‘The little angel was there, O God!… It is the truth. I had just
taken the other boy home, and I was passing across the dark square,
when I saw the little angel in his room, which was lighted up…. Thou
God knowest that I approached him without evil intention, simply out of
curiosity, and in a fatherly spirit, in order to scold him for leaving
his window open. And Thou knowest also that for a while I talked to him
as a friend, asking him to show me the pictures on his table, sweet and
pious pictures, which were still perfumed by the incense of the first
Communion. But why, O God, why didst Thou then allow the devil to tempt
me? Why didst Thou abandon me to the tempter, who impelled me to spring
over the window-bar under the pretence of taking a closer look at the
pictures, though, alas! the flames of hell were already burning within
me? Ah! why didst Thou suffer it, O God? Ah! verily, my God, Thy ways
are mysterious and terrible!’

The throng had now again relapsed into deathly silence amid the
frightful anguish which wrung every breast as the ignoble confession at
last took its course. Not a breath was heard; horror spread over all
those motionless folk, terrified by the thought of what was coming. And
Marc, who was very white, quite scared at seeing the truth rise before
him at last, after so many lies, gazed fixedly at the wretched culprit,
who was gesticulating frantically amid the sobs which choked him.

‘The little child–he was so pretty. Thou hadst given him, O God!
the fair and curly head of a little angel. Like the cherubs of pious
paintings, he seemed, indeed, to have but that angelic head with two
wings…. Kill him, O God! Did I have any such horrible thought?
Speak! Thou canst read my heart! I was so fond of him, I would not
have plucked a hair from his head…. But it is true the fire of hell
had come upon me; Satan transported me, blinded me, and the boy became
alarmed; he began to call out, to call out, to call out…. O God,
those calls, those calls! I hear them always, always, and they madden
me!’

It seemed, indeed, as if Gorgias were now a prey to some supreme
paroxysm; his eyes glowed like coals of fire in his convulsed
countenance, a little foam appeared upon his twisted lips, while his
lean, bent frame quivered from head to foot with spasmodic shocks.
And at last a great access of rage transported him. Like one of the
damned whom the devil turns with his fork over the infernal brazier, he
howled: ‘No, no, that’s not the plain truth; that again is arranged and
embellished…. I must tell all, I will tell all; it is at that price
only that I shall taste the eternal delights of Paradise!’

What followed was full of horror. He related everything in plain,
crude, abominable language, and when he again came to his victim’s
cries he recounted his cowardly terror, his eager desire to conceal his
crime, for his buzzing ears already seemed to re-echo the gallop of the
gendarmes pursuing him. In wild despair he had sought for something;
he had searched his pocket, and finding some papers in it, he had
stuffed them without foresight or method into his victim’s mouth, all
eagerness as he was to hear those terrible cries no more. But they had
begun again, and he told how he had then murdered, strangled, the boy,
pressing his strong, bony, hairy fingers, like iron bands, around the
child’s delicate neck, and marking it with deep, dark furrows.

‘O God!’ he cried, ‘I am a hog, I am a murderous brute, my limbs are
stained with mire and blood!… And I fled like a wretched coward,
without an idea in my head, quite brutified and senseless, leaving
the window open, and thereby showing my stupidity and the innocence
in which I should have remained but for the devil’s unforeseen and
victorious assault upon me…. And now that I have confessed everything
to men, O God, I beg Thee, in reward for my penitence, open to me the
doors of Heaven!’

But the horror-fraught patience of the crowd was now exhausted. After
the stupor which had kept it chilled and mute there came an outburst of
extraordinary violence. A loud roar of imprecations rolled from one to
the other end of the square, a huge wave gathered and bounded towards
the railings, towards the impudent wretch, the monstrous penitent, who
in his religious dementia had thus dared to proclaim his crime in the
full sunlight. Shouts arose: ‘To death with the scoundrel! To death
with the murderer! To death with the polluter and killer of children!’
And Marc then understood the terrible danger; he pictured the crowd
lynching that wretched man in its craving for immediate justice; he
beheld that festival of kindness and solidarity, that triumph of
truth and equity, soiled, blackened by the summary execution of the
culprit, whose limbs would be torn from him and cast to the four
winds of heaven. So in all haste he strove to remove Gorgias from the
railings. But he had to contend with his resistance, for the obstinate,
frantic scoundrel desired to say something more. At last, helped by the
vigorous arms of some of the bystanders, Marc managed to carry him into
the garden, the gate of which was at once shut. The rescue was effected
none too soon, for the huge wave of the indignant crowd rolled up and
burst against the railings, which fortunately checked its further
progress, as they were new and strong. Thus Gorgias was for the moment
out of reach, sheltered by the very house which had been built for the
innocent man, for whose tortures he, was responsible. And such was his
obstinacy, that when those who had seized him released their hold,
thinking him conquered, he picked himself up, and, rushing back to the
railings, hung to them from inside. And there, protected by the iron
bars, against which the furious, surging throng was sweeping, he began
once more:

‘Thou didst witness, O God! my first expiation, when my superiors, as
foolish as they were cruel, abandoned me on the road to exile! Thou
knowest to what unacknowledgeable callings they reduced me, what fresh
and hateful transgressions they caused me to commit! Thou knowest
their base avarice–how they refused me even a crust of bread, how
they refuse it still, after being my counsellors and accomplices all
my life long…. For thou wert always present, O God! Thou didst hear
them bind themselves to me. Thou knowest that after my crime I did but
obey them, and that if I aggravated it by other crimes it was only
by and for them. Doubtless the desire was to save Thy Holy Church
from scandal–and I, indeed, would have given my blood, my life. But
they thought only of saving their own skins, and it is that which has
enraged me and stirred me to tell everything…. And now, O God! that
I have been Thy justiciary, that I have spoken the words of violence
ordained by Thee, and have cried aloud their unknown and unpunished
sins, it is for Thee to decide if Thou wilt pardon them or strike them
down in Thy wrath, even before these swinish people, who pretend to
forget Thy name, and for the roasting of whose sacrilegious limbs there
will never be room enough in hell!’

Threatening hoots interrupted him at every word; stones, passing from
hand to hand, began to fly around his head. The railings would not have
resisted much longer; in fact, a last great onrush was about to throw
them down when Marc and his assistants again managed to seize Gorgias
and carry him to the end of the garden, behind the house. On that
side there was a little gate conducting to a deserted lane, and the
miscreant was soon led forth, and then driven away.

If, however, the growling, threatening crowd suddenly became calm,
it was because cries of joy and glorification arose above the shouts
of anger, drawing nearer every moment in sonorous waves along the
sunlit avenue. Simon, having been received at the railway station
by a deputation of the Municipal Council, was arriving in a large
landau, he and David occupying the back seat, while in front of them
were Advocate Delbos and Jules Savin, the Mayor. As the carriage
slowly advanced between the serried crowd there came an extraordinary
ovation. Spurred to it by the abominable scene which had left everybody
quivering, they acclaimed Simon with the wildest enthusiasm, for
his innocence and his heroism seemed to have been rendered yet more
glorious by the public confession now made by the real culprit, the
savage and bestial Gorgias. Women wept and raised their children to let
them see the hero. Men rushed to unharness the horses; and indeed they
did unharness them, in such wise that the landau was dragged to the
house by a hundred brave arms. And all along the flower-strewn line of
route other flowers were flung from the windows, where handkerchiefs as
well as banners waved. A very beautiful girl mounted the carriage step,
and remained there like a living statue of youth, contributing the
splendour of her beauty to the martyr’s triumph. Kisses were wafted,
words of affection and glorification fell into the carriage with the
bouquets which rained from every side. Never had people been stirred
by such intense emotion–emotion wrung from their very vitals by the
thought of such a great iniquity–emotion which, seeking to bestow
some supreme compensation on the victim, found it in the gift without
reserve of the hearts and love of all. Glory to the innocent man who
had well-nigh perished by the people’s fault, and on whom the people
would never be able to bestow sufficient happiness! Glory to the martyr
who had suffered so greatly for unrecognised and strangled truth, and
whose victory was that of human reason freeing itself from the bonds of
error and falsehood! And glory to the schoolmaster struck down in his
functions, a victim of his efforts to promote enlightenment, and now
exalted the more as he had suffered untold pain and grief for each and
every particle of truth that he had imparted to the ignorant and the
humble!

Marc, who stood on the threshold of the house, dizzy with happiness,
watching that triumph approach amid an explosion of fraternity and
affection, bethought himself of the far-off day of Simon’s arrest,
the hateful day when a vehicle had carried him away from Maillebois
at the moment of little Zéphirin’s funeral. A furious crowd had
rushed to seize him, roll him in the mud, and tear him to pieces. A
horrible clamour had arisen: ‘To death, to death with the assassin
and sacrilegist! To death, to death with the Jew!’ And the crowd
had pursued the rolling wheels, unwilling to relinquish its prey,
while Simon, pale and frozen, responded with his ceaseless cry: ‘I am
innocent! I am innocent! I am innocent!’ And now that after long years
that innocence was manifest, how striking was the transformation! The
crowd was rejuvenated, transfigured; the children and the grandchildren
of the blind insulters of former days had grown up in knowledge
of truth, and become enthusiastic applauders, striving by dint of
sincerity and affection to redeem the crime of their forerunners!

But the landau drew up before the garden gate, and the emotion
increased when Simon was seen to alight with the help of his brother
David, who had remained more nimble and vigorous. Emaciated, reduced
to a shadow, Simon had white hair and a gentle countenance, softened
by extreme age. He smiled his thanks to David, and again there were
frantic acclamations at the sight of those two brothers, bound together
by long years of heroism. The cheers continued when, after the Mayor,
Jules Savin, Delbos also alighted–the great Delbos, as the crowd
called him, the hero of Beaumont and Rozan, who had not feared to speak
the truth aloud in the terrible days when it was perilous to do so,
and who ever since had worked for the advent of a just society. Then,
as Marc went forward to meet Simon and David, whom Delbos had just
joined, the four men found themselves together for a moment on the very
threshold of the house. And at that sight there came an increase of
enthusiasm. Cries were raised and arms were waved deliriously as the
three heroic defenders and the innocent man, whom they had rescued from
the worst of tortures, were seen thus standing side by side.

Then Simon impulsively cast himself on the neck of Marc, who
returned his embrace. Both sobbed, and were only able to stammer a
few words–almost the same as they had stammered long ago, on the
abominable day when they had been parted.

‘Thank you, thank you, comrade. Like David, you have been to me a
brother–a second brother; you saved my own and my children’s honour.’

‘Oh! I merely helped David, comrade; the victory was won by truth
alone…. And there are your children–of their own accord they have
grown up in strength and reason.’

The whole family, indeed, was assembled amid the garden greenery;
four generations awaited the venerable old man, who triumphed after
so many years of suffering. Rachel, his wife, stood beside Geneviève,
the wife of his dear, good friend. Then came those whose blood had
mingled–Joseph and Louise, Sarah and Sébastien, accompanied by their
children, François and Thérèse, who were followed by little Rose, the
last born of the line. Clément and Charlotte were also present with
Lucienne. And tears started from all eyes, and endless kisses were
exchanged.

But a very fresh, sweet song arose. The children of the boys’ and
girls’ schools, the pupils of Joseph and Louise, were singing a welcome
to the former schoolmaster of Maillebois. Nothing could have been more
simple and more touching than that childish strophe, instinct with
tenderness and suggestive of the happy future. Then a lad stepped
forward and offered Simon a bouquet in the name of the boys’ school.

‘Thank you, my little friend. How fine you look…. Who are you?’

‘I am Edmond Doloir; my father is Léon Doloir, a schoolmaster; he is
yonder, beside Monsieur Salvan.’

Then came the turn of a little girl, who, in like fashion, carried a
bouquet offered by the girls’ school.

‘Oh! what a pretty little darling! Thank you, thank you…. And what is
your name?’

‘I am Georgette Doloir; I am the daughter of Adrien Doloir and Claire
Bongard. You can see them there with my grandpapa and grandmamma, and
my uncles and aunts.’

But there was yet another bouquet, and this was presented by Lucienne
Froment on behalf of Rose Simon, the last-born of the family, whom she
carried in her arms. And Lucienne recited: ‘I am Lucienne Froment, the
daughter of Clément Froment and Charlotte Savin…. And this is Rose
Simon, the little daughter of your grandson François, and your own
great-granddaughter, as she is also the great-granddaughter of your
friend Marc Froment through her grandmother, Louise.’

With trembling hands Simon took the dear and bonnie babe in his arms.
‘Ah! you dear little treasure, flesh of my flesh, you are like the ark
of alliance…. Ah, how good and vigorous has life proved! how bravely
it has worked in giving us so many strong, healthy, and handsome
offspring! And how everything broadens at each fresh generation; what
an increase of truth and justice and peace does life bring as it
pursues its eternal task!’

They were now all pressing around him, introducing themselves,
embracing him, and shaking his hands. There were the Savins, Jules and
his son Robert, the former the Mayor who had so actively helped on the
work of reparation, and who had received him at the railway station
on behalf of the whole town. There were the Doloirs also–Auguste,
who had built the house, Adrien, who had planned it, Charles, who had
undertaken the locksmith’s work, and Marcel, who had attended to the
carpentry. There were likewise the Bongards–Fernand and his wife
Lucille, and Claire their daughter. And all were mingled, connected
by marriages, forming, as it were, but one great family, in such
wise that Simon could hardly tell who was who. But his old pupils
gave their names, and he traced on their aged faces some likeness
to the boyish features of long ago, while embrace followed embrace
amid ever-increasing emotion. And all at once, finding himself in
presence of Salvan, now very old indeed, but still showing a smiling
countenance, Simon fell into his arms, saying, ‘Ah! my master, I owe
everything to you; it is your work which now triumphs, thanks to the
valiant artisans of truth whom you formed and sent out into the world!’

Then came the turn of Mademoiselle Mazeline, whom he kissed gaily on
both cheeks, and next that of Mignot, who shed tears when Simon had
embraced him.

‘Have you forgiven me, Monsieur Simon?’ he asked.

‘Forgiven you, my old friend Mignot! You have shown a valiant and noble
heart! Ah! how delightful it is to meet again like this!’

The ceremony, so simple, yet so grand, was at last drawing to a
close. The house offered to the innocent man, that bright-looking
house standing on the site of the old den of the Rue du Trou, smiled
right gaily in the sunlight with its decorative garlands of flowers
and foliage. And all at once the drapery which still hung before the
inscription above the door was pulled aside, and the marble slab
appeared with its inscription in vivid letters of gold: ‘Presented by
the town of Maillebois to Schoolmaster Simon in the name of Truth and
Justice, and as Reparation for the Torture inflicted on him.’ Then came
the signature, which seemed to show forth in a yet brighter blaze:
‘The Grandchildren of his Persecutors.’ And at that sight, from all
the great square, and from the neighbouring avenue, from every window
and from every roof, there arose a last mighty acclamation, which
rolled on like thunder–an acclamation in which all at last united,
none henceforth daring to deny that truth and justice had triumphed.

On the morrow _Le Petit Beaumontais_ published an enthusiastic account
of the ceremony. That once filthy print had been quite transformed
by the new spirit, which had raised its readers both morally and
intellectually. Its offices, so long infected by poison, had been
swept and purged. The Press will, indeed, become a most admirable
instrument of education when it is no longer, as now, in the hands of
political and financial bandits, bent on debasing and plundering their
readers. And thus _Le Petit Beaumontais_, cleansed and rejuvenated, was
beginning to render great services, contributing day by day to increase
of enlightenment, reason, and brotherliness.

A few days later a terrible storm, one of those September storms which
consume everything, destroyed the Capuchin chapel at Maillebois. That
chapel was the last religious edifice of the district remaining open,
and several bigots still attended it. At Jonville, Abbé Cognasse had
lately been found dead in his sacristy, carried off by an apoplectic
stroke, which had followed one of his violent fits of anger; and
his church, long empty, was now definitively closed. At Maillebois,
Abbé Coquard no longer even opened the doors of St. Martin’s, but
officiated alone at the altar, unable as he was to find a server for
the Mass. Thus the little chapel of the Capuchins, which, with its
big gilded and painted statue of St. Antony of Padua, standing amid
candles and artificial flowers, retained to the end its reputation
as a miracle-shop, sufficed for the few folk who still followed the
observances of the Church.

That day, as it happened, they were celebrating there some festival
connected with the saint,[3] a ceremony which had attracted about
a hundred of the faithful. Yielding to the solicitations of Father
Théodose, Father Crabot, who nowadays remained shut up at La Désirade,
where he intended to install some pious enterprise, had decided to
honour the solemnity with his presence. Thus both were there, one
officiating, the other seated in a velvet arm-chair before the statue
of the great saint, who was implored to show his miraculous power and
obtain from God the grace of some dreadful cataclysm, such as would at
once sweep away the infamous and sacrilegious society of the new times.
And it was then that the storm burst forth. A great inky, terrifying
cloud spread over Maillebois; there came flashes of lightning, which
seemed to show the furnaces of hell blazing in the empyrean, and
thunderclaps which suggested salvoes of some giant artillery bombarding
the earth. Father Théodose had ordered the bells to be rung, and a
loud and prolonged pealing arose from the chapel, as if to indicate
to the Deity that this was His house and should be protected by Him.
But in lieu thereof extermination came. A frightful clap resounded,
the lightning struck the bells, descended by the rope, and burst forth
in the nave with a detonation as if the very heavens were crumbling.
Father Théodose, fired as he stood at the altar, flamed there like a
torch. The sacerdotal vestments, the sacred vases, the very tabernacle,
were melted, reduced to ashes. And the great St. Antony, shivered to
pieces, fell upon the stricken Father Crabot, of whom only a bent and
blackened skeleton remained beneath all the dust. And as if those two
ministers of the Church were not sufficient sacrifice, five of the
devotees present were also killed, while the others fled, howling
with terror, eager to escape being crushed by the vaulted roof, which
cracked, then crumbled in a pile of remnants, leaving nought of the
cult intact.

The stupefaction was universal throughout Maillebois. How could the
Deity of the Holy Roman and Apostolic Church have made such a mistake?
The same question had often been asked in former times–each time,
indeed, that a church had been struck and its steeple had fallen on the
priest and the kneeling worshippers. Had God desired, then, the end of
the religion which had taken His name? Or, more reasonably, was it that
no Divine hand whatever guided the lightning, and that it was but a
natural force, which would prove a source of happiness whenever mankind
should have domesticated it? In any case, after the calamity, Brother
Gorgias suddenly reappeared and was seen hurrying along the streets of
Maillebois, crying aloud that God had made no mistake. It was to him,
he said, that God had hearkened, resolving to strike down his imbecile
and cowardly superiors, and thus give a lesson to the whole Church,
which could only flourish anew by the power of fire and steel. And a
month later Gorgias himself was found, his skull split, his body soiled
with filth, outside the same suspicious house before which, some time
previously, a passer had already found the body of Victor Milhomme.