On the following morning Clotilde was awake at six o'clock. She had gone to bed angry with Pascal; they were at variance with each other. And her first feeling was one of uneasiness, of secret distress, an instant need of making her peace, so that she might no longer have upon her heart the heavy weight that lay there now.
Springing quickly out of bed, she went and half opened the shutters of both windows. The sun, already high, sent his light across the chamber in two golden bars. Into this drowsy room that exhaled a sweet odor of youth, the bright morning brought with it fresh, cheerful air; but the young girl went back and sat down on the edge of the bed in a thoughtful attitude, clad only in her scant nightdress, which made her look still more slender, with her long tapering limbs, her strong, slender body, with its round throat, round neck, round and supple arms; and her adorable neck and throat, of a milky whiteness, had the exquisite softness and smoothness of white satin. For a long time, at the ungraceful age between twelve and eighteen, she had looked awkwardly tall, climbing trees like a boy. Then, from the ungainly hoyden had been evolved this charming, delicate and lovely creature.
With absent gaze she sat looking at the walls of the chamber. Although La Souleiade dated from the last century, it must have been refurnished under the First Empire, for it was hung with an old-fashioned printed calico, with a pattern representing busts of the Sphinx, and garlands of oak leaves. Originally of a bright red, this calico had faded to a pink--an undecided pink, inclining to orange. The curtains of the two windows and of the bed were still in existence, but it had been necessary to clean them, and this had made them still paler. And this faded purple, this dawnlike tint, so delicately soft, was in truth exquisite. As for the bed, covered with the same stuff, it had come down from so remote an antiquity that it had been replaced by another bed found in an adjoining room; another Empire bed, low and very broad, of massive mahogany, ornamented with brasses, its four square pillars adorned also with busts of the Sphinx, like those on the wall. The rest of the furniture matched, however--a press, with whole doors and pillars; a chest of drawers with a marble top, surrounded by a railing; a tall and massive cheval-glass, a large lounge with straight feet, and seats with straight, lyre-shaped backs. But a coverlet made of an old Louis XV. silk skirt brightened the majestic bed, that occupied the middle of the wall fronting the windows; a heap of cushions made the lounge soft; and there were, besides, two _etageres_ and a table also covered with old flowered silk, at the further end of the room.
Clotilde at last put on her stockings and slipped on a morning gown of white _pique_, and thrusting the tips of her feet into her gray canvas slippers, she ran into her dressing-room, a back room looking out on the rear of the house. She had had it hung plainly with an _ecru_ drill with blue stripes, and it contained only furniture of varnished pine--the toilette table, two presses, and two chairs. It revealed, however, a natural and delicate coquetry which was very feminine. This had grown with her at the same time with her beauty. Headstrong and boyish though she still was at times, she had become a submissive and affectionate woman, desiring to be loved, above everything. The truth was that she had grown up in freedom, without having learned anything more than to read and write, having acquired by herself, later, while assisting her uncle, a vast fund of information. But there had been no plan settled upon between them. He had not wished to make her a prodigy; she had merely conceived a passion for natural history, which revealed to her the mysteries of life. And she had kept her innocence unsullied like a fruit which no hand has touched, thanks, no doubt, to her unconscious and religious waiting for the coming of love--that profound feminine feeling which made her reserve the gift of her whole being for the man whom she should love.
She pushed back her hair and bathed her face; then, yielding to her impatience, she again softly opened the door of her chamber and ventured to cross the vast workroom, noiselessly and on tiptoe. The shutters were still closed, but she could see clearly enough not to stumble against the furniture. When she was at the other end before the door of the doctor's room, she bent forward, holding her breath. Was he already up? What could he be doing? She heard him plainly, walking about with short steps, dressing himself, no doubt. She never entered this chamber in which he chose to hide certain labors; and which thus remained closed, like a tabernacle. One fear had taken possession of her; that of being discovered here by him if he should open the door; and the agitation produced by the struggle between her rebellious pride and a desire to show her submission caused her to grow hot and cold by turns, with sensations until now unknown to her. For an instant her desire for reconciliation was so strong that she was on the point of knocking. Then, as footsteps approached, she ran precipitately away.
Until eight o'clock Clotilde was agitated by an ever-increasing impatience. At every instant she looked at the clock on the mantelpiece of her room; an Empire clock of gilded bronze, representing Love leaning against a pillar, contemplating Time asleep.
Eight was the hour at which she generally descended to the dining-room to breakfast with the doctor. And while waiting she made a careful toilette, arranged her hair, and put on another morning gown of white muslin with red spots. Then, having still a quarter of an hour on her hands, she satisfied an old desire and sat down to sew a piece of narrow lace, an imitation of Chantilly, on her working blouse, that black blouse which she had begun to find too boyish, not feminine enough. But on the stroke of eight she laid down her work, and went downstairs quickly.
"You are going to breakfast entirely alone," said Martine tranquilly to her, when she entered the dining-room.
"How is that?"
"Yes, the doctor called me, and I passed him in his egg through the half-open door. There he is again, at his mortar and his filter. We won't see him now before noon."
Clotilde turned pale with disappointment. She drank her milk standing, took her roll in her hand, and followed the servant into the kitchen. There were on the ground floor, besides this kitchen and the dining-room, only an uninhabited room in which the potatoes were stored, and which had formerly been used as an office by the doctor, when he received his patients in his house--the desk and the armchair had years ago been taken up to his chamber--and another small room, which opened into the kitchen; the old servant's room, scrupulously clean, and furnished with a walnut chest of drawers and a bed like a nun's with white hangings.
"Do you think he has begun to make his liquor again?" asked Clotilde.
"Well, it can be only that. You know that he thinks of neither eating nor drinking when that takes possession of him!"
Then all the young girl's vexation was exhaled in a low plaint:
"Ah, my God! my God!"
And while Martine went to make up her room, she took an umbrella from the hall stand and went disconsolately to eat her roll in the garden, not knowing now how she should occupy her time until midday.
It was now almost seventeen years since Dr. Pascal, having resolved to leave his little house in the new town, had bought La Souleiade for twenty thousand francs, in order to live there in seclusion, and also to give more space and more happiness to the little girl sent him by his brother Saccard from Paris. This Souleiade, situated outside the town gates on a plateau dominating the plain, was part of a large estate whose once vast grounds were reduced to less than two hectares in consequence of successive sales, without counting that the construction of the railroad had taken away the last arable fields. The house itself had been half destroyed by a conflagration and only one of the two buildings remained--a quadrangular wing "of four walls," as they say in Provence, with five front windows and roofed with large pink tiles. And the doctor, who had bought it completely furnished, had contented himself with repairing it and finishing the boundary walls, so as to be undisturbed in his house.
Generally Clotilde loved this solitude passionately; this narrow kingdom which she could go over in ten minutes, and which still retained remnants of its past grandeur. But this morning she brought there something like a nervous disquietude. She walked for a few moments along the terrace, at the two extremities of which stood two secular cypresses like two enormous funeral tapers, which could be seen three leagues off. The slope then descended to the railroad, walls of uncemented stones supporting the red earth, in which the last vines were dead; and on these giant steps grew only rows of olive and almond trees, with sickly foliage. The heat was already overpowering; she saw the little lizards running about on the disjointed flags, among the hairy tufts of caper bushes.
Then, as if irritated by the vast horizon, she crossed the orchard and the kitchen garden, which Martine still persisted in cultivating in spite of her age, calling in a man only twice a week for the heavier labors; and she ascended to a little pine wood on the right, all that remained of the superb pines which had formerly covered the plateau; but, here, too, she was ill at ease; the pine needles crackled under her feet, a resinous, stifling odor descended from the branches. And walking along the boundary wall past the entrance gate, which opened on the road to Les Fenouilleres, three hundred meters from the first houses of Plassans, she emerged at last on the threshing-yard; an immense yard, fifteen meters in radius, which would of itself have sufficed to prove the former importance of the domain. Ah! this antique area, paved with small round stones, as in the days of the Romans; this species of vast esplanade, covered with short dry grass of the color of gold as with a thick woolen carpet; how joyously she had played there in other days, running about, rolling on the grass, lying for hours on her back, watching the stars coming out one by one in the depths of the illimitable sky!
She opened her umbrella again, and crossed the yard with slower steps. Now she was on the left of the terrace. She had made the tour of the estate, so that she had returned by the back of the house, through the clump of enormous plane trees that on this side cast a thick shade. This was the side on which opened the two windows of the doctor's room. And she raised her eyes to them, for she had approached only in the sudden hope of at last seeing him. But the windows remained closed, and she was wounded by this as by an unkindness to herself. Then only did she perceive that she still held in her hand her roll, which she had forgotten to eat; and she plunged among the trees, biting it impatiently with her fine young teeth.
It was a delicious retreat, this old quincunx of plane trees, another remnant of the past splendor of La Souleiade. Under these giant trees, with their monstrous trunks, there was only a dim light, a greenish light, exquisitely cool, even on the hottest days of summer. Formerly a French garden had been laid out here, of which only the box borders remained; bushes which had habituated themselves to the shade, no doubt, for they grew vigorously, as tall as trees. And the charm of this shady nook was a fountain, a simple leaden pipe fixed in the shaft of a column; whence flowed perpetually, even in the greatest drought, a thread of water as thick as the little finger, which supplied a large mossy basin, the greenish stones of which were cleaned only once in three or four years. When all the wells of the neighborhood were dry, La Souleiade still kept its spring, of which the great plane trees were assuredly the secular children. Night and day for centuries past this slender thread of water, unvarying and continuous, had sung the same pure song with crystal sound.
Clotilde, after wandering awhile among the bushes of box, which reached to her shoulder, went back to the house for a piece of embroidery, and returning with it, sat down at a stone table beside the fountain. Some garden chairs had been placed around it, and they often took coffee here. And after this she affected not to look up again from her work, as if she was completely absorbed in it. Now and then, while seeming to look between the trunks of trees toward the sultry distance, toward the yard, on which the sun blazed fiercely and which glowed like a brazier, she stole a glance from under her long lashes up to the doctor's windows. Nothing appeared, not a shadow. And a feeling of sadness, of resentment, arose within her at this neglect, this contempt in which he seemed to hold her after their quarrel of the day before. She who had got up with so great a desire to make peace at once! He was in no hurry, however; he did not love her then, since he could be satisfied to live at variance with her. And gradually a feeling of gloom took possession of her, her rebellious thoughts returned, and she resolved anew to yield in nothing.
At eleven o'clock, before setting her breakfast on the fire, Martine came to her for a moment, the eternal stocking in her hand which she was always knitting even while walking, when she was not occupied in the affairs of the house.
"Do you know that he is still shut up there like a wolf in his hole, at his villainous cookery?"
Clotilde shrugged her shoulders, without lifting her eyes from her embroidery.
"And then, mademoiselle, if you only knew what they say! Mme. Felicite was right yesterday when she said that it was really enough to make one blush. They threw it in my face that he had killed old Boutin, that poor old man, you know, who had the falling sickness and who died on the road. To believe those women of the faubourg, every one into whom he injects his remedy gets the true cholera from it, without counting that they accuse him of having taken the devil into partnership."
A short silence followed. Then, as the young girl became more gloomy than before, the servant resumed, moving her fingers still more rapidly:
"As for me, I know nothing about the matter, but what he is making there enrages me. And you, mademoiselle, do you approve of that cookery?"
At last Clotilde raised her head quickly, yielding to the flood of passion that swept over her.
"Listen; I wish to know no more about it than you do, but I think that he is on a very dangerous path. He no longer loves us."
"Oh, yes, mademoiselle; he loves us."
"No, no; not as we love him. If he loved us, he would be here with us, instead of endangering his soul and his happiness and ours, up there, in his desire to save everybody."
And the two women looked at each other for a moment with eyes burning with affection, in their jealous anger. Then they resumed their work in silence, enveloped in shadow.
Above, in his room, Dr. Pascal was working with the serenity of perfect joy. He had practised his profession for only about a dozen years, from his return to Paris up to the time when he had retired to La Souleiade. Satisfied with the hundred and odd thousand francs which he had earned and which he had invested prudently, he devoted himself almost exclusively to his favorite studies, retaining only a practise among friends, never refusing to go to the bedside of a patient but never sending in his account. When he was paid he threw the money into a drawer in his writing desk, regarding this as pocket-money for his experiments and caprices, apart from his income which sufficed for his wants. And he laughed at the bad reputation for eccentricity which his way of life had gained him; he was happy only when in the midst of his researches on the subjects for which he had a passion. It was matter for surprise to many that this scientist, whose intellectual gifts had been spoiled by a too lively imagination, should have remained at Plassans, this out-of-the-way town where it seemed as if every requirement for his studies must be wanting. But he explained very well the advantages which he had discovered here; in the first place, an utterly peaceful retreat in which he might live the secluded life he desired; then, an unsuspected field for continuous research in the light of the facts of heredity, which was his passion, in this little town where he knew every family and where he could follow the phenomena kept most secret, through two or three generations. And then he was near the seashore; he went there almost every summer, to study the swarming life that is born and propagates itself in the depths of the vast waters. And there was finally, at the hospital in Plassans, a dissecting room to which he was almost the only visitor; a large, bright, quiet room, in which for more than twenty years every unclaimed body had passed under his scalpel. A modest man besides, of a timidity that had long since become shyness, it had been sufficient for him to maintain a correspondence with his old professors and his new friends, concerning the very remarkable papers which he from time to time sent to the Academy of Medicine. He was altogether wanting in militant ambition.
Ah, this heredity! what a subject of endless meditation it was for him! The strangest, the most wonderful part of it all, was it not that the resemblance between parents and children should not be perfect, mathematically exact? He had in the beginning made a genealogical tree of his family, logically traced, in which the influences from generation to generation were distributed equally--the father's part and the mother's part. But the living reality contradicted the theory almost at every point. Heredity, instead of being resemblance, was an effort toward resemblance thwarted by circumstances and environment. And he had arrived at what he called the hypothesis of the abortion of cells. Life is only motion, and heredity being a communicated motion, it happened that the cells in their multiplication from one another jostled one another, pressed one another, made room for themselves, putting forth, each one, the hereditary effort; so that if during this struggle the weaker cells succumbed, considerable disturbances took place, with the final result of organs totally different. Did not variation, the constant invention of nature, which clashed with his theories, come from this? Did not he himself differ from his parents only in consequence of similar accidents, or even as the effect of larvated heredity, in which he had for a time believed? For every genealogical tree has roots which extend as far back into humanity as the first man; one cannot proceed from a single ancestor; one may always resemble a still older, unknown ancestor. He doubted atavism, however; it seemed to him, in spite of a remarkable example taken from his own family, that resemblance at the end of two or three generations must disappear by reason of accidents, of interferences, of a thousand possible combinations. There was then a perpetual becoming, a constant transformation in this communicated effort, this transmitted power, this shock which breathes into matter the breath of life, and which is life itself. And a multiplicity of questions presented themselves to him. Was there a physical and intellectual progress through the ages? Did the brain grow with the growth of the sciences with which it occupied itself? Might one hope, in time, for a larger sum of reason and of happiness? Then there were special problems; one among others, the mystery of which had for a long time irritated him, that of sex; would science never be able to predict, or at least to explain the sex of the embryo being? He had written a very curious paper crammed full of facts on this subject, but which left it in the end in the complete ignorance in which the most exhaustive researches had left it. Doubtless the question of heredity fascinated him as it did only because it remained obscure, vast, and unfathomable, like all the infant sciences where imagination holds sway. Finally, a long study which he had made on the heredity of phthisis revived in him the wavering faith of the healer, arousing in him the noble and wild hope of regenerating humanity.
In short, Dr. Pascal had only one belief--the belief in life. Life was the only divine manifestation. Life was God, the grand motor, the soul of the universe. And life had no other instrument than heredity; heredity made the world; so that if its laws could be known and directed, the world could be made to one's will. In him, to whom sickness, suffering, and death had been a familiar sight, the militant pity of the physician awoke. Ah! to have no more sickness, no more suffering, as little death as possible! His dream ended in this thought--that universal happiness, the future community of perfection and of felicity, could be hastened by intervention, by giving health to all. When all should be healthy, strong, and intelligent, there would be only a superior race, infinitely wise and happy. In India, was not a Brahmin developed from a Soudra in seven generations, thus raising, experimentally, the lowest of beings to the highest type of humanity? And as in his study of consumption he had arrived at the conclusion that it was not hereditary, but that every child of a consumptive carried within him a degenerate soil in which consumption developed with extraordinary facility at the slightest contagion, he had come to think only of invigorating this soil impoverished by heredity; to give it the strength to resist the parasites, or rather the destructive leaven, which he had suspected to exist in the organism, long before the microbe theory. To give strength--the whole problem was there; and to give strength was also to give will, to enlarge the brain by fortifying the other organs.
About this time the doctor, reading an old medical book of the fifteenth century, was greatly struck by a method of treating disease called signature. To cure a diseased organ, it was only necessary to take from a sheep or an ox the corresponding organ in sound condition, boil it, and give the soup to the patient to drink. The theory was to cure like by like, and in diseases of the liver, especially, the old work stated that the cures were numberless. This set the doctor's vivid imagination working. Why not make the trial? If he wished to regenerate those enfeebled by hereditary influences, he had only to give them the normal and healthy nerve substance. The method of the soup, however, seemed to him childish, and he invented in its stead that of grinding in a mortar the brain of a sheep, moistening it with distilled water, and then decanting and filtering the liquor thus obtained. He tried this liquor then mixed with Malaga wine, on his patients, without obtaining any appreciable result. Suddenly, as he was beginning to grow discouraged, he had an inspiration one day, when he was giving a lady suffering from hepatic colics an injection of morphine with the little syringe of Pravaz. What if he were to try hypodermic injections with his liquor? And as soon as he returned home he tried the experiment on himself, making an injection in his side, which he repeated night and morning. The first doses, of a gram only, were without effect. But having doubled, and then tripled the dose, he was enchanted, one morning on getting up, to find that his limbs had all the vigor of twenty. He went on increasing the dose up to five grams, and then his respiration became deeper, and above all he worked with a clearness of mind, an ease, which he had not known for years. A great flood of happiness, of joy in living, inundated his being. From this time, after he had had a syringe made at Paris capable of containing five grams, he was surprised at the happy results which he obtained with his patients, whom he had on their feet again in a few days, full of energy and activity, as if endowed with new life. His method was still tentative and rude, and he divined in it all sorts of dangers, and especially, that of inducing embolism, if the liquor was not perfectly pure. Then he suspected that the strength of his patients came in part from the fever his treatment produced in them. But he was only a pioneer; the method would improve later. Was it not already a miracle to make the ataxic walk, to bring consumptives back to life, as it were; even to give hours of lucidity to the insane? And at the thought of this discovery of the alchemy of the twentieth century, an immense hope opened up before him; he believed he had discovered the universal panacea, the elixir of life, which was to combat human debility, the one real cause of every ill; a veritable scientific Fountain of Youth, which, in giving vigor, health, and will would create an altogether new and superior humanity.
This particular morning in his chamber, a room with a northern aspect and somewhat dark owing to the vicinity of the plane trees, furnished simply with an iron bedstead, a mahogany writing desk, and a large writing table, on which were a mortar and a microscope, he was completing with infinite care the preparation of a vial of his liquor. Since the day before, after pounding the nerve substance of a sheep in distilled water, he had been decanting and filtering it. And he had at last obtained a small bottle of a turbid, opaline liquid, irised by bluish gleams, which he regarded for a long time in the light as if he held in his hand the regenerating blood and symbol of the world.
But a few light knocks at the door and an urgent voice drew him from his dream.
"Why, what is the matter, monsieur? It is a quarter-past twelve; don't you intend to come to breakfast?"
For downstairs breakfast had been waiting for some time past in the large, cool dining-room. The blinds were closed, with the exception of one which had just been half opened. It was a cheerful room, with pearl gray panels relieved by blue mouldings. The table, the sideboard, and the chairs must have formed part of the set of Empire furniture in the bedrooms; and the old mahogany, of a deep red, stood out in strong relief against the light background. A hanging lamp of polished brass, always shining, gleamed like a sun; while on the four walls bloomed four large bouquets in pastel, of gillyflowers, carnations, hyacinths, and roses.
Joyous, radiant, Dr. Pascal entered.
"Ah, the deuce! I had forgotten! I wanted to finish. Look at this, quite fresh, and perfectly pure this time; something to work miracles with!"
And he showed the vial, which he had brought down in his enthusiasm. But his eye fell on Clotilde standing erect and silent, with a serious air. The secret vexation caused by waiting had brought back all her hostility, and she, who had burned to throw herself on his neck in the morning, remained motionless as if chilled and repelled by him.
"Good!" he resumed, without losing anything of his gaiety, "we are still at odds, it seems. That is something very ugly. So you don't admire my sorcerer's liquor, which resuscitates the dead?"
He seated himself at the table, and the young girl, sitting down opposite him, was obliged at last to answer:
"You know well, master, that I admire everything belonging to you. Only, my most ardent desire is that others also should admire you. And there is the death of poor old Boutin--"
"Oh!" he cried, without letting her finish, "an epileptic, who succumbed to a congestive attack! See! since you are in a bad humor, let us talk no more about that--you would grieve me, and that would spoil my day."
There were soft boiled eggs, cutlets, and cream. Silence reigned for a few moments, during which in spite of her ill-humor she ate heartily, with a good appetite which she had not the coquetry to conceal. Then he resumed, laughing:
"What reassures me is to see that your stomach is in good order. Martine, hand mademoiselle the bread."
The servant waited on them as she was accustomed to do, watching them eat, with her quiet air of familiarity.
Sometimes she even chatted with them.
"Monsieur," she said, when she had cut the bread, "the butcher has brought his bill. Is he to be paid?"
He looked up at her in surprise.
"Why do you ask me that?" he said. "Do you not always pay him without consulting me?"
It was, in effect, Martine who kept the purse. The amount deposited with M. Grandguillot, notary at Plassans, produced a round sum of six thousand francs income. Every three months the fifteen hundred francs were remitted to the servant, and she disposed of them to the best interests of the house; bought and paid for everything with the strictest economy, for she was of so saving a disposition that they bantered her about it continually. Clotilde, who spent very little, had never thought of asking a separate purse for herself. As for the doctor, he took what he required for his experiments and his pocket money from the three or four thousand francs which he still earned every year, and which he kept lying in the drawer of his writing desk; so that there was quite a little treasure there in gold and bank bills, of which he never knew the exact amount.
"Undoubtedly, monsieur, I pay, when it is I who have bought the things; but this time the bill is so large on account of the brains which the butcher has furnished you--"
The doctor interrupted her brusquely:
"Ah, come! so you, too, are going to set yourself against me, are you? No, no; both of you--that would be too much! Yesterday you pained me greatly, and I was angry. But this must cease. I will not have the house turned into a hell. Two women against me, and they the only ones who love me at all? Do you know, I would sooner quit the house at once!"
He did not speak angrily, he even smiled; but the disquietude of his heart was perceptible in the trembling of his voice. And he added with his indulgent, cheerful air:
"If you are afraid for the end of the month, my girl, tell the butcher to send my bill apart. And don't fear; you are not going to be asked for any of your money to settle it with; your sous may lie sleeping."
This was an allusion to Martine's little personal fortune. In thirty years, with four hundred francs wages she had earned twelve thousand francs, from which she had taken only what was strictly necessary for her wants; and increased, almost trebled, by the interest, her savings amounted now to thirty thousand francs, which through a caprice, a desire to have her money apart, she had not chosen to place with M. Grandguillot. They were elsewhere, safely invested in the funds.
"Sous that lie sleeping are honest sous," she said gravely. "But monsieur is right; I will tell the butcher to send a bill apart, as all the brains are for monsieur's cookery and not for mine."
This explanation brought a smile to the face of Clotilde, who was always amused by the jests about Martine's avarice; and the breakfast ended more cheerfully. The doctor desired to take the coffee under the plane trees, saying that he felt the need of air after being shut up all the morning. The coffee was served then on the stone table beside the fountain; and how pleasant it was there in the shade, listening to the cool murmur of the water, while around, the pine wood, the court, the whole place, were glowing in the early afternoon sun.
The doctor had complacently brought with him the vial of nerve substance, which he looked at as it stood on the table.
"So, then, mademoiselle," he resumed, with an air of brusque pleasantry, "you do not believe in my elixir of resurrection, and you believe in miracles!"
"Master," responded Clotilde, "I believe that we do not know everything."
He made a gesture of impatience.
"But we must know everything. Understand then, obstinate little girl, that not a single deviation from the invariable laws which govern the universe has ever been scientifically proved. Up to this day there has been no proof of the existence of any intelligence other than the human. I defy you to find any real will, any reasoning force, outside of life. And everything is there; there is in the world no other will than this force which impels everything to life, to a life ever broader and higher."
He rose with a wave of the hand, animated by so firm a faith that she regarded him in surprise, noticing how youthful he looked in spite of his white hair.
"Do you wish me to repeat my 'Credo' for you, since you accuse me of not wanting yours? I believe that the future of humanity is in the progress of reason through science. I believe that the pursuit of truth, through science, is the divine ideal which man should propose to himself. I believe that all is illusion and vanity outside the treasure of truths slowly accumulated, and which will never again be lost. I believe that the sum of these truths, always increasing, will at last confer on man incalculable power and peace, if not happiness. Yes, I believe in the final triumph of life."
And with a broader sweep of the hand that took in the vast horizon, as if calling on these burning plains in which fermented the saps of all existences to bear him witness, he added:
"But the continual miracle, my child, is life. Only open your eyes, and look."
She shook her head.
"It is in vain that I open my eyes; I cannot see everything. It is you, master, who are blind, since you do not wish to admit that there is beyond an unknown realm which you will never enter. Oh, I know you are too intelligent to be ignorant of that! Only you do not wish to take it into account; you put the unknown aside, because it would embarrass you in your researches. It is in vain that you tell me to put aside the mysterious; to start from the known for the conquest of the unknown. I cannot; the mysterious at once calls me back and disturbs me."
He listened to her, smiling, glad to see her become animated, while he smoothed her fair curls with his hand.
"Yes, yes, I know you are like the rest; you do not wish to live without illusions and without lies. Well, there, there; we understand each other still, even so. Keep well; that is the half of wisdom and of happiness."
Then, changing the conversation:
"Come, you will accompany me, notwithstanding, and help me in my round of miracles. This is Thursday, my visiting day. When the heat shall have abated a little, we will go out together."
She refused at first, in order not to seem to yield; but she at last consented, seeing the pain she gave him. She was accustomed to accompany him on his round of visits. They remained for some time longer under the plane trees, until the doctor went upstairs to dress. When he came down again, correctly attired in a close-fitting coat and wearing a broad-brimmed silk hat, he spoke of harnessing Bonhomme, the horse that for a quarter of a century had taken him on his visits through the streets and the environs of Plassans. But the poor old beast was growing blind, and through gratitude for his past services and affection for himself they now rarely disturbed him. On this afternoon he was very drowsy, his gaze wandered, his legs were stiff with rheumatism. So that the doctor and the young girl, when they went to the stable to see him, gave him a hearty kiss on either side of his nose, telling him to rest on a bundle of fresh hay which the servant had brought. And they decided to walk.
Clotilde, keeping on her spotted white muslin, merely tied on over her curls a large straw hat adorned with a bunch of lilacs; and she looked charming, with her large eyes and her complexion of milk-and-roses under the shadow of its broad brim. When she went out thus on Pascal's arm, she tall, slender, and youthful, he radiant, his face illuminated, so to say, by the whiteness of his beard, with a vigor that made him still lift her across the rivulets, people smiled as they passed, and turned around to look at them again, they seemed so innocent and so happy. On this day, as they left the road to Les Fenouilleres to enter Plassans, a group of gossips stopped short in their talk. It reminded one of one of those ancient kings one sees in pictures; one of those powerful and gentle kings who never grew old, resting his hand on the shoulder of a girl beautiful as the day, whose docile and dazzling youth lends him its support.
They were turning into the Cours Sauvair to gain the Rue de la Banne, when a tall, dark young man of about thirty stopped them.
"Ah, master, you have forgotten me. I am still waiting for your notes on consumption."
It was Dr. Ramond, a young physician, who had settled two years before at Plassans, where he was building up a fine practise. With a superb head, in the brilliant prime of a gracious manhood, he was adored by the women, but he had fortunately a great deal of good sense and a great deal of prudence.
"Why, Ramond, good day! Not at all, my dear friend; I have not forgotten you. It is this little girl, to whom I gave the notes yesterday to copy, and who has not touched them yet."
The two young people shook hands with an air of cordial intimacy.
"Good day, Mlle. Clotilde."
"Good day, M. Ramond."
During a gastric fever, happily mild, which the young girl had had the preceding year, Dr. Pascal had lost his head to the extent of distrusting his own skill, and he had asked his young colleague to assist him--to reassure him. Thus it was that an intimacy, a sort of comradeship, had sprung up among the three.
"You shall have your notes to-morrow, I promise you," she said, smiling.
Ramond walked on with them, however, until they reached the end of the Rue de la Banne, at the entrance of the old quarter whither they were going. And there was in the manner in which he leaned, smiling, toward Clotilde, the revelation of a secret love that had grown slowly, awaiting patiently the hour fixed for the most reasonable of _denouements_. Besides, he listened with deference to Dr. Pascal, whose works he admired greatly.
"And it just happens, my dear friend, that I am going to Guiraude's, that woman, you know, whose husband, a tanner, died of consumption five years ago. She has two children living--Sophie, a girl now going on sixteen, whom I fortunately succeeded in having sent four years before her father's death to a neighboring village, to one of her aunts; and a son, Valentin, who has just completed his twenty-first year, and whom his mother insisted on keeping with her through a blind affection, notwithstanding that I warned her of the dreadful results that might ensue. Well, see if I am right in asserting that consumption is not hereditary, but only that consumptive parents transmit to their children a degenerate soil, in which the disease develops at the slightest contagion. Now, Valentin, who lived in daily contact with his father, is consumptive, while Sophie, who grew up in the open air, has superb health."
He added with a triumphant smile:
"But that will not prevent me, perhaps, from saving Valentin, for he is visibly improved, and is growing fat since I have used my injections with him. Ah, Ramond, you will come to them yet; you will come to my injections!"
The young physician shook hands with both of them, saying:
"I don't say no. You know that I am always with you."
When they were alone they quickened their steps and were soon in the Rue Canquoin, one of the narrowest and darkest streets of the old quarter. Hot as was the sun, there reigned here the semi-obscurity and the coolness of a cave. Here it was, on a ground floor, that Guiraude lived with her son Valentin. She opened the door herself. She was a thin, wasted-looking woman, who was herself affected with a slow decomposition of the blood. From morning till night she crushed almonds with the end of an ox-bone on a large paving stone, which she held between her knees. This work was their only means of living, the son having been obliged to give up all labor. She smiled, however, to-day on seeing the doctor, for Valentin had just eaten a cutlet with a good appetite, a thing which he had not done for months. Valentin, a sickly-looking young man, with scanty hair and beard and prominent cheek bones, on each of which was a bright red spot, while the rest of his face was of a waxen hue, rose quickly to show how much more sprightly he felt! And Clotilde was touched by the reception given to Pascal as a saviour, the awaited Messiah. These poor people pressed his hands--they would like to have kissed his feet; looking at him with eyes shining with gratitude. True, the disease was not yet cured: perhaps this was only the effect of the stimulus, perhaps what he felt was only the excitement of fever. But was it not something to gain time? He gave him another injection while Clotilde, standing before the window, turned her back to them; and when they were leaving she saw him lay twenty francs upon the table. This often happened to him, to pay his patients instead of being paid by them.
He made three other visits in the old quarter, and then went to see a lady in the new town. When they found themselves in the street again, he said:
"Do you know that, if you were a courageous girl, we should walk to Seguiranne, to see Sophie at her aunt's. That would give me pleasure."
The distance was scarcely three kilometers; that would be only a pleasant walk in this delightful weather. And she agreed gaily, not sulky now, but pressing close to him, happy to hang on his arm. It was five o'clock. The setting sun spread over the fields a great sheet of gold. But as soon as they left Plassans they were obliged to cross the corner of the vast, arid plain, which extended to the right of the Viorne. The new canal, whose irrigating waters were soon to transform the face of the country parched with thirst, did not yet water this quarter, and red fields and yellow fields stretched away into the distance under the melancholy and blighting glare of the sun, planted only with puny almond trees and dwarf olives, constantly cut down and pruned, whose branches twisted and writhed in attitudes of suffering and revolt. In the distance, on the bare hillsides, were to be seen only like pale patches the country houses, flanked by the regulation cypress. The vast, barren expanse, however, with broad belts of desolate fields of hard and distinct coloring, had classic lines of a severe grandeur. And on the road the dust lay twenty centimeters thick, a dust like snow, that the slightest breath of wind raised in broad, flying clouds, and that covered with white powder the fig trees and the brambles on either side.
Clotilde, who amused herself like a child, listening to this dust crackling under her little feet, wished to hold her parasol over Pascal.
"You have the sun in your eyes. Lean a little this way."
But at last he took possession of the parasol, to hold it himself.
"It is you who do not hold it right; and then it tires you. Besides, we are almost there now."
In the parched plain they could already perceive an island of verdure, an enormous clump of trees. This was La Seguiranne, the farm on which Sophie had grown up in the house of her Aunt Dieudonne, the wife of the cross old man. Wherever there was a spring, wherever there was a rivulet, this ardent soil broke out in rich vegetation; and then there were walks bordered by trees, whose luxuriant foliage afforded a delightful coolness and shade. Plane trees, chestnut trees, and young elms grew vigorously. They entered an avenue of magnificent green oaks.
As they approached the farm, a girl who was making hay in the meadow dropped her fork and ran toward them. It was Sophie, who had recognized the doctor and the young lady, as she called Clotilde. She adored them, but she stood looking at them in confusion, unable to express the glad greeting with which her heart overflowed. She resembled her brother Valentin; she had his small stature, his prominent cheek bones, his pale hair; but in the country, far from the contagion of the paternal environment, she had, it seemed, gained flesh; acquired with her robust limbs a firm step; her cheeks had filled out, her hair had grown luxuriant. And she had fine eyes, which shone with health and gratitude. Her Aunt Dieudonne, who was making hay with her, had come toward them also, crying from afar jestingly, with something of Provencal rudeness:
"Ah, M. Pascal, we have no need of you here! There is no one sick!"
The doctor, who had simply come in search of this fine spectacle of health, answered in the same tone:
"I hope so, indeed. But that does not prevent this little girl here from owing you and me a fine taper!"
"Well, that is the pure truth! And she knows it, M. Pascal. There is not a day that she does not say that but for you she would be at this time like her brother Valentin."
"Bah! We will save him, too. He is getting better, Valentin is. I have just been to see him."
Sophie seized the doctor's hands; large tears stood in her eyes, and she could only stammer:
"Oh, M. Pascal!"
How they loved him! And Clotilde felt her affection for him increase, seeing the affection of all these people for him. They remained chatting there for a few moments longer, in the salubrious shade of the green oaks. Then they took the road back to Plassans, having still another visit to make.
This was to a tavern, that stood at the crossing of two roads and was white with the flying dust. A steam mill had recently been established opposite, utilizing the old buildings of Le Paradou, an estate dating from the last century, and Lafouasse, the tavern keeper, still carried on his little business, thanks to the workmen at the mill and to the peasants who brought their corn to it. He had still for customers on Sundays the few inhabitants of Les Artauds, a neighboring hamlet. But misfortune had struck him; for the last three years he had been dragging himself about groaning with rheumatism, in which the doctor had finally recognized the beginning of ataxia. But he had obstinately refused to take a servant, persisting in waiting on his customers himself, holding on by the furniture. So that once more firm on his feet, after a dozen punctures, he already proclaimed his cure everywhere.
He chanced to be just then at his door, and looked strong and vigorous, with his tall figure, fiery face, and fiery red hair.
"I was waiting for you, M. Pascal. Do you know that I have been able to bottle two casks of wine without being tired!"
Clotilde remained outside, sitting on a stone bench; while Pascal entered the room to give Lafouasse the injection. She could hear them speaking, and the latter, who in spite of his stoutness was very cowardly in regard to pain, complained that the puncture hurt, adding, however, that after all a little suffering was a small price to pay for good health. Then he declared he would be offended if the doctor did not take a glass of something. The young lady would not affront him by refusing to take some syrup. He carried a table outside, and there was nothing for it but they must touch glasses with him.
"To your health, M. Pascal, and to the health of all the poor devils to whom you give back a relish for their victuals!"
Clotilde thought with a smile of the gossip of which Martine had spoken to her, of Father Boutin, whom they accused the doctor of having killed. He did not kill all his patients, then; his remedy worked real miracles, since he brought back to life the consumptive and the ataxic. And her faith in her master returned with the warm affection for him which welled up in her heart. When they left Lafouasse, she was once more completely his; he could do what he willed with her.
But a few moments before, sitting on the stone bench looking at the steam mill, a confused story had recurred to her mind; was it not here in these smoke-blackened buildings, to-day white with flour, that a drama of love had once been enacted? And the story came back to her; details given by Martine; allusions made by the doctor himself; the whole tragic love adventure of her cousin the Abbe Serge Mouret, then rector of Les Artauds, with an adorable young girl of a wild and passionate nature who lived at Le Paradou.
Returning by the same road Clotilde stopped, and pointing to the vast, melancholy expanse of stubble fields, cultivated plains, and fallow land, said:
"Master, was there not once there a large garden? Did you not tell me some story about it?"
"Yes, yes; Le Paradou, an immense garden--woods, meadows, orchards, parterres, fountains, and brooks that flowed into the Viorne. A garden abandoned for an age; the garden of the Sleeping Beauty, returned to Nature's rule. And as you see they have cut down the woods, and cleared and leveled the ground, to divide it into lots, and sell it by auction. The springs themselves have dried up. There is nothing there now but that fever-breeding marsh. Ah, when I pass by here, it makes my heart ache!"
She ventured to question him further:
"But was it not in Le Paradou that my cousin Serge and your great friend Albine fell in love with each other?"
He had forgotten her presence. He went on talking, his gaze fixed on space, lost in recollections of the past.
"Albine, my God! I can see her now, in the sunny garden, like a great, fragrant bouquet, her head thrown back, her bosom swelling with joy, happy in her flowers, with wild flowers braided among her blond tresses, fastened at her throat, on her corsage, around her slender, bare brown arms. And I can see her again, after she had asphyxiated herself; dead in the midst of her flowers; very white, sleeping with folded hands, and a smile on her lips, on her couch of hyacinths and tuberoses. Dead for love; and how passionately Albine and Serge loved each other, in the great garden their tempter, in the bosom of Nature their accomplice! And what a flood of life swept away all false bonds, and what a triumph of life!"
Clotilde, she too troubled by this passionate flow of murmured words, gazed at him intently. She had never ventured to speak to him of another story that she had heard--the story of the one love of his life--a love which he had cherished in secret for a lady now dead. It was said that he had attended her for a long time without ever so much as venturing to kiss the tips of her fingers. Up to the present, up to near sixty, study and his natural timidity had made him shun women. But, notwithstanding, one felt that he was reserved for some great passion, with his feelings still fresh and ardent, in spite of his white hair.
"And the girl that died, the girl they mourned," she resumed, her voice trembling, her cheeks scarlet, without knowing why. "Serge did not love her, then, since he let her die?"
Pascal started as though awakening from a dream, seeing her beside him in her youthful beauty, with her large, clear eyes shining under the shadow of her broad-brimmed hat. Something had happened; the same breath of life had passed through them both; they did not take each other's arms again. They walked side by side.
"Ah, my dear, the world would be too beautiful, if men did not spoil it all! Albine is dead, and Serge is now rector of St. Eutrope, where he lives with his sister Desiree, a worthy creature who has the good fortune to be half an idiot. He is a holy man; I have never said the contrary. One may be an assassin and serve God."
And he went on speaking of the hard things of life, of the blackness and execrableness of humanity, without losing his gentle smile. He loved life; and the continuous work of life was a continual joy to him in spite of all the evil, all the misery, that it might contain. It mattered not how dreadful life might appear, it must be great and good, since it was lived with so tenacious a will, for the purpose no doubt of this will itself, and of the great work which it unconsciously accomplished. True, he was a scientist, a clear-sighted man; he did not believe in any idyllic humanity living in a world of perpetual peace; he saw, on the contrary, its woes and its vices; he had laid them bare; he had examined them; he had catalogued them for thirty years past, but his passion for life, his admiration for the forces of life, sufficed to produce in him a perpetual gaiety, whence seemed to flow naturally his love for others, a fraternal compassion, a sympathy, which were felt under the roughness of the anatomist and under the affected impersonality of his studies.
"Bah!" he ended, taking a last glance at the vast, melancholy plains. "Le Paradou is no more. They have sacked it, defiled it, destroyed it; but what does that matter! Vines will be planted, corn will spring up, a whole growth of new crops; and people will still fall in love in vintages and harvests yet to come. Life is eternal; it is a perpetual renewal of birth and growth."
He took her arm again and they returned to the town thus, arm in arm like good friends, while the glow of the sunset was slowly fading away in a tranquil sea of violets and roses. And seeing them both pass again, the ancient king, powerful and gentle, leaning against the shoulder of a charming and docile girl, supported by her youth, the women of the faubourg, sitting at their doors, looked after them with a smile of tender emotion.
At La Souleiade Martine was watching for them. She waved her hand to them from afar. What! Were they not going to dine to-day? Then, when they were near, she said:
"Ah! you will have to wait a little while. I did not venture to put on my leg of mutton yet."
They remained outside to enjoy the charm of the closing day. The pine grove, wrapped in shadow, exhaled a balsamic resinous odor, and from the yard, still heated, in which a last red gleam was dying away, a chillness arose. It was like an assuagement, a sigh of relief, a resting of surrounding Nature, of the puny almond trees, the twisted olives, under the paling sky, cloudless and serene; while at the back of the house the clump of plane trees was a mass of black and impenetrable shadows, where the fountain was heard singing its eternal crystal song.
"Look!" said the doctor, "M. Bellombre has already dined, and he is taking the air."
He pointed to a bench, on which a tall, thin old man of seventy was sitting, with a long face, furrowed with wrinkles, and large, staring eyes, and very correctly attired in a close-fitting coat and cravat.
"He is a wise man," murmured Clotilde. "He is happy."
"He!" cried Pascal. "I should hope not!"
He hated no one, and M. Bellombre, the old college professor, now retired, and living in his little house without any other company than that of a gardener who was deaf and dumb and older than himself, was the only person who had the power to exasperate him.
"A fellow who has been afraid of life; think of that! afraid of life! Yes, a hard and avaricious egotist! If he banished woman from his existence, it was only through fear of having to pay for her shoes. And he has known only the children of others, who have made him suffer --hence his hatred of the child--that flesh made to be flogged. The fear of life, the fear of burdens and of duties, of annoyances and of catastrophes! The fear of life, which makes us through dread of its sufferings refuse its joys. Ah! I tell you, this cowardliness enrages me; I cannot forgive it. We must live--live a complete life--live all our life. Better even suffering, suffering only, than such renunciation--the death of all there is in us that is living and human!"
M. Bellombre had risen, and was walking along one of the walks with slow, tranquil steps. Then, Clotilde, who had been watching him in silence, at last said:
"There is, however, the joy of renunciation. To renounce, not to live; to keep one's self for the spiritual, has not this always been the great happiness of the saints?"
"If they had not lived," cried Pascal, "they could not now be saints. Let suffering come, and I will bless it, for it is perhaps the only great happiness!"
But he felt that she rebelled against this; that he was going to lose her again. At the bottom of our anxiety about the beyond is the secret fear and hatred of life. So that he hastily assumed again his pleasant smile, so affectionate and conciliating.
"No, no! Enough for to-day; let us dispute no more; let us love each other dearly. And see! Martine is calling us, let us go in to dinner."