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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFruitfulness - Chapter 4
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Fruitfulness - Chapter 4 Post by :vision Category :Long Stories Author :Emile Zola Date :May 2012 Read :1032

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Fruitfulness - Chapter 4

CHAPTER IV

AT half-past seven o'clock, when Mathieu arrived at the restaurant on the Place de la Madeleine where he was to meet his employer, he found him already there, drinking a glass of madeira with his customer, M. Firon-Badinier. The dinner was a remarkable one; choice viands and the best wines were served in abundance. But Mathieu was struck less by the appetite which the others displayed than by Beauchene's activity and skill. Glass in hand, never losing a bite, he had already persuaded his customer, by the time the roast arrived, to order not only the new thresher but also a mowing machine. M. Firon-Badinier was to take the train for Evreux at nine-twenty, and when nine o'clock struck, the other, now eager to be rid of him, contrived to pack him off in a cab to the St.-Lazare railway station.

For a moment Beauchene remained standing on the pavement with Mathieu, and took off his hat in order that the mild breezes of that delightful May evening might cool his burning head.

"Well, that's settled," he said with a laugh. "But it wasn't so easily managed. It was the Pommard which induced the beggar to make up his mind. All the same, I was dreadfully afraid he would make me miss my appointment."

These remarks, which escaped him amid his semi-intoxication, led him to more confidential talk. He put on his hat again, lighted a fresh cigar, and took Mathieu's arm. Then they walked on slowly through the passion-stirred throng and the nightly blaze of the Boulevards.

"There's plenty of time," said Beauchene. "I'm not expected till half-past nine, and it's close by. Will you have a cigar? No? You never smoke?"

"Never."

"Well, my dear fellow, it would be ridiculous to feign with you, since you happened to see me this morning. Oh, it's a stupid affair! I'm quite of that opinion; but, then, what would you have?"

Thereupon he launched out into long explanations concerning his marital life and the intrigue which had suddenly sprung up between him and that girl Norine, old Moineaud's daughter. He professed the greatest respect for his wife, but he was nevertheless a loose liver; and Constance was now beginning to resign herself to the inevitable. She closed her eyes when it would have been unpleasant for her to keep them open. She knew very well that it was essential that the business should be kept together and pass intact into the hands of their son Maurice. A tribe of children would have meant the ruin of all their plans.

Mathieu listened at first in great astonishment, and then began to ask questions and raise objections, at most of which Beauchene laughed gayly, like the gross egotist he was. He talked at length with extreme volubility, going into all sorts of details, at times assuming a semi-apologetic manner, but more frequently justifying himself with an air of triumph. And, finally, when they reached the corner of the Rue Caumartin he halted to bid Mathieu good-by. He there had a little bachelor's lodging, which was kept in order by the concierge of the house, who, being very well paid, proved an extremely discreet domestic.

As he hurried off, Mathieu, still standing at the corner of the street, could not help thinking of the scenes which he had witnessed at the Beauchene works that day. He thought of old Moineaud, the fitter, whom he again saw standing silent and unmoved in the women's workroom while his daughter Euphrasie was being soundly rated by Beauchene, and while Norine, the other girl, looked on with a sly laugh. When the toiler's children have grown up and gone to join, the lads the army of slaughter, and the girls the army of vice, the father, degraded by the ills of life, pays little heed to it all. To him it is seemingly a matter of indifference to what disaster the wind may carry the fledgelings who fall from the nest.

It was now half-past nine o'clock, and Mathieu had more than an hour before him to reach the Northern railway station. So he did not hurry, but strolled very leisurely up the Boulevards. He had eaten and drunk far more than usual, and Beauchene's insidious confidential talk, still buzzing in his ears, helped on his intoxication. His hands were hot, and now and again a sudden glow passed over his face. And what a warm evening it was, too, on those Boulevards, blazing with electric lights, fevered by a swarming, jostling throng, amid a ceaseless rumble of cabs and omnibuses! It was all like a stream of ardent life flowing away into the night, and Mathieu allowed himself to be carried on by the torrent, whose hot breath, whose glow of passion, he ever felt sweeping over him.

Then, in a reverie, he pictured the day he had just spent. First he was at the Beauchenes' in the morning, and saw the father and mother standing, like accomplices who fully shared one another's views, beside the sofa on which Maurice, their only son, lay dozing with a pale and waxen face. The works must never be exposed to the danger of being subdivided. Maurice alone must inherit all the millions which the business might yield, so that he might become one of the princes of industry. And therefore the husband hurried off to sin while the wife closed her eyes. In this sense, in defiance of morality and health, did the capitalist bourgeoisie, which had replaced the old nobility, virtually re-establish the law of primogeniture. That law had been abolished at the Revolution for the bourgeoisie's benefit; but now, also for its own purposes, it revived it. Each family must have but one son.

Mathieu had reached this stage in his reflections when his thoughts were diverted by several street hawkers who, in selling the last edition of an evening print, announced a "drawing" of the lottery stock of some enterprise launched by the Credit National. And then he suddenly recalled the Moranges in their dining-room, and heard them recapitulate their dream of making a big fortune as soon as the accountant should have secured a post in one of the big banking establishments, where the principals raise men of value to the highest posts. Those Moranges lived in everlasting dread of seeing their daughter marry a needy petty clerk; succumbing to that irresistible fever which, in a democracy ravaged by political equality and economic inequality, impels every one to climb higher up the social ladder. Envy consumed them at the thought of the luxury of others; they plunged into debt in order that they might imitate from afar the elegance of the upper class, and all their natural honesty and good nature was poisoned by the insanity born of ambitious pride. And here again but one child was permissible, lest they should be embarrassed, delayed, forever impeded in the attainment of the future they coveted.

A crowd of people now barred Mathieu's way, and he perceived that he was near the theatre, where a first performance was taking place that evening. It was a theatre where free farcical pieces were produced, and on its walls were posted huge portraits of its "star," a carroty wench with a long flat figure, destitute of all womanliness, and seemingly symbolical of perversity. Passers-by stopped to gaze at the bills, the vilest remarks were heard, and Mathieu remembered that the Seguins and Santerre were inside the house, laughing at the piece, which was of so filthy a nature that the spectators at the dress rehearsal, though they were by no means over-nice in such matters, had expressed their disgust by almost wrecking the auditorium. And while the Seguins were gloating over this horror, yonder, at their house in the Avenue d'Antin, Celeste had just put the children, Gaston and Lucie, to bed, and had then hastily returned to the kitchen, where a friend, Madame Menoux, who kept a little haberdasher's shop in the neighborhood, awaited her. Gaston, having been given some wine to drink, was already asleep; but Lucie, who again felt sick, lay shivering in her bed, not daring to call Celeste, lest the servant, who did not like to be disturbed, should ill-treat her. And, at two o'clock in the morning, after offering Santerre an oyster supper at a night restaurant, the Seguins would come home, their minds unhinged by the imbecile literature and art to which they had taken for fashion's sake, vitiated yet more by the ignoble performance they had witnessed, and the base society they had elbowed at supper. They seemed to typify vice for vice's sake, elegant vice and pessimism as a principle.

Indeed, when Mathieu tried to sum up his day, he found vice on every side, in each of the spheres with which he had come in contact. And now the examples he had witnessed filled him no longer with mere surprise; they disturbed him, they shook his beliefs, they made him doubt whether his notions of life, duty, and happiness might not after all be inaccurate.

He stopped short and drew a long breath, seeking to drive away his growing intoxication. He had passed the Grand Opera and was reaching the crossway of the Rue Drouot. Perhaps his increase of fever was due to those glowing Boulevards. The private rooms of the restaurants were still ablaze, the cafes threw bright radiance across the road, the pavement was blocked by their tables and chairs and customers. All Paris seemed to have come down thither to enjoy that delightful evening. There was endless elbowing, endless mingling of breath as the swelling crowd sauntered along. Couples lingered before the sparkling displays of jewellers' shops. Middle-class families swept under dazzling arches of electric lamps into cafes concerts, whose huge posters promised the grossest amusements. Hundreds and hundreds of women went by with trailing skirts, and whispered and jested and laughed; while men darted in pursuit, now of a fair chignon, now of a dark one. In the open cabs men and women sat side by side, now husbands and wives long since married, now chance couples who had met but an hour ago. But Mathieu went on again, yielding to the force of the current, carried along like all the others, a prey to the same fever which sprang from the surroundings, from the excitement of the day, from the customs of the age. And he no longer took the Beauchenes, the Moranges, the Seguins as isolated types; it was all Paris that symbolized vice, all Paris that yielded to debauchery and sank into degradation. There were the folks of high culture, the folks suffering from literary neurosis; there were the merchant princes; there were the men of liberal professions, the lawyers, the doctors, the engineers; there were the people of the lower middle-class, the petty tradesmen, the petty clerks; there were even the manual workers, poisoned by the example of the upper spheres--all practising the doctrines of egotism as vanity and the passion for money grew more and more intense.. .. No more children! Paris was bent on dying. And Mathieu recalled how Napoleon I., one evening after battle, on beholding a plain strewn with the corpses of his soldiers, had put his trust in Paris to repair the carnage of that day. But times had changed. Paris would no longer supply life, whether it were for slaughter or for toil.

And as Mathieu thought of it all a sudden weakness came upon him. Again he asked himself whether the Beauchenes, the Moranges, the Seguins, and all those thousands and thousands around him were not right, and whether he were not the fool, the dupe, the criminal, with his belief in life ever renascent, ever growing and spreading throughout the world. And before him arose, too, the image of Seraphine, the temptress, opening her perfumed arms to him and carrying him off to the same existence of pleasure and baseness which the others led.

Then he remembered the three hundred francs which he carried in his pocket. Three hundred francs, which must last for a whole month, though out of them he had to pay various little sums that he already owed. The remainder would barely suffice to buy a ribbon for Marianne and jam for the youngsters' bread. And if he set the Moranges on one side, the others, the Beauchenes and the Seguins, were rich. He bitterly recalled their wealth. He pictured the rumbling factory with its black buildings covering a great stretch of ground; he pictured hundreds of workmen ever increasing the fortune of their master, who dwelt in a handsomely appointed pavilion and whose only son was growing up for future sovereignty, under his mother's vigilant eyes. He pictured, too, the Seguins' luxurious mansion in the Avenue d'Antin, the great hall, the magnificent staircase, the vast room above, crowded with marvels; he pictured all the refinement, all the train of wealth, all the tokens of lavish life, the big dowry which would be given to the little girl, the high position which would be purchased for the son. And he, bare and empty-handed, who now possessed nothing, not even a stone at the edge of a field, would doubtless always possess nothing, neither factory buzzing with workmen, nor mansion rearing its proud front aloft. And he was the imprudent one, and the others were the sensible, the wise. What would ever become of himself and his troop of children? Would he not die in some garret? would they not lead lives of abject wretchedness? Ah! it was evident the others were right, the others were sensible. And he felt unhinged, he regarded himself with contempt, like a fool who has allowed himself to be duped.

Then once more the image of Seraphine arose before his eyes, more tempting than ever. A slight quiver came upon him as he beheld the blaze of the Northern railway station and all the feverish traffic around it. Wild fancies surged through his brain. He thought of Beauchene. Why should he not do likewise? He recalled past times, and, yielding to sudden madness, turned his back upon the station and retraced his steps towards the Boulevards. Seraphine, he said to himself, was doubtless waiting for him; she had told him that he would always be welcome. As for his wife, he would tell her he had missed his train.

At last a block in the traffic made him pause, and on raising his eyes he saw that he had reached the Boulevards once more. The crowd still streamed along, but with increased feverishness. Mathieu's temples were beating, and wild words escaped his lips. Why should he not live the same life as the others? He was ready, even eager, to plunge into it. But the block in the traffic continued, he could not cross the road; and while he stood there hesitation and doubt came upon him. He saw in that increasing obstruction a deliberate obstacle to his wild design. And all at once the image of Seraphine faded from before his mind's eye and he beheld another, his wife, his dear wife Marianne, awaiting him, all smiles and trustfulness, in the fresh quietude of the country. Could he deceive her? ... Then all at once he again rushed off towards the railway station, in fear lest he should lose his train. He was determined that he would listen to no further promptings, that he would cast no further glance upon glowing, dissolute Paris, and he reached the station just in time to climb into a car. The train started and he journeyed on, leaning out of his compartment and offering his face to the cool night breeze in order that it might calm and carry off the evil fever that had possessed him.

The night was moonless, but studded with such pure and such glowing stars that the country could be seen spreading far away beneath a soft bluish radiance. Already at twenty minutes past eleven Marianne found herself on the little bridge crossing the Yeuse, midway between Chantebled, the pavilion where she and her husband lived, and the station of Janville. The children were fast asleep; she had left them in the charge of Zoe, the servant, who sat knitting beside a lamp, the light of which could be seen from afar, showing like a bright spark amid the black line of the woods.

Whenever Mathieu returned home by the seven o'clock train, as was his wont, Marianne came to meet him at the bridge. Occasionally she brought her two eldest boys, the twins, with her, though their little legs moved but slowly on the return journey when, in retracing their steps, a thousand yards or more, they had to climb a rather steep hillside. And that evening, late though the hour was, Marianne had yielded to that pleasant habit of hers, enjoying the delight of thus going forward through the lovely night to meet the man she worshipped. She never went further than the bridge which arched over the narrow river. She seated herself on its broad, low parapet, as on some rustic bench, and thence she overlooked the whole plain as far as the houses of Janville, before which passed the railway line. And from afar she could see her husband approaching along the road which wound between the cornfields.

That evening she took her usual seat under the broad velvety sky spangled with gold. And with a movement which bespoke her solicitude she turned towards the bright little light shining on the verge of the sombre woods, a light telling of the quietude of the room in which it burnt, the servant's tranquil vigil, and the happy slumber of the children in the adjoining chamber. Then Marianne let her gaze wander all around her, over the great estate of Chantebled, belonging to the Seguins. The dilapidated pavilion stood at the extreme edge of the woods whose copses, intersected by patches of heath, spread over a lofty plateau to the distant farms of Mareuil and Lillebonne. But that was not all, for to the west of the plateau lay more than two hundred and fifty acres of land, a marshy expanse where pools stagnated amid brushwood, vast uncultivated tracts, where one went duck-shooting in winter. And there was yet a third part of the estate, acres upon acres of equally sterile soil, all sand and gravel, descending in a gentle slope to the embankment of the railway line. It was indeed a stretch of country lost to culture, where the few good patches of loam remained unproductive, inclosed within the waste land. But the spot had all the beauty and exquisite wildness of solitude, and was one that appealed to healthy minds fond of seeing nature in freedom. And on that lovely night one could nowhere have found more perfect and more balmy quiet.

Marianne, who since coming to the district had already threaded the woodland paths, explored the stretches of brushwood around the meres, and descended the pebbly slopes, let her eyes travel slowly over the expanse, divining spots she had visited and was fond of, though the darkness now prevented her from seeing them. In the depths of the woods an owl raised its soft, regular cry, while from a pond on the right ascended a faint croaking of frogs, so far away that it sounded like the vibration of crystal. And from the other side, the side of Paris, there came a growing rumble which, little by little, rose above all the other sounds of the night. She heard it, and at last lent ear to nothing else. It was the train, for whose familiar roar she waited every evening. As soon as it left Monval station on its way to Janville, it gave token of its coming, but so faintly that only a practised ear could distinguish its rumble amid the other sounds rising from the country side. For her part, she heard it immediately, and thereupon followed it in fancy through every phase of its journey. And never had she been better able to do so than on that splendid night, amid the profound quietude of the earth's slumber. It had left Monval, it was turning beside the brickworks, it was skirting St. George's fields. In another two minutes it would be at Janville. Then all at once its white light shone out beyond the poplar trees of Le Mesnil Rouge, and the panting of the engine grew louder, like that of some giant racer drawing near. On that side the plain spread far away into a dark, unknown region, beneath the star-spangled sky, which on the very horizon showed a ruddy reflection like that of some brasier, the reflection of nocturnal Paris, blazing and smoking in the darkness like a volcano.

Marianne sprang to her feet. The train stopped at Janville, and then its rumble rose again, grew fainter, and died away in the direction of Vieux-Bourg. But she no longer paid attention to it. She now had eyes and ears only for the road which wound like a pale ribbon between the dark patches of corn. Her husband did not take ten minutes to cover the thousand yards and more which separated the station from the little bridge. And, as a rule, she perceived and recognized him far off; but on that particular night, such was the deep silence that she could distinguish his footfall on the echoing road long before his dark, slim figure showed against the pale ground. And he found her there, erect under the stars, smiling and healthy, a picture of all that is good. The milky whiteness of her skin was accentuated by her beautiful black hair, caught up in a huge coil, and her big black eyes, which beamed with all the gentleness of spouse and mother. Her straight brow, her nose, her mouth, her chin so boldly, purely rounded, her cheeks which glowed like savory fruit, her delightful little ears--the whole of her face, full of love and tenderness, bespoke beauty in full health, the gayety which comes from the accomplishment of duty, and the serene conviction that by loving life she would live as she ought to live.

"What! so you've come then!" Mathieu exclaimed, as soon as he was near her. "But I begged you not to come out so late. Are you not afraid at being alone on the roads at this time of night?"

She began to laugh. "Afraid," said she, "when the night is so mild and healthful? Besides, wouldn't you rather have me here to kiss you ten minutes sooner?"

Those simple words brought tears to Mathieu's eyes. All the murkiness, all the shame through which he had passed in Paris horrified him. He tenderly took his wife in his arms, and they exchanged the closest, the most human of kisses amid the quiet of the slumbering fields. After the scorching pavement of Paris, after the eager struggling of the day and the degrading spectacles of the night, how reposeful was that far-spreading silence, that faint bluish radiance, that endless unrolling of plains, steeped in refreshing gloom and dreaming of fructification by the morrow's sun! And what suggestions of health, and rectitude, and felicity rose from productive Nature, who fell asleep beneath the dew of night solely that she might reawaken in triumph, ever and ever rejuvenated by life's torrent, which streams even through the dust of her paths.

Mathieu slowly seated Marianne on the low broad parapet once more. He kept her near his heart; it was a halt full of affection, which neither could forego, in presence of the universal peace that came to them from the stars, and the waters, and the woods, and the endless fields.

"What a splendid night!" murmured Mathieu. "How beautiful and how pleasant to live in it!"

Then, after a moment's rapture, during which they both heard their hearts beating, he began to tell her of his day. She questioned him with loving interest, and he answered, happy at having to tell her no lie.

"No, the Beauchenes cannot come here on Sunday. Constance never cared much for us, as you well know. Their boy Maurice is suffering in the legs; Dr. Boutan was there, and the question of children was discussed again. I will tell you all about that. On the other hand, the Moranges have promised to come. You can't have an idea of the delight and vanity they displayed in showing me their new flat. What with their eagerness to make a big fortune I'm much afraid that those worthy folks will do something very foolish. Oh! I was forgetting. I called on the landlord, and though I had a good deal of difficulty over it, he ended by consenting to have the roof entirely relaid. Ah! what a home, too, those Seguins have! I came away feeling quite scared. But I will tell you all about it by and by with the rest."

Marianne evinced no loquacious curiosity; she quietly awaited his confidences, and showed anxiety only respecting themselves and the children.

"You received your salary, didn't you?" she asked.

"Yes, yes, you need not be afraid about that."

"Oh! I'm not afraid, it's only our little debts which worry me."

Then she asked again: "And did your business dinner go off all right? I was afraid that Beauchene might detain you and make you miss your train."

He replied that everything had gone off properly, but as he spoke he flushed and felt a pang at his heart. To rid himself of his emotion he affected sudden gayety.

"Well, and you, my dear," he asked, "how did you manage with your thirty sous?"

"My thirty sous!" she gayly responded, "why, I was much too rich; we fared like princes, all five of us, and I have six sous left."

Then, in her turn, she gave an account of her day, her daily life, pure as crystal. She recapitulated what she had done, what she had said; she related how the children had behaved, and she entered into the minutest details respecting them and the house. With her, moreover, one day was like another; each morning she set herself to live the same life afresh, with never-failing happiness.

"To-day, though, we had a visit," said she; "Madame Lepailleur, the woman from the mill over yonder, came to tell me that she had some fine chickens for sale. As we owe her twelve francs for eggs and milk, I believe that she simply called to see if I meant to pay her. I told her that I would go to her place to-morrow."

While speaking Marianne had pointed through the gloom towards a big black pile, a little way down the Yeuse. It was an old water-mill which was still worked, and the Lepailleurs had now been installed in it for three generations. The last of them, Francois Lepailleur, who considered himself to be no fool, had come back from his military service with little inclination to work, and an idea that the mill would never enrich him, any more than it had enriched his father and grandfather. It then occurred to him to marry a peasant farmer's daughter, Victoire Cornu, whose dowry consisted of some neighboring fields skirting the Yeuse. And the young couple then lived fairly at their ease, on the produce of those fields and such small quantities of corn as the peasants of the district still brought to be ground at the old mill. If the antiquated and badly repaired mechanism of the mill had been replaced by modern appliances, and if the land, instead of being impoverished by adherence to old-fashioned practices, had fallen into the hands of an intelligent man who believed in progress, there would no doubt have been a fortune in it all. But Lepailleur was not only disgusted with work, he treated the soil with contempt. He indeed typified the peasant who has grown weary of his eternal mistress, the mistress whom his forefathers loved too much. Remembering that, in spite of all their efforts to fertilize the soil, it had never made them rich or happy, he had ended by hating it. All his faith in its powers had departed; he accused it of having lost its fertility, of being used up and decrepit, like some old cow which one sends to the slaughter-house. And, according to him, everything went wrong: the soil simply devoured the seed sown in it, the weather was never such as it should be, the seasons no longer came in their proper order. Briefly, it was all a premeditated disaster brought about by some evil power which had a spite against the peasantry, who were foolish to give their sweat and their blood to such a thankless creature.

"Madame Lepailleur brought her boy with her, a little fellow three years old, called Antonin," resumed Marianne, "and we fell to talking of children together. She quite surprised me. Peasant folks, you know, used to have such large families. But she declared that one child was quite enough. Yet she's only twenty-four, and her husband not yet twenty-seven."

These remarks revived the thoughts which had filled Mathieu's mind all day. For a moment he remained silent. Then he said, "She gave you her reasons, no doubt?"

"Give reasons--she, with her head like a horse's, her long freckled face, pale eyes, and tight, miserly mouth--I think she's simply a fool, ever in admiration before her husband because he fought in Africa and reads the newspapers. All that I could get out of her was that children cost one a good deal more than they bring in. But the husband, no doubt, has ideas of his own. You have seen him, haven't you? A tall, slim fellow, as carroty and as scraggy as his wife, with an angular face, green eyes, and prominent cheekbones. He looks as though he had never felt in a good humor in his life. And I understand that he is always complaining of his father-in-law, because the other had three daughters and a son. Of course that cut down his wife's dowry; she inherited only a part of her father's property. And, besides, as the trade of a miller never enriched his father, Lepailleur curses his mill from morning till night, and declares that he won't prevent his boy Antonin from going to eat white bread in Paris, if he can find a good berth there when he grows up."

Thus, even among the country folks, Mathieu found a small family the rule. Among the causes were the fear of having to split up an inheritance, the desire to rise in the social system, the disgust of manual toil, and the thirst for the luxuries of town life. Since the soil was becoming bankrupt, why indeed continue tilling it, when one knew that one would never grow rich by doing so? Mathieu was on the point of explaining these things to his wife, but he hesitated, and then simply said: "Lepailleur does wrong to complain; he has two cows and a horse, and when there is urgent work he can take an assistant. We, this morning, had just thirty sous belonging to us, and we own no mill, no scrap of land. For my part I think his mill superb; I envy him every time I cross this bridge. Just fancy! we two being the millers--why, we should be very rich and very happy!"

This made them both laugh, and for another moment they remained seated there, watching the dark massive mill beside the Yeuse. Between the willows and poplars on both banks the little river flowed on peacefully, scarce murmuring as it coursed among the water plants which made it ripple. Then, amid a clump of oaks, appeared the big shed sheltering the wheel, and the other buildings garlanded with ivy, honeysuckle, and creepers, the whole forming a spot of romantic prettiness. And at night, especially when the mill slept, without a light at any of its windows, there was nothing of more dreamy, more gentle charm.

"Why!" remarked Mathieu, lowering his voice, "there is somebody under the willows, beside the water. I heard a slight noise."

"Yes, I know," replied Marianne with tender gayety. "It must be the young couple who settled themselves in the little house yonder a fortnight ago. You know whom I mean--Madame Angelin, that schoolmate of Constance's."

The Angelins, who had become their neighbors, interested the Froments. The wife was of the same age as Marianne, tall, dark, with fine hair and fine eyes, radiant with continual joy, and fond of pleasure. And the husband was of the same age as Mathieu, a handsome fellow, very much in love, with moustaches waving in the wind, and the joyous spirits of a musketeer. They had married with sudden passion for one another, having between them an income of some ten thousand francs a year, which the husband, a fan painter with a pretty talent, might have doubled had it not been for the spirit of amorous idleness into which his marriage had thrown him. And that spring-time they had sought a refuge in that desert of Janville, that they might love freely, passionately, in the midst of nature. They were always to be met, holding each other by the waist, on the secluded paths in the woods; and at night they loved to stroll across the fields, beside the hedges, along the shady banks of the Yeuse, delighted when they could linger till very late near the murmuring water, in the thick shade of the willows.

But there was quite another side to their idyl, and Marianne mentioned it to her husband. She had chatted with Madame Angelin, and it appeared that the latter wished to enjoy life, at all events for the present, and did not desire to be burdened with children. Then Mathieu's worrying thoughts once more came back to him, and again at this fresh example he wondered who was right--he who stood alone in his belief, or all the others.

"Well," he muttered at last, "we all live according to our fancy. But come, my dear, let us go in; we disturb them."

They slowly climbed the narrow road leading to Chantebled, where the lamp shone out like a beacon. When Mathieu had bolted the front door they groped their way upstairs. The ground floor of their little house comprised a dining-room and a drawing-room on the right hand of the hall, and a kitchen and a store place on the left. Upstairs there were four bedrooms. Their scanty furniture seemed quite lost in those big rooms; but, exempt from vanity as they were, they merely laughed at this. By way of luxury they had simply hung some little curtains of red stuff at the windows, and the ruddy reflection from these hangings seemed to them to impart wonderfully rich cheerfulness to their home.

They found Zoe, their peasant servant, asleep over her knitting beside the lamp in their own bedroom, and they had to wake her and send her as quietly as possible to bed. Then Mathieu took up the lamp and entered the children's room to kiss them and make sure that they were comfortable. It was seldom they awoke on these occasions. Having placed the lamp on the mantelshelf, he still stood there looking at the three little beds when Marianne joined him. In the bed against the wall at one end of the room lay Blaise and Denis, the twins, sturdy little fellows six years of age; while in the second bed against the opposite wall was Ambroise, now nearly four and quite a little cherub. And the third bed, a cradle, was occupied by Mademoiselle Rose, fifteen months of age and weaned for three weeks past. She lay there half naked, showing her white flowerlike skin, and her mother had to cover her up with the bedclothes, which she had thrust aside with her self-willed little fists. Meantime the father busied himself with Ambroise's pillow, which had slipped aside. Both husband and wife came and went very gently, and bent again and again over the children's faces to make sure that they were sleeping peacefully. They kissed them and lingered yet a little longer, fancying that they had heard Blaise and Denis stirring. At last the mother took up the lamp and they went off, one after the other, on tiptoe.

When they were in their room again Marianne exclaimed: "I didn't want to worry you while we were out, but Rose made me feel anxious to-day; I did not find her well, and it was only this evening that I felt more at ease about her." Then, seeing that Mathieu started and turned pale, she went on: "Oh! it was nothing. I should not have gone out if I had felt the least fear for her. But with those little folks one is never free from anxiety."

She then began to make her preparations for the night; but Mathieu, instead of imitating her, sat down at the table where the lamp stood, and drew the money paid to him by Morange from his pocket. When he had counted those three hundred francs, those fifteen louis, he said in a bitter, jesting way, "The money hasn't grown on the road. Here it is; you can pay our debts to-morrow."

This remark gave him a fresh idea. Taking his pencil he began to jot down the various amounts they owed on a blank page of his pocket diary. "We say twelve francs to the Lepailleurs for eggs and milk. How much do you owe the butcher?" he asked.

"The butcher," replied Marianne, who had sat down to take off her shoes; "well, say twenty francs."

"And the grocer and the baker?"

"I don't know exactly, but about thirty francs altogether. There is nobody else."

Then Mathieu added up the items: "That makes sixty-two francs," said he. "Take them away from three hundred, and we shall have two hundred and thirty-eight left. Eight francs a day at the utmost. Well, we have a nice month before us, with our four children to feed, particularly if little Rose should fall ill."

The remark surprised his wife, who laughed gayly and confidently, saying: "Why, what is the matter with you to-night, my dear? You seem to be almost in despair, when as a rule you look forward to the morrow as full of promise. You have often said that it was sufficient to love life if one wished to live happily. As for me, you know, with you and the little ones I feel the happiest, richest woman in the world!"

At this Mathieu could restrain himself no longer. He shook his head and mournfully began to recapitulate the day he had just spent. At great length he relieved his long-pent-up feelings. He spoke of their poverty and the prosperity of others. He spoke of the Beauchenes, the Moranges, the Seguins, the Lepailleurs, of all he had seen of them, of all they had said, of all their scarcely disguised contempt for an improvident starveling like himself. He, Mathieu, and she, Marianne, would never have factory, nor mansion, nor mill, nor an income of twelve thousand francs a year; and their increasing penury, as the others said, had been their own work. They had certainly shown themselves imprudent, improvident. And he went on with his recollections, telling Marianne that he feared nothing for himself, but that he did not wish to condemn her and the little ones to want and poverty. She was surprised at first, and by degrees became colder, more constrained, as he told her all that he had upon his mind. Tears slowly welled into her eyes; and at last, however lovingly he spoke, she could no longer restrain herself, but burst into sobs. She did not question what he said, she spoke no words of revolt, but it was evident that her whole being rebelled, and that her heart was sorely grieved.

He started, greatly troubled when he saw her tears. Something akin to her own feelings came upon him. He was terribly distressed, angry with himself. "Do not weep, my darling!" he exclaimed as he pressed her to him: "it was stupid, brutal, and wrong of me to speak to you in that way. Don't distress yourself, I beg you; we'll think it all over and talk about it some other time."

She ceased to weep, but she continued silent, clinging to him, with her head resting on his shoulder. And Mathieu, by the side of that loving, trustful woman, all health and rectitude and purity, felt more and more confused, more and more ashamed of himself, ashamed of having given heed to the base, sordid, calculating principles which others made the basis of their lives. He thought with loathing of the sudden frenzy which had possessed him during the evening in Paris. Some poison must have been instilled into his veins; he could not recognize himself. But honor and rectitude, clear-sightedness and trustfulness in life were fast returning. Through the window, which had remained open, all the sounds of the lovely spring night poured into the room. It was spring, the season of love, and beneath the palpitating stars in the broad heavens, from fields and forests and waters came the murmur of germinating life. And never had Mathieu more fully realized that, whatever loss may result, whatever difficulty may arise, whatever fate may be in store, all the creative powers of the world, whether of the animal order, whether of the order of the plants, for ever and ever wage life's great incessant battle against death. Man alone, dissolute and diseased among all the other denizens of the world, all the healthful forces of nature, seeks death for death's sake, the annihilation of his species. Then Mathieu again caught his wife in a close embrace, printing on her lips a long, ardent kiss.

"Ah! dear heart, forgive me; I doubted both of us. It would be impossible for either of us to sleep unless you forgive me. Well, let the others hold us in derision and contempt if they choose. Let us love and live as nature tells us, for you are right: therein lies true wisdom and true courage."

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