Part 3 out of 4
treasures from me! I go in time: we live together no longer; you hide
your thoughts and actions from me. How is it that you fear me? Have I
ever given you one word, one look, one gesture of reproach? And yet,
you have sold your last pictures, you have sold even the wine in your
cellar, you are borrowing money on your property, and have said no
word to me. Ah! I go from life weary of life. If you are doing wrong,
if you delude yourself in following the unattainable, have I not shown
you that my love could share your faults, could walk beside you and be
happy, though you led me in the paths of crime? You loved me too well,
--that was my glory; it is now my death. Balthazar, my illness has
lasted long; it began on the day when here, in this place where I am
about to die, you showed me that Science was more to you than Family.
And now the end has come; your wife is dying, and your fortune lost.
Fortune and wife were yours,--you could do what you willed with your
own; but on the day of my death my property goes to my children, and
you cannot touch it; what will then become of you? I am telling you
the truth; I owe it to you. Dying eyes see far; when I am gone will
anything outweigh that cursed passion which is now your life? If you
have sacrificed your wife, your children will count but little in the
scale; for I must be just and own you loved me above all. Two millions
and six years of toil you have cast into the gulf,--and what have you
At these words Claes grasped his whitened head in his hands and hid
"Humiliation for yourself, misery for your children," continued the
dying woman. "You are called in derision 'Claes the alchemist'; soon
it will be 'Claes the madman.' For myself, I believe in you. I know
you great and wise; I know your genius: but to the vulgar eye genius
is mania. Fame is a sun that lights the dead; living, you will be
unhappy with the unhappiness of great minds, and your children will be
ruined. I go before I see your fame, which might have brought me
consolation for my lost happiness. Oh, Balthazar! make my death less
bitter to me, let me be certain that my children will not want for
bread-- Ah, nothing, nothing, not even you, can calm my fears."
"I swear," said Claes, "to--"
"No, do not swear, that you may not fail of your oath," she said,
interrupting him. "You owed us your protection; we have been without
it seven years. Science is your life. A great man should have neither
wife nor children; he should tread alone the path of sacrifice. His
virtues are not the virtues of common men; he belongs to the universe,
he cannot belong to wife or family; he sucks up the moisture of the
earth about him, like a majestic tree--and I, poor plant, I could not
rise to the height of your life, I die at its feet. I have waited for
this last day to tell you these dreadful thoughts: they came to me in
the lightnings of desolation and anguish. Oh, spare my children! let
these words echo in your heart. I cry them to you with my last breath.
The wife is dead, dead; you have stripped her slowly, gradually, of
her feelings, of her joys. Alas! without that cruel care could I have
lived so long? But those poor children did not forsake me! they have
grown beside my anguish, the mother still survives. Spare them! Spare
"Lemulquinier!" cried Claes in a voice of thunder.
The old man appeared.
"Go up and destroy all--instruments, apparatus, everything! Be
careful, but destroy all. I renounce Science," he said to his wife.
"Too late," she answered, looking at Lemulquinier. "Marguerite!" she
cried, feeling herself about to die.
Marguerite came through the doorway and uttered a piercing cry as she
saw her mother's eyes now glazing.
"MARGUERITE!" repeated the dying woman.
The exclamation contained so powerful an appeal to her daughter, she
invested that appeal with such authority, that the cry was like a
dying bequest. The terrified family ran to her side and saw her die;
the vital forces were exhausted in that last conversation with her
Balthazar and Marguerite stood motionless, she at the head, he at the
foot of the bed, unable to believe in the death of the woman whose
virtues and exhaustless tenderness were known fully to them alone.
Father and daughter exchanged looks freighted with meaning: the
daughter judged the father, and already the father trembled, seeing in
his daughter an instrument of vengeance. Though memories of the love
with which his Pepita had filled his life crowded upon his mind, and
gave to her dying words a sacred authority whose voice his soul must
ever hear, yet Balthazar knew himself helpless in the grasp of his
attendant genius; he heard the terrible mutterings of his passion,
denying him the strength to carry his repentance into action: he
When the grave had closed upon Madame Claes, one thought filled the
minds of all,--the house had had a soul, and that soul was now
departed. The grief of the family was so intense that the parlor,
where the noble woman still seemed to linger, was closed; no one had
the courage to enter it.
Society practises none of the virtues it demands from individuals:
every hour it commits crimes, but the crimes are committed in words;
it paves the way for evil actions with a jest; it degrades nobility of
soul by ridicule; it jeers at sons who mourn their fathers,
anathematizes those who do not mourn them enough, and finds diversion
(the hypocrite!) in weighing the dead bodies before they are cold.
The evening of the day on which Madame Claes died, her friends cast a
few flowers upon her memory in the intervals of their games of whist,
doing homage to her noble qualities as they sorted their hearts and
spades. Then, after a few lachrymal phrases,--the fi, fo, fum of
collective grief, uttered in precisely the same tone, and with neither
more nor less of feeling, at all hours and in every town in France,
--they proceeded to estimate the value of her property. Pierquin was
the first to observe that the death of this excellent woman was a mercy,
for her husband had made her unhappy; and it was even more fortunate
for her children: she was unable while living to refuse her money to
the husband she adored; but now that she was dead, Claes was debarred
from touching it. Thereupon all present calculated the fortune of that
poor Madame Claes, wondered how much she had laid by (had she, in
fact, laid by anything?), made an inventory of her jewels, rummaged in
her wardrobe, peeped into her drawers, while the afflicted family were
still weeping and praying around her death-bed.
Pierquin, with an appraising eye, stated that Madame Claes's
possessions in her own right--to use the notarial phrase--might still
be recovered, and ought to amount to nearly a million and a half of
francs; basing this estimate partly on the forest of Waignies,--whose
timber, counting the full-grown trees, the saplings, the primeval
growths, and the recent plantations, had immensely increased in value
during the last twelve years,--and partly on Balthazar's own property,
of which enough remained to "cover" the claims of his children, if the
liquidation of their mother's fortune did not yield sufficient to
release him. Mademoiselle Claes was still, in Pierquin's slang, "a
four-hundred-thousand-franc girl." "But," he added, "if she doesn't
marry,--a step which would of course separate her interests and permit
us to sell the forest and auction, and so realize the property of the
minor children and reinvest it where the father can't lay hands on it,
--Claes is likely to ruin them all."
Thereupon, everybody looked about for some eligible young man worthy
to win the hand of Mademoiselle Claes; but none of them paid the
lawyer the compliment of suggesting that he might be the man.
Pierquin, however, found so many good reasons to reject the suggested
matches as unworthy of Marguerite's position, that the confabulators
glanced at each other and smiled, and took malicious pleasure in
prolonging this truly provincial method of annoyance. Pierquin had
already decided that Madame Claes's death would have a favorable
effect upon his suit, and he began mentally to cut up the body in his
"That good woman," he said to himself as he went home to bed, "was as
proud as a peacock; she would never gave given me her daughter. Hey,
hey! why couldn't I manage matters now so as to marry the girl? Pere
Claes is drunk on carbon, and takes no care of his children. If, after
convincing Marguerite that she must marry to save the property of her
brothers and sister, I were to ask him for his daughter, he will be
glad to get rid of a girl who is likely to thwart him."
He went to sleep anticipating the charms of the marriage contract, and
reflecting on the advantages of the step and the guarantees afforded
for his happiness in the person he proposed to marry. In all the
provinces there was certainly not a better brought-up or more
delicately lovely young girl than Mademoiselle Claes. Her modesty, her
grace, were like those of the pretty flower Emmanuel had feared to
name lest he should betray the secret of his heart. Her sentiments
were lofty, her principles religious, she would undoubtedly make him a
faithful wife: moreover, she not only flattered the vanity which
influences every man more or less in the choice of a wife, but she
gratified his pride by the high consideration which her family, doubly
ennobled, enjoyed in Flanders,--a consideration which her husband of
course would share.
The next day Pierquin extracted from his strong-box several
thousand-franc notes, which he offered with great friendliness to
Balthazar, so as to relieve him of pecuniary annoyance in the midst of
his grief. Touched by this delicate attention, Balthazar would, he
thought, praise his goodness and his personal qualities to Marguerite.
In this he was mistaken. Monsieur Claes and his daughter thought it was
a very natural action, and their sorrow was too absorbing to let them
even think of the lawyer.
Balthazar's despair was indeed so great that persons who were disposed
to blame his conduct could not do otherwise than forgive him,--less on
account of the Science which might have excused him, than for the
remorse which could not undo his deeds. Society is satisfied by
appearances: it takes what it gives, without considering the intrinsic
worth of the article. To the world real suffering is a show, a species
of enjoyment, which inclines it to absolve even a criminal; in its
thirst for emotions it acquits without judging the man who raises a
laugh, or he who makes it weep, making no inquiry into their methods.
Marguerite was just nineteen when her father put her in charge of the
household; and her brothers and sister, whom Madame Claes in her last
moments exhorted to obey their elder sister, accepted her authority
with docility. Her mourning attire heightened the dewy whiteness of
her skin, just as the sadness of her expression threw into relief the
gentleness and patience of her manner. From the first she gave proofs
of feminine courage, of inalterable serenity, like that of angels
appointed to shed peace on suffering hearts by a touch of their waving
palms. But although she trained herself, through a premature
perception of duty, to hide her personal grief, it was none the less
bitter; her calm exterior was not in keeping with the deep trouble of
her thoughts, and she was destined to undergo, too early in life,
those terrible outbursts of feeling which no heart is wholly able to
subdue: her father was to hold her incessantly under the pressure of
natural youthful generosity on the one hand, and the dictates of
imperious duty on the other. The cares which came upon her the very
day of her mother's death threw her into a struggle with the interests
of life at an age when young girls are thinking only of its pleasures.
Dreadful discipline of suffering, which is never lacking to angelic
The love which rests on money or on vanity is the most persevering of
passions. Pierquin resolved to win the heiress without delay. A few
days after Madame Claes's death he took occasion to speak to
Marguerite, and began operations with a cleverness which might have
succeeded if love had not given her the power of clear insight and
saved her from mistaking appearances that were all the more specious
because Pierquin displayed his natural kindheartedness,--the
kindliness of a notary who thinks himself loving while he protects a
client's money. Relying on his rather distant relationship and his
constant habit of managing the business and sharing the secrets of the
Claes family, sure of the esteem and friendship of the father, greatly
assisted by the careless inattention of that servant of science who
took no thought for the marriage of his daughter, and not suspecting
that Marguerite could prefer another,--Pierquin unguardedly enabled
her to form a judgment on a suit in which there was no passion except
that of self-interest, always odious to a young soul, and which he was
not clever enough to conceal. It was he who on this occasion was
naively above-board, it was she who dissimulated,--simply because he
thought he was dealing with a defenceless girl, and wholly
misconceived the privileges of weakness.
"My dear cousin," he said to Marguerite, with whom he was walking
about the paths of the little garden, "you know my heart, you
understand how truly I desire to respect the painful feelings which
absorb you at this moment. I have too sensitive a nature for a lawyer;
I live by my heart only, I am forced to spend my time on the interests
of others when I would fain let myself enjoy the sweet emotions which
make life happy. I suffer deeply in being obliged to talk to you of
subjects so discordant with your state of mind, but it is necessary. I
have thought much about you during the last few days. It is evident
that through a fatal delusion the fortune of your brothers and sister
and your own are in jeopardy. Do you wish to save your family from
"What must I do?" she asked, half-frightened by his words.
"Marry," answered Pierquin.
"I shall not marry," she said.
"Yes, you will marry," replied the notary, "when you have soberly
thought over the critical position in which you are placed."
"How can my marriage save--"
"Ah! I knew you would consider it, my dear cousin," he exclaimed,
interrupting her. "Marriage will emancipate you."
"Why should I be emancipated?" asked Marguerite.
"Because marriage will put you at once into possession of your
property, my dear little cousin," said the lawyer in a tone of
triumph. "If you marry you take your share of your mother's property.
To give it to you, the whole property must be liquidated; to do that,
it becomes necessary to sell the forest of Waignies. That done, the
proceeds will be capitalized, and your father, as guardian, will be
compelled to invest the fortune of his children in such a way that
Chemistry can't get hold of it."
"And if I do not marry, what will happen?" she asked.
"Well," said the notary, "your father will manage your estate as he
pleases. If he returns to making gold, he will probably sell the
timber of the forest of Waignies and leave his children as naked as
the little Saint Johns. The forest is now worth about fourteen hundred
thousand francs; but from one day to another you are not sure your
father won't cut it down, and then your thirteen hundred acres are not
worth three hundred thousand francs. Isn't it better to avoid this
almost certain danger by at once compelling the division of property
on your marriage? If the forest is sold now, while Chemistry has gone
to sleep, your father will put the proceeds into the Grand-Livre. The
Funds are at 59; those dear children will get nearly five thousand
francs a year for every fifty thousand francs: and, inasmuch as the
property of minors cannot be sold out, your brothers and sister will
find their fortunes doubled in value by the time they come of age.
Whereas, in the other case,--faith, no one knows what may happen: your
father has already impaired your mother's property; we shall find out
the deficit when we come to make the inventory. If he is in debt to
her estate, you will take a mortgage on his, and in that way something
may be recovered--"
"For shame!" said Marguerite. "It would be an outrage on my father. It
is not so long since my mother uttered her last words that I have
forgotten them. My father is incapable of robbing his children," she
continued, giving way to tears of distress. "You misunderstand him,
"But, my dear cousin, if your father gets back to chemistry--"
"We are ruined; is that what you mean?"
"Yes, utterly ruined. Believe me, Marguerite," he said, taking her
hand which he placed upon his heart, "I should fail of my duty if I
did not persist in this matter. Your interests alone--"
"Monsieur," said Marguerite, coldly withdrawing her hand, "the true
interests of my family require me not to marry. My mother thought so."
"Cousin," he cried, with the earnestness of a man who sees a fortune
escaping him, "you commit suicide; you fling your mother's property
into a gulf. Well, I will prove the devotion I feel for you: you know
not how I love you. I have admired you from the day of that last ball,
three years ago; you were enchanting. Trust the voice of love when it
speaks to you of your own interests, Marguerite." He paused. "Yes, we
must call a family council and emancipate you--without consulting
you," he added.
"But what is it to be emancipated?"
"It is to enjoy your own rights."
"If I can be emancipated without being married, why do you want me to
marry? and whom should I marry?"
Pierquin tried to look tenderly at his cousin, but the expression
contrasted so strongly with his hard eyes, usually fixed on money,
that Marguerite discovered the self-interest in his improvised
"You would marry the person who--pleases you--the most," he said. "A
husband is indispensable, were it only as a matter of business. You
are now entering upon a struggle with your father; can you resist him
"Yes, monsieur; I shall know how to protect my brothers and sister
when the time comes."
"Pshaw! the obstinate creature," thought Pierquin. "No, you will not
resist him," he said aloud.
"Let us end the subject," she said.
"Adieu, cousin, I shall endeavor to serve you in spite of yourself; I
will prove my love by protecting you against your will from a disaster
which all the town foresees."
"I thank you for the interest you take in me," she answered; "but I
entreat you to propose nothing and to undertake nothing which may give
pain to my father."
Marguerite stood thoughtfully watching Pierquin as he departed; she
compared his metallic voice, his manners, flexible as a steel spring,
his glance, servile rather than tender, with the mute melodious poetry
in which Emmanuel's sentiments were wrapped. No matter what may be
said, or what may be done, there exists a wonderful magnetism whose
effects never deceive. The tones of the voice, the glance, the
passionate gestures of a lover may be imitated; a young girl can be
deluded by a clever comedian; but to succeed, the man must be alone in
the field. If the young girl has another soul beside her whose pulses
vibrate in unison with hers, she is able to distinguish the
expressions of a true love. Emmanuel, like Marguerite, felt the
influence of the chords which, from the time of their first meeting
had gathered ominously about their heads, hiding from their eyes the
blue skies of love. His feeling for the Elect of his heart was an
idolatry which the total absence of hope rendered gentle and
mysterious in its manifestations. Socially too far removed from
Mademoiselle Claes by his want of fortune, with nothing but a noble
name to offer her, he saw no chance of ever being her husband. Yet he
had always hoped for certain encouragements which Marguerite refused
to give before the failing eyes of her dying mother. Both equally
pure, they had never said to one another a word of love. Their joys
were solitary joys tasted by each alone. They trembled apart, though
together they quivered beneath the rays of the same hope. They seemed
to fear themselves, conscious that each only too surely belonged to
the other. Emmanuel trembled lest he should touch the hand of the
sovereign to whom he had made a shrine of his heart; a chance contact
would have roused hopes that were too ardent, he could not then have
mastered the force of his passion. And yet, while neither bestowed the
vast, though trivial, the innocent and yet all-meaning signs of love
that even timid lovers allow themselves, they were so firmly fixed in
each other's hearts that both were ready to make the greatest
sacrifices, which were, indeed, the only pleasures their love could
expect to taste.
Since Madame Claes's death this hidden love was shrouded in mourning.
The tints of the sphere in which it lived, dark and dim from the
first, were now black; the few lights were veiled by tears.
Marguerite's reserve changed to coldness; she remembered the promise
exacted by her mother. With more freedom of action, she nevertheless
became more distant. Emmanuel shared his beloved's grief,
comprehending that the slightest word or wish of love at such a time
transgressed the laws of the heart. Their love was therefore more
concealed than it had ever been. These tender souls sounded the same
note: held apart by grief, as formerly by the timidities of youth and
by respect for the sufferings of the mother, they clung to the
magnificent language of the eyes, the mute eloquence of devoted
actions, the constant unison of thoughts,--divine harmonies of youth,
the first steps of a love still in its infancy. Emmanuel came every
morning to inquire for Claes and Marguerite, but he never entered the
dining-room, where the family now sat, unless to bring a letter from
Gabriel or when Balthazar invited him to come in. His first glance at
the young girl contained a thousand sympathetic thoughts; it told her
that he suffered under these conventional restraints, that he never
left her, he was always with her, he shared her grief. He shed the
tears of his own pain into the soul of his dear one by a look that was
marred by no selfish reservation. His good heart lived so completely
in the present, he clung so firmly to a happiness which he believed to
be fugitive, that Marguerite sometimes reproached herself for not
generously holding out her hand and saying, "Let us at least be
Pierquin continued his suit with an obstinacy which is the
unreflecting patience of fools. He judged Marguerite by the ordinary
rules of the multitude when judging of women. He believed that the
words marriage, freedom, fortune, which he had put into her mind,
would geminate and flower into wishes by which he could profit; he
imagined that her coldness was mere dissimulation. But surround her as
he would with gallant attentions, he could not hide the despotic ways
of a man accustomed to manage the private affairs of many families
with a high hand. He discoursed to her in those platitudes of
consolation common to his profession, which crawl like snails over the
suffering mind, leaving behind them a trail of barren words which
profane its sanctity. His tenderness was mere wheedling. He dropped
his feigned melancholy at the door when he put on his overshoes, or
took his umbrella. He used the tone his long intimacy authorized as an
instrument to work himself still further into the bosom of the family,
and bring Marguerite to a marriage which the whole town was beginning
to foresee. The true, devoted, respectful love formed a striking
contrast to its selfish, calculating semblance. Each man's conduct was
homogenous: one feigned a passion and seized every advantage to gain
the prize; the other hid his love and trembled lest he should betray
Some time after the death of her mother, and, as it happened, on the
same day, Marguerite was enabled to compare the only two men of whom
she had any opportunity of judging; for the social solitude to which
she was condemned kept her from seeing life and gave no access to
those who might think of her in marriage. One day after breakfast, a
fine morning in April, Emmanuel called at the house just as Monsieur
Claes was going out. The aspect of his own house was so unendurable to
Balthazar that he spent part of every day in walking about the
ramparts. Emmanuel made a motion as if to follow him, then he
hesitated, seemed to gather up his courage, looked at Marguerite and
remained. The young girl felt sure that he wished to speak with her,
and asked him to go into the garden; then she sent Felicie to Martha,
who was sewing in the antechamber on the upper floor, and seated
herself on a garden-seat in full view of her sister and the old
"Monsieur Claes is as much absorbed by grief as he once was by
science," began the young man, watching Balthazar as he slowly crossed
the court-yard. "Every one in Douai pities him; he moves like a man
who has lost all consciousness of life; he stops without a purpose, he
gazes without seeing anything."
"Every sorrow has its own expression," said Marguerite, checking her
tears. "What is it you wish to say to me?" she added after a pause,
coldly and with dignity.
"Mademoiselle," answered Emmanuel in a voice of feeling, "I scarcely
know if I have the right to speak to you as I am about to do. Think
only of my desire to be of service to you, and give me the right of a
teacher to be interested in the future of a pupil. Your brother
Gabriel is over fifteen; he is in the second class; it is now
necessary to direct his studies in the line of whatever future career
he may take up. It is for your father to decide what that career shall
be: if he gives the matter no thought, the injury to Gabriel would be
serious. But then, again, would it not mortify your father if you
showed him that he is neglecting his son's interests? Under these
circumstances, could you not yourself consult Gabriel as to his
tastes, and help him to choose a career, so that later, if his father
should think of making him a public officer, an administrator, a
soldier, he might be prepared with some special training? I do not
suppose that either you or Monsieur Claes would wish to bring Gabriel
up in idleness."
"Oh, no!" said Marguerite; "when my mother taught us to make lace, and
took such pains with our drawing and music and embroidery, she often
said we must be prepared for whatever might happen to us. Gabriel
ought to have a thorough education and a personal value. But tell me,
what career is best for a man to choose?"
"Mademoiselle," said Emmanuel, trembling with pleasure, "Gabriel is at
the head of his class in mathematics; if he would like to enter the
Ecole Polytechnique, he could there acquire the practical knowledge
which will fit him for any career. When he leaves the Ecole he can
choose the path in life for which he feels the strongest bias. Thus,
without compromising his future, you will have saved a great deal of
time. Men who leave the Ecole with honors are sought after on all
sides; the school turns out statesmen, diplomats, men of science,
engineers, generals, sailors, magistrates, manufacturers, and bankers.
There is nothing extraordinary in the son of a rich or noble family
preparing himself to enter it. If Gabriel decides on this course I
shall ask you to--will you grant my request? Say yes!"
"What is it?"
"Let me be his tutor," he answered, trembling.
Marguerite looked at Monsieur de Solis; then she took his hand, and
said, "Yes"--and paused, adding presently in a broken voice:--
"How much I value the delicacy which makes you offer me a thing I can
accept from you. In all that you have said I see how much you have
thought for us. I thank you."
Though the words were simply said, Emmanuel turned away his head not
to show the tears that the delight of being useful to her brought to
"I will bring both boys to see you," he said, when he was a little
calmer; "to-morrow is a holiday."
He rose and bowed to Marguerite, who followed him into the house; when
he had crossed the court-yard he turned and saw her still at the door
of the dining-room, from which she made him a friendly sign.
After dinner Pierquin came to see Monsieur Claes, and sat down between
father and daughter on the very bench in the garden where Emmanuel had
sat that morning.
"My dear cousin," he said to Balthazar, "I have come to-night to talk
to you on business. It is now forty-two days since the decease of your
"I keep no account of time," said Balthazar, wiping away the tears
that came at the word "decease."
"Oh, monsieur!" cried Marguerite, looking at the lawyer, "how can
"But, my dear Marguerite, we notaries are obliged to consider the
limits of time appointed by law. This is a matter which concerns you
and your co-heirs. Monsieur Claes has none but minor children, and he
must make an inventory of his property within forty-five days of his
wife's decease, so as to render in his accounts at the end of that
time. It is necessary to know the value of his property before
deciding whether to accept it as sufficient security, or whether we
must fall back on the legal rights of minors."
"Do not go away, my dear cousin," continued Pierquin; "my words
concern you--you and your father both. You know how truly I share your
grief, but to-day you must give your attention to legal details. If
you do not, every one of you will get into serious difficulties. I am
only doing my duty as the family lawyer."
"He is right," said Claes.
"The time expires in two days," resumed Pierquin; "and I must begin
the inventory to-morrow, if only to postpone the payment of the
legacy-tax which the public treasurer will come here and demand.
Treasurers have no hearts; they don't trouble themselves about
feelings; they fasten their claws upon us at all seasons. Therefore
for the next two days my clerk and I will be here from ten till four
with Monsieur Raparlier, the public appraiser. After we get through
the town property we shall go into the country. As for the forest of
Waignies, we shall be obliged to hold a consultation about that. Now
let us turn to another matter. We must call a family council and
appoint a guardian to protect the interests of the minor children.
Monsieur Conyncks of Bruges is your nearest relative; but he has now
become a Belgian. You ought," continued Pierquin, addressing
Balthazar, "to write to him on this matter; you can then find out if
he has any intention of settling in France, where he has a fine
property. Perhaps you could persuade him and his daughter to move into
French Flanders. If he refuses, then I must see about making up the
council with the other near relatives."
"What is the use of an inventory?" asked Marguerite.
"To put on record the value and the claims of the property, its debts
and its assets. When that is all clearly scheduled, the family
council, acting on behalf of the minors, makes such dispositions as it
"Pierquin," said Claes, rising from the bench, "do all that is
necessary to protect the rights of my children; but spare us the
distress of selling the things that belonged to my dear--" he was
unable to continue; but he spoke with so noble an air and in a tone of
such deep feeling that Marguerite took her father's hand and kissed
"To-morrow, then," said Pierquin.
"Come to breakfast," said Claes; then he seemed to gather his
scattered senses together and exclaimed: "But in my marriage contract,
which was drawn under the laws of Hainault, I released my wife from
the obligation of making an inventory, in order that she might not be
annoyed by it: it is very probable that I was equally released--"
"Oh, what happiness!" cried Marguerite. "It would have been so
distressing to us."
"Well, I will look into your marriage contract to-morrow," said the
notary, rather confused.
"Then you did not know of this?" said Marguerite.
This remark closed the interview; the lawyer was far too much confused
to continue it after the young girl's comment.
"The devil is in it!" he said to himself as he crossed the court-yard.
"That man's wandering memory comes back to him in the nick of time,
--just when he needed it to hinder us from taking precautions against
him! I have cracked my brains to save the property of those children.
I meant to proceed regularly and come to an understanding with old
Conyncks, and here's the end of it! I shall lose ground with
Marguerite, for she will certainly ask her father why I wanted an
inventory of the property, which she now sees was not necessary; and
Claes will tell her that notaries have a passion for writing
documents, that we are lawyers above all, above cousins or friends or
relatives, and all such stuff as that."
He slammed the street door violently, railing at clients who ruin
themselves by sensitiveness.
Balthazar was right. No inventory could be made. Nothing, therefore,
was done to settle the relation of the father to the children in the
matter of property.
Several months went by and brought no change to the House of Claes.
Gabriel, under the wise management of his tutor, Monsieur de Solis,
worked studiously, acquired foreign languages, and prepared to pass
the necessary examinations to enter the Ecole Polytechnique.
Marguerite and Felicie lived in absolute retirement, going in summer
to their father's country place as a measure of economy. Monsieur
Claes attended to his business affairs, paid his debts by borrowing a
considerable sum of money on his property, and went to see the forest
About the middle of the year 1817, his grief, slowly abating, left him
a prey to solitude and defenceless under the monotony of the life he
was leading, which heavily oppressed him. At first he struggled
bravely against the allurements of Science as they gradually beset
him; he forbade himself even to think of Chemistry. Then he did think
of it. Still, he would not actively take it up, and only gave his mind
to his researches theoretically. Such constant study, however, swelled
his passion which soon became exacting. He asked himself whether he
was really bound not to continue his researches, and remembered that
his wife had refused his oath. Though he had pledged his word to
himself that he would never pursue the solution of the great Problem,
might he not change that determination at a moment when he foresaw
success? He was now fifty-nine years old. At that age a predominant
idea contracts a certain peevish fixedness which is the first stage of
Circumstances conspired against his tottering loyalty. The peace which
Europe now enjoyed encouraged the circulation of discoveries and
scientific ideas acquired during the war by the learned of various
countries, who for nearly twenty years had been unable to hold
communication. Science was making great strides. Claes found that the
progress of chemistry had been directed, unknown to chemists
themselves, towards the object of his researches. Learned men devoted
to the higher sciences thought, as he did, that light, heat,
electricity, galvanism, magnetism were all different effects of the
same cause, and that the difference existing between substances
hitherto considered simple must be produced by varying proportions of
an unknown principle. The fear that some other chemist might effect
the reduction of metals and discover the constituent principle of
electricity,--two achievements which would lead to the solution of the
chemical Absolute,--increased what the people of Douai called a mania,
and drove his desires to a paroxysm conceivable to those who devote
themselves to the sciences, or who have ever known the tyranny of
Thus it happened that Balthazar was again carried away by a passion
all the more violent because it had lain dormant so long. Marguerite,
who watched every evidence of her father's state of mind, opened the
long-closed parlor. By living in it she recalled the painful memories
which her mother's death had caused, and succeeded for a time in
re-awaking her father's grief, and retarding his plunge into the gulf
to the depths of which he was, nevertheless, doomed to fall. She
determined to go into society and force Balthazar to share in its
distractions. Several good marriages were proposed to her, which
occupied Claes's mind, but to all of them she replied that she should
not marry until after she was twenty-five. But in spite of his
daughter's efforts, in spite of his remorseful struggles, Balthazar,
at the beginning of the winter, returned secretly to his researches.
It was difficult, however, to hide his operations from the inquisitive
women in the kitchen; and one morning Martha, while dressing
Marguerite, said to her:--
"Mademoiselle, we are as good as lost. That monster of a Mulquinier
--who is a devil disguised, for I never saw him make the sign of the
cross--has gone back to the garret. There's monsieur on the high-road
to hell. Pray God he mayn't kill you as he killed my poor mistress."
"It is not possible!" exclaimed Marguerite.
"Come and see the signs of their traffic."
Mademoiselle Claes ran to the window and saw the light smoke rising
from the flue of the laboratory.
"I shall be twenty-one in a few months," she thought, "and I shall
know how to oppose the destruction of our property."
In giving way to his passion Balthazar necessarily felt less respect
for the interests of his children than he formerly had felt for the
happiness of his wife. The barriers were less high, his conscience was
more elastic, his passion had increased in strength. He now set forth
in his career of glory, toil, hope, and poverty, with the fervor of a
man profoundly trustful of his convictions. Certain of the result, he
worked night and day with a fury that alarmed his daughters, who did
not know how little a man is injured by work that gives him pleasure.
Her father had no sooner recommenced his experiments than Marguerite
retrenched the superfluities of the table, showing a parsimony worthy
of a miser, in which Josette and Martha admirably seconded her. Claes
never noticed the change which reduced the household living to the
merest necessaries. First he ceased to breakfast with the family; then
he only left his laboratory when dinner was ready; and at last, before
he went to bed, he would sit some hours in the parlor between his
daughters without saying a word to either of them; when he rose to go
upstairs they wished him good-night, and he allowed them mechanically
to kiss him on both cheeks. Such conduct would have led to great
domestic misfortunes had Marguerite not been prepared to exercise the
authority of a mother, and if, moreover, she were not protected by a
secret love from the dangers of so much liberty.
Pierquin had ceased to come to the house, judging that the family ruin
would soon be complete. Balthazar's rural estates, which yielded
sixteen thousand francs a year, and were worth about six hundred
thousand, were now encumbered by mortgages to the amount of three
hundred thousand francs; for, in order to recommence his researches,
Claes had borrowed a considerable sum of money. The rents were exactly
enough to pay the interest of the mortgages; but, with the
improvidence of a man who is the slave of an idea, he made over the
income of his farm lands to Marguerite for the expenses of the
household, and the notary calculated that three years would suffice to
bring matters to a crisis, when the law would step in and eat up all
that Balthazar had not squandered. Marguerite's coldness brought
Pierquin to a state of almost hostile indifference. To give himself an
appearance in the eyes of the world of having renounced her hand, he
frequently remarked of the Claes family in a tone of compassion:--
"Those poor people are ruined; I have done my best to save them. Well,
it can't be helped; Mademoiselle Claes refused to employ the legal
means which might have rescued them from poverty."
Emmanuel de Solis, who was now principal of the college-school in
Douai, thanks to the influence of his uncle and to his own merits
which made him worthy of the post, came every evening to see the two
young girls, who called the old duenna into the parlor as soon as
their father had gone to bed. Emmanuel's gentle rap at the street-door
was never missing. For the last three months, encouraged by the
gracious, though mute gratitude with which Marguerite now accepted his
attentions, he became at his ease, and was seen for what he was. The
brightness of his pure spirit shone like a flawless diamond;
Marguerite learned to understand its strength and its constancy when
she saw how inexhaustible was the source from which it came. She loved
to watch the unfolding, one by one, of the blossoms of his heart,
whose perfume she had already breathed. Each day Emmanuel realized
some one of Marguerite's hopes, and illumined the enchanted regions of
love with new lights that chased away the clouds and brought to view
the serene heavens, giving color to the fruitful riches hidden away in
the shadow of their lives. More at his ease, the young man could
display the seductive qualities of his heart until now discreetly
hidden, the expansive gaiety of his age, the simplicity which comes of
a life of study, the treasures of a delicate mind that life has not
adulterated, the innocent joyousness which goes so well with loving
youth. His soul and Marguerite's understood each other better; they
went together to the depths of their hearts and found in each the same
thoughts,--pearls of equal lustre, sweet fresh harmonies like those
the legends tell of beneath the waves, which fascinate the divers.
They made themselves known to one another by an interchange of
thought, a reciprocal introspection which bore the signs, in both, of
exquisite sensibility. It was done without false shame, but not
without mutual coquetry. The two hours which Emmanuel spent with the
sisters and old Martha enabled Marguerite to accept the life of
anguish and renunciation on which she had entered. This artless,
progressive love was her support. In all his testimonies of affection
Emmanuel showed the natural grace that is so winning, the sweet yet
subtile mind which breaks the uniformity of sentiment as the facets of
a diamond relieve, by their many-sided fires, the monotony of the
stone,--adorable wisdom, the secret of loving hearts, which makes a
woman pliant to the artistic hand that gives new life to old, old
forms, and refreshes with novel modulations the phrases of love. Love
is not only a sentiment, it is an art. Some simple word, a trifling
vigilance, a nothing, reveals to a woman the great, the divine artist
who shall touch her heart and yet not blight it. The more Emmanuel was
free to utter himself, the more charming were the expressions of his
"I have tried to get here before Pierquin," he said to Marguerite one
evening. "He is bringing some bad news; I would rather you heard it
from me. Your father has sold all the timber in your forest at
Waignies to speculators, who have resold it to dealers. The trees are
already felled, and the logs are carried away. Monsieur Claes received
three hundred thousand francs in cash as a first instalment of the
price, which he has used towards paying his bills in Paris; but to
clear off his debts entirely he has been forced to assign a hundred
thousand francs of the three hundred thousand still due to him on the
Pierquin entered at this moment.
"Ah! my dear cousin," he said, "you are ruined. I told you how it
would be; but you would not listen to me. Your father has an
insatiable appetite. He has swallowed your woods at a mouthful. Your
family guardian, Monsieur Conyncks, is just now absent in Amsterdam,
and Claes has seized the opportunity to strike the blow. It is all
wrong. I have written to Monsieur Conyncks, but he will get here too
late; everything will be squandered. You will be obliged to sue your
father. The suit can't be long, but it will be dishonorable. Monsieur
Conyncks has no alternative but to institute proceedings; the law
requires it. This is the result of your obstinacy. Do you now see my
prudence, and how devoted I was to your interests?"
"I bring you some good news, mademoiselle," said young de Solis in his
gentle voice. "Gabriel has been admitted to the Ecole Polytechnique.
The difficulties that seemed in the way have all been removed."
Marguerite thanked him with a smile as she said:--
"My savings will now come in play! Martha, we must begin to-morrow on
Gabriel's outfit. My poor Felicie, we shall have to work hard," she
added, kissing her sister's forehead.
"To-morrow you shall have him at home, to remain ten days," said
Emmanuel; "he must be in Paris by the fifteenth of November."
"My cousin Gabriel has done a sensible thing," said the lawyer, eyeing
the professor from head to foot; "for he will have to make his own
way. But, my dear cousin, the question now is how to save the honor of
the family: will you listen to what I say this time?"
"No," she said, "not if it relates to marriage."
"Then what will you do?"
"But you are of age."
"I shall be in a few days. Have you any course to suggest to me," she
added, "which will reconcile our interests with the duty we owe to our
father and to the honor of the family?"
"My dear cousin, nothing can be done till your uncle arrives. When he
does, I will call again."
"Adieu, monsieur," said Marguerite.
"The poorer she is the more airs she gives herself," thought the
notary. "Adieu, mademoiselle," he said aloud. "Monsieur, my respects
to you"; and he went away, paying no attention to Felicie or Martha.
"I have been studying the Code for the last two days, and I have
consulted an experienced old lawyer, a friend of my uncle," said
Emmanuel, in a hesitating voice. "If you will allow me, I will go to
Amsterdam to-morrow and see Monsieur Conyncks. Listen, dear
He uttered her name for the first time; she thanked him with a smile
and a tearful glance, and made a gentle inclination of her head. He
paused, looking at Felicie and Martha.
"Speak before my sister," said Marguerite. "She is so docile and
courageous that she does not need this discussion to make her resigned
to our life of toil and privation; but it is best that she should see
for herself how necessary courage is to us."
The two sisters clasped hands and kissed each other, as if to renew
some pledge of union before the coming disaster.
"Leave us, Martha."
"Dear Marguerite," said Emmanuel, letting the happiness he felt in
conquering the lesser rights of affection sound in the inflections of
his voice, "I have procured the names and addresses of the purchasers
who still owe the remaining two hundred thousand francs on the felled
timber. To-morrow, if you give consent, a lawyer acting in the name of
Monsieur Conyncks, who will not disavow the act, will serve an
injunction upon them. Six days hence, by which time your uncle will
have returned, the family council can be called together, and Gabriel
put in possession of his legal rights, for he is now eighteen. You and
your brother being thus authorized to use those rights, you will
demand your share in the proceeds of the timber. Monsieur Claes cannot
refuse you the two hundred thousand francs on which the injunction
will have been put; as to the remaining hundred thousand which is due
to you, you must obtain a mortgage on this house. Monsieur Conyncks
will demand securities for the three hundred thousand belonging to
Felicie and Jean. Under these circumstances your father will be
obliged to mortgage his property on the plain of Orchies, which he has
already encumbered to the amount of three hundred thousand francs. The
law gives a retrospective priority to the claims of minors; and that
will save you. Monsieur Claes's hands will be tied for the future;
your property becomes inalienable, and he can no longer borrow on his
own estates because they will be held as security for other sums.
Moreover, the whole can be done quietly, without scandal or legal
proceedings. Your father will be forced to greater prudence in making
his researches, even if he cannot be persuaded to relinquish them
"Yes," said Marguerite, "but where, meantime, can we find the means of
living? The hundred thousand francs for which, you say, I must obtain
a mortgage on this house, would bring in nothing while we still live
here. The proceeds of my father's property in the country will pay the
interest on the three hundred thousand francs he owes to others; but
how are we to live?"
"In the first place," said Emmanuel, "by investing the fifty thousand
francs which belong to Gabriel in the public Funds you will get,
according to present rates, more than four thousand francs' income,
which will suffice to pay your brother's board and lodging and all his
other expenses in Paris. Gabriel cannot touch the capital until he is
of age, therefore you need not fear that he will waste a penny of it,
and you will have one expense the less. Besides, you will have your
own fifty thousand."
"My father will ask me for them," she said in a frightened tone; "and
I shall not be able to refuse him."
"Well, dear Marguerite, even so, you can evade that by robbing
yourself. Place your money in the Grand-Livre in Gabriel's name: it
will bring you twelve or thirteen thousand francs a year. Minors who
are emancipated cannot sell property without permission of the family
council; you will thus gain three years' peace of mind. By that time
your father will either have solved his problem or renounced it; and
Gabriel, then of age, will reinvest the money in your own name."
Marguerite made him explain to her once more the legal points which
she did not at first understand. It was certainly a novel sight to see
this pair of lovers poring over the Code, which Emmanuel had brought
with him to show his mistress the laws which protected the property of
minors; she quickly caught the meaning of them, thanks to the natural
penetration of women, which in this case love still further sharpened.
Gabriel came home to his father's house on the following day. When
Monsieur de Solis brought him up to Balthazar and told of his
admission to the Ecole Polytechnique, the father thanked the professor
with a wave of his hand, and said:--
"I am very glad; Gabriel may become a man of science."
"Oh, my brother," cried Marguerite, as Balthazar went back to his
laboratory, "work hard, waste no money; spend what is necessary, but
practise economy. On the days when you are allowed to go out, pass
your time with our friends and relations; contract none of the habits
which ruin young men in Paris. Your expenses will amount to nearly
three thousand francs, and that will leave you a thousand francs for
your pocket-money; that is surely enough."
"I will answer for him," said Emmanuel de Solis, laying his hand on
his pupil's shoulder.
A month later, Monsieur Conyncks, in conjunction with Marguerite, had
obtained all necessary securities from Claes. The plan so wisely
proposed by Emmanuel de Solis was fully approved and executed. Face to
face with the law, and in presence of his cousin, whose stern sense of
honor allowed no compromise, Balthazar, ashamed of the sale of the
timber to which he had consented at a moment when he was harassed by
creditors, submitted to all that was demanded of him. Glad to repair
the almost involuntary wrong that he had done to his children, he
signed the deeds in a preoccupied way. He was now as careless and
improvident as a Negro who sells his wife in the morning for a drop of
brandy, and cries for her at night. He gave no thought to even the
immediate future, and never asked himself what resources he would have
when his last ducat was melted up. He pursued his work and continued
his purchases, apparently unaware that he was now no more than the
titular owner of his house and lands, and that he could not, thanks to
the severity of the laws, raise another penny upon a property of which
he was now, as it were, the legal guardian.
The year 1818 ended without bringing any new misfortune. The sisters
paid the costs of Jean's education and met all the expenses of the
household out of the thirteen thousand francs a year from the sum
placed in the Grand-Livre in Gabriel's name, which he punctually
remitted to them. Monsieur de Solis lost his uncle, the abbe, in
December of that year.
Early in January Marguerite learned through Martha that her father had
sold his collection of tulips, also the furniture of the front house,
and all the family silver. She was obliged to buy back the spoons and
forks that were necessary for the daily service of the table, and
these she now ordered to be stamped with her initials. Until that day
Marguerite had kept silence towards her father on the subject of his
depredations, but that evening after dinner she requested Felicie to
leave her alone with him, and when he seated himself as usual by the
corner of the parlor fireplace, she said:--
"My dear father, you are the master here, and can sell everything,
even your children. We are ready to obey you without a murmur; but I
am forced to tell you that we are without money, that we have barely
enough to live on, and that Felicie and I are obliged to work night
and day to pay for the schooling of little Jean with the price of the
lace dress we are now making. My dear father, I implore you to give up
"You are right, my dear child; in six weeks they will be finished; I
shall have found the Absolute, or the Absolute will be proved
undiscoverable. You will have millions--"
"Give us meanwhile the bread to eat," replied Marguerite.
"Bread? is there no bread here?" said Claes, with a frightened air.
"No bread in the house of a Claes! What has become of our property?"
"You have cut down the forest of Waignies. The ground has not been
cleared and is therefore unproductive. As for your farms at Orchies,
the rents scarcely suffice to pay the interest of the sums you have
"Then what are we living on?" he demanded.
Marguerite held up her needle and continued:--
"Gabriel's income helps us, but it is insufficient; I can make both
ends meet at the close of the year if you do not overwhelm me with
bills that I do not expect, for purchases you tell me nothing about.
When I think I have enough to meet my quarterly expenses some
unexpected bill for potash, or zinc, or sulphur, is brought to me."
"My dear child, have patience for six weeks; after that, I will be
judicious. My little Marguerite, you shall see wonders."
"It is time you should think of your affairs. You have sold
everything,--pictures, tulips, plate; nothing is left. At least,
refrain from making debts."
"I don't wish to make any more!" he said.
"Any more?" she cried, "then you have some?"
"Mere trifles," he said, but he dropped his eyes and colored.
For the first time in her life Marguerite felt humiliated by the
lowering of her father's character, and suffered from it so much that
she dared not question him.
A month after this scene one of the Douai bankers brought a bill of
exchange for ten thousand francs signed by Claes. Marguerite asked the
banker to wait a day, and expressed her regret that she had not been
notified to prepare for this payment; whereupon he informed her that
the house of Protez and Chiffreville held nine other bills to the same
amount, falling due in consecutive months.
"All is over!" cried Marguerite, "the time has come."
She sent for her father, and walked up and down the parlor with hasty
steps, talking to herself:--
"A hundred thousand francs!" she cried. "I must find them, or see my
father in prison. What am I to do?"
Balthazar did not come. Weary of waiting for him, Marguerite went up
to the laboratory. As she entered she saw him in the middle of an
immense, brilliantly-lighted room, filled with machinery and dusty
glass vessels: here and there were books, and tables encumbered with
specimens and products ticketed and numbered. On all sides the
disorder of scientific pursuits contrasted strongly with Flemish
habits. This litter of retorts and vaporizers, metals, fantastically
colored crystals, specimens hooked upon the walls or lying on the
furnaces, surrounded the central figure of Balthazar Claes, without a
coat, his arms bare like those of a workman, his breast exposed, and
showing the white hair which covered it. His eyes were gazing with
horrible fixity at a pneumatic trough. The receiver of this instrument
was covered with a lens made of double convex glasses, the space
between the glasses being filled with alchohol, which focussed the
light coming through one of the compartments of the rose-window of the
garret. The shelf of the receiver communicated with the wire of an
immense galvanic battery. Lemulquinier, busy at the moment in moving
the pedestal of the machine, which was placed on a movable axle so as
to keep the lens in a perpendicular direction to the rays of the sun,
turned round, his face black with dust, and called out,--
"Ha! mademoiselle, don't come in."
The aspect of her father, half-kneeling beside the instrument, and
receiving the full strength of the sunlight upon his head, the
protuberances of his skull, its scanty hairs resembling threads of
silver, his face contracted by the agonies of expectation, the
strangeness of the objects that surrounded him, the obscurity of parts
of the vast garret from which fantastic engines seemed about to
spring, all contributed to startle Marguerite, who said to herself, in
"He is mad!"
Then she went up to him and whispered in his ear, "Send away
"No, no, my child; I want him: I am in the midst of an experiment no
one has yet thought of. For the last three days we have been watching
for every ray of sun. I now have the means of submitting metals, in a
complete vacuum, to concentrated solar fires and to electric currents.
At this very moment the most powerful action a chemist can employ is
about to show results which I alone--"
"My father, instead of vaporizing metals you should employ them in
paying your notes of hand--"
"Monsieur Merkstus has been here, father; and he must have ten
thousand francs by four o'clock."
"Yes, yes, presently. True, I did sign a little note which is payable
this month. I felt sure I should have found the Absolute. Good God! If
I could only have a July sun the experiment would be successful."
He grasped his head and sat down on an old cane chair; a few tears
rolled from his eyes.
"Monsieur is quite right," said Lemulquinier; "it is all the fault of
that rascally sun which is too feeble,--the coward, the lazy thing!"
Master and valet paid no further attention to Marguerite.
"Leave us, Mulquinier," she said.
"Ah! I see a new experiment!" cried Claes.
"Father, lay aside your experiments," said his daughter, when they
were alone. "You have one hundred thousand francs to pay, and we have
not a penny. Leave your laboratory; your honor is in question. What
will become of you if you are put in prison? Will you soil your white
hairs and the name of Claes with the disgrace of bankruptcy? I will
not allow it. I shall have strength to oppose your madness; it would
be dreadful to see you without bread in your old age. Open your eyes
to our position; see reason at last!"
"Madness!" cried Balthazar, struggling to his feet. He fixed his
luminous eyes upon his daughter, crossed his arms on his breast, and
repeated the word "Madness!" so majestically that Marguerite trembled.
"Ah!" he cried, "your mother would never have uttered that word to me.
She was not ignorant of the importance of my researches; she learned a
science to understand me; she recognized that I toiled for the human
race; she knew there was nothing sordid or selfish in my aims. The
feelings of a loving wife are higher, I see it now, than filial
affection. Yes, Love is above all other feelings. See reason!" he went
on, striking his breast. "Do I lack reason? Am I not myself? You say
we are poor; well, my daughter, I choose it to be so. I am your
father, obey me. I will make you rich when I please. Your fortune? it
is a pittance! When I find the solvent of carbon I will fill your
parlor with diamonds, and they are but a scintilla of what I seek. You
can well afford to wait while I consume my life in superhuman
"Father, I have no right to ask an account of the four millions you
have already engulfed in this fatal garret. I will not speak to you of
my mother whom you killed. If I had a husband, I should love him,
doubtless, as she loved you; I should be ready to sacrifice all to
him, as she sacrificed all for you. I have obeyed her orders in giving
myself wholly to you; I have proved it in not marrying and compelling
you to render an account of your guardianship. Let us dismiss the past
and think of the present. I am here now to represent the necessity
which you have created for yourself. You must have money to meet your
notes--do you understand me? There is nothing left to seize here but
the portrait of your ancestor, the Claes martyr. I come in the name of
my mother, who felt herself too feeble to defend her children against
their father; she ordered me to resist you. I come in the name of my
brothers and my sister; I come, father, in the name of all the Claes,
and I command you to give up your experiments, or earn the means of
pursuing them hereafter, if pursue them you must. If you arm yourself
with the power of your paternity, which you employ only for our
destruction, I have on my side your ancestors and your honor, whose
voice is louder than that of chemistry. The Family is greater than
Science. I have been too long your daughter."
"And you choose to be my executioner," he said, in a feeble voice.
Marguerite turned and fled away, that she might not abdicate the part
she had just assumed: she fancied she heard again her mother's voice
saying to her, "Do not oppose your father too much; love him well."
"Mademoiselle has made a pretty piece of work up yonder," said
Lemulquinier, coming down to the kitchen for his breakfast. "We were
just going to put our hands on the great secret, we only wanted a
scrap of July sun, for monsieur,--ah, what a man! he's almost in the
shoes of the good God himself!--was almost within THAT," he said to
Josette, clicking his thumbnail against a front tooth, "of getting
hold of the Absolute, when up she came, slam bang, screaming some
nonsense about notes of hand."
"Well, pay them yourself," said Martha, "out of your wages."
"Where's the butter for my bread?" said Lemulquinier to the cook.
"Where's the money to buy it?" she answered, sharply. "Come, old
villain, if you make gold in that devil's kitchen of yours, why don't
you make butter? 'Twouldn't be half so difficult, and you could sell
it in the market for enough to make the pot boil. We all eat dry
bread. The young ladies are satisfied with dry bread and nuts, and do
you expect to be better fed than your masters? Mademoiselle won't
spend more than one hundred francs a month for the whole household.
There's only one dinner for all. If you want dainties you've got your
furnaces upstairs where you fricassee pearls till there's nothing else
talked of in town. Get your roast chickens up there."
Lemulquinier took his dry bread and went out.
"He will go and buy something to eat with his own money," said Martha;
"all the better,--it is just so much saved. Isn't he stingy, the old
"Starve him! that's the only way to manage him," said Josette. "For a
week past he hasn't rubbed a single floor; I have to do his work, for
he is always upstairs. He can very well afford to pay me for it with
the present of a few herrings; if he brings any home, I shall lay
hands on them, I can tell him that."
"Ah!" exclaimed Martha, "I hear Mademoiselle Marguerite crying. Her
wizard of a father would swallow the house at a gulp without asking a
Christian blessing, the old sorcerer! In my country he'd be burned
alive; but people here have no more religion than the Moors in
Marguerite could scarcely stifle her sobs as she came through the
gallery. She reached her room, took out her mother's letter, and read
My Child,--If God so wills, my spirit will be within your heart
when you read these words, the last I shall ever write; they are
full of love for my dear ones, left at the mercy of a demon whom I
have not been able to resist. When you read these words he will
have taken your last crust, just as he took my life and squandered
my love. You know, my darling, if I loved your father: I die
loving him less, for I take precautions against him which I never
could have practised while living. Yes, in the depths of my coffin
I shall have kept a resource for the day when some terrible
misfortune overtakes you. If when that day comes you are reduced
to poverty, or if your honor is in question, my child, send for
Monsieur de Solis, should he be living,--if not, for his nephew,
our good Emmanuel; they hold one hundred and seventy thousand
francs which are yours and will enable you to live.
If nothing shall have subdued his passion; if his children prove
no stronger barrier than my happiness has been, and cannot stop
his criminal career,--leave him, leave your father, that you may
live. I could not forsake him; I was bound to him. You,
Marguerite, you must save the family. I absolve you for all you
may do to defend Gabriel and Jean and Felicie. Take courage; be
the guardian angel of the Claes. Be firm,--I dare not say be
pitiless; but to repair the evil already done you must keep some
means at hand. On the day when you read this letter, regard
yourself as ruined already, for nothing will stay the fury of that
passion which has torn all things from me.
My child, remember this: the truest love is to forget your heart.
Even though you be forced to deceive your father, your
dissimulation will be blessed; your actions, however blamable they
may seem, will be heroic if taken to protect the family. The
virtuous Monsieur de Solis tells me so; and no conscience was ever
purer or more enlightened than his. I could never have had the
courage to speak these words to you, even with my dying breath.
And yet, my daughter, be respectful, be kind in the dreadful
struggle. Resist him, but love him; deny him gently. My hidden
tears, my inward griefs will be known only when I am dead. Kiss my
dear children in my name when the hour comes and you are called
upon to protect them.
May God and the saints be with you!
To this letter was added an acknowledgment from the Messieurs de
Solis, uncle and nephew, who thereby bound themselves to place the
money entrusted to them by Madame Claes in the hands of whoever of her
children should present the paper.
"Martha," cried Marguerite to the duenna, who came quickly; "go to
Monsieur Emmanuel de Solis, and ask him to come to me.--Noble,
discreet heart! he never told me," she thought; "though all my griefs
and cares are his, he never told me!"
Emmanuel came before Martha could get back.
"You have kept a secret from me," she said, showing him her mother's
Emmanuel bent his head.
"Marguerite, are you in great trouble?" he asked.
"Yes," she answered; "be my support,--you, whom my mother calls 'our
good Emmanuel.'" She showed him the letter, unable to repress her joy
in knowing that her mother approved her choice.
"My blood and my life were yours on the morrow of the day when I first
saw you in the gallery," he said; "but I scarcely dared to hope the
time might come when you would accept them. If you know me well, you
know my word is sacred. Forgive the absolute obedience I have paid to
your mother's wishes; it was not for me to judge her intentions."
"You have saved us," she said, interrupting him, and taking his arm to
go down to the parlor.
After hearing from Emmanuel the origin of the money entrusted to him,
Marguerite confided to him the terrible straits in which the family
now found themselves.
"I must pay those notes at once," said Emmanuel. "If Merkstus holds
them all, you can at least save the interest. I will bring you the
remaining seventy thousand francs. My poor uncle left me quite a large
sum in ducats, which are easy to carry secretly."
"Oh!" she said, "bring them at night; we can hide them when my father
is asleep. If he knew that I had money, he might try to force it from
me. Oh, Emmanuel, think what it is to distrust a father!" she said,
weeping and resting her forehead against the young man's heart.
This sad, confiding movement, with which the young girl asked
protection, was the first expression of a love hitherto wrapped in
melancholy and restrained within a sphere of grief: the heart, too
full, was forced to overflow beneath the pressure of this new misery.
"What can we do; what will become of us? He sees nothing, he cares for
nothing,--neither for us nor for himself. I know not how he can live
in that garret, where the air is stifling."
"What can you expect of a man who calls incessantly, like Richard
III., 'My kingdom for a horse'?" said Emmanuel. "He is pitiless; and
in that you must imitate him. Pay his notes; give him, if you will,
your whole fortune; but that of your sister and of your brothers is
neither yours nor his."
"Give him my fortune?" she said, pressing her lover's hand and looking
at him with ardor in her eyes; "you advise it, you!--and Pierquin told
a hundred lies to make me keep it!"
"Alas! I may be selfish in my own way," he said. "Sometimes I long for
you without fortune; you seem nearer to me then! At other times I want
you rich and happy, and I feel how paltry it is to think that the poor
grandeurs of wealth can separate us."
"Dear, let us not speak of ourselves."
"Ourselves!" he repeated, with rapture. Then, after a pause, he added:
"The evil is great, but it is not irreparable."
"It can be repaired only by us: the Claes family has now no head. To
reach the stage of being neither father nor man, to have no
consciousness of justice or injustice (for, in defiance of the laws,
he has dissipated--he, so great, so noble, so upright--the property of
the children he was bound to defend), oh, to what depths must he have
fallen! My God! what is this thing he seeks?"
"Unfortunately, dear Marguerite, wrong as he is in his relation to his
family, he is right scientifically. A score of men in Europe admire
him for the very thing which others count as madness. But nevertheless
you must, without scruple, refuse to let him take the property of his
children. Great discoveries have always been accidental. If your
father ever finds the solution of the problem, it will be when it
costs him nothing; in a moment, perhaps, when he despairs of it."
"My poor mother is happy," said Marguerite; "she would have suffered a
thousand deaths before she died: as it was, her first encounter with
Science killed her. Alas! the strife is endless."
"There is an end," said Emmanuel. "When you have nothing left,
Monsieur Claes can get no further credit; then he will stop."
"Let him stop now, then," cried Marguerite, "for we are without a
Monsieur de Solis went to buy up Claes's notes and returned, bringing
them to Marguerite. Balthazar, contrary to his custom, came down a few
moments before dinner. For the first time in two years his daughter
noticed the signs of a human grief upon his face: he was again a
father, reason and judgment had overcome Science; he looked into the
court-yard, then into the garden, and when he was certain he was alone
with his daughter, he came up to her with a look of melancholy
"My child," he said, taking her hand and pressing it with persuasive
tenderness, "forgive your old father. Yes, Marguerite, I have done
wrong. You spoke truly. So long as I have not FOUND I am a miserable
wretch. I will go away from here. I cannot see Van Claes sold," he
went on, pointing to the martyr's portrait. "He died for Liberty, I
die for Science; he is venerated, I am hated."
"Hated? oh, my father, no," she cried, throwing herself on his breast;
"we all adore you. Do we not, Felicie?" she said, turning to her
sister who came in at the moment.
"What is the matter, dear father?" said his youngest daughter, taking
"I have ruined you."
"Ah!" cried Felicie, "but our brothers will make our fortune. Jean is
always at the head of his class."
"See, father," said Marguerite, leading Balthazar in a coaxing, filial
way to the chimney-piece and taking some papers from beneath the
clock, "here are your notes of hand; but do not sign any more, there
is nothing left to pay them with--"
"Then you have money?" whispered Balthazar in her ear, when he
recovered from his surprise.
His words and manner tortured the heroic girl; she saw the delirium of
joy and hope in her father's face as he looked about him to discover
"Father," she said, "I have my own fortune."
"Give it to me," he said with a rapacious gesture; "I will return you
"Yes, I will give it to you," answered Marguerite, looking gravely at
Balthazar, who did not know the meaning she put into her words.
"Ah, my dear daughter!" he cried, "you save my life. I have thought of
a last experiment, after which nothing more is possible. If, this
time, I do not find the Absolute, I must renounce the search. Come to
my arms, my darling child; I will make you the happiest woman upon
earth. You give me glory; you bring me back to happiness; you bestow
the power to heap treasures upon my children--yes! I will load you
with jewels, with wealth."
He kissed his daughter's forehead, took her hands and pressed them,
and testified his joy by fondling caresses which to Marguerite seemed
almost obsequious. During the dinner he thought only of her; he looked
at her eagerly with the assiduous devotion displayed by a lover to his
mistress: if she made a movement, he tried to divine her wish, and
rose to fulfil it; he made her ashamed by the youthful eagerness of
his attentions, which were painfully out of keeping with his premature
old age. To all these cajoleries, Marguerite herself presented the
contrast of actual distress, shown sometimes by a word of doubt,
sometimes by a glance along the empty shelves of the sideboards in the
"Well, well," he said, following her eyes, "in six months we shall
fill them again with gold, and marvellous things. You shall be like a
queen. Bah! nature herself will belong to us, we shall rise above all
created beings--through you, you my Marguerite! Margarita," he said,
smiling, "thy name is a prophecy. 'Margarita' means a pearl. Sterne
says so somewhere. Did you ever read Sterne? Would you like to have a
Sterne? it would amuse you."
"A pearl, they say, is the result of a disease," she answered; "we
have suffered enough already."
"Do not be sad; you will make the happiness of those you love; you
shall be rich and all-powerful."
"Mademoiselle has got such a good heart," said Lemulquinier, whose
seamed face stretched itself painfully into a smile.
For the rest of the evening Balthazar displayed to his daughters all
the natural graces of his character and the charms of his
conversation. Seductive as the serpent, his lips, his eyes, poured out
a magnetic fluid; he put forth that power of genius, that gentleness
of spirit, which once fascinated Josephine and now drew, as it were,
his daughters into his heart. When Emmanuel de Solis came he found,
for the first time in many months, the father and the children
reunited. The young professor, in spite of his reserve, came under the
influence of the scene; for Claes's manners and conversation had
recovered their former irresistible seduction!
Men of science, plunged though they be in abysses of thought and
ceaselessly employed in studying the moral world, take notice,
nevertheless, of the smallest details of the sphere in which they
live. More out of date with their surroundings than really
absent-minded, they are never in harmony with the life about them; they
know and forget all; they prejudge the future in their own minds,
prophesy to their own souls, know of an event before it happens, and yet
they say nothing of all this. If, in the hush of meditation, they
sometimes use their power to observe and recognize that which goes on
around them, they are satisfied with having divined its meaning; their
occupations hurry them on, and they frequently make false application
of the knowledge they have acquired about the things of life.
Sometimes they wake from their social apathy, or they drop from the
world of thought to the world of life; at such times they come with
well-stored memories, and are by no means strangers to what is
Balthazar, who joined the perspicacity of the heart to that of the
brain, knew his daughter's whole past; he knew, or he had guessed, the
history of the hidden love that united her with Emmanuel: he now
showed this delicately, and sanctioned their affection by taking part
in it. It was the sweetest flattery a father could bestow, and the
lovers were unable to resist it. The evening passed delightfully,
--contrasting with the griefs which threatened the lives of these poor
children. When Balthazar retired, after, as we may say, filling his
family with light and bathing them with tenderness, Emmanuel de Solis,
who had shown some embarrassment of manner, took from his pockets
three thousand ducats in gold, the possession of which he had feared
to betray. He placed them on the work-table, where Marguerite covered
them with some linen she was mending; and then he went to his own
house to fetch the rest of the money. When he returned, Felicie had
gone to bed. Eleven o'clock struck; Martha, who sat up to undress her
mistress, was still with Felicie.
"Where can we hide it?" said Marguerite, unable to resist the pleasure
of playing with the gold ducats,--a childish amusement which proved
"I will lift this marble pedestal, which is hollow," said Emmanuel;
"you can slip in the packages, and the devil himself will not think of
looking for them there."
Just as Marguerite was making her last trip but one from the
work-table to the pedestal, carrying the gold, she suddenly gave a
piercing cry, and let fall the packages, the covers of which broke as
they fell, and the coins were scattered about the room. Her father
stood at the parlor door; the avidity of his eyes terrified her.
"What are you doing," he said, looking first at his daughter, whose
terror nailed her to the floor, and then at the young man, who had
hastily sprung up,--though his attitude beside the pedestal was
sufficiently significant. The rattle of the gold upon the ground was
horrible, the scattering of it prophetic.
"I could not be mistaken," said Balthazar, sitting down; "I heard the
sound of gold."
He was not less agitated than the young people, whose hearts were
beating so in unison that their throbs might be heard, like the
ticking of a clock, amid the profound silence which suddenly settled
on the parlor.
"Thank you, Monsieur de Solis," said Marguerite, giving Emmanuel a
glance which meant, "Come to my rescue and help me to save this
"What gold is this?" resumed Balthazar, casting at Marguerite and
Emmanuel a glance of terrible clear-sightedness.
"This gold belongs to Monsieur de Solis, who is kind enough to lend it
to me that I may pay our debts honorably," she answered.
Emmanuel colored and turned as though to leave the room: Balthazar
caught him by the arm.
"Monsieur," he said, "you must not escape my thanks."
"Monsieur, you owe me none. This money belongs to Mademoiselle
Marguerite, who borrows it from me on the security of her own
property," Emmanuel replied, looking at his mistress, who thanked him
with an almost imperceptible movement of her eyelids.
"I shall not allow that," said Claes, taking a pen and a sheet of
paper from the table where Felicie did her writing, and turning to the
astonished young people. "How much is it?" His eager passion made him
more astute than the wiliest of rascally bailiffs: the sum was to be
his. Marguerite and Monsieur de Solis hesitated.
"Let us count it," he said.
"There are six thousand ducats," said Emmanuel.
"Seventy thousand francs," remarked Claes.
The glance which Marguerite threw at her lover gave him courage.
"Monsieur," he said, "your note bears no value; pardon this purely
technical term. I have to-day lent Mademoiselle Claes one hundred
thousand francs to redeem your notes of hand which you had no means of
paying: you are therefore unable to give me any security. These one
hundred and seventy thousand francs belong to Mademoiselle Claes, who
can dispose of them as she sees fit; but I have lent them on a pledge
that she will sign a deed securing them to me on her share of the now
denuded land of the forest of Waignies."
Marguerite turned away her head that her lover might not see the tears
that gathered in her eyes. She knew Emmanuel's purity of soul. Brought
up by his uncle to the practice of the sternest religious virtues, the
young man had an especial horror of falsehood: after giving his heart
and life to Marguerite Claes he now made her the sacrifice of his
"Adieu, monsieur," said Balthazar, "I thought you had more confidence
in a man who looked upon you with the eyes of a father."
After exchanging a despairing look with Marguerite, Emmanuel was shown
out by Martha, who closed and fastened the street-door.
The moment the father and daughter were alone Claes said,--
"You love me, do you not?"
"Come to the point, father. You want this money: you cannot have it."
She began to pick up the coins; her father silently helped her to
gather them together and count the sum she had dropped; Marguerite
allowed him to do so without manifesting the least distrust. When two
thousand ducats were piled on the table, Balthazar said, with a
"Marguerite, I must have that money."
"If you take it, it will be robbery," she replied coldly. "Hear me,
father: better kill us at one blow than make us suffer a hundred
deaths a day. Let it now be seen which of us must yield."
"Do you mean to kill your father?"
"We avenge our mother," she said, pointing to the spot where Madame
"My daughter, if you knew the truth of the matter, you would not use
those words to me. Listen, and I will endeavor to exlain the great
problem--but no, you cannot comprehend me," he cried in accents of
despair. "Come, give me the money; believe for once in your father.
Yes, I know I caused your mother pain: I have dissipated--to use the
word of fools--my own fortune and injured yours; I know my children
are sacrificed for a thing you call madness; but my angel, my darling,
my love, my Marguerite, hear me! If I do not now succeed, I will give
myself up to you; I will obey you as you are bound to obey me; I will
do your will; you shall take charge of all my property; I will no
longer be the guardian of my children; I pledge myself to lay down my
authority. I swear by your mother's memory!" he cried, shedding tears.
Marguerite turned away her head, unable to bear the sight. Claes,
thinking she meant to yield, flung himself on his knees beside her.
"Marguerite, Marguerite! give it to me--give it!" he cried. "What are
sixty thousand francs against eternal remorse? See, I shall die, this
will kill me. Listen, my word is sacred. If I fail now I will abandon
my labors; I will leave Flanders,--France even, if you demand it; I
will go away and toil like a day-laborer to recover, sou by sou, the
fortunes I have lost, and restore to my children all that Science has
taken from them."
Marguerite tried to raise her father, but he persisted in remaining on
his knees, and continued, still weeping:--
"Be tender and obedient for this last time! If I do not succeed, I
will myself declare your hardness just. You shall call me a fool; you
shall say I am a bad father; you may even tell me that I am ignorant
and incapable. And when I hear you say those words I will kiss your
hands. You may beat me, if you will, and when you strike I will bless
you as the best of daughters, remembering that you have given me your
"If it were my blood, my life's blood, I would give it to you," she
cried; "but can I let Science cut the throats of my brothers and
sister? No. Cease, cease!" she said, wiping her tears and pushing
aside her father's caressing hands.
"Sixty thousand francs and two months," he said, rising in anger;
"that is all I want: but my daughter stands between me and fame and
wealth. I curse you!" he went on; "you are no daughter of mine, you
are not a woman, you have no heart, you will never be a mother or a
wife!-- Give it to me, let me take it, my little one, my precious
child, I will love you forever,"--and he stretched his hand with a
movement of hideous energy towards the gold.
"I am helpless against physical force; but God and the great Claes see
us now," she said, pointing to the picture.
"Try to live, if you can, with your father's blood upon you," cried
Balthazar, looking at her with abhorrence. He rose, glanced round the
room, and slowly left it. When he reached the door he turned as a
beggar might have done and implored his daughter with a gesture, to
which she replied by a negative motion of her head.
"Farewell, my daughter," he said, gently, "may you live happy!"
When he had disappeared, Marguerite remained in a trance which
separated her from earth; she was no longer in the parlor; she lost
consciousness of physical existence; she had wings, and soared amid
the immensities of the moral world, where Thought contracts the limits
both of Time and Space, where a divine hand lifts the veil of the
Future. It seemed to her that days elapsed between each footfall of
her father as he went up the stairs; then a shudder of dread went over
her as she heard him enter his chamber. Guided by a presentiment which
flashed into her soul with the piercing keenness of lightning, she ran
up the stairway, without light, without noise, with the velocity of an
arrow, and saw her father with a pistol at his head.
"Take all!" she cried, springing towards him.
She fell into a chair. Balthazar, seeing her pallor, began to weep as
old men weep; he became like a child, he kissed her brow, he spoke in
disconnected words, he almost danced with joy, and tried to play with
her as a lover with a mistress who has made him happy.
"Enough, father, enough," she said; "remember your promise. If you do
not succeed now, you pledge yourself to obey me?"
"Oh, mother!" she cried, turning towards Madame Claes's chamber, "YOU
would have given him all--would you not?"
"Sleep in peace," said Balthazar, "you are a good daughter."
"Sleep!" she said, "the nights of my youth are gone; you have made me
old, father, just as you slowly withered my mother's heart."
"Poor child, would I could re-assure you by explaining the effects of
the glorious experiment I have now imagined! you would then comprehend
"I comprehend our ruin," she said, leaving him.
The next morning, being a holiday, Emmanuel de Solis brought Jean to
spend the day.
"Well?" he said, approaching Marguerite anxiously.
"I yielded," she replied.
"My dear life," he said, with a gesture of melancholy joy, "if you had
withstood him I should greatly have admired you; but weak and feeble,
I adore you!"
"Poor, poor Emmanuel; what is left for us?"
"Leave the future to me," cried the young man, with a radiant look;
"we love each other, and all is well."
Several months went by in perfect tranquillity. Monsieur de Solis made
Marguerite see that her petty economies would never produce a fortune,
and he advised her to live more at ease, by taking all that remained
of the sum which Madame Claes had entrusted to him for the comfort and
well-being of the household.
During these months Marguerite fell a prey to the anxieties which
beset her mother under like circumstances. However incredulous she
might be, she had come to hope in her father's genius. By an
inexplicable phenomenon, many people have hope when they have no
faith. Hope is the flower of Desire, faith is the fruit of Certainty.
Marguerite said to herself, "If my father succeeds, we shall be
happy." Claes and Lemulquinier alone said: "We shall succeed."
Unhappily, from day to day the Searcher's face grew sadder. Sometimes,
when he came to dinner he dared not look at his daughter; at other
times he glanced at her in triumph. Marguerite employed her evenings
in making young de Solis explain to her many legal points and
difficulties. At last her masculine education was completed; she was
evidently preparing herself to execute the plan she had resolved upon
if her father were again vanquished in his duel with the Unknown (X).
About the beginning of July, Balthazar spend a whole day sitting on a
bench in the garden, plunged in gloomy meditation. He gazed at the
mound now bare of tulips, at the windows of his wife's chamber; he
shuddered, no doubt, as he thought of all that his search had cost
him: his movements betrayed that his thoughts were busy outside of
Science. Marguerite brought her sewing and sat beside him for a while
"You have not succeeded, father?"
"No, my child."
"Ah!" said Marguerite, in a gentle voice. "I will not say one word of
reproach; we are both equally guilty. I only claim the fulfilment of
your promise; it is surely sacred to you--you are a Claes. Your
children will surround you with love and filial respect; but you now
belong to me; you owe me obedience. Do not be uneasy; my reign will be
gentle, and I will endeavor to bring it quickly to an end. Father, I
am going to leave you for a month; I shall be busy with your affairs;
for," she said, kissing him on his brow, "you are now my child. I take
Martha with me; to-morrow Felicie will manage the household. The poor
child is only seventeen, and she will not know how to resist you;
therefore be generous, do not ask her for money; she has only enough
for the barest necessaries of the household. Take courage: renounce
your labors and your thoughts for three or four years. The great
problem may ripen towards discovery; by that time I shall have
gathered the money that is necessary to solve it,--and you will solve
it. Tell me, father, your queen is clement, is she not?"
"Then all is not lost?" said the old man.
"No, not if you keep your word."
"I will obey you, my daughter," answered Claes, with deep emotion.
The next day, Monsieur Conyncks of Cambrai came to fetch his
great-niece. He was in a travelling-carriage, and would only remain
long enough for Marguerite and Martha to make their last arrangements.
Monsieur Claes received his cousin with courtesy, but he was obviously
sad and humiliated. Old Conyncks guessed his thoughts, and said with
blunt frankness while they were breakfasting:--
"I have some of your pictures, cousin; I have a taste for pictures,--a
ruinous passion, but we all have our manias."
"Dear uncle!" exclaimed Marguerite.
"The world declares that you are ruined, cousin; but the treasure of a
Claes is there," said Conyncks, tapping his forehead, "and here,"
striking his heart; "don't you think so? I count upon you: and for
that reason, having a few spare ducats in my wallet, I put them to use
in your service."
"Ah!" cried Balthazar, "I will repay you with treasures--"
"The only treasures we possess in Flanders are patience and labor,"
replied Conyncks, sternly. "Our ancestor has those words engraved upon
his brow," he said, pointing to the portrait of Van Claes.
Marguerite kissed her father and bade him good-bye, gave her last
directions to Josette and to Felicie, and started with Monsieur
Conyncks for Paris. The great-uncle was a widower with one child, a
daughter twelve years old, and he was possessed of an immense fortune.
It was not impossible that he would take a wife; consequently, the
good people of Douai believed that Mademoiselle Claes would marry her
great-uncle. The rumor of this marriage reached Pierquin, and brought
him back in hot haste to the House of Claes.
Great changes had taken place in the ideas of that clever speculator.
For the last two years society in Douai had been divided into hostile
camps. The nobility formed one circle, the bourgeoisie another; the
latter naturally inimical to the former. This sudden separation took
place, as a matter of fact, all over France, and divided the country
into two warring nations, whose jealous squabbles, always augmenting,
were among the chief reasons why the revolution of July, 1830, was
accepted in the provinces. Between these social camps, the one
ultra-monarchical, the other ultra-liberal, were a number of
functionaries of various kinds, admitted, according to their importance,
to one or the other of these circles, and who, at the moment of the fall
of the legitimate power, were neutral. At the beginning of the struggle
between the nobility and the bourgeoisie, the royalist "cafes"
displayed an unheard-of splendor, and eclipsed the liberal "cafes" so
brilliantly that these gastronomic fetes were said to have cost the
lives of some of their frequenters who, like ill-cast cannon, were
unable to withstand such practice. The two societies naturally became
Pierquin, though rich for a provincial lawyer, was excluded from
aristocratic circles and driven back upon the bourgeoisie. His
self-love must have suffered from the successive rebuffs which he
received when he felt himself insensibly set aside by people with
whom he had rubbed shoulders up to the time of this social change.
He had now reached his fortieth year, the last epoch at which a man
who intends to marry can think of a young wife. The matches to which
he was able to aspire were all among the bourgeoisie, but ambition
prompted him to enter the upper circle by means of some creditable
The isolation in which the Claes family were now living had hitherto
kept them aloof from these social changes. Though Claes belonged to
the old aristocracy of the province, his preoccupation of mind
prevented him from sharing the class antipathies thus created. However
poor a daughter of the Claes might be, she would bring to a husband
the dower of social vanity so eagerly desired by all parvenus.
Pierquin therefore returned to his allegiance, with the secret
intention of making the necessary sacrifices to conclude a marriage
which should realize all his ambitions. He kept company with Balthazar
and Felicie during Marguerite's absence; but in so doing he
discovered, rather late in the day, a formidable competitor in
Emmanuel de Solis. The property of the deceased abbe was thought to be
considerable, and to the eyes of a man who calculated all the affairs
of life in figures, the young heir seemed more powerful through his
money than through the seductions of the heart--as to which Pierquin
never made himself uneasy. In his mind the abbe's fortune restored the
de Solis name to all its pristine value. Gold and nobility of birth
were two orbs which reflected lustre on one another and doubled the
The sincere affection which the young professor testified for Felicie,
whom he treated as a sister, excited Pierquin's spirit of emulation.
He tried to eclipse Emmanuel by mingling a fashionable jargon and
sundry expressions of superficial gallantry with anxious elegies and
business airs which sat more naturally on his countenance. When he
declared himself disenchanted with the world he looked at Felicie, as
if to let her know that she alone could reconcile him with life.
Felicie, who received for the first time in her life the compliments
of a man, listened to this language, always sweet however deceptive;
she took emptiness for depth, and needing an object on which to fix
the vague emotions of her heart, she allowed the lawyer to occupy her
mind. Envious perhaps, though quite unconsciously, of the loving
attentions with which Emmanuel surrounded her sister, she doubtless
wished to be, like Marguerite, the object of the thoughts and cares of
Pierquin readily perceived the preference which Felicie accorded him
over Emmanuel, and to him it was a reason why he should persist in his
attentions; so that in the end he went further than he at first
intended. Emmanuel watched the beginning of this passion, false
perhaps in the lawyer, artless in Felicie, whose future was at stake.
Soon, little colloquies followed, a few words said in a low voice
behind Emmanuel's back, trifling deceptions which give to a look or a
word a meaning whose insidious sweetness may be the cause of innocent
mistakes. Relying on his intimacy with Felicie, Pierquin tried to
discover the secret of Marguerite's journey, and to know if it were
really a question of her marriage, and whether he must renounce all
hope; but, notwithstanding his clumsy cleverness in questioning them,
neither Balthazar nor Felicie could give him any light, for the good
reason that they were in the dark themselves: Marguerite in taking the
reins of power seemed to have followed its maxims and kept silence as
to her projects.
The gloomy sadness of Balthazar and his great depression made it
difficult to get through the evenings. Though Emmanuel succeeded in
making him play backgammon, the chemist's mind was never present;
during most of the time this man, so great in intellect, seemed simply
stupid. Shorn of his expectations, ashamed of having squandered three
fortunes, a gambler without money, he bent beneath the weight of ruin,
beneath the burden of hopes that were betrayed rather than
annihilated. This man of genius, gagged by dire necessity and
upbraiding himself, was a tragic spectacle, fit to touch the hearts of
the most unfeeling of men. Even Pierquin could not enter without
respect the presence of that caged lion, whose eyes, full of baffled
power, now calmed by sadness and faded from excess of light, seemed to
proffer a prayer for charity which the mouth dared not utter.
Sometimes a lightning flash crossed that withered face, whose fires
revived at the conception of a new experiment; then, as he looked
about the parlor, Balthazar's eyes would fasten on the spot where his
wife had died, a film of tears rolled like hot grains of sand across
the arid pupils of his eyes, which thought had made immense, and his
head fell forward on his breast. Like a Titan he had lifted the world,
and the world fell on his breast and crushed him.
This gigantic grief, so manfully controlled, affected Pierquin and
Emmanuel powerfully, and each felt moved at times to offer this man
the necessary money to renew his search,--so contagious are the
convictions of genius! Both understood how it was that Madame Claes
and Marguerite had flung their all into this gulf; but reason promptly
checked the impulse of their hearts, and their emotion was spent in
efforts at consolation which still further embittered the anguish of
the doomed Titan.
Claes never spoke of his eldest daughter, and showed no interest in
her departure nor any anxiety as to her silence in not writing either
to him or to Felicie. When de Solis or Pierquin asked for news of her
he seemed annoyed. Did he suspect that Marguerite was working against
him? Was he humiliated at having resigned the majestic rights of
paternity to his own child? Had he come to love her less because she
was now the father, he the child? Perhaps there were many of these
reasons, many of these inexpressible feelings which float like vapors
through the soul, in the mute disgrace which he laid upon Marguerite.
However great may be the great men of earth, be they known or unknown,
fortunate or unfortunate in their endeavors, all have likenesses which
belong to human nature. By a double misfortune they suffer through
their greatness not less than through their defects; and perhaps
Balthazar needed to grow accustomed to the pangs of wounded vanity.
The life he was leading, the evenings when these four persons met
together in Marguerite's absence, were full of sadness and vague,
uneasy apprehensions. The days were barren like a parched-up soil;
where, nevertheless, a few flowers grew, a few rare consolations,
though without Marguerite, the soul, the hope, the strength of the
family, the atmosphere seemed misty.
Two months went by in this way, during which Balthazar awaited the
return of his daughter. Marguerite was brought back to Douai by her
uncle who remained at the house instead of returning to Cambrai, no
doubt to lend the weight of his authority to some coup d'etat planned
by his niece. Marguerite's return was made a family fete. Pierquin and
Monsieur de Solis were invited to dinner by Felicie and Balthazar.
When the travelling-carriage stopped before the house, the four went
to meet it with demonstrations of joy. Marguerite seemed happy to see
her home once more, and her eyes filled with tears as she crossed the
court-yard to reach the parlor. When embracing her father she colored
like a guilty wife who is unable to dissimulate; but her face
recovered its serenity as she looked at Emmanuel, from whom she seemed
to gather strength to complete a work she had secretly undertaken.
Notwithstanding the gaiety which animated all present during the
dinner, father and daughter watched each other with distrust and
curiosity. Balthazar asked his daughter no questions as to her stay in
Paris, doubtless to preserve his parental dignity. Emmanuel de Solis
imitated his reserve; but Pierquin, accustomed to be told all family
secrets, said to Marguerite, concealing his curiosity under a show of
"Well, my dear cousin, you have seen Paris and the theatres--"
"I have seen little of Paris," she said; "I did not go there for
amusement. The days went by sadly, I was so impatient to see Douai
"Yes, if I had not been angry about it she would not have gone to the
Opera; and even there she was uneasy," said Monsieur Conyncks.
It was a painful evening; every one was embarrassed and smiled vaguely
with the artificial gaiety which hides such real anxieties. Marguerite
and Balthazar were a prey to cruel, latent fears which reacted on the
rest. As the hours passed, the bearing of the father and daughter grew
more and more constrained. Sometimes Marguerite tried to smile, but
her motions, her looks, the tones of her voice betrayed a keen
anxiety. Messieurs Conyncks and de Solis seemed to know the meaning of
the secret feelings which agitated the noble girl, and they appeared
to encourage her by expressive glances. Balthazar, hurt at being kept
from a knowledge of the steps that had been taken on his behalf,
withdrew little by little from his children and friends, and pointedly
kept silence. Marguerite would no doubt soon disclose what she had
decided upon for his future.
To a great man, to a father, the situation was intolerable. At his age
a man no longer dissimulates in his own family; he became more and
more thoughtful, serious, and grieved as the hour approached when he
would be forced to meet his civil death. This evening covered one of
those crises in the inner life of man which can only be expressed by
imagery. The thunderclouds were gathering in the sky, people were