From the day following Clotilde’s departure, Pascal shut himself up in the great empty house. He did not leave it again, ceasing entirely the rare professional visits which he had still continued to make, living there with doors and windows closed, in absolute silence and solitude. Martine had received formal orders to admit no one under any pretext whatever.
“But your mother, monsieur, Mme. Felicite?”
“My mother, less than any one else; I have my reasons. Tell her that I am working, that I require to concentrate my thoughts, and that I request her to excuse me.”
Three times in succession old Mme. Rougon had presented herself. She would storm at the hall door. He would hear her voice rising in anger as she tried in vain to force her way in. Then the noise would be stilled, and there would be only a whisper of complaint and plotting between her and the servant. But not once did he yield, not once did he lean over the banisters and call to her to come up.
One day Martine ventured to say to him:
“It is very hard, all the same, monsieur, to refuse admittance to one’s mother. The more so, as Mme. Felicite comes with good intentions, for she knows the straits that monsieur is in, and she insists only in order to offer her services.”
“Money!” he cried, exasperated. “I want no money, do you hear? And from her less than anybody. I will work, I will earn my own living; why should I not?”
The question of money, however, began to grow pressing. He obstinately refused to take another sou from the five thousand francs locked up in the desk. Now that he was alone, he was completely indifferent to material things; he would have been satisfied to live on bread and water; and every time the servant asked him for money to buy wine, meat, or sweets, he shrugged his shoulders — what was the use? there remained a crust from the day before, was not that sufficient? But in her affection for her master, whom she felt to be suffering, the old servant was heart-broken at this miserliness which exceeded her own; this utter destitution to which he abandoned himself and the whole house. The workmen of the faubourgs lived better. Thus it was that for a whole day a terrible conflict went on within her. Her doglike love struggled with her love for her money, amassed sou by sou, hidden away, “making more,” as she said. She would rather have parted with a piece of her flesh. So long as her master had not suffered alone the idea of touching her treasure had not even occurred to her. And she displayed extraordinary heroism the morning when, driven to extremity, seeing her stove cold and the larder empty, she disappeared for an hour and then returned with provisions and the change of a hundred-franc note.
Pascal, who just then chanced to come downstairs, asked her in astonishment where the money had come from, furious already, and prepared to throw it all into the street, imagining she had applied to his mother.
“Why, no; why, no, monsieur!” she stammered, “it is not that at all.”
And she told him the story that she had prepared.
“Imagine, M. Grandguillot’s affairs are going to be settled — or at least I think so. It occurred to me this morning to go to the assignee’s to inquire, and he told me that you would undoubtedly recover something, and that I might have a hundred francs now. Yes, he was even satisfied with a receipt from me. He knows me, and you can make it all right afterward.”
Pascal seemed scarcely surprised. She had calculated correctly that he would not go out to verify her account. She was relieved, however, to see with what easy indifference he accepted her story.
“Ah, so much the better!” he said. “You see now that one must never despair. That will give me time to settle my affairs.”
His “affairs” was the sale of La Souleiade, about which he had been thinking vaguely. But what a grief to leave this house in which Clotilde had grown up, where they had lived together for nearly eighteen years! He had taken two or three weeks already to reflect over the matter. Now that he had the hope of getting back a little of the money he had lost through the notary’s failure, he ceased to think any more about it. He relapsed into his former indifference, eating whatever Martine served him, not even noticing the comforts with which she once more surrounded him, in humble adoration, heart-broken at giving her money, but very happy to support him now, without his suspecting that his sustenance came from her.
But Pascal rewarded her very ill. Afterward he would be sorry, and regret his outbursts. But in the state of feverish desperation in which he lived this did not prevent him from again flying into a passion with her, at the slightest cause of dissatisfaction. One evening, after he had been listening to his mother talking for an interminable time with her in the kitchen, he cried in sudden fury:
“Martine, I do not wish her to enter La Souleiade again, do you hear? If you ever let her into the house again I will turn you out!”
She listened to him in surprise. Never, during the thirty-two years in which she had been in his service, had he threatened to dismiss her in this way. Big tears came to her eyes.
“Oh, monsieur! you would not have the courage to do it! And I would not go. I would lie down across the threshold first.”
He already regretted his anger, and he said more gently:
“The thing is that I know perfectly well what is going on. She comes to indoctrinate you, to put you against me, is it not so? Yes, she is watching my papers; she wishes to steal and destroy everything up there in the press. I know her; when she wants anything, she never gives up until she gets it. Well, you can tell her that I am on my guard; that while I am alive she shall never even come near the press. And the key is here in my pocket.”
In effect, all his former terror — the terror of the scientist who feels himself surrounded by secret enemies, had returned. Ever since he had been living alone in the deserted house he had had a feeling of returning danger, of being constantly watched in secret. The circle had narrowed, and if he showed such anger at these attempts at invasion, if he repulsed his mother’s assaults, it was because he did not deceive himself as to her real plans, and he was afraid that he might yield. If she were there she would gradually take possession of him, until she had subjugated him completely. Therefore his former tortures returned, and he passed the days watching; he shut up the house himself in the evening, and he would often rise during the night, to assure himself that the locks were not being forced. What he feared was that the servant, won over by his mother, and believing she was securing his eternal welfare, would open the door to Mme. Felicite. In fancy he saw the papers blazing in the fireplace; he kept constant guard over them, seized again by a morbid love, a torturing affection for this icy heap of papers, these cold pages of manuscript, to which he had sacrificed the love of woman, and which he tried to love sufficiently to be able to forget everything else for them.
Pascal, now that Clotilde was no longer there, threw himself eagerly into work, trying to submerge himself in it, to lose himself in it. If he secluded himself, if he did not set foot even in the garden, if he had had the strength, one day when Martine came up to announce Dr. Ramond, to answer that he would not receive him, he had, in this bitter desire for solitude, no other aim than to kill thought by incessant labor. That poor Ramond, how gladly he would have embraced him! for he divined clearly the delicacy of feeling that had made him hasten to console his old master. But why lose an hour? Why risk emotions and tears which would leave him so weak? From daylight he was at his table, he spent at it his mornings and his afternoons, extended often into the evening after the lamp was lighted, and far into the night. He wished to put his old project into execution — to revise his whole theory of heredity, employing the documents furnished by his own family to establish the laws according to which, in a certain group of human beings, life is distributed and conducted with mathematical precision from one to another, taking into account the environment — a vast bible, the genesis of families, of societies, of all humanity. He hoped that the vastness of such a plan, the effort necessary to develop so colossal an idea, would take complete possession of him, restoring to him his health, his faith, his pride in the supreme joy of the accomplished work. But it was in vain that he threw himself passionately, persistently, without reserve, into his work; he succeeded only in fatiguing his body and his mind, without even being able to fix his thoughts or to put his heart into his work, every day sicker and more despairing. Had work, then, finally lost its power? He whose life had been spent in work, who had regarded it as the sole motor, the benefactor, and the consoler, must he then conclude that to love and to be loved is beyond all else in the world? Occasionally he would have great thoughts, he continued to sketch out his new theory of the equilibrium of forces, demonstrating that what man receives in sensation he should return in action. How natural, full, and happy would life be if it could be lived entire, performing its functions like a well-ordered machine, giving back in power what was consumed in fuel, maintaining itself in vigor and in beauty by the simultaneous and logical play of all its organs. He believed physical and intellectual labor, feeling and reasoning should be in equal proportions, and never excessive, for excess meant disturbance of the equilibrium and, consequently, disease. Yes, yes, to begin life over again and to know how to live it, to dig the earth, to study man, to love woman, to attain to human perfection, the future city of universal happiness, through the harmonious working of the entire being, what a beautiful legacy for a philosophical physician to leave behind him would this be! And this dream of the future, this theory, confusedly perceived, filled him with bitterness at the thought that now his life was a force wasted and lost.
At the very bottom of his grief Pascal had the dominating feeling that for him life was ended. Regret for Clotilde, sorrow at having her no longer beside him, the certainty that he would never see her again, filled him with overwhelming grief. Work had lost its power, and he would sometimes let his head drop on the page he was writing, and weep for hours together, unable to summon courage to take up the pen again. His passion for work, his days of voluntary fatigue, led to terrible nights, nights of feverish sleeplessness, in which he would stuff the bedclothes into his mouth to keep from crying out Clotilde’s name. She was everywhere in this mournful house in which he secluded himself. He saw her again, walking through the rooms, sitting on the chairs, standing behind the doors. Downstairs, in the dining-room, he could not sit at table, without seeing her opposite him. In the workroom upstairs she was still his constant companion, for she, too, had lived so long secluded in it that her image seemed reflected from everything; he felt her constantly beside him, he could fancy he saw her standing before her desk, straight and slender — her delicate face bent over a pastel. And if he did not leave the house to escape from the dear and torturing memory it was because he had the certainty that he should find her everywhere in the garden, too: dreaming on the terrace; walking with slow steps through the alleys in the pine grove; sitting under the shade of the plane trees; lulled by the eternal song of the fountain; lying in the threshing yard at twilight, her gaze fixed on space, waiting for the stars to come out. But above all, there existed for him a sacred sanctuary which he could not enter without trembling — the chamber where she had confessed her love. He kept the key of it; he had not moved a single object from its place since the sorrowful morning of her departure; and a skirt which she had forgotten lay still upon her armchair. He opened his arms wildly to clasp her shade floating in the soft half light of the room, with its closed shutters and its walls hung with the old faded pink calico, of a dawnlike tint.
In the midst of his unremitting toil Pascal had another melancholy pleasure — Clotilde’s letters. She wrote to him regularly twice a week, long letters of eight or ten pages, in which she described to him all her daily life. She did not seem to lead a very happy life in Paris. Maxime, who did not now leave his sick chair, evidently tortured her with the exactions of a spoiled child and an invalid. She spoke as if she lived in complete retirement, always waiting on him, so that she could not even go over to the window to look out on the avenue, along which rolled the fashionable stream of the promenaders of the Bois; and from certain of her expressions it could be divined that her brother, after having entreated her so urgently to go to him, suspected her already, and had begun to regard her with hatred and distrust, as he did every one who approached him, in his continual fear of being made use of and robbed. He did not give her the keys, treating her like a servant to whom he found it difficult to accustom himself. Twice she had seen her father, who was, as always, very gay, and overwhelmed with business; he had been converted to the Republic, and was at the height of political and financial success. Saccard had even taken her aside, to sympathize with her, saying that poor Maxime was really insupportable, and that she would be truly courageous if she consented to be made his victim. As she could not do everything, he had even had the kindness to send her, on the following day, the niece of his hairdresser, a fair-haired, innocent-looking girl of eighteen, named Rose, who was assisting her now to take care of the invalid. But Clotilde made no complaint; she affected, on the contrary, to be perfectly tranquil, contented, and resigned to everything. Her letters were full of courage, showing neither anger nor sorrow at the cruel separation, making no desperate appeal to Pascal’s affection to recall her. But between the lines, he could perceive that she trembled with rebellious anger, that her whole being yearned for him, that she was ready to commit the folly of returning to him immediately, at his lightest word.
And this was the one word that Pascal would not write. Everything would be arranged in time. Maxime would become accustomed to his sister; the sacrifice must be completed now that it had been begun. A single line written by him in a moment of weakness, and all the advantage of the effort he had made would be lost, and their misery would begin again. Never had Pascal had greater need of courage than when he was answering Clotilde’s letters. At night, burning with fever, he would toss about, calling on her wildly; then he would get up and write to her to come back at once. But when day came, and he had exhausted himself with weeping, his fever abated, and his answer was always very short, almost cold. He studied every sentence, beginning the letter over again when he thought he had forgotten himself. But what a torture, these dreadful letters, so short, so icy, in which he went against his heart, solely in order to wean her from him gradually, to take upon himself all the blame, and to make her believe that she could forget him, since he forgot her. They left him covered with perspiration, and as exhausted as if he had just performed some great act of heroism.
One morning toward the end of October, a month after Clotilde’s departure, Pascal had a sudden attack of suffocation. He had had, several times already, slight attacks, which he attributed to overwork. But this time the symptoms were so plain that he could not mistake them — a sharp pain in the region of the heart, extending over the whole chest and along the left arm, and a dreadful sensation of oppression and distress, while cold perspiration broke out upon him. It was an attack of angina pectoris. It lasted hardly more than a minute, and he was at first more surprised than frightened. With that blindness which physicians often show where their own health is concerned, he never suspected that his heart might be affected.
As he was recovering his breath Martine came up to say that Dr. Ramond was downstairs, and again begged the doctor to see him. And Pascal, yielding perhaps to an unconscious desire to know the truth, cried:
“Well, let him come up, since he insists upon it. I will be glad to see him.”
The two men embraced each other, and no other allusion was made to the absent one, to her whose departure had left the house empty, than an energetic and sad hand clasp.
“You don’t know why I have come?” cried Ramond immediately. “It is about a question of money. Yes, my father-in-law, M. Leveque, the advocate, whom you know, spoke to me yesterday again about the funds which you had with the notary Grandguillot. And he advises you strongly to take some action in the matter, for some persons have succeeded, he says, in recovering something.”
“Yes, I know that that business is being settled,” said Pascal. “Martine has already got two hundred francs out of it, I believe.”
“Martine?” said Ramond, looking greatly surprised, “how could she do that without your intervention? However, will you authorize my father-in-law to undertake your case? He will see the assignee, and sift the whole affair, since you have neither the time nor the inclination to attend to it.”
“Certainly, I authorize M. Leveque to do so, and tell him that I thank him a thousand times.”
Then this matter being settled, the young man, remarking the doctor’s pallor, and questioning him as to its cause, Pascal answered with a smile:
“Imagine, my friend, I have just had an attack of angina pectoris. Oh, it is not imagination, all the symptoms were there. And stay! since you are here you shall sound me.”
At first Ramond refused, affecting to turn the consultation into a jest. Could a raw recruit like him venture to pronounce judgment on his general? But he examined him, notwithstanding, seeing that his face looked drawn and pained, with a singular look of fright in the eyes. He ended by auscultating him carefully, keeping his ear pressed closely to his chest for a considerable time. Several minutes passed in profound silence.
“Well?” asked Pascal, when the young physician stood up.
The latter did not answer at once. He felt the doctor’s eyes looking straight into his; and as the question had been put to him with quiet courage, he answered in the same way:
“Well, it is true, I think there is some sclerosis.”
“Ah! it was kind of you not to attempt to deceive me,” returned the doctor, smiling. “I feared for an instant that you would tell me an untruth, and that would have hurt me.”
Ramond, listening again, said in an undertone:
“Yes, the beat is strong, the first sound is dull, while the second, on the contrary, is sharp. It is evident that the apex has descended and is turned toward the armpit. There is some sclerosis, at least it is very probable. One may live twenty years with that,” he ended, straightening himself.
“No doubt, sometimes,” said Pascal. “At least, unless one chances to die of a sudden attack.”
They talked for some time longer, discussed a remarkable case of sclerosis of the heart, which they had seen at the hospital at Plassans. And when the young physician went away, he said that he would return as soon as he should have news of the Grandguillot liquidation.
But when he was alone Pascal felt that he was lost. Everything was now explained: his palpitations for some weeks past, his attacks of vertigo and suffocation; above all that weakness of the organ, of his poor heart, overtasked by feeling and by work, that sense of intense fatigue and impending death, regarding which he could no longer deceive himself. It was not as yet fear that he experienced, however. His first thought was that he, too, would have to pay for his heredity, that sclerosis was the species of degeneration which was to be his share of the physiological misery, the inevitable inheritance bequeathed him by his terrible ancestry. In others the neurosis, the original lesion, had turned to vice or virtue, genius, crime, drunkenness, sanctity; others again had died of consumption, of epilepsy, of ataxia; he had lived in his feelings and he would die of an affection of the heart. And he trembled no longer, he rebelled no longer against this manifest heredity, fated and inevitable, no doubt. On the contrary, a feeling of humility took possession of him; the idea that all revolt against natural laws is bad, that wisdom does not consist in holding one’s self apart, but in resigning one’s self to be only a member of the whole great body. Why, then, was he so unwilling to belong to his family that it filled him with triumph, that his heart beat with joy, when he believed himself different from them, without any community with them? Nothing could be less philosophical. Only monsters grew apart. And to belong to his family seemed to him in the end as good and as fine as to belong to any other family, for did not all families, in the main, resemble one another, was not humanity everywhere identical with the same amount of good and evil? He came at last, humbly and gently, even in the face of impending suffering and death, to accept everything life had to give him.
From this time Pascal lived with the thought that he might die at any moment. And this helped to perfect his character, to elevate him to a complete forgetfulness of self. He did not cease to work, but he had never understood so well how much effort must seek its reward in itself, the work being always transitory, and remaining of necessity incomplete. One evening at dinner Martine informed him that Sarteur, the journeyman hatter, the former inmate of the asylum at the Tulettes, had just hanged himself. All the evening he thought of this strange case, of this man whom he had believed he had cured of homicidal mania by his treatment of hypodermic injections, and who, seized by a fresh attack, had evidently had sufficient lucidity to hang himself, instead of springing at the throat of some passer-by. He again saw him, so gentle, so reasonable, kissing his hands, while he was advising him to return to his life of healthful labor. What then was this destructive and transforming force, the desire to murder, changing to suicide, death performing its task in spite of everything? With the death of this man his last vestige of pride as a healer disappeared; and each day when he returned to his work he felt as if he were only a learner, spelling out his task, constantly seeking the truth, which as constantly receded from him, assuming ever more formidable proportions.
But in the midst of his resignation one thought still troubled him — what would become of Bonhomme, his old horse, if he himself should die before him? The poor brute, completely blind and his limbs paralyzed, did not now leave his litter. When his master went to see him, however, he turned his head, he could feel the two hearty kisses which were pressed on his nose. All the neighbors shrugged their shoulders and joked about this old relation whom the doctor would not allow to be slaughtered. Was he then to be the first to go, with the thought that the knacker would be called in on the following day. But one morning, when he entered the stable, Bonhomme did not hear him, did not raise his head. He was dead; he lay there, with a peaceful expression, as if relieved that death had come to him so gently. His master knelt beside him and kissed him again and bade him farewell, while two big tears rolled down his cheeks.
It was on this day that Pascal saw his neighbor, M. Bellombre, for the last time. Going over to the window he perceived him in his garden, in the pale sunshine of early November, taking his accustomed walk; and the sight of the old professor, living so completely happy in his solitude, filled him at first with astonishment. He could never have imagined such a thing possible, as that a man of sixty-nine should live thus, without wife or child, or even a dog, deriving his selfish happiness from the joy of living outside of life. Then he recalled his fits of anger against this man, his sarcasms about his fear of life, the catastrophes which he had wished might happen to him, the hope that punishment would come to him, in the shape of some housekeeper, or some female relation dropping down on him unexpectedly. But no, he was still as fresh as ever, and Pascal was sure that for a long time to come he would continue to grow old like this, hard, avaricious, useless, and happy. And yet he no longer execrated him; he could even have found it in his heart to pity him, so ridiculous and miserable did he think him for not being loved. Pascal, who suffered the pangs of death because he was alone! He whose heart was breaking because he was too full of others. Rather suffering, suffering only, than this selfishness, this death of all there is in us of living and human!
In the night which followed Pascal had another attack of angina pectoris. It lasted for five minutes, and he thought that he would suffocate without having the strength to call Martine. Then when he recovered his breath, he did not disturb himself, preferring to speak to no one of this aggravation of his malady; but he had the certainty that it was all over with him, that he might not perhaps live a month longer. His first thought was Clotilde. Should he then never see her again? and so sharp a pang seized him that he believed another attack was coming on. Why should he not write to her to come to him? He had received a letter from her the day before; he would answer it this morning. Then the thought of the envelopes occurred to him. If he should die suddenly, his mother would be the mistress and she would destroy them; and not only the envelopes, but his manuscripts, all his papers, thirty years of his intelligence and his labor. Thus the crime which he had so greatly dreaded would be consummated, the crime of which the fear alone, during his nights of fever, had made him get up out of bed trembling, his ear on the stretch, listening to hear if they were forcing open the press. The perspiration broke out upon him, he saw himself dispossessed, outraged, the ashes of his work thrown to the four winds. And when his thoughts reverted to Clotilde, he told himself that everything would be satisfactorily arranged, that he had only to call her back — she would be here, she would close his eyes, she would defend his memory. And he sat down to write at once to her, so that the letter might go by the morning mail.
But when Pascal was seated before the white paper, with the pen between his fingers, a growing doubt, a feeling of dissatisfaction with himself, took possession of him. Was not this idea of his papers, this fine project of providing a guardian for them and saving them, a suggestion of his weakness, an excuse which he gave himself to bring back Clotilde, and see her again? Selfishness was at the bottom of it. He was thinking of himself, not of her. He saw her returning to this poor house, condemned to nurse a sick old man; and he saw her, above all, in her grief, in her awful agony, when he should terrify her some day by dropping down dead at her side. No, no! this was the dreadful moment which he must spare her, those days of cruel adieus and want afterward, a sad legacy which he could not leave her without thinking himself a criminal. Her tranquillity, her happiness only, were of any consequence, the rest did not matter. He would die in his hole, then, abandoned, happy to think her happy, to spare her the cruel blow of his death. As for saving his manuscripts he would perhaps find a means of doing so, he would try to have the strength to part from them and give them to Ramond. But even if all his papers were to perish, this was less of a sacrifice than to resign himself not to see her again, and he accepted it, and he was willing that nothing of him should survive, not even his thoughts, provided only that nothing of him should henceforth trouble her dear existence.
Pascal accordingly proceeded to write one of his usual answers, which, by a great effort, he purposely made colorless and almost cold. Clotilde, in her last letter, without complaining of Maxime, had given it to be understood that her brother had lost his interest in her, preferring the society of Rose, the niece of Saccard’s hairdresser, the fair-haired young girl with the innocent look. And he suspected strongly some maneuver of the father: a cunning plan to obtain possession of the inheritance of the sick man, whose vices, so precocious formerly, gained new force as his last hour approached. But in spite of his uneasiness he gave Clotilde very good advice, telling her that she must make allowance for Maxime’s sufferings, that he had undoubtedly a great deal of affection and gratitude for her, in short that it was her duty to devote herself to him to the end. When he signed the letter tears dimmed his sight. It was his death warrant — a death like that of an old and solitary brute, a death without a kiss, without the touch of a friendly hand — that he was signing. Never again would he embrace her. Then doubts assailed him; was he doing right in leaving her amid such evil surroundings, where he felt that she was in continual contact with every species of wickedness?
The postman brought the letters and newspapers to La Souleiade every morning at about nine o’clock; and Pascal, when he wrote to Clotilde, was accustomed to watch for him, to give him his letter, so as to be certain that his correspondence was not intercepted. But on this morning, when he went downstairs to give him the letter he had just written, he was surprised to receive one from him from Clotilde, although it was not the usual day for her letters. He allowed his own to go, however. Then he went upstairs, resumed his seat at his table, and tore open the envelope.
The letter was short, but its contents filled Pascal with a great joy.
But the sound of footsteps made him control himself. He turned round and saw Martine, who was saying:
“Dr. Ramond is downstairs.”
“Ah! let him come up, let him come up,” he said.
It was another piece of good fortune that had come to him. Ramond cried gaily from the door:
“Victory, master! I have brought you your money — not all, but a good sum.”
And he told the story — an unexpected piece of good luck which his father-in-law, M. Leveque, had brought to light. The receipts for the hundred and twenty thousand francs, which constituted Pascal the personal creditor of Grandguillot, were valueless, since the latter was insolvent. Salvation was to come from the power of attorney which the doctor had sent him years before, at his request, that he might invest all or part of his money in mortgages. As the name of the proxy was in blank in the document, the notary, as is sometimes done, had made use of the name of one of his clerks, and eighty thousand francs, which had been invested in good mortgages, had thus been recovered through the agency of a worthy man who was not in the secrets of his employer. If Pascal had taken action in the matter, if he had gone to the public prosecutor’s office and the chamber of notaries, he would have disentangled the matter long before. However, he had recovered a sure income of four thousand francs.
He seized the young man’s hands and pressed them, smiling, his eyes still moist with tears.
“Ah! my friend, if you knew how happy I am! This letter of Clotilde’s has brought me a great happiness. Yes, I was going to send for her; but the thought of my poverty, of the privations she would have to endure here, spoiled for me the joy of her return. And now fortune has come back, at least enough to set up my little establishment again!”
In the expansion of his feelings he held out the letter to Ramond, and forced him to read it. Then when the young man gave it back to him, smiling, comprehending the doctor’s emotion, and profoundly touched by it, yielding to an overpowering need of affection, he caught him in his arms, like a comrade, a brother. The two men kissed each other vigorously on either cheek.
“Come, since good fortune has sent you, I am going to ask another service from you. You know I distrust every one around me, even my old housekeeper. Will you take my despatch to the telegraph office!”
He sat down again at the table, and wrote simply, “I await you; start to-night.”
“Let me see,” he said, “to-day is the 6th of November, is it not? It is now near ten o’clock; she will have my despatch at noon. That will give her time enough to pack her trunks and to take the eight o’clock express this evening, which will bring her to Marseilles in time for breakfast. But as there is no train which connects with it, she cannot be here until to-morrow, the 7th, at five o’clock.”
After folding the despatch he rose:
“My God, at five o’clock to-morrow! How long to wait still! What shall I do with myself until then?”
Then a sudden recollection filled him with anxiety, and he became grave.
“Ramond, my comrade, will you give me a great proof of your friendship by being perfectly frank with me?”
“How so, master?”
“Ah, you understand me very well. The other day you examined me. Do you think I can live another year?”
He fixed his eyes on the young man as he spoke, compelling him to look at him. Ramond evaded a direct answer, however, with a jest — was it really a physician who put such a question?
“Let us be serious, Ramond, I beg of you.”
Then Ramond answered in all sincerity that, in his opinion, the doctor might very justly entertain the hope of living another year. He gave his reasons — the comparatively slight progress which the sclerosis had made, and the absolute soundness of the other organs. Of course they must make allowance for what they did not and could not know, for a sudden accident was always possible. And the two men discussed the case as if they been in consultation at the bedside of a patient, weighing the pros and cons, each stating his views and prognosticating a fatal termination, in accordance with the symptoms as defined by the best authorities.
Pascal, as if it were some one else who was in question, had recovered all his composure and his heroic self-forgetfulness.
“Yes,” he murmured at last, “you are right; a year of life is still possible. Ah, my friend, how I wish I might live two years; a mad wish, no doubt, an eternity of joy. And yet, two years, that would not be impossible. I had a very curious case once, a wheelwright of the faubourg, who lived for four years, giving the lie to all my prognostications. Two years, two years, I will live two years! I must live two years!”
Ramond sat with bent head, without answering. He was beginning to be uneasy, fearing that he had shown himself too optimistic; and the doctor’s joy disquieted and grieved him, as if this very exaltation, this disturbance of a once strong brain, warned him of a secret and imminent danger.
“Did you not wish to send that despatch at once?” he said.
“Yes, yes, go quickly, my good Ramond, and come back again to see us the day after to-morrow. She will be here then, and I want you to come and embrace us.”
The day was long, and the following morning, at about four o’clock, shortly after Pascal had fallen asleep, after a happy vigil filled with hopes and dreams, he was wakened by a dreadful attack. He felt as if an enormous weight, as if the whole house, had fallen down upon his chest, so that the thorax, flattened down, touched the back. He could not breathe; the pain reached the shoulders, then the neck, and paralyzed the left arm. But he was perfectly conscious; he had the feeling that his heart was about to stop, that life was about to leave him, in the dreadful oppression, like that of a vise, which was suffocating him. Before the attack reached its height he had the strength to rise and to knock on the floor with a stick for Martine. Then he fell back on his bed, unable to speak or to move, and covered with a cold sweat.
Martine, fortunately, in the profound silence of the empty house, heard the knock. She dressed herself, wrapped a shawl about her, and went upstairs, carrying her candle. The darkness was still profound; dawn was about to break. And when she perceived her master, whose eyes alone seemed living, looking at her with locked jaws, speechless, his face distorted by pain, she was awed and terrified, and she could only rush toward the bed crying:
“My God! My God! what is the matter, monsieur? Answer me, monsieur, you frighten me!”
For a full minute Pascal struggled in vain to recover his breath. Then, the viselike pressure on his chest relaxing slowly, he murmured in a faint voice:
“The five thousand francs in the desk are Clotilde’s . Tell her that the affair of the notary is settled, that she will recover from it enough to live upon.”
Then Martine, who had listened to him in open-mouthed wonder, confessed the falsehood she had told him, ignorant of the good news that had been brought by Ramond.
“Monsieur, you must forgive me; I told you an untruth. But it would be wrong to deceive you longer. When I saw you alone and so unhappy, I took some of my own money.”
“My poor girl, you did that!”
“Oh, I had some hope that monsieur would return it to me one day.”
By this time the attack had passed off, and he was able to turn his head and look at her. He was amazed and moved. What was passing in the heart of this avaricious old maid, who for thirty years had been saving up her treasure painfully, who had never taken a sou from it, either for herself or for any one else? He did not yet comprehend, but he wished to show himself kind and grateful.
“You are a good woman, Martine. All that will be returned to you. I truly think I am going to die —”
She did not allow him to finish, her whole being rose up in rebellious protest.
“Die; you, monsieur! Die before me! I do not wish it. I will not let you die!”
She threw herself on her knees beside the bed; she caught him wildly in her arms, feeling him, to see if he suffered, holding him as if she thought that death would not dare to take him from her.
“You must tell me what is the matter with you. I will take care of you. I will save you. If it were necessary to give my life for you, I would give it, monsieur. I will sit up day and night with you. I am strong still; I will be stronger than the disease, you shall see. To die! to die! oh, no, it cannot be! The good God cannot wish so great an injustice. I have prayed so much in my life that he ought to listen to me a little now, and he will grant my prayer, monsieur; he will save you.”
Pascal looked at her, listened to her, and a sudden light broke in upon his mind. She loved him, this miserable woman; she had always loved him. He thought of her thirty years of blind devotion, her mute adoration, when she had waited upon him, on her knees, as it were, when she was young; her secret jealousy of Clotilde later; what she must have secretly suffered all that time! And she was here on her knees now again, beside his deathbed; her hair gray; her eyes the color of ashes in her pale nun-like face, dulled by her solitary life. And he felt that she was unconscious of it all; that she did not even know with what sort of love she loved him, loving him only for the happiness of loving him: of being with him, and of waiting on him.
Tears rose to Pascal’s eyes; a dolorous pity and an infinite human tenderness flowed from his poor, half-broken heart.
“My poor girl,” he said, “you are the best of girls. Come, embrace me, as you love me, with all your strength.”
She, too, sobbed. She let her gray head, her face worn by her long servitude, fall on her master’s breast. Wildly she kissed him, putting all her life into the kiss.
“There, let us not give way to emotion, for you see we can do nothing; this will be the end, just the same. If you wish me to love you, obey me. Now that I am better, that I can breathe easier, do me the favor to run to Dr. Ramond’s . Waken him and bring him back with you.”
She was leaving the room when he called to her, seized by a sudden fear.
“And remember, I forbid you to go to inform my mother.”
She turned back, embarrassed, and in a voice of entreaty, said:
“Oh, monsieur, Mme. Felicite has made me promise so often —”
But he was inflexible. All his life he had treated his mother with deference, and he thought he had acquired the right to defend himself against her in the hour of his death. He would not let the servant go until she had promised him that she would be silent. Then he smiled once more.
“Go quickly. Oh, you will see me again; it will not be yet.”
Day broke at last, the melancholy dawn of the pale November day. Pascal had had the shutters opened, and when he was left alone he watched the brightening dawn, doubtless that of his last day of life. It had rained the night before, and the mild sun was still veiled by clouds. From the plane trees came the morning carols of the birds, while far away in the sleeping country a locomotive whistled with a prolonged moan. And he was alone; alone in the great melancholy house, whose emptiness he felt around him, whose silence he heard. The light slowly increased, and he watched the patches it made on the window-panes broadening and brightening. Then the candle paled in the growing light, and the whole room became visible. And with the dawn, as he had anticipated, came relief. The sight of the familiar objects around him brought him consolation.
But Pascal, although the attack had passed away, still suffered horribly. A sharp pain remained in the hollow of his chest, and his left arm, benumbed, hung from his shoulder like lead. In his long waiting for the help that Martine had gone to bring, he had reflected on the suffering which made the flesh cry out. And he found that he was resigned; he no longer felt the rebelliousness which the mere sight of physical pain had formerly awakened in him. It had exasperated him, as if it had been a monstrous and useless cruelty of nature. In his doubts as a physician, he had attended his patients only to combat it, and to relieve it. If he ended by accepting it, now that he himself suffered its horrible torture, was it that he had risen one degree higher in his faith of life, to that serene height whence life appeared altogether good, even with the fatal condition of suffering attached to it; suffering which is perhaps its spring? Yes, to live all of life, to live it and to suffer it all without rebellion, without believing that it is made better by being made painless, this presented itself clearly to his dying eyes, as the greatest courage and the greatest wisdom. And to cheat pain while he waited, he reviewed his latest theories; he dreamed of a means of utilizing suffering by transforming it into action, into work. If it be true that man feels pain more acutely according as he rises in the scale of civilization, it is also certain that he becomes stronger through it, better armed against it, more capable of resisting it. The organ, the brain which works, develops and grows stronger, provided the equilibrium between the sensations which it receives and the work which it gives back be not broken. Might not one hope, then, for a humanity in which the amount of work accomplished would so exactly equal the sum of sensations received, that suffering would be utilized and, as it were, abolished?
The sun had risen, and Pascal was confusedly revolving these distant hopes in his mind, in the drowsiness produced by his disease, when he felt a new attack coming on. He had a moment of cruel anxiety — was this the end? Was he going to die alone? But at this instant hurried footsteps mounted the stairs, and a moment later Ramond entered, followed by Martine. And the patient had time to say before the attack began:
“Quick! quick! a hypodermic injection of pure water.”
Unfortunately the doctor had to look for the little syringe and then to prepare everything. This occupied some minutes, and the attack was terrible. He followed its progress with anxiety — the face becoming distorted, the lips growing livid. Then when he had given the injection, he observed that the phenomena, for a moment stationary, slowly diminished in intensity. Once more the catastrophe was averted.
As soon as he recovered his breath Pascal, glancing at the clock, said in his calm, faint voice:
“My friend, it is seven o’clock — in twelve hours, at seven o’clock to-night, I shall be dead.”
And as the young man was about to protest, to argue the question, “No,” he resumed, “do not try to deceive me. You have witnessed the attack. You know what it means as well as I do. Everything will now proceed with mathematical exactness; and, hour by hour, I could describe to you the phases of the disease.”
He stopped, gasped for breath, and then added:
“And then, all is well; I am content. Clotilde will be here at five; all I ask is to see her and to die in her arms.”
A few moments later, however, he experienced a sensible improvement. The effect of the injection seemed truly miraculous; and he was able to sit up in bed, his back resting against the pillows. He spoke clearly, and with more ease, and never had the lucidity of his mind appeared greater.
“You know, master,” said, Ramond, “that I will not leave you. I have told my wife, and we will spend the day together; and, whatever you may say to the contrary, I am very confident that it will not be the last. You will let me make myself at home, here, will you not?”
Pascal smiled, and gave orders to Martine to go and prepare breakfast for Ramond, saying that if they needed her they would call her. And the two men remained alone, conversing with friendly intimacy; the one with his white hair and long white beard, lying down, discoursing like a sage, the other sitting at his bedside, listening with the respect of a disciple.
“In truth,” murmured the master, as if he were speaking to himself, “the effect of those injections is extraordinary.”
Then in a stronger voice, he said almost gaily:
“My friend Ramond, it may not be a very great present that I am giving you, but I am going to leave you my manuscripts. Yes, Clotilde has orders to send them to you when I shall be no more. Look through them, and you will perhaps find among them things that are not so very bad. If you get a good idea from them some day — well, that will be so much the better for the world.”
And then he made his scientific testament. He was clearly conscious that he had been himself only a solitary pioneer, a precursor, planning theories which he tried to put in practise, but which failed because of the imperfection of his method. He recalled his enthusiasm when he believed he had discovered, in his injections of nerve substance, the universal panacea, then his disappointments, his fits of despair, the shocking death of Lafouasse, consumption carrying off Valentin in spite of all his efforts, madness again conquering Sarteur and causing him to hang himself. So that he would depart full of doubt, having no longer the confidence necessary to the physician, and so enamored of life that he had ended by putting all his faith in it, certain that it must draw from itself alone its health and strength. But he did not wish to close up the future; he was glad, on the contrary, to bequeath his hypotheses to the younger generation. Every twenty years theories changed; established truths only, on which science continued to build, remained unshaken. Even if he had only the merit of giving to science a momentary hypothesis, his work would not be lost, for progress consisted assuredly in the effort, in the onward march of the intellect.
And then who could say that he had died in vain, troubled and weary, his hopes concerning the injections unrealized — other workers would come, young, ardent, confident, who would take up the idea, elucidate it, expand it. And perhaps a new epoch, a new world would date from this.
“Ah, my dear Ramond,” he continued, “if one could only live life over again. Yes, I would take up my idea again, for I have been struck lately by the singular efficacy of injections even of pure water. It is not the liquid, then, that matters, but simply the mechanical action. During the last month I have written a great deal on that subject. You will find some curious notes and observations there. In short, I should be inclined to put all my faith in work, to place health in the harmonious working of all the organs, a sort of dynamic therapeutics, if I may venture to use the expression.”
He had gradually grown excited, forgetting his approaching death in his ardent curiosity about life. And he sketched, with broad strokes, his last theory. Man was surrounded by a medium — nature — which irritated by perpetual contact the sensitive extremities of the nerves. Hence the action, not only of the senses, but of the entire surface of the body, external and internal. For it was these sensations which, reverberating in the brain, in the marrow, and in the nervous centers, were there converted into tonicity, movements, and thoughts; and he was convinced that health consisted in the natural progress of this work, in receiving sensations, and in giving them back in thoughts and in actions, the human machine being thus fed by the regular play of the organs. Work thus became the great law, the regulator of the living universe. Hence it became necessary if the equilibrium were broken, if the external excitations ceased to be sufficient, for therapeutics to create artificial excitations, in order to reestablish the tonicity which is the state of perfect health. And he dreamed of a whole new system of treatment — suggestion, the all-powerful authority of the physician, for the senses; electricity, friction, massage for the skin and for the tendons; diet for the stomach; air cures on high plateaus for the lungs, and, finally, transfusion, injections of distilled water, for the circulatory system. It was the undeniable and purely mechanical action of these latter that had put him on the track; all he did now was to extend the hypothesis, impelled by his generalizing spirit; he saw the world saved anew in this perfect equilibrium, as much work given as sensation received, the balance of the world restored by unceasing labor.
Here he burst into a frank laugh.
“There! I have started off again. I, who was firmly convinced that the only wisdom was not to interfere, to let nature take its course. Ah, what an incorrigible old fool I am!”
Ramond caught his hands in an outburst of admiration and affection.
“Master, master! it is of enthusiasm, of folly like yours that genius is made. Have no fear, I have listened to you, I will endeavor to be worthy of the heritage you leave; and I think, with you, that perhaps the great future lies entirely there.”
In the sad and quiet room Pascal began to speak again, with the courageous tranquillity of a dying philosopher giving his last lesson. He now reviewed his personal observations; he said that he had often cured himself by work, regular and methodical work, not carried to excess. Eleven o’clock struck; he urged Ramond to take his breakfast, and he continued the conversation, soaring to lofty and distant heights, while Martine served the meal. The sun had at last burst through the morning mists, a sun still half-veiled in clouds, and mild, whose golden light warmed the room. Presently, after taking a few sips of milk, Pascal remained silent.
At this moment the young physician was eating a pear.
“Are you in pain again?” he asked.
“No, no; finish.”
But he could not deceive Ramond. It was an attack, and a terrible one. The suffocation came with the swiftness of a thunderbolt, and he fell back on the pillow, his face already blue. He clutched at the bedclothes to support himself, to raise the dreadful weight which oppressed his chest. Terrified, livid, he kept his wide open eyes fixed upon the clock, with a dreadful expression of despair and grief; and for ten minutes it seemed as if every moment must be his last.
Ramond had immediately given him a hypodermic injection. The relief was slow to come, the efficacy less than before.
When Pascal revived, large tears stood in his eyes. He did not speak now, he wept. Presently, looking at the clock with his darkening vision, he said:
“My friend, I shall die at four o’clock; I shall not see her.”
And as his young colleague, in order to divert his thoughts, declared, in spite of appearances, that the end was not so near, Pascal, again becoming enthusiastic, wished to give him a last lesson, based on direct observation. He had, as it happened, attended several cases similar to his own, and he remembered especially to have dissected at the hospital the heart of a poor old man affected with sclerosis.
“I can see it — my heart. It is the color of a dead leaf; its fibers are brittle, wasted, one would say, although it has augmented slightly in volume. The inflammatory process has hardened it; it would be difficult to cut —”
He continued in a lower voice. A little before, he had felt his heart growing weaker, its contractions becoming feebler and slower. Instead of the normal jet of blood there now issued from the aorta only a red froth. Back of it all the veins were engorged with black blood; the suffocation increased, according as the lift and force pump, the regulator of the whole machine, moved more slowly. And after the injection he had been able to follow in spite of his suffering the gradual reviving of the organ as the stimulus set it beating again, removing the black venous blood, and sending life into it anew, with the red arterial blood. But the attack would return as soon as the mechanical effect of the injection should cease. He could predict it almost within a few minutes. Thanks to the injections he would have three attacks more. The third would carry him off; he would die at four o’clock.
Then, while his voice grew gradually weaker, in a last outburst of enthusiasm, he apostrophized the courage of the heart, that persistent life maker, working ceaselessly, even during sleep, when the other organs rested.
“Ah, brave heart! how heroically you struggle! What faithful, what generous muscles, never wearied! You have loved too much, you have beat too fast in the past months, and that is why you are breaking now, brave heart, who do not wish to die, and who strive rebelliously to beat still!”
But now the first of the attacks which had been announced came on. Pascal came out of this panting, haggard, his speech sibilant and painful. Low moans escaped him, in spite of his courage. Good God! would this torture never end? And yet his most ardent desire was to prolong his agony, to live long enough to embrace Clotilde a last time. If he might only be deceiving himself, as Ramond persisted in declaring. If he might only live until five o’clock. His eyes again turned to the clock, they never now left the hands, every minute seeming an eternity. They marked three o’clock. Then half-past three. Ah, God! only two hours of life, two hours more of life. The sun was already sinking toward the horizon; a great calm descended from the pale winter sky, and he heard at intervals the whistles of the distant locomotives crossing the bare plain. The train that was passing now was the one going to the Tulettes; the other, the one coming from Marseilles, would it never arrive, then!
At twenty minutes to four Pascal signed to Ramond to approach. He could no longer speak loud enough to be heard.
“You see, in order that I might live until six o’clock, the pulse should be stronger. I have still some hope, however, but the second movement is almost imperceptible, the heart will soon cease to beat.”
And in faint, despairing accents he called on Clotilde again and again. The immeasurable grief which he felt at not being able to see her again broke forth in this faltering and agonized appeal. Then his anxiety about his manuscripts returned, an ardent entreaty shone in his eyes, until at last he found the strength to falter again:
“Do not leave me; the key is under my pillow; tell Clotilde to take it; she has my directions.”
At ten minutes to four another hypodermic injection was given, but without effect. And just as four o’clock was striking, the second attack declared itself. Suddenly, after a fit of suffocation, he threw himself out of bed; he desired to rise, to walk, in a last revival of his strength. A need of space, of light, of air, urged him toward the skies. Then there came to him an irresistible appeal from life, his whole life, from the adjoining workroom, where he had spent his days. And he went there, staggering, suffocating, bending to the left side, supporting himself by the furniture.
Dr. Ramond precipitated himself quickly toward him to stop him, crying:
“Master, master! lie down again, I entreat you!”
But Pascal paid no heed to him, obstinately determined to die on his feet. The desire to live, the heroic idea of work, alone survived in him, carrying him onward bodily. He faltered hoarsely:
“No, no — out there, out there —”
His friend was obliged to support him, and he walked thus, stumbling and haggard, to the end of the workroom, and dropped into his chair beside his table, on which an unfinished page still lay among a confusion of papers and books.
Here he gasped for breath and his eyes closed. After a moment he opened them again, while his hands groped about, seeking his work, no doubt. They encountered the genealogical tree in the midst of other papers scattered about. Only two days before he had corrected some dates in it. He recognized it, and drawing it toward him, spread it out.
“Master, master! you will kill yourself!” cried Ramond, overcome with pity and admiration at this extraordinary spectacle.
Pascal did not listen, did not hear. He felt a pencil under his fingers. He took it and bent over the tree, as if his dying eyes no longer saw. The name of Maxime arrested his attention, and he wrote: “Died of ataxia in 1873,” in the certainty that his nephew would not live through the year. Then Clotilde’s name, beside it, struck him and he completed the note thus: “Has a son, by her Uncle Pascal, in 1874.” But it was his own name that he sought wearily and confusedly. When he at last found it his hand grew firmer, and he finished his note, in upright and bold characters: “Died of heart disease, November 7, 1873.” This was the supreme effort, the rattle in his throat increased, everything was fading into nothingness, when he perceived the blank leaf above Clotilde’s name. His vision grew dark, his fingers could no longer hold the pencil, but he was still able to add, in unsteady letters, into which passed the tortured tenderness, the wild disorder of his poor heart: “The unknown child, to be born in 1874. What will it be?” Then he swooned, and Martine and Ramond with difficulty carried him back to bed.
The third attack came on about four o’clock. In this last access of suffocation Pascal’s countenance expressed excruciating suffering. Death was to be very painful; he must endure to the end his martyrdom, as a man and a scientist. His wandering gaze still seemed to seek the clock, to ascertain the hour. And Ramond, seeing his lips move, bent down and placed his ear to the mouth of the dying man. The latter, in effect, was stammering some vague words, so faint that they scarcely rose above a breath:
“Four o’clock — the heart is stopping; no more red blood in the aorta — the valve relaxes and bursts.”
A dreadful spasm shook him; his breathing grew fainter.
“Its progress is too rapid. Do not leave me; the key is under the pillow — Clotilde, Clotilde —”
At the foot of the bed Martine was kneeling, choked with sobs. She saw well that monsieur was dying. She had not dared to go for a priest notwithstanding her great desire to do so; and she was herself reciting the prayers for the dying; she prayed ardently that God would pardon monsieur, and that monsieur might go straight to Paradise.
Pascal was dying. His face was quite blue. After a few seconds of immobility, he tried to breathe: he put out his lips, opened his poor mouth, like a little bird opening its beak to get a last mouthful of air. And he was dead.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:56