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   Chapter 23 No.23

Fruitfulness By Emile Zola Characters: 57229

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

AND Mathieu and Marianne lived more than a score of years longer, and Mathieu was ninety years old and Marianne eighty-seven, when their three eldest sons, Denis, Ambroise, and Gervais, ever erect beside them, planned that they would celebrate their diamond wedding, the seventieth anniversary of their marriage, by a fete at which they would assemble all the members of the family at Chantebled.

It was no little affair. When they had drawn up a complete list, they found that one hundred and fifty-eight children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren had sprung from Mathieu and Marianne, without counting a few little ones of a fourth generation. By adding to the above those who had married into the family as husbands and wives they would be three hundred in number. And where at the farm could they find a room large enough for the huge table of the patriarchal feast that they dreamt of? The anniversary fell on June 2, and the spring that year was one of incomparable mildness and beauty. So they decided that they would lunch out of doors, and place the tables in front of the old pavilion, on the large lawn, enclosed by curtains of superb elms and hornbeams, which gave the spot the aspect of a huge hall of verdure. There they would be at home, on the very breast of the beneficent earth, under the central and now gigantic oak, planted by the two ancestors, whose blessed fruitfulness the whole swarming progeny was about to celebrate.

Thus the festival was settled and organized amid a great impulse of love and joy. All were eager to take part in it, all hastened to the triumphal gathering, from the white-haired old men to the urchins who still sucked their thumbs. And the broad blue sky and the flaming sun were bent on participating in it also, as well as the whole estate, the streaming springs and the fields in flower, giving promise of bounteous harvests. Magnificent looked the huge horseshoe table set out amid the grass, with handsome china and snowy cloths which the sunbeams flecked athwart the foliage. The august pair, the father and mother, were to sit side by side, in the centre, under the oak tree. It was decided also that the other couples should not be separated, that it would be charming to place them side by side according to the generation they belonged to. But as for the young folks, the youths and maidens, the urchins and the little girls, they, it was thought, might well be left to seat themselves as their fancy listed.

Early in the morning those bidden to the feast began to arrive in bands; the dispersed family returned to the common nest, swooping down upon it from the four points of the compass. But alas! death's scythe had been at work, and there were many who could not come. Departed ones slept, each year more numerous, in the peaceful, flowery, Janville cemetery. Near Rose and Blaise, who had been the first to depart, others had gone thither to sleep the eternal sleep, each time carrying away a little more of the family's heart, and making of that sacred spot a place of worship and eternal souvenir. First Charlotte, after long illness, had joined Blaise, happy in leaving Berthe to replace her beside Mathieu and Marianne, who were heart-stricken by her death, as if indeed they were for the second time losing their dear son. Afterwards their daughter Claire had likewise departed from them, leaving the farm to her husband Frederic and her brother Gervais, who likewise had become a widower during the ensuing year. Then, too, Mathieu and Marianne had lost their son Gregoire, the master of the mill, whose widow Therese still ruled there amid a numerous progeny. And again they had to mourn another of their daughters, the kind-hearted Marguerite, Dr. Chambouvet's wife, who sickened and died, through having sheltered a poor workman's little children, who were affected with croup. And the other losses could no longer be counted among them were some who had married into the family, wives and husbands, and there were in particular many children, the tithe that death always exacts, those who are struck down by the storms which sweep over the human crop, all the dear little ones for whom the living weep, and who sanctify the ground in which they rest.

But if the dear departed yonder slept in deepest silence, how gay was the uproar and how great the victory of life that morning along the roads which led to Chantebled! The number of those who were born surpassed that of those who died. From each that departed, a whole florescence of living beings seemed to blossom forth. They sprang up in dozens from the ground where their forerunners had laid themselves to sleep when weary of their work. And they flocked to Chantebled from every side, even as swallows return at spring to revivify their old nests, filling the blue sky with the joy of their return. Outside the farm, vehicles were ever setting down fresh families with troops of children, whose sea of fair heads was always expanding. Great-grandfathers with snowy hair came leading little ones who could scarcely toddle. There were very nice-looking old ladies whom young girls of dazzling freshness assisted to alight. There were mothers expecting the arrival of other babes, and fathers to whom the charming idea had occurred of inviting their daughters' affianced lovers. And they were all related, they had all sprung from a common ancestry, they were all mingled in an inextricable tangle, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, fathers-in-law, mothers-in-law, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, sons, daughters, uncles, aunts, and cousins, of every possible degree, down to the fourth generation. And they were all one family; one sole little nation, assembling in joy and pride to celebrate that diamond wedding, the rare prodigious nuptials of two heroic creatures whom life had glorified and from whom all had sprung! And what an epic, what a Biblical numbering of that people suggested itself! How even name all those who entered the farm, how simply set forth their names, their ages, their degree of relationship, the health, the strength, and the hope that they had brought into the world!

Before everybody else there were those of the farm itself, all those who had been born and who had grown up there. Gervais, now sixty-two, was helped by his two eldest sons, Leon and Henri, who between them had ten children; while his three daughters, Mathilde, Leontine, and Julienne, who were married in the district, in like way numbered between them twelve. Then Frederic, Claire's husband, who was five years older than Gervais, had surrendered his post as a faithful lieutenant to his son Joseph, while his daughters Angele and Lucille, as well as a second son Jules, also helped on the farm, the four supplying a troop of fifteen children, some of them boys and some girls.

Then, of all those who came from without, the mill claimed the first place. Therese, Gregoire's widow, arrived with her offspring, her son Robert, who now managed the mill under her control, and her three daughters, Genevieve, Aline, and Natalie, followed by quite a train of children, ten belonging to the daughters and four to Robert. Next came Louise, notary Mazaud's wife, and Madeleine, architect Herbette's wife, followed by Dr. Chambouvet, who had lost his wife, the good Marguerite. And here again were three valiant companies; in the first, four daughters, of whom Colette was the eldest; in the second, five sons with Hilary at the head of them; and in the third, a son and daughter only, Sebastien and Christine; the whole, however, forming quite an army, for there were twenty of Mathieu's great-grandchildren in the rear.

But Paris arrived on the scene with Denis and his wife Marthe, who headed a grand cortege. Denis, now nearly seventy, and a great-grandfather through his daughters Hortense and Marcelle, had enjoyed the happy rest which follows accomplished labor ever since he had handed his works over to his eldest sons Lucien and Paul, who were both men of more than forty, and whose own sons were already on the road to every sort of fortune. And what with the mother and father, the four children, the fifteen grandchildren, and the three great-grandchildren, two of whom were yet in swaddling clothes, this was really an invading tribe packed into five vehicles.

Then the final entry was that of the little nation which had sprung from Ambroise, who to his great grief had early lost his wife Andree. His was such a green old age that at sixty-seven he still directed his business, in which his sons Leonce and Charles remained simple employes like his sons-in-law-the husbands of his daughters, Pauline and Sophie-who trembled before him, uncontested king that he remained, obeyed by one and all, grandfather of seven big bearded young men and nine strong young women, through four of whom he had become a great-grandfather even before his elder, the wise Denis. For this troop six carriages were required. And the defile lasted two hours, and the farm was soon full of a happy, laughing throng, holiday-making in the bright June sunlight.

Mathieu and Marianne had not yet put in an appearance. Ambroise, who was the grand master of the ceremonies that day, had made them promise to remain in their room, like sovereigns hidden from their people, until he should go to fetch them. He desired that they should appear in all solemnity. And when he made up his mind to summon them, the whole nation being assembled together, he found his brother Benjamin on the threshold of the house defending the door like a bodyguard.

He, Benjamin, had remained the one idler, the one unfruitful scion of that swarming tribe, which had toiled and multiplied so prodigiously. Now three-and-forty years of age, without a wife and without children, he lived, it seemed, solely for the joy of the old home, as a companion to his father and a passionate worshipper of his mother, who with the egotism of love had set themselves upon keeping him for themselves alone. At first they had not been opposed to his marrying, but when they had seen him refuse one match after another, they had secretly felt great delight. Nevertheless, as years rolled by, some unacknowledged remorse had come to them amid their happiness at having him beside them like some hoarded treasure, the delight of an avaricious old age, following a life of prodigality. Did not their Benjamin suffer at having been thus monopolized, shut up for their sole pleasure within the four walls of their house? He had at all times displayed an anxious dreaminess, his eyes had ever sought far-away things, the unknown land where perfect satisfaction dwelt, yonder, behind the horizon. And now that age was stealing upon him his torment seemed to increase, as if he were in despair at finding himself unable to try the possibilities of the unknown, before he ended a useless life devoid of happiness.

However, Benjamin moved away from the door, Ambroise gave his orders, and Mathieu and Marianne appeared upon the verdant lawn in the sunlight. An acclamation, merry laughter, affectionate clapping of hands greeted them. The gay excited throng, the whole swarming family cried aloud: "Long live the Father! Long live the Mother! Long life, long life to the Father and the Mother!"

At ninety years of age Mathieu was still very upright and slim, closely buttoned in a black frock-coat like a young bridegroom. Over his bare head fell a snowy fleece, for after long wearing his hair cut short he had now in a final impulse of coquetry allowed it to grow, so that it seemed liked the renouveau of an old but vigorous tree. Age might have withered and worn and wrinkled his face, but he still retained the eyes of his young days, large lustrous eyes, at once smiling and pensive, which still bespoke a man of thought and action, one who was very simple, very gay, and very good-hearted. And Marianne at eighty-seven years of age also held herself very upright in her light bridal gown, still strong and still showing some of the healthy beauty of other days. With hair white like Mathieu's, and softened face, illumined as by a last glow under her silky tresses, she resembled one of those sacred marbles whose features time has ravined, without, however, being able to efface from them the tranquil splendor of life. She seemed, indeed, like some fruitful Cybele, retaining all firmness of contour, and living anew in the broad daylight with gentle good humor sparkling in her large black eyes.

Arm-in-arm close to one another, like a worthy couple who had come from afar, who had walked on side by side without ever parting for seventy long years, Mathieu and Marianne smiled with tears of joy in their eyes at the whole swarming family which had sprung from their love, and which still acclaimed them:

"Long live the Father! Long live the Mother! Long life, long life to the Father and the Mother!"

Then came the ceremony of reciting a compliment and offering a bouquet. A fair-haired little girl named Rose, five years of age, had been intrusted with this duty. She had been chosen because she was the eldest child of the fourth generation. She was the daughter of Angeline, who was the daughter of Berthe, who was the daughter of Charlotte, wife of Blaise. And when the two ancestors saw her approach them with her big bouquet, their emotion increased, happy tears again gathered in their eyes, and recollections faltered on their lips: "Oh! our little Rose! Our Blaise, our Charlotte!"

All the past revived before them. The name of Rose had been given to the child in memory of the other long-mourned Rose, who had been the first to leave them, and who slept yonder in the little cemetery. There in his turn had Blaise been laid, and thither Charlotte had followed them. Then Berthe, Blaise's daughter, who had married Philippe Havard, had given birth to Angeline. And, later, Angeline, having married Georges Delmas, had given birth to Rose. Berthe and Philippe Havard, Angeline and Georges Delmas stood behind the child. And she represented one and all, the dead, the living, the whole flourishing line, its many griefs, its many joys, all the valiant toil of creation, all the river of life that it typified, for everything ended in her, dear, frail, fair-haired angel, with eyes bright like the dawn, in whose depths the future sparkled.

"Oh! our Rose! our Rose!"

With a big bouquet between her little hands Rose had stepped forward. She had been learning a very fine compliment for a fortnight past, and that very morning she had recited it to her mother without making a single mistake. But when she found herself there among all these people she could not recollect a word of it. Still that did not trouble her, she was already a very bold little damsel, and she frankly dropped her bouquet and sprang at the necks of Mathieu and Marianne, exclaiming in her shrill, flute-like voice: "Grandpapa, grandmamma, it's your fete, and I kiss you with all my heart!"

And that suited everybody remarkably well. They even found it far better than any compliment. Laughter and clapping of hands and acclamations again arose. Then they forthwith began to take their seats at table.

This, however, was quite an affair, so large was the horse-shoe table spread out under the oak on the short, freshly cut grass. First Mathieu and Marianne, still arm in arm, went ceremoniously to seat themselves in the centre with their backs towards the trunk of the great tree. On Mathieu's left, Marthe and Denis, Louise and her husband, notary Mazaud, took their places, since it had been fittingly decided that the husbands and wives should not be separated. On the right of Marianne came Ambroise, Therese, Gervais, Dr. Chambouvet, three widowers and a widow, then another married couple, Madeleine and her husband, architect Herbette, and then Benjamin alone. The other married folks afterwards installed themselves according to the generation they belonged to; and then, as had been decided, youth and childhood, the whole troop of young people and little ones took seats as they pleased amid no little turbulence.

What a moment of sovereign glory it was for Mathieu and Marianne! They found themselves there in a triumph of which they would never have dared to dream. Life, as if to reward them for having shown faith in her, for having increased her sway with all bravery, seemed to have taken pleasure in prolonging their existences beyond the usual limits so that their eyes might behold the marvellous blossoming of their work. The whole of their dear Chantebled, everything good and beautiful that they had there begotten and established, participated in the festival. From the cultivated fields that they had set in the place of marshes came the broad quiver of great coming harvests; from the pasture lands amid the distant woods came the warm breath of cattle and innumerable flocks which ever increased the ark of life; and they heard, too, the loud babble of the captured springs with which they had fertilized the now fruitful moorlands, the flow of that water which is like the very blood of our mother earth. The social task was accomplished, bread was won, subsistence had been created, drawn from the nothingness of barren soil.

And on what a lovely and well-loved spot did their happy, grateful race offer them that festival! Those elms and hornbeams, which made the lawn a great hall of greenery, had been planted by themselves; they had seen them growing day by day like the most peaceable and most sturdy of their children. And in particular that oak, now so gigantic, thanks to the clear waters of the adjoining basin through which one of the sources ever streamed, was their own big son, one that dated from the day when they had founded Chantebled, he, Mathieu, digging the hole and she, Marianne, holding the sapling erect. And now, as that tree stood there, shading them with its expanse of verdure, was it not like some royal symbol of the whole family? Like that oak the family had grown and multiplied, ever throwing out fresh branches which spread far over the ground; and like that oak it now formed by itself a perfect forest sprung from a single trunk, vivified by the same sap, strong in the same health, and full of song, and breeziness, and sunlight.

Leaning against that giant tree Mathieu and Marianne became merged in its sovereign glory and majesty, and was not their royalty akin to its own? Had they not begotten as many beings as the tree had begotten branches? Did they not reign there over a nation of their children, who lived by them, even as the leaves above lived by the tree? The three hundred big and little ones seated around them were but a prolongation of themselves; they belonged to the same tree of life, they had sprung from their love and still clung to them by every fibre. Mathieu and Marianne divined how joyous they all were at glorifying themselves in making much of them; how moved the elder ones, how turbulently merry the younger felt. They could hear their own hearts beating in the breasts of the fair-haired urchins who already laughed with ecstasy at the sight of the cakes and pastry on the table. And their work of human creation was assembled in front of them and within them, in the same way as the oak's huge dome spread out above it; and all around they were likewise encompassed by the fruitfulness of their other work, the fertility and growth of nature which had increased even as they themselves multiplied.

Then was the true beauty which had its abode in Mathieu and Marianne made manifest, that beauty of having loved one another for seventy years and of still worshipping one another now even as on the first day. For seventy years had they trod life's pathway side by side and arm in arm, without a quarrel, without ever a deed of unfaithfulness. They could certainly recall great sorrows, but these had always come from without. And if they had sometimes sobbed they had consoled one another by mingling their tears. Under their white locks they had retained the faith of their early days, their hearts remained blended, merged one into the other, even as on the morrow of their marriage, each having then been freely given and never taken back. In them the power of love, the will of action, the divine desire whose flame creates worlds, had happily met and united. He, adoring his wife, had known no other joy than the passion of creation, looking on the work that had to be performed and the work that was accomplished as the sole why and wherefore of his being, his duty and his reward. She, adoring her husband, had simply striven to be a true companion, spouse, mother, and good counsellor, one who was endowed with delicacy of judgment and helped to overcome all difficulties. Between them they were reason, and health, and strength. If, too, they had always triumphed athwart obstacles and tears, it was only by reason of their long agreement, their common fealty amid an eternal renewal of their love, whose armor rendered them invincible. They could not be conquered, they had conquered by the very power of their union without designing it. And they ended heroically, as conquerors of happiness, hand in hand, pure as crystal is, very great, very handsome, the more so from their extreme age, their long, long life, which one love had entirely filled. And the sole strength of their innumerable offspring now gathered there, the conquering tribe that had sprung from their loins, was the strength of union inherited from them: the loyal love transmitted from ancestors to children, the mutual affection which impelled them to help one another and ever fight for a better life in all brotherliness.

But mirthful sounds arose, the banquet was at last being served. All the servants of the farm had gathered to discharge this duty-they would not allow a single person from without to help them. Nearly all had grown up on the estate, and belonged, as it were, to the family. By and by they would have a table for themselves, and in their turn celebrate the diamond wedding. And it was amid exclamations and merry laughter that they brought the first dishes.

All at once, however, the serving ceased, silence fell, an unexpected incident attracted all attention. A young man, whom none apparently could recognize, was stepping across the lawn, between the arms of the horse-shoe table. He smiled gayly as he walked on, only stopping when he was face to face with Mathieu and Marianne. Then in a loud voice he said: "Good day, grandfather! good day, grandmother! You must have another cover laid, for I have come to celebrate the day with you."

The onlookers remained silent, in great astonishment. Who was this young man whom none had ever seen before? Assuredly he could not belong to the family, for they would have known his name, have recognized his face? Why, then, did he address the ancestors by the venerated names of grandfather and grandmother? And the stupefaction was the greater by reason of his extraordinary resemblance to Mathieu. Assuredly, he was a Froment, he had the bright eyes and the lofty tower-like forehead of the race. Mathieu lived again in him, such as he appeared in a piously-preserved portrait representing him at the age of seven-and-twenty when he had begun the conquest of Chantebled.

Mathieu, for his part, rose, trembling, while Marianne smiled divinely, for she understood the truth before all the others.

"Who are you, my child?" asked Mathieu, "you, who call me grandfather, and who resemble me as if you were my brother?"

"I am Dominique, the eldest son of your son Nicolas, who lives with my mother, Lisbeth, in the vast free country yonder, the other France!"

"And how old are you?"

"I shall be seven-and-twenty next August, when, yonder, the waters of the Niger, the good giant, come back to fertilize our spreading fields."

"And tell us, are you married, have you any children?"

"I have taken for my wife a French woman, born in Senegal, and in the brick house which I have built, four children are already growing up under the flaming sun of the Soudan."

"And tell us also, have you any brothers, any sisters?"

"My father, Nicolas, and Lisbeth, my mother, have had eighteen children, two of whom are dead. We are sixteen, nine boys and seven girls."

At this Mathieu laughed gayly, as if to say that his son Nicolas at fifty years of age had already proved a more valiant artisan of life than himself.

"Well then, my boy," he said, "since you are the son of my son Nicolas, come and embrace us to celebrate our wedding. And a cover shall be placed for you; you are at home here."

In four strides Dominique made the round of the tables, then cast his strong arms about the old people and embraced them-they the while feeling faint with happy emotion, so delightful was that surprise, yet another child falling among them, and on that day, as from some distant sky, and telling them of the other family, the other nation which had sprung from them, and which was swarming yonder with increase of fruitfulness amid the fiery glow of the tropics.

That surprise was due to the sly craft of Ambroise, who merrily explained how he had prepared it like a masterly coup de theatre. For a week past he had been lodging and hiding Dominique in his house in Paris; the young man having been sent from the Soudan by his father to negotiate certain business matters, and in particular to order of Denis a quantity of special agricultural machinery adapted to the soil of that far-away region. Thus Denis alone had been taken into the other's confidence.

When all those seated at the table saw Dominique in the old people's arms, and learnt the whole story, there came an extraordinary outburst of delight; deafening acclamations arose once more; and what with their enthusiastic greetings and embraces they almost stifled the messenger from the sister family, that prince of the second dynasty of the Froments which ruled in the land of the future France.

Mathieu gayly gave his orders: "There, place his cover in front of us! He alone will be in front of us like the ambassador of some powerful empire. Remember that, apart from his father and mother, he represents nine brothers and seven sisters, without counting the four children that he already has himself. There, my boy, sit down; and now let the service continue."

The feast proved a mirthful one under the big oak tree whose shade was spangled by the sunbeams. Delicious freshness arose from the grass, friendly nature seemed to contribute its share of caresses. The laughter never ceased, old folks became playful children once more in presence of the ninety and the eighty-seven years of the bridegroom and the bride. Faces beamed softly under white and dark and sunny hair; the whole assembly was joyful, beautiful with a healthy rapturous beauty; the children radiant, the youths superb, the maidens adorable, the married folk united, side by side. And what good appetites there were! What a gay tumult greeted the advent of each fresh dish! And how the good wine was honored to celebrate the goodness of life which had granted the two patriarchs the supreme grace of assembling them all at their table on such a glorious occasion! At dessert came toasts and health-drinking and fresh acclamations. But, amid all the chatter which flew from one to the other end of the table, the conversation invariably reverted to the surprise at the outset: that triumphal entry of the brotherly ambassador. It was he, his unexpected presence, all that he had not yet said, all the adventurous romance which he surely personated, that fanned the growing fever, the excitement of the family, intoxicated by that open-air gala. And as soon as the coffee was served no end of questions arose on every side, and he had to speak out.

"Well, what can I say?" he replied, laughing, to a question put to him by Ambroise, who wished to know what he thought of Chantebled, where he had taken him for a stroll during the morning. "I'm afraid that if I speak in all frankness, you won't think me very complimentary. Cultivation, no doubt, is quite an art here, a splendid effort of will and science and organization, as is needed to draw from this old soil such crops as it can still produce. You toil a great deal, and you effect prodigies. But, good heavens! how small your kingdom is! How can you live here without hurting yourselves by ever rubbing against other people's elbows? You are all heaped up to such a degree that you no longer have th

e amount of air needful for a man's lungs. Your largest stretches of land, what you call your big estates, are mere clods of soil where the few cattle that one sees look to me like lost ants. But ah! the immensity of our Niger; the immensity of the plains it waters; the immensity of our fields, whose only limit is the distant horizon!"

Benjamin had listened, quivering. Ever since that son of the great river had arrived, he had continued gazing at him, with passion rising in his dreamy eyes. And on hearing him speak in this fashion he could no longer restrain himself, but rose, went round the table, and sat down beside him.

"The Niger-the immense plains-tell us all about them," he said.

"The Niger, the good giant, the father of us all over yonder!" responded Dominique. "I was barely eight years old when my parents quitted Senegal, yielding to an impulse of reckless bravery and wild hope, possessed by a craving to plunge into the Soudan and conquer as chance might will it. There are many days' march among rocks and scrub and rivers from St. Louis to our present farm, far beyond Djenny. And I no longer remember the first journey. It seems to me as if I sprang from good father Niger himself, from the wondrous fertility of his waters. He is gentle but immense, rolling countless waves like the sea, and so broad, so vast, that no bridge can span him as he flows from horizon to horizon. He carries archipelagoes on his breast, and stretches out arms covered with herbage like pasture land. And there are the depths where flotillas of huge fishes roam at their ease. Father Niger has his tempests, too, and his days of fire, when his waters beget life in the burning clasp of the sun. And he has his delightful nights, his soft and rosy nights, when peace descends on earth from the stars.... He is the ancestor, the founder, the fertilizer of the Western Soudan, which he has dowered with incalculable wealth, wresting it from the invasion of neighboring Saharas, building it up of his own fertile ooze. It is he who every year at regular seasons floods the valley like an ocean and leaves it rich, pregnant, as it were, with amazing vegetation. Even like the Nile, he has vanquished the sands; he is the father of untold generations, the creative deity of a world as yet unknown, which in later times will enrich old Europe.... And the valley of the Niger, the good giant's colossal daughter. Ah! what pure immensity is hers; what a flight, so to say, into the infinite! The plain opens and expands, unbroken and limitless. Ever and ever comes the plain, fields are succeeded by other fields stretching out of sight, whose end a plough would only reach in months and months. All the food needed for a great nation will be reaped there when cultivation is practised with a little courage and a little science, for it is still a virgin kingdom such as the good river created it, thousands of years ago. To-morrow this kingdom will belong to the workers who are bold enough to take it, each carving for himself a domain as large as his strength of toil can dream of; not an estate of acres, but leagues and leagues of ploughland wavy with eternal crops.... And what breadth of atmosphere there is in that immensity! What delight it is to inhale all the air of that space at one breath, and how healthy and strong the life, for one is no longer piled one upon the other, but one feels free and powerful, master of that part of the earth which one has desired under the sun which shines for all."

Benjamin listened and questioned, never satisfied. "How are you installed there?" he asked. "How do you live? What are your habits? What is your work?"

Dominique began to laugh again, conscious as he was that he was astonishing, upsetting all these unknown relatives who pressed so close to him, aglow with increasing curiosity. Women and old men had in turn left their places to draw near to him; even children had gathered around, as if to listen to a fine story.

"Oh! we live in republican fashion," said he; "every member of our community has to help in the common fraternal task. The family counts more or less expert artisans of all kinds for the rough work. My father in particular has revealed himself to be a very skilful mason, for he had to build a place for us when we arrived. He even made his own bricks, thanks to some deposits of clayey soil which exist near Djenny. So our farm is now a little village: each married couple will have its own house. Then, too, we are not only agriculturists, we are fishermen and hunters also. We have our boats; the Niger abounds in fish to an extraordinary degree, and there are wonderful hauls at times. And even the shooting and hunting would suffice to feed us; game is plentiful, there are partridges and wild guinea-fowl, not to mention the flamingoes, the pelicans, the egrets, the thousands of creatures who do not prey on one another. Black lions visit us at times: eagles fly slowly over our heads; at dusk hippopotami come in parties of three and four to gambol in the river with the clumsy grace of negro children bathing. But, after all, we are more particularly cultivators, kings of the plain, especially when the waters of the Niger withdraw after fertilizing our fields. Our estate has no limits; it stretches as far as we can labor. And ah! if you could only see the natives, who do not even plough, but have few if any appliances beyond sticks, with which they just scratch the soil before confiding the seed to it! There is no trouble, no worry; the earth is rich, the sun ardent, and thus the crop will always be a fine one. When we ourselves employ the plough, when we bestow a little care on the soil which teems with life, what prodigious crops there are, an abundance of grain such as your barns could never hold! As soon as we possess the agricultural machinery, which I have come to order here in France, we shall need flotillas of boats in order to send you the overplus of our granaries.... When the river subsides, when its waters fall, the crop we more particularly grow is rice; there are, indeed, plains of rice, which occasionally yield two crops. Then come millet and ground-beans, and by and by will come corn, when we can grow it on a large scale. Vast cotton fields follow one after the other, and we also grow manioc and indigo, while in our kitchen gardens we have onions and pimentoes, and gourds and cucumbers. And I don't mention the natural vegetation, the precious gum-trees, of which we possess quite a forest; the butter-trees, the flour-trees, the silk-trees, which grow on our ground like briers alongside your roads.... Finally, we are shepherds; we own ever-increasing flocks, whose numbers we don't even know. Our goats, our bearded sheep may be counted by the thousand; our horses scamper freely through paddocks as large as cities, and when our hunch-backed cattle come down to the Niger to drink at that hour of serene splendor the sunset, they cover a league of the river banks.... And, above everything else, we are free men and joyous men, working for the delight of living without restraint, and our reward is the thought that our work is very great and good and beautiful, since it is the creation of another France, the sovereign France of to-morrow."

From that moment Dominique paused no more. There was no longer any need to question him, he poured forth all the beauty and grandeur in his mind. He spoke of Djenny, the ancient queen city, whose people and whose monuments came from Egypt, the city which even yet reigns over the valley. He spoke of four other centres, Bamakoo, Niamina, Segu, and Sansandig, big villages which would some day be great towns. And he spoke particularly of Timbuctoo the glorious, so long unknown, with a veil of legends cast over it as if it were some forbidden paradise, with its gold, its ivory, its beautiful women, all rising like a mirage of inaccessible delight beyond the devouring sands. He spoke of Timbuctoo, the gate of the Sahara and the Western Soudan, the frontier town where life ended and met and mingled, whither the camel of the desert brought the weapons and merchandise of Europe as well as salt, that indispensable commodity, and where the pirogues of the Niger landed the precious ivory, the surface gold, the ostrich feathers, the gum, the crops, all the wealth of the fruitful valley. He spoke of Timbuctoo the store-place, the metropolis and market of Central Africa, with its piles of ivory, its piles of virgin gold, its sacks of rice, millet, and ground-nuts, its cakes of indigo, its tufts of ostrich plumes, its metals, its dates, its stuffs, its iron-ware, and particularly its slabs of rock salt, brought on the backs of beasts of burden from Taudeni, the frightful Saharian city of salt, whose soil is salt for leagues around, an infernal mine of that salt which is so precious in the Soudan that it serves as a medium of exchange, as money more precious even than gold. And finally, he spoke of Timbuctoo impoverished, fallen from its high estate, the opulent and resplendent city of former times now almost in ruins, hiding remnants of its treasures behind cracked walls in fear of the robbers of the desert; but withal apt to become once more a city of glory and fortune, royally seated as it is between the Soudan, that granary of abundance, and the Sahara, the road to Europe, as soon as France shall have opened that road, have connected the provinces of her new empire, and have founded that huge new France of which the ancient fatherland will be but the directing mind.

"That is the dream!" cried Dominique, "that is the gigantic work which the future will achieve! Algeria, connected with Timbuctoo by the Sahara railway line, over which electric engines will carry the whole of old Europe through the far expanse of sand! Timbuctoo connected with Senegal by flotillas of steam vessels and yet other railways, all intersecting the vast empire on every side! New France connected with mother France, the old land, by a wondrous development of the means of communication, and founded, and got ready for the hundred millions of inhabitants who will some day spring up there!... Doubtless these things cannot be done in a night. The trans-Saharian railway is not yet laid down; there are two thousand five hundred kilometres* of bare desert to be crossed which can hardly tempt railway companies; and a certain amount of prosperity must be developed by starting cultivation, seeking and working mines, and increasing exportations before a pecuniary effort can be possible on the part of the motherland. Moreover, there is the question of the natives, mostly of gentle race, though some are ferocious bandits, whose savagery is increased by religious fanaticism, thus rendering the difficulties of our conquest all the greater. Until the terrible problem of Islamism is solved we shall always be coming in conflict with it. And only life, long years of life, can create a new nation, adapt it to the new land, blend diverse elements together, and yield normal existence, homogeneous strength, and genius proper to the clime. But no matter! From this day a new France is born yonder, a huge empire; and it needs our blood-and some must be given it, in order that it may be peopled and be able to draw its incalculable wealth from the soil, and become the greatest, the strongest, and the mightiest in the world!"

* About 1,553 English miles.

Transported with enthusiasm, quivering at the thought of the distant ideal at last revealed to him, Benjamin sat there with tears in his eyes. Ah! the healthy life! the noble life! the other life! the whole mission and work of which he had as yet but confusedly dreamt! Again he asked a question: "And are there many French families there, colonizing like yours?"

Dominique burst into a loud laugh. "Oh, no," said he, "there are certainly a few colonists in our old possessions of Senegal, but yonder in the Niger valley, beyond Djenny, there are, I think, only ourselves. We are the pioneers, the vanguard, the riskers full of faith and hope. And there is some merit in it, for to sensible stay-at-home folks it all seems like defying common sense. Can you picture it? A French family installed among savages, and unprotected, save for the vicinity of a little fort, where a French officer commands a dozen native soldiers-a French family, which is sometimes called upon to fight in person, and which establishes a farm in a land where the fanaticism of some head tribesman may any day stir up trouble. It seems so insane that folks get angry at the mere thought of it, yet it enraptures us and gives us gayety and health, and the courage to achieve victory. We are opening the road, we are giving the example, we are carrying our dear old France yonder, taking to ourselves a huge expanse of virgin land, which will become a province. We have already founded a village which in a hundred years will be a great town. In the colonies no race is more fruitful than the French, though it seems to become barren on its own ancient soil. Thus we shall swarm and swarm, and fill the world! So come then, come then, all of you; since here you are set too closely, since you lack air in your little fields and your overheated, pestilence-breeding towns. There is room for everybody yonder; there are new lands, there is open air that none has breathed, and there is a task to be accomplished which will make all of you heroes, strong, sturdy men, well pleased to live! Come with me. I will take the men, I will take all the women who are willing, and you will carve for yourselves other provinces and found other cities for the future glory and power of the great new France."

He laughed so gayly, he was so handsome, so spirited, so robust, that once again the whole table acclaimed him. They would certainly not follow him yonder, for all those married couples already had their own nests; and all those young folks were already too strongly rooted to the old land by the ties of their race-a race which after displaying such adventurous instincts has now fallen asleep, as it were, at its own fireside. But what a marvellous story it all was-a story to which big and little alike, had listened in rapture, and which to-morrow would, doubtless, arouse within them a passion for glorious enterprise far away! The seed of the unknown was sown, and would grow into a crop of fabulous magnitude.

For the moment Benjamin was the only one who cried amid the enthusiasm which drowned his words: "Yes, yes, I want to live. Take me, take me with you!"

But Dominique resumed, by way of conclusion: "And there is one thing, grandfather, which I have not yet told you. My father has given the name of Chantebled to our farm yonder. He often tells us how you founded your estate here, in an impulse of far-seeing audacity, although everybody jeered and shrugged their shoulders and declared that you must be mad. And, yonder, my father has to put up with the same derision, the same contemptuous pity, for people declare that the good Niger will some day sweep away our village, even if a band of prowling natives does not kill and eat us! But I'm easy in mind about all that, we shall conquer as you conquered, for what seems to be the folly of action is really divine wisdom. There will be another kingdom of the Froments yonder, another huge Chantebled, of which you and my grandmother will be the ancestors, the distant patriarchs, worshipped like deities.... And I drink to your health, grandfather, and I drink to yours, grandmother, on behalf of your other future people, who will grow up full of spirit under the burning sun of the tropics!"

Then with great emotion Mathieu, who had risen, replied in a powerful voice: "To your health! my boy. To the health of my son Nicolas, his wife, Lisbeth, and all who have been born from them! And to the health of all who will follow, from generation to generation!"

And Marianne, who had likewise risen, in her turn said: "To the health of your wives, and your daughters, your spouses and your mothers! To the health of those who will love and produce the greatest sum of life, in order that the greatest possible sum of happiness may follow!"

Then, the banquet ended, they quitted the table and spread freely over the lawn. There was a last ovation around Mathieu and Marianne, who were encompassed by their eager offspring. At one and the same time a score of arms were outstretched, carrying children, whose fair or dark heads they were asked to kiss. Aged as they were, returning to a divine state of childhood, they did not always recognize those little lads and lasses. They made mistakes, used wrong names, fancied that one child was another. Laughter thereupon arose, the mistakes were rectified, and appeals were made to the old people's memory. They likewise laughed, the errors were amusing, but it mattered little if they no longer remembered a name, the child at any rate belonged to the harvest that had sprung from them.

Then there were certain granddaughters and great-granddaughters whom they themselves summoned and kissed by way of bringing good luck to the babes that were expected, the children of their children's children, the race which would ever spread and perpetuate them through the far-off ages. And there were mothers, also, who were nursing, mothers whose little ones, after sleeping quietly during the feast, had now awakened, shrieking their hunger aloud. These had to be fed, and the mothers merrily seated themselves together under the trees and gave them the breast in all serenity. Therein lay the royal beauty of woman, wife and mother; fruitful maternity triumphed over virginity by which life is slain. Ah! might manners and customs change, might the idea of morality and the idea of beauty be altered, and the world recast, based on the triumphant beauty of the mother suckling her babe in all the majesty of her symbolism! From fresh sowings there ever came fresh harvests, the sun ever rose anew above the horizon, and milk streamed forth endlessly like the eternal sap of living humanity. And that river of milk carried life through the veins of the world, and expanded and overflowed for the centuries of the future.

The greatest possible sum of life in order that the greatest possible happiness might result: that was the act of faith in life, the act of hope in the justice and goodness of life's work. Victorious fruitfulness remained the one true force, the sovereign power which alone moulded the future. She was the great revolutionary, the incessant artisan of progress, the mother of every civilization, ever re-creating her army of innumerable fighters, throwing through the centuries millions after millions of poor and hungry and rebellious beings into the fight for truth and justice. Not a single forward step in history has ever been taken without numerousness having urged humanity forward. To-morrow, like yesterday, will be won by the swarming of the multitude whose quest is happiness. And to-morrow will give the benefits which our age has awaited; economic equality obtained even as political equality has been obtained; a just apportionment of wealth rendered easy; and compulsory work re-established as the one glorious and essential need.

It is not true that labor has been imposed on mankind as punishment for sin, it is on the contrary an honor, a mark of nobility, the most precious of boons, the joy, the health, the strength, the very soul of the world, which itself labors incessantly, ever creating the future. And misery, the great, abominable social crime, will disappear amid the glorification of labor, the distribution of the universal task among one and all, each accepting his legitimate share of duties and rights. And may children come, they will simply be instruments of wealth, they will but increase the human capital, the free happiness of a life in which the children of some will no longer be beasts of burden, or food for slaughter or for vice, to serve the egotism of the children of others. And life will then again prove the conqueror; there will come the renascence of life, honored and worshipped, the religion of life so long crushed beneath the hateful nightmare of Roman Catholicism, from which on divers occasions the nations have sought to free themselves by violence, and which they will drive away at last on the now near day when cult and power, and sovereign beauty shall be vested in the fruitful earth and the fruitful spouse.

In that last resplendent hour of eventide, Mathieu and Marianne reigned by virtue of their numerous race. They ended as heroes of life, because of the great creative work which they had accomplished amid battle and toil and grief. Often had they sobbed, but with extreme old age had come peace, deep smiling peace, made up of the good labor performed and the certainty of approaching rest while their children and their children's children resumed the fight, labored and suffered, lived in their own turn. And a part of Mathieu and Marianne's heroic grandeur sprang from the divine desire with which they had glowed, the desire which moulds and regulates the world. They were like a sacred temple in which the god had fixed his abode, they were animated by the inextinguishable fire with which the universe ever burns for the work of continual creation. Their radiant beauty under their white hair came from the light which yet filled their eyes, the light of love's power, which age had been unable to extinguish. Doubtless, as they themselves jestingly remarked at times, they had been prodigals, their family had been such a large one. But, after all, had they not been right? Their children had diminished no other's share, each had come with his or her own means of subsistence. And, besides, 'tis good to garner in excess when the granaries of a country are empty. Many such improvidents are needed to combat the egotism of others at times of great dearth. Amid all the frightful loss and wastage, the race is strengthened, the country is made afresh, a good civic example is given by such healthy prodigality as Mathieu and Marianne had shown.

But a last act of heroism was required of them. A month after the festival, when Dominique was on the point of returning to the Soudan, Benjamin one evening told them of his passion, of the irresistible summons from the unknown distant plains, which he could but obey.

"Dear father, darling mother, let me go with Dominique! I have struggled, I feel horrified with myself at quitting you thus, at your great age. But I suffer too dreadfully; my soul is full of yearnings, and seems ready to burst; and I shall die of shameful sloth, if I do not go."

They listened with breaking hearts. Their son's words did not surprise them; they had heard them coming ever since their diamond wedding. And they trembled, and felt that they could not refuse; for they knew that they were guilty in having kept their last-born in the family nest after surrendering to life all the others. Ah! how insatiable life was-it would not so much as suffer that tardy avarice of theirs; it demanded even the precious, discreetly hidden treasure from which, with jealous egotism, they had dreamt of parting only when they might find themselves upon the threshold of the grave.

Deep silence reigned; but at last Mathieu slowly answered: "I cannot keep you back, my son; go whither life calls you.... If I knew, however, that I should die to-night, I would ask you to wait till to-morrow."

In her turn Marianne gently said: "Why cannot we die at once? We should then escape this last great pang, and you would only carry our memory away with you."

Once again did the cemetery of Janville appear, the field of peace, where dear ones already slept, and where they would soon join them. No sadness tinged that thought, however; they hoped that they would lie down there together on the same day, for they could not imagine life, one without the other. And, besides, would they not forever live in their children; forever be united, immortal, in their race?

"Dear father, darling mother," Benjamin repeated; "it is I who will be dead to-morrow if I do not go. To wait for your death-good God! would not that be to desire it? You must still live long years, and I wish to live like you."

There came another pause, then Mathieu and Marianne replied together: "Go then, my boy. You are right, one must live."

But on the day of farewell, what a wrench, what a final pang there was when they had to tear themselves from that flesh of their flesh, all that remained to them, in order to hand over to life the supreme gift it demanded! The departure of Nicolas seemed to begin afresh; again came the "never more" of the migratory child taking wing, given to the passing wind for the sowing of unknown distant lands, far beyond the frontiers.

"Never more!" cried Mathieu in tears.

And Marianne repeated in a great sob which rose from the very depths of her being: "Never more! Never more!"

There was now no longer any mere question of increasing a family, of building up the country afresh, of re-peopling France for the struggles of the future, the question was one of the expansion of humanity, of the reclaiming of deserts, of the peopling of the entire earth. After one's country came the earth; after one's family, one's nation, and then mankind. And what an invading flight, what a sudden outlook upon the world's immensity! All the freshness of the oceans, all the perfumes of virgin continents, blended in a mighty gust like a breeze from the offing. Scarcely fifteen hundred million souls are to-day scattered through the few cultivated patches of the globe, and is that not indeed paltry, when the globe, ploughed from end to end, might nourish ten times that number? What narrowness of mind there is in seeking to limit mankind to its present figure, in admitting simply the continuance of exchanges among nations, and of capitals dying where they stand-as Babylon, Nineveh, and Memphis died-while other queens of the earth arise, inherit, and flourish amid fresh forms of civilization, and this without population ever more increasing! Such a theory is deadly, for nothing remains stationary: whatever ceases to increase decreases and disappears. Life is the rising tide whose waves daily continue the work of creation, and perfect the work of awaited happiness, which shall come when the times are accomplished. The flux and reflux of nations are but periods of the forward march: the great centuries of light, which dark ages at times replace, simply mark the phases of that march. Another step forward is ever taken, a little more of the earth is conquered, a little more life is brought into play. The law seems to lie in a double phenomenon; fruitfulness creating civilization, and civilization restraining fruitfulness. And equilibrium will come from it all on the day when the earth, being entirely inhabited, cleared, and utilized, shall at last have accomplished its destiny. And the divine dream, the generous utopian thought soars into the heavens; families blended into nations, nations blended into mankind, one sole brotherly people making of the world one sole city of peace and truth and justice! Ah! may eternal fruitfulness ever expand, may the seed of humanity be carried over the frontiers, peopling the untilled deserts afar, and increasing mankind through the coming centuries until dawns the reign of sovereign life, mistress at last both of time and of space!

And after the departure of Benjamin, whom Dominique took with him, Mathieu and Marianne recovered the joyful serenity and peace born of the work which they had so prodigally accomplished. Nothing more was theirs; nothing save the happiness of having given all to life. The "Never more" of separation became the "Still more" of life-life incessantly increasing, expanding beyond the limitless horizon. Candid and smiling, those all but centenarian heroes triumphed in the overflowing florescence of their race. The milk had streamed even athwart the seas-from the old land of France to the immensity of virgin Africa, the young and giant France of to-morrow. After the foundation of Chantebled, on a disdained, neglected spot of the national patrimony, another Chantebled was rising and becoming a kingdom in the vast deserted tracts which life yet had to fertilize. And this was the exodus, human expansion throughout the world, mankind upon the march towards the Infinite.

England.-August 1898-May 1899.

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