Saturday, 24/02/2024 - 10:02

Once more the hall of justice was changed into a guard-room; and as on the previous evening, the sentinels were doubled, two of whom guarded the door of the closed dungeon.

Toward midnight, a man, bearing a lantern in his hand, crossed the guard-room, where he made himself known, and ordered the dungeon to be opened. It was Cimourdain. He entered, leaving the door half open behind him. The dungeon was dark and silent. Taking one step forward in the gloom, he placed the lantern on the ground and stood still. The even breathing of a sleeping man could be heard through the darkness. Cimourdain stood dreamily listening to this peaceful sound.

On the truss of straw at the farther end of the dungeon lay Gauvain sound asleep. It was his breathing that he heard.

Cimourdain moved as noiselessly as possible, and when he had drawn near, he fixed his eyes upon Gauvain; no mother gazing upon her sleeping infant could have worn a look more unutterably tender. The expression was probably beyond his control; he pressed his clenched hands against his eyes as children sometimes do, and for a moment stood perfectly still. Then he knelt, gently lifted Gauvain’s hand, and carried it to his lips.

Gauvain stirred. He opened his eyes, with the vague surprise of sudden waking. The feeble glimmer of a lantern dimly lighted the dungeon. He recognized Cimourdain.

“Ah, is that you, master?” he said.

Then he added, –

“I dreamed that Death was kissing my hand.”

A sudden influx of thoughts will now and then startle a man, and so it was with Cimourdain; at times this wave rolls in so tumultuously that it threatens to submerge the soul. But Cimourdain’s deep soul gave forth no sign; he could but utter the word “Gauvain!”

And the two men stood gazing at each other – Cimourdain’s eyes alight with flames that scorched his tears, Gauvain with his sweetest smile.

Gauvain raised himself on one elbow, and said: –

“That scar I see on your face is the sabre-cut you received in my stead. It was but yesterday you stood beside me in the mêlée, and all for my sake. If Providence had not placed you by my cradle, where should I be to-day? In ignorance. If I have any sense of duty, it is to you that I owe it. I was born in fetters, – I mean the bonds of prejudice, – which you have loosened; you promoted my free development, and from the mummy you have created a child. You have implanted a conscience in a being who bade fair to prove an abortion. Without you my growth would have been cramped; it is through your influence that I live. I was but a lord, you have made of me a citizen; I was only a citizen, you have made of me a mind; you have fitted me to lead the life of a man upon the earth, and have shown my soul the way to heaven. It is you who placed in my hands the key of truth that unlocks the domain wherein we find the realities of human life, and the key of light to the realms above. I thank you, my master! To you I owe my life.”

Cimourdain, seating himself on the straw beside Gauvain, said, –

“I have come to sup with you.”

Gauvain broke the black bread and offered it to him. After Cimourdain had taken a piece, Gauvain handed him the jug of water.

“Drink first yourself,” said Cimourdain.

Gauvain drank, and then passed the jug to Cimourdain, who drank after him.

Gauvain had taken but a swallow.

Cimourdain took deep draughts.

During this supper Gauvain ate, and Cimourdain drank, – a proof of the calmness of the one, and of the burning fever of the other.

A certain awful tranquillity pervaded this dungeon. The two men conversed.

“Gauvain was saying, –

“Grand events are taking form. No one can comprehend the mysterious workings of revolution at the present time. Behind the visible achievement rests the invisible, the one concealing the other. The visible work seems cruel; the invisible is sublime. At this moment I can see it all very clearly. It is strange and beautiful. We have been forced to use the materials of the Past. Hence this wonderful ’93. Beneath a scaffolding of barbarism we are building the temple of civilization.

“Yes,” replied Cimourdain, “these temporary expedients pave the way for the final adjustment, wherein justice and duty stand side by side, where taxation will be proportionate and progressive, and military service compulsory; where there is to be absolute equality in rank; and where, above all things else, the straight line of the Law is to be maintained, – the republic of the absolute.”

“I prefer the republic of the ideal,” said Gauvain.

He broke off, then continued: –

“But, oh, my master, where in the picture you have just drawn in words do you place devotion, sacrifice, abnegation, the sweet intermingling of kindliness and love? An accurate adjustment of proportions is a good thing, but harmony is still better. The lyre stands higher than the scales. Your republic deals with the material interest of man; mine transports him to the skies: it is like the difference between a theorem and an eagle.”

“You are lost in the clouds.”

“And you in your calculations.”

“There is an element of dreaminess in harmony.”

“So there is in algebra.”

“I would have man fashioned according to Euclid.”

“And I like him better as described by Homer.”

The stern smile of Cimourdain rested on Gauvain as though to stay the flight of his soul.



“Poetry. Beware of poets!”

“Yes; that is a familiar warning: beware zephyrs, beware of sunbeams, beware of perfumes, beware of flowers, beware of the stars.”

“That sort of thing can never supply us with food.”

“How can you tell? There is mental nourishment: a man finds food in thought.”

“Let us indulge in no abstractions! The republic is like two and two in mathematics: two and two make four. When I have given to each man his due – “

“Then your duty is to give him what does not revert to him as a right.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I mean those mutual concessions which each man owes his neighbor, and which go to make up the sum of social life.”

“There is nothing beyond the just limits of the law.”

“Ah, but there is – everything!”

“I see nothing but justice.”

“I look higher.”

“What stands higher than justice?”

“Equity.”

Now and then both paused, as though a sudden light had flashed across their minds.

Cimourdain continued, –

“Explain your assertion. I challenge you to do it.”

“Very well, then. You demand compulsory military service. Against whom? Against mankind. I object to military service; I would have peace. You desire to help the wretched; what I wish is the abolition of their misery. You demand proportionate taxation; I would have no taxes whatsoever. I would have the public expenses reduced to the lowest level, and paid for by the social surplus.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“This: In the first place, it is for you to suppress sycophancy, – that of the priest, the soldier, and the judge. Then, use your wealth to the best advantage; distribute over your furrows all that fertilizing matter which is now thrown into your sewers. Three quarters of the soil lies fallow; plough it up; redeem the waste pastures; divide the communal lands; let each man have a farm, and each farm a man. You will increase a hundredfold the social product. At the present time, France affords her peasants meat but four times a year; well cultivated, she could feed three millions of men, all Europe. Utilize nature, that gigantic auxiliary; enlist every breeze, every waterfall, every magnetic current, in your service. This globe has a subterranean network of veins, through which flows a marvellous circulation of water, oil, and fire; pierce this vein of the globe, and let the water feed your fountains, the oil your lamps, and the fire your hearths. Consider the action of the waves, – the ebb and flow of the tides. What is the ocean? A prodigious force wasted. How stupid is the earth, to make no use of the ocean!”

“There you go, in full career with your dreams!”

“You mean with my realities.”

Gauvain continued, –

“And woman, – how do you dispose of her?”

Cimourdain replied, –

“Leave her as she is, – the servant of man.”

“Yes, under one condition.”

“What is that?”

“That man shall be the servant of woman.”

“What are you thinking of?” exclaimed Cimourdain. “Man a servant? Never! Man is the master. I admit but one kingdom, – that of the fire-side. Man is king in his own home.”

“Yes, on one condition.”

“What is that?”

“That woman shall be its queen.”

“You mean that you demand for both man and woman – “

“Equality.”

“‘Equality’! Can you dream of such a thing? The two beings are so entirely unlike!”

“I said equality, not identity.”

There was another pause, a sort of truce as it were, between these two minds exchanging their lightning flashes. Cimourdain broke it.

“And the child? To whose care would you intrust that?”

“First to the father who begets, then to the mother who gives him birth, later to the master who educates, and to the city that makes a man of him, then to the country which is his supreme mother, and lastly to humanity which is his great ancestress.”

“You have not mentioned God.”

“Each step – father, mother, master, city, country, humanity – is but a rung in the ladder that leads to God.”

Cimourdain was silent, while Gauvain continued:

“When one climbs to the top of the ladder one has reached God. God is revealed, and one has but to enter into heaven.”

Cimourdain made the gesture of one who calls another back: “Gauvain, return to earth. We want to realize the possible.”

“Do not begin then by making it impossible.”

“The possible may always be realized.”

“Not always. Rough usage destroys Utopia. Nothing is more defenceless than the egg.”

“Still, Utopia must be seized and forced to wear the yoke of reality; she must be circumscribed by a system of actual facts. The abstract must be resolved into the concrete: what it loses in beauty it gains in usefulness; although contracted, it is improved. Justice must enter into law; and when justice has become law, it is absolute. That is what I call the possible.”

“The possible includes more than that.”

“Ah, there you go again, soaring away into the land of dreams!”

“The possible is a mysterious bird, always hovering above the head of man.”

“We must catch it.”

“And take it alive too.”

Gauvain continued: –

“My idea is this: Ever onward. If God had intended that man should go backwards He would have given him an eye in the back of his head. Let us look always towards the dawn, the blossom-time, the hour of birth. Those things which are falling to decay encourage the new springing life. In the splitting of the old tree may be heard a summons to the new one. Each century will do its work, – civic, to-day; humane, to-morrow: to-day, the question of justice; to-morrow, that of compensation. Wages and Justice are in point of fact synonymous terms. Man’s life is not to be spent without a suitable compensation. When He bestows life, God contracts thereby a debt: justice is the inherent compensation; remuneration is the acquirement thereof.”

Gauvain spoke with the calm serenity of a prophet; Cimourdain listened. The parts were changed, and now it seemed as if it were the pupil who had become the master.

Cimourdain murmured, –

“You go at a rapid rate.”

“Perhaps because I have no time to lose,” replied Gauvain with a smile.

He continued: –

“Ah, master, here is the difference between our two utopias. You would have military service obligatory; I demand the same for education. You dream of man the soldier; I, of man the citizen. You wish him to strike terror; I would have him thoughtful. You establish a republic of swords, while I desire to found – “

He broke off.

“I should like to establish a republic of minds.”

Cimourdain looked down on the flag-stones of the dungeon.

“And in the mean time what would you have?” he asked.

“The existing condition of things.”

“Then you absolve the present moment.”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because it is a tempest. A tempest always knows what it is about. For every oak that is struck by lightning, how many forests are purified! Civilization has a plague; a strong wind is sent to expel it from the land. It may not choose its methods wisely, perhaps, but can it do otherwise? Its task is no light one. Viewing the horror of the miasma, I can understand the fury of the wind.”

Gauvain went on: –

“But what matters the storm to me, if I have a compass; and what power can events gain over me, if I have my conscience?”

And he added in that undertone which produces so solemn an effect: –

“There is One to whose will we must always yield.”

“Who is that?” asked Cimourdain.

Gauvain pointed upwards. Cimourdain looked in the direction of the uplifted finger, and it seemed to him that he could see the starry sky through the dungeon vault.

Once more they relapsed into silence.

Cimourdain continued: –

“A supernatural state of society; I tell you it is no longer possible, – it is a mere dream.”

“It is a goal; otherwise, of what use is society? Better remain in a state of nature; be like the savages. Otaheite is a paradise, only in that paradise no one thinks. Better an intelligent hell than a stupid heaven. But, no, – we will have no hell whatever. Let us be a human society. Super-natural? Yes. But if you are to add nothing to Nature, why leave her? In that case you may as well content yourself with work like the ant, and with honey like the bee. Rest content among the laboring classes, instead of rising to the ranks of superior intelligence. If you add anything to Nature, you must of necessity rise above her: to add is to augment; to augment is to increase. Society is the exaltation of Nature. I would have what bee-hives and ant-hills lack, – monuments, arts, poetry, heroes, men of genius. To bear eternal burdens is no fit law for man. No, no, no! let us have no more pariahs, no more slaves, no more convicts, no more lost souls! I would have every attribute of man a symbol of civilization and an example of progress; I would present liberty to the intellect, equality to the heart, fraternity to the soul. Away with the yoke! Man is not made for dragging chains, but that he may spread his wings. Let us have no more of the reptile. Let the larva turn into a butterfly; let the grub change into a living flower and fly away. I wish – “

He broke off. His eyes shone, his lips moved, he said no more.

The door had remained open. Sounds from without penetrated into the dungeon. The distant echo of a trumpet reached their ears, – probably the réveille; then, when the guard was relieved, they heard the butt-ends of the sentinels’ muskets striking the ground; again, apparently quite near the tower, so far as the darkness allowed one to judge, a noise like the moving of planks and beams, accompanied by muffled and intermittent sounds resembling the blows of a hammer. Cimourdain turned pale as he listened. Gauvain heard nothing. Deeper and deeper grew his reverie. Hardly did he seem to breathe, so absorbed was he in the visions of his brain. Now and then he moved, like one slightly startled. A gathering brightness shone in his eyes, like the light of dawn.

Some time passed thus.

“Of what are you thinking?” asked Cimourdain.

“Of the future,” replied Gauvain.

And he fell back again into his meditation. Unobserved by the latter, Cimourdain rose from the bed of straw whereon they had both been sitting. His eyes rested yearningly upon the young dreamer, while he slowly moved backward towards the door. He went out. The dungeon was again closed.



V

 

 

 



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *