Ninety-three/3.7.5

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CHAPTER V.

THE DUNGEON.

The hall of justice had become the guardroom again; the watch was doubled, as the day before; two sentinels guarded the door of the closed dungeon.

About midnight a man holding a lantern in his hand, crossed the guardroom, made himself known, and had the dungeon opened.

It was Cimourdain.

He went in and the door remained ajar behind him.

The dungeon was dark and silent. Cimourdain took a step into the darkness, set the lantern on the floor, and stood still. He heard the regular breathing of a man asleep. Cimourdain listened thoughtfully to this peaceful sound.

Gauvain was on the bundle of straw on the floor of the dungeon. It was his breath which was heard. He was sound asleep.

Cimourdain went forward with the least possible noise, came close to Gauvain and began to look at him; a mother looking at her sleeping babe would have no more tender and unspeakable fondness in her face. This sight was perhaps too much for Cimourdain; Cimourdain pressed both hands over his eyes, as children do some times, and remained motionless for a moment. Then he knelt down and raised Gauvain's hand gently to his lips.

Gauvain stirred. He opened his eyes, with the vague surprise of one suddenly awakened. The lantern feebly lighted the dungeon. He recognized Cimourdain.

"Ah!" he said, "it is you, my master."

And he added,—

"I was dreaming that death kissed my hand."

Cimourdain shuddered, as we sometimes do at the abrupt invasion of a surge of thoughts; sometimes this tide is so high and so stormy that it seems as if it would drown the soul. Nothing escaped from the depths of Cimourdain's heart. He could only say,—

"Gauvain!"

And they looked at each other; Cimourdain with his eyes full of those flames which burn tears, Gauvain with his gentlest smile.

Gauvain rose on his elbow, and said,—

"This scar which I see on your face is from the sabre cut that you received for me. Yesterday, again; you were in the struggle beside me and on account of me. If Providence had not placed you near my cradle, where should I be to-day? In darkness. If I have any idea of duty, it has come from you. I was born bound. Prejudices are ligatures; you removed these bands from me, you have given me liberty of growth, and of what was only a mummy you made a child once more. You gave a consciousness to the abortion that would otherwise have been. Had it not been for you, I should have grown up a dwarf. I exist through you. I was only a seigneur, you made me a citizen. I was only a citizen, you made me an intellect; you made me fit, as a man, for this earthly life, and, as a soul, for the life celestial. You gave me the key of truth, that I might enter the reality of human life, and the key of light, that I might go beyond. Oh! my master, I thank you. You have created me."

Cimourdain sat down on the straw beside Gauvain, and said to him,—

"I have come to take supper with you."

Gauvain broke up the black bread and offered it to him. Cimourdain took a piece of it; then Gauvain passed him the jug of water.

"Drink first," said Cimourdain.

Gauvain drank and passed the jug to Cimourdain, who drank after him. Gauvain only took one swallow.

Cimourdain took a long draught.

At this supper, Gauvain ate and Cimourdain drank, a sign of calmness in one and of feverishness in the other.

A strange, terrible serenity was in this dungeon. The two men talked.

Gauvain said,—

"Great things are being planned. What the Revolution is doing at this moment is mysterious. Behind its visible work there is a work invisible. One conceals the other. The visible work is cruel, the invisible work is sublime. At this moment I can see everything very clearly. It is strangely beautiful. It was necessary to make use of the materials of the past. Hence this extraordinary '93. Under a scaffolding of barbarism, a temple of civilization is building."

"Yes," replied Cimourdain. "Out of things temporal will arise the definitive. The definitive, that is to say right and duty, in parallel lines, proportional and progressive taxes, obligatory military service, levelling without deviation, and above all and through all, that straight line, law. The Republic of the Absolute."

"I prefer," said Gauvain, "the Republic of the Ideal." He hesitated, then continued,—

"Oh, my master, in all that you have just said, where do you place devotion, sacrifice, abnegation, the magnanimous intertwining of benevolence, love? Putting everything in equilibrium is good; making everything harmonious is better. Above the scales is the lyre. Your republic doses, measures, and rules man; mine carries him up into the clear sky; that is the difference between a theorem and an eagle."

"You will be lost in the clouds."

"And you in mathematics."

"Harmony is a dream."

"There are unknown quantities in Algebra."

"I would have man made according to Euclid."

"And I," said Gauvain, "I would rather have him made according to Homer."

Cimourdain's stern smile rested on Gauvain, as if to hold back his soul.

"Poetry. Place no trust in poets."

"Yes, I know that saying. Put no trust in breezes, sunbeams, put no trust in perfumes, put no trust in flowers, put no trust in constellations."

"None of them will give you anything to eat."

"How do you know. Ideas too, are food. To think is to eat."

"No abstractions. The Republic is two and two make four. When I have given to each what belongs to him──"

"It will remain for you to give to each what does not belong to him."

"What do you mean by that?"

"I mean the vast reciprocal concession that each owes to all, and all owe to each, and which is the whole social law."

"There is nothing beyond strict law."

"There is everything."

"I see nothing but justice."

"For my part, I see higher."

"What is there above justice?"

"Equity."

Occasionally, they stopped, as if to catch glimpses of light.

Cimourdain resumed,—

"I challenge you to explain."

"I will do so. You would have military service obligatory; against whom? Against other men. But I would not have any military service at all. I want peace. You would have the wretched assisted, but I would have misery suppressed. You would have proportional taxes. I would have no taxes at all. I want the common expenses reduced to their simplest form, and paid by the overplus of society."

"What do you mean by that?"

"This: first, to suppress every form of parasite; that represented by the priest, that represented by the judge, that represented by the soldier. Then make some use of your waste riches; you throw manure into the sewers, throw it on the fields. Three-quarters of the soil is waste land; clear up France. Put an end to useless pastures, divide the communal lands. Let every man have a piece of ground, and every piece of ground have a man. It would multiply the products of society a hundredfold. France, at the present time, only gives her peasants meat four days in the year; if well cultivated, she ought to feed three hundred millions of men,—all Europe. Utilize nature, that great auxiliary so much scorned. Make all the winds, all the waterfalls, all the magnetic effluvia work for you. The globe has a network of subterranean veins; in this network there is a prodigious circulation of water, oil, and fire; pierce the veins of the globe, and let this water gush forth for your fountains, this oil for your lamps, this fire for your hearths. Reflect on the motion of the waves, the flux and reflux, the ebb and flow of the tides. What is the ocean? An enormous force wasted. How stupid the earth is not to make use of the ocean.

"You are lost in a dream."

"That is to say, in actual facts."

Gauvain went on,—

"And woman—what use do you make of her?"

Cimourdain replied,—

"Let her be what she is, the servant of man."

"Yes. On one condition."

"What?"

"That man shall be the servant of woman."

"Is that your belief?" exclaimed Cimourdain. "Man a servant! Never. Man is master. I admit but one royalty, that of the fireside. Man is king at home."

"Yes. On one condition."

"What is that?"

"That woman be queen there."

"That is to say that you want for man and for woman──"

"Equality."

"Equality! Are you dreaming? The two beings are different."

"I said equality. I did not say identity."

There was a pause again, like a sort of truce between these two minds exchanging flashes of thought. Cimourdain broke the silence.

"And the child? To whom would you give it?"

"First to the father who begets it, then to the mother who bears it, then to the master to teach it, then to the city to make a man of it, then to the country, which is the mother supreme, then to humanity, which is the great ancestor."

"You say nothing of God."

"Each of these steps,—father, mother, master, city, country, humanity,—is a round in the ladder which leads up to God."

Cimourdain was silent. Gauvain went on,—

"When one is at the top of the ladder, one has reached God. God opens the door; there is nothing to do but to go in."

Cimourdain made the gesture of a person who is calling some one back.

"Gauvain, come back to earth. We want to realize possibilities."

"Begin by not making them impossible."

"The possible can always be realized."

"Not always. If Utopia is maltreated it is killed. Nothing is more defenceless than the egg."

"But it is necessary to seize Utopia, place it under the yoke of reality, and frame it, in fact. Abstract ideas must be transformed to concrete ideas; what it loses in beauty it will gain in utility; it will be less but better. Right must enter into law; and when right has become law, it is absolute. This is what I call the possible."

"The possible is more than that."

"Ah! you are dreaming again."

"The possible is a mysterious bird always hovering above man."

"It must be caught."

"Alive."

Gauvain continued,—

"My motto is: Always forward. If God had wished man to go backward, he would have put an eye in the back of his head. Let us always look towards the sunrise, development, birth. Whatever falls encourages whatever is trying to rise. The shattering of the old tree is a call to the young tree. Each century will do its work; to-day, civic; to-morrow, humane. To-day the question of right, to-morrow the question of wage. Wage and right are the same word in reality. Man does not live to receive no wage; God, in giving life, contracts a debt: right is innate wage; wage is acquired right."

Gauvain spoke with the assurance of a prophet. Cimourdain listened. The rôles were exchanged, and now it seemed as if the pupil had become the master.

Cimourdain murmured,—

"You go too fast."

"Perhaps it is because I am somewhat pressed for time," said Gauvain, with a smile.

And he added,—

"O my master, this is the difference between our two Utopias. You want the barracks obligatory, while I want a school. You dream of a man as a soldier, I dream of him as a citizen. You want him to be terrible, I would have him thoughtful. You would found a republic of swords, I would found——"

He hesitated,—

"I would found a republic of intellects."

Cimourdain looked at the pavement of the dungeon and said,—

"And till then what would you have?"

"What now exists."

"Then you absolve the present moment?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Because it is a tempest. A tempest always knows what it is about. For one oak struck by lightning, how many forests purified! Civilization had a pestilence, this great gale is sweeping it away. It does not discriminate enough, perhaps. Can it do otherwise? It has such a rough cleansing to perform. Before the horror of miasma, I understand the fury of the blast."

Gauvain continued,—

"Moreover, what is the tempest to me, if I have the compass? and what difference can events make to me, if I have my conscience?"

And he added in a low voice, which was solemn as well,—

"There is one who must always be allowed to do his will."

"Who?" asked Cimourdain.

Gauvain pointed above his head. Cimourdain followed the direction of his finger, and through the ceiling of the dungeon it seemed to him as if he saw the starry heavens.

They were again silent.

Cimourdain took up the discourse.

"Society greater than nature! I tell you it is not possible, it is a dream."

"It is its aim. Otherwise, what is the good of society? Remain in nature; be savages. Otaheite is a paradise. Only, in that paradise they do not think. Much better an intelligent hell than a stupid paradise. But no, let us have no hell. Let us have human society. Greater than nature. Yes. If you add nothing to nature, why leave nature? then, be content with work like the ant, and with honey like the bee. Remain the stupid workman rather than sovereign intelligence. If you add something to nature, you will necessarily be greater than she is. To add is to increase, and to increase is to enlarge. Society is nature made sublime. I would have everything which beehives lack, everything which ant-hills lack, monuments, arts, poetry, heroes, geniuses; to carry everlasting burdens is not the law of man. No, no, no; no more pariahs, no more slaves, no more convicts, no more condemned! I would have each attribute of man a symbol of civilization, and a pattern of progress; I want liberty in the mind, equality in the heart, fraternity in the soul. No! no more bondage! man was made, not to drag chains, but to spread his wings. No more of man as a reptile. I would have the larva transformed to a lepidopter; I would have the earthworm changed to a living flower, and fly away. I would have——"

He stopped. His eye grew bright.

His lips moved, he ceased speaking.

The door had been left open. Noises from outside penetrated into the dungeon. Sounds of distant trumpets were heard. It was probably the réveillé; then gun stocks striking the ground as the sentinels were relieved; then, quite near the tower, as far as could be judged in the darkness, a sound, as if they were moving boards and planks, with dull, intermittent thuds, like the blows of a hammer. Cimourdain listened, and grew pale. Gauvain did not hear it. His reverie grew more and more profound. It seemed as if he no longer breathed, he was so absorbed in what he saw in the visions that haunted his brain. His frame underwent gentle tremors. The dawn-like brightness in his eyes increased.

Some time passed thus. Cimourdain asked,—

"What are you thinking about?"

"The future," said Gauvain.

And he relapsed into thought again. Cimourdain rose from the bed of straw where they were sitting together. Gauvain did not notice him. Cimourdain, with his eyes fixed with infinite affection on the young dreamer, stepped slowly backwards to the door, and went out. The dungeon was closed.