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Authors: Roger Martin Du Gard

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BOOK: The Thibaults
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The violence with which he spoke was so compelling that the women were carried away by his conviction.

“She is well!” he added. “But leave me alone with her now.”

With the dexterity of a conjurer, he gradually relaxed his hold on the child’s wrists, finger by finger, then gave a little backward jump, leaving her limbs free. She lay, relaxed and docile, on the bed.

“Life is good!” he chanted. “And all things are good. Good is wisdom, and good is love. All health is in Christ, and Christ is in us all.”

He turned to the maid and nurse, who had moved away to the far end of the room. “Please go, and leave me with her.”

“Yes, go!” Mme. de Fontanin said. But Gregory had drawn himself up to his full height and his outstretched arm seemed to be hurling an anathema at the table with its medicine bottles and compresses and the bowl of crushed ice. “First take these things away!” he commanded.

The women obeyed.

No sooner was he alone with Mme. de Fontanin than he cried cheerfully: “Now, open the window! Open it as wide as you can, my dear.”

Outside in the street a cool breeze was rustling in the tree-tops. Sweeping into the room, it seemed to hurl itself on the polluted air, driving it aloft in eddying flurries and in a final onslaught whirling it outside the window. And then it laid its cool caress on the sick child’s burning cheeks. She shivered.

“Won’t she catch cold?” Mme. de Fontanin murmured.

A cheerful grin was his first rejoinder. At last he spoke.

“Yes, you can shut it now. Yes, all is well. And now light all your lights, Mme. de Fontanin. We must have brightness round us, we must have joy. And in our hearts too we must have light, and joy abounding. ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?’ ” And, raising his hands, he added: “ ‘Thou hast granted me to come before the accursed hour.’ ”

He drew up a chair to the bedside. “Be seated,” he said. “You must be calm, perfectly calm. Hold on to the Personal Control. Listen only to the promptings of Our Lord. I say to you it is Christ’s will that she shall recover. Let us share His will. Let us invoke the mighty power of Good. Spirit is everything, everything is spirit. The material is dominated by the spiritual. For two days this poor child has been exposed to the influences of the Negative. With what disgust those men and Women inspire me! Their minds are bent upon the worst, and they can evoke nothing but the powers of ill. And they think that ‘all is over’ when they have come to the end of their wretched, puling little ‘certainties’!”

The moans set in again and Jenny began tossing about on the bed. Suddenly she threw back her head and her lips parted as if she were about to breathe her last. Mme. de Fontanin flung herself on the bed, her body stretched above the child’s and cried out passionately:

“No, no! For pity’s sake!”

The pastor advanced on her, as if he held her responsible for the sudden crisis.

“Afraid? So your faith has failed you? Fear is of the body only. In God’s presence there is no fear. Put aside your carnal being, it is not truly you. Hear what Jesus Christ says: ‘What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.’ Now, have done with fear and—pray!” She knelt down. “Pray!” he repeated sternly. “Pray first of all for yourself, oh doubting soul! May God restore to you trust and peace. It is in your perfect trust that the child will find salvation. Call on God’s Holy Spirit. I unite my heart with yours. Now, let us pray.”

He communed with himself for a while, then began the prayer. He was standing up, his feet together, his arms folded, his closed eyes turned heavenward; wisps of hair straggled on his forehead like an aureole of black flames. At first it was only a faint murmuring, but gradually the words became distinct, and, like the deep, rhythmic drone of a church organ, the laboured breathing of the child accompanied the invocation.

“Omnipotent, creative Breath of Life, Thou who art everywhere, in every tiny atom of all Thy creatures, I call upon Thee from the depths of my heart. Fill with Thy peace this sorely afflicted home. Drive far away from this couch all that is not a thought of life. Evil lies only in our weakness. O Lord, cast out of us the Negative.

“Thou alone art Infinite Wisdom, and all Thou doest with us is according to the Law. Therefore this woman commends to Thee her child, on the threshold of death. She makes her daughter over to Thy will; Thy will be done. And if it must be that this young child be snatched from her mother, she bows to Thy decree.”

“Oh, James, please don’t say that,” she moaned. “Not that! Not that!”

Gregory did not move from where he stood, but she felt his hand fall heavily on her shoulder.

“O woman of little faith,” he said, “can this be you, you on whose heart the heavenly spirit has breathed so often?”

“Oh, James, these last three days have been more than I could bear. I can’t, I can’t bear any more!”

He stepped back a pace. “I look at her—and it is no longer she. I can no longer recognize her. She has let Evil enter into her soul, into the holy temple of the Lord… . Pray, poor soul, pray!”

The child’s limbs were twitching under the bedclothes, racked by violent discharges of pent-up nervous force. Her eyes seemed starting out of their sockets, as they roved round the room, staring at each lamp in turn. But Gregory paid no attention to her. Clasping the little girl tightly in her arms, Mme. de Fontanin did her best to check the convulsions.

“All-Powerful Force,” the pastor intoned, “Thou who art the Truth and the Life, Thou hast said: ‘Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself.’ So be it. If this mother is to be bereaved of her child, she bows herself to Thy will.”

“No, James, no!”

The pastor bent towards her.

“Renounce! Renunciation is the leaven; as leaven works in dough, so does renunciation with all evil thinking, making the Good rise.” He drew himself up. “And so, O Lord, if it is Thy will, take her daughter from her. She yields her child to Thee. And if Thou hast need of her son also …”

“No! No!”

.”… and if Thou hast need of her son also, let him, too, be reft from her! May he never cross again his mother’s threshold!”

“My Daniel! Oh, for pity’s sake!”

“Lord, she yields her son to Thy wisdom, with her free consent And, if her husband must be taken from her, let him be taken, too!”

“Not Jerome. No… .” Her voice was broken with emotion and she had sunk onto her knees.

“May he, too, be taken from her!” the pastor cried, his voice rising in a wild ecstasy. “May he be taken, without cavil, and in obedience to Thy will alone, O Fountainhead of Light, Source of all Good, Spirit Divine!”

For a while he was silent; then, without looking at her, he asked: “Well, have you made the sacrifice?”

“Please have some pity, James. I can’t, I can’t …!”

“Then pray.” After some minutes had passed, he spoke again. “Well, have you made the sacrifice, the sacrifice of all you love?”

She made no answer but fell forward, fainting, onto the bed… .

Nearly an hour had passed. There was no movement from the bed; only the child’s swollen head kept tossing to and fro upon the pillow. Her cheeks were red and each intake of breath seemed to rasp her throat. Her unclosing eyes had the blank stare of madness.

Suddenly, though Mme. de Fontanin had not moved or spoken, the pastor gave a start as if she had called his name, then went and knelt beside her. She drew herself up; her features were less strained. For a long while she gazed at the young face lying on the pillow.

Stretching out her arms, she cried: “Not my will, but Thy will be done, O Lord!”

Gregory had never doubted that these words would be spoken, at their due hour. His eyes were closed; with all his fervour he was invoking the grace of God.

The night wore on. At times it seemed as if the child were at her last gasp, that what little life remained to her was flickering out, as intermittently her eyes grew dim. Now and again her body was racked by spasms of pain; each time this happened Gregory took her hand in his and raised his voice in humble prayer.

“We shall gather in our harvest. But prayer is needed. Let us pray.”

Towards five o’clock he rose, replaced a blanket that had slipped onto the floor, and flung the window open. The cold night air poured into the room. Mme. de Fontanin, who was still on her knees, made no movement to restrain him.

He went out onto the balcony. There was little sign of dawn as yet. The sky was still a dim metallic grey and the avenue a long tunnel of darkness. But beyond the Luxembourg Gardens there was a faint sheen on the horizon, and wraiths of mist were drifting up the avenue, swathing the black tree-tops in fleecy vapour. To keep himself from shivering, Gregory stiffened his arms and clenched his hands on the balcony rail. Waves of coolness borne on the light breeze bathed his moist forehead and pale cheeks, on which the long vigil and the strain of fervent prayer had left their mark. Gradually the roofs were turning blue, and bright rectangles of Venetian blinds were taking form upon the drab, smoke-grimed walls.

The pastor gazed towards the sunrise. From the sombre depths of shadow a flood of light was surging up towards him, a rosy glow that slowly permeated all the sky. Nature was waking, millions of dancing atoms sparkling in the morning air. And suddenly his chest seemed swelling with a breath of new-born life, a preternatural energy penetrated him, filling him with a sense of incommensurable vastness. In a flash he grew aware of boundless possibilities; his mind controlled the universe, nothing was forbidden him. He could bid that tree: “Tremble!” and it would tremble; say to that child: “Arise!” and, lo, she would rise from the dead. He stretched forth his arm and suddenly, as if in answer to the gesture, the foliage of the avenue began to quiver and a cloud of birds rose twittering with joy into the brightening air.

He went back to the bed and laid his hand on the head of the mother, who was still kneeling at the bedside.

“Now all things have been made clean, let us rejoice, my dear. Hallelujah!”

He moved to Jenny’s side.

“The shadows are cast forth. Give me your hands, sweetheart.”

For two days the child had hardly understood a word, but now she gave her hands to him.

“Look at me!” he bade her, and the haggard eyes, which had seemed to have lost the faculty of seeing, gazed into his eyes.

“ ‘
For He shall redeem thee from death … and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with thee.’ You are well, my little one. The shadows all have fled. Glory be to God! Now, pray!”

The light of understanding had come back to the child’s eyes, her lips were moving.

“And now, darling, let your eyelids close. Quite softly. That’s right… . Now sleep, for all your troubles are over. Now you must sleep— for joy!”

Some minutes later—for the first time in fifty hours—Jenny fell asleep. Quiet at last, her head nestled upon the pillow, her eyelashes cast tranquil shadows on her cheeks, and through the parted lips her breath flowed in an even cadence. She was saved.

VI

IT WAS a school exercise-book bound in plain grey cloth which Jacques and Daniel had selected as being least likely to catch the master’s attention when they passed it to and fro. The first pages were filled with queries jotted down in haste.

What are the dates of Robert the Pious?

Which is it,
rapsody
or
rhapsody
?

What’s the trans, of
eripuit
?

And so forth. Then came some pages filled with notes and corrections, presumably referring to poems Jacques had written—on separate sheets.

Presently, however, the two boys settled down to a steady exchange of letters.

The first letter of any length was written by Jacques:

Paris, Llycée Amyot, Form IIIA, under the suspicious eye of QQ, alias Hogshair. Monday, March 17; the time being 3 hours, 31 minutes, and 15 seconds p.m.

Is your prevailing mood one of indifference, of sensuality, or of love? I rather think it must be number three, which is more natural to you than the others.

Personally, the more I study my feelings, the more I realize that man’s a BRUTE, and love alone can rescue him from that state. That is the cry of my stricken heart and my heart speaks true! Without you, best beloved, I should be a hopeless fool, a dunderhead. If there’s a spark of understanding in me, I owe it to you alone.

I shall never forget the moments, too few, alas, and too brief, when we are entirely one another’s. You are my only love. I shall never love again; for a thousand memories of you would bar the way. Goodbye, I feel feverish, my forehead is throbbing, my eyes are going dim. Nothing shall ever separate us, promise me. Oh, when, when shall we be free? When shall we be able to live together, go abroad together? How I shall enjoy foreign lands! Think of travelling together, gathering our romantic first impressions and transmuting them into poems, while they are still fresh and fiery!

I hate waiting. Write to me as soon as you possibly can. I want you to be sure and answer this before four, if you love me as I love you.

My heart clasps your heart, as Petronius clasped his divine Eunice.

Vale et me ama!

J.

Daniel’s reply followed on the next page:

I feel that, were I to live alone beneath another sky, the utterly unique bond that links your soul and mine would somehow make me know what is becoming of you. And it seems to me that the lapse of time means nothing to our mutual affection.

It is impossible to tell you the pleasure your letter gave me. You were my friend already and you’ve become far more than that—the better part of me. Have I not helped to shape your soul, as you have helped to shape mine? Good God, how real I feel that is when I’m writing to you! I am alive then! And everything in me is alive—body, mind, heart, imagination—thanks to your devotion, which never shall I doubt, my true and only friend.

D.

P.S. I’ve induced Mother to get rid of my old boneshaker. Good biz! It was falling to pieces.

Tibi
,

D.

BOOK: The Thibaults
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