“I am going down,” stammered Marianne, trying to wipe away her tears and to remain erect. “I wish to see Charlotte, and prepare and tell her of the misfortune. I alone can find the words to say, so that she may not die of the shock, circumstanced as she is.”
But Mathieu, full of anxiety, sought to detain his wife, and spare her this fresh trial. “No, I beg you,” he said; “Denis will go, or I will go myself.”
With gentle obstinacy, however, she still went towards the stairs. “I am the only one who can tell her of it, I assure you—I shall have strength—”
But all at once she staggered and fainted. It became necessary to lay her on a sofa in the drawing-room. And when she recovered consciousness, her face remained quite white and distorted, and an attack of nausea came upon her. Then, as Constance, with an air of anxious solicitude, rang for her maid and sent for her little medicine-chest, Mathieu confessed the truth, which hitherto had been kept secret; Marianne, like Charlotte, was enceinte. It confused her a little, he said, since she was now three-and-forty years old; and so they had not mentioned it. “Ah! poor brave wife!” he added. “She wished to spare our daughter-in-law too great a shock; I trust that she herself will not be struck down by it.”
Enceinte, good heavens! As Constance heard this, it seemed as if a bludgeon were falling on her to make her defeat complete. And so, even if she should now let Denis, in his turn, kill himself, another Froment was coming who would replace him. There was ever another and another of that race—a swarming of strength, an endless fountain of life, against which it became impossible to battle. Amid her stupefaction at finding the breach repaired when scarce opened, Constance realized her powerlessness and nothingness, childless as she was fated to remain. And she felt vanquished, overcome with awe, swept away as it were herself; thrust aside by the victorious flow of everlasting Fruitfulness.
FOURTEEN months later there was a festival at Chantebled. Denis, who had taken Blaise’s place at the factory, was married to Marthe Desvignes. And after all the grievous mourning this was the first smile, the bright warm sun of springtime, so to say, following severe winter. Mathieu and Marianne, hitherto grief-stricken and clad in black, displayed a gayety tinged with soft emotion in presence of the sempiternal renewal of life. The mother had been willing to don less gloomy a gown, and the father had agreed to defer no longer a marriage that had long since been resolved upon, and was necessitated by all sorts of considerations. For more than two years now Rose had been sleeping in the little cemetery of Janville, and for more than a year Blaise had joined her there, beneath flowers which were ever fresh. And the souvenir of the dear dead ones, whom they all visited, and who had remained alive in all their hearts, was to participate in the coming festival. It was as if they themselves had decided with their parents that the hour for the espousals had struck, and that regret for their loss ought no longer to bar the joy of growth and increase.