It happened that on the following day, Sunday, the young men of Rognes were to go to Cloyes for the conscription-ballot; and as La Grande and La Frimat, who had hurried up to the house in the dusk, were undressing Françoise and putting her to bed with the utmost care, the roll of the drum could be heard on the road below, sounding to the poor folks like a knell amid the mournful gloom.
Jean, who was quite off his head with troubled anxiety, had just set off to fetch Doctor Finet, when near the church he met Patoir, the veterinary surgeon, on his way to attend old Saucisse's cow. He forcibly dragged him into the house to see the ailing woman, in spite of his unwillingness to go. But when Patoir saw the hideous wound, he point-blank refused to interfere in the case. What good could he do? Death was plainly written there! Two hours later, when Jean came back with Monsieur Finet, the surgeon made a gesture of hopeless despair. Nothing could be done beyond administering anæsthetics for the sake of deadening the pain. The five months' pregnancy seriously complicated the case; and the unborn child could be felt moving within its mother's wounded body, dying indeed of its mother's death. Before the doctor went away, he dressed the wound as best he could, and, although he promised to return in the morning, he warned Jean that his wife would most probably pass away during the night. She lived through it, however, and she was still lingering on, when, towards nine o'clock in the morning, the drum began to beat again, summoning the young men to meet in front of the municipal offices.
All through the night the flood-gates of heaven had been open, and Jean had listened to a pouring deluge of rain as he sat watching in his wife's room, stupefied with troubled grief, and with his eyes full of big tears. The roll of the drum sounded as though it were muffled as he heard it in the close, damp air of the morning. The rain had now ceased, but the sky was still of a leaden grey.
For a long time the drum-beating continued. The drummer was a new one, a nephew of Macqueron's, who had just left the service, and he beat his drum as though he were leading a regiment into action. All Rognes was in a state of anxiety, for the rumours of approaching war, that had lately been circulated, had greatly increased the emotion which always attended the conscription-balloting. The prospect of being at once marched off to be shot by the Prussians was not an alluring one. There were nine young men of the neighbourhood to ballot upon this occasion, probably a larger number than had ever before been known. Among them were Nénesse and Delphin, once so inseparable, but severed of late owing to the former having taken a situation in a restaurant at Chartres. On the previous evening Nénesse had gone to sleep at his father's farm. When Delphin saw him he scarcely knew him, he was so changed; dressed quite like a gentleman, with a cane and a silk hat, and a blue scarf clasped by a ring. He now had his clothes made to order by a tailor, and cracked jokes about Lambourdieu's ready-made suits. His neck was still scrawny and long, and absolutely devoid of hair on the nape. Delphin, on the other hand, had grown massive and sturdy; his limbs were heavy, like his movements, and his face was tanned and baked by the sun. He had grown up like some vigorous plant in that beloved soil to which he was so firmly rooted. However, he and Nénesse immediately renewed their broken chumship, and were as good comrades as ever. After spending a part of the night with each other, they appeared arm-in-arm the next morning in front of the municipal offices, in obedience to the persistent summons of the drum.
A number of the relations of the nine young men were gathered there. Delhomme and Fanny, proud of their son's distinguished appearance, wished to be present to see him off, though they felt no anxiety, as they had provided for his exemption. Bécu, wearing his constabular badge of office, threatened to cuff his wife because she began to cry. What was she blubbering for? he asked. Wasn't Delphin fit to serve his country with credit? The lad, however, would be sure to escape, and draw a lucky number. When at last the nine young fellows were all got together, a feat which it took a good hour to accomplish, Lequeu handed them the banner. Then they began to discuss who should carry it. The general rule was to choose the tallest and most vigorous of the number, and so it was agreed that Delphin should carry it. He seemed very nervous and timid, in spite of his big fists, shy at finding himself mixed up in matters which he did not understand. He seemed to find the long pole awkward to manage, and then it might conduct him to misfortune, he reflected sorrowfully.
At the two corners of the street, Flore and Cœlina were giving a final sweep to their respective public parlours, in view of being ready for the evening. Macqueron was looking out of his door with a sorrowful countenance; then Lengaigne appeared at his, with a sniggering grin on his face. He was in a very triumphant frame of mind just then, for the excise-officers had recently seized four casks of wine which they had found concealed beneath one of his rival's wood-stacks. Macqueron, it was said, would be dismissed from his mayoralty in consequence, and every one felt quite sure that the anonymous letter which had led to the wine being discovered had emanated from Lengaigne. To make matters worse, Macqueron had another trouble on his shoulders. His daughter Berthe had so compromised herself with the wheelwright's son, whom he had previously refused as a son-in-law, that he was now constrained to let him have her. For the last week the gossips at the fountain had talked of nothing save the daughter's marriage and the prosecution of the father. It was certain that the latter would at least be fined; and it was by no means unlikely that he would be sent to gaol. And so the mayor, seeing his neighbour's insulting grin, retired again, feeling painfully conscious that every one else was also sniggering at him.
Delphin had now grasped the banner, and the drum sounded the march. Nénesse fell into position, and the other seven took up their places behind him. They formed quite a little troop as they filed along over the level road. A swarm of children ran forward with them, and Delhomme, Fanny, Bécu, and several other relatives accompanied them to the end of the village. Freed of her husband, Madame Bécu hurried away and slipped furtively into the church. Then, glancing around and finding that she was quite alone, she fell down on her knees, though, as a rule, she was by no means addicted to displays of devotion, and burst into tears, while beseeching the good God to grant her son a lucky number. She remained for more than an hour stammering out this heartfelt prayer. Far away, towards Cloyes, the banner was gradually fading from sight in the distance, and the rolling of the drum was lost in space.
It was nearly ten o'clock when Doctor Finet made his appearance again, and he seemed surprised to find Françoise still alive. He had quite expected that he would merely have to give the certificate for her burial. He shook his head as he examined the wound. Ever since the previous evening, not having an idea of the real facts, he had been pondering over the story that had been told to him in connection with the wound. He now desired to have the whole narrative repeated to him; and he could not yet understand how the unfortunate young woman had managed to fall in such a disastrous fashion. He finally took his leave, indignant at Françoise's culpable clumsiness, and annoyed at having to pay yet another visit to certify the death.
Jean still remained in a state of mournful gloom, watching intently over Françoise, who closed her eyes in persistent muteness as soon as she ever caught her husband's questioning glance. He divined that some lie or other had been told him, and that his wife was hiding something from him. In the early morning he had escaped for a little time, and had run up to the lucern field to see if he could discover anything. But he could learn nothing definite from his inspection. The footmarks had been nearly effaced by the heavy rain which had fallen during the night, but he discovered a corner where the lucern seemed to have been beaten down, and he concluded that this was the spot where Françoise had fallen. After the surgeon had gone away, Jean again sat down by the side of the dying woman's bed. He was now quite alone with her, for La Frimat had gone off to breakfast, and La Grande had been obliged to return home for a moment to see that things were not going wrong in her absence.
"Are you in pain?" Jean asked his wife.
Françoise closed her eyes tightly, and made no reply.
"Tell me, now, aren't you concealing something from me?"
If it had not been for her weak and painful breathing one might have supposed that Françoise was already dead. Ever since the previous evening she had been lying on her back, silent and in the same position, as though incapable of either motion or speech. She was burning with fever, but all her power of will seemed to offer a determined resistance to the approach of delirium, so acute was her fear of letting anything escape her. She had always possessed a strongly-marked character, full of obstinate determination; doing nothing like other people, and giving utterance to ideas which filled everybody who heard her with amazement. Loyalty to her family was probably actuating her now, a loyalty which over-rode all feeling of hatred and craving for vengeance. What good would vengeance do her, now that she was dying? There were matters which were best buried with one's self, shut up in the spot where they had been born; matters which must never, no never, be disclosed for a stranger's enlightenment; and Jean was a stranger, whom she had never been really able to love with genuine love. It was perhaps in punishment for having given him her hand that she was never to bring into the world the undeveloped child quickening within her.
Ever since Jean had seen his wife brought home in a dying condition, his thoughts had been harping on the unmade will. All through the night he had kept thinking that, if she died intestate, he would be entitled to nothing, save half of the furniture and the money—a hundred and twenty-seven francs locked up in the drawer. He loved Françoise dearly, and he would have made any sacrifice to keep her; but the thought that, together with his wife, he would also lose the house and land, still further increased his grief. As yet, he had not dared to say a word on the subject: it seemed so hard-hearted, and then there had always been other people in the room. But at last, seeing that he would never be able to glean any further information as to the manner in which the accident had happened, he determined to tackle this other matter.
"Are there any arrangements that you would like to make?" he asked.
It did not seem as though Françoise heard him. Her eyes were closed, and her face was quite expressionless.
"If anything happened to you, you know, your sister would take everything. The paper is still there in the drawer."
He brought the sheet of stamped paper to her, and then continued, in a voice that grew more and more embarrassed:
"Would you like me to help you? Are you strong enough to write, do you think? I'm not thinking about myself; but I only fancied that you wouldn't like those folks who have treated you so badly to have anything you left behind."
Françoise's eyelids trembled slightly, proving to Jean that she had heard him. So she must still be averse to making a will! He was quite astounded; he could not understand it at all. Probably Françoise, herself, could not have explained why she persisted in thus lying like a corpse, before the time had come for her to be boxed-up within four boards. But the land and the house did not belong to this man, who had come athwart her life like some mere passer-by. She owed him nothing; the child would go away with herself. By what right should the property be taken away from the family? Her obstinate, childish ideas of justice protested against such a thing. This is mine, that is yours; let us each take our own and say good-bye! However, other thoughts besides these were vaguely floating through her mind. Her sister Lise seemed far away from her—lost in the distance—and it was Buteau alone who seemed really present to her; Buteau whom, in spite of all his ill-treatment, she pardoned and loved and longed for.
Jean was getting vexed. The desire for the soil was now gaining hold of him, too, and embittering his mind. He raised Françoise in bed, and attempted to get her into a sitting position and to put a pen between her fingers.
"Come now," he said, "see if you can't manage it. You can't like those scamps better than me, and want them to have everything!"
Then Françoise at last opened her eyes, and the look that she turned upon Jean quite stupefied him. She knew that she was going to die, and her big, widely-opened eyes were full of hopeless despair. Why was he torturing her like this? they seemed to say. She could not, and she would not! Besides, it was her own affair. A low moan of pain was the only sound that escaped her lips. Then she fell back again, her eyelids closed, and her head lay rigid and motionless on the pillow.
Ashamed of his unkind persistence, Jean now felt so miserable and confused that he was still standing there with the sheet of stamped paper in his hand when La Grande came back into the room. She saw it, and knew what it meant; and at once took Jean aside to inquire if Françoise had made a will. He stammered out that he had just been going to conceal the paper to prevent any one bothering his wife about it, a course which La Grande seemed to approve of, for she was on the Buteaus' side, foreseeing all kinds of rows and abominable scenes if they succeeded in inheriting the property. Then, seating herself in front of the table, and recommencing her knitting, she continued:
"Well, no one will find himself wronged by me, I'm sure, when I'm taken away. My will has been made long ago. Every one is remembered, and I should think I was acting very wrongly if I showed an unfair preference for any one. None of my children are forgotten, as they will see for themselves one of these days."
She recited this formula daily to one or another member of her family, and she made a point of repeating it by the death-bed of her relatives. Every time she delivered herself of it, she chuckled in secret at the thought of that famous will of hers which would set the whole family by the ears when she was gone. She had been careful that it should not contain a single clause that was not pregnant with a law-suit.
"What a pity it is," she added, "that one can't take one's property with one! But, since one can't, others must needs have the enjoyment of it."
La Frimat now returned, sat down at the other side of the table, opposite to La Grande, and also began to knit. So the afternoon glided away. The two old women sat quietly gossipping with each other, while Jean, who could not settle in any one place, kept walking up and down, perpetually leaving the room and then returning in a state of feverish restlessness. The doctor' had said that there was nothing to be done, and so they did nothing.
At last, La Frimat began expressing her regret that Sourdeau, the bone-setter at Bazoches, who was equally expert in the treatment of wounds, had not been sent for. He just said a few words and then breathed over his patients, and then the wounds closed up at once.
"Oh, he's a splendid fellow!" exclaimed La Grande in a respectful way. "It was he who put the Lorillon's breast-bone right. Old Lorillon's breast-bone, you know, fell out of its place, and hung down and pressed so heavily on his stomach that he almost died from exhaustion. Then, to make matters worse, the old woman caught the dreadful complaint as well: for, as you know, it is contagious. Presently they all had it, the daughter, the son-in-law, and their three children. They would certainly all have died of it if they had not sent for Sourdeau, who put everything right again by just rubbing their bellies with a tortoise-shell comb."
The other old woman confirmed every detail of this story with a wag of the head. It was all well known, and there was no doubt about it. Then she herself adduced another fact in support of Sourdeau's skill.
"It was Sourdeau, too, who cured the Budin's little girl of fever by just cutting a live pigeon in two and applying it to her head."
Then she turned to Jean, who was standing quite dazed by the bedside.
"If I were you," she said, "I should send for him. It's perhaps not too late, even now."
Jean, however, answered merely with an angry gesture. His town-breeding prevented him from believing such stories. The two women then went on gossipping together for a long time, telling each other of various quaint remedies, such as placing parsley beneath one's bed to cure lumbago, or keeping three acorns in one's pocket in the case of inflammation, or drinking a glass of water which had been exposed to the moon in view of getting rid of wind.
"Well, if you're not going to send for Sourdeau," La Frimat abruptly exclaimed, "at any rate you'd better send for his reverence the priest."
Jean again replied by an angry gesture, and La Grande compressed her lips tightly.
"What good would his reverence do?"
"What good would he do? Why, he would bring the blessed sacrament, and there's some comfort in that, sometimes."
La Grande shrugged her shoulders, as though to express that now-a-days no one believed in such old-fashioned ideas.
"Besides," she added, after a pause, "the priest wouldn't come. He is ill. Madame Bécu told me just now that he is going away in a carriage on Wednesday, as the doctor says that he will certainly die if he remains in Rognes."
As a matter of fact, the Abbé Madeline's health had gradually been getting worse during the two years and a-half that he had been stationed at Rognes. A feeling of home-sickness, a broken-hearted longing for his native mountains of Auvergne had been preying upon him with increasing severity every day he had spent in that flat land of La Beauce, where the sight of the far-spreading boundless plain filled his heart with despondent melancholy. Not a tree nor a rock was to be seen; and instead of rushing cascades of foaming water, there were only stagnant pools. The priest's eyes lost their brightness, and he grew more fleshless than ever, till people said that he was going off in a consumption. Yet he might still have been reconciled to remaining there if he could have derived any consolation from the women of his parish. But it was just the other way. Coming, as he did, from a pious and faithful flock, his timid soul was overwhelmed with grief and consternation at finding himself in so irreligious a parish, where only the merest outward forms of the faith were complied with. The women deafened and dazed him with their screaming and quarrelling, and so abused his yielding nature that they practically took the religious direction of the place into their own hands: while he, a man full of scrupulous sensitiveness, and constantly afraid of involuntarily falling into sin, stood by in silent consternation. But there was a final blow in store for him. On Christmas day, one of the hand-maidens of the Virgin had been seized with the pangs of labour while in church. Since then the priest had been getting worse and worse, and now he was going to be carried back, in a dying condition, to Auvergne.
"So, then, we're without a priest again?" exclaimed La Frimat. "I wonder if the Abbé Godard would come back to us."
"Ah, the surly fellow!" cried La Grande; "he would burst with spite if he had to come!"
The sudden arrival of Fanny made them silent. She was the only member of her family who had come to see Françoise on the previous evening, and she had now returned to ascertain how she was getting on. Jean pointed to his wife with his trembling hand. The room was hushed in sympathetic silence, and Fanny lowered her voice to inquire if the dying woman had asked for her sister. No, they said, she had never opened her mouth on the subject; it was just as if Lise had not existed. Forsooth, it was very strange, for death is death, all previous quarrelling notwithstanding; and when should peace be made if not ere the final departure?
La Grande now expressed the opinion that Françoise should be questioned on the subject. She got up from her seat, and stooped over the dying woman.
"Tell me, my dear," she said, "wouldn't you like to see Lise?"
But Françoise lay perfectly still; she gave no other sign than a scarcely perceptible quiver of her closed eyelids.
"She is perhaps expecting us to bring her. I'll go for her."
Then, still keeping her eyes closed, and turning her head on the pillow, Françoise softly said "No." Jean desired that her wishes should be respected, and the three women sat down again. They now began to feel astonished that Lise did not come of her own accord; but there was often a great amount of obstinate feeling shown in families, they reflected.
"What endless troubles one has!" Fanny now exclaimed with a sigh. "Ever since this morning, I've been nearly worried to death over this balloting; and yet really I've no cause for worry, since I know very well that Nénesse won't be taken from us."
"Ah! yes, indeed," murmured La Frimat; "but one can't help feeling anxious and excited, all the same."
Once again the dying woman was entirely forgotten, and the gossips began to talk about luck and chance, about the young men who would be marched off, and about those who would remain. It was now three o'clock, and although the party was not expected back till five o'clock at the earliest, reports of what had happened were already circulating in the village, wafted over from Cloyes, no one knew how, by that species of serial telegraphy which flies from village to village. The Briquets' son had drawn No. 13, so there was no chance of his escaping! The Couillots' son, on the other hand, had drawn No. 106, and that was certainly a safe number! However, nothing positive seemed to be known about the others. There was only a lot of contradictory reports, which tended to increase the excitement. Nobody appeared to know how Delphin and Nénesse had fared.
"My heart is palpitating dreadfully," exclaimed Fanny. "How stupid of me!"
Then they called out to Madame Bécu, who happened to be passing. She had been to the church again, and was now wandering backwards and forwards like a disembodied spirit. Her trouble was so great that she did not even stop to talk.
"I can't contain myself any longer; I'm going to meet them!" said she.
Jean was standing in front of the window, gazing vaguely out of it, and paying no attention to the women's talk. Several times since the morning he had seen old Fouan prowling round the house with his dragging gait. He now suddenly caught sight of him again, pressing his face against one of the panes of glass, and trying to make out what was going on inside the room. Jean thereupon opened the window, and the old man, looking quite stupefied, began to ask in stammering tones how Françoise was. Very bad, Jean told him; in fact, it was all over with her. Then Fouan thrust his head in at the open window, and stood gazing at Françoise for such a long time that it almost seemed as though he were unable to go away. When Fanny and La Grande saw him, they returned to their previous idea of sending for Lise. But when they tried to get the old fellow to fetch her, he shivered with alarm and made his escape. He muttered and repeated over and over again:
"No, no; impossible, impossible!"
Jean seemed struck by the old man's appearance of terror; however, the women let the matter drop. After all, it only concerned the two sisters, and it was no business of theirs to force them to see and kiss each other. At this moment a sound was heard, feeble at first, and like the droning of a big fly; then it grew louder and louder, rolling along like a gust of wind breaking among trees.
Fanny leaped up excitedly.
"The drum!" she cried. "Here they come! Good evening!"
And thereupon she hurried away, without even giving her cousin a last kiss.
La Grande and La Frimat also left the room and went to look out at the door. Only Françoise and Jean were left: the wife still persisting in her obstinate silence and rigidity, hearing, perhaps, everything that was said, but wishing to die, like some wild animal earthed-up at the bottom of its burrow; the husband standing in front of the open window, racked by uncertainty, and overwhelmed by a troubled grief to which everything seemed to contribute. Ah, that drum! how the sound of it vibrated and echoed through his whole being. And as its roll broke ceaselessly through the air, with his grief of to-day there mingled recollections of the past, of barracks and battles, and of the dog's life led by poor wretches who had neither wife nor child to love them!
As soon as the banner came into sight, far away in the distance, on the flat level road looking grey and dingy in the fading light of the evening, a swarm of children scampered off to meet the conscripts, and a group of relatives posted themselves just at the entrance to the village. The nine young men and the drummer were already very drunk, and as they came along in the mournful evening light, decorated with tri-coloured ribbons, and the greater part of them having numbers pinned upon their hats, they bellowed out a warlike chorus. As they approached the village, they roared out the words of their song louder than ever, and by way of brag, marched forward with a swaggering air.
Delphin was still carrying the banner; but he was holding it on his shoulder, as though it were some troublesome rag of which he could not conceive the use. He came along wearily, with a gloomy expression on his face, and did not join in the singing of the others. There was no number pinned on his cap. As soon as Madame Bécu caught sight of him, she rushed forward in a tremble, at the risk of being overturned by the advancing band of conscripts.
"Well?" she cried.
But Delphin angrily thrust her aside without slackening his pace.
"Get out of the way, and don't bother me!"
Bécu himself had also stepped forward, as full of anxiety as his wife; but when he heard his son's surly words, he did not dare to say anything; and, as his wife broke out sobbing, it was all he could do to restrain his own tears, despite all his patriotic enthusiasm.
"It's of no use talking about it! He's been drawn!"
They now both lagged behind on the deserted road, and slowly and sadly returned to the village—the husband thinking of the hard life he had endured in the past as a soldier, and the wife swelling with wrath against the God to whom she had twice prayed, and who had not hearkened to her.
Nénesse was wearing a magnificent number "214" on his cap, daubed in red and blue paint. This was one of the highest numbers, and the young fellow was triumphing in his luck, brandishing his cane and keeping the time as he led the wild chorus of his comrades. When Fanny saw the number, instead of rejoicing, she broke out into a cry of deep regret. Ah! if they could only have foreseen this they would never have invested those thousand francs in Monsieur Baillehache's lottery to ensure their son's exemption! Still, although the young man was thus ensured against being taken from them, his mother and father both embraced him as if he had just escaped from some great peril. But he hastily exclaimed:
"Do leave me alone! and don't worry me in this way!"
The little troop continued on its tipsy, riotous march through the wildly excited village. The young men's relations dared not venture upon any further questions or demonstrations, as it was clear that they would only meet with an angry repulse. All the young fellows seemed to have come back in the same surly frame of mind, both those who had been taken and those who had escaped. But, anyway, they would not have been able to give a clear account of what had happened, for their eyes were projecting wildly from their heads, and they were as drunk and noisy as though they had all been at some uproarious merry-making. While one little fellow who had been taken, was facetiously trumpeting with his nose, two others who would almost certainly escape came along with pale faces and downcast eyes. Still, if the wildly excited drummer at their head had led them down into the depths of the Aigre, they would all have followed impetuously in his train.
When they at length halted in front of the municipal offices, Delphin gave up the banner.
"There, thank heaven; I've had enough of that damned thing which has brought me nothing but ill-luck!" he said.
Then he seized hold of Nénesse's arm, and dragged him off with him, while the rest of the party invaded Lengaigne's tavern, where they were joined by their relations and friends, who at last succeeded in learning what had happened. Macqueron meanwhile looked out from his door, heart-sore at the brisk business his rival was doing.
"Come along," said Delphin to Nénesse in a sharp, curt way, as though he were forming some determined resolution. "I want to show you something."
Nénesse allowed himself to be taken off. They would have time to come back and drink afterwards. The noisy drum had ceased to din their ears, and they felt a sensation of pleasant quiet and repose, as they strolled off together along the now deserted road which was growing grey in the falling darkness. As Delphin walked on in silence, buried in reflections which could scarcely be pleasant ones, Nénesse began to talk to him about a very important matter. A couple of days previously, at Chartres, having obtained a few hours' liberty from his employer, he had gone up to the Rue aux Juifs, and had there learnt that Vaucogne, Monsieur Charles's son-in-law, wanted to dispose of his business. He was too unsteady to be able to make it pay, and he was robbed right and left by the women. But what a business it might become, and what profits might be reaped if it were in the hands of an energetic, steady-going young fellow, with a shrewd head and strong willing arms, and already with some experience of the trade! His idea was to frighten Monsieur and Madame Charles into the belief that Number 19 was in great danger of being suppressed by the police in consequence of the immoral proceedings that habitually took place there, and thus prevail upon them to let him have the place for a mere song. Ah, that would be much better than grubbing the soil! Why, he could be a gentlemen at once!
Delphin was listening in a very absent-minded fashion; in fact, he was busy with his own thoughts, from which he woke up with a start, as his companion gave him a sly poke in the ribs.
"Some folks are born to be lucky," he murmured. "You were sent into the world to be a pride to your mother."
Then he relapsed into silence again, and Nénesse, as though he had quite settled matters in his own mind, began to explain the improvements he would make at Number 19, if his parents would advance him the necessary money. He was perhaps a little young, he allowed, but he felt a genuine vocation for the business.
He now caught sight of La Trouille gliding up towards them along the gloomy road, on her way, probably, to some amatory assignation or other; and wishing to show his easy manner with women, he gave her a smart slap as she went past. La Trouille at once returned it, but then recognising the two young men, she exclaimed:
"Hallo, is it you? How you have grown!"
She laughed merrily, at thought, no doubt, of their sprees in earlier days. Of the three, she had changed the least; and, despite her one and twenty years, she still looked a mere chit of a girl, being as slight and supple as a poplar shoot, with a bosom as undeveloped as a child's. The meeting seemed to please her, and she kissed the two young men one after the other; she would even have been quite willing to proceed to further lengths if they had suggested it, by way of marking her pleasure at seeing them again, just as men clink glasses together when they meet after a separation.
"I've got something to tell you," said Nénesse jokingly. "I'm very likely going to take Charles's shop. Will you come and have a situation there?"
Then the girl abruptly ceased laughing, and was overcome with emotion, bursting into tears. The surrounding darkness seemed to lay hold of her, and she disappeared from sight, sobbing out like a broken-hearted child:
"Oh, how beastly! how beastly! I sha'n't love you any more!"
Delphin had remained silent, and with an abstracted air he now resumed his course.
"But where is it you are taking me?" Nénesse finally asked. "What is this strange thing you want to show me?"
"Come along, and you will see by-and-bye."
He then hastened his steps, and left the high-road to make a short cut through the vines to the house in which the rural constable had been lodged by the authorities since the parsonage had been given up to the priest! He lived there with his father; and he at once conducted his companion into the kitchen, where he lighted a candle, seeming pleased to find that his parents had not yet returned home.
"We'll have a glass together," he exclaimed, placing a bottle and a couple of glasses on the table.
When he had swallowed some of the wine, he smacked his tongue, and then continued:
"I want to tell you that if these fools think they are going to keep me, simply because I have drawn a bad number, they are mightily mistaken. When uncle Michel died, I was obliged to go and stay three days at Orleans, and it nearly killed me, I was so miserable at being away from home. I daresay you think it very foolish of me, but I can't help it. The feeling is stronger than I am; and away from home I am like a tree torn up by the roots. And now they want to take me off and send me to the devil, to all sorts of places that I've never even heard the name of! Ah, well, they'll find out their mistake presently!"
Nénesse, who had often heard him prate in this strain before, shrugged his shoulders, and replied:
"It is very easy to talk, but you'll have to go, all the same. The gendarmes would soon march you off, you know."
Without making any reply, Delphin turned aside, and with his left hand took hold of a small hatchet hanging against the wall, and used for chopping firewood. Then, without any hesitation he calmly laid the fore-finger of his right hand upon the edge of the table, and, with a smart blow of the hatchet, completely severed it.
"There, that's what I wanted to show you!" he said. "I want you to be able to tell the others that I have done what a coward would scarcely do."
"You maniac!" cried Nénesse, quite overcome with the sight of what Delphin had done. "You have crippled yourself for life!"
"I scoff at them all! Let the gendarmes come as soon as they like! I'm quite certain now that I sha'n't be forced away!"
Then he picked up the severed finger and tossed it into the wood fire. After shaking his bleeding hand, he roughly wrapped his handkerchief round it, fastening it tightly with a piece of string so as to stop the flow of blood.
"Well, this needn't prevent us finishing the bottle before we join the others," said he. "Here's to your health!"
"And here's to yours!"
By this time there was so much noise and so much tobacco-smoke in Lengaigne's public-room that it was impossible to see one another or to hear even one's-self speak. Besides the young fellows who had just returned from balloting, there was a crowd of idlers. Hyacinthe and his friend Canon were there, busily engaged in making old Fouan drunk, the three of them sitting round a bottle of brandy. Bécu, whom his son's bad luck, combined with the large amount of drink he had swallowed, had quite overcome, was snoring noisily, with his head on one of the tables. Delhomme and Clou were there, too, playing a game of piquet, and also sat there Lequeu, with his nose buried in a book which he was pretending to read in spite of all the surrounding uproar.
A fight among the women had served to increase the general excitement. It had occurred in this way: Flore having gone to the fountain to fill her pitcher with water, there met Cœlina who, bursting with hatred and jealousy, threw herself upon her, clawing her furiously with her nails, and accusing her of being bribed by the excise officers to betray her neighbours. Macqueron and Lengaigne, who had rushed up, very nearly came to blows themselves; the former swearing that he would contrive to have the latter caught while he was damping his tobacco, and the latter sarcastically asking the former when they might expect to hear of his resignation. A crowd gathered, everybody mingling in the quarrel for the mere pleasure of shaking their fists and hearing themselves shout; and a general murderous engagement seemed at one time inevitable. This was averted, however, and the incident ended, but not without leaving a feeling of unsatisfied anger, and a longing to come to blows.
A passage between Victor, Lengaigne's son, and the conscripts almost brought about an explosion. The former having served his time in the army was swaggering before all the young fellows, shouting louder than the loudest of them, and goading them on into making all sorts of idiotic wagers; such as emptying a bottle of wine by holding it in the air and pouring its contents down their throats, or sucking the contents of a glass up through their nostrils, without touching it with their mouths. Suddenly, as some reference was made to the Macquerons, and the approaching marriage of their daughter Berthe, young Couillot began to snigger and titter out the old jokes about the girl. They would be able now, he said, to ask the husband all about her, on the day after the wedding. They had heard such a deal about her, that it would really be satisfactory to get at the truth!
Victor thereupon caused intense surprise by a show of angry warmth. Hitherto he had been one of those who most persistently attacked the girl, whereas now he shouted out:
"There, we've heard quite enough about it now. She has everything that the others have. She has!"
This assertion provoked a loud clamour. Victor had seen, then? She had been his mistress, eh? While vigorously denying the truth of this accusation, and striking his breast with his fists, he adhered to his recent statement, whereupon young Couillot, who was very drunk, violently contradicted him, though he knew absolutely nothing about the matter. In point of fact, he was simply actuated by pig-headed perversity. Victor bellowed out that he had once said the same as Couillot, and that, if he now said differently, it certainly wasn't for love of the Macquerons! It was because the truth is the truth! And then he fell upon the conscript, whose friends were obliged to drag him from his grasp.
"Say as I say, damn you, or I'll wring your neck!"
In spite of Victor's violence, however, several of the company still retained their doubts on the subject. No one could understand his hot outburst of anger, for he generally showed himself very hard towards women, and he had publicly repudiated his sister, whom her impure amours, so it was said, had now landed in an hospital. That foul Suzanne! Ah! she did well to keep her tainted carcase away from them!
Flore now brought up fresh supplies of wine, but glasses were chinked in vain; the atmosphere was still heavy with a brooding storm of angry abuse and violence. No one had any idea of going off to dine. Drinking keeps folk from getting hungry. The conscripts at last began to troll out a patriotic song, accompanying it with such heavy blows upon the tables that the flames of the three petroleum lamps flickered wildly, and emitted puffs of acrid smoke. The atmosphere was getting unbearable, and Delhomme and Clou opened the window behind them. Just at that moment Buteau entered the room and glided into a corner. His face did not wear its usual air of braggart self-assertion. Indeed there was a look of uneasy anxiety in his little eyes, and he glanced at the company one after another, as though he were trying to read their thoughts. He had doubtless come to listen to the gossip, in view of discovering whether any of his neighbours entertained any suspicion of him. He had felt quite unable to stay any longer at home, where he had shut himself up since the previous evening without stirring out. The presence of Hyacinthe and Canon seemed to produce a deep effect upon him; so much so, indeed, that he refrained from quarrelling with them for making old Fouan drunk. For a long time he sat gazing earnestly at Delhomme. But it was Bécu, sleeping on amid all the surrounding uproar, who more than any one else seemed to exercise his thoughts. Was the rural constable really asleep, or was he only artfully pretending to be so? Buteau nudged him with his elbow, and felt somewhat relieved on discovering that he was slobbering all over his sleeve. He then concentrated his attention upon the schoolmaster, upon whose face he fancied he could detect a most extraordinary expression. Why was he looking so different from what he usually did?
As a matter of fact, Lequeu, although pretending to be absorbed in his book, was shaken by sudden starts, with his features contracted by a rising fit of anger. The conscripts, with their songs and idiotic merriment, seemed to be completely upsetting him.
"The infernal brutes!" he muttered, still managing to restrain himself.
For some months past his position in the village had been growing very uncomfortable. He had always been rough and harsh with the children, and he was given to sending them off home to the paternal dung-heap with a box on the ears. But latterly he had grown still more violent, and there had been a nasty business about a little girl's ear which he had slit with a blow from a ruler. Several of the children's parents had then written, asking that he might be removed. Now, too, Berthe Macqueron's approaching marriage destroyed a long-standing hope of his, annihilating the edifice he had been mentally constructing for years past. It came upon him like a thunderbolt. Oh, those hateful peasants! a foul brood that denied him its daughters, and was about to get him turned adrift merely on account of a little hussy's ear!
He now suddenly tapped the book he was holding, just as though he were in his class-room, and cried out to the conscripts:
"For goodness' sake, let us have a little less noise! You seem to think it would be very amusing to have your brains blown out by the Prussians!"
The company turned their eyes upon him in amazement. Amusing? No there was certainly nothing amusing in that idea! Delhomme observed, however, that every one was bound to defend his own homestead and soil, and that if ever the Prussians came to La Beauce they would find that the Beaucerons were no cowards. But as to being sent off to fight for other folks' fields! No, there was certainly nothing amusing about that!
Just then Delphin now made his appearance, accompanied by Nénesse. His face was greatly flushed, and his eyes were glistening feverishly. He had heard Delhomme's remark, and, as he seated himself at one of the tables with the conscripts, he shouted out:
"Yes, if the Prussians show their faces here, we'll make mince-meat of them pretty sharp!"
The handkerchief secured round his hand attracted attention, and inquiries were made as to what was the matter. Oh, nothing at all! he said; he had merely cut himself. Then, bringing down his other fist with such violence as to make the table rattle, he ordered a bottle of wine.
Canon and Hyacinthe were looking at the young fellows, not with any show of anger, but rather with an air of condescending pity. To be so happy, the conscripts must certainly be very young and idiotic. By-and-bye, Canon, who was now very drunk, grew maudlin over his theories for the reorganisation of future happiness. Resting his chin on his hands, he spoke as follows:
"War, confound it! Ah! it's time we became the masters! You all know my scheme; no more military service, no more taxes; everybody's appetites and desires completely satisfied with the least possible amount of work. You approved of the plan yourselves, and declared that a man must be his own enemy not to approve of it. And it will soon be realised; the day is fast approaching when you will be able to retain your money and your children, providing you only rally to our side."
Hyacinthe was just nodding his approval, when Lequeu, quite unable to restrain himself any longer, burst out violently:
"Shut up, you infernal buffoon, with your earthly paradise and your precious schemes of forcing every one to be happy in spite of themselves! It's all a preposterous lie! Could such a state of affairs possibly exist among us? We are too rotten and polluted. Before such things could happen, some wild, savage crew—Cossacks or Chinese—would have to come and make a clean sweep of us."
This outburst on the part of the schoolmaster created such a feeling of amazement that every voice was hushed, and complete silence reigned in the room. What next? This cold-blooded, sneaking fellow, who had never allowed any one to have the least inkling of his private opinions, had at last spoken out! They all listened to him attentively, especially Buteau, who anxiously waited for the rest of his discourse, as though what he was going to say might have some sort of connection with the subject that was uppermost in his mind.
The smoke had cleared off, thanks to the open window, and the soft, damp, evening air had streamed into the room, reminding one of the peacefulness of the slumbering country outside. The schoolmaster, bursting the bonds of timid reserve which had restrained him for ten years, no longer caring for anything, cast all decorum of speech to the winds, smarting under the blow that had wrecked his means of livelihood, and letting off all the accumulated hatred which was choking him.
"Do you think that the people about here are bigger fools than their own calves, that you come telling them that roasted larks will fall from the sky into their mouths? Before any such scheme as yours becomes practicable, the earth itself will have been annihilated."
Canon, who had never yet come across his match, visibly quailed before the schoolmaster's violent onslaught. He made an attempt to fall back upon his stories about his friends in Paris, repeating their theories of all the land reverting to the State, which would organise enormous farms, conducted on strictly scientific principles. However, Lequeu cut him short.
"Yes, I know all about that nonsense! But, long before you get a chance of trying your fine system of agriculture, all our French soil will have disappeared, submerged beneath a deluge of corn from America. Listen now for a moment: this little book that I have been reading again supplies a lot of particulars on the subject which will entirely bear me out. I said so, once before. Yes, indeed, our peasants may take themselves off to bed, for the candle is burnt out."
Then, in the tone of voice in which he was wont to give a lesson to his pupils, he proceeded to speak about the corn supplies of America. There were mighty plains over there, he told them, as large as kingdoms, in the midst of which La Beauce would be quite lost, like a mere clod of earth. The soil, too, was so fertile that, instead of having to manure it, it was necessary to drain off its exuberant richness by a preliminary crop; but, in spite of that, two full crops were harvested every year. There were farms of seventy thousand acres in extent, divided into sections, which were again cut up into sub-sections, each section being under the supervision of a steward, and each sub-section under the direction of a foreman. They were provided with houses for the men, stables for the cattle, sheds for the tools, and other buildings where all the cooking was carried on. There were whole battalions of farm-servants, who were hired at spring-time, and organised just like campaigning armies—boarded, lodged, and physicked, and then paid off in the autumn. The furrows ploughed and sown there were miles in length, and there were spreading seas of ripening corn, the limits of which extended far out of sight. Men were merely employed there as supervisors, all the actual work being done by machinery. There were double-ploughs, furnished with deep-cutting discs; sowing-machines, weeding-machines, reaping-machines, and locomotive threshing-machines, that also stacked the straw. There were ploughmen who were skilful engineers, and squads of workmen who followed every machine on horseback, always ready to dismount and tighten a screw, or change a bolt, or hammer a bar. The soil was, in fact, like a sort of bank, managed by financiers. It was treated systematically, and cropped smooth and close to the very surface, yielding to impersonal and mechanical science ten times as much as it offered to men's loving arms.
"And can you hope to carry on the struggle," he continued, "with your twopenny-halfpenny tools?—you who are so ignorant, so entirely without ambition, and who are quite contented to go grubbing on in the same old way as your forefathers? Ah! you are already sunk up to your bellies in the corn from over the sea, and it is still rising about you, for the ships are ever bringing larger quantities of it over. Wait a little longer and you will find it up to your shoulders; then it will reach your mouths, and then the flood will close over your heads! A flood! aye, a torrent—a wild deluge that will sweep you all away!"
The peasants opened their eyes widely, quite panic-stricken by the thought of this inundation of foreign corn. They were already suffering distress; were they really going to be altogether drowned and swept away, as the schoolmaster said? They took his metaphors very literally. Would Rognes, their fields, and the whole of La Beauce be swallowed up?
"No, never!" cried Delhomme, choking with emotion. "The Government will protect us."
"A pretty protector, indeed, the Government will be!" Lequeu resumed, contemptuously. "It will need all its time to protect itself! You behaved most ridiculously in electing Monsieur Rochefontaine. The master of La Borderie, at any rate, behaved consistently in supporting Monsieur de Chédeville. However, after all, whether you have the one or the other, it is only putting the same plaster on a wooden leg. No Chamber would ever dare to impose a duty high enough. Protection cannot save you; you are doomed beyond all redemption!"
There was now a noisy outbreak, and all the peasants began to speak at once. Couldn't something be done to stop the disastrous influx of this foreign corn? They would sink the ships in the docks, and shoot the fellows who brought the corn over! Their voices quivered with emotion, and they almost seemed inclined to burst into tears, and stretch out their hands and pray that they might be saved from all this abundance—from this cheap bread which threatened to ruin the country. The schoolmaster grinned with malicious satisfaction, and told them that nobody had ever heard of such ideas as now possessed them. Their previous fears had always been of famine—that they would not have corn enough; and surely it must now be all u.p. with them since they felt afraid of having too much! He was growing quite intoxicated with his own eloquence, and he shouted above the furious cries of protest:
"You are a perishing and worn-out race. Your imbecile love of the soil has eaten you up. Yes, you are each the slave of a patch of ground, which has so narrowed your minds that, for the sake of it, you would murder your fellows! For centuries past you have been wedded to the soil, and it has always betrayed you! Look at America! There the agriculturist is master of the soil. He isn't bound to it by any family ties, any sentimental considerations; as soon as one plot is exhausted, he goes further on and takes another. If he hears that more fertile plains have been discovered some three hundred leagues away, he moves his tent and goes off there. Thanks to his machines, he has only to will and do. He is free, and he's growing rich; while you are slaves, and are dying of starvation!"
Buteau's face had grown pale, for Lequeu had looked at him when speaking of murder. He tried to appear quite unconcerned, however.
"Well, we are as we are," he said. "What is the good of our troubling ourselves, since you yourself say that it will be all to no purpose?"
Delhomme signified his approval of this, and every one began to laugh: Lengaigne, Clou, Fouan, even Delphin and the conscripts, who derived a certain amount of amusement from what was going on, as they hoped it would lead to blows. Canon and Hyacinthe, annoyed at seeing "inky fingers," as they called the schoolmaster, shout louder than themselves, also affected to snigger merrily. They were even inclined to side with the peasants.
"It's folly to quarrel," said Canon, shrugging his shoulders. "What is wanted is organisation."
Lequeu made a gesture of hot anger.
"I've no patience to hear such folly talked! I am for making a clean sweep of everything!"
His face was quite livid, and he flung these words in their faces as though he wished to knock them down with them.
"You pitiful cowards!" he cried. "Yes, you're all of you cowards, you peasants! To think you are more numerous and stronger, and yet that you let yourselves be devoured by the middle-class townsfolk and the workmen! I've but one regret, and that is that my father and mother were peasants. Perhaps that is the reason why you fill me with such disgust. There is nothing to prevent you becoming the masters. But you won't combine together. You keep yourselves isolated from each other, full of suspicion and ignorance, and you exhaust all your knavery in preying upon one another. What is it that you are concealing beneath the surface of your stagnant water? for you are like stagnant pools which men believe to be deep, though they would not drown a cat! To think that you should be such a mighty, undeveloped force, a force which might mould the future, and yet you lie about as inert as logs of wood! And what makes it all the more exasperating is that you have ceased to believe in what the priests tell you. If there be no God, what is it that holds you back? As long as you stood in fear of hell, one could understand that you continued to grovel on your bellies; but now, rush forward! pillage everything! burn everything! As a commencement, it will perhaps be simpler for you to go on strike. You have all got some savings, and you could hold out as long as would be necessary. Cultivate the ground for yourselves, don't carry anything to market, not a single sack of corn, not a single bushel of potatoes! Let Paris starve! That's the way to set to work."
A gust of cold air, wafted from the distant blackness of the night, had rushed in through the open window. The flames of the lamps were shooting up very high. No one now attempted to interrupt the excited speaker, despite the abuse that he lavished upon everybody.
He now banged his book down on a table, making the glasses jingle, and proceeded to finish his oration:
"I have told you all that; but still I am quite easy about the future. Cowards you may be now, but when the proper time comes I know that you will be the fellows to make a clean sweep of everything. It has been so more than once before, and it will be so once again. Wait till misery and hunger send you rushing down upon the towns like so many wolves! Very likely the occasion will arise anent this corn which is being brought from over the sea. When there has been too much of it there won't be enough of it, and then there will be scarcity and famine again. It is always for the sake of corn that men rise up in rebellion and slay each other! Yes, let the towns be burned down and razed to the ground, the villages deserted, the fields uncultivated, over-run with brambles, and watered with streams of blood; then perhaps they will hereafter bring forth bread for those who are born into the world when we are gone!"
Lequeu now violently tore the door open and disappeared. A yell from the stupefied peasants followed him. The scoundrel! He wanted bleeding! A man who had always been so pacific and quiet! Surely he must be going mad! Delhomme, who had quite lost his habitual placidity, declared his intention of writing to the prefect, and the others pressed him to do so. However, it was Hyacinthe, with his '89 and his humanitarian motto of "Liberty, equality, and fraternity," and Canon, with his schemes for the compulsory and scientific reorganisation of society, who appeared the most indignant. They sat there with pale faces, exasperated at not having been able to find a word to say in reply, and now expressing themselves in much stronger terms than the peasants did; bellowing out, in fact, that a fellow of that sort ought to be guillotined. Buteau, upon hearing the orator demand so much blood—flowing streams of blood to which he seemed to point with his finger—had risen from his seat in trembling alarm, his head wagging involuntarily from nervous excitement, just as though he were signifying approval of what was being said. Then he glided along the wall, casting furtive glances to make sure that he was not being followed, and on reaching the door, he, too, disappeared.
The conscripts now reverted to their uproarious merriment again. They were bellowing loudly, and insisting upon Flore cooking them some sausages, when Nénesse suddenly hustled them aside and sprang over a bench to reach Delphin, who had just fainted away, with his face lying on the table. The poor fellow was as white as a sheet. His handkerchief, which had slipped off his wounded hand, was covered with crimson stains. The conscripts yelled into Bécu's ear, for he was still hard asleep; but at last he awoke, and gazed at his son's mutilated hand. He knew what it meant, for, seizing hold of a bottle, he brandished it as if anxious to kill the lad. Then, as he led him, tottering, away, he could be heard indulging in noisy oaths, amid which he burst into tears.
Hourdequin, having heard of Françoise's accident while he was dining, repaired to Rognes that evening, prompted by his kindly feeling for Jean, to inquire how the young woman was getting on. Setting out on foot, he smoked his pipe as he walked along through the black darkness, brooding over his troubles and vexations amid the unbroken silence of the night. Feeling at last somewhat calmer, and wishing to prolong his walk, he went down the hill before calling at his old servant's house. When he reached the foot of the declivity, the sound of Lequeu's voice, which streamed forth from the open window of the tavern, penetrating the darkness of the surrounding country, made him halt, and he remained listening for a long time, standing motionless in the gloom. When he at length began to ascend the hill again, the schoolmaster's voice followed him, and even when he reached Jean's house, he could still hear it, sounding weaker, and seemingly shriller in the distance, but still as sharply incisive as the keen edge of a knife.
Jean was standing at his door, leaning against the wall. He had not been able to remain any longer at Françoise's bedside. He felt suffocated there, and altogether too miserable.
"Well, my poor fellow," Hourdequin now asked, "how is your wife?"
The unhappy man broke into a gesture of despair.
"Ah, sir, she's dying!"
Then neither of them said another word; and the deep silence around them was only broken by the distant sound of Lequeu's voice, which still persistently rang out.
The farmer could not help listening, despite himself, and presently he angrily exclaimed:
"Do you hear that fellow ranting? How awful such talk as that sounds when one's in trouble!"
The sound of the schoolmaster's fulminating voice, combined with the proximity of Françoise in her death-agony, again revived the farmer's anguish of heart. The soil which he loved so dearly, loved with a sentimental passion, nay, almost with an intellectual one, had well nigh completed his ruin this last harvest. His fortune had all been drained away, and soon La Borderie would not even provide him with bare sustenance. Nothing seemed to do any good there—neither hard work, nor new systems, nor manures, nor machines. He habitually ascribed his failure to insufficient capital; but in his own mind he had some doubts about this, for ruin seemed to be general. The Robiquets had just been ejected by the bailiffs from La Chamade, and the Coquarts had been compelled to sell their farm of Saint-Juste. He himself could see no way of breaking his bonds; he had never more completely felt himself the prisoner of his land, and every day the money he spent and the labour he bestowed seemed to chain him more tightly to it. The final catastrophe, which would put an end to the antagonism of centuries between the small landowners and the large ones by annihilating them both, was now rapidly approaching. This was the advent of the predicted time; corn had fallen below fifty-six francs the quarter, so that it was being sold at a loss; and social transformations, stronger than the will of men, were bringing about the bankruptcy of the soil.
Stung with the consciousness of his ruin, Hourdequin now suddenly expressed approval of what Lequeu was saying.
"Deuce take it all, he's right! Let everything go to smash and all of us perish, and the whole soil be covered with weeds and brambles, since our race is decayed and the land exhausted!"
Then, referring to Jacqueline, he added:
"However, thank God, there is another complaint that will make an end of me before all that comes off!"
Inside the house La Grande and La Frimat could be heard walking about and muttering to each other. Jean, who was still leaning against the wall, shivered as he heard them. Then he returned into the house, and found that all was over. Françoise was dead; she had probably passed away some time previously. She had never opened her eyes again; and had kept her lips sealed, carrying away with her the secret she was so anxious to conceal. La Grande had only just discovered that she was dead by touching her. With her white shrunken face, on which there rested a resolute expression, she looked as though she were sleeping. Jean stood at the foot of the bed and stared at her, dazed and stupefied with confused thoughts, with the grief he felt at losing her, with the surprise caused him by the fact that she had refused to make a will, and with a vague sensation that a part of his existence was now shivered to pieces, and gone for ever.
Just at that moment, as Hourdequin, still gloomy and down-hearted, took his leave with a silent grasp of the hand, Jean saw a shadowy form flit away from the window and dart hastily along the road into the darkness. He fancied it was some prowling dog; but in reality it was Buteau, who had been spying through the window, to watch for Françoise's death, and who was now hastening to announce the news to Lise.