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- CONSCIENCE - 1/13 -
it was conscience that sanctioned these duties; and nature, like conscience, made him the most faithful of lovers, the best, the most affectionate, the most tender of fathers. Tall, proud, carrying in his person and manners the native elegance of his race, he dressed like the porter at the corner, only replacing the blue velvet by chestnut velvet, a less frivolous color. Living in Clamart for twenty years, he always came to Paris on foot, and the only concessions that he made to conventionality or to his comfort were to wear sabots in winter, and to carry his vest on his arm in summer.
Thus organized, he must have disciples, and he sought them everywhere-- in the streets, where he buttonholed those he was able to snatch under the trees of the Luxembourg Gardens, and on Wednesday at the house of his old comrade Crozat. How many he had had! But, unfortunately, the greater number turned out badly. Several became ministers; others accepted high government positions for life; some handled millions of francs; two were at Noumea; one preached in the pulpit of Notre Dame.
One afternoon in October the little parlor was full; the end of the summer vacation had brought back the habitues, and for the first time the number was nearly large enough to open a profitable discussion. Crozat, near the door, smiled at the arrivals on shaking hands, and Brigard, his soft felt hat on his head, presided, assisted by his two favorite disciples of the moment, the advocate Nougarede and the poet Glady, neither of whom would turn out badly, he was certain.
To tell the truth, for those who knew how to look and to see, the pale face of Nougarede, his thin lips, restless eyes, and an austerity of dress and manners which clashed with his twenty-six years, gave him more the appearance of a man of ambition than of an apostle. And when one knew that Glady was the owner of a beautiful house in Paris, and of real estate in the country that brought him a hundred thousand francs a year, it was difficult to imagine that he would long follow Father Brigard.
But to see was not the dominant faculty of Brigard; it was to reason, and reason told him that ambition would soon make Nougarede a deputy, as fortune would one day make Glady an academician; and in that case, although he detested assemblies as much as academies, they would then have two tribunes whence the good word would fall on the multitude with more weight. They might be counted on. When Nougarede began to come to the Wednesday reunions he was as empty as a drum, and if he spoke brilliantly on no matter what subject with an imperturbable eloquence, it was to say nothing. In Glady's first volume were words learnedly arranged to please the ears and the eyes. Now, ideas sustained the discourse of the advocate, as the verses of the poet said something--and these ideas were Brigard's; this something was the perfume of his teaching.
For half an hour the pipes burned fiercely, the smoke slowly rose to the ceiling, and as in a cloud Brigard might be seen like a bearded god, proclaiming his law, his hat on his head; for, if he had made a rule never to take it off, he manipulated it continually while he spoke, frequently pushing it forward, sometimes to the back of his head, to the right, to the left, raising it, and flattening it, according to the needs of his argument.
"It is incontestable," he said, "that we scatter our great force when we ought to concentrate it."
He pressed down his hat.
"In effect," he raised it, "the hour has arrived for us to assert ourselves as a group, and it is a duty for us, since it is a need of humanity--"
At this moment a new arrival glided into the room quietly, with the manifest intention of disturbing no one; but Crozat, who was seated near the door, stopped him and shook hands.
"'Tiens', Saniel! Good-day, doctor."
"Good-evening, my dear sir."
"Come to the table; the beer is good to-day."
"Thank you; I am very well here."
Without taking the chair that Crozat designated, he leaned against the wall. He was a tall, solid man about thirty, with tawny hair falling on the collar of his coat, a long, curled beard, a face energetic, but troubled and wan, to which the pale blue eyes gave an expression of hardness that was accentuated by a prominent jaw and a decided air. A Gaul, a true Gaul of ancient times, strong, bold, and resolute.
"It is incontestable"--this was his formula, because everything he said was incontestable to him, simply because he said it--"it is incontestable that in the struggle for existence the dogma of conscience must be established, its only sanction being the performance of duty and inward satisfaction--"
"Duty accomplished toward whom?" interrupted Saniel.
"Toward one's self."
"Then begin by stating what are our duties, and codify what is good and what is bad."
"That is easy," some one replied.
"Easy if you admit a certain innate regard for human life, for property, and for the family. But you must acknowledge that not all men have this regard. How many believe that it is not a fault to run away with the wife of a friend, not a crime to appropriate something that they want, or to kill an enemy! Where are the duties of those who reason and feel in this way? What is their inward satisfaction worth? This is why I will not admit that conscience is the proper guide of our actions."
There were several exclamations at this, which Brigard checked.
"What guide, then, shall men obey?" he demanded.
"Force, which is the last word of the philosophy of life "
"That which leads to a wise and progressive extermination. Is this what you desire?"
"Why not? I do not shrink from an extermination that relieves humanity of idlers that it drags about without power to advance or to free itself, finally sinking under the load. Is it not better for the world to be rid of such people, who obstruct the advancement of others?"
"At least the idea is bizarre coming from a doctor," interrupted Crozat, "since it would put an end to hospitals."
"Not at all; I would preserve them for the study of monsters."
"In placing society on this antagonistic footing," said Brigard, "you destroy society itself, which is founded on reciprocity, on good fellowship; and in doing so you can create for the strong a state of suspicion that paralyzes them. Carthage and Venice practised the selection by force, and destroyed themselves."
"You speak of force, my dear Saniel," interrupted a voice; "where do you get that--the force of things, the tatum? There is no beginning, no will; events decide for us climate, temperament, environment."
"Then," replied Saniel, "there is no responsibility, and this instrument conscience, that should decide everything, is good for nothing. You need not consider consequences. Success or defeat may yet be immaterial, for the accomplishment of an act that you have believed condemnable may serve the race, while another that you have believed beneficent may prove injurious; from which it follows that intentions only should be judged, and that no one but God can sound human hearts to their depths."
He began to laugh.
"Do you believe that? Is that the conclusion at which you have arrived?"
A waiter entered, carrying pitchers of beer on a tray, and the discussion was necessarily interrupted, every one drawing up to the table where Crozat filled the glasses, and the conversation took a more private turn.
Saniel shook hands with Brigard, who received him somewhat coldly; then he approached Glady with the manifest intention of detaining him, but Glady had said that he was obliged to leave, so Saniel said that he could remain no longer, and had only dropped in on passing.
When they were both gone Brigard turned to Crozat and Nougarede, who were near him, and declared that Saniel made him uneasy.
"He believes himself stronger than life," he said, "because he is sound and intelligent. He must take care that he does not go too far!"
THE RICH MAN'S REFUSAL
When Saniel and Glady reached the street, the rain that had fallen since morning had ceased, and the asphalt shone clear and glittering like a mirror.
"The walking is good," Saniel remarked.
"It will rain again," responded Glady, looking at the sky.
"I think not." It was evident that Glady wished to take a cab, but as none passed he was obliged to walk with Saniel.
"Do you know," he said, "that you have wounded Brigard?"
"I regret it sincerely; but the salon of our friend Crozat is not yet a church, and I do not suppose that discussion is forbidden there."
"To deny is not to discuss."
"You say that as if you were angry with me."
"Not at all. I am sorry that you have wounded Brigard--nothing more."
"That is too much, because I have a sincere esteem, a real friendship for you, if you will permit me to say so."
But Glady, apparently, did not desire the conversation to take this turn.
"I think this is an empty cab," he said, as a fiacre approached them.
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