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Building a House - Theoretical Studies


The cold and the state of the times prevented the works from being continued. The winter might be a long one. Eugene and Paul prepared themselves, therefore, to employ this compulsory leisure to advantage. It was decided between them that they should not merely draw out the details necessary for finishing the works, but that Eugene should take advantage of these winter days to enlighten Paul on many points respecting which, as clerk of-works, he was deficient.

Paul took an increasing interest in this employment. Hitherto the execution had immediately followed the labours of the study, and example and practice came to ratify theory; but he was quite aware that all his attention and desire to follow the lead of his chief were not sufficient, and that at each step he found himself confronted by a difficulty. The further the work advanced, the more utterly incapable did he feel himself. He set to work, therefore, with a hearty desire to learn; indeed, so much the more eagerly as all that surrounded him assumed a more and more gloomy and desolate aspect. Paul had never spent a winter in the country, although he used to come home to the Christmas festivities; the few days spent at his father's chateau had passed away so quickly, that he had not time to consider how things looked out of doors. Besides, the house was full of guests at that time; the presence of his elder sister gave it animation; every thing had a holiday aspect. But the scene was quite changed at the beginning of December, 1870; the neigh bouring villages were deserted, or occupied only for a few hours by troops ill-clad, dying of hunger, generally going to fight without enthusiasm, and leaving the exhausted and the sick in the cottages. Then would come long lines of carriages that looked like so many funeral processions.

The snow was beginning to cover the fields and to muffle distant sounds. Seldom did any of the peasants come to the cluiteau. The postman still paid his regular visits, but the letters and newspapers he brought tended only to depress the spirits of the inmates. Sometimes they gave shelter

to members of the Garde Mobile, or to soldiers of the line; but all were dumb : the officers themselves would ask to be allowed to rest in their rooms under pretext of fatigue, rather than go down to the drawing-room. M. de Gandelau, up early in the morning, in spite of his gout, seemed to be omnipresent; he was to be found everywhere, among the farms and at the neighbouring town, facilitating the transport of munitions of war, organizing hospitals, supplying provisions and lightening the difficulties im posed by routine."Set Paul to work, my friend,"he said to Eugene every evening;"that is all the demand I make on your friendship. I feel it is a considerable one, but grant it, I entreat you." In fact, the greater part of the day was passed in study ing some question relating to building; then the architect and his clerk-of-works would go and take a walk before the evening, during which Eugene did not fail to start some interesting topic. The country and natural phenomena were the habitual subjects of these conversations; and thus Paul was learning to observe and reflect, and it be came every day clearer to him how much knowledge must be acquired to accomplish a task of even limited scope. His cousin did not fail to reiterate the sentiment :"The more you know the more you will feel your want of knowledge; and the highest acquisition in science is the conviction that we know nothing." "What good is it to learn, then?"rejoined Paul, one day.

"That we may become modest; that we may occupy life with something better than those things to which vanity prompts us; that 'we may make ourselves of some little use to our fellows, without exacting gratitude from them." Eugene made Paul draw a good deal, and always from nature, or from drawings executed while he was present, for he had not brought with him any specimens of archi tectural design. Besides this, Paul made a fair copy of memoranda relating to the parts of the house already erected. Thus he gained a complete acquaintance with the structure of every part of the stone-work.

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paul, eugene, day, feel and winter