Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1653
The marquis of Ravenel, who is an enthusiastic patron of the baths at Enval, persuades his young daughter Christiane and her husband, William Andermatt, to join him there. On the advice of one of the doctors at the spring, Christiane agrees to take a series of baths, internal and external, in the hope that they will cure her childlessness. When the young couple arrive, they are joined by Christiane’s spendthrift brother, Gontran, and his friend Paul Brétigny, who has come to the country to recover from a disappointing love affair. During their stay, they learn that Father Oriol, a wealthy peasant landowner of the district, is planning to blast out a huge rock that hinders the cultivation of one of his fields, and they all go to watch the event.
To everyone’s surprise, a spring comes gushing from the ground after the explosion. Andermatt decides that if the water is of medicinal value he will make Oriol an offer for it, for he hopes to build an establishment that will give the existing baths heavy competition. That same evening, Andermatt, accompanied by Gontran, goes to the Oriol house and places his proposal before the peasant.
Oriol, who is quite skilled in bargaining, decides that he will have to be careful not to ask too much for the spring and the fields around it; on the other hand, he does not want to let the possibility of obtaining great wealth slip from his grasp. To inflame Andermatt’s desire, he engages a beggar named Clovis to help him. Clovis, who is a poacher by night and feigns rheumatism by day to escape the attentions of the police, is to bathe in the spring for an hour each day—for a fee. At the end of a month he is to be examined, and if he is “cured” of his rheumatism, his condition will prove the medicinal value of the spring.
The unsuspecting Andermatt is enthusiastic about the projected plan, and he agrees to pay Clovis for undergoing treatment. Meanwhile, he and Oriol agree to sign a promise of sale. In order that the Oriol family might be won over to his project, Andermatt decides to hold a charity party and a lottery in which Oriol’s daughters and Christiane will participate. Andermatt then returns to Paris, leaving Christiane at the baths. She and her family, accompanied by Paul Brétigny and the Oriol sisters, make numerous excursions about the countryside. Paul begins to confide in Christiane, telling her of his adventures and love affairs. As their conversations become more intimate, she realizes that he is paying court to her. To inflame his desire, she holds him at arm’s length until, finally, as they are starting back from a jaunt at nightfall, he catches at her shawl while she walks in front of him and kisses it madly. She has to struggle to master her agitation before she joins the others in the carriage.
Several days later, when Christiane and the others go to view the ruins of a nearby castle by moonlight, Paul throws himself at Christiane’s feet, and she submits to him. The following morning Andermatt returns. Losing no time, the financier sets about reaching an agreement with Oriol. According to the terms decided upon after much discussion, the company that Andermatt has formed is assigned the lands along the newly created stream and the crest and slope of the hill down which it runs. In return, Oriol is to receive one-fourth of the profits to be made.
Andermatt rushes back to Paris after completing his arrangements, and that night Paul goes to Christiane’s room. During Andermatt’s absence they have nearly a month for uninterrupted lovemaking. It is a blow to both of them when they learn that Andermatt is arriving within a few days and that he is planning to take Christiane back to Paris with him when he leaves again. The financier brings several members of his newly formed company with him. The terms of the purchase are read and signed before the village notary, and Andermatt is elected president of the company, over the dissenting votes of Oriol and his son. It is agreed that the new baths shall be known as Mont-Oriol.
That night Paul sorrowfully says good-bye to his love. He feels that, although they might meet later in Paris, part of the enchantment of their affair will be gone forever. Christiane, in contrast, is full of plans for future meetings and ways of carrying on the affair while evading the notice of her servants.
On the first of July in the following year, the day has come for the dedication of the new baths at Mont-Oriol. Christiane, soon expecting a baby, walks with her father, her brother, and Paul to watch the dedication of the three new springs, which are to be named for Christiane and for Oriol’s two daughters, Charlotte and Louise. Clovis, however, is again doubled up with his assumed rheumatism, despite his apparently successful cure the previous summer. He threatens to become a serious menace to business because he declares to anyone who will listen that the waters ultimately did him more harm than good. At last Andermatt is forced to reckon with him, and Clovis finally agrees to undergo treatment every year. It is decided that his return annually for the same treatment will only prove to the public the medicinal value of the baths.
Andermatt has planned an operetta and display of fireworks for the evening of the dedication. Gontran, observing that his sister is suffering from the heat of the room in which the entertainment is beginning, sneaks out and sets off the rocket that is intended as the signal for the fireworks display to start. To Andermatt’s disgust, everyone dashes outside, but he takes advantage of the unexpected interlude to have a serious conversation with Gontran. Having been informed that Oriol intends to give the lands around Mont-Oriol as his daughters’ dowries, Andermatt proposes that Gontran, who is deeply in debt, should repair his finances by marrying either Charlotte or Louise. After meditating for a few moments, Gontran announces that he will open the ball to be held later that evening by dancing with Charlotte Oriol, the younger and prettier of the two sisters.
Christiane, too, makes use of the interruption. She proposes to Paul that they walk along the road on which they said good-bye the previous year. At that time, he had fallen to his knees and kissed her shadow, and she has hopes that he will repeat the act. Her hopes are dashed, however, for although the child she is carrying is his, her shadow betrays too clearly her changed form.
Gontran pays court to Charlotte Oriol at the ball, and the news of his interest in her soon becomes common gossip at the springs. The innocent young woman responds so freely that Christiane and Paul, who are fond of her, begin to fear that she will eventually find herself compromised. They are satisfied, however, when Gontran confides to them his intention to ask for her hand.
When he asks Andermatt to sound out Oriol about the match, the crafty peasant, realizing that his younger daughter will be easier to marry off than will the older, says that he plans to endow Charlotte with the lands on the other side of the mountain. Because those lands are of no use to Andermatt at the moment, Gontran realizes that he will have to change his tactics. He persuades Louise that he has courted Charlotte only to arouse the older sister’s interest, and he manages to meet her frequently at the home of one of the local doctors and on walks. When the time seems ripe, he sends Andermatt once more to talk to Oriol. As the reward for his efforts he receives a signed statement that assures him a dowry and the promise of Louise’s hand.
Paul, unaware of Gontran and Andermatt’s scheming, has been incensed by Gontran’s sudden desertion of Charlotte, and gradually his feeling of sympathy for her has grown into love. One day her father finds them together, and, partly because he is in love and partly because he does not want to compromise Charlotte, his immediate reaction is to propose. When he agrees to sign a statement as to his satisfactory income, the peasant gives his consent to the marriage.
The next morning, Christiane learns that Paul is to marry Charlotte. Her informant is the doctor who has come to examine her because she has been feeling ill. As soon as she hears that her lover is to marry, she goes into labor from the shock, and fifteen hours later a little girl is born. Christiane will have nothing to do with the baby at first, but when Andermatt brings the child to her, she finds the infant irresistible and wants to keep her close.
No one else is available to nurse the child, so the doctor’s wife is chosen to keep Christiane company during her recovery. The talkative woman knows the Oriols well, and Christiane is able to learn from her most of the details of Paul’s courtship of Charlotte. Upset by the realization that he has given Charlotte the same attentions she once received, she falls into a delirium, but the next day her condition begins to improve.
When the baby is a few days old, Christiane asks that Paul be sent to see her. He arrives planning to beg her pardon, but he finds there is no need to do so. Christiane, engrossed in the child, has only a few conversational words for him. Although he was hoping to see the infant who is half his, he notes that the curtains of the cradle are significantly fastened in the front with some of Christiane’s pins.