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....
(The entire section is 1653 words.)