Part 4 out of 7
entering the service. But while the negotiations, which naturally took
him to the Hotel Montcornet, were going on, he met the countess's head
waiting-maid. This young girl, who was entrusted to Madame de
Montcornet by her parents, worthy farmers in the neighborhood of
Alencon, had hopes of a little fortune, some twenty or thirty thousand
francs, when the heirs were all of age. Like other farmers who marry
young, and whose own parents are still living, the father and mother
of the girl, being pinched for immediate means, placed her with the
young countess. Madame de Montcornet had her taught to sew and to make
dresses, arranged that she should take her meals alone, and was
rewarded for the care she bestowed on Olympe Charel by one of those
unconditional attachments which are so precious to Parisians.
Olympe Charel, a pretty Norman girl, rather stout, with fair hair of a
golden tint, an animated face lighted by intelligent eyes, and
distinguished by a finely curved thoroughbred nose, with a maidenly
air in spite of a certain swaying Spanish manner of carrying herself,
possessed all the points that a young girl born just above the level
of the masses is likely to acquire from whatever close companionship a
mistress is willing to allow her. Always suitably dressed, with modest
bearing and manner, and able to express herself well, Michaud was soon
in love with her,--all the more when he found that his sweetheart's
dowry would one day be considerable. The obstacles came from the
countess, who could not bear to part with so invaluable a maid; but
when Montcornet explained to her the affairs at Les Aigues, she gave
way, and the marriage was no longer delayed, except to obtain the
consent of the parents, which, of course, was quickly given.
Michaud, like his general, looked upon his wife as a superior being,
to whom he owed military obedience without a single reservation. He
found in the peace of his home and his busy life out-of-doors the
elements of a happiness soldiers long for when they give up their
profession,--enough work to keep his body healthy, enough fatigue to
let him know the charms of rest. In spite of his well-known
intrepidity, Michaud had never been seriously wounded, and he had none
of those physical pains which often sour the temper of veterans. Like
all really strong men, his temper was even; his wife, therefore, loved
him utterly. From the time they took up their abode in the pavilion,
this happy home was the scene of a long honey-moon in harmony with
Nature and with the art whose creations surrounded them,--a
circumstance rare indeed! The things about us are seldom in keeping
with the condition of our souls!
The picture was so pretty that the countess stopped short and pointed
it out to Blondet and the abbe; for they could see Madame Michaud from
where they stood, without her seeing them.
"I always come this way when I walk in the park," said the countess,
softly. "I delight in looking at the pavilion and its two turtle-
doves, as much as I delight in a fine view."
She leaned significantly on Blondet's arm, as if to make him share
sentiments too delicate for words but which all women feel.
"I wish I were a gate-keeper at Les Aigues," said Blondet, smiling.
"Why! what troubles you?" he added, noticing an expression of sadness
on the countess's face.
"Nothing," she replied.
Women are always hiding some important thought when they say,
hypocritically, "It is nothing."
"A woman may be the victim of ideas which would seem very flimsy to
you," she added, "but which, to us, are terrible. As for me, I envy
"God hears you," said the abbe, smiling as though to soften the
sternness of his remark.
Madame de Montcornet grew seriously uneasy when she noticed an
expression of fear and anxiety in Olympe's face and attitude. By the
way a woman draws out her needle or sets her stitches another woman
understands her thoughts. In fact, though wearing a rose-colored
dress, with her hair carefully braided about her head, the bailiff's
wife was thinking of matters that were out of keeping with her pretty
dress, the glorious day, and the work her hands were engaged on. Her
beautiful brow, and the glance she turned sometimes on the ground at
her feet, sometimes on the foliage around, evidently seeing nothing,
betrayed some deep anxiety,--all the more unconsciously because she
supposed herself alone.
"Just as I was envying her! What can have saddened her?" whispered the
countess to the abbe.
"Madame," he replied in the same tone, "tell me why man is often
seized with vague and unaccountable presentiments of evil in the very
midst of some perfect happiness?"
"Abbe!" said Blondet, smiling, "you talk like a bishop. Napoleon said,
'Nothing is stolen, all is bought!'"
"Such a maxim, uttered by those imperial lips, takes the proportions
of society itself," replied the priest.
"Well, Olympe, my dear girl, what is the matter?" said the countess
going up to her former maid. "You seem sad and thoughtful; is it a
Madame Michaud's face, as she rose, changed completely.
"My dear," said Emile Blondet, in a fatherly tone, "I should like to
know what clouds that brow of yours, in this pavilion where you are
almost as well lodged as the Comte d'Artois at the Tuileries. It is
like a nest of nightingales in a grove! And what a husband we have!--
the bravest fellow of the young garde, and a handsome one, who loves
us to distraction! If I had known the advantages Montcornet has given
you here I should have left my diatribing business and made myself a
"It is not the place for a man of your talent, monsieur," replied
Olympe, smiling at Blondet as an old acquaintance.
"But what troubles you, dear?" said the countess.
"Madame, I'm afraid--"
"Afraid! of what?" said the countess, eagerly; for the word reminded
her of Mouche and Fourchon.
"Afraid of the wolves, is that it?" said Emile, making Madame Michaud
a sign, which she did not understand.
"No, monsieur,--afraid of the peasants. I was born in Le Perche, where
of course there are some bad people, but I had no idea how wicked
people could be until I came here. I try not to meddle in Michaud's
affairs, but I do know that he distrusts the peasants so much that he
goes armed, even in broad daylight, when he enters the forest. He
warns his men to be always on the alert. Every now and then things
happen about here that bode no good. The other day I was walking along
the wall, near the source of that little sandy rivulet which comes
from the forest and enters the park through a culvert about five
hundred feet from here,--you know it, madame? it is called Silver
Spring, because of the star-flowers Bouret is said to have sown there.
Well, I overheard the talk of two women who were washing their linen
just where the path to Conches crosses the brook; they did not know I
was there. Our house can be seen from that point, and one old woman
pointed it out to the other, saying: 'See what a lot of money they
have spent on the man who turned out Courtecuisse.' 'They ought to pay
a man well when they set him to harass poor people as that man does,'
answered the other. 'Well, it won't be for long,' said the first one;
'the thing is going to end soon. We have a right to our wood. The late
Madame allowed us to take it. That's thirty years ago, so the right is
ours.' 'We'll see what we shall see next winter,' replied the second.
'My man has sworn the great oath that all the gendarmerie in the world
sha'n't keep us from getting our wood; he says he means to get it
himself, and if the worst happens so much the worse for them!' 'Good
God!' cried the other; 'we can't die of cold, and we must bake bread
to eat! They want for nothing, THOSE OTHERS! the wife of that
scoundrel of a Michaud will be taken care of, I warrant you!' And
then, Madame, they said such horrible things of me and of you and of
Monsieur le comte; and they finally declared that the farms would all
be burned, and then the chateau."
"Bah!" said Emile, "idle talk! They have been robbing the general, and
they will not be allowed to rob him any longer. These people are
furious, that's the whole of it. You must remember that the law and
the government are always strongest everywhere, even in Burgundy. In
case of an outbreak the general could bring a regiment of cavalry
here, if necessary."
The abbe made a sign to Madame Michaud from behind the countess,
telling her to say no more about her fears, which were doubtless the
effect of that second sight which true passion bestows. The soul,
dwelling exclusively on one only being, grasps in the end the moral
elements that surround it, and sees in them the makings of the future.
The woman who loves feels the same presentiments that later illuminate
her motherhood. Hence a certain melancholy, a certain inexplicable
sadness which surprises men, who are one and all distracted from any
such concentration of their souls by the cares of life and the
continual necessity for action. All true love becomes to a woman an
active contemplation, which is more or less lucid, more or less
profound, according to her nature.
"Come, my dear, show your home to Monsieur Emile," said the countess,
whose mind was so pre-occupied that she forgot La Pechina, who was the
ostensible object of her visit.
The interior of the restored pavilion was in keeping with its
exterior. On the ground-floor the old divisions had been replaced, and
the architect, sent from Paris with his own workmen (a cause of bitter
complaint in the neighborhood against the master of Les Aigues), had
made four rooms out of the space. First, an ante-chamber, at the
farther end of which was a winding wooden staircase, behind which came
the kitchen; on either side of the antechamber was a dining-room and a
parlor panelled in oak now nearly black, with armorial bearings in the
divisions of the ceilings. The architect chosen by Madame de
Montcornet for the restoration of Les Aigues had taken care to put the
furniture of this room in keeping with its original decoration.
At the time of which we write fashion had not yet given an exaggerated
value to the relics of past ages. The carved settee, the high-backed
chairs covered with tapestry, the consoles, the clocks, the tall
embroidery frames, the tables, the lustres, hidden away in the second-
hand shops of Auxerre and Ville-aux-Fayes were fifty per-cent cheaper
than the modern, ready-made furniture of the faubourg Saint Antoine.
The architect had therefore bought two or three cartloads of well-
chosen old things, which, added to a few others discarded at the
chateau, made the little salon of the gate of the Avonne an artistic
creation. As to the dining-room, he painted it in browns and hung it
with what was called a Scotch paper, and Madame Michaud added white
cambric curtains with green borders at the windows, mahogany chairs
covered with green cloth, two large buffets and a table, also in
mahogany. This room, ornamented with engravings of military scenes,
was heated by a porcelain stove, on each side of which were sporting-
guns suspended on the walls. These adornments, which cost but little,
were talked of throughout the whole valley as the last extreme of
oriental luxury. Singular to say, they, more than anything else,
excited the envy of Gaubertin, and whenever he thought of his fixed
determination to bring Les Aigues to the hammer and cut it in pieces,
he reserved for himself, "in petto," this beautiful pavilion.
On the next floor three chambers sufficed for the household. At the
windows were muslin curtains which reminded a Parisian of the
particular taste and fancy of bourgeois requirements. Left to herself
in the decoration of these rooms, Madame Michaud had chosen satin
papers; on the mantel-shelf of her bedroom--which was furnished in
that vulgar style of mahogany and Utrecht velvet which is seen
everywhere, with its high-backed bed and canopy to which embroidered
muslin curtains are fastened--stood an alabaster clock between two
candelabra covered with gauze and flanked by two vases filled with
artificial flowers protected by glass shades, a conjugal gift of the
former cavalry sergeant. Above, under the roof, the bedrooms of the
cook, the man-of-all-work, and La Pechina had benefited by the recent
"Olympe, my dear, you did not tell me all," said the countess,
entering Madame Michaud's bedroom, and leaving Emile and the abbe on
the stairway, whence they descended when they heard her shut the door.
Madame Michaud, to whom the abbe had contrived to whisper a word, was
now anxious to say no more about her fears, which were really greater
than she had intimated, and she therefore began to talk of a matter
which reminded the countess of the object of her visit.
"I love Michaud, madame, as you know. Well, how would you like to
have, in your own house, a rival always beside you?"
"Yes, madame; that swarthy girl you gave me to take care of loves
Michaud without knowing it, poor thing! The child's conduct, long a
mystery to me, has been cleared up in my mind for some days."
"Why, she is only thirteen years old!"
"I know that, madame. But you will admit that a woman who is three
months pregnant and means to nurse her child herself may have some
fears; but as I did not want to speak of this before those gentlemen,
I talked a great deal of nonsense when you questioned me," said the
generous creature, adroitly.
Madame Michaud was not really afraid of Genevieve Niseron, but for the
last three days she was in mortal terror of some disaster from the
"How did you discover this?" said the countess.
"From everything and from nothing," replied Olympe. "The poor little
thing moves with the slowness of a tortoise when she is obliged to
obey me, but she runs like a lizard when Justin asks for anything, she
trembles like a leaf at the sound of his voice; and her face is that
of a saint ascending to heaven when she looks at him. But she knows
nothing about love; she has no idea that she loves him."
"Poor child!" said the countess with a smile and tone that were full
"And so," continued Madame Michaud, answering with a smile the smile
of her late mistress, "Genevieve is gloomy when Justin is out of the
house; if I ask her what she is thinking of she replies that she is
afraid of Monsieur Rigou, or some such nonsense. She thinks people
envy her, though she is as black as the inside of a chimney. When
Justin is patrolling the woods at night the child is as anxious as I
am. If I open my window to listen for the trot of his horse, I see a
light in her room, which shows me that La Pechina (as they call here)
is watching and waiting too. She never goes to bed, any more than I
do, till he comes in."
"Thirteen!" exclaimed the countess; "unfortunate child!"
"Unfortunate? no. This passion will save her."
"From what?" asked Madame de Montcornet.
"From the fate which overtakes nearly all the girls of her age in
these parts. Since I have taught her cleanliness she is much less ugly
than she was; in fact, there is something odd and wild about her which
attracts men. She is so changed that you would hardly recognize her.
The son of that infamous innkeeper of the Grand-I-Vert, Nicolas, the
worst fellow in the whole district, wants her; he hunts her like game.
Though I can't believe that Monsieur Rigou, who changes his servant-
girls every year or two is persecuting such a little fright, it is
quite certain that Nicolas Tonsard is. Justin told me so. It would be
a dreadful fate, for the people of this valley actually live like
beasts; but Justin and our two servants and I watch her carefully.
Therefore don't be uneasy, madame; she never goes out alone except in
broad daylight, and then only as far as the gate of Conches. If by
chance she fell into an ambush, her feeling for Justin would give her
strength and wit to escape; for all women who have a preference in
their hearts can resist a man they hate."
"It was about her that I came," said the countess, "and I little
thought my visit could be so useful to you. That child, you know,
can't remain thirteen; and she will probably grow better-looking."
"Oh, madame," replied Olympe, smiling, "I am quite sure of Justin.
What a man! what a heart!-- If you only knew what a depth of gratitude
he feels for his general, to whom, he says, he owes his happiness. He
is only too devoted; he would risk his life for him here, as he would
on the field of battle, and he forgets sometimes that he will one day
be father of a family."
"Ah! I once regretted losing you," said the countess, with a glance
that made Olympe blush; "but I regret it no longer, for I see you
happy. What a sublime and noble thing is married love!" she added,
speaking out the thought she had not dared express before the abbe.
Virginie de Troisville dropped into a revery, and Madame Michaud kept
"Well, at least the girl is honest, is she not?" said the countess, as
if waking from a dream.
"As honest as I am myself, madame."
"As the grave."
"Ah! madame; she has moments of humility and gentleness towards me
which seem to show an angelic nature. She will kiss my hands and say
the most upsetting things. 'Can we die of love?' she asked me
yesterday. 'Why do you ask me that?' I said. 'I want to know if love
is a disease.'"
"Did she really say that?"
"If I could remember her exact words I would tell you a great deal
more," replied Olympe; "she appears to know much more than I do."
"Do you think, my dear, that she could take your place in my service.
I can't do without an Olympe," said the countess, smiling in a rather
"Not yet, madame,--she is too young; but in two years' time, yes. If
it becomes necessary that she should go away from here I will let you
know. She ought to be educated, and she knows nothing of the world.
Her grandfather, Pere Niseron, is a man who would let his throat be
cut sooner than tell a lie; he would die of hunger in a baker's shop;
he has the strength of his opinions, and the girl was brought up to
all such principles. La Pechina would consider herself your equal; for
the old man has made her, as he says, a republican,--just as Pere
Fourchon has made Mouche a bohemian. As for me, I laugh at such ideas,
but you might be displeased. She would revere you as her benefactress,
but never as her superior. It can't be otherwise; she is wild and free
like the swallows--her mother's blood counts for a good deal in what
"Who was her mother?"
"Doesn't madame know the story?" said Olympe. "Well, the son of the
old sexton at Blangy, a splendid fellow, so the people about here tell
me, was drafted at the great conscription. In 1809 young Niseron was
still only an artilleryman, in a corps d'armee stationed in Illyria
and Dalmatia when it received sudden orders to advance through Hungary
and cut off the retreat of the Austrian army in case the Emperor won
the battle of Wagram. Michaud told me all about Dalmatia, for he was
there. Niseron, being so handsome a man, captivated a Montenegrin girl
of Zahara among the mountains, who was not averse to the French
garrison. This lost her the good-will of her compatriots, and life in
her own town became impossible after the departure of the French. Zena
Kropoli, called in derision the Frenchwoman, followed the artillery,
and came to France after the peace. Auguste Niseron asked permission
to marry her; but the poor woman died at Vincennes in January, 1810,
after giving birth to a daughter, our Genevieve. The papers necessary
to make the marriage legal arrived a few days later. Auguste Niseron
then wrote to his father to come and take the child, with a wetnurse
he had got from its own country; and it was lucky he did, for he was
killed soon after by the bursting of a shell at Montereau. Registered
by the name of Genevieve and baptized at Soulanges, the little
Dalmatian was taken under the protection of Mademoiselle Laguerre, who
was touched by her story. It seems as if it were the destiny of the
child to be taken care of by the owners of Les Aigues! Pere Niseron
obtained its clothes, and now and then some help in money from
The countess and Olympe were just then standing before a window from
which they could see Michaud approaching the abbe and Blondet, who
were walking up and down the wide, semi-circular gravelled space which
repeated on the park side of the pavilion the exterior half-moon; they
were conversing earnestly.
"Where is she?" said the countess; "you make me anxious to see her."
"She is gone to carry milk to Mademoiselle Gaillard at the gate of
Conches; she will soon be back, for it is more than an hour since she
"Well, I'll go and meet her with those gentlemen," said Madame de
Montcornet, going downstairs.
Just as the countess opened her parasol, Michaud came up and told her
that the general had left her a widow for probably two days.
"Monsieur Michaud," said the countess, eagerly, "don't deceive me,
there is something serious going on. Your wife is frightened, and if
there are many persons like Pere Fourchon, this part of the country
will be uninhabitable--"
"If it were so, madame," answered Michaud, laughing, "we should not be
in the land of the living, for nothing would be easier than to make
away with us. The peasant's grumble, that is all. But as to passing
from growls to blows, from pilfering to crime, they care too much for
life and the free air of the fields. Olympe has been saying something
that frightened you, but you know she is in state to be frightened at
nothing," he added, drawing his wife's hand under his arm and pressing
it to warn her to say no more.
"Cornevin! Juliette!" cried Madame Michaud, who soon saw the head of
her old cook at the window. "I am going for a little walk; take care
of the premises."
Two enormous dogs, who began to bark, proved that the effectiveness of
the garrison at the gate of the Avonne was not to be despised. Hearing
the dogs, Cornevin, an old Percheron, Olympe's foster-father, came
from behind the trees, showing a head such as no other region than La
Perche can manufacture. Cornevin was undoubtedly a Chouan in 1794 and
The whole party accompanied the countess along that one of the six
forest avenues which led directly to the gate of Conches, crossing the
Silver-spring rivulet. Madame de Montcornet walked in front with
Blondet. The abbe and Michaud and his wife talked in a low voice of
the revelation that had just been made to the countess of the state of
"Perhaps it is providential," said the abbe; "for if madame is
willing, we might, perhaps, by dint of benefits and constant
consideration of their wants, change the hearts of these people."
At about six hundred feet from the pavilion and below the brooke, the
countess caught sight of a broken red jug and some spilt milk.
"Something has happened to the poor child!" she cried, calling to
Michaud and his wife, who were returning to the pavilion.
"A misfortune like Perrette's," said Blondet, laughing.
"No; the poor child has been surprised and pursued, for the jug was
thrown outside the path," said the abbe, examining the ground.
"Yes, that is certainly La Pechina's step," said Michaud; "the print
of the feet, which have turned, you see, quickly, shows sudden terror.
The child must have darted in the direction of the pavilion, trying to
get back there."
Every one followed the traces which the bailiff pointed out as he
walked along examining them. Presently he stopped in the middle of the
path about a hundred feet from the broken jug, where the girl's foot-
"Here," he said, "she turned towards the Avonne; perhaps she was
headed off from the direction of the pavilion."
"But she has been gone more than an hour," cried Madame Michaud.
Alarm was in all faces. The abbe ran towards the pavilion, examining
the state of the road, while Michaud, impelled by the same thought,
went up the path towards Conches.
"Good God! she fell here," said Michaud, returning from a place where
the footsteps stopped near the brook, to that where they had turned in
the road, and pointing to the ground, he added, "See!"
The marks were plainly seen of a body lying at full length on the
"The footprints which have entered the wood are those of some one who
wore knitted soles," said the abbe.
"A woman, then," said the countess.
"Down there, by the broken pitcher, are the footsteps of a man," added
"I don't see traces of any other foot," said the abbe, who was
tracking into the wood the prints of the woman's feet.
"She must have been lifted and carried into the wood," cried Michaud.
"That can't be, if it is really a woman's foot," said Blondet.
"It must be some trick of that wretch, Nicolas," said Michaud. "He has
been watching La Pechina for some time. Only this morning I stood two
hours under the bridge of the Avonne to see what he was about. A woman
may have helped him."
"It is dreadful!" said the countess.
"They call it amusing themselves," added the priest, in a sad and
"Oh! La Pechina would never let them keep her," said the bailiff; "she
is quite able to swim across the river. I shall look along the banks.
Go home, my dear Olympe; and you gentlemen and madame, please to
follow the avenue towards Conches."
"What a country!" exclaimed the countess.
"There are scoundrels everywhere," replied Blondet.
"Is it true, Monsieur l'abbe," asked Madame de Montcornet, "that I
saved the poor child from the clutches of Rigou?"
"Every young girl over fiften years of age whom you may protect at the
chateau is saved from that monster," said the abbe. "In trying to get
possession of La Pechina from her earliest years, the apostate sought
to satisfy both his lust and his vengeance. When I took Pere Niseron
as sexton I told him what Rigou's intentions were. That is one of the
causes of the late mayor's rancor against me; his hatred grew out of
it. Pere Niseron said to him solemnly that he would kill him if any
harm came to Genevieve, and he made him responsible for all attempts
upon the poor child's honor. I can't help thinking that this pursuit
of Nicolas is the result of some infernal collusion with Rigou, who
thinks he can do as he likes with these people."
"Doesn't he fear the law?"
"In the first place, he is father-in-law of the prosecuting-attorney,"
said the abbe, pausing to listen. "And then," he resumed, "you have no
conception of the utter indifference of the rural police to what is
done around them. So long as the peasants do not burn the farm-houses
and buildings, commit no murders, poison no one, and pay their taxes,
they let them do as they like; and as these people are not restrained
by any religious principle, horrible things happen every day. On the
other side of the Avonne helpless old men are afraid to stay in their
own homes, for they are allowed nothing to eat; they wander out into
the fields as far as their tottering legs can bear them, knowing well
that if they take to their beds they will die for want of food.
Monsieur Sarcus, the magistrate, tells me that if they arrested and
tried all criminals, the costs would ruin the municipality."
"Then he at least sees how things are?" said Blondet.
"Monseigneur thoroughly understands the condition of the valley, and
especially the state of this district," continued the abbe. "Religion
alone can cure such evils; the law seems to me powerless, modified as
it is now--"
The words were interrupted by loud cries from the woods, and the
countess, preceded by Emile and the abbe, sprang bravely into the
brushwood in the direction of the sounds.
THE OARISTYS, EIGHTEENTH ECLOGUE OF THEOCRITUS;
LITTLE ADMIRED ON THE POLICE CALENDAR
The sagacity of a savage, which Michaud's new occupation had developed
among his faculties, joined to an acquaintance with the passions and
interests of Blangy, enabled him partially to understand a third idyll
in the Greek style, which poor villagers like Tonsard, and middle-aged
rich men like Rigou, translate FREELY--to use the classic word--in the
depths of their country solitudes.
Nicolas, Tonsard's second son, had drawn an unlucky number at a recent
conscription. Two years earlier his elder brother had been pronounced,
through the influence of Soudry, Gaubertin, and Sarcus the rich, unfit
for military service, on account of a pretended weakness in the
muscles of the right arm; but as Jean-Louis had since wielded
instruments of husbandry with remarkable force and skill, a good deal
of talk on the subject had gone through the district. Soudry, Rigou,
and Gaubertin, who were the special protectors of the family, had
warned Tonsard that he must not expect to save Nicolas, who was tall
and vigorous, from being recruited if he drew a fatal number.
Nevertheless Gaubertin and Rigou were so well aware of the importance
of conciliating bold men able and willing to do mischief, if properly
directed against Les Aigues, that Rigou held out certain hopes of
safety to Tonsard and his son. The late monk was occasionally visited
by Catherine Tonsard who was very devoted to her brother Nicolas; on
one such occasion Rigou advised her to appeal to the general and the
"They may be glad to do you this service to cajole you; in that case,
it is just so much gained from the enemy," he said. "If the Shopman
refuses, then we shall see what we shall see."
Rigou foresaw that the general's refusal would pass as one wrong the
more done by the land-owner to the peasantry, and would bind Tonsard
by an additional motive of gratitude to the coalition, in case the
crafty mind of the innkeeper could suggest to him some plausible way
of liberating Nicolas.
Nicolas, who was soon to appear before the examining board, had little
hope of the general's intervention because of the harm done to Les
Aigues by all the members of the Tonsard family. His passion, or to
speak more correctly, his caprice and obstinate pursuit of La Pechina,
were so aggravated by the prospect of his immediate departure, which
left him no time to seduce her, that he resolved on attempting
violence. The child's contempt for her prosecutor, plainly shown,
excited the Lovelace of the Grand-I-Vert to a hatred whose fury was
equalled only by his desires. For the last three days he had been
watching La Pechina, and the poor child knew she was watched. Between
Nicolas and his prey the same sort of understanding existed which
there is between the hunter and the game. When the girl was at some
little distance from the pavilion she saw Nicolas in one of the paths
which ran parallel to the walls of the park, leading to the bridge of
the Avonne. She could easily have escaped the man's pursuit had she
appealed to her grandfather; but all young girls, even the most
unsophisticated, have a strange fear, possibly instinctive, of
trusting to their natural protectors under the like circumstances.
Genevieve had heard Pere Niseron take an oath to kill any man, no
matter who he was, who should dare to TOUCH (that was his word) his
granddaughter. The old man thought the child amply protected by the
halo of white hair and honor which a spotless life of three-score
years and ten had laid upon his brow. The vision of bloody scenes
terrifies the imagination of young girls so that they need not dive to
the bottom of their hearts for other numerous and inquisitive reasons
which seal their lips.
When La Pechina started with the milk which Madame Michaud had sent to
the daughter of Gaillard, the keeper of the gate of Conches, whose cow
had just calved, she looked about her cautiously, like a cat when it
ventures out onto the street. She saw no signs of Nicolas; she
listened to the silence, as the poet says, and hearing nothing, she
concluded that the rascal had gone to his day's work. The peasants
were just beginning to cut the rye; for they were in the habit of
getting in their own harvests first, so as to benefit by the best
strength of the mowers. But Nicolas was not a man to mind losing a
day's work,--especially now that he expected to leave the country
after the fair at Soulanges and begin, as the country people say, the
new life of a soldier.
When La Pechina, with the jug on her head, was about half-way, Nicolas
slid like a wild-cat down the trunk of an elm, among the branches of
which he was hiding, and fell like a thunderbolt in front of the girl,
who flung away her pitcher and trusted to her fleet legs to regain the
pavilion. But a hundred feet farther on, Catherine Tonsard, who was on
the watch, rushed out of the wood and knocked so violently against the
flying girl that she was thrown down. The violence of the fall made
her unconscious. Catherine picked her up and carried her into the
woods to the middle of a tiny meadow where the Silver-spring brook
Catherine Tonsard was tall and strong, and in every respect the type
of woman whom painters and sculptors take, as the Republic did in
former days, for their figures of Liberty. She charmed the young men
of the valley of the Avonne with her voluminous bosom, her muscular
legs, and a waist as robust as it was flexible; with her plump arms,
her eyes that could flash and sparkle, and her jaunty air; with the
masses of hair twisted in coils around her head, her masculine
forehead and her red lips curling with that same ferocious smile which
Eugene Delacroix and David (of Angers) caught and represented so
admirably. True image of the People, this fiery and swarthy creature
seemed to emit revolt through her piercing yellow eyes, blazing with
the insolence of a soldier. She inherited from her father so violent a
nature that the whole family, except Tonsard, and all who frequented
the tavern feared her.
"Well, how are you now?" she said to La Pechina as the latter
Catherine had placed her victim on a little mound beside the brook and
was bringing her to her senses with dashes of cold water. "Where am
I?" said the child, opening her beautiful black eyes through which a
sun-ray seemed to glide.
"Ah!" said Catherine, "if it hadn't been for me you'd have been
"Thank you," said the girl, still bewildered; "what happened to me?"
"You stumbled over a root and fell flat in the road over there, as if
shot. Ha! how you did run!"
"It was your brother who made me," said La Pechina, remembering
"My brother? I did not see him," said Catherine. "What did he do to
you, poor fellow, that should make you fly as if he were a wolf? Isn't
he handsomer than your Monsieur Michaud?"
"Oh!" said the girl, contemptuously.
"See here, little one; you are laying up a crop of evils for yourself
by loving those who persecute us. Why don't you keep to our side?"
"Why don't you come to church; and why do you steal things night and
day?" asked the child.
"So you let those people talk you over!" sneered Catherine. "They love
us, don't they?--just as they love their food which they get out of
us, and they want new dishes every day. Did you ever know one of them
to marry a peasant-girl? Not they! Does Sarcus the rich let his son
marry that handsome Gatienne Giboulard? Not he, though she is the
daughter of a rich upholsterer. You have never been at the Tivoli ball
at Soulanges in Socquard's tavern; you had better come. You'll see 'em
all there, these bourgeois fellows, and you'll find they are not worth
the money we shall get out of them when we've pulled them down. Come
to the fair this year!"
"They say it's fine, that Soulanges fair!" cried La Pechina,
"I'll tell you what it is in two words," said Catherine. "If you are
handsome, you are well ogled. What is the good of being as pretty as
you are if you are not admired by the men? Ha! when I heard one of
them say for the first time, 'What a fine sprig of a girl!' all my
blood was on fire. It was at Socquard's, in the middle of a dance; my
grandfather, Fourchon, who was playing the clarionet, heard it and
laughed. Tivoli seemed to me as grand and fine as heaven itself. It's
lighted up, my dear, with glass lamps, and you'll think you are in
paradise. All the gentlemen of Soulanges and Auxerre and Ville-aux-
Fayes will be there. Ever since that first night I've loved the place
where those words rang in my ears like military music. It's worthy
giving your eternity to hear such words said of you by a man you
"Yes, perhaps," replied La Pechina, thoughtfully.
"Then come, and get the praise of men; you're sure of it!" cried
Catherine. "Ha! you'll have a fine chance, handsome as you are, to
pick up good luck. There's the son of Monsieur Lupin, Amaury, he might
marry you. But that's not all; if you only knew what comforts you can
find there against vexation and worry. Why, Socquard's boiled wine
will make you forget every trouble you ever had. Fancy! it can make
you dream, and feel as light as a bird. Didn't you ever drink boiled
wine? Then you don't know what life is."
The privilege enjoyed by older persons to wet their throats with
boiled wine excites the curiosity of the children of the peasantry
over twelve years of age to such a degree that Genevieve had once put
her lips to a glass of boiled wine ordered by the doctor for her
grandfather when ill. The taste had left a sort of magic influence in
the memory of the poor child, which may explain the interest with
which she listened, and on which the evil-minded Catherine counted to
carry out a plan already half-successful. No doubt she was trying to
bring her victim, giddy from the fall, to the moral intoxication so
dangerous to young women living in the wilds of nature, whose
imagination, deprived of other nourishment, is all the more ardent
when the occasion comes to exercise it. Boiled wine, which Catherine
had held in reserve, was to end the matter by intoxicating the victim.
"What do they put into it?" asked La Pechina.
"All sorts of things," replied Catherine, glancing back to see if her
brother were coming; "in the first place, those what d' ye call 'ems
that come from India, cinnamon, and herbs that change you by magic,--
you fancy you have everything you wish for; boiled wine makes you
happy! you can snap your fingers at all your troubles!"
"I should be afraid to drink boiled wine at a dance," said La Pechina.
"Afraid of what?" asked Catherine. "There's not the slightest danger.
Think what lots of people there will be. All the bourgeois will be
looking at us! Ah! it is one of those days that make up for all our
misery. See it and die,--for it's enough to satisfy any one."
"If Monsieur and Madame Michaud would only take me!" cried La Pechina,
her eyes blazing.
"Ask your grandfather Niseron; you have not given him up, poor dear
man, and he'd be pleased to see you admired like a little queen. Why
do you like those Arminacs the Michauds better than your grandfather
and the Burgundians. It's bad to neglect your own people. Besides, why
should the Michauds object if your grandfather takes you to the fair?
Oh! if you knew what it is to reign over a man and put him beside
himself, and say to him, as I say to Godain, 'Go there!' and he goes,
'Do that!' and he does it! You've got it in you, little one, to turn
the head of a bourgeois like that son of Monsieur Lupin. Monsieur
Amaury took a fancy to my sister Marie because she is fair and because
he is half-afraid of me; but he'd adore you, for ever since those
people at the pavilion have spruced you up a bit you've got the airs
of an empress."
Adroitly leading the innocent heart to forget Nicolas and so put it
off its guard, Catherine distilled into the girl the insidious nectar
of compliments. Unawares, she touched a secret wound. La Pechina,
without being other than a poor peasant girl, was a specimen of
alarming precocity, like many another creature doomed to die as
prematurely as it blooms. Strange product of Burgundian and
Montenegrin blood, conceived and born amid the toils of war, the girl
was doubtless in many ways the result of her congenital circumstances.
Thin, slender, brown as a tobacco leaf, and short in stature, she
nevertheless possessed extraordinary strength,--a strength unseen by
the eyes of peasants, to whom the mysteries of the nervous system are
unknown. Nerves are not admitted into the medical rural mind.
At thirteen years of age Genevieve had completed her growth, though
she was hardly as tall as an ordinary girl of her age. Did her face
owe its topaz skin, so dark and yet so brilliant, dark in tone and
brilliant in the quality of its tissue, giving a look of age to the
childish face, to her Montenegrin origin, or to the ardent sun of
Burgundy? Medical science may dismiss the inquiry. The premature old
age on the surface of the face was counterbalanced by the glow, the
fire, the wealth of light which made the eyes two stars. Like all eyes
which fill with sunlight and need, perhaps, some sheltering screen,
the eyelids were fringed with lashes of extraordinary length. The
hair, of a bluish black, long and fine and abundant, crowned a brow
moulded like that of the Farnese Juno. That magnificent diadem of
hair, those grand Armenian eyes, that celestial brow eclipsed the rest
of the face. The nose, though pure in form as it left the brow, and
graceful in curve, ended in flattened and flaring nostrils. Anger
increased this effect at times, and then the face wore an absolutely
furious expression. All the lower part of the face, like the lower
part of the nose, seemed unfinished, as if the clay in the hands of
the divine sculptor had proved insufficient. Between the lower lip and
the chin the space was so short that any one taking La Pechina by the
chin would have rubbed the lip; but the teeth prevented all notice of
this defect. One might almost believe those little bones had souls, so
brilliant were they, so polished, so transparent, so exquisitely
shaped, disclosed as they were by too wide a mouth, curved in lines
that bore resemblance to the fantastic shapes of coral. The shells of
the ears were so transparent to the light that in the sunshine they
were rose-colored. The complexion, though sun-burned, showed a
marvellous delicacy in the texture of the skin. If, as Buffon
declared, love lies in touch, the softness of the girl's skin must
have had the penetrating and inciting influence of the fragrance of
daturas. The chest and indeed the whole body was alarmingly thin; but
the feet and hands, of alluring delicacy, showed remarkable nervous
power, and a vigorous organism.
This mixture of diabolical imperfections and divine beauties,
harmonious in spite of discords, for they blended in a species of
savage dignity, also this triumph of a powerful soul over a feeble
body, as written in those eyes, made the child, when once seen,
unforgettable. Nature had wished to make that frail young being a
woman; the circumstances of her conception moulded her with the face
and body of a boy. A poet observing the strange creature would have
declared her native clime to be Arabia the Blest; she belonged to the
Afrite and Genii of Arabian tales. Her face told no lies. She had the
soul of that glance of fire, the intellect of those lips made
brilliant by the bewitching teeth, the thought enshrined within that
glorious brow, the passion of those nostrils ready at all moments to
snort flame. Therefore love, such as we imagine it on burning sands,
in lonely deserts, filled that heart of twenty in the breast of a
child, doomed, like the snowy heights of Montenegro, to wear no
flowers of the spring.
Observers ought now to understand how it was that La Pechina, from
whom passion issued by every pore, awakened in perverted natures the
feelings deadened by abuse; just as water fills the mouth at sight of
those twisted, blotched, and speckled fruits which gourmands know by
experience, and beneath whose skin nature has put the rarest flavors
and perfumes. Why did Nicolas, that vulgar laborer, pursue this being
who was worthy of a poet, while the eyes of the country-folk pitied
her as a sickly deformity? Why did Rigou, the old man, feel the
passion of a young one for this girl? Which of the two men was young,
and which was old? Was the young peasant as blase as the old usurer?
Why did these two extremes of life meet in one common and devilish
caprice? Does the vigor that draws to its close resemble the vigor
that is only dawning? The moral perversities of men are gulfs guarded
by sphinxes; they begin and end in questions to which there is no
The exclamation, formerly quoted, of the countess, "Piccina!" when she
first saw Genevieve by the roadside, open-mouthed at sight of the
carriage and the elegantly dressed woman within it, will be
understood. This girl, almost a dwarf, of Montenegrin vigor, loved the
handsome, noble bailiff, as children of her age love, when they do
love, that is to say, with childlike passion, with the strength of
youth, with the devotion which in truly virgin souls gives birth to
divinest poesy. Catherine had just swept her coarse hands across the
sensitive strings of that choice harp, strung to the breaking-point.
To dance before Michaud, to shine at the Soulanges ball and inscribe
herself on the memory of that adored master! What glorious thoughts!
To fling them into that volcanic head was like casting live coals upon
straw dried in the August sun.
"No, Catherine," replied La Pechina, "I am ugly and puny; my lot is to
sit in a corner and never to be married, but live alone in the world."
"Men like weaklings," said Catherine. "You see me, don't you?" she
added, showing her handsome, strong arms. "I please Godain, who is a
poor stick; I please that little Charles, the count's groom; but
Lupin's son is afraid of me. I tell you it is the small kind of men
who love me, and who say when they see me go by at Ville-aux-Fayes and
at Soulanges, 'Ha! what a fine girl!' Now YOU, that's another thing;
you'll please the fine men."
"Ah! Catherine, if it were true--that!" cried the bewitched child.
"It is true, it is so true that Nicolas, the handsomest man in the
canton, is mad about you; he dreams of you, he is losing his mind; and
yet all the other girls are in love with him. He is a fine lad! If
you'll put on a white dress and yellow ribbons, and come to Socquard's
for the midsummer ball, you'll be the handsomest girl there, and all
the fine people from Ville-aux-Fayes will see you. Come, won't you?--
See here, I've been cutting grass for the cows, and I brought some
boiled wine in my gourd; Socquard gave it me this morning," she added
quickly, seeing the half-delirious expression in La Pechina's eyes
which women understand so well. "We'll share it together, and you'll
fancy the men are in love with you."
During this conversation Nicolas, choosing the grassy spots to step
on, had noiselessly slipped behind the trunk of an old oak near which
his sister had seated La Pechina. Catherine, who had now and then cast
her eyes behind her, saw her brother as she turned to get the boiled
"Here, take some," she said, offering it.
"It burns me!" cried Genevieve, giving back the gourd, after taking
two or three swallows from it.
"Silly child!" replied Catherine; "see here!" and she emptied the
rustic bottle without taking breath. "See how it slips down; it goes
like a sunbeam into the stomach."
"But I ought to be carrying the milk to Mademoiselle Gaillard," cried
Genevieve; "and it is all spilt! Nicolas frightened me so!"
"Don't you like Nicolas?"
"No," answered Genevieve. "Why does he persecute me? He can get plenty
other girls, who are willing."
"But if he likes you better than all the other girls in the valley--"
"So much the worse for him."
"I see you don't know him," answered Catherine, as she seized the girl
rapidly by the waist and flung her on the grass, holding her down in
that position with her strong arms. At this moment Nicolas appeared.
Seeing her odious persecutor, the child screamed with all her might,
and drove him five feet away with a violent kick in the stomach; then
she twisted herself like an acrobat, with a dexterity for which
Catherine was not prepared, and rose to run away. Catherine, still on
the ground, caught her by one foot and threw her headlong on her face.
This frightful fall stopped the brave child's cries for a moment.
Nicolas attempted, furiously, to seize his victim, but she, though
giddy from the wine and the fall, caught him by the throat in a grip
"Help! she's strangling me, Catherine," cried Nicolas, in a stifled
La Pechina uttered piercing screams, which Catherine tried to choke by
putting her hands over the girl's mouth, but she bit them and drew
blood. It was at this moment that Blondet, the countess, and the abbe
appeared at the edge of the wood.
"Here are those Aigues people!" exclaimed Catherine, helping Genevieve
"Do you want to live?" hissed Nicolas in the child's ear.
"What then?" she asked.
"Tell them we were all playing, and I'll forgive you," said Nicolas,
in a threatening voice.
"Little wretch, mind you say it!" repeated Catherine, whose glance was
more terrifying than her brother's murderous threat.
"Yes, I will, if you let me alone," replied the child. "But anyhow I
will never go out again without my scissors."
"You are to hold your tongue, or I'll drown you in the Avonne," said
"You are monsters," cried the abbe, coming up; "you ought to be
arrested and taken to the assizes."
"Ha! and pray what do you do in your drawing-rooms?" said Nicolas,
looking full at the countess and Blondet. "You play and amuse
yourselves, don't you? Well, so do we, in the fields which are ours.
We can't always work; we must play sometimes,--ask my sister and La
"How do you fight if you call that playing?" cried Blondet.
Nicolas gave him a murderous look.
"Speak!" said Catherine, gripping La Pechina by the forearm and
leaving a blue bracelet on the flesh. "Were not we amusing ourselves?"
"Yes, madame, we were amusing ourselves," said the child, exhausted by
her display of strength, and now breaking down as though she were
about to faint.
"You hear what she says, madame," said Catherine, boldly, giving the
countess one of those looks which women give each other like dagger
She took her brother's arm, and the pair walked off, not mistaking the
opinion they left behind them in the minds of the three persons who
had interrupted the scene. Nicolas twice looked back, and twice
encountered Blondet's gaze. The journalist continued to watch the tall
scoundrel, who was broad in the shoulders, healthy and vigorous in
complexion, with black hair curling tightly, and whose rather soft
face showed upon its lips and around the mouth certain lines which
reveal the peculiar cruelty that characterizes sluggards and
voluptaries. Catherine swung her petticoat, striped blue and white,
with an air of insolent coquetry.
"Cain and his wife!" said Blondet to the abbe.
"You are nearer the truth than you know," replied the priest.
"Ah! Monsieur le cure, what will they do to me?" said La Pechina, when
the brother and sister were out of sight.
The countess, as white as her handkerchief, was so overcome that she
heard neither Blondet nor the abbe nor La Pechina.
"It is enough to drive one from this terrestrial paradise," she said
at last. "But the first thing of all is to save that child from their
"You are right," said Blondet in a low voice. "That child is a poem, a
Just then the Montenegrin girl was in a state where soul and body
smoke, as it were, after the conflagration of an anger which has
driven all forces, physical and intellectual, to their utmost tension.
It is an unspeakable and supreme splendor, which reveals itself only
under the pressure of some frenzy, be it resistance or victory, love
or martyrdom. She had left home in a dress with alternate lines of
brown and yellow, and a collarette which she pleated herself by rising
before daylight; and she had not yet noticed the condition of her gown
soiled by her struggle on the grass, and her collar torn in
Catherine's grasp. Feeling her hair hanging loose, she looked about
her for a comb. At this moment Michaud, also attracted by the screams,
came upon the scene. Seeing her god, La Pechina recovered her full
strength. "Monsieur Michaud," she cried, "he did not even touch me!"
The cry, the look, the action of the girl were an eloquent commentary,
and told more to Blondet and the abbe than Madame Michaud had told the
countess about the passion of that strange nature for the bailiff, who
was utterly unconscious of it.
"The scoundrel!" cried Michaud.
Then, with an involuntary and impotent gesture, such as mad men and
wise men can both be forced into giving, he shook his fist in the
direction in which he had caught sight of Nicolas disappearing with
"Then you were not playing?" said the abbe with a searching look at La
"Don't fret her," interposed the countess; "let us return to the
Genevieve, though quite exhausted, found strength under Michaud's eyes
to walk. The countess followed the bailiff through one of the by-paths
known to keepers and poachers where only two can go abreast, and which
led to the gate of the Avonne.
"Michaud," said the countess when they reached the depth of the wood,
"We must find some way of ridding the neighborhood of such vile
people; that child is actually in danger of death."
"In the first place," replied Michaud, "Genevieve shall not leave the
pavilion. My wife will be glad to take the nephew of Vatel, who has
the care of the park roads, into the house. With Gounod (that is his
name) and old Cornevin, my wife's foster-father, always at hand, La
Pechina need never go out without a protector."
"I will tell Monsieur to make up this extra expense to you," said the
countess. "But this does not rid us of that Nicolas. How can we manage
"The means are easy and right at hand," answered Michaud. "Nicolas is
to appear very soon before the court of appeals on the draft. The
general, instead of asking for his release, as the Tonsards expect,
has only to advise his being sent to the army--"
"If necessary, I will go myself," said the countess, "and see my
cousin, de Casteran, the prefect. But until then, I tremble for that
The words were said at the end of the path close to the open space by
the bridge. As they reached the edge of the bank the countess gave a
cry; Michaud advanced to help her, thinking she had struck her foot
against a stone; but he shuddered at the sight that met his eyes.
Marie Tonsard and Bonnebault, seated below the bank, seemed to be
conversing, but were no doubt hiding there to hear what passed.
Evidently they had left the wood as the party advanced towards them.
Bonnebault, a tall, wiry fellow, had lately returned to Conches after
six years' service in the cavalry, with a permanent discharge due to
his evil conduct,--his example being likely to ruin better men. He
wore moustachios and a small chin-tuft; a peculiarity which, joined to
his military carriage, made him the reigning fancy of all the girls in
the valley. His hair, in common with that of other soldiers, was cut
very short behind, but he frizzed it on the top of his head, brushing
up the ends with a dandy air; on it his foraging cap was jauntily
tilted to one side. Compared to the peasants, who were mostly in rags,
like Mouche and Fourchon, he seemed gorgeous in his linen trousers,
boots, and short waistcoat. These articles, bought at the time of his
liberation, were, it is true, somewhat the worse for a life in the
fields; but this village cock-of-the-walk had others in reserve for
balls and holidays. He lived, it must be said, on the gifts of his
female friends, which, liberal as they were, hardly sufficed for the
libations, the dissipations, and the squanderings of all kinds which
resulted from his intimacy with the Cafe de la Paix.
Cowardice is like courage; of both there are various kinds. Bonnebault
would have fought like a brave soldier, but he was weak in presence of
his vices and his desires. Lazy as a lizard, that is to say, active
only when it suited him, without the slightest decency, arrogant and
base, able for much but neglectful of all, the sole pleasure of this
"breaker of hearts and plates," to use a barrack term, was to do evil
or inflict damage. Such a nature does as much harm in rural
communities as it does in a regiment. Bonnebault, like Tonsard and
like Fourchon, desired to live well and do nothing; and he had his
plans laid. Making the most of his gallant appearance with increasing
success, and of his talents for billiards with alternate loss and
gain, he flattered himself that the day would come when he could marry
Mademoiselle Aglae Socquard, only daughter of the proprietor of the
Cafe de la Paix, a resort which was to Soulanges what, relatively
speaking, Ranelagh is to the Bois de Boulogne. To get into the
business of tavern-keeping, to manage the public balls, what a fine
career for the marshal's baton of a ne'er-do-well! These morals, this
life, this nature, were so plainly stamped upon the face of the low-
lived profligate that the countess was betrayed into an exclamation
when she beheld the pair, for they gave her the sensation of beholding
Marie, desperately in love with Bonnebault, would have robbed for his
benefit. Those moustachios, the swaggering gait of a trooper, the
fellow's smart clothes, all went to her heart as the manners and
charms of a de Marsay touch that of a pretty Parisian. Each social
sphere has its own standard of distinction. The jealous Marie rebuffed
Amaury Lupin, the other dandy of the little town, her mind being made
up to become Madame Bonnebault.
"Hey! you there, hi! come on!" cried Nicolas and Catherine from afar,
catching sight of Marie and Bonnebault.
The sharp call echoed through the woods like the cry of savages.
Seeing the pair at his feet, Michaud shuddered and deeply repented
having spoken. If Bonnebault and Marie Tonsard had overheard the
conversation, nothing but harm could come of it. This event,
insignificant as it seems, was destined, in the irritated state of
feeling then existing between Les Aigues and the peasantry, to have a
decisive influence on the fate of all,--just as victory or defeat in
battle sometimes depends upon a brook which shepherds jump while
cannon are unable to pass it.
Gallantly bowing to the countess, Bonnebault passed Marie's arm
through his own with a conquering air and took himself off
"The King of Hearts of the valley," muttered Michaud to the countess.
"A dangerous man. When he loses twenty francs at billiards he would
murder Rigou to get them back. He loves a crime as he does a
"I have seen enough for to-day; take me home, gentlemen," murmured the
countess, putting her hand on Emile's arm.
She bowed sadly to Madame Michaud, after watching La Pechina safely
back to the pavilion. Olympe's depression was transferred to her
"Ah, madame," said the abbe, as they continued their way, "can it be
that the difficulty of doing good is about to deter you? For the last
five years I have slept on a pallet in a parsonage which has no
furniture; I say mass in a church without believers; I preach to no
hearers; I minister without fees or salary; I live on the six hundred
francs the law allows me, asking nothing of my bishop, and I give the
third of that in charity. Still, I am not hopeless. If you knew what
my winters are in this place you would understand the strength of
those words,--I am not hopeless. I keep myself warm with the belief
that we can save this valley and bring it back to God. No matter for
ourselves, madame; think of the future! If it is our duty to say to
the poor, 'Learn how to be poor; that is, how to work, to endure, to
strive,' it is equally our duty to say to the rich, 'Learn your duty
as prosperous men,'--that is to say, 'Be wise, be intelligent in your
benevolence; pious and virtuous in the place to which God has called
you.' Ah! madame, you are only the steward of Him who grants you
wealth; if you do not obey His behests you will never transmit to your
children the prosperity He gives you. You will rob your posterity. If
you follow in the steps of that poor singer's selfishness, which
caused the evils that now terrify us, you will bring back the
scaffolds on which your fathers died for the faults of their fathers.
To do good humbly, in obscurity, in country solitudes, as Rigou now
does evil,--ah! that indeed is prayer in action and dear to God. If in
every district three souls only would work for good, France, our
country, might be saved from the abyss that yawns; into which we are
rushing headlong, through spiritual indifference to all that is not
our own self-interest. Change! you must change your morals, change
your ethics, and that will change your laws."
Though deeply moved as she listened to this grand utterance of true
catholic charity, the countess answered in the fatal words, "We will
consider it,"--words of the rich, which contain that promise to the
ear which saves their purses and enables them to stand with arms
crossed in presence of all disaster, under pretext that they were
Hearing those words, the abbe bowed to Madame de Montcornet and turned
off into a path which led him direct to the gate of Blangy.
"Belshazzar's feast is the everlasting symbol of the dying days of a
caste, of an oligarchy, of a power!" he thought as he walked away. "My
God! if it be Thy will to loose the poor like a torrent to reform
society, I know, I comprehend, why it is that Thou hast abandoned the
wealthy to their blindness!"
SHOWETH HOW THE TAVERN IS THE PEOPLE'S PARLIAMENT
Old Mother Tonsard's screams brought a number of people from Blangy to
know what was happening at the Grand-I-Vert, the distance from the
village to the inn not being greater than that from the inn to the
gate of Blangy. One of these inquiring visitors was old Niseron, La
Pechina's grandfather, who was on his way, after ringing the second
Angelus, to dig the vine-rows in his last little bit of ground.
Bent by toil, with pallid face and silvery hair, the old vinedresser,
now the sole representative of civic virtue in the community, had
been, during the Revolution, president of the Jacobin club at Ville-
aux-Fayes, and a juror in the revolutionary tribunal of the district.
Jean-Francois Niseron, carved out of the wood that the apostles were
made of, was of the type of Saint Peter; whom painters and sculptors
have united in representing with the square brow of the people, the
thick, naturally curling hair of the laborer, the muscles of the man
of toil, the complexion of a fisherman; with the large nose, the
shrewd, half-mocking lips that scoff at fate, the neck and shoulders
of the strong man who cuts his wood to cook his dinner while the
doctrinaires of his opinions talk.
Such, at forty years of age on the breaking out of the Revolution, was
this man, strong as iron, pure as gold. Advocate of the people, he
believed in a republic through the very roll of that name, more
formidable in sound perhaps than in reality. He believed in the
republic of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in the brotherhood of man, in the
exchange of noble sentiments, in the proclamation of virtue, in the
choice of merit without intrigue,--in short, in all that the narrow
limits of one arrondissement like Sparta made possible, and which the
vast proportions of an empire make chimerical. He signed his beliefs
with his blood,--his only son went to war; he did more, he signed them
with the prosperity of his life,--last sacrifice of self. Nephew and
sole heir of the curate of Blangy, the then all-powerful tribune might
have enforced his rights and recovered the property left by the priest
to his pretty servant-girl, Arsene; but he respected his uncle's
wishes and accepted poverty, which came upon him as rapidly as the
fall of his cherished republic came upon France.
Never a farthing's worth, never so much as the branch of a tree
belonging to another passed into the hands of this notable republican,
who would have made the republic acceptable to the world if he and
such as he could have guided it. He refused to buy the national
domains; he denied the right of the Republic to confiscate property.
In reply to all demands of the committee of public safety he asserted
that the virtue of citizens would do for their sacred country what low
political intriguers did for money. This patriot of antiquity publicly
reproved Gaubertin's father for his secret treachery, his underhand
bargaining, his malversations. He reprimanded the virtuous Mouchon,
that representative of the people whose virtue was nothing more nor
less than incapacity,--as it is with so many other legislators who,
gorged with the greatest political resources that any nation ever
gave, armed with the whole force of a people, are still unable to
bring forth from them the grandeur which Richelieu wrung for France
out of the weakness of a king. Consequently, citizen Niseron became a
living reproach to the people about him. They endeavored to put him
out of sight and mind with the reproachful remark, "Nothing satisfies
The patriot peasant returned to his cot at Blangy and watched the
destruction, one by one, of his illusions; he saw his republic come to
an end at the heels of an emperor, while he himself fell into utter
poverty, to which Rigou stealthily managed to reduce him. And why?
Because Niseron had never been willing to accept anything from him.
Reiterated refusals showed the ex-priest in what profound contempt the
nephew of the curate held him; and now that icy scorn was revenged by
the terrible threat as to his little granddaughter, about which the
Abbe Brossette spoke to the countess.
The old man had composed in his own mind a history of the French
republic, filled with the glorious features which gave immortality to
that heroic period to the exclusion of all else. The infamous deeds,
the massacres, the spoliations, his virtuous soul ignored; he admired,
with a single mind, the devotedness of the people, the "Vengeur," the
gifts to the nation, the uprising of the country to defend its
frontier; and he still pursued his dream that he might sleep in peace.
The Revolution produced many poets like old Niseron, who sang their
poems in the country solitudes, in the army, openly or secretly, by
deeds buried beneath the whirlwind of that storm, just as the wounded
left behind to die in the great wars of the empire cried out, "Long
live the Emperor!" This sublimity of soul belongs especially to
France. The Abbe Brossette respected the convictions of the old man,
who became simply but deeply attached to the priest from hearing him
say, "The true republic is in the Gospel." The stanch republican
carried the cross, and wore the sexton's robe, half-red, half-black,
and was grave and dignified in church,--supporting himself by the
triple functions with which he was invested by the abbe, who was able
to give the fine old man, not, to be sure, enough to live on, but
enough to keep him from dying of hunger.
Niseron, the Aristides of Blangy, spoke little, like all noble dupes
who wrap themselves in the mantle of resignation; but he was never
silent against evil, and the peasants feared him as thieves fear the
police. He seldom came more than six times a year to the Grand-I-Vert,
though he was always warmly welcomed there. The old man cursed the
want of charity of the rich,--their selfishness disgusted him; and
through this fiber of his mind he seemed to the peasants to belong to
them; they were in the habit of saying, "Pere Niseron doesn't like the
rich; he's one of us."
The civic crown won by this noble life throughout the valley lay in
these words: "That good old Niseron! there's not a more honest man."
Often taken as umpire in certain kinds of disputes, he embodied the
meaning of that archaic term,--the village elder. Always extremely
clean, though threadbare, he wore breeches, coarse woollen stockings,
hob-nailed shoes, the distinctively French coat with large buttons and
the broad-brimmed felt hat to which all old peasants cling; but for
daily wear he kept a blue jacket so patched and darned that it looked
like a bit of tapestry. The pride of a man who feels he is free, and
knows he is worthy of freedom, gave to his countenance and his whole
bearing a SOMETHING that was inexpressibly noble; you would have felt
he wore a robe, not rags.
"Hey! what's happening so unusual?" he said, "I heard the noise down
here from the belfry."
They told him of Vatel's attack on the old woman, talking all at once
after the fashion of country-people.
"If she didn't cut the tree, Vatel was wrong; but if she did cut it,
you have done two bad actions," said Pere Niseron.
"Take some wine," said Tonsard, offering a full glass to the old man.
"Shall we start?" said Vermichel to the sheriff's officer.
"Yes," replied Brunet, "we must do without Pere Fourchon and take the
assistant at Conches. Go on before me; I have a paper to carry to the
chateau. Rigou has gained his second suit, and I've got to deliver the
So saying, Monsieur Brunet, all the livelier for a couple of glasses
of brandy, mounted his gray mare after saying good-bye to Pere
Niseron; for the whole valley were desirous in their hearts of the
good man's esteem.
No science, not even that of statistics, can explain the rapidity with
which news flies in the country, nor how it spreads over those
ignorant and untaught regions which are, in France, a standing
reproach to the government and to capitalists. Contemporaneous history
can show that a famous banker, after driving post-horses to death
between Waterloo and Paris (everybody knows why--he gained what the
Emperor had lost, a commission!) carried the fatal news only three
hours in advance of rumor. So, not an hour after the encounter between
old mother Tonsard and Vatel, a number of the customers of the Grand-
I-Vert assembled there to hear the tale.
The first to come was Courtecuisse, in whom you would scarcely have
recognized the once jovial forester, the rubicund do-nothing, whose
wife made his morning coffee as we have before seen. Aged, and thin,
and haggard, he presented to all eyes a lesson that no one learned.
"He tried to climb higher than the ladder," was what his neighbors
said when others pitied him and blamed Rigou. "He wanted to be a
In fact, Courtecuisse did intend to pass for a bourgeois in buying the
Bachelerie, and he even boasted of it; though his wife went about the
roads gathering up the horse-droppings. She and Courtecuisse got up
before daylight, dug their garden, which was richly manured, and
obtained several yearly crops from it, without being able to do more
than pay the interest due to Rigou for the rest of the purchase-money.
Their daughter, who was living at service in Auxerre, sent them her
wages; but in spite of all their efforts, in spite of this help, the
last day for the final payment was approaching, and not a penny in
hand with which to meet it. Madame Courtecuisse, who in former times
occasionally allowed herself a bottle of boiled wine or a bit of roast
meat, now drank nothing but water. Courtecuisse was afraid to go to
the Grand-I-Vert lest he should have to leave three sous behind him.
Deprived of power, he had lost his privilege of free drinks, and he
bitterly complained, like all other fools, of man's ingratitude. In
short, he found, according to the experience of all peasants bitten
with the demon of proprietorship, that toil had increased and food
"Courtecuisse has done too much to the property," the people said,
secretly envying his position. "He ought to have waited till he had
paid the money down and was master before he put up those fruit
With the help of his wife he had managed to manure and cultivate the
three acres of land sold to him by Rigou, together with the garden
adjoining the house, which was beginning to be productive; and he was
in danger of being turned out of it all. Clothed in rags like
Fourchon, poor Courtecuisse, who lately wore the boots and gaiters of
a huntsman, now thrust his feet into sabots and accused "the rich" of
Les Aigues of having caused his destitution. These wearing anxieties
had given to the fat little man and his once smiling and rosy face a
gloomy and dazed expression, as though he were ill from the effects of
poison or with some chronic malady.
"What's the matter with you, Monsieur Courtecuisse; is your tongue
tied?" asked Tonsard, as the man continued silent after he had told
him about the battle which had just taken place.
"No, no!" cried Madame Tonsard; "he needn't complain of the midwife
who cut his string,--she made a good job of it."
"It is enough to make a man dumb, thinking from morning till night of
some way to escape Rigou," said the premature old man, gloomily.
"Bah!" said old Mother Tonsard, "you've got a pretty daughter,
seventeen years old. If she's a good girl you can easily manage
matters with that old jail bird--"
"We sent her to Auxerre two years ago to Madame Mariotte the elder, to
keep her out of harm's way; I'd rather die than--"
"What a fool you are!" said Tonsard, "look at my girls,--are they any
the worse? He who dares to say they are not as virtuous as marble
images will have to do with my gun."
"It'll be hard to have to come to that," said Courtecuisse, shaking
his head. "I'd rather earn the money by shooting one of those
"Well, I call it better for a girl to save a father than to wrap up
her virtue and let it mildew," retorted the innkeeper.
Tonsard felt a sharp tap on his shoulder, delivered by Pere Niseron.
"That is not a right thing to say!" cried the old man. "A father is
the guardian of the honor of his family. It is by behaving as you do
that scorn and contempt are brought upon us; it is because of such
conduct that the People are accused of being unfit for liberty. The
People should set an example of civic virtue and honor to the rich.
You all sell yourselves to Rigou for gold; and if you don't sell him
your daughters, at any rate you sell him your honor,--and it's wrong."
"Just see what a position Courtecuisse is in," said Tonsard.
"See what a position I am in," replied Pere Niseron; "but I sleep in
peace; there are no thorns in my pillow."
"Let him talk, Tonsard," whispered his wife, "you know they're just
HIS NOTIONS, poor dear man."
Bonnebault and Marie, Catherine and her brother came in at this moment
in a state of exasperation, which had begun with Nicolas's failure,
and was raised to the highest pitch by Michaud's advice to the
countess about Bonnebault. As Nicolas entered the tavern he was
uttering frightful threats against the Michaud family and Les Aigues.
"The harvest's coming; well, I vow I'll not go before I've lighted my
pipe at their wheat-stacks," he cried, striking his fist on the table
as he sat down.
"Mustn't yelp like that before people," said Godain, showing him Pere
"If the old fellow tells, I'll wring his neck," said Catherine. "He's
had his day, that old peddler of foolish reasons! They call him
virtuous; it's his temperament that keeps him so, that's all."
Strange and noteworthy sight!--that of those lifted heads, that group
of persons gathered in the reeking hovel, while old Mother Tonsard
stood sentinel at the door as security for the secret words of the
Of all those faces, that of Godain, Catherine's suitor, was perhaps
the most alarming, though the least pronounced. Godain,--a miser
without money,--the cruelest of misers, for he who seeks money surely
takes precedence of him who hoards it, one turning his eagerness
within himself, the other looking outside with terrible intentness,--
Godain represented the type of the majority of peasant faces.
He was a journeyman, small in frame, and saved from the draft by not
attaining the required military height; naturally lean and made more
so by hard work and the enforced sobriety under which reluctant
workers like Courtecuisse succumb. His face was no bigger than a man's
fist, and was lighted by a pair of yellow eyes with greenish strips
and brown spots, in which a thirst for the possession of property was
mingled with a concupiscence which had no heat,--for desire, once at
the boiling-point, had now stiffened like lava. His skin, brown as
that of a mummy, was glued to his temples. His scanty beard bristled
among his wrinkles like stubble in the furrows. Godain never
perspired, he reabsorbed his substance. His hairy hands, formed like
claws, nervous, never still, seemed to be made of old wood. Though
scarcely twenty-seven years of age, white lines were beginning to show
in his rusty black hair. He wore a blouse, through the breast opening
of which could be seen a shirt of coarse linen, so black that he must
have worn it a month and washed it himself in the Thune. His sabots
were mended with old iron. The original stuff of his trousers was
unrecognizable from the darns and the infinite number of patches. On
his head was a horrible cap, evidently cast off and picked up in the
doorway of some bourgeois house in Ville-aux-Fayes.
Clear-sighted enough to estimate the elements of good fortune that
centred in Catherine Tonsard, his ambition was to succeed her father
at the Grand-I-Vert. He made use of all his craftiness and all his
actual powers to capture her; he promised her wealth, he also promised
her the license her mother had enjoyed; besides this, he offered his
prospective father-in-law an enormous rental, five hundred francs a
year, for his inn, until he could buy him out, trusting to an
agreement he had made with Monsieur Brunet to pay these costs by notes
on stamped paper. By trade a journeyman tool-maker, this gnome worked
for the wheelwrights when work was plentiful, but he also hired
himself out for any extra labor which was well paid. Though he
possessed, unknown to the whole neighborhood, eighteen hundred francs
now in Gaubertin's hands, he lived like a beggar, slept in a barn, and
gleaned at the harvests. He wore Gaubertin's receipt for his money
sewn into the waist-belt of his trousers,--having it renewed every
year with its own added interest and the amount of his savings.
"Hey! what do I care," cried Nicolas, replying to Godain's prudent
advice not to talk before Niseron. "If I'm doomed to be a soldier I'd
rather the sawdust of the basket sucked up my blood than have it
dribbled out drop by drop in the battles. I'll deliver this country of
at least one of those Arminacs that the devil has launched upon us."
And he related what he called Michaud's plot against him, which Marie
and Bonnebault had overheard.
"Where do you expect France to find soldiers?" said the white-haired
old man, rising and standing before Nicolas during the silence which
followed the utterance of this threat.
"We serve our time and come home again," remarked Bonnebault, twirling
Observing that all the worst characters of the neighborhood were
collecting, Pere Niseron shook his head and left the tavern, after
offering a farthing to Madame Tonsard in payment for his glass of
wine. When the worthy man had gone down the steps a movement of relief
and satisfaction passed through the assembled drinkers which would
have told whoever watched them that each man in that company felt he
was rid of the living image of his own conscience.
"Well, what do you say to all that, hey, Courtecuisse?" asked
Vaudoyer, who had just come in, and to whom Tonsard had related
Courtecuisse clacked his tongue against the roof of his mouth, and set
his glass on the table.
"Vatel put himself in the wrong," he said. "If I were Mother Tonsard,
I'd give myself a few wounds and go to bed and say I was ill, and have
that Shopman and his keeper up before the assizes and get twenty
crowns damages. Monsieur Sarcus would give them."
"In any case the Shopman would give them to stop the talk it would
make," said Godain.
Vaudoyer, the former field-keeper, a man five feet six inches tall,
with a face pitted with the small-pox and furrowed like a nut-cracker,
kept silence with a hesitating air.
"Well, you old ninny, does that ruffle you?" asked Tonsard, attracted
by the idea of damages. "If they had broken twenty crowns' worth of my
mother's bones we could turn it into good account; we might make a
fine fuss for three hundred francs; Monsieur Gourdon would go to Les
Aigues and tell them that the mother had got a broken hip--"
"And break it, too," interrupted Madame Tonsard; "they do that in
"It would cost too much," remarked Godain.
"I have been too long among the people who rule us to believe that
matters will go as you want them," said Vaudoyer at last, remembering
his past official intercourse with the courts and the gendarmerie. "If
it were at Soulanges, now, it might be done; Monsieur Soudry
represents the government there, and he doesn't wish well to the
Shopman; but if you attack the Shopman and Vatel they'll defend
themselves viciously; they'll say, 'The woman was to blame; she had a
tree, otherwise she would have let her bundle be examined on the
highroad; she wouldn't have run away; if an accident happened to her
it was through her own fault.' No, you can't trust to that plan."
"The Shopman didn't resist when I sued him," said Courtecuisse; "he
paid me at once."
"I'll go to Soulanges, if you like," said Bonnebault, "and consult
Monsieur Gourdon, the clerk of the court, and you shall know to-night
if THERE'S MONEY IN IT."
"You are only making an excuse to be after that big goose of a girl,
Socquard's daughter," said Marie Tonsard, giving Bonnebault a slap on
the shoulder that made his lungs hum.
Just then a verse of an old Burgundian Christmas carol was heard:--
"One fine moment of his life
Was at the wedding feast;
He changed the water into wine,--
Madeira of the best."
Every one recognized the vinous voice of old Fourchon, to whom the
verse must have been peculiarly agreeable; Mouche accompanied in his
"Ha! they're full!" cried old Mother Tonsard to her daughter-in-law;
"your father is as red as a grid-iron, and that chip o' the block as
pink as vine-shoot."
"Your healths!" cried the old man, "and a fine lot of scoundrels you
are! All hail!" he said to his granddaughter, whom he spied kissing
Bonnebault, "hail, Marie, full of vice! Satan is with three; cursed
art thou among women, etcetera. All hail, the company present! you are
done for, every one of you! you may just say good-bye to your sheaves.
I being news. I always told you the rich would crush us; well now, the
Shopman is going to have the law of you! Ha! see what it is to
struggle against those bourgeois fellows, who have made so many laws
since they got into power that they've a law to enforce every trick
A violent hiccough gave a sudden turn to the ideas of the
"If Vermichel were only here I'd blow in his gullet, and he'd get an
idea of sherry wine. Hey! what a wine it is! If I wasn't a Burgundian
I'd be a Spaniard! It's God's own wine! the pope says mass with it--
Hey! I'm young again! Say, Courtecuisse! if your wife were only here
we'd be young together. Don't tell me! Spanish wine is worth a dozen
of boiled wine. Let's have a revolution if it's only to empty the
"But what's your news, papa?" said Tonsard.
"There'll be no harvest for you; the Shopman has given orders to stop
"Stop the gleaning!" cried the whole tavern, with one voice, in which
the shrill tones of the four women predominated.
"Yes," said Mouche, "he is going to issue an order, and Groison is to
take it round, and post it up all over the canton. No one is to glean
except those who have pauper certificates."
"And what's more," said Fourchon, "the folks from the other districts
won't be allowed here at all."
"What's that?" cried Bonnebault, "do you mean to tell me that neither
my grandmother nor I, nor your mother, Godain, can come here and
glean? Here's tomfoolery for you; a pretty show of authority! Why, the
fellow is a devil let loose from hell,--that scoundrel of a mayor!"
"Shall you glean whether or no, Godain?" said Tonsard to the
journeyman wheelwright, who was saying a few words to Catherine.
"I? I've no property; I'm a pauper," he replied; "I shall ask for a
"What did they give my father for his otter, bibi?" said Madame
Tonsard to Mouche.
Though nearly at his last gasp from an over-taxed digestion and two
bottles of wine, Mouche, sitting on Madame Tonsard's lap, laid his
head on his aunt's neck and whispered slyly in her ear:--
"I don't know, but he has got gold. If you'll feed me high for a
month, perhaps I can find out his hiding-place; he has one, I know
"Father's got gold!" whispered La Tonsard to her husband, whose voice
was loudest in the uproar of the excited discussion, in which all
present took part.
"Hush! here's Groison," cried the old sentinel.
Perfect silence reigned in the tavern. When Groison had got to a safe
distance, Mother Tonsard made a sign, and the discussion began again
on the question as to whether they should persist in gleaning, as
before, without a certificate.
"You'll have to give in," said Pere Fourchon; "for the Shopman has
gone to see the prefect and get troops to enforce the order. They'll
shoot you like dogs,--and that's what we are!" cried the old man,
trying to conquer the thickening of his speech produced by his
potations of sherry.
This fresh announcement, absurd as it was, made all the drinkers
thoughtful; they really believed the government capable of
slaughtering them without pity.
"I remember just such troubles near Toulouse, when I was stationed
there," said Bonnebault. "We were marched out, and the peasants were
cut and slashed and arrested. Everybody laughed to see them try to
resist cavalry. Ten were sent to the galleys, and eleven put in
prison; the whole thing was crushed. Hey! what? why, soldiers are
soldiers, and you are nothing but civilian beggars; they've a right,
they think, to sabre peasants, the devil take you!"
"Well, well," said Tonsard, "what is there in all that to frighten you
like kids? What can they get out of my mother and daughters? Put 'em
in prison? well, then they must feed them; and the Shopman can't
imprison the whole country. Besides, prisoners are better fed at the
king's expense than they are at their own; and they're kept warmer,
"You are a pack of fools!" roared Fourchon. "Better gnaw at the
bourgeois than attack him in front; otherwise, you'll get your backs
broke. If you like the galleys, so be it,--that's another thing! You
don't work as hard there as you do in the fields, true enough; but you
don't have your liberty."
"Perhaps it would be well," said Vaudoyer, who was among the more
valiant in counsel, "if some of us risked our skins to deliver the
neighborhood of that Languedoc fellow who has planted himself at the
gate of the Avonne."
"Do Michaud's business for him?" said Nicolas; "I'm good for that."
"Things are not ripe for it," said old Fourchon. "We should risk too
much, my children. The best way is to make ourselves look miserable
and cry famine; then the Shopman and his wife will want to help us,
and you'll get more out of them that way than you will by gleaning."
"You are all blind moles," shouted Tonsard, "let 'em pick a quarrel
with their law and their troops, they can't put the whole country in
irons, and we've plenty of friends at Ville-aux-Fayes and among the
old lords who'll sustain us."
"That's true," said Courtecuisse; "none of the other land-owners
complain, it is only the Shopman; Monsieur de Soulanges and Monsieur
de Ronquerolles and others, they are satisfied. When I think that if
that cuirassier had only had the courage to let himself be killed like
the rest I should still be happy at the gate of the Avonne, and that
it was he that turned my life topsy-turvy, it just puts me beside
"They won't call out the troops for a Shopman who has set every one in
the district against him," said Godain. "The fault's his own; he tried
to ride over everybody here, and upset everything; and the government
will just say to him, 'Hush up.'"
"The government never says anything else; it can't, poor government!"
said Fourchon, seized with a sudden tenderness for the government.
"Yes, I pity it, that good government; it is very unlucky,--it hasn't
a penny, like us; but that's very stupid of a government that makes
the money itself, very stupid! Ah! if I were the government--"
"But," cried Courtecuisse, "they tell me in Ville-aux-Fayes that
Monsieur de Ronquerolles talked about our rights in the Assembly."
"That's in Monsieur Rigou's newspaper," said Vaudoyer, who in his
capacity of ex-field-keeper knew how to read and write; "I read it--"
In spite of his vinous tenderness, old Fourchon, like many of the
lower classes whose faculties are stimulated by drunkenness, was
following, with an intelligent eye and a keen ear, this curious
discussion which a variety of asides rendered still more curious.
Suddenly, he stood up in the middle of the room.
"Listen to the old one, he's drunk!" said Tonsard, "and when he is, he
is twice as full of deviltry; he has his own and that of the wine--"
"Spanish wine, and that trebles it!" cried Fourchon, laughing like a
satyr. "My sons, don't butt your head straight at the thing,--you're
too weak; go at it sideways. Lay low, play dead; the little woman is
scared. I tell you, the thing'll come to an end before long; she'll
leave the place, and if she does the Shopman will follow her, for
she's his passion. That's your plan. Only, to make 'em go faster, my
advice is to get rid of their counsellor, their support, our spy, our
"The damned abbe, of course," said Tonsard; "that hunter after sins,
who thinks the host is food enough for us."
"That's true," cried Vaudoyer; "we were happy enough till he came. We
ought to get rid of that eater of the good God,--he's the real enemy."
"Finikin," added Fourchon, using a nickname which the abbe owed to his
prim and rather puny appearance, "might be led into temptation and
fall into the power of some sly girl, for he fasts so much. Then if we
could catch him in the act and drum him up with a good charivari, the
bishop would be obliged to send him elsewhere. It would please old
Rigou devilish well. Now if your daughter, Courtecuisse, would leave
Auxerre--she's a pretty girl, and if she'd take to piety, she might
save us all. Hey! ran tan plan!--"
"Why don't YOU do it?" said Godain to Catherine, in a low voice;
"there'd be scuttles full of money to hush up the talk; and for the
time being you'd be mistress here--"
"Shall we glean, or shall we not glean? that's the point," said
Bonnebault. "I don't care two straws for your abbe, not I; I belong to
Conches, where we haven't a black-coat to poke up our consciences."
"Look here," said Vaudoyer, "we had better go and ask Rigou, who knows
the law, whether the Shopman can forbid gleaning, and he'll tell us if
we've got the right of it. If the Shopman has the law on his side,
well, then we must do as the old one says,--see about taking things
"Blood will be spilt," said Nicolas, darkly, as he rose after drinking
a whole bottle of wine, which Catherine drew for him in order to keep
him silent. "If you'd only listen to me you'd down Michaud; but you
are miserable weaklings,--nothing but poor trash!"
"I'm not," said Bonnebault. "If you are all safe friends who'll keep
your tongues between your teeth, I'll aim at the Shopman-- Hey! how
I'd like to put a plum through his bottle; wouldn't it avenge me on
those cursed officers?"
"Tut! tut!" cried Jean-Louis Tonsard, who was supposed to be, more or
less, Gaubertin's son, and who had just entered the tavern. This
fellow, who was courting Rigou's pretty servant-girl, had succeeded
his nominal father as clipper of hedges and shrubberies and other
Tonsardial occupations. Going about among the well-to-do houses, he
talked with masters and servants and picked up ideas which made him
the man of the world of the family, the shrewd head. We shall
presently see that in making love to Rigou's servant-girl, Jean-Louis
deserved his reputation for shrewdness.
"Well, what have you to say, prophet?" said the innkeeper to his son.
"I say that you are playing into the hands of the rich folk," replied
Jean-Louis. "Frighten the Aigues people to maintain your rights if you
choose; but if you drive them out of the place and make them sell the
estate, you are doing just what the bourgeois of the valley want, and
it's against your own interest. If you help the bourgeois to divide
the great estates among them, where's the national domain to be bought
for nothing at the next Revolution? Wait till then, and you'll get
your land without paying for it, as Rigou got his; whereas if you go
and thrust this estate into the jaws of the rich folk of the valley,
the rich folk will dribble it back to you impoverished and at twice
the price they paid for it. You are working for their interests, I
tell you; so does everybody who works for Rigou,--look at
The policy contained in this allocution was too deep for the drunken
heads of those present, who were all, except Courtecuisse, laying by
their money to buy a slice of the Aigues cake. So they let Jean-Louis
harangue, and continued, as in the Chamber of Deputies, their private
confabs with one another.
"Yes, that's so; you'll be Rigou's cats-paw!" cried Fourchon, who
alone understood his grandson.
Just then Langlume, the miller of Les Aigues, passed the tavern.
Madame Tonsard hailed him.
"Is it true," she said, "that gleaning is to be forbidden?"
Langlume, a jovial white man, white with flour and dressed in grayish-
white clothes, came up the steps and looked in. Instantly all the
peasants became as sober as judges.
"Well, my children, I am forced to answer yes, and no. None but the
poor are to glean; but the measures they are going to take will turn
out to your advantage."
"How so?" asked Godain.
"Why, they can prevent any but paupers from gleaning here," said the
miller, winking in true Norman fashion; "but that doesn't prevent you
from gleaning elsewhere,--unless all the mayors do as the Blangy mayor
"Then it is true," said Tonsard, in a threatening voice.
"As for me," said Bonnebault, putting his foraging-cap over one ear
and making his hazel stick whiz in the air, "I'm off to Conches to
warn the friends."
And the Lovelace of the valley departed, whistling the tune of the
"You who know the hussars of the Guard,
Don't you know the trombone of the regiment?"
"I say, Marie! he's going a queer way to get to Conches, that friend
of yours," cried old Mother Tonsard to her granddaughter.
"He's after Aglae!" said Marie, who made one bound to the door. "I'll
have to thrash her once for all, that baggage!" she cried, viciously.
"Come, Vaudoyer," said Tonsard, "go and see Rigou, and then we shall
know what to do; he's our oracle, and his spittle doesn't cost
"Another folly!" said Jean-Louis, in a low voice, "Rigou betrays
everybody; Annette tells me so; she says he's more dangerous when he
listens to you than other folks are when they bluster."
"I advise you to be cautious," said Langlume. "The general has gone to
the prefecture about your misdeeds, and Sibilet tells me he has sworn
an oath to go to Paris and see the Chancellor of France and the King
himself, and the whole pack of them if necessary, to get the better of
"His peasantry!" shouted every one.
"Ha, ha! so we don't belong to ourselves any longer?"
As Tonsard asked the question, Vaudoyer left the house to see Rigou.
Langlume, who had already gone out, turned on the door-step, and
"Crowd of do-nothings! are you so rich that you think you are your own
Though said with a laugh, the meaning contained in those words was
understood by all present, as horses understand the cut of a whip.
"Ran tan plan! masters indeed!" shouted old Fourchon. "I say, my lad,"
he added to Nicolas, "after your performance this morning it's not my
clarionet that you'll get between your thumb and four fingers!"
"Don't plague him, or he'll make you throw up your wine by a punch in
the stomach," said Catherine, roughly.
A TYPE OF THE COUNTRY USURER
Strategically, Rigou's position at Blangy was that of a picket
sentinel. He watched Les Aigues, and watched it well. The police have
no spies comparable to those that serve hatred.
When the general first came to Les Aigues Rigou apparently formed some
plans about him which Montcornet's marriage with a Troisville put an
end to; he seemed to have wished to patronize the new land-owner. In
fact his intentions were so patent that Gaubertin thought best to let
him into the secrets of the coalition against Les Aigues. Before
accepting any part in the affair, Rigou determined, as he said, to put
the general between two stools.
One day, after the countess was fairly installed, a little wicker
carriage painted green entered the grand courtyard of the chateau. The
mayor, who was flanked by his mayoress, got out and came round to the
portico on the garden side. As he did so Rigou saw Madame le comtesse
at a window. She, however, devoted to the bishop and to religion and
to the Abbe Brossette, sent word by Francois that "Madame was out."
This act of incivility, worthy of a woman born in Russia, turned the
face of the ex-Benedictine yellow. If the countess had seen the man
whom the abbe told her was "a soul in hell who plunged into iniquity
as into a bath in his efforts to cool himself," if she had seen his
face then she might have refrained from exciting the cold, deliberate
hatred felt by the liberals against the royalists, increased as it was
in country-places by the jealousies of neighborhood, where the
recollections of wounded vanity are kept constantly alive.
A few details about this man and his morals will not only throw light
on his share of the plot, called "the great affair" by his two
associates, but it will have the merit of picturing an extremely
curious type of man,--one of those rural existences which are peculiar
to France, and which no writer has hitherto sought to depict. Nothing
about this man is without significance,--neither his house, nor his
manner of blowing the fire, nor his ways of eating; his habits,
morals, and opinions will vividly illustrate the history of the
valley. This renegade serves to show the utility of democracy; he is
at once its theory and its practice, its alpha and its omega, in
short, its "summum."
Perhaps you will remember certain masters of avarice pictured in
former scenes of this comedy of human life: in the first place the
provincial minister, Pere Grandet of Saumur, miserly as a tiger is
cruel; next Gobseck, the usurer, that Jesuit of gold, delighting only
in its power, and relishing the tears of the unfortunate because gold
produced them; then Baron Nucingen, lifting base and fraudulent money
transactions to the level of State policy. Then, too, you may remember
that portrait of domestic parsimony, old Hochon of Issoudun, and that
other miser in behalf of family interests, little la Baudraye of
Sancerre. Well, human emotions--above all, those of avarice--take on
so many and diverse shades in the diverse centres of social existence
that there still remains upon the stage of our comedy another miser to
be studied, namely, Rigou,--Rigou, the miser-egoist; full of
tenderness for his own gratifications, cold and hard to others; the
ecclesiastical miser; the monk still a monk so far as he can squeeze
the juice of the fruit called good-living, and becoming secular only
to put a paw upon the public money. In the first place, let us explain
the continual pleasure that he took in sleeping under his own roof.
Blangy--by that we mean the sixty houses described by Blondet in his
letter to Nathan--stands on a rise of land to the left of the Thune.
As all the houses are surrounded by gardens, the village is a very
pretty one. Some houses are built on the banks of the stream. At the
upper end of the long rise stands the church, formerly flanked by a
parsonage, its apse surrounded, as in many other villages, by a
graveyard. The sacrilegious old Rigou had bought the parsonage, which
was originally built by an excellent Catholic, Mademoiselle Choin, on
land which she had bought for the purpose. A terraced garden, from
which the eye looked down upon Blangy, Cerneux, and Soulanges standing
between the two great seignorial parks, separated the late parsonage
from the church. On its opposite side lay a meadow, bought by the last
curate of the parish not long before his death, which the distrustful
Rigou had since surrounded with a wall.