Part 5 out of 7
The ex-monk and mayor having refused to sell back the parsonage for
its original purpose, the parish was obliged to buy a house belonging
to a peasant, which adjoined the church. It was necessary to spend
five thousand francs to repair and enlarge it and to enclose it in a
little garden, one wall of which was that of the sacristy, so that
communication between the parsonage and the church was still as close
as it ever was.
These two houses, built on a line with the church, and seeming to
belong to it by their gardens, faced a piece of open ground planted by
trees, which might be called the square of Blangy,--all the more
because the count had lately built, directly opposite to the new
parsonage, a communal building intended for the mayor's office, the
home of the field-keeper, and the quarters of that school of the
Brothers of the Christian Doctrine, for which the Abbe Brossette had
hitherto begged in vain. Thus, not only were the houses of the ex-monk
and the young priest connected and yet separated by the church, but
they were in a position to watch each other. Indeed, the whole village
spied upon the abbe. The main street, which began at the Thune, crept
tortuously up the hill to the church. Vineyards, the cottages of the
peasantry, and a small grove crowned the heights.
Rigou's house, the handsomest in the village, was built of the large
rubble-stone peculiar to Burgundy, imbedded in yellow mortar smoothed
by the trowel, which produced an uneven surface, still further broken
here and there by projecting points of the stone, which was mostly
black. A band of cement, in which no stones were allowed to show,
surrounded each window with a sort of frame, where time had made some
slight, capricious cracks, such as appear on plastered ceilings. The
outer blinds, of a clumsy pattern, were noticeable for their color,
which was dragon-green. A few mosses grew among the slates of the
roof. The type is that of Burgundian homesteads; the traveller will
see thousands like it when visiting this part of France.
A double door opened upon a passage, half-way down which was the well
of the staircase. By the entrance was the door of a large room with
three windows looking out upon the square. The kitchen, built behind
and beneath the staircase, was lighted from the courtyard, which was
neatly paved with cobble-stones and entered by a porte-cochere. Such
was the ground-floor. The first floor contained three bedrooms, above
them a small attic chamber.
A wood-shed, a coach-house, and a stable adjoined the kitchen, and
formed two sides of a square around the courtyard. Above these rather
flimsy buildings were lofts containing hay and grain, a fruit-room,
and one servant's-chamber.
A poultry-yard, the stable, and a pigsty faced the house across the
The garden, about an acre in size and enclosed by walls, was a true
priest's garden; that is, it was full of wall-fruit and fruit-trees,
grape-arbors, gravel-paths, closely trimmed box-trees, and square
vegetable patches, made rich with the manure from the stable.
Within, the large room, panelled in wainscot, was hung with old
tapestry. The walnut furniture, brown with age and covered with stuffs
embroidered in needle-work, was in keeping with the wainscot and with
the ceiling, which was also panelled. The latter had three projecting
beams, but these were painted, and between them the space was
plastered. The mantel, also in walnut, surmounted by a mirror in the
most grotesque frame, had no other ornament than two brass eggs
standing on a marble base, each of which opened in the middle; the
upper half when turned over showed a socket for a candle. These
candlesticks for two lights, festooned with chains (an invention of
the reign of Louis XV.), were becoming rare. On a green and gold
bracket fastened to the wall opposite to the window was a common but
excellent clock. The curtains, which squeaked upon their rods, were at
least fifty years old; their material, of cotton in a square pattern
like that of mattresses, alternately pink and white, came from the
Indies. A sideboard and dinner-table completed the equipment of the
room, which was kept with extreme nicety.
At the corner of the fireplace was an immense sofa, Rigou's especial
seat. In the angle, above a little "bonheur du jour," which served him
as a desk, and hanging to a common screw, was a pair of bellows, the
origin of Rigou's fortune.
From this succinct description, in style like that of an auction sale,
it will be easy to imagine that the bedrooms of Monsieur and Madame
Rigou were limited to mere necessaries; yet it would be a mistake to
suppose that such parsimony affected the essential excellence of those
necessaries. For instance, the most fastidious of women would have
slept well in Rigou's bed, with fine linen sheets, excellent
mattresses, made luxurious by a feather-bed (doubtless bought for some
abbe by a pious female parishioner) and protected from draughts by
thick curtains. All the rest of Rigou's belongings were made
comfortable for his use, as we shall see.
In the first place, he had reduced his wife, who could neither read,
write, nor cipher, to absolute obedience. After having ruled her
deceased master, the poor creature was now the servant of her husband;
she cooked and did the washing, with very little help from a pretty
girl named Annette, who was nineteen years old and as much a slave to
Rigou as her mistress, and whose wages were thirty francs a year.
Tall, thin, and withered, Madame Rigou, a woman with a yellow face red
about the cheek-bones, her head always wrapped in a colored
handkerchief, and wearing the same dress all the year round, did not
leave the house for two hours in a month's time, but kept herself in
exercise by doing the hard work of a devoted servant. The keenest
observer could not have found a trace of the fine figure, the Rubens
coloring, the splendid lines, the superb teeth, the virginal eyes
which first drew the attention of the Abbe Niseron to the young girl.
The birth of her only daughter, Madame Soudry, Jr., had blighted her
complexion, decayed her teeth, dimmed her eyes, and even caused the
dropping of their lashes. It almost seemed as if the finger of God had
fallen upon the wife of the priest. Like all well-to-do country house-
wives, she liked to see her closets full of silk gowns, made and
unmade, and jewels and laces which did her no good and only excited
the sin of envy and a desire for her death in the minds of all the
young women who served Rigou. She was one of those beings, half-woman,
half-animal, who are born to live by instinct. This ex-beautiful
Arsene was disinterested; and the bequest left to her by the late Abbe
Niseron would be inexplicable were it not for the curious circumstance
which prompted it, and which we give here for the edification of the
vast tribe of expectant heirs.
Madame Niseron, the wife of the old republican sexton, always paid the
greatest attention to her husband's uncle, the priest of Blangy; the
forty or fifty thousand francs soon to be inherited from the old man
of seventy would put the family of his only nephew into a condition of
affluence which she impatiently awaited, for besides her only son (the
father of La Pechina) Madame Niseron had a charming little daughter,
lively and innocent,--one of those beings that seem perfected only
because they are to die, which she did at the age of fourteen from
"pale color," the popular name for chlorosis among the peasantry. The
darling of the parsonage, where the child fluttered about her great
uncle the abbe as she did in her home, bringing clouds and sunshine
with her, she grew to love Mademoiselle Arsene, the pretty servant
whom the old abbe engaged in 1789. Arsene was the niece of his
housekeeper, whose place the girl took by request of the latter on her
In 1791, just about the time that the Abbe Niseron offered his house
as an asylum to Rigou and his brother Jean, the little girl played one
of her mischievous but innocent tricks. She was playing with Arsene
and some other children at a game which consists in hiding an object
which the rest seek, and crying out, "You burn!" or "You freeze!"
according as the searchers approach or leave the hidden article.
Little Genevieve took it into her head to hide the bellows in Arsene's
bed. The bellows could not be found, and the game came to an end;
Genevieve was taken home by her mother and forgot to put the bellows
back on the nail. Arsene and her aunt searched more than a week for
them; then they stopped searching and managed to do without them, the
old abbe blowing his fire with an air-cane made in the days when air-
canes were the fashion,--a fashion which was no doubt introduced by
some courtier of the reign of Henri III. At last, about a month before
her death, the housekeeper, after a dinner at which the Abbe Mouchon,
the Niseron family, and the curate of Soulanges were present, returned
to her jeremiades about the loss of the bellows.
"Why! they've been these two weeks in Arsene's bed!" cried the little
one, with a peal of laughter. "Great lazy thing! if she had taken the
trouble to make her bed she would have found them."
As it was 1791 everybody laughed; but a dead silence succeeded the
"There is nothing laughable in that," said the housekeeper; "since I
have been ill Arsene sleeps in my room."
In spite of this explanation the Abbe Niseron looked thunderbolts at
Madame Niseron and his nephew, thinking they were plotting mischief
against him. The housekeeper died. Rigou contrived to work up the
abbe's resentment to such a pitch that he made a will disinheriting
Jean-Francois Niseron in favor of Arsene Pichard.
In 1823 Rigou, perhaps out of a sense of gratitude, still blew the
fire with an air-cane, and left the bellows hanging to the screw.
Madame Niseron, idolizing her daughter, did not long survive her.
Mother and child died in 1794. The old abbe, too, was dead, and
citizen Rigou took charge of Arsene's affairs by marrying her. A
former convert in the monastery, attached to Rigou as a dog is to his
master, became the groom, gardener, herdsman, valet, and steward of
the sensual Harpagon. Arsene Rigou, the daughter, married in 1821
without dowry to the prosecuting-attorney, inheriting something of her
mother's rather vulgar beauty, together with the crafty mind of her
Now about sixty-seven years of age, Rigou had never been ill in his
life, and nothing seemed able to lessen his aggressively good health.
Tall, lean, with brown circles round his eyes, the lids of which were
nearly black, any one who saw him of a morning, when as he dressed he
exposed the wrinkled, red, and granulated skin of his neck, would have
compared him to a condor,--all the more because his long nose, sharp
at the tip, increased the likeness by its sanguineous color. His head,
partly bald, would have frightened phrenologists by the shape of its
skull, which was like an ass's backbone, an indication of despotic
will. His grayish eyes, half-covered by filmy, red-veined lids, were
predestined to aid hypocrisy. Two scanty locks of hair of an undecided
color overhung the large ears, which were long and without rim, a sure
sign of cruelty, but cruelty of the moral nature only, unless where it
means actual insanity. The mouth, very broad, with thin lips,
indicated a sturdy eater and a determined drinker by the drop of its
corners, which turned downward like two commas, from which drooled
gravy when he ate and saliva when he talked. Heliogabalus must have
been like this.
His dress, which never varied, consisted of a long blue surtout with a
military collar, a black cravat, with waistcoat and trousers of black
cloth. His shoes, very thick soled, had iron nails outside, and inside
woollen linings knit by his wife in the winter evenings. Annette and
her mistress also knit the master's stockings. Rigou's name was
Though this sketch gives some idea of the man's character, no one can
imagine the point to which, in his private and unthwarted life, the
ex-Benedictine had pushed the science of selfishness, good living, and
sensuality. In the first place, he dined alone, waited upon by his
wife and Annette, who themselves dined with Jean in the kitchen, while
the master digested his meal and disposed of his wine as he read "the
In the country the special names of journals are never mentioned; they
are all called by the general name of "the news."
Rigou's dinner, like his breakfast and supper, was always of choice
delicacies, cooked with the art which distinguishes a priest's
housekeeper from all other cooks. Madame Rigou made the butter herself
twice a week. Cream was a concomitant of many sauces. The vegetables
came at a jump, as it were, from their frames to the saucepan.
Parisians, who are accustomed to eat the fruits of the earth after
they have had a second ripening in the sun of a city, infected by the
air of the streets, fermenting in close shops, and watered from time
to time by the market-women to give them a deceitful freshness, have
little idea of the exquisite flavors of really fresh produce, to which
nature has lent fugitive but powerful charms when eaten as it were
The butcher of Soulanges brought his best meat under fear of losing
Rigou's custom. The poultry, raised on the premises, was of the finest
This system of secret pampering embraced everything in which Rigou was
personally concerned. Though the slippers of the knowing Thelemist
were of stout leather they were lined with lamb's wool. Though his
coat was of rough cloth it did not touch his skin, for his shirt,
washed and ironed at home, was of the finest Frisian linen. His wife,
Annette, and Jean drank the common wine of the country, the wine he
reserved from his own vineyards; but in his private cellar, as well
stocked as the cellars of Belgium, the finest vintages of Burgundy
rubbed sides with those of Bordeaux, Champagne, Roussillon, not to
speak of Spanish and Rhine wines, all bought ten years in advance of
use and bottled by Brother Jean. The liqueurs in that cellar were
those of the Isles, and came originally from Madame Amphoux. Rigou had
laid in a supply to last him the rest of his days, at the national
sale of a chateau in Burgundy.
The ex-monk ate and drank like Louis XIV. (one of the greatest
consumers of food and drink ever known), which reveals the costs of a
life that was more than voluptuous. Careful and very shrewd in
managing his secret prodigalities, he disputed all purchases as only
churchmen can dispute. Instead of taking infinite precautions against
being cheated, the sly monk kept patterns and samples, had the
agreements reduced to writing, and warned those who forwarded his
wines or his provisions that if they fell short of the mark in any way
he should refuse to accept their consignments.
Jean, who had charge of the fruit-room, was trained to keep fresh the
finest fruits grown in the department; so that Rigou ate pears and
apples and sometimes grapes, at Easter.
No prophet regarded as a God was ever more blindly obeyed than was
Rigou in his own home. A mere motion of his black eyelashes could
plunge his wife, Annette, and Jean into the deepest anxiety. He held
his three slaves by the multiplicity of their many duties, which were
like a chain in his hands. These poor creatures were under the
perpetual yoke of some ordered duty, with an eye always on them; but
they had come to take a sort of pleasure in accomplishing these tasks,
and did not suffer under them. All three had the comfort and well-
being of that one man before their minds as the sole end and object of
all their thoughts.
Annette was (since 1795) the tenth pretty girl in Rigou's service, and
he expected to go down to his grave with relays of such servants.
Brought to him at sixteen, she would be sent away at nineteen. All
these girls, carefully chosen at Auxerre, Clamecy, or in the Morvan,
were enticed by the promise of future prosperity; but Madame Rigou
persisted in living. So at the end of every three years some quarrel,
usually brought about by the insolence of the servant to the poor
mistress, caused their dismissal.
Annette, who was a picture of delicate beauty, ingenuous and
sparkling, deserved to be a duchess. Rigou knew nothing of the love
affair between her and Jean-Louis Tonsard, which proves that he had
let himself be fooled by the girl,--the only one of his many servants
whose ambition had taught her to flatter the lynx as the only way to
This uncrowned Louis XV. did not keep himself wholly to his pretty
Annette. Being the mortgagee of lands bought by peasants who were
unable to pay for them, he kept a harem in the valley, from Soulanges
to five miles beyond Conches on the road to La Brie, without making
other payments than "extension of time," for those fugitive pleasures
which eat into the fortunes of so many old men.
This luxurious life, a life like that of Bouret, cost Rigou almost
nothing. Thanks to his white slaves, he could cut and mow down and
gather in his wood, hay, and grain. To the peasant manual labor is a
small matter, especially if it serves to postpone the payment of
interest due. And so Rigou, while requiring little premiums on each
month's delay, squeezed a great deal of manual labor out of his
debtors,--positive drudgery, to which they submitted thinking they
gave little because nothing left their pockets. Rigou sometimes
obtained in this way more than the principal of a debt.
Deep as a monk, silent as a Benedictine in the throes of writing
history, sly as a priest, deceitful as all misers, carefully keeping
within the limits of the law, the man might have been Tiberius in
Rome, Richelieu under Louis XIII., or Fouche, had the ambition seized
him to go to the Convention; but, instead of all that, Rigou had the
common sense to remain a Lucullus without ostentation, in other words,
a parsimonious voluptuary. To occupy his mind he indulged a hatred
manufactured out of the whole cloth. He harassed the Comte de
Montcornet. He worked the peasants like puppets by hidden wires, the
handling of which amused him as though it were a game of chess where
the pawns were alive, the knights caracoled, the bishops, like
Fourchon, gabbled, the feudal castles shone in the sun, and the queen
maliciously checkmated the king. Every day, when he got out of bed and
saw from his window the proud towers of Les Aigues, the chimneys of
the pavilions, and the noble gates, he said to himself: "They shall
fall! I'll dry up the brooks, I'll chop down the woods." But he had
two victims in mind, a chief one and a lesser one. Though he meditated
the dismemberment of the chateau, the apostate also intended to make
an end of the Abbe Brossette by pin-pricks.
To complete the portrait of the ex-priest it will suffice to add that
he went to mass regretting that his wife still lived, and expressed
the desire to be reconciled with the Church as soon as he became a
widower. He bowed deferentially to the Abbe Brossette whenever he met
him, and spoke to him courteously and without heat. As a general thing
all men who belong to the Church, or who have come out of it, have the
patience of insects; they owe this to the obligation they have been
under, ecclesiastically, to preserve decorum,--a training which has
been lacking for the last twenty years to the vast majority of the
French nation, even those who think themselves well-bred. All the
monks which the Revolution brought out of their monasteries and forced
into business, public or private, showed in their coldness and reserve
the great advantage which ecclesiastical discipline gives to the sons
of the Church, even those who desert her.
Gaubertin had understood Rigou from the days when the Abbe Niseron
made his will and the ex-monk married the heiress; he fathomed the
craft hidden behind the jaundiced face of that accomplished hypocrite;
and he made himself the man's fellow-worshipper before the altar of
the Golden Calf. When the banking-house of Leclercq was first started
he advised Rigou to put fifty thousand francs into it, guaranteeing
their security himself. Rigou was all the more desirable as an
investor, or sleeping partner, because he drew no interest but allowed
his capital to accumulate. At the period of which we write it amounted
to over a hundred thousand francs, although in 1816 he had taken out
one hundred and eighty thousand for investment in the Public Funds,
from which he derived an income of seventeen thousand francs. Lupin
the notary had cognizance of at least one hundred thousand francs
which Rigou had lent on small mortgages upon good estates. Ostensibly,
Rigou derived about fourteen thousand francs a year from landed
property actually owned by him. But as to his amassed hoard, it was
represented by an "x" which no rule of equations could evolve, just as
the devil alone knew the secret schemes he plotted with Langlume.
This dangerous usurer, who proposed to live a score of years longer,
had established fixed rules to work upon. He lent nothing to a peasant
who bought less than seven acres, and who could not pay one-half of
the purchase-money down. Rigou well understood the defects of the law
of dispossession when applied to small holdings, and the danger both
to the Public Treasury and to land-owners of the minute parcelling out
of the soil. How can you sue a peasant for the value of one row of
vines when he owns only five? The bird's-eye view of self-interest is
always twenty-five years ahead of the perceptions of a legislative
body. What a lesson for a nation! Law will ever emanate from one
brain, that of a man of genius, and not from the nine hundred
legislative heads, which, great as they may be in themselves, are
belittled and lost in a crowd. Rigou's law contains the essential
element which has yet to be found and introduced into public law to
put an end to the absurd spectacle of landed property reduced to
halves, quarters, tenths, hundredths,--as in the district of
Argenteuil, where there are thirty thousand plots of land.
Such operations as those Rigou was concerned in require extensive
collusion, like those we have seen existing in this arrondissement.
Lupin, the notary, whom Rigou employed to draw at least one third of
the deeds annually entrusted to his notarial office, was devoted to
him. This shark could thus include in the mortgage note (signed always
in presence of the wife, when the borrower was married) the amount of
the illegal interest. The peasant, delighted to feel he had to pay
only his five per cent interest annually, always imagined he should be
able to meet the payment by working doubly hard or by improving the
land and getting double returns upon it.
Hence the deceitful hopes excited by what imbecile economists call
"small farming,"--a political blunder to which we owe such mistakes as
sending French money to Germany to buy horses which our own land had
ceased to breed; a blunder which before long will reduce the raising
of cattle until meat will be unattainable not only by the people, but
by the lower middle classes (see "Le Cure de Village.")
So, not a little sweat bedewed men's brows between Conches and Ville-
aux-Fayes to Rigou's profit, all being willing to give it; whereas the
labor dearly paid for by the general, the only man who did spend money
in the district, brought him curses and hatred, which were showered
upon him simply because he was rich. How could such facts be
understood unless we had previously taken that rapid glance at the
Mediocracy. Fourchon was right; the middle classes now held the
position of the former lords. The small land-owners, of whom
Courtecuisse is a type, were tenants in mortmain of a Tiberius in the
valley of the Avonne, just as, in Paris, traders without money are the
peasantry of the banking system.
Soudry followed Rigou's example from Soulanges to a distance of
fifteen miles beyond Ville-aux-Fayes. These two usurers shared the
district between them.
Gaubertin, whose rapacity was in a higher sphere, not only did not
compete against that of his associates, but he prevented all other
capital in Ville-aux-Fayes from being employed in the same fruitful
manner. It is easy to imagine what immense influence this triumvirate
--Rigou, Soudry, and Gaubertin--wielded in election periods over
electors whose fortunes depended on their good-will.
Hate, intelligence, and means at command, such were the three sides of
the terrible triangle which describes the general's closest enemy, the
spy ever watching Les Aigues,--a shark having constant dealings with
sixty to eighty small land-owners, relations or connections of the
peasantry, who feared him as such men always fear their creditor.
Rigou was in his way another Tonsard. The one throve on thefts from
nature, the other waxed fat on legal plunder. Both liked to live well.
It was the same nature in two species,--the one natural, the other
whetted by his training in a cloister.
It was about four o'clock when Vaudoyer left the tavern of the Grand-
I-Vert to consult the former mayor. Rigou was at dinner. Finding the
front door locked, Vaudoyer looked above the window blinds and called
"Monsieur Rigou, it is I,--Vaudoyer."
Jean came round from the porte-cochere and said to Vaudoyer:--
"Come into the garden; Monsieur has company."
The company was Sibilet, who, under pretext of discussing the verdict
Brunet had just handed in, was talking to Rigou of quite other
matters. He had found the usurer finishing his dessert. On a square
dinner-table covered with a dazzling white cloth--for, regardless of
his wife and Annette who did the washing, Rigou exacted clean table-
linen every day--the steward noted strawberries, apricots, peaches,
figs, and almonds, all the fruits of the season in profusion, served
in white porcelain dishes on vine-leaves as daintily as at Les Aigues.
Seeing Sibilet, Rigou told him to run the bolts of the inside double-
doors, which were added to the other doors as much to stifle sounds as
to keep out the cold air, and asked him what pressing business brought
him there in broad daylight when it was so much safer to confer
together at night.
"The Shopman talks of going to Paris to see the Keeper of the Seals;
he is capable of doing you a great deal of harm; he may ask for the
dismissal of your son-in-law, and the removal of the judges at Ville-
aux-Fayes, especially after reading the verdict just rendered in your
favor. He has turned at bay; he is shrewd, and he has an adviser in
that abbe, who is quite able to tilt with you and Gaubertin. Priests
are powerful. Monseigneur the bishop thinks a great deal of the Abbe
Brossette. Madame la comtesse talks of going herself to her cousin the
prefect, the Comte de Casteran, about Nicolas. Michaud begins to see
into our game."
"You are frightened," said Rigou, softly, casting a look on Sibilet
which suspicion made less impassive than usual, and which was
therefore terrific. "You are debating whether it would not be better
on the whole to side with the Comte de Montcornet."
"I don't see where I am to get the four thousand francs I save
honestly and invest every year, after you have cut up and sold Les
Aigues," said Sibilet, shortly. "Monsieur Gaubertin has made me many
fine promises; but the crisis is coming on; there will be fighting,
surely. Promising before victory and keeping a promise after it are
two very different things."
"I will talk to him about it," replied Rigou, imperturbably. "Meantime
this is what I should say to you if I were in his place: 'For the last
five years you have taken Monsieur Rigou four thousand francs a year,
and that worthy man gives you seven and a half per cent; which makes
your property in his hands at this moment over twenty-seven thousand
francs, as you have not drawn the interest. But there exists a private
signed agreement between you and Rigou, and the Shopman will dismiss
his steward whenever the Abbe Brossette lays that document before his
eyes; the abbe will be able to do so after receiving an anonymous
letter which will inform him of your double-dealing. You would
therefore do better for yourself by keeping well with us instead of
clamoring for your pay in advance,--all the more because Monsieur
Rigou, who is not legally bound to give you seven and a half per cent
and the interest on your interest, will make you in court a legal
tender of your twenty thousand francs, and you will not be able to
touch that money until your suit, prolonged by legal trickery, shall
be decided by the court at Ville-aux-Fayes. But if you act wisely you
will find that when Monsieur Rigou gets possession of your pavilion at
Les Aigues, you will have very nearly thirty thousand francs in his
hands and thirty thousand more which the said Rigou may entrust to
you,--which will be all the more advantageous to you then because the
peasantry will have flung them themselves upon the estate of Les
Aigues, divided into small lots like the poverty of the world.' That's
what Monsieur Gaubertin might say to you. As for me, I have nothing to
say, for it is none of my business. Gaubertin and I have our own
quarrel with that son of the people who is ashamed of his own father,
and we follow our own course. If my friend Gaubertin feels the need of
using you, I don't; I need no one, for everybody is at my command. As
to the Keeper of the Seals, that functionary is often changed; whereas
we--WE are always here, and can bide our time."
"Well, I've warned you," returned Sibilet, feeling like a donkey under
"Warned me of what?" said Rigou, artfully.
"Of what the Shopman is going to do," answered the steward, humbly.
"He started for the Prefecture in a rage."
"Let him go! If the Montcornets and their kind didn't use wheels, what
would become of the carriage-makers?"
"I shall bring you three thousand francs to-night," said Sibilet, "but
you ought to make over some of your maturing mortgages to me,--say,
one or two that would secure to me good lots of land."
"Well, there's that of Courtecuisse. I myself want to be easy on him
because he is the best shot in the canton; but if I make over his
mortgage to you, you will seem to be harassing him on the Shopman's
account, and that will be killing two birds with one stone; when
Courtecuisse finds himself a beggar, like Fourchon, he'll be capable
of anything. Courtecuisse has ruined himself on the Bachelerie; he has
cultivated all the land, and trained fruit on the walls. The little
property is now worth four thousand francs, and the count will gladly
pay you that to get possession of the three acres that jut right into
his land. If Courtecuisse were not such an idle hound he could have
paid his interest with the game he might have killed there."
"Well, transfer the mortgage to me, and I'll make my butter out of it;
the count shall buy the three acres, and I shall get the house and
garden for nothing."
"What are you going to give me out of it?"
"Good heavens! you'd milk an ox!" exclaimed Sibilet,--"when I have
just done you such a service, too. I have at last got the Shopman to
enforce the laws about gleaning--"
"Have you, my dear fellow?" said Rigou, who a few days earlier had
suggested this means of exasperating the peasantry to Sibilet, telling
him to advise the general to try it. "Then we've got him; he's lost!
But it isn't enough to hold him with one string; we must wind it round
and round him like a roll of tobacco. Slip the bolts of the door, my
lad; tell my wife to bring my coffee and the liqueurs, and tell Jean
to harness up. I'm off to Soulanges; will see you to-night!--Ah!
Vaudoyer, good afternoon," said the late mayor as his former field-
keeper entered the room. "What's the news?"
Vaudoyer related the talk which had just taken place at the tavern,
and asked Rigou's opinion as to the legality of the rules which the
general thought of enforcing.
"He has the law with him," said Rigou, curtly. "We have a hard
landlord; the Abbe Brossette is a malignant priest; he advises all
such measures because you don't go to mass, you miserable unbelievers.
I go; there's a God, I tell you. You peasants will have to bear
everything, for the Shopman will always get the better of you--"
"We shall glean," said Vaudoyer, in that determined tone which
"Without a certificate of pauperism?" asked the usurer. "They say the
Shopman has gone to the Prefecture to ask for troops so as to force
you to keep the law."
"We shall glean as we have always gleaned," repeated Vaudoyer.
"Well, glean then! Monsieur Sarcus will decide whether you have the
right to," said Rigou, seeming to promise the help of the justice of
"We shall glean, and we shall do it in force, or Burgundy won't be
Burgundy any longer," said Vaudoyer. "If the gendarmes have sabres we
have scythes, and we'll see what comes of it!"
At half-past four o'clock the great green gate of the former parsonage
turned on its hinges, and the bay horse, led by Jean, was brought
round to the front door. Madame Rigou and Annette came out on the
steps and looked at the little wicker carriage, painted green, with a
leathern hood, where their lord and master was comfortably seated on
"Don't be late home, monsieur," said Annette, with a little pout.
The village folk, already informed of the measures the general
proposed to take, were at their doors or standing in the main street
as Rigou drove by, believing that he was going to Soulanges in their
"Well, Madame Courtecuisse, so our mayor is on his way to protect us,"
remarked an old woman as she knitted; the question of depredating in
the forest was of great interest to her, for her husband sold the
stolen wood at Soulanges.
"Ah! the good man, his heart bleeds to see the way we are treated; he
is as unhappy as we are about it," replied the poor woman, who
trembled at the very name of her husband's creditor, and praised him
out of fear.
"And he himself, too,--they've shamefully ill-used him! Good-day,
Monsieur Rigou," said the old knitter to the usurer, who bowed to her
and to his debtor's wife.
As Rigou crossed the Thune, fordable at all seasons, Tonsard came out
of the tavern and met him on the high-road.
"Well, Pere Rigou," he said, "so the Shopman means to make dogs of
"We'll see about that," said the usurer, whipping up his horse.
"He'll protect us," said Tonsard, turning to a group of women and
children who were near him.
"Rigou is thinking as much about you as a cook thinks of the gudgeons
he is frying in his pan," called out Fourchon.
"Take the clapper out of your throat when you are drunk," said Mouche,
pulling his grandfather by the blouse, and tumbling him down on a bank
under a poplar tree. "If that hound of a mayor heard you say that,
he'd never buy any more of your tales."
The truth was that Rigou was hurrying to Soulanges in consequence of
the warning given him by the steward of Les Aigues, which, in his
heart, he regarded as threatening the secret coalition of the valley.
THE LEADING SOCIETY OF SOULANGES
About six kilometres (speaking legally) from Blangy, and at the same
distance from Ville-aux-Fayes, on an elevation radiating from the long
hillside at the foot of which flows the Avonne, stands the little town
of Soulanges, surnamed La Jolie, with, perhaps, more right to that
title than Mantes.
At the foot of the hill, the Thune broadens over a clay bottom to a
space of some seventy acres, at the end of which the Soulanges mills,
placed on numerous little islets, present as graceful a group of
buildings as any landscape architect could devise. After watering the
park of Soulanges, where it feeds various other streams and artificial
lakes, the Thune falls into the Avonne through a fine broad channel.
The chateau of Soulanges, rebuilt under Louis XIV. from designs of
Jules Mansart, and one of the finest in Burgundy, stands facing the
town; so that Soulanges and its chateau mutually present to each other
a charming and even elegant vista. The main road winds between the
town and the pond, called by the country people, rather pompously, the
lake of Soulanges.
The little town is one of those natural compositions which are
extremely rare in France, where PRETTINESS of its own kind is
absolutely wanting. Here you would indeed find, as Blondet said in his
letter, the charm of Switzerland, the prettiness of the environs of
Neuf-chatel; while the bright vineyards which encircle Soulanges
complete the resemblance,--leaving out, be it said, the Alps and the
Jura. The streets, placed one above another on the slope of the hill,
have but few houses; for each house stands in its own garden, which
produces a mass of greenery rarely seen in a town. The roofs, red or
blue, rising among flower-gardens, trees, and trellised terraces,
present an harmonious variety of aspects.
The church, an old Middle-Age structure, built of stone, thanks to the
munificence of the lords of Soulanges, who reserved for themselves
first a chapel near the chancel, then a crypt as their necropolis,
has, by way of portal, an immense arcade, like that of the church at
Lonjumeau, and is bordered by flower-beds adorned with statues, and
flanked on either side by columns with niches, which terminate in
spires. This portal, often seen in churches of the same period when
chance has saved them from the ravages of Calvinism, is surmounted by
a triglyph, above which stands a statue of the Virgin holding the
infant Jesus. The sides of the structure are externally of five
arches, defined by stone ribs and lighted by windows with small panes.
The apse rests on arched abutments that are worthy of a cathedral. The
clock-tower, placed in a transept of the cross, is square and
surmounted by a belfry. The church can be seen from a great distance,
for it stands at the top of the great square, at the lower end of
which the high-road passes through the town.
This square, large for the size of the town, is surrounded by very
original buildings, all of different epochs. Many, half-wood, half-
brick, with their timbers faced with slate, date back to the Middle
Ages. Others, of stone, with balconies, show the form of gable so dear
to our ancestors, which belongs to the twelfth century. Several charm
the eye with those old projecting beams, carved with grotesque faces,
which form the roof of a sort of shed, and recall the days when the
middle classes were exclusively commercial. The finest house among
them was that of the chief magistrate of former days,--a house with a
sculptured front on a line with the church, to which it forms a fine
accompaniment. Sold as national property, it was bought in by the
commune, which turned it into a town-hall and court-house, where
Monsieur Sarcus had presided ever since the establishment of municipal
This slight sketch will give an idea of the square of Soulanges,
adorned in the centre with a charming fountain brought from Italy in
1520 by the Marechal de Soulanges, which was not unworthy of a great
capital. An unfailing jet of water, coming from a spring higher up the
hill, was shed by four Cupids in white marble, bearing shells in their
arms and baskets of grapes upon their heads.
Literary travellers who may pass this way (should any such follow
Emile Blondet) might imagine the spot to have inspired Moliere and the
Spanish drama, which held its footing so long on French boards,
showing that comedy is native to warm countries where so much of life
is passed in the public streets. The square of Soulanges is all the
more a reminder of that classic stage because the two principal
streets, opening just on a line with the fountain, afford the exit and
entrances so necessary for the dramatic masters and valets whose
business it is either to meet or to avoid each other. At the corner of
one of these streets, called the rue de la Fontaine, shone the
notarial escutcheon of Maitre Lupin. The houses of Messieurs Sarcus,
Guerbet the collector, Brunet, Gourdon, clerk of the court, and that
of his brother the doctor, also that of old Monsieur Gendrin-Vatebled,
the keeper of the forests and streams,--all these houses, kept with
extreme neatness by their owners, who held firmly to the flattering
surname of their native town, stand in the neighborhood of the square
and form the aristocratic quarter of Soulanges.
The house of Madame Soudry--for the powerful individuality of
Mademoiselle Laguerre's former waiting-maid took the lead of her
husband in the community--was modern, having been built by a rich
wine-merchant, born in Soulanges, who, after making his money in
Paris, returned there in 1793 to buy wheat for his native town. He was
slain as an "accapareur," a monopolist, by the populace, instigated by
a mason, the uncle of Godain, with whom he had had some quarrel about
the building of his ambitious house. The settlement of his estate,
sharply contested by collateral heirs, dragged slowly along until, in
1798, Soudry, who had then returned to Soulanges, was able to buy the
wine-merchant's palace for three thousand francs in specie. He then
let it, in the first instance, to the government for the headquarters
of the gendarmerie. In 1811 Mademoiselle Cochet, whom Soudry consulted
about all his affairs, strongly objected to the renewal of the lease,
making the house uninhabitable, she declared, with barracks. The town
of Soulanges, assisted by the department, then erected a building for
the gendarmerie in a street running at right angles from the town-
hall. Thereupon Soudry cleaned up his house and restored its primitive
lustre, not a little dimmed by the stabling of horses and the
occupancy of gendarmes.
The house, only one story high, with projecting windows in the roof,
has a view on three sides; one to the square, another to a lake, the
third to a garden. The fourth side looks on a courtyard which
separates the Soudrys from the adjoining house occupied by a grocer
named Wattebled, a man of the SECOND-CLASS society of Soulanges,
father of the beautiful Madame Plissoud, of whom we shall presently
have occasion to speak.
All little towns have a renowned beauty, just as they have a Socquard
and a Cafe de la Paix.
It will be apparent to every one that the frontage of the Soudry
mansion on the lake must have a terraced garden confined by a stone
balustrade which overlooks both the lake and the main road. A flight
of steps leads down from the terrace to the road, and on it an orange-
tree, a pomegranate, a myrtle, and other ornamental shrubs are placed,
necessitating a greenhouse. On the side toward the square the house is
entered from a portico raised several steps above the level of the
street. According to the custom of small towns the gate of the
courtyard, used only for the service of the house or for any unusual
arrival, was seldom opened. Visitors, who mostly came on foot, entered
by the portico.
The style of the Hotel Soudry is plain. The courses are indicated by
projecting lines; the windows are framed by mouldings alternately
broad and slender, like those of the Gabriel and Perronnet pavilion in
the place Louis XV. These ornaments in so small a town give a certain
solid and monumental air to the building which has become celebrated.
Opposite to this house, in another angle of the square stands the
famous Cafe de la Paix, the characteristics of which, together with
the fascinations of its Tivoli, will require, somewhat later, a less
succinct description than that we have given of the Soudry mansion.
Rigou very seldom came to Soulanges; everybody was in the habit of
going to him,--Lupin and Gaubertin, Soudry and Gendrin,--so much were
they afraid of him. But we shall presently understand why any educated
man, such as the ex-Benedictine, would have done as Rigou did, and
kept away from the little town, after reading the following sketch of
the personages who composed what was called in those parts "the
leading society of Soulanges."
Of its principal figures, the most original, as you have already
suspected, was that of Madame Soudry, whose personality, to be duly
rendered, needs a minute and careful brush.
Madame Soudry, respectfully imitating Mademoiselle Laguerre, began by
allowing herself a "mere touch of rouge"; but this delicate tint had
changed through force of habit to those vermilion patches
picturesquely described by our ancestors as "carriage-wheels." The
wrinkles growing deeper and deeper, it occurred to the ex-lady's-maid
to fill them up with paint. Her forehead becoming unduly yellow, and
the temples too shiny, she "laid on" a little white, and renewed the
veins of her youth with a tracery of blue. All this color gave an
exaggerated liveliness to her eyes which were already tricksy enough,
so that the mask of her face would seem to a stranger even more than
fantastic, though her friends and acquaintances, accustomed to this
fictitious brilliancy, actually declared her handsome.
This ungainly creature, always decolletee, showed a bosom and a pair
of shoulders that were whitened and polished by the same process
employed upon her face; happily, for the sake of exhibiting her
magnificent laces, she partially veiled the charms of these chemical
products. She always wore the body of her dress stiffened with
whalebone and made in a long point and garnished with knots of ribbon,
even on the point! Her petticoats gave forth a creaking noise,--so
much did the silk and the furbelows abound.
This attire, which deserves the name of apparel (a word that before
long will be inexplicable), was, on the evening in question, of costly
brocade,--for Madame Soudry possessed over a hundred dresses, each
richer than the others, the remains of Mademoiselle Laguerre's
enormous and splendid wardrobe, made over to fit Madame Soudry in the
last fashion of the year 1808. Her blond wig, frizzed and powdered,
sustained a superb cap with knots of cherry satin ribbon matching
those on her dress. If you will kindly imagine beneath this ultra-
coquettish cap the face of a monkey of extreme ugliness, on which a
flat nose, fleshless as that of Death, is separated by a strong hairy
line from a mouth filled with false teeth, whence issue sounds like
the confused clacking of hunting-horns, you will have some difficulty
in understanding why the leading society of Soulanges (all the town,
in fact) thought this quasi-queen a beauty,--unless, indeed, you
remember the succinct statement recently made "ex professo," by one of
the cleverest women of our time, on the art of making her sex
beautiful by surrounding accessories.
As to accessories, in the first place, Madame Soudry was surrounded by
the magnificent gifts accumulated by her late mistress, which the ex-
Benedictine called "fructus belli." Then she made the most of her
ugliness by exaggerating it, and by assuming that indescribable air
and manner which belongs only to Parisian women, the secret of which
is known even to the most vulgar among them,--who are always more or
less mimics. She laced tight, wore an enormous bustle, also diamond
earrings, and her fingers were covered with rings. At the top of her
corsage, between two mounds of flesh well plastered with pearl-white,
shone a beetle made of topaz with a diamond head, the gift of dear
mistress,--a jewel renowned throughout the department. Like the late
dear mistress, she wore short sleeves and bare arms, and flirted an
ivory fan, painted by Boucher with two little rose-diamonds in the
When she went out Madame Soudry carried a parasol of the true
eighteenth-century style; that is to say, a tall cane at the end of
which opened a green sun-shade with a green fringe. When she walked
about the terrace a stranger on the high-road, seeing her from afar,
might have thought her one of Watteau's dames.
In her salon, hung with red damask, with curtains of the same lined
with silk, a fire on the hearth, a mantel-shelf adorned with bibelots
of the good time of Louis XV., and bearing candelabra in the form of
lilies upheld by Cupids--in this salon, filled with furniture in
gilded wood of the "pied de biche" pattern, it is not impossible to
understand why the people of Soulanges called the mistress of the
house, "The beautiful Madame Soulanges." The mansion had actually
become the civic pride of this capital of a canton.
If the leading society of the little town believed in its queen, the
queen as surely believed in herself. By a phenomenon not in the least
rare, which the vanity of mothers and authors carries on at all
moments under our very eyes in behalf of their literary works or their
marriageable daughters, the late Mademoiselle Cochet was, at the end
of seven years, so completely buried under Madame Soudry, the
mayoress, that she not only did not remember her past, but she
actually believed herself a well-bred woman. She had studied the airs
and graces, the dulcet tones, the gestures, the ways of her mistress,
so long that when she found herself in the midst of an opulence of her
own she was able to practice the natural insolence of it. She knew her
eighteenth century, and the tales of its great lords and all their
belongings, by heart. This back-stairs erudition gave to her
conversation a flavor of "oeil-de-boeuf"; her soubrette gossip passed
muster for courtly wit. Morally, the mayoress was, if you wish to say
so, tinsel; but to savages paste diamonds are as good as real ones.
The woman found herself courted and worshipped by the society in which
she lived, just as her mistress had been worshipped in former days.
She gave weekly dinners, with coffee and liqueurs to those who came in
after the dessert. No female head could have resisted the exhilarating
force of such continual adulation. In winter the warm salon, always
well-lighted with wax candles, was well-filled with the richest people
of Soulanges, who paid for the good liqueurs and the fine wines which
came from dear mistress's cellars, with flatteries to their hostess.
These visitors and their wives had a life-interest, as it were, in
this luxury; which was to them a saving of lights and fuel. Thus it
came to pass that in a circuit of fifteen miles and even as far as
Ville-aux-Fayes, every voice was ready to declare: "Madame Soudry does
the honors admirably. She keeps open house; every one enjoys her
salon; she knows how to carry herself and her fortune; she always says
the witty thing, she makes you laugh. And what splendid silver! There
is not another house like it short of Paris--"
The silver had been given to Mademoiselle Laguerre by Bouret. It was a
magnificent service made by the famous Germain, and Madame Soudry had
literally stolen it. At Mademoiselle Laguerre's death she merely took
it into her own room, and the heirs, who knew nothing of the value of
their inheritance, never claimed it.
For some time past the twelve or fifteen personages who composed the
leading society of Soulanges spoke of Madame Soudry as the INTIMATE
FRIEND of Mademoiselle Laguerre, recoiling at the term "waiting-
woman," and making believe that she had sacrificed herself to the
singer as her friend and companion.
Strange yet true! all these illusions became realities, and spread
even to the actual regions of the heart; Madame Soudry reigned
supreme, in a way, over her husband.
The gendarme, required to love a woman ten years older than himself
who kept the management of her fortune in her own hands, behaved to
her in the spirit of the ideas she had ended by adopting about her
beauty. But sometimes, when persons envied him or talked to him of his
happiness, he wished they were in his place, for, to hide his
peccadilloes, he was forced to take as many precautions as the husband
of a young and adoring wife; and it was not until very recently that
he had been able to introduce into the family a pretty servant-girl.
This portrait of the Queen of Soulanges may seem a little grotesque,
but many specimens of the same kind could be found in the provinces at
that period,--some more or less noble in blood, others belonging to
the higher banking-circles, like the widow of a receiver-general in
Touraine who still puts slices of veal upon her cheeks. This portrait,
drawn from nature, would be incomplete without the diamonds in which
it is set; without the surrounding courtiers, a sketch of whom is
necessary, if only to explain how formidable such Lilliputians are,
and who are the makers of public opinion in remote little towns. Let
no one mistake me, however; there are many localities which, like
Soulanges, are neither hamlets, villages, nor little towns, which
have, nevertheless, the characteristics of all. The inhabitants are
very different from those of the large and busy and vicious provincial
cities. Country life influences the manners and morals of the smaller
places, and this mixture of tints will be found to produce some truly
The most important personage after Madame Soudry was Lupin, the
notary. Though forty-five springs had bloomed for Lupin, he was still
fresh and rosy, thanks to the plumpness which fills out the skin of
sedentary persons; and he still sang ballads. Also, he retained the
elegant evening dress of society warblers. He looked almost Parisian
in his carefully-varnished boots, his sulphur-yellow waistcoats, his
tight-fitting coats, his handsome silk cravats, his fashionable
trousers. His hair was curled by the barber of Soulanges (the gossip
of the town), and he maintained the attitude of a man "a bonne
fortunes" by his liaison with Madame Sarcus, wife of Sarcus the rich,
who was to his life, without too close a comparison, what the
campaigns of Italy were to Napoleon. He alone of the leading society
of Soulanges went to Paris, where he was received by the Soulanges
family. It was enough to hear him talk to imagine the supremacy he
wielded in his capacity as dandy and judge of elegance. He passed
judgment on all things by the use of three terms: "out of date,"
"antiquated," "superannuated."[*] A man, a woman, or a piece of
furniture might be "out of date"; next, by a greater degree of
imperfection, "antiquated"; but as to the last term, it was the
superlative of contempt. The first might be remedied, the second was
hopeless, but the third,--oh, better far never to have left the void
of nothingness! As to praise, a single word sufficed him, doubly and
trebly uttered: "Charming!" was the positive of his admiration.
"Charming, charming!" made you feel you were safe; but after
"Charming, charming, charming!" the ladder might be discarded, for the
heaven of perfection was attained.
[*] "Croute," "crouton," and "croute-au-pot," untranslatable, and
without equivalent in English. A "croute" is the slang term for a
man behind the age.--Tr.
The tabellion,--he called himself "tabellion," petty notary, and
keeper of notes (making fun of his calling in order to seem above it),
--the tabellion was on terms of spoken gallantry with Madame Soudry,
who had a weakness for Lupin, though he was blond and wore spectacles.
Hitherto the late Cochet had loved none but dark men, with moustachios
and hairy hands, of the Alcides type. But she made an exception in
favor of Lupin on account of his elegance, and, moreover, because she
thought her glory at Soulanges was not complete without an adorer;
but, to Soudry's despair, the queen's adorers never carried their
adoration so far as to threaten his rights.
Lupin had married an heiress in wooden shoes and blue woollen
stockings, the only daughter of a salt-dealer, who made his money
during the Revolution,--a period when contraband salt-traders made
enormous profits by reason of the reaction that set in against the
gabelle. He prudently left his wife at home, where Bebelle, as he
called her, was supported under his absence by a platonic passion for
a handsome clerk who had no other means than his salary,--a young man
named Bonnac, belonging to the second-class society, where he played
the same role that his master, the notary, played in the first.
Madame Lupin, a woman without any education whatever, appeared on
great occasions only, under the form of an enormous Burgundian barrel
dressed in velvet and surmounted by a little head sunken in shoulders
of a questionable color. No efforts could retain her waist-belt in its
natural place. "Bebelle" candidly admitted that prudence forbade her
wearing corsets. The imagination of a poet or, better still, that of
an inventor, could not have found on Bebelle's back the slightest
trace of that seductive sinuosity which the vertebrae of all women who
are women usually produce. Bebelle, round as a tortoise, belonged to
the genus of invertebrate females. This alarming development of
cellular tissue no doubt reassured Lupin on the subject of the
platonic passion of his fat wife, whom he boldly called Bebelle
without raising a laugh.
"Your wife, what is she?" said Sarcus the rich, one day, when unable
to digest the fatal word "superannuated," applied to a piece of
furniture he had just bought at a bargain.
"My wife is not like yours," replied Lupin; "she is not defined as
Beneath his rosy exterior the notary possessed a subtle mind, and he
had the sense to say nothing about his property, which was fully as
large as that of Rigou.
Monsieur Lupin's son, Amaury, was a great trouble to his father. An
only son, and one of the Don Juans of the valley, he utterly refused
to follow the paternal profession. He took advantage of his position
as only son to bleed the strong-box cruelly, without, however,
exhausting the patience of his father, who would say after every
escapade, "Well, I was like that in my young days." Amaury never came
to Madame Soudry's; he said she bored him; for, with a recollection of
her early days, she attempted to "educate" him, as she called it,
whereas he much preferred the pleasures and billiards of the Cafe de
la Paix. He frequented the worst company of Soulanges, even down to
Bonnebault. He continued sowing his wild oats, as Madame Soudry
remarked, and replied to all his father's remonstrances with one
perpetual request: "Send me back to Paris, for I am bored to death
Lupin ended, alas! like other gallants, by an attachment that was
semi-conjugal. His known passion, in spite of his former liaison with
Madame Sarcus, was for the wife of the under-sheriff of the municipal
court,--Madame Euphemie Plissoud, daughter of Wattebled the grocer,
who reigned in the second-class society as Madame Soudry did in the
first. Monsieur Plissoud, a competitor of Brunet, belonged to the
under-world of Soulanges on account of his wife's conduct, which it
was said he authorized,--a report that drew upon him the contempt of
the leading society.
If Lupin was the musician of the leading society, Monsieur Gourdon,
the doctor, was its man of science. The town said of him, "We have
here in our midst a scientific man of the first order." Madame Soudry
(who believed she understood music because she had ushered in Piccini
and Gluck and had dressed Mademoiselle Laguerre for the Opera)
persuaded society, and even Lupin himself, that he might have made his
fortune by his voice, and, in like manner, she was always regretting
that the doctor did not publish his scientific ideas.
Monsieur Gourdon merely repeated the ideas of Cuvier and Buffon, which
might not have enabled him to pose as a scientist before the Soulanges
world; but besides this he was making a collection of shells, and he
possessed an herbarium, and he knew how to stuff birds. He lived upon
the glory of having bequeathed his cabinet of natural history to the
town of Soulanges. After this was known he was considered throughout
the department as a great naturalist and the successor of Buffon. Like
a certain Genevese banker, whose pedantry, coldness, and puritan
propriety he copied, without possessing either his money or his
shrewdness, Monsieur Gourdon exhibited with great complacency the
famous collection, consisting of a bear and a monkey (both of which
had died on their way to Soulanges), all the rodents of the
department, mice and field-mice and dormice, rats, muskrats, and
moles, etc.; all the interesting birds ever shot in Burgundy, and an
Alpine eagle caught in the Jura. Gourdon also possessed a collection
of lepidoptera,--a word which led society to hope for monstrosities,
and to say, when it saw them, "Why, they are only butterflies!"
Besides these things he had a fine array of fossil shells, mostly the
collections of his friends which they bequeathed to him, and all the
minerals of Burgundy and the Jura.
These treasures, laid out on shelves with glass doors (the drawers
beneath containing the insects), occupied the whole of the first floor
of the doctor's house, and produced a certain effect through the
oddity of the names on the tickets, the magic effect of the colors,
and the gathering together of so many things which no one pays the
slightest attention to when seen in nature, though much admired under
glass. Society took a regular day to go and look at Monsieur Gourdon's
"I have," he said to all inquirers, "five hundred ornithological
objects, two hundred mammifers, five thousand insects, three thousand
shells, and seven thousand specimens of minerals."
"What patience you have had!" said the ladies.
"One must do something for one's country," replied the collector.
He drew an enormous profit from his carcasses by the mere repetition
of the words, "I have bequeathed everything to the town by my will."
Visitors lauded his philanthropy; the authorities talked of devoting
the second floor of the town hall to the "Gourdon Museum," after the
"I rely upon the gratitude of my fellow-citizens to attach my name to
the gift," he replied; "for I dare not hope they would place a marble
bust of me--"
"It would be the very least we could do for you," they rejoined; "are
you not the glory of our town?"
Thus the man actually came to consider himself one of the celebrities
of Burgundy. The surest incomes are not from consols after all; those
our vanity obtains for us have better security. This man of science
was, to employ Lupin's superlatives, happy! happy!! happy!!!
Gourdon, the clerk of the court, brother of the doctor, was a pitiful
little creature, whose features all gathered about his nose, so that
the nose seemed the point of departure for the forehead, the cheeks,
and the mouth, all of which were connected with it just as the ravines
of a mountain begin at the summit. This pinched little man was thought
to be one of the greatest poets in Burgundy,--a Piron, it was the
fashion to say. The dual merits of the two brothers gave rise to the
remark: "We have the brothers Gourdon at Soulanges--two very
distinguished men; men who could hold their own in Paris."
Devoted to the game of cup-and-ball, the clerk of the court became
possessed by another mania,--that of composing an ode in honor of an
amusement which amounted to a passion in the eighteenth century.
Manias among mediocrats often run in couples. Gourdon junior gave
birth to his poem during the reign of Napoleon. That fact is
sufficient to show the sound and healthy school of poesy to which he
belonged; Luce de Lancival, Parny, Saint-Lambert, Rouche, Vigee,
Andrieux, Berchoux were his heroes. Delille was his god, until the day
when the leading society of Soulanges raised the question as to
whether Gourdon were not superior to Delille; after which the clerk of
the court always called his competitor "Monsieur l'Abbe Delille," with
The poems manufactured between 1780 and 1814 were all of one pattern,
and the one which Gourdon composed upon the Cup-and-Ball will give an
idea of them. They required a certain knack or proficiency in the art.
"The Chorister" is the Saturn of this abortive generation of jocular
poems, all in four cantos or thereabouts, for it was generally
admitted that six would wear the subject threadbare.
Gourdon's poem entitled "Ode to the Cup-and-Ball" obeyed the poetic
rules which governed these works, rules that were invariable in their
application. Each poem contained in the first canto a description of
the "object sung," preceded (as in the case of Gourdon) by a species
of invocation, of which the following is a model:--
I sing the good game that belongeth to all,
The game, be it known, of the Cup and the Ball;
Dear to little and great, to the fools and the wise;
Charming game! where the cure of all tedium lies;
When we toss up the ball on the point of a stick
Palamedus himself might have envied the trick;
O Muse of the Loves and the Laughs and the Games,
Come down and assist me, for, true to your aims,
I have ruled off this paper in syllable squares.
Come, help me--
After explaining the game and describing the handsomest cup-and-balls
recorded in history, after relating what fabulous custom it had
formerly brought to the Singe-Vert and to all dealers in toys and
turned ivories, and finally, after proving that the game attained to
the dignity of statics, Gourdon ended the first canto with the
following conclusion, which will remind the erudite reader of all the
conclusions of the first cantos of all these poems:--
'Tis thus that the arts and the sciences, too,
Find wisdom in things that seemed silly to you.
The second canto, invariably employed to depict the manner of using
"the object," explaining how to exhibit it in society and before
women, and the benefit to be derived therefrom, will be readily
conceived by the friends of this virtuous literature from the
following quotation, which depicts the player going through his
performance under the eyes of his chosen lady:--
Now look at the player who sits in your midst,
On that ivory ball how his sharp eye is fixt;
He waits and he watches with keenest attention,
Its least little movement in all its precision;
The ball its parabola thrice has gone round,
At the end of the string to which it is bound.
Up it goes! but the player his triumph has missed,
For the disc has come down on his maladroit wrist;
But little he cares for the sting of the ball,
A smile from his mistress consoles for it all.
It was this delineation, worthy of Virgil, which first raised a doubt
as to Delille's superiority over Gourdon. The word "disc," contested
by the opinionated Brunet, gave matter for discussions which lasted
eleven months; in fact, until Gourdon the scientist, one evening when
all present were on the point of getting seriously angry, annihilated
the anti-discers by observing:--
"The moon, called a DISC by poets, is undoubtedly a ball."
"How do you know that?" retorted Brunet. "We have never seen but one
The third canto told the regulation story,--in this instance, the
famous anecdote of the cup-and-ball which all the world knows by
heart, concerning a celebrated minister of Louis XVI. According to the
sacred formula delivered by the "Debats" from 1810 to 1814, in praise
of these glorious words, Gourdon's ode "borrowed fresh charms from
poesy to embellish the tale."
The fourth canto summed up the whole, and concluded with these daring
words,--not published, be it remarked, from 1810 to 1814; in fact,
they did not see the light till 1824, after Napoleon's death.
'Twas thus that I sang in the time of alarms.
Oh, if kings would consent to bear no other arms,
And people enjoyed what was best for them all,
The sweet little game of the Cup and the Ball,
Our Burgundy then might be free of all fear,
And return to the good days of Saturn and Rhea.
These fine verses were published in a first and only edition from the
press of Bournier, printer of Ville-aux-Fayes. One hundred
subscribers, in the sum of three francs, guaranteed the dangerous
precedent of immortality to the poem,--a liberality that was all the
greater because these hundred persons had heard the poem from
beginning to end a hundred times over.
Madame Soudry had lately suppressed the cup-and-ball, which usually
lay on a pier-table in the salon and for the last seven years had
given rise to endless quotations, for she finally discovered in the
toy a rival to her own attractions.
As to the author, who boasted of future poems in his desk, it is
enough to quote the terms in which he mentioned to the leading society
of Soulanges a rival candidate for literary honors.
"Have you heard a curious piece of news?" he had said, two years
earlier. "There is another poet in Burgundy! Yes," he added, remarking
the astonishment on all faces, "he comes from Macon. But you could
never imagine the subjects he takes up,--a perfect jumble, absolutely
unintelligible,--lakes, stars, waves, billows! not a single
philosophical image, not even a didactic effort! he is ignorant of the
very meaning of poetry. He calls the sky by its name. He says 'moon,'
bluntly, instead of naming it 'the planet of night.' That's what the
desire to be thought original brings men to," added Gourdon,
mournfully. "Poor young man! A Burgundian, and sing such stuff as
that!--the pity of it! If he had only consulted me, I would have
pointed out to him the noblest of all themes, wine,--a poem to be
called the Baccheide; for which, alas! I now feel myself too old."
This great poet is still ignorant of his finest triumph (though he
owes it to the fact of being a Burgundian), namely, that of living in
the town of Soulanges, so rounded and perfected within itself that it
knows nothing of the modern Pleiades, not even their names.
A hundred Gourdons made poetry under the Empire, and yet they tell us
it was a period that neglected literature! Examine the "Journal de la
Libraire" and you will find poems on the game of draughts, on
backgammon, on tricks with cards, on geography, typography, comedy,
etc.,--not to mention the vaunted masterpieces of Delille on Piety,
Imagination, Conversation; and those of Berchoux on Gastromania and
Dansomania, etc. Who can foresee the chances and changes of taste, the
caprices of fashion, the transformations of the human mind? The
generations as they pass along sweep out of sight the last fragments
of the idols they found on their path and set up other gods,--to be
overthrown like the rest.
Sarcus, a handsome little man with a dapple-gray head, devoted himself
in turn to Themis and to Flora,--in other words, to legislation and a
greenhouse. For the last twelve years he had been meditating a book on
the History of the Institution of Justices of the Peace, "whose
political and judiciary role," he said, "had already passed through
several phases, all derived from the Code of Brumaire, year IV.; and
to-day that institution, so precious to the nation, had lost its power
because the salaries were not in keeping with the importance of its
functions, which ought to be performed by irremovable officials."
Rated in the community as an able man, Sarcus was the accepted
statesman of Madame Soudry's salon; you can readily imagine that he
was the leading bore. They said he talked like a book. Gaubertin
prophesied he would receive the cross of the Legion of honor, but not
until the day when, as Leclercq's successor, he should take his seat
on the benches of the Left Centre.
Guerbet, the collector, a man of parts, a heavy, fat, individual with
a buttery face, a toupet on his bald spot, gold earrings, which were
always in difficulty with his shirt-collar, had the hobby of pomology.
Proud of possessing the finest fruit-garden in the arrondissement, he
gathered his first crops a month later than those of Paris; his hot-
beds supplied him with pine-apples, nectarines, and peas, out of
season. He brought bunches of strawberries to Madame Soudry with pride
when the fruit could be bought for ten sous a basket in Paris.
Soulanges possessed a pharmaceutist named Vermut, a chemist, who was
more of a chemist than Sarcus was a statesman, or Lupin a singer, or
Gourdon the elder a scientist, or his brother a poet. Nevertheless,
the leading society of Soulanges did not take much notice of Vermut,
and the second-class society took none at all. The instinct of the
first may have led them to perceive the real superiority of this
thinker, who said little but smiled at their absurdities so
satirically that they first doubted his capacity and then whispered
tales against it; as for the other class they took no notice of him
one way or the other.
Vermut was the butt of Madame Soudry's salon. No society is complete
without a victim,--without an object to pity, ridicule, despise, and
protect. Vermut, full of his scientific problems, often came with his
cravat untied, his waistcoat unbuttoned, and his little green surtout
The little man, gifted with the patience of a chemist, could not enjoy
(that is the term employed in the provinces to express the abolition
of domestic rule) Madame Vermut,--a charming woman, a lively woman,
capital company (for she could lose forty sous at cards and say
nothing), a woman who railed at her husband, annoyed him with
epigrams, and declared him to be an imbecile unable to distil anything
but dulness. Madame Vermut was one of those women who in the society
of a small town are the life and soul of amusement and who set things
going. She supplied the salt of her little world, kitchen-salt, it is
true; her jokes were somewhat broad, but society forgave them; though
she was capable of saying to the cure Taupin, a man of seventy years
of age, with white hair, "Hold your tongue, my lad."
The miller of Soulanges, possessing an income of fifty thousand
francs, had an only daughter whom Lupin desired for his son Amaury,
since he had lost the hope of marrying him to Gaubertin's daughter.
This miller, a Sarcus-Taupin, was the Nucingen of the little town. He
was supposed to be thrice a millionaire; but he never transacted
business with others, and thought only of grinding his wheat and
keeping a monopoly of it; his most noticeable point was a total
absence of politeness and good manners.
The elder Guerbet, brother of the post-master at Conches, possessed an
income of ten thousand francs, besides his salary as collector. The
Gourdons were rich; the doctor had married the only daughter of old
Monsieur Gendrin-Vatebled, keeper of the forests and streams, whom the
family were now EXPECTING TO DIE, while the poet had married the niece
and sole heiress of the Abbe Taupin, the curate of Soulanges, a stout
priest who lived in his cure like a rat in his cheese.
This clever ecclesiastic, devoted to the leading society, kind and
obliging to the second, apostolic to the poor and unfortunate, made
himself beloved by the whole town. He was cousin of the miller and
cousin of the Sarcuses, and belonged therefore to the neighborhood and
to its mediocracy. He always dined out and saved expenses; he went to
weddings but came away before the ball; he paid the costs of public
worship, saying, "It is my business." And the parish let him do it,
with the remark, "We have an excellent priest." The bishop, who knew
the Soulanges people and was not at all misled as to the true value of
the abbe, was glad enough to keep in such a town a man who made
religion acceptable, and who knew how to fill his church and preach to
It is unnecessary to remark that not only each of these worthy
burghers possessed some one of the special qualifications which are
necessary to existence in the provinces, but also that each cultivated
his field in the domain of vanity without a rival. Pere Guerbet
understood finance, Soudry might have been minister of war; if Cuvier
had passed that way incognito, the leading society of Soulanges would
have proved to him that he knew nothing in comparison with Monsieur
Gourdon the doctor. "Adolphe Nourrit with his thread of a voice,"
remarked the notary with patronizing indulgence, "was scarcely worthy
to accompany the nightingale of Soulanges." As to the author of the
"Cup-and-Ball" (which was then being printed at Bournier's), society
was satisfied that a poet of his force could not be met with in Paris,
for Delille was now dead.
This provincial bourgeoisie, so comfortably satisfied with itself,
took the lead through the various superiorities of its members.
Therefore the imagination of those who ever resided, even for a short
time, in a little town of this kind can conceive the air of profound
satisfaction upon the faces of these people, who believed themselves
the solar plexus of France, all of them armed with incredible
dexterity and shrewdness to do mischief,--all, in their wisdom,
declaring that the hero of Essling was a coward, Madame de Montcornet
a manoeuvring Parisian, and the Abbe Brossette an ambitious little
If Rigou, Soudry, and Gaubertin had lived at Ville-aux-Fayes, they
would have quarrelled; their various pretensions would have clashed;
but fate ordained that the Lucullus of Blangy felt too strongly the
need of solitude, in which to wallow at his ease in usury and
sensuality, to live anywhere but at Blangy; that Madame Soudry had
sense enough to see that she could reign nowhere else except at
Soulanges; and that Ville-aux-Fayes was Gaubertin's place of business.
Those who enjoy studying social nature will admit that General
Montcornet was pursued by special ill-luck in this accidental
separation of his dangerous enemies, who thus accomplished the
evolutions of their individual power and vanity at such distances from
each other that neither star interfered with the orbit of the other,--
a fact which doubled and trebled their powers of mischief.
Nevertheless, though all these worthy bourgeois, proud of their
accomplishments, considered their society as far superior in
attractions to that of Ville-aux-Fayes, and repeated with comic
pomposity the local dictum, "Soulanges is a town of society and social
pleasures," it must not be supposed that Ville-aux-Fayes accepted this
supremacy. The Gaubertin salon ridiculed ("in petto") the salon
Soudry. By the manner in which Gaubertin remarked, "We are a financial
community, engaged in actual business; we have the folly to fatigue
ourselves in making fortunes," it was easy to perceive a latent
antagonism between the earth and the moon. The moon believed herself
useful to the earth, and the earth governed the moon. Earth and moon,
however, lived in the closest intimacy. At the carnival the leading
society of Soulanges went in a body to four balls given by Gaubertin,
Gendrin, Leclercq, and Soudry, junior. Every Sunday the latter, his
wife, Monsieur, Madame, and Mademoiselle Elise Gaubertin dined with
the Soudrys at Soulanges. When the sub-prefect was invited, and when
the postmaster of Conches arrived to take pot-luck, Soulanges enjoyed
the sight of four official equipages drawn up at the door of the
THE CONSPIRATORS IN THE QUEEN'S SALON
Reaching Soulanges about half-past five o'clock, Rigou was sure of
finding the usual party assembled at the Soudrys'. There, as
everywhere else in town, the dinner-hour was three o'clock, according
to the custom of the last century. From five to nine the notables of
Soulanges met in Madame Soudry's salon to exchange the news, make
their political speeches, comment upon the private lives of every one
in the valley, and talk about Les Aigues, which latter topic kept the
conversation going for at least an hour every day. It was everybody's
business to learn at least something of what was going on, and also to
pay their court to the mistress of the house.
After this preliminary talk they played at boston, the only game the
queen understood. When the fat old Guerbet had mimicked Madame Isaure,
Gaubertin's wife, laughed at her languishing airs, imitated her thin
voice, her pinched mouth, and her juvenile ways; when the Abbe Taupin
had related one of the tales of his repertory; when Lupin had told of
some event at Ville-aux-Fayes, and Madame Soudry had been deluged with
compliments ad nauseum, the company would say: "We have had a charming
game of boston."
Too self-indulgent to be at the trouble of driving over to the
Soudrys' merely to hear the vapid talk of its visitors and to see a
Parisian monkey in the guise of an old woman, Rigou, far superior in
intelligence and education to this petty society, never made his
appearance unless business brought him over to meet the notary. He
excused himself from visiting on the ground of his occupations, his
habits, and his health, which latter did not allow him, he said, to
return at night along a road which led by the foggy banks of the
The tall, stiff usurer always had an imposing effect upon Madame
Soudry's company, who instinctively recognized in his nature the
cruelty of the tiger with steel claws, the craft of a savage, the
wisdom of one born in a cloister and ripened by the sun of gold,--a
man to whom Gaubertin had never yet been willing to fully commit
The moment the little green carriole and the bay horse passed the Cafe
de la Paix, Urbain, Soudry's man-servant, who was seated on a bench
under the dining-room windows, and was gossipping with the tavern-
keeper, shades his eyes with his hand to see who was coming.
"It's Pere Rigou," he said. "I must go round and open the door. Take
his horse, Socquard." And Urbain, a former trooper, who could not get
into the gendarmerie and had therefore taken service with Soudry, went
round the house to open the gates of the courtyard.
Socquard, a famous personage throughout the valley, was treated, as
you see, with very little ceremony by the valet. But so it is with
many illustrious people who are so kind as to walk and to sneeze and
to sleep and to eat precisely like common mortals.
Socquard, born a Hercules, could carry a weight of eleven hundred
pounds; a blow of his fist applied on a man's back would break the
vertebral column in two; he could bend an iron bar, or hold back a
carriage drawn by one horse. A Milo of Crotona in the valley, his fame
had spread throughout the department, where all sorts of foolish
stories were current about him, as about all celebrities. It was told
how he had once carried a poor woman and her donkey and her basket on
his back to market; how he had been known to eat a whole ox and drink
the fourth of a hogshead of wine in one day, etc. Gentle as a
marriageable girl, Socquard, who was a stout, short man, with a placid
face, broad shoulders, and a deep chest, where his lungs played like
the bellows of a forge, possessed a flute-like voice, the limpid tones
of which surprised all those who heard them for the first time.
Like Tonsard, whose renown released him from the necessity of giving
proofs of his ferocity, in fact, like all other men who are backed by
public opinion of one kind or another, Socquard never displayed his
extraordinary muscular force unless asked to do so by friends. He now
took the horse as the usurer drew up at the steps of the portico.
"Are you all well at home, Monsieur Rigou?" said the illustrious
"Pretty well, my good friend," replied Rigou. "Do Plissoud and
Bonnebault and Viollet and Amaury still continue good customers?"
This question, uttered in a tone of good-natured interest, was by no
means one of those empty speeches which superiors are apt to bestow
upon inferiors. In his leisure moments Rigou thought over the smallest
details of "the affair," and Fourchon had already warned him that
there was something suspicious in the intimacy between Plissoud,
Bonnebault, and the brigadier, Viollet.
Bonnebault, in payment of a few francs lost at cards, might very
likely tell the secrets he heard at Tonsard's to Viollet; or he might
let them out over his punch without realizing the importance of such
gossip. But as the information of the old otter man might be
instigated by thirst, Rigou paid no attention except so far as it
concerned Plissoud, whose situation was likely to inspire him with a
desire to counteract the coalition against Les Aigues, if only to get
his paws greased by one or the other of the two parties.
Plissoud combined with his duties of under-sheriff other occupations
which were poorly remunerated, that of agent of insurance (a new form
of enterprise just beginning to show itself in France), agent, also,
of a society providing against the chances of recruitment. His
insufficient pay and a love of billiards and boiled wine made his
future doubtful. Like Fourchon, he cultivated the art of doing
nothing, and expected his fortune through some lucky but problematic
chance. He hated the leading society, but he had measured its power.
He alone knew the middle-class coalition organized by Gaubertin to its
depths; and he continued to sneer at the rich men of Soulanges and
Ville-aux-Fayes, as if he alone represented the opposition. Without
money and not respected, he did not seem a person to be feared
professionally, and so Brunet, glad to have a despised competitor,
protected him and helped him along, to prevent him selling his
business to some eager young man, like Bonnac for instance, who might
force him, Brunet, to divide the patronage of the canton between them.
"Thanks to those fellows, we keep the ball a-rolling," said Socquard.
"But folks are trying to imitate my boiled wine."
"Sue them," said Rigou, sententiously.
"That would lead too far," replied the innkeeper.
"Do your clients get on well together?"
"Tolerably, yes; sometimes they'll have a row, but that's only natural
All heads were at the window of the Soudry salon which looked to the
square. Recognizing the father of his daughter-in-law, Soudry came to
the portico to receive him.
"Well, comrade," said the mayor of Soulanges, "is Annette ill, that
you give us your company of an evening?"
Through an old habit acquired in the gendarmerie Soudry always went
direct to the point.
"No,-- There's trouble brewing," replied Rigou, touching his right
fore-finger to the hand which Soudry held out to him. "I came to talk
about it, for it concerns our children in a way--"
Soudry, a handsome man dressed in blue, as though he were still a
gendarme, with a black collar, and spurs at his heels, took Rigou by
the arm and led him up to his imposing better-half. The glass door to
the terrace was open, and the guests were walking about enjoying the
summer evening, which brought out the full beauty of the glorious
landscape which we have already described.
"It is a long time since we have seen you, my dear Rigou," said Madame
Soudry, taking the arm of the ex-Benedictine and leading him out upon
"My digestion is so troublesome!" he replied; "see! my color is almost
as high as yours."
Rigou's appearance on the terrace was the sign for an explosion of
jovial greetings on the part of the assembled company.
"And how may the lord of Blangy be?" said little Sarcus, justice of
"Lord!" replied Rigou, bitterly, "I am not even cock of my own village
"The hens don't say so, scamp!" exclaimed Madame Soudry, tapping her
fan on his arm.
"All well, my dear master?" said the notary, bowing to his chief
"Pretty well," replied Rigou, again putting his fore-finger into his
This gesture, by which Rigou kept down the process of hand-shaking to
the coldest and stiffest of demonstrations would have revealed the
whole man to any observer who did not already know him.
"Let us find a corner where we can talk quietly," said the ex-monk,
looking at Lupin and at Madame Soudry.
"Let us return to the salon," replied the queen.
"What has the Shopman done now?" asked Soudry, sitting down beside his
wife and putting his arm about her waist.
Madame Soudry, like other old women, forgave a great deal in return
for such public marks of tenderness.
"Why," said Rigou, in a low voice, to set an example of caution, "he
has gone to the Prefecture to demand the enforcement of the penalties;
he wants the help of the authorities."
"Then he's lost," said Lupin, rubbing his hands; "the peasants will
"Fight!" cried Soudry, "that depends. If the prefect and the general,
who are friends, send a squadron of cavalry the peasants can't fight.
They might at a pinch get the better of the gendarmes, but as for
resisting a charge of cavalry!--"
"Sibilet heard him say something much more dangerous than that," said
Rigou; "and that's what brings me here."
"Oh, my poor Sophie!" cried Madame Soudry, sentimentally, alluding to
her FRIEND, Mademoiselle Laguerre, "into what hands Les Aigues has
fallen! This is what we have gained by the Revolution!--a parcel of
swaggering epaulets! We might have foreseen that whenever the bottle
was turned upside down the dregs would spoil the wine!"
"He means to go to Paris and cabal with the Keeper of the Seals and
others to get the whole judiciary changed down here," said Rigou.
"Ha!" cried Lupin, "then he sees his danger."
"If they appoint my son-in-law attorney-general we can't help
ourselves; the general will get him replaced by some Parisian devoted
to his interests," continued Rigou. "If he gets a place in Paris for
Gendrin and makes Guerbet chief-justice of the court at Auxerre, he'll
knock down our skittles! The gendarmerie is on his side now, and if he
gets the courts as well, and keeps such advisers as the abbe and
Michaud we sha'n't dance at the wedding; he'll play us some scurvy
trick or other."
"How is it that in all these five years you have never managed to get
rid of that abbe?" said Lupin.
"You don't know him; he's as suspicious as a blackbird," replied
Rigou. "He is not a man at all, that priest; he doesn't care for
women; I can't find out that he has any passion; there's no point at
which one can attack him. The general lays himself open by his temper.
A man with a vice is the servant of his enemies if they know how to
pull its string. There are no strong men but those who lead their
vices instead of being led by them. The peasants are all right; their
hatred against the abbe keeps up; but we can do nothing as yet. He's
like Michaud, in his way; such men are too good for this world,--God
ought to call them to himself."
"It would be a good plan to find some pretty servant-girl to scrub his
staircase," remarked Madame Soudry. The words caused Rigou to give the
little jump with which crafty natures recognize the craft of others.
"The Shopman has another vice," he said; "he loves his wife; we might
get hold of him that way."
"We ought to find out how far she really influences him," said Madame
"There's the rub!" said Lupin.
"As for you, Lupin," said Rigou, in a tone of authority, "be off to
the Prefecture and see the beautiful Madame Sarcus at once! You must
get her to tell you all the Shopman says and does at the Prefecture."
"Then I shall have to stay all night," replied Lupin.
"So much the better for Sarcus the rich; he'll be the gainer," said
Rigou. "She is not yet out of date, Madame Sarcus--"
"Oh! Monsieur Rigou," said Madame Soudry, in a mincing tone, "are
women ever out of date?"
"You may be right about Madame Sarcus; she doesn't paint before the
glass," retorted Rigou, who was always disgusted by the exhibition of
the Cochet's ancient charms.
Madame Soudry, who thought she used only a "suspicion" of rouge, did
not perceive the sarcasm and hastened to say:--
"Is it possible that women paint?"
"Now, Lupin," said Rigou, without replying to this naivete, "go over
to Gaubertin's to-morrow morning. Tell him that my fellow-mayor and I"
(striking Soudry on the thigh) "will break bread with him at breakfast
somewhere about midday. Tell him everything, so that we may all have
thought it over before we meet, for now's the time to make an end of
that damned Shopman. As I drove over here I came to the conclusion it
would be best to get up a quarrel between the courts and him, so that
the Keeper of the Seals would be wary of making the changes he may ask
in their members."
"Bravo for the son of the Church!" cried Lupin, slapping Rigou on the
Madame Soudry was here struck by an idea which could come only to a
former waiting-maid of an Opera divinity.
"If," she said, "one could only get the Shopman to the fete at
Soulanges, and throw some fine girl in his way who would turn his
head, we could easily set his wife against him by letting her know
that the son of an upholsterer has gone back to the style of his early
"Ah, my beauty!" said Soudry, "you have more sense in your head than
the Prefecture of police in Paris."
"That's an idea which proves that Madame reigns by mind as well as by
beauty," said Lupin, who was rewarded by a grimace which the leading
society of Soulanges were in the habit of accepting without protest
for a smile.
"One might do better still," said Rigou, after some thought; "if we
could only turn it into a downright scandal."
"Complaint and indictment! affair in the police court!" cried Lupin.
"Oh! that would be grand!"
"Glorious!" said Soudry, candidly. "What happiness to see the Comte de
Montcornet, grand cross of the Legion of honor, commander of the Order
of Saint Louis, and lieutenant-general, accused of having attempted,
in a public resort, the virtue--just think of it!"
"He loves his wife too well," said Lupin, reflectively. "He couldn't
be got to that."
"That's no obstacle," remarked Rigou; "but I don't know a single girl
in the whole arrondissement who is capable of making a sinner of a
saint. I have been looking out for one for the abbe."
"What do you say to that handsome Gatienne Giboulard, of Auxerre, whom
Sarcus, junior, is mad after?" asked Lupin.
"That's the only one," answered Rigou, "but she is not suitable; she
thinks she has only to be seen to be admired; she's not complying
enough; we want a witch and a sly-boots, too. Never mind, the right
one will turn up sooner or later."
"Yes," said Lupin, "the more pretty girls he sees the greater the
"But perhaps you can't get the Shopman to the fair," said the ex-
gendarme. "And if he does come, will he go to the Tivoli ball?"
"The reason that has always kept him away from the fair doesn't exist
this year, my love," said Madame Soudry.
"What reason, dearest?" asked Soudry.
"The Shopman wanted to marry Mademoiselle de Soulanges," said the
notary. "The family replied that she was too young, and that mortified
him. That is why Monsieur de Soulanges and Monsieur de Montcornet, two
old friends who both served in the Imperial Guard, are so cool to each
other that they never speak. The Shopman doesn't want to meet the
Soulanges at the fair; but this year the family are not coming."
Usually the Soulanges party stayed at the chateau from July to
October, but the general was then in command of the artillery in
Spain, under the Duc d'Angouleme, and the countess had accompanied
him. At the siege of Cadiz the Comte de Soulanges obtained, as every
one knows, the marshal's baton, which he kept till 1826.
"Very true," cried Lupin. "Well, it is for you, papa," he added,
addressing Rigou, "to manoeuvre the matter so that we can get him to
the fair; once there, we ought to be able to entrap him."
The fair of Soulanges, which takes place on the 15th of August, is one
of the features of the town, and carries the palm over all other fairs
in a circuit of sixty miles, even those of the capital of the
department. Ville-aux-Fayes has no fair, for its fete-day, the Saint-
Sylvestre, happens in winter.
From the 12th to the 15th of August all sorts of merchants abounded at
Soulanges, and set up their booths in two parallel lines, two rows of
the well-known gray linen huts, which gave a lively appearance to the
usually deserted streets. The two weeks of the fair brought in a sort
of harvest to the little town, for the festival has the authority and
prestige of tradition. The peasants, as old Fourchon said, flocked in
from the districts to which labor bound them for the rest of the year.
The wonderful show on the counters of the improvised shops, the
collection of all sorts of merchandise, the coveted objects of the
wants or the vanities of these sons of the soil, who have no other
shows or exhibitions to enjoy exercise a periodical seduction over the
minds of all, especially the women and children. So, after the first
of August the authorities posted advertisements signed by Soudry,
throughout the whole arrondissement, offering protection to merchants,
jugglers, mountebanks, prodigies of all kinds, and stating how long
the fair would last, and what would be its principal attractions.
On these posters, about which it will be remembered Madame Tonsard
inquired of Vermichel, there was always, on the last line, the
"Tivoli will be illuminated with colored-glass lamps."
The town had adopted as the place for public a dance-ground created by
Socquard out of a stony garden (stony, like the rest of the hill on
which Soulanges is built, where the gardens are of made land), and
called by him a Tivoli. This character of the soil explains the
peculiar flavor of the Soulanges wine,--a white wine, dry and
spirituous, very like Madeira or the Vouvray wine, or Johannisberger,
--three vintages which resemble one another.
The powerful effect produced by the Socquard ball upon the
imaginations of the whole country-side made the inhabitants thereof
very proud of their Tivoli. Such as had ventured as far as Paris
declared that the Parisian Tivoli was superior to that of Soulanges
only in size. Gaubertin boldly declared that, for his part, he
preferred the Socquard ball to the Parisian ball.
"Well, we'll think it all over," continued Rigou. "That Parisian
fellow, the editor of a newspaper, will soon get tired of his present
amusement and be glad of a change; perhaps we could through the
servants give him the idea of coming to the fair, and he'd bring the
others; I'll consider it. Sibilet might--although, to be sure, his
influence is devilishly decreased of late--but he might get the
general to think he could curry popularity by coming."
"Find out if the beautiful countess keeps the general at arm's
length," said Lupin; "that's the point if you want him to fall into
the farce at Tivoli."
"That little woman," cried Madame Soudry, "is too much of a Parisian
not to know how to run with the hare and hold with the hounds."
"Fourchon has got his granddaughter Catherine on good terms, he tells
me, with Charles, the Shopman's groom. That gives us one ear more in
Les Aigues--Are you sure of the Abbe Taupin," he added, as the priest
entered the room from the terrace.
"We hold him and the Abbe Mouchon, too, just as I hold Soudry," said
the queen, stroking her husband's chin; "you are not unhappy, dearest,
are you?" she said to Soudry.
"If I can plan a scandal against that Tartufe of a Brossette we can
win," said Rigou, in a low voice. "But I am not sure if the local
spirit can succeed against the Church spirit. You don't realize what
that is. I, myself, who am no fool, I can't say what I'll do when I
fall ill. I believe I shall try to be reconciled with the Church."
"Suffer me to hope it," said the Abbe Taupin, for whose benefit Rigou
had raised his voice on the last words.
"Alas! the wrong I did in marrying prevents it," replied Rigou. "I
cannot kill off Madame Rigou."
"Meantime, let us think of Les Aigues," said Madame Soudry.
"Yes," said the ex-monk. "Do you know, I begin to think that our
associate at Ville-aux-Fayes may be cleverer than the rest of us. I
fancy that Gaubertin wants Les Aigues for himself, and that he means
to trick us in the end."
"But Les Aigues will not belong to any one of us; it will have to come
down, from roof to cellar," said Soudry.
"I shouldn't be surprised if there were treasure buried in those
cellars," observed Rigou, cleverly.
"Well, in the wars of the olden time the great lords, who were often
besieged and surprised, did bury their gold until they should be able
to recover it; and you know that the Marquis de Soulanges-Hautemer (in
whom the younger branch came to an end) was one of the victims of the
Biron conspiracy. The Comtesse de Moret received the property from
Henri IV. when it was confiscated."
"See what it is to know the history of France!" said Soudry. "You are
right. It is time to come to an understanding with Gaubertin."
"If he shirks," said Rigou, "we must smoke him out."
"He is rich enough now," said Lupin, "to be an honest man."
"I'll answer for him as I would for myself," said Madame Soudry; "he's
the most loyal man in the kingdom."
"We all believe in his loyalty," said Rigou, "but nevertheless nothing
should be neglected, even among friends-- By the bye, I think there is
some one in Soulanges who is hindering matters."
"Who's that?" asked Soudry.
"Plissoud," replied Rigou.
"Plissoud!" exclaimed Soudry. "Poor fool! Brunet holds him by the
halter, and his wife by the gullet; ask Lupin."
"What can he do?" said Lupin.
"He means to warn Montcornet," replied Rigou, "and get his influence
and a place--"
"It wouldn't bring him more than his wife earns for him at Soulanges,"
said Madame Soudry.
"He tells everything to his wife when he is drunk," remarked Lupin.
"We shall know it all in good time."
"The beautiful Madame Plissoud has no secrets from you," said Rigou;
"we may be easy about that."
"Besides, she's as stupid as she is beautiful," said Madame Soudry. "I
wouldn't change with her; for if I were a man I'd prefer an ugly woman
who has some mind, to a beauty who can't say two words."
"Ah!" said the notary, biting his lips, "but she can make others say
"Puppy!" cried Rigou, as he made for the door.
"Well, then," said Soudry, following him to the portico, "to-morrow,
"I'll come and fetch you-- Ha! Lupin," he said to the notary, who came
out with him to order his horse, "try to make sure that Madame Sarcus
hears all the Shopman says and does against us at the Prefecture."
"If she doesn't hear it, who will?" replied Lupin.
"Excuse me," said Rigou, smiling blandly, "but there are such a lot of
ninnies in there that I forgot there was one clever man."
"The wonder is that I don't grow rusty among them," replied Lupin,
"Is it true that Soudry has hired a pretty servant?"
"Yes," replied Lupin; "for the last week our worthy mayor has set the
charms of his wife in full relief by comparing her with a little
peasant-girl about the age of an old ox; and we can't yet imagine how
he settles it with Madame Soudry, for, would you believe it, he has
the audacity to go to bed early."
"I'll find out to-morrow," said the village Sardanapalus, trying to
The two plotters shook hands as they parted.
Rigou, who did not like to be on the road after dark for,
notwithstanding his present popularity, he was cautious, called to his
horse, "Get up, Citizen,"--a joke this son of 1793 was fond of letting
fly at the Revolution. Popular revolutions have no more bitter enemies
than those they have trained themselves.
"Pere Rigou's visits are pretty short," said Gourdon the poet to
"They are pleasant, if they are short," she answered.
"Like his own life," said the doctor; "his abuse of pleasures will cut
"So much the better," remarked Soudry, "my son will step into the
"Did he bring you any news about Les Aigues?" asked the Abbe Taupin.
"Yes, my dear abbe," said Madame Soudry. "Those people are the scourge
of the neighborhood. I can't comprehend how it is that Madame de
Montcornet, who is certainly a well-bred woman, doesn't understand
their interests better."
"And yet she has a model before her eyes," said the abbe.
"Who is that?" asked Madame Soudry, smirking.
"Ah, yes!" replied the queen after a pause.
"Here I am!" cried Madame Vermut, coming into the room; "and without
my re-active,--for Vermut is so inactive in all that concerns me that
I can't call him an active of any kind."
"What the devil is that cursed old Rigou doing there?" said Soudry to
Guerbet, as they saw the green chaise stop before the gate of the
Tivoli. "He is one of those tiger-cats whose every step has an
"You may well say cursed," replied the fat little collector.
"He has gone into the Cafe de la Paix," remarked Gourdon, the doctor.
"And there's some trouble there," added Gourdon the poet; "I can hear
them yelping from here."
"That cafe," said the abbe, "is like the temple of Janus; it was
called the Cafe de la Guerre under the Empire, and then it was peace
itself; the most respectable of the bourgeoisie met there for