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Sons of the Soil by Honore de Balzac

Part 7 out of 7

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"My dear fellow," said Blondet, "now I understand the enormous number
of DEAD trees that I noticed this morning from the terrace of the
chateau, and which brought me here to find out the cause of the
phenomenon. Worms are at work; but they are no other than your

The bailiff gave vent to an oath and rushed off, followed by Blondet,
to rejoin the countess, whom he requested to take his wife home with
her. Then he jumped on Joseph's horse, leaving the man to return on
foot, and disappeared with great rapidity to cut off the retreat of
the woman who had killed his dog, hoping to catch her with the bloody
bill-hook in her hand and the tool used to make the incisions in the
bark of the tree.

"Let us go and tell the general at once, before he breakfasts," cried
the countess; "he might die of anger."

"I'll prepare him," said Blondet.

"They have killed the dog," said Olympe, in tears.

"You loved the poor greyhound, dear, enough to weep for him?" said the

"I think of Prince as a warning; I fear some danger to my husband."

"How they have ruined this beautiful morning for us," said the
countess, with an adorable little pout.

"How they have ruined the country," said Olympe, gravely.

They met the general near the chateau.

"Where have you been?" he asked.

"You shall know in a minute," said Blondet, mysteriously, as he helped
the countess and Madame Michaud to alight. A moment more and the two
gentlemen were alone on the terrace of the apartments.

"You have plenty of moral strength, general; you won't put yourself in
a passion, will you?"

"No," said the general; "but come to the point or I shall think you
are making fun of me."

"Do you see those trees with dead leaves?"


"Do you see those others that are wilting?"


"Well, every one of them has been killed by the peasants you think you
have won over by your benefits."

And Blondet related the events of the morning.

The general was so pale that Blondet was frightened.

"Come, curse, swear, be furious! your self-control may hurt you more
than anger!"

"I'll go and smoke," said the general, turning toward the kiosk.

During breakfast Michaud came in; he had found no one. Sibilet, whom
the count had sent for, came also.

"Monsieur Sibilet, and you, Monsieur Michaud, are to make it known,
cautiously, that I will pay a thousand francs to whoever will arrest
IN THE ACT the person or persons who are killing my trees; they must
also discover the instrument with which the work is done, and where it
was bought. I have settled upon a plan."

"Those people never betray one another," said Sibilet, "if the crime
done is for their benefit and premeditated. There is no denying that
this diabolical business has been planned, carefully planned and

"Yes, but a thousand francs means a couple of acres of land."

"We can try," said Sibilet; "fifteen hundred francs might buy you a
traitor, especially if you promise secrecy."

"Very good; but let us act as if we suspected nothing, I especially;
if not, we shall be the victims of some collusion; one has to be as
wary with these brigands as with the enemy in war."

"But the enemy is here," said Blondet.

Sibilet threw him the furtive glance of a man who understood the
meaning of the words, and then he withdrew.

"I don't like your Sibilet," said Blondet, when he had seen the
steward leave the house. "That man is playing false."

"Up to this time he has done nothing I could complain of," said the

Blondet went off to write letters. He had lost the careless gayety of
his first arrival, and was now uneasy and preoccupied; but he had no
vague presentiments like those of Madame Michaud; he was, rather, in
full expectation of certain foreseen misfortunes. He said to himself,
"This affair will come to some bad end; and if the general does not
take decisive action and will not abandon a battle-field where he is
overwhelmed by numbers there must be a catastrophe; and who knows who
will come out safe and sound,--perhaps neither he nor his wife. Good
God! that adorable little creature! so devoted, so perfect! how can he
expose her thus! He thinks he loves her! Well, I'll share their
danger, and if I can't save them I'll suffer with them."



That night Marie Tonsard was stationed on the road to Soulanges,
sitting on the rail of a culvert waiting for Bonnebault, who had spent
the day, as usual, at the Cafe de la Paix. She heard him coming at
some distance, and his step told her that he was drunk, and she knew
also that he had lost money, for he always sang if he won.

"Is that you, Bonnebault?"

"Yes, my girl."

"What's the matter?"

"I owe twenty-five francs, and they may wring my neck twenty-five
times before I can pay them."

"Well, I know how you can get five hundred," she said in his ear.

"Oh! by killing a man; but I prefer to live."

"Hold your tongue. Vaudoyer will give us five hundred francs if you
will let him catch your mother at a tree."

"I'd rather kill a man than sell my mother. There's your old
grandmother; why don't you sell her?"

"If I tried to, my father would get angry and stop the trick."

"That's true. Well, anyhow, my mother sha'n't go to prison, poor old
thing! She cooks my food and keeps me in clothes, I'm sure I don't
know how. Go to prison,--and through me! I shouldn't have any bowels
within me; no, no! And for fear any one else should sell her, I'll
tell her this very night not to kill any more trees."

"Well, my father may say and do what he likes, but I shall tell him
there are five hundred francs to be had, and perhaps he'll ask my
grandmother if she'll earn them. They'll never put an old woman
seventy-eight years of age in prison,--though, to be sure, she'd be
better off there than in her garret."

"Five hundred francs! well, yes; I'll speak to my mother," said
Bonnebault, "and if it suits her to give 'em to me, I'll let her have
part to take to prison. She could knit, and amuse herself; and she'd
be well fed and lodged, and have less trouble than she has at Conches.
Well, to-morrow, my girl, I'll see you about it; I haven't time to
stop now."

The next morning at daybreak Bonnebault and his old mother knocked at
the door of the Grand-I-Vert. Mother Tonsard was the only person up.

"Marie!" called Bonnebault, "that matter is settled."

"You mean about the trees?" said Mother Tonsard; "yes, it is all
settled; I've taken it."

"Nonsense!" cried Mother Bonnebault, "my son has got the promise of an
acre of land from Monsieur Rigou--"

The two old women squabbled as to which of them should be sold by her
children. The noise of the quarrel woke up the household. Tonsard and
Bonnebault took sides for their respective mothers.

"Pull straws," suggested Tonsard's wife.

The short straw gave it in favor of the tavern.

Three days later, in the forest of Ville-aux-Fayes at daybreak, the
gendarmes arrested old Mother Tonsard caught "in flagrante delicto" by
the bailiff, his assistants, and the field-keeper, with a rusty file
which served to tear the tree, and a chisel, used by the delinquent to
scoop round the bark just as the insect bores its way. The indictment
stated that sixty trees thus destroyed were found within a radius of
five hundred feet. The old woman was sent to Auxerre, the case coming
under the jurisdiction of the assize-court.

Michaud could not refrain from saying when he discovered Mother
Tonsard at the foot of the tree: "These are the persons on whom the
general and Madame la comtesse have showered benefits! Faith, if
Madame would only listen to me, she wouldn't give that dowry to the
Tonsard girl, who is more worthless than her grandmother."

The old woman raised her gray eyes and darted a venomous look at
Michaud. When the count learned who the guilty person was, he forbade
his wife to give the money to Catherine Tonsard.

"Monsieur le comte is perfectly right," said Sibilet. "I know that
Godain bought that land three days before Catherine came to speak to
Madame. She is quite capable, that girl, of pretending she is with
child, to get the money; very likely Godain has had nothing to do with

"What a community!" said Blondet; "the scoundrels of Paris are saints
by comparison."

"Ah, monsieur," said Sibilet, "self-interest makes people guilty of
horrors everywhere. Do you know who betrayed the old woman?"


"Her granddaughter Marie; she was jealous of her sister's marriage,
and to get the money for her own--"

"It is awful!" said the count. "Why! they'd murder!"

"Oh yes," said Sibilet, "for a very small sum. They care so little for
life, those people; they hate to have to work all their lives. Ah
monsieur, queer things happen in country places, as queer as those of
Paris,--but you will never believe it."

"Let us be kind and benevolent," said the countess.

The evening after the arrest Bonnebault came to the tavern of the
Grand-I-Vert, where all the Tonsard family were in great jubilation.
"Oh yes, yes!" said he, "make the most of your rejoicing; but I've
just heard from Vaudoyer that the countess, to punish you, withdraws
the thousand francs promised to Godain; her husband won't let her give

"It's that villain of a Michaud who has put him up to it," said
Tonsard. "My mother heard him say he would; she told me at Ville-aux-
Fayes where I went to carry her some money and her clothes. Well; let
that countess keep her money! our five hundred francs shall help
Godain buy the land; and we'll revenge ourselves for this thing. Ha!
Michaud meddles with our private matters, does he? it will bring him
more harm than good. What business is it of his, I'd like to know? let
him keep to the woods! It's he who is at the bottom of all this
trouble--he found the clue that day my mother cut the throat of his
dog. Suppose I were to meddle in the affairs of the chateau? Suppose I
were to tell the general that his wife is off walking in the woods
before he is up in the morning, with a young man."

"The general, the general!" sneered Courtecuisse; "they can do what
they like with him. But it's Michaud who stirs him up, the mischief-
maker! a fellow who don't know his business; in my day, things went

"Ah!" said Tonsard, "those were the good days for all of us--weren't
they, Vaudoyer?"

"Yes," said the latter, "and the fact is that if Michaud were got rid
of we should be left in peace."

"Enough said," replied Tonsard. "We'll talk of this later--by
moonlight--in the open field."

Towards the end of October the countess returned to Paris, leaving the
general at Les Aigues. He was not to rejoin her till some time later,
but she did not wish to lose the first night of the Italian Opera, and
moreover she was lonely and bored; she missed Emile, who was recalled
by his avocations, for he had helped her to pass the hours when the
general was scouring the country or attending to business.

November was a true winter month, gray and gloomy, a mixture of snow
and rain, frost and thaw. The trial of Mother Tonsard had required
witnesses at Auxerre, and Michaud had given his testimony. Monsieur
Rigou had interested himself for the old woman, and employed a lawyer
on her behalf who relied in his defence on the absence of
disinterested witnesses; but the testimony of Michaud and his
assistants and the field-keeper was found to outweigh this objection.
Tonsard's mother was sentenced to five years' imprisonment, and the
lawyer said to her son:--

"It was Michaud's testimony which got her that."



One Saturday evening, Courtecuisse, Bonnebault, Godain, Tonsard, his
daughters, wife, and Pere Fourchon, also Vaudoyer and several
mechanics were supping at the tavern. The moon was at half-full, the
first snow had melted, and frost had just stiffened the ground so that
a man's step left no traces. They were eating a stew of hare caught in
a trap; all were drinking and laughing. It was the day after the
wedding of Catherine and Godain, and the wedded pair were to be
conducted to their new home, which was not far from that of
Courtecuisse; for when Rigou sold an acre of land it was sure to be
isolated and close to the woods. Courtecuisse and Vaudoyer had brought
their guns to accompany the bride. The neighborhood was otherwise fast
asleep; not a light was to be seen; none but the wedding party were
awake, but they made noise enough. In the midst of it the old
Bonnebault woman entered, and every one looked at her.

"I think she is going to lie-in," she whispered in Tonsard's ear. "HE
has saddled his horse and is going for the doctor at Soulanges."

"Sit down," said Tonsard, giving her his place at the table, and going
himself to lie on a bench.

Just then the gallop of a horse passing rapidly along the road was
heard. Tonsard, Courtecuisse, and Vaudoyer went out hurriedly, and saw
Michaud on his way to the village.

"He knows what he's about," said Courtecuisse; "he came down by the
terrace and he means to go by Blangy and the road,--it's the safest

"Yes," said Tonsard, "but he will bring the doctor back with him."

"He won't find him," said Courtecuisse, "the doctor has been sent for
to Conches for the postmistress."

"Then he'll go from Soulanges to Conches by the mail-road; that's

"And safest too, for us," said Courtecuisse, "there's a fine moon, and
there are no keepers on the roads as there are in the woods; one can
hear much farther; and down there, by the pavilions, behind the
hedges, just where they join the little wood, one can aim at a man
from behind, like a rabbit, at five hundred feet."

"It will be half-past eleven before he comes past there," said
Tonsard, "it will take him half an hour to go to Soulanges and as much
more to get back,--but look here! suppose Monsieur Gourdon were on the

"Don't trouble about that," said Courtecuisse, "I'll stand ten minutes
away from you to the right on the road towards Blangy, and Vaudoyer
will be ten minutes away on your left towards Conches; if anything
comes along, the mail, or the gendarmes, or whatever it is, we'll fire
a shot into the ground,--a muffled sound, you'll know it."

"But suppose I miss him?" said Tonsard.

"He's right," said Courtecuisse, "I'm the best shot; Vaudoyer, I'll go
with you; Bonnebault may watch in my place; he can give a cry; that's
easier heard and less suspicious."

All three returned to the tavern and the wedding festivities went on;
but about eleven o'clock Vaudoyer, Courtecuisse, Tonsard, and
Bonnebault went out, carrying their guns, though none of the women
took any notice of them. They came back in about three-quarters of an
hour, and sat drinking till past one o'clock. Tonsard's girls and
their mother and the old Bonnebault woman had plied the miller, the
mechanics, and the two peasants, as well as Fourchon, with so much
drink that they were all on the ground and snoring when the four men
left the tavern; on their return, the sleepers were shaken and roused,
and every one seemed to them, as before, in his place.

While this orgy was going on Michaud's household was in a scene of
mortal anxiety. Olympe had felt false pains, and her husband, thinking
she was about to be delivered, rode off instantly in haste for the
doctor. But the poor woman's pains ceased as soon as she realized that
Michaud was gone; for her mind was so preoccupied by the danger her
husband ran at that hour of the night, in a lawless region filled with
determined foes, that the anguish of her soul was powerful enough to
deaden and momentarily subdue those of the body. In vain her servant-
woman declared her fears were imaginary; she seemed not to comprehend
a word that was said to her, and sat by the fire in her bed-chamber
listening to every sound. In her terror, which increased every moment,
she had the man wakened, meaning to give him some order which still
she did not give. At last, the poor woman wandered up and down, coming
and going in feverish agitation; she looked out of all the windows and
opened them in spite of the cold; then she went downstairs and opened
the door into the courtyard, looking out and listening. "Nothing!
nothing!" she said. Then she went up again in despair. About a quarter
past twelve, she cried out: "Here he is! I hear the horse!" Again she
went down, followed by the man who went to open the iron gate of the
courtyard. "It is strange," she said, "that he should return by the
Conches woods!"

As she spoke she stood still, horrorstruck, motionless, voiceless. The
man shared her terror, for, in the furious gallop of the horse, the
clang of the empty stirrups, the neigh of the frightened animal, there
was something, they scarcely knew what, of unspeakable warning. Soon,
too soon for the unhappy wife, the horse reached the gate, panting and
sweating, but alone; he had broken the bridle, no doubt by entangling
it. Olympe gazed with haggard eyes at the servant as he opened the
gate; she saw the horse, and then, without a word, she ran to the
chateau like a madwoman; when she reached it she fell to the ground
beneath the general's windows crying out: "Monsieur, they have
murdered him!"

The cry was so terrible it awoke the count; he rang violently,
bringing the whole household to their feet; and the groans of Madame
Michaud, who as she lay on the ground, gave birth to a child that died
in being born, brought the general and all the servants about her.
They raised the poor dying woman, who expired, saying to the general:
"They have murdered him!"

"Joseph!" cried the count to his valet, "go for the doctor; there may
yet be time to save her. No, better bring the curate; the poor woman
is dead, and her child too. My God! my God! how thankful I am that my
wife is not here. And you," he said to the gardener, "go and find out
what has happened."

"I can tell you," said the pavilion servant, coming up, "Monsieur
Michaud's horse has come back alone, the reins broke, his legs bloody;
and there's a spot of blood on the saddle."

"What can be done at this time of night?" cried the count. "Call up
Groison, send for the keepers, saddle the horses; we'll beat the

By daybreak, eight persons--the count, Groison, the three keepers, and
two gendarmes sent from Soulanges with their sergeant--searched the
country. It was not till the middle of the morning that they found the
body of the bailiff in a copse between the mail-road and the smaller
road leading to Ville-aux-Fayes, at the end of the park of Les Aigues,
not far from Conches. Two gendarmes started, one to Ville-aux-Fayes
for the prosecuting attorney, the other to Soulanges for the justice
of the peace. Meantime the general, assisted by the sergeant, noted
down the facts. They found on the road, just above the two pavilions,
the print of the stamping of the horse's feet as he roared, and the
traces of his frightened gallop from there to the first opening in the
woods above the hedge. The horse, no longer guided, turned into the
wood-path. Michaud's hat was found there. The animal evidently took
the nearest way to reach his stable. The bailiff had a ball though his
back which broke the spine.

Groison and the sergeant studied the ground around the spot where the
horse reared (which might be called, in judicial language, the theatre
of the crime) with remarkable sagacity, but without obtaining any
clue. The earth was too frozen to show the footprints of the murderer,
and all they found was the paper of a cartridge. When the attorney and
the judge and Monsieur Gourdon, the doctor, arrived and raised the
body to make the autopsy, it was found that the ball, which
corresponded with the fragments of the wad, was an ammunition ball,
evidently from a military musket; and no such musket existed in the
district of Blangy. The judge and Monsieur Soudry the attorney, who
came that evening to the chateau, thought it best to collect all the
facts and await events. The same opinion was expressed by the sergeant
and the lieutenant of the gendarmerie.

"It is impossible that it can be anything but a planned attack on the
part of the peasants," said the sergeant; "but there are two
districts, Conches and Blangy, in each of which there are five or six
persons capable of being concerned in the murder. The one that I
suspect most, Tonsard, passed the night carousing in the Grand-I-Vert;
but your assistant, general, the miller Langlume, was there, and he
says that Tonsard did not leave the tavern. They were all so drunk
they could not stand; they took the bride home at half-past one; and
the return of the horse proves that Michaud was murdered between
eleven o'clock and midnight. At a quarter past ten Groison saw the
whole company assembled at table, and Monsieur Michaud passed there on
his way to Soulanges, which he reached at eleven. His horse reared
between the two pavilions on the mail-road; but he may have been shot
before reaching Blangy and yet have stayed in the saddle for some
little time. We should have to issue warrants for at least twenty
persons and arrest them; but I know these peasants, and so do these
gentlemen; you might keep them a year in prison and you would get
nothing out of them but denials. What could you do with all those who
were at Tonsard's?"

They sent for Langlume, the miller, and the assistant of General
Montcornet as mayor; he related what had taken place in the tavern,
and gave the names of all present; none had gone out except for a
minute or two into the courtyard. He had left the room for a moment
with Tonsard about eleven o'clock; they had spoken of the moon and the
weather, and heard nothing. At two o'clock the whole party had taken
the bride and bridegroom to their own house.

The general arranged with the sergeant, the lieutenant, and the civil
authorities to send to Paris for the cleverest detective in the
service of the police, who should come to the chateau as a workman,
and behave so ill as to be dismissed; he should then take to drinking
and frequent the Grand-I-Vert and remain in the neighborhood in the
character of an ill-wisher to the general. The best plan they could
follow was to watch and wait for a momentary revelation, and then make
the most of it.

"If I have to spend twenty thousand francs I'll discover the murderer
of my poor Michaud," the general was never weary of saying.

He went off with that idea in his head, and returned from Paris in the
month of January with one of the shrewdest satellites of the chief of
the detective police, who was brought down ostensibly to do some work
to the interior of the chateau. The man was discovered poaching. He
was arrested, and turned off, and soon after--early in February--the
general rejoined his wife in Paris.



One evening in the month of May, when the fine weather had come and
the Parisians had returned to Les Aigues, Monsieur de Troisville,--who
had been persuaded to accompany his daughter,--Blondet, the Abbe
Brossette, the general, and the sub-prefect of Ville-aux-Fayes, who
was on a visit to the chateau, were all playing either whist or chess.
It was about half-past eleven o'clock when Joseph entered and told his
master that the worthless poaching workman who had been dismissed
wanted to see him,--something about a bill which he said the general
still owed him. "He is very drunk," added Joseph.

"Very good, I'll go and speak to him."

The general went out upon the lawn to some distance from the house.

"Monsieur le comte," said the detective, "nothing will ever be got out
of these people. All that I have been able to gather is that if you
continue to stay in this place and try to make the peasants renounce
the pilfering habits which Mademoiselle Laguerre allowed them to
acquire, they will shoot you as well as your bailiff. There is no use
in my staying here; for they distrust me even more than they do the

The count paid his spy, who left the place the next day, and his
departure justified the suspicions entertained about him by the
accomplices in the death of Michaud.

When the general returned to the salon there were such signs of
emotion upon his face that his wife asked him, anxiously, what news he
had just heard.

"Dear wife," he said, "I don't want to frighten you, and yet it is
right you should know that Michaud's death was intended as a warning
for us to leave this part of the country."

"If I were in your place," said Monsieur de Troisville, "I would not
leave it. I myself have had just such difficulties in Normandy, only
under another form; I persisted in my course, and now everything goes

"Monsieur le marquis," said the sub-prefect, "Normandy and Burgundy
are two very different regions. The grape heats the blood far more
than the apple. We know much less of law and legal proceedings; we
live among the woods; the large industries are unknown among us; we
are still savages. If I might give my advice to Monsieur le comte it
would be to sell this estate and put the money in the Funds; he would
double his income and have no anxieties. If he likes living in the
country he could buy a chateau near Paris with a park as beautiful as
that of Les Aigues, surrounded by walls, where no one can annoy him,
and where he can let all his farms and receive the money in good bank-
bills, and have no law suits from one year's end to another. He could
come and go in three or four hours, and Monsieur Blondet and Monsieur
le marquis would not be so often away from you, Madame la comtesse."

"I, retreat before the peasantry when I did not recoil before the
Danube!" cried the general.

"Yes, but what became of your cuirassiers?" asked Blondet.

"Such a fine estate!"

"It will sell to-day for over two millions."

"The chateau alone must have cost that," remarked Monsieur de

"One of the best properties in a circumference of sixty miles," said
the sub-prefect; "but you can find a better near Paris."

"How much income does one get from two millions?" asked the countess.

"Now-a-days, about eighty thousand francs," replied Blondet.

"Les Aigues does not bring in, all told, more than thirty thousand,"
said the countess; "and lately you have been at such immense expenses,
--you have surrounded the woods this year with ditches."

"You could get," added Blondet, "a royal chateau for four hundred
thousand francs near Paris. In these days people buy the follies of

"I thought you cared for Les Aigues!" said the count to his wife.

"Don't you feel that I care a thousand times more for your life?" she
replied. "Besides, ever since the death of my poor Olympe and
Michaud's murder the country is odious to me; all the faces I meet
seem to wear a treacherous or threatening expression."

The next evening the sub-prefect, having ended his visit at the
chateau, was welcomed in the salon of Monsieur Gaubertin at Ville-aux-
Fayes in these words:--

"Well, Monsieur des Lupeaulx, so you have returned from Les Aigues?"

"Yes," answered the sub-prefect with a little air of triumph and a
look of tender regard at Mademoiselle Elise, "and I am very much
afraid to say we may lose the general; he talks of selling his

"Monsieur Gaubertin, I speak for my pavilion. I can on longer endure
the noise, the dust of Ville-aux-Fayes; like a poor imprisoned bird I
gasp for the air of the fields, the woodland breezes," said Madame
Isaure, in a lackadaisical voice, with her eyes half-closed and her
head bending to her left shoulder as she played carelessly with the
long curls of her blond hair.

"Pray be prudent, madame!" said her husband in a low voice; "your
indiscretions will not help me to buy the pavilion." Then, turning to
the sub-prefect, he added, "Haven't they yet discovered the men who
were concerned in the murder of the bailiff?"

"It seems not," replied the sub-prefect.

"That will injure the sale of Les Aigues," said Gaubertin to the
company generally, "I know very well that I would not buy the place.
The peasantry over there are such a bad set of people; even in the
days of Mademoiselle Laguerre I had trouble with them, and God knows
she let them do as they liked."

At the end of the month of May the general still gave no sign that he
intended to sell Les Aigues; in fact, he was undecided. One night,
about ten o'clock, he was returning from the forest through one of the
six avenues that led to the pavilion of the Rendezvous. He dismissed
the keeper who accompanied him, as he was then so near the chateau. At
a turn of the road a man armed with a gun came from behind a bush.

"General," he said, "this is the third time I have had you at the end
of my barrel, and the third time that I give you your life."

"Why do you want to kill me, Bonnebault?" said the general, without
showing the least emotion.

"Faith, if I don't, somebody else will; but I, you see, I like the men
who served the Emperor, and I can't make up my mind to shoot you like
a partridge. Don't question me, for I'll tell you nothing; but you've
got enemies, powerful enemies, cleverer than you, and they'll end by
crushing you. I am to have a thousand crowns if I kill you, and then I
can marry Marie Tonsard. Well, give me enough to buy a few acres of
land and a bit of a cottage, and I'll keep on saying, as I have done,
that I've found no chances. That will give you time to sell your
property and get away; but make haste. I'm an honest lad still, scamp
as I am; but another fellow won't spare you."

"If I give you what you ask, will you tell me who offered you those
three thousand francs?" said the general.

"I don't know myself; and the person who is urging me to do the thing
is some one I love too well to tell of. Besides, even if you did know
it was Marie Tonsard, that wouldn't help you; Marie Tonsard would be
as silent as that wall, and I should deny every word I've said."

"Come and see me to-morrow," said the general.

"Enough," replied Bonnebault; "and if they begin to say I'm too
dilatory, I'll let you know in time."

A week after that singular conversation the whole arrondissement,
indeed the whole department, was covered with posters, advertising the
sale of Les Aigues at the office of Maitre Corbineau, the notary of
Soulanges. All the lots were knocked down to Rigou, and the price paid
amounted to two millions five hundred thousand francs. The next day
Rigou had the names changed; Monsieur Gaubertin took the woods, Rigou
and Soudry the vineyards and the farms. The chateau and the park were
sold over again in small lots among the sons of the soil, the
peasantry,--excepting the pavilion, its dependencies, and fifty
surrounding acres, which Monsieur Gaubertin retained as a gift to his
poetic and sentimental spouse.


Many years after these events, during the year 1837, one of the most
remarkable political writers of the day, Emile Blondet, reached the
last stages of a poverty which he had so far hidden beneath an outward
appearance of ease and elegance. He was thinking of taking some
desperate step, realizing, as he did, that his writings, his mind, his
knowledge, his ability for the direction of affairs, had made him
nothing better than a mere functionary, mechanically serving the ends
of others; seeing that every avenue was closed to him and all places
taken; feeling that he had reached middle-life without fame and
without fortune; that fools and middle-class men of no training had
taken the places of the courtiers and incapables of the Restoration,
and that the government was reconstituted such as it was before 1830.
One evening, when he had come very near committing suicide (a folly he
had so often laughed at), while his mind travelled back over his
miserable existence calumniated and worn down with toil far more than
with the dissipations charged against him, the noble and beautiful
face of a woman rose before his eyes, like a statue rising pure and
unbroken amid the saddest ruins. Just then the porter brought him a
letter sealed with black from the Comtesse de Montcornet, telling him
of the death of her husband, who had again taken service in the army
and commanded a division. The count had left her his property, and she
had no children. The letter, though dignified, showed Blondet very
plainly that the woman of forty whom he had loved in his youth offered
him a friendly hand and a large fortune.

A few days ago the marriage of the Comtesse de Montcornet with
Monsieur Blondet, appointed prefect in one of the departments, was
celebrated in Paris. On their way to take possession of the
prefecture, they followed the road which led past what had formerly
been Les Aigues. They stopped the carriage near the spot where the two
pavilions had once stood, wishing to see the places so full of tender
memories for each. The country was no longer recognizable. The
mysterious woods, the park avenues, all were cleared away; the
landscape looked like a tailor's pattern-card. The sons of the soil
had taken possession of the earth as victors and conquerors. It was
cut up into a thousand little lots, and the population had tripled
between Conches and Blangy. The levelling and cultivation of the noble
park, once so carefully tended, so delightful in its beauty, threw
into isolated relief the pavilion of the Rendezvous, now the Villa
Buen-Retiro of Madame Isaure Gaubertin; it was the only building left
standing, and it commanded the whole landscape, or as we might better
call it, the stretch of cornfields which now constituted the
landscape. The building seemed magnified into a chateau, so miserable
were the little houses which the peasants had built around it.

"This is progress!" cried Emile. "It is a page out of Jean-Jacques'
'Social Compact'! and I--I am harnessed to the social machine that
works it! Good God! what will the kings be soon? More than that, what
will the nations themselves be fifty years hence under this state of

"But you love me; you are beside me. I think the present delightful.
What do I care for such a distant future?" said his wife.

"Oh yes! by your side, hurrah for the present!" cried the lover,
gayly, "and the devil take the future."

Then he signed to the coachman, and as the horses sprang forward along
the road, the wedded pair returned to the enjoyment of their



The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.

Note: Sons of the Soil is also known as The Peasantry and is referred
to by that title when mentioned in other addendums.

Blondet, Emile
Jealousies of a Country Town
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Modeste Mignon
Another Study of Woman
The Secrets of a Princess
A Daughter of Eve
The Firm of Nucingen

Blondet, Virginie
Jealousies of a Country Town
The Secrets of a Princess
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Another Study of Woman
The Member for Arcis
A Daughter of Eve

Bourlac, Bernard-Jean-Baptiste-Macloud, Baron de
The Seamy Side of History

Brossette, Abbe

Carigliano, Duchesse de
At the Sign of the Cat and Racket
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
The Member for Arcis

Casteran, De
The Chouans
The Seamy Side of History
Jealousies of a Country Town

Laguerre, Mademoiselle
A Prince of Bohemia

La Roche-Hugon, Martial de
Domestic Peace
A Daughter of Eve
The Member for Arcis
The Middle Classes
Cousin Betty

Lupin, Amaury
A Start in Life

Marest, Georges
A Start in Life

Minorets, The
The Government Clerks

Montcornet, Marechal, Comte de
Domestic Peace
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
A Man of Business
Cousin Betty

Navarreins, Duc de
A Bachelor's Establishment
Colonel Chabert
The Muse of the Department
The Thirteen
Jealousies of a Country Town
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Country Parson
The Magic Skin
The Gondreville Mystery
The Secrets of a Princess
Cousin Betty

Ronquerolles, Marquis de
The Imaginary Mistress
Ursule Mirouet
A Woman of Thirty
Another Study of Woman
The Thirteen
The Member for Arcis

Scherbelloff, Princesse (or Scherbellof or Sherbelloff)
Jealousies of a Country Town

Soulanges, Comte Leon de
Domestic Peace

Soulanges, Comtesse Hortense de
Domestic Peace
The Thirteen

The Gondreville Mystery

Troisville, Guibelin, Vicomte de
The Seamy Side of History
The Chouans
Jealousies of a Country Town

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