Part 1 out of 8
Produced by Dagny; and John Bickers
The Deputy of Arcis
Honore de Balzac
Translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley
ALL ELECTIONS BEGIN WITH A BUSTLE
Before beginning to describe an election in the provinces, it is
proper to state that the town of Arcis-sur-Aube was not the theatre of
the events here related.
The arrondissement of Arcis votes at Bar-sur-Aube, which is forty
miles from Arcis; consequently there is no deputy from Arcis in the
Discretion, required in a history of contemporaneous manners and
morals, dictates this precautionary word. It is rather an ingenious
contrivance to make the description of one town the frame for events
which happened in another; and several times already in the course of
the Comedy of Human Life, this means has been employed in spite of its
disadvantages, which consist chiefly in making the frame of as much
importance as the canvas.
Toward the end of the month of April, 1839, about ten o'clock in
the morning, the salon of Madame Marion, widow of a former
receiver-general of the department of the Aube, presented a singular
appearance. All the furniture had been removed except the curtains to
the windows, the ornaments on the fireplace, the chandelier, and the
tea-table. An Aubusson carpet, taken up two weeks before the usual
time, obstructed the steps of the portico, and the floor had been
violently rubbed and polished, though without increasing its usual
brightness. All this was a species of domestic premonition concerning
the result of the elections which were about to take place over the
whole surface of France. Often things are as spiritually intelligent
as men,--an argument in favor of the occult sciences.
The old man-servant of Colonel Giguet, Madame Marion's older brother,
had just finished dusting the room; the chamber-maid and the cook were
carrying, with an alacrity that denoted an enthusiasm equal to their
attachment, all the chairs of the house, and piling them up in the
garden, where the trees were already unfolding their leaves, through
which the cloudless blue of the sky was visible. The springlike
atmosphere and sun of May allowed the glass door and the two windows
of the oblong salon to be kept open.
An old lady, Madame Marion herself, now ordered the two maids to place
the chairs at one end of the salon, four rows deep, leaving between
the rows a space of about three feet. When this was done, each row
presented a front of ten chairs, all of divers species. A line of
chairs was also placed along the wall, under the windows and before
the glass door. At the other end of the salon, facing the forty
chairs, Madame Marion placed three arm-chairs behind the tea-table,
which was covered with a green cloth, on which she placed a bell.
Old Colonel Giguet arrived on this battle-field at the moment when his
sister bethought herself of filling the empty spaces on either side of
the fireplace with benches from the antechamber, disregarding the
baldness of their velvet covers which had done good service for
"We can seat seventy persons," she said to her brother triumphantly.
"God grant that we may have seventy friends!" replied the colonel.
"If, after receiving every night, for twenty-four years, the whole
society of Arcis-sur-Aube, a single one of my regular visitors fails
us on this occasion--" began the old lady, in a threatening manner.
"Pooh, pooh!" replied the colonel, interrupting his sister, "I'll name
you ten who cannot and ought not to come. First," he said, beginning
to count on his fingers, "Antonin Goulard, sub-prefect, for one;
Frederic Marest, _procureur-du-roi_, there's two; Monsieur Olivier
Vinet, his substitute, three; Monsieur Martener, examining-judge,
four; the justice of peace--"
"But I am not so silly," said the old lady, interrupting her brother
in her turn, "as to expect office-holders to come to a meeting the
object of which is to give another deputy to the Opposition. For all
that, Antonin Goulard, Simon's comrade and schoolmate, would be very
well pleased to see him a deputy because--"
"Come, sister, leave our own business of politics to us men. Where is
"He is dressing," she answered. "He was wise not to breakfast, for he
is very nervous. It is queer that, though he is in the habit of
speaking in court, he dreads this meeting as if he were certain to
"Faith! I have often had to face masked batteries, and my soul--I
won't say my body--never quailed; but if I had to stand there," said
the old soldier, pointing to the tea-table, "and face forty bourgeois
gaping at me, their eyes fixed on mine, and expecting sonorous and
correct phrases, my shirt would be wringing wet before I could get out
"And yet, my dear father," said Simon Giguet, entering from the
smaller salon, "you really must make that effort for me; for if there
is a man in the department of the Aube whose voice is all-powerful it
is assuredly you. In 1815--"
"In 1815," said the little old man, who was wonderfully well
preserved, "I did not have to speak; I simply wrote out a little
proclamation which brought us two thousand men in twenty-four hours.
But it is a very different thing putting my name to a paper which is
read by a department, and standing up before a meeting to make a
speech. Napoleon himself failed there; at the 18th Brumaire he talked
nothing but nonsense to the Five Hundred."
"But, my dear father," urged Simon, "it concerns my life, my fortune,
my happiness. Fix your eyes on some one person and think you are
talking to him, and you'll get through all right."
"Heavens!" cried Madame Marion, "I am only an old woman, but under
such circumstances and knowing what depends on it, I--oh! I should be
"Too eloquent, perhaps," said the colonel. "To go beyond the mark is
not attaining it. But why make so much of all this?" he added, looking
at his son. "It is only within the last two days you have taken up
this candidacy of ideas; well, suppose you are not nominated,--so much
the worse for Arcis, that's all."
These words were in keeping with the whole life of him who said them.
Colonel Giguet was one of the most respected officers in the Grand
Army, the foundation of his character being absolute integrity joined
to extreme delicacy. Never did he put himself forward; favors, such as
he received, sought him. For this reason he remained eleven years a
mere captain of the artillery of the Guard, not receiving the rank of
major until 1814. His almost fanatical attachment to Napoleon forbade
his taking service under the Bourbons after the first abdication. In
fact, his devotion in 1815 was such that he would have been banished
with so many others if the Comte de Gondreville had not contrived to
have his name effaced from the ordinance and put on the retired list
with a pension, and the rank of colonel.
Madame Marion, _nee_ Giguet, had another brother who was colonel of
gendarmerie at Troyes, whom she followed to that town at an earlier
period. It was there that she married Monsieur Marion,
receiver-general of the Aube, who also had had a brother, the
chief-justice of an imperial court. While a mere barrister at Arcis
this young man had lent his name during the Terror to the famous
Malin de l'Aube, the representative of the people, in order to hold
possession of the estate of Gondreville. [See "An Historical Mystery."]
Consequently, all the support and influence of Malin, now become count
and senator, was at the service of the Marion family. The barrister's
brother was made receiver-general of the department, at a period when,
far from having forty applicants for one place, the government was
fortunate in getting any one to accept such a slippery office.
Marion, the receiver-general, inherited the fortune of his brother the
chief-justice, and Madame Marion that of her brother the colonel of
gendarmerie. In 1814, the receiver-general met with reverses. He died
when the Empire died; but his widow managed to gather fifteen thousand
francs a year from the wreck of his accumulated fortunes. The colonel
of gendarmerie had left his property to his sister on learning the
marriage of his brother the artillery officer to the daughter of a
rich banker of Hamburg. It is well known what a fancy all Europe had
for the splendid troopers of Napoleon!
In 1814, Madame Marion, half-ruined, returned to Arcis, her native
place, where she bought, on the Grande-Place, one of the finest houses
in the town. Accustomed to receive much company at Troyes, where the
receiver-general reigned supreme, she now opened her salon to the
notabilities of the liberal party in Arcis. A woman accustomed to the
advantages of salon royalty does not easily renounce them. Vanity is
the most tenacious of all habits.
Bonapartist, and afterwards a liberal--for, by the strangest of
metamorphoses, the soldiers of Napoleon became almost to a man
enamoured of the constitutional system--Colonel Giguet was, during
the Restoration, the natural president of the governing committee
of Arcis, which consisted of the notary Grevin, his son-in-law
Beauvisage, and Varlet junior, the chief physician of Arcis,
brother-in-law of Grevin, and a few other liberals.
"If our dear boy is not nominated," said Madame Marion, having first
looked into the antechamber and garden to make sure that no one
overheard her, "he cannot have Mademoiselle Beauvisage; his success in
this election means a marriage with Cecile."
"Cecile!" exclaimed the old man, opening his eyes very wide and
looking at his sister in stupefaction.
"There is no one but you in the whole department who would forget the
_dot_ and the expectations of Mademoiselle Beauvisage," said his
"She is the richest heiress in the department of the Aube," said Simon
"But it seems to me," said the old soldier, "that my son is not to be
despised as a match; he is your heir, he already has something from
his mother, and I expect to leave him something better than a dry
"All that put together won't make thirty thousand a year, and suitors
are already coming forward who have as much as that, not counting
their position," returned Madame Marion.
"And?" asked the colonel.
"They have been refused."
"Then what do the Beauvisage family want?" said the colonel, looking
alternately at his son and sister.
It may seem extraordinary that Colonel Giguet, the brother of Madame
Marion in whose house the society of Arcis had met for twenty-four
years, and whose salon was the echo of all reports, all scandals, and
all the gossip of the department of the Aube,--a good deal of it being
there manufactured,--should be ignorant of facts of this nature. But
his ignorance will seem natural when we mention that this noble relic
of the Napoleonic legions went to bed at night and rose in the morning
with the chickens, as all old persons should do if they wish to live
out their lives. He was never present at the intimate conversations
which went on in the salon. In the provinces there are two sorts of
intimate conversation,--one, which is held officially when all the
company are gathered together, playing at cards or conversing; the
other, which _simmers_, like a well made soup, when three or four
friends remain around the fireplace, friends who can be trusted to
repeat nothing of what is said beyond their own limits.
For nine years, ever since the triumph of his political ideas, the
colonel had lived almost entirely outside of social life. Rising with
the sun, he devoted himself to horticulture; he adored flowers, and of
all flowers he best loved roses. His hands were brown as those of a
real gardener; he took care himself of his beds. Constantly in
conference with his working gardener he mingled little, especially for
the last two years, with the life of others; of whom, indeed, he saw
little. He took but one meal with the family, namely, his dinner; for
he rose too early to breakfast with his son and sister. To his efforts
we owe the famous rose Giguet, known so well to all amateurs.
This old man, who had now passed into the state of a domestic fetich,
was exhibited, as we may well suppose, on all extraordinary occasions.
Certain families enjoy the benefit of a demi-god of this kind, and
plume themselves upon him as they would upon a title.
"I have noticed," replied Madame Marion to her brother's question,
"that ever since the revolution of July Madame Beauvisage has aspired
to live in Paris. Obliged to stay here as long as her father lives,
she has fastened her ambition on a future son-in-law, and my lady
dreams now of the splendors and dignities of political life."
"Could you love Cecile?" said the colonel to his son.
"And does she like you?"
"I think so; but the thing is, to please the mother and grandfather.
Though old Grevin himself wants to oppose my election, my success
would determine Madame Beauvisage to accept me, because she expects to
manage me as she pleases and to be minister under my name."
"That's a good joke!" cried Madame Marion. "What does she take us
"Whom has she refused?" asked the colonel.
"Well, within the last three months, Antonin Goulard and the
_procureur-du-roi_, Frederic Marest, have received, so they say,
equivocal answers which mean anything--_except yes_."
"Heavens!" cried the old man throwing up his arms. "What days we live
in, to be sure! Why, Lucie was the daughter of a hosier, and the
grand-daughter of a farmer. Does Madame Beauvisage want the Comte de
Cinq-Cygne for a son-in-law?"
"Don't laugh at Madame Beauvisage, brother. Cecile is rich enough to
choose a husband anywhere, even in the class to which the Cinq-Cygnes
belong. But there's the bell announcing the electors, and I disappear
--regretting much I can't hear what you are all going to say."
REVOLT OF A LIBERAL ROTTEN-BOROUGH
Though 1839 is, politically speaking, very distant from 1847, we can
still remember the elections produced by the Coalition, an ephemeral
effort of the Chamber of Deputies to realize the threat of
parliamentary government,--a threat _a la_ Cromwell, which without a
Cromwell could only end, under a prince "the enemy of fraud," in the
triumph of the present system, by which the Chambers and the ministers
are like the wooden puppets which the proprietor of the Guignolet
shows exhibits to the great satisfaction of wonder-stricken idlers in
The arrondissement of Arcis-sur-Aube then found itself in a singular
position. It supposed itself free to choose its deputy. From 1816 to
1836 it had always elected one of the heaviest orators of the Left,
belonging to the famous seventeen who were called "Great Citizens" by
the liberal party,--namely, Francois Keller, of the house of Keller
Bros., the son-in-law of the Comte de Gondreville. Gondreville, one of
the most magnificent estates in France, is situated about a mile from
This banker, recently made count and peer of France, expected, no
doubt, to transfer to his son, then thirty years of age, his electoral
succession, in order to make him some day eligible for the peerage.
Already a major on the staff and a great favorite of the prince-royal,
Charles Keller, now a viscount, belonged to the court party of the
citizen-king. The most brilliant future seemed pledged to a young man
enormously rich, full of energy, already remarkable for his devotion
to the new dynasty, the grandson of the Comte de Gondreville, and
nephew of the Marechal de Carigliano; but this election, so necessary
to his future prospects, presented suddenly certain difficulties to
Since the accession to power of the bourgeois class, Arcis had felt a
vague desire to show itself independent. Consequently, the last
election of Francois Keller had been disturbed by certain republicans,
whose red caps and long beards had not, however, seriously alarmed the
bourgeois of Arcis. By canvassing the country carefully the radical
candidate would be able to secure some thirty or forty votes. A few of
the townspeople, humiliated at seeing their town always treated as a
rotten borough, joined the democrats, though enemies to democracy. In
France, under the system of balloting, politico-chemical products are
formed in which the laws of affinity are reversed.
Now, to elect young Keller in 1839, after having elected his father
for twenty years, would show a monstrous electoral servitude, against
which the pride of the newly enriched bourgeoisie revolved, for they
felt themselves to be fully worth either Monsieur Malin, otherwise
called Comte de Gondreville, the Keller Bros., the Cinq-Cygnes, or
even, the King of the French.
The numerous partisans of old Gondreville, the king of the department
of the Aube, were therefore awaiting some fresh proof of his ability,
already so thoroughly tested, to circumvent this rising revolt. In
order not to compromise the influence of his family in the
arrondissement of Arcis, that old statesman would doubtless propose
for candidate some young man who could be induced to accept an
official function and then yield his place to Charles Keller,--a
parliamentary arrangement which renders the elect of the people
subject to re-election.
When Simon Giguet sounded the old notary Grevin, the faithful friend
of the Comte de Gondreville, on the subject of the elections, the old
man replied that, while he did not know the intentions of the Comte de
Gondreville, he should himself vote for Charles Keller and employ his
influence for that election.
As soon as this answer of old Grevin had circulated through Arcis, a
reaction against him set in. Although for thirty years this provincial
Aristides possessed the confidence of the whole town,--having been
mayor of Arcis from 1804 to 1814 and again during the Hundred Days,
--and although the Opposition had accepted him as their leader until
the triumph of 1830, at which period he refused the honors of the
mayoralty on the ground of his great age, and finally, although the
town, in order to manifest its affection for him, elected his
son-in-law, Monsieur Beauvisage, mayor in his stead, it now revolted
against him and some young striplings went so far as to talk of his
dotage. The partisans of Simon Giguet then turned to Phileas Beauvisage,
the mayor, and won him over the more easily to their side because,
without having quarrelled with his father-in-law, he assumed an
independence of him which had ended in coldness,--an independence that
the sly old notary allowed him to maintain, seeing in it an excellent
means of action on the town of Arcis.
The mayor, questioned the evening before in the open street, declared
positively that he should cast his vote for the first-comer on the
list of eligibles rather than give it to Charles Keller, for whom,
however, he had a high esteem.
"Arcis shall be no longer a rotten borough!" he said, "or I'll
emigrate to Paris."
Flatter the passions of the moment and you will always be a hero, even
"Monsieur le maire," said everybody, "gives noble proof of his
firmness of character."
Nothing progresses so rapidly as a legal revolt. That evening Madame
Marion and her friends organized for the morrow a meeting of
"independent electors" in the interests of Simon Giguet, the colonel's
son. The morrow had now come and had turned the house topsy-turvy to
receive the friends on whose independence the leaders of the movement
counted. Simon Giguet, the native-born candidate of a little town
jealously desirous to elect a son of its own, had, as we have seen,
put to profit this desire; and yet, the whole prosperity and fortune
of the Giguet family were the work of the Comte de Gondreville. But
when it comes to an election, what are sentiments!
This Scene is written for the information of countries so unfortunate
as not to know the blessings of national representation, and which
are, therefore, ignorant by what intestinal convulsions, what
Brutus-like sacrifices, a little town gives birth to a deputy. Majestic
but natural spectacle, which may, indeed, be compared with that of
childbirth,--the same throes, the same impurities, the same
lacerations, the same final triumph!
It may be asked why an only son, whose fortune was sufficient, should
be, like Simon Giguet, an ordinary barrister in a little country town
where barristers are pretty nearly useless. A word about the candidate
is therefore necessary.
Colonel Giguet had had, between 1806 and 1813, by his wife who died in
1814, three children, the eldest of whom, Simon, alone survived. Until
he became an only child, Simon was brought up as a youth to whom the
exercise of a profession would be necessary. And about the time he
became by the death of his brothers the family heir, the young man met
with a serious disappointment. Madame Marion had counted much, for her
nephew, on the inheritance of his grandfather the banker of Hamburg.
But when that old German died in 1826, he left his grandson Giguet a
paltry two thousand francs a year. The worthy banker, endowed with
great procreative powers, having soothed the worries of business by
the pleasures of paternity, favored the families of eleven other
children who surrounded him, and who made him believe, with some
appearance of justice, that Simon Giguet was already a rich man.
Besides all this, the colonel was bent on giving his son an
independent position, and for this reason: the Giguets could not
expect any government favors under the Restoration. Even if Simon had
not been the son of an ardent Bonapartist, he belonged to a family
whose members had justly incurred the animosity of the Cinq-Cygne
family, owing to the part which Giguet, the colonel of gendarmerie,
and the Marions, including Madame Marion, had taken as witnesses on
the famous trial of the Messieurs de Simeuse, unjustly condemned in
1805 for the abduction of the Comte de Gondreville, then senator, and
formerly representative of the people, who had despoiled the
Cinq-Cygne family of their property. [See "An Historical Mystery."]
Grevin was not only one of the most important witnesses at that trial,
but he was one of the chief promoters of the prosecution. That affair
divides to this day the arrondissement of Arcis into two parties; one
of which declares the innocence of the condemned; the other standing
by the Comte de Gondreville and his adherents. Though, under the
Restoration, the Comtesse de Cinq-Cygne used all the influence the
return of the Bourbons gave her to arrange things as she wished in the
department of the Aube, the Comte de Gondreville contrived to
counterbalance this Cinq-Cygne royalty by the secret authority he
wielded over the liberals of the town through the notary Grevin,
Colonel Giguet, his son-in-law Keller (always elected deputy in spite
of the Cinq-Cygnes), and also by the credit he maintained, as long as
Louis XVIII. lived, in the counsels of the crown. It was not until
after the death of that king that the Comtesse de Cinq-Cygne was able
to get Michu appointed judge of the court of assizes in Arcis. She
desired of all things to obtain this place for the son of the steward
who had perished on the scaffold at Troyes, the victim of his devotion
to the Simeuse family, whose full-length portrait always hung in her
salon, whether in Paris or at Cinq-Cygne. Until 1823 the Comte de
Gondreville had possessed sufficient power over Louis XVIII. to
prevent this appointment of Michu.
It was by the advice of the Comte de Gondreville that Colonel Giguet
made his son a lawyer. Simon had all the more opportunity of shining
at the bar in the arrondissement of Arcis because he was the only
barrister, solicitors pleading their own cases in these petty
localities. The young man had really secured certain triumphs in the
court of assizes of the Aube, but he was none the less an object of
derision to Frederic Marest, _procureur-du-roi_, Olivier Vinet, the
substitute _procureur_, and the judge, Michu,--the three best minds in
Simon Giguet, like other men, paid goodly tribute to the mighty power
of ridicule that pursued him. He liked to hear himself talk, and he
talked on all occasions; he solemnly delivered himself of dry and
long-winded sentences which passed for eloquence among the upper
bourgeoisie of Arcis. The poor fellow belonged to that species of bore
which desires to explain everything, even the simplest thing. He
explained rain; he explained the revolution of July; he explained
things impenetrable; he explained Louis-Philippe, Odilon Barrot,
Monsieur Thiers, the Eastern Question; he explained Champagne; he
explained 1788; he explained the tariff of custom houses and
humanitarians, magnetism and the economy of the civil list.
This lean young man, with a bilious skin, tall enough to justify his
sonorous nullity (for it is rare that a tall man does not have eminent
faculties of some kind) outdid the puritanism of the votaries of the
extreme Left, all of them so sensitive, after the manner of prudes who
have their intrigues to hide. Dressed invariably in black, he wore a
white cravat which came down low on his chest, so that his face seemed
to issue from a horn of white paper, for the collar of his shirt was
high and stiff after a fashion now, fortunately, exploded. His
trousers and his coats were always too large for him. He had what is
called in the provinces dignity; that is to say, he was stiffly erect
and pompously dull in manner. His friend, Antonin Goulard, accused him
of imitating Monsieur Dupin. And in truth, the young barrister was apt
to wear shoes and stout socks of black filoselle.
Protected by the respect that every one bore to his father, and by the
influence exercised by his aunt over a little town whose principal
inhabitants had frequented her salon for many years, Simon Giguet,
possessing already ten thousand francs a year, not counting the fees
of his profession and the fortune his aunt would not fail to leave
him, felt no doubt of his election. Nevertheless, the first sound of
the bell announcing the arrival of the most influential electors
echoed in the heart of the ambitious aspirant and filled it with vague
fears. Simon did not conceal from himself the cleverness and the
immense resources of old Grevin, nor the prestige attending the means
that would surely be employed by the ministry to promote the candidacy
of a young and dashing officer then in Africa, attached to the staff
of the prince-royal.
"I think," he said to his father, "that I have the colic; I feel a
warmth at the pit of my stomach that makes me very uneasy."
"Old soldiers," replied the colonel, "have the same feeling when they
hear the cannon beginning to growl at the opening of a battle."
"What will it be in the Chamber!" said the barrister.
"The Comte de Gondreville told me," said the old colonel, "that he has
known more than one orator affected with the qualms which precede,
even with us old fire-eaters, the opening of a battle. But all this is
idle talk. You want to be a deputy," added the old man, shrugging his
shoulders, "then be one!"
"Father, the real triumph will be Cecile! Cecile has an immense
fortune. Now-a-days an immense fortune means power."
"Dear me! how times have changed! Under the Emperor men had to be
"Each epoch is summed up in a phrase," said Simon, recalling an
observation of the Comte de Gondreville, which paints that personage
well. He remarked: "Under the Empire, when it was desirable to destroy
a man, people said, 'He is a coward.' To-day we say, 'He is a cheat.'"
"Poor France! where are they leading you?" cried the colonel; "I shall
go back to my roses."
"Oh, stay, father! You are the keystone of the arch."
OPPOSITION DEFINES ITSELF
The mayor, Monsieur Phileas Beauvisage, was the first to present
himself, accompanied by the successor of his father-in-law, the
busiest notary in town, Achille Pigoult, grandson of an old man who
had continued justice of the peace in Arcis during the Revolution, the
Empire, and the Restoration. Achille Pigoult, thirty-two years of age,
had been eighteen years a clerk in Grevin's office with no means of
becoming himself a notary. His father, son of the justice of peace,
had died of a so-called apoplexy, having gone wrong in business.
The Comte de Gondreville, however, with whom old Pigoult had relations
dating back to 1793, lent money for the necessary security, and thus
enabled the grandson of the judge who made the first examination in
the Simeuse case to buy the practice of his master, Grevin. Achille
had set up his office in the Place de l'Eglise, in a house belonging
to the Comte de Gondreville, which the latter had leased to him at so
low a price that any one could see how desirous that crafty politician
was to hold the leading notary of Arcis in the hollow of his hand.
Young Pigoult, a short, skinny man, whose eyes seemed to pierce the
green spectacles which could not modify the spitefulness of his
glance, well-informed as to all the interests of the neighborhood,
owing his aptitude in managing affairs to a certain facility of
speech, passed for what is called a _quizzer_, saying things plainly
and with more cleverness than the aborigines could put into their
conversations. Still a bachelor, he was awaiting a rich marriage
through the offices of his two protectors, Grevin and the Comte de
Gondreville. Consequently, barrister Giguet was not a little surprised
on seeing Achille appear at the meeting in company with Monsieur
The notary, whose face was so seamed by the smallpox that it seemed to
be covered with a white net, formed a perfect contrast to the rotund
person of the mayor, whose face resembled a full moon, but a warm and
lively moon; its tones of lily and of rose being still further
brightened by a gracious smile, the result not so much of a
disposition of the soul as of that formation of the lips for which the
word "simpering" seems to have been created. Phileas Beauvisage was
endowed with so great a contentment with himself that he smiled on all
the world and under all circumstances. Those simpering lips smiled at
a funeral. The liveliness that abounded in his infantine blue eyes did
not contradict that perpetual and well-nigh intolerable smile.
This internal satisfaction passed all the more readily for benevolence
and affability, because Phileas had made himself a language of his
own, remarkable for its immoderate use of the formulas of politeness.
He always "had the honor"; to all his inquiries as to the health of
absent persons he added the adjectives "dear," "good," "excellent." He
lavished condoling or congratulatory phrases apropos of all the petty
miseries and all the little felicities of life. He concealed under a
deluge of commonplaces his native incapacity, his total want of
education, and a weakness of character which can only be expressed by
the old word "weathercock." Be not uneasy: the weathercock had for its
axis the beautiful Madame Beauvisage, Severine Grevin, the most
remarkable woman in the arrondissement.
When Severine heard of what she called her husband's "freak" as to the
election, she said to him on the morning of the meeting at Madame
"It was well enough to give yourself an air of independence; but you
mustn't go to that Giguet meeting unless Achille Pigoult accompanies
you; I've told him to come and take you."
Giving Achille Pigoult as mentor to Beauvisage meant sending a spy
from the Gondreville party to the Giguet assemblage. We may therefore
imagine the grimace which contracted the puritan visage of Simon, who
was forced to welcome graciously an _habitue_ of his aunt's salon and
an influential elector, in whom, nevertheless, he saw an enemy.
"Ah!" he thought to himself, "what a mistake I made in refusing him
that security when he asked for it! Old Gondreville had more sense
than I--Good-day to you, Achille," he said, assuming a jaunty manner;
"I suppose you mean to trip me up."
"Your meeting isn't a conspiracy against the independence of our
votes," replied the notary, smiling. "We are all playing above-board,
I take it."
"Above-board," echoed Beauvisage.
And the mayor began to laugh with that expressionless laugh by which
some persons end all their sentences; which may, perhaps, be called
the _ritornello_ of their conversation. After which he placed himself
in what we must describe as his third position, standing full-front,
his chest expanded, and his hands behind his back. He was dressed in
black coat and trousers, with an effulgent white waistcoat, opened in
such a way as to show two diamond shirt-buttons worth several thousand
"We shall fight, but we shall not be the less good friends," he said.
"That is the essence of constitutional morals; he! he! he! That is how
_I_ understand the alliance of monarchy with liberty; ha! ha! ha!"
Whereupon the mayor took Simon's hand, saying:
"How are you, my good friend? Your dear aunt and our worthy colonel
are no doubt as well to-day as they were yesterday,--that is, I
presume so,--he! he! he!" adding, with an air of perfect beatitude,
"perhaps a little agitated by the ceremony now about to take place.
Ha! ha! young man; so we intend to enter a political career? Ha! ha!
ha! This is our first step--mustn't step back--it is a great career.
I'd rather it were you than I to rush into the storms and tempests of
the legislative body, hi! hi!--however agreeable it may be to see that
body in our own person, hi! hi! hi!--the sovereign power of France in
one four hundred and fifty-third! Hi! hi! hi!"
The vocal organ of Phileas Beauvisage had an agreeable sonority
altogether in harmony with the leguminous curves of his face (of the
color of a light yellow pumpkin), his solid back, and his broadly
expanded chest. That voice, bass in volume, could soften to a baritone
and utter, in the giggle with which Phileas ended his phrases, a
silvery note. When God desired, in order to place all species of
mankind in this his terrestrial paradise, to create within it a
provincial bourgeois, his hands never made a more perfect and complete
type than Phileas Beauvisage.
"I admire," said that great work, "the devotion of those who fling
themselves into the tumult of political life; he! he! he! It takes
more nerve than I possess. Who could have told us in 1812 or 1813 that
we should come to this? As for me, nothing can surprise me in these
days, when asphalt, India-rubber, railroads, and steam have changed
the ground we tread on, and overcoats, and distances, he, he!"
These last words were seasoned with a prolonged laugh, and accompanied
by a gesture which he had made more especially his own: he closed his
right fist, struck it into the rounded palm of his left hand, and
rubbed it there with joyous satisfaction. This performance coincided
with his laughs on the frequent occasions when he thought he had said
a witty thing. Perhaps it is superfluous to add that Phileas
Beauvisage was regarded in Arcis as an amiable and charming man.
"I shall endeavor," replied Simon Giguet, "to worthily represent--"
"The sheep of Champagne," interpolated Achille Pigoult, interrupting
The candidate swallowed that shaft without reply, for he was forced at
that moment to go forward and receive two more influential electors.
One was the landlord of the Mulet, the best inn in Arcis, standing on
the Grande-Place at the corner of the rue de Brienne. This worthy
landlord, named Poupart, had married the sister of a man-servant
attached to the Comtesse de Cinq-Cygne, the well-known Gothard, one of
the actors and witnesses in the Simeuse affair.
Poupart, though a most devoted adherent of the Cinq-Cygne family, had
been sounded during the last day or two, by Colonel Giguet's valet,
with so much cleverness and perseverance that he thought he was doing
an ill-turn to the Comte de Gondreville, the enemy of the Cinq-Cygnes,
by giving his influence to the election of Simon Giguet; and he was
now conversing on that point with the man who accompanied him, an
apothecary named Fromaget, who, as he did not furnish his wares to the
chateau de Gondreville, desired nothing better than to cabal against
These two individuals of the lesser bourgeoisie could, in consequence
of their connections, determine a certain number of floating votes,
for they influenced and advised a number of persons to whom the
political opinions of the candidate were a matter of indifference.
Consequently, Simon took possession of Poupart, and delivered the
apothecary Fromaget to his father, who had just come in to make his
bow to the electors.
The sub-engineer of the arrondissement, the secretary of the mayor's
office, four sheriffs, three solicitors, the clerk of the court, and
the clerk of the justice of the peace, the registry-clerk, and the
tax-collector, all officials under government, two doctors, rivals of
Varlet, Grevin's brother-in-law, a miller named Laurent Goussard, the
head of the republicans of Arcis, the two assistant mayors, the
printer and publisher of Arcis, and about a dozen other bourgeois
arrived in succession, and walked about the garden until the gathering
seemed numerous enough to admit of opening the session.
At length, about mid-day, fifty men, all in their best clothes,--most
of them having come out of curiosity to see the handsome salons which
were much talked of throughout the arrondissement,--were seated on the
chairs Madame Marion had provided for them. The windows were left
open, and presently so deep a silence reigned that the rustle of
Madame Marion's gown was heard,--that good woman not being able to
resist the pleasure of descending to the garden and placing herself in
a corner whence she could listen to what went on in the salon. The
cook, the chamber-maid, and the man-servant stood in the dining-room
and shared the emotions of their masters.
"Messieurs," said Simon Giguet, "some among you desire to honor my
father by asking him to preside at this meeting; but Colonel Giguet
requests me to present his thanks, and express due gratitude for a
desire in which he sees a reward for his services to the country. We
are in his house; he thinks he ought, therefore, to decline those
functions, and he desires to propose in his stead an honorable
merchant on whom your suffrages have already bestowed the chief
magistracy of this town, Monsieur Phileas Beauvisage."
"We are, I think, all of one mind in adopting for this meeting
--essentially friendly, but entirely free, which will prejudice in no
way whatever the great preparatory and primary meeting in which you
will produce your candidates and weigh their merits--in adopting, as I
said, the parliamentary and constitutional--forms--of the--electoral
"Yes, yes!" cried the assembly with one voice.
"Consequently," continued Simon, "I have the honor to request,
according to the wish of all present, that his honor the mayor will
now take the chair."
Phileas rose and crossed the salon, conscious that he was becoming as
red as a cherry. Then, when he stood behind the table, he saw, not a
hundred eyes, but a hundred thousand candles. The sun seemed to him to
be setting fire to the salon, and he had, to use his own expression, a
lump of salt in his throat.
"Return thanks," said Simon, in a low voice.
Such total silence ensued that Phileas had a spasm of colic.
"What must I say, Simon?" he whispered.
"Well, well!" exclaimed Achille Pigoult.
"Messieurs," said Simon, goaded by the sarcastic interjection of the
little notary, "the honor which you have done to Monsieur le Maire may
take him unawares, but it cannot surprise him."
"That's it," said Beauvisage; "I am too sensible of this attention on
the part of my fellow-citizens not to be excessively flattered by it."
"Bravo!" cried the notary alone.
"The devil take me!" thought Beauvisage, "if I am ever caught
"Will Messieurs Fromaget and Marcelin accept the functions of
inspectors of the ballot?"
"It would be more regular," said Achille Pigoult, rising, "if the
meeting itself nominated those officers,--following, of course, the
parliamentary forms of the Chamber."
"That is best," said the huge Monsieur Mollot, clerk of the court;
"otherwise what is here taking place would be a mere farce; we should
not be free in our action, in which case we might as well continue to
do the will of Monsieur Simon Giguet."
Simon said a few words to Beauvisage, who rose and delivered himself
of a "Messieurs!" in palpitating tones.
"Pardon me, Monsieur le president," said Achille Pigoult, "the
chairman presides, he does not speak."
"Messieurs," continued Beauvisage, prompted by Simon, "if we are--to
conform--to parliamentary usage--I shall beg--the honorable gentleman
--Monsieur Pigoult--to address the meeting--from this table--here
Pigoult sprang to the table, stood beside it with his fingers resting
lightly on its edge, and gave proof of his boldness by delivering the
following speech without the slightest embarrassment, and somewhat
after the manner of the illustrious Monsieur Thiers.
"Messieurs, it was not I who made that proposal for parliamentary
usage; nevertheless I can conceive that an assemblage of some sixty
notabilities of Champagne needs a chairman to guide it; for no flock
can get on without a shepherd. If we had voted for secret balloting, I
am certain that the name of our excellent mayor would have been
returned unanimously. His opposition to the candidate put forward by
his relations proves to us that he possesses civic courage in the
highest degree, inasmuch as he has dared to free himself from the
closest ties--those of family. Patriotism before family! that is
indeed so great an effort that, to make it, we are forced to believe
that Brutus from his realm of justice still contemplates us after the
lapse of two thousand, five hundred and some years. It seemed natural
to Maitre Giguet, who had the merit of divining our wishes in the
choice of a chairman, to guide us still further in electing
inspectors; but, if I am not mistaken, you think with me that once is
enough--and you are right. Our mutual friend, Simon Giguet, who
intends to offer himself as candidate, would have the air of assuming
mastery, and he might, consequently, lose in our minds the good-will
we should otherwise bestow upon a modest attitude like that of his
venerable father. Now what is our worthy chairman doing at this moment
by accepting the method of presiding suggested to him by the
candidate? He is depriving us of our liberty! I ask you: is it proper
that the chairman of our choice should tell us to nominate, by rising
or sitting, inspectors of the ballot thus forced upon us? Have we any
liberty of choice? If I were proposed, I believe all present would
rise out of politeness; indeed, we should all feel bound to rise for
one another, and I say there can be no choice where there is no
freedom of action."
"He is right," said the sixty auditors.
"Therefore, let us each write two names on a ballot, and the two
gentlemen who are elected will then feel themselves the real choice of
this assembly; they will have the right, conjointly with our honorable
chairman, to pronounce upon the majority when we come to a vote on the
resolutions to be offered. We are here, I think, to promise to a
candidate the fullest support that each can give at the coming primary
meeting of all the electors of the arrondissement. This act is
therefore, and I so declare it, a grave one. Does it not concern one
four-hundredth part of the governing power,--as our excellent mayor
has lately said with the ready wit that characterizes him and for
which we have so high an appreciation?"
During these remarks Colonel Giguet was cutting a sheet of paper into
strips, and Simon had sent for pens and ink.
This preliminary discussion on forms had already made Simon extremely
uneasy, and had also aroused the attention of the sixty assembled
bourgeois. Presently they began to write their ballots, and the wily
Pigoult contrived to obtain a majority for Monsieur Mollot, the clerk
of the court, and Monsieur Godivet, the registrar. These nominations
were naturally very displeasing to Fromaget, the apothecary, and
Marcelin the solicitor.
"You enable us," said Achille Pigoult, "to manifest our independence.
Therefore you may feel more pride in being rejected than you could
have felt in being chosen."
Simon Giguet then produced silence by demanding speech of the
chairman, whose shirt was already wet and became still wetter as he
mustered all his courage to say:--
"Monsieur Simon Giguet has the floor."
THE FIRST PARLIAMENTARY TEMPEST
"Messieurs," said Simon Giguet, "I ask permission to thank Monsieur
Achille Pigoult, who, although our meeting is altogether friendly--"
"It is a meeting preparatory to the great primary meeting," said the
"That is what I was about to explain," resumed Simon, "I thank
Monsieur Achille Pigoult for having insisted on the strictness of
parliamentary forms. This is the first time that the arrondissement of
Arcis has been at liberty to use--"
"At liberty!" said Pigoult, interrupting the orator.
"At liberty!" cried the assembly.
"At liberty," continued Simon Giguet, "to use its rights in the great
battle of a general election to the Chamber of Deputies; and as, in a
few days, we shall have a meeting, at which all electors will be
present, to judge of the merits of the candidates, we ought to feel
ourselves most fortunate in becoming accustomed here, in this limited
meeting, to the usages of great assemblies. We shall be all the more
able to decide the political future of the town of Arcis; for the
question now is to substitute a town's interests for family interests,
a whole region for a man."
Simon then reviewed the history of the Arcis elections for the last
twenty years. While approving the constant election of Francois
Keller, he said the moment had now come to shake off the yoke of the
house of Gondreville. Arcis ought to be no more a fief of the liberals
than a fief of the Cinq-Cygnes. Advanced opinions were arising in
France of which the Kellers were not the exponents. Charles Keller,
having become a viscount, belonged to the court; he could have no
independence, because, in presenting him as candidate, his family
thought much more of making him succeed to his father's peerage than
of benefiting his constituency as deputy, etc., etc. And, finally,
Simon presented himself to the choice of his fellow-citizens, pledging
his word to sit on the same bench with the illustrious Odilon Barrot,
and never to desert the glorious flag of Progress.
_Progress_! one of those words behind which more flimsy ambitions than
ideas were trying to group themselves; for, after 1830, it represented
only the pretensions of a few hungry democrats. Nevertheless, this
word had still a great effect upon Arcis, and gave stability to
whosoever might inscribe it on his banner. To call himself a man of
progress was to declare himself a philosopher in all things and a
puritan in politics; it declared him in favor of railroads,
mackintoshes, penitentiaries, wooden pavements, Negro freedom,
savings-banks, seamless shoes, lighting by gas, asphalt pavements,
universal suffrage, and reduction of the civil list. In short, it
meant pronouncing himself against the treaties of 1815, against the
Eldest Branch, against the colossus of the North, perfidious Albion,
against all enterprises, good or bad, of the government. Thus we see
that the word _progress_ might signify "No," as well as "Yes." It was
gilding put upon the word _liberalism_, a new pass-word for new
"If I have rightly understood what this meeting is for," said Jean
Violette, a stocking-maker, who had recently bought the Beauvisage
house, "it is to pledge ourselves to support, by employing every means
in our power, Monsieur Simon Giguet at the elections as deputy in
place of Comte Francois Keller. If each of us intends to coalesce in
this manner we have only to say plainly Yes or No on that point."
"That is going too quickly to the point! Political affairs do not
advance in that way, or there would be no politics at all!" cried
Pigoult, whose old grandfather, eighty-six years old, had just entered
the room. "The last speaker undertakes to decide what seems to me,
according to my feeble lights, the very object we are met to discuss.
I demand permission to speak."
"Monsieur Achille Pigoult has the floor," said Beauvisage, at last
able to pronounce that phrase with all his municipal and
"Messieurs," said the notary, "if there is a house in Arcis in which
no voice should be raised against the influence of the Comte de
Gondreville, it is surely the one we are now in. The worthy Colonel
Giguet is the only person in it who has not sought the benefits of the
senatorial power; he, at least, has never asked anything of the Comte
de Gondreville, who took his name off the list of exiles in 1815 and
caused him to receive the pension which the colonel now enjoys without
lifting a finger to obtain it."
A murmur, flattering to the old soldier, greeted this observation.
"But," continued the orator, "the Marions are covered with the count's
benefits. Without that influence, the late Colonel Giguet would not
have commanded the gendarmerie of the Aube. The late Monsieur Marion
would not have been chief-justice of the Imperial court without the
protection of the count, to whom I myself have every reason to be
thankful. You will therefore think it natural that I should be his
advocate within these walls. There are, indeed, few persons in this
arrondissement who have not received benefits from that family."
"A candidate puts himself in the stocks," continued Achille Pigoult,
warming up. "I have the right to scrutinize his life before I invest
him with my powers. I do not desire ingratitude in the delegate I may
help to send to the Chamber, for ingratitude is like misfortune--one
ingratitude leads to others. We have been, he tells us, the
stepping-stone of the Kellers; well, from what I have heard here, I am
afraid we may become the stepping-stone of the Giguets. We live in a
practical age, do we not? Well, then, let us examine into what will be
the results to the arrondissement of Arcis if Simon Giguet is elected.
They talk to you of independence! Simon, whom I thus maltreat as
candidate, is my personal friend, as he is that of all who hear me,
and I should myself be charmed to see him the orator of the Left,
seated between Garnier-Pages and Lafitte; but how would that benefit
the arrondissement? The arrondissement would lose the support of the
Comte de Gondreville and the Kellers. We all, in the course of five
years, have had and shall have need of the one and of the others. Some
have gone to the Marechale de Carigliano to obtain the release of a
young fellow who had drawn a bad number. Others have had recourse to
the influence of the Kellers in many matters which are decided
according to their recommendation. We have always found the old Comte
de Gondreville ready to do us service. It is enough to belong to Arcis
to obtain admission to him without being forced to kick our heels in
his antechamber. Those two families know every one in Arcis. Where is
the financial influence of the Giguets, and what power have they with
the ministry? Have they any standing at the Bourse? When we want to
replace our wretched wooden bridge with one of stone can they obtain
from the department and the State the necessary funds? By electing
Charles Keller we shall cement a bond of friendship which has never,
to this day, failed to do us service. By electing my good, my
excellent schoolmate, my worthy friend Simon Giguet, we shall realize
nothing but losses until the far-distant time when he becomes a
minister. I know his modesty well enough to be certain he will not
contradict me when I say that I doubt his election to the post of
deputy." [Laughter.] "I have come to this meeting to oppose a course
which I regard as fatal to our arrondissement. Charles Keller belongs
to the court, they say to me. Well, so much the better! we shall not
have to pay the costs of his political apprenticeship; he knows the
affairs of the country; he knows parliamentary necessities; he is much
nearer being a statesman than my friend Simon, who will not pretend to
have made himself a Pitt or a Talleyrand in a little town like
"Danton went from it!" cried Colonel Giguet, furious at Achille's
speech and the justice of it.
This was an acclamation, and sixty persons clapped their hands.
"My father has a ready wit," whispered Simon Giguet to Beauvisage.
"I do not understand why, apropos of an election," continued the old
colonel, rising suddenly, with the blood boiling in his face, "we
should be hauled up for the ties which connect us with the Comte de
Gondreville. My son's fortune comes from his mother; he has asked
nothing of the Comte de Gondreville. The comte might never have
existed and Simon would have been what he now is,--the son of a
colonel of artillery who owes his rank to his services; a man whose
opinions have never varied. I should say openly to the Comte de
Gondreville if he were present: 'We have elected your son-in-law for
twenty years; to-day we wish to prove that in so doing we acted of our
own free-will, and we now elect a man of Arcis, in order to show that
the old spirit of 1789, to which you owe your fortune, still lives in
the land of Danton, Malin, Grevin, Pigoult, Marion--That is all!"
And the old man sat down. Whereupon a great hubbub arose. Achille
opened his mouth to reply. Beauvisage, who would not have thought
himself chairman unless he had rung his bell, increased the racket,
and called for silence. It was then two o'clock.
"I shall take the liberty to observe to the honorable Colonel Giguet,
whose feelings are easily understood, that he took upon himself to
speak, which is against parliamentary usage," said Achille Pigoult.
"I think it is not necessary to call the colonel to order," said the
chairman. "He is a father--"
Silence was re-established.
"We did not come here," cried Fromaget, "to say Amen to everything the
Messieurs Giguet, father and son, may wish--"
"No! no!" cried the assembly.
"Things are going badly," said Madame Marion to her cook in the
"Messieurs," resumed Achille, "I confine myself to asking my friend
Simon Giguet, categorically, what he expects to do for our interests."
"Yes! yes!" cried the assembly.
"Since when," demanded Simon Giguet, "have good citizens like those of
Arcis made trade and barter of the sacred mission of deputy?"
It is impossible to represent the effect produced by noble sentiments
on a body of men. They will applaud fine maxims, while they none the
less vote for the degradation of their country, like the galley-slave
who shouted for the punishment of Robert Macaire when he saw the thing
played, and then went off and killed his own Monsieur Germeuil.
"Bravo!" cried several true-blood Giguet electors.
"You will send me to the Chamber," went on Simon, "if you do send me,
to represent principles, the principles of 1789; to be one of the
ciphers, if you choose, of the Opposition, but a cipher that votes
with it to enlighten the government, make war against abuses, and
promote progress in all things--"
"What do you call progress?" asked Fromaget. "For us, progress means
getting the waste lands of la Champagne under cultivation."
"Progress! I will explain to you what I mean by that," cried Giguet,
exasperated by the interruption.
"It is the frontier of the Rhine for France," put in the colonel, "and
the destruction of the treaties of 1815."
"It is selling wheat dear and keeping bread cheap," cried Achille
Pigoult sarcastically, thinking that he made a joke, but actually
expressing one of the delusions that reign in France.
"It is the happiness of all, obtained by the triumph of humanitarian
doctrines," continued Simon.
"What did I tell you?" said Achille to his neighbors.
"Hush! silence! let us listen!" said various voices.
"Messieurs," said the stout Mollot, smiling, "the debate is beginning;
give your attention to the orator; and let him explain himself."
"In all transitional epochs, Messieurs," continued Simon, gravely,
"and we are now in such an epoch--"
"Ba-a-a! ba-a-a!" bleated a friend of Achille Pigoult, who possessed
the faculty (precious at elections) of ventriloquism.
A roar of laughter came from the whole assembly, who were Champagnards
before all else. Simon Giguet folded his arms and waited till the
"If it was intended to give me a lesson," he resumed, "and to tell me
that I belong to the flock of the glorious defenders of the rights of
humanity, the flock of the immortal priest who pleads for dying
Poland, the daring pamphleteers, the scrutinizers of the civil test,
the philosophers who demand sincerity in the working of our
institutions, if that was the intention of my nameless interrupter, I
thank him. To me, progress is the realization of all that was promised
to us by the revolution of July; it is electoral reform, it is--"
"What! are you a democrat?" said Achille Pigoult.
"No," replied the candidate. "To desire the legitimate and regular
development of our institutions, is that being a democrat? To me,
progress is fraternity re-established between the members of the great
French family. We cannot conceal from ourselves that many
At three o'clock Simon Giguet was still explaining Progress,
accompanied by the rhythmic snores of various electors which denoted a
sound sleep. The malicious Achille Pigoult had urged all present to
listen religiously to the young orator, who was now floundering in his
phrases and paraphrases hopelessly at random.
THE PERPLEXITIES OF THE GOVERNMENT IN ARCIS
At this moment several groups of bourgeois, electors and non-electors,
were standing before the Chateau d'Arcis, the iron gates of which open
on the square near to the door of Madame Marion's house. This square
is a piece of open ground from which issue several roads and several
streets. In it is a covered market. Opposite to the chateau, on the
other side of the square, which is neither paved nor macadamized, and
where the rain has made various little gutters, is a fine esplanade,
called the Avenue of Sighs. Is that to the honor or to the blame of
the leaders of the town? This singular ambibology is no doubt a stroke
of native wit.
Two handsome side avenues, planted with lindens, lead from the square
to a circular boulevard which forms another promenade, though usually
deserted, where more dirt and rubbish than promenaders may commonly be
At the height of the discussion which Achille Pigoult was dramatizing
with a coolness and courage worthy of a member of a real parliament,
four personages were walking down one of the linden avenues which led
from the Avenue of Sighs. When they reached the square, they stopped
as if by common consent, and looked at the inhabitants of Arcis, who
were humming before the chateau like so many bees before returning to
their hives at night. The four promenaders were the whole ministerial
conclave of Arcis, namely: the sub-prefect, the _procureur-du-roi_,
his substitute, and the examining-judge, Monsieur Martener. The judge
of the court, Monsieur Michu, was, as we know already, a partisan of
the Elder Branch and a devoted adherent of the house of Cinq-Cygne.
"No, I don't understand the action of the government," repeated the
sub-prefect, Antonin Goulard, pointing to the groups which seemed to
be thickening. "At such an important crisis to leave me without
"In that you are like the rest of us," said Olivier Vinet, the
"Why do you blame the government?" asked the _procureur-du-roi_,
"The ministry is much embarrassed," remarked young Martener. "It knows
that this arrondissement belongs, in a certain way, to the Kellers,
and it is very desirous not to thwart them. It is forced to keep on
good terms with the only man who is comparable to Monsieur de
Talleyrand. It is not to the prefect, but to the Comte de Gondreville
that you ought to send the commissary of police."
"Meanwhile," said Frederic Marest, "the Opposition is bestirring
itself; you see yourselves the influence of Monsieur Giguet. Our
mayor, Monsieur Beauvisage, is presiding over that preparatory
"After all," said Olivier Vinet slyly to the sub-prefect, "Simon
Giguet is your friend and schoolmate; he will belong to the Thiers'
party; you risk nothing in supporting his election."
"The present ministry could dismiss me before its fall," replied the
sub-prefect, "and who knows when I should be reappointed?"
"Collinet, the grocer!--that makes the sixty-sixth elector who has
entered the Giguet house," said Monsieur Martener, who was practising
his trade as examining-judge by counting the electors.
"If Charles Keller is the ministerial candidate," resumed the
sub-prefect, "I ought to have been told of it; the government makes a
mistake in giving time for Simon Giguet to get hold of the electors."
These four individuals had now reached, walking slowly, the spot where
the avenue ceases and becomes an open square.
"There's Monsieur Groslier," said the judge, catching sight of a man
This was the commissary of police; he saw the government of Arcis
collected on the public square, and he rode up to the four gentlemen.
"Well, Monsieur Groslier?" said the sub-prefect, taking the commissary
a little apart from his three colleagues.
"Monsieur," said the commissary of police in a low voice, "Monsieur la
prefet has sent me to tell you some sad news; Monsieur le Vicomte
Charles Keller is dead. The news reached Paris by telegram night
before last, and the two Messieurs Keller, the Comte de Gondreville,
the Marechale Carigliano, in fact the whole family are now at
Gondreville. Abd-el-Kader has resumed the offensive in Africa; the war
is being vigorously carried on. This poor young man was among the
first victims of the renewal of hostilities. You will receive
confidential instructions, so Monsieur le prefet told me, in relation
to the coming election."
"By whom?" asked the sub-prefect.
"If I knew that, the matter would not be confidential," replied the
commissary. "In fact, I think the prefect himself does not know. He
told me that the matter would be a secret one between you and the
Then he rode on, after seeing the sub-prefect lay his fingers on his
lips as a warning to keep silence.
"Well, what news from the prefecture?" said the _procureur-du-roi_,
when Goulard returned to the group of the three functionaries.
"Nothing satisfactory," replied Goulard, stepping quickly, as if he
wanted to get away from the others, who now walked silently toward
the middle of the square, somewhat piqued by the manner of the
sub-prefect. There Monsieur Martener noticed old Madame Beauvisage,
the mother of Phileas, surrounded by nearly all the bourgeois on the
square, to whom she was apparently relating something. A solicitor,
named Sinot, who numbered all the royalists of Arcis among his
clients, and who had not gone to the Giguet meeting, now detached
himself from the group, and running to the door of the Marion house
rang the bell violently.
"What can be the matter?" said Frederic Marest, dropping his eyeglass,
and calling the attention of his colleagues to this circumstance.
"The matter is, messieurs," said the sub-prefect, thinking it useless
to keep a secret which was evidently known to the other party, "that
Charles Keller has been killed in Africa, and that this event doubles
the chances of Simon Giguet. You know Arcis; there can be no other
ministerial candidate than Charles Keller. Any other man would find
the whole local patriotism of the place arrayed against him.
"Will they really elect such an idiot as Simon Giguet?" said Olivier
This young substitute, then only twenty-three years of age, was the
son of one of our most famous attorney-generals, who had come into
power with the Revolution of July; he therefore owed his early
entrance into public life to the influence of his father. The latter,
always elected deputy by the town of Provins, is one of the buttresses
of the Centre in the Chamber. Therefore the son, whose mother was a
Demoiselle de Chargeboeuf [see "Pierrette"], had a certain air of
assurance, both in his functions and in his personal behavior, that
plainly showed the backing of his father. He expressed his opinion on
men and things without reserve; for he confidently expected not to
stay very long at Arcis, but to receive his appointment as
_procureur-du-roi_ at Versailles, a sure step to a post in Paris.
The confident air of this little Vinet, and the sort of assumption
which the certainty of making his way gave to him, was all the more
irritating to Frederic Marest, his superior, because a biting wit
accompanied the rather undisciplined habits and manners of his young
subordinate. Frederic Marest, _procureur-du-roi_, a man about forty
years of age, who had spent six years of his life under the
Restoration in becoming a substitute only to be neglected and left in
Arcis by the government of July, in spite of the fact that he had some
eighteen thousand francs a year of his own, was perpetually kept on
the rack between the necessity of winning the good graces of young
Vinet's father--a touchy attorney-general who might become Keeper of
the Seals--and of keeping his own dignity.
Olivier Vinet, slender in figure, with a pallid face, lighted by a
pair of malicious green eyes, was one of those sarcastic young
gentlemen, inclined to dissipation, who nevertheless know how to
assume the pompous, haughty, and pedantic air with which magistrates
arm themselves when they once reach the bench. The tall, stout, heavy,
and grave _procureur-du-roi_ had lately invented a system by which he
hoped to keep out of trouble with the exasperating Olivier; he treated
him as a father would treat a spoilt child.
"Olivier," he replied to his substitute, slapping him on the shoulder,
"a man of your capacity ought to reflect that Maitre Giguet is very
likely to become deputy. You'd have made that remark just as readily
before the people of Arcis as before us, who are safe friends."
"There is one thing against Giguet," observed Monsieur Martener.
This good young man, rather heavy but full of capacity, the son of a
physician in Provins, owed his place to Vinet's father, who was long a
lawyer in Provins and still continued to be the patron of his people
as the Comte de Gondreville was the patron of the people of Arcis.
"What is that?" asked the sub-prefect.
"Local patriotism is always bitterly against a man who is imposed upon
the electors," replied the examining-judge, "but when it happens that
the good people of Arcis have to elevate one of their own equals to
the Chamber, envy and jealousy are stronger than patriotism."
"That is very simple," said the _procureur-du-roi_, "and very true. If
you can manage to collect fifty ministerial votes you will find
yourself master of the coming election," he added, addressing the
"It will do if you produce a candidate of the same calibre as Simon
Giguet," said Olivier Vinet.
The sub-prefect allowed an expression of satisfaction to appear upon
his features, which did not escape the notice of his three companions,
with whom, moreover, he had a full understanding. All four being
bachelors, and tolerably rich, they had formed, without premeditation,
an alliance against the dulness of the provinces. The three
functionaries had already remarked the sort of jealousy that Goulard
felt for Giguet, which a few words on their antecedents will explain.
Antonin Goulard, the son of a former huntsman to the house of Simeuse,
enriched by the purchase of the confiscated property of _emigres_ was,
like Simon Giguet, a son of Arcis. Old Goulard, his father, left the
abbey of Valpreux (corruption of Val-des-Preux) to live in Arcis after
the death of his wife, and he sent his son to the imperial lyceum,
where Colonel Giguet had already placed his son Simon. The two
schoolmates subsequently went through their legal studies in Paris
together, and their intimacy was continued in the amusements of youth.
They promised to help each other to success in life whenever they
entered upon their different careers. But fate willed that they should
end by being rivals.
In spite of Goulard's manifest advantages, in spite of the cross of
the Legion of honor which the Comte de Gondreville had obtained for
him in default of promotion, the offer of his heart and position had
been frankly declined when, about six months before this history
begins, he had privately presented himself to Madame Beauvisage as a
suitor for her daughter's hand. No step of that nature is ever taken
secretly in the provinces. The _procureur-du-roi_, Frederic Marest,
whose fortune, buttonhole, and position were about on a par with those
of Antonin Goulard, had received a like refusal, three years earlier,
based on the difference of ages. Consequently, the two officials were
on terms of strict politeness with the Beauvisage family, and laughed
at them severally in private. Both had divined and communicated to
each other the real motive of the candidacy of Simon Giguet, for they
fully understood the hopes of Madame Marion; and they were bent on
preventing her nephew from marrying the heiress whose hand had been
refused to them.
"God grant that I may be master of this election," said Goulard, "and
that the Comte de Gondreville may get me made a prefect, for I have no
more desire than you to spend the rest of my days here, though I was
born in Arcis."
"You have a fine opportunity to be elected deputy yourself, my chief,"
said Olivier Vinet to Marest. "Come and see my father, who will, I
think, arrive here from Provins in a few hours. Let us propose to him
to have you chosen as ministerial candidate."
"Halt!" said Antonin; "the ministry has its own views about the deputy
"Ah, bah!" exclaimed Vinet, "there are two ministries: the one that
thinks it makes elections, and another that thinks it profits by
"Don't let us complicate Antonin's difficulties," said Frederic
Marest, winking at his substitute.
The four officials, who had crossed the open square and were close to
the Mulet inn, now saw Poupart leaving the house of Madame Marion and
coming towards them. A moment later, and the _porte cochere_ of that
house vomited the sixty-seven conspirators.
"So you went to that meeting?" said Antonin Goulard to Poupart.
"I shall never go again, monsieur le sous-prefet," said the innkeeper.
"The son of Monsieur Keller is dead, and I have now no object in going
there. God has taken upon himself to clear the ground."
"Well, Pigoult, what happened?" cried Olivier Vinet, catching sight of
the young notary.
"Oh!" said Pigoult, on whose forehead the perspiration, which had not
dried, bore testimony to his efforts, "Simon has just told some news
that made them all unanimous. Except five persons,--Poupart, my
grandfather, Mollot, Sinot, and I,--all present swore, as at the Jeu
de Paume, to employ every means to promote the triumph of Simon
Giguet, of whom I have made a mortal enemy. Oh! we got warm, I can
tell you! However, I led the Giguets to fulminate against the
Gondrevilles. That puts the old count on my side. No later than
to-morrow he will hear what the _soi-disant_ patriots of Arcis have
said about him and his corruptions and his infamies, to free their
necks, as they called it, of his yoke."
"Unanimous, were they?" said Olivier Vinet, laughing.
"Unanimous, _to-day_," remarked Monsieur Martener.
"Oh!" exclaimed Pigoult, "the general sentiment of the electors is for
one of their own townsmen. Whom can you oppose to Simon Giguet,--a man
who has just spent two hours in explaining the word _progress_."
"Take old Grevin!" cried the sub-prefect.
"He has no such ambition," replied Pigoult. "But we must first of all
consult the Comte de Gondreville. Look, look!" he added; "see the
attentions with which Simon is taking him that gilded booby,
And he pointed to the candidate, who was holding the mayor by the arm
and whispering in his ear. Beauvisage meantime was bowing right and
left to the inhabitants, who gazed at him with the deference which
provincials always testify to the richest man in their locality.
"But there's no use cajoling _him_," continued Pigoult. "Cecile's hand
does not depend on either her father or her mother."
"On whom, then?"
"On my old patron, Monsieur Grevin. Even if Simon is elected deputy,
the town is not won."
Though the sub-prefect and Frederic Marest tried to get an explanation
of these words, Pigoult refused to give the reason of an exclamation
which seemed to them big with meaning and implying a certain knowledge
of the plans of the Beauvisage family.
All Arcis was now in a commotion, not only on account of the fatal
event which had just overtaken the Gondreville family, but because of
the great resolution come to at the Giguet house, where Madame Marion
and her three servants were hurriedly engaged in putting everything in
its usual order, ready to receive her customary guests, whose
curiosity would probably bring them that evening in large numbers.
THE CAMPAIGN OF 1814 FROM THE HOSIERY POINT OF VIEW
Champagne has all the appearance of a poor region, and it is a poor
region. Its general aspect is sad; the land is flat. Passing through
the villages, and even the towns, you will see nothing but miserable
buildings of wood or half-baked clay; the best are built of brick.
Stone is scarcely used at all except on public buildings. At Arcis the
chateau, the law courts, and the church are the only stone buildings.
Nevertheless, Champagne, or, if you prefer to say so, the departments
of the Aube, Marne, and Haut-Marne, richly endowed with vineyards, the
fame of which is world-wide, are otherwise full of flourishing
Without speaking of the manufactures of Reims, nearly all the hosiery
of France--a very considerable trade--is manufactured about Troyes.
The surrounding country, over a circuit of thirty miles, is covered
with workmen, whose looms can be seen through the open doors as we
pass through the villages. These workmen are employed by agents, who
themselves are in the service of speculators called manufacturers. The
agents negotiate with the large Parisian houses, often with the retail
hosiers, all of whom put out the sign, "Manufacturers of Hosiery."
None of them have ever made a pair of stockings, nor a cap, nor a
sock; all their hosiery comes chiefly from Champagne, though there are
a few skilled workmen in Paris who can rival the Champenois.
This intermediate agency between the producer and the consumer is an
evil not confined to hosiery. It exists in almost all trades, and
increases the cost of merchandise by the amount of the profit exacted
by the middlemen. To break down these costly partitions, that injure
the sale of products, would be a magnificent enterprise, which, in its
results, would attain to the height of statesmanship. In fact,
industry of all kinds would gain by establishing within our borders
the cheapness so essential to enable us to carry on victoriously the
industrial warfare with foreign countries,--a struggle as deadly as
that of arms.
But the destruction of an abuse of this kind would not return to
modern philanthropists the glory and the advantages of a crusade
against the empty nutshells of the penitentiary and negrophobia;
consequently, the interloping profits of these _bankers of
merchandise_ will continue to weigh heavily both on producers and
consumers. In France--keen-witted land!--it is thought that to
simplify is to destroy. The Revolution of 1789 is still a terror.
We see, by the industrial energy displayed in a land where Nature is a
godmother, what progress agriculture might make if capital would go
into partnership with the soil, which is not so thankless in Champagne
as it is in Scotland, where capital has done wonders. The day when
agriculture will have conquered the unfertile portion of those
departments, and industry has seconded capital on the Champagne chalk,
the prosperity of that region will triple itself. Into that land, now
without luxury, where homes are barren, English comfort will
penetrate, money will obtain that rapid circulation which is the half
of wealth, and is already beginning in several of the inert portions
of our country. Writers, administrators, the Church from its pulpit,
the Press in its columns, all to whom chance has given power to
influence the masses, should say and resay this truth,--to hoard is a
social crime. The deliberate hoarding of a province arrests industrial
life, and injures the health of a nation.
Thus the little town of Arcis, without much means of transition,
doomed apparently to the most complete immobility, is, relatively, a
rich town abounding in capital slowly amassed by its trade in hosiery.
Monsieur Phileas Beauvisage was the Alexander, or, if you will, the
Attila of this business. And here follow the means by which this
honorable merchant had acquired his supremacy over cotton.
The last remaining child of farmers named Beauvisage, tenants of the
splendid farm of Bellache, a dependency of the Gondreville estate, his
parents made, in 1811, a great sacrifice in order to buy a substitute
and save their only child from conscription. After that, in 1813, the
mother Beauvisage, having become a widow, saved her son once more from
enrolment in the Gardes, thanks to the influence of the Comte de
Gondreville. Phileas, who was then twenty-one years of age, had been
devoted for the last three years to the peaceable trade of hosiery.
Coming to the end of the lease of Bellache, old Madame Beauvisage
declined to renew it. She saw she had enough to do in her old age in
taking care of her property. That nothing might give her uneasiness of
mind, she proceeded, by the help of Monsieur Grevin, the notary of
Arcis, to liquidate her husband's estate, although her son made no
request whatever for a settlement. The result proved that she owed him
the sum of one hundred and fifty thousand francs. The good woman did
not sell her landed property, most of which came from the unfortunate
Michu, the former bailiff of the Simeuse family; she paid the sum to
Phileas in ready money,--advising him to buy out the business of his
employer, Monsieur Pigoult, the son of the old justice of the peace,
whose affairs were in so bad a way that his death, as we have said,
was thought to be voluntary.
Phileas Beauvisage, a virtuous youth, having a deep respect for his
mother, concluded the purchase from his patron, and as he had the bump
of what phrenologists term "acquisitiveness," his youthful ardor spent
itself upon this business, which he thought magnificent and desired to
increase by speculation.
The name of Phileas, which may seem peculiar, is only one of the many
oddities which we owe to the Revolution. Attached to the Simeuse
family, and consequently, good Catholics, the Beauvisage father and
mother desired to have their son baptized. The rector of Cinq-Cygne,
the Abbe Goujet, whom they consulted, advised them to give their son
for patron a saint whose Greek name might signify the municipality,
--for the child was born at a period when children were inscribed on
the civil registers under the fantastic names of the Republican
In 1814, hosiery, a stable business with few risks in ordinary times,
was subject to all the variations in the price of cotton. This price
depended at that time on the triumph or the defeat of the Emperor
Napoleon, whose adversaries, the English generals, used to say in
Spain: "The town is taken; now get out your bales."
Pigoult, former patron of young Phileas, furnished the raw material to
his workmen, who were scattered all over the country. At the time when
he sold the business to Beauvisage junior, he possessed a large amount
of raw cotton bought at a high price, whereas Lisbon was sending
enormous quantities into the Empire at six sous the kilogramme, in
virtue of the Emperor's celebrated decree. The reaction produced in
France by the introduction of the Portuguese cotton caused the death
of Pigoult, Achille's father, and began the fortune of Phileas, who,
far from losing his head like his master, made his prices moderate by
buying cotton cheaply and in doubling the quantity ventured upon by
his predecessor. This simple system enabled Phileas to triple the
manufacture and to pose as the benefactor of the workingmen; so that
he was able to disperse his hosiery in Paris and all over France at a
profit, when the luckiest of his competitors were only able to sell
their goods at cost price.
At the beginning of 1814, Phileas had emptied his warerooms. The
prospect of a war on French soil, the hardships of which were likely
to press chiefly on Champagne, made him cautious. He manufactured
nothing, and held himself ready to meet all events with his capital
turned into gold. At this period the custom-house lines were no longer
maintained. Napoleon could not do without his thirty thousand
custom-house officers for service in the field. Cotton, then
introduced through a thousand loopholes, slipped into the markets of
France. No one can imagine how sly and how alert cotton had become at
this epoch, nor with what eagerness the English laid hold of a country
where cotton stockings sold for six francs a pair, and cambric shirts
were objects of luxury.
Manufacturers from the second class, the principal workmen, reckoning
on the genius of Napoleon, had bought up the cottons that came from
Spain. They worked it up in hopes of being able later to give the law
to the merchants of Paris. Phileas observed these facts. When the war
ravaged Champagne, he kept himself between the French army and Paris.
After each lost battle he went among the workmen who had buried their
products in casks,--a sort of silo of hosiery,--then, gold in hand,
this Cossack of weaving bought up, from village to village, below the
cost of fabrication, tons of merchandise which might otherwise become
at any time a prey to an enemy whose feet were as much in need of
being _socked_ as its throat of being moistened.
Phileas displayed under these unfortunate circumstances an activity
nearly equal to that of the Emperor. This general of hosiery made a
commercial campaign of 1814 with splendid but ignored courage. A
league or two behind where the army advanced he bought up caps and
socks as the Emperor gathered immortal palms by his very reverses. The
genius was equal on both sides, though exercised in different spheres;
one aimed at covering heads, the other at mowing them down. Obliged to
create some means of transportation in order to save his tons of
hosiery, which he stored in a suburb of Paris, Phileas often put in
requisition horses and army-waggons, as if the safety of the empire
were concerned. But the majesty of commerce was surely as precious as
that of Napoleon. The English merchants, in buying out the European
markets, certainly got the better of the colossus who threatened their
By the time the Emperor abdicated at Fontainebleau, Phileas,
triumphant, was master of the situation. He maintained, by clever
manoeuvring, the depreciation in cottons, and doubled his fortune at
the moment when his luckiest competitors were getting rid of their
merchandise at a loss of fifty per cent. He returned to Arcis with a
fortune of three hundred thousand francs, half of which, invested on
the Grand-Livre at sixty, returned him an income of fifteen thousand
francs a year. He employed the remainder in building, furnishing, and
adorning a handsome house on the Place du Pont in Arcis.
On the return of the successful hosier, Monsieur Grevin was naturally
his confidant. The notary had an only daughter to marry, then twenty
years of age. Grevin, a widower, knew the fortune of Madame
Beauvisage, the mother, and he believed in the energy and capacity of
a young man bold enough to have turned the campaign of 1814 to his
profit. Severine Grevin had her mother's fortune of sixty thousand
francs for her dower. Grevin was then over fifty; he feared to die,
and saw no chance of marrying his daughter as he wished under the
Restoration--for her, he had had ambition. Under these circumstances
he was shrewd enough to make Phileas ask her in marriage.
Severine Grevin, a well-trained young lady and handsome, was
considered at that time the best match in Arcis. In fact, an alliance
with the intimate friend of the senator Comte de Gondreville, peer of
France, was certainly a great honor for the son of a Gondreville
tenant-farmer. The widow Beauvisage, his mother, would have made any
sacrifice to obtain it; but on learning the success of her son, she
dispensed with the duty of giving him a _dot_,--a wise economy which
was imitated by the notary.
Thus was consummated the union of the son of a farmer formerly so
faithful to the Simeuse family with the daughter of its most cruel
enemy. It was, perhaps, the only application made of the famous saying
of Louis XVIII.: "Union and Oblivion."
On the second return of the Bourbons, Grevin's father-in-law, old
Doctor Varlet, died at the age of seventy-six, leaving two hundred
thousand francs in gold in his cellar, besides other property valued
at an equal sum. Thus Phileas and his wife had, outside of their
business, an assured income of thirty thousand francs a year.
The first two years of this marriage sufficed to show Madame Severine
and her father, Monsieur Grevin the absolute silliness of Phileas
Beauvisage. His one gleam of commercial rapacity had seemed to the
notary the result of superior powers; the shrewd old man had mistaken
youth for strength, and luck for genius in business. Phileas certainly
knew how to read and write and cipher well, but he had read nothing.
Of crass ignorance, it was quite impossible to keep up even a slight
conversation with him; he replied to all remarks with a deluge of
commonplaces pleasantly uttered. As the son of a farmer, however,
Phileas was not without a certain commercial good sense, and he was
also kind and tender, and would often weep at a moving tale. It was
this native goodness of heart which made him respect his wife, whose
superiority had always caused him the deepest admiration.
Severine, a woman of ideas, knew all things, so Phileas believed. And
she knew them the more correctly because she consulted her father on
all subjects. She was gifted with great firmness, which made her the
absolute mistress in her own home. As soon as the latter result was
attained, the old notary felt less regret in seeing that his
daughter's only domestic happiness lay in the autocracy which usually
satisfies all women of her nature. But what of the woman herself? Here
follows what she was said to have found in life.
THE BEAUVISAGE FAMILY
During the reaction of 1815, a Vicomte de Chargeboeuf (of the poorer
branch of the family) was sent to Arcis as sub-prefect through the
influence of the Marquise de Cinq-Cygne, to whose family he was
allied. This young man remained sub-prefect for five years. The
beautiful Madame Beauvisage was not, it was said, a stranger to the
reasons that kept him in this office for a period far too prolonged
for his own advancement. We ought to say, however, that these remarks
were not justified by any of the scandals which in the provinces
betray those passions that are difficult to conceal from the
Argus-eyes of a little town. If Severine loved the Vicomte de
Chargeboeuf and was beloved by him, it was in all honor and propriety,
said the friends of the Grevins and the Marions; and that double
coterie imposed its opinion on the whole arrondissement; but the
Marions and the Grevins had no influence on the royalists, and the
royalists regarded the sub-prefect as fortunate in love.
As soon as the Marquise de Cinq-Cygne heard what was said in the
chateaux about her relation, she sent for him; and such was her horror
for all who were connected, near or far, with the actors in the
judicial drama so fatal to her family, that she strictly enjoined him
to change his residence. Not only that, but she obtained his
appointment as sub-prefect of Sancerre with the promise of advancement
to the prefecture.
Some shrewd observers declared that the viscount pretended this
passion for the purpose of being made prefect; for he well knew the
hatred felt by the marquise for the name of Grevin. Others remarked on
the coincidence of the viscount's apparitions in Paris with the visits
made by Madame Beauvisage to the capital on frivolous pretexts. An
impartial historian would be puzzled to form a just opinion on the
facts of this matter, which are buried in the mysteries of private
life. One circumstance alone seems to give color to the reports.
Cecile-Renee Beauvisage was born in 1820, just as Monsieur de
Chargeboeuf left Arcis, and among his various names was that of Rene.
This name was given by the Comte de Gondreville as godfather of the
child. Had the mother objected to the name, she would in some degree
have given color to the rumor. As gossip always endeavors to justify
itself, the giving of this name was said to be a bit of maliciousness
on the part of the old count. Madame Keller, the count's daughter, who
was named Cecile, was the godmother. As for the resemblance shown in
the person of Cecile-Renee Beauvisage, it was striking. This young
girl was like neither father nor mother; in course of time she had
become the living image of the Vicomte de Chargeboeuf, whose
aristocratic manners she had also acquired. This double resemblance,
both moral and physical, was not observed by the inhabitants of Arcis,
for the viscount never returned to that town.
Severine made her husband happy in his own way. He liked good living
and everything easy about him; she supplied him with the choicest
wines, a table worthy of a bishop, served by the best cook in the
department but without the pretensions of luxury; for she kept her
household strictly to the conditions of the burgher life of Arcis. It
was a proverb in Arcis that you must dine with Madame Beauvisage and
spend your evening with Madame Marion.
The renewed influence in the arrondissement of Arcis which the
Restoration gave to the house of Cinq-Cygne had naturally drawn closer
the ties that bound together the various families affected by the
criminal trial relating to the abduction of Gondreville. [See "An
Historical Mystery."] The Marions, Grevins, and Giguets were all the
more united because the triumph of their political opinions, called
"constitutional," now required the utmost harmony.
As a matter of policy Severine encouraged her husband to continue his
trade in hosiery, which any other man but himself would have long
renounced; and she sent him to Paris, and about the country, on
business connected with it. Up to the year 1830 Phileas, who was thus
enabled to exercise his bump of "acquisitiveness," earned every year a
sum equivalent to his expenses. The interest on the property of
Monsieur and Madame Beauvisage, being capitalized for the last fifteen
years by Grevin's intelligent care, became, by 1830, a round sum of
half a million francs. That sum was, in fact, Cecile's _dot_, which
the old notary then invested in the Three-per-cents at fifty,
producing a safe income of thirty thousand a year.
After 1830 Beauvisage sold his business in hosiery to Jean Violette,
one of his agents (grandson of one of the chief witnesses for the
prosecution in the Simeuse trial), the proceeds of which amounted to
three hundred thousand francs. Monsieur and Madame Beauvisage had also
in prospect their double inheritance from old Grevin on one side, and
the old farmer's wife Beauvisage on the other. Great provincial
fortunes are usually the product of time multiplied by economy. Thirty
years of old age make capital.
In giving to Cecile-Renee a _dot_ of fifty thousand francs a year, her
parents still reserved for themselves the two inheritances, thirty
thousand a year on the Grand Livre, and their house in Arcis.
If the Marquise de Cinq-Cygne were only dead, Cecile might assuredly
marry the young marquis; but the health of that great lady, who was
still vigorous and almost beautiful at sixty years of age, precluded
all hope of such a marriage if it even entered the minds of Grevin and
his daughter, as some persons, surprised at their rejection of
eligible suitors like the sub-prefect and the _procureur-du-roi_,
declared that it did.
The Beauvisage residence, one of the best in Arcis, stands on the
Place du Pont on a line with the rue Vide-Bourse, at the corner of the
rue du Pont, which leads to the Place de l'Eglise. Though, like many
provincial houses, without either court or garden, it produces a
certain effect, in spite of its ornamentation in bad taste. The front
door opens on the Place; the windows of the ground-floor look out on
the street-side towards the post-house and inn, and command beyond the
Place a rather picturesque view of the Aube, the navigation of which
begins at the bridge. Beyond the bridge is another little Place or
square, on which lives Monsieur Grevin, and from which the high-road
to Sezanne starts.
On the street and on the square, the Beauvisage house, painted a
spotless white, looks as though built of stone. The height of the
windows and their external mouldings contribute to give a certain
style to the house which contrasts strongly with the generally forlorn
appearance of the houses of Arcis, constructed, as we have already
said, of wood, and covered with plaster, imitating the solidity of
stone. Still, these houses are not without a certain originality,
through the fact that each architect, or each burgher, has endeavored
to solve for himself the problem of styles of building.
The bridge at Arcis is of wood. About four hundred feet above the
bridge the river is crossed by another bridge, on which rise the tall
wooden sides of a mill with several sluices. The space between the
public bridge and this private bridge forms a basin, on the banks of
which are several large houses. By an opening between the roofs can be
seen the height on which stands the chateau of Arcis with its park and
gardens, its outer walls and trees which overhand the river above the
bridges, and the rather scanty pastures of the left bank.
The sound of the water as it runs through the courses above the dam,
the music of the wheels, from which the churned water falls back into
the basin in sparkling cascades, animate the rue du Pont, contrasting
in this respect with the tranquillity of the river flowing downward
between the garden of Monsieur Grevin, whose house is at one angle of
the bridge on the left bank, and the port where the boats and barges
discharge their merchandise before a line of poor but picturesque
Nothing can better express provincial life than the deep silence that
envelops the little town and reigns in its busiest region. It is easy
to imagine, therefore, how disquieting the presence of a stranger, if
he only spends half a day there, may be to the inhabitants; with what
attention faces protrude from the windows to observe him, and also the
condition of espial in which all the residents of the little place
stand to each other. Life has there become so conventional that,
except on Sundays and fete-days, a stranger meets no one either on the
boulevards or the Avenue of Sighs, not even, in fact, upon the
It will now be readily understood why the ground-floor of the
Beauvisage house is on a level with the street and square. The square
serves as its courtyard. Sitting at his window the eyes of the late
hosier could take in the whole of the Place de l'Eglise, the two
squares of the bridge, and the road to Sezanne. He could see the
coaches arriving and the travellers descending at the post-inn; and on
court days he could watch the proceedings around the offices of the
mayor and the justice of peace. For these reasons, Beauvisage would
not have exchanged his house for the chateau, in spite of its lordly
air, its stone walls, and its splendid situation.
IN WHICH THE DOT, ONE OF THE HEROINES OF THIS HISTORY, APPEARS
Entering the Beauvisage house we find a versatile, at the farther end
of which rises the staircase. To right we enter a large salon with two
windows opening on the square; to left is a handsome dining-room,
looking on the street. The floor above is the one occupied by the
Notwithstanding the large fortune of the Beauvisage husband and wife,
their establishment consisted of only a cook and a chamber-maid, the
latter a peasant, who washed and ironed and frotted the floors rather
than waited on her two mistresses, who were accustomed to spend their
time in dressing and waiting upon each other. Since the sale of the
business to Jean Violette, the horse and cabriolet used by Phileas,
and kept at the Hotel de la Poste, had been relinquished and sold.
At the moment when Phileas reached his house after the Giguet meeting,
his wife, already informed of the resolutions passed, had put on her
boots and shawl and was preparing to go to her father; for she felt
very sure that Madame Marion would, on that same evening, make her
certain overtures relating to Simon and Cecile. After telling his wife
of Charles Keller's death, Phileas asked her opinion with an artless
"What do you think of that, wife?" which fully pictured his habit of
deferring to Severine's opinion in all things. Then he sat down in an
arm-chair and awaited her reply.
In 1839, Madame Beauvisage, then forty-four years old, was so
well-preserved that she might, in that respect, rival Mademoiselle
Mars. By calling to mind the most charming Celimene that the
Theatre-Francais ever had, an excellent idea of Severine Grevin's
appearance will be obtained. The same richness of coloring, the same
beauty of features, the same clearly defined outlines; but the hosier's
wife was short,--a circumstance which deprived her of that noble grace,
that charming coquetry _a la_ Sevigne, through which the great actress
commends herself to the memory of men who saw both the Empire and the
Provincial life and the rather careless style of dress into which, for
the last ten years, Severine had allowed herself to fall, gave a
somewhat common air to that noble profile and those beautiful
features; increasing plumpness was destroying the outlines of a figure
magnificently fine during the first twelve years of her married life.
But Severine redeemed these growing imperfections with a sovereign,
superb, imperious glance, and a certain haughty carriage of her head.
Her hair, still black and thick and long, was raised high upon her
head, giving her a youthful look. Her shoulders and bosom were snowy,
but they now rose puffily in a manner to obstruct the free movement of
the neck, which had grown too short. Her plump and dimpled arms ended
in pretty little hands that were, alas, too fat. She was, in fact, so
overdone with fulness of life and health that her flesh formed a
little pad, as one might call it, above her shoes. Two ear-drops,
worth about three-thousand francs each, adorned her ears. She wore a
lace cap with pink ribbons, a mousseline-de-laine gown in pink and
gray stripes with an edging of green, opened at the bottom to show a
petticoat trimmed with valencienne lace; and a green cashmere shawl
with palm-leaves, the point of which reached the ground as she walked.
"You are not so hungry," she said, casting her eyes on Beauvisage,
"that you can't wait half an hour? My father has finished dinner and I
couldn't eat mine in peace without knowing what he thinks and whether
we ought to go to Gondreville."
"Go, go, my dear. I'll wait," said Phileas, using the "thee" and
"Good heavens!" cried Severine with a significant gesture of her
shoulders. "Shall I never break you of that habit of tutoying me?"
"I never do it before company--not since 1817," said Phileas.
"You do it constantly before the servants and your daughter."
"As you will, Severine," replied Beauvisage sadly.
"Above all, don't say a word to Cecile about this resolution of the
electors," added Madame Beauvisage, who was looking in the glass to
arrange her shawl.
"Shall I go with you to your father's?" asked Phileas.
"No, stay with Cecile. Besides, Jean Violette was to pay the rest of
the purchase-money to-day. He has twenty thousand francs to bring you.
This is the third time he has put us off three months; don't grant him
any more delays; if he can't pay now, give his note to Courtet, the
sheriff, and take the law of him. Achille Pigoult will tell you how to
proceed. That Violette is the worthy son of his grandfather; I think
he is capable of enriching himself by going into bankruptcy,--there's
neither law nor gospel in him."
"He is very intelligent," said Beauvisage.
"You have given him the good-will of a fine business for thirty
thousand francs, which is certainly worth fifty thousand; and in ten
years he has only paid you ten thousand--"
"I never sued anybody yet," replied Beauvisage, "and I'd rather lose
my money than torment a poor man--"
"A man who laughs at you!"
Beauvisage was silent; feeling unable to reply to that cruel remark,
he looked at the boards which formed the floor of the salon.
Perhaps the progressive abolition of mind and will in Beauvisage will
be explained by the abuse of sleep. Going to bed every night at eight
o'clock and getting up the next morning at eight, he had slept his
twelve hours nightly for the last twenty years, never waking; or if
that extraordinary event did occur, it was so serious a matter to his
mind that he talked of it all day. He spent an hour at his toilet, for
his wife had trained him not to appear in her presence at breakfast
unless properly shaved, cleaned, and dressed for the day. When he was
in business, he departed to his office after breakfast and returned
only in time for dinner. Since 1832, he had substituted for his
business occupations a daily visit to his father-in-law, a promenade
about the town, or visits to his friends.
In all weather he wore boots, blue coat and trousers, and a white
waistcoat,--the style of dress exacted by his wife. His linen was
remarkable for its fineness and purity, owing to the fact that
Severine obliged him to change it daily. Such care for his person,
seldom taken in the provinces, contributed to make him considered in