Part 3 out of 7
waters are taken from the Theols, was constructed in former times,
when the town was flourishing, for the use of manufactories or to
flood the moats of the rampart. The "Riviere forcee" forms an
artificial arm of a natural river, the Tournemine, which unites with
several other streams beyond the suburb of Rome. These little threads
of running water and the two rivers irrigate a tract of wide-spreading
meadow-land, enclosed on all sides by little yellowish or white
terraces dotted with black speckles; for such is the aspect of the
vineyards of Issoudun during seven months of the year. The
vine-growers cut the plants down yearly, leaving only an ugly stump,
without support, sheltered by a barrel. The traveller arriving from
Vierzon, Vatan, or Chateauroux, his eyes weary with monotonous plains,
is agreeably surprised by the meadows of Issoudun,--the oasis of this
part of Berry, which supplies the inhabitants with vegetables
throughout a region of thirty miles in circumference. Below the suburb
of Rome, lies a vast tract entirely covered with kitchen-gardens, and
divided into two sections, which bear the name of upper and lower
Baltan. A long avenue of poplars leads from the town across the
meadows to an ancient convent named Frapesle, whose English gardens,
quite unique in that arrondissement, have received the ambitious name
of Tivoli. Loving couples whisper their vows in its alleys of a
Traces of the ancient grandeur of Issoudun of course reveal themselves
to the eyes of a careful observer; and the most suggestive are the
divisions of the town. The chateau, formerly almost a town itself with
its walls and moats, is a distinct quarter which can only be entered,
even at the present day, through its ancient gateways,--by means of
three bridges thrown across the arms of the two rivers,--and has all
the appearance of an ancient city. The ramparts show, in places, the
formidable strata of their foundations, on which houses have now
sprung up. Above the chateau, is the famous tower of Issoudun, once
the citadel. The conqueror of the city, which lay around these two
fortified points, had still to gain possession of the tower and the
castle; and possession of the castle did not insure that of the tower,
The suburb of Saint-Paterne, which lies in the shape of a palette
beyond the tower, encroaching on the meadow-lands, is so considerable
that in the very earliest ages it must have been part of the city
itself. This opinion derived, in 1822, a sort of certainty from the
then existence of the charming church of Saint-Paterne, recently
pulled down by the heir of the individual who bought it of the nation.
This church, one of the finest specimens of the Romanesque that France
possessed, actually perished without a single drawing being made of
the portal, which was in perfect preservation. The only voice raised
to save this monument of a past art found no echo, either in the town
itself or in the department. Though the castle of Issoudun has the
appearance of an old town, with its narrow streets and its ancient
mansions, the city itself, properly so called, which was captured and
burned at different epochs, notably during the Fronde, when it was
laid in ashes, has a modern air. Streets that are spacious in
comparison with those of other towns, and well-built houses form a
striking contrast to the aspect of the citadel,--a contrast that has
won for Issoudun, in certain geographies, the epithet of "pretty."
In a town thus constituted, without the least activity, even business
activity, without a taste for art, or for learned occupations, and
where everybody stayed in the little round of his or her own home, it
was likely to happen, and did happen under the Restoration in 1816
when the war was over, that many of the young men of the place had no
career before them, and knew not where to turn for occupation until
they could marry or inherit the property of their fathers. Bored in
their own homes, these young fellows found little or no distraction
elsewhere in the city; and as, in the language of that region, "youth
must shed its cuticle" they sowed their wild oats at the expense of
the town itself. It was difficult to carry on such operations in open
day, lest the perpetrators should be recognized; for the cup of their
misdemeanors once filled, they were liable to be arraigned at their
next peccadillo before the police courts; and they therefore
judiciously selected the night time for the performance of their
mischievous pranks. Thus it was that among the traces of divers lost
civilizations, a vestige of the spirit of drollery that characterized
the manners of antiquity burst into a final flame.
The young men amused themselves very much as Charles IX. amused
himself with his courtiers, or Henry V. of England and his companions,
or as in former times young men were wont to amuse themselves in the
provinces. Having once banded together for purposes of mutual help, to
defend each other and invent amusing tricks, there presently developed
among them, through the clash of ideas, that spirit of malicious
mischief which belongs to the period of youth and may even be observed
among animals. The confederation, in itself, gave them the mimic
delights of the mystery of an organized conspiracy. They called
themselves the "Knights of Idleness." During the day these young
scamps were youthful saints; they all pretended to extreme quietness;
and, in fact, they habitually slept late after the nights on which
they had been playing their malicious pranks. The "Knights" began with
mere commonplace tricks, such as unhooking and changing signs, ringing
bells, flinging casks left before one house into the cellar of the
next with a crash, rousing the occupants of the house by a noise that
seemed to their frightened ears like the explosion of a mine. In
Issoudun, as in many country towns, the cellar is entered by an
opening near the door of the house, covered with a wooden scuttle,
secured by strong iron hinges and a padlock.
In 1816, these modern Bad Boys had not altogether given up such tricks
as these, perpetrated in the provinces by all young lads and gamins.
But in 1817 the Order of Idleness acquired a Grand Master, and
distinguished itself by mischief which, up to 1823, spread something
like terror in Issoudun, or at least kept the artisans and the
bourgeoisie perpetually uneasy.
This leader was a certain Maxence Gilet, commonly called Max, whose
antecedents, no less than his youth and his vigor, predestined him for
such a part. Maxence Gilet was supposed by all Issoudun to be the
natural son of the sub-delegate Lousteau, that brother of Madame
Hochon whose gallantries had left memories behind them, and who, as we
have seen, drew down upon himself the hatred of old Doctor Rouget
about the time of Agathe's birth. But the friendship which bound the
two men together before their quarrel was so close that, to use an
expression of that region and that period, "they willingly walked the
same road." Some people said that Maxence was as likely to be the son
of the doctor as of the sub-delegate; but in fact he belonged to
neither the one nor the other,--his father being a charming dragoon
officer in garrison at Bourges. Nevertheless, as a result of their
enmity, and very fortunately for the child, Rouget and Lousteau never
ceased to claim his paternity.
Max's mother, the wife of a poor sabot-maker in the Rome suburb, was
possessed, for the perdition of her soul, of a surprising beauty, a
Trasteverine beauty, the only property which she transmitted to her
son. Madame Gilet, pregnant with Maxence in 1788, had long desired
that blessing, which the town attributed to the gallantries of the two
friends,--probably in the hope of setting them against each other.
Gilet, an old drunkard with a triple throat, treated his wife's
misconduct with a collusion that is not uncommon among the lower
classes. To make sure of protectors for her son, Madame Gilet was
careful not to enlighten his reputed fathers as to his parentage. In
Paris, she would have turned out a millionaire; at Issoudun she lived
sometimes at her ease, more often miserably, and, in the long run,
despised. Madame Hochon, Lousteau's sister, paid sixty francs a year
for the lad's schooling. This liberality, which Madame Hochon was
quite unable to practise on her own account because of her husband's
stinginess, was naturally attributed to her brother, then living at
When Doctor Rouget, who certainly was not lucky in sons, observed
Max's beauty, he paid the board of the "young rogue," as he called
him, at the seminary, up to the year 1805. As Lousteau died in 1800,
and the doctor apparently obeyed a feeling of vanity in paying the
lad's board until 1805, the question of the paternity was left forever
undecided. Maxence Gilet, the butt of many jests, was soon forgotten,
--and for this reason: In 1806, a year after Doctor Rouget's death,
the lad, who seemed to have been created for a venturesome life, and
was moreover gifted with remarkable vigor and agility, got into a
series of scrapes which more or less threatened his safety. He plotted
with the grandsons of Monsieur Hochon to worry the grocers of the
city; he gathered fruit before the owners could pick it, and made
nothing of scaling walls. He had no equal at bodily exercises, he
played base to perfection, and could have outrun a hare. With a keen
eye worthy of Leather-stocking, he loved hunting passionately. His
time was passed in firing at a mark, instead of studying; and he spent
the money extracted from the old doctor in buying powder and ball for
a wretched pistol that old Gilet, the sabot-maker, had given him.
During the autumn of 1806, Maxence, then seventeen, committed an
involuntary murder, by frightening in the dusk a young woman who was
pregnant, and who came upon him suddenly while stealing fruit in her
garden. Threatened with the guillotine by Gilet, who doubtless wanted
to get rid of him, Max fled to Bourges, met a regiment then on its way
to Egypt, and enlisted. Nothing came of the death of the young woman.
A young fellow of Max's character was sure to distinguish himself, and
in the course of three campaigns he did distinguish himself so highly
that he rose to be a captain, his lack of education helping him
strenuously. In Portugal, in 1809, he was left for dead in an English
battery, into which his company had penetrated without being able to
hold it. Max, taken prisoner by the English, was sent to the Spanish
hulks at the island of Cabrera, the most horrible of all stations for
prisoners of war. His friends begged that he might receive the cross
of the Legion of honor and the rank of major; but the Emperor was then
in Austria, and he reserved his favors for those who did brilliant
deeds under his own eye: he did not like officers or men who allowed
themselves to be taken prisoner, and he was, moreover, much
dissatisfied with events in Portugal. Max was held at Cabrera from
1810 to 1814. During those years he became utterly demoralized, for
the hulks were like galleys, minus crime and infamy. At the outset, to
maintain his personal free will, and protect himself against the
corruption which made that horrible prison unworthy of a civilized
people, the handsome young captain killed in a duel (for duels were
fought on those hulks in a space scarcely six feet square) seven
bullies among his fellow-prisoners, thus ridding the island of their
tyranny to the great joy of the other victims. After this, Max reigned
supreme in his hulk, thanks to the wonderful ease and address with
which he handled weapons, to his bodily strength, and also to his
 The cruelty of the Spaniards to the French prisoners at Cabrera
was very great. In the spring of 1811, H.M. brig "Minorca,"
Captain Wormeley, was sent by Admiral Sir Charles Cotton, then
commanding the Mediterranean fleet, to make a report of their
condition. As she neared the island, the wretched prisoners swam
out to meet her. They were reduced to skin and bone; many of them
were naked; and their miserable condition so moved the seamen of
the "Minorca" that they came aft to the quarter-deck, and asked
permission to subscribe three days' rations for the relief of the
sufferers. Captain Wormeley carried away some of the prisoners,
and his report to Sir Charles Cotton, being sent to the Admiralty,
was made the basis of a remonstrance on the part of the British
government with Spain on the subject of its cruelties. Sir Charles
Cotton despatched Captain Wormeley a second time to Cabrera with a
good many head of live cattle and a large supply of other
But he, in turn, committed arbitrary acts; there were those who
curried favor with him, and worked his will, and became his minions.
In that school of misery, where bitter minds dreamed only of
vengeance, where the sophistries hatched in such brains were laying
up, inevitably, a store of evil thoughts, Max became utterly
demoralized. He listened to the opinions of those who longed for
fortune at any price, and did not shrink from the results of criminal
actions, provided they were done without discovery. When peace was
proclaimed, in April, 1814, he left the island, depraved though still
innocent. On his return to Issoudun he found his father and mother
dead. Like others who give way to their passions and make life, as
they call it, short and sweet, the Gilets had died in the almshouse in
the utmost poverty. Immediately after his return, the news of
Napoleon's landing at Cannes spread through France; Max could do no
better than go to Paris and ask for his rank as major and for his
cross. The marshal who was at that time minister of war remembered the
brave conduct of Captain Gilet in Portugal. He put him in the Guard as
captain, which gave him the grade of major in the infantry; but he
could not get him the cross. "The Emperor says that you will know how
to win it at the first chance," said the marshal. In fact, the Emperor
did put the brave captain on his list for decoration the evening after
the fight at Fleurus, where Gilet distinguished himself.
After the battle of Waterloo Max retreated to the Loire. At the time
of the disbandment, Marshal Feltre refused to recognize Max's grade as
major, or his claim to the cross. The soldier of Napoleon returned to
Issoudun in a state of exasperation that may well be conceived; he
declared that he would not serve without either rank or cross. The
war-office considered these conditions presumptuous in a young man of
twenty-five without a name, who might, if they were granted, become a
colonel at thirty. Max accordingly sent in his resignation. The major
--for among themselves Bonapartists recognized the grades obtained in
1815--thus lost the pittance called half-pay which was allowed to the
officers of the army of the Loire. But all Issoudun was roused at the
sight of the brave young fellow left with only twenty napoleons in his
possession; and the mayor gave him a place in his office with a salary
of six hundred francs. Max kept it a few months, then gave it up of
his own accord, and was replaced by a captain named Carpentier, who,
like himself, had remained faithful to Napoleon.
By this time Gilet had become grand master of the Knights of Idleness,
and was leading a life which lost him the good-will of the chief
people of the town; who, however, did not openly make the fact known
to him, for he was violent and much feared by all, even by the
officers of the old army who, like himself, had refused to serve under
the Bourbons, and had come home to plant their cabbages in Berry. The
little affection felt for the Bourbons among the natives of Issoudun
is not surprising when we recall the history which we have just given.
In fact, considering its size and lack of importance, the little place
contained more Bonapartists than any other town in France. These men
became, as is well known, nearly all Liberals.
In Issoudun and its neighborhood there were a dozen officers in Max's
position. These men admired him and made him their leader,--with the
exception, however, of Carpentier, his successor, and a certain
Monsieur Mignonnet, ex-captain in the artillery of the Guard.
Carpentier, a cavalry officer risen from the ranks, had married into
one of the best families in the town,--the Borniche-Herau. Mignonnet,
brought up at the Ecole Polytechnique, had served in a corps which
held itself superior to all others. In the Imperial armies there were
two shades of distinction among the soldiers themselves. A majority of
them felt a contempt for the bourgeois, the "civilian," fully equal to
the contempt of nobles for their serfs, or conquerors for the
conquered. Such men did not always observe the laws of honor in their
dealings with civilians; nor did they much blame those who rode rough-
shod over the bourgeoisie. The others, and particularly the artillery,
perhaps because of its republicanism, never adopted the doctrine of a
military France and a civil France, the tendency of which was nothing
less than to make two nations. So, although Major Potel and Captain
Renard, two officers living in the Rome suburb, were friends to
Maxence Gilet "through thick and thin," Major Mignonnet and Captain
Carpentier took sides with the bourgeoisie, and thought his conduct
unworthy of a man of honor.
Major Mignonnet, a lean little man, full of dignity, busied himself
with the problems which the steam-engine requires us to solve, and
lived in a modest way, taking his social intercourse with Monsieur and
Madame Carpentier. His gentle manners and ways, and his scientific
occupations won him the respect of the whole town; and it was
frequently said of him and of Captain Carpentier that they were "quite
another thing" from Major Potel and Captain Renard, Maxence, and other
frequenters of the cafe Militaire, who retained the soldierly manners
and the defective morals of the Empire.
At the time when Madame Bridau returned to Issoudun, Max was excluded
from the society of the place. He showed, moreover, proper
self-respect in never presenting himself at the club, and in never
complaining of the severe reprobation that was shown him; although he
was the handsomest, the most elegant, and the best dressed man in the
place, spent a great deal of money, and kept a horse,--a thing as
amazing at Issoudun as the horse of Lord Byron at Venice. We are now
to see how it was that Maxence, poor and without apparent means, was
able to become the dandy of the town. The shameful conduct which
earned him the contempt of all scrupulous or religious persons was
connected with the interests which brought Agathe and Joseph to
Judging by the audacity of his bearing, and the expression of his
face, Max cared little for public opinion; he expected, no doubt, to
take his revenge some day, and to lord it over those who now condemned
him. Moreover, if the bourgeoisie of Issoudun thought ill of him, the
admiration he excited among the common people counterbalanced their
opinion; his courage, his dashing appearance, his decision of
character, could not fail to please the masses, to whom his
degradations were, for the most part, unknown, and indeed the
bourgeoisie themselves scarcely suspected its extent. Max played a
role at Issoudun which was something like that of the blacksmith in
the "Fair Maid of Perth"; he was the champion of Bonapartism and the
Opposition; they counted upon him as the burghers of Perth counted
upon Smith on great occasions. A single incident will put this hero
and victim of the Hundred-Days into clear relief.
In 1819, a battalion commanded by royalist officers, young men just
out of the Maison Rouge, passed through Issoudun on its way to go into
garrison at Bourges. Not knowing what to do with themselves in so
constitutional a place as Issoudun, these young gentlemen went to
while away the time at the cafe Militaire. In every provincial town
there is a military cafe. That of Issoudun, built on the place d'Armes
at an angle of the rampart, and kept by the widow of an officer, was
naturally the rendezvous of the Bonapartists, chiefly officers on
half-pay, and others who shared Max's opinions, to whom the politics
of the town allowed free expression of their idolatry for the Emperor.
Every year, dating from 1816, a banquet was given in Issoudun to
commemorate the anniversary of his coronation. The three royalists who
first entered asked for the newspapers, among others, for the
"Quotidienne" and the "Drapeau Blanc." The politics of Issoudun,
especially those of the cafe Militaire, did not allow of such royalist
journals. The establishment had none but the "Commerce,"--a name which
the "Constitutionel" was compelled to adopt for several years after it
was suppressed by the government. But as, in its first issue under the
new name, the leading article began with these words, "Commerce is
essentially constitutional," people continued to call it the
"Constitutionel," the subscribers all understanding the sly play of
words which begged them to pay no attention to the label, as the wine
would be the same.
The fat landlady replied from her seat at the desk that she did not
take those papers. "What papers do you take then?" asked one of the
officers, a captain. The waiter, a little fellow in a blue cloth
jacket, with an apron of coarse linen tied over it, brought the
"Is that your paper? Have you no other?"
"No," said the waiter, "that's the only one."
The captain tore it up, flung the pieces on the floor, and spat upon
them, calling out,--
In ten minutes the news of the insult offered to the Constitution
Opposition and the Liberal party, in the supersacred person of its
revered journal, which attacked priests with courage and the wit we
all remember, spread throughout the town and into the houses like
light itself; it was told and repeated from place to place. One phrase
was on everybody's lips,--
"Let us tell Max!"
Max soon heard of it. The royalist officers were still at their game
of dominos when that hero entered the cafe, accompanied by Major Potel
and Captain Renard, and followed by at least thirty young men, curious
to see the end of the affair, most of whom remained outside in the
street. The room was soon full.
"Waiter, MY newspaper," said Max, in a quiet voice.
Then a little comedy was played. The fat hostess, with a timid and
conciliatory air, said, "Captain, I have lent it!"
"Send for it," cried one of Max's friends.
"Can't you do without it?" said the waiter; "we have not got it."
The young royalists were laughing and casting sidelong glances at the
"They have torn it up!" cried a youth of the town, looking at the feet
of the young royalist captain.
"Who has dared to destroy that paper?" demanded Max, in a thundering
voice, his eyes flashing as he rose with his arms crossed.
"And we spat upon it," replied the three young officers, also rising,
and looking at Max.
"You have insulted the whole town!" said Max, turning livid.
"Well, what of that?" asked the youngest officer.
With a dexterity, quickness, and audacity which the young men did not
foresee, Max slapped the face of the officer nearest to him, saying,--
"Do you understand French?"
They fought near by, in the allee de Frapesle, three against three;
for Potel and Renard would not allow Max to deal with the officers
alone. Max killed his man. Major Potel wounded his so severely, that
the unfortunate young man, the son of a good family, died in the
hospital the next day. As for the third, he got off with a sword cut,
after wounding his adversary, Captain Renard. The battalion left for
Bourges that night. This affair, which was noised throughout Berry,
set Max up definitely as a hero.
The Knights of Idleness, who were all young, the eldest not more than
twenty-five years old, admired Maxence. Some among them, far from
sharing the prudery and strict notions of their families concerning
his conduct, envied his present position and thought him fortunate.
Under such a leader, the Order did great things. After the month of
May, 1817, never a week passed that the town was not thrown into an
uproar by some new piece of mischief. Max, as a matter of honor,
imposed certain conditions upon the Knights. Statutes were drawn up.
These young demons grew as vigilant as the pupils of Amoros,--bold as
hawks, agile at all exercises, clever and strong as criminals. They
trained themselves in climbing roofs, scaling houses, jumping and
walking noiselessly, mixing mortar, and walling up doors. They
collected an arsenal of ropes, ladders, tools, and disguises. After a
time the Knights of Idleness attained to the beau-ideal of malicious
mischief, not only as to the accomplishment but, still more, in the
invention of their pranks. They came at last to possess the genius for
evil that Panurge so much delighted in; which provokes laughter, and
covers its victims with such ridicule that they dare not complain.
Naturally, these sons of good families of Issoudun possessed and
obtained information in their households, which gave them the ways and
means for the perpetration of their outrages.
Sometimes the young devils incarnate lay in ambush along the Grand'rue
or the Basse rue, two streets which are, as it were, the arteries of
the town, into which many little side streets open. Crouching, with
their heads to the wind, in the angles of the wall and at the corners
of the streets, at the hour when all the households were hushed in
their first sleep, they called to each other in tones of terror from
ambush to ambush along the whole length of the town: "What's the
matter?" "What is it?" till the repeated cries woke up the citizens,
who appeared in their shirts and cotton night-caps, with lights in
their hands, asking questions of one another, holding the strangest
colloquies, and exhibiting the queerest faces.
A certain poor bookbinder, who was very old, believed in hobgoblins.
Like most provincial artisans, he worked in a small basement shop. The
Knights, disguised as devils, invaded the place in the middle of the
night, put him into his own cutting-press, and left him shrieking to
himself like the souls in hell. The poor man roused the neighbors, to
whom he related the apparitions of Lucifer; and as they had no means
of undeceiving him, he was driven nearly insane.
In the middle of a severe winter, the Knights took down the chimney of
the collector of taxes, and built it up again in one night apparently
as it was before, without making the slightest noise, or leaving the
least trace of their work. But they so arranged the inside of the
chimney as to send all the smoke into the house. The collector
suffered for two months before he found out why his chimney, which had
always drawn so well, and of which he had often boasted, played him
such tricks; he was then obliged to build a new one.
At another time, they put three trusses of hay dusted with brimstone,
and a quantity of oiled paper down the chimney of a pious old woman
who was a friend of Madame Hochon. In the morning, when she came to
light her fire, the poor creature, who was very gentle and kindly,
imagined she had started a volcano. The fire-engines came, the whole
population rushed to her assistance. Several Knights were among the
firemen, and they deluged the old woman's house, till they had
frightened her with a flood, as much as they had terrified her with
the fire. She was made ill with fear.
When they wished to make some one spend the night under arms and in
mortal terror, they wrote an anonymous letter telling him that he was
about to be robbed; then they stole softly, one by one, round the
walls of his house, or under his windows, whistling as if to call each
One of their famous performances, which long amused the town, where in
fact it is still related, was to write a letter to all the heirs of a
miserly old lady who was likely to leave a large property, announcing
her death, and requesting them to be promptly on hand when the seals
were affixed. Eighty persons arrived from Vatan, Saint-Florent,
Vierzon and the neighboring country, all in deep mourning,--widows
with sons, children with their fathers, some in carrioles, some in
wicker gigs, others in dilapidated carts. Imagine the scene between
the old woman's servants and the first arrivals! and the consultations
among the notaries! It created a sort of riot in Issoudun.
At last, one day the sub-prefect woke up to a sense that this state of
things was all the more intolerable because it seemed impossible to
find out who was at the bottom of it. Suspicion fell on several young
men; but as the National Guard was a mere name in Issoudun, and there
was no garrison, and the lieutenant of police had only eight gendarmes
under him, so that there were no patrols, it was impossible to get any
proof against them. The sub-prefect was immediately posted in the
"order of the night," and considered thenceforth fair game. This
functionary made a practice of breakfasting on two fresh eggs. He kept
chickens in his yard, and added to his mania for eating fresh eggs
that of boiling them himself. Neither his wife nor his servant, in
fact no one, according to him, knew how to boil an egg properly; he
did it watch in hand, and boasted that he carried off the palm of egg-
boiling from all the world. For two years he had boiled his eggs with
a success which earned him many witticisms. But now, every night for a
whole month, the eggs were taken from his hen-house, and hard-boiled
eggs substituted. The sub-prefect was at his wits' end, and lost his
reputation as the "sous-prefet a l'oeuf." Finally he was forced to
breakfast on other things. Yet he never suspected the Knights of
Idleness, whose trick had been cautiously played. After this, Max
managed to grease the sub-prefect's stoves every night with an oil
which sent forth so fetid a smell that it was impossible for any one
to stay in the house. Even that was not enough; his wife, going to
mass one morning, found her shawl glued together on the inside with
some tenacious substance, so that she was obliged to go without it.
The sub-prefect finally asked for another appointment. The cowardly
submissiveness of this officer had much to do with firmly establishing
the weird and comic authority of the Knights of Idleness.
Beyond the rue des Minimes and the place Misere, a section of a
quarter was at that time enclosed between an arm of the "Riviere
forcee" on the lower side and the ramparts on the other, beginning at
the place d'Armes and going as far as the pottery market. This
irregular square is filled with poor-looking houses crowded one
against the other, and divided here and there by streets so narrow
that two persons cannot walk abreast. This section of the town, a sort
of cour des Miracles, was occupied by poor people or persons working
at trades that were little remunerative,--a population living in
hovels, and buildings called picturesquely by the familiar term of
"blind houses." From the earliest ages this has no doubt been an
accursed quarter, the haunt of evil-doers; in fact one thoroughfare is
named "the street of the Executioner." For more than five centuries it
has been customary for the executioner to have a red door at the
entrance of his house. The assistant of the executioner of Chateauroux
still lives there,--if we are to believe public rumor, for the
townspeople never see him: the vine-dressers alone maintain an
intercourse with this mysterious being, who inherits from his
predecessors the gift of curing wounds and fractures. In the days when
Issoudun assumed the airs of a capital city the women of the town made
this section of it the scene of their wanderings. Here came the
second-hand sellers of things that look as if they never could find a
purchaser, old-clothes dealers whose wares infected the air; in short,
it was the rendezvous of that apocryphal population which is to be
found in nearly all such portions of a city, where two or three Jews
have gained an ascendency.
At the corner of one of these gloomy streets in the livelier half of
the quarter, there existed from 1815 to 1823, and perhaps later, a
public-house kept by a woman commonly called Mere Cognette. The house
itself was tolerably well built, in courses of white stone, with the
intermediary spaces filled in with ashlar and cement, one storey high
with an attic above. Over the door was an enormous branch of pine,
looking as though it were cast in Florentine bronze. As if this symbol
were not explanatory enough, the eye was arrested by the blue of a
poster which was pasted over the doorway, and on which appeared, above
the words "Good Beer of Mars," the picture of a soldier pouring out,
in the direction of a very decolletee woman, a jet of foam which
spurted in an arched line from the pitcher to the glass which she was
holding towards him; the whole of a color to make Delacroix swoon.
The ground-floor was occupied by an immense hall serving both as
kitchen and dining-room, from the beams of which hung, suspended by
huge nails, the provisions needed for the custom of such a house.
Behind this hall a winding staircase led to the upper storey; at the
foot of the staircase a door led into a low, long room lighted from
one of those little provincial courts, so narrow, dark, and sunken
between tall houses, as to seem like the flue of a chimney. Hidden by
a shed, and concealed from all eyes by walls, this low room was the
place where the Bad Boys of Issoudun held their plenary court.
Ostensibly, Pere Cognet boarded and lodged the country-people on
market-days; secretly, he was landlord to the Knights of Idleness.
This man, who was formerly a groom in a rich household, had ended by
marrying La Cognette, a cook in a good family. The suburb of Rome
still continues, like Italy and Poland, to follow the Latin custom of
putting a feminine termination to the husband's name and giving it to
By uniting their savings Pere Cognet and his spouse had managed to buy
their present house. La Cognette, a woman of forty, tall and plump,
with the nose of a Roxelane, a swarthy skin, jet-black hair, brown
eyes that were round and lively, and a general air of mirth and
intelligence, was selected by Maxence Gilet, on account of her
character and her talent for cookery, as the Leonarde of the Order.
Pere Cognet might be about fifty-six years old; he was thick-set, very
much under his wife's rule, and, according to a witticism which she
was fond of repeating, he only saw things with a good eye--for he was
blind of the other. In the course of seven years, that is, from 1816
to 1823, neither wife nor husband had betrayed what went on nightly at
their house, or who they were that shared in the plot; they felt the
liveliest regard for the Knights; their devotion was absolute. But
this may seem less creditable if we remember that self-interest was
the security of their affection and their silence. No matter at what
hour of the night the Knights dropped in upon the tavern, the moment
they knocked in a certain way Pere Cognet, recognizing the signal, got
up, lit the fire and the candles, opened the door, and went to the
cellar for a particular wine that was laid in expressly for the Order;
while La Cognette cooked an excellent supper, eaten either before or
after the expeditions, which were usually planned the previous evening
or in the course of the preceding day.
While Joseph and Madame Bridau were journeying from Orleans to
Issoudun, the Knights of Idleness perpetrated one of their best
tricks. An old Spaniard, a former prisoner of war, who after the peace
had remained in the neighborhood, where he did a small business in
grain, came early one morning to market, leaving his empty cart at the
foot of the tower of Issoudun. Maxence, who arrived at a rendezvous of
the Knights, appointed on that occasion at the foot of the tower, was
soon assailed with the whispered question, "What are we to do to-
"Here's Pere Fario's cart," he answered. "I nearly cracked my shins
over it. Let us get it up on the embankment of the tower in the first
place, and we'll make up our minds afterwards."
When Richard Coeur-de-Lion built the tower of Issoudun he raised it,
as we have said, on the ruins of the basilica, which itself stood
above the Roman temple and the Celtic Dun. These ruins, each of which
represents a period of several centuries, form a mound big with the
monuments of three distinct ages. The tower is, therefore, the apex of
a cone, from which the descent is equally steep on all sides, and
which is only approached by a series of steps. To give in a few words
an idea of the height of this tower, we may compare it to the obelisk
of Luxor on its pedestal. The pedestal of the tower of Issoudun, which
hid within its breast such archaeological treasures, was eighty feet
high on the side towards the town. In an hour the cart was taken off
its wheels and hoisted, piece by piece, to the top of the embankment
at the foot of the tower itself,--a work that was somewhat like that
of the soldiers who carried the artillery over the pass of the Grand
Saint-Bernard. The cart was then remounted on its wheels, and the
Knights, by this time hungry and thirsty, returned to Mere Cognette's,
where they were soon seated round the table in the low room, laughing
at the grimaces Fario would make when he came after his barrow in the
The Knights, naturally, did not play such capers every night. The
genius of Sganarelle, Mascarille, and Scapin combined would not have
sufficed to invent three hundred and sixty-five pieces of mischief a
year. In the first place, circumstances were not always propitious:
sometimes the moon shone clear, or the last prank had greatly
irritated their betters; then one or another of their number refused
to share in some proposed outrage because a relation was involved. But
if the scamps were not at Mere Cognette's every night, they always met
during the day, enjoying together the legitimate pleasures of hunting,
or the autumn vintages and the winter skating. Among this assemblage
of twenty youths, all of them at war with the social somnolence of the
place, there are some who were more closely allied than others to Max,
and who made him their idol. A character like his often fascinates
other youths. The two grandsons of Madame Hochon--Francois Hochon and
Baruch Borniche--were his henchmen. These young fellows, accepting the
general opinion of the left-handed parentage of Lousteau, looked upon
Max as their cousin. Max, moreover, was liberal in lending them money
for their pleasures, which their grandfather Hochon refused; he took
them hunting, let them see life, and exercised a much greater
influence over them than their own family. They were both orphans, and
were kept, although each had attained his majority, under the
guardianship of Monsieur Hochon, for reasons which will be explained
when Monsieur Hochon himself comes upon the scene.
At this particular moment Francois and Baruch (we will call them by
their Christian names for the sake of clearness) were sitting, one on
each side of Max, at the middle of a table that was rather ill lighted
by the fuliginous gleams of four tallow candles of eight to the pound.
A dozen to fifteen bottles of various wines had just been drunk, for
only eleven of the Knights were present. Baruch--whose name indicates
pretty clearly that Calvinism still kept some hold on Issoudun--said
to Max, as the wine was beginning to unloose all tongues,--
"You are threatened in your stronghold."
"What do you mean by that?" asked Max.
"Why, my grandmother has had a letter from Madame Bridau, who is her
goddaughter, saying that she and her son are coming here. My
grandmother has been getting two rooms ready for them."
"What's that to me?" said Max, taking up his glass and swallowing the
contents at a gulp with a comic gesture.
Max was then thirty-four years old. A candle standing near him threw a
gleam upon his soldierly face, lit up his brow, and brought out
admirably his clear skin, his ardent eyes, his black and slightly
curling hair, which had the brilliancy of jet. The hair grew
vigorously upward from the forehead and temples, sharply defining
those five black tongues which our ancestors used to call the "five
points." Notwithstanding this abrupt contrast of black and white,
Max's face was very sweet, owing its charm to an outline like that
which Raphael gave to the faces of his Madonnas, and to a well-cut
mouth whose lips smiled graciously, giving an expression of
countenance which Max had made distinctively his own. The rich
coloring which blooms on a Berrichon cheek added still further to his
look of kindly good-humor. When he laughed heartily, he showed thirty-
two teeth worthy of the mouth of a pretty woman. In height about five
feet six inches, the young man was admirably well-proportioned,--
neither too stout nor yet too thin. His hands, carefully kept, were
white and rather handsome; but his feet recalled the suburb and the
foot-soldier of the Empire. Max would certainly have made a good
general of division; he had shoulders that were worth a fortune to a
marshal of France, and a breast broad enough to wear all the orders of
Europe. Every movement betrayed intelligence; born with grace and
charm, like nearly all the children of love, the noble blood of his
real father came out in him.
"Don't you know, Max," cried the son of a former surgeon-major named
Goddet--now the best doctor in the town--from the other end of the
table, "that Madame Hochon's goddaughter is the sister of Rouget? If
she is coming here with her son, no doubt she means to make sure of
getting the property when he dies, and then--good-by to your harvest!"
Max frowned. Then, with a look which ran from one face to another all
round the table, he watched the effect of this announcement on the
minds of those present, and again replied,--
"What's that to me?"
"But," said Francois, "I should think that if old Rouget revoked his
will,--in case he has made one in favor of the Rabouilleuse--"
Here Max cut short his henchman's speech. "I've stopped the mouths of
people who have dared to meddle with you, my dear Francois," he said;
"and this is the way you pay your debts? You use a contemptuous
nickname in speaking of a woman to whom I am known to be attached."
Max had never before said as much as this about his relations with the
person to whom Francois had just applied a name under which she was
known at Issoudun. The late prisoner at Cabrera--the major of the
grenadiers of the Guard--knew enough of what honor was to judge
rightly as to the causes of the disesteem in which society held him.
He had therefore never allowed any one, no matter who, to speak to him
on the subject of Mademoiselle Flore Brazier, the servant-mistress of
Jean-Jacques Rouget, so energetically termed a "slut" by the
respectable Madame Hochon. Everybody knew it was too ticklish a
subject with Max, ever to speak of it unless he began it; and hitherto
he had never begun it. To risk his anger or irritate him was
altogether too dangerous; so that even his best friends had never
joked him about the Rabouilleuse. When they talked of his liaison with
the girl before Major Potel and Captain Renard, with whom he lived on
intimate terms, Potel would reply,--
"If he is the natural brother of Jean-Jacques Rouget where else would
you have him live?"
"Besides, after all," added Captain Renard, "the girl is a worthless
piece, and if Max does live with her where's the harm?"
After this merited snub, Francois could not at once catch up the
thread of his ideas; but he was still less able to do so when Max said
to him, gently,--
"Faith, no!" cried Francois.
"You needn't get angry, Max," said young Goddet; "didn't we agree to
talk freely to each other at Mere Cognette's? Shouldn't we all be
mortal enemies if we remembered outside what is said, or thought, or
done here? All the town calls Flore Brazier the Rabouilleuse; and if
Francois did happen to let the nickname slip out, is that a crime
against the Order of Idleness?"
"No," said Max, "but against our personal friendship. However, I
thought better of it; I recollected we were in session, and that was
why I said, 'Go on.'"
A deep silence followed. The pause became so embarrassing for the
whole company that Max broke it by exclaiming:--
"I'll go on for him," [sensation] "--for all of you," [amazement]
"--and tell you what you are thinking" [profound sensation]. "You
think that Flore, the Rabouilleuse, La Brazier, the housekeeper of
Pere Rouget,--for they call him so, that old bachelor, who can never
have any children!--you think, I say, that that woman supplies all my
wants ever since I came back to Issoudun. If I am able to throw three
hundred francs a month to the dogs, and treat you to suppers,--as I do
to-night,--and lend money to all of you, you think I get the gold out
of Mademoiselle Flore Brazier's purse? Well, yes" [profound
sensation]. "Yes, ten thousand times yes! Yes, Mademoiselle Brazier is
aiming straight for the old man's property."
"She gets it from father to son," observed Goddet, in his corner.
"You think," continued Max, smiling at Goddet's speech, "that I intend
to marry Flore when Pere Rouget dies, and so this sister and her son,
of whom I hear to-night for the first time, will endanger my future?"
"That's just it," cried Francois.
"That is what every one thinks who is sitting round this table," said
"Well, don't be uneasy, friends," answered Max. "Forewarned is
forearmed! Now then, I address the Knights of Idleness. If, to get rid
of these Parisians I need the help of the Order, will you lend me a
hand? Oh! within the limits we have marked out for our fooleries," he
added hastily, perceiving a general hesitation. "Do you suppose I want
to kill them,--poison them? Thank God I'm not an idiot. Besides, if
the Bridaus succeed, and Flore has nothing but what she stands in, I
should be satisfied; do you understand that? I love her enough to
prefer her to Mademoiselle Fichet,--if Mademoiselle Fichet would have
Mademoiselle Fichet was the richest heiress in Issoudun, and the hand
of the daughter counted for much in the reported passion of the
younger Goddet for the mother. Frankness of speech is a pearl of such
price that all the Knights rose to their feet as one man.
"You are a fine fellow, Max!"
"Well said, Max; we'll stand by you!"
"A fig for the Bridaus!"
"We'll bridle them!"
"After all, it is only three swains to a shepherdess."
"The deuce! Pere Lousteau loved Madame Rouget; isn't it better to love
a housekeeper who is not yoked?"
"If the defunct Rouget was Max's father, the affair is in the family."
"Liberty of opinion now-a-days!"
"Hurrah for Max!"
"Down with all hypocrites!"
"Here's a health to the beautiful Flore!"
Such were the eleven responses, acclamations, and toasts shouted forth
by the Knights of Idleness, and characteristic, we may remark, of
their excessively relaxed morality. It is now easy to see what
interest Max had in becoming their grand master. By leading the young
men of the best families in their follies and amusements, and by doing
them services, he meant to create a support for himself when the day
for recovering his position came. He rose gracefully and waved his
glass of claret, while all the others waited eagerly for the coming
"As a mark of the ill-will I bear you, I wish you all a mistress who
is equal to the beautiful Flore! As to this irruption of relations, I
don't feel any present uneasiness; and as to the future, we'll see
"Don't let us forget Fario's cart!"
"Hang it! that's safe enough!" said Goddet.
"Oh! I'll engage to settle that business," cried Max. "Be in the
market-place early, all of you, and let me know when the old fellow
goes for his cart."
It was striking half-past three in the morning as the Knights slipped
out in silence to go to their homes; gliding close to the walls of the
houses without making the least noise, shod as they were in list
shoes. Max slowly returned to the place Saint-Jean, situated in the
upper part of the town, between the port Saint-Jean and the port
Vilatte, the quarter of the rich bourgeoisie. Maxence Gilet had
concealed his fears, but the news had struck home. His experience on
the hulks at Cabrera had taught him a dissimulation as deep and
thorough as his corruption. First, and above all else, the forty
thousand francs a year from landed property which old Rouget owned
was, let it be clearly understood, the constituent element of Max's
passion for Flore Brazier. By his present bearing it is easy to see
how much confidence the woman had given him in the financial future
she expected to obtain through the infatuation of the old bachelor.
Nevertheless, the news of the arrival of the legitimate heirs was of a
nature to shake Max's faith in Flore's influence. Rouget's savings,
accumulating during the last seventeen years, still stood in his own
name; and even if the will, which Flore declared had long been made in
her favor, were revoked, these savings at least might be secured by
putting them in the name of Mademoiselle Brazier.
"That fool of a girl never told me, in all these seven years, a word
about the sister and nephews!" cried Max, turning from the rue de la
Marmouse into the rue l'Avenier. "Seven hundred and fifty thousand
francs placed with different notaries at Bourges, and Vierzon, and
Chateauroux, can't be turned into money and put into the Funds in a
week, without everybody knowing it in this gossiping place! The most
important thing is to get rid of these relations; as soon as they are
driven away we ought to make haste to secure the property. I must
think it over."
Max was tired. By the help of a pass-key, he let himself into Pere
Rouget's house, and went to bed without making any noise, saying to
"To-morrow, my thoughts will be clear."
It is now necessary to relate where the sultana of the place Saint-
Jean picked up the nickname of "Rabouilleuse," and how she came to be
the quasi-mistress of Jean-Jacques Rouget's home.
As old Doctor Rouget, the father of Jean-Jacques and Madame Bridau,
advanced in years, he began to perceive the nonentity of his son; he
then treated him harshly, trying to break him into a routine that
might serve in place of intelligence. He thus, though unconsciously,
prepared him to submit to the yoke of the first tyranny that threw its
halter over his head.
Coming home one day from his professional round, the malignant and
vicious old man came across a bewitching little girl at the edge of
some fields that lay along the avenue de Tivoli. Hearing the horse,
the child sprang up from the bottom of one of the many brooks which
are to be seen from the heights of Issoudun, threading the meadows
like ribbons of silver on a green robe. Naiad-like, she rose suddenly
on the doctor's vision, showing the loveliest virgin head that
painters ever dreamed of. Old Rouget, who knew the whole country-side,
did not know this miracle of beauty. The child, who was half naked,
wore a forlorn little petticoat of coarse woollen stuff, woven in
alternate strips of brown and white, full of holes and very ragged. A
sheet of rough writing paper, tied on by a shred of osier, served her
for a hat. Beneath this paper--covered with pot-hooks and round O's,
from which it derived the name of "schoolpaper"--the loveliest mass of
blonde hair that ever a daughter of Eve could have desired, was
twisted up, and held in place by a species of comb made to comb out
the tails of horses. Her pretty tanned bosom, and her neck, scarcely
covered by a ragged fichu which was once a Madres handkerchief, showed
edges of the white skin below the exposed and sun-burned parts. One
end of her petticoat was drawn between the legs and fastened with a
huge pin in front, giving that garment the look of a pair of bathing
drawers. The feet and the legs, which could be seen through the clear
water in which she stood, attracted the eye by a delicacy which was
worthy of a sculptor of the middle ages. The charming limbs exposed to
the sun had a ruddy tone that was not without beauty of its own. The
neck and bosom were worthy of being wrapped in silks and cashmeres;
and the nymph had blue eyes fringed with long lashes, whose glance
might have made a painter or a poet fall upon his knees. The doctor,
enough of an anatomist to trace the exquisite figure, recognized the
loss it would be to art if the lines of such a model were destroyed by
the hard toil of the fields.
"Where do you come from, little girl? I have never seen you before,"
said the old doctor, then sixty-two years of age. This scene took
place in the month of September, 1799.
"I belong in Vatan," she answered.
Hearing Rouget's voice, an ill-looking man, standing at some distance
in the deeper waters of the brook, raised his head. "What are you
about, Flore?" he said, "While you are talking instead of catching,
the creatures will get away."
"Why have you come here from Vatan?" continued the doctor, paying no
heed to the interruption.
"I am catching crabs for my uncle Brazier here."
"Rabouiller" is a Berrichon word which admirably describes the thing
it is intended to express; namely, the action of troubling the water
of a brook, making it boil and bubble with a branch whose end-shoots
spread out like a racket. The crabs, frightened by this operation,
which they do not understand, come hastily to the surface, and in
their flurry rush into the net the fisher has laid for them at a
little distance. Flore Brazier held her "rabouilloir" in her hand with
the natural grace of childlike innocence.
"Has your uncle got permission to hunt crabs?"
"Hey! are not we all under a Republic that is one and indivisible?"
cried the uncle from his station.
"We are under a Directory," said the doctor, "and I know of no law
which allows a man to come from Vatan and fish in the territory of
Issoudun"; then he said to Flore, "Have you got a mother, little one!"
"No, monsieur; and my father is in the asylum at Bourges. He went mad
from a sun-stroke he got in the fields."
"How much do you earn?"
"Five sous a day while the season lasts; I catch 'em as far as the
Braisne. In harvest time, I glean; in winter, I spin."
"You are about twelve years old?"
"Do you want to come with me? You shall be well fed and well dressed,
and have some pretty shoes."
"No, my niece will stay with me; I am responsible to God and man for
her," said Uncle Brazier who had come up to them. "I am her guardian,
The doctor kept his countenance and checked a smile which might have
escaped most people at the aspect of the man. The guardian wore a
peasant's hat, rotted by sun and rain, eaten like the leaves of a
cabbage that has harbored several caterpillars, and mended, here and
there, with white thread. Beneath the hat was a dark and sunken face,
in which the mouth, nose, and eyes, seemed four black spots. His
forlorn jacket was a bit of patchwork, and his trousers were of crash
"I am Doctor Rouget," said that individual; "and as you are the
guardian of the child, bring her to my house, in the place Saint-Jean.
It will not be a bad day's work for you; nor for her, either."
Without waiting for an answer, and sure that Uncle Brazier would soon
appear with his pretty "rabouilleuse," Doctor Rouget set spurs to his
horse and returned to Issoudun. He had hardly sat down to dinner,
before his cook announced the arrival of the citoyen and citoyenne
"Sit down," said the doctor to the uncle and niece.
Flore and her guardian, still barefooted, looked round the doctor's
dining-room with wondering eyes; never having seen its like before.
The house, which Rouget inherited from the Descoings estate, stands in
the middle of the place Saint-Jean, a so-called square, very long and
very narrow, planted with a few sickly lindens. The houses in this
part of town are better built than elsewhere, and that of the
Descoings's was one of the finest. It stands opposite to the house of
Monsieur Hochon, and has three windows in front on the first storey,
and a porte-cochere on the ground-floor which gives entrance to a
courtyard, beyond which lies the garden. Under the archway of the
porte-cochere is the door of a large hall lighted by two windows on
the street. The kitchen is behind this hall, part of the space being
used for a staircase which leads to the upper floor and to the attic
above that. Beyond the kitchen is a wood-shed and wash-house, a stable
for two horses and a coach-house, over which are some little lofts for
the storage of oats, hay, and straw, where, at that time, the doctor's
The hall which the little peasant and her uncle admired with such
wonder is decorated with wooden carvings of the time of Louis XV.,
painted gray, and a handsome marble chimney-piece, over which Flore
beheld herself in a large mirror without any upper division and with a
carved and gilded frame. On the panelled walls of the room, from space
to space, hung several pictures, the spoil of various religious
houses, such as the abbeys of Deols, Issoudun, Saint-Gildas, La Pree,
Chezal-Beniot, Saint-Sulpice, and the convents of Bourges and
Issoudun, which the liberality of our kings had enriched with the
precious gifts of the glorious works called forth by the Renaissance.
Among the pictures obtained by the Descoings and inherited by Rouget,
was a Holy Family by Albano, a Saint-Jerome of Demenichino, a Head of
Christ by Gian Bellini, a Virgin of Leonardo, a Bearing of the Cross
by Titian, which formerly belonged to the Marquis de Belabre (the one
who sustained a siege and had his head cut off under Louis XIII.); a
Lazarus of Paul Veronese, a Marriage of the Virgin by the priest
Genois, two church paintings by Rubens, and a replica of a picture by
Perugino, done either by Perugino himself or by Raphael; and finally,
two Correggios and one Andrea del Sarto.
The Descoings had culled these treasures from three hundred church
pictures, without knowing their value, and selecting them only for
their good preservation. Many were not only in magnificent frames, but
some were still under glass. Perhaps it was the beauty of the frames
and the value of the glass that led the Descoings to retain the
pictures. The furniture of the room was not wanting in the sort of
luxury we prize in these days, though at that time it had no value in
Issoudun. The clock, standing on the mantle-shelf between two superb
silver candlesticks with six branches, had an ecclesiastical splendor
which revealed the hand of Boulle. The armchairs of carved oak,
covered with tapestry-work due to the devoted industry of women of
high rank, would be treasured in these days, for each was surmounted
with a crown and coat-of-arms. Between the windows stood a rich
console, brought from some castle, on whose marble slab stood an
immense China jar, in which the doctor kept his tobacco. But neither
Rouget, nor his son, nor the cook, took the slightest care of all
these treasures. They spat upon a hearth of exquisite delicacy, whose
gilded mouldings were now green with verdigris. A handsome chandelier,
partly of semi-transparent porcelain, was peppered, like the ceiling
from which it hung, with black speckles, bearing witness to the
immunity enjoyed by the flies. The Descoings had draped the windows
with brocatelle curtains torn from the bed of some monastic prior. To
the left of the entrance-door, stood a chest or coffer, worth many
thousand francs, which the doctor now used for a sideboard.
"Here, Fanchette," cried Rouget to his cook, "bring two glasses; and
give us some of the old wine."
Fanchette, a big Berrichon countrywoman, who was considered a better
cook than even La Cognette, ran in to receive the order with a
celerity which said much for the doctor's despotism, and something
also for her own curiosity.
"What is an acre of vineyard worth in your parts?" asked the doctor,
pouring out a glass of wine for Brazier.
"Three hundred francs in silver."
"Well, then! leave your niece here as my servant; she shall have three
hundred francs in wages, and, as you are her guardian, you can take
"Every year?" exclaimed Brazier, with his eyes as wide as saucers.
"I leave that to your conscience," said the doctor. "She is an orphan;
up to eighteen, she has no right to what she earns."
"Twelve to eighteen--that's six acres of vineyard!" said the uncle.
"Ay, she's a pretty one, gentle as a lamb, well made and active, and
obedient as a kitten. She were the light o' my poor brother's eyes--"
"I will pay a year in advance," observed the doctor.
"Bless me! say two years, and I'll leave her with you, for she'll be
better off with you than with us; my wife beats her, she can't abide
her. There's none but I to stand up for her, and the little saint of a
creature is as innocent as a new-born babe."
When he heard the last part of this speech, the doctor, struck by the
word "innocent," made a sign to the uncle and took him out into the
courtyard and from thence to the garden; leaving the Rabouilleuse at
the table with Fanchette and Jean-Jacques, who immediately questioned
her, and to whom she naively related her meeting with the doctor.
"There now, my little darling, good-by," said Uncle Brazier, coming
back and kissing Flore on the forehead; "you can well say I've made
your happiness by leaving you with this kind and worthy father of the
poor; you must obey him as you would me. Be a good girl, and behave
nicely, and do everything he tells you."
"Get the room over mine ready," said the doctor to Fanchette. "Little
Flore--I am sure she is worthy of the name--will sleep there in
future. To-morrow, we'll send for a shoemaker and a dressmaker. Put
another plate on the table; she shall keep us company."
That evening, all Issoudun could talk of nothing else than the sudden
appearance of the little "rabouilleuse" in Doctor Rouget's house. In
that region of satire the nickname stuck to Mademoiselle Brazier
before, during, and after the period of her good fortune.
The doctor no doubt intended to do with Flore Brazier, in a small way,
what Louis XV. did in a large one with Mademoiselle de Romans; but he
was too late about it; Louis XV. was still young, whereas the doctor
was in the flower of old age. From twelve to fourteen, the charming
little Rabouilleuse lived a life of unmixed happiness. Always well-
dressed, and often much better tricked out than the richest girls in
Issoudun, she sported a gold watch and jewels, given by the doctor to
encourage her studies, and she had a master who taught her to read,
write, and cipher. But the almost animal life of the true peasant had
instilled into Flore such deep repugnance to the bitter cup of
knowledge, that the doctor stopped her education at that point. His
intentions with regard to the child, whom he cleansed and clothed, and
taught, and formed with a care which was all the more remarkable
because he was thought to be utterly devoid of tenderness, were
interpreted in a variety of ways by the cackling society of the town,
whose gossip often gave rise to fatal blunders, like those relating to
the birth of Agathe and that of Max. It is not easy for the community
of a country town to disentangle the truth from the mass of conjecture
and contradictory reports to which a single fact gives rise. The
provinces insist--as in former days the politicians of the little
Provence at the Tuileries insisted--on full explanations, and they
usually end by knowing everything. But each person clings to the
version of the event which he, or she, likes best; proclaims it,
argues it, and considers it the only true one. In spite of the strong
light cast upon people's lives by the constant spying of a little
town, truth is thus often obscured; and to be recognized, it needs the
impartiality which historians or superior minds acquire by looking at
the subject from a higher point of view.
"What do you suppose that old gorilla wants at his age with a little
girl only fifteen years old?" society was still saying two years after
the arrival of the Rabouilleuse.
"Ah! that's true," they answered, "his days of merry-making are long
"My dear fellow, the doctor is disgusted at the stupidity of his son,
and he persists in hating his daughter Agathe; it may be that he has
been living a decent life for the last two years, intending to marry
little Flore; suppose she were to give him a fine, active, strapping
boy, full of life like Max?" said one of the wise heads of the town.
"Bah! don't talk nonsense! After such a life as Rouget and Lousteau
led from 1770 to 1787, is it likely that either of them would have
children at sixty-five years of age? The old villain has read the
Scriptures, if only as a doctor, and he is doing as David did in his
old age; that's all."
"They say that Brazier, when he is drunk, boasts in Vatan that he
cheated him," cried one of those who always believed the worst of
"Good heavens! neighbor; what won't they say at Issoudun?"
From 1800 to 1805, that is, for five years, the doctor enjoyed all the
pleasures of educating Flore without the annoyances which the
ambitions and pretensions of Mademoiselle de Romans inflicted, it is
said, on Louis le Bien-Aime. The little Rabouilleuse was so satisfied
when she compared the life she led at the doctor's with that she would
have led at her uncle Brazier's, that she yielded no doubt to the
exactions of her master as if she had been an Eastern slave. With due
deference to the makers of idylls and to philanthropists, the
inhabitants of the provinces have very little idea of certain virtues;
and their scruples are of a kind that is roused by self-interest, and
not by any sentiment of the right or the becoming. Raised from infancy
with no prospect before them but poverty and ceaseless labor, they are
led to consider anything that saves them from the hell of hunger and
eternal toil as permissible, particularly if it is not contrary to any
law. Exceptions to this rule are rare. Virtue, socially speaking, is
the companion of a comfortable life, and comes only with education.
Thus the Rabouilleuse was an object of envy to all the young peasant-
girls within a circuit of ten miles, although her conduct, from a
religious point of view, was supremely reprehensible. Flore, born in
1787, grew up in the midst of the saturnalias of 1793 and 1798, whose
lurid gleams penetrated these country regions, then deprived of
priests and faith and altars and religious ceremonies; where marriage
was nothing more than legal coupling, and revolutionary maxims left a
deep impression. This was markedly the case at Issoudun, a land where,
as we have seen, revolt of all kinds is traditional. In 1802, Catholic
worship was scarcely re-established. The Emperor found it a difficult
matter to obtain priests. In 1806, many parishes all over France were
still widowed; so slowly were the clergy, decimated by the scaffold,
gathered together again after their violent dispersion.
In 1802, therefore, nothing was likely to reproach Flore Brazier,
unless it might be her conscience; and conscience was sure to be
weaker than self-interest in the ward of Uncle Brazier. If, as
everybody chose to suppose, the cynical doctor was compelled by his
age to respect a child of fifteen, the Rabouilleuse was none the less
considered very "wide awake," a term much used in that region. Still,
some persons thought she could claim a certificate of innocence from
the cessation of the doctor's cares and attentions in the last two
years of his life, during which time he showed her something more than
Old Rouget had killed too many people not to know when his own end was
nigh; and his notary, finding him on his death-bed, draped as it were,
in the mantle of encyclopaedic philosophy, pressed him to make a
provision in favor of the young girl, then seventeen years old.
"So I do," he said, cynically; "my death sets her at liberty."
This speech paints the nature of the old man. Covering his evil doings
with witty sayings, he obtained indulgence for them, in a land where
wit is always applauded,--especially when addressed to obvious self-
interest. In those words the notary read the concentrated hatred of a
man whose calculations had been balked by Nature herself, and who
revenged himself upon the innocent object of an impotent love. This
opinion was confirmed to some extent by the obstinate resolution of
the doctor to leave nothing to the Rabouilleuse, saying with a bitter
smile, when the notary again urged the subject upon him,--
"Her beauty will make her rich enough!"
Jean-Jacques Rouget did not mourn his father, though Flore Brazier
did. The old doctor had made his son extremely unhappy, especially
since he came of age, which happened in 1791; but he had given the
little peasant-girl the material pleasures which are the ideal of
happiness to country-folk. When Fanchette asked Flore, after the
funeral, "Well, what is to become of you, now that monsieur is dead?"
Jean-Jacques's eyes lighted up, and for the first time in his life his
dull face grew animated, showed feeling, and seemed to brighten under
the rays of a thought.
"Leave the room," he said to Fanchette, who was clearing the table.
At seventeen, Flore retained that delicacy of feature and form, that
distinction of beauty which attracted the doctor, and which women of
the world know how to preserve, though it fades among the peasant-
girls like the flowers of the field. Nevertheless, the tendency to
embonpoint, which handsome countrywomen develop when they no longer
live a life of toil and hardship in the fields and in the sunshine,
was already noticeable about her. Her bust had developed. The plump
white shoulders were modelled on rich lines that harmoniously blended
with those of the throat, already showing a few folds of flesh. But
the outline of the face was still faultless, and the chin delicate.
"Flore," said Jean-Jacques, in a trembling voice, "you feel at home in
"Yes, Monsieur Jean."
As the heir was about to make his declaration, he felt his tongue
stiffen at the recollection of the dead man, just put away in his
grave, and a doubt seized him as to what lengths his father's
benevolence might have gone. Flore, who was quite unable even to
suspect his simplicity of mind, looked at her future master and waited
for a time, expecting Jean-Jacques to go on with what he was saying;
but she finally left him without knowing what to think of such
obstinate silence. Whatever teaching the Rabouilleuse may have
received from the doctor, it was many a long day before she finally
understood the character of Jean-Jacques, whose history we now present
in a few words.
At the death of his father, Jacques, then thirty-seven, was as timid
and submissive to paternal discipline as a child of twelve years old.
That timidity ought to explain his childhood, youth, and after-life to
those who are reluctant to admit the existence of such characters, or
such facts as this history relates,--though proofs of them are, alas,
common everywhere, even among princes; for Sophie Dawes was taken by
the last of the Condes under worse circumstances than the
Rabouilleuse. There are two species of timidity,--the timidity of the
mind, and the timidity of the nerves; a physical timidity, and a moral
timidity. The one is independent of the other. The body may fear and
tremble, while the mind is calm and courageous, or vice versa. This is
the key to many moral eccentricities. When the two are united in one
man, that man will be a cipher all his life; such double-sided
timidity makes him what we call "an imbecile." Often fine suppressed
qualities are hidden within that imbecile. To this double infirmity we
may, perhaps, owe the lives of certain monks who lived in ecstasy; for
this unfortunate moral and physical disposition is produced quite as
much by the perfection of the soul and of the organs, as by defects
which are still unstudied.
The timidity of Jean-Jacques came from a certain torpor of his
faculties, which a great teacher or a great surgeon, like Despleins,
would have roused. In him, as in the cretins, the sense of love had
inherited a strength and vigor which were lacking to his mental
qualities, though he had mind enough to guide him in ordinary affairs.
The violence of passion, stripped of the ideal in which most young men
expend it, only increased his timidity. He had never brought himself
to court, as the saying is, any woman in Issoudun. Certainly no young
girl or matron would make advances to a young man of mean stature,
awkward and shame-faced in attitude; whose vulgar face, with its
flattened features and pallid skin, making him look old before his
time, was rendered still more hideous by a pair of large and prominent
light-green eyes. The presence of a woman stultified the poor fellow,
who was driven by passion on the one hand as violently as the lack of
ideas, resulting from his education, held him back on the other.
Paralyzed between these opposing forces, he had not a word to say, and
feared to be spoken to, so much did he dread the obligation of
replying. Desire, which usually sets free the tongue, only petrified
his powers of speech. Thus it happened that Jean-Jacques Rouget was
solitary and sought solitude because there alone he was at his ease.
The doctor had seen, too late for remedy, the havoc wrought in his
son's life by a temperament and a character of this kind. He would
have been glad to get him married; but to do that, he must deliver him
over to an influence that was certain to become tyrannical, and the
doctor hesitated. Was it not practically giving the whole management
of the property into the hands of a stranger, some unknown girl? The
doctor knew how difficult it was to gain true indications of the moral
character of a woman from any study of a young girl. So, while he
continued to search for a daughter-in-law whose sentiments and
education offered some guarantees for the future, he endeavored to
push his son into the ways of avarice; meaning to give the poor fool a
sort of instinct that might eventually take the place of intelligence.
He trained him, in the first place, to mechanical habits of life; and
instilled into him fixed ideas as to the investment of his revenues:
and he spared him the chief difficulties of the management of a
fortune, by leaving his estates all in good order, and leased for long
periods. Nevertheless, a fact which was destined to be of paramount
importance in the life of the poor creature escaped the notice of the
wily old doctor. Timidity is a good deal like dissimulation, and is
equally secretive. Jean-Jacques was passionately in love with the
Rabouilleuse. Nothing, of course, could be more natural. Flore was the
only woman who lived in the bachelor's presence, the only one he could
see at his ease; and at all hours he secretly contemplated her and
watched her. To him, she was the light of his paternal home; she gave
him, unknown to herself, the only pleasures that brightened his youth.
Far from being jealous of his father, he rejoiced in the education the
old man was giving to Flore: would it not make her all he wanted, a
woman easy to win, and to whom, therefore, he need pay no court? The
passion, observe, which is able to reflect, gives even to ninnies,
fools, and imbeciles a species of intelligence, especially in youth.
In the lowest human creature we find an animal instinct whose
persistency resembles thought.
The next day, Flore, who had been reflecting on her master's silence,
waited in expectation of some momentous communication; but although he
kept near her, and looked at her on the sly with passionate glances,
Jean-Jacques still found nothing to say. At last, when the dessert was
on the table, he recommenced the scene of the night before.
"You like your life here?" he said to Flore.
"Yes, Monsieur Jean."
"Well, stay here then."
"Thank you, Monsieur Jean."
This strange situation lasted three weeks. One night, when no sound
broke the stillness of the house, Flore, who chanced to wake up, heard
the regular breathing of human lungs outside her door, and was
frightened to discover Jean-Jacques, crouched like a dog on the
"He loves me," she thought; "but he will get the rheumatism if he
keeps up that sort of thing."
The next day Flore looked at her master with a certain expression.
This mute almost instinctive love had touched her; she no longer
thought the poor ninny so ugly, though his forehead was crowned with
pimples resembling ulcers, the signs of a vitiated blood.
"You don't want to go back and live in the fields, do you?" said Jean-
Jacques when they were alone.
"Why do you ask me that?" she said, looking at him.
"To know--" replied Rouget, turning the color of a boiled lobster.
"Do you wish to send me back?" she asked.
"Well, what is it you want to know? You have some reason--"
"Yes, I want to know--"
"What?" said Flore.
"You won't tell me?" exclaimed Rouget.
"Yes I will, on my honor--"
"Ah! that's it," returned Rouget, with a frightened air. "Are you an
"I'll take my oath--"
"Are you, truly?"
"Don't you hear me tell you so?"
"Come; are you the same as you were when your uncle brought you here
"A fine question, faith!" cried Flore, blushing.
The heir lowered his head and did not raise it again. Flore, amazed at
such an encouraging sign from a man who had been overcome by a fear of
that nature, left the room.
Three days later, at the same hour (for both seemed to regard the
dessert as a field of battle), Flore spoke first, and said to her
"Have you anything against me?"
"No, mademoiselle," he answered, "No--" [a pause] "On the contrary."
"You seemed annoyed the other day to hear I was an honest girl."
"No, I only wished to know--" [a pause] "But you would not tell me--"
"On my word!" she said, "I will tell you the whole truth."
"The whole truth about--my father?" he asked in a strangled voice.
"Your father," she said, looking full into her master's eye, "was a
worthy man--he liked a joke--What of that?--there was nothing in it.
But, poor dear man, it wasn't the will that was wanting. The truth is,
he had some spite against you, I don't know what, and he meant--oh! he
meant you harm. Sometimes he made me laugh; but there! what of that?"
"Well, Flore," said the heir, taking her hand, "as my father was
nothing to you--"
"What did you suppose he was to me?" she cried, as if offended by some
"Well, but just listen--"
"He was my benefactor, that was all. Ah! he would have liked to make
me his wife, but--"
"But," said Rouget, taking the hand which Flore had snatched away from
him, "if he was nothing to you you can stay here with me, can't you?"
"If you wish it," she said, dropping her eyes.
"No, no! if you wish it, you!" exclaimed Rouget. "Yes, you shall be--
mistress here. All that is here shall be yours; you shall take care of
my property, it is almost yours now--for I love you; I have always
loved you since the day you came and stood there--there!--with bare
Flore made no answer. When the silence became embarrassing, Jean-
Jacques had recourse to a terrible argument.
"Come," he said, with visible warmth, "wouldn't it be better than
returning to the fields?"
"As you will, Monsieur Jean," she answered.
Nevertheless, in spite of her "as you will," Jean-Jacques got no
further. Men of his nature want certainty. The effort that they make
in avowing their love is so great, and costs them so much, that they
feel unable to go on with it. This accounts for their attachment to
the first woman who accepts them. We can only guess at circumstances
by results. Ten months after the death of his father, Jean-Jacques
changed completely; his leaden face cleared, and his whole countenance
breathed happiness. Flore exacted that he should take minute care of
his person, and her own vanity was gratified in seeing him well-
dressed; she always stood on the sill of the door, and watched him
starting for a walk, until she could see him no longer. The whole town
noticed these changes, which had made a new man of the bachelor.
"Have you heard the news?" people said to each other in Issoudun.
"What is it?"
"Jean-Jacques inherits everything from his father, even the
"Don't you suppose the old doctor was wicked enough to provide a ruler
for his son?"
"Rouget has got a treasure, that's certain," said everybody.
"She's a sly one! She is very handsome, and she will make him marry
"What luck that girl has had, to be sure!"
"The luck that only comes to pretty girls."
"Ah, bah! do you believe that? look at my uncle Borniche-Herau. You
have heard of Mademoiselle Ganivet? she was as ugly as seven capital
sins, but for all that, she got three thousand francs a year out of
"Yes, but that was in 1778."
"Still, Rouget is making a mistake. His father left him a good forty
thousand francs' income, and he ought to marry Mademoiselle Herau."
"The doctor tried to arrange it, but she would not consent; Jean-
Jacques is so stupid--"
"Stupid! why women are very happy with that style of man."
"Is your wife happy?"
Such was the sort of tattle that ran through Issoudun. If people,
following the use and wont of the provinces, began by laughing at this
quasi-marriage, they ended by praising Flore for devoting herself to
the poor fellow. We now see how it was that Flore Brazier obtained the
management of the Rouget household,--from father to son, as young
Goddet had said. It is desirable to sketch the history of that
management for the edification of old bachelors.
Fanchette, the cook, was the only person in Issoudun who thought it
wrong that Flore Brazier should be queen over Jean-Jacques Rouget and
his home. She protested against the immorality of the connection, and
took a tone of injured virtue; the fact being that she was humiliated
by having, at her age, a crab-girl for a mistress,--a child who had
been brought barefoot into the house. Fanchette owned three hundred
francs a year in the Funds, for the doctor made her invest her savings
in that way, and he had left her as much more in an annuity; she could
therefore live at her ease without the necessity of working, and she
quitted the house nine months after the funeral of her old master,
April 15, 1806. That date may indicate, to a perspicacious observer,
the epoch at which Flore Brazier ceased to be an honest girl.
The Rabouilleuse, clever enough to foresee Fanchette's probable
defection,--there is nothing like the exercise of power for teaching
policy,--was already resolved to do without a servant. For six months
she had studied, without seeming to do so, the culinary operations
that made Fanchette a cordon-bleu worthy of cooking for a doctor. In
the matter of choice living, doctors are on a par with bishops. The
doctor had brought Fanchette's talents to perfection. In the provinces
the lack of occupation and the monotony of existence turn all activity
of mind towards the kitchen. People do not dine as luxuriously in the
country as they do in Paris, but they dine better; the dishes are
meditated upon and studied. In rural regions we often find some Careme
in petticoats, some unrecognized genius able to serve a simple dish of
haricot-beans worthy of the nod with which Rossini welcomed a
When studying for his degree in Paris, the doctor had followed a
course of chemistry under Rouelle, and had gathered some ideas which
he afterwards put to use in the chemistry of cooking. His memory is
famous in Issoudun for certain improvements little known outside of
Berry. It was he who discovered that an omelette is far more delicate
when the whites and the yolks are not beaten together with the
violence which cooks usually put into the operation. He considered
that the whites should be beaten to a froth and the yolks gently added
by degrees; moreover a frying-pan should never be used, but a
"cagnard" of porcelain or earthenware. The "cagnard" is a species of
thick dish standing on four feet, so that when it is placed on the
stove the air circulates underneath and prevents the fire from
cracking it. In Touraine the "cagnard" is called a "cauquemarre."
Rabelais, I think, speaks of a "cauquemarre" for cooking cockatrice
eggs, thus proving the antiquity of the utensil. The doctor had also
found a way to prevent the tartness of browned butter; but his secret,
which unluckily he kept to his own kitchen, has been lost.
Flore, a born fryer and roaster, two qualities that can never be
acquired by observation nor yet by labor, soon surpassed Fanchette. In
making herself a cordon-bleu she was thinking of Jean-Jacques's
comfort; though she was, it must be owned, tolerably dainty.
Incapable, like all persons without education, of doing anything with
her brains, she spent her activity upon household matters. She rubbed
up the furniture till it shone, and kept everything about the house in
a state of cleanliness worthy of Holland. She managed the avalanches
of soiled linen and the floods of water that go by the name of "the
wash," which was done, according to provincial usage, three times a
year. She kept a housewifely eye to the linen, and mended it
carefully. Then, desirous of learning little by little the secret of
the family property, she acquired the very limited business knowledge
which Rouget possessed, and increased it by conversations with the
notary of the late doctor, Monsieur Heron. Thus instructed, she gave
excellent advice to her little Jean-Jacques. Sure of being always
mistress, she was as eager and solicitous about the old bachelor's
interests as if they had been her own. She was not obliged to guard
against the exactions of her uncle, for two months before the doctor's
death Brazier died of a fall as he was leaving a wine-shop, where,
since his rise in fortune, he spent most of his time. Flore had also
lost her father; thus she served her master with all the affection
which an orphan, thankful to make herself a home and a settlement in
life, would naturally feel.
This period of his life was paradise to poor Jean-Jacques, who now
acquired the gentle habits of an animal, trained into a sort of
monastic regularity. He slept late. Flore, who was up at daybreak
attending to her housekeeping, woke him so that he should find his
breakfast ready as soon as he had finished dressing. After breakfast,
about eleven o'clock, Jean-Jacques went to walk; talked with the
people he met, and came home at three in the afternoon to read the
papers,--those of the department, and a journal from Paris which he
received three days after publication, well greased by the thirty
hands through which it came, browned by the snuffy noses that had
pored over it, and soiled by the various tables on which it had lain.
The old bachelor thus got through the day until it was time for
dinner; over that meal he spent as much time as it was possible to
give to it. Flore told him the news of the town, repeating the cackle
that was current, which she had carefully picked up. Towards eight
o'clock the lights were put out. Going to bed early is a saving of
fire and candles very commonly practised in the provinces, which
contributes no doubt to the empty-mindedness of the inhabitants. Too
much sleep dulls and weakens the brain.
Such was the life of these two persons during a period of nine years,
the great events of which were a few journeys to Bourges, Vierzon,
Chateauroux, or somewhat further, if the notaries of those towns and
Monsieur Heron had no investments ready for acceptance. Rouget lent
his money at five per cent on a first mortgage, with release of the
wife's rights in case the owner was married. He never lent more than a
third of the value of the property, and required notes payable to his
order for an additional interest of two and a half per cent spread
over the whole duration of the loan. Such were the rules his father
had told him to follow. Usury, that clog upon the ambition of the
peasantry, is the destroyer of country regions. This levy of seven and
a half per cent seemed, therefore, so reasonable to the borrowers that
Jean-Jacques Rouget had his choice of investments; and the notaries of
the different towns, who got a fine commission for themselves from
clients for whom they obtained money on such good terms, gave due
notice to the old bachelor.
During these nine years Flore obtained in the long run, insensibly and
without aiming for it, an absolute control over her master. From the
first, she treated him very familiarly; then, without failing him in
proper respect, she so far surpassed him in superiority of mind and
force of character that he became in fact the servant of his servant.
Elderly child that he was, he met this mastery half-way by letting
Flore take such care of him that she treated him more as a mother
would a son; and he himself ended by clinging to her with the feeling
of a child dependent on a mother's protection. But there were other
ties between them not less tightly knotted. In the first place, Flore
kept the house and managed all its business. Jean-Jacques left
everything to the crab-girl so completely that life without her would
have seemed to him not only difficult, but impossible. In every way,
this woman had become the one need of his existence; she indulged all
his fancies, for she knew them well. He loved to see her bright face
always smiling at him,--the only face that had ever smiled upon him,
the only one to which he could look for a smile. This happiness, a
purely material happiness, expressed in the homely words which come
readiest to the tongue in a Berrichon household, and visible on the
fine countenance of the young woman, was like a reflection of his own
inward content. The state into which Jean-Jacques was thrown when
Flore's brightness was clouded over by some passing annoyance revealed
to the girl her power over him, and, to make sure of it, she sometimes
liked to use it. Using such power means, with women of her class,
abusing it. The Rabouilleuse, no doubt, made her master play some of
those scenes buried in the mysteries of private life, of which Otway
gives a specimen in the tragedy of "Venice Preserved," where the scene
between the senator and Aquilina is the realization of the
magnificently horrible. Flore felt so secure of her power that,
unfortunately for her, and for the bachelor himself, it did not occur
to her to make him marry her.
Towards the close of 1815, Flore, who was then twenty-seven, had
reached the perfect development of her beauty. Plump and fresh, and
white as a Norman countrywoman, she was the ideal of what our
ancestors used to call "a buxom housewife." Her beauty, always that of
a handsome barmaid, though higher in type and better kept, gave her a
likeness to Mademoiselle George in her palmy days, setting aside the
latter's imperial dignity. Flore had the dazzling white round arms,
the ample modelling, the satiny textures of the skin, the alluring
though less rigidly correct outlines of the great actress. Her
expression was one of sweetness and tenderness; but her glance
commanded less respect than that of the noblest Agrippina that ever
trod the French stage since the days of Racine: on the contrary, it
evoked a vulgar joy. In 1816 the Rabouilleuse saw Maxence Gilet, and
fell in love with him at first sight. Her heart was cleft by the
mythological arrow,--admirable description of an effect of nature
which the Greeks, unable to conceive the chivalric, ideal, and
melancholy love begotten of Christianity, could represent in no other
way. Flore was too handsome to be disdained, and Max accepted his
Thus, at twenty-eight years of age, the Rabouilleuse felt for the
first time a true love, an idolatrous love, the love which includes
all ways of loving,--that of Gulnare and that of Medora. As soon as
the penniless officer found out the respective situations of Flore and
Jean-Jacques Rouget, he saw something more desirable than an
"amourette" in an intimacy with the Rabouilleuse. He asked nothing
better for his future prosperity than to take up his abode at the
Rouget's, recognizing perfectly the feeble nature of the old bachelor.
Flore's passion necessarily affected the life and household affairs of
her master. For a month the old man, now grown excessively timid, saw
the laughing and kindly face of his mistress change to something
terrible and gloomy and sullen. He was made to endure flashes of angry
temper purposely displayed, precisely like a married man whose wife is
meditating an infidelity. When, after some cruel rebuff, he nerved
himself to ask Flore the reason of the change, her eyes were so full
of hatred, and her voice so aggressive and contemptuous, that the poor
creature quailed under them.
"Good heavens!" she cried; "you have neither heart nor soul! Here's
sixteen years that I have spent my youth in this house, and I have
only just found out that you have got a stone there (striking her
breast). For two months you have seen before your eyes that brave
captain, a victim of the Bourbons, who was cut out for a general, and
is down in the depths of poverty, hunted into a hole of a place where
there's no way to make a penny of money! He's forced to sit on a stool
all day in the mayor's office to earn--what? Six hundred miserable
francs,--a fine thing, indeed! And here are you, with six hundred and
fifty-nine thousand well invested, and sixty thousand francs' income,
--thanks to me, who never spend more than three thousand a year,
everything included, even my own clothes, yes, everything!--and you
never think of offering him a home here, though there's the second
floor empty! You'd rather the rats and mice ran riot in it than put a
human being there,--and he a lad your father always allowed to be his
own son! Do you want to know what you are? I'll tell you,--a
fratricide! And I know why, too. You see I take an interest in him,
and that provokes you. Stupid as you seem, you have got more spite in
you than the spitefullest of men. Well, yes! I do take an interest in
him, and a keen one--"
"'BUT, FLORE', indeed! What's that got to do with it? You may go and
find another Flore (if you can!), for I hope this glass of wine may
poison me if I don't get away from your dungeon of a house. I haven't,
God be thanked! cost you one penny during the twelve years I've been
with you, and you have had the pleasure of my company into the
bargain. I could have earned my own living anywhere with the work that
I've done here,--washing, ironing, looking after the linen, going to
market, cooking, taking care of your interests before everything,
slaving myself to death from morning till night,--and this is my
"Oh, yes, 'FLORE'! find another Flore, if you can, at your time of
life, fifty-one years old, and getting feeble,--for the way your
health is failing is frightful, I know that! and besides, you are none
"Let me alone!"
She went out, slamming the door with a violence that echoed through
the house, and seemed to shake it to its foundations. Jean-Jacques
softly opened the door and went, still more softly, into the kitchen
where she was muttering to herself.
"But, Flore," said the poor sheep, "this is the first time I have
heard of this wish of yours; how do you know whether I will agree to
it or not?"
"In the first place," she said, "there ought to be a man in the house.
Everybody knows you have ten, fifteen, twenty thousand francs here; if
they came to rob you we should both be murdered. For my part, I don't
care to wake up some fine morning chopped in quarters, as happened to
that poor servant-girl who was silly enough to defend her master.
Well! if the robbers knew there was a man in the house as brave as
Caesar and who wasn't born yesterday,--for Max could swallow three
burglars as quick as a flash,--well, then I should sleep easy. People
may tell you a lot of stuff,--that I love him, that I adore him,--and
some say this and some say that! Do you know what you ought to say?
You ought to answer that you know it; that your father told you on his
deathbed to take care of his poor Max. That will stop people's
tongues; for every stone in Issoudun can tell you he paid Max's
schooling--and so! Here's nine years that I have eaten your bread--"
"--and many a one in this town has paid court to me, I can tell you!
Gold chains here, and watches there,--what don't they offer me? 'My
little Flore,' they say, 'why won't you leave that old fool of a
Rouget,'--for that's what they call you. 'I leave him!' I always
answer, 'a poor innocent like that? I think I see myself! what would
become of him? No, no, where the kid is tethered, let her browse--'"
"Yes, Flore; I've none but you in this world, and you make me happy.
If it will give you pleasure, my dear, well, we will have Maxence
Gilet here; he can eat with us--"
"Heavens! I should hope so!"
"There, there! don't get angry--"
"Enough for one is enough for two," she answered laughing. "I'll tell
you what you can do, my lamb, if you really mean to be kind; you must
go and walk up and down near the Mayor's office at four o'clock, and
manage to meet Monsieur Gilet and invite him to dinner. If he makes
excuses, tell him it will give me pleasure; he is too polite to
refuse. And after dinner, at dessert, if he tells you about his
misfortunes, and the hulks and so forth--for you can easily get him to
talk about all that--then you can make him the offer to come and live
here. If he makes any objection, never mind, I shall know how to
Walking slowly along the boulevard Baron, the old celibate reflected,
as much as he had the mind to reflect, over this incident. If he were
to part from Flore (the mere thought confused him) where could he find
another woman? Should he marry? At his age he should be married for
his money, and a legitimate wife would use him far more cruelly than
Flore. Besides, the thought of being deprived of her tenderness, even
if it were a mere pretence, caused him horrible anguish. He was
therefore as polite to Captain Gilet as he knew how to be. The
invitation was given, as Flore had requested, before witnesses, to
guard the hero's honor from all suspicion.
A reconciliation took place between Flore and her master; but from
that day forth Jean-Jacques noticed many a trifle that betokened a
total change in his mistress's affections. For two or three weeks
Flore Brazier complained to the tradespeople in the markets, and to
the women with whom she gossiped, about Monsieur Rouget's tyranny,--
how he had taken it into his head to invite his self-styled natural
brother to live with him. No one, however, was taken in by this
comedy; and Flore was looked upon as a wonderfully clever and artful
creature. Old Rouget really found himself very comfortable after Max
became the master of his house; for he thus gained a companion who
paid him many attentions, without, however, showing any servility.
Gilet talked, discussed politics, and sometimes went to walk with
Rouget. After Max was fairly installed, Flore did not choose to do the
cooking; she said it spoiled her hands. At the request of the grand
master of the Order of the Knights of Idleness, Mere Cognette produced
one of her relatives, an old maid whose master, a curate, had lately
died without leaving her anything,--an excellent cook, withal,--who
declared she would devote herself for life or death to Max and Flore.
In the name of the two powers, Mere Cognette promised her an annuity
of three hundred francs a year at the end of ten years, if she served
them loyally, honestly, and discreetly. The Vedie, as she was called,
was noticeable for a face deeply pitted by the small-pox, and
After the new cook had entered upon her duties, the Rabouilleuse took
the title of Madame Brazier. She wore corsets; she had silk, or
handsome woollen and cotton dresses, according to the season,
expensive neckerchiefs, embroidered caps and collars, lace ruffles at
her throat, boots instead of shoes, and, altogether, adopted a
richness and elegance of apparel which renewed the youthfulness of her
appearance. She was like a rough diamond, that needed cutting and
mounting by a jeweller to bring out its full value. Her desire was to
do honor to Max. At the end of the first year, in 1817, she brought a
horse, styled English, from Bourges, for the poor cavalry captain, who
was weary of going afoot. Max had picked up in the purlieus of
Issoudun an old lancer of the Imperial Guard, a Pole named Kouski, now
very poor, who asked nothing better than to quarter himself in
Monsieur Rouget's house as the captain's servant. Max was Kouski's
idol, especially after the duel with the three royalists. So, from
1817, the household of the old bachelor was made up of five persons,
three of whom were masters, and the expenses advanced to about eight
thousand francs a year.
At the time when Madame Bridau returned to Issoudun to save--as Maitre
Desroches expressed it--an inheritance that was seriously threatened,
Jean-Jacques Rouget had reached by degrees a condition that was semi-
vegetative. In the first place, after Max's instalment, Flore put the
table on an episcopal footing. Rouget, thrown in the way of good
living, ate more and still more, enticed by the Vedie's excellent
dishes. He grew no fatter, however, in spite of this abundant and
luxurious nourishment. From day to day he weakened like a worn-out
man,--fatigued, perhaps, with the effort of digestion,--and his eyes
had dark circles around them. Still, when his friends and neighbors
met him in his walks and questioned him about his health, he always
answered that he was never better in his life. As he had always been
thought extremely deficient in mind, people did not notice the
constant lowering of his faculties. His love for Flore was the one
thing that kept him alive; in fact, he existed only for her, and his
weakness in her presence was unbounded; he obeyed the creature's mere
look, and watched her movements as a dog watches every gesture of his
master. In short, as Madame Hochon remarked, at fifty-seven years of
age he seemed older than Monsieur Hochon, an octogenarian.
Every one will suppose, and with reason, that Max's appartement was
worthy of so charming a fellow. In fact, in the course of six years
our captain had by degrees perfected the comfort of his abode and
adorned every detail of it, as much for his own pleasure as for
Flore's. But it was, after all, only the comfort and luxury of
Issoudun,--colored tiles, rather elegant wallpapers, mahogany
furniture, mirrors in gilt frames, muslin curtains with red borders, a
bed with a canopy, and draperies arranged as the provincial
upholsterers arrange them for a rich bride; which in the eyes of
Issoudun seemed the height of luxury, but are so common in vulgar
fashion-plates that even the petty shopkeepers in Paris have discarded
them at their weddings. One very unusual thing appeared, which caused
much talk in Issoudun, namely, a rush-matting on the stairs, no doubt
to muffle the sound of feet. In fact, though Max was in the habit of
coming in at daybreak, he never woke any one, and Rouget was far from
suspecting that his guest was an accomplice in the nocturnal
performances of the Knights of Idleness.
About eight o'clock the next morning, Flore, wearing a dressing-gown
of some pretty cotton stuff with narrow pink stripes, a lace cap on
her head, and her feet in furred slippers, softly opened the door of
Max's chamber; seeing that he slept, she remained standing beside the
"He came in so late!" she said to herself. "It was half-past three. He
must have a good constitution to stand such amusements. Isn't he
strong, the dear love! I wonder what they did last night."
"Oh, there you are, my little Flore!" said Max, waking like a soldier
trained by the necessities of war to have his wits and his self-
possession about him the instant that he waked, however suddenly it
"You are sleepy; I'll go away."
"No, stay; there's something serious going on."
"Were you up to some mischief last night?"
"Ah, bah! It concerns you and me and that old fool. You never told me
he had a family! Well, his family are coming,--coming here,--no doubt
to turn us out, neck and crop."
"Ah! I'll shake him well," said Flore.
"Mademoiselle Brazier," said Max gravely, "things are too serious for
giddiness. Send me my coffee; I'll take it in bed, where I'll think
over what we had better do. Come back at nine o'clock, and we'll talk
about it. Meanwhile, behave as if you had heard nothing."
Frightened at the news, Flore left Max and went to make his coffee;
but a quarter of an hour later, Baruch burst into Max's bedroom,
crying out to the grand master,--
"Fario is hunting for his barrow!"
In five minutes Max was dressed and in the street, and though he
sauntered along with apparent indifference, he soon reached the foot
of the tower embankment, where he found quite a collection of people.
"What is it?" asked Max, making his way through the crowd and reaching
Fario was a withered little man, as ugly as though he were a blue-
blooded grandee. His fiery eyes, placed very close to his nose and
piercing as a gimlet, would have won him the name of a sorcerer in
Naples. He seemed gentle because he was calm, quiet, and slow in his
movements; and for this reason people commonly called him "goodman
Fario." But his skin--the color of gingerbread--and his softness of
manner only hid from stupid eyes, and disclosed to observing ones, the
half-Moorish nature of a peasant of Granada, which nothing had as yet
roused from its phlegmatic indolence.
"Are you sure," Max said to him, after listening to his grievance,
"that you brought your cart to this place? for, thank God, there are
no thieves in Issoudun."
"I left it just there--"
"If the horse was harnessed to it, hasn't he drawn it somewhere."
"Here's the horse," said Fario, pointing to the animal, which stood
harnessed thirty feet away.
Max went gravely up to the place where the horse stood, because from
there the bottom of the tower at the top of the embankment could be
seen,--the crowd being at the foot of the mound. Everybody followed
Max, and that was what the scoundrel wanted.
"Has anybody thoughtlessly put a cart in his pocket?" cried Francois.
"Turn out your pockets, all of you!" said Baruch.
Shouts of laughter resounded on all sides. Fario swore. Oaths, with a
Spaniard, denote the highest pitch of anger.
"Was your cart light?" asked Max.
"Light!" cried Fario. "If those who laugh at me had it on their feet,
their corns would never hurt them again."
"Well, it must be devilishly light," answered Max, "for look there!"
pointing to the foot of the tower; "it has flown up the embankment."
At these words all eyes were lifted to the spot, and for a moment
there was a perfect uproar in the market-place. Each man pointed at
the barrow bewitched, and all their tongues wagged.
"The devil makes common cause with the inn-keepers," said Goddet to
the astonished Spaniard. "He means to teach you not to leave your cart