Part 4 out of 7
about in the streets, but to put it in the tavern stables."
At this speech the crowd hooted, for Fario was thought to be a miser.
"Come, my good fellow," said Max, "don't lose heart. We'll go up to
the tower and see how your barrow got there. Thunder and cannon! we'll
lend you a hand! Come along, Baruch."
"As for you," he whispered to Francois, "get the people to stand back,
and make sure there is nobody at the foot of the embankment when you
see us at the top."
Fario, Max, Baruch, and three other knights climbed to the foot of the
tower. During the rather perilous ascent Max and Fario noticed that no
damage to the embankment, nor even trace of the passage of the barrow,
could be seen. Fario began to imagine witchcraft, and lost his head.
When they reached the top and examined into the matter, it really
seemed a thing impossible that the cart had got there.
"How shall I ever get it down?" said the Spaniard, whose little eyes
began for the first time to show fear; while his swarthy yellow face,
which seemed as it if could never change color, whitened.
"How?" said Max. "Why, that's not difficult."
And taking advantage of the Spaniard's stupefaction, he raised the
barrow by the shafts with his robust arms and prepared to fling it
down, calling in thundering tones as it left his grasp, "Look out
No accident happened, for the crowd, persuaded by Francois and eaten
up with curiosity, had retired to a distance from which they could see
more clearly what went on at the top of the embankment. The cart was
dashed to an infinite number of pieces in a very picturesque manner.
"There! you have got it down," said Baruch.
"Ah, brigands! ah, scoundrels!" cried Fario; "perhaps it was you who
brought it up here!"
Max, Baruch, and their three comrades began to laugh at the Spaniard's
"I wanted to do you a service," said Max coolly, "and in handling the
damned thing I came very near flinging myself after it; and this is
how you thank me, is it? What country do you come from?"
"I come from a country where they never forgive," replied Fario,
trembling with rage. "My cart will be the cab in which you shall drive
to the devil!--unless," he said, suddenly becoming as meek as a lamb,
"you will give me a new one."
"We will talk about that," said Max, beginning to descend.
When they reached the bottom and met the first hilarious group, Max
took Fario by the button of his jacket and said to him,--
"Yes, my good Fario, I'll give you a magnificent cart, if you will
give me two hundred and fifty francs; but I won't warrant it to go,
like this one, up a tower."
At this last jest Fario became as cool as though he were making a
"Damn it!" he said, "give me the wherewithal to replace my barrow, and
it will be the best use you ever made of old Rouget's money."
Max turned livid; he raised his formidable fist to strike Fario; but
Baruch, who knew that the blow would descend on others besides the
Spaniard, plucked the latter away like a feather and whispered to
"Don't commit such a folly!"
The grand master, thus called to order, began to laugh and said to
"If I, by accident, broke your barrow, and you in return try to
slander me, we are quits."
"Not yet," muttered Fario. "But I am glad to know what my barrow was
"Ah, Max, you've found your match!" said a spectator of the scene, who
did not belong to the Order of Idleness.
"Adieu, Monsieur Gilet. I haven't thanked you yet for lending me a
hand," cried the Spaniard, as he kicked the sides of his horse and
disappeared amid loud hurrahs.
"We will keep the tires of the wheels for you," shouted a wheelwright,
who had come to inspect the damage done to the cart.
One of the shafts was sticking upright in the ground, as straight as a
tree. Max stood by, pale and thoughtful, and deeply annoyed by Fario's
speech. For five days after this, nothing was talked of in Issoudun
but the tale of the Spaniard's barrow; it was even fated to travel
abroad, as Goddet remarked,--for it went the round of Berry, where the
speeches of Fario and Max were repeated, and at the end of a week the
affair, greatly to the Spaniard's satisfaction, was still the talk of
the three departments and the subject of endless gossip. In
consequence of the vindictive Spaniard's terrible speech, Max and the
Rabouilleuse became the object of certain comments which were merely
whispered in Issoudun, though they were spoken aloud in Bourges,
Vatan, Vierzon, and Chateauroux. Maxence Gilet knew enough of that
region of the country to guess how envenomed such comments would
"We can't stop their tongues," he said at last. "Ah! I did a foolish
"Max!" said Francois, taking his arm. "They are coming to-night."
"The Bridaus. My grandmother has just had a letter from her
"Listen, my boy," said Max in a low voice. "I have been thinking
deeply of this matter. Neither Flore nor I ought to seem opposed to
the Bridaus. If these heirs are to be got rid of, it is for you
Hochons to drive them out of Issoudun. Find out what sort of people
they are. To-morrow at Mere Cognette's, after I've taken their
measure, we can decide what is to be done, and how we can set your
grandfather against them."
"The Spaniard found the flaw in Max's armor," said Baruch to his
cousin Francois, as they turned into Monsieur Hochon's house and
watched their comrade entering his own door.
While Max was thus employed, Flore, in spite of her friend's advice,
was unable to restrain her wrath; and without knowing whether she
would help or hinder Max's plans, she burst forth upon the poor
bachelor. When Jean-Jacques incurred the anger of his mistress, the
little attentions and vulgar fondlings which were all his joy were
suddenly suppressed. Flore sent her master, as the children say, into
disgrace. No more tender glances, no more of the caressing little
words in various tones with which she decked her conversation,--"my
kitten," "my old darling," "my bibi," "my rat," etc. A "you," cold and
sharp and ironically respectful, cut like the blade of a knife through
the heart of the miserable old bachelor. The "you" was a declaration
of war. Instead of helping the poor man with his toilet, handing him
what he wanted, forestalling his wishes, looking at him with the sort
of admiration which all women know how to express, and which, in some
cases, the coarser it is the better it pleases,--saying, for instance,
"You look as fresh as a rose!" or, "What health you have!" "How
handsome you are, my old Jean!"--in short, instead of entertaining him
with the lively chatter and broad jokes in which he delighted, Flore
left him to dress alone. If he called her, she answered from the foot
of the staircase, "I can't do everything at once; how can I look after
your breakfast and wait upon you up there? Are not you big enough to
dress your own self?"
"Oh, dear! what have I done to displease her?" the old man asked
himself that morning, as he got one of these rebuffs after calling for
"Vedie, take up the hot water," cried Flore.
"Vedie!" exclaimed the poor man, stupefied with fear of the anger that
was crushing him. "Vedie, what is the matter with Madame this
Flore Brazier required her master and Vedie and Kouski and Max to call
"She seems to have heard something about you which isn't to your
credit," answered Vedie, assuming an air of deep concern. "You are
doing wrong, monsieur. I'm only a poor servant-woman, and you may say
I have no right to poke my nose into your affairs; but I do say you
may search through all the women in the world, like that king in holy
Scripture, and you won't find the equal of Madame. You ought to kiss
the ground she steps on. Goodness! if you make her unhappy, you'll
only spoil your own life. There she is, poor thing, with her eyes full
Vedie left the poor man utterly cast down; he dropped into an armchair
and gazed into vacancy like the melancholy imbecile that he was, and
forgot to shave. These alternations of tenderness and severity worked
upon this feeble creature whose only life was through his amorous
fibre, the same morbid effect which great changes from tropical heat
to arctic cold produce upon the human body. It was a moral pleurisy,
which wore him out like a physical disease. Flore alone could thus
affect him; for to her, and to her alone, he was as good as he was
"Well, haven't you shaved yet?" she said, appearing at his door.
Her sudden presence made the old man start violently; and from being
pale and cast down he grew red for an instant, without, however,
daring to complain of her treatment.
"Your breakfast is waiting," she added. "You can come down as you are,
in dressing-gown and slippers; for you'll breakfast alone, I can tell
Without waiting for an answer, she disappeared. To make him breakfast
alone was the punishment he dreaded most; he loved to talk to her as
he ate his meals. When he got to the foot of the staircase he was
taken with a fit of coughing; for emotion excited his catarrh.
"Cough away!" said Flore in the kitchen, without caring whether he
heard her or not. "Confound the old wretch! he is able enough to get
over it without bothering others. If he coughs up his soul, it will
only be after--"
Such were the amenities the Rabouilleuse addressed to Rouget when she
was angry. The poor man sat down in deep distress at a corner of the
table in the middle of the room, and looked at his old furniture and
the old pictures with a disconsolate air.
"You might at least have put on a cravat," said Flore. "Do you think
it is pleasant for people to see such a neck as yours, which is redder
and more wrinkled than a turkey's?"
"But what have I done?" he asked, lifting his big light-green eyes,
full of tears, to his tormentor, and trying to face her hard
"What have you done?" she exclaimed. "As if you didn't know? Oh, what
a hypocrite! Your sister Agathe--who is as much your sister as I am
sister of the tower of Issoudun, if one's to believe your father, and
who has no claim at all upon you--is coming here from Paris with her
son, a miserable two-penny painter, to see you."
"My sister and my nephews coming to Issoudun!" he said, bewildered.
"Oh, yes! play the surprised, do; try to make me believe you didn't
send for them! sewing your lies with white bread, indeed! Don't fash
yourself; we won't trouble your Parisians--before they set their feet
in this house, we shall have shaken the dust of it off ours. Max and I
will be gone, never to return. As for your will, I'll tear it in
quarters under your nose, and to your very beard--do you hear? Leave
your property to your family, if you don't think we are your family;
and then see if you'll be loved for yourself by a lot of people who
have not seen you for thirty years,--who in fact have never seen you!
Is it that sort of sister who can take my place? A pinchbeck saint!"
"If that's all, my little Flore," said the old man, "I won't receive
my sister, or my nephews. I swear to you this is the first word I have
heard of their coming. It is all got up by that Madame Hochon--a
Max, who had overheard old Rouget's words, entered suddenly, and said
in a masterful tone,--
"What's all this?"
"My good Max," said the old man, glad to get the protection of the
soldier who, by agreement with Flore, always took his side in a
dispute, "I swear by all that is most sacred, that I now hear this
news for the first time. I have never written to my sister; my father
made me promise not to leave her any of my property; to leave it to
the Church sooner than to her. Well, I won't receive my sister Agathe
to this house, or her sons--"
"Your father was wrong, my dear Jean-Jacques, and Madame Brazier is
still more wrong," answered Max. "Your father no doubt had his
reasons, but he is dead, and his hatred should die with him. Your
sister is your sister, and your nephews are your nephews. You owe it
to yourself to welcome them, and you owe it to us as well. What would
people say in Issoudun? Thunder! I've got enough upon my shoulders as
it is, without hearing people say that we shut you up and don't allow
you a will of your own, or that we influence you against your
relations and are trying to get hold of your property. The devil take
me if I don't pull up stakes and be off, if that sort of calumny is to
be flung at me! the other is bad enough! Let's eat our breakfast."
Flore, who was now as mild as a weasel, helped Vedie to set the table.
Old Rouget, full of admiration for Max, took him by both hands and led
him into the recess of a window, saying in a low voice:--
"Ah! Max, if I had a son, I couldn't love him better than I love you.
Flore is right: you two are my real family. You are a man of honor,
Max, and what you have just said is true."
"You ought to receive and entertain your sister and her son, but not
change the arrangements you have made about your property," said Max.
"In that way you will do what is right in the eyes of the world, and
yet keep your promise to your father."
"Well! my dear loves!" cried Flore, gayly, "the salmi is getting cold.
Come, my old rat, here's a wing for you," she said, smiling on Jean-
At the words, the long-drawn face of the poor creature lost its
cadaverous tints, the smile of a Theriaki flickered on his pendent
lips; but he was seized with another fit of coughing; for the joy of
being taken back to favor excited as violent an emotion as the
punishment itself. Flore rose, pulled a little cashmere shawl from her
own shoulders, and tied it round the old man's throat, exclaiming:
"How silly to put yourself in such a way about nothing. There, you old
goose, that will do you good; it has been next my heart--"
"What a good creature!" said Rouget to Max, while Flore went to fetch
a black velvet cap to cover the nearly bald head of the old bachelor.
"As good as she is beautiful"; answered Max, "but she is quick-
tempered, like all people who carry their hearts in their hands."
The baldness of this sketch may displease some, who will think the
flashes of Flore's character belong to the sort of realism which a
painter ought to leave in shadow. Well! this scene, played again and
again with shocking variations, is, in its coarse way and its horrible
veracity, the type of such scenes played by women on whatever rung of
the social ladder they are perched, when any interest, no matter what,
draws them from their own line of obedience and induces them to grasp
at power. In their eyes, as in those of politicians, all means to an
end are justifiable. Between Flore Brazier and a duchess, between a
duchess and the richest bourgeoise, between a bourgeoise and the most
luxuriously kept mistress, there are no differences except those of
the education they have received, and the surroundings in which they
live. The pouting of a fine lady is the same thing as the violence of
a Rabouilleuse. At all levels, bitter sayings, ironical jests, cold
contempt, hypocritical complaints, false quarrels, win as much success
as the low outbursts of this Madame Everard of Issoudun.
Max began to relate, with much humor, the tale of Fario and his
barrow, which made the old man laugh. Vedie and Kouski, who came to
listen, exploded in the kitchen, and as to Flore, she laughed
convulsively. After breakfast, while Jean-Jacques read the newspapers
(for they subscribed to the "Constitutionel" and the "Pandore"), Max
carried Flore to his own quarters.
"Are you quite sure he has not made any other will since the one in
which he left the property to you?"
"He hasn't anything to write with," she answered.
"He might have dictated it to some notary," said Max; "we must look
out for that. Therefore it is well to be cordial to the Bridaus, and
at the same time endeavor to turn those mortgages into money. The
notaries will be only too glad to make the transfers; it is grist to
their mill. The Funds are going up; we shall conquer Spain, and
deliver Ferdinand VII. and the Cortez, and then they will be above
par. You and I could make a good thing out of it by putting the old
fellow's seven hundred and fifty thousand francs into the Funds at
eighty-nine. Only you must try to get it done in your name; it will be
so much secured anyhow."
"A capital idea!" said Flore.
"And as there will be an income of fifty thousand francs from eight
hundred and ninety thousand, we must make him borrow one hundred and
forty thousand francs for two years, to be paid back in two
instalments. In two years, we shall get one hundred thousand francs IN
Paris, and ninety thousand here, and risk nothing."
"If it were not for you, my handsome Max, what would become of me
now?" she said.
"Oh! to-morrow night at Mere Cognette's, after I have seen the
Parisians, I shall find a way to make the Hochons themselves get rid
"Ah! what a head you've got, my angel! You are a love of a man."
The place Saint-Jean is at the centre of a long street called at the
upper end the rue Grand Narette, and at the lower the rue Petite
Narette. The word "Narette" is used in Berry to express the same lay
of the land as the Genoese word "salita" indicates,--that is to say, a
steep street. The Grand Narette rises rapidly from the place Saint-
Jean to the port Vilatte. The house of old Monsieur Hochon is exactly
opposite that of Jean-Jacques Rouget. From the windows of the room
where Madame Hochon usually sat, it was easy to see what went on at
the Rouget household, and vice versa, when the curtains were drawn
back or the doors were left open. The Hochon house was like the Rouget
house, and the two were doubtless built by the same architect.
Monsieur Hochon, formerly tax-collector at Selles in Berry, born,
however, at Issoudun, had returned to his native place and married the
sister of the sub-delegate, the gay Lousteau, exchanging his office at
Selles for another of the same kind at Issoudun. Having retired before
1787, he escaped the dangers of the Revolution, to whose principles,
however, he firmly adhered, like all other "honest men" who howl with
the winners. Monsieur Hochon came honestly by the reputation of miser.
but it would be mere repetition to sketch him here. A single specimen
of the avarice which made him famous will suffice to make you see
Monsieur Hochon as he was.
At the wedding of his daughter, now dead, who married a Borniche, it
was necessary to give a dinner to the Borniche family. The bridegroom,
who was heir to a large fortune, had suffered great mortification from
having mismanaged his property, and still more because his father and
mother refused to help him out. The old people, who were living at the
time of the marriage, were delighted to see Monsieur Hochon step in as
guardian,--for the purpose, of course, of making his daughter's dowry
secure. On the day of the dinner, which was given to celebrate the
signing of the marriage contract, the chief relations of the two
families were assembled in the salon, the Hochons on one side, the
Borniches on the other,--all in their best clothes. While the contract
was being solemnly read aloud by young Heron, the notary, the cook
came into the room and asked Monsieur Hochon for some twine to truss
up the turkey,--an essential feature of the repast. The old man dove
into the pocket of his surtout, pulled out an end of string which had
evidently already served to tie up a parcel, and gave it to her; but
before she could leave the room he called out, "Gritte, mind you give
it back to me!" (Gritte is the abbreviation used in Berry for
From year to year old Hochon grew more petty in his meanness, and more
penurious; and at this time he was eighty-five years old. He belonged
to the class of men who stop short in the street, in the middle of a
lively dialogue, and stoop to pick up a pin, remarking, as they stick
it in the sleeve of their coat, "There's the wife's stipend." He
complained bitterly of the poor quality of the cloth manufactured now-
a-days, and called attention to the fact that his coat had lasted only
ten years. Tall, gaunt, thin, and sallow; saying little, reading
little, and doing nothing to fatigue himself; as observant of forms as
an oriental,--he enforced in his own house a discipline of strict
abstemiousness, weighing and measuring out the food and drink of the
family, which, indeed, was rather numerous, and consisted of his wife,
nee Lousteau, his grandson Borniche with a sister Adolphine, the heirs
of old Borniche, and lastly, his other grandson, Francois Hochon.
Hochon's eldest son was taken by the draft of 1813, which drew in the
sons of well-to-do families who had escaped the regular conscription,
and were now formed into a corps styled the "guards of honor." This
heir-presumptive, who was killed at Hanau, had married early in life a
rich woman, intending thereby to escape all conscriptions; but after
he was enrolled, he wasted his substance, under a presentiment of his
end. His wife, who followed the army at a distance, died at Strasburg
in 1814, leaving debts which her father-in-law Hochon refused to pay,
--answering the creditors with an axiom of ancient law, "Women are
The house, though large, was scantily furnished; on the second floor,
however, there were two rooms suitable for Madame Bridau and Joseph.
Old Hochon now repented that he had kept them furnished with two beds,
each bed accompanied by an old armchair of natural wood covered with
needlework, and a walnut table, on which figured a water-pitcher of
the wide-mouthed kind called "gueulard," standing in a basin with a
blue border. The old man kept his winter store of apples and pears,
medlars and quinces on heaps of straw in these rooms, where the rats
and mice ran riot, so that they exhaled a mingled odor of fruit and
vermin. Madame Hochon now directed that everything should be cleaned;
the wall-paper, which had peeled off in places, was fastened up again
with wafers; and she decorated the windows with little curtains which
she pieced together from old hoards of her own. Her husband having
refused to let her buy a strip of drugget, she laid down her own
bedside carpet for her little Agathe,--"Poor little thing!" as she
called the mother, who was now over forty-seven years old. Madame
Hochon borrowed two night-tables from a neighbor, and boldly hired two
chests of drawers with brass handles from a dealer in second-hand
furniture who lived next to Mere Cognette. She herself had preserved
two pairs of candlesticks, carved in choice woods by her own father,
who had the "turning" mania. From 1770 to 1780 it was the fashion
among rich people to learn a trade, and Monsieur Lousteau, the father,
was a turner, just as Louis XVI. was a locksmith. These candlesticks
were ornamented with circlets made of the roots of rose, peach, and
apricot trees. Madame Hochon actually risked the use of her precious
relics! These preparations and this sacrifice increased old Hochon's
anxiety; up to this time he had not believed in the arrival of the
The morning of the day that was celebrated by the trick on Fario,
Madame Hochon said to her husband after breakfast:--
"I hope, Hochon, that you will receive my goddaughter, Madame Bridau,
properly." Then, after making sure that her grandchildren were out of
hearing, she added: "I am mistress of my own property; don't oblige me
to make up to Agathe in my will for any incivility on your part."
"Do you think, madame," answered Hochon, in a mild voice, "that, at my
age, I don't know the forms of decent civility?"
"You know very well what I mean, you crafty old thing! Be friendly to
our guests, and remember that I love Agathe."
"And you love Maxence Gilet also, who is getting the property away
from your dear Agathe! Ah! you've warmed a viper in your bosom there;
but after all, the Rouget money is bound to go to a Lousteau."
After making this allusion to the supposed parentage and both Max and
Agathe, Hochon turned to leave the room; but old Madame Hochon, a
woman still erect and spare, wearing a round cap with ribbon knots and
her hair powdered, a taffet petticoat of changeable colors like a
pigeon's breast, tight sleeves, and her feet in high-heeled slippers,
deposited her snuff-box on a little table, and said:--
"Really, Monsieur Hochon, how can a man of your sense repeat
absurdities which, unhappily, cost my poor friend her peace of mind,
and Agathe the property which she ought to have had from her father.
Max Gilet is not the son of my brother, whom I often advised to save
the money he paid for him. You know as well as I do that Madame Rouget
was virtue itself--"
"And the daughter takes after her; for she strikes me as uncommonly
stupid. After losing all her fortune, she brings her sons up so well
that here is one in prison and likely to be brought up on a criminal
indictment before the Court of Peers for a conspiracy worthy of
Berton. As for the other, he is worse off; he's a painter. If your
proteges are to stay here till they have extricated that fool of a
Rouget from the claws of Gilet and the Rabouilleuse, we shall eat a
good deal more than half a measure of salt with them."
"That's enough, Monsieur Hochon; you had better wish they may not have
two strings to their bow."
Monsieur Hochon took his hat, and his cane with an ivory knob, and
went away petrified by that terrible speech; for he had no idea that
his wife could show such resolution. Madame Hochon took her prayer-
book to read the service, for her advanced age prevented her from
going daily to church; it was only with difficulty that she got there
on Sundays and holidays. Since receiving her goddaughter's letter she
had added a petition to her usual prayers, supplicating God to open
the eyes of Jean-Jacques Rouget, and to bless Agathe and prosper the
expedition into which she herself had drawn her. Concealing the fact
from her grandchildren, whom she accused of being "parpaillots," she
had asked the curate to say a mass for Agathe's success during a
neuvaine which was being held by her granddaughter, Adolphine
Borniche, who thus made her prayers in church by proxy.
Adolphine, then eighteen,--who for the last seven years had sewed at
the side of her grandmother in that cold household of monotonous and
methodical customs,--had undertaken her neuvaine all the more
willingly because she hoped to inspire some feeling in Joseph Bridau,
in whom she took the deepest interest because of the monstrosities
which her grandfather attributed in her hearing to the young Parisian.
All the old people and sensible people of the town, and the fathers of
families approved of Madame Hochon's conduct in receiving her
goddaughter; and their good wishes for the latter's success were in
proportion to the secret contempt with which the conduct of Maxence
Gilet had long inspired them. Thus the news of the arrival of Rouget's
sister and nephew raised two parties in Issoudun,--that of the higher
and older bourgeoisie, who contented themselves with offering good
wishes and in watching events without assisting them, and that of the
Knights of Idleness and the partisans of Max, who, unfortunately, were
capable of committing many high-handed outrages against the Parisians.
Agathe and Joseph arrived at the coach-office of the Messageries-
Royales in the place Misere at three o'clock. Though tired with the
journey, Madame Bridau felt her youth revive at sight of her native
land, where at every step she came upon memories and impressions of
her girlish days. In the then condition of public opinion in Issoudun,
the arrival of the Parisians was known all over the town in ten
minutes. Madame Hochon came out upon her doorstep to welcome her
godchild, and kissed her as though she were really a daughter. After
seventy-two years of a barren and monotonous existence, exhibiting in
their retrospect the graves of her three children, all unhappy in
their lives, and all dead, she had come to feel a sort of fictitious
motherhood for the young girl whom she had, as she expressed it,
carried in her pouch for sixteen years. Through the gloom of
provincial life the old woman had cherished this early friendship,
this girlish memory, as closely as if Agathe had remained near her,
and she had also taken the deepest interest in Bridau. Agathe was led
in triumph to the salon where Monsieur Hochon was stationed, chilling
as a tepid oven.
"Here is Monsieur Hochon; how does he seem to you?" asked his wife.
"Precisely the same as when I last saw him," said the Parisian woman.
"Ah! it is easy to see you come from Paris; you are so complimentary,"
remarked the old man.
The presentations took place: first, young Baruch Borniche, a tall
youth of twenty-two; then Francois Hochon, twenty-four; and lastly
little Adolphine, who blushed and did not know what to do with her
arms; she was anxious not to seem to be looking at Joseph Bridau, who
in his turn was narrowly observed, though from different points of
view, by the two young men and by old Hochon. The miser was saying to
himself, "He is just out of the hospital; he will be as hungry as a
convalescent." The young men were saying, "What a head! what a
brigand! we shall have our hands full!"
"This is my son, the painter; my good Joseph," said Agathe at last,
presenting the artist.
There was an effort in the accent that she put upon the word "good,"
which revealed the mother's heart, whose thoughts were really in the
prison of the Luxembourg.
"He looks ill," said Madame Hochon; "he is not at all like you."
"No, madame," said Joseph, with the brusque candor of an artist; "I am
like my father, and very ugly at that."
Madame Hochon pressed Agathe's hand which she was holding, and glanced
at her as much as to say, "Ah! my child; I understand now why you
prefer your good-for-nothing Philippe."
"I never saw your father, my dear boy," she said aloud; "it is enough
to make me love you that you are your mother's son. Besides, you have
talent, so the late Madame Descoings used to write to me; she was the
only one of late years who told me much about you."
"Talent!" exclaimed the artist, "not as yet; but with time and
patience I may win fame and fortune."
"By painting?" said Monsieur Hochon ironically.
"Come, Adolphine," said Madame Hochon, "go and see about dinner."
"Mother," said Joseph, "I will attend to the trunks which they are
"Hochon," said the grandmother to Francois, "show the rooms to
As the dinner was to be served at four o'clock and it was now only
half past three, Baruch rushed into the town to tell the news of the
Bridau arrival, describe Agathe's dress, and more particularly to
picture Joseph, whose haggard, unhealthy, and determined face was not
unlike the ideal of a brigand. That evening Joseph was the topic of
conversation in all the households of Issoudun.
"That sister of Rouget must have seen a monkey before her son was
born," said one; "he is the image of a baboon."
"He has the face of a brigand and the eyes of a basilisk."
"All artists are like that."
"They are as wicked as the red ass, and as spiteful as monkeys."
"It is part of their business."
"I have just seen Monsieur Beaussier, and he says he would not like to
meet him in a dark wood; he saw him in the diligence."
"He has got hollows over the eyes like a horse, and he laughs like a
"The fellow looks as though he were capable of anything; perhaps it's
his fault that his brother, a fine handsome man they tell me, has gone
to the bad. Poor Madame Bridau doesn't seem as if she were very happy
"Suppose we take advantage of his being here, and have our portraits
The result of all these observations, scattered through the town was,
naturally, to excite curiosity. All those who had the right to visit
the Hochons resolved to call that very night and examine the
Parisians. The arrival of these two persons in the stagnant town was
like the falling of a beam into a community of frogs.
After stowing his mother's things and his own into the two attic
chambers, which he examined as he did so, Joseph took note of the
silent house, where the walls, the stair-case, the wood-work, were
devoid of decoration and humid with frost, and where there was
literally nothing beyond the merest necessaries. He felt the brusque
transition from his poetic Paris to the dumb and arid province; and
when, coming downstairs, he chanced to see Monsieur Hochon cutting
slices of bread for each person, he understood, for the first time in
his life, Moliere's Harpagon.
"We should have done better to go to an inn," he said to himself.
The aspect of the dinner confirmed his apprehensions. After a soup
whose watery clearness showed that quantity was more considered than
quality, the bouilli was served, ceremoniously garnished with parsley;
the vegetables, in a dish by themselves, being counted into the items
of the repast. The bouilli held the place of honor in the middle of
the table, accompanied with three other dishes: hard-boiled eggs on
sorrel opposite to the vegetables; then a salad dressed with nut-oil
to face little cups of custard, whose flavoring of burnt oats did
service as vanilla, which it resembles much as coffee made of chiccory
resembles mocha. Butter and radishes, in two plates, were at each end
of the table; pickled gherkins and horse-radish completed the spread,
which won Madam Hochon's approbation. The good old woman gave a
contented little nod when she saw that her husband had done things
properly, for the first day at least. The old man answered with a
glance and a shrug of his shoulders, which it was easy to translate
"See the extravagances you force me to commit!"
As soon as Monsieur Hochon had, as it were, slivered the bouilli into
slices, about as thick as the sole of a dancing-shoe, that dish was
replaced by another, containing three pigeons. The wine was of the
country, vintage 1811. On a hint from her grandmother, Adolphine had
decorated each end of the table with a bunch of flowers.
"At Rome as the Romans do," thought the artist, looking at the table,
and beginning to eat,--like a man who had breakfasted at Vierzon, at
six o'clock in the morning, on an execrable cup of coffee. When Joseph
had eaten up all his bread and asked for more, Monsieur Hochon rose,
slowly searched in the pocket of his surtout for a key, unlocked a
cupboard behind him, broke off a section of a twelve-pound loaf,
carefully cut a round of it, then divided the round in two, laid the
pieces on a plate, and passed the plate across the table to the young
painter, with the silence and coolness of an old soldier who says to
himself on the eve of battle, "Well, I can meet death." Joseph took
the half-slice, and fully understood that he was not to ask for any
more. No member of the family was the least surprised at this
extraordinary performance. The conversation went on. Agathe learned
that the house in which she was born, her father's house before he
inherited that of the old Descoings, had been bought by the Borniches;
she expressed a wish to see it once more.
"No doubt," said her godmother, "the Borniches will be here this
evening; we shall have half the town--who want to examine you," she
added, turning to Joseph, "and they will all invite you to their
Gritte, who in spite of her sixty years, was the only servant of the
house, brought in for dessert the famous ripe cheese of Touraine and
Berry, made of goat's milk, whose mouldy discolorations so distinctly
reproduce the pattern of the vine-leaves on which it is served, that
Touraine ought to have invented the art of engraving. On either side
of these little cheeses Gritte, with a company air, placed nuts and
some time-honored biscuits.
"Well, Gritte, the fruit?" said Madame Hochon.
"But, madame, there is none rotten," answered Gritte.
Joseph went off into roars of laughter, as though he were among his
comrades in the atelier; for he suddenly perceived that the parsimony
of eating only the fruits which were beginning to rot had degenerated
into a settled habit.
"Bah! we can eat them all the same," he exclaimed, with the heedless
gayety of a man who will have his say.
"Monsieur Hochon, pray get some," said the old lady.
Monsieur Hochon, much incensed at the artist's speech, fetched some
peaches, pears, and Saint Catherine plums.
"Adolphine, go and gather some grapes," said Madame Hochon to her
Joseph looked at the two young men as much as to say: "Is it to such
high living as this that you owe your healthy faces?"
Baruch understood the keen glance and smiled; for he and his cousin
Hochon were behaving with much discretion. The home-life was of less
importance to youths who supped three times the week at Mere
Cognette's. Moreover, just before dinner, Baruch had received notice
that the grand master convoked the whole Order at midnight for a
magnificent supper, in the course of which a great enterprise would be
arranged. The feast of welcome given by old Hochon to his guests
explains how necessary were the nocturnal repasts at the Cognette's to
two young fellows blessed with good appetites, who, we may add, never
missed any of them.
"We will take the liqueur in the salon," said Madame Hochon, rising
and motioning to Joseph to give her his arm. As they went out before
the others, she whispered to the painter:--
"Eh! my poor boy; this dinner won't give you an indigestion; but I had
hard work to get it for you. It is always Lent here; you will get
enough just to keep life in you, and no more. So you must bear it
The kind-heartedness of the old woman, who thus drew her own
predicament, pleased the artist.
"I have lived fifty years with that man, without ever hearing half-a-
dozen gold pieces chink in my purse," she went on. "Oh! if I did not
hope that you might save your property, I would never have brought you
and your mother into my prison."
"But how can you survive it?" cried Joseph naively, with the gayety
which a French artist never loses.
"Ah, you may well ask!" she said. "I pray."
Joseph quivered as he heard the words, which raised the old woman so
much in his estimation that he stepped back a little way to look into
her face; it was radiant with so tender a serenity that he said to
"Let me paint your portrait."
"No, no," she answered, "I am too weary of life to wish to remain here
Gayly uttering the sad words, she opened a closet, and brought out a
flask containing ratafia, a domestic manufacture of her own, the
receipt for which she obtained from the far-famed nuns to whom is also
due the celebrated cake of Issoudun,--one of the great creations of
French confectionery; which no chef, cook, pastry-cook, or
confectioner has ever been able to reproduce. Monsieur de Riviere,
ambassador at Constantinople, ordered enormous quantities every year
for the Seraglio.
Adolphine held a lacquer tray on which were a number of little old
glasses with engraved sides and gilt edges; and as her mother filled
each of them, she carried it to the company.
"It seems as though my father's turn were coming round!" exclaimed
Agathe, to whom this immutable provincial custom recalled the scenes
of her youth.
"Hochon will go to his club presently to read the papers, and we shall
have a little time to ourselves," said the old lady in a low voice.
In fact, ten minutes later, the three women and Joseph were alone in
the salon, where the floor was never waxed, only swept, and the
worsted-work designs in oaken frames with grooved mouldings, and all
the other plain and rather dismal furniture seemed to Madame Bridau to
be in exactly the same state as when she had left Issoudun. Monarchy,
Revolution, Empire, and Restoration, which respected little, had
certainly respected this room where their glories and their disasters
had left not the slightest trace.
"Ah! my godmother, in comparison with your life, mine has been cruelly
tried," exclaimed Madame Bridau, surprised to find even a canary which
she had known when alive, stuffed, and standing on the mantleshelf
between the old clock, the old brass brackets, and the silver
"My child," said the old lady, "trials are in the heart. The greater
and more necessary the resignation, the harder the struggle with our
own selves. But don't speak of me, let us talk of your affairs. You
are directly in front of the enemy," she added, pointing to the
windows of the Rouget house.
"They are sitting down to dinner," said Adolphine.
The young girl, destined for a cloister, was constantly looking out of
the window, in hopes of getting some light upon the enormities imputed
to Maxence Gilet, the Rabouilleuse, and Jean-Jacques, of which a few
words reached her ears whenever she was sent out of the room that
others might talk about them. The old lady now told her granddaughter
to leave her alone with Madame Bridau and Joseph until the arrival of
"For," she said, turning to the Parisians, "I know my Issoudun by
heart; we shall have ten or twelve batches of inquisitive folk here
In fact Madame Hochon had hardly related the events and the details
concerning the astounding influence obtained by Maxence Gilet and the
Rabouilleuse over Jean-Jacques Rouget (without, of course, following
the synthetical method with which they have been presented here),
adding the many comments, descriptions, and hypotheses with which the
good and evil tongues of the town embroidered them, before Adolphine
announced the approach of the Borniche, Beaussier, Lousteau-Prangin,
Fichet, Goddet-Herau families; in all, fourteen persons looming in the
"You now see, my dear child," said the old lady, concluding her tale,
"that it will not be an easy matter to get this property out of the
jaws of the wolf--"
"It seems to me so difficult--with a scoundrel such as you represent
him, and a daring woman like that crab-girl--as to be actually
impossible," remarked Joseph. "We should have to stay a year in
Issoudun to counteract their influence and overthrow their dominion
over my uncle. Money isn't worth such a struggle,--not to speak of the
meannesses to which we should have to condescend. My mother has only
two weeks' leave of absence; her place is a permanent one, and she
must not risk it. As for me, in the month of October I have an
important work, which Schinner has just obtained for me from a peer of
France; so you see, madame, my future fortune is in my brushes."
This speech was received by Madame Hochon with much amazement. Though
relatively superior to the town she lived in, the old lady did not
believe in painting. She glanced at her goddaughter, and again pressed
"This Maxence is the second volume of Philippe," whispered Joseph in
his mother's ear, "--only cleverer and better behaved. Well, madame,"
he said, aloud, we won't trouble Monsieur Hochon by staying very
"Ah! you are young; you know nothing of the world," said the old lady.
"A couple of weeks, if you are judicious, may produce great results;
listen to my advice, and act accordingly."
"Oh! willingly," said Joseph, "I know I have a perfectly amazing
incapacity for domestic statesmanship: for example, I am sure I don't
know what Desroches himself would tell us to do if my uncle declines
to see us."
Mesdames Borniche, Goddet-Herau, Beaussier, Lousteau-Prangin and
Fichet, decorated with their husbands, here entered the room.
When the fourteen persons were seated, and the usual compliments were
over, Madame Hochon presented her goddaughter Agathe and Joseph.
Joseph sat in his armchair all the evening, engaged in slyly studying
the sixty faces which, from five o'clock until half past nine, posed
for him gratis, as he afterwards told his mother. Such behavior before
the aristocracy of Issoudun did not tend to change the opinion of the
little town concerning him: every one went home ruffled by his
sarcastic glances, uneasy under his smiles, and even frightened at his
face, which seemed sinister to a class of people unable to recognize
the singularities of genius.
After ten o'clock, when the household was in bed, Madame Hochon kept
her goddaughter in her chamber until midnight. Secure from
interruption, the two women told each other the sorrows of their
lives, and exchanged their sufferings. As Agathe listened to the last
echoes of a soul that had missed its destiny, and felt the sufferings
of a heart, essentially generous and charitable, whose charity and
generosity could never be exercised, she realized the immensity of the
desert in which the powers of this noble, unrecognized soul had been
wasted, and knew that she herself, with the little joys and interests
of her city life relieving the bitter trials sent from God, was not
the most unhappy of the two.
"You who are so pious," she said, "explain to me my shortcomings; tell
me what it is that God is punishing in me."
"He is preparing us, my child," answered the old woman, "for the
striking of the last hour."
At midnight the Knights of Idleness were collecting, one by one like
shadows, under the trees of the boulevard Baron, and speaking together
"What are we going to do?" was the first question of each as he
"I think," said Francois, "that Max means merely to give us a supper."
"No; matters are very serious for him, and for the Rabouilleuse: no
doubt, he has concocted some scheme against the Parisians."
"It would be a good joke to drive them away."
"My grandfather," said Baruch, "is terribly alarmed at having two
extra mouths to feed, and he'd seize on any pretext--"
"Well, comrades!" cried Max softly, now appearing on the scene, "why
are you star-gazing? the planets don't distil kirschwasser. Come, let
us go to Mere Cognette's!"
"To Mere Cognette's! To Mere Cognette's!" they all cried.
The cry, uttered as with one voice, produced a clamor which rang
through the town like the hurrah of troops rushing to an assault;
total silence followed. The next day, more than one inhabitant must
have said to his neighbor: "Did you hear those frightful cries last
night, about one o'clock? I thought there was surely a fire
A supper worthy of La Cognette brightened the faces of the twenty-two
guests; for the whole Order was present. At two in the morning, as
they were beginning to "siroter" (a word in the vocabulary of the
Knights which admirably expresses the act of sipping and tasting the
wine in small quantities), Max rose to speak:--
"My dear fellows! the honor of your grand master was grossly attacked
this morning, after our memorable joke with Fario's cart,--attacked by
a vile pedler, and what is more, a Spaniard (oh, Cabrera!); and I have
resolved to make the scoundrel feel the weight of my vengeance;
always, of course, within the limits we have laid down for our fun.
After reflecting about it all day, I have found a trick which is worth
putting into execution,--a famous trick, that will drive him crazy.
While avenging the insult offered to the Order in my person, we shall
be feeding the sacred animals of the Egyptians,--little beasts which
are, after all, the creatures of God, and which man unjustly
persecutes. Thus we see that good is the child of evil, and evil is
the offspring of good; such is the paramount law of the universe! I
now order you all, on pain of displeasing your very humble grand
master, to procure clandestinely, each one of you, twenty rats, male
or female as heaven pleases. Collect your contingent within three
days. If you can get more, the surplus will be welcome. Keep the
interesting rodents without food; for it is essential that the
delightful little beasts be ravenous with hunger. Please observe that
I will accept both house-mice and field-mice as rats. If we multiply
twenty-two by twenty, we shall have four hundred; four hundred
accomplices let loose in the old church of the Capuchins, where Fario
has stored all his grain, will consume a not insignificant quantity!
But be lively about it! There's no time to lose. Fario is to deliver
most of the grain to his customers in a week or so; and I am
determined that that Spaniard shall find a terrible deficit.
Gentlemen, I have not the merit of this invention," continued Max,
observing the signs of general admiration. "Render to Caesar that
which is Caesar's, and to God that which is God's. My scheme is only a
reproduction of Samson's foxes, as related in the Bible. But Samson
was an incendiary, and therefore no philanthropist; while we, like the
Brahmins, are the protectors of a persecuted race. Mademoiselle Flore
Brazier has already set all her mouse-traps, and Kouski, my right-arm,
is hunting field-mice. I have spoken."
"I know," said Goddet, "where to find an animal that's worth forty
rats, himself alone."
"I offer a little monkey," said one of the younger members, "he'll
make himself drunk on wheat."
"Bad, very bad!" exclaimed Max, "it would show who put the beasts
"But we might each catch a pigeon some night," said young Beaussier,
"taking them from different farms; if we put them through a hole in
the roof, they'll attract thousands of others."
"So, then, for the next week, Fario's storehouse is the order of the
night," cried Max, smiling at Beaussier. "Recollect; people get up
early in Saint-Paterne. Mind, too, that none of you go there without
turning the soles of your list shoes backward. Knight Beaussier, the
inventor of pigeons, is made director. As for me, I shall take care to
leave my imprint on the sacks of wheat. Gentlemen, you are, all of
you, appointed to the commissariat of the Army of Rats. If you find a
watchman sleeping in the church, you must manage to make him drunk,--
and do it cleverly,--so as to get him far away from the scene of the
"You don't say anything about the Parisians?" questioned Goddet.
"Oh!" exclaimed Max, "I want time to study them. Meantime, I offer my
best shotgun--the one the Emperor gave me, a treasure from the
manufactory at Versailles--to whoever finds a way to play the Bridaus
a trick which shall get them into difficulties with Madame and
Monsieur Hochon, so that those worthy old people shall send them off,
or they shall be forced to go of their own accord,--without,
understand me, injuring the venerable ancestors of my two friends here
present, Baruch and Francois."
"All right! I'll think of it," said Goddet, who coveted the gun.
"If the inventor of the trick doesn't care for the gun, he shall have
my horse," added Max.
After this night twenty brains were tortured to lay a plot against
Agathe and her son, on the basis of Max's programme. But the devil
alone, or chance, could really help them to success; for the
conditions given made the thing well-nigh impossible.
The next morning Agathe and Joseph came downstairs just before the
second breakfast, which took place at ten o'clock. In Monsieur
Hochon's household the name of first breakfast was given to a cup of
milk and slice of bread and butter which was taken in bed, or when
rising. While waiting for Madame Hochon, who notwithstanding her age
went minutely through the ceremonies with which the duchesses of Louis
XV.'s time performed their toilette, Joseph noticed Jean-Jacques
Rouget planted squarely on his feet at the door of his house across
the street. He naturally pointed him out to his mother, who was unable
to recognize her brother, so little did he look like what he was when
she left him.
"That is your brother," said Adolphine, who entered, giving an arm to
"What an idiot he looks like!" exclaimed Joseph.
Agathe clasped her hands, and raised her eyes to heaven.
"What a state they have driven him to! Good God! can that be a man
only fifty-seven years old?"
She looked attentively at her brother, and saw Flore Brazier standing
directly behind him, with her hair dressed, a pair of snowy shoulders
and a dazzling bosom showing through a gauze neckerchief, which was
trimmed with lace; she was wearing a dress with a tight-fitting waist,
made of grenadine (a silk material then much in fashion), with leg-of-
mutton sleeves so-called, fastened at the wrists by handsome
bracelets. A gold chain rippled over the crab-girl's bosom as she
leaned forward to give Jean-Jacques his black silk cap lest he should
take cold. The scene was evidently studied.
"Hey!" cried Joseph, "there's a fine woman, and a rare one! She is
made, as they say, to paint. What flesh-tints! Oh, the lovely tones!
what surface! what curves! Ah, those shoulders! She's a magnificent
caryatide. What a model she would have been for one of Titians'
Adolphine and Madame Hochon thought he was talking Greek; but Agathe
signed to them behind his back, as if to say that she was accustomed
to such jargon.
"So you think a creature who is depriving you of your property
handsome?" said Madame Hochon.
"That doesn't prevent her from being a splendid model!--just plump
enough not to spoil the hips and the general contour--"
"My son, you are not in your studio," said Agathe. "Adolphine is
"Ah, true! I did wrong. But you must remember that ever since leaving
Paris I have seen nothing but ugly women--"
"My dear godmother," said Agathe hastily, "how shall I be able to meet
my brother, if that creature is always with him?"
"Bah!" said Joseph. "I'll go and see him myself. I don't think him
such an idiot, now I find he has the sense to rejoice his eyes with a
"If he were not an idiot," said Monsieur Hochon, who had come in, "he
would have married long ago and had children; and then you would have
no chance at the property. It is an ill wind that blows no good."
"Your son's idea is very good," said Madame Hochon; "he ought to pay
the first visit. He can make his uncle understand that if you call
there he must be alone."
"That will affront Mademoiselle Brazier," said old Hochon. "No, no,
madame; swallow the pill. If you can't get the whole property, secure
a small legacy."
The Hochons were not clever enough to match Max. In the middle of
breakfast Kouski brought over a letter from Monsieur Rouget, addressed
to his sister, Madame Bridau. Madame Hochon made her husband read it
aloud, as follows:--
My dear Sister,--I learn from strangers of your arrival in
Issoudun. I can guess the reason which made you prefer the house
of Monsieur and Madame Hochon to mine; but if you will come to see
me you shall be received as you ought to be. I should certainly
pay you the first visit if my health did not compel me just now to
keep the house; for which I offer my affectionate regrets. I shall
be delighted to see my nephew, whom I invite to dine with me to-
morrow,--young men are less sensitive than women about the
company. It will give me pleasure if Messrs. Baruch Borniche and
Francois Hochon will accompany him.
Your affectionate brother,
"Say that we are at breakfast, but that Madame Bridau will send an
answer presently, and the invitations are all accepted," said Monsieur
Hochon to the servant.
The old man laid a finger on his lips, to require silence from
everybody. When the street-door was shut, Monsieur Hochon, little
suspecting the intimacy between his grandsons and Max, threw one of
his slyest looks at his wife and Agathe, remarking,--
"He is just as capable of writing that note as I am of giving away
twenty-five louis; it is the soldier who is corresponding with us!"
"What does that portend?" asked Madame Hochon. "Well, never mind; we
will answer him. As for you, monsieur," she added, turning to Joseph,
"you must dine there; but if--"
The old lady was stopped short by a look from her husband. Knowing how
warm a friendship she felt for Agathe, old Hochon was in dread lest
she should leave some legacy to her goddaughter in case the latter
lost the Rouget property. Though fifteen years older than his wife,
the miser hoped to inherit her fortune, and to become eventually the
sole master of their whole property. That hope was a fixed idea with
him. Madame Hochon knew that the best means of obtaining a few
concessions from her husband was to threaten him with her will.
Monsieur Hochon now took sides with his guests. An enormous fortune
was at stake; with a sense of social justice, he wished it to go to
the natural heirs, instead of being pillaged by unworthy outsiders.
Moreover, the sooner the matter was decided, the sooner he should get
rid of his guests. Now that the struggle between the interlopers and
the heirs, hitherto existing only in his wife's mind, had become an
actual fact, Monsieur Hochon's keen intelligence, lulled to sleep by
the monotony of provincial life, was fully roused. Madame Hochon had
been agreeably surprised that morning to perceive, from a few
affectionate words which the old man had said to her about Agathe,
that so able and subtle an auxiliary was on the Bridau side.
Towards midday the brains of Monsieur and Madame Hochon, of Agathe,
and Joseph (the latter much amazed at the scrupulous care of the old
people in the choice of words), were delivered of the following
answer, concocted solely for the benefit of Max and Flore:--
My dear Brother,--If I have stayed away from Issoudun, and kept up
no intercourse with any one, not even with you, the fault lies not
merely with the strange and false ideas my father conceived about
me, but with the joys and sorrows of my life in Paris; for if God
made me a happy wife, he has also deeply afflicted me as a mother.
You are aware that my son, your nephew Philippe, lies under
accusation of a capital offence in consequence of his devotion to
the Emperor. Therefore you can hardly be surprised if a widow,
compelled to take a humble situation in a lottery-office for a
living, should come to seek consolation from those among whom she
The profession adopted by the son who accompanies me is one that
requires great talent, many sacrifices, and prolonged studies
before any results can be obtained. Glory for an artist precedes
fortune; is not that to say that Joseph, though he may bring honor
to the family, will still be poor? Your sister, my dear Jean-
Jacques, would have borne in silence the penalties of paternal
injustice, but you will pardon a mother for reminding you that you
have two nephews; one of whom carried the Emperor's orders at the
battle of Montereau and served in the Guard at Waterloo, and is
now in prison for his devotion to Napoleon; the other, from his
thirteenth year, has been impelled by natural gifts to enter a
difficult though glorious career.
I thank you for your letter, my dear brother, with heart-felt
warmth, for my own sake, and also for Joseph's, who will certainly
accept your invitation. Illness excuses everything, my dear Jean-
Jacques, and I shall therefore go to see you in your own house. A
sister is always at home with a brother, no matter what may be the
life he has adopted.
I embrace you tenderly.
"There's the matter started. Now, when you see him," said Monsieur
Hochon to Agathe, "you must speak plainly to him about his nephews."
The letter was carried over by Gritte, who returned ten minutes later
to render an account to her masters of all that she had seen and
heard, according to a settled provincial custom.
"Since yesterday Madame has had the whole house cleaned up, which she
"Whom do you mean by Madame?" asked old Hochon.
"That's what they call the Rabouilleuse over there," answered Gritte.
"She left the salon and all Monsieur Rouget's part of the house in a
pitiable state; but since yesterday the rooms have been made to look
like what they were before Monsieur Maxence went to live there. You
can see your face on the floors. La Vedie told me that Kouski went off
on horseback at five o'clock this morning, and came back at nine,
bringing provisions. It is going to be a grand dinner!--a dinner fit
for the archbishop of Bourges! There's a fine bustle in the kitchen,
and they are as busy as bees. The old man says, 'I want to do honor to
my nephew,' and he pokes his nose into everything. It appears THE
ROUGETS are highly flattered by the letter. Madame came and told me
so. Oh! she had on such a dress! I never saw anything so handsome in
my life. Two diamonds in her ears!--two diamonds that cost, Vedie told
me, three thousand francs apiece; and such lace! rings on her fingers,
and bracelets! you'd think she was a shrine; and a silk dress as fine
as an altar-cloth. So then she said to me, 'Monsieur is delighted to
find his sister so amiable, and I hope she will permit us to pay her
all the attention she deserves. We shall count on her good opinion
after the welcome we mean to give her son. Monsieur is very impatient
to see his nephew.' Madame had little black satin slippers; and her
stockings! my! they were marvels,--flowers in silk and openwork, just
like lace, and you could see her rosy little feet through them. Oh!
she's in high feather, and she had a lovely little apron in front of
her which, Vedie says, cost more than two years of our wages put
"Well done! We shall have to dress up," said the artist laughing.
"What do you think of all this, Monsieur Hochon?" said the old lady
when Gritte had departed.
Madame Hochon made Agathe observe her husband, who was sitting with
his head in his hands, his elbows on the arms of his chair, plunged in
"You have to do with a Maitre Bonin!" said the old man at last. "With
your ideas, young man," he added, looking at Joseph, "you haven't
force enough to struggle with a practised scoundrel like Maxence
Gilet. No matter what I say to you, you will commit some folly. But,
at any rate, tell me everything you see, and hear, and do to-night.
Go, and God be with you! Try to get alone with your uncle. If, in
spite of all your genius, you can't manage it, that in itself will
throw some light upon their scheme. But if you do get a moment alone
with him, out of ear-shot, damn it, you must pull the wool from his
eyes as to the situation those two have put him in, and plead your
At four o'clock, Joseph crossed the open space which separated the
Rouget house from the Hochon house,--a sort of avenue of weakly
lindens, two hundred feet long and of the same width as the rue Grande
Narette. When the nephew arrived, Kouski, in polished boots, black
cloth trousers, white waistcoat, and black coat, announced him. The
table was set in the large hall, and Joseph, who easily distinguished
his uncle, went up to him, kissed him, and bowed to Flore and Max.
"We have not seen each other since I came into the world, my dear
uncle," said the painter gayly; "but better late than never."
"You are very welcome, my friend," said the old man, looking at his
nephew in a dull way.
"Madame," Joseph said to Flore with an artist's vivacity, "this
morning I was envying my uncle the pleasure he enjoys in being able to
admire you every day."
"Isn't she beautiful?" said the old man, whose dim eyes began to
"Beautiful enough to be the model of a great painter."
"Nephew," said Rouget, whose elbow Flore was nudging, "this is
Monsieur Maxence Gilet; a man who served the Emperor, like your
brother, in the Imperial Guard."
Joseph rose, and bowed.
"Your brother was in the dragoons, I believe," said Maxence. "I was
only a dust-trotter."
"On foot or on horseback," said Flore, "you both of you risked your
Joseph took note of Max quite as much as Max took note of Joseph. Max,
who got his clothes from Paris, was dressed as the young dandies of
that day dressed themselves. A pair of light-blue cloth trousers, made
with very full plaits, covered his feet so that only the toes and the
spurs of his boots were seen. His waist was pinched in by a white
waistcoat with chased gold buttons, which was laced behind to serve as
a belt. The waistcoat, buttoned to the throat, showed off his broad
chest, and a black satin stock obliged him to hold his head high, in
soldierly fashion. A handsome gold chain hung from a waistcoat pocket,
in which the outline of a flat watch was barely seen. He was twisting
a watch-key of the kind called a "criquet," which Breguet had lately
"The fellow is fine-looking," thought Joseph, admiring with a
painter's eye the eager face, the air of strength, and the
intellectual gray eyes which Max had inherited from his father, the
noble. "My uncle must be a fearful bore, and that handsome girl takes
her compensations. It is a triangular household; I see that."
At this instant, Baruch and Francois entered.
"Have you been to see the tower of Issoudun?" Flore asked Joseph. "No?
then if you would like to take a little walk before dinner, which will
not be served for an hour, we will show you the great curiosity of the
"Gladly," said the artist, quite incapable of seeing the slightest
impropriety in so doing.
While Flore went to put on her bonnet, gloves, and cashmere shawl,
Joseph suddenly jumped up, as if an enchanter had touched him with his
wand, to look at the pictures.
"Ah! you have pictures, indeed, uncle!" he said, examining the one
that had caught his eye.
"Yes," answered the old man. "They came to us from the Descoings, who
bought them during the Revolution, when the convents and churches in
Berry were dismantled."
Joseph was not listening; he was lost in admiration of the pictures.
"Magnificent!" he cried. "Oh! what painting! that fellow didn't spoil
his canvas. Dear, dear! better and better, as it is at Nicolet's--"
"There are seven or eight very large ones up in the garret, which were
kept on account of the frames," said Gilet.
"Let me see them!" cried the artist; and Max took him upstairs.
Joseph came down wildly enthusiastic. Max whispered a word to the
Rabouilleuse, who took the old man into the embrasure of a window,
where Joseph heard her say in a low voice, but still so that he could
hear the words:--
"Your nephew is a painter; you don't care for those pictures; be kind,
and give them to him."
"It seems," said Jean-Jacques, leaning on Flore's arm to reach the
place were Joseph was standing in ecstasy before an Albano, "--it seems
that you are a painter--"
"Only a 'rapin,'" said Joseph.
"What may that be?" asked Flore.
"A beginner," replied Joseph.
"Well," continued Jean-Jacques, "if these pictures can be of any use
to you in your business, I give them to you,--but without the frames.
Oh! the frames are gilt, and besides, they are very funny; I will
"Well done, uncle!" cried Joseph, enchanted; "I'll make you copies of
the same dimensions, which you can put into the frames."
"But that will take your time, and you will want canvas and colors,"
said Flore. "You will have to spend money. Come, Pere Rouget, offer
your nephew a hundred francs for each copy; here are twenty-seven
pictures, and I think there are eleven very big ones in the garret
which ought to cost double,--call the whole four thousand francs. Oh,
yes," she went on, turning to Joseph, "your uncle can well afford to
pay you four thousand francs for making the copies, since he keeps the
frames--but bless me! you'll want frames; and they say frames cost
more than pictures; there's more gold on them. Answer, monsieur," she
continued, shaking the old man's arm. "Hein? it isn't dear; your
nephew will take four thousand francs for new pictures in the place of
the old ones. It is," she whispered in his ear, "a very good way to
give him four thousand francs; he doesn't look to me very flush--"
"Well, nephew, I will pay you four thousand francs for the copies--"
"No, no!" said the honest Joseph; "four thousand francs and the
pictures, that's too much; the pictures, don't you see, are
"Accept, simpleton!" said Flore; "he is your uncle, you know."
"Very good, I accept," said Joseph, bewildered by the luck that had
befallen him; for he had recognized a Perugino.
The result was that the artist beamed with satisfaction as he went out
of the house with the Rabouilleuse on his arm, all of which helped
Maxence's plans immensely. Neither Flore, nor Rouget, nor Max, nor
indeed any one in Issoudun knew the value of the pictures, and the
crafty Max thought he had bought Flore's triumph for a song, as she
paraded triumphantly before the eyes of the astonished town, leaning
on the arm of her master's nephew, and evidently on the best of terms
with him. People flocked to their doors to see the crab-girl's triumph
over the family. This astounding event made the sensation on which Max
counted; so that when they all returned at five o'clock, nothing was
talked of in every household but the cordial understanding between Max
and Flore and the nephew of old Rouget. The incident of the pictures
and the four thousand francs circulated already. The dinner, at which
Lousteau, one of the court judges, and the Mayor of Issoudun were
present, was splendid. It was one of those provincial dinners lasting
five hours. The most exquisite wines enlivened the conversation. By
nine o'clock, at dessert, the painter, seated opposite to his uncle,
and between Flore and Max, had fraternized with the soldier, and
thought him the best fellow on earth. Joseph returned home at eleven
o'clock somewhat tipsy. As to old Rouget, Kouski had carried him to
his bed dead-drunk; he had eaten as though he were an actor from
foreign parts, and had soaked up the wine like the sands of the
"Well," said Max when he was alone with Flore, "isn't this better than
making faces at them? The Bridaus are well received, they get small
presents, and are smothered with attentions, and the end of it is they
will sing our praises; they will go away satisfied and leave us in
peace. To-morrow morning you and I and Kouski will take down all those
pictures and send them over to the painter, so that he shall see them
when he wakes up. We will put the frames in the garret, and cover the
walls with one of those varnished papers which represent scenes from
Telemachus, such as I have seen at Monsieur Mouilleron's."
"Oh, that will be much prettier!" said Flore.
On the morrow, Joseph did not wake up till midday. From his bed he saw
the pictures, which had been brought in while he was asleep, leaning
one against another on the opposite wall. While he examined them anew,
recognizing each masterpiece, studying the manner of each painter, and
searching for the signature, his mother had gone to see and thank her
brother, urged thereto by old Hochon, who, having heard of the follies
the painter had committed the night before, almost despaired of the
"Your adversaries have the cunning of foxes," he said to Agathe. "In
all my days I never saw a man carry things with such a high hand as
that soldier; they say war educates young men! Joseph has let himself
be fooled. They have shut his mouth with wine, and those miserable
pictures, and four thousand francs! Your artist hasn't cost Maxence
The long-headed old man instructed Madame Bridau carefully as to the
line of conduct she ought to pursue,--advising her to enter into
Maxence's ideas and cajole Flore, so as to set up a sort of intimacy
with her, and thus obtain a few moments' interview with Jean-Jacques
alone. Madame Bridau was very warmly received by her brother, to whom
Flore had taught his lesson. The old man was in bed, quite ill from
the excesses of the night before. As Agathe, under the circumstances,
could scarcely begin at once to speak of family matters, Max thought
it proper and magnanimous to leave the brother and sister alone
together. The calculation was a good one. Poor Agathe found her
brother so ill that she would not deprive him of Madame Brazier's
"Besides," she said to the old bachelor, "I wish to know a person to
whom I am grateful for the happiness of my brother."
These words gave evident pleasure to the old man, who rang for Madame
Flore. Flore, as we may well believe, was not far off. The female
antagonists bowed to each other. The Rabouilleuse showed the most
servile attentions and the utmost tenderness to her master; fancied
his head was too low, beat up the pillows, and took care of him like a
bride of yesterday. The poor creature received it with a rush of
"We owe you much gratitude, mademoiselle," said Agathe, "for the
proofs of attachment you have so long given to my brother, and for the
way in which you watch over his happiness."
"That is true, my dear Agathe," said the old man; "she has taught me
what happiness is; she is a woman of excellent qualities."
"And therefore, my dear brother, you ought to have recompensed
Mademoiselle by making her your wife. Yes! I am too sincere in my
religion not to wish to see you obey the precepts of the church. You
would each be more tranquil in mind if you were not at variance with
morality and the laws. I have come here, dear brother, to ask for help
in my affliction; but do not suppose that we wish to make any
remonstrance as to the manner in which you may dispose of your
"Madame," said Flore, "we know how unjust your father was to you.
Monsieur, here, can tell you," she went on, looking fixedly at her
victim, "that the only quarrels we have ever had were about you. I
have always told him that he owes you part of the fortune he received
from his father, and your father, my benefactor,--for he was my
benefactor," she added in a tearful voice; "I shall ever remember him!
But your brother, madame, has listened to reason--"
"Yes," said the old man, "when I make my will you shall not be
"Don't talk of these things, my dear brother; you do not yet know my
After such a beginning, it is easy to imagine how the visit went on.
Rouget invited his sister to dinner on the next day but one.
We may here mention that during these three days the Knights of
Idleness captured an immense quantity of rats and mice, which were
kept half-famished until they were let loose in the grain one fine
night, to the number of four hundred and thirty-six, of which some
were breeding mothers. Not content with providing Fario's store-house
with these boarders, the Knights made holes in the roof of the old
church and put in a dozen pigeons, taken from as many different farms.
These four-footed and feathered creatures held high revels,--all the
more securely because the watchman was enticed away by a fellow who
kept him drunk from morning till night, so that he took no care of his
Madame Bridau believed, contrary to the opinion of old Hochon, that
her brother has as yet made no will; she intended asking him what were
his intentions respecting Mademoiselle Brazier, as soon as she could
take a walk with him alone,--a hope which Flore and Maxence were
always holding out to her, and, of course, always disappointing.
Meantime the Knights were searching for a way to put the Parisians to
flight, and finding none that were not impracticable follies.
At the end of a week--half the time the Parisians were to stay in
Issoudun--the Bridaus were no farther advanced in their object than
when they came.
"Your lawyer does not understand the provinces," said old Hochon to
Madame Bridau. "What you have come to do can't be done in two weeks,
nor in two years; you ought never to leave your brother, but live here
and try to give him some ideas of religion. You cannot countermine the
fortifications of Flore and Maxence without getting a priest to sap
them. That is my advice, and it is high time to set about it."
"You certainly have very singular ideas about the clergy," said Madame
Hochon to her husband.
"Bah!" exclaimed the old man, "that's just like you pious women."
"God would never bless an enterprise undertaken in a sacrilegious
spirit," said Madame Bridau. "Use religion for such a purpose! Why, we
should be more criminal than Flore."
This conversation took place at breakfast,--Francois and Baruch
listening with all their ears.
"Sacrilege!" exclaimed old Hochon. "If some good abbe, keen as I have
known many of them to be, knew what a dilemma you are in, he would not
think it sacrilege to bring your brother's lost soul back to God, and
call him to repentance for his sins, by forcing him to send away the
woman who causes the scandal (with a proper provision, of course), and
showing him how to set his conscience at rest by giving a few thousand
francs a year to the seminary of the archbishop and leaving his
property to the rightful heirs."
The passive obedience which the old miser had always exacted from his
children, and now from his grandchildren (who were under his
guardianship and for whom he was amassing a small fortune, doing for
them, he said, just as he would for himself), prevented Baruch and
Francois from showing signs of surprise or disapproval; but they
exchanged significant glances expressing how dangerous and fatal such
a scheme would be to Max's interest.
"The fact is, madame," said Baruch, "that if you want to secure your
brother's property, the only sure and true way will be to stay in
Issoudun for the necessary length of time--"
"Mother," said Joseph hastily, "you had better write to Desroches
about all this. As for me, I ask nothing more than what my uncle has
already given me."
After fully recognizing the great value of his thirty-nine pictures,
Joseph had carefully unnailed the canvases and fastened paper over
them, gumming it at the edges with ordinary glue; he then laid them
one above another in an enormous wooden box, which he sent to
Desroches by the carrier's waggon, proposing to write him a letter
about it by post. The precious freight had been sent off the night
"You are satisfied with a pretty poor bargain," said Monsieur Hochon.
"I can easily get a hundred and fifty thousand francs for those
pictures," replied Joseph.
"Painter's nonsense!" exclaimed old Hochon, giving Joseph a peculiar
"Mother," said Joseph, "I am going to write to Desroches and explain
to him the state of things here. If he advises you to remain, you had
better do so. As for your situation, we can always find you another
"My dear Joseph," said Madame Hochon, following him as he left the
table, "I don't know anything about your uncle's pictures, but they
ought to be good, judging by the places from which they came. If they
are worth only forty thousand francs,--a thousand francs apiece,--tell
no one. Though my grandsons are discreet and well-behaved, they might,
without intending harm, speak of this windfall; it would be known all
over Issoudun; and it is very important that our adversaries should
not suspect it. You behave like a child!"
In fact, before evening many persons in Issoudun, including Max, were
informed of this estimate, which had the immediate effect of causing a
search for all the old paintings which no one had ever cared for, and
the appearance of many execrable daubs. Max repented having driven the
old man into giving away the pictures, and the rage he felt against
the heirs after hearing from Baruch old Hochon's ecclesiastical
scheme, was increased by what he termed his own stupidity. The
influence of religion upon such a feeble creature as Rouget was the
one thing to fear. The news brought by his two comrades decided
Maxence Gilet to turn all Rouget's investments into money, and to
borrow upon his landed property, so as to buy into the Funds as soon
as possible; but he considered it even more important to get rid of
the Parisians at once. The genius of the Mascarilles and Scapins out
together would hardly have solved the latter problem easily.
Flore, acting by Max's advice, pretended that Monsieur was too feeble
to take walks, and that he ought, at his age, to have a carriage. This
pretext grew out of the necessity of not exciting inquiry when they
went to Bourges, Vierzon, Chateauroux, Vatan, and all the other places
where the project of withdrawing investments obliged Max and Flore to
betake themselves with Rouget. At the close of the week, all Issoudun
was amazed to learn that the old man had gone to Bourges to buy a
carriage,--a step which the Knights of Idleness regarded as favorable
to the Rabouilleuse. Flore and Max selected a hideous "berlingot,"
with cracked leather curtains and windows without glass, aged twenty-
two years and nine campaigns, sold on the decease of a colonel, the
friend of grand-marshal Bertrand, who, during the absence of that
faithful companion of the Emperor, was left in charge of the affairs
of Berry. This "berlingot," painted bright green, was somewhat like a
caleche, though shafts had taken the place of a pole, so that it could
be driven with one horse. It belonged to a class of carriages brought
into vogue by diminished fortunes, which at that time bore the candid
name of "demi-fortune"; at its first introduction it was called a
"seringue." The cloth lining of this demi-fortune, sold under the name
of caleche, was moth-eaten; its gimps looked like the chevrons of an
old Invalide; its rusty joints squeaked,--but it only cost four
hundred and fifty francs; and Max bought a good stout mare, trained to
harness, from an officer of a regiment then stationed at Bourges. He
had the carriage repainted a dark brown, and bought a tolerable
harness at a bargain. The whole town of Issoudun was shaken to its
centre in expectation of Pere Rouget's equipage; and on the occasion
of its first appearance, every household was on its door-step and
curious faces were at all the windows.
The second time the old bachelor went out he drove to Bourges, where,
to escape the trouble of attending personally to the business, or, if
you prefer it, being ordered to do so by Flore, he went before a
notary and signed a power of attorney in favor of Maxence Gilet,
enabling him to make all the transfers enumerated in the document.
Flore reserved to herself the business of making Monsieur sell out the
investments in Issoudun and its immediate neighborhood. The principal
notary in Bourges was requested by Rouget to get him a loan of one
hundred and forty thousand francs on his landed estate. Nothing was
known at Issoudun of these proceedings, which were secretly and
cleverly carried out. Maxence, who was a good rider, went with his own
horse to Bourges and back between five in the morning and five in the
afternoon. Flore never left the old bachelor. Rouget consented without
objection to the action Flore dictated to him; but he insisted that
the investment in the Funds, producing fifty thousand francs a year,
should stand in Flore's name as holding a life-interest only, and in
his as owner of the principal. The tenacity the old man displayed in
the domestic disputes which this idea created caused Max a good deal
of anxiety; he thought he could see the result of reflections inspired
by the sight of the natural heirs.
Amid all these movements, which Max concealed from the knowledge of
everyone, he forgot the Spaniard and his granary. Fario came back to
Issoudun to deliver his corn, after various trips and business
manoeuvres undertaken to raise the price of cereals. The morning after
his arrival he noticed that the roof the church of the Capuchins was
black with pigeons. He cursed himself for having neglected to examine
its condition, and hurried over to look into his storehouse, where he
found half his grain devoured. Thousands of mice-marks and rat-marks
scattered about showed a second cause of ruin. The church was a
Noah's-ark. But anger turned the Spaniard white as a bit of cambric
when, trying to estimate the extent of the destruction and his
consequence losses, he noticed that the grain at the bottom of the
heap, near the floor, was sprouting from the effects of water, which
Max had managed to introduce by means of tin tubes into the very
centre of the pile of wheat. The pigeons and the rats could be
explained by animal instinct; but the hand of man was plainly visible
in this last sign of malignity.
Fario sat down on the steps of a chapel altar, holding his head
between his hands. After half an hour of Spanish reflections, he spied
the squirrel, which Goddet could not refrain from giving him as a
guest, playing with its tail upon a cross-beam, on the middle of which
rested one of the uprights that supported the roof. The Spaniard rose
and turned to his watchman with a face that was as calm and cold as an
Arab's. He made no complaint, but went home, hired laborers to gather
into sacks what remained of the sound grain, and to spread in the sun
all that was moist, so as to save as much as possible; then, after
estimating that his losses amounted to about three fifths, he attended
to filling his orders. But his previous manipulations of the market
had raised the price of cereals, and he lost on the three fifths he
was obliged to buy to fill his orders; so that his losses amounted
really to more than half. The Spaniard, who had no enemies, at once
attributed this revenge to Gilet. He was convinced that Maxence and
some others were the authors of all the nocturnal mischief, and had in
all probability carried his cart up the embankment of the tower, and
now intended to amuse themselves by ruining him. It was a matter to
him of over three thousand francs,--very nearly the whole capital he
had scraped together since the peace. Driven by the desire for
vengeance, the man now displayed the cunning and stealthy persistence
of a detective to whom a large reward is offered. Hiding at night in
different parts of Issoudun, he soon acquired proof of the proceedings
of the Knights of Idleness; he saw them all, counted them, watched
their rendezvous, and knew of their suppers at Mere Cognette's; after
that he lay in wait to witness one of their deeds, and thus became
well informed as to their nocturnal habits.
In spite of Max's journeys and pre-occupations, he had no intention of
neglecting his nightly employments,--first, because he did not wish
his comrades to suspect the secret of his operations with Pere
Rouget's property; and secondly, to keep the Knights well in hand.
They were therefore convened for the preparation of a prank which
might deserve to be talked of for years to come. Poisoned meat was to
be thrown on a given night to every watch-dog in the town and in the
environs. Fario overheard them congratulating each other, as they came
out from a supper at the Cognettes', on the probable success of the
performance, and laughing over the general mourning that would follow
this novel massacre of the innocents,--revelling, moreover, in the
apprehensions it would excite as to the sinister object of depriving
all the households of their guardian watch-dogs.
"It will make people forget Fario's cart," said Goddet.
Fario did not need that speech to confirm his suspicions; besides, his
mind was already made up.
After three weeks' stay in Issoudun, Agathe was convinced, and so was
Madame Hochon, of the truth of the old miser's observation, that it
would take years to destroy the influence which Max and the
Rabouilleuse had acquired over her brother. She had made no progress
in Jean-Jacques's confidence, and she was never left alone with him.
On the other hand, Mademoiselle Brazier triumphed openly over the
heirs by taking Agathe to drive in the caleche, sitting beside her on
the back seat, while Monsieur Rouget and his nephew occupied the
front. Mother and son impatiently awaited an answer to the
confidential letter they had written to Desroches. The day before the
night on which the dogs were to be poisoned, Joseph, who was nearly
bored to death in Issoudun, received two letters: the first from the
great painter Schinner,--whose age allowed him a closer intimacy than
Joseph could have with Gros, their master,--and the second from
Here is the first, postmarked Beaumont-sur-Oise:--
My dear Joseph,--I have just finished the principal panel-
paintings at the chateau de Presles for the Comte de Serizy. I
have left all the mouldings and the decorative painting; and I
have recommended you so strongly to the count, and also to Gridot
the architect, that you have nothing to do but pick up your
brushes and come at once. Prices are arranged to please you. I am
off to Italy with my wife; so you can have Mistigris to help you
along. The young scamp has talent, and I put him at your disposal.
He is twittering like a sparrow at the very idea of amusing
himself at the chateau de Presles.
Adieu, my dear Joseph; if I am still absent, and should send
nothing to next year's Salon, you must take my place. Yes, dear
Jojo, I know your picture is a masterpiece, but a masterpiece
which will rouse a hue and cry about romanticism; you are doomed
to lead the life of a devil in holy water. Adieu.
Here follows the letter of Desroches:--
My dear Joseph,--Your Monsieur Hochon strikes me as an old man
full of common-sense, and you give me a high idea of his methods;
he is perfectly right. My advice, since you ask it, is that your
mother should remain at Issoudun with Madame Hochon, paying a
small board,--say four hundred francs a year,--to reimburse her
hosts for what she eats. Madame Bridau ought, in my opinion, to
follow Monsieur Hochon's advice in everything; for your excellent
mother will have many scruples in dealing with persons who have no
scruple at all, and whose behavior to her is a master-stroke of
policy. That Maxence, you are right enough, is dangerous. He is
another Philippe, but of a different calibre. The scoundrel makes
his vices serve his fortunes, and gets his amusement gratis;
whereas your brother's follies are never useful to him. All that
you say alarms me, but I could do no good by going to Issoudun.
Monsieur Hochon, acting behind your mother, will be more useful to
you than I. As for you, you had better come back here; you are
good for nothing in a matter which requires continual attention,
careful observation, servile civilities, discretion in speech, and
a dissimulation of manner and gesture which is wholly against the
grain of artists.
If they have told you no will has been made, you may be quite sure
they have possessed one for a long time. But wills can be revoked,
and as long as your fool of an uncle lives he is no doubt
susceptible of being worked upon by remorse and religion. Your
inheritance will be the result of a combat between the Church and
the Rabouilleuse. There will inevitably come a time when that
woman will lose her grip on the old man, and religion will be all-
powerful. So long as your uncle makes no gift of the property
during his lifetime, and does not change the nature of his estate,
all may come right whenever religion gets the upper hand. For this
reason, you must beg Monsieur Hochon to keep an eye, as well as he
can, on the condition of your uncle's property. It is necessary to
know if the real estate is mortgaged, and if so, where and in
whose name the proceeds are invested. It is so easy to terrify an
old man with fears about his life, in case you find him despoiling
his own property for the sake of these interlopers, that almost
any heir with a little adroitness could stop the spoliation at its
outset. But how should your mother, with her ignorance of the
world, her disinterestedness, and her religious ideas, know how to
manage such an affair? However, I am not able to throw any light
on the matter. All that you have done so far has probably given
the alarm, and your adversaries may already have secured
"That is what I call an opinion in good shape," exclaimed Monsieur
Hochon, proud of being himself appreciated by a Parisian lawyer.
"Oh! Desroches is a famous fellow," answered Joseph.
"It would be well to read that letter to the two women," said the old
"There it is," said Joseph, giving it to him; "as to me, I want to be
off to-morrow; and I am now going to say good-by to my uncle."
"Ah!" said Monsieur Hochon, "I see that Monsieur Desroches tells you
in a postscript to burn the letter."
"You can burn it after showing it to my mother," said the painter.
Joseph dressed, crossed the little square, and called on his uncle,
who was just finishing breakfast. Max and Flore were at table.
"Don't disturb yourself, my dear uncle; I have only come to say good-
"You are going?" said Max, exchanging glances with Flore.
"Yes; I have some work to do at the chateau of Monsieur de Serizy, and
I am all the more glad of it because his arm is long enough to do a
service to my poor brother in the Chamber of Peers."
"Well, well, go and work"; said old Rouget, with a silly air. Joseph
thought him extraordinarily changed within a few days. "Men must work
--I am sorry you are going."
"Oh! my mother will be here some time longer," remarked Joseph.
Max made a movement with his lips which the Rabouilleuse observed, and
which signified: "They are going to try the plan Baruch warned me of."
"I am very glad I came," said Joseph, "for I have had the pleasure of
making your acquaintance and you have enriched my studio--"
"Yes," said Flore, "instead of enlightening your uncle on the value of
his pictures, which is now estimated at over one hundred thousand
francs, you have packed them off in a hurry to Paris. Poor dear man!
he is no better than a baby! We have just been told of a little
treasure at Bourges,--what did they call it? a Poussin,--which was in
the choir of the cathedral before the Revolution and is now worth, all
by itself, thirty thousand francs."
"That was not right of you, my nephew," said Jean-Jacques, at a sign
from Max, which Joseph could not see.
"Come now, frankly," said the soldier, laughing, "on your honor, what
should you say those pictures were worth? You've made an easy haul out
of your uncle! and right enough, too,--uncles are made to be pillaged.
Nature deprived me of uncles, but damn it, if I'd had any I should
have shown them no mercy."
"Did you know, monsieur," said Flore to Rouget, "what YOUR pictures
were worth? How much did you say, Monsieur Joseph?"
"Well," answered the painter, who had grown as red as a beetroot,--
"the pictures are certainly worth something."
"They say you estimated them to Monsieur Hochon at one hundred and
fifty thousand francs," said Flore; "is that true?"
"Yes," said the painter, with childlike honesty.
"And did you intend," said Flore to the old man, "to give a hundred
and fifty thousand francs to your nephew?"
"Never, never!" cried Jean-Jacques, on whom Flore had fixed her eye.
"There is one way to settle all this," said the painter, "and that is
to return them to you, uncle."
"No, no, keep them," said the old man.
"I shall send them back to you," said Joseph, wounded by the offensive
silence of Max and Flore. "There is something in my brushes which will
make my fortune, without owing anything to any one, even an uncle. My
respects to you, mademoiselle; good-day, monsieur--"
And Joseph crossed the square in a state of irritation which artists
can imagine. The entire Hochon family were in the salon. When they saw
Joseph gesticulating and talking to himself, they asked him what was
the matter. The painter, who was as open as the day, related before
Baruch and Francois the scene that had just taken place; and which,
two hours later, thanks to the two young men, was the talk of the
whole town, embroidered with various circumstances that were more or
less ridiculous. Some persons insisted that the painter was maltreated
by Max; others that he had misbehaved to Flore, and that Max had
turned him out of doors.
"What a child your son is!" said Hochon to Madame Bridau; "the booby
is the dupe of a scene which they have been keeping back for the last
day of his visit. Max and the Rabouilleuse have known the value of
those pictures for the last two weeks,--ever since he had the folly to
tell it before my grandsons, who never rested till they had blurted it
out to all the world. Your artist had better have taken himself off
without taking leave."
"My son has done right to return the pictures if they are really so
valuable," said Agathe.
"If they are worth, as he says, two hundred thousand francs," said old
Hochon, "it was folly to put himself in the way of being obliged to
return them. You might have had that, at least, out of the property;
whereas, as things are going now, you won't get anything. And this
scene with Joseph is almost a reason why your brother should refuse to
see you again."
Between midnight and one o'clock, the Knights of Idleness began their
gratuitous distribution of comestibles to the dogs of the town. This
memorable expedition was not over till three in the morning, the hour
at which these reprobates went to sup at Cognette's. At half-past
four, in the early dawn, they crept home. Just as Max turned the
corner of the rue l'Avenier into the Grande rue, Fario, who stood
ambushed in a recess, struck a knife at his heart, drew out the blade,
and escaped by the moat towards Vilatte, wiping the blade of his knife
on his handkerchief. The Spaniard washed the handkerchief in the
Riviere forcee, and returned quietly to his lodgings at Saint-Paterne,
where he got in by a window he had left open, and went to bed: later,
he was awakened by his new watchman, who found him fast asleep.
As he fell, Max uttered a fearful cry which no one could mistake.
Lousteau-Prangin, son of a judge, a distant relation to the family of
the sub-delegate, and young Goddet, who lived at the lower end of the
Grande rue, ran at full speed up the street, calling to each other,--
"They are killing Max! Help! help!"
But not a dog barked; and all the town, accustomed to the false alarms
of these nightly prowlers, stayed quietly in their beds. When his two
comrades reached him, Max had fainted. It was necessary to rouse
Monsieur Goddet, the surgeon. Max had recognized Fario; but when he
came to his senses, with several persons about him, and felt that his
wound was not mortal, it suddenly occurred to him to make capital out
of the attack, and he said, in a faint voice,--
"I think I recognized that cursed painter!"
Thereupon Lousteau-Prangin ran off to his father, the judge. Max was
carried home by Cognette, young Goddet, and two other persons. Mere
Cognette and Monsieur Goddet walked beside the stretcher. Those who
carried the wounded man naturally looked across at Monsieur Hochon's
door while waiting for Kouski to let them in, and saw Monsieur
Hochon's servant sweeping the steps. At the old miser's, as everywhere
else in the provinces, the household was early astir. The few words
uttered by Max had roused the suspicions of Monsieur Goddet, and he
called to the woman,--
"Gritte, is Monsieur Joseph Bridau in bed?"
"Bless me!" she said, "he went out at half-past four. I don't know
what ailed him; he walked up and down his room all night."
This simple answer drew forth such exclamations of horror that the
woman came over, curious to know what they were carrying to old
"A precious fellow he is, that painter of yours!" they said to her.
And the procession entered the house, leaving Gritte open-mouthed with
amazement at the sight of Max in his bloody shirt, stretched half-
fainting on a mattress.
Artists will readily guess what ailed Joseph, and kept him restless
all night. He imagined the tale the bourgeoisie of Issoudun would tell
of him. They would say he had fleeced his uncle; that he was
everything but what he had tried to be,--a loyal fellow and an honest
artist! Ah! he would have given his great picture to have flown like a
swallow to Paris, and thrown his uncle's paintings at Max's nose. To
be the one robbed, and to be thought the robber!--what irony! So at
the earliest dawn, he had started for the poplar avenue which led to
Tivoli, to give free course to his agitation.