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Title: The Country Doctor
Author: Balzac, Honoré de
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Country Doctor" ***

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By Honore De Balzac

Translated by Ellen Marriage and Clara Bell

             “For a wounded heart--shadow and silence.”

                            To my Mother


In hardly any of his books, with the possible exception of _Eugenie
Grandet_, does Balzac seem to have taken a greater interest than in _Le
Medecin de Campagne_; and the fact of this interest, together with the
merit and intensity of the book in each case, is, let it be repeated, a
valid argument against those who would have it that there was something
essentially sinister both in his genius and his character.

_Le Medecin de Campagne_ was an early book; it was published in 1833, a
date of which there is an interesting mark in the selection of the name
“Evelina,” the name of Madame Hanska, whom Balzac had just met, for the
lost Jansenist love of Benassis; and it had been on the stocks for
a considerable time. It is also noteworthy, as lying almost entirely
outside the general scheme of the _Comedie Humaine_ as far as
personages go. Its chief characters in the remarkable, if not absolutely
impeccable, _repertoire_ of MM. Cerfberr and Christophe (they have,
a rare thing with them, missed Agathe the forsaken mistress) have no
references appended to their articles, except to the book itself; and
I cannot remember that any of the more generally pervading _dramatis
personae_ of the Comedy makes even an incidental appearance here. The
book is as isolated as its scene and subject--I might have added, as
its own beauty, which is singular and unique, nor wholly easy to give a
critical account of. The transformation of the _cretin_-haunted desert
into a happy valley is in itself a commonplace of the preceding century;
it may be found several times over in Marmontel’s _Contes Moraux_, as
well as in other places. The extreme minuteness of detail, effective
as it is in the picture of the house and elsewhere, becomes a little
tedious even for well-tried and well-affected readers, in reference to
the exact number of cartwrights and harness-makers, and so forth; while
the modern reader pure and simple, though schooled to endure detail,
is schooled to endure it only of the ugly. The minor characters and
episodes, with the exception of the wonderful story or legend of
Napoleon by Private Goguelat, and the private himself, are neither of
the first interest, nor always carefully worked out: La Fosseuse, for
instance, is a very tantalizingly unfinished study, of which it is
nearly certain that Balzac must at some time or other have meant to make
much more than he has made; Genestas, excellent as far as he goes, is
not much more than a type; and there is nobody else in the foreground at
all except the Doctor himself.

It is, however, beyond all doubt in the very subordination of these
other characters to Benassis, and in the skilful grouping of the whole
as background and adjunct to him, that the appeal of the book as art
consists. From that point of view there are grounds for regarding it as
the finest of the author’s work in the simple style, the least indebted
to super-added ornament or to mere variety. The dangerous expedient of
a _recit_, of which the eighteenth-century novelists were so fond, has
never been employed with more successful effect than in the confession
of Benassis, at once the climax and the centre of the story. And
one thing which strikes us immediately about this confession is the
universality of its humanity and its strange freedom from merely
national limitations. To very few French novelists--to few even of those
who are generally credited with a much softer mould and a much purer
morality than Balzac is popularly supposed to have been able to
boast--would inconstancy to a mistress have seemed a fault which could
be reasonably punished, which could be even reasonably represented as
having been punished in fact, by the refusal of an honest girl’s love in
the first place. Nor would many have conceived as possible, or have
been able to represent in lifelike colors, the lifelong penance which
Benassis imposes on himself. The tragic end, indeed, is more in their
general way, but they would seldom have known how to lead up to it.

In almost all ways Balzac has saved himself from the dangers incident
to his plan in this book after a rather miraculous fashion. The Goguelat
myth may seem disconnected, and he did as a matter of fact once publish
it separately; yet it sets off (in the same sort of felicitous manner of
which Shakespeare’s clown-scenes and others are the capital examples
in literature) both the slightly matter-of-fact details of the
beatification of the valley and the various minute sketches of places
and folk, and the almost superhuman goodness of Benassis, and his
intensely and piteously human suffering and remorse. It is like the red
cloak in a group; it lights, warms, inspirits the whole picture.

And perhaps the most remarkable thing of all is the way in which Balzac
in this story, so full of goodness of feeling, of true religion (for if
Benassis is not an ostensible practiser of religious rites, he avows his
orthodoxy in theory, and more than justifies it in practice), has almost
entirely escaped the sentimentality _plus_ unorthodoxy of similar work
in the eighteenth century, and the sentimentality _plus_ orthodoxy of
similar work in the nineteenth. Benassis no doubt plays Providence in
a manner and with a success which it is rarely given to mortal man to
achieve; but we do not feel either the approach to sham, or the more
than approach to gush, with which similar handling on the part of
Dickens too often affects some of us. The sin and the punishment of the
Doctor, the thoroughly human figures of Genestas and the rest, save the
situation from this and other drawbacks. We are not in the Cockaigne of
perfectibility, where Marmontel and Godwin disport themselves; we are in
a very practical place, where time-bargains in barley are made, and
you pay the respectable, if not lavish board of ten francs per day for
entertainment to man and beast.

And yet, explain as we will, there will always remain something
inexplicable in the appeal of such a book as the _Medecin de Campagne_.
This helps, and that, and the other; we can see what change might have
damaged the effect, and what have endangered it altogether. We must, of
course, acknowledge that as it is there are _longueurs_, intrusion of
Saint Simonian jargon, passages of _galimatias_, and of preaching.
But of what in strictness produces the good effect we can only say one
thing, and that is, it was the genius of Balzac working as it listed and
as it knew how to work.

The book was originally published by Mme. Delaunay in September 1833
in two volumes and thirty-six chapters with headings. Next year it was
republished in four volumes by Werdet, and the last fifteen chapters
were thrown together into four. In 1836 it reappeared with dedication
and date, but with the divisions further reduced to seven; being those
which here appear, with the addition of two, “La Fosseuse” and “Propos
de Braves Gens” between “A Travers Champs” and “Le Napoleon du Peuple.”
 These two were removed in 1839, when it was published in a single volume
by Charpentier. In all these issues the book was independent. It became
a “Scene de la Vie de Campagne” in 1846, and was then admitted into the
_Comedie_. The separate issues of Goguelat’s story referred to above
made their appearances first in _L’Europe Litteraire_ for June 19,
1833 (_before_ the book form), and then with the imprint of a sort of
syndicate of publishers in 1842.

                                                   George Saintsbury


On a lovely spring morning in the year 1829, a man of fifty or
thereabouts was wending his way on horseback along the mountain road
that leads to a large village near the Grande Chartreuse. This village
is the market town of a populous canton that lies within the limits of a
valley of some considerable length. The melting of the snows had filled
the boulder-strewn bed of the torrent (often dry) that flows through
this valley, which is closely shut in between two parallel mountain
barriers, above which the peaks of Savoy and of Dauphine tower on every

All the scenery of the country that lies between the chain of the two
Mauriennes is very much alike; yet here in the district through which
the stranger was traveling there are soft undulations of the land, and
varying effects of light which might be sought for elsewhere in
vain. Sometimes the valley, suddenly widening, spreads out a soft
irregularly-shaped carpet of grass before the eyes; a meadow constantly
watered by the mountain streams that keep it fresh and green at all
seasons of the year. Sometimes a roughly-built sawmill appears in a
picturesque position, with its stacks of long pine trunks with the bark
peeled off, and its mill stream, brought from the bed of the torrent in
great square wooden pipes, with masses of dripping filament issuing
from every crack. Little cottages, scattered here and there, with their
gardens full of blossoming fruit trees, call up the ideas that are
aroused by the sight of industrious poverty; while the thought of ease,
secured after long years of toil, is suggested by some larger houses
farther on, with their red roofs of flat round tiles, shaped like the
scales of a fish. There is no door, moreover, that does not duly exhibit
a basket in which the cheeses are hung up to dry. Every roadside and
every croft is adorned with vines; which here, as in Italy, they train
to grow about dwarf elm trees, whose leaves are stripped off to feed the

Nature, in her caprice, has brought the sloping hills on either side
so near together in some places, that there is no room for fields, or
buildings, or peasants’ huts. Nothing lies between them but the torrent,
roaring over its waterfalls between two lofty walls of granite that rise
above it, their sides covered with the leafage of tall beeches and
dark fir trees to the height of a hundred feet. The trees, with their
different kinds of foliage, rise up straight and tall, fantastically
colored by patches of lichen, forming magnificent colonnades, with a
line of straggling hedgerow of guelder rose, briar rose, box and arbutus
above and below the roadway at their feet. The subtle perfume of this
undergrowth was mingled just then with scents from the wild mountain
region and with the aromatic fragrance of young larch shoots, budding
poplars, and resinous pines.

Here and there a wreath of mist about the heights sometimes hid and
sometimes gave glimpses of the gray crags, that seemed as dim and vague
as the soft flecks of cloud dispersed among them. The whole face of the
country changed every moment with the changing light in the sky; the
hues of the mountains, the soft shades of their lower slopes, the very
shape of the valleys seemed to vary continually. A ray of sunlight
through the tree-stems, a clear space made by nature in the woods, or a
landslip here and there, coming as a surprise to make a contrast in the
foreground, made up an endless series of pictures delightful to see amid
the silence, at the time of year when all things grow young, and when
the sun fills a cloudless heaven with a blaze of light. In short, it was
a fair land--it was the land of France!

The traveler was a tall man, dressed from head to foot in a suit of blue
cloth, which must have been brushed just as carefully every morning
as the glossy coat of his horse. He held himself firm and erect in the
saddle like an old cavalry officer. Even if his black cravat and doeskin
gloves, the pistols that filled his holsters, and the valise securely
fastened to the crupper behind him had not combined to mark him out as a
soldier, the air of unconcern that sat on his face, his regular features
(scarred though they were with the smallpox), his determined manner,
self-reliant expression, and the way he held his head, all revealed
the habits acquired through military discipline, of which a soldier can
never quite divest himself, even after he has retired from service into
private life.

Any other traveler would have been filled with wonder at the loveliness
of this Alpine region, which grows so bright and smiling as it becomes
merged in the great valley systems of southern France; but the officer,
who no doubt had previously traversed a country across which the French
armies had been drafted in the course of Napoleon’s wars, enjoyed the
view before him without appearing to be surprised by the many changes
that swept across it. It would seem that Napoleon has extinguished in
his soldiers the sensation of wonder; for an impassive face is a sure
token by which you may know the men who served erewhile under the
short-lived yet deathless Eagles of the great Emperor. The traveler was,
in fact, one of those soldiers (seldom met with nowadays) whom shot
and shell have respected, although they have borne their part on every
battlefield where Napoleon commanded.

There had been nothing unusual in his life. He had fought valiantly in
the ranks as a simple and loyal soldier, doing his duty as faithfully
by night as by day, and whether in or out of his officer’s sight. He had
never dealt a sabre stroke in vain, and was incapable of giving one
too many. If he wore at his buttonhole the rosette of an officer of the
Legion of Honor, it was because the unanimous voice of his regiment had
singled him out as the man who best deserved to receive it after the
battle of Borodino.

He belonged to that small minority of undemonstrative retiring natures,
who are always at peace with themselves, and who are conscious of a
feeling of humiliation at the mere thought of making a request, no
matter what its nature may be. So promotion had come to him tardily, and
by virtue of the slowly-working laws of seniority. He had been made
a sub-lieutenant in 1802, but it was not until 1829 that he became a
major, in spite of the grayness of his moustaches. His life had been so
blameless that no man in the army, not even the general himself, could
approach him without an involuntary feeling of respect. It is possible
that he was not forgiven for this indisputable superiority by those who
ranked above him; but, on the other hand, there was not one of his men
that did not feel for him something of the affection of children for a
good mother. For them he knew how to be at once indulgent and severe. He
himself had also once served in the ranks, and knew the sorry joys and
gaily-endured hardships of the soldier’s lot. He knew the errors that
may be passed over and the faults that must be punished in his men--“his
children,” as he always called them--and when on campaign he readily
gave them leave to forage for provision for man and horse among the
wealthier classes.

His own personal history lay buried beneath the deepest reserve. Like
almost every military man in Europe, he had only seen the world through
cannon smoke, or in the brief intervals of peace that occurred so seldom
during the Emperor’s continual wars with the rest of Europe. Had he
or had he not thought of marriage? The question remained unsettled.
Although no one doubted that Commandant Genestas had made conquests
during his sojourn in town after town and country after country where
he had taken part in the festivities given and received by the officers,
yet no one knew this for a certainty. There was no prudery about him;
he would not decline to join a pleasure party; he in no way offended
against military standards; but when questioned as to his affairs of
the heart, he either kept silence or answered with a jest. To the words,
“How are you, commandant?” addressed to him by an officer over the wine,
his reply was, “Pass the bottle, gentlemen.”

M. Pierre Joseph Genestas was an unostentatious kind of Bayard. There
was nothing romantic nor picturesque about him--he was too thoroughly
commonplace. His ways of living were those of a well-to-do man. Although
he had nothing beside his pay, and his pension was all that he had to
look to in the future, the major always kept two years’ pay untouched,
and never spent his allowances, like some shrewd old men of business
with whom cautious prudence has almost become a mania. He was so little
of a gambler that if, when in company, some one was wanted to cut in
or to take a bet at ecarte, he usually fixed his eyes on his boots; but
though he did not allow himself any extravagances, he conformed in every
way to custom.

His uniforms lasted longer than those of any other officer in his
regiment, as a consequence of the sedulously careful habits that
somewhat straitened means had so instilled into him, that they had come
to be like a second nature. Perhaps he might have been suspected
of meannesss if it had not been for the fact that with wonderful
disinterestedness and all a comrade’s readiness, his purse would be
opened for some harebrained boy who had ruined himself at cards or by
some other folly. He did a service of this kind with such thoughtful
tact, that it seemed as though he himself had at one time lost heavy
sums at play; he never considered that he had any right to control the
actions of his debtor; he never made mention of the loan. He was the
child of his company; he was alone in the world, so he had adopted the
army for his fatherland, and the regiment for his family. Very rarely,
therefore, did any one seek the motives underlying his praiseworthy turn
for thrift; for it pleased others, for the most part, to set it down to
a not unnatural wish to increase the amount of the savings that were
to render his old age comfortable. Till the eve of his promotion to the
rank of lieutenant-colonel of cavalry it was fair to suppose that it was
his ambition to retire in the course of some campaign with a colonel’s
epaulettes and pension.

If Genestas’ name came up when the officers gossiped after drill,
they were wont to classify him among the men who begin with taking the
good-conduct prize at school, and who, throughout the term of
their natural lives, continue to be punctilious, conscientious, and
passionless--as good as white bread, and just as insipid. Thoughtful
minds, however, regarded him very differently. Not seldom it would
happen that a glance, or an expression as full of significance as the
utterance of a savage, would drop from him and bear witness to past
storms in his soul; and a careful study of his placid brow revealed a
power of stifling down and repressing his passions into inner depths,
that had been dearly bought by a lengthy acquaintance with the perils
and disastrous hazards of war. An officer who had only just joined the
regiment, the son of a peer of France, had said one day of Genestas,
that he would have made one of the most conscientious of priests, or the
most upright of tradesmen.

“Add, the least of a courtier among marquises,” put in Genestas,
scanning the young puppy, who did not know that his commandant could
overhear him.

There was a burst of laughter at the words, for the lieutenant’s father
cringed to all the powers that be; he was a man of supple intellect,
accustomed to jump with every change of government, and his son took
after him.

Men like Genestas are met with now and again in the French army; natures
that show themselves to be wholly great at need, and relapse into their
ordinary simplicity when the action is over; men that are little mindful
of fame and reputation, and utterly forgetful of danger. Perhaps there
are many more of them than the shortcomings of our own characters
will allow us to imagine. Yet, for all that, any one who believed that
Genestas was perfect would be strangely deceiving himself. The major was
suspicious, given to violent outbursts of anger, and apt to be tiresome
in argument; he was full of national prejudices, and above all things,
would insist that he was in the right, when he was, as a matter of fact,
in the wrong. He retained the liking for good wine that he had acquired
in the ranks. If he rose from a banquet with all the gravity befitting
his position, he seemed serious and pensive, and had no mind at such
times to admit any one into his confidence.

Finally, although he was sufficiently acquainted with the customs
of society and with the laws of politeness, to which he conformed as
rigidly as if they had been military regulations; though he had real
mental power, both natural and acquired; and although he had mastered
the art of handling men, the science of tactics, the theory of sabre
play, and the mysteries of the farrier’s craft, his learning had been
prodigiously neglected. He knew in a hazy kind of way that Caesar was a
Roman Consul, or an Emperor, and that Alexander was either a Greek or
a Macedonian; he would have conceded either quality or origin in both
cases without discussion. If the conversation turned on science or
history, he was wont to become thoughtful, and to confine his share in
it to little approving nods, like a man who by dint of profound thought
has arrived at scepticism.

When, at Schonbrunn, on May 13, 1809, Napoleon wrote the bulletin
addressed to the Grand Army, then the masters of Vienna, in which he
said that _like Medea, the Austrian princes had slain their children
with their own hands_; Genestas, who had been recently made a captain,
did not wish to compromise his newly conferred dignity by asking who
Medea was; he relied upon Napoleon’s character, and felt quite sure that
the Emperor was incapable of making any announcement not in proper form
to the Grand Army and the House of Austria. So he thought that Medea
was some archduchess whose conduct was open to criticism. Still, as the
matter might have some bearing on the art of war, he felt uneasy about
the Medea of the bulletin until a day arrived when Mlle. Raucourt
revived the tragedy of Medea. The captain saw the placard, and did
not fail to repair to the Theatre Francais that evening, to see the
celebrated actress in her mythological role, concerning which he gained
some information from his neighbors.

A man, however, who as a private soldier had possessed sufficient
force of character to learn to read, write, and cipher, could clearly
understand that as a captain he ought to continue his education. So from
this time forth he read new books and romances with avidity, in this way
gaining a half-knowledge, of which he made a very fair use. He went
so far in his gratitude to his teachers as to undertake the defence of
Pigault-Lebrun, remarking that in his opinion he was instructive and not
seldom profound.

This officer, whose acquired practical wisdom did not allow him to make
any journey in vain, had just come from Grenoble, and was on his way to
the Grande Chartreuse, after obtaining on the previous evening a week’s
leave of absence from his colonel. He had not expected that the journey
would be a long one; but when, league after league, he had been misled
as to the distance by the lying statements of the peasants, he thought
it would be prudent not to venture any farther without fortifying the
inner man. Small as were his chances of finding any housewife in her
dwelling at a time when every one was hard at work in the fields, he
stopped before a little cluster of cottages that stood about a piece of
land common to all of them, more or less describing a square, which was
open to all comers.

The surface of the soil thus held in conjoint ownership was hard and
carefully swept, but intersected by open drains. Roses, ivy, and tall
grasses grew over the cracked and disjointed walls. Some rags were
drying on a miserable currant bush that stood at the entrance of the
square. A pig wallowing in a heap of straw was the first inhabitant
encountered by Genestas. At the sound of horse hoofs the creature
grunted, raised its head, and put a great black cat to flight. A young
peasant girl, who was carrying a bundle of grass on her head, suddenly
appeared, followed at a distance by four little brats, clad in rags, it
is true, but vigorous, sunburned, picturesque, bold-eyed, and riotous;
thorough little imps, looking like angels. The sun shone down with an
indescribable purifying influence upon the air, the wretched cottages,
the heaps of refuse, and the unkempt little crew.

The soldier asked whether it was possible to obtain a cup of milk. All
the answer the girl made him was a hoarse cry. An old woman suddenly
appeared on the threshold of one of the cabins, and the young peasant
girl passed on into a cowshed, with a gesture that pointed out the
aforesaid old woman, towards whom Genestas went; taking care at the
same time to keep a tight hold on his horse, lest the children who were
already running about under his hoofs should be hurt. He repeated his
request, with which the housewife flatly refused to comply. She would
not, she said, disturb the cream on the pans full of milk from
which butter was to be made. The officer overcame this objection by
undertaking to repay her amply for the wasted cream, and then tied up
his horse at the door, and went inside the cottage.

The four children belonging to the woman all appeared to be of the same
age--an odd circumstance which struck the commandant. A fifth clung
about her skirts; a weak, pale, sickly-looking child, who doubtless
needed more care than the others, and who on that account was the best
beloved, the Benjamin of the family.

Genestas seated himself in a corner by the fireless hearth. A sublime
symbol met his eyes on the high mantel-shelf above him--a colored
plaster cast of the Virgin with the Child Jesus in her arms. Bare earth
made the flooring of the cottage. It had been beaten level in the first
instance, but in course of time it had grown rough and uneven, so that
though it was clean, its ruggedness was not unlike that of the magnified
rind of an orange. A sabot filled with salt, a frying-pan, and a
large kettle hung inside the chimney. The farther end of the room was
completely filled by a four-post bedstead, with a scalloped valance
for decoration. The walls were black; there was an opening to admit the
light above the worm-eaten door; and here and there were a few stools
consisting of rough blocks of beech-wood, each set upon three wooden
legs; a hutch for bread, a large wooden dipper, a bucket and some
earthen milk-pans, a spinning-wheel on the top of the bread-hutch, and
a few wicker mats for draining cheeses. Such were the ornaments and
household furniture of the wretched dwelling.

The officer, who had been absorbed in flicking his riding-whip against
the floor, presently became a witness to a piece of by-play, all
unsuspicious though he was that any drama was about to unfold itself.
No sooner had the old woman, followed by her scald-headed Benjamin,
disappeared through a door that led into her dairy, than the four
children, after having stared at the soldier as long as they wished,
drove away the pig by way of a beginning. This animal, their accustomed
playmate, having come as far as the threshold, the little brats made
such an energetic attack upon him, that he was forced to beat a hasty
retreat. When the enemy had been driven without, the children besieged
the latch of a door that gave way before their united efforts, and
slipped out of the worn staple that held it; and finally they bolted
into a kind of fruit-loft, where they very soon fell to munching the
dried plums, to the amusement of the commandant, who watched this
spectacle. The old woman, with the face like parchment and the dirty
ragged clothing, came back at this moment, with a jug of milk for her
visitor in her hand.

“Oh! you good-for-nothings!” cried she.

She ran to the children, clutched an arm of each child, bundled them
into the room, and carefully closed the door of her storeroom of plenty.
But she did not take their prunes away from them.

“Now, then, be good, my pets! If one did not look after them,” she went
on, looking at Genestas, “they would eat up the whole lot of prunes, the

Then she seated herself on a three-legged stool, drew the little
weakling between her knees, and began to comb and wash his head with a
woman’s skill and with motherly assiduity. The four small thieves
hung about. Some of them stood, others leant against the bed or the
bread-hutch. They gnawed their prunes without saying a word, but they
kept their sly and mischievous eyes fixed upon the stranger. In spite
of grimy countenances and noses that stood in need of wiping, they all
looked strong and healthy.

“Are they your children?” the soldier asked the old woman.

“Asking your pardon, sir, they are charity children. They give me three
francs a month and a pound’s weight of soap for each of them.”

“But it must cost you twice as much as that to keep them, good woman?”

“That is just what M. Benassis tells me, sir; but if other folk will
board the children for the same money, one has to make it do. Nobody
wants the children, but for all that there is a good deal of performance
to go through before they will let us have them. When the milk we give
them comes to nothing, they cost us scarcely anything. Besides that,
three francs is a great deal, sir; there are fifteen francs coming in,
to say nothing of the five pounds’ weight of soap. In our part of the
world you would simply have to wear your life out before you would make
ten sous a day.”

“Then you have some land of your own?” asked the commandant.

“No, sir. I had some land once when my husband was alive; since he died
I have done so badly that I had to sell it.”

“Why, how do you reach the year’s end without debts?” Genestas went on,
“when you bring up children for a livelihood and wash and feed them on
two sous a day?”

“Well, we never go to St. Sylvester’s Day without debt, sir,” she went
on without ceasing to comb the child’s hair. “But so it is--Providence
helps us out. I have a couple of cows. Then my daughter and I do some
gleaning at harvest-time, and in winter we pick up firewood. Then at
night we spin. Ah! we never want to see another winter like this last
one, that is certain! I owe the miller seventy-five francs for flour.
Luckily he is M. Benassis’ miller. M. Benassis, ah! he is a friend to
poor people. He has never asked for his due from anybody, and he will
not begin with us. Besides, our cow has a calf, and that will set us a
bit straighter.”

The four orphans for whom the old woman’s affection represented
all human guardianship had come to an end of their prunes. As their
foster-mother’s attention was taken up by the officer with whom she was
chatting, they seized the opportunity, and banded themselves together in
a compact file, so as to make yet another assault upon the latch of the
door that stood between them and the tempting heap of dried plums. They
advanced to the attack, not like French soldiers, but as stealthily as
Germans, impelled by frank animal greediness.

“Oh! you little rogues! Do you want to finish them up?”

The old woman rose, caught the strongest of the four, administered a
gentle slap on the back, and flung him out of the house. Not a tear did
he shed, but the others remained breathless with astonishment.

“They give you a lot of trouble----”

“Oh! no, sir, but they can smell the prunes, the little dears. If I were
to leave them alone here for a moment, they would stuff themselves with

“You are very fond of them?”

The old woman raised her head at this, and looked at him with gentle
malice in her eyes.

“Fond of them!” she said. “I have had to part with three of them
already. I only have the care of them until they are six years old,” she
went on with a sigh.

“But where are your own children?”

“I have lost them.”

“How old are you?” Genestas asked, to efface the impression left by his
last question.

“I am thirty-eight years old, sir. It will be two years come next St.
John’s Day since my husband died.”

She finished dressing the poor sickly mite, who seemed to thank her by a
loving look in his faded eyes.

“What a life of toil and self-denial!” thought the cavalry officer.

Beneath a roof worthy of the stable wherein Jesus Christ was born,
the hardest duties of motherhood were fulfilled cheerfully and without
consciousness of merit. What hearts were these that lay so deeply buried
in neglect and obscurity! What wealth, and what poverty! Soldiers,
better than other men, can appreciate the element of grandeur to be
found in heroism in sabots, in the Evangel clad in rags. The Book may be
found elsewhere, adorned, embellished, tricked out in silk and satin
and brocade, but here, of a surety, dwelt the spirit of the Book. It was
impossible to doubt that Heaven had some holy purpose underlying it all,
at the sight of the woman who had taken a mother’s lot upon herself, as
Jesus Christ had taken the form of a man, who gleaned and suffered and
ran into debt for her little waifs; a woman who defrauded herself in
her reckonings, and would not own that she was ruining herself that she
might be a Mother. One was constrained to admit, at the sight of her,
that the good upon earth have something in common with the angels in
heaven; Commandant Genestas shook his head as he looked at her.

“Is M. Benassis a clever doctor?” he asked at last.

“I do not know, sir, but he cures poor people for nothing.”

“It seems to me that this is a man and no mistake!” he went on, speaking
to himself.

“Oh! yes, sir, and a good man too! There is scarcely any one hereabouts
that does not put his name in their prayers, morning and night!”

“That is for you, mother,” said the soldier, as he gave her several
coins, “and that is for the children,” he went on, as he added another
crown. “Is M. Benassis’ house still a long way off?” he asked, when he
had mounted his horse.

“Oh! no, sir, a bare league at most.”

The commandant set out, fully persuaded that two leagues remained ahead
of him. Yet after all he soon caught a glimpse through the trees of the
little town’s first cluster of houses, and then of all the roofs that
crowded about a conical steeple, whose slates were secured to the angles
of the wooden framework by sheets of tin that glittered in the sun. This
sort of roof, which has a peculiar appearance, denotes the nearness of
the borders of Savoy, where it is very common. The valley is wide at
this particular point, and a fair number of houses pleasantly situated,
either in the little plain or along the side of the mountain stream,
lend human interest to the well-tilled spot, a stronghold with no
apparent outlet among the mountains that surround it.

It was noon when Genestas reined in his horse beneath an avenue of
elm-trees half-way up the hillside, and only a few paces from the town,
to ask the group of children who stood before him for M. Benassis’
house. At first the children looked at each other, then they scrutinized
the stranger with the expression that they usually wear when they set
eyes upon anything for the first time; a different curiosity and
a different thought in every little face. Then the boldest and the
merriest of the band, a little bright-eyed urchin, with bare, muddy
feet, repeated his words over again, in child fashion.

“M. Benassis’ house, sir?” adding, “I will show you the way there.”

He walked along in front of the horse, prompted quite as much by a wish
to gain a kind of importance by being in the stranger’s company, as by
a child’s love of being useful, or the imperative craving to be doing
something, that possesses mind and body at his age. The officer followed
him for the entire length of the principal street of the country town.
The way was paved with cobblestones, and wound in and out among the
houses, which their owners had erected along its course in the most
arbitrary fashion. In one place a bake-house had been built out into
the middle of the roadway; in another a gable protruded, partially
obstructing the passage, and yet farther on a mountain stream flowed
across it in a runnel. Genestas noticed a fair number of roofs of tarred
shingle, but yet more of them were thatched; a few were tiled, and
some seven or eight (belonging no doubt to the cure, the justice of the
peace, and some of the wealthier townsmen) were covered with slates.
There was a total absence of regard for appearances befitting a village
at the end of the world, which had nothing beyond it, and no connection
with any other place. The people who lived in it seemed to belong to one
family that dwelt beyond the limits of the bustling world, with which
the collector of taxes and a few ties of the very slenderest alone
served to connect them.

When Genestas had gone a step or two farther, he saw on the mountain
side a broad road that rose above the village. Clearly there must be an
old town and a new town; and, indeed, when the commandant reached a
spot where he could slacken the pace of his horse, he could easily see
between the houses some well-built dwellings whose new roofs brightened
the old-fashioned village. An avenue of trees rose above these new
houses, and from among them came the confused sounds of several
industries. He heard the songs peculiar to busy toilers, a murmur of
many workshops, the rasping of files, and the sound of falling hammers.
He saw the thin lines of smoke from the chimneys of each household, and
the more copious outpourings from the forges of the van-builder, the
blacksmith, and the farrier. At length, at the very end of the village
towards which his guide was taking him, Genestas beheld scattered farms
and well-tilled fields and plantations of trees in thorough order. It
might have been a little corner of Brie, so hidden away in a great fold
of the land, that at first sight its existence would not be suspected
between the little town and the mountains that closed the country round.

Presently the child stopped.

“There is the door of _his_ house,” he remarked.

The officer dismounted and passed his arm through the bridle. Then,
thinking that the laborer is worthy of his hire, he drew a few sous
from his waistcoat pocket, and held them out to the child, who looked
astonished at this, opened his eyes very wide, and stayed on, without
thanking him, to watch what the stranger would do next.

“Civilization has not made much headway hereabouts,” thought Genestas;
“the religion of work is in full force, and begging has not yet come
thus far.”

His guide, more from curiosity than from any interested motive, propped
himself against the wall that rose to the height of a man’s elbow. Upon
this wall, which enclosed the yard belonging to the house, there ran a
black wooden railing on either side of the square pillars of the gates.
The lower part of the gates themselves was of solid wood that had been
painted gray at some period in the past; the upper part consisted of
a grating of yellowish spear-shaped bars. These decorations, which had
lost all their color, gradually rose on either half of the gates till
they reached the centre where they met; their spikes forming, when
both leaves were shut, an outline similar to that of a pine-cone. The
worm-eaten gates themselves, with their patches of velvet lichen, were
almost destroyed by the alternate action of sun and rain. A few aloe
plants and some chance-sown pellitory grew on the tops of the square
pillars of the gates, which all but concealed the stems of a couple of
thornless acacias that raised their tufted spikes, like a pair of green
powder-puffs, in the yard.

The condition of the gateway revealed a certain carelessness of its
owner which did not seem to suit the officer’s turn of mind. He knitted
his brows like a man who is obliged to relinquish some illusion. We
usually judge others by our own standard; and although we indulgently
forgive our own shortcomings in them, we condemn them harshly for the
lack of our special virtues. If the commandant had expected M. Benassis
to be a methodical or practical man, there were unmistakable indications
of absolute indifference as to his material concerns in the state of
the gates of his house. A soldier possessed by Genestas’ passion for
domestic economy could not help at once drawing inferences as to the
life and character of its owner from the gateway before him; and this,
in spite of his habits of circumspection, he in nowise failed to do. The
gates were left ajar, moreover--another piece of carelessness!

Encouraged by this countrified trust in all comers, the officer entered
the yard without ceremony, and tethered his horse to the bars of the
gate. While he was knotting the bridle, a neighing sound from the stable
caused both horse and rider to turn their eyes involuntarily in that
direction. The door opened, and an old servant put out his head. He wore
a red woolen bonnet, exactly like the Phrygian cap in which Liberty is
tricked out, a piece of head-gear in common use in this country.

As there was room for several horses, this worthy individual, after
inquiring whether Genestas had come to see M. Benassis, offered the
hospitality of the stable to the newly-arrived steed, a very fine
animal, at which he looked with an expression of admiring affection. The
commandant followed his horse to see how things were to go with it. The
stable was clean, there was plenty of litter, and there was the same
peculiar air of sleek content about M. Benassis’ pair of horses that
distinguished the cure’s horse from all the rest of his tribe. A
maid-servant from within the house came out upon the flight of steps and
waited. She appeared to be the proper authority to whom the stranger’s
inquiries were to be addressed, although the stableman had already told
him that M. Benassis was not at home.

“The master has gone to the flour-mill,” said he. “If you like to
overtake him, you have only to go along the path that leads to the
meadow; and the mill is at the end of it.”

Genestas preferred seeing the country to waiting about indefinitely
for Benassis’ return, so he set out along the way that led to the
flour-mill. When he had gone beyond the irregular line traced by the
town upon the hillside, he came in sight of the mill and the valley, and
of one of the loveliest landscapes that he had ever seen.

The mountains bar the course of the river, which forms a little lake at
their feet, and raise their crests above it, tier on tier. Their many
valleys are revealed by the changing hues of the light, or by the more
or less clear outlines of the mountain ridges fledged with their dark
forests of pines. The mill had not long been built. It stood just where
the mountain stream fell into the little lake. There was all the charm
about it peculiar to a lonely house surrounded by water and hidden away
behind the heads of a few trees that love to grow by the water-side. On
the farther bank of the river, at the foot of a mountain, with a faint
red glow of sunset upon its highest crest, Genestas caught a glimpse
of a dozen deserted cottages. All the windows and doors had been taken
away, and sufficiently large holes were conspicuous in the dilapidated
roofs, but the surrounding land was laid out in fields that were highly
cultivated, and the old garden spaces had been turned into meadows,
watered by a system of irrigation as artfully contrived as that in use
in Limousin. Unconsciously the commandant paused to look at the ruins of
the village before him.

How is it that men can never behold any ruins, even of the humblest
kind, without feeling deeply stirred? Doubtless it is because they seem
to be a typical representation of evil fortune whose weight is felt so
differently by different natures. The thought of death is called up by
a churchyard, but a deserted village puts us in mind of the sorrows of
life; death is but one misfortune always foreseen, but the sorrows of
life are infinite. Does not the thought of the infinite underlie all
great melancholy?

The officer reached the stony path by the mill-pond before he could
hit upon an explanation of this deserted village. The miller’s lad was
sitting on some sacks of corn near the door of the house. Genestas asked
for M. Benassis.

“M. Benassis went over there,” said the miller, pointing out one of the
ruined cottages.

“Has the village been burned down?” asked the commandant.

“No, sir.”

“Then how did it come to be in this state?” inquired Genestas.

“Ah! how?” the miller answered, as he shrugged his shoulders and went
indoors; “M. Benassis will tell you that.”

The officer went over a rough sort of bridge built up of boulders taken
from the torrent bed, and soon reached the house that had been pointed
out to him. The thatched roof of the dwelling was still entire; it was
covered with moss indeed, but there were no holes in it, and the door
and its fastenings seemed to be in good repair. Genestas saw a fire on
the hearth as he entered, an old woman kneeling in the chimney-corner
before a sick man seated in a chair, and another man, who was standing
with his face turned toward the fireplace. The house consisted of a
single room, which was lighted by a wretched window covered with
linen cloth. The floor was of beaten earth; the chair, a table, and a
truckle-bed comprised the whole of the furniture. The commandant had
never seen anything so poor and bare, not even in Russia, where the
moujik’s huts are like the dens of wild beasts. Nothing within it
spoke of ordinary life; there were not even the simplest appliances
for cooking food of the commonest description. It might have been
a dog-kennel without a drinking-pan. But for the truckle-bed, a
smock-frock hanging from a nail, and some sabots filled with straw,
which composed the invalid’s entire wardrobe, this cottage would have
looked as empty as the others. The aged peasant woman upon her knees
was devoting all her attention to keeping the sufferer’s feet in a tub
filled with a brown liquid. Hearing a footstep and the clank of spurs,
which sounded strangely in ears accustomed to the plodding pace of
country folk, the man turned to Genestas. A sort of surprise, in which
the old woman shared was visible in his face.

“There is no need to ask if you are M. Benassis,” said the soldier. “You
will pardon me, sir, if, as a stranger impatient to see you, I have come
to seek you on your field of battle, instead of awaiting you at your
house. Pray do not disturb yourself; go on with what you are doing. When
it is over, I will tell you the purpose of my visit.”

Genestas half seated himself upon the edge of the table, and remained
silent. The firelight shone more brightly in the room than the faint
rays of the sun, for the mountain crests intercepted them, so that they
seldom reached this corner of the valley. A few branches of resinous
pinewood made a bright blaze, and it was by the light of this fire
that the soldier saw the face of the man towards whom he was drawn by
a secret motive, by a wish to seek him out, to study and to know him
thoroughly well. M. Benassis, the local doctor, heard Genestas with
indifference, and with folded arms he returned his bow, and went back to
his patient, quite unaware that he was being subjected to a scrutiny as
earnest as that which the soldier turned upon him.

Benassis was a man of ordinary height, broad-shouldered and
deep-chested. A capacious green overcoat, buttoned up to the chin,
prevented the officer from observing any characteristic details of his
personal appearance; but his dark and motionless figure served as a
strong relief to his face, which caught the bright light of the blazing
fire. The face was not unlike that of a satyr; there was the same
slightly protruding forehead, full, in this case, of prominences,
all more or less denoting character; the same turned-up nose, with a
sprightly cleavage at the tip; the same high cheek-bones. The lines of
the mouth were crooked; the lips, thick and red. The chin turned sharply
upwards. There was an alert, animated look in the brown eyes, to which
their pearly whites gave great brightness, and which expressed passions
now subdued. His iron-gray hair, the deep wrinkles in his face,
the bushy eyebrows that had grown white already, the veins on his
protuberant nose, the tanned face covered with red blotches, everything
about him, in short, indicated a man of fifty and the hard work of his
profession. The officer could come to no conclusion as to the capacity
of the head, which was covered by a close cap; but hidden though it was,
it seemed to him to be one of the square-shaped kind that gave rise
to the expression “square-headed.” Genestas was accustomed to read the
indications that mark the features of men destined to do great things,
since he had been brought into close relations with the energetic
natures sought out by Napoleon; so he suspected that there must be some
mystery in this life of obscurity, and said to himself as he looked at
the remarkable face before him:

“How comes it that he is still a country doctor?”

When he had made a careful study of this countenance, that, in spite of
its resemblance to other human faces, revealed an inner life nowise
in harmony with a commonplace exterior, he could not help sharing
the doctor’s interest in his patient; and the sight of that patient
completely changed the current of his thoughts.

Much as the old cavalry officer had seen in the course of his soldier’s
career, he felt a thrill of surprise and horror at the sight of a human
face which could never have been lighted up with thought--a livid face
in which a look of dumb suffering showed so plainly--the same look that
is sometimes worn by a child too young to speak, and too weak to cry any
longer; in short, it was the wholly animal face of an old dying cretin.
The cretin was the one variety of the human species with which the
commandant had not yet come in contact. At the sight of the deep,
circular folds of skin on the forehead, the sodden, fish-like eyes, and
the head, with its short, coarse, scantily-growing hair--a head
utterly divested of all the faculties of the senses--who would not have
experienced, as Genestas did, an instinctive feeling of repulsion for a
being that had neither the physical beauty of an animal nor the mental
endowments of man, who was possessed of neither instinct nor reason, and
who had never heard nor spoken any kind of articulate speech? It seemed
difficult to expend any regrets over the poor wretch now visibly drawing
towards the very end of an existence which had not been life in any
sense of the word; yet the old woman watched him with touching anxiety,
and was rubbing his legs where the hot water did not reach them with as
much tenderness as if he had been her husband. Benassis himself, after
a close scrutiny of the dull eyes and corpse-like face, gently took the
cretin’s hand and felt his pulse.

“The bath is doing no good,” he said, shaking his head; “let us put him
to bed again.”

He lifted the inert mass himself, and carried him across to the
truckle-bed, from whence, no doubt, he had just taken him. Carefully he
laid him at full length, and straightened the limbs that were growing
cold already, putting the head and hand in position, with all the heed
that a mother could bestow upon her child.

“It is all over, death is very near,” added Benassis, who remained
standing by the bedside.

The old woman gazed at the dying form, with her hands on her hips. A few
tears stole down her cheeks. Genestas remained silent. He was unable to
explain to himself how it was that the death of a being that concerned
him so little should affect him so much. Unconsciously he shared the
feeling of boundless pity that these hapless creatures excite among the
dwellers in the sunless valleys wherein Nature has placed them. This
sentiment has degenerated into a kind of religious superstition in
families to which cretins belong; but does it not spring from the most
beautiful of Christian virtues--from charity, and from a belief in a
reward hereafter, that most effectual support of our social system,
and the one thought that enables us to endure our miseries? The hope of
inheriting eternal bliss helps the relations of these unhappy creatures
and all others round about them to exert on a large scale, and with
sublime devotion, a mother’s ceaseless protecting care over an apathetic
creature who does not understand it in the first instance, and who in
a little while forgets it all. Wonderful power of religion! that has
brought a blind beneficence to the aid of an equally blind misery.
Wherever cretins exist, there is a popular belief that the presence
of one of these creatures brings luck to a family--a superstition that
serves to sweeten lives which, in the midst of a town population,
would be condemned by a mistaken philanthropy to submit to the harsh
discipline of an asylum. In the higher end of the valley of Isere, where
cretins are very numerous, they lead an out-of-door life with the cattle
which they are taught to herd. There, at any rate, they are at large,
and receive the reverence due to misfortune.

A moment later the village bell clinked at slow regular intervals, to
acquaint the flock with the death of one of their number. In the sound
that reached the cottage but faintly across the intervening space, there
was a thought of religion which seemed to fill it with a melancholy
peace. The tread of many feet echoed up the road, giving notice of
an approaching crowd of people--a crowd that uttered not a word. Then
suddenly the chanting of the Church broke the stillness, calling up the
confused thoughts that take possession of the most sceptical minds, and
compel them to yield to the influence of the touching harmonies of the
human voice. The Church was coming to the aid of a creature that knew
her not. The cure appeared, preceded by a choir-boy, who bore the
crucifix, and followed by the sacristan carrying the vase of holy water,
and by some fifty women, old men, and children, who had all come to add
their prayers to those of the Church. The doctor and the soldier looked
at each other, and silently withdrew to a corner to make room for the
kneeling crowd within and without the cottage. During the consoling
ceremony of the Viaticum, celebrated for one who had never sinned, but
to whom the Church on earth was bidding a last farewell, there were
signs of real sorrow on most of the rough faces of the gathering, and
tears flowed over the rugged cheeks that sun and wind and labor in the
fields had tanned and wrinkled. The sentiment of voluntary kinship was
easy to explain. There was not one in the place who had not pitied the
unhappy creature, not one who would not have given him his daily bread.
Had he not met with a father’s care from every child, and found a mother
in the merriest little girl?

“He is dead!” said the cure.

The words struck his hearers with the most unfeigned dismay. The tall
candles were lighted, and several people undertook to watch with the
dead that night. Benassis and the soldier went out. A group of peasants
in the doorway stopped the doctor to say:

“Ah! if you have not saved his life, sir, it was doubtless because God
wished to take him to Himself.”

“I did my best, children,” the doctor answered.

When they had come a few paces from the deserted village, whose last
inhabitant had just died, the doctor spoke to Genestas.

“You would not believe, sir, what real solace is contained for me in
what those peasants have just said. Ten years ago I was very nearly
stoned to death in this village. It is empty to-day, but thirty families
lived in it then.”

Genestas’ face and gesture so plainly expressed an inquiry, that,
as they went along, the doctor told him the story promised by this

“When I first settled here, sir, I found a dozen cretins in this part
of the canton,” and the doctor turned round to point out the ruined
cottages for the officer’s benefit. “All the favorable conditions for
spreading the hideous disease are there; the air is stagnant, the hamlet
lies in the valley bottom, close beside a torrent supplied with water
by the melted snows, and the sunlight only falls on the mountain-top,
so that the valley itself gets no good of the sun. Marriages among these
unfortunate creatures are not forbidden by law, and in this district
they are protected by superstitious notions, of whose power I had no
conception--superstitions which I blamed at first, and afterwards came
to admire. So cretinism was in a fair way to spread all over the valley
from this spot. Was it not doing the country a great service to put
a stop to this mental and physical contagion? But imperatively as the
salutary changes were required, they might cost the life of any man who
endeavored to bring them about. Here, as in other social spheres, if
any good is to be done, we come into collision not merely with
vested interests, but with something far more dangerous to meddle
with--religious ideas crystallized into superstitions, the most
permanent form taken by human thought. I feared nothing.

“In the first place, I sought for the position of mayor in the canton,
and in this I succeeded. Then, after obtaining a verbal sanction from
the prefect, and by paying down the money, I had several of these
unfortunate creatures transported over to Aiguebelle, in Savoy, by
night. There are a great many of them there, and they were certain to
be very kindly treated. When this act of humanity came to be known, the
whole countryside looked upon me as a monster. The cure preached against
me. In spite of all the pains I took to explain to all the shrewder
heads of the little place the immense importance of being rid of the
idiots, and in spite of the fact that I gave my services gratuitously to
the sick people of the district, a shot was fired at me from the corner
of a wood.

“I went to the Bishop of Grenoble and asked him to change the cure.
Monseigneur was good enough to allow me to choose a priest who would
share in my labors, and it was my happy fortune to meet with one of
those rare natures that seemed to have dropped down from heaven. Then
I went on with my enterprise. After preparing people’s minds, I made
another transportation by night, and six more cretins were taken away.
In this second attempt I had the support of several people to whom I had
rendered some service, and I was backed by the members of the Communal
Council, for I had appealed to their parsimonious instincts, showing
them how much it cost to support the poor wretches, and pointing out how
largely they might gain by converting their plots of ground (to which
the idiots had no proper title) into allotments which were needed in the

“All the rich were on my side; but the poor, the old women, the
children, and a few pig-headed people were violently opposed to me.
Unluckily it so fell out that my last removal had not been completely
carried out. The cretin whom you have just seen, not having returned to
his house, had not been taken away, so that the next morning he was the
sole remaining example of his species in the village. There were several
families still living there; but though they were little better than
idiots, they were, at any rate, free from the taint of cretinism. I
determined to go through with my work, and came officially in open day
to take the luckless creature from his dwelling. I had no sooner left
my house than my intention got abroad. The cretin’s friends were there
before me, and in front of his hovel I found a crowd of women and
children and old people, who hailed my arrival with insults accompanied
by a shower of stones.

“In the midst of the uproar I should perhaps have fallen a victim to the
frenzy that possesses a crowd excited by its own outcries and stirred up
by one common feeling, but the cretin saved my life! The poor creature
came out of his hut, and raised the clucking sound of his voice. He
seemed to be an absolute ruler over the fanatical mob, for the sight
of him put a sudden stop to the clamor. It occurred to me that I might
arrange a compromise, and thanks to the quiet so opportunely restored, I
was able to propose and explain it. Of course, those who approved of my
schemes would not dare to second me in this emergency, their support
was sure to be of a purely passive kind, while these superstitious folk
would exert the most active vigilance to keep their last idol among
them; it was impossible, it seemed to me, to take him away from them.
So I promised to leave the cretin in peace in his dwelling, with
the understanding that he should live quite by himself, and that the
remaining families in the village should cross the stream and come to
live in the town, in some new houses which I myself undertook to build,
adding to each house a piece of ground for which the Commune was to
repay me later on.

“Well, my dear sir, it took me fully six months to overcome their
objection to this bargain, however much it may have been to the
advantage of the village families. The affection which they have
for their wretched hovels in country districts is something quite
unexplainable. No matter how unwholesome his hovel may be, a peasant
clings far more to it than a banker does to his mansion. The reason of
it? That I do not know. Perhaps thoughts and feelings are strongest
in those who have but few of them, simply because they have but few.
Perhaps material things count for much in the lives of those who live
so little in thought; certain it is that the less they have, the dearer
their possessions are to them. Perhaps, too, it is with the peasant
as with the prisoner--he does not squander the powers of his soul, he
centres them all upon a single idea, and this is how his feelings come
to be so exceedingly strong. Pardon these reflections on the part of a
man who seldom exchanges ideas with any one. But, indeed, you must
not suppose, sir, that I am much taken up with these far-fetched
considerations. We all have to be active and practical here.

“Alas! the fewer ideas these poor folk have in their heads, the harder
it is to make them see where their real interests lie. There was nothing
for it but to give my whole attention to every trifling detail of my
enterprise. One and all made me the same answer, one of those sayings,
filled with homely sense, to which there is no possible reply, ‘But your
houses are not yet built, sir!’ they used to say. ‘Very good,’ said I,
‘promise me that as soon as they are finished you will come and live in

“Luckily, sir, I obtained a decision to the effect that the whole of
the mountain side above the now deserted village was the property of the
township. The sum of money brought in by the woods on the higher slopes
paid for the building of the new houses and for the land on which they
stood. They were built forthwith; and when once one of my refractory
families was fairly settled in, the rest of them were not slow to
follow. The benefits of the change were so evident that even the most
bigoted believer in the village, which you might call soulless as well
as sunless, could not but appreciate them. The final decision in this
matter, which gave some property to the Commune, in the possession of
which we were confirmed by the Council of State, made me a person of
great importance in the canton. But what a lot of worry there was over
it!” the doctor remarked, stopping short, and raising a hand which he
let fall again--a gesture that spoke volumes. “No one knows, as I do,
the distance between the town and the Prefecture--whence nothing comes
out--and from the Prefecture to the Council of State--where nothing can
be got in.

“Well, after all,” he resumed, “peace be to the powers of this world!
They yielded to my importunities, and that is saying a great deal. If
you only knew the good that came of a carelessly scrawled signature!
Why, sir, two years after I had taken these momentous trifles in hand,
and had carried the matter through to the end, every poor family in the
Commune had two cows at least, which they pastured on the mountain side,
where (without waiting this time for an authorization from the Council
of State) I had established a system of irrigation by means of cross
trenches, like those in Switzerland, Auvergne, and Limousin. Much to
their astonishment, the townspeople saw some capital meadows springing
up under their eyes, and thanks to the improvement in the pasturage,
the yield of milk was very much larger. The results of this triumph
were great indeed. Every one followed the example set by my system of
irrigation; cattle were multiplied; the area of meadow land and every
kind of out-turn increased. I had nothing to fear after that. I could
continue my efforts to improve this, as yet, untilled corner of the
earth; and to civilize those who dwelt in it, whose minds had hitherto
lain dormant.

“Well, sir, folk like us, who live out of the world, are very talkative.
If you ask us a question, there is no knowing where the answer will come
to an end; but to cut it short--there were about seven hundred souls in
the valley when I came to it, and now the population numbers some two
thousand. I had gained the good opinion of every one in that matter of
the last cretin; and when I had constantly shown that I could rule both
mildly and firmly, I became a local oracle. I did everything that I
could to win their confidence; I did not ask for it, nor did I appear to
seek it; but I tried to inspire every one with the deepest respect
for my character, by the scrupulous way in which I always fulfilled my
engagements, even when they were of the most trifling kind. When I had
pledged myself to care for the poor creature whose death you have just
witnessed, I looked after him much more effectually than any of his
previous guardians had done. He has been fed and cared for as the
adopted child of the Commune. After a time the dwellers in the valley
ended by understanding the service which I had done them in spite of
themselves, but for all that, they still cherish some traces of that old
superstition of theirs. Far be it from me to blame them for it; has not
their cult of the cretin often furnished me with an argument when I have
tried to induce those who had possession of their faculties to help
the unfortunate? But here we are,” said Benassis, when after a moment’s
pause he saw the roof of his own house.

Far from expecting the slightest expression of praise or of thanks from
his listener, it appeared from his way of telling the story of this
episode in his administrative career, that he had been moved by an
unconscious desire to pour out the thoughts that filled his mind, after
the manner of folk that live very retired lives.

“I have taken the liberty of putting my horse in your stable, sir,” said
the commandant, “for which in your goodness you will perhaps pardon me
when you learn the object of my journey hither.”

“Ah! yes, what is it?” asked Benassis, appearing to shake off his
preoccupied mood, and to recollect that his companion was a stranger
to him. The frankness and unreserve of his nature had led him to accept
Genestas as an acquaintance.

“I have heard of the almost miraculous recovery of M. Gravier of
Grenoble, whom you received into your house,” was the soldier’s answer.
“I have come to you, hoping that you will give a like attention to my
case, although I have not a similar claim to your benevolence; and yet,
I am possibly not undeserving of it. I am an old soldier, and wounds
of long standing give me no peace. It will take you at least a week to
study my condition, for the pain only comes back at intervals, and----”

“Very good, sir,” Benassis broke in; “M. Gravier’s room is in readiness.
Come in.”

They went into the house, the doctor flinging open the door with an
eagerness that Genestas attributed to his pleasure at receiving a

“Jacquotte!” Benassis called out. “This gentleman will dine with us.”

“But would it not be as well for us to settle about the payment?”

“Payment for what?” inquired the doctor.

“For my board. You cannot keep me and my horse as well, without----”

“If you are wealthy, you will repay me amply,” Benassis replied; “and if
you are not, I will take nothing whatever.”

“Nothing whatever seems to me to be too dear,” said Genestas. “But,
rich or poor, will ten francs a day (not including your professional
services) be acceptable to you?”

“Nothing could be less acceptable to me than payment for the pleasure of
entertaining a visitor,” the doctor answered, knitting his brows; “and
as to my advice, you shall have it if I like you, and not unless. Rich
people shall not have my time by paying for it; it belongs exclusively
to the folk here in the valley. I do not care about fame or fortune, and
I look for neither praise or gratitude from my patients. Any money which
you may pay me will go to the druggists in Grenoble, to pay for the
medicine required by the poor of the neighborhood.”

Any one who had heard the words flung out, abruptly, it is true, but
without a trace of bitterness in them, would have said to himself with
Genestas, “Here is a man made of good human clay.”

“Well, then, I will pay you ten francs a day, sir,” the soldier
answered, returning to the charge with wonted pertinacity, “and you will
do as you choose after that. We shall understand each other better, now
that the question is settled,” he added, grasping the doctor’s hand with
eager cordiality. “In spite of my ten francs, you shall see that I am by
no means a Tartar.”

After this passage of arms, in which Benassis showed not the slightest
sign of a wish to appear generous or to pose as a philanthropist, the
supposed invalid entered his doctor’s house. Everything within it was
in keeping with the ruinous state of the gateway, and with the clothing
worn by its owner. There was an utter disregard for everything not
essentially useful, which was visible even in the smallest trifles.
Benassis took Genestas through the kitchen, that being the shortest way
to the dining-room.

Had the kitchen belonged to an inn, it could not have been more
smoke-begrimed; and if there was a sufficiency of cooking pots within
its precincts, this lavish supply was Jacquotte’s doing--Jacquotte who
had formerly been the cure’s housekeeper--Jacquotte who always said
“we,” and who ruled supreme over the doctor’s household. If, for
instance, there was a brightly polished warming-pan above the
mantelshelf, it probably hung there because Jacquotte liked to sleep
warm of a winter night, which led her incidentally to warm her master’s
sheets. He never took a thought about anything; so she was wont to say.

It was on account of a defect, which any one else would have found
intolerable, that Benassis had taken her into his service. Jacquotte had
a mind to rule the house, and a woman who would rule his house was the
very person that the doctor wanted. So Jacquotte bought and sold,
made alterations about the place, set up and took down, arranged and
disarranged everything at her own sweet will; her master had never
raised a murmur. Over the yard, the stable, the man-servant and the
kitchen, in fact, over the whole house and garden and its master,
Jacquotte’s sway was absolute. She looked out fresh linen, saw to the
washing, and laid in provisions without consulting anybody. She decided
everything that went on in the house, and the date when the pigs were to
be killed. She scolded the gardener, decreed the menu at breakfast
and dinner, and went from cellar to garret, and from garret to cellar,
setting everything to rights according to her notions, without a word
of opposition of any sort or description. Benassis had made but two
stipulations--he wished to dine at six o’clock, and that the household
expenses should not exceed a certain fixed sum every month.

A woman whom every one obeys in this way is always singing, so Jacquotte
laughed and warbled on the staircase; she was always humming something
when she was not singing, and singing when she was not humming.
Jacquotte had a natural liking for cleanliness, so she kept the house
neat and clean. If her tastes had been different, it would have been a
sad thing for M. Benassis (so she was wont to say), for the poor man was
so little particular that you might feed him on cabbage for partridges,
and he would not find it out; and if it were not for her, he would very
often wear the same shirt for a week on end. Jacquotte, however, was an
indefatigable folder of linen, a born rubber and polisher of furniture,
and a passionate lover of a perfectly religious and ceremonial
cleanliness of the most scrupulous, the most radiant, and most fragrant
kind. A sworn foe to dust, she swept and scoured and washed without

The condition of the gateway caused her acute distress. On the first day
of every month for the past ten years, she had extorted from her master
a promise that he would replace the gate with a new one, that the walls
of the house should be lime-washed, and that everything should be made
quite straight and proper about the place; but so far, the master had
not kept his word. So it happened that whenever she fell to lamenting
over Benassis’ deeply-rooted carelessness about things, she nearly
always ended solemnly in these words with which all her praises of her
master usually terminated:

“You cannot say that he is a fool, because he works such miracles, as
you may say, in the place; but, all the same, he is a fool at times,
such a fool that you have to do everything for him as if he were a

Jacquotte loved the house as if it had belonged to her; and when she had
lived in it for twenty-two years, had she not some grounds for deluding
herself on that head? After the cure’s death the house had been for
sale; and Benassis, who had only just come into the country, had bought
it as it stood, with the walls about it and the ground belonging to
it, together with the plate, wine, and furniture, the old sundial,
the poultry, the horse, and the woman-servant. Jacquotte was the very
pattern of a working housekeeper, with her clumsy figure, and her
bodice, always of the same dark brown print with large red spots on it,
which fitted her so tightly that it looked as if the material must
give way if she moved at all. Her colorless face, with its double chin,
looked out from under a round plaited cap, which made her look paler
than she really was. She talked incessantly, and always in a loud
voice--this short, active woman, with the plump, busy hands. Indeed, if
Jacquotte was silent for a moment, and took a corner of her apron so as
to turn it up in a triangle, it meant that a lengthy expostulation was
about to be delivered for the benefit of master or man. Jacquotte was
beyond all doubt the happiest cook in the kingdom; for, that nothing
might be lacking in a measure of felicity as great as may be known in
this world below, her vanity was continually gratified--the townspeople
regarded her as an authority of an indefinite kind, and ranked her
somewhere between the mayor and the park-keeper.

The master of the house found nobody in the kitchen when he entered it.

“Where the devil are they all gone?” he asked. “Pardon me for bringing
you in this way,” he went on, turning to Genestas. “The front entrance
opens into the garden, but I am so little accustomed to receive visitors
that--Jacquotte!” he called in rather peremptory tones.

A woman’s voice answered to the name from the interior of the house. A
moment later Jacquotte, assuming the offensive, called in her turn to
Benassis, who forthwith went into the dining-room.

“Just like you, sir!” she exclaimed; “you never do like anybody else.
You always ask people to dinner without telling me beforehand, and
you think that everything is settled as soon as you have called for
Jacquotte! You are not going to have the gentleman sit in the kitchen,
are you? Is not the salon to be unlocked and a fire to be lighted?
Nicolle is there, and will see after everything. Now take the gentleman
into the garden for a minute; that will amuse him; if he likes to look
at pretty things, show him the arbor of hornbeam trees that the poor
dear old gentleman made. I shall have time then to lay the cloth, and to
get everything ready, the dinner and the salon too.”

“Yes. But, Jacquotte,” Benassis went on, “the gentleman is going to stay
with us. Do not forget to give a look round M. Gravier’s room, and see
about the sheets and things, and----”

“Now you are not going to interfere about the sheets, are you?” asked
Jacquotte. “If he is to sleep here, I know what must be done for him
perfectly well. You have not so much as set foot in M. Gravier’s room
these ten months past. There is nothing to see there, the place is as
clean as a new pin. Then will the gentleman make some stay here?” she
continued in a milder tone.


“How long will he stay?”

“Faith, I do not know: What does it matter to you?”

“What does it matter to me, sir? Oh! very well, what does it matter
to me? Did any one ever hear the like! And the provisions and all that

At any other time she would have overwhelmed her master with reproaches
for his breach of trust, but now she followed him into the kitchen
before the torrent of words had come to an end. She had guessed that
there was a prospect of a boarder, and was eager to see Genestas, to
whom she made a very deferential courtesy, while she scanned him from
head to foot. A thoughtful and dejected expression gave a harsh look
to the soldier’s face. In the dialogue between master and servant the
latter had appeared to him in the light of a nonentity; and although he
regretted the fact, this revelation had lessened the high opinion that
he had formed of the man whose persistent efforts to save the district
from the horrors of cretinism had won his admiration.

“I do not like the looks of that fellow at all!” said Jacquotte to

“If you are not tired, sir,” said the doctor to his supposed patient,
“we will take a turn round the garden before dinner.”

“Willingly,” answered the commandant.

They went through the dining-room, and reached the garden by way of a
sort of vestibule at the foot of the staircase between the salon and
the dining-room. Beyond a great glass door at the farther end of the
vestibule lay a flight of stone steps which adorned the garden side
of the house. The garden itself was divided into four large squares of
equal size by two paths that intersected each other in the form of a
cross, a box edging along their sides. At the farther end there was a
thick, green alley of hornbeam trees, which had been the joy and pride
of the late owner. The soldier seated himself on a worm-eaten bench, and
saw neither the trellis-work nor the espaliers, nor the vegetables of
which Jacquotte took such great care. She followed the traditions of the
epicurean churchman to whom this valuable garden owed its origin; but
Benassis himself regarded it with sufficient indifference.

The commandant turned their talk from the trivial matters which had
occupied them by saying to the doctor:

“How comes it, sir, that the population of the valley has been trebled
in ten years? There were seven hundred souls in it when you came, and
to-day you say that they number more than two thousand.”

“You are the first person who has put that question to me,” the doctor
answered. “Though it has been my aim to develop the capabilities of this
little corner of the earth to the utmost, the constant pressure of a
busy life has not left me time to think over the way in which (like the
mendicant brother) I have made ‘broth from a flint’ on a large scale.
M. Gravier himself, who is one of several who have done a great deal for
us, and to whom I was able to render a service by re-establishing his
health, has never given a thought to the theory, though he has been
everywhere over our mountain sides with me, to see its practical

There was a moment’s silence, during which Benassis followed his own
thoughts, careless of the keen glance by which his guest friend tried to
fathom him.

“You ask how it came about, my dear sir?” the doctor resumed. “It came
about quite naturally through the working of the social law by which the
need and the means of supplying it are correlated. Herein lies the whole
story. Races who have no wants are always poor. When I first came
to live here in this township, there were about a hundred and thirty
peasant families in it, and some two hundred hearths in the valley.
The local authorities were such as might be expected in the prevailing
wretchedness of the population. The mayor himself could not write, and
the deputy-mayor was a small farmer, who lived beyond the limits of the
Commune. The justice of the peace was a poor devil who had nothing but
his salary, and who was forced to relinquish the registration of births,
marriages, and deaths to his clerk, another hapless wretch who was
scarcely able to understand his duties. The old cure had died at the age
of seventy, and his curate, a quite uneducated man, had just succeeded
to his position. These people comprised all the intelligence of the
district over which they ruled.

“Those who dwelt amidst these lovely natural surroundings groveled in
squalor and lived upon potatoes, milk, butter, and cheese. The only
produce that brought in any money was the cheese, which most of them
carried in small baskets to Grenoble or its outskirts. The richer or
the more energetic among them sowed buckwheat for home consumption;
sometimes they raised a crop of barley or oats, but wheat was unknown.
The only trader in the place was the mayor, who owned a sawmill and
bought up timber at a low price to sell again. In the absence of roads,
his tree trunks had to be transported during the summer season; each log
was dragged along one at a time, and with no small difficulty, by means
of a chain attached to a halter about his horse’s neck, and an iron hook
at the farther end of the chain, which was driven into the wood. Any
one who went to Grenoble, whether on horseback or afoot, was obliged to
follow a track high up on the mountain side, for the valley was quite
impassable. The pretty road between this place and the first village
that you reach as you come into the canton (the way along which you must
have come) was nothing but a slough at all seasons of the year.

“Political events and revolutions had never reached this inaccessible
country--it lay completely beyond the limits of social stir and change.
Napoleon’s name, and his alone, had penetrated hither; he is held in
great veneration, thanks to one or two old soldiers who have returned to
their native homes, and who of evenings tell marvelous tales about his
adventures and his armies for the benefit of these simple folk. Their
coming back is, moreover, a puzzle that no one can explain. Before I
came here, the young men who went into the army all stayed in it for
good. This fact in itself is a sufficient revelation of the wretched
condition of the country. I need not give you a detailed description of

“This, then, was the state of things when I first came to the canton,
which has several contented, well-tilled, and fairly prosperous communes
belonging to it upon the other side of the mountains. I will say nothing
about the hovels in the town; they were neither more nor less than
stables, in which men and animals were indiscriminately huddled
together. As there was no inn in the place, I was obliged to ask the
curate for a bed, he being in possession, for the time being, of this
house, then offered for sale. Putting to him question after question,
I came to have some slight knowledge of the lamentable condition of the
country with the pleasant climate, the fertile soil, and the natural
productiveness that had impressed me so much.

“At that time, sir, I was seeking to shape a future for myself that
should be as little as possible like the troubled life that had left me
weary; and one of those thoughts came into my mind that God gives us at
times, to enable us to take up our burdens and bear them. I resolved to
develop all the resources of this country, just as a tutor develops
the capacities of a child. Do not think too much of my benevolence; the
pressing need that I felt for turning my thoughts into fresh channels
entered too much into my motives. I had determined to give up the
remainder of my life to some difficult task. A lifetime would be
required to bring about the needful changes in a canton that Nature had
made so wealthy, and man so poor; and I was tempted by the practical
difficulties that stood in the way. As soon as I found that I could
secure the cure’s house and plenty of waste land at a small cost, I
solemnly devoted myself to the calling of a country surgeon--the very
last position that a man aspires to take. I determined to become the
friend of the poor, and to expect no reward of any kind from them. Oh! I
did not indulge in any illusions as to the nature of the country people,
nor as to the hindrances that lie in the way of every attempt to bring
about a better state of things among men or their surroundings. I have
never made idyllic pictures of my people; I have taken them at their
just worth--as poor peasants, neither wholly good nor wholly bad, whose
constant toil never allows them to indulge in emotion, though they can
feel acutely at times. Above all things, in fact, I clearly understood
that I should do nothing with them except through an appeal to their
selfish interests, and by schemes for their immediate well-being.
The peasants are one and all the sons of St. Thomas, the doubting
apostle--they always like words to be supported by visible facts.

“Perhaps you will laugh at my first start, sir,” the doctor went on
after a pause. “I began my difficult enterprise by introducing the
manufacture of baskets. The poor folks used to buy the wicker mats
on which they drain their cheeses, and all the baskets needed for the
insignificant trade of the district. I suggested to an intelligent young
fellow that he might take a lease on a good-sized piece of land by the
side of the torrent. Every year the floods deposited a rich alluvial
soil on this spot, where there should be no difficulty in growing
osiers. I reckoned out the quantity of wicker-work of various kinds
required from time to time by the canton, and went over to Grenoble,
where I found a young craftsman, a clever worker, but without any
capital. When I had discovered him, I soon made up my mind to set him
up in business here. I undertook to advance the money for the osiers
required for his work until my osier-farmer should be in a position to
supply him. I induced him to sell his baskets at rather lower prices
than they asked for them in Grenoble, while, at the same time, they were
better made. He entered into my views completely. The osier-beds and
the basket-making were two business speculations whose results were only
appreciated after a lapse of four years. Of course, you know that osiers
must be three years old before they are fit to cut.

“At the commencement of operations, the basket-maker was boarded and
lodged gratuitously. Before very long he married a woman from Saint
Laurent du Pont, who had a little money. Then he had a house built, in
a healthy and very airy situation which I chose, and my advice was
followed as to the internal arrangements. Here was a triumph! I had
created a new industry, and had brought a producer and several workers
into the town. I wonder if you will regard my elations as childish?

“For the first few days after my basket-maker had set up his business,
I never went past his shop but my heart beat somewhat faster. And when
I saw the newly-built house, with the green-painted shutters, the vine
beside the doorway, and the bench and bundles of osiers before it; when
I saw a tidy, neatly-dressed woman within it, nursing a plump, pink
and white baby among the workmen, who were singing merrily and busily
plaiting their wicker-work under the superintendence of a man who but
lately had looked so pinched and pale, but now had an atmosphere of
prosperity about him; when I saw all this, I confess that I could not
forego the pleasure of turning basket-maker for a moment, of going into
the shop to hear how things went with them, and of giving myself up to
a feeling of content that I cannot express in words, for I had all
their happiness as well as my own to make me glad. All my hopes became
centered on this house, where the man dwelt who had been the first to
put a steady faith in me. Like the basket-maker’s wife, clasping her
first nursling to her breast, did not I already fondly cherish the hopes
of the future of this poor district?

“I had to do so many things at once,” he went on, “I came into collision
with other people’s notions, and met with violent opposition, fomented
by the ignorant mayor to whose office I had succeeded, and whose
influence had dwindled away as mine increased. I determined to make him
my deputy and a confederate in my schemes of benevolence. Yes, in the
first place, I endeavored to instil enlightened ideas into the densest
of all heads. Through his self-love and cupidity I gained a hold upon my
man. During six months as we dined together, I took him deeply into my
confidence about my projected improvements. Many people would think this
intimacy one of the most painful inflictions in the course of my task;
but was he not a tool of the most valuable kind? Woe to him who despises
his axe, or flings it carelessly aside! Would it not have been very
inconsistent, moreover, if I, who wished to improve a district, had
shrunk back at the thought of improving one man in it?

“A road was our first and most pressing need in bringing about a better
state of things. If we could obtain permission from the Municipal
Council to make a hard road, so as to put us in communication with the
highway to Grenoble, the deputy-mayor would be the first gainer by it;
for instead of dragging his timber over rough tracks at a great expense,
a good road through the canton would enable him to transport it more
easily, and to engage in a traffic on a large scale, in all kinds of
wood, that would bring in money--not a miserable six hundred francs a
year, but handsome sums which would mean a certain fortune for him some
day. Convinced at last, he became my proselytizer.

“Through the whole of one winter the ex-mayor got into the way of
explaining to our citizens that a good road for wheeled traffic would be
a source of wealth to the whole country round, for it would enable
every one to do a trade with Grenoble; he held forth on this head at the
tavern while drinking with his intimates. When the Municipal Council had
authorized the making of the road, I went to the prefect and obtained
some money from the charitable funds at the disposal of the department,
in order to pay for the hire of carts, for the Commune was unable to
undertake the transport of road metal for lack of wheeled conveyances.
The ignorant began to murmur against me, and to say that I wanted to
bring the days of the corvee back again; this made me anxious to finish
this important work, that they might speedily appreciate its benefits.
With this end in view, every Sunday during my first year of office I
drew the whole population of the township, willing or unwilling, up on
to the mountain, where I myself had traced out on a hard bottom the road
between our village and the highway to Grenoble. Materials for making it
were fortunately to be had in plenty along the site.

“The tedious enterprise called for a great deal of patience on my part.
Some who were ignorant of the law would refuse at times to give their
contribution of labor; others again, who had not bread to eat, really
could not afford to lose a day. Corn had to be distributed among these
last, and the others must be soothed with friendly words. Yet by the
time we had finished two-thirds of the road, which in all is about
two leagues in length, the people had so thoroughly recognized its
advantages that the remaining third was accomplished with a spirit that
surprised me. I added to the future wealth of the Commune by planting
a double row of poplars along the ditch on either side of the way. The
trees are already almost worth a fortune, and they make our road
look like a king’s highway. It is almost always dry, by reason of its
position, and it was so well made that the annual cost of maintaining it
is a bare two hundred francs. I must show it to you, for you cannot
have seen it; you must have come by the picturesque way along the valley
bottom, a road which the people decided to make for themselves three
years later, so as to connect the various farms that were made there
at that time. In three years ideas had rooted themselves in the common
sense of this township, hitherto so lacking in intelligence that a
passing traveler would perhaps have thought it hopeless to attempt to
instil them. But to continue.

“The establishment of the basket-maker was an example set before these
poverty-stricken folk that they might profit by it. And if the road was
to be a direct cause of the future wealth of the canton, all the primary
forms of industry must be stimulated, or these two germs of a better
state of things would come to nothing. My own work went forward by slow
degrees, as I helped my osier farmer and wicker-worker and saw to the
making of the road.

“I had two horses, and the timber merchant, the deputy-mayor, had three.
He could only have them shod whenever he went over to Grenoble, so I
induced a farrier to take up his abode here, and undertook to find him
plenty of work. On the same day I met with a discharged soldier, who
had nothing but his pension of a hundred francs, and was sufficiently
perplexed about his future. He could read and write, so I engaged him
as secretary to the mayor; as it happened, I was lucky enough to find a
wife for him, and his dreams of happiness were fulfilled.

“Both of these new families needed houses, as well as the basket-maker
and twenty-two others from the cretin village, soon afterwards twelve
more households were established in the place. The workers in each of
these families were at once producers and consumers. They were masons,
carpenters, joiners, slaters, blacksmiths, and glaziers; and there was
work enough to last them for a long time, for had they not their own
houses to build when they had finished those for other people? Seventy,
in fact, were build in the Commune during my second year of office. One
form of production demands another. The additions to the population
of the township had created fresh wants, hitherto unknown among these
dwellers in poverty. The wants gave rise to industries, and industries
to trade, and the gains of trade raised the standard of comfort, which
in its turn gave them practical ideas.

“The various workmen wished to buy their bread ready baked, so we came
to have a baker. Buckwheat could no longer be the food of a population
which, awakened from its lethargy, had become essentially active. They
lived on buckwheat when I first came among them, and I wished to effect
a change to rye, or a mixture of rye and wheat in the first instance,
and finally to see a loaf of white bread even in the poorest household.
Intellectual progress, to my thinking, was entirely dependent on a
general improvement in the conditions of life. The presence of a butcher
in the district says as much for its intelligence as for its wealth. The
worker feeds himself, and a man who feeds himself thinks. I had made a
very careful study of the soil, for I foresaw a time when it would be
necessary to grow wheat. I was sure of launching the place in a very
prosperous agricultural career, and of doubling the population, when
once it had begun to work. And now the time had come.

“M. Gravier, of Grenoble, owned a great deal of land in the commune,
which brought him in no rent, but which might be turned into
corn-growing land. He is the head of a department in the Prefecture, as
you know. It was a kindness for his own countryside quite as much as my
earnest entreaties that won him over. He had very benevolently yielded
to my importunities on former occasions, and I succeeded in making it
clear to him that in so doing he had wrought unconsciously for his own
benefit. After several days spent in pleadings, consultation, and talk,
the matter was thrashed out. I undertook to guarantee him against
all risks in the undertaking, from which his wife, a woman of no
imagination, sought to frighten him. He agreed to build four farmhouses
with a hundred acres of land attached to each, and promised to advance
the sums required to pay for clearing the ground, for seeds, ploughing
gear, and cattle, and for making occupation roads.

“I myself also started two farms, quite as much for the sake of bringing
my waste land into cultivation as with a view to giving an object-lesson
in the use of modern methods in agriculture. In six weeks’ time the
population of the town increased to three hundred people. Homes for
several families must be built on the six farms; there was a vast
quantity of land to be broken up; the work called for laborers.
Wheelwrights, drainmakers, journeymen, and laborers of all kinds flocked
in. The road to Grenoble was covered with carts that came and went. All
the countryside was astir. The circulation of money had made every one
anxious to earn it, apathy had ceased, the place had awakened.

“The story of M. Gravier, one of those who did so much for this canton,
can be concluded in a few words. In spite of cautious misgivings, not
unnatural in a man occupying an official position in a provincial
town, he advanced more than forty thousand francs, on the faith of my
promises, without knowing whether he should ever see them back again.
To-day every one of his farms is let for a thousand francs. His tenants
have thriven so well that each of them owns at least a hundred acres,
three hundred sheep, twenty cows, ten oxen, and five horses, and employs
more than twenty persons.

“But to resume. Our farms were ready by the end of the fourth year. Our
wheat harvest seemed miraculous to the people in the district, heavy as
the first crop off the land ought to be. How often during that year
I trembled for the success of my work! Rain or drought might spoil
everything by diminishing the belief in me that was already felt. When
we began to grow wheat, it necessitated the mill that you have seen,
which brings me in about five hundred francs a year. So the peasants say
that ‘there is luck about me’ (that is the way they put it), and believe
in me as they believe in their relics. These new undertakings--the
farms, the mill, the plantations, and the roads--have given employment
to all the various kinds of workers whom I had called in. Although the
buildings fully represent the value of the sixty thousand francs
of capital, which we sunk in the district, the outlay was more
than returned to us by the profits on the sales which the consumers
occasioned. I never ceased my efforts to put vigor into this industrial
life which was just beginning. A nurseryman took my advice and came
to settle in the place, and I preached wholesome doctrine to the poor
concerning the planting of fruit trees, in order that some day they
should obtain a monopoly of the sale of fruit in Grenoble.

“‘You take your cheeses there as it is,’ I used to tell them, ‘why not
take poultry, eggs, vegetables, game, hay and straw, and so forth?’ All
my counsels were a source of fortune; it was a question of who should
follow them first. A number of little businesses were started; they went
on at first but slowly, but from day to day their progress became more
rapid; and now sixty carts full of the various products of the district
set out every Monday for Grenoble, and there is more buckwheat grown for
poultry food than they used to sow for human consumption. The trade in
timber grew to be so considerable that it was subdivided, and since
the fourth year of our industrial era, we have had dealers in firewood,
squared timber, planks, bark, and later on, in charcoal. In the end four
new sawmills were set up, to turn out the planks and beams of timber.

“When the ex-mayor had acquired a few business notions, he felt the
necessity of learning to read and write. He compared the prices that
were asked for wood in various neighborhoods, and found such differences
in his favor, that he secured new customers in one place after another,
and now a third of the trade in the department passes through his
hands. There has been such a sudden increase in our traffic that we find
constant work for three wagon-builders and two harness-makers, each of
them employing three hands at least. Lastly, the quantity of ironware
that we use is so large that an agricultural implement and tool-maker
has removed into the town, and is very well satisfied with the result.

“The desire of gain develops a spirit of ambition, which has ever since
impelled our workers to extend their field from the township to the
canton, and from the canton to the department, so as to increase their
profits by increasing their sales. I had only to say a word to point out
new openings to them, and their own sense did the rest. Four years had
been sufficient to change the face of the township. When I had come
through it first, I did not catch the slightest sound; but in less than
five years from that time, there was life and bustle everywhere. The gay
songs, the shrill or murmuring sounds made by the tools in the workshops
rang pleasantly in my ears. I watched the comings and goings of a busy
population congregated in the clean and wholesome new town, where plenty
of trees had been planted. Every one of them seemed conscious of a happy
lot, every face shone with the content that comes through a life of
useful toil.

“I look upon these five years as the first epoch of prosperity in the
history of our town,” the doctor went on after a pause. “During that
time I have prepared the ground and sowed the seed in men’s minds as
well as in the land. Henceforward industrial progress could not be
stayed, the population was bound to go forward. A second epoch was
about to begin. This little world very soon desired to be better clad. A
shoemaker came, and with him a haberdasher, a tailor, and a hatter. This
dawn of luxury brought us a butcher and a grocer, and a midwife, who
became very necessary to me, for I lost a great deal of time over
maternity cases. The stubbed wastes yielded excellent harvests, and the
superior quality of our agricultural produce was maintained through
the increased supply of manure. My enterprise could now develop itself;
everything followed on quite naturally.

“When the houses had been rendered wholesome, and their inmates
gradually persuaded to feed and clothe themselves better, I wanted the
dumb animals to feel the benefit of these beginnings of civilization.
All the excellence of cattle, whether as a race or as individuals, and,
in consequence, the quality of the milk and meat, depends upon the care
that is expended upon them. I took the sanitation of cowsheds for the
text of my sermons. I showed them how an animal that is properly housed
and well cared for is more profitable than a lean neglected beast, and
the comparison wrought a gradual change for the better in the lot of
the cattle in the Commune. Not one of them was ill treated. The cows
and oxen were rubbed down as in Switzerland and Auvergne. Sheep-folds,
stables, byres, dairies, and barns were rebuilt after the pattern of
the roomy, well-ventilated, and consequently healthy steadings that M.
Gravier and I had constructed. Our tenants became my apostles. They
made rapid converts of unbelievers, demonstrating the soundness of my
doctrines by their prompt results. I lent money to those who needed it,
giving the preference to hardworking poor people, because they served as
an example. Any unsound or sickly cattle or beasts of poor quality were
quickly disposed of by my advice, and replaced by fine specimens. In
this way our dairy produce came, in time, to command higher prices in
the market than that sent by other communes. We had splendid herds, and
as a consequence, capital leather.

“This step forward was of great importance, and in this wise. In rural
economy nothing can be regarded as trifling. Our hides used to fetch
scarcely anything, and the leather we made was of little value, but
when once our leather and hides were improved, tanneries were easily
established along the waterside. We became tanners, and business rapidly

“Wine, properly speaking, had been hitherto unknown; a thin, sour
beverage like verjuice had been their only drink, but now wineshops were
established to supply a natural demand. The oldest tavern was enlarged
and transformed into an inn, which furnished mules to pilgrims to the
Grand Chartreuse who began to come our way, and after two years there
was just enough business for two innkeepers.

“The justice of the peace died just as our second prosperous epoch
began, and luckily for us, his successor had formerly been a notary in
Grenoble who had lost most of his fortune by a bad speculation, though
enough of it yet remained to cause him to be looked upon in the village
as a wealthy man. It was M. Gravier who induced him to settle among
us. He built himself a comfortable house and helped me by uniting his
efforts to mine. He also laid out a farm, and broke up and cleaned some
of the waste land, and at this moment he has three chalets up above on
the mountain side. He has a large family. He dismissed the old registrar
and the clerk, and in their place installed better-educated men, who
worked far harder, moreover, than their predecessors had done. One
of the heads of these two new households started a distillery of
potato-spirit, and the other was a wool-washer; each combined these
occupations with his official work, and in this way two valuable
industries were created among us.

“Now that the Commune had some revenues of its own, no opposition was
raised in any quarter when they were spent on building a town-hall, with
a free school for elementary education in the building and accommodation
for a teacher. For this important post I had selected a poor priest who
had taken the oath, and had therefore been cast out by the department,
and who at last found a refuge among us for his old age. The
schoolmistress is a very worthy woman who had lost all that she had, and
was in great distress. We made up a nice little sum for her, and she
has just opened a boarding-school for girls to which the wealthy farmers
hereabouts are beginning to send their daughters.

“If so far, sir, I have been entitled to tell you the story of my own
doings as the chronicle of this little spot of earth, I have reached
the point where M. Janvier, the new parson, began to divide the work of
regeneration with me. He has been a second Fenelon, unknown beyond the
narrow limits of a country parish, and by some secret of his own has
infused a spirit of brotherliness and of charity among these folk that
has made them almost like one large family. M. Dufau, the justice of
the peace, was a late comer, but he in an equal degree deserves the
gratitude of the people here.

“I will put the whole position before you in figures that will make
it clearer than any words of mine. At this moment the Commune owns two
hundred acres of woodland, and a hundred and sixty acres of meadow.
Without running up the rates, we give a hundred crowns to supplement the
cure’s stipend, we pay two hundred francs to the rural policeman, and
as much again to the schoolmaster and schoolmistress. The maintenance of
the roads costs us five hundred francs, while necessary repairs to the
townhall, the parsonage, and the church, with some few other expenses,
also amount to a similar sum. In fifteen years’ time there will be a
thousand francs worth of wood to fell for every hundred francs’ worth
cut now, and the taxes will not cost the inhabitants a penny. This
Commune is bound to become one of the richest in France. But perhaps I
am taxing your patience, sir?” said Benassis, suddenly discovering that
his companion wore such a pensive expression that it seemed as though
his attention was wandering.

“No! no!” answered the commandant.

“Our trade, handicrafts, and agriculture so far only supplied the needs
of the district,” the doctor went on. “At a certain point our prosperity
came to a standstill. I wanted a post-office, and sellers of tobacco,
stationery, powder and shot. The receiver of taxes had hitherto
preferred to live elsewhere, but now I succeeded in persuading him
to take up his abode in the town, holding out as inducements the
pleasantness of the place and of the new society. As time and place
permitted I had succeeded in producing a supply of everything for which
I had first created a need, in attracting families of hardworking people
into the district, and in implanting a desire to own land in them all.
So by degrees, as they saved a little money, the waste land began to
be broken up; spade husbandry and small holdings increased; so did the
value of property on the mountain.

“Those struggling folk who, when I knew them first, used to walk over
to Grenoble carrying their few cheeses for sale, now made the journey
comfortably in a cart, and took fruit, eggs, chickens and turkeys, and
before they were aware of it, everyone was a little richer. Even those
who came off worst had a garden at any rate, and grew early vegetables
and fruit. It became the children’s work to watch the cattle in the
fields, and at last it was found to be a waste of time to bake bread at
home. Here were signs of prosperity!

“But if this place was to be a permanent forge of industry, fuel must
be constantly added to the fire. The town had not as yet a renascent
industry which could maintain this commercial process, an industry which
should make great transactions, a warehouse, and a market necessary. It
is not enough that a country should lose none of the money that forms
its capital; you will not increase its prosperity by more or less
ingenious devices for causing this amount to circulate, by means of
production and consumption, through the greatest possible number of
hands. That is not where your problem lies. When a country is fully
developed and its production keeps pace with its consumption, if private
wealth is to increase as well as the wealth of the community at large,
there must be exchanges with other communities, which will keep a
balance on the right side of the balance-sheet. This thought has let
states with a limited territorial basis like Tyre, Carthage, Venice,
Holland, and England, for instance, to secure the carrying trade. I cast
about for some such notion as this to apply to our little world, so as
to inaugurate a third commercial epoch. Our town is so much like any
other, that our prosperity was scarcely visible to a passing stranger;
it was only for me that it was astonishing. The folk had come together
by degrees; they themselves were a part of the change, and could not
judge of its effects as a whole.

“Seven years had gone by when I met with two strangers, the real
benefactors of the place, which perhaps some day they will transform
into a large town. One of them is a Tyrolese, an exceedingly clever
fellow, who makes rough shoes for country people’s wear, and boots for
people of fashion in Grenoble as no one can make them, not even in Paris
itself. He was a poor strolling musician, who, singing and working, had
made his way through Italy; one of those busy Germans who fashion the
tools of their own work, and make the instrument that they play upon.
When he came to the town he asked if any one wanted a pair of shoes.
They sent him to me, and I gave him an order for two pairs of boots, for
which he made his own lasts. The foreigner’s skill surprised me. He gave
accurate and consistent answers to the questions I put, and his face and
manner confirmed the good opinion I had formed of him. I suggested that
he should settle in the place, undertaking to assist him in business in
every way that I could; in fact, I put a fairly large sum of money at
his disposal. He accepted my offer. I had my own ideas in this. The
quality of our leather had improved; and why should we not use it
ourselves, and before very long make our own shoes at moderate prices?

“It was the basket-maker’s business over again on a larger scale. Chance
had put an exceedingly clever hard-working man in my way, and he must
be retained so that a steady and profitable trade might be given to
the place. There is a constant demand for foot-gear, and a very slight
difference in price is felt at once by the purchaser.

“This was my reasoning, sir, and fortunately events have justified it.
At this time we have five tanyards, each of which has its bark-mill.
They take all the hides produced in the department itself, and even
draw part of their supply from Provence; and yet the Tyrolese uses more
leather than they can produce, and has forty work-people in his employ!

“I happened on the other man after a fashion no whit less strange, but
you might find the story tedious. He is just an ordinary peasant, who
discovered a cheaper way of making the great broad-brimmed hats that are
worn in this part of the world. He sells them in other cantons, and even
sends them into Switzerland and Savoy. So long as the quality and the
low prices can be maintained, here are two inexhaustible sources
of wealth for the canton, which suggested to my mind the idea of
establishing three fairs in the year. The prefect, amazed at our
industrial progress, lent his aid in obtaining the royal ordinance which
authorized them, and last year we held our three fairs. They are known
as far as Savoy as the Shoe Fair and the Hat Fair.

“The head clerk of a notary in Grenoble heard of these changes. He was
poor, but he was a well-educated, hardworking young fellow, and Mlle.
Gravier was engaged to be married to him. He went to Paris to ask for an
authorization to establish himself here as a notary, and his request was
granted. As he had not to pay for his appointment, he could afford to
build a house in the market square of the new town, opposite the
house of the justice of the peace. We have a market once a week, and a
considerable amount of business is transacted in corn and cattle.

“Next year a druggist surely ought to come among us, and next we want a
clockmaker, a furniture dealer, and a bookseller; and so, by degrees,
we shall have all the desirable luxuries of life. Who knows but that at
last we shall have a number of substantial houses, and give ourselves
all the airs of a small city? Education has made such strides that there
has never been any opposition made at the council-board when I proposed
that we should restore our church and build a parsonage; nor when I
brought forward a plan for laying out a fine open space, planted with
trees, where the fairs could be held, and a further scheme for a
survey of the township, so that its future streets should be wholesome,
spacious, and wisely planned.

“This is how we came to have nineteen hundred hearths in the place of a
hundred and thirty-seven; three thousand head of cattle instead of
eight hundred; and for a population of seven hundred, no less than two
thousand persons are living in the township, or three thousand, if the
people down the valley are included. There are twelve houses belonging
to wealthy people in the Commune, there are a hundred well-to-do
families, and two hundred more which are thriving. The rest have their
own exertions to look to. Every one knows how to read and write, and we
subscribe to seventeen different newspapers.

“We have poor people still among us--there are far too many of them, in
fact; but we have no beggars, and there is work enough for all. I have
so many patients that my daily round taxes the powers of two horses. I
can go anywhere for five miles round at any hour without fear; for if
any one was minded to fire a shot at me, his life would not be worth
ten minutes’ purchase. The undemonstrative affection of the people is
my sole gain from all these changes, except the radiant ‘Good-day, M.
Benassis,’ that every one gives me as I pass. You will understand, of
course, that the wealth incidentally acquired through my model farms has
only been a means and not an end.”

“If every one followed your example in other places, sir, France would
be great indeed, and might laugh at the rest of Europe!” cried Genestas

“But I have kept you out here for half an hour,” said Benassis; “it is
growing dark, let us go in to dinner.”

The doctor’s house, on the side facing the garden, consists of a ground
floor and a single story, with a row of five windows in each, dormer
windows also project from the tiled mansard-roof. The green-painted
shutters are in startling contrast with the gray tones of the walls.
A vine wanders along the whole side of the house, a pleasant strip of
green like a frieze, between the two stories. A few struggling Bengal
roses make shift to live as best they may, half drowned at times by the
drippings from the gutterless eaves.

As you enter the large vestibule, the salon lies to your right; it
contains four windows, two of which look into the yard, and two into the
garden. Ceiling and wainscot are paneled, and the walls are hung with
seventeenth century tapestry--pathetic evidence that the room had been
the object of the late owner’s aspiration, and that he had lavished all
that he could spare upon it. The great roomy armchairs, covered with
brocaded damask; the old fashioned, gilded candle-sconces above the
chimney-piece, and the window curtains with their heavy tassels, showed
that the cure had been a wealthy man. Benassis had made some additions
to this furniture, which was not without a character of its own. He
had placed two smaller tables, decorated with carved wooden garlands,
between the windows on opposite sides of the room, and had put a clock,
in a case of tortoise shell, inlaid with copper, upon the mantel-shelf.
The doctor seldom occupied the salon; its atmosphere was damp and close,
like that of a room that is always kept shut. Memories of the dead cure
still lingered about it; the peculiar scent of his tobacco seemed to
pervade the corner by the hearth where he had been wont to sit. The
two great easy-chairs were symmetrically arranged on either side of the
fire, which had not been lighted since the time of M. Gravier’s visit;
the bright flames from the pine logs lighted the room.

“The evenings are chilly even now,” said Benassis; “it is pleasant to
see a fire.”

Genestas was meditating. He was beginning to understand the doctor’s
indifference to his every-day surroundings.

“It is surprising to me, sir, that you, who possess real public
spirit, should have made no effort to enlighten the Government, after
accomplishing so much.”

Benassis began to laugh, but without bitterness; he said, rather sadly:

“You mean that I should draw up some sort of memorial on various ways of
civilizing France? You are not the first to suggest it, sir; M. Gravier
has forestalled you. Unluckily, Governments cannot be enlightened, and a
Government which regards itself as a diffuser of light is the least open
to enlightenment. What we have done for our canton, every mayor ought,
of course, to do for his; the magistrate should work for his town, the
sub-prefect for his district, the prefect for the department, and the
minister for France, each acting in his own sphere of interest. For the
few miles of country road that I persuaded our people to make,
another would succeed in constructing a canal or a highway; and for
my encouragement of the peasants’ trade in hats, a minister would
emancipate France from the industrial yoke of the foreigner by
encouraging the manufacture of clocks in different places, by helping to
bring to perfection our iron and steel, our tools and appliances, or by
bringing silk or dyer’s woad into cultivation.

“In commerce, ‘encouragement,’ does not mean protection. A really wise
policy should aim at making a country independent of foreign supply,
but this should be effected without resorting to the pitiful shifts
of customs duties and prohibitions. Industries must work out their own
salvation, competition is the life of trade. A protected industry goes
to sleep, and monopoly, like the protective tariff, kills it outright.
The country upon which all others depend for their supplies will be the
land which will promulgate free trade, for it will be conscious of its
power to produce its manufactures at prices lower than those of any of
its competitors. France is in a better position to attain this end than
England, for France alone possesses an amount of territory sufficiently
extensive to maintain a supply of agricultural produce at prices that
will enable the worker to live on low wages; the Administration should
keep this end in view, for therein lies the whole modern question. I
have not devoted my life to this study, dear sir; I found my work by
accident, and late in the day. Such simple things as these are too
slight, moreover, to build into a system; there is nothing wonderful
about them, they do not lend themselves to theories; it is their
misfortune to be merely practically useful. And then work cannot be done
quickly. The man who means to succeed in these ways must daily look to
find within himself the stock of courage needed for the day, a courage
in reality of the rarest kind, though it does not seem hard to practise,
and meets with little recognition--the courage of the schoolmaster, who
must say the same things over and over again. We all honor the man who
has shed his blood on the battlefield, as you have done; but we ridicule
this other whose life-fire is slowly consumed in repeating the same
words to children of the same age. There is no attraction for any of us
in obscure well-doing. We know nothing of the civic virtue that led the
great men of ancient times to serve their country in the lowest rank
whenever they did not command. Our age is afflicted with a disease that
makes each of us seek to rise above his fellows, and there are more
saints than shrines among us.

“This is how it has come to pass. The monarchy fell, and we lost Honor,
Christian Virtue faded with the religion of our forefathers, and our own
ineffectual attempts at government have destroyed Patriotism. Ideas can
never utterly perish, so these beliefs linger on in our midst, but
they do not influence the great mass of the people, and Society has no
support but Egoism. Every individual believes in himself. For us the
future means egoism; further than that we cannot see. The great man who
shall save us from the shipwreck which is imminent will no doubt avail
himself of individualism when he makes a nation of us once more; but
until this regeneration comes, we bide our time in a materialistic and
utilitarian age. Utilitarianism--to this conclusion we have come. We
are all rated, not at our just worth, but according to our social
importance. People will scarcely look at an energetic man if he is
in shirt-sleeves. The Government itself is pervaded by this idea. A
minister sends a paltry medal to a sailor who has saved a dozen lives
at the risk of his own, while the deputy who sells his vote to those in
power receives the Cross of the Legion of Honor.

“Woe to a people made up of such men as these! For nations, like men,
owe all the strength and vitality that is in them to noble thoughts
and aspirations, and men’s feelings shape their faith. But when
self-interest has taken the place of faith and each one of us thinks
only of himself, and believes in himself alone, how can you expect to
find among us much of that civil courage whose very essence consists in
self-renunciation? The same principle underlies both military and civil
courage, although you soldiers are called upon to yield your lives up
once and for all, while ours are given slowly drop by drop, and the
battle is the same for both, although it takes different forms.

“The man who would fain civilize the lowliest spot on earth needs
something besides wealth for the task. Knowledge is still more
necessary; and knowledge, and patriotism, and integrity are worthless
unless they are accompanied by a firm determination on his part to set
his own personal interests completely aside, and to devote himself to a
social idea. France, no doubt, possesses more than one well-educated
man and more than one patriot in every commune; but I am fully
persuaded that not every canton can produce a man who to these valuable
qualifications unites the unflagging will and pertinacity with which a
blacksmith hammers out iron.

“The Destroyer and the Builder are two manifestations of Will; the one
prepares the way, and the other accomplishes the work; the first appears
in the guise of a spirit of evil, and the second seems like the spirit
of good. Glory falls to the Destroyer, while the Builder is forgotten;
for evil makes a noise in the world that rouses little souls to
admiration, while good deeds are slow to make themselves heard.
Self-love leads us to prefer the more conspicuous part. If it should
happen that any public work is undertaken without an interested motive,
it will only be by accident, until the day when education has changed
our ways of regarding things in France.

“Yet suppose that this change had come to pass, and that all of us
were public-spirited citizens; in spite of our comfortable lives among
trivialities, should we not be in a fair way to become the most wearied,
wearisome, and unfortunate race of philistines under the sun?

“I am not at the helm of State, the decision of great questions of this
kind is not within my province; but, setting these considerations aside,
there are other difficulties in the way of laying down hard and fast
rules as to government. In the matter of civilization, everything
is relative. Ideas that suit one country admirably are fatal in
another--men’s minds are as various as the soils of the globe. If we
have so often been ill governed, it is because a faculty for government,
like taste, is the outcome of a very rare and lofty attitude of mind.
The qualifications for the work are found in a natural bent of the soul
rather than in the possession of scientific formulae. No one need fear,
however, to call himself a statesman, for his actions and motives cannot
be justly estimated; his real judges are far away, and the results of
his deeds are even more remote. We have a great respect here in France
for men of ideas--a keen intellect exerts a great attraction for us;
but ideas are of little value where a resolute will is the one thing
needful. Administration, as a matter of fact, does not consist in
forcing more or less wise methods and ideas upon the great mass of
the nation, but in giving to the ideas, good or bad, that they already
possess a practical turn which will make them conduce to the general
welfare of the State. If old-established prejudices and customs bring a
country into a bad way, the people will renounce their errors of their
own accord. Are not losses the result of economical errors of every
kind? And is it not, therefore, to every one’s interest to rectify them
in the long run?

“Luckily I found a _tabula rasa_ in this district. They have followed my
advice, and the land is well cultivated; but there had been no previous
errors in agriculture, and the soil was good to begin with, so that it
has been easy to introduce the five-ply shift, artificial grasses,
and potatoes. My methods did not clash with people’s prejudices. The
faultily constructed plowshares in use in some parts of France were
unknown here, the hoe sufficed for the little field work that they did.
Our wheelwright extolled my wheeled plows because he wished to increase
his own business, so I secured an ally in him; but in this matter, as in
all others, I sought to make the good of one conduce to the good of all.

“Then I turned my attention to another kind of production, that should
increase the welfare rather than the wealth of these poor folk. I
have brought nothing from without into this district; I have simply
encouraged the people to seek beyond its limits for a market for their
produce, a measure that could not but increase their prosperity in a
way that they felt immediately. They had no idea of the fact, but they
themselves were my apostles, and their works preached my doctrines.
Something else must also be borne in mind. We are barely five leagues
from Grenoble. There is plenty of demand in a large city for produce of
all kinds, but not every commune is situated at the gates of a city. In
every similar undertaking the nature, situation, and resources of the
country must be taken into consideration, and a careful study must be
made of the soil, of the people themselves, and of many other things;
and no one should expect to have vines grow in Normandy. So no tasks
can be more various than those of government, and its general principles
must be few in number. The law is uniform, but not so the land and the
minds and customs of those who dwell in it; and the administration of
the law is the art of carrying it out in such a manner that no injury is
done to people’s interests. Every place must be considered separately.

“On the other side of the mountain at the foot of which our deserted
village lies, they find it impossible to use wheeled plows, because the
soil is not deep enough. Now if the mayor of the commune were to take
it into his head to follow in our footsteps, he would be the ruin of
his neighborhood. I advised him to plant vineyards; they had a capital
vintage last year in the little district, and their wine is exchanged
for our corn.

“Then, lastly, it must be remembered that my words carried a certain
weight with the people to whom I preached, and that we were continually
brought into close contact. I cured my peasants’ complaints; an easy
task, for a nourishing diet is, as a rule, all that is needed to restore
them to health and strength. Either through thrift, or through sheer
poverty, the country people starve themselves; any illness among them is
caused in this way, and as a rule they enjoy very fair health.

“When I first decided to devote myself to this life of obscure
renunciation, I was in doubt for a long while whether to become a cure,
a country doctor, or a justice of the peace. It is not without reason
that people speak collectively of the priest, the lawyer, and the doctor
as ‘men of the black robe’--so the saying goes. They represent the three
principal elements necessary to the existence of society--conscience,
property, and health. At one time the first, and at a later period the
second, was all-important in the State. Our predecessors on this earth
thought, perhaps not without reason, that the priest, who prescribed
what men should think, ought to be paramount; so the priest was king,
pontiff, and judge in one, for in those days belief and faith were
everything. All this has been changed in our day; and we must even take
our epoch as we find it. But I, for one, believe that the progress of
civilization and the welfare of the people depend on these three men.
They are the three powers who bring home to the people’s minds the ways
in which facts, interests, and principles affect them. They themselves
are three great results produced in the midst of the nation by the
operation of events, by the ownership of property, and by the growth of
ideas. Time goes on and brings changes to pass, property increases or
diminishes in men’s hands, all the various readjustments have to be duly
regulated, and in this way principles of social order are established.
If civilization is to spread itself, and production is to be increased,
the people must be made to understand the way in which the interests
of the individual harmonize with national interests which resolve
themselves into facts, interests, and principles. As these three
professions are bound to deal with these issues of human life, it seemed
to me that they must be the most powerful civilizing agencies of our
time. They alone afford to a man of wealth the opportunity of mitigating
the fate of the poor, with whom they daily bring him in contact.

“The peasant is always more willing to listen to the man who lays down
rules for saving him from bodily ills than to the priest who exhorts him
to save his soul. The first speaker can talk of this earth, the scene
of the peasant’s labors, while the priest is bound to talk to him of
heaven, with which, unfortunately, the peasant nowadays concerns himself
very little indeed; I say unfortunately, because the doctrine of a
future life is not only a consolation, but a means by which men may be
governed. Is not religion the one power that sanctions social laws? We
have but lately vindicated the existence of God. In the absence of a
religion, the Government was driven to invent the Terror, in order to
carry its laws into effect; but the terror was the fear of man, and it
has passed away.

“When a peasant is ill, when he is forced to lie on his pallet, and
while he is recovering, he cannot help himself, he is forced to listen
to logical reasoning, which he can understand quite well if it is put
clearly before him. This thought made a doctor of me. My calculations
for the peasants were made along with them. I never gave advice unless
I was quite sure of the results, and in this way compelled them to admit
the wisdom of my views. The people require infallibility. Infallibility
was the making of Napoleon; he would have been a god if he had not
filled the world with the sound of his fall at Waterloo. If Mahomet
founded a permanent religion after conquering the third part of the
globe, it was by dint of concealing his deathbed from the crowd. The
same rules hold good for the great conqueror and for the provincial
mayor, and a nation or a commune is much the same sort of crowd; indeed,
the great multitude of mankind is the same everywhere.

“I have been exceedingly firm with those whom I have helped with money;
if I had not been inflexible on this point, they all would have laughed
at me. Peasants, no less than worldlings, end by despising the man that
they can deceive. He has been cheated? Clearly, then, he must have been
weak; and it is might alone that governs the world. I have never charged
a penny for my professional advice, except to those who were evidently
rich people; but I have not allowed the value of my services to be
overlooked at all, and I always make them pay for medicine unless the
patient is exceedingly poor. If my peasants do not pay me in money, they
are quite aware that they are in my debt; sometimes they satisfy their
consciences by bringing oats for my horses, or corn, when it is cheap.
But if the miller were to send me some eels as a return for my advice,
I should tell him that he is too generous for such a small matter. My
politeness bears fruit. In the winter I shall have some sacks of flour
for the poor. Ah! sir, they have kind hearts, these people, if one does
not slight them, and to-day I think more good and less evil of them than
I did formerly.”

“What a deal of trouble you have taken!” said Genestas.

“Not at all,” answered Benassis. “It was no more trouble to say
something useful than to chatter about trifles; and whether I chatted
or joked, the talk always turned on them and their concerns wherever
I went. They would not listen to me at first. I had to overcome their
dislikes; I belonged to the middle classes--that is to say, I was
a natural enemy. I found the struggle amusing. An easy or an uneasy
conscience--that is all the difference that lies between doing well or
ill; the trouble is the same in either case. If scoundrels would but
behave themselves properly, they might be millionaires instead of being
hanged. That is all.”

“The dinner is growing cold, sir!” cried Jacquotte, in the doorway.

Genestas caught the doctor’s arm.

“I have only one comment to offer on what I have just heard,” he
remarked. “I am not acquainted with any account of the wars of Mahomet,
so that I can form no opinions as to his military talents; but if you
had only watched the Emperor’s tactics during the campaign in France,
you might well have taken him for a god; and if he was beaten on the
field of Waterloo, it was because he was more than mortal, it was
because the earth found his weight too heavy to bear, and sprang from
under his feet! On every other subject I entirely agree with you, and
_tonnerre de Dieu_! whoever hatched you did a good day’s work.”

“Come,” exclaimed Benassis with a smile, “let us sit down to dinner.”

The walls of the dining-room were paneled from floor to ceiling, and
painted gray. The furniture consisted of a few straw-bottomed chairs,
a sideboard, some cupboards, a stove, and the late owner’s celebrated
clock; there were white curtains in the window, and a white cloth on the
table, about which there was no sign of luxury. The dinner service was
of plain white earthenware; the soup, made after the traditions of the
late cure, was the most concentrated kind of broth that was ever set
to simmer by any mortal cook. The doctor and his guest had scarcely
finished it when a man rushed into the kitchen, and in spite of
Jacquotte, suddenly invaded the dining-room.

“Well, what is it?” asked the doctor.

“It is this, sir. The mistress, our Mme. Vigneau, has turned as white as
white can be, so that we are frightened about her.”

“Oh, well, then,” Benassis said cheerfully, “I must leave the table,”
 and he rose to go.

In spite of the doctor’s entreaties, Genestas flung down his
table-napkin, and swore in a soldierly fashion that he would not finish
his dinner without his host. He returned indeed to the salon; and as he
warmed himself by the fire, he thought over the troubles that no man may
escape, the troubles that are found in every lot that it falls to man to
endure here upon earth.

Benassis soon came back, and the two future friends sat down again.

“Taboureau has just come up to speak to you,” said Jacquotte to her
master, as she brought in the dishes that she had kept hot for them.

“Who can be ill at his place?” asked the doctor.

“No one is ill, sir. I think from what he said that it is some matter of
his own that he wants to ask you about; he is coming back again.”

“Very good. This Taboureau,” Benassis went on, addressing Genestas, “is
for me a whole philosophical treatise; take a good look at him when
he comes, he is sure to amuse you. He was a laborer, a thrifty,
hard-working man, eating little and getting through a good deal of
work. As soon as the rogue came to have a few crowns of his own, his
intelligence began to develop; he watched the progress which I had
originated in this little district with an eye to his own profit. He had
made quite a fortune in eight year’s time, that is to say, a fortune
for our part of the world. Very likely he may have a couple of score
thousand francs by now. But if I were to give you a thousand guesses,
you would never find out how he made the money. He is a usurer, and
his scheme of usury is so profoundly and so cleverly based upon the
requirements of the whole canton, that I should merely waste my time if
I were to take it upon myself to undeceive them as to the benefits which
they reap, in their own opinion, from their dealings with Taboureau.
When this devil of a fellow saw every one cultivating his own plot of
ground, he hurried about buying grain so as to supply the poor with the
requisite seed. Here, as everywhere else, the peasants and even some
of the farmers had no ready money with which to pay for seed. To some,
Master Taboureau would lend a sack of barley, for which he was to
receive a sack of rye at harvest time, and to others a measure of wheat
for a sack of four. At the present day the man has extended this curious
business of his all over the department; and unless something happens to
prevent him, he will go on and very likely make a million. Well, my
dear sir, Taboureau the laborer, an obliging, hard-working, good-natured
fellow, used to lend a helping hand to any one who asked him; but as
his gains have increased _Monsieur_ Taboureau has become litigious,
arrogant, and somewhat given to sharp practice. The more money he makes,
the worse he grows. The moment that the peasant forsakes his life
of toil pure and simple for the leisured existence of the landowning
classes, he becomes intolerable. There is a certain kind of character,
partly virtuous, partly vicious, half-educated, half-ignorant, which
will always be the despair of governments. You will see an example of it
in Taboureau. He looks simple, and even doltish; but when his interests
are in question, he is certainly profoundly clever.”

A heavy footstep announced the approach of the grain lender.

“Come in, Taboureau!” cried Benassis.

Thus forewarned by the doctor, the commandant scrutinized the peasant in
the doorway. Taboureau was decidedly thin, and stooped a little. He
had a bulging forehead, covered with wrinkles, and a cavernous face, in
which two small gray eyes with a dark spot in either of them seemed to
be pierced rather than set. The lines of the miser’s mouth were close
and firm, and his narrow chin turned up to meet an exaggeratedly
hooked nose. His hair was turning gray already, and deep furrows which
converged above the prominent cheek-bones spoke of the wily shrewdness
of a horse-dealer and of a life spent in journeying about. He wore a
blue coat in fairly clean condition, the square side-pocket flaps stuck
out above his hips, and the skirts of the coats hung loose in front,
so that a white-flowered waistcoat was visible. There he stood firmly
planted on both feet, leaning upon a thick stick with a knob at the
end of it. A little spaniel had followed the grain-dealer, in spite of
Jacquotte’s efforts, and was crouching beside him.

“Well, what is it?” Benassis asked as he turned to this being.

Taboureau gave a suspicious glance at the stranger seated at the
doctor’s table, and said:

“It is not a case of illness, _M. le Maire_, but you understand how to
doctor the ailments of the purse just as well as those of the body. We
have had a little difficulty with a man over at Saint-Laurent, and I
have come to ask your advice about it.”

“Why not see the justice of the peace or his clerk?”

“Oh, because you are so much cleverer, sir, and I shall feel more sure
about my case if I can have your countenance.”

“My good Taboureau, I am willing to give medical advice to the poor
without charging for it; but I cannot look into the lawsuits of a
man who is as wealthy as you are for nothing. It costs a good deal to
acquire that kind of knowledge.”

Taboureau began to twist his hat about.

“If you want my advice, in order to save the hard coin you would have to
pay to the lawyer folk over in Grenoble, you must send a bag of rye to
the widow Martin, the woman who is bringing up the charity children.”

“_Dame_! I will do it with all my heart, sir, if you think it necessary.
Can I talk about this business of mine without troubling the gentleman
there?” he added, with a look at Genestas.

The doctor nodded, so Taboureau went on.

“Well, then, sir, two months ago a man from Saint-Laurent came over here
to find me. ‘Taboureau,’ said he to me, ‘could you sell me a hundred and
thirty-seven measures of barley?’ ‘Why not?’ say I, ‘that is my trade.
Do you want it immediately?’ ‘No,’ he says, ‘I want it for the beginning
of spring, in March.’ So far, so good. Well, we drive our bargain, and
we drink a glass, and we agree that he is to pay me the price that the
barley fetched at Grenoble last market day, and I am to deliver it
in March. I am to warehouse it at owner’s risk, and no allowance for
shrinkage of course. But barley goes up and up, my dear sir; the barley
rises like boiling milk. Then I am hard up for money, and I sell my
barley. Quite natural, sir, was it not?”

“No,” said Benassis, “the barley had passed out of your possession, you
were only warehousing it. And suppose the barley had gone down in value,
would you not have compelled your buyer to take it at the price you
agreed upon?”

“But very likely he would not have paid me, sir. One must look out for
oneself! The seller ought to make a good profit when the chance comes in
his way; and, after, all the goods are not yours until you have paid for
them. That is so, _Monsieur l’Officier_, is it not? For you can see that
the gentleman has been in the army.”

“Taboureau,” Benassis said sternly, “ill luck will come to you. Sooner
or later God punishes ill deeds. How can you, knowing as much as you do,
a capable man moreover, and a man who conducts his business honorably,
set examples of dishonesty to the canton? If you allow such proceedings
as this to be taken against you, how can you expect that the poor will
remain honest people and will not rob you? Your laborers will cheat
you out of part of their working hours, and every one here will be
demoralized. You are in the wrong. Your barley was as good as delivered.
If the man from Saint-Laurent had fetched it himself, you would not have
gone there to take it away from him; you have sold something that was no
longer yours to sell, for your barley had already been turned into money
which was to be paid down at the stipulated time. But go on.”

Genestas gave the doctor a significant glance, to call his attention
to Taboureau’s impassive countenance. Not a muscle had stirred in the
usurer’s face during this reprimand; there was no flush on his forehead,
and no sign of emotion in his little eyes.

“Well, sir, I am called upon to supply the barley at last winter’s
price. Now _I_ consider that I am not bound to do so.”

“Look here, Taboureau, deliver that barley and be very quick about it,
or make up your mind to be respected by nobody in the future. Even if
you gained the day in a case like this, you would be looked upon as
an unscrupulous man who does not keep to his word, and is not bound by
promises, or by honor, or----”

“Go on, there is nothing to be afraid of; tell me that I am a scamp, a
scoundrel, a thief outright. You can say things like that in business
without insulting anybody, M. le Maire. ‘Tis each for himself in
business, you know.”

“Well, then, why deliberately put yourself in a position in which you
deserve to be called by such names?”

“But if the law is on my side, sir?”

“But the law will certainly _not_ be on your side.”

“Are you quite sure about it, sir? Certain sure? For you see it is an
important matter.”

“Certainly I am. Quite sure. If I were not at dinner, I would have down
the code, and you should see for yourself. If the case comes on, you
will lose it, and you will never set foot in my house again, for I do
not wish to receive people whom I do not respect. Do you understand? You
will lose your case.”

“Oh! no, not at all, I shall not lose it, sir,” said Taboureau. “You
see, sir, it is this way; it is the man from Saint-Laurent who owes _me_
the barley; I bought it of him, and now he refuses to deliver it. I just
wanted to make quite certain that I should gain my case before going to
any expense at court about it.”

Genestas and the doctor exchanged glances; each concealed his amazement
at the ingenious device by which the man had sought to learn the truth
about this point of law.

“Very well, Taboureau, your man is a swindler; you should not make
bargains with such people.”

“Ah! sir, they understand business, those people do.”

“Good-bye, Taboureau.”

“Your servant, gentlemen.”

“Well, now,” remarked Benassis, when the usurer had gone, “if that
fellow were in Paris, do you not think that he would be a millionaire
before very long?”

After dinner, the doctor and his visitor went back to the salon, and
all the rest of the evening until bedtime they talked about war and
politics; Genestas evincing a most violent dislike of the English in the
course of conversation.

“May I know whom I have the honor of entertaining as a guest?” asked the

“My name is Pierre Bluteau,” answered Genestas; “I am a captain
stationed at Grenoble.”

“Very well, sir. Do you care to adopt M. Gravier’s plan? In the morning
after breakfast he liked to go on my rounds with me. I am not at all
sure that you would find anything to interest you in the things that
occupy me--they are so very commonplace. For, after all, you own no land
about here, nor are you the mayor of the place, and you will see nothing
in the canton that you cannot see elsewhere; one thatched cottage is
just like another. Still you will be in the open air, and you will have
something to take you out of doors.”

“No proposal could give me more pleasure. I did not venture to make it
myself, lest I should thrust myself upon you.”

Commandant Genestas (who shall keep his own name in spite of the
fictitious appellation which he had thought fit to give himself)
followed his host to a room on the first floor above the salon.

“That is right,” said Benassis, “Jacquotte has lighted a fire for you.
If you want anything, there is a bell-pull close to the head of the

“I am not likely to want anything, however small, it seems to me,”
 exclaimed Genestas. “There is even a boot-jack. Only an old trooper
knows what a boot-jack is worth! There are times, when one is out on a
campaign, sir, when one is ready to burn down a house to come by a knave
of a boot-jack. After a few marches, one on the top of another, or above
all, after an engagement, there are times when a swollen foot and the
soaked leather will not part company, pull as you will; I have had to
lie down in my boots more than once. One can put up with the annoyance
so long as one is by oneself.”

The commandant’s wink gave a kind of profound slyness to his last
utterance; then he began to make a survey. Not without surprise, he saw
that the room was neatly kept, comfortable, and almost luxurious.

“What splendor!” was his comment. “Your own room must be something

“Come and see,” said the doctor; “I am your neighbor, there is nothing
but the staircase between us.”

Genestas was again surprised when he entered the doctor’s room,
a bare-looking apartment with no adornment on the walls save an
old-fashioned wall-paper of a yellowish tint with a pattern of brown
roses over it; the color had gone in patches here and there. There was
a roughly painted iron bedstead, two gray cotton curtains were suspended
from a wooden bracket above it, and a threadbare strip of carpet lay
at the foot; it was like a bed in a hospital. By the bed-head stood a
rickety cupboard on four feet with a door that continually rattled with
a sound like castanets. Three chairs and a couple of straw-bottomed
armchairs stood about the room, and on a low chest of drawers in walnut
wood stood a basin, and a ewer of obsolete pattern with a lid, which
was kept in place by a leaden rim round the top of the vessel. This
completed the list of the furniture.

The grate was empty. All the apparatus required for shaving lay about in
front of an old mirror suspended above the painted stone chimney-piece
by a bit of string. The floor was clean and carefully swept, but it was
worn and splintered in various places, and there were hollows in it here
and there. Gray cotton curtains bordered with a green fringe adorned the
two windows. The scrupulous cleanliness maintained by Jacquotte gave a
certain air of distinction to this picture of simplicity, but everything
in it, down to the round table littered with stray papers, and the very
pens on the writing-desk, gave the idea of an almost monastic life--a
life so wholly filled with thought and feeling of a wider kind that
outward surroundings had come to be matters of no moment. An open door
allowed the commandant to see the smaller room, which doubtless the
doctor seldom occupied. It was scarcely kept in the same condition as
the adjoining apartment; a few dusty books lay strewn about over the no
less dusty shelves, and from the rows of labeled bottles it was easy to
guess that the place was devoted rather to the dispensing of drugs than
scientific studies.

“Why this difference between your room and mine, you will ask?” said
Benassis. “Listen a moment. I have always blushed for those who put
their guests in the attics, who furnish them with mirrors that distort
everything to such a degree that any one beholding himself might think
that he was smaller or larger than nature made him, or suffering from
apoplectic stroke or some other bad complaint. Ought we not to do our
utmost to make a room as pleasant as possible during the time that
our friend can be with us? Hospitality, to my thinking, is a virtue,
a pleasure, and a luxury; but in whatever light it is considered, nay,
even if you regard it as a speculation, ought not our guest or our
friend to be made much of? Ought not every refinement of luxury to be
reserved for him?

“So the best furniture is put into your room, where a thick carpet is
laid down; there are hangings on the walls, and a clock and wax candles;
and for you Jacquotte will do her best, she has no doubt brought
a night-light, and a pair of new slippers and some milk, and her
warming-pan too for your benefit. I hope that you will find that
luxurious armchair the most comfortable seat you have ever sat in, it
was a discovery of the late cure’s; I do not know where he found it, but
it is a fact that if you wish to meet with the perfection of comfort,
beauty, or convenience, you must ask counsel of the Church. Well, I hope
that you will find everything in your room to your liking. You will find
some good razors and excellent soap, and all the trifling details that
make one’s own home so pleasant. And if my views on the subject of
hospitality should not at once explain the difference between your room
and mine, to-morrow, M. Bluteau, you will arrive at a wonderfully clear
comprehension of the bareness of my room and the untidy condition of my
study, when you see all the continual comings and goings here. Mine is
not an indoor life, to begin with. I am almost always out of the house,
and if I stay at home, peasants come in at every moment to speak to
me. My body and soul and house are all theirs. Why should I worry about
social conventions in these matters, or trouble myself over the damage
unintentionally done to floors and furniture by these worthy folk? Such
things cannot be helped. Luxury properly belongs to the boudoir and the
guest-chamber, to great houses and chateaux. In short, as I scarcely do
more than sleep here, what do I want with superfluities of wealth? You
do not know, moreover, how little I care for anything in this world.”

They wished each other a friendly good-night with a warm shake of the
hand, and went to bed. But before the commandant slept, he came to more
than one conclusion as to the man who hour by hour grew greater in his


The first thing next morning Genestas went to the stable, drawn thither
by the affection that every man feels for the horse that he rides.
Nicolle’s method of rubbing down the animal was quite satisfactory.

“Up already, Commandant Bluteau?” cried Benassis, as he came upon his
guest. “You hear the drum beat in the morning wherever you go, even in
the country! You are a regular soldier!”

“Are you all right?” replied Genestas, holding out his hand with a
friendly gesture.

“I am never really all right,” answered Benassis, half merrily, half

“Did you sleep well, sir?” inquired Jacquotte.

“Faith, yes, my beauty; the bed as you made it was fit for a queen.”

Jacquotte’s face beamed as she followed her master and his guest,
and when she had seen them seat themselves at table, she remarked to

“He is not a bad sort, after all, that officer gentleman.”

“I am sure he is not, he has given me two francs already.”

“We will begin to-day by calling at two places where there have been
deaths,” Benassis said to his visitor as they left the dining-room.
“Although doctors seldom deign to confront their supposed victims, I
will take you round to the two houses, where you will be able to make
some interesting observations of human nature; and the scenes to which
you will be a witness will show you that in the expression of their
feelings our folk among the hills differ greatly from the dwellers in
the lowlands. Up among the mountain peaks in our canton they cling to
customs that bear the impress of an older time, and that vaguely recall
scenes in the Bible. Nature has traced out a line over our mountain
ranges; the whole appearance of the country is different on either side
of it. You will find strength of character up above, flexibility and
quickness below; they have larger ways of regarding things among the
hills, while the bent of the lowlands is always towards the material
interests of existence. I have never seen a difference so strongly
marked, unless it has been in the Val d’Ajou, where the northern side is
peopled by a tribe of idiots, and the southern by an intelligent race.
There is nothing but a stream in the valley bottom to separate these two
populations, which are utterly dissimilar in every respect, as different
in face and stature as in manners, customs, and occupation. A fact
of this kind should compel those who govern a country to make very
extensive studies of local differences before passing laws that are to
affect the great mass of the people. But the horses are ready, let us

In a short time the two horsemen reached a house in a part of the
township that was overlooked by the mountains of the Grande Chartreuse.
Before the door of the dwelling, which was fairly clean and tidy, they
saw a coffin set upon two chairs, and covered with a black pall. Four
tall candles stood about it, and on a stool near by there was a shallow
brass dish full of holy water, in which a branch of green box-wood was
steeping. Every passer-by went into the yard, knelt by the side of the
dead, said a _Pater noster_, and sprinkled a few drops of holy water on
the bier. Above the black cloth that covered the coffin rose the green
sprays of a jessamine that grew beside the doorway, and a twisted vine
shoot, already in leaf, overran the lintel. Even the saddest ceremonies
demand that things shall appear to the best advantage, and in obedience
to this vaguely-felt requirement a young girl had been sweeping the
front of the house. The dead man’s eldest son, a young peasant
about twenty-two years of age, stood motionless, leaning against the
door-post. The tears in his eyes came and went without falling, or
perhaps he furtively brushed them away. Benassis and Genestas saw
all the details of this scene as they stood beyond the low wall; they
fastened their horses to one of the row of poplar trees that grew along
it, and entered the yard just as the widow came out of the byre. A woman
carrying a jug of milk was with her, and spoke.

“Try to bear up bravely, my poor Pelletier,” she said.

“Ah! my dear, after twenty-five years of life together, it is very hard
to lose your man,” and her eyes brimmed over with tears. “Will you pay
the two sous?” she added, after a moment, as she held out her hand to
her neighbor.

“There, now! I had forgotten about it,” said the other woman, giving her
the coin. “Come, neighbor, don’t take on so. Ah! there is M. Benassis!”

“Well, poor mother, how are you going on? A little better?” asked the

“_Dame_!” she said, as the tears fell fast, “we must go on, all the
same, that is certain. I tell myself that my man is out of pain now. He
suffered so terribly! But come inside, sir. Jacques, set some chairs for
these gentlemen. Come, stir yourself a bit. Lord bless you! if you were
to stop there for a century, it would not bring your poor father back
again. And now, you will have to do the work of two.”

“No, no good woman, leave your son alone, we will not sit down. You have
a boy there who will take care of you, and who is quite fit to take his
father’s place.”

“Go and change your clothes, Jacques,” cried the widow; “you will be
wanted directly.”

“Well, good-bye, mother,” said Benassis.

“Your servant, gentlemen.”

“Here, you see, death is looked upon as an event for which every one is
prepared,” said the doctor; “it brings no interruption to the course of
family life, and they will not even wear mourning of any kind. No one
cares to be at the expense of it; they are all either too poor or too
parsimonious in the villages hereabouts, so that mourning is unknown
in country districts. Yet the custom of wearing mourning is something
better than a law or a usage, it is an institution somewhat akin to all
moral obligations. But in spite of our endeavors neither M. Janvier nor
I have succeeded in making our peasants understand the great importance
of public demonstrations of feeling for the maintenance of social
order. These good folk, who have only just begun to think and act for
themselves, are slow as yet to grasp the changed conditions which should
attach them to these theories. They have only reached those ideas which
conduce to economy and to physical welfare; in the future, if some one
else carries on this work of mine, they will come to understand the
principles that serve to uphold and preserve public order and justice.
As a matter of fact, it is not sufficient to be an honest man, you must
appear to be honest in the eyes of others. Society does not live by
moral ideas alone; its existence depends upon actions in harmony with
those ideas.

“In most country communes, out of a hundred families deprived by death
of their head, there are only a few individuals capable of feeling more
keenly than the others, who will remember the deaths for very long; in
a year’s time the rest will have forgotten all about it. Is not this
forgetfulness a sore evil? A religion is the very heart of a nation; it
expresses their feelings and their thoughts, and exalts them by giving
them an object; but unless outward and visible honor is paid to a God,
religion cannot exist; and, as a consequence, human ordinances lose all
their force. If the conscience belongs to God and to Him only, the body
is amenable to social law. Is it not therefore, a first step towards
atheism to efface every sign of pious sorrow in this way, to neglect to
impress on children who are not yet old enough to reflect, and on all
other people who stand in need of example, the necessity of obedience to
human law, by openly manifested resignation to the will of Providence,
who chastens and consoles, who bestows and takes away worldly wealth? I
confess that, after passing through a period of sneering incredulity,
I have come during my life here to recognize the value of the rites of
religion and of religious observances in the family, and to discern the
importance of household customs and domestic festivals. The family will
always be the basis of human society. Law and authority are first felt
there; there, at any rate, the habit of obedience should be learned.
Viewed in the light of all their consequences, the spirit of the family
and paternal authority are two elements but little developed as yet
in our new legislative system. Yet in the family, the commune, the
department, lies the whole of our country. The laws ought therefore to
be based on these three great divisions.

“In my opinion, marriages, the birth of infants, and the deaths of
heads of households cannot be surrounded with too much circumstance. The
secret of the strength of Catholicism, and of the deep root that it has
taken in the ordinary life of man, lies precisely in this--that it steps
in to invest every important event in his existence with a pomp that
is so naively touching, and so grand, whenever the priest rises to
the height of his mission and brings his office into harmony with the
sublimity of Christian doctrine.

“Once I looked upon the Catholic religion as a cleverly exploited mass
of prejudices and superstitions, which an intelligent civilization
ought to deal with according to its desserts. Here I have discovered its
political necessity and its usefulness as a moral agent; here, moreover,
I have come to understand its power, through a knowledge of the actual
thing which the word expresses. Religion means a bond or tie, and
certainly a cult--or, in other words, the outward and visible form of
religion is the only force that can bind the various elements of society
together and mould them into a permanent form. Lastly, it was also here
that I have felt the soothing influence that religion sheds over the
wounds of humanity, and (without going further into the subject) I have
seen how admirably it is suited to the fervid temperaments of southern

“Let us take the road up the hillside,” said the doctor, interrupting
himself; “we must reach the plateau up there. Thence we shall look down
upon both valleys, and you will see a magnificent view. The plateau lies
three thousand feet above the level of the Mediterranean; we shall see
over Savoy and Dauphine, and the mountain ranges of the Lyonnais and
Rhone. We shall be in another commune, a hill commune, and on a farm
belonging to M. Gravier you will see the kind of scene of which I have
spoken. There the great events of life are invested with a solemnity
which comes up to my ideas. Mourning for the dead is vigorously
prescribed. Poor people will beg in order to purchase black clothing,
and no one refuses to give in such a case. There are few days in which
the widow does not mention her loss; she always speaks of it with tears,
and her grief is as deep after ten days of sorrow as on the morning
after her bereavement. Manners are patriarchal: the father’s authority
is unlimited, his word is law. He takes his meals sitting by himself at
the head of the table; his wife and children wait upon him, and those
about him never address him without using certain respectful forms of
speech, while every one remains standing and uncovered in his presence.
Men brought up in this atmosphere are conscious of their dignity; to my
way of thinking, it is a noble education to be brought up among
these customs. And, for the most part, they are upright, thrifty, and
hardworking people in this commune. The father of every family, when he
is old and past work, divides his property equally among his children,
and they support him; that is the usual way here. An old man of ninety,
in the last century, who had divided everything he had among his four
children, went to live with each in turn for three months in the year.
As he left the oldest to go to the home of a younger brother, one of
his friends asked him, ‘Well, are you satisfied with the arrangement?’
‘Faith! yes,’ the old man answered; ‘they have treated me as if I had
been their own child.’ That answer of his seemed so remarkable to an
officer then stationed at Grenoble, that he repeated it in more than one
Parisian salon. That officer was the celebrated moralist Vauvenargues,
and in this way the beautiful saying came to the knowledge of another
writer named Chamfort. Ah! still more forcible phrases are often struck
out among us, but they lack a historian worthy of them.”

“I have come across Moravians and Lollards in Bohemia and Hungary,” said
Genestas. “They are a kind of people something like your mountaineers,
good folk who endure the sufferings of war with angelic patience.”

“Men living under simple and natural conditions are bound to be almost
alike in all countries. Sincerity of life takes but one form. It is true
that a country life often extinguishes thought of a wider kind; but evil
propensities are weakened and good qualities are developed by it. In
fact, the fewer the numbers of the human beings collected together in a
place, the less crime, evil thinking, and general bad behavior will
be found in it. A pure atmosphere counts for a good deal in purity of

The two horsemen, who had been climbing the stony road at a foot pace,
now reached the level space of which Benassis had spoken. It is a strip
of land lying round about the base of a lofty mountain peak, a bare
surface of rock with no growth of any kind upon it; deep clefts are
riven in its sheer inaccessible sides. The gray crest of the summit
towers above the ledge of fertile soil which lies around it, a domain
sometimes narrower, sometimes wider, and altogether about a hundred
acres in extent. Here, through a vast break in the line of the hills to
the south, the eye sees French Maurienne, Dauphine, the crags of Savoy,
and the far-off mountains of the Lyonnais. Genestas was gazing from this
point, over a land that lay far and wide in the spring sunlight, when
there arose the sound of a wailing cry.

“Let us go on,” said Benassis; “the wail for the dead has begun, that is
the name they give to this part of the funeral rites.”

On the western slope of the mountain peak, the commandant saw the
buildings belonging to a farm of some size. The whole place formed a
perfect square. The gateway consisted of a granite arch, impressive in
its solidity, which added to the old-world appearance of the buildings
with the ancient trees that stood about them, and the growth of plant
life on the roofs. The house itself lay at the farther end of the yard.
Barns, sheepfolds, stables, cowsheds, and other buildings lay on either
side, and in the midst was the great pool where the manure had been laid
to rot. On a thriving farm, such a yard as this is usually full of life
and movement, but to-day it was silent and deserted. The poultry was
shut up, the cattle were all in the byres, there was scarcely a sound of
animal life. Both stables and cowsheds had been carefully swept across
the yard. The perfect neatness which reigned in a place where everything
as a rule was in disorder, the absence of stirring life, the stillness
in so noisy a spot, the calm serenity of the hills, the deep shadow cast
by the towering peak--everything combined to make a strong impression on
the mind.

Genestas was accustomed to painful scenes, yet he could not help
shuddering as he saw a dozen men and women standing weeping outside the
door of the great hall. “_The master is dead!_” they wailed; the unison
of voices gave appalling effect to the words which they repeated twice
during the time required to cross the space between the gateway and the
farmhouse door. To this wailing lament succeeded moans from within the
house; the sound of a woman’s voice came through the casements.

“I dare not intrude upon such grief as this,” said Genestas to Benassis.

“I always go to visit a bereaved family,” the doctor answered, “either
to certify the death, or to see that no mischance caused by grief has
befallen the living. You need not hesitate to come with me. The scene is
impressive, and there will be such a great many people that no one will
notice your presence.”

As Genestas followed the doctor, he found, in fact, that the first room
was full of relations of the dead. They passed through the crowd and
stationed themselves at the door of a bedroom that opened out of
the great hall which served the whole family for a kitchen and a
sitting-room; the whole colony, it should rather be called, for the
great length of the table showed that some forty people lived in
the house. Benassis’ arrival interrupted the discourse of a tall,
simply-dressed woman, with thin locks of hair, who held the dead man’s
hand in hers in a way that spoke eloquently.

The dead master of the house had been arrayed in his best clothes, and
now lay stretched out cold and stiff upon the bed. They had drawn the
curtains aside; the thought of heaven seemed to brood over the quiet
face and the white hair--it was like the closing scene of a drama. On
either side of the bed stood the children and the nearest relations of
the husband and wife. These last stood in a line on either side; the
wife’s kin upon the left, and those of her husband on the right. Both
men and women were kneeling in prayer, and almost all of them were in
tears. Tall candles stood about the bed. The cure of the parish and his
assistants had taken their places in the middle of the room, beside the
bier. There was something tragical about the scene, with the head of the
family lying before the coffin, which was waiting to be closed down upon
him forever.

“Ah!” cried the widow, turning as she saw Benassis, “if the skill of
the best of men could not save you, my dear lord, it was because it was
ordained in heaven that you should precede me to the tomb! Yes, this
hand of yours, that used to press mine so kindly, is cold! I have lost
my dear helpmate for ever, and our household has lost its beloved head,
for truly you were the guide of us all! Alas! there is not one of those
who are weeping with me who has not known all the worth of your nature,
and felt the light of your soul, but I alone knew all the patience and
the kindness of your heart. Oh! my husband, my husband! must I bid you
farewell for ever? Farewell to you, our stay and support! Farewell to
you, my dear master! And we, your children,--for to each of us you gave
the same fatherly love,--all we, your children, have lost our father!”

The widow flung herself upon the dead body and clasped it in a tight
embrace, as if her kisses and the tears with which she covered it could
give it warmth again; during the pause, came the wail of the servants:

“_The master is dead!_”

“Yes,” the widow went on, “he is dead! Our beloved who gave us our
bread, who sowed and reaped for us, who watched over our happiness, who
guided us through life, who ruled so kindly among us. _Now_, I may speak
in his praise, and say that he never caused me the slightest sorrow; he
was good and strong and patient. Even while we were torturing him for
the sake of his health, so precious to us, ‘Let it be, children, it is
all no use,’ the dear lamb said, just in the same tone of voice with
which he had said, ‘Everything is all right, friends,’ only a few days
before. Ah! _grand Dieu_! a few days ago! A few days have been enough to
take away the gladness from our house and to darken our lives, to close
the eyes of the best, most upright, most revered of men. No one could
plow as he could. Night or day, he would go about over the mountains, he
feared nothing, and when he came back he had always a smile for his wife
and children. Ah! he was our beloved! It was dull here by the fireside
when _he_ was away, and our food lost all its relish. Oh! how will it be
now, when our guardian angel will be laid away under the earth, and we
shall never see him any more? Never any more, dear kinsfolk and friends;
never any more, my children! Yes, my children have lost their kind
father, our relations and friends have lost their good kinsman and
their trusty friend, the household has lost its master, and I have lost

She took the hand of the dead again, and knelt, so that she might press
her face close to his as she kissed it. The servants’ cry, “_The master
is dead!_” was again repeated three times.

Just then the eldest son came to his mother to say, “The people from
Saint-Laurent have just come, mother; we want some wine for them.”

“Take the keys,” she said in a low tone, and in a different voice from
that in which she had just expressed her grief; “you are the master of
the house, my son; see that they receive the welcome that your father
would have given them; do not let them find any change.

“Let me have one more long look,” she went on. “But alas! my good
husband, you do not feel my presence now, I cannot bring back warmth to
you! I only wish that I could comfort you still, could let you know that
so long as I live you will dwell in the heart that you made glad, could
tell you that I shall be happy in the memory of my happiness--that
the dear thought of you will live on in this room. Yes, as long as God
spares me, this room shall be filled with memories of you. Hear my vow,
dear husband! Your couch shall always remain as it is now. I will sleep
in it no more, since you are dead; henceforward, while I live, it shall
be cold and empty. With you, I have lost all that makes a woman: her
master, husband, father, friend, companion, and helpmate: I have lost

“_The master is dead!_” the servants wailed. Others raised the cry, and
the lament became general. The widow took a pair of scissors that hung
at her waist, cut off her hair, and laid the locks in her husband’s
hand. Deep silence fell on them all.

“That act means that she will not marry again,” said Benassis; “this
determination was expected by many of the relatives.”

“Take it, dear lord!” she said; her emotion brought a tremor to her
voice that went to the hearts of all who heard her. “I have sworn to be
faithful; I give this pledge to you to keep in the grave. We shall thus
be united for ever, and through love of your children I will live on
among the family in whom you used to feel yourself young again. Oh! that
you could hear me, my husband! the pride and joy of my heart! Oh! that
you could know that all my power to live, now you are dead, will yet
come from you; for I shall live to carry out your sacred wishes and to
honor your memory.”

Benassis pressed Genestas’ hand as an invitation to follow him, and they
went out. By this time the first room was full of people who had come
from another mountain commune; all of them waited in meditative silence,
as if the sorrow and grief that brooded over the house had already
taken possession of them. As Benassis and the commandant crossed the
threshold, they overheard a few words that passed between one of the
newcomers and the eldest son of the late owner.

“Then when did he die?”

“Oh!” exclaimed the eldest son, a man of five-and-twenty years of age,
“I did not see him die. He asked for me, and I was not there!” His voice
was broken with sobs, but he went on: “He said to me the night before,
‘You must go over to the town, my boy, and pay our taxes; my funeral
will put that out of your minds, and we shall be behindhand, a thing
that has never happened before.’ It seemed the best thing to do, so
I went; and while I was gone, he died, and I never received his last
embrace. I have always been at his side, but he did not see me near him
at the last in my place where I had always been.”

“_The master is dead!_”

“Alas! he is dead, and I was not there to receive his last words and
his latest sigh. And what did the taxes matter? Would it not have been
better to lose all our money than to leave home just then? Could all
that we have make up to me for the loss of his last farewell. No. _Mon
Dieu!_ If _your_ father falls ill, Jean, do not go away and leave him,
or you will lay up a lifelong regret for yourself.”

“My friend,” said Genestas, “I have seen thousands of men die on the
battlefield; death did not wait to let their children bid them farewell;
take comfort, you are not the only one.”

“But a father who was such a good man!” he replied, bursting into fresh

Benassis took Genestas in the direction of the farm buildings.

“The funeral oration will only cease when the body has been laid in its
coffin,” said the doctor, “and the weeping woman’s language will grow
more vivid and impassioned all the while. But a woman only acquires
the right to speak in such a strain before so imposing an audience by a
blameless life. If the widow could reproach herself with the smallest
of shortcomings, she would not dare to utter a word; for if she did, she
would pronounce her own condemnation, she would be at the same time her
own accuser and judge. Is there not something sublime in this custom
which thus judges the living and the dead? They only begin to wear
mourning after a week has elapsed, when it is publicly worn at a meeting
of all the family. Their near relations spend the week with the widow
and children, to help them to set their affairs in order and to console
them. A family gathering at such a time produces a great effect on the
minds of the mourners; the consideration for others which possesses men
when they are brought into close contact acts as a restraint on violent
grief. On the last day, when the mourning garb has been assumed, a
solemn banquet is given, and their relations take leave of them. All
this is taken very seriously. Any one who was slack in fulfilling his
duties after the death of the head of a family would have no one at his
own funeral.”

The doctor had reached the cowhouse as he spoke; he opened the door and
made the commandant enter, that he might show it to him.

“All our cowhouses have been rebuilt after this pattern, captain. Look!
Is it not magnificent?”

Genestas could not help admiring the huge place. The cows and oxen stood
in two rows, with their tails towards the side walls, and their heads
in the middle of the shed. Access to the stalls was afforded by a fairly
wide space between them and the wall; you could see their horned heads
and shining eyes through the lattice work, so that it was easy for the
master to run his eyes over the cattle. The fodder was placed on some
staging erected above the stalls, so that it fell into the racks below
without waste of labor or material. There was a wide-paved space down
the centre, which was kept clean, and ventilated by a thorough draught
of air.

“In the winter time,” Benassis said, as he walked with Genestas down the
middle of the cowhouse, “both men and women do their work here together
in the evenings. The tables are set out here, and in this way the people
keep themselves warm without going to any expense. The sheep are housed
in the same way. You would not believe how quickly the beasts fall into
orderly ways. I have often wondered to see them come in; each knows her
proper place, and allows those who take precedence to pass in before
her. Look! there is just room enough in each stall to do the milking
and to rub the cattle down; and the floor slopes a little to facilitate

“One can judge of everything else from the sight of this cowhouse,” said
Genestas; “without flattery, these are great results indeed!”

“We have had some trouble to bring them about,” Benassis answered; “but
then, see what fine cattle they are!”

“They are splendid beasts certainly; you had good reason to praise them
to me,” answered Genestas.

“Now,” said the doctor, when he had mounted his horse and passed under
the gateway, “we are going over some of the newly cleared waste, and
through the corn land. I have christened this little corner of our
Commune, ‘La Beauce.’”

For about an hour they rode at a foot pace across fields in a state of
high cultivation, on which the soldier complimented the doctor; then
they came down the mountain side into the township again, talking
whenever the pace of their horses allowed them to do so. At last they
reached a narrow glen, down which they rode into the main valley.

“I promised yesterday,” Benassis said to Genestas, “to show you one of
the two soldiers who left the army and came back to us after the fall of
Napoleon. We shall find him somewhere hereabouts, if I am not mistaken.
The mountain streams flow into a sort of natural reservoir or tarn up
here; the earth they bring down has silted it up, and he is engaged in
clearing it out. But if you are to take any interest in the man, I must
tell you his history. His name is Gondrin. He was only eighteen years
old when he was drawn in the great conscription of 1792, and drafted
into a corps of gunners. He served as a private soldier in Napoleon’s
campaigns in Italy, followed him to Egypt, and came back from the East
after the Peace of Amiens. In the time of the Empire he was incorporated
in the Pontoon Troop of the Guard, and was constantly on active service
in Germany, lastly the poor fellow made the Russian campaign.”

“We are brothers-in-arms then, to some extent,” said Genestas; “I have
made the same campaigns. Only an iron frame would stand the tricks
played by so many different climates. My word for it, those who are
still standing on their stumps after marching over Italy, Egypt,
Germany, Portugal, and Russia must have applied to Providence and taken
out a patent for living.”

“Just so, you will see a solid fragment of a man,” answered Benassis.
“You know all about the Retreat from Moscow; it is useless to tell you
about it. This man I have told you of is one of the pontooners of the
Beresina; he helped to construct the bridge by which the army made the
passage, and stood waist-deep in water to drive in the first piles.
General Eble, who was in command of the pontooners, could only find
forty-two men who were plucky enough, in Gondrin’s phrase, to tackle
that business. The general himself came down to the stream to hearten
and cheer the men, promising each of them a pension of a thousand francs
and the Cross of the Legion of Honor. The first who went down into the
Beresina had his leg taken off by a block of ice, and the man himself
was washed away; but you will better understand the difficulty of the
task when you hear the end of the story. Of the forty-two volunteers,
Gondrin is the only one alive to-day. Thirty-nine of them lost their
lives in the Beresina, and the two others died miserably in a Polish

“The poor fellow himself only returned from Wilna in 1814, to find the
Bourbons restored to power. General Eble (of whom Gondrin cannot speak
without tears in his eyes) was dead. The pontooner was deaf, and his
health was shattered; and as he could neither read nor write, he found
no one left to help him or to plead his cause. He begged his way to
Paris, and while there made application at the War Office, not for the
thousand francs of extra pension which had been promised to him, nor yet
for the Cross of the Legion of Honor, but only for the bare pension due
to him after twenty-two years of service, and I do not know how many
campaigns. He did not obtain his pension or his traveling expenses;
he did not even receive his arrears of pay. He spent a year in making
fruitless solicitations, holding out his hands in vain to those whom he
had saved; and at the end of it he came back here, sorely disheartened
but resigned to his fate. This hero unknown to fame does draining work
on the land, for which he is paid ten sous the fathom. He is accustomed
to working in a marshy soil, and so, as he says, he gets jobs which no
one else cares to take. He can make about three francs a day by clearing
out ponds, or draining meadows that lie under water. His deafness makes
him seem surly, and he is not naturally inclined to say very much, but
there is a good deal in him.

“We are very good friends. He dines with me on the day of Austerlitz,
on the Emperor’s birthday, and on the anniversary of the disaster at
Waterloo, and during the dessert he always receives a napoleon to pay
for his wine very quarter. Every one in the Commune shares in my feeling
of respect for him; if he would allow them to support him, nothing would
please them better. At every house to which he goes the people follow my
example, and show their esteem by asking him to dine with them. It is a
feeling of pride that leads him to work, and it is only as a portrait of
the Emperor that he can be induced to take my twenty-franc piece. He has
been deeply wounded by the injustice that has been done to him; but I
think regret for the Cross is greater than the desire for his pension.

“He has one great consolation. After the bridges had been constructed
across the Beresina, General Eble presented such of the pontooners
as were not disabled to the Emperor, and Napoleon embraced poor
Gondrin--perhaps but for that accolade he would have died ere now. This
memory and the hope that some day Napoleon will return are all that
Gondrin lives by. Nothing will ever persuade him that Napoleon is dead,
and so convinced is he that the Emperor’s captivity is wholly and solely
due to the English, that I believe he would be ready on the slightest
pretext to take the life of the best-natured alderman that ever traveled
for pleasure in foreign parts.”

“Let us go on as fast as possible!” cried Genestas. He had listened
to the doctor’s story with rapt attention, and now seemed to recover
consciousness of his surroundings. “Let us hurry! I long to see that

Both of them put their horses to a gallop.

“The other soldier that I spoke of,” Benassis went on, “is another of
those men of iron who have knocked about everywhere with our armies.
His life, like that of all French soldiers, has been made up of bullets,
sabre strokes, and victories; he has had a very rough time of it, and
has only worn the woolen epaulettes. He has a fanatical affection for
Napoleon, who conferred the Cross upon him on the field of Valontina. He
is of a jovial turn of mind, and like a genuine Dauphinois, has always
looked after his own interests, has his pension, and the honors of the
Legion. Goguelat is his name. He was an infantry man, who exchanged into
the Guard in 1812. He is Gondrin’s better half, so to speak, for the two
have taken up house together. They both lodge with a peddler’s widow,
and make over their money to her. She is a kind soul, who boards them
and looks after them, and their clothes as if they were her children.

“In his quality of local postman, Goguelat carries all the news of the
countryside, and a good deal of practice acquired in this way has made
him an orator in great request at up-sittings, and the champion teller
of stories in the district. Gondrin looks upon him as a very knowing
fellow, and something of a wit; and whenever Goguelat talks about
Napoleon, his comrade seems to understand what he is saying from the
movement of his lips. There will be an up-sitting (as they call it)
in one of my barns to-night. If these two come over to it, and we can
manage to see without being seen, I shall treat you to a view of the
spectacle. But here we are, close to the ditch, and I do not see my
friend the pontooner.”

The doctor and the commandant looked everywhere about them; Gondrin’s
soldier’s coat lay there beside a heap of black mud, and his
wheelbarrow, spade, and pickaxe were visible, but there was no sign of
the man himself along the various pebbly watercourses, for the wayward
mountain streams had hollowed out channels that were almost overgrown
with low bushes.

“He cannot be so very far away. Gondrin! Where are you?” shouted

Genestas first saw the curling smoke from a tobacco pipe rise among the
brushwood on a bank of rubbish not far away. He pointed it out to the
doctor, who shouted again. The old pontooner raised his head at this,
recognized the mayor, and came towards them down a little pathway.

“Well, old friend,” said Benassis, making a sort of speaking-trumpet
with his hand. “Here is a comrade of yours, who was out in Egypt, come
to see you.”

Gondrin raised is face at once and gave Genestas a swift, keen, and
searching look, one of those glances by which old soldiers are wont at
once to take the measure of any impending danger. He saw the red ribbon
that the commandant wore, and made a silent and respectful military

“If the Little Corporal were alive,” the officer cried, “you would have
the Cross of the Legion of Honor and a handsome pension besides, for
every man who wore epaulettes on the other side of the river owed his
life to you on the 1st of October 1812. But I am not the Minister of
War, my friend,” the commandant added as he dismounted, and with a
sudden rush of feeling he grasped the laborer’s hand.

The old pontooner drew himself up at the words, he knocked the ashes
from his pipe, and put it in his pocket.

“I only did my duty, sir,” he said, with his head bent down; “but others
have not done their duty by me. They asked for my papers! Why, the
Twenty-ninth Bulletin, I told them, must do instead of my papers!”

“But you must make another application, comrade. You are bound to have
justice done you in these days, if influence is brought to bear in the
right quarter.”

“Justice!” cried the veteran. The doctor and the commandant shuddered at
the tone in which he spoke.

In the brief pause that followed, both the horsemen looked at the man
before them, who seemed like a fragment of the wreck of great armies
which Napoleon had filled with men of bronze sought out from among three
generations. Gondrin was certainly a splendid specimen of that seemingly
indestructible mass of men which might be cut to pieces but never gave
way. The old man was scarcely five feet high, wide across the shoulders,
and broad-chested; his face was sunburned, furrowed with deep wrinkles,
but the outlines were still firm in spite of the hollows in it, and
one could see even now that it was the face of a soldier. It was a
rough-hewn countenance, his forehead seemed like a block of granite;
but there was a weary expression about his face, and the gray hairs
hung scantily about his head, as if life were waning there already.
Everything about him indicated unusual strength; his arms were covered
thickly with hair, and so was the chest, which was visible through the
opening of his coarse shirt. In spite of his almost crooked legs, he
held himself firm and erect, as if nothing could shake him.

“Justice,” he said once more; “there will never be justice for the like
of us. We cannot send bailiffs to the Government to demand our dues for
us; and as the wallet must be filled somehow,” he said, striking his
stomach, “we cannot afford to wait. Moreover, these gentry who lead snug
lives in government offices may talk and talk, but their words are not
good to eat, so I have come back here again to draw my pay out of the
commonalty,” he said, striking the mud with his spade.

“Things must not be left in that way, old comrade,” said Genestas. “I
owe my life to you, and it would be ungrateful of me if I did not lend
you a hand. I have not forgotten the passage over the bridges in the
Beresina, and it is fresh in the memories of some brave fellows of my
acquaintance; they will back me up, and the nation shall give you the
recognition you deserve.”

“You will be called a Bonapartist! Please do not meddle in the matter,
sir. I have gone to the rear now, and I have dropped into my hole here
like a spent bullet. But after riding on camels through the desert,
and drinking my glass by the fireside in Moscow, I never thought that I
should come back to die here beneath the trees that my father planted,”
 and he began to work again.

“Poor old man!” said Genestas, as they turned to go. “I should do the
same if I were in his place; we have lost our father. Everything seems
dark to me now that I have seen that man’s hopelessness,” he went on,
addressing Benassis; “he does not know how much I am interested in him,
and he will think that I am one of those gilded rascals who cannot feel
for a soldier’s sufferings.”

He turned quickly and went back, grasped the veteran’s hand, and spoke
loudly in his ear:

“I swear by the Cross I wear--the Cross of Honor it used to be--that I
will do all that man can do to obtain your pension for you; even if I
have to swallow a dozen refusals from the minister, and to petition the
king and the dauphin and the whole shop!”

Old Gondrin quivered as he heard the words. He looked hard at Genestas
and said, “Haven’t you served in the ranks?” The commandant nodded. The
pontooner wiped his hand and took that of Genestas, which he grasped
warmly and said:

“I made the army a present of my life, general, when I waded out into
the river yonder, and if I am still alive, it is all so much to the
good. One moment! Do you care to see to the bottom of it? Well, then,
ever since _somebody_ was pulled down from his place, I have ceased
to care about anything. And, after all,” he went on cheerfully, as he
pointed to the land, “they have made over twenty thousand francs to me
here, and I am taking it out in detail, as _he_ used to say!”

“Well, then, comrade,” said Genestas, touched by the grandeur of this
forgiveness, “at least you shall have the only thing that you cannot
prevent me from giving to you, here below.” The commandant tapped his
heart, looked once more at the old pontooner, mounted his horse again,
and went his way side by side with Benassis.

“Such cruelty as this on the part of the government foments the strife
between rich and poor,” said the doctor. “People who exercise a little
brief authority have never given a serious thought to the consequences
that must follow an act of injustice done to a man of the people. It is
true that a poor man who needs must work for his daily bread cannot long
keep up the struggle; but he can talk, and his words find an echo in
every sufferer’s heart, so that one bad case of this kind is multiplied,
for every one who hears of it feels it as a personal wrong, and the
leaven works. Even this is not so serious, but something far worse comes
of it. Among the people, these causes of injustice bring about a chronic
state of smothered hatred for their social superiors. The middle class
becomes the poor man’s enemy; they lie without the bounds of his moral
code, he tells lies to them and robs them without scruple; indeed, theft
ceases to be a crime or a misdemeanor, and is looked upon as an act of

“When an official, who ought to see that the poor have justice done
them, uses them ill and cheats them of their due, how can we expect the
poor starving wretches to bear their troubles meekly and to respect the
rights of property? It makes me shudder to think that some understrapper
whose business it is to dust papers in a government office, has pocketed
Gondrin’s promised thousand francs of pension. And yet there are folk
who, never having measured the excess of the people’s sufferings, accuse
the people of excess in the day of their vengeance! When a government
has done more harm than good to individuals, its further existence
depends on the merest accident, the masses square the account after
their fashion by upsetting it. A statesman ought always to imagine
Justice with the poor at her feet, for justice was only invented for the

When they had come within the compass of the township, Benassis saw
two people walking along the road in front of them, and turned to his
companion, who had been absorbed for some time in thought.

“You have seen a veteran soldier resigned to his life of wretchedness,
and now you are about to see an old agricultural laborer who is
submitting to the same lot. The man there ahead of us has dug and sown
and toiled for others all his life.”

Genestas looked and saw an old laborer making his way along the road, in
company with an aged woman. He seemed to be afflicted with some form
of sciatica, and limped painfully along. His feet were encased in a
wretched pair of sabots, and a sort of wallet hung over his shoulder.
Several tools lay in the bottom of the bag; their handles, blackened
with long use and the sweat of toil, rattled audibly together; while the
other end of the wallet behind his shoulder held bread, some walnuts,
and a few fresh onions. His legs seemed to be warped, as it were, his
back was bent by continual toil; he stooped so much as he walked that
he leaned on a long stick to steady himself. His snow-white hair escaped
from under a battered hat, grown rusty by exposure to all sorts of
weather, and mended here and there with visible stitches of white
thread. His clothes, made of a kind of rough canvas, were a mass of
patches of contrasting colors. This piece of humanity in ruins lacked
none of the characteristics that appeal to our hearts when we see ruins
of other kinds.

His wife held herself somewhat more erect. Her clothing was likewise a
mass of rags, and the cap that she wore was of the coarsest materials.
On her back she carried a rough earthen jar by means of a thong passed
through the handles of the great pitcher, which was round in shape and
flattened at the sides. They both looked up when they heard the horses
approaching, saw that it was Benassis, and stopped.

The man had worked till he was almost past work, and his faithful
helpmate was no less broken with toil. It was painful to see how the
summer sun and the winter’s cold had blackened their faces, and
covered them with such deep wrinkles that their features were hardly
discernible. It was not their life history that had been engraven on
their faces; but it might be gathered from their attitude and bearing.
Incessant toil had been the lot of both; they had worked and suffered
together; they had had many troubles and few joys to share; and now,
like captives grown accustomed to their prison, they seemed to be too
familiar with wretchedness to heed it, and to take everything as it
came. Yet a certain frank light-heartedness was not lacking in their
faces; and on a closer view, their monotonous life, the lot of so many
a poor creature, well-nigh seemed an enviable one. Trouble had set its
unmistakable mark on them, but petty cares had left no traces there.

“Well, my good Father Moreau, I suppose there is no help for it, and you
must always be working?”

“Yes, M. Benassis, there are one or two more bits of waste that I
mean to clear for you before I knock off work,” the old man answered
cheerfully, and light shone in his little black eyes.

“Is that wine that your wife is carrying? If you will not take a rest
now, you ought at any rate to take wine.”

“I take a rest? I should not know what to do with myself. The sun and
the fresh air put life into me when I am out of doors and busy grubbing
up the land. As to the wine, sir, yes, that is wine sure enough, and it
is all through your contriving I know that the Mayor at Courteil lets us
have it for next to nothing. Ah, you managed it very cleverly, but, all
the same, I know you had a hand in it.”

“Oh! come, come! Good-day, mother. You are going to work on that bit of
land of Champferlu’s to-day of course?”

“Yes, sir; I made a beginning there yesterday evening.”

“Capital!” said Benassis. “It must be a satisfaction to you, at times,
to see this hillside. You two have broken up almost the whole of the
land on it yourselves.”

“Lord! yes, sir,” answered the old woman, “it has been our doing! We
have fairly earned our bread.”

“Work, you see, and land to cultivate are the poor man’s consols. That
good man would think himself disgraced if he went into the poorhouse or
begged for his bread; he would choose to die pickaxe in hand, out in
the open, in the sunlight. Faith, he bears a proud heart in him. He has
worked until work has become his very life; and yet death has no terrors
for him! He is a profound philosopher, little as he suspects it. Old
Moreau’s case suggested the idea to me of founding an almshouse for the
country people of the district; a refuge for those who, after working
hard all their lives, have reached an honorable old age of poverty.

“I had by no means expected to make the fortune which I have acquired
here; indeed, I myself have no use for it, for a man who has fallen
from the pinnacle of his hopes needs very little. It costs but little to
live, the idler’s life alone is a costly one, and I am not sure that the
unproductive consumer is not robbing the community at large. There was
some discussion about Napoleon’s pension after his fall; it came to his
ears, and he said that five francs a day and a horse to ride was all
that he needed. I meant to have no more to do with money when I came
here; but after a time I saw that money means power, and that it is in
fact a necessity, if any good is to be done. So I have made arrangements
in my will for turning my house into an almshouse, in which old people
who have not Moreau’s fierce independence can end their days. Part of
the income of nine thousand francs brought in by the mill and the rest
of my property will be devoted to giving outdoor relief in hard winters
to those who really stand in need of it.

“This foundation will be under the control of the Municipal Council,
with the addition of the cure, who is to be president; and in this way
the money made in the district will be returned to it. In my will I have
laid down the lines on which this institution is to be conducted; it
would be tedious to go over them, it is enough to say that I have a fund
which will some day enable the Commune to award several scholarships for
children who show signs of promise in art or science. So, even after
I am gone, my work of civilization will continue. When you have set
yourself to do anything, Captain Bluteau, something within you urges you
on, you see, and you cannot bear to leave it unfinished. This craving
within us for order and for perfection is one of the signs that point
most surely to a future existence. Now, let us quicken our pace, I have
my round to finish, and there are five or six more patients still to be

They cantered on for some time in silence, till Benassis said laughingly
to his companion, “Come now, Captain Bluteau, you have drawn me out and
made me chatter like a magpie, and you have not said a syllable about
your own history, which must be an interesting one. When a soldier has
come to your time of life, he has seen so much that he must have more
than one adventure to tell about.”

“Why, my history has been simply the history of the army,” answered
Genestas. “Soldiers are all after one pattern. Never in command, always
giving and taking sabre-cuts in my place, I have lived just like anybody
else. I have been wherever Napoleon led us, and have borne a part
in every battle in which the Imperial Guard has struck a blow; but
everybody knows all about these events. A soldier has to look after his
horse, to endure hunger and thirst at times, to fight whenever there is
fighting to be done, and there you have the whole history of his life.
As simple as saying good-day, is it not? Then there are battles in which
your horse casts a shoe at the outset, and lands you in a quandary; and
as far as you are concerned, that is the whole of it. In short, I have
seen so many countries, that seeing them has come to be a matter of
course; and I have seen so many men die, that I have come to value my
own life at nothing.”

“But you yourself must have been in danger at times, and it would be
interesting to hear you tell of your personal adventures.”

“Perhaps,” answered the commandant.

“Well, then, tell me about the adventure that made the deepest
impression upon you. Come! do not hesitate. I shall not think that
you are wanting in modesty even if you should tell me of some piece of
heroism on your part; and when a man is quite sure that he will not be
misunderstood, ought he not to find a kind of pleasure in saying, ‘I did

“Very well, then, I will tell you about something that gives me a pang
of remorse from time to time. During fifteen years of warfare it never
once happened that I killed a man, save in legitimate defence of self.
We are drawn up in a line, and we charge; and if we do not strike down
those before us, they will begin to draw blood without asking leave, so
you have to kill if you do not mean to be killed, and your conscience is
quite easy. But once I broke a comrade’s back; it happened in a singular
way, and it has been a painful thing to me to think of afterwards--the
man’s dying grimace haunts me at times. But you shall judge for

“It was during the retreat from Moscow,” the commandant went on.
“The Grand Army had ceased to be itself; we were more like a herd of
over-driven cattle. Good-bye to discipline! The regiments had lost sight
of their colors, every one was his own master, and the Emperor (one need
not scruple to say it) knew that it was useless to attempt to exert his
authority when things had gone so far. When we reached Studzianka,
a little place on the other side of the Beresina, we came upon human
dwellings for the first time after several days. There were barns and
peasants’ cabins to destroy, and pits full of potatoes and beetroot;
the army had been without victual, and now it fairly ran riot, the first
comers, as you might expect, making a clean sweep of everything.

“I was one of the last to come up. Luckily for me, sleep was the one
thing that I longed for just then. I caught sight of a barn and went
into it. I looked round and saw a score of generals and officers of
high rank, all of them men who, without flattery, might be called great.
Junot was there, and Narbonne, the Emperor’s aide-de-camp, and all the
chiefs of the army. There were common soldiers there as well, not one of
whom would have given up his bed of straw to a marshal of France. Some
who were leaning their backs against the wall had dropped off to sleep
where they stood, because there was no room to lie down; others lay
stretched out on the floor--it was a mass of men packed together so
closely for the sake of warmth, that I looked about in vain for a nook
to lie down in. I walked over this flooring of human bodies; some of the
men growled, the others said nothing, but no one budged. They would
not have moved out of the way of a cannon ball just then; but under the
circumstances, one was not obliged to practise the maxims laid down by
the Child’s Guide to Manners. Groping about, I saw at the end of
the barn a sort of ledge up above in the roof; no one had thought of
scrambling up to it, possibly no one had felt equal to the effort. I
clambered up and ensconced myself upon it; and as I lay there at full
length, I looked down at the men huddled together like sheep below. It
was a pitiful sight, yet it almost made me laugh. A man here and
there was gnawing a frozen carrot, with a kind of animal satisfaction
expressed in his face; and thunderous snores came from generals who lay
muffled up in ragged cloaks. The whole barn was lighted by a blazing
pine log; it might have set the place on fire, and no one would have
troubled to get up and put it out.

“I lay down on my back, and, naturally, just before I dropped off, my
eyes traveled to the roof above me, and then I saw that the main beam
which bore the weight of the joists was being slightly shaken from east
to west. The blessed thing danced about in fine style. ‘Gentlemen,’
said I, ‘one of our friends outside has a mind to warm himself at
our expense.’ A few moments more and the beam was sure to come down.
‘Gentlemen! gentlemen!’ I shouted, ‘we shall all be killed in a minute!
Look at the beam there!’ and I made such a noise that my bed-fellows
awoke at last. Well, sir, they all stared up at the beam, and then those
who had been sleeping turned round and went off to sleep again, while
those who were eating did not even stop to answer me.

“Seeing how things were, there was nothing for it but to get up and
leave my place, and run the risk of finding it taken by somebody else,
for all the lives of this heap of heroes were at stake. So out I go.
I turn the corner of the barn and come upon a great devil of a
Wurtemberger, who was tugging at the beam with a certain enthusiasm.
‘Aho! aho!’ I shouted, trying to make him understand that he must
desist from his toil. ‘_Gehe mir aus dem Gesicht, oder ich schlag dich
todt!_--Get out of my sight, or I will kill you,’ he cried. ‘Ah! yes,
just so, _Que mire aous dem guesit_,’ I answered; ‘but that is not the
point.’ I picked up his gun that he had left on the ground, and broke
his back with it; then I turned in again, and went off to sleep. Now you
know the whole business.”

“But that was a case of self-defence, in which one man suffered for
the good of many, so you have nothing to reproach yourself with,” said

“The rest of them thought that it had only been my fancy; but fancy or
no, a good many of them are living comfortably in fine houses to-day,
without feeling their hearts oppressed by gratitude.”

“Then would you only do people a good turn in order to receive that
exorbitant interest called gratitude?” said Benassis, laughing. “That
would be asking a great deal for your outlay.”

“Oh, I know quite well that all the merit of a good deed evaporates at
once if it benefits the doer in the slightest degree,” said Genestas.
“If he tells the story of it, the toll brought in to his vanity is a
sufficient substitute for gratitude. But if every doer of kindly actions
always held his tongue about them, those who reaped the benefits would
hardly say very much either. Now the people, according to your system,
stand in need of examples, and how are they to hear of them amid this
general reticence? Again, there is this poor pontooner of ours, who
saved the whole French army, and who was never able to tell his tale to
any purpose; suppose that he had lost the use of his limbs, would the
consciousness of what he had done have found him in bread? Answer me
that, philosopher!”

“Perhaps the rules of morality cannot be absolute,” Benassis answered;
“though this is a dangerous idea, for it leaves the egoist free to
settle cases of conscience in his own favor. Listen, captain; is not the
man who never swerves from the principles of morality greater than he
who transgresses them, even through necessity? Would not our veteran,
dying of hunger, and unable to help himself, be worthy of rank with
Homer? Human life is doubtless a final trial of virtue as of genius, for
both of which a better world is waiting. Virtue and genius seem to me
to be the fairest forms of that complete and constant surrender of self
that Jesus Christ came among men to teach. Genius sheds its light in the
world and lives in poverty all its days, and virtue sacrifices itself in
silence for the general good.”

“I quite agree with you, sir,” said Genestas; “but those who dwell on
earth are men after all, and not angels; we are not perfect.”

“That is quite true,” Benassis answered. “And as for errors, I myself
have abused the indulgence. But ought we not to aim, at any rate, at
perfection? Is not virtue a fair ideal which the soul must always keep
before it, a standard set up by Heaven?”

“Amen,” said the soldier. “An upright man is a magnificent thing, I
grant you; but, on the other hand, you must admit that virtue is a
divinity who may indulge in a scrap of gossip now and then in the
strictest propriety.”

The doctor smiled, but there was a melancholy bitterness in his tone as
he said, “Ah! sir, you regard things with the lenience natural to those
who live at peace with themselves; and I with all the severity of one
who sees much that he would fain obliterate in the story of his life.”

The two horsemen reached a cottage beside the bed of the torrent, the
doctor dismounted and went into the house. Genestas, on the threshold,
looked over the bright spring landscape that lay without, and then at
the dark interior of the cottage, where a man was lying in bed. Benassis
examined his patient, and suddenly exclaimed, “My good woman, it is no
use my coming here unless you carry out my instructions! You have been
giving him bread; you want to kill your husband, I suppose? Botheration!
If after this you give him anything besides the tisane of couch-grass,
I will never set foot in here again, and you can look where you like for
another doctor.”

“But, dear M. Benassis, my old man was starving, and when he had eaten
nothing for a whole fortnight----”

“Oh, yes, yes. Now will you listen to me. If you let your husband eat a
single mouthful of bread before I give him leave to take solid food, you
will kill him, do you hear?”

“He shall not have anything, sir. Is he any better?” she asked,
following the doctor to the door.

“Why, no. You have made him worse by feeding him. Shall I never get
it into your stupid heads that you must not stuff people who are being

“The peasants are incorrigible,” Benassis went on, speaking to Genestas.
“If a patient has eaten nothing for two or three days, they think he is
at death’s door, and they cram him with soup or wine or something. Here
is a wretched woman for you that has all but killed her husband.”

“Kill my husband with a little mite of a sop in wine!”

“Certainly, my good woman. It amazes me that he is still alive after the
mess you cooked for him. Mind that you do exactly as I have told you.”

“Yes, dear sir, I would far rather die myself than lose him.”

“Oh! as to that I shall soon see. I shall come again to-morrow evening
to bleed him.”

“Let us walk along the side of the stream,” Benassis said to Genestas;
“there is only a footpath between this cottage and the next house where
I must pay a call. That man’s little boy will hold our horses.”

“You must admire this lovely valley of ours a little,” he went on;
“it is like an English garden, is it not? The laborer who lives in the
cottage which we are going to visit has never got over the death of one
of his children. The eldest boy, he was only a lad, would try to do a
man’s work last harvest-tide; it was beyond his strength, and before the
autumn was out he died of a decline. This is the first case of really
strong fatherly love that has come under my notice. As a rule, when
their children die, the peasant’s regret is for the loss of a useful
chattel, and a part of their stock-in-trade, and the older the child,
the heavier their sense of loss. A grown-up son or daughter is so much
capital to the parents. But this poor fellow really loved that boy of
his. ‘Nothing cam comfort me for my loss,’ he said one day when I came
across him out in the fields. He had forgotten all about his work, and
was standing there motionless, leaning on his scythe; he had picked up
his hone, it lay in his hand, and he had forgotten to use it. He has
never spoken since of his grief to me, but he has grown sad and silent.
Just now it is one of his little girls who is ill.”

Benassis and his guest reached the little house as they talked. It stood
beside a pathway that led to a bark-mill. They saw a man about forty
years of age, standing under a willow tree, eating bread that had been
rubbed with a clove of garlic.

“Well, Gasnier, is the little one doing better?”

“I do not know, sir,” he said dejectedly, “you will see; my wife is
sitting with her. In spite of all your care, I am very much afraid that
death will come to empty my home for me.”

“Do not lose heart, Gasnier. Death is too busy to take up his abode in
any dwelling.”

Benassis went into the house, followed by the father. Half an hour later
he came out again. The mother was with him this time, and he spoke
to her, “You need have no anxiety about her now; follow out my
instructions; she is out of danger.”

“If you are growing tired of this sort of thing,” the doctor said to the
officer, as he mounted his horse, “I can put you on the way to the town,
and you can return.”

“No, I am not tired of it, I give you my word.”

“But you will only see cottages everywhere, and they are all alike;
nothing, to outward seeming, is more monotonous than the country.”

“Let us go on,” said the officer.

They rode on in this way for several hours, and after going from one
side of the canton to the other, they returned towards evening to the
precincts of the town.

“I must just go over there,” the doctor said to Genestas, as he pointed
out a place where a cluster of elm-trees grew. “Those trees may possibly
be two hundred years old,” he went on, “and that is where the woman
lives, on whose account the lad came to fetch me last night at dinner,
with a message that she had turned quite white.”

“Was it anything serious?”

“No,” said Benassis, “an effect of pregnancy. It is the last month
with her, a time at which some women suffer from spasms. But by way of
precaution, I must go in any case to make sure that there are no further
alarming symptoms; I shall see her through her confinement myself. And,
moreover, I should like to show you one of our new industries; there is
a brick-field here. It is a good road; shall we gallop?”

“Will your animal keep up with mine?” asked Genestas. “Heigh! Neptune!”
 he called to his horse, and in a moment the officer had been carried
far ahead, and was lost to sight in a cloud of dust, but in spite of the
paces of his horse he still heard the doctor beside him. At a word from
Benassis his own horse left the commandant so far behind that the latter
only came up with him at the gate of the brick-field, where the doctor
was quietly fastening the bridle to the gate-post.

“The devil take it!” cried Genestas, after a look at the horse, that was
neither sweated nor blown. “What kind of animal have you there?”

“Ah!” said the doctor, “you took him for a screw! The history of this
fine fellow would take up too much time just now; let it suffice to
say that Roustan is a thoroughbred barb from the Atlas mountains, and a
Barbary horse is as good as an Arab. This one of mine will gallop up the
mountain roads without turning a hair, and will never miss his footing
in a canter along the brink of a precipice. He was a present to me, and
I think that I deserved it, for in this way a father sought to repay
me for his daughter’s life. She is one of the wealthiest heiresses in
Europe, and she was at the brink of death when I found her on the road
to Savoy. If I were to tell you how I cured that young lady, you would
take me for a quack. Aha! that is the sound of the bells on the horses
and the rumbling of a wagon; it is coming along this way; let us see,
perhaps that is Vigneau himself; and if so, take a good look at him!”

In another moment the officer saw a team of four huge horses, like those
which are owned by prosperous farmers in Brie. The harness, the little
bells, and the knots of braid in their manes, were clean and smart. The
great wagon itself was painted bright blue, and perched aloft in it
sat a stalwart, sunburned youth, who shouldered his whip like a gun and
whistled a tune.

“No,” said Benassis, “that is only the wagoner. But see how the master’s
prosperity in business is reflected by all his belongings, even by the
carter’s wagon! Is it not a sign of a capacity for business not very
often met with in remote country places?”

“Yes, yes, it all looks very smart indeed,” the officer answered.

“Well, Vigneau has two more wagons and teams like that one, and he has a
small pony besides for business purposes, for he does trade over a wide
area. And only four years ago he had nothing in the world! Stay, that is
a mistake--he had some debts. But let us go in.”

“Is Mme. Vigneau in the house?” Benassis asked of the young wagoner.

“She is out in the garden, sir; I saw her just now by the hedge down
yonder; I will go and tell her that you are here.”

Genestas followed Benassis across a wide open space with a hedge about
it. In one corner various heaps of clay had been piled up, destined for
tiles and pantiles, and a stack of brushwood and logs (fuel for the
kiln no doubt) lay in another part of the enclosure. Farther away some
workmen were pounding chalk stones and tempering the clay in a space
enclosed by hurdles. The tiles, both round and square, were made under
the great elms opposite the gateway, in a vast green arbor bounded by
the roofs of the drying-shed, and near this last the yawning mouth of
the kiln was visible. Some long-handled shovels lay about the worn cider
path. A second row of buildings had been erected parallel with these.
There was a sufficiently wretched dwelling which housed the family, and
some outbuildings--sheds and stables and a barn. The cleanliness that
predominated throughout, and the thorough repair in which everything was
kept, spoke well for the vigilance of the master’s eyes. Some poultry
and pigs wandered at large over the field.

“Vigneau’s predecessor,” said Benassis, “was a good-for-nothing, a lazy
rascal who cared about nothing by drink. He had been a workman himself;
he could keep a fire in his kiln and could put a price on his work, and
that was about all he knew; he had no energy, and no idea of business.
If no one came to buy his wares of him, they simply stayed on hand and
were spoiled, and so he lost the value of them. So he died of want at
last. He had ill-treated his wife till she was almost idiotic, and she
lived in a state of abject wretchedness. It was so painful to see this
laziness and incurable stupidity, and I so much disliked the sight of
the tile-works, that I never came this way if I could help it. Luckily,
both the man and his wife were old people. One fine day the tile-maker
had a paralytic stroke, and I had him removed to the hospital at
Grenoble at once. The owner of the tile-works agreed to take it over
without disputing about its condition, and I looked round for new
tenants who would take their part in improving the industries of the

“Mme. Gravier’s waiting-maid had married a poor workman, who was earning
so little with the potter who employed him that he could not support his
household. He listened to my advice, and actually had sufficient courage
to take a lease of our tile-works, when he had not so much as a penny.
He came and took up his abode here, taught his wife, her aged mother,
and his own mother how to make tiles, and made workmen of them. How they
managed, I do not know, upon my honor! Vigneau probably borrowed fuel to
heat his kiln, he certainly worked by day, and fetched in his materials
in basket-loads by night; in short, no one knew what boundless energy
he brought to bear upon his enterprise; and the two old mothers, clad in
rags, worked like negroes. In this way Vigneau contrived to fire several
batches, and lived for the first year on bread that was hardly won by
the toil of his household.

“Still, he made a living. His courage, patience, and sterling worth
interested many people in him, and he began to be known. He was
indefatigable. He would hurry over to Grenoble in the morning, and sell
his bricks and tiles there; then he would return home about the middle
of the day, and go back again to the town at night. He seemed to be in
several places at once. Towards the end of the first year he took two
little lads to help him. Seeing how things were, I lent him some
money, and since then from year to year the fortunes of the family have
steadily improved. After the second year was over the two old mothers no
longer moulded bricks nor pounded stones; they looked after the little
gardens, made the soup, mended the clothes, they did spinning in the
evenings, and gathered firewood in the daytime; while the young wife,
who can read and write, kept the accounts. Vigneau had a small horse,
and rode on his business errands about the neighborhood; next he
thoroughly studied the art of brick and tile making, discovering how to
make excellent square white paving-tiles, and sold them for less than
the usual prices. In the third year he had a cart and a pair of horses,
and at the same time his wife’s appearance became almost elegant.
Everything about his household improved with the improvement in his
business, and everywhere there was the same neatness, method, and thrift
that had been the making of his little fortune.

“At last he had work enough for six men, to whom he pays good wages; he
employs a wagoner, and everything about him wears an air of prosperity.
Little by little, in short, by dint of taking pains and extending his
business, his income has increased. He bought the tile-works last year,
and next year he will rebuild his house. To-day all the worthy folk
there are well clothed and in good health. His wife, who used to be so
thin and pale when the burden of her husband’s cares and anxieties used
to press so hardly upon her, has recovered her good looks, and has grown
quite young and pretty again. The two old mothers are thoroughly happy,
and take the deepest interest in every detail of the housekeeping or of
the business. Work has brought money, and the money that brought freedom
from care brought health and plenty and happiness. The story of this
household is a living history in miniature of the Commune since I have
known it, and of all young industrial states. The tile factory that
used to look so empty, melancholy, ill-kept, and useless, is now in full
work, astir with life, and well stocked with everything required. There
is a good stock of wood here, and all the raw material for the season’s
work: for, as you know, tiles can only be made during a few months in
the year, between June and September. Is it not a pleasure to see all
this activity? My tile-maker has done his share of the work in every
building going, always busy--‘the devourer,’ they call him in these

Benassis had scarcely finished speaking when the wicket gate which
gave entrance to the garden opened, and a nicely-dressed young woman
appeared. She came forward as quickly as her condition allowed, though
the two horsemen hastened towards her. Her attire somewhat recalled her
former quality of ladies’ maid, for she wore a pretty cap, a pink
dress, a silk apron, and white stockings. Mme. Vigneau in short, was
a nice-looking woman, sufficiently plump, and if she was somewhat
sunburned, her natural complexion must have been very fair. There were
a few lines still left on her forehead, traced there by the troubles
of past days, but she had a bright and winsome face. She spoke in a
persuasive voice, as she saw that the doctor came no further, “Will
you not do me the honor of coming inside and resting for a moment, M.

“Certainly we will. Come this way, captain.”

“The gentleman must be very hot! Will you take a little milk or some
wine? M. Benassis, please try a little of the wine that my husband has
been so kind as to buy for my confinement. You will tell me if it is

“You have a good man for your husband.”

“Yes, sir,” she turned and spoke in quiet tones, “I am very well off.”

“We will not take anything, Mme. Vigneau; I only came round this way to
see that nothing troublesome had happened.”

“Nothing,” she said. “I was busy out in the garden, as you saw, turning
the soil over for the sake of something to do.”

Then the two old mothers came out to speak to Benassis, and the young
wagoner planted himself in the middle of the yard, in a spot from whence
he could have a good view of the doctor.

“Let us see, let me have your hand,” said Benassis, addressing Mme.
Vigneau; and as he carefully felt her pulse, he stood in silence,
absorbed in thought. The three women, meanwhile, scrutinized the
commandant with the undisguised curiosity that country people do not
scruple to express.

“Nothing could be better!” cried the doctor cheerily.

“Will she be confined soon?” both the mothers asked together.

“This week beyond a doubt. Is Vigneau away from home?” he asked, after a

“Yes, sir,” the young wife answered; “he is hurrying about settling
his business affairs, so as to be able to stay at home during my
confinement, the dear man!”

“Well, my children, go on and prosper; continue to increase your wealth
and to add to your family.”

The cleanliness of the almost ruinous dwelling filled Genestas with

Benassis saw the officer’s astonishment, and said, “There is no one like
Mme. Vigneau for keeping a house clean and tidy like this. I wish that
several people in the town would come here to take a lesson.”

The tile-maker’s wife blushed and turned her head away; but the faces of
the two old mothers beamed with pleasure at the doctor’s words, and the
three women walked with them to the spot where the horses were waiting.

“Well, now,” the doctor said to the two old women, “here is happiness
for you both! Were you not longing to be grandmothers?”

“Oh, do not talk about it,” said the young wife; “they will drive me
crazy among them. My two mothers wish for a boy, and my husband would
like to have a little girl. It will be very difficult to please them
all, I think.”

“But you yourself,” asked Benassis; “what is your wish?”

“Ah, sir, I wish for a child of my own.”

“There! She is a mother already, you see,” said the doctor to the
officer, as he laid his hand on the bridle of his horse.

“Good-bye, M. Benassis; my husband will be sadly disappointed to learn
that you have been here when he was not at home to see you.”

“He has not forgotten to send the thousand tiles to the
Grange-aux-Belles for me?”

“You know quite well, sir, that he would keep all the orders in the
canton waiting to serve you. Why, taking your money is the thing that
troubles him most; but I always tell him that your crowns bring luck
with them, and so they do.”

“Good-bye,” said Benassis.

A little group gathered about the bars across the entrance to the
tile-works. The three women, the young wagoner, and two workmen who had
left off work to greet the doctor, lingered there to have the pleasure
of being with him until the last moment, as we are wont to linger with
those we love. The promptings of men’s hearts must everywhere be the
same, and in every land friendship expresses itself in the same gracious

Benassis looked at the height of the sun and spoke to his companion:

“There are still two hours of daylight left; and if you are not too
hungry, we will go to see some one with whom I nearly always spend the
interval between the last of my visits and the hour for dinner. She is
a charming girl whom every one here calls my ‘good friend.’ That is
the name that they usually give to an affianced bride; but you must not
imagine that there is the slightest imputation of any kind implied or
intended by the use of the word in this case. Poor child, the care
that I have taken of her has, as may be imagined, made her an object
of jealousy, but the general opinion entertained as to my character
has prevented any spiteful gossip. If no one understands the apparent
caprice that has led me to make an allowance to La Fosseuse, so that she
can live without being compelled to work, nobody has any doubts as to
her character. I have watched over her with friendly care, and every one
knows that I should never hesitate to marry her if my affection for her
exceeded the limits of friendship. But no woman exists for me here in
the canton or anywhere else,” said the doctor, forcing a smile. “Some
natures feel a tyrannous need to attach themselves to some one thing
or being which they single out from among the beings and things around
them; this need is felt most keenly by a man of quick sympathies, and
all the more pressingly if his life has been made desolate. So, trust
me, it is a favorable sign if a man is strongly attached to his dog
or his horse! Among the suffering flock which chance has given into my
care, this poor little sufferer has come to be for me like the pet
lamb that the shepherd lasses deck with ribbons in my own sunny land of
Languedoc; they talk to it and allow it to find pasture by the side
of the cornfields, and its leisurely pace is never hurried by the
shepherd’s dog.”

Benassis stood with his hand on his horse’s mane as he spoke, ready to
spring into the saddle, but making no effort to do so, as though the
thoughts that stirred in him were but little in keeping with rapid

“Let us go,” he said at last; “come with me and pay her a visit. I am
taking you to see her; does not that tell you that I treat her as a

As they rode on their way again, Genestas said to the doctor, “Will
you regard it as inquisitiveness on my part if I ask to hear more of La
Fosseuse? I have come to know the story of many lives through you, and
hers cannot be less interesting than some of these.”

Benassis stopped his horse as he answered. “Perhaps you will not share
in the feelings of interest awakened in me by La Fosseuse. Her fate
is like my own; we have both alike missed our vocation; it is the
similarity of our lots that occasions my sympathy for her and the
feelings that I experience at the sight of her. You either followed
your natural bent when you entered upon a military career, or you took
a liking for your calling after you had adopted it, otherwise you would
not have borne the heavy yoke of military discipline till now; you,
therefore, cannot understand the sorrows of a soul that must always feel
renewed within it the stir of longings that can never be realized; nor
the pining existence of a creature forced to live in an alien sphere.
Such sufferings as these are known only to these natures and to God who
sends their afflictions, for they alone can know how deeply the events
of life affect them. You yourself have seen the miseries produced by
long wars, till they have almost ceased to impress you, but have you
never detected a trace of sadness in your mind at the sight of a tree
bearing sere leaves in the midst of spring, some tree that is pining and
dying because it has been planted in soil in which it could not find the
sustenance required for its full development? Ever since my twentieth
year, there has been something painful and melancholy for me about the
drooping of a stunted plant, and now I cannot bear the sight and turn my
head away. My youthful sorrow was a vague presentiment of the sorrows of
my later life; it was a kind of sympathy between my present and a future
dimly foreshadowed by the life of the tree that before its time was
going the way of all trees and men.”

“I thought that you had suffered when I saw how kind you were.”

“You see, sir,” the doctor went on without any reply to the remark made
by Genestas, “that to speak of La Fosseuse is to speak of myself. La
Fosseuse is a plant in an alien soil; a human plant moreover, consumed
by sad thoughts that have their source in the depths of her nature, and
that never cease to multiply. The poor girl is never well and strong.
The soul within her kills the body. This fragile creature was suffering
from the sorest of all troubles, a trouble which receives the least
possible sympathy from our selfish world, and how could I look on with
indifferent eyes? for I, a man, strong to wrestle with pain, was nightly
tempted to refuse to bear the burden of a sorrow like hers. Perhaps I
might actually have refused to bear it but for a thought of religion
which soothes my impatience and fills my heart with sweet illusions.
Even if we were not children of the same Father in heaven, La Fosseuse
would still be my sister in suffering!”

Benassis pressed his knees against his horse’s sides, and swept ahead of
Commandant Genestas, as if he shrank from continuing this conversation
any further. When their horses were once more cantering abreast of each
other, he spoke again: “Nature has created this poor girl for sorrow,”
 he said, “as she has created other women for joy. It is impossible to
do otherwise than believe in a future life at the sight of natures thus
predestined to suffer. La Fosseuse is sensitive and highly strung. If
the weather is dark and cloudy, she is depressed; she ‘weeps when the
sky is weeping,’ a phrase of her own; she sings with the birds; she
grows happy and serene under a cloudless sky; the loveliness of a bright
day passes into her face; a soft sweet perfume is an inexhaustible
pleasure to her; I have seen her take delight the whole day long in the
scent breathed forth by some mignonette; and, after one of those
rainy mornings that bring out all the soul of the flowers and give
indescribable freshness and brightness to the day, she seems to overflow
with gladness like the green world around her. If it is close and hot,
and there is thunder in the air, La Fosseuse feels a vague trouble
that nothing can soothe. She lies on her bed, complains of numberless
different ills, and does not know what ails her. In answer to my
questions, she tells me that her bones are melting, that she is
dissolving into water; her ‘heart has left her,’ to quote another of her

“I have sometimes come upon the poor child suddenly and found her in
tears, as she gazed at the sunset effects we sometimes see here among
our mountains, when bright masses of cloud gather and crowd together
and pile themselves above the golden peaks of the hills. ‘Why are you
crying, little one?’ I have asked her. ‘I do not know, sir,’ has been
the answer; ‘I have grown so stupid with looking up there; I have looked
and looked, till I hardly know where I am.’ ‘But what do you see there?’
‘I cannot tell you, sir,’ and you might question her in this way all the
evening, yet you would never draw a word from her; but she would look at
you, and every glance would seem full of thoughts, or she would sit with
tears in her eyes, scarcely saying a word, apparently rapt in musing.
Those musings of hers are so profound that you fall under the spell of
them; on me, at least, she has the effect of a cloud overcharged with
electricity. One day I plied her with questions; I tried with all my
might to make her talk; at last I let fall a few rather hasty words;
and, well--she burst into tears.

“At other times La Fosseuse is bright and winning, active, merry, and
sprightly; she enjoys talking, and the ideas which she expresses
are fresh and original. She is however quite unable to apply herself
steadily to any kind of work. When she was out in the fields she used to
spend whole hours in looking at a flower, in watching the water flow, in
gazing at the wonders in the depths of the clear, still river pools, at
the picturesque mosaic made up of pebbles and earth and sand, of water
plants and green moss, and the brown soil washed down by the stream,
a deposit full of soft shades of color, and of hues that contrast
strangely with each other.

“When I first came to the district the poor girl was starving. It hurt
her pride to accept the bread of others; and it was only when driven to
the last extremity of want and suffering that she could bring herself to
ask for charity. The feeling that this was a disgrace would often give
her energy, and for several days she worked in the fields; but her
strength was soon exhausted, and illness obliged her to leave the work
that she had begun. She had scarcely recovered when she went to a farm
on the outskirts of the town and asked to be taken on to look after the
cattle; she did her work well and intelligently, but after a while she
left without giving any reason for so doing. The constant toil, day
after day, was no doubt too heavy a yoke for one who is all independence
and caprice. Then she set herself to look for mushrooms or for truffles,
going over to Grenoble to sell them. But the gaudy trifles in the town
were very tempting, the few small coins in her hand seemed to be great
riches; she would forget her poverty and buy ribbons and finery, without
a thought for tomorrow’s bread. But if some other girl here in the
town took a fancy to her brass crucifix, her agate heart or her velvet
ribbon, she would make them over to her at once, glad to give happiness,
for she lives by generous impulses. So La Fosseuse was loved and pitied
and despised by turns. Everything in her nature was a cause of suffering
to her--her indolence, her kindness of heart, her coquetry; for she is
coquettish, dainty, and inquisitive, in short, she is a woman; she is as
simple as a child, and, like a child, she is carried away by her
tastes and her impressions. If you tell her about some noble deed, she
trembles, her color rises, her heart throbs fast, and she sheds tears of
joy; if you begin a story about robbers, she turns pale with terror.
You could not find a more sincere, open-hearted, and scrupulously loyal
nature anywhere; if you were to give a hundred gold pieces into her
keeping, she would bury them in some out-of-the-way nook and beg her
bread as before.”

There was a change in Benassis’ tone as he uttered these last words.

“I once determined to put her to the proof,” he said, “and I repented
of it. It is like espionage to bring a test to bear upon another, is it
not? It means that we suspect them at any rate.”

Here the doctor paused, as though some inward reflection engrossed him;
he was quite unconscious of the embarrassment that his last remark had
caused to his companion, who busied himself with disentangling the reins
in order to hide his confusion. Benassis soon resumed his talk.

“I should like to find a husband for my Fosseuse. I should be glad to
make over one of my farms to some good fellow who would make her
happy. And she would be happy. The poor girl would love her children
to distraction; for motherhood, which develops the whole of a woman’s
nature, would give full scope to her overflowing sentiments. She has
never cared for any one, however. Yet her impressionable nature is
a danger to her. She knows this herself, and when she saw that I
recognized it, she admitted the excitability of her temperament to me.
She belongs to the small minority of women whom the slightest contact
with others causes to vibrate perilously; so that she must be made to
value herself on her discretion and her womanly pride. She is as wild
and shy as a swallow! Ah! what a wealth of kindness there is in her!
Nature meant her to be a rich woman; she would be so beneficent: for
a well-loved woman; she would be so faithful and true. She is only
twenty-two years old, and is sinking already beneath the weight of her
soul; a victim to highly-strung nerves, to an organization either too
delicate or too full of power. A passionate love for a faithless lover
would drive her mad, my poor Fosseuse! I have made a study of her
temperament, recognized the reality of her prolonged nervous attacks,
and of the swift mysterious recurrence of her uplifted moods. I found
that they were immediately dependent on atmospheric changes and on the
variations of the moon, a fact which I have carefully verified; and
since then I have cared for her, as a creature unlike all others, for
she is a being whose ailing existence I alone can understand. As I
have told you, she is the pet lamb. But you shall see her; this is her

They had come about one-third of the way up the mountain side. Low
bushes grew on either hand along the steep paths which they were
ascending at a foot pace. At last, at a turn in one of the paths,
Genestas saw La Fosseuse’s dwelling, which stood on one of the largest
knolls on the mountain. Around it was a green sloping space of lawn
about three acres in extent, planted with trees, and surrounded by a
wall high enough to serve as a fence, but not so high as to shut out the
view of the landscape. Several rivulets that had their source in this
garden formed little cascades among the trees. The brick-built cottage
with a low roof that projected several feet was a charming detail in the
landscape. It consisted of a ground floor and a single story, and stood
facing the south. All the windows were in the front of the house, for
its small size and lack of depth from back to front made other openings
unnecessary. The doors and shutters were painted green, and the
underside of the penthouses had been lined with deal boards in the
German fashion, and painted white. The rustic charm of the whole little
dwelling lay in its spotless cleanliness.

Climbing plants and briar roses grew about the house; a great walnut
tree had been allowed to remain among the flowering acacias and trees
that bore sweet-scented blossoms, and a few weeping willows had been
set by the little streams in the garden space. A thick belt of pines and
beeches grew behind the house, so that the picturesque little dwelling
was brought out into strong relief by the sombre width of background.
At that hour of the day, the air was fragrant with the scents from the
hillsides and the perfume from La Fosseuse’s garden. The sky overhead
was clear and serene, but low clouds hung on the horizon, and the
far-off peaks had begun to take the deep rose hues that the sunset often
brings. At the height which they had reached the whole valley lay before
their eyes, from distant Grenoble to the little lake at the foot of the
circle of crags by which Genestas had passed on the previous day. Some
little distance above the house a line of poplars on the hill indicated
the highway that led to Grenoble. Rays of sunlight fell slantwise across
the little town which glittered like a diamond, for the soft red light
which poured over it like a flood was reflected by all its window-panes.
Genestas reined in his horse at the sight, and pointed to the dwellings
in the valley, to the new town, and to La Fosseuse’s house.

“Since the victory of Wagram, and Napoleon’s return to the Tuileries in
1815,” he said, with a sigh, “nothing has so stirred me as the sight of
all this. I owe this pleasure to you, sir, for you have taught me to see
beauty in a landscape.”

“Yes,” said the doctor, smiling as he spoke, “It is better to build
towns than to storm them.”

“Oh! sir, how about the taking of Moscow and the surrender of Mantua!
Why, you do not really know what that means! Is it not a glory for all
of us? You are a good man, but Napoleon also was a good man. If it had
not been for England, you both would have understood each other, and
our Emperor would never have fallen. There are no spies here,” said the
officer, looking around him, “and I can say openly that I love him, now
that he is dead! What a ruler! He knew every man when he saw him!
He would have made you a Councillor of State, for he was a great
administrator himself; even to the point of knowing how many cartridges
were left in the men’s boxes after an action. Poor man! While you were
talking about La Fosseuse, I thought of him, and how he was lying dead
in St. Helena! Was that the kind of climate and country to suit _him_,
whose seat had been a throne, and who had lived with his feet in the
stirrups; hein? They say that he used to work in the garden. The
deuce! He was not made to plant cabbages.... And now we must serve the
Bourbons, and loyally, sir; for, after all, France is France, as you
were saying yesterday.”

Genestas dismounted as he uttered these last words, and mechanically
followed the example set by Benassis, who fastened his horse’s bridle to
a tree.

“Can she be away?” said the doctor, when he did not see La Fosseuse on
the threshold. They went into the house, but there was no one in the
sitting room on the ground floor.

“She must have heard the sound of a second horse,” said Benassis, with
a smile, “and has gone upstairs to put on her cap, or her sash, or some
piece of finery.”

He left Genestas alone, and went upstairs in search of La Fosseuse.
The commandant made a survey of the room. He noticed the pattern of the
paper that covered the walls--roses scattered over a gray background,
and the straw matting that did duty for a carpet on the floor. The
armchair, the table, and the smaller chairs were made of wood from which
the bark had not been removed. The room was not without ornament; some
flower-stands, as they might be called, made of osiers and wooden hoops,
had been filled with moss and flowers, and the windows were draped by
white dimity curtains bordered with a scarlet fringe. There was a mirror
above the chimney-piece, where a plain china jar stood between two
candlesticks. Some calico lay on the table; shirts, apparently, had
been cut out and begun, several pairs of gussets were finished, and
a work-basket, scissors, needles and thread, and all a needle-woman’s
requirements lay beside them. Everything was as fresh and clean as
a shell that the sea had tossed up on the beach. Genestas saw that a
kitchen lay on the other side of the passage, and that the staircase
was at the further end of it. The upper story, like the ground floor,
evidently consisted of two rooms only. “Come, do not be frightened,”
 Benassis was saying to La Fosseuse; “come down-stairs!”

Genestas promptly retreated into the sitting-room when he heard these
words, and in another moment a slender girl, well and gracefully made,
appeared in the doorway. She wore a gown of cambric, covered with narrow
pink stripes, and cut low at the throat, so as to display a muslin
chemisette. Shyness and timidity had brought the color to a face which
had nothing very remarkable about it save a certain flatness of feature
which called to mind the Cossack and Russian countenances that since
the disasters of 1814 have unfortunately come to be so widely known in
France. La Fosseuse was, in fact, very like these men of the North. Her
nose turned up at the end, and was sunk in her face, her mouth was wide
and her chin small, her hands and arms were red and, like her feet, were
of the peasant type, large and strong. Although she had been used to an
outdoor life, to exposure to the sun and the scorching summer winds, her
complexion had the bleached look of withered grass; but after the first
glance this made her face more interesting, and there was such a sweet
expression in her blue eyes, so much grace about her movements, and such
music in her voice, that little as her features seemed to harmonize
with the disposition which Benassis had praised to the commandant, the
officer recognized in her the capricious and ailing creature, condemned
to suffering by a nature that had been thwarted in its growth.

La Fosseuse deftly stirred the fire of dry branches and turfs of peat,
then sat down in an armchair and took up one of the shirts that she had
begun. She sat there under the officer’s eyes, half bashful, afraid to
look up, and calm to all appearance; but her bodice rose and fell
with the rapid breathing that betrayed her nervousness, and it struck
Genestas that her figure was very graceful.

“Well, my poor child, is your work going on nicely?” said Benassis,
taking up the material intended for the shirts, and passing it through
his fingers.

La Fosseuse gave the doctor a timid and beseeching glance.

“Do not scold me, sir,” she entreated; “I have not touched them to-day,
although they were ordered by you, and for people who need them very
badly. But the weather has been so fine! I wandered out and picked
a quantity of mushrooms and white truffles, and took them over to
Jacquotte; she was very pleased, for some people are coming to dinner.
I was so glad that I thought of it; something seemed to tell me to go to
look for them.”

She began to ply her needle again.

“You have a very pretty house here, mademoiselle,” said Genestas,
addressing her.

“It is not mine at all, sir,” she said, looking at the stranger, and her
eyes seemed to grow red and tearful; “it belongs to M. Benassis,” and
she turned towards the doctor with a gentle expression on her face.

“You know quite well, my child, that you will never have to leave it,”
 he said, as he took her hand in his.

La Fosseuse suddenly rose and left the room.

“Well,” said the doctor, addressing the officer, “what do you think of

“There is something strangely touching about her,” Genestas answered.
“How very nicely you have fitted up this little nest of hers!”

“Bah! a wall-paper at fifteen or twenty sous; it was carefully chosen,
but that was all. The furniture is nothing very much either, my
basket-maker made it for me; he wanted to show his gratitude; and La
Fosseuse made the curtains herself out of a few yards of calico. This
little house of hers, and her simple furniture, seem pretty to you,
because you come upon them up here on a hillside in a forlorn part of
the world where you did not expect to find things clean and tidy. The
reason of the prettiness is a kind of harmony between the little house
and its surroundings. Nature has set picturesque groups of trees and
running streams about it, and has scattered her fairest flowers among
the grass, her sweet-scented wild strawberry blossoms, and her lovely
violets.... Well, what is the matter?” asked Benassis, as La Fosseuse
came back to them.

“Oh! nothing, nothing,” she answered. “I fancied that one of my chickens
was missing, and had not been shut up.”

Her remark was disingenuous, but this was only noticed by the doctor,
who said in her ear, “You have been crying!”

“Why do you say things like that to me before some one else?” she asked
in reply.

“Mademoiselle,” said Genestas, “it is a great pity that you live here
all by yourself; you ought to have a mate in such a charming cage as

“That is true,” she said, “but what would you have? I am poor, and I
am hard to please. I feel that it would not suit me at all to carry the
soup out into the fields, nor to push a hand-cart; to feel the misery
of those whom I should love, and have no power to put an end to it; to
carry my children in my arms all day, and patch and re-patch a man’s
rags. The cure tells me that such thoughts as these are not very
Christian; I know that myself, but how can I help it? There are days
when I would rather eat a morsel of dry bread than cook anything for
my dinner. Why would you have me worry some man’s life out with my
failings? He would perhaps work himself to death to satisfy my whims,
and that would not be right. Pshaw! an unlucky lot has fallen to me, and
I ought to bear it by myself.”

“And besides, she is a born do-nothing,” said Benassis. “We must take
my poor Fosseuse as we find her. But all that she has been saying to you
simply means that she has never loved as yet,” he added, smiling. Then
he rose and went out on to the lawn for a moment.

“You must be very fond of M. Benassis?” asked Genestas.

“Oh! yes, sir; and there are plenty of people hereabouts who feel as I
do--that they would be glad to do anything in the world for him. And yet
he who cures other people has some trouble of his own that nothing can
cure. You are his friend, perhaps you know what it is? Who could have
given pain to such a man, who is the very image of God on earth? I know
a great many who think that the corn grows faster if he has passed by
their field in the morning.”

“And what do you think yourself?”

“I, sir? When I have seen him,” she seemed to hesitate, then she went
on, “I am happy all the rest of the day.”

She bent her head over her work, and plied her needle with unwonted

“Well, has the captain been telling you something about Napoleon?” said
the doctor, as he came in again.

“Have you seen the Emperor, sir?” cried La Fosseuse, gazing at the
officer’s face with eager curiosity.

“_Parbleu!_” said Genestas, “hundreds of times!”

“Oh! how I should like to know something about the army!”

“Perhaps we will come to take a cup of coffee with you to-morrow, and
you shall hear ‘something about the army,’ dear child,” said Benassis,
who laid his hand on her shoulder and kissed her brow. “She is my
daughter, you see!” he added, turning to the commandant; “there is
something wanting in the day, somehow, when I have not kissed her

La Fosseuse held Benassis’ hand in a tight clasp as she murmured, “Oh!
you are very kind!”

They left the house; but she came after them to see them mount. She
waited till Genestas was in the saddle, and then whispered in Benassis’
ear, “Tell me who that gentleman is?”

“Aha!” said the doctor, putting a foot in the stirrup, “a husband for
you, perhaps.”

She stood on the spot where they left her, absorbed in watching their
progress down the steep path; and when they came past the end of the
garden, they saw her already perched on a little heap of stones, so that
she might still keep them in view and give them a last nod of farewell.

“There is something very unusual about that girl, sir,” Genestas said to
the doctor when they had left the house far behind.

“There is, is there not?” he answered. “Many a time I have said to
myself that she will make a charming wife, but I can only love her as a
sister or a daughter, and in no other way; my heart is dead.”

“Has she any relations?” asked Genestas. “What did her father and mother

“Oh, it is quite a long story,” answered Benassis. “Neither her father
nor mother nor any of her relations are living. Everything about her
down to her name interested me. La Fosseuse was born here in the town.
Her father, a laborer from Saint Laurent du Pont, was nicknamed _Le
Fosseur_, which is no doubt a contraction of _fossoyeur_, for the
office of sexton had been in his family time out of mind. All the sad
associations of the graveyard hang about the name. Here as in some other
parts of France, there is an old custom, dating from the times of the
Latin civilization, in virtue of which a woman takes her husband’s name,
with the addition of a feminine termination, and this girl has been
called La Fosseuse, after her father.

“The laborer had married the waiting-woman of some countess or other
who owns an estate at a distance of a few leagues. It was a love-match.
Here, as in all country districts, love is a very small element in
a marriage. The peasant, as a rule, wants a wife who will bear him
children, a housewife who will make good soup and take it out to him in
the fields, who will spin and make his shirts and mend his clothes. Such
a thing had not happened for a long while in a district where a young
man not unfrequently leaves his betrothed for another girl who is richer
by three or four acres of land. The fate of Le Fosseur and his wife
was scarcely happy enough to induce our Dauphinois to forsake their
calculating habits and practical way of regarding things. La Fosseuse,
who was a very pretty woman, died when her daughter was born, and her
husband’s grief for his loss was so great that he followed her within
the year, leaving nothing in the world to this little one except an
existence whose continuance was very doubtful--a mere feeble flicker of
a life. A charitable neighbor took the care of the baby upon herself,
and brought her up till she was nine years old. Then the burden of
supporting La Fosseuse became too heavy for the good woman; so at the
time of year when travelers are passing along the roads, she sent her
charge to beg for her living upon the highways.

“One day the little orphan asked for bread at the countess’ chateau, and
they kept the child for her mother’s sake. She was to be waiting-maid
some day to the daughter of the house, and was brought up to this end.
Her young mistress was married five years later; but meanwhile the poor
little thing was the victim of all the caprices of wealthy people, whose
beneficence for the most part is not to be depended upon even while
it lasts. They are generous by fits and starts--sometimes patrons,
sometimes friends, sometimes masters, in this way they falsify the
already false position of the poor children in whom they interest
themselves, and trifle with the hearts, the lives, and futures of their
protegees, whom they regard very lightly. From the first La Fosseuse
became almost a companion to the young heiress; she was taught to read
and write, and her future mistress sometimes amused herself by giving
her music lessons. She was treated sometimes as a lady’s companion,
sometimes as a waiting-maid, and in this way they made an incomplete
being of her. She acquired a taste for luxury and for dress, together
with manners ill-suited to her real position. She has been roughly
schooled by misfortune since then, but the vague feeling that she is
destined for a higher lot has not been effaced in her.

“A day came at last, however, a fateful day for the poor girl, when the
young countess (who was married by this time) discovered La Fosseuse
arrayed in one of her ball dresses, and dancing before a mirror. La
Fosseuse was no longer anything but a waiting-maid, and the orphan girl,
then sixteen years of age, was dismissed without pity. Her idle ways
plunged her once more into poverty; she wandered about begging by the
roadside, and working at times as I have told you. Sometimes she thought
of drowning herself, sometimes also of giving herself to the first
comer; she spent most of her time thinking dark thoughts, lying by
the side of a wall in the sun, with her face buried in the grass, and
passers-by would sometimes throw a few halfpence to her, simply because
she asked them for nothing. One whole year she spent in a hospital at
Annecy after heavy toil in the harvest field; she had only undertaken
the work in the hope that it would kill her, and that so she might die.
You should hear her herself when she speaks of her feelings and ideas
during this time of her life; her simple confidences are often very

“She came back to the little town at last, just about the time when I
decided to take up my abode in it. I wanted to understand the minds of
the people beneath my rule; her character struck me, and I made a
study of it; then when I became aware of her physical infirmities, I
determined to watch over her. Perhaps in time she may grow accustomed to
work with her needle, but, whatever happens, I have secured her future.”

“She is quite alone up there!” said Genestas.

“No. One of my herdswomen sleeps in the house,” the doctor answered.
“You did not see my farm buildings which lie behind the house. They are
hidden by the pine-trees. Oh! she is quite safe. Moreover, there are no
mauvais sujets here in the valley; if any come among us by any chance, I
send them into the army, where they make excellent solders.”

“Poor girl!” said Genestas.

“Oh! the folk round about do not pity her at all,” said Benassis; “on
the other hand, they think her very lucky; but there is this difference
between her and the other women: God has given strength to them and
weakness to her, and they do not see that.”

The moment that the two horsemen came out upon the road to Grenoble,
Benassis stopped with an air of satisfaction; a different view had
suddenly opened out before them; he foresaw its effect upon Genestas,
and wished to enjoy his surprise. As far as the eye could see, two green
walls sixty feet high rose above a road which was rounded like a garden
path. The trees had not been cut or trimmed, each one preserved the
magnificent palm-branch shape that makes the Lombard poplar one of the
grandest of trees; there they stood, a natural monument which a man
might well be proud of having reared. The shadow had already reached one
side of the road, transforming it into a vast wall of black leaves,
but the setting sun shone full upon the other side, which stood out in
contrast, for the young leaves at the tips of every branch had been
dyed a bright golden hue, and, as the breeze stirred through the waving
curtain, it gleamed in the light.

“You must be very happy here!” cried Genestas. “The sight of this must
be all pleasure to you.”

“The love of Nature is the only love that does not deceive human hopes.
There is no disappointment here,” said the doctor. “Those poplars are
ten years old; have you ever seen any that are better grown than these
of mine?”

“God is great!” said the soldier, coming to a stand in the middle of the
road, of which he saw neither beginning nor end.

“You do me good,” cried Benassis. “It was a pleasure to hear you say
over again what I have so often said in the midst of this avenue. There
is something holy about this place. Here, we are like two mere specks;
and the feeling of our own littleness always brings us into the presence
of God.”

They rode on slowly and in silence, listening to their horses’
hoof-beats; the sound echoed along the green corridor as it might have
done beneath the vaulted roof of a cathedral.

“How many things have a power to stir us which town-dwellers do not
suspect,” said the doctor. “Do you not notice the sweet scent given
off by the gum of the poplar buds, and the resin of the larches? How
delightful it is!”

“Listen!” exclaimed Genestas. “Let us wait a moment.”

A distant sound of singing came to their ears.

“Is it a woman or a man, or is it a bird?” asked the commandant in a low
voice. “Is it the voice of this wonderful landscape?”

“It is something of all these things,” the doctor answered, as he
dismounted and fastened his horse to a branch of a poplar tree.

He made a sign to the officer to follow his example and to come with
him. They went slowly along a footpath between two hedges of blossoming
hawthorn which filled the damp evening air with its delicate fragrance.
The sun shone full into the pathway; the light and warmth were very
perceptible after the shade thrown by the long wall of poplar trees; the
still powerful rays poured a flood of red light over a cottage at the
end of the stony track. The ridge of the cottage roof was usually a
bright green with its overgrowth of mosses and house-leeks, and the
thatch was brown as a chestnut shell, but just now it seemed to be
powdered with a golden dust. The cottage itself was scarcely visible
through the haze of light; the ruinous wall, the doorway and everything
about it was radiant with a fleeting glory and a beauty due to chance,
such as is sometimes seen for an instant in a human face, beneath the
influence of a strong emotion that brings warmth and color into it. In
a life under the open sky and among the fields, the transient and tender
grace of such moments as these draws from us the wish of the apostle who
said to Jesus Christ upon the mountain, “Let us build a tabernacle and
dwell here.”

The wide landscape seemed at that moment to have found a voice whose
purity, and sweetness equaled its own sweetness and purity, a voice as
mournful as the dying light in the west--for a vague reminder of Death
is divinely set in the heavens, and the sun above gives the same warning
that is given here on earth by the flowers and the bright insects of the
day. There is a tinge of sadness about the radiance of sunset, and the
melody was sad. It was a song widely known in the days of yore, a ballad
of love and sorrow that once had served to stir a national hatred of
France for England. Beaumarchais, in a later day, had given it back its
true poetry by adapting it for the French theatre and putting it into
the mouth of a page, who pours out his heart to his stepmother. Just
now it was simply the air that rose and fell. There were no words; the
plaintive voice of the singer touched and thrilled the soul.

“It is the swan’s song,” said Benassis. “That voice does not sound twice
in a century for human ears. Let us hurry; we must put a stop to the
singing! The child is killing himself; it would be cruel to listen to
him any longer. Be quiet, Jacques! Come, come, be quiet!” cried the

The music ceased. Genestas stood motionless and overcome with
astonishment. A cloud had drifted across the sun, the landscape and the
voice were both mute. Shadow, chillness, and silence had taken the place
of the soft glory of the light, the warm breath of the breeze, and the
child’s singing.

“What makes you disobey me?” asked Benassis. “I shall not bring you any
more rice pudding nor snail broth! No more fresh dates and white bread
for you! So you want to die and break your poor mother’s heart, do you?”

Genestas came into a little yard, which was sufficiently clean and
tidily kept, and saw before him a lad of fifteen, who looked as delicate
as a woman. His hair was fair but scanty, and the color in his face
was so bright that it seemed hardly natural. He rose up slowly from the
bench where he was sitting, beneath a thick bush of jessamine and some
blossoming lilacs that were running riot, so that he was almost hidden
among the leaves.

“You know very well,” said the doctor, “that I told you not to talk, not
to expose yourself to the chilly evening air, and to go to bed as soon
as the sun was set. What put it into your head to sing?”

“_Dame!_ M. Benassis, it was so very warm out here, and it is so nice
to feel warm! I am always cold. I felt so happy that without thinking I
began to try over _Malbrouk s’en va-t-en guerre_, just for fun, and
then I began to listen to myself because my voice was something like the
sound of the flute your shepherd plays.”

“Well, my poor Jacques, this must not happen again; do you hear? Let me
have your hand,” and the doctor felt his pulse.

The boy’s eyes had their usual sweet expression, but just now they shone
with a feverish light.

“It is just as I thought, you are covered with perspiration,” said
Benassis. “Your mother has not come in yet?”

“No, sir.”

“Come! go in-doors and get into bed.”

The young invalid went back into the cottage, followed by Benassis and
the officer.

“Just light a candle, Captain Bluteau,” said the doctor, who was helping
Jacques to take off his rough, tattered clothing.

When Genestas had struck a light, and the interior of the room was
visible, he was surprised by the extreme thinness of the child, who
seemed to be little more than skin and bone. When the little peasant had
been put to bed, Benassis tapped the lad’s chest, and listened to
the ominous sounds made in this way by his fingers; then, after some
deliberation, he drew back the coverlet over Jacques, stepped back a
few paces, folded his arms across his chest, and closely scrutinized his

“How do you feel, my little man?”

“Quite comfortable, sir.”

A table, with four spindle legs, stood in the room; the doctor drew
it up to the bed, found a tumbler and a phial on the mantel-shelf, and
composed a draught, by carefully measuring a few drops of brown liquid
from the phial into some water, Genestas holding the light the while.

“Your mother is very late.”

“She is coming, sir,” said the child; “I can hear her footsteps on the

The doctor and the officer looked around them while they waited. At the
foot of the bed there was a sort of mattress made of moss, on which,
doubtless, the mother was wont to sleep in her clothes, for there were
neither sheets nor coverlet. Genestas pointed out this bed to Benassis,
who nodded slightly to show that he likewise had already admired this
motherly devotion. There was a clatter of sabots in the yard, and the
doctor went out.

“You will have to sit up with Jacques to-night, Mother Colas. If he
tells you that his breathing is bad, you must let him drink some of the
draught that I have poured into the tumbler on the table. Take care not
to let him have more than two or three sips at a time; there ought to
be enough in the tumbler to last him all through the night. Above all
things, do not touch the phial, and change the child’s clothing at once.
He is perspiring heavily.”

“I could not manage to wash his shirts to-day, sir; I had to take the
hemp over to Grenoble, as we wanted the money.”

“Very well, then, I will send you some shirts.”

“Then is he worse, my poor lad?” asked the woman.

“He has been so imprudent as to sing, Mother Colas; and it is not to be
expected that any good can come of it; but do not be hard upon him, nor
scold him. Do not be down-hearted about it; and if Jacques complains
overmuch, send a neighbor to fetch me. Good-bye.”

The doctor called to his friend, and they went back along the foot-path.

“Is that little peasant consumptive?” asked Genestas.

“_Mon Dieu_! yes,” answered Benassis. “Science cannot save him, unless
Nature works a miracle. Our professors at the Ecole de Medecine in
Paris often used to speak to us of the phenomenon which you have
just witnessed. Some maladies of this kind bring about changes in the
voice-producing organs that give the sufferer a short-lived power
of song that no trained voice can surpass. I have made you spend a
melancholy day, sir,” said the doctor when he was once more in
the saddle. “Suffering and death everywhere, but everywhere also
resignation. All these peasant folk take death philosophically; they
fall ill, say nothing about it, and take to their beds like dumb
animals. But let us say no more about death, and let us quicken our
horses’ paces a little; we ought to reach the town before nightfall, so
that you may see the new quarter.”

“Eh! some place is on fire over there,” said Genestas, pointing to a
spot on the mountain, where a sheaf of flames was rising.

“It is not a dangerous fire. Our lime-burner is heating his kiln,
no doubt. It is a newly-started industry, which turns our heather to

There was the sudden report of a gun, followed by an involuntary
exclamation from Benassis, who said, with an impatient gesture, “If that
is Butifer, we shall see which of us two is the stronger.”

“The shot came from that quarter,” said Genestas, indicating a
beech-wood up above them on the mountain side. “Yes, up there; you may
trust an old soldier’s ear.”

“Let us go there at once!” cried Benassis, and he made straight for the
little wood, urging his horse at a furious speed across the ditches and
fields, as if he were riding a steeplechase, in his anxiety to catch the
sportsman red-handed.

“The man you are after has made off,” shouted Genestas, who could
scarcely keep up with him.

Benassis wheeled his horse round sharply, and came back again. The man
of whom he was in search soon appeared on the top of a perpendicular
crag, a hundred feet above the level of the two horsemen.

“Butifer!” shouted Benassis when he saw that this figure carried a
fowling-piece; “come down!”

Butifer recognized the doctor, and replied by a respectful and friendly
sign which showed that he had every intention of obeying.

“I can imagine that if a man were driven to it by fear or by some
overmastering impulse that he might possibly contrive to scramble up to
that point among the rocks,” said Genestas; “but how will he manage to
come down again?”

“I have no anxiety on that score,” answered Benassis; “the wild goats
must feel envious of that fellow yonder! You will see.”

The emergencies of warfare had accustomed the commandant to gauge the
real worth of men; he admired the wonderful quickness of Butifer’s
movements, the sure-footed grace with which the hunter swung himself
down the rugged sides of the crag, to the top of which he had so boldly
climbed. The strong, slender form of the mountaineer was gracefully
poised in every attitude which the precipitous nature of the path
compelled him to assume; and so certain did he seem of his power to hold
on at need, that if the pinnacle of rock on which he took his stand had
been a level floor, he could not have set his foot down upon it
more calmly. He carried his fowling-piece as if it had been a light
walking-cane. Butifer was a young man of middle height, thin, muscular,
and in good training; his beauty was of a masculine order, which
impressed Genestas on a closer view.

Evidently he belonged to the class of smugglers who ply their trade
without resorting to violent courses, and who only exert patience and
craft to defraud the government. His face was manly and sunburned. His
eyes, which were bright as an eagle’s, were of a clear yellow color, and
his sharply-cut nose with its slight curve at the tip was very much like
an eagle’s beak. His cheeks were covered with down, his red lips were
half open, giving a glimpse of a set of teeth of dazzling whiteness. His
beard, moustache, and the reddish whiskers, which he allowed to grow,
and which curled naturally, still further heightened the masculine
and forbidding expression of his face. Everything about him spoke of
strength. He was broad-chested; constant activity had made the
muscles of his hands curiously firm and prominent. There was the
quick intelligence of a savage about his glances; he looked resolute,
fearless, and imperturbable, like a man accustomed to put his life in
peril, and whose physical and mental strength had been so often tried by
dangers of every kind, that he no longer felt any doubts about himself.
He wore a blouse that had suffered a good deal from thorns and briars,
and he had a pair of leather soles bound to his feet by eel-skin thongs,
and a pair of torn and tattered blue linen breeches through which his
legs were visible, red, wiry, hard, and muscular as those of a stag.

“There you see the man who once fired a shot at me,” Benassis remarked
to the commandant in a low voice. “If at this moment I were to signify
to him my desire to be rid of any one, he would kill them without
scruple.--Butifer!” he went on, addressing the poacher, “I fully
believed you to be a man of your word; I pledged mine for you because I
had your promise. My promise to the _procureur du roi_ at Grenoble was
based upon your vow never to go poaching again, and to turn over a new
leaf and become a steady, industrious worker. You fired that shot just
now, and here you are, on the Comte de Labranchoir’s estate! Eh! you
miscreant? Suppose his keeper had happened to hear you? It is a lucky
thing for you that I shall take no formal cognizance of this offence; if
I did, you would come up as an old offender, and of course you have no
gun license! I let you keep that gun of yours out of tenderness for your
attachment to the weapon.”

“It is a beauty,” said the commandant, who recognized a duck gun from
Sainte Etienne.

The smuggler raised his head and looked at Genestas by way of
acknowledging the compliment.

“Butifer,” continued Benassis, “if your conscience does not reproach
you, it ought to do so. If you are going to begin your old tricks again,
you will find yourself once more in a park enclosed by four stone walls,
and no power on earth will save you from the hulks; you will be a marked
man, and your character will be ruined. Bring your gun to me to-night, I
will take care of it for you.”

Butifer gripped the barrel of his weapon in a convulsive clutch.

“You are right, sir,” he said; “I have done wrong, I have broken bounds,
I am a cur. My gun ought to go to you, but when you take it away from
me, you take all that I have in the world. The last shot which my
mother’s son will fire shall be through my own head.... What would you
have? I did as you wanted me. I kept quiet all winter; but the spring
came, and the sap rose. I am not used to day labor. It is not in my
nature to spend my life in fattening fowls; I cannot stoop about turning
over the soil for vegetables, nor flourish a whip and drive a cart, nor
scrub down a horse in a stable all my life, so I must die of starvation,
I suppose? I am only happy when I am up there,” he went on after a
pause, pointing to the mountains. “And I have been about among the hills
for the past week; I got a sight of a chamois, and I have the chamois
there,” he said, pointing to the top of the crag; “it is at your
service! Dear M. Benassis, leave me my gun. Listen! I will leave the
Commune, _foi de Butifer_! I will go to the Alps; the chamois-hunters
will not say a word; on the contrary, they will receive me with open
arms. I shall come to grief at the bottom of some glacier; but, if I am
to speak my mind, I would rather live for a couple of years among the
heights, where there are no governments, nor excisemen, nor gamekeepers,
nor procureurs du roi, than grovel in a marsh for a century. You are
the only one that I shall be sorry to leave behind; all the rest of them
bore me! When you are in the right, at any rate you don’t worry one’s
life out----”

“And how about Louise?” asked Benassis. Butifer paused and turned

“Eh! learn to read and write, my lad,” said Genestas; “come and enlist
in my regiment, have a horse to ride, and turn carabineer. If they
once sound ‘to horse’ for something like a war, you will find out
that Providence made you to live in the midst of cannon, bullets, and
battalions, and they will make a general of you.”

“Ye-es, if Napoleon was back again,” answered Butifer.

“You know our agreement,” said the doctor. “At the second infraction of
it, you undertook to go for a soldier. I give you six months in which to
learn to read and write, and then I will find some young gentleman who
wants a substitute.”

Butifer looked at the mountains.

“Oh! you shall not go to the Alps,” cried Benassis. “A man like you, a
man of his word, with plenty of good stuff in him, ought to serve his
country and command a brigade, and not come to his end trailing after
a chamois. The life that you are leading will take you straight to the
convict’s prison. After over-fatiguing yourself, you are obliged to take
a long rest; and, in the end, you will fall into idle ways that will be
the ruin of any notions of orderly existence that you have; you will get
into the habit of putting your strength to bad uses, and you will take
the law into your own hands. I want to put you, in spite of yourself,
into the right path.”

“So I am to pine and fret myself to death? I feel suffocated whenever I
am in a town. I cannot hold out for more than a day, in Grenoble, when I
take Louise there----”

“We all have our whims, which we must manage to control, or turn them to
account for our neighbor’s benefit. But it is late, and I am in a hurry.
Come to see me to-morrow, and bring your gun along with you. We will
talk this over, my boy. Good-bye. Go and sell your chamois in Grenoble.”

The two horsemen went on their way.

“That is what I call a man,” said Genestas.

“A man in a bad way,” answered Benassis. “But what help is there for it?
You heard what he said. Is it not lamentable to see such fine qualities
running to waste? If France were invaded by a foreign foe, Butifer at
the head of a hundred young fellows would keep a whole division busy in
Maurienne for a month; but in a time of peace the only outlets for his
energy are those which set the law at defiance. He must wrestle with
something; whenever he is not risking his neck he is at odds with
society, he lends a helping hand to smugglers. The rogue will cross the
Rhone, all by himself, in a little boat, to take shoes over into Savoy;
he makes good his retreat, heavy laden as he is, to some inaccessible
place high up among the hills, where he stays for two days at a time,
living on dry crusts. In short, danger is as welcome to him as sleep
would be to anybody else, and by dint of experience he has acquired a
relish for extreme sensations that has totally unfitted him for ordinary
life. It vexes me that a man like that should take a wrong turn and
gradually go to the bad, become a bandit, and die on the gallows. But,
see, captain, how our village looks from here!”

Genestas obtained a distant view of a wide circular space, planted with
trees, a fountain surrounded by poplars stood in the middle of it.
Round the enclosure were high banks on which a triple line of trees of
different kinds were growing; the first row consisted of acacias,
the second of Japanese varnish trees, and some young elms grew on the
highest row of all.

“That is where we hold our fair,” said Benassis. “That is the beginning
of the High Street, by those two handsome houses that I told you about;
one belongs to the notary, and the other to the justice of the peace.”

They came at that moment into a broad road, fairly evenly paved with
large cobble-stones. There were altogether about a hundred new houses on
either side of it, and almost every house stood in a garden.

The view of the church with its doorway made a pretty termination to
this road. Two more roads had been recently planned out half-way down
the course of the first, and many new houses had already been built
along them. The town-hall stood opposite the parsonage, in the square by
the church. As Benassis went down the road, women and children stood in
their doorways to wish him good-evening, the men took off their caps,
and the little children danced and shouted about his horse, as if the
animal’s good-nature were as well known as the kindness of its master.
The gladness was undemonstrative; there was the instinctive delicacy of
all deep feeling about it, and it had the same pervasive power. At the
sight of this welcome it seemed to Genestas that the doctor had been too
modest in his description of the affection with which he was regarded by
the people of the district. His truly was a sovereignty of the sweetest
kind; a right royal sovereignty moreover, for its title was engraven
in the hearts of its subjects. However dazzling the rays of glory that
surround a man, however great the power that he enjoys, in his inmost
soul he soon comes to a just estimate of the sentiments that all
external action causes for him. He very soon sees that no change has
been wrought in him, that there is nothing new and nothing greater
in the exercise of his physical faculties, and discovers his own real
nothingness. Kings, even should they rule over the whole world, are
condemned to live in a narrow circle like other men. They must even
submit to the conditions of their lot, and their happiness depends
upon the personal impressions that they receive. But Benassis met with
nothing but goodwill and loyalty throughout the district.


“Pray, come in, sir!” cried Jacquotte. “A pretty time the gentlemen have
been waiting for you! It is always the way! You always manage to spoil
the dinner for me whenever it ought to be particularly good. Everything
is cooked to death by this time----”

“Oh! well, here we are,” answered Benassis with a smile.

The two horsemen dismounted, and went off to the salon, where the guests
invited by the doctor were assembled.

“Gentlemen,” he said taking Genestas by the hand, “I have the honor
of introducing you to M. Bluteau, captain of a regiment of cavalry
stationed at Grenoble--an old soldier, who has promised me that he will
stay among us for a little while.”

Then, turning to Genestas, he presented to him a tall, thin, gray-haired
man, dressed in black.

“This gentleman,” said Benassis, “is M. Dufau, the justice of the peace
of whom I have already spoken to you, and who has so largely contributed
to the prosperity of the Commune.” Then he led his guest up to a pale,
slight young man of middle height, who wore spectacles, and was also
dressed in black. “And this is M. Tonnelet,” he went on, “M. Gravier’s
son-in-law, and the first notary who came to the village.”

The doctor next turned to a stout man, who seemed to belong half to
the peasant, half to the middle class, the owner of a rough-pimpled but
good-humored countenance.

“This is my worthy colleague M. Cambon,” he went on, “the
timber-merchant, to whom I owe the confidence and good-will of the
people here. He was one of the promoters of the road which you have
admired. I have no need to tell you the profession of this gentleman,”
 Benassis added, turning to the curate. “Here is a man whom no one can
help loving.”

There was an irresistible attraction in the moral beauty expressed
by the cure’s countenance, which engrossed Genestas’ attention. Yet a
certain harshness and austerity of outline might make M. Janvier’s
face seem unpleasing at a first glance. His attitude, and his slight,
emaciated frame, showed that he was far from strong physically, but
the unchanging serenity of his face bore witness to the profound inward
peace of heart. Heaven seemed to be reflected in his eyes, and the
inextinguishable fervor of charity which glowed in his heart appeared
to shine from them. The gestures that he made but rarely were simple and
natural, his appeared to be a quiet and retiring nature, and there was
a modesty and simplicity like that of a young girl about his actions. At
first sight he inspired respect and a vague desire to be admitted to his

“Ah! M. le Maire,” he said, bending as though to escape from Benassis’

Something in the cure’s tones brought a thrill to Genestas’ heart, and
the two insignificant words uttered by this stranger priest plunged him
into musings that were almost devout.

“Gentlemen,” said Jacquotte, who came into the middle of the room, and
there took her stand, with her hands on her hips, “the soup is on the

Invited by Benassis, who summoned each in turn so as to avoid questions
of precedence, the doctor’s five guests went into the dining-room; and
after the cure, in low and quiet tones, had repeated a _Benedicite_,
they took their places at table. The cloth that covered the table was of
that peculiar kind of damask linen invented in the time of Henry IV. by
the brothers Graindorge, the skilful weavers, who gave their name to the
heavy fabric so well known to housekeepers. The linen was of dazzling
whiteness, and fragrant with the scent of the thyme that Jacquotte
always put into her wash-tubs. The dinner service was of white
porcelain, edged with blue, and was in perfect order. The decanters
were of the old-fashioned octagonal kind still in use in the provinces,
though they have disappeared elsewhere. Grotesque figures had been
carved on the horn handles of the knives. These relics of ancient
splendor, which, nevertheless, looked almost new, seemed to those who
scrutinized them to be in keeping with the kindly and open-hearted
nature of the master of the house.

The lid of the soup-tureen drew a momentary glance from Genestas; he
noticed that it was surmounted by a group of vegetables in high relief,
skilfully colored after the manner of Bernard Palissy, the celebrated
sixteenth century craftsman.

There was no lack of character about the group of men thus assembled.
The powerful heads of Genestas and Benassis contrasted admirably with
M. Janvier’s apostolic countenance; and in the same fashion the elderly
faces of the justice of the peace and the deputy-mayor brought out the
youthfulness of the notary. Society seemed to be represented by these
various types. The expression of each one indicated contentment with
himself and with the present, and a faith in the future. M. Tonnelet
and M. Janvier, who were still young, loved to make forecasts of coming
events, for they felt that the future was theirs; while the other guests
were fain rather to turn their talk upon the past. All of them faced the
things of life seriously, and their opinions seemed to reflect a double
tinge of soberness, on the one hand, from the twilight hues of well-nigh
forgotten joys that could never more be revived for them; and, on the
other, from the gray dawn which gave promise of a glorious day.

“You must have had a very tiring day, sir?” said M. Cambon, addressing
the cure.

“Yes, sir,” answered M. Janvier, “the poor cretin and Pere Pelletier
were buried at different hours.”

“Now we can pull down all the hovels of the old village,” Benassis
remarked to his deputy. “When the space on which the houses stand has
been grubbed up, it will mean at least another acre of meadow land for
us; and furthermore, there will be a clear saving to the Commune of the
hundred francs that it used to cost to keep Chautard the cretin.”

“For the next three years we ought to lay out the hundred francs in
making a single-span bridge to carry the lower road over the main
stream,” said M. Cambon. “The townsfolk and the people down the valley
have fallen into the way of taking a short cut across that patch of land
of Jean Francois Pastoureau’s; before they have done they will cut it up
in a way that will do a lot of harm to that poor fellow.”

“I am sure that the money could not be put to a better use,” said the
justice of peace. “In my opinion the abuse of the right of way is one of
the worst nuisances in a country district. One-tenth of the cases that
come before the court are caused by unfair easement. The rights of
property are infringed in this way almost with impunity in many and many
a commune. A respect for the law and a respect for property are ideas
too often disregarded in France, and it is most important that they
should be inculcated. Many people think that there is something
dishonorable in assisting the law to take its course. ‘Go and be
hanged somewhere else,’ is a saying which seems to be dictated by an
unpraiseworthy generosity of feeling; but at the bottom it is nothing
but a hypocritical formula--a sort of veil which we throw over our own
selfishness. Let us own to it, we lack patriotism! The true patriot is
the citizen who is so deeply impressed with a sense of the importance
of the laws that he will see them carried out even at his own cost and
inconvenience. If you let the criminal go in peace, are you not making
yourself answerable for the crimes he will commit?”

“It is all of a piece,” said Benassis. “If the mayors kept their roads
in better order, there would not be so many footpaths. And if the
members of Municipal Councils knew a little better, they would uphold
the small landowner and the mayor when the two combine to oppose the
establishment of unfair easements. The fact that chateau, cottage,
field, and tree are all equally sacred would then be brought home in
every way to the ignorant; they would be made to understand that Right
is just the same in all cases, whether the value of the property in
question be large or small. But such salutary changes cannot be brought
about all at once. They depend almost entirely on the moral condition of
the population, which we can never completely reform without the potent
aid of the cures. This remark does not apply to you in any way, M.

“Nor do I take it to myself,” laughed the cure. “Is not my heart set on
bringing the teaching of the Catholic religion to co-operate with your
plans of administration? For instance, I have often tried, in my pulpit
discourses on theft, to imbue the folk of this parish with the very
ideas of Right to which you have just given utterance. For truly, God
does not estimate theft by the value of the thing stolen, He looks at
the thief. That has been the gist of the parables which I have tried to
adapt to the comprehension of my parishioners.”

“You have succeeded, sir,” said Cambon. “I know the change you have
brought about in people’s ways of looking at things, for I can compare
the Commune as it is now with the Commune as it used to be. There are
certainly very few places where the laborers are as careful as ours
are about keeping the time in their working hours. The cattle are well
looked after; any damage that they do is done by accident. There is no
pilfering in the woods, and finally you have made our peasants clearly
understand that the leisure of the rich is the reward of a thrifty and
hard-working life.”

“Well, then,” said Genestas, “you ought to be pretty well pleased with
your infantry, M. le Cure.”

“We cannot expect to find angels anywhere here below, captain,” answered
the priest. “Wherever there is poverty, there is suffering too; and
suffering and poverty are strong compelling forces which have their
abuses, just as power has. When the peasants have a couple of leagues to
walk to their work, and have to tramp back wearily in the evening, they
perhaps see sportsmen taking short cuts over ploughed land and pasture
so as to be back to dinner a little sooner, and is it to be supposed
that they will hesitate to follow the example? And of those who in
this way beat out a footpath such as these gentlemen have just been
complaining about, which are the real offenders, the workers or the
people who are simply amusing themselves? Both the rich and the poor
give us a great deal of trouble these days. Faith, like power, ought
always to descend from the heights above us, in heaven or on earth; and
certainly in our times the upper classes have less faith in them than
the mass of the people, who have God’s promise of heaven hereafter as
a reward for evils patiently endured. With due submission to
ecclesiastical discipline, and deference to the views of my superiors,
I think that for some time to come we should be less exacting as to
questions of doctrine, and rather endeavor to revive the sentiment of
religion in the hearts of the intermediary classes, who debate over
the maxims of Christianity instead of putting them in practice. The
philosophism of the rich has set a fatal example to the poor, and has
brought about intervals of too long duration when men have faltered
in their allegiance to God. Such ascendency as we have over our flocks
to-day depends entirely on our personal influence with them; is it not
deplorable that the existence of religious belief in a commune should
be dependent on the esteem in which a single man is held? When the
preservative force of Christianity permeating all classes of society
shall have put life into the new order of things, there will be an end
of sterile disputes about doctrine. The cult of a religion is its form;
societies only exist by forms. You have your standard, we have the

“I should very much like to know, sir,” said Genestas, breaking in upon
M. Janvier, “why you forbid these poor folk to dance on Sunday?”

“We do not quarrel with dancing in itself, captain; it is forbidden
because it leads to immorality, which troubles the peace of the
countryside and corrupts its manners. Does not the attempt to purify the
spirit of the family and to maintain the sanctity of family ties strike
at the root of the evil?”

“Some irregularities are always to be found in every district, I know,”
 said M. Tonnelet, “but they very seldom occur among us. Perhaps there
are peasants who remove their neighbor’s landmark without much scruple;
or they may cut a few osiers that belong to some one else, if they
happen to want some; but these are mere peccadilloes compared with the
wrongdoing that goes on among a town population. Moreover, the people in
this valley seem to me to be devoutly religious.”

“Devout?” queried the cure with a smile; “there is no fear of fanaticism

“But,” objected Cambon, “if the people all went to mass every morning,
sir, and to confession every week, how would the fields be cultivated?
And three priests would hardly be enough.”

“Work is prayer,” said the cure. “Doing one’s duty brings a knowledge of
the religious principles which are a vital necessity to society.”

“How about patriotism?” asked Genestas.

“Patriotism can only inspire a short-lived enthusiasm,” the curate
answered gravely; “religion gives it permanence. Patriotism consists
in a brief impulse of forgetfulness of self and self-interest, while
Christianity is a complete system of opposition to the depraved
tendencies of mankind.”

“And yet, during the wars undertaken by the Revolution, patriotism----”

“Yes, we worked wonders at the time of the Revolution,” said Benassis,
interrupting Genestas; “but only twenty years later, in 1814, our
patriotism was extinct; while, in former times, a religious impulse
moved France and Europe to fling themselves upon Asia a dozen times in
the course of a century.”

“Maybe it is easier for two nations to come to terms when the strife has
arisen out of some question of material interests,” said the justice of
the peace; “while wars undertaken with the idea of supporting dogmas
are bound to be interminable, because the object can never be clearly

“Well, sir, you are not helping any one to fish!” put in Jacquotte, who
had removed the soup with Nicolle’s assistance. Faithful to her custom,
Jacquotte herself always brought in every dish one after another, a plan
which had its drawbacks, for it compelled gluttonous folk to over-eat
themselves, and the more abstemious, having satisfied their hunger at
an early stage, were obliged to leave the best part of the dinner

“Gentlemen,” said the cure, with a glance at the justice of the peace,
“how can you allege that religious wars have had no definite aim?
Religion in olden times was such a powerful binding force, that material
interests and religious questions were inseparable. Every soldier,
therefore, knew quite well what he was fighting for.”

“If there has been so much fighting about religion,” said Genestas, “God
must have built up the system very perfunctorily. Should not a divine
institution impress men at once by the truth that is in it?”

All the guests looked at the cure.

“Gentlemen,” said M. Janvier, “religion is something that is felt and
that cannot be defined. We cannot know the purpose of the Almighty; we
are no judges of the means He employs.”

“Then, according to you, we are to believe in all your rigmaroles,” said
Genestas, with the easy good-humor of a soldier who has never given a
thought to these things.

“The Catholic religion, better than any other, resolves men’s doubts and
fears; but even were it otherwise, I might ask you if you run any risks
by believing in its truths.”

“None worth speaking of,” answered Genestas.

“Good! and what risks do you not run by not believing? But let us talk
of the worldly aspect of the matter, which most appeals to you. The
finger of God is visible in human affairs; see how He directs them by
the hand of His vicar on earth. How much men have lost by leaving the
path traced out for them by Christianity! So few think of reading Church
history, that erroneous notions deliberately sown among the people lead
them to condemn the Church; yet the Church has been a pattern of perfect
government such as men seek to establish to-day. The principle of
election made it for a long while the great political power. Except the
Catholic Church, there was no single religious institution which was
founded upon liberty and equality. Everything was ordered to this end.
The father-superior, the abbot, the bishop, the general of an order,
and the pope were then chosen conscientiously for their fitness for
the requirements of the Church. They were the expression of its
intelligence, of the thinking power of the Church, and blind obedience
was therefore their due. I will say nothing of the ways in which society
has benefited by that power which has created modern nations and has
inspired so many poems, so much music, so many cathedrals, statues, and
pictures. I will simply call your attention to the fact that your modern
systems of popular election, of two chambers, and of juries all
had their origin in provincial and oecumenical councils, and in the
episcopate and college of cardinals; but there is this difference,--the
views of civilization held by our present-day philosophy seem to me
to fade away before the sublime and divine conception of Catholic
communion, the type of a universal social communion brought about by the
word and the fact that are combined in religious dogma. It would be very
difficult for any modern political system, however perfect people may
think it, to work once more such miracles as were wrought in those ages
when the Church as the stay and support of the human intellect.”

“Why?” asked Genestas.

“Because, in the first place, if the principle of election is to be
the basis of a system, absolute equality among the electors is a first
requirement; they ought to be ‘equal quantities,’ things which modern
politics will never bring about. Then, great social changes can only be
effected by means of some common sentiment so powerful that it brings
men into concerted action, while latter-day philosophism has discovered
that law is based upon personal interest, which keeps men apart. Men
full of the generous spirit that watches with tender care over the
trampled rights of the suffering poor, were more often found among the
nations of past ages than in our generation. The priesthood, also,
which sprang from the middle classes, resisted material forces and stood
between the people and their enemies. But the territorial possessions of
the Church and her temporal power, which seemingly made her position yet
stronger, ended by crippling and weakening her action. As a matter of
fact, if the priest has possessions and privileges, he at once appears
in the light of an oppressor. He is paid by the State, therefore he is
an official: if he gives his time, his life, his whole heart, this is
a matter of course, and nothing more than he ought to do; the citizens
expect and demand his devotion; and the spontaneous kindliness of his
nature is dried up. But, let the priest be vowed to poverty, let him
turn to his calling of his own free will, let him stay himself on God
alone, and have no resource on earth but the hearts of the faithful, and
he becomes once more the missionary of America, he takes the rank of an
apostle, he has all things under his feet. Indeed, the burden of wealth
drags him down, and it is only by renouncing everything that he gains
dominion over all men’s hearts.”

M. Janvier had compelled the attention of every one present. No one
spoke; for all the guests were thoughtful. It was something new to hear
such words as these in the mouth of a simple cure.

“There is one serious error, M. Janvier, among the truths to which you
have given expression,” said Benassis. “As you know, I do not like to
raise discussions on points of general interest which modern authorities
and modern writers have called in question. In my opinion, a man who has
thought out a political system, and who is conscious that he has within
him the power of applying it in practical politics, should keep his mind
to himself, seize his opportunity and act; but if he dwells in peaceful
obscurity as a simple citizen, is it not sheer lunacy to think to bring
the great mass over to his opinion by means of individual discussions?
For all that, I am about to argue with you, my dear pastor, for I am
speaking before sensible men, each of whom is accustomed always to bring
his individual light to a common search for the truth. My ideas may seem
strange to you, but they are the outcome of much thought caused by the
calamities of the last forty years. Universal suffrage, which finds such
favor in the sight of those persons who belong to the constitutional
opposition, as it is called, was a capital institution in the Church,
because (as you yourself have just pointed out, dear pastor) the
individuals of whom the Church was composed were all well educated,
disciplined by religious feeling, thoroughly imbued with the spirit of
the same system, well aware of what they wanted and whither they
were going. But modern Liberalism rashly made war upon the prosperous
government of the Bourbons, by means of ideas which, should they
triumph, would be the ruin of France and of the Liberals themselves.
This is well known to the leaders of the Left, who are merely
endeavoring to get the power into their own hands. If (which Heaven
forbid) the middle classes ranged under the banner of the opposition
should succeed in overthrowing those social superiorities which are so
repugnant to their vanity, another struggle would follow hard upon their
victory. It would not be very long before the middle classes in their
turn would be looked upon by the people as a sort of _noblesse_; they
would be a sorry kind of _noblesse_, it is true, but their wealth and
privileges would seem so much the more hateful in the eyes of the people
because they would have a closer vision of these things. I do not say
that the nation would come to grief in the struggle, but society would
perish anew; for the day of triumph of a suffering people is always
brief, and involves disorders of the worst kind. There would be no truce
in a desperate strife arising out of an inherent or acquired difference
of opinion among the electors. The less enlightened and more numerous
portion would sweep away social inequalities, thanks to a system in
which votes are reckoned by count and not by weight. Hence it follows
that a government is never more strongly organized, and as a consequence
is never more perfect than when it has been established for the
protection of Privilege of the most restricted kind. By Privilege I
do not at this moment mean the old abuses by which certain rights were
conceded to a few, to the prejudice of the many; no, I am using it
to express the social circle of the governing class. But throughout
creation Nature has confined the vital principle within a narrow space,
in order to concentrate its power; and so it is with the body politic.
I will illustrate this thought of mine by examples. Let us suppose that
there are a hundred peers in France, there are only one hundred causes
of offence. Abolish the peerage, and all the wealthy people will
constitute the privileged class; instead of a hundred, you will have
ten thousand, instead of removing class distinctions, you have merely
widened the mischief. In fact, from the people’s point of view, the
right to live without working is in itself a privilege. The unproductive
consumer is a robber in their eyes. The only work that they understand
has palpable results; they set no value on intellectual labor--the
kind of labor which is the principal source of wealth to them. So by
multiplying causes of offence in this way, you extend the field of
battle; the social war would be waged on all points instead of being
confined within a limited circle; and when attack and resistance become
general, the ruin of a country is imminent. Because the rich will always
be fewer in number, the victory will be to the poor as soon as it comes
to actual fighting. I will throw the burden of proof on history.

“The institution of Senatorial Privilege enabled the Roman Republic to
conquer the world. The Senate preserved the tradition of authority. But
when the _equites_ and the _novi homines_ had extended the governing
classes by adding to the numbers of the Patricians, the State came to
ruin. In spite of Sylla, and after the time of Julius Caesar, Tiberius
raised it into the Roman Empire; the system was embodied in one man,
and all authority was centered in him, a measure which prolonged the
magnificent sway of the Roman for several centuries. The Emperor had
ceased to dwell in Rome when the Eternal City fell into the hands of
barbarians. When the conqueror invaded our country, the Franks who
divided the land among themselves invented feudal privilege as a
safeguard for property. The hundred or the thousand chiefs who owned
the country, established their institutions with a view to defending
the rights gained by conquest. The duration of the feudal system was
co-existent with the restriction of Privilege. But when the _leudes_
(an exact translation of the word _gentlemen_) from five hundred became
fifty thousand, there came a revolution. The governing power was too
widely diffused; it lacked force and concentration; and they had not
reckoned with the two powers, Money and Thought, that had set those free
who had been beneath their rule. So the victory over the monarchical
system, obtained by the middle classes with a view to extending the
number of the privileged class, will produce its natural effect--the
people will triumph in turn over the middle classes. If this trouble
comes to pass, the indiscriminate right of suffrage bestowed upon the
masses will be a dangerous weapon in their hands. The man who votes,
criticises. An authority that is called in question is no longer an
authority. Can you imagine a society without a governing authority?
No, you cannot. Therefore, authority means force, and a basis of just
judgement should underlie force. Such are the reasons which have led me
to think that the principle of popular election is a most fatal one for
modern governments. I think that my attachment to the poor and suffering
classes has been sufficiently proved, and that no one will accuse me
of bearing any ill-will towards them, but though I admire the sublime
patience and resignation with which they tread the path of toil, I
must pronounce them to be unfit to take part in the government. The
proletariat seem to me to be the minors of a nation, and ought to remain
in a condition of tutelage. Therefore, gentlemen, the word _election_,
to my thinking, is in a fair way to cause as much mischief as the words
_conscience_ and _liberty_, which ill-defined and ill-understood, were
flung broadcast among the people, to serve as watchwords of revolt and
incitements to destruction. It seems to me to be a right and necessary
thing that the masses should be kept in tutelage for the good of

“This system of yours runs so clean contrary to everybody’s notions
nowadays, that we have some right to ask your reasons for it,” said
Genestas, interrupting the doctor.

“By all means, captain.”

“What is this the master is saying?” cried Jacquotte, as she went back
to her kitchen. “There he is, the poor dear man, and what is he doing
but advising them to crush the people! And they are listening to

“I would never have believed it of M. Benassis,” answered Nicolle.

“If I require that the ignorant masses should be governed by a strong
hand,” the doctor resumed, after a brief pause, “I should desire at the
same time that the framework of the social system should be sufficiently
yielding and elastic to allow those who have the will and are conscious
of their ability to emerge from the crowd, to rise and take their place
among the privileged classes. The aim of power of every kind is its own
preservation. In order to live, a government, to-day as in the past,
must press the strong men of the nation into its service, taking them
from every quarter, so as to make them its defenders, and to remove
from among the people the men of energy who incite the masses to
insurrection. By opening out in this way to the public ambition paths
that are at once difficult and easy, easy for strong wills, difficult
for weak or imperfect ones, a State averts the perils of the revolutions
caused by the struggles of men of superior powers to rise to their
proper level. Our long agony of forty years should have made it clear to
any man who has brains that social superiorities are a natural
outcome of the order of things. They are of three kinds that cannot
be questioned--the superiority of the thinker, the superiority of the
politician, the superiority of wealth. Is not that as much as to say,
genius, power, and money, or, in yet other words--the cause, the means,
and the effect? But suppose a kind of social _tabula rasa_, every social
unit perfectly equal, an increase of population everywhere in the same
ratio, and give the same amount of land to each family; it would not
be long before you would again have all the existing inequalities of
fortune; it is glaringly evident, therefore, that there are such things
as superiority of fortune, of thinking capacity, and of power, and we
must make up our minds to this fact; but the masses will always regard
rights that have been most honestly acquired as privileges, and as a
wrong done to themselves.

“The _social contract_ founded upon this basis will be a perpetual
pact between those who have and those who have not. And acting on these
principles, those who benefit by the laws will be the lawmakers, for
they necessarily have the instinct of self-preservation, and foresee
their dangers. It is even more to their interest than to the interest of
the masses themselves that the latter should be quiet and contented. The
happiness of the people should be ready made for the people. If you look
at society as a whole from this point of view, you will soon see, as I
do, that the privilege of election ought only to be exercised by men who
possess wealth, power, or intelligence, and you will likewise see that
the action of the deputies they may choose to represent them should be
considerably restricted.

“The maker of laws, gentlemen, should be in advance of his age. It is
his business to ascertain the tendency of erroneous notions popularly
held, to see the exact direction in which the ideas of a nation are
tending; he labors for the future rather than for the present, and for
the rising generation rather than for the one that is passing away. But
if you call in the masses to make the laws, can they rise above their
own level? Nay. The more faithfully an assembly represents the opinions
held by the crowd, the less it will know about government, the less
lofty its ideas will be, and the more vague and vacillating its policy,
for the crowd is and always will be simply a crowd, and this especially
with us in France. Law involves submission to regulations; man is
naturally opposed to rules and regulations of all kinds, especially if
they interfere with his interests; so is it likely that the masses will
enact laws that are contrary to their own inclinations? No.

“Very often legislation ought to run counter to the prevailing
tendencies of the time. If the law is to be shaped by the prevailing
habits of thought and tendencies of a nation, would not that mean that
in Spain a direct encouragement would be given to idleness and religious
intolerance; in England, to the commercial spirit; in Italy, to the love
of the arts that may be the expression of a society, but by which no
society can entirely exist; in Germany, feudal class distinctions would
be fostered; and here, in France, popular legislation would promote the
spirit of frivolity, the sudden craze for an idea, and the readiness to
split into factions which has always been our bane.

“What has happened in the forty years since the electors took it
upon themselves to make laws for France? We have something like forty
thousand laws! A people with forty thousand laws might as well have none
at all. Is it likely that five hundred mediocrities (for there are never
more than a hundred great minds to do the work of any one century), is
it likely that five hundred mediocrities will have the wit to rise to
the level of these considerations? Not they! Here is a constant stream
of men poured forth from five hundred different places; they will
interpret the spirit of the law in divers manners, and there should be a
unity of conception in the law.

“But I will go yet further. Sooner or later an assembly of this kind
comes to be swayed by one man, and instead of a dynasty of kings, you
have a constantly changing and costly succession of prime ministers.
There comes a Mirabeau or a Danton, a Robespierre or a Napoleon, or
proconsuls, or an emperor, and there is an end of deliberations and
debates. In fact, it takes a determinate amount of force to raise a
given weight; the force may be distributed, and you may have a less or
greater number of levers, but it comes to the same thing in the end: the
force must be in proportion to the weight. The weight in this case is
the ignorant and suffering mass of people who form the lowest stratum of
society. The attitude of authority is bound to be repressive, and great
concentration of the governing power is needed to neutralize the force
of a popular movement. This is the application of the principle that I
unfolded when I spoke just now of the way in which the class privileged
to govern should be restricted. If this class is composed of men of
ability, they will obey this natural law, and compel the country to
obey. If you collect a crowd of mediocrities together, sooner or later
they will fall under the dominion of a stronger head. A deputy of talent
understands the reasons for which a government exists; the mediocre
deputy simply comes to terms with force. An assembly either obeys
an idea, like the Convention in the time of the Terror; a powerful
personality, like the Corps Legislatif under the rule of Napoleon; or
falls under the domination of a system or of wealth, as it has done in
our own day. The Republican Assembly, that dream of some innocent souls,
is an impossibility. Those who would fain bring it to pass are either
grossly deluded dupes or would-be tyrants. Do you not think that there
is something ludicrous about an Assembly which gravely sits in debate
upon the perils of a nation which ought to be roused into immediate
action? It is only right of course that the people should elect a
body of representatives who will decide questions of supplies and of
taxation; this institution has always existed, under the sway of the
most tyrannous ruler no less than under the sceptre of the mildest of
princes. Money is not to be taken by force; there are natural limits
to taxation, and if they are overstepped, a nation either rises up
in revolt, or lays itself down to die. Again, if this elective body,
changing from time to time according to the needs and ideas of those
whom it represents, should refuse obedience to a bad law in the name of
the people, well and good. But to imagine that five hundred men, drawn
from every corner of the kingdom, will make a good law! Is it not a
dreary joke, for which the people will sooner or later have to pay? They
have a change of masters, that is all.

“Authority ought to be given to one man, he alone should have the
task of making the laws; and he should be a man who, by force of
circumstances, is continually obliged to submit his actions to general
approbation. But the only restraints that can be brought to bear upon
the exercise of power, be it the power of the one, of the many, or
of the multitude, are to be found in the religious institutions of a
country. Religion forms the only adequate safeguard against the abuse of
supreme power. When a nation ceases to believe in religion, it becomes
ungovernable in consequence, and its prince perforce becomes a tyrant.
The Chambers that occupy an intermediate place between rulers and their
subjects are powerless to prevent these results, and can only mitigate
them to a very slight extent; Assemblies, as I have said before, are
bound to become the accomplices of tyranny on the one hand, or of
insurrection on the other. My own leanings are towards a government by
one man; but though it is good, it cannot be absolutely good, for the
results of every policy will always depend upon the condition and the
belief of the nation. If a nation is in its dotage, if it has been
corrupted to the core by philosophism and the spirit of discussion, it
is on the high-road to despotism, from which no form of free government
will save it. And, at the same time, a righteous people will nearly
always find liberty even under a despotic rule. All this goes to show
the necessity for restricting the right of election within very narrow
limits, the necessity for a strong government, the necessity for a
powerful religion which makes the rich man the friend of the poor, and
enjoins upon the poor an absolute submission to their lot. It is, in
fact, really imperative that the Assemblies should be deprived of
all direct legislative power, and should confine themselves to the
registration of laws and to questions of taxation.

“I know that different ideas from these exist in many minds. To-day, as
in past ages, there ware enthusiasts who seek for perfection, and who
would like to have society better ordered than it is at present. But
innovations which tend to bring about a kind of social topsy-turvydom,
ought only to be undertaken by general consent. Let the innovators
have patience. When I remember how long it has taken Christianity to
establish itself; how many centuries it has taken to bring about a
purely moral revolution which surely ought to have been accomplished
peacefully, the thought of the horrors of a revolution, in which
material interests are concerned, makes me shudder, and I am for
maintaining existing institutions. ‘Each shall have his own thought,’
is the dictum of Christianity; ‘Each man shall have his own field,’ says
modern law; and in this, modern law is in harmony with Christianity.
Each shall have his own thought; that is a consecration of the rights
of intelligence; and each shall have his own field, is a consecration of
the right to property that has been acquired by toil. Hence our society.
Nature has based human life upon the instinct of self-preservation, and
social life is founded upon personal interest. Such ideas as these are,
to my thinking, the very rudiments of politics. Religion keeps these two
selfish sentiments in subordination by the thought of a future life; and
in this way the harshness of the conflict of interests has been somewhat
softened. God has mitigated the sufferings that arise from social
friction by a religious sentiment which raises self-forgetfulness into
a virtue; just as He has moderated the friction of the mechanism of the
universe by laws which we do not know. Christianity bids the poor bear
patiently with the rich, and commands the rich to lighten the burdens of
the poor; these few words, to my mind, contain the essence of all laws,
human and divine!”

“I am no statesman,” said the notary; “I see in a ruler a liquidator of
society which should always remain in liquidation; he should hand over
to his successor the exact value of the assets which he received.”

“I am no statesman either,” said Benassis, hastily interrupting the
notary. “It takes nothing but a little common sense to better the lot of
a commune, of a canton, or of an even wider district; a department calls
for some administrative talent, but all these four spheres of action are
comparatively limited, the outlook is not too wide for ordinary powers
of vision, and there is a visible connection between their interests and
the general progress made by the State.

“But in yet higher regions, everything is on a larger scale, the horizon
widens, and from the standpoint where he is placed, the statesman
ought to grasp the whole situation. It is only necessary to consider
liabilities due ten years hence, in order to bring about a great deal
of good in the case of the department, the district, the canton, or
the commune; but when it is a question of the destinies of a nation, a
statesman must foresee a more distant future and the course that events
are likely to take for the next hundred years. The genius of a Colbert
or of a Sully avails nothing, unless it is supported by the energetic
will that makes a Napoleon or a Cromwell. A great minister, gentlemen,
is a great thought written at large over all the years of a century of
prosperity and splendor for which he has prepared the way. Steadfast
perseverance is the virtue of which he stands most in need; and in all
human affairs does not steadfast perseverance indicate a power of the
very highest order? We have had for some time past too many men who
think only of the ministry instead of the nation, so that we cannot
but admire the real statesman as the vastest human Poetry. Ever to look
beyond the present moment, to foresee the ways of Destiny, to care so
little for power that he only retains it because he is conscious of his
usefulness, while he does not overestimate his strength; ever to lay
aside all personal feeling and low ambitions, so that he may always be
master of his faculties, and foresee, will, and act without ceasing; to
compel himself to be just and impartial, to keep order on a large scale,
to silence his heart that he may be guided by his intellect alone, to
be neither apprehensive nor sanguine, neither suspicious nor confiding,
neither grateful nor ungrateful, never to be unprepared for an event,
nor taken unawares by an idea; to live, in fact, with the requirements
of the masses ever in his mind, to spread the protecting wings of his
thought above them, to sway them by the thunder of his voice and the
keenness of his glance; seeing all the while not the details of affairs,
but the great issues at stake--is not that to be something more than a
mere man? Therefore the names of the great and noble fathers of nations
cannot but be household words for ever.”

There was silence for a moment, during which the guests looked at one

“Gentlemen, you have not said a word about the army!” cried Genestas. “A
military organization seems to me to be the real type on which all good
civil society should be modeled; the Sword is the guardian of a nation.”

The justice of the peace laughed softly.

“Captain,” he said, “an old lawyer once said that empires began with the
sword and ended with the desk; we have reached the desk stage by this

“And now that we have settled the fate of the world, gentlemen, let
us change the subject. Come, captain, a glass of Hermitage,” cried the
doctor, laughing.

“Two, rather than one,” said Genestas, holding out his glass. “I mean to
drink them both to your health--to a man who does honor to the species.”

“And who is dear to all of us,” said the cure in gentle tones.

“Do you mean to force me into the sin of pride, M. Janvier?”

“M. le Cure has only said in a low voice what all the canton says
aloud,” said Cambon.

“Gentlemen, I propose that we take a walk to the parsonage by moonlight,
and see M. Janvier home.”

“Let us start,” said the guests, and they prepared to accompany the

“Shall we go to the barn?” said the doctor, laying a hand on Genestas’
arm. They had taken leave of the cure and the other guests. “You
will hear them talking about Napoleon, Captain Bluteau. Goguelat, the
postman, is there, and there are several of his cronies who are sure
to draw him out on the subject of the idol of the people. Nicolle, my
stableman, has set a ladder so that we can climb up on to the hay; there
is a place from which we can look down on the whole scene. Come along,
an up-sitting is something worth seeing, believe me. It will not be the
first time that I have hidden in the hay to overhear a soldier’s tales
or the stories that peasants tell among themselves. We must be careful
to keep out of sight though, as these folk turn shy and put on company
manners as soon as they see a stranger.”

“Eh! my dear sir,” said Genestas, “have I not often pretended to be
asleep so as to hear my troopers talking out on bivouac? My word, I
once heard a droll yarn reeled off by an old quartermaster for some
conscripts who were afraid of war; I never laughed so heartily in any
theatre in Paris. He was telling them about the Retreat from Moscow. He
told them that the army had nothing but the clothes they stood up in;
that their wine was iced; that the dead stood stock-still in the road
just where they were; that they had seen White Russia, and that they
currycombed the horses there with their teeth; that those who were fond
of skating had fine times of it, and people who had a fancy for savory
ices had as much as they could put away; that the women were generally
poor company; but that the only thing they could really complain of was
the want of hot water for shaving. In fact, he told them such a pack of
absurdities, that even an old quartermaster who had lost his nose with
a frost-bite, so that they had dubbed him _Nezrestant_, was fain to

“Hush!” said Benassis, “here we are. I will go first; follow after me.”

Both of them scaled the ladder and hid themselves in the hay, in a place
from whence they could have a good view of the party below, who had
not heard a sound overhead. Little groups of women were clustered about
three or four candles. Some of them sewed, others were spinning, a
good few of them were doing nothing, and sat with their heads strained
forward, and their eyes fixed on an old peasant who was telling a story.
The men were standing about for the most part, or lying at full length
on the trusses of hay. Every group was absolutely silent. Their faces
were barely visible by the flickering gleams of the candles by which the
women were working, although each candle was surrounded by a glass globe
filled with water, in order to concentrate the light. The thick darkness
and shadow that filled the roof and all the upper part of the barn
seemed still further to diminish the light that fell here and there upon
the workers’ heads with such picturesque effects of light and shade.
Here, it shone full upon the bright wondering eyes and brown forehead of
a little peasant maiden; and there the straggling beams brought out the
outlines of the rugged brows of some of the older men, throwing up
their figures in sharp relief against the dark background, and giving
a fantastic appearance to their worn and weather-stained garb. The
attentive attitude of all these people and the expression on all their
faces showed that they had given themselves up entirely to the pleasure
of listening, and that the narrator’s sway was absolute. It was a
curious scene. The immense influence that poetry exerts over every mind
was plainly to be seen. For is not the peasant who demands that the tale
of wonder should be simple, and that the impossible should be well-nigh
credible, a lover of poetry of the purest kind?

“She did not like the look of the house at all,” the peasant was saying
as the two newcomers took their places where they could overhear him;
“but the poor little hunchback was so tired out with carrying her bundle
of hemp to market, that she went in; besides, the night had come, and
she could go no further. She only asked to be allowed to sleep there,
and ate nothing but a crust of bread that she took from her wallet. And
inasmuch as the woman who kept house for the brigands knew nothing about
what they had planned to do that night, she let the old woman into
the house, and sent her upstairs without a light. Our hunchback throws
herself down on a rickety truckle bed, says her prayers, thinks about
her hemp, and is dropping off to sleep. But before she is fairly asleep,
she hears a noise, and in walk two men carrying a lantern, and each man
had a knife in his hand. Then fear came upon her; for in those times,
look you, they used to make pates of human flesh for the seigneurs, who
were very fond of them. But the old woman plucked up heart again, for
she was so thoroughly shriveled and wrinkled that she thought they would
think her a poorish sort of diet. The two men went past the hunchback
and walked up to a bed that there was in the great room, and in which
they had put the gentleman with the big portmanteau, the one that passed
for a _negromancer_. The taller man holds up the lantern and takes
the gentleman by the feet, and the short one, that had pretended to be
drunk, clutches hold of his head and cuts his throat, clean, with one
stroke, swish! Then they leave the head and body lying in its own blood
up there, steal the portmanteau, and go downstairs with it. Here is our
woman in a nice fix! First of all she thinks of slipping out, before any
one can suspect it, not knowing that Providence had brought her there to
glorify God and to bring down punishment on the murderers. She was in a
great fright, and when one is frightened one thinks of nothing else. But
the woman of the house had asked the two brigands about the hunchback,
and that had alarmed them. So back they came, creeping softly up the
wooden staircase. The poor hunchback curls up in a ball with fright, and
she hears them talking about her in whispers.

“‘Kill her, I tell you.’

“‘No need to kill her.’

“‘Kill her!’


“Then they came in. The woman, who was no fool, shuts her eyes and
pretends to be asleep. She sets to work to sleep like a child, with her
hand on her heart, and takes to breathing like a cherub. The man opens
the lantern and shines the light straight into the eyes of the sleeping
old woman--she does not move an eyelash, she is in such terror for her

“‘She is sleeping like a log; you can see that quite well,’ so says the
tall one.

“‘Old women are so cunning!’ answers the short man. ‘I will kill her. We
shall feel easier in our minds. Besides, we will salt her down to feed
the pigs.’

“The old woman hears all this talk, but she does not stir.

“‘Oh! it is all right, she is asleep,’ says the short ruffian, when he
saw that the hunchback had not stirred.

“That is how the old woman saved her life. And she may be fairly called
courageous; for it is a fact that there are not many girls here who
could have breathed like cherubs while they heard that talk going on
about the pigs. Well, the two brigands set to work to lift up the dead
man; they wrap him round in the sheets and chuck him out into the little
yard; and the old woman hears the pigs scampering up to eat him, and
grunting, _hon! hon_!

“So when morning comes,” the narrator resumed after a pause, “the woman
gets up and goes down, paying a couple of sous for her bed. She takes up
her wallet, goes on just as if nothing had happened, asks for the news
of the countryside, and gets away in peace. She wants to run. Running
is quite out of the question, her legs fail her for fright; and lucky it
was for her that she could not run, for this reason. She had barely gone
half a quarter of a league before she sees one of the brigands coming
after her, just out of craftiness to make quite sure that she had seen
nothing. She guesses this, and sits herself down on a boulder.

“‘What is the matter, good woman?’ asks the short one, for it was the
shorter one and the wickeder of the two who was dogging her.

“‘Oh! master,’ says she, ‘my wallet is so heavy, and I am so tired, that
I badly want some good man to give me his arm’ (sly thing, only listen
to her!) ‘if I am to get back to my poor home.’

“Thereupon the brigand offers to go along with her, and she accepts his
offer. The fellow takes hold of her arm to see if she is afraid. Not
she! She does not tremble a bit, and walks quietly along. So there they
are, chatting away as nicely as possible, all about farming, and the
way to grow hemp, till they come to the outskirts of the town, where the
hunchback lived, and the brigand made off for fear of meeting some of
the sheriff’s people. The woman reached her house at mid-day, and waited
there till her husband came home; she thought and thought over all that
had happened on her journey and during the night. The hemp-grower came
home in the evening. He was hungry; something must be got ready for
him to eat. So while she greases her frying-pan, and gets ready to fry
something for him, she tells him how she sold her hemp, and gabbles away
as females do, but not a word does she say about the pigs, nor about
the gentleman who was murdered and robbed and eaten. She holds her
frying-pan in the flames so as to clean it, draws it out again to give
it a wipe, and finds it full of blood.

“‘What have you been putting into it?’ says she to her man.

“‘Nothing,’ says he.

“She thinks it must have been a nonsensical piece of woman’s fancy,
and puts her frying-pan into the fire again.... _Pouf!_ A head comes
tumbling down the chimney!

“‘Oh! look! It is nothing more nor less than the dead man’s head,’ says
the old woman. ‘How he stares at me! What does he want!’

“‘_You must avenge me_!’ says a voice.

“‘What an idiot you are!’ said the hemp-grower. ‘Always seeing something
or other that has no sort of sense about it! Just you all over.’

“He takes up the head, which snaps at his finger, and pitches it out
into the yard.

“‘Get on with my omelette,’ he says, ‘and do not bother yourself about
that. ‘Tis a cat.’

“‘A cat! says she; ‘it was as round as a ball.’

“She puts back her frying-pan on the fire.... _Pouf!_ Down comes a leg
this time, and they go through the whole story again. The man was no
more astonished at the foot than he had been at the head; he snatched
up the leg and threw it out at the door. Before they had finished, the
other leg, both arms, the body, the whole murdered traveler, in fact,
came down piecemeal. No omelette all this time! The old hemp-seller grew
very hungry indeed.

“‘By my salvation!’ said he, ‘when once my omelette is made we will see
about satisfying that man yonder.’

“‘So you admit, now, that it was a man?’ said the hunchback wife. ‘What
made you say that it was not a head a minute ago, you great worry?’

“The woman breaks the eggs, fries the omelette, and dishes it up without
any more grumbling; somehow this squabble began to make her feel very
uncomfortable. Her husband sits down and begins to eat. The hunchback
was frightened, and said that she was not hungry.

“‘Tap! tap!’ There was a stranger rapping at the door.

“‘Who is there?’

“‘The man that died yesterday!’

“‘Come in,’ answers the hemp-grower.

“So the traveler comes in, sits himself down on a three-legged stool,
and says: ‘Are you mindful of God, who gives eternal peace to those who
confess His Name? Woman! You saw me done to death, and you have said
nothing! I have been eaten by the pigs! The pigs do not enter Paradise,
and therefore I, a Christian man, shall go down into hell, all because a
woman forsooth will not speak, a thing that has never been known before.
You must deliver me,’ and so on, and so on.

“The woman, who was more and more frightened every minute, cleaned her
frying-pan, put on her Sunday clothes, went to the justice, and told him
about the crime, which was brought to light, and the robbers were
broken on the wheel in proper style on the Market Place. This good work
accomplished, the woman and her husband always had the finest hemp
you ever set eyes on. Then, which pleased them still better, they had
something that they had wished for for a long time, to-wit, a man-child,
who in course of time became a great lord of the king’s.

“That is the true story of _The Courageous Hunchback Woman_.

“I do not like stories of that sort; they make me dream at night,” said
La Fosseuse. “Napoleon’s adventures are much nicer, I think.”

“Quite true,” said the keeper. “Come now, M. Goguelat, tell us about the

“The evening is too far gone,” said the postman, “and I do not care
about cutting short the story of a victory.”

“Never mind, let us hear about it all the same! We know the stories, for
we have heard you tell them many a time; but it is always a pleasure to
hear them.”

“Tell us about the Emperor!” cried several voices at once.

“You will have it?” answered Goguelat. “Very good, but you will see that
there is no sense in the story when it is gone through at a gallop.
I would rather tell you all about a single battle. Shall it be
Champ-Aubert, where we ran out of cartridges, and furbished them just
the same with the bayonet?”

“No, the Emperor! the Emperor!”

The old infantry man got up from his truss of hay and glanced round
about on those assembled, with the peculiar sombre expression in which
may be read all the miseries, adventures, and hardships of an old
soldier’s career. He took his coat by the two skirts in front, and
raised them, as if it were a question of once more packing up the
knapsack in which his kit, his shoes, and all he had in the world used
to be stowed; for a moment he stood leaning all his weight on his left
foot, then he swung the right foot forward, and yielded with a good
grace to the wishes of his audience. He swept his gray hair to one side,
so as to leave his forehead bare, and flung back his head and gazed
upwards, as if to raise himself to the lofty height of the gigantic
story that he was about to tell.

“Napoleon, you see, my friends, was born in Corsica, which is a French
island warmed by the Italian sun; it is like a furnace there, everything
is scorched up, and they keep on killing each other from father to son
for generations all about nothing at all--‘tis a notion they have. To
begin at the beginning, there was something extraordinary about the
thing from the first; it occurred to his mother, who was the handsomest
woman of her time, and a shrewd soul, to dedicate him to God, so that he
should escape all the dangers of infancy and of his after life; for she
had dreamed that the world was on fire on the day he was born. It was
a prophecy! So she asked God to protect him, on condition that Napoleon
should re-establish His holy religion, which had been thrown to the
ground just then. That was the agreement; we shall see what came of it.

“Now, do you follow me carefully, and tell me whether what you are about
to hear is natural.

“It is certain sure that only a man who had had imagination enough to
make a mysterious compact would be capable of going further than anybody
else, and of passing through volleys of grape-shot and showers of
bullets which carried us off like flies, but which had a respect for his
head. I myself had particular proof of that at Eylau. I see him yet;
he climbs a hillock, takes his field-glass, looks along our lines, and
says, ‘That is going on all right.’ One of the deep fellows, with a
bunch of feathers in his cap, used to plague him a good deal from all
accounts, following him about everywhere, even when he was getting
his meals. This fellow wants to do something clever, so as soon as the
Emperor goes away he takes his place. Oh! swept away in a moment! And
this is the last of the bunch of feathers! You understand quite clearly
that Napoleon had undertaken to keep his secret to himself. That is why
those who accompanied him, and even his especial friends, used to drop
like nuts: Duroc, Bessieres, Lannes--men as strong as bars of steel,
which he cast into shape for his own ends. And here is a final proof
that he was the child of God, created to be the soldier’s father; for
no one ever saw him as a lieutenant or a captain. He is a
commandant straight off! Ah! yes, indeed! He did not look more than
four-and-twenty, but he was an old general ever since the taking of
Toulon, when he made a beginning by showing the rest that they knew
nothing about handling cannon. Next thing he does, he tumbles upon us.
A little slip of a general-in-chief of the army of Italy, which had
neither bread nor ammunition nor shoes nor clothes--a wretched army as
naked as a worm.

“‘Friends,’ he said, ‘here we all are together. Now, get it well into
your pates that in a fortnight’s time from now you will be the victors,
and dressed in new clothes; you shall all have greatcoats, strong
gaiters, and famous pairs of shoes; but, my children, you will have to
march on Milan to take them, where all these things are.’

“So they marched. The French, crushed as flat as a pancake, held up
their heads again. There were thirty thousand of us tatterdemalions
against eighty thousand swaggerers of Germans--fine tall men and well
equipped; I can see them yet. Then Napoleon, who was only Bonaparte
in those days, breathed goodness knows what into us, and on we marched
night and day. We rap their knuckles at Montenotte; we hurry on to
thrash them at Rivoli, Lodi, Arcola, and Millesimo, and we never let
them go. The army came to have a liking for winning battles. Then
Napoleon hems them in on all sides, these German generals did not know
where to hide themselves so as to have a little peace and comfort;
he drubs them soundly, cribs ten thousand of their men at a time by
surrounding them with fifteen hundred Frenchmen, whom he makes to spring
up after his fashion, and at last he takes their cannon, victuals,
money, ammunition, and everything they have that is worth taking; he
pitches them into the water, beats them on the mountains, snaps at them
in the air, gobbles them up on the earth, and thrashes them everywhere.

“There are the troops in full feather again! For, look you, the Emperor
(who, for that matter, was a wit) soon sent for the inhabitant, and told
him that he had come there to deliver him. Whereupon the civilian finds
us free quarters and makes much of us, so do the women, who showed great
discernment. To come to a final end; in Ventose ‘96, which was at that
time what the month of March is now, we had been driven up into a corner
of the Pays des Marmottes; but after the campaign, lo and behold! we
were the masters of Italy, just as Napoleon had prophesied. And in the
month of March following, in one year and in two campaigns, he brings
us within sight of Vienna; we had made a clean sweep of them. We had
gobbled down three armies one after another, and taken the conceit out
of four Austrian generals; one of them, an old man who had white hair,
had been roasted like a rat in the straw before Mantua. The kings were
suing for mercy on their knees. Peace had been won. Could a mere mortal
have done that? No. God helped him, that is certain. He distributed
himself about like the five loaves in the Gospel, commanded on the
battlefield all day, and drew up his plans at night. The sentries always
saw him coming; he neither ate nor slept. Therefore, recognizing these
prodigies, the soldier adopts him for his father. But, forward!

“The other folk there in Paris, seeing all this, say among themselves:

“‘Here is a pilgrim who appears to take his instructions from Heaven
above; he is uncommonly likely to lay a hand on France. We must let him
loose on Asia or America, and that, perhaps, will keep him quiet.

“The same thing was decreed for him as for Jesus Christ; for, as a
matter of fact, they give him orders to go on duty down in Egypt. See
his resemblance to the Son of God! That is not all, though. He calls all
his fire-eaters about him, all those into whom he had more particularly
put the devil, and talks to them in this way:

“‘My friends, for the time being they are giving us Egypt to stop our
mouths. But we will swallow down Egypt in a brace of shakes, just as we
swallowed Italy, and private soldiers shall be princes, and shall have
broad lands of their own. Forward!’

“‘Forward, lads!’ cry the sergeants.

“So we come to Toulon on the way to Egypt. Whereupon the English put to
sea with all their fleet. But when we are on board, Napoleon says to us:

“‘They will not see us: and it is right and proper that you should know
henceforward that your general has a star in the sky that guides us and
watches over us!’

“So said, so done. As we sailed over the sea we took Malta, by way of
an orange to quench his thirst for victory, for he was a man who
must always be doing something. There we are in Egypt. Well and good.
Different orders. The Egyptians, look you, are men who, ever since the
world has been the world, have been in the habit of having giants to
reign over them, and armies like swarms of ants; because it is a country
full of genii and crocodiles, where they have built up pyramids as big
as our mountains, the fancy took them to stow their kings under the
pyramids, so as to keep them fresh, a thing which mightily pleases them
all round out there. Whereupon, as we landed, the Little Corporal said
to us:

“‘My children, the country which you are about to conquer worships a lot
of idols which you must respect, because the Frenchman ought to be
on good terms with all the world, and fight people without giving
annoyance. Get it well into your heads to let everything alone at first;
for we shall have it all by and by! and forward!’

“So far so good. But all those people had heard a prophecy of Napoleon,
under the name of _Kebir Bonaberdis_; a word which in our lingo means,
‘The Sultan fires a shot,’ and they feared him like the devil. So the
Grand Turk, Asia, and Africa have recourse to magic, and they send a
demon against us, named the Mahdi, who it was thought had come down from
heaven on a white charger which, like its master was bullet-proof, and
the pair of them lived on the air of that part of the world. There are
people who have seen them, but for my part I cannot give you any certain
informations about them. They were the divinities of Arabia and of the
Mamelukes who wished their troopers to believe that the Mahdi had the
power of preventing them from dying in battle. They gave out that he was
an angel sent down to wage war on Napoleon, and to get back Solomon’s
seal, part of their paraphernalia which they pretended our general had
stolen. You will readily understand that we made them cry peccavi all
the same.

“Ah, just tell me now how they came to know about that compact of
Napoleon’s? Was that natural?

“They took it into their heads for certain that he commanded the genii,
and that he went from place to place like a bird in the twinkling of an
eye; and it is a fact that he was everywhere. At length it came about
that he carried off a queen of theirs. She was the private property of
a Mameluke, who, although he had several more of them, flatly refused to
strike a bargain, though ‘the other’ offered all his treasures for her
and diamonds as big as pigeon’s eggs. When things had come to that pass,
they could not well be settled without a good deal of fighting; and
there was fighting enough for everybody and no mistake about it.

“Then we are drawn up before Alexandria, and again at Gizeh, and before
the Pyramids. We had to march over the sands and in the sun; people
whose eyes dazzled used to see water that they could not drink and shade
that made them fume. But we made short work of the Mamelukes as usual,
and everything goes down before the voice of Napoleon, who seizes Upper
and Lower Egypt and Arabia, far and wide, till we came to the capitals
of kingdoms which no longer existed, where there were thousands and
thousands of statues of all the devils in creation, all done to
the life, and another curious thing too, any quantity of lizards. A
confounded country where any one could have as many acres of land as he
wished for as little as he pleased.

“While he was busy inland, where he meant to carry out some wonderful
ideas of his, the English burn his fleet for him in Aboukir Bay, for
they never could do enough to annoy us. But Napoleon, who was respected
East and West, and called ‘My Son’ by the Pope, and ‘My dear Father’ by
Mahomet’s cousin, makes up his mind to have his revenge on England,
and to take India in exchange for his fleet. He set out to lead us into
Asia, by way of the Red Sea, through a country where there were palaces
for halting-places, and nothing but gold and diamonds to pay the troops
with, when the Mahdi comes to an understanding with the Plague, and
sends it among us to make a break in our victories. Halt! Then every man
files off to that parade from which no one comes back on his two feet.
The dying soldier cannot take Acre, into which he forces an entrance
three times with a warrior’s impetuous enthusiasm; the Plague was too
strong for us; there was not even time to say ‘Your servant, sir!’ to
the Plague. Every man was down with it. Napoleon alone was as fresh as a
rose; the whole army saw him drinking in the Plague without it doing him
any harm whatever.

“There now, my friends, was that natural, do you think?

“The Mamelukes, knowing that we were all on the sick-list, want to stop
our road; but it was no use trying that nonsense with Napoleon. So he
spoke to his familiars, who had tougher skins than the rest:

“‘Go and clear the road for me.’

“Junot, who was his devoted friend, and a first-class fighter, only
takes a thousand men, and makes a clean sweep of the Pasha’s army, which
had the impudence to bar our way. Thereupon back we came to Cairo, our
headquarters, and now for another story.

“Napoleon being out of the country, France allowed the people in Paris
to worry the life out of her. They kept back the soldiers’ pay and all
their linen and clothing, left them to starve, and expected them to
lay down law to the universe, without taking any further trouble in
the matter. They were idiots of the kind that amuse themselves with
chattering instead of setting themselves to knead the dough. So our
armies were defeated, France could not keep her frontiers; The Man was
not there. I say The Man, look you, because that was how they called
him; but it was stuff and nonsense, for he had a star of his own and all
his other peculiarities, it was the rest of us that were mere men. He
hears this history of France after his famous battle of Aboukir,
where with a single division he routed the grand army of the Turks,
twenty-five thousand strong, and jostled more than half of them into the
sea, rrrah! without losing more than three hundred of his own men. That
was his last thunder-clap in Egypt. He said to himself, seeing that all
was lost down there, ‘I know that I am the saviour of France, and to
France I must go.’

“But you must clearly understand that the army did not know of his
departure; for if they had, they would have kept him there by force to
make him Emperor of the East. So there we all are without him, and in
low spirits, for he was the life of us. He leaves Kleber in command,
a great watchdog who passed in his checks at Cairo, murdered by an
Egyptian whom they put to death by spiking him with a bayonet, which
is their way of guillotining people out there; but he suffered so much,
that a soldier took pity on the scoundrel and handed his flask to him;
and the Egyptian turned up his eyes then and there with all the pleasure
in life. But there is not much fun for us about this little affair.
Napoleon steps aboard of a little cockleshell, a mere nothing of a
skiff, called the _Fortune_, and in the twinkling of an eye, and in the
teeth of the English, who were blockading the place with vessels of the
line and cruisers and everything that carries canvas, he lands in France
for he always had the faculty of taking the sea at a stride. Was that
natural? Bah! as soon as he landed at Frejus, it is as good as saying
that he has set foot in Paris. Everybody there worships him; but he
calls the Government together.

“‘What have you done to my children, the soldiers?’ he says to the
lawyers. ‘You are a set of good-for-nothings who make fools of other
people, and feather your own nests at the expense of France. It will not
do. I speak in the name of every one who is discontented.’

“Thereupon they want to put him off and to get rid of him; but not a bit
of it! He locks them up in the barracks where they used to argufy and
makes them jump out of the windows. Then he makes them follow in his
train, and they all become as mute as fishes and supple as tobacco
pouches. So he becomes Consul at a blow. He was not the man to doubt the
existence of the Supreme Being; he kept his word with Providence, who
had kept His promise in earnest; he sets up religion again, and gives
back the churches, and they ring the bells for God and Napoleon. So
every one is satisfied: _primo_, the priests with whom he allows no
one to meddle; _segondo_, the merchant folk who carry on their trades
without fear of the _rapiamus_ of the law that had pressed too heavily
on them; _tertio_, the nobles; for people had fallen into an unfortunate
habit of putting them to death, and he puts a stop to this.

“But there were enemies to be cleared out of the way, and he was not the
one to go to sleep after mess; and his eyes, look you, traveled all over
the world as if it had been a man’s face. The next thing he did was
to turn up in Italy; it was just as if he had put his head out of the
window and the sight of him was enough; they gulp down the Austrians at
Marengo like a whale swallowing gudgeons! _Haouf!_ The French Victories
blew their trumpets so loud that the whole world could hear the noise,
and there was an end of it.

“‘We will not keep on at this game any longer!’ say the Germans.

“‘That is enough of this sort of thing,’ say the others.

“Here is the upshot. Europe shows the white feather, England knuckles
under, general peace all round, and kings and peoples pretending to
embrace each other. While then and there the Emperor hits on the idea of
the Legion of Honor. There’s a fine thing if you like!

“He spoke to the whole army at Boulogne. ‘In France,’ so he said, ‘every
man is brave. So the civilian who does gloriously shall be the soldier’s
sister, the soldier shall be his brother, and both shall stand together
beneath the flag of honor.’

“By the time that the rest of us who were away down there in Egypt
had come back again, everything was changed. We had seen him last as a
general, and in no time we find that he is Emperor! And when this was
settled (and it may safely be said that every one was satisfied) there
was a holy ceremony such as was never seen under the canopy of heaven.
Faith, France gave herself to him, like a handsome girl to a lancer, and
the Pope and all his cardinals in robes of red and gold come across the
Alps on purpose to anoint him before the army and the people, who clap
their hands.

“There is one thing that it would be very wrong to keep back from you.
While he was in Egypt, in the desert not far away from Syria, the Red
Man had appeared to him on the mountain of Moses, in order to say,
‘Everything is going on well.’ Then again, on the eve of victory at
Marengo, _the Red Man_ springs to his feet in front of the Emperor for
the second time, and says to him:

“‘You shall see the world at your feet; you shall be Emperor of the
French, King of Italy, master of Holland, ruler of Spain, Portugal, and
the Illyrian Provinces, protector of Germany, saviour of Poland, first
eagle of the Legion of Honor and all the rest of it.’

“That Red Man, look you, was a notion of his own, who ran on errands and
carried messages, so many people say, between him and his star. I myself
have never believed that; but the Red Man is, undoubtedly, a fact.
Napoleon himself spoke of the Red Man who lived up in the roof of the
Tuileries, and who used to come to him, he said, in moments of trouble
and difficulty. So on the night after his coronation Napoleon saw him
for the third time, and they talked over a lot of things together.

“Then the Emperor goes straight to Milan to have himself crowned King of
Italy, and then came the real triumph of the soldier. For every one
who could write became an officer forthwith, and pensions and gifts of
duchies poured down in showers. There were fortunes for the staff that
never cost France a penny, and the Legion of Honor was as good as an
annuity for the rank and file; I still draw my pension on the strength
of it. In short, here were armies provided for in a way that had never
been seen before! But the Emperor, who knew that he was to be Emperor
over everybody, and not only over the army, bethinks himself of the
bourgeois, and sets them to build fairy monuments in places that had
been as bare as the back of my hand till then. Suppose, now, that you
are coming out of Spain and on the way to Berlin; well, you would see
triumphal arches, and in the sculpture upon them the common soldiers are
done every bit as beautifully as the generals!

“In two or three years Napoleon fills his cellars with gold, makes
bridges, palaces, roads, scholars, festivals, laws, fleets, and harbors;
he spends millions on millions, ever so much, and ever so much more to
it, so that I have heard it said that he could have paved the whole of
France with five-franc pieces if the fancy had taken him; and all this
without putting any taxes on you people here. So when he was comfortably
seated on his throne, and so thoroughly the master of the situation,
that all Europe was waiting for leave to do anything for him that he
might happen to want; as he had four brothers and three sisters, he said
to us, just as it might be by way of conversation, in the order of the

“‘Children, is it fitting that your Emperor’s relations should beg their
bread? No; I want them all to be luminaries, like me in fact! Therefore,
it is urgently necessary to conquer a kingdom for each one of them, so
that the French nation may be masters everywhere, so that the Guard may
make the whole earth tremble, and France may spit wherever she likes,
and every nation shall say to her, as it is written on my coins, “God
protects you.”’

“‘All right!’ answers the army, ‘we will fish up kingdoms for you with
the bayonet.’

“Ah! there was no backing out of it, look you! If he had taken it into
his head to conquer the moon, we should have had to put everything in
train, pack our knapsacks, and scramble up; luckily, he had no wish for
that excursion. The kings who were used to the comforts of a throne, of
course, objected to be lugged off, so we had marching orders. We march,
we get there, and the earth begins to shake to its centre again. What
times they were for wearing out men and shoe-leather! And the hard
knocks that they gave us! Only Frenchmen could have stood it. But you
are not ignorant that a Frenchman is a born philosopher; he knows that
he must die a little sooner or a litter later. So we used to die without
a word, because we had the pleasure of watching the Emperor do _this_ on
the maps.”

Here the soldier swung quickly round on one foot, so as to trace a
circle on the barn floor with the other.

“‘There, that shall be a kingdom,’ he used to say, and it was a kingdom.
What fine times they were! Colonels became generals whilst you were
looking at them, generals became marshals of France, and marshals became
kings. There is one of them still left on his feet to keep Europe in
mind of those days, Gascon though he may be, and a traitor to France
that he might keep his crown; and he did not blush for his shame, for,
after all, a crown, look you, is made of gold. The very sappers and
miners who knew how to read became great nobles in the same way. And I
who am telling you all this have seen in Paris eleven kings and a crowd
of princes all round about Napoleon, like rays about the sun! Keep this
well in your minds, that as every soldier stood a chance of having a
throne of his own (provided he showed himself worthy of it), a corporal
of the Guard was by way of being a sight to see, and they gaped at him
as he went by; for every one came by his share after a victory, it
was made perfectly clear in the bulletin. And what battles they were!
Austerlitz, where the army was manoeuvred as if it had been a review;
Eylau, where the Russians were drowned in a lake, just as if Napoleon
had breathed on them and blown them in; Wagram, where the fighting was
kept up for three whole days without flinching. In short, there were as
many battles as there are saints in the calendar.

“Then it was made clear beyond a doubt that Napoleon bore the Sword
of God in his scabbard. He had a regard for the soldier. He took the
soldier for his child. He was anxious that you should have shoes,
shirts, greatcoats, bread, and cartridges; but he kept up his majesty,
too, for reigning was his own particular occupation. But, all the same,
a sergeant, or even a common soldier, could go up to him and call him
‘Emperor,’ just as you might say ‘My good friend’ to me at times. And he
would give an answer to anything you put before him. He used to sleep
on the snow just like the rest of us--in short, he looked almost like
an ordinary man; but I who am telling you all these things have seen him
myself with the grape-shot whizzing about his ears, no more put out by
it than you are at this moment; never moving a limb, watching through
his field-glass, always looking after his business; so we stood our
ground likewise, as cool and calm as John the Baptist. I do not know
how he did it; but whenever he spoke, a something in his words made
our hearts burn within us; and just to let him see that we were his
children, and that it was not in us to shirk or flinch, we used to walk
just as usual right up to the sluts of cannon that were belching smoke
and vomiting battalions of balls, and never a man would so much as say,
‘Look out!’ It was a something that made dying men raise their heads to
salute him and cry, ‘Long live the Emperor!’

“Was that natural? Would you have done this for a mere man?

“Thereupon, having fitted up all his family, and things having so
turned out that the Empress Josephine (a good woman for all that) had no
children, he was obliged to part company with her, although he loved her
not a little. But he must have children, for reasons of State. All the
crowned heads of Europe, when they heard of his difficulty, squabbled
among themselves as to who should find him a wife. He married an
Austrian princess, so they say, who was the daughter of the Caesars, a
man of antiquity whom everybody talks about, not only in our country,
where it is said that most things were his doing, but also all over
Europe. And so certain sure is that, that I who am talking to you have
been myself across the Danube, where I saw the ruins of a bridge built
by that man; and it appeared that he was some connection of Napoleon’s
at Rome, for the Emperor claimed succession there for his son.

“So, after his wedding, which was a holiday for the whole world, and
when they let the people off their taxes for ten years to come (though
they had to pay them just the same after all, because the excisemen took
no notice of the proclamation)--after his wedding, I say, his wife had a
child who was King of Rome; a child was born a King while his father was
alive, a thing that had never been seen in the world before! That day a
balloon set out from Paris to carry the news to Rome, and went all the
way in one day. There, now! Is there one of you who will stand me out
that there was nothing supernatural in that? No, it was decreed on high.
And the mischief take those who will not allow that it was wafted over
by God Himself, so as to add to the honor and glory of France!

“But there was the Emperor of Russia, a friend of our Emperor’s, who was
put out because he had not married a Russian lady. So the Russian backs
up our enemies the English; for there had always been something to
prevent Napoleon from putting a spoke in their wheel. Clearly an end
must be made of fowl of that feather. Napoleon is vexed, and he says to

“‘Soldiers! You have been the masters of every capital in Europe, except
Moscow, which is allied to England. So, in order to conquer London and
India, which belongs to them in London, I find it absolutely necessary
that we go to Moscow.’

“Thereupon the greatest army that ever wore gaiters, and left its
footprints all over the globe, is brought together, and drawn up with
such peculiar cleverness, that the Emperor passed a million men in
review, all in a single day.

“‘Hourra!’ cry the Russians, and there is all Russia assembled, a lot
of brutes of Cossacks, that you never can come up with! It was country
against country, a general stramash; we had to look out for ourselves.
‘It was all Asia against Europe,’ as the Red Man had said to Napoleon.
‘All right,’ Napoleon had answered, ‘I shall be ready for them.’

“And there, in fact, were all the kings who came to lick Napoleon’s
hand. Austria, Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony, Poland, and Italy, all speaking
us fair and going along with us; it was a fine thing! The Eagles had
never cooed before as they did on parade in those days, when they were
reared above all the flags of all the nations of Europe. The Poles could
not contain their joy because the Emperor had a notion of setting up
their kingdom again; and ever since Poland and France have always been
like brothers. In short, the army shouts, ‘Russia shall be ours!’

“We cross the frontiers, all the lot of us. We march and better march,
but never a Russian do we see. At last all our watch-dogs are encamped
at Borodino. That was where I received the Cross, and there is no
denying that it was a cursed battle. The Emperor was not easy in his
mind; he had seen the Red Man, who said to him, ‘My child, you are going
a little too fast for your feet; you will run short of men, and your
friends will play you false.’

“Thereupon the Emperor proposes a treaty. But before he signs it, he
says to us:

“‘Let us give these Russians a drubbing!’

“‘All right!’ cried the army.

“‘Forward!’ say the sergeants.

“My clothes were all falling to pieces, my shoes were worn out with
trapezing over those roads out there, which are not good going at
all. But it is all one. ‘Since here is the last of the row,’ said I to
myself, ‘I mean to get all I can out of it.’

“We were posted before the great ravine; we had seats in the front row.
The signal is given, and seven hundred guns begin a conversation fit to
make the blood spirt from your ears. One should give the devil his due,
and the Russians let themselves be cut in pieces just like Frenchmen;
they did not give way, and we made no advance.

“‘Forward!’ is the cry; ‘here is the Emperor!’

“So it was. He rides past us at a gallop, and makes a sign to us that a
great deal depends on our carrying the redoubt. He puts fresh heart into
us; we rush forward, I am the first man to reach the gorge. Ah! _mon
Dieu_! how they fell, colonels, lieutenants, and common soldiers, all
alike! There were shoes to fit up those who had none, and epaulettes for
the knowing fellows that knew how to write.... Victory is the cry all
along the line! And, upon my word, there were twenty-five thousand
Frenchmen lying on the field. No more, I assure you! Such a thing was
never seen before, it was just like a field when the corn is cut, with a
man lying there for every ear of corn. That sobered the rest of us. The
Man comes, and we make a circle round about him, and he coaxes us round
(for he could be very nice when he chose), and persuades us to dine
with Duke Humphrey, when we were hungry as hunters. Then our consoler
distributes the Crosses of the Legion of Honor himself, salutes the
dead, and says to us, ‘On to Moscow!’

“‘To Moscow, so be it,’ says the army.

“We take Moscow. What do the Russians do but set fire to their city!
There was a blaze, two leagues of bonfire that burned for two days! The
buildings fell about our ears like slates, and molten lead and iron
came down in showers; it was really horrible; it was a light to see our
sorrows by, I can tell you! The Emperor said, ‘There, that is enough of
this sort of thing; all my men shall stay here.’

“We amuse ourselves for a bit by recruiting and repairing our frames,
for we really were much fatigued by the campaign. We take away with us
a gold cross from the top of the Kremlin, and every soldier had a little
fortune. But on the way back the winter came down on us a month earlier
than usual, a matter which the learned (like a set of fools) have never
sufficiently explained; and we are nipped with the cold. We were no
longer an army after that, do you understand? There was an end of
generals and even of the sergeants; hunger and misery took the command
instead, and all of us were absolutely equal under their reign. All we
thought of was how to get back to France; no one stooped to pick up
his gun or his money; every one walked straight before him, and armed
himself as he thought fit, and no one cared about glory.

“The Emperor saw nothing of his star all the time, for the weather was
so bad. There was some misunderstanding between him and heaven. Poor
man, how bad he felt when he saw his Eagles flying with their backs
turned on victory! That was really too rough! Well, the next thing is
the Beresina. And here and now, my friends, any one can assure you on
his honor, and by all that is sacred, that _never_, no, never since
there have been men on earth, never in this world has there been such
a fricasse of an army, caissons, transports, artillery and all, in such
snow as that and under such a pitiless sky. It was so cold that you
burned your hand on the barrel of your gun if you happened to touch
it. There it was that the pontooners saved the army, for the pontooners
stood firm at their posts; it was there that Gondrin behaved like a
hero, and he is the sole survivor of all the men who were dogged enough
to stand in the river so as to build the bridges on which the army
crossed over, and so escaped the Russians, who still respected the Grand
Army on account of its past victories. And Gondrin is an accomplished
soldier,” he went on, pointing to his friend, who was gazing at him with
the rapt attention peculiar to deaf people, “a distinguished soldier who
deserves to have your very highest esteem.

“I saw the Emperor standing by the bridge,” he went on, “and never
feeling the cold at all. Was that, again, a natural thing? He was
looking on at the loss of his treasures, of his friends, and those who
had fought with him in Egypt. Bah! there was an end of everything. Women
and wagons and guns were all engulfed and swallowed up, everything went
to wreck and ruin. A few of the bravest among us saved the Eagles, for
the Eagles, look you, meant France, and all the rest of you; it was the
civil and military honor of France that was in our keeping, there must
be no spot on the honor of France, and the cold could never make her bow
her head. There was no getting warm except in the neighborhood of the
Emperor; for whenever he was in danger we hurried up, all frozen as we
were--we who would not stop to hold out a hand to a fallen friend.

“They say, too, that he shed tears of a night over his poor family of
soldiers. Only he and Frenchmen could have pulled themselves out of such
a plight; but we did pull ourselves out, though, as I am telling you,
it was with loss, ay, and heavy loss. The Allies had eaten up all our
provisions; everybody began to betray him, just as the Red Man had
foretold. The rattle-pates in Paris, who had kept quiet ever since the
Imperial Guard had been established, think that HE is dead, and hatch a
conspiracy. They set to work in the Home Office to overturn the Emperor.
These things come to his knowledge and worry him; he says to us at
parting, ‘Good-bye, children; keep to your posts, I will come back

“Bah! Those generals of his lose their heads at once; for when he
was away, it was not like the same thing. The marshals fall out among
themselves, and make blunders, as was only natural, for Napoleon in his
kindness had fed them on gold till they had grown as fat as butter,
and they had no mind to march. Troubles came of this, for many of them
stayed inactive in garrison towns in the rear, without attempting to
tickle up the backs of the enemy behind us, and we were being driven
back on France. But Napoleon comes back among us with fresh troops;
conscripts they were, and famous conscripts too; he had put some
thorough notions of discipline into them--the whelps were good to set
their teeth in anybody. He had a bourgeois guard of honor too, and fine
troops they were! They melted away like butter on a gridiron. We may
put a bold front on it, but everything is against us, although the army
still performs prodigies of valor. Whole nations fought against nations
in tremendous battles, at Dresden, Lutzen, and Bautzen, and then it was
that France showed extraordinary heroism, for you must all of you bear
in mind that in those times a stout grenadier only lasted six months.

“We always won the day, but the English were always on our track,
putting nonsense into other nations’ heads, and stirring them up to
revolt. In short, we cleared a way through all these mobs of nations;
for wherever the Emperor appeared, we made a passage for him; for on the
land as on the sea, whenever he said, ‘I wish to go forward,’ we made
the way.

“There comes a final end to it at last. We are back in France; and in
spite of the bitter weather, it did one’s heart good to breathe one’s
native air again, it set up many a poor fellow; and as for me, it put
new life into me, I can tell you. But it was a question all at once of
defending France, our fair land of France. All Europe was up in arms
against us; they took it in bad part that we had tried to keep the
Russians in order by driving them back within their own borders, so
that they should not gobble us up, for those Northern folk have a strong
liking for eating up the men of the South, it is a habit they have; I
have heard the same thing of them from several generals.

“So the Emperor finds his own father-in-law, his friends whom he had
made crowned kings, and the rabble of princes to whom he had given back
their thrones, were all against him. Even Frenchmen and allies in
our own ranks turned against us, by orders from high quarters, as at
Leipsic. Common soldiers would hardly be capable of such abominations;
yet these princes, as they called themselves, broke their words three
times a day! The next thing they do is to invade France. Wherever our
Emperor shows his lion’s face, the enemy beats a retreat; he worked
more miracles for the defence of France than he had ever wrought in the
conquest of Italy, the East, Spain, Europe, and Russia; he has a mind to
bury every foreigner in French soil, to give them a respect for France,
so he lets them come close up to Paris, so as to do for them at a single
blow, and to rise to the highest height of genius in the biggest battle
that ever was fought, a mother of battles! But the Parisians wanting
to save their trumpery skins, and afraid for their twopenny shops, open
their gates and there is a beginning of the _ragusades_, and an end
of all joy and happiness; they make a fool of the Empress, and fly the
white flag out at the windows. The Emperor’s closest friends among his
generals forsake him at last and go over to the Bourbons, of whom no one
had ever heard tell. Then he bids us farewell at Fontainbleau:

“‘Soldiers!’... (I can hear him yet, we were all crying just like
children; the Eagles and the flags had been lowered as if for a funeral.
Ah! and it was a funeral, I can tell you; it was the funeral of the
Empire; those smart armies of his were nothing but skeletons now.) So he
stood there on the flight of steps before his chateau, and he said:

“‘Children, we have been overcome by treachery, but we shall meet again
up above in the country of the brave. Protect my child, I leave him in
your care. _Long live Napoleon II.!_’

“He had thought of killing himself, so that no one should behold
Napoleon after his defeat; like Jesus Christ before the Crucifixion,
he thought himself forsaken by God and by his talisman, and so he took
enough poison to kill a regiment, but it had no effect whatever upon
him. Another marvel! he discovered that he was immortal; and feeling
sure of his case, and knowing that he would be Emperor for ever, he
went to an island for a little while, so as to study the dispositions of
those folk who did not fail to make blunder upon blunder. Whilst he was
biding his time, the Chinese and the brutes out in Africa, the Moors and
what-not, awkward customers all of them, were so convinced that he was
something more than mortal, that they respected his flag, saying that
God would be displeased if any one meddled with it. So he reigned over
all the rest of the world, although the doors of his own France had been
closed upon him.

“Then he goes on board the same nutshell of a skiff that he sailed in
from Egypt, passes under the noses of the English vessels, and sets foot
in France. France recognizes her Emperor, the cuckoo flits from steeple
to steeple; France cries with one voice, ‘Long live the Emperor!’ The
enthusiasm for that Wonder of the Ages was thoroughly genuine in these
parts. Dauphine behaved handsomely; and I was uncommonly pleased to
learn that people here shed tears of joy on seeing his gray overcoat
once more.

“It was on March 1st that Napoleon set out with two hundred men to
conquer the kingdom of France and Navarre, which by March 20th had
become the French Empire again. On that day he found himself in Paris,
and a clean sweep had been made of everything; he had won back his
beloved France, and had called all his soldiers about him again, and
three words of his had done it all--‘Here am I!’ ‘Twas the greatest
miracle God ever worked! Was it ever known in the world before that a
man should do nothing but show his hat, and a whole Empire became his?
They fancied that France was crushed, did they? Never a bit of it. A
National Army springs up again at the sight of the Eagle, and we all
march to Waterloo. There the Guard fall all as one man. Napoleon in his
despair heads the rest, and flings himself three times on the enemy’s
guns without finding the death he sought; we all saw him do it, we
soldiers, and the day was lost! That night the Emperor calls all his old
soldiers about him, and there on the battlefield, which was soaked with
our blood, he burns his flags and his Eagles--the poor Eagles that had
never been defeated, that had cried, ‘Forward!’ in battle after
battle, and had flown above us all over Europe. That was the end of
the Eagles--all the wealth of England could not purchase for her one
tail-feather. The rest is sufficiently known.

“The Red Man went over to the Bourbons like the low scoundrel he is.
France is prostrate, the soldier counts for nothing, they rob him of
his due, send him about his business, and fill his place with nobles who
could not walk, they were so old, so that it made you sorry to see them.
They seize Napoleon by treachery, the English shut him up on a desert
island in the ocean, on a rock ten thousand feet above the rest of the
world. That is the final end of it; there he has to stop till the Red
Man gives him back his power again, for the happiness of France. A lot
of them say that he is dead! Dead? Oh! yes, very likely. They do not
know him, that is plain! They go on telling that fib to deceive the
people, and to keep things quiet for their tumble-down government.
Listen; this is the whole truth of the matter. His friends have left him
alone in the desert to fulfil a prophecy that was made about him, for I
forgot to tell you that his name Napoleon really means the _Lion of the
Desert_. And that is gospel truth. You will hear plenty of other things
said about the Emperor, but they are all monstrous nonsense. Because,
look you, to no man of woman born would God have given the power to
write his name in red, as he did, across the earth, where he will be
remembered for ever!... Long live ‘Napoleon, the father of the soldier,
the father of the people!’”

“Long live General Eble!” cried the pontooner.

“How did you manage not to die in the gorge of the redoubts at
Borodino?” asked a peasant woman.

“Do I know? we were a whole regiment when we went down into it, and only
a hundred foot were left standing; only infantry could have carried it;
for the infantry, look you, is everything in an army----”

“But how about the cavalry?” cried Genestas, slipping down out of the
hay in a sudden fashion that drew a startled cry from the boldest.

“He, old boy! you are forgetting Poniatowski’s Red Lancers, the
Cuirassiers, the Dragoons, and the whole boiling. Whenever Napoleon
grew tired of seeing his battalions gain no ground towards the end of a
victory, he would say to Murat, ‘Here, you! cut them in two for me!’ and
we set out first at a trot, and then at a gallop, _one, two_! and cut a
way clean through the ranks of the enemy; it was like slicing an apple
in two with a knife. Why, a charge of cavalry is nothing more nor less
than a column of cannon balls.”

“And how about the pontooners?” cried the deaf veteran.

“There, there! my children,” Genestas went on, repenting in his
confusion of the sally he had made, when he found himself in the middle
of a silent and bewildered group, “there are no agents of police spying
here! Here, drink to the Little Corporal with this!”

“Long live the Emperor!” all cried with one voice.

“Hush! children,” said the officer, concealing his own deep sorrow with
an effort. “Hush! _He is dead_. He died saying, ‘_Glory, France,
and battle_.’ So it had to be, children, he must die; but his

Goguelat made an incredulous gesture, then he whispered to those about
him, “The officer is still in the service, and orders have been issued
that they are to tell the people that the Emperor is dead. You must not
think any harm of him because, after all, a soldier must obey orders.”

As Genestas went out of the barn, he heard La Fosseuse say, “That
officer, you know, is M. Benassis’ friend, and a friend of the

Every soul in the barn rushed to the door to see the commandant again;
they saw him in the moonlight, as he took the doctor’s arm.

“It was a stupid thing to do,” said Genestas. “Quick! let us go into
the house. Those Eagles, cannon, and campaigns!... I had quite forgotten
where I was.”

“Well, what do you think of our Goguelat?” asked Benassis.

“So long as such stories are told in France, sir, she will always find
the fourteen armies of the Republic within her, at need; and her cannon
will be perfectly able to keep up a conversation with the rest of
Europe. That is what I think.”

A few moments later they reached Benassis’ dwelling, and soon were
sitting on either side of the hearth in the salon; the dying fire in
the grate still sent up a few sparks now and then. Each was absorbed in
thought. Genestas was hesitating to ask one last question. In spite of
the marks of confidence that he had received, he feared lest the doctor
should regard his inquiry as indiscreet. He looked searchingly at
Benassis more than once; and an answering smile, full of a kindly
cordiality, such as lights up the faces of men of real strength of
character, seemed to give him in advance the favorable reply for which
he sought. So he spoke:

“Your life, sir, is so different from the lives of ordinary men, that
you will not be surprised to hear me ask you the reason of your retired
existence. My curiosity may seem to you to be unmannerly, but you will
admit that it is very natural. Listen a moment: I have had comrades with
whom I have never been on intimate terms, even though I have made many
campaigns with them; but there have been others to whom I would say, ‘Go
to the paymaster and draw our money,’ three days after we had got drunk
together, a thing that will happen, for the quietest folk must have a
frolic fit at times. Well, then, you are one of those people whom I
take for a friend without waiting to ask leave, nay, without so much as
knowing wherefore.”

“Captain Bluteau----”

Whenever the doctor had called his guest by his assumed name, the
latter had been unable for some time past to suppress a slight grimace.
Benassis, happening to look up just then, caught this expression of
repugnance; he sought to discover the reason of it, and looked full into
the soldier’s face, but the real enigma was well-nigh insoluble for him,
so he set down these symptoms to physical suffering and went on:

“Captain, I am about to speak of myself. I have had to force myself to
do so already several times since yesterday, while telling you about
the improvements that I have managed to introduce here; but it was a
question of the interests of the people and the commune, with which mine
are necessarily bound up. But, now, if I tell you my story, I should
have to speak wholly of myself, and mine has not been a very interesting

“If it were as uneventful as La Fosseuse’s life,” answered Genestas,
“I should still be glad to know about it; I should like to know the
untoward events that could bring a man of your calibre into this

“Captain, for these twelve years I have lived in silence; and now, as I
wait at the brink of the grave for the stroke that will cast me into
it, I will candidly own to you that this silence is beginning to weigh
heavily upon me. I have borne my sorrows alone for twelve years; I have
had none of the comfort that friendship gives in such full measure to
a heart in pain. My poor sick folk and my peasants certainly set me
an example of unmurmuring resignation; but they know that I at least
understand them and their troubles, while there is not a soul here who
knows of the tears that I have shed, no one to give me the hand-clasp of
a comrade, the noblest reward of all, a reward that falls to the lot of
every other; even Gondrin has not missed that.”

Genestas held out his hand, a sudden impulsive movement by which
Benassis was deeply touched.

“There is La Fosseuse,” he went on in a different voice; “she perhaps
would have understood as the angels might; but then, too, she might
possibly have loved me, and that would have been a misfortune. Listen,
captain, my confession could only be made to an old soldier who looks as
leniently as you do on the failings of others, or to some young man who
has not lost the illusions of youth; for only a man who knows life
well, or a lad to whom it is all unknown, could understand my story. The
captains of past times who fell upon the field of battle used to make
their last confession to the cross on the hilt of their sword; if there
was no priest at hand, it was the sword that received and kept the
last confidences between a human soul and God. And will you hear and
understand me, for you are one of Napoleon’s finest sword-blades, as
thoroughly tempered and as strong as steel? Some parts of my story can
only be understood by a delicate tenderness, and through a sympathy with
the beliefs that dwell in simple hearts; beliefs which would seem absurd
to the sophisticated people who make use in their own lives of the
prudential maxims of worldly wisdom that only apply to the government
of states. To you I shall speak openly and without reserve, as a man who
does not seek to apologize for his life with the good and evil done
in the course of it; as one who will hide nothing from you, because he
lives so far from the world of to-day, careless of the judgements of
man, and full of hope in God.”

Benassis stopped, rose to his feet, and said, “Before I begin my story,
I will order tea. Jacquotte has never missed asking me if I will take it
for these twelve years past, and she will certainly interrupt us. Do you
care about it, captain?”

“No, thank you.”

In another moment Benassis returned.


“I was born in a little town in Languedoc,” the doctor resumed. “My
father had been settled there for many years, and there my early
childhood was spent. When I was eight years old I was sent to the school
of the Oratorians at Sorreze, and only left it to finish my studies
in Paris. My father had squandered his patrimony in the course of an
exceedingly wild and extravagant youth. He had retrieved his position
partly by a fortunate marriage, partly by the slow persistent thrift
characteristic of provincial life; for in the provinces people pride
themselves on accumulating rather than on spending, and all the ambition
in a man’s nature is either extinguished or directed to money-getting,
for want of any nobler end. So he had grown rich at last, and thought
to transmit to his only son all the cut-and-dried experience which he
himself had purchased at the price of his lost illusions; a noble last
illusion of age which fondly seeks to bequeath its virtues and its
wary prudence to heedless youth, intent only on the enjoyment of the
enchanted life that lies before it.

“This foresight on my father’s part led him to make plans for my
education for which I had to suffer. He sedulously concealed my
expectations of wealth from me, and during the fairest years of my
youth compelled me, for my own good, to endure the burden of anxiety and
hardship that presses upon a young man who has his own way to make in
the world. His idea in so doing was to instill the virtues of poverty
into me--patience, a thirst for learning, and a love of work for its own
sake. He hoped to teach me to set a proper value on my inheritance,
by letting me learn, in this way, all that it costs to make a fortune;
wherefore, as soon as I was old enough to understand his advice, he
urged me to choose a profession and to work steadily at it. My tastes
inclined me to the study of medicine.

“So I left Sorreze, after ten years of almost monastic discipline of
the Oratorians; and, fresh from the quiet life of a remote provincial
school, I was taken straight to the capital. My father went with me in
order to introduce me to the notice of a friend of his; and (all unknown
to me) my two elders took the most elaborate precautions against any
ebullitions of youth on my part, innocent lad though I was. My allowance
was rigidly computed on a scale based upon the absolute necessaries of
life, and I was obliged to produce my certificate of attendance at the
Ecole de Medecine before I was allowed to draw my quarter’s income. The
excuse for this sufficiently humiliating distrust was the necessity of
my acquiring methodical and business-like habits. My father, however,
was not sparing of money for all the necessary expenses of my education
and for the amusements of Parisian life.

“His old friend was delighted to have a young man to guide through
the labyrinth into which I had entered. He was one of those men whose
natures lead them to docket their thoughts, feelings, and opinions
every whit as carefully as their papers. He would turn up last year’s
memorandum book, and could tell in a moment what he had been doing a
twelvemonth since in this very month, day, and hour of the present year.
Life, for him, was a business enterprise, and he kept the books after
the most approved business methods. There was real worth in him though
he might be punctilious, shrewd, and suspicious, and though he never
lacked specious excuses for the precautionary measures that he took with
regard to me. He used to buy all my books; he paid for my lessons; and
once, when the fancy took me to learn to ride, the good soul himself
found me out a riding-school, went thither with me, and anticipated my
wishes by putting a horse at my disposal whenever I had a holiday. In
spite of all this cautious strategy, which I managed to defeat as soon
as I had any temptation to do so, the kind old man was a second father
to me.

“‘My friend,’ he said, as soon as he surmised that I should break away
altogether from my leading strings, unless he relaxed them, ‘young folk
are apt to commit follies which draw down the wrath of their elders upon
their heads, and you may happen to want money at some time or other;
if so, come to me. Your father helped me nobly once upon a time, and
I shall always have a few crowns to spare for you; but never tell any
lies, and do not be ashamed to own to your faults. I myself was young
once; we shall always get on well together, like two good comrades.’

“My father found lodgings for me with some quiet, middle-class people
in the Latin Quarter, and my room was furnished nicely enough; but this
first taste of independence, my father’s kindness, and the self-denial
which he seemed to be exercising for me, brought me but little
happiness. Perhaps the value of liberty cannot be known until it has
been experienced; and the memories of the freedom of my childhood had
been almost effaced by the irksome and dreary life at school, from which
my spirits had scarcely recovered. In addition to this, my father had
urged new tasks upon me, so that altogether Paris was an enigma. You
must acquire some knowledge of its pleasures before you can amuse
yourself in Paris.

“My real position, therefore, was quite unchanged, save that my
new _lycee_ was a much larger building, and was called the Ecole de
Medecine. Nevertheless, I studied away bravely at first; I attended
lectures diligently; I worked desperately hard and without relaxation,
so strongly was my imagination affected by the abundant treasures of
knowledge to be gained in the capital. But very soon I heedlessly
made acquaintances; danger lurks hidden beneath the rash confiding
friendships that have so strong a charm for youth, and gradually I was
drawn into the dissipated life of the capital. I became an enthusiastic
lover of the theatre; and with my craze for actors and the play, the
work of my demoralization began. The stage, in a great metropolis,
exerts a very deadly influence over the young; they never quit the
theatre save in a state of emotional excitement almost always beyond
their power to control; society and the law seem to me to be accessories
to the irregularities brought about in this way. Our legislation has
shut its eyes, so to speak, to the passions that torment a young man
between twenty and five-and-twenty years of age. In Paris he is assailed
by temptations of every kind. Religion may preach and Law may demand
that he should walk uprightly, but all his surroundings and the tone of
those about him are so many incitements to evil. Do not the best of men
and the most devout women there look upon continence as ridiculous? The
great city, in fact, seems to have set herself to give encouragement to
vice and to this alone; for a young man finds that the entrance to
every honorable career in which he might look for success is barred by
hindrances even more numerous than the snares that are continually set
for him, so that through his weaknesses he may be robbed of his money.

“For a long while I went every evening to some theatre, and little by
little I fell into idle ways. I grew more and more slack over my work;
even my most pressing tasks were apt to be put off till the morrow, and
before very long there was an end of my search after knowledge for its
own sake; I did nothing more than the work which was absolutely required
to enable me to get through the examinations that must be passed before
I could become a doctor. I attended the public lectures, but I no longer
paid any attention to the professors, who, in my opinion, were a set of
dotards. I had already broken my idols--I became a Parisian.

“To be brief, I led the aimless drifting life of a young, provincial
thrown into the heart of a great city; still retaining some good and
true feeling, still clinging more or less to the observance of certain
rules of conduct, still fighting in vain against the debasing
influence of evil examples, though I offered but a feeble, half-hearted
resistance, for the enemy had accomplices within me. Yes, sir, my face
is not misleading; past storms have plainly left their traces there.
Yet, since I had drunk so deeply of the pure fountain of religion in
my early youth, I was haunted in the depths of my soul, through all my
wanderings, by an ideal of moral perfection which could not fail one day
to bring me back to God by the paths of weariness and remorse. Is not he
who feels the pleasures of earth most keenly, sure to be attracted, soon
or late, by the fruits of heaven?

“At first I went through the experience, more or less vivid, that always
comes with youth--the countless moments of exultation, the unnumbered
transports of despair. Sometimes I took my vehement energy of feeling
for a resolute will, and over-estimated my powers; sometimes, at the
mere sight of some trifling obstacle with which I was about to come into
collision, I was far more cast down than I ought to have been. Then
I would devise vast plans, would dream of glory, and betake myself to
work; but a pleasure party would divert me from the noble projects based
on so infirm a purpose. Vague recollections of these great abortive
schemes of mine left a deceptive glow in my soul and fostered my belief
in myself, without giving me the energy to produce. In my indolent
self-sufficiency I was in a very fair way to become a fool, for what is
a fool but a man who fails to justify the excellent opinion which he has
formed of himself? My energy was directed towards no definite aims; I
wished for the flowers of life without the toil of cultivating them. I
had no idea of the obstacles, so I imagined that everything was easy;
luck, I thought, accounted for success in science and in business, and
genius was charlatanism. I took it for granted that I should be a
great man, because there was the power of becoming one within me; so I
discounted all my future glory, without giving a thought to the patience
required for the conception of a great work, nor of the execution, in
the course of which all the difficulties of the task appear.

“The sources of my amusements were soon exhausted. The charm of the
theatre does not last for very long; and, for a poor student, Paris
shortly became an empty wilderness. They were dull and uninteresting
people that I met with in the circle of the family with whom I lived;
but these, and an old man who had now lost touch with the world, were
all the society that I had.

“So, like every young man who takes a dislike to the career marked out
for him, I rambled about the streets for whole days together; I strolled
along the quays, through the museums and public gardens, making no
attempt to arrive at a clear understanding of my position, and without
a single definite idea in my head. The burden of unemployed energies is
more felt at that age than at any other; there is such an abundance of
vitality running to waste, so much activity without result. I had no
idea of the power that a resolute will puts into the hands of a man in
his youth; for when he has ideas and puts his whole heart and soul into
the work of carrying them out, his strength is yet further increased by
the undaunted courage of youthful convictions.

“Childhood in its simplicity knows nothing of the perils of life; youth
sees both its vastness and its difficulties, and at the prospect
the courage of youth sometimes flags. We are still serving our
apprenticeship to life; we are new to the business, a kind of
faint-heartedness overpowers us, and leaves us in an almost dazed
condition of mind. We feel that we are helpless aliens in a strange
country. At all ages we shrink back involuntarily from the unknown.
And a young man is very much like the soldier who will walk up to the
cannon’s mouth, and is put to flight by a ghost. He hesitates among the
maxims of the world. The rules of attack and of self-defence are alike
unknown to him; he can neither give nor take; he is attracted by women,
and stands in awe of them; his very good qualities tell against him,
he is all generosity and modesty, and completely innocent of mercenary
designs. Pleasure and not interest is his object when he tells a lie;
and among many dubious courses, the conscience, with which as yet he has
not juggled, points out to him the right way, which he is slow to take.

“There are men whose lives are destined to be shaped by the impulses of
their hearts, rather than by any reasoning process that takes place in
their heads, and such natures as these will remain for a long while in
the position that I have described. This was my own case. I became the
plaything of two contending impulses; the desires of youth were always
held in check by a faint-hearted sentimentality. Life in Paris is a
cruel ordeal for impressionable natures, the great inequalities of
fortune or of position inflame their souls and stir up bitter feelings.
In that world of magnificence and pettiness envy is more apt to be a
dagger than a spur. You are bound either to fall a victim or to become a
partisan in this incessant strife of ambitions, desires, and hatreds,
in the midst of which you are placed; and by slow degrees the picture
of vice triumphant and virtue made ridiculous produces its effect on
a young man, and he wavers; life in Paris soon rubs the bloom from
conscience, the infernal work of demoralization has begun, and is
soon accomplished. The first of pleasures, that which at the outset
comprehends all the others, is set about with such perils that it is
impossible not to reflect upon the least actions which it provokes,
impossible not to calculate all its consequences. These calculations
lead to selfishness. If some poor student, carried away by an
impassioned enthusiasm, is fain to rise above selfish considerations,
the suspicious attitude of those about him makes him pause and doubt;
it is so hard not to share their mistrust, so difficult not to be on
his guard against his own generous thoughts. His heart is seared and
contracted by this struggle, the current of life sets toward the brain,
and the callousness of the Parisian is the result--the condition of
things in which schemes for power and wealth are concealed by the most
charming frivolity, and lurk beneath the sentimental transports that
take the place of enthusiasm. The simplest-natured woman in Paris always
keeps a clear head even in the intoxication of happiness.

“This atmosphere was bound to affect my opinions and my conduct. The
errors that have poisoned my life would have lain lightly on many a
conscience, but we in the South have a religious faith that leads us to
believe in a future life, and in the truths set forth by the Catholic
Church. These beliefs give depth and gravity to every feeling, and to
remorse a terrible and lasting power.

“The army were masters of society at the time when I was studying
medicine. In order to shine in women’s eyes, one had to be a colonel at
the very least. A poor student counted for absolutely nothing. Goaded by
the strength of my desires, and finding no outlet for them; hampered at
every step and in every wish by the want of money; looking on study and
fame as too slow a means of arriving at the pleasures that tempted
me; drawn one way by my inward scruples, and another by evil examples;
meeting with every facility for low dissipation, and finding nothing
but hindrances barring the way to good society, I passed my days
in wretchedness, overwhelmed by a surging tumult of desires, and by
indolence of the most deadly kind, utterly cast down at times, only to
be as suddenly elated.

“The catastrophe which at length put an end to this crisis was
commonplace enough. The thought of troubling the peace of a household
has always been repugnant to me; and not only so, I could not dissemble
my feelings, the instinct of sincerity was too strong in me; I should
have found it a physical impossibility to lead a life of glaring
falsity. There is for me but little attraction in pleasures that must be
snatched. I wish for full consciousness of my happiness. I led a life
of solitude, for which there seemed to be no remedy; for I shrank
from openly vicious courses, and the many efforts that I made to enter
society were all in vain. There I might have met with some woman who
would have undertaken the task of teaching me the perils of every path,
who would have formed my manners, counseled me without wounding my
vanity, and introduced me everywhere where I was likely to make friends
who would be useful to me in my future career. In my despair, an
intrigue of the most dangerous kind would perhaps have had its
attractions for me; but even peril was out of my reach. My inexperience
sent me back again to my solitude, where I dwelt face to face with my
thwarted desires.

“At last I formed a connection, at first a secret one, with a girl, whom
I persuaded, half against her will, to share my life. Her people were
worthy folk, who had but small means. It was not very long before she
left her simple sheltered life, and fearlessly intrusted me with a
future that virtue would have made happy and fair; thinking, no doubt,
that my narrow income was the surest guarantee of my faithfulness to
her. From that moment the tempest that had raged within me ceased, and
happiness lulled my wild desires and ambitions to sleep. Such happiness
is only possible for a young man who is ignorant of the world, who knows
nothing as yet of its accepted codes nor of the strength of prejudice;
but while it lasts, his happiness is as all-absorbing as a child’s. Is
not first love like a return of childhood across the intervening years
of anxiety and toil?

“There are men who learn life at a glance, who see it for what it is at
once, who learn experience from the mistakes of others, who apply the
current maxims of worldly wisdom to their own case with signal success,
and make unerring forecasts at all times. Wise in their generation are
such cool heads as these! But there is also a luckless race endowed with
the impressionable, keenly-sensitive temperament of the poet; these are
the natures that fall into error, and to this latter class I belonged.
There was no great depth in the feeling that first drew me towards this
poor girl; I followed my instinct rather than my heart when I sacrificed
her to myself, and I found no lack of excellent reasons wherewith to
persuade myself that there was no harm whatever in what I had done. And
as for her--she was devotion itself, a noble soul with a clear, keen
intelligence and a heart of gold. She never counseled me other than
wisely. Her love put fresh heart into me from the first; she foretold a
splendid future of success and fortune for me, and gently constrained me
to take up my studies again by her belief in me. In these days there is
scarcely a branch of science that has no bearing upon medicine; it is a
difficult task to achieve distinction, but the reward is great, for in
Paris fame always means fortune. The unselfish girl devoted herself
to me, shared in every interest, even the slightest, of my life, and
managed so carefully and wisely that we lived in comfort on my narrow
income. I had more money to spare, now that there were two of us, than
I had ever had while I lived by myself. Those were my happiest days. I
worked with enthusiasm, I had a definite aim before me, I had found the
encouragement I needed. Everything I did or thought I carried to her,
who had not only found the way to gain my love, but above and beyond
this had filled me with sincere respect for her by the modest discretion
which she displayed in a position where discretion and modesty seemed
well-nigh impossible. But one day was like another, sir; and it is only
after our hears have passed through all the storms appointed for us that
we know the value of a monotonous happiness, and learn that life holds
nothing more sweet for us than this; a calm happiness in which the
fatigue of existence is felt no longer, and the inmost thoughts of
either find response in the other’s soul.

“My former dreams assailed me again. They were my own vehement longings
for the pleasures of wealth that awoke, though it was in love’s name
that I now asked for them. In the evenings I grew abstracted and moody,
rapt in imaginings of the pleasures I could enjoy if I were rich,
and thoughtlessly gave expression to my desires in answer to a tender
questioning voice. I must have drawn a painful sigh from her who had
devoted herself to my happiness; for she, sweet soul, felt nothing more
cruelly than the thought that I wished for something that she could not
give me immediately. Oh! sir, a woman’s devotion is sublime!”

There was a sharp distress in the doctor’s exclamation which seemed
prompted by some recollection of his own; he paused for a brief while,
and Genestas respected his musings.

“Well, sir,” Benassis resumed, “something happened which should have
concluded the marriage thus begun; but instead of that it put an end to
it, and was the cause of all my misfortunes. My father died and left
me a large fortune. The necessary business arrangements demanded my
presence in Languedoc for several months, and I went thither alone.
At last I had regained my freedom! Even the mildest yoke is galling
to youth; we do not see its necessity any more than we see the need to
work, until we have had some experience of life. I came and went without
giving an account of my actions to any one; there was no need to do so
now unless I wished, and I relished liberty with all the keen capacity
for enjoyment that we have in Languedoc. I did not absolutely forget the
ties that bound me; but I was so absorbed in other matters of interest,
that my mind was distracted from them, and little by little the
recollection of them faded away. Letters full of heartfelt tenderness
reached me; but at two-and-twenty a young man imagines that all women
are alike tender; he does not know love from a passing infatuation; all
things are confused in the sensations of pleasure which seem at first
to comprise everything. It was only later, when I came to a clearer
knowledge of men and of things as they are, that I could estimate those
noble letters at their just worth. No trace of selfishness was mingled
with the feeling expressed in them; there was nothing but gladness on
my account for my change of fortune, and regret on her own; it never
occurred to her that I could change towards her, for she felt that she
herself was incapable of change. But even then I had given myself up to
ambitious dreams; I thought of drinking deeply of all the delights that
wealth could give, of becoming a person of consequence, of making a
brilliant marriage. So I read the letters, and contented myself with
saying, ‘She is very fond of me,’ with the indifference of a coxcomb.
Even then I was perplexed as to how to extricate myself from this
entanglement; I was ashamed of it, and this fact as well as my
perplexity led me to be cruel. We begin by wounding the victim, and then
we kill it, that the sight of our cruelty may no longer put us to the
blush. Late reflections upon those days of error have unveiled for me
many a dark depth in the human heart. Yes, believe me, those who best
have fathomed the good and evil in human nature have honestly examined
themselves in the first instance. Conscience is the starting-point of
our investigations; we proceed from ourselves to others, never from
others to ourselves.

“When I returned to Paris I took up my abode in a large house which,
in pursuance with my orders, had been taken for me, and the one person
interested in my return and change of address was not informed of it. I
wished to cut a figure among young men of fashion. I waited a few
days to taste the first delights of wealth; and when, flushed with the
excitement of my new position, I felt that I could trust myself to do
so, I went to see the poor girl whom I meant to cast off. With a woman’s
quickness she saw what was passing in my mind, and hid her tears from
me. She could not but have despised me; but it was her nature to be
gentle and kindly, and she never showed her scorn. Her forbearance was a
cruel punishment. An unresisting victim is not a pleasant thing; whether
the murder is done decorously in the drawing-room, or brutally on the
highway, there should be a struggle to give some plausible excuse for
taking a life. I renewed my visits very affectionately at first, making
efforts to be gracious, if not tender; by slow degrees I became politely
civil; and one day, by a sort of tacit agreement between us, she allowed
me to treat her as a stranger, and I thought that I had done all that
could be expected of me. Nevertheless I abandoned myself to my new life
with almost frenzied eagerness, and sought to drown in gaiety any vague
lingering remorse that I felt. A man who has lost his self-respect
cannot endure his own society, so I led the dissipated life that wealthy
young men lead in Paris. Owing to a good education and an excellent
memory, I seemed cleverer than I really was, forthwith I looked down
upon other people; and those who, for their own purposes, wished to
prove to me that I was possessed of extraordinary abilities, found
me quite convinced on that head. Praise is the most insidious of all
methods of treachery known to the world; and this is nowhere better
understood than in Paris, where intriguing schemers know how to stifle
every kind of talent at its birth by heaping laurels on its cradle. So
I did nothing worthy of my reputation; I reaped no advantages from the
golden opinions entertained of me, and made no acquaintances likely
to be useful in my future career. I wasted my energies in numberless
frivolous pursuits, and in the short-lived love intrigues that are the
disgrace of salons in Paris, where every one seeks for love, grows blase
in the pursuit, falls into the libertinism sanctioned by polite society,
and ends by feeling as much astonished at real passion as the world is
over a heroic action. I did as others did. Often I dealt to generous and
candid souls the deadly wound from which I myself was slowly perishing.
Yet though deceptive appearances might lead others to misjudge me, I
could never overcome my scrupulous delicacy. Many times I have been
duped, and should have blushed for myself had it been otherwise; I
secretly prided myself on acting in good faith, although this lowered me
in the eyes of others. As a matter of fact the world has a considerable
respect for cleverness, whatever form it takes, and success justifies
everything. So the world was pleased to attribute to me all the good
qualities and evil propensities, all the victories and defeats which had
never been mine; credited me with conquests of which I knew nothing, and
sat in judgment upon actions of which I had never been guilty. I scorned
to contradict the slanders, and self-love led me to regard the more
flattering rumors with a certain complacence. Outwardly my existence was
pleasant enough, but in reality I was miserable. If it had not been for
the tempest of misfortunes that very soon burst over my head, all
good impulses must have perished, and evil would have triumphed in the
struggle that went on within me; enervating self-indulgence would have
destroyed the body, as the detestable habits of egotism exhausted the
springs of the soul. But I was ruined financially. This was how it came

“No matter how large his fortune may be, a man is sure to find some one
else in Paris possessed of yet greater wealth, whom he must needs aim at
surpassing. In this unequal conquest I was vanquished at the end of four
years; and, like many another harebrained youngster, I was obliged to
sell part of my property and to mortgage the remainder to satisfy my
creditors. Then a terrible blow suddenly struck me down.

“Two years had passed since I had last seen the woman whom I had
deserted. The turn that my affairs were taking would no doubt have
brought me back to her once more; but one evening, in the midst of a gay
circle of acquaintances, I received a note written in a trembling hand.
It only contained these few words:

“‘I have only a very little while to live, and I should like to see
you, my friend, so that I may know what will become of my child--whether
henceforward he will be yours; and also to soften the regret that some
day you might perhaps feel for my death.’

“The letter made me shudder. It was a revelation of secret anguish in
the past, while it contained a whole unknown future. I set out on
foot, I would not wait for my carriage, I went across Paris, goaded by
remorse, and gnawed by a dreadful fear that was confirmed by the first
sight of my victim. In the extreme neatness and cleanliness beneath
which she had striven to hid her poverty I read all the terrible
sufferings of her life; she was nobly reticent about them in her effort
to spare my feelings, and only alluded to them after I had solemnly
promised to adopt our child. She died, sir, in spite of all the care
lavished upon her, and all that science could suggest was done for her
in vain. The care and devotion that had come too late only served to
render her last moments less bitter.

“To support her little one she had worked incessantly with her needle.
Love for her child had given her strength to endure her life of
hardship; but it had not enabled her to bear my desertion, the keenest
of all her griefs. Many times she had thought of trying to see me, but
her woman’s pride had always prevented this. While I squandered floods
of gold upon my caprices, no memory of the past had ever bidden a single
drop to fall in her home to help mother and child to live; but she had
been content to weep, and had not cursed me; she had looked upon her
evil fortune as the natural punishment of her error. With the aid of a
good priest of Saint Sulpice, whose kindly voice had restored peace to
her soul, she had sought for hope in the shadow of the altar, whither
she had gone to dry her tears. The bitter flood that I had poured into
her heart gradually abated; and one day, when she heard her child say
‘Father,’ a word that she had not taught him, she forgave my crime. But
sorrow and weeping and days and nights of ceaseless toil injured her
health. Religion had brought its consolations and the courage to bear
the ills of life, but all too late. She fell ill of a heart complaint
brought on by grief and by the strain of expectation, for she always
thought that I should return, and her hopes always sprang up afresh
after every disappointment. Her health grew worse; and at last, as she
was lying on her deathbed, she wrote those few lines, containing no word
of reproach, prompted by religion, and by a belief in the goodness in my
nature. She knew, she said, that I was blinded rather than bent on doing
wrong. She even accused herself of carrying her womanly pride too far.
‘If I had only written sooner,’ she said, ‘perhaps there might have been
time for a marriage which would have legitimated our child.’

“It was only on her child’s account that she wished for the
solemnization of the ties that bound us, nor would she have sought for
this if she had not felt that death was at hand to unloose them. But
it was too late; even then she had only a few hours to live. By her
bedside, where I learned to know the worth of a devoted heart, my nature
underwent a final change. I was still at an age when tears are shed.
During those last days, while the precious life yet lingered, my
tears, my words, and everything I did bore witness to my heartstricken
repentance. The meanness and pettiness of the society in which I had
moved, the emptiness and selfishness of women of fashion, had taught me
to wish for and to seek an elect soul, and now I had found it--too late.
I was weary of lying words and of masked faces; counterfeit passion
had set me dreaming; I had called on love; and now I beheld love lying
before me, slain by my own hands, and had no power to keep it beside me,
no power to keep what was so wholly mine.

“The experience of four years had taught me to know my own real
character. My temperament, the nature of my imagination, my religious
principles, which had not been eradicated, but had rather lain
dormant; my turn of mind, my heart that only now began to make itself
felt--everything within me led me to resolve to fill my life with
the pleasures of affection, to replace a lawless love by family
happiness--the truest happiness on earth. Visions of close and dear
companionship appealed to me but the more strongly for my wanderings
in the wilderness, my grasping at pleasures unennobled by thought or
feeling. So though the revolution within me was rapidly effected, it
was permanent. With my southern temperament, warped by the life I led in
Paris, I should certainly have come to look without pity on an unhappy
girl betrayed by her lover; I should have laughed at the story if it
had been told me by some wag in merry company (for with us in France
a clever bon mot dispels all feelings of horror at a crime), but all
sophistries were silenced in the presence of this angelic creature,
against whom I could bring no least word of reproach. There stood her
coffin, and my child, who did not know that I had murdered his mother,
and smiled at me.

“She died. She died happy when she saw that I loved her, and that this
new love was due neither to pity nor to the ties that bound us together.
Never shall I forget her last hours. Love had been won back, her mind
was at rest about her child, and happiness triumphed over suffering.
The comfort and luxury about her, the merriment of her child, who looked
prettier still in the dainty garb that had replaced his baby-clothes,
were pledges of a happy future for the little one, in whom she saw her
own life renewed.

“The curate of Saint Sulpice witnessed my terrible distress. His words
well-nigh made me despair. He did not attempt to offer conventional
consolation, and put the gravity of my responsibilities unsparingly
before me, but I had no need of a spur. The conscience within me spoke
loudly enough already. A woman had placed a generous confidence in me.
I had lied to her from the first; I had told her that I loved her, and
then I had cast her off; I had brought all this sorrow upon an unhappy
girl who had braved the opinion of the world for me, and who therefore
should have been sacred in my eyes. She had died forgiving me. Her
implicit trust in the word of a man who had once before broken his
promise to her effaced the memory of all her pain and grief, and she
slept in peace. Agatha, who had given me her girlish faith, had found in
her heart another faith to give me--the faith of a mother. Oh! sir, the
child, _her_ child! God alone can know all that he was to me! The dear
little one was like his mother; he had her winning grace in his little
ways, his talk and ideas; but for me, my child was not only a child, but
something more; was he not the token of my forgiveness, my honor?

“He should have more than a father’s affection. He should be loved as
his mother would have loved him. My remorse might change to happiness if
I could only make him feel that his mother’s arms were still about him.
I clung to him with all the force of human love and the hope of heaven,
with all the tenderness in my heart that God has given to mothers. The
sound of the child’s voice made me tremble. I used to watch him while
he slept with a sense of gladness that was always new, albeit a tear
sometimes fell on his forehead; I taught him to come to say his prayer
upon my bed as soon as he awoke. How sweet and touching were the simple
words of the _Pater noster_ in the innocent childish mouth! Ah! and at
times how terrible! ‘_Our Father which art in heaven_,’ he began one
morning; then he paused--‘Why is it not _our mother_?’ he asked, and my
heart sank at his words.

“From the very first I had sown the seeds of future misfortune in
the life of the son whom I idolized. Although the law has almost
countenanced errors of youth by conceding to tardy regret a legal status
to natural children, the insurmountable prejudices of society bring a
strong force to the support of the reluctance of the law. All serious
reflection on my part as to the foundations and mechanism of society, on
the duties of man, and vital questions of morality date from this period
of my life. Genius comprehends at first sight the connection between a
man’s principles and the fate of the society of which he forms a part;
devout souls are inspired by religion with the sentiments necessary for
their happiness; but vehement and impulsive natures can only be schooled
by repentance. With repentance came new light for me; and I, who only
lived for my child, came through that child to think over great social

“I determined from the first that he should have all possible means of
success within himself, and that he should be thoroughly prepared to
take the high position for which I destined him. He learned English,
German, Italian, and Spanish in succession; and, that he might speak
these languages correctly, tutors belonging to each of these various
nationalities were successively placed about him from his earliest
childhood. His aptitude delighted me. I took advantage of it to give
him lessons in the guise of play. I wished to keep his mind free from
fallacies, and strove before all things to accustom him from childhood
to exert his intellectual powers, to make a rapid and accurate general
survey of a matter, and then, by a careful study of every least
particular, to master his subject in detail. Lastly, I taught him to
submit to discipline without murmuring. I never allowed an impure or
improper word to be spoken in his hearing. I was careful that all his
surroundings, and the men with whom he came in contact, should conduce
to one end--to ennoble his nature, to set lofty ideals before him, to
give him a love of truth and a horror of lies, to make him simple and
natural in manner, as in word and deed. His natural aptitude had made
his other studies easy to him, and his imagination made him quick to
grasp these lessons that lay outside the province of the schoolroom.
What a fair flower to tend! How great are the joys that mothers know!
In those days I began to understand how his own mother had been able to
live and to bear her sorrow. This, sir, was the great event of my life;
and now I am coming to the tragedy which drove me hither.

“It is the most ordinary commonplace story imaginable; but to me it
meant the most terrible pain. For some years I had thought of nothing
but my child, and how to make a man of him; then, when my son was
growing up and about to leave me, I grew afraid of my loneliness. Love
was a necessity of my existence; this need for affection had never been
satisfied, and only grew stronger with years. I was in every way capable
of a real attachment; I had been tried and proved. I knew all that
a steadfast love means, the love that delights to find a pleasure in
self-sacrifice; in everything I did my first thought would always be
for the woman I loved. In imagination I was fain to dwell on the serene
heights far above doubt and uncertainty, where love so fills two beings
that happiness flows quietly and evenly into their life, their looks,
and words. Such love is to a life what religion is to the soul; a vital
force, a power that enlightens and upholds. I understood the love of
husband and wife in nowise as most people do; for me its full beauty and
magnificence began precisely at the point where love perishes in many a
household. I deeply felt the moral grandeur of a life so closely shared
by two souls that the trivialities of everyday existence should be
powerless against such lasting love as theirs. But where will the hearts
be found whose beats are so nearly _isochronous_ (let the scientific
term pass) that they may attain to this beatific union? If they exist,
nature and chance have set them far apart, so that they cannot come
together; they find each other too late, or death comes too soon to
separate them. There must be some good reasons for these dispensations
of fate, but I have never sought to discover them. I cannot make a
study of my wound, because I suffer too much from it. Perhaps perfect
happiness is a monster which our species should not perpetuate. There
were other causes for my fervent desire for such a marriage as this. I
had no friends, the world for me was a desert. There is something in me
that repels friendship. More than one person has sought me out, but, in
spite of efforts on my part, it came to nothing. With many men I have
been careful to show no sign of something that is called ‘superiority;’
I have adapted my mind to theirs; I have placed myself at their point of
view, joined in their laughter, and overlooked their defects; any fame I
might have gained, I would have bartered for a little kindly affection.
They parted from me without regret. If you seek for real feeling in
Paris, snares await you everywhere, and the end is sorrow. Wherever I
set my foot, the ground round about me seemed to burn. My readiness to
acquiesce was considered weakness though if I unsheathed my talons, like
a man conscious that he may some day wield the thunderbolts of power, I
was thought ill-natured; to others, the delightful laughter that
ceases with youth, and in which in later years we are almost ashamed to
indulge, seemed absurd, and they amused themselves at my expense. People
may be bored nowadays, but none the less they expect you to treat every
trivial topic with befitting seriousness.

“A hateful era! You must bow down before mediocrity, frigidly polite
mediocrity which you despise--and obey. On more mature reflection, I
have discovered the reasons of these glaring inconsistencies. Mediocrity
is never out of fashion, it is the daily wear of society; genius and
eccentricity are ornaments that are locked away and only brought out on
certain days. Everything that ventures forth beyond the protection of
the grateful shadow of mediocrity has something startling about it.

“So, in the midst of Paris, I led a solitary life. I had given up
everything to society, but it had given me nothing in return; and my
child was not enough to satisfy my heart, because I was not a woman. My
life seemed to be growing cold within me; I was bending under a load of
secret misery when I met the woman who was to make me know the might of
love, the reverence of an acknowledged love, love with its teeming hopes
of happiness--in one word--love.

“I had renewed my acquaintance with that old friend of my father’s who
had once taken charge of my affairs. It was in his house that I first
met her whom I must love as long as life shall last. The longer we live,
sir, the more clearly we see the enormous influence of ideas upon the
events of life. Prejudices, worthy of all respect, and bred by noble
religious ideas, occasioned my misfortunes. This young girl belonged to
an exceeding devout family, whose views of Catholicism were due to the
spirit of a sect improperly styled Jansenists, which, in former times,
caused troubles in France. You know why?”

“No,” said Genestas.

“Jansenius, Bishop of Ypres, once wrote a book which was believed to
contain propositions at variance with the doctrines of the Holy See.
When examined at a later date, there appeared to be nothing heretical in
the wording of the text, some authors even went so far as to deny that
the heretical propositions had any real existence. However it was,
these insignificant disputes gave rise to two parties in the Gallican
Church--the Jansenists and the Jesuits. Great men were found in either
camp, and a struggle began between two powerful bodies. The Jansenists
affected an excessive purity of morals and of doctrine, and accused the
Jesuits of preaching a relaxed morality. The Jansenists, in fact, were
Catholic Puritans, if two contradictory terms can be combined. During
the Revolution, the Concordat occasioned an unimportant schism, a little
segregation of ultra-catholics who refused to recognize the Bishops
appointed by the authorities with the consent of the Pope. This little
body of the faithful was called the Little Church; and those within its
fold, like the Jansenists, led the strictly ordered lives that appear
to be a first necessity of existence in all proscribed and persecuted
sects. Many Jansenist families had joined the Little Church. The
family to which this young girl belonged had embraced the equally rigid
doctrines of both these Puritanisms, tenets which impart a stern dignity
to the character and mien of those who hold them. It is the nature of
positive doctrine to exaggerate the importance of the most ordinary
actions of life by connecting them with ideas of a future existence.
This is the source of a splendid and delicate purity of heart, a respect
for others and for self, of an indescribably keen sense of right and
wrong, a wide charity, together with a justice so stern that it might
well be called inexorable, and lastly, a perfect hatred of lies and of
all the vices comprised by falsehood.

“I can recall no more delightful moments than those of our first meeting
at my old friend’s house. I beheld for the first time this shy young
girl with her sincere nature, her habits of ready obedience. All the
virtues peculiar to the sect to which she belonged shone in her, but
she seemed to be unconscious of her merit. There was a grace, which no
austerity could diminish, about every movement of her lissome, slender
form; her quiet brow, the delicate grave outlines of her face, and her
clearly cut features indicated noble birth; her expression was gentle
and proud; her thick hair had been simply braided, the coronet of plaits
about her head served, all unknown to her, as an adornment. Captain, she
was for me the ideal type that is always made real for us in the woman
with whom we fall in love; for when we love, is it not because we
recognize beauty that we have dreamed of, the beauty that has existed
in idea for us is realized? When I spoke to her, she answered simply,
without shyness or eagerness; she did not know the pleasure it was to
me to see her, to hear the musical sounds of her voice. All these angels
are revealed to our hearts by the same signs; by the sweetness of their
tongues, the tenderness in their eyes, by their fair, pale faces, and
their gracious ways. All these things are so blended and mingled that
we feel the charm of their presence, yet cannot tell in what that charm
consists, and every movement is an expression of a divine soul within.
I loved passionately. This newly awakened love satisfied all my restless
longings, all my ambitious dreams. She was beautiful, wealthy, and nobly
born; she had been carefully brought up; she had all the qualifications
which the world positively demands of a woman placed in the high
position which I desired to reach; she had been well educated, she
expressed herself with a sprightly facility at once rare and common
in France; where the most prettily worded phrases of many women are
emptiness itself, while her bright talk was full of sense. Above all,
she had a deep consciousness of her own dignity which made others
respect her; I know of no more excellent thing in a wife. I must stop,
captain; no one can describe the woman he loves save very imperfectly,
preexistent mysteries which defy analysis lie between them.

“I very soon took my old friend into my confidence. He introduced me to
her family, and gave me the countenance of his honorable character. I
was received at first with the frigid politeness characteristic of those
exclusive people who never forsake those whom they have once admitted to
their friendship. As time went on they welcomed me almost as one of the
family; this mark of their esteem was won by my behavior in the matter.
In spite of my passionate love, I did nothing that could lower me in my
own eyes; I did not cringe, I paid no court to those upon whom my fate
depended, before all things I showed myself a man, and not other than
I really was. When I was well known to them, my old friend, who was as
desirous as I myself that my life of melancholy loneliness should come
to an end, spoke of my hopes and met with a favorable reception; but
with the diplomatic shrewdness which is almost a second nature with men
of the world, he was silent with regard to an error of my youth, as he
termed it. He was anxious to bring about a ‘satisfactory marriage’ for
me, an expression that makes of so solemn an act a business transaction
in which husband and wife endeavor to cheat each other. In his opinion,
the existence of my child would excite a moral repugnance, in comparison
with which the question of money would be as nought, and the whole
affair would be broken off at once, and he was right.

“‘It is a matter which will be very easily settled between you and your
wife; it will be easy to obtain her full and free forgiveness,’ he said.

“In short, he tried to silence my scruples, and all the insidious
arguments that worldly wisdom could suggest were brought to bear upon me
to this end. I will confess to you, sir, that in spite of my promise, my
first impulse was to act straightforwardly and to make everything
known to the head of the family, but the thought of his uncompromising
sternness made me pause, and the probable consequences of the confession
appalled me; my courage failed, I temporized with my conscience, I
determined to wait until I was sufficiently sure of the affection of
the girl I hoped to win, before hazarding my happiness by the terrible
confession. My resolution to acknowledge everything openly, at a
convenient season, vindicated the sophistries of worldly wisdom and the
sagacity of my old friend. So the young girl’s parents received me as
their future son-in-law without, as yet, taking their friends into their

“An infinite discretion is the distinguishing quality of pious families;
they are reticent about everything, even about matters of no importance.
You would not believe, sir, how this sedate gravity and reserve,
pervading every least action, deepens the current of feeling and
thought. Everything in that house was done with some useful end in view;
the women spent their leisure time in making garments for the poor;
their conversation was never frivolous; laughter was not banished, but
there was a kindly simplicity about their merriment. Their talk had
none of the piquancy which scandal and ill-natured gossip give to the
conversation of society; only the father and uncle read the newspapers,
even the most harmless journal contains references to crimes or to
public evils, and she whom I hoped to win had never cast her eyes over
their sheets. How strange it was, at first, to listen to these orthodox
people! But in a little while, the pure atmosphere left the same
impression upon the soul that subdued colors give to the eyes, a sense
of serene repose and of tranquil peace.

“To a superficial observer, their life would have seemed terribly
monotonous. There was something chilling about the appearance of the
interior of the house. Day after day I used to see everything, even the
furniture in constant use, always standing in the same place, and this
uniform tidiness pervaded the smallest details. Yet there was something
very attractive about their household ways. I had been used to the
pleasures of variety, to the luxury and stir of life in Paris; it was
only when I had overcome my first repugnance that I saw the advantages
of this existence; how it lent itself to continuity of thought and to
involuntary meditation; how a life in which the heart has undisturbed
sway seems to widen and grow vast as the sea. It is like the life of the
cloister, where the outward surroundings never vary, and thought is
thus compelled to detach itself from outward things and to turn to the
infinite that lies within the soul!

“For a man as sincerely in love as I was, the silence and simplicity of
the life, the almost conventual regularity with which the same things
are done daily at the same hours, only deepened and strengthened love.
In that profound calm the interest attaching to the least action, word,
or gesture became immense. I learned to know that, in the interchange of
glances and in answering smiles, there lies an eloquence and a variety
of language far beyond the possibilities of the most magnificent of
spoken phrases; that when the expression of the feelings is spontaneous
and unforced, there is no idea, no joy nor sorrow that cannot thus be
communicated by hearts that understand each other. How many times I have
tried to set forth my soul in my eyes or on my lips, compelled at once
to speak and to be silent concerning my passion; for the young girl who,
in my presence, was always serene and unconscious had not been informed
of the reason of my constant visits; her parents were determined that
the most important decision of her life should rest entirely with her.
But does not the presence of our beloved satisfy the utmost desire of
passionate love? In that presence do we not know the happiness of the
Christian who stands before God? If for me more than for any other it
was torture to have no right to give expression to the impulses of
my heart, to force back into its depths the burning words that
treacherously wrong the yet more ardent emotions which strive to find
an utterance in speech; I found, nevertheless, in the merest trifles
a channel through which my passionate love poured itself forth but the
more vehemently for this constraint, till every least occurrence came to
have an excessive importance.

“I beheld her, not for brief moments, but for whole hours. There were
pauses between my question and her answer, and long musings, when, with
the tones of her voice lingering in my ears, I sought to divine from
them the secret of her inmost thoughts; perhaps her fingers would
tremble as I gave her some object of which she had been in search, or
I would devise pretexts to lightly touch her dress or her hair, to take
her hand in mine, to compel her to speak more than she wished; all these
nothings were great events for me. Eyes and voice and gestures were
freighted with mysterious messages of love in hours of ecstasy like
these, and this was the only language permitted me by the quiet maidenly
reserve of the young girl before me. Her manner towards me underwent no
change; with me she was always as a sister with a brother; yet, as my
passion grew, and the contrast between her glances and mine, her words
and my utterance, became more striking, I felt at last that this timid
silence was the only means by which she could express her feelings.
Was she not always in the salon whenever I came? Did she not stay there
until my visit, expected and perhaps foreseen, was over? Did not this
mute tryst betray the secret of her innocent soul? Nay, whilst I spoke,
did she not listen with a pleasure which she could not hide?

“At last, no doubt, her parents grew impatient with this artless
behavior and sober love-making. I was almost as timid as their daughter,
and perhaps on this account found favor in their eyes. They regarded
me as a man worthy of their esteem. My old friend was taken into their
confidence; both father and mother spoke of me in the most flattering
terms; I had become their adopted son, and more especially they singled
out my moral principles for praise. In truth, I had found my youth
again; among these pure and religious surroundings early beliefs and
early faith came back to the man of thirty-two.

“The summer was drawing to a close. Affairs of some importance had
detained the family in Paris longer than their wont; but when September
came, and they were able to leave town at last for an estate in
Auvergne, her father entreated me to spend a couple of months with them
in an old chateau hidden away among the mountains of Cantal. I paused
before accepting this friendly invitation. My hesitation brought me the
sweetest and most delightful unconscious confession, a revelation of the
mysteries of a girlish heart. Evelina... _Dieu!_” exclaimed Benassis;
and he said no more for a time, wrapped in his own thoughts.

“Pardon me, Captain Bluteau,” he resumed, after a long pause. “For
twelve years I have not uttered the name that is always hovering in my
thoughts, that a voice calls in my hearing even when I sleep. Evelina
(since I have named her) raised her head with a strange quickness and
abruptness, for about all her movements there was an instinctive grace
and gentleness, and looked at me. There was no pride in her face, but
rather a wistful anxiety. Then her color rose, and her eyelids fell;
it gave me an indescribable pleasure never felt before that they should
fall so slowly; I could only stammer out my reply in a faltering voice.
The emotion of my own heart made swift answer to hers. She thanked me by
a happy look, and I almost thought that there were tears in her eyes.
In that moment we had told each other everything. So I went into the
country with her family. Since the day when our hearts had understood
each other, nothing seemed to be as it had been before; everything about
us had acquired a fresh significance.

“Love, indeed, is always the same, though our imagination determines
the shape that love must assume; like and unlike, therefore, is love
in every soul in which he dwells, and passion becomes a unique work in
which the soul expresses its sympathies. In the old trite saying that
love is a projection of self--an _egoisme a deux_--lies a profound
meaning known only to philosopher and poet; for it is ourself in truth
that we love in that other. Yet, though love manifests itself in such
different ways that no pair of lovers since the world began is like any
other pair before or since, they all express themselves after the same
fashion, and the same words are on the lips of every girl, even of the
most innocent, convent-bred maiden--the only difference lies in the
degree of imaginative charm in their ideas. But between Evelina and
other girls there was this difference, that where another would have
poured out her feelings quite naturally, Evelina regarded these innocent
confidences as a concession made to the stormy emotions which had
invaded the quiet sanctuary of her girlish soul. The constant struggle
between her heart and her principles gave to the least event of her
life, so peaceful in appearance, in reality so profoundly agitated, a
character of force very superior to the exaggerations of young girls
whose manners are early rendered false by the world about them. All
through the journey Evelina discovered beauty in the scenery through
which we passed, and spoke of it with admiration. When we think that
we may not give expression to the happiness which is given to us by the
presence of one we love, we pour out the secret gladness that overflows
our hearts upon inanimate things, investing them with beauty in our
happiness. The charm of the scenery which passed before our eyes
became in this way an interpreter between us, for in our praises of the
landscape we revealed to each other the secrets of our love. Evelina’s
mother sometimes took a mischievous pleasure in disconcerting her

“‘My dear child, you have been through this valley a score of times
without seeming to admire it!’ she remarked after a somewhat too
enthusiastic phrase from Evelina.

“‘No doubt it was because I was not old enough to understand beauty of
this kind, mother.’

“Forgive me for dwelling on this trifle, which can have no charm for
you, captain; but the simple words brought me an indescribable joy,
which had its source in the glance directed towards me as she spoke. So
some village lighted by sunrise, some ivy-covered ruin which we had seen
together, memories of outward and visible things, served to deepen and
strengthen the impressions of our happiness; they seemed to be landmarks
on the way through which we were passing towards a bright future that
lay before us.

“We reached the chateau belonging to her family, where I spent about
six weeks, the only time in my life during which Heaven has
vouchsafed complete happiness to me. I enjoyed pleasures unknown to
town-dwellers--all the happiness which two lovers find in living beneath
the same roof, an anticipation of the life they will spend together. To
stroll through the fields, to be alone together at times if we wished
it, to look over an old water-mill, to sit beneath a tree in some lovely
glen among the hills, the lovers’ talks, the sweet confidences drawn
forth by which each made some progress day by day in the other’s heart.
Ah! sir, the out-of-door life, the beauty of earth and heaven, is a
perfect accompaniment to the perfect happiness of the soul! To mingle
our careless talk with the song of the birds among the dewy leaves, to
smile at each other as we gazed on the sky, to turn our steps slowly
homewards at the sound of the bell that always rings too soon, to
admire together some little detail in the landscape, to watch the
fitful movements of an insect, to look closely at a gleaming demoiselle
fly--the delicate creature that resembles an innocent and loving girl;
in such ways as these are not one’s thoughts drawn daily a little
higher? The memories of my forty days of happiness have in a manner
colored all the rest of my life, memories that are all the fairer and
fill the greater space in my thoughts because since then it has been my
fate never to be understood. To this day there are scenes of no special
interest for a casual observer, but full of bitter significance for a
broken heart, which recall those vanished days, and the love that is not
forgotten yet.

“I do not know whether you noticed the effect of the sunset light on the
cottage where little Jacques lives? Everything shone so brightly in the
fiery rays of the sun, and then all at once the whole landscape grew
dark and dreary. That sudden change was like the change in my own life
at this time. I received from her the first, the sole and sublime token
of love that an innocent girl may give; the more secretly it is given,
the closer is the bond it forms, the sweet promise of love, a fragment
of the language spoken in a fairer world than this. Sure, therefore, of
being beloved, I vowed that I would confess everything at once, that
I would have no secrets from her; I felt ashamed that I had so long
delayed to tell her about the sorrows that I had brought upon myself.

“Unluckily, with the morrow of this happy day a letter came from my
son’s tutor, the life of the child so dear to me was in danger. I went
away without confiding my secret to Evelina, merely telling her family
that I was urgently required in Paris. Her parents took alarm during my
absence. They feared that there I was entangled in some way, and wrote
to Paris to make inquiries about me. It was scarcely consistent with
their religious principles; but they suspected me, and did not even give
me an opportunity of clearing myself.

“One of their friends, without my knowledge, gave them the whole history
of my youth, blackening my errors, laying stress upon the existence of
my child, which (said they) I intended to conceal. I wrote to my future
parents, but I received no answers to my letters; and when they came
back to Paris, and I called at their house, I was not admitted. Much
alarmed, I sent to my old friend to learn the reason of this conduct on
their part, which I did not in the least understand. As soon as the good
soul knew the real cause of it all, he sacrificed himself generously,
took upon himself all the blame of my reserve, and tried to exculpate
me, but all to no purpose. Questions of interest and morality were
regarded so seriously by the family, their prejudices were so firmly and
deeply rooted, that they never swerved from their resolution. My despair
was overwhelming. At first I tried to deprecate their wrath, but my
letters were sent back to me unopened. When every possible means had
been tried in vain; when her father and mother had plainly told my old
friend (the cause of my misfortune) that they would never consent to
their daughter’s marriage with a man who had upon his conscience the
death of a woman and the life of a natural son, even though Evelina
herself should implore them upon her knees; then, sir, there only
remained to me one last hope, a hope as slender and fragile as the
willow-branch at which a drowning wretch catches to save himself.

“I ventured to think that Evelina’s love would be stronger than her
father’s scruples, that her inflexible parents might yield to her
entreaties. Perhaps, who knows, her father had kept from her the reasons
of the refusal, which was so fatal to our love. I determined to acquaint
her with all the circumstances, and to make a final appeal to her; and
in fear and trembling, in grief and tears, my first and last love-letter
was written. To-day I can only dimly remember the words dictated to
me by my despair; but I must have told Evelina that if she had dealt
sincerely with me she could not and ought not to love another, or how
could her whole life be anything but a lie? she must be false either to
her future husband or to me. Could she refuse to the lover, who had been
so misjudged and hardly entreated, the devotion which she would have
shown him as her husband, if the marriage which had already taken place
in our hearts had been outwardly solemnized? Was not this to fall from
the ideal of womanly virtue? What woman would not love to feel that
the promises of the heart were more sacred and binding than the chains
forged by the law? I defended my errors; and in my appeal to the
purity of innocence, I left nothing unsaid that could touch a noble and
generous nature. But as I am telling you everything, I will look for
her answer and my farewell letter,” said Benassis, and he went up to his
room in search of it.

He returned in a few moments with a worn pocketbook; his hands trembled
with emotion as he drew from it some loose sheets.

“Here is the fatal letter,” he said. “The girl who wrote those lines
little knew the value that I should set upon the scrap of paper that
holds her thoughts. This is the last cry that pain wrung from me,” he
added, taking up a second letter; “I will lay it before you directly.
My old friend was the bearer of my letter of entreaty; he gave it to
her without her parents’ knowledge, humbling his white hair to implore
Evelina to read and to reply to my appeal. This was her answer:

“‘Monsieur...’ But lately I had been her ‘beloved,’ the innocent name
she had found by which to express her innocent love, and now she called
me _Monsieur_!... That one word told me everything. But listen to the
rest of the letter:

“‘Treachery on the part of one to whom her life was to be intrusted is a
bitter thing for a girl to discover; and yet I could not but excuse you,
we are so weak! Your letter touched me, but you must not write to me
again, the sight of your handwriting gives me such unbearable pain.
We are parted for ever. I was carried away by your reasoning; it
extinguished all the harsh feelings that had risen up against you in my
soul. I had been so proud of your truth! But both of us have found my
father’s reasoning irresistible. Yes, monsieur, I ventured to plead
for you. I did for you what I have never done before, I overcame the
greatest fears that I have ever known, and acted almost against my
nature. Even now I am yielding to your entreaties, and doing wrong for
your sake, in writing to you without my father’s knowledge. My mother
knows that I am writing to you; her indulgence in leaving me at liberty
to be alone with you for a moment has taught me the depth of her love
for me, and strengthened my determination to bow to the decree of my
family, against which I had almost rebelled. So I am writing to you,
monsieur, for the first and last time. You have my full and entire
forgiveness for the troubles that you have brought into my life. Yes,
you are right; a first love can never be forgotten. I am no longer an
innocent girl; and, as an honest woman, I can never marry another. What
my future will be, I know not therefore. Only you see, monsieur, that
echoes of this year that you have filled will never die away in my life.
But I am in no way accusing you.... “I shall always be beloved!” Why did
you write those words? Can they bring peace to the troubled soul of
a lonely and unhappy girl? Have you not already laid waste my future,
giving me memories which will never cease to revisit me? Henceforth I
can only give myself to God, but will He accept a broken heart? He has
had some purpose to fulfil in sending these afflictions to me; doubtless
it was His will that I should turn to Him, my only refuge here below.
Nothing remains to me here upon this earth. You have all a man’s
ambitions wherewith to beguile your sorrows. I do not say this as a
reproach; it is a sort of religious consolation. If we both bear a
grievous burden at this moment, I think that my share of it is the
heavier. He in whom I have put my trust, and of whom you can feel
no jealousy, has joined our lives together, and He puts them asunder
according to His will. I have seen that your religious beliefs were not
founded upon the pure and living faith which alone enables us to bear
our woes here below. Monsieur, if God will vouchsafe to hear my fervent
and ceaseless prayers, He will cause His light to shine in your soul.
Farewell, you who should have been my guide, you whom once I had the
right to call “my beloved,” no one can reproach me if I pray for you
still. God orders our days as it pleases Him. Perhaps you may be the
first whom He will call to himself; but if I am left alone in the world,
then, monsieur, intrust the care of the child to me.’

“This letter, so full of generous sentiments, disappointed my hopes,”
 Benassis resumed, “so that at first I could think of nothing but my
misery; afterwards I welcomed the balm which, in her forgetfulness of
self, she had tried to pour into my wounds, but in my first despair I
wrote to her somewhat bitterly:

“Mademoiselle--that word alone will tell you that at your bidding I
renounce you. There is something indescribably sweet in obeying one
we love, who puts us to the torture. You are right. I acquiesce in
my condemnation. Once I slighted a girl’s devotion; it is fitting,
therefore, that my love should be rejected to-day. But I little thought
that my punishment was to be dealt to me by the woman at whose feet I
had laid my life. I never expected that such harshness, perhaps I should
say, such rigid virtue, lurked in a heart that seemed to be so loving
and so tender. At this moment the full strength of my love is revealed
to me; it has survived the most terrible of all trials, the scorn you
have shown for me by severing without regret the ties that bound us.
Farewell for ever. There still remains to me the proud humility of
repentance; I will find some sphere of life where I can expiate the
errors to which you, the mediator between Heaven and me, have shown no
mercy. Perhaps God may be less inexorable. My sufferings, sufferings
full of the thought of you, shall be the penance of a heart which
will never be healed, which will bleed in solitude. For a wounded
heart--shadow and silence.

“‘No other image of love shall be engraven on my heart. Though I am not
a woman, I feel as you felt that when I said “I love you,” it was a vow
for life. Yes, the words then spoken in the ear of “my beloved” were
not a lie; you would have a right to scorn me if I could change. I shall
never cease to worship you in my solitude. In spite of the gulf set
between us, you will still be the mainspring of all my actions, and all
the virtues are inspired by penitence and love. Though you have filled
my heart with bitterness, I shall never have bitter thoughts of you;
would it not be an ill beginning of the new tasks that I have set myself
if I did not purge out all the evil leaven from my soul? Farewell, then,
to the one heart that I love in the world, a heart from which I am cast
out. Never has more feeling and more tenderness been expressed in a
farewell, for is it not fraught with the life and soul of one who can
never hope again, and must be henceforth as one dead?... Farewell. May
peace be with you, and may all the sorrow of our lot fall to me!’”

Benassis and Genestas looked at each other for a moment after reading
the two letters, each full of sad thoughts, of which neither spoke.

“As you see, this is only a rough copy of my last letter,” said
Benassis; “it is all that remains to me to-day of my blighted hopes.
When I had sent the letter, I fell into an indescribable state of
depression. All the ties that hold one to life were bound together in
the hope of wedded happiness, which was henceforth lost to me for ever.
I had to bid farewell to the joys of a permitted and acknowledged love,
to all the generous ideas that had thronged up from the depths of my
heart. The prayers of a penitent soul that thirsted for righteousness
and for all things lovely and of good report, had been rejected by these
religious people. At first, the wildest resolutions and most frantic
thoughts surged through my mind, but happily for me the sight of my son
brought self-control. I felt all the more strongly drawn towards him for
the misfortunes of which he was the innocent cause, and for which I had
in reality only myself to blame. In him I found all my consolation.

“At the age of thirty-four I might still hope to do my country noble
service. I determined to make a name for myself, a name so illustrious
that no one should remember the stain on the birth of my son. How many
noble thoughts I owe to him! How full a life I led in those days while
I was absorbed in planning out his future! I feel stifled,” cried
Benassis. “All this happened eleven years ago, and yet to this day, I
cannot bear to think of that fatal year.... My child died, sir; I lost

The doctor was silent, and hid his face in his hands; when he was
somewhat calmer he raised his head again, and Genestas saw that his eyes
were full of tears.

“At first it seemed as if this thunderbolt had uprooted me,” Benassis
resumed. “It was a blow from which I could only expect to recover after
I had been transplanted into a different soil from that of the social
world in which I lived. It was not till some time afterwards that I saw
the finger of God in my misfortunes, and later still that I learned to
submit to His will and to hearken to His voice. It was impossible that
resignation should come to me all at once. My impetuous and fiery nature
broke out in a final storm of rebellion.

“It was long before I brought myself to take the only step befitting
a Catholic; indeed, my thoughts ran on suicide. This succession of
misfortunes had contributed to develop melancholy feelings in me, and I
deliberately determined to take my own life. It seemed to me that it was
permissible to take leave of life when life was ebbing fast. There
was nothing unnatural, I thought about suicide. The ravages of mental
distress affected the soul of man in the same way that acute physical
anguish affected the body; and an intelligent being, suffering from a
moral malady, had surely a right to destroy himself, a right he shares
with the sheep, that, fallen a victim to the ‘staggers,’ beats its head
against a tree. Were the soul’s diseases in truth more readily cured
than those of the body? I scarcely think so, to this day. Nor do I know
which is the more craven soul--he who hopes even when hope is no longer
possible, or he who despairs. Death is the natural termination of a
physical malady, and it seemed to me that suicide was the final crisis
in the sufferings of a mind diseased, for it was in the power of the
will to end them when reason showed that death was preferable to
life. So it is not the pistol, but a thought that puts an end to our
existence. Again, when fate may suddenly lay us low in the midst of a
happy life, can we be blamed for ourselves refusing to bear a life of

“But my reflections during that time of mourning turned on loftier
themes. The grandeur of pagan philosophy attracted me, and for a while
I became a convert. In my efforts to discover new rights for man, I
thought that with the aid of modern thought I could penetrate further
into the questions to which those old-world systems of philosophy had
furnished solutions.

“Epicurus permitted suicide. Was it not the natural outcome of his
system of ethics? The gratification of the senses was to be obtained at
any cost; and when this became impossible, the easiest and best course
was for the animate being to return to the repose of inanimate nature.
Happiness, or the hope of happiness, was the one end for which man
existed, for one who suffered, and who suffered without hope, death
ceased to be an evil, and became a good, and suicide became a final act
of wisdom. This act Epicurus neither blamed nor praised; he was content
to say as he poured a libation to Bacchus, ‘_As for death, there is
nothing in death to move our laughter or our tears._’

“With a loftier morality than that of the Epicureans, and a sterner
sense of man’s duties, Zeno and the Stoic philosophers prescribed
suicide in certain cases to their followers. They reasoned thus: Man
differs from the brute in that he has the sovereign right to dispose of
his person; take away this power of life and death over himself and
he becomes the plaything of fate, the slave of other men. Rightly
understood, this power of life and death is a sufficient counterpoise
for all the ills of life; the same power when conferred upon another,
upon his fellow-man, leads to tyranny of every kind. Man has no power
whatever unless he has unlimited freedom of action. Suppose that he has
been guilty of some irreparable error, from the shameful consequences of
which there is no escape; a sordid nature swallows down the disgrace and
survives it, the wise man drinks the hemlock and dies. Suppose that the
remainder of life is to be one constant struggle with the gout which
racks our bones, or with a gnawing and disfiguring cancer, the wise man
dismisses quacks, and at the proper moment bids a last farewell to the
friends whom he only saddens by his presence. Or another perhaps has
fallen alive into the hands of the tyrant against whom he fought. What
shall he do? The oath of allegiance is tendered to him; he must either
subscribe or stretch out his neck to the executioner; the fool takes the
latter course, the coward subscribes, the wise man strikes a last blow
for liberty--in his own heart. ‘You who are free,’ the Stoic was wont to
say, ‘know then how to preserve your freedom! Find freedom from your
own passions by sacrificing them to duty, freedom from the tyranny of
mankind by pointing to the sword or the poison which will put you beyond
their reach, freedom from the bondage of fate by determining the point
beyond which you will endure it no longer, freedom from physical fear by
learning how to subdue the gross instinct which causes so many wretches
to cling to life.’

“After I had unearthed this reasoning from among a heap of ancient
philosophical writings, I sought to reconcile it with Christian
teachings. God has bestowed free-will upon us in order to require of
us an account hereafter before the Throne of Judgment. ‘I will plead
my cause there!’ I said to myself. But such thoughts as these led me to
think of a life after death, and my old shaken beliefs rose up before
me. Human life grows solemn when all eternity hangs upon the slightest
of our decisions. When the full meaning of this thought is realized, the
soul becomes conscious of something vast and mysterious within itself,
by which it is drawn towards the Infinite; the aspect of all things
alters strangely. From this point of view life is something infinitely
great and infinitely little. The consciousness of my sins had never made
me think of heaven so long as hope remained to me on earth, so long as I
could find a relief for my woes in work and in the society of other men.
I had meant to make the happiness of a woman’s life, to love, to be the
head of a family, and in this way my need of expiation would have been
satisfied to the full. This design had been thwarted, but yet another
way had remained to me,--I would devote myself henceforward to my child.
But after these two efforts had failed, and scorn and death had darkened
my soul for ever, when all my feelings had been wounded and nothing was
left to me here on earth, I raised my eyes to heaven, and beheld God.

“Yet still I tried to obtain the sanction of religion for my death.
I went carefully through the Gospels, and found no passage in which
suicide was forbidden; but during the reading, the divine thought of
Christ, the Saviour of men dawned in me. Certainly He had said nothing
about the immortality of the soul, but He had spoken of the glorious
kingdom of His Father; He had nowhere forbidden parricide, but He
condemned all that was evil. The glory of His evangelists, and the proof
of their divine mission, is not so much that they made laws for the
world, but that they spread a new spirit abroad, and the new laws were
filled with this new spirit. The very courage which a man displays in
taking his own life seemed to me to be his condemnation; so long as he
felt that he had within himself sufficient strength to die by his own
hands, he ought to have had strength enough to continue the struggle.
To refuse to suffer is a sign of weakness rather than of courage,
and, moreover, was it not a sort of recusance to take leave of life in
despondency, an abjuration of the Christian faith which is based upon
the sublime words of Jesus Christ: ‘Blessed are they that mourn.’

“So, in any case, suicide seemed to me to be an unpardonable error, even
in the man who, through a false conception of greatness of soul, takes
his life a few moments before the executioner’s axe falls. In humbling
himself to the death of the cross, did not Jesus Christ set for us an
example of obedience to all human laws, even when carried out unjustly?
The word _resignation_ engraved upon the cross, so clear to the eyes of
those who can read the sacred characters in which it is traced, shone
for me with divine brightness.

“I still had eighty thousand francs in my possession, and at first I
meant to live a remote and solitary life, to vegetate in some country
district for the rest of my days; but misanthropy is no Catholic virtue,
and there is a certain vanity lurking beneath the hedgehog’s skin of the
misanthrope. His heart does not bleed, it shrivels, and my heart bled
from every vein. I thought of the discipline of the Church, the refuge
that she affords to sorrowing souls, understood at last the beauty of
a life of prayer in solitude, and was fully determined to ‘enter
religion,’ in the grand old phrase. So far my intentions were firmly
fixed, but I had not yet decided on the best means of carrying them out.
I realized the remains of my fortune, and set forth on my journey with
an almost tranquil mind. _Peace in God_ was a hope that could never fail

“I felt drawn to the rule of Saint Bruno, and made the journey to the
Grande Chartreuse on foot, absorbed in solemn thoughts. That was a
memorable day. I was not prepared for the grandeur of the scenery; the
workings of an unknown Power greater than that of man were visible at
every step; the overhanging crags, the precipices on either hand,
the stillness only broken by the voices of the mountain streams, the
sternness and wildness of the landscape, relieved here and there by
Nature’s fairest creations, pine trees that have stood for centuries
and delicate rock plants at their feet, all combine to produce sober
musings. There seemed to be no end to this waste solitude, shut in by
its lofty mountain barriers. The idle curiosity of man could scarcely
penetrate there. It would be difficult to cross this melancholy desert
of Saint Bruno’s with a light heart.

“I saw the Grand Chartreuse. I walked beneath the vaulted roofs of the
ancient cloisters, and heard in the silence the sound of the water from
the spring, falling drop by drop. I entered a cell that I might the
better realize my own utter nothingness, something of the peace that my
predecessor had found there seemed to pass into my soul. An inscription,
which in accordance with the custom of the monastery he had written
above his door, impressed and touched me; all the precepts of the
life that I had meant to lead were there, summed up in three Latin
words--_Fuge, late, tace_.”

Genestas bent his head as if he understood.

“My decision was made,” Benassis resumed. “The cell with its deal
wainscot, the hard bed, the solitude, all appealed to my soul. The
Carthusians were in the chapel, I went thither to join in their prayers,
and there my resolutions vanished. I do not wish to criticise the
Catholic Church, I am perfectly orthodox, I believe in its laws and in
the works it prescribes. But when I heard the chanting and the prayers
of those old men, dead to the world and forgotten by the world, I
discerned an undercurrent of sublime egoism in the life of the cloister.
This withdrawal from the world could only benefit the individual soul,
and after all what was it but a protracted suicide? I do not condemn it.
The Church has opened these tombs in which life is buried; no doubt they
are needful for those few Christians who are absolutely useless to
the world; but for me, it would be better, I thought, to live among my
fellows, to devote my life of expiation to their service.

“As I returned I thought long and carefully over the various ways in
which I could carry out my vow of renunciation. Already I began, in
fancy, to lead the life of a common sailor, condemning myself to serve
our country in the lowest ranks, and giving up all my intellectual
ambitions; but though it was a life of toil and of self-abnegation, it
seemed to me that I ought to do more than this. Should I not thwart the
designs of God by leading such a life? If He had given me intellectual
ability, was it not my duty to employ it for the good of my fellow-men?
Then, besides, if I am to speak frankly, I felt within me a need of my
fellow-men, an indescribable wish to help them. The round of mechanical
duties and the routine tasks of the sailor afforded no scope for this
desire, which is as much an outcome of my nature as the characteristic
scent that a flower breathes forth.

“I was obliged to spend the night here, as I have already told you.
The wretched condition of the countryside had filled me with pity, and
during the night it seemed as if these thoughts had been sent to me by
God, and that thus He had revealed His will to me. I had known something
of the joys that pierce the heart, the happiness and the sorrow of
motherhood; I determined that henceforth my life should be filled with
these, but that mine should be a wider sphere than a mother’s. I would
expend her care and kindness on the whole district; I would be a
sister of charity, and bind the wounds of all the suffering poor in a
countryside. It seemed to me that the finger of God unmistakably pointed
out my destiny; and when I remembered that my first serious thoughts
in youth had inclined me to the study of medicine, I resolved to
settle here as a doctor. Besides, I had another reason. _For a wounded
heart--shadow and silence_; so I had written in my letter; and I meant
to fulfil the vow which I had made to myself.

“So I have entered into the paths of silence and submission. The _fuge,
late, tace_ of the Carthusian brother is my motto here, my death to the
world is the life of this canton, my prayer takes the form of the active
work to which I have set my hand, and which I love--the work of sowing
the seeds of happiness and joy, of giving to others what I myself have

“I have grown so used to this life, completely out of the world and
among the peasants, that I am thoroughly transformed. Even my face is
altered; it has been so continually exposed to the sun, that it has
grown wrinkled and weather-beaten. I have fallen into the habits of the
peasants; I have assumed their dress, their ways of talking, their gait,
their easy-going negligence, their utter indifference to appearances. My
old acquaintances in Paris, or the she-coxcombs on whom I used to
dance attendance, would be puzzled to recognize in me the man who had a
certain vogue in his day, the sybarite accustomed to all the splendor,
luxury, and finery of Paris. I have come to be absolutely indifferent
to my surroundings, like all those who are possessed by one thought, and
have only one object in view; for I have but one aim in life--to take
leave of it as soon as possible. I do not want to hasten my end in any
way; but some day, when illness comes, I shall lie down to die without

“There, sir, you have the whole story of my life until I came here--told
in all sincerity. I have not attempted to conceal any of my errors;
they have been great, though others have erred as I have erred. I have
suffered greatly, and I am suffering still, but I look beyond this life
to a happy future which can only be reached through sorrow. And yet--for
all my resignation, there are moments when my courage fails me. This
very day I was almost overcome in your presence by inward anguish; you
did not notice it but----”

Genestas started in his chair.

“Yes, Captain Bluteau, you were with me at the time. Do you remember
how, while we were putting little Jacques to bed, you pointed to the
mattress on which Mother Colas sleeps? Well, you can imagine how painful
it all was; I can never see any child without thinking of the dear child
I have lost, and this little one was doomed to die! I can never see a
child with indifferent eyes----”

Genestas turned pale.

“Yes, the sight of the little golden heads, the innocent beauty of
children’s faces always awakens memories of my sorrows, and the old
anguish returns afresh. Now and then, too, there comes the intolerable
thought that so many people here should thank me for what little I can
do for them, when all that I have done has been prompted by remorse. You
alone, captain, know the secret of my life. If I had drawn my will to
serve them from some purer source than the memory of my errors, I should
be happy indeed! But then, too, there would have been nothing to tell
you, and no story about myself.”


As Benassis finished his story, he was struck by the troubled expression
of the officer’s face. It touched him to have been so well understood.
He was almost ready to reproach himself for having distressed his
visitor. He spoke:

“But these troubles of mine, Captain Bluteau----”

“Do not call me Captain Bluteau,” cried Genestas, breaking in upon
the doctor, and springing to his feet with sudden energy, a change of
position that seemed to be prompted by inward dissatisfaction of some
kind. “There is no such person as Captain Bluteau.... I am a scoundrel!”

With no little astonishment, Benassis beheld Genestas pacing to and fro
in the salon, like a bumble-bee in quest of an exit from the room which
he has incautiously entered.

“Then who are you, sir?” inquired Benassis.

“Ah! there now!” the officer answered, as he turned and took his stand
before the doctor, though he lacked courage to look at his friend. “I
have deceived you!” he went on (and there was a change in his voice). “I
have acted a lie for the first time in my life, and I am well punished
for it; for after this I cannot explain why I came here to play the spy
upon you, confound it! Ever since I have had a glimpse of your soul,
so to speak, I would far sooner have taken a box on the ear whenever I
heard you call me Captain Bluteau! Perhaps you may forgive me for this
subterfuge, but I shall never forgive myself; I, Pierre Joseph Genestas,
who would not lie to save my life before a court-martial!”

“Are you Commandant Genestas?” cried Benassis, rising to his feet. He
grasped the officer’s hand warmly, and added: “As you said but a short
time ago, sir, we were friends before we knew each other. I have been
very anxious to make your acquaintance, for I have often heard M.
Gravier speak of you. He used to call you, ‘one of Plutarch’s men.’”

“Plutarch? Nothing of the sort!” answered Genestas. “I am not worthy
of you; I could thrash myself. I ought to have told you my secret in a
straightforward way at the first. Yet, now! It is quite as well that I
wore a mask, and came here myself in search of information concerning
you, for now I know that I must hold my tongue. If I had set about this
business in the right fashion it would have been painful to you, and God
forbid that I should give you the slightest annoyance.”

“But I do not understand you, commandant.”

“Let the matter drop. I am not ill; I have spent a pleasant day, and
I will go back to-morrow. Whenever you come to Grenoble, you will find
that you have one more friend there, who will be your friend through
thick and thin. Pierre Joseph Genestas’ sword and purse are at your
disposal, and I am yours to the last drop of my blood. Well, after all,
your words have fallen on good soil. When I am pensioned off, I will
look for some out-of-the-way little place, and be mayor of it, and try
to follow your example. I have not your knowledge, but I will study at
any rate.”

“You are right, sir; the landowner who spends his time in convincing
a commune of the folly of some mistaken notion of agriculture, confers
upon his country a benefit quite as great as any that the most skilful
physician can bestow. The latter lessens the sufferings of some few
individuals, and the former heals the wounds of his country. But you
have excited my curiosity to no common degree. Is there really something
in which I can be of use to you?”

“Of use?” repeated the commandant in an altered voice.

“_Mon Dieu!_ I was about to ask you to do me a service which is all but
impossible, M. Benassis. Just listen a moment! I have killed a good many
Christians in my time, it is true; but you may kill people and keep a
good heart for all that; so there are some things that I can feel and
understand, rough as I look.”

“But go on!”

“No, I do not want to give you any pain if I can help it.”

“Oh! commandant, I can bear a great deal.”

“It is a question of a child’s life, sir,” said the officer, nervously.

Benassis suddenly knitted his brows, but by a gesture he entreated
Genestas to continue.

“A child,” repeated the commandant, “whose life may yet be saved by
constant watchfulness and incessant care. Where could I expect to find
a doctor capable of devoting himself to a single patient? Not in a town,
that much was certain. I had heard you spoken of as an excellent man,
but I wished to be quite sure that this reputation was well founded. So
before putting my little charge into the hands of this M. Benassis of
whom people spoke so highly, I wanted to study him myself. But now----”

“Enough,” said the doctor; “so this child is yours?”

“No, no, M. Benassis. To clear up the mystery, I should have to tell you
a long story, in which I do not exactly play the part of a hero; but you
have given me your confidence and I can readily give you mine.”

“One moment, commandant,” said the doctor. In answer to his summons,
Jacquotte appeared at once, and her master ordered tea. “You see,
commandant, at night when every one is sleeping, I do not sleep.... The
thought of my troubles lies heavily on me, and then I try to forget
them by taking tea. It produces a sort of nervous inebriation--a kind
of slumber, without which I could not live. Do you still decline to take

“For my own part,” said Genestas, “I prefer your Hermitage.”

“By all means. Jacquotte,” said Benassis, turning to his housekeeper,
“bring in some wine and biscuits. We will both of us have our night-cap
after our separate fashions.”

“That tea must be very bad for you!” Genestas remarked.

“It brings on horrid attacks of gout, but I cannot break myself of the
habit, it is too soothing; it procures for me a brief respite every
night, a few moments during which life becomes less of a burden....
Come. I am listening; perhaps your story will efface the painful
impressions left by the memories that I have just recalled.”

Genestas set down his empty glass upon the chimney-piece. “After the
Retreat from Moscow,” he said, “my regiment was stationed to recruit for
a while in a little town in Poland. We were quartered there, in fact,
till the Emperor returned, and we bought up horses at long prices. So
far so good. I ought to say that I had a friend in those days. More
than once during the Retreat I had owed my life to him. He was a
quartermaster, Renard by name; we could not but be like brothers
(military discipline apart) after what he had done for me. They billeted
us on the same house, a sort of shanty, a rat-hole of a place where a
whole family lived, though you would not have thought there was room to
stable a horse. This particular hovel belonged to some Jews who carried
on their six-and-thirty trades in it. The frost had not so stiffened the
old father Jew’s fingers but that he could count gold fast enough; he
had thriven uncommonly during our reverses. That sort of gentry lives in
squalor and dies in gold.

“There were cellars underneath (lined with wood of course, the whole
house was built of wood); they had stowed their children away down
there, and one more particularly, a girl of seventeen, as handsome as a
Jewess can be when she keeps herself tidy and has not fair hair. She was
as white as snow, she had eyes like velvet, and dark lashes to them like
rats’ tails; her hair was so thick and glossy that it made you long
to stroke it. She was perfection, and nothing less! I was the first to
discover this curious arrangement. I was walking up and down outside
one evening, smoking my pipe, after they thought I had gone to bed. The
children came in helter-skelter, tumbling over one another like so
many puppies. It was fun to watch them. Then they had supper with their
father and mother. I strained my eyes to see the young Jewess through
the clouds of smoke that her father blew from his pipe; she looked like
a new gold piece among a lot of copper coins.

“I had never reflected about love, my dear Benassis, I had never had
time; but now at the sight of this young girl I lost my heart and head
and everything else at once, and then it was plain to me that I had
never been in love before. I was hard hit, and over head and ears in
love. There I stayed smoking my pipe, absorbed in watching the Jewess
until she blew out the candle and went to bed. I could not close my
eyes. The whole night long I walked up and down the street smoking my
pipe and refilling it from time to time. I had never felt like that
before, and for the first and last time in my life I thought of

“At daybreak I saddled my horse and rode out into the country, to
clear my head. I kept him at a trot for two mortal hours, and all but
foundered the animal before I noticed it----”

Genestas stopped short, looked at his new friend uneasily, and said,
“You must excuse me, Benassis, I am no orator; things come out just
as they turn up in my mind. In a room full of fine folk I should feel
awkward, but here in the country with you----”

“Go on,” said the doctor.

“When I came back to my room I found Renard finely flustered. He thought
I had fallen in a duel. He was cleaning his pistols, his head full of
schemes for fastening a quarrel on any one who should have turned me
off into the dark.... Oh! that was just the fellow’s way! I confided my
story to Renard, showed him the kennel where the children were; and, as
my comrade understood the jargon that those heathens talked, I begged
him to help me to lay my proposals before her father and mother, and to
try to arrange some kind of communication between me and Judith. Judith
they called her. In short, sir, for a fortnight the Jew and his wife
so arranged matters that we supped every night with Judith, and for a
fortnight I was the happiest of men. You understand and you know how it
was, so I shall not wear out your patience; still, if you do not smoke,
you cannot imagine how pleasant it was to smoke a pipe at one’s ease
with Renard and the girl’s father and one’s princess there before one’s
eyes. Oh! yes, it was very pleasant!

“But I ought to tell you that Renard was a Parisian, and dependent on
his father, a wholesale grocer, who had educated his son with a view to
making a notary of him; so Renard had come by a certain amount of book
learning before he had been drawn by the conscription and had to bid his
desk good-bye. Add to this that he was the kind of man who looks well
in a uniform, with a face like a girl’s, and a thorough knowledge of the
art of wheedling people. It was HE whom Judith loved; she cared about
as much for me as a horse cares for roast fowls. Whilst I was in the
seventh heaven, soaring above the clouds at the bare sight of Judith, my
friend Renard (who, as you see, fairly deserved his name) arrived at an
understanding with the girl, and to such good purpose, that they were
married forthwith after the custom of her country, without waiting for
permission, which would have been too long in coming. He promised her,
however, that if it should happen that the validity of this marriage was
afterwards called in question, they were to be married again according
to French law. As a matter of fact, as soon as she reached France, Mme.
Renard became Mlle. Judith once more.

“If I had known all this, I would have killed Renard then and there,
without giving him time to draw another breath; but the father, the
mother, the girl herself, and the quartermaster were all in the plot
like thieves in a fair. While I was smoking my pipe, and worshiping
Judith as if she had been one of the saints above, the worthy Renard was
arranging to meet her, and managing this piece of business very cleverly
under my very eyes.

“You are the only person to whom I have told this story. A disgraceful
thing, I call it. I have always asked myself how it is that a man who
would die of shame if he took a gold coin that did not belong to him,
does not scruple to rob a friend of happiness and life and the woman he
loves. My birds, in fact, were married and happy; and there was I, every
evening at supper, moonstruck, gazing at Judith, responding like some
fellow in a farce to the looks she threw to me in order to throw dust in
my eyes. They have paid uncommonly dear for all this deceit, as you will
certainly think. On my conscience, God pays more attention to what goes
on in this world than some of us imagine.

“Down come the Russians upon us, the country is overrun, and the
campaign of 1813 begins in earnest. One fine morning comes an order;
we are to be on the battlefield of Lutzen by a stated hour. The Emperor
knew quite well what he was about when he ordered us to start at once.
The Russians had turned our flank. Our colonel must needs get himself
into a scrape, by choosing that moment to take leave of a Polish lady
who lived outside the town, a quarter of a mile away; the Cossack
advanced guard just caught him nicely, him and his picket. There was
scarcely time to spring into our saddles and draw up before the town so
as to engage in a cavalry skirmish. We must check the Russian advance if
we meant to draw off during the night. Again and again we charged, and
for three hours did wonders. Under cover of the fighting the baggage
and artillery set out. We had a park of artillery and great stores of
powder, of which the Emperor stood in desperate need; they must reach
him at all costs.

“Our resistance deceived the Russians, who thought at first that we
were supported by an army corps; but before very long they learned their
error from their scouts, and knew that they had only a single regiment
of cavalry to deal with and the invalided foot soldiers in the depot.
On finding it out, sir, they made a murderous onslaught on us towards
evening; the action was so hot that a good few of us were left on the
field. We were completely surrounded. I was by Renard’s side in the
front rank, and I saw how my friend fought and charged like a demon; he
was thinking of his wife. Thanks to him, we managed to regain the town,
which our invalids had put more or less in a state of defence, but it
was pitiful to see it. We were the last to return--he and I. A body of
Cossacks appeared in our way, and on this we rode in hot haste. One
of the savages was about to run me through with a lance, when Renard,
catching a sight of his manoeuvre, thrust his horse between us to
turn aside the blow; his poor brute--a fine animal it was, upon my
word--received the lance thrust and fell, bringing down both Renard and
the Cossack with him. I killed the Cossack, seized Renard by the arm,
and laid him crosswise before me on my horse like a sack of wheat.

“‘Good-bye, captain,’ Renard said; ‘it is all over with me.’

“‘Not yet,’ I answered; ‘I must have a look at you.’ We had reached the
town by that time; I dismounted, and propped him up on a little straw
by the corner of the house. A wound in the head had laid open the brain,
and yet he spoke!... Oh! he was a brave man.

“‘We are quits,’ he said. ‘I have given you my life, and I had taken
Judith from you. Take care of her and of her child, if she has one. And
not only so--you must marry her.’

“I left him then and there sir, like a dog; when the first fury of anger
left me, and I went back again--he was dead. The Cossacks had set fire
to the town, and the thought of Judith then came to my mind. I went in
search of her, took her up behind me in the saddle, and, thanks to my
swift horse, caught up the regiment which was effecting its retreat. As
for the Jew and his family, there was not one of them left, they had all
disappeared like rats; there was no one but Judith in the house, waiting
alone there for Renard. At first, as you can understand, I told her not
a word of all that had happened.

“So it befell that all through the disastrous campaign of 1813 I had a
woman to look after, to find quarters for her, and to see that she was
comfortable. She scarcely knew, I think, the straits to which we were
reduced. I was always careful to keep her ten leagues ahead of us as
we drew back towards France. Her boy was born while we were fighting
at Hanau. I was wounded in the engagement, and only rejoined Judith at
Strasburg; then I returned to Paris, for, unluckily, I was laid up all
through the campaign in France. If it had not been for that wretched
mishap, I should have entered the Grenadier Guards, and then the Emperor
would have promoted me. As it was, sir, I had three broken ribs and
another man’s wife and child to support! My pay, as you can imagine, was
not exactly the wealth of the Indies. Renard’s father, the toothless
old shark, would have nothing to say to his daughter-in-law; and the old
father Jew had made off. Judith was fretting herself to death. She cried
one morning while she was dressing my wound.

“‘Judith,’ said I, ‘your child has nothing in this world----’

“‘Neither have I!’ she said.

“‘Pshaw!’ I answered, ‘we will send for all the necessary papers, I will
marry you; and as for the child, I will look on him as mine----’ I could
not say any more.

“Ah, my dear sir, what would not one do for the look by which Judith
thanked me--a look of thanks from dying eyes; I saw clearly that I had
loved, and should love her always, and from that day her child found
a place in my heart. She died, poor woman, while the father and mother
Jews and the papers were on the way. The day before she died, she found
strength enough to rise and dress herself for her wedding, to go through
all the usual performance, and set her name to their pack of papers;
then, when her child had a name and a father, she went back to her bed
again; I kissed her hands and her forehead, and she died.

“That was my wedding. Two days later, when I had bought the few feet of
earth in which the poor girl is laid, I found myself the father of an
orphan child. I put him out to nurse during the campaign of 1815. Ever
since that time, without letting any one know my story, which did not
sound very well, I have looked after the little rogue as if he were my
own child. I don’t know what became of his grandfather; he is wandering
about, a ruined man, somewhere or other between Russia and Persia.
The chances are that he may make a fortune some day, for he seemed to
understand the trade in precious stones.

“I sent the child to school. I wanted him to take a good place at the
Ecole Polytechnique and to see him graduate there with credit, so of
late I have had him drilled in mathematics to such good purpose that the
poor little soul has been knocked up by it. He has a delicate chest. By
all I can make out from the doctors in Paris, there would be some hope
for him still if he were allowed to run wild among the hills, if he
was properly cared for, and constantly looked after by somebody who was
willing to undertake the task. So I thought of you, and I came here to
take stock of your ideas and your ways of life. After what you have told
me, I could not possibly cause you pain in this way, for we are good
friends already.”

“Commandant,” said Benassis after a moment’s pause, “bring Judith’s
child here to me. It is doubtless God’s will to submit me to this final
trial, and I will endure it. I will offer up these sufferings to God,
whose Son died upon the cross. Besides, your story has awakened tender
feelings; does not that auger well for me?”

Genestas took both of Benassis’ hands and pressed them warmly, unable
to check the tears that filled his eyes and coursed down his sunburned

“Let us keep silence with regard to all this,” he said.

“Yes, commandant. You are not drinking?”

“I am not thirsty,” Genestas answered. “I am a perfect fool!”

“Well, when will you bring him to me?”

“Why, to-morrow, if you will let me. He has been at Grenoble these two

“Good! Set out to-morrow morning and come back again. I shall wait for
you in La Fosseuse’s cottage, and we will all four of us breakfast there

“Agreed,” said Genestas, and the two friends as they went upstairs bade
each other good-night. When they reached the landing that lay between
their rooms, Genestas set down his candle on the window ledge and turned
towards Benassis.

“_Tonnerre de Dieu!_” he said, with outspoken enthusiasm; “I cannot let
you go without telling you that you are the third among christened men
to make me understand that there is Something up there,” and he pointed
to the sky.

The doctor’s answer was a smile full of sadness and a cordial grasp of
the hand that Genestas held out to him.

Before daybreak next morning Commandant Genestas was on his way. On his
return, it was noon before he reached the spot on the highroad between
Grenoble and the little town, where the pathway turned that led to La
Fosseuse’s cottage. He was seated in one of the light open cars with
four wheels, drawn by one horse, that are in use everywhere on the
roads in these hilly districts. Genestas’ companion was a thin,
delicate-looking lad, apparently about twelve years of age, though in
reality he was in his sixteenth year. Before alighting, the officer
looked round about him in several directions in search of a peasant who
would take the carriage back to Benassis’ house. It was impossible
to drive to La Fosseuse’s cottage, the pathway was too narrow. The
park-keeper happened to appear upon the scene, and helped Genestas
out of his difficulty, so that the officer and his adopted son were at
liberty to follow the mountain footpath that led to the trysting-place.

“Would you not enjoy spending a year in running about in this lovely
country, Adrien? Learning to hunt and to ride a horse, instead of
growing pale over your books? Stay! look there!”

Adrien obediently glanced over the valley with languid indifference;
like all lads of his age, he cared nothing for the beauty of natural
scenery; so he only said, “You are very kind, father,” without checking
his walk.

The invalid listlessness of this answer went to Genestas’ heart; he said
no more to his son, and they reached La Fosseuse’s house in silence.

“You are punctual, commandant!” cried Benassis, rising from the wooden
bench where he was sitting.

But at the sight of Adrien he sat down again, and seemed for a while to
be lost in thought. In a leisurely fashion he scanned the lad’s sallow,
weary face, not without admiring its delicate oval outlines, one of the
most noticeable characteristics of a noble head. The lad was the living
image of his mother. He had her olive complexion, beautiful black eyes
with a sad and thoughtful expression in them, long hair, a head too
energetic for the fragile body; all the peculiar beauty of the Polish
Jewess had been transmitted to her son.

“Do you sleep soundly, my little man?” Benassis asked him.

“Yes, sir.”

“Let me see your knees; turn back your trousers.”

Adrien reddened, unfastened his garters, and showed his knee to the
doctor, who felt it carefully over.

“Good. Now speak; shout, shout as loud as you can.” Adrien obeyed.

“That will do. Now give me your hands.”

The lad held them out; white, soft, and blue-veined hands, like those of
a woman.

“Where were you at school in Paris?”

“At Saint Louis.”

“Did your master read his breviary during the night?”

“Yes, sir.”

“So you did not go straight off to sleep?”

As Adrien made no answer to this, Genestas spoke. “The master is a
worthy priest; he advised me to take my little rascal away on the score
of his health,” he told the doctor.

“Well,” answered Benassis, with a clear, penetrating gaze into Adrien’s
frightened eyes, “there is a good chance. Oh, we shall make a man of him
yet. We will live together like a pair of comrades, my boy! We will
keep early hours. I mean to show this boy of yours how to ride a horse,
commandant. He shall be put on a milk diet for a month or two, so as to
get his digestion into order again, and then I will take out a shooting
license for him, and put him in Butifer’s hands, and the two of them
shall have some chamois-hunting. Give your son four or five months
of out-door life, and you will not know him again, commandant! How
delighted Butifer will be! I know the fellow; he will take you over into
Switzerland, my young friend; haul you over the Alpine passes and up the
mountain peaks, and add six inches to your height in six months; he
will put some color into your cheeks and brace your nerves, and make you
forget all these bad ways that you have fallen into at school. And after
that you can go back to your work; and you will be a man some of these
days. Butifer is an honest young fellow. We can trust him with the
money necessary for traveling expenses and your hunting expeditions. The
responsibility will keep him steady for six months, and that will be a
very good thing for him.”

Genestas’ face brightened more and more at every word the doctor spoke.

“Now, let us go in to breakfast. La Fosseuse is very anxious to see
you,” said Benassis, giving Adrien a gentle tap on the cheek.

Genestas took the doctor’s arm and drew him a little aside. “Then he is
not consumptive after all?” he asked.

“No more than you or I.”

“Then what is the matter with him?”

“Pshaw!” answered Benassis; “he is a little run down, that is all.”

La Fosseuse appeared on the threshold of the door, and Genestas noticed,
not without surprise, her simple but coquettish costume. This was not
the peasant girl of yesterday evening, but a graceful and well-dressed
Parisian woman, against whose glances he felt that he was not proof.
The soldier turned his eyes on the table, which was made of walnut wood.
There was no tablecloth, but the surface might have been varnished,
it was so well rubbed and polished. Eggs, butter, a rice pudding, and
fragrant wild strawberries had been set out, and the poor child had put
flowers everywhere about the room; evidently it was a great day for
her. At the sight of all this, the commandant could not help looking
enviously at the little house and the green sward about it, and watched
the peasant girl with an air that expressed both his doubts and
his hopes. Then his eyes fell on Adrien, with whom La Fosseuse was
deliberately busying herself, and handing him the eggs.

“Now, commandant,” said Benassis, “you know the terms on which you are
receiving hospitality. You must tell La Fosseuse ‘something about the

“But let the gentleman first have his breakfast in peace, and then,
after he has taken a cup of coffee----”

“By all means, I shall be very glad,” answered the commandant; “but it
must be upon one condition: you will tell us the story of some adventure
in your past life, will you not, mademoiselle?”

“Why, nothing worth telling has ever happened to me, sir,” she answered,
as her color rose. “Will you take a little more rice pudding?” she
added, as she saw that Adrien’s plate was empty.

“If you please, mademoiselle.”

“The pudding is delicious,” said Genestas.

“Then what will you say to her coffee and cream?” cried Benassis.

“I would rather hear our pretty hostess talk.”

“You did not put that nicely, Genestas,” said Benassis. He took La
Fosseuse’s hand in his and pressed it as he went on: “Listen, my child;
there is a kind heart hidden away beneath that officer’s stern exterior,
and you can talk freely before him. We do not want to press you to talk,
do not tell us anything unless you like: but if ever you can be listened
to and understood, poor little one, it will be by the three who are with
you now at this moment. Tell us all about your love affairs in the
old days, that will not admit us into any of the real secrets of your

“Here is Mariette with the coffee,” she answered, “and as soon as you
are all served, I will tell about my ‘love affairs’ very willingly. But
M. le Commandant will not forget his promise?” she added, challenging
the officer with a shy glance.

“That would be impossible, mademoiselle,” Genestas answered

“When I was sixteen years old,” La Fosseuse began, “I had to beg my
bread on the roadside in Savoy, though my health was very bad. I used to
sleep at Echelles, in a manger full of straw. The innkeeper who gave me
shelter was kind, but his wife could not abide me, and was always saying
hard things. I used to feel very miserable; for though I was a beggar,
I was not a naughty child; I used to say my prayers every night and
morning, I never stole anything, and I did as Heaven bade me in begging
for my living, for there was nothing that I could turn my hands to, and
I was really unfit for work--quite unable to handle a hoe or to wind
spools of cotton.

“Well, they drove me away from the inn at last; a dog was the cause of
it all. I had neither father nor mother nor friends. I had met with no
one, ever since I was born, whose eyes had any kindness in them for me.
Morin, the old woman who had brought me up, was dead. She had been very
good to me, but I cannot remember that she ever petted me much; besides,
she worked out in the fields like a man, poor thing; and if she fondled
me at times, she also used to rap my fingers with the spoon if I ate the
soup too fast out of the porringer we had between us. Poor old woman,
never a day passes but I remember her in my prayers! If it might please
God to let her live a happier life up there than she did here below!
And, above all things, if she might only lie a little softer there, for
she was always grumbling about the pallet-bed that we both used to
sleep upon. You could not possibly imagine how it hurts one’s soul to be
repulsed by every one, to receive nothing but hard words and looks that
cut you to the heart, just as if they were so many stabs of a knife. I
have known poor old people who were so used to these things that they
did not mind them a bit, but I was not born for that sort of life. A
‘No’ always made me cry. Every evening I came back again more unhappy
than ever, and only felt comforted when I had said my prayers. In all
God’s world, in fact, there was not a soul to care for me, no one to
whom I could pour out my heart. My only friend was the blue sky. I have
always been happy when there was a cloudless sky above my head. I used
to lie and watch the weather from some nook among the crags when the
wind had swept the clouds away. At such times I used to dream that I was
a great lady. I used to gaze into the sky till I felt myself bathed in
the blue; I lived up there in thought, rising higher and higher yet,
till my troubles weighed on me no more, and there was nothing but
gladness left.

“But to return to my ‘love affairs.’ I must tell you that the
innkeeper’s spaniel had a dear little puppy, just as sensible as a human
being; he was quite white, with black spots on his paws, a cherub of a
puppy! I can see him yet. Poor little fellow, he was the only creature
who ever gave me a friendly look in those days; I kept all my tidbits
for him. He knew me, and came to look for me every evening. How he used
to spring up at me! And he would bite my feet, he was not ashamed of my
poverty; there was something so grateful and so kind in his eyes that it
brought tears into mine to see it. ‘That is the one living creature that
really cares for me!’ I used to say. He slept at my feet that winter.
It hurt me so much to see him beaten, that I broke him of the habit of
going into houses, to steal bones, and he was quite contented with my
crusts. When I was unhappy, he used to come and stand in front of me,
and look into my eyes; it was just as if he said, ‘So you are sad, my
poor Fosseuse?’

“If a traveler threw me some halfpence, he would pick them up out of the
dust and bring them to me, clever little spaniel that he was! I was
less miserable so long as I had that friend. Every day I put away a few
halfpence, for I wanted to get fifteen francs together, so that I might
buy him of Pere Manseau. One day his wife saw that the dog was fond of
me, so she herself took a sudden violent fancy to him. The dog, mind
you, could not bear her. Oh, animals know people by instinct! If you
really care for them, they find it out in a moment. I had a gold coin,
a twenty-franc piece, sewed into the band of my skirt; so I spoke to M.
Manseau: ‘Dear sir, I meant to offer you my year’s savings for your dog;
but now your wife has a mind to keep him, although she cares very little
about him, and rather than that, will you sell him to me for twenty
francs? Look, I have the money here.’

“‘No, no, little woman,’ he said; ‘put up your twenty francs. Heaven
forbid that I should take their money from the poor! Keep the dog; and
if my wife makes a fuss about it, you must go away.’

“His wife made a terrible to-do about the dog. Ah! _mon Dieu_! any one
might have thought the house was on fire! You never would guess the
notion that next came into her head. She saw that the little fellow
looked on me as his mistress, and that she could only have him against
his will, so she had him poisoned; and my poor spaniel died in my
arms.... I cried over him as if he had been my child, and buried him
under a pine-tree. You do not know all that I laid in that grave. As I
sat there beside it, I told myself that henceforward I should always be
alone in the world; that I had nothing left to hope for; that I should
be again as I had been before, a poor lonely girl; that I should never
more see a friendly light in any eyes. I stayed out there all through
the night, praying God to have pity on me. When I went back to the
highroad I saw a poor little child, about ten years old, who had no

“‘God has heard me,’ I thought. I had prayed that night as I had never
prayed before. ‘I will take care of the poor little one; we will beg
together, and I will be a mother to him. Two of us ought to do better
than one; perhaps I should have more courage for him than I have for

“At first the little boy seemed to be quite happy, and, indeed, he would
have been hard to please if he had not been content. I did everything
that he wanted, and gave him the best of all that I had; I was his slave
in fact, and he tyrannized over me, but that was nicer than being alone,
I used to think! Pshaw! no sooner did the little good-for-nothing know
that I carried a twenty-franc piece sewed into my skirtband than he cut
the stitches, and stole my gold coin, the price of my poor spaniel! I
had meant to have masses said with it.... A child without hands, too!
Oh, it makes one shudder! Somehow that theft took all the heart out of
me. It seemed as if I was to love nothing but it should come to some
wretched end.

“One day at Echelles, I watched a fine carriage coming slowly up the
hillside. There was a young lady, as beautiful as the Virgin Mary, in
the carriage, and a young man, who looked like the young lady. ‘Just
look,’ he said; ‘there is a pretty girl!’ and he flung a silver coin to

“No one but you, M. Benassis, could understand how pleased I was
with the compliment, the first that I had ever had: but, indeed, the
gentleman ought not to have thrown the money to me. I was in a flutter;
I knew of a short cut, a footpath among the rocks, and started at once
to run, so that I reached the summit of the Echelles long before the
carriage, which was coming up very slowly. I saw the young man again;
he was quite surprised to find me there; and as for me, I was so pleased
that my heart seemed to be throbbing in my throat. Some kind of instinct
drew me towards him. After he had recognized me, I went on my way again;
I felt quite sure that he and the young lady with him would leave
the carriage to see the waterfall at Couz, and so they did. When they
alighted, they saw me once more, under the walnut-trees by the wayside.
They asked me many questions, and seemed to take an interest in what I
told them about myself. In all my life I had never heard such pleasant
voices as they had, that handsome young man and his sister, for she was
his sister, I am sure. I thought about them for a whole year afterwards,
and kept on hoping that they would come back. I would have given two
years of my life only to see that traveler again, he looked so nice.
Until I knew M. Benassis these were the greatest events of my life.
Although my mistress turned me away for trying on that horrid ball-dress
of hers, I was sorry for her, and I have forgiven her, for candidly, if
you will give me leave to say so, I thought myself the better woman of
the two, countess though she was.”

“Well,” said Genestas, after a moment’s pause, “you see that Providence
has kept a friendly eye on you, you are in clover here.”

At these words La Fosseuse looked at Benassis with eyes full of

“Would that I was rich!” came from Genestas. The officer’s exclamation
was followed by profound silence.

“You owe me a story,” said La Fosseuse at last, in coaxing tones.

“I will tell it at once,” answered Genestas. “On the evening before the
battle of Friedland,” he went on, after a moment, “I had been sent with
a despatch to General Davoust’s quarters, and I was on the way back to
my own, when at a turn in the road I found myself face to face with the
Emperor. Napoleon gave me a look.

“‘You are Captain Genestas, are you not?’ he said.

“‘Yes, your Majesty.’

“‘You were out in Egypt?’

“‘Yes, your Majesty.’

“‘You had better not keep to the road you are on,’ he said; ‘turn to the
left, you will reach your division sooner that way.’

“That was what the Emperor said, but you would never imagine how kindly
he said it; and he had so many irons in the fire just then, for he was
riding about surveying the position of the field. I am telling you this
story to show you what a memory he had, and so that you may know that he
knew my face. I took the oath in 1815. But for that mistake, perhaps I
might have been a colonel to-day; I never meant to betray the Bourbons,
France must be defended, and that was all I thought about. I was a Major
in the Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard; and although my wound still
gave me trouble, I swung a sabre in the battle of Waterloo. When it
was all over, and Napoleon returned to Paris, I went too; then when he
reached Rochefort, I followed him against his orders; it was some sort
of comfort to watch over him and to see that no mishap befell him on the
way. So when he was walking along the beach he turned and saw me on duty
ten paces from him.

“‘Well, Genestas,’ he said, as he came towards me, ‘so we are not yet
dead, either of us?’

“It cut me to the heart to hear him say that. If you had heard him,
you would have shuddered from head to foot, as I did. He pointed to the
villainous English vessel that was keeping the entrance to the Harbor.
‘When I see _that_,’ he said, ‘and think of my Guard, I wish that I had
perished in that torrent of blood.’

“Yes,” said Genestas, looking at the doctor and at La Fosseuse, “those
were his very words.

“‘The generals who counseled you not to charge with the Guard, and
who hurried you into your traveling carriage, were not true friends of
yours,’ I said.

“‘Come with me,’ he cried eagerly, ‘the game is not ended yet.’

“‘I would gladly go with your Majesty, but I am not free; I have a
motherless child on my hands just now.’

“And so it happened that Adrien over there prevented me from going to
St. Helena.

“‘Stay,’ he said, ‘I have never given you anything. You are not one
of those who fill one hand and then hold out the other. Here is the
snuff-box that I have used though this last campaign. And stay on in
France; after all, brave men are wanted there! Remain in the service,
and keep me in remembrance. Of all my army in Egypt, you are the last
that I have seen still on his legs in France.’ And he gave me a little

“‘Have “_Honneur et patrie_” engraved on it,’ he said; ‘the history of
our last two campaigns is summed up in those three words.’

“Then those who were going out with him came up, and I spent the rest
of the morning with them. The Emperor walked to and fro along the beach;
there was not a sign of agitation about him, though he frowned from
time to time. At noon, it was considered hopeless for him to attempt to
escape by sea. The English had found out that he was at Rochefort; he
must either give himself up to them, or cross the breadth of France
again. We were wretchedly anxious; the minutes seemed like hours! On the
one hand there were the Bourbons, who would have shot Napoleon if he had
fallen into their clutches; and on the other, the English, a dishonored
race: they covered themselves with shame by flinging a foe who asked for
hospitality away on a desert rock, that is a stain which they will never
wash away. Whilst they were anxiously debating, some one or other among
his suite presented a sailor to him, a Lieutenant Doret, who had a
scheme for reaching America to lay before him. As a matter of fact, a
brig from the States and a merchant vessel were lying in the harbor.

“‘But how could you set about it, captain?’ the Emperor asked him.

“‘You will be on board the merchant vessel, Sire,’ the man answered.
‘I will run up the white flag and man the brig with a few devoted
followers. We will tackle the English vessel, set fire to her, and board
her, and you will get clear away.’

“‘We will go with you!’ I cried to the captain. But Napoleon looked at
us and said, ‘Captain Doret, keep yourself for France.’

“It was the only time I ever saw Napoleon show any emotion. With a
wave of his hand to us he went in again. I watched him go on board the
English vessel, and then I went away. It was all over with him, and he
knew it. There was a traitor in the harbor, who by means of signals gave
warning to the Emperor’s enemies of his presence. Then Napoleon fell
back on a last resource; he did as he had been wont to do on the
battlefield: he went to his foes instead of letting them come to him.
Talk of troubles! No words could ever make you understand the misery of
those who loved him for his own sake.”

“But where is his snuff-box?” asked La Fosseuse.

“It is in a box at Grenoble,” the commandant replied.

“I will go over to see it, if you will let me. To think that you have
something in your possession that his fingers have touched!... Had he a
well-shaped hand?”


“Can it be true that he is dead? Come, tell me the real truth?”

“Yes, my dear child, he is dead; there is no doubt about it.”

“I was such a little girl in 1815. I was not tall enough to see anything
but his hat, and even so I was nearly crushed to death in the crowd at

“Your coffee and cream is very nice indeed,” said Genestas. “Well,
Adrien, how do you like this country? Will you come here to see

The boy made no answer; he seemed afraid to look at La Fosseuse.
Benassis never took his eyes off Adrien; he appeared to be reading the
lad’s very soul.

“Of course he will come to see her,” said Benassis. “But let us go home
again, I have a pretty long round to make, and I shall want a horse.
I daresay you and Jacquotte will manage to get on together whilst I am

“Will you not come with us?” said Genestas to La Fosseuse.

“Willingly,” she answered; “I have a lot of things to take over for Mme.

They started out for the doctor’s house. Her visitors had raised La
Fosseuse’s spirits; she led the way along narrow tracks, through the
loneliest parts of the hills.

“You have told us nothing about yourself, Monsieur l’Officier,” she
said. “I should have liked to hear you tell us about some adventure in
the wars. I liked what you told us about Napoleon very much, but it made
me feel sad.... If you would be so very kind----”

“Quite right!” Benassis exclaimed. “You ought to tell us about some
thrilling adventure during our walk. Come, now, something really
interesting like that business of the beam in Beresina!”

“So few of my recollections are worth telling,” said Genestas. “Some
people come in for all kinds of adventures, but I have never managed to
be the hero of any story. Oh! stop a bit though, a funny thing did once
happen to me. I was with the Grand Army in 1805, and so, of course, I
was at Austerlitz. There was a great deal of skirmishing just before Ulm
surrendered, which kept the cavalry pretty fully occupied. Moreover, we
were under the command of Murat, who never let the grass grow under his

“I was still only a sub-lieutenant in those days. It was just at the
opening of the campaign, and after one of these affairs, that we took
possession of a district in which there were a good many fine estates;
so it fell out that one evening my regiment bivouacked in a park
belonging to a handsome chateau where a countess lived, a young and
pretty woman she was. Of course, I meant to lodge in the house, and
I hurried there to put a stop to pillage of any sort. I came into the
salon just as my quartermaster was pointing his carbine at the countess,
his brutal way of asking for what she certainly could not give the
ugly scoundrel. I struck up his carbine with my sword, the bullet
went through a looking-glass on the wall, then I dealt my gentleman a
back-handed blow that stretched him on the floor. The sound of the shot
and the cries of the countess fetched all her people on the scene, and
it was my turn to be in danger.

“‘Stop!’ she cried in German (for they were going to run me through the
body), ‘this officer has saved my life!’

“They drew back at that. The lady gave me her handkerchief (a fine
embroidered handkerchief, which I have yet), telling me that her house
would always be open to me, and that I should always find a sister and
a devoted friend in her, if at any time I should be in any sort of
trouble. In short, she did not know how to make enough of me. She was
as fair as a wedding morning and as charming as a kitten. We had dinner
together. Next day, I was distractedly in love, but next day I had to be
at my place at Guntzburg, or wherever it was. There was no help for it,
I had to turn out, and started off with my handkerchief.

“Well, we gave them battle, and all the time I kept on saying to myself,
‘I wish a bullet would come my way! _Mon Dieu_! they are flying thick

“I had no wish for a ball in the thigh, for I should have had to stop
where I was in that case, and there would have been no going back to the
chateau, but I was not particular; a nice wound in the arm I should have
liked best, so that I might be nursed and made much of by the princess.
I flung myself on the enemy, like mad; but I had no sort of luck, and
came out of the action quite safe and sound. We must march, and there
was an end of it; I never saw the countess again, and there is the whole

By this time they had reached Benassis’ house; the doctor mounted
his horse at once and disappeared. Genestas recommended his son to
Jacquotte’s care, so the doctor on his return found that she had taken
Adrien completely under her wing, and had installed him in M. Gravier’s
celebrated room. With no small astonishment, she heard her master’s
order to put up a simple camp-bed in his own room, for that the lad was
to sleep there, and this in such an authoritative tone, that for once in
her life Jacquotte found not a single word to say.

After dinner the commandant went back to Grenoble. Benassis’ reiterated
assurances that the lad would soon be restored to health had taken a
weight off his mind.

Eight months later, in the earliest days of the following December,
Genestas was appointed to be lieutenant-colonel of a regiment stationed
at Poitiers. He was just thinking of writing to Benassis to tell him of
the journey he was about to take, when a letter came from the doctor.
His friend told him that Adrien was once more in sound health.

“The boy has grown strong and tall,” he said; “and he is wonderfully
well. He has profited by Butifer’s instruction since you saw him last,
and is now as good a shot as our smuggler himself. He has grown brisk
and active too; he is a good walker, and rides well; he is not in the
least like the lad of sixteen who looked like a boy of twelve eight
months ago; any one might think that he was twenty years old. There is
an air of self-reliance and independence about him. In fact he is a man
now, and you must begin to think about his future at once.”

“I shall go over to Benassis to-morrow, of course,” said Genestas to
himself, “and I will see what he says before I make up my mind what to
do with that fellow,” and with that he went to a farewell dinner given
to him by his brother officers. He would be leaving Grenoble now in a
very few days.

As the lieutenant-colonel returned after the dinner, his servant handed
him a letter. It had been brought by a messenger, he said, who had
waited a long while for an answer.

Genestas recognized Adrien’s handwriting, although his head was swimming
after the toasts that had been drunk in his honor; probably, he thought,
the letter merely contained a request to gratify some boyish whim, so
he left it unopened on the table. The next morning, when the fumes of
champagne had passed off, he took it up and began to read.

  “My dear father----”

“Oh! you young rogue,” was his comment, “you know how to coax whenever
you want something.”

  “Our dear M. Benassis is dead----”

The letter dropped from Genestas’ hands; it was some time before he
could read any more.

  “Every one is in consternation. The trouble is all the greater
  because it came as a sudden shock. It was so unexpected. M.
  Benassis seemed perfectly well the day before; there was not a
  sign of ill-health about him. Only the day before yesterday he
  went to see all his patients, even those who lived farthest away;
  it was as if he had known what was going to happen; and he spoke
  to every one whom he met, saying, ‘Good-bye, my friends,’ each
  time. Towards five o’clock he came back just as usual to have
  dinner with me. He was tired; Jacquotte noticed the purplish flush
  on his face, but the weather was so very cold that she would not
  get ready a warm foot-bath for him, as she usually did when she
  saw that the blood had gone to his head. So she has been wailing,
  poor thing, through her tears for these two days past, ‘If I had
  _only_ given him a foot-bath, he would be living now!’

  “M Benassis was hungry; he made a good dinner. I thought that he
  was in higher spirits than usual; we both of us laughed a great
  deal, I had never seen him laugh so much before. After dinner,
  towards seven o’clock, a man came with a message from Saint
  Laurent du Pont; it was a serious case, and M. Benassis was
  urgently needed. He said to me, ‘I shall have to go, though I
  never care to set out on horseback when I have hardly digested my
  dinner, more especially when it is as cold as this. It is enough
  to kill a man!’

  “For all that, he went. At nine o’clock the postman Goguelat,
  brought a letter for M. Benassis. Jacquotte was tired out, for it
  was her washing-day. She gave me the letter and went off to bed.
  She begged me to keep a good fire in our bedroom, and to have some
  tea ready for M. Benassis when he came in, for I am still sleeping
  in the little cot-bed in his room. I raked out the fire in the
  salon, and went upstairs to wait for my good friend. I looked at
  the letter, out of curiosity, before I laid it on the
  chimney-piece, and noticed the handwriting and the postmark. It
  came from Paris, and I think it was a lady’s hand. I am telling
  you about it because of things that happened afterwards.

  “About ten o’clock, I heard the horse returning, and M. Benassis’
  voice. He said to Nicolle, ‘It is cold enough to-night to bring
  the wolves out. I do not feel at all well.’ Nicolle said, ‘Shall I
  go and wake Jacquotte?’ And M. Benassis answered, ‘Oh! no, no,’
  and came upstairs.

  “I said, ‘I have your tea here, all ready for you,’ and he smiled
  at me in the way that you know, and said, ‘Thank you, Adrien.’
  That was his last smile. In a moment he began to take off his
  cravat, as though he could not breathe. ‘How hot it is in here!’
  he said and flung himself down in an armchair. ‘A letter has come
  for you, my good friend,’ I said; ‘here it is;’ and I gave him the
  letter. He took it up and glanced at the handwriting. ‘Ah! _mon
  Dieu_!’ he exclaimed, ‘perhaps she is free at last!’ Then his head
  sank back, and his hands shook. After a little while he set the
  lamp on the table and opened the letter. There was something so
  alarming in the cry he had given that I watched him while he read,
  and saw that his face was flushed, and there were tears in his
  eyes. Then quite suddenly he fell, head forwards. I tried to raise
  him, and saw how purple his face was.

  “‘It is all over with me,’ he said, stammering; it was terrible
  to see how he struggled to rise. ‘I must be bled; bleed me!’ he
  cried, clutching my hand.... ‘Adrien,’ he said again, ‘burn
  this letter!’ He gave it to me, and I threw it on the fire. I
  called for Jacquotte and Nicolle. Jacquotte did not hear me, but
  Nicolle did, and came hurrying upstairs; he helped me to lay M.
  Benassis on my little bed. Our dear friend could not hear us any
  longer when we spoke to him, and although his eyes were open, he
  did not see anything. Nicolle galloped off at once to fetch the
  surgeon, M. Bordier, and in this way spread the alarm through the
  town. It was all astir in a moment. M. Janvier, M. Dufau, and all
  the rest of your acquaintance were the first to come to us. But
  all hope was at an end, M. Benassis was dying fast. He gave no
  sign of consciousness, not even when M. Bordier cauterized the
  soles of his feet. It was an attack of gout, combined with an
  apoplectic stroke.

  “I am giving you all these details, dear father, because I know
  how much you cared for him. As for me, I am very sad and full of
  grief, for I can say to you that I cared more for him than for any
  one else except you. I learned more from M. Benassis’ talk in the
  evenings than ever I could have learned at school.

  “You cannot imagine the scene next morning when the news of his
  death was known in the place. The garden and the yard here were
  filled with people. How they sobbed and wailed! Nobody did any
  work that day. Every one recalled the last time that they had seen
  M. Benassis, and what he had said, or they talked of all that he
  had done for them; and those who were least overcome with grief
  spoke for the others. Every one wanted to see him once more, and
  the crowd grew larger every moment. The sad news traveled so fast
  that men and women and children came from ten leagues round; all
  the people in the district, and even beyond it, had that one
  thought in their minds.

  “It was arranged that four of the oldest men of the commune should
  carry the coffin. It was a very difficult task for them, for the
  crowd was so dense between the church and M. Benassis’ house.
  There must have been nearly five thousand people there, and almost
  every one knelt as if the Host were passing. There was not nearly
  room for them in the church. In spite of their grief, the crowd
  was so silent that you could hear the sound of the bell during
  mass and the chanting as far as the end of the High Street; but
  when the procession started again for the new cemetery, which M.
  Benassis had given to the town, little thinking, poor man, that he
  himself would be the first to be buried there, a great cry went
  up. M. Janvier wept as he said the prayers; there were no dry eyes
  among the crowd. And so we buried him.

  “As night came on the people dispersed, carrying sorrow and
  mourning everywhere with them. The next day Gondrin and Goguelat,
  and Butifer, with others, set to work to raise a sort of pyramid
  of earth, twenty feet high, above the spot where M. Benassis lies;
  it is being covered now with green sods, and every one is helping
  them. These things, dear father, have all happened in three days.

  “M. Dufau found M. Benassis’ will lying open on the table where he
  used to write. When it was known how his property had been left,
  affection and regret for his loss became even deeper if possible.
  And now, dear father, I am writing for Butifer (who is taking this
  letter to you) to come back with your answer. You must tell me
  what I am to do. Will you come to fetch me, or shall I go to you
  at Grenoble? Tell me what you wish me to do, and be sure that I
  shall obey you in everything.

  “Farewell, dear father, I send my love, and I am your affectionate


“Ah! well, I must go over,” the soldier exclaimed.

He ordered his horse and started out. It was one of those still December
mornings when the sky is covered with gray clouds. The wind was too
light to disperse the thick fog, through which the bare trees and damp
house fronts seemed strangely unfamiliar. The very silence was gloomy.
There is such a thing as a silence full of light and gladness; on a
bright day there is a certain joyousness about the slightest sound, but
in such dreary weather nature is not silent, she is dumb. All sounds
seemed to die away, stifled by the heavy air.

There was something in the gloom without him that harmonized with
Colonel Genestas’ mood; his heart was oppressed with grief, and thoughts
of death filled his mind. Involuntarily he began to think of the
cloudless sky on that lovely spring morning, and remembered how bright
the valley had looked when he passed through it for the first time; and
now, in strong contrast with that day, the heavy sky above him was a
leaden gray, there was no greenness about the hills, which were still
waiting for the cloak of winter snow that invests them with a certain
beauty of its own. There was something painful in all this bleak and
bare desolation for a man who was traveling to find a grave at his
journey’s end; the thought of that grave haunted him. The lines of dark
pine-trees here and there along the mountain ridges against the sky
seized on his imagination; they were in keeping with the officer’s
mournful musings. Every time that he looked over the valley that lay
before him, he could not help thinking of the trouble that had befallen
the canton, of the man who had died so lately, and of the blank left by
his death.

Before long, Genestas reached the cottage where he had asked for a cup
of milk on his first journey. The sight of the smoke rising above the
hovel where the charity-children were being brought up recalled vivid
memories of Benassis and of his kindness of heart. The officer made up
his mind to call there. He would give some alms to the poor woman for
his dead friend’s sake. He tied his horse to a tree, and opened the door
of the hut without knocking.

“Good-day, mother,” he said, addressing the old woman, who was sitting
by the fire with the little ones crouching at her side. “Do you remember

“Oh! quite well, sir! You came here one fine morning last spring and
gave us two crowns.”

“There, mother! that is for you and the children.”

“Thank you kindly, sir. May Heaven bless you!”

“You must not thank me, mother,” said the officer; “it is all through M.
Benassis that the money had come to you.”

The old woman raised her eyes and gazed at Genestas.

“Ah! sir,” she said, “he has left his property to our poor countryside,
and made all of us his heirs; but we have lost him who was worth more
than all, for it was he who made everything turn out well for us.”

“Good-bye, mother! Pray for him,” said Genestas, making a few playful
cuts at the children with his riding-whip.

The old woman and her little charges went out with him; they watched him
mount his horse and ride away.

He followed the road along the valley until he reached the bridle-path
that led to La Fosseuse’s cottage. From the slope above the house he saw
that the door was fastened and the shutters closed. In some anxiety he
returned to the highway, and rode on under the poplars, now bare and
leafless. Before long he overtook the old laborer, who was dressed in
his Sunday best, and creeping slowly along the road. There was no bag of
tools on his shoulder.

“Good-day, old Moreau!”

“Ah! good-day, sir.... I mind who you are now!” the old fellow exclaimed
after a moment. “You are a friend of monsieur, our late mayor! Ah! sir,
would it not have been far better if God had only taken a poor rheumatic
old creature like me instead? It would not have mattered if He had taken
me, but HE was the light of our eyes.”

“Do you know how it is that there is no one at home up there at La
Fosseuse’s cottage?”

The old man gave a look at the sky.

“What time is it, sir? The sun has not shone all day,” he said.

“It is ten o’clock.”

“Oh! well, then, she will have gone to mass or else to the cemetery. She
goes there every day. He has left her five hundred livres a year and
her house for as long as she lives, but his death has fairly turned her
brain, as you may say----”

“And where are you going, old Moreau?”

“Little Jacques is to be buried to-day, and I am going to the funeral.
He was my nephew, poor little chap; he had been ailing for a long while,
and he died yesterday morning. It really looked as though it was M.
Benassis who kept him alive. That is the way! All these younger ones
die!” Moreau added, half-jestingly, half-sadly.

Genestas reined in his horse as he entered the town, for he met Gondrin
and Goguelat, each carrying a pickaxe and shovel. He called to them,
“Well, old comrades, we have had the misfortune to lose him----”

“There, there, that is enough, sir!” interrupted Goguelat, “we know that
well enough. We have just been cutting turf to cover his grave.”

“His life will make a grand story to tell, eh?”

“Yes,” answered Goguelat, “he was the Napoleon of our valley, barring
the battles.”

As they reached the parsonage, Genestas saw a little group about the
door; Butifer and Adrien were talking with M. Janvier, who, no doubt,
had just returned from saying mass. Seeing that the officer made as
though he were about to dismount, Butifer promptly went to hold the
horse, while Adrien sprang forward and flung his arms about his father’s
neck. Genestas was deeply touched by the boy’s affection, though no sign
of this appeared in the soldier’s words or manner.

“Why, Adrien,” he said, “you certainly are set up again. My goodness!
Thanks to our poor friend, you have almost grown into a man. I shall not
forget your tutor here, Master Butifer.”

“Oh! colonel,” entreated Butifer, “take me away from here and put me
into your regiment. I cannot trust myself now that M. le Maire is gone.
_He_ wanted me to go for a soldier, didn’t he? Well, then, I will do
what he wished. He told you all about me, and you will not be hard on
me, will you, M. Genestas?”

“Right, my fine fellow,” said Genestas, as he struck his hand in
the other’s. “I will find something to suit you, set your mind at
rest----And how is it with you, M. le Cure?”

“Well, like every one else in the canton, colonel, I feel sorrow for
his loss, but no one knows as I do how irreparable it is. He was like an
angel of God among us. Fortunately, he did not suffer at all; it was a
painless death. The hand of God gently loosed the bonds of a life that
was one continual blessing to us all.”

“Will it be intrusive if I ask you to accompany me to the cemetery? I
should like to bid him farewell, as it were.”

Genestas and the cure, still in conversation, walked on together.
Butifer and Adrien followed them at a few paces distance. They went in
the direction of the little lake, and as soon as they were clear of the
town, the lieutenant-colonel saw on the mountain-side a large piece of
waste land enclosed by walls.

“That is the cemetery,” the cure told him. “He is the first to be buried
in it. Only three months before he was brought here, it struck him that
it was a very bad arrangement to have the churchyard round the church;
so, in order to carry out the law, which prescribes that burial grounds
should be removed a stated distance from human dwellings, he himself
gave this piece of land to the commune. We are burying a child, poor
little thing, in the new cemetery to-day, so we shall have begun by
laying innocence and virtue there. Can it be that death is after all
a reward? Did God mean it as a lesson for us when He took these two
perfect natures to Himself? When we have been tried and disciplined in
youth by pain, in later life by mental suffering, are we so much nearer
to Him? Look! there is the rustic monument which has been erected to his

Genestas saw a mound of earth about twenty feet high. It was bare as
yet, but dwellers in the district were already busily covering the
sloping sides with green turf. La Fosseuse, her face buried in her
hands, was sobbing bitterly; she was sitting on the pile of stones in
which they had planted a great wooden cross, made from the trunk of a
pine-tree, from which the bark had not been removed. The officer read
the inscription; the letters were large, and had been deeply cut in the

                               D. O. M.

                              HERE LIES

                      THE GOOD MONSIEUR BENASSIS

                         THE FATHER OF US ALL

                             PRAY FOR HIM.

“Was it you, sir,” asked Genestas, “who----?”

“No,” answered the cure; “it is simply what is said everywhere, from
the heights up there above us down to Grenoble, so the words have been
carved here.”

Genestas remained silent for a few moments. Then he moved from where he
stood and came nearer to La Fosseuse, who did not hear him, and spoke
again to the cure.

“As soon as I have my pension,” he said, “I will come to finish my days
here among you.”


The following personage appears in other stories of the Human Comedy.

     Murat, Joachim, Prince
       The Vendetta
       The Gondreville Mystery
       Colonel Chabert
       Domestic Peace

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