a kitchen garden, and promised not to consider a day's work
done in it hy the gardener now and again. Such advantages
were certainly worth a good two thousand francs. The stew-
ardship of the Aigues after the assessorship was a transition
from penury to wealth.
"If you devote yourself to my interests," said the General,
"I may do more for you. For one thing, I shall have it in
my power to appoint you to collect the taxes in Conches,
Blangy, and Cerneux, separating those three places from the
Soulanges division. In short, as soon as you bring the net
receipts up to sixty thousand francs, you shall have your re-
Unluckily, the worthy Sarcus and Adeline, in the joy of
their hearts, were so imprudent as to tell Mme Soudry about
the Count's promise. They forgot that the receiver at Sou-
langes was one Guerbet, brother of the postmaster at Conches,
and a connection, as will be seen later, of the Gendrins and
"It will not be easy to do, my child," said Mme. Soudry, "but
do not hinder the Count from setting about it ; no one knows
how easily the hardest things are done in Paris. I have seen
the Chevalier Gluck down on his knees to Madame that's gone,
and she sang his part for him she that would have cut herself
in pieces for Piccini, and Piccini was one of the most agree-
able men of those days. He never came to Madame's house,
dear gentleman, but he would put his arm round my waist
and call me his 'pretty rogue.' ' ;
"Oh, indeed !" cried the sergeant, when his wife retailed
this piece of news, "so he thinks that he will do as he
likes with the place, turn things upside down, and order
people about right and left as if they were men in his regi-
ment. These officers have domineering ways ! But wait a
while, we have M. de Soulanges and M. de Ronquerolles
on our side. Poor old Guerbet, how little he suspects that
they mean to pluck the finest roses off his tree."
The lady's maid had this piece of Dorat phraseology from
118 THE PEASANTRY
Mile. Laguerre, who learned it of Bouret, who had it from
some editor of the Mercure. And now Soudry used it so often
that it became a current saying at Soulanges.
Now "old Guerbet," receiver of taxes at Soulanges, was a
local wit, the stock comic character of the little town, and one
of the notables in Mme. Soudry's set. The sergeant's out-
burst exactly expressed the general feeling towards the master
of the Aigues. From Conches to Ville-aux-Fayes the whole
district had been poisoned against him by Gaubertin's efforts.
Sibilet's installation took place towards the end of the
autumn of 1817. The year 1818 came and went, and the
General never set foot on the estate. He was occupied by his
own approaching marriage, which took place early in 1819,
and he spent most of the summer in paying court to his be-
trothed in his future father-in-law's chateau near Alengon.
Besides the Aigues and his splendid townhouse, General de
Montcornet possessed an income of sixty thousand francs in
the Funds, and drew the pay of a lieutenant-general on the
reserve. Yet, although Napoleon had made the brilliant sol-
dier a Count of the Empire, granting him for arms a shield
bearing four coats quarterly; the first, azure, on a desert or
three pyramids argent; the second, sinople, three bugles ar-
gent; the third, gules, a cannon or, mounted on a gun carriage
sable, in chief a crescent of the second; the fourth, or a crown
sinople, with the mediaeval sounding motto, Sonnez la charge,
Montcornet was conscious that his father had been a cabinet-
maker in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, a fact which he was
perfectly willing to forget. Wherefore, consumed with a de-
sire to be a peer of France, he counted as naught his grand
cordon of the Legion of Honor, his cross of Saint-Louis, and
a hundred and forty thousand francs of income. The demon
of titles had bitten him, the sight of a blue ribbon drove him
distracted, and the heroic fighter on Essling field would have
lapped all the mud on the Pont Royal to gain an entrance
into the set of the Navarreins, Lenoncourts, Maufrigneuses,
d'Espards, and Vandenesses, the families of Grandlieu, Ver-
neuil, d'Herouville, Chaulieu, and so forth.
In the year 1818, when it became plain to him that there
THE PEASANTRY 11$
was no hope of a return of the Bonapartes, Montcornet
availed himself of the friendly offices of his friends' wives.
Those ladies advertised in the Faubourg Saint-Germain that
the General was ready to give heart and hand and fortune
and a house m town as the price of an alliance with any great
It was the Duchesse de Carigliano who succeeded after un-
told efforts in finding a suitable match in one of the three
branches of the Troisville family, to wit, that of the Viscount
who had been in the Russian service since 1789, and came
back with the emigres in 1815. The Viscount had only a
younger brother's share when he married a Princesse Scher-
bellof with near a million to her fortune; but his estate had
been burdened since by two sons and three daughters. His
ancient and powerful family numbered among its members
a peer of France, the Marquis de Troisviile, head of the oldest
branch; as well as two deputies, each with a numerous pro-
geny all busy in getting their share out of the taxes, hangers-
on attached to the ministry and the court like goldfishes about
a crust. So soon as Montcornet was introduced into this
family by one of the most zealous Bourbon partisans among
Napoleon's duchesses, he was well received. Montcornet
asked, in return for his money and a blind affection for his
wife, for a post in the Garde Royale, a marquis' patent, and
to be in time a peer of France, but all that the Troisvilles
promised him was the influence and support of their three
"Y"ou know what that means," said the Marechale to her
old friend, complaining that the promise was rather vague.
"No one can answer for the King; we can only prompt the
Montcornet made Virginie de Troisville his residuary lega-
tee in the marriage-contract. Completely subjugated by his
wife, as explained by Blondet's letter, he was still without
other heirs, but he had been presented at the court of Louis
XVIII., and his Majesty had conferred the ribbon of Saint-
Louis upon the old Bonapartist, and allowed him to quarter
120 THE PEASANTRY
his preposterous scutcheon with the arms of Troisville; the
marquisate and peerage were 'promised as rewards to future
But, a few days after the audience, the Due de Berri was
murdered, the Pavilion Marsan carried all before it, Villele
came into power, and all the Troisvilles' threads of diplo-
macy were broken off; new points of attachment must be
found for them among the ministry.
"We must wait," said the Troisvilles, and Montcornet, over-
whelmed as he was with civilities in the Faubourg Saint-
Germain, waited. This was how the General came to stay
away from the Aigues in 1818.
In his happiness (ineffable bliss for the shopkeeper's son
from the Faubourg Saint- Antoine) with this young wife,
highly bred, lively, and sweet-natured, he must shower all
the delights of Paris upon the daughter of the Troisvilles,
who had opened all doors in the Faubourg Saint-Germain to
him; and these diverse joys so completely effaced the un-
pleasant scene with the steward from his mind, that Gau-
bertin and his doings and his very name were quite forgotten.
In 1820 the General brought the Countess into the country
to show her the Aigues, and passed Sibilet's accounts and
ratified his actions without looking too closely into them.
Happiness is no haggler. The Countess was delighted to find
the steward's wife such a charming woman, and made presents
to her and to the children, with whom she played for a little
while. She also commanded some alterations in the house,
and an architect was summoned from Paris ; for she proposed
(and the General was wild with joy at the thought) to spend
six months out of the twelve in such a splendid abode. All
the General's savings were spent on carrying out the archi-
tect's scheme and on the dainty furniture from Paris; and
the Aigues received that final touch which stamped it as
unique a monument to the tastes of four different centuries.
In 1821 the General was almost summoned by Sibilet before
the month of May. Weighty matters were at stake. The
nine years' lease of the woods to a timber merchant, con-
THE PEASANTRY 121
eluded by Gaubertin in 1812 at thirty thousand francs, ex-
pired on May 15th of that year. So, at first, Sibilet would
not meddle in the matter of renewing the lease ; he was jeal-
ous of his reputation for honesty. "You know, M. le Comte,"
he wrote, "that I have no finger in that pie." But the timber
merchant wanted the indemnity which he had shared with
Gaubertin, an exaction to which Mile. Laguerre had sub-
mitted in her dislike of lawsuits. The excuse for the in-
demnity was based on the depredations of the peasantry, who
behaved as if they had an established right to cut wood for
fuel in the forest. Messrs. Gravelot Brothers, the timber
merchants in Paris, declined to pay for the last quarter, and
offered to bring experts to prove that the woods had fallen off
one-fifth in their annual value; they argued from the bad
precedent established by Mile. Laguerre.
"I have already summoned these gentlemen to appear in
the Court at Ville-aux-Fayes," so Sibilet's letter ran, "for
on account of this lease, they have appointed their domicile
with my old employer, Maitre Corbinet. I am afraid we shall
lose the day."
"Here is a matter in which our income is involved, fair
lady," said the General, showing the letter to his wife ; "do you
mind going sooner than last year to the Aigues ?"
"Do you go, and I will come down as soon as the summer
begins," said the Countess, rather pleased with the prospect
of staying behind in Paris by herself.
So the General set out alone. He was fully determined to
take strong measures, for he knew the treacherous disease
which was eating into the best of his revenues ; but, as remains
to be seen, the General reckoned without his Gaubertin.
THE GREAT REVOLUTIONS OP A LITTLE VALLEY
"WELL, now, Lawyer Sibilet," began the General on the morn-
ing after his arrival, addressing his steward by a familiar
122 THE PEASANTRY
nickname, which showed how much he appreciated the legal
knowledge of the quondam notary's clerk. "Well, Lawyer
Sibilet, and so, in Ministerial language, we are 'passing
through a crisis,' are we?"
"Yes, M. le Comte," replied Sibilet, following in the Gen-
The happy proprietor of the Aigues was walking up and
down before his steward's house, in a space where Mme. Sibi-
let's flowers were growing on the edge of the wide stretch
of grass watered by the broad channel spoken of in Blondet's
letter. The Aigues itself lay in full view of the garden, even
as from the chateau you saw the steward's house, which had
been, built for the sake of its effed; in the landscape.
"But where is the difficulty?" pursued the General. "I
shall go through with the Gravelots' case; a wound in the
purse is not mortal. And I will have the contract well ad-
vertised; we shall soon find out the real value of the lease
by comparing the bids of the competitors."
"Things will not go off that way, M. le Comte," Sibilet an-
swered. "If you have no offers, what will you do then ?"
"Fell my timber, and sell it myself."
"You turn timber merchant !" cried Sibilet, and saw that
the General shrugged his shoulders. "I am quite willing.
Let us say no more about your affairs here. Let us look at
Paris. You would have to take a timber-yard on lease there,
take out a license, pay taxes, pay lighterage, city dues, wharf-
ingers and workmen, in short, you must have a responsible
"Quite out of the question !" the General hastily broke in
in alarm. "But why should I have no bidders?"
"M. le Comte, you have enemies in the place."
"And who are they?"
"M. Gaubertin, first and foremost "
"Oh ! Is that the scamp who was here before your time?"
"Not so loud, M. le Comte!" entreated Sibilet in terror;
"for pity's sake, do not speak so loud ! My servant girl may
THE PEASANTRY 123
"What !" returned the General, "cannot I talk on my own
property of a scoundrel who robbed me?"
"If you value a quiet life, M. le Comte, come further away !
. . . Now; M. Gaubertin is mayor of Ville-aux-Fayes."
"Aha ! I wish Ville-aux-Fayes joy of him with all my heart.
Thunder of heaven ! He is a nice mayor for a place ! "
"Do me the honor of listening to me, M. le Comte, and,
believe me, we have a most serious matter in hand, the ques-
tion of your future here."
"I am listening. Let us sit down on this bench."
"When you dismissed Gaubertin, M. le Comte, he had
to do something, for he was not rich "
"Not rich ! and he was helping himself here to twenty thou-
sand francs a year !"
"M. le Comte, I am not setting out to justify his conduct,"
.Sibilet resumed. "I should like to see the Aigues prosper,
if it were only to establish the fact of Gaubertin's dishonesty ;
but we must not abuse him, he is the most dangerous rascal
in all Burgundy, and he is in a position to do you a mischief."
"How?" asked the General, grown thoughtful.
"Gaubertin, such as you see him, is the general agent of
the wood merchants, and controls one-third of the Paris tim-
ber trade; he directs the whole business in wood the
growth, felling, storage, canal-transport, and salvage. He
is a constant employer of labor, and can dictate his own terms.
It has taken him three years to make this position, but he has
fortified himself in it by now ; he is the man of all the timber
merchants, and he treats them all alike. He has the whole
thing cut and dried for their benefit; their business is done
more smoothly and with less working expense than if each
man employed a separate agent, as they used to do. For one
thing, he has weeded out competition so thoroughly that
he has a monopoly of contracts for timber, and the' Crown
forests are his preserves. The right of cutting timber in the
Crown forests is put up periodically to auction, but practically
it is in the hands of Gaubertin's clique of timber merchants,
for by this time nobody is big enough to bid against them.
VOL. 10 34
124 THE PEASANTRY
Last year M. Mariotte of Auxerre, egged on by the Crown
ranger, tried to outbid Gaubertin. Gaubertin let him have
the trees at the ordinary price to begin with; then when it
came to felling the woods the local wood-cutters wanted such
wages that M. Mariotte had to send over to Auxerre for men,
and when they came the Ville-aux-Fayes men set upon them.
Then the ringleader of the union men and the leader of the
brawl got into the police court. The proceedings cost money,
and M. Mariotte had to pay all the costs, for the men had
not a brass farthing. And let me tell you this, by the by
(for you will have all the poor in the canton set against you)
you take nothing by taking the law of poor folk except ill-
will, if you happen to live among them.
"And that was not the end of it. When poor old Mariotto
(a decent soul) came to reckon it all over, he was out of
pocket by the contract. He had to pay money down for every-
thing, and to sell for credit ; Gaubertin delivered timber at
unheard-of prices to ruin his competitor; he actually gave it
away at five per cent below cost price, and poor old Mariotte's
credit was badly shaken. In fact, Gaubertin is still after him
at this day, and pesters him to that degree, that he is going to
leave not merely Auxerre, they say, but the department too,
and he is doing wisely. So, at one blow, the growers were
sacrificed for a long time to come to the timber merchants,
who settle the prices among themselves, like brokers and fur-
niture dealers in the Paris Sale Rooms. But Gaubertin saves
the growers so much bother, that it is worth their while to
"And how so ?" asked the General.
"In the first place," said Sibilet, "anything that simplifies
business is sooner or later to the interest of all concerned.
Then the owners of forests are sure of their money. That is
the great thing, as you will find out, in all sales of produce.
And, lastly, M. Gaubertin is like a father to the laborers;
he pays them good wages, and finds them constant work ; and
as the wood-cutters' families live in the neighborhood, there
is no damage done to the woods which belong to Gaubertin's
THE PEASANTRY 125
timber merchants, or on the estates of Messieurs de Soulanges
and de Konquerolles and others who confide .their interests
to him. The peasants pick up the dead wood, and that is all."
"That rogue Gaubertin has not wasted his time !" cried the
"Oh ! he is a sharp man !" said Sibilet. "He is, as he puts
it, steward of the best half of the department now, instead
of steward of the Aigues. He charges every one a trifling
percentage, but that mere trifle on a couple of million francs
brings him forty or fifty thousand francs a year. 'The
hearths of Paris pay for all,' says he. That is your enemy,
M. le Comte. So my advice to you is to come to terms with
him. He is hand and glove, as you know, with Soudry, the
police sergeant at Soulanges, arid with M. Eigou, our mayor
at Blangy; the rural police are his tools, so that it will be
hard to put down the pilfering which is eating you up. Your
woods have been ruined, more particularly during the last
two years ; so Messieurs Gravelot have a chance in their favor,
for they say that, 'by the terms of the lease, you were to pay
the expenses of protecting your property; you are not pro-
tecting it, so you are doing us an injury, and you must make
good our damages.' Which is fair enough, but it is no reason
why they should gain the day."
"You must resign yourself to a lawsuit and to a loss of
money over it to prevent other lawsuits in future," said the
"You will delight Gaubertin," retorted Sibilet.
"If you go to law with the Gravelots, you will measure
yourself man to man with Gaubertin, who represents them;
he would like nothing so much as that lawsuit. As he says,
he flatters himself that he will trail you on to the Court of
"Ah ! the scoundrel ! the "
"Then if you fell and sell your own timber," pursued Sibi-
let, turning the dagger in the wound, "you will be in the
hands of the laborers, who will ask you 'fancy prices/ instead
126 THE PEASANTRY
of 'trade wages ;' they will 'overweight' you, which means that
they will put you in such a position that, like poor old Mari-
otte, you will have to sell at a loss. If you try to find a lessee,
no one will make you an offer, for it stands to reason that
no one will run the risk for a private estate that Mariotte
ran for the Crown forest. Moreover, suppose that the old
man goes to complain about his losses to the Department.
There is an official there, much such a man as your humble
servant used to be in his assessor days, a worthy gentleman
in a threadbare coat, who sits and reads a newspaper at a
table. He is neither more nor less soft-hearted, whether they
pay him twelve hundred or twelve thousand francs. Talk
to the Inland Eevenue Department, in the person of this
gentleman, of allowances and reductions ! He will answer
you, 'Fiddle-de-dee!' while he cuts his pen. You are an
outlaw, M. le Comte."
"What is to be done ?" cried the General. His blood boiled ;
he strode up and down before the bench.
"M. le Comte," said Sibilet with brutal frankness, "what
I am about to say is not in my own interests you should
sell the Aigues and leave the neighborhood."
At these words the General started back as if a bullet had
struck him. He looked at Sibilet with a diplomatic expres-
"Is a General of the Imperial Guard to run away from such
rogues ; and after Mme. la Comtesse has taken a liking to the
Aigues? Before I would do that I would force Gaubertin
to fight me, give him a box on the ears in the market-place
of Ville-aux-Fayes, and kill him like a dog."
"Gaubertin is not such a fool as to come into collision with
you. And besides, so important a person as the mayor of
Ville-aux-Fayes cannot be insulted with impunity."
"I will make a beggar of him ; the Troisvilles will back me
up ; my income is involved."
"You will not succeed in that, M. le Comte ; Gaubertin has
very long arms. You would only put yourself in an awkward
predicament with no possible way out "
THE PEASANTRY 127
*And how about this lawsuit?" said the General. "We
must think of the present."
"M. le Comte, I will insure that you shall gain it," said
Sibilet, with something knowing in his air.
"Well done, Sibilet !" said the General, gripping the stew-
ard's hand. "And how?"
"You would gain the day in the Court of Appeal in the
ordinary course of events. In my opinion, the Gravelots are
in the right, but that is not enough, the case is not decided
upon its merits ; you must be technically in the right as well.
The Gravelots have not observed the proper formalities, and
a case always turns upon a question of that kind. The
Gravelots ought to have given you notice to look after your
woods better. Then you cannot come down upon people for
allowances extending over a period of nine years at the ex-
piration of a lease; there is a guarding clause inserted in
the lease to prevent that. You will lose your case at Ville-
aux-Fayes ; perhaps you will lose it again in the higher court,
but you will gain the day in Paris. You will be put to ruin-
ous expense ; there will be valuations which will cost a great
deal. If you gain the case, you will spend twelve or fifteen
thousand francs at least over it; but you will gain the day
if you are bent upon so doing. The lawsuit will not mend
matters with the Gravelots ; it will cost them even more. You
will be a bugbear to them, you will get a name for being liti-
gious, you will be slandered, but you will gain the day
"What is to be done?" repeated the General. If Sibilet's
remarks had touched upon the most heart-burning questions,
they could not have produced more effect on Montcornet. He
bethought himself of that thrashing administered to Gau-
bertin, and heartily wished that he had laid the horsewhip
about his own shoulders. He turned a face on fire to Sibilet,
who could read all his torments plainly there.
"What is to be done, M. le Comte?" echoed the other.
"There is only one thing to be done. Compound with the
Gravelots, but you cannot do it in person. I must act as if
I were robbing you. Now, when all our comfort and ail our
128 THE PEASANTRY
prospects lie in our integrity, it is rather hard for us poor
devils to submit to appear dishonest. We are always judged
by appearances. Gaubertin, in his time, saved Mile. La-
guerre's life, and he to all appearance robbed her; but she
rewarded him for his devotion by putting him down in her
will for a jewel worth ten thousand francs, which Mine. Gau-
bertin wears on her forehead at this day."
The General gave Sibilet a second glance, at least as diplo-
matic as the first, but the steward did not seem to feel the sus-
picion lurking beneath smiling good nature.
"My dishonesty will put M. Gaubertin in such high good
humor that I shall gain his goodwill," continued Sibilet. "He
will listen with all his ears, too, when I come to lay this be-
fore him 'I can get twenty thousand francs out of the Count
for the Gravelots, provided that they will go halves with me/
If your opponents consent to that, I will bring you back the
ten thousand francs. You only lose ten thousand, you save
appearances, and there is an end of the lawsuit."
"You are a good fellow, Sibilet," said the General, grasping
the steward's hand. "If you can arrange for the future as
well as for the present, I consider that you are a jewel of a
"As to the future, you will not starve if the wood is not
felled for the next two or three years. Begin by looking after
your woods. Between then and now a good deal of water will
have flowed down the Avonne, Ganbertin may die, or he may
have made enough to retire upon. In short, you will have
time to find a competitor; the loaf is big enough to divide;
you will find another Gaubertin to match him."
"Sibilet," said the old warrior, amazed at the variety of
solutions, "I will give you a thousand crowns if you bring the
matter to an end in this way; and then we will think things
"Look after your woods before all things, M. le Comte.
Go and see for yourself what the peasants have done there
during the two years while you have been away. What could