these facts actually happened, and the writer simply records
them. The ups and downs of family and social life are
created by a host of small causes, and every one of these has a
bearing on the event.
The man of science must clear away the masses of an
avalanche which swept away whole villages, to show you the
fallen fragments of stone on the mountain side where the
mass of snow first began to gather. If this were merely the
story of a man's suicide there are five hundred suicides in
Paris every year it is a hackneyed melodrama, and every
one is content with- the briefest account of the victim's mo-
tives; but that Property should commit suicide! who will
believe it, in these days when wealth appears to be dearer
than life itself? De re vestra agitatur, wrote the fabulist
this story touches the interests of all owners of property.
Let it be borne in mind that if a canton and a little country
town are in league, in the present instance, against an old
General who, despite his reckless courage, had escaped the
hazards of countless previous battles, the same kind of con-
spiracy is set on foot, in more than one department, against
men who are striving for the general good. Every man of
genius, every great statesman, every great agricultural re-
former, every innovator in short, is continually threatened by
this kind of coalition.
This last indication of what may be called the political
bearing of the story not only brings out every actor in his
true aspect, and gives significance to the most trifling details
of the drama : it turns a searching light upon a Scene where
all social interests form the stage mechanism.
THE PEASANTRY 165
A HAPPY WOMAN'S PRESENTIMENTS
As THE General stepped into his carriage and drove away co
the prefecture, the Countess reached the Avonne gate, where
Michaud and Olympe had taken up their abode some eigh-
teen months ago.
Any one who remembered the hunting-lodge in its pre-
vious condition, described above, might have thought that the
place had been rebuilt. The bricks that had dropped out or
suffered from the weather had been replaced and the walls
had been pointed; the white balusters stood out against a
bluish background of clean slates, and the whole house looked
cheerful once more. The labyrinth of pig-sties had been
cleared away, new gravel had been laid down, and the paths
were rolled by the man who had charge of the alleys in the
park. The window-facings, entablatures, and cornices, in-
deed all the carved stonework, had been restored, and the
monument of the past shone in all its ancient glory.
The poultry-yard, stable, and cowsheds had been removed
to the precincts by the pheasant-house hidden away behind
the wall; all the unsightly details had disappeared, but the
sounds, the low cooing, and the flapping of wings mingled
with the ceaseless murmur of the forest trees a most delicate
accompaniment to the endless song of Nature. There was
something of the wildness of lonely forests about the spot,
something too of the trim grace of an English park. And
the hunting-lodge looked indescribably stately, fair, and pleas-
ant a dwelling, now that its surroundings were in keeping
with the exterior, just as a happy young housewife's care had
entirely transformed the lodge within since the days of
Courtecuisse's brutish slovenliness.
It was in the height of summer. The scent of flowers in
the garden beds blended with the wild scent of the woods and
of mown grass from the meadows in the park.
166 THE PEASANTRY
The Countess and her two guests, coming along a wind-
ing footpath that led to the hunting-lodge, saw Olympe
Michaud sitting in the doorway at work upon baby clothes.
The woman's figure, and her work as she sat there sewing,
gave the touch of human interest, the final touch which the
landscape lacked; a kind of interest which appeals to us in
real life so strongly that there are painters who have tried,
and tried mistakenly, to introduce it into landscape pictures,
forgetting that if they really render the spirit of the land-
scape upon their canvas its grandeur reduces the human figure
into insignificance. The scene, as we actually see it, is al \vays
circumscribed; the spectator's power of vision can only in-
clude sufficient of the background to place the figure in its
proper setting. Poussin, the Kaphael of France, when he
painted his Arcadian Shepherds subordinated the landscape
to the figures ; his insight told him how pitiable and poor man
becomes in a canvas where Nature takes the chief place.
Here was August in all its glory among fields ready for the
harvest, a picture to arouse simple and strong emotion. It
was like a realization of the dream of many a man who has
come to long for rest after a storm-tossed existence and a life
of change made up of good and evil fortune.
Let us give the history of this household in a few words.
When Montcornet had first talked of the head-forester's place
at the Aigues, Justin Michaud had not responded very
warmly to the gallant cavalry officer's advances. He was
thinking at the time of going into the army again, but in
the thick of the conference, which brought him frequently to
the Hotel Montcornet, Michaud set eyes on Madame's own
woman, and his ideas underwent a change.
The girl came of honest farmers in Alenc,on, and was
something of an heiress, for she had expectations twenty or
thirty thousand francs would be hers sooner or later; but her
father and mother, finding themselves in difficulties (a not
uncommon case with tillers of the soil who have married
young, and whose parents are still living), and consequently
unable to give their daughter any education, had entrusted
THE PEASANTRY 167
her to the young Countess, who placed her about her person.
Mile. Olympe Charel was not allowed to take her meals at the
servants' table. The Countess had her instructed in dress-
making and plain needlework, and was rewarded by the
whole-hearted fidelity of which a Parisian stands in need.
Olympe Charel was a pretty, rather plump Normande, with
a shade of gold in her fair hair, and bright eyes that lighted
up her face, but a delicate, haughtily curved nose was perhaps
one of her most striking characteristics, and a certain maid-
enliness, in spite of the Spanish curves of her figure. She
had all the air of distinction which a young girl, of extrac-
tion somewhat above the laboring class, can acquire from
contact with a mistress who admits her to a certain degree
of intimacy. She was well-mannered and becomingly dressed,
expressed herself well, and carried herself with ease. Mi-
chaud soon fell in love, and the more readily when he learned
that his fair one would have a prett}^ fortune some day.
It was the Countess who made difficulties. She was Tin-
willing to lose a maid so useful to her; but when Montcornet
unfolded his, plans for the Aigues, nothing was wanting but
the parents' consent for the marriage to take place, and that
consent was promptly given.
Michaud, like his master, regarded his wife as a superior
being, to be obeyed without reservation. He saw before him
all the happiness for which a soldier longs when he leaves the
army a quiet life, plenty of out-door occupation, and just
sufficient bodily weariness to make rest delightful. Midland's
courage was established beyond cavil, yet he had never re-
ceived any serious wound, and had had no experience of the
physical suffering which sours many a veteran's temper.
Like all really strong natures he was equable, and his wife
gave him unbounded love. Their life at the lodge had been
one long honeymoon, with no discordant note in their sur-
roundings to break in upon their happiness. Kare fortune !
Not always do the circumstances of our outward life har-
monize with the life of the inner self.
The scene was so picturesque that the Countess stopped
168 THE PEASANTRY
Blondet and the Abbe Brossette. As they stood, they could
see the charming Mme. Michaud without being seen by her.
"I always come this way when I walk in the park," the
Countess said in a whisper; "I like to look at the hunting -
lodge and its pair of turtle-doves; it is like some favorite
beautiful view for me." She leant on Emile Blondet's arm,
that he might feel the meaning underlying her words, that
where speech fell short touch might convey a subtle signifi-
cance which women will divine.
"I wish I were a gate-keeper at the Aigues !" exclaimed
Blondet, with a smile. . . . "Why, what is it ?" he added,
as a shade of sadness crossed the lady's face at those words.
Whenever womankind have something weighing on their
minds, they will tell you hypocritically that it is nothing.
"But possibly the thought that preys upon us would seem
very trifling to you, though to us it is terrible. I, for my own
part, envy Olympe her lot "
"Wishes are heard in heaven!" said the Abbe Brossette,
with a smile that relieved the solemnity of his words.
Something in Olympe's attitude and expression told Mme.
de Montcornet of anxiety and fears, and she too grew anxious.
A woman can read another woman's thoughts from the way
she draws the needle in and out, and, indeed, the head-for-
ester's wife, in her pretty pink dress, her hair coiled daintily
about her head, seemed to be turning over sad thoughts in
her mind, thoughts but little in keeping with her dress, her
work, and the sunny day. Now and again she looked up and
fixed unseeing eyes on the gravel paths or the green thickets,
and the anxious expression on her fair forehead was the more
artlessly displayed because she thought herself unobserved.
''And I was envying her ! What can darken her thoughts ?"
the Countess said, looking at the cure.
"Can you explain, madame," said the Abb6, speaking softly,
"how it is that our most perfect bliss is always troubled by
dim forebodings ?"
"Cure," said Blondet, smiling, "you permit yourseh* Del-
She "eaut ou Emile Bloudet's arm
THE PEASANTRY 169
phic answers. 'Nothing is stolen, everything is paid for,'
so Napoleon said."
"Such a saying in the Emperor's mouth becomes a gener-
alization wide as humanity," said the Abbe.
"Well, Olympe, what is the matter, child?" asked the
Countess, stepping in front of the others towards her ex-
waiting-maid. "You look dreamy and thoughtful. Is it
possible that there has been a tiff at home ?"
Mme. Michaud rose to her feet. Her face wore a different
"I should dearly like to know what has brought the shadow
over that brow, my child," said Emile Blondet paternally,
"when we are almost as nicely housed here as the Comte
d'Artois at the Tuileries. This is like N a nightingale's nest
in a thicket. And have we not the bravest man of the Young
Guard for a husband, a fine fellow, who loves us to distrac-
tion? If I had known the advantages Montcornet offers you
here, I would have left off writing padding for newspapers,
and turned head-keeper myself!"
"Oh, this is not the place for any one with your genius,
sir !" said Olympe, smiling back at him, as if he and she were
"Why, my dear little woman, what is the matter?" asked
"Well, then, my lady, I am afraid "
"Afraid! of what?" the Countess asked quickly. The
words put her in mind at once of Mouche and Fourchon.
"Afraid of the wolves ?" suggested Emile, making a warn-
ing sign which Olympe failed to understand.
"No, sir, it is the peasants. In Perche, where I was born,
there certainly were a few bad characters. But I could not be-
lieve that there would be such bad people, and so many of them
in a place, as there are here. I do not pretend to meddle in
Michaud's business, but he trusts the peasants so little that
he goes armed in broad daylight if he is going through the
forest. He tells his men to be always on the lookout. Now
and again there are figures prowling about here; they mean
170 . THE PEASANTRY
no good. The other day I was going along by the wall to the
spring at the head of the little stream with the sandy bed,
which flows through the wood and out into the park through
the grating five hundred paces away. They call it the Silver
Spring, because Bouret (so they say) strewed silver spangles
in it. Do you know it, my lady ? Very well, then, there were
two women there washing clothes, just where the stream
crosses the footpath to Conches. I heard them talking;
they did not know that I was near. You can see our house
from the spot. The two old creatures were looking at it and
one said to the other, 'What a lot of expense they are going to
for him that has taken old Courtecuisse's place !' Then the
other one said, 'Wouldn't you have to pay a man well for
plaguing poor folk, #s he does ?' 'He will not plague them
long,' answered the first one ; 'this sort of thing must be put
a stop to. After all, we have a right to cut wood. Madame
des Aigues, that's gone, allowed us to take faggots. We have
done it these thirty years ; so it is an established right.' 'We
shall see how things go this winter,' the second one went on.
'My man has sworn, I know, by all that's sacred, that we shall
get our firewood, and that all the gendarmerie on earth shall
not hinder us, and that he will do it himself, and so much the
worse for them.' 'Lord sakes ! we must not die of cold, and
we must certainly bake our bread,' said the first woman.
'They don't want for nothing, they don't ! That blackguard
Michaud's little wife will be well taken care of !' In fact, my
lady, they said shocking things about me, and you, and M.
le Comte. Then at last they said that first the farm buildings
would be fired, and then the chateau "
"Pooh !" said Emile, "old wives' gossip. They used to rob
the General ; now they will not rob him any longer ; and they
are furious : that is all. Just bear in mind that the Govern-
ment is always the strongest everywhere, even in Burgundy;
and they would soon have a regiment of horse down here if
there was any occasion for it."
The cure behind the Countess was making signals to
Olympe to cut short the tale of fears, due surely to the second-
THE PEASANTRY 171
sight of strong love. When a soul finds its all in all in an-
other soul, it scans the whole horizon about that central figure
to discern the elements of the future. Love brings a woman
the presentiments which at a later day become the second-
sight of motherhood. Hence the melancholy and unaccount-
able moods of sadness which bewilder men. The great cares
and constant stir of life prevent this concentration in a man,
but for a woman all strong love becomes an active contempla-
tion more or less lucid, more or less profound, according to
"Come, child, show M. Emile over your house," said the
Countess. These new thoughts had put La Pechina out of
her mind, and she had quite forgotten the purpose of her
The inside of the house had been restored and brought into
harmony with the imposing exterior. An architect and work-
men had come from Paris (a slight warmly resented by Ville-
aux-Fayes), and the original partition walls were restored,
so that now there were, as at first, four rooms on the ground
floor. An old-fashioned balustraded wooden staircase rose
at the further end of the lobby, behind it lay the kitchen, and
on either side of it the two oak-paneled parlors with coats-of-
arms painted on the ceilings. The furniture had been chosen
to match these old-fashioned decorations by the artist who
had restored the rooms at the Aigues.
In those days it was not the custom to set an exaggerated
value on the wreckage of bygone centuries. The lumber
rooms of furniture-shops at Ville-aux-Fayes were full of old
high-backed tapestry-covered chairs in carved walnut wood,
console tables, old timepieces, tables, sconces, and woven
hangings, solid furniture worth half as much again as the
flimsy stuff turned out by the Faubourg Saint- Antoine. Two
or three cartloads of this old lumber, carefully chosen by the
aforesaid architect, and some disused furniture from the cha-
teau, had transformed the parlor at the Avonne gate into
something like an artist's creation. The dining-room had
been painted the color of the natural wood, a paper of the kind
known as Highland plaid covered the walls. Mme. Michaud
VOL. 10 37
172 THE PEASANTRY
had hung white green-fringed dimity curtains in the win-
dows, the mahogany chairs were covered with green stuff, and
two huge mahogany sideboards and a mahogany dining-table
completed the furniture. Prints of soldiers adorned the
walls. The keeper's guns were stacked on either side of the
porcelain stove. Eumor exaggerated these inexpensive glories
until they became the last word of oriental luxury. Strange
it was ! These things aroused Gaubertin's covetousness, and
when, in his own mind, he pulled the Aigues to pieces, he
reserved that palatial lodge for himself.
The three principal bedrooms occupied the first floor. Here
you beheld those muslin curtains associated in a Parisian's
mind with the peculiar notions and mental attitude of those
who conform to bourgeois standards. Here, if Mme. Michaud
had been left to herself, she would have had satin wall-papers.
Her own room contained a four-post bedstead, with a curving
head and coronal from which the embroidered muslin curtains
hung. The rest of the furniture was of the ordinary ma-
hogany, TJtrecht-vel vet-covered kind to be seen everywhere;
but the chimney-piece displayed an alabaster clock flanked
by two gauze-shrouded candlesticks and vases of artificial
flowers beneath glass shades the quartermaster's marriage-
gifts to his bride. The rooms in the roof where La Pechina,
the cook, and the man belonging to the establishment were
lodged, had also shared in the benefits of the restoration.
"Olympe, child, there is something else," said the Countess
(she had gone into Mme. Michaud's room, leaving Umile and
the cure, who went downstairs together, when they heard the
bedroom door close).
The Abbe Brossette had managed to get a word with Mme.
Michaud. So now, to avoid mentioning the fears which were
far more serious than her words had led them to suppose, she
made a mysterious communication which reminded Mme. de
Montcornet of the purpose of her visit.
"I love Michaud, my lady, as you know. Very well then,
would you be pleased to have a rival always with you in the
THE PEASANTRY 173
"Yes, my lady. That little gypsy you gave me to look
after has fallen in love with Michaud. She does not know it
herself, poor child ! . . . For a long while her behavior
was a mystery to me, but the mystery was cleared up a few
"A girl of thirteen !"
"Yes, my lady. And you will admit that a woman three
months advanced in pregnancy, who means to nurse her child
herself, may have fears. I could not tell you that before those
gentlemen, so I said things that meant nothing," the generous
woman added adroitly.
Olympe Michaud's anxiety on Genevieve Niseron's account
was exceedingly small, but she went in mortal terror for her
husband, and the peasants who had roused her fears took a
malicious delight in keeping them alive.
"And what opened your eyes ?"
"Nothing and everything !" Olympe answered, looking full
at the Countess. "Poor little thing, she is as slow as a tor-
toise over everything that I tell her to do, and as quick as a
lizard if Justin asks her for the least trifle. She quivers like a
leaf at the sound of my husband's voice; her face, when she
looks at him, is like the face of a saint rising up to heaven;
but she does not know what love is ; she does not suspect that
she is in love."
"Poor child !" said the Countess, unconscious that her smile
and tone revealed her thoughts. Mme. Michaud smiled an
answer to her young mistress' smile.
"Genevieve is glum, for instance, when Justin is out of the
house; if I ask her what she is thinking about, she says that
she is afraid of M. Eigou all rubbish ! She thinks that
every one is after her and she as black as the chimney flue !
When Justin is making his round of a night in the woods, the
child is every bit as nervous as I am. If I open the window
when I hear my husband's horse coming I can see a' light
in her room, which shows that La Pechina (as they call her)
is sitting up, waiting for him to come in. Like me, she does
not go to bed till he comes home."
1T4 THE PEASANTRY
"Thirteen years old!" said the Countess; "unfortunate
"Unfortunate?" echoed Olympe. "Oh! no. Her child's
passion will save her."
"From the fate of almost every girl of her age hereabouts.
She is not so plain-looking now since I have polished her up,
and there is something uncommon about her, something wild,
that men find taking. She has altered so much that you
would not know her, my lady. There is Nicolas, the son of
that abominable man at the Grand-I-V 'ert, and one of the
worst rogues in the place; he bears the child a grudge and
hunts her like game. You could scarcely believe that a rich
man like M. Eigou, who changes his servant every three years,
could persecute an ugly little girl of twelve, but it really
seems as if Mcolas Tonsard was after La Pechina; Justin
told me as much. It would be a shocking thing, for the
people here live just like beasts, but Justin and the two serv-
ants and I watch over the child; so be easy, my lady; she
never goes out except in broad daylight, and then she only
goes from here to the Conches gate. If by chance she should
fall into a trap, her feeling for Justin would give her strength
and will to resist, as a woman who cares about another can
resist a man she detests."
"I came here on her account," said the lady; "I had no
idea how much the visit was needed for your sake, for she
will not always be thirteen. The child will grow handsomer."
"Oh! I am quite sure of Justin, my lady," Olympe said,
smiling. "What a man! what a heart! If you only knew
how deep his gratitude is to the General, to whom (he says)
he owes his happiness ! He is only too devoted ; he would risk
his life as if he were in the army still ; he forgets that now he
may be a father."
"Well," said the Countess, with a glance that brought the
color into Olympe's face, "I was sorry to lose you; but now
that I see your happiness I have no regrets left. How sub-
lime and noble married love is !" she added, thinking aloud
THE PEASANTRY 175
the thought which she had not dared to utter in the Abbe's
presence. Virginie de Troisville stood lost in musings, and
Olympe Michaud respected her mistress' mood.
"Let us see," the Countess said, speaking like one who
awakes from a dream. "Is this little one honest ?"
"As honest as I am myself, my lady/'
"As a tomb."
"Has she a grateful nature ?"
"Oh, my lady, she has fits of humility, signs of an angelic
nature, she comes and kisses my hands and says things that
would amaze you. 'Is it possible to die of love?' she asked
me the day before yesterday. 'What makes you ask me that ?'
said I. 'I wanted to know if it was a disease.' "
"Did she say that ?" exclaimed the Countess.
"If I could remember all that she says, I could tell you
much stranger things than that," said Olympe. "It looks
as if she knows more about it than I do."
"Do you think, my dear, that she might take your place?
for I cannot do without an Olympe," said the Countess, with
something like sadness in her smile.
"Not yet, my lady, she is too young; in two years' time
she might. Then, if she must go away, I will let you know.
She must be trained first; she knows nothing of the world.
Genevieve's grandfather, old Niseron, is one of those men
who would have his throat cut sooner than tell a lie ; he would
die of hunger sooner than touch anything entrusted to him.
He holds to his opinions, and his granddaughter has been
brought up in the same way of thinking. La Pechina would
think herself your equal, for the good man has made a Eepub-
lican of her, as he puts it; just as old Fourchon has made a
vagabond of Mouche. I myself laugh at these flights, but
you might be annoyed by them. She would worship you for
your kindness, but she would not look up to you as above her
in station. How can it be helped ! She is as wild as a swal-
low. The mother, too, counts for something in all this."
''Then who was the mother?"
176 THE PEASANTRY
"Do you not know the story, my lady ? Oh, well, old Nise-
ron, the sacristan at Blangy, had a son, a fine strapping
young fellow he was, they say, and he was drawn by the great
requisition. iToung Niseron was still only a gunner in 1809,
in a regiment stationed in the heart of Illyria and Dalmatia.