in question is expanded into an empire. He subscribed to
his theories with his blood ; his only son went to the frontier :
he did more ; for them he made the sacrifice of his pecuniary
interests, that final immolation of self. He was the nephew
and sole heir of the old ure of Blangy, who died and left all
his money to pretty Arsene, his servant-girl; and though
Niseron, as a tribune, was all-powerful in the district and
might have helped himself to his heritage, he respected the
wishes of the dead, and accepted the poverty which came upon
him as swiftly as the decadence on his Republic.
Not a groat, not a branch of a tree belonging to another
passed into his hands. If this sublime Republican could have
founded a school the Republic would have been accepted. He
declined to buy the National lands, denying the Republic the
right of confiscation. In response to the demands of the Com-
mittee of Public Safety he was determined that the manhood
of the citizens should work for the holy fatherland the mira-
cles that political jugglers tried to effect with gold coin. The
man of antiquity publicly upbraided Gaubertin senior with
his treacherous double-dealing, with winking at corruption,
with picking and stealing. He roundly rated the virtuous
Mouchon, that Representative of the People, whose virtue
mainly consisted in his incapacity, as was the case with plenty
of his like who, strong with the might of a whole nation, with
absolute command of the most enormous political resources
that ever nation put at the disposition of its rulers, attained
fewer great achievements with the strength of a people, than
a Richelieu with the weakness of a king. For these reasons
Citizen Niseron became. a living reproach to everybody else,
and before long the good soul was overwhelmed and buried
under the avalanche of oblivion by the terrible formula,
"Nothing pleases him !" a catchword in favor with those
who have grown fat on sedition.
This "peasant of the Danube" returned under his own roof
THE PEASANTRY 2&1
at Blangy. He watched his illusions vanish one by one, saw
his Kepublic become an appendage of the Emperor, and sank
into penury under the eyes of Eigou, who deliberately ruined
him with hypocritical regret. Do you ask why ? Jean-Fran-
gois Niseron would not take a penny of Eigou. Eeiterated
refusals had taught the wrongful inheritor of old Niseron's
goods the depth of the scorn with which the rightful heir
regarded him. And, to crown all, the icy contempt had just
been succeeded by the fearful threat as to the little grand-
daughter when the Abbe Brossette mentioned her to the
The old man had written a history of the twelve years of
the Eepublic. It was a history written to suit his own no-
tions; it was full of the grandiose traits for which those
heroic times will be remembered for ever. The good man
shut his eyes to all the scandals, slaughter, and spoliation;
he always dwelt admiringly on the self-sacrifice, the Vengeur,
the "patriotic gifts," the enthusiasm of the people on the
frontiers ; he went on with his dream the better to sleep.
The Eevolution made many poets like old Niseron, poets
who sang their songs within our borders or in our armies, in
their inmost souls, in the broad light of day, in many a deed
done unseen amid the storm-clouds of those times ; even as in
the days of the Empire the wounded left forgotten on the
field would cry "Long live the Emperor !" before they died.
This sublimity is a part of the very nature of France.
The Abbe Brossette respected Niseron's harmless convic-
tions. The old man in the simplicity of his heart had been
won by a chance phrase : "The true Eepublic," the priest had
said, "is to be found in the Gospel." And the old Ee-
publican carried the crucifix ; and he wore the vestment, half-
black, half-red; and he wa decorous and serious in church,
and he lived by the triple functions which he fulfilled, thanks
to the Abbe Brossette, who tried to give the good man not
a living, but enough to keep him from starving.
The old Aristides of Blangy said but little, like all noble
dupes who wrap themselves round in the mantle of resigna-
tion ; but he never failed to reprove evil-doing, and the peas-
202 THE PEASANTRY
ants feared him as thieves fear the police. At the Grand-I-
Vert they always made much of him, but he did not go there
half-a-dozen times in a year. He would execrate the lack of
charity in the rich, their selfishness revolted him, and the
peasants always took this fibre in his nature for something
that he had in common with them. They used to say, "Old
Niseron is no friend to the rich folk, so he is one of us ;" and
a noble life received by way of civic crown the comment,
"Good Daddy Niseron ; there is not a better man !" He was
not seldom called in to settle disputes, and in person realized
the magic words, "the village elder."
In spite of his dire poverty he was exceedingly tidy in per-
son. He always wore breeches, thick striped stockings, iron-
bound shoes, the coat with big buttons that once was almost
a national costume, and the broad-brimmed felt hat such as
old peasants wear even now. On working days he appeared
in .a short blue jacket so threadbare that you could see the
manner of its weaving. There was a noble something that
cannot be described in his face and bearing, the pride of a
man who feels that he is free and worthy of his freedom.
In short, he wore clothes, and did not go about in rags.
"What has been happening out of the common, granny?
I heard you from the steeple," he remarked.
Then the old man heard the whole story of Vatel's frus-
tiated attempt; every one spoke at once after the fashion of
"If you did not cut the tree, Vatel was in the wrong; but
if you did cut the tree, you have done two bad things," pro-
nounced Father Niseron.
"Just take a drop of wine!" put in Tonsard, offering a
"Shall we set off?" asked Vermichel, looking at Brunei
"Yes. We can do without Daddy Fourchon; we can
take the deputy-mayor from Conches with us instead,"
said Brunet. "Go on ahead, I have a paper to leave at the
chateau; Daddy Rigou has gained his case, and I must give
notice of judgment." And Brunet, fortified by a couple
THE PEASANTRY 303
of nips of brandy, remounted his gray mare, with a good-day
to Father Niseron, for everybody in the valley looked up to
the old man.
No science, nay, no practised statistician, can obtain
statistics of the more than telegraphic speed with which news
spreads through country districts, no account of the ways by
which it crosses waste wildernesses (the standing reproach
of French administrators and French capital). It is a bit of
well-known contemporary history that a banker prince rode
his horses to death between the field of Waterloo and Paris
(for he, needless to say, was gaining what the Emperor had
lost to wit, a kingdom), yet after all he only reached the
capital a few hours ahead of the disastrous tidings. So
within an hour of the time when Granny Tonsard fell out
with Vatel a good many regular customers had dropped in
at the Grand-I-Vert.
The first to come was Courtecuisse. You would have found
it hard to recognize in him the jolly gamekeeper, the fat
Friar John, for whom it may be remembered his wife had
boiled the coffee and milk on a certain morning not so very
long back. He looked years older, he had grown thin and
wan, a dreadful object-lesson to eyes that took no heed of the
"He had a mind to go up higher than the ladder," so it
was said when anybody pitied the ex-keeper and blamed
Rigou ; "he wanted to turn master."
And, indeed, when Courtecuisse bought the Bdchelerie he
had meant to "turn master," and had boasted as much. His
wife went out collecting manure. Before daybreak she and
Courtecuisse were at work digging their richly-manured gar-
den plot, which brought in several successive crops in the
year, and yet they only just managed to pay Rigou the in-
terest due on the balance of the purchase-money. Their
daughter in service at Auxerre sent her wages to her father
and mother; but do what they might, and in spite of this
help, the balance was now due, and they had not a brass
204 THE PEASANTRY
Mme. Courtecuisse had been used to indulge now and again
in a bottle of spiced wine and sugared toast. Now she drank
nothing but water. Courtecuisse scarcely trusted himself in-
side the Grand-I-Vert lest he should be drawn into laying out
three-halfpence. He was no longer a person to be courted.
He had lost his free nips at the tavern, and like all fools he
whined about ingratitude. In fact he was going the way of all
peasants bitten with the wish to own land; he was ill-nour-
ished, and found the work heavier and heavier, as the food
"Courtecuisse has put too much in bricks and mortar," said
the envious. "He should have waited till he was master be-
fore he began to plant wall-fruit."
The simpleton had made improvements, brought the three
acres sold by Kigou into high cultivation, and lived in fear
of being turned out ! The man who once wore leather shoes
and sportsman's gaiters now went about in sabots, and
dressed no better than old Fourchon. And he laid the blame
of his hard life on the gentry at the Aigues ! Gnawing care
had made the once chubby, jovial little man so dull and sullen
that he looked like a victim of slow poison or some incurable
"What can be the matter with you, M. Courtecuisse ? Has
some one cut your tongue out?" asked Tonsard, when the
tale of the recent encounter had been told and the newcomer
"That would be a pity," said La Tonsard; "he has no call
to complain of the midwife who cut his tongue-string; she
made a good job of it."
"Thinking of ways to pay off M. Rigou freezes your gab,"
complained the old man, grown so much older in so short a
"Pooh !" said Granny Tonsard. "You have a good-looking
girl; she will be seventeen now; if she behaves wisely you will
easily settle with that old scribbler yonder
"We sent her away to old Mme. Mariotte at Auxerre two
years ago on purpose to keep her out of harm's way. I would
sooner die than let her "
THE PEASANTRY 205
"What a fool !" put in Tonsard. "Look at my girls : are
they dead? Any one who should say that they were not as
steady as stone images would have to answer for it to my
"It would be very hard to have to go out of the place yon-
der !" cried Courtecuisse, shaking his head. "I had sooner
some one paid me for shooting down one of those arminacs!"
"Oh, a girl would do better to save her father than to keep
her virtue till it mildews," retorted Tonsard. He felt a little
sharp tap on his shoulder as he spoke. It was Father Nise-
"That was not well said," began the old man. "A father
is the guardian of the honor of his family. It is just such
doings that draw down contempt on us, and they say that
the people are not fit to have liberty. The people ought to set
the rich an example of honor and civic virtues. You all sell
yourselves to Eigou for gold ; every one of you ! When you
do not give him your daughters, you sell your own manhood !
That is bad."
"Just see what Short Boots has come to !" said Tonsard.
"Just see what I have come to !" returned old Niseron. "I
sleep in peace ; there are no thorns in my pillow."
"Let him talk, Tonsard," said La Tonsard in her husband's
ear. "You know very well that that is his crotchet, poor
Bonnebault and Marie, and Catherine and her brother all
came in at that moment. All four were in a bad humor
over the failure of Nicolas' scheme, and Michaud's proposal
overheard by them had been the last straw. So Nicolas,
once under the paternal roof, broke into a frightful outburst
against the Aigues and the whole Michaud establishment.
"Here is the harvest beginning ! Well, now, I am not go-
ing away until I have lighted my pipe at their ricks," he
shouted, bringing down his fist with a bang on the table at
which he sat.
"There is no need to yelp like that before anybody and
everybody/' said Godain, pointing to old Niseron.
206 THE PEASANTRY
"If he were to tell tales, I would wring his neck like a
chicken's," put in Catherine. "He has had his day : a meddle-
some old fault-finder! Virtuous they call him! It is his
temperament, that is all !"
It was a strange and curious sight to see all the upturned
faces of the folk gathered together in that den, while Granny
Tonsard stood sentinel at the door, lest any one should over-
hear the talk over the liquor.
But the most alarming among all those faces belonged to
Godain, Catherine's wooer; the most alarming and yet the
least striking face in the tavern. Godain was a miser who
lacked gold a miser, that is, of the most pitiless kind; does
not the hoardless miser take precedence of the miser who
broods over his treasure? The latter looks within himself,
but the other gazes into the future with a dreadful fixity.
This Godain was a type which seemed to represent the most
numerous class among the peasantry. Godain was short, so
short that he had been exempted from military service. He
was naturally thin, and toil and the dull frugality which
saps the life of such insatiable workers as Courtecuisse had
still further dried him up. His little meagre face was lighted
by two yellow eyes, streaked with green threads, and specked
with brown. The greed of gain, of gain at any price, which
shone in them, was steeped in a cold-blooded sensuality; de-
sires once hot and vehement had cooled and hardened like
lava. The skin was strained tightly over the brown, mummy-
like temples, the hairs of a scanty beard grew here and there
among the wrinkles like cornstalks among the furrows. Noth-
ing wrung sweat from Godain; he reabsorbed his substance.
The sinewy, indefatigable hands like hairy claws might have
been made of old seasoned wood. He was barely seven-and-
twenty, yet there were white threads already among the rusty
As to dress, he wore a blouse, which gave glimpses through
the fastening of a coarse linen shirt, which to all appearance
he only changed once a month, and washed himself in the
Thune. His sabots were mended with scraps of old iron. It
THE PEASANTRY 207
was impossible to pronounce on the original material of his
trousers, for the darns and patches which covered it were
infinite. Finally, he wore a shocking cap, evidently picked
up on the doorstep of some tradesman's house in Ville-aux-
Godain was clear-sighted enough to see the value of tha
elements of latent fortune in Catherine. He meant to suc-
ceed Tonsard at the Grand-I-Vert, and with that end in view
he put forth all his cunning, all his power, to capture her.
He promised her that she should be rich, he promised
that she should have all the license which her mother had
taken; before he had finished he had promised his future
father-in-law a heavy rent for his tavern, five hundred francs
a year until the place was paid for ; Godain had had an inter-
view with Brunet, and on the heads of that interview he
hoped to pay in stamped paper. As a journeyman agricul-
tural implement maker, this gnome would work for the
plow-wright when work was plentiful; but he took the
highly-paid overtime jobs. He had invested some eighteen
hundred francs with Gaubertin, but not a soul knew of the
money, and he lived like a miserably poor man, lodging in
a garret in his master's house, and gleaning at harvest-time,
but he carried Gaubertin's receipt about him, sewn into the
band of his Sunday trousers, and saw it renewed each year;
each year the amount was a little larger, swelled by his sav-
ings and the interest.
"Eh! what's that to me?" shouted Nicolas, in reply to
Godain's prudent observation. "If I am to go for a soldier,
I would sooner that the sawdust drank my blood at once,
than give it drop by drop. And I will rid the neighborhood
of one of these arminacs which the devil has let loose upon
us." And with that he told the tale of the so-called plot which
Michaud had woven against him.
"Where would you have France look for her soldiers?" the
old man asked gravely. During the silence that followed on
Nicolas' hideous threat he had risen and faced the young
208 THE PEASANTRY
"A fellow serves his time in the army and comes back
again," said Bonnebault, curling his moustache.
Old Niseron saw that all the black sheep of the district
had come together; he shook his head and went out, leaving
a farthing with Mme. Tonsard to pay for his glass of wine.
There was a general stir of satisfaction among those who sat
drinking as soon as the good man had set foot on the steps.
It would have been plain to any onlooker that they all felt
constraint in the presence of this embodiment of their con-
"Well; now, what do you say to all this, hey ! Short Boots ?"
asked Vaudoyer, who suddenly appeared and heard the tale
of Vatel's exploit from Tonsard.
Courtecuisse (short shanks), whose name was nearly al-
ways transformed in this way into "short boots," clicked his
tongue against the roof of his mouth, and set down his glass
on the table.
"Vatel is in the wrong," he answered. "In the old mother's
place, I should bruise my ribs and take to my bed, I would
say I was ill, and I would summon the Upholsterer and his
keeper for sixty francs of damages. M. Sarcus would give
them to you."
"Anyhow, the Upholsterer would give the money to avoid
the fuss that might be made about it," said Godain.
Vaudoyer, ex-policeman, five feet six inches in height,
with a face pitted by the smallpox, and hollowed out after
the nutcracker pattern, held his peace, and looked dubious at
"Well, what now?" asked Tonsard, whose mouth watered
for those sixty francs. "What is ruffling you now, great
noodle ? Sixty francs to my mother would put me in the way
of making something out of it ! We will raise a racket for
three hundred francs, and M. Gourdon might as well go up
to the Aigues and tell them that mother's hip has been put
"And they would put it out for her," his wife went on;
"these things are done in Paris."
THE PEASANTRY 209
"That would cost too much," objected Godain.
"I have heard too much talk about the lawyers to feel sure
that things will go as you wish," Vaudoyer said at last; he
had often been present in court, and had assisted Ex-Ser-
geant Soudry. "At Soulanges it would be all right even now;
M. Soudry represents the Government, and there is no love
lost between him and the Upholsterer. But if you attack
Vatel, they will be sharp enough to defend the case ; and they
will say, 'The woman was in the wrong; she had a sapling
in her bundle, or she would have let the forester look into
her faggots on the road; she would not have run away; and
if anything happened to her, she has only her own misdoings
to blame for it.' No, it is not a case to be sure of."
"Did the master defend the case when I summoned him?"
said Courtecuisse. "Not he. He paid me."
"I will go to Soulanges if you like," said Bonnebault, "and
ask M. Gourdon, the registrar, what he thinks, and I will let
you know this evening if there is anything in it."
"You only want an excuse for going to see that great goose,
Socquard's girl," said Marie Tonsard, slapping Bonnebault
on the shoulder as if she meant to sound his lungs.
Just at that moment came a fragment of an old Bur-
gundian Christmas carol:
"A brave deed once He did, I wot,
Whenas our Lord did dine,
The water in the waterpot
He turned to Malmsey wine."
Everybody recognized Daddy Fourchon's voice, raised in a
ditty which must have been peculiarly pleasing to the old
man. Mouche piped an accompaniment in childish treble.
"Oh, they have had a blow-out!" Granny Tonsard called
out to her daughter; "your father is as red as a gridiron,
and the child is dyed the color of a vine-stem."
"Hail !" cried the old man, "you rascals are here in full
force ! Hail !" he added, turning suddenly on his grand-
210 THE PEASANTRY
daughter, who had her arms about Bonnebault. "Hail, Mary !
full of vices, Satan be with thee, cursed be thou above all
women, and the rest of it. Hail, fellows! You are caught
now ! You may say good-bye to your sheaves ! Here is news
for you! I told you so, I told you that the master yonder
would be one too many for you! Well, then, he will have
the law of you, and make you smart for it ! Ah ! see what
comes of measuring yourselves with the bourgeois ! The
bourgeois have made so many laws, that they have a law for
every little thing "
j Here an alarming hiccough suddenly gave a new direction
to the venerable orator's ideas.
"If Vermichel were here, I would blow down his throat;
he should know what Alicante means ! Ah ! that is a wine !
If I were not a Burgundian, I would be a Spaniard ! A wine
of God ! The Pope says mass with it, I know ! What a wine !
I am young again ! I say, Short Boots, if your wife were
here I think she would be young too ! Spanish wine beats
spiced wine ; no question about it ! There ought to be an-
other Revolution, only to clear out the cellars "
"But what is the news, dad?" asked Tonsard.
"There will be no harvest for the like of you. The Up-
holsterer will put a stop to the gleaning !"
"Stop the gleaning!" Every voice in the tavern went up
as one voice, dominated by the shrill notes of four women.
"Yes," piped Mouche ! "and he will issue a proclamation
by Groison, and have notices stuck up all over the canton;
and no one is to glean except those who have paupers' cer-
"And, get hold of the meaning of this" said Fourchon,
"other communes will not be allowed to sneak in."
''What's up?" said Bonnebault. "Neither my grand-
mother nor I, nor your mother, Godain, are to be allowed to
glean here? Pretty tricks these of the authorities!
Plague take them ! Why this General, your mayor, is a per-
fect heli-broke-loose "
"Are you going to glean all the same, Godain?" asked
THE PEASANTRY 211
Tonsard, turning to the plow-wright's assistant, who was
talking aside with Catherine.
"If asked Godain. "I have nothing; so I am a pauper,
and I shall ask for a certificate."
"Just tell me what they gave daddy for his otter, honey?"
said the comely mistress of the house. Mouche, sitting on
his aunt's knee, was quite overcome by the effort to digest
his late meal; his eyes were heavy with the two bottles of
wine consumed therewith, but he laid his head on his aunt's
neck, and murmured cunningly:
"I do not know ; but he has gold ! Keep me like a fight-
ing-cock for a month, and I might find out for you where he
hides his money, for he has a hoard somewhere."
"Father has gold !" said La Tonsard in low tones, meant
only for her husband, whose voice rose above the storm of
heated discussion in which the whole tavern joined.
"Hush !" cried the old sentinel. "Here's Groison !"
Deep silence prevailed in the tavern. When Groison might
be supposed to be out of earshot, Granny Tonsard gave the
signal, and again the discussion broke out : Would it be pos-
sible to glean as heretofore without a pauper's certificate?
"You will be made to obey, that is certain," said old Four-
chon, "for the Upholsterer has gone to see the prefect and
ask him to call the soldiers out to keep order. They will
shoot you down like dogs which we are !" wailed the old
man, struggling with the torpid influence which the Alicante
exerted on his tongue.
This second announcement made by Fourchon, preposter-
ous though it was, produced an effect. The audience grew
thoughtful; they quite believed that the Government was ca-
pable of massacring them without mercy. Bonnebault spoke :
"There was this sort of trouble round about Toulouse when
I was stationed there," said he. "We marched out, the peas-
ants were cut down and arrested. It was a joke to see them
trying to make a stand against regular troops. Ten of them
were sent off to the hulks afterwards and eleven more went
to jail, and it all came to nothing, ay ! A soldier is a soldier,
and has a right to cut you civilians down, gee whoa ! "
212 THE PEASANTRY
"What is the matter with you all," asked Tonsard; "you
are as scared as wild goats? Perhaps they will catch my
mother or my girls with something, will they? Some one is
going to be locked up, eh? Well, then, they will go to jail.
The Upholsterer will not put the whole neighborhood in jail.
And if he does, the King will feed them better than they feed
themselves; and they warm the cells in winter."
"You are simpletons !" bellowed old Fourchon. "It is bet-
ter to lie low, it is, than to fly in the man's face. If you do,