the game, Genevieve's mother came to bring her home, and the
child quite forgot to hang the bellows from the nail again.
For a whole week Arsene and her aunt looked for the bel-
lows, then they too "gave it up;" it is possible to live with-
out a pair of bellows, the old cure blew up his fire with an
old ear-trumpet, made in times when everybody had one,
which proves beyond a doubt that the cure's ear-trumpet
had belonged to some courtier of the time of Henry III.
at length, about a month before the aunt died, the Abbe
Mouchon, the cure from Soulanges, and the whole Niseron
family came to dinner at the parsonage, and the housekeeper
broke out into renewed jeremiads over the bellows which had
so mysteriously disappeared.
"Eh!" cried little Genevieve Mseron, bursting out laugh-
ing. "Why, I hid them in Arsene's bed a fortnight ago; if
she had made her bed, the great lazy thing, she would have
In 1791 every one was free to laugh; but the deepest silence
followed the laughter.
"There is nothing to laugh at," said the old housekeeper;
"Arsene has been sitting up with me since my illness began."
In spite of this explanation, the cure of Blangy looked dag-
gers at Mme. Niseron and her husband, such a look as a
priest can give when he thinks that a trap has been laid for
Then the housekeeper died, and Dom Eigou managed to
Copyright, 1900, by J. D. A.
THE PEASANTRY 225
exasperate the Abbe Niseron against his nephew to such pur-
pose that Frangois Niseron was disinherited by a will made
in Arsene Pichard's favor.
All this had happened long ago, but in 1823 grateful senti-
ment still led Eigou to blow the fire with the ear-trumpet,
and the pair of bellows still hung from the nail.
Mme. Mseron doted on her little girl, and when the child
died in 1794, the mother followed her within the year. When
the cure died, Citizen Eigou took the burden of Arsene's con-
cerns upon himself by taking her to wife. The sometime
lay brother from the abbey attached himself to Eigou as a
dog does to a master, and in his own person combined the
offices of groom, dairyman, gardener, body-servant, and stew-
ard to this sensual Harpagon.
Eigou's daughter Arsene was married (without a portion)
to the public-prosecutor, Soudry junior; she inherited some
share of her mother's good looks, together with her father's
Eigou had reached the age of sixty-seven. For thirty years
he had not known illness; nothing seemed to shake health
that might well be called insolent. He was tall and spare.
There were brownish circles about his eyes, and the eyelids
were almost black. In the morning, when he exhibited a
red, wrinkled, morocco-grained throat, his resemblance to
a condor was but the more strikingly complete by reason of
a nose of sanguine hue, immensely long, and very sharp at
the tip. He was almost bald, the curious conformation of
the back of his head would have alarmed any one who under-
stood its significance ; for that long ridge-shaped prominence
indicates a despotic will. The grayish eyes, half veiled by
membranous webs of eyelids, were made to play a hypocrite's
part. Two locks of hair, of no particular color, and so scanty
that they failed to hide the skin beneath, hung about the
large, pointed, rimless ears : f a noticeable defect this last, for
it is a certain sign of cruelty that is, a love of inflicting
mental (not physical) pain when it does not indicate men-
tal unsoundness. An exaggeratedly wide mouth and thin
226 THE PEASANTRY
lips betrayed their owner for an undaunted trencherman
and a valiant drinker by a certain droop at the corners, where
two comma-shaped slits slobbered perpetually while he ate or
talked. Heliogabalus must have looked like that.
His dress never varied. He always wore a long blue over-
coat with a military collar, a black stock, a pair of trousers
and a roomy waistcoat of black cloth. He had hobnails put
in the heavy soles of his walking shoes, and in cold weather
he wore additional soles, knitted by his wife in winter even-
ings. Annette and her mistress also knitted their master's
Rigou's baptismal name was Gregoire, a circumstance
which suggested puns that his circle of acquaintance still
found irresistibly amusing, in spite of thirty years of hard
wear. He was usually saluted as "Grig" or "Rigadoon/' or
(and most, frequently of all) as Grigou (G. Rigou) cur-
Want of opposition and absence of any public opinion had
favored the old Benedictine's favorite pursuits. No one
would imagine from the brief outline sketch of his character
how far he had advanced in the science of selfishness, of ma-
terial comfort, and sensual enjoyment of every kind. In the
first place, he took his meals apart. His wife and Annette
waited upon him, and then sat down to table in the kitchen
with Frere Jean while the master of the house digested his
meal, slept off his wine, and read the paper.
In the country no periodical is known by a specific name ;
it is always spoken off as "the paper."
Dinner, breakfast, and supper were alike composed of
dishes exquisitely prepared with the culinary skill in which
a cure's housekeeper excels the rest of her sisterhood. Mme.
Rigou herself, for instance, churned twice a week. Cream
entered into every sauce. Vegetables, gathered at the last
moment, were transferred as it were straight from the gar-
den into the pot. Parisians are so accustomed to garden
stuff which has lain sweltering in a shop exposed to the genial
influences of the sun, the tainted air of city streets, and the
THE PEASANTRY 227
greengrocer's watering-can, all promotive of a specious fresh-
ness, that they have no idea of the delicate, fugitive flavors
of vegetable products when eaten in some sort "alive."
The Soulanges butcher supplied his best meat, under pen-
alty of losing the redoubtable Eigou's custom. The poultry
were reared at the house, to ensure superlative excellence.
A kind of hypocritical care was likewise expended on
everything that conduced to Eigou's comfort. The deeply-
versed Thelemist might wear slipppers of coarse-looking
leather, but within they were lined with the softest lamb's-
wool. His coat might be rough and coarse, for it never
touched his skin, but his shirts (always washed at home)
were of the finest Frisian lawn. The wine of the country
was good enough for his wife, Annette, and Frere Jean
Eigou kept some of his own vintage for this purpose but
his own private cellar was stocked like a Fleming's; the
noblest wines of Burgundy were tightly packed among wines
from the Ehone, and Bordeaux, Champagne, and Eoussillon,
and Spain. All these were purchased ten years in advance,
and bottled by Frere Jean. The liqueurs from the Indies
bore the name of Mme. Amphoux ; the money-lender had laid
in sufficient of these from the wreckage of a Burgundian
chateau to last him the term of his natural life.
Eigou ate and drank like Louis XIV., one of the largest
consumers on record; the wear and tear of a life more than
voluptuous betrayed itself in this constant demand for re-
pairs. Yet while he denied himself nothing, he was a keen
and hard bargain-driver; he would haggle over every trifle
as only a churchman can haggle. He did not trouble himself
overmuch, shrewd monk that he was, with precautions
against cheating; he provided himself with a sample before-
hand, and had the agreement made out in writing, but when
the wine or the provisions were despatched he gave the senders
notice that if the bulk did not correspond in every way with
the sample he should refuse delivery.
Frere Jean, who looked after the fruit, had set himself to
acquire the art of keeping the finest "orchard stuff" in the
228 THE PEASANTRY
department through the winter. Eigou had pears and apples,
and occasionally grapes, at Easter.
Never was prophet on the borderland of deity more blindly
obeyed than Eigou in every smallest whim. At a twitch of
those heavy eyelids, his wife, Annette, and Frere Jean quaked
for mortal fear, and of the very multiplicity of his demands
he forged the chains that bound his three slaves. At every
moment of their lives those hapless creatures felt conscious
that they were watched, that they were under an overseer's
lash ; and at length they had come to take a kind of pleasure
in the incessant round of toil ; they were too hard-worked to
feel bored, and this man's comfort was the one all-absorbing
thought that filled their lives.
Annette was the tenth in a succession of comely maid-
servants since the year 1795. Eigou hoped and meant that
similar relays should mark his passage to the tomb. Annette
was sixteen years old when she came; at the age of nineteen
she must go. Every one of these damsels, chosen from
Auxerre, Clamecy and the Morvan with fastidious care, had
been beguiled by bright prospects. But Mme. Eigou clung
obstinately to life, and invariably when the three years were
out some squabble brought about by the girl's insolence to
her unhappy mistress made it imperatively necessary to part
with her. Annette was a masterpiece of delicate beauty,
bright and piquante, worthy to wear a ducal coronet. She
was a clever girl moreover. Eigou knew nothing of the un-
derstanding between Annette and Jean-Louis Tonsard,
which proves that he was smitten with the one pretty dam-
sel to whom ambition had suggested the idea of flattering the
lynx by way of throwing dust in his eyes.
The uncrowned Louis XV. on his side was not wholly
faithful to the pretty Annette. The peasants borrow to buy
land beyond their means; Eigou held oppressive mortgages
on these properties, and the result of it was that he made a
harem of the whole valley from Soulanges to a distance of
fifteen leagues beyond Conches in the direction of Brie, and
THE PEASANTRY 229
this at no cost to himself. He needed only to grant stay of
proceedings as the price of the fleeting pleasures on which age
often wastes its substance.
This sybarite's life, therefore, cost him almost nothing,
and Bouret himself could scarce have surpassed it. Eigou's
white slaves cut his hay and gathered his harvests, and
brought and stacked his firewood. A peasant thinks little of
giving his labor, especially if he can put off the evil day of
payment of interest in that way; and though Eigou always
demanded small money payments as well for a few months'
grace, he squeezed some manual service out of his debtors
into the bargain. They submitted to this forced labor, this
corvee in all but name, and thought that it cost them noth-
ing because they had not to put their hands into their pockets.
It sometimes happened that a peasant paid more than the
original sum as interest on the capital lent.
Deep as a monk, silent as a Benedictine in travail of his
chronicle, astute as a priest, shifty as every miser is bound
to be, yet always keeping on the windward side of the law,
Eigou might have made a Tiberius in ancient Eome, a Eiche-
lieu in the days of Louis XIII., or a Fouche if he had had am-
bition enough to assist the Convention; but in his wisdom
he chose to be a Lucullus in private life, a miser-sensualist.
Hatred gave zest to this occupation of harassing the Count;
he had every means of doing it thoroughly, and it found him
mental employment. He could move the peasants at his
will by secret wires, and he enjoyed the game that he played.
It was like a living chess-tournament, all the pawns were
alive; knights rode about on horseback, bishops babbled like
old Fourchon, the towers of a feudal castle glittered in the
sun, and the queen was maliciously giving check to the king.
Every day as Eigou rose he looked out of his window at
the stately roof of the Aigues ; he could see the smoke rising
from the lodges by those lordly gateways, and to himself he
would mutter, "All this shall be pulled down, I will dry up
the streams, and cut down the shady forest." And while he
hunted his large quarry he had a more insignificant prey.
230 THE PEASANTRY
The chateau was to fall, but the renegade flattered himself
that he would murder the Abbe Brossette by pin-pricks.
It is only necessary to add, by way of a final touch to the
portrait, that the sometime monk made a practice of going
to mass, regretting that his wife continued to live, and mani-
festing a desire to be reconciled with the Church so soon as
he should be a widower. He greeted the Abbe Brossette defer-
entially when they met, speaking suavely, never allowing his
temper to get the better of him. Indeed, generally speaking,
every man who has been- connected with the Church appears
to possess the long-suffering of an insect. To her discipline
her servants owe a sense of decorum which has been signally
lacking among the Frenchmen of the last twenty years, and
which those who look upon themselves as well-bred men do
not always possess. When the Revolution shook ecclesiastics
out of their convents and threw them upon the world, the
children of the Church gave proof of their superior training
by a coolness and reticence which never forsook them even in
That little matter of the will in 1792 had opened Gau-
bertin's eyes to the depths of guile concealed by that face,
with its taint of guileful hypocrisy, and from that time forth
he made a confidant of the fellow-worshiper of the Golden
Calf. When the firm of Leclercq was founded he gave Eigou
a hint to invest fifty thousand francs in the venture and
guaranteed the undertaking. Rigou became a sleeping part-
ner of so much the more consequence because he left his
money at compound interest. At the present time his in-
terest in the house amounted to a hundred thousand francs,
although in 1816 he had drawn out about eighty thousand
to put into the funds, an investment which brought him in
seventeen thousand francs per annum. Lupin knew of his
own knowledge that Rigou had at least a hundred and fifty
thousand francs lent out in mortgages for small amounts
on large bits of property. Ostensibly the money-lender de-
rived a net income of fourteen thousand francs or thereabouts
from land. Altogether, it was pretty plain that Rigou's in-
THE PEASANTRY 231
come must amount to something like forty thousand francs,
but his capital was an unknown x, a fourth term in a propor-
tion sum which baffled arithmetic, and the devil alone knew
the ins and outs of the jobbery in which Eigou and Langlume
The terrible money-lender reckoned on another score of
years of life, and had invented a set of hard-and-fast rules
for his guidance in business. He never lent a farthing to
a peasant unless the man was a purchaser of seven acres at the
least, and had actually paid down one-half of the purchase-
money. Clearly Eigou was well aware of the weak spot in
our legislation with regard to the expropriation of small par-
cels of land, and of the danger to the Inland Eevenue De-
partment and the land-owning interest arising from the ex-
cessive sub-division of property. Where is the sense of suing
a peasant for the value of a single furrow when the man has
but five furrows altogether? The eyes of individual interest
will always see twenty-five years ahead of the furthest vision
of any legislative assembly. What a lesson for a nation! A
law that is not a dead letter always springs from the mighty
brain of a single man of genius, it is not made by laying nine
hundred heads together; no matter how able the men may
be, taken apart, they dwarf each other in a crowd. After all,
in Eigou's rule is there not the right principle ? What better
means have we of putting a stop to the present state of things,
when land-owning is reduced to an absurdity, and a square
yard of soil is divided into halves and thirds, and quarters
and tenths, as in the commune of Argenteuil, which numbers
thirty thousand parcels of land?
Such reforms, however, demand co-operation as wide-
spread as the arrangement which oppressed this arrondisse-
ment. As Eigou found Lupin about one-third of the total
amount of legal business which he transacted, it was natural
that the Soulanges notary should be Eigou's faithful ally.
In this way the pirate could add the amount of illegal interest
to the capital in the bond, and if the borrower was a married
man he was careful to make husband and wife jointly and
232 THE PEASANTRY
severally responsible. The peasant, overjoyed to have but
five per cent to pay, so long as the loan was undischarged,
always hoped to rid himself of the debt by unsparing toil,
and by high farming which raised the value of Eigou's se-
This is the real secret of the wonders worked by the "spade
husbandry" that deludes superficial economists, a political
blunder which sends French money into Germany to pay for
horses. That animal is in process of extinction in France,
while the grazing and breeding of horned cattle has fallen off
to such an extent that butcher meat will soon be beyond the
reach, not merely of the working population, but also of the
class above them.*
So sweat poured for Eigou from many a brow between
Conches and Ville-aux-Fayes, and Eigou was respected by
everybody; while the General, who paid his workers well
and was the one man- who brought money into the country,
was cursed for his pains and hated as the rich man is hated
of the poor. Would such a state of things be comprehensible
but for the foregoing bird's-eye view of Mediocracy ?
Fourchon had spoken truth when he said that the bourgeois
had taken the place of the seigneurs. Peasant-proprietors
of the Courtecuisse type were the serfs- of a modern Tiberius
in the valley of the Avonne, just as, in Paris, the manufac-
turer without capital must slave for the large capitalist's
Soudry followed Eigou's example. His area extended from
Soulanges to Ville-aux-Fayes, and five leagues beyond; the
two money-lenders had divided the district between them.
Gaubertin's greed was on a grander scale. N"ot merely did
he himself avoid competition with his associates, but he di-
verted the capital of Ville-aux-Fayes from these profitable
local investments. The power exercised at elections by this
triumvirate may be imagined when nearly every voter's for-
tunes depended upon his complacence.
Hatred, ability, and command of money this was the for-
* See Le Curt de Village,
THE PEASANTRY 233
midable triangular array of the enemy entrenched by the
Aigues, an enemy who watched all the General's movements,
an enemy in constant communication with sixty to eighty
small proprietors, each of whom had relatives or connections
among the peasantry, who feared one and all of them as
debtors fear a creditor.
Eigou was a Tonsard of a larger growth. Tonsard lived
by plain theft. Eigou grew fat on legalized robbery. Both
were fond of good living; both men were essentially of the
same species, but the one was nature uncultivated, the other,
nature submitted to the sharpening discipline of the cloister.
It was about four o'clock that afternoon when Vaudoyer
left the Grand-I-Vert to ask counsel of the ex-mayor, and
Eigou dined at four. Vaudoyer, finding the house door shut,
peered in between the window-curtains.
"M. Eigou !" he called. "It is I Vaudoyer/'
Frere Jean came out of the yard gate in another moment,
and bade him come in with him.
"Come into the garden," said he, "the master has com-
The "company" was none other than Sibilet, who had come
under the pretext of arriving at an understanding with
regard to Brunei's recent notice of judgment ; but as a matter
of fact the pair were discussing a very different matter. He
had come in just as the usurer was finishing his dessert.
A dazzling white cloth was spread on the square table
(Eigou insisted on clean table-linen every day, caring little
for the trouble given to his wife 'and Annette), and the visitor
beheld the arrival of a bowl heaped up with strawberries and
apricots, peaches, figs, almonds, and all the fruits in season,
served, almost as daintily as at the Aigues, upon green vine-
leaves, laid on white porcelain plates.
When Sibilet came into the room, Eigou bade him bolt the
double doors (an arrangement adapted to every room in the
house, with the double object of keeping out draughts and
deadening sounds). Then he inquired what urgent business
234 THE PEASANTRY
had brought the steward in broad daylight, when it was sa
much simpler and safer to come after dark.
"It is this," said Sibilet. "Here is the Upholsterer talking
of going to Paris to see the Keeper of the Seals. He is capa-
ble of doing you a lot of harm ; he may ask to have your son-
in-law displaced, or for a change of judges and president too
at Ville-aux-Fayes, more particularly when he comes to read
the notice of this new decision in your favor. He is in a
towering rage. He is shrewd too, and the Abbe Brossette who
advises him is one that can enter the lists against you and
Gaubertin. The priests are in power just now, and his lord-
ship the bishop is very friendly with the Abbe Brossette. The
Countess said something about speaking to her cousin (the
Comte de Casteran) concerning Nicolas. Then Michaud is
beginning to see how the land lies."
"You are afraid," said Rigou. The words were spoken
quite blandly, but the glance that accompanied them was ap-
palling; suspicion brought something like a gleam into the
dull eyes. "Are you calculating whether it would pay you
better to throw in your lot with M. le Comte de Monteornet ?"
"I don't exactly see how I am to come honestly by four
thousand francs every year to put by, as I have been doing
these last five years," said Sibilet bluntly. "M. Gaubertin
has promised me all sorts of fine things, but matters are com-
ing to a head, there will certainly be a collision, and it is one
thing to promise, and another to keep your promise after the
battle is won."
"I will speak to him," said Rigou quietly, "and in the
meantime this is what I should say if it were any business
of mine. Tor the last five years you have been taking four
thousand francs a year to M. Rigou, and he, worthy man,
is paying you seven and a half per cent per annum. At this
present moment you have twenty-seven thousand francs stand-
ing to your credit, for the money has been accumulating at
compound interest ; but as there is a certain document under
private seal extant, and M. Rigou has a duplicate copy, the
steward of the Aigues will be dismissed on the day when the
THE PEASANTRY 235
Abbe Brossette lays that document before the Upholsterer,
more especially if an anonymous letter is sent beforehand to
warn him that his steward is playing a double game. So
you would do better to hunt with us, without asking for your
bone in advance, and so much the more so since that M.
Kigou is not legally bound to pay you either compound in-
terest or seven and a half per cent on your money; and if
you tried to recover, he would let you sue him and pay the
money into court; and before you could touch your twenty
thousand francs the matter would be spun out with delays
till judgment was given in the court of Ville-aux-Fayes.
If you behave yourself discreetly, when M. Eigou is owner
of your house at the Aigues property, you might keep on there
with thirty thousand francs of your own, and thirty thousand
more which he might feel disposed to lend you; and that
would be so much the better for you, because as soon as the
Aigues is split up into little lots, the peasants will be down
upon them like poverty upon the world.' That is what M.
Gaubertin might say to you; but for my own part I have
nothing to say, it is no business of mine. Gaubertin and I
have our grounds for complaint against this child of the
people who beats his own father, and we are carrying out our
own ideas. If friend Gaubertin needs you, I myself have need
of nobody, for every one is very much at my service. As to the
Keeper of the Seals, 'tis an office that changes hands pretty
often, while some of us are always here."
"At any rate, you have had warning," said Sibilet, feeling
that he had been a consummate ass.
"Of what?" demanded Eigou, with artful subtlety.
"Of the Upholsterer's intentions," said the steward meekly ;
"he has gone to the prefecture in a towering rage."
"Let him go. If Montcornet and his like did not wear
out carriage-wheels, what would become of the coach-
"I will bring you three thousand francs to-night at eleven
o'clock," said Sibilet; "but you might help me on a little
by making over one of your mortgages to me ; one where the
VOL. 10 41
236 THE PEASANTRY
man is getting behind-hand one that might bring me one