has a grudge against La Pechina, and is always on the watch
for her," shouted a shrill voice, "and that she will slip away
under your seigneur's hands, he would soon tear the tripes
out of the lot of you such as you are ; a pack of scoundrels at
"And if you play us such a trick, Aglae," yelled Marie Ton-
sard, "I'll do that to you which you will never tell to any
but the worms in your coffin.
Don't you meddle in Nicolas'
affairs, nor yet in mine with Bonnebault !"
Marie, urged by her grandmother, had followed Bonne-
bault on a spy's errand. Through the window at which Eigou
had stationed himself, she had seen Bonnebault displaying
his airs and graces for Mile. Socquard, who felt bound to
smile on a customer in return for his sufficiently agreeable
compliments. That smile had brought on the tempestuous
scene and a lightning flash of a revelation of no small value
"Well, Father Eigou, are you helping to wear out my prem-
ises?" It was Socquard's voice, and he clapped the money-
lender on the shoulder.
The saloon-keeper had just returned from an outhouse at
286 THE PEASANTRY
the end of the garden, whence such machinery as whirligigs,
see-saws, and weighing machines were being brought out to
be put in their places in the Tivoli for the delectation of the
public. Socquard had come up noiselessly, for he was shod
with the cheap yellow leather slippers which are sold in such
quantities in the provinces.
"If you had fresh lemons, I would take a glass of lemon-
ade," said Rigou in answer ; "it is hot this evening."
"But who is there squalling inside in such a way?" asked
Socquard, and looking through the window, he beheld his
daughter and Marie at close quarters.
"They are fighting for Bonnebault," said Rigou, with a
Socquard choked down a father's annoyance in the interests
of the saloon-keeper. The saloon-keeper thought it the more
prudent course to follow Rigou's example and listen to the
sounds from without; while the father in him yearned to
enter and declare that Bonnebault, though full of estimable
qualities as a customer, was absolutely worthless considered
as the son-in-law of a Soulanges notable. Yet, Father Soc-
quard had received but few offers of marriage for his daugh-
ter. The girl was twenty-two years old, and in height, weight,
and size she rivaled Mme. Vermichel, whose activity was a
standing marvel. A life behind a counter appeared to have
developed a tendency to corpulence, which Aglae inherited
from her father.
"What the devil has got the girls?" inquired Socquard of
"Oh," said the Benedictine, " 'tis a devil which the Church
has caught more often than any other."
For all answer Socquard fell to examining the painted bill-
iard cues on the wall between the windows. Patches of plas-
ter had dropped away, till the beholder was puzzled to un-
derstand how they had once been bound together.
At that very moment Bonnebault issued from the billiard-
room, cue in hand, and struck Marie smartly on the shoulder.
"You have made me miss my stroke," he cried, "but I shall
THE PEASANTRY 287
not miss you, and I shall keep on until you clap a stopper on
Socquard and Rigou thought it time to interfere. Both
of them went inside, and immediately, with a sound as of the
distant practice of a drum corps, there arose such a swarm
of flies that the room was darkened. After the first alarm,
however, the cloud of huge blue-bottles and bloodthirsty
smaller brethren, with a gadfly or two among them, settled
down again among a regiment of sticky-looking bottles on a
triple row of shelves so black with specks that the paint be-
neath was quite invisible.
Marie was crying. To be beaten by the man she loves be-
neath the eyes of a rival is a humiliation which no woman
will endure, no matter what her position in the social scale.
Indeed, the lower her rank, the more violent the expression
of her hatred. Marie Tonsard saw neither Socquard nor
Rigou. She sank upon a seat in gloomy and ferocious silence.
The old Benedictine eyed her euriously.
"Aglae," said Socquard, "go and find a fresh lemon, and
rinse a wineglass yourself."
"You did wisely to send your daughter away," said Rigou
in a low voice ; "she might perhaps have been killed in another
moment," and he glanced significantly at Marie Tonsard's
hand. She had caught up a stool, and was about to hurl it at
"Come, come ! Marie," said old Socquard, stepping in front
of her, "people do not come here to fling stools about, and if
you were to break my glasses there would be a bill which you
would not pay me in cow's milk
"Father Socquard, your daughter is a reptile. I am every
bit as good as she is, do you hear ! If you do not want Bonne-
bault for a son-in-law, it is time that you told him to go and
play billiards somewhere else; he is losing five francs every
At the first outburst of a flood of words, which were
shrieked aloud rather than spoken, Socquard took Marie by
the waist and flung her out at the door in spite of her cries
288 THE PEASANTRY
and struggles. He was not a moment too soon; Bonnebault
came out of the billiard-room for the second time, his eyes
"It shall not end like this !" screamed Marie Tonsard.
"You ! bow yourself out !" yelled Bonnebault ( Viollet had
thrown his arms about him to prevent violence). "Be off! or
I will never speak to you nor look at you again."
"You!" cried Marie, glancing at Bonnebault with fury in
her eyes. "Give me back my money first, and I will leave
you to Mademoiselle Socquard, if she is rich enough to keep
At this point Marie was frightened, for she saw that
Hercules-Socquard could scarcely master Bonnebault, and
with a tigress' spring she fled out into the road.
Kigou put Marie into his chaise to hide her from the furious
Bonnebault, whose voice reached the Soudry house across the
square; then, when Marie was hidden away, he returned for
his glass of lemonade, examining meanwhile the group formed
by Plissoud, Amaury, Viollet, and the waiter, who were all
endeavoring to calm Bonnebault.
"Come, hussar ! it is your turn," said Amaury, a short, fair-
haired, blear-eyed young man.
"And besides, she has gone away," said Viollet.
If ever surprise was expressed on human countenance, it
was visible in Plissoud's face when he discovered that the
usurer of Blangy, sitting at one of the tables while the quar-
rel went on, was paying more attention to him, Plissoud,
than to the two girls. The Clerk of the Court was thrown
off his guard, his face wore the peculiar startled look that
a man wears when he comes suddenly on another man against
whom he is plotting. He went abruptly back to the billiard-
"Good-day, Father Socquard," said Eigou.
"I will bring your carriage round," said Socquard; "take
"How could one get to know what they say over their bill-
iards?" said Rigou to himself; and just then he saw the
waiter's face in the looking-glass.
THE PEASANTRY 289
The waiter was a man-of-all-work. He pruned Socquard's
vines, swept out the cafe and billiard saloon, kept the garden
in order, and watered the floor of the Tivoli, and all for the
sum of sixty francs per annum. He never wore a jacket save
on great occasions; his costume consisted of a pair of blue
linen trousers, heavy shoes, and a striped velvet waistcoat,
with the addition of a coarse homespun apron when on duty
in the cafe or billiard-room. Those apron-strings were hip
insignia of office. Socquard hired the young fellow at the
last fair; for in that valley, and all over Burgundy for that
matter, servants are hired by the year, and come to the hiring
fair exactly like horses.
"What is your name?" asked Eigou.
"Michel, at your service," the lad answered.
"Does Daddy Fourchon come here now and again?"
"Two or three times a week with M. Vermichel. M. Ver-
michel gives me a few sous for letting him know when his
wife is going to pounce in upon him."
"He is a good man, is Daddy Fourchon; he has had some
education, and has plenty of common-sense," said Eigou, and
he paid for his lemonade, and left the stale-smelling room as
Socquard brought the chaise round to the door.
Eigou had just taken his seat when he saw the apothecary,
and hailed him with, "Hallo ! M. Vermut !" Vermut looked
upj and seeing Eigou, hastened towards him. Eigou stepped
down again, and said in Vermut's ear, "Do you know whether
there is an irritant which can destroy the skin and induce
disease say a whitlow on the finger, for instance?"
"If M. Gourdon undertakes it, yes," said the man of drugs.
"Vennut, not a word of this to any one, if you do not want
us to fall out. But tell M. Gourdon about it, and tell him to
come to see me, the day after to-morrow, and I will give him
a forefinger to amputate it will be rather a delicate job."
And with that the ex-mayor stepped into his chaise beside
Marie Tonsard, leaving the little apothecary dumfounded.
"Well, little viper," said Eigou, laying a hand on the
girl's arm, after fastening the reins to a ring on the leather
290 THE PEASANTRY
apron which covered them in. "So you think you will keep
Bonnebault by giving way to temper like this, do you? If
you were wise, you would help on his marriage with that big
lump of stupidity, and then you could take your revenge."
Marie could not help smiling as she answered, "Oh ! what a
bad man you are ! You are our master, and that is the truth.'*
"Listen, Marie ; I am a friend to the peasants, but I cannot
have one of you come and put himself between my teeth and
a mouthful of game. Your brother Nicolas, as Aglae said, is
waylaying La Pechina. It is not right, for the child is under
my protection; she is down in my will for thirty thousand
francs, and I mean her to make a good match. I know that
Nicolas, with your sister Catherine to help him, all but killed
the poor child this morning; you will see your brother and
sister, tell them this 'If you let La Pechina alone, Father
Bigou will save Nicolas from the conscription ' "
"You are the Devil himself," cried Marie. "People say
that you have signed a compact with him. Is it possible ?"
"Yes," said Bigou, with gravity.
"They used to say so at 'up-sittings/ but I did not believe
"The Devil promised that no attempts upon my life should
succeed; that I should never be robbed; that I should live for
a hundred years without an illness; that I should succeed
in everything that I undertook, and until the hour of my
death I should be as young as a two-year cockerel "
"As you certainly are," said Marie. "Well, then, it is
devilish easy for you to save my brother from the army
"If he has a mind ; for he will have to lose a finger, that is
all," said Bigou. "I will tell him how."
"Why, you are taking the upper road !" said Marie. ,
"I never go the other way of a night," said the unfrocked
"Because of the Crucifix?" queried Marie artlessly.
"That is just it, cunning girl !" returned the diabolical
They were reaching a spot where the road lay in a hollow,
THE PEASANTRY 291
a cutting through a furrow in the land, with a tolerably
steep bank rising on either side such as you often see on
French cross-country roads. On the hither side of this hollow
the road forked to Cerneux and Eonquerolles, and in the
angle of the fork a Crucifix stood. Any one standing on
either bank might fire on his man to a certainty, for he could
almost clap the muzzle in the passenger's face; and this was
the more easy, since that the slopes behind were covered with
vines, and there were chance-sown brambles and bushes on
the bank which afforded cover. It may be guessed, therefore,
why the usurer, with unfailing prudence, never went that
way at night. The Thune flows round the base of the little
hill which they call the Cross Green. Never was there a
spot better adapted for murder and vengeance, for the Eon-
querolles road runs down to the bridge over the Avonne by
the hunting-lodge, and the road to Cerneux crosses the high
road in such a sort that the murderer would practically have
a choice of four roads, and might fly in the direction of the
Aigues, or Ville-aux-Fayes, or Ronquerolles, or Cerneux, and
leave his pursuers in perplexity as to the way he had taken.
"I will set you down just outside the village," said Eigou,
when they came in sight of the first houses of Blangy.
"Because of Annette, you old coward !" cried Marie. "Are
you going to send that girl away soon? You have had her
for three years. . . . What amuses me is that your old
woman is so well. God avenges Himself."
THE TRIUMVIRATE OF VILLE-AUX-FAYES
THE prudent money-lender had made a law that his wife and
Jean should sleep between sunset and sunrise, proving to
them that the house would never be robbed while he himself
sat up till midnight and lay late. Not only had he secured
the house to himself between the hours of seven in the even-
292 THE PEASANTRY
ing and five in the morning, but he accustomed both wife and
man to respect his slumbers and those of the Hagar whose
room lay beyond his own.
So the next morning about half-past six, Mme. Kigou came
and knocked timidly at her husband's door. (With Jean's
aid she had already looked after the poultry.) "M. Bigou,"
she said, "you asked me to call you."
The sound of the woman's voice, her bearing, and the way
in which she obeyed an order, quaking all the while lest her
very obedience should be taken amiss, showed the utter im-
molation of the poor creature to her ingenious petty tyrant
and her affection for him.
"All right !" cried Eigou.
"Is Annette to be wakened too?"
"No. Let her sleep on. She has been up all night," he an-
swered bravely. The man was always seridus even when he
indulged in a joke. As a matter of fact, Annette had secretly
opened the door to Sibilet, Fourchon, and Catherine Tonsard,
all of whom came at different times between eleven and one
o'clock that morning.
Ten minutes later Eigou came downstairs. He was dressed
more carefully than usual, and greeted his wife with a "Good-
morning, old woman," which made her prouder than she
would have been to see a Montcornet at her feet.
"Jean," said Eigou, addressing the lay-brother, "don't leave
the house. Don't let them rob me ; you would lose more by
it than I."
It was by mingling kindness, and rebuffs, and hope, and
hard words, in this way, that the learned egotist had broken
in his three slaves to a dog-like fidelity and attachment.
Again Eigou took the upper road to avoid the Cross Green,
and reached the market-place of Soulanges about eight
o'clock. He had just made the reins fast to the nearest post
by the flight of steps, when a shutter was put back, and Sou-
dry exhibited his countenance. Two small, black eyes gave
a cunning expression to a face seamed by the smallpox.
"Let us begin by breaking a crust together," he said, "for
THE PEASANTRY 293
we shall not get breakfast at Ville-aux-Fayes before one
He called under his breath to a damsel as young and
pretty as Eigou's servant. The girl came noiselessly down
the stairs ; he bade her bring a piece of ham and some bread,
and went himself to the cellar for wine.
For the thousandth time Eigou contemplated 'the parlor;
the oak wainscot that rose to elbow height, the mouldings on
the ceiling, the spacious handsomely painted cupboards, the
neat stove, and the magnificent timepiece which once belonged
to Mile. Laguerre. The backs of the chairs were lyre-shaped ;
the woodwork painted white and varnished; the seats were
of green morocco with gilded nail-heads. The massive ma-
hogany table was covered with green oilcloth, scored with
dark lines, and bound with green binding. The pains which
Urbain bestowed on the polishing of the parquetry floor at-
tested the fact that his mistress had herself been a domestic
"Pshaw !" said Eigou to himself. "This kind of thing costs
too much. One can eat just as comfortably in my room at
home, and I save the interest on the money laid out in this
useless show. Why, where is Mme. Soudry?" he inquired,
as the mayor of Soulanges came in with a venerable bottle in
"She is asleep."
"And you do not disturb her slumbers much," said Eigou.
The old gendarme winked facetiously, and indicated the
ham which the pretty Jeannette was bringing in.
"A nice morsel like that wakes you up," he said, "home
cured ! We only cut into it yesterday."
"I would not have thought it of you, old chum; where did
you pick her up ?" asked the old monk, lowering his voice for
"Like the ham," said the gendarme, with another wink,
"she has been in the house for a week."
Jeannette still wore her night-cap, and had thrust her bare
feet into her slippers. She wore a short petticoat, and the
straps of her bodice were passed over her shoulders in peasant
294 THE PEASANTRY
fashion; the crossed folds of a bandana handkerchief could
not altogether hide her fresh and youthful charms ; altogether
she looked no less appetizing than the ham vaunted by Sou-
dry. She was plump and short. The mottled red of the bare
arms that hung by her side, the large dimpled hands and
short fingers shapely fashioned at the tips, all spoke of high
health. Add to this a face of a thoroughly Burgundian type,
ruddy, but white at the temples, ears, and throat; chestnut
hair, eyes which turned slightly upwards at the outer corners ;
wide nostrils, a sensual mouth, and a trace of down upon the
cheeks. With a lively expression tempered by a deceptive
demureness, she was the very model of a roguish servant girl.
'"'Upon my word, Jeannette is like the ham/' declared
Eigou. "If I had not an Annette, I should like a Jeannette."
"One is as good as the other," said Soudry, "for your An-
nette is fair, and soft, and delicate. How is Mme. Eigou?
Is she asleep ?" Soudry resumed abruptly, to show Eigou that
he understood the jest.
"She wakes at cock-crow," said Eigou, "but she goes to
roost with the hens. I stay up myself and read the Constitu-
tionnel. Evening and morning my wife lets me dose; she
would not come into the room for the world "
"Here it is just the other way," put in Jeannette. "The
mistress sits up with company and plays at cards; there are
sometimes fifteen of them in the drawing-room. The master
goes off to bed at eight, and we get up at daybreak "
"It looks different to you," said Eigou, "but it comes to
the same thing in the end. Well, my dear, you come to me,
and I will send Annette here. It will be the same thing, with
a difference "
"Old scoundrel," said Soudry, "you will make her blush !"
"Eh, gendarme ! so you only want one horse in your stable ?
After all, every one takes his luck where he finds it."
Jeannette, in obedience to her master's order, went to put
out his clothes.
''Tou promised to marry her when your wife dies, I sup-
pose?" asked Eigou.
"It is the only way at our age," said Soudry.
THE PEASANTRY 295
"If the girls had ambition, it would be a short cut to wid-
ower's estate," returned Kigou; "more particularly, if Jean-
nette heard Mme. Soudry mention her way of soaping the
Both husbands grew thoughtful at this. When Jeannette
came to announce that all was in readiness, Soudry took her
away with him, with a "Come and help me," which drew
a smile from the unfrocked monk.
"There is a difference after all," said he ; "I should not be
afraid to leave him with Annette."
Fifteen minutes after, Soudry, dressed in his best, stepped
into the basket-chaise, and the pair went round by the lake
on the way to Ville-aux-Fayes.
"And how about yonder chateau?" asked Kigou, as they
caught a glimpse of the end of the manor-house. The stress
which the old Jacobin gave to the word "chateau" revealed the
hatred of the great chateaux and great estates which small
proprietors cherish in their souls.
"Why, I am sure, I hope it will stand for my lifetime," said
Soudry. "The Comte de Soulanges was my general; he has
done me a good turn; he managed my pension nicely, and
then he allows Lupin to manage his estate, and Lupin's father
made a fortune by managing it. There will be another to
come after Lupin, and so long as there are Counts of Sou-
langes the place will be respected. They are a good sort, they
live and let live "
"Ah ! but the General has three children, and perhaps after
his death they will not agree. Some day or other the sons and
the son-in-law will sell the place, and that mine of lead and
old iron will be sold to shopkeepers, whom we will contrive
The chateau of Soulanges seemed to defy the unfrocked
"Ah! yes, they used to build solidly in those times!" ex-
claimed Soudry. "But M. de Soulanges is economizing at this
moment so as to entail the Soulanges estate; it is to go with
the title "
296 THE PEASANTRY
"Entails fall through," said Rigou.
When the theme was exhausted, the pair fell to discussing
the merits of their respective domestics in a Burgundian dia-
lect, a trifle too broad to print. This never-failing topic lasted
them till they reached Gaubertin's headquarters. Even the
most impatient reader may perhaps feel sufficient curiosity
on the subject of Ville-aux-Fayes to excuse a brief digression.
It is an odd-sounding word, but it is easily explained. It is
a corruption of the Low Latin villa-in-fago, the manor in
the woods. The name is sufficient to tell us that a forest for-
merly covered the delta of the Avonne which flows five leagues
away into the Yonne. Doubtless, it was a Frank who built
a stronghold on the ridge which thereabouts makes a detour,
and slopes gradually down into the strip of plain where Le-
clercq the deputy had bought an estate. The conqueror made
a broad and long moat, and so entrenched himself in the delta.
His was a strong position, and, for a feudal lord, an extremely
convenient one for the collection of tolls and pontage on the
bridges by which all wayfarers must pass, and grinding dues'
at the water-mills.
Such is the history of the first beginnings of Ville-aux-
Fayes. Every feudal stronghold or religious settlement at-
tracted residents about it, to form the nucleus of a town at a
later day when the place was in a position to create or de-
velop an industry, or to attract business. Jean Eouvet's
invention of water-carriage for timber, requiring wharves in
places suitable for intercepting the floating piles, was the
making of Ville-aux-Fayes, then a mere village in comparison
with Soulanges. Ville-aux-Fayes became the headquarters
of the trade in the timber which was grown along both streams
for a distance of twelve miles. Workmen flocked to Ville-
aux-Fayes, for many hands were needed to build up the piles
which the Yonne carries into the Seine, besides the salvage
and recovery of "stray" rafts. This working population sup-
plied consumers of produce and stimulated trade. So it came
to pass that Ville-aux-Fayes, which numbered scarce six hun-
dred inhabitants at the end of the sixteenth century, in 1790
THE PEASANTRY 29Y
had a population of two thousand, which had doubled since
Gaubertin came to the place. This is how it was brought
When the Legislative Assembly reconstituted the electoral
divisions, Ville-aux-Fayes, on account of its geographical po-
sition, was selected as the seat of local government, to the
exclusion of Soulanges. The position of Ville-aux-Fayes
marked it out for a sub-prefecture, and a sub-prefecture en-
tailed a Court of First Instance, and the hierarchy of officials
required by both institutions. With the increase of popula-
tion in Paris there began to be an increase in the demand
for fuel, prices rose, and Ville-aux-Fayes grew more impor-
tant with the development of its trade. Gaubertin's second
start in life had been determined by foresight; he felt sure
that Paris would grow with the peace ; and, in fact, the popu-
lation increased by one-third between 1815 and 1825.
The configuration of Ville-aux-Fayes is determined by the
lie of the land. Wharves line either side of the promontory.
Above the town and below the hillside covered with the Forest
of Soulanges, a bar has been made across the river to stop
the floating timber ; and here the outskirts of Ville-aux-Fayes
begin. The lower town lies in the broadest part of the delta,
along the brink of a sheet of water a lake formed by the
Avonne ; but the upper town, consisting of some five hundred
houses and gardens, is built on the higher ground which sur-
rounds the promontory on three sides. This elevation, which