Sons of the Soil by Honore de Balzac
Chapter IX. Concerning the Mediocracy
"Well, Michaud, what's the news?" asked the general as soon as his wife had left the room.
"General, if you will permit me to say so, it would be better not to talk over matters in this room. Walls have ears, and I should like to be certain that what we say reaches none but our own."
"Very good," said the general, "then let us walk towards the steward's lodge by the path through the fields; no one can overhear us there."
A few moments later the general, with Michaud and Sibilet, was crossing the meadows, while Madame de Montcornet, with the abbe and Blondet, was on her way to the gate of the Avonne.
Michaud related the scene that had just taken place at the Grand-I- Vert.
"Vatel did wrong," said Sibilet.
"They made that plain to him at once," replied Michaud, "by blinding him; but that's nothing. General, you remember the plan we agreed upon,--to seize the cattle of those depredators against whom judgment was given? Well, we can't do it. Brunet, like his colleague Plissoud, is not loyal in his support. They both warn the delinquents when they are about to make a seizure. Vermichel, Brunet's assistant, went to the Grand-I-Vert this morning, ostensibly after Pere Fourchon; and Marie Tonsard, who is intimate with Bonnebault, ran off at once to give the alarm at Conches. The depredations have begun again."
"A strong show of authority is becoming daily more and more necessary," said Sibilet.
"What did I tell you?" cried the general. "We must demand the enforcement of the judgment of the court, which carried with it imprisonment; we must arrest for debt all those who do not pay the damages I have won and the costs of the suits."
"These fellows imagine the law is powerless, and tell each other that you dare not arrest them," said Sibilet. "They think they frighten you! They have confederates at Ville-aux-Fayes; for even the prosecuting attorney seems to have ignored the verdicts against them."
"I think," said Michaud, seeing that the general looked thoughtful, "that if you are willing to spend a good deal of money you can still protect the property."
"It is better to spend money than to act harshly," remarked Sibilet.
"What is your plan?" asked the general of his bailiff.
"It is very simple," said Michaud. "Inclose the whole forest with walls, like those of the park, and you will be safe; the slightest depredation then becomes a criminal offence and is taken to the assizes."
"At a franc and a half the square foot for the material only, Monsieur le comte would find his wall would cost him a third of the whole value of Les Aigues," said Sibilet, with a laugh.
"Well, well," said Montcornet, "I shall go and see the attorney- general at once."
"The attorney-general," remarked Sibilet, gently, "may perhaps share the opinion of his subordinate; for the negligence shown by the latter is probably the result of an agreement between them."
"Then I wish to know it!" cried Montcornet. "If I have to get the whole of them turned out, judges, civil authorities, and the attorney- general to boot, I'll do it; I'll go the Keeper of the Seals, or to the king himself."
At a vehement sign made by Michaud the general stopped short and said to Sibilet, as he turned to retrace his steps, "Good day, my dear fellow,"--words which the steward understood.
"Does Monsieur le comte intend, as mayor, to enforce the necessary measures to repress the abuse of gleaning?" he said, respectfully. "The harvest is coming on, and if we are to publish the statutes about certificates of pauperism and the prevention of paupers from other districts gleaning our land, there is no time to be lost."
"Do it at once, and arrange with Groison," said the count. "With such a class of people," he added, "we must follow out the law."
So, without a moment's reflection, Montcornet gave in to a measure that Sibilet had been proposing to him for more than a fortnight, to which he had hitherto refused to consent; but now, in the violence of anger caused by Vatel's mishap, he instantly adopted it as the right thing to do.
When Sibilet was at some distance the general said in a low voice to his bailiff:--
"Well, my dear Michaud, what is it; why did you make me that sign?"
"You have an enemy within the walls, general, yet you tell him plans which you ought not to confide even to the secret police."
"I share your suspicions, my dear friend," replied Montcornet, "but I don't intend to commit the same fault twice over. I shall not part with another steward till I'm sure of a better. I am waiting to get rid of Sibilet, till you understand the business of steward well enough to take his place, and till Vatel is fit to succeed you. And yet, I have no ground of complaint against Sibilet. He is honest and punctual in all his dealings; he hasn't kept back a hundred francs in all these five years. He has a perfectly detestable nature, and that's all one can say against him. If it were otherwise, what would be his plan in acting as he does?"
"General," said Michaud, gravely, "I will find out, for undoubtedly he has one; and if you would only allow it, a good bribe to that old scoundrel Fourchon will enable me to get at the truth; though after what he said just now I suspect the old fellow of having more secrets than one in his pouch. That swindling old cordwainer told me himself they want to drive you from Les Aigues. And let me tell you, for you ought to know it, that from Conches to Ville-aux-Fayes there is not a peasant, a petty tradesman, a farmer, a tavern-keeper who isn't laying by his money to buy a bit of the estate. Fourchon confided to me that Tonsard has already put in his claim. The idea that you can be forced to sell Les Aigues has gone from end to end of the valley like an infection in the air. It may be that the steward's present house, with some adjoining land, will be the price paid for Sibilet's spying. Nothing is ever said among us that is not immediately known at Ville- aux-Fayes. Sibilet is a relative of your enemy Gaubertin. What you have just said about the attorney-general and the others will probably be reported before you have reached the Prefecture. You don't know what the inhabitants of this district are."
"Don't I know them? I know they are the scum of the earth! Do you suppose I am going to yield to such blackguards?" cried the general. "Good heavens, I'd rather burn Les Aigues myself!"
"No need to burn it; let us adopt a line of conduct which will baffle the schemes of these Lilliputians. Judging by threats, general, they are resolved on war to the knife against you; and therefore since you mention incendiarism, let me beg of you to insure all your buildings, and all your farmhouses."
"Michaud, do you know whom they mean by 'Shopman'? Yesterday, as I was riding along by the Thune, I heard some little rascals cry out, 'The Shopman! here's the Shopman!' and then they ran away."
"Ask Sibilet; the answer is in his line, he likes to make you angry," said Michaud, with a pained look. "But--if you will have an answer-- well, that's a nickname these brigands have given you, general."
"What does it mean?"
"It means, general--well, it refers to your father."
"Ha! the curs!" cried the count, turning livid. "Yes, Michaud, my father was a shopkeeper, an upholsterer; the countess doesn't know it. Oh! that I should ever--well! after all, I have waltzed with queens and empresses. I'll tell her this very night," he cried, after a pause.
"They also call you a coward," continued Michaud.
"They ask how you managed to save yourself at Essling when nearly all your comrades perished."
The accusation brought a smile to the general's lips. "Michaud, I shall go at once to the Prefecture!" he cried, with a sort of fury, "if it is only to get the policies of insurance you ask for. Let Madame la comtesse know that I have gone. Ha, ha! they want war, do they? Well, they shall have it; I'll take my pleasure in thwarting them,--every one of them, those bourgeois of Soulanges, and their peasantry! We are in the enemy's country, therefore prudence! Tell the foresters to keep within the limits of the law. Poor Vatel, take care of him. The countess is inclined to be timid; she must know nothing of all this; otherwise I could never get her to come back here."
Neither the general nor Michaud understood their real peril. Michaud had been too short a time in this Burgundian valley to realize the enemy's power, though he saw its action. The general, for his part, believed in the supremacy of the law.
The law, such as the legislature of these days manufactures it, has not the virtue we attribute to it. It strikes unequally; it is so modified in many of its modes of application that it virtually refutes its own principles. This fact may be noted more or less distinctly throughout all ages. Is there any historian ignorant enough to assert that the decrees of the most vigilant of powers were ever enforced throughout France?--for instance, that the requisitions of the Convention for men, commodities, and money were obeyed in Provence, in the depths of Normandy, on the borders of Brittany, as they were at the great centres of social life? What philosopher dares deny that a head falls to-day in such or such department, while in a neighboring department another head stays on its shoulders though guilty of a crime identically the same, and often more horrible? We ask for equality in life, and inequality reigns in law and in the death penalty!
When the population of a town falls below a certain figure the administrative system is no longer the same. There are perhaps a hundred cities in France where the laws are vigorously enforced, and there the intelligence of the citizens rises to the conception of the problem of public welfare and future security which the law seeks to solve; but throughout the rest of France nothing is comprehended beyond immediate gratification; people rebel against all that lessens it. Therefore in nearly one half of France we find a power of inertia which defeats all legal action, both municipal and governmental. This resistance, be it understood, does not affect the essential things of public polity. The collection of taxes, recruiting, punishment of great crimes, as a general thing do systematically go on; but outside of such recognized necessities, all legislative decrees which affect customs, morals, private interests, and certain abuses, are a dead letter, owing to the sullen opposition of the people. At the very moment when this book is going to press, this dumb resistance, which opposed Louis XIV. in Brittany, may still be seen and felt. See the unfortunate results of the game-laws, to which we are now sacrificing yearly the lives of some twenty or thirty men for the sake of preserving a few animals.
In France the law is, to at least twenty million of inhabitants, nothing more than a bit of white paper posted on the doors of the church and the town-hall. That gives rise to the term "papers," which Mouche used to express legality. Many mayors of cantons (not to speak of the district mayors) put up their bundles of seeds and herbs with the printed statutes. As for the district mayors, the number of those who do not know how to read and write is really alarming, and the manner in which the civil records are kept is even more so. The danger of this state of things, well-known to the governing powers, is doubtless diminishing; but what centralization (against which every one declaims, as it is the fashion in France to declaim against all things good and useful and strong),--what centralization cannot touch, the Power against which it will forever fling itself in vain, is that which the general was now about to attack, and which we shall take leave to call the Mediocracy.
A great outcry was made against the tyranny of the nobles; in these days the cry is against that of capitalists, against abuses of power, which may be merely the inevitable galling of the social yoke, called Compact by Rousseau, Constitution by some, Charter by others; Czar here, King there, Parliament in Great Britain; while in France the general levelling begun in 1789 and continued in 1830 has paved the way for the juggling dominion of the middle classes, and delivered the nation into their hands without escape. The portrayal of one fact alone, unfortunately only too common in these days, namely, the subjection of a canton, a little town, a sub-prefecture, to the will of a family clique,--in short, the power acquired by Gaubertin,--will show this social danger better than all dogmatic statements put together. Many oppressed communities will recognize the truth of this picture; many persons secretly and silently crushed by this tyranny will find in these words an obituary, as it were, which may half console them for their hidden woes.
At the very moment when the general imagined himself to be renewing a warfare in which there had really been no truce, his former steward had just completed the last meshes of the net-work in which he now held the whole arrondissement of Ville-aux-Fayes. To avoid too many explanations it is necessary to state, once for all, succinctly, the genealogical ramifications by means of which Gaubertin wound himself about the country, as a boa-constrictor winds around a tree,--with such art that a passing traveller thinks he beholds some natural effect of the tropical vegetation.
In 1793 there were three brothers of the name of Mouchon in the valley of the Avonne. After 1793 they changed the name of the valley to that of the Valley des Aigues, out of hatred to the old nobility.
The eldest brother, steward of the property of the Ronquerolles family, was elected deputy of the department to the Convention. Like his friend, Gaubertin's father, the prosecutor of those days, who saved the Soulanges family, he saved the property and the lives of the Ronquerolles. He had two daughters; one married to Gendrin, the lawyer, the other to Gaubertin. He died in 1804.
The second, through the influence of his elder brother, was made postmaster at Conches. His only child was a daughter, married to a rich farmer named Guerbet. He died in 1817.
The last of the Mouchons, who was a priest, and the curate of Ville- aux-Fayes before the Revolution, was again a priest after the re- establishment of Catholic worship, and again the curate of the same little town. He was not willing to take the oath, and was hidden for a long time in the hermitage of Les Aigues, under the protection of the Gaubertins, father and son. Now about sixty-seven years of age, he was treated with universal respect and affection, owing to the harmony of his nature with that of the inhabitants. Parsimonious to the verge of avarice, he was thought to be rich, and the credit of being so increased the respect that was shown to him. Monseigneur the bishop paid the greatest attention to the Abbe Mouchon, who was always spoken of as the venerable curate of Ville-aux-Fayes; and the fact that he had several times refused to go and live in a splendid parsonage attached to the Prefecture, where Monseigneur wished to settle him, made him dearer still to his people.
Gaubertin, now mayor of Ville-aux-Fayes, received steady support from his brother-in-law Gendrin, who was judge of the municipal court. Gaubertin the younger, the solicitor who had the most practice before this court and much repute in the arrondissement, was already thinking of selling his practice after five years' exercise of it. He wanted to succeed his Uncle Gendrin as counsellor whenever the latter should retire from the profession. Gendrin's only son was commissioner of mortgages.
Soudry's son, who for the last two years had been prosecuting-attorney at the prefecture, was Gaubertin's henchman. The clever Madame Soudry had secured the future of her husband's son by marrying him to Rigou's only daughter. The united fortunes of the Soudrys and the ex-monk, which would come eventually to the attorney, made that young man one of the most important personages of the department.
The sub-prefect of Ville-aux-Fayes, Monsieur des Lupeaulx, nephew of the general-secretary of one of the most important ministries in Paris, was the prospective husband of Mademoiselle Elise Gaubertin, the mayor's youngest daughter, whose dowry, like that of her elder sister, was two hundred thousand francs, not to speak of "expectations." This functionary showed much sense, though not aware of it, in falling in love with Mademoiselle Elise when he first arrived at Ville-aux-Fayes, in 1819. If it had not been for his social position, which made him "eligible," he would long ago have been forced to ask for his exchange. But Gaubertin in marrying him to his daughter thought much more of the uncle, the general-secretary, than of the nephew; and in return, the uncle, for the sake of his nephew, gave all his influence to Gaubertin.
Thus the Church, the magistracy both removable and irremovable, the municipality, and the prefecture, the four feet of power, walked as the mayor pleased. Let us now see how that functionary strengthened himself in the spheres above and below that in which he worked.
The department to which Ville-aux-Fayes belongs is one the number of whose population gives it the right to elect six deputies. Ever since the creation of the Left Centre of the Chamber, the arrondissement of Ville-aux-Fayes had sent a deputy named Leclercq, formerly banking agent of the wine department of the custom-house, a son-in-law of Gaubertin, and now a governor of the Bank of France. The number of electors which this rich valley sent to the electoral college was sufficient to insure, if only through private dealing, the constant appointment of Monsieur de Ronquerolles, the patron of the Mouchon family. The voters of Ville-aux-Fayes lent their support to the prefect, on condition that the Marquis de Ronquerolles was maintained in the college. Thus Gaubertin, who was the first to broach the idea of this arrangement, was favorably received at the Prefecture, which he often, in return, saved from petty annoyances. The prefect always selected three firm ministerialists, and two deputies of the Left Centre. The latter, one of them being the Marquis de Ronquerolles, brother-in-law of the Comte de Serisy, and the other a governor of the Bank of France, gave little or no alarm to the cabinet, and the elections in this department were rated excellent at the ministry of the interior.
The Comte de Soulanges, peer of France, selected to be the next marshal, and faithful to the Bourbons, knew that his forests and other property were all well-managed by the notary Lupin, and well-watched by Soudry. He was a patron of Gendrin's, having obtained his appointment as judge partly by the help of Monsieur de Ronquerolles.
Messieurs Leclercq and de Ronquerolles sat in the Left Centre, but nearer to the left than to the centre,--a political position which offers great advantages to those who regard their political conscience as a garment.
The brother of Monsieur Leclercq had obtained the situation of collector at Ville-aux-Fayes, and Leclercq himself, Gaubertin's son- in-law, had lately bought a fine estate beyond the valley of the Avonne, which brought him in a rental of thirty thousand francs, with park and chateau and a controlling influence in its own canton.
Thus, in the upper regions of the State, in both Chambers, and in the chief ministerial department, Gaubertin could rely on an influence that was powerful and also active, and which he was careful not to weary with unimportant requests.
The counsellor Gendrin, appointed judge by the Chamber, was the leading spirit of the Supreme Court; for the chief justice, one of the three ministerial deputies, left the management of it to Gendrin during half the year. The counsel for the Prefecture, a cousin of Sarcus, called "Sarcus the rich," was the right-hand man of the prefect, himself a deputy. Even without the family reasons which allied Gaubertin and young des Lupeaulx, a brother of Madame Sarcus would still have been desirable as sub-prefect to the arrondissement of Ville-aux-Fayes. Madame Sarcus, the counsellor's wife, was a Vallat of Soulanges, a family connected with the Gaubertins, and she was said to have "distinguished" the notary Lupin in her youth. Though she was now forty-five years old, with a son in the school of engineers, Lupin never went to the Prefecture without paying his respects and dining with her.
The nephew of Guerbet, the postmaster, whose father was, as we have seen, collector of Soulanges, held the important situation of examining judge in the municipal court of Ville-aux-Fayes. The third judge, son of Corbinet, the notary, belonged body and soul to the all- powerful mayor; and, finally, young Vigor, son of the lieutenant of the gendarmerie, was the substitute judge.
Sibilet's father, sheriff of the court, had married his sister to Monsieur Vigor the lieutenant, and that individual, father of six children, was cousin of the father of Gaubertin through his wife, a Gaubertin-Vallat. Eighteen months previously the united efforts of the two deputies, Monsieur de Soulanges and Gaubertin, had created the place of commissary of police for the sheriff's second son.
Sibilet's eldest daughter married Monsieur Herve, a school-master, whose school was transformed into a college as a result of this marriage, so that for the past year Soulanges had rejoiced in the presence of a professor.
The sheriff's youngest son was employed on the government domains, with the promise of succeeding the clerk of registrations so soon as that officer had completed the term of service which enabled him to retire on a pension.
The youngest Sibilet girl, now sixteen years old, was betrothed to Corbinet, brother of the notary. And an old maid, Mademoiselle Gaubertin-Vallat, sister of Madame Sibilet, the sheriff's wife, held the office for the sale of stamped paper.
Thus, wherever we turn in Ville-aux-Fayes we meet some member of the invisible coalition, whose avowed chief, recognized as such by every one, great and small, was the mayor of the town, the general agent for the entire timber business, Gaubertin!
If we turn to the other end of the valley of the Avonne we shall see that Gaubertin ruled at Soulanges through the Soudrys, through Lupin the assistant mayor and steward of the Soulanges estate, who was necessarily in constant communication with the Comte de Soulanges, through Sarcus, justice of the peace, through Guerbet, the collector, through Gourdon, the doctor, who had married a Gendrin-Vatebled. He governed Blangy through Rigou, Conches through the post-master, the despotic ruler of his own district.
Gaubertin's influence was so great and powerful that even the investments and the savings of Rigou, Soudry, Gendrin, Guerbet, Lupin, even Sarcus the rich himself, were managed by his advice. The town of Ville-aux-Fayes believed implicitly in its mayor. Gaubertin's ability was not less extolled than his honesty and his kindness; he was the servant of his relatives and constituents (always with an eye to a return of benefits), and the whole municipality adored him. The town never ceased to blame Monsieur Mariotte, of Auxerre, for having opposed and thwarted that worthy Monsieur Gaubertin.
Not aware of their strength, no occasion for displaying it having arisen, the bourgeoisie of Ville-aux-Fayes contented themselves with boasting that no strangers intermeddled in their affairs and they believed themselves excellent citizens and faithful public servants. Nothing, however, escaped their despotic rule, which in itself was not perceived, the result being considered a triumph of the locality.
The only stranger in this family community was the government engineer in the highway department; and his dismissal in favor of the son of Sarcus the rich was now being pressed, with a fair chance that this one weak thread in the net would soon be strengthened. And yet this powerful league, which monopolized all duties both public and private, sucked the resources of the region, and fastened on power like limpets to a ship, escaped all notice so completely that General Montcornet had no suspicion of it. The prefect boasted of the prosperity of Ville-aux-Fayes and its arrondissement; even the minister of the interior was heard to remark: "There's a model sub-prefecture, which runs on wheels; we should be lucky indeed if all were like it." Family designs were so involved with local interests that here, as in many other little towns and even prefectures, a functionary who did not belong to the place would have been forced to resign within a year.
When this despotic middle-class cousinry seizes a victim, he is so carefully gagged and bound that complaint is impossible; he is smeared with slime and wax like a snail in a beehive. This invisible, imperceptible tyranny is upheld by powerful reasons,--such as the wish to be surrounded by their own family, to keep property in their own hands, the mutual help they ought to lend each other, the guarantees given to the administration by the fact that their agent is under the eyes of his fellow-citizens and neighbors. What does all this lead to? To the fact that local interests supersede all questions of public interest; the centralized will of Paris is frequently overthrown in the provinces, the truth of things is disguised, and country communities snap their fingers at government. In short, after the main public necessities have been attended to, it will be seen that the laws, instead of acting upon the masses, receive their impulse from them; the populations adapt the law to themselves and not themselves to the law.
Whoever has travelled in the south or west of France, or in Alsace, in any other way than from inn to inn to see buildings and landscapes, will surely admit the truth of these remarks. The results of middle- class nepotism may be, at present, merely isolated evils; but the tendency of existing laws is to increase them. This low-level despotism can and will cause great disasters, and the events of the drama about to be played in the valley of Les Aigues will prove it.
The monarchical and imperial systems, more rashly overthrown than people realize, remedied these abuses by means of certain consecrated lives, by classifications and categories and by those particular counterpoises since so absurdly defined as "privileges." There are no privileges now, when every human being is free to climb the greased pole of power. But surely it would be safer to allow open and avowed privileges than those which are underhand, based on trickery, subversive of what should be public spirit, and continuing the work of despotism to a lower and baser level than heretofore. May we not have overthrown noble tyrants devoted to their country's good, to create the tyranny of selfish interests? Shall power lurk in secret places, instead of radiating from its natural source? This is worth thinking about. The spirit of local sectionalism, such as we have now depicted, will soon be seen to invade the Chamber.
Montcornet's friend, the late prefect, Comte de la Roche-Hugon, had lost his position just before the last arrival of the general at Les Aigues. This dismissal drove him into the ranks of the Liberal opposition, where he became one of the chorus of the Left, a position he soon after abandoned for an embassy. His successor, luckily for Montcornet, was a son-in-law of the Marquis de Troisville, uncle of the countess, the Comte de Casteran. He welcomed Montcornet as a relation and begged him to continue his intimacy at the Prefecture. After listening to the general's complaints the Comte de Casteran invited the bishop, the attorney-general, the colonel of the gendarmerie, counsellor Sarcus, and the general commanding the division to meet him the next day at breakfast.
The attorney-general, Baron Bourlac (so famous in the Chanterie and Rifael suits), was one of those men well-known to all governments, who attach themselves to power, no matter in whose hands it is, and who make themselves invaluable by such devotion. Having owed his elevation in the first place to his fanaticism for the Emperor, he now owed the retention of his official rank to his inflexible character and the conscientiousness with which he fulfilled his duties. He who once implacably prosecuted the remnant of the Chouans now prosecuted the Bonapartists as implacably. But years and turmoils had somewhat subdued his energy and he had now become, like other old devils incarnate, perfectly charming in manner and ways.
The general explained his position and the fears of his bailiff, and spoke of the necessity of making an example and enforcing the rights of property.
The high functionaries listened gravely, making, however, no reply beyond mere platitudes, such as, "Undoubtedly, the laws must be upheld"; "Your cause is that of all land-owners"; "We will consider it; but, situated as we are, prudence is very necessary"; "A monarchy could certainly do more for the people than the people would do for itself, even if it were, as in 1793, the sovereign people"; "The masses suffer, and we are bound to do as much for them as for ourselves."
The relentless attorney-general expressed such kindly and benevolent views respecting the condition of the lower classes that our future Utopians, had they heard him, might have thought that the higher grade of government officials were already aware of the difficulties of that problem which modern society will be forced to solve.
It may be well to say here that at this period of the Restoration, various bloody encounters had taken place in remote parts of the kingdom, caused by this very question of the pillage of woods, and the marauding rights which the peasants were everywhere arrogating to themselves. Neither the government nor the court liked these outbreaks, nor the shedding of blood which resulted from repression. Though they felt the necessity of rigorous measures, they nevertheless treated as blunderers the officials who were compelled to employ them, and dismissed them on the first pretence. The prefects were therefore anxious to shuffle out of such difficulties whenever possible.
At the very beginning of the conversation Sarcus (the rich) had made a sign to the prefect and the attorney-general which Montcornet did not see, but which set the tone of the discussion. The attorney-general was well aware of the state of mind of the inhabitants of the valley des Aigues through his subordinate, Soudry the young attorney.
"I foresee a terrible struggle," the latter had said to him. "They mean to kill the gendarmes; my spies tell me so. It will be very hard to convict them for it. The instant the jury feel they are incurring the hatred of the friends of the twenty or thirty prisoners, they will not sustain us,--we could not get them to convict for death, nor even for the galleys. Possibly by prosecuting in person you might get a few years' imprisonment for the actual murderers. Better shut our eyes than open them, if by opening them we bring on a collision which costs bloodshed and several thousand francs to the State,--not to speak of the cost of keeping the guilty in prison. It is too high a price to pay for a victory which will only reveal our judicial weakness to the eyes of all."
Montcornet, who was wholly without suspicion of the strength and influence of the Mediocracy in his happy valley, did not even mention Gaubertin, whose hand kept these embers of opposition always alive, though smouldering. After breakfast the attorney-general took Montcornet by the arm and led him to the Prefect's study. When the general left that room after their conference, he wrote to his wife that he was starting for Paris and should be absent a week. We shall see, after the execution of certain measures suggested by Baron Bourlac, the attorney-general, whether the secret advice he gave to Montcornet was wise, and whether in conforming to it the count and Les Aigues were enabled to escape the "Evil grudge."
Some minds, eager for mere amusement, will complain that these various explanations are far too long; but we once more call attention to the fact that the historian of the manners, customs, and morals of his time must obey a law far more stringent than that imposed on the historian of mere facts. He must show the probability of everything, even the truth; whereas, in the domain of history, properly so-called, the impossible must be accepted for the sole reason that it did happen. The vicissitudes of social or private life are brought about by a crowd of little causes derived from a thousand conditions. The man of science is forced to clear away the avalanche under which whole villages lie buried, to show you the pebbles brought down from the summit which alone can determine the formation of the mountain. If the historian of human life were simply telling you of a suicide, five hundred of which occur yearly in Paris, the melodrama is so commonplace that brief reasons and explanations are all that need be given; but how shall he make you see that the self-destruction of an estate could happen in these days when property is reckoned of more value than life? "De re vestra agitur," said a maker of fables; this tale concerns the affairs and interests of all those, no matter who they be, who possess anything.
Remember that this coalition of a whole canton and of a little town against a general, who, in spite of his rash courage, had escaped the dangers of actual war, is going on in other districts against other men who seek only to do what is right by those districts. It is a coalition which to-day threatens every man, the man of genius, the statesman, the modern agriculturalist,--in short, all innovators.
This last explanation not only gives a true presentation of the personages of this drama, and a serious meaning even to its petty details, but it also throws a vivid light upon the scene where so many social interests are now marshalling.