Sons of the Soil by Honore de Balzac
Chapter II. The Conspirators in the Queen's Salon
Reaching Soulanges about half-past five o'clock, Rigou was sure of finding the usual party assembled at the Soudrys'. There, as everywhere else in town, the dinner-hour was three o'clock, according to the custom of the last century. From five to nine the notables of Soulanges met in Madame Soudry's salon to exchange the news, make their political speeches, comment upon the private lives of every one in the valley, and talk about Les Aigues, which latter topic kept the conversation going for at least an hour every day. It was everybody's business to learn at least something of what was going on, and also to pay their court to the mistress of the house.
After this preliminary talk they played at boston, the only game the queen understood. When the fat old Guerbet had mimicked Madame Isaure, Gaubertin's wife, laughed at her languishing airs, imitated her thin voice, her pinched mouth, and her juvenile ways; when the Abbe Taupin had related one of the tales of his repertory; when Lupin had told of some event at Ville-aux-Fayes, and Madame Soudry had been deluged with compliments ad nauseum, the company would say: "We have had a charming game of boston."
Too self-indulgent to be at the trouble of driving over to the Soudrys' merely to hear the vapid talk of its visitors and to see a Parisian monkey in the guise of an old woman, Rigou, far superior in intelligence and education to this petty society, never made his appearance unless business brought him over to meet the notary. He excused himself from visiting on the ground of his occupations, his habits, and his health, which latter did not allow him, he said, to return at night along a road which led by the foggy banks of the Thune.
The tall, stiff usurer always had an imposing effect upon Madame Soudry's company, who instinctively recognized in his nature the cruelty of the tiger with steel claws, the craft of a savage, the wisdom of one born in a cloister and ripened by the sun of gold,--a man to whom Gaubertin had never yet been willing to fully commit himself.
The moment the little green carriole and the bay horse passed the Cafe de la Paix, Urbain, Soudry's man-servant, who was seated on a bench under the dining-room windows, and was gossipping with the tavern- keeper, shades his eyes with his hand to see who was coming.
"It's Pere Rigou," he said. "I must go round and open the door. Take his horse, Socquard." And Urbain, a former trooper, who could not get into the gendarmerie and had therefore taken service with Soudry, went round the house to open the gates of the courtyard.
Socquard, a famous personage throughout the valley, was treated, as you see, with very little ceremony by the valet. But so it is with many illustrious people who are so kind as to walk and to sneeze and to sleep and to eat precisely like common mortals.
Socquard, born a Hercules, could carry a weight of eleven hundred pounds; a blow of his fist applied on a man's back would break the vertebral column in two; he could bend an iron bar, or hold back a carriage drawn by one horse. A Milo of Crotona in the valley, his fame had spread throughout the department, where all sorts of foolish stories were current about him, as about all celebrities. It was told how he had once carried a poor woman and her donkey and her basket on his back to market; how he had been known to eat a whole ox and drink the fourth of a hogshead of wine in one day, etc. Gentle as a marriageable girl, Socquard, who was a stout, short man, with a placid face, broad shoulders, and a deep chest, where his lungs played like the bellows of a forge, possessed a flute-like voice, the limpid tones of which surprised all those who heard them for the first time.
Like Tonsard, whose renown released him from the necessity of giving proofs of his ferocity, in fact, like all other men who are backed by public opinion of one kind or another, Socquard never displayed his extraordinary muscular force unless asked to do so by friends. He now took the horse as the usurer drew up at the steps of the portico.
"Are you all well at home, Monsieur Rigou?" said the illustrious innkeeper.
"Pretty well, my good friend," replied Rigou. "Do Plissoud and Bonnebault and Viollet and Amaury still continue good customers?"
This question, uttered in a tone of good-natured interest, was by no means one of those empty speeches which superiors are apt to bestow upon inferiors. In his leisure moments Rigou thought over the smallest details of "the affair," and Fourchon had already warned him that there was something suspicious in the intimacy between Plissoud, Bonnebault, and the brigadier, Viollet.
Bonnebault, in payment of a few francs lost at cards, might very likely tell the secrets he heard at Tonsard's to Viollet; or he might let them out over his punch without realizing the importance of such gossip. But as the information of the old otter man might be instigated by thirst, Rigou paid no attention except so far as it concerned Plissoud, whose situation was likely to inspire him with a desire to counteract the coalition against Les Aigues, if only to get his paws greased by one or the other of the two parties.
Plissoud combined with his duties of under-sheriff other occupations which were poorly remunerated, that of agent of insurance (a new form of enterprise just beginning to show itself in France), agent, also, of a society providing against the chances of recruitment. His insufficient pay and a love of billiards and boiled wine made his future doubtful. Like Fourchon, he cultivated the art of doing nothing, and expected his fortune through some lucky but problematic chance. He hated the leading society, but he had measured its power. He alone knew the middle-class coalition organized by Gaubertin to its depths; and he continued to sneer at the rich men of Soulanges and Ville-aux-Fayes, as if he alone represented the opposition. Without money and not respected, he did not seem a person to be feared professionally, and so Brunet, glad to have a despised competitor, protected him and helped him along, to prevent him selling his business to some eager young man, like Bonnac for instance, who might force him, Brunet, to divide the patronage of the canton between them.
"Thanks to those fellows, we keep the ball a-rolling," said Socquard. "But folks are trying to imitate my boiled wine."
"Sue them," said Rigou, sententiously.
"That would lead too far," replied the innkeeper.
"Do your clients get on well together?"
"Tolerably, yes; sometimes they'll have a row, but that's only natural for players."
All heads were at the window of the Soudry salon which looked to the square. Recognizing the father of his daughter-in-law, Soudry came to the portico to receive him.
"Well, comrade," said the mayor of Soulanges, "is Annette ill, that you give us your company of an evening?"
Through an old habit acquired in the gendarmerie Soudry always went direct to the point.
"No,-- There's trouble brewing," replied Rigou, touching his right fore-finger to the hand which Soudry held out to him. "I came to talk about it, for it concerns our children in a way--"
Soudry, a handsome man dressed in blue, as though he were still a gendarme, with a black collar, and spurs at his heels, took Rigou by the arm and led him up to his imposing better-half. The glass door to the terrace was open, and the guests were walking about enjoying the summer evening, which brought out the full beauty of the glorious landscape which we have already described.
"It is a long time since we have seen you, my dear Rigou," said Madame Soudry, taking the arm of the ex-Benedictine and leading him out upon the terrace.
"My digestion is so troublesome!" he replied; "see! my color is almost as high as yours."
Rigou's appearance on the terrace was the sign for an explosion of jovial greetings on the part of the assembled company.
"And how may the lord of Blangy be?" said little Sarcus, justice of the peace.
"Lord!" replied Rigou, bitterly, "I am not even cock of my own village now."
"The hens don't say so, scamp!" exclaimed Madame Soudry, tapping her fan on his arm.
"All well, my dear master?" said the notary, bowing to his chief client.
"Pretty well," replied Rigou, again putting his fore-finger into his interlocutor's hand.
This gesture, by which Rigou kept down the process of hand-shaking to the coldest and stiffest of demonstrations would have revealed the whole man to any observer who did not already know him.
"Let us find a corner where we can talk quietly," said the ex-monk, looking at Lupin and at Madame Soudry.
"Let us return to the salon," replied the queen.
"What has the Shopman done now?" asked Soudry, sitting down beside his wife and putting his arm about her waist.
Madame Soudry, like other old women, forgave a great deal in return for such public marks of tenderness.
"Why," said Rigou, in a low voice, to set an example of caution, "he has gone to the Prefecture to demand the enforcement of the penalties; he wants the help of the authorities."
"Then he's lost," said Lupin, rubbing his hands; "the peasants will fight."
"Fight!" cried Soudry, "that depends. If the prefect and the general, who are friends, send a squadron of cavalry the peasants can't fight. They might at a pinch get the better of the gendarmes, but as for resisting a charge of cavalry!--"
"Sibilet heard him say something much more dangerous than that," said Rigou; "and that's what brings me here."
"Oh, my poor Sophie!" cried Madame Soudry, sentimentally, alluding to her friend, Mademoiselle Laguerre, "into what hands Les Aigues has fallen! This is what we have gained by the Revolution!--a parcel of swaggering epaulets! We might have foreseen that whenever the bottle was turned upside down the dregs would spoil the wine!"
"He means to go to Paris and cabal with the Keeper of the Seals and others to get the whole judiciary changed down here," said Rigou.
"Ha!" cried Lupin, "then he sees his danger."
"If they appoint my son-in-law attorney-general we can't help ourselves; the general will get him replaced by some Parisian devoted to his interests," continued Rigou. "If he gets a place in Paris for Gendrin and makes Guerbet chief-justice of the court at Auxerre, he'll knock down our skittles! The gendarmerie is on his side now, and if he gets the courts as well, and keeps such advisers as the abbe and Michaud we sha'n't dance at the wedding; he'll play us some scurvy trick or other."
"How is it that in all these five years you have never managed to get rid of that abbe?" said Lupin.
"You don't know him; he's as suspicious as a blackbird," replied Rigou. "He is not a man at all, that priest; he doesn't care for women; I can't find out that he has any passion; there's no point at which one can attack him. The general lays himself open by his temper. A man with a vice is the servant of his enemies if they know how to pull its string. There are no strong men but those who lead their vices instead of being led by them. The peasants are all right; their hatred against the abbe keeps up; but we can do nothing as yet. He's like Michaud, in his way; such men are too good for this world,--God ought to call them to himself."
"It would be a good plan to find some pretty servant-girl to scrub his staircase," remarked Madame Soudry. The words caused Rigou to give the little jump with which crafty natures recognize the craft of others.
"The Shopman has another vice," he said; "he loves his wife; we might get hold of him that way."
"We ought to find out how far she really influences him," said Madame Soudry.
"There's the rub!" said Lupin.
"As for you, Lupin," said Rigou, in a tone of authority, "be off to the Prefecture and see the beautiful Madame Sarcus at once! You must get her to tell you all the Shopman says and does at the Prefecture."
"Then I shall have to stay all night," replied Lupin.
"So much the better for Sarcus the rich; he'll be the gainer," said Rigou. "She is not yet out of date, Madame Sarcus--"
"Oh! Monsieur Rigou," said Madame Soudry, in a mincing tone, "are women ever out of date?"
"You may be right about Madame Sarcus; she doesn't paint before the glass," retorted Rigou, who was always disgusted by the exhibition of the Cochet's ancient charms.
Madame Soudry, who thought she used only a "suspicion" of rouge, did not perceive the sarcasm and hastened to say:--
"Is it possible that women paint?"
"Now, Lupin," said Rigou, without replying to this naivete, "go over to Gaubertin's to-morrow morning. Tell him that my fellow-mayor and I" (striking Soudry on the thigh) "will break bread with him at breakfast somewhere about midday. Tell him everything, so that we may all have thought it over before we meet, for now's the time to make an end of that damned Shopman. As I drove over here I came to the conclusion it would be best to get up a quarrel between the courts and him, so that the Keeper of the Seals would be wary of making the changes he may ask in their members."
"Bravo for the son of the Church!" cried Lupin, slapping Rigou on the shoulder.
Madame Soudry was here struck by an idea which could come only to a former waiting-maid of an Opera divinity.
"If," she said, "one could only get the Shopman to the fete at Soulanges, and throw some fine girl in his way who would turn his head, we could easily set his wife against him by letting her know that the son of an upholsterer has gone back to the style of his early loves."
"Ah, my beauty!" said Soudry, "you have more sense in your head than the Prefecture of police in Paris."
"That's an idea which proves that Madame reigns by mind as well as by beauty," said Lupin, who was rewarded by a grimace which the leading society of Soulanges were in the habit of accepting without protest for a smile.
"One might do better still," said Rigou, after some thought; "if we could only turn it into a downright scandal."
"Complaint and indictment! affair in the police court!" cried Lupin. "Oh! that would be grand!"
"Glorious!" said Soudry, candidly. "What happiness to see the Comte de Montcornet, grand cross of the Legion of honor, commander of the Order of Saint Louis, and lieutenant-general, accused of having attempted, in a public resort, the virtue--just think of it!"
"He loves his wife too well," said Lupin, reflectively. "He couldn't be got to that."
"That's no obstacle," remarked Rigou; "but I don't know a single girl in the whole arrondissement who is capable of making a sinner of a saint. I have been looking out for one for the abbe."
"What do you say to that handsome Gatienne Giboulard, of Auxerre, whom Sarcus, junior, is mad after?" asked Lupin.
"That's the only one," answered Rigou, "but she is not suitable; she thinks she has only to be seen to be admired; she's not complying enough; we want a witch and a sly-boots, too. Never mind, the right one will turn up sooner or later."
"Yes," said Lupin, "the more pretty girls he sees the greater the chances are."
"But perhaps you can't get the Shopman to the fair," said the ex- gendarme. "And if he does come, will he go to the Tivoli ball?"
"The reason that has always kept him away from the fair doesn't exist this year, my love," said Madame Soudry.
"What reason, dearest?" asked Soudry.
"The Shopman wanted to marry Mademoiselle de Soulanges," said the notary. "The family replied that she was too young, and that mortified him. That is why Monsieur de Soulanges and Monsieur de Montcornet, two old friends who both served in the Imperial Guard, are so cool to each other that they never speak. The Shopman doesn't want to meet the Soulanges at the fair; but this year the family are not coming."
Usually the Soulanges party stayed at the chateau from July to October, but the general was then in command of the artillery in Spain, under the Duc d'Angouleme, and the countess had accompanied him. At the siege of Cadiz the Comte de Soulanges obtained, as every one knows, the marshal's baton, which he kept till 1826.
"Very true," cried Lupin. "Well, it is for you, papa," he added, addressing Rigou, "to manoeuvre the matter so that we can get him to the fair; once there, we ought to be able to entrap him."
The fair of Soulanges, which takes place on the 15th of August, is one of the features of the town, and carries the palm over all other fairs in a circuit of sixty miles, even those of the capital of the department. Ville-aux-Fayes has no fair, for its fete-day, the Saint- Sylvestre, happens in winter.
From the 12th to the 15th of August all sorts of merchants abounded at Soulanges, and set up their booths in two parallel lines, two rows of the well-known gray linen huts, which gave a lively appearance to the usually deserted streets. The two weeks of the fair brought in a sort of harvest to the little town, for the festival has the authority and prestige of tradition. The peasants, as old Fourchon said, flocked in from the districts to which labor bound them for the rest of the year. The wonderful show on the counters of the improvised shops, the collection of all sorts of merchandise, the coveted objects of the wants or the vanities of these sons of the soil, who have no other shows or exhibitions to enjoy exercise a periodical seduction over the minds of all, especially the women and children. So, after the first of August the authorities posted advertisements signed by Soudry, throughout the whole arrondissement, offering protection to merchants, jugglers, mountebanks, prodigies of all kinds, and stating how long the fair would last, and what would be its principal attractions.
On these posters, about which it will be remembered Madame Tonsard inquired of Vermichel, there was always, on the last line, the following announcement:
"Tivoli will be illuminated with colored-glass lamps."
The town had adopted as the place for public a dance-ground created by Socquard out of a stony garden (stony, like the rest of the hill on which Soulanges is built, where the gardens are of made land), and called by him a Tivoli. This character of the soil explains the peculiar flavor of the Soulanges wine,--a white wine, dry and spirituous, very like Madeira or the Vouvray wine, or Johannisberger, --three vintages which resemble one another.
The powerful effect produced by the Socquard ball upon the imaginations of the whole country-side made the inhabitants thereof very proud of their Tivoli. Such as had ventured as far as Paris declared that the Parisian Tivoli was superior to that of Soulanges only in size. Gaubertin boldly declared that, for his part, he preferred the Socquard ball to the Parisian ball.
"Well, we'll think it all over," continued Rigou. "That Parisian fellow, the editor of a newspaper, will soon get tired of his present amusement and be glad of a change; perhaps we could through the servants give him the idea of coming to the fair, and he'd bring the others; I'll consider it. Sibilet might--although, to be sure, his influence is devilishly decreased of late--but he might get the general to think he could curry popularity by coming."
"Find out if the beautiful countess keeps the general at arm's length," said Lupin; "that's the point if you want him to fall into the farce at Tivoli."
"That little woman," cried Madame Soudry, "is too much of a Parisian not to know how to run with the hare and hold with the hounds."
"Fourchon has got his granddaughter Catherine on good terms, he tells me, with Charles, the Shopman's groom. That gives us one ear more in Les Aigues--Are you sure of the Abbe Taupin," he added, as the priest entered the room from the terrace.
"We hold him and the Abbe Mouchon, too, just as I hold Soudry," said the queen, stroking her husband's chin; "you are not unhappy, dearest, are you?" she said to Soudry.
"If I can plan a scandal against that Tartufe of a Brossette we can win," said Rigou, in a low voice. "But I am not sure if the local spirit can succeed against the Church spirit. You don't realize what that is. I, myself, who am no fool, I can't say what I'll do when I fall ill. I believe I shall try to be reconciled with the Church."
"Suffer me to hope it," said the Abbe Taupin, for whose benefit Rigou had raised his voice on the last words.
"Alas! the wrong I did in marrying prevents it," replied Rigou. "I cannot kill off Madame Rigou."
"Meantime, let us think of Les Aigues," said Madame Soudry.
"Yes," said the ex-monk. "Do you know, I begin to think that our associate at Ville-aux-Fayes may be cleverer than the rest of us. I fancy that Gaubertin wants Les Aigues for himself, and that he means to trick us in the end."
"But Les Aigues will not belong to any one of us; it will have to come down, from roof to cellar," said Soudry.
"I shouldn't be surprised if there were treasure buried in those cellars," observed Rigou, cleverly.
"Well, in the wars of the olden time the great lords, who were often besieged and surprised, did bury their gold until they should be able to recover it; and you know that the Marquis de Soulanges-Hautemer (in whom the younger branch came to an end) was one of the victims of the Biron conspiracy. The Comtesse de Moret received the property from Henri IV. when it was confiscated."
"See what it is to know the history of France!" said Soudry. "You are right. It is time to come to an understanding with Gaubertin."
"If he shirks," said Rigou, "we must smoke him out."
"He is rich enough now," said Lupin, "to be an honest man."
"I'll answer for him as I would for myself," said Madame Soudry; "he's the most loyal man in the kingdom."
"We all believe in his loyalty," said Rigou, "but nevertheless nothing should be neglected, even among friends-- By the bye, I think there is some one in Soulanges who is hindering matters."
"Who's that?" asked Soudry.
"Plissoud," replied Rigou.
"Plissoud!" exclaimed Soudry. "Poor fool! Brunet holds him by the halter, and his wife by the gullet; ask Lupin."
"What can he do?" said Lupin.
"He means to warn Montcornet," replied Rigou, "and get his influence and a place--"
"It wouldn't bring him more than his wife earns for him at Soulanges," said Madame Soudry.
"He tells everything to his wife when he is drunk," remarked Lupin. "We shall know it all in good time."
"The beautiful Madame Plissoud has no secrets from you," said Rigou; "we may be easy about that."
"Besides, she's as stupid as she is beautiful," said Madame Soudry. "I wouldn't change with her; for if I were a man I'd prefer an ugly woman who has some mind, to a beauty who can't say two words."
"Ah!" said the notary, biting his lips, "but she can make others say three."
"Puppy!" cried Rigou, as he made for the door.
"Well, then," said Soudry, following him to the portico, "to-morrow, early."
"I'll come and fetch you-- Ha! Lupin," he said to the notary, who came out with him to order his horse, "try to make sure that Madame Sarcus hears all the Shopman says and does against us at the Prefecture."
"If she doesn't hear it, who will?" replied Lupin.
"Excuse me," said Rigou, smiling blandly, "but there are such a lot of ninnies in there that I forgot there was one clever man."
"The wonder is that I don't grow rusty among them," replied Lupin, naively.
"Is it true that Soudry has hired a pretty servant?"
"Yes," replied Lupin; "for the last week our worthy mayor has set the charms of his wife in full relief by comparing her with a little peasant-girl about the age of an old ox; and we can't yet imagine how he settles it with Madame Soudry, for, would you believe it, he has the audacity to go to bed early."
"I'll find out to-morrow," said the village Sardanapalus, trying to smile.
The two plotters shook hands as they parted.
Rigou, who did not like to be on the road after dark for, notwithstanding his present popularity, he was cautious, called to his horse, "Get up, Citizen,"--a joke this son of 1793 was fond of letting fly at the Revolution. Popular revolutions have no more bitter enemies than those they have trained themselves.
"Pere Rigou's visits are pretty short," said Gourdon the poet to Madame Soudry.
"They are pleasant, if they are short," she answered.
"Like his own life," said the doctor; "his abuse of pleasures will cut that short."
"So much the better," remarked Soudry, "my son will step into the property."
"Did he bring you any news about Les Aigues?" asked the Abbe Taupin.
"Yes, my dear abbe," said Madame Soudry. "Those people are the scourge of the neighborhood. I can't comprehend how it is that Madame de Montcornet, who is certainly a well-bred woman, doesn't understand their interests better."
"And yet she has a model before her eyes," said the abbe.
"Who is that?" asked Madame Soudry, smirking.
"Ah, yes!" replied the queen after a pause.
"Here I am!" cried Madame Vermut, coming into the room; "and without my re-active,--for Vermut is so inactive in all that concerns me that I can't call him an active of any kind."
"What the devil is that cursed old Rigou doing there?" said Soudry to Guerbet, as they saw the green chaise stop before the gate of the Tivoli. "He is one of those tiger-cats whose every step has an object."
"You may well say cursed," replied the fat little collector.
"He has gone into the Cafe de la Paix," remarked Gourdon, the doctor.
"And there's some trouble there," added Gourdon the poet; "I can hear them yelping from here."
"That cafe," said the abbe, "is like the temple of Janus; it was called the Cafe de la Guerre under the Empire, and then it was peace itself; the most respectable of the bourgeoisie met there for conversation--"
"Conversation!" interrupted the justice of the peace. "What kind of conversation was it which produced all the little Bourniers?"
"--but ever since it has been called, in honor of the Bourbons, the Cafe de la Paix, fights take place there every day," said Abbe Taupin, finishing the sentence which the magistrate had taken the liberty of interrupting.
This idea of the abbe was, like the quotations from "The Cup-and- Ball," of frequent recurrence.
"Do you mean that Burgundy will always be the land of fisticuffs?" asked Pere Guerbet.
"That's not ill said," remarked the abbe; "not at all; in fact it's almost an exact history of our country."
"I don't know anything about the history of France," blurted Soudry; "and before I try to learn it, it is more important to me to know why old Rigou has gone into the Cafe de la Paix with Socquard."
"Oh!" returned the abbe, "wherever he goes and wherever he stays, you may be quite certain it is for no charitable purpose."
"That man gives me goose-flesh whenever I see him," said Madame Vermut.
"He is so much to be feared," remarked the doctor, "that if he had a spite against me I should have no peace till he was dead and buried; he would get out of his coffin to do you an ill-turn."
"If any one can force the Shopman to come to the fair, and manage to catch him in a trap, it'll be Rigou," said Soudry to his wife, in a low tone.
"Especially," she replied, in a loud one, "if Gaubertin and you, my love, help him."
"There! didn't I tell you so?" cried Guerbet, poking the justice of the peace. "I knew he would find some pretty girl at Socquard's,-- there he is, putting her into his carriage."
"You are quite wrong, gentlemen," said Madame Soudry; "Monsieur Rigou is thinking of nothing but the great affair; and if I'm not mistaken, that girl is only Tonsard's daughter."
"He is like the chemist who lays in a stock of vipers," said old Guerbet.
"One would think you were intimate with Monsieur Vermut to hear you talk," said the doctor, pointing to the little apothecary, who was then crossing the square.
"Poor fellow!" said the poet, who was suspected of occasionally sharpening his wit with Madame Vermut; "just look at that waddle of his! and they say he is learned!"
"Without him," said the justice of the peace, "we should be hard put to it about post-mortems; he found poison in poor Pigeron's stomach so cleverly that the chemists of Paris testified in the court at Auxerre that they couldn't have done better--"
"He didn't find anything at all," said Soudry; "but, as President Gendrin says, it is a good thing to let people suppose that poison will always be found--"
"Madame Pigeron was very wise to leave Auxerre," said Madame Vermut; "she was silly and wicked both. As if it were necessary to have recourse to drugs to annul a husband! Are not there other ways quite as sure, but innocent, to rid ourselves of that incumbrance? I would like to have a man dare to question my conduct! The worthy Monsieur Vermut doesn't hamper me in the least,--but he has never been ill yet. As for Madame de Montcornet, just see how she walks about the woods and the hermitage with that journalist whom she brought from Paris at her own expense, and how she pets him under the very eyes of the general!"
"At her own expense!" cried Madame Soudry. "Are you sure? If we could only get proof of it, what a fine subject for an anonymous letter to the general!"
"The general!" cried Madame Vermut, "he won't interfere with things; he plays his part."
"What part, my dear?" asked Madame Soudry.
"Oh! the paternal part."
"If poor little Pigeron had had the wisdom to play it, instead of harassing his wife, he'd be alive now," said the poet.
Madame Soudry leaned over to her neighbor, Monsieur Guerbet, and made one of those apish grimaces which she had inherited from dear mistress, together with her silver, by right of conquest, and twisting her face into a series of them she made him look at Madame Vermut, who was coquetting with the author of "The Cup-and-Ball."
"What shocking style that woman has! what talk, what manners!" she said. "I really don't think I can admit her any longer into our society,--especially," she added, "when Monsieur Gourdon, the poet, is present."
"There's social morality!" said the abbe, who had heard and observed all without saying a word.
After this epigram, or rather, this satire on the company, so true and so concise that it hit every one, the usual game of boston was proposed.
Is not this a picture of life as it is at all stages of what we agree to call society? Change the style, and you will find that nothing more and nothing less is said in the gilded salons of Paris.