Sons of the Soil by Honore de Balzac
Chapter IV. Another Idyll
"Ha! by my pipe, papa!" exclaimed Tonsard, seeing his father-in-law as the old man entered and supposing him in quest of food, "your stomach is lively this morning! We haven't anything to give you. How about that rope,--the rope, you know, you were to make for us? It is amazing how much you make over night and how little there is made in the morning! You ought long ago to have twisted the one that is to twist you out of existence; you are getting too costly for us."
The wit of a peasant or laborer is very Attic; it consists in speaking out his mind and giving it a grotesque expression. We find the same thing in a drawing-room. Delicacy of wit takes the place of picturesque vulgarity, and that is really all the difference there is.
"That's enough for the father-in-law!" said the old man. "Talk business; I want a bottle of the best."
So saying, Fourchon rapped a five-franc piece that gleamed in his hand on the old table at which he was seated,--which, with its coating of grease, its scorched black marks, its wine stains, and its gashes, was singular to behold. At the sound of coin Marie Tonsard, as trig as a sloop about to start on a cruise, glanced at her grandfather with a covetous look that shot from her eyes like a spark. La Tonsard came out of her bedroom, attracted by the music of metal.
"You are always rough to my poor father," she said to her husband, "and yet he has earned a deal of money this year; God grant he came by it honestly. Let me see that," she added, springing at the coin and snatching it from Fourchon's fingers.
"Marie," said Tonsard, gravely, "above the board you'll find some bottled wine. Go and get a bottle."
Wine is of only one quality in the country, but it is sold as of two kinds,--cask wine and bottled wine.
"Where did you get this, papa" demanded La Tonsard, slipping the coin into her pocket.
"Philippine! you'll come to a bad end," said the old man, shaking his head but not attempting to recover his money. Doubtless he had long realized the futility of a struggle between his daughter, his terrible son-in-law, and himself.
"Another bottle of wine for which you get five francs out of me," he added, in a peevish tone. "But it shall be the last. I shall give my custom to the Cafe de la Paix."
"Hold your tongue, papa!" remarked his fair and fat daughter, who bore some resemblance to a Roman matron. "You need a shirt, and a pair of clean trousers, and a hat; and I want to see you with a waistcoat. That's what I take the money for."
"I have told you again and again that such things would ruin me," said the old man. "People would think me rich and stop giving me anything."
The bottle brought by Marie put an end to the loquacity of the old man, who was not without that trait, characteristic of those whose tongues are ready to tell out everything, and who shrink from no expression of their thought, no matter how atrocious it may be.
"Then you don't want to tell where you filched that money?" said Tonsard. "We might go and get more where that came from,--the rest of us."
He was making a snare, and as he finished it the ferocious innkeeper happened to glance at his father-in-law's trousers, and there he spied a raised round spot which clearly defined a second five-franc piece.
"Having become a capitalist I drink your health," said Pere Fourchon.
"If you choose to be a capitalist you can be," said Tonsard; "you have the means, you have! But the devil has bored a hole in the back of your head through which everything runs out."
"Hey! I only played the otter trick on that young fellow they have got at Les Aigues. He's from Paris. That's all there is to it."
"If crowds of people would come to see the sources of the Avonne, you'd be rich, Grandpa Fourchon," said Marie.
"Yes," he said, drinking the last glassful the bottle contained, "and I've played the sham otter so long, the live otters have got angry, and one of them came right between my legs to-day; Mouche caught it, and I am to get twenty francs for it."
"I'll bet your otter is made of tow," said Tonsard, looking slyly at his father-in-law.
"If you will give me a pair of trousers, a waistcoat, and some list braces, so as not to disgrace Vermichel on the music stand at Tivoli (for old Socquard is always scolding about my clothes), I'll let you keep that money, my daughter; your idea is a good one. I can squeeze that rich young fellow at Les Aigues; may be he'll take to otters."
"Go and get another bottle," said Tonsard to his daughter. "If your father really had an otter, he would show it to us," he added, speaking to his wife and trying to touch up Fourchon.
"I'm too afraid it would get into your frying-pan," said the old man, winking one of his little green eyes at his daughter. "Philippine has already hooked my five-franc piece; and how many more haven't you bagged under pretence of clothing me and feeding me? and now you say that my stomach is too lively, and that I go half-naked."
"You sold your last clothes to drink boiled wine at the Cafe de la Paix, papa," said his daughter, "though Vermichel tried to prevent it."
"Vermichel! the man I treated! Vermichel is incapable of betraying my friendship. It must have been that lump of old lard on two legs that he is not ashamed to call his wife!"
"He or she," replied Tonsard, "or Bonnebault."
"If it was Bonnebault," cried Fourchon, "he who is one of the pillars of the place, I'll--I'll--Enough!"
"You old sot, what has all that got to do with having sold your clothes? You sold them because you did sell them; you're of age!" said Tonsard, slapping the old man's knee. "Come, do honor to my drink and redden up your throat! The father of Mam Tonsard has a right to do so; and isn't that better than spending your silver at Socquard's?"
"What a shame it is that you have been fifteen years playing for people to dance at Tivoli and you have never yet found out how Socquard cooks his wine,--you who are so shrewd!" said his daughter; "and yet you know very well that if we had the secret we should soon get as rich as Rigou."
Throughout the Morvan, and in that region of Burgundy which lies at its feet on the side toward Paris, this boiled wine with which Mam Tonsard reproached her father is a rather costly beverage which plays a great part in the life of the peasantry, and is made by all grocers and wine-dealers, and wherever a drinking-shop exists. This precious liquor, made of choice wine, sugar, and cinnamon and other spices, is preferable to all those disguises or mixtures of brandy called ratafia, one-hundred-and-seven, brave man's cordial, black currant wine, vespetro, spirit-of-sun, etc. Boiled wine is found throughout France and Switzerland. Among the Jura, and in the wild districts trodden only by a few special tourists, the innkeepers call it, on the word of commercial travellers, the wine of Syracuse. Excellent it is, however, and their guests, hungry as hounds after ascending the surrounding peaks, very gladly pay three and four francs a bottle for it. In the homes of the Morvan and in Burgundy the least illness or the slightest agitation of the nerves is an excuse for boiled wine. Before and after childbirth the women take it with the addition of burnt sugar. Boiled wine has soaked up the property of many a peasant, and more than once the seductive liquid has been the cause of marital chastisement.
"Ha! there's no chance of grabbing that secret," replied Fourchon, "Socquard always locks himself in when he boils his wine; he never told how he does it to his late wife. He sends to Paris for his materials."
"Don't plague your father," cried Tonsard; "doesn't he know? well, then, he doesn't know! People can't know everything!"
Fourchon grew very uneasy on seeing how his son-in-law's countenance softened as well as his words.
"What do you want to rob me of now?" he asked, candidly.
"I?" said Tonsard, "I take none but my legitimate dues; if I get anything from you it is in payment of your daughter's portion, which you promised me and never paid."
Fourchon, reassured by the harshness of this remark, dropped his head on his breast as though vanquished and convinced.
"Look at that pretty snare," resumed Tonsard, coming up to his father- in-law and laying the trap upon his knee. "Some of these days they'll want game at Les Aigues, and we shall sell them their own, or there will be no good God for the poor folks."
"A fine piece of work," said the old man, examining the mischievous machine.
"It is very well to pick up the sous now, papa," said Mam Tonsard, "but you know we are to have our share in the cake of Les Aigues."
"Oh, what chatterers women are!" cried Tonsard. "If I am hanged it won't be for a shot from my gun, but for the gabble of your tongue."
"And do you really suppose that Les Aigues will be cut up and sold in lots for your pitiful benefit?" asked Fourchon. "Pshaw! haven't you discovered in the last thirty years that old Rigou has been sucking the marrow out of your bones that the middle-class folks are worse than the lords? Mark my words, when that affair happens, my children, the Soudrys, the Gaubertins, the Rigous, will make you kick your heels in the air. 'I've the good tobacco, it never shall be thine,' that's the national air of the rich man, hey? The peasant will always be the peasant. Don't you see (but you never did understand anything of politics!) that government puts such heavy taxes on wine only to hinder our profits and keep us poor? The middle classes and the government, they are all one. What would become of them if everybody was rich? Could they till their fields? Would they gather the harvest? No, they want the poor! I was rich for ten years and I know what I thought of paupers."
"Must hunt with them, though," replied Tonsard, "because they mean to cut up the great estates; after that's done, we can turn against them. If I'd been Courtecuisse, whom that scoundrel Rigou is ruining, I'd have long ago paid his bill with other balls than the poor fellow gives him."
"Right enough, too," replied Fourchon. "As Pere Niseron says (and he stayed republican long after everybody else), 'The people are tough; they don't die; they have time before them.'"
Fourchon fell into a sort of reverie; Tonsard profited by his inattention to take back the trap, and as he took it up he cut a slip below the coin in his father-in-law's pocket at the moment when the old man raised his glass to his lips; then he set his foot on the five-franc piece as it dropped on the earthen floor just where it was always kept damp by the heel-taps which the customers flung from their glasses. Though quickly and lightly done, the old man might, perhaps, have felt the theft, if Vermichel had not happened to appear at that moment.
"Tonsard, do you know where you father is?" called that functionary from the foot of the steps.
Vermichel's shout, the theft of the money, and the emptying of old Fourchon's glass, were simultaneous.
"Present, captain!" cried Fourchon, holding out a hand to Vermichel to help him up the steps.
Of all Burgundian figures, Vermichel would have seemed to you the most Burgundian. The practitioner was not red, he was scarlet. His face, like certain tropical portions of the globe, was fissured, here and there, with small extinct volcanoes, defined by flat and greenish patches which Fourchon called, not unpoetically, the "flowers of wine." This fiery face, the features of which were swelled out of shape by continual drunkenness, looked cyclopic; for it was lighted on the right side by a gleaming eye, and darkened on the other by a yellow patch over the left orb. Red hair, always tousled, and a beard like that of Judas, made Vermichel as formidable in appearance as he was meek in reality. His prominent nose looked like an interrogation- mark, to which the wide-slit mouth seemed to be always answering, even when it did not open. Vermichel, a short man, wore hob-nail shoes, bottle-green velveteen trousers, an old waistcoat patched with diverse stuffs which seemed to have been originally made of a counterpane, a jacket of coarse blue cloth and a gray hat with a broad brim. All this luxury, required by the town of Soulanges where Vermichel fulfilled the combined functions of porter at the town-hall, drummer, jailer, musician, and practitioner, was taken care of by Madame Vermichel, an alarming antagonist of Rabelaisian philosophy. This virago with moustachios, about one yard in width and one hundred and twenty kilograms in weight (but very active), ruled Vermichel with a rod of iron. Thrashed by her when drunk, he allowed her to thrash him still when sober; which caused Pere Fourchon to say, with a sniff at Vermichel's clothes, "It is the livery of a slave."
"Talk of the sun and you'll see its beams," cried Fourchon, repeating a well-worn allusion to the rutilant face of Vermichel, which really did resemble those copper suns painted on tavern signs in the provinces. "Has Mam Vermichel spied too much dust on your back, that you're running away from your four-fifths,--for I can't call her your better half, that woman! What brings you here at this hour, drum- major?"
"Politics, always politics," replied Vermichel, who seemed accustomed to such pleasantries.
"Ah! business is bad in Blangy, and there'll be notes to protest, and writs to issue," remarked Pere Fourchon, filling a glass for his friend.
"That ape of ours is right behind me," replied Vermichel, with a backward gesture.
In workmen's slang "ape" meant master. The word belonged to the dictionary of the worthy pair.
"What's Monsieur Brunet coming bothering about here?" asked Tonsard.
"Hey, by the powers, you folks!" said Vermichel, "you've brought him in for the last three years more than you are worth. Ha! that master at Les Aigues, he has his eye upon you; he'll punch you in the ribs; he's after you, the Shopman! Brunet says, if there were three such landlords in the valley his fortune would be made."
"What new harm are they going to do to the poor?" asked Marie.
"A pretty wise thing for themselves," replied Vermichel. "Faith! you'll have to give in, in the end. How can you help it? They've got the power. For the last two years haven't they had three foresters and a horse-patrol, all as active as ants, and a field-keeper who is a terror? Besides, the gendarmerie is ready to do their dirty work at any time. They'll crush you--"
"Bah!" said Tonsard, "we are too flat. That which can't be crushed isn't the trees, it's ground."
"Don't you trust to that," said Fourchon to his son-in-law; "you own property."
"Those rich folks must love you," continued Vermichel, "for they think of nothing else from morning till night! They are saying to themselves now like this: 'Their cattle eat up our pastures; we'll seize their cattle; they can't eat grass themselves.' You've all been condemned, the warrants are out, and they have told our ape to take your cows. We are to begin this morning at Conches by seizing old mother Bonnebault's cow and Godin's cow and Mitant's cow."
The moment the name of Bonnebault was mentioned, Marie, who was in love with the old woman's grandson, sprang into the vineyard with a nod to her father and mother. She slipped like an eel through a break in the hedge, and was off on the way to Conches with the speed of a hunted hare.
"They'll do so much," remarked Tonsard, tranquilly, "that they'll get their bones broken; and that will be a pity, for their mothers can't make them any new ones."
"Well, perhaps so," said old Fourchon, "but see here, Vermichel, I can't go with you for an hour or more, for I have important business at the chateau."
"More important than serving three warrants at five sous each? 'You shouldn't spit into the vintage,' as Father Noah says."
"I tell you, Vermichel, that my business requires me to go to the chateau des Aigues," repeated the old man, with an air of laughable self-importance.
"And anyhow," said Mam Tonsard, "my father had better keep out of the way. Do you really mean to find the cows?"
"Monsieur Brunet, who is a very good fellow, would much rather find nothing but their dung," answered Vermichel. "A man who is obliged to be out and about day and night had better be careful."
"If he is, he has good reason to be," said Tonsard, sententiously.
"So," continued Vermichel, "he said to Monsieur Michaud, 'I'll go as soon as the court is up.' If he had wanted to find the cows he'd have gone at seven o'clock in the morning. But that didn't suit Michaud, and Brunet has had to be off. You can't take in Michaud, he's a trained hound! Ha, the brigand!"
"Ought to have stayed in the army, a swaggerer like that," said Tonsard; "he is only fit to deal with enemies. I wish he would come and ask me my name. He may call himself a veteran of the young guard, but I know very well that if I measured spurs with him, I'd keep my feathers up longest."
"Look here!" said Mam Tonsard to Vermichel, "when are the notices for the ball at Soulanges coming out? Here it is the eighth of August."
"I took them yesterday to Monsieur Bournier at Ville-aux-Fayes, to be printed," replied Vermichel; "they do talk of fireworks on the lake."
"What crowds of people we shall have!" cried Fourchon.
"Profits for Socquard!" said Tonsard, spitefully.
"If it doesn't rain," said his wife, by way of comfort.
At this moment the trot of a horse coming from the direction of Soulanges was heard, and five minutes later the sheriff's officer fastened his horse to a post placed for the purpose near the wicket gate through which the cows were driven. Then he showed his head at the door of the Grand-I-Vert.
"Come, my boys, let's lose no time," he said, pretending to be in a hurry.
"Hey!" said Vermichel. "Here's a refractory, Monsieur Brunet; Pere Fourchon wants to drop off."
"He has had too many drops already," said the sheriff; "but the law in this case does not require that he shall be sober."
"Please excuse me, Monsieur Brunet," said Fourchon, "I am expected at Les Aigues on business; they are in treaty for an otter."
Brunet, a withered little man dressed from head to foot in black cloth, with a bilious skin, a furtive eye, curly hair, lips tight- drawn, pinched nose, anxious expression, and gruff in speech, exhibited the phenomenon of a character and bearing in perfect harmony with his profession. He was so well-informed as to the law, or, to speak more correctly, the quibbles of the law, that he had come to be both the terror and the counsellor of the whole canton. He was not without a certain popularity among the peasantry, from whom he usually took his pay in kind. The compound of his active and negative qualities and his knowledge of how to manage matters got him the custom of the canton, to the exclusion of his coadjutor Plissoud, about whom we shall have something to say later. This chance combination of a sheriff's officer who does everything and a sheriff's officer who does nothing is not at all uncommon in the country justice courts.
"So matters are getting warm, are they?" said Tonsard to little Brunet.
"What can you expect? you pilfer the man too much, and he's going to protect himself," replied the officer. "It will be a bad business for you in the end; government will interfere."
"Then we, poor unfortunates, must give up the ghost!" said Mam Tonsard, offering him a glass of brandy on a saucer.
"The unfortunate may all die, yet they'll never be lacking in the land," said Fourchon, sententiously.
"You do great damage to the woods," retorted the sheriff.
"Now don't believe that, Monsieur Brunet," said Mam Tonsard; "they make such a fuss about a few miserable fagots!"
"We didn't crush the rich low enough during the Revolution, that's what's the trouble," said Tonsard.
Just then a horrible, and quite incomprehensible noise was heard. It seemed to be a rush of hurried feet, accompanied with a rattle of arms, half-drowned by the rustling of leaves, the dragging of branches, and the sound of still more hasty feet. Two voices, as different as the two footsteps, were venting noisy exclamations. Everybody inside the inn guessed at once that a man was pursuing a woman; but why? The uncertainty did not last long.
"It is mother!" said Tonsard, jumping up; "I know her shriek."
Then suddenly, rushing up the broken steps of the Grand-I-Vert by a last effort that can be made only by the sinews of smugglers, old Mother Tonsard fell flat on the floor in the middle of the room. The immense mass of wood she carried on her head made a terrible noise as it crashed against the top of the door and then upon the ground. Every one had jumped out of the way. The table, the bottles, the chairs were knocked over and scattered. The noise was as great as if the cottage itself had come tumbling down.
"I'm dead! The scoundrel has killed me!"
The words and the flight of the old woman were explained by the apparition on the threshold of a keeper, dressed in green livery, wearing a hat edged with silver cord, a sabre at his side, a leathern shoulder-belt bearing the arms of Montcornet charged with those of the Troisvilles, the regulation red waistcoat, and buckskin gaiters which came above the knee.
After a moment's hesitation the keeper said, looking at Brunet and Vermichel, "Here are witnesses."
"Witnesses of what?" said Tonsard.
"That woman has a ten-year-old oak, cut into logs, inside those fagots; it is a regular crime!"
The moment the word "witness" was uttered Vermichel thought best to breathe the fresh air of the vineyard.
"Of what? witnesses of what?" cried Tonsard, standing in front of the keeper while his wife helped up the old woman. "Do you mean to show your claws, Vatel? Accuse persons and arrest them on the highway, brigand,--that's your domain; but get out of here! A man's house is his castle."
"I caught her in the act, and your mother must come with me."
"Arrest my mother in my house? You have no right to do it. My house is inviolable,--all the world knows that, at least. Have you got a warrant from Monsieur Guerbet, the magistrate? Ha! you must have the law behind you before you come in here. You are not the law, though you have sworn an oath to starve us to death, you miserable forest- gauger, you!"
The fury of the keeper waxed so hot that he was on the point of seizing hold of the wood, when the old woman, a frightful bit of black parchment endowed with motion, the like of which can be seen only in David's picture of "The Sabines," screamed at him, "Don't touch it, or I'll fly at your eyes!"
"Well, then, undo that pile in presence of Monsieur Brunet," said the keeper.
Though the sheriff's officer had assumed the indifference that the routine of business does really give to officials of his class, he threw a glance at Tonsard and his wife which said plainly, "A bad business!" Old Fourchon looked at his daughter, and slyly pointed at a pile of ashes in the chimney. Mam Tonsard, who understood in a moment from that significant gesture both the danger of her mother-in-law and the advice of her father, seized a handful of ashes and flung them in the keeper's eyes. Vatel roared with pain; Tonsard pushed him roughly upon the broken door-steps where the blinded man stumbled and fell, and then rolled nearly down to the gate, dropping his gun on the way. In an instant the load of sticks was unfastened, and the oak logs pulled out and hidden with a rapidity no words can describe. Brunet, anxious not to witness this manoeuvre, which he readily foresaw, rushed after the keeper to help him up; then he placed him on the bank and wet his handkerchief in water to wash the eyes of the poor fellow, who, in spite of his agony, was trying to reach the brook.
"You are in the wrong, Vatel," said Brunet; "you have no right to enter houses, don't you see?"
The old woman, a little hump-backed creature, stood on the sill of the door, with her hands on her hips, darting flashes from her eyes and curses from her foaming lips shrill enough to be heard at Blangy.
"Ha! the villain, 'twas well done! May hell get you! To suspect me of cutting trees!--me, the most honest woman in the village. To hunt me like vermin! I'd like to see you lose your cursed eyes, for then we'd have peace. You are birds of ill-omen, the whole of you; you invent shameful stories to stir up strife between your master and us."
The keeper allowed the sheriff to bathe his eyes and all the while the latter kept telling him that he was legally wrong.
"The old thief! she has tired us out," said Vatel at last. "She has been at work in the woods all night."
As the whole family had taken an active hand in hiding the live wood and putting things straight in the cottage, Tonsard presently appeared at the door with an insolent air. "Vatel, my man, if you ever again dare to force your way into my domain, my gun shall answer you," he said. "To-day you have had the ashes; the next time you shall have the fire. You don't know your own business. That's enough. Now if you feel hot after this affair take some wine, I offer it to you; and you may come in and see that my old mother's bundle of fagots hadn't a scrap of live wood in it; it is every bit brushwood."
"Scoundrel!" said the keeper to the sheriff, in a low voice, more enraged by this speech than by the smart of his eyes.
Just then Charles, the groom, appeared at the gate of the Grand-I- Vert.
"What is the matter, Vatel?" he said.
"Ah!" said the keeper, wiping his eyes, which he had plunged wide open into the rivulet to give them a final cleansing. "I have some debtors in there that I'll cause to rue the day they saw the light."
"If you take it that way, Monsieur Vatel," said Tonsard, coldly, "you will find we don't want for courage in Burgundy."
Vatel departed. Not feeling much curiosity to know what the trouble was, Charles went up the steps and looked into the house.
"Come to the chateau, you and your otter,--if you really have one," he said to Pere Fourchon.
The old man rose hurriedly and followed him.
"Well, where is it,--that otter of yours?" said Charles, smiling doubtfully.
"This way," said the old fellow, going toward the Thune.
The name is that of a brook formed by the overflow of the mill-race and of certain springs in the park of Les Aigues. It runs by the side of the county road as far as the lakelet of Soulanges, which it crosses, and then falls into the Avonne, after feeding the mills and ponds on the Soulanges estate.
"Here it is; I hid it in the brook, with a stone around its neck."
As he stooped and rose again the old man missed the coin out of his pocket, where metal was so uncommon that he was likely to notice its presence or its absence immediately.
"Ah, the sharks!" he cried. "If I hunt otters they hunt fathers-in- law! They get out of me all I earn, and tell me it is for my good! If it were not for my poor Mouche, who is the comfort of my old age, I'd drown myself. Children! they are the ruin of their fathers. You haven't married, have you, Monsieur Charles? Then don't; never get married, and then you can't reproach yourself for spreading bad blood. I, who expected to buy my tow with that money, and there it is filched, stolen! That monsieur up at Les Aigues, a fine young fellow, gave me ten francs; ha! well! it'll put up the price of my otter now."
Charles distrusted the old man so profoundly that he took his grievances (this time very sincere) for the preliminary of what he called, in servant's slang, "varnish," and he made the great mistake of letting his opinion appear in a satirical grin, which the spiteful old fellow detected.
"Come, come! Pere Fourchon, now behave yourself; you are going to see Madame," said Charles, noticing how the rubies flashed on the nose and cheeks of the old drunkard.
"I know how to attend to business, Charles; and the proof is that if you will get me out of the kitchen the remains of the breakfast and a bottle or two of Spanish wine, I'll tell you something which will save you from a 'foul.'"
"Tell me, and Francois shall get Monsieur's own order to give you a glass of wine," said the groom.
"Well then, I know you meet my granddaughter Catherine under the bridge of the Avonne. Godain is in love with her; he saw you, and he is fool enough to be jealous,--I say fool, for a peasant oughtn't to have feelings which belong only to rich folks. If you go to the ball of Soulanges at Tivoli and dance with her, you'll dance higher than you'll like. Godain is rich and dangerous; he is capable of breaking your arm without your getting a chance to arrest him."
"That would be too dear; Catherine is a fine girl, but she is not worth all that," replied Charles. "Why should Godain be so angry? others are not."
"He loves her enough to marry her."
"If he does, he'll beat her," said Charles.
"I don't know about that," said the old man. "She takes after her mother, against whom Tonsard never raised a finger,--he's too afraid she'll be off, hot foot. A woman who knows how to hold her own is mighty useful. Besides, if it came to fisticuffs with Catherine, Godain, though he's pretty strong, wouldn't give the last blow."
"Well, thank you, Pere Fourchon; here's forty sous to drink my health in case I can't get you the sherry."
Pere Fourchon turned his head aside as he pocketed the money lest Charles should see the expression of amusement and sarcasm which he was unable to repress.
"Catherine," he resumed, "is a proud minx; she likes sherry. You had better tell her to go and get it at Les Aigues."
Charles looked at Pere Fourchon with naive admiration, not suspecting the eager interest the general's enemies took in slipping one more spy into the chateau.
"The general ought to feel happy now," continued Fourchon; "the peasants are all quiet. What does he say? Is he satisfied with Sibilet?"
"It is only Monsieur Michaud who finds fault with Sibilet. They say he'll get him sent away."
"Professional jealousy!" exclaimed Fourchon. "I'll bet you would like to get rid of Francois and take his place."
"Hang it! he has twelve hundred francs wages," said Charles; "but they can't send him off,--he knows the general's secrets."
"Just as Madame Michaud knows the countess's," remarked Fourchon, watching the other carefully. "Look here, my boy, do you know whether Monsieur and Madame have separate rooms?"
"Of course; if they didn't, Monsieur wouldn't be so fond of Madame."
"Is that all you know?" said Fourchon.
As they were now before the kitchen windows nothing more was said.