"You!" exclaimed the post master to the clerk, who stood rubbing his
hands, "making game of our misfortunes already?"
As Goupil was known to have pandered to Dionis' passions for the last
five years, the post master treated him cavalierly, without suspecting
the hoard of ill-feeling he was piling up in Goupil's heart with every
fresh insult. The clerk, convinced that money was more necessary to
him than it was to others, and knowing himself superior in mind to the
whole bourgeoisie of Nemours, was now counting on his intimacy with
Minoret's son Desire to obtain the means of buying one or the other of
three town offices,--that of clerk of the court, or the legal practice
of one of the sheriffs, or that of Dionis himself. For this reason he
put up with the affronts of the post master and the contempt of Madame
Minoret-Levrault, and played a contemptible part towards Desire,
consoling the fair victims whom that youth left behind him after each
vacation,--devouring the crumbs of the loaves he had kneaded.
"If I were the nephew of a rich old fellow, he never would have given
God to ME for a co-heir," retorted Goupil, with a hideous grin which
exhibited his teeth--few, black, and menacing.
Just then Massin-Levrault, junior, the clerk of the court, joined his
wife, bringing with him Madame Cremiere, the wife of the tax-collector
of Nemours. This man, one of the hardest natures of the little town,
had the physical characteristics of a Tartar: eyes small and round as
sloes beneath a retreating brow, crimped hair, an oily skin, huge ears
without any rim, a mouth almost without lips, and a scanty beard. He
spoke like a man who was losing his voice. To exhibit him thoroughly
it is enough to say that he employed his wife and eldest daughter to
serve his legal notices.
Madame Cremiere was a stout woman, with a fair complexion injured by
red blotches, always too tightly laced, intimate with Madame Dionis,
and supposed to be educated because she read novels. Full of
pretensions to wit and elegance, she was awaiting her uncle's money to
"take a certain stand," decorate her salon, and receive the
bourgeoisie. At present her husband denied her Carcel lamps,
lithographs, and all the other trifles the notary's wife possessed.
She was excessively afraid of Goupil, who caught up and retailed her
"slapsus-linquies" as she called them. One day Madame Dionis chanced
to ask what "Eau" she thought best for the teeth.
"Try opium," she replied.
Nearly all the collateral heirs of old Doctor Minoret were now
assembled in the square; the importance of the event which brought
them was so generally felt that even groups of peasants, armed with
their scarlet umbrellas and dressed in those brilliant colors which
make them so picturesque on Sundays and fete-days, stood by, with
their eyes fixed on the frightened heirs. In all little towns which
are midway between large villages and cities those who do not go to
mass stand about in the square or market-place. Business is talked
over. In Nemours the hour of church service was a weekly exchange, to
which the owners of property scattered over a radius of some miles
"Well, how would you have prevented it?" said the post master to
Goupil in reply to his remark.
"I should have made myself as important to him as the air he breathes.
But from the very first you failed to get hold of him. The inheritance
of a rich uncle should be watched as carefully as a pretty woman--for
want of proper care they'll both escape you. If Madame Dionis were
here she could tell you how true that comparison is."
"But Monsieur Bongrand has just told me there is nothing to worry
about," said Massin.
"Oh! there are plenty of ways of saying that!" cried Goupil,
laughing. "I would like to have heard your sly justice of the peace
say it. If there is nothing to be done, if he, being intimate with
your uncle, knows that all is lost, the proper thing for him to say to
you is, 'Don't be worried.'"
As Goupil spoke, a satirical smile overspread his face, and gave such
meaning to his words that the other heirs began to feel that Massin
had let Bongrand deceive him. The tax-collector, a fat little man, as
insignificant as a tax-collector should be, and as much of a cipher as
a clever woman could wish, hereupon annihilated his co-heir, Massin,
with the words:--"Didn't I tell you so?"
Tricky people always attribute trickiness to others. Massin therefore
looked askance at Monsieur Bongrand, the justice of the peace, who was
at that moment talking near the door of the church with the Marquis du
Rouvre, a former client.
"If I were sure of it!" he said.
"You could neutralize the protection he is now giving to the Marquis
du Rouvre, who is threatened with arrest. Don't you see how Bongrand
is sprinkling him with advice?" said Goupil, slipping an idea of
retaliation into Massin's mind. "But you had better go easy with your
chief; he's a clever old fellow; he might use his influence with your
uncle and persuade him not to leave everything to the church."
"Pooh! we sha'n't die of it," said Minoret-Levrault, opening his
"You won't live of it, either," said Goupil, making the two women
tremble. More quick-witted than their husbands, they saw the
privations this loss of inheritance (so long counted on for many
comforts) would be to them. "However," added Goupil, "we'll drown this
little grief in floods of champagne in honor of Desire!--sha'n't we,
old fellow?" he cried, tapping the stomach of the giant, and inviting
himself to the feast for fear he should be left out.
THE RICH UNCLE
Before proceeding further, persons of an exact turn of mind may like
to read a species of family inventory, so as to understand the degrees
of relationship which connected the old man thus suddenly converted to
religion with these three heads of families or their wives. This
cross-breeding of families in the remote provinces might be made the
subject of many instructive reflections.
There are but three or four houses of the lesser nobility in Nemours;
among them, at the period of which we write, that of the family of
Portenduere was the most important. These exclusives visited none but
nobles who possessed lands or chateaus in the neighbourhood; of the
latter we may mention the d'Aiglemonts, owners of the beautiful estate
of Saint-Lange, and the Marquis du Rouvre, whose property, crippled by
mortgages, was closely watched by the bourgeoisie. The nobles of the
town had no money. Madame de Portenduere's sole possessions were a
farm which brought a rental of forty-seven hundred francs, and her
In opposition to this very insignificant Faubourg St. Germain was a
group of a dozen rich families, those of retired millers, or former
merchants; in short a miniature bourgeoisie; below which, again, lived
and moved the retail shopkeepers, the proletaries and the peasantry.
The bourgeoisie presented (like that of the Swiss cantons and of other
small countries) the curious spectacle of the ramifications of certain
autochthonous families, old-fashioned and unpolished perhaps, but who
rule a whole region and pervade it, until nearly all its inhabitants
are cousins. Under Louis XI., an epoch at which the commons first made
real names of their surnames (some of which are united with those of
feudalism) the bourgeoisie of Nemours was made up of Minorets,
Massins, Levraults and Cremieres. Under Louis XIII. these four
families had already produced the Massin-Cremieres, the Levrault-
Massins, the Massin-Minorets, the Minoret-Minorets, the Cremiere-
Levraults, the Levrault-Minoret-Massins, Massin-Levraults, Minoret-
Massins, Massin-Massins, and Cremiere-Massins,--all these varied with
juniors and diversified with the names of eldest sons, as for
instance, Cremiere-Francois, Levrault-Jacques, Jean-Minoret--enough to
drive a Pere Anselme of the People frantic,--if the people should ever
want a genealogist.
The variations of this family kaleidoscope of four branches was now so
complicated by births and marriages that the genealogical tree of the
bourgeoisie of Nemours would have puzzled the Benedictines of the
Almanach of Gotha, in spite of the atomic science with which they
arrange those zigzags of German alliances. For a long time the
Minorets occupied the tanneries, the Cremieres kept the mills, the
Massins were in trade, and the Levraults continued farmers.
Fortunately for the neighbourhood these four stocks threw out suckers
instead of depending only on their tap-roots; they scattered cuttings
by the expatriation of sons who sought their fortune elsewhere; for
instance, there are Minorets who are cutlers at Melun; Levraults at
Montargis; Massins at Orleans; and Cremieres of some importance in
Paris. Divers are the destinies of these bees from the parent hive.
Rich Massins employ, of course, the poor working Massins--just as
Austria and Prussia take the German princes into their service. It may
happen that a public office is managed by a Minoret millionaire and
guarded by a Minoret sentinel. Full of the same blood and called by
the same name (for sole likeness), these four roots had ceaselessly
woven a human network of which each thread was delicate or strong,
fine or coarse, as the case might be. The same blood was in the head
and in the feet and in the heart, in the working hands, in the weakly
lungs, in the forehead big with genius.
The chiefs of the clan were faithful to the little town, where the
ties of family were relaxed or tightened according to the events which
happened under this curious cognomenism. In whatever part of France
you may be, you will find the same thing under changed names, but
without the poetic charm which feudalism gave to it, and which Walter
Scott's genius reproduced so faithfully. Let us look a little higher
and examine humanity as it appears in history. All the noble families
of the eleventh century, most of them (except the royal race of Capet)
extinct to-day, will be found to have contributed to the birth of the
Rohans, Montmorencys, Beauffremonts, and Mortemarts of our time,--in
fact they will all be found in the blood of the last gentleman who is
indeed a gentleman. In other words, every bourgeois is cousin to a
bourgeois, and every noble is cousin to a noble. A splendid page of
biblical genealogy shows that in one thousand years three families,
Shem, Ham, and Japhet, peopled the globe. One family may become a
nation; unfortunately, a nation may become one family. To prove this
we need only search back through our ancestors and see their
accumulation, which time increases into a retrograde geometric
progression, which multiplies of itself; reminding us of the
calculation of the wise man who, being told to choose a reward from
the king of Persia for inventing chess, asked for one ear of wheat for
the first move on the board, the reward to be doubled for each
succeeding move; when it was found that the kingdom was not large
enough to pay it. The net-work of the nobility, hemmed in by the net-
work of the bourgeoisie,--the antagonism of two protected races, one
protected by fixed institutions, the other by the active patience of
labor and the shrewdness of commerce,--produced the revolution of
1789. The two races almost reunited are to-day face to face with
collaterals without a heritage. What are they to do? Our political
future is big with the answer.