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The Country Doctor (Le Medecin de campagne), a novel by Honore de Balzac

Chapter 1. The Countryside And The Man (Part 4)

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As you enter the large vestibule, the salon lies to your right; it contains four windows, two of which look into the yard, and two into the garden. Ceiling and wainscot are paneled, and the walls are hung with seventeenth century tapestry--pathetic evidence that the room had been the object of the late owner's aspiration, and that he had lavished all that he could spare upon it. The great roomy armchairs, covered with brocaded damask; the old fashioned, gilded candle-sconces above the chimney-piece, and the window curtains with their heavy tassels, showed that the cure had been a wealthy man. Benassis had made some additions to this furniture, which was not without a character of its own. He had placed two smaller tables, decorated with carved wooden garlands, between the windows on opposite sides of the room, and had put a clock, in a case of tortoise shell, inlaid with copper, upon the mantel-shelf. The doctor seldom occupied the salon; its atmosphere was damp and close, like that of a room that is always kept shut. Memories of the dead cure still lingered about it; the peculiar scent of his tobacco seemed to pervade the corner by the hearth where he had been wont to sit. The two great easy-chairs were symmetrically arranged on either side of the fire, which had not been lighted since the time of M. Gravier's visit; the bright flames from the pine logs lighted the room.

"The evenings are chilly even now," said Benassis; "it is pleasant to see a fire."

Genestas was meditating. He was beginning to understand the doctor's indifference to his every-day surroundings.

"It is surprising to me, sir, that you, who possess real public spirit, should have made no effort to enlighten the Government, after accomplishing so much."

Benassis began to laugh, but without bitterness; he said, rather sadly:

"You mean that I should draw up some sort of memorial on various ways of civilizing France? You are not the first to suggest it, sir; M. Gravier has forestalled you. Unluckily, Governments cannot be enlightened, and a Government which regards itself as a diffuser of light is the least open to enlightenment. What we have done for our canton, every mayor ought, of course, to do for his; the magistrate should work for his town, the sub-prefect for his district, the prefect for the department, and the minister for France, each acting in his own sphere of interest. For the few miles of country road that I persuaded our people to make, another would succeed in constructing a canal or a highway; and for my encouragement of the peasants' trade in hats, a minister would emancipate France from the industrial yoke of the foreigner by encouraging the manufacture of clocks in different places, by helping to bring to perfection our iron and steel, our tools and appliances, or by bringing silk or dyer's woad into cultivation.

"In commerce, 'encouragement,' does not mean protection. A really wise policy should aim at making a country independent of foreign supply, but this should be effected without resorting to the pitiful shifts of customs duties and prohibitions. Industries must work out their own salvation, competition is the life of trade. A protected industry goes to sleep, and monopoly, like the protective tariff, kills it outright. The country upon which all others depend for their supplies will be the land which will promulgate free trade, for it will be conscious of its power to produce its manufactures at prices lower than those of any of its competitors. France is in a better position to attain this end than England, for France alone possesses an amount of territory sufficiently extensive to maintain a supply of agricultural produce at prices that will enable the worker to live on low wages; the Administration should keep this end in view, for therein lies the whole modern question. I have not devoted my life to this study, dear sir; I found my work by accident, and late in the day. Such simple things as these are too slight, moreover, to build into a system; there is nothing wonderful about them, they do not lend themselves to theories; it is their misfortune to be merely practically useful. And then work cannot be done quickly. The man who means to succeed in these ways must daily look to find within himself the stock of courage needed for the day, a courage in reality of the rarest kind, though it does not seem hard to practise, and meets with little recognition--the courage of the schoolmaster, who must say the same things over and over again. We all honor the man who has shed his blood on the battlefield, as you have done; but we ridicule this other whose life-fire is slowly consumed in repeating the same words to children of the same age. There is no attraction for any of us in obscure well-doing. We know nothing of the civic virtue that led the great men of ancient times to serve their country in the lowest rank whenever they did not command. Our age is afflicted with a disease that makes each of us seek to rise above his fellows, and there are more saints than shrines among us.

"This is how it has come to pass. The monarchy fell, and we lost Honor, Christian Virtue faded with the religion of our forefathers, and our own ineffectual attempts at government have destroyed Patriotism. Ideas can never utterly perish, so these beliefs linger on in our midst, but they do not influence the great mass of the people, and Society has no support but Egoism. Every individual believes in himself. For us the future means egoism; further than that we cannot see. The great man who shall save us from the shipwreck which is imminent will no doubt avail himself of individualism when he makes a nation of us once more; but until this regeneration comes, we bide our time in a materialistic and utilitarian age. Utilitarianism--to this conclusion we have come. We are all rated, not at our just worth, but according to our social importance. People will scarcely look at an energetic man if he is in shirt-sleeves. The Government itself is pervaded by this idea. A minister sends a paltry medal to a sailor who has saved a dozen lives at the risk of his own, while the deputy who sells his vote to those in power receives the Cross of the Legion of Honor.

"Woe to a people made up of such men as these! For nations, like men, owe all the strength and vitality that is in them to noble thoughts and aspirations, and men's feelings shape their faith. But when self-interest has taken the place of faith and each one of us thinks only of himself, and believes in himself alone, how can you expect to find among us much of that civil courage whose very essence consists in self-renunciation? The same principle underlies both military and civil courage, although you soldiers are called upon to yield your lives up once and for all, while ours are given slowly drop by drop, and the battle is the same for both, although it takes different forms.

"The man who would fain civilize the lowliest spot on earth needs something besides wealth for the task. Knowledge is still more necessary; and knowledge, and patriotism, and integrity are worthless unless they are accompanied by a firm determination on his part to set his own personal interests completely aside, and to devote himself to a social idea. France, no doubt, possesses more than one well-educated man and more than one patriot in every commune; but I am fully persuaded that not every canton can produce a man who to these valuable qualifications unites the unflagging will and pertinacity with which a blacksmith hammers out iron.

"The Destroyer and the Builder are two manifestations of Will; the one prepares the way, and the other accomplishes the work; the first appears in the guise of a spirit of evil, and the second seems like the spirit of good. Glory falls to the Destroyer, while the Builder is forgotten; for evil makes a noise in the world that rouses little souls to admiration, while good deeds are slow to make themselves heard. Self-love leads us to prefer the more conspicuous part. If it should happen that any public work is undertaken without an interested motive, it will only be by accident, until the day when education has changed our ways of regarding things in France.

"Yet suppose that this change had come to pass, and that all of us were public-spirited citizens; in spite of our comfortable lives among trivialities, should we not be in a fair way to become the most wearied, wearisome, and unfortunate race of philistines under the sun?

"I am not at the helm of State, the decision of great questions of this kind is not within my province; but, setting these considerations aside, there are other difficulties in the way of laying down hard and fast rules as to government. In the matter of civilization, everything is relative. Ideas that suit one country admirably are fatal in another--men's minds are as various as the soils of the globe. If we have so often been ill governed, it is because a faculty for government, like taste, is the outcome of a very rare and lofty attitude of mind. The qualifications for the work are found in a natural bent of the soul rather than in the possession of scientific formulae. No one need fear, however, to call himself a statesman, for his actions and motives cannot be justly estimated; his real judges are far away, and the results of his deeds are even more remote. We have a great respect here in France for men of ideas--a keen intellect exerts a great attraction for us; but ideas are of little value where a resolute will is the one thing needful. Administration, as a matter of fact, does not consist in forcing more or less wise methods and ideas upon the great mass of the nation, but in giving to the ideas, good or bad, that they already possess a practical turn which will make them conduce to the general welfare of the State. If old-established prejudices and customs bring a country into a bad way, the people will renounce their errors of their own accord. Are not losses the result of economical errors of every kind? And is it not, therefore, to every one's interest to rectify them in the long run?

"Luckily I found a /tabula rasa/ in this district. They have followed my advice, and the land is well cultivated; but there had been no previous errors in agriculture, and the soil was good to begin with, so that it has been easy to introduce the five-ply shift, artificial grasses, and potatoes. My methods did not clash with people's prejudices. The faultily constructed plowshares in use in some parts of France were unknown here, the hoe sufficed for the little field work that they did. Our wheelwright extolled my wheeled plows because he wished to increase his own business, so I secured an ally in him; but in this matter, as in all others, I sought to make the good of one conduce to the good of all.

"Then I turned my attention to another kind of production, that should increase the welfare rather than the wealth of these poor folk. I have brought nothing from without into this district; I have simply encouraged the people to seek beyond its limits for a market for their produce, a measure that could not but increase their prosperity in a way that they felt immediately. They had no idea of the fact, but they themselves were my apostles, and their works preached my doctrines. Something else must also be borne in mind. We are barely five leagues from Grenoble. There is plenty of demand in a large city for produce of all kinds, but not every commune is situated at the gates of a city. In every similar undertaking the nature, situation, and resources of the country must be taken into consideration, and a careful study must be made of the soil, of the people themselves, and of many other things; and no one should expect to have vines grow in Normandy. So no tasks can be more various than those of government, and its general principles must be few in number. The law is uniform, but not so the land and the minds and customs of those who dwell in it; and the administration of the law is the art of carrying it out in such a manner that no injury is done to people's interests. Every place must be considered separately.

"On the other side of the mountain at the foot of which our deserted village lies, they find it impossible to use wheeled plows, because the soil is not deep enough. Now if the mayor of the commune were to take it into his head to follow in our footsteps, he would be the ruin of his neighborhood. I advised him to plant vineyards; they had a capital vintage last year in the little district, and their wine is exchanged for our corn.

"Then, lastly, it must be remembered that my words carried a certain weight with the people to whom I preached, and that we were continually brought into close contact. I cured my peasants' complaints; an easy task, for a nourishing diet is, as a rule, all that is needed to restore them to health and strength. Either through thrift, or through sheer poverty, the country people starve themselves; any illness among them is caused in this way, and as a rule they enjoy very fair health.

"When I first decided to devote myself to this life of obscure renunciation, I was in doubt for a long while whether to become a cure, a country doctor, or a justice of the peace. It is not without reason that people speak collectively of the priest, the lawyer, and the doctor as 'men of the black robe'--so the saying goes. They represent the three principal elements necessary to the existence of society--conscience, property, and health. At one time the first, and at a later period the second, was all-important in the State. Our predecessors on this earth thought, perhaps not without reason, that the priest, who prescribed what men should think, ought to be paramount; so the priest was king, pontiff, and judge in one, for in those days belief and faith were everything. All this has been changed in our day; and we must even take our epoch as we find it. But I, for one, believe that the progress of civilization and the welfare of the people depend on these three men. They are the three powers who bring home to the people's minds the ways in which facts, interests, and principles affect them. They themselves are three great results produced in the midst of the nation by the operation of events, by the ownership of property, and by the growth of ideas. Time goes on and brings changes to pass, property increases or diminishes in men's hands, all the various readjustments have to be duly regulated, and in this way principles of social order are established. If civilization is to spread itself, and production is to be increased, the people must be made to understand the way in which the interests of the individual harmonize with national interests which resolve themselves into facts, interests, and principles. As these three professions are bound to deal with these issues of human life, it seemed to me that they must be the most powerful civilizing agencies of our time. They alone afford to a man of wealth the opportunity of mitigating the fate of the poor, with whom they daily bring him in contact.

"The peasant is always more willing to listen to the man who lays down rules for saving him from bodily ills than to the priest who exhorts him to save his soul. The first speaker can talk of this earth, the scene of the peasant's labors, while the priest is bound to talk to him of heaven, with which, unfortunately, the peasant nowadays concerns himself very little indeed; I say unfortunately, because the doctrine of a future life is not only a consolation, but a means by which men may be governed. Is not religion the one power that sanctions social laws? We have but lately vindicated the existence of God. In the absence of a religion, the Government was driven to invent the Terror, in order to carry its laws into effect; but the terror was the fear of man, and it has passed away.

"When a peasant is ill, when he is forced to lie on his pallet, and while he is recovering, he cannot help himself, he is forced to listen to logical reasoning, which he can understand quite well if it is put clearly before him. This thought made a doctor of me. My calculations for the peasants were made along with them. I never gave advice unless I was quite sure of the results, and in this way compelled them to admit the wisdom of my views. The people require infallibility. Infallibility was the making of Napoleon; he would have been a god if he had not filled the world with the sound of his fall at Waterloo. If Mahomet founded a permanent religion after conquering the third part of the globe, it was by dint of concealing his deathbed from the crowd. The same rules hold good for the great conqueror and for the provincial mayor, and a nation or a commune is much the same sort of crowd; indeed, the great multitude of mankind is the same everywhere.

"I have been exceedingly firm with those whom I have helped with money; if I had not been inflexible on this point, they all would have laughed at me. Peasants, no less than worldlings, end by despising the man that they can deceive. He has been cheated? Clearly, then, he must have been weak; and it is might alone that governs the world. I have never charged a penny for my professional advice, except to those who were evidently rich people; but I have not allowed the value of my services to be overlooked at all, and I always make them pay for medicine unless the patient is exceedingly poor. If my peasants do not pay me in money, they are quite aware that they are in my debt; sometimes they satisfy their consciences by bringing oats for my horses, or corn, when it is cheap. But if the miller were to send me some eels as a return for my advice, I should tell him that he is too generous for such a small matter. My politeness bears fruit. In the winter I shall have some sacks of flour for the poor. Ah! sir, they have kind hearts, these people, if one does not slight them, and to-day I think more good and less evil of them than I did formerly."

"What a deal of trouble you have taken!" said Genestas.

"Not at all," answered Benassis. "It was no more trouble to say something useful than to chatter about trifles; and whether I chatted or joked, the talk always turned on them and their concerns wherever I went. They would not listen to me at first. I had to overcome their dislikes; I belonged to the middle classes--that is to say, I was a natural enemy. I found the struggle amusing. An easy or an uneasy conscience--that is all the difference that lies between doing well or ill; the trouble is the same in either case. If scoundrels would but behave themselves properly, they might be millionaires instead of being hanged. That is all."

"The dinner is growing cold, sir!" cried Jacquotte, in the doorway.

Genestas caught the doctor's arm.

"I have only one comment to offer on what I have just heard," he remarked. "I am not acquainted with any account of the wars of Mahomet, so that I can form no opinions as to his military talents; but if you had only watched the Emperor's tactics during the campaign in France, you might well have taken him for a god; and if he was beaten on the field of Waterloo, it was because he was more than mortal, it was because the earth found his weight too heavy to bear, and sprang from under his feet! On every other subject I entirely agree with you, and /tonnerre de Dieu/! whoever hatched you did a good day's work."

"Come," exclaimed Benassis with a smile, "let us sit down to dinner."

The walls of the dining-room were paneled from floor to ceiling, and painted gray. The furniture consisted of a few straw-bottomed chairs, a sideboard, some cupboards, a stove, and the late owner's celebrated clock; there were white curtains in the window, and a white cloth on the table, about which there was no sign of luxury. The dinner service was of plain white earthenware; the soup, made after the traditions of the late cure, was the most concentrated kind of broth that was ever set to simmer by any mortal cook. The doctor and his guest had scarcely finished it when a man rushed into the kitchen, and in spite of Jacquotte, suddenly invaded the dining-room.

"Well, what is it?" asked the doctor.

"It is this, sir. The mistress, our Mme. Vigneau, has turned as white as white can be, so that we are frightened about her."

"Oh, well, then," Benassis said cheerfully, "I must leave the table," and he rose to go.

In spite of the doctor's entreaties, Genestas flung down his table-napkin, and swore in a soldierly fashion that he would not finish his dinner without his host. He returned indeed to the salon; and as he warmed himself by the fire, he thought over the troubles that no man may escape, the troubles that are found in every lot that it falls to man to endure here upon earth.

Benassis soon came back, and the two future friends sat down again.

"Taboureau has just come up to speak to you," said Jacquotte to her master, as she brought in the dishes that she had kept hot for them.

"Who can be ill at his place?" asked the doctor.

"No one is ill, sir. I think from what he said that it is some matter of his own that he wants to ask you about; he is coming back again."

"Very good. This Taboureau," Benassis went on, addressing Genestas, "is for me a whole philosophical treatise; take a good look at him when he comes, he is sure to amuse you. He was a laborer, a thrifty, hard-working man, eating little and getting through a good deal of work. As soon as the rogue came to have a few crowns of his own, his intelligence began to develop; he watched the progress which I had originated in this little district with an eye to his own profit. He had made quite a fortune in eight year's time, that is to say, a fortune for our part of the world. Very likely he may have a couple of score thousand francs by now. But if I were to give you a thousand guesses, you would never find out how he made the money. He is a usurer, and his scheme of usury is so profoundly and so cleverly based upon the requirements of the whole canton, that I should merely waste my time if I were to take it upon myself to undeceive them as to the benefits which they reap, in their own opinion, from their dealings with Taboureau. When this devil of a fellow saw every one cultivating his own plot of ground, he hurried about buying grain so as to supply the poor with the requisite seed. Here, as everywhere else, the peasants and even some of the farmers had no ready money with which to pay for seed. To some, Master Taboureau would lend a sack of barley, for which he was to receive a sack of rye at harvest time, and to others a measure of wheat for a sack of four. At the present day the man has extended this curious business of his all over the department; and unless something happens to prevent him, he will go on and very likely make a million. Well, my dear sir, Taboureau the laborer, an obliging, hard-working, good-natured fellow, used to lend a helping hand to any one who asked him; but as his gains have increased /Monsieur/ Taboureau has become litigious, arrogant, and somewhat given to sharp practice. The more money he makes, the worse he grows. The moment that the peasant forsakes his life of toil pure and simple for the leisured existence of the landowning classes, he becomes intolerable. There is a certain kind of character, partly virtuous, partly vicious, half-educated, half-ignorant, which will always be the despair of governments. You will see an example of it in Taboureau. He looks simple, and even doltish; but when his interests are in question, he is certainly profoundly clever."

A heavy footstep announced the approach of the grain lender.

"Come in, Taboureau!" cried Benassis.

Thus forewarned by the doctor, the commandant scrutinized the peasant in the doorway. Taboureau was decidedly thin, and stooped a little. He had a bulging forehead, covered with wrinkles, and a cavernous face, in which two small gray eyes with a dark spot in either of them seemed to be pierced rather than set. The lines of the miser's mouth were close and firm, and his narrow chin turned up to meet an exaggeratedly hooked nose. His hair was turning gray already, and deep furrows which converged above the prominent cheek-bones spoke of the wily shrewdness of a horse-dealer and of a life spent in journeying about. He wore a blue coat in fairly clean condition, the square side-pocket flaps stuck out above his hips, and the skirts of the coats hung loose in front, so that a white-flowered waistcoat was visible. There he stood firmly planted on both feet, leaning upon a thick stick with a knob at the end of it. A little spaniel had followed the grain-dealer, in spite of Jacquotte's efforts, and was crouching beside him.

"Well, what is it?" Benassis asked as he turned to this being.

Taboureau gave a suspicious glance at the stranger seated at the doctor's table, and said:

"It is not a case of illness, /M. le Maire/, but you understand how to doctor the ailments of the purse just as well as those of the body. We have had a little difficulty with a man over at Saint-Laurent, and I have come to ask your advice about it."

"Why not see the justice of the peace or his clerk?"

"Oh, because you are so much cleverer, sir, and I shall feel more sure about my case if I can have your countenance."

"My good Taboureau, I am willing to give medical advice to the poor without charging for it; but I cannot look into the lawsuits of a man who is as wealthy as you are for nothing. It costs a good deal to acquire that kind of knowledge."

Taboureau began to twist his hat about.

"If you want my advice, in order to save the hard coin you would have to pay to the lawyer folk over in Grenoble, you must send a bag of rye to the widow Martin, the woman who is bringing up the charity children."

"/Dame/! I will do it with all my heart, sir, if you think it necessary. Can I talk about this business of mine without troubling the gentleman there?" he added, with a look at Genestas.

The doctor nodded, so Taboureau went on.

"Well, then, sir, two months ago a man from Saint-Laurent came over here to find me. 'Taboureau,' said he to me, 'could you sell me a hundred and thirty-seven measures of barley?' 'Why not?' say I, 'that is my trade. Do you want it immediately?' 'No,' he says, 'I want it for the beginning of spring, in March.' So far, so good. Well, we drive our bargain, and we drink a glass, and we agree that he is to pay me the price that the barley fetched at Grenoble last market day, and I am to deliver it in March. I am to warehouse it at owner's risk, and no allowance for shrinkage of course. But barley goes up and up, my dear sir; the barley rises like boiling milk. Then I am hard up for money, and I sell my barley. Quite natural, sir, was it not?"

"No," said Benassis, "the barley had passed out of your possession, you were only warehousing it. And suppose the barley had gone down in value, would you not have compelled your buyer to take it at the price you agreed upon?"

"But very likely he would not have paid me, sir. One must look out for oneself! The seller ought to make a good profit when the chance comes in his way; and, after, all the goods are not yours until you have paid for them. That is so, /Monsieur l'Officier/, is it not? For you can see that the gentleman has been in the army."

"Taboureau," Benassis said sternly, "ill luck will come to you. Sooner or later God punishes ill deeds. How can you, knowing as much as you do, a capable man moreover, and a man who conducts his business honorably, set examples of dishonesty to the canton? If you allow such proceedings as this to be taken against you, how can you expect that the poor will remain honest people and will not rob you? Your laborers will cheat you out of part of their working hours, and every one here will be demoralized. You are in the wrong. Your barley was as good as delivered. If the man from Saint-Laurent had fetched it himself, you would not have gone there to take it away from him; you have sold something that was no longer yours to sell, for your barley had already been turned into money which was to be paid down at the stipulated time. But go on."

Genestas gave the doctor a significant glance, to call his attention to Taboureau's impassive countenance. Not a muscle had stirred in the usurer's face during this reprimand; there was no flush on his forehead, and no sign of emotion in his little eyes.

"Well, sir, I am called upon to supply the barley at last winter's price. Now /I/ consider that I am not bound to do so."

"Look here, Taboureau, deliver that barley and be very quick about it, or make up your mind to be respected by nobody in the future. Even if you gained the day in a case like this, you would be looked upon as an unscrupulous man who does not keep to his word, and is not bound by promises, or by honor, or----"

"Go on, there is nothing to be afraid of; tell me that I am a scamp, a scoundrel, a thief outright. You can say things like that in business without insulting anybody, M. le Maire. 'Tis each for himself in business, you know."

"Well, then, why deliberately put yourself in a position in which you deserve to be called by such names?"

"But if the law is on my side, sir?"

"But the law will certainly /not/ be on your side."

"Are you quite sure about it, sir? Certain sure? For you see it is an important matter."

"Certainly I am. Quite sure. If I were not at dinner, I would have down the code, and you should see for yourself. If the case comes on, you will lose it, and you will never set foot in my house again, for I do not wish to receive people whom I do not respect. Do you understand? You will lose your case."

"Oh! no, not at all, I shall not lose it, sir," said Taboureau. "You see, sir, it is this way; it is the man from Saint-Laurent who owes /me/ the barley; I bought it of him, and now he refuses to deliver it. I just wanted to make quite certain that I should gain my case before going to any expense at court about it."

Genestas and the doctor exchanged glances; each concealed his amazement at the ingenious device by which the man had sought to learn the truth about this point of law.

"Very well, Taboureau, your man is a swindler; you should not make bargains with such people."

"Ah! sir, they understand business, those people do."

"Good-bye, Taboureau."

"Your servant, gentlemen."

"Well, now," remarked Benassis, when the usurer had gone, "if that fellow were in Paris, do you not think that he would be a millionaire before very long?"

After dinner, the doctor and his visitor went back to the salon, and all the rest of the evening until bedtime they talked about war and politics; Genestas evincing a most violent dislike of the English in the course of conversation.

"May I know whom I have the honor of entertaining as a guest?" asked the doctor.

"My name is Pierre Bluteau," answered Genestas; "I am a captain stationed at Grenoble."

"Very well, sir. Do you care to adopt M. Gravier's plan? In the morning after breakfast he liked to go on my rounds with me. I am not at all sure that you would find anything to interest you in the things that occupy me--they are so very commonplace. For, after all, you own no land about here, nor are you the mayor of the place, and you will see nothing in the canton that you cannot see elsewhere; one thatched cottage is just like another. Still you will be in the open air, and you will have something to take you out of doors."

"No proposal could give me more pleasure. I did not venture to make it myself, lest I should thrust myself upon you."

Commandant Genestas (who shall keep his own name in spite of the fictitious appellation which he had thought fit to give himself) followed his host to a room on the first floor above the salon.

"That is right," said Benassis, "Jacquotte has lighted a fire for you. If you want anything, there is a bell-pull close to the head of the bed."

"I am not likely to want anything, however small, it seems to me," exclaimed Genestas. "There is even a boot-jack. Only an old trooper knows what a boot-jack is worth! There are times, when one is out on a campaign, sir, when one is ready to burn down a house to come by a knave of a boot-jack. After a few marches, one on the top of another, or above all, after an engagement, there are times when a swollen foot and the soaked leather will not part company, pull as you will; I have had to lie down in my boots more than once. One can put up with the annoyance so long as one is by oneself."

The commandant's wink gave a kind of profound slyness to his last utterance; then he began to make a survey. Not without surprise, he saw that the room was neatly kept, comfortable, and almost luxurious.

"What splendor!" was his comment. "Your own room must be something wonderful."

"Come and see," said the doctor; "I am your neighbor, there is nothing but the staircase between us."

Genestas was again surprised when he entered the doctor's room, a bare-looking apartment with no adornment on the walls save an old-fashioned wall-paper of a yellowish tint with a pattern of brown roses over it; the color had gone in patches here and there. There was a roughly painted iron bedstead, two gray cotton curtains were suspended from a wooden bracket above it, and a threadbare strip of carpet lay at the foot; it was like a bed in a hospital. By the bed-head stood a rickety cupboard on four feet with a door that continually rattled with a sound like castanets. Three chairs and a couple of straw-bottomed armchairs stood about the room, and on a low chest of drawers in walnut wood stood a basin, and a ewer of obsolete pattern with a lid, which was kept in place by a leaden rim round the top of the vessel. This completed the list of the furniture.

The grate was empty. All the apparatus required for shaving lay about in front of an old mirror suspended above the painted stone chimney-piece by a bit of string. The floor was clean and carefully swept, but it was worn and splintered in various places, and there were hollows in it here and there. Gray cotton curtains bordered with a green fringe adorned the two windows. The scrupulous cleanliness maintained by Jacquotte gave a certain air of distinction to this picture of simplicity, but everything in it, down to the round table littered with stray papers, and the very pens on the writing-desk, gave the idea of an almost monastic life--a life so wholly filled with thought and feeling of a wider kind that outward surroundings had come to be matters of no moment. An open door allowed the commandant to see the smaller room, which doubtless the doctor seldom occupied. It was scarcely kept in the same condition as the adjoining apartment; a few dusty books lay strewn about over the no less dusty shelves, and from the rows of labeled bottles it was easy to guess that the place was devoted rather to the dispensing of drugs than scientific studies.

"Why this difference between your room and mine, you will ask?" said Benassis. "Listen a moment. I have always blushed for those who put their guests in the attics, who furnish them with mirrors that distort everything to such a degree that any one beholding himself might think that he was smaller or larger than nature made him, or suffering from apoplectic stroke or some other bad complaint. Ought we not to do our utmost to make a room as pleasant as possible during the time that our friend can be with us? Hospitality, to my thinking, is a virtue, a pleasure, and a luxury; but in whatever light it is considered, nay, even if you regard it as a speculation, ought not our guest or our friend to be made much of? Ought not every refinement of luxury to be reserved for him?

"So the best furniture is put into your room, where a thick carpet is laid down; there are hangings on the walls, and a clock and wax candles; and for you Jacquotte will do her best, she has no doubt brought a night-light, and a pair of new slippers and some milk, and her warming-pan too for your benefit. I hope that you will find that luxurious armchair the most comfortable seat you have ever sat in, it was a discovery of the late cure's; I do not know where he found it, but it is a fact that if you wish to meet with the perfection of comfort, beauty, or convenience, you must ask counsel of the Church. Well, I hope that you will find everything in your room to your liking. You will find some good razors and excellent soap, and all the trifling details that make one's own home so pleasant. And if my views on the subject of hospitality should not at once explain the difference between your room and mine, to-morrow, M. Bluteau, you will arrive at a wonderfully clear comprehension of the bareness of my room and the untidy condition of my study, when you see all the continual comings and goings here. Mine is not an indoor life, to begin with. I am almost always out of the house, and if I stay at home, peasants come in at every moment to speak to me. My body and soul and house are all theirs. Why should I worry about social conventions in these matters, or trouble myself over the damage unintentionally done to floors and furniture by these worthy folk? Such things cannot be helped. Luxury properly belongs to the boudoir and the guest-chamber, to great houses and chateaux. In short, as I scarcely do more than sleep here, what do I want with superfluities of wealth? You do not know, moreover, how little I care for anything in this world."

They wished each other a friendly good-night with a warm shake of the hand, and went to bed. But before the commandant slept, he came to more than one conclusion as to the man who hour by hour grew greater in his eyes. _

Read next: Chapter 2. A Doctor's Round (Part 1)

Read previous: Chapter 1. The Countryside And The Man (Part 3)

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