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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Deputy Of Arcis - Part 1. The Election - Chapter 5. The Perplexities Of The Government In Arcis
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The Deputy Of Arcis - Part 1. The Election - Chapter 5. The Perplexities Of The Government In Arcis Post by :resalin Category :Long Stories Author :Honore De Balzac Date :May 2012 Read :1788

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The Deputy Of Arcis - Part 1. The Election - Chapter 5. The Perplexities Of The Government In Arcis


At this moment several groups of bourgeois, electors and non-electors, were standing before the Chateau d'Arcis, the iron gates of which open on the square near to the door of Madame Marion's house. This square is a piece of open ground from which issue several roads and several streets. In it is a covered market. Opposite to the chateau, on the other side of the square, which is neither paved nor macadamized, and where the rain has made various little gutters, is a fine esplanade, called the Avenue of Sighs. Is that to the honor or to the blame of the leaders of the town? This singular ambibology is no doubt a stroke of native wit.

Two handsome side avenues, planted with lindens, lead from the square to a circular boulevard which forms another promenade, though usually deserted, where more dirt and rubbish than promenaders may commonly be seen.

At the height of the discussion which Achille Pigoult was dramatizing with a coolness and courage worthy of a member of a real parliament, four personages were walking down one of the linden avenues which led from the Avenue of Sighs. When they reached the square, they stopped as if by common consent, and looked at the inhabitants of Arcis, who were humming before the chateau like so many bees before returning to their hives at night. The four promenaders were the whole ministerial conclave of Arcis, namely: the sub-prefect, the _procureur-du-roi_, his substitute, and the examining-judge, Monsieur Martener. The judge of the court, Monsieur Michu, was, as we know already, a partisan of the Elder Branch and a devoted adherent of the house of Cinq-Cygne.

"No, I don't understand the action of the government," repeated the sub-prefect, Antonin Goulard, pointing to the groups which seemed to be thickening. "At such an important crisis to leave me without instructions!"

"In that you are like the rest of us," said Olivier Vinet, the substitute, smiling.

"Why do you blame the government?" asked the _procureur-du-roi_, Frederic Marest.

"The ministry is much embarrassed," remarked young Martener. "It knows that this arrondissement belongs, in a certain way, to the Kellers, and it is very desirous not to thwart them. It is forced to keep on good terms with the only man who is comparable to Monsieur de Talleyrand. It is not to the prefect, but to the Comte de Gondreville that you ought to send the commissary of police."

"Meanwhile," said Frederic Marest, "the Opposition is bestirring itself; you see yourselves the influence of Monsieur Giguet. Our mayor, Monsieur Beauvisage, is presiding over that preparatory meeting."

"After all," said Olivier Vinet slyly to the sub-prefect, "Simon Giguet is your friend and schoolmate; he will belong to the Thiers' party; you risk nothing in supporting his election."

"The present ministry could dismiss me before its fall," replied the sub-prefect, "and who knows when I should be reappointed?"

"Collinet, the grocer!--that makes the sixty-sixth elector who has entered the Giguet house," said Monsieur Martener, who was practising his trade as examining-judge by counting the electors.

"If Charles Keller is the ministerial candidate," resumed the sub-prefect, "I ought to have been told of it; the government makes a mistake in giving time for Simon Giguet to get hold of the electors."

These four individuals had now reached, walking slowly, the spot where the avenue ceases and becomes an open square.

"There's Monsieur Groslier," said the judge, catching sight of a man on horseback.

This was the commissary of police; he saw the government of Arcis collected on the public square, and he rode up to the four gentlemen.

"Well, Monsieur Groslier?" said the sub-prefect, taking the commissary a little apart from his three colleagues.

"Monsieur," said the commissary of police in a low voice, "Monsieur la prefet has sent me to tell you some sad news; Monsieur le Vicomte Charles Keller is dead. The news reached Paris by telegram night before last, and the two Messieurs Keller, the Comte de Gondreville, the Marechale Carigliano, in fact the whole family are now at Gondreville. Abd-el-Kader has resumed the offensive in Africa; the war is being vigorously carried on. This poor young man was among the first victims of the renewal of hostilities. You will receive confidential instructions, so Monsieur le prefet told me, in relation to the coming election."

"By whom?" asked the sub-prefect.

"If I knew that, the matter would not be confidential," replied the commissary. "In fact, I think the prefect himself does not know. He told me that the matter would be a secret one between you and the ministry."

Then he rode on, after seeing the sub-prefect lay his fingers on his lips as a warning to keep silence.

"Well, what news from the prefecture?" said the _procureur-du-roi_, when Goulard returned to the group of the three functionaries.

"Nothing satisfactory," replied Goulard, stepping quickly, as if he wanted to get away from the others, who now walked silently toward the middle of the square, somewhat piqued by the manner of the sub-prefect. There Monsieur Martener noticed old Madame Beauvisage, the mother of Phileas, surrounded by nearly all the bourgeois on the square, to whom she was apparently relating something. A solicitor, named Sinot, who numbered all the royalists of Arcis among his clients, and who had not gone to the Giguet meeting, now detached himself from the group, and running to the door of the Marion house rang the bell violently.

"What can be the matter?" said Frederic Marest, dropping his eyeglass, and calling the attention of his colleagues to this circumstance.

"The matter is, messieurs," said the sub-prefect, thinking it useless to keep a secret which was evidently known to the other party, "that Charles Keller has been killed in Africa, and that this event doubles the chances of Simon Giguet. You know Arcis; there can be no other ministerial candidate than Charles Keller. Any other man would find the whole local patriotism of the place arrayed against him.

"Will they really elect such an idiot as Simon Giguet?" said Olivier Vinet, laughing.

This young substitute, then only twenty-three years of age, was the son of one of our most famous attorney-generals, who had come into power with the Revolution of July; he therefore owed his early entrance into public life to the influence of his father. The latter, always elected deputy by the town of Provins, is one of the buttresses of the Centre in the Chamber. Therefore the son, whose mother was a Demoiselle de Chargeboeuf (see "Pierrette"), had a certain air of assurance, both in his functions and in his personal behavior, that plainly showed the backing of his father. He expressed his opinion on men and things without reserve; for he confidently expected not to stay very long at Arcis, but to receive his appointment as _procureur-du-roi at Versailles, a sure step to a post in Paris.

The confident air of this little Vinet, and the sort of assumption which the certainty of making his way gave to him, was all the more irritating to Frederic Marest, his superior, because a biting wit accompanied the rather undisciplined habits and manners of his young subordinate. Frederic Marest, _procureur-du-roi_, a man about forty years of age, who had spent six years of his life under the Restoration in becoming a substitute only to be neglected and left in Arcis by the government of July, in spite of the fact that he had some eighteen thousand francs a year of his own, was perpetually kept on the rack between the necessity of winning the good graces of young Vinet's father--a touchy attorney-general who might become Keeper of the Seals--and of keeping his own dignity.

Olivier Vinet, slender in figure, with a pallid face, lighted by a pair of malicious green eyes, was one of those sarcastic young gentlemen, inclined to dissipation, who nevertheless know how to assume the pompous, haughty, and pedantic air with which magistrates arm themselves when they once reach the bench. The tall, stout, heavy, and grave _procureur-du-roi had lately invented a system by which he hoped to keep out of trouble with the exasperating Olivier; he treated him as a father would treat a spoilt child.

"Olivier," he replied to his substitute, slapping him on the shoulder, "a man of your capacity ought to reflect that Maitre Giguet is very likely to become deputy. You'd have made that remark just as readily before the people of Arcis as before us, who are safe friends."

"There is one thing against Giguet," observed Monsieur Martener.

This good young man, rather heavy but full of capacity, the son of a physician in Provins, owed his place to Vinet's father, who was long a lawyer in Provins and still continued to be the patron of his people as the Comte de Gondreville was the patron of the people of Arcis.

"What is that?" asked the sub-prefect.

"Local patriotism is always bitterly against a man who is imposed upon the electors," replied the examining-judge, "but when it happens that the good people of Arcis have to elevate one of their own equals to the Chamber, envy and jealousy are stronger than patriotism."

"That is very simple," said the _procureur-du-roi_, "and very true. If you can manage to collect fifty ministerial votes you will find yourself master of the coming election," he added, addressing the sub-prefect.

"It will do if you produce a candidate of the same calibre as Simon Giguet," said Olivier Vinet.

The sub-prefect allowed an expression of satisfaction to appear upon his features, which did not escape the notice of his three companions, with whom, moreover, he had a full understanding. All four being bachelors, and tolerably rich, they had formed, without premeditation, an alliance against the dulness of the provinces. The three functionaries had already remarked the sort of jealousy that Goulard felt for Giguet, which a few words on their antecedents will explain.

Antonin Goulard, the son of a former huntsman to the house of Simeuse, enriched by the purchase of the confiscated property of _emigres was, like Simon Giguet, a son of Arcis. Old Goulard, his father, left the abbey of Valpreux (corruption of Val-des-Preux) to live in Arcis after the death of his wife, and he sent his son to the imperial lyceum, where Colonel Giguet had already placed his son Simon. The two schoolmates subsequently went through their legal studies in Paris together, and their intimacy was continued in the amusements of youth. They promised to help each other to success in life whenever they entered upon their different careers. But fate willed that they should end by being rivals.

In spite of Goulard's manifest advantages, in spite of the cross of the Legion of honor which the Comte de Gondreville had obtained for him in default of promotion, the offer of his heart and position had been frankly declined when, about six months before this history begins, he had privately presented himself to Madame Beauvisage as a suitor for her daughter's hand. No step of that nature is ever taken secretly in the provinces. The _procureur-du-roi_, Frederic Marest, whose fortune, buttonhole, and position were about on a par with those of Antonin Goulard, had received a like refusal, three years earlier, based on the difference of ages. Consequently, the two officials were on terms of strict politeness with the Beauvisage family, and laughed at them severally in private. Both had divined and communicated to each other the real motive of the candidacy of Simon Giguet, for they fully understood the hopes of Madame Marion; and they were bent on preventing her nephew from marrying the heiress whose hand had been refused to them.

"God grant that I may be master of this election," said Goulard, "and that the Comte de Gondreville may get me made a prefect, for I have no more desire than you to spend the rest of my days here, though I was born in Arcis."

"You have a fine opportunity to be elected deputy yourself, my chief," said Olivier Vinet to Marest. "Come and see my father, who will, I think, arrive here from Provins in a few hours. Let us propose to him to have you chosen as ministerial candidate."

"Halt!" said Antonin; "the ministry has its own views about the deputy of Arcis."

"Ah, bah!" exclaimed Vinet, "there are two ministries: the one that thinks it makes elections, and another that thinks it profits by them."

"Don't let us complicate Antonin's difficulties," said Frederic Marest, winking at his substitute.

The four officials, who had crossed the open square and were close to the Mulet inn, now saw Poupart leaving the house of Madame Marion and coming towards them. A moment later, and the _porte cochere of that house vomited the sixty-seven conspirators.

"So you went to that meeting?" said Antonin Goulard to Poupart.

"I shall never go again, monsieur le sous-prefet," said the innkeeper. "The son of Monsieur Keller is dead, and I have now no object in going there. God has taken upon himself to clear the ground."

"Well, Pigoult, what happened?" cried Olivier Vinet, catching sight of the young notary.

"Oh!" said Pigoult, on whose forehead the perspiration, which had not dried, bore testimony to his efforts, "Simon has just told some news that made them all unanimous. Except five persons,--Poupart, my grandfather, Mollot, Sinot, and I,--all present swore, as at the Jeu de Paume, to employ every means to promote the triumph of Simon Giguet, of whom I have made a mortal enemy. Oh! we got warm, I can tell you! However, I led the Giguets to fulminate against the Gondrevilles. That puts the old count on my side. No later than to-morrow he will hear what the _soi-disant patriots of Arcis have said about him and his corruptions and his infamies, to free their necks, as they called it, of his yoke."

"Unanimous, were they?" said Olivier Vinet, laughing.

"Unanimous, _to-day_," remarked Monsieur Martener.

"Oh!" exclaimed Pigoult, "the general sentiment of the electors is for one of their own townsmen. Whom can you oppose to Simon Giguet,--a man who has just spent two hours in explaining the word _progress_."

"Take old Grevin!" cried the sub-prefect.

"He has no such ambition," replied Pigoult. "But we must first of all consult the Comte de Gondreville. Look, look!" he added; "see the attentions with which Simon is taking him that gilded booby, Beauvisage."

And he pointed to the candidate, who was holding the mayor by the arm and whispering in his ear. Beauvisage meantime was bowing right and left to the inhabitants, who gazed at him with the deference which provincials always testify to the richest man in their locality.

"But there's no use cajoling _him_," continued Pigoult. "Cecile's hand does not depend on either her father or her mother."

"On whom, then?"

"On my old patron, Monsieur Grevin. Even if Simon is elected deputy, the town is not won."

Though the sub-prefect and Frederic Marest tried to get an explanation of these words, Pigoult refused to give the reason of an exclamation which seemed to them big with meaning and implying a certain knowledge of the plans of the Beauvisage family.

All Arcis was now in a commotion, not only on account of the fatal event which had just overtaken the Gondreville family, but because of the great resolution come to at the Giguet house, where Madame Marion and her three servants were hurriedly engaged in putting everything in its usual order, ready to receive her customary guests, whose curiosity would probably bring them that evening in large numbers.

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