“Twenty years ago, Lacheneur was a poor devil like myself; now, he is a grand gentleman with fifty thousand livres a year. He wears the finest broadcloth and top-boots like the Baron d’Escorval. He no longer works; he makes others work; and when he passes, everyone must bow to the earth. If you kill so much as a sparrow upon his lands, as he says, he will cast you into prison. Ah, he has been fortunate. The emperor made him mayor. The Bourbons deprived him of his office; but what does that matter to him? He is still the real master here, as the Sairmeuse were in other days. His son is pursuing his studies in Paris, intending to become a notary. As for his daughter, Mademoiselle Marie-Anne—”
“Not a word against her!” exclaimed Chanlouineau; “if she were mistress, there would not be a poor man in the country; and yet, how some of her pensioners abuse her bounty. Ask your wife if this is not so, Father Chupin.”
Undoubtedly the impetuous young man spoke at the peril of his life.
But the wicked old Chupin swallowed this affront which he would never forget, and humbly continued:
“I do not say that Mademoiselle Marie-Anne is not generous; but after all her charitable work she has plenty of money left for her fine dresses and her fallals. I think that Monsieur Lacheneur ought to be very well content, even after he has restored to its former owner one-half or even three-quarters of the property he has acquired—no one can tell how. He would have enough left then to grind the poor under foot.”
After his appeal to selfishness, Father Chupin appealed to envy. There could be no doubt of his success.
But he had not time to pursue his advantage. The services were over, and the worshippers were leaving the church.
Soon there appeared upon the porch the man in question, with a young girl of dazzling beauty leaning upon his arm.
Father Chupin walked straight toward him, and brusquely delivered his message.
M. Lacheneur staggered beneath the blow. He turned first so red, then so frightfully pale, that those around him thought he was about to fall.
But he quickly recovered his self-possession, and without a word to the messenger, he walked rapidly away, leading his daughter.
Some minutes later an old post-chaise, drawn by four horses, dashed through the village at a gallop, and paused before the house of the village cure.
Then one might have witnessed a singular spectacle.
Father Chupin had gathered his wife and his children together, and the four surrounded the carriage, shouting, with all the power of their lungs:
“Long live the Duc de Sairmeuse!”
A gently ascending road, more than two miles in length, shaded by a quadruple row of venerable elms, led from the village to the Chateau de Sairmeuse.