They had beer, constantly in each other's society for a whole winter in
Paris. After having lost sight of each other, as generally happens in
such cases, after leaving college, the two friends met again one night,
long years after, already old and white-haired, the one a bachelor, the
M. de Meroul lived six months in Paris and six months in his little
château at Tourbeville. Having married the daughter of a gentleman in
the district, he had lived a peaceful, happy life with the indolence of
a man who has nothing to do. With a calm temperament and a sedate mind,
without any intellectual audacity or tendency toward revolutionary
independence of thought, he passed his time in mildly regretting the
past, in deploring the morals and the institutions of to-day, and in
repeating every moment to his wife, who raised her eyes to heaven, and
sometimes her hands also, in token of energetic assent:
"Under what a government do we live, great God!"
Madame de Meroul mentally resembled her husband, just as if they had
been brother and sister. She knew by tradition that one ought, first of
all, to reverence the Pope and the King!
And she loved them and respected them from the bottom of her heart,
without knowing them, with a poetic exaltation, with a hereditary
devotion, with all the sensibility of a well-born woman. She was kindly
in every feeling of her soul. She had no child, and was incessantly
When M. de Meroul came across his old schoolfellow Joseph Mouradour at a
ball, he experienced from this meeting a profound and genuine delight,
for they had been very fond of one another in their youth.
After exclamations of astonishment over the changes caused by age in
their bodies and their faces, they had asked one another a number of
questions as to their respective careers.
Joseph Mouradour, a native of the south of France, had become a
councillor-general in his own neighborhood. Frank in his manners, he
spoke briskly and without any circumspection, telling all his thoughts
with sheer indifference to prudential considerations. He was a
Republican, of that race of good-natured Republicans who make their own
ease the law of their existence, and who carry freedom of speech to the
verge of brutality.
He called at his friend's address in Paris, and was immediately a
favorite, on account of his easy cordiality, in spite of his advanced
opinions. Madame de Meroul exclaimed:
"What a pity! such a charming man!"
M. de Meroul said to his friend, in a sincere and confidential tone:
"You cannot imagine what a wrong you do to our country." He was attached
to his friend nevertheless, for no bonds are more solid than those of
childhood renewed in later life. Joseph Mouradour chaffed the husband
and wife, called them "my loving turtles," and occasionally gave vent to
loud declarations against people who were behind the age, against all
sorts of prejudices and traditions.
When he thus directed the flood of his democratic eloquence, the married
pair, feeling ill at ease, kept silent through a sense of propriety and
good-breeding; then the husband tried to turn off the conversation in
order to avoid any friction. Joseph Mouradour did not want to know
anyone unless he was free to say what he liked.
Summer came round. The Merouls knew no greater pleasure than to receive
their old friends in their country house at Tourbeville. It was an
intimate and healthy pleasure, the pleasure of homely gentlefolk who had
spent most of their lives in the country. They used to go to the nearest
railway station to meet some of their guests, and drove them to the
house in their carriage, watching for compliments on their district, on
the rapid vegetation, on the condition of the roads in the department,
on the cleanliness of the peasants' houses, on the bigness of the cattle
they saw in the fields, on everything that met the eye as far as the
edge of the horizon.
They liked to have it noticed that their horse trotted in a wonderful
manner for an animal employed a part of the year in field-work; and they
awaited with anxiety the newcomer's opinion on their family estate,
sensitive to the slightest word, grateful for the slightest gracious
Joseph Mouradour was invited, and he announced his arrival. The wife and
the husband came to meet the train, delighted to have the opportunity of
doing the honors of their house.
As soon as he perceived them, Joseph Mouradour jumped out of his
carriage with a vivacity which increased their satisfaction. He grasped
their hands warmly, congratulated them, and intoxicated them with
He was quite charming in his manner as they drove along the road to the
house; he expressed astonishment at the height of the trees, the
excellence of the crops, and the quickness of the horse.
When he placed his foot on the steps in front of the chateau, M. de
Meroul said to him with a certain friendly solemnity:
"Now you are at home."
Joseph Mouradour answered: "Thanks, old fellow; I counted on that. For
my part, besides, I never put myself out with my friends. That's the
only hospitality I understand."
Then he went up to his own room, where he put on the costume of a
peasant, as he was pleased to describe it, and he came down again not
very long after, attired in blue linen, with yellow boots, in the
careless rig-out of a Parisian out for a holiday. He seemed, too, to
have become more common, more jolly, more familiar, having assumed along
with his would-be rustic garb a free and easy swagger which he thought
suited the style of dress. His new apparel somewhat shocked M. and
Madame de Meroul, who even at home on their estate always remained
serious and respectable, as the particle "de" before their name exacted
a certain amount of ceremonial even with their intimate friends.
After lunch they went to visit the farms; and the Parisian stupefied the
respectable peasants by talking to them as if he were a comrade of
In the evening, the curé dined at the house--a fat old priest, wearing
his Sunday suit, who had been specially asked that day in order to meet
When Joseph saw him he made a grimace, then he stared at the priest in
astonishment as if he belonged to some peculiar race of beings, the like
of which he had never seen before at such close quarters. He told a few
stories allowable enough with a friend after dinner, but apparently
somewhat out of place in the presence of an ecclesiastic. He did not
say, "Monsieur l'Abbé," but merely "Monsieur"; and he embarrassed the
priest with philosophical views as to the various superstitions that
prevailed on the surface of the globe.
"Your God, Monsieur, is one of those persons whom we must respect, but
also one of those who must be discussed. Mine is called Reason; he has
from time immemorial been the enemy of yours."
The Merouls, greatly put out, attempted to divert his thoughts. The curé
left very early.
Then the husband gently remarked:
"You went a little too far with that priest."
But Joseph immediately replied:
"That's a very good joke, too! Am I to bother my brains about a
devil-dodger? At any rate, do me the favor of not ever again having such
an old fogy to dinner. Confound his impudence!"
"But, my friend, remember his sacred character."
Joseph Mouradour interrupted him:
"Yes, I know. We must treat them like girls who get roses for being well
behaved! That's all right, my boy! When these people respect my
convictions, I will respect theirs!"
This was all that happened that day.
Next morning Madame de Meroul, on entering her drawing-room, saw lying
on the table three newspapers which made her draw back in horror, "Le
Voltaire," "La République Française," and "La Justice."
Presently Joseph Mouradour, still in his blue blouse, appeared on the
threshold, reading "L'Intransigéant" attentively. He exclaimed:
"Here is a splendid article by Rochefort. That fellow is marvelous."
He read the article in a loud voice, laying so much stress on its most
striking passages that he did not notice the entrance of his friend.
M. de Meroul had a paper in each hand: "Le Gaulois" for himself and "Le
Clarion" for his wife.
The ardent prose of the master-writer who overthrew the empire,
violently declaimed, recited in the accent of the south, rang through
the peaceful drawing-room, shook the old curtains with their rigid
folds, seemed to splash the walls, the large upholstered chairs, the
solemn furniture fixed in the same position for the past century, with a
hail of words, rebounding, impudent, ironical, and crushing.
The husband and the wife, the one standing, the other seated, listened
in a state of stupor, so scandalized that they no longer even ventured
to make a gesture. Mouradour flung out the concluding passage in the
article as one sets off a stream of fireworks; then in an emphatic tone
"That's a stinger, eh?"
But suddenly he perceived the two prints belonging to his friend, and he
seemed himself for a moment overcome with astonishment. Then he came
across to his host with great strides, demanding in an angry tone:
"What do you want to do with these papers?"
M. de. Meroul replied in a hesitating voice:
"Why, these--these are my--my newspapers."
"Your newspapers! Look here, now, you are only laughing at me! You will
do me the favor to read mine, to stir you up with a few new ideas, and,
as for yours--this is what I do with them--"
And before his host, filled with confusion, could prevent him, he seized
the two newspapers and flung them out through the window. Then he
gravely placed "La Justice" in the hands of Madame de Meroul and "Le
Voltaire" in those of her husband, himself sinking into an armchair to
The husband and the wife, through feelings of delicacy, made a show of
reading a little, then they handed back the Republican newspapers which
they touched with their finger-tips as if they had been poisoned.
Then Mouradour burst out laughing, and said:
"A week of this sort of nourishment, and I'll have you converted to my
At the end of a week, in fact, he ruled the house. He had shut the door
on the curé, whom Madame de Meroul went to see in secret. He gave orders
that neither the "Gaulois" nor the "Clarion" were to be admitted into
the house, which a manservant went to get in a mysterious fashion at the
post-office, and which, on his entrance, were hidden away under the sofa
cushions. He regulated everything just as he liked, always charming,
always good-natured, a jovial and all-powerful tyrant.
Other friends were about to come on a visit, religious people with
Legitimist opinions. The master and mistress of the chateau considered
it would be impossible to let them meet their lively guest, and not
knowing what to do, announced to Joseph Mouradour one evening that they
were obliged to go away from home for a few days about a little matter
of business, and they begged of him to remain in the house alone.
He showed no trace of emotion, and replied:
"Very well; 'tis all the same to me; I'll wait here for you as long as
you like. What I say is this--there need be no ceremony between friends.
You're quite right to look after your own affairs--why the devil
shouldn't you? I'll not take offense at your doing that, quite the
contrary. It only makes me feel quite at my ease with you. Go, my
friends--I'll wait for you."
M. and Madame de Meroul started next morning.
He is waiting for them.