Book the Second - the Golden Thread
8. VIII. Monseigneur in the Country
A beautiful landscape, with the corn bright in it, but not abundant.
Patches of poor rye where corn should have been, patches of poor peas
and beans, patches of most coarse vegetable substitutes for wheat.
On inanimate nature, as on the men and women who cultivated it,
a prevalent tendency towards an appearance of vegetating
unwillingly--a dejected disposition to give up, and wither away.
Monsieur the Marquis in his travelling carriage (which might have
been lighter), conducted by four post-horses and two postilions,
fagged up a steep hill. A blush on the countenance of Monsieur the
Marquis was no impeachment of his high breeding; it was not from
within; it was occasioned by an external circumstance beyond his
control--the setting sun.
The sunset struck so brilliantly into the travelling carriage when it
gained the hill-top, that its occupant was steeped in crimson.
"It will die out," said Monsieur the Marquis, glancing at his hands,
In effect, the sun was so low that it dipped at the moment. When the
heavy drag had been adjusted to the wheel, and the carriage slid down
hill, with a cinderous smell, in a cloud of dust, the red glow departed
quickly; the sun and the Marquis going down together, there was no
glow left when the drag was taken off.
But, there remained a broken country, bold and open, a little village
at the bottom of the hill, a broad sweep and rise beyond it, a church-tower, a windmill, a forest for the chase, and a crag with a fortress
on it used as a prison. Round upon all these darkening objects as
the night drew on, the Marquis looked, with the air of one who was
coming near home.
The village had its one poor street, with its poor brewery, poor
tannery, poor tavern, poor stable-yard for relays of post-horses,
poor fountain, all usual poor appointments. It had its poor people
too. All its people were poor, and many of them were sitting at
their doors, shredding spare onions and the like for supper, while
many were at the fountain, washing leaves, and grasses, and any such
small yieldings of the earth that could be eaten. Expressive sips of
what made them poor, were not wanting; the tax for the state, the tax
for the church, the tax for the lord, tax local and tax general, were
to be paid here and to be paid there, according to solemn inscription
in the little village, until the wonder was, that there was any
village left unswallowed.