Popular Science Monthly/Volume 33/August 1888/The Octroi at Issoire: A City Made Rich by Taxation
|THE OCTROI AT ISSOIRE: A CITY MADE RICH BY TAXATION.|
PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSITY OF INDIANA.
IF you look on a good map of France, you will find, a little south of the center, a small, squarish area, painted red, and bearing the name of Puy-de-Dôme. This Puy-de-Dôme is a strange region, made up of fertile valleys separated from each other by ragged hills which were once volcanoes in Palæozoic times. These volcanoes have long since retired from active life, and are black and dismal now, their faces scored by lava-furrows, like gigantic tear-stains dried on their rugged cheeks. In their craters are ponds of black water full of perch and trout—as black as the rocks above which they swim. The highest of these hills the people call the Puy-de-Dôme—the Cathedral-peak. There is an observatory on the top of it, and all the country that you can see from the mountain-summit makes up the "department" of Puy-de-Dôme.
On the south side of the department, near what one might call the "county line," you will find, if your map is a good one, the little city of Issoire. Issoire is a very old town. The Romans knew it. They found it when they invaded Gaul, 1900 years ago, and they called it Iciodorum. They found it again in the year 287, when they came up to convert the Gauls to Christianity, a thing which they had neglected to do upon their first visit. The Romans brought with them a pious monk, St. Austremoine by name, and the people of Iciodorum captured him, and he was duly roasted in accordance with their heathenish customs. So, as the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church, Issoire came in time to be famous as having the largest church and the best parish schools in the whole province of Auvergne.
Issoire has a long, long history, which is duly set forth in Joanne's "Guide-Book," but which I have luckily forgotten. Its story is one of castles and robbers and chivalry, with here and there a fair dame and an ancestral ghost, perhaps, but of this I am not so certain. Once Issoire fell into the hands of the famous knight, Pierre Diablenoir, the Duke of Alençon. After plundering all the shops, burning the houses, killing most of the people, and scaring the rest off into the woods, he set up in the public square a large column bearing this simple legend: "Ici fut Issoire!" ("Here was Issoire"). Were it not for this touching forethought, we might be to this day as ignorant of Issoire's location as we are of the site of Troy.
But the years went on, the wars were ended, the rain fell, the birds sang, the grass grew, the people came back, and Issoire arose from its ashes. To-day it is as dull and cozy a town as you will find in all France. It has now, according to Joanne, a population of 6,303 souls, and a considerable trade in grain, shoes, millstones, brandy, and vinegar. The streets of Issoire are narrow, and the houses are crowded closely together, as if struggling to get as near as possible to the church for protection. The city lies in the fertile valley of the little river Couze, surrounded by grain-lands and meadows. Toward the north a long white highway, shaded by poplars, leads out across the meadows and hills toward the larger city of Clermont-Ferrand, the capital of the department of the Puy-de-Dôme. Issoire is inclosed by an old wall, and, where the highway enters the town, it passes through a ponderous gate, which is always closed at night, as if to ward off an attack from some other Duke of Alençon.
I strolled out one midsummer afternoon on the road leading to Clermont. When I came to the city gate I first made the acquaintance of the octroi. A little house stands by the side of the gate, and here two or three gendarmes—old soldiers dressed in red coats with blue facings—watch over the industries of the town. Wheelbarrow loads of turnips, baskets of onions or artichokes, wagonloads of hay, all these come through the city gate, and each pays its toll into the city treasury. One cent is collected for every five cabbage-heads, or ten onions, or twelve turnips, or eight apples, or three bunches of artichokes, and other things pay in proportion. This payment of money is called the octroi. The process of its collection interested me so that I gave up all idea of a tramp across the fields, sat down on an empty nail-keg, and devoted myself to the study of the octroi.
The octroi is an instrument to advance the prosperity of a town by preventing the people from sending their money away. It is a well-known fact that individuals become poor simply because they spend their money. So with cities. What is true of the individual is doubly true of the community, itself but an aggregation of individuals. Nations, as well as individuals, grow rich by doing their own work. Commerce, as is well known, is a great drain on the resources of a town as of a nation. Now, if in some way we can keep the money of a town within its limits, the town can not fail to grow rich. As Benjamin Franklin once observed, "A penny saved is twopence earned." The great problem in municipal economics is this: How shall we keep the town's money from going out of it? How shall we best discourage buying—especially the buying of articles from dealers outside?
To meet this problem, the wisdom of the fathers devised the octroi.
In view of the prospective introduction of the octroi into America (and I trust that I am violating no confidence in saying that this is the real object of the present visit to Europe on the part of one of America's foremost statesmen), it is worth while to examine carefully its nature and advantages.
Years ago, before the octroi came to Issoire, the city was noted chiefly for the barter of farm products. The farmers used to bring in grains, hides, cheese, and other produce, which they would exchange for clothing, sugar, coffee, tobacco, and the various necessaries of existence. The merchants used to load the grain into wagons which were driven across the country to the city of Clermont. Here the grain was exchanged for clothing, food, and all manner of necessaries and luxuries which were made in Clermont, or which had been brought thither from the great city of Lyons. There were long processions of these wagons, and all through the autumn and winter they went in and out. And the Issoire people were very proud of them, for neither coming nor going were they empty, and the teamsters of Issoire were the most skillful in the whole basin of the Loire.
But the mayor of the city and other thoughtful people saw cause for shame rather than for pride in the condition of Issoire's industries. It was ruinous thus steadily to carry away the wealth of the land and to exchange it for perishable articles. When a wagon-load of boots, for example, had been all worn out, then the boots were gone. The money that had been paid for them was gone, and, so far as Issoire was concerned, it was as much lost as if money and boots had been sunk in the bottom of the sea. The money that was paid out, I say. Not so with the money that was paid in. If those boots had been bought in Issoire, the money that they cost would still be in town, still be in circulation, and would go from one to another in the way that money is meant to go. This drain must be stopped, and the octroi could stop it. So it was enacted by the Common Council of Issoire that "whosoever brings a pair of new boots into Issoire shall be compelled to pay ten francs" which was the cost of a pair of boots at Clermont. The purpose of this order was not to raise money, but to have boots made at Issoire, that the wearing out of these necessary articles should not wear out, at the same time, the wealth of the town.
"People will have boots," the mayor said; "they can not afford to bring them in from Clermont, and so they will make them at Issoire, and all the boot-money will remain at home. It is as though, so far as the city is concerned, Issoire gets her boots for nothing. To be sure, Clermont has a good water-power, and her nearness to the mountains makes the price of hides and tan-bark lower, but this has nothing to do with the question. Natural advantages amount to nothing when artificial advantages can be given by a mere stroke of the pen. The laws of political economy are not of universal application. Depend upon the octroi to make all things equal."
A new boot-factory was now built at Issoire, and boots were offered for sale at twenty francs a pair. The cost of boots at Clermont was ten francs, and the octroi charges at the city gate amounted to ten francs more. Buying at twenty francs would save the purchaser a trip to Clermont and back, and, as trade is apt to flow in the direction of least resistance, after a little the Issoire boot industry became fairly established. There was some grumbling at high prices. Some of the laboring classes went barefooted, while the doctor and the schoolmaster put their children into wooden shoes, or sabots, such as peasant children wear. But the mayor and the Common Council took shares in the new factory, and, being members of the company, they got their boots at the old rate, besides having a part in the large dividends which the business soon began to yield. Employment was given to more workmen, who came over from Clermont; the hum of machinery took the place of the creaking of farm-wagons, the rich began to grow richer, the poor went barefooted, and the people of moderate means felt able to run into debt because they lived in a progressive town. The wives of the members of the Common Council bought diamonds, and the members presented the mayor with a gold-headed cane. Soon other boot-factories, were started, and still others, though, strangely enough, the more boots were produced, the more barefooted children were seen in the streets.
By and by the tanners decided that they too must ask for help from the octroi. It was as bad, they said, for the factories to send to Clermont for leather as for the merchants to send for boots. In either case, the money went out of the town, and was gone forever. So the octroi was levied on leather as well as on boots. Then the guild of butchers put in similar claims. To buy raw hides of the herdsmen out on the Puy-de-Dôme was a part of the same suicidal policy. The octroi was therefore assessed on all imported skins. The butchers established their own stock-yards within the city walls, and were saved from the pauper competition of the mountain cattle. Then the mountain herdsmen drove the cattle on to Clermont, and Issoire was left in peace.
But some of the boot-makers complained that this policy was injuring their business by greatly raising the price of hides, whether produced in Issoire or at Clermont. So the mayor sent a letter to the Issoire "Gazette," a long letter which the schoolmaster had helped him to compose, and in which he showed conclusively that the purpose of the octroi was to make things, not dearer, but cheaper. Said he: "The ultimate result of the octroi is always in the end to reduce prices. The sole purpose of the octroi on hides, for example, is to educate our people in the art, so to speak, of raising hides. By this education, they may, by superior intelligence, experience in the business, and the acquirement of knowledge on the subject, be enabled to produce cowhides in such abundance, by new and improved methods, that they may sell them much cheaper than they do now, sell more of them, and yet realize a larger profit on each hide than they can do at present. If there is a fair prospect that this can be accomplished, who shall say that it is not a part of wise statesmanship to attempt this result? Cattle-raising is now carried on in the most primitive way, by driving the cattle about as though they were wild beasts from place to place on remote and uninhabited hills. The octroi will tend to encourage each householder in Issoire to keep his own cow, produce his own leather, thus diversifying his business and giving him some new product to sell every year, some new demand for labor."
And the thoughtful men of Issoire, the leaders of public opinion, saw the force of this argument, and they were satisfied to submit to temporary inconvenience for the sake of the industrial education of the people.
But the boot-trade was already growing slack. The market had supplied boots for all, but the people perversely refused to take them. The shop-windows were full of boots, temptingly displayed in rows of assorted sizes; nevertheless, every person in Issoire, except those engaged in boot-making, seemed bent on wearing his last year's boots rather than pay twenty francs for a new pair. The high price of leather and hides since the exclusion of the mountain cattle began to reduce the profits in boot-making, and so some of the factories threw a poorer article on the market, without, however, any corresponding reduction in price. And people found that it was cheaper to go to Clermont again for boots, notwithstanding the payment of the octroi. Accordingly, the old wagons were sent out once in a while, by people who had more cupidity than patriotism. And a little coterie of aristocrats who sneered at the mayor as a demagogue, and at the octroi as a "relic of the middle ages," used to wear Clermont-made boots, and to ape Clermont fashions. But all good citizens discouraged this, and the maintenance of the "Issoire idea" became one of their articles of faith, next to those in the catechism.
But Clermont-made boots often came in on the sly—no one knew how—to the dismay of the local dealers. The Common Council saw that this would not do, and that the single old soldier who guarded each of the city gates could not meet all the requirements of the octroi. So at each gate were placed a dozen gendarmes, in red woolen uniforms, with black caps fastened on by a leather band which went around the lower lip. And the gendarmes searched every cart and every ash-barrel that went in or out. They watched every rat-hole in the wall to see if haply, by day or by night, boots should come into Issoire without the chalk-mark of the octroi. Occasionally some poor wretch was taken in the act of throwing boots over the wall, and made to pay the penalty of his crime. But sometimes even the gendarmes themselves, the guardians of the prosperity of the community, were seen walking about in Clermont-made boots, which they had obtained by a process known as "addition, division, and silence." The mayor noticed this one day, but the gendarmes had just presented him with a gold-headed cane. They were very much devoted to the Issoire idea—it was just before election—and on the whole he thought it best to say nothing about it.
The problem now before the mayor and the Common Council was this: How shall we put life into the boot-trade? The stock was large, its quality was excellent, and yet for days at a time the boot-shops would not see a customer. Something must be done. At last, an ordinance was passed that every citizen of Issoire must have at least one new pair of Issoire-made boots, which must be worn on Sunday afternoons when the band played in the park—at which time the gendarmes would go about on a tour of inspection. When Sunday came, half the workingmen stayed at home all day, because they had not the money to meet the requirements of the law.
But a few of the bolder ones went to the mayor and said openly: "If you want us to wear Issoire-made boots, you must furnish them for us. You ought to do it anyhow. This city owes us a living, and we came over here from Clermont to get it. We were told that the workingman in Issoire would have the octroi on his side, and would not have to work like a slave to keep soul and body together, as we had to do at Clermont. But it is the same old story here. We do all the work, and somebody else gets all the profits. Now we have to buy and pay for the boots we make ourselves. The cowhide in a pair of boots costs the capitalists but a franc, and we, the boot-makers, pay twenty francs for the boots when we have made them. The other nineteen francs are the product of labor, and ought to belong to us. Our boots should be furnished at a franc a pair."
So they held a mass-meeting in the café of the Lion d'Or, and resolved that the rights of man were not respected in Issoire. They sent a delegation to the mayor, asking that boots for the workingman be furnished at the expense of the town. This would be but justice, and, moreover, it was the only way to start anew the wheels of industry. Money should not be locked up in the city treasury. It should go from man to man, and this action was sure to set it going.
Then the schoolmaster wrote a long letter to the Issoire "Gazette," and showed very clearly that this claim was on the whole a just one. Nobody understood the argument, but all applauded it because it looked very learned; and, moreover, its conclusions were in harmony with their previous opinions. The schoolmaster showed that, as boots were worth twenty francs a pair, and the leather in them cost but one franc, the nineteen francs left were the product of labor, and should rightfully be returned to the laborer. Now, in Clermont, where boots were made by pauper labor, the boots sold for ten francs, and the leather in each pair. was worth but fifty centimes. In Clermont, therefore, the rightful share of labor, even if labor had its due, which it never has in this world, was only nine and a half francs; that is, to labor belonged nine and a half francs on each pair of boots in Clermont, and nineteen francs in Issoire. The lot of the laborer was therefore twice as delightful in Issoire as in Clermont, this difference being due to the beneficent influence of the octroi.
And the Common Council, who were friends of labor, decided that hereafter the price of boots should be twenty francs to workingmen, but that nineteen francs of this should be paid as a bounty from the public treasury. But, "always taking out of a meal-bag and never putting in, soon comes to the bottom," as Benjamin Franklin once said, and there have been few shrewder observers of French politics than he. One morning, when the treasurer put his hand in the strong box to get the nineteen francs to pay for one more pair of boots, he found it empty. There were only a bad franc, a fifty-centime note, and half a dozen copper sous and two-centime pieces; nothing more. He had come to the bottom.
Here was a crisis! The mayor and the Common Council were called together in haste. The workman, Jacques, who wanted the boots, was waiting outside, a big, burly fellow, with a sledgehammer fist and an unpleasant look in his eye. The mayor took one glance at him, and saw that he was not to be trifled with. Moreover, this one case was not to end the difficulty. The road to Clermont and the road across the mountains to Aurillac, the chief town of the next department, Cantal, were black with the advancing hosts of workmen coming to share the privileges which Issoire held out to the oppressed of every city. Through the windows of the Hôtel de Ville the mayor could see them coming, and he knew that the demand of each one of them would be "boots." It was not one pair of boots to be paid for, it was a thousand! There were boots enough in Issoire. The factories were never so prosperous, and the money they received from the city was kept in rapid circulation. The grocers got some, the butchers some, a good deal went to the landlady of the Golden Lion, and the wives of the factory-owners and the councilmen bought diamond necklaces and bracelets to match the ear-rings which they had before.
But this could not go on unless the city treasury could meet the demands upon it. In the words of a celebrated economist, "The mill can never grind again with the water that is past," and, unless new water could be procured, grinding was over at Issoire. The town must have money, or else the factories would be closed, the supply of boots cease, and each citizen of Issoire would have to keep the wolf from the door by his own unaided exertions.
It was a great crisis, but such crises, "God's stern winnowers," as the poet calls them, are the making of great men. And this crisis made a great man of the mayor of Issoire, or rather it made a background against which his greatness could be seen, I have forgotten the mayor's name, and I am very sorry for it. It was a French name and wholly unpronounceable to me, something like De Rougeâtre, or De Rousselieu; but if ever the name of a mayor were
it is his, and it is my constant regret that I can not file it there.
And the mayor said: "All our prosperity is due to the action of the octroi on a single article of necessity—namely, boots. This is prosperity along a single line only, a one-sided development of our industries, and from this comes our present embarrassment. Put the octroi on everything, and you have prosperity along the whole line. Some of these things we can produce at home, some we can not. Those that we can not produce the people will have somehow, and from these you can raise the money to pay for the boots which Issoire recognizes as the just due of the toiling workingman." Here the mayor wiped a tear from his eye, and raised his voice a little, in the hope that perchance some toiling workingman might be listening outside, or taking his needful midday rest at the Golden Lion, next door.
"On the tea, coffee, pepper, brass, tin, diamonds" (here the Common Council heaved a sigh), "and other articles which Issoire can not produce, we will raise the income which the city needs. And the great charm of this tax is, that the people will not feel it at all, for it will all be paid by outsiders, by these merchants from Clermont and Lyons who send their goods to our town. They own the goods, they bring them here, they pay the octroi, for we need not buy of them until the goods are safe inside the city gates. By a single stroke in financial policy, we shall keep our factories running, our workingmen contented, and make the merchants in our rival cities pay all our expenses. As for the other articles which we buy in Clermont, we can make them here, if only we can have the octroi to help us. Extend the octroi to everything, and Issoire will become a microcosm, a little world within a world. We shall do everything for ourselves. There is no excuse for buying anything in Clermont so long as there is a foot of land in Issoire on which a factory can be built. We shall have woolen-factories, and powder-factories, and iron-foundries, and distilleries, and cotton-factories, and wine-vaults, and chair-factories, and stone-quarries, and gold-mines, and flouring-mills, and paper-mills, and saw-mills, and wind-mills, and gin-mills, and—"
But here the mayor began to grow a little incoherent. He had been out late the night before, explaining the advantages of the octroi at the club in the Café de la Comédie, and his private secretary pulled his coat in warning that he should bring his speech to a close.
The mayor's recommendation was accepted in part. A few of the Council had been in favor of issuing some kind of cheap money—some sort of brass or paper token, which they could make by machinery whenever the treasury became empty. But the majority had seen this kind of money before, and they firmly resisted the suggestion. By way of compromise, they agreed to extend the octroi to twenty-seven articles—mostly articles of food or clothing which had been brought in from Clermont or from the mountains of the Puy-de-Dôme. The workman Jacques was dismissed with a pair of boots, for which the mayor himself paid. Jacques left the council-chamber satisfied, and the crisis was averted.
And now money flowed in again to Issoire. The farmers who brought in onions paid a little, the boy who pulled water-cresses a little, the milkmen a little, the vine-growers a good deal more, but most of all came in from the merchants of Clermont, who in spite of all discouragement still persisted in carrying cheap goods to Issoire.
Prices went up; a sure index of prosperity. It was easy to pay one's debts—easier still to make new ones; but the great thing was that the money was kept in town. To go from hand to hand, from hand to hand, and then from hand to hand again, as in the endless round of the fairy tale—that is what money is for. Factories sprang up as if by magic, and down the long white highways multitudes of the crushed and down-trodden of other cities were seen tramping along to share the prosperity of Issoire. Five hundred soldiers in red and blue uniforms had taken the place of the dozen gendarmes, the dome of the church was gilded anew, and the poet wrote a sonnet in which Issoire was compared to the island of Calypso, and the mayor to Ulysses.
But the weather was never so pleasant that nobody had the rheumatism. Never was country so happy that the grumblers all kept still. There were some complainers even at Issoire. Those who lived on incomes and endowments said that with the rise of prices it was every day harder to make both ends meet. One wealthy man who wore Clermont-made boots, and had furnished his sons with private tutors, and saddle-horses and gold watches, now found it almost beyond his means to keep them in ordinary clothing. But he soon removed to Clermont, and others of the same sort went with him. With them, too, went the widows and orphans who lived on endowments, and the old soldiers who had government pensions.
But the mayor said: "Let them go; it is a good riddance. They belong to the non-producing class, a class that hangs like a millstone on the neck of labor."
But, in spite of all adverse influences, many people from Issoire visited Clermont in fine weather for pleasure or for trade. It was pleasant to wander about the larger town, the home of their ancestors, to be a part in the bustle of its streets, and to breathe its metropolitan air. There were better opera-houses there and picture-galleries, and there was a special charm in the shops where prices far below those at Issoire were ostentatiously fixed on elaborately displayed wares. And so—almost before the owner knew it—many an Issoire wagon was loaded down with cheap goods from Clermont. But, although the octroi was paid at the city gates, the real purpose of the octroi was evaded. The money, in the first place, was spent outside the city. Worse than this, the octroi, instead of being paid by the agents of the Clermont merchants—as the law intended—was collected, as the mayor of Issoire now said, "off our own people." For, if the octroi is to be collected in this way, "off our own people," it would be just as easy and a good deal cheaper and fairer to collect the tax in the usual way, in direct proportion to the value of each man's income or capital.
Another ordinance was clearly necessary. The wagon-maker at Issoire had long since gone out of the business. The prices of wood, iron, leather, and paint were such, that he could not compete with Clermont manufacturers. So the wagon-shop was closed, and carriages and vehicles of every description were brought over from Clermont. The cost of these vehicles had been a heavy drain upon the resources of Issoire. The octroi alone would not remedy this, for nothing short of absolute prohibition of outside purchase would revive the wagon-trade. So the mayor proposed that by another bold stroke the dying industry should be revived, while at the same time the citizens of Issoire should be prevented from paying the octroi. It was enacted that no citizen of Issoire should own any sort of vehicle—wheelbarrow, cart, wagon, barouche, carriage, or droschke—unless said vehicle was made in all its parts at Issoire, and bore the signature of the mayor and the seal of the Common Council. This saved the city many thousands of francs, for, now that the people no longer drove over to Clermont, the Clermont merchants sent goods to Issoire: and, when they entered the gates, the Clermont people paid the charges of the octroi.
When the first Issoire wagon was finished, the maker had put such a high price upon it that no one would buy, and the reviving industry began to faint again. The wagon-maker said that he couldn't help it. Unless he could in some way get wood and nails at special prices his wagons would be out of the reach of all buyers. A few of the Common Council were in favor of releasing the wagon-maker from the octroi on articles used in the manufacture of wagons, but the rest were unwilling to do this—because to buy these materials outside is another drain on the prosperity of a town. At last they arranged a compromise, by which the city gave an order for a new street-sprinkler and twelve rubbish-carts, to be paid for from the public treasury. They had no need for a new sprinkler then, and five rubbish-carts would have been enough. But a liberal order like this made the wagon maker contented, and a generous policy was necessary to start anew the wheels of trade, which, in spite of all their care, were frequently becoming clogged.
Once more the treasury was nearly empty. The citizens of Issoire, accustomed to having their taxes paid by the people of Clermont and Lyons, would not submit to any form of direct taxation. Had the Common Council said: "We must have so much money; we propose to take it from your pockets by a pro rata assessment," the people would have risen as one man and put the opposition candidates into office. Direct taxation is a confession of barrenness in expedients. Where money is to be raised, it should always be collected from foreigners, if possible. This is a maxim in political science, and all successful financiers from Julius Cæsar down have acted in accordance with it.
The falling off in the Clermont trade, due to the new wagon law, had made a serious reduction of the revenue. And now appeared the wisdom of the mayor's original suggestion. What Issoire needed was prosperity along the whole line. A partial octroi means only partial prosperity. A universal octroi insures prosperity which is unbounded and universal.
And so the schoolmaster took a copy of Littré's "Unabridged Dictionary" and the "Dictionary of the Academy" and from these he drew up a list of three thousand eight hundred and seventy-two articles on which the city government might levy the octroi. And the mayor and the City Council sat up half the night to decide just how much octroi each one of these articles should bear, in order to secure the best results to the community.
The list began:
|Absinthe||octroi||one franc per bottle.|
|Accoutrements||"||five francs per set.|
|Acids||"||one franc per litre.|
|Alcohol||"||five francs per litre.|
|Alligators||"||five francs each.|
|Animals (not otherwise specified)||"||ten centimes per kilogramme.|
|Arnica||"||five centimes per kilogramme.|
|Artichokes||"||five centimes each.|
And so on, down to zinc and zoöphytes.
The general effect of this law was like that of a refreshing rain upon a thirsty field. Everybody took heart, and general confidence in the future is the chief element in financial prosperity. But the law had some curious results.
The octroi on elephants was so high as to be prohibitory and the Italian organ-grinder thanked his stars that he and his monkey were well inside the city gates before the law went into effect. The combined tax on quadrumana and musical instruments was more than he could pay. Once within, however, he enjoyed a full monopoly, and this, so the schoolmaster told him, was just what the law originally intended, for octroi is spelled in Latin "auctoritas," "by authority," an authorized monopoly. The manufacturers of dolls were much encouraged. Christmas was coming on; the children must have dolls; and the pauper doll-makers of Jonas, with whom Saint Nicholas had been in the habit of trading, were by no means able to pay the octroi.
But, on the other hand, the trade in looking-glasses was nearly ruined. The octroi on glass, quicksilver, wood, tin, varnish, and glue, drove the mirror-maker distracted. The people took to polishing up tin pans, and to looking into dark windows or down into deep wells, in search for the truth that is metaphorically said to be lying there. Then the law offered some curious anomalies. For instance, a sheep with the wool on went through the city gates for fifteen francs. If the wool was taken off, it was charged a franc per pound, and the sheep went in as mutton, paying five francs. It was, therefore, cheaper to take a sheep to pieces outside of the city gate rather than within.
Again, there was a curious complication in the matter of bootjacks, a humble article of domestic use, manufactured in the little village of Jonas, just mentioned. If these were sent in as household furniture, each paid a franc, while, as wooden-ware, the charge was fifty centimes.
With the millstone-trade the results were even more remarkable. One of the chief articles of export from Issoire, in its early days, was the stone used in flouring-mills. In the lower part of the city, close to the river Couze, there is an extensive quarry of a coarse, hard sandstone, most excellent for milling purposes. It had long been a saying with Issoire people, "We send Clermont the wheat, and the stones to grind it." The Issoire millstones were not inferior to those quarried in Cantal, and, the distance from Clermont being much less, the Issoire millstone-cutters had almost a monopoly of the Clermont trade.
In the early days of the octroi, however, the wagons which had formerly brought over manufactured goods in exchange for millstones were obliged to go to Issoire empty. Thus their owners had to charge for one trip almost the former price of two. This increased cost of transportation brought down the price of millstones in Issoire, for the competition of the quarries of Cantal made it impossible to raise the price at Clermont. To do that would be to divert the trade of the Clermont mill-owners entirely to Cantal. In such cases, the prices for the whole region must be governed by the price at the center of trade. The profits of the Issoire quarry were thus materially reduced. The owners talked of reducing the wages of their employés, but this they could not do, for the wages were already at the lowest point at which effective service could be secured. The natural remedy lay in an appeal to the octroi. The Council levied five centimes per kilogramme on all millstones brought into Issoire. Some of the Council thought this levy an absurdity, for not a single millstone had ever been imported. The old proverb as to "carrying coals to Newcastle" was intended to cover just such cases. But the mayor told them to wait and see, and the result showed his far-seeing wisdom. The quarry-owners doubled their home prices, while the octroi preserved them from loss through outside competition. Then followed one of those curious surprises which lend such zest to the study of French economic problems. The price of millstones at the quarry in Issoire was nearly double the price of the same millstones in Clermont, whither they were carried by salesmen from Issoire. After a time Issoire mill-owners began to send to Clermont for millstones, instead of buying them at home. It was cheaper for them to buy their home products in another city, to pay carriage both ways, and to pay the octroi at the city gates, than it was to send across the street in Issoire for the same article. Freedom from competition at Issoire enabled the quarry-owners to fix their own prices at home, and thus to broaden the slender margin of profits which came from outside trade. This peculiar condition reached its climax when one of Beltran's wagons from Clermont left Issoire with a load of millstones, while, next day, the same wagon, without unloading, carried the same millstones back to be used in the mills of the Issoire General Company of Flour and Meal! The schoolmaster was ecstatic over the stimulus thus given to several industries at once. It was like killing many birds with one stone. But the Issoire Association for the Home Production of Millstones was not satisfied with Clermont competition, even in this peculiar form, and an increase in the octroi soon put further importations out of the question.
There were also some curious omissions in the list, in spite of its length and complexity. An old woman, Widow Besoin, who lived near the Cantal gate, had five speckled Dominick hens, of which she was very fond. These hens were to her a source of profit as well as pleasure. She came to the mayor with the complaint that her neighbor. Farmer Bois-rouge, who lived just outside the city gate, brought in the eggs of his chickens free, and sold them at prices far below those she was compelled to charge for the eggs of her hens. The Bois-rouge chickens roamed over the whole farm and lived on grasshoppers and gleanings, while hers were fed on grain which had passed the octroi. It seems that the schoolmaster, in making up the octroi list, in arranging the o's had neglected to look for words beginning with "oe," and so had omitted the word "œuf," which is the French for "egg." So the Council was called together, a rate for "œufs" was agreed upon, and Widow Besoin's Dominick hens were free from the pauper competition of the chickens of Farmer Bois-rouge.
But the action of the octroi was, on the whole, as I have said, extremely beneficial. It filled the treasury again, and it stimulated a large number of infant industries, which had previously been unable to compete with established industries in surrounding towns, on account of the high prices of raw materials, and especially of labor, at Issoire. It is true that workman Jacques and some of the other laborers complained that these high wages were high in name only. In Clermont, men worked for three francs a day, but these three francs would buy twelve yards of calico or ten pounds of sugar, while the five francs received in Issoire would buy but ten yards of calico or eight pounds of sugar. But the schoolmaster wrote another letter to the "Gazette," showing that the question of wages was solved by an estimate of what the laborer saved, not by what he could buy with his wages. "Every workingman" said he, "as statistics show, saves thirty per cent of his wages. In Clermont, therefore, the laborer lays up one franc per day, or three hundred francs per year. In Issoire, he lays up one franc fifty per day, or four hundred and fifty francs per year, a difference of one half in favor of the workman at Issoire as compared with the pauper labor of Clermont."
The workman Jacques read this aloud in the bar-room of the Lion d'Or, and pondered over it a good deal, for the logic was irrefutable, and yet after all these years he had not four hundred and fifty francs which he could call his own.
The mayor made a speech to the workingmen, congratulating them on his re-election, and assuring them that "for them and for them alone the octroi was brought to Issoire. It was the pride of Issoire that its workingmen were princes and not paupers. If they paid high prices for articles of necessity, it was only that they might get higher prices in return. You sell more than you buy, and what you sell, the strength of your own right arms, costs you nothing, and, when it is sold, is as much yours as it was before. It is God's bounty to the workingman. If these industries which the octroi has built up around you are left unprotected, you too would be left without defense. In the natural competition of trade, the rich grow richer and the poor poorer. Without the octroi we should behold here as at Clermont the spectacle of the chariot-wheels of Dives throwing dust into the eyes of Lazarus. But here in Issoire, Lazarus is, so to speak, already in Abraham's bosom. The workingmen of Issoire have no truer friend than Issoire's mayor, and to cherish their interests is the dream by day and by night of Issoire's Common Council."
But we must return to the boot-trade, on which the octroi was first established. The history of that industry is the history of all the others, for in one way or another all experienced the same changes and conditions.
The profits were large at first, and very soon the Issoire Citizens' Foot-wear Manufacturing Association had no longer a monopoly in boots and shoes. The original concern still retained the city contract for supplying boots to the laboring-men, but the others found the general trade no less profitable.
But soon an unexpected decline in boot consumption took place. People perversely wore their old boots, which had long passed the season of presentability. The children went barefooted or shuffled around in sabots. Even worse, many parents bought for their children a new kind of copper-toed shoe, which was made in Clermont—a shoe that could never wear out at all; one of the worst possible things for the shoe-trade in any country!
When it was found that boots and shoes enough to last for five years were for sale in the shops, it was evident that something must be done. The original concern decided to wait. It closed its factory and discharged its workmen. But some of the other firms could not wait. They must have their money back or go into bankruptcy. Shoes began to come down. Every shoe-dealer was alarmed, and a meeting was held in the Café de la Comédie to see what could be done. It was decided to lower the prices and then to maintain them. Boots were rated at fifteen francs per pair, and shoes and slippers in proportion. But one dealer could not keep his promise. He had a very large and handsome new shop, and he had spent much money in fitting it up. A gentleman, named Shylock, from whom he had borrowed the money, said that he had lent money for legitimate business, not for speculation; to sell shoes, not to hold them for higher prices. This stock of boots was thus forced on the market, to be sold for what it would bring. And other dealers had to sell for similar prices, or lose all chance of selling at all. And so Issoire was full of notices:
"Grand Slaughter of Boots and Shoes!"
"Boots given away—only Five Francs a Pair!"
Boots were never so cheap before, in Issoire or anywhere else in France.
The Issoire Citizens' Foot-wear Manufacturing Company took no part in these cheap sales. Its agents were active, however, and they privately bought up a part of the stock of the smaller stores, and sent out several wagon-loads across the country to Clermont, and one down the river to the farmers in the valley of the Loire.
It was an era of cheap boots. Everybody was well shod. The children burned up their wooden shoes, or used them only for coasting in the winter, and there was general satisfaction. The Minister of Public Instruction, who spent a day in Issoire on his way from Marseilles to Paris, had a pair of new boots presented to him, and he showed them at home, as an example of what the octroi could do for a town. "Boots," said he to the Minister of Finance, "are actually cheaper to-day at Issoire than they are at Paris or Lyons. So much has the octroi done for my countrymen." And the mayor sent a message of congratulation, reminding the people that his promises had come true. "The octroi has reduced the price of boots, and has demonstrated the truth of the paradox that the quickest road to low prices is to make prices high." The traders who had gone into bankruptcy left Issoire and were speedily forgotten—except by their creditors, chief of whom was Monsieur Shylock. It did not much matter about them in any event. Their loss was the community's gain. It was not Issoire's fault that they were dealing on borrowed capital and could not stand the strain of reduced prices.
After the period of congratulation was over, the President of the Issoire Citizens' Foot-wear Manufacturing Association called the heads of a few of the rival houses to his office. They agreed together to ask for an increase in the octroi, in view of the depressed condition of the boot-trade, after which they would, in view of the increase of the octroi, raise the price of boots to twenty-five francs. They formed a new association called the Issoire Equitable Confidence Society, the object of which was to prevent the Clermont dealers from flooding the city with cheap boots, a thing which the latter had been steadily on the watch to accomplish. The Equitable Society took special pains to serve Issoire by regulating the price of boots according to the city's real needs. The city had suffered from overproduction. Now, when any firm outside the Equitable Society tried to resume work, the price of boots was suddenly lowered, until the competing dealer would be willing to sell out on favorable terms to some of the society's members. There were a few dealers in Issoire who still brought boots over from Clermont. These were made to understand that their course of action was unpatriotic, and that it was displeasing to the members of the Equitable Society. The office of the octroi was visited by several men who accused one of these dealers of having silk stockings concealed in an invoice of boots from Clermont. All the boxes were opened and each boot examined. Then all were thrown in a pile by the side of the street. The owner gathered them up as well as he could, but the street boys helped him, and before he knew it several boys and several pairs of boots were missing together. And so in a hundred ways the Equitable Society discouraged outside and inside competition, until at last the entire boot-trade fell into its hands.
But the rise in the cost of boots had its effect on the workingmen. Clearly the increase in the price of boots was due to the growth of labor, for the price of hides was no greater than it was before, while the value of hides made up into boots was materially higher. If a day's work was worth five francs before, nine francs was not too much now when labor was so much more valuable to the capitalist.
The big workman Jacques thought this out, and in the café of the Lion d'Or he advised the workingmen to march in a body to the President of the Confidence Society to demand their rights. They did so, with the master-workman Jacques at their head. Their demand was nine francs a day, or no more boots in Issoire. The president had expected this. In fact, he had rather hoped for it; and so he had kept a good stock of boots in reserve for such an emergency.
He spoke very kindly to the deputation, patted Jacques softly on the arm, but, in brief, said that the state of the trade would permit no increase of wages at present. Next day the doors of the factories were closed, and each workman received his pay in full, and his discharge.
For a week the factories were empty and silent. The Confidence Society was not idle, however, for a trusty messenger had been sent at once to the village of Jonas. He offered four francs a day to the Jonas men if they would come over to work in Issoire. Now, Jonas is a queer little town, built all around the brow of an old volcano. I doubt if there is another like it on earth. The top of the hill is made of hard lava, below which is a belt of ashes, very old and packed solid, but as easy to cut as cheese. Long ago the ancient Gauls burrowed into this hill and filled it with their habitations. These appear like gigantic swallows' nests when you look at the hill from below. One of the largest of these houses is used as a church, and its lava walls are rudely frescoed over in imitation of the big church at Issoire. Only very poor people live in Jonas now, people who can not pay much rent, and who do not mind the absence of fire in the winter. And the Jonas men were glad to come over to Issoire for four francs a day, to take up the work which the pampered laborers of Issoire had refused.
The coming of the Jonas men was a great surprise in Issoire, and gave rise to much hard feeling. The workmen who were idle met them with eggs and cabbages, and some of them even carried bricks. But the gendarmes were on the side of the Confidence Society, and they protected the new men from any serious harm. So the mob followed sulkily in the rear, shouting "Rats! rats!" It sounded like "Rah, rah!" for this is the French way of saying "rats."
Winter was now approaching, and the discharged boot-makers of Issoire found their condition daily more and more unpleasant. They had an association among themselves called the "Chevaliers of Industry." The big Jacques was master-workman, and they met in the café of the Lion d'Or to discuss matters of common interest. They had a good deal to say of the power of organized labor, the encroachments of capital, and maintained that the value of all things is due solely to the labor which is put upon it. The so-called raw material, land, air, water, grass, cowhide, shoe-pegs, all these are God's bounty to men. No one should arrogate these to himself, and all should be as free as air. All else in value labor has given. Capital, the interloper, has unjustly taken the lion's share, and left a pittance to labor. What capital has thus taken is ours, for we have made it. Then the speaker referred to the snug little capital which the President of the Confidence Society had laid away in his strong-box, and which shone out through his plate-glass windows and made itself felt in every smirk of his self-satisfied face. Another speaker said that the thief of labor was the worst of all thieves, and for them to despoil him was but to seek restoration of stolen goods. And the schoolmaster said that he who takes for his own the value labor has given is worse than he who robs upon the public highway—for he adds hypocrisy to theft.
Some of them counseled an immediate attack upon the managers of the Confidence Society, but the voice of master-workman Jacques was for some compromise which would restore them to employment. There had been a considerable fund collected by the Chevaliers of Industry in the way of dues and assessments. This fund he had distributed among the unemployed laborers, freely at first, but of late more sparingly. There were many who hoped to live through the winter on this fund, and these spoke in no pleasant terms of the master-workman's stinginess. The fund was nearly gone, and Jacques well knew that, if work was not soon resumed, the order of Chevaliers of Industry would come to a sudden end. Organized labor without money is very soon disorganized.
A few heeded his words of counsel and followed his lead to their homes. But the bolder spirits stiffened their resolve with the wines for which the café du Lion d'Or is so justly famous, and started for the residence of the President of the Confidence Society. They roused him from his bed, killed one of the Jonas men whom they found asleep at his door, insisted on an immediate division of his personal property—which he was only too willing to grant—and next morning they found themselves in jail, charged with robbery and murder.
There was again excitement at Issoire. The workingmen held mass-meetings at the Lion d'Or, and passed resolutions of sympathy and defiance. The wives and daughters of the members of the Common Council sent bouquets and baskets of fruit to the prisoners, and the mayor said that he loved them as though they were his own sons. But the law in France is in higher hands than those of the municipality. It is swift and sure. The prisoners were taken to the capital city, Clermont, to be tried. The sympathies of the judge were on the side of capital, and he paid little attention to the plea of organized labor. "If your theory is true," said the judge, "you have no sort of claim on the boots you have demanded from the President of the Equitable Confidence Society. All this labor you talk of is simply the moving of things back and forth. How can this confer value? The real work is done by the cow; and the herdsmen on the mountains, who are her heirs and assigns, are the only persons who have a natural lien on the boots which are made from her hide when she is dead. This claim the herdsmen have assigned to capital, and to capital, therefore, all the boots belong."
It is hard to fight against monopolies. The men were condemned. The black flag was raised in the Golden Lion. A good deal was said, but nothing further was done, by organized labor toward taking possession of its own.
A new election was at hand, and the mayor's party issued a call to the workingmen to rally to his support.
"All who believe in the grandeur and glory of France, in the ten commandments, in the theory that the sun is the real center of the solar system, and in the Issoire idea of a perpetual octroi for the defense and development of home interests and the elevation of home labor, who would reduce city taxes and prevent the accumulation of money not needed for city uses, by the perpetuation and extension of the octroi; who are opposed to all schemes tending to dethrone this policy and to reduce Issoire's laborers to the level of the underpaid and oppressed workers of Clermont and Jonas—are called to join in the re-election of Mayor de Rougeâtre and of his supporters in the Common Council."
The mayor spoke from the steps of the Hôtel de Ville in defense of the octroi, on the success of which agency he justly based his claim for re-election.
He showed how the octroi had changed Issoire from a dull and peaceful agricultural village with few industries, and those only the ones for which the town possessed special advantages, into a microcosm in which a little of everything was made and sold. Issoire was no longer a town where nothing happened, and in which the procession of grain-wagons, the same yesterday, to-day, and to-morrow, wearied the eye and the ear with their ceaseless monotony. It was a city in which the clashing of interests and the fluctuation of prices made every one anxious for the morrow's sun to rise that he might see what would happen next. He spoke of the promising infant, the industry of boot-making, which had always stood in the fore-front of Issoire's development. He touched lightly on the late labor difficulties, as a mere incident in the city's progress, "a spark struck out from the clashing of great interests as from flint and steel." "Different directions may produce such," said he, unconsciously quoting from an earlier economist, "nay, different velocities in the same direction," Then he spoke of the value of the octroi to the workingman and of the charmed life he leads at Issoire. He repeated all the arguments drawn from the prices of boots and the prices of labor which the schoolmaster had written out for him, and everything went on beautifully till near the close, when the master-workman Jacques rose to ask a question.
"How is it," said he, "if the lot of the workingman is so pleasant in Issoire, that there is not a single workingman from Issoire in one of the factories in this city? How is it that the mills are full of paupers and 'rats' from Clermont and Jonas? How is it that the census shows that Issoire is actually poorer to-day than she was ten years ago, that her pauper roll is ten times as large, and the only citizens who have grown rich are the city officers and the members of Issoire's iniquitous Equitable Confidence Societies? If the octroi is to benefit the laborers of Issoire, why don't you put it on the outside fellows who swarm in Issoire, and not on the Issoire laborers' food and clothing? It seems to me, sir, that when a city begins to fix things to help one set of men and then another, rather than to consider the common good of all, it is on dangerous ground. Once started on this sort of thing, everybody clamors for his share. Every man too lazy to work, and every man whose business does not pay, seems to think that the rest of the town owe him a living."
Warming up with the subject, he continued:
"Take this millstone business of yours, for example. It is all folly to talk of the wealth in your stone-quarries, if you have to hire their owners to work them. If we can buy millstones in Clermont for less than it costs to cut them in Issoire, it is money in our pockets to leave them in the ground. If any line of business needs to be constantly propped up, and can not live except at the expense of its neighbors, it is no industry at all. It is a beggary. And this octroi of yours has made a beggar or a brigand of every industry in Issoire!"
But the mayor waved his hand and smiled, and said that some men were never satisfied. They would grumble about the golden pavements of the New Jerusalem, if they could not turn them into legal tender. Then he referred to a conspiracy among men suborned by Clermont gold, to flood the streets of Issoire with cheap bread and meat and potatoes and clothing. He asked all who wanted to be slaves to Clermont to rise and be counted. He showed that, of all people on earth, the people of France were the happiest; of all people in France, those of Issoire were most favored; and of those in Issoire, the best of all were the workingmen, the especial guardians of the Issoire idea.
Meanwhile the extension of the octroi to 3,873 articles had greatly increased the wealth of the city, and the city treasurer's strong-box was so full that he had to make a second one, and to hire three trusty Clermont men to watch it day and night, and then three men from Jonas to watch the first three. What should be done with the money to keep it in circulation, for, if it remained locked up, the wheels of industry would soon begin to creak, and creaking is a sign that wheels need oiling?
The mayor had proposed to divide it among the several Equitable Confidence Societies, in order to encourage industry, and thus enable these companies to raise, still higher the high wages of the men from Jonas, who were now the only laborers employed in Issoire. But this was objected to in several quarters, especially by the followers of the workman Jacques, who did not like to trust the Equitable Societies to make such a division.
The schoolmaster wanted it divided among the school-children pro rata in proportion to their raggedness. This was favored by almost every one, because it would benefit the laboring-man and help on the clothing-trade; but the politicians objected to giving money to the poor, because such giving tends simply to enervate. The very fact that a man is poor shows that he is not fitted to take care of money. Some wanted the city wall built up so high that no one could see out of the town, and then to have the top so beset with broken bottles that no one could climb over. A few of the extreme devotees of the Issoire idea wanted the surplus devoted to destroying the roads to Clermont, that all danger from the flood of cheap goods with which that city stood always ready to overwhelm Issoire would be removed forever. One of the Council even wished to use it for the permanent closing of all the city gates, for, as he said, "if we are good citizens we will have nothing to do with abroad."
But the private secretary of the mayor remarked that altogether too much had been said of this matter of surplus revenue. "It is a good deal easier," he remarked, sagely, "to manage a surplus than a deficit." Then the mayor said: "It is much better to have too much money than too little. That is what constitutes prosperity. I wouldn't mind having a little surplus myself." Then the Council laughed, and each one thought of what he could do with his share of the surplus, while they discussed some plans which looked toward an equitable distribution of it in places where it would do the most good.
The workman Jacques, who was now a member of the Council, and who had been selected as the opposition candidate for mayor, rose and said: "This octroi stuff is all bosh. It is a tax to make things higher, and it comes out of our pockets. That is why we are so poor. The mayor says that it is collected from the Clermont merchants. The mayor lies. What does a Clermont merchant care whether we pay him ten francs for a pair of boots outside the city gates, or twenty francs inside, after he has paid ten francs toll? It is all the same to him. He loses nothing either way, except that our ridiculous laws have lost him a good customer for his woolen goods, and we have lost a good customer for our wines and wheat. If I can save ten francs by buying my boots at Clermont, have I not a right to save it, and whose business is it if I do? The octroi is putting into the city treasury every year fifty thousand francs more than the city has any honest use for, and the whole town will go into bankruptcy if this goes on for three years more. There isn't money enough in the city to keep up this surplus. The money can not get out of the treasury unless some one steals it out and puts it into circulation; and, if I understand you, gentlemen, this is just what you propose to do."
This speech was the sensation of the day. It was spoken with a blunt earnestness such as well-meaning but ignorant men are often found to possess. Its sophistries were not at first apparent, for the very reason that the speaker himself did not know them to be sophistries.
It was printed next morning in the Issoire "Etoile," and it made many converts among those who were unable to expose its errors. The landlord of the Hôtel de la Poste indorsed it, because the patronage of that excellent hostelry had greatly declined since the cessation of the barter with Clermont. Some of the manufacturers favored it, for they were looking for wider outlets for their trade, as the market of Issoire was soon glutted, and the octroi increased the cost of manufacture even more than it raised the price of the finished goods. The politicians said that it might be true enough, but plain talk like that would ruin any man's chances in a popular election. Jacques should have remembered that he was a candidate. The parson, who seldom meddled with politics, declared that the address was timely and patriotic, and that the real friend of the laboring-man was the man who gave him justice instead of patronage. He further said that, in his opinion, the mayor and Council were wrong in their theories of wealth. Their fundamental error was this, that they were trying to make the people of this city grow rich off each other. He even marched in a procession which went through the streets, carrying banners inscribed: "Vive Jacques, the Master-Workman!" "A bas l'Octroi!" "Away with Useless Taxes!"
But the reaction soon came, as it always comes in the politics of France, and it was due to the Clermont papers. They published Jacques's speech in full, with words of great approbation.
In the Clermont "Libéral" were the head-lines: "Long live Mayor Jacques!" "Down with the Demagogues!" "Issoire coming to her Senses!" "The Workingmen repudiate the Octroi!" "Good Prospects for the Clermont Trade!"
It was on the very eve of the election that the Clermont papers were received in Issoire. It was enough. What sophistry had seduced, patriotism reclaimed. The mayor said that, if Jacques was elected, the octroi would be removed at once, every man in Issoire would be ruined, and the city, bound hand and foot, would be delivered over to Clermont. Ten wagon-loads of goods would be sent in the place of one, and not all the money in the whole city would suffice to pay for them. Then he read from the Clermont "Libéral" an editorial in which Jacques was compared to Arnold Winkelried and to Charles Martel and to St. Austremoine, the first hero of Issoire. The effect was tremendous. Every word from Clermont in praise of Jacques was, as the mayor said, "one more nail in his coffin."
The election-day came at last—as such days always come. It was a bright Sabbath afternoon in early August, for in France elections are always held on Sunday afternoons. The birds sang in the poplar-trees, the wheat-fields looked yellow through the city gates, the Café du Lion d'Or was covered with flags and with red ribbons in honor of Jacques, while the Café de la Comédie was similarly draped in blue in honor of his rival. The people were out in their best clothes and Issoire-made boots, and the candidates were among them—all smiles and attention, though I thought that a slightly misanthropic expression lurked about the big workman's mouth.
The bands played, and rival processions moved about in the street. The longest of these carried banners inscribed "Vive l’Octroi!" "A bas Clermont!" "Le Surplus toujours!" "De Rougeâtre forever!" Everybody seemed falling into line, and so I followed, keeping step with the music.
All at once I heard a fearful, blood-curdling scream. The procession swiftly dissolved, the music ceased, the banners vanished. I rubbed my eyes and looked about me. I was sitting on an inverted nail-keg at the Clermont gate just outside the city of Issoire. The old gendarme who guarded the gate was slowly drawing a dripping sword out of a large bundle of oats, in which he had thrust it while performing his duty as inspector. Within the oats was great excitement. The contraband hog concealed inside was lustily kicking and filling the air with his frantic screams.
And thus I knew that the city had been saved, for the octroi was still going on.
And it is going on yet.