The Government Clerks/Chapter IX
By midnight Madame Rabourdin's salon was deserted; only two or three guests remained with des Lupeaulx and the master and mistress of the house. When Schinner and Monsieur and Madame de Camps had likewise departed, des Lupeaulx rose with a mysterious air, stood with his back to the fireplace and looked alternately at the husband and wife.
"My friends," he said, "nothing is really lost, for the minister and I are faithful to you. Dutocq simply chose between two powers the one he thought strongest. He has served the court and the Grand Almoner; he has betrayed me. But that is in the order of things; a politician never complains of treachery. Nevertheless, Baudoyer will be dismissed as incapable in a few months; no doubt his protectors will find him a place,—in the prefecture of police, perhaps,—for the clergy will not desert him."
From this point des Lupeaulx went on with a long tirade about the Grand Almoner and the dangers the government ran in relying upon the church and upon the Jesuits. We need not, we think, point out to the intelligent reader that the court and the Grand Almoner, to whom the liberal journals attributed an enormous influence under the administration, had little really to do with Monsieur Baudoyer's appointment. Such petty intrigues die in the upper sphere of great self-interests. If a few words in favor of Baudoyer were obtained by the importunity of the curate of Saint-Paul's and the Abbe Gaudron, they would have been withdrawn immediately at a suggestion from the minister. The occult power of the Congregation of Jesus (admissible certainly as confronting the bold society of the "Doctrine," entitled "Help yourself and heaven will help you,") was formidable only through the imaginary force conferred on it by subordinate powers who perpetually threatened each other with its evils. The liberal scandal-mongers delighted in representing the Grand Almoner and the whole Jesuitical Chapter as political, administrative, civil, and military giants. Fear creates bugbears. At this crisis Baudoyer firmly believed in the said Chapter, little aware that the only Jesuits who had put him where he now was sat by his own fireside, and in the Cafe Themis playing dominoes.
At certain epochs in history certain powers appear, to whom all evils are attributed, though at the same time their genius is denied; they form an efficient argument in the mouth of fools. Just as Monsieur de Talleyrand was supposed to hail all events of whatever kind with a bon mot, so in these days of the Restoration the clerical party had the credit of doing and undoing everything. Unfortunately, it did and undid nothing. Its influence was not wielded by a Cardinal Richelieu or a Cardinal Mazarin; it was in the hands of a species of Cardinal de Fleury, who, timid for over five years, turned bold for one day, injudiciously bold. Later on, the "Doctrine" did more, with impunity, at Saint-Merri, than Charles X. pretended to do in July, 1830. If the section on the censorship so foolishly introduced into the new charter had been omitted, journalism also would have had its Saint-Merri. The younger Branch could have legally carried out Charles X.'s plan.
"Remain where you are, head of a bureau under Baudoyer," went on des Lupeaulx. "Have the nerve to do this; make yourself a true politician; put ideas and generous impulses aside; attend only to your functions; don't say a word to your new director; don't help him with a suggestion; and do nothing yourself without his order. In three months Baudoyer will be out of the ministry, either dismissed, or stranded on some other administrative shore. They may attach him to the king's household. Twice in my life I have been set aside as you are, and overwhelmed by an avalanche of folly; I have quietly waited and let it pass."
"Yes," said Rabourdin, "but you were not calumniated; your honor was not assailed, compromised—"
"Ha, ha, ha!" cried des Lupeaulx, interrupting him with a burst of Homeric laughter. "Why, that's the daily bread of every remarkable man in this glorious kingdom of France! And there are but two ways to meet such calumny,—either yield to it, pack up, and go plant cabbages in the country; or else rise above it, march on, fearless, and don't turn your head."
"For me, there is but one way of untying the noose which treachery and the work of spies have fastened round my throat," replied Rabourdin. "I must explain the matter at once to his Excellency, and if you are as sincerely attached to me as you say you are, you will put me face to face with him to-morrow."
"You mean that you wish to explain to him your plan for the reform of the service?"
"Well, then, trust the papers with me,—your memoranda, all the documents. I promise you that he shall sit up all night and examine them."
"Let us go to him, then!" cried Rabourdin, eagerly; "six years' toil certainly deserves two or three hours attention from the king's minister, who will be forced to recognize, if he does not applaud, such perseverance."
Compelled by Rabourdin's tenacity to take a straightforward path, without ambush or angle where his treachery could hide itself, des Lupeaulx hesitated for a single instant, and looked at Madame Rabourdin, while he inwardly asked himself, "Which shall I permit to triumph, my hatred for him, or my fancy for her?"
"You have no confidence in my honor," he said, after a pause. "I see that you will always be to me the author of your secret analysis. Adieu, madame."
Madame Rabourdin bowed coldly. Celestine and Xavier returned at once to their own rooms without a word; both were overcome by their misfortune. The wife thought of the dreadful situation in which she stood toward her husband. The husband, resolving slowly not to remain at the ministry but to send in his resignation at once, was lost in a sea of reflections; the crisis for him meant a total change of life and the necessity of starting on a new career. All night he sat before his fire, taking no notice of Celestine, who came in several times on tiptoe, in her night-dress.
"I must go once more to the ministry, to bring away my papers, and show Baudoyer the routine of the business," he said to himself at last. "I had better write my resignation now."
He turned to his table and began to write, thinking over each clause of the letter, which was as follows:—
Monseigneur,—I have the honor to inclose to your Excellency my
resignation. I venture to hope that you still remember hearing me
say that I left my honor in your hands, and that everything, for
me, depended on my being able to give you an immediate
This explanation I have vainly sought to give. To-day it would,
perhaps, be useless; for a fragment of my work relating to the
administration, stolen and misused, has gone the rounds of the
offices and is misinterpreted by hatred; in consequence, I find
myself compelled to resign, under the tacit condemnation of my
Your Excellency may have thought, on the morning when I first
sought to speak with you, that my purpose was to ask for my
promotion, when, in fact, I was thinking only of the glory and
usefulness of your ministry and of the public good. It is
all-important, I think, to correct that impression.
Then followed the usual epistolary formulas.
It was half-past seven in the morning when the man consummated the sacrifice of his ideas; he burned everything, the toil of years. Fatigued by the pressure of thought, overcome by mental suffering, he fell asleep with his head on the back of his armchair. He was wakened by a curious sensation, and found his hands covered with his wife's tears and saw her kneeling before him. Celestine had read the resignation. She could measure the depth of his fall. They were now to be reduced to live on four thousand francs a year; and that day she had counted up her debts,—they amounted to something like thirty-two thousand francs! The most ignoble of all wretchedness had come upon them. And that noble man who had trusted her was ignorant that she had abused the fortune he had confided to her care. She was sobbing at his feet, beautiful as the Magdalen.
"My cup is full," cried Xavier, in terror. "I am dishonored at the ministry, and dishonored—"
The light of her pure honor flashed from Celestine's eyes; she sprang up like a startled horse and cast a fulminating glance at Rabourdin.
"I! I!" she said, on two sublime tones. "Am I a base wife? If I were, you would have been appointed. But," she added mournfully, "it is easier to believe that than to believe what is the truth."
"Then what is it?" said Rabourdin.
"All in three words," she said; "I owe thirty thousand francs."
Rabourdin caught his wife to his heart with a gesture of almost frantic joy, and seated her on his knee.
"Take comfort, dear," he said, in a tone of voice so adorably kind that the bitterness of her grief was changed to something inexpressibly tender. "I too have made mistakes; I have worked uselessly for my country when I thought I was being useful to her. But now I mean to take another path. If I had sold groceries we should now be millionaires. Well, let us be grocers. You are only twenty-eight, dear angel; in ten years you shall recover the luxury that you love, which we must needs renounce for a short time. I, too, dear heart, am not a base or common husband. We will sell our farm; its value has increased of late. That and the sale of our furniture will pay my debts."
My debts! Celestine embraced her husband a thousand times in the single kiss with which she thanked him for that generous word.
"We shall still have a hundred thousand francs to put into business. Before the month is out I shall find some favorable opening. If luck gave a Martin Falleix to a Saillard, why should we despair? Wait breakfast for me. I am going now to the ministry, but I shall come back with my neck free of the yoke."
Celestine clasped her husband in her arms with a force men do not possess, even in their passionate moments; for women are stronger through emotion than men through power. She wept and laughed and sobbed in turns.
When Rabourdin left the house at eight o'clock, the porter gave him the satirical cards suggested by Bixiou. Nevertheless, he went to the ministry, where he found Sebastien waiting near the door to entreat him not to enter any of the bureaus, because an infamous caricature of him was making the round of the offices.
"If you wish to soften the pain of my downfall," he said to the lad, "bring me that drawing; I am now taking my resignation to Ernest de la Briere myself, that it may not be altered or distorted while passing through the routine channels. I have my own reasons for wishing to see that caricature."
When Rabourdin came back to the courtyard, after making sure that his letter would go straight into the minister's hands, he found Sebastien in tears, with a copy of the lithograph, which the lad reluctantly handed over to him.
"It is very clever," said Rabourdin, showing a serene brow to his companion, though the crown of thorns was on it all the same.
He entered the bureaus with a calm air, and went at once into Baudoyer's section to ask him to come to the office of the head of the division and receive instructions as to the business which that incapable being was henceforth to direct.
"Tell Monsieur Baudoyer that there must be no delay," he added, in the hearing of all the clerks; "my resignation is already in the minister's hands, and I do not wish to stay here longer than is necessary."
Seeing Bixiou, Rabourdin went straight up to him, showed him the lithograph, and said, to the great astonishment of all present,—
"Was I not right in saying you were an artist? Still, it is a pity you directed the point of your pencil against a man who cannot be judged in this way, nor indeed by the bureaus at all;—but everything is laughed at in France, even God."
Then he took Baudoyer into the office of the late La Billardiere. At the door he found Phellion and Sebastien, the only two who, under his great disaster, dared to remain openly faithful to the fallen man. Rabourdin noticed that Phellion's eyes were moist, and he could not refrain from wringing his hand.
"Monsieur," said the good man, "if we can serve you in any way, make use of us."
Monsieur Rabourdin shut himself up in the late chief's office with Monsieur Baudoyer, and Phellion helped him to show the new incumbent all the administrative difficulties of his new position. At each separate affair which Rabourdin carefully explained, Baudoyer's little eyes grew big as saucers.
"Farewell, monsieur," said Rabourdin at last, with a manner that was half-solemn, half-satirical.
Sebastien meanwhile had made up a package of papers and letters belonging to his chief and had carried them away in a hackney coach. Rabourdin passed through the grand courtyard, while all the clerks were watching from the windows, and waited there a moment to see if the minister would send him any message. His Excellency was dumb. Phellion courageously escorted the fallen man to his home, expressing his feelings of respectful admiration; then he returned to the office, and took up his work, satisfied with his own conduct in rendering these funeral honors to the neglected and misjudged administrative talent.
Bixiou [seeing Phellion re-enter]. "Victrix cause diis placuit, sed victa Catoni."
Phellion. "Yes, monsieur."
Poiret. "What does that mean?"
Fleury. "That priests rejoice, and Monsieur Rabourdin has the respect of men of honor."
Dutocq [annoyed]. "You didn't say that yesterday."
Fleury. "If you address me you'll have my hand in your face. It is known for certain that you filched those papers from Monsieur Rabourdin." [Dutocq leaves the office.] "Oh, yes, go and complain to your Monsieur des Lupeaulx, spy!"
Bixiou [laughing and grimacing like a monkey]. "I am curious to know how the division will get along. Monsieur Rabourdin is so remarkable a man that he must have had some special views in that work of his. Well, the minister loses a fine mind." [Rubs his hands.]
Laurent [entering]. "Monsieur Fleury is requested to go to the secretary's office."
All the clerks. "Done for!"
Fleury [leaving the room]. "I don't care; I am offered a place as responsible editor. I shall have all my time to myself to lounge the streets or do amusing work in a newspaper office."
Bixiou. "Dutocq has already made them cut off the head of that poor Desroys."
Colleville [entering joyously]. "Gentlemen, I am appointed head of this bureau."
Thuillier. "Ah, my friend, if it were I myself, I couldn't be better pleased."
Bixiou. "His wife has managed it." [Laughter.]
Poiret. "Will any one tell me the meaning of all that is happening here to-day?"
Bixiou. "Do you really want to know? Then listen. The antechamber of the administration is henceforth a chamber, the court is a boudoir, the best way to get in is through the cellar, and the bed is more than ever a cross-cut."
Poiret. "Monsieur Bixiou, may I entreat you, explain?"
Bixiou. "I'll paraphrase my opinion. To be anything at all you must begin by being everything. It is quite certain that a reform of this service is needed; for on my word of honor, the State robs the poor officials as much as the officials rob the State in the matter of hours. But why is it that we idle as we do? because they pay us too little; and the reason of that is we are too many for the work, and your late chief, the virtuous Rabourdin, saw all this plainly. That great administrator,—for he was that, gentlemen,—saw what the thing is coming to, the thing that these idiots call the 'working of our admirable institutions.' The chamber will want before long to administrate, and the administrators will want to legislate. The government will try to administrate and the administrators will want to govern, and so it will go on. Laws will come to be mere regulations, and ordinances will be thought laws. God made this epoch of the world for those who like to laugh. I live in a state of jovial admiration of the spectacle which the greatest joker of modern times, Louis XVIII., bequeathed to us" [general stupefaction]. "Gentlemen, if France, the country with the best civil service in Europe, is managed thus, what do you suppose the other nations are like? Poor unhappy nations! I ask myself how they can possibly get along without two Chambers, without the liberty of the press, without reports, without circulars even, without an army of clerks? Dear, dear, how do you suppose they have armies and navies? how can they exist at all without political discussions? Can they even be called nations, or governments? It is said (mere traveller's tales) that these strange peoples claim to have a policy, to wield a certain influence; but that's absurd! how can they when they haven't 'progress' or 'new lights'? They can't stir up ideas, they haven't an independent forum; they are still in the twilight of barbarism. There are no people in the world but the French people who have ideas. Can you understand, Monsieur Poiret," [Poiret jumped as if he had been shot] "how a nation can do without heads of divisions, general-secretaries and directors, and all this splendid array of officials, the glory of France and of the Emperor Napoleon,—who had his own good reasons for creating a myriad of offices? I don't see how those nations have the audacity to live at all. There's Austria, which has less than a hundred clerks in her war ministry, while the salaries and pensions of ours amount to a third of our whole budget, a thing that was unheard of before the Revolution. I sum up all I've been saying in one single remark, namely, that the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-lettres, which seems to have very little to do, had better offer a prize for the ablest answer to the following question: Which is the best organized State; the one that does many things with few officials, or the one that does next to nothing with an army of them?"
Poiret. "Is that your last word?"
Bixiou. "Yes, sir! whether English, French, German or Italian,—I let you off the other languages."
Poiret [lifting his hands to heaven]. "Gracious goodness! and they call you a witty man!"
Bixiou. "Haven't you understood me yet?"
Phellion. "Your last observation was full of excellent sense."
Bixiou. "Just as full as the budget itself, and like the budget again, as complicated as it looks simple; and I set it as a warning, a beacon, at the edge of this hole, this gulf, this volcano, called, in the language of the 'Constitutionel,' 'the political horizon.'"
Poiret. "I should much prefer a comprehensible explanation."
Bixiou. "Hurrah for Rabourdin! there's my explanation; that's my opinion. Are you satisfied?"
Colleville [gravely]. "Monsieur Rabourdin had but one defect."
Poiret. "What was it?"
Colleville. "That of being a statesman instead of a subordinate official."
Phellion [standing before Bixiou]. "Monsieur! why did you, who understand Monsieur Rabourdin so well, why did you make that inf—that odi—that hideous caricature?"
Bixiou. "Do you forget our bet? don't you know I was backing the devil's game, and that your bureau owes me a dinner at the Rocher de Cancale?"
Poiret [much put-out]. "Then it is a settled thing that I am to leave this government office without ever understanding a sentence, or a single word uttered by Monsieur Bixiou."
Bixiou. "It is your own fault; ask these gentlemen. Gentlemen, have you understood the meaning of my observations? and were those observations just, and brilliant?"
All. "Alas, yes!"
Minard. "And the proof is that I shall send in my resignation. I shall plunge into industrial avocations."
Bixiou. "What! have you managed to invent a mechanical corset, or a baby's bottle, or a fire engine, or chimneys that consume no fuel, or ovens which cook cutlets with three sheets of paper?"
Minard [departing.] "Adieu, I shall keep my secret."
Bixiou. "Well, young Poiret junior, you see,—all these gentlemen understand me."
Poiret [crest-fallen]. "Monsieur Bixiou, would you do me the honor to come down for once to my level and speak in a language I can understand?"
Bixiou [winking at the rest]. "Willingly." [Takes Poiret by the button of his frock-coat.] "Before you leave this office forever perhaps you would be glad to know what you are—"
Poiret [quickly]. "An honest man, monsieur."
Bixiou [shrugging his shoulders]. "—to be able to define, explain, and analyze precisely what a government clerk is? Do you know what he is?"
Poiret. "I think I do."
Bixiou [twisting the button]. "I doubt it."
Poiret. "He is a man paid by government to do work."
Bixiou. "Oh! then a soldier is a government clerk?"
Poiret [puzzled]. "Why, no."
Bixiou. "But he is paid by the government to do work, to mount guard and show off at reviews. You may perhaps tell me that he longs to get out of his place,—that he works too hard and fingers too little metal, except that of his musket."
Poiret [his eyes wide open]. "Monsieur, a government clerk is, logically speaking, a man who needs the salary to maintain himself, and is not free to get out of his place; for he doesn't know how to do anything but copy papers."
Bixiou. "Ah! now we are coming to a conclusion. So the bureau is the clerk's shell, husk, pod. No clerk without a bureau, no bureau without a clerk. But what do you make, then, of a customs officer?" [Poiret shuffles his feet and tries to edge away; Bixiou twists off one button and catches him by another.] "He is, from the bureaucratic point of view, a neutral being. The excise-man is only half a clerk; he is on the confines between civil and military service; neither altogether soldier nor altogether clerk— Here, here, where are you going?" [Twists the button.] "Where does the government clerk proper end? That's a serious question. Is a prefect a clerk?"
Poiret [hesitating]. "He is a functionary."
Bixiou. "But you don't mean that a functionary is not a clerk? that's an absurdity."
Poiret [weary and looking round for escape]. "I think Monsieur Godard wants to say something."
Godard. "The clerk is the order, the functionary the species."
Bixiou [laughing]. "I shouldn't have thought you capable of that distinction, my brave subordinate."
Poiret [trying to get away]. "Incomprehensible!"
Bixiou. "La, la, papa, don't step on your tether. If you stand still and listen, we shall come to an understanding before long. Now, here's an axiom which I bequeath to this bureau and to all bureaus: Where the clerk ends, the functionary begins; where the functionary ends, the statesman rises. There are very few statesmen among the prefects. The prefect is therefore a neutral being among the higher species. He comes between the statesman and the clerk, just as the custom-house officer stands between the civil and the military. Let us continue to clear up these important points." [Poiret turns crimson with distress.] "Suppose we formulate the whole matter in a maxim worthy of Larochefoucault: Officials with salaries of twenty thousand francs are not clerks. From which we may deduce mathematically this corollary: The statesman first looms up in the sphere of higher salaries; and also this second and not less logical and important corollary: Directors-general may be statesmen. Perhaps it is in that sense that more than one deputy says in his heart, 'It is a fine thing to be a director-general.' But in the interests of our noble French language and of the Academy—"
Poiret [magnetized by the fixity of Bixiou's eye]. "The French language! the Academy!"
Bixiou [twisting off the second button and seizing another]. "Yes, in the interests of our noble tongue, it is proper to observe that although the head of a bureau, strictly speaking, may be called a clerk, the head of a division must be called a bureaucrat. These gentlemen" [turning to the clerks and privately showing them the third button off Poiret's coat] "will appreciate this delicate shade of meaning. And so, papa Poiret, don't you see it is clear that the government clerk comes to a final end at the head of a division? Now that question once settled, there is no longer any uncertainty; the government clerk who has hitherto seemed undefinable is defined."
Poiret. "Yes, that appears to me beyond a doubt."
Bixiou. "Nevertheless, do me the kindness to answer the following question: A judge being irremovable, and consequently debarred from being, according to your subtle distinction, a functionary, and receiving a salary which is not the equivalent of the work he does, is he to be included in the class of clerks?"
Poiret [gazing at the cornice]. "Monsieur, I don't follow you."
Bixiou [getting off the fourth button]. "I wanted to prove to you, monsieur, that nothing is simple; but above all—and what I am going to say is intended for philosophers—I wish (if you'll allow me to misquote a saying of Louis XVIII.),—I wish to make you see that definitions lead to muddles."
Poiret [wiping his forehead]. "Excuse me, I am sick at my stomach" [tries to button his coat]. "Ah! you have cut off all my buttons!"
Bixiou. "But the point is, do you understand me?"
Poiret [angrily]. "Yes, monsieur, I do; I understand that you have been playing me a shameful trick and twisting off my buttons while I have been standing here unconscious of it."
Bixiou [solemnly]. "Old man, you are mistaken! I wished to stamp upon your brain the clearest possible image of constitutional government" [all the clerks look at Bixiou; Poiret, stupefied, gazes at him uneasily], "and also to keep my word to you. In so doing I employed the parabolical method of savages. Listen and comprehend: While the ministers start discussions in the Chambers that are just about as useful and as conclusive as the one we are engaged in, the administration cuts the buttons off the tax-payers."
All. "Bravo, Bixiou!"
Poiret [who comprehends]. "I don't regret my buttons."
Bixiou. "I shall follow Minard's example; I won't pocket such a paltry salary as mine any longer; I shall deprive the government of my co-operation." [Departs amid general laughter.]
Another scene was taking place in the minister's reception-room, more instructive than the one we have just related, because it shows how great ideas are allowed to perish in the higher regions of State affairs, and in what way statesmen console themselves.
Des Lupeaulx was presenting the new director, Monsieur Baudoyer, to the minister. A number of persons were assembled in the salon,—two or three ministerial deputies, a few men of influence, and Monsieur Clergeot (whose division was now merged with La Billardiere's under Baudoyer's direction), to whom the minister was promising an honorable pension. After a few general remarks, the great event of the day was brought up.
A deputy. "So you lose Rabourdin?"
Des Lupeaulx. "He has resigned."
Clergeot. "They say he wanted to reform the administration."
The Minister [looking at the deputies]. "Salaries are not really in proportion to the exigencies of the civil service."
De la Briere. "According to Monsieur Rabourdin, one hundred clerks with a salary of twelve thousand francs would do better and quicker work than a thousand clerks at twelve hundred."
Clergeot. "Perhaps he is right."
The Minister. "But what is to be done? The machine is built in that way. Must we take it to pieces and remake it? No one would have the courage to attempt that in face of the Chamber, and the foolish outcries of the Opposition, and the fierce denunciations of the press. It follows that there will happen, one of these days, some damaging 'solution of continuity' between the government and the administration."
A deputy. "In what way?"
The Minister. "In many ways. A minister will want to serve the public good, and will not be allowed to do so. You will create interminable delays between things and their results. You may perhaps render the theft of a penny actually impossible, but you cannot prevent the buying and selling of influence, the collusions of self-interest. The day will come when nothing will be conceded without secret stipulations, which may never see the light. Moreover, the clerks, one and all, from the least to the greatest, are acquiring opinions of their own; they will soon be no longer the hands of a brain, the scribes of governmental thought; the Opposition even now tends towards giving them a right to judge the government and to talk and vote against it."
Baudoyer [in a low voice, but meaning to be heard]. "Monseigneur is really fine."
Des Lupeaulx. "Of course bureaucracy has its defects. I myself think it slow and insolent; it hampers ministerial action, stifles projects, and arrests progress. But, after all, French administration is amazingly useful."
Des Lupeaulx. "If only to maintain the paper and stamp industries! Suppose it is rather fussy and provoking, like all good housekeepers,—it can at any moment render an account of its disbursements. Where is the merchant who would not gladly give five per cent of his entire capital if he could insure himself against leakage?"
The Deputy [a manufacturer]. "The manufacturing interests of all nations would joyfully unite against that evil genius of theirs called leakage."
Des Lupeaulx. "After all, though statistics are the childish foible of modern statesmen, who think that figures are estimates, we must cipher to estimate. Figures are, moreover, the convincing argument of societies based on self-interest and money, and that is the sort of society the Charter has given us,—in my opinion, at any rate. Nothing convinces the 'intelligent masses' as much as a row of figures. All things in the long run, say the statesmen of the Left, resolve themselves into figures. Well then, let us figure" [the minister here goes off into a corner with a deputy, to whom he talks in a low voice]. "There are forty thousand government clerks in France. The average of their salaries is fifteen hundred francs. Multiply forty thousand by fifteen hundred and you have sixty millions. Now, in the first place, a publicist would call the attention of Russia and China (where all government officials steal), also that of Austria, the American republics, and indeed that of the whole world, to the fact that for this price France possesses the most inquisitorial, fussy, ferreting, scribbling, paper-blotting, fault-finding old housekeeper of a civil service on God's earth. Not a copper farthing of the nation's money is spent or hoarded that is not ordered by a note, proved by vouchers, produced and re-produced on balance-sheets, and receipted for when paid; orders and receipts are registered on the rolls, and checked and verified by an army of men in spectacles. If there is the slightest mistake in the form of these precious documents, the clerk is terrified, for he lives on such minutiae. Some nations would be satisfied to get as far as this; but Napoleon went further. That great organizer appointed supreme magistrates of a court which is absolutely unique in the world. These officials pass their days in verifying money-orders, documents, roles, registers, lists, permits, custom-house receipts, payments, taxes received, taxes spent, etc.; all of which the clerks write or copy. These stern judges push the gift of exactitude, the genius of inquisition, the sharp-sightedness of lynxes, the perspicacity of account-books to the point of going over all the additions in search of subtractions. These sublime martyrs to figures have been known to return to an army commissary, after a delay of two years, some account in which there was an error of two farthings. This is how and why it is that the French system of administration, the purest and best on the globe has rendered robbery, as his Excellency has just told you, next to impossible, and as for peculation, it is a myth. France at this present time possesses a revenue of twelve hundred millions, and she spends it. That sum enters her treasury, and that sum goes out of it. She handles, therefore, two thousand four hundred millions, and all she pays for the labor of those who do the work is sixty millions,—two and a half per cent; and for that she obtains the certainty that there is no leakage. Our political and administrative kitchen costs us sixty millions, but the gendarmerie, the courts of law, the galleys and the police cost just as much, and give no return. Moreover, we employ a body of men who could do no other work. Waste and disorder, if such there be, can only be legislative; the Chambers lead to them and render them legal. Leakage follows in the form of public works which are neither urgent nor necessary; troops re-uniformed and gold-laced over and over again; vessels sent on useless cruises; preparations for war without ever making it; paying the debts of a State, and not requiring reimbursement or insisting on security."
Baudoyer. "But such leakage has nothing to do with the subordinate officials; this bad management of national affairs concerns the statesmen who guide the ship."
The Minister [who has finished his conversation]. "There is a great deal of truth in what des Lupeaulx has just said; but let me tell you" [to Baudoyer], "Monsieur le directeur, that few men see from the standpoint of a statesman. To order expenditure of all kinds, even useless ones, does not constitute bad management. Such acts contribute to the movement of money, the stagnation of which becomes, especially in France, dangerous to the public welfare, by reason of the miserly and profoundly illogical habits of the provinces which hoard their gold."
The Deputy [who listened to des Lupeaulx]. "But it seems to me that if your Excellency was right just now, and if our clever friend here" [takes Lupeaulx by the arm] "was not wrong, it will be difficult to come to any conclusion on the subject."
Des Lupeaulx [after looking at the minister]. "No doubt something ought to be done."
De la Briere [timidly]. "Monsieur Rabourdin seems to have judged rightly."
The Minister. "I will see Rabourdin."
Des Lupeaulx. "The poor man made the blunder of constituting himself supreme judge of the administration and of all the officials who compose it; he wants to do away with the present state of things, and he demands that there be only three ministries."
The Minister. "He must be crazy."
The Deputy. "How do you represent in three ministries the heads of all the parties in the Chamber?"
Baudoyer [with an air that he imagined to be shrewd]. "Perhaps Monsieur Rabourdin desired to change the Constitution, which we owe to our legislative sovereign."
The Minister [thoughtful, takes La Briere's arm and leads him into the study]. "I want to see that work of Rabourdin's, and as you know about it—"
De la Briere. "He has burned it. You allowed him to be dishonored and he has resigned from the ministry. Do not think for a moment, Monseigneur, that Rabourdin ever had the absurd thought (as des Lupeaulx tries to make it believed) to change the admirable centralization of power."
The Minister [to himself]. "I have made a mistake" [is silent a moment]. "No matter; we shall never be lacking in plans for reform."
De la Briere. "It is not ideas, but men capable of executing them that we lack."
Des Lupeaulx, that adroit advocate of abuses came into the minister's study at this moment.
"Monseigneur, I start at once for my election."
"Wait a moment," said his Excellency, leaving the private secretary and taking des Lupeaulx by the arm into the recess of a window. "My dear friend, let me have that arrondissement,—if you will, you shall be made count and I will pay your debts. Later, if I remain in the ministry after the new Chamber is elected, I will find a way to send in your name in a batch for the peerage."
"You are a man of honor, and I accept."
This is how it came to pass that Clement Chardin des Lupeaulx, whose father was ennobled under Louis XV., and who beareth quarterly, first, argent, a wolf ravisant carrying a lamb gules; second, purpure, three mascles argent, two and one; third, paly of twelve, gules and argent; fourth, or, on a pale endorsed, three batons fleurdelises gules; supported by four griffon's-claws jessant from the sides of the escutcheon, with the motto "En Lupus in Historia," was able to surmount these rather satirical arms with a count's coronet.
Towards the close of the year 1830 Monsieur Rabourdin did some business on hand which required him to visit the old ministry, where the bureaus had all been in great commotion, owing to a general removal of officials, from the highest to the lowest. This revolution bore heaviest, in point of fact, upon the lackeys, who are not fond of seeing new faces. Rabourdin had come early, knowing all the ways of the place, and he thus chanced to overhear a dialogue between the two nephews of old Antoine, who had recently retired on a pension.
"Well, Laurent, how is your chief of division going on?"
"Oh, don't talk to me about him; I can't do anything with him. He rings me up to ask if I have seen his handkerchief or his snuff-box. He receives people without making them wait; in short, he hasn't a bit of dignity. I'm often obliged to say to him: But, monsieur, monsieur le comte your predecessor, for the credit of the thing, used to punch holes with his penknife in the arms of his chair to make believe he was working. And he makes such a mess of his room. I find everything topsy-turvy. He has a very small mind. How about your man?"
"Mine? Oh, I have succeeded in training him. He knows exactly where his letter-paper and envelopes, his wood, and his boxes and all the rest of his things are. The other man used to swear at me, but this one is as meek as a lamb,—still, he hasn't the grand style! Moreover, he isn't decorated, and I don't like to serve a chief who isn't; he might be taken for one of us, and that's humiliating. He carries the office letter-paper home, and asked me if I couldn't go there and wait at table when there was company."
"Hey! what a government, my dear fellow!"
"Yes, indeed; everybody plays low in these days."
"I hope they won't cut down our poor wages."
"I'm afraid they will. The Chambers are prying into everything. Why, they even count the sticks of wood."
"Well, it can't last long if they go on that way."
"Hush, we're caught! somebody is listening."
"Hey! it is the late Monsieur Rabourdin. Ah, monsieur, I knew your step. If you have business to transact here I am afraid you will not find any one who is aware of the respect that ought to be paid to you; Laurent and I are the only persons remaining about the place who were here in your day. Messieurs Colleville and Baudoyer didn't wear out the morocco of the chairs after you left. Heavens, no! six months later they were made Collectors of Paris." *** Note.—Anagrams cannot, of course, be translated; that is why three English ones have been substituted for some in French. [Tr.]