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The Deputy of Arcis   By: (1799-1850)

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By Honore de Balzac

Translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley



Before beginning to describe an election in the provinces, it is proper to state that the town of Arcis sur Aube was not the theatre of the events here related.

The arrondissement of Arcis votes at Bar sur Aube, which is forty miles from Arcis; consequently there is no deputy from Arcis in the Chamber.

Discretion, required in a history of contemporaneous manners and morals, dictates this precautionary word. It is rather an ingenious contrivance to make the description of one town the frame for events which happened in another; and several times already in the course of the Comedy of Human Life, this means has been employed in spite of its disadvantages, which consist chiefly in making the frame of as much importance as the canvas.

Toward the end of the month of April, 1839, about ten o'clock in the morning, the salon of Madame Marion, widow of a former receiver general of the department of the Aube, presented a singular appearance. All the furniture had been removed except the curtains to the windows, the ornaments on the fireplace, the chandelier, and the tea table. An Aubusson carpet, taken up two weeks before the usual time, obstructed the steps of the portico, and the floor had been violently rubbed and polished, though without increasing its usual brightness. All this was a species of domestic premonition concerning the result of the elections which were about to take place over the whole surface of France. Often things are as spiritually intelligent as men, an argument in favor of the occult sciences.

The old man servant of Colonel Giguet, Madame Marion's older brother, had just finished dusting the room; the chamber maid and the cook were carrying, with an alacrity that denoted an enthusiasm equal to their attachment, all the chairs of the house, and piling them up in the garden, where the trees were already unfolding their leaves, through which the cloudless blue of the sky was visible. The springlike atmosphere and sun of May allowed the glass door and the two windows of the oblong salon to be kept open.

An old lady, Madame Marion herself, now ordered the two maids to place the chairs at one end of the salon, four rows deep, leaving between the rows a space of about three feet. When this was done, each row presented a front of ten chairs, all of divers species. A line of chairs was also placed along the wall, under the windows and before the glass door. At the other end of the salon, facing the forty chairs, Madame Marion placed three arm chairs behind the tea table, which was covered with a green cloth, on which she placed a bell.

Old Colonel Giguet arrived on this battle field at the moment when his sister bethought herself of filling the empty spaces on either side of the fireplace with benches from the antechamber, disregarding the baldness of their velvet covers which had done good service for twenty four years.

"We can seat seventy persons," she said to her brother triumphantly.

"God grant that we may have seventy friends!" replied the colonel.

"If, after receiving every night, for twenty four years, the whole society of Arcis sur Aube, a single one of my regular visitors fails us on this occasion " began the old lady, in a threatening manner.

"Pooh, pooh!" replied the colonel, interrupting his sister, "I'll name you ten who cannot and ought not to come. First," he said, beginning to count on his fingers, "Antonin Goulard, sub prefect, for one; Frederic Marest, procureur du roi , there's two; Monsieur Olivier Vinet, his substitute, three; Monsieur Martener, examining judge, four; the justice of peace "

"But I am not so silly," said the old lady, interrupting her brother in her turn, "as to expect office holders to come to a meeting the object of which is to give another deputy to the Opposition... Continue reading book >>

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