CHAPTER BUILDING A HOUSE - THE CANTINE.
In spite of the recent disasters, life seemed to return as by enchantment, both in the towns and the rural districts. In all directions every one was setting himself to work again to make up for lost time. Although the misfortunes which had nearly cut off all the sources of wealth in France were indelibly imprinted on their memories, a patriotic instinct made its inhabitants redouble their efforts to repair the mighty ruin, without indulging in vain recriminations. Those who travelled through France during the months of February and March, 187o, might have compared the country to an ant's nest disturbed by the foot of some incautious stroller. These wonderful insects do not in such a case waste their time in lamentations, and making processions to supplicate the Providence of the ants : they set to work immediately; and if you pass by next day, the traces of the convulsion that had almost destroyed the colony have disappeared.
But at the end of March the journals brought to the chateau the disastrous news from Paris. M. de Gandelau had been thinking of sending back his son to the Lyceum. Although satisfied that Paul would not be losing his time, he thought it a pity that his classical' studies should he any longer interrupted. But the last news changed his inten tion. He decided that his son should continue to work with his cousin, who had resolved to stay at the chateau and wait the course of events.
M. de Gandelau, loved and respected by the whole neighbourhood, had no anxiety so far as he himself was concerned. Some sinister faces had presented themselves in the neighbouring villages, but there was no opening for such emissaries there, so they soon disappeared. Master Branchu and Jean Godard had come to the chateau to tell M. de Gandelau that the workmen entreated him not to suspend the works, and that if money was wanting, they would consent to wait for better days. For the present they would ask only for soup and bread. In fact, M. de Gandelau having made great sacrifices during the war, had not just now at his disposal means sufficient for giving regular wages such as the energetic carrying out of the works would demand. The most he could do was to
supply provisions. It was, therefore, decided that they should set up a provision store near the works; that M. de Gandelau should furnish meal, fuel, fresh meat twice a week, vegetables and bacon; and that each workman should receive as many rations as his family and he re quired for their subsistence. Each ration was estimated at prime cost; and the balance was to be paid in money at a future day, according to a well-recognized and care fully-adjusted scale of wages. Half a dozen workmen who did not belong to the district would not accept this arrangement, and quitted the works. The others, having full confidence in M..de Gandelau's good faith, agreed to these terms, with so much the more readiness as they had thus the pleasing prospect of the result of this fixed economy in the shape of a saving. Paul was commissioned with this new branch of administration, and combined the functions of a purveyor with those of an inspector. His cousin initiated him- in the system of accounts he must keep, so that all interests might be protected.
Proud of this new employment, he acquitted himself well. Rising at five o'clock in the morning, he might be seen riding on his pony from the chdteau to the mill, from the mill to the neighbouring village, and from the village to the building; he gave an account to his father every evening of what had been given out during the day, and to his cousin memoranda of the work done at the house.
This mode of life was giving vigour to his body; the responsibility with which he saw himself invested was maturing his mind. Towards the end of May it would have been difficult to recognise in this robust, sensible, and methodical young man, the careless schoolboy of the month of August preceding.
One morning Eugene said to him,"You will have to go to Chateauroux, for we have not joiners here capable of executing our work. I will put you in communication with a good master-joiner residing there, and you will make arrangements with him; but first we must be pre pared with the necessary details."