CHAPTER XVI. BUILDING A HOUSE - THE CRITIC.
It was the end of November, and the weather had hitherto allowed our builders to make use of every day. The autumn sun was favourable to the enterprise, and at several points the house was reaching the height of the window-heads of the ground floor. Nevertheless it re quired all M. de Gandelau's determination to prevent the works from being suspended. By degrees the ground was deserted by the able-bodied workmen, who were being called away to the army. Those who remained had their attention distracted, and were not making the best use of their time. It was becoming difficult to get the hauling done, all the horses and carts being pressed into the service of the country. The province was furrowed in every direc tion by the tracks of regiments making for the Loire. Many hours were spent in talk; and every one was anxiously expecting news of the war, which assumed an increasingly gloomy aspect. However, Orleans had been re•-occupied by the French troops, and all hope did not seem lost. Paris was resisting. In the meantime an addition was made to the circle at M. de Gandelau's cluiteau in the person of a friend of the family, who, having had his property occupied and injured by the Germans, had been obliged to abandon it for fear of worse, and came to pay a visit to M. de Gandelau on his way to the west of France, where he had relations. He was a man of about fifty or sixty years of age, tall, and of frigid aspect, though a per p6tual smile seemed stereotyped on his face. He might have been taken for a diplomatist of the old stamp.
The new-corner had read and travelled much, knew a little of everything, was a member of several learned societies, and his opinion carried a certain weight with it in his dipartement. He had been a candidate for the legislature; had embarked in manufacturing speculations, in which he had lost a good deal of money; then in agricultural enterprises, but as they threatened to ingulf the remainder of his fortune, he ultimately rested content with the theoretical side of things, and with publishing pamphlets on questions of all kinds, printed at his own expense, and lavishly circulated. Every one of these bro
chures professed to give a simple solution of all the diffi culties in question, whether in the domain of politics, science, manufactures, commerce, and even art. Building had been one of his hobbies; but as architects appeared to him unpractical, extravagant, and imbued with preju dices, he had taken the sole direction of his building opera tions, making his own bargains, treating directly with the contractors, giving the plans, and superintending the work. This whim had been a very costly one, and one fine morn ing his building fell to pieces. As he had no more faith in engineers than in architects, he had determined to lay out roads on his estate, and have them made according to a system of his own. His attempts in this line had not been more successful than those in building. The roads per sisted in being impracticable. But M. Durosay (that was the gentleman's name) was one of those persons whom experience - even though acquired at their own expense - teaches but little. In other respects he was a worthy man; he was extremely polite and obliging - generous _even - especially towards those who had the art of flattering his whims, and who, through interest or conviction, gave him credit for being an infallible judge in matters of all kinds.
If any one had come to consult him on any subject at the moment he was about to step into a railway carriage, he would have let the train go rather than not give a formal judgment, with reasons in full. It must be observed, how ever, that he judged everything by an ti priori system, and would listen with only partial attention to the particular reasons that tended to modify its application to the case in question. On the other hand, he would allow his positions to be discussed, and did not manifest the least impatience if his opinion was not shared by others. He was fond of repeating this aphorism :"Light emanates from the shock of conflicting ideas;" - but with the understanding that he always played the part of the producer, never that of the recipient.