From the Memoirs of a Minister of France

Author: Stanley John Weyman

X. Farming the Taxes.

In the summer of the year 1608, determining to take up my abode, when not in Paris, at Villebon, where I had lately enlarged my property, I went thither from Rouen with my wife, to superintend the building and mark out certain plantations which I projected. As the heat that month was great, and the dust of the train annoying, I made each stage in the evening and on horseback, leaving my wife to proceed at her leisure. In this way I was able, by taking rough paths, to do in two or three hours a distance which her coaches had scarcely covered in the day; but on the third evening, intending to make a short cut by a ford on the Vaucouleurs, I found, to my chagrin, the advantage on the other side, the ford, when I reached it at sunset, proving impracticable. As there was every prospect, however, that the water would fall within a few hours, I determined not to retrace my steps; but to wait where I was until morning, and complete my journey to Houdan in the early hours.

There was a poor inn near the ford, a mere hovel of wood on a brick foundation, yet with two storeys. I made my way to this with Maignan and La Trape, who formed, with two grooms, my only attendance; but on coming near the house, and looking about with a curious eye, I remarked something which fixed my attention, and, for the moment, brought me to a halt. This was the spectacle of three horses, of fair quality, feeding in a field of growing corn, which was the only enclosure near the inn. They were trampling and spoiling more than they ate; and, supposing that they had strayed into the place, and the house showing no signs of life, I bade my grooms fetch them out. The sun was about setting, and I stood a moment watching the long shadows of the men as they plodded through the corn, and the attitudes of the horses as, with heads raised, they looked doubtfully at the newcomers.

Suddenly a man came round the corner of the house, and seeing us, and what my men were doing, began to gesticulate violently, but without sound. The grooms saw him too, and stood; and he ran up to my stirrup, his face flushed and sullen.

"Do you want to see us all ruined?" he muttered. And he begged me to call my men out of the corn.

"You are more likely to be ruined that way," I answered, looking down at him. "Why, man, is it the custom in your country to turn horses into the half-ripe corn?"

He shook his fist stealthily. "God forbid!" he said. "But the devil is within doors, and we must do his bidding."

"Ah!" I replied, my curiosity aroused "I should like to see him."

The boor shaded his eyes, and looked at me sulkily from under his matted and tangled hair. "You are not of his company?" he said with suspicion.

"I hope not," I answered, smiling at his simplicity. "But your corn is your own. I will call the men out." On which I made a sign to them to return. "Now," I said, as I walked my horse slowly towards the house, while he tramped along beside me, "who is within?"

"M. Gringuet," he said, with another stealthy gesture.

"Ah!" I said, "I am afraid that I am no wiser."

"The tax-gatherer."

"Oh! And those are his horses?" He nodded.

"Still, I do not see why they are in the corn?"

"I have no hay."

"But there is grass."

"Ay," the inn-keeper answered bitterly.

"And he said that I might eat it. It was not good enough for his horses. They must have hay or corn; and if I had none, so much the worse for me."

Full of indignation, I made in my mind a note of M. Gringuet’s name; but at the moment I said no more, and we proceeded to the house, the exterior of which, though meagre, and even miserable, gave me an impression of neatness. From the inside, however, a hoarse, continuous noise was issuing, which resolved itself as we crossed the threshold into a man’s voice. The speaker was out of sight, in an upper room to which a ladder gave access, but his oaths, complaints, and imprecations almost shook the house. A middle-aged woman, scantily dressed, was busy on the hearth; but perhaps that which, next to the perpetual scolding that was going on above, most took my attention was a great lump of salt that stood on the table at the woman’s elbow, and seemed to be evidence of greater luxury—for the GABELLE had not at that time been reduced—than I could easily associate with the place.

The roaring and blustering continuing upstairs, I stood a moment in sheer astonishment. "Is that M. Gringuet?" I said at last.

The inn-keeper nodded sullenly, while his wife stared at me. "But what; is the matter with him?" I said.

"The gout. But for that he would have been gone these two days to collect at Le Mesnil."

"Ah!" I answered, beginning to understand. "And the salt is for a bath for his feet, is it?"

The woman nodded.

"Well," I said, as Maignan came in with my saddlebags and laid them on the floor, "he will swear still louder when he gets the bill, I should think."

"Bill?" the housewife answered bitterly, looking up again from her pots. "A tax-gatherer’s bill? Go to the dead man and ask for the price of his coffin; or to the babe for a nurse-fee! You will get paid as soon. A tax-gatherer’s bill? Be thankful if he does not take the dish with the sop!"

She spoke plainly; yet I found a clearer proof of the slavery in which the man held them in the perfect indifference with which they regarded my arrival—though a guest with two servants must have been a rarity in such a place—and the listless way in which they set about attending to my wants. Keenly remembering that not long before this my enemies had striven to prejudice me in the King’s eyes by alleging that, though I filled his coffers, I was grinding the poor into the dust—and even, by my exactions, provoking a rebellion I was in no mood to look with an indulgent eye on those who furnished such calumnies with a show of reason. But it has never been my wont to act hastily; and while I stood in the middle of the kitchen, debating whether I should order the servants to fling the fellow out, and bid him appear before me at Villebon, or should instead have him brought up there and then, the man’s coarse voice, which had never ceased to growl and snarl above us, rose on a sudden still louder. Something fell on the floor over our heads and rolled across it; and immediately a young girl, barefoot and short-skirted, scrambled hurriedly and blindly down the ladder and landed among us.

She was sobbing, and a little blood was flowing from a cut in her lip; and she trembled all over. At sight of the blood and her tears the woman seemed to be transported. Snatching up a saucepan, she sprang towards the ladder with a gesture of rage, and in a moment would have ascended if her husband had not followed and dragged her back. The girl also, as soon as she could speak, added her entreaties to his, while Maignan and La Trape looked sharply at me, as if they expected a signal.

All this while, the bully above continued his maledictions. "Send that slut back to me!" he roared. "Do you think that I am going to be left alone in this hole? Send her back, or—" and he added half-a-dozen oaths of a kind to make an honest man’s blood boil. In the midst of this, however, and while the woman was still contending with her husband, he suddenly stopped and shrieked in anguish, crying out for the salt-bath.

But the woman, whom her husband had only half-pacified, shook her fist at the ceiling with a laugh of defiance. "Shriek; ay, you may shriek, you wretch!" she cried. "You must be waited on by my girl, must you—no older face will do for you—and you beat her? Your horses must eat corn, must they, while we eat grass? And we buy salt for you, and wheaten bread for you, and are beggars for you! For you, you thieving wretch, who tax the poor and let the rich go free; who—"

"Silence, woman!" her husband cried, cutting her short, with a pale face. "Hush, hush; he will hear you!"

But the woman was too far gone in rage to obey. "What! and is it not true?" she answered, her eyes glittering. "Will he not to-morrow go to Le Mesnil and squeeze the poor? Ay, and will not Lescauts the corn-dealer, and Philippon the silk-merchant, come to him with bribes, and go free? And de Fonvelle and de Curtin— they with a DE, forsooth!—plead their nobility, and grease his hands, and go free? Ay, and—"

"Silence, woman!" the man said again, looking apprehensively at me, and from me to my attendants, who were grinning broadly. "You do not know that this gentleman is not—"

"A tax-gatherer?" I said, smiling. "No. But how long has your friend upstairs been here?"

"Two days, Monsieur," she answered, wiping the perspiration from her brow, and speaking more quietly. "He is talking of sending on a deputy to Le Mesnil; but Heaven send he may recover, and go from here himself!"

"Well," I answered, "at any rate, we have had enough of this noise. My servant shall go up and tell him that there is a gentleman here who cannot put up with a disturbance. Maignan," I continued, "see the man, and tell him that the inn is not his private house, and that he must groan more softly; but do not mention my name. And let him have his brine bath, or there will be no peace for anyone."

Maignan and La Trape, who knew me, and had counted on a very different order, stared at me, wondering at my easiness and complaisance; for there is a species of tyranny, unassociated with rank, that even the coarsest view with indignation. But the woman’s statement, which, despite its wildness and her excitement, I saw no reason to doubt, had suggested to me a scheme of punishment more refined; and which might, at one and the same time, be of profit to the King’s treasury and a lesson to Gringuet. To carry it through I had to submit to some inconvenience, and particularly to a night passed under the same roof with the rogue; but as the news that a traveller of consequence was come had the effect, aided by a few sharp words from Maignan, of lowering his tone, and forcing him to keep within bounds, I was able to endure this and overlook the occasional outbursts of spleen which his disease and pampered temper still drew from him.

His two men, who had been absent on an errand at the time of my arrival, presently returned, and were doubtless surprised to find a second company in possession. They tried my attendants with a number of questions, but without success; while I, by listening while I had my supper, learned more of their master’s habits and intentions than they supposed. They suspected nothing, and at day-break we left them; and, the water having duly fallen in the night, we crossed the river without mishap, and for a league pursued our proper road. Then I halted, and despatching the two grooms to Houdan with a letter for my wife, I took, myself, the road to Le Mesnil, which lies about three leagues to the west.

At a little inn, a league short of Le Mesnil, I stopped, and instructing my two attendants in the parts they were to play, prepared, with the help of the seals, which never left Maignan’s custody, the papers necessary to enable me to enact the role of Gringuet’s deputy. Though I had been two or three times to Villebon, I had never been within two leagues of Le Mesnil, and had no reason to suppose that I should be recognised; but to lessen the probability of this I put on a plain suit belonging to Maignan, with a black-hilted sword, and no ornaments. I furthermore waited to enter the town until evening, so that my presence, being reported, might be taken for granted before I was seen.

In a larger place my scheme must have miscarried, but in this little town on the hill, looking over the plain of vineyards and cornfields, with inn, market-house, and church in the square, and on the fourth side the open battlements, whence the towers of Chartres could be seen on a clear day, I looked to have to do only with small men, and saw no reason why it should fail.

Accordingly, riding up to the inn about sunset, I called, with an air, for the landlord. There were half-a-dozen loungers seated in a row on a bench before the door, and one of these went in to fetch him. When the host came out, with his apron twisted round his waist, I asked him if he had a room.

"Yes," he said, shading his eyes to look at me, "I have."

"Very well," I answered pompously, considering that I had just such an audience as I desired—by which I mean one that, without being too critical, would spread the news. "I am M. Gringuet’s deputy, and I am here with authority to collect and remit, receive and give receipts for, his Majesty’s taxes, tolls, and dues, now, or to be, due and owing. Therefore, my friend, I will trouble you to show me to my room.

I thought that this announcement would impress him as much as I desired; but, to my surprise, he only stared at me. "Eh!" he exclaimed at last, in a faltering tone, "M. Gringuet’s deputy?"

"Yes," I said, dismounting somewhat impatiently; "he is ill with the gout and cannot come."

"And you—are his deputy?"

"I have said so."

Still he did not move to do my bidding, but continued to rub his bald head and stare at me as if I fascinated him. "Well, I am—I mean—I think we are full," he stammered at last, with his eyes like saucers.

I replied, with some impatience, that he had just said that he had a room; adding, that if I was not in it and comfortably settled before five minutes were up I would know the reason. I thought that this would settle the matter, whatever maggot had got into the man’s head; and, in a way, it did so, for he begged my pardon hastily, and made way for me to enter, calling, at the same time, to a lad who was standing by, to attend to the horses. But when we were inside the door, instead of showing me through the kitchen to my room, he muttered something, and hurried away; leaving me to wonder what was amiss with him, and why the loungers outside, who had listened with all their ears to our conversation, had come in after us as far as they dared, and were regarding us with an odd mixture of suspicion and amusement.

The landlord remained long away, and seemed, from sounds that came to my ears, to be talking with someone in a distant room. At length, however, he returned, bearing a candle and followed by a serving-man. I asked him roughly why he had been so long, and began to rate him; but he took the words out of my mouth by his humility, and going before me through the kitchen—where his wife and two or three maids who were about the fire stopped to look at us, with the basting spoons in their hands—he opened a door which led again into the outer air.

"It is across the yard," he said apologetically, as he went before, and opening a second door, stood aside for us to enter. "But it is a good room, and, if you please, a fire shall be lighted. The shutters are closed," he continued, as we passed him, Maignan and "La Trape carrying my baggage, "but they shall be opened. Hallo! Pierre! Pierre, there! Open these shut—"

On the word his voice rose—and broke; and in a moment the door, through which we had all passed unsuspecting, fell to with a crash behind us. Before we could move we heard the bars drop across it. A little before, La Trape had taken a candle from someone’s hand to light me the better; and therefore we were not in darkness. But the light this gave only served to impress on us what the falling bars and the rising sound of voices outside had already told us—that we were outwitted! We were prisoners.

The room in which we stood, looking foolishly at one another, was a great barn-like chamber, with small windows high in the unplaistered walls. A long board set on trestles, and two or three stools placed round it—on the occasion, perhaps, of some recent festivity—had for a moment deceived us, and played the landlord’s game.

In the first shock of the discovery, hearing the bars drop home, we stood gaping, and wondering what it meant. Then Maignan, with an oath, sprang to the door and tried it—fruitlessly.

I joined him more at my leisure, and raising my voice, asked angrily what this folly meant. "Open the door there! Do you hear, landlord?" I cried.

No one moved, though Maignan continued to rattle the door furiously.

"Do you hear?" I repeated, between anger and amazement at the fix in which we had placed ourselves. "Open!"

But, although the murmur of voices outside the door grew louder, no one answered, and I had time to take in the full absurdity of the position; to measure the height; of the windows with my eye and plumb the dark shadows under the rafters, where the feebler rays of our candle lost themselves; to appreciate, in a word, the extent of our predicament. Maignan was furious, La Trape vicious, while my own equanimity scarcely supported me against the thought that we should probably be where we were until the arrival of my people, whom I had directed my wife to send to Le Mesnil at noon next day. Their coming would free us, indeed, but at the cost of ridicule and laughter. Never was man worse placed.

Wincing at the thought, I bade Maignan be silent; and, drumming on the door myself, I called for the landlord. Someone who had been giving directions in a tone of great, consequence ceased speaking, and came close to the door. After listening a moment, he struck it with his hand.

"Silence, rogues!" he cried. "Do you hear? Silence there, unless you want your ears nailed to the post."

"Fool!" I answered. "Open the door instantly! Are you all mad here, that you shut up the King’s servants in this way?"

"The King’s servants!" be cried, jeering at us. "Where are they?"

"Here!" I answered, swallowing my rage as well as I might. "I am M. Gringuet’s deputy, and if you do not this instant—"

"M. Gringuet’s deputy! Ho! ho!" he said. "Why, you fool, M. Gringuet’s deputy arrived two hours before you. You must get up a little earlier another time. They are poor tricksters who are too late for the fair. And now be silent, and it may save you a stripe or two to-morrow."

There are situations in which even the greatest find it hard to maintain their dignity, and this was one. I looked at Maignan and La Trape, and they at me, and by the light of the lanthorn which the latter held I saw that they were smiling, doubtless at the dilemma in which we had innocently placed ourselves. But I found nothing to laugh at in the position; since the people outside might at any moment leave us where we were to fast until morning; and, after a moment’s reflection, I called out to know who the speaker on the other side was.

"I am M. de Fonvelle," he answered.

"Well, M. de Fonvelle," I replied, "I advise you to have a care what you do. I am M. Gringuet’s deputy. The other man is an impostor."

He laughed.

"He has no papers," I cried.

"Oh, yes, he has!" he answered, mocking me. "M. Curtin has seen them, my fine fellow, and he is not one to pay money without warrant."

At this several laughed, and a quavering voice chimed in with "Oh, yes, he has papers! I have seen them. Still, in a case—"

"There!" M. Fonvelle cried, drowning the other’s words. "Now are you satisfied—you in there?"

But M. Curtin had not done. "He has papers," he piped again in his thin voice.

"Still, M. de Fonvelle, it is well to be cautious, and—"

"Tut, tut! it is all right."

"He has papers, but he has no authority!" I shouted.

"He has seals," Fonvelle answered. "It is all right."

"It is all wrong!" I retorted. "Wrong, I say! Go to your man, and you will find him gone—gone with your money, M. Curtin."

Two or three laughed, but I heard the sound of feet hurrying away, and I guessed that Curtin had retired to satisfy himself. Nevertheless, the moment which followed was an anxious one, since, if my random shot missed, I knew that I should find myself in a worse position than before. But judging—from the fact that the deputy had not confronted us himself—that he was an impostor, to whom Gringuet’s illness had suggested the scheme on which I had myself hit, I hoped for the best; and, to be sure, in a moment an outcry arose in the house and quickly spread. Of those at the door, some cried to their fellows to hearken, while others hastened off to see. Yet still a little time elapsed, during which I burned with impatience; and then the crowd came trampling back, all wrangling and speaking at once.

At the door the chattering ceased, and, a hand being laid on the bar, in a moment the door was thrown open, and I walked out with what dignity I might. Outside, the scene which met my eyes might have been, under other circumstances, diverting. Before me stood the landlord of the inn, bowing with a light in each hand, as if the more he bent his backbone the more he must propitiate me; while a fat, middle-aged man at his elbow, whom I took to be Fonvelle, smiled feebly at me with a chapfallen expression. A little aside, Curtin, a shrivelled old fellow, was wringing his hands over his loss; and behind and round these, peeping over their shoulders and staring under their arms, clustered a curious crowd of busybodies, who, between amusement at the joke and awe of the great men, had much ado to control their merriment.

The host began to mutter apologies, but I cut him short. "I will talk to you to-morrow!" I said, in a voice which made him shake in his shoes. "Now give me supper, lights, and a room—and hurry. For you, M. Fonvelle, you are an ass! And for the gentleman there, who has filled the rogue’s purse, he will do well another time to pay the King his dues!"

With that I left the two—Fonvelle purple with indignation, and Curtin with eyes and mouth agape and tears stayed—and followed my host to his best room, Maignan and La Trape attending me with very grim faces. Here the landlord would have repeated his apologies, but my thoughts beginning to revert to the purpose which had brought me hither, I affected to be offended, that, by keeping all at a distance, I might the more easily preserve my character.

I succeeded so well that, though half the town, through which the news of my adventure had spread, as fire spreads in tinder, were assembled outside the inn until a late hour, no one was admitted to see me; and when I made my appearance next morning in the market-place and took my seat, with my two attendants, at a table by the corn-measures, this reserve had so far impressed the people that the smiles which greeted me scarcely exceeded those which commonly welcome a tax-collector. Some had paid, and, foreseeing the necessity of paying again, found little that was diverting in the jest. Others thought it no laughing matter to pay once; and a few had come as ill out of the adventure as I had. Under these circumstances, we quickly settled to work, no one entertaining the slightest suspicion; and La Trape, who could accommodate himself to anything, playing the part of clerk, I was presently receiving money and hearing excuses; the minute acquaintance with the routine of the finances, which I had made it my business to acquire, rendering the work easy to me.

We had not been long engaged, however, when Fonvelle put in an appearance, and elbowing the peasants aside, begged to speak with me apart. I rose and stepped back with him two or three paces; on which he winked at me in a very knowing fashion, "I am M. de Fonvelle," he said. And he winked again.

"Ah!" I said.

"My name is not in your list."

"I find it there," I replied, raising a hand to my ear.

"Tut, tut! you do not understand," he muttered. "Has not Gringuet told you?"

"What?" I said, pretending to be a little deaf.

"Has not—"

I shook my head.

"Has not Gringuet told you?" he repeated, reddening with anger; and this time speaking, on compulsion, so loudly that the peasants could hear him.

I answered him in the same tone. "Yes," I said roundly. "He has told me; of course, that every year you give him two hundred livres to omit your name."

He glanced behind him with an oath. "Man, are you mad?" he gasped, his jaw falling. "They will hear you."

"Yes," I said loudly, "I mean them to hear me."

I do not know what he thought of this—perhaps that I was mad— but he staggered back from me, and looked wildly round. Finding everyone laughing, he looked again at me, but still failed to understand; on which, with another oath, he turned on his heel, and forcing his way through the grinning crowd, was out of sight in a moment.

I was about to return to my seat, when a pursy, pale-faced man, with small eyes and a heavy jowl, whom I had before noticed, pushed his way through the line, and came to me. Though his neighbours were all laughing he was sober, and in a moment I understood why.

"I am very deaf," he said in a whisper. "My name, Monsieur, is Philippon. I am a—"

I made a sign to him that I could not hear.

"I am the silk merchant," he continued pretty audibly, but with a suspicious glance behind him. "Probably you have—"

Again I signed to him that I could not hear.

"You have heard of me?"

"From M. Gringuet?" I said very loudly.

"Yes," he answered in a similar tone; for, aware that deaf persons cannot hear their own voices and are seldom able to judge how loudly they are speaking, I had led him to this. "And I suppose that you will do as he did?"

"How?" I asked. "In what way?"

He touched his pocket with a stealthy gesture, unseen by the people behind him.

Again I made a sign as if I could not hear.

"Take the usual little gift?" he said, finding himself compelled to speak.

"I cannot hear a word," I bellowed. By this time the crowd were shaking with laughter.

"Accept the usual gift?" he said, his fat, pale face perspiring, and his little pig’s eyes regarding me balefully.

"And let you pay one quarter?" I said.

"Yes," he answered.

But this, and the simplicity with which he said it, drew so loud a roar of laughter from the crowd as penetrated even to his dulled senses. Turning abruptly, as if a bee had stung him, he found the place convulsed with merriment; and perceiving, in an instant, that I had played upon him, though he could not understand how or why, he glared about him a moment, muttered something which I could not catch, and staggered away with the gait of a drunken man.

After this, it was useless to suppose that I could amuse myself with others. The crowd, which had never dreamed of such a taxcollector, and could scarcely believe either eyes or ears, hesitated to come forward even to pay; and I was considering what I should do next, when a commotion in one corner of the square drew my eyes to that quarter. I looked and saw at first only Curtin. Then, the crowd dividing and making way for him, I perceived that he had the real Gringuet with him—Gringuet, who rode through the market with an air of grim majesty, with one foot in a huge slipper and eyes glaring with ill-temper.

Doubtless Curtin, going to him on the chance of hearing something of the rogue who had cheated him, had apprised the tax-collector of the whole matter; for on seeing me in my chair of state, he merely grinned in a vicious way, and cried to the nearest not to let me escape. "We have lost one rogue, but we will hang the other," he said. And while the townsfolk stood dumbfounded round us, he slipped with a groan from his horse, and bade his two servants seize me.

"And do you," he called to the host, "see that you help, my man! You have harboured him, and you shall pay for it if he escapes."

With that he hopped a step nearer; and then, not dreaming of resistance, sank with another groan—for his foot was immensely swollen by the journey—into the chair from which I had risen.

A glance showed me that, if I would not be drawn into an unseemly brawl, I must act; and meeting Maignan’s eager eye fixed upon my face, I nodded. In a second he seized the unsuspecting Gringuet by the neck, snatched him up from the chair, and flung him halfa-dozen paces away. "Lie there," he cried, "you insolent rascal! Who told you to sit before your betters?"

The violence of the action, and Maignan’s heat, were such that the nearest drew back affrighted; and even Gringuet’s servants recoiled, while the market people gasped with astonishment. But I knew that the respite would last a moment only, and I stood forward. "Arrest that man," I said, pointing to the collector, who was grovelling on the ground, nursing his foot and shrieking foul threats at us.

In a second my two men stood over him. "In the King’s name," La Trape cried; "let no man interfere."

"Raise him up," I continued, "and set him before me; and Curtin also, and Fonvelle, and Philippon; and Lescaut, the corn-dealer, if he is here."

I spoke boldly, but I felt some misgiving. So mighty, however, is the habit of command, that the crowd, far from resisting, thrust forward the men I named. Still, I could not count on this obedience, and it was with pleasure that I saw at this moment, as I looked over the heads of the crowd, a body of horsemen entering the square. They halted an instant, looking at the unusual concourse; while the townsfolk, interrupted in the middle of the drama, knew not which way to stare. Then Boisrueil, seeing me, and that I was holding some sort of court, spurred his horse through the press, and saluted me.

"Let half-a-dozen of your varlets dismount and guard these men," I said; "and do you, you rogue," I continued, addressing Gringuet, "answer me, and tell me the truth. How much does each of these knaves give you to cheat the King, and your master? Curtin first. How much does he give you?"

"My lord," he answered, pale and shaking, yet with a mutinous gleam in his eyes, "I have a right to know first before whom I stand."

"Enough," I thundered, "that it is before one who has the right to question you! answer me, villain, and be quick. What is the sum of Curtin’s bribe?"

He stood white and mute.


Still he stood silent, glaring with the devil in his eyes; while the other men whimpered and protested their innocence, and the crowd stared as if they could never see enough.


"I take no bribes," he muttered.


"Not a denier."

"Liar!" I exclaimed. "Liar, who devour widows’ houses and poor men’s corn! Who grind the weak and say it is the King; and let the rich go free. Answer me, and answer the truth. How much do these men give you?"

"Nothing," he said defiantly.

"Very well," I answered; "then I will have the list. It is in your shoe."

"I have no list," he said, beginning to tremble.

"It is in your shoe," I repeated, pointing to his gouty foot. "Maignan, off with his shoe, and look in it."

Disregarding his shrieks of pain, they tore it off and looked in it. There was no list.

"Off with his stocking," I said roundly.

"It is there."

He flung himself down at that, cursing and protesting by turns. But I remembered the trampled corn, and the girl’s bleeding face, and I was inexorable. The stocking was drawn off, not too tender]y, and turned inside out. Still no list was found.

"He has it," I persisted. "We have tried the shoe and we have tried the stocking, now we must try the foot. Fetch a stirrupleather, and do you hold him, and let one of the grooms give him a dozen on that foot."

But at that he gave way; he flung himself on his knees, screaming for mercy.

"The list!" I said,

"I have no list! I have none!" he wailed.

"Then give it me out of your head. Curtin, how much?"

He glanced at the man I named, and shivered, and for a moment was silent. But one of the grooms approaching with the stirrupleather, he found his voice. "Forty crowns," he muttered.


"The same."

I made him confess also the sums which he had received from Lescaut and Philippon, and then the names of seven others who had been in the habit of bribing him. Satisfied that he had so far told the truth, I bade him put on his stocking and shoe. "And now," I said to Boisrueil, when this was done, "take him to the whipping-post there, and tie him up; and see that each man of the eleven gives him a stripe for every crown with which he has bribed him—and good ones, or I will have them tied up in his place. Do you hear, you rascals?" I continued to the trembling culprits. "Off, and do your duty, or I will have your backs bare."

But the wretch, as cowardly as he had been cruel, flung himself down and crawled, sobbing and crying, to my feet. I had no mercy, however. "Take him away," I said, "It is such men as these give kings a bad name. Take him away, and see you flay him well."

He sprang up then, forgetting his gout, and made a frantic attempt to escape. But in a moment he was overcome, hauled away, and tied up; and though I did not wait to see the sentence carried out, but entered the inn, the shrill screams he uttered under the punishment reached me, even there, and satisfied me that Fonvelle and his fellows were not; holding their hands.

It is a sad reflection, however, that for one such sinner brought to justice ten, who commit the same crimes, go free, and flourishing on iniquity, bring the King’s service, and his officers, into evil repute.


Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options

Title: From the Memoirs of a Minister of France

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: From the Memoirs of a Minister of France

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Stanley John Weyman, "X. Farming the Taxes.," From the Memoirs of a Minister of France, ed. Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934 and trans. Stevens, Bertram, 1872 - in From the Memoirs of a Minister of France (Boston: John W. Luce and Company, 1911), Original Sources, accessed March 2, 2024,

MLA: Weyman, Stanley John. "X. Farming the Taxes." From the Memoirs of a Minister of France, edited by Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934, and translated by Stevens, Bertram, 1872 -, in From the Memoirs of a Minister of France, Boston, John W. Luce and Company, 1911, Original Sources. 2 Mar. 2024.

Harvard: Weyman, SJ, 'X. Farming the Taxes.' in From the Memoirs of a Minister of France, ed. and trans. . cited in 1911, From the Memoirs of a Minister of France, John W. Luce and Company, Boston. Original Sources, retrieved 2 March 2024, from