Twenty Years After.
Son. Father, decide; we must leave Paris. Work is slack, and
everything is dear.
Father. My son, you do not know how hard it is to leave the place
where we were born.
Son. The worst of all things is to die there of misery.
Father. Go, my son, and seek a more hospitable country. For myself, I
will not leave the grave where your moth
r, sisters and brothers lie. I
am eager to find, at last, near them, the rest which is denied me in
this city of desolation.
Son. Courage, dear father, we will find work elsewhere--in Poitou,
Normandy or Brittany. They say that the industry of Paris is gradually
transferring itself to those distant countries.
Father. It is very natural. Unable to sell us wood and food, they
stopped producing more than they needed for themselves, and they
devoted their spare time and capital to making those things which we
formerly furnished them.
Son. Just as at Paris, they quit making handsome furniture and fine
clothes, in order to plant trees, and raise hogs and cows. Though quite
young, I have seen vast storehouses, sumptuous buildings, and quays
thronged with life on those banks of the Seine which are now given up to
meadows and forests.
Father. While the provinces are filling up with cities, Paris becomes
country. What a frightful revolution! Three mistaken Aldermen, aided by
public ignorance, have brought down on us this terrible calamity.
Son. Tell me this story, my father.
Father. It is very simple. Under the pretext of establishing three new
trades at Paris, and of thus supplying labor to the workmen, these men
secured the prohibition of wood, butter, and meats. They assumed the
right of supplying their fellow-citizens with them. These articles rose
immediately to an exorbitant price. Nobody made enough to buy them, and
the few who could procure them by using up all they made were unable to
buy anything else; consequently all branches of industry stopped at
once--all the more so because the provinces no longer offered a market.
Misery, death, and emigration began to depopulate Paris.
Son. When will this stop?
Father. When Paris has become a meadow and a forest.
Son. The three Aldermen must have made a great fortune.
Father. At first they made immense profits, but at length they were
involved in the common misery.
Son. How was that possible?
Father. You see this ruin; it was a magnificent house, surrounded by a
fine park. If Paris had kept on advancing, Master Pierre would have got
more rent from it annually than the whole thing is now worth to him.
Son. How can that be, since he got rid of competition?
Father. Competition in selling has disappeared; but competition in
buying also disappears every day, and will keep on disappearing until
Paris is an open field, and Master Pierre's woodland will be worth no
more than an equal number of acres in the forest of Bondy. Thus, a
monopoly, like every species of injustice, brings its own punishment
Son. This does not seem very plain to me, but the decay of Paris is
undeniable. Is there, then, no means of repealing this unjust measure
that Pierre and his colleagues adopted twenty years ago?
Father. I will confide my secret to you. I will remain at Paris for
this purpose; I will call the people to my aid. It depends on them
whether they will replace the octroi on its old basis, and dismiss
from it this fatal principle, which is grafted on it, and has grown
there like a parasite fungus.
Son. You ought to succeed on the very first day.
Father. No; on the contrary, the work is a difficult and laborious
one. Pierre, Paul and Jean understand one another perfectly. They are
ready to do anything rather than allow the entrance of wood, butter and
meat into Paris. They even have on their side the people, who clearly
see the labor which these three protected branches of business give, who
know how many wood-choppers and cow-drivers it gives employment to, but
who cannot obtain so clear an idea of the labor that would spring up in
the free air of liberty.
Son. If this is all that is needed, you will enlighten them.
Father. My child, at your age, one doubts at nothing. If I wrote, the
people would not read; for all their time is occupied in supporting a
wretched existence. If I speak, the Aldermen will shut my mouth. The
people will, therefore, remain long in their fatal error; political
parties, which build their hopes on their passions, attempt to play upon
their prejudices, rather than to dispel them. I shall then have to deal
with the powers that be--the people and the parties. I see that a storm
will burst on the head of the audacious person who dares to rise against
an iniquity which is so firmly rooted in the country.
Son. You will have justice and truth on your side.
Father. And they will have force and calumny. If I were only young!
But age and suffering have exhausted my strength.
Son. Well, father, devote all that you have left to the service of the
country. Begin this work of emancipation, and leave to me for an
inheritance the task of finishing it.