Third Tableau

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

upon itself.

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.