The Tax Collector





JACQUES BONHOMME, Vine-grower.

M. LASOUCHE, Tax Collector.



L. You have secured twenty hogsheads of wine?



J. Yes, with much care and sweat.



--Be so kind as to give me six of the best.



--Six hogsheads out of twenty! Good heavens! You want to ruin me. If you

please, what do you propose to do with them?



--The first will be given to the creditors of the State. When one has

debts, the least one can do is to pay the interest.



--Where did the principal go?



--It would take too long to tell. A part of it was once upon a time put

in cartridges, which made the finest smoke in the world; with another

part men were hired who were maimed on foreign ground, after having

ravaged it. Then, when these expenses brought the enemy upon us, he

would not leave without taking money with him, which we had to borrow.



--What good do I get from it now?



--The satisfaction of saying:



How proud am I of being a Frenchman

When I behold the triumphal column,



And the humiliation of leaving to my heirs an estate burdened with a

perpetual rent. Still one must pay what he owes, no matter how foolish a

use may have been made of the money. That accounts for one hogshead, but

the five others?



--One is required to pay for public services, the civil list, the judges

who decree the restitution of the bit of land your neighbor wants to

appropriate, the policemen who drive away robbers while you sleep, the

men who repair the road leading to the city, the priest who baptizes

your children, the teacher who educates them, and myself, your servant,

who does not work for nothing.



--Certainly, service for service. There is nothing to say against that.

I had rather make a bargain directly with my priest, but I do not insist

on this. So much for the second hogshead. This leaves four, however.



--Do you believe that two would be too much for your share of the army

and navy expenses?



--Alas, it is little compared with what they have cost me already. They

have taken from me two sons whom I tenderly loved.



--The balance of power in Europe must be maintained.



--Well, my God! the balance of power would be the same if these forces

were every where reduced a half or three-quarters. We should save our

children and our money. All that is needed is to understand it.



--Yes, but they do not understand it.



--That is what amazes me. For every one suffers from it.



--You wished it so, Jacques Bonhomme.



--You are jesting, my dear Mr. Collector; have I a vote in the

legislative halls?



--Whom did you support for Deputy?



--An excellent General, who will be a Marshal presently, if God spares

his life.



--On what does this excellent General live?



--My hogsheads, I presume.



--And what would happen were he to vote for a reduction of the army and

your military establishment?



--Instead of being made a Marshal, he would be retired.



--Do you now understand that yourself?



--Let us pass to the fifth hogshead, I beg of you.



--That goes to Algeria.



--To Algeria! And they tell me that all Mussulmans are temperance

people, the barbarians! What services will they give me in exchange for

this ambrosia, which has cost me so much labor?



--None at all; it is not intended for Mussulmans, but for good

Christians who spend their days in Barbary.



--What can they do there which will be of service to me?



--Undertake and undergo raids; kill and be killed; get dysenteries and

come home to be doctored; dig harbors, make roads, build villages and

people them with Maltese, Italians, Spaniards and Swiss, who live on

your hogshead, and many others which I shall come in the future to ask

of you.



--Mercy! This is too much, and I flatly refuse you my hogshead. They

would send a wine-grower who did such foolish acts to the mad-house.

Make roads in the Atlas Mountains, when I cannot get out of my own

house! Dig ports in Barbary when the Garonne fills up with sand every

day! Take from me my children whom I love, in order to torment Arabs!

Make me pay for the houses, grain and horses, given to the Greeks and

Maltese, when there are so many poor around us!



--The poor! Exactly; they free the country of this superfluity.



--Oh, yes, by sending after them to Algeria the money which would enable

them to live here.



--But then you lay the basis of a great empire, you carry

civilization into Africa, and you crown your country with immortal

glory.



--You are a poet, my dear Collector; but I am a vine-grower, and I

refuse.



--Think that in a few thousand years you will get back your advances a

hundred-fold. All those who have charge of the enterprise say so.



--At first they asked me for one barrel of wine to meet expenses, then

two, then three, and now I am taxed a hogshead. I persist in my refusal.



--It is too late. Your representative has agreed that you shall give a

hogshead.



--That is but too true. Cursed weakness! It seems to me that I was

unwise in making him my agent; for what is there in common between the

General of an army and the poor owner of a vineyard?



--You see well that there is something in common between you, were it

only the wine you make, and which, in your name, he votes to himself.



--Laugh at me; I deserve it, my dear Collector. But be reasonable, and

leave me the sixth hogshead at least. The interest of the debt is paid,

the civil list provided for, the public service assured, and the war in

Africa perpetuated. What more do you want?



--The bargain is not made with me. You must tell your desires to the

General. He has disposed of your vintage.



--But what do you propose to do with this poor hogshead, the flower of

my flock? Come, taste this wine. How mellow, delicate, velvety it is!



--Excellent, delicious! It will suit D----, the cloth manufacturer,

admirably.



--D----, the manufacturer! What do you mean?



--That he will make a good bargain out of it.



--How? What is that? I do not understand you.



--Do you not know that D---- has started a magnificent establishment

very useful to the country, but which loses much money every year?



--I am very sorry. But what can I do to help him?



--The Legislature saw that if things went on thus, D---- would either

have to do a better business or close his manufactory.



--But what connection is there between D----'s bad speculations and my

hogshead?



--The Chamber thought that if it gave D---- a little wine from your

cellar, a few bushels of grain taken from your neighbors, and a few

pennies cut from the wages of the workingmen, his losses would change

into profits.



--This recipe is as infallible as it is ingenious. But it is shockingly

unjust. What! is D---- to cover his losses by taking my wine?



--Not exactly the wine, but the proceeds of it; That is what we call a

bounty for encouragement. But you look amazed! Do not you see what a

great service you render to the country?



--You mean to say to D----?



--To the country. D---- asserts that, thanks to this arrangement, his

business prospers, and thus it is, says he, that the country grows rich.

That is what he recently said in the Chamber of which he is a member.



--It is a damnable fraud! What! A fool goes into a silly enterprise, he

spends his money, and if he extorts from me wine or grain enough to make

good his losses, and even to make him a profit, he calls it a general

gain!



--Your representative having come to that conclusion, all you have to

do is to give me the six hogsheads of wine, and sell the fourteen that I

leave you for as much as possible.



--That is my business.



--For, you see, it would be very annoying if you did not get a good

price for them.



--I will think of it.



--For there are many things which the money you receive must procure.



--I know it, sir. I know it.



--In the first place, if you buy iron to renew your spades and

plowshares, a law declares that you must pay the iron-master twice what

it was worth.



--Ah, yes; does not the same thing happen in the Black Forest?



--Then, if you need oil, meat, cloth, coal, wool and sugar, each one by

the law will cost you twice what it is worth.



--But this is horrible, frightful, abominable.



--What is the use of these hard words? You yourself, through your

authorized agent----



--Leave me alone with my authorized agent. I made a very strange

disposition of my vote, it is true. But they shall deceive me no more,

and I will be represented by some good and honest countryman.



--Bah, you will re-elect the worthy General.



--I? I re-elect the General to give away my wine to Africans and

manufacturers?



--You will re-elect him, I say.



--That is a little too much. I will not re-elect him, if I do not want

to.



--But you will want to, and you will re-elect him.



--Let him come here and try. He will see who he will have to settle

with.



--We shall see. Good bye. I take away your six hogsheads, and will

proceed to divide them as the General has directed.





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