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The sub-prefect in the country

The sub-prefect is traveling. Coachman in front, footman in the rear, the sub-prefect's carriage is taking him majestically to the regional meeting of Combe-aux-Fees. For this memorable occasion, the sub-prefect has put on his handsome embroidered coat, his little top hat, his tight-fitting monial sword with the mother-of-pearl hilt.

On his knees lies a large portfolio of embossed leather which he looks at sadly.

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The sub-prefect is looking sadly at the embossed leather portfolio: he is thinking of the fine speech he will have to deliver very soon before the inhabitants of Combe-aux- Fees.

"Gentlemen and dear constituents . . ."

But it's useless twisting the blond silk of his whiskers and repeating twenty times all over again: "Gentlemen and dear constituents . . . ," for the rest of his speech just doesn't come.

The rest of his speech doesn't come . . . . It's so hot in this carriage! As far as the eye can see, the road to Combe-aux-Fees is raising a dust under the Midi sun . . . . The air is on fire . . . and on the young elms along the way, all covered with white dust, million of cicadas are answering one another from tree to tree . . . . Suddenly the sub-prefect trembles. There, at the foot of a slope, he has just seen a little grove of green oaks that seem to be signaling to him.

The little oak grove seems to be making a sign to him.

"Do come here, O sub-prefect, to compose your speech, you'll be much better under my trees . . . ."

The sub-prefect is enchanted; he jumps down from the carriage and tells his servants to wait for him, he's going to compose his speech in the little grove of green oaks.

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In the little green oak grove there are birds, violets, and springs under the delicate grass. . . . As soon as they see the sub-prefect with his handsome breeches and portfolio of embossed leather, the birds take fright and stop singing, the springs dare not make a sound anymore, and the violets have hidden in the sward. . . . This little world has never see a sub-prefect, and they ask one another in hushed voices what this fine gentleman is who goes about in silver breeches. Meanwhile the sub-prefect, enchanted with the silence and the freshness of the grove, lifts up his coattails, puts his top hat on the grass, and sits down in the moss at the foot of a young oak. Then he open his large embossed leather portfolio on his knees and draws forth a wide sheet of official paper.

"He's an artist!" says the warbler.

"No," says the bullfinch, "he's not an artist, because he has silver breeches; he's a prince, more likely."

"Yes, he's probably a prince," says the bullfinch.

"Neither artist or prince," interrupts an old nightingale, who's been singing a whole season long in the sub-prefect's gardens. . . . "I know what he is: he's a sub- prefect!"

And the entire little grove keeps whispering: "He's a sub-perfect! He's a sub- prefect!"

"How bald he is!" comments a lark with a big crest.

The violets ask: "Is he wicked?"

The old nightingale answers: "Certainly not!"

And thus reassured the birds begin to sing again, the springs to flow, the violets to smell sweet, as though the gentleman weren't there. . . . Impassive in the midst of this lovely racket, the sub-prefect invokes in his heart the Muse of agricultural shows, and with pencil lifted, begins to declaim in his ceremonial voice:

"Gentlemen and dear constituents . . ."

A burst of laughter interrupts him; he looks around and sees only a fat smiling woodpecker perched on his hat, gazing at him. The sub-prefect shrugs his shoulders and tries to go on with his speech; but the woodpecker interrupts again and cries out to him from a distance:

"What's the use?"

"What do you mean, what's the use?" says the sub-prefect, turning quite red; and dismissing this brazen creature with a gesture, he begins again still more beautifully.

"Gentlemen and dear constituents . . ."

But then, there are the little violets raising themselves toward him on the tips of their stems, and telling him sweetly: "O sub-prefect, do you feel good like us?"

And the springs make a heavenly music for him under the moss; and in the branches above his head, choruses of warblers come to sing their loveliest songs for him; and the entire little grove conspires to prevent him from composing his speech. . . .

The sub-prefect, giddy with fragrances, transported with music, tries in vain to resist the new charm that takes possession of him. He leans an elbow on the gross, unfastens his fine coat, stammers two or three times more: "Gentlemen and dear constitutents . . . Gentlemen and dear consti . . . Gentlemen and dear . . ."

Then he consigns the constituents to the devil; and the Muse of agricultural shows must cover her face.

Cover your face, O Muse of agricultural shows! . . .

When, at the end of an hour, the servants of the sub-prefecture, worried about their sub-prefect, entered the little grove, they witnessed a sight which made them draw back in horror. . . . The sub-prefect was lying on his belly in the grass, untidy as a Bohemian. He had taken off his coat . . . and nibbling violets, the sub-prefect was writing verses.

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