Dr. Benassis (beh-nah-SEE), the self-appointed godfather to a remote and dying mountain village, where he revitalizes the economy and administers to physical and spiritual needs. A hundred years ahead of his time, the benevolent despot removes a dying line of cretins, imposes a regimen of self-sacrifice and good works on village officials, and surrounds himself with vital workers who in eight years carry out a reform program of health and welfare. He devotes his life to anonymous good works because of heavy burdens on his conscience: a lost fortune, the betrayal of a loved one who died, and the loss of his son by his mistress. As a doctor, he practices psychology and even recognizes the psychosomatic bases of many illnesses. As a mayor, he genially dispenses the village’s wealth as well as his own in order to make the helpless self-sufficient. His death leaves the populace devastated but inspired.
Colonel Pierre Joseph Genestas
Colonel Pierre Joseph Genestas (zheh-nehs-TAHS), one of Napoleon’s finest soldiers, who has seen the political tide go against him and who comes to see the doctor for a purpose. Posing as a Captain Bluteau, the colonel observes the physician on his rounds of mercy and administration before asking him to care for his foster child, a sixteen-year-old weakling. Knowing the old man to be sublime, he vows to return to the village and carry on the doctor’s good works in appreciation of his son’s recovery.
Adrien (ah-DRYAHN), his adopted son, the child of an army officer and a Polish Jewess, who has ruined his health through his intensive study and lack of exercise. A sensitive, beautiful child, Adrien responds splendidly to the doctor’s prescriptions: a milk diet and hardy exercise in hunting and mountain climbing. More fortunate than a young consumptive, Jacques, Adrien recovers fully, but the other boy dies shortly after his benefactor’s death. Adrien, deeply appreciating the efforts of his foster father and the doctor, returns kindness for kindness.
La Fosseuse (foh-SEWZ), the ward of the doctor, who has been despised and rejected by society for her inability to work or produce. The beautiful young girl, a kind of poetess of nature, after a very sad childhood is cared for by the aging doctor.
Jacquotte (zhah-KOHT), the doctor’s faithful servant and housekeeper.
Curé Janvier (zhahn-VYAY), the enlightened village priest.