A Bourgeois Family
WITH feelings anything but jubilant we received our first impressions of the intérieur in which we had engaged to pass several months. And yet the privilege of entering thus a French household was one not to be found every day ; was one that we had searched for, plotted and manœuvred for, ever since we had been in provincial France, and one which we had finally obtained only by means of the quiet treachery of one member of the family to the rigid principle of exclusion and seclusion which governed the rest.
That we had no choice in familles bourgeoises goes without saying. It was Hobson’s choice, and one which we ought to be thankful for. So we were, later, when we found our French speech becoming glib, and our manners unbending from their Anglo-Saxon stiffness into something of the suppleness and suavity of those around us; but that time of thankfulness seemed somewhat remote as we received our first impressions.
The seaport town was centuries old and marvelously quaint. Its appearance from the sea was a cluster of colorful walls steeped in antiquity, high-roofed, and covered with gray moss and straggling ivy. Gothic spires rose above the roofs, time-worn and gray ; picturesque ruins, with voluminously draped Virgins flaunting gaudy raiment from gabled and cusped niches, gathered close upon the quays. The abrupt côte, rising like a background of solid emerald behind the town, was crowned with even greater antiquity, and from its summit grim, fortress-like Norman walls looked down upon the Gothic airiness below as a septuagenarian might gaze upon the youthful frivolity of half a century.
Through the dusky streets fishers’ wives, in gay kerchiefs, profuse petticoats, and clanking sabots, cried their glistening merchandise. Norman peasant women, in tall snowy caps and russethued garments, drove in from outlying farms donkey carts laden with brilliant fruit and vegetables. Foreign-looking sailors and native fishermen, almost as bronzed and as jeweled as the sailors, loitered and basked in the sunshine. Even the bourgeois element (there is no aristocracy in that sleepy, provincial town), with its dress of yesterday and its dull, listless air, seemed entirely of another race and world from the gay and bustling Parisians upon whom we had founded our knowledge of French life and character.
As we turned away from all this picturesqueness, it was with something of a shock that we faced the intérieur that was to be our temporary home. There was nothing picturesque about it; for what in the heavens above, in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth can be less picturesque than provincial bourgeoisism ? Peasant homes are picturesque, although comfortless, and a beauty-loving temperament can find some compensation for chill and gloom, dampness and disorder, in quaint irregularity of forms, the half mystery of unwindowed and noontide twilight, the antiquity of household gods handed down from one generation to another with religious care. Provincial bourgeoisism, dressed by cheap tailors and dressmakers, its intérieurs furnished from vulgar modern shops, — what can be more bourgeois ? Not even the cabbage roses and sad haircloth of American rural “ best rooms ” are less beautiful than the waxed or painted floors with showy, rectangular tapis in their centre, the stiff and ghostly chairs and tables from the first empire, the wax fruit, paper roses, atrocious pictures, china vases, superabundant gilt clocks, and mantel statuettes in painted faience of French provincial middle life.
Our household was more interesting than many, for the reason that it represented an unusual blending of social distinctions, a coming together of two different strains, and a consequent uneasy position between the upper strata of the unconventional basse classe and the lower of the respectable and priggish bourgeoisie. One grandfather had lived in a château (his own by purchase, not by heritage), as we were soon told. The other had commanded a fishing-boat, as we more tardily learned from the indiscreet revelations of the garret. The châtelain’s daughter invested her reduced fortune in a trimming-shop, and the fisherman’s son put his into an education. By the marriage of the fisherman’s socially promoted son and the châtelain’s socially descended daughter the trimming-shop was turned into a cheap boarding-school, patronized mostly by fishermen’s sons, peasants’ sons, and the sons of town butchers and shoemakers. The fisherman’s son and thechatelain’s daughter had long ago accomplished their warfare with life, with poverty, with baffled ambitions, and, if truth must be told, with each other, and for years had slept in one grave in the parish cemetery. The boarding-school had been turned into money, and upon that feeble sum, supplemented by the trifling wage enjoyed by one of the sons as a government employé, lived the celibate family whose intérieur received us.
There were four in the family, one brother and three sisters: all between thirty and forty years of age ; all with nerves and red hair; all unselfishly devoted to each other, making, three of them at least, every sacrifice one for another; but all manifesting this unusual affection by what seemed to our calmer though perhaps not better tempers the fiercest and most persistent quarreling possible to human nature. Often and often, as we have sat at meat with them, has some trifling discussion arisen, a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand in its first threatening, but swelling almost instantly to such a tempest of tempers and tornado of words that first one has flown away from the table in a rage, then another, another, and another, till, in the lull which followed the banging of doors and the shouting of recriminations through keyholes, we two Americans have sat smiling alone, sole possessors of the table. Ten, perhaps five, minutes later the flushed and disheveled belligerents would return one by one to their places, and the repast would finish amid a most beatific atmosphere of family affection. It was a usual occurrence, on my return from an absence of a few days, to find the key of my room missing. Inquiry would invariably reveal the fact that during a volcanic eruption one of the sisters had flown to my room and locked herself in from the others. As soon as the elemental chaos had subsided, and the locked-in sister had emerged from her retreat, one of the others would possess herself of my key and hide it, that she might another time have easier access to her sister’s ear, and not be again forced to scream sisterly vituperations through a keyhole. That keys were scarce in our house is easy to believe!
Once we sat in the little salon quietly entertaining a friend. Suddenly we heard the family vials uncorked in an adjacent room, and the family wrath hiss and fume after the customary fashion. Suddenly the salon door was violently thrown open, and a distracted figure rushed through the room and out at another door. This was Mademoiselle Marie, from whom Mademoiselle Juliette had taken refuge in a locked room, and upon whom Marie stole a march by descending upon her unprotected rear through the unguarded salon door.
One only of such quarrels as these would, I am convinced, leave gall enough in our less effusive and more vindictive natures to spoil the beauty of affection forever. But with our deep resentment for insulting words, we know better than to use them ; with a capacity for undying anger in ourselves, we refrain from arousing it in others; and realizing that dissension is a most serious thing, we avoid it with the awe and trembling we yield to all tragic powers. Did we consider all this as but the temporary atmospheric disturbance — electrical and painful while it lasts, but swiftly passing — that our French friends do, doubtless our lives would witness the same interminable succession of scorching typhoons and balmy calms, which would hardly be an advantage over the more serene even if duller monotony of our days, I believe. The dry, feverish skins and drawn faces of the sisters, each prematurely aged, showed the physical effects of this uncomfortable vivacity of temper and utter want of self-control which are such marked characteristics, not only of our particular family, but of the whole French race. The French are a demonstrative people, whose life is largely emotional, and who regard moral discipline and self-control chiefly as an English folly. French children rarely learn the moral weight and significance of self-control, and when it is taught at all it is merely as a matter of social convenience and convention, — one of exterior politeness and not of spiritual culture and harmony. Conscience is not developed among them, — conscience is not a personal possession in the Roman Catholic Church, — and to be agreeable is greater in France than to be good. Thus the French are fussily polite away from their intérieurs, while in them they live in an incessant restlessness of emotions, good and bad. Emotional expansiveness and freedom are sometimes good to see, but the self-restraint of our more conscientiously introspective northern temperament is safer and surer to live and die with. There may be fewer kisses and cooler embraces with us, but likewise fewer stinging words and breezy recriminations.
Our first impression (and our last) of the house we were to enter was of a blank and staring white modern wall, entirely devoid of architectural decoration, standing by itself in an uninteresting street, — one of the new streets upon which the inhabitants prided themselves as proof that their town was not falling into decay. There was not one inch of garden space about it, and the narrow front door opened directly from the street into a long, dark entry, from which ascended long, dark stairs. A grocer’s shop and an étude d’huissier occupied the ground floor, while the real dwelling began only at the top of the staircase. Such, as is well known, is the habit of France, and the most elegant of town and city appartements are often over shops and offices. French appartements usually extend over but one floor, and a flight of stairs within an appartetment is almost unknown. I remember how astonished we were, after years of Continental life, at the extreme neighborly familiarity which seemed to exist in London houses.
“ Why, maman,” said Charlie, “they are all over each other’s appartements, exactly as if chez eux! One sees the same faces at the windows, upstairs, downstairs, and in my lady’s chamber ! ” It was only with an effort that maman herself remembered that English families, like American, usually live not upon one floor, but all over the house.
Our house, however, was owned by its occupants, and entirely occupied by them. It was large, light, and airy, with wide French windows, light - papered walls, and earthen-tiled floors. It was somewhat raggedly furnished, —that is, ragged in effect, not in fact; for unmendedness was an abomination in the eyes of the thrifty sisters. Everything was whole, but most things were threadbare. There were a few heirlooms, such as carved bedsteads, handsome plate, and massive bureaux. The salon curtains were châtelaine grandmamma’s cashmere shawls ; the table cover was a patchwork of several generations of silk and velvet gowns; the bit of square tapis was cheap and worn ; there was no sofa; the chairs were rickety, modern, and mean. The bed-rooms were cheerful and the beds luxurious, but the toilet conveniences were scarcely less primitive than those of a prairie farm-house, and the carpets patched and darned. The small dining-room, except for a magnificent buffet, was of Spartan simplicity, as was the boudoir, where the sewing-machine stood.
There were twelve dozen dozens of sheets in the overflowing presses, and as many pillow-cases. Of tablecloths and towels there seemed to be no end, and I could hardly find a place to hang up a garment because of the insolent ubiquity of packed piles of napkins. This wealth of napery had not been a parti pris, but was the accumulation of various heritages. One grand-uncle, dying at ninety-two, had left seven hundred sheets to be divided among his heirs ! In our family was a special shelf set aside for linen “ in use,” and when a guest came who passed perhaps two nights, perhaps only one, in a year in our house, the bed linen which he had used during the last visit, ticketed with his name and the date of that event, was brought down from its shelf in the garret ! Napery in bourgeois families is a property, like houses and land. Its owner never expects to wear his stock out, but to reckon it always a part of his wealth and important assets of his estate at death.
The old fashioned, coarse, and clumsy under-linen of the sisters was in scarcely less profusion. Some of it had descended from the châtelaine grandmother, some was woven by the piscatorial ancestress. This stock was held in common, as was every other right and possession of the establishment. Only the solitary brother has a right to say “ ma chemise ; ” those garments in feminine form being not individual possessions, but common property, always spoken of as nuns in convents refer to theirs, not as “ ma chemise,” but “ une de nos chemises.”
One of the sisters, Juliette, had been eighteen months a governess in England. With the sharp but excessively limited powers of observation common to all the family, she fancied herself familiar with every in and out of the Anglo-Saxon character, every peculiarity of national, social, and domestic life. Juliette frequently declared that this vie de communauté would be impossible to the Anglo-Saxon temperament, — to anything other than French dévouement. This is undoubtedly true ; but, considering the tumult and turmoil of speech and spirit that a bit of ragged trimming or a ruptured place in “ une de nos chemises ” created in that communauté, the thunderings of doors, the banshee-like whistlings at keyholes, the red eyes, and the electrical upstarting of passionate hair, it is to be questioned if dévouement has every advantage over selfishness.
All the domestic labor of the family, except the washing, done every four months away from the house, was accomplished by two of the sisters (the youngest being an invalid and a spoiled child) with the aid of a femme de ménage a few hours each day. Bonnets and dresses, coats and trousers, thick petticoats and clumsy stockings, everything worn in the communanté as well as eaten by it, except the bread, were manipulated by those apt and busy fingers. Somebody once asked Gambetta what was the secret of the extraordinary wealth of the French nation, by means of which the heavy Prussian indemnity was so quickly paid.
“ The thrift and industry of French women,” was the reply.
This thrift and industry were exemplified in our family to an almost deplorable extent. Economy was the watchword ; to save, the fundamental and pyramidal principle of every effort. It was an unintellectual, narrow system, involving a wearing-out of human brains and strength in a ceaseless struggle to stretch a pound of meat to the utmost limit of its nourishing tenuity, to extort its last fibre of wearing capacity from a yard of cloth. Body and soul were bent to the ignoble business of mere living, and it was pitiable to know what artistic inclinations and ideal aspirations were crushed beneath this Juggernaut of economy. It was the more pitiable as the whole family was generous by nature, hospitable to a fault, magnificent in pour boires, willing to dine off a crust in order to give a roll to a beggar, and anxious to divide a last sou with a friend. As milliners, teachers, housekeepers in other families, these poor women could have lived fuller and happier lives, and it was only the narrow though sharp worldly prescience of the fisherman’s son that bound them to this martyrdom of their higher natures. Struggling with poverty all his life, he died believing poverty the very blackest of earth’s evils. He had outgrown, or rather overgrown, all his own aspirations, and forgot that such might be more tenacious of life in others. His marriage had proved unhappy, and he wished his daughters never to marry; he had worked at a profession all his life, and finished his heavy course at last with a deserted school upon his hands and not a penny more of money than the châtelain’s daughter had brought him. He made his will, therefore, tying up the children’s heritage in such manner that it could not be divided: binding his daughters to celibacy because without dots; forbidding them independent careers because without educations ; and forcing the grinding toil, the mortifying privations, the inevitable intellectual narrowing, of the communautß upon them by refusing them the right to escape from it. The poor man never realized that he was thereby entailing the curse of his own contracted nature and defrauded experience upon children larger than himself, or he would have turned remorsefully in his grave to hear the unvarying response to every wild longing to escape to more congenial and better paid labor: “ N’en parle pas! Thy services belong to the communauté.”
One of the fiercest quarrels I ever witnessed took place one evening as we sat by the dining-room fire. The youngest and least amiable of the sisters stooped and picked from the ashes a half - consumed piece of paper. She instantly recognized the handwriting as that of a lady in Paris with whom Juliette was intimately acquainted, but who was only slightly known to the rest. The bit of paper bore Juliette’s name, and no sooner did Marie behold it than she burst into fury, and the usual result of agitated doors, keyholes, eyes, voices, and tempers followed, in which all but ourselves took part, — just because Juliette had dared to receive a letter unknown to the rest of the communauté !
In truth she received many ; for letter-writing was poor Juliette’s sole literary distraction, and her scribblings were familiar to her absent friends. But the amount of intriguing, the undignified hustlings and shufflings of half truths, the real falsehoods forced upon her, that she might enjoy her innocent pleasure, and take time and postage for it from the communauté, the plottings with the postman, the connivings with the grocer’s wife downstairs, were Machiavellian, and not calculated to recommend the community system to a dignified mind. Intrigue was thoroughly the rule of the establishment, each one’s sole defense against the rest. The intrigues were innocent enough in intention, but the habit was a second nature with them all ; and we always felt that we were turned loose among pitfalls and snares when with them, never knowing when incautious words of ours would betray some one’s “little game” to some one else. That communauté system was in fact the most absolute of despotisms, totally wanting in reverence for individual rights, coarsely trampling down every instinct of personal dignity and delicacy beneath the brutal hoof of community rights. I firmly believe that Juliette spoke the truth, and that only the French nature could support it; not alone because of the French dévouement but because the French character is more supple, plotting, and conscienceless. Conscience is not its affair : it is the affair of the priests.
The intelligences of our family were bright and keen, although so low and so circumscribed of horizon. “ Papa ” (pronounced “ pappa ”), albeit so long ago translated, was still their oracle, and “ Papa le disait ” the cap sheaf and key stone of all argument. To them “ papa’s ” school was an all-comprehending microcosm of the universe, and not all the evidence of history, the testimony of the ages, the experience of nations and races, weighed anything against the triumphantly crushing “ Papa remarquait toujours à la pension.”
Did we declare that the history of civilization proves that the strongest intellectual and moral forces are generated at that equalizing point between luxury and privation which we call the “middle classes,” the confutation of our ignorance did not tarry to overwhelm us. “ Vous vous trompez, madame! Papa remarquait toujours à la pension that the sons of poor fishermen and cobblers were better and brighter boys than the sons of rich grocers. Is n’t it so, Émile ? ”
And the communanté, thus appealed to, would confirm with acclamation this annihilation of one of those “ aristocratic ” fallacies with which, according to our family, Americans were so generally deceived. In all our discussions the family argued for the virtues and the rights of the very humblest classes of society, and the aristocratic prejudice which they combated was merely our intellectual conviction of the superior moral and intellectual vigor of the class of society that to us was moyenné, but which to them seemed haute.
In spite of its want of real self-respect,— such want as enabled them to wage their warfare before any chance observer, — our communauté had a petty sort of susceptibility continually surprising us.
“ Such proud, parvenu, upstart canaille as is Madame Bush,” said Marie, coming in from market hot and angry. “ She speaks French like a poissarde, and looks like a femme de chambre. She passed me in the market without bowing”
“ Such a distingué dame is Madame Bush. She speaks French with such distinction, and is a perfect dame du grand monde. She bowed to me this morning! ” would be the next day’s testimony from Marie. Jealous as they were of their bourgeois rights, shocked beyond measure to be detected by outsiders wearing the blue working aprons which they seldom quitted in-doors, they seemed never to take note of the fact that their lower class sympathies and proletarian theories were not a result of personal observation and judicial reflection, but of the simple material fact that a fisherman was their grandfather, a fisherman’s son their father. And yet family feeling was even stronger than bourgeois susceptibility. Once walking with Juliette we met an elderly washerwoman returning from a day’s work at the fountain, accompanied by a cowedlooking, shambling old husband in peasant costume, who carried the basket of wet linen upon his back. To my astonishment, Juliette greeted the old peasant cordially, kissed him upon both cheeks, and called him uncle. When we had left them, she explained that he was her father’s only living brother.
“ And he never comes to your house ?” I asked.
“ Never ; his old washerwoman wife will not allow him. She mocks at us because our mother was born in a chateau.”
None of our family were readers. As I have known two of them to consume all the available portions of seven days to recreate a gown, that recreation composed when finished of one hundred and sixty-two different bits of stuff, it is easy to know that they had no time for reading. But their active intelligences craved occupation, and that occupation they found in analyzing the characters of their acquaintances. A great deal of really keen observation, subtile thought, and power of close analysis was continually thus displayed, evoking regret from one foreign member of that famille bourgeoise that fate had not given them a larger field and more dignified opportunity.
“ The curé of Saint Léonards is so often chez Madame Doval as to make a perfect scandal,” would be one item of the peurile gossip brought to every meal. “ The Protestant minister drinks his wine pure and by the goblet full,” was another ; whereupon follows such minute and fluent dissection of curés’ and ministers’ characters as would be a lesson to Balzac or Henry James. The femme de ménage was never reproved for loitering long at the fountain, although she was paid by the hour, for there she drew gossip as well as water. When a change of these femmes took place, she was chosen from among all applicants who worked in “ such and such intérieurs,” where the family histories were liveliest, and monsieur was jealous of madame, or vice versa. I seldom dared ask who might be this man or that woman, lest I should bring down upon myself the history of their lives from the cradle, the chroniques scandaleuses of their ancestors, with really clever analyses of every probable and improbable cause and motive that has made them what they are. Once, in wandering for hours through one of the old burial grounds, I was told such startling tales of the dead who slept below, the gossip and scandal of lives that ended almost before that of their present reconteuse was begun, that I felt thoroughly shamefaced among those silent sleepers, and heartily glad to escape from their voiceless reproach.
In the matter of social etiquette we found our family also noisily effusive as they found us roide and cold. An uneasy atmosphere of fuss was about every act, it seemed as if about every thought, of the ménage, a fussiness almost as irritating to us as the stealthy action of a blister. When the sisters and Léontine were together in the kitchen, the “ gabble ” of insistent assertion and equally insistent contradiction, of voluble argument, protest, and denial, reminded us of the gabble of a startled hencoop. It was the etiquette at table, when a guest declined to partake again of a dish, to insist beyond measure with spoon or fork furnished with a portion of the debated viand poised in direction of the guest’s plate. If still the guest insisted to decline, — and that seemed part of the etiquette, — his plate was forcibly seized upon by the nearest of the hosts. Then the guest would instantly grab the opposite edge, and a friendly tussle of words and forces would follow, ending sometimes one way and sometimes another as the guest’s indisposition for “ more ” was real or assumed. Sometimes, as may be imagined, when several guests and several hosts were engaged in this tourney of politeness, the scene was more animated than conducive to tranquillity of spirit.
“ Why do you do it ? ” I asked one day, after a dinner at which a bottle of wine had been overturned, the stopper of a vinegar cruet broken, and a plateful of crevettes scattered into our laps.
“ Because it would be impolite not to,” answered Martha impressively.
The sisters were all impressive on social forms. They thought our education — or want of it — required impressive treatment.
“ It is not so chez vous autres,” spoke up Léontine, the femme de ménage. “ I was once well cheated for not knowing it. Once I took some clothes home to an English lady one very hot day. I was dying with thirst, and longed to arrive, knowing that madame would offer me a glass of wine. She did ; I said ‘ Merci,’ expecting, of course, to be urged. To my astonishment she put up the bottle at once, and I have never said ‘ Merci ’ when I meant ‘ S’il vous plait ’ to an Anglaise since.”
This same persistent insistence was conspicuous all through the conduct of our family, and is really a marked peculiarity of the Norman character. One of our American artist friends assured me that his landlady almost insisted upon painting his pictures. Upon one occasion Juliette insisted so persistently upon some change in the sleeves of my new gown that she fairly took it off my back, carried it away, and made the change, thus forcing me to an expense of ten francs to my dressmaker for restoring it to its original condition.
L’insistance Normande is perfectly well recognized by Normans themselves as a characteristic of their race.
“ Voila, Mademoiselle P.,” I heard a fishwoman in the market say to her daughter as Juliette and I drew near; “ put up thy mackerel five sous ; she will insist upon having them five sous below their price.”
“ And I will insist upon her paying six more,” answered the younger poissonniére. “ Am I not as much Normande as she ? ”
Our bachelor communist, Monsieur Émile, demonstrated his insistence in an original way. Like all the others of the family, he was in many things unselfish to a marvel, devoted to his sisters, and troubled about nothing more than to see them overworked. He frequently assisted them in domestic services little in keeping with his six feet of stature and voice like a windy trombone, — clearing tables, and even, at a domestic crisis, washing dishes as he had been taught to do as a boy. With all the extreme order of the sisters in their toilettes, strict order, but no daintiness, no elegance, no suspicion of coquetry, only a peasant-like simplicity, their housekeeping was a supremely shambling and disheveled affair. When Monsieur Émile did not clear the table, it not unseldom stood uncleared from one repast to another, and dishes were sometimes neglected for days. The stately buffet was forever cluttered with empty bottles and decaying bouquets, untidy castors and half-emptied jam pots.
This peculiarity of refined personal neatness and domestic disarray is by no means unfrequent in France; hence Frenchwomen have a better reputation for neatness than they entirely deserve. Often on market days a succession of rustic visitors would defile through the house. To every one was hospitably offered a cup of tea, or a glass of wine or liqueur. Not unfrequently I have seen this whole procession of callers served, one after another, all day long, at a disordered, ill-complexioned table not yet cleared since the last meal; and I believe it was the habit of the house not to clear the dinner-table till the hour for morning coffee.
Émile took it into his head to spare his sisters the care of his room, and used to lock his chamber door behind him every morning when he left the house.
Whether he ever made his bed or not they could not find out; he always insisted he did. The sounds of Normande insistance that I heard at his door morning and night as the sisters insisted upon entering, and he insisted they should not, would have been amusing, had I not known their inevitable issue of door-banging, keyhole whistling, red eyes, and uplifted hair. One day the sisters got a key from the locksmith, entered the room, and put it in order.
The storm that followed M. Émile’s return beggars all human powers of description. My hair almost turned white as I heard its shrill and thunderous uproar from my own room.
Charlie and I dined alone that day, while the family, swollen eyed and gasping, lay scattered about in the different bed-rooms.
That very night M. Émile fastened a spring lock upon his door which could be opened only by the peculiar key in his pocket.
It is two years since that night, but no human eye save M. Émile’s has penetrated the mystery of that ever-locked chamber !
“ Un caractére de chien! ” agreed the sobbing sisters of their brother that night.
“ Espéce d’imbéciles ! ” I heard him call them.
But next day the market was ransacked for a certain choice fish, an extra dessert graced the dinner. When I asked the reason of a mysterious parcel by M. Émile’s plate,—
“ It is the fête of our brother! ” answered the beaming trio.
Our family showed two seemingly antagonistic characteristics, each to a marked degree. It would seem as if two strains of widely differing natures, château and fishing smack, met in them, not to mingle, but to flow side by side. Their hospitality, although, as is usual in France, confined to their own relatives, was free and flowing, while their acquisitiveness was even miserly. Not the meanest scrap of anything was ever thrown away, and the whole house was submerged beneath worthless trash: seedy artificial flowers, ragged and frowsy ribbons, old pasteboard boxes, dilapidated remnants of school-books, even broken crockery, in such smothering confusion as would drive a tidy housekeeper mad, and that reminded us continually of the overreaching grasp and greed of the Norman peasantry. On the other hand, with opportunity their hospitality would have been seigneurial. Guests were not infrequent at their table, and then the best was not too good for them. Exquisite wines, put down in the cellar at the date of “ papa’s” marriage, a celebrated vintage year, would appear; the cost of God only knows how many a pitiful sacrifice and struggle would be put into the banquet; the table would be dressed with flowers and massive plate, and the struggle between host and guest become animated. That this was not mere ostentation was proved by the truth that the family was perfectly unostentatious in every other habit, and that its hospitality was free to all alike, “ papa’s ” humble kindred as well as “ maman’s ” bourgeois relatives. To be sure, the plate was not brought out to greet the presence of Père Patiot at the table, nor the flowers, but the wine was, and the best fish, flesh, and fowl of the market. Père Patiot was but an obscure peasant, who apologized in curious patois for sitting down with us with his hat on, saying that night and day for seventy years he had never been with uncovered head, and would die if he should take his hat off. But he came only twice a year, was simple, kindly, and good, and was an early friend of “ papa’s,” which was claim enough to all honor.
Scarcely a child, rich or poor, ever came to the house and went away without a handful of fruit or sweet English biscuits, and the mendicant habitués of our stairs were of varying countenances. And yet the fruit of our pudding was the squeezed skins of the currants used for jam : and when we drove one day to
Tߞ in two donkey carts, and dined upon the contents of our own hamper upon weather-beaten tables in the auberge orchard, the furious discussion with the patrone over a difference of a franc for donkeys’ feed was hardly to be endured. And when one of the communauté went to pass a day at L—, the others coolly discussed before our very faces how far her unconsumed portion of the day’s food would go toward paying the amount of her railway fare.
Margaret Bertha Wright.