Home Life in France III.

Home Up Reminiscences Victorian Memories Literary Rambles Unfrequented France Snow-Flakes Little Bird Red Main Index Site Search


 

[Previous Page]


CHAPTER XIII.

THE OFFICER


ON a certain day during the Carnot Presidency, the aspect of French streets changed as if by magic.  Squads of raw recruits in their economical, ofttimes ill-fitting uniforms still met the eye, but the highly decorative and becoming kepi, [p.141] tunic, and red pantaloons were gone.  A stroke of the pen at the War Office had suddenly robbed outdoor scenes of a traditionally national and picturesque element.  No more than in England were we now perpetually reminded of armed peace.  If the new regulation allowing officers to wear civilian dress when off duty somewhat eclipsed the gaiety of nations, we may be sure it was warmly welcomed by the army.  How agreeable, for instance, in hot weather to don a light grey English-made suit and straw hat!  What a relief, that freedom from constantly recurring salute and the necessary acknowledgment!  The French officer of to-day, moreover, is as little like insular conception of him as can well be.  Is he not pictured as a light-hearted, inconsequent, dashing fellow, a something of the D'Artagnan, a something of the Charles O'Malley about him, professional duties sitting lightly upon his shoulders, domestic cares quite shaken off?  True to life were a directly opposite portrait—that of an indefatigable worker, one to whom fireside joys and intellectual pleasures are especially dear, and to whom self-abnegation in the loftiest as well as the domestic sense becomes a second nature.

    I should say that in no class of French society more pre-eminently shine the virtues of forethought and disinterestedness.  The first-mentioned quality—namely, thrift—if not inherent, is implanted by his position.  Indebtedness is impossible to a French officer.  From pecuniary embarrassments and involvements with moneylenders he is guarded by a code almost Draconian in its severity.  Even before the reorganization of the army in 1872 an officer could not contract debts.  A first infringement of this law entails a reprimand.  Should the debts remain unpaid, the offender is suspended by the Minister of War for three years.  At the end of that period he is summoned before a commission of five members, one of whom holds the same rank as himself.  This commission, after the strictest investigation, has power to decide whether or no reinstatement is permissible.  It will, of course, sometimes happen that the verdict means disgrace and a ruined career.  But the uncompromising, unassailable solvency of the French army is without doubt a tremendous element of its moral strength.

    The D'Artagnan phase of military life is usually short-lived.  After a few years more or less gaily and perhaps boisterously spent in Algeria, Tonquin, or Senegal, an officer returns to France and takes a wife.  Wedded to domestic life and tenacious of the dignity implied in the designation pére de famille are members of the French army.  In no class are these privileges often more dearly purchased.  Take the case, for instance, of a captain without any private means whatever, and whose bride brings him a small dowry; their two incomes put together perhaps bring in something under three hundred pounds a year.  Seeing the dearness of living in France, the necessity of keeping up appearances, and the liability to frequent removal from place to place, it is easy to understand the obligation of strict economy.  Until recent years an officer could not wed a portionless bride, much less into a family with irreproachable antecedents.  The young lady must not only have possessed capital bringing in an income of about fifty pounds yearly; her parents or guardians must furnish the military authorities with strict guarantees of respectability and decorum.  Such regulations formed no part of the Code Civil, but emanated from the War Office, and although they are now rescinded, an officer must still obtain the sanction of the Minister before contracting matrimony.  The army as a profession being held in high esteem, officers of rank can always make brilliant marriages, but as a rule they only know one ambition, that the noblest of all, namely, how best to serve their country.  They may not feel particularly enthusiastic about the powers that be.  Drastically critical they are necessarily, being Frenchmen.  No matter individual predilections or antipathies, the honour of France is ever before their eyes, patriotism, in the august sense of the word, with them is a veritable religion.

    In the new volume of his monumental work, "La France contemporaine," M. Hanotaux strikingly brings out this characteristic.  Marshal MacMahon was a Legitimist at heart, democratic institutions were uncongenial, perhaps even hateful to him, but when President of the French Republic, he was begged by the Comte de Chambord to visit him secretly, the soi-disant Roi being then in hiding at Versailles, his reply was an unhesitating "My life is at the Comte de Chambord's service, but not my honour."

    But indeed for the fine old soldier's attitude upon that occasion, events might have turned out very differently, and France would have been again plunged in the horrors of civil war.  As M. Hanotaux remarked, the country hitherto has little known what she owes him.

    Bluff, simple-minded, monosyllabic commanders after the marshal's pattern, rough, unscrupulous, swashbucklers of Pellissier's type belonged to their epoch.  The French officer of to-day is pre-eminently intellectual, to be best characterized by that word.

    If a brilliant young captain works harder than any other professional man anxious to rise to the top, the same may be averred of those in exalted positions.  Many superior officers never dream of taking, or rather demanding, a holiday, and with the constantly widening area of military science more arduous become their duties and more absorbing their pursuits.

    The strain on physique equals that on brains.  An artillery captain is as much tied to daily routine as his comrade in the bureau.

    I well remember a month spent at Clermont-Ferrand.  I had gone thither to be near a friend, the accomplished young wife of an artillery captain.  During my stay the heat was tropical in Auvergne; but, all the same, regiments were drafted off for artillery practice on the plain below the Puy-de-Dôme in the hottest part of the day.  Only those men who have been hardened by an African sun can stand such an ordeal with impunity.  The French soldier laughs, sings, and makes merry; but often a hard lot is his!  One day my hostess and myself were driven with other ladies to witness the firing, resting under the shadow of a rock.  When it was all over, my friend's husband galloped up, hot, tired, and dusty, but gay, neat, and composed.  He conducted us to the temporary quarters erected for himself and his brother-officers; and, whilst we sipped sirop water, he restored his spent forces by two large glasses of vermuth, taken neat.  This powerful restorative had the desired effect.  He declared himself none the worse for his many hours' exposure to the blazing sun.  A sojourn in Senegal had rendered him sunproof, he added.

    I have said that officers in command get little in the way of holiday.  One kind of change, often a very undesirable one, is entailed upon them by their profession.  French officers are hardly more of a fixture in times of peace than of war.  Agreeably settled in some pleasant town and mild climate one year, a captain or commandant may be shifted to a frigid zone the next, the transport of wife and children, goods and chattels being the least inconvenience.  A brilliant officer I knew well thus fell a victim to patriotic duty as completely as any hero killed on the battlefield.  Removed from a station of south-west France to the arctic region of Upper Savoy, there amid perpetual snows to supervise military works, he contracted acute sciatica.  He might, of course, have begged for an exchange on the plea of impaired health; but no!  Il faut vaincre ou mourir, "conquer or die," is the motto of such men.  Winter after winter he kept his post, struggling against disease; finally, obliged to retire upon half-pay, he dragged out a painful year or two, dying in the prime of life.  Such instances are numerous, true heroism therein shining more conspicuously than in the chronicles of so-called glorious campaigns.

    Hard-worked as he is, the French officer always finds time to serve his friends.  No matter his circumstances, he is lavishly hospitable.  With what grace and cordiality will he do the honours of a station however remote!  How charmingly will drawbacks be got over!  I recollect an incident illustrating the latter remark.  Many years ago I was travelling with four friends in Algeria.  When we arrived at Teniet-el-Haad, a captain to whom we had a letter of introduction carried us off to a hastily improvised dinner, his young wife gracefully doing the honours, and several fellow-officers and their ladies being invited to meet us.  We were seated at table, and the Kabyle servant had just entered with the soup, when, by an unlucky jerk, he tipped it over, every one jumping up to avoid the steaming hot cascade.  "Il faut se passer nous de notre potage alors," "We must do without our soup, then," was all our host said, smiling as he spoke; and with equal coolness and good-nature Hamet took his discomfiture.

    Many other illustrations I could cite in point did space permit.  "Where there's a will there's a way," is a motto an officer holds to, taking no account of trouble, fatigue, or expense, in his person royally representing the noble French army, doing the honours of France.

    Geniality, serviceableness, simplicity, an immense capacity for enjoyment, that is to say, reciprocated enjoyment, these are among the lighter graces of national temperament.  We must go deeper if we would appraise a body of men less generally known in England than perhaps any other of their country people.  French statesmen, scientists, representatives of art, industry, and commerce now happily find themselves at home among us.  Is it too much to hope that at no distant period the entente cordiale may bring French soldiers into intimate contact with their English comrades-in-arms?


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XIV.

THE COUNTRY DOCTOR


TWO country doctors of France, I doubt not, are familiar to most folks.  Who has not read Balzac's moving apotheosis of a humble practitioner, the story of the good Monsieur Benassis, "our father," as the villagers called him?

    And who has not read Flaubert's roman nécessaire, the necessary novel some critic has misnamed it, a picture of life equalling in ugliness the beauty of the other?  Charles Bovary, the heavy, plodding, matter-of-fact country doctor, interests us from a single point of view; the misfortunes brought upon him by his union with a middle-class Messalina.  Balzac's hero is perhaps a rare type in any country; Charbovari, so in youth Flaubert's doctor called himself, must be set down as an uncommon specimen in France.  Frenchmen, like ourselves, may dazzle us with their shining qualities, or put humanity to the blush by their vices; stupidity is not a Gallic foible.

    Another thing we may also take for granted: whether a Benassis or a Charbovari, no man works harder than the French provincial doctor.  When Balzac put the colophon to "Le Médecin de Campagne" in 1833, and, twenty-seven years later, Flaubert brought out "Madame Bovary," country doctors in France were few and far between.  The rural practitioner was most often the nun.  Even where qualified medical skill was available, the peasants preferred to go to the bonnes sœurs.  I well remember, when staying with friends in Anjou many years ago, a visit we paid to a village convent.  One of the sisters, a rough and ready but capable-looking woman, began speaking of her medical rounds.  "Good heavens, how busy I am!" she said.  "Just now every soul in the place wants putting to rights." [p.148]  And she evidently put them to rights with a vengeance.  There were drugs enough in her little parlour to stock an apothecary's shop; and as many of the nuns are excellent herbalists, for ordinary ailments I have no doubt they prove efficient.

    If at any time you visit village folks, the first thing they do is to introduce you to the bonnes sœurs.  When staying at the charming little village of Nant in the Aveyron, the mistress of our comfortable inn immediately carried me off on a visit of ceremony to the convent.  The mother-superior was evidently a medical authority in the place, and in order to supply her pharmacopœia, had yearly collections made of all the medicinal plants growing round about.  Here on the floor of a chamber exposed to sun and air were stores of wild lavender for sweetening the linen-presses, mallows, gentian, elder-flowers, poppies, leaves of the red vine and limes, with vast heaps of the Veronica officinalis, or thé des Alpes, as it is called in France, and many others.  That excellent little work, Dr. Saffray's "Remèdes des Champs," had apparently been got by heart.

    But it was not only the peasants who resorted, and still resort, to the convent instead of the surgery, as the following story will show.  A few years ago I was visiting rich vignerons in Burgundy, when their cook was severely bitten by a sporting dog.  Several of these dogs were allowed to run loose in a yard adjoining the kitchen; and one day, thinking that they wanted no more of the food set down for them, poor old Justine imprudently lifted a half-emptied bowl.  In a second the animal in question, a very handsome and powerful creature, had pinned her to the ground.  The housemaid, hearing her fellow-servant's cries, rushed out with a broomstick and beat off the assailant, not before he had fearfully lacerated the woman's arm.  Was a doctor sent for?  Not a bit of it.  The nuns took my old friend Justine in hand, and, being sound in body and mind, she was soon at work again, no whit worse for the misadventure.  It did seem to me astonishing that the matter should not have been taken more seriously, all the more so as M. Pasteur's name just then was in everybody's mouth.  What I quite expected was that Justine, under the care of a nun, would have been despatched to Paris, there to undergo Pasteurian treatment.  Very likely she fared better at home.  And as things fell out in Goldsmith's poem, "the dog it was that died."  Poor Figaro showed no signs of madness; but it was deemed unwise to keep so fierce-tempered a creature about the place, and he was shot.

    When more than a quarter of a century ago I spent a year in Brittany and Anjou, I constantly heard it asserted that the nuns starved out the country doctors.  Where the choice lay between nun and doctor, the peasants, alike the well-to-do would the needy would prefer to go to the former, as often the handier and always the cheaper.  Provided with a bishop's lettre d'obédience, the bonnes sœurs were much in the position of our own bone-setters, barber-surgeons, and unqualified medical assistants long since prohibited by law.  Legislation in France and progressive ideas have now changed all this, and made the profession of country doctor fairly remunerative.  But not till July, 1893, was a law passed assuring gratuitous medical services to the indigent poor, the doctor being paid respectively by the State, the department, and the communes.  The term "indigent poor" must be understood as an equivalent to our own poor in receipt of poor-relief.  Medicines are not supplied gratuitously.

    Oddly enough, doctors' fees in provincial France are no higher than they were thirty years ago.  So far back as 1875, whilst passing through Brest, the maritime capital of Brittany, I needed treatment for passing indisposition.  To my amazement, the doctor's fee was two francs only.  On my mentioning the matter to the French friend who was with me, she replied that two francs a visit was the usual charge in provincial towns and in the country.  And quite enough, too, she said.  And a year or two ago I was taken ill at a little town of Champagne.  Here, as at Brest, the usual medical fee was two francs a visit, not a centime higher than it had been more than a quarter of a century before.  Yet the price of living has greatly risen throughout France since the Franco-Prussian war.  How, then, do country doctors contrive to make ends meet?  "Oh," retorted my hostess, "we have three doctors here; they have as much as they can do, and are all rich."

    There are two explanations of this speech.  In the first place, the town contains three thousand inhabitants, thus allotting a thousand to each practitioner; [p.150] in the second place, the word "rich" is susceptible of divers interpretations.  The French lady, who always travelled first class because she was rich, was rich because most likely she never spent more than a hundred and fifty of two hundred; and the same explanation, I dare say, applies to the three medical men in this little country town.  They were rich, in all probability, on three or four hundred a year—rich just because they made double that they spent.

    In order to comprehend French life and character we must bear one fact in mind.  Appearance is not a fetich in France as in England; outside show is not sacrificed to; Mrs. Grundy is no twentieth-century Baal.  On the other hand, good repute is sedulously nursed; personal dignity and family honour are hedged round with respect.  We must not take the so-called realistic novelist's standard to be the true one.  Frenchmen, I should say, as a rule spend a third less upon dress than Englishmen.  It does not follow that the individual is held in slight esteem, personality thereby discounted.  These provincial and country doctors do not outwardly resemble their spic-and-span English colleagues, nor do they affect what is called style in their equipages—in most cases the conveyance is a bicycle—and manner of living.  How can they do so upon an income derived from one-and-eight-penny fees?  But many are doubtless rich in the logical sense of the word—that is, they live considerably below their income, and save money.  Unostentatious as is their manner of living, the status of country doctor is greatly changed since Flaubert wrote his roman nécessaire.

    There is one highly suggestive scene in "Madame Bovary."  Husband and wife have arrived at the marquis's château for the ball, and whilst the ambitious Emma puts on her barège dress, Charles remarks that the straps of his trousers will be in the way whilst dancing.  "Dancing?" exclaims Emma.  "Yes."  "You must be crazy," retorts the little bourgeoise; everybody will make fun of you.  Keep your place.  Besides," she added, "it is more becoming in a doctor not to dance."

    Now, in the first place, you would not nowadays find among the eleven thousand and odd medical men in France a lourdaud, or heavy loutish fellow after the pattern of poor Charles Bovary.  Higher attainments, increased facilities of social intercourse, and progress generally in France as elsewhere have rendered certain types obsolete.  In the second place, every Frenchman at the present time can dance well, and I should have said it was so when Flaubert wrote.  And, thirdly, a country doctor and his wife would not in these days lose their heads at being invited to a marquis's château.  Thirty-five years of democratic institutions have lent the social colouring of this novel historic interest.

    There is one whimsical trait in the French country doctor.  He does not relish being paid for his services.  The difficulty in dealing with him is the matter of remuneration, by what roundabout contrivance to transfer his two-franc fees from your pocket to his own.  It is my firm belief that French doctors, if it were practicable, would infinitely prefer to attend rich patients as they do the poor, for nothing.  Take the case of my last-mentioned medical attendant, for instance.  On arriving at the little Champenois town I unfortunately fell ill, and Dr. B. was in close attendance upon me for many days.  "Ne vous tourmentez pas" ("Do not be uneasy"), Dr. B. reiterated when, as my departure drew near, I ventured to ask for his bill.  A second attempt to settle the little matter only evoked the same, "Ne vous tourmentez pas;" and when the morning for setting out came, it really seemed as if I must leave my debt behind me.  At the last moment, however, just as I was about to start for the station, up came the doctor's maid-of-all-work, or rather working-housekeeper, breathless and flustered, with the anxiously expected account.  On my hostess handing her the sum, just a pound, the good woman turned it over in her palm, exclaiming, "My!  How these doctors make money, to be sure!"  Upon another occasion the same reluctance was even more divertingly manifested.  I was staying with French friends in Germanized France, and had called in a young French doctor.  My hostesses begged me on no account whatever to proffer money; he would be much hurt by such a proceeding, they said.  So before I left one of the ladies wrote a note at my request, enclosing the customary fee, and making a quite apologetic demand for his acceptance of the same.

    Half a dozen provincial doctors I have known in France, and if not guardian angels of humanity, veritable apostles of the healing art like Balzac's hero, one and all might serve as worthy types.  Small is the number lifted by chance or ambition into more exalted spheres, laborious the round of duty, modest the guerdon.  Yet no class does more honour to France.  The country doctor, moreover, forms a link between peasant and bourgeois, an intermediary bridging over social distinctions, linking two classes not always sympathetic.  A distinctive feature of French rural life, it is a pity that the médecin de campagne is so persistently ignored by contemporary novelists over the water.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XV.

MY FRIEND MONSIEUR LE CURE


IT is curious how insignificant a part the parish priest plays in French fiction.  One novel ofttimes proves the germ of another, and Balzac's little masterpiece, "Le Curé de Tours," as we now know, suggested what is not only the masterpiece of another writer, but the only great French romance having a priest for hero.  "L'Abbé Tigrane," by the late Ferdinand Fabre, belongs to a series of powerful ecclesiastical studies which stand absolutely alone.  All readers who wish to realize clerical life in France from the topmost rung to the bottom of the ladder must acquaint themselves with this not too numerous collection.  Such general neglect is all the more difficult to understand, since the priest constitutes an integral portion of family life in France; the confessor is indeed in some sort a member of the household.  Be his part exalted or lowly, whether he occupies a lofty position alike in the Church and in the world, or in a remote village is counted rich on forty pounds a year, the relation between priest and parishioner is the same, one of constant intercourse and closest intimacy, with, of course, exceptions.  Here and there are Socialist and anti-clerical circles from which any representative of sacerdotalism is excluded.  These, however, are uncommon cases.

    On the other hand, it must be borne in mind that there is no analogy whatever between the status of a French curé and a clergyman of the Church of England.

    Strictly speaking, there is no State Church in France.  It was during the reign of Louis Philippe that the words religion de l'État were struck out of the charter by the Chamber of Deputies, la religion de la majorité des Français being placed in their stead.  The French Government acknowledges and subsidizes in equal proportion four religions—namely, the Roman Catholic, the Protestant, the Jewish, and in Algeria the Mohammedan; though it must be remembered that there are about thirty Catholics to one Protestant, and there are only about fifty synagogues in all France.  The Protestant pastor, indeed, receives higher pay than the Catholic priest; being the father of a family, he is understood to want a better income.  Whenever a Protestant temple, Jewish synagogue, or in Algeria a new mosque is built, the State makes a grant precisely as in the case of a Catholic church.

    No peasant-born, illiterate, boorish wearer of the soutane was my friend Monsieur le curé.  Formerly professor at a seminary, learned, genial, versed in the usages of society, how came such a man to be planted in an out-of-the-way commune of eastern France, numbering a few hundred souls only, and these, with the exception of the juge de paix all belonging to the peasant class?

    The mystery was afterwards cleared up.  The highly cultivated and influential residents of the château situated at some distance from the village were on good terms with the bishop of the diocese.  As it was their custom to spend five months of the year in the country, they depended somewhat upon the curé for society, and Monseigneur had obligingly made an exchange.  A somewhat heavy, uneducated priest was sent elsewhere, and hither came Monsieur le curé in his place.  Agreeable intercourse, unlimited hospitality, and sympathetic parochial co-operation during five months of the year doubtless went far to compensate for isolation during the remaining seven.  Yet, taking these advantages into consideration, how modest such a sphere of action, how apparently inadequate its remuneration!

    M. le cure's yearly stipend was just sixty pounds, in addition to which he received a good house, garden, and paddock, about half an acre in all, and the usual ecclesiastical fees, called le casuel, the latter perhaps bringing his receipts to a hundred pounds a year.  As the patrimony of both rich and poor is rigidly divided amongst sons and daughters in France, it may be that this village priest enjoyed a small private income.  In any case, only devotion to his calling could render the position enviable.

    When I made his acquaintance, M. le curé was in the prime of life, too florid, too portly perhaps, for health, but possessing a striking and benignant presence.  Extremely fastidious as he was in personal matters, his soutane was ever well brushed, his muslin lappets spotless, the silver buckles of his shoes highly polished.  Nor less was he careful in clothing his thoughts, always expressing himself choicely and with perfect intonation.  During my repeated visits to the hospital château I renewed an acquaintance which finally ripened into friendship.  At the dinner-table the conversation would, of course, be general; but whenever he called in the afternoon we invariably had a long theological discussion, never losing temper on either side, and, I need hardly say, never changing each other's way of looking at things by so much as a hair-breadth.  Upon other occasions everyday topics would come up, M. le curé showing the liveliest interest in matters lying wholly outside his especial field of thought and action.

    It will happen that such cosmopolitan tastes are sometimes hampered even in these days by episcopal authority.  A village priest has not much money to spare upon books or newspapers, and the châtelaine used to send frequent supplies of these to the presbytery.  One evening, as he was leaving after dinner, she gave him a bundle of the Figaro, a newspaper without which no reading Frenchman or Frenchwoman can support existence, and which costs twopence daily.  As he tied up the parcel he turned to his hostess, saying with a smile―

    "I shall take great care, madame, not to let my bishop catch sight of these numbers of the Figaro."

    It seemed odd that a middle-aged priest could not choose his own newspaper; but was not the immortal Mrs. Proudie capable of rating a curate for a less offence than smuggling a forbidden journal?

    With the benevolent intention of bettering his circumstances, the châtelaine advised her friend to take an English pupil or two.  In order that I might be able to furnish any information required of an outsider, M. le curé showed me over his house.  A well-built, commodious house it was, and the large fruit and vegetable garden bespoke excellent husbandry.

    "You occasionally amuse yourself here, I suppose, M. le curé?" I asked, knowing that many parish priests are very good gardeners.

    "No, indeed," was the reply.  "My servant keeps it in order.  Ah! she is a good girl" (une bonne fille).

    This good girl was a stout, homely spinster between fifty and sixty; but, no matter her age, a spinster is always une fille in the French language.  Cook, laundry-maid, seamstress, housekeeper, gardener, M. le curé's bonne fille must have well earned her wages, whatever they might be.

    My friend had enjoyed unusual opportunities of travel for a village priest.  He had visited, perhaps in an official capacity, Ober-Ammergau, witnessing the Passion Play, with which he was delighted; Lourdes, in the miracles of which he firmly believed; and, lastly, Rome.

    The most charitably disposed man in the world, M. le curé dilated with positive acerbity on the slovenliness and uncared-for appearance of his Italian brethren.  "I assure you," he said to me, "I have seen a priest's soutane so greasy that boiled down it would have made a thick soup!"

    But is not the French curé rich by comparison with an Italian prêtre, and might not such well-worn robes be thought a matter of necessity rather than inclination?

    M. le curé's thoughts were now bent upon London.  There was only one point on which he had misgivings.  Could he without inconvenience retain his priestly garb?  French priests never quit the soutane, and on the settlement of this doubt depended his decision.

    "Nothing would induce me to don civilian dress," he said—"nothing in the world."

    I assured him that, although in England ecclesiastical habiliments had long gone out of fashion, English folks were peaceful, and he was not likely to be molested on that account.  To London a little later accordingly he went.  Indefatigably piloted by English friends, he contrived during his three days' stay to see what generally goes by the name of everything—the Tower, St. Paul's, the Abbey, the museums, parks, and civic monuments, winding up with an evening at the House of Commons.  And the wearing of the soutane occasioned no inconvenience.

    I must here explain that by virtue of his age M. le curé had escaped military service, now in France, as in Germany, an obligation alike of seminarists, students preparing for the Protestant ordination, or the Jewish priesthood.  In case of war French seminarists would be employed in the ambulance, hospital, and commissariat departments, and not obliged to use arms.

    That journey was M. le curé's last holiday.  A few months later I was grieved, although not greatly surprised, to hear of his death from apoplexy.  He had never looked like a man in good health, and one part of his duty had ever tried him greatly.

    We used after mass to say "How d'ye do?" to him in the sacristy, and upon one occasion I observed his look of fatigue, even prostration.

    "It is not the long standing and use of the voice that I feel, but protracted long fasts," he replied, with a sigh.

    With many other parish priests I have made passing acquaintance, most of these being peasant-born and having little interest in the outer world.  Whenever any kind of entertainment is given by country residents, or any unusual delicacy is about to be served, the curé is invited to partake.  The naïveté of these worthy men is often diverting enough.  When I was staying in a country house near Dijon some years since, my hostess had prepared a local rarity in the shape of a game pâté, or open pie, a vast dish lined with pastry and filled with every variety of game in season—partridge, quail, pheasant, hare, venison, and, I believe, even slices of wild boar.  This savoury mess naturally called for the exercise of hospitality.  The curé and his nephew were invited, and after dinner I had a little chat with the uncle.

    "Who will succeed the Queen on the throne of England?" he asked.

    I should have thought that not a man or woman in France, however unlettered, would have been ignorant of the Prince of Wales's existence and his position.

    Many village priests, as I have mentioned, are excellent gardeners.  One afternoon some French friends in the Seine-et-Marne, wanting some dessert and preserving fruit, took me with them to the presbytery of a neighbouring village.  Very inviting looked the place with its vine-covered walls and wealth of flowers.  The curé, who told us that he had been at work in his garden from four to six o'clock in the morning, received us in quite a business-like way, yet very courteously, and at once conducted us to his fruit and vegetable gardens at some little distance from the house.  There we found the greatest profusion and evidence of labour and unremitting skill.  The fruit-trees were laden; Alpine strawberries, currants, melons, apricots, were in abundance; of vegetables, also, there was a splendid show.  Nor were flowers wanting for the bees—for M. le curé was also a bee-keeper—double sunflowers, mallows, gladioli; a score of hives completing the picture, which the owner contemplated with pardonable pride.

    "You have only just given your orders in time, ladies," he said.  "All my greengages are to be gathered at once for the London market.  Ah, those English! those English! they take the best of everything."

    Whereupon I ventured upon the rejoinder that if we robbed our neighbours of their best produce, at least our money found its way into their pockets.  I need hardly say that, whether lettered or unlettered, the parish priest in France is generally anti-Republican and out of sympathy with existing institutions.  Most friendly I have ever found him, and from one good curé near Nancy I have a standing invitation to make his presbytère my pied à terre when next that way.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XVI.

THE PROTESTANT PASTOR


UNDER the roof of more than one French parsonage during the summer holiday I have found, as Bunyan wrote, "harbour and good company."  On one sojourn of this kind do I look back with especial pleasure, that of September days in a Pyrenean hamlet.  So near lies this little Protestant centre to the Spanish frontier that a bridle-path leads over the mountains into Aragon, the ride occupying three or four hours.  I had journeyed with a friend from Pau, quitting the railway at Oloron (Basses Pyrenees), to enjoy a sixteen-mile drive, one of the loveliest of the countless lovely drives I have taken in France.

    As we climbed the mountain road leading to our destination in the beautiful Vallée d'Aspe every turn revealed new features, a garve, or mountain stream, after the manner of Pyrenean streams, making noisy cascades, waterfalls, and little whirlpools by the way.  On either side of the broadening velvety green valley, with its foamy, turbulent river, rose an array of stately peaks, here and there a glittering white thread breaking the dark surface of the rock, some mountain torrent falling from a height of many hundred or even thousand feet.  After winding slowly upwards for three hours, the mountains closed round us abruptly, shutting in a wide verdant valley with white-walled, grey-roofed hamlets scattered here and there, all singularly alike.  Half an hour more on the level, and we found ourselves not only in a pleasant, cheerful house, but at home, as if we had suddenly dropped upon old friends.

    The parsonage-house, of somewhat greater pretensions than its neighbours, with church and school house, might almost be said to form one building, each of the three structures communicating with the other.  On one side of the dwelling lay a little garden, or rather orchard, with seats under the trees.  Three-storeyed, airy, roomy, the house suggested that palladium of the Reformed Church, family life, and at the same time attested the impartiality of the French State.  As I have elsewhere particularized, there is no State or privileged church in France.  Alike Protestant pastor, Jewish Rabbi, and in Algeria, Mohammedan Imam, receive stipends and accommodation, as well as the Catholic clergy.

    When, after tea and a rest in our comfortable bedrooms, we joined the family board at dinner, we found a goodly assemblage, upwards of a dozen covers being laid.  The presence of two other boarders accounted for the ample fare, excellent service, and an air of pervading comfort.  But, as I have just said, we at once felt at home.  Protestantism has ever been a kind of freemasonry, an anticipatory entente cordiale between French and English.  Anglo-French marriages are chiefly, I am tempted to say exclusively, found among Protestant circles in France.  Of eight pastors I have known, four were wedded to English wives.

    Partly owing to other circumstance, a parsonage, unlike the majority of French homes, is not hedged round by a Chinese wall.  When young people from England or Scandinavia want to perfect themselves in French and see something of French family life, the only doors open to them are those of the presbytère.

    Judicial as is the French Government in dealing with ministers of religion, a pastor's pay cannot support a family.  The pupil, the boarder, swell the domestic budget, cover servants' wages, and defray educational expenses.

    Here the domestic atmosphere was one of wellbeing.  A very genial and animated party we were, the family group numbering four boys and a girl, with the host's brother, like himself a minister.  In addition to these were two young men pursuing their studies during the long vacation.  One was a French law-student, the other a Spanish ex-seminarist, who had renounced Rome and was preparing for Protestant ministry.

    In the forenoon Monsieur C― would be busy with his pupils, madame and her sixteen-year-old daughter, wearing little mob-caps and aprons, would occupy themselves in household matters, their visitors could read or write abroad, having ever before them a grandiose panorama, on either side "the everlasting hills," ramparts of brilliant green, their slopes dotted with herdsmen's châlet and shepherd's hut.  The mention of these recalls to memory a moving and highly suggestive incident.

    One day, on taking my place at the breakfast or rather luncheon table, I missed our host and his eldest son, a lad of fifteen.

    Madame C―, when we found ourselves alone, took the opportunity of explaining this absence.  "My husband, with Ernest, set off at five o'clock this morning for the mountain yonder," she said, pointing to the highest points of the range over against us.  "The lad has an ardent desire to enter the ministry, and wanted some quiet talk with his father on the subject.  My husband, for his part, as you can well conceive, was anxious to assure himself that the desire is no passing fancy, but a really devout aspiration.  So the pair are going to have two days' communion together, sharing at night the hospitality of a friendly herdsman.  I expect them back to-morrow evening."

    It seemed to me a beautiful incident, this setting out of father and son for the mountain, on that awful height, amid those vast solitudes, as it were under the very eye of Heaven, taking counsel together, coming to the most momentous decision of a young life.  If I remember rightly, the pastorate was decided upon.  Another incident, this time of an amusing kind, I must mention.

    In this pastoral region, sixteen miles from a railway, we certainly expected to find no country-people except under the pastor's roof.  But the ubiquitous British, where are they not?

    Here at the other end of the village, a retired Anglo-Indian with his wife and family had settled down, as the way of English folks is, surrounding themselves with as many comforts as could be got, bringing, indeed, an atmosphere of home.  The one bourgeois dwelling of the place wore quite a familiar aspect when in the evening we all trooped thither, tea, chat, and table games being shared by young and old.  It is amazing how the English teapot young brings out the genial side, the human side of us all.

    My host was especially happy in his church and in his people; mes enfants he affectionately called these good dalesfolk, all with few exceptions forming his congregation.  For the first time, indeed, I found my co-religionists in a majority, but the Vallée d'Aspe formed part of the ancient Béarn, and during centuries the Reformed faith has been stoutly upheld in these fastnesses.  A tablet in the neat little church of Osse recalls how the original place of Protestant worship was levelled to the ground by royal edict in 1685, and only rebuilt in 1800-5.  With a refinement of cruelty, it was the Protestants themselves who, on the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, were compelled to demolish their beloved temple.  Deprived of church, pastor, and Bibles, constrained to bury their dead in field or garden, the Aspois yet clung tenaciously to the faith of their fathers.  One concession, and one only, they made.  Peasant property from time immemorial has existed in the Pyrenees, and in order to legitimize their children and enjoy testamentary privileges, the Protestants of the Vallée d'Aspe submitted to marriages according to Romish rites.  Old family Bibles are very rarely to be found among the descendants of these ancient Huguenot families.  The explanation is simple.  No matter the precautions taken to hide such heirlooms and prime sources of consolation, sooner or later inkling was got of them by the maréchaussée, or royal police, and the sacred books were ruthlessly burnt.

    Here I will mention that, although the Catholic and Protestant population live harmoniously side by side inter-marriages are rare, and the rival churches neither gain nor lose adherents to any appreciable extent.  Between Protestant pastor and Catholic priest in any part of France there is no kind of intercourse whatever.  They stand aloof from one another as French and Germans in the annexed provinces.

    On Sunday mornings the little church would be full, the men dressed in black, cloth trousers, alpaca blouses, and neckties, set off by spotless shirt-fronts, the older women wearing the black hood and long black coat of the traditional Huguenot matron, the younger of the children dark stuff gowns and coloured kerchiefs tied under the chin.  The service was of the simplest, my host's young daughter presiding at the harmonium, her mother leading the choir of school children, and all the congregation, as in English churches, joining in the hymns.  The communion service was especially touching in its simplicity and the subdued fervour of the partakers.  All stood in a semicircle before the table, the pastor, as he handed symbolic draught and bread to each, uttering some scriptural phrase appropriate to recipient and occasion.

    One's thoughts went back to the ancestors of these sturdy mountaineers, their pastors condemned to death or the galleys, their assemblage for purposes of worship liable to similar punishments, their very Bibles burnt by the common hangman.  Like the Pilgrim Fathers, the French Huguenots have been tried in the fire, and rarely found wanting.

    Sunday was observed as a day of unbroken repose.  My host would, in the afternoon, take me for a round of calls; and highly instructive were these chats with peasant farmers, some possessing an acre or two only, and living in frugalest fashion, others owning well-stocked farms of twenty or thirty acres, and commodious well-furnished houses.  In one, indeed, we found a piano, pictures, and a Japanese cabinet!  The region is entirely pastoral, hardly a bourgeois element entering into this community of six hundred souls.  The village street consists of farmhouses, and where shops are needed folks betake themselves to Bedous, on the other side of the gave.  Shopping, however, is here reduced to the minimum.  The women still spin linen from home-grown flax, wheat and maize are grown for household use, pigs and poultry reared for domestic consumption, and milk is the chief drink of old and young.  Doubtless, although this point I did not inquire into, every matron had her provision of home-made simples, a family medicine chest, conferring independence of the pharmacy.

    With no little regret my friend and myself turned our backs upon this mountain-hemmed parsonage.  Life is short, and the French map is enormous.  Having set myself the task of traversing France from end to end, I could not hope to revisit scenes so full of natural beauty and pleasurable association.  A drive of sixteen miles to and from a railway station is a serious obstacle to those who do not appreciate the motor-car.  I felt that the Vallée d'Aspe, alas! must remain a memory, a charming but closed chapter of French experiences.

    It must not be inferred that every pastor's lot is cast in such pleasant places.  From a pecuniary and social point of view, many pastorates may appear more desirable; but how delightful the peace of this Pyrenean retreat, how grateful the sense of reciprocated amity and esteem!  To some the isolation would prove irksome, especially during the winter season.  The climate, however, is comparatively mild, and whilst the mountains are tipped with snow, the valley is very rarely so whitened.

    In other French parsonages have I spent many weeks.  One of these represented the humbler, a second the more cosmopolitan, type.  Perhaps the stipend of the first incumbent reached two thousand francs, just £80 a year, in addition to good house and large garden.  My hosts had two children, and at that time no private means.  As, moreover, they lived in a remote country town, and were without English connections, boarders could not be counted upon.  So the narrow resources were eked out with rigid economy.  A servant was, of course, wholly out of the question.  The pastor taught his boy and girl, and his wife, with occasional help from outside, did the housework.  The daily fare was soup, followed by the meat and vegetables from which it had been made, a cutlet or some other extra being put before the visitor.

    Madame, although neatness itself, never wore a gown except on Sundays, or when paying a visit, her usual costume being a well-worn but quite clean and tidy morning wrap.  The solitary black silk dress had to be most carefully used, so little prospect seemed there of ever replacing it.  By the strangest caprice of fortune, some years after my visit this lady's husband inherited a handsome fortune.  Rare, indeed, are such windfalls in the French parsonage, perhaps rarer still the sequel of this story.

    For when I lately asked of a common friend what had become of the pastor and his heritage, she replied―

    "He stays where he was, and does nothing but good with his money."

    My host of former days had neither quitted the little parsonage of that country town nor relinquished his calling.

    There, amid old friends and associations, he will most likely end his days.  We see in his case the result of early bringing up, the influence of Huguenot ancestry.

    In large cities possessing a numerous Protestant community the stipend is higher, and the parsonage is replaced by a commodious flat.  The attractions of society and resources of a town enable pastors to receive young men of good family, English or otherwise, who appreciably contribute to the family budget.  Belonging to this category is the third pastoral roof under which I spent a pleasant summer holiday, and concerning which there is not much to say.  Existence under such conditions becomes cosmopolitan.  However agreeable may be our sojourn, it has no distinctive features.

    The Protestant pastor has not found favour with the French novelists.  Few and far between are the stories in which the Protestant element is introduced at all.  "Constance," by Th. Bentzon, is an exception; "L'un vers l'autre," an engaging story by a new writer, is another.  The late Alphonse Daudet brutally travestied Protestanism in "L'Évangeliste;" and another writer of European reputation, M. Jules Lemaitre, stooped so low as to turn the Reformed faith into buffoonery for the stage.  For the most part French writers seem to share Louis Blanc's opinion—in France Protestantism has ceased to exist.

    I add that the Reformed Church (Calvinistic) in 1893 numbered 883 pastors, as against 90 of the Augsburg Confession (Lutheran), and that 800 French towns and communes possess Protestant churches, these figures being exclusive of English places of worship.  The number of churches and schools is added to every year.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XVII.

THE PROFESSOR OF AGRICULTURE


SELF-DEPRECIATION is a French characteristic.  Our neighbours never tire of stultifying themselves as a nation of functionaries, a social body made up of small placemen.  Some writers, in this predilection for administrative routine, even discern a canker-worm preying upon national vitality.  They hold that officialism is eating away the germs of enterprise and independence.  The manhood of France, assert such critics, is thereby losing qualities more than ever needed if their country is to maintain her position among nations.

    May not the bureaucratic system be justified by national character—be, in fact, a natural evolution of temperament and aptitudes?  Just as an insular people is impelled to hazard and adventure, may not a continental nation be predisposed to repose and stability?

    For my own part, I have long regarded the small French official from an admiring and sympathetic point of view.  Bureaucracy seems to me a factor in the body politic no less admirable than that of peasant proprietorship itself.  At the present time, too, how refreshing is the contemplation of these dignified, unpretentious, laborious lives!  Elsewhere we find frenzied speculation, inordinate craving after wealth, and lavish expenditure.  Untouched by such sinister influences, the French civil servant "keeps the noiseless tenor of his way," a modest competence crowning his honourable and most useful career.

    To no class have I been more indebted in the course of my usual surveys than to the departmental professor of agriculture.  Locus est et pluribus umbris, "plenty of room for uninvited guests," wrote the Roman poet to his friend; and the Third Republic, when creating these State professorships, was evidently of Horace's opinion.  Multifarious as were already Government bureaux, a few more might advantageously be added.  Paradoxical as it may sound, the departmental professor was nominated in order to teach the peasant farming!  But if, as Arthur Young wrote a hundred and odd years ago, you give a man secure possession of a black rock and he will turn it into a garden, peasant ownership is not always progressive.  The departmental professor must coax small farmers out of their groove—in fine, teach them that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in their philosophy.  Recruited from the State agricultural schools of Rennes, Grignau, Montpellier, and others, these gentlemen have gone through a complete practical and scientific training, and exercise a real influence in rural districts.  Their gratuitous classes in winter evenings, no matter how apparently mystifying may be the subject treated, are always well attended by young and old.  But it is the Sunday afternoon conférence, or lecture held out-of-doors, that proves most attractive and illuminating to the hard-headed peasant.  These lectures take the form of an object-lesson.  New machinery and chemical manures, seeds, plants, and roots are exhibited, inquiries being invited and explanations given.

    Very characteristic is the behaviour of the middle-aged, often white-haired pupils gathered around the demonstrator's table.  Most deliberative, most leisurely of national temperaments, the French mind works slowly.

    "It will often happen," says my friend Monsieur R―, departmental professor in Western France, "that a peasant farmer will return again and again to a piece of machinery or sample of chemical manure before making up his mind to buy either.  Like a bird suspecting a gin, he hovers round the tempting bait at a distance, at last venturing upon nearer inspection and a few inquiries, perhaps weeks later deciding upon the perilous leap; in other words, to throw aside his antiquated drilling machine for Ransome's latest improvement, or to lay out a few francs upon approved seeds or roots."  No more cautious, I should perhaps say suspicious, being inhabits the globe than Jacques Bonhomme.  Not only does farming proper, that is to say, the cultivation of the soil and the breeding of stock, fall within the professor's province, but kindred subjects, the name of which in France is legion.  Especially must his attention be given to the ofttimes multifarious products and industries of his own province, such as mule-rearing, cyder and liqueur making, the culture of medicinal herbs, silkworm breeding, vine-dressing, and the fabrication of wine.  In matters agricultural he must indeed be encyclopædic, resembling Fadladeen, the great Vizier, "who was a judge of everything, from the pencilling of a Circassian's eyelids to the deepest questions of science and literature, from a conserve of rose-leaves to an epic poem."

    Like the immortal Mr. Turveydrop, also, he must perpetually show himself.  And if not in the flesh, at least vicariously, he must survey mankind from China to Peru.  Not only is his presence indispensable at local and muncipal meetings of agricultural societies, at agricultural shows and congresses, at sittings of the Departmental Council General, at markets and fairs, but beyond the frontier, across the channel and the Gulf of Lyons, he wends his way.  Now he visits the Shire horse show at Islington, now an agricultural congress in Rome, or an exposition vinicole (exhibition of wines) in Algeria.

    Again, the amount of writing that has to be got through by the departmental professor is enormous.  Reports for the Minister of Agriculture are periodically drawn up, pamphlets and flying sheets for general distribution are expected of him, besides contributions to the local journals of agriculture.  Whenever I receive a printed communication from my friend M. R―, I am moved to confraternal commiseration, my own aching fingers ache doubly out of sympathy.

    The devastation wrought by the phylloxera, as we all know, cost France a sum equal to that of the Franco-Prussian war indemnity, namely, two hundred millions sterling.  In the midst of that panic-stricken period a prize of a million francs (£40,000) was offered by the Government for the discovery of a remedy.  No one obtained this splendid gratuity, but several professors of agriculture, amongst others M. R―, have serviceably co-operated in the reconstitution of vineyards by American stocks, and other works of amelioration.

    The Third Republic has ennobled agriculture as well as accorded it a professorial chair.  As behoved a régime whose watchword is peace, the French Government some years since instituted a second Legion of Honour.  Warriors wear the red ribbon, academic dignities confer the purple; the yellow rosette now chiefly encountered at agricultural shows and markets denotes the newly created ordre du mérite agricole, or order of agricultural merit.  Not only do we see this badge on the frock-coat of the professor, but occasionally it adorns the peasant's blue blouse.  And if the former is gratified by such recognition of his services, how much more must the humble farmer or dairyman glory in his tiny orange rosette!  For a bit of coloured ribbon may seem a small thing, but its symbolism may be immense.  By what laborious hours and painful effort has not the husbandman's insignia been gained!

    To appraise French character we should see our neighbours, not only in their own homes, but amid English surroundings.  A former cicerone in Normandy, M. R― twice afforded me the opportunity of returning the compliment on native soil.  What struck me about my friend was the change that comes over a Frenchman as soon as he quits his own country, an attitude the exact reverse of an Englishman's mental condition abroad.  In France a Frenchman's mood is invariably critical, that of a carper.  Away from home he looks about for something to appreciate and admire.  With ourselves, too often a fleeting glance or supercilious expression seem to be thought appropriate to everything foreign.

    And wherever he is a Frenchman's eyes are open.  I well remember one instance of this when strolling with M. R― on the parade at Hastings.  It was in February, for my friend had crossed the channel in order to visit the horse show at Islington.  As we now walked briskly along, I saw him look at the line of fly-horses, each well protected from the cold by a stout horse-cloth.

    "How admirably your cab-horses are cared for here!" he observed; adding, "I shall make a note of this for one of my lectures."

    And as the French peasant's want of consideration for his animals often arises from thoughtless, who knows M. R― may prove a benefactor to cart-horses as well as those of the hackney carriage?  In the year of Queen Victoria's final jubilee, I had the pleasure of accompanying my friend to Rothamstead, spending a delightfully instructive day with the late Sir John Lawes and his charming granddaughters; also of introducing him to the Natural History Museum at South Kensington.  We had projected a visit to the agricultural school of Hollesley Bay, Suffolk, but the departmental professor of agriculture is the commis voyageur, the commercial traveller of the State, not always a very indulgent firm.  M. R―'s report was called for, and to our mutually-shared regret the expedition had to be given up.

    When I first knew my friend, he had just exchanged the modest post of répétiteur, or junior master in a State agricultural school, for that of departmental professor.  I do not suppose any man living is more contented with his present lot—a proud and happy père de famille, a wife of equally happy temperament, and two little sons making up his home circle, the combined incomes of husband and wife sufficing for daily needs, the education of their children, and the usual putting by.  Truly to these civil servants of France may be applied the Roman poet's apostrophe, it is such men―


"Who make the golden mean their guide,
     Shun miser's cabin foul and dark,
 Shun gilded roofs, where pomp and pride
                       Are envy's mark."


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XVIII.

THE JUGE DE PAIX


IT is now twenty-five years since I made the acquaintance of M. D―, juge de paix of a canton in the Jura.  We came to know each other in this way.  I had hired a carriage for the three hours' drive from the superbly situated little town of Morez on the Bienne to the still more superbly situated little bishopric of St. Claude.  As I never travel alone when agreeable company is to be had, I asked my friends to find me travelling companions, which they did.  The elderly gentleman and his wife, bound like myself to St. Claude, immediately on arrival introduced me to their newly married daughter and her husband, lately named juge de paix of the district.  With characteristic French amiability, Monsieur and Madame D— set themselves the task not only of showing me the ancient little city and its surroundings, but its curious and time-honoured industries, the turnery and wood-carving done at home, each craftsman working under his own roof.

    The pleasant and profitable intercourse of those few days ripened into friendship.  A few years later I visited my friends in another romantic corner of the same department, Monsieur D― having been nominated to a less remote canton.

    The juge de paix, it is hardly necessary to say is a creation of the Revolution.  In his person represented one of the most sweeping reforms ever effected by pen and ink.  The administration of justice was summarily transferred from privileged and venal class to responsible servants of the State.

    And here a word as to the title.  This modestly paid interpreter of the law was thus named because his mission in a great measure was to conciliate, to prevent lawsuits by advice and impartial intervention.  This cheap, simple, and paternal jurisdiction was instituted in the special interests of the peasant and the workman, formerly often ruined by the multiplicity of tribunals and rapacity of notaries and lawyers.

    It must be remembered that from time immemorial the rural population in France has been a propertied class, hence the perpetual recurrence to litigation.  Under the ancien régime, as to-day, Jacques Bonhomme and his neighbours would be at daggers drawn about limitations of newly acquired field, damages done by stray cattle, or some such matter.  And the cheapness of going to law in these days may perhaps have fostered a litigious propensity.  Certainly these rural magistrates have plenty to do.  The juge de paix is appointed by the State, he receives a yearly stipend of three or four thousand francs, with a small retiring pension at sixty.  As he must be thoroughly versed in the Code Civil, his services do not appear to be adequately remunerated, especially when we compare his office and its emoluments to those of the percepteur, or tax collector, the subject of my next sketch.  On this point a French friend writes to me: "Percepteurs, even of the first and second grades (i.e. lower), are certainly better paid than the juge de paix.  But the former is only a fiscal agent, whilst the latter is a magistrate charged with very varied and delicate duties.  He must have a thorough knowledge of law; the percepteur, on the contrary, need only be a man of ordinary education, for this reason I do not hesitate to place him below the other, although his services are much better remunerated."

    The responsibilities of the juge de paix are strictly limited.  He can sentence to short terms of imprisonment and to fines not exceeding two hundred francs, the next stage in administration being that of the Tribunal correctionnel de l'arrondissement.  The arrondissement is that division of a department presided over by a sous-préfet.  In cases of burglary, accident, murder, suicide, arson, the juge de paix is immediately sent for.  It is his business to seal the papers of defunct persons, and to represent the law at those conseils de famine, or family councils, I describe elsewhere.

    The especial function of the justice de paix regarded as a system is intermediary and preventive rather than judiciary.  Disputes are always settled by friendly arbitration when possible.  Country folks, as I have said, have a marked proclivity for the procés verbal, in other words, going to law.  Were, indeed, a rural judge paid according to his cases, he would die a millionaire.

    As we might expect, small unenclosed properties are a fruitful source of discord; as we should certainly not expect among so easy-going a people, that unruly member the tongue is another.  Diffamation, or the calling each other names, is constantly bringing neighbours into court, some of the scenes enacted being ludicrous in the extreme.

    Indeed, my friend assured me that the maintenance of gravity was often the most arduous and trying part of his sittings.  But, he added, echoing the sentiment of the immortal Bagnet, discipline must be maintained."

    The minimum fine for a case of backbiting and slandering is two francs, a large sum in Jacques Bonhomme's eyes.  The mulct, however, does prevent his womankind from calling each other "base and degrading Tildas" at the next opportunity.

    With my friend's young wife I attended a séance, or sitting, of the justice de paix, an experience not to be omitted by those who would study the French peasant.  In the centre of the plain, airy court sat the judge, wearing his robes of office, high-crowned hat with silver band, advocate's black gown and white lappets.  On his right sits his greffier, or clerk, also wearing judicial hat and gown; on his left, his suppléant, or coadjutor, representing the public prosecutor.  This last is an unpaid official.  By the judge lies a copy of the Code Civil.  This volume is not used in swearing witnesses, the only formula exacted being the words, "Par Dieu, les hommes, et la vérité" ("by God, man, and the truth").  Above the chair of office was suspended crucifix.  On the occasion of my visit several typical cases came before the judge.  One of these concerned boundary marks.  The disputants were both peasants—the first, a grave, taciturn middle-aged man; the other, a voluble young fellow, whose eloquence on his own behalf M. D— had great difficulty in repressing.  The affair was promptly disposed of.  On that day fortnight, at eight o'clock in the morning, the litigants were bidden to appear on the contested borderland, when the rival claims would be adjusted by the judge in person.

    I also heard an old farmer in blue blouse plead his own cause with the shrewdness and pertinence of a counsel.  The bone of contention was a contact, the other party, according to his showing, not having fulfilled his obligations.  Property handed down from father to son proves an education in many senses, not only sharpening the wits, but rendering glib the tongue.

    It was interesting to note that no matter how noisy or self-asserting might be the litigants, the majesty of the law was ever readily acknowledged.  The simple "You can retire" of the magistrate sufficed.  Very rarely, I was informed, is it necessary to appeal to a gendarme.

    A juge de paix is sometimes confronted with problems only to be solved after the rough-and-ready methods of King Solomon or the equally subtle lawgiver of Barataria.  From the strictest impartiality he must never deviate, hence the almost affectionate respect hemming him round.  One perpetual surprise in France is the prevailing intellectuality, the general atmosphere of culture.  These small officials— M. D— is one of several rural magistrates I have known—are not only skilled in law and jurisprudence, but often possess considerable literary and artistic tastes.  Cut off from the stimulus of great centres, travel, and congenial society, they do not allow themselves to vegetate, maintaining on the contrary an alert interest in matters lying wholly outside their own immediate venue.

    All fairly well educated Frenchmen have a good knowledge of the national literature, due to early training.  The love of the beautiful, so universally found throughout France, may, I think, be traced to the local museum.  Hardly any town of a few thousand souls is without its art collection and the influence of such object-lessons within easy reach is incalculable.

    One juge de paix I know had visited England, and amongst other experiences had seen Irving in some of his most famous rôles.  This gentleman could have passed, I dare say, an examination in Walter Scott and Dickens, darling topics on which alas! he could only discourse during the long vacation.  From August to September he had a cover laid for him at the château whenever English guests were staying there, which was pretty often, the owners being good friends of England.

    Another rural magistrate of my acquaintance has long been a warm advocate of arbitration and of the entente cordiale.  Two years ago he joined a local branch of the French Arbitration Society.

    "The bicycle, the bicycle!" he said to me.  "Ah! there we have an admirable engine of propaganda.  Miles and miles are members of the arbitration societies thereby enabled to cover, reaching out-of-the-way spots, and getting at the peasants as it is impossible to do by means of lectures and public meetings.  A friendly chat over a glass of wine, a talk in the fields, that is the best means of obtaining the countryman's confidence."

    The speaker in question had private means, and with his young wife took holiday trips in the long vacation; the pair kept a servant, and enjoyed comparative luxury.  Of the many juges de paix I have known only one or two lived on such a scale.  And the fact must never be lost sight of, prestige in France does not depend upon material circumstances.

    Absence of pretence characterizes official life.  A rural magistrate is not looked down upon because his wife happens to be her own cook, housemaid, and nurse.  No word in the French lexicon precisely answers to our own "gentility" or its unspoken meaning.  We do not in these days speak of living genteelly, but of doing as other people do, which amounts to the same thing.

    The French phrase comme il faut indicates something wholly different.  To dress, behave, keep house comme il faut has reference only to the befitting, the adhesion to strict propriety.  Appearance is not bent knee to, and if thrift is apt to degenerate into parsimony, and much that we regard as absolutely essential to comfort and well-being is sacrificed to the habit, we must yet whole heartedly admire the simple, unambitious, dignified life of the small French official.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XIX.

THE TAX COLLECTOR


IN a certain sense an Englishman's home is a caravanserai, whilst a Frenchman's is a closely fortified castle, tradition here being completely at fault.

    This reflection has often crossed my mind when spending week after week in French country houses.  Under an English roof the visitor would be one of an uninterrupted succession, not only every spare bedchamber being occupied during the holiday season, but daily luncheons, garden parties, picnics, and other social entertainments making time and money fly!

    Partly because our neighbours object to unnecessary outlay, partly because they object still more to anything in the way of household disorganization or interference with routine, an average country house over the water is a veritable fortress, drawbridge and portcullis only yielding to the "open sesame" of blood relationship.

    By virtue of propinquity, however, two or three individuals are permitted within the charmed circle; the first is the village priest, the second is the juge de paix, the third is the Percepteur, or collector of revenue, or, as we should say, the tax gatherer.

    Before sketching my old acquaintance, M. le Percepteur R―, let me say a few words about his office.

    The collector of revenue thus called was created by Napoleon when first consul.  Fiscal resources had not been successfully administered during the successive régimes of the two assemblies, the Convention and the Directoire.  So thoroughly had the legislators of the Revolution reformed abuses that, as Mignet tells us, the national resources quadrupled within a few years.  But what with European and civil wars, internal administration suffered neglect.  In many regions taxes had remained in arrears for considerable periods.  The municipal authorities superseding the hated Intendants of the ancien régime, charged also with the levying of troops, were unable satisfactorily to carry out both duties.  Herein, in a great measure, writes M. Rambaud ("Civilization Française"), is to be discerned the genesis of the Terror.  The law as it stood could not legally punish negligent or hostile functionaries.  The représentants en mission, or legislative emissaries, named by the Convention in order to remedy such a state of things, were veritable dictators, sending recalcitrants to the guillotine with short shrift.  That charming story-teller Charles Nodier, in his "Souvenirs de la Revolution," describes from personal recollection an emissary of this kind, the terrible St. Just.

    Napoleon's scheme was somewhat modified, and the existing arrangement is as follows: to each canton or group of communes a Percepteur is named by the Minister of Finance, the nominee being obliged to produce a certain sum of money as guarantee.  The Percepteur collects what are called contributions directes, the assessing of such taxes being in the hands of contrôleurs, or inspectors, by whom assessments are lodged with the local mayors, the mayors in their turn passing them on to the Percepteurs each January.  All moneys are paid to the Receveur, or paymaster of the arrondissement, an administrative division; the Receveur again hands on the amount to the Tresorier, or treasurer of the department.  Finally, the year's revenue finds its way into the State coffers.  Contributions directes, i.e. direct taxation, comprise land tax and house duty, taxes on property and on patentes, or licences.  Contributions indirectes, i.e. indirect taxation, comprise stamp duties, excise, duties on tobacco, matches, traffic, etc.  Octroi, or duties on produce, are levied by municipalities.

    The poor-law is non-existent in France.  Ratepayers are not mulcted a sou for the maintenance of the sick and agèd poor, or the indigent generally.

    The first-named charges, or contributions directes, fall upon all rents above £20 in Paris and £8 in the provinces.  Windows are still taxed, but in 1831 the rate was lowered in order that workmen at home and in factories should not suffer from want of light and air.

    The relative proportion of State and municipal taxation is gathered from the following figures supplied by a friend.  Of 119 francs paid in all, 64 and a fraction go to the budget, and 54 and a fraction to the town.  Up till the year 1877 a much-hated official called garnissaire, or bailiff, could install himself in the house of a defaulting taxpayer and there claim bed and board till all arrears were forthcoming.  With the general increase of well-being and instruction, the function became a sinecure.  Nowadays taxes are rapidly and easily collected from one end of France to the other.

    As the Percepteur's emoluments depend upon his venue, the post is often extremely lucrative, in large centres representing a thousand a year.  The tax gatherer of a canton, on the other hand, will perhaps receive no more than £80 annually.  It certainly seems somewhat inconsistent that the dispensation of justice should be less remunerated than the collection of revenue, the juge de paix, as I have before shown, never enjoying but the most modest stipend.

    Farm-houses and rural dwellings often lie wide apart.  The Percepteur's domicile cannot lie within easy reach of all his creditors; like Mahomet, he will be obliged to go to the mountain.  In other words, the tax gatherer, as was the case with his hated predecessor of the ancien régime, from time to time makes a round, and is apparently ever welcome as the flowers in May.

    I always knew when M. le Percepteur R― was expected by Burgundian friends with whom I formerly used to spend autumn holidays.  Bustle is never a word suited to French methods.  Among our sensible neighbours it is never a question of "The devil catch the hindmost."  Folks daily rest on their oars.  But if "a man of wealth is dubbed a man of worth," may not be a dictum universally accepted, the handling of national money-bags ever imparts unusual dignity.  The worthy Percepteur was fêted as if, like Sully, he was followed by wheelbarrows piled high with gold.

    All day long my hostess and her old cook would be up to their ears in business.  Forest, field, and stream were laid under contribution in his honour.  Oysters and other delicacies were ordered from the neighbouring town.  Choicest wines and liqueurs were brought from the cellar.  And, of course, the incomparable, ineffable dish before mentioned―


"Beast of chase or fowl or game
  In pasty built,"

crowned the feast.

    Portly, jovial, middle-aged and a bachelor, M. le Percepteur was excellent company.  In French phrase, he bore the cost of conversation.  Fiscalities and rural affairs formed the staple of talk, subjects of never-waning interest to the winegrowers and notaries present, and not without instruction for outsiders.

    Montaigne, who ever wrote like a nonagenarian, somewhere dwells in his delightfully jog-trot, ambling way on the profit to be gained from men no matter their calling, if you listen to them on that calling.  And if during the past twenty-five years I have attained some knowledge of French life and character, it is not from books at all, but from following Montaigne's rule, from listening to Frenchmen and Frenchwomen on their own avocations.

    M. le Percepteur, after the manner of bachelors, coddled himself a bit, and before his departure begged a favour of me.  He was in the habit of taking tea for the furtherance of digestion, and good tea in country places was unattainable.  Would I be so amiable as to procure him some really first-rate Souchong?

    Of course I was only too delighted to fulfil the commission, a poor return for indebtedness of other kind.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XX.

THE YOUNG BUSINESS LADY


"A PERFECT woman nobly planned" for practical life, the young business lady offers a study complex as that of the fastidiously-reared demoiselle belonging to fashionable society, whose dowry of itself ensures her a brilliant marriage.

    The exact counterpart of the French young lady of business, I should say, is nowhere to be found, certainly not in England.  Aptitudes, ideals, physical and mental equation are essentially and ancestrally Gallic and conservative.  The wave of féminisme, or the woman's rights' movement, has not reached the sphere in which she moves; if not a radiant figure, she is, at all times, a dignified and edifying one, by her Milton's precept having been early taken to heart―


                                           "To know
That which before us lies in daily life
Is the prime wisdom."


    It may here be mentioned that, no matter her rank, a French girl is regarded as an old maid at the age of twenty-five.  If neither married nor betrothed by the time she reaches that venerable period, by general consent, single blessedness awaits her.  The spinster of fashion and society has two avenues from which to choose—conventual seclusion or devotion to good works outside its walls.  The business young lady pursues her avocations without mortification or repining at unpropitious fate.

    In leisured and wealthy classes the thought of approaching spinsterhood is a veritable nightmare.  The hiding of mortified vanity or misplaced sentiment in a convent, or the assumption of a pietistic role amid old surroundings, involve bitter disillusion.  What an end to the dazzling dreams and airy hopes of a few years before!  What a contrast to existence as pictured by the youthful communicant in anticipatory bridal dress!  The Rubicon of twenty-five passed, a lady clerk or manageress contemplates the future undismayed.

    Old maids of twenty-five, whether portioned or no, may, of course, occasionally marry, especially in the work-a-day world; and here it is curious to note the rigidity of etiquette obligatory on both.

    I have mentioned elsewhere that brides and bridegrooms elect, moving in good society, are invariably chaperoned.  Alike indoors and out, a third person, not necessarily listening or looking on, must keep them company.  But seeing that girls, who earn their own living, attain habits of independence at an early age, we should expect to find such rules relaxed in their case.  No such thing!  The young lady forewoman or bookkeeper, whether under or over twenty-five, cannot go to the theatre with her fiancé unaccompanied by a relation; still less can she take train with him, in order to visit friends ten miles off, whilst tête-à-tête strolls or visits to public places of entertainment are wholly out of the question.  Even a well-conducted femme de chambre is here as scrupulous as her eighteen-year-old mistress.

    The reputation of the young business lady, like that of Cæsar's wife, must be beyond reproach.  Dress, speech, deportment, must defy criticism.  Advancement, increase of pay, her very bread, depend upon circumspection, a standard of conduct never deviated from in the least little particular.

    Flirtation is no more permissible in the business world than in good society.  The thing not existing in France, no equivalent for the word can be found in French dictionaries.  A girl may have the maternal eye upon her or find herself thrown upon the world.  Etiquette and bringing up forbid flirtation.  Moreover, in young Frenchwomen of all ranks, outside Bohemia, is found what, for want of a precise term, I will call instinctive decorum (l'instinct de bienséance), and sentimentality is not a French failing.  No young business lady sighs for the kind of distraction so necessary to her English and American sisters.  If marriage comes in her way, before arriving at a decision, she will carefully go over the pros and cons, wisely taking material as well as social matters into consideration.  If the spinsterhood traditionally entered upon at twenty-five takes the shape of destiny, with even mind she will pursue her calling, to that devoting undivided energies, endeavouring every year to make herself more valuable to employers.  Attracted as a needle by the magnet, step by step she will approach the goal of French workers, a small independence, the dignity of living upon one's means, of being able to inscribe one's self in the census rentier or rentière.

    The pre-eminence of the French business woman I set down, firstly, to consummate ability; secondly, to doggèd, unremitting absorption in her duties.  There is here no waste of mental force, no frittering away of talents.  Capacities and acquirements are focussed to a single point.

    One of my acquaintances in the French workaday world is a girl of twenty-six, already at the head of a large establishment in Paris, having two clerks of the other sex, and older than herself, at her orders, and enjoying confidence so complete that her books are never so much as glanced at by the proprietors.

    This young lady once observed to me―

    "I possess what, of course, is necessary to one in my position—an excellent memory.  Nobody is infallible, but I may say this much for myself, I rarely, if ever, forget anything.  And the way to cultivate memory is to trust to it.  'Never write down what you are bound to remember,' I say to my young clerks when I see them bring out a note-book."

    I have somewhere read that Thomas Brassey, the great railway contractor, was of the same opinion, using his memory only as tablets.

    Business hours over, the desk closed, office doors shut upon her, fast as omnibus, tramway, or metropolitan can carry her, the young business lady hurries home.  The home, the family circle, added to these, perhaps, some friend of school days, exercise magnetic attraction.  If the weather admits, not a moment will be spent indoors; shopping and visits, in company of mother, sister, or friend, during the winter; lounges in the public gardens, drives in the Bois, or excursions by penny steamer during the summer, make leisure moments fly.  On half-holidays Chantilly, St. Germain-en-Lave, Meudon, even Fontainebleau are visited, whilst all the year round the drama forms a staple recreation.  These young business women are often uncommonly good dramatic critics.  If by virtue of twenty-five years, assumed spinsterhood, and position, they can patronize theatres inaccessible to girls of a different rank, they can fully appreciate the opera and the Français.  It was in the company of a lady clerk that I witnessed La Course au Flambeau, at the Renaissance, a piece from beginning to end serious as a sermon, its vital interest depending, not upon lovers' intrigues, but upon humdrum fireside realities, the tragedy of everyday family life.  No more intelligent or appreciative companion at a play could be wished for than my young friend.  Here, I would observe, that just as the interest of French travel is doubled by the fact of French companionship, so should theatre-going be enjoyed in French society.

    Novel-reading is not much indulged in by these busy girls.  The French notion of enjoyment and relaxation is to be abroad, sunshine and fresh air, taken with beloved home-folk.  Beyond such quiet pleasures and occasional excitements of wedding celebrations, always long drawn out in bourgeois circles, a visit to the opera, and in summer a brief holiday by the sea, life flows evenly.  We are accustomed to regard the French as a volatile, pleasure-seeking, even frivolous race.  Nothing can be farther from the truth.  In very truth our neighbours are the most persistently serious folk on the face of the earth.

    If French employers are exacting, they are at the same time generous.  A capable and trustworthy manageress, head clerk, or superintendent is sure to be handsomely remembered on New Year's Day, to have her salary raised from time to time, and growing confidence will be testified in many ways.

    The subject of Frenchwomen's position in the industrial world would fill a volume.  Skilfully treated, the dry bones of statistics may be made to live; but such a work is quite beyond my own powers, and would have little interest for the general reader.  I leave figures and generalizations to others, contenting myself with describing business women I have known, and adding a few details as to salary, leisure, and accommodation.  Naturally the non-resident clerk, giving a certain number of hours daily, is in a very different position to the directrice, or the manageress, who lives on the premises and can call no time her own, except precisely limited periods, sure to be spent by her at home.  Board, lodging, and laundress being very expensive in Paris, quite a third higher than in any English town, the directrice is well rewarded for the sacrifice of time, the domestic fireside, and independence.  I know at the present time a young lady employed in a public office whose salary is £8 a month for seven hours' daily attendance, with occasional Sunday duty.  As she lives with her parents, such a sum enables her to contribute to the family budget, and at the same time lay by a little for old age or a dowry!  Many young business women achieve a modest portion with which to enter upon the partnership of wedlock.  The resident manageress, on the other hand, not only economizes the triple outlay of above mentioned, but obtains at least a higher salary.  She is, however, expected to dress well, and dress in France, like everything else, from a postage stamp upwards, is much dearer than in England.  The toilette of a business young lady makes a large hole in her earnings.  Again, likely as not, she has family claims upon her, perhaps the partial support of a widowed mother, maybe the education of a young sister or brother.  In spite of these and other drains upon her purse, you may be sure that she makes yearly or half-yearly investments.  The young business woman, no less than the peasant, rendered M. Thiers' colossal task feasible.  It was the indomitable thrift of the workaday world that enabled him to pay off the Prussian war indemnity of two hundred million sterling before the allotted term.

    The French nation is not like our own, an egregiously holiday-making one. Sunday closing, or partial closing, on the increase both in town and country, but statutory holidays are unknown.

A fortnight or three weeks during the year, an afternoon every other Sunday two hours or so every alternate day—with such breaks in the round of duty, a young business lady feels no call for dissatisfaction.  And although serenely contemplating spinsterhood at twenty-five, marriage, with its mutually-shared cares and benisons, may come in her way; if not, advancing years, loneliness, and other drawbacks of a celibate existence will be cheered and dignified by an honestly earned independence, the affectionately-hungered for position of rentière, or a lady living upon her dividends.

    I have mentioned a young business lady's keen appreciation of high dramatic art.  But taste is so generally cultivated in France that the trait is by no means exceptional.  It may, indeed, be said that up to a certain point every French mar, or woman is an artist.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XXI.

A GREAT LADY MERCHANT


MY friend Madame Veuve M— belongs to what is called in France "le haut commerce."  In other words, she is a merchant, head of a wholesale house, as important as any of its kind in Paris.

    In the provinces lady merchants often have their dwellings close to the business premises.  At Croix, near Lille, for instance, I once visited the mistress of a large linen manufactory, living in princely style within sound of mill-wheel and workmen's bell.  Her vast brand-new mansion stood in charmingly laid-out grounds.  As I made my way to the chief entrance I caught sight of the coach-house containing landau, brake, and brougham.  On arriving, myself and friend were ushered by a major domo in superb livery through a suite of reception rooms all fitted up in the most luxurious style and adorned with palms and exotics.  In the last salon we were received by a fashionably dressed lady, whose small white hands glittered with diamond rings.  But my friend's warehouse which I have just visited is situated in the heart of commercial Paris, amidst that congeries of offices and wholesale houses around the Bourse, in some degree answering to our own city.  Here of course an agreeable residential flat is out of the question, so every afternoon she journeys to her pretty country house, a quarter of an hour from the capital by rail.  There she turns her back upon the work-a-day world, finding oblivion in flowers, pets, and the exercise of hospitality.  Were it not, indeed, for these daily breaks in her arduous routine, she would never be able to support the perpetual mental strain entailed upon her.  For this great business woman is not only the sole manager of a large concern, exporting her wares to all parts of the world, she is also an inventor, and her task of inventing is continuous; no sooner is one creation off her hands than she must set to work upon another.  From the 1st of January until the 31st of December, a brief interval excepted, the distracting process goes on; the very thought makes one's brain whirl.

    Madame M—, then, is the head of a large lingerie, or fine-linen warehouse, one of those establishments from which issue trousseaux and the latest fashions in slips and morning gowns.  For times have changed since the days of Mrs. Glegg and Mrs. Tulliver.  We all remember how those worthy ladies had their under-linen always made of the same pattern.  Nowadays dainty fabrications in silk, lawn, and lace must have as much novelty about them as dresses and bonnets, and when I add that my friend is her own exclusive designer, enough will have been said to indicate alike her responsibilities and her gifts.

    The demand for originality in lingerie is insatiable.  Alike the cheapest and costliest model of one month must essentially differ from that of the last, and of course all madame's productions are models.  Dispatched to the provinces, London, Cairo, the Transvaal, Ceylon, these patterns are copied by the hundred thousand.

    Think of such a task, the obligation of daily inventing a new petticoat or morning wrap!  A novelist's duty of devising new incidents and unhackneyed imbroglios is surely light by comparison.  No elegantly dressed lady like her countrywoman just named is Madame M―; whilst her customers, lady shopkeepers, from the country drive up in the latest and richest toilettes, the mistress of this great establishment is as plainly and unpretendingly dressed as a woman-farmer or country innkeeper.  You soon find out, however, that you are conversing with a person of very uncommon endowments—endowments that would be very uncommon out of France.  For there is no gainsaying the fact—the French business woman forms a type apart, and the Parisian ouvrière no less so.

    Madame M—'s burdens are lightened by the competence of her superintendent fitters and workmen.  On this subject she was eloquent.

    "The Parisian ouvrière," she said to me, "stands absolutely alone.  In quickness, taste, and general ability she has no equal.  The hand-sewn garments you admire so much are got through with amazing expeditiousness."

    Three hundred needlewomen are employed, who do the work, which is cut out for them, in their own homes, and earn from £1 a week upwards.  One of these brought home a bundle of peignoirs during my visit—an alert-looking, bright-eyed girl, bareheaded after Parisian fashion, and evidently fully alive to the value of time.  Depositing her pile, with a mere "Bon jour" to mistress and subordinates, away she went quickly as she had come.  In the warehouse four demoiselles are employed, a superintendent, a cutter-out, a fitter, and a baster, i.e. one whose business it is to tack the respective parts of a model together.  Highly instructive it was to watch the four severally occupied.  A new morning gown was being tried on a dummy, the fitter and the baster putting their heads together and adding a dozen little improving touches.  The forewoman was attending to a buyer, and seemed to know without being told exactly the kind of article she wanted.  What struck me about all four was the evident pleasure taken by each in the exercise of their intelligence and the interest shown in their work.  Evidently they considered themselves, not mere wage-earners, but working partners in a great concern, the credit of the mistress's house being their affair as much as her own.  Doubtless all four would in time themselves become business women, owners or managers of shops or warehouses.

    A great concern indeed is such a lingerie.  So tremendous is the demand for new patterns that I was assured it is impossible to keep up the supply.

    "Everything you see here is sold," said my hostess to me, glancing at the closely packed shelves around her with almost a sigh.  From floor to ceiling the place was packed with gossamer-like garments, not a vacant spot to be seen anywhere.  The warehouse reminded me of a military store I had once seen in France, a vast emporium of soldiers' clothes kept in reserve, boots, kepis, pantaloons, and great-coats by the hundred thousand.  Whilst these were all of a pattern, make and material not differing in the slightest particular, quite otherwise is it with Madame M—'s elaborate productions.  Here some difference either of shape or trimming stamped every article, from the hand-made peignoir trimmed with Valenciennes lace destined for rich trousseaux to the cheap but pretty slip within reach of the neat little ouvrière.  Such divergence is a sine quâ non, a kind of hall-mark.  And in the hands of a Frenchwoman how often will the merest touch bring this result about?  An extra inch or two of lace, a clip of the scissors here, a stitch or two there, and the garment of yesterday has become a novelty!

    Just as dolls are made in Germany, and return thither after being dressed in France, so Manchester nainsook and Nottingham lace are sent to Paris, returning to England in the shape of exquisite garments.  Only Calais competes with Nottingham in the production of cheap pretty lace, and as the fashion in lingerie is now as capricious as that of millinery and dressmaking, Valenciennes and Maltese are generally superseded by the machine-made imitation.  The consumption of Nottingham lace is enormous.

    The conclusion must not be jumped at that the necessity of daily inventing a new morning wrap or skirt, and closest attention to a large wholesale business, implies narrowness or want of sympathy.  And here I would mention that even Balzac and Zola have occasionally rendered justice to the French business woman and bourgeoise generally.  What a charming portrait is that of Constance Birotteau, and how exquisitely has Zola outlined the village bakeress in "Travail"!  A novelist of less rank, but of almost equal popularity, has made a mistress-baker heroine of a story.  But Ohnet's portraiture in "Serge Panine" is spoiled by its melodramatic climax.  It is a thousand pities that so few French novelists are realistic in the proper sense of the word, and that they so seldom represent life and character as they are in reality.

    How beautiful is friendship, for instance, and what a large part does friendship play in French lives!  Madame M― delights in the exercise of unaffected hospitality, and at parting bade me remember that in her cottage ornée there was ever a bedroom at my service.  So in September of the present year (1904) I accepted the genial invitation.

    My friend's cottage ornée, or villa, lies within a quarter of an hour of Paris on the western railway, and was built by herself—is indeed as much her own creation as the elegancies in lace and muslin turned out under her direction day after day.  Her example was evidently being followed by others in search of quiet and rusticity.  On either side of the road builders were busy, substantial dwellings in stone rising amid garden-ground to be, newly acquired plots as yet mere waste.  And small wonder that commercial Paris thus bit by bit appropriates the verdant zone outside Thiers' fortifications, gradually becoming a kind of semi-suburban gentry, a landowning class having distinctive features.

    The village selected by Madame M― for her country retreat is not picturesque, but happy in its surroundings, gentle slopes and woodland forming a plain entirely given up to market-gardening.  Not wholly unpoetic and certainly grateful to the eye is the vast chess-board, patches of sea-green alternating with purple; the rich yellow of the melon and the reddish ochre of the gourd conspicuous as Chinese lanterns amid twilight foliage.

    With natural pride madame opened the gate of a handsome house built of stone, and square like its neighbours, with prettily laid out flower-garden front and back, and receding from the latter a couple of acres of kitchen garden and orchard, the whole testifying to rich soil and admirable cultivation.  Flowers, fruit, and vegetables were here in the utmost luxuriance, with choice roses, although the season was advanced.  What, however, most struck me was the populousness of the widow's domain.  As we entered the roomy, elegantly fitted up dwelling, a ten-year-old girl ran up to its mistress for a kiss.

    "My forewoman's little sister," madame informed me.  "They have no friends living in the country who can receive them during the long vacation, so I have had both and a friend to stay with me.  And, indeed, I am never alone," she added.

    Pet dogs, a cat, and pigeons must of course be caressed; then I was introduced to the gardener and his wife, who acted the part of cook, my hostess being evidently on friendliest terms with her people here as in her business house.  Delightful it was to witness this fellow-feeling, and to realize the family life of the villa, a domestic circle though not composed of kith and kin.  It is less any place than its spirit that takes hold of the imagination.  Amid these evidences of laboriously acquired wealth and open-handed dispensation and vicarious enjoyment, I could well understand a fact hitherto puzzling, namely, that the greatest woman-philanthropist of contemporary and indeed of historic France made her millions by shop-keeping!

    The position of business women, won by sheer capacity and assiduousness, has been immensely strengthened by Republican legislation.  The Code Civil, as is shown elsewhere, bears hardly upon the sex.  Step by step such injustice is being repaired.  Thus by the law of 1897, for the first time women were entitled to act as witnesses in all civil transactions.  Twenty years before an equally important measure had been passed, and women heads of business houses became electors of candidates for the tribunaux de commerce, or what may be called commercial parliaments.  The members forming this tribunal are called prud'-homines, [p.202] and are chosen alike from the ranks of employers and employed.  Their business is to settle all matters in discussion or dispute, a share in the representation is, therefore, vital to feminine interests.  Commercial tribunals in the interest of the productive classes are a creation of the Revolution, the first being opened by the Constituent Assembly.  It was not till 1806 that Conseils de prud'hommes were organized in twenty-six industrial towns.  The composition of those bodies was at first far from democratic, consisting half of masters, half of foremen and small employers.  By a still more reactionary measure, in 1810 any council could imprison refractory workmen for three days.  Doubtless ere long we shall find lady merchants and others, not only voting for the prud'hommes, but fulfilling their functions.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XXII.

AN ASPIRANT TO THE COMÉDIE FRANÇAISE


I LOVE Paris Parisien, the Paris not of cosmopolitan pleasure-seekers and idlers, but of the work-a-day world, Belleville and the Buttes Chaumont, the quays of the Canal St. Martin, the faubourg St. Antoine, above all, the Place de la Nation, with its monuments, sparkling basin fountains and shaded swards, Tuileries gardens of humble toilers.

    And how the work-a-day adores its Paris!  As I drove lately towards Montmartre, with a young business lady, whose home was in the eighteenth arrondissement, her face glowed with pleasure.

    "These quarters are so animated, so bustling," she said, as she revelled in the sights of the living stream around.  It seems paradoxical to say that an urban population lives abroad, but certainly Parisians, alike the rich and the poor, spend as little time as possible within four walls.  When we compare the advantages gratuitously enjoyed out of doors with the minimum of air, light, and sunshine obtainable by modest purses within, we can understand why it is so.

    What a contrast was presented to-day by the wide, sunny umbrageous boulevard Poissonière and our destination, a small interior on the third floor of a side street.  "Space anyhow is dear in Paris," rejoined M. Bergeret's sister upon the philosopher observing that time and space existed in imagination only.

    Light and sunshine are higher priced still.  The-householder of narrow means must, above all, forego a cheerful look-out; and all windows, whether looking north or south, east or west, are taxed.  How comes it about, readers may ask, that a tax presumably so unpopular should remain on the statute book?

    Doors and windows were first assessed under the Directoire, twenty centimes only being charged per window in communes of less than five thousand souls, sixty in those of the two first storeys in communes of a hundred thousand.  The new duty aroused a storm of opposition.  "What! " cried a member of the Cinq Cents.  "If I wish to put a window looking east in my house in order that I may adore nature at sun-rising, I must pay duty?  If, in order to warm the chilly frame of my agèd father, I want a southern outlet, I must pay duty?  And if, in order to avoid the burning heat of Thermidor, I wish for an opening north, I must pay duty?  Surely it is possible to chose an imposition less objectionable and odious!"

    The levy was made, and, being increased later on, brought in sixteen million of francs.  In 1900 the door and window tax produced thirty millions.

    By a law of 1832 some modifications were made in favour of factories and workmen's dwellings, as I have said, but it certainly seems strange that some substitute for this source of revenue should not be devised.  And a Parisian window is often no window in the proper sense of the term.  Coloured glass is now much used, and when I asked a friend living at Passy the reason why, she replied, that it was to prevent neighbours from overlooking each other!

    The tiny flat to which I was now introduced consisted of small parlour, a mere slip of a kitchen, and two bedrooms, all looking upon side walls, a craning of the neck being necessary in order to get even a peep at the sky.  But the little salon, with its pianette, pictures and pretty carpet, wore a cheerful, home-like look, and gaily enough we sat down to tea, the party consisting of my young companion, our hostess and her son, a pupil of the Conservatoire, and an aspirant to the Comédie Française.  Sunless, cribbed, cabined, and confined, this little Montmartre home might appear to outsiders, but it was irradiated with golden dreams, elated with airy hopes.  Who could say?  This youth, now giving his days to the conning of French plays and poetry, might attain an aspirant's crowning ambition, make his histrionic début in the house of Molière?

    "You are working very hard?" I asked.

    "All day long," was the reply.

    "But," I said, "you must surely require an occasional break?"

    "No," the youth rejoined.  "I find, on the contrary, that if I go into the country for a single day's holiday I have lost ground.  The memory must be constantly exercised."

    "I presume that poetry is much easier to commit to memory than prose?"

    "Infinitely, although both differ immensely in this respect, some writers being so much more difficult to remember than others."

    "Molière for instance, I should say?"

    "You are right, Molière is one of the most difficult poets to get by heart; but practice is everything."

    After discussing his methods of study and the system pursued at the Conservatoire, we passed on to contemporary drama.  I mentioned a play I had just witnessed at the Française, whereupon he exclaimed, "Then you have seen my master," naming the leading actor, from whom he received lessons in declamation.

    The drama in France is indeed as essentially a profession as that of medicine, the law, or civil and military engineering; it is furthermore, and in contradistinction to these, of absolutely gratuitous attainment.  Native talent is thus developed and fostered to the utmost.  The greatest actors give students the benefit of their gifts and experience, day after day unwearily presiding at rehearsals.

    Some readers doubtless may remember the delightful acting of Got—acting, I should say, that reached the high watermark.  At the height of his fame and in the zenith of his powers, this consummate artist would take a daily class at the Conservatoire.  The masterpieces of dramatic literature are rehearsed again and again, with the most minute attention to accent, expression, and gesture.  It is at the Française indeed—the ambition of every student—that the French tongue is heard in its purity.  In their indispensable dictionary Messrs. Hatzfeld and Darmsteter inform us that they have adhered to the pronunciation of the best Parisian society, which is generally adopted by the Comédie Française.  No greater treat than a matinée in Molière's house can be enjoyed by a lover of French and French classic drama.

    The Conservatoire or school of music and declamation was founded by the Convention, and inaugurated in 1793, when no less than six hundred pupils entered their names as students under Méhul, Grétry, and other masters.  Already in 1784 musical and dramatic classes had been opened at Versailles under the direction of the Baron de Breteuil, the object in view being to provide the Trianon and royal theatre of Versailles with singers and players.  In 1789 the Assembly took up the notion, the nucleus of a musical and dramatic school was transferred to Paris, and that same year it furnished no less than seventy-eight performers for the band of the National Guards.  The Revolution, as has been remarked, was from first to last the most musical period of French history, and no doubt music was a great power in moving spirits and aiding the revolutionary cause.  The example of Paris was followed by Lille, Toulon, Dijon, Metz, Marseilles, Nantes, and other large towns, their musical schools being called pépinières, or nurseries.  The "Chant du Depart" and the "Marseillaise" expressed the military side of the Revolution, the sentimental side was voiced in countless light airs recently unearthed by members of the Sociéte de l'histoire de la Révolution.  Had I not been familiar with French life, my young friend's general culture would have come as a surprise.  Here was a youth of eighteen, who on leaving school had entered a commercial house, intelligently, nay discriminately, discussing literature and the drama, at that early age exemplifying what I regard as the quintessential characteristic of our neighbours, namely, the critical faculty.  Already he was thinking out theories for himself, by no means content to take other folk's opinions at haphazard as if playing at cross and pile.  Family feeling is an adamantine chain in France.

    "I have given up the larger bedroom to Henri, as you see," madame had said, when showing me over her tiny flat.  "He spends so much time indoors that it is necessary he should have all the space and air possible."

    And I could easily guess that the choice of such a career implied sacrifices of a more serious nature.  By this time the student of the Conservatoire might have been bringing grist to the mill, earning as junior clerk perhaps two thousand francs a year.  But the aspirant had fired his mother and sister with his own enthusiasm.  Both utterly believed in the brilliant future foretold by youthful ambition.  Moreover, the stage is held, and deservedly held, in high honour by our neighbours.  Contemporary drama has usurped the functions of the pulpit without forfeiting its high claims as a school of classicism and culture; the stage, alike by tragedy and comedy, brings human nature face to face with social vices and follies.  Exemplifying this assertion, I need only mention one or two of the plays so successfully produced in leading theatres of late years, Les Remplaçantes, La course du Flambeau, Divorce, these among many others.  By turns immorality, drunkenness, the wrongs caused by vicarious motherhood or wet nursing, and other phases of modern life are held up to reprobation and ridicule.  Oftener, indeed, to weep rather than laugh, Parisians now fill the leading theatres.


――――♦――――


[Next Page]

 


 [Home] [Up] [Reminiscences] [Victorian Memories] [Literary Rambles] [Unfrequented France] [Snow-Flakes] [Little Bird Red] [Main Index] [Site Search]

Correspondence should be addressed to.... Webmaster@Gerald-Massey.org.uk