Part 2 out of 6
conscience; that dark curtain of hair, looped madonna-wise over each
ear, framed a face as unruffled as her conscience.
She was entirely at peace with her world, and with heaven as well, that
was certain. Whatever her sins, the confessional had purged her. Like
others, doubtless, she had found a husband and the provinces excellent
remedies for a damaged reputation. She lived now in the very odor of
sanctity; the cure had a pipe in her kitchen, with something more
sustaining, on certain bright afternoons. Although she was daily
announcing to us her approaching dissolution--"I die, mesdames--I die
of ennui"--it seemed to me there were still signs, at times, of a
vigorous resuscitation. The cure's visits were wont to produce a
deeper red in the deep bloom of her cheek; the mayor and his wife, who
drank their Sunday coffee in the arbor, brought, as did Beatrix's
advent to Dante, _vita nuova_ to this homesick Parisian.
There were other pleasures in her small world, also, which made life
endurable. Bargaining, when one teems with talent, may be as exciting
as any other form of conquest. Madame's days were chiefly passed in
imitation of the occupation so dear to an earlier, hardier race, that
race kings have knighted for their powers in dealing mightily with
their weaker neighbors. Madame, it is true, was only a woman, and
Villerville was somewhat slimly populated. But in imitation of her
remote feudal lords, she also fell upon the passing stranger, demanding
tribute. When the stranger did not pass, she kept her arm in practice,
so to speak, by extracting the last _sou_ in a transaction from a
neighbor, or by indulging in a drama in which the comedy of insult was
matched by the tragedy of contempt.
One of these mortal combats it was my privilege to witness. The war
arose on our announcement to Mere Mouchard, the lady of the inn by the
sea, of our decision to move next door. To us Mere Mouchard presented
the unruffled plumage of a dove; her voice also was as the voice of the
same, mellowed by sucking. Ten minutes later the town was assembled to
lend its assistance at the encounter between our two landladies. Each
stood on their respective doorsteps with arms akimbo and head thrust
forward, as geese protrude head and tongue in moments of combat. And it
was thus, the mere hissed, that her boarders were stolen from
her--under her very nose--while her back was turned, with no more
thought of honesty or shame than a----. The word was never uttered.
The mere's insult was drowned in a storm of voices? for there came a
loud protest from the group of neighbors. Madame Fouchet, meanwhile,
was sustaining her own role with great dignity. Her attitude of
self-control could only have been learned in a school where insult was
an habitual weapon. She smiled, an infuriating, exasperating,
successful smile. She showed a set of defiant white teeth, and to her
proud white throat she gave a boastful curve. Was it her fault if _ces
dames_ knew what comfort and cleanliness were? if they preferred "_des
chambres garnies avec gout, vraiment artistiques_"--to rooms fit only
for peasants? _Ces dames_ had just come from Paris; doubtless, they
were not yet accustomed to provincial customs--_aux moeurs
provinciales_. Then there were exchanged certain melodious acerbities,
which proved that these ladies had entered the lists on previous
occasions, and that each was well practised in the other's methods of
warfare. Opportunely, Renard appeared on the scene; his announcement
that we proposed still to continue taking our repasts with the mere,
was as oil on the sea of trouble. A reconciliation was immediately
effected, and the street as immediately lost all interest in the play,
the audience melting away as speedily as did the wrath of the
"_Le bon Dieu soit loue_," cried Madame Fouchet, puffing, as she
mounted the stairs a few moments later--"God be praised"--she hadn't
come here to the provinces to learn her rights--to be taught her
alphabet. Mere Mouchard, forsooth, who wanted a week's board as
indemnity for her loss of us! A week's board--for lodgings scorned by
"Ah, these Normans! what a people, what a people! They would peel the
skin off your back! They would sell their children! They would cheat
the devil himself!"
"You, madame, I presume, are from Paris." Madame smiled as she
answered, a thin fine smile, richly seasoned with scorn. "Ah, mesdames!
All the world can't boast of Paris as a birthplace, unfortunately. I
also, I am a Norman, _mais je ne m'en fiche pas!_ Most of my life,
however, I've lived in Paris, thank God!" She lifted her head as she
spoke, and swept her hands about her waist to adjust the broad belt, an
action pregnant with suggestions. For it was thus conveyed to us,
delicately, that such a figure as hers was not bred on rustic diet;
also, that the Parisian glaze had not failed of its effect on the
coarser provincial clay.
Meanwhile, below in the garden, her husband was meekly tying up his
Neither of the landladies' husbands had figured in the street-battle.
It had been a purely Amazonian encounter, bloodless but bitter. Both
the husbands of these two belligerent landladies appeared singularly
well trained. Mouchard, indeed, occupied a comparatively humble sphere
in his wife's _menage_. He was perpetually to be seen in the court-yard,
at the back of the house, washing dogs, or dishes, in a costume in
which the greatest economy of cloth compatible with decency had been
triumphantly solved. His wife ran the house, and he ran the errands, an
arrangement which, apparently, worked greatly to the satisfaction of
both. But Mouchard was not the first or the second French husband who,
on the threshold of his connubial experience, had doubtless had his
role in life appointed to him, filling the same with patient
acquiescence to the very last of the lines.
There is something very touching in the subjection of French husbands.
In point of meekness they may well serve, I think, as models to their
kind. It is a meekness, however, which does not hint of humiliation;
for, after all, what humiliation can there be in being thoroughly
understood? The Frenchwoman, by virtue of centuries of activity, in the
world and in the field, has become an expert in the art of knowing her
man; she has not worked by his side, under the burn of the noon sun, or
in the cimmerian darkness of the shop-rear, counting the pennies, for
nothing. In exchanging her illusions for the bald front of fact, man
himself has had to pay the penalty of this mixed gain. She tests him
by purely professional standards, as man tests man, or as he has tested
her, when in the ante-matrimonial days he weighed her _dot_ in the
scale of his need. The Frenchwoman and Shakespeare are entirely of one
mind; they perceive the great truth of unity in the scheme of things:
"Woman's test is man's taste."
This is the first among the great truths in the feminine grammar of
assent. French masculine taste, as its criterion, has established the
excellent doctrine of utilitarianism. With quick apprehension the
Frenchwoman has mastered this fact; she has cleverly taken a lesson
from ophidian habits--she can change her skin, quickly shedding the
sentimentalist, when it comes to serious action, to don the duller
raiment of utility. She has accepted her world, in other words,
as she finds it, with a philosopher's shrug. But the philosopher is
lined with the logician; for this system of life has accomplished the
miracle of making its women logical; they have grasped the subtleties
of inductive reasoning. Marriage, for example, they know is entered
into solely on the principle of mutual benefit; it is therefore a
partnership, _bon_; now, in partnerships sentiments and the emotions
are out of place, they only serve to dim the eye; those commodities,
therefore, are best conveyed to other markets than the matrimonial one;
for in purely commercial transactions one has need of perfect clearness
of vision, if only to keep one well practised in that simple game
called looking out for one's own interest. In Frenchwomen, the
ratiocinationist is extraordinarily developed; her logic penetrates to
the core of things.
Hence it is that Mouchard washes dishes.
Monsieur Jourdain, in Moliere's comedy, who expressed such surprise at
finding that he had been talking prose for forty years without knowing
it, was no more amazed than would Mere Mouchard have been had you
announced to her that she was a logician; or that her husband's daily
occupations in the bright little court-yard were the result of a
system. Yet both facts were true.
In that process we now know as the survival of the fittest, the mere's
capacity had snuffed out her weaker spouse's incompetency; she had
taken her place at the helm, because she belonged there by virtue of
natural fitness. There were no tender illusions which would suffer, in
seeing the husband allotted to her, probably by her parents and the
_dot_ system, relegated to the ignominy of passing his days washing
dishes--dishes which she cooked and served--dishes, it should be added,
which she was entirely conscious were cooked by the hand of genius, and
which she garnished with a sauce and served with a smile, such as only
issue from French kitchens.
THE QUARTIER LATIN ON THE BEACH.
The beach, one morning, we found suddenly peopled with artists. It was
a little city of tents. Beneath striped awnings and white umbrellas a
multitude of flat-capped heads sat immovably still on their
three-legged stools, or darted hither and thither. Paris was evidently
beginning to empty its studios; the Normandy beaches now furnished the
One morning we were in luck. A certain blonde beard had counted early
in the day on having the beach to himself. He had posed his model in
the open daylight, that he might paint her in the sun. He had placed
her, seated on an edge of seawall; for a background there was the curve
of the yellow sands and the flat breadth of the sea, with the droop of
the sky meeting the sea miles away. The girl was a slim, fair shape,
with long, thin legs and delicately moulded arms; she was dressed in
the fillet and chiton of Greece. During her long poses she was as
immovable as an antique marble; her natural grace and prettiness were
transfigured into positive beauty by the flowing lines and the pink
draperies of her Attic costume. Seated thus, she was a breathing
embodiment of the best Greek period. When the rests came, her jump from
the wall landed her square on her feet and at the latter end of the
nineteenth century. Once free, she bounded from her perch on the high
sea-wall. In an instant she had tucked her tinted draperies within the
slender girdle; her sandalled feet must be untrammelled, she was about
to take her run on the beach. Soon she was pelting, irreverently,
her painter with a shower of loose pebbles. Next she had challenged him
to a race; when she reached the goal, her thin, bare arms were uplifted
as she clapped and shouted for glee; the Quartier Latin in her blood
was having its moment of high revelry in the morning sun.
This little grisette, running about free and unshackled in her loose
draperies, quite unabashed in her state of semi-nudity--gay, reckless,
wooing pleasure on the wing, surely she might have posed as the
embodied archetype of France itself. So has this pagan among modern
nations borrowed something of the antique spirit of wantonness. Along
with its theft of the Attic charm and grace, it has captured, also,
something of its sublime indifference; in the very teeth of the
dull modern world, France has laughed opinion to scorn.
At noon the tents were all deserted. It was at this hour that the inn
garden was full. The gayety and laughter overflowed the walls. Everyone
talked at once; the orders were like a rattle of artillery--painting
for hours in the open air gives a fine edge to appetite, and patience
is never the true twin of hunger. Everything but the _potage_ was
certain to be on time.
Colinette, released from her Greek draperies, with her Parisian bodice
had recovered the _blague_ of the studios.
"_Sacre nom de--on reste donc claquemure ainsi toute la matinee!_ And all
for an _omelette_--a puny, good-for-nothing _omelette_. And you--you've
lost your tongue, it seems?" And a shrill voice pierced the air as
Colinette gave her painter the hint of her prodding elbow. With the
appearance of the _omelette_ the reign of good humor would return.
Everything then went as merrily as that marriage-bell which,
apparently, is the only one absent in Bohemia's gay chimes.
These arbors had obviously been built out of pure charity: they
appeared to have been constructed on the principle that since man,
painting man, is often forced to live alone, from economic necessity,
it is therefore only the commonest charity to provide him with the
proper surroundings for eating _a deux._ The little tables beneath the
kiosks were strictly _tete-a-tete_ tables; even the chairs, like the
visitors, appeared to come only in couples.
The Frenchman has been reproached with the sin of ingratitude; has
been convicted, indeed, as possessed of more of that pride that comes
late--the day after the gift of bounty has been given--than some other
of his fellow-mortals. Yet here were a company of Frenchmen--and
Frenchwomen--proving in no ordinary fashion their equipment in this
rare virtue. It was early in May; up yonder, where the Seine flows
beneath the Parisian bridges, the pulse of the gay Paris world was
beating in time to the spring in the air. Yet these artists had
deserted the asphalt of the boulevards for the cobbles of a village
street, the delights of the _cafe chantant_ had been exchanged for the
miracle of the moon rising over the sea, and for the song of the thrush
in the bush.
The Frenchman, more easily and with simpler art than any of his modern
brethren, can change the prose of our dull, practical life into poetry;
he can turn lyrical at a moment's notice. He possesses the power of
transmuting the commonplace into the idyllic, by merely clapping on his
cap and turning his back on the haunts of men. He has retained a
singular--an almost ideal sensitiveness, of mental cuticle--such
acuteness of sensation, that a journey to a field will oftentimes yield
him all the flavor of a long voyage, and a sudden introduction to a
forest, the rapture that commonly comes only with some unwonted aspect
of nature. Perhaps it is because of this natural poet indwelling in a
Frenchman, that makes him content to remain so much at home. Surely the
extraordinary is the costly necessity for barren minds; the richly-
endowed can see the beauty that lies the other side of their own door-
A NORMAN HOUSEHOLD.
There were two paths in the village that were well worn. One was that
which led the village up into the fields. The other was the one that
led the tillers of the soil down into the village, to the door step of
the justice of the peace.
A good Norman is no Norman who has not a lawsuit on hand.
Anything will serve as a pretext for a quarrel No sum of money is so
small as not to warrant a breaking of the closest blood ties, if
thereby one's rights may be secured. Those beautiful stripes of rye,
barley, corn, and wheat up yonder in the fields, that melt into one
another like sea-tones--down here on the benches before the _juge de
paix_--what quarrels, what hatreds, what evil passions these few acres
of land have brought their owners, facing each other here like
so many demons, ready to spring at the others' throats! Brothers on
these benches forget they are brothers, and sisters that they have
suckled the same mother. Two more yards of the soil that should have
been Fillette's instead of Jeanne's, and the grave will enclose both
before the clenched fist of either is relaxed, and the last _sous_ in
the stocking will be spent before the war between their respective
lawyers will end.
Many and many were the tales told us of the domestic tragedies, born of
wills mal-administered, of the passions of hate, ambition, and despair
kept at a white heat because half the village owned, up in the fields,
what the other half coveted. Many, also, and fierce were the heated
faces we looked in upon at the justice's door, in the very throes of
the great moment of facing justice, and their adversary.
Our own way, by preference, took us up into the fields. Here, in the
broad open, the farms lay scattered like fortifications over a plain.
Doubtless, in the earlier warlike days they had served as such.
Once out of the narrow Villerville streets, and the pastoral was in
The sea along this coast was not in the least insistant; it allowed the
shore to play its full gamut of power. There were no tortured shapes of
trees or plants, or barren wastes, to attest the fierce ways of the sea
with the land. Reminders of the sea and of the life that is lived in
ships were conspicuous features everywhere, in the pastoral scenes that
began as soon as the town ended. Women carrying sails and nets toiled
through the green aisles of the roads and lanes. Fishing-tackle hung in
company with tattered jerseys outside of huts hidden in grasses and
honeysuckle. The shepherdesses, as they followed the sheep inland
into the heart of the pasture land, were busy netting the coarse cages
that trap the finny tribe. Long-limbed, vigorous-faced, these
shepherdesses were Biblical figures. In their coarse homespun, with
only a skirt and a shirt, with their bare legs, half-open bosoms, and
the fine poise of their blond heads, theirs was a beauty that commanded
the homage accorded to a rude virginity.
In some of the fields, in one of our many walks, the grass was being
cut. In these fields the groups of men and women were thickest. The
long scythes were swung mightily by both; the voices, a gay treble of
human speech, rose above the metallic swish of the sharp blades cutting
into the succulent grasses.
The fat pasture lands rose and sank in undulations as rounded as the
nascent breasts of a young Greek maiden. A medley of color played its
charming variations over fields, over acres of poppies, over plains of
red clover, over the backs of spotted cattle, mixing, mingling,
blending a thousand twists and turns into one exquisite, harmonious
whole. There was no discordant note, not one harsh contrast; even the
hay-ricks seemed to have been modelled rather than pitched into shape;
their sloping sides and finely pointed apexes giving them the dignity
of structural intent.
Why should not a peasant, in blouse and sabots, with a grinning idiot
face, have put the picture out? But he did not. He was walking, or
rather waddling, toward us, between two green walls that rose to be
arched by elms that hid the blue of the sky. This lane was the kind of
lane one sees only in Devonshire and in Normandy. There are lanes and
lanes, as, to quote our friend the cobbler, there are cures and cures.
But only in these above-named countries can one count on walking
straight into the heart of an emerald, if one turns from the high-road
into a lane. The trees, in these Devonshire and Normandy by-paths, have
ways of their own of vaulting into space; the hedges are thicker,
sweeter, more vocal with insect and song notes than elsewhere; the
roadway itself is softer to the foot, and narrower--only two are
expected to walk therein.
It was through such a lane as this that the coarse, animal shape of a
peasant was walking toward us. His legs and body were horribly twisted;
the dangling arms and crooked limbs appeared as if caricaturing the
gnarled and tortured boughs and trunks of the apple-trees. The
peasant's blouse was filthy; his sabots were reeking with dirty straw;
his feet and ankles, bare, were blacker than the earth over which he
was painfully crawling; and on his face there was the vacuous, sensuous
deformity of the smile idiocy wears. Again I ask, why did he not
disfigure this fair scene, and put out something of the beauty of the
day? Is it because the French peasant seems now to be an inseparable
adjunct of the Frenchman's landscape? That even deformity has been so
handled by the realists as to make us see beauty in ugliness? Or is it
that, as moderns, we are all bitten by the rabies of the picturesque;
that all things serve and are acceptable so long as we have our
necessary note of contrast? Certain it is that it appears to be the
peasant's blouse that perpetuates the Salon, and perhaps--who
knows?--when over-emigration makes our own American farmer too poor to
wear a boiled shirt when he ploughs, we also may develop a school of
landscape, with figures.
Meanwhile the walk and the talk had made Charm thirsty. "Why should we
not go," she asked, "across the next field, into that farm house
yonder, and beg for a glass of milk?"
The farm-house might have been waiting for us, it was so still. Even
the grasses along its sloping roof nodded, as if in welcome. The house,
as we approached it, together with its out-buildings, assumed a more
imposing aspect than it had from the road. Its long, low facade, broken
here and there by a miniature window or a narrow doorway, appeared to
stretch out into interminable length beneath the towering beeches and
the snarl of the peach-tree boughs.
The stillness was ominous--it was so profound.
The only human in sight was a man in a distant field; he was raking the
ploughed ground. He was too far away to hear the sound of our voices.
"Perhaps the entire establishment is in the fields," said Charm, as we
neared the house.
Just then a succession of blows fell on our ear.
"Someone is beating a mattress within, we shall have our glass after
We knocked. But no one answered our knock.
The beating continued; the sound of the blows fell as regularly as if
machine-impelled. Then a cry rose up; it was the cry of a young, strong
voice, and it was followed by a low wail of anguish.
The door stood half-open, and this is what we saw: A man--tall, strong,
powerful, with a face purple with passion--bending over the crouching
form of a girl, whose slender body was quivering, shrinking, and
writhing as the man's hand, armed with a short stick, fell, smiting her
defenceless back and limbs.
Her wail went on as each blow fell.
In a corner, crouched in a heap, sitting on her heels, was a woman. She
was clapping her hands. Her eyes were starting from her head; she
clapped as the blows came, and above the girl's wail her strong,
exultant voice arose--calling out:
It was the voice of a triumphant fury.
The backs of all these people were turned upon us; they had not seen,
much less heard, our entrance.
Someone else had seen us, however. A man with a rake over his shoulder
rushed in through the open door; it was the peasant we had seen in the
field. He seized Charm by the arm, and then my own hand was grasped as
in a grip of iron. Before we had time for resistance he had pushed us
out before him into the entry, behind the outer door. This latter he
slammed. He put his broad back against it; then he dropped his rake and
began to mop his face, violently, with a filthy handkerchief he plucked
from beneath his blouse.
"_Que chance! Nom de Dieu, que chance! Je v'avions vue_, I saw you just
in time--just in time--"
"But, I must go in--I wish to go back!" But Charm might as well have
attempted to move a pillar of stone.
The peasant's coarse, good-humored face broke into a broad laugh.
"Pardon, mam'selle--_j'n bougeons pas. Not' maitre e encolere; e' son
jour--faut pas l'irriter--aujou'hui."_
Meantime, during the noise of our forced exit and the ensuing dialogue,
the scene within had evidently changed in character, for the blows had
ceased. Steps could be heard crossing and recrossing the wooden floor.
A creaking sound succeeded to the beating--it was the creaking and
groaning of a wooden staircase bending beneath the weight of a human
figure. In an upper chamber there came the sound of a quiet, subdued
sobbing now. They were the sobs of the girl. She at least had been
A face, cruel, pinched, hardened, with flaming agate eyes and an
insolent smile, stood looking out at us through the dulled, dusty
window-pane. It was the fury.
Meanwhile the peasant was still defending his post. A moment later the
tall frame of the farmer suddenly filled the open doorway. The peasant
well-nigh fell into his master's arms. The farmer's face was still
terrible to look upon, but the purple stain of passion was now turned
to red. There was a mocking insolence in his tone as he addressed us,
that matched with the woman's unconcealed glee.
"Will you not come in, mesdames? Will you not rest a while after your
long walk?" On the man's hard face there was still the shadow of a
sinister cruelty as he waved his hand toward the room within.
The peasant's good-humored, loutish smile, and his stupid, cow-like
eyes, by contrast, were the eyes and smile of a benevolent deity.
The smile told us we were right, as we slunk away toward the open road.
The head kept nodding approval as we vanished presently beneath the
shade of the protecting trees.
The fields, as we swept rapidly past them, were as bathed in peace as
when we had left them; there was even a more voluptuous content abroad:
for the twilight was wrapping about the landscape its poppied dusk of
gloom and shadow. Above, the birds were swirling in sweeping circles,
raining down the ecstasy of their night-song; still above, far beyond
them, across a zenith pure, transparent, ineffably pink, illumined
wisps of clouds were trailing their scarf-like shapes. It was a scene
of beatific peace. Across the fields came the sound of a distant
bell. It was the _Angelus_. The ploughmen stopped to doff their hats,
the women to bend their heads in prayer.
And in our ears, louder than the vibrations of the hamlet bell, louder
than the bird-notes and the tumult of the voluptuous insect whirr,
there rang the thud, thud of cruel blows falling on quivering human
The curtain that hid the life of the peasant-farmer had indeed been
"Ah, mesdames, what will you have? The French peasant is like that.
When he is in a rage nothing stops him--he beats anything, everything;
whatever his hand encounters must suffer when he is angry; his wife,
his child, his servant, his horse, they are all alike to him when he
Monsieur Fouchet was tying up his rose-trees; we were watching him from
our seat on the green bench. Here in the garden, beneath the blue
vault, the roses were drooping from very heaviness of glory; they gave
forth a scent that made the head swim. It was a healthy, virile
intoxication, however, the salt in the air steadying one's nerves.
Nature, not being mortal and cursed with a conscience, had risen that
morning in a mood for carousal; at this hour of noon she had reached
the point of ecstatic stupor. No state of trance was ever so exquisite.
The air was swooning, but how delicate its gasps, as if it fell away
into calm! How adorably blue the sky in its debauch of sun-lit ether!
The sea, too, although it reeled slightly, unsteadily rising only to
fall away, what a radiance of color it maintained! Here in the garden
the drowsy air would lift a flower petal, as some dreamer sunk in
hasheesh slumber might touch a loved hand, only to let it slip away in
nerveless impotence. Never had the charm of this Normandy sea-coast
been as compelling; never had the divine softness of this air, this
harmonious marriage of earth-scents and sea-smells seemed as perfect;
never before had the delicacy of the foliage and color-gradations of
the sky as triumphantly proved that nowhere else, save in France, can
nature be at once sensuous and poetic.
We looked for something other than pure enjoyment from this golden
moment; we hoped its beauty would help us to soften our landlord. This
was the moment we had chosen to excite his sympathies, also to gain
counsel from him concerning the tragedy we had witnessed the day
before. He listened to our tale with evident interest, but there was a
disappointing coolness in his eye. As the narrative proceeded, the
brutality of the situation failed to sting him to even a mild form of
indignation. He went on tying his rose-trees, his ardor expending
itself in choice snippings of the stray stalks and rebellious tendrils.
"This Guichon," he said, after a brief moment, in the tone that goes
with the pursuance of an occupation that has become a passion. "This
Guichon--I know him. He is a hard man, but no harder than many others,
and he has had his losses, which don't always soften a man. '_Qui terre
a guerre a_,' Moliere says, and Guichon has had many lawsuits, losing
them all. He has been twice married; that was his daughter by his first
wife he was touching up like that. He married only the other day Madame
Tier, a rich woman, a neighbor, their lands join. It was a great match
for him, and she, the wife, and his daughter don't hit it off, it
appears. There was some talk of a marriage for the girl lately; a good
match presented itself, but the girl will have none of it; perhaps that
accounts for the beating."
A rose, overblown with its fulness of splendor, dropped in a shower at
Fouchet's feet just then.
"_Tiens, elle est finie, celle-la_" he cried, with an accent of regret,
and he stooped over the fallen petals as if they had been the remains
of a friend. Then he sighed as he swept the mass into his broad palm.
"Come, let us leave him to the funeral of his roses; he hasn't the
sensibilities of an insect;" and Charm grasped my arm to lead me over
the turf, across the gravel paths, toward the tea-house.
This tottering structure had become one of our favorite retreats; in
the poetic _mise-en-scene_ of the garden it played the part of Ruin. It
was absurdly, ridiculously out of repair; its gaping beams and the
sunken, dejected floor could only be due to intentional neglect.
Fouchet evidently had grasped the secrets of the laws of contrast; the
deflected angle of the tumbling roof made the clean-cut garden beds
doubly true. Nature had had compassion on the aged little building,
however; the clustering, fragrant vines, in their hatred of nudity, had
invested the prose of a wreck with the poetry of drapery. The
tip-tilted settee beneath the odorous roof became, in time, our chosen
seat; from that perch we could overlook the garden-walls, the beach,
the curve of the shore, the grasses and hollyhocks in our neighbor's
garden, the latter startlingly distinct against the great arch of the
It was here Renard found us an hour later. To him, likewise, did Charm
narrate our extraordinary experience of yesterday, with much adjunct of
fiery comment, embellishment of gesture, and imitative pose.
"Ye gods, what a scene to paint! You were in luck--in luck; why wasn't
I there?" was Renard's tribute to human pity.
"Oh, you are all alike, all--nothing moves you--you haven't common
human sympathies--you haven't the rudiments of a heart! You are
terrible--all of you--terrible!" A moment after she had left us, as if
the narrowness of the little house stifled her. With long, swinging
steps she passed out, to air her indignation, apparently, beneath the
wall of the espaliers.
"Splendid creature, isn't she?" commented Renard, following the long
lines of the girl's fluttering muslin gown, as he plucked at his
mustache. "She should always wear white and gold--what is that
stuff?--and be lit up like that with a kind of goddess-like anger. She
is wrong, however," he went on, a moment later; "those of us who live
here aren't really barbarians, only we get used to things. It's the
peasants themselves that force us; they wouldn't stand interference. A
peasant is a kind of king on his own domain; he does anything he likes,
short of murder, and he doesn't always stop at that."
"But surely the Government--at least their Church, ought to teach
"Oh, their Church! they laugh at their cures--till they come to die.
He's a heathen, that's what the French peasant is--there's lots of the
middle ages abroad up there in the country. Along here, in the coast
villages, the nineteenth century has crept in a bit, humanizing them,
but the _fonds_ is always the same; they're by nature avaricious,
sordid, cruel; they'll do anything for money; there isn't anything
sacred for them except their pocket."
A few days later, in our friend the cobbler we found a more sympathetic
listener. "Dame! I also used to beat my wife," he said,
contemplatively, as he scratched his herculean head, "but that was when
I was a Christian, when I went to confession; for the confessional was
made for that, _c'est pour laver le linge sale des consciences, ca_"
(interjecting his epigram). "But now--now that I am a free-thinker, I
have ceased all that; I don't beat her," pointing to his old wife, "and
neither do I drink or swear."
"It's true, he's good--he is, now," the old wife nodded, with her slit
of a smile; "but," she added, quickly, as if even in her husband's
religious past there had been some days of glory, "he was always
just--even then--when he beat me."
"_C'est tres femme, ca--hein, mademoiselle?_" And the cobbler cocked
his head in critical pose, with a philosopher's smile.
The result of the interview, however, although not entirely
satisfactory, was illuminating, besides this light which had been
thrown on the cobbler's reformation. For the cobbler was a cousin,
distant in point of kinship, but still a cousin, of the brutal farmer
and father. He knew all the points of the situation, the chief of
which was, as Fouchet had hinted, that the girl had refused to wed
the _bon parti_, who was a connection of the step-mother. As for the
step-mother's murderous outcry, "Kill her! kill her!" the cobbler
refused to take a dramatic view of this outburst.
"In such moments, you understand, one loses one's head; brutality
always intoxicates; she was a little drunk, you see."
When we proposed our modest little scheme, that of sending for the girl
and taking her, for a time at least, into our service, merely as a
change of scene, the cobbler had found nothing but admiration for the
project. "It will be perfect, mesdames. They, the parents, will ask
nothing better. To have the girl out at service, away, and yet not
disgracing them by taking a place with any other farmer; yes, they will
like that, for they are rich, you see, and wealth always respects
itself. Ah, yes, it's perfect; I'll arrange all that--all the
Two days later the result of the arrangement stood before us. She was
standing with her arms crossed, her fingers clasping her elbows--with
her very best peasant manner. She was neatly, and, for a peasant,
almost fashionably attired in her holiday dress--a short, black skirt,
white stockings, a flowery kerchief crossed over her broad bosom, and
on her pretty hair a richly tinted blue _foulard_. She was very well
dressed for a peasant, and, from the point of view of two travellers,
of about as much use as a plough.
"It's a beautiful scheme, and it's as dramatic as the fifth act of a
play; but what shall we do with her?"
"Oh." replied Charm, carelessly, "there isn't anything in particular
for her to do. I mean to buy her a lot of clothes, like those she has
on, and she can walk about in the garden or in the fields."
"Ah, I see; she's to be a kind of a perambulating figure-piece."
"Yes, that's about it. I dare say she will be very useful at sunset, in
a dim street; so few peasants wear anything approaching to costume
Ernestine herself, however, as we soon discovered, had an entirely
different conception of her vocation. She was a vigorous, active young
woman, with the sap of twenty summers in her lusty young veins. Her
energies soon found vent in a continuous round of domestic excitements.
There were windows and floors that cried aloud to Heaven to be
scrubbed; there were holes in the sheets to make mam'zelle's lying
between them _une honte, une vraie honte_. As for Madame Fouchet's
little weekly bill, _Dieu de Dieu_, it was filled with such extortions
as to make the very angels weep. Madame and Ernestine did valiant
battle over those bills thereafter. Ernestine was possessed of the
courage of a true martyr; she could suffer and submit to the scourge,
in the matter of personal persecution, for the religion of her own
convictions; but in the service of her rescuer, she could fight with
the fierceness of a common soldier.
"When Norman meets Norman--" Charm began one day, the sound of voices,
in a high treble of anger, coming in to us through the windows.
But Ernestine was knocking at the door, with a note in her hand.
"An answer is asked, mesdames," she said, in a voice of honey, as she
dropped her low courtesy.
This was the missive:
ALONG AN OLD POST-ROAD.
TO HONFLEUR AND TROUVILLE.
TO AN OLD MANOR.
"Will _ces dames_ join me in a marauding expedition? Like the poet
Villon, I am about to turn marauder, house breaker, thief. I shall hope
to end the excursion by one act, at least, of highway robbery. I shall
lose courage without the enlivening presence of _ces dames._ We will
start when the day is at its best, we will return when the moon smiles.
In case of finding none to rob, the coach of the desperadoes will be
garrisoned with provisions; Henri will accompany us as counsellor,
purveyor, and bearer of arms and costumes. The carriage for _ces dames_
will stop the way at the hour of eleven.
"I have the honor to sign myself their humble servant and
"This, in plain English," was Charm's laconic translation of this note,
"means that he wishes us to be ready at eleven for the excursion to
P----, to spend the day, you may remember, at that old manor. He wants
to paint in a background, he said yesterday, while we stroll about and
look at the old place. What shall I wear?"
In an hour we were on the road.
A jaunty yellow cart, laden with a girl on the front seat; with a man,
tawny of mustache, broad of shoulder, and dark of eye, with face
shining to match the spring in the air and that fair face beside him;
laden also with another lady on the back seat, beside whom, upright and
stiff, with folded arms, sat Henri, costumer, valet, cook, and groom.
It was in the latter capacity that Henri was now posing. The role of
groom was uppermost in his orderly mind, although at intervals, when
his foot chanced to touch a huge luncheon-basket with which the cart
was also laden, there were betraying signs of anxiety; it was then that
the chef crept back to life. This spring in the air was all very well,
but how would it affect the sauces? This great question was written on
Henri's brow in a network of anxious wrinkles.
"Henri," I remarked, as we were wheeling down the roadway, "I am quite
certain you have put up enough luncheon for a regiment."
"Madame has said it, for a regiment; Monsieur Renard, when he works,
eats with the hunger of a wolf."
"Henri, did you get in all the rags?" This came from Renard on the
front seat, as he plied his steed with the whip.
"The costume of Monsieur le Marquis, and also of Madame la Marquise de
Pompadour, are beneath my feet in the valise, Monsieur Renard. I have
the sword between my legs," replied Henri, the costumer coming to the
surface long enough to readjust the sword.
"Capital fellow, Henri, never forgets anything," said Renard, in
"Couldn't we offer a libation or something, on such a morning--"
"On such a morning," interrupted the painter, "one should be seated
next to a charming young lady who has the genius to wear Nile green and
white; even a painter with an Honorable Mention behind him and fame
still ahead, in spite of the Mention, is satisfied. You know a Greek
deity was nothing to a painter, modern, and of the French school, in
point of fastidiousness."
"Nonsense! it's the American woman who is fastidious, when it comes to
Meanwhile, there was one of the party who was looking at the road; that
also was arrayed in Nile green and white; the tall trees also held
umbrellas above us, but these coverings were woven of leaves and sky.
This bit of roadway appeared to have slipped down from the upper
country, and to have carried much of the upper country with it. It was
highway posing as pure rustic. It had brought all its pastoral
paraphernalia along. Nothing had been forgotten: neither the hawthorn
and the osier hedges, nor the tree-trunks, suddenly grown modest at
sight of the sea, burying their nudity in nests of vines, nor the trick
which elms and beeches have, of growing arches in the sky. Timbered
farm-houses were here, also thatched huts, to make the next villa-gate
gain in stateliness; apple orchards were dotted about with such a
knowing air of wearing the long line of the Atlantic girdled about
their gnarled trunks, that one could not believe pure accident had
carried them to the edge of the sea. There were several miles of this
driving along beneath these green aisles. Through the screen of the
hedges and the crowded tree-trunks, picture succeeded picture; bits of
the sea were caught between slits of cliff; farmhouses, huts, and
villas lay smothered in blossoms; above were heights whereon poplars
seemed to shiver in the sun, as they wrapped about them their shroud-
like foliage; meadows slipped away from the heights, plunging seaward,
as if wearying for the ocean; and through the whole this line of green
roadway threaded its path with sinuous grace, serpentining, coiling,
braiding in land and sea in one harmonious, inextricable blending of
incomparable beauty. One could quite comprehend, after even a short
acquaintance with this road, that two gentlemen of Paris, as difficult
to please as Daubigny and Isabey, should have seen points of excellence
There are all sorts of ways of being a painter. Perhaps as good as any,
if one cares at all about a trifling matter like beauty, is to know a
good thing when one sees it. That poet of the brush, Daubigny, not only
was gifted with this very unusual talent in a painter, but a good thing
could actually be entrusted in his hands after its discovery. And
herein, it appears to me, lies all the difference between good and bad
painting; not only is an artist--any artist--to be judged by what he
sees, but also by what he does with a fact after he's acquired
it--whether he turns it into poetry or prose.
I might incautiously have sprung these views on the artist on the front
seat, had he not wisely forestalled my outburst by one of his own.
"By the way," he broke in; "by the way, I'm not doing my duty as
cicerone. There's a church near here--we're coming to it in a
moment--famous--eleventh or twelfth century, Romanesque
style--yes--that's right, although I'm somewhat shaky when it comes to
architecture--and an old manoir, museum now, with lots of old furniture
in it--in the manoir, I mean."
"There's the church now. Oh, let us stop!"
In point of fact there were two churches before us. There was one of
ivy: nave, roof, aisles, walls, and conic-shaped top, as perfectly
defined in green as if the beautiful mantle had been cut and fitted to
the hidden stone structure. Every few moments the mantle would be
lifted by the light breeze, as might a priest's vestment; it would move
and waver, as if the building were a human frame, changing its posture
to ease its long standing. Between this church of stone and this church
of vines there were signs of the fight that had gone on for ages
between them. The stones were obviously fighting decay, fighting ruin,
fighting annihilation; the vines were also struggling, but both time
and the sun were on their side. The stone edifice was now, it is true,
as Renard told us, protected by the Government--it was classed as a
"monument historique"--but the church of greens was protected by the
god of nature, and seemed to laugh aloud, as if with conscious gleeful
strength. This gay, triumphant laugh was reflected, as if to emphasize
its mockery of man's work, in the tranquil waters of a little pond,
lily-leaved, garlanded in bushes, that lay hidden beyond the roadway.
Through the interstices of the vines one solitary window from the
tower, like a sombre eye, looked down into the pond; it saw there,
reflected as in a mirror, the old, the eternal picture of a dead ruin
clasped by the arms of living beauty.
This Criqueboeuf church presents the ideal picturesque accessories. It
stands at the corner of two meeting roadways. It is set in an ideal
pastoral frame--a frame of sleeping fields, of waving tree-tops, of an
enchanting, indescribable snarl of bushes, vines, and wild flowers. In
the adjoining fields, beneath the tree-boughs, ran the long, low line
of the ancient manoir--now turned into a museum.
We glanced for a few brief moments at the collection of antiquities
assembled beneath the old roof--at the Henry II. chairs, at the
Pompadour-wreathed cabinets, at the long rows of panels on which are
presented the whole history of France--the latter an amazing record of
the industry of a certain Dr. Le Goupils.
"Criqueboeuf doesn't exactly hide its light under a bushel, you know,
although it doesn't crown a hill. No end of people know it; it sits for
its portrait, I should say at least twice a week regularly, on an
average, during the season. English water-colorists go mad over
it--they cross over on purpose to `do' it, and they do it extremely
badly, as a rule."
This was Renard's last comment of a biographical and critical nature,
concerning the "historical monument," as we reseated ourselves to
pursue our way to P----.
"Why don't you show them how it can be done?"
"Would," coolly returned Renard, "if it were worth while, but it isn't
in my line. Henri, did you bring any ice?"
Henri, I had noticed, when we had reseated ourselves in the cart, had
greeted us with an air of silent sadness; he clearly had not approved
of ruins that interfered with the business of the day.
"_Oui, monsieur_, I did bring some ice, but as monsieur can imagine to
himself--a two hours' sun--"
"Nonsense, this sun wouldn't melt a pat of butter; the ice is all
right, and so is the wine."
Then he continued in English: "Now, ladies, as I should begin if I were
a politician, or an auctioneer; now, ladies, the time for confession
has arrived; I can no longer conceal from you my burglarious scheme. In
the next turn that we shall make to the right, the park of the P----
manoir will disclose itself. But, between us and that Park, there is a
gate. That gate is locked. Now, gates, from the time of the Garden of
Eden, I take it, have been an invention of--of--the other fellow, to
keep people out. I know a way--but it's not the way you can follow.
Henri and I will break down a few bars, we'll cross a few fields over
yonder, and will present ourselves, with all the virtues written on our
faces, to you in the Park. Meanwhile you must enter, as queens
should--through the great gates. Behold, there is a cure yonder, a
great friend of mine. You will step along the roadway; you will ring a
door-bell; the cure will appear; you will ask him if it be true that
the manoir of P---- is to rent, you have heard that he has the keys; he
will present you the keys; you will open the big gate and find me."
"But--but, Mr. Renard, I really don't see how that scheme will work."
"Work! It will work to a charm. You will see. Henri, just help the
ladies, will you?"
Henri, with decisive gravity, was helping the ladies to alight; in
another instant he had regained his seat, and he and Renard were flying
down the roadway, out of sight.
"Really--it's the coolest proceeding," Charm began. Then we looked
through the bars of the park gate. The park was as green and as still
as a convent garden; a pink brick mansion, with closed window-blinds,
was standing, surrounded by a terrace on one side, and by glittering
parterres on the other.
"Where did he say the old cure was?" asked Charm, quite briskly, all at
once. Everything had turned out precisely as Renard had predicted.
Doubtless he had also counted on the efficacy of the old fable of the
Peri at the Gate--one look had been sufficient to turn us into arrant
conspirators; to gain an entrance into that tranquil paradise any ruse
"Here's a church--he said nothing about a church, did he?"
Across the avenue, above the branches of a row of tall trees, rose the
ivied facade of a rude hamlet church; a flight of steep weedy steps led
up to its Norman doorway. The door was wide open; through the arched
aperture came the sounds of footfalls, of a heavy, vigorous tread;
Charm ran lightly up a few of the lower steps, to peer into the open
"It's the cure dusting the altar--shall I go in?"
"No, we had best ring--this must be his house."
The clatter of the cure's sabots was the response that answered to the
bell we pulled, a bell attached to a diminutive brick house lying at
the foot of the churchyard. The tinkling of the cracked-voiced bell had
hardly ceased when the door opened.
But the cure had already taken his first glance at us over the garden
A NORMAN CURE.
The priest's massive frame filled the narrow door; the tones of his
mellow voice seemed also suddenly to fill the air, drowning all other
sounds. The grace of his manner, a grace that invested the simple act
of his uncovering and the holding of his _calotte_ in hand, with an air
of homage, made also our own errand the more difficult.
I had already begun to murmur the nature of our errand: we were
passing, we had seen the manoir opposite, we had heard it was to rent,
also that he, Monsieur le Cure, had the keys.
Yes, the keys were here. Then the velvet in Monsieur le Cure's eyes
turned to bronze, as they looked out at us from beneath the fine dome
"I have the keys of the garden only, mesdames," he replied, with
perfect but somewhat distant courtesy; "the gardener, down the road
yonder, has the keys of the house. Do you really wish to rent the
He had seen through our ruse with quick Norman penetration. He had not,
from the first, been in the least deceived.
It became the more difficult to smooth the situation into shape. "We
had thought perhaps to rent a villa, we were in one now at Villerville.
If Monsieur le cure would let us look at the garden. Monsieur Renard,
whom perhaps he remembered--
"M. Renard! Oh ho! Oh ho! I see it all now," and a deep, mellow laugh
smote the air. The keenness in the fine eyes melted into mirth, a mirth
that laid the fine head back on the broad shoulders, that the laugh
that shook the powerful frame might have the fuller play.
"Ah, _mes enfants_, I see it all now--it is that scoundrel of a boy.
I'll warrant he's there, over yonder, already. He was here yesterday,
he was here the day before, and he is afraid, he is ashamed to ask
again for the keys. But come, _mes enfants_, come, let us go in search
of him." And the little door was closed with a slam. Down the broad
roadway the next instant fluttered the old cure's soutane. We followed,
but could scarcely keep pace with the brisk, vigorous strides. The
sabots ploughed into the dust. The cane stamped along in company with
the sabots, all three in a fury of impatience. The cure's step and his
manner might have been those of a boy, burning with haste to discover a
playmate in hiding. All the keenness and shrewdness on the fine, ruddy
face had melted into sweetness; an exuberance of mirth seemed to be the
sap that fed his rich nature. It was easy to see he had passed the
meridian of his existence in a realm of high spirits; an irrepressible
fountain within, the fountain of an unquenchable good-humor, bathed the
whole man with the hues of health. Ripe red lips curved generously over
superb teeth; the cheeks were glowing, as were the eyes, the crimson
below them deepening to splendor the velvet in the iris. The one severe
line in the face, the thin, straight nose, ended in wide nostrils in
the quivering, mobile nostrils of the humorist. The swell of the
gourmand's paunch beneath the soutane was proof that the cure was a
true Norman he had not passed a lifetime in these fertile gardens
forgetful of the fact that the fine art of good living is the one
indulgence the Church has left to its celibate sons.
Meanwhile, our guide was peering with quick, excited gaze, through the
thick foliage of the park; his fine black eyes were sweeping the
parterre and terrace.
"Ah-h!" his rich voice cried out, mockingly; and he stopped, suddenly,
to plant his cane in the ground with mock fierceness.
"_Tiens_, Monsieur le Cure!" cried Renard, from behind a tree, in a
beautiful voice. It was a voice that matched with his well-acted
surprise, when he appeared, confronting us, on the other side of the
The cure opened his arms.
"_Ah, mon enfant, viens, viens!_ how good it is to see thee once
They were in each other's arms. The cure was pressing his lips to
Renard's cheek, in hearty French fashion. The priest, however,
administered his reproof before he released him. Renard's broad
shoulders received a series of pats, which turned to blows, dealt by
the cure's herculean hand.
"Why didn't you let me know you were here, yesterday, _Hein_? Answer me
that. How goes the picture? Is it set up yet? You see, mesdames,"
turning with a reddened cheek and gleaming eyes, "it is thus I punish
him--for he has no heart, no sensibilities--he only understands
severities! And he defrauded me yesterday, he cheated me. I didn't even
know of his being here till he had gone. And the picture, where is it?"
It was on an easel, sunning itself beneath the park trees. The old
priest clattered along the gravelly walk, to take a look at it.
"_Tiens_--it grows--the figures begin to move--they are almost alive.
There should be a trifle more shadow under the chin, what do you
Henri raised his chin. Henri had undergone the process of
transformation in our absence. He was now M. le Marquis de
Pompadour--under the heart-shaped arch of the great trees, he was
standing, resplendent in laces, in glistening satins, leaning on a
rusty, dull-jewelled sword. Renard had mounted his palette; he was
dipping already into the mounds of color that dotted the palette-board,
with his long brushes. On the canvas, in colors laid on by the touch of
genius, this archway beneath which we were standing reared itself
aloft; the park trees were as tall and noble, transfixed in their image
of immutable calm, on that strip of linen, as they towered now above
us; even the yellow cloud of the laburnum blossoms made the sunshine of
the shaded grass, as it did here, where else no spot of sun might
enter, so dense was the night of shade. The life of another day and
time lived, however, beneath that shade; Charm and the cure, as they
drooped over the canvas, confronted a graceful, attenuated courtier,
sickening in a languor of adoration, and a sprightly coquette, whose
porcelain beauty was as finished as the feathery edges of her lacy
"_Tres bien tres bien_" said the cure, nodding his head in critical
commendation. "It will be a little masterpiece. And now," waving his
hand toward us, "what do you propose to do with these ladies while you
"Oh, they can wander about," Renard replied, abstractedly. He had
already reseated himself and had begun to ply his brushes; he now saw
only Henri and the hilt of the sword he was painting in.
"I knew it, I could have told you--a painter hasn't the manners of a
peasant when he's painting," cried the priest, lifting cane and hands
high in air, in mock horror. "But all the better, all the better, I
shall have you all to myself. Come, come with me. You can see the house
later. I'll send for the gardener. It's too fine a day to be indoors.
What a day, _hein_? Le bon Dieu_ sends us such days now and then, to
make us ache for paradise. This way, this way--we'll go through the
little door--my little door; it was made for me, you know, when the
manoir was last inhabited. I and the children were too impatient--we
suffered from that malady--all of us--we never could wait for the
great gates yonder to be opened. So Monsieur de H---- built us this
one." The little door opened directly on the road, and on the cure's
house. There was a tangle of underbrush barring the way; but the cure
pushed the briars apart with his strong hands, beating them down with
When the door opened, we passed directly beyond the roadway, to the
steep steps leading to the church. The cure, before mounting the steps,
swept the road, upward and downward, with his keen glance. It was the
instinctive action of the provincial, scenting the chance of novelty.
Some distant object, in the meeting of two distant roadways, arrested
the darting eyes; this time, at least, he was to be rewarded for his
prudence in looking about him. The object slowly resolved itself into
two crutches between which hung the limp figure of a one-legged man.
"_Bonjour, Monsieur le cure_." The crutches came to a standstill; the
cripple's hand went up to doff a ragged worsted cap.
"Good-day, good-day, my friend; how goes it? Not quite so stiff,
_hein_--in such a bath of sunlight as this? Good-day, good-day."
The crutches and their burden passed on, kicking a little cloud of dust
about the lean figure.
"_Un peu casse, le bonhomme_" he said, as he nodded to the cripple in a
tone of reflection, as if the breakage that bad befallen his humble
friend were a fresh incident in his experience. "Yes, he's a little
broken, the poor old man; but then," he added, quickly renewing his
tone of unquenchable high spirits--"one doesn't die of it. No, one
doesn't die, fortunately. Why, we're all more or less cracked, or
broken up here."
He shook another laugh out, as he preceded us up the stone steps. Then
he turned to stop for a moment to point his cane toward the small house
with whose chimneys we were now on a level. "There, mesdames, there is
the proof that more breaking doesn't signify in this matter of life
and death, _Tenez_, madame--" and with a charming gesture he laid
his richly-veined, strong old hand on my arm--a hand that ended in
beautiful fingers, each with its rim of moon-shaped dirt;
"_tenez_--figure to yourself, madame, that I myself have been here
twenty years, and I came for two! I bought out the _bonhomme_ who lived
"I bought him and his furniture out. I said to myself, 'I'll buy it for
eight hundred, and I'll sell it for four hundred, in a year.'" Here he
laid his finger on his nose--lengthwise, the Norman in him supplanting
the priest in his remembrance of a good bargain. "And now it is twenty
years since then. Everything creaks and cracks over there: all of us
creak and crack. You should hear my chairs, _elles se cassent les
reins_--they break their thighs continually. Ah! there goes another, I
cry out, as I sit down in one in winter and hear them groan. Poor old
things, they are of the Empire, no wonder they groan. You should see
us, when our brethren come to take a cup of soup with me. Such a
collection of antiquities as we are! I catch them, my brothers, looking
about, slyly peering into the secrets of my little menage. 'From his
ancestors, doubtless, these old chairs and tables, say these good
freres, under their breath. And then I wink slyly at the chairs, and
they never let on."
Again the mellow laugh broke forth. He stopped again to puff and blow a
little, from his toil up the steep steps. Then all at once, as the
rough music of his clicking sabots and the playful taps of his cane
ceased, the laugh on his mobile lips melted into seriousness. He lifted
his cane, pointing to the cemetery just above us, and to the
gravestones looking down over the hillsides between a network of roses.
"We are old, madame--we are old, but, alas! we never die! It is
difficult to people, that cemetery. There are only sixty of us in the
parish, and we die--we die hard. For example, here is my old
servant"--and he covered a grave with a sweep of his cane--for we were
leisurely sauntering through the little cemetery now. The grave to
which he pointed was a garden; heliotrope, myosotis, hare-bells and
mignonette had made of the mound a bed of perfume--"see how quietly
she lies--and yet what a restless soul the flowers cover! She, too,
died hard. It took her years to make up her mind; finally _le bon Dieu_
had to decide it for her, when she was eighty-four. She complained to
the last--she was poor, she was in my way, she was blind. '_Eh bien, tu
n'as pas besoin de me faire les beaux yeux, toi_'--I used to say to
her. Ah, the good soul that she was!" and the dark eye glistened with
moisture. A moment later the cure was blowing vigorously the note of
his grief, in trumpet-tones, through the organ that only a Frenchman
can render an effective adjunct to moments of emotion.
"You see, _mes enfants_, I am like that--I weep over my friends--when
they are gone! But see," he added quickly, recovering himself--"see,
over yonder there is my predecessor's grave. He lies well, _hein?_--
comfortable, too--looking his old church in the face and the sun on his
old bones all the blessed day. Soon, in a few years, he will have
company. I, too, am to lie there, I and a friend." The humorous smile
was again curving his lips, and the laughter-loving nostrils were
beginning to quiver. "When my friend and I lie there, we shall be a
little crowded, perhaps. I said to him, when he proposed it, proposed
to lie there with us, 'but we shall be crunching each other's bones!'
'No,' he replied, 'only falling into each other's arms!' So it was
settled. He comes over from Havre, every now and then, to talk our
tombstones over; we drink a glass of wine together, and take a pipe and
talk about our future--in eternity! Ah, how gay we are! It is so good
to be friends with God!"
The voice deepened into seriousness. He went on in a quieter key:
"But why am I always preaching and talking about death and eternity to
two such ladies--two such children? Ah--I know, I am really old--I only
deceive myself into pretending I'm young. You will do the same, both of
you, some day. But come and see my good works. You know everyone has
his little corner of conceit--I have mine. I like to do good, and then
to boast of it. You shall see--you shall see."
He was hurrying us along the narrow paths now, past the little company
of grave-stones, graves that were bearing their barbaric burdens of
mortuary wreaths, of beaded crosses, and the motley assemblage, common
to all French graveyards, of hideous shrines encasing tin saints and
madonnas in plaster.
Above the sunken graves and the tin effigies of the martyrs behind the
church, arose a fair and glittering marble tomb. It was strangely out
of keeping with the meagre and paltry surroundings of the peasant
grave-stones. As we approached the tomb it grew in imposingness. It was
a circular mortuary chapel, with carved pediment and iron-wrought
"It's fine, _hein_, and beautiful, _hein?_ It is the Duke's!" The cure,
it was easy to see, considered the chapel in the light of a personal
possession. He stood before it, bare-headed, with a new earnestness on
his mobile face. "It is the Duke's. Yes, the Duke's. I saved his soul,
blessed be God! and he--he rebuilds my cellars for me: See"--and he
pointed to the fine new base of stone, freshly cemented, on which the
church rested--"see, I save his soul, and he preserves my buildings for
me. It's a fair deal, isn't it? How does it come about, that he is
converted? Ah, you see, although I am a man without science, without
knowledge, devoid of pretensions and learning, the good God sometimes
makes use of such humble instruments to work His will. It came about in
the usual way. The Duke came here carrying his religion lightly, as one
may say, not thinking of his soul. I--I dine with him. We talk, we
argue; he does, that is--I only preach from my Bible. And behold! one
day he is converted. He is devout. And from gratitude, he repairs my
crumbling old stones. And now see how solid, how strong is my church
Again the fountain of his irrepressible merriment bubbled forth. For
all the gayety, however, the severe line deepened as one grew to know
the face better; the line in profile running from the nose into the
firm upper lip and into the still more resolute chin, matched the
impress of authority marked on the noble brow. It was the face of one
who might have infinite charity and indulgence for a sin, and yet would
make no compromise with it.
We had resumed our walk. It led us at last into the interior of the
little church. The gloom and silence within, after the dazzling
brilliancy of the noon-day sun and the noisy insect hum, invested the
narrow nave and dim altar with an added charm. The old priest knelt for
the briefest instant in reverence to the altar. When he turned there
was surprise as well as a gentle reproach in the changeable eyes.
"And you, mesdames! How is this? You are not Catholics? And I was so
sure of it! Quite sure of it, you were so sympathetic, so full of
reverence. And you, my child"--turning to Charm--"you speak our tongue
so well, with the very accent of a good Catholic. What! you are
Protestant? La! La! What do I hear?" He shook his cane over the backs
of the straw-bottomed chairs; the sweet, mellow accents of his voice
melted into loving protest--a protest in which the fervor was not
quenched in spite of the merry key in which it was pitched.
"Protestants? Pouffe! pouffe! What is that? What is it to be a
Protestant? Heretics, heretics, that is what you are. So you are _deux
affreuses heretiques_? Ah, la! la! Horrible! horrible! I must cure you
of all that. I must cure you!" He dropped his cane in the enthusiasm of
his attack; it fell with a clanging sound on the stone pavement. He let
it lie. He had assumed, unconsciously, the orator's, the preacher's
attitude. He crowded past the chairs, throwing back his head as he
advanced, striking into argumentative gesture:
"_Tenez_, listen, there is so little difference, after all. As I was
saying to M. le comte de Chermont the other day, no later than
Thursday--he has married an English wife, you know--can't understand
that either, how they can marry English wives. However, that's none of
my business--we have nothing to do with marrying, we priests, except as
a sacrament for others. I said to M. le comte, who, you know, shows
tendencies toward anglicism--astonishing the influence of women--I
said: 'But, my dear M. le comte, why change? You will only exchange
certainty for uncertainty, facts for doubts, truth for lies.' 'Yes,
yes,' the comte replied, 'but there are so many new truths introduced
now into our blessed religion--the infallibility of the pope--the--'
'_Ah, mon cher comte--ne m'en parlez pas_. If that is all that stands
in your way--_faites comme le bon Dieu! Lui--il ferme les yeux et tend
les bras._ That is all we ask--we his servants--to have you close your
eyes and open your arms.'"
The good cure was out of breath; he was panting. After a moment, in a
deeper tone, he went on:
"You, too, my children, that is what I say to you--you need only to
open your arms and to close your eyes. God is waiting for you."
For a long instant there was a great stillness--a silence during which
the narrow spaces of the dim aisles were vibrating with the echoes of
the rich voice.
The rustle of a light skirt sweeping the stone flooring broke the
moment's silence. Charm was crossing the aisles. She paused before a
little wooden box, nailed to the wall. There came suddenly on the ear
the sound of coin rattling down into the empty box; she had emptied
into it the contents of her purse.
"For your poor, monsieur le cure," she smiled up, a little tremulously,
into the burning, glowing eyes. The priest bent over the fair head,
laying his hand, as if in benediction, upon it.
"My poor need it sadly, my child, and I thank you for them. God will
It was a touching little scene, and I preferred, for one, to look out
just then at Henri's figure advancing toward us, up the stone steps.
When the priest spoke again, it was in a husky tone, the gold in his
voice dusted with moisture; but the bantering spirits in him had
"What a pity, that you must burn! For you must, dreadful heretics that
you are! And this dear child, she seems to belong to us--I can never
sit by, now, in Paradise, happy and secure, and see her burn!" The
laugh that followed was a mingled caress and a blessing. Henri came in
for a part of the indulgence of the good cure's smile as he came up the
"Ah, Henri, you have come for these ladies?"
"_Oui_, monsieur le cure, luncheon is served."
Our friend followed us to the topmost step, and to the very edge of the
step. He stood there, talking down to us, as we continued to press him
to return with us.
"No, my children--no--no, I can't join you; don't urge me; I can't, I
must not. I must say my prayers instead; besides the children come
soon, for their catechism. No, don't beg me, I don't need to be
importuned; I know what that dear Renard's wine is. _Au revoir et a
bientot_--and remember," and here he lifted his arms--cane and all,
high in the air--"all you need do is to close your eyes and to open
your arms. God himself is doing the same."
High up he stood, with uplifted hands, the smile irradiating a face
that glowed with a saint's simplicity. Behind the black lines of his
robe, the sunlight lay streaming in noon glory; it aureoled him as
never saint was aureoled by mortal brush. A moment only he lingered
there, to raise his cap in parting salute. Then he turned, the trail of
his gown sweeping the gravel paths, and presently the low church door
swallowed him up. Through the door, as we crossed the road, there came
out to us the click of sabots striking the rude flagging; and a
moment after, the murmuring echo of a deep, rich voice, saying the
office of the hour.
HONFLEUR--NEW AND OLD.
The stillness of the park trees, as we passed beneath them, was like
the silence that comes after a blessing. The sun, flooding the
landscape with a deluge of light, lost something of its effulgence, by
contrast with the fulness of the priest's rich nature. This fair world
of beauty that lay the other side of the terrace wall, beneath which
our luncheon was spread, was fair and lovely still--but how unimportant
the landscape seemed compared to the varied scenery of the cure's
soul-lit character! Of all kinds of nature, human nature is assuredly
the best; it is at least the most perdurably interesting. When we tire
of it, when we weary of our fellow-man and turn the blase cheek on the
fresh pillow of mother-earth, how quickly is the pillow deserted once
the mental frame is rested or renewed! The history of all human
relations has the same ending--we all of us only fall out of love with
man to fall as swiftly in again.
The remainder of the afternoon passed with the rapidity common to all
phases of enchantment.
How could one eat seriously, with vulgar, gluttonous hunger, of a feast
spread on the parapet of a terrace-wall? The white foam of napkins, the
mosaic of the _patties_, the white breasts of chicken, the salads in
their bath of dew--these spoke the language of a lost cause. For there
was an open-air concert going on in full swing, and the performance was
one that made the act of eating seem as gross as the munching of apples
at an oratorio--the music being, indeed, of a highly refined order of
perfection. One's ears needed to be highly attuned to hear the pricking
of the locusts in the leaves; even the breeze kept uncommonly still,
that the brushing of the humming-birds' and bees' wings against the
flower-petals might be the more distinctly heard.
I never knew which one of the party it was that decided we were to see
the day out and the night in; that we were to dine at the Cheval Blanc,
on the Honfleur quays, instead of sedately breaking bread at the Mere
Mouchard's. Even our steed needed very little urging to see the
advantages of such a scheme. Henri alone wore a grim air of
disapproval. His aspect was an epitome of rigid protest. As he took his
seat in the cart, he held the sword between his legs with the air of
one burning with a pent-up anguish of protest. His eye gloomed on the
day; his head was held aloft, reared on a column of bristling vertebra,
and on his brow was written the sign of mutiny.
"Henri--you think we should go back; you think going on to Honfleur a
"Madame has said it"--Henri was a fatalist--in his speech, at least, he
lived up to his creed. "Honfleur is far--Monsieur Renard has not the
good digestion when he is tired--he suffers. _Il passe des nuits
d'angoisse. Il souffre des fatigues de l'estomac. Il se fatigue
aujourd'hui!_" This, with an air of stern conviction, was accompanied
by a glance at his master in which compassion was not the most obvious
note to be read. He went on, remorselessly:
"And, as madame knows, the work but begins for me when we are at home.
There are the costumes to be dusted and put away, the paintbrushes to
clean, the dishes and lunch-basket to be attended to. As madame says,
monsieur is sometimes lacking in consideration. _Mais, que voulez-vous?
le genie, c'est fait comme ca._"
Madame had not expressed the feeblest echo of a criticism on the
composition of the genius in front; but the short dialogue had helped,
perceptibly, to lift the weight of Henri's gloom; he was beginning to
accept the fate of the day with a philosopher's phlegm. Already he had
readjusted a little difficulty between his feet and the lunch basket,
making his religious care of the latter compatible with the open sin of
improved personal comfort.
Meanwhile the two on the front seat were a thousand miles away. Neither
we, nor the day, nor the beauty of the drive had power to woo their
glances from coming back to the focal point of interest they had found
in each other. They were beginning to talk, not about each other but of
themselves--the danger-signal of all tete-a-tete adventures.
When two young people have got into the personal-pronoun stage of human
intercourse, there is but one thing left for the unfortunate third in
the party to do. Yes, now that I think of it, there are two roles to be
played. The usual conception of the part is to turn marplot--to spoil
and ruin the others' dialogue--to put an end to it, if possible, by
legitimate or illegitimate means; a very successful way, I have
observed, of prolonging, as a rule, such a duet indefinitely. The more
enlightened actor in any such little human comedy, if he be gifted with
insight, will collapse into the wings, and let the two young idiots
have the whole stage to themselves. As like as not they'll weary of the
play, and of themselves, if left alone. No harm will come of all the
sentimental strutting and the romantic attitudinizing, other than
viewing the scene, later, in perspective, as a rather amusing bit of
Besides being in the very height of the spring fashion, in the matter
of the sentiments, these two were also busily treading, at just this
particular moment, the most alluring of all the paths leading to what
may be termed the outlying territorial domain of the emotions; they
were wandering through the land called Mutual Discovery. Now, this, I
have always held, is among the most delectable of all the roads of
life; for it may lead one--anywhere or nowhere.
Therefore it was from a purely generous impulse that I continued to
look at the view. The surroundings were, in truth, in conspiracy with
the sentimentalists on the front seat; the extreme beauty of the road
would have made any but sentimental egotists oblivious to all else. The
road was a continuation of the one we had followed in the morning's
drive. Again, all the greenness of field and grass was braided,
inextricably, into the blue of river and ocean. Above, as before, in
that earlier morning drive, towered the giant aisles of the beaches
and elms. Through those aisles the radiant Normandy landscape flowed
again, as music from rich organ-piped throats flows through cathedral
arches. Out yonder, on the Seine's wide mouth, the boats were balancing
themselves, as if they also were half divided between a doubt and a
longing; a freshening spurt of breeze filled their flapping sails, and
away they sped, skipping through the waters with all the gayety which
comes with the vigor of fresh resolutions. The light that fell over the
land and waters was dazzling, and yet of an astonishing limpidity; only
a sun about to drop and end his reign could be at once so brilliant and
so tender--the diffused light had the sparkle of gold made soft by
usage. Wherever the eye roved, it was fed as on a banquet of light and
color. Nothing could be more exquisite, for depth of green swimming in
a bath of shadow, than the meadows curled beneath the cliffs; nothing
more tempting, to the painter's brush, than the arabesque of blossoms
netted across the sky; and would you have the living eye of nature,
bristling with animation, alive with winged sails, and steeped in the
very soul of yellow sunshine, look out over the great sheet of the
waters, and steep the senses in such a breadth of aqueous splendor as
one sees only in one or two of the rare shows of earth.
Then, all at once, all too soon, the great picture seemed to shrink;
the quivering pulsation of light and color gave way to staid,
commonplace gardens. Instead of hawthorn hedges there was the stench of
river smells--we were driving over cobble-paved streets and beneath
rows of crooked, crumbling houses. A group of noisy street urchins
greeted us in derision. And then we had no doubt whatsoever that we
were already in Honfleur town.
"Honfleur is an evil-smelling place," I remarked.
"Oh, well, after all, the smells of antiquity are a part of the show;
we should refuse to believe in ancientness, all of us, I fancy, if
mustiness wasn't served along with it."
"How can any town have such a stench with all this river and water and
verdure to sweeten it?" I asked, with a woman's belief in the morality
of environment--a belief much cherished by wives and mothers, I have
"Wait till you see the inhabitants--they'll enlighten you--the hags and
the nautical gentlemen along the basins and quays. They've discovered
the secret that if cleanliness is next to godliness, dirt and the devil
are likewise near neighbors. Awful set--those Honfleur sailors The
Havre and Seine people call them Chinamen, they are so unlike the rest
of France and Frenchmen."
"Why are they so unlike?" asked Charm.
"They're so low down, so hideously wicked; they're like the old houses,
a rotten, worm-eaten set--you'll see."
Charm stopped him then, with a gesture. She stopped the horse also; she
brought the whole establishment to a standstill; and then she nodded
her head briskly forward. We were in the midst of the Honfleur
streets--streets that were running away from a wide open space, in all
possible directions. In the centre of the square rose a curious, an
altogether astonishing structure. It was a tower, a belfry doubtless, a
house, a shop, and a warehouse, all in one; such a picturesque medley,
in fact, as only modern irreverence, in its lawless disregard of
original purpose and design, can produce. The low-timbered sub-base of
the structure was pierced by a lovely doorway with sculptured lintel,
and also with two impertinent modern windows, flaunting muslin
curtains, and coquettishly attired with rows of flowering carnations.
Beneath these windows was a shop. Above the whole rose, in beautiful
symmetrical lines, a wooden belfry, tapering from a square tower into a
delicately modelled spire. To complete and accentuate the note of the
picturesque, the superstructure was held in its place by rude modern
beams, propping the tower with a naive disregard of decorative
embellishment. We knew it at once as the quaint and famous Belfry of
As we were about to turn away to descend the high street, a Norman
maiden, with close-capped face, leaned over the carnations to look down
"That's the daughter of the bell-ringer, doubtless. Economical idea
that," Renard remarked, taking his cap off to the smiling eyes.
"Yes, can't you see? Bell-ringer sends pretty daughter to window, just
before vespers or service, and she rings in the worshippers; no need to
make the bells ring."
"What nonsense!"--but we laughed as flatteringly as if his speech had
been a genuine coin of wit.
A turn down the street, and the famous Honfleur of the wharves and
floating docks lay before us. About us, all at once, was the roar and
hubbub of an extraordinary bustle and excitement; all the life of the
town, apparently, was centred upon the quays. The latter were swarming
with a tattered, ragged, bare-footed, bare-legged assemblage of old
women, of gamins, and sailors. The collection, as a collection, was one
gifted with the talent of making itself heard. Everyone appeared to be
shrieking, or yelling, or crying aloud, if only to keep the others in
voice. Sailors lying on the flat parapets shouted hoarsely to their
fellows in the rigging of the ships that lay tossing in the docks;
fishermen's families tossed their farewells above the hubbub to the
captain-fathers launching their fishing-smacks; one shrieking infant
was being passed, gayly, from the poop of a distant deck, across the
closely lying shipping, to the quay's steps, to be hushed by the
generous opening of a peasant mother's bodice. One could hear the
straining of cordage, the creak of masts, the flap of the sails, all
the noises peculiar to shipping riding at anchor. The shriek of
steam-whistles broke out, ever and anon, above all the din and uproar.
Along the quay steps and the wharves there were constantly forming and
re-forming groups of wretched, tattered human beings; of men with
bloated faces and a dull, sodden look, strikingly in contrast with the
vivacity common among French people. Even the children and women had a
depraved, shameless appearance, as if vice had robbed them of the last
vestige of hope and ambition. Along the parapet a half-dozen drunkards
sprawled, asleep or dozing. At the legs of one a child was pulling,
"_Viens--mere t'battra, elle est soule aussi._"
The sailors out yonder, busy in the rigging, and the men on the decks
of the smart brigs and steamships, whistled and shouted and sang, as
indifferent to this picture of human misery and degradation as if they
had no kinship with it.
As a frame to the picture, Honfleur town lay beneath the crown of its
hills; on the tops and sides of the latter, villa after villa shot
through the trees, a curve of roof-line, with rows of daintily draped
windows. At the right, close to the wharves, below the wooded heights,
there loomed out a quaint and curious gateway flanked by two
watchtowers, grim reminders of the Honfleur of the great days. And
above and about the whole, encompassing villa-crowded hills and
closely packed streets, and the forest of masts trembling against the
sky, there lay a heaven of spring and summer.
Renard had driven briskly up to a low, rambling facade parallel with
the quays. It was the "Cheval Blanc." A crowd assembled on the instant,
as if appearing according to command.
"_Allons--n'encombrez pas ces dames!_" cried a very smart individual,
in striking contrast to the down at-heel air of the hotel--a personage
who took high-handed possession of us and our traps. "Will _ces dames_
desire a salon--there is _un vrai petit bijou_ empty just now,"
murmured a voice in a purring soprano, through the iron opening of the
Another voice was crying out to us, as we wound our way upward in
pursuit of the jewel of a salon. "And the widow, _La Veuve_, shall she
be dry or sweet?"
When we entered the low dining-room, a little later, we found that the
artist as well as the epicure has been in active conspiracy to make the
dinner complete; the choice of the table proclaimed one accomplished in
massing effects. The table was parallel with the low window, and
through the latter was such a picture as one travels hundreds of miles
to look upon, only to miss seeing it, as a rule. There was a great
breadth of sky through the windows; against the sky rose the mastheads;
and some red and brown sails curtained the space, bringing into relief
the gray line of the sad-faced old houses fringing the shoreline.
"Couldn't have chosen better if we'd tried, could we? It's just the
right hour, and just the right kind of light. Those basins are
unendurable--sinks of iniquitous ugliness, unless the tide's in and
there's a sunset going on. Just look now! Who cares whether Honfleur
has been done to death by the tourist horde or not? and been painted
until one's art-stomach turns? I presume I ought to beg your pardon,
but I can't stand the abomination of modern repetitions; the
hand-organ business in art, I call it. But at this hour, at this time
of the year, before this rattle-trap of an inn is as packed with
Baedeker attachments as a Siberian prison is with Nihilists--to run out
here and look at these quays and basins, and old Honfleur lying here,
beneath her green cliffs--well, short of Cairo, I don't know any better
bit of color. Look out there, now! See those sails, dripping with
color, and that fellow up there, letting the sail down--there, splash
it goes into the water, I knew it would; now tell me where will
you get better blues or yellows or browns, with just the right purples
in the shore line, than you'll get here?"
Renard was fairly started; he had the bit of the born monologist
between his teeth; he stopped barely long enough to hear even an
echoing assent. We were quite content; we continued to sip our
champagne and to feast our eyes. Meanwhile Renard talked on.
"Guide-books--what's the use of guide-books? What do they teach you,
anyway? Open any one of the cursed clap-trap things. Yes, yes, I know I
oughtn't to use vigorous language."
"Do," bleated Charm, smiling sweetly up at him. "Do, it makes you seem
Even Renard had to take time to laugh.
"Thank you! I'm not above making use of any aids to create that
illusion. Well, as I was saying, what guide-book ever really helped
anyone to _see?_--that's what one travels for, I take it. Here, for
instance, Murray or Baedeker would give you this sort of thing:
'Honfleur, an ancient town, with pier, beaches, three floating docks,
and a good deal of trade in timber, cod, etc.; exports large quantities
of eggs to England.' Good heavens! it makes one boil! Do sane,
reasonable mortals travel three thousand miles to read ancient history
done up in modern binding, served up a la Murray, a la Baedeker?"
"Oh, you do them injustice, I think--the guides do go in for a little
more of the picturesque than that--"
"And how--how do they do it? This is the sort of thing they'll give
you: 'Church of St. Catherine is large and remarkable, entirely of
timber and plaster, the largest of its kind in France.' Ah! ha! that's
the picturesque with a vengeance. No, no, my friends, throw the
guide-books into the river, pitch them overboard through the port
holes, along with the flowers, and letters _to be read three days out_,
and the nasty novels people send you to make the crossing pleasant. And
when you travel, really travel, mind, never make a plan--just go--go
anywhere, whenever the impulse seizes you--and you may hope to get
there, in the right way, possibly."
Here Renard stopped to finish his glass, draining-the last drop of the
yellow liquid. Then he went on: "To travel! To start when an impulse
seizes one! To go--anywhere! Why not! It was for this, after all, that
all of us have come our three thousand miles." Perhaps it was the
restless tossing of the shipping out yonder in the basins that awoke an
answering impatience within, in response to Renard's outburst. Where
did they go, those ships, and, up beyond this mouth of the Seine, how
looked the shores, and what life lived itself out beneath the rustling
poplars? Is it the mission of all flowing water to create an unrest in
Meanwhile, though the talk was not done, the dinner was long since
eaten. We rose to take a glimpse of Honfleur and its famous old basin.
The quays and the floating docks, in front of which we had been dining,
are a part of the nineteenth century; the great ships ride in to them
from the sea. But here, in this inner quadrangular dock, beside which
we were soon standing, traced by Duquesne when Louis the Great
discovered the maritime importance of Honfleur, we found still
reminders of the old life. Here were the same old houses that, in
the seventeenth century, upright and brave in their brand new carvings,
saw the high-decked, picturesquely painted Spanish and Portuguese ships
ride in to dip their flag to the French fleur-de-lis. There are but few
of the old streets left to crowd about the shipping life that still
floats here, as in those bygone days of Honfleur pride;--when Havre was
but a yellow strip of sand; when the Honfleur merchants would have
laughed to scorn any prophet's cry of warning that one day that
sand-bar opposite, despised, disregarded, boasting only a chapel and a
tavern, would grow and grow, and would steal year by year and inch by
inch bustling Honfleur's traffic, till none was left.
In the old adventurous days, along with the Spanish ships came others,
French trading and fishing vessels, with the salty crustations of long
voyages on their hulls and masts. The wharves were alive then with
fish-wives, whom Evelyn will tell you wore "useful habits made of
goats' skin." The captains' daughters were in quaint Normandy costumes;
and the high-peaked coifs and the stiff woollen skirts, as well as the
goat-skin coats, trembled as the women darted hither and thither among
the sailors--whose high cries filled the air as they picked out mother
and wife. Then were bronzed beards buried in the deeply-wrinkled old
meres' faces, and young, strong arms clasped about maidens' waists. The
whole town rang with gayety and with the mad joy of reunion. On the
morrow, coiling its way up the steep hillsides, wound the long lines of
the grateful company, one composed chiefly of the crews of these
vessels happily come to port. The procession would mount up to the
little church of Notre Dame de Grace perched on the hill overlooking
the harbor. Some even--so deep was their joy at deliverance from
shipwreck and so fervent their piety--crawled up, bare-footed, with
bared head, wives and children following, weeping for joy, as the rude
_ex-votos_ were laid by the sailors' trembling hands at the feet of the
As reminders of this old life, what is left? Within the stone
quadrangle we found clustered a motley fleet of wrecks and
fishing-vessels; the nets, flung out to dry in the night air, hung like
shrouds from the mastheads; here and there a figure bestrode a deck, a
rough shape, that seemed endowed with a double gift of life, so still
and noiseless was the town. Around the silent dock, grouped in
mysterious medley and confusion, were tottering roof lines, projecting
eaves, narrow windows, all crazily tortured and out of shape. Here
and there, beneath the broad beams of support, a little interior, dimly
lighted, showed a knot of sailors gathered, drinking or lounging. Up
high beneath a chimney perilously overlooking a rude facade, a quaint
shape emerged, one as decrepit and forlorn of life and hope as the
decaying houses it overlooked. Silence, poverty, wretchedness, the
dregs of life, to this has Honfleur fallen. These old houses, in their
slow decay, hiding in their dark bosom the gaunt secrets of this
poverty and human misery, seemed to be dancing a dance of drunken
indifference. Some day the dance will end in a fall, and then the
Honfleur of the past will not even boast of a ghost, as reminder of its
days of splendor.
An artist quicker than anyone else, I think, can be trusted to take one
out of history and into the picturesque. Renard refused to see anything
but beauty in the decay about us; for him the houses were at just the
right drooping angle; the roof lines were delightful in their
irregularity; and the fluttering tremor of the nets, along the rigging,
was the very poetry of motion.
"We'll finish the evening on the pier," he exclaimed, suddenly; "the
moon will soon be up--we can sit it out there and see it begin to color
The pier was more popular than the quaint old dock. It was crowded with
promenaders, who, doubtless, were taking a bite of the sea-air. Through
the dusk the tripping figures of gentlemen in white flannels and jaunty
caps brushed the provincial Honfleur swells. Some gentle English voices
told us some of the villa residents had come down to the pier, moved by
the beauty of the night. Groups of sailors, with tanned faces and
punctured ears hooped with gold rings, sat on the broad stone parapets,
talking unintelligible Breton _patois_. The pier ran far out, almost to
the Havre cliffs, it seemed to us, as we walked along in the dusk of
the young night. The sky was slowly losing its soft flame. A tender,
mellow half light was stealing over the waters, making the town a rich
mass of shade. Over the top of the low hills the moon shot out, a
large, globular mass of beaten gold. At first it was only a part and
portion of the universal lighting, of the still flushed sky, of the red
and crimson harbor lights, of the dim twinkling of lamps and candles in
the rude interiors along the shore. But slowly, triumphantly, the great
lamp swung up; it rose higher and higher into the soft summer sky, and
as it mounted, sky and earth began to pale and fade. Soon there was
only a silver world to look out upon--a wealth of quivering silver over
the breast of the waters, and a deeper, richer gray on cliffs and
roof tops. Out of this silver world came the sound of waters, lapping
in soft cadence against the pier; the rise and fall of sails, stirring
in the night wind; the tread of human footsteps moving in slow,
measured beat, in unison with the rhythm of the waters. Just when the
stars were scattering their gold on the bosom of the sea-river, a voice
rang out, a rich, full baritone. Quite near, two sailors were seated,
with their arms about each other's shoulders. They also were looking at
the moonlight, and one of them was singing to it:
_"Te souviens-tu, Marie,
De notre enfance aux champs?
Le temps que je regrette
C'est le temps qui n'est plus._"
[Illustration: THE INN AT DIVES--GUILLAUME-LE-CONQUERANT]
DIVES: AN INN ON A HIGH-ROAD.
A COAST DRIVE.
On our return to Villerville we found that the charm of the place, for
us, was a broken one. We had seen the world; the effect of that
experience was to produce the common result--there was a fine deposit
of discontent in the cup of our pleasure.
Madame Fouchet had made use of our absence to settle our destiny; she
had rented her villa. This was one of the bitter dregs. Another was to
find that the life of the village seemed to pass us by; it gave us to
understand, with unflattering frankness, that for strangers who made no
bargains for the season, it had little or no civility to squander. For
the Villerville beach, the inn, and the villas were crowded. Mere
Mouchard was tossing omelettes from morning till night; even Augustine
was far too hurried to pay her usual visit to the creamery. A
detachment of Parisian costumes and beribboned nursery maids was
crowding out the fish-wives and old hags from their stations on the low
door-steps and the grasses on the cliffs.
Even Fouchet was no longer a familiar figure in the foreground of his
garden; his roses were blooming now for the present owners of his
villa. He and madame had betaken themselves to a box of a hut on the
very outskirts of the village--a miserable little hovel with two rooms
and a bit of pasture land being the substitute, as a dwelling, for the
gay villa and its garden along the sea-cliffs. Pity, however, would
have been entirely wasted on the Fouchet household and their change of
habitation. Tucked in, cramped, and uncomfortable beneath the low eaves
of their cabin ceilings, they could now wear away the summer in
blissful contentment: Were they not living on nothing--on less than
nothing, in this dark pocket of a _chaumiere_, while their fine house
yonder was paying for itself handsomely, week after week? The heart
beats high, in a Norman breast, when the pocket bulges; gold--that is
better than bread to feel in one's hand.
The whole village wore this triumphant expression--now that the season
was beginning. Paris had come down to them, at last, to be shorn of its
strength; angling for pennies in a Parisian pocket was better, far,
than casting nets into the sea. There was also more contentment in such
fishing--for true Norman wit.
Only once did the village change its look of triumph to one of polite
regret; for though it was Norman, it was also French. It remembered, on
the morning of our departure, that the civility of the farewell costs
nothing, and like bread prodigally scattered on the waters, may
perchance bring back a tenfold recompense.
Even the morning arose with a flattering pallor. It was a gray day. The
low houses were like so many rows of pale faces; the caps of the
fishwives, as they nodded a farewell, seemed to put the village in half
"You will have a perfect day for your drive--there's nothing better
than these grays in the French landscape," Renard was saying, at our
carriage wheels; "they bring out every tone. And the sea is wonderful.
Pity you're going. Grand day for the mussel-bed. However, I shall see
you, I shall see you. Remember me to Monsieur Paul; tell him to save me
a bottle of his famous old wine. Good-by, good-by."
There was a shower of rose-leaves flung out upon us; a great sweep of
the now familiar beret; a sonorous "Hui!" from our driver, with an
accompaniment of vigorous whip-snapping, and we were off.
The grayness of the closely-packed houses was soon exchanged for the
farms lying beneath the elms. With the widening of the distance between
our carriage-wheels and Villerville, there was soon a great expanse of
mouse-colored sky and the breath of a silver sea. The fields and
foliage were softly brilliant; when the light wind stirred the grain,
the poppies and bluets were as vivid as flowers seen in dreams.
It is easy to understand, I think, why French painters are so enamoured
of their gray skies--such a background makes even the commonplace wear
an air of importance. All the tones of the landscape were astonishingly
serious; the features of the coast and the inland country were as
significant as if they were meditating an outbreak into speech. It was
the kind of day that bred reflection; one could put anything one liked
into the picture with a certainty of its fitting the frame. We were
putting a certain amount of regret into it; for though Villerville has
seen us depart with civilized indifference or the stolidity of
the barbarian--for they are one, we found our own attainments in the
science of unfeelingness deficient: to look down upon the village from
the next hill top was like facing a lost joy.
Once on the highroad, however, the life along the shore gave us little
time for the futility of regret. Regret, at best, is a barren thing:
like the mule, it is incapable of perpetuating its own mistakes; it
appears to apologize, indeed, for its stupidity by making its exit as
speedily as possible. With the next turn of the road we were in fitting
condition to greet the wildest form of adventure.
Pedlars' carts and the lumbering Normandy farm wagons were, at first,
our chief companions along the roadway. Here and there a head would
peep forth from a villa window, or a hand be stretched out into the air
to see if any rain was falling from the moist sky. The farms were
quieter than usual; there was an air of patient waiting in the
courtyards, among the blouses and standing cattle, as though both man
and beast were there in attendance on the day and the weather,
till the latter could come to the point of a final decision in regard
to the rain.
Finally, as we were nearing Trouville, the big drops fell. The
grain-fields were soon bent double beneath the spasmodic shower. The
poppies were drenched, so were the cobble paved courtyards; only the
geese and the regiment of the ducks came abroad to revel in the
downpour. The villas were hermetically sealed now--their summer finery
was not made for a wetting. The landscape had no such reserves; it gave
itself up to the light summer shower as if it knew that its raiment,
like Rachel's, when dampened the better to take her plastic outlines,
only gained in tone and loveliness the closer it fitted the recumbent
figure of mother earth.
Our coachman could never have been mistaken for any other than a good
Norman. He was endowed with the gift of oratory peculiar to the
country; and his profanity was enriched with all the flavor of the
provincial's elation in the committing of sin. From the earliest moment
of our starting, the stream of his talk had been unending. His
vocabulary was such as to have excited the envy and despair of a French
realist, impassioned in the pursuit of "the word."
"_Hui!--b-r-r-r!_"--This was the most common of his salutations to his
horse. It was the Norman coachman's familiar apostrophe, impossible of
imitation; it was also one no Norman horse who respects himself moves
an inch without first hearing. Chat Noir was a horse of purest Norman
ancestry; his Percheron blood was as untainted as his intelligence was
unclouded by having no mixtures of tongues with which to deal. His
owner's "_Hui!_" lifted him with arrowy lightness to the top of a hill.
The deeper "_Bougre_" steadied his nerve for a good mile of unbroken
trotting. Any toil is pleasant in the gray of a cool morning, with a
friend holding the reins who is a gifted monologist; even imprecations,
rightly administered, are only lively punctuations to really talented
"Come, my beauty, take in thy breath--courage! The hill is before thee!
Curse thy withered legs, and is it thus thou stumbleth? On--up with
thee and that mountain of flesh thou carriest about with thee." And the
mountain of flesh would be lifted--it was carried as lightly by the
finely-feathered legs and the broad haunches as if the firm avoirdupois
were so much gossamer tissue. On and on the neat, strong hoofs rang
their metallic click, clack along the smooth macadam. They had carried
us past the farm-houses, the cliffs, the meadows, and the Norman roofed
manoirs buried in their apple-orchards. These same hoofs were now
carefully, dexterously picking their way down the steep hill that leads
directly into the city of the Trouville villas.
Presently, the hoofs came to a sudden halt, from sheer amazement. What
was this order, this command the quick Percheron hearing had overheard?
Not to go any farther into this summer city--not to go down to its
sand-beach--not to wander through the labyrinth of its gay little
streets?--Verily, it is the fate of a good horse, how often! to carry
fools, and the destiny of intelligence to serve those deficient in mind
The criticism on our choice of direction was announced by the hoofs
turning resignedly, with the patient assent of the fatigue that is bred
of disgust, into one of the upper Trouville by-streets. Our coachman
contented himself with a commiserating shrug and a prolonged flow of
explanation. Perhaps _ces dames_, being strangers, did not know that
Trouville was now beginning its real season--its season of baths? The
Casino, in truth, was only opened a week since; but we could hear the
band even now playing above the noise of the waves. And behold, the
villas were filling; each day some _grande dame_ came down to take
possession of her house by the sea.
How could we hope to make a Frenchman comprehend an instinctive impulse
to turn our backs on the Trouville world? What, pray, had we just now
to do with fashion--with the purring accents of boudoirs, with all the
life we had run away from? Surely the romance--the charm of our present
experiences would be put to flight once we exchanged salutations with
the _beau monde_--with that world that is so sceptical of any pleasure
save that which blooms in its own hot-houses, and so disdainful of all
forms of life save those that are modelled on fashion's types. We had
fled from cities to escape all this; were we, forsooth, to be pushed
into the motley crowd of commonplace pleasure-seekers because of the
scorn of a human creature, and the mute criticism of a beast that was
hired to do the bidding of his betters? The world of fashion was one to
be looked out upon as a part of the general _mise-en-scene_--as a bit
of the universal decoration of this vast amphitheatre of the Normandy
Chat noir had little reverence for philosophic reflections; he turned a
sharp corner just then; he stopped short, directly in front of the
broad windows of a confectioner's shop. This time he did not appeal in
vain to the strangers with a barbarian's contempt for the great world.
The brisk drive and the salt in the air were stimulants to appetite to
be respected; it is not every day the palate has so fine an edge.
"_Du the, mesdames--a l'Anglaise?_" a neatly-corsetted shape, in black,
to set off a pair of dazzling pink cheeks, shone out behind rows of
apricot tarts. There was also a cap that conveyed to one, through the
medium of pink bows, the capacities of coquetry that lay in the depths
of the rich brown eyes beneath them. The attractive shape emerged at
once from behind the counter, to set chairs about the little table. We
were bidden to be seated with an air of smiling grace, one that
invested the act with the emphasis of genuine hospitality. Soon a great
clatter arose in the rear of the shop; opinions and counter-opinions
were being volubly exchanged in shrill French, as to whether the water
should or should not come to a boil; also as to whether the leaves of
oolong or of green should be chosen for our beverage. The cap fluttered
in several times to ask, with exquisite politeness--a politeness which
could not wholly veil the hidden anxiety--our own tastes and
preferences. When the cap returned to the battling forces behind the
screen, armed with the authority of our confessed prejudices, a new war
of tongues arose. The fate of nations, trembling on the turn of a
battle, might have been settled before that pot of water, so watched
and guarded over, was brought to a boil. When, finally, the little tea
service was brought in, every detail was perfect in taste and
appointment, except the tea; the action that had held out valiantly,