Aunt Jo's Scrap-Bag, Volume 2/Chapter 2
"AFTER a late dinner, at which their appetites were pretty effectually taken away by seeing dishes of snails passed round and eaten like nuts, with large pins to pick out the squirming meat; a night's rest somewhat disturbed by the incessant clatter of sabots in the market-place, and a breakfast rendered merry by being served by a garçon whom Dickens would have immortalized, our travellers went on to Caulnes-Dinan.
Here began their adventures, properly speaking. They were obliged to drive fourteen miles to Dinan in a ram-shackle carriage drawn by three fierce little horses, with their tails done up in braided chignons, and driven by a humpback. This elegant equipage was likewise occupied by a sleepy old priest, who smoked his pipe without stopping the whole way. Also by a large, loquacious, beery man, who talked incessantly, informing the company that he was a friend of Victor Hugo, a child of nature aged sixty, and obliged to drink much ale because it went to his head and gave him commercial ideas.
If it had given him no others it would have done well; but, after each draught, and he took many, this child of nature became so friendly that even the free and easy Americans were abashed. Matilda quailed before the languishing glances he gave her, and tied her head up like a bundle in a thick veil. The scandalized Lavinia, informing him that she did not understand French, assumed the demeanor of a griffin, and glared stonily into space, when she was not dislocating her neck trying to see if the top-heavy luggage had not tumbled off behind.
Poor Amanda was thus left a prey to the beery one; for, having at first courteously responded to his paternal remarks and expressed an interest in the state of France, she could not drop the conversation all at once, even when the friend of Victor Hugo became so disagreeable that it is to be hoped the poet has not many such. He recited poems, he sung songs, he made tender confidences, and finished by pressing the hand of Mademoiselle to his lips. On being told that such demonstrations were not permitted to strangers in America, he beat his breast and cried out, "My God, so beautiful and so cold! you do not comprehend that I am but a child. Pardon, and smile again I conjure you."
But Mademoiselle would not smile, and folding her hands in her cloak appeared to slumber. Whereat the gray-headed infant groaned pathetically, cast his eyes heavenward, and drank more ale, muttering to himself and shaking his head as if his emotions could not be entirely suppressed.
These proceedings caused Lavinia to keep her eye on him, being prepared for any outbreak from a bullet all round to proposals to both her charges at once.
With this smouldering bomb-shell inside, and the firm conviction that one if not all the trunks were lying in the dust some miles behind, it may be inferred that duenna Livy did not enjoy that break-neck drive, lurching and bumping up hill and down, with nothing between them and destruction apparently but the little humpback, who drove recklessly.
In this style they rattled up to the Porte de Brest, feeling that they had reached Dinan "only by the grace of God," as the beery man expressed it, when he bowed and vanished, still oppressed with the gloomy discovery that American women did not appreciate him.
While Amanda made inquiries at an office, and Matilda had raptures over the massive archway crowned with yellow flowers, Lavinia was edified by a new example of woman's right to labor.
Close by was a clean, rosy old woman whose unusual occupation attracted our spinster's attention. Whisking off the wheels of a diligence, the old lady greased them one by one, and put them on again with the skill and speed of a regular blacksmith, and then began to pile many parcels into a char apparently waiting for them.
She was a brisk, cheery, old soul with the color of a winter-apple in her face, plenty of fire in her quick black eyes and a mouthful of fine teeth, though she must have been sixty. She was dressed in the costume of the place: a linen cap with several sharp gables to it, a gay kerchief over her shoulders, a blue woollen gown short enough to display a pair of sturdy feet and legs in neat shoes with bunches of ribbon on the instep, and black hose. A gray apron with pockets and a bib finished her off, making a very sensible as well as picturesque costume.
She was still hard at it when a big boy appeared and began to heave the trunks into another char; but gave out at the second, which was large. Instantly the brisk old woman put him aside, hoisted in the big boxes without help, and, catching up the shafts of the heavily laden cart, trotted away with it at a pace which caused the Americans (who prided themselves on their muscle) to stare after her in blank amazement.
When next seen, she was toiling up a steep street, still ahead of the lazy boy, who slowly followed with the lighter load. It did not suit Lavinia's ideas of the fitness of things to have an old woman trundle three heavy trunks while she herself carried nothing but a parasol, and she would certainly have lent a hand if the vigorous creature had not gone at such a pace that it was impossible to overtake her till she backed her cart up before a door in most scientific style, and with a bow, a smile, and a courteous wave of the hand, informed them that "here the ladies would behold the excellent Madame C."
They did behold and also receive a most cordial welcome from the good lady, who not only embraced them with effusion, but turned her house upside-down for their accommodation, merely because they came recommended to her hospitality by a former lodger who had won her kind old heart.
While she purred over them, the luggage was being bumped upstairs, the old woman shouldering trunk after trunk, and trudging up two steep flights in the most marvellous way. But best of all was her surprise and gratitude on receiving a larger fee than usual, for the ladies were much interested in this dear old Hercules in a cap of seven gables.
When she had blessed them all round, and trotted briskly away with her carts, Madame C. informed the new-comers that the worthy soul was a widow with many children, whom she brought up excellently, supporting them by acting as porter at the hotel. Her strength was wonderful, and she was very proud of it,—finding no work too hard, yet always neat, cheery, and active; asking no help, and literally earning her daily bread by the sweat of her brow. The ladies often saw her afterward, always trotting and tugging, smiling and content, as if some unseen hand kept well greased the wheels of her own diligence, which carried such a heavy load and never broke down.
Miss Lavinia being interested in Woman's Rights and Wrongs was much impressed by the new revelations of the capabilities of her sex, and soon ceased to be surprised at any demonstration of feminine strength, skill, and independence, for everywhere the women took the lead.
They not only kept house, reared children, and knit every imaginable garment the human frame can wear, but kept the shops and the markets, tilled the gardens, cleaned the streets, and bought and sold cattle, leaving the men free to enjoy the only pursuits they seemed inclined to follow,—breaking horses, mending roads, and getting drunk.
The markets seemed entirely in the hands of the women, and lively scenes they presented to unaccustomed eyes, especially the pig-market, held every week, in the square before Madame C.'s house. At dawn the squealing began, and was kept up till sunset. The carts came in from all the neighboring hamlets, with tubs full of infant pigs, over which the women watched with maternal care till they were safely deposited among the rows of tubs that stood along the walk facing Anne of Bretaigne's gray old tower, and the pleasant promenade which was once the fosse about the city walls.
Here Madame would seat herself and knit briskly till a purchaser applied, when she would drop her work, dive among the pink innocents, and hold one up by its unhappy leg, undisturbed by its doleful cries, while she settled its price with a blue-gowned, white-capped neighbor as sharp-witted and shrill-tongued as herself. If the bargain was struck, they slapped their hands together in a peculiar way, and the new owner clapped her purchase into a meal-bag, slung it over her shoulder, and departed with her squirming, squealing treasure as calmly as a Boston lady with a satchel full of ribbons and gloves.
More mature pigs came to market on their own legs, and very long, feeble legs they were, for a more unsightly beast than a Breton pig was never seen out of a toy Noah's ark. Tall, thin, high-backed, and sharp-nosed, these porcine victims tottered to their doom, with dismal wailings, and not a vestige of spirit till the trials and excitement of the clay goaded them to rebellion, when their antics furnished fun for the public. Miss Livy observed that the women could manage the pigs when men failed entirely. The latter hustled, lugged, or lashed, unmercifully and unsuccessfully; the former, with that fine tact which helps them to lead nobler animals than pigs, would soothe, sympathize, coax, and gently beguile the poor beasts, or devise ways of mitigating their bewilderment and woe, which did honor to the sex, and triumphantly illustrated the power of moral suasion.
One amiable lady, who had purchased two small pigs and a coop full of fowls, attempted to carry them all on one donkey. But the piggies rebelled lustily in the bags, the ducks remonstrated against their unquiet neighbors, and the donkey indignantly refused to stir a step till the unseemly uproar was calmed. But the Bretonne was equal to the occasion; for, after a pause of meditation, she solved the problem by tying the bags round the necks of the pigs, so that they could enjoy the prospect. This appeased them at once, and produced a general lull; for when the pigs stopped squealing, the ducks stopped quacking, the donkey ceased his bray, and the party moved on in dignified silence, with the youthful pigs, one black, one white, serenely regarding life from their bags.
Another time, a woman leading a newly bought cow, came through the square, where the noise alarmed the beast so much that she became unruly, and pranced in a most dangerous manner. Miss Livy hung out of the window, breathless with interest, and ready to fly with brandy and bandages at a minute's notice, for it seemed inevitable that the woman would be tossed up among the lindens before the cow was conquered. The few men who were lounging about, stood with their hands in their pockets, watching the struggle without offering to help, till the cow scooped the lady up on her horns, ready for a toss. Livy shrieked, but Madame just held on, kicking so vigorously that the cow was glad to set her down, when, instead of fainting, she coolly informed the men, who, seeing her danger, had approached, that she "could arrange her cow for herself, and did not want any help," which she proved by tying a big blue handkerchief over the animal's eyes, producing instant docility, and then she was led away by her flushed but triumphant mistress, who calmly settled her cap, and took a pinch of snuff to refresh herself, after a scuffle which would have annihilated most women.
When Madame C.'s wood was put in, the newcomers were interested in watching the job, for it was done in a truly Bretonesque manner. It arrived in several odd carts, each drawn by four great horses, with two men to each team; and as the carts were clumsy, the horses wild, and the men stupid, the square presented a lively spectacle. At one time there were three carts, twelve horses, and six men all in a snarl, while a dozen women stood at their doors and gave advice. One was washing a lettuce, another dressing her baby, a third twirling her distaff, and a fourth with her little bowl of soup, which she ate in public while gesticulating so frantically that her sabots clattered on the stones.
The horses had a free fight, and the men swore and shouted in vain, till the lady with the baby suddenly went to the rescue. Planting the naked cherub on the door-step, this energetic matron charged in among the rampant animals, and by some magic touch untangled the teams, quieted the most fractious, a big gray brute prancing like a mad elephant, then returned to her baby, who was placidly eating dirt, and with a polite "Voila, messieurs!" she whipped little Jean into his shirt, while the men sat clown to smoke.
It took two deliberate men nearly a week to split the gnarled logs, and one brisk woman carried them into the cellar and piled them neatly. The men stopped about once an hour to smoke, drink cider, or rest. The woman worked steadily from morning till night, only pausing at noon for a bit of bread and the soup good Coste sent out to her. The men got two francs a day, the woman half a franc; and, as nothing was taken out of it for wine or tobacco, her ten cents probably went farther than their forty.
This same capable lady used to come to market with a baby on one arm, a basket of fruit on the other, leading a pig, driving a donkey, and surrounded by sheep, while her head bore a pannier of vegetables, and her hands spun busily with a distaff. How she ever got on with these trifling incumbrances, was a mystery; but there she was, busy, placid, and smiling, in the midst of the crowd, and at night went home with her shopping well content.
The washer-women were among the happiest of these happy souls, and nowhere were seen prettier pictures than they made, clustered round the fountains or tanks by the way, scrubbing, slapping, singing, and gossiping, as they washed or spread their linen on the green hedges and daisied grass in the bright spring weather. One envied the cheery faces under the queer caps, the stout arms that scrubbed all day, and were not too tired to carry home some chubby Jean or little Marie when night came, and, most of all, the contented hearts in the broad bosoms under the white kerchiefs, for no complaint did one hear from these hard-working, happy women. The same brave spirit seems to possess them now as that which carried them heroically to their fate in the Revolution, when hundreds of mothers and children were shot at Nantes and died without a murmur.
But of all the friends the strangers made among them, they liked old Mère Oudon best,—a shrivelled leaf of a woman, who at ninety-two still supported her old husband of ninety-eight. He was nearly helpless, and lay in bed most of the time, smoking, while she peeled willows at a sou a day, trudged up and down with herbs, cresses, or any little thing she could find to sell. Very proud was she of her "master," his great age, his senses still quite perfect, and most of all his strength, for now and then the old tyrant left his bed to beat her, which token of conjugal regard she seemed to enjoy as a relic of early days, and a proof that he would long be spared to her.
She kept him exquisitely neat, and if any one gave her a plate of food, a little snuff, or any small comfort for her patient old age, she took it straight to the "master," and found a double happiness in giving and seeing him enjoy it.
She had but one eye, her amiable husband having put out the other once on a time as she was leading him home tipsy from market. The kind soul bore no malice, and always made light of it when forced to tell how the affliction befell her.
"My Yvon was so gay in his young days, truly, yes, a fine man, and now most beautiful to see in his clean bed, with the new pipe that Mademoiselle sent him. Come then and behold him, my superb master, who at ninety-eight has still this strength so wonderful."
The ladies never cared to see him more than once, but often met the truly beautiful old wife as she toiled to and fro, finding her faithful love more wonderful than his strength, and feeling sure that when she lies at last on her "clean bed," some good angel will repay these ninety-two hard years with the youth and beauty, happiness and rest, which nothing can destroy.
Not only did the women manage the affairs of this world, but had more influence than men with the good powers of heaven. A long drought parched France that year, and even fertile Brittany suffered. More than once processions of women, led by priests, poured through the gates to go to the Croix du Saint Esprit and pray for rain.
"Why don't the men go also?" Miss Livy asked.
"Ah! they pray to the Virgin, and she listens best to women," was the answer.
She certainly seemed to do so, for gracious showers soon fell, and the little gardens bloomed freshly where the mother's hard hands had planted cabbages, onions, and potatoes to feed the children through the long winter.
Nor were these the only tasks the women did. The good ladies had a hospital and a neater, cheerier place was never seen; few invalids, but many old people sitting in the sunny gardens, or at work in the clean rooms. La Garaye is in ruins now, but the memory of its gentle lady still lives, and is preserved in this benevolent institution for the sick, the old and poor.
A school for girls was kept by the good nuns, and the streets at certain hours were full of little damsels, with round caps on their braided hair, queer long gowns of blue, white aprons and handkerchiefs, who went clattering by in their wooden shoes, bobbing little curtsies to their friends, and readily answering any questions inquisitive strangers asked them. They learned to read, write, sew, and say the catechism. Also to sing, for, often as the ladies passed the little chapel of Our Lady, a chorus of sweet young voices came to us making the flowery garden behind the church of St. Sauveur a favorite resting-place.
In endeavoring to account for the freedom of the women here, it was decided that it was owing to Anne of Brittany, the "gentle and generous Duchesse," to whom her husband Louis XII. allowed the uncontrolled government of the duchy. Relics of the "fière Bretonne" as Louis called her, are still treasured everywhere, and it was pleasant to know not only that she was an accomplished woman, writing tender letters in Latin verse to her husband, but also a wise and just Princess to her people, "showing herself by spirit and independence to be the most worthy of all her race to wear the ducal crown." So three cheers for good Duchesse Anne, and long life to the hardy, happy women of Brittany!
"While Miss Lavinia was making these observations and moralizing upon them, the younger ladies were enjoying discoveries and experiences more to their tastes.
They had not been in the house half a day before Madame C. informed them that "Mademoiselle, the so charming miss whom they beheld at dinner, was to be married very soon; and they should have the rapture of witnessing a wedding the most beautiful."
They welcomed the prospect with pleasure, for Dinan is not a whirl of gayety at the best of times; and that spring the drought, rumors of war, and fears of small-pox, cast a shadow upon the sunny little town. So they surveyed Mademoiselle Pelagie with interest, and longed to behold the happy man who was to be blessed with the hand of this little, yellow-faced girl, with red eyes, dirty hands, and a frizzled crop, so like a wig they never could make up their minds that it was not.
Madame, the mamma, a buxom, comely widow, who breakfasted in black moire, with a diadem of glossy braids on her sleek head, and many jet ornaments rattling and glistening about her person, informed them, with voluble affability, of the whole affair.
"My brother, M. le Président, had arranged the marriage. Pelagie was twenty, and beautiful, as you behold. It was time to establish her. Mon Dieu! yes; though my heart is lacerated to lose my angel, I consent. I conduct her to a ball, that she may be seen by the young man whose parents desire that he should espouse my infant. He beholds her. He says: 'Great heavens, I adore her! My father, I consent.' He is presented to me; we converse. She regards him with the angelic modesty of a young girl, but speaks not. I approve, the parents meet, it is arranged, and Jules is betrothed to my Pelagie. They have not met since; but next week he comes for the marriage, and he will be permitted to address her in my presence. Ah, yes! your customs are not as ours, and to us seem of a deplorable freedom. Pardon that I say it."
On inquiring how Pelagie regarded her future lord, they found that she thought very little about him; but was absorbed in her trousseau, which she proudly displayed. To those accustomed to see and hear of American outfits, with their lavish profusion and extravagant elegance, poor little Pelagie's modest stores were not at all imposing. Half a dozen pretty dresses from Paris; several amazing hats, all rosebuds, lace, and blue ribbon; a good deal of embroidery; and a few prophetic caps,—completed the outfit.
One treasure, however, she was never tired of displaying,—a gift from Jules,—a camels'-hair shawl, in a black walnut case, on which was carved the Clomadoc arms. A set of pearls were also from the bridegroom; but the shawl was her pride, for married women alone could wear such, and she seemed to think this right of more importance than any the wedding-ring could confer upon her.
To the young ladies, both of whom had known many of the romantic experiences which befall comely American girls, the idea of marrying a man whom they had only seen twice seemed horrible; and to have but one week of courtship, and that in Mamma's presence, was simply an insult and a wrong which they would not bear to think of.
But Pelagie seemed quite content, and brooded over her finery like a true Frenchwoman, showing very little interest in her Jules, and only anxious for the time to come when she could wear her shawl and be addressed as madame.
While waiting for the grand event, the girls amused themselves with Gaston, the brother of the bride-elect. He was a languid, good-looking youth of three and twenty, who assumed blasé airs and attitudinized for their benefit. Sometimes he was lost in fits of Byronic gloom, when he frowned over his coffee, sighed gustily, and clutched his brow, regardless of the curls, usually in ambrosial order. The damsels, instead of being impressed by this display of inward agony, only laughed at him, and soon rallied him out of his heroics. Then he would try another plan, and become all devotion, presenting green tulips, ancient coins, early fruit, or sketches of his own, so very small that the design was quite obscure. If these delicate attentions failed to touch the stony hearts of the blonde Americans, he would air his entire wardrobe, appearing before them one day in full Breton costume of white cloth, embroidered in gay silks, buckled shoes, and hat adorned with streaming ribbons and flowers. Quite Arcadian was Gaston in this attire; and very effective on the croquet ground, where sundry English families disported themselves on certain afternoons. Another time he would get himself up like a Parisian dandy bound for a ride in the Bois de Boulogne; and, mounting with much difficulty a rampant horse, he would caracole about the Place St. Louis, to the great delight of the natives.
But this proved a failure; for one of the fair but cruel strangers donned hat and habit, and entirely eclipsed his glories by galloping about the country like an Amazon. The only time Gaston played escort she was nearly the death of him, for he seldom did more than amble a mile or two, and a hard trot of some six or eight miles reduced our Adonis to such a state of exhaustion that he fell into his mother's arms on dismounting, and was borne away to bed with much lamentation.
After that he contented himself with coming to show himself in full dross whenever he went to a party; and, as that was nearly every other evening, they soon got accustomed to hearing a tap at their door, and beholding the comely youth in all the bravery of glossy broadcloth, a lavish shirt-bosom, miraculous tie, primrose gloves, varnished shoes, and curls and mustache anointed and perfumed in the most exquisite style. He would bow and say "Bon soir" then stand to be admired, with the artless satisfaction of a child; after which he would smile complacently, wave his crush hat, and depart with a flourish.
Dear, dandified, vain Gaston. His great desire was to go to Paris, and when the war came he had his wish; but found sterner work to do than to dress and dance and languish at the feet of ladies. I hope it made a man of him, and fancy it did; for the French fight well and suffer bravely for the country they love in their melodramatic fashion.
As the day approached for the advent of the bridegroom, great excitement prevailed in the quiet household. Madame C. and her handmaid, dear old Marie, cackled and bustled like a pair of important hens. Madame F., the widow, lived at the milliner's, so to speak, and had several dress rehearsals for her own satisfaction. Gaston mounted guard over his sister, lest some enamoured man should rend her from them ere her Jules could secure the prize. And Pelagie placidly ate and slept, kept her hair in crimping-pins from morning till night, wore out her old clothes, and wiled away the time, munching bonbons and displaying her shawl.
"Mercy on us! I should feel like a lamb being fattened for the sacrifice if I were in her place," cried one of the freeborn American citizenesses, with an air of unmitigated scorn for French ways of conducting this interesting ceremony.
"I should feel like a galley-slave," said the other. "For she can't go anywhere without Gaston or Mamma at her elbow. Only yesterday she went into a shop alone, while Gaston waited at the door. And when she told it at home as a great exploit all the ladies shrieked with horror at the idea, and Mamma said, wringing her hands: 'Mon Dieu! but they will think thou art a married woman, for it is inconceivable that any girl should do so bold a thing.' And Pelagie wept, and implored them not to tell Jules, lest he should discard her."
Here the Americans all groaned over the pathetic absurdity of the whole affair, and wondered with unrighteous glee what the decorous ladies below would say to some of their pranks at home. But, fearing that M. le Président might feel it his duty to eject them from the town as dangerous persons, they shrouded their past sins in the most discreet silence, and assumed their primmest demeanor in public.
"He has come! Look quick, girls!" cried Lavinia, as a carriage stopped at the door, and a rushing sound, as of many agitated skirts, was heard in the hall. Three heads peeped from the window of the blue parlor, and three pairs of curious eyes were rewarded by a sight of the bridegroom, as he alighted.
Such a little man! Such a fierce mustache! Such a dignified strut! And such an imposing uniform as he wore! For Jules Gustave Adolphe Marie Clomadoc was a colonel in some regiment stationed at Boulogne. Out he skipped; in he marched; and, peeping over the banisters, they saw him salute Madame F. with a stately kiss on the hand, then escort her up to her salon, bowing loftily and twisting his tawny mustache with an air that gave him the effect of being six feet in height and broad in proportion.
How he greeted his fiancée they knew not, but the murmur of voices came from the room in steady flow for hours, and Gaston flew in and out with an air of immense importance.
At dinner the strangers were proudly presented to M. le Colonel, and received affable bows from the little man, who flattered himself that he could talk English, and insisted on speaking an unknown tongue, evidently wondering at their stupidity in not understanding their own language.
He escorted Madame down, sat between her and Pelagie, but talked only to her; while the girl sat silent and ate her dinner with an appetite which no emotion could diminish. It was very funny to see the small warrior do his wooing of the daughter through the mother; and the buxom widow played her part so well that an unenlightened observer would have said she was the bride-elect. She smiled, she sighed, she discoursed, she coquetted, and now and then plucked out her handkerchief and wept at the thought of losing the angel, who was placidly gnawing bones and wiping up the gravy on her plate with bits of bread.
Jules responded with spirit, talked, jested, quoted poetry, paid compliments right and left, and now and then passed the salt, filled a glass, or offered a napkin to his fiancée with a French shrug and a tender glance.
After dinner Madame F. begged him to recite one of his poems; for it appeared this all-accomplished man was beloved of the muse, and twanged the lyre as well as wielded the sword. With much persuasion and many modest apologies, Jules at length consented, took his place upon the rug, thrust one hand into his bosom, turned up his eyes, and, in a tremendous voice, declaimed a pensive poem of some twenty stanzas, called, "Adieu to my past."
The poet's friends listened with rapt countenances and frequent bursts of emotion or applause; but the Americans suffered agonies, for the whole thing was so absurdly melodramatic that it was with great difficulty they kept themselves from explosions of laughter. When the little man dropped his voice to a hoarse whisper, in bidding adieu to the lost loves of his youth, tender-hearted old C. sobbed in her napkin; while Livy only saved herself from hysterics, by drinking a glass of water, and Pelagie ate sugar, with her round eyes fixed on her lover's face, without the slightest expression whatever.
When the poet mourned his blighted hopes, and asked wildly of all the elements if he should live or die, Gaston cast reproachful glances at the alien charmer, who had nipped his passion in the bud; and when Jules gave a sudden start, slapped his brow, and declared that he would live for his country, old Marie choked in her coffee, while Madame F. clapped her fat hands, and cried: "It is sublime!"
The poem closed there, and the providential appearance of their donkeys gave the ladies an excuse for retiring to their room, where they laughed till they could laugh no more.
Each meal was as good as a play, and every glimpse they had of the little pair gave fresh food for mirth. Every thing was so formal and polite, so utterly unlike the free-and-easy customs of their native land, that they were kept in alternate states of indignation and amusement the whole time. Jules never was alone with his Pelagie for an instant; such a breach of etiquette would have shocked the entire town. In the walks and drives which the family took together, Madame was always at the Colonel's side; while Gaston escorted his sister, looking as if he was fast reaching a state of mind when he would give her away without a pang. Many guests came and went, much kissing and bowing, prancing and rustling, went on, up and down stairs. Stately old gentlemen called, papers were signed, fortunes discussed, and gifts displayed. Pelagie went much to mass; also to the barber's, and the bath. Agitated milliners flew in and out. A great load of trunks arrived from Nantes, where Madame formerly lived; and the day before the wedding a whole carriage full of Clomadocs appeared, and Babel seemed to have come again.
A great supper was given that evening, and the three were banished to their own rooms; where, however, they fared sumptuously, for Madame C. and good old Marie ate with them, having no place left them but the kitchen. Madame C. was much hurt that she had not been asked to the wedding. It seemed the least Madame F. could do after taking possession of the house, and turning its rightful owner out of every room but the attic. Madame C. was a gentlewoman; and, though a meek old soul, this rudeness hurt her very much. She said nothing; but Marie fumed and scolded fiercely, and proposed that the neglected ones should all go away on the wedding-day, and make a fête for themselves somewhere. So they decided to drive to Dinare, enjoy the fine views of the sea and St. Malo, dine, and return at dusk, leaving the house free for the wedding festivities.
The day was fine, and the ladies were graciously invited to behold the bride before she left for church. She looked as much like a fashion-plate as it was possible for a living girl to look; and they dutifully kissed her on both cheeks, paid their compliments, and retired, thanking their stars that they were not in her place.
Mamma was gorgeous to behold, in royal purple and black lace. Gaston was so glossy and beruffled and begemmed, that they gazed with awe upon the French Adonis. But the bridegroom was a sight for gods and men. In full regimentals with a big sword, so many orders that there was hardly room for them on his little breast, and a cocked hat, with a forest of feathers, in which he extinguished himself at intervals. How his tiny boots shone, his tawny mustache bristled with importance, and his golden epaulettes glittered as he shrugged and pranced! His honored papa and mamma were both tall, portly people, beside whom the manikin looked like a child. Livy quite longed to see Madame Clomadoc take little Jules on her knee, and amuse him with bonbons when he got impatient at the delay of the carriage.
The three peeped out of windows, and over the banisters, and got fine glimpses of the splendors below. Flocks of elegant ladies went sailing up the narrow stairs. Gentlemen with orders, dandies wonderful to behold, and a few children (to play with the bridegroom, as Livy wickedly said), adorned the hall and salon. Every one talked at the top of his or her voice. Shrieks of rapture, groans of despair, greeted a fine toilette or a torn glove. Peals of laughter from the gentlemen, and shrill cries from the infants, echoed through the once peaceful halls. As Françoise said, "It was truly divine."
At eleven, every one trooped into the carriages again. How they ever got so many full-dressed people into one carriage is a mystery to this day. But in they piled, regardless of trains, corpulency, or height; and coach after coach lumbered away to the church.
The bride's carriage could not be got very near the door. So she tripped out to it, leaning on her uncle's arm, while the devoted Gaston bore her train. Mamma sailed after in a purple cloud; and when two young damsels, in arsenic green, were packed in, away they went, leaving the bridegroom to follow.
Then came the catastrophe! Stout papa and mamma were safely in; a friend of Jules, some six feet high, shut himself up like a jack-knife; and, with a farewell wave of the cocked hat, the small bridegroom skipped in after them. The coachman cracked his whip, intending to dash under the arched gateway in fine style. But alas! the harness was old, the big horses clumsy, and the road half paved. The traces gave way, the beasts reared, the big coach lurched, and dismal wails arose. Out burst the fierce little hero of the day, and the tall friend followed by instalments.
Great was the excitement as the natives gathered about the carriage with offers of help, murmurs of sympathy, and unseemly mirth on the part of the boys. Jules did the swearing; and never were heard such big oaths as fell from the lips of this irate little man. It really seemed as if he would explode with wrath. He clashed the impressive cocked hat upon the stones, laid his hand upon his sword, tore his hair, and clutched his mustache in paroxysms of despair.
His bride was gone, waiting in agitated suspense for him. No other coach could be had, as the resources of the town had been exhausted. The harness was in a desperate state, the men at their wit's end how to mend it, and time flying fast. Maire and priest were waiting, the whole effect of the wedding was being ruined by this delay, and "ten thousand devils" seemed to possess the awkward coachman.
During the flurry, Papa Clomadoc appeared to slumber tranquilly in the recesses of the carriage. Mamma endeavored to soothe her boy with cries of "Tranquillize yourself, my cherished son. It is nothing." "Come, then, and reassure papa." " Inhale the odor of my vinaigrette. It will compose your lacerated nerves, my angel."
But the angel wouldn't come, and continued to dance and swear, and slap his hat about until the damages were repaired, when he flung himself, exhausted, into the carriage, and was borne away to his bride.
"A lively prospect for poor Pelagie." "What a little fiend he is!" "Spinsters for ever!"
With these remarks, the ladies ordered their own equipage, an infant omnibus, much in vogue in Dinan, where retired army oflicers, English or Scotch, drive about with their little families of eighteen or twenty. One Colonel Newcome, a grave-looking man, used to come to church in a bus of this sort, with nine daughters and four sons, like a patriarch. The strangers thought it was a boarding-school, till he presented the entire flock, with paternal pride, as "my treasures."
Madame C, in a large Leghorn bonnet, trembling with yellow bows, led the way with an air of lofty indifference as to what became of her house that day. Marie bore a big basket, full of cold fowls, salad, and wines; she also was in a new, spring hat of purple, which made her rosy old face look like a china aster. Lavinia reposed upon the other seat; and the infants insisted on sharing the driver's seat, up aloft, that they might enjoy the prospect, which freak caused Flabeau's boy to beam and blush till his youthful countenance was a deep scarlet.
They had a pleasant day; for good old Madame soon recovered her temper, and beguiled the time with lively tales of her mother's trials during the Revolution.
Marie concocted spiced drinks, salad that was a thing to dream of, not to tell, and produced such edible treasures that her big basket seemed bottomless.
The frisky damsels explored ruins, ran races on the hard beach, sniffed the salt breezes, and astonished the natives by swarming up and down "precipices," as they called the rocks.
That was a fatal day for Flabeau's boy (they never knew his name); for, as if the wedding had flown to his head, he lost his youthful heart to one of the lively damsels who invaded his perch. Such tender glances as his China-blue eyes cast upon her; such grins of joy as he gave when she spoke to him; such feats of agility as he performed, leaping down to gather flowers, or hurling himself over thorny hedges, to point out a dolmen or a menhir (they never could remember which was which). Alas, alas! for Flabeau's boy! Deeply was he wounded that day by the unconscious charmer, who would as soon have thought of inspiring love in the bosom of the broken-nosed saint by the wayside as in the heart that beat under the blue blouse.
I regret to say that "the infants," as Madame C. always called Miss Livy's charges, behaved themselves with less decorum than could have been wished. But the proud consciousness that they never could be disposed of as Pelagie had been had such an exhilarating effect upon them that they frisked like the lambs in the field.
One drove the bus in a retired spot and astonished the stout horses, by the way in which she bowled them along the fine, hard road. The other sang college songs, to the intense delight of the old ladies, who admired the "chants Amériques so gay," and to the horror of their duenna, who knew what they meant. A shower came up, and they would remain outside; so the boy put up a leathern hood, and they sat inside in such a merry mood that the silent youth suddenly caught the infection, and burst forth into a Breton melody, which he continued to drone till they got home.
The house was a blaze of light when they arrived, and Francoise, the maid, came flying out to report sundry breakages and mishaps. How the salad had precipitated itself downstairs, dish and all. How Monsieur Gaston was so gay, so inconceivably gay, that he could hardly stand, and insisted on kissing her clandestinely. That Mademoiselle Pelagie had wept much because her veil was torn; and Madame F. had made a fresh toilette, ravishing to behold. Would the dear ladies survey the party, still, at table? Regard them from the little window in the garden, and see if it is not truly a spectacle the most superb!
They did regard them, and saw the bride at the head of the table, eating steadily through the dessert; the bridegroom reciting poems with tremendous effect; Gaston almost invisible behind a barricade of bottles; and Madame F., in violet velvet, diamonds, plumes, and lace, more sleek and buxom than ever. The ladies all talked at once, and the gentlemen drank healths every five minutes. A very French and festive scene it was; for the room was small, and twenty mortals were stowed therein. One fat lady sat in the fireplace, Papa Clomadoc leaned his heavy head upon the sideboard, and the plump shoulders of Madame F. were half out of the front window. "But it was genteel. Oh! I assure you, yes," as Françoise said.
How long they kept it up the weary trio did not wait to see; but retired to their beds, and slumbered peacefully, waking only when Gaston was borne up to his room, chanting the "Marseillaise" at the top of his voice.
Next day M. and Madame Clomadoc, Jr., made calls, and Pelagie had the joy of wearing her shawl. For three days she astonished the natives by promenading with her lord in a fresh toilette each day. On the fourth they all piled into a big carriage, and went away to make a round of visits, before the young people settled down at Boulogne.
The Americans never thought to hear any more of Pelagie; but, as dear old Madame C. wrote to them several times after they left, the little story may be finished here, though the sequel did not actually come till a year later.
Many were the sage predictions of the three, as to the success of this marriage. Amanda approving of that style of thing, Matilda objecting fiercely to the entire affair, and Lavinia firmly believing in the good old doctrine of love, as your only firm basis for so solemn a bargain.
Wagers were laid that the fiery little colonel would shoot some one in a jealous fit, or that Pelagie would elope, or both charcoal themselves to death, as the best way out of the predicament. But none of them guessed how tragically it would really end.
Late in the following spring came a letter from Madame C, telling them that Jules had gone to the war, and been shot in his first battle; that Pelagie was with her mother again, comforting herself for her loss with a still smaller Jules, who never saw his father, and, it is to be hoped, did not resemble him. So little Pelagie's brief romance ended; and one would fancy that the experiences of that year would make her quite content to remain under mamma's wing, with no lord and master but the little son, to whom she was a very tender mother.
Pleasant days those were in quaint old Dinan; for spring's soft magic glorified earth and sky, and a delicious sense of rest and freedom gave a charm to that quiet life. Legends of romance and chivalry hung about the ruins of castle and château, as green and golden as the ivy and bright wall-flowers that tapestried the crumbling walls, and waved like banners from the turret tops. Lovely walks into woods, starred with pale primroses, and fragrant with wild hyacinths; down green lanes, leading to quaint cottages, or over wide meadows full of pink-tipped daisies, and dear familiar buttercups, the same all the world over.
Sometimes they took gay donkey-drives to visit a solemn dolmen in a gloomy pine-wood, with mistletoe hanging from the trees, and the ghosts of ancient Druids haunting the spot. The cavalcade on such occasions was an imposing spectacle. Matilda being fond of horses likewise affected donkeys (or thought she did, till she tried to drive one), and usually went first in a small vehicle like a chair on wheels, drawn by an animal who looked about the size of a mouse, when the stately Mat in full array, yellow parasol, long whip, camp-stool, and sketch-book, sat bolt upright on her perch, driving in the most approved manner.
The small beast, after much whipping, would break into a trot, and go pattering over the hard, white road, with his long ears wagging, and his tiny hoofs raising a great dust for the benefit of the other turnout just behind.
In a double chair sat Lavinia, bundled up as usual, and the amiable Amanda, both flushed with constant pokings and thrashings of their steed. A venerable ass, so like an old whity-brown hair trunk as to his body, and Nick Bottom's mask as to his head, that he was a constant source of mirth to the ladies. Mild and venerable as he looked, however, he was a most incorrigible beast, and it took two immortal souls, and four arms, to get the ancient donkey along.
Vain all the appeals to his conscience, pity, or pride: nothing but a sharp poke among his ribs, a steady shower of blows on his fuzzy old back, and frequent "yanks" of the reins produced any effect. It was impossible to turn out for any thing, and the ladies resigned themselves to the ignominy of sitting still, in the middle of the road, and letting other carriages drive over or round them.
On rare occasions the beast would bolt into the ditch as a vehicle drew near; but usually he paused abruptly, put his head down, and apparently went to sleep.
Matilda got on better, because little Bernard Du Guesclin, as she named her mouse, was so very small, that she could take him up, and turn him round bodily, when other means failed, or pull him half into the chair if danger threatened in front. He was a sprightly little fellow, and had not yet lost all the ardor of youth, or developed the fiendish obstinacy of his kind; so he frequently ran little races; now and then pranced, and was not quite dead to the emotion of gratitude in return for bits of bread.
Truly, yes; the fair Mat with her five feet seven inches, and little Bernard, whose longest ear, when most erect, did not reach much above her waist, were a sweet pair of friends, and caused her mates great amusement.
"I must have some one to play with, for I can't improve my mind all the time as 'Mandy does, or cuddle and doze like Livy. I've had experience with young donkeys of all sorts, and I give you my word little Bernie is much better fun than some I've known with shorter ears and fewer legs."
Thus Matilda, regardless of the jeers of her friends, when they proposed having the small beast into the salon to beguile the tedium of a rainy day.
As the summer came on, picnics were introduced, and gay parties would pile into and on to Flabeau's small omnibus, and drive off to Hunandaye, Coétquën, La Belliere, Guingamp, or some other unpronounceable but most charming spot, for a day of sunshine and merry-making.
The hospitable English came out strong on these occasions, with "'ampers of 'am-sandwiches, bottled porter and so on, don't you know?" all in fine style. Even the stout doctor donned his knickerbockers and gray hose, unfurled his Japanese umbrella, and, with a pretty niece on either arm, disported himself like a boy.
But pleasantest of all were the daily strolls through the little town and its environs, getting glimpses of Breton manners and customs.
The houses were usually composed of one room, where, near the open fire, and fixed against the wall, stands the bedstead or lit clos, of old oak, shut in by carved sliding panels, often bearing an inscription or some sacred symbol. The mattresses and feather-beds are so piled up, that there is hardly room to creep in. Before it is the big chest containing the family wardrobe, answering the double purpose of a seat and a step by which to ascend the lofty bed. Cupboards on each side often have wide shelves, where the children sleep. Settles and a long table complete the furniture; the latter often has little wells hollowed out in the top to hold the soup instead of plates. Over the table, suspended by pulleys, are two indispensable articles in a Breton house,—a large round basket to cover the bread, and a wooden frame to hold the spoons. Festoons of sausages, hams, candles, onions, horse-shoes, harness, and tools, all hang from the ceiling. The floor is of beaten earth. One narrow window lets in the light. There are no out-houses, and pigs and poultry mingle freely with the family.
The gardens are well kept, and produce quantities of fruit and vegetables. The chief food of the poorer class is bread or porridge of buckwheat, with cabbage soup, made by pouring hot water over cabbage leaves and adding a bit of butter.
They are a home-loving people, and pine like the Swiss, if forced to leave their native land. They are brave soldiers and good sailors. "Their vices," as a Breton writer says, "are avarice, contempt for women, and drunkenness; their virtues, love of home and country, resignation to the will of God, loyalty to each other, and hospitality." Their motto is, "En tout chemin loyauté."
They are very superstitious, and some of their customs are curious. At New Year pieces of bread and butter are thrown into the fountains, and from the way in which they swim the future is foretold. If the buttered side turns under, it forebodes death; if two pieces adhere together, it is a sign of sickness; and if a piece floats properly, it is an assurance of long life and prosperity.
Girls throw pins into the fountain of Saloun to tell by their manner of sinking, when they will be married. If the pin goes down head-foremost, there is little hope; but, if the point goes first, it is a sure sign of being married that year.
Their veneration for healing-springs is very great, and, though at times forbidden by the Church, is still felt. Pounded snails, worn in a bag on the neck, is believed to be a cure for fever; and a certain holy bell rung over the head, a cure for headache. "If we believed in that last remedy what a ceaseless tingling that bell would keep up in America," said Lavinia, when these facts were mentioned to her.
In some towns they have, in the cemetery, a bone-house or reliquary. It is the custom, after a certain time, to dig up the bones of the dead, and preserve the skulls in little square boxes like bird-houses, with a heart-shaped opening, to show the relic within. The names and dates of the deceased are inscribed outside.
Saint Ives or Yves is the favorite saint, and images of him are in all churches and over many doors. He was one of the remarkable characters of the thirteenth century. He studied law in Paris, and devoted his talents to defending the poor; hence, he was called "the poor man's advocate:" and so great is the confidence placed in his justice, that, even now, when a debtor falsely denies his debt, a peasant will pay twenty sous for a mass to St. Ives, sure that the Saint will cause the faithless creditor to die within the year or pay up.
His truthfulness was such that he was called "St. Yves de verité." He was the special patron of lawyers, but he does not seem to be their model.
The early monks taught the people to work, and their motto was "The Cross and the plough, labor and prayer." They introduced apples, now the principal fruit of Brittany. Much cider is made and drank; and in old times they got their wine from France in exchange for wax and honey, as they were famous bee-keepers. Great fields of buckwheat still afford food for the "yellow-breeched philosophers," and in many cottage gardens a row of queerly shaped hives stand in sunny nooks.
These monks were the model farmers of those days, and their abbeys were fine farms. One had twenty piggeries, of three hundred pigs each, in its forests. The monks also reared sheep and horses, and bred fish in their ponds.
Many were also brewers, weavers, carpenters, and so on. Evidently they lived up to their motto and labored quite as much as they prayed, and doubtless were saved by works as well as by faith.
The little Place Du Guesclin, with a stumpy statue of the famous knight in the middle and chestnut trees all around, was a favorite resting-place of the ladies. Especially when the weekly fair was held and booths of all sorts were raised at one end. Here Amanda bought a remarkable jack-knife, which would cut nothing but her fingers: Matilda speculated in curious kinds of cake; one sort being made into gigantic jumbles so light that they did excellently for grace-hoops; another sort being used by these vandals as catch-alls, so deep and tough were they. Lavinia examined the various fabrics, and got bits of linen as samples, also queer earthen pots and pans impossible to carry away.
The church of St. Sauveur, a dim and ancient little place with Du Guesclin's heart buried by the side of his wife, was another haunt. The castle, now a prison, contained the arm-chair in which Duchess Anne sat, and the dungeons where were crammed two thousand English prisoners of war in the last century. The view from the platform of the keep was magnificent, extending to Mont Dol and the distant sea.
The sunny promenade on the fosse, that goes half round the town, was very charming, with the old gray walls on one side, and, on the other, the green valley with its luxuriant gardens, and leafy lanes, winding up to the ruined château, or the undulating hills with picturesque windmills whirling on the heights.
On the other side of the town, from the high gardens of the church, one looked down into the deeper valley of the Rance, with the airy viaduct striding from hill to hill, and the old part of the town nestling at its base.
Soft and summery, fertile and reposeful, was the scene; and the busy peasants at their work added to the charm. Pretty English children with Breton nurses, each in the costume of her native town, played under the lindens all abloom with odorous flowers and alive with bees. Workmen came to these green places to eat the black bread and drink the thin wine that was all their dinner. Invalids strolled here after their baths at the little house in the rose-garden below. Pretty girls walked there in the twilight with long-haired lovers in knee breeches and round hats. Nuns in their gray, gowns went to and fro from hospital and the insane asylum or charity school; and the beautiful old priest sometimes went feebly by smiling paternally on his flock, who rose and uncovered reverently as he passed.
Flowers were everywhere,—in the gardens of the rich, at the windows of the poor. The stalls in the market were gay with plumy lilacs, splendid tulips, roses of every shade, and hyacinths heavy with odor. All along the borders of the river waved the blossoming grass; every green bank about the mills at Lehon was yellow with dandelions, and the sunny heads of little children welcoming the flower of the poor. Even the neglected churchyard of the ruined abbey, where the tombs of the stately Beaumanoirs still stand, was bright with cheerful daisies and blue-eyed forget-me-nots.
The willows in the valley were covered with fragrant tassels, and the old women and children sat all day on door-stones and by the wayside stripping the long, white wands for basket-making. Flax fields were blooming in the meadows, and acres of buckwheat, with its rosy stems and snowy blossoms, whitened the uplands with a fair prophecy of bread for all.
So, garlanded about with early flowers and painted in spring's softest, freshest colors, Brittany remains for ever a pleasant picture in the memory of those who have been welcomed to its hospitable homes, and found friends among its brave and loyal people.