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Glimpses of Life in France
By Clifton Johnson
With Illustrations by the Author FTER a long day's railroad journey knew from experience in England that railfrom Holland I arrived late one road hotels were generally excellent, and I
June night at Calais, and looked was rejoiced that there was no need to go about the big, dim-lit station questioning how further that night. I extricated myself from I should find a lodging-place. A clock whose amid the disappointed coachmen, who must pointers indicated that it was past midnight now return to their various hostelries emptywas the only intelligible thing in sight, for handed, and followed the guidance of my all the sigas I saw were in French and only new friend. He did not leave me till he had French words greeted my ears. As I knew seen me to a room in the hotel. almost nothing of the language, and still less On the following day I met this Englishof its proper pronunciation, it could about as speaking porter again. He was off duty at well have been Chinese.
the time, and offered to show me about the While I was hesitating, in doubt as to what town. We lingered longest in the older to do next, a group of clamorous coachmen parts. Their gray antiquity was very delightassailed me, each man intent on rushing me ful, and I was especially interested in a tall, off to his particular hotel. My responses in weather-worn lighthouse that rises above all English only served to increase their ardor the other town buildings on the borders of without contributing a single iota of the in- the market-place. It has outlived its usefulformation I desired. In the end I would ness as a lighthouse, and now serves as a have been compelled to trust my fate to one watch-tower. Each night, from eleven o'clock of them and take the chances of getting on, a lone sentinel looks out on the town accommodations to my liking, had not a rails from the glass windows at the summit of the road porter come up who said he knew Eng. old lighthouse. Every quarter of an hour he lish. From him I learned that a large hotel blows a blast on a horn to let the citizens was run in connection with the station. I know that all is well, while the end of each
hour is marked by four blasts, one blown who add a touch of the hat. It makes a very toward each quarter of the compass. If the agreeable impression on the stranger to be watchman sees a fire or anything else wrong, accorded such courtesy and friendliness. he sounds the alarm by ringing a bell.
But whether this politeness was more than While the porter and I walked we talked, surface deep may be a question. I someand I found him intelligent and entertaining. times had my doubts of it when I noted how In his broken English he spoke with great little hesitation the people showed in loading frankness of his fellow-countrymen, and his me with their bad money. Belgian, Swiss, comments on national characteristics seemed Turkish, and other coins are in common cir. to me very suggestive.
culation in France. In size and look they For one thing, he said that the relations of are much like French money, and some are the men and women were marked by mutual good and some are not. Often, when I was distrust. It is the Frenchman's belief that buying a railway ticket, I would see the agent all women are deceitful and unstable. The poke over his drawer in a search for what women have the same ill opinion of the men, I believed was bad money. No one else as is shown by the fact that no respectable would take these foreign coins, and the more girl goes about without a mature companion. the agent could inveigle into my change the The porter agreed with the justice of what better he was pleased. I always felt helpless he said was the general verdict on the char- and at his mercy, for I was usually in a acter of the French women, though he palli- hurry, and did not know enough of French ated their faultiness by observing that it to make an intelligent protest. I gradually might be the result of the men's “leading gathered a pocketful of this poor currency, on." Still, he said the men would not lead and knew not what to do with it till I returned on if they were not encouraged to do so by to London, where I sold it at a money the women themselves. A Frenchman likes exchange. sentiment, the porter explained, but responsi- I usually traveled on the railroads thirdbility sits lightly on him, and he forgets the class. This was partly for economy, partly most ardent professions and skips from one because my fellow-passengers were sure to love to another as fancy dictates.
disclose their impulses with much greater The people were unfailingly polite—the freedom than the wealthier folks who travel peasantry no less than the upper classes. in the more aristocratic apartments. In EngEven the accent, yes, and the look of their land the third-class carriages are, as a rule, printed words, have an air of suavity that fairly comfortable, but on the Continent they attracts and pleases. In the country districts were so rude that it was something of a hardthe people bow to you when you meet them, ship to travel in them. They were not much and say, “ B'jou', M'sieu'." It is a greeting better than one of our freight-cars would be that is given as a matter of course, and you with some cushionless benches run across the receive it just as surely from the little chil- interior. The occupants indulge freely in dren and the women as you do from the men, smoking, spitting, and loud talking, and the
only alleviation within reach is to sit near the front of the coach and keep a window open.
French nature as seen traveling third-class is characterized by a very grasshoppery liveliness. The people are extremely sociable; they chat together vociferously, and their talk is full of joking and laughter. Sometimes their animation runs into boisterousness, and they sing, shout, and
gesture. If three or four ON THE WAY TO MARKET
of them come to a station
to see friends off, there is almost a riot of affectionate parting. This is not confined to lively repartee, for every one has to be kissed, and French custom allows two kisses to a person, one on each cheek. Kissing and embracing are indulged in on all sorts of occasions, with more publicity than I have ever seen elsewhere. Indeed, I thought privacy of any sort seemed to be foreign to the genius of the people.
In my railway journeys I found every one I met friendly, and I never asked a question or made a request that did not call forth the most earnest effort to understand me and put me right. Once in a while some one would try to carry on a general conversation with me, but as our chief dependence had to be sign language, the results were rather discouraging. There was one occasion when a young Frenchman spent half a day in the attempt to tell me about himself and learn who and what I was. I suppose time hung heavy on his hands, for we
A COTTAGER IN THE CHIMNEY CORNER were on a narrow-gauge railroad and our train was so leisurely that we at me as raptly as if I had been his sweet. might about as well have gone on foot. heart. Toward the end of our journey he Our talk seemed to have the most absorbing wanted to know if I would correspond with interest for my companion, and the interest him. Judging from the experience we had was shared by the other occupants of the already had, I thought it would prove too car, who gathered about us and looked on with vast a task, and I tried to tell him, “ No," fascinated attention.
but could not manage the language to say so My new acquaintance knew a few words of gently, and was forced to acquiesce and give English, and I knew a few words of French; him my address. but as he gave his English words a French The views that I had from the car window pronunciation and I gave my French words in my various journeyings seemed to me an English pronunciation, this knowledge was peculiarly attractive. Along the coast there well-nigh useless. It took so long to make were sand dunes looming constantly against connections that my friend finally got out a the western sky, yet with gaps now and then pencil and a piece of paper and we tried that gave me a glimpse of the hazy sea, with writing. Our progress by this method was a perhaps a fleet of fishing-boats drifting in trifle smoother. Still, it was nothing to boast toward a town. Sometimes the railroad of, and I wondered at the pleasure my com- passed through a region of peat bogs, where panion seemed to find in our halting inter- frequent groups of men were at work digging change of thought. He would write, and out the black bricks of earth and laying then, to see if I understood, would look up them in the sunshine to dry. But these WASHING BY THE STREAMSIDE phases were incidental. In the main I attention that one observes from the car saw a land highly cultivated and marked window as the train Aies by her. by a quiet pastoral beauty, akin to that. At first the French method of guarding of southern England, and yet different. crossings seemed perfunctory and ludicrous; Apparently the ways of the people have but it makes them safe. In our own land our imparted to the country an individuality country roads, as a rule, go over the tracks at not due to either climate or soil. For one grade perfectly unobstructed, and when the thing, the English and the French differ in view is limited by buildings or trees or hills their taste as to trees. The former like you cannot drive across a railroad without the sturdy oaks and elms; the latter seem feeling that there are frightful possibilities to prefer the slender poplars, and the preva- in so doing. lence of these trees gives the French land- Of the towns I visited, the most interesting scape a delicacy and a lightness that are was Falaise in Normandy, in whose ancient very charming.
castle the cruel King John of England at I noticed that every grade crossing on the one time held prisoner his little nephew, railways was guarded by gates, and that Prince Arthur. It was thence the youthful when our train swept past there was always prince was taken to meet his mysterious a woman standing just inside the gates, with death—no one knows where or how. a brass horn in one hand and in the other
a I reached Falaise in the late evening. stick with a red flag wound about it, which Several 'buses were waiting at the station she held rigidly erect. This woman is the entrance, and I picked out a driver who gave crossing guard. She and her family live me to understand that at his hotel the folk close by in a small cottage that proclaims talked English. With this assurance, I gladly itself railroad property by having a mam- stepped inside his vehicle, and he drove moth number painted on it. Just before away over the stony streets, far back into the passing of each train the woman closes the town. I suppose I misunderstood my the gates, blows a warning on her horn for driver as to the linguistic abilities of the the benefit of any traveler who may be ap- hotel people. He probably only meant to proaching on the highway, and then gets intimate in a general way that at his hotel herself into that petrified attitude of military everything was perfect, for when we arrived
not a word could I get out of any of them prosperity, but now it was decayed and but French. However, I parlevou'd lamely poverty-stricken; and no wonder, for how was to a well-meaning, middle-aged maid till she it possible for these out-of-date hand methods caught the idea that I wanted a room, where- to compete with modern machinery! upon she conducted me to an apartment with Falaise, like all the French towns I saw, alacrity, and my trials were over for that day was very dirty. This seemed in part due to at least.
the uncleanly habits of the people themselves, The first thing in the morning, when I in part to the entire lack of any sewer system came down stairs, I met, in the hallway, the worthy the name. Sluggish rivulets coursed maid with whom I had talked the evening along the street gutters, and these, clogged before, and she, very agreeably, motioned with kitchen refuse and street garbage, were me to the kitchen. I expected to get some- equally offensive to the sense of smell and thing to eat, but, instead, the woman produced sight. some blacking-brushes, set a low chair out It was market day in Falaise, and all the in the middle of the floor, and motioned at roads from the outer world were enlivened my shoes. She wanted to remove the dust with teams driving in from the country, and and give them a polishing, and I put a foot by women on foot carrying big baskets on on the chair and let her work. I had the their arms full of butter and eggs. The feeling that I ought to be doing the job myself, market square was crowded with booths and but the language presented too great diffi- strewn with heaps of vegetables and other culties, and I was helpless in her hands. merchandise; and the throng of buyers and
I spent most of the day in walking about sellers bargaining there with a gray old church the village. It seemed to me the strangest looking down on them made a scene full old place I had ever seen. The crooked of movement and picturesqueness. The lanes and highways ran up-hill and down-hill townsmen of the lower classes and nearly all at random, and street-walks, dwellings, and the men from the farms wore loose blue public buildings were all of a gray stone, smocks, and the women of the same rank much worn and stained, and indicating great wore white caps that were sometimes of plain age. The aspect of the village was curi. ously stony and crowded and venerable, and I felt as if it had just been exhu ned from the mediæval past. Ti people in thei quaint costumes and with their antiquated modes of living only served to make this impression more em. phatic.
A good deal of sewing, knitting, and weaving was going on in the homes, and I saw many heaps of cloth and newly made garments. There were women spinning on the old-time wheels and men knitting with machines that they ran by hand. The town had known
A RURAL BARBER