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Title: In the vine country
Author: Ross, Martin, Somerville, E. Oe. (Edith Oenone)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                          IN THE VINE COUNTRY



                                IN THE
                             VINE COUNTRY

                                  BY

                   E. Œ. SOMERVILLE AND MARTIN ROSS

                              AUTHORS OF
             ‘THROUGH CONNEMARA IN A GOVERNESS CART, ETC.

                   [Illustration: E. Œ. Somerville]

                   _ILLUSTRATIONS BY F. H. TOWNSEND_

                  _FROM SKETCHES BY E. Œ. SOMERVILLE_

                                LONDON

                       W. H. ALLEN & CO. LIMITED

                        13 WATERLOO PLACE S.W.

                                 1893



_The following pages, with their accompanying Illustrations, originally
appeared in the columns of ‘The Lady’s Pictorial,’ and are here
reprinted by permission of the Proprietors._



                          IN THE VINE COUNTRY



CHAPTER I.


It was our first day’s cub-hunting, and things had been going against us
from the outset.

To begin with, we had started rather late,--it is noticeable that the
minutes between five and six A.M. are fewer and closer together than
they are at any other period of the day,--and, when half way to the meet
we found that Betty had given way to her sporting proclivities, and had
surreptitiously followed us. When it is explained that Betty is a St.
Bernard puppy of cart-horse dimensions, whose expression of smiling
imbecility only cloaks a will of iron, it will be understood that there
was trouble before us. The trouble began at once. Directly she saw she
was discovered she ran away, and the next time we saw her she was three
fields ahead of us, lumbering cheerfully into covert at the heels of the
hounds, pursued by several cows and the curses of the master.

[Illustration: BETTY.]

By the time that she had been caught and immured in the bedroom of the
nearest cottage, we were covered with confusion and blazing with heat,
and while we were precariously scrambling on to our horses’ backs by the
help of the pigstye door, we were told by an excited old man that the
hounds had found, and were ‘firing away like the divil’ out of the far
side of the wood. This happened to be one of those statements that are
founded not so much on fact as on a desire to keep things stirring and
pleasant, but none the less did it send us at inconvenient speed to the
other side of the covert, there to find that the hounds had never left
it, and were hunting slowly back towards the side from which we had just
come.

Not long after this my second cousin lost her temper, and said she hated
cubbing, and wished she was back in Connemara, or anywhere out of the
county Cork. This expression of opinion occurred when she was picking
herself up out of a potato furrow, into which she and her horse had
ingloriously rolled, and it was a good deal embittered by the fact that
she had hurt her knee, torn her habit, and broken her hunting crop.

The day ended with this incident, so far, at least, as we were
concerned. Betty was released from the captivity that she had not
ceased to bewail in quivering, infantine shrieks, and we turned our
faces toward home. There is something very humbling in coming in at ten
o’clock to a late edition of the family breakfast, with nothing to
justify the routing up of the household at five A.M. except a torn habit
and a bruised knee; and we said to each other, as we went
unostentatiously up the back stairs, that cubbing was not worth the
candle by which one had to get up to be in time for it.

We did not know that a few days afterwards we should be hanging out of
the window of the train as, at a painfully early hour, it passed a
covert in the vicinity, straining jaundiced eyes of jealousy at the
distant specks that represented the field and the hounds--specks who
were to remain in the county Cork and go out cubbing, instead of faring
forth, as we were doing, to take our pleasure in foreign lands.

The letter that we found on the dining-room table, when we came
down-stairs on that day that had

[Illustration: MY SECOND COUSIN LOST HER TEMPER.]

been sacrificed to Betty, was responsible for this unexpected change of
circumstances. It said majestically, ‘You are to go to the vineyards of
the Médoc, and must start at once in order to be in time for the
vintage;’ and in spite of a grand and complete ignorance of Médoc, its
vintages, and wines in general, we accepted the position with calm, even
with satisfaction.

The gibes of our friends were many and untiring, and were the harder to
bear that we felt a secret scepticism as to our fitness for this large
and yet delicate mission,--what did we know of Château Lafite or Mouton
Rothschild, except that a glass and a half of the former had once
compelled my second cousin to untimely slumber at dessert?--and when on
a foggy morning we drove away from home, the dank air was heavy with the
prognostications that we should return as bottle-nosed dipsomaniacs, and
the last thing that caught our eye as we turned the final corner of the
avenue was the flutter of a piece of blue ribbon.

We had a singularly detestable journey to London, or perhaps it was that
a summer spent in country remoteness made the train and its loathsome
sister, the steamboat, more intolerable than usual. As far as Dublin we
were comparatively confident, though the trees at the station were
rustling a little in the wind, and the window-frames shook ominously in
dismal accompaniment to the lamentations of the emigrants who crowded
the platforms, waiting for the down train to Cork. There are happily few
things in the world that are as bad as they are expected to be, but a
bad crossing is worse than the combined efforts of imagination and
remembrance can make it. This, at least, is the opinion of my second
cousin, who ought by this time to have some knowledge of a subject to
which, according to her own reckoning of the time occupied in each
crossing, she has given some fifty of the best years of her life. The
trees and the window-frames had not overstated the case, and we had the
gloomy satisfaction of hearing the stewardess remark, as we neared
Holyhead, that it had been a rough passage. We could have told her so
ourselves, but still it was gratifying to have the thing placed on an
official basis.

In the pale morning, as we endured that last long hour before Euston is
reached, we read in headachy snatches a pamphlet that we had been lent
about the wines of the Médoc, and our souls sank at the prospect of
expounding the laws of fermentation to readers who would be as
oppressively bored by it as we ourselves. But our first day in London
routed this hobgoblin: we were to enjoy ourselves; we were to taste
claret if we wished, or talk bad French to the makers of it if it amused
us; but to improve other people’s minds by figures and able
disquisitions on viticulture and the treatment of the phylloxera was
not, we heard with thanksgiving, to be our mission.

The three days before our start were spent in the manner customary in
such cases; that is to say, we moved incessantly and at an
ever-quickening pace between the Strand, the Army and Navy Stores, and
High Street, Kensington, laden with small parcels,

[Illustration: WE WERE LENT A KODAK.]

footsore from the unaccustomed flagstones, and care-worn from the effort
to utilise the Underground return tickets that an ideally perfect
programme had induced us to take in the morning. In addition to these
usual cares, another more poignant anxiety fell to our lot. We were lent
a Kodak,--for the benefit of the unlearned it may be mentioned that the
Kodak is a photographic camera of the kind that is to the ordinary
species as a compressed meat lozenge to a round of beef,--and as neither
of us knew anything about it, it became necessary to learn its mechanism
in a fevered ten minutes, or to leave it behind. Ambition fired us to
the attempt, and having adjourned with the Kodak and an instructor to
the severely simple scenery of the gardens on the Thames Embankment, we
received there our first and only lesson. What its results were will
never be known to the public; a group of intoxicated ghosts lolling on a
bench in the depths of a spotted fog can be of little interest to any
one except the artists, and even to their indulgent eyes its charm is of
a somewhat morbid character.

After these agitations, the corner seats of a railway carriage at
Victoria had a restful luxury about them that was almost stagnation. The
consciousness of two portmanteaus registered to Bordeaux almost made up
for the cumbrous row of hand packages that squatted in the netting; and
the half-hour of waiting for the train to start was a period of soothing
inaction scarcely ruffled by the slow filling of the carriage to its
limit of five on each side, and merely moved to a languid enjoyment by
the inexorable determination of the latest comers, a bride and
bridegroom, to sit next to each other irrespective of all previous
arrangements of old ladies and their baskets. They had about them the
well-known power of making their innocent and well-meaning
fellow-creatures feel in the way and in the wrong, and the eyes of the
carriage sought the windows or the ceiling as if by word of command
when, after the settling down of glowingly new bags and rugs was
completed, the latest comers leaned back and gazed into each other’s
faces with an unaffected ecstasy, the fact that both wore gold-rimmed
spectacles imparting a sort of serious lustre to their mutual regard.
The gaze seemed to us to last most of the way to Dover, except at those
moments when a glance or two was given to their fellow-passengers, a
glance of almost compassionate wonder that people so uninteresting and
so superfluous should be alive. It gave us an instant of pleasure when
some time afterwards on board the boat we saw that the bride’s fringe
was blown into dejected wisps, and that her groom’s nose was blue and
his face pinched.

Before we reached Dover an example was vouchsafed to us in further
proof, if such were needed, of the difficulty of saying good-bye
agreeably at the window of a railway carriage. In this case the victims
of the custom stood on the platform, smiling spasmodically at the other
victim in the carriage, and saying at intervals, ‘Well, you’ll write,
won’t you?’ ‘So good of you to come and see me off.’ ‘Well, _mind_ you
write!’ ‘Oh yes, dear, and be sure you give my love to Mary and Aunt
Williams.’ Then they all smiled brightly and nodded their heads, and the
traveller, with her chin upon the window-sill, beamed galvanically down
upon her friends, and in her turn adjured them not to forget to write.
As the train moved off at last, the farewells thickened to a climax,
and we were privileged to observe how, when the final delicate flutter
of the hand had been given, the smile disappeared from the face of the
traveller, and she thankfully yielded herself to the deferred enjoyment
of her newspaper.

Of the further journey to Paris there is happily little to record. ‘_Das
höchste Glück hat reine Lieder_,’ and the most satisfactory travelling
is that which lends itself least to description. The Calais boat made
its journey in the most brilliant of sunshine and the most refreshing of
breezes, trampling its way along the water at a pace that made the tall
merchantmen look more old-world and stately than usual as they moved
serenely down the Channel. The male part of the passengers walked the
deck as if their lives depended on it, after the custom of men; the
ladies sat in sheltered places and tried to keep their hair tidy; and
all alike exhibited the hypnotic consciousness of the presence of a
sketch-book, that makes the most cautious sketcher the object of instant
remark and suspicion.

We sat that night in the warm, airless courtyard of a Paris hotel; tall
dusty shrubs in pots hung their lank leaves limply over our heads;
waiters flitted like bats to and fro between the kitchen on one side and
the _salle-à-manger_ on the other. A French family, consisting of a
papa, a mamma, a beautifully behaved daughter with her hair in a queue,
a humorous old friend of a godfatherly type, and a little boy with
tasselled boots, partook of various liquids at a table near enough to us
to permit of our hearing their effortless, endless babble, and also to
observe with ever-growing hatred the self-conscious gambols of the
little boy. Later on, they adjourned to the _salon_, and the daughter
performed a selection of music. She began with a confident rendering of
‘_La Prière d’une Vierge_’ one of those pieces which once was the
strength and glory of every budding pianiste, but now in its old age is
only heard limping and faltering over the greasy keys of hotel pianos;
and she finished with an operatic gallop in which the treble fled about
in lonely frenzy, and the bass retired on to the lowest octave of the
piano and there had a fit of St. Vitus’s dance. The little boy
pirouetted about the room, the papa, mamma, and godfather clapped their
hands and laughed indulgently, and a good many of the windows that gave
on to the courtyard were suddenly and violently shut.

We went to bed after that; that is to say, we retired into a good-sized
opera-box, with windows opening on to lamps and palms, and a general
interior effect of red curtains and mirrors. It is one of the strangest
features of French hotels that dressing-tables are not included in any
suite of bedroom furniture; there are looking-glasses by the score,
there are handsome marble slabs bearing ornate clocks that do not go,
there are gorgeous _armoires à glace_, but never a good, commonplace,
useful dressing-table. French people seem to do without them in the same
simple, uncomplaining way that they do without baths.

We cannot pretend to say we slept well in our opera-box. Everything in
the hotel seemed to stay up

[Illustration: HE BROKE INTO A DEFIANT POLKA.]

all night, including a small but devoted party of fleas; and the
atmosphere, even when diluted with as much courtyard air as the windows
would let in, was heavy and hot. We came down next morning feeling
unrefreshed, and not at all disposed to bestow of our substance on the
street musician who, since eight o’clock, had been playing national airs
on an accordion in the courtyard. Having seen us pass by on our way to
breakfast, he immediately played ‘God save the Queen,’ gliding
subsequently into the ‘Marseillaise’ as a kind of corrective, and then
finding that we still drank our coffee unmoved, he broke into a defiant
polka, which, did he but know it, has ‘sung in our sleeping ear and
hummed in our waking head’ in elusive, half-remembered snatches,
revenging a thousandfold the callousness of the two _Anglaises_.

We had not much time to spare after breakfast, as the Bordeaux train by
which we were going started at 11.20. A mosquito net was, however, one
of the things we had forgotten, and one of the things which we were
assured was indispensable, and it was not until we had entered a
likely-looking shop that we realised that we did not know the French for
mosquito. My second cousin and the shopwoman regarded each other for a
few seconds in polite silence, and then the latter said
interrogatively,--

‘_Madame désire--?_’

[Illustration: RESOLVED THAT DEATH ALONE SHOULD PART US FROM BELLOWS’
DICTIONARY.]

My second cousin answered diffidently that she desired fine net as a--as
a--in short, for a veil against the--the flies that bite.

The shopwoman looked at her with compassion, and offered me a handsome
long black lace veil, and with it the assurance that mademoiselle would
find it very becoming. At this stage in the negotiation the two
purchasers began to laugh with the agonising laughter that has too often
overtaken them in shops, and the shopwoman, as is usual in such cases,
was obviously convinced that she was being laughed at, and haughtily
replaced the lace veil in its box. Having wept profusely and idiotically
before her for some moments, we recovered sufficiently to ask for white
muslin, and succeeded in buying a suitable piece, with which we slunk
out of the shop, resolved that in future death alone should part us from
Bellows’ Dictionary.



CHAPTER II.


[Illustration]

‘Twenty minutes--half an hour--three-quarters--what mademoiselle
pleases!’

This was what the waiter said when we asked him how long it would take
to drive to the Gare d’Orléans on the morning that we left Paris. We
selected half an hour, and by so doing as nearly as possible missed our
train--in fact, when we arrived at the Quai d’Austerlitz the station
clock was already at the hour of departure. It was consoling to be told
officially that it was five minutes fast, but five minutes does not go
far in the maddening routine of French stations, and we were wrecks,
mentally and physically, by the time we had wedged ourselves into the
crowded carriage, labelled ‘Bordeaux--Bastide,’ that was to be our
portion. French railway officials never weary of this little practical
joke of keeping the outside clock of the station five minutes fast. If
they did it always it would lose its piquancy, but they guard against
this by occasional deviations into truth, so that the nerve of the
public is effectively shattered, and the station officials never fail of
amusement.

Eleven hours in a train is an immeasurable time, especially when the
train goes through a country that, after a first hour or so of
picturesqueness, lacks absolutely any distinction of colour or outline.
Greyish tilled plains stretched away on either side, without a fence,
without a boundary, except for the occasional rows of housemaids’ mops
and birch-rods that enlivened the horizon. These detachments of poplars
are inseparable from French travelling; they haunt the ridges of the
plains like the ghosts of worthier trees, with all the dejection
befitting those who know that they are only worth a few francs, and can
hope for no better transmigration than a kitchen table or a pig’s
trough. The country seemed silent and empty after the harvest; we saw
very few living things except flocks of sheep, and we meditated with an
ever-growing wonder on what might be the moral suasion that kept each of
these on its own undefended square of grass. Arguing from the more than
demoniacal perverseness of Irish sheep in breaking bounds, it seemed to
us that the French must have hit on the supreme expedient of offering no
resistance whatever, and thereby destroyed at one blow the essential joy
of trespass.

The train progressed in an easy canter, giving us time to observe all
wayside objects: we could have counted the big _citrouilles_ that lay in
magnificent obesity, with their sunset-hued cheeks glowing like fire on
the colourless fields, suggestive of immeasurable pumpkin squash, and we
could see on the low bushes that we had at first taken for currant
trees, the black clusters that told we had at last come into the wine
country. It was not so pleasant to see in the waiting-room at Poitiers
the black clusters of men, each enveloped in his own halo of garlic or
bad tobacco smoke, that told us our chance of getting a cup of coffee
was not worth the attendant horror of elbowing our way through them to
the buffet. We had not got over the strangeness of knowing that at any
or every small hotel or railway station we could have a really good cup
of coffee, unflavoured by chicory, liquorice, blackbeetles, or whatever
may be the master ingredient in the muddy draught that is invariable at
such places in England, and we had looked forward to Poitiers with an
enthusiasm quite unconnected with the Black Prince, or any other
romantic memory of Mrs. Markham’s _History of England_.

By the time we reached Angoulême it was quite dark, and we had fallen
into the sodden stupefaction of travel. The carriage was nearly empty,
and the lamp cast a distorted light upon the puckered faces of the old
lady and gentleman who were our only fellow-travellers, as their heads
nodded and rolled in anxious, uneasy slumber. The small stations became
more frequent, and we were drearily aware of the same routine at each:
the half-dozen lights of a village across the fields, the nasal bellow
of an unintelligible name, the thump of a box or two on the platform,
and finally a sound that we took at first for the bleat of a tethered
kid, but which we discovered to be the note of a small trumpet or horn,
wound by the guard as the signal for departure. It was only towards the
end of the journey that this implement had replaced the ordinary
whistle, and for about eight or ten stations we laughed at it; after
that the lament of the kid added itself seriously to the general gloom.

The last hour or two before Bordeaux would have been much harder to bear
but for a display of sheet lightning, the like of which we had never
seen before. The sudden beautiful flicker played hide-and-seek like a
living creature among the curtains of cloud, flashing about all the
points of the compass between south and east, or sometimes thrusting to
and fro across an opening, like glimpses of the rapiers in a giants’
fencing bout. It was under this mocking, elfish light that we first
sighted Bordeaux and its river, and realised that the time had come for
us to strap up our rugs, and say ‘pardon’ in our best French accent to
the old gentleman on whose feet we trod as we did so, and to drag our
stiff bodies forth into the electric glare of the station. We had
reached such a stage of fatigue and demoralisation that we should rather
have stayed in the carriage all night, and gone on with the old lady to
a place she called ‘Erin,’ in a fine Hammersmith twang. We should not
have cared much whether it proved to be the land of our birth, or Irun,
on the Spanish frontier, which we now believe to have been her
destination.

We had a long quarter of an hour to wait before the _Douane_ could bring
itself to give up its dead, and there was another quarter of an hour of
driving through deserted and badly-lighted streets before we got to our
hotel. We crossed a bridge that must have been half a mile long, we
feigned to each other an interest in a half-seen gateway at the end of
it, and our hearts were all the time groping in a certain hold-all,
where lay a spirit-kettle, a teapot, and half a pound of English tea.
The offensively urbane and wide-awake head waiter, with his clean-shaven
face and foxy eyes, had some evident difficulty in repressing his scorn
when he heard that he was to _faire monter_ to our room a little milk
and hot water, but it mounted to our third floor for all that. It was a
blow to find a skin on the top of the milk that showed it had once been
boiled: we did not know then that French hotels considered milk in its
raw, uncooked state to be as baneful as if it were water.

Our room was large, and of a somewhat gloomy magnificence, with towering
bed canopies, and darkly-gleaming mahogany; and as our one
_bougie_--valued in the bill at a franc--contended with its
surroundings, we felt like a chapter out of almost any of Scott’s
novels--the chapter where the hero spends a night in some one’s private
and luxurious dungeon, and having obtained writing materials, has heard
the last retreating footsteps of an attendant who has unostentatiously
locked and double-locked the door. What we heard principally, while we
drank our surreptitious midnight cup of tea, was not the howling of the
storm or the hoarse baying of a bloodhound in the courtyard, but the
snoring of some one in the next room. It was hard to believe that the
artist was not doing it on purpose; each snore was so painstaking, so
measured, and had such a careful crescendo in its vibrating fortissimo.
He had certainly brought the accomplishment to a high degree of
perfection, and if he does not die of concussion of the brain in the
attempt, he ought, with a little more practice, to be able to empty any
hotel in a single night.

It was broad summer in Bordeaux, so we discovered next morning when we
escaped from the

[Illustration: OUR SURREPTITIOUS MIDNIGHT CUP OF TEA.]

half-light of the coffee-room and walked forth to see the town. We went
down to the quays and crawled along them in the shade, looking at the
immense river, and the long ‘winter woodland’ of masts of all countries,
stretching away seemingly to the Bay of Biscay: it did not matter that
the water was the colour of _café au lait_, churned to dirty froth by
innumerable screws and paddles, or that the hoarse screams of steam
whistles ascended through black smoke to the brilliant heavens; all was
new and delightful, and of a cheerfulness unknown to the British Isles.
It was here that we began to realise what the wine country could do when
it gave its mind to it. The great quays were packed close with barrels
as far as the eye could follow--barrels on whose ends were hieroglyphs
that told of aristocratic birth as plainly as the armorial bearings on a
carriage; the streets were full of long narrow carts like ladders on
wheels, laden also with barrels, one behind the other; and about every
five minutes, as it seemed to us, some big ship moved out from the
wharf, filled to the brim with claret, and slipped down the yellow
current to other climes. As we sat under the chestnut trees and watched
the tide of the traffic, we began to notice that there are more grey
horses in France than one would have imagined there could have been in
the world. The streets of Paris are mottled by them; the streets of
Bordeaux are mottled in the opposite way--that is to say, the dark
horses are like specks among the white, and in the Médoc the necessary
difficulty of providing black horses for funerals can probably be only
solved by blacklead.

We carried a map of Bordeaux in our hands, and stopped many times to
study it as we strolled along, causing thereby an ecstasy of interest
among the sailors and the women sitting at their stalls of strange
fruits and fungi. It was disappointing that French wit did not on these
occasions elaborate any jest more sparkling than ‘_Ah! Les Anglaises!_’
though the inhabitants seemed to find the humour of the situation
satiatingly expressed in this simple formula. Once, in Paris, a
butcher’s boy screamed ‘Angleesh spock-en’ after us, and convulsed the
whole street with the sally; but we thought that we could have produced
something better any day on Patrick’s Bridge, Cork. We perseveringly
ciphered out our route to the church of St. Michel, assisted a good
deal, it must be admitted, by the fact that its steeple is the tallest
thing in Bordeaux. We were getting very hot indeed as we toiled through
the Tour de Cailhau--so hot that, as a Galway woman once remarked, ‘it
would have been a pleasure to any one to lie down and die,’ and we
longed to sit down and rest on the kerbstone in the shade of the Tour
beside a man in a blue blouse who was sharpening a razor in his entirely
filthy palm.

This being out of the question, we struggled on towards St. Michel,
promising ourselves a bath of coolness and darkness under its lofty
roof, and more especially in its underground caverns, where inhabit the
celebrated mummies that have been preserved by the soil of the graveyard
from dissolution. We crossed the last and sunniest street, and passed
through a swing door into a large church, considerably hotter than
anything or anywhere outside, and with an atmosphere of an unknown and
stifling kind. We walked round it in silence, and, looking at each
other, as we fanned ourselves with guide-books, we felt that our last
chance of averting heat-apoplexy was to go underground at once and see
the mummies.

We found that the mummies lived in a place apart from the church, under
the _clocher_, as the beautiful spire is called, by which we had steered
our way, and we approached with feelings of unmitigated awe and
creepiness the doorway to which we had been directed by two little boys
who were playing cards in the shadow of a buttress. The door itself was
round another buttress, in a low and crumbling stone archway, and we
knocked timidly at it. It opened, and in a room of about the size and
shape of a bonnet-box we beheld, instead of mummies, a cheerful family
party at breakfast. We were about to retire, but the mother, wiping the
_vin ordinaire_ from her jovial mouth, assured us that she was ready to
show us the Cellar of the Mummies immediately. We squeezed past the rest
of the family, and saw that at their very feet a precipitous stone
staircase plunged into darkness.

Our guide picked up a candlestick of a pattern that we were destined to
see more of afterwards,--_i.e._ a long piece of wood with a tallow
_bougie_ erect at one end of it,--and after an anxious inquiry on our
parts as to whether there was any scent _là-bas_ in the cave had been
answered in the negative, we followed her into the abyss. It proved to
be a circular vault, made, like everything else in Bordeaux, of dusty
yellow stone, and, after a minute of despondency on the part of the
_bougie_, we saw, lining its walls, a dismal array of little brown
figures, propped on end behind a low wooden rail.

The guide advanced with alacrity to her task.

‘Behold, mesdames, the celebrated mummies of St. Michel’--

She paused, and flourished the candle in the awful faces of a group of
objects who were just preserved from being skeletons by a ragged
covering of dusty leather which had once been flesh.

[Illustration: ‘BEHOLD, MESDAMES, THE CELEBRATED MUMMIES OF ST.
MICHEL.’]

‘_Voiçi la famille empoisonnée!_ Observe the morsel still in the mouth
of the little one! Mosh-rhume! _Hein?_’ She made a light-hearted attempt
at the English word, but seeing we looked bewildered, passed easily back
into French. ‘Mushrooms, mesdames. All the family are found dead
together!’

We looked at them, but not too closely, and also at their
companions--the porter, the fat woman (now a shrivelled and dreadful
dwarf), the boy who had been buried alive,--at least, the guide
hopefully said that she was almost sure that he had been buried
alive,--and the General, evidently a special favourite, who had been
frequently wounded in the battle, so she told us, as an apology for the
fact that there was very little of him left. How she knew these gruesome
histories we did not inquire, and with the best intentions in the world
we could not altogether believe them. There was nothing human or
appealing in these grotesque survivals of three centuries ago; they
might have been little damaged terra-cotta figures, had it not been for
the dusty grins that showed unmistakable teeth, and some indefinable
sentiment of genuineness and absence of effort.

As we climbed up the stone stairs into the sun and heat, we felt that
the immortality thrust upon the mummies of St. Michel was a cruel one;
and nothing but the affectionate satisfaction of the able show-woman
with her show reconciles us to its memory.



CHAPTER III.


The steamer that plies between Bordeaux and Royan, calling _en route_ at
several dozen places on the Garonne and Gironde, is of an unfortunate
popularity. From reasons hereafter to be explained, we arrived early at
the landing-stage, and we found the forepart of the vessel already
crammed with blue-clad peasants, from whom, as they screamed,
gesticulated, and even danced in the ardour of conversation, the
well-known odour of garlic was slowly winnowed forth, and floated aft to
where the first-class passengers sat on rows of cane chairs under an
awning, looking daggers at all newcomers. We took two seats in the
background, conscious that our English costume was the subject of a
scarcely concealed surprise, and feeling that neither we nor it were
able to bear up against criticism.

We had been much weakened by our last half-hour at the hotel. It is not
so much the bill, ‘though that,’ as Mrs. Browning remarks, ‘may be
owed,’ that whittles the traveller down; it was not in our case even the
_bougie_ at a franc,--we had hidden away that _bougie_ in our
portmanteau, and felt better for it,--it was the hall of the hotel with
its feudal band of retainers that had slowly and agonisingly taken from
us our presence of mind, our dignity, and lastly our truthfulness. We
had tipped our own special waiter, the chambermaid, the boots, and the
luggage porter, and seeing dizzily that there were still before us the
lusciously smiling and relentless faces of an assistant chambermaid, a
deputy-assistant porter, and the head waiter, we said we were going
round for a moment to the Bureau of Change, and slid from the hotel with
something of the modest self-consciousness of a dog leaving the kitchen
with a leg of mutton in its mouth.

[Illustration: WE SAID WE WERE GOING ROUND FOR A MOMENT TO THE BUREAU OF
CHANGE.]

It gave us a great deal of trouble to make our way down to the quays
without passing the hotel again; but we did it, and enjoyed the slums
and the smells as we realised something of what might be the expessions,
facial and otherwise, of the waiter, the porter, and the chambermaid,
whom we had left hopefully waiting at the door. Our luggage had been
sent on to the boat some time before; that was the fact that had added
swiftness and perfectness to our escape, and when, in walking down the
long gangway, we saw a boy in _sabots_ cutting ungainly capers all the
way in front of us, out of the gaiety of his heart, we were grateful to
him; he expressed our feelings in a manner denied to us by circumstance.

There was something Irish and homelike about the conduct of our Pauillac
steamer in the matter of starting. It was ten minutes after the
appointed time when we moved out into the river amongst the big ships
that were coming up on the tide, and the little black ferry-boats that
flew to and fro like incensed water-spiders, but this was only what
might have been expected. What did seem a little hard to bear was, that
when we were well out into mid-stream we should put back again to the
quay, and embark a fresh cargo of passengers, who had been there from
the beginning, apparently trying to make up their minds about whether
they would go or not. It was merely a coquettish ruse on the part of the
captain to make a pretended start; but it had the desired effect, and
when we did get off, every man of the malingerers was safely stacked on
the forward deck.

The tide was running up hard, fighting every inch of the way with the
strong current of the river, and getting the best of it. It was a
singularly dirty strife, involving, like an Irish election, much
stirring up of the mud: a conflict in _café au lait_, with a sprinkling
of cinders strewed on the top, is not romantic either in colour or
suggestion; but by dint of sunshine and strong blue sky, and the seeing
it for the first time, there was a kind of furious beauty in the great
stretch of river ahead of us, with its yellow waves leaping and
wrestling out to the horizon. Bordeaux began to lessen down to a
photographic view of itself; the immense bridge and its arches dwindled
to a long caterpillar, crawling many-legged across the stream; the
thousand delicate details of masts and yards melted into a cobwebby
mist, and, behind all, the _clocher_ of St. Michel towered above the
blur of houses, a monument altogether too magnificent for the
deplorable little tribe of mummies that we had that morning viewed in
its foundations.

[Illustration: AN INTERMITTENT PROCESSION OF MEN.]

The first-class passengers maintained their attitude of suspicion as far
as we were concerned; and when, after a period of discreet
inoffensiveness, a sketch-book was called into requisition, they began
to be quite sure that we were as objectionable as our clothing, and
discussed us in groups, with such lightning side-glances as only French
eyes can give. For a little time an intermittent procession of men
strolled in an elaborately casual manner round behind the sketch-book;
but, finding themselves rewarded only by Arcadian glimpses of cattle,
trees, and churches, they gradually settled down on their chairs again,
and smoked the mysterious compound known to the French middle-classes as
tobacco, while the cattle and the churches retired into the desert
places of the sketch-book, and the page with the fat _curé_, his still
fatter friend, and the insatiably curious little boy, came to light
again.

For the first half of the journey the steamer made her way down the
river on the principle of Billy Malowny’s exit from the wake, when ‘it
wasn’t so much the length of the road come agin him as the breadth.’
Every house on each bank seemed to have a landing-place of its own, and
a passenger to be landed at it; we crossed and recrossed, as if we were
beating to windward, and the Bordeaux merchants and bank clerks returned
by scores to the bosoms of their families, and were no doubt
epigrammatic at dinner on the subject of the two absurdly emancipated
_Anglaises_, with their sailor hats and brown shoes. At all events, we
were getting our first impressions of the Médoc slowly and thoroughly.
We were in the thick of the Vine Country by this time; everywhere, as
far as we could see, the low slopes were seamed and striped with vines
till they looked like green corduroy, and every large house among them
was a _château_, with a name more or less familiar even to the ignorant
and unlearned. We had a map of the Médoc with us--a map that gave all
the _châteaux_ in heavy capitals, and added the towns as trivial
necessities in diamond type; it sometimes even gave a little picture of
a particularly pet _château_ so that there might be no mistake about it.
From this we identified the Château Margaux, the home of one of the four
kings of the classified Médoc wines, sharing its select first-class with
Lafite, Latour, and Haut-Brion, behind whom trails the sacred list of
the classified, down to the fifth estate and after that the deluge of
the _bourgeois_ wines, most of which are good enough for any one, but
are not quite of the blood royal.

It is difficult to realise in the Médoc that the best wine in the world
is made in places where there is no tall chimney or hideous range of
manufactories. All that one sees is a two-storey country-house, with
pointed towers at each end, standing in green vineyard slopes, with
somewhere in the background a group of inoffensive and often picturesque
houses, painted pink, or some other frivolous colour, and not taking up
as much room as the stables and yards at big houses in England. It is
the extraordinary independence of grapes that gives this simplicity in
wine-making. They do the whole thing themselves, only demanding to be
let alone; and not all the tall chimneys in England could coerce them
into fermenting a day faster than they choose, or could give them any
better flavour than their own laws decree.

We had only one specimen of what is commonly felt to be landscape, and
is spoken of as scenery, as opposed to mere contour, on our way to
Pauillac. It was at a place on the right bank of the river, where the
shore suddenly reared itself into cliffs of a sunny fawn colour, and
apparently of a texture that was eminently suited for house building; so
supremely, in fact, that the people of the place had not troubled
themselves to cart it away, but had come, like Mohammed, to the
mountain, and had blasted themselves out houses in it, and apparently
finished them off with their penknives, or teaspoons, or any other
implement that was convenient. Some people decorated the front of their
cliff very handsomely with carved balustrades and porches; others merely
tidied down the rock a little round the windows, and helped out the
angles here and there, and put chimneys on handy protuberances. It must
have its points as a system of living; when, for instance, the house is
crowded for a wedding or a dance, they can dig out a few more spare
rooms towards the front, and throw the stuff out of the windows. The
rock cuts as easily as wood, and becomes perfectly hard in the air; it
is absolutely ideal in all useful respects, and in colour is beautiful,
so cheerful and so tempered. We saw these tawny cliffs behind us for a
long time, while the boat made her way into the broader flood of the
Gironde. The sun made much of them as it sank, and their warm, friendly
faces looked still after us in the twilight, when the west was glowing
darkly, and the cold wind was forcing us to tramp to and fro in the
short span of the deck till we were giddy.

It was past seven o’clock when the lights of Pauillac sparkled ahead of
us on the river bank, and we thankfully gathered together our baggage,
suborned our sailor, and desired him to lead us to the Grand Hôtel, the
one to which we had been recommended. It was a good deal of a shock when
he told us that the Grand Hôtel had been closed for a year on account of
the death of the proprietor. It was not the kind of intelligence to
encourage strangers, arriving in darkness, believing there was but one
hotel in the town, and having desired all letters to be addressed to
them there. However, the sailor rose to the occasion. He was a wizened
little man, with the tentacles of a cuttle fish and the administrative
powers of a Cook.

‘But there are many other hotels, mesdames,’ he said, while he attached
some ten or twelve _articles de voyage_ to his person. ‘Come, I will
conduct you to the best of them.’

My second cousin’s portmanteau, ballasted by the Kodak and the medicine
chest, was hanging round his neck, and gave deadly impetus to his charge
through the dense throng of jabbering peasants that was slowly squeezing
itself up the gangway. But in spite of the confidence inspired by the
sailor, it was in some anxiety of spirit that we hurried along after
him, in darkness that was only streaked here and there by the rays of
indifferent oil-lamps across a high-backed wooden bridge, and out on to
a long and pathless tract of grass. Everything had for the moment a
painful resemblance to the landing of Martin Chuzzlewit and Mark Tapley
on the swampy

[Illustration: A PLUNGE INTO THE UNKNOWN--ARRIVAL AT PAUILLAC.]

bank of the Mississippi in search of the city of Eden. How did we know
what sort of stifling den above a restaurant it would be that the sailor
called a hotel? How did we know what _compôtes_ of grease and garlic we
might have to eat there? We breathed more freely when we were deposited
in the narrow hall of a house that had something of the air of a real
hotel, and were met by an obsequious _garçon_ and a highly-respectable
smell of beefsteak. We were shown our room, a palatially large one, with
a light paper that would be an excellent background for
mosquito-hunting, and we were told that _table d’hôte_ was nearly over,
but that we could have whatever we wished.

We said, ‘_Œufs sur le plat_,’ as we always feebly do when in doubt, and
descended to a very warm and dinnerish little _salle-à-manger_, full of
black-haired fat men, and black bottles of _vin ordinaire_, and pervaded
by the satisfaction of those who have dined largely and well.

Much strange talk buzzed round us in the thick Bordelais accent, while
we waited for our eggs on the

[Illustration: THE DOG APPROACHED WITH A SLOW POLITENESS.]

plate: excited harangues about vintages and grapes, that bristled with
facts so esoteric and so solid that my cousin said she would fetch the
note-book at once, and slipped away with the graceful bow to the company
that we had observed society at Pauillac demanded. I had embarked on the
eggs before she came back, and was thinking how I could best express
the curious flavour of the grease in which they were cooked, when I
heard a slight scuffle at the door, and saw my cousin dart in with
inflated eyes of terror, followed by a black boar-hound of about four
feet high, on whose back was clinging a monkey of more than usually
human and terrifying aspect. The dog approached with a slow politeness,
and, as he came, the monkey leaped to and fro from his back to the
tables, the chairs, the handle of the door, anything in fact within
reach of his chain that presented a surface of a quarter of an inch,
with the swinging bound and rebound of a toy on a piece of indiarubber.
We cowered behind our table, and the danger was for the time averted by
the intervention of some personal friend of the monkey, who, to our
unspeakable thankfulness, took him out of the room.

But that night, when we had forgotten the incident and were going up the
dark staircase to our room, my cousin, who was in the rear, uttered
suddenly the most vulgar, kitchenmaid’s shriek I have ever heard, and
fled past me in a state bordering on convulsions, with a dark object
swinging from the skirt of her dress.

It was the monkey.



CHAPTER IV.


Shutters in the Médoc are serious affairs, impregnable barriers that are
fastened irrevocably outside the windows, and admit neither air nor
light. Neither do they admit mosquitoes; but we had so far seen none
such, and we resolved to risk them, and sleep with the windows open. The
mosquitoes forbore--perhaps we were caviare to their countrified tastes,
or perhaps they missed the usual seasoning of garlic; but the sunshine
that flamed in our windows at some six of the Waterbury (I have not
mentioned before that my cousin is attached to a Waterbury watch by a
leather strap) had no scruples in the matter. To slumber with the Médoc
sun full on one’s face is an art that takes some learning, and the first
angry rift in the delicious sleep that French wool mattresses and
spring beds induce was broadened to a wide-awake torture by a series of
rasping, whistling screeches from the street below, that made us grind
our teeth, and remember every slate pencil that had ever squeaked on a
slate. It was a matter that required instant investigation, and it was
not a little startling to find a party of stonemasons perched like birds
upon a scaffolding exactly opposite our windows, manipulating monster
blocks of the creamy stone out of which they build everything in these
parts. They were sawing and shaping these symmetrical blocks down in the
street as easily as if they were cheese, and in time we became able to
bear that iron screech of the saws tearing their way through the gritty
stone; indeed, it now lingers in our ears as a memory inseparable from
sunshine, blue linen coats, and Pauillac. But the workmen on the
scaffolding remained always a difficulty; when we went out on to our
private balcony to hang up our sponges, or to throw the tea-leaves into
the gutter of an adjacent roof, it was embarrassing to have to lay bare
these domestic arrangements to an audience seated, seemingly, in the
sky, not fifteen feet away. But they were companionable people, and, if
they had not had a habit of walking over chasms on single planks, with
blocks of stone two feet square balanced on their heads, we should have
got quite fond of them.

When we had finished, with the help of a battalion of flies, our _petit
déjeuner_ of excellent _café au lait_, admirable butter, and sour bread,
we were conducted, at our own request, to the kitchen to interview
Madame, having while at breakfast made up from Bellows’ Dictionary all
the words under the headings of ‘vine’ and ‘grape’ with a view to the
conversation. Madame was a solid lady, built much on the lines of a
cottage loaf, full of years, of good and greasy living, and possessed of
an almost excessive repose of manner. She sat immutably in the kitchen
window, and kept a frugal eye on the cook and her handful of wood
embers, while she directed her household and read the _feuilleton_ in
her five-centimes Bordeaux paper.

[Illustration: MADAME.]

All the country was ‘_en plein vendange_,’ she told us; wherever we went
we could see the vintagers, and if we wished to make a ‘_jolie petite
course à pied_’ we could not do better than walk to the little village
of St. Lambert. _En effet_, she herself was _propriétaire_, and it would
give her son great pleasure to show us his _cuvier_ and all else that we
might care to see.

‘And peasants?’ we said vaguely; ‘we want to talk to the peasants.’

Madame looked slightly bewildered.

‘_Il y en avait bien assez de ces gens-là!_’ she said, with a contempt
that we afterwards understood, when we heard she had been a peasant
herself. ‘I have a peasant of my own; _ces dames_ can go and talk to her
as much as they wish.’

The broad esplanade was full of sun, and dogs, and sailors, as we
debouched upon it with our note-books, sketch-books, and the Kodak, at
some nine o’clock of the morning. A steamer was hooting at the wooden
pier over which we had crawled in gloomy fatigue the night before; a
boat with a big lug-sail was performing wonderful and strange manœuvres
of going about with the help of the current; and a full-rigged ship,
with a dazzling green hull, was being towed up to Bordeaux by a black
and misshapen tug-boat called _Ercule_, the family name of all Bordeaux
tug-boats. It seemed to be a market or _fête_ day of a minor sort in
Pauillac; something connected with a saint, probably, which in Ireland
would have meant that every one would have gone to Mass and done no work
for the rest of the day; but here every one worked, just as they did on
Sunday, and the people who had no work to do went about and enjoyed
themselves. We remember once asking a man at home why the people were
going to Mass and what holy day it was. He said he didn’t rightly know,
but he thought the ‘Blessed Vargin’ was implicated. We did not find out
who or what it was that was implicated in the Pauillac _fête_, but we
take this opportunity of thanking them for celebrating themselves on our
first day in the Médoc. All manner of unexpected things and people went
by on their way to the town that straggled on the hill behind the
Boulevard de la

[Illustration: A MÉDOC DOG-CART.]

Marine. Donkey-carts, waggons, and _charettes_, driven by brown-faced,
white-capped women, or boys in flat felt caps of scarlet or blue,--the
_berets_ that are found up the west of France from Biarritz to
Brittany,--a man on stilts, stalking by with the grave composure of a
heron; and, creeping through the midst of all these, came now and again
a long cart drawn by fawn-coloured oxen, who paced with that swinging
saunter that became afterwards so familiar to us, their faces and sleek
bodies covered absurdly with a thick netted material to keep the flies
off, and their neatly-shod hoofs keeping time like clockwork.

We had been told by Madame the way we should go, and we walked in it
with alacrity, especially when it involved leaving the white, sandy
high-road, and crossing a vineyard, the property of our amiable hostess.
It was the first time that we had been let loose on grapes in this
fashion, and we fell upon them with an incredulous delight, that was
scarcely checked by the hideous discovery made at this period, that the
dog and the monkey had followed us. The monkey was chained to the dog’s
collar,--that was always something,--but it was none the less disturbing
to see suddenly, while stooping to cut one of the long blue bunches, the
little black face with its blinking eyes looking greedily and cunningly
through the leaves, and the nimble clammy claw extended imperiously for
the grapes that we were afraid to refuse. They were delicious
grapes--small and sweet and ‘inconvayniently crowded’ with juice, as a
certain Irish wood was reputed to be with woodcock, and so tightly
packed on their stalks that it was difficult to pick the first one of
the bunch. We, however, overcame this difficulty nobly.

Our arrival at the village of St. Lambert was attended with considerable
pomp. The procession was headed by the proprietor, who had overtaken us
on his tricycle, and now rode very slowly and majestically before us,
eating grapes; next came César, the dog, bestridden by the monkey (also
eating grapes), and thereby inspiring the most agonising panic in all
other dogs along the road; then we came, carrying the Kodak, and bending
under bunches of grapes; and after us an enthusiastic body, composed of
the infant population of St. Lambert, announcing in clear tones, to all
whom it might concern, that ‘These’--meaning us--were ‘_des
étrangères_.’

The procession was halted about halfway through the straggling village;
the tricycle turned up a side street, and the next moment we had our
first sight of wine-making.

There was an archway in one of the long white houses, an archway of a
shape that we knew very well before we left the Médoc. It was a kind of
large window in the wall, about four feet from the ground, with a heap
of brown and bare grape stalks outside it, and, looking in, we saw in
full swing the working of one of the oldest trades in the world. It must
be admitted that we found it startling. In the mouth of the archway was
a broad and shallow wooden receptacle, called the _pressoir_; heaped up
in it were mounds of grapes, all black and shining, with their splendid
indigo bloom gone for ever, and, splashing about amongst them,
barefooted, and ankle-deep in the thick magenta juice, were the treaders
of the winepress. It was those bare feet, crimsoned with juice, that
took our whole attention for the first few minutes. We had been given
uncertain warnings as to what we might or might not see, but we had
always hoped against

[Illustration: A TREADER OF THE WINEPRESS.]

hope for _sabots_. I think the proprietor felt for us--not
sympathetically, of course, but compassionately. He hastened to explain
that the fermenting process purified everything; the old plan had been
for the men to join hands and dance round and round the _pressoir_,
trampling the juice out of the grapes, and singing a little sacrificial
vintage song, but now nothing like that obtained. All this was very
consoling and nice, but it did not in the least mitigate the horror that
fate had in store for us.

We had watched the carts unloading the big _douilles_ packed with grapes
at the mouth of the archway, and had heard, and straightway forgotten,
how many _douilles_ were yielded by an acre. We had seen with
considerable repugnance the wiry and handsome little blue-clad workmen
scrub the berries from the stems on the _grillage_, a raised grating
that let the bruised grapes fall through, while the stalks remained on
the top. We had watched them shovel the grapes in dripping shovelfuls
into a small double-handled barrel, which was then snatched up by two of
them, who, with it on their shoulders, would trot across the dusty floor
of the _cuvier_, up two ladders that leaned side by side against a tall
vat, and, having emptied their load into this immense maw, would trot
back, and jump into the _pressoir_ again. Through all these things we
clung to the beautiful, purifying thought of the fermentation, and said
to each other that when we ordered our bottle of Grand St. Lambert at
our English hotel we should see that we got it, and would think fondly
as we drank it of that good, comforting process. At this juncture one of
the barefooted and blue-clad workmen approached with a small tumbler in
his singularly dirty hand.

‘These ladies would like to taste the _moût_,’ he observed, dipping the
tumbler in a tub half full of the muddy juice that was trickling out of
the _pressoir_. He proffered us the tumbler with a bow, and we looked at
each other in speechless horror.

[Illustration: TASTING THE MOÛT.]

We were quite certain we should not like to taste it; but there in front
of us was held the tumbler, with behind it a pair of politely observant
black eyes, and an unbroken flow of commendation in sing-song Bordelais
French. We were assured that the _moût_ was delicious, mild, and sweet,
that the vintagers drank it every day by the gallon, and, lastly, that
it was very wholesome; and we replied with a ghastly smile that we were
not concerned about its wholesomeness, we did not contemplate a surfeit
just at first; while all the time we heard the splashing of the feet in
the _pressoir_, and the quiet trickle of the juice into the tub. The
inevitable moment came, in spite of temporising, and the glass was put
into my hand. The stuff was a sort of turgid magenta, thick and greyish,
with little bubbles in it, and the quarter of a teaspoonful that I
permitted to ooze between my lips was deadly, deadly sweet, and had a
faint and dreadful warmth. That I swallowed it shows partly my good
breeding and partly my extreme desire that my second cousin should not
be discouraged.

‘_C’est bon? Hein?_’ said the _vigneron_. ‘_Ça vous fera du bien!_’

He said _bong_ and _biang_ in the friendly British way that they
pronounce such words in the Médoc. (We had already found that if we
could relax the strain, and, obeying our native instincts, talk about
_vang_, and say _combiang_, we should do well with the Bordelais) I
turned to watch the effect on the other victim, but found that she had
retreated with extraordinary stealth and swiftness to the far end of the
_cuvier_, and, having mounted one of the ladders that leaned against a
giant _cuve_, was looking down into its pitchy depths. It is one of the
most unamiable traits in my cousin’s character that she has neither
enterprise nor good fellowship about tasting nasty things, and I
immediately led the _vigneron_ to the foot of the _cuve_ with a fresh
and brimming tumbler of _moût_.

The wood of the great barrel was quite warm, and from within came a low
humming, like a swarm of bees high up in a chimney. I went up the second
ladder, and looked down into a darkness that had black gleams in it like
a coal-cellar, showing where was the surface of the sweltering mass of
grapes. My cousin hurried into conversation about it, regardless of the
sour, heady smell of the fermentation, until we heard a voice below
warning us not to stoop so long over the fumes; and then I felt that it
was quite worth the disgusting flavour of _moût_ that still haunted my
palate to see her come down the ladder and find the man with the tumbler
waiting for her at the foot of it. I could never have believed that she
would have been so lost to all sense of politeness and policy as to
dodge past his extended hand and bolt through an unknown doorway into a
dark room that had apparently nothing in it except a great deal of straw
and a musty draught.

It was a very long room, so I saw as I followed, lighted principally by
an open door at the far end of it, and over half the floor was strewn a
thick litter of straw. The open door framed an oblong of glaring white
road, and tendrils of vine with the sun shining through their leaves,
and the light struck up on the boarded ceiling, and dealt mercifully
with the details of a long table with black bottles on it that was
disposed beyond the region of the straw.

‘It is here that the vintagers eat and sleep,’ said the _vigneron_,
taking a loving sip from the tumbler for fear it should overflow. ‘_Mais
voilà!_’--with ecstasy--‘mademoiselle is about to walk upon one of them!
He has drunk too much of the _moût_!’

My cousin was plunging her way through the straw with uncertain strides
and without her eyeglasses, so that it must have been a considerable
shock to her when a crimson face with a white beard reared itself from
the straw at her feet, and stared with a petrified terror at this
episode in the dreams induced by _moût_. It was not only at her,
however, that the old man thus gazed transfixed. The monkey had
escaped, and was advancing, evidently much exhilarated by the straw,
with demoniac leaps and cries, and doubtless the vintager was realising
that he must have got ‘them’ very badly this time. Whatever he may have
thought, the monkey settled the question for my cousin. She fled back to
us, and when in safety took her gulp of _moût_ with a heroism that I
well knew to be a refinement of spite.



CHAPTER V.


[Illustration]

The sitting-room in our hotel at Pauillac was discovered and annexed by
us on the afternoon of our first day in the Médoc. It was a large room
and a pleasant, and, so far as we were aware, had never before been
trodden by the foot of man; certainly none trod it once we had taken
possession. The sandy bootmarks that we distributed about its polished
red floor remained there during the whole of our stay at Pauillac
undisturbed by a brush, and unmingled with the footprint of the
_négociant en vins_. The two big plaited maize-straw arm-chairs stood at
attention by the table just as they were left; and, most wonderful of
all, we could open the windows and know they would not be shut the
moment our backs were turned. Apparently the other people in the hotel
had no time to spend in the sitting-room. The wine merchants went forth
in loud companies every morning, but--like the Irish lady who was said
to be ‘the most thronging woman ever you seen; sure, she’d go out o’ the
house twenty times for the once she’d come in’--they never seemed to
return, and, whatever may have happened to them, the _salon_ remained
undisturbedly ours.

It was while sitting at tea at the large admirable table belonging to
this room, on the afternoon of our first experience in the _cuviers_,
that we became conscious of the eye of the Kodak regarding us from
behind our eighteenpenny teapot with a cold reproach. As yet the gardens
on the Thames Embankment reigned in lonely beauty in the recesses of the
machinery; nothing French had been given to the mysterious custody of
the black box, though we had carried it, at considerable inconvenience,
to the _cuvier_ of St. Lambert in the morning. The right moment never
seemed to come; the sun was where it ought not to be, or we were afraid
that the suitable peasant might be offended, and we had besides a latent
disbelief in the Kodak’s willingness to deal with southern sunshine and
a foreign sky tingling with light.

‘It has the surly English turn in it somewhere,’ my cousin had said,
with Galway arrogance. But it was now saying ‘_Ici on parle Français_’
with all the power of its sunken eye; and as soon as we had thrown the
tea-leaves out of the window, and hidden the jug of cold boiled milk
behind the stuffed fox on the side-table, we went down and ordered a
wagonette for the next morning from a livery stable, and felt that we
were going to do our duty seriously by the Kodak.

The weather certainly did its part of the business to perfection. The
sun blazed upon our departure, as we emerged from the hotel in the
morning, and the heat came through the cool wind in streaks, as the
vanille biscuit intersects the aching monotony of the lemon ice. Under
the awning outside the coffee-room windows sat Madame, filling out her
straw chair in magnificent meditation. Ours had been the last of the
_petits déjeuners_, so that there was no longer any need for her to
watch over the expenditure of red embers and _café au lait_ in the
kitchen, and she could now exhibit her elegant leisure and her blue
cloth slippers to the loungers of Pauillac for an hour or so. We wished,
for her sake, that the wagonette was larger and had two horses, and that
the Kodak’s resemblance to a box of ‘samples’ had not given us so much
the effect of commercial travellers; but she gave us a ‘_bonne
promenade_,’ and a wave of the hand, that showed she had a heart that
did not despise the humble.

Before we had got clear of the town, our _cocher_ had begun to betray
symptoms of intelligence. Our directions as to where we wished to go had
been but vague, and, twisting himself round on his seat, he
cross-questioned us until he had grasped the situation. ‘These
demoiselles wished to see vineyards and vintagers at work in them,
_voyons_!’--he twisted up the ends of his little black moustache, and
grinned at us with unutterable comprehension, till his fat cheeks must
have impeded his vision. ‘And they wish to make the _photographie_? _Eh,
bien!_ It is I who know where to conduct them. _Allons_, I will make
them to see Château Latour!’ His black eyes beamed delightedly upon us,
and his horse crawled unmolested down the hill, while a series of
apparently agreeable ideas displayed themselves on its driver’s face. He
resumed his usual position on the box, cracked his whip, and frightened
the horse into a canter by saying ‘_Huë!_’ in a soprano voice.

It was very satisfactory. We told each other that we had indeed lighted
upon a treasure--a man who understood what photography was, and who
seemed to know the sort of things we wanted to photograph. We did not
know that his mind was occupied in mapping out conveniently those of his
friends whom he wished to visit, to photograph, to impress generally
with his position of ‘Cicero’ (as a county Cork paper has classically
expressed this office); but we realised all these things afterwards.

We drove for a while through the broad stretches

[Illustration: THE FIRST GROUP OF VENDANGEURS.]

of the vineyards, where the myriad low vines stood with their octopus
arms drooping untidily over the supporting wire, and the grapes hung
heavy and ripe, taking their last look of the sun before their plunge
into the seething night of the _cuves_. No one but the ardent _négociant
en vins_ could, we think, call the Médoc a beautiful land. Even at its
gayest and greenest time these long slopes require all the romance and
richness and mystery of the grapes to give them an interest, and the
much-vaunted fact that the land was annually worth anything from £250 to
£800 per acre cannot give it the sympathy that lies in an Irish hillside
of furze and rock, whose price is adjusted in shillings and pence by
Sub-Commissioners of the Land Court.

The vintage had hardly begun. We had to drive for some distance before
we saw the first group of _vendangeurs_, standing waist-deep in the
vines, snipping off the bunches and putting them into square wooden
baskets, eating grapes by handfuls, and talking in a penetrating,
incessant gabble that was as strident on the quiet vineyard slope as
were the dazzling white sun-bonnets and kerchiefs and blue blouses in
the toneless expanse of green. The Treasure pulled up, informing us that
here was a suitable subject for photography, and we docilely got the
Kodak into position. The vintagers turned as one man to stare at us, and
we tried to isolate some half-dozen in the little focussing mirror,
while the Treasure leaped from his box, and, circulating among the
crowd, explained to them his position of proprietor of the entertainment
with a sense of its humour that was only kept within bounds by the still
stronger sense of self-importance. My cousin balanced the Kodak on her
arm with all care, and said, ‘_Maintenant très tranquille, s’il vous
plaît!_’ to the mirrored half-dozen, who with one accord shrieked with
delight, put their arms round each other, did their hair, and otherwise
prepared themselves for the ordeal.

‘How fortunate it is that they don’t object to being photographed!’ said
my cousin. ‘Now, you pull the bobbin--I mean the button--and I will
press the other thing.’

There followed a disintegrating click from the heart of the Kodak.

‘The photograph is taken,’ said my cousin, not as confidently as could
have been wished. ‘What _did_ the book say we were to do next?’

‘Put a penny in the slot,’ I suggested.

‘Idiot!’ replied my cousin, searching in my sketching wallet on the
earthquake principle--that is, to go at once to the lowest depths, and
then to burst upwards and outwards through all resisting elements.
‘_Here_ is the book! It says we are now to turn this handle and replace
the cap.’

The handle was turned, and it was then discovered that the cap was
irretrievably lost. It was not on the floor of the wagonette, it was not
in our pockets, it was not in the hood of my cousin’s cloak, or in her
hand, or anywhere that it might reasonably have been. We said that we
would hold a hat over the thing instead, and on going to the front for
this purpose I became aware that the black cap was nestling in its
usual place in front of the lens. It was one of the bitterest points of
the incident that at this moment the group at whom the Kodak’s sightless
eye had been directed, advanced upon us to see results, doubtless
expecting that each of its six members would receive on the spot a
picture on glass with a brass frame.

It was so surpassingly difficult to explain the accident and the general
peculiarities of the Kodak, and the disappointment and scorn were so
unconcealed when the faltering photographers finally made themselves
understood, that as a possible, though doubtful method of consolation, I
plunged among the vines and began a pencil sketch of the disappointed
ones. In an instant the _cocher_ was at my shoulder, summoning all the
others with a wave of his hand to come and see the show. It is scarcely
necessary to add that they came, and for the next five minutes I and my
models were the centre of a hollow square, which was, so to speak, lined
and canopied with billowy vapours of garlic.

The sketch was finished with unexampled speed, and in the teeth of the
most scathing criticism, the critics showing an artistic intelligence
that was almost unearthly, and for which an experience of the Irish
peasant was no sort of preparation. I broke my way forth from the
square, amidst shrill bursts of laughter and shrieks of ‘_Ciel! Que je
suis vilaine!’ ‘Mais regarde moi un peu le chapeau de Jeanne!’ ‘Eh!
Dieu! C’est pas moi ça! Ouf! C’est vilaine!_’ and, having collected my
cousin from red-handed gluttony in the background, we succeeded in
driving away in time to prevent the sketch-book being torn bodily out of
my hand.

We ventured after a few minutes to ask the Treasure where he was now
taking us, and after a long and meditative grin at each of us in turn,
he condescended to tell us that we were going to see the vintagers at
their dinner. Almost as he spoke we whirled in at the gate of a big
yard, and saw, under a penthouse at the end of it, a kind of school
feast going on: rows of tables covered with platters and jugs, and rows
of vintagers devouring untold quantities of vintage soup. Our _cocher_
drove straight up to these, and, having whirled showily round, drew up
with the air of Napoleon confronting his army, and addressed the
meeting. As he progressed with his explanation of our mission we
gloomily produced the Kodak, and waited for the outward rush of those
who wished to be immortalised: we were becoming alive to the fact that
the Médoc peasant had not that shrinking from publicity that we had
believed. But providentially the succulent soup, with the meat and
cabbage and bread floating in it, was too good to be left in a hurry,
and at the end of our driver’s address one candidate only came forward,
an extremely plump young lady, with an expression of placid
self-contentment, and an apron of an infuriated Scotch plaid. The
Treasure leaped from his box like an antelope, and, leading her forth to
a convenient spot, proceeded to pose her according to his own ideas.
After a few experimental positions the inspiration came, and we had the
privilege of focussing the fair _vendangeuse_, standing

[Illustration: THE TREASURE WAS POSED BESIDE HER, WITH HIS FAT ARM ROUND
HER NECK.]

placidly heedless of the fact that the Treasure, with his moustache
twisted up to his eyes, from the very extremity of gallantry, was posed
beside her, with his fat arm round her neck. Thus they were
photographed, and as the words ‘_C’est fait_’ were uttered, the
Treasure’s hat was raised with a flourish, and a ponderous kiss was
deposited upon the cheek of beauty. There was a roar of delight from the
luncheon party under the penthouse; even the photographers so far forgot
themselves as to titter sympathetically, and as our _cocher_ whipped up
his horse, and swung out of the yard on two wheels, he turned to us and
winked with an intimacy that made my cousin take out her most unbecoming
pair of spectacles and put them on, in order to sustain the character of
the expedition.

After this the events of the day became blended into a monotony of hot
green vineyards, with pink and white houses on the hazy horizon; narrow
roads, without a fence between their warm yellow gravel and the yellow
gravel in which the vines grow; gangs of

[Illustration: FAWN-COLOURED OXEN.]

vintagers stooping among the plants; fawn-coloured oxen pacing at ease
with their loads; the clack and twang of Bordelais tongues; and, most
prominent of all ingredients, the heat and the Kodak. Every friend of
the _cocher_ was found and photographed, the sketch-book was utilised
for those who insisted on an immediate result, and, as the afternoon
sun began to drop towards the western uplands, we hoped that we might,
in the fulness of time, be permitted to go home. But the Treasure had
yet another friend, one who lived still farther away from Pauillac, and
it was not till we had driven for half an hour that we saw in front of
us the now familiar _chai_, with its arched opening into the _cuvier_,
and its magenta-legged proprietor standing inside in the juice, shovel
in hand. It was becoming too late in the day for the Kodak, and the
_cocher_ desired that a sketch should be made of this most particular
friend, and also of the friend’s wife, whom, in the twinkling of an eye,
he had fetched from her house and placed on the edge of the _pressoir_
in utter absurdity and incongruity. But the artist was too completely
subjugated to remonstrate; even when the sketch-book was snatched from
her by the _cocher_ and deposited in the vinous fingers of the grape
treader with long and loud explanation of every page, she merely sank
back in voiceless despair.

We heard without interest or emotion that we were to be driven home by
a different and longer way. Our only articulate longing was for tea, but
that being a mere vision, as impossible as beautiful, we gradually took
refuge in fatalism, telling ourselves that if we got home that night,
well and good; if not, we could sleep in the wagonette, waking up
obediently at intervals to make moonlight sketches of such of the
_cocher’s_ friends as he chose to summon from their beds for the
purpose. We were in the act of dividing our last gingerbread, while the
cool breath of the Médoc evening gave us its first nip, and the vines
became fragrant in the dew, and the chorus of _cigales_ in the roadside
grass sounded like the rhythmic reeling of line off innumerable
trout-rods, when I was thrown violently against my cousin by the
collapse of the wagonette on one side, and after an instant of extreme
anxiety and discomfort, we found ourselves rolled out in a heap into the
vines, with the _cigales’_ note at our very ears, and the hind wheel of
the wagonette finding a bed for itself in the shallow ditch beside us.

[Illustration: THE COCHER MADE LIGHT OF IT.]



CHAPTER VI.


We stood side by side, my cousin and I, and viewed the disaster with the
gloomy, helpless ignorance of jurymen at a coroner’s inquest, and the
mirage of tea that had risen before our thirsty eyes a few moments
before, sank into the yellow sand in which wallowed our broken-winged
wagonette.

The _cocher_ made light of it. There was a blacksmith quite close--_en
effet_, a cousin of his own, and a man of great intelligence, and all
would be arranged in a little quarter of an hour. My cousin with some
trouble disinterred the Waterbury--she was in the habit of saying that
she had no wish to display it as jewellery, but it seemed to me she
might have struck a mean between a châtelaine or a wristlet, and a lair
so profoundly situated that I hesitated to ask her the hour unless I
knew she was going to bed. It was half-past six o’clock; the blacksmith,
however intelligent, could not come without being fetched, the re-fixing
of the wheel would take some time, getting back to Pauillac would take
some more, and the evening was becoming chilly, as October evenings even
in the Médoc have a knack of doing. Our driver had by this time
untackled the tired white horse, and we were all pacing along toward
nothing more definite than the setting sun, while hunger and ill-temper
ran neck and neck in our bosoms. The road stretched implacably on to the
horizon, its yellow reaches turning grey as the warmth slowly went out
of the sky; the vintagers had all gone home to their dinners, and there
was nothing moving except the topsails of a ship that glided spectrally
along behind the shoulder of a low hill on our left, and told us of the
nearness of the great river highway where the steamers and sailing
vessels were going on their way, sublimely independent of such things as
linch-pins or _table d’hôte_ at Pauillac.

Two stone pillars, a small clump of trees, and a railed-in track
connecting these, broke at length the blue-green monotony of the vines;
and a low gate, with a little black-pinafored girl sitting on it, seemed
to suggest a house somewhere near. It also suggested a possibility of
repose till such time as the carriage should be repaired, and we stopped
the _cocher_ and his flow of conversation to ask if there was a house
_là-bas_. Perfectly, there was a house. Did he think its proprietor
would permit us to rest there till, etc. etc.? Perfectly, again; in
fact, the lady to whom it belonged was yet another of his cousins, a
person altogether charming, Madame Suzanne Marcault, and behold one of
her children. The little girl was here imported into the conversation,
and after some interchange of patois, we found ourselves following the
black pinafore up the narrow lane, to demand hospitality from Madame
Marcault in the name of M. Joseph Blossier.

It had become almost dark, and presently the last of the light was lost
under a thick trellis of vines; then our noses were smitten by a smell
of almost painful deliciousness, and our small guide, who had demurely
stepped along in front of us, suddenly ran round the corner of a wall
that half closed the end of the lane, and we heard ourselves announced--

‘_Maman! V’là deux Anglaises!_’

We followed upon the heels of this introduction, and found ourselves at
the wide-open door of a cottage kitchen, wherein a broad-backed peasant
woman was stacking logs on a blazing wood fire, and was thereby
stimulating a couple of cauldrons to a state of bubbling perfumed
ecstasy. This was Madame Suzanne Marcault.

We decided afterwards that we had never met any one with quite such good
manners as Madame Suzanne. Hers was one of the many _cuisines de
vendanges_, and we had stumbled in upon her at the critical moment known
to the Irish cook as ‘dishing-in the dinner,’ but not for a second did
she let us realise how intensely inconvenient our visit must have been.
Her politeness was as sincere as the

[Illustration: SUZANNE.]

smell of her _potage_, and the fulness of her sympathy as we recounted
our adventure was not in the least daunted by the fact that my cousin
alternately referred to the wheel as the _boue_ or the _rue_. Her heart
was so kind that she felt what we meant.

While we were still labouring with our story, wheels were heard on the
road, and a whip exploded into a coruscation of crackings at the door.

‘_Ah, Dieu! Les voilà pour le dîner! Dépêche-toi, voyons!_’ A long row
of quaint brown and yellow earthen vessels was set out on a table along
one wall of the kitchen; there must have been two or three dozen of
them, but in a few whirling minutes our hostess and the little girl had
not only filled them with the savoury contents of the cauldrons, but had
somehow or other stacked them all in the gig that had just driven up to
the door.

‘_Nous n’avons pas du monde ce soir_,’ explained Madame Suzanne, when
she had ladled out the last potful of soup, and had settled down into a
sort of steaming tranquillity. ‘_Ils sont tous là-bas, près St.
Estéphe._’ ‘They’ meant the vintagers to whom she was temporary cook,
and while the wheels, or rather the wheel, of our chariot still
tarried, we fell into discourse with her about them.

‘_Le patron_ feeds them well, _pardi_,’ she said. ‘_Tiens_, would _ces
dames_ like to taste the _soupe de vendange_?’

We tasted it, and it was perhaps the noble flavour of that vintage soup
that inspired the scheme that simultaneously occurred to us both. Should
we ask this nice woman, with her Irish friendliness, and her sympathetic
comprehension of bad French, and her excellent cookery, to put us up for
the night? We discussed it hurriedly between scalding, inelegant
mouthfuls of soup, sopped bread, and tresses of cabbage, interspersed
with flatteries on its quality. We wanted to see the _Médoc au
fond_,--what more than this could show us its nethermost profundities?
If we had lived out a night in a Connemara cottage, could we not stand
one in a French _ferme_? So clean, so convenient, so glowing with local
colour. Was it not almost a duty to accept such an opportunity?

It is a useful thing to be pronounced eccentricities. As we diffidently
unfolded the suggestion to Suzanne, she put her hands on her hips and
smiled at us with that smile of lenient amusement with which our sojourn
in the Médoc was making us familiar. It was droll, _pardi_! She had
never before had _pensionnaires_, but she had once been servant in a
hotel, and if we feared the long drive in the cold--this was how we had
put it--she would know how to make us comfortable. _Voyons!_

Delightful creature! so practical, so unconventional, so Irish in fact,
we said to each other, as we listened to her explaining our scheme, with
bursts of laughter, to M. Joseph Blossier, who had come to tell us that
the carriage would be ready _tout-à-l’heure_. We had left her to deal
with him; he required a more masterful treatment than our French would
rise to, and it was with sincere thankfulness that we finally saw him
depart, with promises to return for us in the morning with sundry
essentials enumerated in a note to Léonie, our _femme de chambre_.

We sat hungrily in a corner of the kitchen while the little girl spread
a surprisingly clean cloth on the table, and Madame Suzanne stirred the
_ragoût_, and delicately added to it some further finishings which we
trusted were not garlic. The yellowish walls and the smoke-stained
wooden ceiling took the firelight with warm good fellowship; the blue
china-tiled stove, hard-working _aide-de-camp_ to the big open
fireplace, sent an upward glow from its red charcoal upon the glittering
array of pots and pans and glazed earthen vessels upon the wall above
it; and round the open door the vine leaves and bunches of grapes were
emphasised theatrically by the firelight, and the last light of the
evening and the whirring of the _cigales_ came strangely through them
from without. The master of the house was late, and feeling, no doubt,
like other hostesses, that the interval before dinner required
alleviation, Madame Suzanne offered to show us over the rest of her
house.

She began paradoxically by leading us out of it, and then took her way
round the corner of the house under the grape trellis. She stopped at
what was apparently a coach-house door, and after some difference of
opinion between a large key and its keyhole, pushed it open. A blast of
cold air nearly extinguished the flame of the little chimneyless lamp
that she carried, as we followed her into a lofty barn, with giant
barrels looming round its walls, and permeated with the sour,
unforgetable, indescribable smell of a Médoc _cuvier_. This place was
about forty feet long, and at the end of it we dimly descried a ladder,
with a hand-rail, mounting to a door high up in the wall. Towards this
we incredulously followed our hostess, and having stumbled up it after
her, found ourselves in a musty loft; and then, saying something, whose
import we did not quite catch, about her eldest daughter, Suzanne
unlocked another door, and told us that this was where we were to sleep.
Our courage receded to the toes of our boots; were we to share the room
with that eldest daughter, or could it be that we were to join in an
even more general family party? It was a long bare room, with nothing in
it except a very large bed, swathed and canopied all over with heavy
brown draperies, a chair, and a small table in the middle of the room,
on which was a toy piano, a manual of devotion, and a little mirror made
of something resembling tinfoil.

‘It seems we need not have sent for our washing-gear,’ observed my
cousin. ‘I wish we were well out of this.’

‘It is a pretty bed, _hein_?’ said the amiable Suzanne, thumping the
awful brown swaddlings of our couch. ‘And you need fear nothing; my
husband and I and _la petite_ sleep in there.’ She pointed to another
door. ‘If you are ill, anything, you have but to knock’--

‘And mademoiselle, _votre fille aînée?_’ we faltered.

_Ouf!_ We need not trouble ourselves about her. It was but last week
that she had had a fever in that very bed--a fever scarcely worth
mentioning; but she was now in Bordeaux for change of air: ‘_et
maintenant, mes demoiselles, descendons!_’

We did not dare to inquire further as to Mademoiselle Marcault’s fever,
but we felt that it gave the finishing touch of horror to those dusky
draperies. It was too late now, however, to draw back, and, expressing a
lying satisfaction in all that we had seen, we followed our hostess’s
devious course to the kitchen. M. Marcault was there with another man,
who, it was explained, was a friend who had come to dine. Both were
dressed in blue linen blouses, and were of the sharp-nosed,
long-moustached type common in Médoc and both rose and bowed solemnly as
Madame Suzanne introduced us.

‘_Deux demoiselles Irlandaises_,’ she explained, with an up-and-down
flourish of the lamp, in order that no details of the appearance of the
maniacs might be lost, ‘who are anxious to become acquainted with an
_intérieur paysan_.’ At this juncture we were far more anxious that _la
nourriture paysanne_ should become acquainted with our interior, but we
made reply in fitting terms, and beguiled the remaining interval before
dinner with political conversation. We always found it advisable in
France to announce our true nationality as soon as convenient. We found
ourselves at once on a different and more friendly footing, and talk had
a pleasant tendency to drift into confidential calumny of our mutual
neighbour, perfidious Albion, and all things ran smoother and more
gaily. Dinner was ready at last, and we all sat down very close to each
other round the narrow table. Suzanne fetched the soup and the _ragoût_
off the stove, and helped us all out of the pot. Our glasses were filled
with excellent _ordinaire_, and we began to think it was a charming
party. The two men were most agreeable and instructive, talking with
astonishing ease and well-bred self-possession on any subject that was
started, and giving us much useful information on the subject of vines
and vine-growing.

We were most careful to copy our hosts in all things. We put salt in our
soup with the blades of our knives; we absorbed the rich sauce of our
delicious _ragoût_ with pieces of bread, being indeed pressed to do so
by M. Marcault; we cleaned our knives on rinds of leathery crust; in
fact, we conformed, as we thought, admirably. Everything was going on
velvet, when, after the _ragoût_, the smell of fried oil became
apparent, and from a covered-in pan Suzanne helped us each to a large
piece of something that resembled sweet-bread, and cut rather like a
tough custard pudding. It was fried bright brown, but the inside was
yellowish white, and the whole thing was swimming in hot oil. We asked
nervously what it was.

‘_Mais, mangez le donc_,’ responded Suzanne, as she reversed the
frying-pan to let the last drops of oil run on to our plates. ‘_C’est
biang bong! C’est du cépe--du champignong, vous savez_,’ seeing that we
did not seem much enlightened. Here was local colour with a vengeance!
There rose before us in a moment the brown, contorted visages of _La
Famille Empoisonnée_ among the mummies of St. Michel, and the dusty bits
of fungus that they still retained in their jaws. The situation,
however, did not admit of retreat. And we attempted none. The mushroom,
or fungus, whatever it was, had a dreadful taste, as though rotten
leaves and a rusty knife had been fried together in fat. Moreover, it
was patent to the meanest intelligence that, whatever its taste might
be, no digestion save that of a native or an ostrich could hope to
compete with it. We each swallowed two lumps of it whole, and then my
cousin looked wanly at me and said, ‘One more, and I shall be sick.’

It was hard and humiliating to explain that we both disliked and feared
this crowning treat of a Médoc repast, but we did it; and though we sank
in Suzanne’s estimation, it was more in pity than in anger that she
removed the horror from before us, and replaced it with a delicious
_compôte_ of pears of her own making. We spent an agreeable evening, in
conversation so instructive that we fear to reproduce it here, mingled
with confidences as to Suzanne’s winter clothes, and criticisms of the
sketch I was making of _la petite_. Ten o’clock struck, and Madame
Suzanne gave a final tidying-up to her kitchen, and then, opening the
great chestnut wood wardrobe that stood near the door, she selected from
its layers of coarse brownish linen a pair of sheets, clammy with damp
and cleanliness, and led the way once more to our barn.

It was a curious feeling when, after we had helped our hostess to make
our bed, and said our good-nights, we found ourselves alone in the
depths of peasant France without so much as a toothbrush to remind us of
our connection with British effeteness, while the huge empty _cuves_ in
the barn beneath us roared and sang like organ-pipes in the rising wind.
Under ordinary circumstances I do not think we should have survived the
dampness of those sheets, but they were not given a fair chance. That
night in the Widow Joyce’s cabin in Connemara was recalled to us by many
things,--things that, though small in themselves, recurred with a
persistence quite disproportioned to their bulk,--and often, while the
mosquitoes piped their drinking-songs beneath the canopy, and the fleas
came steeplechasing from the boards to the bed, and the candle burnt
lower and lower, and the slaughter waxed grimmer and greater, we said to
each

[Illustration: PORTRAIT OF LA PETITE.]

other that the exercise would at least save us from pleurisy or
rheumatic fever.

It was somewhere during an interval of exhausted sleep that we were
aware of Suzanne standing at our bedside and asking us in her strong
voice if we would like some coffee or some wine. We sleepily said No,
but perhaps, _plus tard_, when our things had come from the hotel, some
water. It seemed a very short time before those things made their
appearance, but it is obviously impossible to wash one’s self in a toy
piano--a fact which we explained as gently as possible to _la petite_.
She retired, and presently we heard a heavy step on the _cuvier_ ladder;
something was set down outside, and, rising, we found a very large
garden watering-pot full of ice-cold water, and a very small white
basin, sitting side by side on our doorstep. They were tedious, and the
toy piano was nearly washed away in the flood; but they sufficed.



CHAPTER VII.


‘_Mais! vous êtes fraîches comme des roses, mesdemoiselles!_’ shouted
Suzanne, as her two guests seated themselves at her kitchen table with
faces of a pale lavender colour.

‘Blue roses,’ said my cousin ungraciously, as she rubbed her cheeks to
free them from the frozen stiffness produced by the contents of the
watering-pot, ‘and the coffee is cold,’ putting her hand round the thick
cup that had just been filled for her. The discontented British croak
was happily overwhelmed in Suzanne’s loud and abundant conversation on
things in general; the sourness of the bread was more or less baffled by
plastered layers of pear jam; and when we remembered that the coffee had
been waiting for us since seven o’clock and that it was now a quarter
to eight, we felt that we were not in a position to complain of its
tepidity. Strange that a week in France should have so altered our point
of view as to make us feel guilty at not having finished our breakfast
at eight o’clock.

As we wound up the meal with several bunches of green and purple grapes,
grey with dewy bloom, M. Blossier, with his cigarette and his
patronising smile, appeared at the doorway, and as he leaned there, with
his hands in his pockets, and his straw hat set crooked on his Astrakhan
curls, he informed us that a gentleman had called upon us at the hotel
the preceding afternoon, and had left word that he would return this
morning, so perhaps it would be well if we gave ourselves the trouble to
hasten. We looked at each other, conscious of an effect of failure in
the morning’s toilet; the tinfoil looking-glass had slurred over defects
that we now saw with a quickened perception. This must be the
first-fruit of those letters of introduction that had been written about
us, and what untold discredit were we now about to heap on our trusting
friends! We flung down the unfinished bunches of grapes, and in less
than five minutes we had got through the delicate matter of paying our
reckoning, and were saying good-bye to Suzanne. It was unexpected under
the circumstances that she should have kissed us, but nevertheless she
did so. ‘_Tiens!_’ she cried, as I held out a hand for her to shake,
‘_il me faut vous donner une bise! Là! et là!_’ She gave us each two
resounding kisses that, as far as garlic was concerned, were not lacking
in that local flavour of which we were amateurs, and for fervour and
sincerity equalled those that the Irish nurse bestows upon the objects
of her affections.

We drove away from Suzanne’s household with real regret. We had found in
it an excellent _cuisine_ and a perfect hostess--so I remarked to my
cousin with the dogmatic solemnity of a tombstone. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘and
we found a perfect host too, but he was a noun of multitude, and we
provided the _cuisine_.’ She fingered her mosquito bites as she spoke,
and we fell to reminiscences of our feeble efforts to

[Illustration: M. BLOSSIER, WITH HIS CIGARETTE, APPEARED AT THE
DOORWAY.]

repulse the linked battalions of fleas and mosquitoes the night before.

Very soon, however, we could think of nothing but the extraordinary heat
of the wind that was blowing clouds of red dust over us, setting the
white sun-bonnets of the _vendangeuses_ flapping, as we drove past them
at the best speed to which we could incite M. Blossier, and after an
hour of combat with it, we arrived at the hotel with our eyes full of
sand, and our hair standing aureole-wise round our faces.

Madame herself came forth to meet us, with a note in her fat hand, and a
manner in which some slight admixture of interest, almost of respect,
was discernible. We read the note. It was even worse than we had
expected; it was a request couched in admirable English that we would be
ready to meet the writer at eleven, and he would then give himself the
pleasure of conducting us round the vineyards of the neighbourhood, and
would finally have the honour of escorting us to his own _château_,
where, he hoped, we would dine. The large commercial face of the hall
clock showed that we had just one quarter of an hour before this flight
into French society in which to eliminate the traces of an experience
that would probably have horrified our host beyond recovery, to cast out
the accent that we had acquired with such fatal facility from Suzanne
and M. Blossier, and to scour through the all-sufficing pages of
Bellows’ Dictionary for phrases that should lubricate our efforts at
high-class conversation.

It was not pleasant, either in prospect or accomplishment, but we did
it. We were even sitting in the _salon_ as ladies should, putting on
tight gloves, when a landau and pair drove to the door, and we were told
by the sympathetically excited Louis that a gentleman wished to see us.
In another five minutes we were bowling through Pauillac, with parasols
up, conversing in free, untrammelled English with the excessively kind
and unselfish person who had given a large slice of valuable time to the
toil of taking two ignoramuses to see the innermost secrets and
perfections of wine-making. Our host told us, in his well-chosen
English, that had here and there the pressure and the staccato that an
Anglo-Saxon tongue may weary itself in striving to imitate, that we were
to partake of _déjeuner_ at a rival Pauillac hotel before going any
farther. We did partake.

From oysters, served with hot sausages, to black coffee and fruit, we
went hand in hand with the _menu_, and when we rose to go we felt serene
and equal to the occasion.

[Illustration: ONLOOKERS OF THE TRIUMPHAL DEPARTURE FROM PAUILLAC.]

Again we bowled smoothly along the Promenade de la Marine--a spectacle
much enjoyed by the Pauillac _monde_, and, let us hope, imposing in the
eyes of Madame and of her _salle-à-manger_, now crowded for _déjeuner_.
We were driven into the country, in a direction opposite, we were
thankful to observe, to that taken the day before by M. Blossier.
Heavens! what would be the consternation of our present host if we were
to chance upon one of the _cuviers_ or vintage kitchens of yesterday,
and a troop of acquaintances was to burst therefrom, demanding copies of
their photographs with a terrible intimacy--they might even slap us on
the back!--the contingency did not bear thinking of.

But a fate very different from wayside _cuviers_ and ragged peasant
proprietors was in store for us. A couple of undulating miles brought us
in sight of a comfortable-looking white stone villa, flanked by long
outhouses, and surrounded by a small and phenomenally brilliant flower
garden. The vineyards ran like a smoothly swelling sea round the
borders of this island that had been preserved from their inroads; the
blinds of the villa were drawn down, and it seemed to look with ‘a stony
British stare’ upon the vintage operations going forward all day under
its eyes. Monsieur Z. told us that it had been built in imitation of an
English villa by the Baroness de Rothschild, but we did not dare to ask
why she should have chosen the square modern type, dear to the heart of
the retired solicitor. We asked instead why it should be called Mouton
Rothschild, and found that once in the dark ages the whole of this part
of the wine country had been given over to sheep, and that consequently
the word _mouton_ had survived here and there; but why it should be
tacked on to the name of a family could not be explained. It would be
neither kind or clever to call a newly-built house in the neighbourhood
of Limerick, Pig Robinson or Pork Murphy; but in France, Sheep
Rothschild is a very different affair, and a name held in uninquiring
reverence by the _négociant en vins_.

We left the carriage, and proceeded with all dignity to the _cuviers_
at the rear of the villa, while the hot and tawny _vent d’Afrique_ blew
suffocatingly in our faces, and covered our white veils with yellow
grit, and turned the most inviting shade to mockery. It was doubtless of
such heat as this that the lady’s-maid remarked to her mistress that it
quite ‘reminded ‘er of ‘ell!’ But, for all that, we had a kind of glory
in it; it made us feel that we were really abroad, and that we should be
able to bore our friends about the _vent d’Afrique_, when we got home,
in a manner that would surprise them. At this juncture we were halted in
front of a palatial building of two storeys, and following our guide
into it, we found ourselves in the twilight aisles of one of the great
fermenting houses of the Médoc. Right and left stood the huge barrels on
their white stone pedestals, belted monsters, spick and span in their
varnished oak and shining black hoops, with a snowy background of
white-washed wall to define their generous contour, and a neat little
numbered plate on each to heighten their resemblance to police
constables. This was an _édition de luxe_ of wine-making--at least, so
it seemed to us after what we had seen of dingy sheds, wine-stained
barrels, and promiscuous rubbish, with magenta legs splashing about in
juice, and spilt dregs as a foreground.

We were taken up a corner staircase to the upper floor, and were there
received by the superhumanly well-bred and intelligent official who is
invariably found in such places; we were also received and closely
examined by the swarm of fat wasps that, in the _cuviers_, is fully as
invariable, and rather more intelligent. No one seems to object to these
wasps and their pertinacity; Monsieur Z. and the manager merely gave a
pitying glance in the direction of my cousin, when, in the middle of a
most creditable question about the phylloxera, her voice broke into a
shriek, and after a few seconds of dervish-like insanity, she brought up
from the back of her neck the fragments of a wasp, and hurled them to
the floor with a dramatic force that was quite unstudied. The wasps
congregated most thickly about an arched

[Illustration: HER VOICE BROKE INTO A SHRIEK.]

opening in the wall, through which a crane poked its long lean arm into
the open air, and dangled its chain for the tubs full of grapes that
were brought underneath it by the oxen. Up came each purple load,
already battered and robbed of its bloom by the crushing and packing,
with the bloated yellow wasps hanging on to it, and the long arm of the
crane swung it round to the _pressoir_, which here was a broad truck on
wheels. The method then became of the usual repulsive kind. The grapes
were churned from their stalks in a machine, the juice ran in a turgid
river round the _pressoir_, and, paddling in this, the bare-legged
workmen shovelled the grapes into the _cuves_, whose open maws gaped
through trap-doors in the floor. Other men packed the stalks into a
machine like a pair of stays; when it was full, the tight-lacing began
by means of a handle and cogged wheels, and when it was over, the stalks
were taken out dry and attenuated, and flung from a window, with the
cheerless prospect of being utilised at some future time as top-dressing
for their yet unborn brethren.

When we got into the carriage again we were crammed with information,
and a silence as of indigestion settled upon us as we whirled along the
hog-backed vineyard road to Château Lafite. It is not only in wine that
Mouton Rothschild is beaten by its nearest neighbour. In the matter of
a _château_, Lafite scores still more decidedly; of that no one could
have any doubt who saw this old country-house, with its pointed towers,
its terraced gardens with their ambushed perfumes that took the hot wind
by surprise, its view over the soft country to other _châteaux_, and its
delightful wood, where grassy walks wound away into the shadows. After
these things, going to see the _cuviers_ and the wine-making was like
beginning again on roast beef after dessert; but the appetite came in
eating. It was Mouton Rothschild over again, only more so; it could not
be more dazzlingly smart than its kinsman, but it was larger; more
outhouses and more imposing, a greater number of _cuves_, a more
ambitious manner of regulating the temperature. We were truly and
genuinely interested, but none the less were we penetrated by a sense of
the gross absurdity of our pose as students of viticulture, while
Monsieur Z. and the manager of Château Lafite imparted fact upon fact
antiphonally and seriously, without a shadow of distrust of our
capabilities. Indeed, in all our vintage experiences we met with this
heartfelt devotion to the subject, and this touching belief in our
intelligence, and it was both a glory and a humiliation to us.

Enfiladed thus by a cross-fire of what might be called grape-shot, we
progressed in fullest importance round the quiet nurseries of the claret
for which such an incredible future of dessert-tables is in store, and
entered at last the doorway of a long low building. A few steps led
downwards to another doorway, where a grave and courteous attendant
presented us each with a candle placed in a socket at the end of a long
handle, and unlocked a door into profound and pitchy blackness. It was
like going to see the mummies at Bordeaux, it was even more like going
into the cellar at home to look for rats, and my cousin’s skirts were
instinctively gathered up and her candle lowered to the ground as the
darkness closed its mouth upon us. It was cool and damp, it smelt of
must and wine-barrels, and in some way one could feel that it was
immense. Our guides turned to the right without hesitation, into a
gallery whose walls, from the sandy floor to the vaulted ceiling, were
made of bottles of wine. We walked on, and still on, trying to take it
in, while on either side the tiers of bottles looked at us out of their
partitions with cold uncountable eyes, eyebrowed sometimes, or bearded,
with a fungus as snowy and delicate as _crêpe lisse_, on which the
specks of dew glittered as the candle-light procession passed by.

‘There are here a hundred and fifty thousand bottles of claret,’ said
the manager, with prosaic calm. ‘Some of them are a century old. This is
the private cellar of Baron de Rothschild.’

‘He will not drink it all,’ said Monsieur Z.; and we laughed a feeble
giggle, whose fatuity told that we had become exhausted receivers.

More and yet more aisles followed, catacombs of silence and black heavy
air, but full of the strange life of the wine that lay, biding its time

[Illustration: ON EITHER SIDE THE TIERS OF BOTTLES LOOKED AT US OUT OF
THEIR PARTITIONS WITH COLD UNCOUNTABLE EYES.]

according to its tribe and family, in a ‘monotony of enchanted pride,’
as Ruskin has said about pine trees.

We saw very little more of wine-making, when we got out again into the
blustry heat, and crawled back to the carriage, feeling cheaper and more
modern than we had done for some time. A new phase of sight-seeing was
in store for us, and one with which we were even less fitted to compete.
The inner life of a French country-house does not come within the scope
of the ordinary tourist; and when, later in the afternoon, we were led
up the curving and creeper-wreathed steps of a _château_, and ushered
into an atmosphere of polished floors, still more polished manners,
afternoon tea, and a billiard-table, there was only one drawback to
perfect enjoyment of the situation. The ladies of the household--there
were several of them--did not speak English, and at once that delusive
glibness that had been nurtured by talking to Suzanne began to wither in
the shadeless glare of drawing-room conversation.

We shall never know what absurdities we said, or what _bêtises_ we
committed; we can only feel satisfied that in a general way we said and
did the wrong thing, and we can but ‘faintly trust the larger hope’ that
our kind hosts made due allowance for insular imbecility. Whatever they
may have thought of the strangers so unexpectedly brought within their
gates, they kept alike their countenances and their counsel; and when
the guests had faltered and smirked through their difficult farewells,
and hidden their hot faces in the shelter of the landau, they were
aware, as they drove away in the clear southern starlight, of two great
fragrant bouquets of roses and heliotrope on the seat opposite, the last
charming expression of the hospitality of the Médoc.



CHAPTER VIII.


It is a truism, venerable to the verge of dotage, to say that the way
not to enjoy travelling is to do it at a rush, spending the days in
sight-seeing, and the nights in the train; but this disposition of
things has one merit, it keeps the anguish out of farewells. The
heart-tendrils have not time to weave themselves round the _concierge_,
the chambermaid is still your bitterest foe, the waiter has not yet
risen to the position of an unnaturally obliging brother; you are too
hurried to discover the full charms of the _armoire à glace_ in the
bedroom, or the verandah outside the _salon_ windows, and you scurry
from one hotel to another, unregretful and heart-whole.

But a week--and we were the best part of a week at Pauillac--gives ample
time for the forming of those ill-fated foreign friendships which are
destined never, as Rossetti says, ‘to find an earthly close.’ I do not
know from how many hotels in various parts of France we have gone forth
sorrowing, and asseverating our intention of returning there directly
our affairs in Ireland could be wound up so as to permit of our leaving
that country for life. To their melancholy number must now be added the
Grand Hôtel du Commerce, Pauillac. On the last sad day we had to start
early,--a proceeding that is a strain upon the constitution of any
hotel,--but never, on our laziest mornings, had we such lavish cans of
_eau bouillante_, nor such hot coffee, nor such a foaming jug of freshly
boiled milk. Léonie the chambermaid, Louis the _garçon_, Jeanne the
cook, all vied with each other in fond efforts to enhance the poignancy
of parting; even the bill, usually a styptic to the tender pain of
farewell, was affectingly moderate.

‘Black,’ the big dog, paced beside us to the curious little vehicle, not
unlike a county Cork inside car, that was to take us to the station; he
was bestridden

[Illustration: MY COUSIN ENDURED THE CLAMMY TOUCH OF ‘BAMBOO’ UPON HER
FINGER WITH SCARCELY A SHUDDER.]

as usual by the monkey, and in her softened mood my cousin endured the
clammy clutch of ‘Bamboo’ upon her finger with scarcely a shudder.
Jeanne’s little girl had given us a flaming bouquet of scarlet geraniums
and heliotrope; two bunches of grapes had been pressed upon us by
Madame, to sustain us on our journey; and, at the last moment, our
friend who had been the first to introduce us to the secrets of
wine-making darted forward with a card addressed to the proprietor of a
restaurant in Bordeaux, on which that gentleman was prayed to serve to
‘_ces demoiselles_’ a bottle of Grand St. Lambert, ‘85, at the expense
of its original producer. Of course we left vowing to return for the
_vendange_ next year, and trying to believe that we should be as good as
our word. It seemed the only way given to us of marking our sense of
their kindness.

We had to wait at the station, seated on our luggage in default of
benches, before the train--the tallest we had ever seen--came in,
towering over the platformless station after the arrogant fashion of
French trains; and having scaled its precipitous sides, and struggled up
into what we expected to be its lofty saloons, our hats were knocked
over our eyes by the ceiling. We then found that the unusual height of
the train was caused by the third-classes being mounted on top, above
our more honourable heads, and that, in moving about the carriage, it
was safer to go on all-fours.

It was a long hot drive across Bordeaux to the Gare de la Bastide, and
it gave a fine sense of freedom to leave all luggage there, and set
forth again on foot, unhampered by anything except a small cherished
hand-basket. We took the ferry-boat across to the other side of the
river--a little strenuous black steamer that fretted and panted across
the wide stream like a broken-winded pony trying to bolt. We did not
know our way, and asked advice on the subject from as many people as
possible, only taking care to wait till our most recent informant was
round a corner. I once omitted this precaution in Cork, and while I was
blandly putting further inquiries to a postman, an awful voice cried
after me--

‘I suppose you think I’m a liar!’

A thing that has made me circumspect in such matters ever since.

Our way led through the market--a great iron tent, filled with the most
variegated colours, voices, and smells. We roamed through damp,
brilliant aisles, with vivid splendours of fruit and flowers mounting
high over our heads on either hand; we explored the remarkable
collections of birds, beasts, and herbs that were being confidently
purchased by the housewives of Bordeaux for family consumption; and,
with a bow of recognition to a poisonous barrowload of fungi, we pursued
our way into the sunny street wherein was the restaurant which had been
indicated to us by our late host. We presented the card entitling us to
the bottle of Grand St. Lambert without delay, and it was presently
borne in in state by the proprietor himself--a civility obviously owing
to the curiosity that was displayed on his red and round-eyed
countenance. It was a large bottle, with a beautiful white-and-gold
label, and after we had scientifically smelt its bouquet, and slowly
absorbed as much as we thought becoming, morally and physically, there
was still two-thirds of the bottle left, far too much either to
squander upon the waiter or to finish ourselves. The waiter had left a
mound of grapes in front of us, and had decorously retired; on a buffet
behind us were a number of old newspapers; the hand-basket was on the
floor at our feet; all was as perfect as if it had occurred in a romance
of detective life. My second cousin stealthily abstracted an
_Intransigéant_ of a responsible age from the buffet, wrapped up the
bottle in its woolly folds, and forced it diagonally into the basket,
while the various matters it dispossessed were forced, diagonally or
otherwise, into our pockets, so that when I came to pay the bill, the
expeditionary purse lay as deep as the coins at the base of a public
building.

Libourne is only half an hour by train from Bordeaux,--a chequered
half-hour of bursts in and out of tunnels, and of consequently
intermittent amenities on the part of a resplendently-dressed
newly-married pair, who faced us all the way there,--and the bridge that
spans a placid curve of the Dordogne, under the town of Libourne, came
into view so unexpectedly that we had hardly time to gather our things
together before the train stopped in the station. We had been fortunate
enough to have been given an introduction to a gentleman and his wife
who spend each vintage season in their charming little old-fashioned
country-house near Libourne, and we found that their kindness had even
gone to the length of waiting for us outside the barrier that in France
so relentlessly separates the travelling public from the rest of
mankind. It was humiliating to discover that Monsieur and Madame A. (I
suppose the time-honoured formula must again be employed) both spoke
English so many thousand times better than we could speak French, that
our acquaintance with that language became wholly superfluous; but it
was also refreshing. It was a wonderful thing to feel that we need no
more take thought to our luggage, or to the reproving or instruction of
porters in a foreign tongue. Monsieur A. had a wholesome belief in
female incapacity, and in an instant we found that we were no longer
mere literary tramps, but had been raised to the serene and almost
forgotten position of ladies of quality.

In a very short time we found ourselves being whirled off in a carriage
to Quinault, the country-house aforesaid, and were being told all manner
of strange things. We had not looked at a newspaper since we left Paris,
and it was hard to believe that the most notable figure in Irish
politics should have left them for ever, and no echo of such a thing
come to us, even in the quiet, far-away vineyards of the Médoc. We were
now in the St. Emilion district, and without wishing to insult the
Médoc, it must be said that it cannot compare in beauty with the
opposite side of the Gironde. There was an air of generous luxuriance
about the vines themselves that began to realise for us the vineyards of
our more poetical visions. The stunted little shrubs on which we had
been forming our eye were no more to be seen. Tall bushes, trained to
spread like fans on espaliers, had taken their place, and pictorially,
at any rate, there can be no comparison between the two systems. There
was a sunset that evening that made the first sight of the St. Emilion
vines a thing greatly to be remembered. Quinault is a scientific
vineyard, and the charm of colour conferred by the blue-green sulphate
of copper that stains all the leaves, is a fine confirmation of the
theory that the useful is necessarily the beautiful. These blue-green
leaves had turned to a mysterious metallic grey in the evening light; up
the middle aisle came a cart drawn by a big white horse, a
scarlet-capped man was standing up in it between the barrels of grapes,
his figure showing ‘dark against day’s golden death;’ after it followed
a procession of vintagers, women and boys mostly, the yellow light
behind them giving to the long row of figures the effect of being a
company of saints on an early Italian background; and, last of all, came
a little, incredibly bowed woman, who had been vintaging here at
Quinault for the last eighty years--La Mère Mémé, the oldest and the
most conscientious _vendangeuse_ of the district.

‘She is always the first at the end of the row,’ we were told, ‘and she
never leaves a bunch behind her, and she has eighty-seven years;
_n’est-ce pas, ma Mère_?’

[Illustration: LA MÈRE MÉMÉ--ALWAYS FIRST AT THE END OF HER ROW.]

Mère Mémé admitted the eighty-seven years with an almost bored
acquiescence. She had been very old for so long that she was less proud
of it than she had

[Illustration: A SKETCH WAS MADE OF HER AS SPEEDILY AS MIGHT BE.]

probably been when she was eighty. She sat down on a barrel, and a
sketch of her was made as speedily as might be, while the sky faded from
gold to red, and the rest of the vintagers slowly tore themselves from
the charms of looking over the sketcher’s shoulder to go to the
excellent dinner that was waiting for them in a long vine-covered barn.
Once more we tasted the vintage soup, and smacked our lips, and said,
with facetious under-statement of the case, that it was _pas mal_, and
once more we prodded at the cauldron of _ragoût_, and felt the hunger of
gluttony rise within us as we smelt its rich and composite fragrance. We
were connoisseurs in vintage cookery by this time, and had been shown
the mysteries of many vintage kitchens, but as the exhibition always
took place a long time after tea and a short time before dinner, it
never failed to make us regret that we also were not vintagers.

We wandered back to the house through the rose-garden, and though we
pretend to no horticultural knowledge, by dint of recognising ‘La
France’s’ timid flush, and the orange glow of that poetically-named
flower, ‘William Allan Richardson,’ we took a higher place in the
estimation of their proprietor, and were encouraged to adventurous
remarks on their culture as practised in Ireland, which, we fear, must
have hopelessly degraded the gardeners of that country in the eyes of
Monsieur A. It was hard to talk of anything else but roses and fruit at
dinner, when the centre of the table was a masterpiece of both one and
the other; but we were beginning to feel less restricted now in our
choice of subjects. During our last flight into polite society our ideas
were to us much as the creatures in the Ark must have been to Noah. Our
brains were full of interesting things which we wished to plant out on
the world, but when we thrust them forth, they could find no rest for
the soles of their feet in the strange sea of French conversation, and
they returned to sit lamentably upon the shelf, with all the other
agreeable but untranslatable notions.

Now, however, we had not only enlarged our vocabulary, but we had also
lost a good deal of the decent diffidence that had at first prompted us
to hold our tongues, and we found ourselves conversing gaily, with a
hideous disregard of the trammels of verbs and the pitfalls of gender. I
had nearly finished my dinner before I realised that in asking my
neighbour to pass _la selle_, I was unreasonably demanding a saddle, and
it was almost dreadful that that neighbour gave no sign of what he felt,
and merely told me that to eat _du sel_ in such quantities as is my wont
was an _habitude Anglaise_. It would have been consolatory to have been
laughed at openly on such occasions, but I suppose such altruistic
politeness would be beyond the power of most people; certainly no one we
ever met soared to such heights, and I am sure we are not capable of it
ourselves.

We had an expedition before us the next day, and the evening had to be
short. However, after dinner we strolled out into the darkness, mellowed
by the scent of many roses, and went to have a look at the
_vendangeuses_. The ladies had a dining-room apart from the gentlemen,
and when we looked in at them, were still sitting over their wine with a
fine indifference to the charms of general society in the barn. Mère
Mémé, at the end of the long table, with the lamplight deepening her
wrinkles into trenches, and sinking her eyes into wells of ink, might
have been an over-printed engraving of Rembrandt’s mother. Gathered
round her were three or four hardly less ancient ladies, equally
suggestive of Rembrandt’s relations, and a long array of dark-haired,
white-coifed women and girls were to be seen, more or less dimly in the
indifferent light, finishing their jugs of _vin ordinaire_, all talking
at the tops of their voices, and all, after the first stare, comporting
themselves as if no curious foreign eyes were observing them from the
doorway.

The evening closed with one dramatic episode. A long low dark room; at
one end a bare table; on one side of it an excited group of women; on
the wall behind, a smoky lamp, throwing a lurid light on two
resolute-looking men, who stood behind the table on which a swarthy
victim lay trembling, held tightly by one, while the other hurriedly
divested him of all clothing save a fur boa and two pair of boots.

Madame A. was having her black poodle clipped.



CHAPTER IX.


[Illustration]

It was market day at Libourne. We were aware of that from a very early
hour of the morning, as the complaining utterances of every class of
rickety waggon and ungreased wheel were wafted in at the windows of our
hotel, blended with the solid, carpet-like whacking of donkeys’ backs,
and the screams of their drivers, all ladies of advanced age and
leathern lung power. Monsieur and Madame A. called for us at nine, and
before setting forth on the legitimate expedition allotted to the day,
we drove round the market square.

[Illustration: MARKET PLACE, LIBOURNE.]

A helpless depression comes over us at the thought of attempting to
describe a foreign market-place. It has been so often done, and from
such an exhaustive number of points of view, that there seems nothing in
the least original left to be said. I do not suppose that any account of
journeyings in France is really perfect without a semi-humorous
description of an old woman under a great blue or a great red umbrella.
It should be dashed with a pathetic brilliancy, and there should, as a
rule, be something smouldering and suggestive of ancient coquetry about
the eyes of the old woman. We both felt this, and my cousin ran about
feverishly, snapping off Kodak plates in the most extravagant way, but
failing to find quite the old lady we wanted.

Another disappointment was the peasant straw hat upon which she had set
her heart, such a hat as I had bought in Brittany--conical,
broad-brimmed, many-coloured. We shouldered round the sunny, noisy
square, finding everything imaginable for sale except straw hats;
finally we left the open-air merchants, and in a bonnet shop, whose only
claim to romance was its position in the arcades that--like the ‘Rows’
at Chester--surrounded the square, she bought for twenty sous a hat that
might easily have been worn in Bond Street.

We were to be shown St. Emilion this delicious mid-June day,--by the
calendar it was about the

[Illustration: MY COUSIN RAN ABOUT FEVERISHLY, SNAPPING OFF KODAK PLATES
IN THE MOST EXTRAVAGANT WAY.]

8th or 9th of October, but it was evident that there was a mistake
somewhere,--and the drive to that small but remarkable town was one of
most brilliant and fragrant pleasantness. We were mounting up out of the
levels about Libourne, rising higher and higher into the bright morning,
till we could see some of the silver coils of the Dordogne beginning to
reveal themselves, and red-roofed villages broke through the vines on
the slopes below us, giving unexpected suggestions of Arcadia.

Presently above the coachman’s hat a yellow crocketed spire thrust
itself into the blue of the sky; there came crowding after it towers and
roofs, and finally a tall crumbling wall, standing quite alone outside
old fortifications, with nothing but the Gothic window-openings left to
show that it had once been part of a great church. We drove in through a
towered gateway, and over the cobble-stones dear to the writers of
mediæval romance and the makers of carriage springs, and, squeezing our
way along a street narrow enough to allow us to shake hands
simultaneously with the occupants of the houses on both sides, we pulled
up at the opening of a street too steep for a carriage. Down this we
went on foot, reminded a good deal of Clovelly, and yet glad that it was
not Clovelly, but a walled town in the heart of the vineyard country,
with a saint and a shrine, and a history as gorgeous as an illuminated
missal. Level ground was granted at last to our aching knees, a little
plateau where was a shading chestnut tree, a railing, and behind these
the unassuming front of an inn,--the Hôtel Dussaut, if our memories are
correct,--with its doors opening straight in upon a room where a
cleanly-laid table glimmered in the cool obscurity.

As we stood under the chestnut tree a sound as of the beating of eggs
rose to us presently from a flagged yard about fifteen feet below our
plateau, and, looking over the edge, we had an excellent bird’s-eye view
of two young ladies engaged respectively in beating a yellow compound
with a fork, and in shaking some other yellow compound in a frying-pan
over a charcoal fire. One of them wore _pince-nez_, both had early
Florentine shocks of hair, and a general appearance

[Illustration: THE ÆSTHETIC DAUGHTER OF THE HOTEL.]

of such æsthetic culture that we refused at first to believe that they
were preparing our _déjeuner_; and when later we seated ourselves at the
table within the French window, and received from the hands of the
wearer of the _pince-nez_ the delicious omelette that had been cooked in
the open air, we felt embarrassed by a sense of the favour conferred.
Our hostesses must, we fear, have been taken at a slight disadvantage by
us; we felt rather than saw some want of completeness in their attire
during the first stages of _déjeuner_,--a bareness as to neck, a
skimpiness as to skirt; but as the meal progressed, so did the
toilettes. By the time that we had finished our dish of smelts, with
their wonderful wood-sorrel sauce, the wearer of the _pince-nez_ was
glowing in a scarlet smocked silk jersey; and when the roast chicken was
placed on the table, her sister had endued a flowing skirt, and wreathed
her throat with some ten or twelve yards of amber beads. We could not
swear that the _pince-nez_ themselves had been changed, but certainly it
was only when dessert was arrived at that we noticed for the first time
that they were gold-rimmed, and were attached by a slim gold chain to a
brooch of barbaric splendour.

It was a dessert greatly to be remembered that we had at the Hôtel
Dussaut: the monster pears and grapes, the rich velvety wine of the
district, and finally, the _spécialité_ of the town, ordered expressly
for us by Monsieur A., the macaroons made at the convent according to an
ancient recipe known to the nuns. Certainly the ecclesiastical macaroon
transcends the secular variety; these come in warm and palpitating,
still cleaving to the white square of paper on which they had been
baked, looking like lumps of yellow foam at the foot of a waterfall,
melting in the mouth as foam itself might melt, and suggesting the idea
that the conventual life has its alleviations.

A small _salon_ opened out of the little verandah room in which our
lunch was served, a sitting-room replete with photograph frames, crochet
antimacassars, oil paintings, and green velvet furniture, and blocked in
one corner by the altogether astonishing circumstances of a bed, whose
sumptuous draperies suggested the proscenium of a puppet show. The
window looked down into a precipitous street at the back of the hotel,
and, craning out, the pointed arch of an old gateway was visible at the
top of the hill between the crooked lines of houses, the Porte de la
Cadène, so a little old-fashioned guide-book to St. Emilion informed us.
There was a long explanation of the name, from which we gathered that it
had something to say to the bar that once fastened the gate, but what
exactly it was not given to our poor intelligence to discover. Whenever
the guide-book felt that it was becoming unbefittingly lucid, it threw
in a few words of patois, or early French in inverted commas, and went
full speed ahead again, secure from pursuit. The photographs that
thronged the room, like Ruskin’s pine trees elsewhere referred to, ‘on
barren heights and inaccessible ledges, in quiet multitudes,’ proved a
more attractive study than the guide-book, and we travelled slowly round
the collection till we came upon a cabinet-sized head of a young lady
with disordered hair, _pince-nez_, a swan-like length of throat, and an
evening dress of which only a single row of Valenciennes trimming showed
above the lower edge of the photograph. We sat down before it with a
gasp, as we recognised in this ethereal being one of our late cooks, and
at the same instant Madame A. made the discovery of a dwarf easel on the
floor at the foot of the bed, on which a still larger portrait of a
lady, in the dress of a Russian princess, with an inscription to the
effect that she was Madame Dussaut herself, owner of the hotel, and
mother of the two peeresses who had served for us our admirable
_déjeuner_. We retired after this, and said that it would be better to
go away and see the town before we found out that these people were
closely related to the Bourbons, which seemed the next thing to expect.

The streets had the noonday heat and silence about them when we emerged
from beneath the chestnut tree, and went downhill to where a lofty
yellow cliff towered sheer in the hollow of the town, carrying on its
crest the crocketed spire that we had seen lifting its long throat above
its retainers like a serene highness, as we drove through the vineyards
to St. Emilion. Low down on the cliff, below the reach of the swinging
arms of a huge old fig tree that had rooted itself on the verge of the
yellow rock, were carvings like the façade of a church, and finally a
door disclosed itself, through which we plunged after our guides, much
as we had plunged into the private cellar of the Rothschilds. We were in
the famous monolith church, hewn and dug in the living cliff by monks,
headed by the industrious St. Emilion, in the eighth century, and going
down a few steps to the level of the floor, we looked about us in the
extremely moderate light that came through sloping shafts in the
thickness of the cliffs sixty feet above. The fig tree roots had
burrowed through the cliff, and hung in loops and knots from the roof,
intersecting the cold and dusty streaks of light, and the flicker of a
sun-lit green spray at the mouth of one of the shafts gave the solitary
touch of colour to the sombre vault. It was a bare, immense place, with
two rows of square pillars of solid rock supporting the arched roof,
black with age, empty of everything save a stone altar or two, and a few
tombs, dead silent, and abounding in dark hiding-places for rats and
bats. ‘All this makes you experience I know not what sentiment of
religious terror,’ exclaims the guide-book at this juncture, in discreet
rhapsody, having cantered through a page of architectural French, that
had almost resulted in a case of ‘Bellows to mend’ for the owner of that
admirable dictionary.

Our sentiments were far from religious after a tour of that church,
during which we had seen some hundreds of names, addresses, ages,
birthdays, engagements, and other data inscribed in the soft stone by
tourists. Only those who have seen the coronation chair in Westminster
Abbey gashed with vile initials, could believe the ravages of vulgarity
at St. Emilion. The pillars and tombs were fully garnished with these
hall marks of the barbarian. That was only to be expected, as even the
bones in the tombs had been carried away bit by bit as agreeable
souvenirs, but one would have imagined that the altar might have been
spared. It was here, however, and on the old bas-relief above the altar,
that a gentleman called Merritt had achieved his deadliest triumphs; we
tracked him subsequently through the grotto of St. Emilion and the
monastery cloisters, but this was his highest effort, and probably the
one that he recounts with most pride to his envious acquaintances. May
the milkman and butcher’s boy scribble his name upon the imitation
granite of his suburban door-posts, and may it be wiped out from the
will of his father-in-law!

We went on into a sort of _annexe_ of the church, into which they used
to shoot people through _oubliettes_ when they became superfluous, and
thence we scrambled out into the street again, and across to the grotto
of St. Emilion. Apparently the saint had not been able to find anything
above ground that combined privacy with excruciating discomfort, and
accordingly scratched out this rabbit hole a dozen feet below the rest
of the community, and lived there in damp and darkness for twenty or
thirty years. His furniture was limited. The light of a match showed a
bed cut in the wall, with a bolster of the same sympathetic description,
a stone block for a table, another for a chair, and a holy well in an
alcove. The old woman who had charge of the grotto struck another match,
and held it low in the alcove of the sacred well for us to see the dark
gleam of the water. It was more like a shallow pool than a well, and the
water lay still and perfectly transparent upon its yellow bed. Its
ancient nymph scooped up a tumblerful with the assurance that it was the
best in the world, and when we had satisfactorily tasted it, she lowered
her match and said archly, ‘_Et les épingles. Regardez les épingles,
mesdemoiselles._’

We regarded as desired, and saw lying at the bottom of the pool a small
collection of pins, some old and rusty enough to have fastened up St.
Emilion’s gown on wet days, others new and glittering. These, it was
explained by the old lady with many knowing side-glances at our
companions, were a means of fortune-telling peculiar to the sacred well.
Gentlemen and ladies who visited it were accustomed to drop two pins
into it, and if these fell so as to form a cross, then the thrower would
be married before the year was out; this was asseverated with chapter
and verse, and the testimony of brides and bridegrooms who had returned
there on their honeymoons. I searched silently and secretly in my inner
economy for a

[Illustration: ‘ET LES ÉPINGLES, MESDEMOISELLES.’]

pin; so, I perceived, did my cousin, but apparently without better
success than I. The chief props of a declining costume could not be
sacrificed to superstition, and our fortunes remain undivined to this
day.

There was more, much more, to be seen in St. Emilion, and we saw some of
it. We trust it may yet be given to us to stay for a clear three days at
the hotel of the Russian princess, and to dawdle in a trance of idleness
up and down the little streets, unharassed by time, or letter-writing,
or newspapers. As it was, we went slowly and gradually round the
beautiful ruins of a monastery in the upper part of the town, where the
beeches and ashes grew freely in the nave and side aisles, and spread
what shelter they could over the defenceless shafts and columns. The
remembrance of those still cloisters, with their leafy sunlight
flickering year after year on the worn flags and the gentle invasions of
the grass, is pleasant in the mind--a possession chief among many gains
of that very white day at St. Emilion. The bell-foundry working
leisurely in the blackened shell of what had been another monastery was
an episode in perfect keeping with the general religious calm of the
town; so was the Pilgrim’s-Progress kind of landscape that we viewed
from a corner of the fortifications--a delectable land, lying wide and
rich in the hot afternoon haze. Indeed, had it not been that in a quiet
back street we came upon a group of old women who sat knitting at their
vine-hung doors, and discussed with shrill and personal directness the
intentions of one of the party with regard to her will, we might have
thought it was ‘within in in heaven we were,’ as an Irishman said, with
an intensifying wealth of prepositions, in describing a whisky tent.



CHAPTER X.


[Illustration]

It happened to one of us--no matter which--in early youth to have a
governess who hailed from the parts about Bordeaux. She was a small
rigid lady, with a cast-iron black silk skirt, and an environing squint
that extended her jurisdiction round illimitable corners, and up and
down stairs at the same time. So, at least, her pupils felt, as they
trembled in the glare of that erratic green-brown eye, and quavered the
regulation early French to one another, even in the fastnesses of their
own rooms. Mademoiselle still holds sway among certain outlying members
of our family, and on the eve of our departure for France there came a
note in the well-known hand, suggestive of nothing so much as a paper of
pins, in which she begged us, if our travels took us near St. B., to
present the enclosed introduction at the country-house of Monsieur de
Q., whose little daughters had been among ‘_les plus gentilles de ses
élèves_.’

We were not near St. B., unless an hour by train can be called near, and
our last afternoon in varied French society had not persuaded us that we
were likely to shine in that sphere, but the habit of early years of
subjection was too strong for us. We posted the letter of introduction,
and when the answer came that Madame de Q. would hope to meet us at the
station of St. B. at three o’clock on the day following our visit to St.
Emilion, we said ‘Kismet,’ and tried to shake the Château Lafite dust
from our Sunday hats. The journey to St. B. was hot and uneventful, and
we spent the time it occupied mainly in the futile amusement of finding
out in Bellows’ Dictionary words that fate was never destined to bring
us into contact with.

Outside the St. B. station we were accosted by one of those nondescript,
smug, red-faced servants who are met with only in France, and were
conducted by him towards a green alley of plane trees, in whose shade
was standing a landau with one somnolent black horse in the shafts. A
tall lady advanced to meet us, hook-nosed and handsome, dressed with
awe-inspiring smartness, and with a chill perfection of manner that
awoke in us a simultaneous longing to run away. She neither spoke nor
understood English, so she gave us to understand at once; and another
point about which she did not long leave us in doubt was that she would
have ‘scorned the haction.’ Moreover, the monstrous hearse-horse had not
shambled more than a mile or so, at a trot that

[Illustration: THE COCHER.]

was with difficulty maintained by adjurations and whip-crackings from
the coachman, before we began to make the further discovery that we had
already bored our hostess almost to tears. We cannot be surprised at it;
the penetrating regret that we had ever started on the expedition would
have paralysed our powers even of English conversation, and Ollendorff’s
earliest exercise is a thrilling romance when compared with the remarks
that we churned arduously forth for Madame de Q.’s benefit.

It is true that she gave us no assistance. She leaned back and answered
our questions without an effort either to appear less _ennuyée_ than she
was, or to amplify her replies, while her eyes strayed from time to time
to the novel that lay on the seat beside her--‘Les Confessions de some
one or other. Par la Comtesse Dash,’ or some very similar title. She
would not even discuss Mademoiselle, whom we played as our trump-card
early in the game; in fact, she had never even seen her. Mademoiselle
had been the governess of her stepdaughters, and had left before
Madame’s marriage with Monsieur de Q. The old landau rumbled slowly on,
up and down hill, with the interminable vineyards on either hand, and
occasional hamlets with houses crowded close to the white dusty road. At
one of these, brightly-coloured electioneering posters of some local
hero seemed to offer something to talk about.

‘_Nous avons à Londres_,’ said my cousin very slowly and distinctly,
breaking what had been a long and nerve-trying silence, ‘_tant de
ces--a--postiches_.’

‘_Pardon?_’ said Madame, with a certain languid interest; ‘_je ne vous
ai pas compris, mademoiselle._’

‘_Oh, sur des murs, vous savez_,’ said my cousin, wavering a little;
‘_des postiches, comme cela_,’--she indicated another orange-coloured
placard.

‘_Ah!_’ Madame smiled very faintly. ‘_Des affiches, peut-être?_’

Then it occurred to us that a _postiche_ was a name for a small pad for
the hair, and humiliation almost overbore our usual feeble necessity of
laughter.

[Illustration: ‘NOUS AVONS A LONDRES TANT DE CES--A--POSTICHES.’]

After this reverse we relinquished the unequal contest, and fell into a
silence, dappled only by occasional topographical inquiries, until, as
we turned in at a gateway, Madame de Q. roused herself sufficiently to
tell us that we had arrived at her husband’s house. We drove through the
wide old-fashioned yard, surrounded by ivy-covered brick buildings, and
round a gravel sweep to the front of an imposing white stone house. The
coachman ceased from his admonishments at a flight of stone steps, the
black horse discontinued his advance, and we dismounted with the feeling
that whatever might be before us, it could not be worse than what we had
just gone through. The steps led up to a long stone-paved verandah, with
handsome white columns supporting it, giving it a certain air of classic
distinction; pots of bright scarlet geraniums were ranged along the
balustrade, and there was a group of chairs and a small table at one end
of the verandah. From these, as we ascended the steps, two gentlemen
rose and came forward to meet us. One, a short stout man, unexpectedly
attired in a Norfolk jacket and leather gaiters, with a blind eye, and a
strong resemblance to the late John Bright, was introduced to us by
Madame de Q. as ‘_Mon mari_;’ and the other, a spotty young man in a
high-crowned straw hat, clicked his heels together, and made a low bow,
while we were informed that he was Madame’s cousin, M. le Vicomte de R.
John Bright apologised for the temporary absence of his daughters, and
then we sat down and began to talk seriously with him about vines and
their culture, while Madame and her cousin discussed in rapid
undertones, and with suppressed amusement, some topic that our
self-consciousness told us was not unconnected with ourselves.

A little apart, and turned away from the table, there stood a thing that
looked like a cross between a sentry-box and a sedan-chair; it was made
of basket-work, and as we prosed sapiently with Monsieur de Q. of the
rival merits of the Malbec, Merlot, and Cabernet-Sauvignan grapes, we
were aware of a curious agitation on its part. It was a little behind
us, and the creaking of the wicker-work made us look round quickly--just
in time to see, to our amazement, a small round female spring out of the
chair and run nimbly through a long glass door into the drawing-room,
followed by a waddling, wheezing ball of yellow fur which had been
lurking with her in the recesses of the sentry-box.

Monsieur de Q. betrayed no surprise. ‘My sister,’ he said explanatorily,
and then he added in English, ‘She is vair shy.’

Madame and her Vicomte took no notice of the episode, and we were
addressing ourselves again to our discourse on grapes--the only subject
on which Monsieur de Q. seemed to care to talk--when a jingling of
glasses was heard, and the red-faced servant appeared, bearing a large
tray, which he put down on the table. At the same moment a sort of
dog-cart drove up, and two young ladies jumped out of it, without
waiting for the servant, who hurried down to proffer his help. Madame’s
brow had contracted beneath her admirably curled and netted fringe, and
we at once knew that we were about to meet _les plus gentilles_ of the
pupils of Mademoiselle.

It is superfluous to give our preconceived ideas of these young ladies,
unless, indeed, for the sake of saying that they reversed them all. They
were dressed in shirts and short skirts and jackets, and wore thick
boots and sailor hats, and their manner had a cheerful unconcern and
want of stiffness that was as reassuring to us as it was evidently
detestable to their stepmother. One of them addressed herself promptly
to the table, whereon was the tray with tumblers, two carafes of cold
water, a sugar-basin, and a tall bottle of what we afterwards found to
be rum. The other sat down in the chair vacated by her father, and began
to talk to us in broken English, that was so immeasurably bad that my
cousin, partly from politeness, partly from some theory of making
herself understood, began to answer her in as near an imitation of the
same lingo as she could arrive at, speaking loudly and very slowly, and
using, as far as possible, words of no more than three letters. In the
meantime I watched the movements of the other sister with a fascinated
horror. She first put two lumps of sugar in each glass, then about two
teaspoonfuls of rum, and then the tumblers were filled with water, and
were handed round, along with biscuits, to the company. Through the
glass doors into the drawing-room I could see the aunt, waiting,
apparently, in hopes that her share would be brought to her; but as this
did not occur, she presently crept back, and, with a flying bow to the
party, immured herself again in her sedan-chair, with a heavily-sugared
tumbler of the same dreadful _eau sucrée au rhum_ with which my cousin
and I were toying. The sugar rose through the pale liquid in oily curls;
the sickly smell of the rum ‘curdled under our noses,’ as a Cork carman
said, in affected reprobation of a glass of whisky. It was as
disagreeable a drink as I have ever had to undertake for convivial
purposes, not even excepting _moût_ or ‘fresh’ poteen; and as we slowly
sipped our way towards the two half-melted lumps in the bottom of the
tumbler, not even the vanille biscuits could reconcile us to this
too-concentrated nectar. But release from the necessity of drinking came
unexpectedly. The yellow dog had returned with his mistress, and,
finding the seclusion of the sentry-box unremunerative, he went round
from chair to chair, staring at the biscuits of the revellers with
filmy, greedy eyes, and when he came to me, rearing up on his hind legs
and clawing importunately at my dress. I fed him, being weak-minded in
such matters, and then I tried to pat his head. He immediately gave a
shrill yelp and snapped at my hand, and, in the uncontrollable jump with
which I saved my fingers, the remainder of the rum and water was spilled
over my last clean skirt.

A chorus of horror arose. The pallid face and weak saucer eyes of the
timid aunt appeared furtively round the straw rim of the chair, and she
murmured, ‘Mees! Mees!’ in tones of faint reproof. (I had forgotten to
say that as the dog was supposed to be an English terrier, he was
called ‘Miss,’ a generic term in France for the British dog,
irrespective of size or sex.) Madame de Q. and the spotty cousin offered
polite condolences; Monsieur de Q. aimed some opprobrious epithets at
the offender instead of the kick that he so richly deserved; and Mdlle.
Hortense in an instant whirled me out of my chair, through the
drawing-room, and into a bedroom, there to take off my own skirt and
endue one of hers, while mine was sent to the kitchen to be washed and
dried. It took a fair amount of philosophic calm to walk back to the
verandah in a full white calico skirt some four inches too short for me,
and it was a relief to find that a number of fresh visitors had arrived,
and that my entrance was consequently unobserved. Almost immediately
afterwards, it was suggested that we should be taken to see the park,
and I crouched down the verandah behind the crowd, trying to decrease my
height by those uncompromising four inches, and painfully conscious that
all the gentlemen of the party had remained behind, and were watching
our exit with some interest. ‘Now _ces messieurs_ are content,’ said
Mdlle. Rosalie, dropping behind to talk to me. ‘They will be able to
talk of nothing but the vintage till we return--_ça m’agace!_’

We crossed the yard, and went on past the inevitable _cuvier_, through a
garden full of all-coloured dahlias and wall-fruit, and under the arch
of a gateway into a wide shrubbery with elm and chestnut trees shading
close-shorn expanses of grass, and a serpentine piece of water, on the
farther side of which the largest meadow that we had seen in the
much-cultivated Médoc stretched away to a pine wood.

‘In winter they chase the woodcock there,’ remarked Mdlle. Rosalie.

‘We chase him also in Ireland,’ we said, ‘but he is a difficult bird to
catch.’

It then transpired that our hostesses were sportswomen, and had shot
almost every bird that there was to be shot in their district, from
sparrows to quails. ‘_Nous chassons de race_,’ they said; ‘our
grandmother was a noted shot in her day.’

We felt an incongruity about a French grandmother being _bon tireur_
that was probably derived from a confused belief that the period of
grandmothers in France was coincident with the costumes on a Watteau
fan; but the descendants of this sporting lady assured us that it had
been, and was, quite _comme il faut_ in the Médoc for ladies to shoot,
and they further imparted to us in confidence that their stepmother
disapproved deeply of their sporting proclivities--a fact that did not
take us by surprise. They were altogether a revelation, these Mdlles. de
Q., with English manners and tastes, and even clothes, while Great
Britain’s language and literature were a sealed book to them, except for
a few absurd phrases they had picked up at their convent school at Lyons
from a ‘_demoiselle écossaise, je crois, qui s’appelait Haut-Brion_.’ We
wondered why a Scotch young lady should have been named after one of the
classified clarets, and it was only in subsequent conversation that it
transpired that the demoiselle lived in Dublin and was called O’Brien.

As we wandered back through the beautifully laid-out grounds, with such
tropical plants as are usually associated with Kew Gardens meeting us on
every hand, we heard how our hostesses loved riding, and hoped to get an
_amazone_ made by an English tailor, and inquiry elucidated the fact
that the _amazones_ in which they rode at present were made with long
full skirts, and were generally as absurd as their name.

The party of men whom we had left in the verandah were still seated
there when we returned, Monsieur de Q. looking more than ever like John
Bright as he held forth in eloquent periods on the treatment of
influenza, which, it appeared, was raging among his vintagers. Madame de
Q. had not accompanied the walking expedition, and had retired, so her
husband informed us, with a bad headache, the result of driving in the
sun. We guiltily murmured condolences, but as a few minutes later we all
sat down round the polished oak table in the dining-room, it appeared
to us that the party seemed in no way to suffer from the absence of its
hostess. Tea was served in a rather peculiar manner. Empty teacups were
placed in front of the guests; one sister went round with the teapot,
and the other followed with liqueurs and cold boiled milk, while a
variety of little cakes and piled-up dishes of fruit circulated in her
wake. The tea was hot and bitter with strength; the certain prospect of
indigestion depressed us, and unfitted us to cope with the not
unreasonable curiosity of the other visitors as to us and our, to them,
astonishing mission in the Médoc. We felt that our vocabulary was being
tried rather too high, and on the whole we were glad that we had to
catch a train back to Libourne at six, and had to decline the hospitable
invitation of the daughters of the house to stay to dinner.

While the carriage was coming round, I made haste to change into my own
skirt. I have no bump of locality for the interior of strange houses,
and when I had left the room in which the change was effected, I found
myself confronted by three doors all equally likely to lead into the
hall. I selected the most likely one, and rashly advanced. It was the
boudoir of Madame,--Madame who had retired with a bad headache, and was
now seated over a bright wood fire, with her yellow-covered book of
‘Confessions’ in her hand, and a cigarette between her lips. Sympathy
for her, thus cornered in her last stronghold, was my first emotion as I
fled, but sympathy for myself has been a more lasting feeling as I think
how I have established myself in the mind of Madame de Q. as a crowning
example of the _gaucherie_ and stupidity of _Les Anglais pour rire_.



CHAPTER XI.


Familiar ground, but with what a difference! While the early train from
Libourne neared the Bastide Station at Bordeaux, we sat serene and
languid in our carriage, reading London papers, and talking English
politics to Monsieur A. with an assurance which, we hope, concealed our
ignorance; luggage, cabmen, and porters were remote appendages of
travel, interesting only to Monsieur A’s. servant, a few carriages off.
The dog from whose tail the tin kettle has been newly removed could
hardly feel a more pleasing sense of undress than did we when we drove
out of the yard of the station and saw our portmanteaus squatting
sullenly side by side on the pavement, and knew that we should see their
detested faces no more till our journey’s end.

Bordeaux itself became a different town under this chaperonage. In the
restaurant at which we lunched we were treated as old and distinguished
friends, not merely of Monsieur A., but of the proprietor, and shops
where we should have been ignored became gushing in their attentions. In
the full glow of this borrowed radiance we travelled that afternoon
along the sluggish railway line that traverses the Médoc, and saw at
intervals, with a sense of old acquaintance, the sails of the ships and
the smoke of the steamers on the Gironde appear above the vineyards on
our right. We passed Pauillac with almost a pang of recognition. There
was the church where we had seen acolytes with short cassocks and long
boots with tassels; there was the road along which the inexorable
Blossier had driven us,--Blossier, who now would lick the dust before us
could our _cortége_ but meet him; there--most painful thought of
all--was my largest sponge, that had been blown out of my bedroom window
by the _vent d’Afrique_ and never reappeared.

It was half-past three before, at the station of St. Yzans, we clambered
down the steep side of the carriage, and up the still steeper side of a
smart English omnibus that was waiting for us. Two strong horses took us
fast along the level roads, and the soft breeze cooled us as we sat on
high and admired the perfect propriety with which Madame A.’s poodle sat
erect beside the coachman and looked down with a sovereign severity upon
the cur-dogs at the cottage doors. We had driven for seven miles, and
the Gironde, from which the railway had strayed to meet the village of
St. Yzans, was in sight again, when the horses were pulled up at a neat
new gate-lodge; we drove in over a bridge, and bowled up an avenue with
vines spreading far on each side, then through a wood, and finally under
a high arched gateway up to the door of a long pink _château_ with
pointed towers at either end. We were shown into a large drawing-room,
with windows opening on to an old stone terrace, beyond which were
brilliant flower-beds, and, in the distance, a blue strip of river;
afternoon tea of the English kind stood ready, with a pile of letters
and papers waiting beside it; a billiard-room opened on one side, a
library on the other, all empty, and luxuriously expectant of our
occupation. It was our good fortune to be the guests of Mr. Gilbey at
Château Loudenne, and though by a fortune less kind we had been deprived
of the presence of our host, he had provided for us the pleasantest of
deputies to dispense his hospitalities.

The few days that we spent there with Monsieur and Madame A. were like
no other part of our lives, and retained to the last the ease and
enjoyment and the pervading sense of welcome that came so soothingly to
us that first afternoon. English management and comforts were not made
incongruous by the aromatic flavour of French surroundings and the vivid
pageant of the vintage; each accented the other, and retired into the
background with unfailing fitness. It was near the end of the vintage
when we arrived. The handsome red and white buildings which held the
_cuvier_, the long line of stables and farm-buildings, the immense
storehouses full of wine and wine barrels, were at their busiest, and on
the slopes below the _château_ the vintagers were working at top speed
to finish by the end of the week. As we walked through the long
vineyards by the river, the grapeless rows of vines looked forlorn and
elderly, like mothers who have married off their daughters and have no
occupation left. It was far more inspiriting to move farther on, and
watch the sight that was now so familiar and yet always so fresh, the
women’s figures moving waist-high in the green,--the men carrying the
heavy _hottes_ of fruit on their necks, the overseer with his eight-foot
pole pointing fatefully to the bunch of grapes left behind by the
careless _vendangeuses_, the hurry and bustle of everything, and the
creamy oxen stepping slowly and imperturbably through it all, with their
seventeen hands of height shrouded in grey draperies to preserve them
from the flies, sentient apparently of nothing except the driver’s voice
and the guiding

[Illustration: FIN DE VENDANGE.]

touch of his stick. There is a stable full of great English cart-horses
at Loudenne, such as had not been seen in France since the days of
Agincourt, but these descendants of the mediæval warhorse are used only
for the rougher farm-work; it is said that the oxen, from their
clockwork slowness and placidity, do not break and injure the vines as a
horse might, and though this is contradicted, and the days of oxen are
said to be numbered in the Médoc, they still pace in couples from
vineyard to _cuvier_, setting their hoofs down together with the grave
accuracy of a minuet, neither slackening nor straining, whether the two
tall tubs on the cart behind them are full or empty.

The clack of conversation died down a little while we stood with
Monsieur A. and looked on at the work, but one could feel that it was a
seething repression, as of soda-water behind its cork. We felt bound,
however, to combat the justice of giving the women less wages than the
men on the grounds that they talked more; it seemed to us that no
created being could talk in such volumes as the male Médoc peasant,
unless it be a Galway beggar, or a Skibbereen fishwoman before the
Bench. The next piece of information seemed, from previous observation,
more likely. It is calculated that the vintagers on this estate eat
during the vintage an amount of grapes equal to a hogshead of claret--a
creditable performance for people who are forbidden to eat any, and are
under constant strict surveillance. ‘We cannot enforce the rule,’ said
Monsieur A., beckoning to us two girls from the end of a row; ‘we can
only prove when it is broken. Put out your tongues!’

This direction was to the two grinning _vendangeuses_; and, in response,
two large tongues, as purple-black as a parrot’s, were presented to us,
while the eyes of their owners goggled above them with guilty
deprecation and an inextinguishable sense of the absurdity of the
situation. They had the full sympathy of the jury, and the judge only
held up his hands and laughed too.

It was already late in the day, and sunset and its signal to leave off
work came soon. The crowd flocked out of the vines--men, women, and
children, talking and laughing with unexhausted zest, and grouping
themselves in the sandy cart-track in unerring harmonies of blue and
white and grey, flecked here and there with the flash of a red kerchief
or cap. The movement towards home gradually assumed the aspect of a
religious procession. Headed by the sacrificial oxen and their load of
grapes, it passed slowly through the vineyards in the dewy spell of the
evening, till, as it moved distantly up the slopes and breasted the
afterglow, it seemed that a Samian glade and a temple to Ceres must be
its destination. It was the last of the vintage, and the first feeling
of coming farewell touched us while we came back among the stripped
vines; the metallic whirr of the _cigales_ and the loud interjections of
the bullfrogs were the only voices left to replace the shrill babble
that had penetrated every square yard of the green landscape. A
suspicion of frost was in the air, touching the tender evening like a
spur, to remind it of the tyranny that was to come, when the vines would
shrink to brown skeletons, and the winter day would darken above them to
its setting, in the chilly silence of the snow.

Dinner was scarcely over that evening when the scraping of a fiddle and
the husky note of a flute were audible in the hall, and as we came into
the drawing-room there entered by the other door a group of people who
might have come straight out of Arcadia or an Italian opera. In front
were the two musicians, playing a gay little tune, while behind them two
peasant girls advanced, carrying each an enormous bouquet of flowers,
with a party of the vintagers bringing up the rear. The music finished
with a flourish, and one of the bearers of the bouquets brought her
offering forward and presented it to Monsieur A. with a few eulogistic
sentences, followed by the second bearer, who performed the like office
for Madame A. How in this position would an English country gentleman
have stiffened, stammered, and assumed a galvanic gratification; how his
wife would have murmured inane thanks with uneasy condescension; and how
totally different in all particulars was the demeanour of Monsieur and
Madame A.! Each in turn made a speech of a few sentences, with perfect
graciousness, point, and fluency; they even looked as if they thoroughly
enjoyed doing it, and we gaped from the background with respectful
admiration. The fiddle and flute struck up again, and to their music
the deputation withdrew, leaving just enough flavour of garlic behind to
blend quaintly with the heliotrope and rose perfumes of the two
bouquets.

This ceremonial was the prelude of the dance that celebrated the _fin de
vendange_, and a little later we wrapped ourselves in shawls and went
out to join in the revels. The room in which the vintagers dine at the
Château Loudenne is an extremely large one, with a musicians’ gallery
running across one end of it--an accessory that showed that dancing was
as recognised a part of the programme as dinner. The dance had hardly
begun when we came in; a few of the smaller kind were plodding round in
a kind of polka with only three steps to the bar, but the men were for
the most part grouped near the door, and the ladies lined the benches,
calm in the certainty that they were in the minority. We took our seats
at the top of the room under the musicians’ gallery, prepared to observe
with the intelligent interest of the tourist this splash of local colour
that good luck had thrown in our way. The music ceased, and there was a
pause, during which the men filed into the room and partners were
chosen, while an incredible clang of talk filled the air. Presently a
hoot from the long horn announced the beginning of the dance, and each
man grasped his partner by the waist and led her forth. It was called a
_contre-danse_, and by the time that a tune of the most furious
friskiness had been played through once, ten or twelve couples were
standing, not only ready, but prancing in their impatience to start. The
men were mostly small, agile creatures of comparatively tender years;
the women, on the contrary, were tall and stout, seemingly of a
different race, and not by any means distressingly young. In fact, the
pretty girls whom we had picked out as the probable belles of the
entertainment were sitting neglected round the room, talking apparently
to their fathers and mothers.

As soon, however, as the signal to go had been given, we realised that,
in the practical Médoc, ‘handsome is that handsome does.’ The tall
person whom we had lightly compared to a bolster, went away down the
room as if there were a spiral spring inside the bolster-case, and her
matronly _vis-à-vis_ advanced to meet her in a manner only comparable to
‘the way the divil went through Athlone, in standing leps,’ to quote
Sergeant Mulvaney. We watched these gambols in undisturbed enjoyment for
about a minute, and then suddenly my cousin was aware of a man standing
in front of her, bowing, and silently holding out both hands.

‘He wants you to dance with him, and you will have to do it,’ whispered
Madame A. to her, with unsympathetic ecstasy; ‘it is the custom of the
vintage.’

In another moment my cousin was swept into the line of the top couples,
and her partner, a pallid, oily youth of Jewish aspect, was whirling her
down the room with such a coruscation of capers as would have done
credit to a catherine-wheel. What exactly she looked like as, hopelessly
conspicuous in

[Illustration: ‘HE WANTS YOU TO DANCE WITH HIM, AND YOU WILL HAVE TO DO
IT; IT IS THE CUSTOM OF THE VINTAGE.’]

her white dress, she floundered, hopped, and jigged through the _mêlée_,
time was not given to me to determine. A blue-clad figure was already
bowing in front of me, and, as two warm, ungloved hands took mine, the
only balm left in Gilead was the sight of Madame A. cleaving the flood
of dancers in the arms of a little creature whom I took for a stout
child of ten years old, till I subsequently saw his moustache.

The _contre-danse_ in which we were thus embroiled stormed on with
conversational intervals between the figures for about twenty minutes.
It was an inflamed variety of kitchen Lancers, danced with a rhythmic
fury, and larded with impromptu flourishes on the part of the gentlemen.
We envied the bolster as she bobbed serenely past us, riding the waves
of the _contre-danse_ like a bottle in a chopping sea, while we were
struggling in its depths and trying with slides and springs to overtake
its impossible rhythm. A reel at a tenants’ dance in Galway, the
‘D’Alberts’ at a sergeants’ ball at the Curragh, the ‘barn-dance’ on a
carpet after dinner on New Year’s night,--in all these violent
amusements we have competed with a measure of success, but candour
compels us to state that our _début_ in the _contre-danse_ at Château
Loudenne was somewhat of a failure. Sorry spectacles as we were by the
time its five or six figures were over, we should have been still more
dilapidated had it not been for those intervals wherein we were talked
to by our respective vinedressers as agreeably, as politely, and with as
easy a selection of topics as if they were daily in the habit of
discoursing to English ladies. In this connection we may say that not
one of these peasants of the most wine-making district in the world owed
any of their hilarity to the claret in which they lived, moved, and had
their being; in fact, not once during our fortnight in the Médoc did we
see any man who had taken more than was good for him.

More and more dances followed, till our legs ached, and the cement floor
wore holes in our shoes, and then, as we were preparing to go back to
the house, it was said that _ces dames_ ought absolutely to see the
‘Bignou.’ The ‘Bignou’ sounded like the name of some monster of the
middle ages, and might have been the local name for a werewolf for all
we knew; but we stayed, nevertheless, and presently saw entering by
another door nothing more alarming than four little old women. It was
explained to us that the ‘Bignou’ was an ancient dance, almost obsolete
in that part of the country, and that these four were the only worthy
exponents of it, and had been actually awakened out of their first sleep
to dance it for us. A rough-looking boy was hoisted on to a barrel at
the end of the room--a boy who had come all the way from Brittany for
the vintage (if, as is highly probable, I did not misunderstand my
partner), bringing with him the little wooden instrument upon which he
now set up a shrill piping that sounded like a penny whistle with a
bluebottle in it. This archaic flute was itself the ‘Bignou’ from which
the dance took its name, and the extraordinary tune which it buzzed
forth might have been composed by Tubal Cain. The four old _danseuses_,
in their white caps and full black skirts, took their positions in the
middle of the room with a prim consciousness of their own importance,
and all that we had yet seen was child’s play compared with the
intricate measure

[Illustration: THE LITTLE FIGURES FLEW IN DARTING CIRCLES, LIKE FLIES IN
A POOL.]

that followed. The little figures flew in darting circles, like flies on
a pool, to the mad squeals of the ‘Bignou,’ their list-shod feet
slapping the floor in absolute accord, and their full skirts and white
cap-strings leaping out behind them in time to each angular twist of the
tune. As we watched them we no longer wondered at their age. Steps such
as those could not be learned in less than seventy years.

The onlookers stamped and clapped, the ‘Bignou’ player blew with a
possessed frenzy, and the little old women circled tirelessly, like
witches on the Brocken. I do not know how long the dance lasted, but as
we went back in the darkness to the _château_ we felt as if the music
had gone to our heads; and when I lay down under my mosquito curtains,
the dark figures whirled and swung giddily before me, as if the spirit
of the Médoc had been expressed in them as intoxicatingly as in its
wine.



CHAPTER XII.

[Illustration]


The lamps were all lighted on the long bridge over the Garonne; the
lights quivered and lengthened in the sleek broad ripples; other lights
twinkled on the masts and in the rigging of the half-seen shipping, and
but for the trams and the traffic all things were as they had been at
our midnight arrival in Bordeaux. It was only 6.30 o’clock, but autumn
was catching up to us even in the Médoc, robbing us daily of more and
more light, and blunting our regret for a portmanteauful of soiled white
skirts by impressing the melancholy fact that this year we should have
no further need of them. We had said good-bye to the Médoc and its kind
people, and our faces were turned for the bleak North.

There were four large dark hours to be disposed of before the departure
of the Paris train, and, as we stood in the blue electric glare of the
station, the question of what we were going to do with ourselves rose
solemnly and awfully before us. Shopping in the dark was intolerable,
even if we had known one shop from another, and there had been anything
we wanted to buy; the conventional resource of going to see a church
was obviously out of the question; the rather unconventional one of
going to see ‘_La Femme à Papa_’ at the big colonnaded theatre was
tempting, but would either impose in the future an exhausting burden of
secrecy upon us, or would finally overthrow whatever confidence our
relations might still retain in our discretion. There remained dinner as
an occupation, and, leaving the arid brilliance of the station, we
prowled forth along the quays in search of a suitable restaurant. We
were ready to endure much for the sake of interest or picturesqueness,
but there is neither one nor the other to be found in a room with a
sawdusted floor, a block tin bar, and a contiguous billiard-table; and
these features discounted successively the charms of the restaurants of
‘The Antilles,’ ‘The Brazil,’ ‘The Spain and Portugal,’ the ‘Hôtel à la
Renommée de l’Omelette,’ and the ‘Café au Bon Diable,’ outside all of
whose flaring windows we paused and surveyed with exceeding disfavour
the company within.

We reached again the long bridge, with the trams going to and fro upon
it like fireflies, and with the power of fulfilling it came the desire
for respectable comfort at the Hôtel de Bayonne, where we had lunched
with the A.’s on our way to Loudenne. We stopped a tram and confided our
wishes to the conductor. His tram did not go there, but we could
‘correspond;’ it would be quite simple--The end of the explanation was
lost in the jerk with which we were hoisted on to the step, and in the
blatant braying of the driver’s signal-horn as the tram plunged forward
again. We began our journey by standing in a throng on the platform of
the tram, and though a light rain had begun, the samples of the
atmosphere of the interior that from time to time were wafted to us
prevented us from being specially grateful when two gorgeous
red-and-blue soldiers politely gave us their seats. After ten or fifteen
minutes, however, there was no lack of room; the tram, having taken its
way through promising thoroughfares, shook itself free of all passengers
saving ourselves, and headed for the open country at a round pace.
Before the conductor permitted us to part from him it seemed to us that
we might have corresponded not only with every other line in Bordeaux,
but with our relatives in Galway as well; and when, somewhere in a dark
and silent suburb, we changed to the rival tram, there was a further
half-hour before we sank exhausted on our chairs in the Hôtel de
Bayonne.

The advantages of an introduction were shown in the effusion of the
proprietor’s greeting, and under the ministrations of Alphonse, the head
waiter, we revived. We were late for the ordinary dinner, and for some
time the clean, electric-lighted dining-room had us for its only
occupants, as we sat in a trance of repose and quietness, while
Alphonse, with his decorous hooked nose and clerical black whiskers,
gave us his serious and undivided attention. It was not until after the
delicious _omelette au rhum_ had come in, in its winding-sheet of
spectral blue flame, that a party entered and took possession of a table
near us. From the unhurried way in which they

[Illustration: ALPHONSE.]

came in and seated themselves it was easy to guess that to dine was the
only amusement they proposed to themselves for the evening, and as we
drank our coffee and watched their dinner through its stately and solid
progress, we began to think that there are few greater fallacies than
the general belief that the French middle-classes are small eaters as
compared with the English. That the shopkeeper-like man and the
fuzzy-headed woman were the givers of the feast, and the parents of the
frightful and gluttonous child, was apparent from their disparaging
criticisms of the soup and their indulgence of their offspring, but it
was necessary for the guest to endure from the child a kiss that, as
some one says, was also a baptism, for us to feel that she was no
relation to it, unless one of the very poorest kind. The whole party, as
it went steadily through their _menu_ of ten courses, without omitting
the nethermost leek in the salad, opened our eyes, as we have said, to
the staying qualities of the French appetite, and it was privileged to
demonstrate for us that the mysterious little tumblers of water and
peppermint that had been brought in with our finger-glasses were for the
fell purpose of rinsing out the mouth before proceeding to coffee and
liqueurs. It was a solace to us during our long wait at the hotel; and
monsieur’s dexterity with the macaroni cheese and his knife, and
madame’s gesticulations with a bitten peach, were each in their way
agreeable and instructive.

The _dame seule_ is an unusual feature in French travelling, especially
at night, and it seemed to us, while we wandered down the long platform
of the Bastide, with twenty minutes to spare, that we could not do
better than get into the carriage reserved for ladies only. But one
glance into that fastness was enough. A mamma, a white-capped
‘_nou-nou_,’ an underling, an infant, and three children (two of them in
tears) were already in possession, and beginning the first of the meals
that experience had taught us would continue through the night. The next
carriage was empty; better the maniac or the inebriate, better even the
Government cigar--these things were among the possibilities, but we
chanced them. They none of them happened. We adopted the tried stratagem
of pulling down the blinds and holding the handle from inside, and had
the satisfaction of hearing the possible maniacs, drunkards, and smokers
of French tobacco remark to each other, after they had tried the handle,
that it was either a mail-van or a reserved carriage.

We had hired two pillows at a franc each, according to the convenient
custom on the Paris-Orléans railway, and thanks to them, the worst part
of the eleven hours was spent in sleep that was just pleasantly
conscious of the stops at the stations, and was lulled into blander
repose by an occasional muffled squall from the pandemonium next door.
At Blois the daylight began, and it was then, in the cold dawn, while
the train shuffled uneasily to and fro on meaningless sidings, and the
green-grey mass of a great castle deepened each time we looked from
behind the blinds, that we drew forth the half bottle of Grand St.
Lambert that had for the last few days been carried perilously about in
a bonnet-box, and with grapes and _croissants_ began a repast that
continued through stages of bovril, tea, and gingerbread biscuits till
we neared Paris. The water for the tea was near proving a difficulty. To
get it, it was necessary to shuffle in ‘night’s disarray’ to the buffet,
and a fair amount of nerve was required to advance through the crowd of
sleepily devouring men and fill a disreputable tin kettle from a carafe
of water under the very eyes of an indignant waiter. We flatter
ourselves that the most courageous man of our acquaintance would have
been afraid to do it.

There is on the south side of the Seine, not far from the Gare
Montparnasse, a hotel beloved of art students. It is clean and cheap,
and is bounded on all sides by the tram lines that cleave Paris through
and through, and put the whole town in the hollow of one’s hand for six
sous (_avec correspondance_). The Quartier Latin looked as fresh and
clean and respectable on this October morning as if it had not a
world-wide reputation for opposite qualities, and as mademoiselle of
the hotel rushed out and greeted us in such strange English as is learnt
from American art students, and with the effusion that is reserved by
her for old friends, a serene assurance settled down upon us that here,
at least, our appearance, manners, and accents would excite no surprise.
We had our luncheon at a _crêmerie_, a place known of yore, where a
beefsteak (_saignant_, according to French custom, unless specially
forbidden), _confiture_, a saucerful of curd known as _fromage à la
crême_, and a cup of black coffee could be obtained in sufficient
cleanliness for a franc or less. It was rather too early in the season
for the art student to be in full bloom; the two hot little rooms that
were so like the cabins of an inferior steamer were almost empty,
instead of being stuffed to their utmost capacity and resounding with as
many languages as the Tower of Babel, and when we went on to the studio,
and, with pleasurable anticipation, climbed the long staircase and
knocked at the door, no voice responded. There was no one there. The
easels were heaped up in one corner, the stools in another, the clock
had stopped, the model stand was covered with dust, and desponding
sketches of undressed deformities dangled from the walls, each by a
single drawing-pin. Angelo, the hoary and picturesque attendant,
followed us into this desolation, and said that such _monde_ as there
was, with a contemptuous shrug, was _là-bas_. A glance into the lower
studio, where half-a-dozen unknown Englishwomen were fighting over the
position of a sulky model in the dress of a cardinal, was enough for us.
We felt that ‘superfluous lags the veteran on the stage.’

We wandered on by familiar ways to the Luxembourg galleries--there, at
least, we should find old friends; and we looked at Rosa Bonheur’s oxen
with the eye of knowledge, and found them by no means up to the standard
of Château Loudenne. When we got out into the gardens again, with their
linked battalions of perambulators, and their thousand children courting
sea-sickness on the zoological merry-go-rounds, the afternoon was still
young. The tops of the tall horse-chestnuts were yellow in the
sunshine, and above them, in the blue sky, the Eiffel Tower looked down
on us, suggesting absurdly the elongated neck of Alice in Wonderland,
when the pigeon accuses her of being a serpent. Its insistent challenge
could no longer be resisted; in spite of the needle-cases,
yard-measures, and paper-weights that had horridly familiarised us with
its outlines, it was decidedly a thing to be done. People who would go
to sleep if we talked to them about the vineyards, would wake to active
contempt if they heard we had not been to the Eiffel Tower.

We were deluded into getting off our tram too soon, and consequently had
a long crawl through the empty Exhibition buildings and grounds before
we reached our destination. To this, however, we owed the sight of the
strange row of variety entertainments which we passed _en route_. A cup
of coffee at forty-five centimes, or even a glass of beer at thirty
centimes, would have entitled us to a chair or a marble table at any of
these spectacles; but having taken a cursory view, from outside the
crowd at the barriers, of the man in evening clothes mournfully
bellowing something that sounded like a funeral ode to his mother, of
the young lady with long yellow hair and short yellow petticoats giving
a comic recitation flavoured with dancing, and of the infant phenomenon,
whose performance on the piano was unfortunately reduced to dumb show by
the success of the funny man next door, we were disposed to think that
the coffee would be dear at the price.

We found ourselves at last under the four arching dachshund legs from
which the Tower tapers improbably into space, and strayed round on the
gravel underneath it, lavishing upon each other truisms appropriate to
the occasion, and expressing artificial regrets that we had apparently
come too late in the afternoon for the lift. While we spoke, a clicking
sound dropped to us from the sky; we looked up, and saw amidst the
cobwebs of iron a large square fly descending. I hardly know how we came
to find ourselves at the entrance of the _ascenseur_. We both dislike
lifts; and my cousin can repeat many rousing tales of lift-accidents, in
which the point is usually the apparent identity of the attendant with
the leading character in a thrice-repeated nightmare; but some form of
false shame impelled us to the first stage. We held our breaths as we
slid upwards through the girders that looked like all the propositions
in Euclid run mad, and it was not till the horrible hiccough came, that
told us we had stopped at the first platform, that we ventured to glance
at the lift-man.

We walked round the long galleries, my cousin making herself both
conspicuous and absurd by her determination to find out how many
dragoon-like strides went to each side. It will doubtless be a blow to
the designer to hear that the four faces of the Tower vary in length,
two of them measuring ninety-seven yards, another a hundred, and the
fourth ninety-nine and a hop. We had thought of going to the
top--thought of it vaguely and valiantly for some little time after the
lift had shaken us out on the first _étage_, and before we had looked
over the edge. One glance, however, down at the black specks crawling on
the strips of tape that represented the gravel paths of the Exhibition
grounds satisfied us that we were as high as we wished to go. Even here
the height was making my fingers tingle, and my cousin had retired
unsteadily from the verge under the pretext of buying a photograph at a
neighbouring stall; while as to the view, all Paris was already far
below us, a marvellous gray and green toy, with the afternoon sun
striking flame out of the tiny gilded domes and spires, and the pale
thread of a river winding from one microscopic bridge to another, all
showing clear in the smokeless air with a magical precision of detail.

There is a staircase that circles dizzily down the Tower, a Jacob’s
ladder that would make an angel giddy, and rather than enter again the
lift that was even now sliding down to us on its steel cable through the
iron network, my cousin said she would walk down. It was the final
dispute of the expedition, and, after affording much amusement to the
bystanders, it ended in my leading my cousin, with her eyes tightly
shut, and the expression of Lady Jane Grey on her way to execution, into
the box with the sloping floor, in whose safety it was so impossible to
believe. We sit safely now in the ground floor of a two-storeyed house,
and as we look back to that experience, it seems to us that no dentist’s
chair can have cradled more suffering than the lift of the Eiffel Tower.

We left Paris by a late train that night. Summer and its habiliments had
alike been crushed out of sight by dint of a final war-dance upon our
portmanteaus. Everything connected with the Médoc was put away; the
Kodak, with its hidden store of vintage pictures, the apparatus of
afternoon tea, even the well-thumbed and invaluable copy of Bellows’
Dictionary that had up to this abided immutably in our pockets, was laid
sorrowing to rest in the crown of the Libourne straw hat. What use was
it to us on a degraded line of railway on which all the porters spoke
English?

[Illustration: SUCCESS TO THE VINTAGE OF 1891.]

We took a last look out of the train window at the electric star of the
Eiffel Tower, perched among the elder stars in the sky behind us, and my
cousin opened her bonnet-box and drew forth for the last time that
widow’s cruse, the bottle of Grand St. Lambert. There was about a
wine-glassful left, and out of a thick green Pauillac mug we solemnly
drank success to our first vintage.

[Illustration: FINIS]

MORRISON AND GIBB, PRINTERS, EDINBURGH.





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