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AT THE FARM OF LA CHAUMIÈRE
“OH, mamma!” cried
little Germaine, as she jumped out of bed and ran to the window, “how glad I
am it is such a beautiful day.”
Germaine was up bright and
early on this sunshiny day, for many pleasant things were going to happen.
However, this was not her only reason for early rising. French people always do
so, and little French children are not allowed to lie in bed and to be lazy.
At the first peep of
daylight Germaine’s papa and mamma were up, and soon the “little
breakfast,” as it is called, was ready in the big kitchen of the farmhouse.
Even the well-to-do farmers, like Germaine’s papa, eat their meals in their
kitchens, which are also used as a general sitting-room.
Everything about a
French house is very neat, but especially so is the kitchen, whose bare wooden
or stone floor is waxed and polished every day until it shines like polished
mahogany. On the mantelpiece of the kitchen of Germaine’s home, which was more
than twice as tall as Germaine herself, was a long row of brass candlesticks, a
vase or two, and a little statue of the Madonna with flowers before it.
The fireplace took up nearly all of one side of the room, and was so
large that it held a bench in either side where one could sit and keep nice and
warm in winter. Hanging in the centre, over the fire, was a big crane, — a
chain with a hook on the end of it on which to hang pots and kettles to boil,
There were beautiful blue tiles all around the fireplace, and a ruffle of cloth
along the edge of the mantel-shelf.
Not far from the
fireplace was a good cooking-stove, for the better class farmers do not cook
much on the open fire, as do the peasants.
All about the walls
were hung row after row of copper cooking utensils of all kinds and shapes, all
highly polished with “eau de cuivre.” Madame
Lafond, Germaine’s mamma, prided herself on having all her pots and pans shine
“Be quick, my little
one,” said Madame Lafond, as Germaine seated herself at the table in the
centre of the room. “You have much to do, for, as you know, we are to see M.
Auguste before we go to meet Marie; and we must finish our work here, so as to
be off at an early hour.”
was a great bowl of hot milk, with coffee and a slice from the big loaf lying on
the bare table. The French have many nice kinds of bread, and what they call
household bread, made partly of flour and partly of rye, is the kind generally
eaten by the country people. It is a little dark in colour, but very good.
It was to-day that
Germaine was to go with Madame Lafond to the station at Petit Andelys to meet
her sister Marie, who had been away at a convent school at Evreux, and who was
coming home for the summer holidays. On their way they were to stop at the Hotel
Belle Etoile, for it was the birthday — the fête day, as the French call it
— of their good friend the proprietor, M. Auguste, and Madame Lafond was
taking him a little present of some fine white
strawberries which are quite a delicacy, and which are grown only round
about. M. Lafond was to meet them at the station, and all were to take dinner
with her Uncle Daboll at his house in the village, to celebrate Marie’s
So, as may be
imagined, Germaine did not linger over her breakfast, but set to work at her
morning tasks with a will.
“Blanche, you want
your breakfast, too,” she said, as she stroked her pet white turtle-dove, who
had been walking over the table trying to attract her attention with soft, deep
“coos,” “and you shall have it here in the sunshine,” and, putting her
pet on the deep window-ledge, she sprinkled before it a bountiful supply of
crumbs. “That, now, must last until I get back.”
Raton,” she called to their big dog. “We must feed the rabbits,” and,
taking a basket of green stuff, she ran across the courtyard into the garden.
In France the farm
buildings are often built around an open square, which is entered by a large
gate. This is called a closed farm. In
olden times there were also the fortified farms, which were built strongly
enough to withstand the assaults of marauders, and some of these can still be
seen in various parts of the country.
The gateway was rather a
grand affair, with big stone pillars, on top of which was a stone vase, and in
the gate was a smaller one, which could be used when there was no need to open
the large one to allow a carriage or wagon to enter.
On one side of the yard was
the laiterie, where the cows were kept and milked. There were a number
of cows, for M. Lafond sold milk and butter, carrying it into the market at
On another side was
the stable, where were kept the big farm-horses, — Norman horses as we know
them, one of the three celebrated breeds of horses in France. Near by were the
wire-enclosed houses for the chickens and geese and the ducks, which ran about
the yard at will and paddled in the little pond in one corner.
In the centre was the
pigeon-house, a large, round, stone building, such as will be seen on all the
old farms like this of M. Lafond’s. It was an imposing structure, and looked
as if it could shelter hundreds of pigeon families. Under a low shed stood the
farm-wagons and the farming tools and implements.
La Chaumière, as
the farm was known, took its name from the thatch-covered cottage. Many of the
houses in this part of the country have roofs thatched with straw, as had the
other buildings on the farm. Germaine’s home, however, had a red tile roof,
though it was thatched in the olden days, for it had been in M. Lafond’s
family for many generations.
On the opposite side of the
house was the garden, surrounded by a high wall finished off with a sort of roof
of red tiles. The square beds of fine vegetables were bordered by flowers, for
in France the two are usually cultivated together in one garden. Against the
wall were trained peach, pear, and plum trees, as if they were vines; this to
ripen the fruit well. In a corner were piled up the glass globes, — shaped
like a bell or a beehive, — which are used to put over the young and tender
plants to protect them and hasten their growth.
Against one corner of the
wall were the hutches for the rabbits, built in tiers, one above the other, and
full of dozens of pretty “bunnies,” white, black and white, and some quite
It was Germaine’s duty to
feed them night and morning, and she liked nothing better than to give them
crisp lettuce and cabbage leaves and see them nibble them up, wriggling their
funny little noses all the time. “Well, bunnies, you will have to eat your
breakfast alone this morning; I cannot spare you much time,” Germaine told
them, as she gave them the contents of her basket. Raton was leaping beside her
and barking, for he was a great pet, and more of a companion than most dogs in
French farms. They are usually kept strictly for watch purposes, the poor things
being tied up in the yard all of the time; but Germaine’s people were very
kind to animals, and Raton did much as he pleased.
“I am ready, mamma,”
said Germaine, running into the kitchen.
“So am I, my dear,” and
Madame Lafond took from behind a copper saucepan hanging on the wall a bag of
money, from which she took some coins and put the bag back again in this queer
money-box. She then placed the basket of strawberries on their bed of green
leaves on her arm, and she, Germaine, and Raton set off.
Madame Lafond had on a neat
black dress, very short, and gathered full around the waist, and a blue apron.
Her hair was brushed back under her white cap, and on her feet she wore sabots, the wooden shoes all the working people in the country wear.
Germaine’s dress was her
mother’s in miniature, and her little sabots
clacked as she ran down the road, carrying in her hand a pot holding a
flower, carefully wrapped about with white paper for M. Auguste. It was a
beautiful walk through the fields and apple orchards, into the road, shaded by
old trees that led to the top of the hill, and then down the hillside past the
old Château Gaillard; that wonderful castle whose history Germaine never
wearied of hearing.
It seemed to her like a
fairy-tale that such things could have happened so near her papa’s farm,
though it all took place many hundreds of years ago, when there was nothing but
wild woods where now stands their farm and those of their neighbours.
The château was built by
the great Norman who became an English king. He was known as Richard the
Lion-hearted, because he was so brave and fearless. Perhaps our little English
cousins will remember him best by this romantic story. Once King Richard was
imprisoned by his enemies, no one knew where; his friends had given him up for
lost — all but his faithful court musician Blondel, who went from castle to
castle, the length and breadth of Europe, singing the favourite songs that he
and his royal master had sung together. One day his devotion was rewarded, for,
while singing under the windows of a castle in Austria, he heard a voice join
with his, and he knew he had found his master.
At that time France was not
the big country it is now. Normandy belonged to the English Crown, and the Kings
of France were always trying to conquer it for their own.
So Richard built this strong
fortress on the river Seine, at the most important point where the dominion of
France joined that of Normandy. He planned it all himself and, it is said, even
helped to put up the stones with his own hands. It was begun and finished in one
year, and when the last stone was placed in the big central tower, King Richard
“Behold my beautiful
daughter of a year.” Then he named it Château Gaillard, which is the French
for “Saucy Castle,” and stood on its high walls and defied the French king,
Philippe-Auguste, who was encamped across the river, to come and take it from
him, —just as a naughty boy puts a chip on his shoulder and dares another boy
to knock it off. Well, the French king took his dare, but he also took care to
wait until the great, brave Richard had been killed by an arrow in warfare. Then
for five months he and his army besieged the castle, and a desperate fight it
was on both sides. At last the French forced an entrance. After that, for
several hundred years, its story was one of bloody deeds and fierce fights,
until another French king, Henri IV., practically destroyed it, in order to show
his power over the Norman barons whom he feared; and so it stands today only a
big ruin — but one of the most splendid in France.
Germaine often wondered why
it was called “Saucy,” for it did not look so to her now. The big central
tower with its broken windows seemed to her like an old face, with half-shut
eyes and great yawning mouth, weary with its struggles, leaning with a tired air
against the few jagged walls that still stood around it.
But it looked very
grand for all that, and Germaine was fond of it, and she with her cousin Jean
often played about its crumbling walls. Jean would stand in the great broken
window and play he was one of the archers of King Richard’s time, with a big
bow six feet long in his hand, and arrows at his belt, and that he was watching
for the enemy who always travelled by the river, for in those days there were
few roads, and journeying by boat on the river was the most convenient way to
come and go.
There is no finer outlook in
all France than from King Richard’s castle at Petit Andelys, for one can look
ten miles up the river on one side and ten miles down on the other. Thus no one
could go from France into Normandy without being seen by the watchman on the
tower of the Château Gaillard. Three hundred feet below is the tiny village of
Petit Andelys, looking like a lot of toy houses.
As they entered the main street
of the village, Madame Lafond stopped at the Octroi,
to pay the tax on her strawberries. All towns in France put a tax on all
produce brought into the town, and for this purpose there is a small building at
each entrance to the town where every one must stop and declare what they have,
and pay the small tax accordingly.
“I hear the ‘Appariteur,’
“ said Germaine, as they walked down the narrow cobble-paved street, “I
wonder what he is calling out.” The “Appariteur”
is a sort of town-crier, who makes the announcements of interest to the
neighbourhood by going along the streets beating a drum and crying out his news,
while the people run to the windows and doors to listen. It takes the place of a
daily newspaper to some extent, and costs nothing to the public.
They were soon at the Hôtel
Belle Etoile, and found stout, good-natured M. Auguste at the entrance, seeing
some of his guests off. He was delighted with the strawberries, and when
Germaine gave him the bouquet of flowers, with a pretty little speech of
congratulation for his birthday, he kissed her, French fashion, on both cheeks,
and took them into the café, where he gave them a sweet fruit-syrup to drink.
It is always the custom among our French cousins to offer some kind of
refreshment on every possible occasion, and especially on a visit of ceremony
such as this. So when M. Auguste asked Madame Lafond what she would take, she
and Germaine chose a “Sirop de
Groseilles,” which is made of the juice of gooseberries and sweetened. A
few spoonfuls of this in a glass of soda-water makes a delightful cool drink in
hot weather, and one of which French children are very fond. There are also
syrups made in the same way from strawberries, raspberries, peaches, etc., but
this is one of the best liked.
“There is Madeleine making
signs to you outside the door. Run and see what she wants, my little one,”
said M. Auguste. “I can guess,” he said, laughingly, as Germaine ran to
greet the waitress of the hotel, who always looked so neat and pretty in her
white country cap, her coloured apron over a black dress, and a coloured
handkerchief around her neck, with neat black slippers on her feet.
“Let me show you how we
are going to celebrate the fête-day of M. Auguste,” said she, smiling, and,
opening a box, she showed Germaine the sticks of powder, which they would burn
when night came, and make the beautiful red and green light such as all children
and many grown folks like. The first of these sticks was to be burnt at the very
entrance door, that all the village might know that it was M. Auguste’s
birthday. Madeleine and the cook and the housemaid and the washerwoman and the
boy that blacked the guests’ boots had each given a few centimes (or cents) to
buy these, as well as other things that wriggled along the ground and went off
with a bang, as a surprise for M. Auguste. Also the American and English
visitors at the hotel had bought “Roman candles” and some
“catharine-wheels,” which were to be let off in front of the Belle Etoile;
so the hotel would be very gay that night.
name-day had also been celebrated in another way some time before. On the fête
of St. Auguste it was the custom to carry around a big anvil and stop with it in
front of the house of every one who is named Auguste or Augustine. A cartridge
was placed on the anvil and hit sharply with a hammer, when of course it made a
frightful noise; and for some unknown reason this was supposed to please good
St. Auguste as well as those who bore his name. Then the person who had this
little attention paid him or her would come out and ask every one into their
house to have a glass of calvados, which
is a favourite drink in this part of France, and is made from apples.
The Belle Etoile, like
most of the hotels of France, was built with a courtyard in the centre, and
around this were galleries or verandas, on which the sleeping-rooms opened.
Carriages passed through an archway into, this courtyard, on the one side of
which were stables, on another the kitchen and servants’ quarters, and the
entrance to the big cellar where were kept the great barrels of cider.
Most of the courtyard
was given up to a beautiful garden, set about with shrubs and flowers. At little
tables under big, gay, striped garden-umbrellas, the guests of the Belle Etoile
ate their meals. In the country, every one who can dines in the garden during
the summer months, which is another pleasant custom of this people.
M. Auguste was very
fond of little Germaine, and often told her of his boyhood days in the gay
little city of Tours, where the purest French is spoken, with its fine old
cathedral and the lovely country thereabouts all covered with grape-vines; and
how in the bright autumn days the vineyards are full of workers filling the
baskets on their backs with the green and purple grapes; how late in the evening
the big wagons, full of men, women, and children, come rolling home, piled up
with grapes, the pickers all singing and joyous, with great bunches of wild
flowers tied on the front of each wagon. “A very happy, gay people, my
dear,” would remark M. Auguste, “not like these cold, stolid Normans.” But
to us foreigners all the French people seem as gay as these good folk of
Touraine, the land of vineyards and beautiful white châteaux.
M. Auguste had also
been a great traveller, for his father was well-to-do, and he thought that his
boy should see something of his own country — though French people as a rule
are not great travellers. They are the most home-loving people in the world, and
their greatest ambition is to have a little house and a garden in which to spend
So M. Auguste had seen
much. He had been to the bustling city of Lyons, where the finest silks and
velvets in the world are made. He had journeyed along the beautiful coast of
France where it borders on the blue Mediterranean, where palms and oranges and
such lovely flowers grow, especially the sweet purple violets from which the
perfumes are made. From here also come the candied rose-petals and violets, that
the confectioners sell you as the latest thing in sweetmeats.
He had visited the
great port of Marseilles, the most important in France, where are to be seen
ships from all over the world, and there he learned to make their famous dish,
the bouillabaisse, which is a luscious stew of all kinds of fish — for
M. Auguste prides himself on the special dishes that he cooks for his guests,
and Germaine is often asked to try them. He had been also to the rich city of
Bordeaux, where the fine wines come from. Oh, M. Auguste is a great traveller,
thought Germaine, as they sat together in the kitchen of the Belle Etoile, while
M. Auguste talked with Mimi, the white cat, sitting on his shoulder, while
Fifine, the black one, was on his knee. They were great pets of M. Auguste, and
as well known and liked as himself by the guests at the Belle Etoile.
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