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HOME BY TRAIN
IT was with real regret that
our little friends parted from the good barge people and their floating home, as
well as from the beautiful city of Rouen, where they had seen so much, and had
such a good time.
Germaine, who had not been
before in a big railway station, was somewhat bewildered at the confusion about
her, while Jean, who had been once to Mantes, was proud to be able to explain
things to her. The tall man in a blue uniform was the station-master, and one
could always tell him from the other blue-uniformed officials, because he wore a
white cap. It was his duty to send off the trains, which he
by blowing a small whistle, after which some one rings a hand-bell that
sounds like a dinner-bell, and off goes the train.
The men who were
pushing luggage around on small hand-trucks were the porters, in blue blouses
like any French working man, except they were belted in at the waist by a broad
band of red and black stripes.
station-master whistled off their train. “Keep a sharp lookout,” said Uncle
Daboll, “and, as soon as we leave this tunnel we are now going through, look
out on the right side and you will have a fine view of the city.”
Sure enough, in
a few minutes they were on the bridge, crossing the river, and before them
stretched out a panorama of Rouen, with a jumble of factory chimneys and church
spires, and rising above all the grand three-towered cathedral.
children might like to know what French trains are like; they are so different
from theirs in every way. To begin with, there are first, second and third class
cars, — carriages, they are called, — and each carriage is divided into
compartments, each compartment holding six persons in the first class, three on
each side, and eight persons in the second, and in the third class, five on a
side— ten in all. There is a door and two small windows in each end of a
The first and second
classes have cushioned seats, but there are only wooden benches in the third. In
many of the third class the divisions between the compartments are not carried
up to the roof, and one can look over and see who his neighbours may be. The
people who travel third class on French railways are a very sociable lot, and
every one soon gets to talking. A French third class carriage under these
conditions is the liveliest place you were ever in, especially when the train
stops at a town on market-day and many people are about, as they were on this
Well! Such a hubbub,
and such a time as they had getting all their various baskets and belongings in
The big ruddy-faced
women pulled themselves in with great difficulty, for these trains are high from
the ground and hard to get into, especially when one has huge baskets on one’s
arm, and innumerable boxes and bundles are being pushed in after one by friends.
The men come with
farming tools, bags of potatoes, and their big sabots,
all taking up a lot of room.
One tall stout woman,
with a basket in either hand, got stuck in the doorway until Uncle Daboll gave
her a helping hand and her friends pushed her from the outside. She finally
plumped down on a seat quite out of breath, when from under the cover of one
basket two ducks’ heads appeared with a loud “quack, quack, quack.” “Ah,
my beauties, get back,” and she tapped them playfully and shut the lid down,
but out popped their heads again with another series of” quacks,” just like
a double jack-in-the-box. How the children laughed, and that made them all
friends at once.
Germaine offered to
hold one of her baskets, for there was not a bit of room in the overhead racks,
or anywhere else. When she took it on her knee, she thought she saw a gleam of
bright eyes through the cracks, and sure enough it was full of little white
The old woman, seeing
her interest, let her stroke their sensitive little ears, while she told how she
had bought them at a bon marché, a good bargain, and was taking them home to her
grandchild, just Germaine’s age.
Next to her were two
women who were evidently carrying on some dispute that had begun early in the
day, and each was bent on having the last word. So their talk went on, an
endless stream, while the fat woman sat by and laughed at them both. Perhaps no
wonder one of them was cross. She looked every little while at a big basket of
eggs she carried, some of which were broken, and with small wonder, it would
seem to inexperienced eyes, for they were packed in the basket without anything
between them. When she found one badly broken, she swallowed it, as much as to
say, “That is safe anyway,” and then she would talk faster than ever.
Uncle Daboll talked to
the man next him about market prices, and the cider crop, and what a fine fruit
year it was. One had only to look out at the orchards they were passing to see
the truth of this, for the apple-trees were so full of fruit that branches had
to be propped up with poles to keep them from breaking down.
the next compartment a party of four were
playing dominoes, one of the women who was with them having spread out her apron
for a table.
Another party was evidently
making up for a meal they had lost, while doing business.
The mother took from a basket a part of a big loaf, from which she cut
slices and distributed them, with a bit of cheese, to her party, at the same
time passing around a jug of cider.
There was an exciting
time when one of the chickens escaped from a market-basket and had to be chased
all over the carriage. Such a clattering of tongues, flapping of wings, and
distressful clucks from the poor fowl, which was at last caught just as she was
about to fly out of a window, were never heard before.
The chattering was increased
by elaborate good-byes, as one by one the passengers dropped off at the small
stations. No one grumbled at having to help sort out the luggage each time, but
cheerfully and politely helped disentangle the belongings of the departing ones,
and carefully helped to lift the baskets on to the platform, amid profuse
thanks, where more friends and relations met them, and there was as much kissing
on both cheeks as if they had been on a long journey instead of merely to
At one of the stops
Germaine noticed a woman, holding a horn and a small red flag, standing by the
sliding gates, where the road crossed the railway. She had seen these women
before along the line, and her uncle explained that the railway is fenced in on
either side by hedges or wire fencing, and wherever a road or street crossed,
there are gates, which must be kept closed while trains are passing. Not only
must the gatekeeper, who is generally a woman, have the gates tight shut, but
she must also stand beside them like a soldier at his post, with her brass horn
in one hand and a red flag, rolled up, in the other, showing that she is
prepared for any emergency. If she were not there, the engineer of the passing
train would report it to headquarters, and she would doubtless be dismissed. The
gatekeeper lives in a neat cottage adjoining, and some minutes before each train
is due she takes the horn and flag from where they hang on the wall, and is at
At the station were M. and
Madame Lafond to welcome them home, and you can imagine how everybody talked at
once, and how muck there was to tell. The fête at Rouen was the topic of
conversation until its glories paled before Petit Andelys’ own special fête,
which was held some weeks after, and which our little friends, with true French
patriotism, thought the finest in the world, not excepting the more elaborate
affair at Rouen.
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