Friday, February 26, 2010



Book Entitled Tatterdemalion:

Her predilection for things French came from childish recollections of school-days in Paris, and a hasty removal thence by her father during the revolution of '48, of later travels as a little maiden, by diligence, to Pau and the then undiscovered Pyrenees, to a Montpellier and a Nice as yet unspoiled. Unto her seventy-eighth year, her French accent had remained unruffled, her soul in love with French gloves and dresses; and her face had the pale, unwrinkled, slightly aquiline perfection of the 'French marquise' type— it may, perhaps, be doubted whether any French marquise ever looked the part so perfectly.
How it came about that she had settled down in a southern French town, in the summer of 1914, only her roving spirit knew. She had been a widow ten years, which she had passed in the quest of perfection; all her life she had been haunted by that instinct, half-smothered in ministering to her husband, children, and establishments in London and the country. Now, in
loneliness, the intrinsic independence of her soul was able to assert itself, and from hotel to hotel she had wandered in England, Wales, Switzerland, France, till now she had found what seemingly arrested her. Was it the age of that oldest of Western cities, that little mother of Western civilisation, which captured her fancy? Or did a curious perversity turn her from more obvious abodes, or was she kept there by the charm of a certain church which she would enter every day to steep herself in mellow darkness, the scent of incense, the drone of incantations, and quiet communion with a God higher indeed than she had been brought up to, high-church though she had always been? She had a pretty little apartment, where for very little—the bulk of her small wealth was habitually at the service of others— she could manage with one maid and no "fuss." She had some "nice" French friends there, too. But more probably it was simply the war which kept her there, waiting, like so many other people, for it to be over before it seemed worth while to move and re-establish herself. The immensity and wickedness of this strange event held her, as it were, suspended, body and spirit, Nhigh up on the hill which had seen the ancient peoples, the Romans, Gauls, Saracens, and all, and still looked out towards the flat Camargue. Here in her three rooms, with a little kitchen, the maid Augustine, a parrot, and the Paris Daily Mail, she dwelt as it were marooned by a world event which seemed to stun her. Not that she worried, exactly. The notion of defeat or of real danger to her country and to France never entered her head. She only grieved quietly over the dreadful things that were being done, and every now and then would glow with admiration at the beautiful way the King and Queen were behaving. It was no good to "fuss," and one must make the best of things, just as the "dear little Queen" was doing; for each Queen in turn, and she had seen three reign in her time, was always that to her. Her ancestors had been uprooted from their lands, their house burned, and her pedigree diverted, in the Stuart ware—a reverence for royalty was fastened in her blood.
Quite early in the business she had begun to knit, moving her slim fingers not too fast, gazing at the grey wool through glasses, specially rimless and invisible, perched on the bridge of her firm, well-shaped nose, and now and then speaking to her parrot. The bird could say, " Scratch a poll, Poll," already, and "Hullo!" those keys to the English language. The maid Augustine, having completed some small duty, would often come and stand, her head on one side, gazing down with a sort of inquiring compassion in her wise, young, clear-brown eyes. It seemed to her who was straight and sturdy as a young tree both wonderful and sad that Madame should be seventy-seven, and so frail—Madame who had no lines in her face and such beautiful grey hair; who had so strong a will-power, too, and knitted such soft comforters "pour nos braves chers poilus." And suddenly she would say: "Madame riest pas fatigutet" And Madame would answer: "No. Speak English, Augustine—Polly will pick up your French! Come here!" And, reaching up a pale hand, she would set straight a stray fluff of the girl's dark-brown hair or improve the set of her fichu.
Those two got on extremely well, for though madame was—oh! but very particular, she was always "tres gentiUe et toujours grande dame." And that love of form so deep in the French soul promoted the girl's admiration for one whom she could see would in no circumstances lose her dignity. Besides, Madame was full of dainty household devices, and could not bear waste; and these, though exacting, were qualities which appealed to Augustine. With her French passion for "the family" she used to wonder how in days like these Madame could endure to be far away from her son and daughter and the grandchildren, whose photographs hung on the walls; and the, long letters her mistress was always writing in a beautiful, fine hand, beginning, "My darling Sybil," "My darling Reggie," and ending always "Your devoted mother," seemed to a warm and simple heart but meagre substitutes for flesh-andblood realities. But as Madame would inform her—they were too busy doing things for the dear soldiers, and working for the war; they could not come to her—that would never do. And to go to them would give so much trouble, when the railways were so wanted for the troops; and she had their lovely letters, which she kept—as Augustine observed—every one in a lavender-scented sachet, and frequently took out to read. Another point of sympathy between those two was their passion for military music and seeing soldiers pass. Augustine's brother and father were at the front, and Madame's dead brother had been a soldier in the Crimean war—"long before you were born, Augustine, when the French and English fought the Russians; I was in France then, too, a little girl, and we lived at Nice; it was so lovely, you can't think—the flowers! And my poor brother was so cold in the siege of Sebastopol." Somehow, that time and that war were more real to her than this.

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