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Chapter II


     GERMAINE and her parents, and her Uncle Daboll and his wife, and their little son Jean, just one year younger than Germaine, were all at the station long before the train was due. The two children were fairly prancing with glee, while Raton leaped about no less excited. They were very fond of Marie, as was every one who knew her, for she was a gentle, kind­hearted girl, and though several years older than Germaine, they were great companions. This was her first year away from home, and Germaine had missed her sadly.

      “There she is,” cried Germaine, as the train pulled slowly in, and a young girl appeared at the window of one of the third-class carriages, waving her handkerchief, and throwing them kisses.

      Her father lifted her down, and every one kissed her twice, on either cheek, and amid much laughing and talking they walked toward Uncle Daboll’s house, while Raton danced in circles about them as if he had gone mad.

      “Oh, Marie,” cried Germaine and Jean in the same breath, “we have such a lovely surprise for you! You have heard, of course, of the grand ‘Norman Fêtes,’ which are to be held at Rouen next week! Well, just think, we are all going to see them, that is, you and Jean and me and uncle and aunt, and better still — how do you think we are going?” “Why, on the train, of course,” laughed Marie, “and won’t we have a good time.” “No,” spoke up Jean, quickly, “we are going a brand new way. What do you say to going on a barge on the river?” “A barge,” cried Marie, “but I thought no one was allowed to travel on the barges, except the people who ran them and lived on them.” “That is true,” said Germaine, “but uncle has fixed all that; you know he sends lots of brick to Rouen by the barges — one is being loaded up now at the quay, and he has arranged that we go on it to Rouen and stay on the barge while it is being unloaded, and see the fêtes. Then we will come back by train. Won’t it be glorious?” “And,” chimed in Jean, “ papa is going to tell us all about the history of these fêtes after dinner.”

      M. Daboll’s home was a neat little cottage, with its upper part of black beams and white plaster, and a pretty red-tiled roof, the ground floor being of stone. M. Daboll owned a large brick-kiln, and was quite well-to-do.

      They all gathered for dinner about a round table in an arbour that overlooked the river. The arbour was ingeniously formed by training the branches of two trees and interlacing them as if they were vines, which gave complete shelter from the sun.

       Every one was eager to listen to Marie’s account of her school life at the convent. It was a very old convent, with beautiful gardens surrounding it, built as usual around a courtyard, in the centre of which was a statue of St. Antoine, who is a favourite patron saint of schools, and considered the special guardian of children. He also, according to tradition, helps one find lost articles, and as we all know how school-children are always losing their belongings, this may be another reason for having the kind St. Antoine as a protector of school-children. At six the girls are up, and study an hour before the “little breakfast” of a roll and butter and chocolate or coffee. Lessons take up the time until noon, when they have their dinner of soup, meat, vegetable, and cider, with a gâteau, as they call a cake, on Sundays. After dinner they are taught plain sewing, and when the sewing hour is over they can play about the gardens until the study hour comes around again. A plain supper of bread and cheese, chocolate or milk, follows, and by nine o’clock every one is in bed. The children dress very simply, — plain cotton frocks, which indoors are always completely covered with a black apron or tablier. On Thursdays they have a half-holiday, and in the care of the Sisters go on little excursions or walks in the neighbourhood. A pleasant, simple life, and, as M. Lafond said, as he pinched Marie’s cheek, “It seems to agree with you, my dear.”

      “Now, papa, you promised to tell us about these Norman Fêtes,” said Jean, when the table had been cleared away, and the little coffee-cups brought out.

      So I will, Jean, and first you bring me that big roll which you will find on the side table in the dining-room.”

      Jean was back with it directly, and Uncle Daboll unrolled a big poster, advertising the fêtes. It showed a fine, strong man in ancient armour, seated on a prancing horse, carrying on his arm a shield, emblazoned with two red lions, and holding aloft a spear. Below him, on the river were to be seen three small boats, each with one sail, and also arranged so that it could be rowed by hand.

      This represents Rollo,” went on M. Daboll, as the children clustered around him, “the leader of a great race of people whose home was in the cold, far-away North. Tall people they were, with golden hair, and great sailors, who sailed in tiny ships, like those you see in the picture, over the bleak, stormy sea which lies between their land and France, until they came to the river Seine, where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean.

      “They rowed up the river and camped where the fine city of Rouen now stands, and from these fair-haired Northmen are descended the present-day Normans. It has been many centuries since all this happened, so the good people of Rouen thought this a suitable time to celebrate the founding of their city, and of the great Norman race, at one time the most powerful in France.”

      “And at Rouen we shall also see the spot where poor Jeanne d’Arc was burned,” said Marie. “We have just been reading her history at the school.”

      “Tell us her story again,” said Jean.

      “She will on the barge. You will have plenty of time then,” said M. Lafond; “but we must be getting home now. It is quite a walk, and our little Marie must be tired after her long day.”

      It was about six o’clock in the morning of the next day when the gay little party found themselves on the barge bound for Rouen.

      “Now here comes our tow that we must tie up to,” said the bargeman, as a tug with five barges in tow came puffing down the river; and taking a long pole with a hook in the end of it, he began pushing the barge away from the shore until it moved toward the middle of the river. Then the tugboat slowed until the long line of barges was just creeping along; one could hardly see that they moved at all. Just as the last one passed that which carried our party, the man in the stern of it threw them a rope which was quickly caught and fastened to the forward end, and as it grew taut, the barge began to move and soon took its place at the tail-end of the long procession.

      The children at once began to make them selves at home in their new surroundings “Did you ever see anything nicer?” said Germaine, as she dragged Marie into the little house under the big tiller, where the bargeman and his wife lived.

      “Does it not look like a doll’s house?” said Marie, as they went down the ladder into the tiny living room. Everything was as neat as could be, and painted white, with lace curtains at each of the small windows.

      It was wonderful how much could be stowed away inside, and yet leave plenty of room. A sewing-machine stood in one corner; a bird-cage was hanging in the window, and a little stove, a table to dine on, and a couple of chairs completed the arrangements, save the pictures on the walls, the china in a neat little cupboard, and the beds which were built like shelves, one above the other, to allow all the floor space possible. On deck, one side of the house was given up to a shelf full of gay flowers in pots, and vines were trained up against the side of the house. There was also on deck a chest to hold the meat and vegetables, so as to keep them cool and fresh, and a small cask was made into a house for the dog. Every barge has its dog and cat, which usually get on together very well, considering their crowded quarters. Everything about the house end of the barge was painted white with green trimmings, and all was very clean and neat.

      Jean then came up to tell them that he had found out that every barge in the tow belonged to a different owner. This he had learned from the gaudy colours with which they were decorated. “You will see,” said he, “that ours has a big white triangle with a smaller red triangle inside of that painted on the bow. The one next to us has a broad red band with two white circles, and there is another yellow with two big blue stars on either side. These are the distinguishing marks of the different companies to which they belong.”

      They were now leaving behind them the great high cliffs of white chalk that shine like snow, through which the river runs almost all the way from Mantes to Rouen. Just here it wound through rich green meadows. Along the water’s edge were clumps of willow-trees, whose long, pliable twigs are used by the country people to weave baskets. They trim off the branches, but leave the tree standing for more branches to grow, and so they never use up their basket material. The French take very good care of their trees, and when they cut one down, always plant another in its place.

      Often the barge passed other long tows, whose barge-people would shout greetings across to them. For most bargees are acquainted, at least by sight, and the dogs would bark “How do you do’s” as well. Great coal barges from Belgium passed, having come laden many hundreds of miles across France; and others with hogsheads of wine from the south, which have been brought by sea to Rouen.

      A merry dinner was served on a table on deck under an awning. The wife of the barge-man had cooked a good meal on the little stove which stood on one of the hatches right out in the open. They had a favourite country soup first, beef and cabbage soup with a crust of bread in it. (French soups are usually called potage, though the real country soup is often known by the name we call it ourselves — soupe.) Then there was a crisp green salad, big jugs of Normandy cider, which is a beautiful golden colour, blan quette de veau, which is veal with a nice white egg sauce over it. Lapin garnne followed, which is nothing more than stewed rabbit, and a dish of which all French people are very fond, and have nearly every day when it is in season. Fresh Normandy cream cheese and cherries and little cakes finished the meal, with the usual coffee and calvados for the older people.

      “We will soon see Pont de l’Arche,” said the bargeman, and they had barely finished dinner when the picturesque church of the town was seen rising above the trees.

      It has no spire nor towers; it looks like half of a church,” said Jean.

      “Which is true, but it is quite a famous church, nevertheless,” said his father. “It is probably the only church in the world which is dedicated to ‘Art and to the Artists.’”

      “Our Lady of the Arts” it is called. Artists are beginning to visit it more from year to year, and it is a veritable place of pilgrimage now.

     The barge soon passed under the old bridge at Pont de l’Arche, and left behind the church, standing high above the town, a landmark for miles along the river.

      Marie had promised to tell the children the story of Jeanne d’Arc, as they wanted to have it fresh in their minds when they visited Rouen, for every part of this old city is full of memories of this wonderful little peasant girl who saved her country, and, by so doing, made possible the existence of the great French nation of to-day.

      Sitting under the awning, as the barge glided along, Marie told the story of the little peasant girl, only sixteen years old, who lived in the far-away village of Domrémy. Believing that Heaven had chosen her to save her country from the hands of the English, she made her way to the court of Charles VII., then King of France. It was at Chinon in the valley of the Loire—that other great river of France — that she finally reached her king, and in one of the great castles, whose ruins still crown the heights above the city, eloquently pleaded her cause. Visitors there today can see the room with its great fireplace in which this famous meeting took place.

      Her plea convinced the king, and she was made commander-in-chief of the army, which she led on to Orleans, raised the siege of that city, and drove the English off. There is today no city in France as proud of the “Maid” as is Orleans; indeed she is known as the “Maid of Orleans.” The house she is supposed to have stayed in is now preserved as a museum, and every May, on the anniversary of the day on which the siege was raised, a great celebration takes place in front of the cathedral, and a procession of priests and people carrying banners marches around the town chanting hymns in her praise. Jeanne d’Arc did break the power of the English in France, true to her promise, and finally brought King Charles to the magnificent cathedral at Reims, where the French kings were always crowned, and herself, amid great rejoicing, placed the crown upon his head. But the king forgot what the “Maid” had done for him and for his country, apparently, and finally she was betrayed into the hands of her enemies, who took her to Rouen, and, after a mock trial, poor Jeanne was sentenced to death, and burnt in the market-place at Rouen.

      In later years the French nation recognized the great good she had done, and the memory of the little peasant girl of Domrémy is loved and venerated throughout the land. There is scarcely a city in France that has not honoured her in some way, either by erecting a statue to her, or naming a place or street in her honour.

      The children were so much interested in the wonderful story of Jeanne d’Arc that they had not realized how time was flying. They were drawing near Rouen, for over the flat fields of the river valley on the left rose the tall chimneys of the cotton factories at Oissel and Elbeuf.

      There is much cotton cloth made in the vicinity of Rouen, and shipped all over France.

      On the quays there may be seen the bales of cotton that is grown on the plantations in the Southern States of America, and shipped from New Orleans direct to Rouen.

      Just here the bargeman pointed out to them the tiny church of St. Adrien. The “Rock Church,” as it is known, is cut out of the chalk cliff, hanging high above the river. It looks like a bird’s house perched up so high, with its four small windows and tiny bell-tower.

      Presently Uncle Daboll said, “Look way down the river, children, and tell me what you see.”

      “Oh,” cried Jean, “I see three church spires.”

      “More than that,” said Germaine. “I can count seven.”

      “Both of you are right,” said Uncle Daboll. “The three spires are those of three of the most beautiful churches in France. That tall, needle-like one belongs to the Cathedral of Notre Dame.”

      “There is one which looks as if it has a crown on the top,” said Germaine.

      “It does look like a crown made of stone, and so it has been called the ‘Crown of Normandy.’ It is on the central tower of the church of St. Ouen.”

      The city began to unfold before them, with its long rows of quays lined with shops, hotels, and cafés on the one side, and ships from all parts of the world on the other.

      Their barge soon deftly glided into what seemed a perfect tangle of barges of all kinds, and came to anchor next to a big Belgian coalcarrier, whose occupants, like themselves, were evidently bent on getting as much enjoyment out of their visit to Rouen as possible.

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