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Our Little French Cousin
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     EARLY one morning three of the happiest children in France were stowed away in the back of Mr. Carter’s big automobile. They were still more delighted when Pierre, Mr. Carter’s fine, black French poodle, jumped up on the seat beside him, looking very jaunty with his fore-locks tied up with a blue ribbon, and as complacent as if he was driving the auto himself. 

     “I thought we would go by way of La Roche-Guyon to Mantes and have lunch there, and then come back by way of Vernon; that ought to show you children a bit of the country,” said Mr. Carter.

      The children were ready for anything, and off they went at a pace that nearly took away their breath.

      They were soon flying through rolling farmlands, where the various crops were planted in such regular fields that they looked like a great patchwork quilt, with squares of green, yellow, and brown spread out for miles. There were no divisions by fences or hedges, except sometimes at each corner of a farm a small white stone marked the boundary. Suddenly, they slowed down.

      “Here is something which always stops me,” said Mr. Carter. “It is like running into a big spider’s web.”

      A woman coming up the road was driving eight or nine cows, each attached to a long rope, which she held in her hand. It seemed like a maze to an outsider, but she drew in first one rope, and then twisted another, and pulled back another, until she finally got her charges to one side of the road.

      The cows are taken out to pasture, where there are no regular fields where they may run loose. So they must be guarded in this manner, and when they have eaten one spot up clean, they are taken on to another.

      Farther up the road two children were watching some goats on the side of the road, but in this case each goat’s rope was tied to an iron stake which was driven in the ground, so the children could amuse themselves until it was time to move the animals on to a fresh bit of pasturage.

      “Your horses wear gay clothes,” said Mr. Carter, as they passed a great lumbering wagon, swung between two big wheels, drawn tandem-wise, — that is, one horse in front of the other, — by five heavy-limbed Norman horses.

      Around their big clumsy wooden collars, which are usually painted in bright colours, was draped a dark blue sheepskin blanket. On their heads bobbed big tassels of blue and red or blue, red, and yellow, which so dangled in their eyes that one wonders how they could see at all.

      The leader was more finely dressed than the others. His neck-blanket had long stole-like ends, that hung almost to the ground, and an extra high collar with more tassels. All this may not be comfortable for the horses, but they looked so very picturesque, one hopes that they did not mind it.

      The automobile now whizzed by a team of slow-moving cream-coloured oxen, — beautiful beasts with yokes twisted around their horns instead of around their necks. They never so much as lifted their sleepy eyes to look at our party.

      “This is another frequent obstacle in the way of the automobilist,” said Mr. Carter, as they came in sight of a flock of sheep with their shepherd, which completely blocked up the road. “But I do not object to stopping in this case, for it is worth one’s while to watch the sheep-dogs do their work.”

      The children stood up in the auto and watched the amusing performance with much interest, and Pierre barked his appreciation. The dogs knew perfectly well which side of the road must be left open for the automobile, and they began to drive the sheep toward the other side, pushing them and barking at them; the slow ones they would catch by the wool, give them a little shake, as much as to say “you had better move quickly,” and then pull them out of the way, looking back every few minutes to see how near to them was the automobile.

      “They act with as much judgment as human beings,” said Mr. Carter, as he carefully steered through the flock. The shepherd, who had let the dogs do the work, was a fine-looking fellow, in a long grayish white cloak, striped with colour, which made him look like a shepherd of Bible times. In the field near by stood his house, a kind of big box on wheels, just large enough for him and his dogs to sleep in, which he could move about where he liked.

      They were now running down a long, steep hill into La Roche-Guyon.

      “Look!” cried Germaine, “there are chimneys and stove-pipes coming up out of the ground; is it not funny?”

      “Those are the cave-dwellings,” explained Mr. Carter. “These people have cut their houses in the side of the cliff; you can see the openings to them, often in tiers one above the other, and those chimneys you see come from the houses. There are many such dwellings all over the country, especially along the other great river of France, the Loire.”

      “Are people living in them?” asked Jean, “and how can they see in them? Are they not dark and gloomy?”

      “Well, as you can see, there is always a door and often one or two windows. The poorer people do sometimes live in them, though not so much as they used to many years ago when the French peasant was much worse off than he is now. The working people are now building and owning their own little homes, and these caves are being used more for storehouses and, in the grape districts, for cellars in which to store the wine-crop.”

      “I should not like to live in the ground like that,” declared Jean.

      They only stopped long enough in the town to look at the big château, which to-day belongs to the noble French family in whose possession it has been for hundreds of years. This splendid building was very odd, for the back had been built into the high chalk-cliff which towers above it.

      “I can see the towers of a big church in the distance,” said Germaine, presently.

      “That is the church of Mantes, and we shall soon be in the town,” replied Mr. Carter. “It is said that this church was built by William the Conqueror to replace one that was destroyed while he was besieging the town, and it was at this same siege that he was mortally wounded.” 

     After lunch and a walk around the town, they started for home over a fine broad road shaded with trees.

      “This is a ‘National Road, said Jean. “Papa told me about these great highways laid out all over France by the great Napoleon, so that soldiers could be moved easily from one part of the country to another.”

      “Oh, look! What is that big gray thing in the sky just above that clump of trees? It looks like a fish,” suddenly cried Marie, as they were passing a small village lying just off the highroad.

      “Why, bless me if it is not an air-ship!” ejaculated Mr. Carter. “I remember now that the big sugar manufacturer lives near here, who is so much interested in flying-machines, and every now and again he sends one up to find out how his experiments are getting on. Well, children, that is a sight for you that I did not anticipate. Who knows, however, but what you will live yet to see a flying-machine express going between Rouen and Paris, stopping at Les Andelys to take up passengers.”

      This was sufficient to give the party something to talk about until they reached Vernon, where they stopped at a pretty riverside café to have a sirop de groseille, and, as Mr. Carter jokingly said, to rest the horses.

      It was still early when they again came in sight of Chateau Gaillard, and so ended a blissful day for our young people, who had something to talk about for many a long winter evening.


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