The plain became wearisome. There are two things the American-born, however long a resident abroad, never forgives the lack of in Europe. The first I miss when I am in Paris: it is the perpetual street-mending of an American town. Here the boulevards, smeared with asphaltum or bedded with crunched macadam, attain smoothness without life: you travel on scum. But in the dear old American streets the epidermis is vital: what strength and mutual reliance in the cobbles as they stand together in serried ranks, like so many eye-teeth! How they are perpetually sinking into prodigious ruts, along which the ponderous drays are forced to dance on one wheel in a paroxysm of agony and critical equipoise! But the perpetual state of street-mending, that is the crowning interest. What would I not sometimes give to exchange the Swiss sweeping-girls, plying their long brooms desolately in the mud, for the paviors' hammers of America, which play upon the pebbles like a carillon of muffled bells? As for the other lack, it is the want of wooden bridges. Far away in my native meadows gleams the silver Charles: the tramp of horses' hoofs comes to my ear from the timbers of the bridge. Here, with a pelt and a scramble your bridge is crossed: nothing addresses the heart from its stony causeway. But the low, arched tubes of wood that span the streams of my native land are so many bass-viols, sending out mellow thunders with every passing wagon to blend with the rustling stream and the sighing woods. Shall I never hear them again?
A reminiscence more than ten years old came to give precision to my ramblings in the past. Beyond the rustic pathway I was now following I could perceive the hills of Trou-Vassou. Hereabouts, if memory served me, I might find a welcome, almost a home, and the clasp of cordial if humble hands. Here I might find folks who would laugh when I arrived, and would be glad to share their luncheon with me But—ten years gone by!
This computation chilled my hopes. What family remains ten years in a spot—above all, a spot on that fluctuating periphery of Paris, where the mighty capital, year after year, bursts belt after belt? Where might they have gone? Francine!—Francine must be twenty-two. Married, of course. Her husband, no doubt, has dragged her off to some other department. Her parents have followed. March, volunteer, and disentangle yourself from these profitless speculations!
Ten minutes farther on, in the shade of the fort at Noisy-le-Sec, I saw a red gable and the sign of a tavern. As a tourist I have a passion for a cabaret: in practice, I find Véfours to unite perhaps a greater number of advantages.
Some soldiers of the Fortieth were drinking and laughing in a corner. I took a table not far off, and drew my cold victuals out of my box of japanned tin, which they doubtless took for a new form of canteen. The red-fisted garçon, without waiting for orders, set up before me, like ten-pins, a castor in wood with two enormous bottles, and a litre of that rinsing of the vats which, under the name "wine of the country," is so distressingly similar in every neighborhood. Resigned to anything, I was about drawing out my slice of ham, the chicken seeming to me just there somewhat too proud a bird and out of harmony with the local color, when my glance met two gray eyes regarding my own in the highest state of expansion. The lashes, the brows, the hair and the necklace of short beard were all very thick and quite gray. The face they garnished was that of the tavern-keeper.
"Why, it is you, after all, Father Joliet!" I said, after a rapid inspection of his figure.
"Ah, it is Monsieur Flemming, the Américain-flamand!" cried the host, striking one hand into the other at the imminent risk of breaking his pipe. In a trice he trundled off my bottle of rinsings, and replaced it by one of claret with an orange seal, set another glass, and posted himself in front of me.
I asked the waiter for two plates, and with a slight blush evoked the chicken from my box. The soldiers of the Fortieth opened a battery of staring and hungry eyes.
"And how came you here?" asked I of Joliet.
"It is I who am at the head of the hotel," he replied, proudly pointing out the dimensions of the place by spreading his hands. "My old establishment has sunk into the fosses of the fort: it was a transaction between the government and myself."
"And was the transaction a good one for you?"
"Not so bad, not so bad," said he, winking his honest gray eyes with a world of simple cunning. "It cannot be so very bad, since I owe nothing on the hotel, and the cellar is full, and I am selling wholesale and retail."
The vanity which a minute since had expanded his hands now got into his legs, and set them upright under his body. He stood upon them, his eyes proudly lowered upon the seal of the claret. A pang of envy actually crossed my mind. I, simple rentier, with my two little establishments pressing more closely upon my resources with every year's increase of house-rates, how could I look at this glorious small freeholder without comparisons?
"So, then, Father Joliet," said I, "you are rich?"
"At least I depend no longer on my horse, and that thanks to you and the government."
"To me! What do you mean?"
"Why, have you forgotten the two chickens?"
At the allusion to the chickens we caught each other's eye, and laughed like a pair of augurs. But the mysterious fowls shall be explained to the reader.
I need not explain that I have cast my lot with the Colonial Americans of Paris, and taken their color. It is a sweet and luxurious mode of life. The cooks send round our dinners quite hot, or we have faultless servants, recommended from one colonist to another: these capital creatures sometimes become so thoroughly translated into American that I have known them shift around from flat to flat in colonized households of the second and third stories without ever touching French soil for the best part of a lifetime. At our receptions, dancing-teas and so on we pass our time in not giving offence. Federals and Confederates, rich cotton-spinners from Rhode Island and farmers from thousand-acre granges in the West, are obliged to mingle and please each other. Naturally, we can have no more political opinions than a looking-glass. We entertain just such views as Galignani gives us every morning, harmonized with paste from a dozen newspapers. Our grand national effort, I may say, the common principle that binds us together as a Colony, is to forget that we are Americans. We accordingly give our whole intellects to the task of appearing like Europeans: our women succeed in this particularly well. Miss Yuba Sequoia Smith, whose father made a fortune in water-rights, is now afraid to walk a single block without the attendance of a chambermaid in a white cap, though she came up from California quite alone by the old Panama route. Everybody agrees that our ladies dress well. Shall I soon forget how proud Mrs. Aquila Jones was when a gentleman of the emperor's body-guard took her for Marguerite Bellanger in the Bois? Our men, not having the culture of costume to attend to, are perhaps a little in want of a stand-point. Still, we can play billiards in the Grand Hôtel and buy fans at the Palais Royal. We go out to Saint-Cloud on horseback, we meet at the minister's; and I contend that there was something conciliatory and national in a Southern colonel offering to take Bigelow to see Menken at the Gaîté, or when I saw some West Pointers and a nephew of Beauregard's lighting the pipe of peace at a handsome tobacconist's in the Rue Saint-Honoré. The consciousness that we have no longer a nationality, and that nobody respects us, adds a singular calm, an elevation, to our views. Composed as our cherished little society is of crumbs from every table under heaven, we have succeeded in forming a way of life where the crusty fortitude and integrity of patriotism is unnecessary. Our circle is like the green palace of the magpies in Musset's Merle Blanc, and like them we live "de plaisir, d'honneur, de bavardage, de gloire et de chiffons."
I confess that there was a period, between the fresh alacrity of a stranger's reception in the Colony and the settled habits I have now fallen into, when I was rather uneasy. A society of migrators, a system woven upon shooting particles, like a rainbow on the rain, was odd. Residents of some permanency, like myself, were constantly forming eternal friendships with people who wrote to them in a month or two from Egypt. In this way a quantity of my friendships were miserably lacerated, until I learned by practice just how much friendship to give. At this period I was much occupied with vain conciliations, concessions and the reconciling of inconsistencies. A brave American from the South, an ardent disciple of Calhoun, was a powerful advocate of State Rights, and advocated them so well that I was almost convinced; when it appeared one day that the right of States to individual action was to cease in cases where a living chattel was to escape from the South to the North.
In this case the State, in violation of its own laws unrecognizant of that kind of ownership, was to account for the property and give it back, in obedience to general Congressional order and to the most advanced principles of Centralization. Before I had digested this pill another was administered to me in that small English section of our circle which gave us much pride and an occasional son-in-law. This was by no less a person than my dear old friend Berkley, now grown a ruddy sexagenarian, but still given to eating breakfast in his bath-tub. The wealthy Englishman, who had got rich by exporting china ware, was sound on the subject of free commerce between nations. That any industry, no matter how young might be the nation practicing it, or how peculiar the difficulties of its prosecution, should ever be the subject of home protection, he stamped as a fallacy too absurd to be argued. The journals venturing such an opinion were childish drivelers, putting forth views long since exploded before the whole world. He was still loud in this opinion when his little book of epigrams, The Raven of Zurich and Other Rhymes, came out, and being bright and saucy was reprinted in America. The knowledge that he could not tax on a foreign soil his own ideas, the plastic pottery of his brain, was quite too much for his mental balance, and he took to inveighing against free trade in literary manufactures without the slightest perception of inconsistency, and with all the warmth, if not the eloquence, of Mr. Dickens on the same theme. The gradual accumulation of subjects like these—subjects taboo in gentle society—soon made it apparent that in a Colony of such diverse colors, where every man had a sore spot or a grievance, and even the Cinderellas had corns in their little slippers, harmony could only be obtained by keeping to general considerations of honor, nobility, glory, and the politics of Beloochistan; on which points we all could agree, and where Mr. Berkley's witty eloquence was a wonder.
It is to my uneasy period, when I was sick with private griefs and giddy with striving to reconcile incompatibilities, that the episode of the Chickens belongs. I was looking dissatisfied out of one of my windows. Hohenfels, disappointed of a promenade by an afternoon shower, was looking dissatisfied out of the other. Two or three people, waiting for four o'clock lunch, were lounging about. I had just remarked, I believe, that I was a melancholy man, for ever drinking "the sweet wormwood of my sorrows." A dark phantom, like that