He is no great churchgoer; yet, when he meets his parish priest, he touches his cap, but almost as he would touch it to an equal.
He is beginning to know how to hold a pen, but he rarely uses one except for the purpose of adding up his little accounts. As to letter-writing, he sees no fun in a frivolous pastime that would cost him three sous.
He has been placed by Nature on a fertile soil that yields him all he needs, and if you were to talk to him of emigration, he would stare and ask you what crime he had committed to deserve transportation. There is no more home-abiding creature upon the face of the earth.
You may tell him you are going round the world. He will let you go. He is not jealous.
On the wall of the village schoolroom he has seen a map of the world, but although he is willing to believe that it fairly represents the earth we live on, he would fain have seen the name of his dear village on it. He doubts not that the earth is round, since his curé and his schoolmaster say so; but the only proof he has of it is the sight of the line of horizon that greets his eyes, when he climbs the hill-top.
I know two or three of these honest French workers, who were induced to go to Paris in 1878, to see the Universal Exhibition. Such was their suspicion of the gay capital that, before setting out, they sewed their golden louis in the lining of their coats, and had their wills made by the notary.
The French peasant is peaceful, sober, and laborious. He possesses in a remarkable degree that invaluable quality than which there is no higher intelligence for the solution of the great problem of existence, which consists in patiently accepting one's fate, however hard it may be, and making the best of it. His ideal of life is the independence which is the fruit of labor, and he is satisfied with very little in the days of his strength, because the prospect of eating his own bread when his strength is gone makes him happy. He is thrifty and self-denying, but he is not deficient in any of the generous sentiments. He befriends his poorer relatives, he can be hospitable and charitable, and a patriot, too, when occasion calls, as history has proved. But he is no fire-eater, no yearner after social regeneration by baptism of blood, no dreamer of new worlds to conquer, nor the revival of dying feuds in ghastly wars. The surging passions of the capital, bred and fed by vice and improvidence, are horrible to him. He wishes the world to be at peace, so that he may be left alone, and be allowed to raise his flocks and grow his corn and wine in peace.
It is when he is making a purchase, at the fair or at the market, that Jacques is to be seen in his element.
Look at him as he takes a preliminary turn or two around the little rickety stall. He hesitates a long while before making up his mind; he knows that if he seems to have a fancy for any particular article, he will probably be asked a good price for it. So it is only cautiously, and with a look of indifference on his face, that he at length draws near. Next, taking up the coveted object with the limpest of fingers, he gives off sundry little grunts of disapprobation. He turns it over and over, looks at it well on all sides, shakes his head, and invariably finishes by dropping it back in its place again.
Then he turns, and makes as though he would go away, but after having taken a few steps, he brings up, comes back, and indicating the object of his maneuvers with a contemptuous finger, says to the vender:
"What do you want for that?"
And you should see the face he makes as he says "that."
He has scarcely heard the reply before he exclaims: "You mean that for a joke, I suppose."
Watch him a little later, as he goes off, carrying his purchase in triumph, and you will plainly see that he has made a bargain.
If Solomon had known Jacques Bonhomme, we might be inclined to think that it was he whom the Hebrew king had in his mind's eye, as he wrote: "It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer; but when he has gone his way, then he boasteth."
Jacques' manner is no less remarkable when he has to part with the value in cash.
He seldom carries his money in his trousers' or waistcoat pocket. He confides it to the depths of a long purse, from which it is only to be extracted with difficulty, and this purse is hidden inside his blouse, and carefully attached to it by a strong leather string.
When the operation of paying has to be performed, Jacques gently lifts his blouse, and, making a rather wry face, draws forth his purse from its hiding-place. In the act of untying the leather string, he is as unhappy-looking a creature as you may well behold. He rarely faces the enemy on these occasions. He turns his back to you, and pretends to have great difficulty in getting his money out of his recalcitrant purse. Perhaps he hopes you will get tired of waiting, and say to him: "Never mind, Jacques, you can pay me another day."
When at last he has the money in his hand, he turns toward you, holds it out, draws it back, but eventually makes up his mind to the loss of this little portion of his patrimony.
Then he begins to wonder whether you have not taken him in; but, as it is too late to draw back, he resolves that he will be a match for you next time.
JACQUELINE, THE FORTUNE OF FRANCE
Jacques Bonhomme's wife is the fortune of France. Hard-working, thrifty, sober, you will always see her busy, either working in the field, selling her wares in the market-place of the nearest town, or engaged about her little household. She is the personification of industry, and when the winter of life comes on, you will find her by the chimney corner, or near the cottage door, keeping watch over the little ones, while she knits or spins; it is with her needles or her distaff in her hand that she peacefully passes away from earth. Not an hour in the life of the good Jacqueline has been spent in indolence.
It is she who hides the five-franc pieces in the corner of her linen cupboard, only to be taken out when there is an opportunity of rounding off the little family domain. Shares, bonds, and all such lottery tickets, she leaves for the small bourgeois of the town, who love to wait their turn at the door of the Treasury Office on the day of a national loan. No papers for her; what she likes is a field or a cow, something she is quite sure to find in its place in the morning, when she wakes up.
It is on market-day that you should see her! She makes light of a ten or twelve-mile walk to the chief town of her district, carrying a basket loaded with fruit or vegetables on each arm. In the evening, you may meet her with baskets empty, but pockets full, trudging back to her peaceful cottage – the center of all her affections. Follow her along the road a little, and you will see that, as she goes, she manages to busy her fingers on a pair of stockings for the little ones.
Her daughter does not wear fringes on her forehead, feathers on her hat, fifty-cent diamonds in her ears, or flounces on a second-hand skirt; but, though she is dressed in a plain coarse serge gown, and a simple snowy cap, her round rosy cheeks tell you that she is healthy, and a pair of eyes, that stare at you like the daisies in her father's field, tell you that she is pure.
When she goes into service – which is often the case – every month, as she receives her wages, she quietly pays a little visit to the savings bank of the town.
When the English servant receives her monthly wages, she straightway goes to buy a new hat and get photographed in it.
I will refrain from speaking of the duchesses who condescend to act as "helps" to the American public.
And the patriotism of her! Ah, let me here pay my humble tribute of admiration and gratitude that she has so great a claim to! Who among us French has not kept, engraven on his memory, the souvenir of the devoted peasant women of Normandy, Picardy, of Alsace and Lorraine, and all they did for us in that terrible year that would have seen the death of France, if France could die? Who among us has not admired and blessed them? With a sad smile on her face, how kindly the poor Jacqueline welcomed the weary soldier, worn out with fatigue and hunger! And, while the rich bourgeois too often received us with a frown, as he muttered, "More soldiers!" her greeting was always kindly. "Come in, my poor lads," she would cry; "you are tired and hungry. We have not much to offer here, but you shall have a bed to-night, if it is but a bed of straw, a good soup, and a rasher of bacon, or whatever