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Friday, May 27, 2011

Le Tour de la France (2)—Supper with Etienne the Shoemaker

Translated by Robert André LaFleur
Le Tour de la France par deux enfants (A Journey Around France Undertaken by Two Children) is a little 119-chapter book about French geography and culture. Written in 1877 by Augustine Fouillée (under the pseudonym G. Bruno), it was geared toward primary school students in their fourth and fifth years (cours moyen).  It has been read by generations of French students, and has played a small but important role in the development of a French national imagination. It was the little book that launched the Tour de France.

1            2            3            4            5            6            7            8            9            10            11
Click here for the introduction to Round and Square's series on this 1877 classic. 
Supper with Etienne the Shoemaker
The name of an honest elder is a 
fortune, indeed, for the children.

          —Who is there? A deep voice came from within.

At that instant, a formidable bark could be heard from inside a kennel not far from the door.

André enunciated his name—André Volden, he said in a tone so little assured that the sound of the barking drowned his words.
THE MOUNTAIN DOG—This dog is ordinarily of impressive height. It has a large head and a jaw armed with enormous fangs. The fur of its coat is long and silky. On the mountain, it guards the troops and, when need be, defends them against wolves and bears. The most beautiful mountain dogs are those of Mt. Saint-Bernard, in the Alps, those of the Pyrenees, and those of Auvergne.

At the same time, the mountain dog came out of his kennel, dragging his chain and seemingly ready to lunge at the children.

          —But who would be knocking at this hour? restated the harsh voice.

          —André Volden, repeated the young man, and Julien joined his voice to his brother's in order to be heard more clearly.

Then the door opened fully, and the light of the lamp fell on the little travelers standing in the doorway, their mourning clothes soaked and their young faces dumbfounded and fatigued.

The man who opened the door, old Etienne, contemplated them with a stupefied air.

          —Hélas![1] How did you come here, my poor children?, he said as he softened his voice. Where are you going? Where is your father?

And even before the orphans had time to respond, he had lifted up little Julien and held him paternally in his arms.

The young lad, with the lively sentiment natural to his age, embraced old Etienne with all of his heart, letting out a great sigh.

          —Our father is dead, he said

          —How!, cried Etienne with emotion; our good Michel is dead?

          —Yes, replied the youth. Since the war, his leg—which was wounded during the siege of Phalsbourg—had not fully healed. He fell from the scaffolding while working at his craft of carpentry, and was killed.

          —Hélas!, poor Michel! said Etienne, whose eyes filled with tears; and you, children, what will become of you?

André was about to resume the narrative of misfortune behind their arrival, but kind Etienne stopped him.

          —No, no, he said. I don't want to hear more now, my children; you must be famished and parched—you need to eat.

Etienne straight away put his words into action. He placed the boys in front of the stove and rekindled the fire. A wafting scent of fried onions filled the room, and soon the soup was steaming in the tureen.

Eat, my children, urged Etienne while cracking the eggs for a hearty omelet fried in lard.

While the boys savored an excellent soup, which had been reheated from dinner, the old shoemaker Etienne made the omelet. In the meantime, his wife, raising a mattress from their bed, prepared a nice place to sleep for the little travelers.

The stove purred cheerfully. André, while eating, answered questions from his father's old friend and apprised him of their current situation.

As for little Julien, he had walked so much that his little legs demanded rest; he was more sleepy than hungry. He tried bravely at first not to close his eyes. The struggle could not continue for long, though, and he fell asleep right after the meal.

He slept so soundly that Mère [1] Etienne undressed him and put him into bed without waking him.
[1] Alas! is a near equivalent. Hélas! is similar enough to be unproblematical for most readers, and preserves (in this preliminary version of the translation) a little bit of the "feel" of the original text.

[2] Mère is a versatile word that I have chosen in most cases not to translate directly. Pronounced "mare" (this is more or less accurate if you don't speak French), it means something like "mother" or "mama." It is used here as a term of maternal affection in a relationship anthropologists call "fictive kinship." I have hesitated to call her "Mama Etienne" or "Mrs. Etienne," for obvious cultural reasons.  There will be very few of these French phrases in the translation, but I urge you to get used to mère (mama) and père (papa), at least in this preliminary translation. Check the pronunciation guide for accurate pronunciations. In places where the text specifically states "Madame," I will, of course, maintain the author's usage.

The Last Words of Michel Volden—
Brotherly Love and Love of Country
André tells Père Etienne about the events that forced them to leave Phalsbourg.

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