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Monday, May 30, 2011

Le Tour de la France (4)—The Attentions of Mère Etienne

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. 
The Attentions of Mère Etienne—
André's Papers, A Secret Gift, 
and Charity for the Poor

What is the most beautiful thing in the world? It is charity for the poor.

Early the next morning, Madame Etienne [1] was up and about.

Truly the mother of the family, she examined the two packets of linen and clothing that the young travelers had carried on their shoulders. She repaired the tears in their shirts and trousers wherever it was needed. At the same time, she lit the stove—that appliance that is indispensable in the cold regions of the north—which serves to warm the home and prepare foodstuffs. She spread out the children's wet clothes, so that they would dry by the heat of the stove. After they had dried, she brushed them and repaired them as best she could.
LE POÈLE—The stove (le poèle) is necessary in the cold regions, such as those in the east and the north. It gives more warmth than a fireplace, but that warmth is somewhat less healthy—rendering the air too dry. In order to remedy this, it is best to place a container filled with water on the stove.
As she carefully folded André's jacket, a small, well-wrapped piece of paper fell from the pocket. 

          —Oh, said the excellent woman, this must be the entire little fortune of the two children. If, as I fear, their store is too small, we will try to add something to it.

And she unfolded their small packet...

          —Ten, twenty thirty, forty francs, she said to herself; this is precious little for those who would travel so far!...And to think of the rainy and snowy days that will follow!...for winter will soon be here...

Mère Etienne's eyes filled with tears.

          —And to think that with so few resources they do not hesitate to leave! O, cherished France! Although things are not well now, you must be proud to see that these youths—who will forever be your sons—show the courage of full-grown men...  Poor orphans, she sighed, may you meet compassionate hearts on this long road, and during the cold evenings of winter find a small place to rest in their homes.

While she thought about this in the depths of her heart, she went to her armoire and dug into her very small reserve of money—too little, alas, since Père and Mère Etienne suffered cruelly during the war. Nonetheless, she took out two five-franc pieces for André's collection.

          —Etienne will be pleased, she said to herself: he hoped that I would do everything I could for the children of his old friend.

And she had slipped the money into the purse.

          —This is not all, she thought, looking at the document that was wrapped around the purse. Let us see if our orphans have the papers they need to attest that they are honest children and not mere vagabonds without house or home...  Ah! Here is the certification from André's patron:

I attest that young André Volden worked with me eighteen months, during which I had not to make a single reproach. He is an honest youth, hardworking and intelligent: I recommend him for all assignments that you might have. Here is my address; you may write me without fear.
                                                     Pierre Hetman
                                                     Master Ironsmith, 
                                                     Established for thirty years in Phalsbourg

          —Oh, goodness! said Madame Etienne when she had read the certificate. And what is this? Ah! It is their birth certificates...excellent. And now, a letter from Master Hetman to his cousin, ironsmith in Epinal, so that André can work for a month. André will carry his letter to the mayor of Epinal for his signature. Better and better. These cherished children will not be neglected. They understand that every worker must have valid certification.  From here on, I hope, all will be well.

When Julien and André arose, they found their packets in order and ready for the journey. And they appreciated these careful attentions, especially since these poor children—having lost their mother many years before—were not accustomed to this kind of maternal care.

Julien, after he had dressed, combed his hair, and washed his hands, ran to embrace Madame Etienne, and thanked her from the depths of his heart.

          —This is all well and good, she responded happily, but we must have breakfast. Come, children, take up bread and cheese...and eat!

[1] Here, the 1877 text has "Mme Etienne."

Preparations by Etienne the Shoemaker—
The Parting; Children of the Same Country
Père Etienne sets to work to aid the children in their journey.

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