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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Le Tour de la France (1)—The Departure of André and Julien

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 Departure of André and Julien
Nothing better sustains our courage than 
the thought of a duty to fulfill

In a thick September fog, two youths—two brothers—started out of the city of Phalsbourg en Lorraine. They aimed to clear the great fortified entrance called Porte de France.
FORTIFIED GATE—The gates of fortified cities are served by raised bridges that extend along the moats that surround their walls; when one raises the bridge and closes the gates, no enemy can enter the city.  —Phalsbourg was fortified by Vauban and dismantled by the Germans. Traversing the route from Paris to Strassbourg, there are only two gates: the Gate of France to the west and the Gate of Germany, to the southwest, which are both models of military architecture.
Each of them carried a small travel packet, carefully tied and secured on their shoulders by a pole. Both boys walked rapidly, noiselessly, yet they had an anxious manner. Despite the darkness, they sought still further obscurity, and walked along the ditches.

The oldest of the two brothers, André, was fourteen years old. He was a robust young man, so big and strong for his age that he appeared to be at least two years older. He held by the hand his brother Julien, an amiable child, seven years old, fragile and delicate, like a little girl—but in spite of that courageous and intelligent far beyond his years. Wearing their mourning clothes—an air of sadness enveloping their countenances—one could readily see that they were orphans.

When they had gone a little distance from the city, the older brother spoke to the younger and, in a low and guarded voice—as though he feared that the trees themselves along the road were listening—said:

          —Do not be afraid, my little Julien, he said; no one saw us leave.
          —Oh, I am not afraid, André, said Julien; we are doing our duty.
          —I find you courageous, my Julien, but, before we have arrived, we will walk many nights; when you are too tired, I must say: I will carry you.
          —No!, no, replied the child; I have good legs and am too big to be carried.

The two continued to walk resolutely beneath a cold rain that had begun to fall. Twilight passed into nightfall, and it became darker and darker. Not a star showed itself in the sky to smile upon them; the wind cracked the great trees with a dark hissing and sent gusts of rain into the boys' faces. No matter. They proceeded without hesitation, hand in hand.

At a fork in the road, they heard footsteps. Suddenly, soundlessly, the boys slid into the ditch and hid themselves under some bushes. Making no movement, they let the travelers pass by. Slowly, the sounds vanished into the distance along the great road. André and Julien got up and returned again to their journey with a strengthened ardor.

After several hours of fatigue and anxiety, they came at last, having traversed the forest, to a distant light—faint and shaky—like a star in a stormy sky. Taking the road ahead of them, they walked toward the lighted cottage.

Arriving at the door, they were silent, not daring to knock. They still retained a natural timidity and well-meaning hesitation. It was easy to see that they were not in the habit of going to doors and asking for things. Trembling, with heavy hearts, they hesitated.

André regained his courage.

          —Julien, he said, this is the home of Etienne the shoemaker, an old friend of our father's; we should not be afraid to ask him for help.

And the two children knocked timidly at the door.

Chapter Two
Supper at the Home of Etienne the Shoemaker—
And His Hospitality
The young travelers are given shelter and sustenance as their journey is about to begin in earnest.

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