22 FEBRUARY 1873, Page 20


THE Author of Patty has conceived an amusing little mystery, which reminds us of Sambo's astonishment at his master's acute- ness in guessing that a girl had been born to him when he bad himself told him that the new comer was not a boy. She says that the old Norman city (which she calls St. Roque) will be easily recognised by those who have visited it ; but as she tells us that it is in Normandy, and continually mentions the Orne as the river which runs past it—speaking, too, of Dives and other places near it—it is a somewhat transparent mystery to any one pos- sessing an atlas, whether such a one does or does not recognise the old city by the faithfulness of her descriptions of it. We wonder what the motive could be for giving the river its right and the city its wrong name, but we do not hesitate to inform our readers that the scene of these tales is laid in or about Caen. That a reader who knew the beautiful old city would recognise it in these pleasant volumes, however, the present writer, who has not seen it, can easily believe. We rise from the perusal 'of them, indeed, with a dreamy feeling of not altogether unregret- ful surprise to find ourselves in England instead of in the streets of the beautiful city and between the old Norman houses over- shadowed by the " exquisite Fleche of St. Pierre," and the " twin spires of severe, frowning St. Etienne." We have dwelt, apparently, so long there, or in its neighbourhood, that we seem to know the poplar-skirted Orne winding through the misty meadows, and the sand-hills of the low shore running eastward to the Seine, and dotted with its fishing villages and the huts of its timple peasantry ; and to have ourselves visited the ruins of the Abbaye d'Ardaine in the dusky autumn twilight, and waited at its great arched gateway for admittance, looking anxiously for the moon to rise, and to have climbed to the Calvary of St. Sebastian in the early morning, and plodded tired and thirsty along the dusty road to La Maladrerie in the hot summer afternoon. The Hotel Ste. Barbe, with its cool court, and its chef in his spotless white costume pumping fresh water into his glittering pans, and the piles of fresh vegetable and dripping scarole leaves waiting to be turned into salad, and 'the gorgeous flowers in its galleries and balconies, seems to have been our own resting-place ; and we feel familiar with the hair- dresser's, and the bookseller's, and the pastrycook's, and the .glover's, and even with the dark, dilapidated, deserted old Norman ohnrch, desecrated as a warehouse for hay and straw and carts and trucks, where the crossing-sweepers of Caen pile their fifty besoms. Nor are the tradespeople, the peasants, the soldiers, the fishermen, -or the maitre d'hôte, his family, servants, and guests, less vividly described or less individual than the places they frequent. The impulsive Frenchman, ready with his tears, his despair, his joy, or his gratitude, is here in every phase of character, and so too is his * Pictures across the Channel. By the Author of "Patty." London: Richard Bentley and Son. helpmate, shrivelled or beautiful, devoted or selfish, passionate or resigned. Indeed the- tales are only too crowded with persons; each in a group of his own and a character of his own, it is true but in a scene and surrounded by circumstances so alike that there is but a very confused idea left of the thread of each little history. Love is, of course, the mover of events, but our authoress does not seem to have too high an opinion of human nature—French human nature, at any rate—and deals largely in faithless lasses, stern, cold-hearted, ambitious mothers, loveless spouses, and passionate, intriguing widows. And, on the whole, she thinks less highly of women than men, selecting them more often for her instances of worldliness, heartlessness, and faithlessness. Two of the tales are put into the mouth of a male cousin, however, and here we should judge that her opinion of that sex was not high, as she takes the opportunity to make good-humoured jokes at the expense of those lords of the creation who hold that women should be kept under, and that all evidence of soft-heartedneas should be carefully concealed from them. The male cousin indulges too much in soliloquy on this head, and in pulling himself up, on the score of

dignity befitting his age and sex, and humour is not the domain in which our authoress is most successful. His story of "Poor dear Chuquet " is rather over done in its progress and pointless in its denouement. Nevertheless the picture of the gaunt old widow, and the pretty young wife, and the meadow walk, and the old ruins in the evening mist, are good enough to make us forgive the garrulous impertinence of Madame Chuquet :—

" The light lingers, as if unwilling to depart ; but I know that when darkness comes it will bo profound—the moon is only a day old. The gates are huge, of massive oak, with heavy iron clamps and knobs ; there is an arched heading at top of carved stonework, and on each side, a little way in front, stand great stone posts, blistered with lichen spots. The posts must have seen centuries of hard usage, they are chipped and worn, and fragments have been broken from their egg- shaped tops. We have had no rain for a fortnight, and yet there is water still in the hollows left in the posts I can find my way without help, and there is light enough still to see the perfect and exquisite tracery of the rose window over the great doorway. The Abbaye stands out alone in the midst of the great farm-yard, seemingly in a very perfect state outside, but trusses of straw and hay show through the unglazed windows; it is evidently used as a granary. My guide has gone back to her mistress. They make a picture in the half- light—the brown-skinned, black-Dyed beauty sitting on the straw with folded arms and glittering earrings—and my poor starved scarecrow in her rags, gesticulating with skinny fingers as she stands before her."

Our authoress's views of human nature are, as we have said, some- what cynical, and find amusing expression in Captain Gragnac's opinions. Nevertheless, she is fully alive to its beauty, though she may deem it fitful, and has given us many sketches here of its more lovely characteristics. In the wife and son of the fisherman of Auge, in the chef and bonne of M. Clopin's establishment, in M. Hochard, the bookseller, in Marie and Louis Carmier, and in Madame Gerder and others, we have pictures of unselfish love and religious resignation ; and above all, she has described with a most beautiful tenderness and insight the loneliness of a warm-hearted, imaginative child, always misunderstood, checked, and punished by a conscientious, but cold and shallow-natured mother. "Notre Jean " has just been desired to stop singing by her :— " 'Hold thy tongue, Jean ! wilt thou never be quiet ?' I scarcely knew why, but I felt that a sudden and unaccountable fit of indignation against Madame Clopin had taken hold of me ; and as indignation must be fed by pity, I felt an equal amount of sympathy for the little pale Jean. He was not a pretty child when you saw him nearer, he was so very pale, and he had such dark circles under his eyes ; then he had a wide quivering kind of mouth, and straight, soft-looking hair—no, certainly, Jean Clopin was not a pretty child. I darn say it was contra- diction—I am very contradictory—it is one of the privileges of single women; you see our married sisters have always their husbands to con- tradict and snub in private, and this gives them a large power of public gentleness and sweetness ; but whatever the cause may have been, I felt my heart go out to poor little large-eyed Jean as I had never felt it stirred for any simply pretty boy. I stood looking at him over the balustrade. His mother sailed on into her den in the entrance-passage opposite the salle, but Jean seated himself on the edge of a long stone trough just below the great pump. The action reminded me of Cinder- ella. There was a desolate, longing look on the little pale face. I don't think Jean felt inclined to sing ',La Boulanger° ' after his mother left him. My Cinderella was looking more cheerfuL He had quitted the trough, and stood watching the chef de cuisine as he pumped into a great brass pan placed just where Joan had been sitting. The chef's face grew redder and redder as he pumped, and made a yet more vivid contrast against his fresh white costume. ' Well, Jean,' he said, ' what art thou doing here ? Why art thou not out hunting butterflies?' The depressed look came back to Jean's face. '1 have got no net, La Motto.' —' Ah, what a pity ! Hast thou lost that net which Louison gave thee at the last Saint Jean ?'—' No, I have not lost it.' I was not near enough to be certain, but it seemed to me the poor little boy sighed. Tiens ! Thou hast not lost it, Notre Jean ? Where is it, then, my boy ?'—' Mamma has taken it until I am more wise, La Motte, and until I shall not cry out so loud for joy when I see three, four, five beautiful butterflies settled on the clover-blossoms. Oh, it is beautiful—it is beautiful!' His face beamed with joy, and he shouted, almost as loud as he had

shouted La Boulangere." Chut I' The chef raised his hand warningly,

and gave a glance over his shoulder towards the entrance-way He smiled and nodded affectionately to the boy, spite of his admonition ; and I felt somehow justified in the fancy I had taken to poor little Jean Clopin. I do not know that I need justification: troublesome, uncom- prehended children seem to have a special claim on one's sympathy. Like the houseless, starving dogs, they cannot tell their needs. Poor little souls, they don't know what it is they want ; they don't know what it is that makes them abrupt, and obtrusive, and troublesome—the very opposite of 'pretty behaved.' They only know that sometimes, when their little hearts are most full of overflowing love and life, they get a harsh repulse, which plunges them into a slough of doubt and distrust, out of which they scramble at last aimless, only conscious that they • ,, don't know how to do better. But if they could toll us what they pwanted, they would, after all, be precocious little horrors. The best of them is, that the fount of love in their hearts is usually inexhaustible. Choke it, draw it off, seal it down—it still rises and finds its way to the light."

But our authoress is a true lover also of the quaint old towns, and the quiet peaceful country of Normandy, as well as an admirer of its citizens and its peasantry. Here is a passage—amongst others of considerable beauty descriptive of natural scenery—which in- cludes both city and country in its embrace :—

" While he lay there the sun was setting in broad belts of gold and crimson over the distant city stretched out below,—the crimson fast changing into purple lines that mingled with the long range of grey hills in the horizon. Golden light still gathered on the river, winding among the poplar-fringed fields of the middle distance, and on the vanes of some of the churches of the city, guiding tho eye from the superb burial-place of William the Conqueror to that of his queen, Matilda, at the opposite extremity of the town. But each moment was dimming the light in the west, and as the sun sank slowly and reluctantly into the grey bank of clouds behind St. Roque, he seemed reflected on the rosy face of the rising moon, aflame with her harvest glories. Faintly at that distance came up from the city the chorus of bells, sounding the Angelus, swelling louder and louder as each church in turn lent voice to the universal clangour that told the death-hour of another day."

It is great pity, however, that so much power should be frittered away in a dozen short tales, and distributed between fifty characters, to leave as strong an impression of crowding and confusion as they do of ability and beauty. It is impossible that in so short a space any character should be more than slightly sketched, or any in- cidents worked out carefully and artistically. If magazines must have completed tales in each number, there is their place ; but there they should be left. It is always a mistake to collect in a volume these slight and ephemeral things, and espe- cially when they are so much alike as these,—all of one locality and of the same nature. Why not have used the better part of the rich materials collected here for a single valuable story, in which there would have been space for the dramatis persons selected to reveal themselves gradually and perfectly—not merely illus- trating a single characteristic—and for the incidents to be deve- loped naturally and in order—so that instead of being left with the impression that we have seen a hundred novel and curious sights, and been introduced to scores of interesting characters in a single hasty week, we should dwell with delight and satisfaction on scenes we had learnt thoroughly to know and understand, and on persons we could remember individually either with admiration and love, or the reverse ?