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A Padre in France by George A. Birmingham

Madame explained that the pears were deliciously ripe


We

pursued that joke for several days until we were all exhausted, and Madame, politely, said she saw the point, though she did not and never will. I do not believe that joke can be translated into French. Months afterwards I had as fellow-lodger a man who spoke French well and fluently. I urged him to try if he could make Madame understand. He failed.

Madame was most hospitable. She was neither worried nor cross when we asked friends to dine with us. Indeed she was pleased. But she liked due notice so that she could devote proper attention to _la cuisine_.

M., who was at that time with a cavalry brigade, used to come and spend a night or two with me sometimes. He was a special favourite with Madame and she used to try to load him with food when he was leaving. One very wet day in late autumn, Madame produced a large brown-paper bag and filled it with pears. She presented it to M. with a pretty speech of which he did not understand a word. M. was seriously embarrassed. He liked Madame and did not want to hurt her feelings; but he had before him a railway journey of some hours and then five miles on horseback. It is impossible to carry a brown-paper bag full of pears on a horse through a downpour of rain. The bag gets sopped at once and the pears fall through it. M. pushed the bag back to Madame.

"_Merci, merci_," he said. "_Mais non, pas possible._"

Madame

explained that the pears were deliciously ripe, which was true.

M. said, "_A cheval, Madame, je voyage a cheval_."

Madame pushed the bag into his hands. He turned to me.

"For goodness' sake explain to her--politely, of course--that I can't take that bag of pears. I'd like to. They'd be a godsend to the mess. But I can't."

Madame saw the impossibility in the end; but she stuffed as many pears as she could into his pocket, and he went off bulging unbecomingly.

M. used to complain that he ate too much when he came to stay with me. I confess that our midday meal--we ate it at noon, conforming to the custom of the house--was heavy. And Madame was old-fashioned in her idea of the behaviour proper to a hostess. She insisted on our eating whether we wanted to eat or not, and was vexed if we refused second and even third helpings.

Madame was immensely interested in food and we talked about marketing and cookery every day. I came, towards the end of my stay, to have a fair knowledge of kitchen French. I could have attended cookery lectures with profit. I could even have taught a French servant how to stew a rabbit in such a way that it appeared at table brown, with thick brown sauce and a flavour of red wine. The marketing for the family was done by Madame and Marie, Marie in a high, stiff, white head-dress, carrying a large basket.

On the subject of prices Madame was intensely curious. She wanted to know exactly what everything cost in England and Ireland. I used to write home for information, and then we did long and confusing sums, translating stones or pounds into kilos and shillings into francs; Monsieur intervening occasionally with information about the rate of exchange at the moment. Madame insisted on taking this into account in comparing the cost of living in the two countries. Then we used to be faced with problems which I regard as insoluble.


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