V. CEREMONIES AND FESTIVALS
The procession went out in the same order - halted at the church door and then W. made them a nice little speech, saying he was pleased to see how numerous they were and how much improved - they would certainly take an honourable place in the concours de fanfares of the department. They escorted the Mayor back to his house playing their march and wound up with a copious dejeuner at the "Sauvage." Either the Mayor or the "Adjoint" always went to the banquet. W. gave the champagne, but abstained from the feast.
They really did improve as they went on. They were able to get better instruments and were stimulated by rival fanfares in the neighbourhood. They were very anxious to come and play at the chateau, and we promised they should whenever a fitting occasion should present itself.
We had a visit from the Staals one year. The Baron de Staal was Russian Ambassador in England, and we had been colleagues there for many years. We asked the Fanfare to come one Sunday afternoon while they were there. We had a little difficulty over the Russian National Hymn, which they, naturally, wanted to play. The Chef de Fanfare came to see me one day and we looked over the music together. I had it only for the piano, but I explained the tempo and repetitions to him and he arranged it very well for his men. They made quite an imposing entrance. Half the population of La Ferte escorted them (all much excited by the idea of seeing the Russian Ambassador), and they were reinforced by the two villages they passed through. We waited for them in the gallery - doors and windows open. They played the spirited French march "Sambre et Meuse" as they came up the avenue. It sounded quite fine in the open air. They halted and saluted quite in military style as soon as they came in front of the gallery - stopped their march and began immediately the Russian Hymn, playing it very well.
They were much applauded, we in the gallery giving the signal and their friends on the lawn joining in enthusiastically. They were a motley crowd - over a hundred I should think - ranging from the municipal councillor of La Ferte, in his high hat and black cloth Sunday coat, to the humpbacked daughter of the village carpenter and the idiot boy who lived in a cave on the road and frightened the children out of their wits by running out and making faces at them whenever they passed. They played three or four times, then W. called up one or two of the principal performers and presented them to the Staals. Mme. de Staal spoke to them very prettily, thanked them for playing the Russian Hymn and said she would like to hear the "Sambre et Meuse" again. That, of course, delighted them and they marched off to the strains of their favourite tune. About half-way down the avenue we heard a few cries of "Vive la Russie," and then came a burst of cheers.
Our dinner was rather pleasant that evening. We had the Prefet, M. Sebline; Senator of the Aisne, Jusserand, present Ambassador to Washington; Mme. Thenard, of the Comedie Francaise, and several young people. Jusserand is always a brilliant talker - so easy - no pose of any kind, and Sebline was interesting, telling about all sorts of old customs in the country.
Though we were so near Paris, hardly two hours by the express, the people had remained extraordinarily primitive. There were no manufacturing towns anywhere near us, nothing but big farms, forests and small far-apart villages. The modern socialist-radical ideas were penetrating very slowly into the heads of the people - they were quite content to be humble tillers of the soil, as their fathers had been before them. The men had worked all their lives on the farms, the women too; beginning quite young, taking care of cows and geese, picking beet-root, etc.
What absolutely changed the men was the three years military service. After knocking about in garrison towns, living with a great many people always, having all sorts of amusements easily at hand and a certain independence, once the service of the day was over, they found the dull regular routine of the farm very irksome. In the summer it was well enough - harvest time was gay, everyone in the fields, but in the short, cold winter days, with the frozen ground making all the work doubly hard, just enough food and no distraction of any kind but a pipe in the kitchen after supper, the young men grew terribly restive and discontented. Very few of them remain, and the old traditions handed down from father to son for three or four generations are disappearing. After dinner we had music and some charming recitations by Mme. Thenard. Her first one was a comic monologue which always had the wildest success in London, "Je suis veuve," beginning it with a ringing peal of laughter which was curiously contagious - everyone in the room joined in. I like her better in some of her serious things. When she said "le bon gite" and "le petit clairon," by Paul Deroulede, in her beautiful deep voice, I had a decided choke in my throat.