V. CEREMONIES AND FESTIVALS
We were very particular about attending all important ceremonies at La Ferte, as we rarely went to church there except on great occasions. We had our service regularly at the chateau every Sunday morning. All the servants, except ours, were Protestants, Swiss generally, and very respectable they looked - all the women in black dresses and white caps - when they assembled in M. A.'s library, sitting on cane chairs near the door.
Some, in fact most, Protestants in France attach enormous importance to having all their household Protestant. A friend of mine, a Protestant, having tea with me one day in Paris was rather pleased with the bread or little "croissants," and asked me where they came from. I said I didn't know, but would ask the butler. That rather surprised her. Then she said, "Your baker of course is a Protestant." That I didn't know either, and, what was much worse in her eyes, I didn't care. She was quite distressed, gave me the address of an excellent Swiss Protestant baker and begged me to sever all connection with the Catholic at once. I asked her if she really thought dangerous papist ideas were kneaded in with the bread, but she would not listen to my mild "persiflage," and went away rather anxious about my spiritual welfare.
We went always to the church at La Ferte for the fete of St. Cecile, as the Fanfare played in the church on that day. The Fanfare was a very important body. Nearly all the prominent citizens of La Ferte, who had any idea of music, were members - the butcher, the baker, the coiffeur, etc. The Mayor was president and walked at the head of the procession when they filed into the church. I was "Presidente d'Honneur" and always wore my badge pinned conspicuously on my coat. It was a great day for the little town. Weeks before the fete we used to hear all about it from the coiffeur when he came to the chateau to shave the gentlemen. He played the big drum and thought the success of the whole thing depended on his performance. He proposed to bring his instrument one morning and play his part for us. We were very careful to be well dressed on that day and discarded the short serge skirts we generally wore. All the La Ferte ladies, particularly the wives and sisters of the performers, put on their best clothes, and their feelings would have been hurt if we had not done the same.
In fact it was a little difficult to dress up to the occasion. The older women all had jet and lace on their dresses, with long trailing skirts, and the younger ones, even children, had wonderful hats with feathers - one or two long white ones.
It was a pretty, animated sight as we arrived. All along the road we had met bands of people hurrying on to the town - the children with clean faces and pinafores, the men with white shirts, and even the old grandmothers - their shawls on their shoulders and their turbans starched stiff - were hobbling along with their sticks, anxious to arrive. We heard sounds of music as we got to the church - the procession was evidently approaching. The big doors were wide open, a great many people already inside. We looked straight down the nave to the far end where the high altar, all flowers and candles, made a bright spot of colour. Red draperies and banners were hanging from the columns - vases and wreaths of flowers at the foot of the statues of the saints; chairs and music-stands in the chancel. We went at once to our places. The cure, with his choir boys in their little short white soutanes, red petticoats and red shoes, was just coming out of the sacristy and the procession was appearing at the bottom of the church. First came the Mayor in a dress coat and white cravat - the "Adjoint" and one of the municipal council just behind, then the banner - rather a heavy one, four men carried it. After that the "pompiers," all in uniform, each man carrying his instrument; they didn't play as they came up the aisle, stopped their music at the door; but when they did begin - I don't know exactly at what moment of the mass - it was something appalling. The first piece was a military march, executed with all the artistic conviction and patriotic ardour of their young lungs (they were mostly young men). We were at the top of the church, very near the performers, and the first bursts of trumpets and bugles made one jump. They played several times. It didn't sound too badly at the "Elevation" when they had chosen rather a soft (comparatively) simple melody. The cure preached a very pretty, short sermon, telling them about Saint Cecile, the delicately nurtured young Roman who was not afraid to face martyrdom and death for the sake of her religion. The men listened most attentively and seemed much interested when he told them how he had seen in Rome the church of St. Cecile built over the ruin of the saint's house - the sacristy just over her bath-room. I asked him how he could reconcile it to his conscience to speak of the melodious sounds that accompanied the prayers of the faithful, but he said one must look sometimes at the intention more than at the result.
There was a certain harmony among the men when they were practising and preparing their music for the church, and as long as they held to coming and gave up their evenings to practising, instead of spending them in the wine shops, we must do all we could to encourage them.