CHAPTER XXI. IN GERMANISED ALSACE.
Who would quit Alsace without a pilgrimage to Saverne and the country home in which Edmond About wrote his most delightful pages and in which he dispensed such princely hospitality? The author of "Le Fellah " was forced to forsake his beloved retreat after the events of 1870- 1; the experiences of this awful time are given in his volume "Alsace," and dedicated to his son - pour qu'il se souvienne - in order that he might remember. Here also as under that Lorraine roof I felt myself in France. At the time of my visit the property was for sale. French people, however, are loth to purchase estates in the country they may be said to inhabit on sufferance, while rich Germans prefer to build palatial villas within the triple fortifications and thirteen newly constructed forts which are supposed to render Strasburg impregnable.
The railway takes us from Strasburg in an hour to the picturesque old town of Saverne, beautifully placed above the Zorn. Turning our backs upon the one long street winding upwards to the chateau, we follow a road leading into the farthermost recesses of the valley, from which rise on either side the wooded spurs of the lower Vosges. Here in a natural cul-de-sac, wedged in between pine-clad slopes, is as delightful a retreat as genius or a literary worker could desire. On the superb September day of my visit the place looked its best, and warm was the welcome we received from the occupiers, a cultivated and distinguished French Protestant family, formerly living at Srasburg, but since the events of 1870-1 removed to Nancy. They hired this beautiful place from year to year, merely spending a few weeks here during the Long Vacation. The intellectual atmosphere still recalled bygone days, when Edmond About used to gather round him literary brethren, alike French and foreign. Pleasant it was to find here English-speaking, England-loving, French people. Nothing can be simpler than the house itself, in spite of its somewhat pretentious tower of which About wrote so fondly. His study is a small, low- pitched room, not too well lighted, but having a lovely outlook; beyond, the long, narrow gardens, fruit, flower and vegetable, one leading out of another, rising pine woods and the lofty peaks of the Vosges. So remote is this spot that wild deer venture into the gardens, whilst squirrels make themselves at home close to the house doors. Our host gave me much information about the peasants. Although not nearly so prosperous as before the annexation, they are doing fairly well. Some, indeed, are well off, possessing capital to the amount of several thousand pounds, whilst a millionaire, that is, the possessor of a million francs or forty thousand pounds, is found here and there. The severance from France entailed, however, one enormous loss on the farmer. This was the withdrawal of tobacco culture, a monopoly of the French State which afforded maximum profits to the cultivator. With regard to the indebtedness of the peasant-owner, my informant said that it certainly existed, but not to any great extent, usury having been prohibited by the local Reichstag a few years before. Again I found myself among French surroundings, French traditions, French speech. Let me add, however, that I heard none of the passionate regrets, recriminations, and wishes that had constantly fallen on my ears ten years before. One prayer, and one only, seems in every heart, on every lip, "Peace, peace - only let us have peace!" It must be borne in mind that 20,000 French Alsatians quitted Strasburg alone, and that those of the better classes who were unable to emigrate sent their young sons across the frontier before the age of seventeen. Thus, by a gradual process, the French element is being eliminated from the towns, whilst in the country annexation came in a very different guise.
This will be seen from the account of another excursion made with French friends living in Strasburg.