VI. QUISSAC AND SAUVE
George Sand has ever been regarded as a poetizer of rural life, an arch-idealist of her humbler country-folks. At Quissac I made more than one acquaintance that might have stepped out of La petite Fadetteor La mare au Diable.
One old woman might have been "la paisible amie," the tranquil friend, to whom the novelist dedicated a novel. Neat, contented, active and self-respecting, she enjoyed a life-interest in two acres and a cottage, her live stock consisting of a goat, a pig and poultry, her invested capital government stock representing a hundred pounds. Meagre as may seem these resources, she was by no means to be pitied or inclined to pity herself, earning a few francs here and there by charing, selling her little crops, what eggs and chickens she could spare, above all things being perfectly independent.
A charming idyll the great Sand could have found here. The owner of a thirty-acre farm had lately died, leaving it with all he possessed to two adopted children, a young married couple who for years had acted respectively as steward and housekeeper. We are bound to infer that on the one hand there had been affection and gratitude, on the other the same qualities with conscientiousness in business matters. The foster-father was childless and a widower, but, among the humble as well as the rich French, ambition of posthumous remembrance often actuates impersonal bequests. This worthy Jacques Bonhomme might have made an heir of his native village, leaving money for a new school-house or some other public edifice. Very frequently towns and even villages become legatees of the childless, and the worthy man would have been quite sure of a statue, a memorial tablet, or at least of having his name added to a street or square.
Before taking leave of Quissac I must mention one curious fact.
The Proteus of Odyssean story or the King's daughter and the Efreet in the "Second Royal Mendicant's Adventure," could not more easily transform themselves than the French peasant. Husbandman to-day, mechanic on the morrow, at one season he plies the pruning-hook, at another he turns the lathe. This adaptability of the French mind, strange to say, is nowhere seen to greater advantage than in out-of-the-way regions, just where are mental torpidity and unbendable routine. Not one of Millet's blue-bloused countrymen but masters a dozen handicrafts.
Thus, whilst the heraldic insignia of Sauve should be a trident, those of Quissac should be surmounted by an old shoe! In the former place the forked branches of the Celtis australis or nettle tree, Ulmaceae, afford a most profitable occupation. From its tripartite boughs are made yearly thousands upon thousands of the three-pronged forks used in agriculture. The wood, whilst very durable, is yielding, and lends itself to manipulation.
In Florian's birthplace folks make a good living out of old boots and shoes! Some native genius discovered that, however well worn footgear may be, valuable bits of leather may remain in the sole. These fragments are preserved, and from them boot heels are made; the debris, boots, shoes and slippers, no matter the material, find their way to the soil as manure. But this subject if pursued further would lead to a lane, metaphorically speaking, without a turning, that is to say to a treatise on French rural economy.