XIV. LADY MERCHANTS AND SOCIALIST MAYORS
The admirably arranged library is open to all, and we were courteously shown some of its choicest treasures. These are not bibliographical curiosities, but albums containing specimens of Lyons silk, a marvellous display of taste and skill. Gems, butterflies' wings, feathers of tropical birds are not more brilliant than these hues, while each design is thoroughly artistic, and in its way an achievement.
The picture gallery contains a good portrait of the veteran song-writer Nadaud, author of the immortal "Carcassonne." Many Germans and Belgians, engaged in commerce, spend years here, going away when their fortunes are made. More advantageous to the place are those capitalists who take root, identifying themselves with local interests. Such is the case with a large English firm at Croix, who have founded a Protestant church and schools for their workpeople.
Let me record the spectacle presented by the museum on Sunday afternoon during the brilliant weather of April 1893. What most struck me was the presence of poorly-dressed boys; they evidently belonged to the least prosperous working class, and came in by twos and threes. Nothing could equal the good behaviour of these lads, or their interest in everything. Many young shop-women were also there, and, as usual, a large contingent of soldiers and recruits.
Few shops remained open after mid-day, except one or two very large groceries, at which fresh vegetables were sold. It is pleasant to note a gradual diminution of Sunday labour throughout France.
The celebration of May-Day, which date occurred soon after my visit, was not calculated either to alarm the Republic or the world in general. It was a monster manifestation in favour of the Three Eights, and I think few of us, were we suddenly transformed into Roubaix machinists, would not speedily become Three Eighters as well.
At five o'clock in the morning the firing of cannon announced the annual "Fete du Travail," or workmen's holiday, not accorded by Act of Parliament, but claimed by the people as a legitimate privilege.
Unwonted calm prevailed in certain quarters. Instead of men, women, boys and girls pouring by tens of thousands into the factories, the streets leading to them were empty. In one or two cases, where machinery had been set in motion and doors opened, public opinion immediately effected a stoppage of work. Instead, therefore, of being imprisoned from half-past five in the morning till seven or eight at night, the entire Roubaisien population had freed itself to enjoy "a sunshine holiday." Such a day cannot be too long, and at a quarter past seven vast crowds had collected before the Hotel de Ville.
Here a surprise was in store for the boldest Three Eighter going. The tricolour had been hoisted down, and replaced, not by a red flag, but by a large transparency, showing the following device in red letters upon a white ground: -
FETE INTERNATIONALE DU TRAVAIL,
1er Mai 1893.
Huit Heures du Travail,
Huit Heures du Loisir,
Huit Heures du Repos.
[Footnote: Translation-International festival of labour; eight hours' work, eight hours' leisure, eight hours' repose.]
The mayor, in undress, that is to say in garments of every day, having surveyed these preparations, returned to his estaminet, the Plat d'Or, and there folded his newspapers as usual for the day's distribution.
In the meantime the finishing touch was put to other decorations, consisting of flags, devices and red drapery, everywhere the Three Eights being conspicuous.
A monster procession was then formed, headed by the Town Council and a vast number of bands. There was the music of the Fire Brigade, the socialist brass band, the children's choir, the Choral Society of Roubaix, the Franco-Belgian Choral Society, and many others. Twenty thousand persons took part in this procession, the men wearing red neckties and a red flower in their button-holes, the forty-seven groups of the workmen's federation bearing banners, all singing, bands playing, drums beating, cannons firing as they went.
At mid-day the defile was made before the Hotel de Ville, and delegates of the different socialist groups were formally received by the mayor and deputy-mayors, wearing their tricolour scarves of office.
I must say the mayor's speech was a model of conciseness, good sense and, it must be added, courtesy; addressing himself first to his fellow-townswomen, then to his fellow-townsmen, he thanked the labour party for the grandiose celebration of the day, dwelt on the determination of the municipal council to watch over the workmen's interests, then begged all to enjoy themselves thoroughly, taking care to maintain the public peace.
Toasts were drunk, the mayor's health with especial enthusiasm, but when at the stroke of noon he waved the tricolour and an enormous number of pigeons were let loose, not to be fired at but admired as they flew away in all directions, their tricolour ribbons fluttering, the general delight knew no bounds. "Long live our mayor," resounded from every mouth, "Vive le citoyen Carrette!"
The rest of the day was devoted to harmless, out-of-door amusements: a balloon ascent, on the car being conspicuous in red, "Les trois huits," concerts, gymnastic contests, finally dancing and illuminations.