CHAPTER V. ST. HIPPOLYTE, MORTEAU, AND THE SWISS BORDERLAND.
I never understood, till I travelled with French friends, why hotels in France should be so bad, but the reason is to be sought in that amiability, laisser faire, call it by what name we will, that characteristic which distinguishes our neighbours on the other side of La Manche. We English, who perpetually travel, growl and grumble at discomfort till, by force of persistent fault-finding, we bring about reformation in hotels and travelling conveniences generally - whereas the French, partly from a dislike of making themselves disagreeable, partly from the feeling that they are not likely to go over the same ground again, leave things as they find them, to the great disadvantage of those who follow. The French, indeed, travel so little for mere pleasure that, whenever they do so, they think it useless to make a fuss about what seems to them a part and parcel of the journey. Thus it happens that, wherever you go off the beaten tracks in France, you find the hotels as bad as they can well be, and your French fellow-traveller takes the dirt, noise, and discomfort generally much as a matter of course. I am sorry that I can say little for the hotels we found throughout our four days' drive in the most romantic scenery of the Doubs, for the people are so amiable, obliging, and more titan moderate in their charges, that one feels inclined to forgive anything. Truth must be told, however, and so, for once, I will only add that the tourist must here be prepared for the worst in the matter of accommodation, whilst too much praise cannot be accorded to the general desire to please, and absolute incapacity of these good people to impose on the stranger.
It must also be explained that as the mere tourist is a rare phenomenon in these remote parts, the hotels are not arranged in order to meet his wants, but those of the commis-voyageur, or commercial traveller, who is the chief and best customer of innkeepers all over the country. You meet no one else at the table-d'hote but the commis-voyageurs, and it must not be supposed that they are in any way objectionable company. They quietly sit out the various courses, then retire to the billiard-room, and they are particularly polite to ladies. Throughout the journey we were on the borders of Switzerland, the thinnest possible partition dividing the land of cleanliness, order, and first-rate accommodation from that of dirt, noise, and discomfort; yet so rigid is the demarcation that no sooner do you put foot on Swiss ground than you find the difference. Quite naturally, English travellers keep on the other side of the border, and only a stray one now and then crosses it.
Our little caleche and horse left much to desire, but the good qualities of our driver made up for everything. He was a fine old man, with a face worthy of a Roman Emperor, and, having driven all over the country for thirty years, knew it well, and found friends everywhere. Although wearing a blue cotton blouse, he was in the best sense of the word a gentleman, and we were somewhat astonished to find him seated opposite to us at our first table-d'hote breakfast. We soon saw that he well deserved the respect shown him; quiet, polite, dignified, he was the last person in the world to abuse his privileges, never dreaming of familiarity. The extreme politeness shown towards the working classes here by all in a superior social station doubtless accounts for the good manners we find among them. My fellow-traveller, the widow of a French officer, never dreamed of accosting our good Eugene without the preliminary Monsieur, and did not feel herself at all aggrieved at having him for her vis-a-vis at meals. Eugene, like the greater part of his fellow-countrymen, is proud and economical, and, in order not to become dependent upon his children, or charity, in his old age, had already with his savings bought a house and garden. It is impossible to give any idea of the thrift and laboriousness of the better order of working classes here.