Read CHAPTER IV. of English Pharisees and French Crocodiles, free online book, by Max O'Rell, on ReadCentral.com.

JACQUELINE, THE FORTUNE OF FRANCE.

Jacques Bonhomme’s wife is the fortune of France.  Hard-working, thrifty, sober, you will always see her busy, either working in the field, selling her wares in the market-place of the nearest town, or engaged about her little household.  She is the personification of industry, and when the winter of life comes on, you will find her by the chimney corner, or near the cottage door, keeping watch over the little ones, while she knits or spins; it is with her needles or her distaff in her hand that she peacefully passes away from earth.  Not an hour in the life of the good Jacqueline has been spent in indolence.

It is she who hides the five-franc pieces in the corner of her linen cupboard, only to be taken out when there is an opportunity of rounding off the little family domain.  Shares, bonds, and all such lottery tickets, she leaves for the small bourgeois of the town, who love to wait their turn at the door of the Treasury Office on the day of a national loan.  No papers for her; what she likes is a field or a cow, something she is quite sure to find in its place in the morning, when she wakes up.

It is on market-day that you should see her!  She makes light of a ten or twelve-mile walk to the chief town of her district, carrying a basket loaded with fruit or vegetables on each arm.  In the evening, you may meet her with baskets empty, but pockets full, trudging back to her peaceful cottage-the center of all her affections.  Follow her along the road a little, and you will see that, as she goes, she manages to busy her fingers on a pair of stockings for the little ones.

Her daughter does not wear fringes on her forehead, feathers on her hat, fifty-cent diamonds in her ears, or flounces on a second-hand skirt; but, though she is dressed in a plain coarse serge gown, and a simple snowy cap, her round rosy cheeks tell you that she is healthy, and a pair of eyes, that stare at you like the daisies in her father’s field, tell you that she is pure.

When she goes into service-which is often the case-every month, as she receives her wages, she quietly pays a little visit to the savings bank of the town.

When the English servant receives her monthly wages, she straightway goes to buy a new hat and get photographed in it.

I will refrain from speaking of the duchesses who condescend to act as “helps” to the American public.

And the patriotism of her!  Ah, let me here pay my humble tribute of admiration and gratitude that she has so great a claim to!  Who among us French has not kept, engraven on his memory, the souvenir of the devoted peasant women of Normandy, Picardy, of Alsace and Lorraine, and all they did for us in that terrible year that would have seen the death of France, if France could die?  Who among us has not admired and blessed them?  With a sad smile on her face, how kindly the poor Jacqueline welcomed the weary soldier, worn out with fatigue and hunger!  And, while the rich bourgeois too often received us with a frown, as he muttered, “More soldiers!” her greeting was always kindly.  “Come in, my poor lads,” she would cry; “you are tired and hungry.  We have not much to offer here, but you shall have a bed to-night, if it is but a bed of straw, a good soup, and a rasher of bacon, or whatever there is in the cupboard.  That will do you good.  My own poor lad is fighting somewhere; it is many weeks ago now that I heard from him, but I hope some kind soul is doing for him to-night what I am doing for you.”  And the good creature would prepare her vegetables, put the soup on the fire, make up beds for us around the hearth, and give us old soft shoes for our poor blistered feet.  And when, in the morning, we left her hospitable roof, we would say, “Allons, maman, adieu et merci.  God bless you for all you have done for us.”  And as we went our way, she, standing on the threshold of her door, would wave her handkerchief, and watch the regiment out of sight.  Then she would turn away, and the evening found her ready to do the same for the next weary band of men that halted at her door.

Oh! my good peasant folk of France, you are the fortune of your country, and you also, with your rustic simplicity, are its generous heart.  It is among you that tired human nature drinks deep draughts of pure life-giving air, and forgets the struggles of the city, its noisy pleasures, its ephemeral joys, its jealousies and burning hatreds; it is in your midst that the soul is tuned into harmony with mankind, and man feels at peace with all the world, as he looks at the bright spring blossoms, breathes the intoxicating perfume of the humid forest, and gazes at Nature, as she emerges from her bath of dew to robe herself in a raiment of light.