Qu'il fait bon

It's good to be back in the real world after six weeks of the most intense teaching ever!

I think I'll celebrate by at last putting together something about George Sand's charmingly sentimental novel of French peasant life, La Mare au diable (The Devil's Pool). The story culminates with the description of a wedding ritual where the bride's party barricade themselves in a house and the groom's friends pretend to attack it. As part of the mock conflict there is a song contest (the idea of musical warfare always tickles me; maybe I'll write soon about the contest in Kidnapped) between representatives of the two sides. Here's part of the translation (source: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/12816/12816-h/12816-h.htm)


Speak, my good friends; tell us what we must do to be admitted to your fireside.


You must sing, my friends, but sing some song that we don't know, and that we can't answer with a better one.

"Never you fear!" replied the grave-digger, and he sang in a powerful voice:

"'Tis six months since the spring-time,"

"When I walked upon the springing grass," replied the hemp-beater, in a somewhat hoarse but awe-inspiring voice. "Are you laughing at us, my poor fellows, that you sing us such old trash? you see that we stop you at the first word."

"It was a prince's daughter—"

"And she would married be" replied the hemp-beater. "Go on, go on to another! we know that a little too well."


What do you say to this:

"When from Nantes I was returning—"


"I was weary, do you know! oh! so weary." That's a song of my grandmother's day. Give us another one.


"The other day as I was walking—"


"Along by yonder charming wood!"

[At this point I was especially tickled, for I had just been learning this song from a truly priceless recording by Les charbonniers de l'Enfer. Désolée, but I can't find a recording for you, even a short sample.]

That's a silly one! Our grandchildren wouldn't take the trouble to answer you! What! are those all you know?


Oh! we'll sing you so many of them, that you will end by stopping short.

Fully an hour was passed in this contest. As the two combatants were the most learned men in the province in the matter of ballads, and as their repertory seemed inexhaustible, it might well have lasted all night, especially as the hemp-beater seemed to take malicious pleasure in allowing his opponent to sing certain laments in ten, twenty, or thirty stanzas, pretending by his silence to admit that he was defeated. Thereupon, there was triumph in the bridegroom's camp, they sang in chorus at the tops of their voices, and every one believed that the adverse party would make default; but when the final stanza was half finished, the old hemp-beater's harsh, hoarse voice would bellow out the last words; whereupon he would shout: "You don't need to tire yourselves out by singing such long ones, my children! We have them at our fingers' ends!"

Once or twice, however, the hemp-beater made a wry face, drew his eyebrows together, and turned with a disappointed air toward the observant matrons. The grave-digger was singing something so old that his adversary had forgotten it, or perhaps had never known it; but the good dames instantly sang the victorious refrain through their noses, in tones as shrill as those of the sea-gull; and the grave-digger, summoned to surrender, passed to something else.

It would have been too long to wait until one side or the other won the victory. The bride's party announced that they would show mercy on condition that the others should offer her a gift worthy of her.

Thereupon, the song of the livrées began, to an air as solemn as a church chant.

The men outside sang in unison:

"Ouvrez la porte, ouvrez,                                      Marie, ma mignonne,J'ons de beaux cadeaux à vous présenter.Hélas! ma mie, laissez-nous entrer."
(Open the door, yes, open,Marie, my darling,I have beautiful gifts to offer you.Alas! my dear, pray let us in.)

To which the women replied from the interior, in falsetto, in doleful tones:

"Mon père est en chagrin, ma mère en grand' tristesse,Et moi je suis fille de trop grand' merciPour ouvrir ma porte à cette heure ici."
(My father grieves, my mother's deathly sad,And I am too pitiful a daughterTo open my door at such an hour.)

The men repeated the first stanza down to the fourth line, which they modified thus:

"J'ons un beau mouchoir à vous présenter."
(I have a fine handkerchief to offer you.)

But the women replied, in the name of the bride, in the same words as before.

Through twenty stanzas, at least, the men enumerated all the gifts in the livrée, always mentioning a new article in the last verse: a beautiful devanteau,—apron,—lovely ribbons, a cloth dress, lace, a gold cross, even to a hundred pins to complete the bride's modest outfit. The matrons invariably refused; but at last the young men decided to mention a handsome husband to offer, and they replied by addressing the bride, and singing to her with the men:

"Ouvrez la porte, ouvrez,Marie, ma mignonne,C'est un beau man qui vient vous chercher.Allons, ma mie, laissons-les entrer."
(Open the door, yes, open,Marie, my darling,'Tis a handsome husband who comes to seek you.Come, my dear, and let us let them in.)

And of course, at this point the door is opened. 

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