But we are coming to the third day of the wedding-feast, which is the most interesting of all, and has been retained in full vigor down to our own day. We will say nothing of the slice of toast that is carried to the nuptial bed; that is an absurd custom which offends the modesty of the bride, and tends to destroy that of the young girls who are present. Moreover, I think that it is a custom which obtains in all the provinces and has no peculiar features as practised among us.
[Illustration: Chapter IV (Appendix)
He fell on his knees in the furrow through which he was about to run his plough once more, and repeated the morning prayer with such emotion that the tears rolled down his cheeks, still moist with perspiration]
Just as the ceremony of the livrees is the symbol of the taking possession of the bride’s heart and home, that of the cabbage is the symbol of the fruitfulness of the union. After breakfast on the day following the marriage-ceremony, comes this strange performance, which is of Gallic origin, but, as it passed through the hands of the primitive Christians, gradually became a sort of mystery, or burlesque morality-play of the Middle Ages.
Two youths—the merriest and most energetic of the party—disappear during the breakfast, don their costumes, and return, escorted by the musicians, dogs, children, and pistol-shots. They represent a couple of beggars, husband and wife, covered with the vilest rags. The husband is the dirtier of the two: it is vice that has degraded him; the woman is unhappy simply and debased by her husband’s evil ways.
They are called the gardener and the gardener’s wife, and claim to be fitted to watch and cultivate the sacred cabbage. But the husband is known by several appellations, all of which have a meaning. He is called, indifferently, the pailloux, because he wears a wig made of straw or hemp, and, to hide his nakedness, which is ill protected by his rags, he surrounds his legs and a part of his body with straw. He also provides himself with a huge belly or a hump by stuffing straw or hay under his blouse. The peilloux because he is covered with peille (rags). And, lastly, the paien (heathen), which is the most significant of all, because he is supposed, by his cynicism and his debauched life, to represent in himself the antipodes of all the Christian virtues.
He arrives with his face daubed with grease and wine lees, sometimes swallowed up in a grotesque mask. A wretched, cracked earthen cup, or an old wooden shoe, hanging by a string to his belt, he uses to ask alms in the shape of wine. No one refuses him, and he pretends to drink, then pours the wine on the ground by way of libation. At every step, he falls and rolls in the mud; he pretends to be most disgustingly drunk. His poor wife runs after him, picks him up, calls for help, tears out the hempen hair that protrudes in stringy locks from beneath her soiled cap, weeps over her husband’s degradation, and reproaches him pathetically.