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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 303 pages of information about Ice-Caves of France and Switzerland.

CHAPTER VI.

BESANCON AND DOLE.

The afternoon was so far advanced when I returned to the convent, that it was clearly impossible to reach Besancon at five o’clock, and consequently there was time to inspect the Brothers and their buildings.  The field near the convent was gay with haymakers; and the brown monks, with here and there a priest in ci-devant white, moved among the hired labourers, and stirred them up by exhortation and example,—­with this difference, that while it was evidently the business of the monks so to do, the priests, on the other hand, had only taken fork in hand for the sake of a little gentle exercise.  One unhappy Jacques Bonhomme made hot and toilsome hay in thick brown clothes, plainly manufactured from a defunct Brother’s gown; for, to judge from appearances, a cast-off gown is a thing unknown.  It was good to see a Brother, in horn spectacles of mediaeval cut, tenderly chopping a log for firewood, and peering at it through his spectacles after each stroke, as a man examines some delicate piece of natural machinery with a microscope; to see another Brother, the sphere of whose duties lay in the flour-mill, standing in the doorway with brown robe and shaven crown all powdered alike with white, and a third covered from head to foot with sawdust; or, best of all, to see an antique Brother, with scarecrow legs, and low shoes which had presumably been in his possession or that of his predecessors for a long series of years, wheeling a barrow of liquid manure, with his gown looped up high by means of stout whipcord and an arrangement of large brass rings.  The Brother whose business it was to do such cooking as might be required by visitors, grinned in the most friendly and engaging manner from ear to ear when he was looked at; and, by fixing him steadily with the eye, he could be kept for considerable spaces of time standing in the middle of the kitchen, knife in hand, with the corners of his mouth out of sight round his broad cheeks.  His ample front was decked with a blue apron, suspended from his shoulders, and confined round the convexity of his waist by an old strap which no respectable costermonger would have used as harness.  The soup served was by courtesy called soupe maigre, but it was in fact soupe maigre diluted by many homoeopathic myriads, and the Brother showed much curiosity as to my opinion of its taste—­a curiosity which I could not satisfy without hurting his professional pride.  When that course was finished, the large-faced cook suggested an omelette, as the most substantial thing allowed on eves, proceeding to draw the materials from a closet which so fully shared in the general abstinence from water as a means of cleansing, that I shut my eyes upon all further operations, and ate the eventual omelette in faith.  Its excellence called forth such hearty commendations, that there seemed to be some danger of the mouth not coming right again.  Then salads, and bread and butter, and wine, and various kinds of cheese were brought, which made in all a very fair dinner for a fast-day.

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