“Behold the Middle Ages!”—cried Quinet again, looking at the Gothic houses—“of which we have heard and read.”
“Is it not strange!”—I exclaimed—“Yes, this is the old Patrie.—Is it possible to believe ourselves here?—Stamp and see if the ground is real!”
“There is a blouse!—a paysan, as in the pictures—he wears the cap! he has the wooden shoes!”
“It is our brother—the Frenchman!”
There was more nevertheless. Celestial angels,—I too have been in heaven. I have been a French Canadian in Paris!
Dieppe was the first note of the music, the noble and quaint Cathedral of Rouen and our railway glimpses of rural Normandy were the prelude. At last our pilgrim feet were in the Beautiful City. O much we wandered in its Avenues, with throbbing delight and love towards every face, that first memorable day. This river is the Seine! that Palace so proud and rich, the world-renowned Louvre. What is yon great carved front with twin towers—that pile with the light of morning melting its spires and roofs and flying buttresses as they rise into it—that world of clustered mediaeval saints in stone, beautiful, pointed-arched portals and unapproached and unapproachable dignity—from which the edifices of the City seem to stand afar off and leave it alone, and which wears not the air of to-day or yesterday?—Notre Dame de Paris, O vast monument of French art, recorder of chivalric ages, all the generations have had recourse to thine aisles and the heart of Paris beats within thee as the hearts of Quinet and this d’Argentenaye beat under the ribs of their human breasts.
Paris knew and loved us. The fountains and great trees of the Tuilleries Gardens were palatial for us; the Champs Elysees laughed to us as we moved through their groves; the Arch de l’Etoile had a voice to us grandly of the victories of our race; the Bois de Boulogne was gay with happy groups and glistening equipages.
How well they do everything in Paris! When shall the streets of Montreal be so smooth, the houses so artistically built, when shall living be reduced to such system of neatness and saving?
Quinet betook himself much to the obscure cheese shops and cafes in the quarters of the people, and ate and chatted with such villains that I called him “The Communard.” He, on the other hand, called me “Le Grand Marquis,” because I made use of some relatives who were among the nobility.
Between us we missed little. On the one hand the heart of the masses affected us. Once we bought bread of a struggling baker hard by the famous abbey of St. Denis. We asked for a cup of water to drink with it,—“But Messieurs will not drink water!” he cried, and rushed in his generosity for his poor bottle of wine.—My French-Canadian countrymen, that was a trait of yours!
I remember too,—when my shoe hurt me and I limped badly one evening along the Avenue of the Bois,—the numbers of men and women who said to one another: “O, le pauvre jeune homme.” Ye world-wide Pharisees, erring Paris cannot be so deeply wicked while its heart flows so much goodness!