The Annotated 'Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes'/Farewell, Modestine

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Farewell, Modestine!

On examination, on the morning of October 3rd, Modestine was pronounced unfit for travel. She would need at least two days’ repose, according to the ostler; but I was now eager to reach Alaismap for my letters; and, being in a civilised country of stage-coaches, I determined to sell my lady friend and be off by the diligence that afternoon. Our yesterday’s march, with the testimony of the driver who had pursued us up the long hill of St. Pierre, spread a favourable notion of my donkey’s capabilities. Intending purchasers were aware of an unrivalled opportunity. Before ten I had an offer of twenty-five francs; and before noon, after a desperate engagement, I sold her, saddle and all, for five-and-thirty.[1] The pecuniary gain is not obvious, but I had bought freedom into the bargain.

St Jean du Gard is a large place, and largely Protestant. The maire, a Protestant, asked me to help him in a small matter which is itself characteristic of the country. The young women of the Cevennes profit by the common religion and the difference of the language to go largely as governesses into England; and here was one, a native of Mialet, struggling with English circulars from two different agencies in London. I gave what help I could; and volunteered some advice, which struck me as being excellent.

One thing more I note. The phylloxera has ravaged the vineyards in this neighbourhood; and in the early morning, under some chestnuts by the river, I found a party of men working with a cider-press. I could not at first make out what they were after, and asked one fellow to explain.

‘Making cider,’ he said. ‘Oui, c’est comme ça. Comme dans le nord!’[2]

There was a ring of sarcasm in his voice: the country was going to the devil.

It was not until I was fairly seated by the driver, and rattling through a rocky valley with dwarf olives, that I became aware of my bereavement. I had lost Modestine. Up to that moment I had thought I hated her; but now she was gone,

‘And oh! The difference to me!’[3]

For twelve days we had been fast companions; we had travelled upwards of a hundred and twenty miles, crossed several respectable ridges, and jogged along with our six legs by many a rocky and many a boggy by-road. After the first day, although sometimes I was hurt and distant in manner, I still kept my patience; and as for her, poor soul! she had come to regard me as a god. She loved to eat out of my hand. She was patient, elegant in form, the colour of an ideal mouse, and inimitably small. Her faults were those of her race and sex; her virtues were her own. Farewell, and if for ever—

Father Adam wept when he sold her to me; after I had sold her in my turn, I was tempted to follow his example; and being alone with a stage-driver and four or five agreeable young men, I did not hesitate to yield to my emotion.

Notes[edit]

  1. I sold her, saddle and all, for five-and-thirty .. as recounted in the first chapter, Modestine "passed into my service for the consideration of sixty-five francs and a glass of brandy". Modestine was purchased by one Eugène Dumas who used her to pull carts. After Dumas' death she was purchased by M. Volpelière of St-Jean-du-Gard, after which she disappears from history.
  2. translation .. "Yes, it is like that. Just as in the north." - apple cider was more common in the north while wine was more common in the south.
  3. And oh! The difference to me! .. William Wordsworth (1770-1850), She Dwelt among Untrodden Ways (1799):
    SHE dwelt among the untrodden ways
    Beside the springs of Dove,
    A Maid whom there were none to praise
    And very few to love:

    A violet by a mossy stone
    Half hidden from the eye!
    --Fair as a star, when only one
    Is shining in the sky.

    She lived unknown, and few could know
    When Lucy ceased to be;
    But she is in her grave, and, oh,
    The difference to me!

The Annotated 'Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes'