Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 9/Foglanders in Cigogne

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

A satirical depiction of expatriate English society in Calais.


Everybody knows that on the Crapaudian side of the salt-water ditch (called in that language the Sleeve), which divides the two mighty empires of Fogland and Crapaudy, stands the famous little town called Cigogne.

A famous town in every respect. Without going further into antiquity, it was here that Cossikin the First, that puissant little conqueror, posted his army of observation, and day after day mounted the heights, telescope in hand, to scan the white cliffs of the opposite coast. The phlegmatic Foglanders did not appear greatly troubled at his threats of invasion, but proceeded quietly with their sea-bathing as if nothing were going to happen. And nothing did happen to them; but as for poor little Cossikin, he came to grief, and passed his latter days on a rocky island, assiduously guarded by a gentleman whom he found an extremely disagreeable specimen of Fogland breeding. All this is matter of history, and nothing to my present purpose. Let me return to Cigogne.

To describe the town of Cigogne would be deemed an intolerable impertinence. Cigogne is as well known to the Foglanders as their own gigantic smoke-begrimed metropolis of Troynovant. It is their principal port of entry when they wish to escape from the forest of factory chimneys with which their native country is known to be covered, or when they desire to see the blue sky, and behold that luminary which warms and lights the world, but seldom discloses his glorious face to their gaze. This is what the Crapaudians say. Moreover, a good many Foglanders remain permanently in Cigogne. Formerly hosts of disreputable persons from that island made this town their abode, and amused themselves (so it is traditionally rumoured) by watching the bailiffs through exceedingly powerful telescopes, as they stood waving their writs in agonies of despair on the chalk cliffs opposite. This is no longer the case. Owing to a barbarous international arrangement, Fogland debtors can be arrested even in free and happy Crapaudy. Consequently they stay at home, or fly across the western waves to the shores of what was the Lincolnian Republic.

The Foglanders who at present inhabit Cigogne are, as a rule, a harmless, respectable race, who pay their bills weekly, and are not ashamed to look any man in the face. They go there to economise, though their economy is doubtful; for it is a singular fact, that wherever a Foglander sets his foot the market-price of all commodities immediately rises. Still Foglanders are fond of Cigogne. It is one of the few places out of Fogland where a man can live comfortably without being bothered to acquire the lingo. By this epithet contemptuous Foglanders are apt to style all other tongues but their own. Numbers of elderly persons dwell there for years without learning a dozen sentences of the Crapaudian language. They live on beef and mutton cooked in the Fogland style, keep Fogland servants, receive the “Daily Jupiter” (the great Troynovant newspaper) by the post, and interchange visits with none but natives of their own land. Indeed, the more aristocratic Cigognards still look rather shyly on natives of Fogland. They have not forgotten the seedy, swaggering generation of billiard-playing, debt-contracting, bailiff-shunning islanders, which used to patronise their town.

I have said that Foglanders frequently will not take the trouble to acquire the Crapaudian language. Here is a specimen. Look at Joe Batters, who keeps the Cherry Tree, a little public-house near the beach. He is eighty years old, and has lived thirty years in Cigogne. His house is chiefly frequented by Fogland sailors. Well, regard old Batters as he sits by his stove, with a glass of Hollands in his hand, looking, in that curious skeleton suit of velveteen, which it is his fancy to wear, like an immensely exaggerated and ancient charity boy. “I’ve been thirty year in the country,” he says, “and I don’t know a word of the language.” Just then a cow saunters leisurely in front of the house, and gazes contemplatively in at the door, probably to see what Joe Batters is like. These cows are the pest of Joe’s existence. They are the thorns in his sleek flesh. He rushes to the door. “Alley,” he roars, “why” (here understand a number of Fogland adjectives and substantives of an emphatic character) “don’t you alley.”

So Joe Batters was wrong after all, and he does know one word of the language. But he is mightily proud of his stupendous ignorance, far prouder than Cardinal Mezzofanti was, or Elihu Burritt is, of their respective linguistic acquirements. These Foglanders are certainly a curious race. At another port in Crapaudy (not Cigogne) I once saw a poor woman paddling her boat-load of fruit and vegetables under the stern of a Fogland steamer. She addressed the mate, who was leaning over the taffrail, in the Crapaudian tongue. He retorted, “Where’s the use of talking that gibberish; speak plain Foglandic, can’t yer?” The woman with some difficulty obeyed the injunction. I could not help admiring the “cheek” of the honest seaman, who, being in Crapaudy, styled Crapaudian gibberish.

Then there is another Foglander who keeps a tavern of somewhat higher pretensions than old Batters’s, namely, Mr. Winskip. Mr. Winskip has seen better days, and talks with affectionate regret of Mayswater, and a “trap” in which he used to drive a famous trotting mare along the Ducksbridge Road. At present he appears to be a gentleman of strong theatrical tendencies, and regales a select company of Foglanders, who assemble in the parlour every evening from eight till eleven, with songs, sentiments, and recitations. The choruses make a good deal of noise, and the Crapaudian police authorities have a constitutional objection to noise. Noise, they argue, leads to contention; contention blossoms into riot, riot ripens into revolt, revolt becomes revolution. So they come to Mr. Winskip’s door, and send in messages of a threatening character. It is reported that they may be occasionally rendered amiable by the exhibition of absinthe. One can conceive the administration of a judicious glass of ale to a Troynovant Peeler, with his citizen-like hat and long overcoat; but to offer liquor, for the purpose of bribery and corruption, to a fierce-looking gentleman in a tremendous cocked-hat, with a sword by his side and a formidable moustache under his nose, appears undignified and absurd. This rumour, therefore, is probably mere scandal. I know that Mr. Winskip is in constant fear of losing his licence. After eleven o’clock, all houses of public entertainment are sternly closed, and Mr. Winskip is in mortal terror when some gentleman, who has imbibed liquor enough to make him noisy, insists, after the legal hour of shutting up, on favouring the company with “The Flag that’s braved a thousand years,” “I’m a Foglander,” or some other anti-Crapaudian ditty of an uproarious character. Sometimes a compromise is effected, and the singer goes through the performance in a hoarse whisper, while Mr. Winskip keeps glancing nervously through the window.

Mr. Winskip attributes this excessive activity on the part of the police to his Fogland origin, and hints gloomily that they would not be down upon him so, but that the entente cordiale between Cossikin the Third and Her Foglandic Majesty is in a shaky condition. Indeed, it seems to be the fashion in Winskip’s parlour to abuse Crapaudy. There is not often a Crapaudian present; but when there is, he is apt to get terribly roasted. Covert allusions are made to Waterblue, and other famous victories gained by the Foglanders over his countrymen, and the Crapaudian is naturally inclined to get angry.

Mrs. Winskip is a dolorous personage, afflicted with perennial neuralgia, who is perpetually regretting the days when she lived in the Sledgeware Road, and abusing the people and institutions of Crapaudy. As for the Cigognards, she asserts that they are, one and all, a set of thieves. I have certainly heard that some of the tradespeople have an ugly knack of misdating bills, and sending them in a second time after payment has been made; but are not such things done at all watering-places? Are the people of Snargate, Wethersgate, Grover, Shinington, and Skirthing immaculate in this respect? I humbly think not.

But I should be sorry if all the inhabitants of Fogland resident in Cigogne were like those I have described. I have only picked out a few peculiar specimens. They are not to be taken as samples of the bulk. There are plenty of Foglanders who, while retaining their prejudices for what is good in their own country, can allow that some things are managed better in Crapaudy.

For instance, it is not necessary in Lutetia, the gay metropolis of Crapaudy, if you are going to an evening party and mean to walk home, to wear a wash-leather collar with spikes outside round your neck, to carry a Spanish knife up your coat-sleeve, a revolver in your breast-pocket, and a loaded “neddy” in your hand. I read in the columns of the “Daily Jupiter” that it is considered advisable to do so in Troynovant. Again, in Cigogne you seldom see drunken people staggering about the quays at night. If you do, the bemuddled individual is probably a Foglander. I do not say the Cigognards never get tipsy, but they contrive to do it quietly at home. Then an intelligent Foglander sometimes regrets, while gazing at the snow-white caps, short petticoats, and stout shoes of the women of the working order, that the corresponding class in his own country possesses no characteristic costume. In Fogland even the street-beggar presents in her dress a shabby, battered resemblance to a duchess.

Talking of the women, they are in Crapaudy what a citizen of Lincolnia would term “a great institution.” They appear to manage everything. Go out early in the morning, up those steep streets (compared with which Cockburn Hill is a mere joke) where the fishing-nets hang festooned across from the upper stories, and you will meet women in streams, doing their marketing. Except an occasional costermonger with a donkey (and oftener than not, as Paddy would say, he is a woman), there is not a man to be seen. The question naturally arises, Where are the husbands? Resident Foglanders tell us they are scrubbing the floors, sweeping out the dirt and placing it in a little heap in front of the doors; nay, it is even whispered, they are washing and dressing the children. Go through the street formerly named Crown Street, but lately re-christened Cossikin Street, after the great little man before mentioned, and glance into any of the shops between the hours of eight and ten p.m. This is the street where most of the establishments patronised by the Foglanders are situated. Well, what do you see? In every shop—women. Women attending on the customers, women seated in the little recess at the back, making up their books. Again the question recurs, Where are the men? It is supposed that, having done the daily task which is suited to their infantine capacities, they are permitted, like good boys, to go and relax their small minds over a game at dominoes or billiards in the cafés. The superior intellect remains at home to balance the accounts, and estimate the net profits of the day.

Men of Fogland! be warned in time. I lately read in one of your papers, that a lady was about to be admitted to practise as a surgeon. This is what alarmists would call “the small end of the wedge.” Recollect, you have already got women acting as telegraph clerks. A step further, and your independence will be sacrificed for ever. You will be forced to surrender the purse, the symbol of sovereignty, into the hands of your wife or your sister, and be kindly permitted, in exchange, to lounge away half your day while the ladies do the work.

To speak seriously, in this matter I cannot praise the customs of Crapaudy. When I see the gaunt, sunburnt, weird-looking women doing spade-work, or carrying heavy burdens in the field, I think of Fogland, where the same persons would be busy getting the husband’s dinner ready, or nursing baby at the cottage-door. In Crapaudy I have seen a great, lumbering barge pulled by a woman, while half-a-dozen hulking fellows sat idly smoking their pipes in the stern-sheets. Women of Fogland! if you know when you are well off, stay as you are. Take care of the house and of the children, and let us men battle with the outer world. Do not listen to the specious advantages offered by increased employment and comparative independence. Your mission is to be dependent. It is thus we love you best. When we return at night from our labours, weary with the dust and turmoil of the city, we do not want to meet you haggard and toilworn like ourselves. No; we want—but, bless me! I am talking as eloquently as if I were a Foglander. Rather let me ask to what the paramount influence of women in Crapaudy is chiefly due. Principally to the enormous standing army which drains away the youth and energy of the country. Oh! Cossikin Tertius, why do not you begin to lessen the size of this overgrown monster? Some day, it may turn again, and rend you.

Whenever the Crapaudians see a person doing what appears to them an eccentric thing, they shrug their shoulders, and say:

C’est un Brouillardeur.” (It is a Foglander.)

“Certainly they are mad, this people,” observed a Cigognard to me. “I am told that they pursue their national pastime of criquette under the burning sun of India, while it is well known that they played hockey on the ice at Melville Island with the thermometer at fifty degrees below the zero of Reaumur. Observe those two men now. They are practising in that heavy skiff (their racing-boat is laid up in Monsieur Aviron’s covered yard), this bitter November day, for the regatta next summer. For pleasure, too, my faith! When they might sit by a fire, and play dominoes the whole afternoon!”

In spite, however, of my friend’s sarcastic remarks, I am happy to say that, in this pursuit, Crapaudians are laudably striving to emulate the Foglanders. Gentlemen (not professional boatmen) are beginning to pull in good earnest, and also to train for pulling. There are men among them who are worthy of taking an oar at Chutney and Whew. Still the great mass of Crapaudians believe that, for strengthening the muscles, there is nothing like gymnastics. In feats of this nature they beat Fogland hollow.

I have hinted that I was at Cigogne during the month of November, and have not therefore mentioned the word “sea-bathing” which is otherwise as closely associated with one’s conception of this town as horse-racing with Longcaster. But at this season of the year the mere sound of the trisyllable makes you shiver, and your teeth chatter at the sight of the long line of idle machines drawn upon the sandy beach. Even in August the Foglander, accustomed at home to bathe boldly in his native buff, shudders as he emerges from the water in those dreadful clammy garments which Crapaudian propriety compels him to wear: the bare thought of them now is too horrible to be borne. Let us dismiss the subject, and rather take a brisk walk up Cossikin Street, observing Fogland men and manners as we go.

That short, red-faced man with greyish hair, who stands smoking a cigar at the door of his office, is Mr. Runcingham, the commission-agent, who does a good and increasing business, now that trade is so brisk, between the two great cities of Troynovant and Lutetia. Mr. Runcingham does not admire Cigogne or the Cigognards.

“It’s very aggravating, sir,” he says, “to be within four hours of your native metropolis, and have a foreign flag a-flying over your head.” Here he pauses and looks viciously at a harmless fishing-net which dangles in the wind a few doors up the next street. “As for the people,” he continues, “they’ve no enterprise. They’ve a two-penny-halfpenny-way of doing business that I can’t stand.”

“Good sporting country, though, Mr. Runcingham,” say I, maliciously aware that I am touching on a sore subject.

“Ah!” he exclaims, with a sort of hiss in his throat. “Good for them that can find the game. I couldn’t. Why, look at my case this last season. I had a pinter” (Mr. R. is somewhat old-fashioned in his pronunciation) “fetched over from Grover, paid a pound for a licence to carry arms, as they call it here, paid a tax on my dorg, paid ten pound for right of shooting, and I was continually in ’ot water and squabbles. You see, sir, property’s so split up and divided here, that you’re always getting on somebody else’s land without knowing it. Up comes the proprietor, some poor miserable fellow that scarcely knows the taste of butcher’s meat. Very polite, of course; they all are here. ‘His honour is not aware that he is trespassing. We shall be happy to drink his honour’s health.’ That means five or ten shillings. Well, I paid it at first; but, after a few days, I began to get savage, and told some of these chaps to go to blazes. They went to the mayor, and what with summonses, and citations, and verbal processes, I’m fairly sick of sporting in Crapaudy. I shot a few rabbits and a hare or two, and then gave it up in disgust.”

A little further up the street I pass the establishment of Mr. Cripps, who proclaims himself in prominent characters as the only Fogland chemist in Cigogne. Two or three other persons make a similar announcement, Mr. Cripps. You must settle amongst yourselves at whose door the falsehood lies. Mr. Cripps is quite a dashing-looking gentleman, wearing the long, drooping whiskers of his native land. He is so good-looking, that I wonder he does not pick up an heiress, if such “golden lasses” ever disport themselves in the waters of Cigogne. I know that in the summertime Cripps does what vulgar persons call a roaring trade, and his shop is filled with Fogland ladies, who may easily be distinguished from the natives by their flower-and feather-ornamented hats, their general tendency to bright colours, and, what is more agreeable, by their freshness of complexion and innocent freedom of manner. Foglanders not only read their own newspapers, patronise their own cooking, and drink their own beverages, they must, if poorly, take their own pills. And Fogland is celebrated all over the world for its patent medicines. The Bashkirs and Kalmucks of Tartary, who never heard of the famous victories of Waterblue and Tredegar, know and appreciate Swalloway’s Ointment. But I trust you won’t think the above mentioned ladies go to Cripps’s shop for physic, and such-like nasty stuff. Oh, no! perfumery is their vanity, and Mr. Cripps’s especial forte. He has as neat a way of insinuating a pair of magnetic hair-brushes, or a gold-topped smelling bottle, into a lady a possession as any of his brethren in Coxford Street or New Pond Street.

Before this portal I stop with an emotion of respectful awe. It is here that the “Cigogne Observer” is published. I know, but shall not divulge, the name of the editor. His paper is published in Foglandic, fer the benefit of the Foglanders resident in Cigogne. These worthy folks, besides reading the “Daily Jupiter,” like to hear a little innocent gossip concerning their fellow-townsmen and brother exiles. This they get in the “Observer.” I cannot say that the “Observer” is great in leading articles. Fogland politics are sufficiently discussed in the “Jupiter;” Crapaudian politics are tabooed. If the “Observer” were to talk as freely about Cossikin Tertius as people do over in free-spoken Fogland, he would speedily find his office closed, and himself on board the Hoaxstone steamer.

Observe upon this highly-polished brass-plate the legend, “Monsieur Pipon, teacher of the Crapaudian language.” I pause upon the threshold, for the purpose of informing you that this man is a traitor to his native land. All other Foglanders glory in their origin, and would on no account be mistaken for Crapaudians. But Monsieur Pipon confessed to me, after imbibing several glasses of a liqueur called “Water of Life,” that he was a disguised Foglander, that his real name was Pippin, and that his youthful days were passed in Chislington. “I changed my name, sir,” he said, “because my countrymen won’t believe that a Foglander can teach Crapaudian.” It is only due to Monsieur Pipon to state that he is one of the most skilful teachers in the town, for he knows precisely all the pitfalls and stumbling-blocks which beset a Fogland learner. The natives, who suck in Crapaudian with their infantine pap, are useless in this respect.

On half-holiday Thursdays you will meet numbers of young ladies’ schools promenading in the usual duality-fashion, and looking, in the autumnal season, somewhat pinched and blue as they face the keen north-easterly wind round the citadel. Let us suppose that it is two days later, or Saturday, and, if you will accept my guidance, you shall see some of the Fogland youth and beauty to greater advantage.

We knock at the door of Monsieur Trenise, and, passing up a covered passage through a garden that must look very pretty in the summer time, are ushered into the presence of the professor himself. He is a nice, fresh-looking, elderly gentleman, who glides about with the utmost grace. Arming himself with the insignia of his profession—the fiddle and the bow—he bids us enter a spacious saloon, wherein, besides a number of sympathising and admiring parents, brothers, and sisters, ranged on seats along the walls, I count fifty-nine young ladies, all arrayed in fresh, pretty morning dresses, “doing their steps.” They vary in age from womanly eighteen, blushing at the possibility of a respectful admirer on the side benches, to romping little dots of four, who look upon the whole affair as a piece of capital fun. Presently the exercises are concluded; the band, consisting of a violin and a pianoforte, take their seats, and partners are selected for a quadrille. While they are taking their places, I wish to call your attention to the purest specimen of moral courage it has ever been my lot to encounter. Besides the fifty-nine young ladies, there is a sixtieth person standing up to dance. That person is of the male sex, a Foglander, and stands about five feet ten in his shoes. I am happy to see that he has got a partner, a young lady of eleven years; but don’t you pity that tall young gentleman when he comes to do the cavalier seul in the presence of that vast feminine assemblage? I regard him with respect and wonder. He is the Nelson of the ball-room.

The dancing now begins, and Monsieur Trenise glides about like a well-bred spectre. He soon grows enthusiastic, pats this young lady approvingly on the back, seizes that young lady sternly by the shoulders. Then we have the Polka, the Cellarius, the Imperial Quadrilles, the latter a graceful and admirable cross between the plain Quadrille and the Lancers. A fellow who has arrived at that age when late hours and cabs choked with crinoline have become a bore finds this a delightful entertainment. I sit and gossip with my friends on the benches, making sarcastic and complimentary observations regarding the dancers, and shall, at six o’clock, go home to our pleasant old-fashioned tea. I confess the sight of these thirty couples gyrating in the polka stirred my blood, and I proposed to my fair neighbour that we should stand up and dance. She declined, on the grounds that Monsieur Trenise’s wrath at such a violation of fundamental principles would be too awful to witness.

The band plays a grand march, and the academy disperses. It is time to go home. I pass the Cherry Tree on my way, and behold in the thickening shades of evening the portly form of Joe Batters, armed with the fire-shovel in the act of pursuing a cow. The hoarse sound of his “Why don’t you alley?” mingles with the ripple of the incoming tide on the beach. I believe those cows tend to prolong Joe’s life. Were he to sit continuously at his stove, imbibing Hollands and water, he would infallibly go off in an apoplexy. These cows act as a wholesome antiphlogistic. Night comes on apace. As I climb the heights the brilliant light on Greynose Promontory, the point of Crapaudian soil nearest to Fogland, bursts into view. Foglanders and Crapaudians, I wish you good-bye, and long may the entente cordiale exist between you!