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Written by Hunter   
Wednesday, 08 October 2008 12:33

There dwelt an old man in Monastier, [Footnote: Monastier: a little
village in southern France.] of rather unsound intellect according to
some, much followed by street-boys, and known to fame as Father Adam.
Father Adam had a cart, and to draw the cart a diminutive donkey, not
much bigger than a dog, the color of a mouse, with a kindly eye and a
determined under-jaw. There was something neat and high-bred, a
Quakerish elegance, about the rogue that hit my fancy on the spot.

Our first interview was in Monastier market-place. To prove her good
temper, one child after another was set upon her back to ride, and one
after another went head over heels into the air; until a want of
confidence began to reign in youthful bosoms, and the experiment was
discontinued from a dearth of subjects. I was already backed by a
deputation [Footnote: Deputation: a group of persons sent to act in
behalf of others.] of my friends; but as if this were not enough, all
the buyers and sellers came around and helped me in the bargain; and the
ass and I and Father Adam were the centre of a hubbub for near half an
hour. At length she passed into my service for the consideration of
sixty-five francs and a glass of brandy. The sack had already cost
eighty francs and two glasses of beer; so that Modestine, as I instantly
baptized her, was upon all accounts the cheaper article.

By the advice of a fallacious [Footnote: Fallacious: misleading,
deceptive.] local saddler, a leather pad was made for me with rings to
fasten on my bundle; and I thoughtfully completed my kit and arranged my
toilette. By way of armory and utensils, I took a revolver, a little
spirit lamp and pan, a lantern and some halfpenny candles, a jack-knife
and a large leather flask. The main cargo consisted of two entire
changes of warm clothing, besides my travelling wear of country
velveteen, pilot coat, and knitted spencer, some books, and my
railway-rug, which, being also in the form of a bag, made me a double
castle for cold nights. The permanent larder was represented by cakes of
chocolate and tins of Bologna sausage. All this, except what I carried
about my person, was easily stowed into the sheepskin bag; and by good
fortune I threw in my empty knapsack, rather for convenience of carriage
than from any thought that I should want it on my journey. For more
immediate needs, I took a leg of cold mutton, a bottle of Beaujolais,
[Footnote: Beaujolais: a red wine made in southeastern France.] an empty
bottle to carry milk, an egg-beater, and a considerable quantity of
black bread and white for myself and donkey.

On the day of my departure I was up a little after five; by six we began
to load the donkey; and ten minutes after, my hopes were in the dust.
The pad would not stay on Modestine's back for half a moment. I returned
it to its maker, with whom I had so contumelious [Footnote:
Contumelious: rude and abusive.] a passage that the street outside was
crowded from wall to wall with gossips looking on and listening. The pad
changed hands with much vivacity; perhaps it would be more descriptive
to say that we threw it at each other's heads; and, at any rate, we were
very warm and unfriendly, and spoke with a deal of freedom.

I had a common donkey pack-saddle fitted upon Modestine; and once more
loaded her with my effects.

The bell of Monastier was just striking nine as I got quit of these
preliminary troubles and descended the hill through the common. As long
as I was within sight of the windows, a secret shame and the fear of
some laughable defeat withheld me from tampering with Modestine. She
tripped along upon her four small hoofs with a sober daintiness of gait;
from time to time she shook her ears or her tail; and she looked so
small under the bundle that my mind misgave me. We got across the ford
without difficulty--there was no doubt about the matter, she was
docility itself--and once on the other bank, where the road begins to
mount through pine-woods, I took in my right hand the unhallowed staff,
and with a quaking spirit applied it to the donkey. Modestine brisked up
her pace for perhaps three steps, and then relapsed into her former
minuet. [Footnote: Minuet: a slow, stately dance.] Another application
had the same effect, and so with the third. I am worthy the name of an
Englishman, and it goes against my conscience to lay my hand rudely on a
female. I desisted, and looked her all over from head to foot; the poor
brute's knees were trembling and her breathing was distressed; it was
plain that she could not go faster on a hill. God forbid, thought I,
that I should brutalize this innocent creature; let her go at her own
pace, and let me patiently follow.

What that pace was, there is no word mean enough to describe, it was
something as much slower than a walk as a walk is slower than a run; it
kept me hanging on each foot for an incredible length of time; in five
minutes it exhausted the spirit and set up a fever in all the muscles of
the leg. And yet I had to keep close at hand and measure my advance
exactly upon hers; for if I dropped a few yards in to the rear, or went
on a few yards ahead, Modestine came instantly to a halt and began to
browse. The thought that this was to last from here to Alais [Footnote:
Alais: a town in southeastern France not far from the Rhone River.]
nearly broke my heart. Of all conceivable journeys, this promised to be
the most tedious. I tried to tell myself it was a lovely day; I tried to
charm my foreboding spirit with tobacco; but I had a vision ever present
to me of the long long roads, up hill and down dale, and a pair of
figures ever infinitesimally moving, foot by foot, a yard to the minute,
and, like things enchanted in a nightmare, approaching no nearer to the

In the meantime there came up behind us a tall peasant, perhaps forty
years of age, of an ironical snuffy countenance, and arrayed in the
green tail-coat of the country. He overtook us hand over hand, and
stopped to consider our pitiful advance.

"Your donkey," says he, "is very old?"

I told him, I believed not.

Then, he supposed, we had come far.

I told him we had but newly left Monastier.

"Et vous marchez comme ca!" [Footnote: Et vous marchez comme ca! "and
you are moving like that!"] cried he; and, throwing back his head, he
laughed long and heartily. I watched him, half prepared to feel
offended, until he had satisfied his mirth; and then, "You must have no
pity on these animals," said he; and, plucking a switch out of a
thicket, he began to lace Modestine about the stern works, uttering a
cry. The rogue pricked up her ears and broke into a good round pace,
which she kept up without flagging, and without exhibiting the least
symptom of distress, as long as the peasant kept beside us. Her former
panting and shaking had been, I regret to say, a piece of comedy.

My _deus ex machina_, [Footnote: Deus ex machina: "the god out of
the machine"; some supernatural intervention.] before he left me,
supplied some excellent, if inhumane, advice; presented me with the
switch, which he declared she would feel more tenderly than my cane; and
finally taught me the true cry or masonic word of donkey-drivers,
"Proot!" All the time, he regarded me with a comical incredulous air, as
I might have smiled over his orthography or his green tail-coat. But it
was not my turn for the moment.

I hurried over my midday meal, and was early forth again. But, alas, as
we climbed the interminable hill upon the other side, "Proot!" seemed to
have lost its virtue. I prooted like a lion, I prooted melliflously
[Footnote: Melliflously: sweetly. Find this allusion in "Midsummer
Night's Dream," Act I, Scene 2.] like a sucking-dove; but Modestine
would be neither softened nor intimidated. She held doggedly to her
pace; nothing but a blow would move her, and that only for a second. I
must follow at her heels, incessantly belaboring. A moment's pause in
this ignoble toil, and she relapsed into her own private gait. I think I
never heard of any one in as mean a situation. I must reach the lake of
Bouchet, where I meant to camp, before sundown; and, to have even a hope
of this, I must instantly maltreat this uncomplaining animal. The sound
of my blows sickened me. Once, when I looked at her, she had a faint
resemblance to a lady of my acquaintance who formerly loaded me with
kindness; and this increased my horror of my cruelty.

It was blazing hot up the valley, windless, with vehement sun upon my
shoulders; and I had to labor so consistently with my stick that the
sweat ran into my eyes. Every five minutes, too, the pack, the basket,
and the pilot-coat would take an ugly slew [Footnote: Slew: twist.] to
one side or the other; and I had to stop Modestine, just when I had got
her to a tolerable pace of about two miles an hour, to tug, push,
shoulder, and re-adjust the load. And at last, in the village of Ussel,
[Footnote: Ussel: a town about one hundred miles northwest of Alais.]
saddle and all, the whole hypothec [Footnote: Hypothec: literally, the
property of a tenant held by a landlord as security for rent. Here, of
course, the property insufficiently secured on the donkey.] turned round
and grovelled in the dust, below the donkey's belly. She none better
pleased, incontinently drew up and seemed to smile; and a party of one
man, two women, and two children came up, and, standing round me in a
half-circle, encouraged her by their example.

I disposed it, Heaven knows how, so as to be mildly portable, and then
proceeded to steer Modestine through the village. She tried, as was
indeed her invariable habit, to enter every house and every courtyard in
the whole length, and, encumbered as I was, without a hand to help
myself, no words can render an idea of my difficulties. A priest, with
six or seven others, was examining a church in process of repair, and
his acolytes [Footnote: Acolytes: assistants of the priest during mass.]
laughed loudly as they saw my plight. I remembered having laughed myself
when I had seen good men struggling with adversity in the person of a
jackass, and the recollection filled me with penitence. That was in my
old light days, before this trouble came upon me. God knows at least
that I shall never laugh again, thought I. But O, what a cruel thing is
a farce to those engaged in it!

A little out of the village, Modestine, filled with the demon, set her
heart upon a by-road, and positively refused to leave it. I dropped all
my bundles, and, I am ashamed to say, struck the poor sinner twice
across the face. It was pitiful to see her lift up her head with shut
eyes, as if waiting for another blow. I came very near crying; but I did
a wiser thing than that, and sat squarely down by the roadside to
consider my situation. Modestine in the meanwhile, munched some black
bread with a contrite hypocritical air. It was plain that I must make a
sacrifice to the gods of shipwreck. I threw away the empty bottles
destined to carry milk; I threw away my own white bread, and, disdaining
to act by general average, kept the black bread for Modestine; lastly I
threw away the cold leg of mutton and the egg whisk, although this last
was dear to my heart.

Thus I found room for everything in the basket, and even stowed the
boating-coat on the top. By means of an end of cord I slung it under one
arm; and although the cord cut my shoulder, and the jacket hung almost
to the ground, it was with a heart greatly lightened that I set forth.


[Footnote: Would you judge that this was the writer's first experience
in camping? Why? What is added to the story by attributing human
qualities to Modestine? How did she seem to be always putting him in the
wrong? Do people ever work such tricks? What characteristics of the
author are shown in this sketch? Is the humor of the story one of
situation merely? What other selections are similar to this in the style
of writing? in the humor?]

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