Chapter V. Paris Again - And Bordeaux: Journal of a Flight from a London Fogs
Said the reporter of one of the Bordeaux papers next day: "Through the Kipling evoked by M. Cestre we admired the English and those who fight, in the great winds of the North Sea, that combat rude and brave. We admired the faithful indigenes, gathering from all her dominions, to put their muscular arms at the service of the empire..."
It would, indeed, have been difficult to pay a more graceful compliment to the entente cordiale than to try to run the author of "Soldiers Three" and the "Barrack Room Ballads," and with him the nation behind him, into the smooth mould of a conference - that mixture, so curiously French, of clear thinking and graceful expression, of sensitive definition and personal charm, all blended into a whole so intellectually neat and modulated that an audience like this may take it with the same sense of being cheered, yet not inebriated, with which their allies across the Channel take their afternoon tea.
A Frenchman of a generation ago would scarcely have recognized the England pictured by the amiable Bordeaux professor, and I am not sure that in this entirely altruistic big brother of little nations the English would have recognized themselves. But, at any rate, polite flutters of applause punctuated the talk, and at the end M. Cestre asked his audience to rise as he paid his final tribute to the people now fighting the common battle with France. They all stood up and, smiling up at the left-hand proscenium-box, saluted the British ambassador, Sir Francis Bertie, with long and enthusiastic applause. A man in the gallery even ventured a "Heep! heep!" and every one drifted out very content, indeed.
In the foyer I saw one lady carefully spelling out with her lorgnette one of the words on the list posted there of the subjects for conferences.
"Ah!" she said, considerably reassured apparently, "Keepling!" But then she may have come in late.
The war has been hard on the main business of the neighborhood, of course - Germany was the heaviest buyer of Bordeaux wine, Russia next, and not as much as usual is going to England. The vintage this year, like that of 70, is said to be good, however, and, though the young men have gone, and the wine-making was not as gay as usual, there were enough old men and women left to do the work. I visited one of the older wine houses - nearly two centuries old - and tramped through cellars which burrow on two levels under a whole city block. There were some two million bottles down there in the dark and dust.
There is something patriarchal and princely about such a house, almost unknown in our businesses at home - from the portraits of the founders, from the caskmakers, at lunch-time, broiling their own fish over a huge fireplace and drawing wine from the common cask as they have done for generations; the stencils in the shipping-room - "Baltimore," "Bogota," "Buenos Aires," "Chicago," "Calcutta," "Christiania," "Caracas" - from things like these to the personality and point of view of the men who have the business in charge.
"Now, wine," began the charming gentleman who showed us round, "is a living thing." And though you could see that he had showed many people about in his day - and was not unaware of what might interest them - that he was, in short, an advertiser of the most accomplished kind, yet one could also see that he liked his work and believed in it, and grew wine as an amateur grows fancy tulips and not as a mere salesman.
To be sure, he was inclined to slur over the importance of white wine, while champagne and its perfidious makers didn't interest him in the least; but of the red wine of Bordeaux, its lightness, bouquet, and general beneficence, and the delicate and affectionate care with which it was handled, one could have heard him talk all day. Now and then younger houses discovered things that were going to revolutionize the wine trade.
"Of course," he said, "we examine such things. We look in our books, where records of all our experiments are kept, and there we find that we tried that new thing in 1856 - or 1756, perhaps."
Far underground we came on some of the huge majorums, big as nine ordinary bottles. "The King of Spain ran over to Bordeaux one day, and came to us and said: 'I've got two hours; what can you show me?' We said: 'We can show you our cellars.' 'Very well,' said he; 'go ahead.' When he came to the majorums he said: 'What on earth do you do with those ?' 'They are used when there is a christening or a wedding or some great event, and when a king visits us we give him two.'"
So they sent the majorums to the young King, and the King sent back a polite note, just as if he were anybody else, and that is all of that story.
Most of the newspapers which followed the government to Bordeaux have returned to the capital, but that intransigeant government-baiter, the venerable Georges Clemenceau, still continues his bombardment from close range. His paper was formerly L'Homme Libre - The Free Man - but on being suppressed this fall by the censor its octogenarian editor gayly changed its name to The Chained Man - L'Homme Enchaine - and continued fire.
The mayor of a Paris commune in '71, prime minister from 1906-9, the editor of various papers, and senator now, Clemenceau is properly feared; and he was offered, it is said, a place in the present government, but would accept no post but the highest. He preferred his role of political realist and critical privateer, a sort of Mr. Shaw of French politics, hitting a head wherever he sees one.