In the Bois de Boulogne

by Unknown

THE first few years of my life were passed in Paris and, though my parents were American, I grew up quite like a French child as did, indeed, my brother and two little sisters.

The greater part of our time was spent in Paris and as we lived near the Bois de Boulogne we were taken there every day by our bonne and allowed to play to our hearts' content. Some of you have probably been in this beautiful park and walked through its broad avenues and its hundreds of shady little alleys.

You may have followed as we did some of the merry little streams to find out where they would lead you, or better than all you may have joined in the play of some of the French children and discovered games new and strange to you. All this became very familiar to us and I often think of the good times we had there, when all the days were like fête days, and of the pretty games we used to play there with the charming French children.

French children think "the more the merrier;" so when a game is proposed the first thing they do is to look about and see if there are not other children near by whom they can ask to join them. This is done as much for the sake of showing politeness as to increase numbers, and as it is the custom, the mammas or the nurses of the invited children never refuse to let them take part in the fun.

Hide-and-seek or "cache-cache," blind-man's-buff or "Colin Maillard," tag, marbles, all these we also played; but there were other games I have never seen in this country.

One of which we never tired was "Le Loup—the Wolf." A boy was usually chosen for the wolf, and while he withdrew a short distance the others sauntered about among the trees, leisurely singing this little song:

Promenons-nous dans les bois
pendant que le loup n'y est pas.

Let us walk in the woods,
while the wolf is not about.

Then they call "Loup, viens-tu?—Wolf, are you coming?" "Non, je me lève—No, I'm getting up," replies the Wolf. Then they sing again and call, "Loup, viens-tu?" "Non, je m'habille—No, I'm dressing." This goes on for some time, the wolf prolonging the agony as much as possible, and stopping to get his hat, his cane, or cigar, but finally making a rush with, "Je viens—I'm coming!" he dives into the crowd, scattering the children in every direction and making general havoc. The one who happens to be captured is the "wolf" the next time.

Another game more limited to little girls, was, "Sur le Pont d'Avignon." We formed a ring and danced around singing:

Sur le pont d'Avignon
on y danse, on y danse,
Sur le pont d'Avignon,
on y danse, tout en rond.
Les dames font comme ça,
et puis encore comme ça.

"On the bridge of Avignon the people dance in a ring, the ladies do this way" (courtesying).

The next time it is "Les blanchiseuses font comme ça—the washerwoman, etc.," suiting the action to words; then "Les couturières font comme ça—the dressmakers do this way." Every trade or occupation was gone through with in like manner with the greatest earnestness.

Here is another of the same character:

1. Savez-vous planter les choux
à, la mode, à la mode,
Savez-vous planter les choux
à, la mode, de chez nous.

2. On les plantent avec les doigts
à, la mode, à la mode,
On les plantent avec les doigts
à, la mode, de chez nous.

3. On les plantent avec le pied
à, la mode, à la mode,
On les plantent avec le pied
à, la mode, de chez nous.

But the prettiest of these singing games was "La Marguerite." To play this a circle was formed around La Marguerite, who was supposed to be a beautiful princess waiting to be rescued from her imprisonment. Two knights seeking her walked round the ring singing:

1. Où est la Marguerite?
Oh qué,
Oh qué,
Oh qué,
Où est la Marguerite,
Oh qué son chevalier.

2. Elle est dans son château,
Oh qué,
Oh qué,
Oh qué,
Elle est dans son château,
Oh qué son chevalier.
And then, one by one, stones were loosened from the tower; that is, the ring was made smaller and smaller until La Marguerite was set at liberty.

The skipping-rope and the hoop are, or were then, much more used there then here; and to skip the rope gracefully, or guide a hoop dexterously, was an accomplishment.

Whoever was agile enough to pass the rope under the feet twice while giving one skip was looked upon with admiration. New developments constantly took place with the skipping-rope or "corde à sauter," and all sorts of evolutions were gone through with, many of which were pretty and graceful.

Lively games were usually played in some wide open space near the Porte Maillot, one of the entrances to the Bois, as there was always sure to be a great number of both grown people and children thereabout. But there were retired nooks where our little band sometimes gathered and made merry. One favorite retreat was a pine grove; "Les Sapins" we called it.

Here the little girls liked best to play dolls, or make a dinette with their goûter of a tablet of chocolate and some bread which forms the regulation lunch of most French children. Sometimes we amused ourselves in gathering the resinous matter which oozed from the pines, sticking to the bark, and from it we made little plasters and doll medicines.

"La Mousse" was the name of another haunt; this was a mossy bank which on one side sloped gently down to one of the main avenues and on the other descended abruptly into a ravine called La Fosse. It was a great place for the boys and such a turning of somersets and racings down the steep sides of the Fosse as there were!

A favorite occupation was the making of gardens; and then there was a hunt for the prettiest mosses, the tiniest, brightest pebbles and the most tree-like twigs. Then a place was marked out on the side of the smooth sandy path and usually near a bench where would be sitting our bonnes or whoever was taking care of us. Paths were traced and bordered with the pebbles; smooth lawns made of the velvety moss, and small branches stuck in for trees; while miniature flower-beds were made and filled with the smallest flowers to be found.

These gardens were often very pretty and much ingenuity could be displayed in laying them out. We sometimes made them in some secluded spot hoping to find them again the next day; but we never did, for Paris is the neatest city in the world and the Bois de Boulogne receives its share of cleaning and garnishing every day in the year.

There is nothing "snubby" or ungracious about French children, and I remember how many a time we helped poor peasant children pick up stray bits of wood to make their fagots, or invited them to share our fun.

One day we saw a crowd of these children carrying baskets filled with acacia-blossoms which they said were to be made into fritters!

We found that a large acacia-tree, laden with the snowy fragrant clusters, had been cut down and the people were plucking as much of the booty as they could carry away with them. We followed their example and that evening we had the addition of some delicious fritters to our dinner. The grape-like clusters had been dipped into a light batter, fried and sprinkled with sugar; truly they made a dish fit for a king.

Happy hours were those spent in the dear old Bois de Boulogne and if any of you girls and boys who read this ever go there, may you have as happy ones!