I have a sincere respect and liking for the Vicar of Gantick–“th’ old Parson Kendall,” as we call him–but have somewhat avoided his hospitality since Mrs. Kendall took up with the teetotal craze. I say nothing against the lady’s renouncing, an she choose, the light dinner claret, the cider, the port (pale with long maturing in the wood) which her table afforded of yore: nor do I believe that the Vicar, excellent man, repines deeply–though I once caught the faint sound of a sigh as we stood together and conned his cider-apple trees, un-garnered, shedding their fruit at random in the long grasses. For his glebe contains a lordly orchard, and it used to be a treat to watch him, his greenish third-best coat stuck all over with apple-pips and shreds of pomace, as he helped to work the press at the great annual cider-making. But I agree with their son, Master Dick, that “it’s rough on the guests.”
Master Dick is now in his second year at Oxford; and it was probably for his sake, to remove temptation from the growing lad, that Mrs. Kendall first discovered the wickedness of all alcoholic drink. Were he not an ordinary, good-natured boy–had he, as they say, an ounce of vice in him–I doubt the good lady’s method might go some way towards defeating her purpose. As things are, it will probably take no worse revenge upon her solicitude than by weaning him insensibly away from home, to use his vacation-times in learning to be a man.
Last Long Vacation, in company with a friend he calls Jinks, Master Dick took a Canadian canoe out to Bordeaux by steamer, and spent six adventurous weeks in descending the Dordogne and exploring the Garonne with its tributaries. On his return he walked over to find me smoking in my garden after dinner, and gave me a gleeful account of his itinerary.
“. . . And the next place we came to was Bergerac,” said he, after ten minutes of it.
“Ah!” I murmured. “Bergerac!”
“You know it?”
“Passably well,” said I. “It lies toward the edge of the claret country; but it grows astonishing claret. When I was about your age it grew a wine yet more astonishing.”
“Hallo!” Master Dick paused in the act of lighting his pipe and dropped the match hurriedly as the flame scorched his fingers.
“It was grown on a hill just outside the town–the Mont-Bazillac. I once drank a bottle of it.”
“Lord! You too? . . . Do tell me what happened!”
“Never,” I responded firmly. “The Mont-Bazillac is extinct, swept out of existence by the phylloxera when you were a babe in arms. Infandum jubes renovare– no one any longer can tell you what that wine was. They made it of the ripe grape. It had the raisin flavour with something–no more than a hint–of Madeira in it: the leathery tang–how to describe it?”
“You need not try, when I have two bottles of it at home, at this moment!”
“When I tell you–” I began.
“Oh, but wait till you’ve heard the story!” he interrupted. “As I was saying, we came to Bergerac and put up for the night at the Couronne d’Or–first-class cooking. Besides ourselves there were three French bagmen at the table d’hote. The usual sort. Jinks, who talks worse French than I do (if that’s possible), and doesn’t mind, got on terms with them at once. . . . For my part I can always hit it off with a commercial–it’s the sort of mind that appeals to me–and these French bagmen do know something about eating and drinking. That’s how it happened. One of them started chaffing us about the ordinaire we were drinking–quite a respectable tap, by the way. He had heard that Englishmen drank only the strongest wine, and drank it in any quantities. Then another said: ‘Ah, messieurs, if you would drink for the honour of England, justement you should match yourselves here in this town against the famous Mont-Bazillac.’ ‘What is this Mont-Bazillac?’ we asked: and they told us–well, pretty much what you told me just now–adding, however, that the landlord kept a few precious bottles of it. They were quite fair in their warnings.”