Then under foot there were patches of woolly feather-grass and fragrant meadow-sweet, sheets of fescue, dog's-tail, creeping-bent, and meadow grass. Sainfoin reared its long fine filaments; clover unfurled its clear green leaves, plantains brandished forests of spears, lucerne spread out in soft beds of green satin broidered with purple flowers.
The tenacity of this straw makes it very valuable for such purposes. Corn, rye and sainfoin were already very advanced, all here testifying to highly scientific farming; and elsewhere roots were being sown. The soil is prepared by a process called marnage, i.e. dug up to the extent of three feet, the marne or clayey soil being brought to the surface.
Crops of rye, which, when we passed them in the middle of June, were in full ear, are every where very common; indeed, rye bread seems to be the staple food of the peasantry. Much wheat, barley, and oats, are also cultivated, with a great deal of sainfoin and clover, which is never pastured, but cut, and carried green into the stalls of the cattle.
That solid cretaceous mass is but the remnants of the countless inhabitants of the old seas, life changed into solid, hard rock; and even now, as the green grass and the sweet sainfoin spring up on the surface, feeding the flocks and herds that will soon in their turn feed mankind, earth is turning back again into life.
Wheat, barley or oats, sainfoin, lucerne or clover, and fallow, form the universal rotation. The green crops are uniformly cut, and carried into the house for the cattle; as there are no inclosures, there is no such thing as pasturage in the fields; and, except once on the banks of the Oise, we never saw cattle pasturing in those parts of France.
He once noticed mole-heaps of a peculiar kind in a field of sainfoin, and it looked to him as if this mole worked in a way of his own, quite unlike the others. The hills he threw up were a good distance apart, and so large that you could fill a bushel measure with the mould from any one of them.
When the bad weather came, there would be time enough to see to that. Meanwhile they prospered on the luxuriant pasturage of the prairie, with its abundance of sainfoin and edible roots, of which the porcine representatives showed genuine appreciation.
But soon we are on the Downs, well out of harm's way and far removed from highroads and footpaths. What a glorious panorama lies all around! Why do we not come here oftener in summer? the country is ten times more lovely then than it is in the shooting season. A field of sainfoin in June, with its glorious blossoms of pink, is one of the prettiest sights in all creation.
Swann used often to go and spend a few days at Laon, and, for all that it was many miles away, the distance was obviated by the absence of any intervening obstacle; when, on hot afternoons, I would see a breath of wind emerge from the farthest horizon, bowing the heads of the corn in distant fields, pouring like a flood over all that vast expanse, and finally settling down, warm and rustling, among the clover and sainfoin at my feet, that plain which was common to us both seemed then to draw us together, to unite us; I would imagine that the same breath had passed by her also, that there was some message from her in what it was whispering to me, without my being able to understand it, and I would catch and kiss it as it passed.
Besides beetroot for sugar, clover and sainfoin are grown, little or no barley, and neither turnips nor mangel-wurzel. The land is just now prepared for planting beetroot, by far the most important crop here, and on which I shall have much to say. Henceforth, indeed, the farming I describe may be called industrial, purely agricultural products being secondary.