La Mere Bauche
was a Fils Bauche who lived with his mother; but no one seemed to remember more of
him than that he had once existed. At Vernet he had never been known. La Mere Bauche
was a native of the village, but her married life had been passed away from it, and she
had returned in her early widowhood to become proprietress and manager, or, as one may
say, the heart and soul of the Hotel Bauche at Vernet.
This hotel was a large and somewhat rough establishment, intended for the
accommodation of invalids who came to Vernet for their health. It was built immediately
over one of the thermal springs, so that the water flowed from the bowels of the earth
directly into the baths. There was accommodation for seventy people, and during the
summer and autumn months the place was always full. Not a few also were to be found
there during the winter and spring, for the charges of Madame Bauche were low, and the
accommodation reasonably good.
And in this respect, as indeed in all others, Madame Bauche had the reputation of being
an honest woman. She had a certain price, from which no earthly consideration would
induce her to depart; and there were certain returns for this price in the shape of dejeuners
and dinners, baths and beds, which she never failed to give in accordance with the
dictates of a strict conscience. These were traits in the character of an hotel-keeper which
cannot be praised too highly, and which had met their due reward in the custom of the
public. But nevertheless there were those who thought that there was occasionally ground
for complaint in the conduct even of Madame Bauche.
In the first place she was deficient in that pleasant smiling softness which should belong
to any keeper of a house of public entertainment. In her general mode of life she was
stern and silent with her guests, autocratic, authoritative and sometimes contradictory in
her house, and altogether irrational and unconciliatory when any change even for a day
was proposed to her, or when any shadow of a complaint reached her ears.
Indeed of complaint, as made against the establishment, she was altogether intolerant. To
such she had but one answer. He or she who complained might leave the place at a
moment's notice if it so pleased them. There were always others ready to take their
places. The power of making this answer came to her from the lowness of her prices; and
it was a power which was very dear to her.
The baths were taken at different hours according to medical advice, but the usual time
was from five to seven in the morning. The dejeuner or early meal was at nine o'clock,
the dinner was at four. After that, no eating or drinking was allowed in the Hotel Bauche.
There was a cafe in the village, at which ladies and gentlemen could get a cup of coffee
or a glass of eau sucre; but no such accommodation was to be had in the establishment.
Not by any possible bribery or persuasion could any meal be procured at any other than
the authorised hours. A visitor who should enter the salle a manger more than ten minutes
after the last bell would be looked at very sourly by Madame Bauche, who on all
occasions sat at the top of her own table. Should any one appear as much as half an hour
late, he would receive only his share of what had not been handed round. But after the
last dish had been so handed, it was utterly useless for any one to enter the room at all.