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Title: Brittany
Author: Menpes, Mortimer, 1855-1938, Menpes, Dorothy
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  [Illustration: MARIE JEANNE]





Published by Adam & Charles Black
Soho Square
London · W · MCMXII.

Published July, 1905
Reprinted 1912


     CHAPTER                                            PAGE

         I. DOUARNÉNEZ                                     3
        II. ROCHEFORT-EN-TERRE                            15
       III. VITRÉ                                         29
        IV. VANNES                                        51
         V. QUIMPER                                       77
        VI. ST. BRIEUC                                    89
       VII. PAIMPOL                                       99
      VIII. GUINGAMP                                     107
        IX. HUELGOAT                                     115
         X. CONCARNEAU                                   123
        XI. MORLAIX                                      129
       XII. PONT-AVEN                                    137
      XIII. QUIMPERLÉ                                    165
       XIV. AURAY                                        175
        XV. BELLE ISLE                                   183
       XVI. ST. ANNE D'AURAY                             197
      XVII. ST. MALO                                     203
     XVIII. MONT ST. MICHEL                              211
       XIX. CHÂTEAU DES ROCHERS                          225
        XX. CARNAC                                       235
       XXI. A ROMANTIC LAND                              241


     1. Marie Jeanne                          _Frontispiece_

                                                 FACING PAGE

     2. Homeward Bound                                     4

     3. Grandmère                                          6

     4. Meditation                                        10

     5. Minding the Babies                                12

     6. A Cottage in Rochefort-en-Terre                   14

     7. At Rochefort-en-Terre                             18

     8. Mid-day Rest                                      20

     9. A Cottage Home                                    24

     10. Mediæval Houses, Vitré                           28

     11. Preparing the Mid-day Meal                       32

     12. In Church                                        34

     13. Père Louis                                       36

     14. Idle Hours                                       40

     15. La Vieille Mère Perot                            44

     16. A Vieillard                                      48

     17. Place Henri Quatre, Vannes                       52

     18. Gossips                                          56

     19. A Cattle Market                                  60

     20. Bread Stalls                                     64

     21. In a Breton Kitchen                              68

     22. A Rainy Day at the Fair                          72

     23. In the Porch of the Cathedral, Quimper           76

     24. The Vegetable Market, Quimper                    80

     25. Outside the Cathedral, Quimper                   84

     26. By the Side of a Farm                            88

     27. On the Road to Bannalec                          92

     28. Débit de Boissons                                94

     29. Church of St. Mody                               96

     30. Reflections                                     100

     31. A Sabot-Stall                                   104

     32. La Vieillesse                                   108

     33. A Beggar                                        112

     34. A Wayside Shrine, Huelgoat                      116

     35. Fishing Boats, Concarneau                       120

     36. At the Fountain, Concarneau                     122

     37. Concarneau Harbour                              124

     38. The Sardine Fleet, Concarneau                   126

     39. Watching for the Fishing-fleet, Concarneau      128

     40. Mediæval House at Morlaix                       132

     41. Outside the Smithy, Pont-Aven                   136

     42. In an Auberge, Pont-Aven                        140

     43. A Sand-Cart on the Quay, Pont-Aven              144

     44. Playing on the 'Place,' Pont-Aven               148

     45. On the Quay at Pont-Aven                        152

     46. On the Steps of the Mill House, Pont-Aven       154

     47. The Bridge, Pont-Aven                           158

     48. The Village Forge, Pont-Aven                    160

     49. The Village Cobbler                             164

     50. The Blind Piper                                 168

     51. At the Foire                                    174

     52. Mid-day                                         176

     53. A Little Mother                                 180

     54. Curiosity                                       184

     55. A Solitary Meal                                 188

     56. In the Bois d'Amour                             192

     57. A Breton Farmer                                 198

     58. In the Eye of the Sun                           204

     59. Sunday                                          206

     60. The Cradle                                      210

     61. Soupe Maigre                                    212

     62. Déjeuner                                        216

     63. A Farmhouse Kitchen                             218

     64. Marie                                           222

     65. A Farm Labourer                                 224

     66. A Little Water-Carrier                          226

     67. Weary                                           230

     68. The Master of the House                         232

     69. In the Ingle Nook                               234

     70. A Blind Beggar                                  236

     71. La Petite Marie                                 240

     72. The Little Housewife                            242

     73. An Old Woman                                    246

     74. A Pig-Market                                    248

     75. Household Duties                                252



The gray and somewhat uninteresting village of Douarnénez undergoes a
change when the fishing-boats come home. Even with your eyes shut, you
would soon know of the advent of the fishermen by the downward clatter
of myriads of sabots through the badly-paved steep streets, gathering
in volume and rapidity with each succeeding minute. The village has
been thoroughly wakened up. Douarnénez is the headquarters of the
sardine fishery, and the home-coming of the sardine boats is a matter
of no little importance. The 9,000 inhabitants of the place are all
given up to this industry. Prosperity, or adversity, depends upon the
faithfulness, or the fickleness, of the little silver fish in visiting
their shores. Not long ago the sardines forsook Douarnénez, and great
was the desolation and despair which settled upon the people.
However, the season this year is good, and the people are prosperous.

As one descends the tortuous street leading to the sea, when the tide
is in, everything and everyone you encounter seem to be in one way or
another connected with sardines. The white-faced houses are festooned
and hung with fine filmy fishing-nets of a pale cornflower hue, edged
with rows of deep russet-brown corks. Occasionally they are stretched
from house to house across the street, and one passes beneath
triumphal arches of really glorious gray-blue fishing-nets. This same
little street, which barely an hour ago was practically empty and
deserted, now swarms with big bronzed fishermen coming up straight
from the sea, laden with their dripping cargo of round brown baskets
half filled with glistening fish. They live differently from the
sleepy villagers--these strapping giants of the sea, with their
deep-toned faces, their hair made tawny by exposure, their blue eyes,
which somehow or other seem so very blue against the dark red-brown of
their complexion, their reckless, rollicking, yet graceful, sailor's
gait. A sailor always reminds me of a cat amongst a roomful of
crockery: he looks as if he will knock over something or trip
over something every moment as he swings along in his careless
fashion; yet he never does.

  [Illustration: HOMEWARD BOUND]

What a contrast they are, these stalwart fishers of the deep, to the
somewhat pallid, dapper-looking, half-French hotel and shop keepers,
who are the only men to be seen in the village during the
daytime--these fishermen, with their russet-brown clothing faded by
the salt air into indescribably rich wallflower tones of gold and
orange and red! What pranks Mistress Sea plays with the simple
homespun garments of these men, staining and bleaching them into
glorious and unheard-of combinations of colour, such as would give a
clever London or Parisian dressmaker inspiration for a dozen gowns,
which, if properly adapted, would take the whole of the fashionable
world by storm! You see blue woollen jerseys faded into greens and
yellows, red _bérets_ wondrously shaded in tones of vermilion and
salmon. From almost every window tarpaulin and yellow oilskin trousers
hang drying; every woman in the place is busily employed.

Many a fascinating glimpse one catches at the doorways when passing,
subjects worthy of Peter de Hooch--a young girl in the white-winged
cap and red crossway shawl of Douarnénez cutting up squares of cork
against the rich dark background of her home, in which glistening
brass, polished oak, blue-and-white china, and a redly burning fire
can be faintly discerned. A soft buzzing noise, as of many people
singing, occasionally broken by a shrill treble, and a group of
loafing men, peering in at a doorway, attract your attention. You gaze
inquisitively within. It is a large shed or barn filled with hundreds
of young girls and women, with bare feet and skirts tucked up to their
knees, salting and sifting and drying and cooking sardines, singing
together the while as with one voice some Breton folk-song in a minor
key, as they busy themselves about their work.

It is impossible to describe one's feelings when, after descending the
steep cobbled street, one first catches sight of the sea at
Douarnénez. One can only stand stock-still for a moment and draw in a
deep breath of astonishment and fulfilment of hopes.

Before you lies a broad expanse of gray-blue. I can liken it to
nothing but the hue of faded cornflowers. Whether it is the time of
day or not I cannot tell, but sea and sky alike are flooded with this
same strange cornflower hue; the hills in the distance are of a deeper
cornflower; and clustered about the quay are many fishing-barques,
showing purply-black against the blue delicacy of the background.

  [Illustration: GRANDMÈRE]

Over the gray-blue sea are scudding myriads of brown, double-winged
boats, all making for the little harbour--some in twos, some in
threes, others in flocks, like so many swallows. Close to the dark
cornflower hills is a patch of brilliant verdant green--so
yellow-green that it almost sets your teeth on edge.

Set down in mere words, this description can convey no impression of
the Bay of Douarnénez as I saw it that balmy autumn afternoon. My pen
is clogged; it refuses to interpret my thoughts. It was a scene that I
shall never forget. As the fishing-boats neared the shore the
gorgeously flaming brown-and-gold and vermilion sails were hauled
down, and in their places appeared the filmy gray-blue nets hung with
rows of brown corks. The rapidity with which these brown-sailed
workaday boats changed to gossamer, cornflower-decked, fairy-like
crafts was extraordinary. It was as if a flight of moths had by the
stroke of a fairy's wand been suddenly transformed to blue-winged
butterflies. In and about their boats the sailors are working, busy
with their day's haul, picturesque figures standing against the
luminous blue in their sea-toned garments.

On the quay the women are standing in groups, talking and knitting,
and keeping a sharp look-out for their own particular 'men.' Trim,
neat little figures these women, with their short dark-blue or red
skirts, their gaily-coloured shawls drawn down to a peak at the back,
their light-yellow sabots and their tightly-fitting lace caps, made to
show the brilliant black hair beneath and the pretty rounded shape of
their heads. Many a time when the cornflower-blue sea has turned to
sullen black, and the balmy air is alive with flying foam and roaring
winds, such women must wait in vain on the quay at Douarnénez for
their men-folk.

The sailor's life is a hard one in Brittany, exposed as he is in his
small boat to the fearful storms of the Atlantic. But danger and
trouble are far distant on this balmy autumn afternoon: the haul has
been an exceptional one, the little fishing-craft are filled high with
silver fish, fishermen fill the streets with laden baskets, and the
soft murmur of many women's voices singing at their work is wafted
through the open doorways of the sorting and counting-houses. Every
moment the boats on the horizon become more and more numerous, the
men being anxious to land their cargo before nightfall; the sea, in
fact, is dark with little brown craft racing in as if for a wager. At
one point the fleet splits up, and the greater portion enter an inlet
other than that at which we are standing.

Anxious to watch their incoming, we hurry round the cliffs, past quiet
bays. The black rocks against the blue sea, allspice-coloured sand,
and overhanging autumn-tinted trees almost reaching to the water's
edge, would afford many a fascinating subject for the painter of
seascapes. In descending a hill, the haven towards which the
fishing-boats are scudding is before us--a large bay with a
breakwater. On the near side of it are massed rows upon rows of
fishing-boats, now arrayed in their gossamer robes of blue. Everyone
is busy. You are reminded of a scene in a play--a comic opera at the
Gaiety. Boats are entering by the dozen every moment, and arranging
themselves in rows in the little harbour, like a pack of orderly
school-children, shuffling and fidgeting for a moment in their places
before dropping anchor and remaining stationary. Others are scudding
rapidly over the smooth blue sea, ruffling it up in white foam at
their bows. Scores of men in rich brown wallflower-hued clothes and
dark-blue _bérets_ are as busy as bees among the sails and cordage;
others are walking rapidly to and fro, with round brown baskets, full
of silver fish, slung over the arms. But before even the sardines are
unloaded the nets are taken down, bundles of blue net and brown corks,
and promptly carried off home to be dried. This is the sailors' first
consideration, for on the frail blue nets depends prosperity or
poverty. Such nets are most expensive: only one set can be bought in a
man's lifetime, and even then they must be paid for in instalments.

Above the quay, leaning over the stone parapet, are scores of girls,
come from their homes just as they were, some with their work and some
with their _goûté_ (bread and chocolate or an apple). They have come
to watch the entrance of the fishing fleet: comely, fresh-complexioned
women, in shawls and aprons of every colour--some blue, some maroon,
some checked--all with spotless white caps. The wives are
distinguished from the maids by the material of which their caps are
made: the wives' are of book-muslin and the maids' of fillet lace.
Some have brought their knitting, and work away busily, their hair
stuck full of bright steel knitting-needles. I was standing in what
seemed to be a "boulevard des jeunes filles." They were mostly
quite young girls; and handsome creatures they were too, all leaning
over the parapet and smiling down upon the men as they toiled up the
slope with their baskets full, and ran down again at a jog-trot with
the empties. The stalwart young men of the village were too much
preoccupied to find time for tender or friendly glances: it was only
later, when the bustle had subsided somewhat, and the coming and going
was not so active, that they condescended to pay any attention to the

  [Illustration: MEDITATION]

The matrons were mostly engaged in haggling for cheap fish. The men,
tired after their day's work, generally gave way without much ado. It
was amusing to watch the triumph in which the old ladies carried off
their fish, washed and cleaned them in the sea, threaded them on
cords, and, slinging them on their shoulders, set off for home.

It seemed as if the busy scene would never end. Always fresh boats
were arriving, and still the horizon was black with fishing craft.
Reluctantly we left the scene--a forest of masts against the evening
sky, a jumble of blues and browns, rich wallflower shades and palest
cornflower, brown corks, and the white caps of the women.

Next morning the romantic and picturesque aspect of the town had
disappeared. Gone were the fishermen, and gone their dainty craft. The
only men remaining were loafers and good-for-nothings, besides the
tradesmen and inn-keepers. Two by two the children were tramping
through the steep gray streets on their way to school--small
dirty-faced cherubs, under tangled mops of fair hair (one sees the
loveliest red-gold and yellow-gold hair in Douarnénez), busily
munching their breakfasts of bread and apples, many of them just able
to toddle. 'Donne la main a ta soeur, George,' I heard a shrill
voice exclaim from a doorway to two little creatures in blue-checked
pinafores wending their weary way schoolwards. Who would have known
that one of them was a boy? They seemed exactly alike. Handsome young
girls in neat short skirts, pink worsted stockings, and yellow sabots,
were busy sweeping out the gutters. Little children's dresses and
pinafores had taken the place of nets and seamen's oilskins, now
hanging from the windows to be dried. The quay was silent and
desolate; the harbour empty of boats, save for a few battered hulks.
All the colour and romance had gone out to sea with the fishermen.
Only the smell of the sardines had been left behind.

  [Illustration: MINDING THE BABIES]




During our month's tour in Brittany we had not met one English or
American traveller; but at Rochefort-en-Terre there was said to be a
colony of artists. On arriving at the little railway-station, we found
that the only conveyance available was a diligence which would not
start until the next train, an hour thence, had come in. There was
nothing for it, therefore, but to sit in the stuffy little diligence
or to pace up and down the broad country road in the moonlight. There
is something strangely weird and eerie about arriving at a place, the
very name of which is unfamiliar, by moonlight.

After a long hour's wait, the diligence, with its full complement of
passengers, a party of young girls returned from a day's shopping in a
neighbouring town, started. It was a long, cold drive, and the air
seemed to be growing clearer and sharper as we ascended. At length
Rochefort-en-Terre was reached, and, after paying the modest sum of
fifty centimes for the two of us, we were set down at the door of the
hotel. We were greeted with great kindness and hospitality by two
maiden ladies in the costume of the country, joint proprietors of the
hotel, who made us exceedingly comfortable. To our surprise, we
discovered that the colony of painters had been reduced to one lady
artist; but it was evident, from the pictures on the panels of the
_salle-à-manger_, that many artists had stayed in the hotel during the

Rochefort by morning light was quite a surprise. The hotel, with a few
surrounding houses, was evidently situated on a high hill; the rest of
the village lay below, wreathed, for the time being, in a white mist.
It was a balmy autumn morning; the sunlight was clear and radiant; and
I was filled with impatience to be out and at work. The market-place
was just outside our hotel, and the streets were alive with people. A
strange smell pervaded the place--something between cider apples and
burning wood--and whenever I think of Rochefort that smell comes back
to me, bringing with it vivid memories of the quaint little town as I
saw it that day.

There is nothing modern about Rochefort. The very air is suggestive
of antiquity. Few villages in Brittany have retained their old
simplicity of character; but Rochefort is one of them. Untouched and
unspoilt by the march of modernity, she has stood still while most of
her neighbours have been whirled into the vortex of civilization.
Rochefort, like the Sleeping Beauty's palace, has lain as it was and
unrepaired for years. Moss has sprung up between the cobble-stones of
her streets; ferns and lichen grow on the broken-down walls; Nature
and men's handiwork have been allowed their own sweet way--and a very
sweet way they have in Rochefort. To enter the village one must
descend a flight of stone steps between two high walls, green and dark
with ivy and small green ferns growing in the niches. Very old walls
they are, with here and there ancient carved doorways breaking the
straight monotony. On one side is a garden, and over the time-worn
stone-work tomato-coloured asters nod and wistaria throws her thick
festoons of green, for the flowering season is past. Everything is
dark and damp and moss-grown, and very silent. An old woman, with a
terra-cotta pitcher full of water poised on her head, is toiling up
the steps, the shortest way to the town, which, save for the singing
of the birds in the old château garden, the bleating of lambs on the
hillside, and the chopping of a wood-cutter, is absolutely silent. One
descends into a valley shut in by rugged blue-gray mountains, for all
the world like a little Alpine village, or, rather, a Breton village
in an Alpine setting. The mountains in parts are rocky and rugged,
purple in aspect, and in parts overgrown with gray-green pines. There
are stretches of wooded land, of golden-brown and russet trees, and
great slopes of grass, the greenest I have ever seen. It is quite a
little Swiss pastoral picture, such as one finds in children's
story-books. On the mountain-side a woman, taking advantage of the
sun, is busy drying her day's washing, and a little girl is driving
some fat black-and-white cows into a field; while a sparkling river
runs tumbling in white foam over boulders and fallen trees at the
base. But Rochefort is a typically Breton village. Nowhere in
Switzerland does one see such ancient walls, such gnarled old
apple-trees, laden and bowed down to the earth with their weight of
golden red fruit. Nowhere in Switzerland, I am sure, do you see such
fine relics of architecture. Nearly every house in the village has
something noble or beautiful in its construction. Renovation has not
laid her desecrating hands on Rochefort. Here you see a house
that was once a lordly dwelling; for there are remains of some fine
sculpture round about the windows, remnants of magnificent mouldings
over the door, a griffin's head jutting from the gray walls. There you
see a double flight of rounded stone steps, with a balustrade leading
up to a massive oak door. On the ancient steps chickens perch now, and
over the doorway hang a bunch of withered mistletoe and the words
'Debit de Boisson.'

  [Illustration: AT ROCHEFORT-EN-TERRE]

The village is full of surprises. Everywhere you may go in that little
place you will see all about you pictures such as would drive most
artists wild with joy. Everything in Rochefort seems to be more or
less overgrown. Even in this late October you will see flowers and
vines and all kinds of greenery growing rampant everywhere. You will
see a white house almost covered with red rambling roses and yellowing
vines, oleanders and cactus plants standing in tubs on either side of
the door. There is not a wall over which masses of greenery do not
pour, and not a window that does not hold its pot of red and pink
geraniums. Two cats are licking their paws in two different windows.
The sun has come out from the mists which enveloped it, and shines in
all its glory, hot and strong on your back, as it would in August. It
is market day, and everyone is light-hearted and happy. The men
whistle gaily on their way; the women's tongues wag briskly over their
purchases; even the birds, forgetful of the coming winter, are
bursting their throats with song. In the château garden the birds sing
loudest of all, and the flowers bloom their best. It is a beautiful
old place, the château of Rochefort. Very little of the ruin is left
standing; but the grounds occupy an immense area, and are enclosed by
great high walls. Where the old kitchen once stood an American has
built a house out of the old bricks, using many of the ornamentations
and stone gargoyles found about the place. It is an ingeniously
designed building; yet one cannot but feel that a modern house is
somewhat incongruous amid such historic surroundings. The old avenue
leading to the front door still exists; also there are some
apple-trees and ancient farm-buildings. The château has been built in
the most beautiful situation possible, high above the town, on a kind
of tableland, from which one can look down to the valley and the
encircling hills.

  [Illustration: MID-DAY REST]

Set up in a prominent position in the village, where two roads
meet, is a gaudy crucifix, very large and newly painted. It is a
realistic presentation of our Saviour on the cross, with the blood
flowing redly from His side, the piercing of every thorn plainly
demonstrated, and the drawn lines of agony in His face and limbs very
much accentuated. Every market woman as she passes shifts her basket
to the other arm, that she may make the sign of the cross and murmur
her prayers; every man, woman, child, stops before the cross to make
obeisance, some kneeling down in the dust for a few moments before
passing on their way.

Who is to say that the image of that patient, suffering Saviour is not
an influence for good in the village? Who is to say that the
adoration, no matter how fleeting, does not soften, does not help,
does not control, those humble peasant folk who bow before Him?
Religion has an immense hold over the peasants of Brittany. It is the
one thing of which they stand in dread. These images, you say, are
dolls; but they are very realistic dolls. They teach the people their
Bible history in a thorough, splendid way. They stand ever before them
as something tangible to cling to, to believe in. And the images in
the churches--do you mean to say that they have no influence for good
on the people? St. Stanislaus, the monk, for example, with cowl and
shaven head--what an influence such a statue must have on the hearts
of children! There is in his face a world of tender fatherly feeling
for the little child in the white robe and golden girdle who is
resting his head so wearily on the saint's shoulder, clasping a branch
of faded lilies in his hand. Children look at this statue, and they
picture St. Stanislaus in their minds always thus: they know what the
saint looked like, what he did. He is not only a misty, dim, uncertain
figure in the history of the Bible, but a tangible, living, vibrating
reality, taking active part in their daily lives. For older children,
boys especially, there is St. Antoine to admire and imitate--St.
Antoine the hermit, with his staff and his book, the man with the
strong, good face. Françoise d'Amboise, a pure, sweet saint in the
habit of a nun, her arms full of lilies, appeals to the hearts and
imaginations of all young girls. I believe in the efficacy of these
figures and pictures. The peasants' brains are not of a sufficiently
fine calibre to believe in a vague Christ, a vague Virgin, vague
saints interpreted to them by the priests. If it were not for the
images, men and women would not come to church, as they do at all
hours of the day, bringing their market baskets and their tools with
them. They would not come in this way, spontaneously, joyfully, two or
three times a day, to an empty church with only an altar. Church-going
would then become a bare duty, forced and unreal, to be gradually
dropped and discontinued. These people are able to see the sufferings
of our Saviour on the cross, and everything that He had to undergo for
us; also, there is something infinitely comforting in the Divine
Figure, surrounded by myriads of candles and white flowers, with hands
outstretched, bidding all who are weary and heavy-laden to come unto
Him. The peasants contribute their few sous' worth of candles, and
light them, and feel somehow or other that they have indeed rid
themselves of sins and troubles.

The country round Rochefort is truly beautiful. The village lies in a
hollow; but it is delightful to take one of the mountain-paths, and go
up the rocky way into the pines and gorse and heather. As one sits on
the hillside, looking down upon the village, it is absolutely still
save for the cawing of some birds. You are out of the world up here.
The quaint little gray hamlet lies far below. Between it and you is
the fertile valley, with green fields and groves of bushy trees. The
country is quite cultivated for Brittany, where cabbage-fields and
pasture-lands are rare. The mountains encircling the valley are of
gray slate; growing here and there amongst the slate are yellow gorse
and purple heather.

It is a gray, dull day; not a breath stirs the air, which is heavy and
ominous. Evening is drawing on as one walks down the mountain-path
towards home, and a haze is settling on the village; the sun has been
feebly trying to shine all day through the thick clouds that cover it.
The green pines, with their purple stems, are very beautiful against
the deeper purple of the mountains; pretty, too, the homesteads on the
hills, with their fields of cabbages and little plantations of
flowers. There is a sweet smell of gorse and pine-needles and decaying
bracken, and always one hears the caw of rooks.

In such a country as this, on such a day, amid such sights and sounds,
you feel glad to be alive. You swing down the mountain-side quickly,
and the beauty of it all enters into your soul, filling you with a
nameless longing and yearning for you know not what, as Nature in her
grandest moods always does. What rich colouring there is round about
everywhere on this autumn afternoon! The mountain-path leads, let
us say, through a pine-wood. The leaves are far above your head; you
seem to be walking in a forest of stems--long, slim, silver stems,
purple in the shadows. On the ground is a carpet of salmon and brown
leaves, with here and there a bracken-leaf which is absolutely the
colour of pure gold.

  [Illustration: A COTTAGE HOME]

There is no sound in the forest but your own footsteps and the rustle
of the dry leaves as your dress brushes them. You emerge from the
pine-forest on to a bare piece of mountain land, grayish purple, with
patches of black. Then you dive into a chestnut-grove, where the
leaves are green and brown and gold, and the earth is a rich brown.
And so down the path into the village wrapped in a blue haze. The
women in their cottages are bending busily over copper pots and pans
on great open fireplaces of blazing logs. Little coloured bowls have
been laid out on long polished tables for the evening meal, and the
bright pewter plates have been brought down from the dresser. Lulu has
been sent out to bring home bread for supper. 'Va, ma petite Lulu,'
says her mother, 'dépêche toi.' And the small fat bundle in the check
pinafore toddles hastily down the stone steps on chubby legs.

On the stone settles outside almost every house in the village
families are sitting--the mothers and withered old grandmothers
knitting or peeling potatoes, and the children munching apples and
hunches of bread-and-butter. An old woman is washing her fresh green
lettuce at the pump. As we mount the hill leading to the hotel and
look back, night is fast descending on the village. The mountains have
taken on a deeper purple; blue smoke rises from every cottage; the
gray sky is changing to a faint citron yellow; the few slim pine-trees
on the hills stand out against it jet-black, like sentinels.

  [Illustration: MEDIÆVAL HOUSES, VITRÉ]



For the etcher, the painter, the archæologist, and the sculptor, Vitré
is an ideal town. To the archæologist it is an ever-open page from the
Middle Ages, an almost complete relic of that period, taking one back
with a strange force and realism three hundred years and more. Time
has dealt tenderly with Vitré. The slanting, irregular houses, leaning
one against the other, as if for mutual support, stand as by a

Wandering through Vitré, one seems to be visiting a wonderful and
perfect museum, such as must needs please even the exacting, the
blasé, and the indifferent. You are met at every turn by the works of
the ancients in all their naïve purity and simplicity, many of the
houses having been built in the first half of the seventeenth century.

One can have no conception of the energy of these early builders,
fighting heroically against difficulties such as we of the present
day do not experience. They overcame problems of balance and expressed
their own imaginations. Common masons with stone and brick and wood
accomplished marvellous and audacious examples of architecture. They
sought symmetry as well as the beautifying of their homes, covering
them with ornamentations and sculpture in wood and stone. Without
architects, without plans or designs, these men simply followed their
own initiative, and the result has been absolute marvels of carpentry
and stone-work, such as have withstood the onslaught of time and held
their own.

When you first arrive at Vitré, at the crowded, bustling station,
surrounded by the most modern of houses and hotels, and faced by the
newest of fountains, disappointment is acute. If you were to leave
Vitré next morning, never having penetrated into the town, you would
carry away a very feeble and uninteresting impression; but, having
entered the town, and discovered those grand old streets--the
Baudrarie, the Poterie, and the Nôtre Dame, among many others--poet,
painter, sculptor, man of business or of letters, whoever you may be,
you cannot fail to be astonished, overwhelmed, and delighted. A quiet
old-world air pervades the streets; no clatter and rattle of horses'
hoofs disturbs their serenity; no busy people, hurrying to and fro,
fill the pathways. Handcarts are the only vehicles, and the
inhabitants take life quietly. Often for the space of a whole minute
you will find yourself quite alone in a street, save for a hen and
chickens that are picking up scraps from the gutter.

In these little old blackened streets, ever so narrow, into which the
sun rarely penetrates except to touch the upper stories with golden
rays, there are houses of every conceivable shape--there are houses of
three stories, each story projecting over the other; houses so old
that paint and plaster will stay on them no longer; houses with
pointed roofs; houses with square roofs thrust forward into the
street, spotted by yellow moss; houses the façades of which are
covered with scaly gray tiles, glistening in the sun like a knight's
armour. These are placed in various patterns according to the taste
and fantasy of the architect: sometimes they are cut round, sometimes
square, and sometimes they are placed like the scales of a fish. There
are houses, whose upper stories, advancing into the middle of the
street, are kept up by granite pillars, forming an arcade underneath,
and looking like hunchbacked men; there are the houses of the humble
artisans and the houses of the proud noblemen; houses plain and simple
in architecture; houses smothered with carvings in wood and stone of
angels and saints and two-headed monsters--houses of every shape and
kind imaginable. In a certain zigzag, tortuous street the buildings
are one mass of angles and sloping lines, one house leaning against
another,--noble ruins of the ages. The plaster is falling from the
walls; the slates are slipping from the roofs; and the wood is
becoming worm-eaten.

It is four o'clock on a warm autumn afternoon; the sun is shining on
one side of this narrow street, burnishing gray roofs to silver,
resting lovingly on the little balconies, with their pendent washing
and red pots of geranium. The men are returning from their work and
the children from their schools; the workaday hours are ended, and the
houses teem with life. A woman is standing in a square sculptured
doorway trying to teach her little white-faced fluffy-haired baby to
say 'Ma! ma!' This he positively refuses to do; but he gurgles and
chuckles at intervals, at which his mother shakes him and calls him
'petit gamin.'


All Bretons love the sun; they are like little children in their
simple joy of it. A workman passing says to a girl leaning out of a
low latticed window:

'C'est bon le soleil?'

'Mais oui: c'est pour cela que j'y suis,' she answers.

One house has an outside staircase of chocolate-coloured wood,
spirally built, with carved balustrades. On one of the landings an old
woman is sitting. She has brought out a chair and placed it in the
sunniest corner. She is very old, and wears the snowiest of white caps
on her gray hair; her wrinkled pink hands, with their red worsted
cuffs, are working busily at her knitting; and every now and then she
glances curiously through the banisters into the street below, like a
little bright bird.

There are white houses striped with brown crossbars, each with its
little shallow balcony. Above, the white plaster has nearly all fallen
away, revealing the beautiful old original primrose-yellow.

Curiosity shops are abundant everywhere, dim and rich in colour with
the reds and deep tones of old polished wood, the blue of china, and
the glistening yellow of brass. Ancient houses there are, with
scarcely any windows: the few that one does see are heavily furnished
with massive iron-nailed shutters or grated with rusty red iron; the
doorways are of heaviest oak, crowned with coats of arms sculptured in
stone. Large families of dirty children now live in these lordly

One longs in Vitré, above all other places, to paint, or, rather, to
etch. Vitré is made for the etcher; endless and wondrous are the
subjects for his needle. Here, in a markedly time-worn street, are a
dozen or more pictures awaiting him--a doorway aged and blackened
alternately by the action of the sun and by that of the rain, and
carved in figures and symbols sculptured in stone, through which one
catches glimpses of a courtyard wherein two men are shoeing a horse;
then, again, there is an obscure shop, so calm and tranquil that one
asks one's self if business can ever be carried on there. As you peer
into the darkness, packets of candles, rope, and sugar are faintly
discernible, also dried fish and bladders of lard suspended from the
ceiling; in a far corner is an old woman in a white cap--all this in
deepest shadow. Above, the clear yellow autumn sunlight shines in a
perfect blaze upon the primrose-coloured walls, crossed with
beams of blackest wood, making the slates on the pointed roofs
scintillate, and touching the windows here and there with a golden

  [Illustration: IN CHURCH]

Side by side with this wonderful old house, the glories of which it is
impossible to describe in mere words, a new one has been built--not in
a modern style, but striving to imitate the fine old structures in
this very ancient street. The contrast, did it not grate on one's
senses, would be laughable. Stucco is pressed into the service to
represent the original old stone, and varnished deal takes the place
of oak beams with their purple bloom gathered through the ages. The
blocks of stone round the doors and windows have been laboriously
hewn, now large, now small, and placed artistically and carelessly
zigzag, pointed with new black cement. This terrible house is
interesting if only to illustrate what age can do to beautify and
modernity to destroy.

Madonnas, crucifixes, pictures of saints in glass cases, and
statuettes of the Virgin, meet you at every turn in Vitré, for the
inhabitants are proverbially a religious people. A superstitious yet
guilty conscience would have a trying time in Vitré. In entering a
shop, St. Joseph peers down upon you from a niche above the portal; at
every street corner, in every market, and in all kinds of quaint and
unexpected places, saints and angels look out at you.

The beautiful old cathedral, Nôtre Dame de Vitré, is one of the purest
remaining productions of the decadent Gothic art in Brittany, and one
of the finest. Several times the grand old edifice has been enlarged
and altered, and the changes in art can be traced through different
additions as in the pages of a book. It is a comparatively low
building, the roof of which is covered by a forest of points or
spires, and at the apex of each point is a stone cross. In fact, the
characteristics of this building are its points: the windows are
shaped in carved points, and so are the ornamentations on the
projecting buttresses. The western door, very finely carved and led up
to by a flight of rounded steps, is of the Renaissance period. In
colouring, the cathedral is gray, blackened here and there, but not
much stained by damp or lichen, except the tower, which seems to be of
an earlier date. The stained-glass windows, seen from the outside, are
of a dim, rich colouring; and on one of the outside walls has been
built an exterior stone pulpit, ornamented with graceful points,
approached from the church by a slit in the wall. It was
constructed to combat the Calvinistic party, so powerful in Vitré at
one time. One can easily imagine the seething crowd in the square
below--the sea of pale, passionate, upturned faces. It must have
presented much the same picture then as it does now, this cathedral
square in Vitré--save for the people;--for there are still standing,
facing the pulpit, and not a hundred paces from it, a row of ancient
houses that existed in those very riotous times. Every line of those
once stately domains slants at a different angle now, albeit they were
originally built in a solid style--square-fronted and with pointed
roofs, the upper stories projecting over the pavement, with arcades
beneath. Some are painted white, with gray woodwork; others yellow,
with brown wood supports. Outside one of the houses, once a butcher's
shop, hangs a boar's head, facing the stone pulpit. What scenes that
old animal must have witnessed in his time, gazing so passively with
those glassy brown eyes! If only it could speak!

  [Illustration: PÈRE LOUIS]

Convent-bred girls in a long line are filing into church through the
western door--meek-faced little people in black pinafores and shiny
black hats. All wear their hair in pigtails, and above their boots an
inch or so of coloured woollen stockings is visible. Each carries a
large Prayer-Book under her arm. A reverend Mother, in snowy white cap
and flowing black veil, heads the procession, and another brings up
the rear.

The main door facing the square is flung wide open; and the contrast
between the brilliant sunlit square, with its noisy laughing children
returning from school, dogs barking, and handcarts rattling over the
cobble stones, and this dim, sombre interior, bathed in richest gloom,
is almost overwhelming.

A stained-glass window at the opposite end of the church, with the
light at the back of it, forms the only patch of positive colour, with
its brilliant reds and purples and blues. All else is dim and rich and
gloomy, save here and there where the glint of brass, the gold of the
picture-frames, the white of the altar-cloth, or the ruby of an
ever-burning light, can be faintly discerned in the obscurity. The
deep, full notes of the organ reach you as you stand at the cathedral
steps, and you detect the faint odour of incense. The figure of a
woman kneeling with clasped hands and bent head is dimly discernible
in the heavy gloom. One glance into such an interior, after coming
from the glare and glamour of the outside world, cannot but bring
peace and rest and a soothing influence to even the most unquiet soul.

The château of Vitré is an even older building than the cathedral. It
has lived bravely through the ages, suffering little from the march of
time: a noble edifice, huge and massive, with its high towers, its
châtelet, and its slate roofs. Just out of the dark, narrow, cramped
old streets, you are astonished to emerge suddenly on a large open
space, and to be confronted by this massive château, well preserved
and looking almost new. As a matter of fact, its foundation dates back
as far as the eleventh century, although four hundred years ago it was
almost entirely reconstructed. Parts of the château are crumbling to
decay; but the principal mass, consisting of the towers and châtelet,
is marvellously preserved. It still keeps a brave front, though the
walls and many of the castle keeps and fortresses are tottering to
ruin. Many a shock and many a siege has the old château withstood; but
now its fighting days are over. The frogs sing no longer in the moat
through the beautiful summer nights; the sentinel's box is empty; and
in the courtyards, instead of clanking swords and spurred heels, the
peaceful step of the tourist alone resounds. The château has rendered
a long and loyal service, and to-day as a reward enjoys a glorious
repose. To visit the castle, you pass over a draw-bridge giving
entrance to the châtelet, and no sooner have you set foot on it than
the concierge emerges from a little room in the tower dedicated to the
service of the lodge-holder.

She is a very up-to-date chatelaine, trim and neat, holding a great
bunch of keys in her hand. She takes you into a huge grass-grown
courtyard in the interior, whence you look up at the twin towers,
capped with pointed gray turrets, and see them in all their immensity.
The height and strength and thickness of the walls are almost
terrifying. She shows you a huge nail-studded door, behind which is a
stone spiral staircase leading to an underground passage eight miles
long. This door conjures up to the imaginative mind all kinds of
romantic and adventurous stories. We are taken into the Salle des
Guardes, an octagonal stone room on an immense scale, with bay
windows, the panes of which are of stained glass, and a gigantic
chimneypiece. One can well imagine the revels that must have gone on
round that solid oak table among the waiting guards.

The chatelaine leads us up a steep spiral staircase built of solid
granite, from which many rooms branch, all built in very much the
same style--octagonal and lofty, with low doorways. One must stoop to
enter. On the stairway, at intervals of every five or six steps, there
are windows with deep embrasures, in which one can stand and gain a
commanding view of the whole country. These, it is needless to say,
were used in the olden days for military purposes.

  [Illustration: IDLE HOURS]

As the chatelaine moves on, ever above us, with her clanking keys, one
can take one's self back to the Middle Ages, and imagine the warrior's
castle as it was then, when the chatelaine, young, sweet, and pretty,
wending her way about the dark and gloomy castle, was the only humane
and gentle spirit there. Easier still is it to lose yourself in the
dim romantic past when you are shown into a room which, though no fire
burns on the hearth, is still quite warm, redolent of tapestry and
antiquity. This room is now used as a kind of museum. It is filled
with fine examples of old china, sufficient to drive a collector
crazy, enamels, old armour, rubies, ornaments, sculpture, medals,
firearms, and instruments of torture.

Sitting in a deep window-seat, surrounded by the riches of ancient
days, with the old-world folk peering out from the tapestried walls,
one can easily close one's eyes and lose one's self for a moment in
the gray past, mystic and beautiful. It is delightful to summon to
your mind the poetical and pathetic figure of (let us say) a knight
imprisoned in the tower on account of his prominent and all-devouring
love for some unapproachable fair one; or of that other who, pinning a
knot of ribbon on his coat,--his lady's colour--set out to fight and
conquer. But, alas! no chronicle has been left of the deeds of the
castle prisoners. Any romantic stories that one may conjure to one's
mind in the atmosphere of the château can be but the airiest fabrics
of a dream.

At the top of the spiral staircase is a rounded gallery, with
loopholes open to the day, through which one can gain a magnificent,
though somewhat dizzy, view over town and country. It was from this
that the archers shot their arrows upon the enemy; and very deadly
their aim must have been, for nothing could be more commanding as
regards position than the château of Vitré. Also, in the floor of the
gallery, round the outer edge, are large holes, down which the
besieged threw great blocks of stone, boiling tar, and projectiles of
all kinds, which must have fallen with tremendous violence on the

Wherever one goes in Vitré one sees the fine old château, forming a
magnificent background to every picture, with its grand ivy-mantled
towers and its huge battlemented walls, belittling everything round
it. Unlike most French châteaus, more or less showy and toy-like in
design, the castle of Vitré is built on solid rock, and lifted high
above the town in a noble, irresistible style, with walls of immense
thickness, and lofty beyond compare. All that is grandest and most
beautiful in Nature seems to group itself round about the fine old
castle, as if Nature herself felt compelled to pay tribute of her best
to what was noblest in the works of man. In the daytime grand and
sweeping white clouds on a sky of eggshell blue group themselves about
the great gray building. At twilight, when the hoary old castle
appears a colossal purple mass, every tower and every turret strongly
outlined against the sunset sky, Nature comes forward with her
brilliant palette and paints in a background of glorious prismatic
hues: great rolling orange and pink clouds on a sky of blue--combination
sufficient to send a colourist wild with joy.

Every inch of the castle walls has been utilized in one way or another
to economize material. Houses have been built hanging on to and
clustering about the walls, sometimes perched on the top of them, like
limpets on a rock. Often one sees a fine battlemented wall, fifty or
sixty feet in height, made of great rough stone, brown and golden and
purple with age--a wall which, one knows, must have withstood many a
siege--with modern iron balconies jutting out from it, balconies of
atrocious pattern, painted green or gray, with gaudy Venetian blinds.
It is absolute desecration to see leaning from these balconies,
against such a background, untidy, fat, dirty women, with black, lank
hair, and peasants knitting worsted socks, where once fair damsels of
ancient times waved their adieux to departing knights. Then, again,
how terrible it is to see glaring advertisements of _Le Petit
Journal_, Benedictine Liqueur, Singer's Sewing Machines, and Byrrh,
plastered over a fine old sculptured doorway!

  [Illustration: LA VIEILLE MÈRE PEROT]

There are in certain parts of the town remains of the ancient moat.
Sometimes it is a mere brook, black as night, flowing with difficulty
among thick herbage which has grown up round it; sometimes a
prosperous, though always dirty, stream. You come across it in
unexpected places here and there. In one part, just under the walls
of the castle, where the water is very dirty indeed, wash-houses
have been erected; there the women kneel on flat stones by the banks.
The houses clustering round about the moat are damp and evil-smelling;
their slates, green with mould, are continually slipping off the
roofs; and the buildings themselves slant at such an angle that their
entry into the water seems imminent.

At the base of the castle walls the streets mount steeply. This is a
very poor quarter indeed. The houses are old, blackened, decayed,
much-patched and renovated. Yet the place is extremely picturesque; in
fact, I know no part of Vitré that is not.

At any moment, in any street, you can stop and frame within your hands
a picture which will be almost sure to compose well--which in
colouring and drawing will be the delight of painters and etchers. In
these particular streets of which I speak antiquity reigns supreme.
Here no traffic ever comes; only slatternly women, with their wretched
dogs and cats of all breeds, fill the streets. Many of the houses are
half built out of solid slate, and the steps leading to them are hewn
from the rock.

One sees no relics of bygone glory here. This must ever have been a
poor quarter; for the windows are built low to the ground, and there
are homely stone settles outside each door. Pigs and chickens walk in
and out of the houses with as much familiarity as the men and women.
On every shutter strings of drying fish are hung; and every window in
every house, no matter how poor, has its rows of pink and red
geraniums and its pots of hanging fern. Birds also are abundant; in
fact, from the first I dubbed this street 'the street of the birds,'
for I never before saw so many caged birds gathered together--canaries,
bullfinches, jackdaws, and birds of bright plumage. By the sound one
might fancy one's self for the moment in an African jungle rather than
in a Breton village.

The streets of Vitré are remarkable for their flowers. Wherever you
may look you will see pots of flowers and trailing greenery, relieving
with their bright fresh colouring the time-worn houses of blackened
woodwork and sombre stone. Not only do moss and creepers abound, but
also there are gardens everywhere, over the walls of which trail vines
and clematis, and on every window-ledge are pots of geranium and

It is impossible in mere words to convey any real impression of the
fine old town of Vitré: only the etcher and the painter can adequately
depict it. The grand old town will soon be of the past. Every day,
every hour, its walls are decaying, crumbling; and before long Vitré
will be no more than a memory.

  [Illustration: A VIEILLARD]



A dear old-world, typically Breton town is Vannes. We arrived at
night, and gazed expectantly from our window on the moonlit square. We
plied with questions the man who carried up our boxes. His only answer
was that we should see everything on the morrow.

That was market-day, and the town was unusually busy. Steering for
what we thought the oldest part of Vannes, we took a turning which led
past ancient and crazy-looking houses. Very old houses indeed they
were, with projecting upper stories, beams, and scaly roofs slanting
at all angles. At Morlaix some of the streets are ancient; but I have
never seen such eccentric broken lines as at Vannes. At one corner the
houses leant forward across the street, and literally rested one on
the top of the other. These were only the upper stories; below were
up-to-date jewellers and _pâtisseries_, with newly-painted signs in
black and gold. In the middle of these houses, cramped and crowded
and hustled by them, stood the cathedral. Inside it was a dim, lofty
edifice, with faintly burning lamps. Hither the market-women come with
their baskets, stuffed to the full with fresh green salad and apples,
laying them down on the floor that they may kneel on praying-chairs,
cross their arms, and raise their eyes to the high-altar, pouring out
trouble or joy to God. It was delightful to see rough men with their
clean market-day blue linen blouses kneeling on the stone floor, hats
in hand and heads bowed, repeating their morning prayers.

The people were heavily laden on this bright autumn morning, either
with baskets or with sacks or dead fowls, all clattering through the
cobbled streets on their way to market. Following the crowd, we
emerged on a triangular-shaped market-place, wherein a most
dramatic-looking _mairie_ or town-hall figured prominently, a large
building with two flights of steps leading up to it, culminating in a
nail-studded door, with the arms of Morbihan inscribed above it.


One can well imagine such a market-place, let us say, in the days of
the Revolution: how some orator would stand on these steps, with
his back to that door, haranguing the crowd, holding them all
enthralled by the force of rhetoric. Now nothing so histrionic
happens. There is merely a buzzing throng of white-capped women,
haggling and bargaining as though their lives depended on it, with
eyes and hearts and minds for nothing but their business. Here and
there we saw knots of blue-bloused men, with whips hung over their
shoulders and straws in their mouths, more or less loafing and
watching their womenfolk. The square was filled with little wooden
stalls, where meat was sold--stringy-looking meat, and slabs of
purple-hued beef. How these peasant women bargained! I saw one old
lady arguing for quite a quarter of an hour over a piece of beef not
longer than your finger. Chestnuts were for sale in large quantities,
and housewives were buying their stocks for the winter. The men of the
family had been pressed into the service to carry up sack after sack
of fine brown glossy nuts, which were especially plentiful. No one
seemed over-anxious to sell; no one cried his wares: it was the
purchasers who appeared to do most of the talking and haggling.

There were more Frenchwomen here than I have seen in any other town;
but they were not fine ladies by any means. They did not detract from
the picturesqueness of the scene. They went round with their great
baskets, getting them filled with apples or chestnuts, or other
things. Most of the saleswomen were wrinkled old bodies; but one
woman, selling chestnuts and baskets of pears, was pretty and quite
young, with a mauve apron and a black cross-over shawl, and a mouth
like iron. I watched her with amusement. I had never seen so young and
comely a person so stern and businesslike. Not a single centime would
she budge from her stated price. She was pestered by women of all
kinds--old and young, peasants and modern French ladies, all attracted
by the beauty of her pears and the glossiness of her chestnuts. Hers
were the finest wares in the market, and she was fully conscious of
it, pricing her pears and chestnuts a sou more a sieveful than anyone
else. The customers haggled with her, upbraided her, tried every
feminine tactic. They sneered at her chestnuts and railed at her
pears; they scoffed one with the other. Eventually they gave up a
centime themselves; but the hard mouth did not relax, and the pretty
head in the snow-white coif was shaken vigorously. At this, with
snorts of disgust, her customers turned up their noses and left. Ere
long a smartly-dressed woman came along, and all unsuspectingly
bought a sieveful of chestnuts, emptying them into her basket. When
she came to pay for them, she discovered they were a sou more than she
had expected, and emptied them promptly back into the market-woman's
sack. I began to be afraid that my pretty peasant would have to
dismount from her high horse or go home penniless; but this was not
the case. Several women gathered round and began to talk among
themselves, nudging one another and pointing. At last one capitulated,
hoisted the white flag, and bought a few pears. Instantly all the
other women laid down their bags and baskets and began to buy her
pears and chestnuts. Very soon this stall became the most popular in
the market-place, and the young woman and her assistant were kept busy
the whole day. The hard-mouthed girl had conquered!

'Sept sous la demi-douzaine! Sept sous la demi-douzaine!' cried a
shrill-voiced vendor. It was a man from Paris with a great boxful of
shiny tablespoons, wrapped in blue tissue-paper in bundles of six, which
he was offering for the ridiculous sum of seven sous--that is, threepence
halfpenny. Naturally, with such bargains to offer, he was selling
rapidly. Directly he cried his 'Sept sous la demi-douzaine--six pour
sept sous!' he was literally surrounded. Men and women came up one
after the other; men's hands flew to their pockets under their blouses,
and women's to their capacious leather purses. It was amusing to watch
these people--they were so guileless, so childlike, so much pleased
with their bargains. Still, it would break my heart if these spoons
doubled up and cracked or proved worthless, for seven sous is a great
deal of money to the Breton peasants. I never saw merchandise
disappear so quickly. 'Solide, solide, solide!' cried the merchant,
until you would think he must grow hoarse. 'This is the chance of a
lifetime,' he declared: 'a beautiful half-dozen like this. C'est tout
ce qu'il y a de plus joli et solide. Voyez la beauté et la qualité de
cette merchandise. C'est une occasion que vous ne verrez pas tous les

The people became more and more excited; the man was much pressed, and
selling the spoons like wildfire. Then, there were umbrellas over
which the women lost their heads--glossy umbrellas with fanciful
handles and flowers and birds round the edge. First the merchant took
up an umbrella and twisted it round, then the spoons, and clattered
them invitingly, until people grew rash and bought both umbrellas and

  [Illustration: GOSSIPS]

There is nothing more amusing than to spend a morning thus, wandering
through the market-place, watching the peasants transact their little
business, which, though apparently trivial, is serious to them. I
never knew any people quite so thrifty as these Bretons. You see them
selling and buying, not only old clothes, but also bits of old
clothes--a sleeve from a soldier's coat, a leg from a pair of
trousers; and even then the stuff will be patched. In this
market-place you see stalls of odds and ends, such as even the poorest
of the poor in England would not hesitate to throw on the rubbish
heap--old iron, leaking bottles, legs of chairs and tables.

A wonderful sight is the market on a morning such as this. The sun
shines full on myriads of white-capped women thronging through the
streets, and on lines of brown-faced vegetable vendors sitting close
to the ground among their broad open baskets of carrots and apples and
cabbages. There are stalls of all kinds--butchers' stalls, forming
notes of colour with their vivid red meat; haberdashery stalls,
offering everything from a toothbrush or a boot-lace to the most
excruciatingly brilliant woollen socks; stalls where clothes are
sold--such as children's checked pinafores and babies' caps fit for
dolls. Most brilliant of all are the material booths, where every kind
of material is sold--from calico to velvet. They congregate especially
in a certain corner of the market-square, and even the houses round
about are draped with lengths of material stretching from the windows
down to the ground--glorious sweeps of checks and stripes and flowered
patterns, and pink and blue flannelette. It is amusing to watch a
Breton woman buying a length of cloth. She will pull it, and drag it,
and smell it, and almost eat it; she will ask her husband's advice,
and the advice of her husband's relations, and the advice of her own

In this market I was much amused to watch two men selling. I perceived
what a great deal more there is in the individuality of the man who
sells and in the manner of his selling than in the actual quality of
the merchandise. One man, a dull, foolish fellow, with bales and bales
of material, never had occasion to unwrap one: he never sold a thing.
Another man, a born salesman, with the same wares to offer, talked
volubly in a high-pitched voice. He called the people to him; he
called them by name--whether it was the right one or not did not
matter: it was sufficient to arrest their attention. 'Dépêchons nous.
Here, Lucien; here, Jeanne; here, Babette; here, my pigeon. Dépêchons
nous, dépêchons nous!' he cried. 'Que est ce qu'il y a? personne en
veux plus? Mais c'est épatant. Je suis honteux de vous en dire le
prix. Flannel! the very thing for your head, madam,--nothing softer,
nothing finer. How many yards?--one, two, three? There we are!' and,
with a flash of the scissors and a toss of the stuff, the flannel is
cut off, wrapped up and under the woman's arm, before the gaping
salesman opposite has time to close his mouth.

The stall was arranged in a kind of semicircle, and very soon this
extraordinary person had gathered a crowd of people, all eager to buy;
and the way in which he appeared to attend to everyone at once was
simply marvellous.

'What for you, madam?' he would ask, turning to a young Breton woman.
'Pink flannel? Here you are--a superb article, the very thing for
nightgowns.' Then to a man: 'Trousering, my lord? Certainly. Touchez
moi ça. Isn't that marvellous? Isn't that quality if you like? Ah! but
I am ashamed to tell you the price. You will be indeed beautiful in
this to-morrow.'

As business became slack for the moment, he would take up some cheap
print and slap it on his knee, crying:

'One sou--one sou the yard! Figure yourself dancing with an apron like
that at one sou the yard!'

And so the man would continue throughout the day, shouting, screaming,
always inventing new jokes, selling his wares very quickly, and always
gathering more and more people round him. Once he looked across at his
unfortunate rival, who was listening to his nonsense with a sneering

'Yes: you may sneer, my friend; but I am selling, and you are not,' he

Endless--absolutely endless--are the peeps of human nature one gains
on a market-day such as this in an old-world Breton town. I spent the
time wandering among the people, and not once did I weary. At every
turn I saw something to marvel at, something to admire. We had chanced
on a particularly interesting day, when the whole town was turned into
a great market. Wherever we went there was a market of some sort--a
pig market, or a horse market, or an old-clothes market; almost every
street was lined with booths and barrows.

  [Illustration: A CATTLE-MARKET]

Outside almost every drinking-house, or Café Breton, lay a fat
pig sleeping contentedly on the pavement, and tied to a string in the
wall, built there for that purpose. He would be waiting while his
master drank--for often men come in to Vannes from miles away, and
walk back with their purchases. I saw an old woman who had just bought
a pig trying to take it home. She had the most terrible time with that
animal. First he raced along the road with her at great speed, almost
pulling her arms out of the sockets, and making the old lady run as
doubtless she had never run before; then he walked at a sedate pace,
persistently between her feet, so that either she must ride him
straddle-legs or not get on at all; lastly, the pig wound himself and
the string round and round her until neither could move a step. A
drunken man reeled along, and, seeing the hopeless muddle of the old
lady and the pig, stopped in front of them and tried to be of some
assistance. He took off his hat and scratched his head; then he poked
the pig with his cane, and moved round the woman and pig, giving
advice; finally, he flew into a violent rage because he could not
solve the mystery, and the old lady waved him aside with an impatient
gesture. The air was filled with grunts and groans and blood-curdling

Everyone seemed to possess a pig: either he or she had just bought one
or had one for sale. You saw bunches of the great fat pink animals
tied to railings while the old women gossiped; you saw pigs, attached
to carts, comfortably sleeping in the mud; you saw them being led
along the streets like dogs by neatly-dressed dames, holding them by
their tails, and giving them a twist every time they were rebellious.

Vannes is the most beautiful old town imaginable. Everywhere one goes
one sees fine old archways of gray stone, ancient and lofty--relics of
a bygone age--with the arms of Brittany below and a saint with arms
extended in blessing above. When once you reach the outskirts of the
town you realize that at one time Vannes must have been enclosed by
walls: there are gateways remaining still, and little bits of
broken-down brickwork, old and blackened, and half-overgrown with moss
and grasses. There is a moat running all round--it is inky black and
dank now--on the banks of which a series of sloping slate sheds and
washhouses have been built, where the women wash their clothes,
kneeling on the square flat stones. How anything could emerge clean
and white from such pitch-black water is a marvel. Seen from outside
the gates, this town is very beautiful--the black water of the moat,
the huddled figures of the women, with their white caps and snowy
piles of linen, and beyond that green grass and apple-trees and
flowers, and at the back the old grayish-pink walls, with carved

There is hardly a town in the whole of Brittany so ancient as Vannes.
These walls speak for themselves. They speak of the time when Vannes
was the capital of the rude Venetes who made great Cæsar hesitate, and
retarded him in his conquest of the Gauls. They speak of the
twenty-one emigrants, escaped from the Battle of Quiberon, who were
shot on the promenade of the Garenne, under the great trees where the
children play to-day. What marvellous walls these are! With what care
they have been built--so stout, so thick, so colossal! It must have
taken men of great strength to build such walls as these--men who
resented all newcomers with a bitter hatred, and built as if for their
very lives, determined to erect something which should be impregnable.
Still they stand, gray and battered, with here and there remains of
their former grandeur in carved parapets, projecting turrets, and
massive sculptured doorways. At one time the town must have been well
within the walls; but now it has encroached. The white and pink and
yellow-faced tall houses perch on the top of, lean against and cluster
round, the old gray walls.

It seems strange to live in a town where the custom of _couvre-feu_ is
still observed by the inhabitants--in a town where no sooner does the
clock strike nine than all lights are out, all shutters closed, and
all shops shut. This is the custom in Vannes. It is characteristic of
the people. The Vanntais take a pride in being faithful to old usages.
They are a sturdy, grave, pensive race, hiding indomitable energy and
hearts of fire under the calmest demeanour. The women are fine
creatures. I shall never forget seeing an old woman chopping wood. All
day long she worked steadily in the open place, wielding an immensely
heavy hatchet, and chopping great branches of trees into bundles of
sticks. There she stood in her red-and-black checked petticoat, her
dress tucked up, swinging her hatchet, and holding the branches with
her feet. She seemed an Amazon.

  [Illustration: BREAD STALLS]

In Vannes, as in any part of Brittany, one always knows when there is
anything of importance happening, by the clatter of the sabots on the
cobble stones. On the afternoon when we were there the noise was
deafening. We heard it through the closed windows while we were at
luncheon--big sabots, little sabots, men's nail-studded sabots,
women's light ones, little children's persistent clump, clump, clump,
all moving in the same direction. It was the Foire des Oignons,
observed the waiter. I had imagined that there had been a _foire_ of
everything conceivable that day; but onions scarcely entered into my
calculations. I should not have thought them worthy of a _foire_ all
to themselves. The waiter spoiled my meal completely. I could no
longer be interested in the very attractive menu. Onions were my one
and only thought. I lived and had my being but for onions. Mother and
I sacrificed ourselves immediately on the altar of onions. We rushed
from the room, much to the astonishment of several rotund French
officers, who were eating, as usual, more than was good for them.

Everybody was concerned with onions. We drew up in the rear of a large
onion-seeking crowd. It was interesting to watch the back views of
these peasants as they mounted the hill. There were all kinds of
backs--fat backs, thin backs, glossy black backs, and faded green
ones; backs of men with floating ribbons and velveteen coats; plump
backs of girls with neat pointed shawls--some mauve, some purple,
some pink, some saffron.

At the top of the hill was the market-square--a busy scene. The square
was packed, and everyone was talking volubly in the roughest Breton
dialect. Now and then a country cart painted blue, the horse hung
round the neck with shaggy black fur and harnessed with the rough
wooden gear so general in Brittany, would push through the crowd of
busily-talking men and women. Everything conceivable was for sale. At
certain stalls there were sweets of all colours, yet all tasting the
same and made of the worst sugar. I saw the same man still selling his
spoons and umbrellas; but he was fat and comfortable now. He had had
his _déjeuner_, and was not nearly so excited and amusing. Fried
sardines were sold with long rolls of bread; also sausages. They cook
the sardines on iron grills, and a mixed smell of sausages, sardines,
and chestnuts filled the air. Everyone was a little excited and a
little drunk. Long tables had been brought out into the place where
the men sat in their blue blouses and black velvet hats,--their whips
over their shoulders, drinking cider and wine out of cups,--discussing
cows and horses.

There was a cattle market there that day. This was soon manifest, for
men in charge of cows and pigs pushed their way among the crowd. On
feeling a weight at your back now and then, you discovered a cow or a
pig leaning against you for support. A great many more animals were
assembled on a large square--pigs and cows and calves and horses. One
could stay for days and watch a cattle market: it is intensely
interesting. The way the people bargain is very strange. I saw a man
and a woman buying a cow from a young Breton. The man opened its
eyelids wide with his finger and thumb; he gazed in the gentle brown
eyes; he stroked her soft gray neck; he felt her ribs, and poked his
fingers in her side; he lifted one foot after the other; he punched
and probed her for quite a quarter of an hour; and the cow stood there
patiently. The woman looked on with a hard, knowing expression,
applauding at every poke, and talking volubly the while. She drew into
the discussion a friend passing by, and asked her opinion constantly,
yet never took it. All the while the owner stood stroking his cow's
back, without uttering a word.

He was a handsome young man, as Bretons often are--tall and slim, with
a face like an antique bronze, dark and classic;--he wore a short
black coat trimmed with shabby velvet, tightly-fitting trousers, and
a black hat with velvet streamers. The stateliness of the youth struck
me: he held himself like an emperor. These Bretons look like kings,
with their fine brown classic features; they hold themselves so
haughtily, they remind one of figure-heads on old Roman coins. They
seem men born to command; yet they command nothing, and live like pigs
with the cows and hogs. The Breton peasant is full of dirt and
dignity, living on coarse food, and rarely changing his clothes; yet
nowhere will you meet with such fine bearing, charm of manner, and
nobility of feature as among the peasants of Brittany.

On entering the poorest cottage, you are received with old-world
courtesy by the man of the house, who comes forward to meet you in his
working garments, with dirt thick upon his hands, but with dignity and
stateliness, begging that you will honour his humble dwelling with
your presence. He sets the best he has in the house before you. It may
be only black bread and cider; but he bids you partake of it with a
regal wave of his hand which transforms the humble fare.

  [Illustration: IN A BRETON KITCHEN]

These peasants remind me very much of Sir Henry Irving. Some of the
finest types are curiously like him in feature: they have the
same magnificent profile and well-shaped head. It is quite startling
to come across Sir Henry in black gaiters, broad-brimmed hat, and long
hair streaming in the wind, ploughing in the dark-brown fields, or
chasing a pig, or, dressed in gorgeous holiday attire, perspiring
manfully through a village gavotte. Surely none but a Breton could
chase a pig without losing self-respect, or count the teeth in a cow's
mouth and look dignified at the same time. No one else could dance up
and down in the broiling sunshine for an hour and preserve a composed
demeanour. The Breton peasant is a person quite apart from the rest of
the world. One feels, whether at a pig market or a wayside shrine,
that these people are dreamers living in a romantic past. Unchanged
and unpolished by the outside world, they cling to their own
traditions; every stone in their beloved country is invested by them
with poetic and heroic associations. Brittany looks as if it must have
always been as it is now, even in the days of the Phoenicians; and
it seems impossible to imagine the country inhabited by any but
medieval people.

There were many fine figures of men in this cattle market, all busy at
the game of buying and selling. A Frenchman and his wife were
strolling round the square, intent on buying a pony. The man evidently
knew nothing about horses--very few Frenchmen do;--and it was
ridiculous to watch the way in which he felt the animal's legs and
stroked its mane, with a wise expression, while his wife looked on
admiringly. Bretons take a long time over their bargains: sometimes
they will spend a whole day arguing over two sous, and then end by not
buying the pig or the cow, whatever it is, at all. The horses looked
tired and bored with the endless bargains, as they leant their heads
against one another. Now and then one was taken out and trotted up and
down the square; then two men clasped hands once, and went off to a
café to drink. If they clasp hands a third time the bargain will be

Market-day in Vannes is an excuse for frivolity. We came upon a great
crowd round two men under a red umbrella, telling fortunes. One man's
eyes were blindfolded. He was the medium. The people were listening to
his words with guileless attention and seriousness. Then a man and a
woman, both drunk, were singing songs about the Japanese and Russian
War, dragging in 'France' and 'la gloire,' and selling the words,
forcing young Frenchmen and soldiers to buy sheets of nonsense for
which they had no use. There were stalls of imitation flowers--roses
and poppies and chrysanthemums of most impossible colours--gazed at
with covetous eyes by the more well-to-do housewives.

Hats were sold in great numbers at the Foire des Oignons. It seemed to
be fashionable to buy a black felt hat on that day. The fair is held
only once a year, and farmers and their families flock to it from
miles round. It is the custom, when a good bargain is made, to buy new
hats for the entire family. Probably there will be no opportunity of
seeing a shop again during the rest of the year. The trade in hats is
very lively. Women from Auray, in three-cornered shawls and wide
white-winged caps, sit all day long sewing broad bands of velvet
ribbon on black beaver hats, stretching it round the crown and leaving
it to fall in two long streamers at the back. They sew quickly, for
they have more work than they can possibly accomplish during the day.
It is amusing to watch the customers. I sat on the stone balustrade
which runs round the open square of the Hôtel de Ville, whither all
the townswomen come as to a circus, bringing their families, and
eating their meals in the open air, that they may watch the strangers
coming and going about their business, either on foot or in carts. It
was as good as a play. A young man, accompanied by another man, an old
lady, and three young girls, had come shyly up to the stall. It was
obvious that he was coming quite against his will and at the
instigation of his companions. He hummed and hawed, fidgeted, blushed,
and looked as wretched and awkward as a young man could. One hat after
another was tried on his head; but none of them would fit. He was the
object of all eyes. The townswomen hooted at him, and his own friends
laughed. He could stand it no longer. He dashed down his money, picked
up the hat nearest to him, and went off in a rage. I often thought of
that young man afterwards--of his chagrin during the rest of the year,
when every Sunday and high day and holiday he would have to wear that
ill-fitting hat as a penalty for his bad temper. These great strapping
Breton men are very childish, and dislike above all things to be made
to appear foolish. Towards evening, when three-quarters drunk, they
are easily gulled and cheated by the gentle-faced needle-women.
Without their own womenfolk they are completely at sea, and are
made to buy whatever is offered. They look so foolish, pawing one
another and trying on hats at rakish angles. It is ridiculous to see
an intoxicated man trying to look at his own reflection in a
hand-glass. He follows it round and round, looking very serious; holds
it now up and now down; and eventually buys something he does not
want, paying for it out of a great purse which he solemnly draws from
under his blouse.

  [Illustration: A RAINY DAY AT THE FAIR]

I saw a man and a child come to buy a hat. The boy was the very image
of his father--black hat, blue blouse, tight trousers and all--only
that the hat was very shabby and brown and old, and had evidently seen
many a ducking in the river and held many a load of nuts and cherries.
His father was in the act of buying him a new one. The little pale lad
smiled and looked faintly interested as hat after hat was tried on his
head; but he was not overjoyed, for he knew quite well that, once home
and in his mother's careful hands, that hat would be seen only on rare

Another boy who came with his father to buy a hat quite won my heart.
He was a straight-limbed, fair-haired, thoroughly English-looking boy.
A black felt hat was not for him--only a red tam-o'-shanter;--and he
stood beaming with pride as cap after cap was slapped on his head and
as quickly whisked off again.

Women came to purchase bonnets for their babies; but, alas! instead of
buying the tight-lace caps threaded with pink and blue ribbons
characteristic of the country, they bought hard, round, blue-and-white
sailor affairs, with mangy-looking ostrich feathers in them--atrocities
enough to make the most beautiful child appear hideous.

The sun was fading fast. Horses and cows and pigs, drunken men and
empty cider barrels, women with heavy baskets and dragging tired
children, their pockets full of hot chestnuts--all were starting on
their long walk home. When the moon rose, the square was empty.




     'C'était à la campagne
     Près d'un certain canton de la basse Bretagne
     Appelé Quimper Corentin.
     On sait assez que le Destin
     Adresse là les gens quand il veut qu'on enrage.
     Dieu nous préserve du voyage.'

So says La Fontaine. The capital of Cornouailles is a strange mixture
of the old world and the new. There the ancient spirit and the modern
meet. The Odet runs through the town. On one side is a mass of rock 70
metres high, covered by a forest so dark and dense and silent that in
it one might fancy one's self miles away from any town. As one wanders
among the chestnuts, pines, poplars, and other trees, a sadness falls,
as if from the quiet foliage in the dim obscurity. On the other side
of the narrow river is a multitude of roofs, encircled by high walls
and dominated by the two lofty spires of the cathedral. Gray and full
of shadows is the quiet little town, with its jumble of slanting roofs
and its broken lines.

Quimper seems to have changed but little within the last six years. We
arrived as the sun was setting. A warm light gilded the most ordinary
objects, transforming them into things of beauty. We flashed by in the
hotel omnibus, past a river resembling a canal, the Odet. The river
was spanned by innumerable iron-railed bridges. The sky was of a fresh
eggshell blue, with clouds of vivid orange vermilion paling in the
distance to rose-pink, and shedding pink and golden reflections on the
clear gray water, while a red-sailed fishing-boat floated gently at
anchor. A wonderful golden light bathed the town. You felt that you
could not take it all in at once, this glorious colouring--that you
must rush from place to place before the light faded, and see the
whole of the fine old town under these exceptional circumstances,
which would most probably never occur again. You wanted to see the
water, with its golden reflections, and the warm light shining on the
lichen-covered walls, on the gardens sloping down to the river, on the
wrought-iron gateways and low walls over which ivy and convolvulus
creep, on the red-rusted bridges. You wanted to see the cathedral--a
purple-gray mass, with the sun gilding one-half of the tower to a
brilliant vermilion, and leaving the other half grayer and a deeper
purple than ever. You wanted to see the whole place at once, for very
soon the light fades into the gray and purple of night.

My first thought on waking next morning in the 'city of fables and
gables,' as Quimper is called, was to see my old convent--the dear old
convent where as a child I spent such a happy year. Only twelve more
months, and the nuns will be ousted from their home--those dear women
whom, as the hotel proprietress said with tears in her eyes, 'fassent
que du bien.' How bitterly that cruel Act rankles, and ever will
rankle, in the hearts of the Breton people!

'On dit que la France est un pays libre,' said my hostess; 'c'est une
drôle de liberté!'

The inhabitants of Quimper were more bitter, more rebellious, than
those of any other town, for they greeted the officers with stones and
gibes. And no wonder. The nuns had ever been good and generous and
helpful to the people of Quimper. I remember well in the old days what
a large amount of food and clothing went forth into the town from
those hospitable doors, for the Retraite du Sacré Coeur was a rich

It was with a beating heart and eager anticipation that I knocked at
the convent door that morning, feeling like a little child come home
after the holidays. I heard the sound of bolts slipped back, and two
bright eyes peeped through the grille before the door was opened by a
Sister in the white habit of the Order. I knew her face in an instant,
yet could not place it. Directly she spoke I remembered it was the
Sister who changed our shoes and stockings whenever we returned from a

I asked for the Mother Superior. She had gone to England. I asked for
one of the English nuns. She also had gone. Names that had faded out
of my mind returned in the atmosphere of the convent. Yes: three of
the nuns I had named were still at the convent. What was my name? the
Sister asked. Who was I?

I gave my name, and instantly her face lit up.

'Why, it is Mademoiselle Dorothé!' she exclaimed, raising her hands
above her head in astonishment. 'Entréz, mademoiselle et madame,


Through all these years, among all the girls who must have passed
through the convent, she remembered me and bade me welcome. In the
quiet convent so little happens that every incident is remembered and
magnified and thought over.

We were taken upstairs and shown into a bare room with straight-backed
chairs--a room which in my childish imagination had been a charmed and
magic place, for it was here that I came always to see my mother on
visiting days. We had not long to wait before, with a rustle and
clinking of her cross and rosary, Mère B. appeared, a sweet woman in
the black dress and pointed white coif that I knew so well. She had
always been beautiful in my eyes, and she was so still, with the
loveliness of a pure and saintly life shining through her large brown
eyes. Her cheeks were as soft and pink as ever, and her hands, which I
used to watch in admiration by the hour, were stretched out with joy
to greet me.

'O la petite Dorothé!' she cried,'quel bonheur de vous revoir! Est-ce
vraiment la petite Dorothé?'

As I sat watching her while she talked to my mother, all the old
thoughts and feelings came back to me with a rush. I was in some awe
of her: I could not treat her as if she were an ordinary person. All
the old respectful tricks and turns of speech came back to me, though
I imagined I had forgotten them. My mother was telling Mère B. of how
busy I had been since I had left the convent--of the books I had
written and all about them;--but I felt as small and insignificant as
the child of ten, and could only answer in monosyllables--'Oui, ma
mère,' or 'Non, ma mère.'

At our request, we were shown over the convent. Many memories it
brought back--some pleasant, some painful; for a child's life never
runs on one smooth level--it is ever a series of ups and downs. We
were taken into the refectory. There was my place at the corner of the
table, where at the first meal I sat and cried because, when asked if
I would like a _tartine_ instead of pudding, I was given a piece of
bread-and-butter. Naturally, I had thought that _tartine_ meant a
tart. And there was the very same Sister laying the table, the Sister
who used to look sharply at my plate to see that I ate all my fat and
pieces of gristle. She remembered me perfectly. Many were the tussles,
poor woman, she had had with me.

Mère B. showed us the chapel, where we used to assemble at half-past
six every morning, cold and half-asleep, to say our prayers before
going into the big church. Many were the beautiful addresses the
Mother Superior had read to us; many were the vows I had made to be
really very good; many were the resolves I had formed to be gentle and
forbearing during the day--vows and resolves only to be broken soon.

We wandered through the garden between the beds of thyme and mint and
late roses, and Mère B. spoke with tears in her eyes of the time when
they would have to leave their happy convent home and migrate to some
more hospitable land. 'It is not for ourselves that we grieve,' she
said: 'it is for our poor country--for the people who will be left
without religion. Personally, we are as happy in one country as in

I picked a sprig of sweet-smelling thyme as I passed, and laid it
tenderly between the pages of my pocket-book. If the garden were to be
desecrated and used by strangers, I must have something to remember it

What memories the dear old convent garden brought back to me! There
was the gravelled square where we children skipped and played and sang
Breton _chansons_ all in a ring. There was the avenue of scanty
poplars--not so scanty now--down which I often paced in rebellious
mood, gazing at the walls rising high above me, longing to gain the
farther side and be in the world. Outside the convent gates was always
called 'the world.' There was the little rocky shrine of the Virgin--a
sweet-faced woman in a robe of blue and gold, nursing a Baby with an
aureole about His head. Many a time I had thrown myself on the bench
in front of that shrine in a fit of temper, and had been slowly calmed
and soothed by that gentle presence, coming away a better child, with
what my mother always called 'the little black monkey' gone from my

Very soon the convent atmosphere wraps itself about you and lulls you
to rest. You feel its influence directly you enter the building. You
are seized by a vague longing to stay here, just where you are, and
leave the world, with its ceaseless strivings and turmoils and unrest,
behind you. Yet how soon the worldly element in you would come to the
fore, teasing you, tormenting you back into the toils once more! It
was with a feeling of sorrow and a sensation that something was being
wrenched from me that I bade good-bye to sweet Mère B. at the garden
gate, with many embraces and parting injunctions not to forget the
convent and my old friends.


Wherever one goes in Quimper one sees the stately cathedral, that
wondrous building which, with its two excellent pyramids and gigantic
portal, is said to be the most beautiful in all Brittany. It would
take one days and days to realize its beauty. The doorway itself is as
rich in detail as a volume of history. There are lines of sculptured
angels joining hands over the porch, Breton coats of arms, and the
device of Jean X.--'Malo au riche duc.' There are two windows above
the doorway, crowned by a gallery, with an equestrian statue of the
King of Grallon. According to tradition the cathedral must have been
built on the site of the royal palace.

There are many legends about the church of St. Corentin. One is that
of a man who, going on a pilgrimage, left his money with a neighbour
for safety. On returning, the neighbour declared that he had never had
the money, and proposed to swear to the same before the crucifix of
St. Corentin. They met there, and the man swore. Instantly three drops
of blood fell from the crucifix to the altar, which, the legend runs,
are preserved to this day.

It is also said that there is in the fountain of Quimper a miraculous
fish, which, in spite of the fact that St. Corentin cuts off half of
it every day for his dinner, remains whole.

A quaint ceremony is held at the cathedral on the Feast of St. Cecile.
At two o'clock the clergyman, accompanied by musicians and choir-boys,
mounts a platform between the great towers, and a joyous hymn is sung
there, on the nearest point to the sky in all Quimper. It is a strange
sight. Scores of beggars gather round the porch of the cathedral--the
halt, the lame, the blind, and the diseased--all with outstretched
hats and cups.

  [Illustration: BY THE SIDE OF A FARM]



St. Brieuc, although it has lost character somewhat during the last
half-century, is still typically Breton. Its streets are narrow and
cobbled, and many of its houses date from the Middle Ages. It was
market-day when we arrived, and crowds of women, almost all of whom
wore different caps--some of lace with wide wings, others goffered
with long strings--were hurrying, baskets over their arms, in the
direction of the market-place. Suddenly, while walking in these
narrow, tortuous streets of St. Brieuc, I saw stretched before me, or
rather below, many feet below, a green and fertile valley. It
resembled a picturesque scene magically picked out of Switzerland and
placed in a Breton setting. Through the valley ran a small glistening
stream, a mere ribbon of water, threading its way among rocks and
boulders and vivid stretches of green grass. On either side were steep
hills covered with verdure, gardens, and plots of vegetables. On the
heights a railway was being cut into the solid rock--a gigantic
engineering work, rather spoiling the aspect of this wooded valley
full of flowers and perfumes and the sun.

We were told that there was nothing further to be seen in St. Brieuc,
but that we must go to Binic, which is described in a certain
guide-book as 'a very picturesque little fishing village.' This
sounded inviting, and, although we had not much time to spare, we set
off in a diligence with about eighteen windows, each of which rattled
as we sped along at a terrific pace over the cobbles of St. Brieuc. On
we went, faster and faster, rattling--out into the country, past the
valley again, the beautiful valley, and many other valleys like it.
Craggy purple mountains half-covered with green flew by us; and here
and there was an orchard with gnarled and spreading apple-trees
weighted with heavy burdens of red and golden fruit--the very soil was
carpeted with red and gold. What a fertile country it is! Here, where
a river flows between two mountains, how vividly green the grass!
Peasant women by its banks are washing linen on the flat stones, and
hanging it, all white and blue and daintily fresh, on yellow gorse
bushes and dark blackberry thorns.

I have never seen blackberries such as those on the road to Binic.
Tall and thick grew the bushes, absolutely black with berries, so
large that they resembled bunches of grapes. Not a single Breton in
all the length and breadth of Brittany will pick this ripe and
delicious fruit--not a schoolboy, not a starving beggar on the
wayside--for does not the bush bear the accursed thorns which pierced
the Saviour's forehead? It is only when English and American children
invade Brittany that the blackberries are harvested.

A diligence causes excitement in a small Breton town. It carries the
mails between the villages. Whenever the inhabitants hear the horn,
out they rush from their homes with letters and parcels to be given
into the hands of the courier. The courier's duties, by the way, are
many. Not only are the mails given into his safe keeping: he is
entrusted with commissions, errands, and messages of all kinds. A
housewife will ask him to buy her a bar of soap; a girl will entrust
him with the matching of a ribbon; a hotel-keeper will order through
him a cask of beer; and so on. The courier is busy throughout the day
executing his various commissions, now in one shop, now in another;
and on the return journey his cart, hung all over with bulky packages
and small,--here a chair, there a broom, here a tin of biscuits--resembles
a Christmas-tree. The courier's memory must needs be good and his hand
steady, for it is the custom to give him at each house as much as he
likes to drink. His passengers are kept for hours shivering in the
cold, becoming late for their appointments and missing their trains;
but the courier cares not. He drinks wherever he stops, and at each
fresh start becomes more brilliant in his driving.

At one of the villages, during the tedious wait while the driver was
imbibing, I was much interested in watching a man, a little child, and
a dog. The man was a loafer, but neatly and even smartly dressed,
wearing a white peaked yachting cap. The child was small and sickly,
with long brown hair curling round a deathly-white and rather dirty
face, weak blue eyes with red rims, and an ominously scarlet mouth.
Long blue-stockinged legs came from beneath a black pinafore, so thin
and small that it seemed impossible that they could bear the weight of
those heavy black wooden sabots. I thought that the child was a girl
until the pinafore was raised, revealing tiny blue knickers and a
woollen jersey. The boy seemed devoted to his father, and would
hold his hand unnoticed for a long while, gazing into the unresponsive
eyes. Now and then he would jump up feverishly and excitedly, pulling
his father's coat to attract attention, and prattling all the while.
The man took not the slightest notice of the child. He was glancing
sharply about him. By-and-by he bent down towards his son, and I heard
him whisper, 'Allez à ses messieurs la.' Without a word the boy
trotted off towards the men, his hands in his pockets, and began
talking to them, the father watching attentively. He returned, but was
immediately sent off again with a frown and a push. Then he came back
with several sous, clasped in his fist, which he held up proudly to
his father. Over and over again he was sent off, and every time he
came back with a few sous. Had the child appealed to me I could not
have resisted him. There was something about the pathetic pale face
that tugged at the heart-strings. One felt that the boy was not long
for this world. His father was absolutely callous. He did not reward
the lad by word or smile, although the child pulled at his coat and
clamoured for attention. At last the boy gave up in despair, and,
sitting down on the pavement, drew the old black poodle towards him,
hiding his face in the tangled wool, while the animal's eyes, brown
and sad, seemed to say that he at least understood.

  [Illustration: ON THE ROAD TO BANNALEC]

At length we arrived in Binic, cold, windy, composed of a few
slate-gray, solid houses, a stone pier, and some large sailing
vessels, with nothing picturesque about them. The courier's cart set
us down, and went rattling on its way. We were in a bleak,
unsympathetic place. I felt an impulse to run after the diligence and
beg the driver to take us away. This was 'the picturesque little
fishing village'! We dived into the most respectable-looking _débit de
boissons_ we could find, and asked for tea. An old lady sitting before
the fire dropped her knitting, and her spectacles flew off. The sudden
appearance of strangers in Binic, combined with the request for tea,
of all beverages, seemed trying to her nervous system. It was quite
five minutes before she was in a fit condition to ask us what we
really required. With much trepidation, she made our tea, holding it
almost at arm's length, as if it were poisonous. The tea itself she
had discovered on the top of a shelf in a fancy box covered with
dust and cobwebs; she had measured it out very carefully. When
poured into our cups the fluid was of a pale canary colour, and was
flavourless. We lengthened out the meal until the carrier's cart
arrived, with a full complement of passengers. It had begun to rain
and hail, and the driver cheerfully assured us his was the last
diligence that day. The proprietress of the _débit_ had begun to rub
her hands with glee at the thought of having us as customers; but I
was determined that, even if I had to sit on the top of the cart, we
should not stay in the terrible place an hour longer. To the surprise
of the courier, and the disgust of the passengers, whose view we
completely blocked, we climbed to the driver's seat and sat there. The
driver, a good natured man, with consideration for his purse, shrugged
his shoulders at the proprietress, and we started on our way. I have
never heard such language as that which issued from the back of the
cart. Many and terrible were the epithets hurled at the heads of 'ses
affreuses Anglaises.'

  [Illustration: DÉBIT DE BOISSONS]

  [Illustration: CHURCH OF ST. MODY]



Wherever one travels one cannot but be impressed by the friendliness
and sympathy of the people. On the day we were starting for Paimpol we
found, on arriving at the station, that we had an hour to wait for our
train. We happened to be feeling rather depressed that day, and at
this intimation I was on the verge of tears. The porter who took our
tickets cheered us up to the best of his ability. He flung open the
door of the _salle d'attente_ as if it had been a lordly
reception-room, flourished round with his duster over mantelpiece and
table and straight-backed chairs, and motioned us to be seated.

'Voilà tout ce qu'il y a de plus joli et confortable,' he said, with a
smile. Perceiving that we were not impressed, he drew aside the
curtains and pointed with a dirty forefinger. 'Voilà un joli petit
jardin,' he exclaimed triumphantly. There, he added, we might sit if
we chose. Also, he said there was a buffet close at hand. As this did
not produce enthusiasm, he observed that there was a mirror in the
room, that he himself would call us in time to catch our train, and
that we were altogether to consider ourselves _chez nous_. Then he
bowed himself out of the room.

The scenery along the railway from Guingamp to Paimpol was beautiful.
I hung my head out of the window the whole way, so anxious was I not
to miss a single minute of that glorious colouring. There were hills
of craggy rocks, blue and purple, with pines of brilliant fresh green
growing thickly up their sides. On the summit, standing dark against
the sky, were older pines of a deeper green. Between the clumps of
pines grew masses of mustard-yellow gorse and purple heather, in parts
faded to a rich pinky-brown. Now and then there were clefts in the
hills, or valleys, where the colouring was richer and deeper still,
and bracken grew in abundance, pinky-brown and russet.

Paimpol itself is a fishing village, much frequented by artists,
attracted by the fishing-boats with their vermilion sails, who never
tire of depicting the gray stone quay, with its jumble of masts and
riggings. In the _salle à manger_ of the little hotel where we had
luncheon the walls were literally panelled with pictures of
fishing-boats moored to the quay. Every man sitting at that long
table was an artist. This was a pleasant change from the commercial
travellers who hitherto had fallen to our lot at meal-times. There was
no Englishman among the artists.

  [Illustration: REFLECTIONS]

The English at this time of the year in Brittany are few, though they
swarm in every town and village during summer. These were
Frenchmen--impressionists of the new school. It was well to know this.
Otherwise one might have taken them for wild men of the woods. Such
ruffianly-looking people I had never seen before. Some of them wore
corduroy suits, shabby and paint-besmeared, with slovenly top-boots
and large felt hats set at the back of their heads. Others affected
dandyism, and parted their hair at the back, combing it towards their
ears, in the latest Latin Quarter fashion. Their neckties were of the
flaming tones of sunset, very large and spreading; their trousers
excessively baggy. The entrance of my mother and myself caused some
confusion among them, for women are very rare in Paimpol at this
season. Hats flew off and neckties were straightened, while each one
did his best to attend to our wants. Frenchmen are nothing if not
polite. The young man sitting next to me suffered from shyness, and
blushed every time he spoke. On one occasion, airing his English, he
said, 'Vill you pass ze vutter?' I passed him the butter; but he had
meant water. The poor youth rivalled the peony as he descended to
French and explained his mistake.

The people of Paimpol are supposed to be much addicted to smuggling.
My mother and I once imagined that we had detected a flagrant act. One
afternoon, walking on a narrow path above the sea, we saw three boys
crouching behind a rock. They were talking very earnestly, and
pointing, apparently making signals, to a little red-sailed boat. The
boat changed her course, and steered straight for a small cove beneath
our feet. We held our breath, expecting to witness the hiding of the
loot. Suddenly, just as the little craft drew to within a yard or so
of the shore, we saw from behind a rock a red and white cockade
appear. There stood a gendarme! Instantly the boat went on her way
once more, and the boys fell to whispering again behind the rock.
After a while, to our great disgust, the gendarme walked at leisure
down the path and chatted in a friendly way with the conspirators. He
had been out for an afternoon stroll. Nothing really dramatic or
interesting in the smuggling line seems to happen outside books.

The Paimpolais are a vigorous people. Fathers and sons dedicate their
lives to the sea. With all their roughness, the people are strictly
religious. The bay of Paimpol is under the protection of the Virgin,
and St. Anne is patron saint. All prayers for those at sea are
directed to these two saints, whose statues stand prominently in the
village. At the end of every winter, before starting their dangerous
life anew, the fishermen are blessed before the statues. The patron
saint of the mariners gazes down with lifeless eyes on generation
after generation of men--on those whose luck will be good and lives
happy; on those who are destined never to return. At the opening of
the fishing season there is a ceremonial procession, attended by the
fathers, mothers, sisters, and _fiancées_ of the fisher folk. Each man
as he embarks is blessed by the priest and given a few last words of
advice. Then the boats move away, a big flotilla of red-sailed fishing
craft, the men singing in loud vibrating voices, as they busy
themselves about their boats, the canticles of Mary, star of the sea.

  [Illustration: A SABOT STALL]



On the way to Guingamp we travelled second-class. In the first-class
carriages one sits in solitary state, with never a chance of studying
the people of the country. Half-way on our journey the train stopped,
and I was amused by the excitement and perturbation of the passengers.
They flew to the windows, and heaped imprecations on the guard, the
engine-driver, and the railway company. As the train remained
stationary for several minutes, their remarks became facetious. They
inquired if _un peu de charbon_ would be useful. Should they provide
the porter with a blade of straw wherewith to light the engines? They
even offered their services in pushing the train. One fat, red-faced
commercial traveller, who, by way of being witty, declared that he was
something of an engineer himself, descended the steep steps of the
carriage in order to assist the officials. The French are born
comedians--there is no doubt about it. They manage to make themselves
extremely ridiculous. This man's behaviour was like that of a clown in
the circus. In attempting to unlock a carriage he got in the way of
everyone. The wait was long and tedious.

'Il faut coucher sur la montagne ce soir, mademoiselle,' said an old
Breton who was puffing contentedly at a clay pipe in the corner of the
carriage. He was very fat, and smothered up to his chin in a loose
blue blouse; but he had a classic head. It was like that of some Roman
Emperor carved in bronze. His eyes were of cerulean blue. His was the
head of a man born to command. There was something almost imperial in
the pose and set of it. Nevertheless, this peasant lived, no doubt, in
the depth of the country, probably in some hovel of a cottage, with a
slovenly yellow-faced wife (women in the wilds of Brittany grow old
and plain very early), dirty children, and a few pigs and cows. He had
been attending a market, and he spoke with great importance of his
purchases there. He descended at a minute station on the line, and I
watched him as he started on his fifteen-mile drive in a ramshackle
wooden cart.

  [Illustration: LA VIEILLESSE]

We were cold and sleepy when we arrived at Guingamp, so much so that
we forgot to be nervous as we crossed the line with our many bags
and bandboxes. When you arrive at a station in Brittany, you are met
by a bevy of men in gold-lace caps, who instantly set up a noisy
chatter. You assume that they must be advertising various hotels; but
it is quite impossible to distinguish. Travellers, especially the
English, are rarities at this season. As a rule I carefully chose the
omnibus which was cleanest, and the driver who was most respectful, in
spite of many persuasions to the contrary; but on this occasion I was
so limp and tired that I allowed my traps to be snatched from my hands
and followed our guide meekly. It might have been the dirtiest hovel
of an inn towards which we were going rapidly over the cobbled stones
of the town--it was all one to me.

By great good luck we happened to chance on the Hôtel de France, where
we were greeted by the _maîtresse d'hôtel_, a kindly woman, and
without further delay, although it sounds somewhat _gourmande_ to say
so, sat down to one of the best dinners it has ever been my lot to
eat. The kitchen was exactly opposite the _salle à manger_, the door
of which was open for all to see within. There we could observe the
chef, rotund and rosy-cheeked, in spotless white cap and apron, busy
among multitudinous pots and pans which shone like gold. His
assistants, boys in butcher-blue cotton, flew hither and thither at
his command, busily chopping this and whipping up that. The various
dishes I do not remember distinctly; I only know that each one (I once
heard an epicure speak thus) was a 'poem.' Of all that glorious menu,
only the _escalopes de veau_ stands out clearly, laurel-wreathed, in
my memory. At the table there were the usual commercial travellers.
Also there were several glum, hard-featured Englishwomen and one man.

How is it that one dislikes one's own countrymen abroad so much? It is
unpatriotic to say so, but I really think that the Continental
travelling portion of Britishers must be a race apart, a different
species; for a more unpleasant, impolite, plain, and badly-dressed set
of people it has never been my lot to meet elsewhere. The word
'English' at this rate will soon become an epithet. All the women
resemble the worst type of schoolmistress, and all the men retired

Guingamp, by the light of day, is a pretty town, with nothing
particularly imposing or attractive, although at one time it was an
important city of the Duchy of Penthièvre. Its only remnant of ancient
glory consists in the church of Nôtre Dame de Bon Secours, a bizarre
and irregular monument, dating from the fifteenth century. In the cool
of the evening the environs of Guingamp are very beautiful. It is
delightful to lean over some bridge spanning the dark river. Only the
sound of washerwomen beating their linen, and the splash of clothes
rinsed in the water, disturb the quiet.

The scenery is soft and silvery in tone, like the landscape of a
Corot. Slim, bare silver birches overhang the blackened water, and on
either side of the river grow long grasses, waving backwards and
forwards in the wind, now purple, now gray. Down a broad yellow road
troops of black and red cows are being driven, and horses with their
blue wooden harness are drawing a cart laden with trunks of trees, led
by a man in a blue blouse, with many an encouraging deep-voiced 'Hoop
loo!' Everyone is bringing home cows, or wood, or cider apples. The
sky is broad and gray, with faint purple clouds. Three dear little
girls, pictures every one of them, are walking along the road, taking
up the whole breadth of it, and carrying carefully between them two
large round baskets full to overflowing with red and green apples.
Each little maid wears on her baby head a tight white lace cap
through which the glossy black hair shines, a bunchy broad cloth
skirt, a scarlet cross-over shawl, and heavy sabots. They are
miniatures of their mothers. They look like old women cut short, as
they come toddling leisurely along the road, a large heavy basket
suspended between them, singing a pretty Breton ballad in shrill

     'J'ai mangé des cerises avec mon petit cousin,
     J'ai mangé des cerises, des cerises du voisin.'

I caught the words as they passed, and remembered the melody. I had as
a child known the ballad in my old convent. When they were past they
tried to look back at the _demoiselle Anglaise_, and, unheeding,
tripped over a large heap of stones in the roadway. Down tumbled
children, baskets, and all. What a busy quarter of an hour we all
spent, on our knees in the dust, rubbing up and replacing the apples,
lest mother should guess they had been dropped! Finally, we journeyed
on into Guingamp in company.

  [Illustration: A BEGGAR]



To reach Huelgoat one must take the hotel omnibus from the
railway-station, and wind up and up for about an hour. Then you reach
the village. The scenery is mountainous, and quite grand for Brittany.
The aspect of this country is extraordinarily varied. On the way to
Huelgoat one passes little ribbon-like rivers with bridges and
miniature waterfalls, and hills covered by bracken and heather. The
air is bracing.

At the top of one of the hills the carriage was stopped, and a chubby
boy in a red beré and sabots presented himself at the door, with the
request that we should descend and see the 'goffre.' Not knowing what
the 'goffre' might be, we followed our imperious guide down a
precipitous path, all mud and slippery rocks, with scarcely sufficient
foothold. At length we found ourselves in a dark wood, with mysterious
sounds of rushing water all about us. When our eyes became accustomed
to the darkness we discovered that this proceeded from a body of
water which rushed, dark-brown and angry-looking, down the rocks, and
fell foaming, amber-coloured, into a great black hole. Plucking at our
skirts, the child drew us to the edge, whispering mysteriously, as he
pointed downwards, 'C'est la maison du diable.' A few planks had been
lightly placed across the yawning abyss, and over the rude bridge the
peasants passed cheerfully on their way to work or from
it--woodcutters with great boughs of trees on their shoulders, and
millers with sacks of flour. One shuddered to think what might happen
if a sack or a bough were to fall and a man were to lose his balance.
Even the child admitted that the place was _un peu dangereux_, and led
us rapidly up the muddy path to the road. There we found to our
astonishment that the carriage had gone on to the hotel. As my mother
is not a good walker and dislikes insecure places and climbing of any
kind, we felt rather hopeless; but the child assured us that the
distance was not great. He seemed rather disgusted at our feebleness
and hesitation. Without another word, he crossed the road and dived
into a forest, leaving us to follow as best we might. Soon we were in
one of the most beautiful woods imaginable, among long, slim
pines, of which you could see only the silver stems, unless you gazed
upwards, when the vivid green of the leaves against the sky was almost
too crude in its brilliancy. The path was covered with yellow
pine-needles, which, in parts where the sun lit upon them through the
trees, shone as pure gold. On either side grew bracken, salmon, and
red, and tawny-yellow; here and there were spots of still more vivid
colour, formed by toadstools which had been changed by the sun to
brightest vermilion and orange. I have never seen anything more
beautiful than this combination--the forest of slim purple stems, the
bracken, the golden path, and, looking up, the vivid green of the
trees and the blue of the sky. The child led us on through the wood,
never deigning to address a word to us, his hands in his pockets, and
his beré pulled over his eyes. Sometimes the path descended steeply;
sometimes it was a hard pull uphill, and we were forced to stop for
breath. Always the merciless child went on, until my mother almost
sobbed and declared that this was not the right way to the hotel. Now
and then we emerged into a more open space, where there were huge
rocks and boulders half-covered with moss and ivy, some as much as
twenty feet high, like playthings of giants thrown hither and thither
carelessly one on the top of the other. Over some of these, slippery
and worn almost smooth, we had to cross for miles until we reached the
hotel, tired.


Luncheon was a strange meal. No one spoke: there was silence all the
time. About thirty people were seated at a long table, all lodgers in
the hotel; but they were mute. Two young persons of the bourgeois
class, out for their yearly holiday, came in rather late, and stopped
on the threshold dumbfounded at sight of the silent crowd, for French
people habitually make a great deal of noise and clatter at their
meals. They sat opposite to us, and spent an embarrassed time.

When you visit Huelgoat you are told that the great and only thing to
do is to take an excursion to St. Herbot. This all the up-to-date
guide-books will tell you with _empressement_. But my advice to you
is--'Don't!' Following the instructions of Messrs. Cook, we took a
carriage to St. Herbot. It was a very long and uninteresting drive
through sombre scenery, and when we arrived there was only a very
mediocre small church to be seen. The peasants begged us to visit the
grand cascade; our driver almost went down on his bended knees to
implore us to view the cascade. We would have no cascades. Cascades
such as one sees in Brittany, small and insignificant affairs, bored
us; we had visited them by the score. The driver was terribly
disappointed; tears stood in his eyes. He had expected time for a
drink. The peasants had anticipated liberal tips for showing us the
view. They all swore in the Breton tongue. Our charioteer drove us
home, at break-neck speed, over the most uneven and worst places he
could discover on the road.





This little town, with its high gray walls, is very important. In
olden days its possession was disputed by many a valiant captain. The
fortress called the 'Ville Close' has been sacrificed since then to
military usage. The walls of granite, which are very thick, are
pierced by three gates, doubled by bastions and flanked by
machicolated towers. At each high tide the sea surrounds the fortress.
Tradition tells us that on one occasion at the Fête Dieu the floods
retired to make way for a religious procession of children and clergy,
with golden banners and crosses, in order that they might make the
complete tour of the ramparts. This fortress, a little city in itself,
is joined to Concarneau by a bridge, and it is on the farther side
that industry and animation are to be found. There is a fair-sized
port, where hundreds of sardine-boats are moored, their red and gray
nets hanging on their masts.

The activity of the port is due to the sardines, and its prosperity is
dependent on the abundance of the fish. Towards the month of June the
sardines arrive in great shoals on the coast of Brittany. For some
time no one knew whence they came or whither they went. An approximate
idea of their journeyings has now been gained. Their route, it seems,
is invariable. During March and April the sardines appear on the
coasts of the Adriatic and the Mediterranean; they pass through the
Straits of Gibraltar, skirting Spain and Portugal; they reach France
in May. In June they are to be found on the coast of Morbihan and
Concarneau, in August in the Bay of Douarnénez, in September by the
Isle de Batz, and later in England or in Scotland.

  [Illustration: CONCARNEAU HARBOUR]

It is to be hoped that the fish will always abound about the coast of
Concarneau. The women population is engaged in industries connected
with sardines. The making and mending of the nets and the preparation
and packing of the fish are in themselves a labour employing many
women. When the sardines have been unloaded from the ships, they are
brought to the large warehouses on the quay and submitted to the
various processes of cleaning and drying. Rows of women sit at
long deal tables cutting off the heads of the fish, and singing at
their work. The fish are then cleaned of the salt which the fishermen
threw on them, and dried in the open air on iron grills. During this
time other workmen are employed in boiling oil in iron basins. The
sardines, once dried, are plunged into the oil for about two minutes,
sufficient to cook them, and are afterwards dried in the sun. They are
then placed in small tin boxes, half-filled with oil, which are taken
to be soldered. The solderers, armed with irons at white heat,
hermetically close the boxes, which are then ready to be delivered to
the trade. This simple process is quite modern; it was instituted at
the end of the last century. The nets, which cost the fishermen thirty
francs, take thirty days to make. The machine-made nets are less
expensive; but it is said that they are not sufficiently elastic, and
the meshes enlarged by the weight of fish do not readily close up

Each sardine-boat is manned by four or five men armed with an
assortment of nets. The bait consists of the intestines of a certain
kind of fish. The fishermen plunge their arms up to the elbow in the
loathsome mixture, seizing handfuls to throw into the water. If the
sardines take to the bait, one soon sees the water on either side of
the vessel white and gray with the scales of the fish. Then the men
begin to draw in the nets. Two of them seize the ends and pull
horizontally through the water; the others unfasten the heads of the
fish caught in the meshes. The sardines are tumbled into the bottom of
the boat, and sprinkled with salt.

The sardines, delicate creatures, die in the air in a few seconds. In
dying they make a noise very like the cry of a mouse.

After the first haul the fishermen have some idea of the dimensions of
the fish, and adjust the mesh of their nets,--for the sardines vary in
size from one day to another according to the shoals on which the
fishermen chance.





'S'ils tu te mordent, mords les,' is the proud device of the town of
Morlaix, and the glorious pages of her chronicles justify the motto.
Morlaix has from all time been dear to the hearts of the Dukes of
Brittany for her faithfulness, which neither reverse nor failure has
ever altered. Even during the Wars of the Succession, after the most
terrible calamities, she still maintained a stout heart and a bold
front. She espoused the cause of Charles of Blois, which cost her the
lives of fifty of her finest men, whom the Duc de Monfort hanged under
false pretences.

Morlaix is a quaint little town--all gables, pointed roofs, and
projecting windows. There are streets so narrow that in perspective
the roofs appear to meet overhead. They are of wonderful colours. You
will see white houses with chocolate woodwork, and yellow houses,
stained by time, with projecting windows. In some cases there are
small shops on the ground-floor. The town seems to be built in
terraces, to which one mounts by steps with iron railings. You are for
ever climbing, either up or down, in Morlaix; and the only footgear
that seems to be at all appropriate to its roughly cobbled streets is
the thick wooden nail-studded sabot of the Breton.

Most of the houses on the outskirts have gardens on the tops of the
roofs; it is odd, when looking up a street, to see scarlet geraniums
nodding over the gray stonework, and, sometimes, vines meeting in a
green tracery above your head.

There are in Morlaix whole streets in which every house has a pointed
roof, where all the slates are gray and scaly, and each story projects
over another, the last one projecting farthest, with, on the
ground-floor, either a clothier's shop or a _quincaillerie_ bright
with gleaming pots and pans and blue enamelled buckets. This lowest
story has always large wooden painted shutters flung back.

The houses are unlike those of any other town I have seen in Brittany.
There are always about five solid square rafters under each story, and
each rafter is carved at the end into some grotesque little image or
flower. There is much painted woodwork about the windows, and
criss-cross beams sometimes run down the whole length of the house.
There are still many strange old blackened edifices, sculptured from
top to bottom, which have remained intact during four centuries with a
sombre obstinacy. At the angles you often see grotesque figures of
biniou-players, arabesques, and leaves, varied in the most bizarre
manner, and so delicately and beautifully executed that they would
form material for six 'Musées de Cluny.' These vast high houses are
very dirty, crumbling like old cheeses, and almost as multitudinously
alive. Each story is separated by massive beams, carved in a profusion
of ornaments; each window has small leaded panes. The rest of the
façade is carved with lozenge-shaped slates.

Morlaix, of course, has her Maison de la Reine Anne, of which she is
proud. It is a characteristic house, with straight powerful lines. The
door, greenish-black, is of fluted wood. The whole building is covered
with an infinity of detail--ludicrous faces, statuettes, and carved
figures of saints. Inside it has almost no decoration. The white walls
rise to the top of the house plain and unadorned, save for a very
elaborate staircase of rich chestnut-coloured wood very beautifully
carved, with bridges, branching off from right to left, leading to the
various apartments. At the top is a sculptured figure--either of the
patron saint of the house or of some saint especially beloved in

The town is a mixture of antiquity and modernity. Though her houses
and streets are old, Morlaix possesses the most modern of viaducts,
284 metres long, giving an extraordinary aspect to the place. When you
arrive at night you see the town glistening with myriads of lights, so
far below that it seems incredible. You do not realize that the
railway is built upon a viaduct: it seems as if you were suspended in

When we arrived at Morlaix, a man with a carriage and four horses
offered to drive us to Huelgoat for a very modest sum; but I vowed
that all the king's horses and all the king's men would not tear me
away that day. There was much to be seen. One never wearies of
wandering through the streets of this fine old town, gazing up at the
houses, and losing one's way among the ancient and dark by-ways.
Morlaix is in a remarkable state of preservation. The houses generally
do not suggest ruin or decay. The town seems to have everlasting
youth. This is principally owing to the great love of the people for
art and the picturesque, which has led them to renovate and rebuild
constantly. For this reason, some of the structures are of great
archæological value.


The religious edifices are few. Indeed, I saw only the little church
of St. Milaine, its belfry dwarfed by the prodigious height of the
viaduct. It is a gem of architecture. The stonework is carved to
resemble lace, and both inside and out the building is in the pure
Gothic style.

Storms are very sudden in Morlaix. Sometimes on a sunny day, when all
the world is out of doors, the wind will rise, knocking down the
tailors' dummies and scattering the tam-o'-shanters hanging outside
the clothiers'. Then comes rain in torrents. How the peasants scuttle!
What a clatter of wooden-shod feet over the cobbles as they run for
shelter! Umbrellas appear like mushrooms on a midsummer-night. Once I
saw some old women in the open square with baskets of lace and
crotchet-work and bundles of clothes stretched out for sale. When the
rain began they fell into a great fright, and strove to cover their
wares with old sacks, baskets, umbrellas--anything that was ready to
hand. I felt inclined to run out of the hotel and help. As suddenly as
the storm had risen, the sun came out, clear and radiant. I never knew
the air to be so invigorating and bright anywhere in Brittany as it is
in Morlaix.




Pont-Aven is associated with agreeable memories. This village in the
South of Finistère draws men and women from all over Europe, summer
after summer. Many of them stay there throughout the winter, content
to be shut off from the world, allowing the sweet and gentle lassitude
of the place to lull their cares and troubles. Is it climatic--this
soothing influence--or is it the outcome of a spell woven over
beautiful Pont-Aven by some good-natured fairy long ago? I have often
wondered. Certain it is that intelligent men, many of them painters,
have been content to spend years in Pont-Aven. Some time ago Mother
and Father, touring in Brittany, came to this delightful spot, and
determined to spend three weeks there. They stayed three years.

All my life I have heard stories of this wonderful place, and of their
first visit. It was when my father had only just begun his career as a
painter. The experience, he says, was a great education. There he
found himself in an amazing nest of French and American painters, all
the newer lights of the French school. He was free to work at whatever
he liked, yet with unlimited chances of widening, by daily argument,
his knowledge of technical problems. For the three years that he
remained on this battlefield of creeds conflicts of opinion raged
constantly. Everyone was frantically devoted to one or another of the
dominating principles of the moderns. There was a bevy of schools

One, called the Stripists, painted in stripes, with vivid colour as
nearly prismatic as possible, all the scenery around. Then, there were
the Dottists, who painted in a series of dots. There were also the
Spottists--a sect of the Dottists, whose differentiation was too
subtle to be understood. Men there were who had a theory that you must
ruin your digestion before you could paint a masterpiece. No
physically healthy person, they declared, could hope to do fine work.
They used to try to bring about indigestion.

One man, celebrated for his painting of pure saints with blue dresses,
over which Paris would go crazy, never attempted to paint a saint
until he had drunk three glasses of absinthe and bathed his face in
ether. Another decided that he was going to have, in Paris, an
exhibition of merry-go-rounds which should startle France. He had a
theory that the only way to get at the soul of a thing was to paint
when drunk. He maintained that the merry-go-rounds whirled faster
then. One day my father went to his studio. He was dazed. He did not
know whether he was standing on his head or his heels. It was
impossible to see 'Black Bess' or any of the pet horses he knew so
well. The pictures were one giddy whirl.

Then, there was the Bitumen school, a group of artists who never
painted anything but white sunlit houses with bitumen shadows. A year
or two afterwards a terrible thing invariably happened. Without any
warning whatsoever, the pictures would suddenly slide from off their
canvases to the floor. The bitumen had melted.

The Primitives afforded joy. Their distinctive mark was a
walking-stick, carved by a New Zealand Maori, which they carried about
with them. It gave them inspiration. So powerful was the influence of
these sticks that even the head of a Breton peasant assumed the rugged
aspect of the primitive carvings in their paintings. The most
enthusiastic disciple of the sect was a youth who was continually
receiving marvellous inspirations. Once, after having shut himself up
for three days, he appeared looking haggard and ravenous. Without a
word, he sat down heavily near a table, called for absinthe, and,
groaning, dropped his head in his hands, and murmured, 'Ah, me! Ah,
me!' All beholders were in a fever to know what the mystery was. After
some minutes of dead silence the young man rose majestically from his
chair, stretched forth one arm, and, with a far-away look in his eyes,
said, 'Friends, last night, when you were all asleep, a beautiful
creature came to me in spirit form, and taught me the secret of
drawing; and I drew this.' Then he brought out a picture. It was far
above his usual style, and the more credulous envied his good fortune.
Some weeks afterwards, however, it was discovered by a painter with
detective instincts that the marvellous vision was in reality a
_chambre au clair_--that is to say, a prism through which objects are
reflected on paper, enabling one to trace them with great facility.

  [Illustration: IN AN AUBERGE, PONT-AVEN]

Such are the extraordinary people among whom Mother and Father found
themselves on their first visit to Pont-Aven--geniuses some of them,
mere daubers others, all of them strange and rough and weird.
More like wild beasts they looked than human beings, Mother told me;
for very few women came to Pont-Aven in the early days, and those were
Bohemians. The artists allowed their hair and beards to grow long. Day
after day they wore the same old paint-stained suits of corduroys,
battered wide-brimmed hats, loose flannel shirts, and coarse wooden
sabots stuffed with straw.

Mother, who was very young at the time, has often told me that she
will never forget their arrival at the little Hôtel Gleanec. They were
shown into a _salle à manger_, where rough men sat on either side of a
long table, serving themselves out of a common dish, and dipping great
slices of bread into their plates.

Mother was received with great courtesy by them. She found it very
amusing to watch the gradual change in their appearance day by
day--the donning of linen collars and cuffs and the general smartening
up. Many of the men who were then struggling with the alphabet of art
have reached the highest rungs of the ladder of fame, and their names
have become almost household words; others have sunk into oblivion,
and are still amateurs.

The chief hotel in the village was the Hôtel des Voyageurs, to which
Mother and Father soon migrated. It was kept by a wonderful woman,
called Julia. Originally a peasant girl, she had by untiring energy
become the proprietress of the great establishment. Her fame as
hostess and manager was bruited all over France. Everyone seemed to
know of Julia, and year after year artists and their families came
back regularly to stay with her. She is a woman with a strong
individuality. She gathered a large custom among artists, who flocked
to the Hôtel des Voyageurs as much because of the charm of Mdlle.
Julia, and the comfort of her house, as for the beauty of the scenery.

There was a delightful intimacy among the guests, most of whom were
very intelligent. Mdlle. Julia took a sincere interest in the career
of each. All went to her with their troubles and their joys, certain
of sympathy and encouragement. Many are the young struggling painters
she has helped substantially, often allowing them to live on in the
hotel for next to nothing. Many are the unpaid bills of long standing
on the books of this generous woman. I fear that she has never made
the hotel pay very well, for the elaborate menu and good accommodation
are out of all proportion to her charges. A strong woman is Mdlle.
Julia. She has been known to lift a full-grown man and carry him out
of doors, landing him ignominiously in the mud.

There was one man, a retired military officer, whom no one else could
manage. He had come to stay in Pont-Aven because he could live there
for a few francs a day and drink the rest. He suffered from
hallucinations, and took great pleasure in chasing timid artists over
the countryside, challenging them to duels, and insulting them in
every way possible. He was the terror of the village. He had a house
on the quay, and early one morning when the snow was thick upon the
ground, just because a small vessel came into the river and began
blowing a trumpet, or making a noise of some kind, he sprang out of
bed in a towering rage, rushed in his nightshirt into the street, and
began sharpening his sword on a rock, shouting to the ship's captain
to come out and be killed if he dared. The captain did not dare. The
only person of whom this extraordinary person stood in awe was Mdlle.
Julia. Her he would obey without a murmur. No one knew why. Perhaps
there had been some contest between them. At any rate, they understood
each other.

The friends of Mdlle. Julia ranged from the Mayor of the town to
Batiste, the butcher, who sat outside his door all day and watched her
every movement.

'If I want to remember where I have been, and what I did at a certain
hour, I have only to ask Batiste,' she was wont to say.

All the artists worshipped the ground she trod upon; and well they
might, for they would never have a better friend than she. Her _salle
à manger_ and _grand salon_ were panelled with pictures, some of which
are very valuable to-day. Tender-hearted she was, and strong-minded,
with no respect for persons. Mother told me that once when my brother
and sister, babies of three and four years old, were posing for Father
on the beach with only their linen sunbonnets on, their limbs were
somewhat sunburnt and blistered. When they returned to the hotel,
Mdlle. Julia applied sweet oil and cold cream to the tender skin, and
rated my parents soundly between her tears of compassion for the
little ones. It was of no use explaining that it was in the cause of
art. She bade them in unmeasured terms to send art to the Devil, and
scolded them as if they were children. I doubt not she would have
reprimanded the King of England with as little compunction.


Mdlle. Julia made the reputation of Pont-Aven by her own overpowering
individuality. If she went to Paris or elsewhither for a few days,
everyone in the village felt her absence. Things were not the same.
Pont-Aven seemed momentarily to have lost its charm. The meals were
badly cooked and worse served; the _bonnes_ were neglectful. All
missed the ringing laugh and cheery presence of Julia. How soon one
knew when she had returned! What a flutter there was among the
_bonnes_! What a commotion! How everyone flew hither and thither at
her command! She seemed to fill the hotel with her presence.

I went to Pont-Aven when I was ten years old, and I remember well how
Mdlle. Julia came to meet us, driving twenty miles through the deep
snow. What happy days those were in the dear little village! We lived
as wild things, and enjoyed life to the full. M. Grenier, the
schoolmaster, acted as tutor to us. He was lenient. We spent our time
mainly in rambling over the countryside, making chocolate in Mdlle.
Julia's wood, bird-nesting, and apple-stealing. M. Grenier taught us
to row, and we learnt all the various intricate currents and dangerous
sandbanks so thoroughly that after a time we could almost have
steered through that complicated river blindfold. We learnt how to
make boats out of wood, and how to carve our names in a professional
manner on trees. We became acquainted with a large selection of Breton
ballads and a good deal of rough botany. More advanced lessons have
faded from my mind. Of actual book-learning we accomplished very
little. Many a time M. Grenier pulled himself together, brought us new
copybooks, fine pens, his French grammar and readers, and settled us
down in the salon to work; but gradually the task would pall on both
master and scholars, and before the morning was half over we would be
out in the fields and woods again, 'just for a breath of fresh air.'

Children have the power of making themselves at home in a foreign
country. Within a week my brother and I knew everyone in the village.
We became acquainted with all their family affairs and troubles. In
many households we were welcome at any time of the day. There was the
sabot-maker, whom we never tired of watching as he cleverly and
rapidly transformed a square block of wood into a rounded, shapely
sabot. He was always busy, and sometimes turned out a dozen pairs in
a day. To my great joy, he presented me with a beautiful little pair,
which I wore painfully, but with much pride. Although when you become
accustomed to them sabots are comfortable and sensible gear, at first
they are extremely awkward. Of course, you can kick them off before
you enter a house, and run about in the soft woollen _chausson_ with a
leather sole which is always worn underneath. Round the hotel doorway
there is always a collection of sabots awaiting their owners. In a
country such as Brittany, where it rains a good deal, and the roads
are often deep in mud, they are the only possible wear. The sabot is a
product of evolution. In that respect it is like the hansom cab which
is a thing of beauty simply because it has been thought out with
regard to its usefulness and comfort alone.

Batiste, the butcher, was a great friend of ours. With morbid
fascination we witnessed his slaughter of pigs and cows. Then, soon we
knew where to get the best _crêpes_. These are pancakes of a kind, so
thin that you can see through them, made on a round piece of metal
over a blazing fire. Eaten hot, with plenty of butter and sugar, they
are equal to anything in our English cookery. There was one particular
old lady living down by the bridge who made _crêpes_. We saw her
mixing the ingredients, mostly flour and water, and spreading the
dough over the round piece of metal. It became hard in an instant, and
curled up brown and crisp, as thin as a lace handkerchief. Likewise,
we knew where to buy bowls of milk thick with cream for one sou. We
had to tramp over several fields and to scale several fences before we
found ourselves in the kitchen of a large farm, where the housewife
was busy pouring milk into large copper vessels. Seated at the
polished mahogany table, we drank from dainty blue bowls.

I went back to Pont-Aven recently, and found it very little changed.
We travelled by diligence from Concarneau; but, as the conveyance left
only once a day, we had several hours to while away. The Concarneau
and Pont-Aven diligence is quaint and primitive, devoid of springs,
and fitted with extremely narrow and hard seats. We passed through
villages in which every house seemed to be either a _buvette_ or a
_débit de boisson_. At these our driver--a man in a blue blouse and a
black felt hat--had to deliver endless parcels, for which he dived
continually under the seat on which we were sitting. For discharging
each commission he received several glasses of cider and wine. He
stopped at every place to drink and talk with the host, quite
oblivious of his passengers. With every mile he became more


Our only travelling companion was an old woman in the costume of the
country, with a yellow and wrinkled face. On her arm she carried a
large basket and a loaf of bread two yards long. Ruthlessly she trod
on our toes with her thick black sabots in getting in. Although I
helped her with her basket and her bread, she never volunteered a word
of thanks, but merely snatched them from my hands. Many Bretons are
scarcely of higher intelligence than the livestock of the farms. They
live in the depths of the country with their animals, sleeping in the
same room with them, rarely leaving their own few acres of ground. The
women work as hard as the men, digging in the fields and toiling in
the forests from early morning until night.

At one of the villages where the diligence stopped, a blacksmith, a
young giant, handsome, dark, came out from the smithy with his dog,
which he was sending to some gentleman with hunting proclivities in
Pont-Aven. The animal--what is called a _chien de la chasse_--was
attached by a long chain to the step, and the diligence started off.
The blacksmith stood in the door of his smithy, and watched the dog
disappear with wistful eyes. The Bretons have a soft spot in their
hearts for animals. The dog itself was the picture of misery. His
moans and howls wrung one's heart. I never saw an animal more wily. He
tried every conceivable method of slipping his collar. He pulled at
the chain, and wriggled from one side to another. Once he contrived to
work his ear under the collar, and my fingers itched to help him. Had
the truant escaped, I could not have informed the driver. Strange that
one's sympathies are always with the weakest! In novels, an escaping
convict, no matter how terrible his guilt, always has my sympathy, and
I am hostile to the pursuing warder.

As we drew near to Pont-Aven the scenery became more and more
beautiful. On either side of the road stretched miles and miles of
brilliant mustard-yellow gorse, mingled with patches of dried reddish
bracken, and bordered by rows of blue-green pines. Here and there one
saw great rocks half-covered with the velvet-green of mosses thrown
hither and thither in happy disorder. Sometimes ivy takes root in the
crevices of the rocks where a little earth has gathered, and creeps
closely round about them, as if anxious to convey life and warmth to
the cold stone. The sun, like a red ball, was setting behind the
hills, leaving the sky flecked with clouds of the palest mauves and
pinks, resembling the fine piece of marbling one sometimes sees inside
the covers of modern well-bound books. Now and then we passed a little
ruined chapel--consecrated, no doubt, to some very ancient saint (it
was impossible to make out the name), a saint whose cult was evidently
lost, for the little shrine was tumbling to ruins. We saw by the
wayside little niches sheltering sacred fountains, the waters of which
cure certain diseases; and passed peasants on the roadside, sometimes
on horseback, sometimes walking--large, well-proportioned,
fine-featured men of proud bearing. In Brittany the poorest peasant is
a free and independent man. He salutes you out of politeness and good
nature; but he does not cringe as if recognising himself to be lower
in the social scale. The Breton, howsoever poor, is no less dignified
under his blue blouse than his ancestors were under their steel

A long straight road leads from Concarneau to Pont-Aven, and at the
end of it lies the pretty village among hills of woods and of rocks
bathed in a light mist. One could almost imagine that it was a Swiss
village in miniature. By the time we arrived it was night. We could
only discern clean white houses on either side, and water rushing
under a bridge over which we passed. The Hôtel des Voyageurs looked
much the same as ever, except that over the way a large building had
been added to the _annexe_. To our great disappointment, we discovered
that Mdlle. Julia had gone to Paris; but we recognised several of the
_bonnes_ and a hoary veteran called Joseph, who had been in Julia's
service for over twenty years.

Gladly I rushed out next morning. There is nothing more delightful
than to visit a place where one has been happy for years as a child,
especially such a place as Pont-Aven, which changes little. My first
thought was to see the Bois d'Amour. I found it quite unchanged. To be
sure, I had some difficulty in finding the old pathway which led to
the wood, so many strange houses and roadways had been built since we
were there; but at length we found it--that old steep path with the
high walls on either side, on which the blackberries grew in
profusion. There are two paths in the forest--one, low down, which
leads by the stream, and the other above, carpeted with silver
leaves. A wonderful wood it is--a joyous harmony in green and gold.
Giant chestnuts fill the air with their perfumed leaves, forming an
inextricable lattice-work overhead, one branch entwining with the
other, the golden rays of the sun filtering through. The ground is
carpeted with silver and salmon leaves left from last autumn; the
pines shed thousands of brown cones, and streams of resin flow down
their trunks. It is well-named the Bois d'Amour. Below runs a little
stream. Now it foams and bounds, beating itself against a series of
obstacles; now it flows calmly, as if taking breath, clear, silver,
and limpid, past little green islands covered with flowers, and into
bays dark with the black mud beneath. Low-growing trees and bushes
flourish on the banks, some throwing themselves across the stream as
barricades, over which the laughing water bounds and leaps
unheedingly, scattering diamonds and topaz in the sunlight. Everything
in the Bois d'Amour seems to join in the joyous song of Nature. The
little stream sings; the trees murmur and rustle in the wind; and the
big black mill-wheel, glistening with crystal drops, makes music with
the water.

  [Illustration: ON THE QUAY AT PONT-AVEN]

By the riverside, women are washing their clothes on square slabs of
stone, which stretch across the water. It was on these stepping-stones,
I remember, that my brother and I lost our shoes and stockings. At one
place the stream is hidden from sight by thick bushes, and you find
yourself in a narrow green lane, a green alley, walled on either side
and roofed overhead by masses of trees and bushes, through which the
sun filters occasionally in golden patches. Whenever I walk down that
lane, I think of the song that my bonne Marie taught me there one day;
it comes back as freshly now as if it had been but yesterday. The
refrain begins, 'Et mon coeur vol, vol et vol, et vol, vers les

One meets the river constantly during this walk, and every mile or so
you come across a little black mill. The mills in Pont-Aven are
endless, and this saying is an old one: 'Pont-Aven ville de renom,
quatorze moulins, quinze maisons.'

Picturesque little mills they are. The jet-black wheels form a
delightful contrast to the vivid green round about; and small bridges
of stones, loosely put together and moss-grown here and there, cross
the river at intervals.


I love this rough, wild country. How variable it is! You may sit
in a wood with the stream at your feet, and all about you will be
great hills half-covered with gorse and bracken, and here and there
huge blocks of granite, which seem ready to fall any moment.

The Bois d'Amour is a happy hunting-ground of artists. This particular
view of the mill at which I gazed so long has been a stock-subject
with painters for many years. You never pass without seeing at least
one or two men with canvases spread and easels erected, vainly trying
to reproduce the beautiful scene. Artists are plentiful in this
country. Wherever you may wander within a radius of fifteen miles, you
cannot stop at some attractive prospect without hearing an impatient
cough behind you, and, turning, find yourself obstructing the view of
a person in corduroys and flannel shirt, with a large felt hat,
working, pipe aglow, at an enormous canvas. The artists, who are
mostly English, are thought very little of by the people about. I once
heard a commercial traveller talking of Pont-Aven.

'Pshaw!' he said, 'they are all English and Americans there.
Everything is done for the English. At the Hôtel des Voyageurs even
the cuisine is English. It is unbearable! At the table the men wear
clothes of inconceivable colour and cut. They talk without gestures,
very quickly and loudly, and they eat enormously. The young _mecs_ are
flat-faced, with long chins, white eye-lashes, and fair hair. Many are
taciturn, morose, and dreamy. Occasionally they make jokes, but
without energy. They mostly eat without interruption.'

This is the French view, and it is natural. Pont-Aven does not have
the right atmosphere for the Frenchman: the Bretons and the English
are supreme.

Nothing is more delightful than to spend a summer there. You find
yourself in a colony of intelligent men, many of them very clever, as
well as pretty young English and American girls, and University
students on 'cramming' tours. Picnics and river-parties are organized
by the inimitable Mdlle. Julia every day during the summer, and in the
evening there is always dancing in the big salon. The hotel is full to
overflowing from garret to cellar. Within the last few years Mdlle.
Julia has opened another hotel at Porte Manec, by the sea, to which
the visitors may transfer themselves whenever they choose, going
either by river or by Mdlle. Julia's own omnibus. It is built on the
same lines as Mme. Bernhardt's house at Belle Isle, and is situated on
a breezy promontory.

The river lies between Pont-Aven and Porte Manec, which is at the
mouth of the sea. How beautiful this river is--the dear old
browny-gray, moleskin-coloured river, edged with great rocks on which
the seaweed clings! On the banks are stretches of gray-green grass
bordered by holly-bushes. The scenery changes constantly. Sometimes it
is rugged and rocky, now sloping up, now down, now covered with green
gorse or a sprinkling of bushes, now with a wilderness of trees. Here
and there you will see a cleft in the mountain-side, a little leafy
dell which one might fancy the abode of fairies. Silver streams
trickle musically over the bare brown rocks, and large red toadstools
grow in profusion, the silver cobwebs sparkling with dew in the gorse.

It is delightful in the marvellous autumn weather to take the narrow
river-path winding in and out of the very twisty Aven, and wander
onwards to your heart's content, with the steep hillside at the back
of you and the river running at your feet. You feel as if you could
walk on for ever over this mountainous ground, where the heather
grows in great purple bunches among huge granite rocks, which, they
say, were placed there by the Druids. Down below flows the river--a
mere silver ribbon now, in wastes of pinky-purple mud, for it is ebb
tide; and now and then you see the battered hulk of a boat lying on
its side in the mud. On the hill are lines of fir-trees standing black
and straight against the horizon.

Night falls in a bluish haze on the hills and on the river, confusing
the outline of things. At the foot of the mountains it is almost dark.
Through the open windows and doors of the cottages as one passes one
can see groups round the tables under the yellow light of candles. One
smells the good soup which is cooking; the noise of spoons and plates
mingles with the voices of the people. Pewter and brass gleam from the
walls. It is a picture worthy of Rembrandt. The end of the room is
hidden in smoky shadow, now and then lit up by a flame escaping from
the fireplace, showing an old woman knitting in the ingle-nook, and an
old white-haired peasant drinking cider out of a blue mug. It is
strange to think of these people living in their humble homes year
after year--a happy little people who have no history.

  [Illustration: THE BRIDGE, PONT-AVEN]

Not far from Pont-Aven is the ruined château of Rustephan. One
approaches it through a wood of silver birches, under great old trees;
cherry-trees and apple-trees remain in what must once have been a
flourishing orchard. The castle itself has fallen to decay. The wall
which joined the two towers has broken down, and the steps of the
grand spiral staircase, up which we used to climb, have crumbled; only
the main column, built of granite sparkling with silver particles,
which will not fall for many a day, stands stout and sturdy. One of
the stately old doorways remains; but it is only that which leads to
the castle keep--the main entrance must have fallen with the walls
centuries ago. Bits of the old dining-hall are still to be seen--a
huge fireplace, arch-shaped, and a little shrine-like stone erection
in the wall, worn smooth in parts; one can imagine that it was once a
sink for washing dishes in.

It is a drowsy morning; the sun shines hotly on the back of the neck;
and as one sits on a mound of earth in the middle of what was once the
dining-hall, one cannot resist dreaming of the romantic history of
Geneviève de Rustephan, the beautiful lady who lived here long ago. Up
in one of the great rounded towers spotted with orange lichen and
encircled with ivy is a room which must have been her bedchamber. An
ancient chimney-stack rears itself tall and stately, and where once
gray smoke curled and wreathed, proceeding from the well-regulated
kitchen, long feathery grasses grow. All round the castle, in what
must have been the pleasure-gardens, the smooth lawns and the
bowling-green, my lady's rose-garden, etc., are now mounds of earth,
covered with straggling grass, bracken, and blackberry-bushes, and
loose typical Breton stone walls enclosing fields. Horrible to relate,
in the lordly dining-hall, where once the dainty Geneviève sat, is a
fat pig, nozzling in the earth.

Naturally, Rustephan is haunted. If anyone were brave enough to
penetrate the large hall towards midnight (so the peasants say), a
terrible spectacle would be met--a bier covered with a white cloth
carried by priests bearing lighted tapers. On clear moonlight nights,
say the ancients, on the crumbling old terrace, a beautiful girl is to
be seen, pale-faced, and dressed in green satin flowered with gold,
singing sad songs, sobbing and crying. On one occasion the peasants
were dancing on the green turf in front of the towers, and in the
middle of the most animated part of the feast there appeared behind
the crossbars of a window an old priest with shaven head and eyes
as brilliant as diamonds. Terrified, the men and the girls fled, and
never again danced in these haunted regions.


One feels miserable on leaving Pont-Aven. It seems as if you had been
in a quiet and beautiful backwater for a time, and were suddenly going
out into the glare and the noise and the flaunting airs of a
fashionable regatta. I can describe the sensation in no other way.
There is something in the air of Pont-Aven that makes it like no other
place in the world.

  [Illustration: THE VILLAGE COBBLER]



Quimperlé is known as the Arcadia of Basse Bretagne, and certainly the
name is well deserved. I have never seen a town so full of trees and
trailing plants and gardens. Every wall is green with moss and gay
with masses of convolvulus and nasturtium. Flowers grow rampant in
Quimperlé, and overrun their boundaries. Every window-sill has its row
of pink ivy-leafed geraniums, climbing down and over the gray stone
wall beneath; every wall has its wreaths of trailing flowers.

There are flights of steps everywhere--favourite caprices of the
primitive architects--divided in the middle by iron railings. Up these
steps all the housewives must go to reach the market. On either side
the houses crowd, one above the other, with their steep garden walls,
sometimes intercepted by iron gateways, and sometimes covered by
blood-red leaves and yellowing vines. Some are houses of the Middle
Ages, and some of the Renaissance period, with sculptured porches and
panes of bottle-glass; a few have terraces at the end of the gardens,
over which clematis climbs. Here and there the sun lights up a corner
of a façade, or shines on the emerald leaves, making them scintillate.
Down the steps a girl in white-winged cap and snowy apron, with pink
ribbon at her neck, carrying a large black two-handled basket, is
coming on her way from market.

Having scaled this long flight of steps, you find yourself face to
face with the old Gothic church of St. Michael, a grayish-pink
building with one great square tower and four turrets. The porch is
sculptured in a rich profusion of graceful details. Here and there
yellow moss grows, and there are clusters of fern in the niches.
Inside, the church was suffused with a purple light shed by the sun
through the stained-glass windows; the ceiling was of infinite blue.
Everything was transformed by the strange purple light. The beautiful
carving round the walls, the host of straight-backed praying-chairs,
and even the green curtain of the confessional boxes, were changed to
royal purple. Only the altar, with its snowy-white cloths and red and
gold ornaments, retained its colour. Jutting forth from the church of
St. Michael are arms or branches connecting it with the village, as
if it were some mother bird protecting the young ones beneath her
wings. Under these wings the houses of the village cluster.

It is five o'clock in the afternoon, the sociable hour, when people
sit outside their cottage doors, knitting, gossiping, watching the
children play, and eating the evening meal. Most of the children, who
are many, are very nearly of the same age. Clusters of fair curly
heads are seen in the road. The youngest, the baby, is generally held
by some old woman, probably the grandmother, who has a shrivelled
yellow face--a very tender guardian.

Over the doorways of the shops hang branches of withered mistletoe.
Through the long low windows, which have broad sills, you catch a
glimpse of rows and rows of bottles. These are wine-shops--no rarities
in a Breton village. Another shop evidently belonged to the church at
one time. It still possesses a rounded ecclesiastical doorway, built
of solid blocks of stone, and the walls, which were white originally,
are stained green with age. The windows, as high as your waist from
the ground, have broad stone sills, on which are arranged carrots and
onions, coloured sweets in bottles, and packets of tobacco. This shop
evidently supplies everything that a human being can desire. Above it
you read: 'Café on sert a boire et a manger.'

While we were in Quimperlé there were two musicians making a round of
the town. One, with a swarthy face, was blind, and sang a weird song
in a minor key, beating a triangle. The other, who looked an Italian,
was raggedly dressed in an old fur coat and a faded felt hat. His
musical performance was a veritable gymnastic feat. In his hands he
held a large concertina, which he played most cleverly; at his back
was a drum with automatic sticks and clappers, which he worked with
his feet. It was the kind of music one hears at fairs. Wherever we
went we heard it, sometimes so near that we could catch the tune,
sometimes at a distance, when only the dull boom of the drum was

Whenever I think of Quimperlé this strange music and the spectacle of
those two picturesque figures come back to memory. The men are well
known in Brittany. They spend their lives travelling from place to
place, earning a hard livelihood. When I was at school in Quimper I
used to hear the same tune played by the same men outside the convent

  [Illustration: THE BLIND PIPER]

Quimperlé is a sleepy place, changing very little with the years. In
spite of the up-to-date railway-station, moss still grows between the
pavings of the streets. The houses have still their picturesque wooden
gables; the gardens are laden with fruit-trees; the hills are rich in
colour. Flowers that love the damp grow luxuriantly. It is an arcadian
country. The place is hostile to work. In this tranquil town, almost
voluptuous in its richness of colour and balminess of atmosphere, you
lose yourself in laziness. There is not a discordant note, nothing to
shock the eye or grate on the senses. Far from the noise of Paris, the
stuffy air of the boulevards, the never-ending rattle of the fiacres,
and the rasping cries of the camelot, you forget the seething world

In the Rue du Château, the aristocratic quarter, are many spacious
domains with doorways surmounted by coats of arms and coronets. Most
of them have closed shutters, their masters having disappeared,
alienated for ever by the Revolution; but a few great families have
returned to their homes. One sees many women about the church, grave
and sad and prayerful, who still wear black, clinging to God, the
saints, and the priests, as to the only living souvenirs of better

In no other place in Finistère was the Revolution so sudden and so
terrible as in this little town, and nowhere were the nobility so many
and powerful. This old Rue du Château must have rung with furious
cries on the day when the federators returned from the fête of the
Champs de Mars after the abolition of all titles and the people took
the law into their own hands. The Bretons are slow to anger; but when
roused they are extremely violent. They not only attacked the
living--the nobles in their seignorial hotels--but also they went to
the tombs and mutilated the dead with sabre cuts.

In Quimperlé the painter finds pictures at every turn. For example,
there are clear sinuous streams crossed by many bridges, not unlike
by-canals in Venice. As you look up the river the bank is a jumble of
sloping roofs, protruding balconies, single-arched bridges, trees, and
clumps of greenery. The houses on either side, gray and turreted,
bathe their foundations in the stream. Some have steep garden walls,
velvety with green and yellow moss and lichen; others have terraces
and jutting stone balconies, almost smothered by trailing vines and
clematis, drooping over the gray water. The stream is very shallow,
showing clearly the brown and golden bed; and on low stone benches at
the edge girls in little close white caps and blue aprons are busily
washing with bare round arms. A pretty little maid with jet-black hair
is cleaning some pink stuff on a great slab of stone, against a
background of gray wall over which convolvulus and nasturtium are
trailing; a string of white linen is suspended above her head. This is
a delightful picture. It is a gray day, sunless; but the gray is
luminous, and the reflections in the water are clear.

  [Illustration: AT THE FOIRE]



When we arrived in Auray it was market-day, and chatter filled the
streets. There were avenues of women ranged along the pavement, their
round wicker baskets full of lettuce, cabbages, carrots, turnips,
chestnuts, pears, and what not--women in white flimsy caps, coloured
cross-over shawls, and sombre black dresses. Their aprons were of many
colours--reds, mauves, blues, maroons, and greens--and the wares also
were of various hues. All the women knit between the intervals of
selling, and even during the discussion of a bargain, for a purchase
in Brittany is no small matter in the opinion of housewives, and
engenders a great deal of conversation. All the feminine world of
Auray seemed to have sallied forth that morning. Processions of them
passed down the avenue of market women, most of them peasants in the
cap of Auray, with snuff-coloured, large-bibbed aprons, carrying bulky
black baskets with double handles.

Now and then one saw a Frenchwoman walking through the avenue of
vegetables, just as good at bargaining, just as keen-eyed and
sharp-tongued, as her humbler sisters. Sometimes she was pretty,
walking with an easy swinging gait, her baby on one arm, her basket on
the other, in a short trim skirt and altogether neatly dressed. More
often she was dressed in unbecoming colours, her hair untidily
arranged, her skirt trailing in the mud--a striking contrast to the
well-to-do young Breton matron, with neatly braided black hair and
clean rosy face, her white-winged lawn cap floating in the breeze, her
red shawl neatly crossed over her lace-trimmed corsage. In her black
velvet-braided skirt and wooden sabots the Breton is a dainty little
figure, her only lapse into frivolity consisting of a gold chain at
her neck and gold earrings.

Vegetables do not engender much conversation in a Breton market: they
are served out and paid for very calmly. It is over the skeins of
coloured wool, silks, and laces, that there is much bargaining. Round
these stalls you will see girls and old hags face to face, and almost
nose to nose, their arms crossed, speaking rapidly in shrill voices.

  [Illustration: MID-DAY]

Just after walking past rows of very ordinary houses, suddenly you
will come across a really fine old mansion, dating from the
seventeenth century, white-faced, with ancient black beams, gables,
and diamond panes. Then, just as you think that you have exhausted the
resources of the town, and turn down a moss-grown alley homewards, you
find yourself face to face with another town, typically Breton,
white-faced and gray-roofed, clustering round a church and surrounded
by old moss-grown walls. This little town is situated far down in a
valley, into which you descend by a sloping green path. We sat on a
stone bench above, and watched the people as they passed before us.
There were bare-legged school-children in their black pinafores and
red berés, hurrying home to _déjeuner_, swinging their satchels; and
beggars, ragged and dirty, holding towards us tin cups and greasy
caps, with many groans and whines. One man held a baby on his arm, and
in the other hand a loaf of bread. The baby's face was dirty and
covered with sores; but its hair was golden and curly, and the sight
of that fair sweet head nodding over the father's shoulder as they
went down the hill made one's heart ache. It was terrible to think
that an innocent child could be so put out of touch with decent

To reach this little town one had to cross a sluggish river by a
pretty gray stone bridge. Some of the houses were quaint and
picturesque, mostly with two stories, one projecting over the other,
and low windows with broad sills, bricked down to the ground, on which
were arranged pots of fuchsias, pink and white geraniums, and
red-brown begonias. Nearly every house had its broad stone stoop, or
settle, on which the various families sat in the warm afternoon
drinking bowls of soup and eating _tartines de beurre_.

It is a notably provincial little town, full of flowers and green
trees, and dark, narrow streets, across which hang audaciously strings
of drying linen. All the children of the community appeared to be out
and about--some skipping, others playing at peg-tops, and others
merely sucking their fingers and their pinafores in the way that
children have. One sweet child in a red pinafore, her hair plaited
into four little tails tied with red ribbon, clasped a slice of
bread-and-butter (butter side inwards, of course) to her chest, and
was carelessly peeling an apple with a long knife at the same time, in
such a way as to make my heart leap.

A happy wedding-party were swinging gaily along the quay arm in arm,
singing some rollicking Breton chanson, and all rather affected by
their visits to the various _débits de boissons_. There were two men
and two women--the men fair and bearded, wearing peaked caps; the
women in their best lace coifs and smartest aprons. As they passed
everyone turned and pointed and laughed. It was probably a three days'

A mite of a girl walking gingerly along the street carried a bottle of
ink ever so carefully, biting her lips in her anxiety to hold it
steadily. Round her neck, on a sky-blue ribbon, hung a gorgeous silver
cross, testifying to good behaviour during the week. Alack! a tragedy
was in store. The steps leading to the doorway of her home were steep,
and the small person's legs were short and fat. She tripped and fell,
and the ink was spilled--a large, indelible, angry black spot on the
clean white step. Fearfully and pale-faced, the little maid looked
anxiously about her, and strove to put the ink back again by means of
a dry stick, staining fingers and pinafore the more. It was of no
avail. Her mother had seen her. Out she rushed, a pleasant-faced woman
in a white lace cap, now wearing a ferocious expression.

'Monster that thou art!' she cried, lifting the tearful,
ink-bespattered child by the armpits, and throwing her roughly
indoors, whence piteous sounds of sobbing and wailing ensued.

The child's heart was broken; the silver cross had lost its charm; and
the sun had left the heavens. The mother, busily bending over her
sewing-machine, looked up at us through the window, and smiled

  [Illustration: A LITTLE MOTHER]



As a rule, a country becomes more interesting as one draws near to the
sea; the colouring is more beautiful and the people are more
picturesque. It is strange that the salt air should have such a
mellowing effect upon a town and its inhabitants; but there is no
doubt that it has. This seemed especially remarkable to us, coming
straight from Carnac, that flat, gray, treeless country where the
people are sad and stolid, and one's only interest is in the dolmens
and menhirs scattered over the landscape--strange blocks of stone
about which one knows little, but imagines much.

When you come from a country such as this, you cannot but be struck by
the warmth and wealth of colouring which the sea imparts to everything
in its vicinity. Even the men and women grouped in knots on the pier
were more picturesque, with their sun-bleached, tawny, red-gold hair,
and their blue eyes, than the people of Carnac. The men were handsome
fellows--some in brown and orange clothing, toned and stained by the
sea; others in deep-blue much bepatched coats and yellow oilskin
trousers. Their complexions had a healthy reddish tinge--a warmth of
hue such as one rarely sees in Brittany.

The colouring of the Bay of Quiberon on this particular afternoon was
a tender pale mother-of-pearl. The sky was for the most part a broad,
fair expanse of gray, with, just where the sun was setting, intervals
of eggshell blue and palest lemon-yellows breaking through the drab;
the sands were silvery; the low-lying ground was a dim gold; the water
was gray, with purple and lemon-yellow reflections. The whole scene
was broad and fair. The people on the pier and the boats on the water
formed notes of luscious colour. The fishing-boats at anchor were of a
brilliant green, with vermilion and orange sails and nets a gauzy
blue. Ahead, on the brown rocks, although it was the calmest and best
of weather, white waves were breaking and sending foam and spray high
into the air. There was everywhere a fresh smell of salt.

  [Illustration: CURIOSITY]

We were anxious to go across to Belle Isle that night, and took
tickets for a small, evil-smelling boat, the cargo of which was mostly
soldiers. It was rather a rough crossing, and we lay in the
stuffy cabin longing to go on deck to see the sunset, which, by
glimpses through the portholes, we could tell to be painting sea and
sky in tones of flame. At last the spirit conquered the flesh, and,
worried with the constant opening and shutting of doors by the noisy
steward, we went on deck. A fine sight awaited us. From pearly grays
and tender tones we had emerged into the fiery glories of a sunset
sky. Behind us lay the dark gray-blue sea and the darker sky, flecked
by pale pink clouds. Before us, the sun was shooting forth broad
streaks of orange and vermilion on a ground of Venetian blue. Towards
the horizon the colouring paled to tender pinks and lemon-yellows. As
the little steamer ploughed on, Belle Isle rose into sight, a dark
purple streak with tracts of lemon-gold and rosy clouds. The nearer we
drew the lower sank the sun, until at last it set redly behind the
island, picking out every point and promontory and every pine standing
stiff against the sky.

Each moment the island loomed larger and darker, orange light shining
out here and there in the mass. We were astonished by its size, for I
had always imagined Belle Isle as being a miniature place belonging
entirely to Mme. Bernhardt. The entrance to the bay was narrow, and
lay between two piers, with lights on either end; and it was a strange
sensation leaving the grays and blues and purples, the silvery
moonlight, and the tall-masted boats behind us, and emerging into this
warmth and wealth of colouring. A wonderful orange and red light shone
behind the dark mass of the island, turning the water of the bay to
molten gold and glorifying the red-sailed fishing-boats at anchor. As
we drew near the shore, piercing shrieks came from the funnel. There
appeared to be some difficulty about landing. Many directions were
shouted by the captain and repeated by a shrill-voiced boy before we
were allowed to step on shore over a precarious plank. Once landed, we
were met by a brown-faced, sturdy woman, who picked up our trunks and
shouldered them as if they were feather-weights for a distance of half
a mile or so. She led the way to the hotel.

Next morning was dismal; but, as we had only twenty-four hours to
spend in Belle Isle, we hired a carriage to take us to the home of
Mme. Bernhardt, and faced the weather. The sky was gray; the country
flat and bare, though interesting in a melancholy fashion. The
scenery consisted of mounds of brown overturned earth laid in regular
rows in the fields, scrubby ground half-overgrown by gorse, clusters
of dark pines, and a dreary windmill here and there. Now and then, by
way of incident, we passed a group of white houses, surrounded by
sad-coloured haystacks, and a few darkly-clad figures hurrying over
the fields with umbrellas up, on their way to church. The Breton
peasants are so pious that, no matter how far away from a town or
village they may live, they attend Mass at least once on Sunday. A
small procession passed us on the road--young men in their best black
broadcloth suits, and girls in bright shawls and velvet-bound
petticoats. This was a christening procession--at least, we imagined
it to be so; for one of the girls carried a long white bundle under an
umbrella. Bretons are christened within twenty-four hours of birth.

The home of Mme. Bernhardt is a square fortress-like building, shut up
during the autumn, with a beautifully-designed terrace garden. It is
situated on a breezy promontory, and the great actress is in sole
possession of a little bay wherein the sea flows smoothly and greenly
on the yellow sands, and the massive purple rocks loom threateningly
on either side with many a craggy peak. Her dogs, large Danish
boarhounds, rushed out, barking furiously, at our approach; her sheep
and some small ponies were grazing on the scanty grass.

Our driver was taciturn. He seemed to be tuned into accord with the
desolate day, and would vouchsafe no more than a grudging 'Oui' or
'Non' to our many questions, refusing point-blank to tell us to what
places he intended driving us. At length he stopped the carriage on a
cliff almost at the edge of a precipice. Thoughts that he was perhaps
insane ran through my mind, and I stepped out hurriedly; but his
intention was only to show us some cavern below. Mother preferred to
remain above-ground; but, led by the driver, I went down some steps
cut in the solid rock, rather slippery and steep, with on one side a
sheer wall of rock, and the ocean on the other. The rock was dark
green and flaky, with here and there veins of glistening pink and
white mica. Lower and lower we descended, until it seemed as if we
were stepping straight into the sea, which foamed against the great
rocks, barring the entrance to the cavern.

  [Illustration: A SOLITARY MEAL]

The cavern itself was like a colossal railway-arch towering hundreds
of feet overhead; and against this and the rocks at the entrance
the sea beat with much noise and splash, falling again with a groan in
a mass of spray. Inside the cavern the tumult was deafening; but never
have I seen anything more beautiful than those waves creaming and
foaming over the green rocks, the blood-red walls of the cave rising
sheer above, flecked with glistening mica. It was a contrast with the
tame, flat, sad scenery over which we had been driving all the
morning. This was Nature at her biggest and best, belittling
everything one had ever seen or was likely to see, making one feel
small and insignificant.

By-and-by we drove to a village away down in a hollow, a typical
Breton fishing-village with yellow and white-faced _auberges_, and
rows of boats moored to the quay, their nets and sails hauled down on
this great day of the week, the Sabbath. As there was no hotel in the
place, we entered a clean-looking _auberge_ and asked for luncheon.
The kitchen led out of the little _salle à manger_, and, as the door
was left wide open, we could watch the preparation of our food. We
were to have a very good soup; we saw the master of the house bringing
in freshly-caught fish, which were grilled at the open fireplace, and
fresh sardines; and we heard our chicken frizzling on the spit. We
saw the coffee-beans being roasted, and we were given the most
exquisite pears and apples. Small matter that our room was shared by
noisy soldiers, and that Adolphus (as we had named our driver) entered
and drank before our very eyes more cognac than was good for him or
reasonable on our bill.

Sunday afternoon in Belle Isle is a fashionable time. Between three
and four people go down to the quay, clattering over the cobble stones
in their best black sabots, to watch the steamers come in from
Quiberon. You see girls in fresh white caps and neat black dresses,
spruce soldiers, ladies _à la mode_ in extravagant headgear and loud
plaid or check dresses. On the quay they buy hot chestnuts. From our
hotel we could watch the people as they passed, and the shopkeepers
sitting and gossiping outside their doors. Opposite us was a souvenir
shop, on the steps of which sat the proprietor with his boy. Very
proud he was of the child--quite an ordinary spoiled child, much
dressed up. The father followed the boy with his eyes wherever he
went. He pretended to scold him for not getting out of the way when
people passed, to attract their attention to the child. He greeted
every remark with peals of laughter, and repeated the witticisms to
his friend the butcher next door, who did not seem to appreciate them.
Every now and then he would glance over to see if the butcher were
amused. French people, especially Bretons, are devoted to their

I was much amused in watching the little _bonne_ at the hotel who
carried our luggage the night before. She was quaint, compact, sturdy.
She would carry a huge valise on her shoulder, or sometimes one in
either hand. She ordered her husband about. She dressed her child in a
shining black hat, cleaned its face with her pocket-handkerchief,
straightened its pinafore, and sent it _en promenade_ with papa, while
she herself stumped off to carry more luggage. There was apparently no
end to her strength. On her way indoors she paused on the step and
cast a loving glance over her shoulder at the back view of her husband
in his neatly-patched blue blouse and the little child in the black
_sarrau_ walking sedately down the road. She seemed so proud of the
pair that we could not resist asking the woman if the child were hers,
just to see the glad smile which lit up her face as she answered,
'Oui, mesdames!' I have often noticed how lenient Breton women are to
their children. They will speak in a big voice and frown, and a child
imagines that Mother is in a towering rage; but you will see her turn
round the next moment and smile at the bystander. If children only
knew their power, how little influence parents would have over them!

The French differ from the British in the matter of emotion. On the
steamer from Belle Isle to Quiberon there were some soldiers, about to
travel with us, who were being seen off by four or five others
standing on the quay. Slouching, unmilitary figures they looked, with
baggy red trousers tied up at the bottoms, faded blue coats, and
postmen-shaped hats, yellow, red, or blue pom-pom on top. One of the
men on shore was a special friend of a soldier who was leaving. I was
on tenter-hooks lest he should embrace him; he almost did so. He
squeezed his hand; he picked fluff off his clothes; he straightened
his hat. He repeatedly begged that his 'cher ami' would come over on
the following Sunday to Belle Isle. Tears were very near his eyes; he
was forced to bite his handkerchief to keep them back. When the boat
moved away, and they could join hands no longer, the soldiers blew
kisses over the water to one another. They opened their arms
wide, shouted affectionate messages, and called one another by
endearing terms. Altogether, they carried on as if they were neurotic
girls rather than soldiers who had their way to make and their country
to think of.

  [Illustration: IN THE BOIS D'AMOUR]

There was one man superior to his fellows. He held the same rank, and
wore the same uniform; but he kept his buttons and his brass belt
bright; he wore silk socks, and carried a gold watch under his
military coat; his face was intelligent.



Not far from the little town of Auray is the magnificent cathedral of
St. Anne D'Auray, to which so many thousands from all over Brittany
come annually to worship at the shrine of St. Anne. From all parts of
the country they arrive--some on foot, others on horseback, or in
strange country carts: marquises in their carriages; peasants plodding
many a weary mile in their wooden sabots. Even old men and women will
walk all through the day and night in order to be in time for the
pardon of St. Anne.

The Breton people firmly believe that their household cannot prosper,
that their cattle and their crops cannot thrive, that their ships are
not safe at sea, unless they have been at least once a year to burn
candles at the shrine. The wealthy bourgeois's daughter, in her new
dress, smart apron, and Paris shoes, kneels side by side with a ragged
beggar; the peasant farmer, with long gray hair, white jacket,
breeches and leather belt, mingles his supplications with those of a
nobleman's son. All are equal here; all have come in the same humble,
repentant spirit; for the time being class distinctions are swept
away. Noble and peasant crave their special boons; each confesses his
sins of the past year; all stand bareheaded in the sunshine, humble
petitioners to St. Anne.

At the time of the pardon, July 25, the ordinarily quiet town is
filled to overflowing. There is a magnificent procession, all green
and gold and crimson, headed by the Bishop of Vannes. A medley of
people come from all parts to pray in the cathedral, and to bathe in
the miraculous well, the water of which will cure any ailment.

It is said that in the seventh century St. Anne appeared to one
Nicolazic, a farmer, and commanded him to dig in a field near by for
her image. This having been found, she bade him erect a chapel on the
spot to her memory. Several chapels were afterwards built, each in its
turn grander and more important, until at last the magnificent church
now standing was erected. On the open place in front is a circle of
small covered-in stalls, where chaplets, statuettes, tall wax
candles, rings, and sacred ornaments of all kinds, are sold.

  [Illustration: A BRETON FARMER]

Directly you appear within that circle, long doleful cries are set up
from every vendor, announcing the various wares that he or she has for
sale. You are offered rosaries for sixpence, and for four sous extra
you can have them blessed. A statue of the Virgin can be procured for
fourpence; likewise the image of St. Anne. Wherever you may go in the
circle, you are pestered by these noisy traders. There is something
incongruous in such sacred things being hawked about the streets, and
their various merits shrieked at you as you pass. We went to a shop
near by, where we could look at the objects quietly and at leisure.

The church, built of light-gray stone, is full of the richest
treasures you can imagine--gold, jewels, precious marbles, and
priceless pictures. One feels almost surfeited by so much
magnificence. Every square inch of the walls is covered with slabs of
costly marble, on which are inscribed, in letters of gold, thanks to
St. Anne for benefits bestowed and petitions for blessings.

Although one cannot but be touched by the worship of St. Anne and the
simple belief of the people in her power to cure all, to accomplish
all, one is a little upset by these costly offerings. Nevertheless, it
is a marvellous faith, this Roman Catholic religion: the more you
travel in a country like Brittany, the more you realize it. There must
be a great power in a religion that draws people hundreds of miles on
foot, and enables them, after hours of weary tramping, to spend a day
praying on the hard stones before the statue of a saint.



When you are nearing the coast of France all you can see is a long
narrow line, without relief, apparently without design, without
character, just a sombre strip of horizon; but St. Malo is always
visible. A fine needle-point breaks the uninteresting line: it is the
belfry of St. Malo. To left and right of the town is a cluster of
islands, dark masses of rock over which the waves foam whitely. St.
Malo is magnificently fortified. It is literally crowned with military
defences. It is a mass of formidable fortresses, rigid angles, and
severe gray walls. It speaks of the seventeenth century, telling of a
time when deeds of prowess were familiar. The sea, which is flowing,
beats furiously against the walls of defence, protected by the trunks
of great trees planted in the sand. These gigantic battalions stop the
inrush of the water, and would make landing more arduous to an enemy.
They have a bizarre effect when seen from the distance.

The town defied all the efforts of the English to capture her. On one
occasion they laid mines as far as the Porte of St. Malo; but the
Virgin, enshrined above the gate, and ever watching over the people,
disclosed the plot by unfolding her arms and pointing with one hand to
the ground beneath her. The Bretons dug where she pointed, and
discovered their imminent peril. Thus was the city saved. To-day the
shrine receives the highest honours, and is adorned with the finest
and sweetest flowers.

For one reason at least St. Malo is unique. It is a town of some
thousand inhabitants; yet it is still surrounded by mediæval walls. Of
all the towns in Brittany, St. Malo is the only one which still
remains narrowly enclosed within walls. It is surrounded by the sea
except for a narrow neck of land joining the city to the mainland.
This is guarded at low tide by a large and fierce bulldog, the image
of which has been added to St. Malo's coat of arms. Enclosed within a
narrow circle of walls, and being unable to expand, the town is
peculiar. The houses are higher than usual, and the streets narrower.
There is no waste ground in St. Malo. Every available inch is built
upon. The sombre streets run uphill and downhill. There is no
town like St. Malo. Its quaint, tortuous streets, of corkscrew form,
culminate in the cathedral, which, as you draw near, does not seem to
be a cathedral at all, but a strong fort. So narrow are the streets,
and so closely are they gathered round the cathedral, that it is only
when you draw away to some distance that you can see the
beautifully-sculptured stone tower of many points.

  [Illustration: IN THE EYE OF THE SUN]

Up and down the steep street the people clatter in their thick-soled
sabots. It is afternoon, and most of the townspeople have turned out
for a walk, to gaze in the shop windows with their little ones. The
people are rather French; and the children, instead of being clad in
the Breton costume, wear smart kilted skirts, white socks, and shiny
black sailor hats. Still, there is a subtle difference between these
people and the French. You notice this directly you arrive. There is
something solid, something pleasant and unartificial, about them. The
women of the middle classes are much better-looking, and they dress
better; the men are of stronger physique, with straight, clean-cut
features and a powerful look.

Very attractive are these narrow hilly streets, with their throngs of
people and their gay little shops where the wares are always hung
outside--worsted shawls, scarlet and blue berés, Breton china
(decorated by stubby figures of men and women and heraldic devices),
chaplets, shrines to the Virgin Mary, many-coloured cards, religious
and otherwise.

  [Illustration: SUNDAY]

There are a few houses which perpetuate the past. You are shown the
house of Queen Anne, the good Duchess Anne, a house with Gothic
windows, flanked by a tower, blackened and strangely buffeted by the
blows of time. Queen Anne was a marvellous woman, and has left her
mark. Her memory is kept green by the lasting good that she achieved.
From town to town she travelled during the whole of her reign, for she
felt that to rule well and wisely she must be ever in close touch with
her people. No woman was more beloved by the populace. Everywhere she
went she was fêted and adored. She ruled her province with a rod of
iron; yet she showed herself to be in many ways wonderfully feminine.
Nothing could have been finer than the act of uniting Brittany with
France by giving up her crown to France and remaining only the Duchess
Anne. In almost every town in Brittany there is a Queen Anne House, a
house which the good Queen either built herself or stayed in.
Everywhere she went she constructed something--a church, a
chapel, an oratory, a _calvaire_, a house, a tomb--by which she was to
be remembered. There is, for example, the famous tower which she
built, in spite of all malcontents, not so much in order to add to the
defences of St. Malo as to rebuke the people for their turbulence and
rebellion. Her words concerning it ring through the ages, and will
never be forgotten:

     'Quic en groigneir
        Ainsy ser
     C'est mon playsir.'

Ever since the tower has gone by the name of 'Quiquengroigne.'

There are three names, three figures, of which St. Malo is proud; the
birthplaces are pointed out to the stranger fondly. One is that of the
Duchess Anne; another that of Duguay-Trouin; last, but not least, we
have Chateaubriand. Of the three, perhaps the picturesque figure of
Duguay-Trouin charms one most. From my earliest days I have loved
stories of the gallant sailor, whose adventures and mishaps are as
fascinating as those of Sinbad. I have always pictured him as a heroic
figure on the bridge of a vessel, wearing a powdered wig, a lace
scarf, and the dress of the period, winning victory after victory,
and shattering fleets. It is disappointing to realize that this hero
lived in the Rue Jean de Chatillon, in a three-storied, time-worn
house with projecting windows, lozenge-paned. Of Chateaubriand I know
little; but his birthplace is in St. Malo, for all who come to see.

What a revelation it is, after winding up the narrow, steep streets of
St. Malo, suddenly to behold, framed in an archway of the old mediæval
walls, the sea! There is a greeny-blue haze so vast that it is
difficult to trace where the sea ends and the sky begins. The beach is
of a pale yellow-brown where the waves have left it, and pink as it
meets the water. At a little distance is an island of russet-brown
rocks, half-covered with seaweed; at the base is a circle of tawny
sand, and at the summit yellow-green grass is growing.

  [Illustration: THE CRADLE]



The road to Mont St. Michel is colourless and dreary. On either side
are flat gray marshes, with little patches of scrubby grass. Here and
there a few sheep are grazing. How the poor beasts can find anything
to eat at all on such barren land is a marvel. Gradually the scenery
becomes drearier, until at last you are driving on a narrow causeway,
with a river on one side and a wilderness of treacherous sand on the

Suddenly, on turning a corner, you come within view of Mont St.
Michel. No matter how well prepared you may be for the apparition, no
matter what descriptions you may have read or heard beforehand, when
you see that three-cornered mass of stone rising from out the vast
wilderness of sand, you cannot but be astonished and overwhelmed. You
are tempted to attribute this bizarre achievement to the hand of the
magician. It is uncanny.

Just now it is low tide, and the Mount lies in the midst of an
immense moving plain, on which three rivers twist, like narrow threads
intersecting it--Le Conesnon, La Sée, and La Seline. Several dark
islands lie here and there uncovered, and groups of small boats are
left high and dry. It is fascinating to watch the sea coming up,
appearing like a circle on the horizon, and slipping gently over the
sands, the circle ever narrowing, until the islands are covered once
more, the boats float at anchor, and the waves precipitate themselves
with a loud booming sound, heard for miles round, against the double
walls that protect the sacred Mount.

Many are the praises that have been sung of Mont St. Michel by poets
and artists, by historians and architects. She has been called 'A poem
in stone,' 'Le palais des angles,' 'An inspiration of the Divine,' 'La
cité des livres,' 'Le boulevard de la France,' 'The sacred mount,'
etc. Normandy and Brittany dispute her. She is in the possession of
either, as you will.

  [Illustration: SOUPE MAIGRE]

Mont St. Michel is not unlike Gibraltar. As you come suddenly upon the
place, rising from out the misty grayish-yellow, low-lying marshes, it
appears to be a dark three-cornered mass, surrounded by stout brownish
battlemented walls, flanked by rounded turrets, against a
background of blue sky. At the base of the Mount lies the city, the
houses built steeply one above the other, some with brownish
lichen-covered roofs, others of modern slate. Above the city is the
monastery--brown walls, angry and formidable, rising steeply, with
many windows and huge buttresses. Beyond, on the topmost point, is the
grand basilica consecrated to the archangel, the greenish light of
whose windows you can see clearly. Above all rises a tall gray spire
culminating in a golden figure.

There is only one entrance to Mont St. Michel--over a footbridge and
beneath a solid stone archway, from which the figure of the Virgin in
a niche looks down. You find yourself in a narrow, steep street, black
and dark with age, and crowded with shops and bazaars and cafés. The
town appears to be given up to the amusement and entertainment of
visitors; and, as St. Michael is the guardian saint of all strangers
and pilgrims, I suppose this is appropriate. Tourists fill the streets
and overflow the hotels and cafés; the town seems to live, thrive, and
have its being entirely for the tourists. Outside every house hangs a
sign advertising coffee or china or curios, as the case may be, and
so narrow is the street that the signs on either side meet.

Your first thought on arriving is about getting something to eat. The
journey from St. Malo is long, and, although the sun is shining and
the sky is azure blue, the air is biting. Of course, everyone who
comes to the Mount has heard of Mme. Poulard. She is as distinctly an
institution as the very walls and fortresses. All know of her famous
coffee and delicious omelettes; all have heard of her charm. It is
quite an open question whether the people flock there in hundreds on a
Sunday morning for the sake of Mme. Poulard's luncheon or for the
attractions of Mont St. Michel itself. There she stands in the doorway
of her hotel, smiling, gracious, affable, handsome. No one has ever
seen Mme. Poulard ruffled or put out. However many unexpected visitors
may arrive, she greets them all with a smile and words of welcome.

We were amid a very large stream of guests; yet she showed us into her
great roomy kitchen, and seated us before the huge fireplace, where a
brace of chickens, steaming on a spit, were being continually basted
with butter by stout, gray-haired M. Poulard. She found time to
inquire about our journey and our programme for the day, and directed
us to the various show-places of the Mount.

There is only one street of any importance in Mont St. Michel, dark
and dim, very narrow, no wider than a yard and a half; a drain runs
down the middle. Here you find yourself in an absolute wilderness of
Poulard. You are puzzled by the variety and the relations of the
Poulards. Poulard greets you everywhere, written in large black
letters on a white ground.

If you mount some steps and turn a corner suddenly, Poulard _frère_
greets you; if you go for a harmless walk on the ramparts, the
renowned coffee of Poulard _veuve_ hits you in the face. Each one
strives to be the right and only Poulard. You struggle to detach
yourselves from these Poulards. You go through a fine mediæval
archway, past shops where valueless, foolish curios are for sale; you
scramble up picturesque steps, only to be told once more in glaring
letters that POULARD spells Poulard.

A very picturesque street is the main thoroughfare of Mont St. Michel,
mounting higher and higher, with tall gray-stone and wooden houses on
either side, the roofs of which often meet overhead. Each window has
its pots of geraniums and its show of curios and useless baubles.
Fish-baskets hang on either side of the doors. Some of the houses have
terrace gardens, small bits of level places cut into the rock, where
roses grow and trailing clematis. Ivy mainly runs riot over every
stone and rock and available wall. The houses are built into the solid
rock one above another, and many of them retain their air of the
fourteenth or the fifteenth century.

You pass a church of Jeanne d'Arc. A bronze statue of the saint stands
outside the door. One always goes upwards in Mont St. Michel, seeing
the dark purplish-pink mass of the grand old church above you, with
its many spires of sculptured stone. Stone steps lead to the ramparts.
Here you can lean over the balustrade and look down upon the waste of
sand surrounding Mont St. Michel. All is absolutely calm and
noiseless. Immediately below is the town, its clusters of new
gray-slate roofs mingling with those covered in yellow lichen and
green moss; also the church of the village, looking like a child's
plaything perched on the mountain-side. Beyond and all around lies a
sad, monotonous stretch of pearl-gray sand, with only a darkish,
narrow strip of land between it and the leaden sky--the coast of
Normandy. Sea-birds passing over the country give forth a doleful
wail. The only signs of humanity at all in the immensity of this great
plain are some little black specks--men and women searching for
shellfish, delving in the sand and trying to earn a livelihood in the
forbidding waste.

  [Illustration: DÉJEUNER]

The melancholy of the place is terrible. I have seen people of the
gayest-hearted natures lean over that parapet and gaze ahead for
hours. This great gray plain has a strange attraction. It draws out
all that is sad and serious from the very depths of you, forcing you
to think deeply, moodily. Joyous thoughts are impossible. At first you
imagine that the scenery is colourless; but as you stand and watch for
some time, you discover that it is full of colour. There are pearly
greens and yellows and mauves, and a kind of phosphorescent slime left
by the tide, glistening with all the hues of the rainbow.

Terribly dangerous are these shifting sands. In attempting to cross
them you need an experienced guide. The sea mounts very quickly, and
mists overtake you unexpectedly. Many assailants of the rock have been
swallowed in the treacherous sands.

Being on this great height reminded me of a legend I had heard of the
sculptor Gautier, a man of genius, who was shut up in the Abbey of
Mont St. Michel and carved stones to keep himself from going mad--you
can see these in the abbey to this day. For some slight reason
François I. threw the unfortunate sculptor into the black cachot of
the Mount, and there he was left in solitude, to die by degrees. His
hair became quite white, and hung long over his shoulders; his cheeks
were haggard; he grew to look like a ghost. His youth could no longer
fight against the despair overhanging him; his miseries were too great
for him to bear; he became almost insane. One day, by a miracle, Mass
was held, not in the little dark chapel under the crypts, but in the
church on high, on the topmost pinnacle of the Mount. It was a Sunday,
a fête-day. The sun shone, not feebly, as I saw it that day, but
radiantly, the windows of the church glistening. It was blindingly
beautiful. The joy of life surrounded him; the sweetness and freshness
of the spring was in the air. The irony of men and things was too
great for his poor sorrow-laden brain. He cleared the parapet, and was
dashed to atoms below. Poor Gautier! It was his only chance of escape.
One realized that as one looked up at those immense prison walls,
black and frowning, sheer and unscaleable, every window grated and
barred. What chance would a prisoner have? If it were possible for him
to escape from the prison itself, there would be the town below to
pass through. Only one narrow causeway joins the island to the
mainland, and all round there is nothing but sea and sandy wastes.

  [Illustration: A FARMHOUSE KITCHEN]

I was disturbed in my reverie by a loud nasal voice shouting, 'Par
ici, messieurs et dames, s'il vous plaît.' It was the guide, and
willy-nilly we must go and make the rounds of the abbey among a crowd
of other sightseers. An old blind woman on the abbey steps, evidently
knowing that we were English by our tread, moistened her lips and drew
in her breath in preparation for a begging whine as we approached. We
passed through a huge red door of a glorious colour, up a noble flight
of wide steps, with hundreds of feet of wall on either side, into a
lofty chapel, falling to decay, and being renovated in parts. It was
of a ghostly greenish stone, with fluted pillars of colossal height,
ending in stained-glass windows and a vaulted roof, about which
black-winged bats were flying. Room after room we passed through, the
guide making endless and monotonous explanations and observations in
a parrot-like voice, until we reached the cloister. This is the pearl
of Mont St. Michel, the wonder of wonders. It is a huge square court.
In the middle of the quadrangle it is open to the sky, and the sun
shines through in a golden blaze. All round are cool dim walks roofed
overhead by gray arches supported by small, graceful, rose-coloured
pillars in pairs. This is continued round the whole length of the
court. Let into the wall are long benches of stone, to which, in olden
days, the monks came to meditate and pray. The ancient atmosphere has
been well preserved; yet the building is so little touched by time,
owing to the careful renovations of a clever architect, that one
almost expects at any moment to see a brown-robed monk disturbed in
his meditations.

From the quiet courtyard we are taken down into the very heart of the
coliseum--into the mysterious cells where the damp of the rock
penetrates the solid stone. How gloomy it was down in these crypts!
Even the names of them made one tremble--'Galerie de l'Aquilon,'
'Petit Exil,' and 'Grand Exil.' You think of Du Bourg, tightly
fettered hand and foot, being eaten alive by rats; of the Comte
Grilles, condemned to die of starvation, being fed by a peasant, who
bravely climbed to his window; of a hundred gruesome tales. There is
the chapel where the last offices of the dead were performed--a cell
in which the light struggled painfully through the narrow windows,
feebly combating with the dark night of the chamber; and there is the
narrow stairway, in the thickness of the wall, by which the bodies of
the prisoners were taken.

We were shown the cachot and the oubliette where the living body of
the prisoner was attacked by rats. That, however, was a simple torture
compared with the strait-jacket and the iron cage. In the oubliette
the miserable men could clasp helpless hands, curse or pray, as the
case might be; but in the iron cage the death agony was prolonged.

Even now, although the poor souls took wings long ago, the cachot and
the oubliette fill you with disgust. You feel stifled there. The
atmosphere is vitiated. Even though centuries have passed since those
terrible times, the walls seem to be still charged with iniquity, with
all the sighs exhaled, with all the smothered cries, with all the
tears, with all the curses of impatient sufferers, with all the
prayers of saints.

It seems impossible to believe, down in the heart of this world of
stone, in the impenetrable darkness, that the architect that designed
this thick and cruel masonry constructed those airy belfries, those
balustrades of lace, those graceful arches, those towers and minarets.
It is as if he had wished to shut up the sorrow and the maniacal cries
of the men who had lost their reason in a fair exterior, attracting
the eyes of the world to that which was beautiful, and making it
forget the misery beneath.

  [Illustration: MARIE]

  [Illustration: A FARM LABOURER]



The name of Mme. Sévigné rings through the ages. Vitré is full of it.
Inhabitants will point out, close to the ruined ramparts, the winter
palace where the _spirituelle Marquise_ received the Breton nobility
and sometimes the Kings of Brittany. To the south they will show you
the Château des Rochers, the princely country residence maintained by
this famous woman. She was a Breton of the Bretons, building and
planting, often working in the fields with her farm hands. She loved
her Château des Rochers. It was a joy to leave the town and the
gaieties of Court for the freshness of the fields and the woods. She
especially liked to be there for the 'Triomphe du mois de Mai'--to
hear the nightingale and the cuckoo saluting spring with song. With
Lafontaine, she found inspiration in the fields; but, as she preserved
a solid fund of Gaelic humour, she laughed also, and the country did
not often make her melancholy. She felt the sadness of autumn in her
woods; but she never became morose. She never wearied of her garden.
She had always some new idea with regard to it--some new plan to lure
her from a letter begun or a book opened. Before reading the memoirs
of Mme. Sévigné it is almost impossible to realize this side of her
nature. Who would have imagined that this woman of the salons, fêted
in Paris, and known everywhere, would be always longing for her
country home? It is only when you visit the famous Château des Rochers
that you realize to the full that she was a lover of nature and
country habits. Wandering through the old-world garden, you find
individual touches which bring back the dainty Marquise vividly to
mind. There are the venerable trees, under which you may wander and
imagine yourself back in the time of Louis XIV. There are the deep and
shady avenues planted by Mme. Sévigné, and beautiful to this day. The
names come back to you as you walk--'La Solitaire,' 'L'Infini,'
'L'honneur de ma fille'--avenues in which madame sat to see the sun
setting behind the trees. Very quiet is this garden, with its broad
shady paths, its wide spaces of green, its huge cedars growing in the
grass, and its stiff flower-beds. There is Mme. Sévigné's sundial, on
which she inscribed with her own hand a Latin verse. There are
the stiff rows of poplars, like Noah's Ark trees, symmetrical,
interlacing one with the other, unnatural but dainty in design. There
is her rose garden, a rounded and terraced walk planted with roses.
There, too, are the sunny 'Place Madame,' the 'Place Coulanges,' and
'L'Écho,' where two people, standing on stones placed a certain
distance apart, can hear the echo plainly. This garden, with its stiff
little rows of trees, its sunny open squares surrounded by low walls,
and its stone vases overgrown with flowers, brings back the past so
vividly that one asks one's self whether indeed Mme. Sévigné is there
no longer, and glances involuntarily down the avenues and the by-ways,
half expecting to distinguish the rapid passage of a majestic skirt.
What a splendid life this woman of the seventeenth century led! She
knew well how to regulate mind and body. The routine of the day at Les
Rochers was never varied, and was designed so perfectly that there was
rarely a jar or a hitch. She rose at eight, and enjoyed the freshness
of the woods until the hour for matins struck. After that there were
the 'Good-mornings' to be said to everyone on her estate. She must
pick flowers for the table, and read and work. When her son was no
longer with her she read aloud to broaden the mind of his wife. At
five o'clock her time became her own; and on fine days, a lacquey
following, she wandered down the pleasant avenues, dreaming visions of
the future, of God and of His providence, sometimes reading a book of
devotions, sometimes a book of history. On days of storm, when the
trees dripped and the slates fell from the roof,--on days so wet and
gray and wild that you would not turn a dog out of doors--you would
suppose the Marquise to become morbid and miserable. Not at all. She
realized that she must kill time, and she did so by a hundred
ingenious devices. She deplored the weather which kept her indoors,
but fixed her thoughts on the morrow. Ladies and gentlemen often
invaded her; all the nobility came to present their compliments. They
assailed her from all sides. When she resisted them, and strove to
shut herself away from the world, the Duke would come and carry her
away in his carriage.

  [Illustration: A LITTLE WATER-CARRIER]

She always longed to return to her solitude--to her dear Rochers,
where her good priest waited, at once her administrator, her man of
affairs, her architect, and her friend. Her pride of property was
great, and she was constantly beautifying and embellishing her country
home. Each year saw some new change. On one occasion six years passed
without her visiting Les Rochers. All her trees had become big and
beautiful; some of them were forty or fifty feet high. Her joy when
she beheld them gives one an insight into her youthfulness.

How young she was in some things! She often asked herself whence came
this exuberance. She drew caricatures of the affectations of her
neighbours, and the anxious inquiries of her friends as to her
happiness during her voluntary exile amused her immensely. In a letter
written to her daughter she said:

'I laugh sometimes at what they call "spending the winter in the
woods." Mme. de C---- said to me the other day, "Leave your damp
Rochers." I answered her, "Damp yourself--it is your country that is
damp; but we are on a height." It is as though I said, Your damp
Montmartre. These woods are at present penetrated by the sun whenever
it shines. On the Place Madame when the sun is at its height, and at
the end of the great avenue when the sun is setting, it is marvellous.
When it rains there is a good room with my people here, who do not
trouble me. I do what I want, and when there is no one here we are
still better off, for we read with a pleasure which we prefer above

The prospect of spending a winter at Les Rochers did not frighten her
in the least. She wrote to her daughter, saying, 'My purpose to spend
the winter at Les Rochers frightens you. Alas! my daughter, it is the
sweetest thing in the world.'

Mme. Sévigné was always thinking of her daughter, and of Provence,
where she lived. Her heart went out to her daughter. Everything about
Les Rochers helped her to remember her beloved child. Even the country
itself seemed to bring back memories, for the nights of July were so
perfumed with orange-blossoms that one might imagine one's self to be
really in Provence. Mme. Sévigné wrote in a letter to one of her

'I have established a home in the most beautiful place in the world,
where no one keeps me company, because they would die of cold. The
abbé goes backwards and forwards over his affairs. I am there thinking
of Provence, for that thought never leaves me.'

  [Illustration: WEARY]

The château in which this wonderful woman lived, whence started so
many couriers to Provence, is an important building, gray, a little
heavy with towers, with high turrets of slate and great windows.
Resembling most houses built in the Louis XIV. style, it is rather sad
in design. At the side is a chapel surmounted by a cross, a rotund
hexagonal building constructed in 1671 by the Abbot of Coulanges.
Inside it is gorgeous with old rose and gold. One can imagine the
gentle Marquise kneeling here at her devotions.

Visitors are shown the bedroom of Mme. Sévigné, now transformed into a
historical little sanctuary. The furniture consists of a large
four-post bed, with a covering of gold and blue, embroidered, it is
said, by the Countess of Grignan. Under a glass case have been
treasured all the accessories of her toilet--an arsenal of feminine
coquetry: brushes, powder-boxes, patch-boxes, autograph letters,
account-books, her own ink-stand, books written in the clear,
delicate, legible handwriting of the Marquise herself.

The walls are hung with pictures of the family and intimate friends,
some of which are very remarkable. This room was called by Mme.
Sévigné the 'green room.' It still has a dainty atmosphere. Here Mme.
Sévigné passed a great part of her life. Under a large window is a
marble table where she is supposed to have written those letters which
one knows almost as well as the fables of Lafontaine. Mme. Sévigné
coloured the somewhat cold though pure language of the seventeenth
century, but not artificially. She animated it, conveyed warmth into
it, by putting into her writings much that was feminine, never
descending to the 'precious' or to be a blue-stocking. The books that
she loved, and her correspondence, did not take up so much of her time
that she had to overlook the details of her domain. Sometimes she had
a little fracas with her cook; often she would be called away to
listen to the complaints of Pilois, her gardener, a philosopher. She
knew how to feel strongly among people who could feel only their own
misfortunes and disgraces. She had a true and thoughtful soul. This
one can tell by her letters from Les Rochers, which come to us in all
their freshness, as if they had been written yesterday.

  [Illustration: THE MASTER OF THE HOUSE]

  [Illustration: IN THE INGLENOOK]



The country round Carnac is solemn and mysterious, full of strange
Druidical monuments, menhirs and dolmens of fabulous antiquity,
ancient stone crosses, _calvaires_, and carvings. Everything is grand,
solemn, and gigantic. One finds intimate traces of the Middle Ages.
The land is still half-cultivated and divided into small holdings; the
fields are strewn with ancient stones.

The Lines of Carnac are impressive. You visit them in the first place
purely as a duty, as something which has to be seen; but you are amply
repaid. On a flat plain of heather or gorse they lie, small and gray
and ghost-like in the distance, but looming larger as you draw near.
You come across several in a farmyard; but on scaling a small
loosely-built stone wall you find yourself in the midst of them--lines
of colossal stones planted point-downwards, some as high as twenty
feet, and stretching away to the horizon, on a space of several
miles, like a gigantic army of phantoms. Originally the Lines of
Carnac were composed of six thousand stones; but to-day there remain
only several hundreds. They have been destroyed bit by bit, and used
by the peasants as fences along the fields and in the construction of

We sat on a rock and gazed at these strange things, longing to know
their origin. What enigmas they were, wrapped in mournful silence,
solemn and still, sphinx-like! I endeavoured to become an amateur
Sherlock Holmes. I examined the stones all over. I noticed that at the
extremity of one line they were placed in a semicircle. This did not
seem to lead me on the road to discovery. Of what avail is it to
attempt to read the mystery of these silent Celtic giants? Historians
and archæologists have sought in vain to find a solution to the
problem. Some say that the stones planted in the fields are temples
dedicated to the cult of the serpent; others maintain that this is a
sort of cemetery, where the dead of Carnac and of Erderen were
interred after a terrible battle. They are variously taken to be
sacred monuments, symbols of divinity, funeral piles, trophies of
victory, testimonies to the passing of a race, the remains of a
Roman encampment. Innumerable are the surmises.

  [Illustration: A BLIND BEGGAR]

The country people have their own versions of the origin of these
stones. The peasants round about Carnac firmly believe that these
menhirs are inhabited by a terrible race of little black men who, if
they can but catch you alone at midnight, will make you dance, leaping
round you in circles by the light of the moon with great shouts of
laughter and piercing cries, until you die of fatigue, making the
neighbouring villagers shiver in their beds. Some say that these
stones have been brought here by the Virgin Mary in her apron; others
that they are Roman soldiers, petrified as was the wife of Lot, and
changed into rocks by some good apostle; others, again, that they were
thrown from the moon by Beelzebub to kill some amiable fairy.

A boy was sitting on a stone near us. He had followed us, and had sat
leaning his head on his hand and gazing backwards and forwards from us
to the stones. Out of curiosity to hear what his ideas might be, I
asked the child what he imagined the menhirs were. Without a moment's
hesitation he said, 'Soldats de St. Cornely!'

Afterwards I discovered that St. Cornely is in this country one of
the most honoured saints. It is he that protects the beasts of the
field. His _pardon_ used to be much attended by peasants, who took
with them their flocks of sheep and cows. St. Cornely had occasion to
fly before a regiment of soldiers sent in pursuit by an idolatrous
king. In the moment of his fear--for even saints experience fear--he
went towards the sea, and soon saw that all retreat was cut off
thereby. The oxen fell on their knees, their eyes full of dread. The
situation was terrible. The saint appealed to Heaven, where lay his
only hope, and, stretching his arm towards the soldiers, changed them
suddenly into stone. Here, it is said, the soldiers of St. Cornely
have remained ever since, fixed and rigid.

  [Illustration: LA PETITE MARIE]



Brittany is essentially a romantic country. It is full of mysteries
and legends and superstitions. Romance plays a great part in the life
of the meanest peasant. Every stock and stone and wayside shrine in
his beloved country is invested with poetical superstition and
romance. A nurse that we children once had, nineteen years of age,
possessed an enormous stock of legends, which she had been brought up
to look upon as absolute truth. Some of the songs which she sang to
the baby at bedtime in a low minor key were beautiful in
composition--'Marie ta fille,' 'Le Biniou,' amongst others. The
village schoolmaster, who was our tutor, during our long afternoon
rambles would often make the woods ring as he sang ballads in his
rich, full voice. The theme changed according to his humour. Now the
song was a canticle, relating the legend of some saint, or a pious
chronicle; at another time it was of love he sang, generally ending
sadly. Then, there was the historical song, recounting some sombre, or
touching, or stirring event, when the little man worked himself up to
a high pitch of excitement, carrying us children open-mouthed to gory
battlefields and the palaces of sumptuous Kings. One quite forgot the
insignificant schoolmaster in the rush and swing of the music.

There are many Breton ballads. The lives of the people are reflected
truthfully in these compositions, which have as their themes human
weakness, or heartache, or happiness. The Breton bards are still a
large class. In almost every village there is someone who composes and
sings. Each one holds in his or her hand a small stick of white wood,
carved with notches and strange signs, which help towards remembering
the different verses. The Gauls called this stick, the use of which is
very ancient, the alphabet of the bards.

  [Illustration: THE LITTLE HOUSEWIFE]

Mendicity is protected in Brittany. One meets beggars at all the
fairs, and often on the high-roads. They earn their living by songs
and ballads. They attend family fêtes, and, above all, marriage
ceremonies, composing songs in celebration. No Breton will refuse a
bard the best of his hospitality. Bards are honoured guests. 'Dieu
vous bénisse, gens de cette maison,' says one, announcing
himself. He is installed in the ingle-nook, the cosiest corner of a
Breton kitchen; and after having refreshed the inner man he rewards
his host with song after song, often giving him the last ballad of his
composition. When he takes his leave, a large bundle of food is slung
over his shoulder. Unless you live for years in the same village, as I
have done, sharing in the joys and sorrows of the people, you can gain
very little knowledge of the tales and songs and legends. The Breton
is reticent on the advent of the stranger: he fears ridicule.

Then, again, a child can always wriggle itself into the hearts and
homes of people. Setting aside all racial prejudices and difficulties
of language, a child will instal itself in a household, and become
familiar with the little foibles of each inmate in a single day,
whereas a grown-up person may strive in vain for years. I, as a child,
had a Breton _bonne_, and used to spend most of my days at her home, a
farm some distance from the village, playing on the cottage floor with
her little brothers and sisters, helping to milk the cows, and poking
the fat pigs. This, I think, Mother could scarcely have been aware of;
for she had forbidden Marie to allow me to associate with dirty
children, and these were certainly not too clean. One day I was
playing at dolls with a village girl under the balcony of Mother's
room. Suddenly, on looking up, I found her gazing at me reproachfully.

'O Mother,' I hastened to explain, pulling the child forward by the
pinafore, 'she are clean.' We children were familiar with everyone in
the village, even bosom friends with all, from stout Batiste, the
butcher, to Lucia the little seamstress, and Leontine her sister, who
lived by the bridge. If a child died we attended the funeral, all
dressed in white, holding lighted tapers in our hands, and feeling
important and impressive. If one was born, we graciously condescended
to be present at the baptismal service and receive the boxes of
dragées always presented to guests on such occasions. At all village
processions we figured prominently.

When I returned to Brittany, at the age of ten, I found things very
little changed. My friends were a trifle older; but they remembered me
and welcomed me, receiving me into their midst as before. My sister
and I took part in all the _pardons_ of the surrounding villages. We
learnt the quaint Breton dances, and would pace up and down the dusty
roads in the full glare of the summer sun hour after hour, dressed in
the beautiful costume of the country--black broadcloth skirts, white
winged caps, and sabots. Often we would go with our _bonne_ and our
respective partners into some neighbouring _débits de boissons_ and
drink _syrops_ in true Breton fashion. At one _pardon_ we won the
_ruban d'honneur_--a broad bright-blue ribbon with silver tassels worn
across the shoulder, and presented to the best dancer.

The Breton gavotte is a strange dance of religious origin. The dancers
hold hands in a long line, advancing and retiring rhythmically to
long-drawn-out music. Underneath an awning sit the two professional
biniou-players, blowing with all their might into their instruments
and beating time with their feet to the measure. The _sonneur de
biniou_ is blind, and quite wrapped up in his art; he lives, as it
were, in a world apart. The _joueur de biniou_, the principal figure,
reminding one of a Highland piper, presses his elbow on the large
leather air-bag, playing the air, with its many variations, clear and
sweet, on the reed pipe.

Brittany is the land of _pardons_. During the summer these local
festivities are taking place daily in one village or another. The
_pardon_ is a thing apart; it resembles neither the Flemish
_kermesse_ nor the Parisian _foire_. Unlike the _foires_ of Paris,
created for the gay world, for the men and women who delight in
turning night into day, the _pardon_ has inspiration from high
sources: it is the fête of the soul. The people gather together from
far and near, not only to amuse themselves, but also to pray. They
pass long hours before the images of the saints; they make the tour of
the 'Chemin de la Croix,' kneeling on the granite floor.

Still, it is a joyous festival. The air is filled with shouts and
laughter. For example, in Quimper, at the Feast of the Assumption, the
Place St. Corentin is crowded. People have come from the surrounding
towns, all dressed in the characteristic costume of their vicinities.
Pont-Aven, Pont L'Abbé, Concarmeau, Fouesnant, Quimperlé--all are
represented. You see the tight lace wide-winged cap of the Douarnénez
women, hats bound with coloured chenile of the men of Carhaix, white
flannel coats bordered with black velvet of the peasants of Guéméné,
the flowered waistcoats of Pleavé; the women of Quimper have
pyramidical coifs of transparent lace, showing the pink or blue ribbon
beneath, with two long floating ends.

  [Illustration: AN OLD WOMAN]

The great square in front of the cathedral is a jumble of gold
and silver, embroidery, ribbons, muslin, and lace--a joyous feast of
colour in the sun. The crowd moves slowly, forming into groups by the
porch and round the stalls, with much gossip. The square and the
neighbouring streets are bordered by stalls trading in fabrics and
faiences, gingerbread, sweets, lotteries, cider, and fancy-work of all
kinds. Young men and girls stop in couples to buy mirrors or coloured
pins, surmounted with gold, that jingle, to fasten in their caps or in
their bodices. Others gather round the lotteries, and watch with
anxious eyes the wheel with the rod of metal that clicks all the way
round on its spokes, and stops at a certain number. 'C'est vingt-deux
qui gagne!' cries the proprietor. A pretty little peasant woman has
won. She hesitates, wavering between a ball of golden glass and a vase
painted with attractive flowers. The peasants laugh loudly.

There are all kinds of attractions and festivities at the
_pardons_--hurdy-gurdies, swing-boats, voyages to the moon, on which
you get your full and terrible money's worth of bumps and alarms; for
not only are you jerked up hill and down dale in a car, but also, when
you reach the moon, you are whirled round and round at a tremendous
rate and return backwards. There are side-shows in which are
exhibited fat women, headless men, and bodiless girls, distorted thus
by mirrors, the deception of which even we children saw through
plainly. There are jugglers and snake-charmers. A cobra was fed on
rabbits. We children haunted that tent at feeding-times, and used to
watch with fascination the little dead bunnies disappearing, fur and
all, afterwards noticing with glee the strange bumps they formed in
the animal's smooth and shiny coils. How bloodthirsty children are at

It is not always in large towns like Quimperlé that _pardons_ are
held. More often they are to be witnessed in the country, perhaps
miles away from any town, whence the people flock on foot. There you
see no grand cathedral, no magnificent basilicas and superb
architecture, but some simple little gray church with moss-grown walls
and trees growing thickly about it. The rustic charm of the _pardons_
it is impossible to describe. Round you are immense woods and flowered
prairies; in the woods the birds are singing; a mystic vapour of
incense fills the air. Peasants gather round this modest house of
prayer, which possesses nothing to attract the casual passer-by. The
saints that they have come to venerate have no speciality: they
heal all troubles, assuage all griefs: they are infallible and
all-powerful. Inside the church it is very dim and dark. Not a single
candle is alight on the altar; only the lamp of the sanctuary shines
out with red gleam like an ever-seeing eye. In the gray darkness of
the choir the silent priests cross themselves. They look like ghosts
of the faithful. The bells ring out in noisy peals, filling the air
with vibrations. Over the fields the people hurry--girls in their
smartest clothes, accompanied by their gallants; children brought by
their mothers in their beautiful new suits to attend service and to
have their faces bathed in the fountain, which cures them of all
diseases, and makes them beautiful for ever; old men come to
contemplate the joy of the young people, to be peaceful, and to ask
forgiveness before leaving this world and the short life over which
their own particular saint has watched. The bells peal so loudly that
one is afraid they will crack under the efforts of the ringers. Still
the people swarm over the fields and into the church, until at last
the little edifice is full, and men and women and children are
compelled to kneel outside on the hard earth; but the doors are
opened, and those outside follow the service with great attention.

  [Illustration: A PIG-MARKET]

One must be a Breton born and cradled in the country in order to
realize the important place that the _pardon_ of his parish occupies
in the peasant's mind. It is a religious festival of great
significance: it is the day above all others on which he confesses his
sins to God and receives absolution. Throughout his life his dearest
and sweetest thoughts cling round this house of prayer and pardon.

Here it is generally that he betroths himself. He and the girl stroll
home together when the sun has set, walking side by side over the
fields, holding each other by the little finger, as is the Breton
custom. A sweet serenity envelops the countryside; darkness falls; the
stars appear. The man is shy; but the girl is at ease. When nearing
home, to announce their arrival at the farm, they begin to sing a song
that they have heard from the bards during the day. Other couples in
the distance, hearing them, take up the refrain; and soon from all
parts of the country swells up into the night air a kind of alternate
song, in which the high trebles and the deep basses mingle
harmoniously. As the darkness deepens the figures disappear and the
sounds die away in the distance.

The Saturday before the first Sunday in July is a fête-day in most
towns. Pilgrims fill the towns, which are packed with stalls for the
fair. There are sellers of cider and cakes, amulets, and rosaries. A
statue of the Madonna surrounded by archangels against a background of
blue is situated at the church door to receive the homage of faithful
pilgrims. When night falls the door of the porch is flung open, and a
long procession of girls, like an army of phantoms, advances, each
penitent holding in her hand a lighted torch, slowly swinging her
rosary and repeating a Latin prayer. The statue of the Virgin is
solemnly carried out on the open square, where bonfires are lit and
young folk dance to the accompaniment of the biniou.

In some places the dances are prolonged for three or four days. The
Bretons like songs and dances and representations; they like the heavy
pomp of pilgrimages; they believe in prayer, and never lose their
respect for the Cross. They are a fine people, especially the men who
live by the sea, sailors and fishermen--well-made, high-strung men,
their faces bronzed and stained like sculptures out of old chestnut,
with eyes of clear blue, full of the sadness of the sea. They have an
air of robustness and vitality; but under their fierce exterior they
hide a great sweetness of nature. They are kind hosts; they are frank,
brave, and chaste. They have, it is true, a weakness: on fair
days--market-days especially--they abuse the terrible and brutalizing
_vin du feu_. Then, the Bretons are not a very clean people. The
interiors of the cottages are dignified, with great beds made of dark
chestnut and long, narrow tables, stretching the whole length of the
rooms, polished and beeswaxed until you can see your face mirrored on
the surface; but pigs will repose on the stone floor, which waves up
and down with indentations and deep holes. The more well-to-do Bretons
have their clothes washed only once in six months. The soiled linen is
kept above in an attic protected from the rats by a rope with broken
bottles strung on it, on which the rats, as they come to gnaw the
clothes, commit involuntary suicide.

The poorer families have better habits. They wash their few
possessions regularly and out of doors in large pools constructed for
the purpose, where hundreds of women congregate, kneeling on the
flagstones around the pond, beating their linen energetically on
boards, with a flat wooden tool, to economize soap. This I consider a
far cleaner method than that of our British cottagers, who wash
their clothes in their one living-room, inhaling impure steam.

  [Illustration: HOUSEHOLD DUTIES]

In spite of the winds and the tempests which desolate it, the Bretons
love their country. They live in liberty; they are their own masters.
The past holds profound and tenacious root in the hearts of these men
of granite, and the attachment to old beliefs is strong. The people
still believe in miracles, in sorcery, and in the evil eye. The land,
rich with memories of many kinds,--with its menhirs, its old
cathedrals, its pilgrimages, its _pardons_--sleeps peacefully in this
century of innovations. In Brittany everything seems to have been
designed long ago. Wherever one goes one comes across a strange and
ancient Druidical monument, menhirs, and dolmens of fabulous
antiquity, an exquisite legend, a ruined château, ancient stone
crosses, _calvaires_, and carvings. It is a country full of signs and
meanings. The poetical superstitions and legends have been left intact
in their primitive simplicity. Nowhere do you see finer peasantry;
nowhere more dignity and nobility in the features of the men and women
who work in the fields; nowhere such quaint houses and costumes;
hardly anywhere more magnificent scenery. You have verdant islands,
ancient forests, villages nestling in the mountains, country as wild
and beautiful as the moors of Scotland, fields and pasture-lands as
highly cultivated as those of Lincolnshire.

Brittany is especially inspiring to the painter. You find villages in
which the people still wear the national dress. Perhaps, however, the
time is not far distant when new customs will arise and the old
beliefs will be only a remembrance. Little by little the influence of
modern times begins to show itself upon the language, the costume, and
the poetic superstitions. The iron and undecorative hand of the
twentieth century is closing down upon the country.


      *      *      *      *      *

Transcriber's note:

  Inconsistent hyphenation and spelling in the original document have
  been preserved.

  Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

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