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Title: Claret and Olives, from the Garonne to the Rhone - Notes, social, picturesque, and legendary, by the way.
Author: Reach, Angus B.
Language: English
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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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                      CLARET AND OLIVES,

                             FROM

                  THE GARONNE TO THE RHONE;


          NOTES, SOCIAL, PICTURESQUE, AND LEGENDARY,
                          BY THE WAY.

                      BY ANGUS B. REACH,
          AUTHOR OF "THE STORY OF A BUCCANEER," ETC.

[Illustration]

              LONDON: DAVID BOGUE, FLEET STREET.
                          MDCCCLII.



                           LONDON:

           HENRY VIZETELLY, PRINTER AND ENGRAVER,
                 GOUGH SQUARE, FLEET STREET.



                             TO

                CHARLES MACKAY, ESQ., LL. D.,

          MY EARLIEST AND KINDEST LITERARY FRIEND,

                         These Pages

                ARE AFFECTIONATELY INSCRIBED.



CONTENTS.


                          CHAPTER I.

                                                                PAGE

  The Diligence--French Country Places--The English in
    Guienne--Bordeaux--Old Bordeaux--A Bordeaux
    Landlord--A Suburban Vintaging--The Vintage
    Dinner                                                      1-20


                          CHAPTER II.

  Claret _v._ Port--The Claret Soil--The Claret Vine--Popular
    Appetite for Grapes--Variable qualities of the
    Claret Soil--French Veterans--The "Authorities" in
    France                                                     21-38


                          CHAPTER III.

  The Claret Vintage--The Treading of the Grape--The Last
    Drops of the Grape--Wanderings amongst the
    Vineyards--Wandering Vintagers--The Vintage Dinner--The
    Vintagers' Bedroom--The Claret Chateaux--The Chateau
    Margaux                                                    39-57


                          CHAPTER IV.

  The Landes--The Bordeaux and Teste Railway--M. Tetard
    and his Imitator--Start for the Landes--The Language
    of the Landes--A Railway Station in the Landes--The
    Scenery of the Landes--The Stilt-walkers of the
    Landes--A Glimpse of Green                                 58-76


                          CHAPTER V.

  The Clear Water of Arcachon--Legend of the Baron of
    Chatel-morant--The Resin Harvest--The Witches of
    the Landes--The Surf of the Bay of Biscay--French
    Priests--Do the Landes Cows give Milk?--The _Amour
    Patriæ_ of the Landes                                     77-101


                          CHAPTER VI.

  Dawn on the Garonne--The Landscape of the Garonne--The
    Freaks of the Old Wars in Guienne--Agen--Jasmin,
    the Last of the Troubadours--Southern Cookery
    and Garlic--The Black Prince in a New
    Light--Cross-country Travelling in France                102-126


                          CHAPTER VII.

  Pau--The English in Pau--English and Russians--The
    View of the Pyrenees--The Castle--The Statue of
    Henri Quatre--His Birth--A Vision of his
    Life--Rochelle--St. Bartholomew--Ivry--Henri and
    Sully--Henri and Gabrielle--Henri and Henriette
    d'Entragues--Ravaillac                                   127-136


                          CHAPTER VIII.

  The Val d'Ossau--The Vin de Jurancon--Pyrenean Cottages--The
    Bernais Peasants--The Devil learning
    Basque--The Wolves of the Pyrenees--The Bears of
    the Pyrenees--The Dogs of the Pyrenees--An Auberge
    in the Pyrenees--Omens and Superstitions in
    the Pyrenees--The Songs of the Pyrenees                  137-155


                          CHAPTER IX.

  Wet Weather in the Pyrenees--Eaux Chaudes out of
    Season, and in the Rain--Plucking the Indian Corn
    at the Auberge at Laruns--The Legend of the Wehrwolf,
    and the Baron who was changed into a Bear                156-166


                          CHAPTER X.

  The Solitary Big Hotel--The Knitters of the Pyrenees--The
    Weavers of the Pyrenees--Pigeon-catching in
    the Pyrenees--The Giant of the Pyrenean Dogs--Murray
    and _Commis Voyageurs_--The Eastern Pyrenees--The
    Legend of Orthon                                         167-186


                          CHAPTER XI.

  Languedoc--The "Austere South"--Beziers and the
    Albigenses--The Fountain of the Greve--The Bishop
    and his Flock--The Canal du Midi--The
    Mistral--Rural Billiard-playing                          187-199


                          CHAPTER XII.

  Travelling by the Canal du Midi--Travelling French
    People--The Salt Harvest--Equestrian Thrashing
    Machines--Cette--The Mediterranean--The "Made"
    Wines--The Priest on Wines--_La Cuisine Française_       200-218


                          CHAPTER XIII.

  The Olive-gathering--A Night with the
    Mosquitoes--Aigues-Mortes--The Fever in
    Aigues-Mortes--My _Cicerone_ in Aigues-Mortes--The
    Pickled Burgundians--Reboul's Poetry--The Lighthouse
    of Aigues-Mortes                                         219-235


                          CHAPTER XIV.

  Fen Landscape--Tavern Allegories--Roman Remains--Roman
    Architecture--Roman Theatricals--The Maison
    Carrée--Greek Architecture--Catholic and Protestant--The
    Weaver's _Cabane_--Protestant and Catholic               236-255


                          CHAPTER THE LAST.

  Backward French Agriculture--French Rural Society--The
    Small Property System--French "Encumbered
    Estates"                                                 256-264



[Illustration]



CLARET AND OLIVES.



CHAPTER I.

THE DILIGENCE--OLD GUIENNE AND THE ENGLISH IN FRANCE--BORDEAUX AND A
SUBURBAN VINTAGING.


"_Voila la voila! La ville de Bordeaux!_"

The conductor's voice roused me from the dreamy state of dose in which I
lay, luxuriously stretched back amid cloaks and old English
railway-wrappers, in the roomy banquette of one of the biggest
diligences which ever rumbled out of Caillard and Lafitte's yard.

"_Voila! la Voila!_" The bloused peasant who drove the six stout nags
therewith stirred in his place; his long whip whistled and cracked; the
horses flung up their heads as they broke into a canter, and their bells
rang like a joy peal; while Niniche, the conductor's white poodle,
which maintained a perilous footing in the leathern hood of the
banquette, pattered and scratched above our heads, and barked in
recognition of his master's voice.

I rubbed my eyes and looked. We were on the ridge of a wooded hill.
Below us lay a flat green plain, carpetted with vines. Right across it
ran the broad, white, chalky highway, powdering with dust the double
avenue of chestnuts which lined it. Beyond the plain glittered a great
river, crowded with shipping, and beyond the river rose stretching,
apparently for miles, a magnificent façade of high white buildings,
broken here and there by the foliage of public gardens, and the dark
embouchures of streets; while, behind the range of quays, and golden in
the sunrise, rose high into the clear morning air, a goodly array of
towering Gothic steeples, fretted and pinnacled up to the glancing
weather-cocks. It was, indeed, Bordeaux.

The long journey from Paris was all but over, yet though I had been
tired enough of the way, I felt as if I could brave it again, rather
than make the exertion of encountering octroi officers, and plunging
into strange hotels. For after all, comfortable Diligence travelling
makes a man lazy. It is slow, but you get accustomed to the slowness; in
the banquette, too, you are never cramped; there is luxurious roominess
behind, and you plunge your legs in straw up to the knees. Then leaning
supinely back, you indulge a serene passiveness, rolling lazily on with
the rumbling mountain of a vehicle. The thunder of the heavy wheels, and
the low monotonous clash, clash, clash, of the hundred grelots, form a
soothing atmosphere of sound about you, and musingly, and dreamingly you
watch the action of the team--these half dozen little but stout tough
work-a-day horses, trotting manfully in their rough harness, while the
driver--oh, how different from our old coaching dandies!--a clumsy
peasant, in sabots, and a stable-smelling blouse, sits slouched, and
round-shouldered like a sack before you, incessantly flourishing that
whistling whip, and shouting in the uncouth jargon of his province, to
the jingling team below. And next you watch the country or the road. A
French road, like a mathematical line, on, and on, and on, straight,
straight, mournfully, dismally, straight, running like a tape laid
across the bleak bare country, till it fades, and fades, and seems to
tip over the horizon; or if you are in an undulating wooded district,
you catch sections of it as it climbs each successive ridge; and you
know that in the valleys it is just the same as on the hill tops. You
see your dinner before you, as Englishmen say over roast mutton. You see
your journey before you, as Frenchmen may say, over the slow trotting
team. And how drear and deserted the country looks--open, desolate, and
bare. Here and there a distant mite of a peasant or two bending over the
sun-burnt clods. No cottages, but ever and anon a congregation of
barns--the _bourgs_ in which the small land-owners collect; now a witch
of an old woman herding a cow; anon a solitary shepherd all in rags,
knitting coarse stockings, and followed by a handful of sheep, long in
the legs, low in the flesh, with thin dirty fleeces as ragged as their
guardian's coat. Upon the road travellers are scanty. The bronzed
Cantonier stares as you pass, his brass-lettered hat glittering in the
glare. There go a couple of soldiers on furlough, tramping the dreary
way to their native village, footsore, weary and slow, their hairy
knapsacks galling their shoulders, and their tin canteens evidently
empty. Another diligence, white with dust, meeting us. The conductors
shout to each other, and the passengers crane their heads out of window.
Then we overtake a whole caravan of _roulage_, or carriers, the
well-loaded carts poised upon one pair of huge wheels, the horses, with
their clumsy harness and high peaked collars, making a scant two miles
an hour. Not an equipage of any pretension to be seen. No graceful
phaeton, no slangy dog-cart, no cosey family carriage--only now and then
a crawling local diligence, or M. le Curé on a shocking bad horse, or an
indescribably dilapidated anomalous jingling appearance of a vague
shandry-dan. And so on from dawn till sunset, through narrow streeted
towns, with lanterns swinging above our heads, and open squares with
scrubby lime trees, and white-washed cafés all around; and by a shabby
municipality with gilded heads to the front railings, a dilapidated
tricolor, and a short-legged, red-legged sentinel, not so tall as his
firelock, keeping watch over it; and then, out into the open, fenceless,
hedgeless country, and on upon the straight unflinching road, and
through the long, long tunnels of eternal poplar trees, and by the
cantonnier, and the melancholy _bourgs_, and the wandering soldiers, and
the dusty carriers' carts as before.

One thing strikes you forcibly in these little country towns--the
marvellously small degree of distinction of rank amid the people. No
neighbouring magnate rattles through the lonely streets in the
well-known carriage of the Hall or the Grange, graciously receiving the
ready homage of the townspeople. No retired man of business, or bustling
land-agent, trots his smart gig and cob--no half-pay officer goes
gossipping from house to house, or from shop to shop. There is no
banker's lady to lead the local fashions--no doctor, setting off upon
his well-worked nag for long country rounds--no assemblage, if it be
market day, of stout full-fed farmers, lounging, booted and spurred,
round the Red Lion or the Plough. Working men in blouses, women of the
same rank in the peasant head-dress of the country, and here and there a
nondescript personage in a cap and shooting jacket, who generally turns
up at the scantily-attended table d'hôte at dinner time--such are the
items which make up the mass of the visible population. You hardly see
an individual who does not appear to have been born and bred upon the
spot, and to have no ideas and no desires beyond it. Left entirely to
themselves, the people have vegetated in these dull streets from
generation to generation, and, though clustered together in a quasi
town--perhaps with octroi and mairie, a withered tree of liberty, and
billiard tables by the half-dozen--the population is as essentially
rural as though scattered in lone farms, unvisited, except on rent-day,
by either landlord or agent. It often happens that a large landed
proprietor has not even a house upon his ground. He lets the land,
receives his rent, and spends it in Paris or one of the large towns,
leaving his tenants to go on cultivating the ground in the jog-trot
style of their fathers and their grandfathers before them. The French,
in fact, have no notion of what we understand by the life of a country
gentleman. A proprietor may pay a sporting visit to his land when
partridge and quail are to be shot; but as to taking up his abode _au
fond de ses terres_, mingling in what we would call county business,
looking after the proceedings of his tenants, becoming learned, in an
amateur way, in things bucolic, in all the varieties of stock and all
the qualities of scientific manures--a life, a character, and a social
position of this sort, would be in vain sought for in the rural
districts of France. There are not, in fact, two more differing meanings
in the world than those attached to our "Country Life," and the French
_Vie de Chateau_. The French proprietor is a Parisian out of Paris. He
takes the rents, shoots the quails, and the clowns do the rest.

An Englishman ought to feel at home in the south-west of France. That
fair town, rising beyond the yellow Garonne, was for three hundred years
and more an English capital. Who built these gloriously fretted Gothic
towers, rising high into the air, and sentinelled by so many minor
steeples? Why Englishmen! These towers rise above the Cathedral of St.
Andrew, and in the Abbey of St. Andrew the Black Prince held high court,
and there, after Poitiers, the captive King of France revelled with his
conqueror, with the best face he might. There our Richard the Second was
born. There the doughty Earl of Derby, long the English seneschal of
Bordeaux, with his retinue, "amused themselves," as gloriously
gossipping old Froissart tells, "with the citizens and their wives;" and
from thence Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, went forth, being eighty-six
years of age, mounted upon a little palfrey, to encounter the Duke of
Anjou, in those latter days when our continental dominions were
shrinking, as we deserved that they should shrink, after the brutal
murder of the glorious Maid of Domrémy. It is true that we are at this
moment in the department of the Dordogne, and that when we cross the
river we shall be in that of the Gironde. But we Englishmen love the
ancient provinces better than the modern departments, which we are
generally as bad at recognising, as we are in finding out dates by
Thermidors and Brumaires. No, no, departments may do for Frenchmen, but
to an Englishman the rich land we are crossing will ever be Guienne, the
"Fair Dutchy," and part and parcel of old Aquitane, the dowry of
Eleanor, when she wedded our second Henry.

Is it not strange to think of those old times, in which the English were
loved in the Bourdelois--fine old name--and the French were hated, in
which the Gascon feudal chiefs around protested that they were the
"natural born subjects of England, which was so kind to them?" Let us
turn to Froissart:--The Duke of Anjou having captured four Gascon
knights, forced them, _nolens volens_, to take the oath of allegiance to
the King of France, and then turned them about their business. The
knights went straight to Bordeaux, and presented themselves before the
seneschal of the Landes, and the mayor of the city, saying, "Gentlemen,
we will truly tell you that before we took the oath, we reserved in our
hearts our faith to our natural lord, the king of England, and for
anything we have said or done, we never will become Frenchmen." Our
gallant forefathers appear on the whole, to have led a joyous life in
Guienne. In truth, their days and nights were devoted very much to
feasting themselves, and plundering their neighbours: two pursuits into
which their Gascon friends entered with heart and soul. It is quite
delightful to read in Froissart, or Enguerrand de Monstrelet, how
"twelve knights went forth in search of adventures," an announcement
which may be fairly translated, into how a dozen of gentlemen with
indistinct notions of _meum_ and _tuum_, went forth to lay their
chivalrous hands upon anything they could come across. Of course these
trips were made into the French territory, and really they appear to
have been conducted with no small degree of politeness on either side,
when the English "harried" Limousin, or the French rode a foray into
Guienne. The chivalrous feeling was strong on both sides, and we often
read how such-and-such a French and English knight or squire did
courteous battle with each other; the fight being held in honour of the
fair ladies of the respective champions. Thus, not in Guienne, but in
Touraine, when the English and the Gascons beleaguered a French town,
heralds came forth upon the walls and made this proclamation:--"Is there
any among you gentlemen, who for love of his lady is willing to try some
feat of arms? If there be any such, here is Gauvin Micaille, a squire
of the Beauce, quite ready to sally forth, completely armed and
mounted, to tilt three courses with the lance, give three blows with the
battle-axe, and three strokes with the dagger. Now look you, English, if
there be none among you in love." The challenge was duly accepted. Each
combatant wounded the other, and the Earl of Shrewsbury sent to the
squire of Beauce his compliments, and a hundred francs. This last
present takes somewhat away from the Amadis de Gaul, and Palmerin of
England vein; but the student of the old chroniclers, particularly of
the English in France, will be astonished to find how long the chivalric
feeling and ceremonials co-existed with constant habits of plundering
and unprovoked forays.

Another curious trait of our forefathers in Guienne is the early
development of the English _brusquerie_, and haughtiness of manner to
the Continentals. The Gascons put up, however, with many a slight,
inasmuch as their over sea friends were such valiant plunderers, and
they, of course, shared the spoils. Listen to the frank declaration of a
Gascon gentleman who had deserted from the English to the French side.
Some one asking him how he did, he answers: "Thank God, my health is
very good; but I had more money at command when I made war for the king
of England, for then we seldom failed to meet some rich merchants of
Toulouse, Condom, La Reole, or Bergerac, whom we squeezed, which made us
gay and _debonnair_; but that is at an end." The questioner replies: "Of
a truth, that is the life Gascons love. They willingly hurt their
neighbour." Not even all the plunder they got, however, could silence
the grumblings of the native knights at the haughty reserve of the
English warriors. "I," says the canon of Chimay, "was at Bordeaux when
the Prince of Wales marched to Spain, and witnessed the great
haughtiness of the English, who are affable to no other nation than
their own. Neither could any of the gentlemen of Gascogny or Acquitaine
obtain office or appointment in their own country, for the English said
they were neither on a level with them, nor worthy of their society." So
early and so strongly did the proud island blood boil up; while many an
Englishman, to this good day, by his reserved and saturnine bearing
among an outspoken and merry-hearted people, perpetuates the old
reproach, and keeps up the old grievance.

All sensible readers will be gratified when I state that I have not the
remotest intention of describing the archæology of Bordeaux, or any
other town whatever. Whoever wants to know the height of a steeple, the
length of an aisle, or the number of arches in a bridge, must betake
themselves to Murray and his compeers. I will neither be picturesquely
profound upon ogives, triforia, clerestorys, screens, or mouldings; nor
magniloquently great upon the arched, the early pointed, the florid, or
the flamboyant schools. I will go into raptures neither about Virgins
nor Holy Families, nor Oriel windows, in the fine old cut-and-dry school
of the traveller of taste, which means, of course, every traveller who
ever packed a shirt into a carpet bag; but, leaving the mere archæology
and carved stones alone in their glory, I will try to sketch living,
and now and then historical, France--to move gossippingly along in the
by-ways rather than the highways--always more prone to give a good
legend of a grey old castle, than a correct measurement of the height of
the towers; and always seeking to bring up, as well as I can, a varying,
shifting picture, well thronged with humanity, before the reader's eye.

[Illustration: BORDEAUX.]

When I got to Bordeaux, the vintage time had just commenced, and having
ever had a special notion that vintages were very beautiful and poetic
affairs, and a still more confirmed taste and reverence for claret, it
was my object to see as much of the vintage as I could--to see the juice
rush from the grape, which makes so good a figure in the bottle. Letters
of introduction I had none. But there is a knack of making one's own
way--of making one's own friends as you go--in which I have tolerable
confidence, and which did not fail me in the present conjuncture. First,
to settle and make up my notions, I strolled vaguely about the city,
buying local maps and little local guide-books. Bordeaux is emphatically
what the French call a _riant_ town, with plenty of air, and such pure,
soft, bright, sunny air. In the centre of a broad grand _Place_,--dotted
with very respectable trees for French specimens, emblazoned with gay
parterres, sprinkled with orange shrubs in bloom, and holed with no end
of round stone basins, in which dolphins and Neptunes spout from their
bronze mouths the live-long day, and urns, and pillars, and Dianas, and
Apollos stand all around--there rises upon his massive pedestal the
graven image of a fat comfortable gentleman in the ample cloak and
doublet of Louis Quatorze, knots of carven ribbons decorating his
shoulders, and flowing locks descending from under his broad-brimmed,
looped-up hat. This is the statue of a M. de Tournay, an ancient
intendant of the province, who was almost the creator of modern
Bordeaux. Under his auspices the whole tribe of dolphins and heathen
gods and goddesses were invoked to decorate the city. He reared great
sweeps of pillared and porticoed buildings, and laid out broad streets
and squares, on that enormous scale so characteristic of the _grand
monarque_. He made Bordeaux, indeed, at once vast, prim, and massively
magnificent. The mercantile town got quite a courtly air; and when the
tricolor no longer floated in St. Domingo, and the commerce of the
Gironde declined, so that not much was left over and above the wine
trade, which, as all the world knows, is the genteelest of all the
traffics, Bordeaux became what it is--a sort of retired city, having
declined business--quiet, and clean, and prim, and aristocratic. Such,
at least, is the new town. With old Bordeaux, M. de Tournay meddled not;
and when you plunge into its streets you leap at once from eighteenth
century terraces into fourteenth century lanes and tortuous by-ways.
Below you, rough, ill-paved, unclean, narrow thoroughfares; above, the
hanging old houses of five ages ago, peaked gables, and long projecting
eaves, and hanging balconies; quaint carvings in blackened wood and
mouldering stone;--the true middle-age tenements, dreadfully ricketty,
but gloriously picturesque--charming to look at, but woful to live in;
deep black ravines of courts plunging down into the masses of piled up,
jammed together dwellings; squalid, slatternly people buzzing about like
bees; bad smells permeating every street, lane, and alley; and now and
then the agglomeration of darksome dwellings clustering round a great
old church, with its vast Gothic portals, and, high up, its carven
pinnacles and grinning _goutieres_, catching the sunshine far above the
highest of these high-peaked roofs. This is the Bordeaux of the English
and the Gascons--the Bordeaux which has rung to the clash of armour--the
Bordeaux which was governed by a seneschal--the Bordeaux through whose
streets defiled,

    "With many a cross-bearer before,
      And many a spear behind,"

the christening procession of King Richard the Second.

We shall step into one church, and only one, that of the Feuillans.
There, upon a dark and massive pedestal, lies stretched the effigy of an
armed man. His hands are clasped, his vizor up shows his peaked beard,
and he is clad _cap-à-pied_ in steel. Who was the doughty warrior, thus
resting in his mail? Strange to say, no warrior at all; but the quietest
and most peaceable of God's beings. He had an odd, pedantic father, who
brought him up in strange Paganwise. The boy was never addressed but in
Latin. He never had a mother-tongue. He was surrounded with a blockade
of Latin speakers to keep afar off the profanation of French; he was
mentally fed upon the philosophers and the poets of old Rome, and taught
to weep for Seneca in the tub, as the nearest catastrophe which could
touch his sympathies. Furthermore, his father, out of respect for his
nerves, had him awakened every morning by the sound of soft music.
Happily, even this sublimity of pedantry and pedagoguism was
insufficient to ruin the native genius of Michael, Seigneur of
Montaigne, whose "essays ought to lie in every cottage window."

I have said that I was in search of some one to introduce me to the
vineyards and the vintagers. In a day or two I had pitched upon my
landlord as my protector. His hotel was a very modest one, where never
before, I do believe, had Englishmen come to make everything dear and
disagreeable. The red boards of the aristocratic Murray were unknown in
his _salle à manger_. He hadn't an ounce of tea in his house, and very
probably, if he had, he would have fried it with butter, and served it
_à la_ something or other. When I say he, however, I mean madame, not
monsieur. The latter would have made a capital English innkeeper, but he
was a very bad French one. My gentleman, who was more than six feet
high, and a stately personage, was cut out for a "mine host." He would
have presided in a bar--which means drinking a continued succession of
glasses of ale--with uncommon effect, for his temperament was convivial
and gossippy; but he had no vocation for the kitchen, which is the
common sphere of a French innkeeper not of the first class, and where,
under the proud denomination of the _chef_, and clad in white like a
grimly ghost, he bustles among pipkins and stew-pans and skillets, and
lifts little trap-doors in his smoky range, and peers down them at blue
charcoal furnaces--over which the _plats_ are simmering. Now my good
landlord never troubled himself about these domestic matters; but he was
very clever at standing on the outer steps of his door, smoking cigars;
and, indeed, would stay very willingly there all day--at least, until he
heard his wife's voice, upon which he would make a precipitate retreat
to a neighbouring café, where he would drink _eau sucreé_ and rattle
dominoes on a marble table till dinner-time. With this worthy I formed a
personal acquaintance, by buying from him, at the reasonable rate of six
sous a-piece, a number of quaint brass-set flat stones, very like red
and grey cornelians, and just as pretty, which it was the fashion in the
days of the Directory to mount in watch-keys, and wear two at a time,
one dangling from each fob. These stones are picked up in great
quantities from the light shingly soil, whereon ripens the grape, which
is pressed into claret wine; and handsome and lustrous in themselves,
they thus become a species of mementos of chateau Margaux and chateau
Lafitte. To the landlord, then, I stated that I wished to see some
vine-gathering.

"Could anything be more lucky? His particular friend M. So-and-so was
beginning his harvesting that very day, and was going to give a dinner
that very night on the occasion. I should go--he should go. A friend of
his was M. So-and-so's friend; in fact, we were all friends together."
The truth I suspect to be, that my ally was dreadfully in want of an
excuse to go to the dinner, and he welcomed my application as the
Israelites did manna in the desert. It was meat and drink and amusement
to him, and off we went.

As I shall presently describe the real claret vintage upon a large
scale, I shall pass the more quickly over my first initiation into the
plucking of the grapes. But I passed a merry day, and eke a busy one.
There are no idle spectators at a vintage--all the world must work; and
so I speedily found myself, after being most cordially welcomed by a fat
old gentleman, hoarse with bawling, in a pair of very dirty
shirt-sleeves and a pouring perspiration--with a huge pair of scissors
in my hand cutting off the bunches, in the midst of an uproarious troop
of young men, young women, and children--threading the avenues between
the plants--stripping, with wonderful dexterity, the clustered
branches--their hands, indeed, gliding like dirty yellow serpents among
the broad green leaves--and sometimes shouting out merry badinage,
sometimes singing bits of strongly rhythmed melody in chorus, and all
the time, as far as the feat could be effected, eating the grapes by
handfuls. The whole thing was very jolly; I never heard more laughing
about nothing in particular, more open and unblushing love-making, and
more resolute quizzing of the good man, whose grapes were going partly
into the baskets, tubs, pots, and pans, carried every few moments by the
children and old people out of the green alleys to the pressing-tub, and
partly into the capacious stomachs of the gatherers. At first I was
dainty in my selection of the grapes to be chosen, eschewing the
under-ripe and the over-ripe. A damsel beside me observed this. From her
woolly hair and very dark but merry face, I imagined her to have a touch
of Guadeloupe or Martinique blood. "Cut away," she said; "every grape
makes wine."

"Yes--but the caterpillars--"

"They give it a body."

"Yes--but the snails--"

"O, save the snails, please do, for me!" said a little girl, holding out
her apron, full of painted shells.

"What do you do with them?" I inquired.

"Boil them and eat them," said my juvenile friend.

I looked askance.

"You cant think how nice they are with vinegar!" said the mulatto girl.

I remembered our own appetite for periwinkles, and said nothing; but
added my mite of snail-flesh to the collection.

I was talking to the lord of the vineyard, when some one--there was
petticoats in the case--dashed at him from behind, and instantly a
couple of hands clasped his neck, and one of them squashed a huge bunch
of grapes over his mouth and nose, rubbing in the burst and bleeding
fruit as vigorously as if it were a healing ointment, while streams of
juice squirted from between the fingers of the fair assailant, and
streamed down the patron's equivocal shirt. After being half burked, the
good man shook his fist at the girl as she flew, laughing, down the
alley; and then resuming his talk with me, he said: "We call that,
_Faire des moustaches_. We all do it at vintage time." And ten minutes
thereafter I saw the jolly old boy go chasing an ancient crone of a
pail-bearer, a bunch of very ripe grapes in his hand, amid the delighted
hurrahs of all assembled.

Dinner was late, for it behoves vintagers to make the best of the
daylight. The ordinary hired labourers dined, indeed, soon after noon;
but I am talking of the feast of honour. It was served in a
thinly-furnished, stone-paved, damp and dismal _salle à manger_. A few
additional ladies with their beaux, grand provincial dandies, all of
whom tried to outstrip each other in the magnificence of their
waistcoats, had arrived from Bordeaux. It had been very hot, close
weather for a day or two past, and everybody was imprecating curses on
the heads of the mosquitos. The ladies, to prove the impeachment,
stripped their sleeves, and showed each other the bites on their brown
necks; and the gentlemen swore that the scamps were biting harder and
harder. Then came the host, in a magnificently ill-cut coat--all the
agricultural interest could not have furnished a worse--and his wife,
very red in the face, for she had cooked dinner for the vintagers and
for us; and then our host's father, a reverend old man in a black velvet
scull cap, and long silver hair. The dinner was copious, and, as may be
conceived, by no means served in the style of the _café de Paris_. But
_soupe_, _bouilli_, _roti_, the stewed and the fried, speedily went the
way of all flesh. Everybody _trinque-ed_ with everybody: the jingle of
the meeting glasses rose even over the clatter of the knives and forks;
the jolly host's heart grew warmer at every glass, and he issued
imperious mandates for older and older wine. His comfortable wife, whose
appetite had been affected by the cooking, made up for the catastrophe
at the dessert. The old grandfather garulously narrated tales of
wondrous vintages long ago. The waistcoats had all the scandal of
Bordeaux at their finger ends; and the young ladies with the mosquito
bites took to "making moustaches" on their male friends, with pancakes
instead of grapes--a process by which the worthy host was, as usual, an
especial sufferer.

As may be conceived, my respected landlord was far more in his element
than at home with his wife. He eat more, drank more, talked more, and
laughed more than any two men present. Afterwards he grew tender and
sentimental, and professed himself to be an ardent lover of his kind--a
proposition which I suspect he afterwards narrowed specially in favour
of a most mosquito-ridden lady next him--to the high wrath of a
waistcoat opposite, who said sarcastic and cutting things, which nobody
paid any attention to; and the landlord, being really a good-looking
and plausible fellow, went on conquering and to conquer, and drinking
and being drunk to; until, under a glorious outburst of moonlight which
paled the blinking candles on the table, the merry company broke up; and
mine host of Bordeaux, after certain rather unsteady walking, suddenly
stopped on the centre of the bridge, and refused to go further until he
had told me a secret. This was said with vast solemnity and aplomb, so
we paused together on the granite pavement, and, after looking
mysteriously at the Garonne, the moon, and the dusky heights of Floriac,
my companion informed me in a hoarse whisper that he should leave
France, his native and beloved land, where he felt sure that he was not
appreciated, and pitch his tent, "_la bas, en Angleterre, parceque les
Anglais etaient si bons enfants!_"

"So ho!" thought I; "a strange reminiscence of the old Gascons." But on
the morrow, my respectable entertainer had a bad headache, a yellow
visage, and an entire forgetfulness of how he had got home at all.

[Illustration: MOUSTACHE AT THE VINTAGE]



CHAPTER II.

CLARET--AND THE CLARET COUNTRY.


That our worthy forefathers in Guienne loved good wine, is a thing not
to be doubted--even by a teetotaller. When the Earl of Derby halted his
detachments, he always had a pipe set on broach for the good of the
company; and it is to be presumed that he knew their tastes. The wines
of the Garonne were also, as might be expected, freely imported into
England:

     "Whit wyn of Oseye, and of Gascoyne,
     Of the Ruele, and of the Rochel wyn."

As far down, indeed, as Henry VIII.'s time you might get Gascony and
Guienne wine for eightpence a gallon, and the comfortable word "claret"
was well known early in the seventeenth century. One of its admirers,
however, about that time gave odd reasons for liking it, to wit--"Claret
is a noble wine, for it is the same complexion that noblemen's coats be
of." This gentleman must have been a strenuous admirer of the
aristocracy. The old Gascon growth was, however, in all probability,
what we should now call coarse, rough wine. The district which is
blessed by the growth of Chateau Margaux and Chateau Lafitte, was a
stony desert. An old French local book gives an account of the "savage
and solitary country of Medoc;" and the wines of the Bordelais, there
is every reason to believe, were grown in the strong, loamy soil
bordering the river. By the time that the magic spots had been
discovered, blessed with the mystic properties which produce the Queen
of Wine we had been saddled with--our tastes perverted, and our stomachs
destroyed--by the woful Methuen treaty--heavy may it sit on the souls of
Queen Anne, and all her wigged and powdered ministers--if, indeed, men
who preferred port wine to claret can be conceived to have had any souls
at all, worth speaking about--and thenceforth John Bull burnt the coat
of his stomach, muddled the working of his brain, made himself bilious,
dyspeptic, headachy, and nationally stupid, by imbibing a mixture of
strong, coarse, wines, with a taste but no flavour, and bedevilled with
every alcoholic and chemical adulteration, which could make its natural
qualities worse than they were. See how our literature fell off. The
Elizabethans quaffed sack, or "Gascoyne, or Rochel wyn;" and we had the
giants of those days. The Charles II. comedy writers worked on claret.
Port came into fashion--port sapped our brains--and, instead of
Wycherly's _Country Wife_, and Vanbrugh's _Relapse_, we had Mr. Morton's
_Wild Oats_, and Mr. Cherry's _Soldier's Daughter_. It is really much to
the credit of Scotland, that she stood staunchly by her old ally,
France, and would have nothing to do with that dirty little slice of the
worst part of Spain--Portugal, or her brandified potations. In the old
Scotch houses a cask of claret stood in the hall, nobly on the tap. In
the humblest Scotch country tavern, the pewter _tappit hen_, holding
some three quarts--think of that, Master Slender,--"reamed," _Anglice_
mantled, with claret just drawn from the cask, and you quaffed it,
snapping your fingers at custom-houses. At length, in an evil hour
Scotland fell:

    "Bold and erect the Caledonian stood,
    Firm was his mutton, and his claret good;
    'Let him drink port!' the English statesman cried.
    He drank the poison, and his spirit died!"

But enough of this painful subject. As Quin used to say, "Anybody drink
port? No! I thought so: Waiter, take away the black strap, and throw it
out."

Upon the principle, I suppose, of the nearer the church, the further
from God, Bordeaux is by no means a good place for good ordinary wine;
on the contrary, the stuff they give you for every-day tipple is
positively poor, and very flavourless. In southern Burgundy, the most
ordinary of the wines is capital. At Macon, for a quarter of a handful
of sous they give you nectar; at the little town of Tain, where the
Rhone sweeps gloriously round the great Hermitage rock, they give you
something better than nectar for less. But the ordinary Bordeaux wine is
very ordinary indeed; not quite so red-inky, perhaps, as the _Vin de
Surenne_, which, Brillat Savarin says, requires three men to swallow a
glassful--the man who drinks, and the friends who uphold
him on either side, and coax, and encourage him; but still meagre and
starveling, as if it had been strained through something which took the
virtue out of it. Of course, the best of wine can be had by the simple
process of paying for it, but I am talking of the ordinary work-a-day
tipple of the place.

A few days' lounging in Bordeaux over, and hearing that the vintage was
in full operation, I put myself into a respectable little omnibus, and
started for the true claret country. In a couple of hours I was put down
at the door of the only auberge in the tiny village of Margaux, and to
any traveller who may hereafter wish to visit the famous wine district,
I cordially commend "The Rising Sun," kept by the worthy "Mere
Cadillac." There you will have a bedroom clean and bright as a Dutch
parlour; a grand old four-poster of the ancient regime, something
between a bed and a cathedral; a profusion of linen deliciously white
and sweet smelling; and _la Mere_ will toss you up a nice little potage,
and a cotelette done to a turn, and an omelette which is perfection; and
she will ask you, in the matter of wine, whether you prefer _ordinaire_
or _vieux_? and when you reply, _Vieux et du meilleur_, she will
presently bustle in with a glorious long-necked, cobwebby flask, the
first glass of which will induce you to lean back in a tranquil state of
general happiness, and contemplate with satisfaction even the naughty
doings of the wicked Marguerite of Burgundy, and her sisters Blanche and
Henriette, with Buridan and Gaulnay, in the _Tour de
Nesle_--illustrations of which popular tragedy deck the walls on every
side.

While thus agreeably employed, then, I may enlighten you with a few
topographical words about the claret district. Look at the map, and you
will observe a long tract of country, dotted with very few towns or
villages, called the Landes, stretching along the sea coast from the
Pyrenees to the mouth of the Gironde. At one place the Landes are almost
sixty miles broad, but to the north they fine gradually away, the great
river Garonne shouldering them, as it were, into the sea. Now these
Landes (into which we will travel presently) are, for the most part, a
weary wilderness of pine-wood, morasses, sand-deserts, and barren
shingle. On the other hand, the low banks of the Garonne are generally
of a fat, loamy, and black soil, called, locally, _Palus_. Well, between
the Palus and the Landes, there is a longish strip of country from two
to five miles broad, a low ridge or backbone, which may be said to be
the neutral and blending point of the sterile Landes and the fat and
fertile Palus. And truth to tell, the earth seems as if the influence of
the latter had much to do to bear up against the former. A Norfolk
farmer would turn with a contemptuous laugh from the poor-looking stony
soil. "Why," says he, "it's all sand, and gravel, and shingle, and
scorched with the sun. You would not get a blade of chickweed to grow
there." The proprietors of Medoc would be very glad if this latter
assertion were correct, for the weeding of the vineyards form no
inconsiderable item in the expense of cultivation; but this much may be
safely predicted of this strange soil, that it would not afford the
nourishment to a patch of oats, which that modest grain manages to
extract from the bare hill-side of some cold, bleak, Highland croft, and
yet that it furnishes the influence which produces grapes yielding the
most truly generous and consummately flavoured wine ever drank by man
since Noah planted the first vine slip.

You have now finished the bottle of Vieux. Up, and let us out among the
vineyards. A few paces clears us of the little hamlet of Margaux, with
its constant rattle of busy coopers, and we are fairly in the country.
Try to catch the general _coup d'oeil_. We are in an unpretending
pleasant-looking region, neither flat nor hilly--the vines stretching
away around in gentle undulations, broken here and there by intervening
jungles of coppice-wood, by strips of black firs, or by the stately
avenues and ornamental woods of a first-class chateau. Gazing from the
bottoms of the shallow valleys, you seem standing amid a perfect sea of
vines, which form a monotonous horizon of unvaried green. Attaining the
height beyond, distant village spires rise into the air--the flattened
roofs and white walls of scattered hamlets gleam cheerfully forth from
embowering woods of walnut trees--and the expanse of the vineyards is
broken by hedged patches of meadow land, affording the crops of coarse
natural hay, upon which are fed the slowly-moving, raw-boned oxen which
you see dragging lumbering wains along the winding dusty way.

And now look particularly at the vines. Nothing romantic in their
appearance, no trellis work, none of the embowering, or the clustering,
which the poets are so fond of. Here, in two words, is the aspect of
some of the most famous vineyards in the world.

[Illustration]

Fancy open and unfenced expanses of stunted-looking, scrubby bushes,
seldom rising two feet above the surface, planted in rows upon the
summit of deep furrow ridges, and fastened with great care to low,
fence-like lines of espaliers, which run in unbroken ranks from one end
of the huge fields to the other. These espaliers or lathes are cuttings
of the walnut-trees around, and the tendrils of the vine are attached to
the horizontally running stakes with withes, or thongs of bark. It is
curious to observe the vigilant pains and attention with which every
twig has been supported without being strained, and how things are
arranged so as to give every cluster as fair a chance as possible of a
goodly allowance of sun. Such, then, is the general appearance of
matters; but it is by no means perfectly uniform. Now and then you find
a patch of vines unsupported, drooping, and straggling, and sprawling,
and intertwisting their branches like beds of snakes; and again, you
come into the district of a new species of bush, a thicker, stouter
affair, a grenadier vine, growing to at least six feet, and supported
by a corresponding stake. But the low, two-feet dwarfs are invariably
the great wine givers. If ever you want to see a homily, not read, but
grown by nature, against trusting to appearances, go to Medoc and study
the vines. Walk and gaze, until you come to the most shabby, stunted,
weazened, scrubby, dwarfish, expanse of snobbish bushes, ignominiously
bound neck and crop to the espaliers like a man on the rack--these
utterly poor, starved, and meagre-looking growths, allowing, as they do,
the gravelly soil to show in bald patches of grey shingle through the
straggling branches--these contemptible-looking shrubs, like paralysed
and withered raspberries, it is which produce the most priceless, and
the most inimitably flavoured wines. Such are the vines which grow
Chateau Margaux at half a sovereign the bottle. The grapes themselves
are equally unpromising. If you saw a bunch in Covent Garden you would
turn from them with the notion that the fruiterer was trying to do his
customer, with over-ripe black currants. Lance's soul would take no joy
in them, and no sculptor in his senses would place such meagre bunches
in the hands and over the open mouths of his Nymphs, his Bacchantes, or
his Fauns. Take heed, then, by the lesson, and beware of judging of the
nature of either men or grapes by their looks. Meantime, let us continue
our survey of the country. No fences or ditches you see--the ground is
too precious to be lost in such vanities--only, you observe from time to
time a rudely carved stake stuck in the ground, and indicating the
limits of properties. Along either side of the road the vines extend,
utterly unprotected. No raspers, no ha-ha's, no fierce denunciations of
trespassers, no polite notices of spring guns and steel traps constantly
in a state of high go-offism--only, when the grapes are ripening, the
people lay prickly branches along the way-side to keep the dogs,
foraging for partridges among the espaliers, from taking a refreshing
mouthful from the clusters as they pass; for it seems to be a fact that
everybody, every beast, and every bird, whatever may be his, her, or its
nature in other parts of the world, when brought among grapes, eats
grapes. As for the peasants, their appetite for grapes is perfectly
preposterous. Unlike the surfeit-sickened grocer's boys, who, after the
first week loathe figs, and turn poorly when sugar-candy is hinted at,
the love of grapes appears literally to grow by what it feeds on. Every
garden is full of table vines. The people eat grapes with breakfast,
lunch, dinner, and supper, and between breakfast, lunch, dinner, and
supper. The labourer plods along the road munching a cluster. The child
in its mother's arms is tugging away with its toothless gums at a
bleeding bunch; while as for the vintagers, male and female, in the less
important plantations, Heaven only knows where the masses of grapes go
to, which they devour, labouring incessantly at the _metier_, as they
do, from dawn till sunset.

A strange feature in the wine country is the wondrously capricious and
fitful nature of the soil. A forenoon's walk will show you the earth
altering in its surface qualities almost like the shifting hues of shot
silk--gravel of a light colour fading into gravel of a dark--sand
blending with the mould, and bringing it now to a dusky yellow, now to
an ashen grey--strata of chalky clay every now and then struggling into
light only to melt away into beds of mere shingle--or bright
semi-transparent pebbles, indebted to the action of water for shape and
hue. At two principal points these blending and shifting qualities of
soil put forth their utmost powers--in the favoured grounds of Margaux,
and again, at a distance of about fifteen miles further to the north, in
the vineyards of Lafitte, Latour, and between these latter, in the sunny
slopes of St. Jullien. And the strangest thing of all is, that the
quality--the magic--of the ground changes, without, in all cases, a
corresponding change in the surface strata. If a fanciful and wilful
fairy had flown over Medoc, flinging down here a blessing and there a
curse upon the shifting shingle, the effect could not have been more
oddly various. You can almost jump from a spot unknown to fame to
another clustered with the most precious vintage of Europe. Half-a-dozen
furrows often make all the difference between vines producing a beverage
which will be drunk in the halls and palaces of England and Russia, and
vines yielding a harvest which will be consumed in the cabarets and
estaminets of the neighbourhood. It is to be observed, however, that the
first-class wines belong almost entirely to the large proprietors. Amid
a labyrinth of little patches, the property of the labouring peasants
around, will be a spot appertaining to, and bearing the name of, some of
the famous growths; while, conversely, inserted, as if by an accident,
in the centre of a district of great name, and producing wine of great
price, will be a perverse patch, yielding the most commonplace tipple,
and worth not so many sous per yard as the surrounding earth is worth
crowns.

How comes this? The peasants will tell you that it doesn't come at all.
That it is all cant and _blague_ and puff on the part of the big
proprietors, and that their wine is only more thought of because they
have more capital to get it bragged about. Near Chateau Lafitte, on a
burning afternoon, I took refuge beneath the emblematic bush; for the
emblem which good wine is said not to require, is still, in the mid and
southern districts of France, in universal use; in other words, I
entered a village public-house.

Two old men, very much of the general type of the people of the
country--that is, tall and spare, with intelligent and mildly-expressive
faces and fine black eyes, were discussing together a sober bottle. One
of them had lost an arm, and the other a leg. As I glanced at this
peculiarity, the one-legged man caught my eye.

"Ah!" he said, "looking at our misfortunes; I left my leg on Waterloo."

"And I," chimed in his companion, "left my arm at Trafalgar."

"_Sacré!_" said the veteran of the land. "One of the cursed English
bullets took me in the knee, and spoiled as tight a lancer as they had
in the gallant 10th."

"And I," rejoined the other, "was at the fourth main-deck gun of the
Pluton when I was struck with the splinter while we were engaging the
Mars. But we had our revenge. The Pluton shot the Mars' captain's head
off!"--a fact which I afterwards verified. Captain Duff, the officer
alluded to, was thus killed upon his quarter-deck, and the same ball
shattered two seamen almost to pieces.

"_Sacré!_" said the _ci-devant_ lancer, "I'd like to have a rap at the
English again--I would--the English--_nom de tonnerre_--tell me--didn't
they murder the emperor?"

A rising smile, which I could not help, stopped him. I had spoken so few
words, that the fact that a son of _perfide Albion_ was before them was
only manifested by the expression of my face.

"_Tiens!_" continued the Waterloo man, "_You_ are an Englishman."

The old sailor, who was evidently by no means so keen a hand as his
comrade, nudged him; a hint, I suppose, in common phrase, to draw it
mild; but the ex-lancer of the 10th was not to be put down.

"Well, and if you are, what then, eh? I say I would like to have another
brush with you."

"No, no! We have had enough of brushes!" said the far more pacific man
of the sea. "I think--_mon voisin_--that you and I have had quite enough
of fighting."

"But they killed the emperor. _Sacré nom de tous les diables_--they
killed the emperor."

My modest exculpation on behalf of Great Britain and Ireland was
listened to with great impatience by the maimed lancer, and great
attention by the maimed sailor, who kept up a running commentary:

"_Eh! eh! entendez cela._ Now, that's quite different (to his friend)
from what you tell us. Come--that's another story altogether; and what I
say is, that's reasonable."

But the lancer was not to be convinced--"_Sacré bleu!_--they killed the
emperor."

All this, it is to be observed, passed without the slightest feeling of
personal animosity. The lancer, who, I suspect, had passed the forenoon
in the cabaret, every now and then shook hands with me magnanimously, as
to show that his wrath was national--not individual; and when I proposed
a bottle of rather better wine than they had been drinking, neither
soldier nor sailor had a word to say in objection. The wine was brought,
and very good it was, though not, of course, first-class claret.

"What do you think of that?" said the sailor.

"I wish I had as good every day in England," I replied.

"And why haven't you?" said the fierce lancer. "You might, if you chose.
But you drink none of our wines."

I demurred to this proposition; but the Waterloo man was down on me in
no time. "Yes, yes; the wines of the great houses--the great
proprietors. _Sacré!_--the _farceurs_--the _blageurs_--who puff their
wines, and get them puffed, and great prices for them, when they're not
better than ours--the peasant's wines--when they're grown in the same
ground--ripened by the same sun! _Mille diables!_ Look at that
bottle!--taste it! My son-in-law grew it. My son-in-law sells it; I know
all about it. You shall have that bottle for ten sous, and the Lafitte
people and the Larose people would charge you ten francs for it; and it
is as good for ten sous as theirs for ten francs. I tell you it grew
side by side with their vines; but they have capital--they have power.
They crack off their wines, and we--the poor people!--we, who trim and
dig and work our little patches--no one knows anything about us. Our
wine--bah!--what is it? It has no name--no fame! Who will give us
francs? No, no; sous for the poor man--francs for the rich. Copper for
the little landlord; silver--silver and gold for the big landlord! As
our curé said last Sunday: 'Unto him who has much, more shall be given.'
_Sacré Dieu de dieux!_--Even the Bible goes against the poor!"

All this time, the old sailor was tugging his comrade's jacket, and
uttering sundry deprecatory ejaculations against such unnecessary
vehemence. The Trafalgar man was clearly a take-it-easy personage; not
troubled by too much thinking, and by no means a professional
grievance-monger. So he interposed to bring back the topic to a more
soothing subject, and said that what he would like, would be to see lots
of English ships coming up the Gironde with the good cottons and
woollens and hardwares we made in England, and taking back in exchange
their cheap and wholesome wines--not only the great vintages (_crus_)
for the great folk, but the common vintages for the common folk.
"Indeed, I think," he concluded, "that sitting here drinking this good
ten sous' wine with this English gentleman--who's going to pay for
it--is far better than fighting him and hacking him up, or his hacking
us up, with swords and balls and so forth."

To this most sensible opinion we had all the pains in the world to get
the doughty lancer to incline. He couldn't see it at all. He would like
to have another brush. He wasn't half done for yet. It was all very
well; but war was grand, and glory was grand. "_Vive la guerre!_" and
"_Vive la gloire!_"

"But," said the sailor, "there is death in glory!"

"_Eh bien!_" shouted the warrior, with as perfect French sentiment as
ever I heard, "_Vive la mort!_"

In the end, however, he was pleased to admit that, if we took the
peasant wines, something might be made of us. The case was not utterly
hopeless; and when I rose to go, he proposed a stirrup-cup--a _coup de
l'étrier_--to the washing down of all unkindness; but, in the very act
of swallowing it, he didn't exactly stop, but made a motion as if he
would, and then slowly letting the last drop run over his lips, he put
down the glass, and said, bitterly and coldly, "_Mais pourtant, vous
avez tué l'Empereur!_"

I have introduced this episode principally for the purpose of showing
the notions entertained by the small proprietary as to the boasted
superiority of the large vineyards; but the plain truth is, that the
great growers are perfectly in the right. I have stated that the quality
of the soil throughout the grape country varies almost magically. Well,
the good spots have been more or less known since Medoc was Medoc; and
the larger and richer residents have got them, by inheritance, by
marriage, and by purchase, almost entirely into their own hands. Next
they greatly improved both the soil and the breed of plants. They
studied and experimentalized until they found the most proper manures
and the most promising cultures. They grafted and crossed the vine
plants till they got the most admirably bearing bushes, and then,
generation after generation, devoting all their attention to the quality
of the wine, without regard to the quantity--scrupulously taking care
that not a grape which is unripe or over-ripe finds its way to the
tub--that the whole process shall be scrupulously clean, and that every
stage of fermentation be assiduously attended to--the results of all
this has been the perfectly-perfumed and high-class clarets, which fetch
an enormous price; while the peasant proprietors, careless in
cultivation, using old vine plants, anxious, at the vintage, only for
quantity, and confined to the worst spots in the district, succeed in
producing wines which, good as they are, have not the slightest pretence
to enter into competition with the liquid harvests of their richer and
more enlightened neighbours.

But it is high time to sketch, and with more elaboration than I have
hitherto attempted, the claret vintage and the claret vintagers. Yet
still, for a moment, I must pause upon the threshold. Will it be
believed--whether it will or not it is, nevertheless, true--that the
commencement of the vintage in France is settled, not by the opinion or
the convenience of the proprietors, but by the _autorités_ of each
_arrondissement_? As September wanes and the grape ripens, the rural
mayor assembles what he calls a jury of _experts_; which jury proceed,
from day to day, through the vineyards, inspecting and tasting the
grapes and cross-questioning the growers; after which, they report to
the mayor a special day on which, having regard to all the vineyards,
they think that the vintage ought to commence. One proprietor, in a very
sunny situation and a hot soil, may have been ready to begin a fortnight
before; another, in a converse locality, may not be ready to commence
for a fortnight afterwards. _N'importe_--the French have a great notion
of uniform symmetry and symmetrical uniformity, and so the whole
district starts together--the mayor issuing, _par autorité_, a
highly-official-looking document, which is duly posted by
yellow-breeched _gens-d'armes_, and, before the appearance of which, not
a vine-grower can gather, for wine purposes, a single grape. Now, what
must be the common sense of a country which permits, for one instant,
the continuance of this wretched little tyrannical humbug? Only think of
a trumpery little mayor and a couple of beadles proclaiming to the
farmers of England that now they might begin to cut their wheat! The
mayor's mace would be forced down the beadle's throat, and the beadle's
staff down the mayor's. But they manage these things--not
exactly--better in France. What would France be without _les autorités_?
Could the sun rise without a prefect? Certainly not. Could it set
without a sub-prefect? Certainly not. Could the planets shine on France
unless they were furnished with passports for the firmament? Clearly
not. Could the rain on France unless each drop came armed with the
_visé_ of some wonderful bureau or other? Decidedly not. Well, then, how
could the vintage begin until the people, who know nothing about the
vintage, command it? It is quite clear, that if you have any doubt
about these particulars, you know very little of the privileges, the
rights, the functions, and the powers, of the "authorities" in France.

[Illustration]



[Illustration: THE VINTAGE.]



CHAPTER III.

THE VINTAGE AND THE VINTAGERS.


So much, then, for preliminary information. Let us now proceed to the
joyous ingathering of the fruits of the earth--the great yearly festival
and jubilee of the property and the labour of Medoc. October, the "wine
month," is approaching. For weeks, every cloud in the sky has been
watched--every cold night breeze felt with nervous apprehension. Upon
the last bright weeks in summer, the savour and the bouquet of the wine
depend. Warmed by the blaze of an unclouded sun, fanned by the mild
breezes of the west, and moistened by morning and evening dews, the
grapes by slow degrees attain their perfect ripeness and their
culminating point of flavour. Then the vintage implements begin to be
sought out, cleaned, repaired, and scoured and sweetened with hot
brandy. Coopers work as if their lives depended upon their industry; and
all the anomalous tribe of lookers-out for chance jobs in town and
country pack up their bag and baggage, and from scores of miles around
pour in ragged regiments into Medoc.

There have long existed pleasing, and in some sort poetical,
associations connected with the task of securing for human use the
fruits of the earth; and to no species of crop do these picturesque
associations apply with greater force than to the ingathering of the
ancient harvest of the vine. From time immemorial, the season has
typified epochs of plenty and mirthful-heartedness--of good fare and of
good-will. The ancient types and figures descriptive of the vintage are
still literally true. The march of agricultural improvement seems never
to have set foot amid the vines. As it was with the patriarchs in the
East, so it is with the modern children of men. The goaded ox still
bears home the high-pressed grape-tub, and the feet of the treader are
still red in the purple juice which maketh glad the heart of man. The
scene is at once full of beauty, and of tender and even sacred
associations. The songs of the vintagers, frequently chorussed from one
part of the field to the other, ring blithely into the bright summer
air, pealing out above the rough jokes and hearty peals of laughter
shouted hither and thither. All the green jungle is alive with the
moving figures of men and women, stooping among the vines or bearing
pails and basketfuls of grapes out to the grass-grown crossroads, along
which the labouring oxen drag the rough vintage carts, groaning and
cracking as they stagger along beneath their weight of purple tubs
heaped high with the tumbling masses of luscious fruit. The congregation
of every age and both sexes, and the careless variety of costume, add
additional features of picturesqueness to the scene. The white-haired
old man labours with shaking hands to fill the basket which his
black-eyed imp of a grandchild carries rejoicingly away. Quaint
broad-brimmed straw and felt hats--handkerchiefs twisted like turbans
over straggling elf locks--swarthy skins tanned to an olive-brown--black
flashing eyes--and hands and feet stained in the abounding juices of the
precious fruit--all these southern peculiarities of costume and
appearance supply the vintage with its pleasant characteristics. The
clatter of tongues is incessant. A fire of jokes and jeers, of saucy
questions, and more saucy retorts--of what, in fact, in the humble and
unpoetic but expressive vernacular, is called "chaff,"--is kept up with
a vigour which seldom flags, except now and then, when the butt-end of a
song, or the twanging close of a chorus strikes the general fancy, and
procures for the _morceau_ a lusty _encore_. Meantime, the master
wine-grower moves observingly from rank to rank. No neglected bunch of
fruit escapes his watchful eye. No careless vintager shakes the precious
berries rudely upon the soil, but he is promptly reminded of his
slovenly work. Sometimes the tubs attract the careful superintendent. He
turns up the clusters to ascertain that no leaves nor useless length of
tendril are entombed in the juicy masses, and anon directs his steps to
the pressing-trough, anxious to find that the lusty treaders are
persevering manfully in their long-continued dance.

Thither we will follow. The wine-press, or _cuvier de pressoir_,
consists, in the majority of cases, of a massive shallow tub, varying in
size from four square feet to as many square yards. It is placed either
upon wooden trestles or on a regularly-built platform of mason-work
under the huge rafters of a substantial outhouse. Close to it stands a
range of great butts, their number more or less, according to the size
of the vineyard. The grapes are flung by tub and caskfuls into the
cuvier. The treaders stamp diligently amid the masses, and the expressed
juice pours plentifully out of a hole level with the bottom of the
trough into a sieve of iron or wickerwork, which stops the passage of
the skins, and from thence drains into tubs below. Suppose, at the
moment of our arrival, the cuvier for a brief space empty. The
treaders--big, perspiring men, in shirts and tucked-up
trowsers--spattered to the eyes with splatches of purple juice, lean
upon their wooden spades, and wipe their foreheads. But their respite is
short. The creak of another cart-load of tubs is heard, and immediately
the waggon is backed up to the broad open window, or rather hole in the
wall, above the trough. A minute suffices to wrench out tub after tub,
and to tilt their already half-mashed clusters splash into the reeking
_pressoir_. Then to work again. Jumping with a sort of spiteful
eagerness into the mountain of yielding quivering fruit, the treaders
sink almost to the knees, stamping and jumping and rioting in the masses
of grapes, as fountains of juice spurt about their feet, and rush
bubbling and gurgling away. Presently, having, as it were, drawn the
first sweet blood of the new cargo, the eager trampling subsides into a
sort of quiet, measured dance, which the treaders continue, while, with
their wooden spades, they turn the pulpy remnants of the fruit hither
and thither, so as to expose the half-squeezed berries in every possible
way to the muscular action of the incessantly moving feet. All this
time, the juice is flowing in a continuous stream into the tubs beneath.
When the jet begins to slacken, the heap is well tumbled with the wooden
spades, and, as though a new force had been applied, the juice-jet
immediately breaks out afresh. It takes, perhaps, half or three-quarters
of an hour thoroughly to squeeze the contents of a good-sized cuvier,
sufficiently manned. When at length, however, no further exertion
appears to be attended with corresponding results, the tubfuls of
expressed juice are carried by means of ladders to the edges of the
vats, and their contents tilted in; while the men in the trough,
setting-to with their spades, fling the masses of dripping grape-skins
in along with the juice. The vats sufficiently full, the fermentation is
allowed to commence. In the great cellars in which the juice is stored,
the listener at the door--he cannot brave the carbonic acid gas to enter
further--may hear, solemnly echoing in the cool shade of the great
darkened hall, the bubblings and seethings of the working liquid--the
inarticulate accents and indistinct rumblings which proclaim that a
great metempsychosis is taking place--that a natural substance is rising
higher in the eternal scale of things, and that the contents of these
great giants of vats are becoming changed from floods of mere mawkish,
sweetish fluid to noble wine--to a liquid honoured and esteemed in all
ages--to a medicine exercising a strange and potent effect upon body and
soul--great for good and evil. Is there not something fanciful and
poetic in the notion of this change taking place mysteriously in the
darkness, when all the doors are locked and barred--for the atmosphere
about the vats is death--as if Nature would suffer no idle prying into
her mystic operations, and as if the grand transmutation and projection
from juice to wine had in it something of a secret and solemn and awful
nature--fenced round, as it were, and protected from vulgar curiosity by
the invisible halo of stifling gas? I saw the vats in the Chateau
Margaux cellars the day after the grape-juice had been flung in.
Fermentation had not as yet properly commenced, so access to the place
was possible; still, however, there was a strong vinous smell loading
the atmosphere, sharp and subtle in its influence on the nostrils;
while, putting my ear, on the recommendation of my conductor, to the
vats, I heard, deep down, perhaps eight feet down in the juice, a
seething, gushing sound, as if currents and eddies were beginning to
flow, in obedience to the influence of the working Spirit, and now and
then a hiss and a low bubbling throb, as though of a pot about to boil.
Within twenty-four hours, the cellar would be unapproachable.

Of course, it is quite foreign to my plan to enter upon anything like a
detailed account of wine-making. I may only add, that the refuse-skins,
stalks, and so forth, which settle into the bottom of the fermentation
vats, are taken out again after the wine has been drawn off and
subjected to a new squeezing--in a press, however, and not by the
foot--the products being a small quantity of fiery, ill-flavoured wine,
full of the bitter taste of the seeds and stalks of the grape, and
possessing no aroma or bouquet. The Bordeaux press for this purpose is
rather ingeniously constructed. It consists of a sort of a skeleton of a
cask, strips of daylight shining through from top to bottom between the
staves. In the centre works a strong perpendicular iron screw. The
_rape_, as the refuse of the treading is called, is piled beneath it;
the screw is manned capstan fashion, and the unhappy seeds, skins, and
stalks, undergo a most dismal squeezing. Nor do their trials end there.
The wine-makers are terrible hands for getting at the very last
get-at-able drop. To this end, somewhat on the principle of rinsing an
exhausted spirit bottle, so as, as it were, to catch the very flavour
still clinging to the glass, they plunge the doubly-squeezed _rape_ into
water, let it lie there for a short time, and then attack it with the
press again. The result is a horrible stuff called _piquette_, which, in
a wine country, bears the same resemblance to wine as the very dirtiest,
most wishy-washy, and most contemptible of swipes bears to honest porter
or ale. Piquette, in fact, may be defined as the ghost of wine!--wine
minus its bones, its flesh, and its soul!--a liquid shadow!--a fluid
nothing!--an utter negation of all comfortable things and associations!
Nevertheless, however, the peasants swill it down in astounding
quantities, and apparently with sufficient satisfaction.

And now a word as to wine-treading. The process is universal in France,
with the exception of the cases of the sparkling wines of the Rhone and
Champagne, the grapes for which are squeezed by mechanical means, not by
the human foot. Now, very venerable and decidedly picturesque as is the
process of wine-treading, it is unquestionably rather a filthy one; and
the spectacle of great brown horny feet, not a whit too clean, splashing
and sprawling in the bubbling juice, conveys at first sight a qualmy
species of feeling, which, however, seems only to be entertained by
those to whom the sight is new. I looked dreadfully askance at the
operation when I first came across it; and when I was invited--by a
lady, too--to taste the juice, of which she caught up a glassful, a
certain uncomfortable feeling of the inward man warred terribly against
politeness. But nobody around seemed to be in the least squeamish. Often
and often did I see one of the heroes of the tub walk quietly over a
dunghill, and then jump--barefooted, of course, as he was--into the
juice; and even a vigilant proprietor, who was particularly careful that
no bad grapes went into the tub, made no objection. When I asked why a
press was not used, as more handy, cleaner, and more convenient, I was
everywhere assured that all efforts had failed to construct a wine-press
capable of performing the work with the perfection attained by the
action of the human foot. No mechanical squeezing, I was informed, would
so nicely express that peculiar proportion of the whole moisture of the
grape which forms the highest flavoured wine. The manner in which the
fruit was tossed about was pointed out to me, and I was asked to
observe that the grapes were, as it were, squeezed in every possible
fashion and from every possible side, worked and churned and mashed
hither and thither by the ever-moving toes and muscles of the foot. As
far as any impurity went, the argument was, that the fermentation flung,
as scum to the surface, every atom of foreign matter held in suspension
in the wine, and that the liquid ultimately obtained was as exquisitely
pure as if human flesh had never touched it.

In the collection of these and such like particulars, I sauntered for
days among the vineyards around; and, utterly unknown and unfriended as
I was, I met everywhere the most cordial and pleasant receptions. I
would lounge, for example, to the door of a wine-treading shed, to watch
the movements of the people. Presently the proprietor, most likely
attired in a broad-brimmed straw hat, a strange faded outer garment,
half shooting-coat half dressing gown, would come up courteously to the
stranger, and, learning that I was an English visitor to the vintage,
would busy himself with the most graceful kindness, to make intelligible
the _rationale_ of all the operations. Often I was invited into the
chateau or farm-house, as the case might be; a bottle of an old vintage
produced and comfortably discussed in the coolness of the darkened,
thinly-furnished room, with its old-fashioned walnut-tree escrutoires,
and beauffets, its quaintly-pannelled walls, and its polished floors,
gleaming like mirrors and slippery as ice. On these occasions, the
conversation would often turn upon the general rejection, by England, of
French wines--a sore point with the growers of all save the first-class
vintages, and in which I had, as may be conceived, very little to say in
defence either of our taste or our policy. In the evenings, which were
getting chill and cold, I occasionally abandoned my room with
illustrations from the _Tour de Nesle_ for the general kitchen and
parlour of Madame Cadillac, and, ensconcing myself in the chimney
corner--a fine old-fashioned ingle, crackling and blazing with hard wood
logs--listened to the chat of the people of the village; they were
nearly all coopers and vine-dressers, who resorted there after the day's
work was over to enjoy an exceedingly modest modicum of very thin wine.
I never benefitted very much, however, by these listenings. It was my
bad luck to hear recounted neither tale nor legend--to pick up, at the
hands of my _compotatores_, neither local trait nor anecdote. The
conversation was as small as the wine. The gossip of the place--the
prospects of the vintage--elaborate comparisons of it with other
vintages--births, marriages, and deaths--a minute list of scandal, more
or less intelligible when conveyed in hints and allusions--were the
staple topics, mixed up, however, once or twice with general
denunciations of the niggardly conduct of certain neighbouring
proprietors to their vintagers--giving them for breakfast nothing but
coarse bread, lard, and not even piquette to wash it down with, and for
dinner not much more tempting dishes.

In Medoc, there are two classes of vintagers--the fixed and the floating
population; and the latter, which makes an annual inroad into the
district just as the Irish harvesters do into England and Scotland,
comprising a goodly proportion of very dubious and suspicious-looking
characters. The _gen-d'armerie_ have a busy time of it when these gentry
are collected in numbers in the district. Poultry disappear with the
most miraculous promptitude; small linen articles hung out to dry have
no more chance than if Falstaff's regiment were marching by; and
garden-fruit and vegetables, of course, share the results produced by a
rigid application of the maxim that _la propriété c'est le vol_. Where
these people come from is a puzzle. There will be vagrants and strollers
among them from all parts of France--from the Pyrenees and the
Alps--from the pine-woods of the Landes and the moors of Brittany. They
unite in bands of a dozen or a score men and women, appointing a chief,
who bargains with the vine-proprietor for the services of the company,
and keeps up some degree of order and subordination, principally by
means of the unconstitutional application of a good thick stick. I
frequently encountered these bands, making their way from one district
to another, and better samples of "the dangerous classes" were never
collected. They looked vicious and abandoned, as well as miserably poor.
The women, in particular, were as brazen-faced a set of slatterns as
could be conceived; and the majority of the men--tattered,
strapping-looking fellows, with torn slouched hats, and tremendous
cudgels--were exactly the sort of persons a nervous gentleman would have
scruples about meeting at dusk in a long lane. It is when thus on the
tramp that the petty pilfering and picking and stealing to which I have
alluded to goes on. When actually at work, they have no time for
picking up unconsidered trifles. Sometimes these people pass the
night--all together, of course--in out-houses or barns, when the _chef_
can strike a good bargain; at other times they bivouac on the lee-side
of a wood or wall, in genuine gipsy fashion. You may often see their
watchfires glimmering in the night; and be sure that where you do, there
are twisted necks and vacant nests in many a neighbouring hen-roost. One
evening I was sauntering along the beach at Paulliac--a little town on
the river's bank, about a dozen of miles from the mouth of the Gironde,
and holding precisely the same relation to Bordeaux as Gravesend does to
London--when a band of vintagers, men, women, and children, came up.
They were bound to some village on the opposite side of the Gironde, and
wanted to get ferried across. A long parley accordingly ensued between
the chief and a group of boatmen. The commander of the vintage forces
offered four sous per head as the passage-money. The bargemen would hear
of nothing under five; and after a tremendous verbal battle, the
vintagers announced that they were not going to be cheated, and that if
they could not cross the water, they could stay where they were.
Accordingly, a bivouac was soon formed. Creeping under the lee of a row
of casks, on the shingle of the bare beach, the women were placed
leaning against the somewhat hard and large pillows in question; the
children were nestled at their feet and in their laps; and the men
formed the outermost ranks. A supply of loaves was sent for and
obtained. The chief tore the bread up into huge hunks, which he
distributed to his dependents; and upon this supper the whole party
went coolly to sleep--more coolly, indeed, than agreeably; for a keen
north wind was whistling along the sedgy banks of the river, and the red
blaze of high-piled faggots was streaming from the houses across the
black, cold, turbid waters. At length, however, some arrangement was
come to; for, on visiting the spot a couple of hours afterwards, I found
the party rather more comfortably ensconced under the ample sails of the
barge which was to bear them the next morning to their destination.

The dinner-party formed every day, when the process of stripping the
vines is going on, is, particularly in the cases in which the people are
treated well by the proprietor, frequently a very pretty and very
picturesque spectacle. It always takes place in the open air, amongst
the bushes, or under some neighbouring walnut-tree. Sometimes long
tables are spread upon tressles; but in general no such formality
is deemed requisite. The guests fling themselves in groups upon the
ground--men and women picturesquely huddled together--the former bloused
and bearded personages--the latter showy, in their bright short
petticoats of home-spun and dyed cloth, with glaring handkerchiefs
twisted like turbans round their heads--each man and woman with a deep
plate in his or her lap. Then the people of the house bustle about,
distributing huge brown loaves, which are torn asunder, and the
fragments chucked from hand to hand. Next a vast cauldron of soup,
smoking like a volcano, is painfully lifted out from the kitchen, and
dealt about in mighty ladlefuls; while the founder of the feast takes
care that the tough, thready _bouilli_--like lumps of boiled-down
hemp--shall be fairly apportioned among his guests. _Piquette_ is the
general beverage. A barrel is set abroach, and every species of mug,
glass, cup, and jug about the establishment is called in to aid in its
consumption. A short rest, devoted to chatting, or very often sleeping
in the shade, over, the signal is given, and the work recommences.

"You have seen our _salle à manger_," said one of my courteous
entertainers--he of the broad-brimmed straw hat; "and now you shall see
our _chambre à coucher_." Accordingly, he led me to a barn close to his
wine-cellars. The place was littered deep with clean, fresh straw. Here
and there rolled-up blankets were laid against the wall; while all
round, from nails stuck in between the bare bricks, hung by straps and
strings the little bundles, knapsacks, and other baggage of the
labourers. On one side, two or three swarthy young women were playfully
pushing each other aside, so as to get at a morsel of cracked mirror
stuck against the wall--their long hair hanging down in black elf-locks,
in the preliminary stage of its arrangement.

"That is the ladies' side," said my _cicerone_, pointing to the girls;
"and that"--extending his other hand--"is the gentlemen's side."

"And so they all sleep here together?"

"Every night. I find shelter and straw; any other accommodation they
must procure for themselves."

"Rather unruly, I should suppose?"

"Not a bit. They are too tired to do anything but sleep. They go off,
sir, like dormice."

"_Oh, sil plait à Mossieu!_" put in one of the damsels. "The chief of
the band does the police." (_Fait la gen-d'armerie._)

"Certainly--certainly," said the proprietor; "the gentlemen lie here,
with their heads to the wall; the ladies there; and the _chef de la
bande_ stretches himself all along between them."

"A sort of living frontier?"

"Truly; and he allows no nonsense."

"_Il est meme éxcessivement severe_," interpolated the same young lady.

"He need be," replied her employer. "He allows no loud speaking--no
joking; and as there are no candles, no light, why, they can do nothing
better than go quietly to sleep, if it were only in self-defence."

One word more about the vintage. The reader will easily conceive that it
is on the smaller properties, where the wine is intended, not so much
for commerce as for household use, that the vintage partakes most of the
festival nature. In the large and first-class vineyards the process goes
on under rigid superintendence, and is as much as possible made a cold
matter of business. He who wishes to see the vintages of books and
poems--the laughing, joking, singing festivals amid the vines, which we
are accustomed to consider the harvests of the grape--must betake him to
the multitudinous patches of peasant property, in which neighbour helps
neighbour to gather in the crop, and upon which whole families labour
merrily together, as much for the amusement of the thing, and from good
neighbourly feeling, as in consideration of francs and sous. Here, of
course, there is no tight discipline observed, nor is there any absolute
necessity for that continuous, close scrutiny into the state of the
grapes--all of them hard or rotten, going slap-dash into the
_cuvier_--which, in the case of the more precious vintages, forms no
small check upon a general state of careless jollity. Every one eats as
much fruit as he pleases, and rests when he is tired. On such occasions
it is that you hear to the best advantage the joyous songs and choruses
of the vintage--many of these last being very pretty bits of melody,
generally sung by the women and girls, in shrill treble unison, and
caught up and continued from one part of the field to another.

[Illustration: RETURNING FROM THE VINTAGE.]

Yet, discipline and control it as you will, the vintage will ever be
beautiful, picturesque, and full of association. The rude wains,
creaking beneath the reeking tubs--the patient faces of the yoked
oxen--the half-naked, stalwart men, who toil to help the cart along the
ruts and furrows of the way--the handkerchief-turbaned women, their gay,
red-and-blue dresses peeping from out the greenery of the leaves--the
children dashing about as if the whole thing were a frolic, and the
grey-headed old men tottering cheerfully adown the lines of vines, with
baskets and pails of gathered grapes to fill the yawning tubs--the whole
picture is at once classic, venerable, and picturesque, not more by
association than actuality.

And now, Reader, luxuriating amid the gorgeously carven and emblazoned
fittings of a Palais Royal or Boulevard restorateur, Vefours, the
Freres, or the Café de Paris; or perhaps ensconced in our quieter and
more sober rooms--dim and dull after garish Paris, but ten times more
comfortable in their ample sofas and carpets, into which you sink as
into quagmires, but with more agreeable results,--snugly, Reader,
ensconced in either one or the other locality, after the waiter has, in
obedience to your summons, produced the _carte de vins_, and your eye
wanders down the long list of tempting nectars, Spanish and Portuguese,
and better, far better, German and French--have you ever wondered as you
read, "ST. JULLIEN, LEOVILLE, CHATEAU LA LAFITTE, CHATEAU LA ROSE, and
CHATEAU MARGAUX, what these actual vineyards, the produce of which you
know so well--what those actual chateaux, which christen such glorious
growths, resemble?" If so, listen, and I will tell you.

As you traverse the high road from Bordeaux to Pauillac, some one will
probably point out to you a dozen tiny sugar-loaf turrets, each
surmounted by a long lightning-conductor, rising from a group of noble
trees. This is the chateau St. Jullien. A little on, on the right side
of the way, rises, from the top of a tiny hill overlooking the Gironde,
a new building, with all the old crinkum-crankum ornaments of the
ancient fifteenth century country house. That is the chateau Latour.
Presently you observe that the entrance to a wide expanse of vines,
covering a series of hills and dales, tumbling down to the water's edge,
is marked by a sort of triumphal arch or ornamented gate, adorned with a
lion couchant, and a legend, setting forth that the vines behind produce
the noted wine of Leoville. The chateau Lafitte rises amid stately
groves of oak and walnut-trees, from amid the terraced walks of an
Italian garden--its white spreading wings gleaming through the trees,
and its round-roofed, slated towers rising above them. One chateau, the
most noted of all, remains. Passing along a narrow, sandy road, amid a
waste of scrubby-looking bushes, you pass beneath the branches of a
clump of noble oaks and elms, and perceive a great white structure
glimmering garishly before you. Take such a country house as you may
still find in your grandmothers' samplers, decorated with a due
allowance of doors and windows--clap before it a misplaced Grecian
portico, whitewash the whole to a state of the most glaring and dazzling
brightness, carefully close all outside shutters, painted white
likewise--and you have chateau Margaux rising before you like a wan,
ghastly spectre of a house, amid stately terraced gardens, and trimmed,
clipped, and tortured trees. But, as I have already insisted, nothing,
in any land of vines, must be judged by appearances. The first time I
saw at a distance Johannesberg, rising from its grape-clustered domains,
I thought it looked very much like a union workhouse, erected in the
midst of a field of potatoes.

[Illustration]



[Illustration: LANDES SHEPHERDS.]



CHAPTER IV.

THE LANDES--THE BORDEAUX AND TESTE RAILWAY--NINICHE--THE LANDSCAPE
OF THE LANDES--THE PEOPLE OF THE LANDES--HOW THEY WALK ON STILTS,
AND GAMBLE.


Turn to the map of France--to that portion of it which would be
traversed by a straight line drawn from Bordeaux to Bayonne--and you
will observe that such a line would run through a vast extent of
bare-looking country--of that sort, indeed, where

    "Geographers on pathless downs
    Place elephants, for want of towns."

Roads, you will observe, are few and far between; the names of
far-scattered towns will be unfamiliar to you; and, indeed, nine-tenths
of this part of the map consists of white paper. The district you are
looking at is the Landes, forming now a department by itself, and
anciently constituting a portion of Gascony and Guienne. These Landes
form one of the strangest and wildest parts of France. Excepting here
and there small patches of poor, ill-cultivated land, the whole country
is a solitary desert--black with pine-wood, or white with
vast plains of drifting sand. By these two great features of the
district, occasionally diversified by sweeps of green morass,
intersected by canals and lanes of stagnant and often brackish water,
the Landes take a goodly slice out of La Belle France. Their sea-line
bounds the French side of the Bay of Biscay, stretching from Bayonne to
the mouth of the Gironde; and at their point of greatest breadth they
run some sixty miles back into the country; thence gradually receding
away towards the sea, as though pushed back by the course of the
Garonne, until, towards the mouth of the river, they fade away
altogether.

So much for the _physique_ of the Landes. The inhabitants are every whit
as rugged, strange, and uncultivated. As the Landes were four centuries
ago, in all essential points, so they are now; as the people were four
centuries ago, in all essential points, so they are now. What should the
tide of progress or of improvement do in these deserts of pine and sand?
The people live on French soil, but cannot be called Frenchmen. They
speak a language as unintelligible to a Frenchman as an Englishman; they
have none of the national characteristics--little, perhaps, of the
national blood. They are saturnine, gloomy, hypochondriac, dismally
passing dismal lives in the depths of their black forests, their dreary
swamps, and their far-spreading deserts of white, fine sand. Such an odd
nook of the world was not to be passed unvisited; besides, I wanted to
see the Biscay surf; and accordingly I left Bordeaux for the Landes--not
in some miserable cross-country vehicle--not knight-errantwise, on a
Bordelais Rosinante--not pilgrim-wise, with a staff and scrip--but in a
comfortable railway-carriage.

Yes, sir, a comfortable railway-carriage; and the railway in
question--the Bordeaux and Teste line--is the sole enterprise of the
kind undertaken and achieved in the south-west of France.

"Railways!" said the conductor of the Paris and Bordeaux diligence to
me, with that magnificent condescension with which a Frenchman explains
to a Briton all about _Perfide Albion!_--"Railways, monsieur," he said,
"as all the world knows, have achieved the ruin of the Old England, and
presently they will do as much for France. _Tenez_; they are cursed
inventions--particularly the Paris and Bordeaux Railway."

But if the ruin of France is to be consummated by railways, France, like
bankrupt linendrapers, will take a long time to ruin. The Bordeaux line
crawls but slowly on. In 1850, we left the rails and took to the road at
Tours; and, barring the bits of line leading down from some of the
Mediterranean towns to Marseilles, the Bordeaux and Teste fragment was
the sole morsel of railway then in operation south of Lyons. The
question comes, then, to be, What earthly inducement caused the
construction of this wilderness line, and how it happens that the only
locomotives in fair Guienne whistle through the almost uninhabited
Landes? The fact seems to be, that, once upon a time, the good folks of
Bordeaux were taken with an inappeasable desire to have a railway. One
would have thought that the natural course of such an undertaking would
have been northward, through the vines and thickly-peopled country of
Medoc to the comparatively-important towns of Paulliac and Lesparre. The
enterprising Bordelais, however, had another scheme. Some forty miles to
the west of the city, the sands, pines, and morasses of the Landes are
broken by a vast shallow basin, its edges scolloped with innumerable
creeks, bays, and winding friths, into which, through a breach in the
coast line of sand-hills, flow the waters of the Atlantic. On the
southern side of this estuary lie two or three scattered groups of
hovels, inhabited by fishermen and shepherds--the most important of the
hamlets being known as Teste, or Teste-la-buch. Between Teste and
Bordeaux, the only line of communication was a rutty road, half sand and
half morass, and the only traffic was the occasional pilgrimage to the
salt water of some patient sent thither at all risks by the Bordeaux
doctors, or now and then the transit towards the city of the Garonne of
the products of a day's lucky fishing, borne in panniers on the backs of
a string of donkeys. Folks, however, were sanguine. The speculation
"came out," shares got up, knowing people sold out, simple people held
on, and the line was actually constructed. No doubt it was cheaply got
up. Ground could be had in the Landes almost for the asking, and from
terminus to terminus there is not an inch of tunnel-cutting or
embankment. The line, moreover, is single, and the stations are knocked
up in the roughest and most primitive style. The result, however,
astonished no one, save the shareholders. The traffic does not half pay
the working expenses. Notwithstanding that some increase in the amount
of communication certainly did take place, consequent upon the facility
with which Teste can now be reached--a facility which has gone some way
to render it a summer place of sea-side resort--the two trains which
_per diem_ seldom convey more than a dozen or so of third-class
passengers, and the shareholders at length flung themselves into the
hands of the Government; and, insisting upon the advantages which would
accrue to the State as soon as the Paris and Bordeaux line was finished,
by a direct means of communication between the metropolis and a harbour
in the Bay of Biscay, they succeeded in hypothecating their line to the
Government for a small annual subvention. Such is the present agreeable
position of the single railway in the south-west of France.

I was somewhat late, as I feared, for the train, and, calling a
_citadine_, got the man to urge his horse to a gallop, so that we pulled
up at the terminus with the animal in a lather. A porter approached, and
grinned. "Monsieur has made haste, but the winter season begins to-day,
and the train does not go for an hour and a half." There was no help for
it, and I sauntered into the nearest _café_ to read long disquisitions
on what was then all the vogue in the political world--the "situation."
I found the little marble slabs deserted--even the billiard-table
abandoned, and all the guests collected round the white Fayence stove.
Joining them, I perceived the attraction. On one of the velvet stools
sat an old gentleman of particularly grave and reverend aspect--a most
philosophic and sage-like old gentleman--and between his legs was a
white poodle, standing erect with his master's cane in his paws. All the
company were in raptures with Niniche, who was going through his
performances.

"Niniche," said the patriarch, "what does Monsieur Tetard do when he
comes home late?"

The dog immediately began to stagger about on its hind legs, sometimes
losing its balance and then getting up again, looking all the time with
a sort of stupid blinking stare at its master. It was clear that M.
Tetard, when he came home late, did not come home sober.

"_Tiens! c'est admirable!_" shouted the spectators--burly fellows, with
black beards, and honest tradesman-looking people, with glasses of _eau
sucreé_ in their hands.

"And now," said the old gentleman, the poodle's proprietor and
instructor, "what does Madame Tetard do when Monsieur Tetard comes home
late?"

The dog straightway began to utter, with wonderful volubility, a series
of loud, shrill, yelping snaps, jerking itself up and down on its
haunches, and flinging its paws about as if it had the hydrophobia. The
spectators were enraptured. "It is actually her voice," said one. "Only
the dog is too good-looking for her," said another. "_Voilà petite!_"
vociferated a third, holding a huge piece of bluish-tinted beetroot
sugar to the performer, when suddenly the group was broken by a fussy,
fat old gentleman with a white baggy cravat, very snuffy, and a pair of
heavy gold spectacles.

"_Je dis--moi!_" shouted the new comer, in violent wrath; "_que c'est
abominable ce que vous faites là Père Grignon._" A murmur of suppressed
laughter went through the group. Père Grignon looked considerably taken
aback, and the speaker aimed a hearty kick at Niniche, who dodged away
round the stove. It was evident that he was no other than the injured
and maligned Tetard himself. Instantly he broke into loud objurgations.
He knew how that atrocious old _Père Grignon_ had taught his dog to
malign him, the _bête misérable_! But as for it, he would poison
it--shoot it--drown it; and as for Père Grignon, who ought to have more
sense, all the quartier knew what he was--an _imbécille_, who was always
running about carrying tales, and making mischief. But he would appeal
to the authorities; he would lay his complaint before the commisary of
the quartier; he would--he would--. At this moment the excited orator
caught sight of the offending poodle slipping to the door, and instantly
sprung vigorously after him:--

"_Tenez-tenez_; don't touch Niniche--it's not his fault!" exclaimed the
poodle's proprietor. But the dog had bolted, with Tetard in hot chase of
his imitator, and vowing that he should be _écraséd_ and _abiméd_ as
soon as caught. There was, of course, great laughter at the whole
proceeding; and then the group betook themselves to the marble slabs
and dominoes--the instructor of the offending quadruped coolly lighting
his pipe, as he muttered that old Tetard was, after all, a _bon enfant_,
and that over a _petit verre_ he would always listen to reason.

At length the tedious hour and a half wore away, and I entered the
terminus--a roughly built wooden shed. The train consisted of a first,
second, and third-class carriage; but there were no first-class
passengers, only one solitary second-class, and about a dozen
third-classes, with whom I cast my lot. Miserable as the freight was,
the locomotive whistled as loud and panted as vehemently as if it were
yoked to a Great Western express; and off we went through the broad belt
of nursery gardens, which encircles every French town, and where the
very best examples of the working of the small proprietary system are to
be seen. A rapid run through the once greatly famed and still esteemed
vineyards of Hautbrion, and we found ourselves scurrying along over a
negative sort of country--here a bit of heath, there a bit of
vineyard--now a bald spot of sand, anon a plot of irregularly-cut
stubble; while a black horizon of pine-wood rose gradually on the right
and left. On flew the train, and drearier grew the landscape; the heath
was bleaker--the pines began to appear in clumps--the sand-stretches
grew wider--every thing green, and fertile, and _riant_ disappeared. He,
indeed, who enters the Landes, appears to have crossed a French
frontier, and left the merry land behind. No more bright vineyards--no
more rich fields of waving corn--no more clustered villages--no more
chateau-turrets--no more tapering spires. You look up to heaven to see
whether the sky has not changed, as well as the land. No; all there is
blue and serene as before, and the keen, hot sun glares intensely down
upon undulating wastes of marsh, fir, and sand, among which you may
travel for leagues without seeing a man, hearing a dog bark, or a bird
sing. At last we were fairly among the woods, shooting down what seemed
an eternal straight tunnel, cleft by lightning through the pines. The
trees stood up stark and stiff, like cast-iron; the fir is at once a
solemn and a rigid tree--the Puritan of the forest; and down the side of
each Puritan I noticed a straight, yellowish gash, running
perpendicularly from the spread of the branches almost to the earth, and
turned for explanation to an intelligent-looking man, evidently a
citizen of Bordeaux, opposite me.

"Ah!" he said, "you are new to our Landes."

I admitted it.

"And these gashes down the trees--these, monsieur, give us the harvest
of the Landes."

"The harvest! What harvest?"

"What harvest? Resin, to be sure."

"Ay, resin," said an old fellow with a blouse and a quick eye; "resin,
monsieur; the only harvest that man can grow in sand."

"_Tenez_," said my first interlocutor; "the peasants cut that gash in
the tree; and at the root they scoop a little hollow in the ground. The
resin perspires out of the wood, flows slowly and glutinously down the
gash, and in a month or so, according to the heat of the weather, the
hole is full, and the man who rents the trees takes up the sticky stuff,
like soup, with a ladle."

"That's a very good description," said the old bloused gentleman. "And
then, sir" (addressing me), "we barrel our crop of the Landes. Yes,
indeed, we barrel it, as well as they do the crop of the Medoc."

"Only you wouldn't like to drink it so well," said the Bordeaux man.

Presently we pulled up at a station--a mere shed, with a clearing around
it, as there might have been in Texas or Maine. I observed the
name--TOHUA-COHOA, and remarked that it did not look like a French one.

"French one!" said he of Bordeaux; "you don't expect to find French in
this chaos? No, no; it is some of the gibberish the savages hereabout
speak."

"No such gibberish, and no such savages either," said the little
keen-eyed man. "_Moi, je suis de Landes_; and the Landes language is a
far finer language than French. French! phoo, phoo!"

And he took a pinch of snuff indignantly and triumphantly. The Bordeaux
gentleman winked blandly at me, as if the keen-eyed man was a character
to be humoured, and then looked doubtful and unconvinced.

"Tohua-Cohoa," he said; "it has a _sacré tonnerre_ of a barbarous sound;
has it any meaning?"

"Meaning!" exclaimed the man of the Landes; "I should think so.
Tohua-Cohoa means, in French, _Allez doucement_; and the place was so
called because there was there a dangerous swamp, in which many a
donkey coming up from Teste with fish to you of Bordeaux was smothered;
and so it got to be quite proverbial among the drivers of the donkeys,
and they used to shout to each other, 'Tohua-Cohoa!' whenever they came
near the slough; meaning to look out, and go gently, and take care of
the soft places."

The man with the blouse, who was clearly the champion of the Landes,
then turned indignantly from the Bordeaux man and addressed himself to
me. "The language which the poor people here speak, monsieur, is a fine
and expressive language, and liker the Spanish than the French. The
people are poor, and very ignorant. They believe, monsieur, in ghosts,
and witches, and sorceries, just as all France did two or three hundred
years ago. Very few of them can read, monsieur, and they have bad food
and no wine. But nevertheless, monsieur, they are _bons enfants--braves
gens_, monsieur. They love their pine-woods and their sands as much as
other people do their corn-fields and their vines, monsieur. They would
die, monsieur, if you took them away from the sand and the trees. They
are not like the Auvergnats, who go in troops to Paris to carry water
from the fountains, and who are _betes--betes--bien betes_! They stay at
home, monsieur. They wear their sheep-skins and walk upon their stilts,
like their forefathers before them, monsieur; and if you are coming here
to see the Landes, and if you lose yourself in the woods, and see a
light glimmering through the trees, and rap at the cottage door,
monsieur, you will be welcomed, monsieur, and have the best they can
offer to eat, and the softest they can offer to sleep on. _Tenez, tenez;
nous sommes pauvres et ignorants mais nous sommes, loyals et bons!_"

The tears fairly stood in the keen black eyes of the Landes man as he
concluded his harangue, of which I have only reported the main points;
for, truth to tell, the poor fellow's vehemence was so great, and his
utterance so rapid, that I lost nearly as much as I caught. The Bordeaux
gentleman hammered the floor with his umbrella in satirical approbation,
the rest of the passengers looked curiously on, and, the engine
whistling, we pulled up again at a station similar to the first--a
shed--a clearing, and black pine all around. There were just three
persons on the rough platform--the station-master in a blouse, and two
yellow-breeched _gens-d'armes_. What could they find to occupy them
among these drear pine-woods? What thief, who had not made a vow of
voluntary starvation, or who had not a morbid taste for living upon
resin, would ever have ventured among them? But the authorities! Catch a
bit of France without an "authority!" As they certainly are omnipotent,
and profess to be omniscient, it is only to be supposed that they should
be omnipresent. One man left the train at the station in question--a
slouching, stupid, swarthy peasant, the authorities pounced upon him,
evidently in prodigious glee at catching somebody to be _autoritised_
over, and we left them, spelling and squabbling over the greasy-looking
"papers" presented by the profoundly respectful Jacques or Pierre.

And now, before proceeding further, I may be allowed to describe, with
some minuteness, the landscape which will greet the traveller in the
Landes. Its mere surface-aspect I have already sketched; but general
terms go but a small way towards indicating the dreary grandeurs of that
solemn wilderness. Over all its gloom and barrenness--over all its
"blasted heaths" and monotonous pine-woods, and sodden morasses, and
glaring heaps of shifting sand--there is a strong and pervading sense of
loneliness, a grandeur and intensity of desolation, which, as it were,
clothes the land with a sad, solemn poetry peculiar to itself. Emerging
from black forests of fir, the wanderer may find himself upon a plain,
flat as a billiard-table, and apparently boundless as the ocean, clad in
one unvaried, unbroken robe of dusky heath. Sometimes stripes and
ridges, or great ragged patches of sand, glisten in the fervid sunshine;
sometimes belts of scraggy young fir-trees appear rising from the
horizon on the left, and fading into the horizon on the right.
Occasionally a brighter shade of green, with jungles of willows and
coarse water-weeds, giant rushes, and marish-mosses, and tangled masses
of dank vegetation, will tell of the unfathomable swamp beneath. Dark
veins of muddy water will traverse the flat oozy land, sometimes,
perhaps, losing themselves in broad shallow lakes, bordered again by the
endless sand-banks and stretches of shadowy pine. The dwellings which
dot this dreary, yet, in its way, solemnly poetic landscape, are
generally mere isolated huts, separated sometimes by many miles, often
by many leagues. Round them the wanderer will descry a miserable field
or two, planted with a stunted crop of rye, millet, or maize. The
cottages are mouldering heaps of sod and unhewn and unmortared stones,
clustered round with ragged sheds composed of masses of tangled bushes,
pine stakes, and broadleaved reeds, beneath which cluster, when not
seeking their miserable forage in the woods, two or three cows, mere
skin and bone, and a score or two of the most abject-looking sheep which
ever browsed.

Proceeding through the Landes towards the coast, a long chain of lakes
and water-courses, running parallel to the ocean, breaks their
uniformity. The country becomes a waste of shallow pools, and of land
which is parched in summer and submerged in winter. Running in devious
arms and windings through moss and moor and pine, these "lakes of the
dismal swamp" form labyrinths of gulfs and morasses which only the most
experienced shepherds can safely thread. Here and there a village, or
rather bourg, will be seen upon their banks, half hidden in the
pine-woods; and a roughly-built fishing-punt or two will be observed
floating like the canoe of a savage in the woodland lakes. Sometimes, as
in the case of the basin of Arcachon, which will be presently described,
these waters are arms of the sea; and the retreating tide leaves scores
of square miles of putrid swamp. Sometimes they are mere collections of
surface-drainage, accumulating without any means of escape to the ocean,
and perilous in the extreme to the dwellers on their shores. For,
forming the extreme line of coast, there runs, for near two hundred
miles, from the Adour to the Garonne, a range of vast hills of white
sand, as fine as though it had been sifted for an hour-glass. Every gale
changes the shape of these rolling mountains. A strong wind from the
land flings millions of tons of sand per hour into the sea, to be washed
up again by the surf, flung on the beach, and in the first Biscay gale
blown in whirlwinds inland. A winter hurricane again from the west has
filled up with sand square miles of shallow lake, driving the displaced
waters inland, dispersing them in gleaming lakes among the pine-woods,
flooding, and frequently destroying the scattered hamlets of the people,
and burying for ever their fields of millet and rye. I shall presently
have occasion to touch upon some disasters of this sort. Meantime,
having made the aspect of the Landes familiar to the reader, I pursue
the thread of my journey.

The novelty of a population upon stilts--men, women, and children,
spurning the ground, and living habitually four or five feet higher than
the rest of mankind--irresistibly takes the imagination, and I leant
anxiously from the carriage to catch the first glimpse of a Landean in
his native style. I looked long in vain. We passed hut after hut, but
they seemed deserted, except that the lean swine burrowing round the
turf walls gave evidence that the pork had proprietors somewhere. At
last I was gratified; as the train passed not very quickly along a
jungle of bushes and coppice-wood, a black, shaggy figure rose above it,
as if he were standing upon the ends of the twigs. The effect was quite
eldritch. We saw him but as a vision, but the high conical hat with
broad brims, like Mother Red-cap's, the swarthy, bearded face, and the
rough, dirty sheep-skin, which hung fleecily from the shoulders of the
apparition, haunted me. He was come and gone, and that was all.
Presently, however, the natives began to heave in sight in sufficient
profusion. There were three gigantic-looking figures stalking together
across an expanse of dusky heath. I thought them men, and rather tall
ones; but my companions, more accustomed to the sight, said they were
boys on comparatively short stilts, herding the sheep, which were
scattered like little greyish stones all over the waste. Anon, near a
cottage, we saw a woman, in dark, coarse clothes, with shortish
petticoats, sauntering almost four feet from the ground, and next beheld
at a distance, and on the summit of a sand-ridge, relieved against the
sky, three figures, each leaning back, and supported, as it seemed, not
only by two daddy long-legs' limbs, but by a third, which appeared to
grow out of the small of their backs. The phenomenon was promptly
explained by my bloused _cicerone_, who seemed to feel especial pleasure
at my interest in the matter. The third leg was a pole or staff the
people carry, with a new moon-shaped crutch at the top, which, applied
to the back, serves as a capital prop. With his legs spread out, and his
back-stay firmly pitched, the shepherd of the Landes feels as much at
home as you would in the easiest of easy chairs.

"He will remain so for hours, without stirring, and without being
wearied," said my fellow-passenger. "It is a way of sitting down in the
Landes. Why, a shepherd, could stand so, long enough to knit a pair of
stockings, ay, and not have an ache in his back. Sometimes they play
cards, so, without once coming off their stilts."

"Ay, and cheat! _Mon Dieu!_ how they cheat!" said the Bordeaux
gentleman. The native of the Landes reluctantly admitted that was
the truth, and the other went on:--

"These fellows here on the stilts are the most confounded gamblers in
Europe. Men and women, it's all the same--play, play, play; they would
stake their bodies first, and their souls after. _Tenez_; I once heard
of a lot of the fellows playing in a wood till they were all but
starved. In the day they played by daylight, and when night came, they
kindled a bonfire and played in the glare. They played on and on, in
spite of hunger and thirst. They staked their money--not that they had
much of that--and their crops--not that they were of great value
either--and their pigs, and their sheep, and their Landes ponies, and
then their furniture, and then their clothes, and, last of all, their
stilts--for a Landes man thinks his stilts the principal part of his
wardrobe; and, _sacré!_ monsieur, three of the fellows were ruined out
and out, and had to give up their hats, and sheep-skins, and sabots,
while the man who was the greatest winner walked home on his own stilts,
with the stilts of all his comrades tucked under his arm."

"Gaming is their fault--their great fault," meekly acknowledged the
blouse.

"Not at all!" said his antagonist. "Cheating is their great fault. A
Landes shepherd would cheat the devil with a greasy pack of cards."

"The fact is," replied the apologist, "that they count cheating part of
the game. Their motto is, win anyhow; so it is no worse for one than the
other. Cards is chance; but cheating needs skill, and _voila tout_."

We were fast approaching Teste, and had passed two or three clusters of
poor huts, and a party of women up to their waists in a sluggish stream
washing fleeces, while yellow patches of ripening maize began to recur
quicker and quicker, showing that we had reached a comparatively
thickly-peopled district, when all at once there burst upon my eyes a
glorious-looking prairie of gently undulating land, of the brightest
green I ever looked upon. The green of the greenest lawns of England,
the green of the softest bogs of Ireland, the green even of the most
intensely green patches of the Curragh of Kildare, were brown, and
fuzzy, and rusty, compared to this wonderful hue. The land looked like
one huge emerald, sparkling in the sun. The brightness, the freshness,
the radiance of the tint, was almost supernatural, and the eye, nursed
for it, as it were, after our journey over the brown moors and black
pines, caught the bright fresh beauty of the colour with rapture.

"Come," I thought, "there are, at least, oases in the Landes. Never was
turf so glorious; never was sward so bewitching." And then, gazing far
and wide upon the prairie, I saw it dotted with human figures labouring
at the soil, and great wains and carts drawn by oxen, looking like black
specks upon a great, fresh, green leaf. But, in a moment, I saw
something more. Could I believe my eyes? A ship! Yes, verily, a ship,
fast aground, high and dry upon the turf! and not only one, but two,
three, four, good-sized schooners and _chasse marées_, with peasants
digging about them, and country carts high heaped with green
rural-looking burdens.

The Landes man saw my bewilderment. "The green-looking land," he said,
"is the flat bottom of part of the bay of Arcachon. It is now dead
low-water, and the country people have come down with their carts to
fill them with that green slimy seaweed, which makes capital manure; and
some of them, perhaps, have brought casks of resin for those ships which
principally belong to Bordeaux, Rochelle, and Nantes, and come here and
into other bays along the coast for the harvest of the Landes."

The engine whistled. We were at Teste--a shabby, ancient little village,
with a deep stream flowing sluggishly around it, and dividing itself
into a many-forked delta along the level sand; fishermen's hovels
scattered on the beach, brown boats drawn up beneath them, nets drying,
a considerable fishy smell pervading the atmosphere, with, beyond again,
the black, unvarying mantle of pine-woods. There is a very good hotel at
Teste; thanks to its being one of the Bordeaux watering-places; and
there, for dinner, was provided red mullets, which would have made the
red mullet-loving Duke of Devonshire crazy, as he noted the difference
between the fish from the bay of Arcachon and their brethren from the
coast of Weymouth.



CHAPTER V.

THE LANDES--THE BAY OF ARCACHON AND ITS FISHERS--THE LEGEND OF
CHATEL-MORANT--THE PINE-WOODS--THE RESIN-GATHERER--THE WILD
HORSES--THE SURF OF THE BAY OF BISCAY--THE WITCHES OF THE
LANDES--POPULAR BELIEFS, AND POPULAR CUSTOMS.


The sun was low in the heavens next morning when I was afoot and down to
the beach, the glorious bay now brimming full, and the schooners and
_chasse marées_, like the swan on St. Mary's Loch, floating double,
ships and shadows. The scene was very strange. The green meadow had
disappeared, and where it had been, a gleaming lake stretched brilliant
in the sunshine, set in the pine-woods like a mirror in an ebony frame,
cutting slices of sweeping bay out of their dusky margins, and piercing
their depths with silent, weedy water-veins.

[Illustration]

Where the villages lie, there have been clearings made in the wood,
precisely as one would expect to see in a New Zealand or Australian bay.
Close to high-water mark, rows of rounded huts serve as storehouses for
nets, and spars, and sails. Before them straggling jetties run on piles
far to seaward; behind, huddled amid scanty vineyards and patches of
broadleaved Indian corn, groups of houses--their roofs nearly flat, and
their walls not above six feet, in some places not four feet, high--seem
cowering away from observation. For every cottage built of stone, there
are half-a-dozen out-houses, sheds, pig-sties, and so forth, piled up
with old oars, broken masts, furze, pine-cuttings, and Irish-looking
sod. I made my way to what seemed the principal landing-place--a
bleached jetty. A dozen or so of boats floated round it, roughly built,
very narrow, and very light, lying upon the very top of the water, and
just, in fact, as like canoes as the scene about resembled some still
savage country. Three boats were starting for the oyster fishery, manned
each by four as buxom, blithe, and debonnaire wenches as you would wish
to see. They had short petticoats--your Nereides of all shores have--and
straw hats, shaped like a man's. In the stern-sheets of each boat a
venerable, ancient mariner held the tiller; and as I approached, the
damsels, who were getting their clumsy oars inserted between the
thole-pins, clamoured out in a torrent of vociferous gabble, offering me
a day's oyster-fishing, if I would go with them. They were evidently
quite _au fait_ to ridding the Bordeaux loungers of their spare francs,
in the shape of passage-money, for a frolic on the oyster-banks; but I
had determined to pass the day in another fashion. I wanted a sail on
the bright, still bay, a walk in the pine-woods, and a glance at the
surf tumbling in from the Bay of Biscay; so I scrutinized the faces of
two or three lounging boatmen, with as much reference to Lavater's
principles as I might, and selecting the most intelligent-looking of the
lot--a mild, grey-eyed man, who spoke gently and slowly--we soon made a
bargain, and were speedily afloat in the bean-cod looking canoe of which
he was the skipper. I was gazing doubtfully at the heavy oars, and the
expanse of water, when a flying cat's-paw made just a pretence of
ruffling it.

"_Merci, le bon vent!_" said the fisherman. Up went a mast; up went a
light patch of thin white canvass, and straightway the bubbles flew fast
and faster by the gunwale, and there arose a sweet gurgle from the
cleaving bow.

"You can see how fast we're going by the bottom," said the boatman. I
leant over the gunwale, and looked down. Oh, the marvellous brightness
of that shining sea! I gazed from the boat upon the sand through the
water, almost as you might through the air upon the earth from a
balloon. Ghost-like fish gleamed in the depths, and their shadows
followed them below upon the ribbed sea-sand. Long flowing weeds, like
rich green ribbons, waved and streamed in the gently running tidal
current. You could see the white pebbles and shells--here a ridge of
rocks, there a dark bed of seaweed; and now and then a great flat-fish,
for all the world like a burnished pot-lid set in motion--went gleaming
along the bottom.

"Once," said the boatman, "all the bottom of this great bay that you are
looking at was dry land, and there were cottages upon it, and an ancient
chateau. That was the chateau of Armand de Chatel-morant, an old baron
of these parts, a wicked man and a great magician, who had a familiar
spirit, which came when he blew a horn, and who was able, by his
sorceries, to rule the winds that blow. Only, once he raised a storm he
could not quell; and it was that storm which made the Bay of Arcachon;
for the wind blew the sand of the sea-shore up the country, like a
snow-storm, and the sand-hills rolled before it; and what the wind
began, the _coup de mer_ finished, and the ocean came bursting through
the breach it had battered in the sand-ridges of the coast, and
swallowed up the chateau and drowned the magician, and there was an end
of him."

"Well," said I, "so be it; he deserved his fate."

"For many a year after the flood the baron had made," the boatman
continued, "you could see, out of a boat, the pointed tops of the towers
of the chateau below you, with the weather-cocks still pointing to the
west, and the green seaweed hanging to them, like pennons from a ship's
vanes."

"But I fear it is not to be seen now."

"Oh! no. Ages and ages ago it rotted and rotted away; but the old men of
the village have heard from their fathers that the fishermen only
ventured there in calm summer weather and in good daylight; for, in the
dark, look you, and when a Biscay wind was blowing, they said they heard
the sounding of Chatel-morant's magic horn, and they saw his imp flying
above them and wailing like a hurt seabird."

Of course, I was on thorns to hear all the story; and so my boatman
recounted a rude, disjointed tale, which I have hitched, legendwise,
into the following narrative:--

The Baron Armand de Chatel-morant sat in his dim studio high up in the
most seaward tower of the chateau of Chatel-morant. His hair and his
beard were white, but his eyes were keen, and his cheeks as ruddy as the
eyes and the cheeks of a young man. He had a furnace beside him, with
implements of projection, crucibles, and powders. On the table were
astrological instruments, and the magic crystal, which his Familiar had
given him, and in which--only, however, when the Familiar pleased--the
baron could read the future; but, for every reading of the future, the
baron was a year older--the Familiar had a year of his life. The baron
was clothed in a long furred robe, and he wore red shoes, with peaked
toes, as long again as his feet. His face was moody, and clouds went
driving along his brow. He took up his instruments, and laid them down,
and opened a big book, full of spells and cantrips, and shut it; then he
walked about the room; and then he stopped and blew a silver whistle.

Very prompt at the sound came an old man--reverent and sorrowful
looking--with a white wand; for he was the seneschal of the chateau of
Chatel-morant.

"Your niece," said the baron, "who comes hither from the town of
Bordeaux to visit you, and whom I saw but yester even,--has she
returned?"

"She went this morning, monseigneur," said the seneschal; "she has
preparations to make; for, God save the pretty child! she is to be
married on the day of Blessed St. John."

The baron frowned; for he was not an admirer of the saints, being quite,
indeed, on the other side of the hedge.

"Say the number of the day, and the name of the month," he replied,
angrily; "and do not torment me with that shaveling jargon which they
talk in the monastery of Andrew, whom they call St. Andrew at Bordeaux."

The seneschal, who was accustomed to be bullied, particularly upon
religious subjects, crossed himself behind his back; for he was a
prudent man, and, owing to the absence of mind of the baron, who was
always experimentalizing in the black art, managed, one way or other, to
pick up so much as to make his place a tolerably profitable one.

"Married!" said the baron; "and to whom?"

"Just to honest and brave Jacques Fort--the stoutest mariner who sails
out of the Garonne. He has got a ship of his own, now--the _Sainte
Vierge_; and to-day he sails upon his first voyage, as far as Bayonne."

"He sails to-day--so; and the maiden's name--your niece's name--what is
that?"

"Toinette, so please you, sir."

"You may go."

And go the seneschal did, wondering very much at the uncommon interest
his master seemed to be taking in vulgar, sublunary things.

Then Baron Armand de Chatel-morant paced the room a long time in gloomy
meditation. At length he sat down again, and said aloud: "There is no
doubt of it--I am in love. That face haunts me; Toinette's face is ever
floating opposite to me. 'Tis an odd feeling; I was never so before.
But, since it is so, I must even have the maiden--she will cheer me--I
love her face. I will send to-morrow to Bordeaux, as from her uncle; and
when she comes here, by the star of Aldeboran, she stays here, Jacques
Fort to the contrary notwithstanding!"

"Wrong--quite wrong!" said a voice.

The baron turned coolly round, and saw, sitting upon the arm of the
chair close to him, the figure of a very thin dwarf, with a long,
unearthly face, and fingers like hawks' claws. This was the imp--the
baron's Familiar.

"How, Klosso!" said Armand; "you come without being called?"

"Yes; but you would have called me soon."

"You know what I am thinking of--of Toinette. I love her--I must have
her."

"You will not have her."

"Why so?"

"Because it is so decreed."

"Klosso," said the baron, "I don't believe you. You know the future;
but you lie about it when you speak."

"Will you, then," answered the demon, "look into the crystal: that can't
lie. Come--it's only another year--give yourself a treat--come!"

"I have given you many years already," said the baron, musing; "look how
grey my hair is!"

"Dye it," said the imp, who, if he was a Familiar, certainly behaved as
such. But the baron took no notice of his impertinence. He was
dreadfully smitten by Toinette, and said he'd have a twelvemonths' worth
of knowledge of futurity for her sake. The thin dwarf grinned, and then
made a motion of relief, as one who saw before him the speedy end of a
long, long watch. So he took the crystal, uttered, as may be supposed,
some magic words; and the baron looked upon the clear surface.

"Malediction!" he exclaimed, as he saw in the crystal a huge hearth,
with pots on the fire, and poultry roasting before it, and Toinette
tending the cookery, and a stalwart fellow helping her clumsily.

"That is Toinette!" cried the baron; "but who is the rascal with her?"

"Her husband, Jacques Fort."

"Curses on him!"

Here the baron saw Jacques fling his arm round Toinette's waist, and
kiss her so naturally, that he ground his teeth.

"Domestic felicity," said the imp; "a charming picture, baron--they're
cooking the christening feast for young Jacques."

The baron flung the crystal down.

"Pay me," said the imp; and he passed the bird-like hand over the
baron's face, and each of his fingers drew a wrinkle. A shudder went
over the sorcerer's frame, and then he breathed heavily, and looked
wistfully at the imp. He was a year older.

"Klosso!" shouted Armand, leaping to his feet, "I will fight fate!"

"Better not," said Klosso.

"Curse the future!" exclaimed the baron; "I will alter the future, and
give the lie to the crystal, as to you!"

"If you try," replied the imp, coolly, "you will belong to me before the
morning."

"Silence, slave!" cried Armand, who was not a man to be put out of his
way; "you rule the winds--I rule you. Make the west wind blow."

The imp raised its hand, and they heard the whistling of a strong, gusty
wind, and the creaking of the weather-cocks, as they all turned towards
the sea.

"Stronger--stronger--stronger!" shouted the baron; and the whistle
became a roar, and the roar a howl; and the castle shook and swayed in
the blast.

"Good--good!" laughed the baron; "something more than a puff there--ha!
ha!--as Jacques Fort has found by this time on the deck of his new ship
in the Bay of Biscay."

The Familiar gently remarked that the weather was roughish, when the
seneschal rushed into the room in a dreadful state of terror at the
storm.

"My lord--my lord!" he said, "we shall all be blown away; the air is
full of sand; you would be suffocated outside. The wind is tearing up
the pines; and oh, poor Jacques Fort is at sea, and drowned--drowned, by
this time, to a certainty!"

"Yes," said Armand, "I should rather think so. Toinette must take up
with somebody else.--Stronger!"

The last injunction was addressed to the imp, and instantly complied
with. The tempest roared like the up-bursting of a volcano, and
screeched and screamed through the sugar-loaf turrets and the lattices,
which it had burst in, and the loop-holes, like a hundred thousand
devils' whistles. The seneschal fell on his knees.

"Stronger still!" said the baron.

And meantime what was Jaques Fort doing in his new ship? With every rag
of canvass torn out of the bolt-ropes, the _Sainte Vierge_ was flying on
the very top, as it seemed, of the driving spray, on to the breakers.
Jacques was the only man left on deck--every one of the rest had been
washed overboard, and were already sleeping in the sea; and he knew that
in a moment he would follow them. The staggering ship rose on the back
of a mighty breaker; and the captain knew that with its fall upon the
beach his vessel would be ground to powder.

"Oh, Toinette!" he murmured, as the ship was hove forward like a bolt
from a bow, and then fell shooting into a creaming current of rushing
water, while the sand-hills appeared right and left for a moment, and
then were left astern. The last grand wave had burst the barrier, and
the frail ship and the kneeling mariner were borne onward on the ridge
of the advancing flood, which formed the lake of Arcachon. Jacques Fort
saw a light, and steered towards it: it was the light in the baron's
chamber at the chateau of Chatel-morant.

There, by the burst-in lattice, stood the baron, his grey hair flying
above his head, and ever shouting to the imp, "Stronger,
Klosso--stronger!" And every time he used the words, the hurricane burst
louder and louder upon the rocking turrets. And still Armand clung to
the stone-work of the burst-in lattice, through which the flying sand
drove in, and clustered in his robes and hair.

And now the terrified domestics began to rush up to the chamber of the
baron.

"My lord, such a storm was never heard of!"

"My lord, the devil is loose, and riding on the wind!"

"My lord, the end of the world is at hand!"

"Klosso!" shouted the baron, "stronger!"

As he spoke, the wind burst like a thunder-clap over them, and they
heard the crash of a falling tower. The serving men and women grovelled
in terror on the floor; the baron clung by the window; the imp, visible
only to him, sat on the back of the arm-chair, as he had sat since his
appearance.

But hush! Another sound, mingling with the roar of the wind, and deeper
and more awful still. It rapidly increased, and the baron found his face
besprinkled with driving drops of water--they were salt.

"My lord--my lord!" screamed the seneschal, sinking, as he spoke, at
the baron's knees; "my lord--the sea!"

A cry was heard without; the lights of the hamlet beneath disappeared;
and then a shock from below made the chateau swing and rock, and white
waves were all around them.

"The sea, my lord," said the seneschal, "has burst the sand-banks; the
castle stands on low ground. We are all dead men--the sea--the sea!"

The Baron Armand turned to Klosso: "Does he speak truth?"

"The worthy gentleman," said the imp, "is perfectly in the right; you
are all dead men; and, Monseigneur le Baron, when you gave me last a
year of your life, you gave me the last you had to give."

Up rose the water, and higher dashed the waves. Up, foot by foot, and
yard by yard; and still the baron stood erect amid the raving of the
elements--his face as white as his hair, but his eyes as bright and keen
as ever.

"Klosso," he said, "I am yours; and the future is the future."

He looked at the iron lamp swinging above his head.

"It will soon be out," said Klosso.

Jacques Fort still steered to the light. It came nearer and nearer; and
he saw, even through the gloom and the driving spray, that it shone from
a castle-turret, and he seized the tiller to change the course of the
vessel; but as he did so, the grand, triumphant, finishing blast of the
hurricane fell upon the seething flood like iron--heaved up one
bristling, foaming sea, which caught the _Sainte Vierge_ upon its
crest, and flung the ship almost into the air. The light gleamed for a
moment almost beneath him; and Jacques, rushing to the bow, saw below
it, as in a prison, a fierce convulsed face, and staring eyes, and
flying white hair; and the eyes saw him. As Jacques recognised the
sorcerer Armand of Chatel-morant, so did Armand recognise the face and
form he had seen helping Toinette to cook the christening feast.

The next instant the _Sainte Vierge_ was borne over and over the highest
turret of the chateau, her keel a fathom good above the loftiest and the
gaudiest of all the gilt weather-cocks.

The event foreshadowed in the crystal duly took place on the anniversary
of the day which saw the chateau de Chatel-morant swallowed in the Bay
of Arcachon.

The legend of the submerged chateau, with which I plead guilty to having
taken a few liberties, but "only with a view" (as the magistrate said
when he put his neighbour into the stocks)--"only with a view towards
improvement," occupied us during the greater part of our smooth and
pleasant sail. Dismissing matters legendary, we talked of the fishermen
of the bay, and their neighbours, the shepherds on stilts. The man of
the sea held the men of the land cheap. The peasants were never out of
the forests and the sand, he said; the fishermen often went to Bordeaux,
and sometimes to Rochelle, and sometimes even to Nantes. They (the
boatmen) never used stilts; but as soon as the peasant's children were
able to toddle, they were clapped upon a pair of sticks, and many a
tumble, and many a broken face they caught, before they could use them
easily. "They are a good set of people, but very ignorant, and they
believe whatever you tell them. They are frightened out of their wits if
you speak of witches or sorcerers; but we know that all these old tales
are nothing but nonsense. We go to Bordeaux very often as pilots, and to
Rochelle, and even to Nantes." I was further informed, that in the
winter time the fishermen pursued their occupation in the bay in such
boats as that in which I was sailing; and that in summer they went out
into the Atlantic; but never ventured more than a few miles to sea, and
never, if they could help it, stayed out a night.

This kind of conversation brought us tolerably well to the narrow
passage, all fenced with intricate sand-banks, which leads to the open
sea. A white, graceful lighthouse rose above the sand-banks on our
right, into which the pine-woods were stretching in long, finger-like
projections; and the boat, beginning to rise and fall upon the slow,
majestic heave which the swell without communicated to the shallow water
within the bar, assured me that if we went further, the surf would
prevent our landing at all. We ran the boat upon the beach, and drawing
her up high and dry, plunged into, not the greenwood, but the black-wood
tree. It was hard walking. The pines grew out of fine bright sand, bound
here and there together by carpets of long bent grass, and the air was
sickly with the peculiar resinous smell of the rich sap of the tree
fermenting and distilling down the gashes. In our ramble, we encountered
two of the peasants, whose dreary work it is to hack the pines and
ladle up the flowing proceeds. We heard the blows of the axe echoing in
the hot silence of the mid-day, and made our way to whence the sound
proceeded, speedily descrying the workman, perched upon a slight bending
ladder, gashing the tree. This man, and, indeed, all his brethren whom I
saw, were miserable-looking creatures--their features sunken and
animal-like--their hair matted in masses over their brows--their feet
bare, and their clothing painfully wretched. Their calling is as
laborious as it is monotonous. Starting with the dawn, they plunge--a
ladder in one hand, and an adze in the other--into the recesses of the
pine-wood, repeating the same process to every tree. The ladder in
question is very peculiar, consisting of a single strip of elastic wood,
about ten feet long, dotted with knobs cut plain upon one side for the
foot to rest upon, and thus serving instead of rounds or steps. This
primitive ladder is sliced away towards the top, so as to rest more
commodiously upon the tree. When in use, it is placed almost
perpendicularly, and the workman ascends it like a monkey, never
touching the tree, but keeping the ladder in its position by the action
of his legs, which, from the knee downward, seem to cling round and
round the bending wood, and keep it in its place, even when the top,
laid perhaps against the rounded side of the trunk, appears to be
slipping off every moment.

"Well," said my guide, the Teste boatman, "I would rather reef topsails
in a gale of wind than go up there, at any rate."

The ladder, its proprietor told me, could not be used except with naked
feet. The instrument with which he cut the tree was as sharp as a razor,
and required long practice to acquire the knack of using it. I wondered
that the gashing did not kill the trees, as some of the largest were
marked with half-a-dozen cuts from the ground to the fork. Here and
there, indeed, you found one which had succumbed to the process, rotted,
and fallen; but the majority seemed in very good case, nevertheless.

"Look at that tree," said a resin-gatherer. More than half the bark had
certainly gone in these perpendicular stripes, and yet it looked strong
and stately "That tree is more than a hundred years old; and that is not
a bad age for either a man or a fir."

Leaving the peasant behind, we pushed steadily towards the sea. The
ground, thanks to the debris of the pines, was as slippery as ice,
except where we plunged into fine hot sand, half way to the knees. Every
now and then we crossed what I cannot describe better than by calling it
a perfectly bald spot in the woods--a circular patch of pure white
sand--in certain lights, you might have taken it for snow. All around
were the black pines; but not a blade or a twig broke the drifted
fineness of the bald white patch. You could find neither stone nor
shell--nothing but subtle, powdery sand--every particle as minute and as
uniform as those in an hour-glass.

"That," said my guide, when we came in view of the first of these
singular little saharas--"that is a devil's garden."

"And what does he grow there?" I asked. The man lowered his voice: "It
is in these spots of fine white sand that all the sorcerers and witches,
and warlocks in France--ay, and I have heard, in the whole world--meet
to sing, and dance, and frolic; and the devil sits in the middle. So, at
least," he added, after a pause, and in a more sprightly tone--"so the
peasants say."

"And do you say it?"

"Well, I do not know. There's witches, for certain, in the Landes,--old
women--but whether they come flying out here to dance round the devil or
no--the peasants say so for certain--but I don't think I believe it."

"I should hope you didn't."

"They enchant people, though; there's no doubt of that. They can give
you the fever so bad that no doctor can set you to rights again; and
they can curse a place, and keep the grass from growing on it; but I
don't believe they fly on broomsticks, or dance round the devil."

"Are there any young women witches?"

"Well, I do hear of one or two. _Mais elles ne sont pas bien fortes._ It
is only the old ones make good witches, and the uglier they are the
better."

"Well, now, did they ever do any harm to you?"

The man paused, and looked at me with a puzzled expression. "Our little
Marie," he said, "has fits; and my wife does say--" Here he stopped.
"No, monsieur," he said, "I do not believe in witches."

But he did, as firmly as King Jamie; only now and then, in the bright
sunlight, and with an incredulous person, he thought he did not.

On, however, we went mile after mile, over the slippery ground, and in
the shadow of the pines, ere we saw gleaming ahead, the region of fine
sand, and heard--although the little breeze which blew was off the
shore--the low thunder of the "coup de mer"--the breaking surf of the
ocean. Presently, passing through a zone of stunted furze, and dry
thin-bladed grass, we emerged into the most fearful desert I ever looked
upon--a sea of heights and hollows, dells and ridges, long slopes and
precipitous ravines--all of them composed of pure white, hot, drifting
sand. The labour of walking was excessive. I longed for the stilts I had
seen the day before. Every puff of breeze sent the sand, like dry
pungent powder, into our faces, and sometimes we could see it reft from
the peaks of the ridges, and blown like clouds of dust far out into the
air. All at once my guide touched my arm, "_Voila! donc, voila! des
chevaux sauvages!_" It certainly only required a breed of wild horses to
make the country an exact counterpart of Arabia; and I eagerly turned to
see the steeds of the desert, just succeeding in catching a glimpse of a
ruck of lean, brown, shaggy ponies, disappearing round a hill, in a
whirlwind of sand. There is, undoubtedly, something romantic and
Mazeppaish in the notion of wild horses of the desert; but stern truth
compels me to add, that a more stunted, ragged lot of worthless brutes,
not bigger than donkeys, than were the troop of desert steeds of the
Landes which I had the fortune to see, could be nowhere met with. My
fisherman told me that, when caught and tamed, they were useful in
carrying sacks and panniers along the sandy ways; but that there were
not more vicious, stubborn brutes in nature than Landes ponies.

A doubly fatiguing trudge, unbroken by any further episodical visions of
desert steeds, but enlivened by the fast increasing thunder of the surf,
at length brought us to its foam. Winding through a succession of sand
valleys, we climbed a steepish bank, sinking to our knees at every step,
and from this last ridge beheld a long, gentle slope, as perfectly
smooth as though the sand had been smoothed by a ruler--fining away down
to the white creaming sheets of water which swept, with the loud
peculiar hiss of the agitated sea, far up and down the level banks. The
full force of the great heaving swells was expended in breakers, roaring
half a mile from the land; and from their uttermost verge to the tangled
heaps of seaweed washed high and dry upon the beach, was a vast belt of
foaming water, extending away on either hand in a perfectly straight
line as far as the eye could reach, and dividing the shipless expanse of
water from the houseless expanse of land. The scene was very solemn.
There was not even a seabird overhead--not an insect crawling or humming
along the ungrateful sand. Only the grand organ of the surf made its
incessant music, and the sharp thin rustle of the moving sand came
fitfully upon the ear. I sat down and listened to it, and as I sat, the
continually shifting sand gradually rose around me, as the waters rose
round the chateau of Chatel-morant. Had I stayed there long enough, only
my head would have been visible, like the head of the sphinx.

I dined that day at the hotel, _tete-à-tete_ with a young priest, who
was returning to Bordeaux from a visit to his brother, one of the
officers of the Preventitive Service, whose lonely barracks are almost
the only human habitations which break the weary wilderness stretching
from the Adour to the Gironde. One would have thought that there could
be but little smuggling on such a coast; but the Duaniers are always
_autorités_, and the waves of the Gulf of Gascony could not, of course,
break on French ground without _autorités_ to help them. With respect to
the priest, however, he had one of the finest heads and the most
perfectly chiselled features I ever saw. The pale high brow--the keen
bright eyes, with remarkably long eye-lashes--the tenuity of the
cartilage of the nose, and the perfect delicacy of the mouth--all told
of intellect in no common development; while the meek sweetness of the
noble face had something in it perfectly heavenly. Fling in imagination
an aureole round that head, and you had the head of a youthful martyr,
or a saint canonized for early virtues. There was devotion and
aspiration in every line of the countenance--a meek, mild gentleness,
beautifully in keeping with every word he uttered, and every movement he
made. I was the more struck with all this, inasmuch as there is not an
uglier, meaner, nor, I will add, dirtier, set of worthy folks in all the
world, than the priests of France. Nine times out of ten, they are
big-jowled, coarse, animal-looking men, with mottled faces, and skins
which do not take kindly to the razor. The arrangements about the neck
show a decided scarcity of linen, and a still greater lack of soap and
water. They are seldom or never gentlemen, their figures are ungainly,
their motions uncouth, and--barring, of course, their scholastic and
theological knowledge--I found the majority with whom I conversed
stupid, illiterate, and unintelligent. Now, the young priest at Teste
was the reverse of all this. With manners as polished as those of any
courtly _abbé_ of the courtly old _regime_, there was a perfect
atmosphere of frankness and quiet good-humour about my companion, and
his conversation was delightfully easy, animated, and graceful. I do not
know if my friend belonged to the College of Jesus; but, if he did, he
was cut out for the performance of its highest and subtlest diplomacy.

We talked of the strange part of the world I was visiting, and I found
he knew the people and the country well. I mentioned the submerged
chateau and its legend, and he replied that it was an undoubted fact,
that both chateaux and villages had been overwhelmed--both by the
inbursting of the sea, and by great gales blowing vast hills of sand
down into the existing lakes, and so forcing them out of their ancient
beds. The sand, indeed, he said, was more dangerous than the water.
Often and often the coast-guard stations had to be dug out after a gale;
and he believed that, on one occasion, a small church near the mouth of
the Gironde had been overwhelmed to such a height that only a few feet
of the spire and the weathercock were left apparent. The story put me
forcibly in mind of the remarkably heavy fall of snow experienced by my
old friend, Baron Munchausen; but, for all that, I see no reason why it
should not be literally correct. The pines, the priest informed me, were
the saving of the country, by fixing the unstable soil, and the
Government had engineers busily engaged in laying out plantations all
along the coast--the object being to get the trees down to high-water
mark. I mentioned the superstitions of the people.

"Alas!" said the priest, "What you have heard is perfectly true. We are
improving a little, perhaps. The boys and girls we get to come to school
are taught to laugh at the notion of their old grandmothers being
witches, and in another generation or two there will be a great change."

"And how do your witches work?" I asked. "As ours in England used to
do--by spell and charm?"

"Precisely. They are said to make clay figures of their victims, and to
stick pins in them, or bake them in a fire; and then they have rhymes
and cabalistical incantations, and are greatly skilled in the magic
power of herbs. The worst of it is, that a year seldom passes without an
outrage on some poor old woman. A lout, who thinks himself bewitched by
such a person, will attack her and beat her; and occasionally a bullet
has been fired at night through the cottage-window."

"The Landes people have, or had, other queer notions, as well as the
witch ones?"

"Oh, yes! They long held out against potatoes, which, they said, gave
them apoplexy, and they have only lately begun to milk their cows."

"Why so? As a pastoral people, they ought to be great in butter and
cheese."

"On the contrary, they dislike them, and use lard or goose-grease
instead. Indeed, for centuries and centuries, they religiously believed
that Landes cows gave no milk."

"But was not the experiment ever tried?"

"Scores of times. An anxious reformer would go to a Landes farmer, and
urge him to milk his cows. 'Landes cows give no milk,' would be the
answer. 'Will you let me try?' would, perhaps, be replied. The Landes
man would have no objection; and the cow would be brought and milked
before him."

"Well, seeing that would convince him."

"Ah, you don't know the Landes people--not in the least; why, the farmer
would say, 'Ay, there are a few drops, perhaps; but it's not worth the
trouble of taking. Our fathers never milked their cows, and they were as
wise as we are. And next day he would have relapsed into the old creed,
that Landes cows never gave milk at all."

I inquired about the rate at which the stilt-walkers progressed--whether
they could, as one sometimes hears, keep up with a horse at the gallop;
and found, as I expected, that six or seven miles an hour was as much as
they ever managed to achieve. The priest went on succinctly to sketch
the costume and life of the people. When in regular herding dress, the
shepherd of the Landes appears one uncouth mass of dirty wool. On his
body he wears a fleece, cut in the fashion of a rude paletot, and
sometimes flung over one shoulder, like a hussar's jacket. His thighs
and legs are defended on the outside by cuisses and greaves of the same
material. On his feet he wears sabots and coarse worsted socks, covering
only the heels and the instep. His remaining clothing generally consists
of frayed and tattered home-spun cloth; and altogether the appearance of
the man savours very strongly of that of a fantastically costumed
scarecrow.

So attired, then, with a gourd containing some wretched _piquette_ hung
across his shoulders, and provided with a store of rye-bread, baked,
perhaps, three weeks before, a few dry sardines, and as many onions or
cloves of garlic, the Landes shepherd sallies forth into the wilderness.
He reckons himself a rich man, if his employer allows him, over and
above his food, sixty francs a-year. From the rising to the setting of
the sun, he never touches the ground, shuffling backwards and forwards
on his stilts, or leaning against a pine, plying the never-pausing
knitting-needle. Sometimes he drives his flock home at eventide;
sometimes he bivouacs in the wild. Unbuckling his stilts, and producing
his flint and steel, he has soon a rousing fire of fir-branches, when,
gathering his sheep-skins round him, he makes himself comfortable for
the night, his only annoyances being the mosquitoes and the dread of the
cantrips of some unchancy old lady, who may peradventure catch a glimpse
of him in the moonlight, as she rides buxomly on her besom to a festal
dance in a devil's garden.

"Yet still," continued the young priest, "they are a good,
honest-hearted, open-handed people. For their wild, solitary life they
have a passionate love. The Landes peasant, taken from his dreary
plains, and put down in the richest landscape of France, would pine for
his heath, and sand, and woods, like a Swiss for his hills. But they
seldom leave their home here in the forests. They live and die in the
district where they were born, ignorant and careless of all that happens
beyond their own lonely bounds. France may vibrate with revolution and
change--the shepherds of the Landes feel no shock, take no heed, but
pursue the daily life of their ancestors, perfectly happy and contented
in their ignorance, driving their sheep, or notching their trees in the
wilderness."



CHAPTER VI.

UP THE GARONNE--THE OLD WARS ON ITS BANKS--ITS BOATS AND ITS
SCENERY--AGEN--JASMIN, THE LAST OF THE TROUBADOURS--SOUTHERN
COOKERY AND GARLIC--THE BLACK PRINCE IN A NEW LIGHT--A DREARY
PILGRIMAGE TO PAU.


A solemn imprecation is on record, uttered against the memory of the man
who invented getting up by candle-light; to which some honest gentleman,
fond of long lying, has appended a fellow curse, fulminated against the
man who invented getting up at all. Whatever we may think of the latter
commination, I suppose we shall all agree in the propriety of the
former. At all events, no one ever execrated with more sincere good will
the memory of the ingenious originator of candle-light turnings-out than
I did, when a red ray shone through the keyhole of my bedroom, and the
knuckles of--one would call him boots at home--rattled at the door,
while his hoarse voice proclaimed, "_Trois heures et demi_,"--a most
unseasonable and absurd hour certainly; but the Agen steamer, having the
strong stream of the Garonne to face, makes the day as long as possible;
and starts from the bridge--and a splendid bridge it is--of Bordeaux,
crack at half-past four. There was no help for it; and so, leaving my
parting compliments for my worthy host, I soon found myself following
the truck which conveyed my small baggage, modestly stuck into the
interstices of an Alp-like pile of ricketty boxes and faded valises, the
property of an ancient _commis voyageur_, my fellow-lodger; and pacing,
for the last time, the stately quays of the city of the Black Prince.

Early as it was, and pitch-dark, the steam-boat pier was crowded and
bustling enough. Men with lanterns and luggage were rushing breathlessly
about--and gentlemen with brushy black beards were kissing each other
with true French _éffusion_--while a crowd of humble vintagers were
being stowed away in the fore part of the boat. On the pier I observed a
tent, and looking in, found myself in a genuine early breakfast shop,
where I was soon accommodated with a seat by a pan of glowing charcoal.
The morning was bitter cold; and a magnificent bowl of smoking coffee,
bread hot from the oven, and just a nip of cognac, at the kind
suggestion of the jolly motherly-looking old lady in no end of shawls,
who presided over the establishment, and who pronounced it "_Bon pour
l'estomac, du monsieur le voyageur_." Then aboard; and after the due
amount of squabbling, bell-ringing, and contradictory orders, we
launched forth upon the black, rushing river.

A dreary time it is waiting for the daylight of an autumnal morning,
watching the pale negative lighting of the east--then the spreading of
the dim approaching day--stars going out, and the outlines of hills
coming in--and houses and trees, faint and comfortless, looming amid the
grey, cold mist. The Garonne gradually turned from black to yellow--the
genuine pea-souppy hue--and bit by bit the whole landscape came clearly
into stark-staring view--but still cold and dreary-looking--until the
cheering fire stood upon the hill-tops, and announced the rising sun. In
half an hour the valley of the Garonne was a blaze of warmth and
cheerfulness, and nothing could be more picturesquely beautiful, seen
under such auspices, than the fleet of market-boats through which we
threaded our way, and which were floating quietly down to Bordeaux. I
dismiss the mere vegetable crafts; but the fruit-boats would have made
Mr. Lance leap and sing for joy. They were piled--clustered--heaped
over--with mountains of grapes bigger than big gooseberries--peaches and
apricots, like thousands of ladies' cheeks--plums like pulpy, juicy
cannon-balls--and melons big as the head of Gog or Magog. I could not
understand how the superincumbent fruit did not crush that below; but I
suppose there is a knack in piling. At all events, the boats were loaded
to the gunwales with the luscious, shiny, downy, gushing-looking
globules, purple and yellow, and both colours mellowed and softened by
the grateful green of the clustering leaves. These boats looked like
floating cornucopias. Amongst them sometimes appeared a wine-boat--one
man at the head, one at the stern, and a Pyrenees of wine casks between
them--while here and there we would pass a huge Noah's ark of a barge,
towed by a string of labouring oxen, and steered from a platform
amidships by a tiller a great deal longer, thicker, and heavier than the
mast.

And now for a bit of the landscape. We have Gascony to our right, and
Guienne to our left.

Here and there, then, particularly in Guienne, the Garonne is not unlike
the tamer portions of the Rhine. The green vine-clothed banks rise into
precipitous ridges, whitened by streaks of limestone cliff, cottages
nestling in the crevices and ravines, and an occasional feudal tower
crowning the topmost peak. The villages passed near the water's edge are
doleful-looking places, ruinous and death-like; whitish, crumbling
houses, with outside shutters invariably closed; empty and lonesome
streets, and dilapidated piers, the stakes worn and washed away by the
constant action of the river. Take Langon and Castres as specimens of
these places: two drearier towns--more like sepulchres than towns--never
nurtured owls and bats. They seem to be still lamenting the old English
rule, and longing for the jolly times when stout English barons led the
Gascon knights and men-at-arms on profitable forays into Limousin and
Angoumais. Occasionally, however, we have a more promising and pleasing
looking town. These, for the most part, are tolerably high up the river,
and possess some curious and characteristic features. You will descry
them, for instance, towering up from a mass of perpendicular cliffs; the
open-galleried and bartizaned red houses, reared upon arches and
pillars, rising from the rock; flights of stairs from the water's edge
disappearing among the buildings, and strips of terraced gardens laid
out on the narrow shelves and ledges of the precipice.

The ruins of old feudal castles are numerous on both sides of the river;
and if the red mossy stone could speak, many a tale of desperate siege
and assault it could, no doubt, tell--for these strongholds were
perpetually changing masters in the wars between the French and the
English and Gascons; and often, when peace subsisted between the crowns,
were they attacked and harried by moss-trooping expeditions led by
French Watts Fire-the-Braes, or by English Christies of the Clinthill.
While, then, the steamer is slowly plodding her way up stream, turning
reach after reach, and showing us another and yet another pile of feudal
ruins, let us sit down here with Froissart beneath the awning, and try
to gain some inkling into the warlike customs of the times when these
thick-walled towers--no doubt built, as honest King James remarked, by
gentlemen who were thieves in their hearts--alternately displayed the
Lion Rampant and the Fleur-de-Lis.

In all the fighting of the period--I refer generally to the age of the
Black Prince--there would appear to have been a great deal of chivalric
courtesy and forbearance shown on either side. It was but seldom that a
place was defended _à outrance_. If the besiegers appeared in very
formidable force, the besieged usually submitted with a very good grace,
marched honourably out, and had their turn next time. I cannot find that
there was anything in the nature of personal animosity between the
combatants, but there was great wantonness of life; and though few men
were killed in downright cold blood, a man was frequently made the
victim of a sort of murderous frolicsomeness, the manner of his death
being suggested, by the circumstances of the moment. For instance, on
one occasion, an English and Gascon garrison was besieged in
Auberoche--the French having "brought from Toulouse four large machines,
which cast stones into the fortress night and day, which stones
demolished all the roofs of the towers, so that none within the walls
dared to venture out of the vaulted rooms on the ground-floor." In this
strait, a "varlet" undertook to carry letters, requesting succour, to
the Earl of Derby, at Bordeaux. He was unsuccessful in getting through
the French lines, and being arrested, the letters were found upon him,
hung round his neck, and the poor wretch bound hand and foot, inserted
in one of the stone-throwing machines. His cries for mercy all unheeded,
the engine made two or three of its terrific swings, and then launched
the screaming "varlet" into the air, right over the battlements of
Auberoche, "so that he fell quite dead amid the other varlets, who were
much terrified at it;" and presently, the French knights, riding up to
the walls, shouted to the defenders: "Gentlemen, inquire of your
messenger where he found the Earl of Derby, seeing that he has returned
to you so speedily." But the Earl of Derby did come, and took signal
vengeance. The battle, which Froissart tells in his best manner,
resulted in the capture by the English of nine French viscounts, and "so
many barons, squires, and knights, that there was not a man-at-arms
among the English that had not for his share two or three."

The captains of the pillaging bands, who preyed both upon the English
and the French, and the hired auxiliaries, who transferred their
services from one side to the other, were, however, miserable
assassins, thirsting for blood. These men were frequently Bretons; and,
says Froissart, "the most cruel of all Bretons was Geoffrey Tete-Noire."
With this Geoffrey Tete-Noire, continues the old chronicler, "there was
a certain captain, who performed many excellent deeds of arms, namely,
Aimerigot Marcel, a Limousin squire, attached to the side of the
English." One of the "deeds of arms" performed under this worthy's
auspices is narrated as follows:--

"Aimerigot made one day an excursion, with only twelve companions, to
seek adventures. They took the road towards Aloise, near St. Fleur,
which has a handsome castle in the bishopric of Clermont. They knew the
castle was only guarded by the porter. As they were riding silently
towards Aloise, Aimerigot spied the porter sitting upon the branch of a
tree without side of the castle. The Breton, who shot extraordinary well
with a cross-bow, says to him, 'Would you like to have that porter
killed at a shot?'--'Yea,' replied Aimerigot; 'and I hope you will
do so.' The cross-bow man shoots a bolt, which he drives into the
porter's head, and knocks him down. The porter, feeling himself mortally
wounded, regains the gate, which he attempts to shut, but cannot, and
falls down dead."

This delectable anecdote, Froissart--probably as kind-hearted a man by
nature as any of his age--tells as the merest matter of course, and
without a word of compunction or reproof. The fact is, that the gay and
lettered canon of Chimay cared and thought no more of the spilling of
blood which was not gentle, than he would of the scotching of a rat or
a snake. Lingeringly and wofully does he record the deaths of dukes, and
viscounts, and even simple knights and squires, who have done their
_devoirs_ gallantly; but as to the life-blood of the varlets--the
vilains--the kernes--the villagios--the Jacques Bonhommes--foh! the red
puddle--let it flow; blood is only blood when it gushes from the veins
of a gentleman!

[Illustration: JASMIN.]

The evening was closing, and the mist stealing over the Garonne, when we
came alongside the pier at Agen. A troop of diligence _conducteurs_ and
canal touters immediately leaped on board, to secure the passengers for
Toulouse, either by road or water. Being, fortunately, not of the number
who were thus taken prisoners, I walked up through the sultry
evening--for we are now getting into the true south--to the very
comfortable hotel looking upon the principal square of the town. One of
my objects in stopping at Agen was, to pay a literary visit to a very
remarkable man--JASMIN, the peasant-poet of Provence and Languedoc--the
"Last of the Troubadours," as, with more truth than is generally to be
found in _ad captandum_ designations, he terms himself, and is termed by
the wide circle of his admirers; for Jasmin's songs and rural epics are
written in the _patois_ of the people, and that _patois_ is the still
almost unaltered _Langue d'Oc_--the tongue of the chivalric minstrelsy
of yore. But Jasmin is a Troubadour in another sense than that of merely
availing himself of the tongue of the _ménestrels_. He publishes,
certainly--conforming so far to the usages of our degenerate modern
times; but his great triumphs are his popular recitations of his poems.
Standing bravely up before an expectant assembly of perhaps a couple of
thousand persons--the hot-blooded and quick-brained children of the
South--the modern Troubadour plunges over head and ears into his lays,
working both himself and his applauding audience into fits of enthusiasm
and excitement, which, whatever may be the excellence of the poetry, an
Englishman finds it difficult to conceive or account for. The raptures
of the New Yorkers and Bostonians with Jenny Lind are weak and cold
compared with the ovations which Jasmin has received. At a recitation
given shortly before my visit at Auch, the ladies present actually tore
the flowers and feathers out of their bonnets, wove them into extempore
garlands, and flung them in showers upon the panting minstrel; while the
editors of the local papers next morning assured him, in floods of
flattering epigrams, that, humble as he was now, future ages would
acknowledge the "divinity" of a Jasmin! There is a feature, however,
about these recitations, which is still more extraordinary than the
uncontrollable fits of popular enthusiasm which they produce. His last
entertainment before I saw him was given in one of the Pyrenean cities
(I forget which), and produced 2000 francs. Every sous of this went to
the public charities; Jasmin will not accept a stiver of money so
earned. With a species of perhaps overstrained, but certainly exalted,
chivalric feeling, he declines to appear before an audience to exhibit
for money the gifts with which nature has endowed him. After, perhaps, a
brilliant tour through the South of France, delighting vast audiences in
every city, and flinging many thousands of francs into every poor-box
which he passes, the poet contentedly returns to his humble occupation,
and to the little shop where he earns his daily bread by his daily toil,
as a barber and hairdresser. It will be generally admitted, that the man
capable of self-denial of so truly heroic a nature as this, is no
ordinary poetaster. One would be puzzled to find a similar instance of
perfect and absolute disinterestedness in the roll of minstrels, from
Homer downwards; and, to tell the truth, there does seem a spice of
Quixotism mingling with and tinging the pure fervour of the enthusiast.
Certain it is, that the Troubadours of yore, upon whose model Jasmin
professes to found his poetry, were by no means so scrupulous.
"Largesse" was a very prominent word in their vocabulary; and it really
seems difficult to assign any satisfactory reason for a man refusing to
live upon the exercise of the finer gifts of his intellect, and throwing
himself for his bread upon the daily performance of mere mechanical
drudgery.

[Illustration: A POET'S HOUSE.]

Jasmin, as may be imagined, is well known in Agen. I was speedily
directed to his abode, near the open _Place_ of the town, and within
earshot of the rush of the Garonne; and in a few moments I found myself
pausing before the lintel of the modest shop inscribed, _Jasmin,
Perruquier, Coiffeur de jeunes Gens_. A little brass basin dangled above
the threshold; and, looking through the glass, I saw the master of the
establishment shaving a fat-faced neighbour. Now, I had come to see and
pay my compliments to a poet; and there did appear to me to be something
strangely awkward and irresistibly ludicrous in having to address, to
some extent in a literary and complimentary vein, an individual
actually engaged in so excessively prosaic and unelevated a species of
performance. I retreated, uncertain what to do, and waited outside until
the shop was clear.

Three words explained the nature of my visit; and Jasmin received me
with a species of warm courtesy, which was very peculiar and very
charming--dashing at once, with the most clattering volubility and fiery
speed of tongue, into a sort of rhapsodical discourse upon poetry in
general, and his own in particular--upon the French language in general,
and the _patois_ of it spoken in Languedoc, Provence, and Gascony in
particular. Jasmin is a well-built and strongly limbed man, of about
fifty, with a large, massive head, and a broad pile of forehead,
overhanging two piercingly bright black eyes, and features which would
be heavy were they allowed a moment's repose from the continual play of
the facial muscles, which were continually sending a series of varying
expressions across the swarthy visage. Two sentences of his conversation
were quite sufficient to stamp his individuality. The first thing which
struck me was the utter absence of all the mock-modesty, and the
pretended self-underrating, conventionally assumed by persons expecting
to be complimented upon their sayings or doings. Jasmin seemed
thoroughly to despise all such flimsy hypocrisy. "God only made four
Frenchmen poets!" he burst out with; "and their names are Corneille,
Lafontaine, Beranger, and Jasmin!" Talking with the most impassioned
vehemence, and the most redundant energy of gesture, he went on to
declaim against the influences of civilization upon language and
manners as being fatal to all real poetry. If the true inspiration yet
existed upon earth, it burned in the hearts and brains of men far
removed from cities, _salons_, and the clash and din of social
influences. Your only true poets were the unlettered peasants, who
poured forth their hearts in song, not because they wished to make
poetry, but because they were joyous and true. Colleges, academies,
schools of learning, schools of literature, and all such institutions,
Jasmin denounced as the curse and the bane of true poetry. They had
spoiled, he said, the very French language. You could no more write
poetry in French now, than you could in arithmetical figures. The
language had been licked, and kneaded, and tricked out, and plumed, and
dandified, and scented, and minced, and ruled square, and chipped--(I am
trying to give an idea of the strange flood of epithets he used)--and
pranked out, and polished, and muscadined, until, for all honest
purposes of true high poetry, it was mere unavailable and contemptible
jargon. It might do for cheating _agents de change_ on the Bourse--for
squabbling politicians in the Chambers--for mincing dandies in the
_salons_--for the sarcasm of Scribeish comedies, or the coarse
drolleries of Palais Royal farces; but for poetry the French language
was extinct. All modern poets who used it were mere _faiseurs de
phrase_--thinking about words, and not feelings. "No, no," my Troubadour
continued; "to write poetry, you must get the language of a rural
people--a language talked among fields, and trees, and by rivers and
mountains--a language never minced or disfigured by academies, and
dictionary-makers, and journalists; you must have a language like that
which your own Burns (whom I read of in Chateaubriand) used; or like the
brave old mellow tongue--unchanged for centuries--stuffed with the
strangest, quaintest, richest, raciest idioms, and odd, solemn words,
full of shifting meanings and associations, at once pathetic and
familiar, homely and graceful--the language which I write in, and which
has never yet been defiled by calculating men of science or jack-a-dandy
_litterateurs_."

The above sentences may be taken as a specimen of the ideas with which
Jasmin seemed to be actually overflowing at every pore in his body, so
rapid, vehement, and loud was his enunciation of them. Warming more and
more as he went on, he began to sketch the outlines of his favourite
pieces, every now and then plunging into recitation, jumping from French
to _patois_, and from _patois_ to French, and sometimes spluttering them
out, mixed up pell-mell together. Hardly pausing to take breath, he
rushed about the shop as he discoursed, lugging out, from old chests and
drawers, piles of old newspapers and reviews, pointing me out a passage
here in which the estimate of the writer pleased him, a passage there
which showed how perfectly the critic had mistaken the scope of his
poetic philosophy, and exclaiming, with the most perfect _naivete_, how
mortifying it was for men of original and profound genius to be
misconceived and misrepresented by pigmy whipper-snapper scamps of
journalists. There was one review of his works, published in a London
"_Recueil_," as he called it, to which Jasmin referred with great
pleasure. A portion of it had been translated, he said, in the preface
to a French edition of his works; and he had most of the highly
complimentary phrases by heart. The English critic, he said, wrote in
the _Tintinum_; and he looked dubiously at me when I confessed that I
had never heard of the organ in question. "_Pourtant_," he said, "_je
vous le ferai voir_:" and I soon perceived that Jasmin's _Tintinum_ was
no other than the _Athenæum_.

In the little back drawing-room behind the shop, to which the poet
speedily introduced me, his sister, a meek, smiling woman, whose eyes
never left her brother, following him as he moved with a beautiful
expression of love and pride in his glory, received me with simple
cordiality. The walls were covered with testimonials, presentations, and
trophies, awarded by cities and distinguished persons, literary and
political, to the modern Troubadour. Not a few of these are of a nature
to make any man most legitimately proud. Jasmin possesses gold and
silver vases, laurel branches, snuff-boxes, medals of honour, and a
whole museum of similar gifts, inscribed with such characteristic and
laconic legends as--"_Au Poete, Les Jeunes filles de Toulouse
reconnaissantes_----." The number of garlands of _immortelles_, wreaths
of ivy-jasmin (punning upon the name), laurel, and so forth, utterly
astonished me. Jasmin preserved a perfect shrubbery of such tokens; and
each symbol had, of course, its pleasant associative remembrance. One
was given by the ladies of such a town; another was the gift of the
prefect's wife of such a department. A handsome full-length portrait had
been presented to the poet by the municipal authorities of Agen; and a
letter from M. Lamartine, framed, above the chimney-piece, avowed the
writer's belief that the Troubadour of the Garonne was the Homer of the
modern world. M. Jasmin wears the ribbon of the Legion of Honour, and
has several valuable presents which were made to him by the late ex-king
and different members of the Orleans family.

I have been somewhat minute in giving an account of my interview with M.
Jasmin, because he is really the popular poet--the peasant poet of the
south of France--the Burns of Limousin, Provence, and Languedoc. His
songs are in the mouths of all who sing in the fields and by the cottage
firesides. Their subjects are always rural, _naive_, and full of rustic
pathos and rustic drollery. To use his words to me, he sings what the
hearts of the people say, and he can no more help it than can the birds
in the trees. Translations into French of his main poems have appeared;
and compositions more full of natural and thoroughly unsophisticated
pathos and humour it would be difficult to find. Jasmin writes from a
teeming brain and a beaming heart; and there is a warmth and a glow, and
a strong, happy, triumphant march of song about his poems, which carry
you away in the perusal as they carried away the author in the writing.
I speak of course from the French translations, and I can well conceive
that they give but a comparatively faint transcript of the pith and
power of the original. The _patois_ in which these poems are written is
the common peasant language of the south-west. It varies in some slight
degree in different districts, but not more than the broad Scotch of
Forfarshire differs from that of Ayrshire. As for the dialect itself, it
seems in the main to be a species of cross between old French and
Spanish--holding, however, I am assured, rather to the latter tongue
than the former, and constituting a bold, copious, and vigorous speech,
very rich in its colouring, full of quaint words and expressive phrases,
and especially strong in all that relates to the language of the
passions and affections.

I hardly know how long my interview with Jasmin might have lasted, for
he seemed by no means likely to tire of talking, and his talk was too
good and too curious not to be listened to with interest; but the
sister, who had left us for a moment, coming back with the intelligence
that there was quite a gathering of customers in the shop, I hastily
took my leave, the poet squeezing my hand like a vice, and immediately
thereafter dashing into all that appertains to curling-irons, scissors,
razors, and lather, with just as much apparent energy and enthusiasm as
he flung into his rhapsodical discourse on poetry and language.

Hereabouts you begin to become sensible of a change in the cookery at
the _table-d'hôtes_; and in the gradually increasing predominance of oil
and garlic, you recognise the kitchen influences of the sweet south.
Garlic is a word of fear--of absolute horror to a great proportion of
our countrymen, whose prejudices will permit them to learn no better. I
admit that the first whiff of the odorous root coming upon
inexperienced nostrils is far from pleasant; indeed, I well remember
being once driven from the table in a small _gasthoff_ at Strasbourg by
the fumes of a particularly strong sausage. Now, however, I think I
should know better. A relish for garlic, in fact, is one of those many
acquired tastes which grew upon us with curious rapidity. You turn from
the first garlicky dish with dismay; the second does not appear quite so
bad; you muster up courage, and taste the third. A strange flavour
certainly--nasty, too--but still--not irredeemably bad--there is a
lurking merit in the sensation--and you try the experiment again and
again--speedily coming to Sir Walter Scott's evident opinions touching
the _petit point d'ail_, "which Gascons love and Scotsmen do not
despise." Indeed, your friends will probably think it well if you
content yourself with the _petit point_, and do not give yourself up to
a height of seasoning such as that which I saw in the _salle à manger_
at Agen, drive two English ladies headlong from the room. Every body in
the South eats garlic, and you will find it for your interest, if but in
self-defence, to do the same; while the oil eating is equally
infectious: you enter Provence, able just to stand a sprinkling upon
your salad--you depart from it, thinking nothing of devouring a dish of
cabbage, chopped up, and swimming in the viscous fluid. The peasants all
through the South eat and drink oil like so many Russians. Wandering
through the dark and narrow streets of Agen--for we have now reached the
point where the eaves of the roofs are made to project so far as to cast
a perpetual shade upon the thoroughfare beneath--I came upon a group of
tiny urchins, clustered round a grocer's shop, in great admiration of a
row of clear oil-flasks displayed in the window.

"_Tiens_," said one. "_C'est de l'huile ça--de l'huile claire--ça doit
etre bon su' le pain--ça!_" The little gourmand looked upon oil just as
an English urchin would upon treacle.

It was from the heights above Agen--studded with the plum-trees which
produce the famous _prunes d'Agen_--that I caught my first glimpse of
the Pyrenees. I was sitting watching the calm uprising of the light
smoke from the leaf-covered town beneath, and marking the grand panorama
around me--the masses of luxuriant vines climbing up the plum and
fig-trees, and the earth frequently yellow with the bursting beds of
huge melons and pumpkins--when, extending my gaze over the vast expanse
of champagne country, watered by the winding reaches of the Garonne, I
saw--shadowy as the phantoms of airy clouds, rising into the far bright
air--faintly, very faintly traced, but still visible, a blue vision of
sierrated and jagged mountain peaks, stretching along the horizon from
east to west, forming the central portion of the great chain of peaks
running from Perpignan to Bayonne, and certainly, at least, one hundred
and twenty miles distant from me as the crow flies. There they
stood,--Louis Quatorze to the contrary, notwithstanding--one of the
great landmarks of the world; a natural boundary for ever; dividing a
people from a people, a tongue from a tongue, and a power from a power!

Below me, at the back of the town, once rose the ancient castle of Agen.
Its ruins were demolished, with those of a cathedral, at the time of the
Revolution; but its memory recalls a very curious story, developing the
true character of the Black Prince, and shewing that, chivalrous and
daring as he was, his tongue had in it an occasional smack of the
braggart, and that the Foremost Knight of all the World could
occasionally do uncommonly sneaking things. Thus it fell out:--In the
year 1368, the Lord of Aquitaine announced that he would raise a
hearth-tax throughout Guienne. The measure was, of course, unpopular,
and the Gascon lords appealed to the King of France, as Feudal Superior
of the Prince; and the King sent, by two commissioners--a lawyer and a
knight--a summons to Edward, to appear and answer before the Parliament
of Paris. The emissaries were introduced in High Court, at Bordeaux,
told their tale, and exhibited their missives. The Black Prince heard in
silence, and then, after a long pause, he sternly and solemnly replied:
"Willing shall we be to attend on the appointed day at Paris, since the
King of France sends for us; but it will be with the helmet on our head,
and sixty thousand men behind us."

The envoys fell on their knees, and bowed their heads to the ground.
After the Prince had retired, they were assured that they would get no
better answer; and so, after dinner, they set forth on the road to
Toulouse, where the Duke of Anjou lay, to convey to him the defiance of
the Englishman. Meantime, however, Edward began rather to repent the
unconditional style of his reply, and to wish the ambassadors back
again. Perhaps, after all, he had been a little too hasty, and had gone
a little too far; so he called together the chief of his barons, and
opened his mind to them. "He did not wish," he said, "the envoys to bear
his cartel to the King of France." In the opinion of the straightforward
practitioners whom he consulted, the means of prevention were easy: what
more practicable and natural than to send out a handful of
men-at-arms--catch the knight and the lawyer, and then and there cut
their throats? But Edward refused to commit unnecessary slaughter; and
possibly exclaiming, as gentlemen in a drama and a dilemma always do--"I
have it"--he gave some private instructions to Sir William le Moine, the
High Steward of Agenois, who immediately set forth at the head of a
plump of spears. Meantime, the envoys were quietly jogging along, when,
what was their horror and surprise at being suddenly pounced upon by the
Lord Steward, and arrested, upon the charge of having stolen a horse
from their last baiting place. It was in vain that the unfortunate pair
offered to bring any evidence of the falsity of the charge; Sir William
had as many witnesses as he commanded men-at-arms, and the victims were
hurried to the castle of Agen, and left to their own reflections in the
securest of its dungeons. When they got out again, or whether they ever
got out at all, Froissart does not condescend to inform us; but surely
the story shews the Black Prince in a new and not exactly favourable
light. We would hardly have expected to find the "Lion whelp of
England" stooping to trump up a false accusation against innocent men,
in order to shuffle out of the consequences of his own brag.

I found it no easy matter to get comfortably from Agen to Pau:
cross-country diligences are most untrustworthy conveyances. The pace at
which they crawl puts it out of the question that they should ever see a
snail which they did not meet; while the terribly long stages to which
the horses are doomed, keeps one in a constant state of moral
discomfort. However, I managed to get rattled and jangled on to Auch, on
the great Toulouse road, one of those towns which you wonder has been
built where it chances to lie, rather than anywhere else; and boasting a
grand old Gothic cathedral church, which Louis Quatorze, in the kindest
manner, enriched with a hugely clumsy Grecian portico, supported on fat,
dropsical pillars. The question was now, how to get on to Pau. The
Toulouse diligence passed every day, but was nearly always full; I might
have to wait a week for a place. A _voiturier_, however, was to start in
the evening, and he faithfully promised to set me down at Tarbes, whence
locomotion to Pau is easy, in time for a late supper; and so with this
worthy I struck a bargain. He shewed me a fair looking vehicle, and we
were to start at six. Punctually to the time, I was upon the ground, but
no conveyance appeared. The place was the front of a carrier's shed,
with an army of _roulage_ carts drawn up before it. I kicked my heels
there in vain, for not a bit could I see of _voiture_ or _voiturier_.
Seven struck--half-past seven--the north wind was bitterly cold, and a
sleety rain began to fall. Had I absolute powers for ten minutes, like
Abou Hassan, sorrowful would have been the fate of that _voiturier_. As
it was, the wind got colder and colder; the streets became deserted, and
the rain and sleet lashed the rough pavement with a loud, shrieking
rattle, when a wilder gust than common came thundering up the narrow
street. At length, sick of cursing the scoundrel, I turned, for warmth,
into a vast, broad-eaved _auberge_, the house of call, I supposed, for
the carriers; and entering the great shadowy kitchen, almost as big and
massive looking a room as an old baronial hall, a voice I knew--the
voice of the rascally _voiturier_ himself--struck my ear, exclaiming
with the most warm-hearted affability, "_Entrez, monsieur; entrez._ We
were waiting for you."

Waiting for me! Surrounded by a group of men in blouses, and two or
three fat women, who were to be my fellow-passengers, there was the
villain, discussing a capital dinner--the bare-armed wenches of the
place rushing between the vast fireplace and the table, with no end of
the savouriest and the most garlicky of dishes, and the whole party in
the highest state of feather and enjoyment. The cool impertinence of the
greeting, however, tickled me amazingly; and room being immediately
made, I was entreated to join the company, and exhorted to eat, as it
would be a good many hours before I had another chance. This looked
ominous; and besides, the whole meal, full of nicely browned stews, was
so appetising, that I fear I committed the enormity of making a very
tolerable second dinner; and so about half-past eight we at last got
under weigh.

But not in the vehicle which I had been shown. There was some
cock-and-bull story of that having been damaged; and we were
squeezed--six of us, including the fat ladies--into a dreadful square
box, with our twelve legs jammed together like the sticks of a faggot,
in the centre. Oh, the woes of that dreary night!--the gruntings and the
groanings of the fat ladies--the squabbles about "making legs," and,
notwithstanding our crowded condition, the intensity of the pinching
cold--one window was broken, another wouldn't pull up, and the whole
vehicle was full of cracks and crevices. Outside, the gale had increased
to a hurricane; the rain and sleet lashed the ground, so that you could
hardly hear the driver shouting at the full pitch of his voice to the
poor jades, who drearily dragged us through the mire. After an hour or
two's riding, the water began to trickle in on all sides. The fat ladies
said they could not possibly survive the night; and a poor thin slip of
a soldier next me accepted half a railway wrapper with the most vehement
"_Merci-bien merci!_" I ever heard in my life. About one in the morning
we pulled up at a lone public-house, in the kitchen of which the
passengers refreshed themselves with coffee, and I myself, to their
great surprise, with a liberal application of cognac and hot water. But
the French have no notion of the mellow beauties of toddy. The rest of
the night wore slowly and wretchedly on. I believe we had the same
horses all the way. Day was grey around us when we heard the voices of
the market people flocking in to Tarbes; and looking forth, after a
short, nightmareish dose, I beheld around me a wide champaign country,
as white with snow as Nova Zembla at Christmas. And this was the boasted
South of France, and the date was the twentieth of October!



[Illustration: CASTLE OF PAU.]



CHAPTER VII.

PAU--THE ENGLISH IN PAU--ENGLISH AND RUSSIANS--THE VIEW OF THE
PYRENEES--THE CASTLE--THE STATUE OF HENRI QUATRE--HIS BIRTH--A
VISION OF HIS LIFE--ROCHELLE--ST. BARTHOLEMEW--IVRY--HENRI AND
SULLY--HENRI AND GABRIELLE--HENRI AND HENRIETTE
D'ENTRAGUES--RAVAILLAC.


Excepting, perhaps, the famous city of Boulogne-sur-Mer, Pau is the most
Anglicised town in France. There are a good many of our countrymen
congregated under the old steeples of Tours which every British man
should love, were it only for Quentin Durward; but they do not leaven
the mass; while in Pau, particularly during the winter time, the main
street and the _Place Royale_ look, so far as the passengers go, like
slices cut out from Weymouth, Bath, or Cheltenham. You see in an
instant the insular cut of the groups, who go laughing and talking the
familiar vernacular along the rough _pavé_. There is a tall, muscular
hoble-de-hoy, with red hair, high shirt collar, and a lady on each
arm--fresh-looking damsels, with flounces, which smack unmistakeably of
England. It is a young gentleman with his sisters. Next come a couple of
wonderfully well-shaved, well buttoned-up, fat, elderly, half-pay
English officers, talking "by Jove, sir," of "Wilkins of ours;" and "by
George, sir," of what the "old Duke had said to Galpins of the 9th. at
the United Service." An old fat half-pay officer is always a major. I do
not know how it happens, but so it is; and when you meet them settled
abroad, ten to one they have been dragged there by their wives and
daughters.

"By Jove, sir!" said one of these veterans to me at Pau--he was very
confidential over a glass of brandy and water at the _café_ on the
_Place_--"By Jove, sir, for myself, I'd never like to go further from
Pall Mall than just down Whitehall, to set my watch by the Horse Guards'
clock; but the women, you know, sir, have a confounded hankering for
these confounded foreign places; and, by Jove, sir, what is an old
fellow who wants a quiet life to do, sir?"

The colony of our country folks at Pau keep, as usual, very much
together, and try to live in the most English fashion they may; ask each
other mutually to cut mutton; display joints instead of _plats_, and
import their own sherry; pass half their time studying _Galignani_, and
reading to each other long epistles of news and chat from England--the
majors and other old boys clustering together like corks in a tub of
water; the young people getting up all manner of merry pic-nics and
dances, and any body who at all wishes to be in the set, going
decorously to the weekly English service.

"_Tenez_," said a Pau shopkeeper to me; "your countrymen enjoy here all
the luxuries of England. They have even an episcopal chapel and a pack
of fox-hounds."

Of course, the prosperity of Pau mainly depends upon its English
residents, who are generally well-to-do people, spending their money
freely. Shortly before my visit, however, a Russian prince, who had
established himself in a neighbouring chateau, had quite thrown the
English reputation for wealth into the shade. His equipages, his
parties, the countess's diamonds, had overblazed the grandeur of the
English all put together; and the way in which he spent money enraptured
the good folks of the old capital of Bearne. The Russians, indeed,
wherever they go on the continent, deprive us of our _prestige_ as the
richest people in the world--an achievement for which they deserve the
thanks of all Englishmen with heads longer than their purses.

"_Ah, monsieur!_" I was once told, "_la pluie de guineés, c'est bonne;
mais le pluie de roubles, c'est une averse--un deluge!_"

Gaston Phoebus, Count de Foix, was a sad Bluebeard of a fellow, but he
showed his taste in pitching upon a site for the castle of Pau. He
reared its towers on the edge of a rocky hill. Far beneath sparkle the
happy waters of the Gave--appearing and disappearing in the broken
country--a tumbling maze of wooded hill, green meadow, straggling
coppice, corn-fields, vineyards, and gardens--verily a land flowing with
milk and honey. Further on, sluggish round-backed hills heave up their
green masses, clustered all over with box-wood; and then come--cutting
with many a pointed peak and jagged sierra--the bright blue sky--the
glorious screen of the Pyrenees. From the end of the _Place_, which runs
to the ridge of the bank on which stands the town, you may gaze at it
for hours--the hills towering in peak and pinnacle, sharp, ridgy,
saw-like--either deeply, beautifully blue, or clad in one unvarying garb
of white; and beyond that, Spain. The same view from the castle is even
still finer, as you are more elevated; and the sheer sink of the wall
and rock below you, makes, as it were, a vast gulf, across which the
mind leaps, even over the green stumbling landscape of the foreground to
the blue or white peaks beyond.

[Illustration: STATUE OF HENRI QUATRE.]

But the feature--the characteristic--the essence--the very soul of
Pau--is neither the fair landscape, nor the rushing Gave, nor the
stedfast Pyrenees. It is the memory of the good King Henri Quatre, which
envelopes castle and town--which makes haunted holy stones of these grim
grey towers--which gives all its renown and glory to the little capital
of Bearne. Look up at the "Good King" in his bronze effigy in the
_Place_. These features are more familiar to you than those of any
foreign potentate. You know them of old--you know them by heart--a
goodly, honest, well-favoured, burly face--a face with mind and matter
in it--a face not of an abstract transcendental hero, but emphatically
of a MAN. Passion and impulse are there, as in the jaw of Henry VIII.;
energy and strong thought, as in the brow of Cromwell; a calm, and
courtly, and meditative smile over all, as in the face of Charles I. The
stubbly beard grizzling round the firm and close-set lips, and worn by
the helmet, speaks the soldier--the conqueror of Ivry; the high, broad
forehead and the quick eye tell of the statesman--he who proclaimed the
edict of Nantes; the frank, gallant, and blithsome expression of the
whole face--what does it tell of--of the gallant, whose mingled sagacity
and debonnair courage won La Reine Margot from the intrigues of
Catherine; whose impulsive heart and fiery passions cast him at the feet
of Gabrielle d'Estrees; and whose weakness--manly while unmanly--made
him for a time the slave of Henriette d'Entragues. There is an
encyclopædia of meaning in the face, and even in the figure, of Henri.
He had a grand mind, with turbulent passions; he was deeply wise, yet
frantically reckless; he had many faults, but few vices. If he gave up a
religion for a throne, he never claimed to be a martyr or a saint.
Indeed, he was the last man in the world deliberately to run his head
against a wall. He thought that he could do more for the Huguenots by
turning Catholic and King, than by remaining Protestant and Pretender;
and he did it. Yet for all--for the men of Rome and the men of
Geneva--he had a broad, genial, hearty sympathy. Were they not all
French?--all the children of a king of France? Henri had not one morsel
of bigotry in his soul: his mind was too clear, and his heart too big.
And yet, with the pithiest sagacity--with the sternest will--with the
most exalted powers of calm comprehension--and the most honest wish to
make his good people happy--he could be recklessly
vehement--Quixotically generous--he could fling himself over to his
passions--do foolish things, rash things--insult the kingdom for which
he laboured, and which he loved--and thunder out his wrath at the grey
head of the venerable counsellor who stood by him in field and hall, and
whose practical wisdom it was which trimmed and shaped Henri's grand
visions of majestic politics and astounding plans for national
combinations. In the face, then, and in the figure of the Good King,
you can trace, I think, some such mixture of qualities. Neither are beau
ideals. You are not looking at an angel or an Apollo--but a bold,
passionate, burly, good-humoured man, big in the bone, and firm in
muscle, with plenty of human flesh and its frailties, yet with plenty of
mind to shine through, and elevate them all.

Let us enter the castle of his birth. Thanks to Louis Philippe, it has
been rescued from the rats and the owls, and re-fitted as exactly as
possible in its ancient style. Mounting the grand staircase, we see
everywhere around, on walls and vaulted ceiling, the gilt cyphers, "H.
M."--not, however, meaning Henri and Margot, but the grandfather of the
King of France--the stern, old Henri D'Albret, King of Navarre, and
Margaret his wife--_La Marguerite des Marguerites_, the Pearl of Pearls.
Pass through a series of noble state-apartments, vaulted, oak-pannelled,
with rich wooden carved work adorning cornice and ceiling, and we stand
in the room in which Henri saw the light. Jeanne D'Albret's bed, a huge
structure, massive and carven, and with ponderous silken curtains, still
stands as it did at the birth of the king. And what a strange coming
into the world that was. The Princess of Navarre had travelled a few
days previously nearly across France, that the hoped-for son and heir
might be a Bearnais born. Old Henri, her father, was waiting and praying
in mortal anxiety for the event. "My daughter," said the patriarch, "in
the hour of your trial you must neither cry nor moan, but sing a song
in the dear Bearnais tongue; and so shall the child be welcomed to the
world with music, and neither weep nor make wry faces." The princess
promised this, and she kept her word; so that the first mortal sound
which struck Henri Quatre's ear was his mother's voice feebly chanting
an old pastoral song of the shepherds of Bearne.

"Thanks be to God!--a man-child hath come into the world, and cried
not," said the old man. He took the infant in his arms, and, after the
ancient fashion of the land, rubbed its lips with a clove of garlic, and
poured into its mouth, from a golden cup, a few drops of Jurancon wine.
And so was born Henri Quatre. Stand for a moment in the shadow of these
tapestried curtains, and call up in the gloom a vision of the grandly
eventful life which followed. An army is drawn up near Rochelle, and a
lady leads a child between the lines. Coligni and the Condé head the
group of generals who, bonnet in hand, surround the lady and the child;
and then Jeanne D'Albret, lifting up her clear woman's voice, dedicates
the little Henri to the Protestant cause in France; and with loud
acclamations is the gift received, and the leader accepted by the stern
Huguenot array.--The next picture. An antique room in the Louvre. The
bell of St. Germain l'Auxerrois is pealing a loud alarm; arquebus shots
ring through the streets, and cries and clamour of distress come
maddening through the air. Pale, but firmly resolute, stands Henri,
beside a young man richly, but negligently, dressed, who, after speaking
wildly and passionately to him, snatches up an arquebus--stands for a
moment as though about to level it at his unshrinking companion, and
then exclaiming like a maniac, "_Il faut que je tue quelq'un_," flings
open the lattice, and fires without. Henri and Charles IX. on the night
of the St. Bartholemew.--Another vision. A battle-field: Henri
surrounded by his eager troops--the famous white plume of Ivry rising
above his helmet:

    "And if my standard-bearer fall, as fall full well he may,
    For never saw I promise yet of a more bloody fray;
    Charge where you see this white plume shine amid the ranks of war,
    And be your oriflamme to day, the helmet of Navarre."

--Solemn organ music floating through cathedral aisles must introduce
the next scene. The child who was dedicated to the cause of
Protestantism kneels before a mitred priest. "Who are you?" is the
question put. "I am the king." "And what is your request?" "To be
admitted into the pale of the Catholic Apostolic and Roman
Church."--Again a change. Henri the King of France, and Rosny, Duke de
Sully, labouring amid papers, calculations, and despatches, to elevate
and make prosperous the great kingdom of France. "I would," said the
king, "that every subject of mine might have a fat fowl in his pot every
Sunday."--Take another: a gay and courtly scene. A glittering mob of
courtiers surround a plain ferryman, who, in answer to the laughing
questions of the monarch, whom the boatman does not know, admits that
"the king is a good sort of fellow enough, but that he has a jade of a
mistress, who is continually wanting fine gowns and trumpery trinkets,
which the people have to pay for;--not, indeed, that it would signify so
much if she were but constant to her lover; but they did say that----."
Here a lady, with burning cheeks, and flashing eyes, exclaims: "Sire,
that fellow must be hanged forthwith!" "Sire!"--the boatman gazes in
astonishment on his questioner. "Tut, tut," is the reply; "the poor
fellow shall no longer pay _corvée_ or _gabelle_, and so will he sing
for the rest of his days, Vive Henri--Vive Gabrielle!"--Another scene:
in the library and working room of the great king, and his great
minister. The monarch shews a paper, signed with his name, to his
counsellor. It is a promise of marriage to Henriette d'Entragues. Sully
looks for a moment at his master, then tears up the instrument, and
flings the fragments on the earth. "Are you mad, duke?" shouts Henri.
"If I am," was the reply, "I should not be the only madman in France."
The king takes his hand, and does him justice.--Yet one last closing
sketch. In a huge gilded coach in the midst of a group of splendidly
dressed courtiers, sits the king. There is an obstruction in the street.
The _cortège_ stops; the lackeys leave it to clear the way; when a
moody-browed fanatic, with flaming eyes, and red hair all on end, bounds
into the carriage--a poniard gleaming above his head--and in a moment
the Good King, stabbed with three mortal wounds, has gone home to his
fathers. All is over: Henri Quatre is historical!



CHAPTER VIII.

THE VAL D'OSSAU--THE VIN DE JURANCON--THE OLD BEARNE COSTUME--THE
DEVIL AND THE BASQUE LANGUAGE--PYRENEAN SCENERY--THE WOLF--THE
BEAR--A PYRENEAN AUBERGE--THE FOUNTAIN OF LARUNS, AND THE EVENING
SONG.


The valley of Ossau, one of the finest and most varied of the clefts
running deep into the Pyrenees, opens up behind Pau, and penetrates some
thirty miles into the mountains, ending in two narrow horns, both
forming _cul de sacs_ for all, save active pedestrians and bold
muleteers, the bathing establishment of Eaux Bonnes being situated in
one, and that of Eaux Chaudes in the other. I was meditating as to my
best course for seeing some of the mountain scenery, as I hung over the
parapet of the bridge beneath the castle, and watched the pure, foaming
waters of the Gave bursting over their rocky bed beneath, when a little
man, with a merry red face, and a wonderfully long mouth, continually on
the grin, dressed in a species of imitation of English sporting
costume--in an old cut-away coat, and what is properly called a
bird's-eye choker--the effect of which, however, was greatly taken off
by sabots--addressed me, half in French, half in what he called
English:--Did I wish to go to the baths, or anywhere else in the hills?
The diligences had stopped running for the season; but what of that? he
had plenty of horses and vehicles: he would mount me for the fox-hounds,
if I wished. Oh, he was well known to, and highly respected by,
Messieurs les Anglais; and it was therefore a fortunate thing for me to
have fallen in with him. The upshot of a long conversation was, that he
engaged to drive me up the glen with his own worshipful hands, business
being slack at the time, and that he was to be as communicative as he
might touching the country, the people, their customs, and all about
them. The little man was delighted with this last stipulation, and
observed it so faithfully, that for the next two days his tongue never
lay; and as he was a merry, sensible little fellow enough, and
thoroughly good-natured, I did not in the least repent my bargain. Off
we went, then, in a lumbering old nondescript vehicle, drawn by a
raw-boned white horse, who, however, went through his work like a
Trojan. My driver's name was M. Martin; and the first thing he did was
to pull up at the first public-house outside of Pau.

"Look up there!" he said, pointing to a high-wooded ridge to the right;
"there are the Jurancon vineyards--the best in the Pyrenees; and here we
shall have a _coup-d'étrier_ of genuine old Jurancon wine."

Remembering Henri Quatre's first beverage, I had no objection. The wine,
which is white, tastes a good deal like a rough _chablis_, and is very
deceptive, and very heady: I would advise new-comers to the Pyrenees to
use it but gingerly. The garrison of Pau was changed while I was there,
and the new soldiers were going rolling about the streets--some of them
madly drunk, from the effects of this fireily intoxicating, yet mildly
tasting wine. Our road lay along the Gave--a flashing, sparkling
mountain-stream, running amid groups of trees, luxuriant coppice-wood,
and small fields of yellow Indian corn. Many were the cottages and
clusters of huts, half-hidden amid the vines, which are trailed in
screens and tunnels from stake to stake, and tree to tree; and, on each
side of the way, hedges of box-wood, growing in luxuriant thickets,
which would delight the heart of an English gardener--gave note of one
of the characteristic natural harvests of the Pyrenees. The soil and the
climate are, indeed, such, that the place which, in more northern
mountain regions, would be occupied by furze and heather, is hereabouts
taken up by perfect thickets and jungles of thriving box-wood; while the
laurel and rhododendron grow in bushy luxuriance. Charming, however, as
is the landscape, and thoroughly poetic the first aspect of the
cottages, they are in reality wretched, ricketty, and unwholesome
hovels. In fact, poor huts, and a mountain country, go almost invariably
together. In German Switzerland, the cottages are miserable; and every
body knows what an unwindowed stye is a Highland turf-built bothy. So of
the Pyrenean cottages: many of them--mere hovels of wood and clay, so
rickety-looking, that one wonders that the first squall from the hills
does not carry them bodily away--are composed of one large, irregular
room, having an earthen floor, with black, smoky beams stretching across
beneath the thatch. Two or three beds are made up in the darkest
corners; festoons of Indian corn, onions, and heads of garlic are
suspended from the rafters; and opposite the huge open fireplace is
generally placed the principal piece of furniture of the apartment--a
lumbering pile of a dresser, garnished with the crockery of the
household. In a very great proportion of cases, the windows of these
dwellings are utterly unglazed; and when the rough, unpainted outside
shutters are closed, the whole interior is in darkness. The people,
however, seem better fed and better clothed than the German Switzers. In
the vicinity of Pau, the women wear the brightest silk handkerchiefs on
their heads, are perfectly dissipated in the matter of gaudy ribbons,
and cut their petticoats of good, fleecy, home-spun stuff, so short as
to display a fair modicum of thick rig-and-furrow worsted stockings. The
men, except that they wear a blue bonnet--flat, like that called Tam
O'Shanter in Scotland--are decently clad in the ordinary blouse. It is
as you leave behind the influence of the town, that you come upon the
ancient dresses of the land. Every glen in Bearne has its distinguishing
peculiarities of costume; but cross its boundary to the eastward, and
you relapse at once into the ordinary peasant habiliments of
France--clumsy, home-cut coats only being occasionally substituted for
the blouse.

The old Bernais costume is graceful and picturesque; and as we made our
way up into the hills, we soon began to see specimens; and hardly one of
these but was borne by a fine-looking, well-developed man, or a
black-eyed and stately stepping woman. The peasantry of Ossau are
indeed remarkable, notwithstanding their hard work and frequent
privations, for personal beauty. They have little or no real French
blood in their veins; indeed, I believe the stock to be Spanish, just as
the beauties of Arles, out of all sight the finest women in France, are
in their origin partly Italian, partly Saracen. The women of Ossau are
as swarthy as Moors, and have the true eastern dignity of motion, owing
it, indeed, to the same cause as the Orientals--the habit of carrying
water-vases on their heads. Their faces are in general clearly and
classically cut--the nose thin and aquiline--the eye magnificently
black, lustrous, and slightly almond-shaped--another eastern
characteristic. The dress, as I have said, is graceful, and the colours
thoroughly harmonious. A tight-fitting black jacket is worn over a red
vest, more or less gaudily ornamented with rough embroidery, and
fastening by small belts across the bosom. On the head, a sort of capote
or hood of dark cloth, corresponding to that of the jacket and
petticoat, is arranged. In good weather, and when a heavy burden is to
be carried, this hood is plaited in square folds across the crown of the
head, forming a protection also from the heat of the sun. In cold and
rainy days, it is allowed to fall down over the shoulders, mingling with
the folds of the drapery beneath. Both men and women wear peculiarly
shaped stockings, so made as to bulge over the edges of the sabot, into
which the naked foot is thrust. The dress of the men is of a
correspondingly quaint character. On their heads they invariably wear
the flat, brown bonnet, called the _beret_, and from beneath
it the hair flows in long, straight locks, soft and silky, and floating
over their shoulders. A round jacket, something like that worn by the
women, knee-breeches of blue velvet--upon high days and holidays--and,
like the rest of the costume, of coarse home-spun woollen upon ordinary
occasions, complete the dress. The capa, or hood, is worn only in rough
weather. In the glens more to the westward, low sandals of untanned
leather are frequently used, the sole of the foot only being protected.
Sandals have certain classic associations connected with them, and look
very well in pictures, but they are fearfully uncomfortable in reality.
I saw half-a-dozen peasants tramping in this species of _chaussure_
through the wet streets of Pau amid a storm of snow and rain, and a
spectacle full of more intensely rheumatic associations could no where
be witnessed.

As we jogged along behind the grey horse, the facetious M. Martin had a
joke to crack with every man, woman, and child we encountered; and the
black eyes lighted up famously, and the classic faces grinned in high
delight, at the witticisms.

"I suppose you are speaking Bearne?" I said.

"The fine old language of the hills, sir. French!--no more to be
compared with it than skimmed milk with clotted cream."

"And you speak Spanish, too?"

"Well, if a gentleman contrabanda, who takes walks over the hills in the
long dark nights, with a string of mules before him, wished to do a
small stroke of business with me, I daresay we could manage to
understand each other." And therewith M. Martin winked first with one
eye, and then with the other.

"And Basque," said I, "you speak that also?"

M. Martin recoiled: "No man who ever did live, or will live, could learn
a word of that infernal jargon, if he were not a born Basque. Learn
Basque, indeed!--_Mon Dieu, monsieur!_ Don't you know that the Devil
once tried, and was obliged to give it up for a bad job? I don't know
why he wanted to learn Basque, unless it were to talk to the fellows who
went to him from that part of the country; and he might have known that
it was very little worth the hearing they could tell him. But, however,
he spread his wings, and flew and flew till he alighted on the top of
one of the Basque mountains, where he summoned all the best Basque
scholars in the country, and there he was for seven years, working away
with a grammar in his hand, and saying his lessons like a good little
boy. But 'twas all no use; he never could keep a page in his head. So
one fine morning he gave a kick to the books with one foot, and a kick
to the masters with the other, and flew off--only able to say 'yes' and
'no' in Basque, and that with such a bad pronunciation that the Basques
couldn't understand him."

This authentic anecdote brought us to that portion of the valley in
which we enter really into the Pyrenean hills. Up to this point we have
been traversing a gloriously wooded, and beautifully broken, country.
Ridges of forests, vineyard slopes, patches of bright-green meadow land,
steep, tumbling hills, wreathed with thickest box-wood, have been
rising and falling all around. Lateral glens, each with its foaming
torrent and woodland vista opening up, have been passed in close
succession. Scores of villages, ricketty and poverty-struck, even in
this land of fertility, have been traversed, until, gaining the height
of a ridge which seems to block the way, we saw before us what appears
to be another valley of a totally different character--stern, solitary,
wild--a broad, flat space, lying between the hills, yellow with
maize-fields, the river shining in the midst, and on either side the
mountain-slopes--no mere hills this time, but vast and stately Alps,
heaving up into the regions of the mist, rising in long, uniform slopes,
stretching away and away, and up and up--the vast sweeps green with a
richness of herbage unknown in the Alps, and faintly traced with ancient
mountain-paths, leading from chalet to chalet; here and there a gully or
wide ravine breaking the Titanic embankment; silver threads of
waterfalls appearing and disappearing in the black jaws; and over the
topmost clefts, glimpses of the snowy peaks, to which these stretching
braes lead upwards. The mist lies in long, thin wreaths upon the bosom
of the hills immediately around you, and you see their bluff summits now
rising above it, and then gradually disappearing in the rising vapour.
The general atmosphere is brighter and clearer than in the Alps, and you
imagine a peak a long day's march from you within an easy climb;
cottages, and even hamlets, appear perched at most impracticable
heights; and every now and then, a white gash in the far-up hill-side
announces a marble-quarry, and you see dark dots of carts toiling up to
it by winding ways. These hills are but partially wooded. The sombre
pine here begins to make its appearance, sometimes scattered, sometimes
growing thickly--for all the world like the wire-jags set round the
barrel of a musical snuff-box. The lateral valleys are, however,
frequently masses of forest, and it is high up in these little
frequented passes, that Bruin, who still haunts the Pyrenees, most often
makes his appearance.

"But he is going," said M. Martin--"going with the wild cats and the
wolves. The Pyrenees are degenerating, monsieur; you never hear of a man
being hugged to death now. Poor Bruin! For, after all, monsieur, he is a
gentlemanly beast; he never kills the sheep wantonly. He always chooses
the best, which is but natural, and walks off with it. But the
wolf--_sacré nom du diable!_--the wolf--a _coquin_--a brigand--a _Basque
tonnere_--he will slaughter a flock in a night. _Mon Dieu!_ he laps
blood till he gets drunk on it. A _voleur_--a _mauvais sujet_--a
_cochon_--a dam beast!"

"But do the Pyrenean wolves ever attack men?"

"_Sacré! Monsieur; tenez._ There was Jacques Blitz--an honest man, a
farmer in the hills; he came down to Pau, when the snow was deep, and
the winter hard. I saw him in Pau. Well, in the afternoon he started to
go home again. It looked threatening, and people advised him to stay;
but no; and off he went. Monsieur, that night in his cottage they heard,
hour by hour, the howling of the wolves, and often went out, but could
see nothing. Poor Jacques did not return, and at sunrise they were all
off in search; and sure enough they found a skeleton, clean picked, and
the bones all shining in the snow. Only, monsieur, the feet were still
whole in the sabots: the wolves had gnawed the wood, but could not break
it. 'Take off the sabots!' screamed the wife. And they did so: and she
gave a shuddering gasp, and said, 'They are Jacques' feet!' and tumbled
down into the snow. _Sacré peste_, the cannibals! Curse the
wolves--here's to their extirpation!"

And M. Martin took a goodly pull at a bottle of Jurancon we had laid in
at the last stage. He went on to tell me that sometimes a particular
wolf is known to haunt a district, perhaps for years, before he gets his
_quietus_; most probably a grey-haired, wily veteran, perfectly up to
all the devices of the hunter, who can seldom get a shot at him. Bears
flourish in the same fashion, and come to be so well known, as to be
honoured with regular names, by which they are spoken of in the country.
One old bear, of great size, and of the species in question, had taken
up his head-quarters upon a range of hills forming the side of a ravine
opening up from the valley of Ossau. He was called Dominique--probably
after his fellow Bruin, who long went by the same appellation in the
Jardin des Plantes, and was known by it to every Parisian. The Pyrenean
Dominique was a wily monster, who had long baffled all the address of
his numerous pursuers; and as his depredations were ordinarily confined
to the occasional abstraction of a sheep or a goat, and as he never
actually committed murder, he long escaped the institution of a regular
battue--the ordinary ending of a bear or wolf who manages to make
himself particularly conspicuous. At length the people of the district
got absolutely proud of Dominique. Like the Eagle in Professor Wilson's
fine tale, he was "the pride and the pest of the parish," and might have
been so yet, were it not that on one unlucky day he was casually espied
by the _garde forestiere_. This is a functionary whose duty it is to
patrol the hills, taking note that the sheep are confined to their
proper bounds on the pastures. The man had sat down to his dinner on a
ledge of rock, when, looking over it, whom should he see but the famous
Dominique sunning himself upon the bank below. The _garde_ had a gun,
and it was not in the heart of man to resist the temptation. He fired,
Dominique got up on his hind legs, roaring grimly, when the contents of
the second barrel stretched him on the earth. So great, however, was the
_garde's_ opinion of the prowess of his victim, that he kept loading and
firing long after poor Dominique had quitted this mortal scene. The
carcase was too heavy to be moved by a single man, but next day it was
carried to the nearest village by a funeral party of peasants, not
exactly certain as to whether they ought to be glad or sorry at the
catastrophe.

As we were now well on in October, and as the weather had greatly broken
up, much of the pleasure of my Pyrenean rambles being indeed marred by
lowering skies and frequent and heavy rains--which were snow upon the
hills--the flocks were fast descending from the upland pastures to their
winter quarters in the valley and the plain. Every couple of miles or
so, in our upward route, we encountered a flock of small, long-eared,
long and soft woolled sheep, either trotting along the road or resting
and grazing in the adjacent fields. The shepherds stalked along at the
head of the procession, or, when it was stationary, stood statue-like in
the fields. They were great, gaunt, sinewy men, wearing the Ossau
costume, but one and all enveloped in a long, whitish cloak, with a
peaked hood, flowing to the earth, which gave them a ghastly,
winding-sheet sort of appearance. When a passing shower came rattling
down upon the wind, the herdsmen, stalking slowly across the fields,
enveloped from head to foot in these long, grey, shapeless robes, looked
like so many Ossianic ghosts flitting among the mountains. Each man
carried, slung round him, a little ornamented pouch, full of salt, a
handful of which is used to entice within reach any sheep which he
wishes to get hold of. One and all, like their brethren of the Landes,
they were busy at the manufacture of worsted stockings, and kept slowly
stalking through the meadows where their flocks pastured, with the
lounging gait of men thoroughly broken in to a solitary, monotonous
routine of sluggish life. Many of these shepherds were accompanied by
their children--the boys dressed in exact miniature imitation of their
fathers. Indeed, the prevalence of this style of juvenile costume in the
Pyrenees makes the boys and girls look exactly like odd, quaint little
men and women. The shepherds are assisted by a breed of noble dogs, one
or two of which I saw. They are not, however, generally taken down to
the low grounds, as they are frequently fierce and vicious in the
half-savage state in which it is of importance to keep them, in respect
to their avocations amid the bears and wolves. Among themselves, I was
told that they fought desperately, occasionally even killing each other.
The dogs I saw were magnificent looking fellows, of great size and
power, their chests of vast breadth and depth, and their limbs perfect
lumps of muscle. They appeared to me to be of a breed which might have
been originated by a judicious crossing of first-rate Newfoundlands, St.
Bernard mastiffs, and thorough old English bulldogs; and I could easily
believe that one wrench from their enormous square jaws is perfectly
sufficient to crash through the neck vertebræ of the largest wolf.

As we neared Laruns, the mountain-slopes grew steeper and higher, and
more barren and rugged; the precipices became more fearful; the mountain
gorges more black and deep; and at length we appeared to be entering the
deep pit of an amphitheatre dug in the centre of a group of stormy and
precipitous mountains. Down in this nest lies the little mountain-town
of Laruns; the steep slope of the heathy hill rising on one side of the
single street from the very backs of the houses. M. Martin, on the Irish
principle of reserving the trot for the avenue, whipped up the good old
grey, and we rattled at a canter through the miriest street I ever
traversed, driving throngs of lean, long-legged pigs right and left, and
dispersing groups of cloaked, lounging men, with military shakos, and
sabres--in whose uniform, indeed, I recognised that of my old friends,
the _Douaniers_ of Boulogne and Calais; for true we were approaching,
not indeed an ocean, but a mountain frontier, and Spanish ground was not
so distant as Shakspeare's Cliff from Cape Grinez.

We stopped in the little Place opposite a pretty marble fountain, and at
the door of a particularly modest-looking auberge. As I was getting out,
M. Martin stopped me: "Wait," he said, "and we will drive into the
house--don't you see how big the door is?" As he spoke, it opened upon
its portals. The old grey needed no invitation, and in a moment we found
ourselves in a huge, dark vault, half coach-house, half stable. Two or
three loaded carts were lying about, and lanterns gleamed from the
gloomiest corners, and horses and mules stamped and neighed as they were
rubbed down, or received their provender.

"But where is the inn?"

"The inn! up-stairs, of course."

And then I beheld a rough, wooden staircase, or, rather, a railed
ladder, down which came tripping a couple of blooming girls to carry
up-stairs our small amount of luggage. Following their invitation, I
soon found myself in a vast parlour and kitchen and all--a great shadowy
room, with a baronnial-looking fireplace, and a couple of old women
sitting in the ingle-nook, plying the distaff. The fireplace and the
kitchen department of the room were in the shadow at the back. Nearer
the row of lozenge-pane windows, rose a dais--with a long dining-table
set out--and smaller tables were scattered around. Above your head were
mighty rafters, capitally garnished with bacon and hung-meat of various
kinds. The floor rose and fell in small mountains and valleys beneath
your feet; but, notwithstanding this evidence of rickettyness, every
thing appeared of massive strength, and the warmth of the place, and the
savour of the _cuisine_--for a French kitchen is always in a chronic
state of cookery--made the room at once comfortable and appetising--ten
times better than the dreary _salle_ of a barrack-like hotel.

[Illustration: A PYRENEES PARLOUR.]

In a few minutes, Martin, having attended to the grey, joined me,
rubbing his hands. "This was the place to stop at," he said. "No use of
going further. The mountains beyond were just like the mountains here;
but the people here were far more unsophisticated than the people
beyond. They hav'nt learned to cheat here, yet," he whispered. "And,
besides, you see a good Pyrenean auberge, and at the Wells you would
only see a bad French hotel, which, I daresay, would be no novelty;
while, as for price--pooh! you will get a capital dinner here for what
they would charge you for speaking to the waiter there."

And so it proved. Pending, the preparation of this dinner, however, I
strolled about Laruns. It is a drearily-poor place, with the single
recommendation of being built of stone, which can be had all round for
the carrying. The arrangement of turning the ground-floor into a stable
is universal in the houses of any size, and as these stables also serve
for pig-styes, sheep-folds, and poultry-yards, and as cleaning-day is
made to come round as seldom as possible, it may be imagined that the
town of Laruns is a highly scented one. Through some of the streets,
brooks of sparkling water flow, working the hammers of feeble fulling
mills. Webs of the coarse cloth produced are hung to dry from window to
window, and roof to roof, and beneath them congregate groups of old
distaff-plying women, lounging _duaniers_, and no end of geese standing
half asleep on one foot, until a headlong charge of pigs being driven
afield, or driven home, comes trampling through the mire, and clears the
way in a moment.

The auberge dinner was worthy of M. Martin's anticipations.
Delicately-flavoured soup, and trout of the genuine mountain-stream
breed--the skin gaily speckled, and the flesh a deep red, were followed
by a roasted _jigot_ of mutton, flavoured as only mutton can be
flavoured which has fed upon the aromatic herbage of the high hills--the
whole finished off with a capital omelette, tossed jauntily up by the
neat-handed Phillis who waited upon us, and joked, and laughed, and was
kept in one perpetual blush by M. Martin all through dinner-time.

At length, through all this giggling, a plate was broken.

"There's bad luck, Jeanne," said Martin.

"You know nothing about it," replied Jeanne, pertly. "Any child knows
that to break a plate is good luck: it is to smash a dish which brings
bad luck."

"They have all sorts of omens here in the hills," said my companion. "If
a hare cross the path, it is a bad omen; and if a cow kick over the
milking-pail, it is a bad omen. And they are always fancying themselves
bewitched----"

"No, that we are not," interrupted Jeanne; "so long as we keep a sprig
of _vervene_ over the fire, we know very well that there's not a
_sorciere_ in all the Pyrenees can harm us."

I thought of the old couplet--

    "Sprigs of vervain, and of dill,
    Which hinder witches of their will."

As the evening closed, the little Place became quite thronged with
girls, come to wash their pails and draw water from the fountain. Each
damsel came statelily along, bearing a huge bucket, made of alternate
horizontal stripes of brass and tin, upon her head, and polished like a
mirror. A half-hour, or so, of gossipping ensued, frequently broken by a
pleasant chorus, sung in unison by the fresh, pure voices of the whole
assembly. The effect, when they first broke out into a low, wailing
song, echoing amongst the high houses and the hill behind, was quite
electrifying. Then they set to work, scrubbing their pails as if they
had been the utensils of a model dairy, and at length marched away, each
with the heavy bucket, full to the brim, poised upon her head--and with
a carriage so steady and gracefully unswerving that, to look at the
pails, you would suppose them borne in a boat, rather than carried by a
person walking.

At night, after I had turned into as snug a bed, with as crisp, and
white, and fresh linen as man could wish for, I was long kept awake by
the vocal performances of a party of shepherds, who had just arrived
from the hills, and who paraded the Place singing in chorus, long after
the cracked bell in the little church had tolled midnight. Nine-tenths
of these people have capital voices. Their lungs and throats are
well-developed, by holding communication from hill to hill; and they
jodle or jerk the voice from octave to octave, just as they do in the
Alps. This said jodling appears, indeed, to be a natural accomplishment
in many mountain countries. The songs of the shepherds at Laruns had
jodling chorusses, but the airs were almost all plaintive minors, with
long quavering phrases, clinging, as it were, to the pitch of the
key-note, and only extending to about a third above or below it. The
music was always performed in unison, the words sometimes French, and
sometimes Bearnais. The single phrase in the former language, which I
could distinguish, and which formed the burden of one of the ditties,
was, "_Ma chere maitresse_." This "_chere maitresse_" song, indeed,
appeared the favourite. Over and over again was it sung, and there was a
wild, melancholy beauty which grew more and more upon you, as the mellow
cadence died away again and again in the long drawn out notes of "_Ma
chere maitresse_."



CHAPTER IX.

RAINY WEATHER IN THE PYRENEES--EAUX CHAUDES OUT OF SEASON, AND IN
THE RAIN--PLUCKING THE INDIAN CORN AT THE AUBERGE AT LARUNS--THE
LEGEND OF THE WEHRWOLF, AND THE BARON WHO WAS CHANGED INTO A BEAR.


I wakened next morning to a mournful _reveillé_--the pattering of the
rain; and, looking out, found the Place one puddle of melting sleet. The
fog lay heavy and low upon the hills, and the sky was as dismal as a
London firmament in the dreariest day of November. Still, M. Martin was
sanguine that it would clear up after breakfast. Such weather was
absurd--nonsensical; he presumed it was intended for a joke; but if so,
the joke was a bad one. However, it must be fine speedily--that was a
settled point--that he insisted on. Breakfast came and went, however,
and the rain was steady.

"Monsieur," said Jeanne, "has lost the season of the Pyrenees."

"Is there not the summer of St. John to come yet?" demanded Martin.

"Yes; but it will rain at least a week before then."

What was one to do? There clearly was no speedy chance of the clouds
relenting; and what was sleet with us, was dry snow further up the pass.
The Peak du Midi, with visions of which I had been flattering myself,
was as inaccessible as Chimbarozo, Spain, of which I had hoped to catch
at least a Pisgah peep--for I did want to see at least a barber and a
priest--was equally out of the question. During the morning a string of
mules had returned to Laruns, with the news that the road was blocked
up; and truly I found that, had it not been so, my first step towards
going to Spain must needs have been in the direction of Bayonne, to have
my passports _visèd_--those dreary passports, which hang like clogs to a
traveller's feet. And so then passed the dull morning tide away, every
body sulky and savage. Peasants, with dripping capas, stumbled up
stairs, and sat in groups smoking over the fire; the two old women
scolded; Jeanne grew quite snappish; and M. Martin ran out every moment
to look at the weather, and came back to repeat that it was no lighter
yet, but that it soon must clear up, positively. At length my companion
and I determined upon a sally, at all events--a bold push. Let the
weather do what it pleased, we would do what we pleased, and never mind
the weather. So old grey was harnessed in the stable; we blockaded
ourselves with wraps, and started bravely forth, a forlorn hope against
the elements. We took the way to Eaux Chaudes; and the further we went,
the heavier fell the rain--cats and dogs became a mild expression for
the deluge. The mist got lower and lower; the sleet got colder and
colder; old grey snorted and steamed; we gathered ourselves up under the
multitudinous wrappers; the rain was oozing through them--it was
trickling down our necks--suddenly making itself felt in small rills in
unexpected and aggravating places, which made sitting
unpleasant--collecting in handsome lakes at our feet, and pervading with
one vast, clammy, chilly, freezing dampness body and soul. The whole of
creation seemed resolved into a chaos of fog, mire, and rain. We had
passed into what would be called in a pantomime "the Rainy Realms, or
the Dreary Domains of Desolation;" and what comfort was it--soaked,
sodden, shivering, teeth chattering--to hear Martin proclaim, about once
in five minutes, that the weather would clear up at the next turn of the
road? The dreary day remains, cold and clammy, a fog-bank looming in my
memory ever since. I believe I saw the _établissment_ of Eaux Chaudes;
at least, there were big drenched houses, with shutters up, like
dead-lights, and closed doors, and mud around them, like water round the
ark. They looked like dismal county hospitals, with all the patients
dead except the madmen, who might be enjoying the weather and the
situation; or like gaols, with all the prisoners hung, and the turnkeys
starved at the cell doors for lack of fees. I remember hearing a doleful
voice, like that of Priam's curtain drawer, asking me if I wouldn't get
out of the vehicle; but to move was hideous discomfort, bringing new wet
surfaces into contact with the skin; so I croaked out, "No, no;
back--back to the fire at Laruns." And so honest grey, all in a steam,
splashed round through the mud; and back we went as we had come--rain,
rain, rain, pitiless, hopeless rain--the fog hanging like a grey winding
sheet above us--the zenith like a pall above that, leaden and drear, as
on a Boothia Felix Christmas Day.

There was nothing for it but the fireside. The very _douaniers_ had
abandoned the street--the pigs had retreated--the donkeys brayed at
intervals from their ground-floor parlours; and only the maniac geese
sat on one leg, croaking, to be rained on, and the marble fountain, so
pretty yester-evening in a gleam of sunshine, spouted away, bringing
"coals to Newcastle," with an insane perseverance which it made me sad
to contemplate. Dinner was ordered as soon as it could be got ready; we
felt it was the last resource. I fortunately had a change of clothes.
Martin had not; but he retired for awhile, and reappeared in a home-spun
coat and trowsers, six inches too long for him, which he was fain to
hold up, to the enormous triumph and delight of Jeanne. At length, then,
that neat-handed Phillis announced dinner.

"Stay a moment!" exclaimed Martin; "I am just going to see whether it is
likely to clear up."

Out he went into the mud, and returned with the announcement that it
would be summer weather in five minutes; he knew, by some particular
movement of the mist. But poor Martin's weather predictions had ceased
to command any credit; and the peasants around the fire shrugged their
shoulders and laughed. The dinner passed off like a funeral feast. I
looked upon the Place--still a puddle, and every moment getting deeper.
No songs--no jodling choruses to-night, maidens of Laruns!

Sitting gloomily over the Jurancon wine, and looking at the fire, I saw
a huge cauldron put on, and presently the steam of soup began to steal
into the room. Martin and Jeanne were holding confidential intercourse,
which ended in my squire's coming to me, and announcing that there was
to be held a grand _épeluche_ of the Indian corn, and that the soup was
to form the supper of the work-people. Presently, sure enough, a vast
pile of maize in the husk was brought up, and heaped upon the floor; and
as the dusk gathered, massive iron candlesticks with tapers which were
rather rushlights than otherwise, were set in due order around the
grain. Then in laughing parties, drenched but merry, the neighbours
poured in--men, women, and children--and vast was the clatter of tongues
in Bernais, as they squatted themselves down on stools and on the floor,
and began to strip off the husks of the yellow heads of corn, flinging
the peeled grain into coarse baskets set for the purpose. The old people
deposited themselves on settles in the vast chimney-nook; and amongst
them there was led to a seat a tall blind man, with grizzly grey hair,
and a mild smiling face.

"Ask that man to tell you a story about any of the old castles or towns
hereabouts," whispered Martin; "he knows them all--all the traditions,
and legends, and superstitions of Bearne."

This council was good. So, as soon as the whole roomful were at
work--stripping and peeling--and moistening their labours by draughts of
the valley vine--I proceeded to be introduced to the patriarch, but, ere
I had made my way to him:

"Pere Bruniqul," said a good-humoured looking matron; "you know you
always give us one of your tales to ease our work, and so now start off,
and here is the wine-flask to wet your lips."

All this, and the story which followed, was spoken in Bernais, so that
to M. Martin I am indebted for the outlines of the tale, which I treat
as I did that of the Baron of the Chateau de Chatel-morant:--

       *       *       *       *       *

"Sir Roger d'Espaigne," said the lady of the knight she
addressed--holding in her hand the hand of their daughter Adele, a girl
of six or seven years of age--"where do you hunt to day?"

"Marry," replied her husband, "in the domains of the Dame of Clargues.
There are more bears there than anywhere in the country."

"But you know that the Dame of Clargues loves her bears, and would not
that they should be hurt; and besides, she is a sorceress, and can turn
men into animals, if she will. Oh, she practices cunning magic; and she
is also a wehr-wolf; and once, when Leopold of Tarbes struck a wolf with
an arblast bolt, and broke its right fore-leg, the Dame of Clargues
appeared with her right-arm in bandages, and Leopold of Tarbes died
within the year."

But Sir Roger was not to be talked to. He said the Dame of Clargues was
no more a witch than her neighbours; and poising his hunting-spear, away
he rode with all his train--the horses caracolling, and the great wolf
and bear-hounds leaping and barking before them. They passed the castle
of the Dame of Clargues, and plunged into the forests, where the wolves
lay--the prickers beating the bushes, and the knights and gentlemen
ready, if any game rushed out, to start in pursuit with their long,
light spears. For more than half the day they hunted, but had no
success; when, at last, a huge wolf leaped out of a thicket, and passed
under the very feet of the horses, which reared and plunged, and the
riders, darting their spears in the confusion, only wounded each other
and their beasts, while three or four of the best dogs were trampled on,
and the wolf made off at a long gallop down the wood. But Sir Roger had
never lost sight of her, and now followed close upon her haunches,
standing up in his stirrups, and couching his lance. Never ran wolf so
hard and well, and had not Sir Roger's horse been a Spanish barb, he had
been left far behind. As it was, he had not a single companion; when,
coming close over the flying beast, he aimed a blow at her head. The
spear glanced off, but blood followed the stroke, and at the same moment
the barb swerved in her stride, and suddenly stopping, fell a trembling,
and laid her ears back, while Sir Roger descried a lady close by, her
robes rustling among the forest-herbs. Instantly, he leaped off his
horse, and advanced to meet and protect the stranger from the wolf; but
the wolf was gone, and, instead, he saw the Dame of Clargues with a
wound in her left temple, from which the blood was still flowing.

"Sir Roger d'Espaigne," she said, "thou hast seen me a wolf--be thou a
bear!" And even as she spoke, the knight disappeared, and a huge, brown
bear stood before her.

"And now," she cried, "begone, and seek thy kindred in the
forest-beasts--only hearken: thou shalt kill him who killest thee, and
killing him, thou shalt end thine own line, and thy blood shall be no
more upon the earth."

When the chase came up, they found the Spanish barb all trembling, and
the knight's spear upon the ground; but Sir Roger was never after seen.
So years went by, and the little girl, who had beheld her father go
forth to hunt in the Dame of Clargues' domain, grew up, and being very
fair, was wooed and wedded by a knight of Foix, who was called Sir Peter
of Bearne. They had been married some months, and there was already a
prospect of an heir, when Sir Peter of Bearne went forth to hunt, and
his wife accompanied him to the castle-gate, even as her mother had
convoyed her father when he went on his last hunting party to the woods
of the Dame of Clargues.

"Sir Peter," said the lady, "hast thou heard of a great bear in the
forest, which, when he is hunted, the hunters hear a doleful voice,
saying, 'Hurt me not, for I never did thee any harm?'"

"Balaam, of whom the clerk tells us, ought to have that bear to keep
company with his ass," said the knight, gaily, and away he rode. He had
hunted with good success most of the day, and had killed both boars and
wolves, when he descried, couched in a thicket, a most monstrous bear,
with hair of a grizzly grey--for he seemed very old, but his eyes shone
bright, and there was something in his presence which cowed the dogs,
for, instead of baying, they crouched and whined; and even the knights
and squires held off, and looked dubiously at the beast, and called to
Sir Peter to be cautious, for never had such a monstrous bear been seen
in the Pyrenees; and one old huntsman shouted out aloud, "My lord, my
lord--draw back, for that is the bear which, when he is hunted, the
hunters hear a doleful voice, saying, 'Hurt me not, for I never did thee
any harm!'"

Nevertheless, the knight advanced, and drawing his sword of good
Bordeaux steel, fell upon the beast. The dogs then took courage, and
flew at him; but the four fiercest of the pack he killed with as many
blows of his paws, and the rest again stood aloof; so that Sir Peter of
Bearne was left face to face with the great beast, and the fight was
long and uncertain; but at last the knight prevailed, and the bear gave
up the ghost. Then all the hunt rushed in, and made a litter, and with
songs and acclamations carried the dead bear to the castle, the knight,
still faint from the combat, following. They found the Lady Adele at the
castle-gate; but as soon as she saw the bear, she gave a lamentable
scream, and said, "Oh! what see I?" and fainted. When she was recovered,
she passed off her fainting fit upon terror at the sight of such a
monster; but still, she demanded that it should be buried, and not, as
was the custom, cut up, and parts eaten. "Holy Mary!" said the knight,
"you could not be more tender of the bear if he were your father." Upon
which, Adele grew very pale; but, nevertheless, she had her will, and
the beast was buried.

That night Sir Peter de Bearne suddenly rose in his sleep, and,
catching up arms which hung near him, began to fight about the room, as
he had fought with the bear. His lady was terrified, and the varlets and
esquires came running in, and found him with the sweat pouring down his
face, and fighting violently--but they could not see with what. None
could approach him, he was so savage, and he fought till dawn, and
returned, quite over-wearied, to his bed. Next morning he knew nothing
of it; but the next night he rose again; and the next, and the next--and
fought as before. Then they took away his weapons, but he ranged the
castle through, till he found them, and then fought more furiously than
ever, till, at length, he was accustomed to fall on his knees with
weakness and fatigue. Before a month had passed, you would not have
known Sir Peter: he seemed twenty years older; he could hardly drag one
foot after the other; and he fell melancholy and pined--for at last he
knew that the curse of the bear was upon him, and that he was not long
for this world. Many then advised to send for the Dame of Clargues, who
was still alive, but old, and who was more skilful in such matters than
any priest or exorcist on this side of Paris: and at last she was sent
for, and arrived. The scar upon her forehead was still to be seen; her
grey hair did not cover it.

"Lady," said she to the Lady of Bearne, "did you ever see your father?"

"Yes, truly; the very day he went forth a-hunting and never returned, I
saw him, and I yet can fancy the face before me."

"Thou wilt see it to-night."

"Then my foreboding--that strange feeling--was true. Oh! my father--my
husband."

Midnight came, and, worn and haggard, Sir Peter de Bearne rose again to
renew his nightly combat. He staggered and groaned, and his strength was
spent, and those who stood round sang hymns and prayed aloud. At length
the knight shrieked out with a fearful voice--the first time he had
spoken in all his dreary sleep-fighting--"Beast, thou hast conquered!"
and fell back upon the floor, his limbs twisting like the limbs of a man
who is being strangled; and Adele screamed aloud.

"Look, minion, look!" exclaimed the Dame of Clargues to the
lady--passing at the same time her hand over the lady's eyes.

"O God!" cried Adele--"my father kills my husband;" and she fell upon
the floor, and she and the unborn babe died together, and Sir Peter de
Bearne was likewise lifted lifeless from the spot.



[Illustration]



CHAPTER X.

TARBES--BAGNERRE DE BIGORRE--PIGEON-CATCHING--FRENCH COMMIS
VOYAGEURS--THE KING OF THE PYRENEAN DOGS--THE LEGEND OF ORTHON,
WHO HAUNTED THE BARON OF CORASSE.


The next day by noon--still raining--I was at Pau; and having bidden
adieu to M. Martin, started for Bagnerre de Bigorre by Tarbes, the great
centre of Pyrenean locomotion. Here, as at Bordeaux, you are on ancient
English ground. The rich plain all around you is the old County of
Bigorre, which was given up to England as portion of the ransom of King
John of France; and here to Tarbes came, with a gallant train, the Black
Prince, to visit the Count of Argmanac--the celebrated Gaston Phoebus,
Count of Foix--leaving his strong Castle of Orthon, to be present at the
solemnity. The life and soul of Tarbes now consist of the scores of
small cross-country diligences, which start in every direction from it
as a common centre. The main feature of the town is a huge square,
nine-tenths of the houses being glaring white-washed hotels, with
_messageries_ on the groundfloors. Diligences by the score lie
scattered around; and every now and then the dogs'-meat old horses who
draw them go stalking solemnly across the square beneath the stunted
lime-trees. There is an adult population of conductors, with silver
ear-rings, and their hands in their pockets, always lounging about; and
a juvenile population of shoe-blacks, who swarm out upon you, and take
your legs by storm. Tarbes is the best place--excepting, perhaps,
Arles--for getting your boots blacked, I ever visited. If you were a
centipede, and had fifty pairs of Wellingtons, they would all be shining
like mirrors in a trice. How these boys live, I cannot make out, unless,
indeed, upon the theory that they black their shoes mutually, and keep
continually paying each other. Bagnerre is about sixteen miles distant;
and a mountain of a diligence, not so much laden with luggage as
freighted with a cargo, conveyed me there in not much under four hours;
and I repaired--it was dusk, and, of course, raining--to the Hotel de
France--one of the huge caravansaries common at watering-places. A buxom
lass opened the wicket in the Porte Cochere.

"I can have a room?"

"Oh, plenty!"

And we stepped into the open court-yard. The great hotel rose on two
sides, and a small _corps de logis_ on the two others.

"Wait," said the girl, "until I get the key."

And off she tripped. The key! Was the house shut up? Even so. I was to
have a place as big as a hospital to myself. The door opened; all was
darkness and a fusty smell. The last family had been gone a fortnight.
Our footsteps echoed like Marianne's. It was decidedly a foreign
edition, uncarpeted and waxy-smelling, of the "Moated Grange." I was
ushered into a really splendid suite of rooms--of a decidedly grander
nature than I ever occupied before, or ever occupied since.

"The price is the price of an ordinary bedroom. Monsieur may choose
whatever room he pleases; and the _table-d'hôte_ bell rings at six."

This, at all events, was reassuring. Then my conductress retreated; the
doors banged behind her, and I felt like a man shut up in St. Peter's.
The silence in the house was dreadful. I was fool enough to go and
listen at the door: dead, solemn silence--a vault could not be stiller.
I would have given something handsome for a cat, or even a mouse; a
parrot would have been invaluable--it would have shouted and screamed.
But no; the hush of the place was like the Egyptian darkness--it was a
thick silence, which could be felt. At length the _table-d'hôte_ bell
rang. The _salle à manger_ was in the building across the yard. Thither
I repaired, and found a room, or rather a long corridor, big enough to
dine a Freemason's or London Tavern party, with a miraculously long
table, tapering away into the distance. Upon a few square feet of this
table was a patch of white cloth; and upon the patch of cloth one plate,
one knife and fork, and one glass. This was the _table-d'hôte_, and,
like Handel, "I was de kombany."

Next day the weather was no better; but I was desperate, and sallied
out in utter defiance of the rain; but such a dreary little city as
Bagnerre, in that wintry day, was never witnessed. I never was at Herne
Bay in November, nor have I ever passed a Christmas at Margate; but
Bagnerre gave me a lively notion of the probable delights of the dead
season at either of these favourite watering-places. The town seemed
defunct, and lying there passively to be rained on. Half the houses are
lodging-places and hotels; and they were all shut up--ponderous green
outside shutters dotting the dirty white of the walls. Hardly a soul was
stirring; but ducks quacked manfully in the kennels, and two or three
wretched donkeys--dreary relics of the season--stood with their heads
together under the lime-trees in the Place. I retreated into a _café_.
If there were nobody in France but the last man, you would find him in a
_café_, making his own coffee, and playing billiards with himself. Here
the room was tolerably crowded; and I got into conversation with a group
of townspeople round the white Fayence stove. I abused the
weather--never had seen such weather--might live a century in England,
and not have such a dreary spell of rain--and so forth. The anxiety of
the good people to defend the reputation of their climate was excessive.
They were positively frightened at the prospect of a word being breathed
in England against the skies of the Pyrenees in general, and those of
Bagnerre in particular. The oldest inhabitant was appealed to, as never
having remembered such weather at Bagnerre. As for the summer, it had
been more than heavenly. All the springs were delightful; the autumns
were invariably charming; and the winters, if possible, the best of the
four. The present rain was extraordinary--exceptional--a sort of
phenomenon, like a comet or a calf with two heads. One of these
worthies, understanding that however strong my objections were to fog
and drizzle, I was not by any means afraid of being melted, recommended
me to make my way to the Palombiere, and see them catch wild pigeons,
after a fashion only practised there and at one other place in the
Pyrenees. Not appalled, then, by the prospect of a three-mile pull
up-hill, I made my way through the narrow suburban streets, and across
the foaming Adour, here a glorious mountain-stream, but already made
useful to turn numerous flour-mills, and to drive the saws and knives by
which the beautiful marble of the Pyrenees is cut and polished.
Hereabouts, in the straggling suburbs, the whole female and juvenile
population were clustered, just within the shelter of the open doors,
knitting those woollen jackets, scarfs, and so forth, which are so much
in vogue amongst the visitors in the season. There was one graceful
group of pretty girls, the eldest not more than four years of age,
pursuing the work in a shed open to the street, seated round a loom, at
which a good-natured-looking fellow was operating.

"That is a beautiful scarf," I said to the girl next me; "how much will
they give you for making it?"

The weaver paused in his work at this question. "Tell the gentleman, my
dear, how much Messieurs So-and-so give for knitting that scarf."

"Two liards," said the little girl.

Two liards, or half a solitary sous! This was worse than the
shirt-makers at home.

"It is a bad trade now," said the weaver. "She is a child; but the best
hands can't make more than big sous where they once made francs; but all
the trades of the poor are going to the devil. I don't think there will
be any poor left in twenty years--they will be all starved before then."

This led to a long talk with my new friend, who was a poor, mild, meek
sort of man--a thinker, after his fashion, totally uninstructed--he
could neither read nor write--and a curious specimen of the odd twists
which unregulated and unintelligent ponderings sometimes give a man's
mind. His grand notion seemed to be, that whatever might be the isolated
crimes and horrors now and then committed upon the earth, the most
terrible and malignant species of perverted human ingenuity was--the
employment of running streams to work looms.

"Was water made to weave cloth?" he asked. "Did the power that formed
the Adour intend its streams to be made use of to deprive an honest man
of his daily bread? He would uncommonly like to find the orator who
would make that clear to his mind. It was terrible to see how men
perverted the gifts of Nature! How could I, or any one else, prove to
him that the water beside us was intended to take the place of men's
arms and fingers, and to be used, as if it were vital blood, to
manufacture the garments of those who lived upon its banks?"

I ventured to hint, that running water might occasionally be put to
analogous, yet by no means so objectionable uses; and I instanced the
flour and maize mill, which was working merrily within a score of paces
of us. For a moment, but for a moment only, my antagonist was staggered.
Then recovering himself, he inquired triumphantly whether I meant to say
that the process of grinding corn was like the process of weaving cloth?
It was curious to observe the confusion in the man's mind between
_analogy_ and _resemblance_. As I could not but admit that the two
operations were conducted quite in a different fashion, my gratified
opponent, not to be too hard upon me, warily changed the immediate
subject of conversation. I was not a native of this part of France? Not
a native of France at all? Then I came from some place far away? Perhaps
from across the sea? From England! Ah! well, indeed, there was an
English lady married, about five miles off--Madame----. Of course I knew
her? No? Well, that was odd. He would have thought that, coming from the
same place, I ought to know her. However--were there many handloom
weavers like himself in England? No, very few indeed. What! did they
weave by water-power there, too? were the folks as bad as some of the
people in his country? I explained that, not being so much favoured in
the way of water-privilege, the people of England had resorted to steam.

The poor weaver was quite overcome at this crowning proof of human
malignity. It was more horrible even than the water-atrocities of the
Pyrenees.

"Steam!"--he repeated the word a dozen times over, shaking his head
mournfully at each iteration,--"Steam! Ah, well, what is this poor
unhappy world coming to?"

Then rousing himself, and sending the shuttle rattling backwards and
forwards through the web, he added heartily: "After all, their moving
iron and wood will never make the good, substantial, well-wearing cloth
woven by honest, industrious flesh and blood."

Who would have the heart to prescribe cold political economy in such a
case? I left the good man busily pursuing his avocation, and lamenting
over the perversity of making broad-cloth by the aid of boiling water.

Stretching manfully up hill, by a path like the bed of a muddy torrent,
I was rewarded by a sudden watery blink of sunshine. Then the wind began
to blow, and vast rolling masses of mist to move before it. From a high
ridge, with vast green slopes, all dotted with sheep, spreading away
beneath until they blended with the corn-land on the plain, Bagnerre
appeared, the great white hotels peeping from the trees, and the whole
town lying as it were at the bottom of a bowl. It must be fearfully hot
in summer, when the sun shines right down into the amphitheatre, and the
high hills about, deaden every breeze. At present, however, the wind was
rising to a gale, and blowing the heavy clouds right over the Pyrenees.
Attaining a still greater height, the scene was very grand. On one side
was a confused sea of mountain-peaks and ridges, over which floated
masses of wreathing fog, flying like chased phantoms before the
northern wind. Now a mountain-top would be submerged in the mist, to
re-appear again in a moment. Anon I would get a glimpse of a long vista
of valley, which next minute would be a mass of grey nonentity. The
mist-wreaths rose and rolled beneath me and above me. Sometimes I would
be enveloped as in a dense white smoke; then the fog-bank would flee
away, ascending the broad breast of the hill before me, and wrapping
trees, and rocks, and pastures in its shroud. All this time the wind
blew a gale, and roared among the wrestling pines. Sometimes the sun
looked out, and lit with fiery splendour the rolling masses of the fog,
with some partial patch of landscape; and, altogether, the effect, the
constant movement of the mist, the wild, hilly landscape appearing and
disappearing, the glimpses occasionally vouchsafed of the distant plain
of Gascony, sometimes dimly seen through the driving vapours, sometimes
golden bright in a partial blaze of sunshine,--all this was very
striking and fine. At length, however, I reached the Palombiere,
situated upon the ridge of the hill--which cost a good hour and a half's
climb. Here grow a long row of fine old trees, and on the northern side
rise two or three very high, mast-like trees of liberty, notched so as
to allow a boy as supple and as sure-footed as a monkey to climb to the
top, and ensconce himself in a sort of cage, like the "crow's nest"
which whalers carry at their mast-heads, for the look-out. I found the
fowlers gathered in a hovel at the foot of a tree; they said the wind
was too high for the pigeons to be abroad; but for a couple of francs
they offered to make believe that a flock was coming, and shew me the
process of catching. The bargain made, away went one of the urchins up
the bending pole, into the crow's-nest--a feat which I have a great
notion the smartest topman in all Her Majesty's navy would have shirked,
considering that there were neither foot-ropes or man-ropes to hold on
by. Then, on certain cords being pulled, a whole screen of net rose from
tree to tree, so that all passage through the row was blocked.

"Now," said the chief pigeon-catcher, "the birds at this season come
flying from the north to go to Spain, and they keep near the tops of the
hills. Well, suppose a flock coming now; they see the trees, and will
fly over them--if it wasn't for the _pigeonier_."

"The _pigeonier_! what is that?"

"We're going to show you." And he shouted to the boy in the crow's nest,
"Now Jacques!"

Up immediately sprang the urchin, shouting like a possessed
person--waving his arms, and at length launching into the air a missile
which made an odd series of eccentric flights, like a bird in a fit.

"That is the pigeonier," said the fowler; "it breaks the flight of the
birds, and they swoop down and dash between the trees--so."

He gave a tug to a short cord, and immediately the wall of nets, which
was balanced with great stones, fell in a mass to the ground.

"Monsieur will be good enough to imagine that the birds are struggling
and fluttering in the meshes."

[Illustration: MARBLE WORKS AT BAGNERRE.]

At Bagnerre there is a marble work--that of M. Géruset--which I
recommend every body to visit, not to see marble cut, although that is
interesting, but to pay their respects to, I believe, the grandest dog
in all the world--a giant even among the canine giants of the Pyrenees.
I have seen many a calf smaller than that magnificent fellow, who, as
you enter the yard, will rise from his haunches, like a king from his
throne, and, walking up to you with a solemn magnificence of step which
is perfect, will wag his huge tail, and lead you--you cannot
misunderstand the invitation--to the counting-house door. For vastness
of brow and jaw--enormous breadth and depth of chest, and girth of limb,
I never saw this creature equalled. The biggest St. Bernard I ever came
across was almost a puppy to him. A tall man may lay his hand on the
dog's back without the least degree of stoop; and the animal could not
certainly stand erect under an ordinary table.

"I suppose," I said to the clerk who showed me the works, "you have had
many offers for that dog?"

"My employer," he replied, "has refused one hundred pounds for him. But,
even if we wished, we could not dispose of him: he is fond of the place
and the people here; so that, though we might sell him, he wouldn't go
with his new master; and I would like to see any four men in Bagnerre
try to force him."

That evening I fortunately did not include the whole company at the
_table-d'hôte_. There was a young gentleman very much jewelled, and an
elderly lady also very strongly got up in the way of brooches and
bracelets, to whom the young gentleman was paying very assiduous but
very forced attention. The lady was sulky, and sent _plat_ after _plat_
untasted away; and when her companion, as I thought, whispered a
remonstrance, she snubbed him in great style; at which he bit his lip,
turned all manner of colours, and then got moodily silent. I suspected
that the young gentleman had married the old lady for her money, and was
leading just as comfortable a life as he deserved. But, besides them, we
had a couple of the gentlemen who are to be more or less found in every
hotel in France--_commis voyageurs_, or commercial travellers. By the
way, the aristocratic Murray lays his hand, or rather his "Hand-book,"
heavily about the ears of these gentlemen--castigating them a good deal
in the Croker style, and with more ferocity than justice: "A more
selfish, depraved, and vulgar, if not brutal set, does not exist;"
"English gentlemen will take good care to keep at a distance from
them," and "English ladies will be cautious of presenting themselves at
a French _table-d'hôte_, except"--in certain cases specified. Now, I
agree with Mr. Murray, that commercial travellers, French and English,
are not distinguished by much polish of manner, or elegance of address;
on the contrary, the style of their proceedings at table is frequently
slovenly and coarse, and their talk is almost invariably "shop." In a
word, they are not educated people, or gentlemen. But when we come to
such expressions as "selfish, brutal, and depraved," I think most
English travellers in France will agree with me, that the aristocratic
hand-book maker is going more than a little too far. I have met scores
of clever and intelligent _commis voyageurs_--hundreds of affable,
good-humoured ones--thousands of decent, inoffensive ones. In company
with a lady, I have dined at every species of _table-d'hôte_, in every
species of hotel, from the Channel to the Mediterranean, and the Bay of
Biscay to the Alps, and I cannot call to mind one instance of rudeness,
or voluntary want of civility, from one end of our journey to the other;
while scores and scores of instances of attention and kindness--more
particularly when it was ascertained that my companion was in weak
health--come thronging on me. I know that the French _commis voyageur_
looks after his own interest at table pretty sharply, and also that he
is quite deficient in all the elegant little courtesies of society; but
to say that he is brutal or depraved, because he is not a _petit maître_
and an _elegant_, is neither true nor courteous. If there be any set of
Frenchmen to whose conduct at _table-d'hôtes_ strong expressions may be
fairly applied, it is French officers, who sprung from a rank often
inferior to that of the bagman, and, with all the coarseness of the
barracks clinging to them, frequently cluster together in groups of
half-a-dozen--scramble for all that is good upon the table--eat with
their caps on, which the _commis voyageur_ only does in winter, when the
bare and empty _salle_ is miserably cold--and in general behave with a
coarse rudeness, and a tumultuous vulgarity, which I never saw private
soldiers guilty of, either here or in France.

But I must hurry my Pyrenean sketches to an end. The true South--I mean
the Mediterranean-washed provinces--still lie before me; and I must
perforce leap almost at a bound over a long and interesting journey
through the little-known towns of the eastern Pyrenees--quiet, sluggish,
tumble-down places, as St. Gaudens, St. Girons, and St. Foix, possessed
neither of pump-rooms, nor warm-springs, but vegetating on, lazily and
dreamily, in their glorious climate--for, after all, it does sometimes
stop raining, and that for a few blazing months at a time, too. I would
like to sketch St. Gaudens, with its broad-eaved, booth-like shops, and
the snug town-hall, with pictures of old prefects and wigged _fermiers
generaux_, into which they introduced me, and where they set all their
municipal documents before me, when I applied for some information as to
the landholding of the district. I would like to sketch at length a
curious walled village on the head waters of the Garonne--a
dead-and-gone sort of place, of which I asked an old man the name. "A
poor place, sir," he said; "a poor place. Not worth your while looking
at. All poor people here, sir--poor people; not worth your while
speaking to. And the name--oh, a poor name, sir--not worth your while
knowing; but, if you insist--why, then, it's Valentine." I would like to
sketch the merry population in the hills round that dead-and-gone
village--half farmers, half weavers, like the Saddleworth peasants, in
Yorkshire--a jolly set--all sporting men, too, who give up their looms,
and go into the woods after bears as boldly as Sir Peter de Bearne. And
I would like, too, to try to bring before my reader's eye the viney
valley of the Ariege, and the deep ravines through which the stream goes
foaming, spanned by narrow bridges, each with a tower in the centre,
where the warder kept his guard, and opened and shut the huge,
iron-bound doors, and dropped and raised the portcullis at pleasure. And
these old feudal memorials bring me to the castles and ruined towers so
thickly peopling the land where lived the bands of adventurers, as
Froissart calls them, by whom the fat citizens of the towns were wont to
be "_guerroyés et harriés_," and most of which have still their legends
of desperate sieges, and, too often, of foul murders done within their
dreary walls. Pass, as I perforce must, however, and gain
Provence--there is yet one legendary tale I cannot help telling. It is
one of the best things in Froissart, and a little twisting would give it
a famous satiric significance against a class of bores of our own day
and generation. It relates to the lord of a castle not far from Tarbes,
and was told to Froissart by a squire, "in a corner of the chapel of
Orthez," during the visit paid by the canon to Gaston Phoebus, Count
of Foix--who, I am sorry to say, has been puffed, and most snobbishly
exalted by the great chronicler into the ranks of the most noble
chivalry, in return for splendid entertainment bestowed; whereas, in
fact, Gaston Phoebus was a reckless murderer, possessed of neither
faith nor honour. But, alas, the Canon of Chimay sometimes descended
into the lowest depths of penny-a-lining, and "coloured" the cases just
as a bribed police reporter does when a "respectable" gentleman gets
into trouble. Gaston stabbed his son to death, in a dungeon; and the
bold Froissart has actually the coolness to assert that the death of the
heir took place, inasmuch as his father, in a rage, because he would not
eat the dainties placed before him, struck him with his clenched fist,
holding therein a knife with which he had been picking his nails, but
the blade of which, says the lame apologist, only protruded a "groat's
breadth" from his fingers,--the result being that the steel
unfortunately happened to cut a vein in young Gaston's throat. The
simple truth of the matter is, that the count was jealous of his son's
being a favourite of the boy's mother, from whom he (the count) was
separated--that he dreaded lest the wrongs of his wife might be avenged
by her brother, the King of Navarre--and that he determined to starve
the boy in a dungeon; but the child not dying so soon as was expected,
his father went very coolly in to him, and cut his throat.

"To speak briefly and truly," says Froissart, "the Count de Foix was
perfect in body and mind, and no contemporary prince could be compared
to him for sense, honour, and liberality."

"To speak briefly and truly, Sir John Froissart," I reply, "you have
written a charming and chivalrous chronicle; but you could take a bribe
with any man of your time, and having done so, you could attempt to
deceive posterity, and write down what you knew to be a lie, with as
gallant a grace and easy swagger as the great Mr. Jonathan Wild
himself."

However, there are black spots in the sun--to the legend which I
promised. The Lord of Corasse--a castle, by the way, in which Henri
Quatre passed some portion of his boyish days--the Lord of Corasse had a
quarrel touching tithes with a neighbouring priest, who being unable to
obtain his dues by ordinary legal or illegal remedies, sent a spirit to
haunt the castle of Corasse. This spirit proceeded to perform his
mission by making a dreadful hallabuloo all night long, and breaking the
crockery--so that very soon the Lord and Lady of Corasse had to dine
without platters. At length, however, the Baron managed to come to
speaking terms with the demon, who was invisible, and found out that his
name was Orthon, and that the priest had sent him.

"But Orthon, my good fellow," said the sly Lord of Corasse, "this priest
is a poor devil, and will never be able to pay you handsomely. Throw him
overboard at once, therefore, and come and take service with me."

Orthon must have been the most fickle of all the devils, for he not only
acceded to the proposition with astonishing readiness, but took such an
affection to his new lord, that he could not be got out of his bedroom
at night, to the sore discomfiture of the baroness, "who was so much
frightened that the hairs of her head stood on end, and she always hid
herself under the bed-clothes;" while the too familiar demon, never
seen, but only heard, insisted on keeping his friend, the baron,
chatting all night. But the charms of Orthon's conversation at length
palled, particularly as they kept the baron night after night from his
natural rest; so he took to despatching the demon all over Europe,
collecting information for him of all that was going on in the courts
and councils of princes, and at the scene of war where there happened to
be fighting. Still, as Orthon moved as fast as a message by electric
telegraph, the baron found him nearly as troublesome as ever. He was
eternally coming in with intelligence which he insisted upon telling,
until the Lord of Corasse's head was fairly turned by the amount of news
he was obliged to listen to. Never had there been so indefatigable an
agent. He would have been invaluable to a newspaper--but he was boring
the Lord of Corasse to death.

A loud thunder at the door at midnight. The baron would groan, for he
knew well who was the claimant for admission. "Let me in, Let me in. I
have news for thee from Hungary or England," as the case might be; and
the baron, groaning in soul and body, would get up and let the demon in;
while the latter would immediately commence his recitation:

"Let me sleep. Let me sleep, for Heaven's sake!" the victim would
exclaim.

"I have not told thee half the news," would be Orthon's reply; "I will
not let thee sleep until I have told thee the news;" and he would go on
with his budget of foreign intelligence till the day scared him, and
left the baron and the baronness to broken and unrefreshing slumbers.

Froissart narrates that at length the demon consented to appear in a
visible form to the baron; that he took the shape of a lean sow, upon
which the Lord of Corasse ordered the dogs to be let loose upon the
animal, which straightway disappeared, and Orthon was never seen after.
I suspect, however, that Sir John was hoaxed in this respect. He clearly
did not see the fun of the story, which is very capable of being
resolved into an allegory--the fact being that the demon was some
gentleman of the priest's acquaintance, with supernatural powers of
boring whom he let loose upon the recalcitrant tithe-payer, until the
arrears were at length paid up. The sow which disappeared was clearly no
other than a tithe-pig.



CHAPTER XI.

LANGUEDOC--THE "AUSTERE SOUTH"--BEZIERS AND THE ALBIGENSES--THE
FOUNTAIN OF THE GREVE AND PIERRE PAUL RIQUET--ANTICIPATIONS OF
THE MEDITERRANEAN--THE MISTRAL--THE OLIVE COUNTRY ABOUT
BEZIERS--THE PEASANTS OF THE SOUTH--RURAL BILLIARD-PLAYING.


Again in the banquette of the diligence, which, rolling on the great
highway from Toulouse to Marseilles, has taken me up at Carcassone, and
will deposit me for the present at Beziers. We have entered in
Languedoc, the most early civilised of the provinces which now make up
France--the land where chivalry was first wedded to literature--the land
whose tongue laid the foundations of the greater part of modern
poetry--the land where the people first rebelled against the tyranny of
Rome--the land of the Menestrals and the Albigenses. People are apt to
think of this favoured tract of Europe as a sort of terrestrial
paradise--one great glowing odorous garden--where, in the shade of the
orange and the olive-tree, queens of love and beauty, crowned the heads
of wandering Troubadours. The literary and historic associations have
not unnaturally operated upon our common notions of the country; and for
the "South of France," we are very apt to conjure up a brave, fictitious
landscape. Yet this country is no Eden. It has been admirably described,
in a single phrase, the "Austere South of France." It _is_
austere--grim--sombre. It never smiles: it is scathed and parched.
There is no freshness or rurality in it. It does not seem the country,
but a vast yard--shadeless, glaring, drear, and dry. Let us glance from
our elevated perch over the district we are traversing. A vast, rolling
wilderness of clodded earth, browned and baked by the sun; here and
there masses of red rock heaving themselves above the soil like
protruding ribs of the earth, and a vast coating of drowthy dust, lying
like snow upon the ground. To the left, a long ridge of iron-like
mountains--on all sides rolling hills, stern and kneaded, looking as
though frozen. On the slopes and in the plains, endless rows of scrubby,
ugly trees, powdered with the universal dust, and looking exactly like
mopsticks. Sprawling and straggling over the soil beneath them, jungles
of burnt-up, leafless bushes, tangled, and apparently neglected. The
trees are olives and mulberries--the bushes, vines.

Glance again across the country. It seems a solitude. Perhaps one or two
distant figures, grey with dust, are labouring to break the clods with
wooden hammers; but that is all. No cottages--no farmhouses--no
hedges--all one rolling sweep of iron-like, burnt-up, glaring land. In
the distance, you may espy a village. It looks like a fortification--all
blank, high stone walls, and no windows, but mere loop-holes. A square
church tower gloomily and heavily overtops the houses, or the dungeon of
an ancient fortress rears its massive pile of mouldering stone. Where
have you seen such a landscape before? Stern and forbidding, it has yet
a familiar look. These scrubby, mop-headed trees--these formal square
lines of huge edifices--these banks and braes, varying in hue from the
grey of the dust to the red of the rock--why, they are precisely the
back-grounds of the pictures of the renaissance painters of France and
Italy.

I was miserably disappointed with the olive. It is one of the romantic
trees, full of association. It is a biblical tree, and one of the most
favoured of the old eastern emblems. But what claim has it to beauty?
The trunk, a weazened, sapless-looking piece of timber, the branches
spreading out from it like the top of a mushroom, and the colour, when
you can see it for dust, a cold, sombre, greyish green. One olive is as
like another as one mopstick is like another. The tree has no
picturesqueness--no variety. It is not high enough to be grand, and not
irregular enough to be graceful. Put it beside the birch, the beech, the
elm, or the oak, and you will see the poetry of the forest and its
poorest and most meagre prose. So also, to a great extent, of the
mulberry. I had a vague sort of respect for the latter tree, because one
of the Champions of Christendom--St. James of Spain, I think--delivered
out of the trunk of a mulberry an enchanted princess; but the enforced
lodgings of the captive form just as shabby and priggish-looking a tree
as the olive. The general shape--that of a mop--is the same, and a
mutual want of variety and picturesqueness, afflict, with the curse of
hopeless ugliness, both silk and oil-trees. The fig, in another way, is
just as bad. It is a sneaking tree, which appears as if it were growing
on the sly, while its soft, buttery-looking branches--bending and
twisting, swollen and unwholesome-looking--put you somehow in mind of
diseased limbs, which the quack doctors call "bad legs." In fact, it
seems as if the climate and soil of Provence and Languedoc were utterly
unfavourable to the production of forest scenery. One of our noble
clumps of oak, beech, birch, and elm, at home, is worth, for splendid
picturesqueness and rich luxuriance of greenery, every fig-tree which
ever grew since fig-leaves were in vogue; every olive which ever grew
since the dove from the ark plucked off a branch; and every mulberry
which ever grew since St. James of Spain cut out the imprisoned
princess. The menestrals of Languedoc no doubt gave our early bards many
a poetic lesson; but I can imagine the hopeless stare of the Southern
when the Northern rhymer, in return, would chant him a jolly Friar of
Copmanhurst sort of stave about the "merry greenwood," and the joys of
the "greenwood tree."

As we roll along the dusty highway, intersecting the dusty fields, the
dusty olives, and the dusty vines, I pray the reader to glance to the
right, towards the summit of a chain of jagged, naked hills. These go by
the name of the Black Mountains--a good "Mysteries of Udolpho" sort of
title--and they form part of a range which separates the basin of the
streams which descend to the north, and form the head waters of the
Garonne, and those which descend to the south, and form the head waters
of the Aude. Somewhere about 1670, the scattered shepherds who dwelt in
these hills frequently observed a stranger, richly dressed, attended by
two labouring-looking men, who paid him great reverence. The little
party toiled up and down in the hills, and frequently erected and
gathered round magical-looking instruments. "Holy Mary!" said the
peasants, "they are sorcerers, and they are come to bewitch us all!" For
years and years did the richly dressed man and the two labourers haunt
the Black Mountains, wandering uneasily up and down, climbing ridges,
and plunging into valleys, and always seeming to seek something which
they could not find. At length, upon a glaring hot summer day, they came
suddenly upon a young peasant, who was quenching his thirst at a
fountain.

The cavalier glanced at the spring, and caught the shepherd by his
home-spun jacket. The boy thought he was going to be murdered, and
screamed out; but a Louis-d'or quieted him in a moment. Then the
cavalier, trembling with anxiety, exclaimed: "What fountain is this?"

"The fountain of the Greve," said the boy.

"And it runs both ways along the ridge of the hill?"

"Ay; any fool may see that half of the water goes north, and half goes
south--any fool knows that."

"And I only discovered it now. Thank God!"

We shall see who the cavalier, the discoverer of the fountain of the
Greve, was, when we arrive at Beziers. Meantime the reader may be
astonished that, after the cold frost and snow of the Pyrenees, a week
or two later in the season brought me into a region of dry parched land,
the sky blue and speckless from dawn to twilight--the sun glaringly hot,
and the flying dust penetrating into the very pores of the skin. But we
have left the mist-gathering and rain-attracting mountains, and we have
entered the "austere South," where the sky for months and months is
cloudless as in Arabia--where, at the season I traversed it, the sun
being hot by day does not prevent the frost from being keen at night;
and where the mistral, or north wind, nips your skin as with knives;
while in every sheltered spot the noon-day heat bakes and scorches it.
But such is Languedoc.

As the evening closed in, we saw, duskily crowning a hill before us, a
clustered old city, with grand cathedral towers, and many minor church
steeples, cutting the darkening air. This is Beziers, where took place
the crowning massacre of the Albigenses--the most learned, intellectual,
and philosophic of the early revolters from the Church of Rome, and whom
it is a perfect mistake to consider in the light of mere peasant
fanatics, like the Camisards or the Vaudois. In this ancient city,
beneath the shadow of these dim towers, more than twenty thousand men,
women, and children, were slaughtered by the troops of orthodox France
and Rome, led on and incited to the work by the Bishop of Beziers, one
of the most black-souled bigots who ever deformed God's earth. When the
soldiers could hardly distinguish in the darkness the heretics from the
orthodox--although, indeed, they might have solved the problem by
cutting down every intelligent man they saw--the loving pastor of souls
roared out, "_Coedite omnes, coedite; noverit enim Dominus qui sunt
ejus!_" It is to be fervently hoped, that, for the sake of the Bishop of
Beziers, a certain other personage has long ago proved himself equally
perspicuous and discriminating.

We pulled up at Hotel du Nord, at Beziers, just as the _table-d'hôte_
bell was ringing; and I speedily found myself sitting down in a most
gaily lighted _salon_, to a capital dinner, in the midst of a merry
company. For the last ten miles of the way, I had been amusing myself by
catching glimpses of a distant lighthouse; for I knew that it shone from
a headland jutting into the Mediterranean. And the first glance at the
Mediterranean was now my grand object of interest, as the first glance
at the Pyrenees had been; and as, I remember, long ago, the first glance
of France, of the Rhine, and the Alps, had each their turn. When,
therefore, a dish of soles (stewed in oil, as the Jews cook them
here--and the Jews are the only people in England who can cook soles,)
was placed before me, I asked the waiter where the fish came from?

"_Mais, monsieur_, where should they come from, but from the sea?"

"You mean the Mediterranean?"

"_Mais certainment, monsieur_; there is no sea but the Mediterranean
sea."

An observation which, coinciding with my own mental view for the moment,
I quietly agreed in.

In the market-place of Beziers stands the statue of a thoughtful and
handsome man, dressed in the costume of the early period of Louis
Quatorze, with flowing love-locks and peaked beard. His cloak has fallen
unheeded from his shoulders, as he eagerly gazes on the ground--one hand
holding a compass, the other a pencil. This is the statue of Pierre Paul
Riquet, feudal seigneur of Bonrepos, and the cavalier who discovered the
fountain of the Greve. That fountain solved a mighty problem--the
possibility of connecting, by means of water communication, the
Atlantic and the Mediterranean--the Garonne flowing into the one, with
the Aude flowing into the other; and the formation of the Canal du Midi,
doubled at a stroke the value of the Mediterranean provinces of France.
Francis I., although our James called him a "mere fechting fule," dreamt
of this. Henri and Sully projected the scheme; but it was only under
Louis and Colbert that it was executed; and the bold and resolute
engineer--he lived three quarters of a century before Brindley--was
Pierre Paul Riquet. This man was one of those chivalric enthusiasts for
a scheme--one of those gallant soldiers of an idea--who give up their
lives to the task of making a thought a fact. He had laboured at least a
dozen of weary years ere the court took up the plan. He had demonstrated
the thing again and again to commissioners of notabilities, ere the
first stone of the first loch was laid. The work went on; twelve
thousand "navvies" laboured at the task; Riquet had sunk his entire
fortune in it. In thirteen years, the toil was all but accomplished. In
the coming summer the Canal du Midi would be opened--when Riquet
died--the great cup of his life's ambition brimming untasted at his
lips. Six months thereafter, a gay company of king's commissioners,
gracefully headed by Riquet's two sons, rode through the channel of the
water-courses from Beziers to Toulouse, and returned the next week by
water, leading a jubilant procession of twenty-three great barges,
proceeding from the west with cargoes for the annual fair held on the
Rhone, at Beaucaire. Since Riquet's days, all his plans have been, one
by one, carried out. His canal now runs to Agen, where it joins the
Garonne; while at the other end, it is led through the chain of marshes
and lagoons which extend along the Mediterranean, from Perpignan to the
delta of the Rhone, joining the "swift and arrowy" river at Beaucaire.

I have mentioned the mistral. I had heard a great deal previously about
this wind, and while at Beziers, had the pleasure of making its personal
acquaintance. This mistral is the plague and the curse of the
Mediterranean provinces of France. The ancient historians mention it as
sweeping gravel and stones up into the air. St. Paul talks of the south
wind, which blew softly until there arose against it a fierce wind,
called Euroclydon--certainly the mistral. Madame de Sevigne paints it as
"_le tourbillon, l'ouregan, tous les diables dechainés qui veulent bien
emporter votre chateau_;" and my amazement is, that the hurricane does
not sometimes carry bodily off, if not a chateau, at least the ricketty
villages of the peasants. I had but a taste of this wild, gusty, and
most abominably drying and cutting wind; for the gale which blew for a
couple of days over Beziers formed, I was told, only a very modified
version of the true mistral; but it was quite enough to give a notion of
the wind in the full height of its evil powers. The whole country was
literally one moving cloud of dust. The roads, so to speak, smoked. From
an eminence, you could trace their line for miles by the columns of
white powdered earth driven into the air. As for the paths you actually
traversed, the ground-down gravel was blown from the ruts, leaving the
way scarred, as it were, with ridgy seams, and often worn down to the
level of the subsidiary stratum of rock. The streaky, russet-brown of
the fields was speedily converted into one uniform grey. Never had I
seen anything more intensely or dismally parched up. As for any tree or
vegetable but vines and olives--whose very sustenance and support is
dust and gravel, thriving under the liability to such visitations--the
thing was impossible. Nor was the dust by any means the only evil. The
wind seemed poisonous; it made the eyes--mine, at all events--smart and
water; cracked the lips, as a sudden alternation from heat to cold will
do; caused a little accidentally inflicted scratch to ache and shoot;
and finally, dried, hardened, and roughened the skin, until one felt in
an absolute fever. The cold in the shade, let it be noted, was
intense--a pinching, nipping cold, in noways frosty or kindly; while in
sheltered corners the heat was as unpleasant, the blaze of an unclouded
sun darting right down upon the parched and gleaming earth. All this,
however, I was told, formed but a modified attack of mistral. The true
wind mingles with the flying dust a greyish or yellowish haze, through
which the sun shines hot, yet cheerless. I had, however, a specimen of
the wind, which quite satisfied me, and which certainly enables me to
affirm, that the coldest, harshest, and most rheumatic easterly gale
which ever whistled the fogs from Essex marshes over the dripping and
shivering streets of London, is a genial, balmy, and ambrosial zephyr,
compared with the mistral of the ridiculously bepuffed climate of the
South of France.

Wandering about Beziers, so as to get the features of the olive country
thoroughly into my head, I had a good deal of conversation with the
scattered peasantry--a fierce, wild-looking set of people, dressed in
the common blouse, but a perfectly different race from the quiet, mild,
central and northern agriculturists. Their black, flashing eyes, so
brimful of devilry--their wild, straight, black hair, shooting in
straggling masses over their shoulders, and the fierce vehemence of
gesticulation--the loud, passionate tone of their habitual speech--all
mark the fiery and hot-blooded South. Go into a cabaret, into the high,
darkened room, set round with tables and benches, and you will think the
whole company are in a frantic state of quarrel. Not at all--it is
simply their way of conversing. But if a dispute does break out, they
leap, and scream, and glare into each other's eyes like demons, and the
ready knife is but too often seen gleaming in the air. Here in the South
you will note the change in the style of construction of the farmhouses,
which are clustered in bourgs. Everything is on a great scale, to give
air, the grand object being to let the breeze in, and keep the heat out.
Shade is the universal desideratum. Every auberge has its huge
_remise_--a vast, gloomy shed, into which carts and diligences drive,
where the mangers of the horses stand, and where you will often see the
carriers stretched out asleep. In large, messagerie hotels, these
_remises_, ponderously built of vast blocks of stone, look like enormous
catacombs, or vaults; and the stamping and neighing of the horses, and
the rumbling of entering and departing vehicles, roll along the roof in
thunder.

Near Beziers, I came upon a good specimen of the South of France bourg,
or agricultural village. Seen from a little distance, it had quite an
imposing appearance--the white, commodious-looking mansions gleaming
cheerily out through the dusky olive-grounds. A closer inspection,
however, showed the real nakedness of the land. The high, white mansions
became great clumsy barns--the lower stories occupied as living places,
the windows above bursting with loads of hay and straw. The crooked,
devious streets were paved with filthy heaps of litter and dung.
Dilapidated ploughs and harrows--their wooden teeth worn down to the
stumps--lay hither and thither round the great gaunt, unpainted
doorways. The window-shutters of every occupied room were shut as
closely as port-holes in a gale of wind, and here and there a wandering
pig or donkey, or a slatternly woman sifting corn upon a piece of
sacking stretched before her door, or a purblind old crone knitting in
the sun, formed the only moving objects which gave life to the dreary
picture.

In this village, however, dreary as it was, I found a _café_ and a
billiard-table. Where, indeed, in France will you not? Except in the
merest jumble of hovels, you can hardly traverse a hamlet without seeing
the crossed cues and balls figuring on a gaily painted house. You may
not be able to purchase the most ordinary articles a traveller requires,
but you can always have a game at pool. I have frequently found
billiard-rooms in filthy little hamlets, inhabited entirely by persons
of the rank of English agricultural labourers. At home, we associate the
game with great towns, and, perhaps, with the more dissipated portion
of the life of great towns. Here, even with the thoroughly rustic
portion of the population, the game seems a necessary of life. And there
are, too--contrary to what might have been expected--few or no
make-shift-looking, trumpery tables. The _cafés_ in the Palais Royal, or
in the fashionable Boulevards, contain no pieces of furniture of this
description more massive or more elaborately carved and adorned than
many I have met with in places hardly aspiring to the rank of villages.
It has often struck me, that the billiard-table must have cost at least
as much as the house in which it was erected; but the thing seemed
indispensable, and there it was in busy use all day long. A correct
return of the number of billiard-tables in France would give some very
significant statistics relative to the social customs and lives of our
merry neighbours. It would be an odd indication of the habits of the
people, should there be found to be five times as many billiard-tables
in France as there are mangles; and I for one firmly believe that such
would be the result of an impartial perquisition. Besides the _billard_
and the newspapers--little provincial rags, with which an English grocer
would scorn to wrap up an ounce of pigtail--there are, of course, cards
and dominoes for the frequenters; and they are in as great requisition
all day as the balls and cues. I like--no man likes better--to see the
toilers of the world released from their labours, and enjoying
themselves; but after all there is something, to English ways of
thinking, desperately idle in the scene of a couple of big, burly
working men, sitting in the glare of the sunlight the best part of the
day, wrangling over a greasy pack of cards, or rattling dominoes upon
the little marble tables. I once remarked this to an old French
gentleman.

"True--too true," he replied; "it was Bonaparte did the mischief. He
made--you know how great a proportion of the country youth of
France--soldiers. When they returned--those who did return--they had
garrison tastes and barrack habits; and those tastes and habits it was
which have brought matters to the pass, that you can hardly travel a
league, even in rural France, without hearing the click of the billiard
balls."



CHAPTER XII.

THE TRACK-BOAT ON THE CANAL DU MIDI--APPROACH TO THE
MEDITERRANEAN--SALT-MARSHES AND SALT-WORKS--A CIRCUS
THRASHING-MACHINE--THE MEDITERRANEAN AND ITS CRAFT--CETTE AND
ITS MANUFACTURED WINES, WITH A PRIEST'S VIEWS ON GOURMANDISE.


I left Beziers for the Mediterranean, by Pierre Paul Riquet's canal. The
track-boat passes once a-day, taking upwards of thirty-five hours to
make the passage from Toulouse to Cette. The Beziers station is about a
mile from the town; and on approaching it early in the morning, I found
a crowd of people collected on the banks, looking at men dragging the
canal with huge hooks at the end of poles. They were searching for the
body of a poor fellow from Beziers, who had drowned himself under very
remarkable circumstances; and just as the packet-boat came up, the
corpse was raised, stark and stiff, almost from beneath it. The deceased
was a _decrotteur_, or boot-cleaner, and a light porter at Beziers--a
quiet, inoffensive man, who, by dint of untiring industry, and great
self-denial, had scraped together upwards of two hundred and fifty
francs, all of which he lent another _decrotteur_, without taking legal
security for the money. After the stipulated term for the loan had
elapsed, the poor lender naturally pressed for his cash. He was put off
from month to month with excuses; and when, at length, he became urgent
for repayment, the debtor laughed in his face, told him to do his best
and his worst, and get his money how he could. The _decrotteur_ went
away in a state of frenzy, and procured and charged a pistol, with which
he returned to the rascal borrower.

"Will you pay me?--ay or no?" he said.

"No," replied the other; "go about your business."

The creditor instantly levelled his pistol and fired. Down went his
antagonist, doubled up in a heap on the road, and away went the assassin
as hard as his legs could carry him, to a bridge leading over the canal,
from the parapet of which he leaped into the water; while, as he
disappeared, the _quasi_ murdered man got up again, with no other damage
than a face blackened by the explosion of the pistol. He had fallen
through terror, for he was absolutely unscathed.

The travelling by the Canal du Midi is a sleepy and monotonous business
enough. Mile after mile, and league after league, the boat is gliding
along between grassy or rushy banks, and rows of poplar, and sometimes
of acacia trees, the monotonous tramp of the team upon the bank mingling
with the endless gurgle of the waters beneath. The towing paths are
generally very lifeless. Now and then a solitary peasant, with his heavy
sharp-pointed hoe--an implement, in fact, half hoe and half
pick-axe--upon his shoulder, saunters up to see the boat go by; or a
shepherd, whistling to his flock, paces slowly at their head, wandering
to and fro in search of the greenest bits of pasture; or a handful of
jabbering women, from some neighbouring bourg, will be squatted along
the water's edge, certainly not obeying Napoleon's injunction to wash
their _linge sale en famille_, but pounding away at sheets and shirts
with heavy stones or wooden mallets--the counterparts of the instruments
used in Scotland to "get up" fine linen, and there called "beetles." The
bridges are shot cleverly. At a shout from the steersman, the
postillion, who rides one of the hindmost horses of the team, jumps off,
casts loose the tow-line, runs with the end of it to the centre of the
bridge, drops it aboard as the boat comes beneath, catches it up again
on the opposite side, flies back after his horses which have trotted
very tranquilly ahead, hooks on the rope again, jumps into his saddle,
cracks his long whip, and the boat is off again in full career long ere
she has lost her former headway. Little of the country can be seen from
the deck, but along the southern and eastern half of the canal you
seldom lose sight of the dusty tops of the formal olive groves, varied
now and then by a stony slope covered with ugly, sprawling vines, and as
you approach the sea, dotted with white, little country houses--of which
more hereafter--the glimpses of the changing picture being continually
set in a brown frame of sterile hills.

The boats are long and narrow; the cabins like corridors, but
comfortably cushioned and stuffed, so that you can sleep in them, even
if the boat be tolerably crowded, as well as in a diligence. If there be
few passengers, you will have full-length room. The _restaurant_ on
board is excellent--as good as that on the Garonne boats, and very
cheap. Let all English travellers, however, beware of the steward's
department on the Loire and Rhone steamers, in both of which I have
been thoroughly swindled. The style of people who seemingly use the
track-boat on the Canal du Midi, are the _rotonde_ class of diligence
passengers. Going down to Cette, there were two or three families,
almost entirely composed of females, aboard; the elder ladies--horrid,
snuffy old women, who were always having exclusive cups of chocolate or
coffee, or little basins of soup, and who never appeared to move from
the spots on which they were deposited since the voyage began.

Two of these families had canaries in cages, a very common practice in
France, where the people continually try, even in travelling, to keep
their household gods about them. Look at the baggage of your Frenchman
_en voyage_. All the old clothes of the last dozen of years are sure to
be lugged about in it. There is, perhaps, a pormanteau, exclusively
devoted to old boots, and half-a-dozen pasteboard hat-boxes, with
half-a-dozen hats, utterly beyond wearing. The plague of all this
baggage is dreadful; but the proprietor would go through any amount of
inconvenience rather than lose one stitch of his innumerable old
_hardes_.

After passing the headland and dull old town of Agde, the former crowned
by the lighthouse I had seen from the road to Beziers, we fairly entered
into the great zone of salt swamps which here line the Mediterranean. It
was a desolate and dreary prospect. The land on either side stretched
away in a dead flat; now dry and parched, again traversed by green
streaks of swamp, and anon broken by clear, shallow pools of water.
Sometimes, again, you entered a perfect jungle of huge bulrushes,
stretching away as far as the eye could follow, and evidently teeming
with wild ducks, which rose in vast coveys, and flew landward or seaward
in their usual wedge-shaped order of flight. The sea, to which we were
approaching at a sharp angle, was still invisible, but you felt the
refreshing savour of the brine in the air, and now and then you caught,
sparkling for a moment in the bright, hot sunshine, a distant jet of
feathery spray, as a heavier wave than common came thundering along the
beach. Presently, the brown waste through which we were passing became
streaked with whitish belts and patches--the salt left by the
evaporation of the brine, which now begins to soak and well through the
spongy soil, and presently to expand into lakes and shallow belts of
water. Across these, long rows of stakes for nets, stretched away in
endless column, and here and there a rude, light boat floated, or a
fisherman slowly waded from point to point. Great herons and cranes
stood like sentinels in the shallow water, and flocks of sandpipers and
plovers ran along the white salt-powdered sand. Then came on the left,
or landward side, a series of tumuli of pyramidical form, some of them
white, others of a dark brown, scattered over a space of scores of
square miles. I wondered who were the inhabitants of this lake of the
dismal swamp, and accordingly pointed out the houses, as I conceived
them, to the captain.

"Houses, monsieur!" he said; "these are all salt heaps. Salt is the
harvest of this country, and they stack it in these piles, just as the
people inland do their corn. When the heap is not expected to be wanted
soon, they thatch it with reeds and grass; but if they expect to get a
quick sale, they don't take the trouble. So you see that some of the
heaps are dark, and the others like snow-balls."

"But if there come rain?"

"Not much fear of that in this part of the world. There may be a shower,
but the salt is so hard and compacted, that it will do little more than
wash the dirt off."

[Illustration: THRASHING CORN.]

Presently we came to the salt-making basins--great shallow lakes,
divided by dykes into squares somewhat in the style of a chess-board;
and here the solitude of the expanse was broken by the figures of the
workmen clambering along the narrow dykes to watch and superintend the
progress of evaporation. By the side of these lakes, rows of ugly
rectangular cottages were erected, and slight carts drawn by two horses,
one ahead of the other, moved the loads of salt from the pans, or pools,
to the heaps in which it was stored. Here and there, where the ground
rose a little, a thin crop of maize, or barley, appeared to have been
cultivated; and it was probably some such harvest that I saw being
thrashed by the peculiar process in use all through Provence and
southern Languedoc. There are very few thrashing mills, even in the best
cultivated parts of France. Over the vast proportion of the kingdom, the
orthodox old flail bears undisturbed sway; but the farmer of the far
South chooses rather to employ horse than human muscles in the work. He
lays down, therefore, in a handy spot, a circular pavement, generally of
brick, a little larger than the ring at Astley's. All along the swampy
shores of the Mediterranean, traversed by the delta of the Rhone, and
stretching westward towards Spain, there feed upon the scanty herbage
great herds of semi-wild horses, said to have been originally of Arabian
descent. These creatures are caught, when needed, much in the style of
the Landes desert steeds, and every farmer has a right to a certain
number corresponding with the size of his farm. When, then, the harvest
has been cut, and the thrashing time comes on, you may see, approaching
the steeding, an unruly flock of lean, lanky, leggy horses, most of them
grey, driven by three or four mounted peasants--capital cavaliers--each
with a long lance like a trident held erect, and a lasso coiled at the
saddle-bow. Then work commences: the wild steeds are tolerably docile,
although shy and skittish. A heavy bit is forced into the mouth of each,
with a long bridle attached. The creatures are arranged in a circle on
the edge of the brick flooring, exactly as when Mr. Widdicombe or M.
Franconi prepare for an unrivalled feat of horsemanship upon eight
bare-backed steeds by the "Whirlwind Rider," surnamed the "Pet of the
Ring," or the famous artiste, "Herr Bridleinski, the Hungarian Tamer of
the Flying Steeds." The sheaves of corn are placed just where the active
grooms at Astley's rake the sawdust thickest; and then, in answer to the
thundering exhortations of Mr. Widdicombe and his coadjutors in the
centre of the ring, and the cracking of the whips, the horses, held by
their long bridles, go plunging and rearing round the arena, and, after
more or less obstreperousness, settle into a shambling trot, treading
out the corn as they go, and preserving the pace for a wonderful length
of time. At night, the creatures are released, and left to shift for
themselves. They seldom stray far from the farm, and are easily
recaptured and brought back to work next day. The four-legged thrashers,
I am sorry to say, are rather scurvily treated, for they get nothing in
return for their labour better than straw--a poor diet for a day's trot.
The first time I saw this equestrian thrashing-machine in motion, the
effect was very odd. I could not dissociate it from the equestrian
performance of some wandering company of high-bred steeds and "star
riders." The only thing that seemed strange was, that there should be no
spectators; and, after a little time, that there should be no human
performers. Round and round, at a long, irregular trot, went the lanky
brutes--sometimes breaking out--plunging, and taking it into their
heads, as their Rochester cousin, hired by Mr. Winkle, did, to go
sideways, but always reduced to obedience by a few smacking persuaders
from the whip. But where was the illustrious Whirlwind Rider, who
should have stood on all their necks at once, or the famous Bridleinski,
who should have stood on all their haunches? No shrill clown's voice
echoed from the circus. The stolid, bloused, straw-hatted master of the
ring was a perfect disgrace and reproach to Mr. Widdicombe, who, if he
had been on board the boat, would infallibly have taken refuge in the
run, rather than contemplated such a melancholy mockery of his mission
and his functions.

At length there gleamed before us a noble sheet of water, ruffled by a
steady breeze, before which one of the Lateen-rigged craft of the
Mediterranean was bowling merrily, driving a rolling wave of foam on
either side of her bluff bows. This was the Lagoon, or Etang, of Thau, a
salt-water lake about a dozen of miles long, and opening up by a narrow
channel--on both banks of which rises the flourishing town of
Cette--into the Mediterranean. For the greater part of its length, only
a strip of sand and shingle interposes between the lake and the sea, and
as the steamer to which we were transferred, at the end of the canal,
paddled its way to Cette, we could see every moment the surf of the open
ocean rising beyond the barrier. The passage along the Etang is pretty
and characteristic. On the left lie, in a long, blue chain, the hills of
the Cevennes--distance hiding their barren bleakness from the eye--while
along the inland edge of the water, village after village, the houses
sparklingly white, are mirrored in the lake, with a little fleet of
lateen-rigged fishing boats, the sails usually very ragged, pursuing
their occupation before each hamlet. Now and then we were passed by
huge feluccas, rolling away before the wind, and bound for the Canal du
Midi, with great cargoes of hay and straw, heaped up half as high as the
mast--the lateen-sail having to be half furled in consequence, and the
captain shouting his orders to the steersman as from the top of a stack
in a barnyard. The scene reminded me greatly of the hay-barges of the
Thames bringing up to London the crops of Kent and Essex.

At length we were landed among groups of Mediterranean sailors, with
Phrygian caps--otherwise conical red night-caps--and ugly-looking knives
in their belts. The women had the usual Naiad peculiarity of short
petticoats, and wore them, too, of a showy, striped stuff, which
reminded me of the Newhaven fish-wives, near Edinburgh. This Phrygian
cap, by the way, is the prototype of the ordinary cap of liberty, which
our good neighbours are so fond of sticking on the stumps of what they
call "trees of liberty"--of painting, of carving, of apostrophising, of
waving, of exalting--which, in short, they are so fond of doing
everything with--but wearing. The effect, as a head-dress, on the Cette
fishermen, was not unpleasant. The long, conical top, and tassel, give a
degree of drapery to the figure, and the cap itself seems luxuriously
comfortable to the head.

A well-appointed little omnibus rattled me through busier streets than I
had seen for many a day, by open counting-houses, and under the great
lateen yards of feluccas lying in rows, with their bows to the quays,
and across a light, wooden swing-bridge, haunted by just such tarry
mortals as you see about St. Katherine's docks; and at length I was set
down at the wide portal of the Hotel de Poste--a straggling, airy
hostelry, such as befits the hot and glaring South. Still, I had not
seen the Mediterranean. The great _coup_ was yet unachieved: so, getting
five words of instruction from a waiter, I hurried through some narrow
streets, crossed two or three more swing-bridges, skirted half-a-dozen
boat-building yards, very like similar establishments in Wapping, and
then suddenly emerged upon the open beach, with sand-hills, and long
bent, or seagrass, rustling in the soft southern wind, with the blue of
the great inland sea stretching away, deep and lovely, before me; and
with the hissing water and foam-laced inner wavelets of the surf
creaming to my feet. A sensation, it will be admitted, is a pleasant
thing in these _blasé_ days, and the Mediterranean afforded one. There
came on me a vague, crowded, and indistinct vision, at once, of
schoolboy recollections and many a subsequent day-dream--of Roman
galleys, _triremes_ and _quadremes_, with brazen beaks and hundred oars,
moving like the legs of a centipede; of all the picturesque craft of the
middle-ages; of the fleets of Venice; the argosies and tall
merchant-barks which carried on the rich commerce of northern Italy; of
the Algerine corsairs, which so often bore down upon the Lion of St.
Marks; of the quick-pulling piratical craft; the rovers who pillaged
from the mouths of the Nile to the Pillars of Hercules; and of the whole
tribe of modern Mediterranean vessels, which thousands and thousands of
pictures have made classic, with their high peaked sails, and striped
gaudy canvass; the whole tribe of feluccas and polacres, whereof, as I
gazed, I could see here and there the scattered sails, gleaming like
bird-wings upon the sea. The Mediterranean is, after all, the sea of the
world: we associate it with everything classic and beautiful, either in
art or climate; and although we know well that its lazy, saint-ridden
seamen, and its picturesque, but dirty and ill-sailed, vessels would fly
before a breeze which a North-sea fisherman or a Channel boatman would
consider a mere puff,--still there is something racily and specially
picturesque about the black-eyed, swarthy, copper ear-ringed rascals,
and something dearly familiar about the high, graceful peaks of the
sails around which they cluster. From the beach I went to the harbour,
which was crowded almost to its entrance, but, for reasons to be
presently alluded to, I was not sorry to recognise not one union-jack
among the Stars and Stripes--Dutch and Brazilian ensigns, which were
flying from every mast-head. Few Mediterranean harbours are savoury
places. It will be remembered that "there shrinks no ebb in that
tideless sea;" and accordingly, when the drainage of a town or a
district is led into the harbours, there it stays. Marseilles enjoys a
most unenviable notoriety in this respect. The horrible fluid beneath
you becomes, in the summer time, despite its salt, absolutely putrid;
and I was told that there had been instances in which it bred noisome
and abhorrent insects and reptiles--that, literally and absolutely,
"slimy things did crawl, with legs, upon the slimy sea."

As for the stench, the richness of the steam of fat gases perpetually
rising, must be smelt to be appreciated. The Marseillaise, however, have
sturdy noses, which do not yield to trifles. They say the dirt preserves
the ships, and besides, adds Dumas--a great favourer of the ancient
colony of the Greeks--"what a fool a man must be, who, under such a
glorious sky, turns his eyes down to gaze on mud and water!"

The harbour of Cette is not quite so bad, but it has no particular
transparency of water to recommend it. Brave its foulness, however, and
go and visit the quays for the fishing-boats, as they are returning from
their night's toil. Mark the Catalan craft--you will perhaps remember
that the redoubted Monte Christo's first love was a Catalan girl, of a
Catalan village near Marseilles:--did you ever see more
exquisitely-formed boats afloat on the water? They swim apparently on
the very surface--the curve of the gunwale rising to a gondola peak at
stem and stern; but yet they are most buoyant sea-boats, and I suspect
their speed, particularly in light winds, would put even that of the
Yankee pilot-boats to a severe test. Look, too, at their cargoes, as the
slippery masses are being shovelled up in glancing, gleaming spadefuls,
to the quays. Did you ever see such odd fish? Respectable haddocks,
decent and well-to-do cods, and unpretending soles, would never be seen
in such strange, eccentric company--among fellows with heads bigger than
bodies, and eyes in their backs, and tails absurdly misplaced, and
feelers or legs where no fish with well-regulated minds would dream of
having such appendages--never was there seen such a strange _omnium
gatherum_ of piscatory eccentricities as the fishes of the
Mediterranean.

I said that it was good--good for our stomachs--to see no English
bunting at Cette. The reason is, that Cette is a great manufacturing
place, and that what they manufacture there is neither cotton nor wool,
Perigord pies, nor Rheims biscuits,--but wine. "_Ici_," will a Cette
industrial write with the greatest coolness over his Porte
Cochere--"_Ici on fabrique des vins._" All the wines in the world,
indeed, are made in Cette. You have only to give an order for
Johannisberg, or Tokay--nay, for all I know, for the Falernian of the
Romans, or the Nectar of the gods--and the Cette manufacturers will
promptly supply you. They are great chemists, these gentlemen, and have
brought the noble art of adulteration to a perfection which would make
our own mere logwood and sloe-juice practitioners pale and wan with
envy. But the great trade of the place is not so much adulterating as
concocting wine. Cette is well-situated for this notable manufacture.
The wines of southern Spain are brought by coasters from Barcelona and
Valencia. The inferior Bordeaux growths come pouring from the Garonne by
the Canal du Midi; and the hot and fiery Rhone wines are floated along
the chain of etangs and canals from Beaucaire. With all these raw
materials, and, of course, a chemical laboratory to boot, it would be
hard if the clever folks of Cette could not turn out a very good
imitation of any wine in demand. They will doctor you up bad Bordeaux
with violet powders and rough cider--colour it with cochineal and
turnsole, and outswear creation that it is precious Chateau
Margaux--vintage of '25. Champagne, of course, they make by hogsheads.
Do you wish sweet liqueur wines from Italy and the Levant? The Cette
people will mingle old Rhone wines with boiled sweet wines from the
neighbourhood of Lunel, and charge you any price per bottle. Do you wish
to make new Claret old? A Cette manufacturer will place it in his oven,
and, after twenty-fours' regulated application of heat, return it to you
nine years in bottle. Port, Sherry, and Madeira, of course, are
fabricated in abundance with any sort of bad, cheap wine and brandy, for
a stock, and with half the concoctions in a druggist's shop for
seasoning. Cette, in fact, is the very capital and emporium of the
tricks and rascalities of the wine-trade; and it supplies almost all the
Brazils, and a great proportion of the northern European nations with
their after-dinner drinks. To the grateful Yankees it sends out
thousands of tons of Ay and Moet, besides no end of Johannisberg,
Hermitage, and Chateau Margaux, the fine qualities and dainty aroma of
which are highly prized by the transatlantic amateurs. The Dutch flag
fluttered plentifully in the harbour, so that I presume Mynheer is a
customer to the Cette industrials--or, at all events, he helps in the
distribution of their wares. The old French West Indian colonies also
patronise their ingenious countrymen of Cette; and Russian magnates get
drunk on Chambertin and Romanee Conti, made of low Rhone, and low
Burgundy brewages, eked out by the contents of the graduated phial. I
fear, however, that we do come in--in the matter of "fine golden
Sherries, at 22_s._ 9-1/2_d._ a dozen," or "peculiar old-crusted Port,
at 1_s._ 9_d._"--for a share of the Cette manufactures; and it is very
probable that after the wine is fabricated upon the shores of the
Mediterranean, it is still further improved upon the banks of the
Thames.

At dinner-time, I found myself placed by the side of a
benevolent-looking old priest, with white hair, but cheeks and gills of
the most approved rubicund hue, who first eyed the dishes through a pair
of vast golden spectacles, and meditated profoundly ere he made a
choice--waving away the eternal _bouilli_ with an expression which
showed that he was not the man to spoil a good appetite with mere boiled
beef. This worthy, hearing me making interest with the waiter for a
peculiar bottle of wine, not of native manufacture, smiled paternally,
and with an approving countenance: "I would recommend," he said, softly,
and in a fat voice, "you to try Masdeu; and, if you please, I will join
you. I know Gilliaume (the waiter) of old. _C'est un bon enfant._" And
then, in a severe voice, "_The_ Masdeu, William."

The priest was clearly at home; and presently the wine came. It had the
brightly deep glow of Burgundy, a bouquet not unlike Claret, and tasted
like the lightest and purest Port glorified and etherealised; in fact,
it was a rare good wine.

"Ah!" said the priest, pouring out a second glass; "the vineyard where
this was grown once belonged to the Church. The Knights of the Temple
once drank this wine, and the Knights of St. John after them. It is a
good wine."

"The Church understood the grape," I remarked. "I have drunk Hermitage
where the recluse fathers tended the vines, and have always looked upon
Rhone wine as one of the reasons why the Holy Father at Avignon was long
so loath to be the Holy Father at Rome."

"Wine," replied my compotator, "is not forbidden, either by the laws of
God or the Church; and never was. Only the Vulgate denounces mixed
wines."

"By the mixed wines prohibited in Holy Writ," said I, "I presume you
understand adulterated, not watered liquors. If so, we are in a sad city
of sinners."

The priest smiled, but changed the topic.

"Masdeu," he said, "is Catalan; you know the wine is grown not far from
Perpignan, where the people are half Spanish. Do you know the meaning of
Masdeu? It is a very old name for the vineyard, and it signifies 'God's
field.'"

I thought of the difference of national character between the French and
the Germans--"God's field" in France, a vineyard; "God's field" in
Germany, a churchyard.

"The ancient Romans," continued my friend, "liked the wines, the sweet
wines of this country, better than any other growths in Gaul."

"The Romans," I said, "had a most swinish taste in wines, and dishes
too. The Falernian was boiled syrup, cooked up with drugs, and tempered
with salt water. Only think of mixing brine with your tipple; or of
placing it in a _fumarium_, to imbibe the flavour of the smoke! The
Romans were mere liqueur drinkers. Aniseed, or maraschino, or parfait
amour, or any trash of that kind, would have suited them better than
genuine, fine-flavoured wine."

"_Pourtant_;" said my friend; "you go too far; maraschino and parfait
amour are not trash. Although I agree with you, that the palate which
eternally appeals for sweets is in a morbid condition. But the Romans,
after all, must have had tongues of peculiar nicety for some savours. A
Roman epicure could tell, by the relative tenderness, the leg upon which
a partridge had been in the habit of sitting at night, and whether a
carp had been caught above or below a certain bridge."

"Or was it not," I asked, with hazy reminiscences of Juvenal floating
about me,--"was it not a certain sewer--the Cloaca Maxima, perhaps?"

"Only," argued the priest in continuation, "I could never understand
their fondness for lampreys."

"Perhaps," said I, "it is because you never tasted them after they had
been fattened on slaves."

"Perhaps it is," replied the good man, musing.

By this time dinner was over, and the guests gone. We had the remains of
the dessert, the pick-tooths, and another bottle of the Catalan wine to
ourselves.

"You French," I ventured, "hardly seem worthy of your fine wines. You
never appear to care about them; you seldom sit a moment after dinner to
enjoy them; and if you relish anything more than another, it is
Champagne, which, after all, is but a baby taste. All your very best
wine goes to England; most of your second-class growths to Russia; and
your lower sorts to the northern nations on the Baltic. I don't think
there is anything like a generally cultivated taste for good wine in
France, and yet you are supreme in the _cuisine_."

"It was the _fermiers generaux_, and the _financiers_," replied the
priest, "who made French cookery what it is. They tried to outshine the
old noblesse at table; they revived truffles, and they had the first
dishes of green pease, at eight hundred francs a _plat_. Next to the
financiers were the chevaliers and the abbés. _Oh, mon Dieu! qu'ils
étaient gourmands ces chers amis_; the chevaliers all swagger and dash;
the sword right up and down--shoulder-knot flaunting--a bold bearing and
a keen eye. The abbés, in velvet and silk--as fat as carps, as sleek as
moles, and as soft-footed as cats--little and sly--perfect enjoyers of
the gourmandise. Oh, there was nothing more snug than an _abbé
commanditaire_! He had consideration, position, money; no one to please,
and nothing to do."

"These were the good old times," I said.

"_Ma foi!_" replied the clerical dignitary; "they were bad times for
France in general; but they were rare times for the few who lived upon
it. There were Frenchmen, at any rate, then, who understood wine; at
least, they drunk enough of it to understand the science, from the alpha
to the omega."

We parted, after a proper degree of hand-shaking; and a quarter of an
hour afterwards I was rattling along the Montpellier and Cette railway,
with a ticket for Lunel in my pocket.



CHAPTER XIII.

MORE ABOUT THE OLIVE-TREE--THE GATHERING OF THE OLIVES--LUNEL--A
NIGHT WITH A SCORE OF MOSQUITOES--AIGUES-MORTES--THE DEAD
LANDSCAPE--THE MARSH FEVER--A STRANGE CICERONE--THE LAST
CRUSADING KING--THE SALTED BURGUNDIANS--THE POISONED
CAMISARDS--THE MEDITERRANEAN.


Passing, for the present, Montpellier, where people with consumptions
used to be sent to swallow dust, as likely to be soothing to the lungs,
and to breathe the balmy zephyrs of the whispering mistral, I made
straight for Lunel, in order to get from thence to one of the strangest
old towns in France--Aigues-Mortes. All around us, as we hurried on,
were vines and olives--a true land of wine and oil. The olive-tree did
not improve on acquaintance--it got uglier and uglier--more formal, and
more cast-iron looking, the more you saw of it. And then it was
invariably planted in rows, at regular intervals, so as to give the
notion of a prim old garden--never of a wood. Like all fruit-trees in
France, the olive is most carefully trimmed, and clipped, and tortured,
and twisted into the most approved or fashionable shape. The man who can
make his _oliviers_ look most like umbrellas is the great cultivator;
and the services of the peasants who have got a reputation for olive
dressing are better paid than those of any agricultural labourers in
France. They are eternally snipping and slashing, and turning and
twisting the tree, until the unfortunate specimens have had any small
degree of natural ease and harmony which they possessed assiduously
wrenched out of them. And yet there are people in the South of France
who are enthusiastic on the hidden beauty of the olive. There are
technical terms for all the particular spreads and contortions given to
the branches; and the olive amateur will hold forth to you by the hour
upon the subtle charms of each. A gentleman from beyond Marseilles has
dilated with rapture to me on his delight, after a residence in
Normandy, in returning again to the hot South, and revisiting the dear
olives, so prim, and orderly, and symmetrical--not like the huge,
straggling, sprawling oaks and elms of the North, growing up in utter
defiance of all rule and system.

The olives of France, this gentleman informed me, are very inferior to
the trees of a couple of generations ago. Towards the close of the last
century, there was a winter night of intense frost; and when the morning
broke, the trees were nearly smitten to the core. That year there was
not an olive gathered in Provence or Languedoc. The next season, some of
the stronger and younger trees partially revived, and slips were planted
from those to which the axe had been applied; but the entire species of
the tree, he assured me, had fallen off--had dwindled, and pined, and
become stunted; and the profits of olive cultivation had faded with it.
The gentleman spoke on the subject with a degree of unction which would
have suited the fall, not of the olive, but of man. It was a catastrophe
which coloured his whole life. He was himself an olive proprietor; and
very likely his fortunes fell on the fatal night as many points as the
thermometer. On our way to Lunel we saw the olive-gathering just
beginning; but, alas! it had none of the gaiety and bright associations
of the vintage. On the contrary, it was as business-like and unexciting
as weeding onions, or digging potatoes. A set of ragged peasants--the
country people hereabouts are poorly dressed--were clambering barefoot
in the trees, each man with a basket tied before him, and lazily
plucking the dull oily fruit. Occasionally, the olive-gatherers had
spread a white cloth beneath the tree, and were shaking the very ripe
fruit down; but there was neither jollity nor romance about the process.
The olive is a tree of association, but that is all. Its culture, its
manuring, and clipping, and trimming, and grafting--the gathering of its
fruits, and their squeezing in the mill, when the ponderous stone goes
round and round in the glutinous trough, crushing the very essence out
of the oily pulps--while the fat, oleaginous stream pours lazily into
the greasy vessels set to receive it;--all this is as prosaic and
uninteresting as if the whole Royal Agricultural Society were presiding
in spirit over the operations. And, after all, what could be expected?
"Grapes," said a clever Frenchman, "are wine-pills"--the notion of
conviviality and mirth is ever attached to them; and the vintagers, when
stripping the loaded branches, have their minds involuntarily carried
forward to the joyous ultimate results of their labours. But who--our
friends the Russians, and their cousins the Esquimaux excepted--could
possibly be jolly over the idea of oil? It may act balsamically and
soothingly; and the idea of the olive saucer, green amongst the bright
decanters, does approach, in some respect, towards the production of a
pleasant association of ideas; but still the elevated and poetic
feelings connected with the tree are remote and dim.

It was Minerva's tree. When the gods assembled to decide the dispute
between Pallas and Neptune, as to which should baptize the rising
Athens, it was determined that the honour should belong to whichever of
the twain presented the greatest gift to man. Neptune struck the earth,
and a horse sprung to day. Minerva waved her hand, and the olive-tree
grew up before the conclave. The goddess won the day, inasmuch as the
sapient assemblage decided that the olive, as an emblem of peace, was
better than the horse, as an emblem of war. Now, I would put this
question to Olympus:--How could the olive or the horse be emblems before
they were created? And, even if they were emblems, was not the point at
issue the best gift--not the best allegorical symbol? I beg, therefore,
to assure Neptune that I consider him to have been an ill-used
individual, and to express a hope that, if he should ever again come
into power, he will not forget my having paid my respects to him in his
adversity.

I do not know if I have anything particular to record respecting Lunel,
which is a quiet, stupid, shadowy place, but that I passed the night
engaged in mortal combat with a predatory band of mosquitoes. I was
warned, before going to bed, to take care how I managed the operation,
and to whip myself through the gauze curtains so as to allow nothing to
enter _en suite_. The bed--I don't know why--had been placed in the
middle of the room, and the filmy net curtains, like fairy drapery, were
snugly tucked in beneath the bedding. Looking at them more particularly,
I distinguished a little card, accidentally left adhering to the net,
which informed me that it was the fabrication of those wondrous
lace-machines of Nottingham; and I trusted that as Britannia rules the
waves, she would also baffle the mosquitoes. Perhaps it was my own fault
that she did not. I remembered Captain Basil Hall's admirable
description of doing the wretched insects in question by leaping
suddenly into bed, like harlequin through a clock-dial, and frantically
closing up the momentary opening, and I performed the feat in question
with as much agility as I could. But what has befallen the gallant
captain, also on that night befell me. Mosquitoes shoot into a bed like
the Whigs into office--through the most infinitesimal crevices--but with
the entrance the resemblance ceases--once in office, with the country
sleeping tolerably comfortably, the Whigs do nothing. Not so, the
mosquitoes. Their policy is perfectly different, and their energies
vastly greater. For a true sketch of the style of mosquito
administration, I must again refer to Hall. His picture is true--true to
a bite, to a scratch, to a hum. I might paint it again, but any one can
see the original. So I content myself with simply stating that from
eleven o'clock, P.M., till an unknown hour next morning, I was leaping
up and down the bed, striking myself furious blows all over, but never,
apparently, hitting my blood-thirsty enemies, and only now and then
occasionally sinking into a momentary doze to be roused by that loud,
clear trumpet of war--the very music of spite and pique and greediness
of blood, circling round and round in the darkness, and ever coming
nearer and nearer, till at last it ceased, and then came--the bite, as
regularly as the applause after the cavatina of a prima donna. I made my
appearance next morning, looking exactly as if I had been attacked in
the night by measles, the mumps, swollen face, and erysipelas.

Between Aigues-Mortes and Lunel, there is no public vehicle, because
there is no travelling public; and so I hired a ricketty, shandry-dan
looking affair, to take me on; and away we started, under a perfect
blaze of hot, sickly sunshine. The road ran due south, through the
vineyards and olives, but they gradually faded away as the soil got more
and more spongy, and presently we saw before us a waste of the same sort
as that which I have described on approaching the sea by the Canal du
Midi. Shallow pools, salt marshes, and bulrush jungles, lay flat and
silent, glaring in the sunshine--the watchful crane, the sole living
creature to be seen amid these desolate swamps. It struck me that John
Bunyan, had he ever seen a landscape like this strange, stagnant expanse
of dreariness, would have made grand use of it in that great prose poem
of his. Perhaps he would have called it "Dead Corpse Land," or the
Slough--not of Despond, but of Despair. Presently we found the road
running upon a raised embankment, with two great lakes, spotted with
rushy islands on either hand, and before us a grim, grey tower, with an
ancient gateway--the gates or portcullis long since removed, but a
Gothic arch still spanning the roughly-paved causeway. As we rattled
beneath it, two or three lounging _douaniers_ came forth, and looked
lazily at us; and presently we saw the grey walls of Aigues-Mortes
rising, massive and square, above the level lines of the marshes,
fronted by one lone minaret, called the "Tower of Constance"--a gloomy
steeple-prison, where, in the time of the Camisards, a crowd of women
were confined--the wives and daughters of the brave Protestants of the
Cevennes, who fought their country inch by inch against the dragoons of
Louis Quatorze, and who--the prisoners, I mean--were forced to swallow
poison by the agents of that right royal and religious king, the pious
hero and Champion of the Faith, as it is in the Vatican. Outside the
town looks like a mere fortification--you see nothing but the sweep of
the massive walls reflected in the stagnant waters which lie dead around
them. Not a house-top appears above the ramparts. It is only by the thin
swirlings of the wood-fire smoke that you know that human life exists
behind that blank and dreary veil of stone. We entered by a deep Gothic
arch, and found ourselves in narrow, gloomy, silent streets, the houses
grey and ghastly, and many ruinous and deserted. The rotten remnants of
the green _jalousies_ were mouldering week by week away, and moss and
lichens were creeping up the walls; many roofs had fallen, and of some
houses only fragments of wall remained. The next moment we were
traversing an open space, strewn with rubbish of stone, brick, and
rotten wood, with patches of dismal garden-ground interspersed, and all
round the dim, grey, silent houses, dismal and dead. Aigues-Mortes
could, and once did, hold about ten thousand people. It was a city built
in whim by a king, the last of the royal crusaders, Louis IX. of France.
By him and his immediate descendants, it was esteemed a holy place--the
crusading port. The walls built round it, and which still remain--as the
empty armour, after the knight who once filled it is dead and gone--were
erected in imitation of those of the Egyptian town of Damietta, and all
sorts of privileges were granted to the inhabitants. But one privilege
the old kings of France could not grant: they could not, by any amount
of letters patent, or any seize of seals, confer immunity from fever;
and Aigues-Mortes has been dying of ague ever since it was founded. In
its early times, the influence of royal favour struggled long and well
against disease: one man down, another came on. What loyal Frenchman
would refuse to go from hot fits to cold fits of fever, for a certain
number of months, and then to his long home, if it were to pleasure a
descendant of St. Louis? But the time and the influences of the Holy
Wars went by, and the kings of France withdrew their smiles from
Aigues-Mortes; so that their royal brother, King Death, had it all his
own way. Funerals far outnumbered births or weddings, and gradually the
life faded and faded from the stone-girt town, as the ebbing tide leaves
a pier. Cette gave it the finishing stroke. A crowd of the inhabitants
emigrated _en masse_ to Riquet's city; and here now is
Aigues-Mortes--coffin-like Aigues-Mortes--with about a couple of
thousand pallid, shaking mortals, striving their best against the marsh
fever, among the ruined houses and within the smouldering walls of this
ancient Gothic city.

In a solemn, shady street, I found a decentish hotel, not much above the
rank of an auberge, and where I was about as lonely as in the vast
caravansary at Bagnerre. The landlord himself--a staid, decent
man--waited at my solitary dinner.

"Monsieur," he said, "is an artist, or a poet?"

"What made him think so?"

"Because nobody else ever came to Aigues-Mortes--no traveller ever
turned aside across the marshes, to visit their poor old decayed town.
There was no trade, no _commis voyageurs_. The people of Nismes and
Montpellier were afraid of the fever; and even if they were not, why
should they come there? It was no place for pleasure on a holiday--a man
would as soon think of amusing himself in a hospital or a morgue, as in
Aigues-Mortes."

I inquired more particularly about the fever, for I felt it difficult to
conceive how people could continue to remain in a place cursed by nature
with a perpetual chronic plague. My host informed me that those who
lived well and copiously, were well clothed, well lodged, and under no
necessity to be out early and late among the marshes, fared tolerably.
They might have an ague-fit now and then, but when once well-seasoned
they did pretty well. It was the poorer class who suffered, particularly
in spring and autumn, when vegetation was forming and withering, and
the steaming mists came out thickest over the fens. People seldom died
with the first attack; but the subtle disease hung about them, and
returned again and again, and wore, and tugged, and exhausted their
energies--kept nibbling, in fact, at body and soul, till, in too many
cases, the disease-besieged man surrendered, and his soul marched out. I
asked again, then, how the poor people remained in such a hot-bed of
pestilence? "_Que voulez vous_," was the reply--"the greater part can't
help it; they were born here, and they have a place here;--at Nismes, or
Marseilles, or Montpellier, they would have no place. Besides, they are
accustomed to it; they look upon fevers as one of the conditions of
their lives, like eating and drinking; and, besides, they have no energy
for a change. The stuff has been taken out of them; you will see what a
sallow, worn-out people we have at Aigues-Mortes. They can get a living
here, but they would be overwhelmed anywhere else."

The landlord had previously recommended a _cicerone_ to me, assuring me
that I would not find him an ordinary man, that he was a sort of
half-gentleman, and a scholar, and that he knew everything about
Aigues-Mortes better than anybody else in it. Accordingly, I was
presently introduced to M. Auguste Saint Jean, an old, very thin man,
dressed in rusty black, and wearing--hear it, ye degenerate
days!--powdered hair and a queue. M. Saint Jean looked like a
broken-down schoolmaster, some touches of pedantry still giving
formality to the humble sliding gait, and bent, bowing form. His face
was nearly as wrinkled as Voltaire's, but he had black eyes which
gleamed like a ferret's when you show him a rabbit.

In company with this old gentleman I passed a wandering day in and round
Aigues-Mortes, rambling from gate to gate, scrambling up broken stairs
to the battlements, and threading our way amid dim lanes, half choked up
with rubbish, from one ghastly old tower to another. All this while my
guide's tongue was eloquent. He gesticulated like the most fiercely
fidgetty member of young France, and the ferret's eye gleamed as though
upon a whole warren of rabbits. Aigues-Mortes seemed his one great
subject, his one passion, his own idea. Aigues-Mortes was the bride of
his enthusiasm, the soul of his body. He had been born in Aigues-Mortes;
he had lived in it; he had the fever in it; and he hoped to die in
it, and be buried among the stilly marshes. How well he knew every
crumbling stone, every little Gothic bartizan, every relic of an ancient
chapel, every gloomy tower haunted by traditions, as it might be by
ghosts. His mind flew back every moment to the days of the splendid
founding of Aigues-Mortes--to the crusading host, whose glory crowded it
with armour, and banners, and cloth of gold, assembled round their king,
St. Louis, and bound for Palestine. On the seaward side of the walls,
Auguste shewed me rings sunk in the stone, and to these rings, he said,
the galleys and caravels of the king had been fastened. The sea is about
two miles and a half distant, but the traces of the canal which led to
it are still visible amid the marsh and sand, so that, right beneath the
walls, upon the smooth, unmoving _aguæ mortes_--whence, of course,
Aigues-Mortes--floated the fleet of the Crusade, made fast to the
ramparts of the fortress of the Crusade. And so Saint Louis sailed with
a thousand ships, standing proudly upon the poop, while the bishops
round him raised loud Latin chants, and the warriors clashed their
harness. The king wore the pilgrim's scrip and the pilgrim's shell. Long
and earnestly did my _cicerone_ dilate upon the evil fortunes of the
Crusade--how, indeed, in the beginning it seemed to prosper, and how
Damietta was stormed;--but the Saracens had their turn, and the King of
France, and many of his best paladins were soon prisoners in the Paynim
tents. Question of their ransom being raised, "A king of France," said
Louis, "is not bought or sold with money. Take a city--a city for a king
of France." The sentence and the sentiment are picturesque; but, after
all, there is not much in one or the other. However, the followers of
Mahound agreed. Louis was restored to France, and Damietta to its former
owners; the rest of the European prisoners being thrown into the bargain
for eight thousand gold bezants. Saint Louis, however, was too holy and
too restless a personage to remain long at home, so that Aigues-Mortes
soon saw him again; and this time he departed waving above his head the
crown of thorns. The infidels had laid hands on him the first time, but
a fiercer enemy now grappled with the king--the plague clutched him; and
though a monarch of France could not be bought or sold for any number of
gold bezants, the plague had him cheap--in fact, for an old song. "He
died," says that bold writer, M. Alexandre Dumas, who spins you off the
most interesting history, all out of his own head--"he died on a bed of
ashes, on the very spot where the messenger of Rome found Marius sitting
on the ruins of Carthage"--an interesting topographical fact, seeing
that nobody, now-a-days, knows where Carthage stood at all--always
saving and excepting M. Alexandre Dumas.

We stood before a grey, massive tower--a Gothic finger of mouldering
stone. "Louis de Malagne," said my old _cicerone_, "a traitorous
Frenchman, delivered these holy walls to our enemies of Burgundy, and a
garrison of the Duke's held possession of the sacred city of
Aigues-Mortes. But the sacrilege was fearfully avenged. The oriflamme
was spread by the forces of the king, and the townspeople rose within
the walls, and, step by step, the foreign garrison were driven back till
they fought in a ring round this old tower. They fought well, and died
hard, but they did die--every man--always round this old tower. So, when
the question came to be, where to fling the corpses, a citizen said,
'This is a town of salt; salt is the harvest of Aigues-Mortes--let us
salt the Burgundians.' And another said, 'Truly, there is a cask ready
for the meat;' and he pointed to the tower. Then they laid the dead men
stark and stiff, as though to floor the tower. Then they heaped salt on
them, a layer two feet thick; then they put on another stratum of
Burgundian flesh, and another stratum of salt--till the tower was as a
cask--choke-full--bursting-full of pickled Burgundians."

Much more he told me of the early fortunes of the Place--how here
Francis I. met his enemy, Charles V., in solemn conference, each
monarch utterly disbelieving every sacred word uttered by the other; and
how the celebrated Algerine pirate, Barbarossa, who was the very
patriarch of buccaneers--the Abraham of the Mansveldts, and Morgans, and
Dampiers, and who invented, and emblazoned upon his flags the famous
motto, "The Friend of the Sea, and the Enemy of All who sail upon
it"--how this red-bearded rover once cast anchor off the port, and by
way of notifying to France that their ally against the Spaniard had
arrived, set fire to a wood of Italian pine on the margin of the
marshes, and lighted up the whole country by the lurid blaze. Of the
Camisards, of whom I was more anxious to hear--of the poisoning in the
tower of St. Constance, and of the band of braves who descended from the
summit upon tattered strips of blankets--he knew comparatively little.
His mind was mediæval. Aigues-Mortes in the day of Louis Quatorze, was a
declining place. The glory had gone out of it, and the unappeasable
fever was slowly, but surely, claiming its own. Indeed, for a century it
had been master. Aigues-Mortes will probably vanish like Gatton and Old
Sarum. A pile of ruins, girdled in by crumbling walls, will slowly be
invaded by the sleeping waters of the marsh; and the heron, and the
duck, and the meek-eyed gull wandering from the sea, will alone flit
restlessly over the city built by Louis the Saint, walled by Philip the
Bold, and blessed by one of the wisest and the holiest of the Popes.

Reboul, the Nismes poet--I called upon him, but he was from home--is a
baker, and lives by selling rolls, as Jasmin is a barber, and lives by
scraping chins. Reboul is, like M. Auguste Saint Jean, an enthusiastic
lover of the poor, dying, fever-struck Gothic town. Let me translate, as
well as I may, half-a-dozen couplets in which he characterises the dear
city of the Crusades. The poetry is not unlike Victor Hugo's--stern,
rich, fanciful, and coloured, like an old cathedral window.

    "See, from the stilly waters, and above the sleepy swamp,
    Where, steaming up, the fever-fog rolls grim, and grey, and damp:

    How the holy, royal city--Aigues-Mortes, that silent town,
    Looms like the ghost of Greatness, and of Pride that's been pulled
      down.

    See how its twenty silent towers, with nothing to defend,
    Stand up like ancient coffins, all grimly set on end;

    With ruins all around them, for, sleeping and at rest,
    Lies the life of that old city, like a dead owl in its nest--

    Like the shrunken, sodden body, so ghastly and so pale,
    Of a warrior who has died, and who has rotted in his mail--

    Like the grimly-twisted corpse of a nun within her pall,
    Whom they bound, and gagged, and built, all living, in a wall."

From the town, we partially floated, in a boat, and partially toiled
through swamp and sand to the sea--Auguste constantly preaching on the
antiquarian topography of the place, upon old canals, and middle-aged
canals--one obliterating the other; on the route which the galleys of
St. Louis followed from the walls to the ocean; on a dreary spot between
sand-hills, which he called _les Tombeaux_, and where, by his account,
the Crusaders who died before the starting of the expedition lie buried
in their armour of proof. Then we toiled to a little harbour--a mere
fisherman's creek--where it is supposed the ancient canal of St. Louis
joined the sea, and which still bears the name of the _Grau Louis_, or
the _Grau de Roi_--"grau" being understood to be a corruption of
_gradus_. At this spot, rising in the midst of a group of clustered
huts, the dwellings of fishermen and aged _douaniers_, one or
two of whom were lazily angling off the piers--their chief
occupation--there stands a lighthouse, about forty feet high.

"Let us climb to the lantern," said Auguste, "and you will then see our
silent land, and our poor dear old fading town lying at our feet."

Accordingly up we went; only poor Auguste stopped every three steps to
cough; and before we had got half way, the perspiration came streaming
down his yellow face, proving what might have been a matter of dispute
before--that he had some moisture somewhere in his body. From the top we
both gazed earnestly, and I curiously, around. On one side, the sea,
blue--purple blue; on the other side, something which was neither sea
nor land--water and swamp--pond and marsh--bulrush thickets, and
tamarisk jungles, shooting in peninsular capes, points, and headlands,
into the salt sea lakes; in the centre of them--like the ark grounding
after the deluge--the grey walls of Aigues-Mortes. Between the great
_mare internum_ and the lagoons, rolling sand-hills--the barrier-line of
the coast--and upon them, but afar off, moving specks--the semi-wild
cattle of the country; white dots--the Arab-blooded horses which are
used for flails; black dots--the wild bulls and cows, which the mounted
herdsmen drive with couched lance and flying lasso.

"Is it not beautiful?" murmured Auguste; "I think it so. I was born
here. I love this landscape--it is so grand in its flatness; the shore
is as grand as the sea. Look, there are distant hills"--pointing to the
shadowy outline of the Cevennes--"but the hills are not so glorious as
the plain."

"But neither have they the fever of the plain."

"It is God's will. But, fever or no fever, I love this land--so quiet,
and still, and solemn--ay, monsieur, as solemn as the deserts of the
Arabs, or as a cathedral at midnight--as solemn, and as strange, and as
awful, as the early world, fresh from the making, with the birds flying,
and the fish swimming, on the evening of the fifth day, before the Lord
created Adam."



CHAPTER XIV.

FLAT MARSH SCENERY, TREATED BY POETS AND PAINTERS--TAVERN
ALLEGORIES--NISMES--THE AMPHITHEATRE AND THE MAISON
CARRÉE--PROTESTANT AND CATHOLIC--THE OLD RELIGIOUS WARS ALIVE
STILL--THE SILK WEAVER OF NISMES AND THE DRAGONNÆDES.


As Launcelot Gobbo had an infection to serve Bassanio, so I somehow took
ill with an infection to walk, instead of ride, back to Lunel. I suppose
that Auguste had innoculated me, in some measure, with his mysterious
love for the boundless swamps and primeval jungles of bulrush around; so
that I felt a sort of pang in leaving them, and would willingly depart
lingeringly and alone. Sending on my small baggage, then, by _roulage_,
I strode forth out of the dead city, and was soon pacing alone the
echoing causeway, like an Arab steering by the sun in the desert. There
is one dead and one living English poet who would have made glorious use
of this fen landscape, so repulsive to many, but which did, after all,
possess a strange, undefinable attraction for me. The dead poet is
Shelley, who had the true eye for sublimity in waste. Take the following
picture-touch:--

                        "An uninhabited sea-side,
    Which the lone fisher, when his nets are dried,
    Abandons; and no other object breaks
    The waste, but one dwarf tree, and some few stakes,
    Broken and unrepaired; and the tide makes
    A narrow space of level sand thereon."

This is the sort of landscape, too, which, in another department of art,
Collins delighted in representing. But Shelley's picture of the
luxuriant rush and water-plant vegetation would have been magnificent.
Listen how he handles a theme of the kind:

    "And plants, at whose names the verse feels loath,
    Filled the place with a monstrous undergrowth--
    Prickly and pulpous, and blistering and blue,
    Livid and starred with a lurid dew;
    Spawn-weeds, and filth, and leporous scum,
    Made the running rivulet thick and dumb;
    And at its outlet, flags huge as stakes
    Dammed it up with roots knotted like water-snakes."

Tennyson is the living poet who would picture with equal effect the
region of swamp, and rush, and pool. Brought up in a fen district, his
eye and feeling for marsh scenery and vegetation are perfect. Remember
the marish mosses in the rotting fosse which encircled the "Moated
Grange." Musing thus of the Poet Laureate, I would assign to this
landscape embodiment of King Death, I passed the half-way tower, where
three _douaniers_, seated in chairs, were fishing and looking as glum
and silent as their prey, and began to discern the gravelly, shingly
land of vines and olives again before me. The clear air of the South
cheats us northerns like a mirage. You see objects as near you as in
England they would be brought by a very fair spy-glass, and the effect,
before you began to make allowances for the atmospheric spectacles, is
to put you dreadfully out of humour at the length of the way, before you
actually came up with the too distinct goal. So was it strongly with me
in pedestrianising towards Lunel. Lunel seemed retreating back and back,
so that my consolation became that it would be surely stopped by the
Cevennes, even if the worst came to the worst; and go where it would, I
was determined to come up with it somehow. Entering the region of the
vine, the moppy olive, and the dust which was flying about in clouds, I
halted at a roadside auberge to wash the latter article out of my
throat, and reaped my reward in the sight of a splendid cartoon
suspended over the great fireplace, which represented, in a severe
allegory, "The Death of Credit killed by bad Payers." The scene was a
handsome street, with a great open _café_ behind, at the _comptoir_ of
which sat Madam Commerce aghast at the atrocity being committed before
her. In a corner are seen a group of _gardes de commerce_--in the
vernacular, bailiffs--lamenting over their ruined occupation. I came to
know the profession of these gentlemen, from the fact that their style
and titles were legibly imprinted across their waistcoats. In the
foreground, the main catastrophe of the composition was proceeding.
Credit, represented by a fat, good-natured-looking, elderly gentleman in
a blue greatcoat, was stretched supine upon the stones, while his three
murderers brandished their weapons above him. The delineation of the
culprits was anything but flattering to the three classes of society
which I took them to represent. The "first murderer," as they say in
_Macbeth_, was a soldier. His sabre was deep in poor Credit's side. The
second criminal must have been a musician, for he has just hit Credit a
superhuman blow on the head with a fiddle--not a very deadly weapon one
would suppose; while the third assassin, armed with a billiard cue,
seemed to typify the idler portion of the community in general. Between
them, however, there could be no doubt that Credit had been fairly done
to death--the grim intimation was there to stare all topers in the face.

The fact is, indeed, that all over rural France, in the places of public
entertainment, poor M. Credit is in exceedingly bad odour. I have seen
dozens of pictorial hints, conveying with more or less delicacy the
melancholy moral of that just described. Sometimes, however, the
landlord distrusts the pencil, puts no faith in allegory, and stern and
prosaic--with a propensity to political economy--and giving rise to dark
suspicions of a tendency to the Manchester school, writes up in sturdy
letters, grim and hopeless--

     "ARGENT COMPTANT."

At other times, cast in a more genial mould, he deviates into what may
be called didactic verse--containing, like the "Penny Magazine"--useful
knowledge for the people, and hints poetically to his customers, the
rule of the establishment--taking care, however, to intimate to their
susceptible feelings that generous social impulses, rather than sombre
commercial necessity, are at the bottom of the regulation. Thus it is
not uncommon to read the following pithy and not particularly rhythmical
distich:--

    "Pour mieux conserver ses amis,
    Ici on ne fait pas de credit."

At last Lunel was fairly caught, and an hour of the rail brought me to
Nismes and to the Hotel de Luxembourg, running out at the windows with
swarms of _commis voyageurs_, the greater number connected with the silk
trade. One of these worthies beside whom I was placed at dinner, told me
that he intended to go to London to the Exhibition, and that he had a
very snug plan for securing a competent guide, who would poke up all the
lions; this guide to be a "_Marin du port de Londres; car tenez ils sont
des galliards futés, les marins du port de Londres_." I had all the
difficulty in the world in making the intending excursionist aware of
the probable effects of hiring, as a west-end guide, the first sailor or
waterman he picked up at Wapping.

The great features of Nismes are, as every body knows, the features
which the Romans left behind them. Provence and Languedoc were the
regions of Gaul which the great masters of the world liked best,
probably because they were nearest home; and obscure as was the Roman
Nismes--for I believe that Nimauses lays claim to no historic dignity
whatever--it must still have been a populous and important place: the
unmouldering masonry of the Roman builders proves it. I had never seen
any Roman remains to speak of, and, to tell the truth, had never been
able to work up any great enthusiasm about the fragments of the ancient
people which I had come across. I had bathed in all the Roman baths
wherewith London abounds, but found no inspiration in the waters--I had
stood on grassy mounds of earth, believed to have been Roman camps;
traced like the Antiquary, the _Ager_, with its corresponding
_fossa_--marked the _porta sinistra_ and the _porta dextra_--and stood
where some hook-nosed general had reclined in the _Pretorium_; but I
again confess that my imagination did not fly impulsively back, and bury
itself among _patres conscripti_, togas, vestal virgins, lictors,
patricians, equites, and plebeians.

And, in fact, such mere vague traces and memorials as baths, bits of
pavement, and dusty holes, with smouldering brick-basements, which
people call "Roman villas,"--are not at all fitted, whatever would-be
classicists may pretend, to stir up the strong tide of enthusiastic
association. These are but miserable odds and ends of fragments, from
which you can no more leap to the dignity and the grandeur of the
Romans, than you could argue, never having seen a man, from finding a
cast-away tooth-pick, up to the appearance and nature of the invisible
owner. But let us see a great specimen of a great Roman work, and then
we are in the right track. Any builder could have made you a bath--any
sapper and miner could have traced you out a camp--any of the small
architects with whom we are infested could have knocked you up a
villa--but give us a characteristic bit of the great people who are dead
and gone, and then we can, or, at all events, we will try, to take their
measure.

The amphitheatre or arena at Nismes rose on me like a stupendous
spectre, and frowned me down. I was smote with the sight. The size
appalled me: mightiness--vastness--massiveness were there together--a
trinity of stone, rising up, as it were, in the middle of my little
preconceived and pet notions, and shivering and dispersing them, as the
English three-decker in the _Pilot_ came bowling into view, driving away
the fog in wreaths before her and around her. First I walked about the
great stone skeleton; but though the symmetrical glory of the
architecture, its massive regularity, and what I would call soldier-like
precision of uniformity, kept urging my mind to look and admire; still
the impression of vastness was predominant, and all but drove out other
thoughts. And yet it was not until I had entered, that impression
reached its profoundest depth.

[Illustration: AMPHITHEATRE AT NISMES.]

As I emerged from the vaulted and cavern-like corridor, through which a
garrulous old woman led me, into the blaze of keen sunshine, that fell
upon a mighty wilderness of stone; and as instinctively I laid my hand
upon the nearest ponderous block, the full and perfect idea of size and
power closed on me. _Roma!--Antiqua Roma!_--had me in her grasp; and as
I felt, I remembered that Eothen had described a similar sensation, as
produced by the bigness of the stones of the great pyramid. My old woman
having, happily, left me, I was alone within that enormous gulf--that
crater of regularly rising stone. Round and round, in ridges where
Titans might have sat and seen, megatheria combat mastadons, mounted up
the mighty steps of grey, dead stone--sometimes entire for the whole
round--sometimes splintered and riven, but never worn, until your
eye--now stumbling, as it were, over rubbish-heaps--now striding from
stone ledge to stone ledge--rested upon the broken and jagged rim, with
a hoary beard of plants and long dry weeds standing rigidly up between
you and the blue. I turned again to the details of the building--to the
vastness of the blocks of stone, and to the perfect manipulation which
had placed them. If the Romans were great soldiers, they were as great
masons. They conquered the world in all pursuits in which enormous
energy and iron muscularity of mind could conquer. The universe of
earth, and stone, and water was theirs. But they were not cloud
compellers. They had none of the great power over the essences of the
brain. Beauty was too subtle for them; and they only got it,
incidentally, as an element--not a principle. The arena in which I stood
was sternly beautiful; but it was the beauty of a legion drawn up for
battle--iron to the backbone--iron to the teeth--the beauty of that
rigid symmetric inflexibility which sat upon the bronze faces which,
when Hannibal, encamped on Roman ground set up for sale, and grimly and
unmovedly saw bought, at the common market rate, the patch of earth on
which the Carthaginian lay entrenched.

I remained in the amphitheatre for hours--now descending to the arena,
where the men and beasts fought and tore each other--now scrambling to
the highest ridge, and watching, with a calmness which soothed and
lulled the mind, the vast bowl which lay beneath--so massive, so silent,
and so grey. You can still trace the two posts of honour--the royal
boxes, as it were--low down in the ring, and marked out by stone
barriers from the general sweep. Each of them has an exclusive corridor
sunk in the massive stone; and behind each are vaulted cells, which you
will be told were used as guard-houses by the escort of soldiers or
lictors. Tradition assigns one of these boxes to the proconsul--the
other to the vestal virgins; but the latter, if I remember my Roman
antiquities aright, could have no business out of Rome. There were no
subsidiary sacred fire-branch establishments, like provincial banks, to
promulgate the credit of the "central office,"--kindled in the remote
part of the empire. The holy flame burnt only before the mystic
palladium, which answered for the security of Rome. Whoever occupied the
boxes in question, however, were no doubt what one of Captain Marryatt's
characters describes the Smith family to be in London--"quite the
topping people of the place;" and up to them, no doubt, after the
gladiator had received the steel of his antagonist, and the thundering
shout of "Habet!" had died away, the poor Scythian, or Roman, as the
case might be, turned a sadly inquiring eye--intent upon the hands of
the great personages on whom his doom depended--on the upturned or the
downturned thumb. A very interesting portion of the arena is the
labyrinth of corridors, passages, and stairs, which honeycomb its
massive masonry, and into which, in the event of a shower, the whole
body of spectators could at once retreat, leaving the great circles of
stone as deserted as at midnight. So admirable, too, are the
arrangements, that there could have been very little crowding. The
vomitories get wider and wider as they approach the entrance, where the
people would emerge on every side, like the drops of water flung off by
the rotatory motion of a mop. There was an odd resemblance to the
general disposition of the opera corridors and staircases, which struck
me in the arrangement of the lobbies and passages behind. One could
fancy the young Roman men about Nemauses, in their scented tunics,
clasped with glittering stones and their broad purple girdles--the
Tyrian hue, as the poets say--gathering in knots, and discussing a blow
which had split a fellow-creature's head open, as our own opera elegants
might Grisi's celebrated holding-note in _Norma_, or Duprez' famous _ut
du poitrine_. The execution of a _débutant_ with the sword might be
praised, as the execution now-a-days of a _prima donna_. Rumours might
be discussed of a new net-and-trident man picked up in some obscure
arena, as the _cognoscenti_ now whisper the reported merits of a tenor
discovered in Barcelona or Palermo; and the _habitués_ would delight to
inform each other that the spirited and enterprising management had
secured the services of the celebrated Berbix, whose career at Massilia,
for instance, had excited such admiration--the _artiste_ having killed
fifteen antagonists in less than a fortnight. And then, after the
pleasant and critical chat between the acts, the trumpets would again
sound, and all the world would turn out upon the vast stone benches--the
nobles and wealthy nearest the ring, as in the stalls with us, and the
lower and slave population high up on the further benches, like the
humble folks and the footmen in the gallery--and then would recommence
that exhibition of which the Romans could never have enough, and of
which they never tired--the excitement of the shedding of blood.

From the arena I walked slowly on to the Maison Carrée. All the great
Roman remains lie upon the open Boulevard, on the edge of the stacked
and crowded old town, while without the circle rise the spacious streets
of new _quartiers_ for the rich, and many a long straggling suburb,
where, in mean garrets and unwholesome cellars, the poor handloom
weavers produce webs of gorgeous silk which rival the choicest products
of Lyons. Presently, to the left, appeared a horribly clumsy theatre;
and, to the right, the wondrous Maison Carrée. The day of which I am
writing was certainly my day of architectural sensation. First, Rome,
with her hugeness and her symmetric strength, gripped me; and now,
Greece, with her pure and etherial beauty, which is essentially of the
spirit, enthralled me. The Maison Carrée was, no doubt, built by Roman
hands, but entirely after Greek models. It is wholly of Athens: not at
all of Rome--a Corinthian temple of the purest taste and divinest
beauty--small, slight, without an atom of the ponderous majesty of the
arena--reigning by love and smiles, like Venus; not by frowns and
thunder, like Jove. Cardinal Alberoni said that the Maison Carrée was a
gem which ought to be set in gold; and the two great Jupiters of
France--Louis Quatorze and Napoleon--had both of them schemes for
lifting the temple bodily out of the ground and carrying it to Paris.
The building is perfectly simple--merely an oblong square, with a
portico, and fluted Corinthian pillars--yet the loveliness of it is like
enchantment. The essence of its power over the senses appears to me to
consist in an exquisite subtlety of proportion, which amounts to the
very highest grace and the very purest and truest beauty. How many
_quasi_ Grecian buildings had I seen--all porticoed and
caryatided--without a sensation, save that the pile before me was cold
and perhaps correct--a sort of stone formulary. I had begun to fear that
Greek beauty was too subtle for me, or that Greek beauty was cant, when
the Maison Carrée in a moment utterly undeceived me. The puzzle was
solved: I had never seen Grecian architecture before. The things which
our domestic Pecksniffs call Grecian--their St. Martin's porticoes, and
St. Pancras churches--bear about the same relation to the divine
original, as the old statue of George IV. at King's Cross to the Apollo
Belvidere. Of course, these gentry--of whom we assuredly know none whose
powers qualify them to grapple with, a higher task than a
dock-warehouse or a railway tavern--have picked all manner of faults in
the divine proportions of this wondrous edifice. There is some
bricklaying cant about a departure from the proportions of Vitruvius,
which, I presume, are faithfully observed in the National Gallery, and
some modification of them, no doubt, in the Pavilion at Brighton--which
variations are gravely censured in the Maison Carrée; while, in order,
doubtless, to shew our modern superiority, the French hodmen have
erected a theatre just opposite the Corinthian temple, with a
portico--heavens and earth! such a portico--a mass of mathematical
clumsiness, with pillars like the legs of aldermen suffering from
dropsy. Anything more intensely ugly is not to be found in Christendom.
It actually beats the worst monstrosity of London; and this dreadful
caricature of the deathless work of the glorious Greeks is erected right
opposite to, perhaps, the most perfect piece of building and
stone-carving in the world.

I believe that it requires neither art-training nor classic knowledge to
enjoy the unearthly beauty of the Corinthian temple. Give me a
healthy-minded youth, who has never heard of Alcibiades, Themistocles,
Socrates, or Æschylus, but who has the natural appreciation of
beauty--who can admire the droop of a lily, the spring of a deer, the
flight of an eagle--set him opposite the Maison Carrée, and the
sensation of divine, transcendant beauty, will rush into his heart and
brain, as when contemplating the flower, or beast or bird. The big man
in the parish at home will point you out the graces of the new church of
St. Kold Without, designed after the antique manner, by the celebrated
Mr. Jones Smith, and because you hesitate to acknowledge them, will read
you a benignant lecture on the impossibility of making people, with
uneducated taste, fully appreciate what he will be sure to call the
"severity" of Greek architecture; the worthy man himself having been
dinned with the apocryphal loveliness in question until he has come
actually to believe in it. Never mind the grave sermons preached about
educating and training taste. An educated and trained taste will, no
doubt, admire with even more fond appreciation and far higher enjoyment;
but he who cannot, at the first glance, see and feel the perfect grace
of pure Grecian art, must be insensible to the blue of the sky, to the
beauty of running water, to the song of the birds and the silver
radiance of moonlight. I never revisited the amphitheatre while I
remained in Nismes, but I haunted the temple. The grandeur, and the
massiveness of the Roman work, was like the north wind. It rudely
buffeted the wayfarer, but he clung to his cloak. The Grecian trophy
shone out like the gentle sun, and the traveller doffed mantle and cap
to pay it adoration.

Nismes, as most people know, is one of the points of France where
Protestantism and Catholicism still glare upon each other with hostile
and threatening eyes. The old Catholic and Huguenot hatred has descended
lineally from the remote times of the Albigenses, and at this moment
broods as bitterly over the olive city as when Raymond of Toulouse
proclaimed a crusade against the Paulician heretics, and twenty
thousand people were slaughtered under the pastoral care of the Bishop
of Beziers. That the animosity, however, has not died out centuries ago,
we have to thank the pious precautions of Louis XIV., Madame de
Maintenon, and the priest, who waged as bitter war upon the Huguenots of
the Cevennes as ever their fathers of these same mountains had been
exposed to. The dragoonades are still fiercely remembered in the South.
The old-world stories in Scotland of the cruelties of Claverhouse and
his life-guards, have well-nigh ceased to excite anything like personal
bitterness; but in portions of Languedoc, the animosity between
neighbour and neighbour--Catholic and Protestant--is still deepened and
widened by the oft-told legends of those wretched religious wars. Nismes
is the head quarters of the sectarianism--Catholics and Protestants are
drawn up in two compacted hostile bodies, living, for the most part, in
separate _quartiers_; marrying each party within itself; scandalising
each party the other whenever it has a chance; and carrying, indeed, the
party spirit so far as absolutely to have established Protestant _cafés_
and Catholic _cafés_, the _habitués_ of which will no more enter the
rival establishments than they would enter the opposition churches.

The day after my arrival, I had a singular opportunity of becoming
acquainted with the spirit of the place. North from Nismes rises a
species of chaos of steep hills and deep valleys, or rather ravines,
composed almost entirely of shingle and rock, covered over, however,
with olive-groves and vines, and dotted with little white summer-houses,
to which almost the entire middle and working class population retire
upon Sundays to pass the day, partly in cultivating their patches of
land--there is hardly a family without an allotment--and partly to amuse
themselves after the toils of the week. Rambling among these rugged
hills and dales, I chanced to ask my way of a person I met descending
towards Nismes. He was a tall, ungainly, raw-boned man--pallid and worn,
as if with sedentary labour; but he seemed intelligent, and was very
polite--pointing out a number of localities around. Presently, he told
me that he had been up to his _cabane_, or summer-house; that he was a
silkweaver in Nismes; that his wages were so poor, that he had a hard
struggle to live; but that he still managed to give up an hour's work or
so a-day to go and feed his rabbits at the _cabane_. As we talked, he
inquired whether I were not a foreigner--an Englishman--and, with some
hesitation, but with great eagerness--a Protestant? My affirmative
answer to the last interrogatory produced a magical effect. The man's
face actually gleamed. He jumped off the ground, let fall his apronful
of melons and fresh figs, while he clutched both of my hands in his, and
exclaimed, "A Protestant! _Dieu merci! Dieu merci!_ an English
Protestant! Oh, how glad I am to see an English Protestant! Listen,
monsieur. We are here. We of the religion (the old phrase--as old as
Rosny and Coligni), we are here fifteen thousand strong--fifteen
thousand, monsieur. Don't believe those who say only ten. Fifteen
thousand, monsieur--good men and true. All ready--all standing by one
another--all _braves_--all on the _qui vive_--all prepared, if the hour
should come. We know each other--we love each other, and we hate"--a
pause; then, with a significant grin--"_les autres_. You will tell that,
in England, monsieur, to our brothers. Fifteen thousand, monsieur; and
every man, woman, and child, true to the cause and the faith."

The whole tone of the orator did not appear to me to be so much a matter
of religious bitterness, as it marked a hatred of race. The two
contending parties at Nismes were evidently of different blood: their
religious animosities had gradually divided them into two distinct and
hostile peoples.

"See!" said the weaver; "this is the Protestant side of the valley,--all
Protestants here. Not a Catholic _cabane_--no, no! they must go
elsewhere,--we have nothing to do with them,--we shake off the dust of
our feet upon them and theirs. You and I are one, upon our own
ground--Protestant ground--staunch and true;" and he stamped with his
foot upon the pebbles. "Monsieur must absolutely go with me to my
_cabane_, and drink a glass of wine to the good cause; and see my
rabbits--Protestant rabbits."

Who could resist this last attraction? We turned and toiled up the
flinty paths together; my acquaintance informing me, with great pride,
that M. Guizot was a good Protestant of Nismes, as his father, who had
fallen, _dans le terreur_, was before him. He understood that M. Guizot
was then in England, and he was sure that he would be delighted at
seeing such a fine Protestant country, and such a staunch Protestant
people. Stopping at length at an unpainted door, in the rough,
unmortared wall, my friend opened it, and we stepped into a little patch
of garden, planted with olives and straggling vine-bushes. "They are
much better cultivated, and give better oil and better wine," he said,
"than the Catholic grounds;" and I am sure he believed the asseveration.
Having duly inspected the "Protestant rabbits," we entered the _cabane_,
a bare, rough, white-washed room, with a table, a few chairs, and
unglazed lattices. Unless when the mistral blows, the open air is seldom
or never unpleasant; and then wooden shutters are applied to the
windward side of the houses. On this occasion, however, there was not a
breath stirring amid the silvery grey leaves of the olives. The
grasshoppers--fellows of a size which would astound Sir Thomas
Gresham--chirped and leaped in the grass at the foot of the wall; scores
and scores of lithe, yellow lizards, with the blackest of eyes, flashed
up and down over the rough stones, and shot in and out of the crevices;
but, excepting these sights and sounds, all around was hushed and
motionless; and the sun, wintry though it was, flooded all the still,
brown valley with a deluge of pure, hot light.

The weaver filled a very comfortable couple of glasses with a small, but
not ill-tasted, wine. "Here's to----;" he uttered a sentiment not
complimentary to the Catholic Church, and, indeed, consigning it to the
warmest of quarters, and took off his liquor with undeniable unction. I
need not say whether I drunk the toast: anyhow, I drunk the wine.

"And now look there," continued my host, pointing with his empty glass
through the open window, to the north. The bare, blue hills of the
Cevennes lay--a long ridge of mountain scenery, stretching from the
valley of the Rhone as far and farther than the eye could follow
them--towards that of the Garonne.

"There it was," he said, "that were fought the fiercest battles, in
those cruel times, between the people of the religion and the troops of
the king. Can you see a valley or a ravine just over the olive there? My
eyes are too much worn to see it; but we look at it every Sunday--my
wife and my children. That was the valley, monsieur, where my family
lived for ages and ages, weaving the rough cloth that they made in those
days, and tending their flocks upon the hill. Early in the troubles,
their cottage was beset by the dragoons of the king. The mother of the
family was suckling her child. They bound her to the bed-post, and put
the child just beyond her reach, and told her that not a drop more
should pass its lips till she cried _Ave Maria_ and made the sign of the
cross. They took the father and hung him by the feet, head downward,
from the roof-tree, and he died hanging. The children they ranged round
the mother, and tied matches between their fingers; and, when the first
match burned down to the flesh, the mother cried _Ave Maria_ and made
the sign of the cross. Then they released her, and held an orgie in the
cottage all night long, and the widow and the children served them. Next
morning, the woman was mad, and she wandered away into the woods with
her baby at her breast, and no one heard of her more. The children were
scattered over the country; and, whether they lived or died, I know
not; but one of them, monsieur, the eldest girl, whose name was Nicole,
became a famous prophetess. Yes, monsieur, she was inspired, and taught
the people among the rocks and the wild gorges of the hills. First, she
had _l'avertissement_--that is, the warning, or first degree of
inspiration; and then the _souffle_, or the breath of the Lord, came on
her, and she spoke; at last, she was endowed with _la prophetie_, and
told what would come to pass. Yes, monsieur; and many of her prophecies
are yet preserved, and they came true; for, in times like these, God
acts by extraordinary means. The people, monsieur, loved her, and
honoured her, and kept her so well, and hid her so closely, that the
persecutors could never seize her; and she survived the troubles; and I,
monsieur, a poor weaver of Nismes, have the honour to be her
descendant."

That night I walked late along the Boulevards. Protestant _cafés_ and
Catholic _cafés_ were full and busy, and, no doubt, resounding with the
polemics of the warring creeds. Outside all, the by turns straggling and
crowded town lay, bathed in the most glorious flood of moonlight, poured
down, happily, alike upon Papist and Protestant, lighting up the grey
cathedral with its Gothic arches, and the heathen temple with its fluted
columns, and surely preaching by the universal-blessing ray that
sermon--so continuous in its delivery, yet so little heeded by the
congregation of the world--the sermon which enjoins charity and
forbearance, and love and peace, among all men.



CHAPTER THE LAST.

AGRICULTURE IN FRANCE--ITS BACKWARD STATE--CENTRALISING
TENDENCY--SUBDIVISION OF PROPERTY--ITS EFFECTS--FRENCH
"ENCUMBERED ESTATES."


In the foregoing pages I have sketched, with as much regard to a
readable liveliness, and to vivid local colouring as I could command,
the features and incidents of part--the most interesting one--of an
extended journey through France. My primary purpose in undertaking the
latter was, to prepare a view of the social and agricultural condition
of the peasantry, for publication in the columns of the _Morning
Chronicle_; and accordingly a series of letters, devoted to that
important subject, duly appeared. These communications, however, were
necessarily confined to statements of agricultural progress, and the
investigation of solid social subjects, to the exclusion of those
matters of personal incident and artistic, literary, and legendary
significance, which naturally occur in the prosecution of a desultory
and inquiring journey. To this latter field--that of the tourist rather
than the commissioner--then, I have devoted the foregoing chapters; but
I am unwilling to send them forth without appending to them--extracted
from my concluding Letter in the _Morning Chronicle_--a summary of my
impressions of the social condition of the French agricultural
population, and the effects of the system of the infinitesimal division
of the land. These impressions are founded upon a five months' journey
through France, keeping mainly in the country places, being constantly
in communication with the people themselves, and hearing also the
opinions of the priests and men of business engaged in rural affairs, as
well as reading authors upon all sides of the question. My conclusions I
have summed up carefully, and with great deliberation; and I offer them
as an honest, and not ill-founded estimate of the present state and
future prospects of rural France.

The French are undoubtedly at least a century behind us in agricultural
science and skill. This remark applies alike to breeding cattle and to
raising crops. Agriculture in France is rather a handicraft than what it
ought to be--a science. As a general rule, the farmers of France are
about on a level with the ploughmen of England. When I say this, I mean
that the immense majority of the cultivators are unlettered
peasants--hinds--who till the land in the unvarying, mechanical routine
handed down to them from their forefathers. Of agriculture, in any other
sense than the rule-of-thumb practice of ploughing, sowing, reaping, and
threshing, they know literally nothing. Of the _rationale_ of the
management of land--of the reasons why so and so should be done--they
think no more than honest La Balafrè, whose only notion of a final cause
was the command of his superior officer. Thus they are bound down in the
most abject submission to every custom, for no other reason than that it
is a custom: their fathers did so and so, and therefore, and for no
other reason, the sons do the same. I could see no struggling upwards,
no longing for a better condition, no discontent, even with the
vegetable food upon which they lived. All over the land there brooded
one almost unvaried mist of dull, unenlightened, passive content--I do
not mean social--but industrial content.

There are two causes principally chargeable with this. In the first
place, strange as it may seem in a country in which two-thirds of the
population are agriculturists, agriculture is a very unhonoured
occupation. Develop, in the slightest degree, a Frenchman's mental
faculties, and he flies to a town as surely as steel filings fly to a
loadstone. He has no rural tastes--no delight in rural habits. A French
amateur farmer would, indeed, be a sight to see. Again, this national
tendency is directly encouraged by the centralizing system of
government--by the multitude of officials, and by the payment of all
functionaries. From all parts of France, men of great energy and
resource struggle up and fling themselves on the world of Paris. There
they try to become great functionaries. Through every department of the
eighty-four, men of less energy and resource struggle up to the
_chef-lieu_--the provincial capital. There they try to become little
functionaries. Go still lower--deal with a still smaller scale--and the
result will be the same. As is the department to France, so is the
arrondissement to the department, and the commune to the arrondissement.
Nine-tenths of those who have, or think they have, heads on their
shoulders, struggle into towns to fight for office. Nine-tenths of those
who are, or are deemed by themselves or others, too stupid for anything
else, are left at home to till the fields, and breed the cattle, and
prune the vines, as their ancestors did for generations before them.
Thus there is singularly little intelligence left in the country. The
whole energy, and knowledge, and resource of the land are barrelled up
in the towns. You leave one city, and, in many cases, you will not meet
an educated or cultivated individual until you arrive at another--all
between is utter intellectual barrenness. The English country gentleman,
we all know, is not a faultless character, but his useful qualities far
prevail over his defects; and it is only when traversing a land all but
destitute of any such order that the fatal effects of the blank are
fully realized. Were there more country gentlemen in France, there would
be more animal food and more wheaten bread in the country. The very idea
of a great proprietor living upon his estates implies the fact of an
educated person--an individual more or less rubbed and polished and
enlightened by society--taking his place amongst a class who must
naturally look up to him, and whose mass he must necessarily, to a
greater or less degree, leaven. It is easy to joke about English country
gentlemen--about their foibles, and prejudices, and absurd points; but
to the jokers I would seriously say, "Go to France; examine its
agriculture, and the structure and calibre of its rural society, and see
the result of the utter absence of a class of men--certainly not
Solomons, and as certainly not Chesterfields, but, for all that, most
useful personages--individuals with capital, with, at all events, a
certain degree of enlightenment--taking an active interest in
farming--often amateur farmers themselves--the patrons of district
clubs, and ploughing matches, and cattle-shows--and, above all, living
daily among their tenantry, and having an active and direct interest in
that tenantry's prosperity." I do not mean to say that here and there,
all over France, there may not be found active and intelligent resident
landlords, nor that, in the north of France, there may not be discovered
intelligent and clear-headed tenant-farmers; but the rule is as I have
stated. Utterly ignorant boors are allowed to plod on from generation to
generation, wrapped in the most dismal mists of agricultural
superstition; while what in America would be called the "smart" part of
the population, are intriguing, and constructing and undoing _complots_,
in the towns. To all present appearance, a score of dynasties may
succeed each other in France before La Vendée takes its place beside
Norfolk, or before Limousin rivals the Lothians.

A word as to the subdivision of property. I know the extreme
difficulties of the subject, and the moral considerations which, in
connection with it, are often placed in opposition to admitted physical
and economical disadvantages. I shall, therefore, without discussing the
question at any length, mention two or three personally ascertained
facts:--

The tendency of landed properties, under the system in question, is to
continual diminution of seize.

This tendency does _not_ stop with the interests of the parties
concerned--it goes on in spite of them.

And the only practical check is nothing but a new evil. When a man finds
that his patch of land is insufficient to support his family, he borrows
money and buys more land. In nine cases out of ten, the interest to be
paid to the lender is greater than the profit which the borrower can
extract from the land--and bankruptcy, and reduction to the condition of
a day-labourer, is sooner or later the inevitable result.

The infinitesimal patches of land are cultivated in the most rude and
uneconomical fashion. Not a franc of capital, further than that sunk in
the purchase of spades, picks, and hoes, is expended on them. They are
undrained, ill-manured, expensively worked, and they would often produce
no profit whatever, were it not that the proprietor is the labourer, and
that he looks for little or nothing save a recompense for his toil in a
bare subsistence. It is easy to see how the consumer must fare if the
producer possess little or no surplus after his own necessities are
satisfied.

It is not to be supposed from the above remarks, that I conceive that in
no circumstances, and under no conditions, can the soil be
advantageously divided into minute properties. The rule which strikes me
as applying to the matter is this:--where spade-husbandry, can be
legitimately adopted, then the extreme subdivision of land loses much,
if not all, of its evils. The reason is plain: spade-husbandry, while it
pays the proprietor fair wages, also, in certain cases, develops in an
economical manner the resources of the soil. The instance of
market-gardens near a populous town is a case in point. But in a remote
district, removed from markets, ill provided with the means of
locomotion--where cereals, not vegetables, must be raised--spade-labour
is so far mere toil flung away. Near Nismes I found a man digging a
field which ought to have been ploughed. He told me that the spade
produced more than the plough. Then why did not the farmers use
spade-husbandry? "Because, although spade-husbandry was very productive,
it was still more expensive. It paid a small proprietor who could do the
work himself, but not a large proprietor, who had to remunerate his
labourers." Herein, then, lies the fallacy. Truly considered, a mode of
cultivation unprofitable for the great proprietor, must be unprofitable,
in the long run, for the small proprietor also. The former, by
spade-husbandry, loses his profit by paying extravagantly for labour;
the latter must pay for labour as well, but he pays himself, and is
therefore unconscious of the outlay--an outlay which is, nevertheless,
not the less real. If the plough, at an expense of 5_s._, can produce
20_s._ worth of produce--and if the spade, at an expense of 20_s._, can
produce 30_s._ worth of produce--the difference between the
proportionate outlays is so much deducted from the resources of the
country in which the transaction takes place; and this because that
difference of labour, or of money representing labour, if otherwise
applied--as by the agency of the plough it would be free to be
applied--might, profitably to its proprietor, still raise the sum total
of the production to the stated amount of 30_s._

Are small properties, then, in cases in which spade-husbandry cannot be
economically applied, injurious to the social and industrial interests
of the community in which they exist?

The following propositions appear to me to sum up what may be said on
either side of the question:

Small landed holdings undoubtedly tend to produce an industrious
population. A man always works hardest for himself.

Small landed holdings tend to breed a spirit of independence, and
wholesome moral self-appreciation and reliance.

On the other hand--

Small landed holdings, by breeding a poor and ignorant race of
proprietors, keep back agriculture, and injure the whole community of
consumers; and--

Small landed holdings tend to grow smaller than it is the interest of
their owners that they should become. Capital, borrowed at usurious
rates of interest, is then had recourse to for the purpose of enlarging
individual properties--and the result is the production of a race of
involved, mortgaged, and frequently bankrupt proprietors.

At this present moment, I believe the proprietorship of France to be as
bankrupt as that of the south-west of Ireland. The number of "Encumbered
Estates" across the Channel would stagger the stoutest calculator. The
capitalists, notaries, land-agents, and others in the towns, and not the
peasantry, are the real owners of the mortgaged soil. The nominal
proprietors are sinking deeper and deeper at every struggle, and they
see no hope before them--save one--Socialism. French Socialism is simply
the result of French poverty. A ruined labourer has no resource but
casual charity. No law stands between him and starvation. He has no
right to his life unless he can support himself; and as the ponderous
machine of the law gradually grinds down his property to an extent too
small for him to exist on, and as the increasing interest swallows up
the comparatively diminishing products, he sees nothing for it but a
scramble. There is property--there is food--and it will go hard but he
shall have a share of them. Herein is the whole problem of the dreaded
Socialism. I cannot put the matter better than in the words of the old
song--

    "Moll in the wad and I fell out,
    And this is what it was all about,
    She had money, and I had none,
    And that was the way the row begun."

Whether a Poor-law, and a change in the law of heritage might not check
the evil, I am not, of course, going to inquire; but the present state
of rural France--all political considerations left aside--appears to me
to point to the possibility, if not the probability, of the world seeing
a greater and bloodier _Jacquerie_ yet than it ever saw before.


                                 THE END.

          HENRY VIZETELLY, PRINTER AND ENGRAVER, GOUGH SQUARE,
                         FLEET STREET, LONDON.





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