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Title: A Tour Through The Pyrenees
Author: Taine, Hippolyte, 1828-1893
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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A TOUR THROUGH THE PYRENEES

By Hippolyte Adolphe Taine


Translated by J. Safford Fiske

With Illustrations by Gustave Dorè

New York Henry Holt And Company 1875


[Illustration: 011]

[Illustration: 013]

The Publishers take pleasure in acknowledging their indebtedness to Mr.
Henry Blackburn for valuable hints in the arrangement of this volume.



CONTENTS.

     BOOK I.--THE COAST.
                                                   PAGE
     CHAPTER I.--BORDEAUX.--ROY AN...................3

        "    II.--LES LANDES.--BAYONNE..............12

        "    III.--BIARRITZ.--SAINT-JEAN-DE-LUZ.....35

     BOOK II.--THE VALLEY OF OSSAU.



     CHAPTER I. --DAX.--OR THEZ.....................57

        "      II.--PAU.............................85

        "      III.--EAUX-BONNES...................117

        "      IV.--LANDSCAPES.....................138

        "      V.--EA UX-CHAUDES...................169

        "     VI.--THE INHABITANTS.................186

     BOOK III.--THE VALLEY OF LUZ.



     CHAPTER I.--ON THE WAY TO LUZ.................225

        "    II.--LUZ..............................250

        "    III.--SAINT-SAUVEUR.--BAREGES.........266

        "    IV.--CAUTERE..........................290

        "    V.--SAINT-SATIN.......................315

        "    VI.--GAVARNIE.........................326

        "    VII.--THE BERGONZ.--THE PIC DU MIDI...352

        "    VIII.--PLANTS AND ANIMALS.............367

     BOOK. IV.--BAGNÈRES AND LUCHON.



     CHAPTER I.--FROM LUZ TO BAGNÈRES-DE-BIGORRE...389

        "    II.--BAGNÈRES-DE-BIGORRE..............412

        "    III.--THE PEOPLE......................420

        "    IV--THE ROAD TO BAGNÈRES-DE-LUCHON....468

        "    V--LUCHON.............................485

        "    VI.--TOULOUSE.........................509



     LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.

                                                  PAGE

     THE PINES.....................................003

     THE RIVER AFTER A STORM.......................005

     THE PINES NEAR ROYAN..........................007

     THE BROAD RIVER...............................009

     BORDEAUX......................................010

     TAIL-PIECE....................................011

     LES LANDES....................................012

     LES LANDES (SECOND VIEW)......................014

     TAIL-PIECE....................................016

     A STREET IN BAYONNE...........................017

     BAYONNE HARBOR................................019

     PÉ DE PUYANE..................................022

     THE BURNING CASTLE............................025

     HEAD-PIECE....................................035

     THE PIERCED ROCK..............................036

     TAIL-PIECE....................................039

     THE VILLA EUGENIE.............................040

     CLIFFS NEAR SAINT-JEAN-DE-LUZ.................042

     COAST NEAR SAINT-JEAN-DE-LUZ..................045

     TAIL-PIECE....................................046

     LOUIS XIV. AND ANNE OF AUSTRIA................047

     THE POLITENESS OF TO-DAY......................048

     THE POLITENESS OF OTHER DAYS..................049

     "JE VOUS LE RENDS."...........................053

     A SPLENDID CREATION...........................054

     DAX...........................................057

     DAX (SECOND VIEW).............................059

     CASTLE OF ORTHEZ..............................061

     FROISSART.....................................062

     A HOME OF LEGENDS.............................063

     "THAT STOUT CORNIFIC DOCTOR"..................066

     COUNT DE FOIX AT SUPPER.......................068

     THE COUNT DE FOIX'S HOSPITALITY...............071

     A FRENCH "CONDUCTOR"..........................072

     "FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE DO NOT KILL GASTON"........074

     GASTON IN THE TOWER OF ORTHEZ.................076

     COUNT DE FOIX.................................077

     TAILPIECE.....................................078

     CHAPTER-HEADING...............................079

     THE VALLEY OF OSSAU...........................082

     A DESTRUCTION OK SENTIMENT....................084

     AVENUE OF THE CHATEAU AT PAU..................085

     ARMS OF HENRY IV..............................087

     COURT OF THE CHATEAU AT PAU...................088

     PAU...........................................090

     JEANNE D'ALBRET...............................092

     A MORNING'S SPORT.............................094

     IN THE STREETS Of EAUSE.......................097

     SULLY.........................................100

     MARGUERITE OK NAVARRE.........................104

     ENTERTAINING THE LADIES.......................106

     THE PARK AT PAU...............................108

     PROTRACTING A REVERIE.........................109

     PIC DU MIDI OSSAU.............................111

     AN EXHORTATION................................113

     NEAR GAN......................................114

     THE VALLEY OK OSSAU...........................115

     ROAD TO EAUX BONNES...........................116

     THE PROMENADE.................................117

     NEAR EAUX BONNES..............................118

     A RAINY DAY AT EAUX BONNES....................119

     TAKING THE WATERS.............................121

     TAKING THE WATERS (SECOND VIEW)...............122

     "MUSIC HAITI CHARMS"..........................123

     A NATIVE GENIUS...............................125

     DOLCE  FAR NIENTE.............................126

     OUR AMATEURS..................................127

     THE BEECHES...................................128

     THE SUMMIT OF THE GER.........................131

     TAIL-PIECE....................................133

     THE ART OK PLEASURE...........................134

     THE "JEU DU CANARD"...........................135

     PLEASURE WITHOUT THE ART......................137

     "A LANDSCAPE".................................138

     EXCELSIOR.....................................139

     THE VALENTIN FALLS AT DISCOO..................140

     CASCADE OF THE VALENTIN.......................142

     PATH TO THE GORGE OF THE SERPENT..............144

     THE GAVE......................................146

     A DISTANT TALE................................148

     SOLITUDE......................................150

     A WATER POWER.................................152

     THE MIGHTY STREAM.............................155

     'PAPI'........................................157

     A TOO DISTANT LANDSCAPE.......................159

     A VANTAGE-POINT...............................161

     THE PEAKS.....................................163

     ABOVE GABAS...................................166

     "TO HIM WHO, IN LOVE OF NATURE"...............168

     AMONG THE CLOUDS..............................169

     ROUTE TO EAUX CHAUDES.........................170

     ON THE ROAD TO EAUX CHAUDES...................172

     "A WILD AND SUNNY NEST".......................174

     "COLD AND SAD"................................175

     NEAR EAUX CHAUDES.............................177

     "EGYPT BEFORE THE COMING OF WARRIORS".........182

     SOMEBODY'S JOVE...............................185

     THE INHABITANTS...............................186

     FIDDLERS THREE................................187

     "A SORT OF ROUNDELAY".........................189

     "THEY CLUMSILY BENT THE KNEE".................192

     "FIVE OR SIX OLD WOMEN".......................194

     THE PEAK OF THE GER...........................196

     MEETING A LADY................................200

     A STOCK-DEALER................................200

     YOUR OBEDIENT SERVANT.........................201

     DISINTERESTED HOSPITALITY.....................201

     AN AMATEUR SKETCH.............................203

     THE DEATH OF ROLAND...........................206

     "A WELL-TO-DO PEASANT"........................207

     CHIVALRIC WAR.................................209

     SCIENTIFIC WAR................................209

     THE BATTLE OF RONCEVAUX.......................212

     "WHEN FIGHTING IS TO BE DONE".................214

     HENRY OF BEARN................................215

     "AT THE HEAD OF THE ARMY".....................217

     "VERY DARING".................................219

     MLLE. DE SÉGUR................................220

     GASSION'S BOB-TAIL............................222

     ON THE WAY TO LUZ.............................225

     A SMILING COUNTRY.............................226

     "WHAT WE ALL HEARD THIS NIGHT".-..............228

     ORTHON'S TRANSFORMATION.......................234

     LETTING THE DOGS LOOSE........................235

     "THE RACE OF FAMILIARS AND FAIRIES"...........237

     A BROODING SUPERSTITION,......................238

     CHAPEL OF LESTELLE............................240

     NEAR LOURDES..................................242

     GORGE OF PIERREFITTE..........................244

     "HEAVY CLOUDS ROSE IN THE SKY"................248

     THE GORGE OPENED UP...........................249

     OLD HOUSE OF THE TEMPLARS AT LUZ..............250

     RUIN OF A CHATEAU NEAR LUZ....................253

     MAX GETS FROM THE DESERT AS MUCH AS HE CAN....257

     THE VALLEY OF LUZ.............................259

     PROGRESS......................................261

     SAINT-PIERRE..................................263

     "THIS HEIGHT IS A DESERT".....................264

     "NO ONE COMES"................................265

     THE MEDIAEVAL TOURISTS........................266

     SAINT-SAUVEUR.................................267

     THE GAVE AT SUNSET............................272

     RUNNING WATERS................................274

     "THE POPLARS RISE ONE ABOVE ANOTHER"..........275

     BAREGES.......................................277

     THE MILITARY HOSPITAL.........................278

     TAIL-PIECE....................................279

     THE MRS.......................................283

     "OUT FROM THE CIVIL WARS".....................287

     "THESE OLD WASTED MOUNTAINS"..................288

     MADAME DE MAINTENON...........................289

     A FEW BLANDISHMENTS...........................290

     THE PATIENTS OF THE OLDEN TIME................291

     THE LAKE OF GAUBE.............................293

     DIANA.........................................295

     NEAR PONT D'ESPAGNE...........................299

     STORM AT CAUTERETS............................302

     VALLEY OF THE GAVE IN A STORM.................304

     NEAR THE LAKE OF GAUISE.......................307

     CAUTERET'S....................................311

     THE FOAMING GAVE..............................313

     HENRY IV AND FRANCIS I........................314

     A FRESHETT  IN THE MOUNTAINS..................315

     "A HORRIBLE WORLD"............................316

     ABBEY OF SAINT-SAVIN..........................318

     CASCADE OF CERLSEY, NEAR PONT D'ESPAGNE.......320

     PRAYER........................................325

     ENJOYING HIE SCENERY..........................326

     A MOUNTAIN FUNERAL............................328

     BRIDGE AT SCIA................................330

     VILLAGE OF GEDRES.............................333

     CHAOS.........................................337

     "THE TUMBLED ROCKS"...........................339

     SIECHEUR......................................342

     THE MOUNTAIN SIDE.............................343

     THE FRECHE DE ROLAND..........................344

     THE AMPHITHEATRE NEAR GAVARNIE................346

     "THE THIRTEENTH CASCADE ON THE LEFT"..........347

     THE CASCADE AS SEEN FROM THE INN..............349

     RECIPROCITY...................................351

     THE APPRECIATIVE..............................352

     ASCENT OF THE BERGONZ.........................354

     THE EAGLES....................................355

     MONT PERDU....................................359

     AN EARLY INHABITANT...........................362

     SCENERY DURING AN ASCENT......................365

     "ALLEZ DOUCEMENT; ALLEZ TOUJOURS".............366

     A STIMULATING DREAM...........................367

     THE PINES.....................................369

     A SHOWER IN A FOREST OF BRUSH-FIRS............373

     CONTEMPLATION.................................376

     A POOR DANCER.................................377

     "THE ISARD DWELLS ABOVE THE BEAR".............378

     AN ARGUMENT...................................379

     A HERD OF GOATS...............................381

     "THE HAPPIEST ANIMAL IN CREATION".............383

     DISTINGUISHED NATIVES.........................386

     IN MOUNT CAMPANA..............................389

     DE BÉNAC IN EGYPT.............................390

     "THEY TRAVERSED A WALL OF CLOUDS".............395

     "MORNING DAWNED"..............................396

     "THE HALL WAS FULL"...........................398

     "STRANGE IMAGES ROSE IN HIS BRAIN"...........400

     BÉNAC A HERMIT................................403

     BEYOND LOURDES................................404

     CITY OF TORBES................................406

     MEPHISTOPHELES................................411

     BAGNÈRES DE-BIGORRE...........................412

     ONE OF THE FIRST PATRONS......................419

     SOCIETY.......................................420

     AN OLD CAMPAIGNER.............................422

     A YOUNG CAMPAIGNER............................422

     A MAN OF PEACE................................422

     A MODEL MAN...................................423

     IN DANGER.............................:.......424

     VARIOUS TOURISTS..............................428

     THE LAC D'OO..................................431

     TOURISTS COMME IL FAUT........................434

     FAMILY TOURISTS...............................435

     DINING TOURISTS...............................436

     LEARNED TOURISTS..............................438

     A MAN OF ESPRIT...............................444

     CONNOISSEURS..................................446

     BEETHOVEN.....................................447

     A SERENADER...................................454

     A HISTORIAN...................................456

     A PROFESSIONAL CHARACTER......................458

     THE PLEASURES OF WINTER.......................461

     A DISCUSSION WITHIN BOUNDS....................463

     HEAVEN........................................464

     THE SOURCE OF THINGS..........................466

     GRACE AT MEAT.................................467

     THE REST OF THE WEARY.........................468

     AT THE HOTEL OF THE GREAT SUN.................470

     NEAR LUCHON...................................473

     CHAPELLE AND LACHAUMONT.......................476

     VALLEY OF LUCHON..............................481

     URBS IN REVRE.................................484

     HEAD-PIECE....................................485

     A TALENTED FAMILY.............................487

     LUCHON........................................491

     BAGNERES......................................493

     "ALL WAS IN HARMONY"..........................495

     NEAR CASTEL-VIEIL.............................497

     RUINS OF CASTEL-VIEIL.........................499

     THE MALADETTA.................................503

     "THESE MOUNTAIN SKELETONS"....................505

     "A CLEFT IN THE ETERNAL ROCK".................507

     TAIL-PIECE....................................508

     HEAD-PIECE....................................509

     ST. BERTRAND DE COMINGES......................510

     TOULOUSE......................................512

     SAINT SERININE AT TOULOUSE....................515

     CHURCH OF ST. ETIENNE, TOULOUSE...............519

     THE MUSEUM AT TOULOUSE........................521

     DATUR HORA QUIETI.............................523



TO MARCELIN.

(EMILE PLANAT.)

This, my dear Marcelin, is a trip to the Pyrenees; I have been there,
and that is a praiseworthy circumstance; many writers, including some of
the longest-winded, have described these scenes without leaving home.

And yet I have serious shortcomings to confess, and am deeply humbled
thereat. I have not been the first to scale any inaccessible mountain;
I have broken neither leg nor arm; I have not been eaten by the bears;
I have neither saved any English heiress from being swept away by the
Gave, nor yet have I married one; I have not been present at a single
duel; my experiences include no tragic encounter with brigands or
smugglers. I have walked much, and talked a little, and now I recount
the pleasures of my eyes and ears. What sort of a man can he be who
comes home from a long absence bringing all his limbs with him, is not
the least in the world a hero, and yet does not blush to confess it? In
this book I have talked as if with thee. There is a Marcelin whom the
public knows, a shrewd critic, a caustic wit, the lover and delineator
of every worldly elegance; there is another Marcelin, known to but three
or four, a learned and thoughtful man. If there are any good ideas in
this work, half of them belong to him; to him, then, I restore them.

H. TAINE.



BOOK I. THE COAST.

{003}

[Illustration: 027]



CHAPTER I. BORDE A UX.--ROY AN.

I.

The river is so fine, that before going to Bayonne I have come down as
far as Royan. Ships heavy with white sails ascend slowly on both sides
of the boat. At each gust of wind they incline like idle birds, lifting
their long wing and showing their black belly. They run slantwise, then
come back; one would say that they felt the better for being in this
great fresh-water harbor; they loiter in it and enjoy its peace after
leaving the wrath and inclemency of the ocean. The banks, fringed with
pale verdure, glide right and left, far away to the verge of heaven; the
river is broad like a sea; at this distance you might think you saw two
hedges; the trees dimly lift their delicate shapes in a robe of
bluish gauze; here and there great pines raise their umbrellas on the
{004}vapory horizon, where all is confused and vanishing; there is an
inexpressible sweetness in these first hues of the timid day, softened
still by the fog which exhales from the deep river. As for the river
itself, its waters stretch out joyous and splendid; the rising sun pours
upon its breast a long streamlet of gold; the breeze covers it with
scales; its eddies stretch themselves, and tremble like an awaking
serpent, and, when the billow heaves them, you seem to see the striped
flanks, the taw-ney cuirass of a leviathan.

Indeed, at such moments it seems that the water must live and feel; it
has a strange look, when it comes, transparent and sombre, to stretch
itself upon a beach of pebbles; it turns about them as if uneasy
and irritated; it beats them with its wavelets; it covers them, then
retires, then comes back again with a sort of languid writhing and
mysterious lovingness; its snaky eddies, its little crests suddenly
beaten down or broken, its wave, sloping, shining, then all at once
blackened, resembles the flashes of passion in an impatient mother, who
hovers incessantly and anxiously about her children, and covers them,
not knowing what she wants and what fears. Presently a cloud has covered
the heavens, and the wind has risen. In a moment the river has assumed
the aspect of a crafty and savage animal. It hollowed itself, and
{005}showed its livid belly; it came against the keel with convulsive
starts, hugged it, and dashed against it, as if to try its force; as far
as one could see, its waves lifted themselves and crowded together, like
the muscles upon a chest; over the flank of the waves passed flashes
with sinister smiles; the mast groaned, and the trees bent shivering,
like a nerveless crowd before the wrath of a fearful beast.

[Illustration: 029]

Then all was hushed; the sun has burst forth, the waves were smoothed,
you now saw only a laughing expanse; spun out over this polished back a
thousand greenish tresses sported wantonly; the light rested on it, like
a diaphanous mantle; it followed the supple movements and the twisting
of those liquid arms; it folded around {006}them, behind them, its
radiant, azure robe; it took their caprices and their mobile colors; the
river meanwhile, slumbrous in its great, peaceful bed, was stretched out
at the feet of the hills, which looked down upon it, like it immovable
and eternal.

[Illustration: 031]

II.

The boat is made fast to a boom, under a pile of white houses: it is
Royan.

Here already are the sea and the dunes; the right of the village is
buried under a mass of sand; there are crumbling hills, little dreary
valleys, where you are lost as if in the desert; no sound, no movement,
no life; scanty, leafless vegetation dots the moving soil, and its
filaments fall like sickly hairs; small shells, white and empty, cling
to these in chaplets, and, wherever the foot is set, they crack with a
sound like a cricket's chirp; this place is the ossuary of some wretched
maritime tribe. One tree alone can live here, the pine, a wild creature,
inhabitant of the forests and sterile coasts; there is a whole colony
of them here; they crowd together fraternally, and cover the sand with
their brown lamels; the monotonous breeze which sifts through them
forever awakes their murmur; thus they chant in a plaintive fashion, but
with a far softer and more harmonious voice {008} {009} than the other
trees; this voice resembles the grating of the cicadæ when in August
they sing with all their heart among the stalks of the ripened wheat.

[Illustration: 033]

At the left of the village, a footpath winds to the summit of a wasted
bank, among billows of standing grasses. The river is so broad that the
other shore is not distinguishable. The sea, its neighbor, imparts
its refluence; its long undulations come one after another against the
coast, and pour their little cascades of foam upon the sand; then the
water retires, running down the slope until it meets a new wave coming
up which covers it; these billows are never wearied, and their come and
go remind one of the regular {010}breathing of a slumbering child. For
night has fallen, the tints of purple grow brown and fade away.
The river goes to rest in the soft, vague shadow; scarcely, at long
intervals, a remnant glimmer is reflected from a slanting wave;
obscurity drowns everything in its vapory dust; the drowsy eye vainly
searches in this mist some visible point, and distinguishes at last,
like a dim star, the lighthouse of Cordouan.

III.

[Illustration: 034]

The next evening, a fresh sea-breeze has brought us to Bordeaux. The
enormous city heaps its monumental houses along the river like bastions;
the red sky is embattled by their coping. They on one hand, the bridge
on the other, protect, with a double line, the port where the vessels
{011}are crowded together like a flock of gulls; those graceful hulls,
those tapering masts, those sails swollen or floating, weave the
labyrinth of their movements and forms upon the magnificent purple of
the sunset. The sun sinks down into the midst of the river and sets it
all ablaze; the black rigging, the round hulls, stand out against its
conflagration, and look like jewels of jet set in gold. {012}



CHAPTER II. LES LANDES.--BA YONNE.

Around Bordeaux are smiling hills, varied horizons, fresh valleys,
a river peopled by incessant navigation, a succession of cities and
villages harmoniously planted upon the declivities or in the plains,
everywhere the richest verdure, the luxury of nature and civilization,
the earth and man vying with each other to enrich and decorate the
happiest valley of France. Below Bordeaux a flat soil, marshes, sand; a
land which goes on growing poorer, villages continually, less frequent,
ere long the desert. I like the desert as well.

Pine woods pass to the right and to the left, silent and wan.{013}{014}

[Illustration: 038]

{015}Each tree bears on its side the scar of wounds where the woodmen have
set flowing the resinous blood which chokes it; the powerful liquor
still ascends into its limbs with the sap, exhales by its slimy shoots
and by its cleft skin; a sharp aromatic odor fills the air.

Beyond, the monotonous plain of the ferns, bathed in light, stretches
away as far as the eye can reach. Their green fans expand beneath the
sun which colors, but does not cause them to fade. Upon the horizon a
few scattered trees lift their slender columns. You see now and then the
silhouette of a herdsman on his stilts, inert and standing like a sick
heron. Wild horses are grazing half hid in the herbage. As the
train passes, they abruptly lift their great startled eyes and stand
motionless, uneasy at the noise that has troubled their solitude. Man
does not fare well here,--he dies or degenerates; but it is the country
of animals, and especially of plants. They abound in this desert,
free, certain of living. Our pretty, cutup valleys are but poor things
alongside of these immense spaces, leagues upon leagues of marshy or
dry vegetation, a level country, where nature, elsewhere troubled and
tortured by men, still vegetates as in primeval days with a calm equal
to its grandeur. The sun needs these savannas in order properly to
spread out its light; from the rising exhalation, you feel that the
whole plain is {016} fermenting under its force; and the eyes filled
by the limitless horizon divine the secret labor by which this ocean of
rank verdure renews and nourishes itself.

Night without a moon has come on. The peaceful stars shine like points
of flame; the whole air is filled with a blue and tender light,
which seems to sleep in the network of vapor wherein it lies. The eye
penetrates it without apprehending anything. At long intervals, in this
twilight, a wood confusedly marks its spot, like a rock at the bottom of
a lake; everywhere around are vague depths, veiled and floating forms,
indistinct and fantastic creatures melting into each other, fields that
look like a billowy sea, clumps of trees that you might take for summer
clouds,--the whole graceful chaos of commingled phantoms, of things of
the night. The mind floats here as on a fleeting stream, and nothing
seems to it real, in this dream, but the pools which reflect the stars
and make on earth a second heaven.

[Illustration: 040]

{017}

Bayonne is a gay city, original and half Spanish. On all sides are men
in velvet vest and small-clothes; you hear the sharp, sonorous music
of the tongue spoken beyond the mountains. Squatty arcades border the
principal streets; there is need of shade under such a sun.

A pretty episcopal palace, in its modern elegance, makes the ugly
cathedral still uglier. The poor, abortive monument piteously lifts its
belfry, that for three centuries has remained but a stump. Booths are
stuck in its hollows, after the manner of warts; here and there they
have laid on a rude plaster of stone. The old invalid is a sad spectacle
alongside of the new houses and busy shops which crowd around its grimy
flanks. {018}I was quite troubled at this decrepitude, and when once
I had entered, I became still more melancholy. Darkness fell from the
vault like a winding-sheet; I could make out nothing but o o worm-eaten
pillars, smoke-darkened pictures, expanses of greenish wall. Two fresh
toilettes that I met increased the contrast; nothing could shock one
more in this place than rose-colored ribbons.

I was looking upon the spectre of the middle ages; how opposed to it are
the security and abundance of modern life! Those sombre vaults, those
slender columns, those rose windows, blood-dyed, called up dreams and
emotions which are now impossible for us. You should feel here what men
felt six hundred years ago, when they swarmed forth from their hovels,
from their unpaved, six-feet-wide streets, sinks of uncleanness, and
reeking with fever and leprosy; when their unclad bodies, undermined by
famine, sent a thin blood to their brutish brains; when wars, atrocious
laws, and legends of sorcery filled their dreams with vivid and
melancholy images; when over the bedizened draperies, over the riddles
of painted glass, the rose windows, like a conflagration or an aureole,
poured their transfigured rays.

These are the remembrances of fever and ecstasy: to get rid of them I
have come out to the port; it is a long alley of old trees at the side
of {019}the Adour. Here all is gay and picturesque. Serious oxen, with
lowered heads, drag the beams that are being unloaded. Rope-makers, girt
with a wisp of hemp, walk backward tightening their threads, and twining
their ever-growing cable. The ships in file are made fast at the quay;
the slender cordage outlines its labyrinth against the sky, and the
sailors hang in it hooked on like spiders in their web. Great casks,
bales, pieces of wood are strewn pell-mell over the flags.

[Illustration: 43]

You are pleased to feel that man is working and prosperous. And here
nature too is as happy as man. The broad silver river unrolls itself
under the radiance of the morning. Slender clouds throw out on the azure
their band of mother-of-pearl. The sky is like an arch of lapis-lazuli.
Its vault rests on the confines of the flood which advances waveless and
effortless, under the glitter of its peaceful undulations, between two
ranges of declivity, {020}away to a hill where pine-woods of a tender
green slope down to meet it, as graceful as itself. The tide meanwhile
rises, and the leaves on the oaks begin to shine, and to whisper under
the feeble wind off the sea.

III.

It rains: the inn is insupportable. It is stifling under the arcades; I
am bored at the café, and am acquainted with nobody. The sole resource
is to go to the library. That is closed.

Fortunately the librarian takes pity on me, and opens for me. Better
yet, he brings me all sorts of charters and old books; he is both very
learned and very amiable, explains everything to me, guides, informs
and installs me. Here I am then in a corner, alone at a table, with the
documents of a fine and thoroughly enjoyable history; it is a pastoral
of the middle ages. I have nothing better to do than to tell it over for
my own benefit.

Pé de Puyane was a brave man and a skilful sailor, who in his day was
Mayor of Bayonne and admiral; but he was harsh with his men, like all
who have managed vessels, and would any day rather fell a man than take
off his cap. He had long waged war against the seamen of Normandy, and
on one occasion he hung seventy of them to his yards, cheek {021}by jowl
with some dogs. He hoisted on his galleys red flags signifying death
and no quarter, and led to the battle of Ecluse the great Genoese ship
_Christophle_, and managed his hands so well that no Frenchman escaped;
for they were all drowned or killed, and the two admirals, Quieret and
Bahuchet, having surrendered themselves, Bahuchet had a cord tightened
around his neck, while Quieret had his throat cut. That was good
management; for the more one kills of his enemies, the less he has of
them. For this reason, the people of Bayonne, on his return, entertained
him with such a noise, such a clatter of horns, of cornets, of drums and
all sorts of instruments, that it would have been impossible on that day
to hear even the thunder of God.

It happened that the Basques would no longer pay the tax upon cider,
which was brewed at Bayonne for sale in their country. Pe de Puyane said
that the merchants of the city should carry them no more, and that, if
any one carried them any, he should have his hand cut off. Pierre Cambo,
indeed, a poor man, having carted two hogsheads of it by night, was led
out upon the market-place, before Notre Dame de Saint-Léon, which was
then building, and had his hand amputated, and the veins afterwards
stopped with red-hot irons; after that he was driven in a tumbrel
throughout the city, {022}which was an excellent example; for the
smaller folk should always do the bidding of men in high position.

[Illustration: 046]

Afterwards, Pé de Puyane having assembled the hundred peers in the
town-house, showed them that the Basques being traitors, rebels toward
the seigniory of Bayonne, should no longer keep the franchises which
had been granted them; that the seigniory of Bayonne, possessing the
sovereignty of the sea, might with justice impose a tax in all the
places to which the sea rose, as if they were in its port, and that
accordingly the Basques should henceforth {023}pay for passing to
Villefranche, to the bridge of the Nive, the limit of high tide. All
cried out that that was but just, and Pé de Puyane declared the toll to
the Basques; but they all fell to laughing, saying they were not dogs of
sailors like the mayor's subjects. Then having come in force, they beat
the bridgemen, and left three of them for dead.

Pé said nothing, for he was no great talker; but he clinched his teeth,
and looked so terribly around him, that none dared ask him what he would
do, nor urge him on, nor indeed breathe a word. From the first Saturday
in April to the middle of August, several men were beaten, as well
Bayonnais as Basques, but still war was not declared, and, when they
talked of it to the mayor, he turned his back.

The twenty-fourth day of August, many noblemen among the Basques, and
several young people, good leapers and dancers, came to the castle of
Miot for the festival of Saint Bartholomew. They feasted and showed off
the whole day, and the young people who jumped the pole, with their red
sashes and white breeches, appeared adroit and handsome. That night came
a man who talked low to the mayor, and he, who ordinarily wore a grave
and judicial air, suddenly had eyes as bright as those of a youth who
sees the coming of his bride. He went down his staircase with four
bounds, led out a band of old sailors who were come one by one,
covertly, {024}into the lower hall, and set out by dark night with
several of the wardens, having closed the gates of the city for fear
that some traitor, such as there are everywhere, should go before them.

Having arrived at the castle they found the drawbridge down and the
postern open, so confident and unsuspecting were the Basques, and
entered, cutlasses drawn and pikes forward, into the great hall. There
were killed seven young men who had barricaded themselves behind tables,
and would there make sport with their dirks; but the good halberds, well
pointed and sharp as they were, soon silenced them. The others, having
closed the gates from within, thought that they would have power to
defend themselves or time to flee; but the Bayonne marines, with their
great axes, hewed down the planks, and split the first brains which
happened to be near. The mayor, seeing that the Basques were tightly
girt with their red sashes, went about saying (for he was usually
facetious on days of battle): "Lard these fine gallants for me; forward
the spit into their flesh justicoats;" and in fact the spits went
forward, so that all were perforated and opened, some through and
through, so that you might have seen daylight through them, and that the
hall half an hour after was full of pale and red bodies, several bent
over benches, others in a pile in the corners, some with their noses
glued to the table like drunkards, {025} so that a Bayonnais, looking
at them, said: "This is the veal market." Many, pricked from behind, had
leaped through the windows, and were found next morning, with cleft head
or broken spine, in the ditches.

[Illustration: 049]

There remained only five men alive, noblemen, two named d'Urtubie,
two de Saint-Pé, and one, de Lahet, whom the mayor had set aside as
a precious commodity; then, having sent some one to open the gates of
Bayonne and command the people to come, he ordered them to set fire to
the castle. It was a fine sight, for the castle burned from midnight
until morning; as each turret, wall or floor fell, the people,
delighted, raised a great shout. {026}There were volleys of sparks in
the smoke and flames that stopped short, then began again suddenly, as
at public rejoicings; so that the warden, an honorable advocate, and
a great literary man, uttered this saying: "Fine festival for Bayonne
folk; for the Basques great barbecue of hogs."

The castle being burned, the mayor said to the five noblemen that he
wished to deal with them with all friendliness, and that they should
themselves be judges, if the tide came as far as the bridge; then he
had them fastened two by two to the arches until the tide should rise,
assuring them that they were in a good place for seeing. The people
were all on the bridge and along the banks, watching the swelling of
the flood. Little by little it mounted to their breasts, then to their
necks, and they threw back their heads so as to lift their mouths a
little higher. The people laughed aloud, calling out to them that the
time for drinking had come, as with the monks at matins, and that they
would have enough for the rest of their days. Then the water entered the
mouth and nose of the three who were lowest; their throats gurgled
as when bottles are filled, and the people applauded, saying that the
drunkards swallowed too fast, and were going to strangle themselves out
of pure greediness. There remained only the two men, {027}d'Urtubie,
bound to the principal arch, father and son, the son a little lower
down. When the father saw his child choking, he stretched out his arms
with such force that a cord broke: but that was all, and the hemp cut
into his flesh without his being able to get any further. Those above,
seeing that the youth's eyes were rolling, while the veins on his
forehead were purple and swollen, and that the water bubbled around him
with his hiccough, called him baby, and asked why he had sucked so hard,
and if nurse was not coming soon to put him to bed. At this the father
cried out like a wolf, spat into the air at them, and called them
butchers and cowards. That offended them so that they began throwing
stones at him with such sure aim that his white head was soon reddened
and his right eye gushed out; it was small loss to him, for shortly
after, the mounting wave shut up the other. When the water was gone
down, the mayor commanded that the five bodies, which hung with necks
twisted and limp, should be left a testimony to the Basques that the
water of Bayonne did come up to the bridge, and that the toll was justly
due from them. He then returned home amidst the acclamations of his
people, who were delighted that they had so good a mayor, a sensible
man, a great lover of justice, quick in wise enterprises, and who
rendered to every man his due. {028}.

As he was setting out, he had put sixty men at the entrance of
the bridge, in the toll-tower, ordering them to look out well for
themselves, and warning them that the Basques would not be slow in
seeking to avenge themselves. But they flattered themselves that
they still had at least one good night, and they busied their throats
mightily with emptying flagons. Towards the middle of the night, there
being no moon, came up about two hundred Basques; for they are alert
as the antelope,* and their runners had awakened that morning more than
twenty villages in the Soule with the story of fire and drowning. The
younger men, with several older heads, had set out forthwith by crooked
circuitous paths, barefoot, that they might make no noise, well armed
with cutlasses, crampoons and several slender rope-ladders; and, adroit
as foxes, they had stolen to the base of the tower, to a place on the
eastern side where it plunges straight down to the bed of the river, a
real quagmire, so that here there was no guard, and the rolling of the
water on the pebbles might drown their slight noise, should they make
any. They fixed their crampoons in the crannies of the stones, and,
little by little, Jean Amacho, a man from Béhobie, a noted hunter
of{029}mountain beasts, climbed upon the battlements of the first wall,
then, having steadied a pole against a window of the tower, he entered
and hooked on two ladders; the others mounted in their turn, until there
were about fifty of them; and new men were constantly coming, as many as
the ladders would bear, noiselessly striding over the window-sill.

     * Alertes comme des izards--The isard, or y'sard, is the
     chamois-antelope of the Pyrenees, often called a chamois.--
     Translator.

They were in a little, low ante-room, and from thence, in the great hall
of the first floor, six steps below them, they beheld the Bayonnais, of
whom there were but three in this place, two asleep, and a third who
had just waked up and was rubbing his eyes, with his back turned to the
small door of the ante-room. Jean Amacho gave a sign to the two men who
had mounted immediately after him, and all jumped together with a single
leap, and so nicely that, at the same moment, their three knives pierced
the throats of the Bayonnais, who, bowing their limbs, sank without a
cry to the ground. The other Basques then came in, and waited at the
verge of the great balustraded staircase leading into the lower hall
where were the Bayonnais, some in a heap sleeping near the fireplace,
others calling out and sharpset at feasting.

One of these feeling that his hair was moist, lifted his head, saw some
little red streams running from between the joists of the ceiling,
and began to laugh, saying that the greedy fellows up there could no
{030}longer hold their cups, and were wasting good wine, which was very
wrong of them. But finding that this wine was quite warm, he took some
on his finger, then touched his tongue, and saw, by the insipid taste,
that it was blood. He proclaimed this aloud, and the Bayonnais starting
up grasped their pikes and ran for the staircase. Thereupon the Basques
who had waited, not being sufficiently numerous, wished to recover the
moment and rushed forth; but the first comers felt the point of the
pikes, and were lifted, just as bundles of hay are spitted on the forks
to be thrown into a loft; then the Bayonnais, holding themselves close
together, and bristling in front with pikes, began to mount.

Just then a valiant Basque, Antoine Chaho, and two others with him,
dropped down along the wall, lizard fashion, making a cover of dead
bodies; and gliding between the great legs of the sailors of Bayonne,
began work with their knives upon their hamstrings; so that the
Bayonnais, wedged in the stairway, and embarrassed by the men and the
pikes that were falling crosswise, could neither get on nor wield their
spits with such nicety. At this moment, Jean Amacho and several young
Basques, having espied their moment, leaped more than twenty feet clear
into the middle of the hall, to a place where no halberds were ready,
and began cutting throats with great promptness, then, thrown upon their
{031}knees, fell to ripping open bellies; they killed far more than they
lost, because they had deft hands, while many were well padded with wool
and wore leather shirts, and besides, the handles to their knives were
wound with cord and did not slip. Moreover the Basques from above,
who now numbered more than a hundred, rolled down the staircase like a
torrent of goats; new ones came up every moment, and in every corner of
the hall, man to man, they began to run each other through.

There died Jean Amacho in a sad enough fashion, and from no fault of his
own; for after he had cut the throat of a Bayonnais,--his ordinary mode
of killing, and, indeed, the best of all,--he held his head too near,
and the jet from the two great veins of the neck spirted into his face
like the froth from a jar of perry as it is uncorked, and suddenly shut
up both his eyes; accordingly he was unable to avoid a Bayonnais who was
at his left; the fellow planted his dagger in Jean's back, who spit out
blood, and died a minute after.

But the Bayonnais, who were less numerous and less adroit, could make
no stand, and at the end of half an hour there remained only a dozen of
them, driven into a corner near a little cellar where were kept the jugs
and bottles. In order the sooner to reduce these, the Basques gathered
together the pikes, and began driving through this heap of men; {032}and
the Bayonnais, as anybody will on feeling an iron point prick through
his skin, stepped back and rolled together into the cellar. Just at this
moment the torches went out, and the Basques, in order not to wound
each other, dressed the whole armful of pikes, and harpooned at random
forward into the cellar during more than a quarter of an hour, so as
to make sure that no Bayonnais remained alive; and thus, when all was
become tranquil, and the torches were relighted, and they looked in,
they saw that the cellar resembled a pork-butcher's chopping-block, the
bodies being cut in twenty places, and separated from their heads, and
the limbs being confusedly thrown together, till only salt was wanting
to make a salting-tub of the place.

But the younger of the Basques, although there was nothing more to kill,
rolled their eyes all around the hall, grinding their teeth like hounds
after the quarry; they cried aloud continually, trembling in their limbs
and clenching their fingers after the handles of their daggers; several,
wounded and whitelipped, no longer felt their wounds or their loss of
blood, remained crouching beside the man they had last killed, and then
involuntarily leaped to their feet. One or two laughed with the fixity
of madmen, and varied this with a hoarse roar; and there was in the room
such a mist of carnage that any one seeing {033}them reeling or howling
thus, might have believed them drunk with wine.

At sunrise, when they had loosed the five drowned men from the arches,
they cast all the Bayonnais upon the current of the stream, and said
that they might go down thus to their sea, and that this cartful of dead
flesh was such toll as the Basques would pay. The congealed wounds were
opened again by the coldness of the water; it was a fine sight: by means
of the blood that flowed, the river blushed red as a morning sky.

After this the Basques and the men of Bayonne fought several years more,
man against man, band against band; and many brave men died on both
sides. At the end, the two parties agreed to submit to the arbitration
of Bernard Ezi, _Sire d'Albret._ The lord of Albret said that the men
of Bayonne, since they had made the first attack, were in fault; he
ordained that in future the Basques should pay no toll, that, on the
contrary, the city of Bayonne should pay them fifteen hundred new golden
crowns and should establish ten priestly prebendaryships, which should
cost four thousand old crowns of the first coinage of France, of good
gold and loyal weight, for the repose of the souls of the five gentlemen
drowned without confession, which, perchance, were in purgatory, and
had need of many masses in order to get out. But the Basques {034}were
unwilling that Pê de Puyane, the mayor, should be included in this
peace, either he or his sons, and they reserved the right to pursue
them until they had taken vengeance on his flesh and his race. The mayor
retired to Bordeaux, to the house of the Prince of Wales, of whom he
was a great friend and good servant, and during two o o years did not
go outside of the city, excepting three or four times, well steeled, and
attended by men-at-arms. But one day, when he had gone to see a vineyard
he had bought, he withdrew a little from his troop to lift a great black
vine-stock which was falling into the ditch; a moment after, his men
heard a little sharp cry, like that of a thrush caught in a snare; when
they had run up they saw Pé de Puyane dead, with a knife a fathom long
which had entered by the armpit where he was unprotected by his cuirass.
His elder son, Sebastian, who had fled to Toulouse, was killed by
Augustin de Lahet, nephew of the man who was drowned; the other, Hugues,
survived and founded a family, since, having gone by sea to England,
he remained there, and received from King Edward a knight's fief. But
neither he nor his children ever returned into Gascony; they did wisely,
for they would have found their grave-diggers there. {035}

[Illustration: 059]



CHAPTER III. BIARRITZ.--SAINT-JEAN-DE-LUZ.

I.

Half a league off, at the turning of a road, may be seen a hill of a
singular blue: it is the sea. Then you descend, by a winding route, to
the village.

A melancholy village, with the taint of hotels, white and regular, cafés
and signs, ranged by stages upon the arid coast; for grass, patches of
poor starveling turf; for trees, frail tamarisks which cling shivering
to the earth; for harbor, a beach and two empty creeks. The smaller
conceals in its sandy recess two barks without masts, without sails, to
all appearance abandoned.

The waters consume the coast; great pieces of earth and stone, hardened
by their shock, fifty feet away from the shore, lift their brown and
yellow spine, worn, raked, gnawed, jagged, scooped out {036}by the wave,
resembling a troop of stranded whales. The billow barks or bellows in
their hollow bowels, in their deep yawning jaws; then, after they have
engulfed it, they vomit it forth in jets and foam against the lofty
shining waves that forever return to the assault. Shells and polished
pebbles are incrusted upon their head. Here furzes have rooted their
patient stems and the confusion of their thorns; this hairy mantle is
the only one capable of clinging to their flanks, and of standing out
against the spray of the sea.

[Illustration: 060]

To the left, a train of ploughed and emaciated rocks stretches out in
a promontory as far as an {037}arcade of hardened beach, which the high
tides have opened, and whence on three sides the eye looks down upon the
ocean. Under the whistling north wind it bristles with violet waves; the
passing clouds marble it with still more sombre spots; as far as the eye
can reach is a sickly agitation of wan waves, chopping and disjointed,
a sort of moving skin that trembles, wrenched by an inward fever;
occasionally a streak of foam crossing them marks a more violent shock.
Here and there, between the intervals of the clouds, the light cuts out
a few sea-green fields upon the uniform plain; their tawny lustre,
their unhealthy color, add to the strangeness and to the limits of the
horizon. These sinister changing lights, these tin-like reflections upon
a leaden swell, these white scoriæ clinging to the rocks, this slimy
aspect of the waves suggest a gigantic crucible in which the metal
bubbles and gleams.

But toward evening the air clears up and the wind falls. The Spanish
coast is visible, and its chain of mountains softened by distance. The
long dentation undulates away out of sight, and its misty pyramids at
the last vanish in the west, between the sky and the ocean. The sea
smiles in its blue robe, fringed with silver, wrinkled by the last puff
of the breeze; it trembles still, but with pleasure, and spreads out its
lustrous, many-hued silk, {038}with voluptuous caprices beneath the sun
that warms it. Meanwhile a few serene clouds poise above it their down
of snow; the transparency of the air bathes them in angelic glory, and
their motionless flight suggests the souls in Dante stayed in ecstasy at
the entrance of paradise.

It is night; I have come up to a solitary esplanade where is a cross,
and whence is visible the sea and the coast. The coast, black, sprinkled
with lights, sinks and rises in indistinct hillocks. The sea mutters and
rolls with hollow voice. Occasionally, in the midst of this threatening
breathing comes a hoarse hiccough, as if the slumbering wild beast were
waking up; you cannot make it out, but from a nameless something that
is sombre and moving, you divine a monstrous, palpitating back; in its
presence man is like a child before the lair of a leviathan. Who assures
us that it will continue to tolerate us to-morrow? On land we feel
ourselves master; there our hand finds everywhere its traces; it has
transformed everything and put everything to its service; the soil
now-a-days is a kitchen-garden, the forests a grove, the rivers
trenches, Nature is a nurse and a servant. But here still exists
something ferocious and untamable. The ocean has preserved its liberty
and its omnipotence; one of its billows would drown our hive; over
there in America its bed lifts itself; it will {039}crush us without a
thought; it has done it and will do it again; just now it slumbers, and
we live clinging to its flank without dreaming that it sometimes wants
to turn itself about.

[Illustration: 063]


II. {040}

There is a light-house to the north of the village, an esplanade of
beach and prickly plants. Vegetation here is as rough as the ocean.

[Illustration: 064]

Do not look to the left; the pickets of soldiers, the huts of the
bathers, the ennuyés, the children, the invalids, the drying linen, it
is all as melancholy as a caserne and a hospital. But at the foot of the
light-house the beautiful green waves hollow themselves and scale the
rocks, scattering upon the wind their plume of foam; the billows come
up to the assault and mount one upon another, as agile and hardy as
charging horsemen; the caverns rumble; the breeze whispers with a happy
sound; it enters the breast and expands the muscles; you fill your lungs
with the invigorating saltness of the sea. {041}Farther on, ascending
towards the north, are paths creeping along the cliffs. At the bottom of
the last, solitude opens out; everything human has disappeared; neither
houses, nor culture, nor verdure. It is here as in the first ages, at a
time when man had not yet appeared, and when the water, the stone, and
the sand were the sole inhabitants of the universe. The coast stretches
into the vapor its long strip of polished sand; the gilded beach
undulates softly and opens its hollows to the ripples of the sea. Each
ripple comes up foamy at first, then insensibly smooths itself, leaves
behind it the flocks of its white fleece, and goes to sleep upon the
shore it has kissed. Meanwhile another approaches, and beyond that again
a new one, then a whole troop, striping the bluish water with embroidery
of silver. They whisper low, and you scarcely hear them under the outcry
of the distant billows; nowhere is the beach so sweet, so smiling--the
land softens its embrace the better to receive and caress those darling
creatures, which are, as it were, the little children of the sea.

III.

It has rained all night; but this morning a brisk wind has dried the
earth; and I have come along the coast to Saint-Jean-de-Luz. {042}

[Illustration: 066]

Everywhere the wasted cliffs drop perpendicularly down; dreary hillocks,
crumbling sand; miserable grasses that strike their filaments into the
moving soil; streamlets that vainly wind and are choked, pushed back
by the sea; tortured inlets, and naked strands. The ocean tears and
depopulates its beach. Everything suffers from the neighborhood of the
old tyrant. As you contemplate here its aspect and its work, the antique
superstitions seem true. It is a melancholy and hostile god, forever
thundering, sinister, sudden in caprice, whom nothing appeases, nothing
subdues, who chafes at being kept back from the land, {043}embraces it
impatiently, feels it and shakes it, and to-morrow may recapture it
or break it in pieces. Its violent waves start convulsively and twist
themselves, clashing like the heads of a great troop of wild horses;
a sort of grizzling mane streams on the edge of the black horizon; the
gulls scream; they are seen darting down into the valley that is scooped
out between two surges, then reappearing; they turn and look strangely
at you with their pale eyes. One would say that they are delighted with
this tumult and are awaiting a prey.

A little farther on, a poor hut hides itself in a bay. Three children
ragged, with naked legs, were playing there in a stream that was
overflown. A great moth, clogged by the rain, had fallen into a hole.
They conducted the water to it with their feet, and dabbled in the cold
mud; the rain fell in showers on the poor creature, which vainly beat
its wings; they laughed boisterously, stumbling about and holding on to
each other with their red hands. At that age and amidst such privation
nothing more was wanting to make them happy.

The road ascends and descends, winding on high hills which denote the
neighborhood of the Pyrenees. The sea reappears at each turn, and it is
a singular spectacle, this suddenly lowered horizon, and that greenish
triangle broadening toward {044}heaven. Two or three villages stretch
along the route, their houses dropping down the heights like flights of
stairs. From the white houses the women come out in black gown and veil
to go to mass. The sombre color announces Spain. The men, in velvet
vests, crowd to the public house and drink coffee in silence. Poor
houses, a poor country; under a shed I have seen them cooking, in the
guise of bread, cakes of maize and barley. This destitution is always
touching. What is it that a day-laborer has gained by our thirty
centuries of civilization? Yet he has gained, and when we accuse
ourselves, it is because we forget history. He no longer has the
small-pox, or the leprosy; he no longer dies of hunger, as in the
sixteenth century, under Montluc; he is no longer burned as a witch, as
happened indeed under Henry IV. here in this very place; he can, if he
is a soldier, learn to read, become an officer; he has coffee, sugar,
linen. Our descendants will say that that is but little; our fathers
would have said that it is a good deal.

St. Jean-de-Luz is a little old city with narrow streets, to-day silent
and decaying; its mariners once fought the Normans for the king
of England; thirty or forty ships went out every year for the
whale-fishery. Now-a-days the harbor is empty; this terrible Biscayan
sea has thrice broken down its dike. Against this roaring surge, heaped
up all {045}the way from America, no work of man holds out. The water
was engulfed in the channel and came like a race-horse high as the
quays, lashing the bridges, shaking its crests, grooving its wave; then
it thundered heavily into the basins, sometimes with leaps so abrupt
that it fell over the parapets like a mill-dam, and flooded the lower
part of the houses. One poor boat danced in a corner at the end of a
rope; no seamen, no rigging, no cordage; such is this celebrated harbor.
They say, however, that half a league away, there are five or six barks
in a creek.

[Illustration: 069]

From the dike the tumult of the high tide was visible. A massive wall of
black clouds girt the horizon; the sun blazed through a crevice like a
fire through the mouth of a furnace, and overflowed {046}upon the billow
its conflagration of ferruginous flames. The sea leaped like a maniac
at the entrance of the harbor, smitten by a band of invisible rocks, and
joined with its white line the two horns of the coast. The waves came
up fifteen feet high against the beach, then, undermined by the falling
water, fell head foremost, desperate, with frightful howling; they
returned however to the assault, and mounted each minute higher, leaving
on the beach their carpet of snowy foam, and fleeing with the slight
shivering of a swarm of ants foraging among dry leaves. Finally one of
them came wetting the feet of the men who were watching from the top of
the dike. Happily, it was the last; the city is twenty feet below, and
would be only a mass of ruins if some great tide were urged on by a
hurricane.

[Illustration: 070]


IV. {047}

A noble hotel, with broad halls, and grand antique apartments, displays
itself at the corner of the first basin facing the sea. Anne of Austria
lodged there in 1660, at the time of the marriage of Louis XIV.

[Illustration: 071]

Above a chimney is still to be seen the portrait of a princess in the
garb of a goddess. Were they not goddesses? A tapestried bridge went
from this house to the little church, sombre and splendid, traversed by
balconies of black oak, and {048}loaded with glittering reliquaries. The
married pair passed through it between two hedges of Swiss and bedizened
guards, the king all embroidered with gold, with a hat ornamented
with diamonds; the queen in a mantle of violet velvet sprinkled with
fleur-de-lis, and, underneath, a habit of white brocade studded with
precious stones, a crown upon her head.

[Illustration: 072]

There was nothing but processions, entries, pomps and parades. Who of us
now-a-days would wish to be a grand seigneur on condition of performing
at this rate? The weariness {049}of rank would do away with the
pleasures of rank; one would lose all patience at being an embroidered
manikin, always exposed to public view and on exhibition. Then, that was
the whole of life. When M. de Créqui was going to carry to the infanta
the presents of the king, "he had sixty persons in livery in his suite,
with a great number of noblemen and many friends."

[Illustration: 073]

The eyes took delight in this splendor. Pride was more akin to vanity,
enjoyments were more on the surface. They needed to display their
power in order to feel it. The courtly life had applied the mind to
ceremonies. They {050}learned to dance, as now-a-days to reflect; they
passed whole years at the academy; they studied with extreme seriousness
and attention the art of bowing, of advancing the foot, of holding
themselves erect, of playing with the sword, of setting the cane
properly; the obligation of living in public constrained them to it; it
was the sign of their rank and education; they proved in this way their
alliances, their world, their place with the king, their title. Better
yet, it was the poetry of the time. A fine manner of bowing is a fine
thing; it recalled a thousand souvenirs of authority and of ease, just
as in Greece an attitude recalled a thousand souvenirs of war and the
gymnasium; a slight inclination of the neck, a limb nobly extended, a
smile complaisant and calm, an ample trailing petticoat with majestic
folds, filled the soul with lofty and courtly thoughts, and these great
lords were the first to enjoy the spectacle they afforded. "I went
to carry my offering," said Mlle. de Montpensier, "and performed my
_révérences_ as did no one else of the company; I found myself suitable
enough for ceremonial days; my person held its place there as my name in
the world." These words explain the infinite attention that was given to
questions of precedence and to ceremonies; Mademoiselle is inexhaustible
on this point; she talks like an upholsterer and a chamberlain; she is
{051}uneasy to know at what precise moment the Spanish grandees take off
their hats; if the king of Spain will kiss the queen-mother or will only
embrace her: these important interests trouble her. In fact, at that
time they were important interests. Rank did not depend, as in a
democracy, upon proved worth, on acquired glory, on power exercised
or riches displayed, but upon visible prerogatives transmitted by
inheritance or granted by the king: so that they fought for a tabouret
or a mantle, as now-a-days for a place or for a million. Among other
treacheries they plotted to lodge Mademoiselle's sisters with the queen.
"The proposition displeased me; they would have eaten with her always,
which I did not. That roused my pride. I was desperate at that moment."
The warfare was yet greater when it came to the marriage. "It occurred
to somebody that it was necessary to carry an offering to the queen, so
I could not bear her train, and it must be my sisters who would carry it
with Mme. de Carignan. As soon as there was talk of bearing trains, the
Duke de Roquelaure had offered to carry mine. They sought for dukes to
carry those of my sisters, and, as not one was willing to do it, Mme.
de Saugeon cried aloud that Madame would be in despair at this
distinction." What happiness to walk first upon the tapestried bridge,
the train held up by a duke, while, the {052}others go shamefully
behind, with a train, but without a duke! But suddenly others put in a
claim. Mme. d'Uzès comes running up in a fright: it is question of an
atrocious usurpation. "The princess palatine will have a train; will you
not put a stop to that?" They get together; they go to the king; they
represent to him the enormity of the deed: the king forbids this new
train as usurping and criminal, and the princess, who weeps and storms,
declares that she will not be present at the marriage if they deprive
her of her appendix. Alas! all human prosperity has its reverses;
Mademoiselle, so happy in the matter of trains, could not get to kiss
the queen, and, at this interdict, she remained all day plunged in
the deepest grief. But, you see, the pursuits of rank had been, from
infancy, her sole concern; she had wanted to marry all the princes in
the world, and ever in vain; the person mattered little to her. First
the cardinal infante, the reverse of an Amadis; at the age of dreams, on
the threshold of youth, among the vague visions and first enchantments
of love, she chose this old churl in a ruff to enthrone herself with
him, in a fine arm-chair, in the government of the Low Countries. Then
Philip IV. of Spain; the emperor Ferdinand, the arch-duke: negotiating
with them herself, exposing her envoy to the risk of hanging. Then the
king of Hungary, the future king of {053}England, Louis XIV., Monsieur,
the king of Portugal.

[Illustration: 77]

Who could count them? At a pinch, she went to work in advance: the
princess of Condé being ill, then in the family way, this romantic head
fancied that the prince was going to become a widower, and wanted to
retain him for a husband. No one took this hand that she had stretched
to all Europe. In vain she fired cannon in the Fronde; she remained
to the end an adventuress, a state puppet, a weathercock, occasionally
exiled, twenty times a widow, but always before the wedding, carrying
over the whole of France the weariness and imaginations {054}of her
involuntary celibacy. At last Lauzun appeared; to marry her, and
secretly at that, cost him the half of his wealth; the king drew the
dowry of his bastard from the misalliance of his cousin. It was an
exemplary household: she scratched him: he beat her.--We laugh at
these pretensions and bickerings, at these mischances and aristocratic
quarrels; our turn will come, rest assured of that; our democracy too
affords matter of laughter: our black coat is, like their embroidered
coat, laced with the ridiculous; we have envy, melancholy, the want of
moderation and of politeness, the heroes of George Sand, of Victor Hugo
and of Balzac. In fact, what does it matter?

"Sifflez-moi librement; je vous le rends, mes frères." So talked
Voltaire, who gave to all the world at once the charter of equality and
gayety.

[Illustration: 78]



BOOK II. THE VALLEY OF OSSA

{057}

[Illustration: 81]



CHAPTER I. DAX.--ORTHEZ.

I.

I saw Dax in passing, and I recall only two rows of white walls of
staring brightness, into which low doorways here and there sank their
black arches with a strange relief. An old and thoroughly forbidding
cathedral bristled its bell-turrets and dentations in the midst of the
pomp of nature and the joyousness of the light, as if the soil, burst
open, had once put forth out of its lava a heap of crystallized sulphur.

The postilion, a good fellow, takes up a poor woman on the way, and
sets her beside him on his seat. What gay people! They sing in
patois,--there, they are singing now. The conductor joins {058}in, then
one of the people in the impériale. They laugh with their whole heart;
their eyes sparkle. How far we are from the north! In all these southern
folk there is _verve_; occasionally poverty, fatigue, anxiety crush
it; at the least opening, it Gushes forth like living water in full
sunlight.

This poor woman amuses me. She is fifty years old, without shoes,
garments in shreds, and not a sou in her pocket. She talks familiarly
with a stout, well-dressed gentleman, who is behind her. No humility;
she believes herself the equal of the whole world. Gayety is like a
spring rendering the soul elastic; the people bend but rise again. An
Englishman would be scandalized. Several of them have said to me that
the French nation have no sentiment of respect. That is why we no longer
have an aristocracy.

[Illustration: 83]

The chain of the mountains undulates to the left, bluish and like a
long stratum of clouds. The rich valley resembles a great basin full to
overflowing of fruit-trees and maize. White clouds hover slowly in the
depths of heaven, like a flock of tranquil swans. The eye rests on the
down of their sides, and turns with pleasure upon the roundness of their
noble forms. They sail in a troop, carried on by the south wind, with an
even flight, like a family of blissful gods, and from up above they seem
to look with tenderness upon the beautiful earth which they protect and
are going to nourish. {059} {060} {061}


II.

Orthez, in the fourteenth century, was a capital; of this grandeur there
remains but the wreck: ruined walls and the high tower of the castle
hung with ivy. The counts of Foix had there a little state, almost
independent, proudly planted between the realms of France, England and
Spain. The people have gained in something, I know; they no longer
hate their neighbors, and they live at peace; they receive from Paris
inventions and news; peace, trade and well-being are increased. They
have, however, lost in something; instead of thirty active thinking
capitals, there are thirty provincial cities, {062}torpid and docile.
The women long for a hat, the men go to smoke at a café; that is
their life; they scrape together a few empty old ideas from imbecile
newspapers. In old times they had thoughts on politics and courts of
love.


III.

[Illustration: 86]

The good Froissart came here in the year 1388, having ridden and chatted
about arms all along the route with the chevalier Messire Espaing de
Lyon; he lodged in the inn of the Beautiful Hostess, which was then
called the hotel of the Moon. The count Gaston Phoebus sent in all haste
to seek him: "for he was the lord who of all the world the most gladly
entertained the stranger in order to hear the news." Froissart passed
twelve weeks in his hotel: "for they made him good cheer and fed well
his horses, and in all things also ordered well."

Froissart is a child, and sometimes an old child. At that time thought
was expanding, as in Greece {063}in the time of Herodotus. But, while we
feel that in Greece it is going on to unfold itself to the very end, we
discover here that an obstacle checks it: there is a knot in the tree;
the arrested sap can mount no higher. This knot is scholasticism.

[Illustration: 87]

For, during three centuries already they had written in verse, and for
two centuries in prose; after this long culture, see what a historian is
Froissart. One morning he mounts on horseback with several valets,
under a beautiful sun, and gallops onward; {064}a lord meets him whom
he accosts: "Sir, what is this castle?" The other tells him about the
sieges, and what grand sword-thrusts were there exchanged. "Holy Mary,"
cried Froissart, "but your words please me and do me a deal of good,
while you tell them off to me! And you shall not lose them, for all
shall be set in remembrance and chronicled in the history which I am
pursuing." Then he has explained to himself the kindred of the seigneur,
his alliances, how his friends and enemies have lived and are dead, and
the whole skein of the adventures interwoven during two centuries and
in three countries. "And as soon as I had alighted at the hotels, on the
road that we were following together, I wrote them down, were it evening
or morning, for the better memory of them in times to come; for there
is no such exact retentive as writing." All is found here, the pell-mell
and the hundred shifts of the conversations, the reflections, the
little accidents of the journey. An old squire recounts to him mountain
legends, how Pierre de Beam, having once killed an enormous bear,
could no longer sleep in peace, but thenceforward he awaked each night,
"making such a noise and such clatter that it seemed that all the devils
in hell should have carried away everything and were inside with him."
Froissart judges that this bear was perhaps a knight turned {065}into
a beast for some misdeed; cites in support the story of Actæon, an
"accomplished and pretty knight who was changed into a stag." Thus goes
his life and thus his history is composed; it resembles a tapestry
of the period, brilliant and varied, full of hunting, of tournaments,
battles and processions. He gives himself and his hearers the pleasure
of imagining ceremonies and adventures; no other idea, or rather no
idea. Of criticism, general considerations, reasoning upon man or
society, counsels or forecast, there is no trace; it is a herald at arms
who seeks to please curious eyes, the warlike spirit and the empty minds
of robust knights, great eaters, lovers of thumps and pomps. Is it not
strange, this barrenness of reason! In Greece, at the end of an hundred
years, Thucydides, Plato and Xenophon, philosophy and science had
appeared. By way of climax, read the verses of Froissart, those ballads,
roundelays and virelays that he recited of evenings to the Count de
Foix, "who took great solace in hearing them indeed," the old rubbish of
decadence, worn, affected allegories, the garrulousness of a broken-down
pedant who amuses himself in composing wearisome turns of address. And
the rest are all alike. Charles d'Orleans has a sort of faded grace and
nothing-more, Christine de Pisan but an official solemnity.

Such feeble spirits want the force to give birth to {066}general ideas;
they are bowed down under the weight of those which have been hooked on
to them.

[Illustration: 90]

The cause is not far to seek; think of that stout cornific * doctor with
leaden eyes, a confrère of Froissart, if you like, but how different! He
holds in his hand his manual of canon-law, Peter the Lombard, a treatise
on the syllogism. For ten hours a day he disputes in Baralipton on the
_hicaeity_.

     * Cornificien, a name given by Jean of Sarisberg to those
     who disfigured dialectics by their extravagant, cornus
     arguments.--Translator.

As soon as he became hoarse, he dipped {067}his nose again into his
yellow folio; his syllogisms and quiddities ended by making him stupid;
he knew nothing about things or dared not consider them; he only wielded
words, shook formulas together, bruised his own head, lost all common
sense, and reasoned like a machine for Latin verses.* What a master for
the sons of noblemen, and for keen poetic minds, and what an education
was this labyrinth of dry logic and extravagant scholasticism. Tired,
disgusted, irritated, stupefied, they forgot the ugly dream as soon as
possible, ran in the open air, and thought only of the chase, of war and
the ladies; they were not so foolish as to turn their eyes a second time
towards their crabbed litany; if they did come back to it, that was out
of vanity; they wanted to set some Latin fable in their songs, or some
learned abstraction, without comprehending a word of it, donning it for
fashion's sake, as the ermine of learning. With us of today, general
ideas spring up in every mind,--living and flourishing ones; among the
laity of that time their root was cut off, and among the clergy there
remained of them but a fagot of dead wood. And so mankind was only
the better fitted for the life of the body and more capable of violent
passions; with regard to this the style of Froissart, {068}artless as it
is, deceives us. We think we are listening to the pretty garrulousness
of a child at play; beneath this prattle we must distinguish the rude
voice of the combatants, bear-hunters and hunters of men too, and the
broad, coarse hospitality of feudal manners.

     * See the discourse of Jean Petit on the assassination of
     the Duke of Orleans.

[Illustration: 92]

At midnight the Count of Foix came to supper in the great hall. "Before
him went twelve lighted torches, borne by twelve valets: and the same
twelve torches were held before his table and gave much light unto
the hall, which was full of knights and squires; and always there were
plenty of tables laid out for any person who chose to sup." It must have
been an {069}astonishing sight, to see those furrowed faces and powerful
frames, with their furred robes and their justicoats streaked under
the wavering flashes of the torches. One Christmas day, going into his
gallery, he saw that there was but a small fire, and spoke of it aloud.
Thereupon a knight, Ernauton d'Espagne, having looked out of the window,
saw in the court a number of asses with "billets of wood for the use of
the house. He seized the largest of these asses with his load, threw him
over his shoulders and carried him up stairs" (there were twenty-four
steps), "pushing through the crowd of knights and squires who were round
the chimney, and flung ass and load, with his feet upward, on the dogs
of the hearth, to the delight of the count, and the astonishment of
all." Here are the laughter and the amusement of barbaric giants. They
wanted noise, and songs proportioned to it. Froissart tells of a banquet
when bishops, counts, abbés, knights, nearly one hundred in number, were
seated at table. "There were very many minstrels in the hall, as well
those belonging to the count as to the strangers, who, at their leisure,
played away their minstrelsy. Those of the duke de Touraine played so
loud and so well that the count clothed them 'with cloth of gold trimmed
with ermine.'"

"This count," says Froissart, "reigned prudently; {070}in all things
he was so perfect that one could not praise him too much. No great
contemporary prince could compare with him in sense, honor and wisdom."
In that case the great princes of the day were not worth much. With
justice and humanity, the good Froissart scarcely troubles himself; he
finds murder perfectly natural; indeed, it was the custom; they were no
more astonished at it, than at a snap of the jaws in a wolf. Man then
resembled a beast of prey, and when a beast of prey has eaten up a
sheep nobody is scandalized thereby. This excellent Count de Foix was
an assassin, not once only, but ten times. For example, he coveted the
castle of Lourdes, and so sent for the captain, Pierre Ernault, who had
received it in trust for the prince of Wales. Pierre Ernault "became
very thoughtful and doubtful whether to go or not." At last he went, and
the count demanded from him the castle of Lourdes. The knight thought
awhile what answer to make. However, having well considered, he said:
"My lord, in truth I owe you faith and homage, for I am a poor knight of
your blood and country; but as for the castle of Lourdes, I will never
surrender it to you. You have sent for me, and you may therefore do with
me as you please. I hold the castle of Lourdes from the king of England,
who has placed me there; and to no other person but {071}to him will
I ever surrender it." The Count de Foix, on hearing this answer, was
exceedingly wroth, and said, as he drew his dagger, "Ho, ho, dost thou
then say so? By this head, thou hast not said it for nothing." And, as
he uttered these words, he struck him foully with the dagger, so that he
wounded him severely in five places, and none of the barons or knights
dared to interfere.

[Illustration: 95]

The knight replied, "Ha, ha, my lord, this is not gentle treatment;
you sent for me here, and are murdering me." Having received these
five strokes from the dagger, the count ordered him to be cast into the
dungeon, which was done; and there he died, for he was ill-cured of his
wounds. This dominance of sudden passion, this violence {072}of first
impulse, this flesh and blood emotion, and abrupt appeal to physical
force, are cropping out continually in the people. At the slightest
insult their eyes kindle and blows fall like hail.

[Illustration: 096]

As we were leaving Dax, a diligence passed ours, grazing one of the
horses. The conductor leaped down from his seat, a stake in his
hand, and was going to fell his _confrèr_. Those lords lived and felt
something like our conductors, and the Count de Foix was such an one.

I beg pardon of the conductors; I wrong them grievously. The count,
not having the fear of the police before his eyes, came at once not to
fisticuffs, but to stabs. His son Gaston, while on a visit to the king
of Navarre, received a black powder which, according to the king, must
forever reconcile {073}the count and his wife; the youth took the powder
in a little bag and concealed it in his breast; one day his bastard
brother, Yvain, saw the bag while playing with him, wanted to have it,
and afterward denounced him to the count. At this the count "began to
have suspicions, for he was full of fancies," and remained so until
dinner-time, very thoughtful, haunted and harassed by sombre imaginings.
Those stormy brains, filled by warfare and danger with dismal images,
hastened to tumult and tempest. The youth came, and began to serve the
dishes, tasting the meats, as was usual when the notion of poison was
not far from any mind. The count cast his eyes upon him and saw the
strings of the bag; the sight fired his veins and made his blood boil;
he seized the youth, undid his pourpoint, cut the strings of the bag,
and strewed some of the powder over a slice of bread, while the poor
youth turned pale with fear, and began to tremble exceedingly. Then he
called one of his dogs to him, and gave it him to eat. "The instant the
dog had eaten a morsel his eyes rolled round in his head, and he died."
The count said nothing, but rose suddenly, and seizing his knife, threw
himself upon his son. But the knights rushed in between them: "For God's
sake, my lord, do not be too hasty, but make further inquiries before
you do any ill to your son." {074}

[Illustration: 098]

The count heaped malediction and insult upon the youth, then suddenly
leaped over the table, knife in hand, and fell upon him like a wild
beast. But the knights and the squires fell upon their knees before him
weeping, and saying: "Ah, ah! my lord, for Heaven's sake do not kill
Gaston; you have no other child." With great difficulty he restrained
himself, doubtless thinking that it was prudent to see if no one else
had a part in the matter, and put the youth into the tower at Orthez.

He investigated then, but in a singular fashion, as if he were a
famished wolf, wedded to a single idea, bruising himself against it
mechanically and brutally, through murder and outcry, killing blindly
and without reflecting that his killing is of no use to him. He had many
of those who served his {075}son arrested, and "put to death not less
than fifteen after they had suffered the torture; and the reason he gave
was, that it was impossible but they must have been acquainted with the
secrets of his son, and they ought to have informed him by saying, 'My
lord, Gaston wears constantly on his breast a bag of such and such a
form.' This they did not do and suffered a terrible death for it;
which was a pity, for there were not in all Gascony such handsome or
well-appointed squires."

When this search had proved useless he fell back upon his son; he
sent for the nobles, the prelates and all the principal persons of
his country, related the affair to them, and told them that it was his
intention to put the youth to death. But they would not agree to
this, and said that the country had need of an heir for its better
preservation and defence; "and would not quit Orthez until the count had
assured them that Gaston should not be put to death, so great was their
affection for him." Still the youth remained in the tower of Orthez,
"where was little light," always lying alone, unwilling to eat, "cursing
the hour that ever he was born or begotten, that he should come to such
an end." On the tenth day the jailer saw all the meats that had been
served in a corner, and went and told it to the count. The count was
again enraged, like a beast of prey who encounters a {076}remnant of
resistance after it has once been satiated; "without saying a word," he
came to the prison, holding by the point a small knife with which he
was cleaning his nails. Then striking his fist upon his son's throat, he
pushed him rudely as he said: "Ha, traitor, why dost thou not eat?"
and went away without saying more. His knife had touched an artery; the
youth frightened and wan, turned without a word to the other side of the
bed, shed his blood and died.

[Illustration: 100]

The count was grieved beyond measure when he heard this, for those
violent natures felt only with excess and by contrasts; he had himself
shaven and clothed in black. "The body of the youth was borne, with
tears and lamentations, to the church of the Augustine Friars at Orthez,
where it was buried."* But such murders left an ill-healed {077}wound
in the heart; the dull pain remained, and from time to time some dark
shadow crossed the tumult of the banquets. This is why the count never
again felt such perfect joy as before.

     * The passages from Froissart are from the version of Thomas
     Johnes. New York: J. Winchester, New World Press.

[Illustration: 101]

It was a sad time; there is hardly another in which one would have
lived so unwillingly. Poetry was imbecile, chivalry was falling into
brigandage, religion suffered degradation, the State, disjointed,
was crumbling away; the nation, ground down by king, by nobles and by
Englishmen, struggled for {078}a hundred years in a slough, between the
dying middle-age and the modern era which was not yet opened. And yet a
man like Ernauton must have experienced a unique and splendid joy when,
planted like a Hercules upon his two feet, feeling his shirt of mail
upon his breast, he pierced through a hedge of pikes, and wielded his
great sword in the sunlight.

[Illustration: 102]


IV {079}

[Illustration: 103]

Nothing can be pleasanter than to journey alone in an unknown country,
without a definite end, without recent cares; all little thoughts are
blotted out. Do I know whether this field belongs to Peter or to Paul;
whether the engineer is at war with the prefect, or if there is any
dispute over a projected canal or road? I am happy indeed in know-all
that; happier still in first time, finding fresh {080}sensations, and
not being troubled by comparisons and souvenirs. I can consider things
through-general views, no longer regarding the soil as made the most of
by mankind, can forget the useful, think only of the beautiful, and feel
the movement of forms and the expression of colors.

The very road seems beautiful to me. What an air of resignation in those
old elms. They bud and spread forth in branches, from head to foot, they
have such a desire for life, even under this dust. Then come lustrous
plane trees, tossing their beautiful and regular leaves. White bindweed,
blue campanulas, hang at the edge of the ditches. Is it not strange that
these pretty creatures remain so solitary, that they should be fated to
die to-morrow, that they should scarcely have looked upon us an instant;
that their beauty should have flourished only for its two seconds of
admiration? They too have their world, this people of high grasses
bending over on themselves; these lizards which wave the thicket of the
herbs; these gilded wasps that hum in their chalices. This world here is
well worth ours, and I find them happy in opening thus, then in closing
their pale eyes to the peaceful whisper of the wind.

The road, as far as the eye can reach, curves and lifts anew its white
girdle around the hills; this {081}{082}{083}sinuous movement is of
infinite sweetness; the long riband tightens to their figure their veil
of fair harvests or their robe of green meadows.

[Illustration: 106]

These slopes and roundnesses are as expressive as human forms; but how
much more varied, how much stranger and richer in attitudes? Those there
on the horizon, almost hid behind a troop of others, smile dimly in
their timidness, under their crown of vapory gauze; they form a round on
the brink of heaven, a fleeting round that the least disturbance of the
air would put out of sight, and which yet regards with tenderness the
fretted creatures lost in its bosom. Others, their neighbors, rudely
dint the soil with their haunches and their brown slopes; the human
structure here half peeps forth, then disappears under the mineral
barbarism; here are the children of another age, ever powerful, severe
still, unknown and antique races, whose mysterious history the mind
searches without willing it. Tawny moors filled with herds mount upon
their flanks to the summits; splendid meadows sparkle upon their back.
Some among these plunge abruptly away down into depths where they
disgorge the streams that they accumulate, and where is gathered all
the heat of the burning vault which shines above under the most generous
sun. It, meanwhile, embraces and broods over the country; from woods,
plains, hills, the great soul of {084}vegetation starts forth mounting
to meet its rays.

Here your neighbor, who is engaged in a warm dispute, pulls your sleeve,
crying: "The gigot at Orthez doesn't give cramps in the stomach, does
it, sir?"

You start; then in another moment you turn your nose toward the window.
But the sensation has disappeared: the mutton of Dax has blotted out
everything. The meadows are so many kilogrammes of unmown hay, the trees
are so many feet of timber, and the herds are only walking beefsteaks.
{085}

[Illustration: 110]



CHAPTER II. PAU.


I.

Pau is a pretty city, neat, of gay appearance; but the highway is paved
with little round stones, the side-walks with small sharp pebbles: so
the horses walk on the heads of nails and foot-passengers on the points
of them. From Bordeaux to Toulouse such is the usage, such the pavement.
At the end of five minutes, your feet tell you in the most intelligible
manner that you are two hundred leagues away from Paris.

You meet wagons loaded with wood, of rustic {086}simplicity, the
invention of which goes back to the time of Vercingetorix, but the only
thing capable of climbing and descending the stony escarpments of the
mountains. They are composed of the trunk of a tree placed across the
axles and sustaining two oblique hurdles; they are drawn by two great
whitish oxen, decked with a piece of hanging cloth, a net of thread upon
the head and crowned with ferns, all to shield them from the gray flies.
This suggests food for thought; for the skin of man is far more tender
than that of the ox, and the gray flies have sworn no peace with our
kind. Before the oxen ordinarily marches a peasant, of a distrustful and
cunning air, armed with a long switch, and dressed in white woollen vest
and brown breeches; behind the wagon comes a little bare-footed boy,
very wide awake and very ragged, whose old velvet cap falls like the
head of a wrinkled mushroom, and who stops struck with admiration at the
magnificent aspect of the diligence.

Those are the true countrymen of Henry IV. As to the pretty ladies in
gauzy hats, whose swelling and rustling robes graze the horns of the
motionless oxen as they pass, you must not look at them; they would
carry your imagination back to the Boulevard de Gand, and you would have
gone two hundred leagues only to remain in the same place. I am here on
purpose to visit the sixteenth {087}century; one makes a journey for the
sake of changing, not place, but ideas. Point out to a Parisian the
gate by which Henry IV. entered Paris; he will have great difficulty
in calling up the armor, the halberts and the whole victorious and
tumultuous procession that l'Etoile describes: it is because he passed
by there to-day on such and such business, that yesterday he met there
a friend, while last year he looked upon this gate in the midst of a
public festival.

[Illustration: 112]

All these thoughts hurry along with the force of habit, repelling and
stifling the historic spectacle which was going to lift itself into full
light and unroll itself before the mind. Set down the same man in Pau:
there he knows neither hotels, nor people, nor shops; his imagination,
out of its element, may run at random; no known object will trip him up
and make him fall into the cares of interest, the passion of to-day;
he enters into the past as a matter of course, and walks there as if at
home, at his ease. It was eight o'clock in the morning; not a visitor at
the castle, no one in the courts nor on the terrace; I should not have
been too much astonished at meeting the Béarnais, "that lusty gallant,
that very devil," who {088}was sharp enough to get for himself the name
of "the good king."

His chateau is very irregular; it is only when seen from the valley
that any grace and harmony can be found in it. Above two rows of pointed
roofs and old houses, it stands out alone against the sky and gazes
upon the valley in the distance; two bell-turrets project from the front
toward the west; the oblong body follows, and two massive brick towers
close the line with their esplanades and battlements. It is connected
with the city by a narrow old bridge, by a broad modern one with the
park, and the foot of its terrace is bathed by a dark but lovely stream.
Near at hand, this arrangement disappears; a fifth tower upon the north
side deranges the symmetry.

[Illustration: 113]

The great egg-shaped court is a mosaic of {089}{090}{091}incongruous
masonry; above the porch, a wall of pebbles from the Gave, and of red
bricks crossed like a tapestry design; opposite, fixed to the wall, a
row of medallions in stone; upon the sides, doors of every form and age;
dormer windows, windows square, pointed, embattled, with stone mullions
garlanded with elaborate reliefs. This masquerade of styles troubles the
mind, yet not unpleasantly; it is unpretending and artless; each century
has built according to its own fancy, without concerning itself about
its neighbor.

[Illustration: 115]

On the first floor is shown a great tortoise-shell, which was the cradle
of Henry IV. Carved chests, dressing-tables, tapestries, clocks of
that day, the bed and arm-chair of Jeanne d'Albret, a complete set of
furniture in the taste of the Renaissance striking and sombre, painfully
labored yet magnificent in style, carrying the mind at once back toward
that age of force and effort, of boldness in invention, of unbridled
pleasures and terrible toil, of sensuality and of heroism. Jeanne
d'Albret, mother of Henry IV., crossed France in order that she might,
according to her promise, be confined in this castle. "A princess," says
d'Aubigné, "having nothing of the woman about her but the sex, a soul
entirely given to manly things, a mind mighty in great affairs, a heart
unconquerable by adversity."{092}


II.

She sang an old Bearnese song when she brought him into the world. They
say that the aged grandfather rubbed the lips of the new-born child with
a clove of garlic, poured into his mouth a few drops of Jurançon wine,
and carried him away in his dressing-gown.

[Illustration: 117]

The child was born in the chamber which opens into the tower of Mazères,
on the south-west corner. "His grandfather took him away from his
father and mother, and would have this child brought up at his door,
reproaching his daughter and his son-in-law with having lost several of
their children through French luxuries. And, indeed, he brought him up
in the Bearnese manner, that is, bareheaded and barefoot, often with no
{093}more nicety than is shown in the bringing up of children among
the peasantry. This odd resolution was successful, and formed a body
in which heat and cold, unmeasured toil and all sorts of troubles were
unable to produce any change, thus apportioning his nourishment to his
condition, as though God wished at that time to prepare a sure
remedy and a firm heart of steel against the iron knots of our dire
calamities."

His mother, a warm and severe Calvinist, when he was fifteen years old,
led him through the Catholic army to la Rochelle, and gave him to her
followers as their general. At sixteen years old, at the combat of
Arnay-le-Duc, he led the first charge of cavalry. What an education and
what men! Their descendants were just now passing in the streets, going
to school to compose Latin verses and recite the pastorals of Massillon.

Those old wars are the most poetic in French history; they were made
for pleasure rather than interest. It was a chase in which adventures,
dangers, emotions were found, in which men lived in the sunlight, on
horseback, amidst flashes of fire, and where the body, as well as the
soul, had its {094}enjoyment and its exercise. Henry carries it on as
briskly as a dance, with a Gascon's fire and a soldier's ardor, with
abrupt sallies, and pursuing his point against the enemy as with the
ladies. This is no spectacle of great masses of well-disciplined men,
coming heavily into collision and falling by thousands on the field,
according to the rules of good tactics. The king leaves Pau or Nérac
with a little troop, picks up the neighboring garrisons on his way,
scales a fortress, intercepts a body of arquebusiers as they pass,
extricates himself pistol in hand from the midst of a hostile troop, and
returns to the feet of Mlle. de Tignonville.

[Illustration: 119]

They arrange their plan from day to day; nothing is done unless
unexpectedly and by chance. Enterprises are strokes of fortune. Here is
one which Sully had recounted by his secretary; I like to listen to old
words among old monuments, and to feel the mutual fitness of objects and
of style: {095}"The king of Navarre formed the design of seizing on the
city of Eause, which, by good right, was his, and where he had chance of
fine fortune; for deeming that the inhabitants, who had not been willing
to receive a garrison, should have respect for his person, who was their
lord, he determined to march all day long in order to enter in with few
people, so as to create no alarm, and, indeed, having taken only fifteen
or sixteen of you, gentlemen, who placed yourselves nearest to him,
among whom were you, with simple cuirasses under your hunting tunics,
two swords and two pistols, he surprised the gate of the city and
entered in before they of the guard were able to take up arms. But one
of these gave the alarm to him who was sentinel at the portal, and he
cut the cord in the slide of the portcullis, so that it fell immediately
almost on the croup of your horse and that of your cousin, M. de Béthune
the elder, and hindered the troop which was coming up on the gallop from
entering, so that the king and you fifteen or sixteen alone remained
shut up in this city, where all the people, being armed, fell upon you
in divers troops and at divers times, while the tocsin rang furiously,
and a cry of '_Arm, arm!' and 'Kill, Kill!_ resounded on all
sides,--seeing which, the king of Navarre, from the first troop which
came up, some fifty strong, in part well, in part ill armed, {096}he,
I say, marching, pistol in hand, straight at them, called out to you:
'Come now, my friends, my comrades; it is here that you must show
courage and resolution, for thereon depends our safety; let each one
then follow me and do as I do, and not fire until the pistol touches.'
At the same time, hearing three or four cry out: 'Fire at that scarlet
tunic, at that white plume, for it is the king of Navarre,' he charged
on them so impetuously that, without firing more than five or six times,
they took fright and withdrew in several troops. Others in like manner
came against you three or four times; but as soon as they saw that
they were broken, they fired a few times and turned away until, having
rallied nearly two hundred together, they forced you to gain a doorway,
and two of you went up to give a signal to the rest of the troop
that the king was there, and that the gate must be burst open, as the
draw-bridge had not been raised. Whereupon each one began working, and
then several among that populace who loved the king, and others who
feared to offend him, began raising a tumult in his favor; finally,
after a few arquebusades and pistol-shots from both sides, there arose
such dissension among them, some crying, 'We must yield;' others, 'We
must defend ourselves;' that the irresolution afforded means and
time for opening the gates, and for all the troops to present {097}
{098}themselves, at the head of whom the king placed himself, and saw
most of the peoples fleeing and the consuls with their chaperons crying:
'Sire, we are your subjects and your peculiar servants. Alas! allow not
the sacking of this city, which is yours, on account of the madness of a
few worthless fellows, who should be driven out. He placed himself, I
said, at the head to prevent pillage: thus there was committed neither
violence, nor disorder, nor any other punishment, except that four, who
had fired at the white plume, were hung, to the joy of all the other
inhabitants, who thought not that they should be quiet on such ood
terms."{099}

[Illustration: 122]

At Cahors he burst in the two gates with petard and axe, and fought five
days and five nights in the city, carrying house after house. Are not
these chivalric adventures and poetry in action? "So, so, cavaliers,"
cried the Catholics at Marmande; "a pistol-shot for love of the
mistress; for your court is too full of lovely ladies to know any lack
of them." Henry escaped like a true paladin, and lost his victory at
Contras in order to carry to the beautiful Corisandre the flags that he
had taken. To act, to dare, to enjoy, to expend force and trouble like
a prodigal, to be given up to the present sensation, be forever urged
by passions forever lively, support and {100}search the extremes of all
contrasts, that was the life of the sixteenth century. Henry at Fontenay
"worked in the trenches with pick and mattock." On his return there was
nothing but feasting.

[Illustration: 125]

"We came together," says Marguerite, "to take walks in company, either
in a lovely garden where are long alleys of cypress and laurel, or in
the park which I had caused to be made, in alleys three thousand paces
long, which border the river; and the rest of the day was spent in all
sorts of suitable pleasures, a ball ordinarily filling the afternoon and
the evening." The grave Sully "took {101}a mistress like the rest." In
visiting the restored dining-hall, you repeople it involuntarily
with the sumptuous costumes described by Brantôme: ladies "clad in
orange-color and gold lace, robes of cloth of silver, of crisped cloth
of gold, stuffs perfectly stiff with ornaments and embroidery. Queen
Marguerite in a robe of flesh-colored Spanish velvet, heavily loaded
with gold lace, so decked out with plumes and precious stones as nothing
ever was before." I said to M. de Ronsard: "Do you not seem to see this
beautiful queen, in such guise, appearing as the lovely Aurora, when
she is going to spring up before the day, with her beautiful pale face,
bordered with its ruby and carnation color?" At the ball in the evening,
she loved to dance "the _pavane_ of Spain and the Italian _pazzemano._
The passages in this were so well danced, the steps so judiciously
conducted, the rests so beautifully made, that you knew not which most
to admire, the beautiful manner of dancing, or the majesty of the steps,
representing now gayety, now a fine and grave disdain."

You may well believe that the good king was not sparing of sport.

"Il fut de ses sujets le vainqueur et le père"

The maids of honor of Marguerite could bear witness to this; hence
intrigues, quarrels and {102}conjugal comedies, one of which is very
prettily and very artlessly told by the queen; Mlle. de Fosseuse was the
heroine. "The pain seized her one morning, at the break of day, while
in bed in the chamber of the maids, and she sent for my physician and
begged him to go and inform the king my husband, which he did. We were
in bed in the same chamber, but in separate beds, according to our
custom. When the physician gave him this bit of news, he was in great
trouble, not knowing what to do, fearful on the one hand lest she should
be discovered, and on the other lest she should want help, for he loved
her dearly. He determined, finally, to confess all to me, and to beg me
go to her assistance, for he knew well that, whatever might have passed,
he should always find me ready to serve him in anything that could
please him. He opens my curtain and says to me: 'Dearest, I have
concealed from you one thing which I must confess to you: I beg you to
excuse me for it, and not to remember all that I have said to you on
this subject. But oblige me so much as to get up at once, and go to the
assistance of Fosseuse, who is very ill; I am sure that you would not
wish, when you see her in that condition, to resent what is past. You
know how much I love her; I beg that you will oblige me in this matter.'
I {103}told him that I honored him too much to be offended with anything
coming from him. That I would be off and do as if it were my daughter;
that in the mean time he should go to the chase and take everybody with
him, so that no talk of it should be heard.

"I had her promptly removed from the chamber of the maids and put into
a chamber apart, with my physician and women to wait upon her, and gave
her my best assistance. God willed that it should be only a daughter,
which moreover was dead. After the delivery, she was carried to the
chamber of the maids, where, though all possible discretion was used,
they could not prevent the report from spreading throughout the castle.
When the king my husband was returned from the chase, he went to see her
according to his custom; she begged him that I would come to see her, as
I was accustomed to visit all my maids when they were ill, thinking to
stop by this means the spread of the report. The king my husband came
into the chamber and found that I had gone to bed again, for I was tired
with getting up so early, and with the trouble I had had in rendering
her assistance. He begged that I would get up and go to see her; I
told him that I had done so when she had need of my aid, but now she no
longer had occasion for it; that if I went there, I should reveal rather
than {104}cloak the truth, and that everybody would point their finger
at me. He was seriously vexed with me, and this was far from pleasant to
me, for it seemed that I had not deserved such a recompense for what I
had done in the morning. She often put him into similar mood toward me."

[Illustration: 129]

Compassionate souls, who admire the complaisance of the queen, do not
pity her too much: she punished the king, by imitating him, at Usson and
elsewhere.

And yet Pan was a lesser Geneva. Amidst these violences and this
voluptuousness, devotion {105}was warm; they went to sermons or to the
church, with the same air as to the battle-field or the rendezvous. This
is because religion then was not a virtue, but a passion. In such case,
the neighboring passions, instead of extinguishing it, only inflame; the
heart overflows on that side as on the others. When the lazzarone has
stabbed his enemy, he finds a second pleasure, says Beyle, in prating
about his anger, alongside a wire grating in a great box of black wood.
The Hindoo that gets excited and howls at the feast of Juggernaut, to
the hubbub of fifty thousand tom-toms, the American Methodist who weeps
and cries aloud his sins in a revival, feels something the same sort
of pleasure as an Italian enthusiast at the opera. That explains and
reconciles the zeal and the gallantry of Marguerite.

"They only allowed me," said she, "to have mass said in a little chapel
not more than three or four paces long, which, narrow as it was, was
full when there were seven or eight of us there. So when they wanted
to say mass, they raised the bridge of the castle, for fear that the
Catholics of the country, who had no exercise of their religion, should
hear of it; for they had an infinite desire to assist at the holy
sacrifice, of which they had been deprived for several years. And,
urged by this sacred desire, the inhabitants of Pau found {106}means, at
Whitsuntide, before the bridge was raised, to enter the castle, and slip
into the chapel, where they were not discovered until toward the end
of mass, when, half opening the door to let in one of my people, some
Huguenots who were spying round the door perceived them, and went to
tell it to le Pin, secretary of the king my husband, and he sent there
some guards of the king my husband, who, dragging them forth and beating
them in my presence, carried them off to prison, where they remained a
long time, and paid a heavy fine."

[Illustration: 131]

The little chapel has disappeared, I believe, since the castle and the
whole country were {107}restored to the Catholic worship. Besides,
this treatment arose from humanity: Saint-Pont, at Macon, "afforded the
ladies, as they went out from the banquets that he gave, the pleasure
of seeing a certain number of prisoners leap off from the bridge." Such
were these men, extreme in everything, in fanaticism, in pleasure, in
violence; never did the fountain of desires flow fuller and deeper;
never did more vigorous passions unfold themselves with more of sap and
greenness. Walking through these silent halls, disturbed from time
to time by fair invalids or pale young consumptives who walk there, I
fancied that enervation of the inner nature came from the enervation of
the bodies. We spend our time within doors, taken up with discussions,
reflections and reading; the gentleness of manners removes dangers from
us, and industrial progress fatigues. They lived in the open air,
ever following the chase and in war. "Queen Catherine was very fond of
riding, up to the age of sixty and more, and of making great and active
journeys, even after she had often fallen, to the great injury of her
body, for she was several times so far hurt as to break her leg and
wound her head." The rude exercises hardened their nerves; their warmer
blood, stirred by incessant peril, urged upon the brain impetuous
caprices; they made history, while we write it. {108}


III.

[Illustration: 133]

The park is a great wood on a hill, embedded among meadows and harvests.
You walk in long solitary alleys, under colonnades of superb oaks, while
to the left the lofty stems of the copses mount in close ranks upon the
back of the hill. The fog was not yet lifted; there was no motion in the
air; not a corner of blue sky, not a sound in all the country. The song
of a bird came for an instant from the midst of the ash-trees, then
sadly ceased. Is that then the sky of the south, and was it necessary to
come to the happy country of the Béarnais to find such {109}melancholy
impressions? A little by-way brought us to a bank of the Gave: in a long
pool of water was growing an army of reeds twice the height of a man;
their grayish spikes and their trembling leaves bent and whispered under
the wind; a wild flower near by shed a vanilla perfume. We gazed on the
broad country, the ranges of rounded hills, the silent plain under the
dull dome of the sky. Three hundred paces away the Gave rolls between
marshalled banks, which it has covered with sand; in the midst of the
waters may be seen the moss-grown piles of a ruined bridge. One is at
ease here, and yet at the bottom of the heart one feels a vague unrest;
the soul is softened and loses itself in melancholy and tender revery.
Suddenly the clock strikes, and one has to go and prepare to take his
soup between two commercial travellers.

[Illustration: 134]


IV. {110}


To-day the sun shines. On my way to the _Place Nationale_, I remarked a
poor, half-ruined church, which had been turned into a coachhouse;
they have fastened upon it a carrier's sign. The arcades, in small gray
stones, still round themselves with an elegant boldness; beneath are
stowed away carts and casks and pieces of wood; here and there workmen
were handling wheels. A broad ray of light fell upon a pile of straw,
and made the sombre corners seem yet darker; the pictures that one meets
with outweigh those one has come to seek.

From the esplanade which is opposite, the whole valley and the mountains
beyond may be seen; this first sight of a southern sun, as it breaks
from the rainy mists, is admirable; a sheet of white light stretches
from one horizon to another without meeting a single cloud. The heart
expands in this immense space; the very air is festal; the dazzled eyes
close beneath the brightness which deluges them and which runs over,
radiated from the burning dome of heaven. The current of the river
sparkles like a girdle of jewels; the chains of hills, yesterday
veiled and damp, extend at their own sweet will beneath the warming,
penetrating rays, and mount range upon range to spread out their
{111}green robe to the sun. In the distance, the blue Pyrenees look
like a bank of clouds; the air that bathes them shapes them into aerial
forms, vapory phantoms, the farthest of which vanish in the canescent
horizon--dim contours, that might be taken for a fugitive sketch from
the lightest of pencils.

[Illustration: 136]

In the midst of the serrate chain the peak du _Midi d' Ossau_ lifts its
abrupt cone; at this distance, forms are softened, colors are blended,
the Pyrenees are only the graceful bordering of a smiling landscape and
of the magnificent sky. There is nothing imposing about them nor severe;
the beauty here is serene, and the pleasure pure. {112}

The statue of Henry IV., with an inscription in Latin and in patois, is
on the esplanade; the armor is finished so perfectly that it might make
an armorer jealous. But why does the king wear so sad an air? His neck
is ill at ease on his shoulders; his features are small and full of
care; he has lost his gayety, his spirit, his confidence in his fortune,
his proud bearing. His air is neither that of a great nor a good man,
nor of a man of intellect; his face is discontented, and one would say
that he was bored with Pau. I am not sure that he was wrong: and yet the
city passes for agreeable; the climate is very mild, and invalids who
fear the cold pass the winter in it. Balls are given in the clubs; the
English abound, and it is well known that in the matter of cookery, of
beds and inns, these people are the first reformers in the universe.

They would have done well in reforming the vehicles: the rickety little
diligences of the country are drawn by gaunt jades which descend the
hills on a walk, and make stops in the ascent. All encouragements of the
whip are thrown away on their backs; you could not bear them any grudge
on that account, so piteous is their appearance, with their ridgy
backbones, hanging ears, and shrunken bellies. The coachman rises on his
{113}seat, pulls the reins, waves his arms, bawls and storms, clambers
down and up again; his is a rude calling, but he has a soul like his
calling. His passengers are of small consequence to him; he treats them
as useful packages, a necessary counterpoise over which he has rights.
At the foot of a mountain, the machine got its wheel into a ditch and
tilted over; every one leaped out after the manner of Panurge's sheep.

[Illustration: 138]

He went running from one to another to get them back, especially
exhorting the people from the impériale, and pointing out to them the
danger to the vehicle, which was leaning back, and so needed ballast in
front. They however remained cool, and went on afoot, while he followed
grumbling and abusing their selfishness. {114}


VI.

The harvests, pale in the north, here wave with a reflex of reddish
gold. A warmer sun makes the vigorous verdure shine more richly; the
stalks of maize spring from the earth like discharges of rockets, and
their strong, wrinkled leaves fall over in plumes; such burning rays
are needed to urge the sap through those gross fibres and gild the massy
spike.

[Illustration: 139]

Toward Gan, the hills, over which undulates the road, draw nearer
together, and you travel on through little green valleys, planted with
ash and alder in clusters, according to the caprices of the slopes, and
with their feet bathed in living water; a pellucid stream borders the
road, with waters {115}sombre and hurried under the cover of the trees,
and then, by fits and starts, brilliant and blue as the sky. Four times
in the course of a league it encounters a mill, leaps and foams, then
resumes its course, hurried and stealthy; during two leagues we have its
company, half hid among the trees that it nourishes, and breathing the
freshness it exhales. In these gorges, water is the mother of all life
and the nurse of all beauty.

[Illustration: 140]

At Louvie the valley of Ossau opens up between two mountains covered
with brushwood, bald in places, spotted with moss and heather from which
the rocks peep out like bones, while the flanks start forth in grayish
embossments or bend in dark crevices. The plain of the harvests and
meadows buries itself in the anfractuosities as if in creeks; its
contour folds itself about each new mass; it essays to scale the lower
ridges, and stops, vanquished by the barren rock. We go through three or
four hamlets whitened by dust, whose roofs shine {116}with a dull color
like tarnished lead. Then the horizon is shut off; Mount Gourzy, robed
in forests, bars the route; beyond and above, like a second barrier, the
peak of the Ger lifts its bald head, silvered with snows. The carriage
slowly scales an acclivity which winds upon the flank of the mountain;
at the turn of a rock, in the shelter of a small gorge, may be seen Eaux
Bonnes.

[Illustration: 141]

{117}


[Illustration: 142]


CHAPTER III. EA UX BONNES.


I.

I thought that here I should find the country; a village like a hundred
others, with long roofs of thatch or tiles, with crannied walls and
shaky doors, and in the courts a pell-mell of carts with fagots,
and tools, and domestic animals, in short, the whole picturesque and
charming unconstraint of country life. I find a Paris street and the
promenades of the Bois de Boulogne.

Never was country less countrified: you skirt a row of houses drawn
up in line, like a row of soldiers when carrying arms, all pierced
regularly with regular windows, decked with signs and posters, bordered
by a side-walk, and having the disagreeably decent aspect of _hotels
garnis._ These uniform buildings, mathematical lines, this disciplined
and formal architecture make a laughable contrast with the {118}green
ridges that flank them. It seems grotesque that a little warm water
should have imported into these mountain hollows civilization and the
cuisine.

[Illustration: 143]

This singular village tries every year to extend itself, and with great
difficulty, so straitened and stifled is it in its ravine; they break
the rock, they open trenches on the declivity, they suspend houses over
the torrent, they stick others, as it were, to the side of the mountain,
they pile up their chimneys even to the roots of the beech-trees; thus
they construct behind the principal street a melancholy lane {119}which
dips down or raises itself as it can, muddy, steep, half filled with
temporary stalls and wooden wine-shops, lodging-places of artisans and
guides; at last it drops down to the Gave, into a nook decked out with
drying linen, which is washed in the same place with the hogs.

[Illustration: 144]

Of all places in the world, Eaux Bonnes is the most unpleasant on a
rainy day, and rainy days are frequent there; the clouds are engulfed
between two walls of the valley of Ossau, and crawl slowly {120}along
half way up the height; the summits disappear, the floating masses come
together, accumulate because the gorge has no outlet, and fall in fine
cold rain. The village becomes a prison; the fog creeps to the earth,
envelopes the houses, extinguishes the light already obscured by the
mountain; the English might think themselves in London.

The visitors look through the window-panes at the jumbled forms of
the trees, the water that drips from the leaves, the mourning of the
shivering and humid woods; they listen to the gallop of belated riders,
who return with clinging and pendent skirts, like fine birds with their
plumage disordered by the rain; they try whist in their despondency;
some go down to the reading-room and ask for the most blood-stained
pages of Paul Féval or Frédéric Souliê; they can read nothing but the
gloomiest dramas; they discover leanings towards suicide in themselves,
and construct the theory of assassination. They look at the clock and
bethink themselves that the doctor has ordered them to drink three times
a day; then they button up their overcoats with an air of resignation,
and climb the long, stiff slope of the streaming road; the lines of
umbrellas and soaked mantles are a pitiable spectacle; they come,
splashing through the water, and seat themselves in the drinking-hall.
Each one takes his syrup-flask from its numbered place on a sort {121}of
étagère, and the throng of the drinkers form in line about the tap. For
the rest, patience is soon acquired here; amid such idleness the mind
goes to sleep, the fog puts an end to ideas, and you follow the crowd
mechanically; you act only at the instigation of others, and you look at
objects without receiving from them any reaction.

[Illustration: 146]

After the first glass, you wait an hour before taking another; meanwhile
you march up and down, elbowed by the dense groups, who drag themselves
laboriously along between the columns. Not a seat to be had, except two
wooden benches where the ladies sit, with their feet resting upon the
damp stones: the economy of the administration supposes that the weather
is always fine. Wearied and dejected faces pass before the eyes without
awaking any interest. For the twentieth time you look over {122}the
marble trinkets, the shop with razors and scissors, a map that hangs on
the wall. What is there that one is not capable of on a rainy day,
if obliged to keep moving for an hour between four walls, amidst the
buzzing of two hundred people? You study the posters, contemplate
assiduously some figures which pretend to represent the manners of the
country: these are elegant and rosy shepherds, who lead to the dance
smiling shepherdesses rosier than themselves. You stretch your neck
out at the door only to see a gloomy passage where invalids are soaking
their feet in a trough of warm water, all in a row like school-children
on cleaning and excursion days. After these distractions you return to
your lodging, and find yourselves tête-à-tête, in close conversation
with your chest of drawers and your light-stand.

[Illustration: 147]

{123}


II.

People who have any appetite take refuge at the table; they did not
count upon the musicians. First we saw a blind man come in, a heavy,
thick-headed Spaniard, then the violinists of the country, then another
blind man. They play pot-pourris of waltzes, country dances, bits from
operas, strung one upon another, galloping along, above the note or
below it, with admirable fearlessness, despoiling every repertory in
their musical race. The next day we had three Germans, tall as towers,
stiff as stones, perfectly phlegmatic, playing without a gesture and
passing the plate without a word; at least they play in time.

[Illustration: 148]

On the third day the musicians of {124}a neighboring village appeared,
a violin and flageolet; they executed their piece with such energy and
discord, in tones so piercing, so long-drawn-out and rending, that, by
universal consent, they were put out doors. They began again under the
windows.

A good appetite is a consolation for all ills; so much the worse if you
will, or so much the better for humanity. It is necessary to bear up
against the tediousness, the rain and the music of Eaux Bonnes. The
renewed blood then bears gayety to the brain, and the body persuades
the soul that everything is for the best in the best of worlds. You will
have pity on those poor musicians as you leave the table; Voltaire
has proved that an easy digestion induces compassion, and that a good
stomach gives a good heart. Between forty and fifty years of age, a man
is handsome when, after dinner, he folds up his napkin and begins his
indispensable promenade. He walks with legs apart, chest out, resting
heavily on his stick, his cheeks colored by a slight warmth, humming
between his teeth some old refrain of his youth; it seems to him that
the universe is brought nicely together; he smiles and is bland, he is
the first to reach you his hand. What machines we are! Yet why complain
of it? My good neighbor would tell you that you have the key of your
mechanism; {125}turn the spring toward the side of happiness. This may
be kitchen philosophy,--very well. He who practised it did not trouble
himself about the name.

[Illustration: 150]

{126}


III.

[Illustration: 151]

On sunny days, we live in the open air. A sort of yard, called the
English garden, stretches between the street and the mountain, carpeted
with a poor turf, withered and full of holes; the ladies constitute it
their drawing-room and work there; the dandies, lying on several chairs
at once, read their journal and proudly smoke their cigar; the little
girls, in embroidered pantalons, chatter with coquettish gestures and
graceful little ways; they are trying in advance the parts they will
play as lovely dolls. But for the red cassocks of the little jumping
peasants, the aspect is that of the Champs Elysees. You leave this spot
by beautiful shaded walks which mount in zigzags upon the flanks of the
two {127}mountains, one above the torrent, the other above the city;
toward noon, numbers of bathers may be met here lying upon the heather,
nearly all with a novel in hand.

[Illustration: 152]

These lovers of the country resemble the banker who loved concerts; he
enjoyed them because then he could calculate his dividends. Pardon these
hapless creatures; they are punished for knowing how to read and not
knowing how to look about.


IV.

Anomalous beeches sustain the slopes here; no description can give
an idea of these stunted colossi, eight feet high, and round which
{128}three men could not reach. Beaten back by the wind that desolates
the declivity, their sap has been accumulating for centuries in huge,
stunted, twisted and interlaced branches; all embossed with knots
misshapen and blackened, they stretch and coil themselves fantastically,
like limbs swollen by disease and distended by a supreme effort.

[Illustration: 153]

Through the split bark may be seen the vegetable muscles enrolling
themselves about the trunk, and crushing each other like the limbs of
wrestlers. These squat torsos, half overthrown, almost horizontal, lean
toward the plain; but their feet bury themselves among the rocks with
such ties, that {129}sooner than break that forest of roots, one might
tear out a side of the mountain. Now and then a trunk, rotted by water,
breaks open, hideously eventerated; the edges of the wound spread
farther apart with every year; they wear no longer the shape of trees,
and yet they live, and cannot be conquered by winter, by their slope,
nor by time, but boldly put forth into their native air their whitish
shoots. If, under the shades of evening, you pass by the tortured tops
and yawning trunks of these old inhabitants of the mountains, when the
wind is beating the branches, you seem to hear a hollow plaint, extorted
by a century's toil; these strange forms recall the fantastic creatures
of the old Scandinavian mythology. You think on the giants imprisoned by
fate, between walls that contracted day by day, and bent them down and
lessened them, and then returned them to the light, after a thousand
years of torture, furious, misshapen and dwarfed.


V.

Toward four o'clock the cavalcades return; the small horses of the
country are gentle, and gallop without too much effort; far away in the
sunlight gleam the white and luminous veils of the ladies; nothing is
more graceful than a pretty woman on horseback, when she is neither
{130}imprisoned in a black riding-habit, nor topped with a chimney-pot
hat. Nobody here wears this funereal, poverty-stricken English costume;
in a gay country people assume gay colors; the sun is a oood counsellor.
It is forbidden to return at a gallop, o which is reason enough why
everybody should return at that gait. Ah, the great art of imitating the
coming in of the cattle! They bend in the saddle, the highway resounds,
the windows quiver, they sweep proudly before the saunterers who stop to
gaze; it is a triumph; the administration of Eaux Bonnes does not know
the human heart, especially the heart of woman.

In the evening, everybody meets on a level promenade; it is a flat road
half a league long, cut in the mountain of Gourzy. The remainder of the
country is nothing but steeps and precipices; any one who for eight days
has known the fatigue of climbing bent double, of stumbling down hill,
of studying the laws of equilibrium while flat on his back, will find it
agreeable to walk on level ground, and to move his feet freely without
thinking of his head; it gives a perfectly new sensation of security and
ease.

[Illustration: 156]

The road winds along a wooded hill-side, furrowed by winter torrents
into whitish ravines; a few wasted springs slip away under the stones
in their stream beds, and cover them with climbing plants; you walk
under the {131}{132}{133}massive beeches, then skirt along an inclined
plane, peopled with ferns, where feed the tinkling herds; the heat has
abated, the air is soft, a perfume of healthy and wild verdure reaches
you on the lightest breeze; fair white-robed promenaders pass by in the
twilight with ruffles of lace and floating muslins that rise and flutter
like the wings of a bird. Every day we went to a seat upon a rock at
the end of this road; from there, through the whole valley of Ossau,
you follow the torrent grown into a river; the rich valley, a mosaic of
yellow harvests and green fields, broadly opens out to the confines of
the landscape, and allows the eye to lose itself in the dim distance of
Béarn. From each side three mountains strike out their feet towards the
river, and cause the outline of the plain to rise and fall in waves; the
furthest slope down like pyramids, and their pale blue declivities stand
out upon the rosy zone of the dim sky. In the depth of the gorges it
is already dark; but turn around and you may see the summit of the Ger,
gleaming with a soft carnation cherishing the last smile of the sun.

[Illustration: 158]

{134}


[Illustration: 159]


VI.

On Sunday a procession of fine toilets goes up toward the church. This
church is a round box, of stone and plaster, built for fifty persons but
made to hold two hundred. Every half-hour the tide of the faithful
ebbs and flows. Invalid priests abound and say as many masses as may be
wanted: everything at Eaux Bonnes suffers for want of room; they form in
line for prayers as for drinking, and are as crowded at the chapel as at
the tap.

Occasionally a purveyor of public pleasures undertakes the duty of
enlivening the afternoon; an eloquent poster announces the _jeu du
canard_. They fasten a perch to a tree, a cord to the perch, and a duck
to the cord; the most serious-minded people follow the preparation with
marked interest. I have seen men who yawn at the opera form a ring,
under a hot sun, for a whole hour in order to witness the decapitation
of the poor hanging creature. If you are generous-minded and greedy
{135}of sensations in addition, you give two sous to a small boy; in
consideration of which he has his eyes bandaged, is made to turn round
and round, has an old sabre given to him, and is pushed forward, in the
midst of the laughter and outcry of the spectators.

[Illustration: 160]

"Right! left! halloo! strike! forward!" he knows not which to heed, and
cuts away into the air. If by rare chance he hits the creature, if by
rarer chance he strikes the neck, or if, indeed, he takes off the head
by miracle, he carries off the duck to have it cooked, and eat it. The
public is not exacting in matter of amusement. If it were announced that
a mouse was to drown itself in a pool, they would run as if to a fire.
{136}"Why not?" said my neighbor, an odd, abrupt sort of man: "This is
a tragedy and a perfectly regular one; see if it has not all the classic
parts. First, the exposition; the instruments of torture that are
displayed, the crowd which comes together, the distance that is marked,
the animal that is fastened up. It is a protasis of the complex order,
as M. Lysidas used to say. Secondly, the action; every time that a small
boy starts, you are in suspense, you rise on tip-toe, your heart leaps,
you are as interested in the pendent animal as in a fellow-creature.
Do you say that the action is always the same? Simplicity is the
characteristic of great works, and this one is after the Indian style.
Thirdly, the catastrophe; if ever it was bloody it is so here. As to the
passions, they are those demanded by Aristotle, terror and pity. See how
shiveringly the poor creature lifts its head, when it feels the current
of air from the sword! With what a lamentable and resigned look it
awaits the stroke! The chorus of spectators takes part in the action,
praises or blames, just as in the antique tragedy. In short, the public
is right in being amused, and pleasure is never wrong."

"You talk like la Harpe; this duck would accept his lot in patience, if
he could hear you. And the ball, what do you say of that?"

"It is worth as much as the one at the Hôtel de {137}France with fine
people; our dancing is nothing but walking, a pretext for conversation.
Look how the servants and the guides dance; such cuts and pigeon wings!
they go into it from pure fun, with all their heart, they feel the
pleasure of motion, the impulse of their muscles; this is the true dance
invented by joy and the need of physical activity. These fellows fall to
and handle each other like timbers. That great girl there is servant at
my hotel; say, does not that tall figure, that serious air, that proud
attitude, recall the statues of antiquity? Force and health are always
the first of beauties. Do you think that the languid graces, the
conventional smiles of our quadrilles would bring together all this
crowd? We get further away from Nature with every day; our life is all
in the brain, and we spend our time in composing and listening to set
phrases. See how I am uttering them now; to-morrow, I turn over a new
leaf, buy a stout stick, put on gaiters and tramp over the country. You
do the same; let each go his own way, and try not to come together."

[Illustration: 162]

{138}


[Illustration: 163]



CHAPTER IV. LANDSCAPES.


I.

I have determined to find some pleasure in my walks; have come out alone
by the first path that offered itself, and walk straight on as chance
may lead. Provided you have noted two or three prominent points, you
are sure of finding the way back. You can now enjoy the unexpected, and
discover the country. To know where you are going and by what way is
certain boredom; the imagination deflowers the landscape in advance. It
works and builds according to its own pleasure; then when you reach
your goal all must be overturned; that spoils your disposition; the mind
keeps its bent, and the beauty it has fancied prejudices that which it
sees; it fails to understand {139}this, because it is already taken up
with another. I suffered a most grievous disenchantment when I saw the
sea for the first time: it was a morning in autumn; flecks of purplish
cloud dappled the sky; a gentle breeze covered the sea with little
uniform waves. I seemed to see one of those long stretches of beet-root
that are found in the environs of Paris, intersected by patches of green
cabbages and bands of russet barley. The distant sails looked like the
wings of homeward-bound pigeons. The view seemed to me confined; the
artists, in their pictures, had represented the sea as greater. It was
three days before I could get back the sensation of immensity.

[Illustration: 164]

{140}


II.

The course of the Valentin is nothing but a long fall between multitudes
of rocks. All along the _promenade Eynard,_ for half a league, you may
hear it rumbling under your feet.

[Illustration: 165]

At the bridge of Discoo, its standing-ground fails it altogether; it
falls into an amphitheatre, from shelf to shelf, in jets that cross each
other and mingle their flakes of foam; then under an arcade of rocks and
stones, it eddies in deep basins, whose edges it has polished, and
where the grayish emerald of its waters diffuses a soft and peaceful
reflection.

[Illustration: 167]

{141}

{142}{143}Suddenly it makes a leap of thirty feet in three dark masses,
and rolls in silver spray down a funnel of verdure. A fine dew gushes
over the turf and gives life to it, and its rolling pearls sparkle as
they glide along the leaves. Our northern fields afford no notion of
such vividness; this unceasing coolness with this fiery sun is needed in
order to paint the vegetable robe with such a magnificent hue.

I saw a great, wooded mountain-side stretch sloping away before me; the
noonday sun beat down upon it; the mass of white rays pierced
through the vault of the trees; the leaves glowed in splendor, either
transparent or radiated. Over all this lighted slope no shadow could be
distinguished; a warm, luminous evaporation covered all, like the
white veil of a woman. I have often since seen this strange garb of the
mountains, especially towards evening; the bluish atmosphere enclosed in
the gorges becomes visible; it grows thick, it imprisons the light and
makes it palpable. The eye delights in penetrating into the fair network
of gold that envelopes the ridges, sensitive to the softness and depth
of it; the salient edges lose their hardness, the harsh contours are
softened; it is heaven, descending and lending its veil to cover
the nakedness of the savage daughters of the earth. Pardon me these
metaphors; I appear, {144}perhaps, to be studying turns of expression,
and yet I am only recounting my sensations.

From this place a meadow-path leads to the gorge of the Serpent: this
is a gigantic notch in the perpendicular mountain. The brook that
runs through it crawls along overborne by heaped-up blocks; its bed is
nothing but a ruin.

[Illustration: 169]

You ascend along a crumbling pathway, clinging to the stems of box and
to the edges of rocks; frightened lizards start off like an arrow, and
cower in the clefts of slaty slabs. A leaden sun inflames the bluish
rocks; the reflected rays make the air like a furnace. In this parched
chaos the only life is that of the water, which glides, murmuring,
beneath the stones. At the bottom of the ravine the mountain abruptly
lifts its vertical wall to the height of two hundred feet; the water
drops in long white threads along this polished wall, and turns its
reddish tint to brown; during the whole fall it does not quit the cliff,
but clings to it like silvery {145}tresses, or a pendent garland of
convolvulus. A fine broad basin stays it for an instant at the foot of
the mountain, and then discharges it in a streamlet into the bog.{146}

[Illustration: 171]

{147}

These mountain streams are unlike those of the plains; nothing sullies
them; they never have any other bed than sand or naked stone. However
deep they may be, you may count their blue pebbles; they are transparent
as the air. Rivers have no other diversity than that of their banks;
their regular course, their mass always gives the same sensation; the
Gave, on the other hand, is a forever-changing spectacle; the human face
has not more marked, more diverse expressions. When the water, green
and profound, sleeps beneath the rocks, its emerald eyes wear the
treacherous look of a naiad who would charm the passer-by only to drown
him; then, wanton that it is, leaps blindly between the rocks, turns
its bed topsy-turvy, rises aloft in a tempest of foam, dashes itself
impotently and furiously into spray against the bowlder that has
vanquished it. Three steps further on, it subsides and goes frisking
capriciously alongside the bank in changing eddies, braided with bands
of light and shade, twisting voluptuously like an adder. When the rock
of its bed is broad and smooth, it spreads out, veined with rose and
azure, smilingly offering its level glass to the whole {148}mass of the
sunlight. Over the bending plants, it threads its silent way in lines
straight and tense as in a bundle of rushes, and with the spring and
swiftness of a flying trout. When it falls opposite the sun, the hues
of the rainbow may be seen trembling in its crystal threads, vanishing,
reappearing, an aerial work, a sylph of light, alongside which a bee's
wine would seem coarse, and which fairy fingers would in vain strive to
equal.

[Illustration: 173]

Seen in the distance, the whole Gave is only a storm of silvered falls,
intersected by splendid blue expanses. Fiery and joyful youth, useless
and full of poetry; to-morrow that troubled wave will receive the filth
{149}of cities, and quays of stone will imprison its course by way of
regulation.


III.

At the bottom of an ice-cold gorge rolls the cascade of Larresecq. It
does not deserve its renown: it is a sort of dilapidated stairway with a
dirty stream, lost among stones and shifting earth, awkwardly scrambling
down it; but, in getting there, you pass by a profound steep-edged
hollow, where the torrent rolls along swallowed up in the caverns it
has scooped out, obstructed by the trunks of the trees that it uproots.
Overhead, lordly oaks meet in arcades; the shrubs steep their roots far
below in the turbulent stream. No sunlight penetrates into this dark
ravine; the Gave pierces its way through, unseen and icy. At the outlet
where it streams forth, you hear its hoarse outcry; it is struggling
among the rocks that choke it: one might fancy-it a bull stricken by the
pangs of death.

This valley is solitary and out of the world; it is without culture;
no tourists, not even herdsmen are to be found; three or four cows,
perhaps, are there, busily cropping the herbage. Other gorges at the
sides of the road and in the mountain of Gourzy are still wilder. There
the faint trace of an {150}ancient pathway may with difficulty be made
out.

[Illustration: 175]

Can anything be sweeter than the certainty of being alone? In any widely
known spot, you are in constant dread of an incursion of tourists; the
hallooing of guides, the loud-voiced admiration, the bustle, whether of
fastening horses, or of unpacking provisions, or of airing opinions, all
disturb the budding sensation; civilization recovers its hold {151}upon
you. But here, what security and what silence! nothing that recalls man;
the landscape is just what it has been these six thousand years: the
grass grows useless and free as on the first day; no birds among the
branches; only now and then may be heard the far-off cry of a soaring
hawk. Here and there the face of a huge, projecting rock patches with a
dark shade the uniform plane of the trees: it is a virgin wilderness in
its severe beauty. The soul fancies that it recognizes unknown friends
of long ago; the forms and colors are in secret harmony with it; when it
finds these pure, and that it enjoys them unmixed with outside thought,
it feels that it is entering into its inmost and calmest depth--a
sensation so simple, after the tumult of our ordinary thoughts, is like
the gentle murmur of an Æolian harp after the hubbub of a ball.


IV.

Going down the Valentin, on the slope of the _Montagne Verte_, I found
landscapes less austere. You reach the right bank of the Gave d'Ossau.
A pretty streamlet slips down the mountain, encased between two walls
of rounded stones all purple with poppies and wild mallows. Its fall has
been turned to account in driving rows {152}of saws incessantly back and
forth over blocks of marble. A tall, bare-footed girl, in rags, ladles
up sand and water for wetting the machine; by the aid of the sand the
iron blade eats away the block.

[Illustration: 177]

A foot-path follows the river bank, lined with houses, huge oaks and
fields of Indian corn; on the other side is an arid reach of pebbly
shore, where children are paddling near some hogs {153}asleep in the
sand; on the transparent wave, flocks of ducks rock with the undulations
of the current: it is the country and culture after solitude and the
desert. The pathway winds through a plantation of osiers and willows;
the long, waving stalks that love the rivers, the pale pendent foliage,
are infinitely graceful to eyes accustomed to the intense green of the
mountains. On the right may be seen the narrow rocky ways that lead to
the hamlets scattered over the slopes. The houses there lean their backs
against the mountain, shelved one above another, so as to look down upon
the valley. At noon the people are all absent. Every door is closed;
three or four old women, who alone are left in the village, are
spreading grain upon the level rock which forms the street or esplanade.
What more singular than this long, natural flag-stone, carpeted with
gilded heads of grain. The dark and narrow church ordinarily rises from
a terraced yard, enclosed by a low wall; the bell-tower is white and
square, with a slated spire. Under the porch may be read a few epitaphs
carved in the stone; these, for the most part, are the names of invalids
who have died at Eaux Bonnes; I remarked those of two brothers. To
die so far from home and alone! It is touching to read these words of
sympathy graven upon a tomb; this sunlight is so sweet! the {154}valley
so beautiful! you seem to breathe health in the air; you want to live;
one wishes, as the old poet says, "Se réjouir longtemps de sa force et
de sa jeunesse." The love of life is imparted with the love of light.
How often, beneath the gloomy northern sky, do we form a similar desire?

At the turn of the mountain is the entrance into an oak wood that rises
on one of the declivities. These lofty, roomy forests give to the south
shade without coolness. High up, among the trunks, shines a patch of
blue sky; light and shade dapple the gray moss like a silken design upon
a velvet ground. A heavy, warm air, loaded with vegetable emanations,
rises to the face; it fills the chest and affects the head like wine.
The monotonous sound of the cricket and the grasshopper comes from
wheat-land and meadow, from mountain and from plain; you feel that
living myriads are at work among the heather and under the thatch; and
in the veins, where ferments the blood, courses a vague sensation of
comfort, the uncertain state between sleeping and dreaming, which steeps
the soul in animal life and stifles thought under the dull impressions
of the senses. You stretch yourself out, and are content with merely
living; you feel not the passage of the hours, but are happy in the
present moment, without a thought for past or future; you gaze upon
{155}the slender sprigs of moss, the grayish spikes of the grasses, the
long ribands of the shining herbs; you follow the course of an insect
striving to get over a thicket of turf, and clambering up and down in
the labyrinth of its stalks. Why not confess that you have become a
child again and are amused with the least of sights? What is the country
but a means of returning to our earliest youth, of finding again that
faculty of happiness, that state of deep attention, that indifference to
everything but pleasure and the present sensation, that facile joy which
is a brimming spring ready to overflow at the least impulse? I passed an
hour beside a squadron of ants who were dragging the body of a big fly
across a stone. They were bent upon the dismemberment of the vanquished;
at each leg a little workwoman, in a black bodice, pulled and worked
with all her might; the rest held the body in place. I never saw efforts
more fearful; at times their prey rolled off the stone; then they had
to begin over again. At last, fatigued by the toils of war, and wanting
power to cut up and carry off the prey, they resigned themselves to
eating it on the spot. {156}


V.

The view from Mount Gourzy is much admired; the traveller is informed
that he will see the whole plain of Beam as far as Pau. I am obliged to
take the word of the guide-book for it; I found clouds at the summit and
saw nothing but the fog. At the end of the forest that covers the first
slope lay some enormous trees, half rotten, and already whitened with
moss. Some mummies of pine trees were left standing; but their pyramids
of branches showed a shattered side. Old oaks split open as high up as
a man's head, crowned their wound with mushrooms and red strawberries.
From the manner in which the ground is strewn it might be called a
battle-field laid waste by bullets; it is the herdsmen who, for mere
amusement, set fire to the trees.

My neighbor, the tourist, told me next day that I had not lost much,
and gave me a dissertation against the views from mountain-tops. He is
a resolute traveller, a great lover of painting, very odd, however,
and accustomed to believing nothing but himself, enthusiastic reasoner,
violent in his opinions and fruitful in paradox. He is a singular man;
at fifty, he is as active as if he were but twenty. He is dry, nervous,
always well and alert, his legs {157}forever in motion, his head
fermenting with some idea which has just sprung up in his brain and
which during two days will appear to him the finest in the world. He is
always under way and a hundred paces ahead of others, seeking truth with
rash boldness, even to loving danger, finding pleasure in contradicting
and being contradicted, and now and then deceived by his militant
and adventurous spirit. He has nothing to hamper him; neither wife,
children, place nor ambition. I like him, notwithstanding his want of
moderation, because he is sincere; bit by bit he has told me his life,
and I have found out his tastes; his name is Paul, and he was left, at
the age of twenty, without parents and with an income of twelve thousand
francs.

[Illustration: 182]

From experience of himself and of the world, he judged that an
occupation, an office or a household would weary him, and he has
remained free. He found that amusements failed to amuse, and he gave up
pleasures; he says that suppers give him the headache, that play makes
him nervous, that a respectable mistress ties a man down, and a hired
mistress disgusts him. So he has turned {158}his attention to travelling
and reading. "It is only water, if you will," said he, "but that is
better than your doctored wine: at least, it is better for my stomach."
Besides, he finds himself comfortable under his system, and maintains
that tastes such as his grow with age, that, in short, the most sensible
of senses, the most capable of new and various pleasures is the brain.
He confesses that he is dainty in respect of ideas, slightly selfish,
and that he looks upon the world merely as a spectator, as if it were a
theatre of marionettes. I grant that he is a thoroughly good fellow at
heart, usually good-humored, careful not to step on the toes of others,
at times calculated to cheer them up, and that, at least, he has
the habit of remaining modestly and quietly in his corner. We have
philosophized beyond measure between ourselves, or rather against
one another; you may skip the following pages if you are not fond of
dissertations.

He could not bear to have people go up a mountain in order to look down
on the plain.

"They don't know what they are doing," said he. "It is an absurdity of
perspective. It is destroying a landscape for the better enjoyment of
it. At such a distance there are neither forms nor colors. The heights
are mere molehills, the villages are spots, the rivers are lines drawn
by a pen. The objects are all lost in one grayish tint; the contrast
{159}of lights and shades is blotted out; everything is diminished; you
make out a multitude of imperceptible objects,--a mere Liliputian world.
And thereupon you cry out at the magnificence! Does a painter ever take
it into his head to scale a height in order to copy the score of leagues
of ground that may be seen from thence?"

[Illustration: 184]

"That is good only for a land-surveyor. The basins, highways, tillage,
are all seen as in an atlas. Do you go then in search of a map? A
landscape is a picture; you should put yourself at the point of sight.
But no; the beauty is all ciphered mathematically; it is calculated
that an elevation of a thousand feet makes it a thousand times more
beautiful. The operation is admirable, and its only fault is that it
is absurd, and that it leads through a great deal of fatigue to
immeasurable boredom." {160}But the tourists, when once at the summit,
are carried away with enthusiasm.

"Pure cowardice--they are afraid of being accused of dryness, and of
being thought prosy; everybody now-a-days has a sublime soul, and
a sublime soul is condemned to notes of admiration. There are still
sheep-like minds, who take their admirations on trust and get excited
out of mere imitation. My neighbor says that this is fine, the
book thinks so too; I have paid to come up, I ought to be charmed;
accordingly I am. I was one day on a mountain with a family to whom the
guide pointed out an indistinct bluish line, saying, 'There is
Toulouse!' The father, with sparkling eyes, repeated to the son, 'There
is Toulouse!' And he, at sight of so much joy, cried with transport,
'There is Toulouse!' They learned to feel the beautiful, as any one
learns to bow, through family tradition. It is so that artists are
formed, and that the great aspects of Nature imprint forever upon the
soul solemn emotions."

Then an ascent is an error of taste?

"Not at all; if the plain is ugly, seen from above, the mountains
themselves are beautiful; and indeed they are beautiful only from above.
When you are in the valley they overwhelm you; you cannot take them in,
you see only one side of them, you cannot appreciate their height nor
their size. One {161}thousand feet and ten thousand are all the same
to you; the spectator is like an ant in a well; at one moment distance
blots out the beauty; the next, it is proximity does away with the
grandeur."

[Illustration: 186]

"From the top of a peak, on the other hand, the mountains proportion
themselves to our organs, the eye wanders over the ridges and takes in
their whole; our mind comprehends them, because our body dominates them.
Go to Saint-Sauveur, to {162}Bareges; you will see that those monstrous
masses have as expressive a physiognomy, and represent as well-defined
an idea as a tree or an animal. Here you have found nothing but pretty
details; the ensemble is tiresome."

You talk of this country as a sick man of his doctor. What have you to
say then against these mountains?

"That they have no marked character; they have neither the austerity of
bald peaks nor the lovely roundings of wooded hills. These fragments
of grayish verdure, this poor mantle of stunted box pierced by the
projecting bones of the rock, those scattered patches of yellowish moss,
resemble rags; I like to have a person either naked or clothed, and do
not like your tatterdemalion. The very forms are wanting in grandeur,
the valleys are neither abrupt nor smiling. I do not find the
perpendicular walls, the broad glaciers, the heaps of bald and jagged
summits which are seen further on. The country does not amount to much
either as plain or mountain; it should either be put forward or held
back."

You give advice to Nature.

[Illustration: 188]

"Why not? She has her uncertainties and incongruities like any one else.
She is not a god, but an artist whose genius inspires him to-day and
to-morrow lets him down again. A landscape in {163}{164}{165}order to
be beautiful must have all its parts stamped with the common idea and
contributing to produce a single sensation. If it gives the lie here
to what it says yonder, it destroys itself, and the spectator is in the
presence of nothing but a mass of senseless objects. What though these
objects be coarse, dirty, vulgar? provided they make up a whole by their
harmony, and that they agree in giving us a single impression, we are
pleased."

So that a court-yard, a worm-eaten hut, a parched and melancholy plain,
may be as beautiful as the sublimest mountain.

"Certainly. You know the fields of the Flemish painters, how flat they
are; you are never tired of looking at them. Take something that
is still more trivial, an interior of Van Ostade; an old peasant is
sharpening a chopping-knife in the corner, the mother is swaddling her
nursling, three or four brats are rolling about among the tools, the
kettles and benches; a row of hams is ranged in the chimney, and the
great old bed is displayed in the background under its red curtains.
What could be more common! But all these good people have an air of
peaceful contentment; the babies are warm and easy in the over-wide
breeches, glossy antiques transmitted from generation to generation.
There must have been habits of security and abundance, for a scattered
household to lie {166}pellmell on the ground in this fashion; this
comfort must have lasted from father to son, for the furniture to have
assumed that sombre color and all the hues to harmonize. There is not an
object here that does not point to the unconstraint of an easygoing life
and uniform good-nature. If this mutual fitness of the parts is the mark
of fine painting, why not of fine nature? Real or fancied, the object
is the same; I praise or I blame one with as good right as the other,
because the practice or the violation of the same rules produces in me
the same enjoyment or the same displeasure."

[Illustration: 191]

ABOVE GABAS.

Mountains then may have another beauty than that of grandeur? {167}"Yes,
since they sometimes have a different expression. Look at that little
isolated chain, against which the _Thermes_ support themselves: nobody
climbs it; it possesses neither great trees, nor naked rocks, nor points
of view. And yet I experienced a genuine pleasure there yesterday; you
follow the sharp backbone of the mountain that protrudes its vertebrae
through its meagre coating of earth; the poor but thickset turf,
sunburnt and beaten by the wind, forms a carpet firmly sewn with
tenacious threads; the half-dried mosses, the knotty heaths strike their
stubborn roots down between the clefts of the rock; the stunted
firs creep along, twisting their horizontal trunks. An aromatic and
penetrating odor, concentrated and drawn forth by the heat, comes from
all these mountain plants. You feel that they are engaged in an eternal
struggle against a barren soil, a dry wind, and a shower of fiery
rays, driven back upon themselves, hardened to all inclemencies, and
determined to live. This expression is the soul of the landscape; now,
given so many varied expressions, you have so many different beauties,
so many chords of passion are stirred. The pleasure consists in seeing
this soul. If you cannot distinguish it, or if it be wanting, a mountain
will make upon you precisely the effect of a heap of pebbles."

That is an attack on the tourists; to-morrow I {168}will test your
reasoning in the gorge of Eaux-Chaudes, and see if it is right. {169}

[Illustration: 194]



CHAPTER V. EAUX-CHAUDE S.


I.

On the north of the valley of Ossau is a cleft; it is the way to
Eaux-Chaudes. An entire skirt of the mountain was torn out in order to
open it; the wind eddies through the hollows of this chilly pass; the
precipitous cut, of a dark iron-color, lifts its formidable mass as
if to overwhelm the passerby; upon the rocky wall opposite are perched
twisted trees in rows, and their thin, feathery tops wave strangely
among the reddish projections. The highway overhangs the Gave which
eddies five hundred feet below. It is the stream which has hollowed out
this prodigious groove, coming back again and again {170}to the attack,
and for whole centuries together; two rows of huge rounded niches mark
the lowering of its bed, and the ages of its toil; the day seems to grow
dark as you enter; it is only a strip of sky that can be seen above the
head.

[Illustration: 195]

On the right, a range of giant cones rises into relief against the
intense azure; their bellies crowd one upon another and protrude in
rounded masses; but their lofty peaks swing upward with a dash, with
a gigantic sort of flight, towards the sublime dome whence
streams the day. {171}

[Illustration: 197]

{172}{173}The light of August falls on the stony escarpments,
upon the broken walls, where the rock, damasked and engraven, gleams
like an oriental cuirass. Leprous spots of moss are there incrusted;
stems of dried box dangle wretchedly in the crannies; but they are
lost sight of in such heroic nakedness: the ruddy or blackened colossi
display themselves in triumph in the splendor of the heavens.

Between two channelled granite towers stretches the little village of
Eaux-Chaudes. But who, here, pays any attention to the village? All
thought is taken up by the mountains. The eastern chain, abruptly cut
off, drops perpendicularly like the wall of a citadel; at the summit, a
thousand feet above the highway, are esplanades expanding in forests
and meadows, a crown green and moist, whence cascades ooze forth by the
hundred. They wind broken and flaky along the breast of the mountain,
like necklaces of pearls told off between the fingers, bathing the feet
of the lustrous oaks, deluging the bowlders with their tempest, then at
last spreading themselves out in long beds where the level rock lures
them to sleep.

The wall of granite falls away; at the east, an amphitheatre of forests
suddenly opens up. On all sides, as far as the eye can reach, the
mountains are {174}loaded with wood to the very top; several of them
rise, in all their blackness, into the heart of the light, and their
fringe of trees bristles against the pale sky. The charming cup of
verdure rounds its gilded margin, then drops into hollows, overflowing
with birch and oak, with tender, changeable hues that lend additional
sweetness to the mists of morning. Not a hamlet is to be seen, no smoke,
no culture; it is a wild and sunny nest, no doubt like to the valley
that, on the finest day of the happiest springtide of the universe,
received the first man.

[Illustration: 199]

The highway makes a turn, and everything changes. The old troop of
parched mountains reappears with a threatening air. One of them {175}in
the west is crumbling, shattered as if by a cyclopean hammer. It is
strewn with squared blocks, dark vertebræ snatched from its spine;
the head is wanting, and the monstrous bones, crushed and in disorder,
scattered to the brink of the Gave, announce some ancient defeat.
Another lying opposite, with a dreary air, extends its bald back a
league away; in vain you go on or change your view: it is always there,
always huge and melancholy. Its naked granite suffers neither tree nor
spot of verdure; a few patches of snow alone whiten the hollows in its
sides, and its monotonous ridge shifts sadly its lines, blotting out
half the sky with its bastions.

Gabas is a hamlet in a barren plain. The torrent here rumbles underneath
glaciers and among shattered tree-trunks; it descends, lost at
the bottom of the declivity, between colonnades of pines, the mute
inhabitants of the gorge. The silence and constraint contrast with the
desperate leaps of the snowy water. It is cold here, and everything is
sad; only, on the horizon may be seen the Pic du Midi in its splendor,
lifting its two jagged piles of tawny gray into the serene light.

[Illustration: 200]


{176}II.

In spite of myself I have been dreaming here of the antique gods, sons
of Greece, and made in the likeness of their country. They were born in
a similar country, and they spring to life again here in ourselves, with
the sentiments which gave birth to them.

I imagine idle and curious herdsmen, of fresh and infantile souls, not
yet possessed by the authority of a neighboring civilization and
an established dogma, but active, hardy, and poets by nature. They
dream--and of what, if not of the huge beings that all day long besiege
their eyes? How fantastical are those jagged heads, those bruised and
heaped-up bodies, those twisted shoulders! What unknown monsters, what
melancholy, misshapen race, alien to humanity! By what-dread travail has
the earth brought them forth from her womb, and what contests have
their blasted heads sustained amidst clouds and thunderbolts! They still
threaten to-day; the eagles and the vultures are alone welcome to sound
their depths. They love not man; their bowlders lie in wait to roll upon
him, so soon as he shall violate their solitudes. With a shiver they
hurl upon his harvests a tide of rocks; they have but to gather up a
storm in order to drown him like an ant. {177}

[Illustration: 202]

{178}

{179}How changeable is their face, but always to be dreaded! What
lightnings their summits hurl among the creeping fogs! That flash causes
fear like the eye of some tyrant god, seen for a moment, then hid again.
There are mountains that weep, amidst their gloomy bogs, and their tears
trickle down their aged cheeks with a hollow sob, betwixt pines that
rustle and whisper sorrowfully, as if pitying that eternal mourning.
Others, seated in a ring, bathe their feet in lakes the color of steel,
and which no wind ever ruffles; they are happy in such calm, and gaze
into the virgin wave at their silver helmet. How mysterious are they at
night, and what evil thoughts do they turn over in winter, when wrapped
in their shroud of snow! But in the broad day and in summer, with what
buoyancy and how glorified rises their forehead to the sublimest heights
of air, into pure and radiant realms, into light, to their own native
country. All scarred and monstrous though they be, they are still the
gods of the earth, and they have aspired to be gods of heaven.

But lo, where comes a second race, lovely and almost human, the choir
of the nymphs, fleeting and melting creatures who are daughters of those
misshapen colossuses. How comes it that they have begotten them? No one
knows; the birth {180}of the gods, full of mystery, eludes mortal eye.
Some say that their first pearl has been seen to ooze from an herb, or
from a cranny beneath the glaciers, in the uplands. But they have dwelt
long in the paternal bowels; some, burning ones, keep the memory of that
inner furnace whose bubbling they have looked upon, and which, from
time to time, still makes the ground to tremble; others, icy cold, have
crossed the eternal winter that whitens the summits. At the outset,
all retain the fire of their race; dishevelled, screaming, raving, they
bruise themselves against the rocks, they cleave the valleys, sweep away
trees, struggle and are sullied. What transport is here--maidenly and
bacchanal! But, once they have reached the smooth beds which the rounded
rock spreads out for them, they smile, they hush themselves in sleep, or
they sport. Their deep eyes of liquid emerald have their flashes. Their
bodies bow and rise again; in the vapors of morning, in sudden falls,
their water swells, soft and satiny as a woman's breast. With what
tenderness, what delicately wild quiverings they caress the bended
flowers, the shoots of fragrant thyme that thrive between two rocky
edges on the bank! Then with sudden caprice they plunge deep down in
a cavern, and scream and writhe as mad and wayward as any child. What
happiness in spreading {181}out thus to the sun! What strange gayety,
or what divine tranquillity, in that transparent wave as it laughs or
eddies! Neither the eye nor the diamond has that changeful clearness,
those burning and glaucous reflections, those inward tremblings
of pleasure or of anxiety; women though they are, they are indeed
goddesses. Without more than human might, would they have availed,
with their soft wave, to wear these hard cliffs, to bore through these
impregnable barriers? And by what secret virtue do they know, they, so
innocent of aspect, how at one time to torture and slay him who drinks,
and, again, to heal the infirm and the invalid? They hate the one and
love the other, and, like their fathers, they bestow life and death at
their pleasure.

Such is the poetry of the pagan world, of the childhood of mankind; thus
each one framed it for himself, in the dawn of things, at the awaking of
imagination and conscience, long before the age when reflection set up
defined worship and studied dogmas. Among the dreams that blossomed in
the morning of the world, I love only those of Ionia.

Hereupon Paul became vexed, and called me a classicist: "You are all
like that! You take one step forward into an idea, and then stop short
like cowards. Come now; there are a hundred Olympuses {182}in Egypt, in
Iceland, in India. Each one of those landscapes is an aspect of Nature;
each of those Gods is one of the forms in which man has expressed his
idea of Nature. Admire the god by the same standard as the landscape;
the onion of Egypt is worth as much as Olympian Jove." That is too
strong, yet I take you at your word; you shall stand by your assertion,
and extract a god from your onion.

[Illustration: 207]

"This very instant; but first transport yourself to Egypt, before the
coming of warriors and priests, upon the river-ooze, among savages half
naked in the mire, half drowned in water, half burned by the sun. What
a sight is that of this great black shore steaming under the heat, where
{183}crocodiles and writhing fish lash the waters of the pools! Myriads
of mosquitoes buzz in the air; large-leaved plants lift their tangled
mass; the earth ferments and teems with life; the brain grows giddy with
the heavy exhalations, and man, made restless, shudders as he feels in
the air and coursing through his limbs the generative virtue by whose
means everything multiplies and grows green. A year ago nothing grew on
this ooze: what a change! There springs from it a tall, straight reed,
with shining thongs, the stem, swollen with juices, striking deep into
the slime; with every day it expands and changes: green at the outset,
it reddens like the sun behind the mists. Unceasingly does this child of
the ooze suck therefrom juices and force; the earth broods over it and
commits to it its every virtue. See it now, how, of its own accord,
it lifts itself half-way, and at last wholly, and warms in the sun
its scaly belly filled with an acrid blood; blood that boils, and so
exuberant that it bursts the triple skin and oozes through the wound!
What a strange life! and by what miracle is it that the point of the
summit becomes a plume and a parasol? Those who first gathered it wept,
as though some poison had burned their eyes; but in the winter-time,
when fish fails, it rejoices him who meets it. Those enormous heaped-up
globes, are they not the hundred breasts of the great nurse, {184}mother
Earth? New ones reappear as often as the waters retire; there is some
divine force hidden beneath those scales. May it never fail to return!
The crocodile is god, because it devours us; the ichneumon is god,
because it saves us; the onion is god, because it nourishes us."

The onion is god, and Paul is its prophet; you shall have some this
evening, with white sauce. But, my dear friend, you frighten me; you
blot out with one stroke three thousand years of history. You put on
one level races of artists and races of visionaries, savage tribes
and civilized nations. I like the crocodile and the onion, but I
like Jupiter and Diana better. The Greeks have invented the arts and
sciences; the Egyptians have only left some heaps of ashlar-work. A
block of granite is not as good as either Aristotle or Homer. They
are everywhere the first who, through clear reasoning, have reached a
conception of justice and have made science. Then, however evil our
time may be, it surpasses many another. Your grotesque and oriental
hallucinations are beautiful, at a distance however; I am willing to
contemplate them, but not to submit to them. Now-a-days we have no
poetry, be it so; but we appreciate the poetry of others. If our museum
is poor, we have the museums of all ages and all nations. Do you know
what I get from your theories? Three times a {185}month they will save
me four francs; I shall find fairy-land in them, and shall have no
further occasion for going to the opera.

[Illustration: 210]


[Illustration: 211]



CHAPTER VI. THE INHABITANTS.

I.

{186}On the eighth of August, at nine o'clock in the morning, the
piercing note of a flageolet was to be heard at half a league's distance
from Eaux-Bonnes, and the bathers set out for Aas. The way there is by
a narrow road cut in the Montagne Verte, and overhung with lavender and
bunches of wild flowers. We entered upon a street six feet in width:
it is the main street. Scarlet-capped children, wondering at their own
magnificence, stood bolt upright in the doorways and looked on us in
silent admiration. The public square, at the side of the lavatory, is as
large as a small room; {187}it is here that dances take place.

[Illustration: 212]

Two hogsheads had been set up, two planks upon the hogsheads, two chairs
upon the planks, and on the chairs two musicians, the whole surmounted
by two splendid blue umbrellas which did service as parasols; for the
sky was brazen, and there was not a tree on the square.

The whole formed an exceedingly pretty and original picture. Under
the roof of the lavatory, a {188}group of old women leaned against the
pillars in talk; a crystal stream gushed forth and ran down the
slated gutter; three small children stood motionless, with wide-open,
questioning eyes. The young men were at exercise in the pathway, playing
at base. Above the esplanade, on points of rock forming shelves, the
women looked down on the dance, in holiday costume; a great scarlet
hood, a body embroidered in silver, or in silk with violet flowers; a
yellow, long-fringed shawl; a black petticoat hanging in folds, close to
the figure, and white woollen gaiters. These strong colors, the lavished
red, the reflexes of the silk under a dazzling light, were delightful.
About the two hogsheads was wheeling, with a supple, measured movement,
a sort of roundelay, to an odd and monotonous air terminated by a shrill
false note of startling effect. A youth in woollen vest and breeches led
the band; the young girls moved gravely, without talking or laughing;
their little sisters at the end of the file took great pains in
practising the step, and the line of purple _capulets_ slowly waved like
a crown of peonies. Occasionally the leader of the dance gave a sudden
bound with a savage cry, and recalled to our mind that we were in the
land of bears, in the very heart of the mountains.

Paul was there under his umbrella, wagging his {189}great beard with a
look of delight. Had he been able, he would have followed the dance.

[Illustration: 214]

"Was I right? Is there a single things here out of harmony with the
rest, and which the sun, the climate, the soil, do not make suitable?
These people are poets. They must have been in love with the light to
have invented these splendid costumes. Never would a northern sun have
inspired this feast of color; their costume harmonizes with their
sky. In Flanders, they would look like mountebanks; here they are as
beautiful as their country. You no longer notice the ugly features, the
sunburnt faces, the thick, knotty hands that yesterday offended you; the
sun enlivens the brilliancy of the dresses, and in that golden splendor
all ugliness disappears. I have seen people who {190}laughed at the
music; 'the air is monotonous,' they say, 'contrary to all rule, it has
no ending; those notes are false.' At Paris, that may be; but here, no.
Have you remarked that wild and original expression? How it suits
the landscape! That air could have sprung up nowhere but among the
mountains. The frou-frou of the tambourine is as the languid voice
of the wind when it coasts the narrow valleys; the shrill tone of the
flageolet is the whistling of the breeze when it is heard on the naked
summits; that final note is the cry of a hawk in the depths of the air;
the mountain sounds too are recognizable, hardly transformed by the
rhythm of the song. And then the dance is as primitive, as natural, as
suitable to the country as the music: they go wheeling about hand in
hand. What could be more simple! It is thus that the children do at
their play. The step is supple and slow; that is as the mountaineer
walks; you know by experience that you must not be in too much haste if
you would climb, and that here the stiff strides of a town-bred man will
bring him to the ground. That leap, that seems to you so strange, is
one of their habits, hence one of their pleasures. To make up a festival
they have chosen what they found agreeable among the things to which
their eyes, ears, and legs were habituated. Is not this festival then
the most national, the {191}truest, the most harmonious, and hence the
most beautiful that can be imagined?"


II.

Laruns is a market-town. Instead of a hogshead there were four times two
hogsheads and as many musicians, all playing together, and each one
a different portion of the same air. This clatter excepted and a few
magnificent pairs of velvet breeches, the festival was the same as that
at Aas. What we go there to see is the procession.

At first everybody attends vespers; the women in the sombre nave of the
church, the men in a gallery, the small boys in a second gallery higher
up, under the eye of a frowning schoolmaster. The young girls, kneeling
close to the gratings of the choir, repeated _Ave Marias_, to which the
deep voice of the congregation responded; their clear, metallic voices
formed a pretty contrast to the hollow buzzing of the resounding
responses. Some wolfish-looking old mountaineers, from thirty miles
away, made the blackened wood of the balustrade creak as they clumsily
bent the knee. A twilight fell on the dense crowd, and made yet darker
the expression of those energetic countenances. One might have fancied
himself in the sixteenth {192}century. Meanwhile the little bells
chattered joyously with their shrill voices, and made all possible
noise, like a roost full of fowls at the top of the white tower.

[Illustration: 217]

At the end of an hour, the procession arranged itself very artistically
and went forth. The first part of the cortege was amusing: two rows of
little scapegraces in red vests, their hands clasped over their bellies,
in order to keep their book in {193}place, tried to give themselves an
air of compunction, and looked at each other out of the corners of their
eyes in a manner truly comical. This band of masquerading monkeys was
led by a jolly stout priest, whose folded bands, cuffs, and hanging
laces fluttered and waved like wings. Then a sorry beadle, in a soiled
_douanier's_ coat; then a fine maire in uniform, with his sword at his
side; then two long seminarians, two plump little priests, a banner
of the Virgin, finally all the douaniers and all the gendarmes of the
country; in short, all the grandeurs, all the splendors, all the actors
of civilization.

The Barbarians however were more beautiful: it was the procession of men
and women who, taper in hand, filed by during three-quarters of an
hour. I saw in it true Henry IV. faces, with the severe and intelligent
expression, the proud and serious bearing, the large features of his
contemporaries. Especially there were some old herdsmen in russet
great-coats of hairy felt, their brows not wrinkled but farrowed,
bronzed and burned by the sun, their glances savage as those of a wild
beast, worthy of having lived in the time of Charlemagne. Surely those
who defied Roland were not more savage in physiognomy. Finally appeared
five or six old women, the like of whom I could never have imagined:
a hooded cloak of white woollen {194}stuff enfolded them like a
bed-blanket; only the swarthy countenance was visible, their eyes deep
and fierce like the she-wolf's, their mumbling lips, that seemed to
be muttering spells. They called to mind involuntarily the witches in
Macbeth; the mind was transported a hundred leagues away from cities,
into barren gorges, beneath lone glaciers where the herdsmen pass whole
months amidst the snows of winter, near to the growling bears, without
hearing one human word, with no other companions than the gaunt peaks
and the dreary fir-trees. They have borrowed from solitude something of
its aspect.

[Illustration: 219]

{195}

[Illustration: 221]

{196}


III.

{197}The Ossalais, however, have ordinarily a gentle, intelligent,
and somewhat sad physiognomy. The soil is too poor to impart to their
countenance that expression of impatient vivacity and lively spirit
that the wine of the south and the easy life give to their neighbors of
Languedoc. Three-score leagues in a carriage prove that the soil
moulds the type. A little farther up, in the Cantal, a country of
chest-nut-trees, where the people fill themselves with a hearty
nourishment, you will see countenances red with sluggish blood and set
with a thick beard, fleshy, heavy-limbed bodies, massive machines for
labor. Here the men are thin and pale; their bones project, and their
large features are weatherbeaten like those of their mountains. An
endless struggle against the soil has stunted the women as well as the
plants; it has left in their eyes a vague expression of melancholy and
reflection. Thus the incessant impressions of body and soul in the long
run modify body and soul; the race moulds the individual, the country
moulds the race. A degree of heat in the air and of inclination in the
ground is the first cause of our faculties and of our passions.

Disinterestedness is not a mountain virtue. In a poor country, the first
want is want of money. {198}The dispute is to know whether they shall
consider strangers as a prey or a harvest; both opinions are true:
we are a prey which every year yields a harvest. Here is an incident,
trifling, but capable of showing the dexterity and the ardor with which
they will skin a flint.

One day Paul told his servant to sew another button upon his trousers.
An hour after she brings in the trousers, and, with an undecided,
anxious air, as if fearing the effect of her demand: "It is a sou," said
she. I will explain later how great a sum the sou is in this place.

Paul draws out a sou in silence and gives it to her. Jeannette retires
on tip-toe as far as the door, thinks better of it, returns, takes
up the trousers and shows the button: "Ah! that is a fine button! (A
pause.) I did not find _that_ in my box. (Another and a longer pause.)
I bought that at the grocer's; it costs a sou!" She draws herself up
anxiously; the proprietor of the trousers, still without speaking, gives
a second sou.

It is clear that she has struck upon a mine of sous. Jeannette goes out,
and a moment after reopens the door. She has resolved on her course,
and in a shrill, piercing voice, with admirable volubility: "I had no
thread; I had to buy some thread; I used a good deal of thread; good
thread, too. The button won't come off. I sewed it on {199}fast: it cost
a sou." Paul pushes across the table the third sou.

Two hours later, Jeannette, who has been pondering on the matter,
reappears. She prepares breakfast with the greatest possible care; she
takes pains to wipe the least spot, she lowers her voice, she walks
noiselessly, she is charming in her little attentions; then she says,
putting forth all sorts of obsequious graces: "I ought not to lose
anything, you would not want me to lose anything; the cloth was harsh, I
broke the point of my needle; I did not know it a while ago, I have just
noticed it; it cost a sou."

Paul drew out the fourth sou, saying with his serious air: "Cheer up,
Jeannette; you will keep a good house, my child; happy the husband who
shall lead you, pure and blushing, beneath the roof of his ancestors;
you may go and brush the trousers."

Beggars swarm. I have never met a child between the ages of four and
fifteen years who did not ask alms of me; all the inhabitants follow
this trade. No one is ashamed of it. You look at any one of the little
girls, scarcely able to walk, seated at their threshold busy in eating
an apple: they come stumbling along with their hands stretched out
towards you. You find in a valley a young herdsman with his cows; he
comes up and asks {200}you for a trifle. A tall girl goes by with a
fagot on her head; she stops and asks a trifle of you.

[Illustration: 225]

A peasant is at work on the road. "I am making a good road for you,"
says he; "give me just a trifle." A band of scapegraces are playing at
the end of a promenade; as soon as they see you, they take each other
by the hand, begin the dance of the country, and end by collecting the
usual trifle. And so it is throughout the Pyrenees. {201}

[Illustration: 225]

And they are merchants as well as beggars. You rarely pass along the
street without being accosted by a guide who offers you his services and
begs you to give him the preference. If you are seated on the hillside,
three or four children come dropping out of the sky, bringing you
butterflies, stones, curious plants, bouquets of flowers.

If you go near a dairy, the proprietor comes out with a porringer of
milk, and will sell it to you in spite of yourself. One day as I was
looking at a young bull, the drover proposed to me to buy it.

This greediness is not offensive. I once went up the brook of la Soude,
behind Eaux-Bonnes: it is a sort of tumbledown staircase which for three
leagues winds among the box in a parched ravine. You have to clamber
over pointed rocks, jump from point to point, balance yourself along
narrow ledges, climb zigzag up the scarped slopes covered with rolling
stones. The foot-path is enough to frighten the goats. You bruise your
feet on it, and at every step {202}run the risk of getting a sprain. I
met there some young women and girls of twenty, all barefooted, carrying
to the village, one a block of marble in her basket, another three sacks
of charcoal fastened together, another five or six heavy planks; the
way is nine miles long, under a mid-day sun; and nine miles for the home
journey: for this they are paid ten sous.

Like the beggars and the merchants, they are very crafty and very
polite. Poverty forces men to calculate and to please; they take off
their cap as soon as you speak to them and smile complaisantly; their
manners are never brutal or artless. The proverb says very truly: "False
and courteous Béarnais." You recall to mind the caressing manners and
the perfect skill of their Henry IV.; he knew how to play on everybody
and offend nobody. In this respect, as in many others, he was a
true Béarnais. With the aid of necessity, I have seen them trump up
geological disquisitions. In the middle of July there was a sort of
earthquake; a report was spread that an old wall had fallen down;
in truth the windows had shaken as if a great wagon were passing by.
Immediately half of the bathers quitted their lodgings: a hundred and
fifty persons fled from Cauterets in two days; travellers in their
night-shirts ran to the stable to fasten on their carriages, and to
light themselves carried away the {203}hotel lantern. The peasants shook
their heads compassionately and said to me: "You see, sir, they are
going from the frying-pan into the fire; if there is an earthquake, the
plain will open, and they will fall into the crevices, whereas here the
mountain is solid, and would keep them safe as a house."

That same Jeannette who already holds so honorable place in my history,
shall furnish an example of the polite caution and the over-scrupulous
reserve in which they wrap themselves when they are afraid that they
shall be compromised. The master had drawn the neighboring church, and
wanted to judge of his work after the manner of Molière.

"Do you recognize that, Jeanette."

"Ah! monsieur, did you do that?"

"What have I copied here?"

"Ah! monsieur, it is very beautiful."

[Illustration: 228]

{204}"But still, tell me what it is there."

She takes the paper, turns it over and over again, looks at the artist
with a dazed air and says nothing.

"Is it a mill or a church?"

"Yes, indeed."

"Is it the church of Laruns?"

"Ah! it's very beautiful."

You could never get her beyond that.


IV.

We had a wish to know if the fathers were equal to the sons; and we have
found the history of Bearn in a fine red folio, composed in the year
1640, by Master Pierre de Marca, a Béarnais, counsellor of the king
in his state and privy councils, and president in his court of the
parliament of Navarre; the whole ornamented with a magnificent engraving
representing the conquest of the Golden Fleece. Pierre de Marca makes
several important discoveries in his book, among others, that of two
kings of Navarre, personages of the ninth century, until then unknown:
Séméno Ennéconis, and En-néco Séménonis.

Although filled with respect for Sémêno Ennéconis and Enneco Semenonis,
we are desperately wearied with the recital of the suits, the robberies
{205}and the genealogies of all the illustrious unknown. Paul maintains
that learned history is only good for learned asses; a thousand dates do
not make a single idea. The celebrated historian of the Swiss, Jean de
Muller, once wanted to rehearse the list of all the Swiss nobility, and
forgot the fifty-first descendant of some undiscoverable viscount; he
became ill with grief and shame; it is as if a general should wish to
know how many buttons each of his soldiers had on his coat.

We have found that these good mountaineers have ever loved gain and
booty. It is so natural to wish to live, and live well too! Above all
is it pleasant to live at the expense of others! Time was when, in
Scotland, every shipwrecked vessel belonged to the coast-side people;
the wrecked ships came to them like herrings in the season, a hereditary
and legitimate harvest; they felt robbed if one of the crew attempted
to keep his coat. It is so here with strangers. The rear-guard of
Charlemagne, under Roland, perished here; the mountaineers rolled down
upon it an avalanche of stone; then they divided the stuffs, the silver,
mules and baggage, and each one betook himself to his den. In the like
manner they treated a second army sent by Louis le Débonnaire. I fancy
they regarded these passages as a blessing from heaven, a special gift
from divine Providence. {206}

[Illustration: 231]

Fine cuirasses, new lances, necklaces, well-lined coats, it was a
perfect magazine of gold, iron, and wool. Very likely the wives ran to
meet them, blessing the good husband who had been the most thoughtful of
the welfare of his little family, and brought back the greatest quantity
of provisions. This artlessness in respect of theft still exists in
Calabria. In Napoleon's time, a prefect was scolding a well-to-do
peasant wild was behind-hand with his contributions; the peasant
replied, with all the openness of an upright man: "Faith, {207}your
Excellency, it's not my fault."

[Illustration: 232]

"For fifteen days now have I taken my carabine every evening, and have
posted myself along the highway to see if no one would pass. Never a man
goes by; but I give you my word I'll go back there until I have scraped
together the ducats I owe you."

Add to this custom of thieving an extreme bravery! I believe the country
is the cause of one as well as the other; extreme poverty removes
timidity as well as scruples; they are leeches on the body of others,
but then they are equally prodigal of their own; they can resist as well
as take an advantage; if they willingly take another's goods, they guard
their own yet more willingly. Liberty has thriven here from the earliest
times, crabbed and savage, home-born and tough like a stem of their own
boxwood. Hear the tone of the primitive charter: {208}"These are the
tribunals of Bearn, in which mention is made of the fact that, in
old times, in Beam they had no lord, and in those days they heard the
praises of a certain knight. They sought him out, and made him their
lord during one year; and after that, he was unwilling to maintain
among them their tribunals and customs. And the court of Bearn then came
together at Pau, and they required of him to maintain among them their
tribunals and customs. And he would not, and thereupon they killed him
in full court."

In like manner the land of Ossau preserved its privileges, even against
its viscount. Every robber who brought his booty into the valley was
safe there, and might the next day present himself before the viscount
with impunity: it was only when the latter, or his wife in his absence,
came into the valley to dispense justice that he was judged. This
scarcely ever happened, and the land of Ossau was "the retreat of all
the evil livers and marauders" of the country round.


V.

These rude manners, filled with chances and dangers, produced as many
heroes as brigands. First comes the Count Gaston, one of the leaders of
the first crusade; he was, like all the great {209}men of this country,
an enterprising and a ready-minded man, a man of experience and one of
the vanguard. At Jerusalem he went ahead to reconnoitre, and constructed
the machines for the siege; he was held to be one of the wisest in
counsel, and was the first to plant upon the walls the cows of Bearn.
No one struck a heavier blow or calculated more exactly, and no one was
fonder of calculating and striking. On his return, he fought against his
neighbors, twice besieged Saragossa, and once Bayonne, and, along with
king Alphonso, won two great battles against the Moors. Ah, what a time
was that, for minds and muscles framed for adventure! No need then to
seek for war; it was found everywhere, and profit along with it.

[Illustration: 234]

Such a fine career as those cavalcades had among the marvellous cities
of the Asiatic Saracens and of the Spanish Moors! What a quantity of
skulls to cleave, of gold to bring home! It was thus that the overflow
of force and imagination was discharg was no foolish affair of a random
shot or clumsy {210}bullet, in the midst of a well-ordered
manouvre. Then one encountered all the hazards, the unforeseen, of
knight-errantry; the senses were all awake; the arms wrought and
the body was a soldier; Gaston was killed as a private horseman in
ambuscade, with the bishop of Huesca.

That which pleases me in history is the minor circumstances, the details
of character. A mere scrap of a phrase indicates a revolution in the
faculties and passions; great events are contained in it at their ease,
as in their cause. Here in the life of Gaston is one of those words. The
day that Jerusalem was taken, quarter had been granted to a large number
of Mussulmans. "But the next day, the rest, displeased at seeing that
there were any infidels alive, mounted upon the roofs of the temple, and
massacred and mangled all the Saracens, both men and women." * There was
neither reasoning nor deliberation; at the sight of a Mussulman's dress,
their blood mounted in wrath to their face, and they sprang forward,
like lions or butchers, struck them down and dismembered them. Lope de
Vega, an antique Christian, a severe Spaniard, renewed this savage and
fanatical sentiment:

     * The following fact is from the Siege of Antioch: "Many of
     our enemies died, and some of the prisoners were led before
     the gate of the city, and there their heads were cut off, in
     order to discourage those who remained in the city."

{211}Garcia Tello. Father, why have you not brought a Moor for me to see
him!

The elder Tello; (showing him the prisoners.) Well, Garcia, those are
Moors.

Garcia. What? Those are Moors? They look like men.

Old Tello. And indeed they are men.

Garcia. They do not deserve to be.

Old Tello. And why?

Garcia. Because they believe neither in God nor in the Virgin Mary; the
sight of them makes my blood boil, Father.

Old Tello. Are you afraid of them?

Garcia. No more than you, Father. (_Going toward the prisoners._) Dogs,
I would tear you in pieces with my hands; you shall know what it is to
be a Christian. (He darts upon them and pursues them.)

Old Tello. Ah, the good little fellow! Gracious Heaven! He is fine as
coral.

Tello. Mendo, see that he does them no harm.

Old Tello. Let him kill one or two; so do they teach a falcon to kill
when he is young.

In fact, they are falcons or vultures. In the song of Roland, when
the doughty knights ask from Turpin the absolution of their sins, the
archbishop for penance recommends them to strike well.

But at the same time they have the mind and the soul of children.
"Deep are the wells, and the valleys dark, the rocks black, the defiles
marvellous." That is their whole description of the Pyrenees; they feel
and speak _in a lump_. A child, questioned about Paris, which he had
just seen for the first time, {212}replied: "There are a great many
streets, and carriages everywhere, and great houses, and in two squares
two tall columns." The poet of old times is like the child; he does not
know how to analyze his impressions. Like him, he loves the marvellous,
and takes delight in tales where all the proportions are gigantic.

[Illustration: 237]

In the battle of Roncevaux everything is aggrandized beyond measure. The
worthies kill the entire vanguard of the Saracens, a hundred thousand
men, and, afterward, the army of King Marsile, thirty battalions, each
composed of ten thousand men. Roland winds his horn, and the {213}sound
travels away thirty leagues to Charlemagne, and is echoed by his
sixty thousand hautboys. What visions such words awakened in those
inexperienced brains! Then all at once the bow was unbent; the
wounded Roland calls to mind "men of his lineage, of gentle France, of
Charlemagne his lord who supports him, and cannot help but weep and
sigh for them." At the conclusion of the carnage with which they filled
Jerusalem, the crusaders, weeping and chanting, went barefoot to the
holy sepulchre. Later, when a number of the barons wanted to leave the
crusade of Constantinople, the others went to meet them, and entreated
them on their knees; then all embraced each other, bursting into sobs.
Robust children: that expresses the whole truth; they killed and howled
as if they were beasts of prey, then when once the fury was calmed, they
were all tears and tenderness, like a child who flings himself upon his
brother's neck, or who is going to make his first communion.


VI.

I return to my Béarnais; they were the most active and circumspect of
the band. The counts of Bearn fought and treated with all the world;
they hover between the patronage of France, Spain and England, and are
subject to no {214}one; they pass from one to the other and always to
their own advantage, "drawn," says Matthew Paris, "by pounds sterling,
or crowns, of which they had both great need and great abundance." They
are always first where fighting is to be done or money to be gained;
they go to be killed in Spain or to demand gold at Poitiers. They are
calculators and adventurers; from imagination and courage lovers of
warfare,--lovers of necessity and reflection.

[Illustration: 239]

And in this manner their Henry won the crown of France, thinking much of
his interests and little of his life, and always poor. After the camp at
La Fère, when he was already recognized as king, he wrote: "I have only
a pretence of a horse on which to fight, and no entire armor that I can
put on; my shirts are in tatters, my pourpoints out at the elbows. My
saucepan is many a time upset, and now these two days I have dined and
supped with {215}one and another, for my purveyors say that they see
no way of furnishing my table any longer, especially since they have
received no money for six months."

A month later, at Fontaine-Française, he charged an army at the head of
eight hundred cavaliers, and fired off his pistol by way of sport, like
a soldier. But at the same time this father of his people treated the
people in the following manner: "The prisons of Normandy were full of
prisoners for the payment of the duty on salt. They languished there in
such wise that as many as six-score of their corpses were brought forth
at one time. The parliament of Rouen besought His Majesty to have pity
on his people; but the king had been told that a great revenue was
coming from that tax, and said that he was willing that it should be
raised, and seemed that he would wish to turn the rest into mockery."

[Illustration: 240]

A good fellow, no doubt, but a devil of a good fellow; we French are
fond of such; they are likable, but sometimes deserve hanging. These
had prudence into the bargain, and were made to be officers of fortune.
{216}"Gassion," says Tallemant des Reaux, "was the fourth of five sons.
When he had finished his studies, he was sent to the war; but otherwise
he was but poorly furnished. For his sole horse his father gave him a
docked pony, that might have been thirty years old; its like was not
in all Bearn, and it was called, as a rarity, _Gassion's Bob-tail._
Apparently the young man was scarcely better provided with money than
with horses. This pretty courser left him four or five leagues from Pau,
but that did not prevent him from going into Savoy, where he entered the
troops of the duke, for there was then no war in France. But the late
king having broken with this prince, all Frenchmen had orders to quit
his service; this forced our adventurer to return to the service of the
king.

"At the taking of the pass of Suze, he did so well, although only a
simple cavalier, that he was made cornet; but the company in which he
was cornet was broken, and he came to Paris and asked for the mantle of
a musketeer. He was refused on account of his religion. Out of spite,
with several other Frenchmen he went over to Germany, and, although in
his troop there were men of higher position than he, knowing how to talk
in Latin, he was everywhere received for the chief of the band. One
of these made the advances for a company of light-horse that they were
going to {217}raise in France for the king of Sweden; he was lieutenant
of it; his captain was killed, and now he is himself a captain. He soon
made himself known as a man of spirit, so that he obtained from the king
of Sweden the privilege of receiving orders only from His Majesty in
person; this was on condition of marching always at the head of the army
and of filling in a measure the position of forlorn hope. While thus
employed, he received a frightful pistol-shot in the right side, the
wound of which has since opened several times, now to the peril of his
life, and now the opening answering as a crisis in other illnesses."

[Illustration: 242]

He was a thorough soldier, and above all a lover of valor. A rebel
peasant, at Avranches, fought admirably before a barricade, and killed
the Marquis de Courtaumer, whom he took for Gassion. Gassion had search
made everywhere for this gallant man, in order that he might be pardoned
and to put him in his regiment. The Chancellor Séguier took the affair
like a lawyer; some time after, having seized the peasant, he had
him broken on the wheel. {218}He treated civil affairs just as he
did military ones. He sent word to a merchant in Paris who had become
bankrupt, owing him ten thousand livres, "that it would not be possible
for him to let remain in the world a man who was carrying away his
property." He was paid.

"He led men into war admirably. I have heard related an action of
his, very bold and at the same time very sensible; before he was
major-general, he asked several noblemen if they wished to join his
party. They went with him. After having gone about the whole morning
without finding anything, he said to them: 'We are too strong; the
parties all fly before us. Let us leave here our horsemen, and go away
alone.' The volunteers followed him; they went on until they were near
to Saint-Omer. Just then two squadrons of cavalry suddenly appeared and
cut off their way; for Saint-Omer was behind our people.

"'Messieurs,' said he to them, 'we must pass or die. Put yourselves all
abreast; ride full speed at them and don't fire. The first squadron will
be afraid, when they see that you mean to fire only into their teeth;
they will rein back and overthrow the others.'" It happened just as he
had said: our noblemen, well mounted, forced the two squadrons and saved
themselves, almost to a man.

"Another, also very daring; which, however, {219}seems to me a little
rash. Having received notice that the Croats were leading away the
horses of the Prince d'Enrichemont, he wanted to charge upon them,
accompanied by only a few of his horsemen, and, as there happened to be
a great ditch between him and the enemy, he swam across it on his horse,
without looking to see if any one followed him, so that he encountered
the enemy alone, killed five of them, put the rest to flight, and
returned with three of our men whom they had taken, and who perhaps
helped him in the struggle. He led back all the horses."

The quondam light-horseman reappeared beneath the general's uniform.
Thus he always remained the comrade of his soldiers. When any one had
offended the least of his cavalrymen, he took the man with him and had
satisfaction given in one way or another.

[Illustration: 244]

"La Vieuxville, since superintendent, intrusted to him his eldest son to
learn the trade of war. {220}The young man treated Gassion magnificently
at the army. 'You are trifling with yourself, Monsieur le Marquis,' said
he: 'of what use are all these dainties? 'S death! we only want good
bread, good wine and good forage.' He thought of his horse as much as of
himself."

[Illustration: 245]

He was a poor courtier and troubled himself little about ceremonies.
One day he went to the communion before the prince palatine, and the
following Sunday, having found his place taken, he would never allow
that a nobleman should give it up, and went to seek a place somewhere
else. Nevertheless he was scarcely courtly towards ladies, and on this
point not at all worthy of Henry IV.

"At court, many young ladies who were pleased with him, were wheedling
him, and said: 'Of a {221}truth, monsieur, you have performed the finest
possible deeds.'--'That's a matter of course,' said he. When one said:
'I should be glad to have a husband like M. de Gassion.'--'I don't doubt
it,' answered he.

"He said of Mlle, de Ségur, who was old and ugly, 'I like that young
woman; she looks like a Croat.'

"When Bougis, his _lieutenant de gendarmes_, stayed too long in Paris in
the winter-time, he wrote to him: 'You are amusing yourself with those
women, and you will die like a dog; here you would find fine chances.
What the devil do you find in the way of pleasure in going to court and
making love! That is pretty business in comparison with the pleasure of
taking a quarter!'"

His brother, Bergerê, seems to have had little taste for this pleasure.
Gassion, then a colonel, on one occasion ordered him to charge at the
head of fifty cavaliers, and declared that if he gave way he would run
him through the body with his sword. An admirable method for forming
men! Bergerê found his account in it, and afterwards went into action
like any other man.

The two adventurers had a thoroughly military ending. Their brother
the president, for economy's sake, had Bergerê embalmed by a valet de
chambre who mangled him shockingly. As for Gassion, he awaited burial
during three months. {222}"The president, tired of paying for the
funeral hangings, had them returned, and others put up which cost him
ten _sols_ less a day. At last he had a small vault constructed between
two gates in the old cemetery; he had them interred one day when there
was a sermon without any solemnity whatever, and so that no one could
say that he had gone there on their account." Three out of four heroes
have been similarly buried, like dogs.

The last of the d'Artagnans, those heroic hunters after paying
adventures, was (according to an inscription, said to be false) born at
Pau, rue du Tran, No. 6. A drummer in 1792, he was in 1810 prince royal
of Sweden. He had made his way, and along it he had lost his prejudices.
Like Henry IV., he found that a kingdom was worth quite as much as a
mass; he too made the perilous leap, but in a contrary direction, and
laid aside his religion like an old cassock; a question of old clothes:
a brand-new royal mantle was worth far more.

[Illustration: 247]

{223}{224}



BOOK III. THE VALLEY OF LUZ. {225}

[Illustration: 250]



CHAPTER I. ON THE WAY TO LUZ.


I.

The carriage leaves Eaux-Bonnes at dawn. The sun is scarcely yet risen,
and is still hidden by the mountains. Pale rays begin to color the
mosses on the western declivity. These mosses, bathed in dew, seem as
if awakening under the first caress of the day. Rosy hues, of an
inexpressible softness, rest on the summits, then steal down along the
slopes. One could never have believed that these gaunt old creatures
were capable of an expression so timid and so tender. The light
broadens, heaven expands, the air is filled with joy and life. A bald
peak in the midst of the rest, and darker than they, stands out in an
aureole of flame. All at once, {226}between two serrate points, like a
dazzling arrow, streams the first ray of the sun.


II.

Beyond Pau stretches a smiling country, golden with harvests, amongst
which the Gave winds its blue folds between white and pebbly beaches. On
the right, far away in a veil of luminous mist, the Pyrenees lift their
jagged tops, and the naked points of their black rocks. Their flanks,
furrowed by the torrents of winter, are deeply scored and, as it were,
turned up with an iron rake.

[Illustration: 251]

The picturesque country and the great mountains are seen to disclose
themselves; the fences of the fields are of small rounded stones, in
whose fissures abound waving grasses, pretty heaths, tufts of yellow
sedum, and {227}above all tiny pink geraniums, that shine in the sun
like clusters of rubies. You are quite ready to seek for nymphs; we
come across six in an orchard, not actually dancing, but dirty. They are
eating bread and cheese, squatted on their heels, and stare at us with
half-open mouth.


III.

Coarraze still preserves a tower and gateway, the remains of a castle.
This castle has its legend, which Froissart recounts in a style so
flowing and agreeable, so minute and expressive, that I cannot refrain
from quoting it at length.

The Lord of Coarraze had a dispute with a clerk, and the clerk left him
with threats. About three months after, when the knight least thought
of it, and was sleeping in his bed with his lady, in his castle of
Coarraze, there came invisible messengers, who made such a noise,
knocking about everything they met with in the castle, as if they were
determined to destroy all within it: and they gave such loud raps at
the door of the chamber of the knight, that the lady was exceedingly
frightened. The knight heard it all, but did not say a word, as he would
not have it appear that he was alarmed, for he was a man of sufficient
courage for any adventure. These noises and tumults continued, in
{228}different parts of the castle, for a considerable time, and then
ceased. On the morrow, all the servants of the household assembled, and
went to their lord,' and said, 'My lord, did you not hear what we all
heard this night?' The Lord de Coarraze dissembled, and replied, 'What
is it you have heard?'

[Illustration: 253]

They then related to him all the noises and rioting they had heard, and
that the plates in the kitchen had been broken. He began to laugh, and
said, 'It was nothing, that they had dreamed it, or that it had been the
wind.' 'In the name of God,' added the lady, 'I well heard it.' {229}

"On the following night the noises and rioting were renewed, but much
louder than before, and there were such blows struck against the door
and windows of the chamber of the knight, that it seemed they would
break them down. The knight could no longer desist from leaping out of
his bed, and calling out, 'Who is it that at this hour thus knocks at my
chamber door?' He was instantly answered, 'It is I.' 'And who sends thee
hither?' asked the knight. 'The clerk of Catalonia, whom thou hast much
wronged; for thou hast deprived him of the rights of his benefice; I
will, therefore, never leave thee quiet, until thou hast rendered him
a just account, with which he shall be contented.'--'What art thou
called,' said the knight, 'who art so good a messenger?'--'My name is
Orthon.'--'Orthon,' said the knight, 'serving a clerk will not be of
much advantage to thee; for if thou believest him he will give thee
great trouble: I beg thou wilt therefore leave him and serve me, and I
shall think myself obliged to thee.' Orthon was ready with his answer,
for he had taken a liking to the knight, and said, 'Do you wish
it?'--'Yes,' replied the knight; 'but no harm must be done to any one
within these walls.'--'Oh, no,' answered Orthon; 'I have no power to
do ill to any one, only to awaken thee and disturb thy rest, or that of
other persons.'--'Do what I tell{230} thee,' added the knight, 'we shall
well agree, and leave this wicked priest, for he is a worthless fellow,
and serve me.'--'Well,' replied Orthon, 'since thou wilt have it so, I
consent.'

"Orthon took such an affection to the Lord de Coarraze, that he came
often to see him in the night-time, and when he found him sleeping, he
pulled his pillow from under his head, or made great noises at the door
or windows; so that when the knight was awakened, he said, 'Orthon,
let me sleep.'--'I will not,' replied he, 'until I have told thee some
news.' The knight's lady was so much frightened, the hairs of her head
stood on end, and she hid herself under the bed-clothes. 'Well,' said
the knight, 'and what news hast thou brought me?' Orthon replied, 'I am
come from England, Hungary, or some other place, which I left yesterday,
and such and such things have happened.' Thus did the Lord de Coarraze
know by means of Orthon all things that were passing in different parts
of the world; and this connection continued for five years; but he could
not keep it to himself, and discovered it to the Count de Foix, in the
manner I will tell you. The first year, the Lord de Coarraze came to the
Count de Foix, at Orthès, or elsewhere, and told him, 'My lord, such
an event has happened in England, in Scotland, Germany, or some other
country,' and the Count {231}de Foix, who found all this intelligence
prove true, marvelled greatly how he could have acquired such early
information, and entreated him so earnestly, that the Lord de Coarraze
told him the means by which he had acquired his intelligence, and the
manner of its communication.

"When the Count de Foix heard this, he was much pleased, and said, 'Lord
de Coarraze, nourish the love of your intelligencer. I wish I had such
a messenger; he costs you nothing, and you are truly informed of
everything that passes in the world.'--'My lord,' replied the knight, 'I
will do so.' The Lord de Coarraze was served by Orthon for a long time.
I am ignorant if Orthon had more than one master; but two or three
times every week he visited the knight and told him all the news of the
countries he had frequented, which he wrote immediately to the Count de
Foix, who was much delighted therewith, as there is not a lord in the
world more eager after news from foreign parts than he is. Once, when
the Lord de Coarraze was in conversation on this subject with the Count
de Foix, the Count said, 'Lord de Coarraze, have you never yet seen your
messenger?'--'No, by my faith, never, nor have I ever pressed him on
this matter.'--'I wonder at that,' replied the count, 'for had he
been so much attached to me, I should have begged of him to have shown
himself in his {232}own proper form; and I entreat you will do so, that
you may tell how he is made, and what he is like. You have said that he
speaks Gascon as well as you or I do.'--'By my faith,' said the Lord de
Coar-raze, 'he converses just as well and as properly, and, since you
request it, I will do all I can to see him.' It fell out when the Lord
de Coarraze, as usual, was in bed with his lady (who was now accustomed
to hear Orthon without being frightened), Orthon arrived and shook the
pillow of the knight, who was asleep. On waking, he asked who was there.
Orthon replied, 'It is I.'--'And where dost thou come from?'--'I
come from Prague, in Bohemia.'--'How far is it hence?'--'Sixty days'
journey,' replied Orthon. 'And hast thou returned thence in so short
a time?'--'Yes, as may God help me: I travel as fast as the wind, or
faster.'--'What, hast thou got wings?'--'Oh, no.'--'How, then, canst
thou fly so fast?'--'That is no business of yours.'--'No!' said the
knight. 'I should like exceedingly to see what form thou hast, and how
thou art made.'--'That does not concern you to know,' replied Orthon;
'be satisfied that you hear me, and that I bring you intelligence you
may depend on.'--'By God,' said the Lord de Coarraze, 'I should love
thee better if I had seen thee.'--'Well,' replied Orthon, 'since you
have such a desire, the first thing you shall see {233}tomorrow morning,
in quitting your bed, shall be myself.'--'I am satisfied,' said the
knight; 'you may now depart; I give thee thy liberty for this night.'

"When morning came, the knight arose, but his lady was so much
frightened she pretended to be sick, and said she would not leave her
bed the whole day. The Lord de Coarraze willed it otherwise. 'Sir,'
said she, 'if I do get up, I shall see Orthon; and, if it please God, I
would neither see nor meet him.'--'Well,' replied the knight,
'I am determined to see him;' and leaping out of his bed, he seated
himself on the bedstead, thinking he should see Orthon in his own shape;
but he saw nothing that could induce him to say he had seen him. When
the ensuing night arrived, and the Lord de Coarraze was in bed, Orthon
came and began to talk in his usual manner. 'Go,' said the knight; 'thou
art a liar. Thou oughtest to have shown thyself to me this morning,
and hast not done so.'--'No!' replied Orthon; 'but I have.'--'I say,
no.'--'And did you see nothing at all when you leaped out of bed?' The
Lord de Coarraze was silent, and, having considered awhile, said, 'Yes;
when sitting on my bedside, and thinking of thee, I saw two straws which
were turning and playing together on the floor.'--'That was myself,'
replied Orthon, 'for I had taken that form.' The Lord de Coarraze said,
'That will not {234}satisfy me; I beg of thee to assume some other
shape, so that I may see thee and know thee.' Orthon answered, 'You
ask so much that you will ruin me and force me away from you, for your
requests are too great.'--'You shall not quit me,' said the Lord
de Coarraze; 'if I had once seen thee, I should not again wish
it.'--'Well,' replied Orthon, 'you shall see me to-morrow, if you
pay attention to the first thing you observe when you leave your
chamber.'--'I am contented,' said the knight; 'now go thy ways, for I
want to sleep.' Orthon departed.

[Illustration: 259]

"On the morrow, about the hour of eight, the knight had risen and was
dressed; on leaving his apartment, he went to a window which looked
into the court of the castle. Casting his eyes about, the first thing
he observed was an immensely large sow, but she {235}was so poor, she
seemed only skin and bone, with long hanging ears all spotted, and a
sharp-pointed, lean snout. The Lord de Coarraze was disgusted at such a
sight, and, calling to his servants, said, 'Let the dogs loose quickly,
for I will have that sow killed and devoured.' The servants hastened to
open the kennel, and to set the hounds on the sow, who uttered a loud
cry and looked up at the Lord de Coarraze, leaning on the balcony of his
window, and was never seen afterwards; for she vanished, and no one ever
knew what became of her.

[Illustration: 260]

"The knight returned quite pensive to his chamber, for he then
recollected what Orthon had told him, and said: 'I believe I have seen
my messenger Orthon, and repent having set my hounds on him, for perhaps
I may never see him more: he frequently told me, that if I ever angered
him, I should lose him.' He kept his word; for never did he return
to the hôtel de Coarraze, and the knight died the following year."
{236}This Orthon, the familiar spirits, queen Mab, are the poor little
popular gods, children of the pool and the oak, engendered by the
melancholy and awe-struck reveries of the spinning maiden and the
peasant. A great state religion then overshadowed all thoughts; doctrine
ready-made was imposed upon them; men could no longer, as in Greece or
Scandinavia, build the great poem which suited their manners and mind.
They received it from above, and repeated the litany with docility, yet
not very well understanding it. Their invention produced only legends of
saints or churchyard superstitions. Since they could not reach God, they
struck out for themselves goblins, hermits, and gnomes, and by these
simple and fantastic figures they expressed their rustic life or their
vague terrors. This Orthon, who storms at the door in the night
and breaks the dishes, is he anything more than the night-mare of a
half-wakened man, anxiously listening to the rustling of the wind that
fumbles at the doors, and the sudden noises of the night magnified by
silence! The child in his bed suffers similar fears when he covers eyes
and ears that he may not see the strange shadow of the wardrobe, or hear
the stifled cries of the thatch on the roof. The two straws that play
convulsively on the floor, twined together like twins, and shine
with mysterious brilliancy in the {237}pale sunlight, leave a vague
uneasiness in the disordered brain.

[Illustration: 262]

In this way is born the race of familiars and fairies, nimble creatures,
swift travellers, as capricious and sudden as a dream, who amuse
themselves maliciously in sticking together the manes of the horses, or
in souring the milk, yet sometimes become tender and domesticated,
attached like the cricket to its hearthstone, and are the penates of the
country and the farm, invisible and powerful as gods, quaint and odd as
children.

[238]

Thus all the legends preserve and set off vanished ways and
sentiments, like to those mineral forces which, deep down in the heart
of the mountains, transform charcoal and stones into marble and the
diamond.

[Illustration: 263]

{239}


[Illustration: 265]

{240}{241}


IV.

We no sooner reach Lestelle, than we are assured on all sides that we
must visit the chapel. We pass between rows of shops full of rosaries,
basins for holy-water, medals, small crucifixes, through a cross-fire
of offers, exhortations and cries. After which we are free to admire
the edifice, a liberty which we are careful not to abuse. On the portal,
indeed, there is a pretty enough virgin in the style of the seventeenth
century, four evangelists in marble, and in the interior several
tolerable pictures; but the blue dome starred with gold looks like
a bonbonnière, the walls are disgraced with engravings from the rue
Saint-Jacques, the altar is loaded with gewgaws. The gilded den is
pretentious and gloomy; for such a beautiful country the good God seems
but ill harbored.

The poor little chapel nestles close to a huge mountain wooded with
crowded green thickets, which stretches out superbly in the light, and
warms its belly in the sun. The highway is abruptly checked, makes a
curve and crosses the Gave. The pretty bridge of a single arch rests its
feet upon the naked rock and trails its ivy drapery in the blue-green
eddies of the stream. We ascend beautiful wooded hills where the cows
are grazing, and whose rounded slopes dip gently {242}down to the
river's brink. We are nearing Saint Pé, on the confines of Bigorre and
Beam.

Saint-Pe contains a curious Roman church writh sculptured doorway. A
luminous dust was dancing in its warm shadows; the eyes penetrated with
pleasure into the depths of the background; its reliefs seemed to swim
in a living blackness. All at once comes a clatter of cracking whips,
of rolling and grinding wheels, of hoofs that strike fire from the
pavement; then the endless hedge of white walls running away to the
right and the left, flecked with glaring lights; then the sudden opening
of the heavens and the triumph of the sun, whose furnace blazes in the
remotest depths of the air.


V.

[Illustration: 267]

Near Lourdes, the hills became bald and the landscape sad. Lourdes is
only a mass of dull, lead-colored roofs, heaped up below the highway.
{243}

[Illustration: 269]

{244}{245}The two small towers of the fort outline their slender forms
against the sky. A single enormous, blackish rock lifts its back,
corroded by mosses, above the enclosure of a slight wall that winds to
shut it in, and suggests an elephant in a boarded shed. The neighborhood
of the mountains dwarfs all human constructions.

Heavy clouds rose in the sky, and the dull horizon became encased
between two rows of mountains, gaunt, patched with scant brushwood,
cleft in ravines; a pale light fell on the mutilated summits and into
the gray crevices. Bands of beggars, in relays, hooked themselves on
to the carriage with hoarse inarticulate noises, with idiotic air, wry
necks, and deformed bodies; the projecting sinews swelled the wrinkled
skin, and, peeping through the rags and tatters, was seen the flesh, in
color like a burned brick.

We entered the gorge of Pierrefitte. The clouds had spread, and darkened
the whole heaven; the wind swept along in sudden gusts and whipped the
dust into whirlwinds. The carriage rolled on between two immense walls
of dark rocks, slashed and notched as if by the axe of an infuriate
giant; rugged furrows, seamed with yawning gashes, reddish wounds,
torn and crossed by pallid wounds, scar upon scar; the perpendicular
{246}flank still bleeds from multiplied blows. Half-detached, bluish
masses hung in sharp points over our heads; a thousand feet higher up,
layers of blocks leaned forward, overhanging the way. At a prodigious
height, the black, battlemented summits pierced the vapors, while, with
every step forward, it seemed as if the narrow passage were coming to
an end. The darkness was growing, and, under that livid light with
its threatening reflexes, it seemed that those beetling monsters were
shaking and would soon engulf everything. The trees, beaten against the
rock, were bending and twisting. The wind complained with a long-drawn
piercing moan, and beneath its mournful sound, the hoarse rumbling of
the Gave was heard as it dashed madly against the rocks it could not
subdue, and moaned sadly like a stricken soul that rebels against the
torments it is powerless to escape.

The rain came and covered all objects with its blinding veil. An hour
later, the drained clouds were creeping along half way up the height;
the dripping rocks shone through a dark varnish, like blocks of polished
mahogany. Turbid water went boiling down the swollen cascades; the
depths of the gorge were still darkened by the storm; but a tender light
played over the wet summits, like a smile bathed in tears. The gorge
opened up; the {247} arches of the marble bridges sprang lightly
into the limpid air, and, sheeted in light, Luz was seen seated among
sparkling meadows and fields of millet in full bloom.

[Illustration: 272]

{248} {249}

[Illustration: 275]

{250}



CHAPTER II. LUZ.


I.

Luz is a little city, thoroughly rustic and agreeable. Streams of water
run down the narrow, flinty streets; the gray houses press together
for the sake of gaining a little shade. The morning sees the arrival of
flocks of sheep, of asses laden with wood, of grunting and undisciplined
hogs, and bare-footed peasant girls, knitting as they walk alongside of
their carts. Luz is in a spot where four valleys come together. Men and
beasts disappear on the market-place; red umbrellas are fixed in the
ground. The women seat themselves alongside their wares; around them
their red-cheeked brats are nibbling their bread, and frisking like
so {251}many mice; provisions are sold, stuffs are bought. At noon the
streets are deserted; here and there in the shadow of a doorway may be
discerned the figure of an old woman sitting, but no sound is heard save
the gentle murmur of the streams along their stony bed.

The faces here are pretty: the children are a pleasure to look upon,
before toil and the sun have spoiled their features. They amble merrily
through the dust, and turn toward the passer their bright round faces,
their speaking eyes, with slight and abrupt movements. When the girls,
with their red petticoats tucked up, and in capulets of thick red stuff,
approach to ask alms of you, you see under the crude color the pure
oval of a clear-cut, proud countenance, a soft, almost pale hue, and the
sweet look of two great tranquil eyes.


II.

The church is cool and solitary; it once belonged to the Templars. These
monk-soldiers obtained a foothold in the most out-of-the-way corners
of Europe. The tower is square as a fortress; the enclosing wall has
battlements like a fortified city. The dark old door-way would be easily
defended. Upon its arch, which is very low, may be distinguished a
half-obliterated Christ, and two fantastic, {252}rudely colored birds.
As you enter, a small uncovered tomb serves as font, and you are shown
a low door through which passed the accursed race of the _bigots._ * Its
first aspect is singular, but has nothing unpleasant about it. A
good woman in a red capulet, knitting in hand, was praying near a
confessional of badly planed boards, under an old brown gallery of
turned wood. Poverty and antiquity are never ugly, and this expression
of religious care seemed to suit well with the ruins and souvenirs of
the middle ages scattered about us.

     * Name applied among the Pyrenees to a people afflicted
     with Cretinism.--Translator.

But deeply rooted in the people is a certain indefinable love of the
ridiculous and absurd which succeeds in spoiling everything; in this
poor church, tracery, from which the gilding is worn away, crosses a
vault of scoured azure with tarnished stars, flames, roses and little
cherubs with wings for cravats. A brownish pink angel, suspended by one
foot, flies forward, bearing in its hand a golden crown. In the opposite
aisle may be seen the face of the sun, with puffy cheeks, semicircular
eyebrows, and looking as sapient as in an almanac. The altar is loaded
with a profusion of tarnished gilding, sallow angels, with simple and
piteous faces like those of children who have eaten too much dinner. All
this shows that their huts are very dreary, naked and dull.{253}

[Illustration: 278]

{254}

{255}A people that has just emerged from the dirt is apt to love
gilding. The most insipid sweetmeat is delicious to one who has long
eaten nothing but roots and dry bread.


III.

Luz was formerly the capital of these valleys, which formed together
a sort of republic; each commune deliberated upon its own private
interests; four or five villages formed a _vic_ and the deputies from
every four vics assembled at Luz.

The list of the assessments was, from time immemorial, made upon bits of
wood called _totchoux,_ that is to say, sticks. Each community had its
_totchoti,_ upon which the secretary cut with his knife Roman ciphers,
the value of which was known only to himself. In 1784 the intendant
of Auch, who knew nothing of this custom, ordered of the government
officials to bring to him the ancient registers; the official came,
followed by two cartloads of totchoux.

Poor country, free country. The estates of Bigorre were composed of
three chambers which deliberated separately; that of the clergy, that
of the nobility, and the third estate, made up of consuls or principal
officers of the communes, and deputies {256}from the valleys. In these
assemblies the taxes were apportioned, and all important matters were
discussed. A valley is a natural fortified city, defended against the
outside world and stimulating association. The enemy could be arrested
on his way, and crushed beneath the rocks; in winter, the torrents and
the snow shut him off from all entrance. Could knights in armor pursue
the herdsman into his bogs? What could they have taken as prisoners,
except a few half-starved goats? The daring climbers, hunters of the
bear and wolf, would willingly have played at this game, sure of winning
at it warm clothes, arms and horses. It is thus that independence has
lasted in Switzerland.

Free country, poor country. I have already remarked that in the valley
of Ossau. The plains are mere defiles between the feet of two chains.
Cultivation climbs the slope, wherever it is not too steep. If a morsel
of earth exists between two rocks, it is put to seed. Man gets from
the desert as much as he can wrest from it: so terraces of fields and
harvests mottle the declivity with green strips and yellow squares.
Barns and stables sprinkle it with white patches; it is streaked by a
long grayish footpath. But this robe, torn by jutting rocks as it is,
stops short half-way up, and the summit is clothed only with barren
moss.

The harvest is gathered in July, without horses, {257}of course, or
carts. On these slopes, man alone can perform the service of a horse:
the sheaves are enclosed in great pieces of cloth and fastened with
cords; the reaper takes the enormous bundle upon his head, and ascends
with naked feet among the sharp-pointed stalks and stones, without ever
making a false step.

[Illustration: 282]

You find here ordinances reducing by half the number of men-at-arms
required of the country, founded upon the proportion of harvests
destroyed each year by hail and frost. Several times, during the
religious wars, the country became a desert. In 1575, Montluc declares
"that it is now so poor that the dwellers hereabouts are forced to quit
their houses and take to begging." In 1592, the {258}people of Comminge
having devastated the country, "the peasants of Bigorre abandoned the
culture of the land for want of cattle, and the greater part of them
took the road into Spain." It is not a hundred years since that, in all
the country, there, were known to exist but three hats and two pairs of
shoes. To this very day, the mountaineers are forced to renew with every
year their sloping fields, wasted by the rains of winter. "They burn,
for light, bits of resinous pine, and scarcely ever taste meat."

What misery is contained in those few words! Yet how deep must be the
wretchedness that can break the tie that binds man to his native soil!
A threadbare text from history, a phrase of passionless statistics,
contain within their limits years of suffering, myriads of deaths,
flight, separations, degradation. Of a truth, there is too much ill in
the world. With every century, man removes a bramble and a stone
that had helped to obstruct the way over which he advances; but what
signifies a bramble or a stone? There remain, and always will remain,
more than enough to lacerate and kill him. Besides, new flints are
falling into the way, new thorns are springing up. Prosperity increases
his sensibility: an equal pain is inflicted by a less evil; the body may
be better shielded, but the soul is more disordered. {259}

[Illustration: 284]

{260}

{261}The benefits of the Revolution, the progress of industry, the
discoveries of science, have given us equality, the comforts of life,
liberty of thought, but at the same time a malevolent envy, the rage for
success, impatience of the present, necessity of luxury, instability of
government, and all the sufferings of doubt and over-refinement.

[Illustration: 286]

Is a citizen of the year 1872 any happier than one of the year

1672? Less oppressed, better informed; furnished with more comforts,
all that is certain; but I do not know if he is more cheerful. One thing
alone increases--experience, and with it science, industry, power. In
all else, we lose as much as we gain, and the surest progress lies in
resignation. {262}


IV.

This valley is everywhere refreshed and made, fertile by running water.
On the road to Pierrefitte two swift streams prattle under the shade of
the flowering hedges: no travelling companion could be gayer. On
both sides, from every meadow, flow streamlets that cross each other,
separate, come together, and finally together spring into the Gave. In
this way the peasants water all their crops; a field has five or six
lines of streams which run hemmed in by beds of slate. The bounding
troop tosses itself in the sunlight, like a madcap band of boys just
let loose from school. The turf that they nourish is of an incomparable
freshness and vigor; the herbage grows thick along the brink, bathes its
feet in the water, or lies under the rush of the little waves, and its
ribbons tremble in a pearly reflection under the ripples of silver. You
cannot walk ten steps without stumbling upon a waterfall; swollen and
boiling cascades pour down upon great blocks of stone; transparent
sheets stretch themselves over the rocky shelves; threadlike streaks of
foam wind from the verge to the very valley; springs ooze out alongside
the hanging grasses and fall drop by drop; on the right rolls the Gave,
and drowns all these murmurs with {263}its great monotonous voice. The
beautiful blue iris thrives along the marshy slopes; woods and Crops
climb very high among the rocks. The valley smiles, encircled with
verdure; but on the horizon the embattled peaks, the serrate crests
and black escarpments of the notched mountains rise into the blue sky,
beneath their mantle of snow.

[Illustration: 288]

Back of Luz is a bare, rounded eminence, called Saint-Pierre, crowned by
a fragment of gray ruin, and commanding a view of the whole valley.
When the sky has been overcast, I have spent here entire hours without
a moment of weariness: beneath its cloudy Curtain the air is moderately
warm. Sudden patches of sunlight stripe the Gave, or illumine the
harvests hung midway on the mountain slope. The swallows, with shrill
cries, wheel high in the creeping vapors; the {264}sound of the Gave
comes up, softened by distance into a harmony that is almost aerial. The
wind breathes, and dies away; a troop of little flowers flutters at the
passage of its wing; the buttercups are drawn up in line; frail little
pinks bury in the herbage their rosy-purple stars; slender-stemmed
grasses nod over the broad slaty patches; the air is filled with the
fragrance of thyme. Are they not happy, these solitary plants, watered
by the dew, fanned by the breezes?

[Illustration: 289]

This height is a desert; no one comes to tread them down; they grow
after their own sweet will, in clefts of the rock, by families, useless
and free, flooded by the loveliest sunlight. And man, the slave
of necessity, begs and calculates under penalty of his life! Three
children, all in rags, came {265}upon the scene: "What are you looking
for here?"

"Butterflies."

"What for?"

"To sell."

The youngest had a sort of tumor on his forehead. "Please, sir, a sou
for the little one who is ill."

[Illustration: 290]

{266}



CHAPTER III. SAUVT-SAUVEUR.--BARÉGES.


I.

Saint-Sauveur is a sloping street, both pretty and regular, bearing
no trace of the extemporized hotel or of the scenery of an opera,
and without either the rustic roughness of a village or the tarnished
elegance of a city. The houses extend without monotony, their lines of
windows encased in rough-hewn marble: on the right, they are set back
to back against pointed rocks, from which water oozes; on the left they
overhang the Gave, which eddies at the bottom of the precipice.

The bath-house is a square portico with a double row of columns, in
style at once noble and simple; the blue-gray of the marble, neither
dull nor glaring, is pleasing to the eye. A terrace {267}planted with
lindens projects over the Gave, and receives the cool breezes that rise
from the torrent toward the heights; these lindens fill the air with a
delicate and agreeable perfume. At the foot of the breast-high wall, the
water of the spring shoots forth in a white jet and falls between the
tree-tops into a depth unfathomable by the eye.

[Illustration: 292]

At the end of the village, the winding paths of an English garden
descend to the Gave; you cross its dull blue waters on a frail wooden
bridge, and {268}mount again, skirting a field of millet as far as
the road to Scia. The side of this road plunges down six hundred feet,
streaked with ravines; at the bottom of the abyss, the Gave writhes in a
rocky corridor that the noon-day sun scarce penetrates; the slope is so
rapid that, in several places, the stream is invisible; the precipice is
so deep that the roar reaches the ear like a murmur. The torrent is lost
to sight under the cornices and boils in the caverns; at every step it
whitens with foam the smooth stone. Its restless ways, its mad leaps,
its dark and livid reflexes, suggest a serpent wounded and covered with
foam. But the strangest spectacle of all is that of the wall of rocks
opposite: the mountain has been cleft perpendicularly as if by an
immense sword, and one would say that the first gash had been further
mutilated by hands, weaker, yet still infuriate. From the summit down to
the Gave, the rock is of the color of dead wood, stripped of the bark;
the prodigious tree-trunk, slit and jagged, seems mouldering away there
through the centuries; water oozes in the blackened rents as in those
of a worm-eaten block; it is yellowed by mosses such as vegetate in the
rottenness of humid oaks. Its wounds have the brown and veined hues that
one sees in the old scars of trees. It is in truth a petrified beam, a
relic of Babel. {269}The geologists are a fortunate race; they express
all this, and many things besides, when they say that the rock is
schistose.

After going a league we found a bit of meadow, two or three cottages
situated upon the gentle slope. The contrast is refreshing. And yet the
pasturage is meagre, studded with barren rocks, surrounded with fallen
debris; if it were not for a rivulet of ice-cold water, the sun would
scorch the herbage. Two children were sleeping under a walnut tree;
a goat that had climbed upon a rock was bleating plaintively and
tremblingly; three or four hens, with curious and uneasy air, were
scratching on the brink of a trench; a woman was drawing water from the
spring with a wooden porringer: such is the entire wealth of these poor
households. Sometimes they have, four or five hundred feet higher up, a
field of barley, so steep that the reaper must be fastened by a rope in
order to harvest it.


II.

The Gave is strewn with small islands, which may be reached by jumping
from one stone to another. These islands are beds of bluish rock spotted
with pebbles of a staring white; they are submerged in winter, and
now there are trunks stripped of their bark still lying here and there
{270}among the bowlders. In some hollows are remains of ooze; from these
spring clusters of elms like a discharge of fireworks, and tufts of
grass wave over the arid pebbles; around the hushed water grows warm in
the caverns. Meanwhile on two sides the mountain lifts its reddish wall,
streaked with foam by the streamlets that wind down over the surface.
Over all the flanks of the island the cascades rumble like thunder;
twenty ravines, one above another, engulf them in their chasms, and
their roar comes from all sides like the din of a battle. A mist flashes
back and floats above all this storm: it hangs among the trees and
opposes' its fine cool gauze to the burning of the sun.


III.

In clear weather I have often climbed the mountain before sunrise.
During the night, the mist of the Gave, accumulated in the gorges, has
filled them to overflowing; under foot there is a sea of clouds, and
overhead a dome of tender blue radiant with morning splendor; everything
else has disappeared; nothing is to be seen but the luminous azure of
heaven and the dazzling satin of the clouds; nature wears her vesture
of purity. The eye glides with pleasure over the softly rounded forms of
the aerial mass. {271}

[Illustration: 297]

{272}{273}In its bosom the crests stand forth like promontories; the
mountain tops that it bathes rise like an archipelago of rocks; it
buries itself in the jagged gulfs, and waves slowly around the peaks
that it gains. The harshness of the bald crests heightens the grace
of its ravishing whiteness. But it evaporates as it rises; already the
landscapes of the depths appear under a transparent twilight; the middle
of the valley discovers itself. There remains of the floating sea only
a white girdle, which trails along the declivities; it becomes torn, and
the shreds hang for a moment to the tops of the trees; the last tufts
take flight, and the Gave, struck by the sun glitters around the
mountain like a necklace of diamonds.


IV.

Paul and I have gone to Bareges; the road is a continual ascent for two
leagues.

An alley of trees stretches between a brook and the Gave. The water
leaps from every height; here and there a crowd of little mills is
perched over the cascades; the declivities are sprinkled with them.
It is amusing to see the little things nestled in the hollows of the
colossal slopes. And yet their slated roofs smile and gleam among the
foliage. There is nothing here that is not gracious and lovely; the
banks of the Gave preserve their freshness {274}under the burning sun;
the small streams scarcely leave between themselves and it a narrow band
of green; one is surrounded by running waters; the shadow of the ashes
and alders trembles in the fine grass; the trees shoot up with a superb
toss, in smooth columns, and only spread forth in branches at a height
of forty feet. The dark water in the trench of slate grazes the green
stems in its course; it runs so swiftly that it seems to shiver.

[Illustration: 299]

On the opposite side of the torrent, the poplars rise one above another
on the verdant hill; their palish leaves stand out against the pure blue
of the sky; they quiver and shine at the slightest wind. {275}Flowering
brambles descend the length of the rock and reach the tips of the waves.
Further off, the back of the mountain, loaded with brushwood, stretches
out in a warm tint of dark blue. The distant woods sleep in this
envelope of living moisture, and the earth impregnated by it seems to
inhale with it force and pleasure.

[Illustration: 300]


V.

Soon the mountains grow bald, the trees disappear; nothing upon the
slopes but a poor {276}brushwood: Bareges is seen. The landscape is
hideous. The flank of the mountain is creviced with whitish slides; the
narrow and wasted plain disappears beneath the coarse sand; the poor
herbage, dry and weighed down, fails at every step; the earth is as if
ripped open, and the slough, through its yawning wound, exposes the very
entrails; the beds of yellowish limestone are laid bare; one walks on
sands and trains of rounded pebbles; the Gave itself half disappears
under heaps of grayish stones, and with difficulty gets out of the
desert it has made. This broken-up soil is as ugly as it is melancholy;
the debris are dirty and mean; they date from yesterday; you feel that
the devastation begins anew with every year. Ruins, in order to be
beautiful, must be either grand or blackened by time; here, the stones
have just been unearthed, they are still soaking in the mud; two miry
streamlets creep through the gullies: the place reminds one of an
abandoned quarry.

The town of Bareges is as ugly as its avenue; melancholy houses, ill
patched up; at some distance apart are long rows of booths and wooden
huts, where handkerchiefs and poor ironmongery are sold. It is because
the avalanche accumulates every winter in a mountain crevice on the
left, and as it slides down carries off a side of the street; these
booths are a scar. The cold mists collect {277}here, the wind penetrates
and the little town is uninhabitable in winter.

[Illustration: 302]

The around is enshrouded un der fifteen feet of snow; all the
inhabitants emigrate; seven or eight mountaineers are left here with
provisions, to watch over the houses and the furniture. It often happens
that these poor people cannot get as far as Luz, and remain imprisoned
during several weeks.

The bathing establishment is miserable, the compartments are cellars
without air or light; there are only sixteen cabinets, all dilapidated.
Invalids are often obliged to bathe at night. The three pools are fed
by water which has just served for the bathing-tubs; that for the poor
receives the water discharged from the other two. {278}These pools,
_piscines,_ are low and dark, a sort of stifling, under-ground prison.
One must have pretty good health in order to be cured in them.

[Illustration: 303]

The military hospital, banished to the north of the little town, is a
melancholy plastered building, whose windows are ranged in rows with
military regularity. The invalids, wrapped in a gray cloak too large for
them, climb one by one the naked slope, and seat themselves among the
stones; they bask whole hours in the sun, and look straight before them
with a resigned air. An invalid's days are so long! These wasted faces
resume an air of {279}gayety when a comrade passes; they exchange
a jest: even in a hospital, at Bareges even, a Frenchman remains a
Frenchman.

You meet poor old men on crutches, invalids, climbing the steep street.
Those visages reddened by the inclement air, those pitiful bent or
twisted limbs, the swollen or enfeebled flesh, the dull eyes, already
dead, are painful to behold. At their age, habituated to misery,
they ought to feel only the suffering of the moment, not to trouble
themselves about the past, and no longer to care for the future. You
need to think that their torpid soul lives on like a machine. They are
the ruins of man alongside those of the soil.

The aspect of the west is still more sombre. An enormous mass of
blackish and snowy peaks girdles the horizon. They are hung over the
valley like an eternal threat. Those spines so rugged, so manifold, so
angular, give to the eye the sensation of an invincible hardness. There
comes from them a cold wind, that drives heavy clouds towards Bareges;
nothing is gay but the two jewelled streamlets which border the street
and prattle noisily over the blue pebbles.

[Illustration: 304]

{280}


VI.

In order to console ourselves here, we have read some charming letters;
here is one of them from the little Duc du Maine, seven years old, whom
Mme. de Maintenon had brought here to be cured. He wrote to his mother
Mme. de Montespan, and the letter must certainly pass under the king's
eyes. What a school of style was that court!

"I am going off to write all the news of the house for thy diversion, my
dear little heart, and I shall write far better when I shall think
that it is for you, madame. Mme. de Maintenon spends all her time in
spinning, and, if they would let her, she would also give up her nights
to it, or to writing. She toils daily for my mind; she has good hope of
making something of it, and the darling too, who will do all he can to
have some brains, for he is dying with the desire of pleasing the king
and you. On the way here I read the history of Cæsar, am at present
reading that of Alexander, and shall soon commence that of Pompey. La
Couture does not like to lend me Mme. de Maintenon's petticoats, when I
want to disguise myself as a girl. I have received the letter you write
to the dear little darling; I was delighted with it; I will do what you
bid me, if only to please you, for I love {281}you superlatively. I
was, and am still, charmed with the little nod that the king gave me on
leaving, but was very ill pleased that thou didst not seem to me sorry:
thou wast beautiful as an angel."

Could any one be more gracious, more flattering, insinuating or
precocious? To please was a necessity at that time, to please people of
the world, quick-witted people. Never were men more agreeable; because
there was never greater need of being agreeable. This youth, brought
up among petticoats, took on from the beginning a woman's vivacity, her
coquetry and smiles. You see that he gets upon their knees, receives
and gives embraces, and is amusing; there is no prettier trinket in the
_salon._

Mme. de Maintenon, devout, circumspect and politic, also writes, but
with the clearness and brevity of a worldly abbess or a president in
petticoats. "You see that I take courage in a place more frightful than
I can tell you; to crown the misery, we are freezing here. The company
is poor; they respect and bore us. All the women are ill continually;
they are loungers who have found the world really great as soon as ever
they have been at Etampes."

We have amused ourselves with this raillery, dry, disdainful, clear-cut
and somewhat too short, and I have maintained to Paul that Mme. de
{282}Maintenon resembles the yews at Versailles, brushy extinguishers
that are too closely clipped. Whereupon I spoke very ill of the
landscapes of the seventeenth century, of Le Nôtre, Poussin and
his architectural nature, Leclerc, Perelle, and of their abstract,
conventional trees, whose majestically rounded foliage agrees with that
of no known species. He lectured me severely, according to his custom,
and called me narrow-minded; he maintains that all is beautiful; that
all that is necessary is to put yourself at the right point of view. His
reasoning was nearly as follows:

He claims that things please us by contrast, and that beautiful things
are different for different souls. "One day," said he, "I was travelling
with some English people in Champagne, on a cloudy day in September.
They found the plains horrible, and I admirable. The dull fields
stretched out like a sea to the very verge of the horizon, without
encountering a hill. The stalks of the close-reaped wheat dyed the earth
with a wan yellow; the plain seemed covered with an old wet mantle.
Here were lines of deformed elms; here and there a meagre square of
fir-trees; further off a cottage of chalk with its white pool: from
furrow to furrow the sun trailed its sickly light, and the earth,
emptied of its fruits, was like a woman dead in child-bed whose infant
they have taken away. {283}

[Illustration: 308]

{284}

{285}"My companions were utterly bored, and called down curses on France.
Their minds, strained by the rude passions of politics, by the national
arrogance, and the stiffness of scriptural morality, needed repose.
They wanted a smiling and flowery country, meadows soft and still,
fine shadows, largely and harmoniously grouped on the slopes of the
hills..The sunburnt peasants, dull of countenance, sitting near a pool
of mud, were disagreeable to them. For repose, they dreamed of pretty
cottages set in fresh turf, fringed with rosy honeysuckle. Nothing could
be more reasonable. A man obliged to hold himself upright and unbending
finds a sitting posture the most beautiful..

"You go to Versailles, and you cry out against the taste of the
seventeenth century. Those formal and monumental waters, the firs turned
in the lathe, the rectangular staircases heaped one above another, the
trees drawn up like grenadiers on parade, recall to you the geometry
class and the platoon school. Nothing can be better. But cease for an
instant to judge according to your habits and wants of the day. You
live alone, or at home, on a third floor in Paris, and spend four hours
weekly in the saloons of some thirty different people. Louis XIV. lived
eight hours a day, every day the whole year long, in public, and this
public included all the lords of France. He held his {286}drawing-room
in the open air; the drawing-room is the park at Versailles. Why ask
of it the charms of a valley? These squared hedges of hornbeam are
necessary that the embroidered coats may not be caught. This levelled
and shaven turf is necessary that high-heeled shoes may not be wetted.
The duchesses will form a circle about these circular sheets of
water. Nothing can be better chosen than these immense and symmetrical
staircases for showing off the gold and silver laced robes of three
hundred ladies. These large alleys, which seem empty to you, were
majestic when fifty lords in brocade and lace displayed here their
_cordons bleus_ and their graceful bows. No garden is better
constructed for showing one's self in grand costume and in great
company, for making a bow, for chatting and concocting intrigues of
gallantry and business. You wish perhaps to rest, to be alone, to dream;
you must go elsewhere; you have come to the wrong gate: but it would
be the height of absurdity to blame a drawing-room for being a
drawing-room.

"You understand then that our modern taste will be as transitory as
the ancient; that is to say, that it is precisely as reasonable and as
foolish. We have the right to admire wild, uncultivated spots, as
once men had the right of getting tired in them. Nothing uglier to the
seventeenth century {287}than a true mountain. It recalled a thousand
ideas of misfortune.

[Illustration: 312]

"The men who had come out from the civil wars and semi-barbarism thought
of famines, of long journeys on horseback through rain and snow, of
the wretched black bread mingled with straw, of the foul hostelries,
infested with vermin. They were tired of barbarism as we of
civilization. To-day the streets are so clean, the police so abundant,
the houses drawn out in such regular lines, manners are so peaceful,
events so small and so clearly foreseen, that we love grandeur and the
unforeseen. The landscape changes as literature does: then literature
furnished long {288}sugary romances and elegant dissertations;
now-a-days it offers spasmodic poetry and a physiological drama.
Landscape is an unwritten literature; the former like the latter is a
sort of flattery addressed to our passions, or a nourishment proffered
to our needs.

[Illustration: 313]

"These old wasted mountains, these lacerating points, bristling by
myriads, these formidable fissures whose perpendicular wall plunges
with a spring down into invisible depths; this chaos of monstrous ridges
heaped together, and crushing {289}each other like an affrighted herd of
leviathans; this universal and implacable domination of the naked rock,
the enemy of all life, refreshes us after our pavements, our offices and
our shops. You only love them from this cause, and this cause removed,
they would be as unpleasant to you as to Madame de Maintenon."

[Illustration: 314]

So that there are fifty sorts of beauty,--one for every age.

"Certainly."

Then there is no such thing as beauty.

"That is as if you were to say that a woman is nude because she has
fifty dresses." {290}

[Illustration: 315]



CHAPTER IV. CAUTERETS.


I.

Cauterets is a town at the bottom of a valley, melancholy enough, paved,
and provided with an octroi. Innkeepers, guides, the whole of a famished
population besieges us; but we have considerable force of mind, and
after a spirited resistance we obtain the right of looking about and
choosing.

Fifty paces further on, we are fastened upon by servants, children,
donkey-hirers and boys, who accidentally stroll about us. They offer us
cards, they praise up to us the site, the cuisine; they accompany us,
cap in hand, to the very edge of the village; at the same time they
elbow away all competitors: "The stranger is mine, I'll baste you if
{291}you come near him." Each hotel has its runners on the watch; they
hunt the isard in winter, the traveller in summer.

The town has several springs: that of the King cured Abarca, king of
Aragon; that of Cæsar restored health, as they say, to the great Cæsar.
Faith is needed in history as well as in medicine.

[Illustration: 316]

For example, in the time of Francis I. the Eaux Bonnes cured wounds;
they were called _Eaux d'arqtiebusades _; the soldiers wounded at Pavia
{292}were sent to them. Now they cure diseases of the throat and chest.
A hundred years hence they will perhaps heal something else; with every
century medicine makes an advance.

"Formerly," said Signarelle, "the liver was at the right and the heart at
the left; we have reformed all that."

A celebrated physician one day said to his pupils: "Employ this remedy
at once, while it still cures." Medicines, like hats, have their
fashions.

Yet what can be said against this remedy? The climate is warm, the gorge
sheltered, the air pure, the gayety of the sun is cheering. A change of
habits leads to a change of thoughts; melancholy ideas take flight. The
water is not bad to drink; you have had a beautiful journey; the moral
cures the physical nature; if not, you have had hope for two months--and
what, I beg to know, is a remedy, if not a pretext for hoping? You
take patience and pleasure until either illness or invalid departs, and
everything is for the best in the best of worlds.


II.

Several leagues away, among the precipices, sleeps the lake of Gaube.
The green water, three hundred feet in depth, has the reflexes of an
emerald. {293}

[Illustration: 318]

{294}

{295}The bald heads of the mountains are mirrored in it with a divine
serenity. The slender column of the pines is reflected there as clear as
in the air; in the distance, the woods clothed in bluish mist come down
to bathe their feet in its cold wave, and the huge Vignemale, spotted
with snow, shuts it about with her cliffs. At times a remnant of breeze
comes to ruffle it, and all those grand images undulate; the Greek
Diana, the wild, maiden huntress, would have taken it for a mirror.

[Illustration: 320]

How one sees her come to life again in such sites! Her marbles are
fallen, her festivals have vanished; but in the shivering of the firs,
at the sound of the cracking glaciers, before the steely splendors of
{296}these chaste waters, she reappears like a vision. All the night
long, in the outcries of the wind, the herdsmen could hear the baying
of her hounds and the whistling of her arrows; the untamed chorus of her
nymphs coursed over the precipices; the moon shone upon their shoulders
of silver, and on the point of their lances. In the morning she came
to bathe her arms in the lake; and more than once has she been seen
standing upon a summit, her eyes fixed, her brow severe; her foot trod
the cruel snow, and her virgin breasts gleamed beneath the winter sun.


III.

The Diana of the country is more amiable; it is the lively and gracious
Margaret of Navarre, sister and liberatress of Francis I. She came to
these waters with her court, her poets, her musicians, her savants,
a poet and theologian herself, of infinite curiosity, reading Greek,
learning Hebrew, and taken up with Calvinism. On coming out of the
routine and discipline of the middle ages, disputes about dogma and the
thorns of erudition appeared agreeable, even to ladies; Lady Jane Grey,
Elizabeth took part in these things: it was a fashion, as two centuries
later it was good taste to dispute upon Newton and the existence of God.
The {297}Bishop of Meaux wrote to Margaret: "Madame, if there were at
the end of the world a doctor who, by a single abridged verb, could
teach you as much grammar as it is possible to know, and another as much
rhetoric, and another philosophy, and so on with the seven liberal arts,
each one by an abridged verb, you would fly there as to the fire." She
did fly there and got overloaded. The heavy philosophic spoil oppressed
her already slender thought. Her pious poems are as infantile as the
odes written by Racine at Port-Royal. What trouble we have had in
getting free from the middle ages! The mind bent, warped and twisted,
had contracted the ways of a choir-boy.

A poet of the country composed in her honor the following pretty song:--

     "At the baths of Toulouse
     There's a spring clear and fair,
     And three pretty doves
     Came to drink and bathe there;
     When at last they had bathed
     Thus for months barely three,
     For the heights of Cauterets
     Left they fountain and me.
     But why go to Cauterets,
     What is there to be seen?

     "It is there that we bathe
     With the king and the queen.{298}
     And the king has a cot
     Hung with jasmin in flower;
     The dear queen has the same,
     But love makes it a bower."

Is it not graceful and thoroughly southern? Margaret is less poetic,
more French: her verses are not brilliant, but at times are very
touching, by force of real and simple tenderness.

A moderate imagination, a woman's heart thoroughly devoted, and
inexhaustible in devotion, a good deal of naturalness, clearness, ease,
the art of narration and of smiling, an agreeable but never wicked
malice, is not this enough to make you love Margaret and read here the
Heptameron?{299}

[Illustration: 324]

{300}


IV.

[Illustration: 326]

{301}

She wrote the Heptameron here; it seems that a journey to the waters was
then less safe than now-a-days.

The first day of the month of September, as the baths of the Pyrenees
mountains begin to have virtue, were found at those of Caulderets
several persons, from France and Spain as well as {302}other places;
some to drink the water, others bathe in it, others to take the
mud, which things are so marvellous, that invalids abandoned by the
physicians return from them completely cured. But about the time of
their return, there came on such great rains, that it seemed that God
had forgotten the promise given to Noah never again to destroy the world
by water; for all the cabins and dwellings of the said Caulderets were
so filled with water that it became impossible to live in them.

[Illustration: 327]

"The French lords and ladies, thinking to return to Tarbes as easily
as they had come, found the little brooks so swollen that they could
scarcely ford them. But when they came to pass the Bearnese Gave, which
was not two feet deep when they first saw it, they found it so large and
{303}impetuous, that they made a circuit to look for the bridges, which,
being nothing but wood, were swept away by the vehemence of the water.

[Illustration: 329]

{304}{305}"And some, thinking to break the violence of the course by
assembling several together, were so promptly swept away, that those
who would follow them lost the power and the desire of going after."
Whereupon they separated, each one seeking a way for himself. "Two poor
ladies, half a league beyond Pierrefitte, found a bear coming down the
mountain, before which they galloped away in such great haste that their
horses fell dead under them at the entrance of their dwelling; two of
their women, who came a long time after, told them that the bear had
killed all their serving men.

"So while they are all at mass, there comes into the church a man
with nothing on but his shirt, fleeing as if some one were chasing and
following him up. It was one of their companions by the name of Guébron,
who recounted to them how, as he was in a hut near Pierrefitte, three
men came while he was in bed; but he, all in his shirt as he was, with
only his sword, wounded one of them so that he remained on the spot,
and, while the other two amused themselves in gathering up their
companion, thought that he could not escape if not by flight, as he was
the least burdened by clothing. {306}

"The abbé of Saint-Savin furnished them with the best horses to be had
in Lavedan, good Bearn cloaks, a quantity of provisions, and pretty
companions to lead them safely in the mountains."

But it was necessary to busy themselves somewhat, while waiting for
the Gave to go down. In the morning they went to find Mme. Oysille, the
oldest of the ladies; they devoutly listened to the mass with her; after
which "she did not fail to administer the salutary food which she drew
from the reading of the acts of the saints and glorious apostles of
Jesus Christ." The afternoon was employed in a very different fashion:
they went into a beautiful meadow along the river Gave, where the
foliage of the trees is so dense, "that the sun could neither pierce the
shade nor warm the coolness, and seated themselves upon the green grass,
which is so soft and delicate that they needed neither cushions nor
carpets." And each in turn related some gallant adventure with details
infinitely artless and singularly precise. There were some relating
to husbands and yet more about monks. The lovely theologian is the
grand-daughter of Boccaccio, and the grand-mother of La Fontaine.

This shocks us, and yet is not shocking. Each age has its degree of
decency, which is prudery for this and blackguardism for another. {307}

[Illustration: 333]

{308}

{309}The Chinese find our trousers and close-fitting coat-sleeves
horribly immodest; I know a lady, an Englishwoman in fact, who allows
only two parts in the body, the foot and the stomach: every other word
is indecent; so that when her little boy has a fall, the governess must
say: "Master Henry has fallen, Madame, on the place where the top of his
feet rejoins the bottom of his stomach.

The habitual ways of the sixteenth century were very different. The
lords lived a little like men of the people; that is why they talked
somewhat like men of the people. Bonnivet and Henri II. amused
themselves in jumping like school-boys, and leaping over ditches
twenty-three feet wide. When Henry VIII. of England had saluted Francis
I. on the field of the cloth of gold, he seized him in his arms and
tried to throw him, out of pure sportiveness; but the king, a good
wrestler, laid him low by a trip. Fancy to-day the Emperor Napoleon at
Tilsitt receiving the Emperor Alexander in this fashion. The ladies
were obliged to be robust and agile as our peasants. To go to an evening
party they had to mount on horseback; Margaret, when in Spain, fearful
of being detained, made in eight days the stages for which a good
horseman would have required fifteen days; one had, too, to guard one's
self against violence; once she had need of her two fists and all her
nails against Bonnivet. In the midst of such manners, free talk was
only the {310}natural talk; the ladies heard it every day at table, and
adorned with the finest commentaries. Brantôme will describe for you the
cup from which certain lords made them drink, and Cellini will relate
you the conversation that was held with the Duchess of Ferrara. A
milkmaid now-a-days would be ashamed of it. Students among themselves,
even when they are tipsy, will scarce venture what the ladies of honor
of Catherine de Medicis sang at the top of their voice and with all
their heart. Pardon our poor Margaret; relatively she is decent and
delicate, and then consider that two hundred years hence, you also, my
dear sir and madam, you will perhaps appear like very blackguards.


V.

Sometimes here, after a broiling day, the clouds gather, the air is
stifling, one feels fairly ill, and a storm bursts forth. There was such
an one last night. Each moment the heavens opened, cleft by an immense
flash, and the vault of darkness lifted itself entire like a tent. The
dazzling light marked out the limits of the various cultures and the
forms of the trees at the distance of a league. The glaciers flamed with
a bluish glimmer; the jagged peaks suddenly lifted themselves upon the
horizon like an army of spectres. {311}

[Illustration: 337]

{312}

{313}The gorge was illumined in its very depths; its heaped-up blocks,
its trees hooked on to the rocks, its torn ravines, its foaming Gave,
were seen under a livid whiteness, and vanished like the fleeting
visions of an unknown and tortured world.

[Illustration: 339]

Soon the voice of the thunder rolled in the gorges; the clouds that bore
it crept midway along the mountain side, and came into collision among
the rocks; the report burst out like a discharge of artillery. The wind
rose and the rain came on. The inclined plane of the summits opened up
under its squalls; the funeral {314}drapery of the pines clung to the
sides of the mountain. A creeping plain came out from the rocks and
trees. The long streaks of rain thickened the air; under the flashes
you saw the water streaming, flooding the summits, descending the two
slopes, sliding in sheets over the rocks, and from all sides in hurried
waves running to the Gave. In the morning the roads were cut up with
sloughs, the trees hung by their bleeding roots, great patches of earth
had fallen away, and the torrent was a river.

[Illustration: 340]

{315}

[Illustration: 341]



CHAPTER V. SAINT-SAVIN.


I.

Upon a hill, at the end of a road, are the remains of the abbey of
Saint-Savin. The old church was, they say, built by Charlemagne; the
stones, eaten and burned, are crumbling, the disjointed flags are
incrusted with moss; from the garden the eye takes in the valley, brown
in the evening light; the winding Gave already lifts into the air its
trail of pale smoke.

It was sweet here to be a monk; it is in such places that the
_Imitation_ should be read; in such places was it written. For a
sensitive and noble nature, a convent was then the sole refuge; all
around wounded and repelled it.

Around what a horrible world! Brigand lords who plunder travellers and
butcher each other; artisans and soldiers who stuff themselves with meat
{316}and yoke themselves together like brutes; peasants whose huts they
burn, whose wives they violate, who out of despair and hunger slip away
to tumult.

[Illustration: 342]

No remembrance of good, nor hope of better. How sweet it is to renounce
action, company, speech, to hide one's self, forget outside things, and
to listen, in security and solitude, to the divine voices that, like
collected springs, murmur peacefully in the depths of the heart!

How easy is it here to forget the world! Neither books, nor news, nor
science; no one travels and no one thinks. This valley is the whole
universe; from time to time a peasant passes, or a man-at-arms. A moment
more and he is gone; the mind has retained no more trace of him than
the empty road. Every morning the eyes find again the great woods asleep
upon {317}the mountain's brow, and the layers of clouds stretched out
on the edge of the sky. The rocks light up, the summit of the forests
trembles beneath the rising breeze, the shadow changes at the foot of
the oaks, and the mind takes on the calm and the monotony of these slow
sights by which it is nourished. Meanwhile the responses of the monks
drone confusedly in the chapel; then their measured tread resounds
in the high corridors. Each day the same hours bring back the same
impressions and the same images. The soul empties itself of worldly
ideas, and the heavenly dream, which begins to flow within, little by
little heaps up the silent wave that is going to fill it.

Far from it are science and treatises on doctrine. They drain the stream
instead of swelling it. Will so many words augment peace and inward
tenderness? "The kingdom of God consisteth not in word, but in power."
The heart must be moved, tears must flow, the arms must open toward an
unseen place, and the sudden trouble will not be the work of the lips,
but the touch of the hand divine. This hand it is which doth "lift up
the humble mind;" this it is which teaches "without noise of words,
without confusion of opinions, without ambition of honor, without the
scuffling of arguments." A light penetrates, and all at once the eyes
see as it were a new heaven and a new earth. {318}

[Illustration: 344]

The men of the age perceive in its events only the events themselves;
the solitary discovers behind the veil of things created the presence
and the will of God. He it is who by the sun warms the earth, and by the
rain refreshes it. He it is who sustains the mountains and envelops
them at the setting of the sun in the repose of night. The heart feels
everywhere, around and inside of things, an immense goodness, like a
vague ocean of light which penetrates and animates the world; to this
goodness it intrusts and abandons itself, like a child that drops asleep
at evening on its mother's knees. A hundred times a day divine things
become palpable to it. The light streams through the morning mist,
chaste as the brow of the virgin; the {319} stars shine like celestial
eyes, and yonder when the sun goes down the clouds kneel at the brink of
heaven, like a blazing choir of seraphim.

[Illustration: 346]

{320}

{321}The heathen were indeed blind in their thoughts upon the grandeur
of nature. What is our earth, but a narrow pass between two eternal
worlds! Down there, beneath our feet, are the damned and their pains;
they howl in their caverns and the earth trembles; without the sign of
God, these walls would to-morrow be swallowed up in their abyss; they
often come out thence by the bare precipices; the passers-by hear
their shouts of laughter in the cascades; behind those gnarled beeches,
glimpses have been caught of their grimacing countenances, their eyes
of flame, and more than one herdsman, wandering at night towards their
haunt, has been found in the morning with hair on end and twisted neck.
But up there, in the azure, above the crystal, are the angels; many a
time has the vault opened, and, in a long trail of light, the saints
have appeared more radiant than molten silver, suddenly visible, then
all at once vanished. A monk saw them; the last abbot was informed by
them, in a vision, of the spring which healed his diseases. Another,
long time ago, hunting wild beasts one day, saw a great stag stop before
him with eyes filled with tears; when he had looked, he saw upon its
antlers the cross of Jesus Christ, fell on his knees, and, on his
{322}return to the convent, lived for thirty years doing penance in his
cell, without any desire to leave it. Another, a very young man, who
had gone into a forest of pines, heard far off a nightingale which sang
marvellously; he drew near in astonishment, and it seemed to him that
everything was transfigured; the brooks flowed as it were a long stream
of tears, and again seemed full of pearls; the violet fringes of the
firs shone magnificently, like a stole, upon their funereal trunks.
The rays ran along the leaves, empurpled and azured as if by cathedral
windows; flowers of gold and velvet opened their bleeding hearts in the
midst of the rocks. He approached the bird, which he could not see
among the branches, but which sang like the finest organ, with notes so
piercing and so tender, that his heart was at once torn and melted. He
saw nothing more of what was about him, and it seemed to him that his
soul detached itself from his breast, and went away to the bird, and
mingled itself with the voice which rose ever vibrating more and more
in a song of ecstasy and anguish, as if it had been the inner voice of
Christ to his Father when he was dying on the cross. When he returned
towards the convent, he was astonished to find that the walls, which
were quite new, had become brown as through age, that the little lindens
in the garden were now great trees, that no face among the {323}monks
was familiar to him, and that no one remembered to have seen him.
Finally an infirm old monk called to mind that in former times they had
talked to him of a novice who had gone, a hundred years before, into the
pine forest, but who had not come back, so that no one had ever known
what had happened to him. Thus transported and forgotten will those live
who shall hear the inner voices. God envelops us, and we have only to
abandon ourselves to him in order to feel him.

For he does not hold communion through outside things only; he is within
us, and our thoughts are his words. He who retires within himself, who
listens no more to the news of this world, who effaces from his mind
its reasonings and imaginations, and who holds himself in expectancy, in
silence and solitude, sees little by little a thought rise in him which
is not his own, which comes and goes without his will, and, whatever he
may will, which fills and enchants him, like those words, heard in a
dream, which make tranquil the soul with their mysterious song. The soul
listens and no longer perceives the flight of the hours; all its powers
are arrested, and its movements are nothing but the impressions which
come to it from above. Christ speaks, it answers; it asks, and he
teaches; it is afflicted, and he consoles. "My son, now will I teach
thee the way of peace and true liberty. {324}O Lord, I beseech thee, do
as thou sayest, for this is delightful for me to hear. _Be desirous, my
son, to do the will of another rather than thine own, choose always to
have less rather than more. Seek always the lowest place, and to be
inferior to every one. Wish always, and pray, that the will of God
may be wholly fulfilled in thee. Behold such a man entereth within
the borders of peace and rest._ O Lord, this short discourse of thine
containeth within itself much perfection. It is little to be spoken,
but full of meaning, and abundant in fruit." How languid is everything
alongside of this divine company! How all which departs from it is
unsightly! "When Jesus is present, all is well, and nothing seems
difficult: but when Jesus is absent everything is hard. When Jesus
speaks not inwardly to us, all other comfort is nothing worth; but if
Jesus speak but one word, we feel great consolation. How dry and hard
art thou without Jesus! How foolish and vain, if thou desire anything
out of Jesus! Is not this a greater loss than if thou shouldest lose the
whole world? He that findeth Jesus, findeth a good treasure, yea, a Good
above all good. And he that loseth Jesus, loseth much indeed, yea, more
than the whole world! Most poor is he who liveth without Jesus; and he
most rich who is well with Jesus. It is matter of great skill to know
how to hold converse with Jesus; and to know how to keep Jesus, a
{325}point of great wisdom. Be thou humble and peaceable, and Jesus will
be with thee. Be devout and quiet, and Jesus will stay with thee..Thou
mayest soon drive away Jesus and lose his favor if thou wilt turn aside
to outward things. And if thou shouldest drive him from thee, and lose
him, unto whom wilt thou flee, and whom wilt thou seek for thy friend?
Without a friend thou canst not well live; and if Jesus be not above all
a friend to thee, thou shalt be sad and desolate."--"Behold! My God,
and all things." What can I wish more, and what happier thing can I
long for? "My God, and all things." To him that understandeth, enough is
said; and to repeat it often is delightful to him that loveth.

Some died of this love, lost in ecstasies or drowned in a divine
languor. These are the great poets of the middle ages.

[Illustration: 351]

{326}


[Illustration: 352]



CHAPTER VI. GAVARNIE.


I.

From Luz to Gavarnie is eighteen miles. It is enjoined upon every living
creature able to mount a horse, a mule, or any quadruped whatever, to
visit Gavarnie; in default of other beasts, he should, putting aside
all shame, bestride an ass. Ladies and convalescents are taken there in
sedan-chairs.

Otherwise, think what a figure you will make on your return.

"You come from the Pyrenees; you've seen Gavarnie?"

"No."

What then did you go to the Pyrenees for?

You hang your head, and your friend triumphs, especially if he was
bored at Gavarnie. You undergo a description of Gavarnie after the last
edition of the guide-book. Gavarnie is a sublime {327}sight; tourists
go sixty miles out of their way to see it; the Duchess d'Angoulême had
herself carried to the furthest rocks; Lord Bute, when he saw it for
the first time, cried: "If I were now at the extremity of India,
and suspected the existence of what I see at this moment, I should
immediately leave in order to enjoy and admire it!" You are overwhelmed
with quotations and supercilious smiles; you are convicted of laziness,
of dulness of mind, and, as certain English travellers say, of
_unæsthetic insensibility._

There are but two resources: to learn a description by heart, or to
make the journey. I have made the journey, and am going to give the
description.


II.

We leave at six o'clock in the morning, by the road to Scia, in the fog,
without seeing at first anything beyond great confused forms of trees
and rocks. At the end of a quarter of an hour, we hear along the pathway
a noise of sharp cries drawing near: it was a funeral procession coming
from Scia. Two men bore a small coffin under a white shroud; behind
came four herdsmen in long cloaks and brown capuchons, silent, with
bent heads; four women followed in black mantles. It was they {328}who
uttered those monotonous and piercing lamentations; one knew not if they
were wailing or praying. They walked with long steps through the cold
mist, without stopping or looking at any one, and were going to bury the
poor body in the cemetery at Luz.

[Illustration: 354]

At Scia the road passes over a small bridge very high up, which commands
another bridge, gray and abandoned. The double tier of arches bends
gracefully over the blue torrent; meanwhile a pale light already floats
in the diaphanous mist; a golden gauze undulates above the {329}Gave;
the aërial veil grows thin and will soon vanish.

[Illustration: 356]

{330}

{331}Nothing can convey the idea of this light, so youthful, timid and
smiling, which glitters like the bluish wings of a dragon-fly that is
pursued and is taken captive in a net of fog. Beneath, the boiling water
is engulfed in a narrow conduit and leaps like a mill-race. The column
of foam, thirty feet high, falls with a furious din, and its glaucous
waves, heaped together in the deep ravine, dash against each other and
are broken upon a line of fallen rocks. Other enormous rocks, debris of
the same mountain, hang above the road, their squared heads crowned with
brambles for hair; ranged in impregnable line, they seem to watch the
torments of the Gave, which their brothers hold beneath themselves
crushed and subdued.


III.

We turn a second bridge and enter the plain of Gèdres, verdant and
cultivated, where the hay is in cocks; they are harvesting; our horses
walk between two hedges of hazel; we go along by orchards; but the
mountain is ever near; the guide shows us a rock three times the height
of a man, which, two years ago, rolled down and demolished a house.
{332}We encounter several singular caravans: a band of young priests
in black hats, black gloves, black cassocks tucked up, black stockings,
very apparent, novices in horsemanship who bound at every step, like the
Gave; a big, jolly round man, in a sedan-chair, his hands crossed over
his belly, who looks on us with a paternal air, and reads his newspaper;
three ladies of sufficiently ripe age, very slender, very lean, very
stiff, who, for dignity's sake, set their beasts on a trot as we
draw near them. The cicisbeo is a bony cartilaginous gentleman, fixed
perpendicularly on his saddle like a telegraph-pole. We hear a harsh
clucking, as of a choked hen, and we recognize the English tongue.

As for the French nation, it is but poorly represented at Gèdres. First
appears a long, mouldy custom-house officer, who indorses the permission
to pass of the horses; with his once green coat the poor man had the
air of having sojourned a week in the river. No sooner has he let us go,
than a blackguard band, boys and girls, pounces upon us; some stretch
out their hands, others wish to sell stones to us; they motion to the
guide to stop; they claim the travellers; two or three hold the bridle
of each horse, and all cry in chorus: "The grotto! the grotto!" There is
nothing for it but to resign ourselves and see the grotto.{333}



[Illustration: 359]

{334}

{335}A servant opens a door, makes us descend two staircases, throws
a lump of earth in passing into a lagune, to awaken the sleeping
fish, takes half-a-dozen steps over a couple of planks. "Well, the
grotto?"--"Behold it, Monsieur." We see a streamlet of water between two
rocks overhung with ash-trees. "Is that all?" She does not understand,
opens her eyes wide and goes away. We ascend again and read this
inscription: _The charge for seeing the grotto is ten cents._ The
matter is all explained. The peasants of the Pyrenees are not wanting in
brains.


IV.

Beyond Gèdres is a wild valley called Chaos, which is well named.
After quarter of an hour's journey there, the trees disappear, then the
juniper and the box, and finally the moss; the Gave is no longer seen;
all noises are hushed. It is a dead solitude peopled with wrecks. Three
avalanches of rocks and crushed flint have come down from the summit
to the very bottom. The horrid tide, high and a quarter of a league in
length, spreads out like waves its myriads of sterile stones, and the
inclined sheet seems still to glide towards inundating the gorge. These
stones are shattered and pulverized; their living fractures and thin
harsh points wound the eye; they are still bruising and crushing
{336}each other. Not a bush, not a spear of grass; the arid grayish
train burns beneath a sun of brass; its débris are scorched to a dull
hue, as in a furnace. A ruined mountain is more desolate than any human
ruin.

A hundred paces further on, the aspect of the valley becomes formidable.
Troops of mammoths and mastodons in stone lie crouching over the eastern
declivity, one above another, and heaped up over the whole slope. These
colossal ridges shine with a tawny hue like iron rust; the most enormous
of them drink the water of the river at their base. They look as if
warming their bronzed skin in the sun, and sleep, turned over, stretched
out on their side, resting in all attitudes, and always gigantic and
frightful. Their deformed paws are curled up; their bodies half buried
in the earth; their monstrous backs rest one upon another. When you
enter into the midst of the prodigious band, the horizon disappears, the
blocks rise fifty feet into the air; the road winds painfully among the
overhanging masses; men and horses seem but dwarfs; these rusted edges
mount in stages to the very summit, and the dark hanging army seems
ready to fall on the human insects which come to trouble its sleep.

Once upon a time, the mountain, in a paroxysm of fever, shook its
summits like a cathedral that is falling in.{337}

[Illustration: 363]

{338}

{339}A few points resisted, and their embattled turrets are drawn out
in line on the crest; but their layers are dislocated, their sides
creviced, their points jagged.

[Illustration: 365]

The whole shattered ridge totters. Beneath them the rock fails suddenly
in a living and still bleeding wound. The splinters are lower down,
strewn over the declivity. The tumbled rocks are sustained one upon
another, and man today passes in safety amidst the disaster. But what a
day was that of the ruin! It is not very ancient, perhaps of the sixth
century, and the year of the terrible earthquake told of by Gregory
of Tours. If a man could without perishing have seen the {340}summits
split, totter and fall, the two seas of rock come bounding into the
gorge, meet one another and grind each other amidst a shower of sparks,
he would have looked upon the grandest spectacle ever seen by human
eyes.

On the west, a perpendicular mole, crannied like an old ruin, lifts
itself straight up towards the sky. A leprosy of yellowish moss has
incrusted its pores, and has clothed it all over with a sinister livery.
This livid robe upon this parched stone has a splendid effect. Nothing
is uglier than the chalky flints that are drawn from the quarry; just
dug up, they seem cold and damp in their whitish shroud; they are not
used to the sun; they make a contrast with the rest. But the rock that
has lived in the air for ten thousand years, where the light has every
day laid on and melted its metallic tints, is the friend of the sun, and
carries its mantle upon its shoulders; it has no need of a garment of
verdure; if it suffers from parasitic vegetations, it sticks them to
its sides and imprints them with its colors. The threatening tones with
which it clothes itself suits the free sky, the naked landscape, the
powerful heat that environs it; it is alive like a plant; only it is
of another age, one more severe and stronger than that in which we
vegetate. {341}


V.

Gavarnie is a very ordinary village, commanding a view of the
amphitheatre we are come to see. After you have left it, it is still
necessary to go three miles through a melancholy plain, half buried in
sand by the winter inundations; the waters of the Gave are muddy and
dull; a cold wind whistles from the amphitheatre; the glaciers, strewn
with mud and stones, are stuck to the declivity like patches of dirty
plaster. The mountains are bald and ravined by cascades; black cones of
scattered firs climb them like routed soldiers; a meagre and wan turf
wretchedly clothes their mutilated heads. The horses ford the Gave
stumblingly, chilled by the water coming from the snows. In this wasted
solitude you meet, all of a sudden, the most smiling parterre. A throng
of the lovely iris crowds itself into the bed of a dried torrent: the
sun stripes with rays of gold their velvety petals of tender blue; the
harvest of plumes winds with the sinuosities of the bank, and the eye
follows over the whole plain the folds of the rivulet of flowers.

We climb a last eminence, sown with iris and with stones. There is a hut
where you breakfast and leave the horses. You arm yourself with a stout
stick, and descend upon the glaciers of the amphitheatre. {342}

[Illustration: 368]

These glaciers are very ugly, very dirty, very uneven, very slippery; at
every step you run the risk of falling, and if you fall it is on sharp
stones or into deep holes. They look like heaps of old plaster-work, and
those who have admired them have a stock of admiration for sale.

The water has pierced them so that you walk upon bridges of snow. These
bridges have the appearance of kitchen air-holes; the water is swallowed
up in a very low archway, and, when you look closely, you get a distinct
sight of a black hole. An Englishman who wished to enjoy the view,
allowed himself to fall, and came out half dead, "with the rapidity of a
trout." We left such experiments to the trout and the English. {343}


VI.

[Illustration: 369]

After the glaciers we find a sloping esplanade; we climb for ten minutes
bruising our feet upon fragments of sharp rock. Since leaving the hut we
have not lifted our eyes, in order to reserve for ourselves an unbroken
sensation. Here at last we look. {344}A wall of granite crowned
with snow hollows itself before us in a gigantic amphitheatre. This
amphitheatre is twelve hundred feet high, nearly three miles in
circumference, three tiers of perpendicular walls, and in each tier
thousands of steps.

[Illustration: 370]

The valley ends there; the wall is a single block, and impregnable. The
other summits might fall, but its massive layers would not be moved. The
mind is overwhelmed by the idea of a stability that cannot be shaken
and an assured eternity. There is the boundary of two countries and two
races; this it is that Roland wanted to break, when with a sword-stroke
he opened a breach in the summit. But the immense wound disappeared in
the immensity of the conquered wall.{345}

[Illustration: 372]

{346}

{347} Three sheets of snow are spread out over the three tiers of
layers. The sun falls with all its force upon; this virginal robe
without being able to make it shine. It will preserve its dead
whiteness. All this grandeur is austere; the air is chilled beneath the
noonday rays; great, damp shadows creep along the foot of the walls.
It is the everlasting winter and the nakedness of the desert. The sole
inhabitants are the cascades assembled to form the Gave.

[Illustration: 373]

The streamlets of water come by thousands from the highest layer, leap
from step to step, cross their stripes of foam, wind, unite and fall by
a dozen brooks that slide from the last layer in flaky streaks to lose
themselves in the glaciers of the bottom. The thirteenth cascade on the
left is twelve hundred and sixty-six feet {348}high. It falls slowly,
like a dropping cloud, or the unfolding of a muslin veil; the air
softens its fall; the eye follows complacently the graceful undulation
of the beautiful airy veil. It glides the length of the rock, and seems
to float rather than to fall. The sun shines, through its plume, with
the softest and loveliest splendor. It reaches the bottom like a bouquet
of slender waving feathers, and springs backward in a silver dust; the
fresh and transparent mist swings about the rock it bathes, and its
rebounding train mounts lightly along the courses. No stir in the
air; no noise, no living creature in this solitude. You hear only the
monotonous murmur of the cascades, resembling the rustle of the leaves
that the wind stirs in the forest.

On our return, we seated ourselves at the door of the hut. It is a
poor, squat little house, heavily supported upon thick walls; the knotty
joists of the ceiling retain their bark. It is indeed necessary that it
should be able to stand out alone against the snows of winter. You find
everywhere the imprint of the terrible months it has gone through. Two
dead fir-trees stand erect at the door. The garden, three feet square,
is defended by enormous walls of piled-up slates. The low and black
stable leaves neither foot-hold nor entry for the winds. A lean colt was
seeking a little grass among the stones. {349}

[Illustration: 375]

{350}

{351}A small bull, with surly air, looked at us out of the sides of
his eyes; the animals, the trees and the site, wore a threatening
or melancholy aspect. But in the clefts of a rock were growing some
admirable buttercups, lustrous and splendid, which looked as if painted
by a ray of sunshine.

At the village we met our companions of the journey who had sat down
there.. The good tourists get fatigued, stop ordinarily at the inn, take
a substantial dinner, have a chair brought to the door, and digest while
looking at the amphitheatre, which from there appears about as high as a
house. After this they return, praising the sublime sight, and very glad
that they have come to the Pyrenees.

[Illustration: 377]

{352}


[Illustration: 378]



CHAPTER VII. THE BER GONZ.--THE PIC DU MIDI.


I.

We ought to be useful to our fellow-mortals; I have climbed the Bergonz
in order to have at least one ascent to tell about.

A stony, zigzag pathway excoriates the green mountain with its whitish
track. The view changes with every turn. Above and below us are meadows
with girls making hay, and little houses stuck to the declivity like
swallows' nests. Lower down, an immense pit of black rock, to which from
all sides hasten streams of silver. The higher up we are, the more the
valleys are contracted and fade from sight; the more the gray mountains
{353}enlarge and spread themselves in all their hugeness. Suddenly,
beneath the burning sun, the perspective becomes confused; we feel the
cold and damp touch of some unknown and invisible being. A moment after,
the air clears up, and we perceive behind us the white, rounded back
of a beautiful cloud fleeing into the distance, and whose shadow glides
lightly over the slope. The useful herbage soon disappears; scorched
mosses, thousands of rhododendrons clothe the barren escarpments; the
road is damaged by the force of the hidden springs; it is encumbered
with rolling stones. It turns with every ten paces, in order to conquer
the steepness of the slopes. You reach at last a naked ridge, where you
dismount from your horse; here begins the top of the mountain. You walk
for ten minutes over a carpet of serried heather, and you are upon the
highest summit.

What a view! Everything human disappears; villages, enclosures,
cultivations, all seem like the work of ants. I have two valleys under
my eyes, which seem two little bands of earth lost in a blue funnel.
Nothing exists here but the mountains. Our roads and our works have
scratched upon them an imperceptible point; we are mites, who lodge,
between two awakings, under one of the hairs of an elephant. Our
civilization is a pretty, miniature toy, with which nature amuses
herself for {354}a moment, and which presently she will break.

[Illustration: 380]

You see nothing but a throng of mountains seated under the burning
dome of heaven. They are ranged in an amphitheatre, like a council of
immovable and eternal being's. All considerations are overpowered by the
sensation of immensity: monstrous ridges which stretch themselves out,
gigantic, bony spines, ploughed flanks that drop down precipitously into
indistinguishable depths.{355}

[Illustration: 381]

{356}

{357}It is as though you were in a bark in the middle of the sea. The
mountain-chains clash like billows. The tops are sharp and jagged like
the crests of uplifted waves; they come from all sides, athwart each
other, piled one above another, bristling, innumerable, and the flood of
granite mounts high into the sky at the four corners of the horizon.
On the north, the valleys of Luz and Argelès open up in the plain by
a bluish vista, shining with a dead splendor resembling two ewers of
burnished pewter. On the west the chain of Bareges stretches like a saw
as far as the Pic du Midi, a huge, ragged-edged axe, marked with patches
of snow; on the east, lines of leaning fir-trees mount to the assault of
the summits. In the south an army of embattled peaks, of ridges cut
to the quick, squared towers, spires, perpendicular escarpments, lifts
itself beneath a mantle of snow; the glaciers glitter between the dark
rocks; the black ledges stand out with an extraordinary relief against
the deep blue. These rude forms pain the eye; you are oppressively alive
to the rigidness of the masses of granite which have burst through the
crust of our planet, and the invincible ruggedness of the rock that is
lifted above the clouds. This chaos of violently broken lines tells of
the effort of forces of which we have no longer any idea. {358}Since
then Nature has grown mild; she rounds and softens the forms she moulds;
she embroiders in the valleys her leafy robe, and, as an industrious
artist, she shapes the delicate foliage of her plants. Here, in her
primitive barbarism, she only knew how to cleave the blocks and heap
up the rough masses of her Cyclopean constructions. But her monument is
sublime, worthy of the heaven it has for a vault and the sun which is
its torch.


II.

Geology is a noble science. Upon this summit theories grow lively; the
arguments of the books breathe new life into the story of the mountains,
and the past appears grander than the present. This country was in
the beginning a solitary and boiling sea, then slowly cooled, finally
peopled by living creatures and built up by their debris. Thus were
formed the ancient limestones, the slates of transition and several of
the secondary rocks. What myriads of ages are accumulated in a single
phrase! Time is a solitude in which we set up here and there our
boundaries; they reveal its immensity, but do not measure it.

This crust cleaves, and a long wave of molten granite heaves itself up,
forming the lofty chain of {359}the Gave, of the Nestes, the Garonne,
the Mala-detta, Néouvielle.

[Illustration: 385]

{360}

{361}From here you see Néouvielle in the north-east. How this wall of
fire worked in lifting itself amidst this upturned sea, the imagination
of man will never conceive. The liquid mass of granite formed a paste
among the rocks; the lower layers were changed into slate beneath
the fiery blast; the level grounds rose up, and were overturned. The
subterranean stream rose with an effort so abrupt, that they were stuck
to its flanks in layers almost perpendicular. "It was congealed in
torment, and its agitation is still painted in its petrified waves."

How much time rolled away between this revolution and the next?
Monuments are wanting; the centuries have left no traces. There is
a page torn out in the history of the earth. Our ignorance like our
knowledge overwhelms us. We see one infinity, and from it we divine
another which we do not see.

At last the ocean changed its bed, perhaps from the uplifting of
America; from the south-west came a sea to burst upon the chain.
The shock fell upon the dark embattled barrier that you see towards
Gavarnie. There was a frightful destruction of marine animals: Their
corpses have formed the shelly banks that you cross in mounting to la
Brèche; several layers of la Brèche, of the {362}Taillon and of Mont
Perdu, are fields still fetid with death. The rolling sea, tearing up
its bed, drifted it against the wall of rocks, piled it against the
sides, heaped it upon the summits, set mountain upon mountain, covered
the immense rock, and oscillated in furious currents in its ravaged
basin.

[Illustration: 388]

I seemed to see on the horizon the oozy surface coming higher than the
summits, lifting its waves against the sky, eddying in the valleys, and
howling above the drowned mountains like a tempest.

That sea was bringing half of the Pyrenees; its raging waters overlaid
the primitive declivity with calcareous strata, tilted and torn;
upon these the quieted waters deposited the high horizontal layers.
{363}Yonder, in the south-west, the Vignemale is covered with them. In
order to raise up the summits, generations of marine creatures were born
and died silent and inert populations which swarmed in the warm ooze,
and watched through their green waves the rays of the blue-tinged sun.
They have perished along with their sepulchre; the storms have torn open
the banks where they had buried themselves, and these shreds of their
wreck scarce tell how many myriads of centuries this shrouded world has
seen pass away.

One day at last, the great mountains which form the horizon on the south
were seen to grow, Troumousse, the Vignemale, Mont Perdu, and all the
summits that surround Gèdres. The soil had burst open a second time. A
wave of new granite arose, laden with the ancient granite, and with the
prodigious mass of the limestones; the alluvia rose to more than ten
thousand feet; the ancient summits of pure granite were surpassed; the
beds of shells were lifted into the clouds, and the upheaved tops found
themselves forever above the seas.

Two seas have dwelt upon these summits; two streams of burning rock have
erected these chains. What will be the next revolution? How long time
will man yet last? A contraction of the crust which bears him will cause
a wave of lava to gush forth or will displace the level of the seas. We
live {364}between two accidents of the soil; our history occupies, with
room to spare, a line in the history of the earth; our life depends upon
a variation in the heat; our duration is for a moment, and our force a
nothing. We resemble the little blue forget-me-nots which you pluck
as you go down the slope; their form is delicate, their structure
admirable; nature lavishes them and crushes them; she uses all her
industry in shaping them, and all her carelessness in destroying them.
There is more art in them than in the whole mountain. Have they any
ground for pretending that the mountain was made for them?


III.

Paul has climbed the Pic du Midi of Bigorre: here is his journal of the
trip:--

"Set out in the mist at four o'clock in the morning. The pastures of
Tau through the mist; the mist is distinctly visible. The lake of Oncet
through the mist; same view.

"Howker of the Five Bears. Several whitish or grayish spots on a whitish
or grayish ground. To form an idea of it, look at five or six wafers, of
a dirty white, stuck behind a leaf of blotting-paper.

"Beginning of the steep rise; ascent at a footpace, head of one to tail
of another; this recalls to {365}me Leblanc's riding-school, and the
fifty horses advancing gracefully in the saw-dust, each one with his
nose against the tail of the one before him, and his tail against the
nose of his follower, as it used to be on Thursdays, the school-day for
going out and for the riding lesson. I cradle myself voluptuously in the
poetical remembrance.

[Illustration: 391]

"First hour: view of the back of my guide and the hind-quarters of
his horse. The guide has a vest of bottle-green velvet, darned in two
places, on the right and on the left; the horse is a dirty brown and
bears the marks of the whip. Several big pebbles in the pathway. Fog. I
meditate on German philosophy. {366}"Second hour: the view enlarges; I
perceive the left eye of the guide's horse. That eye is blind; it loses
nothing.

"Third hour: the view broadens more. View of the hind-quarters of two
horses and two tourists' vests fifteen feet above us. Gray vests, red
girdles, berets. They swear and I swear; that consoles us a little. .

"Fourth hour: joy and transports; the guide promises me for the summit
the view of a sea of clouds.

"Arrival: view of the sea of clouds. Unhappily we are in one of the
clouds. Appearance that of a vapor bath when one is in the bath.

"Benefits: cold in the head, rheumatism in the feet, lumbago, freezing,
such happiness as a man might feel who had danced attendance for eight
hours in an ante-chamber without fire.

"And this happens often?

"Twice out of three times. The guides swear it does not."

[Illustration: 392]

{367}

[Illustration: 393]



CHAPTER VIII. PLANTS AND ANIMALS.


I.

The beeches push high upon the declivities, even beyond three thousand
feet. Their huge pillars strike down into the hollows where earth is
gathered. Their roots enter into the clefts of the rock, lift it, and
come creeping to the surface like a family of snakes. Their skin, white
and tender in the plains, is changed into a grayish and solid bark;
their tenacious leaves shine with a vigorous green, beneath the sun
which cannot penetrate them. They live isolated, because they need
space, and range themselves at intervals one above another like lines of
towers. From afar, between the dull heather, their mound rises splendid
with light, and sounds with its hundred thousand leaves as with so many
little bells of horn. {368}


II.

But the real inhabitants of the mountains are the pines, geometrical
trees, akin to the ferruginous blocks hewn by the primitive eruptions.
The vegetation of the plains unfolds itself in undulating forms with
all the graceful caprices of liberty and wealth. The pines, on the other
hand, seem scarcely alive; their shaft rises in a perpendicular line
along the rocks; their horizontal branches part from the trunk at right
angles, equal as the radii of a circle, and the entire tree is a cone
terminated by a naked spike. The dull little blades that answer for
leaves have a melancholy hue, without transparency or lustre; they seem
hostile to the light; they neither reflect it, nor allow it to pass,
they extinguish it; hardly does the noonday sun fringe them with a
bluish reflection. Ten paces away, beneath such an aureole, the black
pyramid cuts the horizon like an opaque mass. They crowd together
in files under their funereal mantles. Their forests are silent as
solitudes; the whistle of the wind makes there no noise; it glides over
the stiff beard of the leaves without stirring or rubbing them together.
One hears no sound save the whispering of the tops and the shrivelling
of the little yellowish lamels which fall in showers as soon as you
touch a branch. {369}

[Illustration: 395]

{370}

{371}The turf is dead, the soil naked; you walk in the shade beneath an
inanimate verdure, among pale shafts which rise like tapers. A strong
odor fills the air, resembling the perfume of aromatics. The impression
is that made by a deserted cathedral, while, after a ceremony, the smell
of incense still floats under the arches, and the declining day outlines
far away in the obscurity the forest of pillars.

They live in families and expel the other trees from their domain.
Often, in a wasted gorge, they may be seen like a mourning drapery
descending among the white glaciers. They love the cold, and in winter
remain clothed in snow. Spring does not renew them; you see only a few
green lines run through the foliage; they soon grow dark like the rest.
But when the tree springs from a spot of deep earth, and rises to a
height of a hundred feet, smooth and straight as the mast of a ship,
the mind with buoyancy follows to the very summit the flight of its
inflexible form, and the vegetable column seems as grand as the mountain
which nurtures it.


III.

Higher up, on the barren steeps, the yellowish box twists its knotty
feet beneath the stones. It is a melancholy and tenacious creature,
stunted {372}and thrust back upon itself; overborne amidst the rocks,
it dares not shoot upward nor spread. Its small thick leaves follow each
other in monotonous rows, clumsily oval and of a formal regularity. Its
stem, short and grayish, is rough to the touch; the round fruit encloses
black capsules, hard as ebony, that must be broken open for the seed.
Everything in the plant is calculated with a view to utility: it thinks
only of lasting and resisting; it has neither ornaments, elegance, nor
richness; it expends its sap only in solid tissues, in dull colors, in
durable fibres. It is an economical and active housewife, the only thing
capable of vegetating in the quagmires that it fills.

If you continue to ascend, the trees begin to fail. The brush-fir creeps
in a carpet of turf. The rhododendrons grow in tufts and crown the
mountain with rosy clusters. The heather crowds its white bunches,
small, open, vase-shaped flowers, from which springs a crown of garnet
stamens. In the sheltered hollows, the blue campanulas swing their
pretty bells; the least wind lays them low; they live for all that, and
smile, trembling and graceful.

But, among all these flowers nourished with light and pure air, the
most precious is the thornless rose. Never did petals form a frailer and
lovelier corolla; never did a vermilion so vivid color a more delicate
tissue. {373}

[Illustration: 399]

{374}


IV.

{375}At the summit grow the mosses. Battered by the wind, dried by
the sun, they lose the fresh green tint they wear in the valleys and on
the brink of the springs. They are reddened with tawny hues, and their
smooth filaments have the reflexes of a wolf's fur. Others, yellowed and
pale, cover with their sickly colors the bleeding crevices. Then there
are gray ones, almost white, which grow like remnants of hair upon the
bald rocks. Far away, upon the back of the mountain, all these tints are
mingled, and the shaded fur emits a wild gleam.

The last growths are reddish crusts, stuck to the walls of rock, seeming
to form part of the stone, and which you might take, not for a
plant, but for a scurf. Cold, dryness, and the height have by degrees
transformed or killed vegetation.


V.

The climate shapes and produces animals as well as plants.

The bear is a serious beast, a thorough mountaineer, curious to behold
in his great-coat of felted hair, yellowish or grayish in color. It
seems formed {376}for its domicile and its domicile for it. Its heavy
fur is an excellent mantle against the snow. The mountaineers think
it so good, that they borrow it from him as often as they can, and he
thinks it so good that he defends it against them to the best of his
ability. He likes to live alone, and the gorges of the heights are as
solitary as he wishes.

[Illustration: 402]

The hollow trees afford him a ready-made house; as these are for the
most part beeches and oaks, he finds in them at once food and shelter.
For the rest, brave, prudent, and robust, he is an estimable animal; his
only faults are that he eats his little ones, when he runs across them,
and that he is a poor dancer. {377}

[Illustration: 403]

In hunting him, they go into ambush and fire on him as he passes.
Lately, in a battue, a superb female was tracked. When the foremost
hunters, who were novices, saw the glitter of the little fierce eyes,
and perceived the black mass descending with great strides, beating the
underbrush, they forgot all of a sudden that they had guns, and kept
whist behind their oak. A hundred paces further on, a brave fellow
fired. The bear, which was not hit, came up on a gallop. The man,
dropping his gun, slipped into a pit. Reaching the bottom, he felt of
his limbs, and by some miracle found himself whole, when he saw the
animal hesitating above {378}his head, busy in examining the slope, and
pressing her foot upon the stones to see if they were firm. She sniffed
here and there, and looked at the man with the evident intention of
paying him a visit. The pit was a well; if she reached the bottom, he
must resign himself to a tête-à-tête. While the man reflected on this,
and thought of the animal's teeth, the bear began to descend with
infinite precaution and address, managing her precious person with
great care, hanging on to the roots, slowly, but without ever stumbling.
She was drawing near, when the hunters came up and shot her dead.

[Illustration: 404]

The isard dwells above the bear, upon the naked tops, in the region
of the glaciers. He needs space for his leaps and gambols. He is
too lively and gay to shut himself, like the heavy misanthrope, in the
gorges and forests. No animal is more agile; he leaps from rock to rock,
clears precipices, and keeps {379}his place upon points where there is
just room for his four feet You sometimes hear a hollow bleating on the
heights: it is a band of isards cropping the herbage amidst the snow;
their tawny dress and their little horns stand out in the blue of the
heavens; one of them gives the alarm and all disappear in a moment.


VI.

[Illustration: 405]

You often hear for a half-hour a tinkling of bells behind the mountain;
these are the herds of goats changing their pasture. Sometimes there are
more than a thousand of them. You find yourself stopped in crossing the
bridges until the whole caravan has filed over. They have long hanging
hairs which form their coat; with their black mantle and great beard,
you would say that they were {380}dressed for a masquerade. Their yellow
eyes stare vaguely, with an expression of curiosity and gentleness. They
seem to wonder at their walking in such orderly fashion on level ground.
Only to look at that dry leg and horny foot, you feel that they are
framed to wander at random and leap about on the rocks. From time to
time the less disciplined ones stop, set their fore feet against the
mountain, and crop a bramble or a blossom of lavender. The others come
and push them on; they start off again with a mouthful of herbage, and
eat as they walk. All their physiognomies are intelligent, resigned and
melancholy, with flashes of caprice and originality. You see the forest
of horns waving above the black mass, and their smooth hair shining
in the sun. Enormous dogs, with woolly coat, spotted with white, walk
gravely along the sides, growling when you draw near. The herdsman
comes behind in his brown cloak, with an eye fixed, glittering, void of
thought, like that of the animals; and the whole band disappears in a
cloud of dust, out of which comes a sound of shrill bleating.


VII.

Why should not I speak of the happiest animal in creation? A great
painter, Karel du Jardin, has taken a liking for it: he has drawn it
in all its attitudes, and has shown all its pleasures and all its
tastes.{381}

[Illustration: 407]

{382}

{383} The rights of prose are indeed equal to those of painting, and
I promise that travellers will take pleasure in considering the hogs.
There, the word is out. Now mind that in the Pyrenees they are not
covered with tainting filth, as on our farms; they are rosy or black,
well washed, and live upon the dry gravel, alongside the running waters.

[Illustration: 409]

They make holes in the heated sand, and sleep there in groups of five
or six, close set in lines, in admirable order. When any one draws
near, the whole mass moves; the corkscrew tails frisk fantastically;
two crafty, philosophic eyes open beneath the pendent ears; the mocking
noses stretch forth and snuff; they all grunt in concert; after which,
becoming accustomed to the intrusion, they are quieted, they lie down
again, the eyes close {384}in sanctimonious fashion, the tails retire
into place, and the blessed rogues return to their digestion and
enjoyment of the sun. All these expressive snouts seem to cry shame
upon prejudices, and invoke enjoyment; there is something reckless
and derisive about them; the whole countenance is directed towards the
snout, and the end of the entire head is in the mouth. Their lengthened
nose seems to sniff and take in from the air all agreeable sensations.
They spread themselves so complacently on the ground, they wag their
ears with such voluptuous little movements, they utter such penetrating
ejaculations of pleasure, that you get out of patience with them. Oh
genuine epicureans, if sometimes in your sleep you deign to reflect, you
ought to think, like the goose of Montaigne, that the world was made for
you, that man is your servant, and that you are the privileged creatures
of nature. There is but one moment of trouble in their whole life, that
is when they are killed. Still they pass quickly away and do not foresee
this moment.


VIII.

Myriads of lizards nestle in the chinks of slate and in the walls of
rounded pebbles. On the approach of a passer-by, they run like a streak
across {385}the road. If you stand quiet for a moment, you see their
little restless, sly heads peep out between two stones; the rest of the
body shows itself, the tail wriggles, and, with an abrupt movement, they
climb zigzag upon the gravelly ledges. There they have as much sun as
they please, sun to roast alive in; at noon, the rock burns the hand.
This powerful sun heats their cold blood, and gives spring and action
to their limbs. They are capricious, passionate, violent, and fight like
men. Sometimes you may see two of them rolling the whole length of a
rock, one over the other, in the dust, get up again dimmed and dirty,
and run briskly away, like cowardly and insubordinate schoolboys taken
in a misdeed. Some of them lose their tails in these adventures, so that
they look as if they wore a coat that is too short for them; they hide,
ashamed of being so ill dressed. Others in their gray justi-coats have
slight, graceful motions, an air at once so coquettish and timid that
it takes away all desire to harm them. When they are asleep on a slab
of stone, you can see their whitish throat and their small, intelligent
mouth; but they scarcely, ever sleep, they are always on the lookout;
they scamper off at the least sound, and, when nothing troubles them,
they trot, frolic, climb up and down, make a hundred turns for pleasure.
They love company, and live near or with one another. No animal is
{386}prettier or has more innocent ways; with the charming white and
yellow sedum, it enlivens the long walls of stone, and both live on
dryness, as other things on moisture.

The sun, the light, the vegetation, animals, man, are so many books
wherein Nature has, in different characters, written the same thought.
If the hogs have a clean and rosy skin, it is because the boiling
granite and the sea swarming with fish have during millions of years
accumulated and uplifted ten thousand feet of rock.

[Illustration: 412]



BOOK IV. BAGNE RES AND LUCHON.


[Illustration: 415]

{389}



CHAPTER I. FROM LUZ TO BAGNERES-DE-BIGORRE.


I.

Here one must submit to long, stifling ascents; the horses trudge on
at a foot-pace or pant; the travellers sleep or sweat; the conductor
grumbles or drinks; the dust whirls, and, if you go out, your throat is
parched or your eyes smart. There is only one way of passing the evil
hour: it is to tell over some old story of the country, as, for example,
the following:--

Bos de Bénac was a good knight, a great friend of the king Saint Louis;
he went on a crusade into the land of Egypt, and killed many Saracens
for {390}the salvation of his soul. But finally the French were beaten
in a great battle, and Bos de Bénac left for dead. He was taken away
prisoner along the river, towards the south, into a country where the
skin of the men was quite burned by the heat, and there he remained
ten years. They made him herdsman of their flocks, and often beat him
because he was a Frank and a Christian.

[Illustration: 416]

One day when he was afflicted and lamenting his lot in a solitary place,
he saw appear before him a little black man, who had two horns to his
forehead, a goat's foot, and a more wicked air than {391}the most wicked
of Saracens. Bos was so used to seeing black men, that he did not make
the sign of the cross. It was the devil, who said, sneering, to him:
"Bos, what good has it done thee to fight for thy God? He leaves thee
the servant of my servants of Nubia; the dogs of thy castle are better
treated than thou. Thou art thought dead and tomorrow thy wife will be
married. Go then to milk thy flock, thou good knight."

Bos uttered a loud cry and wept, for he loved his wife; the devil
pretended to have pity on him, and said to him: "I am not so bad as thy
priests tell. Thou hast fought well; I like brave men; I will do for
thee more than thy friend, the crucified one. This night shalt thou be
in thy beautiful land of Bigorre. Give me in exchange a plate of nuts
from thy table: what, there thou art embarrassed as a theologian! Dost
thou think that nuts have souls? Come, decide."

Bos forgot that it is a mortal sin to give anything to the devil, and
stretched out to him his hand. Immediately he was borne away as in a
whirlwind; he saw beneath him a great yellow river, the Nile, which
stretched out, like a snake, between two bands of sand; a moment
afterward, a city spread on the strand like a cuirass; then innumerable
waves ranged from one end of the horizon to the other, and on them black
vessels {392}like unto swallows; further on, a triple-coasted island,
with a hollow mountain full of fire and a plume of tawny smoke; then
again the sea. Night fell, when a range of mountains lifted itself into
the red bands of the sunset. Bos recognized the serrate tops of the
Pyrenees and was filled with joy.

The devil said to him: "Bos, come first to my servants of the mountain.
In all conscience, since you return to the country, you owe them a
visit. They are more beautiful than thy angels, and will love thee,
since thou art my friend."

The good knight was horrified to think that he was the friend of the
devil, and followed him reluctantly. The hand of the devil was as a
vice; he went swifter than the wind. Bos traversed at a bound the valley
of Pierrefitte and found himself at the foot of the Bergonz, before a
door of stone which he had never seen. The door opened of itself with a
sound softer than a bird's song, and they entered a hall a thousand
feet high, all of crystal, flaming as if the sun were inside it. Bos saw
three little women as large as one's hand, on seats of agate; they
had eyes clear as the green waters of the Gave; their cheeks had the
vermilion of the thornless rose; their snowy robe was as light as the
airy mist of the cascades; their scarf was of the hues of the rainbow.
Bos believed he had seen it formerly floating on the brink of the
{393}precipices, when the morning fog evaporated with the sun's first
rays. They were spinning, and their wheels turned so fast that they were
invisible. They rose all together, and sang with their little silvery
voices: "Bos is returned; Bos is the friend of our master; Bos, we will
spin thee a cloak of silk in exchange for thy crusader's mantle."

A moment later he was before another mountain, which he recognized
by the light of the stars. It was that of Campana, which rings when
misfortune comes upon the country. Bos found himself inside without
knowing how it happened, and saw that it was hollow to the very summit.
An enormous bell of burnished silver descended from the uppermost vault;
a troop of black goats was attached to the clapper. Bos perceived that
these goats were devils; their short tails wriggled convulsively; their
eyes were like burning coals; their hair trembled and shrivelled like
green branches on live coals; their horns were pointed and crooked like
Syrian swords. When they saw Bos and the demon they came leaping around
them with such abrupt bounds and such strange eyes that the good knight
felt his heart fail within him. Those eyes formed cabalistic figures,
and danced after the manner of the will-o'-the-wisp in the grave-yard;
then they ranged themselves in single file and ran forward; the steel
clapper flew against the sounding {394}wall, an immense voice came
rolling forth from the vibrant silver. Bos seemed to hear it in the
depths of his brain; the palpitations of the sound ran through his whole
body; he shuddered with anguish like a man in delirium, and distinctly
heard the bell chanting: "Bos has returned; Bos is the friend of our
master; Bos, it is not the bell of the church, it is I who ring thy
return."

He felt himself once more lifted into the air; the trees rooted in the
rock bent before his companion and himself as beneath a storm; the bears
howled mournfully; troops of wolves fled shivering over the snow. Great
reddish clouds flew across the sky, jagged and quivering like the wings
of bats. The evil spirits of the valley rose up and eddied through the
night. The heads of the rocks seemed alive; the army of the mountains
appeared to shake themselves and follow him. They traversed a wall of
clouds and stopped upon the peak of Anie. At that very moment, a flash
cleft the vapory mass. Bos saw a phantom tall as a huge pine, the face
burning like a furnace, enveloped in red clouds. Violet aureoles flamed
upon his head; the lightning crept at his feet in dazzling trains;
his whole body shone with white flashes. The thunder burst forth, the
neighboring summit fell, the upturned rocks smoked, and Bos heard
a mighty voice saying: "Bos has returned; Bos is the friend of our
{395}master; Bos, I illumine the valley for thy return better than the
tapers of thy church."

[Illustration: 421]

The poor Bos, bathed in a cold sweat, was suddenly borne to the foot of
the chateau of Bénac, and the devil said to him: "Good knight, go now,
find again thy wife!" Then he began to laugh with a noise like the
cracking of a tree, and disappeared, leaving behind a smell of sulphur.
{396}

[Illustration: 422]

Morning dawned, the air was cold, the earth damp, and Bos shivered under
his tatters, when he saw a superb cavalcade draw near. Ladies in robes
of brocade seamed with silver and pearls; lords in armor of polished
steel, with chains of gold; noble palfreys beneath scarlet housings,
conducted by pages in doublets of black velvet; then an escort of
men-at-arms, whose cuirasses glittered {397}in the sun. It was the Sire
d'Angles coming to marry the lady of Bénac. They filed slowly along the
ascent and were buried beneath the darkness of the porch.

Bos ran to the gate; but they repelled him, saying: "Come back at noon,
my good man, thou shalt have alms like the rest."

Bos sat down upon a rock, tormented with grief and rage. Inside the
castle he heard the flourish of trumpets and the sounds of rejoicing.
Another was going to take his wife and his goods; he clenched his fists
and revolved thoughts of murder; but he had no weapons; he determined to
be patient, as he had so often been among the Saracens, and waited.

All the poor of the neighborhood were gathered together, and Bos placed
himself among them. He was not humble as the good king Saint Louis, who
washed the feet of the beggars; he was heartily ashamed of walking among
these pouch-bearers, these maimed and halt, with crooked legs and
bent backs, ill clad in poor, torn and patched cloaks, and in rags and
tatters; but he was still more ashamed when, in passing over the moat
filled with clear water, he saw his burnt face, his locks bristling like
the hair of a wild beast, his haggard eyes, his whole body wasted
and bruised; then he remembered that his only garment was a torn sack
{398}and the skin of a great goat, and that he was more hideous than the
most hideous beggar. These cried aloud the praises of the wedded ones,
while Bos ground his teeth with rage.

[Illustration: 424]

They followed the lofty corridor, and Bos saw through the door the old
banqueting hall. His arms still hung there; he recognized the antlers
of stags that he had shot with his bow, the heads of bears that he had
slain with his bear-spear. The hall was full; the joy of the banquet
rose high beneath the vault; the wine of Languedoc flowed generously in
the cups, the guests were drinking the health of the betrothed. The lord
of Angles was talking very low to the beautiful lady, who smiled and
turned towards him her gentle eyes. {399}

[Illustration: 426]

{400}

{401}When Bos saw those rosy lips smiling and the black eyes beaming
beneath the scarlet capulet, he felt his heart gnawed with jealousy,
bounded into the hall and cried out with a terrible voice: "Out of this,
ye traitors! I am master here, Bos de Bénac."

"Beggar and liar!" said the lord of Angles. "We saw Bos fall dead on the
banks of the Egyptian stream, Who art thou, old leper? Thy face is black
like those of the damned Saracens. You are all in league with the devil;
it is the evil spirit who has led thee hither. Drive him out, and loose
the dogs upon him."

But the tender-hearted lady begged them to have mercy on the unhappy
madman. Bos, pricked by his conscience, believing that everybody knew
his sin, fled with his face in his hands, in horror of himself, and
stayed not until he had reached a solitary bog. Night came, and the bell
of Mount Campana began to toll. He heard the wheels of the faeries of
the Bergonz humming. The giant clad in fire appeared on the peak of
Anie. Strange images, like the dreams of a sick man, rose in his brain.
The breath of the demon was on him. A legion of fantastic visages
galloped through his head to the rustle of infernal wings, and the
ravishing smile of the lovely lady pricked him to the heart like the
point of a poniard. The little {402}black man appeared near him, and
said to him: "How, Bos, art thou not invited to the wedding of thy wife?
The lord of Angles espouses her at this very hour. Friend Bos, he is not
courteous!"

"Accursed of God, what art thou here to do?"

"Thou art scarcely grateful; I have led thee out of Egypt, as Moses did
his loafing Israelites, and I have transported thee, not in forty years
but in a day, into the promised land. Poor fool, whose amusement is
tears! Dost thou wish thy wife? Give me thy faith, nothing more. Indeed,
thou art right; to-morrow, if thou art not frozen, and if thou pleadest
humbly with the lord of Angles, he will make thee keeper of his kennels;
it is a fine situation. To-night, sleep on the snow, good knight.
Yonder, where the lights are, the lord of Angles embraces thy wife."

Bos was stifling, and thought he was going to die. "Oh Lord my God,"
said he, falling on his knees, "deliver me from the tempter!" And he
burst into tears.

The devil fled, driven by this ardent prayer; the hands of Bos clasped
over his breast touched his marriage ring which he carried in his
scapulary. He trembled with joy! "Thanks, O Lord, and bring me there in
time."

He ran as if he had wings, crossed the threshold at a bound, and hid
himself behind a pillar {403}of the gallery. The procession advanced
with torches. When the lady was near him, Bos rose, took her hand and
showed her the ring. She recognized it and threw herself into his arms.
He turned towards those who were present and said: "I have suffered
like our Saviour, and like Him been denied. Men of Bigorre, who have
maltreated and denied me, I pray that you will be my friends as of old."

On the morrow Bos went to pour a dish of nuts into a black gulf, where
often was heard the voice of the devil; after that he left to confess
himself to the pope. On his return he became a hermit in a cavern of the
mountain, and his wife a nun in a convent at Tarbes. Both piously did
penance, and were worthy after their death to behold God.

[Illustration: 429]

{404}


II.

[Illustration: 430]

A little beyond Lourdes begins the plain, and the sky opens out over
an immense space: the azure dome grows pale toward the edges, and its
tender blue, graded down by insensible shades, loses itself on the
horizon in an exquisite whiteness. {405}These colors, so pure, so rich,
so sweetly blended, are like a great concert where one finds himself
enveloped in harmony; the light comes from all sides; the air is
penetrated with it, the blue vault sparkles from the dome to the very
horizon. Other objects are forgotten; you are absorbed in a single
sensation; you cannot help enjoying this unchangeable serenity, this
profusion of brightness, this overflowing of golden, gushing light
playing in limitless space. This sky of the south corresponds to but one
state of the soul, joy; it has but one thought, one beauty, but it gives
rise to the conception of full and durable happiness; it sets in the
heart a spring of gayety ever ready to flow; man in this country ought
to wear life lightly. Our northern skies have a deeper and more varied
expression; the metallic reflections of their changing clouds accord
with the troubled souls; their broken light and strange shadings express
the sad joy of melancholy passions they touch the heart more deeply and
with a keener stroke. But blue and white are such lovely hues! From here
the north seems an exile; you would never have thought that two colors
could give so much pleasure. They vanish into each other, like pleasant
sounds that grow into harmony and are blended together. The distant
white softens the garish light and imprisons it in a haze of thickened
{406}air. The azure of the dome deadens the rays under its dark tint,
reflects them, breaks them, and seems strewn with spangles of gold.
This glitter in the sky, these horizons drowned in a misty zone, this
transparence of the infinite air, this depth of a heaven without clouds,
is worth as much as the sight of the mountains.


III.

[Illustration: 432]

Tarbes is a good-sized city that looks like a market town, paved with
small stones, mediocre in appearance. You alight in a place where great
dusty elms make a shade. At noon the streets are empty; it is evident
that you are near the sun of {407}Spain. A few women merely, with red
foulards on the head, were selling peaches at the corners. A little
further on some cavalry soldiers stretched their great awkward legs
in the narrow shadow of their wall. You run across a square of four
buildings, in the midst of which rises a bell-tower flaring at the base.
It is the church; it has but a single aisle, very high, very broad,
very cool, painted in dark colors, which contrast with the stifling heat
outside and the glare of the white walls; above the altar, six columns
of mottled marble, surmounted with a baldachin, make a pretty effect.
The pictures are like those everywhere else: A Christ, mingled fresh
butter and pale rose in hue, a passion in colored engravings at six sous
each. A few, hung very high in dark corners, seem better because you
can make nothing out of them. A little further on they have just built
a court-house, clean and new as a judge's robe; the ashler work is well
dressed, and the walls perfectly scraped. The front is adorned with two
statues: Justice, who looks like a fool, and Force, who looks like a
girl. Force has on low boots and the skin of an animal. Instead of fine
statues we have ugly riddles. Since they had a fancy for symbols, could
they not have dressed Force as a policeman? To compensate ourselves for
the statues, we went to visit the horses. In this place, the homely city
becomes an elegant city. {408}The buildings of the stud are simple
and in good taste. Turf, rosebushes, stairways filled with flowers, a
beautiful meadow of high grass; in the distance are poplars ranged as
a screen to the limpid horizon. The habitation of the horses is a
pleasure-house. There are fifty beasts in a long stable that might serve
at need for a ball-room; they are superb creatures with shining coats,
firm croup, gentle eye, calm front: they feed peaceably in their stalls,
having a double mat under their litter; everything is brushed, wiped,
rubbed. Grooms in red vests come and go incessantly to clean them and
see that nothing is wanting. Man in the earthly paradise was less happy.


IV.

Poor mankind has no city which is not full of lamentable memories. The
Protestants took this one in 1570 and butchered all the inhabitants. One
of them had taken refuge in a tower whose only ascent was by a narrow
staircase; they sent one of his friends, who called to him under pretext
of a parley; no sooner had he put his head at the window than he was
killed by an arquebusade. The peasants who came to give burial to
the dead interred two thousand of them in the {409}ditches. Five years
after, the country was almost a desert.

Patience! the Catholics were no gentler than the Protestants; witness
that siege of Rabastens, twelve miles distant from Tarbes.

"Suddenly," says Montluc, "I saw that others besides our foot soldiers
should have a hand here, and said to the nobility: 'Gentlemen, my
friends, follow boldly, and give, and be not wonder-struck; for we could
not choose a more honorable death.' And so we all marched with as good a
will as ever I saw in my life to the assault, and I twice looked back;
I saw that all were closed up so as to touch one another. I had caused
three or four ladders to be carried to the brink of the moat, and as
I turned backward to order them to bring up two ladders, a volley was
given me in the face from the corner of a barricade which adjoined the
tower. I was suddenly covered with blood, for I bled from the mouth,
nose and eyes. Then almost all the soldiers, and nearly all the nobles
too, began to be affrighted and would retreat. But I cried out to them,
although I could scarcely speak for the quantity of blood which gushed
from my mouth and nose: 'Where will you go? Will you be frightened on
my account? Do not stir, and do not abandon the fight.' And said to the
nobles, 'I am going to get my wounds dressed: let no one follow {410}me,
and avenge me as you love me.' I took a nobleman by the hand, and so
was led to my lodging, where I found a surgeon of M. de Goas' regiment,
named Maître Simon, who dressed my wound and pulled out the bones from
both cheeks with his two fingers, so large were the holes, and cut off
much flesh from my face, which was covered with wounds.

"Here now is M. de Madaillan, my lieutenant, who was at my side when I
went to the charge, and M. de Goas on the other, who was come to see if
I were dead, and said to me: 'Rejoice, monsieur, take courage, we
are inside. There are the soldiers with hands that kill everybody; be
assured then that we will avenge your wound.' Then I said to him: 'I
praise God, because I see that victory is ours before I die. At present
I feel no concern at dying. I beg you will go back, and show me all
the affection you have borne me, _and take care that no one escapes
unkilled._

"And immediately he went away, and even my servants all went; so that
there remained along with me only two pages, and the advocate de Las
and the surgeon. They wanted to save the minister and the captain of the
garrison, named Ladous, so as to have them hung before my quarters. But
the soldiers had nearly killed them themselves, and took them away
from those who held them and tore {411}them into a thousand pieces. The
soldiers made fifty or sixty who had withdrawn into the great tower,
leap from the top into the moat, and these were drowned. It turns out
that two who had hidden themselves were saved. There was a certain
prisoner who wanted to give four thousand crowns. But never a man would
hear of any ransom, and most of the women were killed."

With such fits of madness how has the human race managed to endure? "In
vain you drain it," says Mephistopheles, "the fresh spring of living
blood forever reappears."

[Illustration: 437]

{412}


[Illustration: 438]



CHAPTER II.

BAGNÈRES-DE-BIGORRE.


I.

You set out for Bagnères at five o'clock in the afternoon, in the dust
and amidst a train of _coucous_ laden with people. The road is blocked,
like the roads in the suburbs of Paris on a Saturday evening. The
diligence, in passing, takes up as many peasants as it meets; they are
put in heaps under the tilt, among the trunks, alongside the dogs; they
seem proud and pleased with their lofty place. Legs, arms and heads,
dispose themselves as best they can; they sing, and the coach appears
like a music-box. It is in this triumphal equipage that you reach
Bagnères, after sunset. You dine in haste, are taken to the _Promenade
des Coustous_, and find, to your utter surprise, the Boulevard de Gand
among the Pyrenees. {413}Four rows of dusty trees; regular benches at
equal intervals; on both sides, hotels of modern aspect, one of which
is occupied by M. de Rothschild; rows of illuminated shops, of cafés
chantants surrounded by crowds; terraces filled with seated spectators;
upon the roadway, a black throng streaming under the lights. Such is the
spectacle beneath your eyes. The groups form, dissolve, close up; you
follow the crowd; you learn again the art of getting on without stepping
on the feet of those you meet, of grazing everybody without elbowing
anybody; of not getting crushed and of not crushing others; in short,
all the talents taught by civilization and the asphaltum. You meet again
with the rustle of dresses, the confused hum of conversations and steps,
the offensive splendor of artificial lights, the obsequious and
wearied faces of traffic, the skilful display of the shops, and all the
sensations you wanted to leave behind. Bagnères-de-Bigorre and Luchon
are in the Pyrenees the capitals of polite life, the meeting place of
the pleasures of the world and of fashion--Paris, six hundred miles away
from Paris.

The next morning, in the sunlight, the aspect of the city is charming.
Great alleys of old trees cross it in every direction. Little gardens
bloom upon the terraces. The Adour rolls along by the houses. Two
streets are islands connected with {414}the highway by bridges laden
with oleanders, and their green windows are mirrored in the clear wave.
Streamlets of limpid water run from all the open places and all the
streets; they cross, dive under ground, reappear, and the city is filled
with their murmurs, their coolness, and their gayety. A little girl,
seated upon a slab of slate, bathes her feet in the current; the cold
water reddens them, and the poor little thing tucks up her worn gown
with great care, for fear of wetting it. A woman on her knees is
washing linen at her door; another bends over and draws water for her
saucepan. The two black and shining trenches hedge in the white road,
like two bands of jet. In the inner court or in the vestibule of
each house the assembled women sew and spin, some on the steps of the
stairway, others at the feet of a ville; they are in the shade, but on
the crest of the wall the beautiful green leaves are traversed by a ray
of sunlight.

In the neighboring place, some men ranged in two lines were threshing
wheat with long poles and heaping up masses of golden grain. Under its
borrowed luxury the city preserves some rustic customs; but the rich
light blends the contrasts, and the threshing of the wheat has the
splendor of a ball. Further on are some buildings where the stream works
the marbles. Slabs, blocks, piles of chips, shapeless material, fill
the court for a length {415}of three hundred paces, among clusters of
rosebushes, flowery borders, statues, and kiosks. In the workshops,
heavy gearings, troughs of muddy water, rusty saws, huge wheels--these
are the workmen. In the storerooms, columns, capitals of an admirable
polish, white chimney-pieces bordered with leaves in relief, carved
vases, sculptured basins, trinkets of agate--that is the work. The
quarries of the Pyrenees have, all of them, given a specimen to panel
the walls; it is a library of marbles. There are white ones like
alabaster, rosy like living flesh, brown speckled like a guinea fowl's
breast--the Griotte is of a blood-red. The black Baudéan, veined with
white threads, emits a greenish reflection. The Ronce de Bise furrows
its fawn-colored dress with dark bands. The grayish Sarrancolin has
a peculiar glitter, is marked all over with scales, striped with pale
tints, and stained with a broad blood-red spot. Nature is the greatest
of painters; her infiltrations and subterranean fires could alone have
invented this profusion of shades and patterns: it needed the audacious
originality of chance and the slow toil of the mineral forces, to turn
lines so capricious and assort tints so complex.

A stream of swift water rolls beneath the workshops; another glides in
front of the house, in a lovely meadow, under a screen of poplars. In
the {416}pale distance you see the mountains. It is a fortunate spot
considering that it is a sawer of stone.


II.

The bathing-house is a beautiful white building, vast and regular;
the long front, quite unornamented, is of a very simple form. This
architecture, akin to the antique, is more beautiful in the south than
in the north; like the sky, it leaves in the mind an impression of
serenity and grandeur.

A half of the river washes the façade, and precipitates under the
entrance bridge its black sheet bristling with sparkling waves. You
enter into a great vestibule, follow a huge staircase with double
balustrade, then corridors ending in noble porticos and commanding the
terraces. Bathing rooms panelled with marble, a verdant garden, fine
points of view everywhere, high vaults, coolness, simple forms, soft
hues that rest the eye and contrast with the crude, dazzling light,
that out of doors falls on the dusty place and the white houses; all
attracts, and it is a pleasure to be ill here.

The Romans, a people as civilized and as bored as we, did as we do,
and came to Bagnères. The inhabitants of the country, good courtiers,
constructed, on the public place, a temple in honor of Augustus. The
temple became a church that was {417}dedicated to St. Martin, but
retained the pagan inscription. In 1641, they removed the inscription to
above the fountain of the southern entrance, where it still is.

In 1823, they discovered on the site of the bathhouse, columns,
capitals, four piscinæ cased with marbles and adorned with mouldings,
and a large number of medals with effigies of the first Roman emperors.
These remains, found after a lapse of eighteen centuries, leave a deep
impression, like that one experiences in measuring the great limestone
beds, antediluvian sepulchres of buried races. Our cities are founded
upon the ruins of extinct civilizations, and our fields on the remains
of subverted creations.

Rome has left its trace everywhere at Bagnères. The most agreeable of
these souvenirs of antiquity are the monuments which those who had been
healed erected in honor of the Nymphs, and whose inscriptions still
remain. Lying in the _baignoires_ of marble, they felt the virtue of
the beneficent goddess penetrating their limbs; with eyes half-closed,
dozing in the soft embrace of the tepid water, they heard the mysterious
spring dripping, dripping with a song, from the recesses of the rock,
its mother; the outpoured sheet shone about them with dim, greenish
reflexes, and before them passed like a vision the strange eye and magic
voice of the {418}unknown divinity, who came to the light in order to
bring health to hapless mortals.

Behind the bath-house is a high hill, covered with admirable trees,
where wind sequestered walks. Thence you see under your feet the city,
whose slated roofs reflect the powerful light of the burning sky and
stand out in the limpid air with a tawny and leaden hue. A line of
poplars marks on the great green plain the course of the river; towards
Tarbes it strikes endlessly into the vaporous distance, amidst tender
hues. Opposite, wooded and cultivated hills rise, round-topped, to
the very horizon. On the right, the mountains, like so many pyramids,
descend in long regular quoins. These hills and mountains cut out
a sinuous line on the radiant border of the sky. From the white and
smiling horizon, the eye mounts by insensible shades to the deep
burning blue of the dome. This whiteness imparts a tender and delicious
sensation, mingling of revery and pleasure; it touches, troubles and
delights, like the song of Cherubino in Mozart. A fresh wind comes from
the valley; the body is as comfortable as the mind; one finds in his
nature a harmony hitherto unknown; he no longer bears the weight of
his thought or of his mechanism; he does nothing but feel; he becomes
thoroughly animal, that is to say, perfectly happy.

In the evening we walk in the plain. There are {419}in the fields of
maize retired paths where one is alone. The tops, seven feet high, form,
as it were, a copse of trees. The great sheaf of green leaves ends in
slender little columns of rosy grains, and the slanting sun slips its
arrows of gold among the stalks. You find meadows cut by streams which
the peasants dam up, and which, for several hours, overflow to refresh
the fields. The day declines, the huge shadow of the mountains darkens
the verdure; clouds of insects hum in the heavy air. The whisper of an
expiring breeze makes the leaves to shiver for a moment. Meanwhile the
carriages and the cavalcades return on all the roads, and the courts are
illuminated for the evening promenade.

[Illustration: 445]

{420}


[Illustration: 446]



CHAPTER III. THE PEOPLE.


I.

Everybody agrees that life at watering-places is very poetic, abounding
in adventures of every sort, especially adventures of the heart. Read
the novels _L'Anneau d'Argent_ of Charles de Bernard, George Sand's
_Lavinia_, etc.

If watering-place life is a romance, it is in the books that it is so.
To see great men in these places, you must carry them bound in calf in
your trunk.

It is equally agreed that conversation at watering-places is extremely
brilliant, that you meet only artists, superior men, people of the great
world; that ideas, grace and elegance are lavished there, and that the
flower of all pleasures and all thought there comes into bloom. {421}The
truth is that you use up a great many hats, eat a great many peaches,
say a great many words, and, in the matter of men and of ideas, you find
very much what you find elsewhere.

Here is the catalogue of a _salon_ better made up than many another:

An old nobleman, somewhat resembling Balzac's M. de Mortsauf, an officer
previous to 1830, very brave, and capable of reasoning exactly, when he
was hard pushed. He had a great long cartilaginous neck, that turned all
together and with difficulty, like a rusty machine; his feet shook about
in his square-toed shoes; the skirts of his frock-coat hung like
flags about his legs. His body and his clothes were stiff, awkward,
old-fashioned and scant, like his opinions; a dotard, moreover,
fastidious, peevish, busy all day long in sifting over nothings and
complaining about trifles; he pestered his servant a whole hour about a
grain of dust overlooked on the skirt of his coat, explaining the method
of removing dust, the danger of leaving dust, the defects of a negligent
spirit, the merits of a diligent spirit, with so much monotony and
tenacity and so slowly, that at last one stopped up one's ears or
went to sleep. He took snuff, rested his chin on his cane, and looked
straight ahead with the torpid, dull expression of a mummy. Rustic life,
the want of conversation and action, the fixedness {422}of mechanical
habits, had extinguished him.

[Illustration: 448]

Beside him sat an English girl and her mother. The young woman had
not succeeded in extinguishing herself, she was frozen at her birth;
however, she was motionless as he. She carried a jeweller's shop on her
arms, bracelets, chains, of every form and all metals, which hung and
jingled like little bells. The mother was one of those hooked stalks of
asparagus, knobby, stuck into a swelling gown, such as can flourish
and come to seed only amidst the fogs of London. They took tea and only
talked with each other.

In the third place one remarked a very noble young man, dressed to
perfection, curled every day, with soft hands, forever washed, brushed,
adorned and beautified, and handsome as a doll. His was a formal and
serious self-conceit. His least actions were of an admirable correctness
and {423}gravity. He weighed every word when he asked for soup. He put
on his gloves with the air of a Roman emperor. He never laughed; in his
calm gestures you recognized a man penetrated with self-respect, who
raises conventionalities into principles. His complexion, his hands,
his beard, and his mind, had been so scoured, rubbed, and perfumed by
etiquette, that they seemed artificial.

[Illustration: 449]

Ordinarily he gave the cues to a Moldavian lady, who kept the
conversation alive. This lady had travelled all over Europe, and related
her travels in such a piercing and metallic voice, that you wondered if
she had not a clarion somewhere in her body. She held forth unassisted,
sometimes for a quarter of an hour together, principally about rice
and the degree of civilization among the Turks, on the barbarism of the
Russian generals, and on the baths of Constantinople. Her well-filled
memory only overflowed in tirades: it was almost as amusing as a
gazetteer.

Near her was a pale, slender, meagre Spaniard, with a face like a
knife-blade. We knew, by some {424}words he let fall, that he was rich
and a republican. He spent his life with a newspaper in his hand,--he
read twelve or fifteen of them in a day, with little dry, jerking
movements, and nervous contractions that passed over his face like
a shiver. He sat habitually in a corner, and you saw gleaming in his
countenance feeble desires of proclamations and professions of faith.
In the very same moment his glance died away like a too sudden fire that
blazes up and falls again. He only spoke in monosyllables, and to ask
for tea. His wife knew no French, and sat all the evening motionless in
her arm-chair.

[Illustration: 450]

Must we speak of an old lady from Saumur, a frequenter of the baths,
watchful of the heat, the cold, the currents of air, the seasoning,
determined not to enrich her heirs any sooner than it was necessary,
who trotted about all day, and played with her dog in the evening? Of an
abbé and his pupil, who dined apart, to escape the contagion of worldly
conversation? etc. The truth is that there is nothing to paint, and that
in the next restaurant you will see the same people.

Now, in good faith, what can be the conversation in such a society? As
the answer is important, I {425}beg the reader to run over the subjoined
classification of interesting conversations; he will judge for himself
as to the likelihood of meeting at a watering-place with anything
similar.

First sort: Circumlocutions, oratorical argumentation, exordiums full of
insinuation, smiles and bows, which may be translated by the following
phrase: "Monsieur, help me to make a thousand francs." Second sort:
Periphrases, metaphysical disquisitions, the voice of the soul, gestures
and genuflexions, ending in this phrase: "Madame, allow me to be your
very humble servant."

Third sort: Two persons who have need of each other are together;
abstract of their conversation: "You are a great man."

"And so are you." Fourth sort: You are seated at the fireside with an
old friend; you stir up the embers and talk of--no matter what, for
instance: "Would you like some tea? My cigar is out." Or, what is
better, you say nothing at all, and listen to the singing of the
tea-kettle; all actions, which mean: "You are a good fellow, and would
do me a service in case of need."

Fifth sort: New general ideas and freely expressed; sort lost sight
of these hundred years. It was known in the salons of the eighteenth
century; genus to-day fossil.

Sixth, and last sort: Discharges of wit, fireworks {426}of brilliant
speeches, images struck out, colors displayed, profusion of animation,
originality and gayety. A sort infinitely rare and diminished every
day, by the fear of compromising one's self, by the important air, by
the affectation of morality.

These six sorts wanting--and they are evidently wanting--what remains?
Conversation such as Henri Monnier paints, and M. Prudhomme makes. Only
the manners here are better; for instance, we know that we ought to help
ourselves last to soup, and first to salad; we are provided with certain
proper phrases which we exchange for other proper phrases; we answer to
an anticipated motion by an anticipated motion, after the fashion of the
Chinese; we come to yawn inwardly and smile outwardly, in company and in
state. This comedy of affectations and the commerce of _ennui_ form the
conversation at the springs and elsewhere.

Accordingly many people go to take the air in the streets.


II.

The street is full of downcast faces; lawyers, bankers, people tired
with office work, or bored with having too much fortune and too little
trouble. In the evening, they go to Frascati or watch the loungers who
elbow each other among the shops {427}on the course. During the day
they drink and bathe a little, ride and smoke a good deal. The bloated
patients, stretched on arm-chairs, digest their food; the lean study the
newspapers; the young men talk with the ladies about the weather; the
ladies are busy in rounding their petticoats aright: the old, who are
critics and philosophers, take snuff, or look at the mountains with
glasses, to ascertain if the engravings are exact. It is not worth the
trouble of having so much money, merely to have so little pleasure.

This _ennui_ proves that life resembles the opera; to be happy there,
you must have money for your ticket, but, also, the sentiment of music.
If the money is wanting, you remain outside in the rain among the
boot-blacks; if you have no taste for music, you sleep sullenly in your
superb box. I conclude that we must try to earn the four francs for the
parterre, but above all to make ourselves acquainted with music.

The promenades are too neat and recall the Bois de Boulogne; here and
there a tired broom leans against a tree its slanting silhouette. From
the depths of a thicket the _sergents de ville_ cast on you their eagle
glance, and the dung decorates the alleys with its poetic heaps.

An invalid always brings with him one or more {428}companions. Where is
the being so disinherited by heaven as not to have a relation or friend
who is bored? And where is the friend or relation so thankless as to
refuse a service which is a pleasure party? The invalid drinks and
bathes; the friend wears gaiters or rides, hence the species of
tourists.

[Illustration: 454]

This species comprises several varieties, which are distinguished by the
song, the plumage, and the gait. These are the principal:

FIRST.

The first has long legs, lean body, head bent {429}forward, large and
powerful feet, vigorous hands, excellent at grasping and holding on. It
is provided with canes, ferruled sticks, umbrellas, cloaks, india-rubber
top-coats. It despises dress, shows itself but little in society, knows
thoroughly guides and hotels. It strides over the ground in an admirable
manner, rides with saddle, without saddle, in every way and all possible
beasts. It walks for the sake of walking, and to have the right of
repeating several fine, ready-made phrases.

I found, and picked up, at Eaux-Chaudes, the journal of one of these
walking tourists. It is entitled: _My Impressions_.

"15th July.--Ascent of Vignemale. Set out at midnight, came back at ten
o'clock in the evening. Appetite on the summit; excellent dinner, pate,
fowls, trout, claret, kirsch. My horse stumbled eleven times. Feet
galled. Rondo, good guide. Total: sixty-seven francs.

"20th July.--Ascent of the Pic du Midi de Bigorre. Fifteen hours. Sanio,
fair guide; knows neither songs nor stories. Good sleep for an hour
at the top. Two bottles broken, which rather spoiled the provisions.
Thirty-eight francs.

"21st July.--Excursion to the Valley of Héas. Too many stones in the
road. Twenty-one miles. Must exercise every day. To-morrow will
walk twenty-four. {430}"24th July.--Excursion to the Valley of Aspe.
Twenty-seven miles.

"1st August.--Lake of Oo. Good water, very cold; the bottles were well
cooled.

"2d August.--Valley of the Arboust. Met three caravans; two of donkeys,
one of horses. Thirty miles. Throat raw. Corns on the feet.

"3d August.--Ascent of the Maladetta. Three days. Sleep at the Rencluse
de la Maladetta. My large double cloak with the fur collar keeps me
from being frozen. In the morning I make the omelette myself. Punch with
snow. Second night in the Vale of Malibierne. Passage of the Glacier. My
right shoe gets torn. Arrival at the summit. View of three bottles
left by the preceding tourists. For amusement, I read a number of the
_Journal des Chasseurs_. On my return, I am entertained by the guides.
Bagpipes in the evening at my door; great bouquet with a ribbon. Total:
one hundred and sixty-eight francs.

"15th August.--Leave the Pyrenees. Three hundred and ninety-one leagues
in a month, on foot as well as on horse and in carriage. Eleven ascents,
eighteen excursions. I have used up two ferruled sticks, a top-coat,
three pairs of trousers, five pairs of shoes. Good year.

"P.S.--Sublime country. My spirit bows beneath these great emotions."
{431}

[Illustration: 457]

{432}

{433}SECOND.

The second variety comprises thoughtful methodical people, generally
wearing spectacles, endowed with a passionate confidence in the printed
letter. You know them by the guide-book, which they always carry in
their hand. This book is to them the law and the prophets. They eat
trout at the place named in the book, make all the stops advised by the
book, dispute with the innkeeper when he asks more than is marked in the
book. You see them at the remarkable points with their eyes fixed on the
book, filling themselves with the description, and informing themselves
exactly of the sort of emotion which it is proper to feel. On the eve
of an excursion, they study the book and learn in advance the order and
connection of the sensations they ought to experience: first, surprise;
a little further on a tender impression; three miles beyond, chilled
with horror; finally a calm sensibility. They do and feel nothing but
with documents in hand and on good authority. On reaching a hotel, their
first care is to ask their neighbor at the table if there is any place
of reunion; at what hour people meet there; how the different hours of
the day are filled up; what walk is taken in the afternoon; what other
in the evening. The next {434}day they follow all these directions
conscientiously. They are clad in watering-place fashion; they change
their dress as many times as the custom of the places deems proper; they
make all the excursions they ought to make at the necessary hour, in the
proper equipage. Have they any taste? It is impossible to say; the book
and public opinion have thought and decided for them. They have the
consolation of thinking that they have walked in the broad road and are
imitators of the human kind. These are the _docile tourists._

THIRD.

[Illustration: 460]

The third variety walks in troops and makes its excursions by families.
You see from afar a great {435}peaceable cavalcade; father, mother, two
daughters, two tall cousins, one or two friends and sometimes donkeys
for the little boys.

[Illustration: 461]

They beat the donkeys, which are restive; they advise the fiery youths
to be prudent; a glance retains the young ladies about the green veil of
the mother. The distinctive traits of this variety are the green veil,
the bourgeois spirit, the love of siestas and meals on the grass; an
unfailing sign is the taste for little social games. This variety is
rare at Eaux-Bonnes, more common at Bagnères de Bigorre and at Bagnères
de Luchon. It is remarkable for its prudence, its culinary instincts,
its economical habits. The individuals making the excursion stop at a
spot selected the day before; they unload pâtés and bottles.

If they have brought nothing, they go and knock at the nearest hut for
milk; they are astonished at having to pay three sous a glass for it:
they find that it strongly resembles goat's milk, and they say to
each other, after they have drunken, that the wooden spoon was
not over-clean. They {436}look curiously at the dark stable, half
underground, where the cows ruminate on beds of heather; after which,
the great fat men seat themselves or lie down. The artist of the family
draws out his album and copies a bridge, a mill, and other album views.
The young girls run and laugh, and let themselves drop out of breath
upon the grass; the young men run after them. This variety, indigenous
in the great cities, in Paris above all, wishes to revive among the
Pyrenees the pleasure parties of Meudon or Montmorency.

FOURTH.

[Illustration: 462]

Fourth kind: dining tourists. At Louvie, a family from Carcassonne,
father, mother, son, daughter and servant, alighted from the interior.
For the first time in their life they were undertaking a {437}pleasure
trip. The father was one of those florid bourgeois, pot-bellied,
important, dogmatic, well-clad in fine cloth, carefully preserved, who
educate their cooks, arrange their house _en bonbonnière_, and establish
themselves in their comfort, like an oyster in its shell. They entered
stupefied into a dark dining-room, where the half-empty bottles strayed
among the cooling dishes. The cloth was soiled, the napkins of a
doubtful white. The father, indignant, asked for a cup of tea, and began
walking up and down with a tragic air. The rest looked at each other
mournfully and sat down. The dishes came helter-skelter, all of them
failures. Our Carcassonne friends helped themselves, turned the meat
over on their plates, looked at it, and did not eat. They ordered tea a
second time; the tea did not appear; the travellers were called for the
coach, and the landlord demanded twelve francs. Without saying a word,
with a gesture of concentrated horror, the head of the family paid.
Then, approaching his wife, he said to her: "It was your wish, madam!" A
quarter of an hour later the storm burst forth: he poured his complaint
into the bosom of the conductor. He declared that the company would fail
if it changed horses at such a poisoner's; he trusted that disease would
soon carry off such dirty people. They told him that everybody in the
country was so, and that they lived {438}happily for eighty years.
He raised his eyes to heaven, repressed his grief, and directed his
thoughts toward Carcassonne.

FIFTH.

Fifth variety; rare: learned tourists.

[Illustration: 464]

One day, at the foot of a damp rock, I saw a little lean man coming
toward me, with a nose like an eagle's beak; a hatchet face, green eyes,
grizzling locks, nervous, jerky movements, and something quaint and
earnest in his countenance. He had on huge gaiters, an old black,
rain-beaten cap, trousers spattered to the knee with mud, a botanical
case full of dents on his back, and in his {439}hand a small spade.
Unfortunately I was looking at a plant with long, straight, green stalk,
and white, delicate corolla, which grew near some hidden springs. He
took me for a raw fellow-botanist. "Ah, here you are, gathering plants!
What, by the stalk, clumsy? What will it do in your herbarium without
roots? Where is your case? your weeder?"

"But, sir--"

"Common plant, frequent in the environs of Paris, _Parnassia palustris_:
stem simple, erect, a foot in height, glabrous, radical leaves petiolate
(sheathing caulis, sessile), cordiform, entirely glabrous; simple
flower, white, terminal, the calix with lanceolate leaves, petals
rounded, marked with hollow lines, nectaries ciliate and furnished
with yellow globules at the extremity of the cilia resembling pistils;
helleboraceous. Those nectaries are curious; good study, plant well
chosen. Courage! you'll get on."

"But I am no botanist!"

"Very good, you are modest. However, since you are in the Pyrenees,
you must study the flora of the country; you will not find another such
opportunity. There are rare-plants here which you should absolutely
carry away. I gathered near Oleth, the Menziesra Daboeci, an inestimable
godsend. I will show you at the house the _Ramondia_ {440}_Pyrenaica,_
solanaceous with the aspect of the primrose. I scaled Mont Perdu to find
the _Ranunculus parnassifolius_ mentioned by Ramond, and which grows at
a height of 2,700 mètres. Hah! what is that! the _Aquilcgia Pyrenaica!_"

And my little man started off like an isard, clambered up a slope,
carefully dug the soil about the flower, took it up, without cutting
a single root, and returned with sparkling eyes, triumphant air, and
holding it aloft like a banner.

"Plant peculiar to the Pyrenees. I have long wanted it; the specimen is
excellent. Come, my young friend, a slight examination: you don't know
the species, but you recognize the family?"

"Alas! I don't know a word of botany."

He looked at me stupefied. "And why do you gather plants?"

"To see them, because they are pretty."

He put his flower into his case, adjusted his cap, and went off without
adding another word.

SIXTH.

Sixth variety; very numerous: _sedentary tourists._ They gaze on the
mountains from their windows; their excursions consist in going from
their room to the English garden, from the English garden to the
promenade. They take a siesta upon the heath, {441}and read the journal
stretched on a chair; after which they have seen the Pyrenees.

SEVENTH.

There was a grand ball yesterday. Paul presented there a young creole
from Venezuela in America; the young man has as yet seen nothing; he has
just left ship at Bordeaux, whence he comes here; a very fine fellow,
however, of a fine, olive complexion; great hunter, and better fitted
for frequenting mountains than drawing-rooms. He comes to France to form
himself, as they say; Paul pretends that it is to be deformed.

We have taken our place in a corner; and the young man has asked Paul to
define to him a ball.

"A great funereal and penitential ceremony."

"Pshaw!"

"No doubt of it, and the custom goes back a long way."

"Indeed?"

"Back to Henry III. who instituted assemblies of flagellants. The men of
the court bared their backs, and met together to lash one another over
the shoulders. Nowadays there is no longer any whipping, but the sadness
is the same. All the men who are here come to expiate great sins or
have just lost their relations." {442}"That is the reason why they are
dressed in black."

"Precisely."

"But the ladies are in magnificent dresses."

"They mortify themselves only the better for that. Each one has hung
around the loins a sort of haircloth, that horrible load of petticoats
which hurts them and finally makes them ill. This is after the example
of the saints, the better to work out salvation."

"But all the men are smiling."

"That is the finest thing about it; cramped as they are, shut up in
their winding-sheet of black cloth. They impose restraint on themselves,
and give proof of virtue. Go forward six steps, you will see."

The young man advanced; not yet used to the movements of a drawing-room,
he stepped on the feet of a dancer and smashed the hat of a melancholy
gentleman. He returned, covered with confusion, to hide himself beside
us.

"What did your two poor devils say to you?"

"I don't at all understand. The first, after an involuntary wry face,
looked at me amiably. The other put his hat under his other arm and
bowed."

"Humility, resignation, a wish to suffer in order to enhance their
merits. Under Henry III. they thanked him who had strapped them the
best. I {443}will make a musician talk; listen. Monsieur Steuben, what
quadrille are you playing there?"

"_L'Enfer_, a fantastic quadrille. It is the legend of a young girl
carried off alive in the clutches of the devil."

"It is, indeed?"

"Very expressive. The finale expresses her cries of grief and the
howling of the demons. The young girl makes the air, the demons the
bass.

"And you play after that?"

"Some contra-dances on _di tanti palpiti._"

"Won't you please give me the idea of that air."

"It is at the return of Tancred. The point is to paint the most touching
sadness."

"Excellent choice. And no mazurkas, no waltzes?"

"Presently; here is a great book of Chopin, he is our favorite. What a
master! What fever! what cries, sorrowful, uncertain, broken! All these
mazurkas make one want to weep.

"That is why they are danced; you see, my dear child, only afflicted
people could select such music. By the way, how do they dance in your
country?"

"With us? we jump and stir about, we laugh out, shout, perhaps."

"What comical folks! and why?"

"Because they are happy and want to stir their limbs."{444}

"Here, four steps forward, as many back, a turn cramped by the conflict
of neighboring dresses, two or three geometric inclinations. The
cotton-spinners in the prison at Poissy make precisely the same
motions."

"But these people talk."

"Go forward and listen; there is nothing inconsiderate about it, I
assure you."

He returns after a minute.

"What did the man say?"

"The gentleman came up briskly, smiled delicately, and, with a gesture
as of a happy discoverer, he remarked that it was warm."

[Illustration: 472]

"And the lady?"

"The lady's eyes flashed. With an enchanting smile of approval, she
answered that it was indeed."

"Judge what constraint they must have imposed on themselves. The
gentleman is thirty years old; for twelve years he has known his phrase;
the lady is twenty-two, she has known hers for seven years. Each has
made and heard the question and answer three or four thousand times, and
yet they appear to be interested, surprised. What empire over self! What
force {445}of nature! You see clearly that these French who are called
light are stoics on occasion."

"My eyes smart, my feet are swollen, I have been swallowing dust; it
is one o'clock in the morning, the air smells bad, I should like to go.
Will they remain much longer?"

"Until five o'clock in the morning."

EIGHTH.

Two days after there was a concert. The creole said in coming out that
he was very tired, and had understood nothing of all that buzzing, and
begged Paul to explain to him what pleasure people found in such noise.

"For," said he, "they have enjoyed it, since they paid six francs for
admission, and applauded vehemently."

"Music awakes all sorts of agreeable reveries."

"Let us see."

"Such an air suggests scenes of love; such another makes you imagine
great landscapes, tragic events."

"And if you don't have these reveries, the music bores you?"

"Certainly; unless you are professor of harmony." {446}"But the audience
were not professors of harmony?"

"No indeed."

"So that they have all had all those reveries you talk about, otherwise
they would be bored; and, if they were bored, they would neither have
paid nor applauded."

[Illustration: 472]

"Well argued."

"Explain then to me the reveries they have had; for example, that
serenade mentioned in the programme, the serenade from Don Pasquale."

"It paints a happy love, full of pleasure and unconcern. You see a
handsome youth with laughing eyes and blooming cheek, in a garden in
Italy; under a tranquil moon, by the whispering of the breeze, he
awaits his mistress, thinks of her smile, {447}and little by little, in
measured notes, joy and tenderness spring harmoniously from his heart."

"What, they imagined all that! What happy country-folk are your people!
What fulness of emotion and thought! What discreet countenances! I
should never have suspected, to see them, that they were having so sweet
a dream."

"The second piece was an andante of Beethoven."

"What about Beethoven?"

[Illustration: 473]

"A poor, great man, deaf, loving, misunderstood, and a philosopher,
whose music is full of gigantic or sorrowful dreams."

"What dreams?"

"'Eternity is a great eyry, whence all the centuries, like young
eaglets, have flown in turn to cross {448}the heavens and disappear.
Ours is in its turn come to the brink of the nest; but they have clipped
its wings, and it awaits death while gazing upon space, into which it
cannot take flight.'"

"What is that you are reciting to me?"

"A sentence of de Musset, which translates your andante."

"What! In three minutes they passed from the first idea to this. What
men! What flexibility of spirit! I should never have believed in such
readiness. Without tripping, as a matter of course, they entered this
reverie on leaving a serenade? What hearts! What artists! You make me
thoroughly ashamed of myself: I shall never again dare to say a word to
them."

"The third piece, a duo of Mozart's, expresses quite German sentiments,
an artless candor, melancholy, contemplative tenderness, the
half-defined smile, the timidity of love."

"So that their imagination, which was still in a perfect state
of distraction, is in a moment so transformed as to represent the
confidence, the innocence, the touching agitation of a young girl?"

"Certainly."

"And there are seven or eight pieces in a concert?"

"At least. Moreover, these pieces being taken from three or four
countries and two or three {449}centuries, the audience must suddenly
assume the sentiments, opposite as they are and varied, of all these
centuries and of all these countries."

"And they were crowded on benches, under a glaring light."

"And in the pauses, the men talked railroads, the ladies dresses."

"I am getting confused. I, when I dream, want to be alone, at my ease,
or at most with a friend. If music touches me, it is in a little dark
room, when some one plays airs of one sort, that suit my state of
mind. It is not necessary that any one should talk to me about positive
things. Dreams do not come to me at will; they fly away in spite of me.
I see clearly that I am on another continent, with an entirely different
race. One learns in travelling."

A suspicion seized him: "Perhaps they had come there for penance? When
they came out, I saw them yawning, and dejected in countenance."

"Don't believe anything of it. It is because they restrain themselves.
Otherwise, they would burst into tears and throw themselves on your
neck."

NINTH.

In the evening our creole, who had been thinking, said to Paul:

{450}"Since you are such musicians in France, your well-educated girls
must all learn music?"

"Three hours of scales every day, for thirteen years, from seven to
twenty; total, fourteen thousand hours."

"They profit by it?"

"One out of eight; of the other seven, three become good hand-organs,
four poor hand-or-gans."

"I suppose for a compensation they are made to read?"

"Le Ragois, La Harpe, and other dictionaries, all sorts of little
treatises of florid piety."

"What then is your education?"

"A pretty case embalmed with incense, perfumed, securely padlocked,
where the mind sleeps while the finders turn a bird-organ."

"Well, that is encouraging for the husband. And what does _he_ do?"

"He receives the key of the case, opens it; a little devil in a white
dress jumps at his nose, eager to dance and get out."

"Very well, the husband serves as guide. Has he other cares?"

"Perhaps so."

"For instance?"

"An apartment, third floor, costs two thousand francs, the dress of the
wife fifteen hundred, the {451}education of a child, a thousand; the
husband earns six thousand."

"I understand; while dancing, they think of all sorts of melancholy
things."

"Of economizing, keeping up appearances, flattering, calculating."

"What then is marriage with you?"

"An act of society between a minister of foreign relations and a
minister of the interior."

"And for preparation they have learned--"

"To roll off scales, to shine in trills, to shift their wrists.
Prestidigitation instructs in housekeeping."

"Decidedly, you Europeans have a fine logic. And the eighth girl, the
one who does not become a hand-organ?"

"The piano forms her too. It answers for everything, everywhere.
Beneficent machine!"

"How is that?"

"It exalts and refines. Mendelssohn surrounds them with ardent,
delicate, morbid imaginings. Rossini fills their nerves with an
expansive and voluptuous joy. The sharp, tormented desires, the broken,
rebel cries of modern passions, rise from every strain of Meyerbeer.
Mozart awakens in them a swarm of affections and dim longings. They live
in a cloud of emotions and sensations."

"The other arts would do as much."

"Not a bit of it. Literature is a living psychology, {452}painting a
living physiology. Music alone invents all, copies nothing, is a pure
dream, gives free rein to dreams."

"And probably they strike out into it."

"With all the ardor of their ignorance, their sex, imagination,
idleness, and their twenty years."

"Well, of evenings they have the poetry of the family and the world for
pasture."

"In the evening, a night-capped gentleman, their husband, talks to
them of his reports and his practice. The children in their cradle are
spoiled or grumble. The cook brings her account. They bow to fifteen
men in their _salon_, and compliment fifteen ladies on their dresses. In
addition, once in awhile, the penitential and funereal ceremony you saw
three days ago."

"But then the piano seems chosen expressly."

"To resign them at the outset to the meanness of a commonplace
condition, the nothingness of the feminine condition, the wretchedness
of the human condition. It is plain that all will be content, that none
will become languishing or sharp. Dear and beneficent instrument! Salute
it with respect, when you enter a room. It is the source of domestic
concord, of feminine patience and conjugal bliss."

"Saint Jacques, I swear that my wife shall not know music!"{453}

"You are making bachelor's vows, my dear friend. Nowadays every girl who
wears gloves has made her fingers run over that machine; otherwise she
would think herself no better than a washerwoman."

"I will marry my washerwoman."

"The day after your wedding she will have a piano brought in."

*****

Paul has sprained his foot and spent two days in his room, occupied
in watching a poultry yard. He improved the occasion by writing the
following little treatise for the use of the young creole, a sort
of viaticum, with which he will nourish himself for the better
understanding of the world. I thought the treatise melancholy and
skeptical. Paul replies, that one should be so at first, in order not to
be afterward, and that it is well to be a little skeptical if you wish
not to be too skeptical. {454}

[Illustration: 480]


LIFE AND PHILOSOPHICAL OPINIONS OF A CAT.


I.

I was born in a cask, at the back of a hay-loft: the light fell on
my closed eyelids, so that the first eight days, everything appeared
rose-colored to me.

The eighth, it was still better; I looked, and saw a great fall of light
upon the dark shade; the dust and insects danced in it. The hay was
warm and fragrant; the spiders hung in sleep from the tiles; the gnats
hummed; everything seemed happy; that emboldened me; I wanted to go
and touch the white patch where those little diamonds were whirling and
which rejoined the roof by a column of gold. I rolled over like a ball;
my eyes were burned, my sides bruised; I was choking, and I coughed till
nightfall. {455}


II.

When my paws had become firm, I went out and soon made friends with
a goose, an estimable creature, for she had a warm belly; I cowered
underneath, and during this time her philosophic conversation was
forming me. She used to say that the poultry yard was a republic of
allies; that the most industrious, man, had been chosen for chief, and
that the dogs, although turbulent, were our guardians. I shed tears of
emotion under my kind friend's belly.

One morning the cook appeared looking as if butter would not melt in her
mouth, and showing a handful of barley. The goose stretched forth her
neck, which the cook grasped, drawing a big knife. My uncle, an active
philosopher, ran up and began to exhort the goose, which was uttering
indecorous cries: "Dear sister," said he, "the farmer, when he shall
have eaten your flesh, will have a clearer intelligence, and will watch
better over your welfare; and the dogs, nourished with your bones,
will be the more capable of defending you." Thereupon the goose became
silent, for her head was cut off, and a sort of red pipe stuck out
beyond the bleeding neck. My uncle ran for the head and carried it
nimbly away; as for me, a little frightened, I {456}drew near to the
pool of blood, and, without thinking, I dipped my tongue into it; the
blood was very good, and I went to the kitchen to see if I could not
have some more of it.

III.

My uncle, a very old and experienced animal, taught me universal
history.

[Illustration: 482]

At the beginning of things, when he was born, the master being dead,
the children at the funeral and the servants at a dance, all the animals
found themselves free. It was a frightful hubbub; a turkey, whose
feathers were too fine, was stripped by his comrades. In the evening, a
ferret, which had slipped in, sucked the jugular vein of three-quarters
{457}of the combatants, who, naturally, made no further outcry. The
spectacle in the farmyard was fine; here and there was a dog swallowing
a duck; the horses in pure sportiveness were breaking the backs of the
dogs; my uncle himself crunched a half-dozen little chickens. That was
the golden age, said he.

In the evening, when the people came home, the whipping began. Uncle
received a lash which took off a strip of his fur. The dogs, well
flogged and tied up, howled with repentance and licked the hands of
their new master. The horses resumed their burden with administrative
zeal. The fowls, protected, clucked their benedictions; only, six months
after, when the dealer passed, they killed fifty at once. The geese,
among whose number was my late kind friend, flapped their wings, saying
that everything was in good order, and praising the farmer, the public
benefactor.


IV.

My uncle, although surly, acknowledges that things are better than they
used to be. He says that at first our race was savage, and that there
are still in the woods cats who are like our first ancestors, which, at
long intervals, catch a mole or dormouse, but oftener the contents of a
shot-gun. {458}Others, lean, short-haired, run over the roofs and think
that mice are very rare. As for us, brought up on the summit of earthly
felicity, we whisk a flattering tail in the kitchen, we utter tender
little mewings, we lick the empty plates, and at the utmost we put up
with a dozen cuffs in the course of the day.


V.

[Illustration: 484]

{459} Music is a heavenly art, and it is certain that our race has the
privilege of it; it springs from the depths of our entrails; men know
this so well that they borrow them from us when they want to imitate us
with their violins.

Two things inspire in us these heavenly songs: the view of the stars
and love. Men, clumsy copyists, cram themselves ridiculously into a low
hall, and skip about thinking to equal us. It is on the summit of the
roofs, in the splendor of the night, when all the skin shivers, that
the divine melody can find vent. Out of jealousy they curse us and fling
stones at us. Let them burst with rage. Never will their expressionless
voice attain to those serious rumblings, those piercing notes, mad
arabesques, inspired and unexpected fancies, which soften the soul of
the most stubborn she, and give her over to us, all trembling, while up
above the voluptuous stars twinkle and the moon grows pale with love.

How happy is youth, and how hard it is to lose its holy illusions! And
I too, I have loved and have haunted the roofs, modulating the while the
roll of my bass. One of my cousins was touched thereby, and two months
after brought into the world six pink and white kittens. I ran to them
and wanted to eat them; I certainly had a right, since I was their
father. Who would believe it! My cousin, my spouse, to whom I was
willing to give her share {460}of the banquet, flew at my eyes. This
brutality roused my indignation, and I strangled her on the spot; after
which I swallowed the entire litter.

But the hapless little rogues were good for nothing, not even to nourish
their father: their flabby flesh weighed on my stomach for three days.
Disgusted with the strong passions, I gave up music, and returned to the
kitchen.


VI.

I have thought much on the ideal happiness, and I think I have made
thereupon some notable discoveries.

It evidently consists, in warm weather, in sleeping near the barnyard
pool. A delicious odor arises from the fermenting dung; lustrous straws
shine in the sunlight. The turkeys ogle lovingly, and let their crest of
red flesh fall on their beak. The fowls scratch up the straw, and
bury their broad bellies to take in the rising heat. The pool gleams,
swarming with moving insects which make the bubbles rise to its surface.
The harsh whiteness of the walls renders yet deeper the bluish recesses
where the gnats hum. With eyes half closed you dream; and, as you have
almost ceased to think, you no longer wish for anything. {461}In winter,
happiness is in sitting at the fireside in the kitchen. The little
tongues of flame lick the log and shoot amidst the sparks; the twigs
snap and writhe, while the twisted smoke rises in the dark chimney to
the very sky. Meanwhile the spit turns with a harmonious and pleasing
ticktack. The fowl that is impaled reddens, turns brown, becomes
splendid; the fat which moistens it softens its hues; a delightful odor
irritates the olfactories; your tongue involuntarily caresses your lips;
you take in the divine emanations of the fat; with eyes lifted to heaven
in a serious transport, you wait till the cook takes off the creature
and offers you the part that belongs to you.

[Illustration: 487]

He who eats is happy, he who digests is happier, he who sleeps while
digesting is happier still. All the rest is only vanity and vexation of
spirit. The {462}fortunate mortal is he who, warmly rolled into a ball
with his belly full, feels his stomach in operation and his skin expand.
A delightful tickling penetrates and softly stirs the fibres. The outer
and the inner creature enjoy with their every nerve. Surely if the
universe is a great and blessed God, as our sages say, the earth must be
an immense belly busy through all eternity digesting the creatures, and
warming its round skin in the sun.


VII.

My mind has been greatly enlarged by reflection. By a sure method,
sound conjectures and sustained attention, I have penetrated some of the
secrets of nature.

The dog is an animal so deformed, of such an unruly character, that
from the earliest times it has been considered to be a monster, born and
moulded in despite of all laws. Indeed, when rest is the natural state,
how explain an animal that is forever in motion and busy, and that
without aim nor need, even when he is gorged and not afraid? When beauty
universally consists in suppleness, grace and prudence, how allow
an animal to be forever brutal, howling, mad, jumping at the nose of
people, running after kicks and rebuffs? When the favorite {463}and
masterpiece of creation is the cat, how understand an animal that hates
it, runs at it, without having received a single scratch from it, and
breaks its ribs without any desire to eat its flesh?

These contradictions prove that dogs are condemned beings; without a
doubt the souls of the guilty and punished pass into their bodies. They
suffer there; that is why they worry one another, and fret unceasingly.
They have lost their reason, so they spoil everything, incite to battle,
and are chained three-quarters of the day. They hate the beautiful and
the good, consequently they try to throttle us.

[Illustration: 489]


VIII.

Little by little the mind frees itself from the {464}prejudices in which
it was reared; light dawns; it thinks for itself; thus it is that I have
attained to the true explanation of things.

Our first ancestors (and the gutter cats have retained this belief) said
that heaven is a very lofty granary, well covered, where the sun never
hurts the eyes.

[Illustration: 490]

In this granary, my great-aunt used to say, there are troops of rats
so fat that they can {465}hardly walk, and the more we eat of them, the
more there are to eat.

But it is evident that this is the opinion of poor devils, who, since
they have never eaten anything but rat, cannot imagine a better diet.
Besides, granaries are wood-color or gray, and the sky is blue, which
finishes their confusion.

In truth, they rest their opinion upon a sufficiently shrewd remark: "It
is evident," they say, "that the sky is a granary of straw or flour,
for there come out of it very often clouds light, as when the wheat is
winnowed, or white, as when bread is sprinkled in the kneading-trough."

But I reply to them that the clouds are not formed by the chaff of grain
or the dust of flour; for when they fall, it is water that we receive.

Others, more refined, have maintained that the Dutch oven was God,
saying that it is the fount of every blessing, turns unceasingly, goes
to the fire without being burned, and that the sight of it is enough to
throw one into ecstasy.

In my opinion they have erred here only because they saw it through
the window, from a distance, in a poetic, colored, sparkling smoke,
beautiful as the sun at evening. But I, who have sat near it during
whole hours, I know that it has to be sponged, mended, wiped; and in
acquiring knowledge, I have lost the innocent illusions of heart and
stomach. {466}The mind must be opened to conceptions more vast, and
reason by more certain methods. Nature is everywhere uniform with
herself, and in small things offers the image of the great.

[Illustration: 492]

From what do all animals spring? from an egg; the earth then is a very
great egg; I even add that it is a broken egg.

You will convince yourself of this if you examine the form and the
limits of this valley, which is the visible world. It is concave like
an egg, and the sharp edges by which it rejoins the sky are jagged, are
keen-edged and white like those of a broken shell.

The white and the yolk, pressed into lumps, have {467}formed these
blocks of stone, these houses and the whole solid earth. Some parts have
remained soft and form the surface that men plough; the rest runs in
water and makes the pools, the rivers; each spring-time there runs a
little that is new.

As to the sun, nobody can doubt its use; it is a great red firebrand
that is moved back and forth above the egg to cook it gently; the
egg has been broken on purpose, in order that it may be the better
impregnated with the heat; the cook always does so. The world is a great
beaten egg.

Now that I have reached this stage of wisdom, I have nothing more to
ask of nature, nor of men, nor of any one; except, perhaps, some little
tidbits from the roaster. In future I have only to cradle myself to
rest in my wisdom; for my perfection is sublime, and no thinking cat has
penetrated into the secret of the world so far as I.

[Illustration: 493]

{468}


[Illustration: 494]



CHAPTER IV. THE ROAD TO BA GNÈRES-DE-LUCHON.


I.

Every man who has the use of his eyes and ears ought, in travelling, to
climb up to the imperial. The highest places are the most beautiful;
ask those who occupy them. You break your neck if you fall from them;
consult the same people about this. But you enjoy yourself while you are
there.

In the first place, you see the landscape, which produces descriptions
that you offer to the public. In the coupé, your only spectacle is the
harness of the horses; in the interior, you see through a tiny window
the trees trooping by like soldiers carrying arms; in the rotunda, you
are in a cloud {469}of dust that dims the landscape and strangles the
traveller.

In the second place, at the top you will have comedy. In the lower
places, the people preserve decorum and are silent. The peasants here
perched aloft, who are your companions, the postilion and the conductor,
make open-hearted confidences: they talk of their wives, their children,
their property, trade, neighbors, and above all of themselves; so that
at the end of an hour you imagine their housekeeping and their life as
clearly as if you were at home with them. It is a novel of manners that
you skim through on the road. Not one of them gives ideas so vivid and
so truthful. You get to know the people only by living with them, and
the people from three-quarters of the nation. These bits of conversation
teach you the number of their ideas and the hue of their passions; now,
on these ideas and passions depend all the great events. Besides their
rude manners, their loud bursts of laughter, their frank respect for
bodily strength, their acknowledged inclination for the pleasure of
eating and drinking, offer a contrast to the humbug of our politeness
and our affectation of refinement. The conductor told the postilion how
the evening before they had eaten the half of a sheep among three of
them. It was good, fat mutton; they served up no better at the Hotel of
the Great Sun: {470}there were sirloins, cutlets, a neat leg of mutton.
They had emptied six bottles. The other made him tell it over, and
seemed to eat in imagination, by the reaction, by recoil, as it were.

[Illustration: 496]

After the banquet, he had made the horses gallop; he had passed by
Ribettes. Ribettes had swallowed dust for a whole hour; Ribettes wanted
to get ahead again, but wasn't able. Ribettes grew very angry. They
had dared Ribettes. The story of Ribettes and the mutton was told eight
times in an hour, and seemed the last time as delightful and as new as
the first. They laughed like the blest.

In the third place, that is the only spot where you can breathe. The
other divisions are sweating-rooms whose partitions and black cushions
hold and concentrate the heat. Now, there is no man, no matter how he
may love colors and lines, who can enjoy a landscape shut up in a
box without air. When the creature is cramped, the soul is cramped.
{471}Admiration presupposes comfort, and when you are broiled by the sun
you curse the sun.


II.

The coach starts very early in the morning and climbs a long ascent
under the gray brightness of the dawn. The peasants come in troops; the
women have five or six bottles of milk on the head, in a basket. Oxen,
with lowered brows, drag carts as primitive and Gallic as at-Pau. The
children, in brown _berets_, run in the dust, alongside their mothers.
The village is coming to nourish the city.

Escaladieu shows at the wayside the remains of an ancient abbey. The
chapel is still standing and preserves fragments of gothic sculpture.
A bridge is at the side, shaded by tall trees. The pretty river Arros
runs, with _moiré_ reflexes and guipures of silver, over a bed of dark
pebbles. No one could choose a situation better than the monks: they
were the artists of the time.

Mauvoisin, an ancient stronghold of robber-knights, lifts its ruined
tower above the valley. Froissart relates how they besieged these honest
folk; of a truth, in those times, they were as good as their neighbors,
and the Duke of Anjou, their enemy, had done more harm than they.
{472}"A Gascon squire, an able man-at-arms, named Raymonet de l'Epèe,
was at that time Governor of Malvoisin. There were daily skirmishes at
the barriers, where many gallant feats were done by those who wished to
advance themselves....

"The castle of Malvoisin held out about six weeks, there were daily
skirmishes between the two armies at the barriers, and the place would
have made a longer resistance, for the castle was so strong it could
have held a long siege; but the well that supplied the castle with water
being without the walls, they cut off the communication: the weather was
very hot, and the cisterns within quite dry, for it had not rained one
drop for six weeks, and the besiegers were at their ease, on the banks
of this clear and fine river, which they made use of for themselves and
horses.

"The garrison of Malvoisin were alarmed at their situation, for they
could not hold out longer. They had a sufficiency of wine, but not one
drop of sweet water. They determined to open a treaty; and Raymonet de
l'Epêe requested a passport to wait on the duke, which, having easily
obtained, he said: 'My lord, if you will act courteously to me and my
companions, I will surrender the castle of Malvoisin.' 'What courtesy is
it you ask?' replied the Duke of Anjou:{473}

[Illustration: 499]

{474}

{475}"'Get about your business each of you to his own country, without
entering any fort that holds out against us; for if you do so, and I
get hold of you, I will deliver you up to Jocelin, who will shave you
without a razor.' 'My lord,' answered Raymonet, 'if we thus depart we
must carry away what belongs to us, and what we have gained by arms and
with great risk.' The duke paused awhile, and then said, 'I consent that
you take with you whatever you can carry before you in trunks and on
sumpter horses, but not otherwise; and if you have any prisoners, they
must be given up to us.' 'I agree,' said Raymonet. Such was the treaty,
as you hear me relate it; and all who were in the castle departed, after
surrendering it to the Duke of Anjou, and carrying all they could with
them. They returned to their own country, or elsewhere, in search of
adventures."

These good folk who wished to keep the fruits of their labor, had spent
their time "in fleecing the merchants" of Catalonia, as well as
of France, "and in making war on and harrying them of Bagnères and
Bigorre." Bagnères was then "a good, big, closed city." People fortified
everywhere, because there was fighting everywhere. They went out
only with a safe-conduct and an escort: instead of gendarmes they met
plunderers; instead of umbrellas they carried off lances. A secure
{476}house was a fine house; when a man had immured himself in a thick
tower built like a well, he breathed freely, he felt at his ease. Those
were the good old times, as every one knows.


III.

Encausse is very near here, at the turn of the road. Chapelle and
Bachaumont came there to restore their stomachs, which needed and
deserved it well, for they used them more than some do. They wrote their
travels, and their style flows as easily as their life.

[Illustration: 502]

They go by short stages, drink, chat, feast among the friends they
have everywhere, court the ladies, make game very pleasantly of the
provincial folk. They drink the health of the {477}absent, enjoy the
muscatel as much as possible, and trifle in prose and verse. They are
the epicureans of their time, easy poets who are troubled about nothing,
not even about glory; graze all that they touch, and write only for
their own amusement.

"Encausse," say they, "is far from all commerce, and a man can have no
other diversion in it than that of watching the return of his health. A
small stream that, a score of paces away from the village, winds among
willows and the greenest fields imaginable, was our only consolation.
We used to go every morning to take our water in this pretty spot, and
after dinner to walk there. One day when we were on the brink, seated
on the grass, there came suddenly from the midst of the reeds that were
nearest a man who had apparently been listening to us; it was an old
man, all white, pale and lean, whose beard and locks hung below his
girdle, such (an one) as Melchisedec is painted; or rather the figure
is that of a certain old Greek bishop, who, with many a salaam, tells
everybody's fortune; for he wore a top-piece like a cauldron-lid, but of
exceeding size, which answered him for a hat. And this hat, whose broad
brim went drooping upon his shoulders, was made of branches of willow,
and covered nearly all his body. His coat of greenish hue was woven of
rushes, the whole {478}covered with great bits of a thick and bluish
crystal.

"At sight of this apparition, fear caused us to make the sign of the
cross twice over, and go three paces backward. But curiosity prevailed
over fear, and we resolved, although with some little palpitation of
heart, to await the extraordinary old man, whose approach was thoroughly
courteous, and who spoke to us very civilly as follows:

"Gentlemen, I am not surprised that with my unexpected appearance you
should be a little startled in mind, but when you shall have learned in
what rank the fates have set my birth to you unknown, and the motive of
my coming, you will calm your minds.

{479}"I am the god of this stream, who, with an ever inexhaustible urn,
tilted at the foot of that hill, take the task in this meadow of pouring
unceasingly the water, which makes it so green and flowery. For eight
days now, morning and evening, you come regularly to see me without
thinking to pay me a visit. It is not that I do not deserve that you
should pay me this respect; for, in short, I have this advantage, that a
channel so pure and clear is the place of my appanage. In Gascony such a
portion is very neat for a cadet."

{480}The two travellers were talking of the tides of the Garonne, and of
the reasons for them given by Gassendi and Descartes. This very obliging
god relates to them how Neptune thereby punishes an ancient rebellion
of the rivers. "Then the honest river-god takes himself off, and when he
has gone a score of paces the good soul is melted entirely into water."

Nowadays this mythology seems unmeaning, and the thought flat. Look at
the environs, the surroundings save it. Carelessness, intoxication,
are on one side. It is born between two glasses of good wine thoroughly
relished, in the midst of an unpremeditated letter. Are people so very
nice at table? It is a refrain they are humming; flat or not, is of no
consequence. The main thing is good humor and the inclination to laugh.
I picture to myself the honest fellows, well-dressed, portly, their eyes
still shining from the long dinner of yesterday, with rubies on their
cheeks, perfectly ready to sit down to dine at the first inn and to
bedevil the maid. La Fontaine did so, especially when he travelled. They
made stops, forgot themselves, the broad jokes flew.{481}

[Illustration: 508]

{482}

{483} They didn't cross France as nowadays, after the fashion of
a cannon-ball or an attorney; they allowed five days for going to
Poitiers, and in the evening, on going to bed, they fed the body. It was
the last age of the good corporeal life, that heavy _bourgoisie_
which had its flower and its portrait in Flemish art. It was already
disappearing; aristocratic propriety and lordly salutes were taking
possession of literature; Boileau gave us serious verse, thoroughly
useful and solid, like pairs of tongs. Nowadays when the middle-class
man is a philosopher, ambitious, a man of business, it is far worse. Let
us not speak ill of those who are happy; happiness is a sort of poetry;
it is in vain that we boast ourselves, that poetry we have not.


IV.

The road is bordered with vines, each of which carries up its tree, elm
or ash, the crown of a fresh verdure, and lets its leaves and tendrils
fall again in plumes. The valley is a garden long and narrow, between
two chains of mountains. On the lower slopes are beautiful meadows where
the living waters run in orderly fashion in trenches, nimble, prattling
irrigators; the villages are seated {484}alone the little river;
vine-stocks climb alone the dusty wall. The mallows, straight as tapers,
lift above the hedges their round flowers, brilliant as roses of rubies.
Orchards of apples pass continually on both sides of the coach; cascades
fall in every hollow of the chain, surrounded with houses that seek a
shelter. The heat and the dust are so terrible that they are obliged
every time we pass a spring to sponge the nostrils of the horses. But
at the end of the valley a mass of dark, rugged mountains lifts itself,
with tops that are white with snow, feeding the river and closing the
horizon. Finally, we pass beneath an alley of fine plane-trees, between
two rows of villas, gardens, hotels, and shops. It is Luchon, a little
city as Parisian as Bigorre. {485}

[Illustration: 511]



CHAPTER V. LUCHON.


I.

The street is a broad alley, planted with large trees, and lined with
rather handsome hotels. It was opened by the intendant d'Ètigny, who,
for this misdeed, was near being stoned. It was necessary to call in a
company of dragoons to force the Luchonnais to endure the prosperity of
their country.

At the end of the alley a pretty chalet, like those in the Jardin
des Plantes, shelters the _du Pr'e_ spring. Its walls are a fantastic
trellis of gnarled branches, adorned with their bark; its roof is
thatched; its ceiling is a tapestry of moss. A {486}young girl sitting
at the taps distributes to the bathers glasses of sulphurous water.
The elegant toilettes come about four o'clock. Meanwhile you sit in the
shade on benches of woven wood, and watch the children playing on the
turf, the rows of trees descending toward the river, and the broad green
plain, sprinkled with villages.

Below the spring are the bathing-houses, nearly finished, and which will
be the finest in the Pyrenees. At present the neighboring field is still
strewn with materials; the lime smokes all day, and makes the air to
flame and quiver.

The court of the baths contains a large votive altar, bearing on one of
its faces an amphora and this inscription:

          Nymph is.

            Aug.

          Sacrum.

They have preserved in two:

          Nymphis T. Claudius Rufus

               V. S. L. M.

This god Lixo, they say, was in the time of the Celts the tutelary deity
of the country. Hence the addition these other name of Luchon.

          Lixoni Deo Fabia Festa

               V. S. L. M.

{487}He is maimed and not destroyed. The gods are tenacious of life.

[Illustration: 513]

There are several balls, and orchestras in certain cafés. These
orchestras are strolling families, hired at so much a week, to make the
house uninhabitable. One of these, composed of a flute, male, and
four violins, female, used fearlessly to play the same overture every
evening. The privileged beings {488}who had paid were in the hall among
the music stands. A throng of peasants always crowded at the door, with
open mouths; they formed in a circle and mounted on the benches to see.

The tradespeople of every sort turn their shops into a lottery: lottery
of plate, of books, of little objects of ornament, etc. The tradesman
and his wife distribute cards, price one sou, to the servant-maids,
soldiers, and children, who compose the crowd. Somebody draws; the
gallery and those interested stretch their necks eagerly forward.
The man reads the number; a cry is heard, the unguarded sign of an
overflowing joy. "It's I that have won, I, monsieur the merchant." And
you see a little serving-maid, blushing all over, lift herself on
tiptoe and stretch out her hands. The merchant dexterously seizes a pot,
parades it above his head, and makes everybody about remark it. "A fine
mustard-pot; a mustard-pot worth three francs, threaded with gold. Who
wants numbers?" The assembly lasts four hours. It begins anew every day;
the customers are not wanting for a single moment.

These people have a genius for display. One day we heard the roll of
drums, followed by four men marching solemnly, swathed in shawls and
pieces of cloth. The children and the dogs follow the procession with
hubbub; it is the opening of a {489}new shop. The next day I copied the
following handbill printed on yellow paper:

"Orpheonic festival in the grotto of Gargas.

"The Orpheonic Society from the city of Montrejean will execute

"The polka;

"Several military marches;

"Several waltzes;

"Divers other pieces from the works of the great masters.

"Among other amateurs who will allow themselves to be heard, one will
sing some stanzas on eternity.

"Finally, an exquisite voice, which wishes to remain anonymous in order
to avoid those deserved praises that people are fond of lavishing on its
sex, will sing also a number of pieces analogous to the circumstances.

"It will be delicious and even seraphic to lend an ear to the echo of
the sonorous concretions of the stalactites, which will unite with the
vibrating echo of the vault to repeat the harmonious notes; and when the
divine voice shall be heard, the intoxicating charm of the spell will
surpass every impression which can have been left in the soul by the
most delightful of musical reunions.

"Price of admission: 1 franc."

These people are descendants of Clemence {490}Isaure. Their
advertisements are odes. By way of compensation many odes are
advertisements.

In fact, you are here not far from Toulouse; like the character, the
type is new. The young girls have fine, regular, clear-cut faces, of a
lively and gay expression. They are small, with a light step, brilliant
eyes, the nimbleness of a bird. In the evening, about a lottery-shop,
these pretty faces stand out animated and full of passion beneath the
flickering light, fringed with a black shadow. The eyes sparkle, the red
lips tremble, the neck tosses with the little abrupt movements of the
swallow; no picture can be more full of life.

If you leave the lighted and tumultuous alley, at the distance of an
hundred paces, you find silence, solitude and obscurity. At night, the
valley is of great beauty; it is framed and drawn out between two chains
of parallel mountains, huge pillars which stretch in two files and
support the dark vault of heaven.

Their arches mark it out like a cathedral ceiling, and the immense nave
vanishes several leagues away, radiant with stars; these stars fling out
flames. At this moment, they are the only living things; the valley is
black, the air motionless; you can only distinguish the tapering tops
of the poplars, erect in the tranquil night, wrapt in their mantle of
leaves. The topmost branches stir, and {491}their rustle is like the
murmur of a prayer echoed by the distant hum of the torrent.


III.

[Illustration: 517]

The valley is not a gorge, but a beautiful level meadow marked with trees
and fields of maize, among which the river runs, but does not leap.
Luchon is surrounded with alleys of plane-trees, poplars and lindens.
You leave these alleys for a pathway which follows the waves of the
Pique and winds amidst the high grass. The ashes and oaks form a screen
along the two banks; big brooks come from the mountains; you cross them
on trunks laid bridge-wise or on broad slabs of slate. All these waters
{492}flow in the shade, between knotted roots which they bathe, and
which form trellises on both sides. The bank is covered with hanging
herbage; you see nothing but the fresh verdure and the dark waters. It
is here that at noon the pedestrians take refuge; along the sides of
the valley wind dusty roads where stream the carriages and the horsemen.
Higher up, the mountains, gray or browned with moss, display their soft
lines and noble forms as far as the eye can reach. They are not wild
as at Saint Sauveur, nor bare as at Eaux-Bonnes; each of these chains
advances nobly toward the city and behind it leaves its vast ridge to
undulate to the very verge of the horizon.


IV.

Above Luchon is a mountain called Super-Bagnères. At the outset I run
across the Fountain of Love; it is a hut of planks where beer is sold.

A winding staircase, crossed by springs, then steep pathways in a black
forest of firs lead you in two hours to the pastures on the summit.
The mountain is about five thousand feet high. These pastures are great
undulating hills, ranged in rows, carpeted with short turf and thickset,
fragrant thyme; here and there in crowds are broad tufts {493}of a sort
of wild iris, the flower of which fades in the month of August.

[Illustration: 519]

You reach there fatigued, and on the grass of the highest point you may
sleep in the sunlight with the utmost pleasure in life. Clouds of
winded ants eddied in the warm rays. In a hollow beneath us we heard the
bleating of sheep and of goats. A quarter of a league {494}off, on the
back of the mountain, a pool of water was glittering like burnished
steel. Here, as on Mount Bergonz and the Pic du Midi, you look on an
amphitheatre of mountains. These have not the heroic severity of the
primal granite, black rocks clothed with luminous air and white snow.
On one side alone, toward the Crabioules mountains, the naked and jagged
rocks were silvered with a girdle of glaciers. Everywhere else, the
slopes were without escarpment, the forms softened, the angles dulled
and rounded. But, although less wild, the amphitheatre of the mountains
was imposing. The idea of the simple and imperishable entered with an
entire dominion into the subdued mind. Peaceful sensations cradled the
soul in their mighty undulations. It harmonized itself with these huge
and immovable creatures. It was like a concert of three or four notes
indefinitely prolonged and sung by deep voices.

The day was declining, clouds dimmed the chilled sky. The woods, the
fields, the mossy moors, the rocks of the slopes, took various hues in
the waning light. But this opposition of hues, obliterated by distance
and the greatness of the masses, melted into a green and grayish shade,
of a melancholy and tender effect, like that of a vast wilderness
half stocked with verdure. The shadows of the clouds travelled slowly,
darkening the tawny summits. All {495}was in harmony, the monotonous
sound of the wind, the calm march of the clouds, the waning of the day,
the tempered colors, the softened lines.

[Illustration: 521]

Here it is the second age of nature. The earth conceals the rocks, the
mosses clothe the earth, the rounded undulations of the upheaved soil
resemble the tired {496}waves an hour after the tempest. Luchon is
not far from the plains; its mountains are the last billows of the
subterranean storm which lifted the Pyrenees; distance has diminished
their violence, tempered their grandeur, and softened their steeps.

Toward evening we descended into the hollow where the goats were
passing. A spring was running there, caught in the hollowed trunks
of trees which answered for watering-troughs to the herds. It is a
delicious pleasure after a day's tramp to bathe hands and lips in the
cold fountain. Its sound on this solitary plateau was charming. The
water trickled through the wood, among the stones, and everywhere that
it glided over the blackened earth the sun covered it with splendor.
Lines of reeds marked its track to the brink of the pool. Herdsman and
animals had gone down; it was the sole inhabitant of this abandoned
field. Was it not singular to meet with a marsh at the height of five
thousand feet?


V.

Toward the south the river becomes a torrent. Half a league from Luchon
it is swallowed up in a deep defile of red rocks, many of which have
fallen; the bed is choked with blocks; the two walls of rock close
together in the north, and the dammed-up {497}water roars to get out of
its prison; but the trees grow in the crevices, and along the wall the
white flowers of the bramble hang in locks.

[Illustration: 523]

Very near here, on a round eminence of bare rock, rises the ruin of
a Moorish tower, named Cas-tel-Vieil. Its side is bordered with a
frightful mountain, black and brown, perfectly bald and resembling
a decayed amphitheatre; the layers hang one over another, notched,
dislocated, bleeding; the sharp edges and fractures are yellowed with
wretched moss, vegetable ulcers that defile with their leprous patches
the nudity of the stone. The pieces of this {498}monstrous skeleton
hold together only by their mass; it is crannied with deep fissures,
bristling with falling blocks, broken to the very base; it is nothing
but a ruin dreary and colossal, sitting at the entrance of a valley,
like a battered giant.

There was an old beggar-woman there, with naked feet and arms, who was
worthy of the mountain. For a dress she had a bundle of rags of every
color sewn together, and remained the whole day long crouched in the
dust. One might have counted the muscles and tendons of her limbs; the
sun had dried her flesh and burned her skin; she resembled the rock
against which she was sitting; she was tall, with large, regular
features, a brow seamed with wrinkles like the bark of an oak, beneath
her grizzled lids a savage black eye, a mat of white hair hanging in the
dust. If a sculptor had wished to make a statue of Dryness, the model
was there.

The valley narrows and ascends; the Gave rolls between two slopes of
great forests, and falls in a constant succession of cascades. The eyes
are satiated with freshness and verdure; the trees mount to the very
sky, thickset, splendid; the magnificent light falls like a rain on the
immense slope; the myriads of plants suck it in, and the mighty sap that
gorges them overflows in luxury and vigor. On all hands the heat and the
water {499}

[Illustration: 525]

{500}

{501}invigorate and propagate them; they accumulate; enormous beeches
hang above the torrent; ferns people the brink; moss hangs in green
garlands on the arcades of roots; wild flowers grow by families in the
crevices of the beeches; the long branches go with a leap to the further
brink; the water glides, boils, leaps from one bank to the other with a
tireless violence, and pierces its way by a succession of tempests.

Further on some noble beeches climb the slope, forming an inclined plane
of foliage. The sun gives lustre to their rustling tops. The cool shadow
spreads its dampness between their columns, over the ribbons of sparse
grass, and on strawberries red as coral. From time to time the light
falls through an opening, and gushes in cataracts over their flanks
which it illuminates; isles of brightness then cleave the dim depths;
the topmost leaves move softly their diaphanous shade; the shadow almost
disappears, so strong and universal is the splendor. Meanwhile a small
hidden spring beads its necklace of crystal among the roots, and great
velvet butterflies wheel in the air in broken starts, like falling
chestnut-leaves.

At the bottom of a hollow filled with plants, appears the hospice
of Bagnères, a heavy house of stone, which serves as a refuge. The
mountains open opposite it their amphitheatre of rock, a huge {502}and
blasted pit; to crown the whole the clouds have gathered, and dull the
rent enclosure which fences off the horizon--enclosure that winds with
dreary air, perfectly barren, with the grinning army of its pinnacles,
its raw cuts, its murderous steeps; beneath the dome of clouds, wheels a
band of screaming crows. This well seems their eyry; wings are needed
to escape the hostility of all those bristling points, and of so many
yawning gulfs which draw on the passer in order to dash him to atoms.

Soon the road seems brought to an end; wall after wall, the serried
rocks obstruct every outlet; still you advance, zigzag, among rounded
blocks, along a falling stairway; the wind sweeps down these, howling.
No sign of life, no herbage; everywhere the horrible nakedness and the
chill of winter. Squat rocks lean beetling over the precipice; others
project their heads to meet one another; between them the eye plunges
into dark gulfs whose bottom it cannot reach. The violent juttings of
all parts advance and rise, piercing the air; down there, at the bottom,
they spring forward in lines, climbing over one another, in heaps,
bristling against the sky their hedge of pikes. Suddenly in this
terrible battalion a cleft is opened; the Maladetta springs up like a
great spectre; forests of shivered pines wind about its foot; a girdle
of black rocks embosses its arid breast, and the glaciers make it a
crown.{503}

[Illustration: 529]

{504}

{505}

[Illustration: 532]

Nothing is dead, and in respect to this our feeble organs deceive us;
those mountain skeletons seem to us inert because our eyes are used to
the mobile vegetation of the plains; but nature is eternally alive, and
its forces struggle together in these sepulchres of granite and snow,
as well as in the {506}human hives or the most flourishing forests.
Each particle of rock presses or supports its neighbors; their apparent
immobility is an equilibrium of forces; everything works and struggles;
nothing is calm and nothing uniform. Those blocks that the eye takes
to be massive are networks of atoms infinitely removed from each other,
drawn by innumerable and contrary attractions, invisible labyrinths
where unceasing transformations are wrought out, where ferments the
mineral life, as active as other lives, but grander. And ours, what is
it, confined within the experience of a few years and the memory of a
few centuries? What are we, but a transitory excrescence, formed of a
little thickened air, grown by chance in a cleft of the eternal rock?
What is our thought, so high in dignity, so little in power? The mineral
substance and its forces are the real possessors and the only masters
of the world. Pierce below this crust which sustains us as far as that
crucible of lava which tolerates us. Here strive and are developed the
great forces, the heat and the affinities which have formed the soil,
have composed the rocks which support our life, have furnished
its cradle for it, and are preparing its tomb. Everything here is
transformed and stirs as in the heart of a tree; and our race, nested
on a point of the bark, perceives not that silent vegetation which
has lifted the trunk, spread the branches, {507}and whose invincible
progress brings in turns flowers, fruits and death. Meanwhile a vaster
movement bears the planet with its companions around the sun, borne
itself toward an unknown goal, in the infinite space wherein eddies
the infinite people of the worlds. Who will say that they are not there
merely to decorate and fill it? These great rolling masses are the first
thought and the broader development of nature; they live by the same
right with ourselves, they are sons of the same mother, and we recognize
in them our kin and elders.

[Illustration: 534]

But in this family there are ranks. I know I am but an atom; to
annihilate me, the least of these stones would suffice; a bone half as
thick as my thumb is the wretched cuirass that defends my thought
from delirium and death; my entire action and that of all the machines
invented within sixty centuries would not avail to scrape one of the
leaves of the mineral crust that supports and {508}nurtures me. And yet
in this all-powerful nature I count for something. If among her works
I am the most fragile, I am also the last; if she confines me within a
corner of her expanse, it is in me that she ends. It is in me that she
attains the indivisible point where she is concentred and perfected; and
this mind through which she knows herself opens to her a new career
in reproducing her works, imitating her order, penetrating her work,
feeling its magnificence and eternity. In it is opened a second world
reflecting the other, reflecting itself also, and, beyond itself
and that other, grasping the eternal law which engenders them both.
To-morrow I shall die, and I am not capable of displacing any portion of
this rock. But during one moment I have thought, and within the limits
of that thought nature and the universe were comprehended.

[Illustration: 535]

{509}


[Illustration: 536]



CHAPTER VI. TOULOUSE.


I.

When, after a two months' sojourn in the Pyrenees, you leave Luchon, and
see the flat country near Martres, you are delighted and breathe freely:
you were tired, without knowing it, of those eternal barriers that shut
in the horizon; you needed space. You felt that the air and light were
usurped by those monstrous protuberances, and that you were not in a
land of men, but in a land of mountains. Unknown to yourself you longed
for a real champaign, free and broad. That of Martres is as level as
a sheet of water, populous, fertile, stocked with good plants, well
cultivated, convenient for life, a realm of abundance and security.
{510}There is no doubt that a field of brown earth, broadly ploughed
with deep furrows, is a noble sight, and that the labor and happiness of
civilized man are as pleasant to behold as the ruggedness of the untamed
rocks.

[Illustration: 537]

A highway white and flat led in a straight line to the very horizon, and
ended in a cluster of red houses; the peaked belfry lifted its needle
into the sky; but for the sun, it would pass for a Flemish landscape. In
the streets there {511}

[Illustration: 539]

{512}

{513}were Van Ostade's interiors. Old houses, roofs of uneven thatch,
leaning one upon another, machines for hemp displayed in the doorways,
little courtyards filled with tubs, wheelbarrows, straw, children,
animals--a gay and well-to-do air; above all the great illuminator of
the country, the universal decorator, the everlasting giver of joy, the
sun poured in profusion its beautiful warm light over the walls of ruddy
brick, and patched with strong shadows the white roughcast.


II.

Toulouse appears, all red with bricks, amidst the red dust of evening.

A melancholy city, with narrow and flinty streets. The town hall, called
_Capicole_, has but one narrow entrance, commonplace halls, a pronounced
and elegant façade in the taste of the decorations for public festivals.
In order that no one may doubt its antiquity, they have inscribed on
it the word _Capitolium._ The cathedral, dedicated to St. Stephen, is
remarkable only for one pleasant memory:

"Towards the year 1027," says Pierre de Marca,

"It was the custom at Toulouse to box a Jew's ears in public on Easter
day, in the Church of St. Stephen. Hugues, chaplain to Aimery, Viscount
{514}de Rochechouart, being at Toulouse in his master's suite, dealt the
Jew a blow with such force that it crushed his head and made his brains
and eyes to fall out, as Adhémar has observed in his chronicle."

The choir where Adhémar made this observation is wanting in neither
beauty nor grandeur; but what strikes you most on leaving the mountains,
is the museum. You find anew thought, passion, genius, art, all the most
beautiful flowers of human civilization.

It is a broad, well-lighted hall, flanked by two small galleries of
greater height, which form a semicircle, and filled with pictures of all
the schools, some of which are excellent. A Murillo, representing _St.
Diego and his Monks_; you recognize in it the monastic harshness, the
master's sentiment of reality, his originality of expression and earnest
vigor. A _Martyrdom of St. Andrew,_ by Caravaggio, black and horrible.
Several pictures by the Caracci, Guercino and Guido. A _Ceremony of the
Order of the Holy Ghost_ in 1635, by Philip de Champagne. These most
real, delicate and noble faces are portraits of the time; you see the
contemporaries of Louis XIII. in life. Here are the correct drawing,
temperate color, conscientious but not literal exactness of a Fleming
become a Frenchman. {515}

[Illustration: 544]

{516}

{517}A charming _Marquise dc Largillere_ with a wasp waist in blue
velvet, elegant and haughty. A _Christ Crucified,_ by Rubens, the eyes
glassy, flesh livid--a powerful sketch, wherein the cold whiteness of
the faded tints exhales the frightful poetry of death.

I name only the most striking; but the liveliest sensation comes from
the modern pictures. They transport the mind all at once to Paris, into
the midst of our discussions, into the inventive and troubled world
of the modern arts, the immense laboratory where so many fruitful and
opposing forces weave the work of a renewing century: A celebrated
picture by Glaize, the _Death of St. John the Baptist_; the half-naked
butcher who holds the head is a superb brute, a careless instrument
of death which has just done its work well. An elegant and affected
painting by Schoppin, _Jacob before Laban and his two Daughters_.
The daughters of Laban are pretty drawing-room misses who have just
disguised themselves as Arabs. _Muley Abd-el-Rhaman,_ by Eugene
Delacroix. He is motionless on a bluish and melancholy horse. Files of
soldiers are presenting arms, packed in masses in a stifling atmosphere;
dull heads, stupid and real, hooded with the white bournous; ruined
towers are piled behind them under a leaden sun. The crude colors,
the heavy garments, bronzed limbs, massive parasols, that lifeless and
animal{518} expression are the revelation of a land where thought
sleeps overwhelmed and buried under the weight of barbarism, of the
religion and the climate. In a corner of the small gallery is the first
brilliant stroke of Couture, _The Thirst of Gold._ All misery and every
temptation come to solicit the miser: a mother and her starving child,
an artist reduced to beggary, two half-nude courtesans. He gazes at them
with sorrowful ardor, but the hooked fingers cannot let go the gold. His
lips shrivel, his cheeks glow, his burning eyes are fastened to their
wanton bosoms. It is the torture of the heart torn by the rebellion of
the senses, the concentrated despair of repressed desire, the bitter
tyranny of the ruling passion. Never did face better express the soul.
The drawing is bold, the color superb, more daring than in the _Romans
of the Decadence_, so lively that you forget to notice a few crude
tones, hazarded in the transport of composition.

It is perhaps too much praise. All these moderns are poets who have
determined to be painters. One has sought out dramas in history, another
scenes of manners; one translates religions, another a philosophy. Such
an one imitates Raphael, such another the early Italian masters; the
landscapist employs trees and clouds to compose odes or elegies. No one
is simply a painter; they are all archaeologists, psychologists, giving
setting to {519}some memory or theory. They please our learning, our
philosophy. Like ourselves, they are full and overflowing with general
ideas, Parisians uneasy and curious. They live too much by the brain,
and too little by the senses; they have too much wit and too little
artlessness. They do not love a form for its own sake, but for what it
expresses; and if they chance to love it, it is voluntarily, with an
acquired taste, from an antiquary's superstition.

[Illustration: 547]

They are children of a wise generation, harassed and thoughtful, in
which men who have won equality and the freedom of thought, and of
shaping each for himself his religion, rank, {520}and fortune, wish to
find in art the expression of their anxieties and meditations. They are
a thousand leagues away from the first masters, workmen or cavaliers,
who lived out-of-doors, scarcely read at all, and thought only of giving
a feast for their eyes. It is for that that I love them; I feel like
them because I am of their century. Sympathy is the best source of
admiration and pleasure.


III.

Below the museum is a square tower enclosed by a gallery of slender
columns, which towards the top bend and are cut into trefoils, forming
a border of arcades. They have gathered under this gallery all the
antiquities of the country: fragments of Roman statues, severe busts of
emperors, ascetic virgins of the middle ages, bas-reliefs from churches
and temples, knights of stone lying all armed upon their tombs. The
court was deserted and silent; tall slender trees, tufted shrubbery,
were bright with the loveliest green. A dazzling sunlight fell on the
red tiles of the gallery; an old fountain, loaded with little columns
and heads of animals, murmured near to a bench of rose-veined marble. A
statue of a young man was seen amidst the branches; stems of green hops
climbed up around broken columns.{521}

[Illustration: 549]

{522}

{523}This mixture of rustic objects and objects of art, these wrecks of
two dead civilizations and the youth of flowery plants, the joyous rays
on the old tiles, united in their contrasts all that I had seen for two
months.


THE END.





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