What a contrast it presented to the lightness, brilliancy, and gaiety, if we may use such a word, of the cathedral! There the effect on the mind is of pure delight; we feel the exhilaration, not the austerity, of religion. Very different is the impression produced by St. Germain, which may be described as a church of tombs, a temple consecrated to the dead. Although on a smaller scale, this ancient burial-place of saints and martyrs recalls the awful mausoleum of Spanish kings. The Escurial itself is hardly more impressive.
The upper church stands airily in the garden of the town hospital, its fine tower all that is left of the original building. The lower remains intact. We descend into a perfect little Gothic interior, with naves, choir, and chapel, all in darkness but for the feeble glimmer of the sacristan's candle, every part showing ancient frescoes in wonderful preservation. In huge niches of the walls and under our feet, the enormous lids of the tombs yielding to our guide's touch, lie the bones of saints deposited there nearly a thousand years ago, 'English saints, many of them, who crossed the water with St. Germain,' our cicerone said with animation, evidently thinking the fact would interest us extremely. No less curious than these tombs are the frescoes, illustrating, among other subjects, the life of St. Maxime, companion of St. Germain, whose bones lie here. 'St. Maxime, St. Maxime,' I said, as I laboriously deciphered the Latin inscription on the tomb. 'Does this name, then, belong to a woman?'
'Si fait,' rejoined our guide, no little astonished at such ignorance, 'we have many names in France that do for both sexes, and she belonged to your own country.'
I did not feel in a position to contradict the statement, but no matter to what country she belonged, St. Maxime has secured double immortality—first, in the saints' calendar; secondly, in the mausoleum of Auxerre. Alike these tombs and frescoes, with the sepulchres of the Pharaohs, seem able to defy the encroachments of Time.
During the Revolution, great consternation prevailed concerning the precious relics. The bones of the saintly bishop were disinterred and hidden elsewhere for safety, and in the after-confusion were never replaced, but buried elsewhere.
The huge sarcophagus in the wall is a cenotaph.
No similar panic is likely to create a second disturbance of the sacred relics in this subterranean abbey church. And who can say? Centuries hence, devout Catholics, dark-skinned descendants of races only just emerging from cannibalism, may make a solemn pilgrimage hither and find the pictured story of St. Maxime still intact on the walls! Be this as it may, no travellers within reach of Auxerre should fail to visit its two beautiful and perfect churches, the one with its majestic front and single tower rising airily above the level landscape, its noble proportions standing out in the bright sunshine, radiant and lightsome alike within and without; the other, hidden in the bowels of the earth, giving no visible evidence of its existence, aisle, vaulted roofs, vistas of delicate columns, only to be realized in the glimmer of a semi-twilight.
But Auxerre possesses other antiquities and many ancient houses, in one of which, the Fontaine Hotel, the traveller is comfortably and reasonably housed. When we descended to our late supper in the salle a manger, we found master, mistress, and their children dining with the entire staff of servants. Such a circumstance indicates the difference between English and French ways. In an English hotel, would the chef sit down to talk with boots?—the lady bookkeeper condescend to break bread with the kitchen-maid? Just as in France there is nothing like our differentiation of domestic labour, one servant there fulfilling what are called the duties of three here, so there is no parallel to our social inequalities, kept up even in the kitchen.
The chef here, who obligingly quitted the table and the company to cook our cutlets, was a strikingly handsome man, as so many head-cooks are. The connection between cookery as a fine art and personal beauty I leave to others to discover. I must say that after a considerable acquaintance with these officials I can hardly call to mind any of mean appearance. One of the handsomest, I remember, was an accomplished young chef, who gave me lessons in the art of omelette-making at the well-known, home-like Hotel du Jura, Dijon.
Auxerre, although possessing a cathedral, is not a bishopric, its See having been annexed to that of Sens, after the Revolution.
Formerly capital of the Auxerrois part of the kingdom of Burgundy, Auxerre is now chef-lieu of the department of the Yonne, the little river making such pretty pictures between Sens and La Roche.
Between Auxerre and Autun much of the scenery has an English look. We might be in Surrey or Sussex. Lofty hedges enclosing fields and meadows, stretches of heath-covered waste, oak woods, and homesteads half hidden by orchards form the landscape. As our train crawls on, stopping at every station, we have ample time to enjoy the scenery and scrutinize the agriculture, here somewhat backward. These very slow trains off the great lines should always be resorted to by the inquiring traveller, the Bommelzug as it is called in German, the train de boeufs in French. What can be seen from the windows of the flying Rapide? Here we might almost alight and pluck the wild flowers growing so temptingly on the embankment. Brisk tourists might even turn the long halt at Avallon to good account, and get a hasty peep of one of the most wonderful sites in this part of France, not so much as hinted at from the railway. It was hard to pass Avallon by, 'most musical name, recalling the "Idylls of the King," a place that may be compared with Granada, with anything;' harder still, not to revisit the abbey church of Vezelay, beautiful in itself, so celebrated in history; so majestically placed on a ridge overlooking the two departments of the Yonne and the Nievre, but Goethe's invaluable maxim must be that of the conscientious traveller, 'An der Naechste muss man denken' (We must think of the nearest, the most important thing). Time did not now admit of a two days' halt here. As I have described Avallon and Vezelay fully elsewhere, [Footnote: I allude to several papers contributed to the Pall Mall Gazette whilst under the editorship of Mr. John Morley (September and October, 1881), also to my edition of Murray's 'Handbook to France,' part ii., 1884.] I will only now assure all tempted to take this suggestion and visit both, that they cannot be disappointed. So the train crawled on till the pretty home-like landscape was lost in the twilight, and night over took us.
It was late when we reached Autun, not too late, however, to receive a right cordial welcome from the author of 'Round my House,' who had ridden from his country home in the starlight to welcome us.
CHAPTER II. THROUGH THE MORVAN (continued).
A delightful Sunday spent among delightful English and French friends, long bright hours of perfect weather, long bright hours of genial and affectionate intercourse, English sobriety lightened with French esprit and playfulness-such reminiscences, however precious to the possessor, hardly form materials for a chapter. I pass on to say something about Autun itself, a town so rarely visited by my country-folk, that the principal hotels have not as yet set up a teapot. The people, however, are so obliging that they will let you go into the kitchen and there make your own tea, even a plum-pudding, if you want it.
First some will ask the meaning of a name at the head of my page. The Morvan-what may that be? I must explain, then, without going over ground I have already described, that the Morvan, accessible as a tourist-ground from Avallon, Autun, or Nevers, is a little Celtic kingdom, isolated till recent times from the rest of France, alike by position, language, and customs.
The name is familiar to French ears as Wales is to our own. Just as we talk of such-and-such a place being in Wales, instead of specifying the particular shire, so French folks will tell you that they have just made a journey into the Morvan, that so-and-so lives in the Morvan, without naming the department—Saone-et-Loire, the Yonne or Nievre, in each of which a portion of the Morvan lies. In the very heart of the country, especially round about Chateau-Chinon, its marvellously placed little capital, we still see the saie, a garment identical with the Gallic sagum, and the Morvandial, although gradually losing his once so strongly-marked characteristics, prefers his own dialect to French. Throughout the entire country, indeed, Morvandial is spoken.
From many points of view this region of survivals is full of interest. Till half-way through the present century, village communism existed here in full force, having withstood the shocks of the French Revolution. The last village commune was not broken up till 1848.
The ancient industry of wood-floating, or flottage a buches perdues, is still actively carried on. The logs, which are cut in summer, each being marked with the owner's name, are floated down the rivers in winter to Paris, women and children doing the greater part of the work. This simple system of water transport, without any kind of vehicle, was invented by a Parisian, Rouvet by name, so long ago as 1569.
More interesting than these facts, perhaps, to most travellers, is the delightful scenery of the Morvan, and the beauty of its white oxen, a race apart. We find these gentle, majestic creatures everywhere tenderly cared for, as perhaps no other animals are in France, and lending wonderful picturesqueness and charm to every landscape. No matter whither you go, winding up the forest-girt mountain road, from Autun to Chateau-Chinon, traversing the romantic valley of the Cure, from Avallon to Vezelay, exploring the pretty, Surrey-like woods and hills around the gay little watering-place of St. Honore-les-Bains, are to be seen the white, lustrous-skinned, majestic creatures, who almost make us forgive the ungallant refrain of Pierre Dupont's famous song: 'J'aime bien Jeanne, ma femme, mais j'aimerais mieux la voir mourir, que de voir mourir mes boeufs' (I love my wife Jane, but I would rather see her die than my oxen).
The best plan for the tourist wishing to see the Morvan is to hire one of the light carriages called a caleche, and drive, not only round the country so called, but right through—a journey occupying about a fortnight when leisurely made.
Travellers pressed for time may, however, visit Chateau-Chinon in a day from Autun. This five hours' drive to the former capital of the Morvan, one continued ascent, gives one an excellent idea of the Morvandial scenery, and in clear weather is delightful. From the not too comfortable coupe of the cumbersome old vehicle, we come ever upon wider and more magnificent prospects; on either side are brilliant green pastures, watered by little rivers clear as crystal, lofty alders fringing their banks, and the grand white oxen pasturing peacefully here and there; beyond these gracious scenes rise wooded hills, or masses of granite, taking weird forms; while as we journey further on we get tremendous panoramas, with a background of violet hills. These heights are about equal to the Cumberland range, the loftiest peak of the Morvan rising to that of Skiddaw.
Far away the famous Mont Beuvray, the Bibracte of the 'Commentaries' lying half-way between Chateau-Chinon and Autun, is a bold, grand outline to day, under a cold, gray sky. Wild crags to climb and romantic sites abound, also scenes of quiet caressing grace and smiling pastoralness. Nowhere can be found more beautiful pastures, winding lanes, tossing streams. The country round about is wonderfully solitary, but newly-built schools in the scattered villages tell of progress.
Meantime driver and passengers alight whilst our steady horses climb one sharp ascent after another. As we wind about the hills we catch sight of tiny hamlets perched on airy crests, recalling the castellated villages of the African Kabylia.
Arrived at our destination, the ancient capital and stronghold of the Celtic Morvan, the whole country lies at our feet as a map—sunny pasture and cornland, glen and dale, mountain stream, tumbling river and glittering cascade, alternating with sterner and grander features— dark forests covering vast spaces, rugged peaks towering aloft, wild sweeps of heather-covered moorland. Seen as I saw this region, under a wind-tossed lowering heaven, the impression was of extreme desolation and wildness; only a glimpse of sunshine was needed to bring out the witchery of each shifting scene. Nothing can be prettier in a quiet way than these countless rivers and rivulets, each fringed with lofty alders, these velvety glades and winding lanes. Forests abound, and I was assured by a peasant that the poor never need buy any firewood. They can pick up enough to last them all winter.
Immediately below Chateau-Chinon opens a fair valley, threaded by the river Yonne. Bewildering is the sense of space and atmosphere we obtain here, as we look straight down into the clifts below, or allow the eye to wander over the vast panorama stretching around.
A town perched on a height two thousand feet above the sea-level, so placed as to command an entire kingdom, should have a history, and the history of Chateau-Chinon goes very far back indeed. The fortified citadel of the seigneury was built on the site of a Gallo-Roman camp, or castrum, the castrum on that of a Gallic oppidum. The once warlike, grim little place, that often defied its enemies in the seigneurial wars, is now the most dead-alive, sleepy little provincial place imaginable.
'We will breakfast together,' said the gray-haired conductor of the diligence to me; 'and you will afterwards have time to look round before we start home.'
Although pure Celts, the Morvandiaux have not the proud reserve and, perhaps, distrust of strangers found among the Bretons. I have driven for miles across country alone with a Breton peasant, and he would never once open his lips. Had I carried bags of gold about me, I should have been perfectly safe under such protection. But a sociable invitation to chat over the ordinary of an auberge would never have entered the head of a diligence-driver in the Morbihan or Finistere.
The little inn looked temptingly rustic and primitive, and the smiling, round-faced, rosy-cheeked landlady might have just walked out of a picture. Exactly such a landlady I remember at Llangollen years ago.
I had, however, no time to stay, and we drove v back to Autun, making the descent at a rapid rate, catching by the way the glimpse of a stately peasant, with the Gallic saie, or mantle, thrown over his shoulders. He might have sat for a study of Vercingetorix! It was worth while going to Chateau-Chinon for the sight of such a piece of antiquity as that!
Alas! Chateau-Chinon is to have a railway, and alike the mantle worn by Vercingetorix and his countrymen, the ancient Gallic speech—even the time-honoured system of log-floating—are doomed. Instead of being invited to breakfast with the blue-bloused pleasant driver of the diligence, I shall expect to find at table-d'hote half a score of English undergraduates, members of the bicyclist club, or a party of enterprising ladies from Chicago.
A word about Autun itself, a town that improves marvellously on acquaintance. This was my third visit, and I found it more attractive than ever. The beauty of its site is best appreciated from the lower ground beyond its western suburb. And beautiful it is—the graceful cathedral, with its airy spire and twin towers, pencilled in soft, silvery gray against the dimpled green hills, every feature of the landscape in harmony with it, as if, indeed, made to be in harmony with it. Turning from the cathedral in an opposite direction, in order to make the circuit of the city, we realize how grand was the predecessor of modern Autun the Augustodonum of Gallic Rome. Keeping to this higher ground, we can follow with the eye the tremendous span of the Roman wall, fragmentary for the most part, yet perfect in places, and built neither of bricks nor blocks of stone, but of small stones.
Inside the enclosure we see the mediaeval wall and picturesque watch- towers of the French king Francis. Picturesque as these are—also the bits of ordinary domestic architecture between airily-perched dormers, stone balconies filled with flowers, little terraced gardens rising one above the other-the mind is too much occupied with the grand Roman aspect of the place to dwell as yet upon minor points. The circuit of the city, so made as to visit its two magnificent Roman gateways, and equally fine so-called Temple of Janus, is beyond the reach of moderate walkers. All are noble specimens of Augustan architecture, more especially the Porte d'Arroux. This stands on the north side of the town, beyond the suburbs, its lofty arches spanning the road, and wearing, from the distance, the look of an aqueduct. It is built of huge blocks of stone adjusted without cement. Between the upper tiers of arches are sculptured Corinthian columns, all happily uninjured. So massive is this structure, so firmly it stands, that we feel as if, like the Pyramids, it might last for ever.
Beyond, on either side, stretches the pleasant open country-fields and meadows and market-gardens; whilst far away, in bright sunny weather looking like a violet cloud, is the vast height of Bibracte, so celebrated in the 'Commentaries.'
But the most curious monument at Autun is the so-called Pierre de Couhard. From all parts of the city may be seen, rising conspicuously from its green eminence, this stately relic-maybe of Roman or Gallic times, perhaps raised of remoter date still—a vast pyramid of stone, worthy to be compared to the great tomb of Caius Sextius in Rome.
It is a pleasant walk to what the townsfolk call the Pierre de Quare. Leaving behind us the cathedral and suburbs, we follow a road winding in a south-easterly direction to the little village of Couhard, watered by a gurgling stream, and sheltered by a fair green hill. As we quit the highroad to reach the monument, we come upon pretty pastoral groups. It is supper-time-l'heure de la soupe, as French rustics say— and before every cottage-door are squatted family groups, eating their pottage on the doorsteps. Around are the dogs and cats, chickens, pigs and goats. To every humble homestead is attached orchard, garden, even a patch of corn or vineyard. All is peace and contentment.
Certainly these rural interiors would not satisfy everybody. Neatness and cleanliness do not always prevail among poor folks in France, any more than in England. But, alike, young and old are neatly and wholesomely dressed. Beggars are almost nil, and the prevailing aspect is one of unforgettable well-being, independence, and cheerfulness.
In strange contrast with these domestic pictures—pet kittens and children playing close under its shadow, tiny cabbage and tomato beds planted to its very edge-stands the huge, angular, pyramidal pile called the Pierre de Quare.
Very striking is the effect of the huge, solid brown mass, tapering to a point, from summit to base reaching half the height of the cathedral- spire, its original height in all probability having been much loftier.
The whole is a ruin, yet intact, if I may be pardoned the paradox. Whilst the inner part of the monument remains uninjured, its sides have been stripped of the marble slabs or polished stones that once in all probability covered and adorned them. The outer surface now shows a rough, jagged ensemble of masses of stone rudely put together, the entire pyramid being solid.
We walked home in the evening light, getting dozens of charming pictures in the twilight—pictures already familiar to me, yet ever bringing a sense of newness. French towns, like French scenery, should be revisited thus, and I hope ere very long to pay Autun my fourth visit, and to take, for a second time, those delightful drives from Avallon to Vezelay, and from the modern capital of the little Celtic kingdom to the ancient, perched so airily above the surrounding hills.
CHAPTER III. FROM LYONS TO AVIGNON BY THE RHONE.
From Autun to Lyons is a journey that calls for little comment, unless made, as wise Arthur Young made it a hundred years ago, on horseback; or unless we take the steamer at Chalon, and enjoy the scenery of the Saone, Mr. Hamerton's favourite river.
We were too impatient, however, to reach the Causses to stop, even for the sake of a sail on the Saone, and made haste to catch the very next Gladiateur bound to Avignon. Why all these Rhone steamers should be called Gladiateur I don't know, but so it is.
By half-past five this bright August day we are on the deck of the little steamer, to find a scene of indescribable liveliness and bustle. All kinds of merchandise were being stowed away—bedding, fruit, bicycles, bird-cages, passengers' luggage, cases, and packages of every imaginable description.
A stream of peasants poured in, bound for various stations on the way, all heavily laden, some accompanied by their pet dogs. First-class passengers were not numerous. We had an elderly bridegroom, who might have been a small innkeeper, with his youthful bride, evidently making a cheap wedding-trip; a family party or two; an excitable man with a sick wife; a couple of pretty girls with two or three youths—brothers or cousins; a sprinkling of priests and nuns—that was all. The peasants with their baskets and bundles, at the other end of the vessel, made picturesque groups, and the whole scene was as French as French could be.
I was just thinking how pleasant it was thus to escape the routine of travel, to find one's self in a purely foreign atmosphere, among French people, picking up by the way French habits and ways of thought, when one of the officials of the company bustled up to me.
'Pray pardon me, madame,' he said, bringing out a note-book. 'I see that you are English. Will you be so very kind as to give me the name and address of the great tourist agency in London? We are organizing an entirely new service between Lyons and Avignon; we are going to make our steamers attractive to tourists. You will oblige us extremely by giving a little information.'
Crestfallen and with a sinking of the heart, I took his pencil—I could, of course, not do otherwise—and wrote in big letters:
MM. Thomas Cook et Cie., Ludgate Hill, Londres.
But those few words I had written sufficed to dispel the delightful visions of the moment before. Another year or two, then, and the Rhone will be then handed over to Messrs. Cook, Gaze and Caygill—benefactors of their kind, no doubt, but ruthless destroyers of the romance of travel.
Instead of French folk, with whom we can chat about their crops, rural affairs, the passing scenes, gaining all kinds of information, feeling that we are really in France, and forgetting for awhile old associations, henceforth we shall find on board these steamers our near neighbours, whom, no matter how much respected, we are glad to quit for a time. From end to end of the vessel we shall hear the voices of English and Transatlantic tourists, one and all most probably 'disappointed in the Rhone;' but, indeed, for the river, we should as well be at home! However, all this disenchantment happily belongs to the future; let us enjoy the present experience—one long bright summer day, so full of impressions as to seem many days rolled into one.
The whistle sounds, punctually to the stroke of six; we are off.
It is a noble sight as we steam out of the quay de la Charite: the vast city rearing its stately front between green hills and meeting rivers; above, white chateaux and villas dotting the greenery—below, the quays, bordered with warehouses that might be palaces, so lofty and handsome are they, and avenues of plane-trees.
The day promises to be splendid, but mists as yet hang over the scene. Leaving behind us majestic cities and suburbs and the confluence of the Rhone and the Saone—one silvery sheet flowing into the other—we glide between low-lying banks bordered with poplars, and soon reach the little village of Irigny, its sheltering green hills dotted with country houses. As we go swiftly on we realize the appropriateness of the epithet ever applied to the Rhone. Truly in Michelet's phrase, 'C'est un taureau furieux descendu des Alpes, et qui court a la mer.' If we are in haste to reach our destination in the heart of the Cevennes, the Rhone seems still more in haste to reach the sea. This swift current of the bright blue waters and the unspeakable freshness and purity of the air make our journey very exhilarating. Past Irigny we are so near the low, poplar-bordered shore to our left that we could almost reach it with a pebble, whilst to the right lies Millery. From this point the river winds abruptly, and we see far-off hills and gentle declivities nearer shore, with vineyards planted on the slopes. The country on both sides is beautifully wooded, and very verdant.
The first halt is made at Givors, a little manufacturing town set round with vine-clad banks; here the little river Giers flows into the Rhone, one of the numerous tributaries gathered on the way. Just below the town is a graceful suspension-bridge. But for the mists we should have a lovely view a little further on, where the hills run nearer together, the wooded escarpments running steep down to the water's edge. On both right and left banks the scenery is now charming. Close to our left hand rise banks fringed with silvery-green willows, and above a bold line of hills, part wood, part vineyards, with white houses peeping here and there; on our right, a little island-like group of poplar, the whole picture very sweet and pastoral.
For the most part our passengers, alike first and second class, pay scant heed to the scenery; the tiny salle-a-manger below and the resources of the kitchen seem more attractive.
The excitable man with the sick wife, however, no sooner caught sight of me with pencil and note-book than he rushed up, anxious to impart information, also to pour out his own troubles.
'That sick lady yonder is my wife; does she not look ill? Oh, the misfortune to have a sick wife!'
Then he went on to relate to me the history of his wife's long illness, dilating on his own unhappiness in being so afflicted. It never seemed to occur to him that it might be worse to be ill one's self, even than to inflict one's illnesses on others. He had tried every imaginable remedy, and now, as a last expedient, was about to take her to her paternal home in the South, to see what native air might do. Poor lady! ill and depressed she looked indeed.
As we get nearer Vienne the aspect of the country changes. There is an Italian look about the vines trellised on trees, and festooned under the tiled roofs of the little riverside chalets.
The approach to the ancient city itself is very striking. A light suspension-bridge spans the river-banks just where Vienne faces the village of St. Colombe, ancient as itself. On the right we see the massive old town built by Philippe de Valois; to the left, behind the houses, crowded together pell-mell, rises the massive pile of Vienne Cathedral. Here another tributary, the Gere, flows into the Rhone. Vienne was reputed a fosterer of poetry in classic times. At 'beautiful Vienne,' Martial boasted that his works were read with avidity. The scenery now shows more variety and picturesqueness. In one spot the river winds so abruptly that we seem all on a sudden to be landlocked, the hills almost meeting where the swift, impetuous stream has forced a way. The cleft hills as they slope down to the shore show little dells and combes deliciously fresh and verdurous. Everywhere we see the vine, and with every bend we seem nearer the South. Between Vienne and Roussillon the aspect is no longer French, but Italian—the distant undulations dark purple, flecked with golden shadow, the nearer terraced with the yellowing vine.
Our next halting-place is Condrien, on the right bank, celebrated for its white wines, a pretty, Italian-looking little town, with vineyards and gardens close to the riverside, the bright foliage of the acacia and vine contrasting with the soft yellows and grays of the building- stone. Above the straggling town on the sunny hill are deep-roofed chalets, and close to us—we could almost gather them—patches of glorious sunflowers in the riverside gardens. The mists had now cleared off, and we were promised a superb day.
The traveller's mind is all at once struck by the extreme solitude of this noble, vast-bosomed, swift-flowing river. We had been on our way for hours without seeing a steamer or vessel of any kind, our little craft having the wide water-way all to itself. Whilst the Saone is the most navigable river in the world, quite opposite is the character of its brother Rhone. Not inaptly has the one river—all gentleness, yieldingness, and suavity—won a feminine, the other—all force, impetuosity and stern will—obtained for itself a masculine, appellative! And well has the Lyonnais sculptor given these characteristics in his charming statues adorning the Hotel de Ville of his native city.
The Rhone has been called 'un chemin qui marche trop vite'; the rapidity of its currents and the difficulties of navigation up-stream are obstructions to traffic. But before the great line of railway was laid down between Paris and Marseilles, it was nevertheless very important. If we converse with French folk whose memory goes back to a past generation, we shall find that the journey South was invariably made this way. Formerly sixty-two steamers daily plied with passengers and goods between these riverside towns, now connected by railway. At the present time seven or eight suffice for the work.
To render the Rhone adapted for navigation on a large scale, extensive works are necessary in order to regulate its current and deepen its bed. The question has long occupied the leading Chambers of Commerce throughout France. Plans of the proposed ameliorations have been made; works have even been begun. But the Rhone has that terribly powerful Compagnie de Paris-Lyon-Mediterranee to contend with. It remains to be seen whether wide public interests will be finally sacrificed to a grasping railway company. For myself, I owe the P.-L.-M. a great and lasting grudge.
I am in the habit of paying yearly visits to French friends living in and near Dijon; but for the P.-L.-M., I could pleasantly vary these annual visits to the delightful Burgundian capital, going by way of Sens and Tonnerre, and returning by the Ligne de l'Est through Champagne.
But no! The latter company is not permitted by the P.-L.-M. to set down passengers in the Dijon railway-station. Those travellers desirous of making the journey Paris-ward via Troyes are therefore forced to take tickets to Is-sur-Tille, half an hour by rail from Dijon, on the Ligne de l'Est. There they are permitted, and not before, to take through tickets and register baggage to Paris. I rejoice to hear, however, that influential Dijonnais are taking the matter up, and I yet live in hopes of being able to avoid the P.-L.-M. line to and from Dijon.
It must be admitted that the great solitude of the Rhone adds to its majesty and impressiveness. Our little craft seems insignificant as a feather—a mere bird skimming the vast blue surface. After the clearing of the mists, we have a spell of unbroken blue sky and bright sunshine, followed by a deliciously cool, gray English heaven, with sunny glimpses and varied cloudage.
Passing Serrieres, with pastures and meadows close to the water's edge, and groups of cattle grazing under the trees, we reach Annonay, crested by a quaint ruin, the birth-place of the great balloonists, the brothers Montgolfier. The first balloon ascent was made from this little town in 1783. Boissy d'Anglas, the heroic president of the Assembly in its stormiest days, was also born here.
Next comes St. Vallier, an ancient little town close to the river-side, with its castle of the beauty who never grew old, Diane de Poitiers— she whose mysterious cosmetic was a daily plunge in cold water; so say the initiated in historic secrets. Opposite to St. Vallier rises a chain of sunny, vine-covered hills, with sharp clefts showing deep shadow.
At Arras, on the right bank, is seen another picturesque ruin. No river in Europe boasts of more ruins than the Rhone. Then we reach the legendary rock called the Table du Roi. Just as AEneas and his companions made of their flat loaves, plates, and so fulfilled the Sibyl's prediction, St. Louis saw in this tabular block a dinner-table, providentially designed for the use of himself and his ministers. The great advantage of such a table lay in its immunity from listeners, thus the story runs. This al-fresco banquet above the banks of the Rhone took place on the eve of the Seventh Crusade.
At this point the river is magnificent. Beyond the nearer hills rise the crumbling walls of a feudal stronghold, another ruin of imposing aspect. One hoary tower only is seen, half hidden by the folds of a valley. On every steep slope the vines make golden patches, little terraces being planted close to the rocky summits. This persistence in a phylloxera-ravaged district is quite touching.
Passing Tournon and Tain, we soon come in sight of the famous little village of the Hermitage, a sunburnt, granitic slope, its three hundred acres once being a mine of gold. Formerly a hectare of this precious vineyard was worth 30,000 francs. The phylloxera, alas! has invaded it.
We now see in the far distance the blue range of the Dauphinnois Alps, and can it be—is yonder silvery glimmer on the farthest horizon the mighty Mont Blanc? Nothing can be lovelier than these wide mountain vistas, far above broad blue river, plain, and hill.
Passing the stately Gothic chateau of Chateaubourg, where sojourned St. Louis, we get a glimpse of the sharply-outlined limestone heights bordering on the vineyards of St. Peray, no less celebrated than those of the Hermitage. On the topmost crag stand out in bold relief the superb ruins of Crussol. At every turn we see gray walls of feudal strongholds frowning above the bright, broad river. By the time we reach Valence, soon after mid-day, we have passed one barge only.
Valence is beautifully situated. [Footnote: In the early part of this century the Rhone threw up gold-dust here. The beaver, be it also mentioned, had his home then on the banks of this river, but it lived in isolation, showing little of the intelligence of the Canada beaver.] Facing the river and tawny, abrupt rocks rises the splendid panorama of the French Alps. Here we ought to stay, were we not in such feverish flurry to reach the Causses. And here we leave more than half our passengers and merchandise. The cook, having now nothing to do, comes on deck to chat with a friendly traveller. I may as well mention that we fare as well on this little steamer as at a second-class table- d'hote. There is a small dining-room below, as well as a very fairly comfortable saloon. The attendants are exceedingly civil, and charges regulated by a tariff.
As an instance of the prevailing desire to please, I cite the following piece of amiability on the part of the chef. I had given tea and a teapot, with instructions, to the waiter. The chef, however, anxious that there should be no blunder, came up to me and begged for information at first hand.
'Pray excuse me,' he said; 'but I did not understand whether the milk and sugar were to form part of the decoction.'
I gave him a little dissertation on tea-making, with the result that future travellers by the Gladiateur will obtain a fragrant cup admirably prepared. Even a French chef cannot be expected to know everything in the vast field of cookery.
Below Valence the scenery changes. The hills on either side of the river recede, and we look above low reaches and lines of poplar upon the far-off mountain-range of Dauphine and Savoy. Here and there are little farmsteads close to the shore, with stacks of wheat newly piled and cattle grazing—everywhere a look of homely plenty and repose. The river winds in perpetual curves, giving us new horizons at every turn.
Lavoutte, on the right bank, is a picturesque congeries of red-tiled houses massed round a square chateau. The town indeed looks a mere appendage of this chateau, so conspicuous is the ancient stronghold of the Vivarais. Livron, perched on a hill, looks very pretty. Soon we come to perhaps the grandest ruin cresting the bank of the Rhone, the donjon and chateau fort of Rochemaure, standing out formidably from the dark, jagged peaks, running sheer down to the river's edge.
After Le Teil is passed the clouds gradually clear. We have the deep warm blue of a southern sky and burning sunshine.
Viviers—ancient capital of the Vivarais, to which it gave the name—is most romantically placed on the side of a craggy hill, its ancient castle and old Romanesque cathedral conspicuous above the house-roofs. Just above the verdant river-bank run its mediaeval ramparts tapestried with ivy, the yellowish stone almost the colour of the rocks.
The scenery here is wild and striking. Far away the grand snow-tipped Mont Ventoux, the limestone cliffs dazzlingly white against the warm heavens, deep purple shadows resting on the vine-clad slopes, whilst close to the water's edge are stretches of velvety turf and little shady dells. At one point the opposite coasts are as unlike in aspect as summer and winter; the right bank all grace and fertility, the left all barrenness and desolation. And still we have the noble river to ourselves as it winds between rock and hill. Pont St. Esprit is another old-world town with a wonderful old bridge, making a charming picture. It stands close to the water's edge, the houses grouped lovingly round its ancient church with tall spire. Here we do at last meet a steamer bound for Valence.
After leaving Pont St. Esprit the scenery grows less severe, till by degrees all sternness is banished, and we see only a gentle pastoral landscape on either side.
Bagnols, with its handsome old stone bridge, church, with perforated tower, facing the river, makes a quaint and picturesque scene. This curious old town, one of the most characteristic passed throughout the entire journey, lies so close to the water's edge that we could almost step from the steamer into its streets. Meantime, the long, bright afternoon, so rich in manifold impressions, draws on; cypresses and mulberry-trees announce the approach to Avignon. A golden softness in the evening sky, a heavy warmth and languor in the air, proclaim the South. Every inch of the way is varied and rememberable. Feudal walls still crest the distant heights, as we glide slowly between reedy banks and low sandy shores towards the papal city.
At last it comes in sight, rather more than twelve hours since quitting the quay of Lyons, and well rewarded were we for having preferred the slower water-way to the four hours' flight in the railway express.
The approach to Avignon by the Rhone may be set side by side in the traveller's mind with the first glimpse of Venice from the Adriatic, or of Athens from the AEgean.
The river, after winding amid cypress-groves, makes a sudden curve, and we see all of a sudden the grand old Italian-looking city, its watch- towers, palaces, and battlements pencilled in delicate gray against a warm amber sky, only the cypresses by the water's edge making dark points in the picture. Far away, over against the city towers, the stately snow-crowned Mont Ventoux and the violet hills shutting in Petrarch's Vaucluse. How warm and southern—nay, Oriental—is the scene before us, although painted in delicatest pearly tints! It is difficult to believe that we are still in France; we seem suddenly to have waked up in Jerusalem!
CHAPTER IV. AVIGNON AND ORANGE.
My first business at Avignon was, of course, to visit the tomb of our great countryman, John Stuart Mill.
As we drive to the cemetery this cloudless August day there is little to remind us of northern latitudes: warm yellow walls, burning blue heaven, venerable fig-trees white with dust, peach and olive orchards— all combine to conjure up a vision of the far-off East. The perpetual wind, however, cools the air, and if it has not the delicious freshness of the desert breeze tasted towards nightfall near Cairo, at least it makes August in that apparently tropic region bearable. Avignon should without doubt be visited in the height of summer, otherwise we lose this Oriental aspect, which is its most striking and, at the same time, most beautiful characteristic.
Passing the colossal palace of the popes—pity such superb masonry should be linked with the memories of crimes so horrible!—we reach the public gardens, containing the statue of a comparatively humble individual, who did more for the public weal than perhaps all the popes and anti-popes put together. This is Althen, who, by the introduction of the madder-root into France, promoted the peaceful industry and wellbeing of thousands of honest families. From the lofty terrace of this promenade—a natural precipice overlooking the river—we obtain a glorious panorama—the entire city, with its towers, palace, and churches, spread before us as a map, the glory of the Dauphinnois Alps, the magnificent Mont Ventoux stretching across the northern horizon, under the shadow of its sunny crest the pale violet hills of Vaucluse, and, to complete the picture, the Rhone, silvery bright—I protest it is not always muddy as some writers insist!—flowing swiftly between green banks towards the sea.
An avenue of stone pines leads to the cemetery—announced by flower- stalls and stonemasons' yards—and we soon find the head-gardener—an ancient man, proud to show us the tomb of the 'grand Anglais.'
'Do my country-people often come here to pay their respects to this grave?' I asked.
'Oh, many, many!' he said; 'and the demoiselle, his daughter—it is she who sees to everything. She is always coming. Never was any grave so cared for, as you will see.'
He was right. The sarcophagus of pure white marble stands in the midst of a tiny garden, exquisitely kept and railed in, with gate well- locked. The well-known inscription inscribed by Stuart Mill to the memory of his wife cannot be deciphered from outside the enclosure, and no one, under any circumstances whatever, is permitted to enter it; but the name of the noble apostle of liberty stands out bold and clear, and may be seen from a distance. The flower-borders around the tomb were bright with late summer and autumn flowers; not a seared leaf, not an unsightly weed anywhere. The reverential care bestowed on this grave is delightful to witness. Two English girls lie buried near the great champion of women and of liberty of thought. Rare flowers—roses and lilies—were not to be had, so I purchased a homely garland of zinnias and China asters, and laid it just outside the little railing. In paying this modest tribute to the memory of John Stuart Mill I fulfilled a wish very dear to my heart. One other pilgrimage of the like kind I would fain make did not wide seas intervene. I should like to place a wreath on the tomb of another apostle of liberty—the dauntless, the self-immolating Colenso!
Schiller, great in poetry as in prose, says: 'The larger portion of humanity are too much concerned with the struggle for bare existence to occupy themselves with the search after truth.' Let us, then, rejoice in the memory of those who have consecrated their existences to this lofty task!
Beautiful as is Avignon for a burial-place, we wonder how anyone could from choice live here. The perpetual mistral-like wind, the dazzling glare, the white dust, the malodorous streets of the old town, do not at any rate invite a long stay during the dog-days, and much of its picturesqueness would be lost in winter. With the prospect of the breezy Roof of France ever before us, we certainly felt little disposed to linger, in spite of our comfortable quarters and another attraction not mentioned in guide-books. I allude to the great beauty of the people, especially of the young girls and children. We seemed here to have touched the first note of a gradually ascending scale of beauty, the climax awaiting us in the mountain fastnesses of the Lozere. In and around Avignon we saw many a girl beautiful as one of Raphael's Madonnas, many a child lovely as an angel. We could not paint these charming heads, we could not make the acquaintance of their possessors; but it was delightful to obtain such glimpses of beauty by the way—to feel one's self in a living portrait-gallery of beauty. The great neatness and tidiness of the country people, and the absence of vagrancy, are very striking. Wherever we go, we see evidence of an existence laborious perhaps in the extreme, yet one of wholesomeness and content.
Strange to say, chemical science has proved as disastrous to the rural population round about Avignon as the phylloxera has done in other parts of the department. The supersession of madder by aniline dyes has, indeed, for a time almost ruined the small farmers of Vaucluse.
'Ah!' said an elderly man to me, 'in former days the madder made up for everything. It was the harvest of the year. If a peasant's corn was blighted, or potatoes and fruit crops failed, the madder was there to take to market. The madder paid his way in bad seasons and in good— gave him a little "argent mignon" to lay by. The peasant just manages to live nowadays, but when madder was cultivated 'twas his own fault if he didn't grow rich.'
The culture of this plant, which extended over 13,500 hectares in Vaucluse in 1860, had diminished to eight, representing a loss of millions of francs. The vineyards have also been reduced, owing to the inroads of the phylloxera, although not in equal proportion. Even the silkworm, the third chief source of wealth here, has suffered from a parasite.
But the peasant-owner of the soil never loses heart. He drives his plough across the ruined vineyard, digs up the madder-field, plants other crops, and cheerfully accepts a fourth part of former profits.
My companion, of course, would no more have dreamed of quitting Avignon without a visit to Vaucluse than I should have thought it possible to go away leaving unvisited the tomb of John Stuart Mill. But next morning brought a lowering sky, heavy rain-drops, and an ominous rumbling of thunder. To set out for a twenty miles' drive across country under such auspices were madness.
We decided to visit Orange instead, a short distance by railway. We should be sure to obtain a covered carriage at the station. Under such circumstances, need a deluging shower or two and a thunderstorm keep us at home?
The prospect brightened towards mid-day, so we started in high spirits, assuring ourselves of a delightful excursion. We found pleasant company in the railway-carriage, our fellow-travellers being all bound for Paris. One, a young Jesuit who had been in England, was delighted to practise his English.
'You are not favoured with fine weather in your travels,' he said; 'but you are probably going to remain at Orange some time?'
'Oh dear no,' was the reply. 'We are spending the afternoon there, that is all—just going to see the Roman theatre!'
'I wish you enjoyment of your expedition,' he replied drily, no little amused, but evidently somewhat accustomed to insular eccentricity.
The rest of the company could hardly keep a grave countenance. 'These English! these English!' their faces said, and the general verdict evidently was parodying the immortal words of Madame Roland: 'O Pleasure, what pains are endured under thy name!'
By the time we reached our destination the storm had become truly awful. Rain fell in torrents; the crashing thunder was like the roar of artillery. The heavens were black as night, but for the blue flashes that seemed to set the place on fire. Outside the station was no vehicle of any kind; within, groups of storm-driven travellers and pedestrians waited for the tempest to abate.
And long, indeed, we had to wait. The most rational alternative seemed to be to take the next train back to Avignon. But we might never again find ourselves at Orange. We recalled Addison's words, 'The remains of this Roman amphitheatre are worth the whole principality of Orange,' so we abided the storm. We were, after all, as well off in the comfortably-appointed little station as in a first class railway- carriage, and the tempest, if awful, afforded a sublime spectacle. Lightning so vivid I think I never before witnessed.
At last the deluging rain slackened somewhat; the heavens grew clearer; and the omnibus of the Hotel de la Poste made its appearance. We took our seats and rattled into the town, the poor drenched horses paying no heed to the swiftly-recurring peals and flashes.
At the Poste, most French and old-fashioned of French inns—very spacious, very handsome, and scrupulously clean—we found a charming landlady, to whom we carried friendly greetings from former visitors; and after tea and a little chat, the thunder and lightning having abated, we ventured forth.
The streets, which on our arrival an hour before were like rivers, now began to dry up; the raindrops fell at intervals only; the thunder pealed from a distance. A few townspeople, like ourselves, were abroad.
A noble avenue of plane-trees leads from the station to the ancient town. Hardly a bit of modernization to be seen anywhere, its quaint, narrow streets having deep, over-hanging roofs and round arched galleries, as seen in some of the old Spanish towns of Franche-Comte. After zigzagging for awhile in rain, we come suddenly upon the Roman theatre, a sight to take one's breath away. Rome itself shows nothing finer than this colossal mass of masonry—facade of the Augustan amphitheatre, and at the same time an acoustic wall, built of such thickness and solidity in order to retain the sound of the actors' voices. The entire facade is very nearly perfect, and forms a splendid specimen of Augustan architecture in its prime. It is constructed of huge blocks put together symmetrically, without the adjunct of cement. The colour is of deep, rich brown, the entire structure majestically dominating the town, whilst around, dwarfed by its gigantic proportions, rise the pleasant green hills.
Close under the shadow of the facade, enhancing its grandeur by force of contrast, are mean little houses, and in front an open space, where poor people are washing their clothes and carrying on the homeliest avocations. Some notion of the interior may be gathered from without, but, on payment of a small fee, strangers are permitted to enter and wander at will about the stone benches raised on tiers, the corridors, and dressing-closets of the actors. Vandalism has all but done its worst; still, enough are left of proscenium and auditorium, originally constructed to hold 7,000 spectators, to admit of the performance of plays here. The stone corbels, pierced with holes to hold the enormous awning or velarium used in wet weather or extreme heat, remain intact. The gray stone is covered with moss and greenery, and the whole scene for magnificence and impressiveness may be compared with the great Dionysiac theatre at Athens.
As we lingered outside, it was pleasant to witness the pride of the inhabitants in this great monument.
'Ah, you should have been here a few days ago!' one bystander said to us; 'you might then have seen the "OEdipe Roi" of Corneille given in this amphitheatre, by the troupe of the Comedie Francaise. Never before was a fete so brilliant seen at Orange! People flocked hither from fifty miles and farther round!'
We found, and lost, and lost, and found our way in the perplexing labyrinth of ancient streets, till we reached the fine but somewhat cold and uninspiring triumphal arch at the other end of the town. Then we returned to Avignon, the thunderstorm bursting forth with renewed fury. Our compartment was illuminated by the lightning from the beginning of our journey to the end, and when we alighted the blue flashes were positively appalling; the whole place seemed ablaze with the steely-blue, blinding coruscations. So we rattled through the lightning-lit streets and turned into bed, the storm taking its departure as soon as we were safely housed. It was worth while making a great effort to see Orange, but nothing—no, nothing—will ever tempt me to excursionize in such a storm again!
It is odd that English folk so rarely visit Orange; but the attractions of Switzerland are too obvious, and the great Schweitzer Hof at Lucerne has more charms for the multitude than the thoroughly French Hotel de la Poste.
One illustrious English traveller, however, just two hundred years ago, thought otherwise.
In a recently-unearthed letter of Addison to Bishop Hough, dated 27th October, 1700, he wrote: 'I was about three days ago at Orange, which is a very fruitful and pleasant spot of ground. The governor, who is a native of the place, told me there were about 5,000 people in it, and one-third were Protestants. There is a Popish bishop and some convents, but all live very amicably together, and are, I believe, not a little pleased with their prince, who does not burden them with taxes and impositions. There are two pieces of antiquity—Marius' triumphal arch, and the remains of a Roman amphitheatre—that are worth the whole of the principality.'
It may be as well to add here that the prevailing opinion of archaeologists now refers the arch to the reign of Marcus Aurelius, and that the name Marius has no reference to the conqueror of the Cimbri, as has been generally supposed. The supposition was brought about by the name Mario inscribed on a shield, among the many facsimiles adorning the trophy. But it is clearly the name of the vanquished, not the victor, found here, and Mario, part of Marion, may well have been the name of a Gaulish prisoner.
As all spoliations throughout France indiscriminately are imputed to the Revolution, it may be as well to remind the reader that it was Maurice, Prince of Nassau, who did his very utmost to demolish the noble Roman theatre of Orange.
By the Treaty of Ryswick, signed 1697, the family of Nassau were confirmed in the possession of Orange, and the prince referred to in Addison's letter was our William the Third. The spoliator of the Roman theatre was his ancestor, the tyrannical and justly-hated Maurice. This fact is to be noted.
The thunderstorm cooled the air, and the next day we had unclouded skies and burning sunshine, tempered with a brisk wind, for our expedition to Vaucluse. The wind blows ever at Avignon, no matter what the weather may be, and renders the tropic heat of summer tolerable. All the way we caught sight of beautiful faces, these peasant-girls and children having faultless features, a rich complexion, dark hair and eyes, and a dignified carriage. They go bare-headed in the broiling sun, and seem to revel in the heat. Passing suburban villas, close- shuttered, vine-trellised, handsome chateaux, each approached by stately avenues of plane or mulberry, cypress groves and vineyards, we are soon in the heart of the country.
Little farmhouses are seen on either side, their ochre-coloured walls gleaming against the deep-blue sky—fig-trees in every garden, with peach-orchards beyond, showing the brilliant fruit. It is a bit of the East, only the blue-bloused peasant and the bare-headed, dignified country girls, wishing us 'Bonjour' as they pass, remind us that we are on French soil. There is no evidence here either of wealth or poverty; but the fruits of the earth, so laboriously cultivated, are equally shared by all. Everywhere we find cheerfulness, independence, and thrift.
Pilgrims to Vaucluse must be prepared to pay dear for the privilege. Once—and once only during this journey-were we thoroughly overcharged, and it was at the little inn here.
I have not kept the bill, but was it not worth any money to taste trout fished from Petrarch's stream, eggs whose ancestors had crowed in Petrarch's hearing, salad grown within perhaps a stone's-throw of Petrarch's garden? Thus doubtless our hostess reasoned, and in all probability she was right. What devotee would be deterred from visiting such a shrine by the prospect of a long bill?
Many, however, will be deterred by another reason. I allude to the burning noonday sun, that makes this close-shut valley, as it is complimentarily called, a veritable furnace. It is in reality a deep winding cleft between lofty, yellow rocks, by virtue of position and formation a naturally formed sun-trap, not a ray being lost. Words can give no idea of the scorching, blinding heat this August afternoon. Yet a little girl who acts as our guide confronts the sun bareheaded, and as we go we find dozens of relic-vendors equally unprotected. No one seems to require a hat or umbrella. This child had the face of a miniature Madonna, and others we met on the way equally beautiful and well-formed. Strange thus to escape for a time altogether from the region of human ugliness, to be as completely isolated from ill- favoured looks and uncomely gait as if we were in a sculpture-gallery of Florence! These country-bred girls and children have not only statuesque features, but the stateliest carriage, holding themselves with the air of Nature's princesses.
I stopped when half-way through the burning, blinding cul-de-sac, and took refuge under the shadow cast by a bit of wall and a fig-tree. If the deluging showers of yesterday had failed to damp my enthusiasm, the meridian heat of Vaucluse shrivelled it up. My companion, with her angelic-faced little cicerone, perseveringly went on.
This rock-shut valley, watered by the Sorgues, a tiny thread of water and verdure amid towering walls of bare, sun-baked rock, has lost much of its poetry and romance. The stream flows clear as in the poet's time, but the solitude he loved so well is invaded. Of his garden not a trace remains. The perpetually whirring wheels of a water-mill, the clatter of washerwomen beating clothes on the bank, now drown the murmur of the waves, whilst at every turn the traveller is beset by vendors of immortelles and photographs. Truth to tell, an element of vulgarity has found its way to this once ideal spot! But it requires no very vivid imagination to transport ourselves to the Eden described so musically in Petrarch's letters; and close at the doors of the hermitage he has rendered immortal lies scenery that might well recall his native Italy. All this is vividly portrayed in the pages of Arthur Young, who was more fascinated by the scenery of Vaucluse than either myself or my companion.
'And what was the fountain like?' I asked, when, after a quarter of an hour, she returned.
This was her account:
'Following the hot and dusty path, beset all the way with children selling wild-flowers and dried grasses-it seems providential that they don't all have sunstroke under this merciless sun-we at last reach a semicircle of rocks, a miniature stone bay, slanting slippery rocks leading down to the midst, covered, as my little guide said, in winter by water. From under these rocks burst the Sorgues-not a very tiny river at its first start-and flows into a dark pool of by no means clear water. Indeed, I should say it looked slightly scummy. On the only ledge of rock above, with soil enough for vegetation, is a bright spot of green, covered with the sweet-scented flower-a plant of the good King Henry tribe, which we had been pestered to buy all the way from the inn. This little patch looked so inaccessible that I think the children must find the plant elsewhere.
'It is well,' sighed my friend, 'that Petrarch cannot see his beloved village and river; for although the Sorgues is still limpid and beautiful when flowing over the mossy rocks, what with guides, tourists, and paper-mills, the place is vulgarized by people who probably never read a line of the great poet of ideal love in their lives, and never will.' [Footnote:
'The love from Petrarch's urn, A quenchless lamp by which the heart Sees things unearthly.' SHELLEY.]
If the outward drive amid orchards of peach and fig trees, vineyard and cypress, conjures up a vision of the East, the return journey will give some idea of the great olive-strewn plain of the Spanish Vega.
Far as the eye can reach, nothing is seen but one continuous sweep of country covered with the silvery-green olive. Beyond in a northerly direction the vast grandiose outline of Mont Ventoux shows an opaline hue, its deep violet tints being subdued in the paling afternoon light. All the tones in the picture are uniform and subdued, but none can be fairer, more harmonious, no spectacle more impressive, than the delicate sea-green foliage of myriads of olive-trees—plumage were the apter word—one unbroken sheeny wave from end to end of the immense horizon.
That the half may be better than the whole in travel is an axiom verified every day. Was it worth while to incur a sunstroke for the sake of seeing Petrarch's fountain—nearly dry, moreover, at such seasons of the year? Far better to drive home without headache, and be able thoroughly to enjoy such compensation for what we could not see.
After the tomb of John Stuart Mill, Petrarch's Vaucluse; after Petrarch's Vaucluse, the palace of the popes.
But the sight of torture-chambers and horrid underground prisons is not inviting; the souvenirs here awakened are anything but attractive. The palace of the anti-popes, moreover, is turned into a caserne. I was content to pass it by. Does not Mr. Symonds relate, in his history of the Italian Renaissance, how a certain pope vivisected little children in the hope of prolonging his own infamous existence? In other words, the pope believed in the doctrine of transfusion of blood, and hapless little lads were bribed into undergoing the operation of blood-letting in order that the veins of the pontiff should be thereby revivified.
The victims received the promised money and died, but I refer readers to Mr. Symonds' work for the story—as horrible as any in the horrible history of the sovereigns of the Vatican. Doubtless the walls of this outwardly imposing papal palace here could tell others as ghastly. I had not the slightest inclination to cross the threshold.
At Avignon we made inquiries right and left as to the best means of reaching the Causses. Nobody had so much as heard of the name. One individual thus interrogated repeated after me:
'L'Ecosse, l'Ecosse? Mon Dieu! je n'en sais absolument rien.'
He thought we were asking the directest road to Scotland—a strangely random question for two Englishwomen to make, surely, in the South of France!
CHAPTER V. LE VIGAN.
Nimes in August is about as hot as Cairo in May, which certainly is saying a good deal. In front of the pleasant Hotel de Luxembourg are fountains and gardens, bright with oleanders and pomegranates; and the town is open and airy, but the heat is very oppressive. The unremitting precautions taken to keep out the sun show what is expected in summer- time. The rooms are not only protected by shutters, but by Venetian blinds as well, and are kept in semi-darkness during the greater portion of the day. How the business of daily life can be carried on in this perpetually enforced twilight I am unable to say. Whether or no the majority of the townsfolk have acquired by sheer force of habit the faculty of seeing in the dark, or contrive to transact all obligatory affairs in the cool of the evening, when for a brief moment shutters are thrown open and blinds drawn, is a mystery.
I have no intention of describing Nimes—a city, perhaps, as familiar to my country-people as any in France; and, indeed, time only permitted of a glance at the beautiful Roman baths, a quite fairy-like scene, the exquisite little Greek temple, [Footnote: Colbert wished to move this lovely little temple to Versailles, bit by bit, and the Cardinal Alberoni demanded that it should be encased in gold.] known under the name of the Maison Carree, and the amphitheatre. All these have been well and amply described for tourists elsewhere; also the lovely group of Pradier adorning the principal fountain of the town—a modern chef- d'oeuvre that may well figure amid so many gems of classic art. The most hurried traveller will, of course, visit one and all.
The modern aspect of Nimes is worthy of note.
Distinguished Frenchmen—or, for the matter of that, Frenchwomen—may count with mathematical certainty upon the compensation of earthly ills: they are sure of their statue after death.
Nimes, not behindhand in this appreciative spirit, has recently conferred such honours upon two illustrious sons—Reboul, the artisan poet; and Paul Soleillet, the gallant African explorer. Both monuments are well worth seeing, and both men deserved to be so remembered.
One-fourth of the inhabitants of Nimes are Protestant; but a true spirit of toleration was very slow to make itself felt there. In 1876, for the first time, 'Les Huguenots' was given at the opera-house. Hitherto the experiment had been considered risky.
It is strange that the inroads of the phylloxera should have any influence upon the movements of religious bodies, but so it is. Narbonne, in the neighbouring department, has lately lost its Protestant population, most of whom were wine-growers or wine- merchants, ruined by the terrible vine-pest. So complete was the exodus that the ministrations of a pastor were no longer needed. These facts I had from the then desoeuvre pastor himself, who was appointed to the cure of souls in the little village of St. Georges de Didonne, at the mouth of the Gironde, during my stay there two years ago.
Thankful as the visitor may feel to get away from Nimes in the dog- days, it should certainly be visited then, otherwise we lose that impression of the South—that warm glow of colour and Oriental languor so new and striking in Northern eyes. For ourselves, we would willingly have lingered days—nay, weeks—in the noble Roman city, but for the heat and our feverish desire to reach that cool, breezy Roof of France, so near, yet so apparently difficult to reach; in fact, the nearer we approached our destination, the more unattainable it appeared. No more at Nimes than at Avignon could we get an inkling of information as to the best means of reaching the Causses.
We are but fairly off on our way to Le Vigan when we find a welcome change in the atmosphere. The air is cooler, the heavens show alternating cloud and sky; we feel able to breathe. Past olive grounds and mulberry plantations, ancient towns cresting the hill-tops, cheerful farmsteads dotted here and there—these are the pictures descried from the railway. It was hard to pass Tarascon without stopping, but the experience of last year was fresh in my memory. If we lingered at every interesting place on the way, we should find the Roof of France embedded in snow. There was nothing to be done but, in policeman's language, 'move on.' Some of the little towns passed on the way are very old and curious, but night closed in long ere we reached our destination.
I had heard nothing in favour of Le Vigan. The hotel was described to us as a fair auberge. The very place was marked down in my itinerary simply because it seemed impossible to reach the region we were bound for from any other starting-point. At least, the two other alternatives had drawbacks: we must either make a circuitous railway journey round to Mende, or a still longer detour by way of Millau.
Having therefore expected literally nothing either in the way of accommodation or surroundings, what was our satisfaction next day to wake up and find ourselves in quite delightful quarters, amid charming scenery! Our hotel, Des Voyageurs, is as unlike the luxurious barracks of Swiss resorts as can be. An ancient, picturesque, straggling house, brick-floored throughout, with spacious rooms, large alcoves, outer galleries and balconies facing the green hills, it is just the place to settle in for a summer holiday. On the low walls of the open corridor outside our rooms are pots of brilliant geraniums and roses; beyond the immediate premises of the hotel is a well-kept fruit and flower garden; everywhere we see bright blossoms and verdure, whilst the low spurs of the Cevennes, here soft green undulations, frame in the picture.
The weather is now that of an English summer, with alternating clouds and sunshine and a fresh breeze.
The people are no less winning than their entourage. Our host, a septuagenarian of the old-fashioned school, in his youth was cook to Louis Philippe, and has carried with him to this remote spot all the polish and urbanity of the court. Aristocratic as he was in manner, and evidently a man of substance, as behoved a royal cook to be, he yet exercised supervision in the kitchen, not only giving instructions, but inspecting saucepans, to see that the acme of cleanliness was arrived at.
For what we may therefore call a royal cuisine, besides excellent accommodation, we were charged the modest sum of seven francs per diem each. Madame la patrone was no less dignified in manner than her husband, and from the first took me into her confidence.
She told me that the prosperity of their old age had just been saddened by the death of their only child—the hope of hopes, the joy of joys. No one remained to inherit their good name and little fortune.
'And a young girl so carefully brought up, so well educated and amiable, so useful in the house! Voyez-vous, madame, ces choses sont trop tristes,' she said with tears; and what could we say to comfort her?
To attend upon us we had a delightful peasant woman, neat, clean, sturdy, unlettered; yet very intelligent, and full of interest in English inventions and English ways. What a treasure such a woman would be at home! but for the hindrance of husband and children, we should have felt sorely tempted to bring her away with us. Then there was a tall, handsome fellow, a man of all work, in the establishment, who would rap at my door at all hours of the day with two enormous jugs of boiling water. I required a considerable supply of hot water early in the morning wherewith to fill my portable indiarubber bath—a perpetual source of amusement in the Lozere-and he seemed to think that a warm bath, like a cigarette or a petit verre, was a luxury to be indulged in at all hours of the day.
I would be absorbed in the study of maps and geographies when a thundering rat-tat-tat would make me start from my seat, and, lo! on opening the door, there stood the tall, soldierly, well-favoured Francois, holding in each hand a huge steaming jug filled to the brim, his handsome face beaming with satisfaction at having thus anticipated my wishes.
He evidently thought, too, that anyone with an appetite so unreasonable in the matter of hot water must have innumerable wants equally unreasonable. So quite unexpectedly, I believe whenever he had a spare moment, he would knock at our door and stand there, stock-still, awaiting commands.
Seductive as is Le Vigan by virtue of site and surroundings, I am sorry to have to say that the town is badly kept. Its aediles are terribly wanting in a sense of what is due to public health and enjoyment. The streets look as if they were never cleaned from January to December, although there is an abundant supply of water. Sanitation is for the most part woefully disregarded, and the little that is needed to make the place wholesome and attractive is left unattempted. What distressed my companion more than the neglected aspect of the streets was the sight of so many apparently uncared-for, ill-fed cats and dogs. As a rule, French people are kind to their domestic pets, but the bare- ribbed cats and their kittens here told a different story. Fortunately, when sketching just outside the town one day, the cure came up and entered into conversation with the sketchers. Here was an opportunity not to be neglected, and it was eagerly seized upon.
'Do, M. le Cure,' pleaded the English lady, after drawing his attention to the destitute condition of many four-footed parishioners, 'speak to your people, and make them see how wrong it is thus to rear cats and dogs, and leave them to starve,'
The benevolent old man promised to do his best, reminding me of the different response made to a similar appeal by a Breton priest.
I was once so shocked at the cruel treatment of calves at a country fair that I boldly stopped the cure in the middle of the road, and entreated him to preach against such wickedness.
'Madame' was his reply, 'ce n'est pas un teche' (it is no sin); meaning, I suppose, that diabolical cruelty to animals did not come under the head of offences against the Church.
It may be a consolation to many readers to know that the Loi Grammont now prohibits the misdeeds ignored by so-called ministers of religion in France; and it is a law, if not often, occasionally enforced with little ceremony. At Clermont-Ferrand, a few weeks later, a cab-driver was carried off to prison before our eyes for having brutally beaten his fallen horse.
Throughout the remainder of this journey I am bound to say that we were struck with the kindness and gentleness of our drivers to their horses. Any sign of ill-temper or skittishness was always coaxed away, an angry word or blow never being resorted to.
As I have said, Le Vigan might easily be made a charming halting-place for tourists in these regions. The pulling down of a few ancient, ill- favoured streets, a wholesale cleaning and white-washing, a general reparation of the town from end to end, open spaces utilized as public gardens—all this might be done at half the expense of the supernumerary statues now being raised all over France. Sanitation first, statues afterwards, should be the maxim of its prefets and maires in these remote and behindhand regions. Our hotel, it must be added, is clean and well kept, and even furnished with the luxury of baths. A few more royal cooks at the head of French country inns, and we should soon find cosmopolitan luxuries in out-of-the-way corners.
But such an epithet will not long apply to our favourite town. A railway now in course of construction will soon link it to Millau, on the Toulouse line, thus rendering it accessible from all south-westerly points. Who knows? This quaint, old-fashioned, thoroughly French hotel may be replaced a few years hence by some huge fashionable barracks, in which there will be a perpetual come and go of tourists furnished with return tickets, including the Causses, the gorges of the Tarn and Montpellier le Vieux.
An English pedestrian or cyclist or two have, I believe, found their way hither, but no lady tourists.
Poorly off in matters of sanitation, Le Vigan could not, nevertheless, afford to lose its one statue to its one hero. We all know the story of the gallant young Chevalier d'Assas, captain of an Auvergnat regiment, and of his no less heroic companion, the Sergeant Dubois: how when reconnoitring at night in the forest near Closter-camp, their men in ambush behind them, they came suddenly upon the foe. A dozen bayonets were pointed at their breasts with the whisper, 'Silence or death!'
The pair in a breath gave the warning: 'The enemy! Fire!' and fell side by side, pierced with the bullets alike of friend and foe.
This bronze statue is the only monument the town can boast of, but it possesses a compensation for many monuments—I allude to its noble grove of venerable chestnuts. Well-planted boulevards of plane-trees lead to what appears a bit of primeval forest—an assemblage of ancient trees, their knotted, hoary trunks each in girth huge as a windmill, in striking contrast to the bright foliage and abundant fruit. Nothing can be more weird and fantastic than these broken, corrugated stems, battered by storm, worn out by time, apparently dropping to pieces, yet at the root full of vitality, sending forth the most luxuriant harvest, the freshest, youthfullest leafage: the whole—the gray old world below, the fairy-like greenery above—making a glorious scene under the bright blue sky. May not this chestnut grove symbolize the phenomenal richness and activity of highly-endowed natures in old age—the Goethes, the Titians, the Voltaires? From these pleasant suburbs, little paths wind invitingly upward among the hills, planted on all sides with the vine, and although the summer is already so far advanced, wild-flowers abound. What a paradise this would be for the botanist in spring, or for the portrait painter! The good looks of the people, their rich colouring, fine stature, and dignified bearing, strike us ever with a sense of novelty.
How many makable places, if I may coin such a word, still remain in France—sweet spots, Cinderellas of the natural world, only awaiting the fairy godmother to turn them into princesses, courted by wealth and fashion. Many a nook in the environs of Le Vigan doubtless answers to this description. I will only describe one, Cauvalet, an inland watering-place sadly in need of enterprise and patronage.
The 'Etablissement des Bains' stands in a nest of greenery within ten minutes' drive of the town; its mineral waters, strongly impregnated with sulphur, are said to be very efficacious in rheumatic affections. We found a few visitors lounging in the gardens; with proper accommodation, and under good management, the place might doubtless become a miniature Vals. The same remark might be applied to many other equally favoured spots I have met with in my French travels. It is a consolation to remember that, sooner or later, their time must come. So enormously has the habit of travelling increased of late years among French people, that France itself will erelong prove too narrow for its own tourists, to say nothing of foreigners.
Our good hosts were very anxious that we should see everything. Accordingly we were escorted to one of the numerous silk factories in the town. Here, as at Vic-sur-Cere the year before, and in places to be described later on, we were rather treated as guests in a country house than Nos. 1 and 2 of an ordinary hotel. Everybody—master, mistress, and servants—wanted to do the honours of their native place for us, and this without any thought of interest or advantage. It was the good, invaluable, middle-aged chambermaid who, out of her own head and on her own account, carried us off to see the silk factory. The fact of two English ladies having come so far to see the country evidently impressed her wonderfully.
'Ah!' she sighed cheerfully, 'were it not for my good man and my demoiselles' (her daughters), 'how pleased I should be to return with you and see l'Angleterre!' and as she went along, having dressed herself in her Sunday's best for the occasion, she stopped in high glee to tell chance-met friends and neighbours that we were two Englishwomen come across the sea 'pour s'instruire'—for self-instruction. The fact of having crossed that tiny strip of sea ever impresses French country folk. Had we reached France by land, no matter the distance—say, from St. Petersburg—the exploit would not appear half so striking to them.
The work-room of a silk factory affords a curious spectacle.
At long narrow tables, stretched from end to end of the workshop, sit rows of girls manipulating in bowls of hot water the cocoons—in Gibbon's phrase, 'the golden tombs whence a worm emerges in the form of a butterfly'—carefully disengaging the almost imperceptible film of silk therein concealed, transferring it to the spinning-wheel, where it is spun into what looks like a thread of solid gold. Throughout the vast atelier hundreds of shuttles are swiftly plied, and on first entering the eye is dazzled with the brilliance of these broad bands of silk, bright, lustrous, metallic, as if of solid gold. This flash of gold is the only brightness in the place, otherwise dull and monotonous.
Gibbon gives a splendid page on the 'education of silkworms,' once considered as the labour of queens, and shows impatience with the learned Salmasius, who also wrote on the subject, because, unlike himself, he did not know everything. He tells us how two Persian monks, long resident in China, amid their pious occupations viewed with a curious eye the manufacture of silk; how they made the long journey to Constantinople, imparting their knowledge of the silkworm and its strictly guarded culture to the great Justinian; finally, how a second time they entered China, 'deceived a jealous people by concealing the eggs of the silkworm in a hollow cane, and returned in triumph with the spoils of the East.' 'I am not insensible of the benefits of an elegant luxury,' adds the historian, 'yet I reflect with some pain that if the importers of silk had introduced the art of printing, already practised by the Chinese, the comedies of Menander and the entire decade of Livy would have been perpetuated in the sixth century.'
Alas! a pound of silk is no longer worth twelve ounces of gold, as the Emperor Aurelian complained; and the education of the silkworm, instead of being the labour of queens, is far from a remunerative occupation.
The hours in these factories are terribly long—fifteen—two of which are, however, allowed for meals. The wages, on the other hand, contrast favourably with those of many of our own factories in which women are chiefly employed. About fifteenpence a day is the average pay, the ateliers being always closed on Sundays. Several causes have brought about a temporary depression of the French silk trade. Just as cheap Chinese and Japanese straw-plaits have paralyzed our home industry of hand-plaited straw in Bedfordshire, so cheap Oriental silks have, for a time at least, done much to supplant the more solid, richer, and more brilliant Lyons manufacture.
Again, the silkworm industry, not only in France, but in other countries, was some years back threatened with an enemy as ruthless as the phylloxera. It is interesting to learn that here science has come to aid with a simple but effectual remedy, which it is said has benefited French industry to the extent of the Prussian war indemnity, viz., four hundred million sterling (five milliards of francs). The silkworm-rearers are now taught to breed from healthy moths only. Girls and women are employed in examining the bodies of the moths with microscopes. If the diseased corpuscles are found, the eggs are discarded.
Thus, by a simple method of artificial selection, the silkworm industry has been rescued from what threatened to be a collapse.
Of course, one consequence of these fluctuations in rural industries is a universal migration into the towns, and consequent diminution of population in country places. The towns gain, but the villages lose. We find Le Vigan a little centre of increasing commercial activity, and the same may be averred of the secondary towns of this department, this prosperity having originally a different source.
The Protestant communities of France, formerly deprived, like the Jews, of civil and political rights, threw heart and soul into industrial pursuits. Wherever they settled they founded manufactures—cotton- mills, silk-factories, manufactures of woollen stuffs—many of which have flourished in these small towns on the outskirts of the Cevennes till this day.
The Gard is foremost of all other departments in the matter of silk- worm rearing, the Ardeche alone surpassing it in the number of silk- factories. In all the villages around Le Vigan are small silk-worm farms, the peasants rearing them on their own account, and selling them to the manufacturers. The curious on this subject will everywhere be cordially received, and gain any information they may require. At least, such was our own experience.
CHAPTER VI. NANT (AVEYRON).
All this time Le Vigan was to us as Capua to Hannibal's soldiers— Circe's charmed cup held to the lips of Odysseus.
We ought not to have stayed there an unnecessary hour. We should have continued our journey at once. On and on we lingered, nevertheless, and when at last we braced ourselves up for an effort, the terrible truth was broken to us. Instead of being nearer to the goal of our wishes, we had come out of the way, and were indeed getting farther and farther from that mysterious, so eagerly longed-for region, the terribly unattainable Causses. Our project at last began to wear the look of a nightmare, a harassing, feverish dream. We seemed to be fascinated hither and thither by an ignis fatuus, enticed into quagmires and quicksands by an altogether illusive, mocking, malicious Will-o'-the- wisp.
I was painfully reminded of what had been a pleasing puzzle in childish days: the maze at Needham Market, famous throughout Suffolk, and familiar to all Suffolk-bred folk. This is a wonderfully constructed shrubbery or thicket, cut into numerous little circular and semicircular paths, so contrived that the most ingenious are caught like flies in a spider's trap. Round and round, backwards and forwards, in and out, scuttle the uninitiated, only to find themselves at the precise point whence they had started hours before. The conviction of being thus foiled in my purpose, and for the second time, weighed upon my spirits. My companion also became somewhat dejected. The superb weather might forsake us. September was at hand. It really seemed as if we were doomed to return to our dogs and cats at Hastings without having reached the Roof of France after all.
True, a matter of eighty miles only divided us from our destination, but surely the most impracticable eighty miles out of Arabia Petraea! We were bound for a certain little town called St. Enimie, but between us and St. Enimie stretched a barrier, insurmountable as Dante's fog isolating Purgatory from Paradise, or as the black river separating Pluto's domain from the region of light. We seemed as far off the Causses as Christian from the heavenly Jerusalem when imprisoned in Castle Doubting, or as the Israelites from Canaan when in the wilderness of Zin.
To reach St. Enimie, then, meant two long days' drive, i.e., from six a.m. to perhaps eight p.m., in the lightest, which stands for the most uncomfortable, vehicle, across a country the greater part of which is as savage as Dartmoor. Our first halting-place would be Meyrueis, and between Le Vigan and Meyrueis relays could be had, but at that point civilization ended. The second day's journey must lie through a treeless, waterless, uninhabited desert; in other words, as a glance at the map will show, we must traverse the Causse Mejean itself.
Romantic as this expedition sounded, our host, the royal cook, shook his head at the proposal. Suppose we were overtaken by a storm in that wilderness? Suppose any accident happened to horses or harness? Suppose——
'In fact,' he said, 'there is nothing for these ladies to do but make the round to Mende by railway.'
'To Mende!' I cried aghast. 'Back to Nimes, back to heaven knows where! Never! Get to St. Enimie we can, we will, we must, without making the round by railway to Mende.'
After a good deal of somewhat painful excitement, a rueful inspection of the only kind of vehicle that was practicable on the stony, uphill Causse, the Helvellyn we wanted to climb, I gave in. Yes, it was out of the question to drive for fourteen hours at a stretch, seated on such a knifeboard. I had made a blunder in thinking eighty miles only eighty miles under any circumstances. Crestfallen, and having in mind the dictum of the great Lessing: 'Kein mensch muss muessen,' I again took in hand maps and guidebooks. At this stage of affairs came to aid the voiturier who had gallantly proposed to drive us to the top of the Lozerien Helvellyn, provided we could sit on a knifeboard. He was one of the handsomest men we saw in these parts, which is saying a good deal. Tall, well-made, dignified, with superb features and rich colouring, it seemed a thousand pities he should be only a carriage proprietor in this out-of-the-way spot. He appeared, however, as every other good-looking person does here, altogether unconscious of his magnificent physique and striking features. What occupied him much more was evidently his business, and the duty incumbent upon him to make things pleasant to strangers.
'If these ladies,' he said in country fashion, thus addressing ourselves—if these ladies will let me drive them to Millau, they can have my most comfortable carriage, as the roads are excellent. They can sleep at a good auberge on the way. From Millau it is only five hours by railway to Mende, and from Mende only a four hours' drive to St. Enimie.'
We joyfully hailed the proposal. It seemed a roundabout way to St. Enimie, but it did seem a way; and, at any rate, if we were going back, we were not going back to the precise point from which we had started.
My companion still persisted in the melancholy conviction that we should never get to the Causses, but I comforted her with the observation that if we did not get to the Causses, we should at all events get somewhere. Before starting, our host presented us with a letter of introduction to the master of the auberge at our halting- place for the night—the little village of Nant, half-way between Le Vigan and Millau.
'It is only an auberge,' he said apologetically; 'you must not expect much. But the patron is a friend of mine; he will do his very best for you after what I have written.'
The letter of introduction being, of course, an open one, we read it. 'Permit me to commend to your attentive care,' wrote the royal cook, 'two respectable ladies——' Here amusement got the better of curiosity; we laid down the missive and had a hearty laugh over what seemed at best a strange, almost ludicrous, compliment. Surely he might have substituted an adjective of a more flattering nature, accorded us some more winning attribute—charming, amiable, learned. Could we lay claim to none of these?
I summed up the matter in our favour, after all. Such a testimony coming from a courtier, as the chef of a king's cuisine must be called, was, perhaps, the very highest he felt able to give; and to be respectable means more than meets the ear.
Does not La Bruyere say: 'Un homme de bien est respectable par lui-meme et independamment de tous les dehors'? He had, perhaps, that axiom in his mind.
Having sent on our four big boxes to Millau by diligence, we set off for the first stage of our journey. The weather was perfect, and I cannot at any time reconcile my experiences of French weather with those of another ardent explorer of France a hundred years ago. 'Amusements,' wrote Arthur Young from the North of France in September, 1787, 'in truth, ought to be taken within doors, for in such a climate none are to be depended on without; the rain that has fallen here is hardly credible. I have, for five-and-twenty years past, remarked in England that I never was prevented by rain from taking a walk every day, with going out while it actually rains; it may fall heavily for many hours, but a person who watches an opportunity gets a walk or a ride. Since I have been at Liancourt we have had three days in succession of such incessantly heavy rain that I could not go a hundred yards from the house without danger of being quite wet. For ten days more rain fell here, I am confident, had there been a gauge to measure it, than ever fell in England in thirty.'
We are accustomed to reverse this comparison, and I should say that the years 1787-88-89, during which the Suffolk squire journeyed through the country on horseback, must have been revolutionary in a meteorological as well as a political sense. I have now made travels and sojourns in various parts of France during fifteen years, and I should say to all who want sunshine for their holiday trip, go to France for it.
Upon this, as upon the occasion of former expeditions, a rainy day never came except when a spell of bad weather was an unmitigated boon, enforcing rest, and giving leisure for the utilization of daily experiences.
On the whole, the route now decided upon has much to recommend it, especially to travellers unfit for excessive fatigue. The drive from Le Vigan to Millau is thus divided into two easy stages, and the scenery for the greater part of the way is diversified and interesting.
Gradually winding upwards from the green hills surrounding our favourite little town, its bright river, the Arre, playing hide-and- seek as we go, we take a lonely road cut around barren, rocky slopes covered with stunted foliage, here and there tiny enclosures of corn crop or garden perched aloft.