Part 2 out of 5
the "order" having been dispersed two years ago; so nothing is to
be seen there of interest except the sculpture representing the
"miracle of the loaves" over the door.
One institution must not be forgotten, viz, the afternoon tea or
coffee at Madame Cheval's. This good lady presides over a
confectioner's shop opposite the end of the Hotel (Beau Sejour), in
the Rue du Centre. Her cakes and coffee are good, and, thanks to
our enlightened instructions, anyone taking some tea to her can
have it properly made, and be provided with the necessary adjuncts
for enjoying it; cream even being attainable if ordered the
previous day. We spent many a pleasant half-hour there, and can
well recommend others to follow our example.
Towards the end of the month Mr. H---- and his daughters moved on
to Luchon, as their time was limited; and the last week saw the
departure of Mrs. Willesden and Miss Leonards for England, whereat
Bigorre was as tearful and miserable as a steady downpour could
make it. I had serious thoughts of moving on to Luchon for two or
three days myself, and a driver who had brought two men thence over
the Col d'Aspin, offered to take me back for twenty francs, but
learning next day that there were five feet of snow on the Col, and
that Luchon was wretchedly cold, I decided to wait till later on, a
decision in no way regretted.
Although during the latter part of our stay the weather was
agreeable, and the influence of spring manifest, I was not sorry
when the day for moving forward arrived, and though Madame Cheval,
when I broke the news to her over my solitary cup of coffee, looked
as concerned as she could, and murmured something to the effect
that "all her customers were going away," yet with the assurance
that some day soon a party of us would pay her a visit, she managed
to smile again!
The Journey to Tarbes--The Buffet and the Nigger--Lourdes Station
in the Wet--Importunate "Cochers"--Hotel des Pyrenees--"Red tape"
and Porters--Lourdes in Sunshine--Sightseeing--The "Rue de la
Grotte"--"The Cry of the Lourdes Shopkeepers"--Candle-sellers--The
Grotto--Abject Reverence--The Church--St. Bernard--Interior of
Church--The Panorama--Admirable Effect--Rue du Fort--The Castle--
The View from the Tower--Pie de Mars, or Ringed Ousels.
The railway run from Bigorre to Lourdes is by no means a long one,
the actual distance being only twenty-six and a quarter miles, and
actual time in the train about one and a half hours, but the break
at Tarbes considerably prolongs it.
The early morning had been wet, and showers continued till the
afternoon, but the sun condescended to come out as the train wound
slowly out of the station, and the lights and shades up the valley
and hillsides were delightful. Having the anticipatory pleasure of
meeting Mrs. and Miss Blunt and Mr. Sydney again at Lourdes; and a
lovely view of the beauties of spring when I looked out of the
window, the time did not take long to pass. One particularly pretty
bit of meadow, trees, and stream led to the building of an airy
castle, which the sudden appearance of the spires and roofs of
Tarbes--suggesting the return to bustle and the haunts of men--soon
banished, and the arrival in the station and the necessary change
Thirty-five minutes to wait. Too little to see the town, too much
for twiddling one's thumbs. Then what? Glorious inspiration! The
Buffet! Capital; and into the Buffet I accordingly went. Seated at
a table, a nigger, slightly white about the finger tips, but
otherwise quite genuine--no Moore and Burgess menial--appeared to
do my bidding. "What would Monsieur take? Cafe?"--"Oui." "Cafe noir
ou cafe au lait?" I decided on taking the coffee with milk, adding
that anything in the biscuit line would not be amiss, and away he
went grinning. He soon returned with cakes and coffee, and by dint
of taking my time I had barely finished when it was time to start.
Again I managed to secure a carriage to myself, but this time it
proved a very badly coupled one which jolted considerably. Lourdes
was reached in a wretched drizzle, and the benefit conferred on
passengers by having the station _quite_ free from any covering
whatever, was _apparent_ to all. A sudden activity on the part of
the "cochers" to entrap me to their respective (but by no means
necessarily respectable) hotels, as I emerged from the station--
which proved useless--and I was jolting onward to the Hotel des
Pyrenees. When arrived, inspected rooms, ordered fires and dinner,
and whiled away an hour till it was time to repair again to the
station, to meet Mrs. and Miss Blunt and Mr. Sydney, "Red tape"-ism
dominant there, as it is everywhere in France. In fact, "red tape"
is the French official's refuge. Whenever a system is weak or
underhand, they seek protection behind a maze of stupidity and
fuss. I wanted to see the station-master, to obtain permission to
perambulate the platform till the arrival of the train. No porter
would bestir himself to find this great official, but whichever way
I turned one was always ready with his "Ou allez-vous, Monsieur?"
to which the only sensible reply would have been "Pas au ----, comme
vous," but silence and an utter indifference were better still, and
armed with these I ran the gauntlet of the pests, and finding the
"Chef de Gare" in his "bureau," at once received the desired
permission. There was not much time for perambulation, as the train
soon steamed in, though without Mr. Sydney, who was detained for a
day or two longer, and once more, but now a triangular party, we
jolted back to the hotel. The rest of the evening was passed with
dinner, and an endeavour to get warm; the rain and wind still
enjoying themselves without.
However, with the morn all these miseries vanished, and the sun
shone from a blue sky flecked with a few films of snow. Lourdes
looked very charming under such auspices, and Miss Blunt availed
herself of the balmy air of the morning to wander round the stables
and garden with a speckled pointer and a Pyrenean puppy, between
which and the mountains her attention was divided, though the last
named had certainly the least of it.
Then out we sallied to see the sights, which are more of quality
than quantity. Turning to the right from the hotel door, through
the Place de Marcadal, where the fountain was playing in delightful
imitation of the previous night's rain, we gained the commencement
of the Rue de la Grotte (which bears sharply to the left by the
Hotel de Paris), and followed its muddy ways with more or less
danger owing to absence of footpath, and presence of numerous
carriages. However, having passed the Hotel d'Angleterre and the
end of Rue du Fort (leading to the ancient castle), footpaths came
into view, but the joy of the discovery was much minimized at the
sight of the shops and shopkeepers, as the latter gave us no peace.
It was one ceaseless bother to buy, mostly in French; but one
damsel, confident of success assailed us in whining English,
running up and down before her wares, and seizing different objects
in quick succession, while continuing to praise their beauty and
cheapness. Every shop or stall we passed--and there were a good
many--had an inmate more or less importunate, but as what they had
to say was very similar, it can be all embodied in the following
"CRY OF THE LOURDES SHOPKEEPERS."
This way, if you please, miss; and madame, this way;
Kind sir, pause a moment, and see.
Oh! tell me, I beg, what's your pleasure to-day?
Pray enter--the entrance is free.
Some candles? I've nice ones at half a franc each,
Or thirty centimes, if you will.
Some tins, each with lids fitted tight as a leech,
For you, with blest water to fill.
And look at these beads, only forty centimes,
All carved, and most beautif'ly neat.
I've "charms" that will give you the sweetest of dreams,
And _benitiers_ lovely and sweet.
A cross of pure ivory. Photographs too.
--No good?--You want nothing to-day?--
Alas! what on earth must poor shopkeepers do?
Oh, kindly buy something, I pray!
One candle? You must have _one_ candle to burn
When into the grotto you tread.
Not one? Not a little one? Onward you turn!
Bah! may miseries light on your head!!
As soon as the shops were passed, and even before, women besieged
us with packets of candles, and it was with great difficulty we
made them understand the word No! Then, leaving the Hotels de la
Grotte and Latapie on the right, and the "Panorama" on the opposite
side, we wound down towards the river and the grotto.
To us, it would be hard to conceive anything more pitiable or
repulsive than the scene which met our gaze as we passed at the
base of the church and came in full view of the grotto. An
irregular opening in the dull grey stone going back only a few
feet, with the moisture oozing over it here and there, and the ivy
and weeds adding picturesqueness to what would otherwise be
commonplace; in an elevated niche on the right, a figure of the
Virgin in white robes and blue sash; in front, on the left, a
covered marble cistern, with taps; and innumerable crutches and
candles, were all the unsuperstitious eye could see. But to those
poor wretches gathered round in prayer, influenced by the "light-
headed" dreams of a poor swineherd, the spot was the holiest of
holy ground. The abject reverence of their attitudes, the stand of
flaming and guttering candles, the worship and kissing of the rough
wet stones, the pious drinking of the cistern's water as they came
away--a few pausing to buy some "blest" token of their visit at the
adjacent shop--and the solemn silence that reigned over all, were
the chief features that made the scene one from which we were only
too glad to turn away. Taking the zigzag path among the pleasant
trees and shrubs, on the right, we soon reached the level of the
Gothic church, which we entered from the farther end. Ascending the
steps, the two statues on either side of the porch came in view,
but neither repaid a nearer inspection; St. Bernard, on the left,
looking about as dejected and consumptive as anyone, priest or
layman, well could. The church itself, from a Roman Catholic
standpoint, must be considered very fine, but the adoration of the
Virgin to the almost complete disregard of her subjection to "Our
Saviour" is most apparent. The windows and many of the altars are
beautiful, and so are many of the banners, while the high altar is
a great work of art; but the _unreligious_ tone that this striving
after effect produces, but without which the religion--or so-called
religion--would soon cease to exist, struck us as we entered, and
increased with every step. It was as if to say, "Look at these
lovely things, feast your eyes on them, and let their beauty be the
mainspring to inspire you with faith." There was no appeal to the
true religion of the soul, that springs from the heart in a clear
stream, and which no tinsel banners, no elaborate statues, and no
flaming candles, can quicken or intensify!
Leaving the church by the high road, with the Convent and "Place,"
--with its neat walks and grass plots,--on the left, we proceeded to
the "Panorama," where, our admiration having been tempered by the
payment of a franc each, we spent an enjoyable quarter of an hour.
The painting as a whole--representing Lourdes twenty-five years
ago--is most effective, and the effect is heightened by the
admirable combination with real earth, and grass, and trees. The
grouping of the figures round the grotto, representing the scene at
the eighteenth appearance of the Virgin to Bernadette--who is the
foremost figure kneeling in the grotto--is particularly fine; but
how that huge crowd standing there were content with Bernadette's
assertion that she saw the vision, when none of them saw anything
but the stones, is a practical question that few probably could
answer, and least of all the priests. [Illustration] Returning by
the way we had come, we bore up the Rue du Fort to inspect the old
castle--or all that remained of it--and enjoy the view. After some
two hundred yards of this narrow street, painfully suggestive, in
the vileness of its odours, of Canton's narrower thoroughfares, we
reached the steps leading up on the left, and commenced the ascent.
As it was, we did not find it very difficult work, though if a
rifle had been levelled from every slit in the two-foot walls, it
is probable that before _two_ of the nearly two hundred steps had
been surmounted, we would have been levelled also. Passing between
once impregnable walls (where English soldiers also passed in days
of yore), we crossed the now harmless-looking drawbridge and rang
the bell. A woman opened the door and requested us to enter, a
request which evidently met with the approbation of two diminutive
youngsters, whose faces were dimpled with smiles wherever the fat
would allow. Keeping along the right wall in the direction of the
pig-sties (O! shades of the Black Prince!!!) we were greeted with
the musical tones of the "porkers" and many _sweet_ odours. Having
entered one of the prisons at the base of the tower for a moment,
we next followed the ever-winding steps till fairly giddy, and
reached the top. Thence the view was exceedingly fine. We seemed to
be at the meeting-point of four valleys, and the snow peaks in the
direction of Argeles were free from clouds. The whole of Lourdes
lay like a map beneath; the church with the "Calvary" on the hill
over against it, the river sparkling in the sunlight, the Pic de
Jer with its brown sides, and the winding roads with the green
fields and budding trees, joining to make a pleasant picture.
Descending again to the hotel, we partook of a capital lunch, of
which the "pie de mars," or ringed ousel--a bird of migratory
habits, little known in our isles (except in a few parts of
Scotland), but considered a great delicacy here--formed a part.
After this, Miss Blunt once again devoted herself to the Pyrenean
puppy, till the carriage came round and we took our departure.
Road v. Rail--Scenes, sublime and ridiculous--Hotel d'Angleterre--
Questions and "The Argeles Shepherd's Reply"--A forbidden path--The
ride to Ges, Serres, Salluz, and Ourous--Argeles church--Route
Thermale--Ges--The tree in the path--"A regular fix"--Serres--"
It's a stupid foal that doesn't know its own mother "--A frothing
stream--A fine view--Pigs in clover--Salluz--Ourous--Contented
villagers--The high road--The bridge on the Pierrefitte road--
Advice to sketchers--"Spring's Bitters and Sweets"--The "witch of
the hills"--Large green lizards--"Jeannette's Lamb"--Round the
Argeles valley--Chateau de Beaucens--Villelongue--Soulom--The old
church--Hotel de la Poste, Pierrefitte--St. Savin--The verger and
the ancient church--Cagots--"The Organ's Tale"--St. Savin's tomb--
The Chateau de Miramont--Jugged izard--Market-day--Sour bread and
the remedy--Arrival of the first parcel.
Although the railway line takes very nearly the same route as the
carriage road, the drive is decidedly preferable, and when it can
be undertaken for ten francs--as in our case--there is little to
choose between the modes of conveyance on the score of cheapness,
especially as a landau can carry a very fair quantity of luggage.
We considered ourselves amply repaid for our choice as we wound
underneath the rocky crags and by the side of the river, anon
ascending the curve of a small hill with the fresh fields below, a
little church or ivied ruin standing out on the mountain-side, and
high above all, the snowy summits so majestic and so intensely
white. There was occasionally a ridiculous side to the picture too,
when we put a flock of sheep in rapid motion in a wrong direction
and the luckless shepherd had to start in hot pursuit--using the
politest of language; or, again, when some natives on tiny donkeys
or skittish mules came by, their faces breaking into a respectful
grin as they wished us "bon jour." Skirting the railway line for a
short distance, we drove into Argeles rather unexpectedly, our ride
having seemed all too short. However, there was our hotel--the
Grand Hotel d'Angleterre (everything is grand now-a-days)--standing
boldly by the road, with the quaint, though poor-looking village
about it, and for another few days that was to be our abode.
[Illustration] This hotel, though possessing less of a reputation
than the Hotel de France, nevertheless commands a finer view on all
sides, and is a pleasanter abode on that account. The afternoon was
still young when we arrived, so as soon as we had stowed our
luggage we sallied out for a walk along the road to Pierrefitte. A
short way from the hotel, an old shepherd was standing in the
middle of the road leaning on his staff, with his flock of sheep
all round him, and the dog lolling idly on the grass. The tall
poplars by the roadside waking into life, the merry stream
meandering at their feet, and the back ground of mountains tipped
with snow, filled up the scene. We accosted the old man with a
good-day, and asked him several questions about the weather and
himself, all of which he answered in a genial way, and which strung
together made up
"THE ARGELES SHEPHERD'S REPLY."
Good-day, sir! The weather, sir; will it be wet?
You see, sir, I hardly can say,
We gen'rally know at the earliest dawn
What weather we'll have in the day;
But at night--in these mountains--I couldn't be sure,
And I'd rather not tell you, sir, wrong.
And yet, what does a day here or there make to you?
If it rains, 'twill be fine before long.
Have I always looked after the sheep, sir? Why, No!
I've served in the army, sir, sure.
Let me see--ah!--it's now thirty summers ago
Since those hardships we had to endure.
Ay, I fought with your soldiers 'mid bleak Russia's snow,
Half numb'd in the trenches I worked,
And suffered what few of you gents, sir, would know,
But somehow, we none of us shirked.
Was I wounded, sir? No, sir! thank Goodness for that,
Though I've seen some stiff fighting, 'tis true.
In Africa 'twasn't all sunshine and play,
And in Austria we'd plenty to do.
Do I like being a shepherd, sir, roaming the hills,
Just earning enough to buy bread?
Well, I wouldn't have cared all my days, for the ills
And the life that as soldier I led.
No, sir! no! though 'twas well enough then, Peace, you see,
Is the best when one's hair's turning grey!
Will I drink your good health, sir? Ay, proud I shall be,
And, thanking you kindly--Good-day!!!
Strolling on, we soon reached the bridge over the River Gave
d'Azun, and leaving the old structure "whose glory has departed" on
the right, we crossed over and continued along the road for a short
distance, till we noticed a lane leading off to the left, which we
followed. This in time bore further round in the same direction and
suddenly ended at the entrance to a field. However, keeping
straight on, we came in view of the river's bank and to this we
kept, recrossing by the railway bridge below, and then back by the
fields home, completing a round none the less pleasant because a
captious critic might have called it trespassing.
As lovely a ride or walk as can well be imagined, even by an
imagination as fertile as this lovely valley, passes by way of the
four villages of Ges, Serres, Salluz, and Ourous. Although the
weather was rather unsettled, we started one morning about 9.15,
and following the road towards Lourdes for about two hundred yards,
took the sharp turn to the left (with the telegraph wires) up into
the town. Gaining the church, we bore along to the right into the
open "Place," at the left corner of which the Route Thermale to
Eaux Bonnes and Eaux Chaudes begins. For about half a mile this was
our road also, but after that distance, the Ges route branched off
to the right, and the views of Argeles, and the rest of the valley
from it, as we wound upwards, were particularly lovely. The horses
were very fresh, having only lately been brought from the
mountains, after a winter of idleness, and they walked at a fast
pace fretting at any stoppage whatever, which they did not
endeavour to disguise, any more than their inclination to shy at
anything they possibly could. As far as Ges the way is easy to
follow, but it is wise to inquire frequently afterwards, as so many
equally important (this importance is decidedly on the negative
side) looking paths branch off in every direction. The good people
we saw in Ges, a village of thatched cottages looking the worse for
rain, said we should find the "road vile," but this did not daunt
us, and with a "bon jour" we passed on. We had not gone very far,
however, when to our dismay we saw a huge tree right across the
road. Our position was an awkward one. The road was rather narrow
and without any protection; there was only the steep hillside
above, and the steep hillside below. To go up was quite
impracticable, to go down was destruction! My horse approached the
impediment very quietly, and allowed me to break off several of the
worst branches, and then scramble by. Miss Blunt's horse came close
up to it as though intending to pass quietly, but, instead, wheeled
round on the extreme edge of the path in anything but a pleasant
fashion, either for the rider or the observer. [Illustration]
Dismounting and tying my steed to one of the branches on the near
side of the road, I held back as many of the others as possible,
and the horse came up quietly again, but repeated the disagreeable
business, still more dangerously. Having broken off several more,
and again pulled back the others, the skittish animal consented to
pass. But in passing he bent down a very pliant bough, which, when
released, flew back and hit my peaceful steed sharply on the legs.
For a few seconds his efforts to get free were--to put it mildly--
unpleasantly severe, especially as he became with each effort more
entangled in the tree. When the reins were at length unknotted, he
quieted a little, and after being led a few yards, submitted to be
mounted very peaceably, and we descended, with the fresh leaves
above and below us, into Serres. Here we had occasion to remark
that "It's a stupid foal that doesn't know its own mother," as one
pretty little thing would persist in following our steeds, until a
sturdy "paysanne" turned it back. The correct route all this time
was the upper one (or that to the left), and we now came to a very
lovely bit, where two swift frothing streams dashed down beneath
the trees, near a small saw-mill. A fine view up the valley behind
us, to the snow peaks towering over the ruddy hill-tops, was
enjoyed, as we continued along the ascending and uneven path. In
the fields above, some shepherds were driving a flock of sheep, and
a woman, reposing under a huge blue gingham, was watching the
vigorous onslaught of several pigs in a small clover patch. A few
villagers, in their Sunday best, stood by the wayside discussing
some topic with languid interest, which they dropped, to wish us
"bon jour" and tell us the road. More lovely effects of light and
shade over the hills towards Pierrefitte, with filmy clouds
shrouding the tallest summits, and here and there a glimpse of the
blue sky, and we passed into the straggling hamlet of Salluz, after
which the path branched up--still to the left--through the trees.
Winding down again, we came to Ourous, to which apparently the
inhabitants from all the other villages had come, dressed in their
Sunday best, to mass. "Young men and maidens, old men and
children," women tottering with extreme age, were all assembled
round about the old church, looking contented and happy, smiling,
and wishing us a "bon jour" as we rode in a circular direction
through the village, till we reached a spot where the road forks,
the one to the right leading to Argeles, the one to the left to
Lourdes. The former looked so stony that we chose the other, and
had not gone very far before a smooth and broader path to the right
(from which a grand view of the whole valley opened before us)
brought us down to a few houses, between which we passed, and
reached the high-road. A good trot along this, by the side of the
railway line, and we were back at the hotel, convinced that the
badness of the road and all drawbacks were amply--and more than
amply--outweighed by the succession of beautiful scenery.
Two walks, one ending in rather a scramble, branch off immediately
below the bridge, on the Pierrefitte road. The one we took, at a
respectable hour of the morning, which ascends the left side of the
mound, is the prettier by far, as it discloses lovely glimpses at
every turn. We followed it till it branched off in two directions
(the one to the left being the real continuation), but at this
point we turned off into a field, deep in grass and studded with
flowers, where some comfortable-looking boulders invited us to
rest. Miss Blunt,--whose soul thrills with delight at the vastness
and beauty of nature,--never allowed opportunities of committing
the choicest bits to canvas or paper, to escape her; and, some
picturesque display having caught her eye, directly she had located
herself on an accommodating boulder, she was at work. Herrick's
good advice, "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may--Old Time is still a-
flying," might be adapted, she thinks, to sketchers in mountainous
regions, and she speaks from bitter experience when she suggests:
"Paint in your snow-peaks while you may,
If clouds are quickly flying,
For those heights now in bright display
May soon in mist be lying."
The beauty of the scene was without alloy, the colouring splendid,
and up the road above us, beyond which rose the hill, a shepherd
was leading his flock of sheep, now and then clapping his hands or
shouting to a straggler, but as a rule walking quietly on, the
whole flock following in a continuous line. Not wishing to be idle,
I took out my pencil to indulge in a poetic eulogy. How far I
succeeded may be judged from the following lines, which might be
"SPRING'S BITTERS AND SWEETS."
Here on a moss-grown boulder sitting,
Watching the graceful swallows flitting,
Hearing the cuckoo's note.
Sheep on the hills around me feeding,
While in their piteous accents pleading,
The lambkins' bleatings float.
--Oh, dear! a fly gone down my throat.
Spring's gentle influence all things feeling,
New life o'er hill and valley stealing:
Buttercups, daisies fair,
Studding the meadow, sweetly smiling,
Bees with their hum the hours beguiling,
Breezes so soft and rare.
--Oh, what a fearful wasp was there!
Grand is the view from this grey boulder,
Each high snow-peak, each rocky shoulder:
Charming, yet wild, the sight.
Cherry-trees, with white blossom laden,
And 'neath their shade a peasant maiden,
Comely her costume bright.
--Oh, how these impish ants do bite!
Onward the winding river's flowing,
Its spray-splashed stones in sunshine glowing,
The peaceful oxen by.
From the tall trees the magpies' warning,
As on their nests intent, our presence scorning,
From branch to branch they fly.
--Oh! there's an insect in my eye.
I've done: such pests one really can't defy.
Miss Blunt couldn't defy them either, so, as it was getting near
luncheon-time besides, we retraced our steps, but had not gone very
far before we suffered a severe disappointment. Some fifty yards
below us in the path stood a seeming counterpart of "Madge
Wildfire"; a wild, weird, wizened looking creature, whom we
immediately recognised as a "witch of the hills." Her hair unkempt,
her bodice hanging in tatters from her shoulders, her patched and
threadbare petticoat barely fastened round what should have been
her waist (and a _waste_ it was) by a hook and eye held by a few
threads--even such as this, up the path she came. But what a
miserable failure she was! When she came close to us, instead of
pouring out a torrent of mad words, telling of her woes and wrongs,
or at any rate breaking into a disgusting whine such as
"Oh, gentles, I am mad and old,
My dress is worn and thin;
Oh, give me one small piece of gold!
To clothe my wretched skin;"
she didn't even offer to tell our fortunes, but passed timidly by.
It was enough to have disappointed a saint! and we were only
restored to a pleasant frame of mind by finding Mr. Sydney at the
hotel on our return.
In the afternoon we took the other path--previously mentioned as
branching off below the bridge over the Gave d'Azun,--which leading
sharply to the right, passes beside the river for a short distance,
and then leads among the fields, finally--like others in Argeles--
losing itself there. Just as the poplars which run with it ceased,
we had a lovely view up a dip between two fertile hills, to the
snow-peaks near Bareges; a narrow path skirts the side of the hill,
on the right, in the direction of the morning's sketching ground,
but this we did not take, making, instead, for the hill standing
immediately above the river. Up this a certain distance we
clambered--scaring a few large green lizards that were sunning
themselves on the stones,--by a sheep track we managed to discover,
till we could look down on a mass of tangled brushwood by the
riverside. Scrambling down to this through the wild vines and
briars, we succeeded, after many fruitless attempts, in gaining the
water's edge. There was no place to cross and the current was far
too swift to attempt jumping, so we had to turn back. While
deliberating on the right path, a little girl, looking very
wretched, with blurred face and torn clothes, came round a corner,
and asked us if we had seen a lamb anywhere. We were sorry we
hadn't, very sorry indeed; all we could do was to endeavour to
recollect a rhyme and adapt it to her case, that we learnt in the
nursery when we were something under fifteen, and, although it
didn't seem to assuage her grief much--probably because she didn't
understand a word of English--we think it ought to be quoted in
case it should be useful to others.
Jeannette had a naughty lamb,
That looked like dirty snow;
And wherever Jeannette went
That lamb would never go.
It wandered from her care one day,
(Oh, stupid little fool!)
It made her cry her heart away
While searching brake and pool.
And Jeannette tore her dress to rags,
And scratched her hands and face;
But of her dirty little lamb
She couldn't find a trace.
The lamb fell in the river deep,
But Jeannette never knew.
Though Satan finds some mischief still,
For little lambs to do.
However, she listened very submissively till we had finished, and
then wandered off again still searching for her lamb, while we
retraced our steps.
There is a drive round the Argeles valley, which on a fine day is
simply splendid, and ought certainly not to be missed. At ten a.m.
a landau with two good horses was at the door, and away we went
towards Argeles station, across the line, over a new piece of road,
and then across a rather shaky, but wholly quaint, wooden bridge
(under which flows the Gave de Pau) to the base of the hills. As we
continued along this road in the direction of Pierrefitte, the
views of the mountains on the Argeles side were especially fine.
The Pic d'Arrens (7435 ft.) and the Col de Tortes (5903 ft.), with
the wild Pic de Gabizos (8808 ft.) with its toothed summits, behind
it--in the direction of Eaux Bonnes: over Pierrefitte the Pic de
Soulom (5798 ft.), the Pic de Viscos (7025 ft.), and far up the
Cauterets valley the Cabaliros (7655 ft.), the Pic de Labassa (9781
ft.), and the Pyramide de Peyrelance (8800 ft. about). An
especially interesting part arrives, as the road approaches the
wonderful old ruin of the Chateau de Beaucens (with "oubliettes"
towers, a "donjon" of the 14th century, and west walls of the 16th
ditto), which stands on the left, not far from the village of the
same name. Crossing the river again, we just managed to pass over
some newly-laid road, to the village of Villelongue--above which,
on the left, towers the imposing Pic de Villelongue--and soon after
found ourselves beside the river again at the foot of the Pic de
Soulom, where it is very lovely, and crossing another bridge,
reached Soulom itself. It seemed to us an old and somewhat dirty
town--not to say filthy--but the church is worthy of a visit. It
was formerly fortified, and the construction of the belfry--if such
it can be called--is curious. The inscription over the door, "This
is the house of God and the gate of heaven," written in Latin,
seems somewhat grotesque for such a building, although the dome is
painted to represent the sky in all the "intensity" of a starlight
night. A few yards along the road and we stood on the bridge over
the "Gave de Cauterets," at the other side of which is Pierrefitte
--and from which point the scenery is especially grand. Passing the
Hotel de la Poste (recommended) on the left, and the way to the
station on the right, we bore up the hill in the former direction,
towards St. Savin.
This old place--in fact the oldest village in the valley--is an
easy walk from Argeles, and should certainly not be excluded from a
visit. Having passed the dismantled Chateau de Despourrins and the
statue at the roadside erected in the poet's (Despourrins') honour,
we had a grand glimpse of the valley below; and, leaving behind the
Chapelle de Pietad (16th century), which stands on a point above
the road, we entered the village. The street leading to the ancient
Roman Church is ancient too, reminding one, in the curious
construction of the houses, of Chester, the style of supporting the
upper part on wooden beams, reaching over the road, and leaving a
passage beneath, being very similar. The church has been restored
and is in capital preservation. As there were so many objects of
interest, chiefly connected with the great St. Savin himself, we
sent for the verger, sexton, bellringer, parish beadle, or whatever
the "goitreux" individual called himself, and paid great attention
to all he had to say. Although a good deal was quite unintelligible,
the following are some of the most interesting facts. Entering
at the small side door, immediately within stands a curious
and very old benitier (font), with two curious individuals
carved in the stone supporting the basin. These are supposed to
represent two "Cagots," a despised race for whom the font itself
was constructed. Very few people know anything about their origin,
but they were greatly detested by the inhabitants of the country,
and not even allowed to worship in the same church, or use the same
"holy water" as the rest. They still exist about Gavarnie and a few
other spots, and we hope to learn more of them. The old battered
organ next presents itself to the view, with the long flight of
steps leading up to it, but as it wished to tell its own story,
without further description behold
"THE ORGAN'S TALE."
Good people who gaze at my ruinous state,
Don't lift up your noses and sneer:
I've a pitiful story I wish to relate,
And, I pray you, believe me sincere.
I was young, I was "sweet," in the years that are gone,
The breath through my proud bosom rolled,
And I loved to peal forth as the service went on,
O'er the heads of the worshipping fold.
How time speeds along! Three whole centuries--yes!--
Have passed since the day of my birth;
And, good people, I thought myself then, you may guess,
The loveliest organ on earth.
Such pipes and such stops! and a swell--such a swell!!!
My music rang under the dome;
And the way that I held the old folks 'neath my spell
You should know; but alas! they've gone "home."
Then my varnish was bright, and my panels were gay
With devices both script'ral and quaint;
I frightened the _sinner_ with hair turning grey,
But charmed into rapture the _saint_.
Those faces once painted so brightly would smile,
And put out their tongues at my voice;
As the pedals were played, they would wag all the while,
And the children below would rejoice.
Now is it not sad to have once been so grand,
And now to be shattered and old?
To look but a ruin up here, where I stand
Decidedly out in the cold?
Each "pipe is put out," and my "stops" are no more,
I belong to a "period" remote;
And as to the tongues that wagged freely of yore,
They have long disappeared down the throat.
My pedals are broken or gone quite awry,
My "keys"--you may "note"--are now dust;
No longer a "swell"--not as faint as a sigh--
While my bellows, good people, are "bust."
I am twisted and worn, in a ruinous state,
But prythee, good people, don't sneer!
My joys and my sorrows I've tried to relate,
And in judging me don't be severe!!!
Leaving the organ, and passing behind the "high altar," we beheld
the tomb of the redoubtable saint, who is supposed to have been
shut up there at the end of the 10th century, though the gilt
ornament (?) above is some four centuries younger. The set of old
paintings to the right and left represent scenes in the good man's
life, who, if he had only changed the _i_ in his name to _o_--and
the king would have agreed readily--by the perpetual allusion to
_Savon_, would perhaps have done much for the natives generally.
The robing-room, wherein the head of the revered man is kept in a
casket, and the "Salle du Chapitre," with quaint carvings of the
12th century, beyond, are other places of interest.
The "Chateau de Miramont," which adjoins, is now used as a convent
(or college), and visitors are not permitted to inspect it. We
bought a lithographed print of the church and its environs for half
a franc, from our round-backed guide, besides depositing a
"douceur" in his horny palm, and consequently parted with him on
the best of terms. The road for some distance being rather steep,
we preferred to walk and let the carriage follow, but when nearing
the junction with the Pierrefitte road, we mounted again and bowled
along at a smart pace over the well-known bridge to the hotel.
There was nothing striking about our hotel life, although we found
it pleasant, being a "parti carre." We were generally the sole
partakers of the table-d'hote, at which the food was excellent, the
jugged chamois (izard) being especially good. Light, however, was
at a premium. It may have been all out of compliment, to bear
testimony to our being "shining lights" ourselves; still, for all
that, we should have been glad to forego the politeness, and
receive, instead, a reinforcement of lamps.
Argeles itself is a peculiar old place; though devoid of much
interest, except on market-days. The curious houses and towers, the
street watercourses (as at Bagneres de Bigorre), the church, and
the strange chapel-like building now used as a diocesan college,
are all that is noteworthy even, excepting the "State schools,"
built three years ago.
On a Tuesday, when the market is in full swing, the square in front
of the post-office looks bright and cheerful, and vegetables
flourish. We took a very pleasant walk after passing through the
stalls, and down past the Hotel de France. The route we followed
leads to the right, close by the new State schools, among some poor
cottages, where it turns sharply in the opposite direction, and
runs down beside some fine old chestnut trees to the river.
Continuing, the track leads up a fine glen, with views of the snow-
peaks towards Eaux Bonnes, which well repaid our walk.
Returning again by the town, we wandered about through the narrow
streets, taking a farewell survey before leaving for Cauterets,
whither we were next intent.
There is another episode connected with Argeles, that will live in
our memories, and it is one that future travellers, methinks, may
have reason to appreciate, if not to endorse.
Everybody learns from unhappy experience how sour the bread is
throughout the Pyrenees, only excepting two or three resorts, and
as we were aware of the fact before leaving Pau, we arranged with
Monsieur Kern, of the Austrian Bakery, Rue de la Prefecture, to
send us a certain amount of bread every day. The first night at
Argeles was spent without it, but on the evening of the following
day a packet was brought into the drawing-room, where we were
assembled, and at the magical word "bread" every eye brightened,
and every face relaxed into a smile. Let no one cavil. This was one
of the episodes that link Argeles to us with a pleasant charm.
Hotel de la Poste, Pierrefitte--The Gorge--Its majestic beauty--The
resemblance to the Llanberis Pass--Mrs. Blunt becomes poetical--Zinc
mines--Le Pont de Mediabat--Entering the town--The Rue Richelieu and
Hotel du Parc--Winter's seal upon them still--Thermes des
Oeufs--Thermes de Cesar--The Casino and Esplanade des Oeufs--A good
dinner and the menu--The start for the Col de Riou--The Grange de la
Reine Hortense--The pines--Miss Blunt's "exhortation to the first
snow"--The dogs and their gambols--Defeated, but not discouraged--To
the Cerizey Cascade--The baths of La Raillere, Petit St. Sauveur, and
Le Pre--Cascade du Lutour--The Marcadau gorge--Scenery--Pic de
Gaube--At the Cerizey Cascade--The Pont d'Espagne and Lac de
Gaube--Pont de Benques--Lutour Valley--Various excursions up same--The
"Pare"--Allees de Gambasque--The Peguere--The "Pagoda" Villa--Promenade
du Mamelon Vert--The road's up again--Blows and blasts--The bishop's
arrival--Enthusiasm, pomposity, and benedictions--The pilgrims at
large--They start on an excursion--The market and Hotel de Ville--The
grocer's opinion--Pyrenean dogs and their treatment--The
dog-fancier--Smiles and temper--Bargaining displaced--No dog after all!
A Landau with four horses was ready after lunch, to transport us and
our baggage to Cauterets; but having enjoyed Argeles very much, we were
none of us particularly glad at the prospect of the change. The road as
far as Pierrefitte, lovely as it is at this season of freshness,
discloses no other views than those previously described, but when we
turned sharply to the right, after passing the Hotel de la Poste, and
began the ascent towards Cauterets, then our eyes had indeed a rich
treat. It would require the most dismal of dismal days, with sluicing
rain and clouds low down on every beautiful crag and snow-tipped
summit, to make anybody born with a soul above his dinner, complain of
the grandeur of the gorge, or impugn the unceasing variety of dashing
waterfalls, foaming river, freshly-opened leaves, white heather, and
bright, flower-decked fields.
The same wild majesty as the Llanberis Pass presents, strikes one here:
the enormous crags in threatening attitude far up the heights, the
chasms and fissures brightened by a patch of young grass or a small
tree, and, nearer the road, the scattered boulders luxuriantly covered
with moss and fern, belong to both alike; and, while the bushes of
snowy heather, the constant splash of the cascades falling over the
rocks in feathery spray, and in the distance the hoary-headed monarchs
of the range reaching up towards the sky, make this different from the
familiar Welsh scene, it is only a difference that greatly intensifies
the beauty and the charm of this Cauterets gorge.
Even Mrs. Blunt, who as a rule prefers the matter-of-fact to the
poetical, was lifted out of herself, for she suddenly clutched me by
the arm, and pointing in the distance, murmured something about
"summits proudly lifting up to the sky," and being quite unused to that
kind of thing, it took me some time to recover from the shock.
A little over three miles from Pierrefitte,--where a glimpse at the
zinc mines and the wire tram in connection with them can be
obtained--the road passes over the bridge of Mediabat, and some yards
beyond becomes identical with the old route, which until then lay below
us. The new portion (made in 1874) only extends for about two miles,
as it does not commence till after the zigzag rise from Pierrefitte
leads into the gorge, but the engineering of the whole has been
admirably carried out, and the ascent of nearly 1,700 feet in the six
miles does not tell severely on the horses. Now in an almost straight
line, now by zigzags, we gradually neared the town, the gorge widening
at the same time, though the peaks, some covered with trees, some
snow-covered, seemed to bar the way completely at no very great
We were quite close before we could really be said to have seen the
town, and ere we could form any opinion of it we drove up the Rue
Richelieu and found ourselves at the Hotel du Parc. Monsieur
Villeneuve, the jovial and experienced host, and his pleasant spouse,
came out to welcome us, and although the hotel had only been open four
days, made us as comfortable as they could.
Cauterets (3,254 feet) was only just waking into life, only two or
three hotels, one or two hair-dressers, one confectioner's, one
tobacconist's, and one or two grocers' shops were open; while of the
bathing establishments, the "Thermes des Oeufs," the largest, and the
Thermes de Cesar, were the only ones showing signs of renewed life.
The Esplanade des Oeufs, [Footnote: "Oeufs" because of the water's
scent resembling "rotten eggs."] a large tree-planted space in front of
the principal "thermes" (just mentioned)--which serves as casino,
concert-hall, and theatre as well--seemed utterly deserted; whereas in
summer, with the band playing, the trees in full leaf, the booths
opened, and the crowds of visitors, the scene must be the gayest of
the gay. We had just time to notice so much, on the afternoon of our
arrival, before the sun set behind the huge mountains which surround
this charming spot and the hour of dinner arrived. This dinner was so
excellent, so well cooked and served, that, although we despise with a
deep-rooted scorn the wretched class of individuals who make their
dinner their main object in life, we nevertheless consider that we are
only paying a merited tribute to the _chef_ in saying that the
cooking was always of a high standard, and quoting as a specimen the
evening's _menu_ (May 1):
Salmon, with sliced potatoes and melted butter.
Hashed Veal. Sauce Piquante.
Sweetbreads and green peas.
Asparagus. Potatoes (new).
Cheese, Jelly, and Biscuits.
When we woke the following morning, the sun shining from a cloudless
sky proclaimed an "excursion morning." Accordingly, we sent for a
guide, to inquire if a visit to the Lac de Gaube was practicable. The
guide arrived, and disappointment ensued. It was possible to go if we
didn't mind a few miles of snow, two feet deep and upwards. But we did
mind very strongly, and said so. Then the burly native spoke again, and
said that the Col de Riou was an easy trip, that we could take horses
to within a short distance of the summit, and that when we got there
the splendid view would include St. Sauveur, Argeles, Bareges,
Gavarnie, &c. &c. And we answered the burly native in his sister tongue
(_patois_ was his mother tongue), or as near to it as we could,
and said, "Have three horses ready by half-past ten at this hotel, and
we will start." Then, delighted, he smiled and bowed, and disappeared
down the street.
At eleven o'clock the cavalcade started, and a noble cavalcade it was:
Miss Blunt on a strong dark bay pony, Mr. Sydney on a similar-coloured
horse, and myself on a grey, formed the van; then came our burly friend
(by name Pont Dominique), and another guide (Berret), carrying the
lunch; and the rear was brought up by a small brindled bull-dog, and a
smaller specimen of unknown breed, which was nevertheless a capital
harmony in orange and white. In this order we left the Rue Richelieu
and ascended the Rue d'Etigny, passing under several wreaths and
crowns, with which the streets were decorated. We had previously
noticed these grand preparations on our arrival, and though sensible of
the good feeling that apparently prompted these attentions, we thought
they were somewhat superfluous. But that is (as they were) by the way.
Having soon reached the last of the houses, we gained the Rue du Pauze
Vieux, and turning sharply to the right, ascended to the two
establishments known respectively as the Pauze Vieux and Pauze Nouveau.
And here a paradox--pause, view, and be convinced! The Pauze Vieux is
the Pauze Nouveau and the Pauze Nouveau is the Pauze Vieux. Should any
well-educated citizen of any country under the sun (or daughter) be
disposed to doubt, let him examine the buildings for himself, and he
Half-an-hour after starting we reached the cottage known as the "Grange
de la Reine Hortense," the view from which is excessively fine. Looking
down towards the town, the mighty Cabaliros (7655 ft.), forming a
semicircle, stood above on the right; to the left of this semicircle
reared up the Monne (8938 ft.), the highest mountain in the vicinity,
from which other peaks make another similar formation, ending with La
Brune, beside which, but more to the left and immediately over the
town, rises the Peguere, covered with irregularly-heaped crags, and
pines. The town itself looked very neat and compact: the Mamelon Vert
(a small hill to the right) and the chief thorough-fares being easily
distinguished. Far up the Lutour valley, to the extreme left, the Pic
de Labassa, or de la Sebe (9781 ft.), and the Pyramide de Peyrelance
(8800 ft.), completed the chief points of the scene in that direction;
but far away in the opposite one we could easily see the Argeles valley
and the Gothic church of Lourdes. Behind us, seemingly facing the
Cabaliros, were the Col de Riou (6375 ft.), our would-be destination,
and the Pic de Viscos. Winding up the hillside, and passing banks blue
with the large and small gentian, we entered the pines, which made a
pleasant change. As at the Col d'Aspin, [Footnote: Vide Bigorre, p.
42.] the rising sap filled the air with its refreshing odour, and the
occasional glimpses of blue sky, mountain, and valley, through the
gently waving branches, were very charming.
[Illustration: ASCENT OF COL DE RIOU]
We had not proceeded very far through the trees when we reached a
break, where one of the party felt that at least something had been
gained. There, partly on the track, partly on the loose stones above
it, lay a bank of snow, and so delighted was Miss Blunt at having
attained the (present) snow-line--say about 4600 feet above sea
level--that her feelings were not to be in any way damped or
suppressed, as they burst forth in an
"EXHORTATION TO THE FIRST SNOW."
Emblem of Purity,
Chilly as Charity,
Oh, what a joy your deep whiteness to view!
Something is gain'd at last,
But you are melting fast,
Why does the cruel sun put you to stew?
Tell me, O long-lain snow,
What of the vale below?
What do you think about people and things?
Do you love forest-trees?
Or love you more the breeze?
Tell me what bird you think most sweetly sings?
What? You've no heart at all?
Cannot help where you fall,
Caring not if you swell to a huge size:
Minding not how you rush,
What you break, whom you crush?
Surely such feelings you ought to disguise.
Ah, well! we won't discuss,
Useless to make a fuss;
For, after all, I am glad that we met.
Emblem of Purity,
Chilly as Charity--
But I won't roll in you. No! you're too wet!
The two dogs were amusing in their absurdity. They were perpetually
endeavouring to detach stones from the side of the pathway, so as to
have the pleasure of pursuing them down the steep. At times, when the
hill was thickly strewn with leaves or particularly steep, they
completely disappeared, though violent pulsations among the scattered
branches and the aforesaid leaves told us they were not lost, but only
When we had barely mounted another 400 feet, we came upon regular banks
of snow, right over the path. This was quite unexpected, and we had to
decide whether to leave the horses and tramp through the snow, or to
return. We chose the latter--although the Col de Riou stood out
seemingly very practicable of ascent--and, returning on foot, the
horses and guides following, with the dogs here, there, and everywhere,
we reached the "Grange de la Reine Hortense" and proceeded to lunch.
After giving a very good account of the _pate_ sandwiches, and not
forgetting the guides and the dogs, we made our way slowly back,
defeated perhaps, but certainly not discouraged.
Although neither the Lac de Gaube nor the Pont d'Espagne were
attainable, the Cerizey Fall, which is about one third of the distance
to the lake along the same route, was kind enough to put itself at our
disposal. Not wishing to appear ungrateful, we availed ourselves of a
fine afternoon to order round the horses and our two guides, and
started about two o'clock. For some time we followed the road known as
the Rue de la Raillere, which leads to the baths of the same name from
the Place St. Martin; crossing the river by a very unpretentious
bridge, not far from the town. Leaving La Raillere behind, and passing
in turn the drinking establishment of Mauhourat--near which the Gaves
of Lutour and Marcadau form the Gave of Cauterets--and the baths of
Petit St. Sauveur and Le Pre, and gaining as we mounted a good view of
the "Cascade de Lutour" on the left, we entered the Marcadau valley, or
(more properly) gorge. The scenery, similar somewhat to that at the
entrance to the Cauterets gorge from Pierrefitte, is nevertheless
wilder and more severe. The occasional bright fields and frequent
mountain streams, with their merry music, disappear; but the lofty
heights, the gloomy firs, the mighty crags and boulders, and the
snow-peaks beyond, remain. After a great amount of very rough and steep
ascending--the Pic de Gaube (7644 ft.) the while standing conspicuously
before us--we reached the small hut that is intended as a shelter, near
the fall. Dismounting and taking the narrow path to the right over the
stones, immediately above the hut, we obtained a capital view of this
noisy cascade. Other views were obtained by us from above, by
clambering over the stones and boulders at the side of the torrent; but
this is the best of all. From the hut (mentioned above) one hour's good
walking, over anything but a pleasant track, brings one to the Pont
d'Espagne, and it requires another forty minutes to reach the Lac de
[Footnote: The lake is full of excellent salmon trout, and there is a
small inn on its shores, where visitors can stop the night in summer.
The Vignemale, from whose summit the view is wonderfully vast, rears up
above the lake.]
As horses can be taken for the whole distance when the road is free
from snow, our feelings at not being able to proceed can be better
imagined than described! By Mauhourat, whither we presently returned,
the Pont de Benques crosses the Marcadau, and the track to the left
leads up the valley of the Gave de Lutour. We did not pursue it very
far, as the workmen were busy repairing it, and it is also very rough
and steep. Several favourite excursions, however, are reached by it,
among which may be mentioned the Cascade de "Pisse-Arros" (forty
minutes from Cauterets), the "Fruitiere" (two hours from Cauterets),
the Lac d'Estom, 5847 ft. (three hours from Cauterets), the Ravin
d'Araille (three hours forty-five minutes), the Lake of Estom Soubiran,
7632 ft. (four hours thirty minutes), the Lake of Estibaoute, 7744 ft.
(four hours forty five minutes), and the Col d'Estom Soubiran (six
hours thirty minutes).
[Illustration: LAC DE GAUBE.]
Instead of again crossing the bridge below La Raillere, we kept to the
left, along what may have been _once_ a Roman road, but which was
_now_ at any rate a track both unpleasant and dangerous.
For some distance, large boulders, soil, and smaller stones overhung
it, and seemed as though the least rain or slightest push would bring
them down. Gradually this unpleasantness ceased, and as the road
widened we passed a few villas and entered the "Parc," which, according
to the natives, is part and parcel of the Esplanade des Oeufs, the
great summer resort in front of the Casino, from the back of which a
pleasant path of very gentle gradient ascends for about a mile to the
"Allees de Cambasque," up the flank of the Peguere; and to the Cabanes
(huts) de Cambasque beyond.
Although there is but little level road for enjoying a ride, we
nevertheless managed to pass a short time very pleasantly on horseback.
Leaving the Esplanade des Oeufs on the left, we took the road passing
between the back of the Hotel d'Angleterre and a curious chalet, built
with a pagoda beside it, and little bridges in communication. Following
this road, which is known as the Promenade du Mamelon Vert, [Footnote:
The Mamelon Vert is a green hill near the entrance to the town.] and in
turn passing the "Cafe du Mamelon Vert"--near which the track to the
Cabaliros branches off--and the commencement of the path to Catarabe,
we bore down to the right at the back of the Mamelon, and crossed the
Gave by a rickety wooden bridge--shortly to be superseded by one of
stone--into the Pierrefitte road. Down this, through the fine gorge
within sight of the mines, and then back to the hotel, constituted the
remainder of the ride.
Our stay at Cauterets was not without excitement, though certainly that
excitement was not of a pleasant kind. We soon discovered that the
decorating of the streets was for the benefit of the "Confirmation
Procession," for which the Bishop was coming from Tarbes. The Rue
Richelieu was "up" all along one side for the laying of gas-pipes, and,
by way of diversion, every now and then--usually when we were at
dinner, or wanting to look out of the window--a penny squeaking trumpet
would sound, then a lad would rush about and close all the shutters,
leaving the rooms in darkness and the inmates in suspense, till it
ended in a series of loud reports, accompanied by the distribution of
various specimens of granite in all directions. The authorities stopped
this nice performance when the Bishop was expected, as the mere chance
of "blasting" a Bishop would have been too painful for the Catholic
workmen's feelings, especially as they hoped for a benediction! As soon
as word arrived of the approach of "Monseigneur's" carriage, the cure
and chief dignitaries of the town, accompanied by a brass band, a
detachment of firemen, and a small regiment of women--decked in hoods
of blue or red or white--passed down the muddy street, bearing banners,
and a gilded canopy with white plumes. In a few moments they returned,
the band playing, the banners waving, the abbes and choir singing, and
in the centre of the throng, with two cures in front of him under the
canopy, came the new Bishop of Tarbes, resplendent in violet watered
silk, trimmed with beautiful lace, gloves of the same hue, with ring on
the outside of the right hand, which he perpetually kissed to the
admiring spectators. Miss Blunt, who was for once able to look out of
the window in safety, had a special one all to herself, and of course
she didn't mind any amount of explosions after that!
Then we had other excitements, in the shape of wretched bands of
pilgrims, who, having a spare day, came up from Lourdes to see the
mountains. They invaded our salon, drank beer at eight o'clock in the
morning, and looked on the whole--in spite of their rosettes of black,
red, and yellow--as disreputable a lot of individuals as ever turned
religion into farce. Whether it was quite worth while suffering their
presence for the fun of seeing them mount, when starting for their
excursion, is open to question, but that it was a unique and comic
sight we were all agreed. The hotel garden, filled with guides, horses,
donkeys, and pilgrims; the delicate exhibition of ankles and feet
--such feet; the chairs to help the rotund damsels; the swarm of
natives round one especially fat woman, who got down after all; the
beaming face of the host, and the gloomy looks of a very fat man, just
the size for a small pilgrim tea party; not omitting the priest, whose
flowing robe nearly hid his _better half_ (viz. the donkey), made
a scene worthy of reproduction in the pages of 'Punch.'
Although we strolled about a good deal, we found but little of interest
in the town itself; perhaps the most fascinating spot was the
Patisserie Suisse, in the Rue Cesar, just below the baths of the same
name. The Hotel de Ville is a fine building, and in summer perhaps, the
market, which stands in a street to the left of it, may present an
animated spectacle; but at this time it had the appearance of a large
monkey cage, with good strong iron railings in front, a few cabbages
and onions, and a small group of ancient and much-wizened native
We enjoyed our stay, however, in the midst of all the wild scenery
immensely, and think that but few people, if they came during the month
of June, would be prepared to differ from us. There are always some of
course, and before coming we had the pleasure of meeting two of them,
in the shape of a retired _grocer_ (or something of that kind in
the wholesale line) and his wife. They both declared that "Cauterets
was a vile 'ole, with 'igh streets and showy 'ouses, and that a
sensible 'uman being wouldn't stay there ha _h_our;" but it must
be mentioned in their favour, that the day on which they went was
rather damp, and there was only one grocer's shop open. If anyone
should be disposed to take their verdict as more conclusive than ours,
we can simply say, "Believe neither, but go and see for yourself."
There is one other subject worth mentioning, in regard to which we had
a trifling diversion on the morning of our departure. The true breed of
Pyrenean dogs may be seen at Cauterets, and puppies obtained by any
people who wish to have a specimen of this fine race. The great secret
in rearing them is to avoid meat of any kind, and feed them on bread
with a little milk, or very thin soup. It is not the climate of
England, as has so often been alleged, which gives them consumption,
but the change to rich diet from the meagre fare which in the mountains
they always receive.
The prices vary so much, that it is wisest for a stranger to enlist the
services of some trustworthy native to arrange the purchase, rather
than to do the bargaining himself. Pups from six weeks to three months
sell at from ten francs to one hundred, but a really fine specimen of
two and a half months ought to be bought for thirty-five francs. Dogs
of six months and upwards are expensive; as much as five hundred francs
being asked for them in the season.
As Miss Blunt had a great desire to become the possessor of one of
these fluffy creatures, whenever any were seen inquiries were always
directed at once with regard to their parentage and price. Happening to
perceive a woolly tail disappearing behind a workshop in the Rue de la
Raillere a few hours before we had to start, we passed up a short entry
beside the aforementioned workshop, and asked to see the owner of the
dogs. In a few seconds he stood before us, a weather-beaten Frenchman,
who, as well as his clothes and his intellect, had seen better days--a
man about five feet six inches high, with face deeply lined; moustache,
goatee, and hair, all somewhat sparse and grizzled; a blue berret (the
native hat) in his hand; his shirt fastened by a single stud, barely
hiding what had been once a brawny chest; his loose trousers
half-covered by a leathern apron; and his two coats both threadbare,
and decorated with ribands in an equally worn-out state--such, bowing
and smiling as he approached, was the proprietor alike of the dogs and
the workshop. In spite of his poor appearance and idiosyncrasy--almost
approaching to madness--he had a certain dignity of manner which we
could not fail to notice. But he was very trying to deal with. Whenever
the price was the object of our inquiry, he began in the following
strain: "Very good, very good; which does Monsieur like? which does
Ma'm'selle prefer? The finest of course? Ah yes, the finest! Ah, very
good; take your choice, Monsieur; take which you please. The finest
dogs in the world! See! see! Monsieur" (and here he pointed to the
ribands on his breast), "I gained the prize at the Paris
Exhibition!--at the Paris Exhibition!--the exhibition open to all the
world--I, with the dogs I had brought down from the mountains and bred
myself, I gained the prize. Ha! ha! there were two Englishmen, two of
your fellow-countrymen, who thought they would beat me; but no, no,
Monsieur, it was to me you see (pointing to his breast again),
Monsieur, that they gave the prize." At last, however, he named fifty
francs as the price of either, which was very excessive, and when I
suggested ten--which was proportionately low--he proceeded to take off
his apron, roll up his coat-sleeves, and then, looking at me fiercely,
said, "So, Monsieur, you take me for a ten-franc man, do you? You think
to mock me, do you? I, who gained the prize at the Paris Exhibition,
the exhibition open to all the world, for the finest dogs, you think I
will sell my puppies at ten francs, Monsieur? No, Monsieur. I will not
sell you one for ten francs, and I do not wish to have anything more to
do with you." And then he, who five minutes before had been shaking my
hand with delight because I knew the owner of the parent dog (of his
puppies), with a lofty wave of the hand motioned me to depart. Before
doing so I soothed his offended dignity by a mellifluous explanation,
and he once more, but somewhat loftily, offered me his hand as I bade
him farewell. So, in spite of the pleasant diversion, Miss Blunt did
not get her dog!
LUZ AND BAREGES.
Rain at starting--A blighted view, yet lovely still--Pont d'Enfer
--Nature's voice--Sere and Esquiez--Luz--Its situation and status--An
old house--The ancient Church of the Templars--La Chapelle de St.
Roch--Pyrenean museum--Hotel de l'Univers--Chateau de Ste. Marie--"The
Jackdaw's Causerie"--A new "Diet of Worms"--The new bathing
establishment--To Bareges--Pic d'Ayre--Esterre--Viella--Betpouey--Mill
conduits--Cercle des Etrangers--Opinion of the town--Grand
Etablissement--Promenade Horizontale--Hospice de Ste. Eugenie--"The Jay
of Bareges"--Wood anemones--Hepaticas--Valley of Lienz--Pic de
Lienz--Pic d'Ayre's summit--Pic de Neouville--Mountain rhododendrons
Although we had beautiful weather all the while we remained in
Cauterets, directly we prepared to depart down came the rain, the mists
descended over the hills, and until we reached Pierrefitte we were
unable to obtain more than momentary glances at the beauty we had so
delighted in, before. Having crossed the Gave de Bareges by the Pont de
Villelongue, we were soon in the gorge, the rocks on the left of which
were blasted for five miles, when the road was constructed.
Notwithstanding that it still rained, the clouds were a little higher,
and our view consequently less contracted.
[Illustration: THE GORGE NEAR PIERREFITTE.]
The beauty of the scene was indisputable, and yet it was a beauty less
wild and majestic, and more unequal, than that of the Cauterets Gorge.
The heights on the left had frequently the barest and most
uninteresting appearance, when on the other side the eye was enchanted
with the varied spring tints on the trees massed together up the slopes
from the river, whose limpid green pools or foaming rapids gave such a
charm to the picture. The old road is seen in many parts, and several
of the old bridges, but the one about three and three-quarter miles
from Pierrefitte, at a point where the Gorge widens--known as the Pont
d'Enfer, and built partly of wood as well as stone--is by far the most
interesting. The scenery in its vicinity was particularly beautiful.
The wild quinces, with their white blossoms mingling with those of the
cherry and the light green of the maples, larches, elms, birches, and
limes; the bright fields above, and the ever-lovely river below; with
the massive crags and a babbling waterfall, rendered this part
especially--as well as several others in a lesser degree--enchanting.
An enthusiast might easily write a book on the beauty of this gorge
alone, but in this age he would probably find few readers; of those who
did look at his book the greater number would find it probably too
highly-coloured, while the more enthusiastic ones would lament its lack
of warmth. Not wishing to incur the displeasure of either, we refrain
from saying a great deal about the splendour of this drive; knowing
that to a lover of the beautiful in Nature, all we have left unsaid
Nature will herself say ten times more impressively.
After passing the monument in honour of the "Reine Hortense," which is
five miles from Pierrefitte, and crossing the Bridge de la Hiladere, we
soon caught sight of some villages on the left, where poplars--stiffly
prominent in all directions--spoil much of the picturesqueness of the
surroundings. The villages of Sere and Esquiez, that we saw when
nearing Luz, are ancient and worthy of a visit. Together they formed a
"chef-lieu" before the eleventh century, and the Roman church in each,
but especially that of Sere, is exceedingly interesting. A few moments,
during which we crossed a marble bridge over the Gave de Bastan, and,
bearing to the left, we were in Luz.
Denominated by various titles, from a "poor village" to a "small rustic
town," Luz is by no means an insignificant place. It doubtless owes a
great deal to its situation in a pleasant hollow among the hills, with
a pleasant landscape on all sides, and its appearance is certainly more
quaint and rustic than poor. Undoubtedly there are several old houses,
some looking particularly unsafe; undoubtedly the streets are often
very narrow; and perhaps the inhabitants on the whole may be far from
wealthy; but with all this Luz is not a poor looking village. On a
market-day the streets in the vicinity of the old church, built--partly
in the 12th and finished between the 15th and 16th centuries--by the
Templars, assume a wonderfully gay appearance, and towards the back of
the church we noticed one old house whose balconies, if a trifle warped
and weather-beaten under the thin covering of white paint, were
nevertheless bright with pots of geraniums, wallflowers, and stocks.
The church itself is most interesting, and was at one time very
formidable also. Surrounded by a high wall pierced with loopholes in a
double row, lies the graveyard, which is only a narrow strip between
the ramparts and the church, the body of which lies between two towers.
Under the higher of these, facing north, and built for defence with
loopholes and embrasures, is one of the church doors, which leads to
the high altar steps in a direct line from the entrance into the
churchyard. Further to the right, but also facing north, is the most
remarkable entrance, the inscriptions on the arch dating from the 12th
century. On the extreme right is a door leading into the chapel, built
in the 16th century, and dedicated to St. Roch. We found the inside
interesting, without possessing any very striking features.
The effect from the main gallery is perhaps best, and the smaller ones
running along the sides have a weird and aged appearance. Near the
entrance to the church, low down, is shown what was once the door for
that wretched race of beings, the "Cagots."
[Footnote: We found it difficult to obtain any reliable information
about these creatures. They seem to have led an existence like the
lepers in Palestine, being avoided and despised by the inhabitants
generally, and they appear to have been both diminutive and ugly.(See
St. Savin, p. 73).]
The Chapelle de St. Roch, which we passed into from the gallery in the
main building, is the most striking of the two. The gallery and stairs
were in a very shaky condition, and two candle-stands near the latter
seemed to have been in their prime many generations ago. The vaulted
roof, with the curious wooden groins, and the ancient _benitier_
near the door, are worthy of inspection. Without scrambling up the
tower to the "Pyrenean Museum," but not forgetting to examine the old
bell-tower and its bells facing west, we walked down to the left and
joined the main road.
The ancient Castle de Sainte Marie--a very interesting and historic
ruin--being in the vicinity, we followed the principal highway to the
right, and passing the much-recommended Hotel de l'Univers, were soon
in the proximity of the chateau, which, standing alone on the summit of
a pointed hill, was charmingly conspicuous. The path, after winding up
the hill, leads to an entrance at the back, which is locked, the castle
being now the property of the Precepteur of Luz, who, however, is
always willing to accommodate strangers by allowing them to enter, as
well as to inspect his garden, and the very striking image of the
Virgin which he has had perched on the front walls. A great number of
jackdaws have taken up their quarters in the old towers, and as one of
them kept continually cawing as though anxious to be heard, we append
what we made out to be the meaning of his chatter (it is said they
never speak without _cause_), which we call
"THE JACKDAW'S CAUSERIE."
"THE JACKDAW'S CAUSERIE."
Caw, caw! cried the jackdaw, and cawed again,
As he circled out of the ancient tower:
Caw, caw! and he circled thrice over the plain,
And cawed once more as he reached his bower.
Caw, caw! I was born in this fortress old,
As old as the hills, some folks might say;
Five hundred centuries, caw, have rolled
Since first it stood in the light of day.
Caw, caw! just to think I have built my nest
Where the Black Prince ruled in such royal state.
Caw, caw! I wonder if ever he guess'd
That this would in time be his castle's fate.
Caw, caw! but I never could quite perceive
Why one tower is round and the other square.
If I'd been the prince, I can well believe
I'd have made the architect build a pair.
Caw, caw! by-the-bye, there was old Coffite
And Jean de Bourbon, that fought so well;
And 'tis said that the prince underwent defeat--
At least my mother this tale would tell.
Caw, caw! they've finished with siege and fight;
The castle's too old for that, of course;
They go in for piety on the right,
And we caw away till our voice grows hoarse.
Caw, caw! I'm a Catholic right sincere,
But somehow or other I cannot see
Why they put up the Virgin's statue here--
The place is as wrong as a place could be.
Caw, caw! I must see how my youngsters look
In their quiet nursery 'mid the stones;
Next week they'll be able "to take their hook,"
And--but there they go with their squeaking tones.
Caw, caw! cried the jackdaw, the world is vain,
But I love to dwell in my ancient tower.
Caw, caw!--why the wretches want feeding again,
They've a "diet of worms" nearly every hour.
And he cawed as he flew to the nursery bower.
[Footnote 1: It is said that Jean de Bourbon, Comte de Clermont, and
Auger Coffite of Luz, took this castle in 1404.]
[Footnote 2: The author does not hold himself responsible for the
jackdaw's slang, which refers to the statue.]
[Footnote 3: This statue is in honour of "Notre Dame de Lourdes."]
[Footnote 4: Again the jackdaw indulges in slang!]
Leaving the jackdaw to pursue his paternal duties, we descended again
to the town, and sheltered awhile from a shower under the balcony of
the new and gaudy-looking bathing establishment, that stands in the
outskirts, towards St. Sauveur. These baths, which are only opened
during the summer, are supplied with water from Bareges, whither we
were only waiting for a fine day to make an excursion. But fine days
just then were rather hard to find, so we contented ourselves with one
that did not look very ominous, and taking a good lunch with us,
started in a landau and four at ten o'clock.
[Illustration: THE CASTLE OF STE. MARIE.]
The road after leaving Luz follows the course of the Gave de Bastan,
skirting in turn the base of the Montaigu [Footnote: Not to be in any
way confounded with the Montaigu near Bigorre. The French mountain
vocabulary is so defective, they often call several heights by the same
name.] and that of the Pic d'Ayre, and, passing through the villages of
Esterre (2 miles), Viella (2-1/4 miles), and Betpouey (3-1/2 miles),
winds in steep zigzags up to Bareges (4064 ft.).
This valley, after what we had seen, did not give us much pleasure; its
appearance on the whole being sterile, though after leaving Luz as far
as Esterre, the brightness of the fields and trees, and the splashing
of the water overflowing the miniature mill conduits, made a pleasant
The actual distance from Luz to Bareges is barely four miles, and yet
so great is the height of the latter (1600 ft. above Luz) that it was
nearly one o'clock when we pulled up at the Cercle des Etrangers--the
only specimen of a hotel or cafe open--for our lunch.
After a pleasant meal we made a move to inspect the town and its
environs, and were not long in forming an opinion, at any rate, on the
former, which we think most visitors at this season of the year would
be inclined to endorse. One long ascending street lined with houses all
shut up, occasional breaks where a narrow alley or the roads to the
hospitals and promenades branched off, the bathing establishments under
much-needed repair, the dirty-looking river dashing down behind, on the
left; the beech boughs clad in dead leaves rustling on the slopes, in
the opposite direction; and a few natives here and there, very untidy
and sleepy-looking, as though with difficulty awaking from the
"dormouse" state, complete the picture of Bareges, which we need hardly
add is in itself a most desolate and dreary-looking place. In
mid-summer, with the sun shining and the trees in full leaf, an
improvement in the scene would be noticeable; but very few, except
invalids specially recommended for a course of the waters, are at
anytime likely to stay there more than a few hours.
We took the road leading up, to the right of the "Grand Etablissement,"
to the Promenade Horizontale, the great summer rendezvous, and passing
the "Hospice de Ste. Eugenie" began the ascent up the easy zigzags of
the "Allee Verte." We had not made much progress when we startled, from
what was doubtless a contemplative mood, a very fine jay. He did not
seem to like the disturbance at all, but kept flying from branch to
branch in the vicinity, repeatedly uttering his guttural cries.
As the tenor of his thoughts--uttered in rather a shrill treble--seemed
to bear considerably on topics of general interest, in spite of the
apparent selfishness that was the key-note of the whole, we think it
expedient to let posterity enjoy the enlightenment we received from
"THE JAY OF BAREGES."
Lawks a mussy! and shiver my feathers!
Why this is a wonderful sight;
In spite of my earnest endeavours,
I can't quite get over my fright.
'Tis so long since the strangers departed,
They ne'er would return, I had thought;
So no shame at their coming I started,
Though perchance I felt worse than I ought.
Still to think through the days cold and lonely
I've wandered about at my will,
With no one to chase me, and only
The need to prevent getting chill.
Well, I say--when I think of the quiet
And rest that is now at its close--
I have doubts of enduring the riot
After such a long time of repose.
It is not that I hate to see pleasure,
It is not that the world I detest;
But I like to have comfort and leisure,
And not to be teased and oppress'd.
I don't mind the smell from the fountains,
--Though a rotten-egg scent is not sweet--
For I always can fly to the mountains
And seek some umbrageous retreat.
Then the season for shooting is over,
So the sportsmen will leave me alone,
And I'll pose as a Go(u)ld Jay in clover,
Avoiding a _dollar_ous tone.
To my doctor, perhaps, 'twould be better
The final decision to leave;
And I'll follow his choice to the letter,
He's a bird I can always believe.
That reminds me 'tis time for my dinner,
And as I don't wish it to wait,
As sure as I'm saint and no sinner,
I'll be off at my very best rate.
[Footnote 1: The jay, with all its sophistry, did not apparently know
that French sportsmen only kill what they can eat, and therefore its
fears would in any case have been groundless.]
And with a concluding chuckle the bright bird disappeared. We were by
this time beyond the "Forest Administration" hut, and close upon the
snow, which lay in narrow but deep drifts among the trees, the wood
anemones and fine hepaticas growing in groups close by.
As we gradually progressed, the snow occupied the greater part of the
way, and we were forced to betake ourselves to the extreme edge; and
when at last we emerged into the Vallee de Lienz, trees and branches
had to be scrambled over to avoid a wetting, although we were obliged
to cross one or two drifts after all. Getting clear of the trees, we
came in full view of the imposing Pic de Lienz (7501 ft.) on the left,
and the rounded summit of the Pic d'Ayre (7931 ft.). Passing the two
cabins constructed among the rocks in the open, we crossed the swift
brook and began the ascent of the inferior but well-wooded hill below
the Pic de Lienz. There is no proper path up to this Pic (as to most
others), and the grass is rather bad for walking; but the views up the
valley to the mighty Pic de Neouville (10,146 ft.), and the whole range
behind the Pic d'Ayre, are very grand. We only went to the bend just
before the summit of the Col, resting awhile among a huge pile of
boulders, brightened by bushes of the mountain rhododendron, before
commencing to descend. A fine specimen of the rather rare _Anemone
vernalis_ was a prize that fell to us as we carefully balanced
ourselves on the slippery tufts which so often, carrying the feet along
at an increased speed, cause the owner to find himself rather
unpleasantly acquainted with mother earth. However, we reached the huts
again in safety, and made considerably shorter cuts on our way back to
the town, encountering a solitary sheep with a very young lamb at one
of our sharp turns.
We arrived at the cafe just in time for tea, and then the horses were
put in and we rattled back, having, in spite of the barrenness of
Bareges, spent a very pleasant day.
Pont de Pescadere--Sassis--Gave de Gavarnie--St. Sauveur--Hotel de
France--Pont Napoleon--Napoleon's pillar--Bee orchids--Chapel of
Solferino--The view from thence--Ne'er a hermit but for gold--Luz
Cemetery--Luz Post Office--Short cuts--Pharmacie Claverie--Jardin a
l'Anglaise--Ascent of Pic de Bergons--Villenave--The shepherds'
huts--Lunch--Snow, its use and abuse--On foot--"Excelsior"--Dangerous
footing--The last crest but one--The view--Gavarnie and Argeles in
sight--A lazy guide--A "fast" bit--Mountain flowers--Mr. Sydney to the
fore--A short walk and a good view--To Sazos and Grust--The bathing
establishments--Sazos: the old church--The belfry--Chiming
extraordinary--Various promenades--Gems of hill and vale.
At the bridge known as the Pont de Pescadere the road from Pierrefitte
forks; the branch to the left leads to Luz, while the road to St.
Sauveur branches off to the right, and passes through the village of
Sassis, above which is the more important one of Sazos. Then, keeping
to the riverside till within half a mile of the town, it throws out a
branch over the Gave de Gavarnie to Luz, and bending in the opposite
direction, winds steeply past the baths to the hotels.
Like many of the villages in Japan, and especially along the great
Nakasendo, St. Sauveur possesses one single street. The resemblance
continues further with the fine scenery, but there it ends. The look of
the houses and the comfort of the Hotel de France find, alas! no
parallel yet in the interior of that wonderful country.
[Illustration: ST. SAUVEUR.]
We came to St. Sauveur direct without stopping at Luz, but as the
latter is the larger town--in fact the mainstay of the former, and also
the nearer to Pierrefitte--we have given it precedence. For situation
and all other qualifications, except as a residence in winter, St.
Sauveur easily bears away the palm. The morning after our arrival, when
the sun was shining brightly, we walked up through the remainder of the
diminutive town to the Pont Napoleon, one of the most remarkable
bridges in the Pyrenees. The bridge itself is 216 feet above the river,
and sixty-nine feet wide; but it is not so much the construction
--though that is well carried out--as the position, which
especially attracts on a lovely spring morning. The river, of a
beautiful light green tint, wandering down the valley towards
Pierrefitte, the trees with varied foliage crowding the slopes above,
the glimpse of Saint Sauveur with its church, and the hills with the
snowpeaks beyond, on either side--made such a glorious _ensemble_
as we were not slow to appreciate.
[Illustration: PONT NAPOLEON, ST. SAUVEUR.]
But this was not all--nor nearly all--for not only had we the view of
the grand rocky gorge from which the river issues above, but we could
also take the easy gradient down to the riverside itself, which leads
from the near side of the bridge, as well as survey the loveliness from
the terrace at the base of the arch, on the side beyond. Having crossed
this fine piece of engineering, and passed the pillar surmounted by an
eagle erected in honour of Napoleon III. and the Empress Eugenie, we
found the road led at right angles in both directions. The one to the
right, to Gavarnie, we hoped to take thither later; the one to the
left, leading to Luz, we followed there and then. After curving once or
twice within view of the bridge, it bifurcates, forming an upper and a
lower route, both of which lead to Luz, if desired. The lower, which is
the direct route from Gavarnie to Luz, we abstained from taking,
preferring the upper road to the right, which leads past fields
resplendent with flowers (among which the "bee" orchid is noticeable),
to the chapel of Solferino.
The view from the hill on which the chapel is built is an excellent
one. Looking towards Luz, several small villages may be seen up the
Bareges valley, with the Pic de Mont Aigu, and the Pic d'Ayre (7931
feet) on the right, and--immediately over against the town--the Pic de
Nere on the left. Looking towards Pierrefitte, other small villages,
and the whole of the Luz valley; on the left, St. Sauveur, and, above
the almost indistinguishable village of Sassis, the Col de Riou, with
the Pic de Viscos beyond. Looking towards the Pont Napoleon, the Pic de
Bergons (6792 ft.) towers up on the left, and on the right may be
easily noted the toothed Pic du Lac Grand the Col d'Aubiste, and the
loftier Pic (8863 ft.) of the same name, besides a glimpse of pastures
and foaming cascades as well. There is very little in the chapel itself
except its history and its cold atmosphere. It is supposed to be an
exact copy of the ancient Hermitage of St. Peter, which formerly stood
on the same spot. The bones of the last good man, for whom "gaieties
had no attraction whatever," and who consequently shut himself up for
"years and years" in the dismal building, were collected by Napoleon
III.'s command, and buried under the statue erected in front. There is
a woman that calls herself the guardian (not angel) of the place, and
demands a small gratuity in exchange for any amount of unnecessary
talking; judging by her appearance, we decided she was _not_ a
hermit nor a particularly small eater either, though her stature was
decidedly diminutive. Two tracks lead from this hill to Luz. One
winding down on the left forms the branch route to St. Sauveur, the
other, to the right--which we took--passes the cemetery, and leaving
the new church in the same direction, leads to the back of the ancient
fane of the Templars, through the town.
After transacting a little business at the post-office (there is none
at St. Sauveur except in the season), which stands in one of the
principal streets traversed on the route to Bareges, we returned to St.
Sauveur by another way. The ordinary short cut from Luz to St. Sauveur
crosses the bridge over the Gave leaving the Gavarnie road on the left,
and turning sharply up a short distance beyond the river, joins the
high road above the "Pharmacie Clavarie," near an ornamental pillar.
We, however, bore up the Gavarnie road till, reaching a cottage, we
pursued the narrow path obviously conducting to the river, over which a
wooden bridge--whence a pretty view can be obtained,--leads to the
Jardin a l'Anglaise. This garden, much frequented during the summer
months, brought us in turn, by means of zigzags and steps, close to our
hotel, and though it may be slightly longer than the "short cut," we
certainly found it prettier and more agreeable.
There is one excursion from St. Sauveur, which is not very difficult
nor laborious, and which well repays the certain amount of exertion
that is at all times associated with ascents. This is the ascent of the
Pic de Bergons. Although we could tell before we started that the snow
would prevent us from reaching the summit, we nevertheless had hopes of
arriving very near it; and finding a beautiful day, as it were, staring
us in the face, we ordered round the horses and a somewhat aged guide,
and were in motion by ten o'clock. Reaching the further end of the Pont
Napoleon, we found the path striking off immediately before us, and the
work began. The gradient for several minutes rose rather sharply, and
as the road was anything but a pleasant or even one, the labour for the
horses was considerable; but they went very willingly, until, at our
arrival at a couple of cottages, we halted to give them a few minutes'
Until then we had been winding up the face of the hill, but after
leaving the cottages, the track bearing round to the side brought us
above Luz, over which and the whole valley we had a splendid view. Not
far from this point, the path from Luz, _via_ Villenave, joined
in, but no improvement in the general unevenness and stoniness of it
was effected. With a barren gorge on our left, and the green pastures
with the snow-peaks of Bugaret and Maucapera towering behind them,
straight before us, we followed the disagreeable zigzags, our horses
always on the very edge, as though courting our overthrow, till,
finding on reaching the "cabanes" some shepherds kindly and well
disposed, we repaired to the shelter that their cow-house wall
afforded, to eat our lunch. The meal was a success, as such meals, when
the victuals are good and the appetites hearty, usually are, and the
_vin ordinaire_, cooled to a pleasant extent with snow from a
neighbouring drift, tasted like nectar. But the same snow which was so
delightful in the claret, interfered sadly with our locomotion, and
having finished our luncheon, we had next to dispose of our horses, and
commence the rest of the ascent on foot. Striking straight up from the
hut, we soon attained a narrow track winding up the wooded hill to the
left, and without much difficulty or exertion, found ourselves within
view of St. Sauveur, and a great part of the mountains and valleys.
However, we were yet some way from the summit, or even the highest
attainable point (the summit being unattainable on account of snow), so
we pulled ourselves into form, and whispering to one another to have
"courage," we moved upwards again. A small rocky backbone was next
attained, but still the higher crests remained, and seemed to say,
"Excelsior." The guide got lazy, and preferred to study a little
geology to mounting any higher, so we left him to pursue his researches
and strode on. Between the next point, gained after some little work,
and the last crete below the actual summit, several banks of snow lay,
and rendered progress difficult. In two places a sharp decline, with no
chance of clutching anything in case of falling, presented itself to
dull our hopes, but by dint of using the alpenstocks well, and making
deep tracks in the semi-melting snow, we reached the desired crest,
with nothing but the white and inaccessible summit above. The view was
a very fine one, and fully justified all expectations, although our
lazy guide was effectually shut out from our gaze. The miniature town
of St. Sauveur looked like a tiny model, with every accessory that
could add to its charming position. To the left, high above us, the
mighty Barbe de Bouch (9624 ft.) stood out just below the clouds, in
which the still loftier and very stony Pic d'Ardiden (9804 ft.) was
partially hidden. Further in the same direction the familiar forms of
the Pics d'Aubiste and Litouese, and further yet, the Tour and Casque
of the Gavarnie Cirque, stood out as snowy and as clear as the most
eager sightseer could wish. Over the town itself the Pic du Lacgrand,
and down the valley to the right, the Col de Riou and the Pic de
Viscos, were plainly visible; while the town of Argeles and the hills
beyond it, required no glass to point out their position at the end of
the splendid gorge. Over against Luz the Col d'Arbeousse and the Pic de
Nere (7880 ft.); with the Pic Bugaret (8859 ft.), the Maucapera (8893
ft.), and the massive Mont Arrouye (10,299 ft.), facing them, above the
hut where we had lunched, added their attractions to swell the beauty
of our view.
When we thought we had really taken in all that we could, we did not
stay on our lofty perch much longer, fearing the result of our guide's
geological researches; however, we found him still fairly well, and
very little less lazy, so took him for a little jolting down a rather
"fast" bit, which not only woke him up, but brought us quickly down to
our shepherd's hut again. Partly riding and partly walking, the rest of
the descent was successfully accomplished, including the gathering of
gentians, bee orchids, mountain violets, and both _Polygalae_;
[Footnote: _Polygala rosea_ and _P. amara._] while Mr. Sydney
triumphed in the very laudable effort of showing the lazy guide how
things could be managed, by arriving at the foot of the mountain some
twenty minutes before him. A very short trot brought us to the hotel in
time for some half-past five tea, having taken seven and a half hours
over our trip, including the hour spent for lunch.
Between the Hotel de France and the Pont Napoleon a narrow path strikes
up to the right, almost opposite a large white house a short distance
beyond the church; this we found a very pleasant quarter of an hour's
walk, leading by an easy gradient to a good point of view. Box plants,
with their bright leaves here and there changing into a rich red, lined
the way, and many flowers, including gentians, added their charm. From
the rock at which we terminated our walks, a fine view of the Pic de
Bergons, two cascades, the gorge towards Gavarnie and St. Sauveur, the
Pont Napoleon, and a small defile on the immediate right, was our
Another pleasant promenade and not a very long one, which we much
enjoyed, was to the villages of Sazos and Grust, in the direction of
the ascent of the Col de Riou and the Pic de Viscos. We followed the
high road down through the town, passing in turn the Roman-like and
commodious baths, the path leading to the Hontalade establishment on
the left, and the Pharmacie Claverie on the right; and just before the
branch route from Luz joins in, took the left track up the side of the
hill. Pretty views of the different valleys unfolded to our gaze as we
continued on our way, while a splendid vista of villages lay before us
when we reached the platform space on which an iron cross is erected, a
short way below Sazos. The village itself, as well as that of Grust,
which lies within easy distance above it, is a quaint, old-fashioned
place. The church is the chief attraction; in fact, immediately Miss
Blunt found herself within the ancient exterior portal, she demanded
paper and pencil, and although all the paper forthcoming was the back
of an envelope and a telegraph form, managed to turn out an efficient
representation of the old Roman fane. In exploring it afterwards at our
leisure, we were struck by several peculiarities which produced mingled
feelings. Inside the doorway, two curious flights of steps lead to the
narrow galleries and the belfry, the final flight being totally devoid
of either "sweetness" or light. Having examined the bells and heard the
clock strike three, we began the descent. In the darkness we certainly
did clutch a vertical rope, but could that simple act--we ask in a
whisper--have had such an unusual effect as causing the clock to repeat
its striking? For, whether or not, before we reached the ground, the
three strokes rang out again. The carving over the altar is good, and
the general effect of the whole church is likewise; but the supposed
model of the grotto at Lourdes, and the awful painting in the side
altar on the left, certainly do not add to its beauty.
The children regarded us with inquisitive looks as we came away, but
seemed to wish to keep at a safe distance. Whether the double striking
of the clock had had a peculiar effect on them we did not, however,
wait to inquire, but after taking a drink at the fountain, proceeded on
our homeward way.
Any one making a lengthened stay can find out plenty of similarly
enjoyable walks; in fact, one of St. Sauveur's chief charms lies in its
favourable situation for such pursuits. The neighbourhood is very rich
in flora, small jonquils, daffodils, oxslips, hyacinths, violets,
_polygala, potentilla_, anemones, _Ramondia pyrenaica, Primula
farinosa,_ large and small gentians, _linaria,_ and bee orchids
being among the easiest to find.
Before we started on the great drive to Luchon, we successfully
accomplished a delightful day's outing to Gavarnie, but as it is full
of interest and majesty, we give it a chapter to itself.
A "falling glass"--The wonderful echo--Cascade Lassariou--Sia and its
bridge--Pont de Desdouroucat--"Changing scenes"--Bugaret torrent--The
Pimene--Bue--Gedre--Breche de Roland in the distance--The
"Grotto"--Scenery at fivepence per head--Daffodils--Lofty
summits--Cascade d'Arroudet--Chaos--Valley of the "Ten Thousand Rocks,"
Amoy--A dirty avalanche--The Sugar-loaf--Travellers' troubles
--Importunate females--Hotel des Voyageurs--Poc--Guide or no
guide--Chute de Lapaca--The guardian summits of the Cirque--Cascade du
Marbore--Chandelles du Marbore--The Cirque--Its marvellous
beauty--Reluctantly returning--"The Guide's Auction"--"Two women
enough for a market, and three for a fair"--A Yankee tale--Sketching
and flowers--Tempers and appetites.
There is no excursion from Luz or St. Sauveur for which it is so
necessary to have a fine day, or which is so wonderfully unique, as
that to the Cirque of Gavarnie. We were forced to wait several days;
the barometer always, stupidly enough, wanting to fall, until on the
third day of the moon it slowly began to rise, and gave us hopes for a
start on the following morning. The following morning arrived, and with
it a heavy fall of snow, decking the hills quite low down with a white
mantle, and gloomily screening the view.
However, about nine o'clock, the sun burst forth, the clouds rose, the
blue sky appeared, and we felt that our opportunity had come. The lunch
and the landau, with four horses, were ordered for ten o'clock, and at
10.15 we were on our way. Through the town, past the church and over
the fine Pont Napoleon we went, our hearts--eager to appreciate
--finding no lack of food.
Keeping along the base of the Pic de Bergons, with the Pic du Lac Grand
rivalling it on the other side of the defile, we soon sighted the chasm
and cascade of Rioumaou on our left, and reached the Pas de l'Echelle.
At 1 metre 50 centimetres, or 43/4 feet, from the extremity of the
ornamental facing which marks the place, we pulled up, to try the
magnificent echo, and were in no way disappointed. Our voices came back
particularly clearly, but from the coach-box the sound was stronger. On
ahead again, still by the base of the Pic de Bergons, with the mighty
Col and Pic d'Aubiste (8863 ft.) majestic across the river; till, at
the foot of the Pic, where the sparkling Cascade de Lassariou comes
tumbling down, the wretched hamlet of Sia, with its "quatre moulins"
and very fine bridge, broke into view. Traversing the Pont de
Sia--distant about three miles from Luz and built when the new road was
made two years ago--we kept the right side of the Gave, and, with the
Pic de Litouese towering above us, reached the Pont de Desdouroucat (4
3/8 miles), and again passed to the opposite bank, leaving the remains
of the old route on the side whence we came. The sky was clearing more
and more, and before us, over Gavarnie, it was one pure expanse of
blue. The gorge was very wild, but with a wildness of piled-up crags
and blackened sides that the beautiful winding river and the spring
tints helped to beautify and subdue. Presently the massive Brada, up
the grand Gorge de Bacheviron, came in sight on our left, and as we
passed the insignificant hamlet of Pragneres (43/4 miles), where the
torrent of Bugaret dashes down into the Gave, the Brada looked more
massive still. Thus it continued all along the route, every bend of the
road bringing something new--whether a cascade, a valley, or a lofty
peak, always something to claim attention and praise. At such a bend,
shortly after quitting Pragneres, the great snow-crowned Pimene (9193
ft.) seemed to bar the way; while at another, the hamlet of Bue and the
Col de Bue appeared on the right, and at another, again, Mont Ferrat
(10,575 ft.), up the Heas valley on the left. Not very much further,
when bending into Gedre, we obtained a splendid glimpse of La Tour and
La Casque du Marbore and the Breche de Roland. Gedre (8 miles), like
all the rest of the villages or hamlets in the vicinity, is a
miserable, poverty-stricken-looking place, but with picturesque
surroundings. It is a good centre for numerous excursions--notably that
to the Cirque de Troumouse--and possesses an excellent botanist as
well as a celebrated grotto.
[Footnote: The grotto's notoriety is gained, perhaps, by its imposture;
it is in reality no grotto, but a very pretty bit of scenery
nevertheless, on a fine day.]
Stopping at the house by the bridge, we were escorted by the good woman
into her garden and down some steps to a platform, whence the so-called
grotto was to be surveyed. It is a very picturesque spot. The lofty
walls of perpendicular rock, the overhanging bushes and flowers, the
trees above, the field beyond, and the blue water of the Gave de Heas
foaming beneath, are charming enough, with the aid of rays of sunlight,
to make the spot famous, and the good woman chuckle as she pockets the
half-franc per head.
[Illustration: THE VILLAGE OF GEDRE.]
Starting again, we commenced the zigzag ascent past the church--the
road winding among fields golden with daffodils, mingling here and
there with the lovely blue of the gentians and the pink _Primula
farinosa_--towards the base of the Coumelie, the mule-path to the
Cirque de Troumouse leading through a field above us, as we reached the
zigzag's top. Still gently ascending round the foot of the Coumelie,
the pointed summit of the lofty Taillon (10,323 ft.) came into view
ahead, with the grandiose Campbieil (10,418 ft.) up the Heas valley;
and the Pic de Saugue immediately above on the right, from whose height
the splendid Cascade d'Arroudet, dashing past the shepherds' cottages,
launches its foaming showers into the river below. A few more graceful
curvings of the road and we entered the region so aptly termed "Chaos."
Attributed to an earthquake at the end of the fourteenth century,
rightly or wrongly, the fact nevertheless remains that one of the huge
buttresses of the Coumelie became detached from the main summit, and
dashed down in enormous blocks to the valley below. There they lie, the
road passing between, in the wildest and most indescribable confusion.
Here a heap piled one above another, there a mighty shoulder split in
twain by a conical fragment which rests in the breach that it made;
some towering above the road, others blocking the river below, a few
isolated and many half-buried; but all combining to form as wild and
wonderful a chaos as the eye could wish to gaze on, but which the pen
must fail to describe. Far away on the shores of China, at the port of
Amoy, is another scene which, though it must yield the palm to this, is
nevertheless one of a similarly wild nature. The "Valley of the Ten
Thousand Rocks," as the spot is called, in the midst of which stands a
joss-house (or temple), may be reached in a pleasant walk from the
harbour of Amoy, by way of the wonderful Rocking Stone, and along paths
lined with aloes and cacti. There the grass grows between the confusion
of boulders, and the Chinamen's incense ascends to the blue sky; but
these points of difference from the Chaos of Gavarnie, though tending
to subdue part of the barren wildness, nevertheless still leave a
resemblance between the two scenes that is worthy of record.
Leaving this "boulder" region behind us, we passed through a huge
avalanche that stood in frozen filthiness far above the carriage on
each side of the road, while immediately over us on the left rose the
mountain from which it had come--rightly named the Sugar-loaf--and
opposite, on the right, the serrated summit of the Soum de Secugnac
At this point one of the many nuisances which ought to be classed under
the head of "Travellers' Troubles," commenced. In the distance, but
coming swiftly towards us, or rather as swiftly as a broken-winded,
raw-boned, jolting apology-for-a-horse would allow, was _a_ woman,
and alas! in her train were several others; a few on or with donkeys,
but more on foot. In vain we told them that we would engage no donkeys
at all, and no horses till we reached our destination; in vain we bade
them allow us to "pursue the even tenor of our way" in peace, and hush
their high soprano tones. It was one perpetual babble in praise of
their horses, their donkeys, and their capabilities as guides, with the
constant repetition of the names of the surrounding peaks, which we
already knew perfectly well. When we reached the gorge which opens up
on the right, as though the earth had been split by some mighty shock,
and through which the majestic Vignemale (10,821 ft.) was perfectly
visible, the storm of voices directing our attention to the sight was
as loud as it was unsolicited. But happily we were then close to
Gavarnie, and crossing the bridge with a momentary glimpse at the
Cirque, we drew up at the door of the Hotel des Voyageurs.
After lunching and engaging our steeds, with an intelligent guide, who
answered to the euphonious name of "Poc," we left the greatly
disappointed donkey women still making a terrible clamour, and started
for the Cirque.
As far as finding out the proper route goes, and that is a long way, no
guide whatever is required, but in order to learn the names of the
various peaks and other interesting facts, it is distinctly necessary
to have one, unless the traveller possesses a very elaborate plan of
Leaving the new bridge to the left, as well as a very ancient one, and
the plashing fall known as the "Chute de Lapaca," we turned round in
the opposite direction, and passing the "Hotel de la Cascade" and a
wooden hut, again turned to the left, down what, though an execrable
road, led, nevertheless, to the object of our desires. At this turn the
Pic d'Aspe reared above us on the right, succeeded by barren hills
covered with loose stones, but as we proceeded, the famous central
excursion--the Pimene (9193 ft.)--came in sight on the opposite side,
followed by the Breche d'Allanz, the Pic Rouge de Pailla (9107 ft.),
Pic d'Astazou (10,106 ft.), the Cylindre (10,916 ft), and even the