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Two Summers in Guyenne by Edward Harrison Barker

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A Chronicle of the Wayside and Waterside


Author of 'Wayfaring in France', 'Wanderings by Southern Waters,' ETC.




Of the four summers which the writer of this 'Chronicle of the Wayside and
Waterside' spent by Aquitanian rivers, the greater part of two provided the
impressions that were used in 'Wanderings by Southern Waters.' Although
the earlier pages of the present work, describing the wild district of the
Upper Dordogne, through which the author passed into Guyenne, belong, in
the order of time, to the beginning of his scheme of travel in Aquitaine,
the summers of 1892 and 1893, spent chiefly in Perigord and the Bordelais,
furnished the matter of which this volume is mainly composed. Hence the
title that has been given to it.

It may be thought that there is not a sufficient separation of interest,
geographically speaking, between the tracts of country described in the two
books. The author regrets that it is not possible to convey in a few words
an idea of the extent of the old English Duchy of Aquitaine as it was
defined by the Treaty of Bretigny. Still less easy would it be to deal
rapidly with its physical contrasts, its relics of the past, and its
historical associations. Surely no writer could pretend to have exhausted
the interest of such a subject even in two volumes.

Before the final expulsion of the English, Aquitaine was gradually taking
the name of Guyenne; but when this designation came to be definitively
applied, at the time of the Renaissance, Gascony was not included in
it, nor were Poitou, Saintonge, Angoumois and Limousin. Even when thus
restricted in its meaning, Guyenne still represented a very considerable
part of France, including as it did the regions or sub-provinces known as
the Bordelais, Perigord, the Agenais, the Rouergue, and the Quercy.

If the author's work during the fifteen years that he has been living in
France has served to make the people, the scenery, and the antiquities of
this ever-fascinating country somewhat better known to those who speak
the English language, he believes that it is to his favourite mode of
travelling that such good fortune must be largely attributed. His faring on
foot has caused him to see much that he would otherwise have never seen;
it has also widened his knowledge of his fellow-men, and has helped him to
control prejudices which are not to be entirely overcome, but ever remain
an insidious snare to the traveller and student of manners.

E. H. B.

PARIS, _May_, 1894.






I had left the volcanic mountains of Auvergne and had passed through
Mont-Dore and La Bourboule, following the course of the Dordogne that
flowed through the valley with the bounding spirits of a young mountaineer
descending for the first time towards the great plains where the large
towns and cities lie with all their fancied wonders and untasted charm.

But these towns and cities were afar off. The young Dordogne had a very
long journey to make before reaching the plains of Perigord. Nearly the
whole of this distance the stream would have to thread its way through
deep-cut gorges and ravines, where the dense forest reaches down to the
stony channel, save where the walls of rock rising hundreds of feet on
either side are too steep for vegetation. Above the forest and the rock
is the desert moor, horrible to the peasant, but to the lover of nature
beautiful when seen in its dress of purple heather and golden broom.

[Illustration: A BIT OF AUVERGNE.]

I had not been long on the road this day, when I saw coming towards me an
equipage more picturesquely interesting than any I had ever met in the
Champs-Elysees. It was a ramshackle little cart laden with sacks and a
couple of children, and drawn by a pair of shaggy sheep-dogs. Cords served
for harness. A man was running by the side, and it was as much as he could
do to keep up with the animals. This use of dogs is considered cruel in
England, but it often keeps them out of mischief, and I have never seen one
in harness that looked unhappy. Traces must help a dog to grow in his own
esteem, and to work out his ideal of the high destiny reserved for him;
or why does he, when tied under a cart to which a larger quadruped is
harnessed, invariably try to persuade himself and others that he is pulling
the load up the hill, and that the horse or donkey is an impostor?


The width of the Mont-Dore valley decreased rapidly, and I entered the
gorge of the Dordogne, where basaltic rocks were thrown up in savage
grandeur, vividly contrasting with which were bands and patches of meadow,
brilliantly green. Yellow spikes of agrimony and the fine pink flowers of
the musk-mallow mingled with the wiry broom and the waving bracken about
the rocks.

It was September, but the summer heat had returned, and when the road
passed through a beech wood the shade was welcome. Here over the mossy
ground rambled the enchanter's nightshade, still carrying its frail white
flowers, which really have a weird appearance in the twilight of the woods.
The plant has not been called _circe_ without a reason. Under the beeches
there were raspberry canes with some fruit still left upon them. After
leaving the wood, the scene became more wild and craggy. The basalt, bare
and sombre, or sparsely flecked with sedums, their stalks and fleshy leaves
now very red, rose sheer from the middle of the narrow valley, down which
the stream sped like fleeing Arethusa, now turning to the right, now to the
left, foaming over rocks or sparkling like the facets of countless gems
between margins of living green.

Then I left the valley in order to pass through the village of St. Sauve
on the right-hand hill. There was little there worth seeing besides a very
ancient Romanesque archway, or, as some think, detached portico leading to
the church.

Many of the women of St. Sauve wore the black cap or bonnet of Mont-Dore,
which hangs to the shoulders. It is a hideous coiffure, but an interesting
relic of the past. The prototype of it was worn by the chatelaines of the
twelfth century. Then, however, it had a certain stateliness which it lacks
now. It is only to be seen in a very small district.

I consulted some of the people of St. Sauve respecting my plan of following
the Dordogne through its gorges. They did not laugh at me, but they looked
at me in a way which meant that if better brains had not been given to them
than to me their case would be indeed unfortunate. I was advised to see a
cobbler who was considered an authority on the byways of the district. I
found him sitting by the open window of his little shop driving hob-nails
into a pair of Sunday boots. When I told him what I had made up my mind to
do, he shook his head, and, laying down his work, said:

'You will never do it. There are rocks, and rocks, and rocks. Even the
fishermen, who go where anybody can go, do not try to follow the Dordogne
very far. There are ravines--and ravines. _Bon Dieu!_ And the forest! You
will be lost! You will be devoured!'

To be devoured would be the climax of misfortune. I wished to know what
animals would be likely to stop my wayfaring in this effectual manner.

'Are there wolves?'

'No; none have been seen for years.'

'Are there boars?'

'Yes, plenty of them.'

'But boars,' I said, 'are not likely to interfere with me.'

'That is true,' replied the local wiseacre, 'so long as you keep walking;
but if you fall down a rock--ah!'

'I would not care to have you for a companion, with all your local
knowledge,' I thought, as I thanked the cobbler and turned down a very
stony path towards the Dordogne. It is always prudent to follow the advice
of those who are better informed than yourself; but it is much more
amusing--for awhile--to go your own way. I had lunched, and was prepared
to battle with the desert for several hours. It was now past mid-day,
and notwithstanding the altitude, the heat was very great. But for the
discomfort that we endure from the sun's rays we are more than amply
compensated by the pleasure that the recollection brings us in winter, when
the north wind is moaning through the sunless woods and the dreary fog
hangs over the cities. When I again reached the Dordogne there was no
longer any road, but only a rough path through high bracken, heather and
broom. Snakes rustled as I passed, and hid themselves among the stones. The
cobbler had forgotten to include these with the dangers to be encountered.
To my mind they were much more to be dreaded than the boars, for these
stony solitudes swarm with adders, of which the most venomous kind is the
red viper, or _aspic_. Its bite has often proved mortal.

The path entered the forest which covers the steep sides of the
ever-winding gorge of the Dordogne for many leagues, only broken where the
rocks are so nearly vertical that no soil has ever formed upon them, except
in the little crevices and upon the ledges, where the hellebore, the sedum,
the broom, and other unambitious plants which love sterility flourish where
the foot of man has never trod.

The rocks were now of gneiss and mica-schist, and the mica was so abundant
as to cause many a crag and heap of shale to glitter in the sun, as though
there had been a mighty shattering of mirrors here into little particles
which had fallen upon everything. There was, however, no lack of contrast.
To the shining rocks and the fierce sunshine, which seemed to concentrate
its fire wherever it fell in the open spaces of the deep gorge, succeeded
the ancient forest and its cool shade; but the darkly-lying shadows were
ever broken with patches of sunlit turf. Pines and firs reached almost to
the water's edge, and the great age of some of them was a proof of the
little value placed upon timber in a spot so inaccessible. One fir had an
enormous bole fantastically branched like that of an English elm, and
on its mossy bark was a spot such as the hand might cover, fired by a
wandering beam, that awoke recollections of the dream-haunted woods before
the illusion of their endlessness was lost.

The afternoon was not far spent, when I began to feel a growing confidence
in the value of the cobbler's information, and a decreasing belief in my
own powers. It became more and more difficult, then quite impossible,
to keep along the bank of the stream. What is understood by a bank
disappeared, and in its stead were rocks, bare and glittering, on which the
lizards basked, or ran in safety, because they were at home, but which I
could only pass by a flank movement. To struggle up a steep hill, over
slipping shale-like stones, or through an undergrowth of holly and
brambles, then to scramble down and to climb again, repeating the exercise
every few hundred yards, may have a hygienic charm for those who are
tormented by the dread of obesity, but to other mortals it is too
suggestive of a holiday in purgatory.

Having gone on in this fashion for some distance, I lay down, streaming
from every pore, and panting like a hunted hare beside a little rill that
slid singing between margins of moss, amid Circe's white flowers and purple
flashes of cranesbill. Here I examined my scratches and the state of things
generally. The result of my reflections was to admit that the cobbler
was right, that these ravines of the Upper Dordogne were practically
impassable, and that the only rational way of following the river would
be to keep sometimes on the hills and sometimes in the gorge, as the
unforeseen might determine. Hitherto, I had not troubled to inquire where I
should pass the night, and this consideration alone would have compelled
me to depart from my fantastic scheme. After La Bourboule there is not a
village or hamlet in the valley of the Dordogne for a distance of at least
thirty miles, allowing for the winding of the stream.

After a hard climb I reached the plateau, where I saw before me a wide moor
completely covered with bracken and broom. Here I looked at the map, and
decided to make towards a village called Messeix, lying to the east in a
fork formed by the Dordogne and its tributary the Chavannon. Going by the
compass at first, I presently struck a road leading across the moor in the
right direction. I passed through two wretched hamlets, in neither of which
was there an auberge where I could relieve my thirst. At the second one a
cottage was pointed out to me where I was told a woman sold wine. When,
after sinking deep in mud, I found her amidst a group of hovels, and the
preliminary salutation was given, the following conversation passed between

'They tell me you sell wine.'

'They tell you wrong--I don't.'

'Do you sell milk, then?'

'No; I have no beasts.'

As I was going away she kindly explained that she only kept enough wine for
herself. I had evidently not impressed her favourably. Although I think
water a dangerous drink in France, except where it can be received directly
from the hand of Nature, far from human dwellings, I was obliged to beg
some in this place, and run the risk of carrying away unfriendly microbes.

Having left the hovels behind me, the country became less barren or more
cultivated. There were fields of rye, buckwheat, and potatoes, but always
near them lay the undulating moor, gilded over with the flowers of a dwarf
broom. It was evening when I descended into a wide valley from which came
the chime of cattle-bells, mingled with the barking of dogs and the voices
of children, who were driving the animals slowly homeward. There were green
meadows below me, over which was a yellow gleam from the fading afterglow
of sunset, and in the air was that odour which, rising from grassy valleys
at the close of day, even in regions burnt by the southern summer, makes
the wandering Englishman fancy that some wayfaring wind has come laden with
the breath of his native land. Suddenly turning a corner, I so startled a
little peasant girl sitting on a bank in the early twilight with a flock
of goats about her, that she opened her mouth and stared at me as though
Croquemitaine had really shown himself at last. The goats stopped eating,
and fixed upon me their eyes like glass marbles; they, too, thought that I
could be no good.

I hoped that the village of Messeix was in this valley; but no, I had to
cross it and climb the opposite hill. On the other side I found the place
that I had fixed upon for my night quarters.

Very small and very poor, it lies in a region where the land generally is
so barren that but a small part of it has been ever broken by the plough;
where the summers are hot and dry, and the winters long and cruel. Although
in the watershed of the Gironde, it touches Auvergne, and its altitude
makes it partake very much of the Auvergnat climate, which, with the
exception of the favoured Limagne Valley, is harsh, to an extent that has
caused many a visitor to flee from Mont-Dore in the month of August. In the
deep gorges of the Dordogne and its tributaries, the snow rarely lies more
than a few days upon the ground, whereas upon the wind-swept plateau above
the scanty population have to contend with the rigours of that French
Siberia which may be said to commence here on the west, and to extend
eastward over the whole mass of metamorphic and igneous rocks, which is
termed the great central plateau of France, although it lies far south of
the true centre of the country.

At the first auberge where I applied for a night's lodging, an elderly
woman with a mournful face declined to take me in, and gave no reason. When
I had left, she came after me and said, with her eyes full of tears:

'I have a great trouble in the house, that is why I sent you away.'

I understood what she meant; somebody dear to her was dying. A man who was
listening said his brother-in-law, the baker, was also an innkeeper, and he
offered to take me to the auberge. I gladly consented, for I was fearful of
being obliged to tramp on to some other place. Presently I was in a large,
low room, which was both kitchen and baker's shop. On shelves were great
wheel-shaped loaves (they are called _miches_ in the provinces), some about
two feet in diameter, made chiefly of rye with a little wheaten flour.
Filled sacks were ranged along the wall. In a deep recess were the
kneading-trough, and the oven, now cold. The broad rural hearth, with its
wood-fire and sooty chimney, the great pot for the family soup hanging to a
chain, took up a large share of the remaining space. I sat upon a rickety
chair beside a long table that had seen much service, but was capable of
seeing a great deal more, for it had been made so as to outlast generations
of men. Bare-footed children ran about upon the black floor, and a thin,
gaunt young woman, who wore very short petticoats, which revealed legs not
unlike those of the table, busied herself with the fire and the pot. She
was the sister of the children, and had been left in charge of the house
while her father and mother were on a journey. She accepted me as a lodger,
but for awhile she was painfully taciturn. This, however, her scanty
knowledge of French, and the fact that a stranger even of the class of
small commercial travellers was a rare bird in the village, fully accounted
for. The place was not cheerful, but as I listened to the crickets about
the hearth, and watched the flames leap up and lick the black pot, my
spirits rose. Presently the church bell sounded, dong, dong, dong.

'Why are they tolling the bell?' I asked.

'Because,' replied the gaunt young woman, 'a man has died in the village.'

By pressing her to speak, she explained that while a corpse lay unburied
the bell was tolled three times in the day--early in the morning, at
mid-day, and at nightfall. The conversation was in darkness, save such
light as the fire gave. It was not until the soup was ready that the lamp
was lighted. Then the young woman, addressing me abruptly, said:

'Cut up your bread for your soup.'

I did as I was told, for I always try to accommodate myself to local
customs, and never resent the rough manners of well-intentioned people. The
bread was not quite black, but it was very dark from the amount of rye that
was in it. The soup was water flavoured with a suggestion of fat bacon,
whatever vegetables happened to be in the way, and salt. This fluid, poured
over bread--when the latter is not boiled with it--is the chief sustenance
of the French peasant. It was all that the family now had for their evening
meal, and in five minutes everyone had finished. They drank no wine; it
was too expensive for them, the nearest vineyard being far away. A bottle,
however, was placed before me, but the quality was such that I soon left
it. To get some meat for me the village had to be scoured, and the result
was a veal cutlet.

I was not encouraged to sit up late. As the eldest daughter of the inn
showed me my night quarters, she said:

'Your room is not beautiful, but the bed is clean.'

This was quite true. The room, in accordance with a very frequent
arrangement in these rural auberges, was not used exclusively for sleeping
purposes, but also for the entertainment of guests, especially on fair and
market days, when space is precious. There was a table with a bench for the
use of drinkers. There were, moreover, three beds, but I was careful to
ascertain that none would be occupied except by myself. I would sooner
have slept on a bundle of hay in the loft than have had an unknown person
snoring in the same room with me. One has always some prejudice to
overcome. The bed was not soft, and the hempen sheets were as coarse as
canvas, but these trifles did not trouble me. I listened to the song of
the crickets on the hearth downstairs until drowsiness beckoned sleep and
consciousness of the present lost its way in sylvan labyrinths by the

At six o'clock the next morning I was walking about the village, and I
entered the little church, already filled with people. It was Sunday, and
this early mass was to be a funeral one. The man for whom the bell was
tolled last night was soon brought in, the coffin swathed in a common
sheet. It was borne up the nave towards the catafalque, the rough carpentry
of which showed how poor the parish was. Following closely was an old and
bent woman with her head wrapped in a black shawl. She had hardly gone a
few steps, when her grief burst out into the most dismal wailing I had ever
heard, and throughout the service her melancholy cries made other women
cover their faces, and tears start from the eyes of hard-featured,
weather-beaten men.

[Illustration: A MOORLAND WIDOW.]

Most of the women present wore the very ugly headgear which is the most
common of all in Auvergne and the Correze, namely, a white cap covered by
a straw bonnet something of the coal-scuttle pattern. There were many
communicants at this six o'clock mass, and what struck me as being the
reverse of what one might suppose the right order of things, was that the
women advanced in life wore white veils as they knelt at the altar rails,
while those worn by the young, whose troubles were still to come, were
black. These veils were carried in the hand during the earlier part of the
rite. Throughout a very wide region of Southern France the custom prevails.
The church belonged to different ages. Upon the exterior of the Romanesque
apse were uncouth carvings in relief of strange animal figures. They were
more like lions than any other beasts, but their outlines were such as
children might have drawn.

I returned to the inn. The baker had come back, and was preparing to heat
his oven with dry broom. I learned that he had not only to bake the bread
that he sold, but also the coarser rye loaves which were brought in by
those who had their own flour, but no oven. Three francs was the charge for
my dinner, bed, and breakfast. The score settled and civilities exchanged,
I walked out of Messeix, expecting to strike the valley of the Dordogne not
very far to the south. The landscape was again that of the moorland. On
each side of the long, dusty line called a road spread the brown turf,
spangled with the pea-flowers of the broom or stained purple with heather.
There were no trees, but two wooden crosses standing against the gray sky
looked as high as lofty pines. I met little bands of peasants hurrying
to church, and I reached the village of Savennes just before the _grand
messe_. Many people were sitting or standing outside the church--even
sitting on the cemetery wall. When the bell stopped and they entered,
literally like a flock of sheep into a fold, all could not find room
inside, so the late-comers sat upon the ground in the doorway, or as near
as they could get to it. As the people inside knelt or stood, so did they
who had been left, not out in the cold, but in the heat, for the sun had
broken through the mist, and the weather was sultry. As I walked round the
church I found women sitting with open books and rosaries in their hands
near the apse, amidst the yarrow and mulleins of forgotten grave mounds.
They were following the service by the open window. I lingered about the
cemetery reading the quaint inscriptions and noting the poor emblems upon
wooden crosses not yet decayed, picking here and there a wild flower, and
watching the butterflies and bees until the old priest, who was singing the
mass in a voice broken by time, having called upon his people to 'lift up
their hearts,' they answered: '_Habemus ad Dominum_.'

I had a simple lunch at a small inn in this village, where I was watched
with much curiosity by an old man in a blouse with a stiff shirt-collar
rising to his ears, and a nightcap with tassel upon his head. The widow who
kept the inn had a son who offered to walk with me as far as some chapel
in the gorge of the Chavannon. We were not long in reaching the gorge, the
view of which from the edge of the plateau was superbly savage. Descending
a very rugged path through the forest that covered the sides of the deep
fissure, save where the stark rock refused to be clothed, we came to a
small chapel, centuries old, under a natural wall of gneiss, but deep in
the shade of overhanging boughs. It was dedicated to St. John the Baptist,
and on St. John's Day mass was said in it, and the spot was the scene of a
pilgrimage. Outside was a half-decayed moss-green wooden platform on which
the priest stood while he preached to the assembled pilgrims. The young
man left me, and I went on alone into the more sombre depths of the gorge,
where I reached the single line of railway that runs here through some of
the wildest scenery in France. I kept on the edge of it, where walking,
although very rough, was easier than on the steep side of the split that
had here taken place in the earth's crust. Upon the narrow stony strip of
comparatively level ground the sun's rays fell with concentrated ardour,
and along it was a brilliant bloom of late summer flowers--of camomile, St.
John's wort, purple loosestrife, hemp-agrimony and lamium. At almost every
step there was a rustle of a lizard or a snake. The melancholy cry of the
hawk was the only sound of bird-life. Near rocks of dazzling mica-schist
was a miserable hut with a patch of buckwheat reaching to the stream. A man
standing amidst the white flowers of the late-sown crop said, in answer to
my questioning, that I could not possibly reach the village of Port-Dieu
without walking upon the line and through the tunnels.

When I had left him about fifty yards behind, his curiosity proved more
than he could bear in silence; so he called out to me, in the bad French
that is spoken hereabouts by those who use it only as the language of
strangers: '_Quel metier que vous faites?_'

I waved my hand in reply and left him to his conjectures.

On I went, now over the glittering stones, now wading through the pink
flowers of saponaria, then in a mimic forest of tall angelica by the
water's edge, until I realized that the peasant's information was
sound--that it was impossible to walk through this gorge except upon the

Presently the rocks rose in front of me and the line disappeared into the
darkness of a tunnel. I did not like the idea of entering this black hole,
for I had brought no candle with me, but the prospect of climbing the rocks
was still more forbidding. It proved to be a short and straight tunnel with
daylight shining at the farther end. After this came another short one, but
the third was much longer and had a curve; consequently I was soon in total
darkness. The only danger to be feared was a passing train, so I felt with
my stick for the wires between the rock and the metals, and crept along by
them. From being broiled by the sun ten minutes before I was now shivering
from the cold. I longed to see again the flowers basking under the warm
sky, and to hear the grasshoppers' happy song. By-and-by I saw the blessed
light flashing at the end of the black bore. When I came out again into the
sunshine, I was following, not the Chavannon, but the Dordogne.

The gorge widened into a valley, where there were scattered cottages, cows,
sheep, and goats. Here I found a fair road on the western side of the
river, in the department of the Correze, and being now free of mind, I
loitered on the way, picking strawberries and watching the lizards. It
was dark when, descending again to the level of the Dordogne, I sought a
lodging in the little village of Port-Dieu. I stopped at a cottage inn,
where an old man soon set to work at the wood-fire and cooked me a dinner
of eggs and bacon and fried potatoes. He was a rough cook, but one very
anxious to please. The room where I passed the night had a long table in
it, and benches. There was no blanket on the bed, only a sheet and a heavy
patchwork quilt. Ah, yes, there was something else, carefully laid upon the
quilt. This was a linen bag without an opening, which, when spread out,
tapered towards the ends. Had I not known something about the old-fashioned
nightcap, I should have puzzled a long time before discovering what I was
expected to do with this object. The matter is simple to those who know
that the cap is formed by turning one of the ends in. There were mosquitoes
in the room, but they sang me to sleep, and if they amused themselves at my
expense afterwards, I was quite unconscious of it.

The murmur of the rushing Dordogne mingled not unpleasantly with the
impressions of dreams as I awoke. I got up and opened the small worm-eaten
window-frame. High thatched roofs, not many yards in front, were covered
with moss, which the morning rays, striking obliquely, painted the heavenly
green of Beatrice's mantle. Down the narrow road goats were passing,
followed by a sunburnt girl with a barge-like wooden shoe at the end of
each of her bare brown legs. The pure, life-giving air that entered by the
window made the blood glow with a better warmth than that of sparkling
wine. I soon went outside to see something of the place which I had entered
in the darkness.

I found that the village was built partly in the bottom of the gorge and
partly on one of its craggy sides. Closely hemmed in by rocks and high
hills overgrown with forest was a bright and fertile little valley, with
abundance of pear and walnut trees, luxuriant cottage-gardens, and little
fields by the flashing torrent, where shocks of lately-cut buckwheat stood
with their heads together waiting for the warm September hours to ripen
their black grain.

Many of the houses were half hidden in leafy bowers. I threaded my way
between these towards some ivy-draped fragments of an ancient priory upon a
mass of rock much overgrown with brambles glistening with blackberries
and briars decked with coral-red hips. Before descending to the road and
beginning the day's journey I indulged for a little while the musing mood
of the solitary wanderer in the grassy burying-ground on the edge of the

I started for Bort ere the intensely blue sky began to pale before the
increasing brilliancy of the sun. The road ran along the bottom of the deep
valley, where there was change of scene with every curve of the Dordogne. A
field of maize showed how different was the climate here from that of the
bleak plateau above the deep rift in the rocks. I stopped beside a little
runnel that came down from the wooded heights to pick some flowers of
yellow balsam, and while there my eye fell upon a splendid green lizard
basking in the sun. Here was another proof of the warm temperature of the
valley, notwithstanding its altitude. As I went on I skirted long fields of
buckwheat upon the slope, but reaching only a little way upwards. The white
waxen flowers had turned, or were turning, rusty; but what a variety of
beautiful colour was on the stems and leaves! Greens and yellows passed
into carmine, purple, and burnt sienna. A field of ripening buckwheat has a
charm of warm colour that gladdens the eye, especially when the morning or
evening sunshine is upon it. But this glow of many tints was a sure sign
of approaching autumn; so, too, were the reddened stalks of persicaria,
filling the dry ditches by the wayside.

The valley narrowed, and upon its rocky sides was many a patch of purple
heather--little gardens for the wild bees, but not for man. Neither peasant
nor local Nimrod ever sets his foot there. Still higher, the outlines of
the topmost crags were drawn hard against the sky, for there was no vapour
in the air. Verily, the ground seemed quite alive with brown lizards
darting along at my approach and raising little clouds of dust, whilst
blue-winged grasshoppers--which, perhaps, would be more correctly described
as locusts--crossed and recrossed the road in one flight. In the midst of
such beautiful scenery, and with such happy creatures for companions, I
felt no wish to hurry. Moreover, the blackberries sometimes tempted me to
loiter. If they are unwholesome, as French peasants often maintain, I
ought to have been dead long ago. Strange that this prejudice should be
so general in France with regard to the fruit of so harmless a tribe. But
these same peasants gather the leaves of the bramble to make a decoction
for sore throat. I passed a cottage that had a vine-trellis, the first I
had seen on this side of the Auvergne mountains, and it was half surrounded
by a forest of beans in full flower on very high sticks. In a sunny space
was a row of thatched beehives.

After walking some eight miles, I was not unwilling to take advantage of
a village inn. Here I had a meal of bacon and eggs, haricots, cheese and
walnuts, with some rather rough Limousin wine. I soon became aware that
there was something amiss in the rustic auberge, and catching a dim glimpse
of a figure lying in a bed in a small room adjoining, I asked the young
woman who waited upon me if anybody was ill there. 'Yes,' she replied
dolefully. Then I learnt from her that her father, struck with apoplexy,
was lying in a state that was hopeless. There is no escaping the
mournfulness of life. When our minds are least clouded the shadow of death
suddenly stands between us and the sunshine. I was in no mood to linger at
the table.

What a relief to be out again in the sunshine and the light air, to see
the Dordogne flashing through meadows where women were haymaking with bare

It was early in the afternoon when I entered the small but active town of
Bort. The burg is only interesting by its exceedingly picturesque situation
on the right bank of the Dordogne, under a very high hill, capped by a
basaltic table, which is flanked towards the town, or rather a little to
the south of it, by a long row of stupendous columns of basalt, known as
the _Orgues de Bort_, from their resemblance at a distance to organ-pipes.
The basalt here is of a reddish yellow. The table, with its igneous
crystallizations, lies upon the metamorphic rock.

I decided to climb to the summit of the prodigious organ-pipes, and to look
at the world from that remarkable point of view. For the greater part of
the distance the way lay up a tiresome winding road on the side of the
hill. A woman, who was tying buckwheat into sheaves, said the distance was
'three small quarters of an hour.' It would have been simpler arithmetic to
have said 'half an hour,' but the peasant thinks it safer not to be
more explicit than he or she can help. Experience has taught me that
'three-quarters of an hour,' whether they are called little or not, mean an
hour or more, and that 'five quarters of an hour' mean an hour and a half,
or even two hours. I passed a team of bullocks descending from the moor
with loads of dry broom for the bakers, headed by a little old man in a
great felt hat, with a long goad in his hand, with which he tickled up the
yoked beasts occasionally, not because they needed it, but from force of
habit. This goad, by-the-bye, is a slender stick about six feet long, with
a short nail at one end, so fastened that the point is turned outwards.
A bullock is not goaded from behind, but from the front between the
shoulder-blades, and it generally suffices for the animal to see a man in
front of him with a stick. Instead of drawing back, as might be supposed,
he steps forward at his best pace. Cows and bulls are harnessed, to the
wain and plough as well as oxen; they have all to work for their living.
English cattle are allowed to grow fat in idleness, and their troubles do
not begin until the time comes for them to be eaten. It is otherwise in

On the banks were fragrant, mauve-coloured pinks, with ragged petals; but
at the foot of the _Orgues_ was a rocky waste, where little grew besides
the sombre holly and fetid hellebore.

The view from the top of the cliff made me fully realize the wildness, the
sterility, the desolation of nature in this region. Beyond the valley far
beneath me where the Dordogne lay, a glittering thread, was the department
of the Cantal. The whole southern and eastern prospect was broken up by
innumerable savage, heath-covered or rocky hills, with little green valleys
or dense woods filling the hollows, the southern horizon being closed by
the wavy blue line of the Cantal mountains. To the north-east the sky-line
was marked by the Mont-Dore range, with the highest peak of Auvergne, the
Puy de Sancy, clearly visible against the lighter blue of the cloudless
air. The feeling that prevailed throughout this wide expanse of country was
solemn sternness.

I returned to Bort, and as there were still about two hours of light left,
I crossed the river and went in search of the cascades, two or three
miles from the town, formed by the Rue in its wild impatience to meet the
Dordogne. When I was skirting the buckwheat fields of the valley in the
calm open country, there was a sweet and tender glow of evening sunshine
upon the purple-tinted sheaves standing with their heads together. The
Titan-strewn rocks felt it likewise with all their heather and broom. There
was no husbandman in the plain, no song of the solitary goat-girl, no creak
of the plough, no twitter even of a bird. It was not yet the hour when
Virgil says every field is silent, but the repose of nature had commenced.

The dusk was falling when I reached a silk-mill by the side of the Rue,
and passed up the deep gorge full of shadows, led by the sound of roaring
waters. A narrow path winding under high rocks of porphyritic gneiss
brought me to the cascade called the Saut de la Saule, where the river,
divided into two branches by a vast block, leaps fifteen or twenty feet
into a deep basin to whirl and boil with fury, then dashes onward down the
stony channel, to leap again into the air and fall into another basin.

[Illustration: THE VALLEY OF THE RUE.]

I reached a rock in the channel by means of a tree that had been laid
between it and the bank, and stood in the midst of the seething, broken
torrent, from which arose that saddening odour which water in wild
commotion gives forth when daylight is dying and the darkened trees stand
like mourning plumes. On either hand the forest-covered sides of the ravine
and their savage crags seemed to reach higher as they grew darker. Where
was I? There was a tree hard by that looked very like the infernal elm
beneath whose leaves the vain dreams cluster; but it was probably an oak.


The night being passed at Bort, the next morning I continued my journey by
the Dordogne. Again the sky was cloudless. I kept on the right bank of the
river--the Limousin side, leaving the Cantal to some future day, that may
never come. A little beyond the spot where the Dordogne and the Rue met
and embraced uproariously, the path entered a narrow lane bordered by tall
hedges chiefly of hazel and briar overclimbed by wild clematis--well termed
the traveller's joy, for it is a beautiful plant that reminds many a
wanderer of his far-away home.

[Illustration: A WOMAN OF THE CORREZE.]

Then I passed under precipitous naked rocks, with the river on the other
hand, skirted by low bushes of twiggy willow that looked like tamarisk from
a distance. The sun was now hot, and the ground was again all astir with
lizards. Looking upon the path just in front of me, I brought myself to a
sudden stop. Had I advanced a step or two more I could hardly have failed
to tread upon a serpent that lay dozing in the sun just in my way. I was
glad that I did not do so, for I recognised it, by its olive skin with
reddish patches, as the dreaded _aspic_, or red viper. There it lay
stretched out its full length, about a foot and a half, either asleep or
enjoying the morning sun so much that it was in no humour to move. I do
not kill snakes indiscriminately, like the peasants whenever they get the
chance, but this one being dangerous, I resolved that it should never
take another sun-bath. After being roused by a blow, the creature did not
attempt to run, but did battle bravely, fiercely striking at the stick.

The path I had been following with so much confidence dwindled away and was
lost. Again the gorge became a deep rift in the rocks, which left no margin
on which one could walk. The only way to follow the windings of the stream
would have been to wade or swim. Once more I had to own myself beaten
by natural obstacles. The Dordogne is a river that cannot be followed
throughout its savage wildernesses, except perhaps in a light flat-bottomed
boat, and then not without serious difficulties. Anglers might have
splendid sport here until they broke their necks, for the trout abound
where the shadow of a man seldom or never falls. In the neighbourhood of
towns and large villages the fishing is often spoilt by the casting-net.

Having realized the situation, I turned my back to the stream and commenced
climbing the steep side of the gorge, choosing a spot where it was well
wooded, for the sake of the foothold. For some distance the ground was
green with moss and wood-sorrel; but the tug-of-war came when the vast
banks of loose stones--hot, bare, and shale-like--were reached. On gaining
the plateau, I threw myself down upon the heather and looked at the scene
below. The mingling of rock, forest, and stream was superbly desolate. Even
the naked steeps of slate-coloured broken stone had an impressive grandeur
of their own.

Leaving the Dordogne with the intention of cutting off a wide bend and
meeting it again the next day or the day after, I struck across the
half-cultivated open country, hoping soon to find a village; for I had
spent much time in the gorge and made very little progress, while the sun
had moved nearly up to the centre of his arc. The rays fell fiercely,
and there was no shade upon the plateau. There was a road, but it was
abominable. Only tramps understand the luxury of-walking upon a good road.

I came to a hamlet that looked very miserable. The daily toil had scattered
the men afield, and only a few women were to be seen. Not one of them wore
a stocking, nor even a wooden shoe. Some to whom I spoke did not understand
me; those who understood told me that there was no inn in the place--that
there was no one who could give me a meal. One of them must have thought
that I was begging my way, or was exceedingly hard up, for she said: 'Ah!
mon pauvre ami, vous etes dans un malheureux pays.'

Continuing, I came to a village which was not shown on my map. Here I
learnt there was a single auberge, which was also the tobacco shop and
grocery of the place. It was kept by an old man who lived alone. This
inn was a cottage without any sign over it. I tried the door, but it was
locked, and nobody responded to the noise I made. It took me half an hour
to find the solitary at the farther end of the village. He returned with
me, and, opening the door, we both entered the only room of the cottage. It
was shop, bedroom, and kitchen. There was a bed against the wall, and near
the window was a small stock of tobacco, snuff, and groceries all mixed up.
My host's back was much bent and his face deeply furrowed. He wore a shirt
with a high collar, and a blue waistcoat. He was an honest, kindly man,
and seemed to take pleasure in doing what he could for me apart from the
thought of gaining by it.

In the way of food he had only eggs, bread, cheese, and butter. It was
decided that he should fry some eggs. He lighted some sticks upon the
hearth, and there was soon a good blaze; then he laid his great frying-pan
upon it, resting the long handle upon a chair. While the butter was
melting, he opened a trap-door in the floor and went down a ladder into his
cellar. Presently he reappeared with a litre of wine, and having set
this before me, he proceeded to crack the eggs and empty them into the
frying-pan. As a cook he had no pretensions, but he knew how to fry eggs.
When my meal was ready, and he had placed everything before me upon the
bare board, he sat at a little distance eating a dry old crust with a piece
of goat cheese. This was his lunch. I insisted upon his sharing the wine
with me, and this little attention made him thoroughly confiding and

He was left a widower, he told me, with four children, at the age of
thirty-eight, and he would not take a second wife because, his father
having done so, he remembered the trials and tribulations of his own
childhood which came of his having 'a mother who was not a mother.' He said
to himself, 'My children shall not run the risk of going through what I
went through.' He toiled on alone, brought up his family himself, added
to his bit of land in course of years, and acquired other property. His
children were now all settled in life, and he had given them everything he
had except the cottage in which he lived. I was struck by the strong virtue
of this illiterate peasant, who had evidently no notion of his own value,
and who would not have told the simple story of his life passed amidst the
moors of the Correze had I not drawn it from him.

[Illustration: A PEASANT OF THE MOORS.]

As I watched the old man, prematurely bent by labour, eating his hard
crust, cheerful and contented, after giving to others the fruit of his many
years of toil, I thought, 'If man were nothing but an animal, such a life
would be not only absurd, but impossible.' Another glass of wine made my
host and cook still more talkative. He told me that not long ago he had
walked from this village to Tulle, distant about thirty-five miles, to
see a soldier son who was to pass through the place with his regiment. He
started at three in the morning and arrived at five in the afternoon, but
was only able to exchange a few words with his son. They could not even
'break a crust' together. The old man then turned his face towards his
village, and walked the whole night.

'I hope your son would walk as far to see you,' I said, with a little
scepticism in my mind.

This is what he replied, almost word for word:

'Ah! children do not do for their parents what their parents do for them.
The commandment says, 'Honour your father and your mother'--not honour your
children. Nevertheless, it is the parents who deny themselves the most. As
soon as your children are married they generally forget you.

Perhaps if I had married again I should be happier now. All the same, I
am contented. I can keep myself. When I am no longer able to take care of
myself, my children must do something for me.'

I confess that I was sorry when the time came for me to leave this old man,
knowing well that I should never see again his rugged face and his kind
eyes twinkling under their shaggy brows. Perhaps he, too, had some such
regret, for we had had a long talk, and he may have tired out all his other
listeners, especially those of his own family. When a man has grown old
and is near the end, it would often be better for him to go out into the
wilderness and talk to the rocks and trees than to repeat the stories of
his life upon his own hearth-stone. Before I left the peasant fetched a
bottle, which he only brought out on rare occasions, and insisted upon my
drinking a parting glass with him.

I passed through another hamlet where there was a high wooden cross. There
were walnut-trees, and men were knocking down the nuts. The women here wore
wide-brimmed black straw hats over white caps. I soon left these figures
behind, and was alone in a birch-wood, where there were many yellow leaves
between me and the blue sky. Then I met the road to Neuvic, and following
it came to the Artaud, a tributary of the Dordogne, threading its way
through deep ravines, amidst wild rocks, dark woods, and bracken-covered
steeps. The road crossed the ravine upon a bridge of three arches.

The scene was one to raise the mind above common things. The stream rushed
madly down the rocky chasm with a mighty roar, now losing itself in the
leafy vaults of overhanging trees, now reappearing like a torrent of fire
where the glorious lustre of the September sun struck it and mingled with

As I ascended the opposite hill a still deeper ravine came into view,
wooded down to the water and all in dark shadow, except a rocky ridge
facing the sinking sun and bathed in warm light.

When the top of the hill had been reached, an old man, who wore a large and
very weather-beaten felt hat, was sitting on the step of a wayside cross
with a flock of geese feeding around him. Next I passed a bare-footed
_cantonnier_ breaking stones, and he told me that if I made
haste I might reach Neuvic before dark. On the outskirts of a
village--Roche-le-Peyroux--a wandering tinker and his boy were at work
by the side of the road with fire and bellows, and I felt a trampish or
romantic desire to stay with them awhile in the cheerful glow; but thinking
of the coming night, I smothered the impulse.

Upon the moor which I was now traversing was a very old stone cross, upon
which the figure of the Saviour was rudely carved in relief. The form was
so uncouth as to be scarcely human. The head was half as wide again as the
space across the shoulders, and the hands were nearly as large as the head.
How many centuries ago did Christian piety raise this rough image of its
hope upon the moors amidst the purple heather and the yellow broom?

The road crossed another stream not far from the spot where it fell into
the Dordogne. There was a wooded quietude here, with an odour of fresh
grass and water that enticed me to linger; but the evening light in the
tops of the trees and the twittering of the birds settling amongst the
leaves for the night spurred me on. I had walked many miles since the
morning, but had made very little way according to the map, so full of
deception is this wild Limousin country to the wanderer who does not know
it. I had still some eight miles to walk before reaching Neuvic.

There was a little mill at the bottom of the grassy valley, but it seemed
deserted by all living creatures save a dog. This rather large and shaggy
animal seized the rare opportunity that was now offered him for a little
excitement. Not satisfied with barking at me furiously from his own ground,
he followed me about a mile up the hill I had now to climb, but without
venturing very near. At length I thought I had had enough of his company,
so at the next bend in the road I came to a stand beside a heap of stones
that a _cantonnier_ had neatly piled up in geometrical pattern. There I
waited, and the animal came on gaily, little expecting to find himself
suddenly at close quarters with me. Just as he turned the corner he raised
a howl that said he was both surprised and shocked. Skipping with great
agility, he avoided the next stone, and the expression of his face told me
that he was already feeling very home-sick. He turned tail as quick as he
could, and used very bad dog-language as the stones followed him down the
hill. As a rule, dogs lose all their courage when they are out of sight of
their own homes, unless someone whom they know well is near at hand to give
them confidence in themselves.

I am again upon the moor. There is a deep silence over the heather, for the
last bees have left the pink and purple bells. But there is still a wan
glow in the air, which gives a sad beauty to the quiet, mournful land. A
boy is returning with some cattle after spending the day upon the heath,
and he sings as he thinks of his poor home, the blazing sticks on the
hearth, the soup, the buckwheat cake, or the potatoes. Through a mask of
silver birches I see a solemn ruddy light as of a funeral-torch in the far
western sky. The breath of evening is made sweeter by the odour wafted from
some distant fresh-cut grass or broom that has been drying in the September
sun. A field-cricket, waking up, breaks the silence with its shrill cry
that is quickly taken up by others near at hand and far away in the dusk.
The light and colour of the day are now gone, but there is one beautiful
star flashing in front of me like a lamp of the sanctuary when the vaulted
minster is filled with shadow.

The rest of the walk to Neuvic was by night. The first auberge I entered in
this small town of some three thousand inhabitants was a little too rough
even for me. The family were at dinner, or at supper, as they would say,
eating upon the bare board, without plates, potatoes boiled in their skins.
I do not doubt there were hollows cut in the table to serve instead of
plates, for this primitive contrivance still lingers in the wildest parts
of the Limousin. In answer to my inquiry as to bed accommodation, I was
told that I should have to sleep in the same room with others, probably the
whole family. I had sufficient taste for civilization left to decline the
proposed arrangement, and went in search of another inn.

Happily there was one, and of a better sort. It was thoroughly rustic, but
there was not the squalor I had just encountered. In the kitchen, paved
with small pebbles, two months' accumulation of used linen had been pressed
down in an old wine-cask, and boiling water was now being poured upon it
through a cloth covered with a layer of wood ashes. In these rural places
the washing-day is usually once in two or three months. This simplifies
matters, but it needs a considerable stock of linen, which, by-the-bye,
peasants generally possess. The wash-house odour that arose from the
_lessive_ was not grateful, but I tried to accommodate myself to it. On the
floor was a baby swaddled up, and tightly fitted into a small wooden cradle
on huge rockers--a cradle that might have served for scores of babies,
and been none the worse for wear. Although the fire on the hearth looked
tempting, the proximity of the wine-cask and the linen that was being
purified with potash made me glad to hear that my meal would be served in
another room.

Considering the region, the dinner was not a bad one. I had soup, veal,
eggs, and a fair wine. I had also a companion, but would rather have been
without him. He was a young man, whose appearance gained by the contrast of
a dusty wayfarer's, and he gave himself airs accordingly. I set him down as
a petty functionary of the place, and a _pensionnaire_ of the auberge.
All the time I was with him his mind was exceedingly restless as to my
intentions and business in those parts, and such explanations as I gave
him to appease his insatiable curiosity and awkwardly-veiled suspicion
evidently left him unsatisfied.

The next morning the hostess brought out her police register for me to
enter my name, nationality, age, profession, destination, etc. I had no
doubt that my acquaintance of the night before had reminded her of this
little formality in order that he might afterwards see what I had written.
All innkeepers in France are liable to a fine if they do not make every
traveller who passes the night with them leave this record of himself for
inspection, but the formality is much more often omitted than observed. I
have not been able to overcome my English dislike of the practice, which
is annoying and useless, like much more that belongs to the French
administrative system.

By daylight I found Neuvic to be a cheerful, pleasant little town, with
a venerable-looking old church, apparently of the twelfth century. It is
entered by a cavernous portal under a very massive low tower, but the
interior shows little of interest. What struck me, however, as something
quite uncommon was a small altar in the centre of the nave just below the
sanctuary. Upon it was an image of the Virgin, which a boy told me had been
found in a neighbouring wood about a century ago.

On leaving Neuvic I noticed a woman carrying to the baker's a large dish
of edible _boleti_, known to the French as _cepes_. This excellent fungus
during the late summer and autumn is a very important article of food in
France wherever there are extensive chestnut-woods. The orange mushroom is
also much eaten in the same regions, for it likewise loves the chestnut
forest; but it may be mistaken by those who do not know the signs for
its relative, the crimson-capped fly-agaric, one of the most deadly of

After seeing the dish of _cepes_, I was not surprised to find many
chestnut-trees along the road that I now took to St. Pantaleon. The country
was less barren than that which I had passed over the day before. Although
there was much heather, broom and furze, trees and pasture broke the
monotony of the moorland. Here was the better Limousin landscape--every
knoll and mamelon covered with heather and other moor-plants, woods and
meadows in the dells and dips. The numerous clumps of silver birches, and
the gorse arrayed in its new flowers of bright gold, added to the charm of
the sunlit scene.

To me the weather was all the more delightful by being very warm, for I had
run away from winter on the Auvergne mountains. The whirring noise of the
grasshoppers as they flew across the road, and the tremulous sheen of
their wings, coloured like blooming lavender, brought back to me the best
recollections of other wayfaring days in the warm South, when all these
things were new, and the sight feasted upon them with the eagerness of bees
that suck the first flowers of spring.

I passed a little field of buckwheat that had been cut some days and had
fully ripened. A woman was threshing out the grain with a flail upon a
spread canvas, surrounded by a circle of purple-tinted cones, the sheaves
leaning together. Now the wide level moor returned, but Nature was not
quite the same here as she had been before. The vast expanse was dotted
over with dark little juniper bushes. These were covered with berries which
nobody seemed to think worth the picking. Rock-cist flourished, starring
the turf all over with its yellow discs. This moor was an absolute desert.

Long I walked without seeing another human being. At length I met a woman
carrying a distaff, and tried to get into conversation with her, but it was
impossible; she could not speak a word of French, and I knew nothing of her
Limousin patois.

By steadfastly following the road, I came to the village of St. Pantaleon,
on the brow of a hill overlooking the Luxege, and stopped at a wayside inn.
It was a poor auberge; but there was an air of reaching toward some ideal
of superior life and softened manners that made itself felt in small
ways not to be described with any certainty, but none the less real. The
innkeeper, who was also a peasant-farmer, possessed the doubtful blessing
of a mind that rose above what the logic of his existence, sternly bound
to a plot of grudging soil and the petty needs of still poorer neighbours,
demanded of it. He was blessed or afflicted with that hunger of knowledge
and refinement which lifts and casts down, rejoices and saddens. He knew
that such ambition with regard to himself was vain, that it was his destiny
to live out his days on the edge of a moor in the Correze, and that it was
his duty to thank Heaven that he was sheltered and had sufficient food,
fuel, and clothing for himself and his family: all this he knew, and he
accepted his lot bravely. But the fire was only damped down; it glowed
in its hidden heart, and strove for a vent. It was not lighted without a
purpose. The peasant had a son, to whom the flame had been passed on; for
he aimed at the priesthood. This has ever been a refuge of ambitious minds
that cannot rise by any other means above the dullness of the peasant's
life, which is the more endurable the more the man is able to place himself
upon the animal level of his plodding ox. The son was being educated in a
seminary, but he was now home for the holidays. Presently he appeared. He
was a youth of about nineteen, wearing a blouse like any other peasant.
There was certainly nothing in his appearance to indicate that he
was destined for the cure of souls. The proud father said: 'He is in
philosophy.' The young man had a twinkle in his eye that might have been
philosophical. Neither of them had a suspicion of the vanity concealed in
the high-sounding phrase.

But I am forgetting to say anything about what was more important to me
than aught else at that time. I had to eat and drink in order to look at
nature with an admiring eye, note the interwoven aims and motives and
troubled duties of human life; to be 'in philosophy' after my own humble
fashion. My meal was chiefly of fried eggs and ham, the latter nearly as
hard as leather. I ate in a small room where there was a bed with a red
curtain. No knife was given me, for in these out-of-the-way inns you are
expected to carry your knife in your pocket, which a century ago was the
case in most of the French hostelries. In the remotely rural districts the
ways of life have changed very slightly in a hundred years. But, if
the knife was overlooked, the white napkin and small tablecloth were
remembered. While talking with the _aubergiste_ over the coffee--there was
really some coffee here that was not made either from acorns or beans--he
told me, as an example of the low rate of wages in the district, that a
road--mender, who worked in all weathers, was paid forty francs a month.
In the whole commune there were only two or three persons who had wine in
their houses. He lent me his two sons--the _seminariste_ and his young
brother--to walk with me as far as the Luxege, and put me on the path to La
Page, at which village I proposed to pass the night.

As we left, a grand expanse of chestnut forest came into view, following
the hills that bordered the curved line of the Luxege. The little river,
like all the tributaries of the upper Dordogne, runs at the bottom of a
deep gorge. Standing upon the brink of it, I perceived that I was about
to enter another sylvan solitude of enchanting beauty. The dense forest
descended the abrupt escarpments to the channel and hid the stream, and
over the leafy masses was that play of sunshine, shadow, and thin vapour
which I had so often watched in a dreamily joyous mood lying at the foot of
some pine in the Vosges.

About half-way down the gorge was a ruinous Romanesque chapel upon a rock,
the polygonal apse being on the very edge of a precipice. At each exterior
angle of the imperfect polygon was a column with a cubiform capital. The
interior was all dilapidated; the floor of the sanctuary had fallen in, but
the altar-stone--a block of granite--remained in its place. This chapel
belonged to a priory. Little is left of the adjoining monastery except some
subterranean vaults and the gaping oven of the ruined bakery; all ferny,
mossy, given up to the faun and the dryad. The upper masonry was carried
away years ago to build a chapel upon the hill. A bit of green slope, where
the sunbeams wantoned with yellow mulleins, wild carrot, and bracken, was
the cemetery, as a few stone crosses almost buried in the soil plainly
told. These crosses doubtless mark the graves of nameless priors. And the
dust of the humble monk and serving brother, where is that? Every plant
draws from it something that it needs to fulfil its purpose. It is as good
for the nightshade as for the violet; flowers that are rank and deadly, and
others that are sweet and innocent, strive for the right of clasping with
their hungry roots the dust of men.

The innkeeper's sons left me by an abandoned mill on the other side of the
stream, which was crossed by a rough wooden bridge. Ascending the opposite
hill by a narrow path in the shadow of chestnuts and beeches, and fringed
with gorse and heather, I passed another deserted house, the roof of which
had fallen in. The gorge was getting very shadowy when I reached the
tableland above it. I saw the small town of Laplau in the plain away to
the left, but my path did not lie through it, for I preferred the wilder
country towards La Page. When I passed a little lake in a hollow, half
surrounded by firs, the slanting rays were diving into its liquid
stillness, over which the motionless trees bent gazing at their likeness.

When the sun left me I was upon a hilly waste, amid darkening bushes
of holly and juniper, tall bracken, heather, and gorse. The spirit of
desolation threw out broad wings under the fading sky; but from afar
towards the west, whither I was going, came through the dusk the shine and
twinkle of many fires that had been lighted by the peasants upon their
patches of reclaimed desert. They flashed to me the sentiment of the autumn
fields, of hopeful husbandry, of laying up for the winter, and preparation
for harvests that would be gathered under next year's sun.

Tired and hungry, I reached La Page in the darkness. The village looked
very poor and dreary; but I had been told that it contained a 'good hotel,'
and I set about looking for it. It turned out to be a rather large but
exceedingly rough auberge. On opening the door I saw a great kitchen with
pebbled floor, lighted only by the glow of embers on the hearth. The figure
of a woman standing in the chimney opening was lit up by the glare. I
walked towards her, and asked her if she could give me lodging. After
scanning me very acutely for some seconds, she replied, 'Yes.' She was
puzzled, if not startled, by the apparition in front of her; but having
thrown down my pack and taken a seat in the chimney-corner like a familiar
of the house, I talked to her about the comfort of being in such a place
after a long walk in so wild a district as hers, and succeeded in making
her quite genial. She was the mayor's wife, but she was not too proud to
cook for me after lighting a flickering oil-lamp. While I was waiting for
my meal peasants came in, and had theirs at the bare tables, of which there
were several in the great kitchen. Their soup was ladled out from the
immense black pot that hung over the fire, and the noise they made as
they fell to it was very grating to the nerves. But the wanderer in the
chimney-corner had no business to be there, unless he was prepared to
accept all that was customary without wincing. My own dinner commenced with
some of this soup, which was like hot dishwater with slices of bread thrown
into it. The bit of boiled veal that followed was an improvement, although
anything but a captivating dish. Goat-cheese, hard and salt, and with a
flavour that left no doubt as to the source from which it came, made up the
frugal fare. I returned to the chimney-corner and smoked in silence, now
peering up the sooty cavern where the wind moaned, and now watching the
clear-obscure effects of the dimly-lighted room. Presently a trap stopped
outside, and in walked the aubergiste, accompanied by a sprightly little
man who I afterwards learnt was a pedlar.

Monsieur le maire was not exactly a polished gentleman; he took no notice
of me after the first searching glance. He made an unpleasant impression,
but this wore off when I found that he was a well-meaning man, who had not
cultivated fine manners. Why should he have cultivated what would have been
of little or no use to him? These rural functionaries are just like the
people with whom they live. The young _seminariste_ told me an amusing
story of a mayor of St. Pantaleon, who had had a very narrow escape of
being caught by gendarmes when upon a poaching expedition. '_Tout le monde
est braconnier ici_,' added my informant with a sincerity that was very
pleasing. Of course, he was a poacher himself when reposing from his
theological and philosophical studies. I thought none the worse of him for
that. After all, poaching in France generally means nothing more immoral
than neglecting to take out a gun license, and to respect the President's
decrees with regard to the months that are open and those that are not.

On my way to bed I saw in a corner of the staircase a spinning-wheel of the
pattern known throughout Europe. I was told that it had not been used
for many years. The distaff and spindle which are to be seen on Egyptian
monuments are still employed by thousands of French, peasant-women, but the
wheel invented in the sixteenth century is rarely used now, unless it be by
Martha in the opera.

The next morning I made friends with the pedlar, who was about to start
upon my road, and who offered to give me a lift in his trap as far as La
Roche Canillac. Meanwhile, he had unpacked all his samples of cloth with a
view to doing a little business with the mayor. This personage, however,
was not allowed to have much voice in the matter; it was his spouse who
represented his interests in the bargaining battle that was now waged with
deafening din and much apparent ferocity for three-quarters of an hour. The
little pedlar was used to this kind of thing, and was quite prepared for
the fray. When the lady offered him, after much depreciatory fingering of
the chosen material, two-thirds of what he asked for the stuff that was to
be made into a pair of winter trousers for the mayor, he spun round and
jumped like a peg-top just escaped from the string. Then he raged and
swore, said he was being mocked at, dabbed his hat on his head, and made a
pretence of gathering up his samples and rushing off. The mayor watched the
scene with a quiet smirk on his face: he knew that he would somehow get the
trousers. I have no doubt that he did have them, but I walked out instead
of waiting to see the end of the battle. When I returned, the haggling was
over, the hostess and the pedlar were on the most affable terms, and there
was not a sign of the recent storm.

Presently the pedlar, myself, and the innkeeper's son--a young man who had
received his education elsewhere, and had learnt much that did not chime
in with his present surroundings--were in a light cart, drawn by a lively
horse, speeding along the road over the moors. Here and there, near the
village, were small fields of buckwheat in the midst of the heather and
bracken. My companions explained that each commune was surrounded by a
considerable extent of moorland that belonged to it, and that any native of
the commune had the right of selecting a piece, which became his absolute
property after he had cleared it and brought it under cultivation; thus
anyone could have what land he wanted in reason for nothing. Quite an
Arcadian state of things this, were not the conditions of nature such as to
chill the ambition to acquire such freeholds. Three years of back-breaking
labour are needed before the land is fit to be put to some profitable
purpose. And then what does it yield? Buckwheat, and perhaps potatoes.
Although the peasants have the faculty of extending their landed property
in the manner described, the consideration of means generally stands in the
way. They cannot afford to work and wait three years. Their existence is
truly wretched, and if it were not for the luxuriant chestnut-woods, which
cover the sides of the narrow valleys or gorges with which the barren
plateau is deeply seamed every few miles, the population of the region
would be more scanty than it is, for the chestnut goes far to sustain the
people through the worst months of the year.

The plough used upon these moors, on the _causses_ of the Quercy, and
in some other districts where the barrenness of the soil has kept the
inhabitants for centuries imprisoned within the circle of their old
routine, is one of the simplest that the world has known. It differs but
slightly from the one figured in the most ancient of Egyptian hieroglyphs,
and is really the same as that which was used in Gaul under the Romans.
Indeed, it has not the improvements that the Romans introduced. Two poles
forming an obtuse angle is the rough shape of it. The wedge-like share is
a continuation of the pole that is held by the ploughman. Often on the
_causses_, where loose stones are inseparably mixed with the soil, the
entire plough is of wood.

[Illustration: PLOUGHING THE MOOR.]

We passed through the village of Marcillac, near the head of one of the
valleys. The soil was much more fertile here, and a maize field was a sign
that the climate was warmer. There were, moreover, pleasant gardens with
fruit-trees and flowers. Oleanders were blooming outside some of the
houses. But we had no sooner risen upon the plateau again than the moor
returned, and for seven or eight miles it continued unbroken. The ground
was slightly undulating, and amongst the gorse and heather were scattered
innumerable juniper bushes.

On approaching La Roche Canillac the road descended into a very deep valley
by so many turns and windings that I was thankful to be in the pedlar's
cart, especially as the mid-day sun smote with torrid strength. But the
scenery was of exquisite beauty, and this valley will remain in my memory
as one of the most charming I have ever seen. Luxuriant woods, flashing
water, savage rocks, emerald-green patches of meadow, little mills by the
riverside--I should add nothing to the picture by saying more. Upon the
rocky hillside was the burg of five hundred inhabitants. My companions
took me to an old auberge whose exterior was not promising, but which was,
nevertheless, well supplied with food, and had a good cellar. The meal
served there was the best that had fallen to my lot for several days. The
sun had lost all the ardour of mid-day when I took leave of the pedlar
and the mayor's son. I went away thinking that I might travel far without
finding two more kindly, honest fellows.

[Illustration: A GORGE IN THE CORREZE.]

I had hoped to reach Argentat by the Dordogne that night, but I had stayed
too long at the inn for the plan to be practicable; so I set off down the
gorge of the tributary with the intention of taking my luck at a village
called St. Bazile. I was soon in the shade of the chestnut forest, where
boars were said to be plentiful. As time went on, the scenery became
more solemn and awe-inspiring. Pines that looked very gloomy in the late
afternoon mingled with the chestnuts, while black rocks, faintly flushed
with heather towards the sky, reared their jagged outlines above the sombre
foliage. All the while the water in the gorge moaned or roared. It was
growing very dusk when the walls on either hand rose like the sides of a

I was beginning to ask myself in no cheerful mood whether the map had not
deceived me as to the whereabouts of St. Bazile, when, to my relief, I
heard a church bell ringing not very far down the stream. It was the
angelus. How often has this clear, solemn, heart-touching, and consoling
sound been to me what a familiar beacon is to the doubting mariner! Only
wanderers in desolate places know the sentiment that it carries through the
evening air. More welcome than ever before did it seem in this black gorge.
I pushed on, and presently the gloomy walls widened out. Turning a bend
of the torrent, I stood in a glow of ruddy light that streamed from the
yawning mouth of an open-air oven that had recently been filled with dry
broom and kindled for the night's baking. Here was a fresh delight, for
there is nothing more cheering, more full of homely sentiment in the dusk,
than the view of such a blazing oven.

This, then, was the village of St. Bazile de la Roche, to give its full
name. It could scarcely have boasted a hundred houses. There was one
miserable little inn, kept by a widow. There I had to pass the night,
unless I preferred a cave or a mossy bed under a tree. The poor woman
managed to find a piece of veal, which she cooked for me. It seemed to be
my lot now to eat no meat but veal. As I sat down to this dish and a bottle
of wine, two men at another table were eating boiled potatoes, without
plates, and drinking water. The contrast made me uncomfortable. There is
some reason in the selfishness that avoids the sights and sounds and all
suggestions of other people's poverty and pain; but those who take such
base care of themselves never know human life. I could not offer these
men wine without running the risk of a refusal, but it was different with
regard to a little hump-backed postman who came in to gossip. Half a litre
of wine that, at my wish, was set before him made him exceedingly cheerful.
He told me that he walked about twenty miles a day on the hillsides and
in the ravines, and I suppose his pay was the same as that of other rural
postmen in France--from L28 to L32 a year. The inhabitants of St. Bazile,
he said, were all very poor, their chief food being potatoes and chestnuts.
Before the vines a little further down the valley were destroyed by the
phylloxera and mildew, the people were much better off. Then there was
plenty of wine in the cellars, but now St. Bazile was a village of
water-drinkers. He spoke of the neighbouring parish of Servieres, where,
at the annual pilgrimage, women go barefoot from one rock to the other on
which the chapel stands.

Before placing myself between the canvas-like sheets, I opened the lattice
window of my meagrely-furnished room. The only distinguishable voice of the
night was that of the stream quarrelling with its rocky bed just below.
Before me was the high black wall of hill and forest, above the ragged line
of which flashed the swarming stars.

The angelus sounded again at four in the morning. Before seven I was out in
the open air. I saw the cure go up into the tower of his small church,
and ring the bell for his own mass. He was probably too poor to pay a
sacristan. A little later he was in the pulpit catechising the children,
and preaching to the older parishioners between whiles. A boy and then a
girl would stand up, and in answer to questions put to them would recite in
an unintelligible gabble the catechism they had learnt. If one of them lost
the thread and suddenly lapsed into a speechless confusion of ideas, the
cure pointed the finger of reprobation at the unfortunate little wretch,
and made him or her--especially him--feel the enormity of having a bad
memory. While waving his arm in a moment of rhetorical excitement, he let
his book fall upon an old woman's head. '_Voila ce que c'est de faire
des gestes!_' said he with a smile that was almost a discreet grin. The
children were delighted, and everybody laughed, including the poor old
soul, who had seated herself under the pulpit so that she might hear well.

It was evident that the people of St. Bazile quite understood their cure,
and that he was just the one for them. He was a strong man, over sixty
years of age, and he spoke with a rich southern accent. Under his
sacerdotal earnestness there was a sense of humour ever ready to take a
little revenge for a life of sacrifice. There are many such priests in

I had no sooner walked out of this village, on my way to Argentat, than I
became aware that the Girondin climate was beginning to make itself felt.
The influence of the plains was overcoming that of the highlands. The warm
rocky slopes on each side of the valley were covered with vines--alas! dead
or dying. There was no hope for them. On the level of the river were fields
of maize, now ripening, and irrigated meadows intensely green. There were
beehives, fifteen or twenty together on the sunny slopes, and as I went on,
the signs of human industry and ease increasing, I saw petunias climbing
over cottage doors. There was a steep descent to Argentat. The town lay in
a wide valley by the Dordogne, in the midst of maize and buckwheat fields
and green meadows, the surrounding hillsides being covered here with
chestnut woods, and there with vines. I met a woman returning from market
with melons in her basket. Truly I had come into a different climate. At
the small town, made pretty by the number of its vine trellises, I lunched.
The inn where I stopped is not worth describing; but it gave me a dish of
gudgeons caught in the Dordogne that deserved to be remembered.

I did not remain long at Argentat, for I was determined to reach Beaulieu
that night. A little out of the town some girls whom I passed on the road
looked very suspiciously at me out of the corners of their eyes, and
reminded me that another whom I had met that morning higher up the valley
took to her heels at the sight of me. An old woman who had lived long
enough to overcome such timidity, asked me if I was a _marchand_, by which
she meant pedlar--the old question to which I have grown weary of replying.
About a mile from the town I found the Dordogne again. It had grown to
quite a fine river since I last saw it in the ravines below Bort. Many an
eager affluent had rushed into it, both on the Correze and the Cantal side.
Here most of the grass was dried up, and the freshness of the highlands was
gone. Still the valley was shut in by steep cliffs. Brambles climbed about
the rocks, where the broom also flourished, although tangled with
its parasite, the dodder. Looking up the crags, I recognised a wild
fig-tree--the first I had seen on this southward journey.

The valley became again so narrow that the road was cut into the escarped
side of the cliff, for the river ran close under it. A woman with bare legs
and bare chest--really half naked--trudged by with a heavy bundle of
maize upon her head, followed by a couple of red-haired children, their
perfectly-shaped little legs browned by the sun and powdered with dust. How
beautiful are the limbs of these peasant children, however disfigured by
toil and the inherited physical blight of hardship their mother's form may
be! With each fresh generation, Nature seems to make an effort to go back
to her ideal type; but destiny is strong. Old and new causes working
together are often more than a match for that most marvellous force in all
animal and vegetable life--the love of symmetry.

Resting upon a bed of peppermint, blue with flowers, under an old wall,
whose stones were half hidden by celandine and roving briony; loitering
dreamily upon a wide waste of sunlit pebbles, watching the flashing rapids
of the river where it awoke from its calm sleep to battle with the rocks
which had resisted incalculable ages of washing, the hours glided by so
stealthily that it was evening when I reached a village which was still
eight miles or more from Beaulieu.

Turning into an inn, I fell into conversation with a postman, who made me
the offer of his company during the remainder of the journey. I readily
assented, and gave him a glass of absinthe--his favourite drink--before
leaving. He did not need it, for, as he confessed, he had been clinking
glasses with unusual zeal that day. He was a very droll fellow, a striking
type of the Southerner, whom it was difficult to look at with a serious
face, and whom no one with any sense of humour could really dislike,
notwithstanding his immense vanity and his immeasurable impudence. He had a
thick black beard, a long, sharp nose, dark eyes full of mischievous mirth,
and cheeks the colour of red wine. He wore a stiff new blouse with a red
collar--the badge of his office--and a straw hat like a beehive. The whole
of the way to Beaulieu his tongue was not still a minute. He told me
stories of his bravery and his love adventures with a most amusing accent
and intonation. The Rabelaisian expressions, which give such a peculiar
flavour to the conversation of the 'people' in Southern France, rolled off
his tongue with a sonority that could hardly have been excelled at Nimes
or Tarascon. His swagger, his gestures, and his elocutionary power were
amazing. He would stop walking, and, placing his stick--which he called
his _trique_--under his arm, would speak in a tragic stage-whisper; then,
clutching his _trique_ and flourishing it over his head, he would burst out
into a roar of laughter that made the dogs bark in the scattered farms for
miles around. Once, when we were passing under high rocks, he shouted with
such a terrible voice that he brought some loose stones rattling down upon
the road so close to us that my head, as well as his own, nearly paid the
penalty for thus exasperating the peaceful night. This was either the
effect of vibration or of the sudden movement of some bird or other
creature that he had startled far above us.

Among other things of which this amusing man talked to me was a visit of
archaeologists, among whom were a number of Englishmen, to Beaulieu.

'If you had only seen them,' he said, 'outside the church, all with their
noses lifted in the air! _Grand Dieu!_ What noses!'

Long before we reached Beaulieu I had had more than enough of the wild
spirits of my comic postman. On entering the town he insisted upon
taking me to a hotel which he said he could recommend to me with as much
confidence as if I were his brother. Then he left me; but I had not seen
the last of him. He presently returned, while I was enjoying the luxury
of a quiet and well-served little dinner. Seating himself in front of me
without waiting for an invitation, he helped himself with his fingers to
a dish of baked _cepes_, which I in consequence relinquished, but with a
complete absence of goodwill. There was no getting rid of him, short of
telling him plainly to go, and this I could not do after having accepted
his companionship on the road. He devoured all the mushrooms, expressing
his astonishment between whiles that I did not like them. '_J'aime bien
les champignons,_' he kept on repeating. '_Ca me va le soir. Ce n'est pas
lourd._' When the dessert was brought in, he picked out the only ripe
peach in the dish, and having poured another glass of wine down his really
terrible throat, he declared that it had given him great pleasure to make
my acquaintance, and left me with the hope that I should sleep well,
and would not forget the Beaulieu postman. I assured him, with perfect
sincerity, that I should never forget him.

When daylight returned I found Beaulieu a pleasant little town lying
under hills covered with chestnut woods, and at a short distance from the
Dordogne. Its name, however, was probably given to it on account of the
fertility of the soil in this bit of valley, where the cliffs that enclose
the Dordogne on each side fall back, and, by allowing a rich alluvium to
settle in the plain, give the husbandmen a chance of growing something more
profitable than buckwheat.

Beaulieu was once the seat of a powerful Benedictine abbey. The original
monastery was founded in 858 by Charles le Chauve, who placed it under
his protection. Although the territory was included in the viscounty of
Turenne, the Viscount Raymond II., before he went crusading, made over
his suzerain rights with regard to the abbey and its dependencies to the
abbots, who thus became temporal lords. There is nothing left of the
monastery; but much of the abbey church, which dates from the twelfth and
thirteenth centuries, has been fortunately preserved. The interior is not
remarkable, but the large and elaborate bas-relief of the Last Judgment
which fills the tympanum of the portal is considered the most precious
example of mediaeval sculpture in the Bas-Limousin. The face of the
Saviour, expressive of something above all human passions and motives,
shows a really God-like combination of serenity and severity. The fantastic
spirit of the age is well set forth in the tortured forms of the horrid
reptiles and fabulous beasts carved in relief upon the massive lintel, and
filling also the broad border at the base of the tympanum. The same
spirit finds even stronger expression in the demon figure, so grotesquely
long-drawn out, carved upon the scalloped pillar that supports the lintel.
The abbey was pillaged by the Huguenots, who lit a fire in the choir, which
destroyed much of the woodwork. Notwithstanding the religious wars and
the revolutionary convulsions of the eighteenth century, the church has
preserved some of its ancient treasure, of which the most precious object
is a silver statue of the Virgin of very curious workmanship, dating from
the twelfth century.

[Illustration: TURENNE.]


What gives us the zest to wander until the hour comes when we must fain be
content to sit in the porch, thankful if the evening sun shines warmly, is
the fascination of the unknown. As children, did we not long to get at
the horizon's verge, to touch the painted clouds of the morning or of the
sunset--ay, and to grasp with our outstretched hands that reached such a
little way the blood-red glory of the sun itself? The garden, with its
glowing tulips and its roses haunted by gilded beetles, became too small
to satisfy the mind of infancy fresh from the infinite. Surely, I thought,
when I was again in the open country beyond Beaulieu, I must have carried
something of my childhood on with me, for me to go wandering over these hot
hills exposing myself to sunstroke, weariness, and thirst for the sake of
the unknown.

The road at first led up vine-covered slopes towards the west, where the
waysides were blue with the flowers of the wild chicory. A priest astride
upon a rough old cob passed me, his hitched-up _soutane_ showing his
gaitered legs. The French rural priests are generally rubicund, but this
one was cadaverous. He would have looked like Death on horseback, swathed
in a black mantle, but for the dangling gaitered legs, which spoilt the
solemn effect. A very curious figure did he cut upon his shaggy, ambling
steed. On the top of the hill was a village, in the midst of which stood a
little old Gothic church with a gable-belfry, and hard by was a half-timber
house, its porch aglow with climbing petunias.

Beyond this village was a deep valley, the sides of which were covered with
chestnut-trees. On ascending the opposite hill, I took a by-path through a
steep wood, thinking to cut off a long turn of the hot and dusty road. It
led me into difficulties and bewilderment. The path disappeared, but I went
on. After climbing rocks densely overgrown with brambles, which left their
daggers in my skin, I reached the top of the hill, and saw before me a
desert of disintegrated rock or drift dotted over with low juniper bushes.
Although it was the middle of September, the sun blazed above me with the
ardour of July, and the rays were thrown back by the bare stones, on which
there was not a trace of moss, nor even lichen. These arid rocky places, so
characteristic of Southern France, have a poetry of their own that to me
is ever enticing. I love the stony wastes and their dazzling sun-glitter.
There I find something that approaches companionship in the prickly
juniper, the narcotic hellebore, and the acrid spurge. And these plants
likewise love the places where the world has remained unchanged by man. The
heat, however, was too great for me to linger upon this shadeless hill,
where every stone was warm, and the reflected glare was almost as blinding
as that of the sun itself, which seemed so near.

Having crossed another valley, after much casting about, I found the
highroad again. The altitude was considerable here, so that the view
embraced a wide expanse of the Correze and the department of the Lot, which
I was approaching. The scene was everything that an English landscape is
not. No soft verdure, no hedgerows setting memory astir with pictures of
the flowering may and the pink, clambering dog-rose gemmed with dew; no
lustrous meadow crossed by shadows thrown by ancient dreaming elms; no
flash from the briskly-flowing brook: no, nothing of this, but in its place
a parched and rugged land of hills or knolls, stony, wasteful, where for
countless ages the juniper, the broom, the gorse, and the heather have
disputed the sovereignty, the intervening valleys, timidly cultivated,
producing little else but rye and buckwheat, and the deep gorges sombre
with overhanging trees.

This road was so tedious, so hot and dusty, that, after walking a few miles
upon it, I lost patience altogether with what seemed to be its unreasonable
windings, and again made an effort to strike across country by means of
by-paths, in order to reach the spot where, according to the map and
compass, I thought Vayrac ought to be. I came to a seventeenth century
country-house, large enough to be termed a chateau, but now the dwelling of
some peasant-farmer. It was a dilapidated, apparently owl-haunted building,
with a dovecote tower over grown with ivy, and was half surrounded by a
wall, whose tottering, ornamental pinnacles told a story of comparative
grandeur that had come to grief in this remote spot. The farmer had been
winnowing his corn outside, and the narrow lane was ankle-deep with chaff.
The only human being that I could find here was a wild-looking girl, with a
bush of hair on her head, who made me understand, half in French, half in
patois, that I should never reach Vayrac by the way I was going. She sent
me off in another direction. I walked on, I know not how many miles,
without coming to any village or wayside auberge, over a shadeless plain in
the department of the Lot. There was no water; consequently not a bird was
to be seen or heard. But there were myriads of flies, and too many hornets
for my comfort, for some of them followed me with impertinent curiosity.

I confess that I do not like hornets. When I see them, they remind me of
the story of a donkey told me by a man in these parts. He in his youth
saw an unlucky ass that, quietly browsing, unconscious of indiscretion,
disturbed a hornets' nest. Suddenly the animal showed symptoms of unusual
excitement, which became rapidly more violent, until, after some amazing
antics, first on his front-legs and then on his hind-legs, he rolled over
on his back, and kicked violently at the sky. His master knew what had
happened, but stood lamenting afar off, not daring to go to the rescue. In
a short time the poor donkey ceased kicking, and swelled up in a manner
horrible to behold.

All nature now appeared to be baking. Even the blackberries, which I ate
by the handful to slake my raging thirst, were warm. A long, straight road
that I thought would never end brought me at length to Vayrac, where there
was a good inn. Oh, the luxury of rest at last in a shaded room, with the
companionship of a jug of frothing beer just brought up from the cool

* * * * *

Months passed before I continued from this point my journey on foot. The
spring had come, and the face of nature was wondrously changed. Over the
valley that I had seen before so parched had spread the soft verdure of
young grass; hedges of quince were all abloom, and at their roots the
stitchwort mingled its white starry flowers with the matchless blue of the
Germander speedwell, so dear to English eyes. The roadsides were bright
with daisies and the gold of the ill-appreciated dandelion.

A lane from Vayrac led up to the escarped sides of the Puy d'Issolu--the
Uxellodunum of the Cadurci, according to Napoleon III. and others who have
made Caesar's battlefields in Gaul their study. It was April, and from near
and afar came the warbling of nightingales. They moved amongst the new
leaves of almost every shrub and tree. A very abrupt ascent through
thickets brought me to the tableland, where the turf was flashed with
splendid flowers of the purple orchids. From the waste land the sombre
junipers rose like scattered cypresses in a cemetery.

If this was not the site of Uxellodunum, we may pretty safely believe it to
have been that of some important _oppidum_ of the Gauls. A circumvallation
there could never have been in a strict sense, for where the plateau rests
upon high calcareous walls there was no need of a fortification. But
elsewhere, where the position was accessible from the valley, it was
protected by a strong wall. On the northern side this rampart can be
followed for a considerable distance without a break. In one spot the soil
which has collected about it has been dug away, leaving the masonry bare.
It is not composed of loose stones of various sizes, like that of the
Celtic city at Murcens, but of small flat stones neatly laid together, with
layers of mortar between; a circumstance that sets one conjecturing and
doubting. The wall appears to have been six or eight feet thick. The line
of it now only rises very slightly above the edge of the plateau.

I met a peasant who owned the highest part of the tableland, and who
managed to grow crops upon it. Near his cottage he pointed out the remains
of an ancient structure, which he called the fort. The masonry was of the
same character as that of the wall. Near to it were fragments of ancient
pottery and tiles, which he had dug out of the ground. The tiles were
very heavy and flat, with turned-up edges, so that they could hang one to
another. There were holes, too, for the nails which held them to the roof.
Thrown on one side were human bones, which had from time to time been
turned up by the plough. The peasant told me that his father, while digging
rather deeply, had found a skeleton wearing a bracelet and part of a
helmet. A visitor to the Puy d'Issolu, many years ago, was allowed to take
these remains away, together with a quantity of iron arrow-heads, on his
promise to come back and pay 600 francs for them. He never came back.

The view from the Puy takes in an immense expanse of the solemn Limousin
country. To the south is the stone-strewn Quercy, while to the north and
east is the still wilder Correze. On the west lie the forests of Black
Perigord. Looking to the east, I saw the mountains of Auvergne, the
Mont-Dore range rising beyond the Correze against the blue sky, as white as
the sugar towers and pinnacles upon a bride-cake. Here it was warm, like
June weather in England; there winter still reigned upon the snowy hills.
Standing against the north-western horizon were the high towers of the vast
feudal fortress of the Viscounts of Turenne. It was there that Madame de
Conde, escaping from Mazarin, planned the rising of Guyenne in 1648. I
could only distinguish the towers, but I knew that a little below them was
the small mediaeval town of Turenne, which grew up under the protection of
the Viscounts, who for centuries were virtually the sovereign princes of
this region. No lover of the picturesque would waste his time by going

Descending from the tableland on the southern side, where the rocks form a
steep little gorge, I came to the stream from which the besieged Cadurci
are supposed to have drawn their water-supply, until it was cut off by
Caesar. Looking at the spot, it is easy to understand how it all happened.
The natural fortress, selected with so much judgment by the Cadurci, was
almost unassailable. To help them, they had the cover of the wood that
still fills the gorge, but which was probably much denser then than it is
now. From his tower of ten stages, which commanded the fountain, Caesar
continually harassed with darts, thrown by the _tormenta_, those who came
to the spring; and he, moreover, tells us that he caused a gallery to be
tunnelled to the fountainhead, and thus drew off the water, to the utter
astonishment and despair of the Cadurci, who perceived in this disaster the
intervention of the gods. A tunnel such as he describes exists, and the
stream flows through it. At a point some distance higher, the sound of
gurgling water can be distinctly heard beneath the stones; and it was here
probably where the stream originally broke out, and where the inhabitants
of the _oppidum_ came with their vessels. Napoleon III. had the
subterranean gallery cleared, and its artificial character was proved by
the discovery that massive beams of wood, of which there were some remains,
had been used to prevent the soil from falling in upon the workers. It has
now been nearly filled up again by the calcareous deposit of the water.
The river mentioned by Caesar as the one that flowed in the valley beneath
Uxellodunum [Footnote: 'Flumen infimam vallam lividebat quae totum
poene montem cingebat, in quo positum erat praeruptum undique oppidum
Uxellodunum.'--'De Bello Gallico,' Lib. VIII.] is a small tributary of the
Dordogne, called the Tourmente. This is assuming the Puy d'Issolu to have
been Uxellodunum. The most convincing material proof that the two places
are the same was furnished by the discovery of the tunnel; but some strong
corroborative evidence is to be found in local names. The word _puy_
affords no clue; for it simply means a high place. In the dialect of the
Viscounty of Turenne the Puy d'Issolu is pronounced _Lo Pe de Cholu_. In
the word Issolu or Cholu, we may have something of the Celtic word, which
was Latinized by Caesar after his custom; but this verbal similarity would
not in itself go far to prove the identity of the height near Vayrac with
the position defended by Drappes and Lucterius. Lying in the Correze at
no great distance from the Dordogne is the town of Ussel--a name that
approaches much more nearly the sound of Uxellodunum. But an educated
native of Vayrac, whom I chanced to meet months after my visit to the Puy
d'Issolu, furnished me with some local testimony which appears to be
of value in connection with a subject that has given rise to so much
controversy. The stream where it issues near the base of the rocky height
has been known in the neighbourhood from time immemorial as 'Lo foun
Conino'--Conino's Fountain. Conino is a natural Romance corruption of
Caninius, the name of Caesar's lieutenant who in the first instance
directed the siege of Uxellodunum. The French name for the stream at the
bottom of the valley already mentioned is derived from the Romance one, Lo
Tourmento. Now, as Caesar made so much use of _tormenta_ as engines of war,
to prevent the besieged Cadurci from drawing water, something may easily
have occurred to associate the stream with one of these machines. It is to
be observed, however, that there are other streams in France to which the
name Tourmente has been given, and of which the explanation is much more

[Illustration: A PEASANT OF THE CAUSSE.]

How solemnly still seemed this spectre-haunted spot in the quiet evening!
There was the groaning murmur of the stream flowing down its subterranean
passage, and there was the low and fitful warble of a nightingale; but this
was all. Who, passing by here without foreknowledge, would suppose that on
this bit of desert the great struggle between Rome and Gaul was brought
to a close? What a wonderful thing is a book, that it should preserve age
after age, with undiminished reality, all the torment, anguish, and passion
of a siege, and give a human interest to rocks and streams, which without
such aid would tell us nothing of the horrid tumult that raged over and
around them! Now I can see the half-naked Gauls rolling down their barrels
of flaming pitch upon the Roman engineers, and hear that great clamour
of the besiegers and the besieged of which Caesar speaks. Above were the
Celtic heroes defending their last rock with the obstinacy of despair, and
ready to accept death in any form but that of thirst; and here were the
veteran legionaries exposing themselves day after day to the burning pitch,
the stones, and the arrows of the defenders, with that disciplined courage
and unwavering resolve to conquer which made Rome the mistress of the
world. But the most terrible scene must have been that in which the Gaulish
warriors, after their surrender, had their hands cut off. What frightful
business was that, and what a heap of hands must have been buried
somewhere, either upon the table-land or in the valley! A deep-ploughing
peasant may long since have come upon an extraordinary collection of little
bones, and been much puzzled by them. And poor Drappes, who, after his
capture, refused to eat, and died from starvation; he must have been buried
somewhere near. But Nature says nothing about all these things; she covers
up the traces of human ferocity with her new leaves and moss, and smiles
there as tenderly as upon children's graves.

I passed the night at St. Denis, a modern place brought into existence by
the line to Toulouse. At the auberge the evening was enlivened by dancing.
Two maids of the inn found partners in a couple of rustic youths, and a
young soldier _en conge_ provided the music by whistling, or imitating the
hurdy-gurdy with his mouth. For it was the _bourree_ that was danced.

The next morning I was on the road to Martel, with nightingales and
blackcaps singing all around from blossoming quince and hawthorn and copses
filled with a gold-green glimmer, until I reached the bare upland country.
Upon the barren _causse_, besides the short turf, the gray ribs of rock,
and scattered stones, little was to be seen but dark little junipers, tall
broom, not yet in flower, hellebore, with bright tufts of new leaves and
evil-looking green blossoms edged with dull purple, and the numberless
gilded umbels of the spurge, which in springtime lend such beauty to the
Southern desert. In the dips and little dingles there were stunted oaks
with the brown foliage, that had been beaten by the winter winds in vain,
still clinging to them, but which every breath of western breeze now
scattered, because the buds were swelling and the unborn leaves were asking
to come forth. At wide distances above the undulating, sterile land a
farmhouse would appear, with high-pitched tiled roof, and a pigeon-house
rising like a tower at one end. The stranger marvels to see such
substantially-built houses in the midst of such sterility; but he finds
the explanation when he has time to consider that there are so many stones
lying about that, where it is possible to plough, the peasant heaps them up
in his field, or makes walls that are little wanted. Having reached the top
of a knoll, I saw beneath me many old tiled roofs whose lines ran at all
angles, and above these rose the massive walls of a half-fortified church,
and various towers or fragments of towers. I was looking at Martel.

According to legend and local history, Charles Martel, after defeating the
Saracens near this spot, caused a church to be built on a piece of fertile
land a few miles from the battlefield, and dedicated it to St. Maur. A town
grew around church and monastery, and was named Martel in honour of the
founder. In the early days of the Crusades, when princes and barons
rivalled one another in virtuous zeal, a Viscount of Turenne decreed that
inhabitants of Martel who were convicted of sinning against the marriage
tie should be dragged naked through the town. The charter that contains
this enactment treats of villeinage also, and orders that whoever has a man
for sale within the limits of the viscounty shall fix the price, and shall
not change it afterwards.

The marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry Plantagenet brought the
English to Martel in the twelfth century; but it does not appear that they
obtained or cared to keep anything like a permanent grip on the place until
the fourteenth century. Inasmuch, however, as Henry Short-Mantle, the
rebellious son of Henry II., met with no resistance at Martel when he came
thither, after pillaging the sanctuary of Roc-Amadour in 1183, it may be
concluded that English influence was already established there. In the
market place is a house a portion of which was once included in a building
that has now nearly disappeared, but which is known to every inhabitant as
the 'palace of Henry II.' On the first floor, communicating with a spiral
staircase, is a room paved with small pebbles. On one side is a broad
chimney-place, just such as we see now all through Guyenne, even in the
towns. According to the tradition preserved by the family to whom the house
belongs, it was in one of the chimney-corners of this room that Prince
Henry sat on the evening of the day that he left Roc-Amadour. It is
uncertain, however, whether the Prince went to Martel immediately after the
sacrilege, or after a pilgrimage that he made to the sanctuary to atone for
his crime, when he was suffering from the disease that killed him. There
is a local legend that he was followed by two monks, who contrived to put
poison into his goblet; but whether he was poisoned or died of dysentery at
Martel, as the chroniclers maintain, is a detail of small importance. That
he did die here, and very repentantly, on a bed of ashes, and held up by
the Bishop of Cahors, is a historical fact.

An indubitable testimony of the English occupation of Martel is the
heraldic leopard of the Plantagenets. I found it carved in stone among
the ruins of King Henry's palace, and hard by I saw it again upon a rusty
fireplate that had been thrown into a corner. There is not a native of
Martel who is not ready to talk of _le leopard anglais_.

The English were never loved by the Martellois. The people of this district
are strong in their attachments, and perhaps even stronger in their
animosities and prejudices. Without doubt the English did not treat them
with marked tenderness; but there was very little human kindness in the
Middle Ages, and the French, or the races which now compose France, left
nothing to be invented in the arts of cruelty and oppression in the wars
that they waged among themselves before they learnt, or were forced to
learn, that it was to their interest to hold together and form one
nation. Moreover, the greater number of the so-called English who kept a
considerable part of Aquitaine in continual terror for three centuries were
natives of the soil.

All the men of Martel who could carry arms joined the forces of King John,
who was defeated by the Black Prince at Poitiers. The consuls of Martel had
to pay heavy ransoms for their fellow-townsmen who fell into the hands
of the English. Notwithstanding the disaster at Poitiers, the Martellois
closed their gates and prepared for a siege, after having obtained from
the Viscount a company of crossbow-men to help them in the defence. But an
English garrison was soon established at Montvallent, only a few miles off,
and this fact seems to have demoralized the Martellois, who, after enduring
a few assaults, surrendered the town. The longest period of unbroken
English possession of Martel appears to have occurred after this surrender.
It is probable that the Senechaussee, which now exists under the name of
the Hotel de Ville, was commenced about this time, although the King of
England must have been represented in the town by his seneschal long
before. By the treaty passed between Henry III. and Reymond VI. of Turenne
in 1223, it was stipulated that the Viscount should pay homage to Henry,
but that the English officers should exercise no jurisdiction in the
viscounty, except in the town of Martel, where the King could hold his
assizes with the consent of the Viscount. It was, moreover, provided that
in the event of resistance on the part of his fiefs, the Viscount could
apply to the English seneschal at Martel for armed assistance. The burghers
were in the enjoyment of their political franchises from the year 1256.
They had town councillors, who elected four consuls every four years, who
represented the borough in the Etats Vicomtains--an assembly composed of
the principal landholders and dignitaries of the viscounty. The more they
tasted freedom the more the burghers felt disposed to quarrel with the
Viscount. In 1355 they sent a deputation to the Pope at Avignon begging
him to ask their lord if it was his wish that the town should retain its
privileges. The minutes of the municipal meeting, at which this decision
was come to, are in existence, and they show how the Romance language was
written at Martel in those days:

'Item fo ordenat que Moss. Aymar de Bessa et P. Karti ano a
Vinho far reverensa al papa per nom de la vila eque Phi recomendo
la vila. E quelh fasso supplicacio quelh plassa far am los vescomte
se bot que nos garde nostres previleges.'

This ancient town has suffered grievously from that spirit of demolition
which was so active during the first half of the present century, but
which in France has been somewhat checked by the Commission of Historic
Monuments. There are people who can remember when the town was surrounded
by two walls; now only a few remnants of the fortifications remain. The
church is exceedingly interesting. There are details indicating a very
early origin--they may possibly have come down from the foundation; but the
structure in the main belongs to the twelfth and fifteenth centuries. The
east end--the oldest portion--has more the character of a stronghold than
of a church. It has no apse, and the terminating wall, which is carried far
above the roof, has a row of machicolations, and the massive buttresses by
which it is flanked are really towers pierced with loopholes. At the foot
of the wall is a deep pool of water, which serves as the horse-pond for the
town; but it may originally have been part of a moat.

In the tympanum of the twelfth-century portal is one of those bas-reliefs
representing the Last Judgment upon which the artistic ambition of the
early Gothic period appears to have been chiefly directed in this region.

The fourteenth-century Senechaussee, with its embattled belfry, its little
turrets or bartizans hanging high at the angles of the wall, its dim old
court, with a deep well in the centre, speaks with a ghostly voice of
ancient Martel. This building, after the English left, was the residence of
the seneschals of the Viscounts of Turenne down to the Revolution. In two
of the rooms are chimney-pieces very artistically carved in oak.

Notwithstanding all the demolition that has gone on, bits of picturesque
antiquity meet the eye everywhere in the old English town. Now it is a
half-ruinous watch-tower, now the Gothic doorway of a thirteenth-century
house, now a gateway that has lost its tower, but whose wounds are covered
with yellow wallflowers in spring; now a turret running up an entire front,
with little windows looking out upon the quiet street, or some high-pitched
roof curving inward under the weight of years and tiles.

The inn where I put up was like a hostelry of romance. Entering by a broad
archway, I passed along a passage vaulted and groined, where corbel-heads
grimaced from dim corners; climbed a staircase broad enough for a palace,
and, having reached the landing, saw a great room with hearth and chimney
to match, massive old furniture, pots and pans of highly-polished copper,
and a hostess stout and cheery, who welcomed me as though I were an old
friend, and not a wanderer to whom food and shelter were to be exchanged
for money. This good woman had evidently no faith in new fashions; she
dressed as she did thirty years ago, and every dish that she cooked for me
was kept warm by a pewter brazier filled with embers from the hearth.
One of these dishes was a goose's liver half roasted, half stewed, and
sprinkled with capers.

While at Martel I was arrested as a spy by an old _garde champetre_, who,
seeing me taking notes of the church, wished to know who gave me permission
to 'make a plan of the town.' I did not reply to him with the politeness
that he evidently considered himself entitled to. It is probable that I
should have chosen my words with more circumspection had I guessed what an
important person he was; but as he wore a blouse, and was squatting upon
a heap of stones which he had been pulling about, I underestimated his
dignity. That he united the functions of _cantonnier_ and _garde_ did not
occur to me. He sprang to his feet, put on his official badge, and, seizing
me by the arm, shouted: 'I arrest you!' Then, when I took the liberty of
removing his hand, he called out: '_Au secours!_'

But those to whom he appealed were women, who preferred to let him manage
his own business, and who, moreover, were too much amused to interfere.
When he had calmed down a little I walked with him to the deputy-mayor,
whose office was over a little shop. After hearing me and examining my
papers, this gentleman was satisfied that I was not a very dangerous
person, and he told me that I had better forget the incident.

The fierce old man could not understand why I was released. He even
protested: '_Il dit qu'il est un anglais; mais il le dit!_'

The deputy-mayor tried to calm him by observing that I had a right to be an
Englishman. The _garde_ then walked out, looking very hot and puzzled. From
his childhood he had heard of the English as the worst tyrants that
the region had known. Was not the country strewn with the ruins of the
fortresses they had built? To his mind they were more dangerous enemies
than the Germans, who never came near Martel. I bear no grudge against the
old man. He believed that he was doing his duty in arresting me, and if I
had made more allowance for his age and prejudices the unpleasantness might
have been avoided. To him the old struggle with the English was almost as
fresh as if it had taken place in his father's time.

People who remain in the same place all their days, and who never read,
live much more in the past than others, and remember injuries done to their
remote ancestors as if they, the latest descendants, were still suffering
from them, I remember asking a woman in an inn not far from Martel how an
old gateway and other mediaeval buildings close by had been brought to such
a sad state of ruin.

'It was you,' she exclaimed, 'who did that--_vous autres anglais!_'

And she looked so resentful for a few moments that I wished I had let the
sleeping dog lie.


Leaving Martel, I crossed the valley of the Dordogne, and passed on to
other valleys southward and eastward, as recounted in the story of my
wanderings by 'Southern Waters.' Many months went by, and then one summer
day found me wayfaring again by the Dordogne towards the sea. A little
below the point where I had crossed in search of the Ouysse I came to the
small town of Souillac. This place, although fortified in the Middle Ages,
played a much less important part in the wars of the Quercy than the
neighbouring burgs of Martel and Gourdon. Its interest lies mainly in its
twelfth-century church, and here chiefly in a very remarkable bas-relief of
the Last Judgment. This astonishing work of art is to be found not where
one would expect it to be, namely, in the tympanum of the portal, but in
the interior, against a wall at the west end, over a Gothic arch, whose
transition from the preceding style is marked by a billet-moulding. The
sculpture is in a high degree typical of the uncouth vigour of the period.
The two pillars supporting the arch are so carved as to represent figures
of the damned going down into hell. The artist might have been inspired by
Dante had he not lived before the poet who collected and fixed upon the
sombre canvas of his verse all the woeful visions of eternal punishment
that haunted the mediaeval mind. A man and woman are descending to the
abyss, he holding her by the hair, and she clasping him by the waist, the
faces of both terribly expressive of horror that is new, and utter despair.
The meaning is plain, enough: each was the cause of the other's doom, and
the sentence of the Judge in the panel above has united them in hell for
all eternity. On the opposite pillar are another couple, also clasping one
another; but their faces express the blank and passionless misery of a
doom foreknown. Monk or layman, he who designed the composition felt the

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