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Two Summers in Guyenne by Edward Harrison Barker

Part 4 out of 5

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side, who appeared to have lapsed into meditation, thinking, perhaps, how
far his place would be from the last on the line.

'As a rule we do not. There are only two or three monks here whose names I

Lastly, I was taken to the farm buildings, where there were about fifty
cows and one hundred pigs. A young brother, a novice, was busy, with his
frock hitched up, cleaning out the pigsties. He was piously plying the
shovel, but his face had not yet acquired an expression of perfect
resignation. He was young, however, and perhaps he had been brought up in
better society than that of pigs.

I was invited with much kindness and courtesy to stay until after the
eleven o'clock meal; but, grateful as I felt to the Trappists for their
bread and cheese and home-brewed beer, which had enabled me to sustain life
for more than twelve hours, I was quite content with what I had received in
that way. My curiosity being also satisfied, I gladly went forth into the
wicked world again after exchanging a cordial farewell with the genial
porter, who, when he caught sight of me returning to his lodge, looked
sharply to see if the jar of beer was safe, and his mind being made easy on
the point, he begged me to let him pour me out a glass. Then he gazed at me
with round eyes of surprise and reproach when I declined the offer.

It was only a little past eight when I left the monastery. 'Ah,' I thought,
as I felt the gentle glow of the early sunshine and breathed the fresh air
of the wide world, 'there is time enough for me to become a Trappist.'

I continued on the road to Montpont. It was a sad and silent land over
which I passed, with frequent crosses by the wayside, telling of the
influence of the monks. The words, '_O crux, ave!_' met me amidst the
heather and on the margin of lonely pools. I was now in the most forlorn
part of the Double, where all around the eye rested upon forest, swamp, and
moor. Not that I found it dismal: I drew delight from the lonesomeness,
and revelled in the wildness of all things. Sunshine and flowers made the
desert beautiful. The waysides were red with thyme or purple with heather,
and the blooming lysimachia was like a belt of gold around the reedy pools.
After walking some miles over this country, patches of maize, potatoes, and
vines told me I was nearing a village. At length I came to one, and it
was called St. Barthelemy. It was on the top of a bare chalky hill, and
commanded an extensive view of the wasteful Double. It had a windblown,
naked appearance, like many villages near the sea, although the ocean was
still far from here. Moreover, there was a strange quietude--the stillness
of a fever-stricken spot. The men and women looked undersized and
prematurely old, and the children were pale and thin. Although the village
was on a hill, the evil influence of the marshes reached it. I was told,
however, that it had become much less unhealthy of late years. On the
highest spot was a poor and plain little church, with a paddock-like
cemetery on one side of it.

Although the hour was still early, I stopped for a meal at St. Barthelemy,
for it seemed to me that I had been fasting a day or more. Choosing the
only inn that looked promising, I sat down in a large room, where there
were two long tables and a bed in one corner. The shutters of the windows
were carefully closed to keep out the flies, and all the light that entered
came through the chinks and cracks. In the South, people prefer to eat in
semi-darkness rather than be tormented by flies. The only other person in
the house was a young woman, and she was very uncouth. She may have held
me in suspicion, for not a word would she say beyond what was rigorously
necessary; but, as she cooked much better than I had expected, I thought no
ill of her. She gave me, after an _omelette au cerfeuil_, a _fricassee_ of
chicken, with very fair wine of the district, red and white. Dessert and
coffee followed, and the charge was not much over a shilling.

As I left the village, I noticed upon a low building these words in large
letters, '_Depot de Sangsues_,' and concluded that catching leeches in the
pools about here was a local industry. On inquiring, however, I was told
that such was not the case, but that a man here had had a quantity of
leeches sent from Bordeaux to supply the district.

'But what is the meaning of this great liking for leeches?' I asked.

'Well,' replied my informant, 'I should tell you that the people about here
always used to be bled when they had anything the matter with them. But the
doctors will do it no longer, consequently we do it ourselves.'

The sad-looking peasants, with pale dark faces, whom I saw reaping their
meagre wheat on the outskirts of the village, seemed, like many more I had
met since I left Riberac, to be in much greater need of blood than leeches.
Women, wearing straw-bonnets of the coal-scuttle shape, were reaping with
men in the noonday heat. Upon all the burden of life appeared to press very
heavily. The chalky soil produced miserable crops of wheat, maize,
and potatoes that yielded no just return for the labour expended. The
luxuriance of the young vines, planted where the old ones had perished
from the phylloxera, showed that the hillsides here are better suited for
wine-growing than for anything else.

As I went on, the country became more sombre from the increasing number of
pines bordering the road and mingling with the distant forest. Very weird
pines these were, chiefly covered with closely-packed dead foliage, with
a living tuft of dark green at the end of each branchlet. A living death
seemed to be their lot, and they moaned without moving as the light wind
passed on its way.

But the descent towards the valley of the Isle had now begun. Huts built of
brick and mud and wood became frequent, with hedges of quince bordering the
gardens or little fields. Quite unexpectedly the river shone beneath me,
and by following its course downward I soon came to a large block of
scarcely connected buildings with high Mansard roofs. This was a monastery
of the Carthusians. I did not recognise it at once as the conventual
establishment well known in the district as the Chartreuse de Vauclaire,
nor did I show any better understanding as regards a certain human form
hoeing in a field beside the road with back towards me.

Wishing for information, I hailed this fellow-being as 'Madame!' The figure
straightened itself immediately and turned towards me a head covered with
a broad-brimmed straw hat, such as women wear in the fields; but the face
ended in a long, grizzly beard. Then I noticed that what I had taken for a
brown stuff dress was a monk's frock.

It was a Carthusian Brother whom I had addressed as 'Madame!' As he gave
no sign to indicate what his feelings were with regard to this mistake, I
thought it better not to make excuses, but asked him if I was on the road
to Montpont Learning that I was, I went on, and having reached the convent,
which I now recognised for what it was, I pulled the bell of the porter's
lodge. I was at once admitted to the presence of a tall and meagre
Carthusian father, with a long, coal-black beard and very dark eyes, with a
fixed expression that expressed nothing that I could be sure about. What
I fancied that I read in them was doubtfulness as to my motives, and the
necessity of being cautious.

By far the greater number of visitors who call here ask for food. I wished
to see the monastery. After a little hesitation, this father, who before I
left him was so communicative as to tell me he was a Spaniard, made a
sign to me to follow him. He showed me the church--which contains some
interesting carvings--the cloisters, and the cemetery; but every bit of
information had to be drawn from him as if it were a tooth. This was the
kind of conversation that passed between us:

'Are there many monks here?'

'Not a small number.'

'Do you make cheese?'


'For sale?'


'Do you make the _liqueur?_'

'Oh no.'

He would have allowed me to leave with the impression that the Carthusians
of Vauclaire did nothing beyond observing the canonical hours; but I learnt
from the peasants of the country that, like the Trappists, they laboured
industriously in clearing and draining the desert.

My walk across the Double ended at Montpont, a small agricultural centre on
the banks of the Isle, offering no charm to the traveller, unless he be a
commercial one. It was a little fortified town of some importance in the
Middle Ages. In 1370 the Bretons in garrison at Perigueux besieged it, and
it was surrendered without a struggle by the baron, Guillaume de Montpont,
an English partisan. The Duke of Lancaster then hurried up and besieged the
place with one hundred men-at-arms and five hundred archers. For eleven
weeks the little band of Bretons held out, but a breach having been made in
the wall, Montpont again fell into the power of the English.

[Illustration: THE DRONNE AT COUTRAS.]


Before starting upon a long-thought-of voyage down the Dronne, I resolved
to make the canoe look as beautiful as possible, so that it might produce a
favourable impression upon the natives of the regions through which it was
going to pass. I had learnt from experience that when one can take the
edge off suspicion by giving one's self or one's belongings a respectable
appearance, that does not cost much, it is well to do it.

Therefore I sent the bare-footed Helie, who always helped me when I had
any dirty work on hand, to buy some paint. Having first puttied up all the
cracks and crevices, we laid the paint on, and as the colour chosen was a
very pale green, the effect was anything but vulgar. When the boat was put
on the water again it looked like a floating willow-leaf of rather uncommon

Now, between the river Isle, where I was, and the Dronne, where I wished
to be, there was an obstacle in the shape of some twelve miles of hilly
country. A light cart was accordingly hired to convey the canoe and
ourselves (I was accompanied on this adventure by an English boy named
Hugh, sixteen years old, and just let loose from school) to the point at
which I had decided to commence the voyage down-stream. We left at five in
the morning, when the sun was gilding the yellow tufts and the motionless
long leaves of the maize-field. When we were fairly off--the boat, in
which we were seated, stretching many feet in the rear of the very small
cart--the most anxious member of the party was the horse, for he had never
carried such a queer load as this before, and the novelty of the sensation
caused by the weight far behind completely upset his notions of propriety.
His conduct was especially strange while going up-hill, for then he would
stop short from time to time and make an effort to look round, as if
uncertain whether it was all a hideous dream, or whether he was really
growing out behind in the form of a crocodile.

The peasants whom we met on the road stood still and gazed with eyes and
mouths wide open until we were out of sight. They had never seen people
travelling in a boat before on dry land. When they heard we were English
all was explained: '_Ces diables d'Anglais sont capables de tout_.'

While crossing the country in this fashion we passed a spot on the highroad
where a man was getting ready to thresh his wheat. He had prepared the
place by spreading over it a layer of cow-dung, and levelling it with his
bare feet until it was quite smooth and hard. It is in this way that the
threshing-floors are usually made.

'You see that _type?_' said the young man who was driving, and who balanced
himself on the edge of a board.


'Well, he owns more land than any other peasant about here, and is rich,
and yet, rather than turn a bit of his ground into a threshing-floor, he
brings his corn where you see him and threshes it upon the road.'

I said to myself that this man was not the first to discover that one
way to get on is to trespass as much as possible upon the rights of that
easy-going neighbour called the Public.

The hills between the two valleys were, for the most part, wooded with
natural forest, with a dense undergrowth of heather and gorse. As soon as
we began to descend towards the Dronne, the great southern broom, six or
eight feet high, was seen in splendid flower upon the roadside banks. We
found the Dronne at the village of Tocane St. Apre, and we launched the
boat below the mill about half a mile farther down-stream. Then, having
put on board a knapsack containing clothes, a valise filled chiefly with
provisions, several bottles of wine, one of rum (a safer spirit in France
than some others), and another of black coffee, made very strong, so that
it should last a long time, we took our first lunch in the boat, in the
cool shade of some old alders.

The wine had been already heated by the sun during the journey, but the
means of cooling it somewhat was near at hand. We hitched a couple of
bottles to the roots of the alders, with their necks just out of the water.
The young peasant who had driven us was invited to share our meal, and the
horse was left at the mill with a good feed of oats to comfort him and help
him to forget all the horrible suspicions that the boat had caused him. The
meal was simple enough, for we had brought no luxurious fare with us;
but the feeling of freedom and new adventure, the low song of the stream
running over the gravel in the shallows, the peace and beauty of the little
cove under the alders, made it more delightful than a sumptuous one with
other surroundings.

Everything went as smoothly as the deep water where the boat was chained,
until the spirit-lamp was lighted for warming the coffee. Then it was
discovered that the little saucepan had been forgotten. This was trying,
for when you have grown used to coffee after lunch you do not feel happy
without it, so long as there is a chance of getting it. It is exasperating
when you have the coffee ready made, but cannot warm it for want of a small
utensil. The peasant went to the mill to borrow a saucepan, and he brought
back one that was just what we wanted; at least, we thought so until the
coffee began to run out through a hole in the bottom. In vain we tried to
stop the leak with putty, which was brought in case the boat should spring
one; but after awhile it stopped itself--quite miraculously. Thus good
fortune came to our aid at the outset, and it looked like a fair omen of a
prosperous voyage.

We did not linger too long over this meal, for I had not come prepared to
pass the night either in the boat or on the grass, and I hoped to reach
Riberac in the evening. The bottles were put away in the locker, and what
was not eaten was returned to the valise. Then we parted company with the
young peasant, whose private opinion was that we should not go very far.
But he was mistaken; we went a long way, after encountering many serious
obstacles, as will be seen by-and-by.

The chain being pulled in, the boat glided off like the willow-leaf to
which I have already compared it. I sat on my piece of sliding board about
the middle, and Hugh sat on his piece of wood--which was the top of the
locker--in the stern. We both used long double-bladed paddles. In a few
seconds we were in the current, and in a few more were aground. Although
the canoe was flat-bottomed, it needed at least three inches of water to
float comfortably with us and the cargo. We were in a forest of reeds that
hid the outer world from us, and we had left the true current for another
that led us to the shallows. But this little difficulty was quickly
overcome, and I soon convinced myself that, notwithstanding the dearth of
water after the long drought, it was quite possible to descend the Dronne
from St. Apre in a boat such as mine.

Now, as there was no wager to make me hurry, and my main purpose in giving
myself all the trouble that lay before me was to see things, I put my
paddle down, and leaving Hugh to work off some of his youthful ardour for
navigation, I gave myself up for awhile to the spell of this most charming
stream. Its breadth and its depth were constantly changing, and in a truly
remarkable manner. Now it was scarcely wider than a brook might be, and was
nearly over-arched by its alders and willows; now it widened out and
sped in many a flashing runnel through a broad jungle of reeds where the
blistering rays of the sun beat down with tropical ardour; then it slept in
pools full of long green streamers that waved slowly like an Undine's hair.
Here and there all about stood the waxen flowers of sagittaria above the
barbed floating leaves, cool and darkly green. Close to the banks the tall
and delicately branching water-plantains, on which great grasshoppers
often hang their shed skins, were flecked with pale-pink blooms-flowers of
biscuit-porcelain on hair-like stems.

The splashing of a water-wheel roused me from my idle humour. We had
reached--much too quickly--our first mill-dam. It was a very primitive sort
of dam, formed of stakes and planks, but chiefly of brambles, dead wood
and reeds that had floated down and lodged there. Then began the tugging,
pushing, and lifting, to be continued at irregular intervals for several
days. The canoe was less than three feet wide in the middle, but it was
more than six yards long, and this length, although it secured steadiness
and greatly reduced the risk of capsizing in strong rapids or sinister
eddies, brought the weight up to about 170 lb., without reckoning the
baggage, which was turned out upon the grass or on the stones at each weir.
After passing the first obstacle, we floated into one of those long deep
pools which lend a peculiar charm to the Dronne. Usually covered in summer
with white or yellow lilies--seldom the two species together--these and
other plants that rejoice in the cool liquid depths show their scalloped
or feathery forms with perfect distinctness far below the surface of the
limpid water.

Here, O idle water-wanderer, let your boat glide with the scarcely moving
current, and gaze upon the leafy groves of the sub-aqueous wilderness lit
up by the rays of the sun, and watch the fish moving singly or in shoals
at various depths--the bearded barbel, the spotted trout, the shimmering
bream, and the bronzen tench. Watch, too, the speckled water-snakes gliding
upon the gravel or lurking like the ancient serpent in mimic gardens of
Eden. Mark all the varied life and wondrous beauty of nature there. Above
all, do not hurry, for little is seen by those who hasten on.

At a weir of sticks and stones forming a rather wide dam, overgrown by tall
hemp-agrimony now in flower, we met with our first difficulty. There was no
overflow to help us, for in this time of drought the mill-wheel needed all
the stream to turn it; so the boat had to be lifted over the stakes and
stones. Into the water we had to go, and boots and socks, being now put
aside, were not worn again for five days, except when we went ashore in the
evening, and had to make an effort to look respectable.

The dam being passed, the boat shot down a rapid current; then, as the bed
widened out and the water stilled, we were hidden from the world by reeds,
through which we had to force a way while the sun smote us and frizzled us.
Countless dragonflies flashed their brilliant colours as they whirled and
darted, green frogs plunged at our approach from their diving-boards of
matted rush, or quirked defiance from the banks where they were safe; and
now and again a startled kingfisher showed us the blue gleam of a wing
above the brown maces of the bulrushes and the high-hanging tassels of the

The bell of an unseen church a long way off sounded the mid-day angelus,
and told that we had not drifted so far as it appeared from the peopled
world. Leaving the reeds, we passed again into the shade of alders that
stretched their gnarled, fantastic roots far over the babbling or dreaming
water, and thence again amongst the sunny reeds. And so the hours went by,
and there were no villages, or even houses, to be seen, but the little
rough mills beside the slowly toiling wheel, which in most cases seemed to
be the only living thing there. Once, however, there was a naked child,
very brown, and as round as a spider between the hips and the waist,
playing upon a flowery bank above the mother, who wore a brilliant-coloured
kerchief on her head, and who knelt beside the water as she rinsed the
little elfs shirt. I thought the picture pretty enough to make a note of
it. This caused some contemptuous surprise to my companion in the back of
the boat--not yet alive to the innocent cunning of the artist and writer,
for he asked me, in the descriptive language of the British schoolboy:

'Are you going to stick down _that?_'

On we went, turning and turning, gliding into nooks that seemed each more
charming than the other, and having a constant succession of delightful
surprises, interrupted only by the mill-dams, which were distressingly

The hot hours stole away or passed into the mellowness of evening, and the
marsh-mallows that fringed the stream were looking coolly white when
we drew near to Riberac. The water widened and deepened, and we met a
pleasure-boat, vast and gaudy, recalling some picture of Queen Elizabeth's
barge on the Thames. Under an awning sat a bevy of ladies in bright
raiment, pleasant to look at, and in front of them were several young men
valiantly rowing, or, rather, digging their short sculls into the water,
as if they were trying to knock the brains out of some fluvial monsters
endeavouring to capture the youth and loveliness under the awning.

Having reached that part of the river which was nearest Riberac, I had to
find a place where the boat could be left, and where it would be safe from
the enterprise of boys--a bad invention in all countries. It is just,
however, to the French boy to say that he is not quite so fiendish out of
doors as the English one; but he makes things even by his conduct at home,
where he conscientiously devotes his animal spirits to the destruction of
his too-indulgent parents.

My difficulty was solved by a kind butcher, whose garden ran down to the
water. He let me chain the boat to one of his trees, and he took our fowl,
which was intended for lunch next day, and put it into his meat-safe--an
excellent service, for the drainage of his slaughter-house, emptying into
the river by the side of the boat, was enough to make even a live fowl lose
its freshness in a single night. We were soon settled in a comfortable inn
that prided itself, not without reason, upon its _cuisine_. Here we had a
_friture_ of gudgeons from the Dronne, which is famous throughout a wide
region for the quality of these and other fish.

The next morning I bought a saucepan, a melon, and grapes--which were
already ripe, although the date was the 9th August. Thus laden, we returned
to the boat and to the kindly butcher, who gave us our fowl wrapped up, not
in a newspaper as we had left it, but in a sheet of spotless white paper.
Having refilled our bottles, some with water, others with wine, we parted
from our hospitable acquaintance with pleasant words, and were afloat again
before the hour of eight. We had a serious wetting at the first weir, but
were dry again before we stopped to lunch. This time we landed, and chose
our spot in a beautiful little meadow, where an alder cast its shade upon
the bank. It was far from all habitations, but had the case been otherwise,
there would have been no danger of our being disturbed by a voice from
behind saying: 'You have no right to land here,' or, 'You are trespassing
in this field.'

Now, this little meadow was, except where the river ran by it, enclosed by
a high hedge, just as one in England might be, and although it was some
four hundred miles south of Paris, and the season had been exceptionally
dry, the grass was brightly green. Just below us was the clear river,
fringed with sedges, sprinkled all over with yellow lilies; beyond this
were other meadows, and then rose towards the cloudless sky the line of
wooded hills. There was a great quietude that nothing broke, save the
splash of a rising fish and the chorus of grasshoppers in the sunny
herbage. Here we stayed a good hour and warmed our coffee tranquilly in the
new saucepan, which afterwards proved very useful for baling purposes. Then
I smoked the pipe of peace, and felt tempted to tarry in this pleasant
place; but Hugh roused me to action by talking of fishing.

A few minutes later we were again on our voyage. Not far below was another
mill-dam of sticks and stones, and when this was passed the river widened
so that it flowed round a little island covered with alders and purple
loosestrife, and girt by a broad belt of white water-lilies. At the next
weir, which was troublesome, we were helped by the miller and his brother,
while a pretty young woman of about twenty, who stood with bare feet, short
skirt, uncovered stays, open chemise, and a linen sun-bonnet of the pattern
known in England, looked on with a fat baby in her arms. These helpful
people refilled our water-bottles, and watched us with interest until we
were out of sight.

Reeds again--innumerable reeds--through which we had to drag the canoe, for
we had somehow lost the current. Arrow-head and prickly bur-reed, great
rushes and sedges--a joy to the marsh botanist by the variety of their
species--stood against us in serried phalanxes, saying: 'Union is strength;
we are weak when alone, but altogether we will give you some work that you
will remember.' And they did so before we left them behind. Now, above the
lily-spotted water, deep and clear, showed a little cluster of houses on a
low cliff, and below these, close to the river, an old pigeon-house with
pointed roof.

To finish the picture, a narrow wooden bridge supported by poles stretching
downward at all angles, like the legs of an ungainly insect, had been
thrown across the stream. And here a great flock of geese, horrified at so
unwonted an apparition as the pale green boat and the paddles in fantastic
movement, were holding a hasty council of war, which we broke up before
they came to a decision.

The flow of water in the river had been perceptibly increased by
tributaries, and now, after each mill, the current was strong enough to
take us down for a mile or two at a quick rate. The little boat danced
gaily in the rapids. The great heat of the day had gone, and the light was
waning, when we mistook an arm of the river for the main stream, and found
ourselves at length in a little gully, very dim with overarching foliage,
and where the sound of rushing water grew momentarily louder.

It was all one to Hugh whether he got turned out or not, but I had lived
long enough not to like the vision of a roll in the stream at the end of
the day, with baggage swamped, if not lost. Therefore I chained up the
boat, and went to examine the rapids. I found the stream in great turmoil,
where it rushed over hidden rocks, and in the centre was a wave about three
feet high, that rose like a curve of clear green glass, but turned white
with anger, and broke into furious foam, as it fell into the basin below.
Having ascertained that the rock was sufficiently under water, I decided
that we would take our chance in the current after turning out the baggage.

We kept right in the centre. It was an exciting moment as we touched the
wave. The canoe made a bound upwards, then plunged into the boiling torrent
below. A moment more and we were out of all risk. So swift was the passage
that scarcely a gallon of water was taken in. Having put the baggage back,
we continued our voyage towards the unknown, for I knew not whither this
stream was going to take us. About a mile or two farther down, however, it
joined the river, which here seemed very wide. It was marvellous to find
that the brook of yesterday had grown to this; a circumstance to be
explained, however, by the number of springs that rise in its bed.

The scene was beyond all description beautiful. The wooded banks, the calm
water, the islands of reeds and sedges, the pure white lilies that scented
the air and murmured softly as the boat brushed their snowy petals, were
all stained with the blood of the dying sun. For a moment I saw the upper
rim of the red disc between the trunks of two trees far away that seemed to
grow taller and more sombre; then came the twilight with its purple tones.

The colours faded, darkness crept over the valley, and the water, losing
its transparency, looked unfathomably deep, and mirrored with tenfold power
all the fantastic gloom of the leaning alders, and the weird forms of the
hoary willows. And there was no light or sound from any town or village,
nor even from a lonely cottage. I had expected to reach at sundown the
little town of Aubeterre, in the department of the Charente, but all ideas
of distance based upon a map are absurdly within the mark when one follows
the course of a winding river, and the information of the inhabitants is
equally misleading, for they always calculate distances by the road.

When we reached the next weir there was very little light left, so, without
attempting to pass it, we paddled down to the mill. It was kept by three
brothers, who treated us with much kindness and attention. I learnt that we
were not far from the village of Nabinaud in the Charente, where there was
a small inn at which it would be possible to pass the night.

Aubeterre was still some miles off by water, and there were weirs to
overcome. Tired out, with legs and feet scraped and scratched by stones and
stumps, and smarting still more from sun-scorch, we were glad enough to
find a sufficient reason for getting out of the boat here.

One of the brothers carried politeness so far--I saw from the importance
of the mill that remuneration was not to be thought of--as to walk about a
mile uphill in order to show the inn and to see us settled in it. Then he
left, for I could not prevail upon him to sit down and chink glasses.
It was but a cottage-inn on the open hillside, and I doubt if the
simple-minded people who kept it would have accepted us for the night but
for the introduction. Husband and wife gave up their room to us, and where
they went themselves I could not guess, unless it was to the loft or
fowl-house. They were surprised, almost overcome, by the invasion, the
like of which had never happened to them before; but they showed plenty of

All that could be produced in the way of dinner was an omelet, some fried
ham, very fat and salt, and some _grillons_-a name given to the residue
that is left by pork-fat when it has been slowly boiled down to make lard.
The people of Guyenne think much of their _grillons_ or _fritons_. I
remember a jovial-faced innkeeper of the South telling me that he and
several members of his family went to Paris in a party to see the
Exhibition of 1889, and that they took with them _grillons_ enough to keep
them going for a week, with the help of bread and wine, which they were
compelled to buy of the Parisians, Had they done all that their provincial
ideas of prudence dictated, they would have taken with them everything that
was necessary to the sustenance of the body during their absence from home.

The best part of our meal must not be forgotten; it was salad,
fresh-plucked from the little garden enclosed by a paling, well mixed with
nut-oil, wine-vinegar, and salt. Then for dessert there was abundance of
grapes and peaches.

The little room in which we slept, or, to speak more correctly, where I
tried to sleep, had no ornament except the Sunday clothes of the innkeeper
and his wife hanging against the walls. Next to it was the pigsty, as the
inmates took care to let me know by their grunting. Had I wished to escape
in the night without paying the bill, nothing would have been easier, for
the window looked upon a field that was about two feet below the sill.

I opened this window wide to feel the cool air, and long after Hugh went to
sleep, with the willingness of his sixteen years, I sat listening to the
crickets and watching the quiet fields and sky, which were lit up every few
seconds by the lightning flash of an approaching storm--still too far away,
however, to blur even with a cloudy line the tranquil brilliancy of the

Leaving the window open, I lay down upon the outer edge of the bed, but to
no purpose. In the first place, I am never happy on the edge of a narrow
bed, and then sleep and I were on bad terms that night. The lightning,
growing stronger, showed my host's best trousers hanging against the
whitewashed wall, and from the pigsty came indignant snorts in answer to
the deepening moan of the thunder; but the crickets of the house sang after
their fashion of the hearth and home, and those outside of the great joy of
idleness in the summer fields. From a bit of hedge or old wall came now and
then the clear note of a fairy-bell rung by a goblin toad.

I lit the candle again, and elfish moths, with specks of burning charcoal
for eyes, dashed at me or whirled and spun about the flame. One was a most
delicately-beautiful small creature, with long white wings stained with
pink. Thus I spent the night, looking at the sights and listening to the
sounds of nature; which is better than to lie with closed eyes quarrelling
with one's own brain.

We left with a boy carrying a basket of grapes and peaches, also wine to
refill the empty bottles in the boat. On my way down the hill, I stopped
at the ruin of a mediaeval castle that belonged to Poltrot de Mere, the
assassin of the Due de Guise. All this country of the Angoumois, even
more than Perigord, is full of the history of the religious wars of the
sixteenth century. The whole of the southwestern region of France might be
termed the classic ground of atrocities committed in the name of religion.
Simon de Montfort's Crusaders and the Albigenses, after them the Huguenots
and the Leaguers, have so thickly sown this land with the seed of blood,
to bear witness through all time to their merciless savagery, that the
unprejudiced mind, looking here for traces of a grand struggle of ideals,
will find little or nothing but the records of revolting brutality.

There is nothing left of Poltrot de Mere's stronghold but a few fragments
of wall much overgrown with ivy and brambles. In order to get a close view
of these I had to ask permission of the owner of the land--an elderly man,
who looked at me with a troubled eye, and while he wished to be polite,
considered it his duty to question me concerning my 'quality' and motives.
I knew what was in his mind: a foreigner, a spy perchance, was going about
the country, taking notes of fortified places.

It was true that this fortress, nearly hidden by vegetation, was no longer
in a state to withstand a long siege, but who could tell what importance
it might have in the eyes of a foreign Power traditionally credited with
a large appetite for other people's property? However, he was not an
ill-natured man, and when I had talked to him a bit, he moved his hand
towards the ruin with quite a noble gesture, and told me that I was free to
do there anything I liked. Had I been a snake-catcher, I might have done a
good deal there.

We were afloat again before the sun had begun to warm an apple's ruddy
cheek; but already the white lips of the water-lilies were wide-parted,
as the boat slid past or through their colonies upon the reedy river. We
glided under brambled banks, overtrailed with the wild vine; then the
current took us round and about many an islet of reeds and rushes where the
common _phragmites_ stood ten or twelve feet high; and now by other banks
all tangled with willow-herb, marsh-mallow, and loose-strife. Over the
clear water, and the wildernesses of reeds and flowers, lay the mild
splendour of the morning sunshine. But the blissful minutes passed too
quickly; all the tones brightened to brilliancy, and by ten o'clock the
rays were striking down again with torrid ardour.

We had lunched amongst the reeds under a clump of alders, and were paddling
on again, when the massive walls and tower of a vast fortress of old time
appeared upon the top of a steep hill, rising above all other hills that
were visible, and at the foot of the castle rock were many red roofs of
houses that seemed to be nestled pleasantly in a spacious grove of trees.
Above all was the dazzling blue of the sky. A truly southern picture,
flaming with shadeless colour, and glittering with intense whiteness. We
were reaching Aubeterre.

We beached the canoe beside a meadow, opposite a spot where about twenty
women were washing clothes, their noses very near the water. They were
mightily surprised to see us suddenly arrive in our swift boat. All the
heads came up together, and the rest went down.

We walked into a riverside inn, and there I made friends with the innkeeper
over one or two bottles of beer--there was an innocent liquor so called on
sale at Aubeterre. The _aubergiste_ was rather down on his luck, for some
mill at which he had been employed had gone wrong financially, and the
wheels thought it no longer worth while to turn round. He therefore
undertook to show us the way to everything that ought to be seen at

He led us up a steep winding road where the sun smote furiously, where
there was no shade, and where the dust was so hot that it might have
roasted an egg, if the person waiting for it was in no great hurry. We had
gone a very little way, when Hugh proposed to return and mount guard over
the boat, for whose safety he had become unreasonably anxious. On reaching
the steep little town there was more shade, because the streets were
narrow, but the rough pitching of cobble-stones was very bad for feet so
sore as ours, and so swollen that the boots into which we managed to force
them before leaving the river were now several sizes too small.

We stopped at the parish church, but not so long as I should have, had I
been a lonely wayfarer without anybody to guide me. It is a delightful
example of a Romanesque style that is found much repeated in Perigord,
Angoumois, and the Bordelais. The great interest lies in the facade, which
dates from the eleventh century. Here we have a large central portal, and
on each side of it, what the architectural design supposes to be a smaller
one, but which in reality is only a sham doorway. The slender columns
of the jambs, and the archivolts filled in with little figures, sacred,
fantastic, and grotesque, are there, as in connection with the central
arch; but all this has only an ornamental purpose. The spectator who is
at all interested in ecclesiastical architecture will examine with much
delight the elaborate mouldings and the strangely-suggestive forms of
men, beasts, birds, shapes fantastic and chimerical, which ornament these
Romanesque doorways.

But this church has not the interest of singularity which belongs to
another at Aubeterre--that of St. John. It is, or was, truly a church, and
yet it is not an edifice. Like one at St. Emilion, it is monolithic in the
sense that those who made it worked upon the solid rock with pick, hammer,
and chisel; in which way they quarried out a great nave with a rough apse
terminating in the very bowels of the hill. On one side of the nave, enough
has been left of the rock to form four immense polygonal piers, whose upper
part is lost to sight in the gloom, until the eye grows somewhat reconciled
to the glimmer of day, which, stealing in through openings in the cliff,
is drowned in darkness before it reaches the hollow of the apse. On the
opposite side is a high gallery cut in the rock in imitation of the
triforium gallery. The row of piers separates the church proper from what
was for centuries the cemetery of Aubeterre: a vast burrow made by the
living for the reception of the dead, where they were plunged out of the
sunlight teeming with earthly illusion and phantasy, to await the breaking
of the great dawn.

Not a spring violet nor a gaudy flower of summer gave to the air the
perfume, or to the earth the colour of sweet life, to soothe and lighten
the dreariness of the dead: such thoughts in the Middle Ages would have
been almost pagan. Then the darkness of death was like the darkness of
night here in this necropolis hewn in the side of the ancient rock, whose
very substance is made up chiefly of other and older forms of life.
Moreover, the hope that was then so firmly fixed beyond the grave was the
hope of rest--everlasting repose--after so much tossing and battling upon
the sea of life. The palmer dying of weariness by the wayside, and the
Crusader of his wounds upon the blood-soaked sand, could imagine no more
blessed reward from the '_dols sire Jhesu_' for all their sacrifice of
sleep, and other pain endured for their souls' sake, than a 'bed in
paradise.' To me it seemed that had I lived seven centuries ago, I should,
when dying, have been so weak as to beg my friends not to lay my body in
the awful gloom of this sepulchral cavern, there to remain until the end of
time. But the mediaeval mind, having better faith, appeared to be moved by
no such solicitude for the lifeless body.

If there are ghostly people who haunt the earth, and have their
meeting-places for unholy revel, what a playground this must be for them at
the witching hour! It is enough to make one's hair stand on end to think of
what may go on there when the sinking moon looks haggard, and the owls
hoot from the abandoned halls open to the sky of the great ruin above. The
burying went on within the rock until thirty years ago, and the skulls that
grin there in the light of the visitor's candle, and all the other bones
that have been dug up and thrown in heaps, would fill several waggons. It
was with no regret that I went out into the hot and brilliant air, and
left for ever these gloomy vaults, with their dismal human relics and that
penetrating odour of the earth that once moved and spoke, which dwells in
every ancient charnel-house.

Now we climbed to the top of the calcareous and chalky hill and made the
round of the castle wall. We could not enter, because by ill-luck the owner
had gone away, and had not left the keys with anybody. This was especially
disappointing to me, because my imagination had been worked upon by
the stories I had heard of the subterranean passages leading from this
fifteenth-century stronghold far under the hill, and which had not been
thoroughly explored since the castle was abandoned. The innkeeper assured
me that during an exploration that was being made in one of them the
candles went out, and that nobody had attempted again to reach the end of
the mysterious gallery.

I may observe here that people in this part of France have such a strong
horror of passages underground, which they commonly believe to be inhabited
by snakes and toads--an abomination to them--that it is just possible
the candles of which the _aubergiste_ spoke may have been put out by the
superior brilliancy of the meridional imagination.

The time spent in this interesting little town that lies quite off all
beaten tracks made the prospect of arriving that night at St. Aulaye, the
next place by the river, look rather doubtful. We re-started, however, with
the knowledge that we had still several hours of daylight before us. The
voyage now became more exciting, and likewise more fatiguing. Mills were
numerous, and the weirs changed completely in character. The simple dam of
sticks and stones, with a drop of only two or three feet on the lower side,
disappeared, and in its place we had a high well-built weir, with a fall of
eight or ten feet. Fortunately, there was generally enough water running
over to help us, and not enough to threaten shipwreck. The manoeuvre,
however, had to be quite altered. The boat had to be thrust or drawn
forward until it hung several feet over the edge of the weir, then a quick
push sent it down stern first into the water, while I held the chain, which
was fastened to the other end. Then Hugh, saucepan in hand, let himself
down by the chain, sometimes in a cascade, and baled out the water taken
in. Finally, when all the traps had been collected from the dry places
where they had been laid and were handed down, I had to get into the boat
and bring the chain with me. It was a movement that had to be learnt before
it could be done gracefully and surely, and at the second weir of this
kind, where there was a considerable rush of water, in stepping on board I
lost my balance, and rolled into the river. It was, however, not the first
bath that I had received in my clothes since starting upon this expedition,
and the inconvenience of being wet to the skin was now one that troubled
neither of us much. We were dry again in two hours, if no similar
misadventure happened in the meantime.

It was an afternoon full of misfortune. We lost the spirit-lamp and
the best dinner knife, and, what was far more precious to me, the most
companionable of sticks--one that had walked with me hundreds of miles.
It was once a young oak growing upon the stony _causse_. A friendly baker
hardened it over the embers of his oven, and a cunning blacksmith put
a beautiful spike at one end of it, which became the terror of dogs
throughout Guyenne.

Evening stole quietly upon us with a stormy yellow glow; then little clouds
turned crimson overhead. Onward went the boat through the reeds in the rosy
light, onward over the purpling water. It was nearly night when we caught
sight of the houses of St. Aulaye upon a hill.

Presently the wailing of water was heard, by which we knew that another
weir was near. Instead of trying to pass it, we went on down the
mill-stream, my intention being to leave the canoe with the miller and walk
to the town.

Now the gentle miller, after accepting the custody of the boat, held a
rapid consultation with his wife on the threshold of his dwelling, and as
we were moving off to look for a hostelry, he limped up to me--he had a leg
that seemed as stiff as a post--and said:

'If _ces messieurs_ would like to stop here to-night, we will do our best
for them. We have little to offer, for we do not keep an inn, and are only
simple people; but _ces messieurs_ are tired perhaps, and would rather stay
near their boat.'

Although it was dark, I quite realized what a disreputable figure I made,
with my bare red feet, muddy flannels, and my straw hat, which, after
taking many baths and being dried as often by the sun, had come to have the
shape of almost everything but a hat. I had, therefore, grave doubts of
my ability to inspire any respectable innkeeper with confidence, and I
resolved at once to accept the offer that had been so unexpectedly made.

The spot where we were to pass the night was decidedly sombre, for there
were trees around that cast a dark shadow, and there was the incessant cry
of unseen, troubled water; but from the open door of the low house that
adjoined the mill there flashed a warm light, and, as we entered, there was
the sight, which is ever grateful to the tired wanderer, of freshly-piled
sticks blazing upon the hearth. The room was large, and the flickering
oil-lamp would have left it mostly in shadow had it not been helped by the
flame of the fire. The walls were dark from smoke and long usage, for this
was a very old mill. There was no sign of plenty, save the chunks of fat
bacon which hung from the grimy rafters. There were several children, and
one of them, almost a young woman, went out with a basket to buy us some
meat. We had not a very choice meal, but it was a solid one. It commenced
with a big tureen of country soup, made of all things, but chiefly of
bread, and which Hugh, with his ideas newly-shaped in English moulds,
described as 'stodgey.' Then came an omelet, a piece of veal, and a dish
of gudgeons. I am sorry to add that these most amusing little bearded fish
were dropped all alive into the boiling nut-oil.

Although our bedroom was immediately overhead, we had to pass through the
mill to reach it, and the journey was a roundabout one. The lame miller was
our guide, and on our way we learnt the cause of his lameness. About a year
before he had been caught up by some of his machinery and mangled in a
frightful manner. We came to a brick wall plastered over, and a little
below a shaft that ran through it was a ragged hole nearly three feet in

Said the miller: 'You see that hole?'


'You wouldn't think a man's body could make that? Mine did: and all those
dark splashes on the plaster are the marks of my blood!'

The poor fellow had been brought within a hair's-breadth of death, and the
long months during which he could do nothing but lie down or sit in a heap
after his accident had, he said, nearly ruined him.

This night, although we had but one room, we had two beds. I lingered at
the open window, and watched the swiftly-running mill-stream a few feet
below. It had an evil sound. Then I felt the bad power that lies in water;
above all, its treachery. Had not this small stream, by lending its
strength to a wheel that turned other wheels, taken up a man as if he
were a feather, and dashed him through a wall? When the morning light and
sunshine returned, the chant of the running water was as soothing as the
song of birds.

We contrived, after infinite torture, to put on our boots again, and then
walked up the hill to the village-like town. Besides the church of mixed
Romanesque and Gothic, there was nothing worth seeing there, unless the
spectacle of a woman holding up a rabbit by the hind-legs, while her
daughter, a tender-hearted damsel of about sixteen, whacked it behind the
ears with a fire-shovel, may be thought improving to the mind. At a shop
where we bought some things, Hugh was deeply offended by a woman who
insisted that some rather small bathing-drawers were large enough for him,
and especially for speaking of him as the _petit garcon_. He talked about
her 'cheek' all the way back to the boat. It was on returning that I
noticed the picturesque charm of our mill, with the old Gothic bridge
adjoining it, a weather-beaten, time-worn stone cross rising from the
parapet. Fresh provisions having been put on board the boat, we wished our
friends of the mill good-bye. They and their children, with about a dozen
neighbours and their children, assembled upon the bank to see us off. A
long line of dancing rapids lay in front of us, so that we were really able
to astonish the people by the speed at which we went away where any boat
of the Dronne would have quickly gone aground. In a few minutes the strong
current had carried us a mile, and then, looking back, we saw the little
crowd still gazing at us. A turn of the stream, and they had lost sight of
us for ever.

Under the next mill-dam was some deep water free from reeds and weeds. On
the banks were tall trees; behind us was the rocky weir, over which the
stream fell in a thousand little rivulets and runnels, and less than a
hundred yards in front rose the seemingly impenetrable reedy forest. The
spot so enclosed had a quiet beauty that would have been holy in days gone
by when the mind of man peopled such solitudes with fluvial deities. Here
the desire to swim became irresistible. What a swim it was! The water was
only cold enough to be refreshing, while its transparency was such that
even where it was eight or ten feet deep every detail could be seen along
the gravelly bottom, where the gudgeons gambolled. After the bath we
paddled until we saw a very shady meadow-corner close to the water. Here
we spread out upon the grass eggs that had been boiled for us at the mill,
bread, cheese, grapes, and pears, and what other provisions we had. Now and
again the wind carried to us the sound of water turning some hidden, lazy
wheel. Those who would prefer a well-served lunch in a comfortable room to
our simple meal in the meadow-corner under the rustling leaves should never
go on a voyage down the Dronne.

Some time in the afternoon we came to a broad weir that was rather
difficult to pass, for there was no water running over, and a dense
vegetation had sprung up during the summer between the rough stones. The
miller saw us from the other end of his dam, which was a rather long way
off, for these weirs do not cross at right angles with the banks, but
start at a very obtuse one at a point far above the mill. After a little
hesitation, inspired by doubtfulness as to what manner of beings we were,
he came towards us over the stones and through the water-plants with a
bog-trotting movement which we, who had scraped most of the skin off our
own bare ankles, quite understood.

He was a rough but good fellow, and he lent us a helping hand, which was
needed, for every time we lifted the boat now it seemed heavier than it
was before. The hard work was telling upon us. The sound of voices caused
another head to appear on the scene. It came up from the other side of the
weir, and it was a cunning old head, with sharp little eyes under bushy
gray brows, overhanging like penthouses. Presently the body followed the
head, and the old man began to talk to the miller in patois, but failing,
apparently, to make any impression upon him, he addressed me in very bad

'Why give yourselves the devil's trouble,' said he,' in pulling the
boat over here, when there is a beautiful place at the other end of the
_barrage_, where you can go down with the current? The water is a bit
jumpy, but there is nothing to fear.'

For a moment I hesitated, but I saw the miller shake his head; and this
decided me to cross at the spot where we were. The old man looked on with
an expression that was not benevolent, and when the boat was ready to be
dropped on the other side, the motive of his anxiety to send us down a
waterfall came out. He had spread a long net here in amongst the reeds, and
he did not wish us to spoil his fishing.

When we got below the mill we saw the water that was not wanted for the
wheel, tumbling in fury down a steep, narrow channel, in which were set
various poles and cross-beams. And it was down this villainous _diversoir_
that the old rascal would have sent us, knowing that we should have come to
grief there. The boat would almost certainly have struck some obstacle and
been overturned by the current.

Sometimes people rushed from the fields where they were working to the
banks to watch us. Dark men, with bare chests, and as hairy as monkeys;
women, likewise a good deal bare, with heads covered by great sun-bonnets,
and children burnt by the sun to the colour of young Arabs, stood and gazed
speechless with astonishment. Who were we in this strange-looking boat that
went so fast, and whence had we come? They knew that we must have come a
long, long way; but, how did we do it? How did we get over the _barrages_?
These were the thoughts that puzzled them. No boat had ever been known to
treat the obstacles of the Dronne in this jaunty fashion before.

Several more weirs were passed; one with great difficulty, for the canoe
had to be dragged and jolted thirty or forty yards through the corner of a
wood. Then the evening fell again when we were following the windings of a
swift current that ran now to the right and now to the left of what seemed
to be a broad marsh covered with reeds and sedges. Sometimes the current
carried us into banks gloomy with drooping alders, or densely fringed with
brambles. When I heard squeals behind, I knew that Hugh was diving through
a blackberry-bush, or a hanging garden of briars.

I was sorry for him; but my business was to keep the canoe's head in the
centre of the current, and leave the stern to follow as it might. At every
sudden turning Hugh became exceedingly watchful; but in spite of his
steering the stern would often swing round into the bank, and then there
was nothing for him to do but to duck his head as low as he could, and try
to leave as little as possible of his ears upon the brambles. Before the
end of this day he gave signs of restlessness and discontent.

Our stopping-place to-night was to be La Roche Chalais, a rather important
village, just within the department of the Dordogne. We still seemed to be
far from it, notwithstanding all the haste we had made. While the air and
water were glowing with the last flush of twilight, myriads of swallows,
already on their passage from the north, spotted the clear sky, and settled
down upon the alders to pass the night. At our approach they rose again,
and filled the solitude with the whirr of their wings. We likewise
disturbed from the alders great multitudes of sparrows that had become
gregarious. They stayed in the trees until the boat was about twenty yards
from them, and then rose with the noise of a storm-wind beating the leaves.
One of the charms of this waterfaring is, that you never know what surprise
the angle of a river may bring. Very tired, and rather down at heart, we
turned a bend and saw in front of us a clear placid reach, on which the
reds and purples were serenely dying, and at a distance of about half a
mile, a fine bridge with the large central arch forming with its reflection
in the water a perfect ellipse.

On the left of the bridge was a wooded cliff, the edges of the trees
vaguely passing into one another and the purple mist, and above them all,
against the warmly-fading sky was the spire of a church. That, said I, can
be no other than the church of La Roche Chalais; and so it turned out.

There was a large mill below the bridge, where we met with much politeness,
and where our boat was taken charge of. Here we were told there was a good
hotel at La Roche, and we set off to find it. But how did we set off?
With bare feet, carrying our boots in our hands, and looking the veriest
scarecrows after our four days of amphibious life. We had tried to put on
our boots, but vainly, for they had been flooded. Now, this was the chief
cause of the unpleasantness that soon befell us, for no pilgrims ever had
more disgraceful-looking feet than ours. Fortunately it was nearly dark,
and the people whom we met did not examine us very attentively. Moreover,
they saw bare feet on the road and in the street every day of their lives
during the summer.

At the inn, however, our appearance made an instantaneously bad impression.
It was the most important hotel in a considerable district. It lay in the
beat of many commercial travellers--men who never go about with bare
feet, or in dirty flannel and battered straw hats, but are always dressed
beautifully. We walked straight into the house, with that perfect composure
which the French say is distinctly British, and sudden consternation fell
upon the people there. Two elderly ladies, sister hotel-keepers--one of
whom had a rather strongly-marked moustache, for which, of course, poor
woman, she was not responsible--came out of the kitchen, and stood in the
passage fronting us. It was not to welcome us to their hostelry, but to
prevent us penetrating any farther, that they took up this position.

'Mesdames,' said I, 'we want rooms, if you please, to-night, and also

'Monsieur,' replied the lady with the moustache, 'I am sorry, but--but--all
our rooms are occupied.'

'You are afraid of us, madame?'

'Yes, monsieur, I am.'

This I thought very frank indeed; and I was turning over in my mind what I
had better say next, when she continued:

'We never take travellers without baggage.'

'But,' said I, holding out my knapsack in one hand, and my boots in the
other, 'I have baggage.' Perceiving that the expression did not change, I

'I have also a boat.'

'A boat!'

'Yes, a boat.'

'Where is it?'

'On the river. I have left it at the mill just below here. We have come
from St. Apre.'

'St. Apre! And where are you going?'

'To Coutras, I hope.'

By this time several persons who had collected in the passage and the
kitchen were grinning from ear to ear. I felt that all eyes were fixed upon
my red feet, and not liking the situation, I resolved to end it.

'As you are afraid, I will give you my card.' So saying, I pushed my way
into the _salle a manger_, and pulled out a card, which, marvellous to
say, I had managed to keep dry. Now, the card itself conveyed nothing of
importance to anybody. It was the manner of saying, 'I will give you my
card,' together with the movement that meant, 'I am here, and I intend to
stop,' that broke down the resolution of the two women to turn us from
their door.

Their confidence gradually came, and they gave us a very good dinner,
notwithstanding the lateness of the hour. We had comfortable beds, too, and
the next morning we got our feet into our boots. We bought our provisions
for the day at the inn, and to avoid the curiosity of the natives, we
escaped by a back way, and hobbled down to the boat through a rocky field.

The stream was strong for a few miles below the mill at La Roche. The canoe
went down by itself fast enough, but the water had to be watched carefully,
for the bed was strewn with rocks. Sometimes we shot over blocks of
limestone that were only three or four inches below the surface. We could
not be sure from one minute to another that our rapid flight would not
meet with a sudden check. In this excitement of uncertainty there was true
pleasure. We chose our first spot for bathing where the current was strong,
and had our second swim in a wide and beautiful pool, where the table-like
rocks, smooth and polished, could be seen ten or twelve feet below the
surface. Then having spread out our provisions once more on the river bank
in a nook that seemed to be far from village, or even homestead, we had an
unpleasant surprise. About a dozen boys, on their way home from some hidden
school, suddenly appeared round a wooded corner, and after being brought to
a momentary standstill by their own astonishment, made straight towards
us. Having examined the canoe with much curiosity, they sat down in a
half-circle just behind us, with minds evidently made up to wait and see us
off. They watched us through our meal with much interest, and made jokes in
patois at our expense. They were not, however, so boldly bad as many boys,
and there was no sufficient reason to drive them away. Moreover, they may
have had a better right to be there than we. The field may have belonged to
the father of one of them. I suggested to them that their mothers might be
anxious, if not angry, on account of their loitering; but they were not to
be moved by any such reminders. They had made up their minds to see us off,
and this they did, to their great delight and entertainment.

The river was charming, with its myriads of white water-lilies and forests
of reeds. Once it spread out into a lake, in which was a little island
covered with tall bulrushes and purple loosestrife. But although there was
so much pleasure for the eye, the afternoon was one of suffering. We were
blistering from the heat of the sun, and our bottles being emptied, we were
tormented with thirst. It was true that there was plenty of water always
within reach; but it had already run past a good many villages and small
towns, and, moreover, it was tepid. After leaving La Roche Chalais the
river had on its left bank the department of the Dordogne, and on its
right the Charente Inferieure. Rather late in the afternoon we entered the
Gironde, and soon afterwards heard the familiar sound of women beating
linen with their _battoirs_ by the side of the water. We came upon a crowd
of them, and learnt from them that the village of Les Eglisottes was
close by. Having obtained here both water and white wine, we were able to
continue the voyage in better spirits.

This fifth and last day on the Dronne was the most trying of all. The
distance may not have been more than twenty-five miles, but we were very
jaded. There were few weirs, but some of them were not easy to pass. Then
the boat from time to time had to be dragged a long way through reeds,
where there was not enough water to float it. For eight or nine hours the
sun raged above us; but the cool evening came at length--about the time
that we passed the last mill. The river was broad and deep, and I thought
that we could not be far from Coutras; but long reaches succeeded one
another, and the great forests of the Double on the left seemed as if they
would never end.

The river is now running--or, rather, creeping, for it has lost its
current--under densely-wooded hills, and the water is deeply dyed with
interflowing tints of green and gold. These fade, and in the gathering
darkness without a moon the silent Dronne grows very sombre. The boat must
have received an exceptionally hard knock at the last weir, for we feel the
water rising about our feet. The wonder is that our frail craft has taken
its five days' bumping over stumps and stones so well. It would be very
annoying if it were to sink with us now that we are so near the end of our
voyage. But is the end so near? We scan the distance in front of us in
search of twinkling lights, but the only twinkle comes from a brightening
star. We see the long wan line of water, marked with awful shadows near the
banks, from which, too, half-submerged trees, long since dead, lift strange
arms or stretch out long necks and goblin heads that seem to mock and jibe
at us in this fashion: 'Ha! ha! you are going down! We'll drag you under!'
And the interminable black forest stretches away, away, always in front,
until it is lost in the dusky sky.

Ah, there is a sound at length to break the monotonous dip, dip of the
paddles, and it is a sweet sound too. It is the angelus; there is no
mistaking it. It is very faint, but it puts fresh strength into our arms,
and revives the hope that this river will lead us somewhere.

It led us to Coutras. There at about nine o'clock we beached the half
water-logged canoe not far above the spot to which the tide rises from the
broad Atlantic. We felt that we had had quite enough waterfaring to satisfy
us for the present. We had voyaged about eighty miles, and passed about
forty weirs.


[Illustration: A STREET AT ST. EMILION.]

The nooks and corners where great men of the past spent their lives quietly
and thoughtfully often lie far enough from the beaten ways to provide the
romantic tramp with a motive that he may need to excuse his singularity
in faring on foot over a tract of country which lacks the kind of
picturesqueness that would mark it out as a territory to be annexed by the
tourist sooner or later. Having found myself, almost unexpectedly, in the
district of Michel de Montaigne, after crossing the Double, I reckoned
that less than a day's quiet walking would bring me to the village of
St. Michel-Bonnefare--better known in the region as St. Michel-Montaigne
(pronounced there Montagne, as the name was originally spelt), close to the
castle or manor-house where the contemplative Perigourdin gentleman was
born, and where he wrote his 'Essays' in a tower, of which he has left a
detailed description. Then there was another lure: the battle-field of
Castillon, a few miles farther south, where the heroic Talbot was slain,
and where the cannon that fired the fatal stone announced the end of the
feudal ages. We may travel over the whole world of literature without going
beyond our house and garden. Even the blind may read, and thus bring back
to themselves the life of the past; but how the indolent mind is helped
when spurred by the eye's impressions! The eye awakens ideas that might
otherwise sleep on for ever, by looking at scenes filled with the living
interest of a Montaigne or a Talbot.

I might have got to within four miles or thereabouts of the Castle of
Montaigne, by using the railroad that runs up the valley of the Lower
Dordogne, but I preferred to start on foot from Montpont. This manner of
travelling is very old-fashioned, but it will always possess a certain
charm for two classes of people: habitual vagabonds who beg and are freely
accused of stealing, and the literary, artistic, antiquarian, or scientific
vagabonds who take to tramping by fits and starts. The latter class, being
quite incomprehensible to the rustic mind in Guyenne, are regarded by it
with almost as much suspicion as the other.

I started at the hour of seven in the morning, which the French--earlier
risers than the English--think a late one for beginning the work of a
summer day in the provinces. I will not say that the plain on which I now
tramped for some miles was uninteresting, because all nature is interesting
if we are only in the right mood to observe and be instructed; but to me
it was dull, for I had been spoilt by much rambling in up and down country
full of strong contrasts. Here I saw on each side of me wide expanses of
field, with scarcely a hedge or tree, all dotted with grazing cattle. Not
a few of the animals were in the charge of muscular, aggressive dogs, that
interpreted their duty too largely, and made themselves a nuisance. At
intervals were patches of maize or pumpkins, or a bit of vineyard with a
house hard by facing the road--a low ground-floor house solidly built,
but its plainness unrelieved by the grace of a vine-trellis or a climbing
flower. By-and-by the land became somewhat hilly, and the pasturage changed
gradually to open wood and heath, where the gorse was already gilding its
summer green, and the bracken stood palm-like in purple deserts of heather.
Then the ideas began to warm in the sunny silence, and I fear that I
rejoiced in the sterility of the soil which had preserved the charm of free
and untormented nature.

When I reached the village-like town of Villefranche, I perceived a
movement of men and women like that of bees around a hive. I chanced to
arrive on the day of the local fair, when everybody expects to make some
money, from the peasant proprietor or the _metayer_ who brings in his corn
or cattle, to the small shopkeeper who lives upon the agriculturist. I felt
disposed to lunch at the grandest hotel in Villefranche, and a good woman
whom I consulted on the subject led me through throngs of bartering
peasants and cattle-dealers, forests of horns, and by the upturned jaws of
braying asses, until she stopped before an inn. There all was bustle and
commotion. A swarm of women had been called in to help in anticipation of
the crush, and they got in one another's way, walked upon the cats' tails,
and raised the tumult of a boxing-booth with the rattle of their tongues.
All this was in the kitchen; but there was a side-room in which a long
table had been laid for the guests. I took a place at this rustic
_table-d'hote_, and I had on each side of me and in front of me men in
blouses who talked in patois or in French, as the mood suited them. I had
already perceived that, as I drew nearer to Bordeaux, the Southern dialect
became more and more a jargon, in which there were not only many French
words, but French phrases. These men in blouses were rough sons of the
soil, but I soon gathered that some of them were very well off. In
provincial France dress counts for very little as a sign of fortune's
favour. There were men at the table whose burly forms and full-coloured
faces were just what one would expect to see at a market dinner in an
English country town; but their epicurean style of dealing lightly with
each dish, so that the charm of variety might not be spoilt by a too hasty
satisfaction of hunger, and the unanimity with which they asked for coffee
at the close, marked a strong difference in habits and manners. Their
politeness to me was almost excessive. As soon as the most jovial member of
the company--who had undertaken the carving had cut up a piece of meat or
a fowl, the dish was invariably passed from his end of the table to mine,
where I sat alone.

Before leaving Villefranche, a low, square tower enticed me to the parish
church. The building was originally Romanesque, but the pointed style must
have been grafted upon the other so long ago as the English period. Outside
the walls, some steps led me into a little chapel half underground. It was
a barrel-vaulted crypt, sternly simple, and lighted only by one very narrow
Romanesque window in the apse, just above a rough stone altar of ancient
pattern, with a statue of the dead Christ on the ground beneath the slab.
In the semi-darkness, the flame of a solitary candle shone without smoke or
motion, as if it had been there for centuries, and like all the rest had
grown very old.

I had climbed to the ruined Castle of Gurcons, where sloes and blackberries
were waiting for the birds in the feudal court strewn with stones. I had
left the village of Montpeyroux, with the sound of flails weakening on
the wind, and late in the afternoon was drawing near to the Castle of
Montaigne, when a small wayside auberge tempted me from the hot road. The
woman who waited upon me had a fat body and a hard, firmly inquisitive
face--a combination to be distrusted. Having settled down again to her
knitting, she inquired of me where I was going, and when I told her that I
was on my way to the Chateau de Montaigne, she asked me if I had any work
to do there. I evaded this question, not knowing, or not wishing to know,
exactly what she meant. She reflected a few minutes, then, looking at me
over her knitting-needles, she said:

'Are you a tiler or a plasterer?'

Now, this was a question that I was quite unprepared for. I had often been
set down as a pedlar. I had been suspected of being a travelling musician,
and also a colporteur for the Salvation Army; in fact, of being almost
everything but a tiler or plasterer. But this shrewd woman had evidently
come to the conclusion that, if I did not work upon the housetops, I must
perforce be an artist of the trowel. I assured her that I was as incapable
of fixing a tile as of making a ceiling; whereupon she said:

'I beg your pardon. I thought you were a workman.'

As I left, I saw by the vivacity with which she scratched the back of her
head with a knitting-needle that she was writhing mentally with the torture
of unsatisfied curiosity; and I took a malignant pleasure in her suffering.
The white flannel that I was wearing was the most agreeable reason I could
think of for being associated with plaster, but my resemblance to a tiler
continued to perplex me as I trudged along the road.

I now left the broad highway, and took a narrower road that went for
some distance through woods up the side of a long hill. The shadows were
gathering under the trees, and I was beginning to fear that I should reach
the castle too late to carry out my pilgrimage that night, when I saw above
me, upon a knoll resting upon rocky buttresses, a modern mansion against a
background of trees. This was the very pleasant country residence built by
M. Magne, Minister of Finance under the Second Empire, upon the site of the
castle of Montaigne, which the author of the 'Essays,' with a better sense
of certain distinctions than that which is observed nowadays, preferred to
speak of as his _manoir_. This manor-house still preserved its fifteenth
and sixteenth century character, when a fire breaking out destroyed
everything but the walls, and gave M. Magne a plausible excuse for the
demolition. A part that was spared by the fire, and was therefore suffered
to remain intact, was the almost isolated tower, to which Montaigne
withdrew for the sake of quiet and meditation, and which is so well known
to all readers of his 'Essays.' Had this also disappeared, I should have
had no motive for wandering down the long avenue at nearly the end of the

I met with a courteous reception at the mansion, and obtained immediate
permission to visit the retreat of the sixteenth-century moralist who
looked with such clear eyes upon human life.


The tower and its gateway belong to the period when feudalism had lost its
vitality, and life was troubled by the vague perception of new motives and
principles. Montaigne tells us that his family had occupied the manor
a hundred years when he entered into possession, and the style of the
fragment that is left bears out this statement: it appears to belong to the
middle part of the fifteenth century. Already manorial houses, crenated and
often moated, but, like this one at Montaigne, defensive rather for show
than the reality, were scattered over France. Speaking generally, they
belonged to the small nobility who fell under the category of the
_arriere-ban_ in time of war. In this tower Montaigne had his chapel, his
bedroom--to which he retired when the yearning for solitude was strong--and
his library. The chapel is on the ground-floor, and is very much what
it was in Montaigne's time. It is small, but there was room enough to
accommodate his household, which was never a large one. Its little
cupola connects it with the local style of architecture, to which the
high-swelling name of Byzantino-Perigourdin has been given. A small stone
altar occupies the apsidal end, and here, as in two or three other places,
the arms of Montaigne will be noted with interest by those who have read in
the essays: '_Je porte d'azur seme de trefles d'or, a une patte de lyon de
mesme armee de gueules, mise en face_.'

A man is often a sceptic on the surface and a believer underneath. Pascal
has called Montaigne '_un pur pyrrhonien_'; but Pascal himself has been
accused of scepticism. Living in an age when the crimes daily committed in
the name of religion might so easily have inspired a hater of violence like
Montaigne with a horror of creeds, he was no philosopher of the God-denying
sort. Moreover, notwithstanding his doubting moods and his fondness of the
words '_Que sais-je?_' he upheld the practice of religion in his own home,
and died a Christian.

He shared, however, the eccentricity of Louis XI. in keeping himself out
of sight when he attended the religious services in his chapel. In the
vaulting near the entrance is a small opening communicating with a narrow
passage, by means of which Montaigne could leave his bedroom and hear mass
without showing himself; but in order to do so he had to grope along his
rabbit's burrow almost on hands and knees. To reach his bedroom from the
ground, he climbed up the spiral staircase as the visitor does today. The
steps are much worn in places, and the boots of the essayist must have had
something to do with this, for he probably used the tower more than any
other man. The room, nearly circular in shape, with brick floor and small
windows, looks to modern eyes more like a prison than a bed-chamber
befitting a nobleman. But independently of the great difference in
the ideas of home comfort which prevailed in the upper ranks of
sixteenth-century society, compared to those of the same class to-day,
Montaigne, like all men with large minds, loved simplicity. His father, who
rode the hobby-horse of frugal and severe training to an extent that might
have proved disastrous to his son Michel, had not the boy been singularly
well endowed by nature to correspond to his parent's wishes, had nurtured
him in the scorn of luxury by methods which would be considered very
crotchety nowadays. But this could not have been 'my chamber' in which King
Henry of Navarre slept, in 1584, when he paid a visit to Montaigne at his
fortified house. There was a better one in that part of the building which
has disappeared. Montaigne tells, with his quaint humour, that he was in
the habit of retiring to his bedroom in the tower so that he might rule
there undisturbed, and have a corner apart from what he curiously terms the
'conjugal, filial, and civil community.' And he expresses pity for the man
who is not able to 'hide himself' in the same way when the humour leads him
to do so.

It was in the room above, however, where he enjoyed to the full the
pleasures of contemplation and quietude. Here, he tells us, he had
installed his library, in what had previously been regarded as the most
useless part of his mansion. The position had certain advantages. 'I
can see beneath me my garden and my poultry-yard, and can look into the
principal parts of my house.' It appears from this that he was so much 'in
the clouds,' that he did not occasionally find satisfaction from peeping
through windows to see what others were doing. It is in this way that the
old writers reveal themselves, and they keep themselves in sympathy with
mankind by not affecting to be above the little weaknesses common to
humanity. Here Montaigne spent the greater part of his time, except in
winter, when he often found the library too draughty to be comfortable. It
was in this room that he wrote his essays, and chiefly thought them out
while pacing up and down the floor, which even then was so uneven that the
only flat bit was where he had placed his table and chair. In common with
some other celebrated writers, he found that his thoughts went to sleep
when he sat down. 'My. mind does not work unless the legs make it move.
Those who study without a book are all in the same state.'

Montaigne was no despiser of books; on the contrary, he was a great reader,
and one of the most scholarly men of his age; but he had his fits of
reading like other people, and the intervals between them were sometimes
long. Without a doubt, these intervals were the most productive periods.
The educational system to which he was subjected as a child was enough to
disgust him with books, and to separate him for ever from them as soon as
he had obtained his freedom. He was crammed with Latin, as a goose that
has to be fattened is crammed with maize in his own Perigord. He was not
allowed to speak even to his mother in French or in Perigourdin. Such was
the will of his father, who must have been a rather difficult man to live
with, and one whom a woman of spirit in this century would kill or cure
with curtain lectures if his interference with her in the nursery should
outrage the instincts of maternity. The very small boy was handed over to
tutors, whose instructions were to make Latin his first language, and even
his mother and servants were compelled to pick up enough Latin words to
carry on some sort of conversation with him.

In the printers' preface to one of the earliest editions of the 'Essays,'
it is said: '_Somme, ils se_ _latiniserent tant qu'il en regorgea jusque
a leurs villages tout autour, ou ont pris pied par usage plusieurs
appellations latines d'artisans et d'outils.'_ It is just possible that
some of these Latin terms may have lingered in the district to the present
day; but it would need a great deal of patience to find them, and to
distinguish them from the patois of the people. Montaigne was more than six
years old before he was allowed to say a word in French or in the dialect
of Perigord--that of Arnaud and Bertrand de Born. He finished his austere
education at the then celebrated College of Guyenne, at Bordeaux, where,
according to local authorities, he had among his teachers the Scotch poet,
George Buchanan.

'When young,' writes Montaigne, 'I studied for show; afterwards to grow
wiser; now I study for diversion.' He liked to have his books around him
even when he did not read them. Numerous reading-desks were distributed
over the brick floor of this circular room, and upon them he placed his
favourite volumes. He therefore read standing, according to the very
general custom of his time, which was doubtless better than our own, of
making our backs crooked by sitting and bending over our books. According
to his own admission, he had a bad memory, therefore he must have been in
frequent need of referring to his tomes for the quotations from ancient
authors which he was so fond of bringing into his text, and which make a
writer at this end of the nineteenth century smile at the thought of how
all the quills would rise upon that fretful and pampered porcupine, the
reading public of to-day, if Latin and Greek were ladled out to it after
Montaigne's fashion.

The room is bare, with the exception of the wreck of an armchair of
uncertain history; but upon the forty-seven beams crossing the ceiling are
fifty-four inscriptions in Latin and Greek, written, or rather painted,
with a brush by Montaigne. Their interest has suffered a little from the
restoration which some of them have undergone; but there they are, the
crystals of thought picked up by the hermit of the tower in his wanderings
along the highways and byways of ancient literature, and which he fastened,
as it were, to the beams over his head, just where the peasants to-day hang
their dry sausages, their bacon, and strings of garlic. Many persons copy
sentences out of their favourite books, with the intention of tasting their
savour again and again; but if they do not lose them, they are generally
too busy or too indolent afterwards to look for them. Montaigne, however,
had his favourite texts always before his eyes.

The curious visitor intent upon a discovery will be sure to find in these
the philosophical scaffolding of the 'Essays;' but I, who examine such
things somewhat superficially, would rather believe that Montaigne
inscribed them upon the rough wood because they expressed in a few words
much that he had already thought or felt. By the extracts that a man makes
for his private satisfaction from the authors who please him, the bent of
his intellect and cast of character can be very accurately judged. If
other testimony were wanting, these sentences would prove the gravely
philosophical temper of Montaigne's mind, notwithstanding the flippant
confessions of frailty which he mingles sometimes so incongruously with
the reflections of a sage. Most of the extracts are from Latin and
Greek authors, but not a few are from the Books of Ecclesiastes and
Ecclesiasticus and the Epistles of St. Paul. Here one sees written by the
hand of the sixteenth century thinker the noble words of Terence:

'Homo sum, humani a me nihil alienum puto.'

Then one catches sight of this line by the sagacious Horace:

'Quid aeternis minorem consiliis animum fatigas?'

Looking at another piece of timber, one slowly spells out the words:

'O miseras hominum mentes! O pectora caeca!'

And so one follows the track of Montaigne's mind from rafter to rafter.

Had I been left alone here while the evening shadows gathered in the tower,
I might soon have seen the figure of a man in trunk-hose, doublet, and
ruff, with pointed beard and pensive eyes, moving noiselessly between rows
of spectral desks covered by spectral books; but, as it was, even in the
most shadowy corner I could not detect the faintest outline of a ghost.
Nobody knows what has become of all the volumes which were here, and which
were said to have numbered a thousand. They were given by Montaigne's only
surviving child, his daughter Leonore, to the Abbe de Roquefort, but what
became of them afterwards is a mystery. There is a small room adjoining the
library, the one that Montaigne mentions as having a fireplace. The hearth
where he sat and warmed himself has scarcely changed. Here on the walls
may be seen traces of paintings. They are supposed to be the work of a
travelling artist, to whom Montaigne gave food and shelter in exchange
for his labour. It would appear from this that he was careful not to ruin
himself by the encouragement of art. Montaigne, however, had a good nature,
although he may not have cared to spend money on bad pictures. He has told
us of his efforts to reclaim little beggars, and to make them respectable
members of society. Before the present chateau was built, the old kitchen
could be seen where he warmed and fed the young mendicants, who, having
been refreshed and comforted, returned to their old ways, '_les gueux ayant
leurs magnificences et leurs voluptes comme les riches_.'

The village of St. Michel is close to the chateau, but is of much more
ancient origin, as its church plainly shows. The venerable Romanesque
door-way was to me more beautiful because of the purple spots of
snapdragon, that shone in the clear dimness of the twilight like little
coloured lamps about the crevices of the old stones. It is uncertain
whether Montaigne was christened here or in the family chapel. It was a
strange christening wherever it took place, for we are told that he was
'held over the font' by persons of most humble condition, his father's
motive in this matter being, according to the printers of the early edition
of the 'Essays' already referred to, 'to attach him to those who might
have need of him rather than to those of whom he might have need.' It was
Papessu, another village in the neighbourhood, to which he was sent as
a nurseling, and where, in obedience to the injunctions of his Spartan
father, he was treated like one of the peasant family with whom he was
placed. He was reared from his cradle in frugality and philosophy, and,
considering what an unpleasant childhood he must have passed, it is truly
wonderful that he fulfilled parental expectations, and did not turn out a
hard drinker and a brawling cavalier.

There is a tradition in Perigord which some local writers have accepted as
fact, that the Montaigne family was of English origin. It is not easy to
ascertain the ground on which it rests. The patronymic was Eyquem, and the
_chevalier-seigneur_, who settled in Perigord and took the territorial
title of Montagne or Montaigne, came from the Bordelais.

That is about all that is really known of the family. If the Eyquem had
borne a prominent part against the French kings in the long wars which had
not ended a hundred years before the birth of the moralist, this would have
been sufficient to account for their being described as English.

Speaking of the peasants of his district, Montaigne tells us that their
dress was 'more distant from ours than that of a man who is only clothed
with his skin.' From this we have a right to suppose that their appearance
was original, if not picturesque. To-day it is neither one nor the other.
With the exception of the kerchief tied round the back of the head, after
the fashion of the Perigourdine or the Bordelaise, by some of the women,
these peasants wear nothing to distinguish them from those who have
entirely abandoned a local costume.

I was in no way pleased with the villagers of St. Michel-Montaigne, nor did
they seem to be agreeably impressed by me. Those to whom I spoke did not
conceal their surprise that I had been allowed to see over the castle. I
think they must have set me down for something less respectable than a
plasterer, and I began to think quite seriously that I was neglecting my
appearance. Then I thought of the knapsack, which was really getting to
look, from long usage, as if the time had come for placing it in the way of
a deserving _chiffonnier_, but I could not make up my mind to buy another.
I was anxious to pass the night in the village, for I hoped that the
inhabitants had preserved some traditions of Montaigne; but there was only
a small and very dirty-looking auberge that had any pretension to lodge
man and beast, and here the hostess rejected my overtures with vivacity.
Consequently, I was compelled to trudge on, and as I left the place I shook
the dust from off my feet at the inhabitants. There was plenty of it, but I
am afraid it did them little harm.

The road, now descending towards the Dordogne, passed through great
vineyards, and there was enough light for the clustered bunches of grapes
to be seen on every vine. Under the calm sky, still full of the heat of the
summer day, and glowing duskily, the wide, sloping land offered up all its
myriads of broad, motionless leaves and its wealth of fruit to the god of
wine. O gentle peace of the summer night that has still the bloom of the
sun upon its dusky cheek--peace untroubled by any sound save the joyous
shrilling of the cricket that has climbed upon the darkening leaf--why do I
hurry onward upon the dusty road, instead of sitting upon a bank amid the
fragrant thyme and agrimony, and letting the mind lay in great store of
your sweetness against the cold and dismal nights to come?

I reached the village of La Mothe by the Dordogne, and while I was casting
about for an inn that looked comfortable, and also hospitable, I met
a pretty little brunette with a rich southern colour in her cheeks,
charmingly coifed _a la bordelaise_, and tripping jauntily along with a
coffee-pot in her hand. It was pleasant to look at a nice face again after
all the ill-favoured visages that had risen up against me during the second
half of the day, and so I stopped this pretty girl and asked her to tell me
which was the best hotel in the place. She would not answer the question,
but she mentioned a hotel which she said was as good as any. Thither I
went, and found a comfortable little inn, where I was well received. I had
not been there long when the little brunette entered. She was the 'daughter
of the house.' I now understood that her hesitation was conscientious.

The hostess was a small, sprightly woman with a smiling face, which,
together with her bright-coloured coif gracefully hanging to her black
hair, made up such a head as puts one in a good temper for a whole evening.
She was so highly civilized that she actually asked me if I would like to
wash my hands. I expected that she was going to lead me to one of those
little cisterns--'fountains' in French--attached to the wall, that one sees
throughout Guyenne, and which have come down almost unchanged in form, as
well as the roller-towels that often go with them, from the feudal castles
of the twelfth century; but I was wrong. She led me to a bucket. Filling
a large ladle with water, she fixed it lengthwise, and the handle being a
tube, the water ran slowly out from the end. I quite understood that I had
to wash my hands with the trickling water, for I had often done it before.
These ladles with hollow handles are also used for sprinkling the floors,
which are never washed in Southern France. The sprinkling lays the dust,
cools the air, and depresses the fleas for at least a quarter of an hour.

After I had dealt with a well-cooked little dinner, plentifully bedewed
with a pleasant but not insidious wine grown upon the sunny slopes above
the Dordogne, I made the discovery that the best room in the house was
occupied by the dark-eyed damsel, except when a guest came along who
managed to ingratiate himself with her mother, and then the daughter had
to turn out. The room was not exactly luxurious, for it contained little
besides the bed, a table, and a chair, but it was bright and clean; and
when I had confided myself to the strong hempen sheets that had still half
a century of wear in them, and had passed the first quarter of an
hour, which is always critical, without being made aware by scouts and
skirmishers of the advance of a hostile force, I was very thankful that I
was not received with open arms in the village of St. Michel-Montaigne.

The next morning I met the Dordogne again after a long separation. It was
now a great river flowing quietly through a vine-covered plain. The rapids
had all been left far away, but it had begun to feel the tide, and this
to a river is like the first shock of death. It struggles for awhile with
destiny, and a sadder sound than the cry which it made when it came forth
from the rock or the little lake is heard in the quiet evening or the more
solemn night. Although it is flowing back to its true source, the river
shrinks from the vast and mysterious ocean as we shrink ourselves from the
immense unknown.

But at this hour of eight in the morning, with a sun so bright and a sky so
blue, only the broad and serene beauty of the water makes itself felt. As
the river goes curving over the vine-covered land, its stillness is almost
that of a lake, and it mirrors nothing but the sky, save the trees and
flowers of it's banks. The moments are precious, for the tender loveliness
of the landscape will wane as the light gains strength.

On each side of the Dordogne, between the water and the vineyards, which
stretch away with scarcely a break across the plain and up the sides of the
distant hills, is a strip of rough field. The sunshine of four months, with
hardly a shower to moisten the earth, has made flowers scarce, but on this
long curving bend of coarse meadow the grass has kept something of its
greenness, and the season of blossoming stays by the beautiful stream.
There is a wanton tangling and mingling of the waste-loving flowers, such
as the yellow toad-flax, the bristling viper's bugloss, the thorny ononis
that spreads a hue of pink as it creeps along the ground, sky-blue chicory
on wiry stems, large milk-white blooms of _datura_, and purple heads of
_centaurea calcitrapa_, whose spines are avoided like those of a hedgehog
by people who walk with bare feet. Upon the banks, the high hemp-agrimony
and purple loosestrife, with here and there an evening primrose, flaunt
their masses of colour over the water or the pebbly shore.

From a distant church tower that rises above the wilderness of vines
a clear-voiced bell calls through the morning air, _Sanctus! sanctus!
sanctus!_ by which all know who care to think of it that the priest
standing at the altar there has come to the most solemn part of his mass.

Wandering on, indifferent to the flight of time, upon these pleasant banks,
which, but for a bullock-cart that came jolting and creaking along by
the edge of the vines, I might have thought quite abandoned by all other
humanity, I saw afar off a little cluster of white houses that seemed to
be floating on the blue water. I knew that this could be nothing else but
Castillon, and that the effect of floating houses was an illusion caused by
a bend of the river. And so I was nearing at length that place where the
destinies of France and England, so long interwoven, became again distinct,
and where the English nationality, which five-and-twenty years before was
in imminent danger of absorption as the fruit of victory, was decisively
saved from this fate by a defeat for which all England then in her
blindness mourned. The loss of Guyenne made an alien dynasty national,
and by stopping the outflow of the Anglo-Saxon race upon the Continent,
preserved its energies for the fulfilment of a very different destiny from
that which had almost begun when a peasant-girl dropped her distaff and
took up the sword.

On reaching Castillon I had one of those disappointments to which a
traveller should always be prepared after being taught so often by
experience that distance idealizes a scene. How much less romantic the town
looked now than when I saw it floating, as it seemed, upon the sky-blue
water in a haze of gold-dust fired by the slanting rays! It was then like
the Castillon of some troubadour's song; now it was a mean-looking little
sun-baked town modernized to downright plainness, with no remnant of its
ramparts remaining save a sombre old Gothic gateway near the river, and no
ecclesiastical architecture deserving notice. Its site, however, is the
same as that which it occupied in the Middle Ages, namely, close to the
Dordogne, upon a ridge of rising land running up towards the hills which
close the valley on the north. On the eastern side this ridge for some
distance is so steep as to be almost escarped, but it is covered with grass
or vines; on the opposite side it is now only a little above the plain. The
battle was fought, not under the walls of the town, but somewhat to the
north-east of it in the open country.

Talbot's mistake lay in the confidence with which he attacked an entrenched
army much stronger than his own, and especially in his contempt for Messire
Jean Bureau's guns. The old leader now belonged to a dying epoch, and
his great faith in British and Gascon archers may well have led him to
undervalue the power of artillery, notwithstanding that it was used with
terrible effect by Edward III. at Crecy more than a hundred years before.
The French had profited by that lesson, and at Castillon they turned the
tables on their tenacious adversaries.

It may be well to briefly recall the circumstances under which this
momentous battle was fought. One after another the English had been
compelled to surrender to the victorious armies of Charles VII. their
fortresses in Poitou, Angoumois, Guyenne and Gascony; so that of their
immense province of Aquitaine, which at one time stretched from the Loire
to the Pyrenees, they possessed nothing. Even Bordeaux, after remaining
faithful to England for 200 years, was a French city at the middle of the
fifteenth century. It would probably have remained so without any fresh
appeal to arms if Charles VII. had treated the inhabitants with the same
justice, and accorded them the same liberties which they enjoyed while they
were the subjects of the English kings. It is a truly remarkable fact that,
although these kings were so intimately connected with France by blood and
ambition, they had borrowed enough of the genius of the Anglo-Saxon race
for establishing foreign possessions upon the solid basis of reciprocal
interest to make their administrative policy in Aquitaine incomparably
better by its equity, the facilities which it afforded for local
government, the assertion of individual rights, and the growth of communal
prosperity, than that of the French kings and the great nobles who, while
owing homage, to the crown, were virtually sovereigns.

At no time was there much dissatisfaction with the rule of the English
sovereigns and their seneschals in Western Aquitaine. It was only in the
wilder parts of the country, such as the Quercy and the Rouergue, where
Celtic blood was, and still is, almost pure, and where the people were very
difficult to govern--Caesar had found that out before Henry Plantagenet,
Becket, and John Chandos--that there were frequent revolts, entailing as a
fatal consequence in those feudal ages barbaric repression. Throughout the
flourishing Bordelais the people became firmly and thoroughly attached
to the English cause, not less than the Alsatians and Lorrainers became
attached to that of France in later times--although there is no historical
parallel between the origin of the two connections. Bordeaux was like
another London when the Black Prince held his splendid but profligate court
there. Commercial interest had doubtless something to do with this fidelity
of the Bordelais, for the wealthy English soon learnt to appreciate the
delicate flavour of the wines grown upon the chalky hillsides by the
Garonne and the Dordogne, and 500 years ago ships came from London and
Bristol to Bordeaux and returned laden with pipes and hogsheads; but a
sagacious and--the times being considered--a large-minded and generous
system of government gave to the people that feeling of security which
was then so rare, and which was the beginning of all patriotic sentiment.
French writers who have studied this subject frankly admit that we have
here the true explanation of the strong attachment of the Bordelais and the
Gascons to the English cause. As an illustration, it may not be amiss to
translate the following passages from 'Les Anglais en Guyenne,' by M. D.

'The Aquitanians had reason to thank the English Government for not having
treated them as foreigners, like the inhabitants of a conquered province,
as the people of Ireland, for example, had been treated, and for having
confined its action to the development of judicial institutions, of which
the germ was found in the feudal system of France.... The kings of England
not only refrained from setting themselves in opposition to the local
justice of the _arriere-fiefs_; we have seen them, and we shall see them
again in the history of the communal movement, favour the extension of
trial by peers, while accommodating at the same time their administrative
system to the spontaneous manifestations of opinion in a continental
country. They even took care in the composition of the courts that the
Aquitanians should not feel the supremacy of the foreigner. With rare
exceptions, the _personnel_ of the courts of justice was recruited from
among the inhabitants of the province--a precious advantage at a time when
the predominance of provincial feeling caused those magistrates who were
sent from the North of France into the South by the Capetian royalty to
be regarded as foreigners and enemies. The consequence of this choice by
England of Aquitanians in preference to English in the composition of the
courts was that under Philippe le Bel or Philippe de Valois Guyenne had
a right to consider itself in possession of a milder and more impartial
system of justice than other provinces of the South already attached like
Languedoc to the crown of France.'

When, therefore, the Bordelais fell under French rule, the exactions of
Charles and the cynicism with which he broke faith, together with the
stagnation in the wine trade, caused the people to wish very heartily that
the English would return and try their luck again with the sword. A revolt
was secretly planned, in which many of the powerful barons of Aquitaine
leagued themselves with the burghers of Bordeaux, for the nobles were as
dissatisfied with the new state of things as the commoners. The Earl of
Shrewsbury, notwithstanding his great age, came over from England with a
very small following, and placed himself at the head of the insurrection.
The name of Talbot was sufficient to fire the Bordelais and the Gascons
with enthusiasm and confidence. As the news of his landing in the Medoc
spread, men rushed to arms and raised the old battle-cries of the English
in Aquitaine. Bordeaux opened its gates immediately to the veteran leader,
and the example was quickly followed by Libourne, Castillon, St. Emilion,
and other strong places in the district. This was in the month of October,
1452. It was not until May of the following year that Charles VII. decided
to risk the fortunes of war with the two armies which he had mustered--one
on the Garonne, and the other on the Charente. By that time the whole of
Western Guyenne was again English. The plan of campaign followed was
the one laid out by the long-headed Jean Bureau, a man of figures and
calculations--a small Moltke of the fifteenth century. He had been the
King's treasurer, his _argentier_; then the Bastard of Orleans made him
Mayor of Bordeaux, and now, because he had a taste for guns, he was Grand
Master of the Artillery. He advised Charles that the best course to adopt
in order to spoil the English scheme would be to take possession of
the roads leading to Bordeaux, and thus cut off communication with the
interior. Now, Castillon was an important strategical point, commanding
one of the principal gates of the Bordelais, and it was resolved to make a
vigorous effort to snatch this fortress, which was but weakly garrisoned,
from the hands of the English. The army, which was under the nominal
command of the Comte de Penthievre, but whose ruling spirit was Jean
Bureau, accordingly marched on Castillon, and the King's army moved in
the same direction. Talbot, having tidings of the enemy's plans, hurried
eastward with all the forces he could muster to the relief of the garrison.
His main object, however, was probably to prevent a junction of the two
armies. He was confident of being able to defeat both if he could engage
them separately.

The French army came down the valley of the Dordogne, and drew near to
Castillon when Talbot was still far away. The plan of the leaders was not
to attack the town until their camp had been well fortified with earthworks
and palisades, for it was felt that they could not be too cautious when an
adversary like Talbot was in the country, and possibly near at hand. The
entrenched camp was laid out and ordered with a military science in
advance of the age. The position, moreover, was very judiciously chosen,
considering the impossibility in which the French were placed of selecting
high ground. The camp was in a fork formed by the Dordogne and its small
tributary, the Lidoire, which flows in a south-westerly direction, and
falls into the broad river a mile or two above Castillon. Bureau was given
ample time to raise his ramparts, dig his moats, fix his palisades, and
set up his park of artillery, on which he laid so much store. Then were
detached 800 archers--Angevins and Berrichons--who took up their quarters
at an abbey that then existed a little to the north of the town, at the
foot of a wooded hill. The fortress was therefore threatened on two sides.

On July 16 Talbot arrived on the scene, and at the first brush obtained a
signal advantage by taking the French completely by surprise. On the march
from Libourne he did not trust himself to the broad valley, which, being
highly cultivated then as it is now, offered no cover, but followed the
line of hills to the north of it, on which much of the ancient forest still
clung. Thus he managed to conceal his advance until his men broke suddenly
upon the unsuspecting archers of Anjou and Berry, and slaughtered them with
that thoroughness which was characteristic of mediaeval warfare. Talbot
belonged to an age that gave no quarter and expected none. A man down was a
man lost, unless he had extraordinary luck. The massacre of these archers
put the English army--which, after the drafts made on various garrisons,
was now said to be about 6,000 strong--in good spirits. Not many of the
fugitives reached the camp. Talbot did not follow up this advantage by
attempting an immediate attack upon the fortified position in the plain. He
gave his men a rest after their toilsome march over rough ground, and
put off the decisive battle until the morrow. In the meantime, he placed
himself in communication with the garrison of Castillon, and arranged that
a sortie in force should take place on the signal being given for the great
tug-of-war. He made the abbey his headquarters, and it has been recorded
that the casks of wine found in the cellars of the dispossessed monks were
speedily drained.

The momentous day of July 17 broke, and Talbot was waiting to hear mass
before risking upon the die of a battle the English cause in Aquitaine, so
wonderfully and bloodlessly redeemed in a few months. One of the last of
the mediaeval knights, the ardour of his loyalty was tinged with mysticism,
and any cause that he had espoused would have become holy in his eyes. He
therefore raised those aged eyes now to the God of battles as he knelt in
the quiet sanctuary, impatient though he was to see the vineyards and the
meadows redden again with the blood that he had been shedding with the zeal
of a Crusader for more than half a century. His chaplain was laying
the altar, when a sudden movement of armed men disturbed the kneeling
octogenarian from his devotions. Tidings were brought that the French camp
was breaking up in disorder, and that the enemy was about to escape. At
this news the blood of the old warrior began to rush through his veins, and
without waiting for the mass, he had his armour brought to him. Clad in
iron and mounted upon his white horse, accompanied by his son, the Lord
Lisle--Shakespeare's John Talbot--he rode down into the plain. The enemy
was not in disorder, but was waiting behind the entrenchments for the
expected onslaught.

Talbot gave the order for the attack, and his thousand knights and esquires
charged down upon the camp. When they were well within range of Bureau's
artillery, the 'three hundred cast-iron pieces mounted on wheels, which
they called _bombardes_,' [Footnote: Chroniques de Jean Tarde.] broke into
a roar, and the stone balls worked terrible havoc upon horses and riders.
The ground was quickly strewn with heavily armoured men, who lay there as
helpless as turned turtles, and who were ridden over by those in the rear.
The mediaeval cavalry was shattered or thrown into hopeless confusion by
the new artillery. The infantry met with no better success in moving to the
assault of the hastily raised ramparts bristling with guns. The English
army was demoralized by this unexpected reception. In vain did Talbot ride
again and again into the thickest of the fray--the besieged had now assumed
the offensive. Even his grand old figure and his rallying cry failed to
turn back the tide of disaster. It has been written that in his wrath he
struck those of his own party who endeavoured to draw him out of the danger
to which he was constantly exposing himself. He felt that at his age it was
not worth while to survive defeat, in order that he might die in his bed
with a mind tortured by gnawing regret a few months or years later.

But although he resolved not to save himself, he urged his son to flee.
On this point there is too much agreement between English and French
chroniclers for it to be possible to doubt that Shakespeare's well-known
scene between the old and the young Talbot, in the first part of 'King
Henry VI.,' was founded on fact. Moreover, what was more natural than that
the father, when he saw the evil turn that things were taking, should have
said to his son:

'Therefore, dear boy, mount on my swiftest horse,
And I'll direct thee how thou shall escape
By sudden flight. Come, dally not; be gone'?

What more natural, too, than that the son of such a father should have
replied in words which, although less rhythmical, would have been in
substance these?--

'Is my name Talbot? and am I your son?
And shall I fly?
The world will say he is not Talbot's blood,
That basely fled when noble Talbot stood.'

To the fact that the battle of Castillon was fought in Perigord, although
the town is in the Bordelais, we doubtless owe the interesting description
that Jean Tarde has left us of the memorable struggle. His narrative, so
far as it relates to the incident between Talbot and his son, is in the
main the same as Shakespeare's; but being told in the plain prose of a
simple annalist, it lacks the rhetorical and romantic embellishments which
the British poet thought fit to add. In the following translation of the
most interesting part of Tarde's description of the battle, an effort has
been made to preserve the style of the writer:

'The English troops entered courageously by the passage where the artillery
awaited them, which (passage) alone could give them access to the French
army. He who commanded the artillery took his time, and at the first
discharge laid low three or four hundred. This massacre, coming
unexpectedly, troubled the whole English army, and threw it into disorder,
which pained Talbot to see; and fearing the defeat of his men, he told
the Sieur de l'Isle, his son, to withdraw and reserve himself for a more
fortunate occasion; who replied that he could not retire from the combat
in which he saw his father running the risk of his life. To this Talbot
rejoined, 'I have in my life given so many proofs of my valour and military
virtue, that I cannot die to-day without honour, and I cannot flee without
making a breach in the reputation I have acquired by so much labour; but to
you, my son, who are bearing here your first arms, flight cannot bring any
infamy nor death much glory.' [Footnote: 'J'ay pendant ma vie donne tant de
tesmoignages de ma valeur et vertu militaire que je ne puys meshuy mourir
sans honneur et ne puys fuir sans fere breche a la reputation que j'ay
acquise par tant de travaux; mais vous mon filz qui portes icy vos
premieres armes, la fuitte ne vous peut apporter aucune infamie, ny la mort
beaucoup de gloire.'] But without giving heed to this counsel, the young
lord, full of generous courage, reassured his men, made them fall again
into rank, and having ranged them with their bucklers fixed in tortoise
fashion, sped on to the attack of his enemies in their camp; for they had
not dared to leave their trenches. The French, seeing themselves pressed in
this way, entered into the battle. Great was the _melee_. The artillery of
the French continued all the while to fire upon the English troops, and so
well that a stone striking Talbot broke his thigh. The English seeing their
chief on the ground, believing him dead, and recognising that the French
were the stronger in artillery and in the number of men, lost courage, fell
into disorder, and only thought of saving themselves. The French, on the
contrary, took heart and fought with fury. The battle was bloody. Talbot,
his son the Sieur de l'Isle, another bastard son, and a son-in-law, were
killed with the greater part of the English nobility, and the whole army
was cut to pieces. Talbot's body was buried on the spot where it was found,
and upon his grave was built a small chapel that still exists, but open to
the sky and half ruined.'

Jean Tarde concludes his narrative of the battle with these remarks:

'The English army being thus defeated, Castillon surrendered, and the King
in person besieged Bordeaux, which surrendered on October 18. Following its
example, all the other towns of Guyenne again submitted to him. Thus ended
the domination of the English in Guyenne, of which (province) they were
completely dispossessed, and which at once returned to the sceptre and
crown of France, after remaining for three hundred years in the claws of
the English leopards.'

There are some patent inaccuracies in Tarde's account--the statement, to
wit, that Talbot was buried on the spot where he fell, whereas his body was
carried from the field and taken to England. The ecclesiastical chronicler
must have accepted the story in circulation among the common people, which
is repeated to this day by the peasants around Castillon, who even point
out a mound which they call 'Talbot's grave.' Shakespeare does not fall
into this error, although he brings Jeanne d'Arc upon the battlefield,
notwithstanding that she was burnt twenty-two years before the death of

According to the version accepted by French historians, Talbot was
overthrown by a cannon-shot, and was afterwards despatched on the ground by
a soldier who ran his sword through the hero's throat. His body was carried
into the French camp, where it remained all night, and it was so disfigured
that his herald could hardly recognise it. Many of the fugitives were
drowned or were killed by the archers while attempting to swim across the
Dordogne. Four thousand English, or English partisans, were said to have
been slain on this fatal day, and only a small remnant of the army managed
to retreat within the walls of Castillon. The French then besieged the
town, and the bombardment was so furious that the garrison was soon willing
to surrender on the best terms that could be obtained. Bordeaux was not
besieged until St. Emilion, Libourne, Fronsac, Bazas, Cadillac, and other
strongholds of the Bordelais had capitulated.

After this rather long journey into the past, I must return to my wayfaring
upon the battlefield of Castillon, over which more than four centuries have
crept since the events occurred which gave it so dramatic a celebrity.

Scorched by the now blazing sun, I took the shadeless road leading out of
the town towards the north-east, and after walking about a mile between
vineyards, I came to the commemorative monument of the battle raised in
1888 by the Union Patriotique de France. It is a low obelisk, with no
ornament save a mediaeval sword carved upon it, with point turned upwards.
Facing the road is the following inscription:

'_Dans cette plaine le 17 Juillet, 1453, fut remporte
la victoire qui delivra du joug de l'Angleterre
les provinces meridionals de la France et termina la
guerre de cent ans_.'

The abbey where the French archers were surprised and slain must have been
near this spot, but it was down in the valley by the Lidoire where Talbot
fell. There is no trace of a chapel such as that of which Tarde speaks, nor
any other mark to show the place. But the little stream is there as of old,
and the beautiful Dordogne that drank the mingled blood of the two armies
which its tributary poured into it flows serenely and blue as it did then
under the same summer sky.

An Englishman who now wanders over the battlefield of Castillon can hardly
realize how his country grieved at the defeat of Talbot far away here
amidst the southern vines. To-day it seems so absurd, so contrary to the
policy of common-sense, that England, then so thinly populated, should have
striven so hard and so long in order to be a Continental power; when now,
with her dense population, half subsisting upon foreign supplies, she
blesses that accident of nature which caused the bridge of rocks that
connected her with the mainland to disappear beneath the sea. Surely if
history teaches anything, it teaches the vanity of politics.

From Castillon I bent my course to St. Emilion on the road to Libourne; the
Dordogne, which here twists like a snake in agony, being left somewhat to
the south. The whole country, hill and plain, was clad with vineyards, but
I soon grew weary of looking at the numberless short vines fastened to
stakes in one broad blaze of unchanging sunshine. Even the hanging clusters
of grapes wearied the eye by endless repetition.

By-and-by, out of all this sameness rose a hill in that abrupt manner which
strikes a peculiar character into this southern landscape, and upon
the hill were jutting rocks and a broken mass of strangely-jumbled
masonry-roofs rising out of roofs, gables crushing gables, feudal towers,
great walls, and one tall heaven-pointing spire. This was St. Emilion,
respected in the Middle Ages as a strong fortress of the Bordelais, and now
so famous for its wine that the locality has long ceased to produce more
than an insignificant part of that which is put into bottles bearing the
name of a saint who drank nothing stronger than water. Only the wine that
is grown upon the sides of the hill is really St. Emilion; it changes as
soon as the vineyards reach the plain. It is then a _vin de plaine_, and is
no more like the other than if it had been grown fifty miles away.

Celtic remains point to the conclusion that, long before the foundation of
the first monastery, which was the beginning of the mediaeval town, the
Gauls had an _oppidum_ on this hill. St. Emilion became a fortified town in
the reign of King John, who signed a charter here, and it may be said to
have been thoroughly gained over to the English cause by Edward I., who
granted numerous privileges to the burghers. For a short time the place
fell into the power of Philippe IV., but it was in its collegial church in
May, 1303, that the duchy of Aquitaine was ceremoniously restored by the
Seneschal of Gascony to the King of England, represented on this occasion
by the Earl of Lincoln. To reward the inhabitants for their fidelity, and
to compensate them in some sort for the trials which they had endured in
consequence, St. Emilion was made a royal English borough, and enjoyed the
special favour and protection of the sovereign.

It was in this fourteenth century that it rose to the height of its
importance and prosperity. We can gather to-day from the ruins of its

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