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Wanderings by southern waters, eastern Aquitaine by Edward Harrison Barker

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[Illustration: A BIT OF OLD FIGEAC. _Frontispiece_.]











Publishers in Ordinary to Her Majesty the Queen














A BIT OF OLD FIGEAC--_Frontispiece_










From the Old-English town of Martel, in Guyenne, I turned southward
towards the Dordogne. For a few miles the road lay over a barren
plateau; then it skirted a desolate gorge with barely a trace of
vegetation upon its naked sides, save the desert loving box clinging
to the white stones. A little stream that flowed here led down into
the rich valley of Creysse, blessed with abundance of fruit. Here I
found the nightingales and the spring flowers that avoid the
wind-blown hills. Patches of wayside took a yellow tinge from the
cross-wort galium; others, conquered by ground-ivy or veronica, were
purple or blue. Presently the tiled roofs of the village of Creysse
were seen through the poplars and walnuts. A delightful spot for a
poetical angler is this, for the Dordogne runs close by in the shadow
of prodigious rocks and overhanging trees. What a noble and stately
river I thought it, as the old ferryman, with white cotton nightcap on
his head, punted me across! I took the greater pleasure in its breadth
and grandeur here because I had seen it an infant river in the
Auvergne mountains, and had watched its growth as it rushed between
walls of rock and forest towards the plains.

What witchery of romance and spell-bound fancy is in the song of the
Dordogne as it breaks over its shallows under high rocky cliffs and
ruined castles! Everything that can charm the poet and the artist is
here. The grandeur of rugged nature combines with the most enticing
beauty of water and meadow, and the voices of the past echo with a
sweet sadness from cliff to cliff. It is said that several of these
castles were built to prevent the English from coming up the river,
but this may be treated as one of the many fanciful legends respecting
the British period which are repeated throughout Aquitaine.

By cutting off a curve of the Dordogne I soon came to the river-side
village of Meyronne, and here I stopped for a meal at a very pleasant
little inn, where to my surprise I found that I had been preceded a
few days before by another Englishman, who, accompanied by a
Frenchman, had come up from Bordeaux in a boat. They must have found
it very hard work rowing against the rapids. The hostess here was
evidently a woman who treasured her household gods, but who liked also
to show them. She gave me my coffee in a china cup that looked as if
it had belonged to her great-grandmother; and in the bright little
room where she served my lunch was a large walnut buffet elaborately
and admirably carved, bearing the date 1676.

After Meyronne my road ran for a few miles beside the broad and
curving river. The forms of the great cliffs on each side were ever
changing. Over a sky intensely blue sailed the fleecy April clouds
before the soft west wind, and whenever the sun shone out with
unveiled splendour, the rays fell with summer warmth. While the
tinkling of sheep-bells from the ledges of the rocks came down to me,
the passionate warble of nightingales, that could not wait for the
night, must have risen from the leafy valley to the ears of the
listless shepherd-boy gathering feather-grass where goats would not
dare to venture, or eating his dark bread in the sun on the edge of a
precipice. Time flowed gently like the river, and I was surprised to
find myself at Lacave so soon. This village is near the spot where the
Ouysse falls into the Dordogne. A little beyond the clustering houses,
upon the edge of a high rocky promontory overlooking the Ouysse, is
the castle of Belcastel, still retaining its feudal keep and outer
wall. In this fortress the English are said to have kept many of their

I now left the Dordogne and ascended the valley of the Ouysse. This
stream is one of the most remarkable of the natural phenomena of
France. To judge from its breadth near the mouth, one would suppose
that it had flowed fifty or a hundred miles, but its entire length is
less than ten miles. It is already a river when it rises out of the
depths of the earth. The narrow valley that it waters is a gorge 500
or 600 feet deep through the greater part of its distance. The
traveller at the bottom supposes, or is ready to suppose, that he is
in some ravine of the high mountains; in reality, it is simply a
fissure of the plateau that was once the bed of the sea. There is no
igneous, no metamorphic rock here; nothing but limestone of the
Jurassic formation. The convexities on one side of the fissure
correspond with marked regularity to the concavities on the other.

For awhile I walked on the lush grass by the brimming river, where in
the little creeks and bays the water-ranunculus floated its small
white flowers that were to continue the race. Then I left the water
and the green ribbon that followed its margin, and, taking a
sheep-track, rose upon the arid steeps, where the thinly-scattered
aromatic southern-wood was putting forth its dusty leaves. The bare
rocks, yellow, white, and gray, towered above me; they were beneath
me; they faced me across the valley; wherever I looked they were
shutting me off from the outer world. No nightingales were singing
here, but I heard the melancholy scream of the hawk and the harsh
croak of the raven. And yet, when I looked down into the bottom of
this steep desert of stones, what soft and vernal beauty was there!
Over the grass of living green was spread the gold of cowslips, just
as if that strip of meadow, with its gently-gliding river, had been
lifted out of an English dale and dropped into the midst of the
sternest scenery of Southern France.

As I went on I soon found that the stony wastes had their flowers too.
It would seem as if Nature had wished to console the desert by giving
to it her loveliest and most enticing blossoms. I came upon colonies
of the poet's narcissus, breathing over the rocks so sweet a fragrance
that it was as if a miracle had been wrought to draw it out of the
earth. I walked knee-deep through blooming asphodels, beautiful and
strange, but only noticed here by the wild bee. I gathered sprays of
the graceful alpine-tea, densely crowded with delicate white bloom,
and marvelled at the wanton splendour of the iris colouring the gray
and yellow stones with its gorgeous blue.

Still following the Ouysse, I came to a spot where the valley ended in
an amphitheatre formed by steep hills more than 600 feet high, and
covered for the most part with dwarf oak. In the hollow under the dark
cliffs was a little lake or pool forty or fifty yards from shore to
shore. The water showed no sign of trouble save where it overflowed
its basin on the western side, and formed the river that I had been
keeping in sight for hours. The pool filled the Gouffre de St.
Sauveur. Until the Ouysse finds this opening in the earth it is a
subterranean river, and it must flow at a great depth, probably at the
base of the calcareous formation, inasmuch as it continues to rise
from the gulf the whole year, although from the month of August until
the autumn rains nearly every water-course in the country is marked by
a curving line of dry pebbles. The funnel-shaped hole descends
vertically to the depth of about ninety feet, but there is no means of
knowing how far it descends obliquely. The tourist may occasionally
catch sight of a shepherd boy or girl with goats or sheep upon the
bare or wooded rocks, but his feeling will be one of deep loneliness.
He will see ravens and hawks about the crags, and about the river half
covered in summer with floating pond-weed, watercress, and the broad
leaves of the yellow lily, he will notice many a water-ouzel bobbing
with white breast, water-hens gliding from bank to bank, merry bands
of divers, and the brilliant blue gleam of the passing kingfisher,
which here is allowed to fish in peace, like the otter.

The Gouffre de St. Sauveur has its legend. It is said that when the
church of St. Sauveur, on the neighbouring hill, was in imminent
danger at the time of the Revolution, the bells were thrown into the
pool so that they should not fall into the hands of the enemy.
Imaginative people fancy that they can sometimes hear them ringing at
the bottom of the water.

After leaving the pool--now very sombre in the shadow of the wooded
hill--I crossed a ridge separating me from the Gouffre de Cabouy, out
of which flows a tributary of the Ouysse. Thence I reached the deep
and singularly savage gorge of the Alzou, which brought me to
Roc-Amadour, when the after-light of sunset was lingering rosily upon
the naked crags.

* * * * *

Rocks reach far overhead, dazzlingly white where the sunbeams strike
them, and below is a green line of narrow valley. A tinkling of bells
comes from the stony sides of the gorge, where sheep are browsing the
scant herbage and young shoots of southern-wood; and from the curving
fillet of meadow, where the grass seems to grow while the eye watches
it, rises the shrill little song of the stream hurrying over its
yellow bed, which may be dry again to-morrow. This Alzou is no more to
be depended upon than a coquette. After a period of drought, a storm
that has passed away hours ago will cause it suddenly to come hissing
down over the dry stones; but the next day no trace of the flow may be
found save a few pools. Or it may grow to a torrent, even a river,
that in its wild career scoffs at banks, and spreads devastation
through the valley.

It is April, and the nightingales, the swallows, the flowers, the
bees, and the kids, whose trembling voices are heard all about the
rocks, tell me that the spring has come. I cannot rest in my cottage
on the side of the gorge, not even on the balcony that seems to hang
in the air over the depth; the sounds from the valley, especially
those that the imagination hears, are too enticing.

Upon a high ledge of rock to which I have climbed, not without some
unpleasant qualms, I stretch myself out upon a strip of short turf
sprinkled with the flowers of the white rock-rose and bordered with
candy-tuft, and try to drive out of mind the only disagreeable thought
I have at this moment--that of getting down to the path, where I was
safe. The worst part of climbing precipitous places is not the going
up, but the coming down. Not a human being or dwelling is in sight, so
that I can contemplate the wildness of the scene to my mind's content.
But a very hoarse voice not far above tells me that I am not alone. A
raven perched upon a jutting piece of rock, that curiously resembles
some monstrous animal, is watching me, and he looks a very crafty old
bird who could speak either French or English if he liked. Presently
he flaps heavily off to the opposite side of the gorge, and fetches
his wife. They fly over me almost within gunshot, going round and
round, expressing an opinion or sentiment with an occasional croak,
but apparently quite willing to make their dinner-hour suit my
convenience. Do they suppose that I have really taken the trouble to
climb up here to die out of the world's way and the sight of my
fellow-creatures, like that very unearthly poet whose story Shelley
has written? Do they think that they are going to make a hearty meal
upon me this evening or to-morrow morning? I remain quite still,
pleased at the thought of cheating the greedy, croaking scavengers of
Nature, and hoping that they will grow bold enough to settle at length
somewhere near me. But they are too suspicious; perhaps with their
superior sight they note the blinking of my eyes as I look upwards at
the dazzling sky, or instinct may tell them that I am not lying down
after the manner of a dying animal. Their patience is more than a
match for mine, and so I come down from my ledge and make my way back
to my cottage before the pink blush of evening has faded from the

When the angelus has sounded from the ancient sanctuary, and all the
forms of the valley are dim in the dusk, the silence is broken again
by a very quiet little bell, which might be called the fairies'
angelus if it did not keep ringing all through the spring and summer
nights. It is like a treble note of the piano softly touched. It
steals up from amongst the flags, hyacinths, and box-bushes of the
neglected little garden which I call mine, terraced upon the side of
the gorge just beneath the balcony. Now, from all the terraced gardens
planted with fruit-trees, comes the same sound of low, clear notes,
some a little higher than others, but all in the treble, feebly struck
by unseen musicians. How sweetly this tinkling rises from the earth,
that trembles with the bursting of seeds and the shooting of stems in
the first warm nights of spring! And to think that the musicians
should be toads--yes, toads--the most despised and the most unjustly
treated of creatures!

This cottage is at Roc-Amadour, and before writing about the place I
cannot do better than go down to the level of the stream, and look up
at the amazing cluster of buildings clinging to the rocks on one side
of the gorge, while the old walls are whitened by the pale brilliancy
of the moon. Above the roofs of all the houses is a mass of masonry,
vast and heavy, pierced by narrow Romanesque windows--a building
uncouth and monstrous, like the surrounding crags. It stands upon a
ledge of the cliff, partly in the hollow of the rock, which, indeed,
forms its innermost wall. Higher still a great cross shows against the
sky, and near to it, upon the edge of the precipice, are the ramparts
of a mediaeval fortress, now combined with a modern building, which is
the residence of the clergy attached to the sanctuary of Notre Dame de

[Illustration: ROC-AMADOUR.]

The sanctuary--it is inside the massive pile under the beetling rock,
and over the roofs of the houses--explains why men in far-distant
times had the strange notion of gathering together and constructing
dwellings upon a spot where Nature must have offered the harshest
opposition to such a project. The chosen site was not only
precipitous, but lay in the midst of a calcareous desert, where no
stream nor spring of water could be relied upon for six months in the
year, and where the only soil that was not absolutely unproductive was
covered with dense forest infested by wolves.[*] And yet, in course of
time, there grew up upon these forbidding rocks, in the midst of this
desert, a little town that obtained a wide celebrity, and was even
fortified, as the five ruinous gateways, with towers along the line of
the single street, prove even now, notwithstanding the deplorable
recklessness with which the structures of the ancient burg have been
degraded or demolished during the last half-century. Nothing is more
certain than that the origin of Roc-Amadour, and the cause of its
development, were religious. It was called into existence by pilgrims;
it grew with the growth of pilgrimages, and if it were not for
pilgrims at the present day half the houses now occupied would be
allowed to fall into ruin. It is impossible to look at it without
wonder, either in the daylight or the moonlight. It appears to have
been wrenched out of the known order of human works--the result of
common motives--and however often Roc-Amadour may suddenly meet the
eye upon turning the gorge, the picture never fails to be surprising.
It has really the air of a holy place, which many others famed for
holiness have not.

[*] Robert du Mont, in his supplement to Sigibert's Chronicles,
wrote, more than five hundred years ago, of Roc-Amadour: 'Est
locus in Cadurcensi pago montaneis et horribile solitudine

The founder of the sanctuary was a hermit, whose contemplative spirit
led him to this savage and uninhabited valley, whose name, in the
early Christian ages, was _Vallis tenebrosa_, but in which Nature had
fashioned numerous caverns, more or less tempting to an anchorite. He
is called Amator--_Amator rupis_--by the Latin chroniclers--a name
that, with the spread of the Romance language, would easily have
become corrupted to Amadour by the people. According to the legend,
however, which for an uncertain number of centuries has obtained
general credence in the Quercy and the Bas-Limousin, and which in
these days is much upheld by the clergy, although a learned
Jesuit--the Pere Caillau--who sifted all the annals relating to
Roc-Amadour felt compelled to treat it as a pious invention, the
hermit Amator or Amadour was no other than Zaccheus, who climbed into
the sycamore. The legend further says that he was the husband of St.
Veronica, and that, after the crucifixion, they left the Holy Land in
a vessel which eventually landed them on the western coast of Gaul,
not far from the present city of Bordeaux. They became associated with
the mission of St. Martial, the first Bishop of Limoges, and at a
later period Zaccheus, hearing of a rocky solitude in Aquitania, a
little to the south of the Dordogne, abandoned to wild beasts,
proceeded thither, and chose a cavern in the escarped side of a cliff
for his hermitage. Here, meditating upon the merits of the Mother of
Christ, he became one of her most devoted servants in that age, and
during his life he caused a small chapel to be raised to her upon the
rock near his cavern, which was consecrated by St. Martial. All this
is open to controversy, but what is undoubtedly true is that one of
the earliest sanctuaries of Europe associated with the name of Mary
was at Roc-Amadour.

It is recorded that Roland, passing through the Quercy in the year 778
with his uncle, Charlemagne, made a point of stopping at Roc-Amadour
for the purpose of 'offering to the most holy Virgin a gift of silver
of the same weight as his bracmar, or sword.' After his death, if
Duplex and local tradition are to be trusted, this sword was brought
to Roc-Amadour, and the curved rusty blade of crushing weight which is
now to be seen hanging to a wall is said to be a faithful copy of the
famous Durandel, which is supposed to have been stolen by the
Huguenots when they pillaged the church and burnt the remains of St.

That in the twelfth century the fame of Roc-Amadour as a place of
pilgrimage was established we have very good evidence in the fact that
one of the pilgrims to the sanctuary in 1170 was Henry II. of England.
He had fallen seriously ill at Mote-Gercei, and believing that he had
been restored to health through the intercession of the Virgin, he set
out for the 'Dark Valley' in fulfilment of a vow that he had made to
her; but as this journey into the Quercy brought him very near the
territory of his enemies, the annalists tell us that he was
accompanied by a great multitude of infantry and cavalry, as though he
were marching to battle. But he injured no one, and gave abundant alms
to the poor. Thirteen years later, the King's rebellious son, Henry,
Court Mantel, pillaged the sanctuary of its treasure in order to pay
his ruffianly soldiers. This memorable sacrilege had much to do with
the insurmountable antipathy of the Quercynois for the English.

I have before me an old and now exceedingly rare little book on
Roc-Amadour, which was written by the Jesuit Odo de Gissey, and
published at Tulle in 1666. In this, Court Mantel's exploit is spoken
of as follows:

'Les guerres d'entre nos Rois tres Chretiens et les Anglais en ce
Royaume de France guerroyant ruinerent en quelque facon Roc-Amadour;
mais plus que tous Henri III., Roi d'Angleterre, ingrat des graces que
son pere Henri II. y avait recues, en depit de son pere qui
affectionnait cette Eglise, son avarice le poussant, pilla cet
oratoire et enleva les plaques qui couvraient le corps de S. Amadour
et emporta ce qui etait de la Tresorerie; mais Dieu qui ne laisse rien
impuni chatia le sacrilege de cet impie Prince par une mort
malheureuse. De quoi lise qui voudra Roger de Houedan, historien
Anglais en la 2 partie de ses Annales.'

There are early records of miracles wrought at Roc-Amadour. Gauthier
de Coinsy, a monk and poet born at Amiens in 1177, has left a poem
telling how the troubadour, Pierre de Sygelard, singing the praises of
the Virgin in her chapel at Roc-Amadour to the accompaniment of his
_vielle_ (hurdy-gurdy), begged of her as a miraculous sign to let one
of her candles come down from her altar. According to the poem, the
candle came down, and stood upon the musical instrument, to the horror
and disgust of a monk who was looking on, and who saw no miracle in
the matter, but wicked enchantment. He put the candle back
indignantly, but when the minstrel sang and played it came down as
before. The movement was repeated again before the monk would believe
that the miracle was genuine. The poem, which is in the Northern
dialect, and is marked throughout by a charming _naivete_, commences
with a eulogium of the Virgin:

'La douce mere du Createur
A l'eglise a Rochemadour
Fait tants miracles, tants hauts faits,
C'uns moultes biax livres en est faits.'

The huge, inartistic, but imposing block of masonry that appears from
a little distance to be clinging, after the manner of a swallow's
nest, to the precipitous face of the rock, and which is reached from
below by more than 200 steps in venerable dilapidation[*], contains
the church of St. Sauveur, the chapel of the Virgin, called the
Miraculous Chapel, and the chapel of St. Amadour, all distinct. The
last-named is a little crypt, and the Miraculous Chapel conveys the
impression of being likewise one, for it is partly under the
overleaning rock, the rugged surface of which, blackened by the smoke
of the countless tapers which have been burnt there in the course of
ages, is seen without any facing of masonry.

[*] Since the foregoing was written the old slabs have been turned
round, and the steps been made to look quite new.

If by looking at certain details of this composite structure one could
shut off the surroundings from the eye, the mind might feed without
any hindrance upon the ideas of old piety and the fervour of souls
who, when Europe was like a troubled and forlorn sea, sought the
quietude and safety of these rocks, lifted far above the raging surf.
But the hindrance is found on every side. The sense of artistic
fitness is wounded by incongruities of architectural style, of ideas
which meet but do not marry. The brazen altar, in the Miraculous
Chapel was well enough at the Paris Exhibition of 1889, where it could
be admired as a piece of elaborate brass work, but at Roc-Amadour it
is a direct challenge to the spirit of the spot. Then again, late
Gothic architecture has been grafted upon the early Romanesque. Those
who restored the building after it had been reduced to a ruin by the
Huguenots in 1562 set the example of bad taste. The revolutionists of
1793 having in their turn wrought their fury upon it, the work of
restoration was again undertaken during the last half-century, but the
opportunity of correcting the mistake of the previous renovators was
lost. The piece of Romanesque architecture whose character has been
best preserved is the detached chapel of St. Michael, raised like a
pigeon-house against the rock; but even this has been carefully
scraped on the outside to make it correspond as nearly as possible to
some adjacent work of recent construction.

The ancient treasure of Roc-Amadour has been scattered or melted down,
but the image of the Virgin and Child, which according to the local
tradition was carved out of the trunk of a tree by St. Amadour
himself, is still to be seen over the altar in the Miraculous Chapel.
It is probably 800 years old, and it may be older. There is no record
to help hypothesis with regard to its antiquity, for since the
pilgrimage originated it appears to have been an object of veneration,
and the commencement of the pilgrimage is lost in the dimness of the
past. Like the statue of the Virgin at Le Puy, it is as black as
ebony, but this is the effect of age, and the smoke of incense and
candles. The antiquity of the image is, moreover, proved by the
artistic treatment. The Child is crowned and rests upon the Virgin's
knee; she does not touch him with her hands. This is in accordance
with the early Christian sentiment, which dwells upon the kingship of
the Child as distinguished from the later mediaeval feeling, which
rests without fear upon the Virgin's maternal love and makes her clasp
the Infant fondly to her breast.

The 'miraculous bell' of Roc-Amadour has not rung since 1551, but it
may do so any day or night, for it is still suspended to the vault of
the Miraculous Chapel. It is of iron, and was beaten into shape with
the hammer--facts which, together with its form, are regarded as
certain evidence of its antiquity. The first time that it is said to
have rung by its own movement was in 1385, and three days afterwards,
according to Odo de Gissey, the phenomenon was repeated during the
celebration of the Mass. All those who were present bore testimony to
the fact upon oath before the apostolic notary.

Very early in the Middle Ages the faith spread among mariners, and
others exposed to the dangers of the sea, that the Lady of Roc-Amadour
had great power to help them when in distress. Hugues Farsit, Canon of
Laon, wrote a treatise in 1140, 'De miraculis Beatae Virginis rupis
Amatoris,' wherein he speaks of her as the 'Star of the Sea,' and the
hymn 'Ave maris stella' is one of those most frequently sung in these
days by the pilgrims at Roc-Amadour. A statement, written and signed
by a Breton pilgrim in 1534, shows how widely this particular devotion
had then spread among those who trusted their lives to the uncertain

'I, Louis Le Baille, merchant of the town of Pontscorf, on the river
Elle, in the diocese of Vannes, declare with truth that, returning
from a voyage to Scotland the 13th of the month of February, 1534, at
about ten o'clock at night, we were overtaken by such a violent storm
that the waves covered the vessel, in which were twenty-six persons,
and we went to the bottom. During the voyage somebody said to me: "Let
us recommend ourselves to God and to the Virgin Mary of Roc-Amadour.
Let us put her name upon this spar and trust ourselves to the care of
this good Lady." He who gave me this good counsel and myself fastened
ourselves to the spar with a rope. The tempest carried us away, but in
so fortunate a manner that the next day we found ourselves on the
coast of Bayonne. Half dead, we landed by the grace of God and the aid
of His pitiful mother, Notre Dame de Roc-Amadour. I have come here out
of gratitude for this blessing, and have accomplished the journey in
fulfilment of my vow to her, in proof of which, I have signed here
with my hand.--Louis BAILLE.'

Such streams of pilgrims crossed the country from various directions,
moving towards the sanctuary in the Haut-Quercy, that inns or 'halts'
were called into existence on the principal lines of route, and
lanterns were set up at night for the guidance of the wanderers. The
last halt was close to Roc-Amadour, at a spot still called the
_Hospitalet_. Here were religious, who bound up the pilgrims' bleeding
feet, and provided them with food before they descended to the burg
and completed the last part of their pilgrimage--the ascent of the
steps--upon their knees. The _sportelle_, or badge of Notre Dame de
Roc-Amadour, ensured the wearer against interference or ill-treatment
on his journey. It is acknowledged that the English respected it even
in time of war. At the Great Pardon of Roc-Amadour, in 1546, so great
was the crowd of pilgrims, who had come from all parts, that many
persons were suffocated. The innkeepers' tents gave the surrounding
country the appearance of a vast camp. Sixteen years later, when
Roc-Amadour fell into the hands of the Huguenots, and the religious
buildings were pillaged and partly destroyed, the pilgrimage received
a blow from which it never quite recovered. It ceased completely at
the Revolution, but has since been revived, and some thousand genuine
pilgrims, chiefly of the peasant class, now visit Roc-Amadour every

For nearly 300 years the history of the Quercy and Roc-Amadour was
intimately associated with that of England. Henry II. did not at first
claim the Quercy as a part of Eleanor's actual possessions in
Aquitaine; but he claimed homage from the Count of Toulouse, who was
then suzerain of the Count of Quercy. Homage being refused, Henry
invaded the county, captured Cahors, where he left Becket with a
garrison, and thence proceeded to reduce the other strongholds.
Roc-Amadour appears to have offered little if any resistance. The
Quercy was formally made over to the English in 1191 by the treaty
signed by Philip Augustus and Richard Coeur-de-Lion; but the aged
Raymond V. of Toulouse protested, and the Quercynois still more
loudly. These descendants of the Cadurci found it very difficult to
submit to English rule. Unlike the Gascons, who became thoroughly
English during those three centuries, and were so loath to change
their rulers again that they fought for the King of England to the
last, the Quercynois were never reconciled to the Plantagenets, but
were ever ready to seize an opportunity of rebelling against them. It
is well known that Richard Coeur-de-Lion lost his life at the hand of
a nobleman of the Quercy. While Guyenne was distracted by the family
quarrel of the first Plantagenets, the troubadour Bertrand de Born by
his gift of words so stirred up the patriotic and martial ardour of
the Aquitanians that a league was formed against the English, which
included Talleyrand, Count of Perigord, Guilhem (or Fortanier) de
Gourdon, a powerful lord of the Quercy, De Montfort, the Viscounts of
Turenne and Ventadour. These nobles swore upon the Gospels to remain
united and faithful to the cause of Aquitaine; but Richard, partly by
feats of war and partly by diplomacy, in which it is said the argument
of money had no inconsiderable share, broke up the league, and
Bertrand de Born, being abandoned, fell into the Plantagenet's hands.
But he was pardoned, probably because Richard was a troubadour himself
in his leisure moments, and had a fellow-feeling for all who loved the
'gai scavoir.' Meanwhile, the Lord of Gourdon was not to be gained
over by fair words or bribes, and Richard besieged his castle, some
ruins of which may still be seen on the rock that overhangs the little
town of Gourdon in the Quercy. The fortress was taken, and Richard in
his fury caused the stern old man who defended it and two of his sons
to be put to death. But there was a third son, Bertrand de Gourdon,
who, seeking an opportunity of avenging his father and brothers,
joined the garrison of the castle of Chalus in the Limousin, which
Richard soon afterwards besieged. He aimed the bolt or the arrow which
brought Richard's stormy life to a close. Although forgiven by the
dying Coeur-de-Lion, Bertrand was flayed alive by the Brabancons who
were in the English army. He left no descendants, but his collaterals
long afterwards bore the name of Richard in memory of Bertrand's

A member of a learned society at Cahors has sought to prove that
Gourdon in the Quercy is the place where the family of General Gordon
of Khartoum fame had its origin. It is true that the name of this town
in all old charts is spelt Gordon; but, inasmuch as it is a compound
of two Celtic words meaning raven's rock, it might as feasibly have
been handed down by the Gaelic Scotch as by the Cadurcians.

The Plantagenets came to be termed 'the devil's race' by the people of
Guyenne. This may have originated in a saying attributed to Richard
himself in Aquitaine: 'It is customary in our family for the sons to
hate their father. We come from the devil, and we shall return to the

In 1368 the English, having again to reduce the Quercy, laid siege to
Roc-Amadour. The burghers held out only for a short time, and the
place being surrendered, Perducas d'Albret was left as governor with a
garrison of Gascons. Froissart quaintly describes this brief siege.
Shortly before the army showed itself in the narrow valley of the
Alzou, the towns of Fons and Gavache had capitulated, the inhabitants
having sworn that they would remain English ever afterwards. 'But they
lied,' observes Froissart. Arriving under the walls of Roc-Amadour,
which were raised upon the lower rocks, the English advanced at once
to the assault. 'La eut je vous dy moult grant assaust et dur.' It
lasted a whole day, with loss on both sides; but when the evening came
the English entrenched themselves in the valley with the intention of
renewing the assault on the morrow. That night, however, the consuls
and burghers of Roc-Amadour took council of one another, and it was
unanimously agreed that the English had shown great 'force and virtue'
during the day. Then the wisest among them urged that the place could
not hold out long against such an enemy, and that if it was taken by
force they, the burghers, would be all hanged, and the town burnt
without mercy. It was, therefore, decided to surrender the town the
next day. This was accordingly done, and the burghers solemnly swore
that they would be 'good English' ever afterwards. For their penance
they undertook to send fifty mules laden with provisions to accompany
the English army on its march for fifteen days. The fact that the
burghers owned fifty mules in the fourteenth century shows how much
richer they were then, for now they can scarcely boast half as many
donkeys, although these beasts do most of the carrying, and even the

It is difficult now to find a trace of the wall which defended the
burg on the side of the valley; but here, not far above the bed of the
Alzou, are some ruins of the castle where Henry II. stayed, and which
the inhabitants still associate with his name. It is improbable that
he built it; it is more reasonable to suppose that it existed before
his marriage with Eleanor in 1152. His son, 'Short Mantle,' also used
it when he came to Roc-Amadour, and behaved, as an old writer
expresses it, 'like a ferocious beast.' Some ruined Gothic archways
may still be seen from the valley, the upper stones yellow with
rampant wallflowers in the early spring. The older inhabitants speak
of the high walls, the finely-sculptured details, etc., which they
remember; and, indeed, it is not very long ago that the ancient castle
was sold for a paltry sum, to be used as building material. The only
part of the interior preserved is what was once the chapel. It is
vaulted and groined, and the old vats and casks heaped up in it show
that it was long used for wine-making, before the phylloxera destroyed
the vineyards that once covered the sides of the stony hills. A little
below this castle is a well, with an extraordinary circumference, said
to have been sunk by the English, and always called by the people 'Le
puit des Anglais.' It is 100 feet deep, and those who made it had to
work thirty feet through solid rock.

* * * * *

After wandering and loitering by rivers too well fed by the mountains
to dry completely up like the perfidious little Alzou, I have returned
to Roc-Amadour, my headquarters, the summer being far advanced. The
wallflowers no longer deck the old towers and gateways with their
yellow bloom, and scent the morning and evening air with their
fragrance; the countless flags upon the rocky shelves no longer flaunt
their splendid blue and purple, tempting the flower-gatherer to risk a
broken neck; the poet's narcissus and the tall asphodel alike are
gone; so are all the flowers of spring. The wild vine that clambers
over the blackthorn, the maple and the hazel, all down the valley
towards the Dordogne, shows here and there a crimson leaf; and the
little path is fringed with high marjoram, whose blossoms revel amidst
the hot stones, and seem to drink the wine of their life from the
fiery sunbeams. Upon the burning banks of broken rock--gray wastes
sprinkled with small spurges and tufts of the fragrant southernwood,
now opening its mean little flowers--multitudes of flying grasshoppers
flutter, most of them with scarlet wings, and one marvels how they can
keep themselves from being baked quite dry where every stone is hot.
The lizards, which spend most of their time in the grasshoppers'
company, appear equally capable of resisting fire. In the bed of the
Alzou a species of brassica has had time since the last flood to grow
up from the seed, and to spread its dark verdure in broad patches over
the dry sand and pebbles. The ravens are gone--to Auvergne, so it is
said, because they do not like hot weather. The hawks are less
difficult to please on the score of climate; they remain here all the
year round, piercing the air with their melancholy cries.

I needed quiet for writing, and could not get it. Of all boons this is
the most difficult to find in France. It can be had in Paris, where it
is easy to live shut off from the world, hearing nothing save the
monotonous rumble of life in the streets; but let no one talk to me
about the blessed quietude of the country in France, unless it be that
of the bare moor or mountain or desolate seashore. In villages there
is no escape from the clatter of tongues until everybody, excepting
yourself, is asleep. The houses are so built that wherever you may
take refuge you are compelled to hear the conversation that is going
on in any part of them. In the South the necessity of listening
becomes really terrible. The men roar, and the women shriek, in their
ordinary talk. A complete stranger to such ways might easily suppose
that they were engaged in a wordy battle of alarming ferocity, when
they are merely discussing the pig's measles, or the case of a cow
that strayed into a field of lucern, and was found the next morning
like a balloon. It is hard for a person who needs to be quiet at times
to live with such people without giving the Recording Angel a great
deal of disagreeable work.

I would not have believed that so small a place as Roc-Amadour, and
such a holy one, could have been so noisy if my own experience had not
informed me on this subject. Every morning at five the tailor who did
duty as policeman and crier came with his drum, and, stationing
himself by the town pump, which was just in front of my cottage, awoke
the echoes of the gorge with a long and furious _tambourinade_. While
the women, in answer to this signal, were coming from all directions,
carrying buckets in their hands, or copper water-pots on their heads,
he unchained the pump-handle. Now for the next two hours the strident
cries of the exasperated pump, and the screaming gabble of many
tongues, all refreshed by slumber and eager for exercise, made such a
diabolic tumult and discord as to throw even the braying of the
donkeys into the minor key. Of course, sleep under such circumstances
would have been miraculous; but, then, no one had any right to sleep
when the rocks were breaking again into flame, and the mists which
filled the gorge by night were folding up their tents. I therefore
accepted this noise as if it had been intended for my good, and the
crowd in front of the pump was always an amusing picture of human
life. It was at its best on Sunday, for then the tailor--who also did
a little shaving between whiles--had put on his fine braided official
coat, as well as his sword and best _kepi_. (On very grand days he
wore his cocked hat, and was then quite irresistibly beautiful.) He
had to look after the women as well as the water. The latter was
precious, and it was necessary to protect it in the interest of the
community. Then the pump was parsimonious, and all the women being
impatient to get their allowance and go, it was needful that someone
in authority should stand by to decide questions of disputed priority,
and to nip quarrels in the bud which might otherwise lead to a fight.
Poor man! how those women worried him every morning with their
_badinage_, and how glad he was to chain up the pump-handle and turn
the key!

But this was only the opening act of the day's comedy, or rather the
_lever de rideau_. The little square by the old gateway, whose
immediate neighbourhood lent a mediaeval charm to my cottage, was the
centre of gossip and idling. I did not think of this when I pitched my
tent, so to speak, in the shadow of the old masonry. Knowing full well
that the noise of tongues is one of the chief torments of my life, I
am always leaving it out of my calculations, and paying the same bill
for my folly over and over again. But then I know also that in
provincial France, unless you live in an abandoned ruin upon a rock,
it is well-nigh impossible to obtain the quietude which the literary
man, when he has it not, imagines to be closely allied to the peace
that passeth all understanding. The square served many purposes,
except mine. The women used it as a convenient place for steaming
their linen. This, fashioned into the shape of a huge sugar-loaf, with
a hollow centre, stood in a great open caldron upon a tripod over a
wood-fire. At night the lurid flames and the grouped figures,
illuminated by the glare, were picturesque; but in the daytime the
charm of these gatherings was chiefly conversational. Then the
children made the square their playground, or were driven into it
because it was the safest place for them, and every Sunday afternoon
the young men of Roc-Amadour met there to play at skittles.

In quest of peace, I was driven at first into the loft of the inn, of
which the cottage was a dependency. Here the vocal music of the
inhabitants was somewhat muffled, but the opportunities for studying
natural history were rather excessive. A swarm of bees had established
themselves in a corner where they could not be dislodged, and they had
a way of crawling over the floor that kept my expectations constantly
raised. The maize grown upon the small farm having been stored here
from time immemorial, the rats had learnt from tradition and
experience to consider this loft as their Land of Goshen. When I took
up my quarters among them they were annoyed, and also puzzled. They
could not understand why I remained there so long and so quiet; but at
length they lost patience and gave up the riddle. Then their impudence
became unbounded; they helped themselves to the maize whenever they
felt disposed to do so, and stared at me with the utmost effrontery as
they sat upon their haunches nibbling; they ran races under the tiles
and held pitched battles upon the rafters. Talking one day to the
proprietor of the house about his rats and other live stock, I tried
to excite and distress him by describing the depredation that went on
day and night in the loft. But it was with a calm bordering on
satisfaction that he listened to my story. Then he told me that the
rats ate about two sacks of maize every year.

'And you do not put it elsewhere?' 'Non pas! I leave it here for

'For the rats?'

'Certainly, for the rats. If I did not give them plenty of maize they
would eat a hundred francs' worth of linen in a single winter. It is
an economy to feed them.'

And there were about a dozen string-tailed cats about the place that
never ventured into the loft. They must have been either afraid or too
lazy to attack the rats in their stronghold. A man who could accept a
plague of rodents in this philosophical spirit could not be otherwise
than mild in his dealings with all animals, including men. My old
friend liked to let every creature live and enjoy existence. He became
so fond of his pigs that it grieved him sorely to have one killed.
Much domestic diplomacy had to be used before the fatal order could be
wrung from him. He would have gone on fattening the beast for ever had
he been allowed, soothing his conscience over the waste with the vague
hope that this pig of exceptional loveliness and vigour would grow to
the size of a donkey if it were permitted to take its time. He never
worried his _metayer_ over money matters, or insisted upon seeing that
everything was equally divided. Notwithstanding, that he had been made
to smart all his life for his trustfulness and indolent good-nature,
experience had taught him nothing of this world's wisdom. No beggar,
although known to be a worthless rascal, ever asked him for a piece of
bread or a night's lodging in his barn without obtaining it. The old
man would lock his ragged guest up for the night, and before letting
him out in the morning would often carry some soup to him--stealthily,
however, so as not to be observed. As he was always ready to give, and
hated every harsh measure, it was to his wood that the unscrupulous
went in winter, when they wanted fuel. Sometimes an informer would say
to him: 'M---- So-and-so is cutting down your wood.' 'Oh, bast! _le
pauvre_. It is cold weather!' was the reply that he would be most
likely to make. His good qualities would have ruined him had not
destiny with great discernment and charity nailed him to his little
patrimony, where he was comparatively safe.

The bees in the loft were instructive and the rats amusing, but the
fleas were neither the one nor the other--they were merely exciting.
And so it came to pass that I forsook the place, and by climbing a
little staircase cut in the rock, against which the house was built,
reached a cavern far above the roof and found at last my ideal
writing-place upon the ledge in front of it, where the mallow and the
crane's-bill crept over a patch of turf. Here the voices of the noisy
little world below were sufficiently toned down by distance. The
noisiest creatures up here were the jackdaws, which were constantly
flying in and out of the holes in the church wall that rose above me
from another and wider ledge of rock. A pair of sooty-looking
rock-swallows that had made their nest in the roof of the cavern were
much irritated by my presence, but, like the rats, they became
reconciled to it. The little martins, always trustful, never hesitated
from the first to fly into the cave and drink from the dripping water.
When the dusk came on, the bats, which had been hanging by their
winged heels all day in dusky holes and corners, fluttered out one
after another, and went zigzagging until they were lost to sight over
the old stone roofs on which the moss had blackened.

A little before the bats came out was the time when to do aught else
but let the sight feast upon the beauty of the rocky little world
bounded by the walls of the narrow gorge would have been literally to
waste the golden moments. Then it was that the naked crags, which
caught the almost level rays of the setting sun, grew brighter and
more brilliantly coruscating, until they seemed ready to melt from the
intensity of their own heat; then this fiery golden colour would
slowly fade and wane into misty purple tones, which lingered long when
there was no more sun. Why did it linger? All the sky that I could see
was blue, and of deepening tone. But the most wonderful sight was yet
to come, when, while the valley was fast darkening, and along the
banks of the Alzou's dry channel the walnut-trees stood like dark
spectres of uncertain form, those rocks began to glow with fire again
as if a wind had risen suddenly and had fanned their dying embers, and
the luminous bloom that spread over them was not that of the earthly
rose, but of the mystical rose of heaven. What I saw was the
reflection of the after-glow, but the glow in the sky was hidden.
Sometimes, as the rocks were fading again and a star was already
glittering like steel against the dark blue, another flush arose in
the dusk, and a faint redness still rested upon the high crags, when
the owl flew forth with a shriek to hunt along the sides of the gorge.

One morning, as I climbed to my eyrie, I was shocked to see my oblong
writing-table, which I had hoisted up there with considerable
difficulty, in an attitude that my neighbour Decros's donkey
endeavoured to strike in his most agitated moments--it was standing
upon two legs, with the others in the air. The heavy branch of a large
fig-tree that had been flourishing for many years upon the overhanging
rock far above had come down upon the very spot where I was accustomed
to sit, and thus the strange antics of the table were accounted for.
From that day the thought of other things above, such as loose rocks,
which might also have conceived an antipathy for the table, and might
not be so considerate towards me as the fig-tree, weakened my
attachment to my ideal writing-place, for the discovery of which I was
indebted to the indefatigable tongues of the women of Roc-Amadour.

The mention of my neighbour's donkey recalls to mind an interesting
religious ceremony in which that amiable but emotional beast figured
with much distinction. Once every year all the animals at Roc-Amadour
that are worth blessing are assembled on the plain near the Hospitalet
to receive the benediction of the Church. The ceremony is called _La
benediction des betes_. The animals are chiefly goats, sheep, donkeys,
and mules. They are sprinkled with holy water, and prayers are said,
so that they may increase and multiply or prosper in any other way
that their owners may desire. As the meeting of the beasts took place
very early in the morning, I reached the scene just as it was breaking
up, and the congregation was dispersing in various directions. I met
Decros coming down the hill with his donkey, and saw by the expression
of his lantern jaws--he never laughed outright--that something had
amused him very much.

'So you have been to the Blessing of the Beasts? said I.

'_He_ has been,' replied the man, pointing to the ass, and not wishing
to be confounded with the _betes_ himself.

The donkey stuck his long ears forward, which meant, 'Yes, I have,'
and there was a deal of humour in the expression.

'And how did he behave?'

'Beautifully; he sang the whole time. The men laughed, but the women
said, "Take the beast away!" "No, I won't," said" _Il chante la

September brought the retreat, and the great pilgrimage, which lasts
eight days. The first visitors to arrive were the beggars and small
vendors of _objets de piete_. Some came in little carts, which looked
as if they had been made at home out of grocers' boxes, and to which
dogs were harnessed. At their approach all the Roc-Amadour dogs barked
bravely, just as in the old days when the song was written of the
'beggars coming to town.' Others trudged in with their bundles upon
their backs, hobbling, hungry and thirsty, but eager for the fray.
Some in a larger way of business came in all sorts of vehicles, and a
bazaar man arrived in a caravan of his own. Then followed the crowd of
genuine pilgrims, nearly all of them peasants, humbly clad, but with
money in their pockets which they were determined not to spend
foolishly upon meat, drink, and lodging, for the good of their souls
was uppermost in their minds, and the length of their stay would
depend upon their success in making the money last. By far the greater
number were women, and the many bent backs and withered faces among
them were a pretty safe sign that they had not all come to implore the
aid of the Virgin in that special form of domestic trouble from which
so many thousands have sought relief century after century in her
sanctuary of Roc-Amadour.

The plain white linen coif--very ugly, but delightfully
primitive--worn by a large proportion of these peasants showed that
they had crossed the Dordogne from the Bas-Limousin. Many had come all
the way on foot, taking a couple of days or more for the journey, and
a few had trudged over the hot roads and stony _causses_[*] barefoot,
just like pilgrims of the Middle Ages.

[*] This Languedocian word, which has come to be generally used in
describing the limestone uplands, as distinguished from the
valleys and gorges of a very extensive district of Southern
France, is said to be a corruption of _calx_.

Indeed, these people were essentially the same in all social and
mental characteristics as their predecessors of five or seven
centuries ago; their faith was the same, their daily habits were the
same, their language was the same, and their mode of dress, as far
as the women were concerned, had scarcely changed. They came down
the narrow street and under the old crumbling gateways in a
continuous stream, holding their rosaries in their hands, together
with their baskets and bundles, and praying aloud, even before they
reached the foot of the steps. Arriving there, they dropped down
upon their knees, and commenced the arduous ascent, interrupted by
two hundred genuflexions, during which they repeated an _Ave Maria_
and a special invocation to Notre Dame de Roc-Amadour. Although the
stranger belonging to the outer world--so different in every way
from that of these simple people--with his mind coloured by
particular prejudices, habits of thought, religious or philosophical
reasoning, may feel out of sympathy with such pilgrims, he cannot
but recognise their sincerity and the serene fulness of their faith.

Above all the pious murmuring rise the harsh voices of those who have
come to sell, and who, putting no restraint upon their eagerness to
get money, thrust their rosaries and medals almost in the pilgrims'
faces. Beggars squatting or lying against the wall on either side of
the steps exhibit the bare stump of a leg that wofully needs washing,
a withered arm, or the ravages of some incurable and gnawing disease.
Yet are they all terribly energetic, wailing forth prayers almost
incessantly, or screaming spasmodically an appeal to charity, and
adding to the dreadful din by jingling coppers in tin cups. In the
immediate precincts of the church, where the hurly-burly of piety,
traffic, and mendicity reaches its climax, are the vendors of candles
for the chapel and of food for the pilgrims, whose diet is chiefly
melon and bread. Creysse, by the Dordogne, produces melons in
abundance, which are brought to Roc-Amadour by the cartload, and sold
for two or three sous apiece. And to see these pilgrims devour the
fragrant fruit in the month of September makes one think that if Notre
Dame de Roc-Amadour were not very pitiful the consequences would be
disastrous to many.

There was a humorous beggar on the steps who amused me much, for I
watched him more closely than he supposed. He had something the matter
with his legs--paralyzed, perhaps--but the upper part of his body was
sound enough. With one hand he shook the tin cup, but the other, which
held a short pipe, he kept steadfastly behind his back. Now and again
he turned his face to the wall, as if to drop a tear unseen, but
really to take a discreet pull at the pipe. I think he must have
swallowed the smoke. Then he would face the crowd again, and repeat
his doleful cry:

'De la charite! de la charite! Chretiens, n'oubliez pas le pauvre
estropie! Le bon Dieu vous benira.'

After all, why should not a beggar smoke? If tobacco is a blessing,
why should a man be debarred from it because his legs are paralyzed,
and he is obliged to live on charity?

As one of the first thoughts of every genuine pilgrim to this ancient
sanctuary is to get shrived, the chaplains, who, with their Superior,
are ten in number, have something to do to listen to the story of sins
that is poured into their ears almost in a continuous stream during
the eight days of the retreat. The rush upon the confessionals begins
at five in the morning, and goes on with little intermission all day.
The penitents huddle together like sheep in a snowstorm around each
confessional, so that the foremost who is telling his sins knows that
there is another immediately behind him who, whenever he stops to
reflect, would like to give him a nudge m the back. The peasants,
whether it be that they have never cultivated the habit of whispering,
or whether their zeal be such as to chase from their minds all
considerations of worldly shame and human respect, say what they have
to say without regard to the rows of ears behind them, and what takes
place at these times is almost on a par with the public confessions of
the primitive Church.

It is at night, however, during the retreat that the visitor to
Roc-Amadour will see the strangest sight if he gives himself the
trouble, for then the church of St. Sauveur becomes a _hospice_ where
the weary may find the sleep that refreshes and restores the
faculties after the work of the day, as sung by St. Ambrose. The
church is filled with pilgrims lying upon the chairs, upon the bare
stones that the feet of other pilgrims have worn into hollows,
sitting with their backs against the walls and piers, snoring also in
the confessionals--the most comfortable quarters. Some remain awake
most of the night praying silently or aloud. This is how the
peasantry of the Quercy and the Limousin enter into the spirit of the
September pilgrimage to Roc-Amadour. It is not because they need the
money to pay for accommodation in the inns that they use the church
by night as well as by day, but because they wish to go through their
devotional programme thoroughly. And those who go to the inns often
make one room serve for a family of three or four grown-up persons.
If there vis one person who does not belong to the family, the others
see no harm in admitting him or her; indeed, they think that as
Christians they are almost bound to do so.

On the night following the opening of the retreat, Roc-Amadour is
illuminated, and the spectacle is one that renders the grandest
illuminations in Paris mean and vulgar by comparison. It is not in the
costliness of the display that its splendour lies; it is in what may
almost be termed the zeal with which Nature works with art towards the
same end. Without the rocks and precipices the spectacle would be
commonplace; but the site being what it is, the scene has a strange
and wonderful charm that may be called either fairylike or heavenly,
as the imagination may prefer. The artistic means employed are simple
enough--paper lanterns and little lamps of coloured glass; but what an
effect is produced when chains of fire have been stretched across the
gorge from the summits of the rocks on either side, when the long
succession of zigzags reaching up the cliff, and forming the Way of
the Cross, is also marked out with fire, when the ramparts on the
brink of the precipice are ablaze with coloured lamps, recalling some
old poetical picture of an enchanted castle, and a little to the
right, on the summit of the cliff where the Via Crucis ends at
Calvary, the great wooden cross which French pilgrims carried through
the streets of Jerusalem stands against the calm starlit sky like a
cross of blood-red flame!

A little below the summit of the cliff, from the large cavern which
has been fashioned to represent the Holy Sepulchre, there issues a
brilliant light, together with the sound of many voices singing the
'Tantum ergo.' A faint odour of incense wanders here and there among
the shrubs, and mingles with the fragrance of flowers upon the
terraces. Presently the clergy and the pilgrims come forth, and,
forming a long procession, descend the Way of the Cross; and as the
burning tapers that they carry shine and flash amongst the foliage,
these words, familiar to every pilgrim to Roc-Amadour, sung by
hundreds of voices, may be heard afar off in the dark desolate gorge:

'Reine puissante, Mere d'Amour,
Sois-nous compatissante,
O Vierge d'Amadour!'

It is now the vigil of All Souls--the 'Day of the Dead.' No more
pilgrims come to Roc-Amadour. A breeze would send the sapless
walnut-leaves whirling through the air, but there is no breeze; Nature
seems to hold her breath as she thinks of the dead whom she has
gathered to her earthy breast. At sundown the people creep out of
their houses silently and solemnly; they meet at the bottom of the
steps, and when they are joined by the clergy and choirboys, all move
slowly upward, praying for the dead and kneeling upon each step. As
their forms seen sideways show against the dusky sky, they look like
shadows from the ghostly world, and still more so when the rocks on
the other side of the gorge brighten again, as with the blood of the
pomegranate made luminous, and through the air there spreads a
beautiful solemn light that is tenderly yet deeply sad, and which adds
something unearthly, something that cannot be named, to the ascending

As the dusk deepens to darkness the funereal _glas_ begins to moan
from St. Saviour's Church. Two bells are rung together so as to make
as nearly as possible one clash of sound. At first it is a moan, but
it soon becomes a strident cry with a continuous under-wail. At the
Hospitalet on the hill the bell of the mortuary chapel is also
tolling. It is the bell of the dead who lie there in the stony
burying-ground upon the edge of the wind-blown _causse_, calling upon
the bells of Roc-Amadour to move the living to pity for those who have
left the earth.

As I return to my cottage the dim street is quite deserted, and the
arch of the ruined gateway, so often resounding with the voices that
come from light hearts, is now as dark and silent as a grave. For two
hours the bells continue to cry in the darkness, from the church
overhead and from the chapel by the tombs. I can neither read nor
write, but sit brooding over the fire on the hearth, piling on wood
and sending tall flames and many sparks up the chimney; for that
continuous undercry of the iron tongues, 'Pray for the dead! pray for
the dead!' fills the valley and seems to fill the world. No fireside
feeling can be kindled; it is wasting wood to throw it upon the hearth
to-night, for that doleful wail penetrates everywhere: even the demon
that lurks at the bottom of Pomoyssin must shudder as he hears it.
When at length the bells stop swinging and their vibrations die away,
a screech-owl flies close by the open gallery of the house, which we
call a balcony, and startles me with its ghostly scream.

The day comes again, fair and hopeful. I am waiting for the old
truffle-hunter, with whom I made an appointment for this morning.
Presently I see him coming up the bed of the stream, plodding over the
yellow stones, which have been dry for four months. I recognise him by
his pig, which walks by his side. They are both truffle-hunters, and
have both an interest in the business, as will be seen. The man is
gray and old, with a sharp prominent nose, suggestive of his chief
occupation, and with a bent back--the effect, perhaps, of stooping to
pull the pig's ear in the nick of time should the beast be tempted to
snap up one of the savoury cryptogams. When it is added that he wears
a short blouse and a low, broad-brimmed felt hat, I have described the
appearance of the truffle-hunter. Now, inasmuch as the pig is about to
play the most important part in the morning's work, its portrait
should likewise be drawn. The animal is of a dirty-white colour, like
all pigs in this part of France, and is utterly devoid of grace and
elegance. It is, in fact, an extremely ugly beast, with an arched back
and a very long turned-up nose; but it is four years old, and is
accounted 'serious.' Like all other pigs used for truffle-hunting, it
is of the female sex. The animal has been carefully educated; it wears
a leather collar as a mark of distinction, and is allowed the same
liberty as a dog.

We climb the rocky side of the gorge, which is hot work, for the south
wind is blowing, and the sun is blazing in a blue sky. The walnuts by
the line of the stream are changing colour, and the maples are already
fiery; but otherwise there are few signs of autumn. On reaching the
plateau we come at once to the truffle-ground. Here the soil is so
thin, so stony, and withal so arid, that, were it not for the scant
herbage upon which sheep and goats thrive, it would produce nothing
but stunted oak, juniper, and truffles. Even the oaks only grow in
patches where the rock is not close to the surface. The truffles are
never found except very near these trees, or, in default of them,
hazels. This is one of the mysteries of the cryptogamic kingdom, which
no one has yet been able to explain. The truffle-hunters believe that
it is the shade of the trees which produces the underground fruit, and
the opinion is based upon experience. When an oak has been cut down,
or even lopped, a spot near it that was rich in truffles year after
year is soon scoffed at by the knowing pig.

Our work lies amongst the dwarf oaks, for there are no hazels here. At
a sign from the old man, the pig sniffs about the roots of a little
tree, then proceeds to dig with her nose, tossing up the larger stones
which lie in the way as if they were feathers. The animal has smelt a
truffle, and the man seizes her by the ear, for her manner is
suspicious. This is the first time they have been out together since
last season, and the beast has forgotten some of her education. She
manages to get a truffle into her mouth; he tugs at her ear with one
hand, and uses his stick upon her nose with the other. The brute
screams with anger, but will not open her jaws wide enough for him to
slip his stick in and hook the truffle out. The prize is swallowed,
and the old man, forgetting all decorum, and only thinking of his
loss, calls his companion a pig, which in France is always an insult.
Our truffle-hunting to-day has opened badly, although one party thinks
differently. In a few minutes, however, another truffle is found, and
this time the old man delivers a whack on the nose at the right
moment, and, seizing the fungus, hands it to me. Now he takes from his
pocket a spike of maize, and, picking off a few grains, gives them to
the pig to soothe her injured feelings, and encourage her to hunt
again. This she is quite ready to do, for a pig has no _amour propre_.
We move about in the dry open wood, keeping always near the trees, and
truffle after truffle is turned up from the reddish light soil mixed
with fragments of calcareous rock. The forgotten training soon comes
back to our invaluable auxiliary; a mere twitch of the ear is a
sufficient hint for her to retire at the right moment, and wait for
the corn that is in variably given in exchange for the cryptogam.
Indeed, before we leave the ground, the animal has got so well into
work that when she finds a truffle she does not attempt to seize it,
but points to it, and grunts for the equivalent in maize. The pig may
be a correct emblem of depravity, but its intelligence is certainly of
a superior order.


Although the last days of May had come, the Alzou, usually dry at this
time, was running with swift, strong current through the vale of
Roc-Amadour. There had been so many thunderstorms that the channel was
not large enough for the torrent that raced madly over its yellow
pebbles. I lingered awhile in the meadow by the stream, looking at the
rock-clinging sanctuary before wandering in search of the unknown up
the narrow gorge.

In a garden terraced upon the lower flank of the rock, the labour of
generations having combined to raise a soil there deep enough to
support a few plum, almond, and other fruit trees, a figure all in
black is hard at work transplanting young lettuces. It is that of a
teaching Brother. He is a thin grizzled man of sixty, with an
expression of melancholy benevolence in his rugged face. I have
watched him sitting upon a bench with his arm round some little
village urchin by his side, while the children from the outlying
hamlets, sprawling upon a heap of stones in the sun, ate their mid-day
meal of bread and cheese or buckwheat pancakes that their mothers had
put into their baskets before they trudged off in the early morning. I
have noticed by many signs that he is full of sympathy for the young
peasants placed in his charge. Yet with all his kindness he is
melancholy. So many years in one place, such a dull routine of duty,
such a life of abnegation without the honour that sustains and
encourages, such impossibility of being understood and appreciated by
those for whose sake he has been breaking self upon the wheel of
mortification since his youth, have made him old before the time and
fixed that look of lurking sadness in his warmly human eyes.

There are few problems more profound than that of the courage with
which men like him continue their self-imposed penal-servitude until
they become too infirm to work and are sent to die in some refuge for
aged _freres_. They have accepted celibacy and poverty, that they may
the better devote their lives to the instruction of children. They
have no sacerdotal state or ideal, no ecclesiastical nor social
ambition to help them. They must be always humble; they must not even
be learned, for much knowledge in their case would be considered a
dangerous thing. Their minds must not rise above their work. They
guide dirty little fists in the formation of pot-hooks, and when they
have led the boys' intelligence up a few more steps of scholarship the
end is achieved. The boy goes out into the world and refreshes his
mind with new occupation; but the poor Brother remains chained to his
dreary task, which is always the same and is never done.

And what are the wages in return for such a life? Food that many a
workman would consider insufficiently generous for his condition, a
bed to lie upon and clothes which call down upon the wearer the
sarcasms of the town-bred youth. What a land of contrast is France!

There are three Brothers here, but this one, the eldest, is the head.
Others come and go, but he remains. Most of his spare time is given to
the garden. When the eight o'clock bell begins to swing he will leave
his lettuces and soon perch himself on the little platform behind his
shabby old desk in the dingy schoolroom, which even in the holidays
cannot get rid of its ancient redolence of boys. The school-house, now
so much like a prison, was once a mansion, and the most modern part of
it is of the period which we should call in England Tudor. A Gothic
doorway leads into a hall arched and groined, the inner wall being the
bare rock, as is the case with most of the houses at Roc-Amadour. A
gutter cut in the stone floor to carry off the drippings formed by the
condensation of the air upon the cold surface shows that these
half-rock dwellings have their drawbacks.

I leave Roc-Amadour and take my way up the valley. Nature has now
reached all that can be attained in vernal pride and beauty here. In a
little while she will have put on the careworn look of the Southern
summer. Many a plant now in splendid bloom, animated by the spirit of
loveliness that presides over the law of reproduction, will soon be
casting its seed and bringing its brief destiny to a close. Now all is
coquetry, beauty, and ravishment. The rock-hiving bees, unconscious
instruments of a great purpose, are yellow with pollen and laden with
honey. They find more, infinitely more, nectar than they can carry
away. The days are long, and every hour is full of joy. But already
the tide is at the turn. The nightingale's rapturous song has become a
lazy twitter; the bird has done with courtship; it has a family in
immediate prospect, if not one already screaming for food, and the
musician has half lost his passion for music. It will come again next
year. How swiftly all this life and colour of spring passes away! So
much to be looked at and so little time!

This narrow strip of meadow that winds along the bottom of the gorge
is not the single tinted green ribbon it lately was. The light of its
verdure has been dimmed by the light of flowers. The grass mounts
high, but not higher than the oxeye daisies, the blue racemes of
stachys, the mauve-coloured heads of scabious, the bladder-campions,
the yellow buttercups and goat's-beard. The oxeyes are so numberless
in one long reach of meadow that a white drapery, which every breeze
folds or unfolds, seems to have been cast as light as sea-foam upon
the illimitable forest of stems. The white butterflies that flutter
above are like flecks of foam on the wing. Elsewhere it is the blue of
the stachys and the spiked veronica that rules. Deeper in the herbage
other races of flowers shine in the fair groves of this grassy
paradise, and every blossom, however small, is a mystery, a miracle.
Here is the star of Bethlehem, wide open in the sunshine and showing
so purely white amidst the green, and yonder is the purple fringe-like
tuft of the weird muscari. Along the banks of the stream tall
lilac-purple, stock-like flowers rise proudly above the grasses. They
belong to the hesperis or dame's violet, a common wild-flower in this
valley. Upon my left is the abrupt stony slope of the gorge. Between
it and the meadow are shrubs of yellow jessamine starred with blossom.
But the stony steep that dazzles the eyes with the sun's reflected
glare has its flowers too. Nature, in her great passion for beauty,
even draws it out of the disintegrated fragments of time-worn rock,
whose banks would otherwise be as stark and dry as the desert sand.
Lightly as flakes of snow the frail blossoms of the white rock-rose
lie upon the stones. Then there are patches of candytuft running from
white into pink, crimson flowers of the little crane's-bill, and
spurges whose floral leaves are now losing their golden green and
taking a hue of fiery brown.

An open wood, chiefly of dwarf oak, and shrubs such as the wayfaring
tree, the guelder-rose, and the fly-honeysuckle, now stretches along
the opposite side of the gorge. Here scattered groups of columbine
send forth a glow of dark blue from the shadowy places; the lily of
the valley and its graceful ever-bowing cousin, the Solomon's seal,
show their chaste and wax-like flowers amidst the cool green of their
fresh leaves; and the monkey-orchis stands above the green moss and
the creeping geraniums like a little rocket of pale purple fire just
springing from the earth towards the lingering shreds of storm-cloud
that are melting in the warm sky.

In a few weeks what will have become of all this greenness and
beautiful colour of flowers? The torrid sun and the hot breath of
summer will have burnt up the fair garment of spring, and laid bare
the arid sternness of the South again. The nightingale still warbles
fitfully in the green bushes, but the raven, perched up yonder upon
the stark rock, croaks like a misanthrope at the quick passing away of
youth and loveliness. What sad undertones, mournful murmurs of the
deep that receives the drifted leaves, mingle with the spring's soft
flutings and all the voices that proclaim the season of joy!

While listening and day-dreaming, I was overtaken by a man and his
donkey, both old acquaintances. Every day, except Sundays and the
great Church festivals, when the peasants of the Quercy abstain from
work, like those of Brittany, this pair were in the habit of trudging
together side by side to fetch and bring back wood from the slopes of
the gorge. The ass did all the carrying, and his master the chopping
and sawing. It was a monotonous life, but both seemed to think they
were not worse off than the majority of men and donkeys. The man was
contented with his daily soup of bread-and-water, with an onion or a
leek thrown in, and a suspicion of bacon, and the beast with such
herbage as he could find while his master was getting ready another
load of wood. The man was an old soldier, who had seen some rough
service, for he was at Sedan, and was afterwards engaged in the
ghastly business of shooting down his own countrymen in Paris. But,
with all this, he was as quiet a tempered creature as his donkey,
which he treated as a friend. The army, he told me, was the best
school for learning how to treat a beast with proper consideration.

I asked why.

'Because,' replied he, 'when a soldier is caught beating a horse, he
has eight days of _salle de police_.'

Man and donkey having disappeared into a wood, my next companion was a
small blue butterfly that kept a few yards in front of me, now
stopping to look at a flower, now fluttering on again. Some insects,
as well as certain birds, appear to derive much entertainment from
watching the movements of that fantastic animal--man.

Arcadian leafiness: rocky desolation befitting the mouth of hell.
Grass and flowers on which souls might tread in the paradise of the
Florentine poet. Stony forms, monstrous, enigmatic, reared like
symbolic tokens of defeated gods, or of the worn-out evil passions
that troubled old creation before the coming of man, and the fresh
order of spiritual and carnal bewilderment. Why should I go on and
seek further amazement, while from the lowest to the highest I can
read not one of the mystic figures of the solitude around me? What is
my relation to them, and theirs to me? Why should that beetle in the
grass, upon whose back all the colours of the prism change and glow
like supernatural fire, trouble me with the cause and motive of its
beauty? Why should yonder rock, standing like a spar of some ship
wrecked in a cataclysm of the awful past, draw me to it as though it
were the image of a grand, yet unattainable and blighted, longing of
the human soul?

The gorge became so narrow and the rocks so high that there was a
twilight under the trees, which still dripped with the rain-drops of
last night's storm. Hesperis, columbine, and geranium contrasted their
floral colours with the deep green of the young grass. Some spots of
dark purple were on the ground where the light was most dim. They were
the petals and calyxes of that strange flower, lathraea, of the
broom-rape family. Each bloom seemed to be carried in the cup of
another flower. The plant had no leaves, for it was a thief that drew
its nutriment from the root of an honest little tree that had
struggled upward in the shade of strong and greedy rivals, and had
raised its head at length into the sunshine in spite of them.

After some difficulty in working round and over rocks that barred, the
passage, I came to a spot where it was impossible to follow the gorge
any farther. The walls narrowed to an opening a few yards wide, where
the stream fell in a cascade of some thirty feet. I took my mid-day
meal like a forester in the midst of this beautiful desolation, and
then, having found a spot where I could escape from the gorge of the
Alzou, I climbed the steep towards the north.

Here there was a blinding glare of sunshine reflected by the naked
stones. Goats looked down at me from the upper rocks near the line of
the blue sky. When I reached the boy who tended them, I asked him the
way to the road that I wished to strike upon the plateau. After
staring at me for some time, he screwed up his mouth, and said: '_Je
comprenais pas francais, you.' You_ did not apply to me, but to
himself, for it means _I_ in the Southern dialect.

Here was a boy unable to speak French, although all children in France
are now supposed to be educated in the official language of the
republic. Such cases are uncommon. In the Haut-Quercy, where _patois_
is the language of everybody, even in the towns, one soon learns the
advantage of asking the young for the information that one may need.

I found the road I wanted, and also the spot marked on the map as the
Saut de la Pucelle. It is one of those numerous _gouffres_ to be found
in the Quercy, especially in the district of the Dordogne.

Here a stream plunges beneath the surface of the earth to join the
subterranean Ouysse, or the Dordogne. A ravine, sinking rapidly,
becomes a deep, dark, and gloomy gully, at the end of which is a wall
of rock. The stream pours down a tunnel-like passage, at the base of
the rock, with a melancholy wail. Where the sides are not too steep
they are covered with trees and shrubs.

As I stood amidst the poisonous dog-mercury, under the hanging ivy and
the hart's-tongue ferns, watching the stream glitter on the edge of
everlasting darkness, and listening to its death-dirge, I pictured
awful shadows issuing from the infernal passage and seizing the
terror-stricken ghost of the guilty horseman, of whom I had heard from
a local legend.

This legend, as it is commonly told, is briefly as follows: Centuries
ago a virtuous young woman was persecuted by the lord of a
neighbouring castle, who was not at all virtuous. One day, when she
was mounted upon a mule, he gave chase to her on horseback. He was
rapidly gaining upon her, and she, in agony of soul, had given herself
up for lost, when, by one of those miracles which were frequent in
those days, especially in the country of Notre Dame de Roc-Amadour,
the mule, by giving a vigorous stamp with one of his hind-legs, kicked
a yawning gulf in the earth, which he, however, lightly passed over
with his burden, while the wicked pursuer, unable to check his steed
in time, perished in the abyss.

Another legend of the Maiden's Leap is more romantic, but less
supernatural. It is a story of the English occupation of Guyenne, and
the revolt of the Quercynois in 1368. Before the main body of the
British force that subdued Roc-Amadour as related by Froissart arrived
in the Haut-Quercy, the castle of Prangeres, near Gramat, was entered
by a troop of armed men in the English service under Jehan Pehautier,
one of those brigand captains of whom the mediaeval history and
legends of Guyenne speak only too eloquently. An orphan, Bertheline de
Castelnau, _chatelaine_ of Prangeres in her own right, was in the
fortress when it was thus taken by surprise. Captivated by her beauty,
Jehan Pehautier essayed to make Bertheline his prisoner; but she made
her escape from the castle by night, and endeavoured to reach the
sanctuary of Roc-Amadour on foot. Her flight was discovered, and
Pehautier and a party of horsemen started in pursuit. She would have
been quickly captured had she not met a mounted knight, who was no
other than her lover, Bertrand de Terride. She sprang upon his horse,
and away they both went through the oak forest which then covered the
greater part of the _causse_; but the gleam of the knight's armour in
the moonlight kept the pursuers constantly upon his track. Slowly but
surely they gained upon the fugitives. Suddenly Bertheline, who knew
the country, perceived that Bertrand was spurring his horse directly
towards the precipice now called the Saut de la Pucelle. It was too
late, however, to avoid the gulf; she had only time to murmur a brief
prayer before the horse bounded over the edge of the rock. To the
great wonder and joy of the lovers, the animal cleared the ravine, and
alighted safely on the other side. But a very different fate awaited
the pursuers. On they came, crashing through the wood, shouting
exultantly, for they believed that the prey was now almost in their
grasp, when suddenly the air was rent with cries of horror, mingled
with the sound of crashing armour, and bodies falling upon the rocks
and upon the bed of the stream. An awful silence followed. The dead
men and horses were lying in the dark water. As Pehautier felt the
solid earth leave him, he gave out his favourite oath, 'Mort de sang!'
in a frightful shriek, and the words long afterwards rang in the ears
of Bertheline and Bertrand.

As I returned to this spot some months later in order to explore the
cavern, I may as well give an account of the adventure here. I was
accompanied by my neighbour Decros, who gave his donkey on this
occasion a half-holiday. Decros, although a native of the locality,
could not tell me how far the cavern extended, for he had never been
tempted to explore its depths himself, nor had he heard of anybody who
knew more than himself about it. A story, however, was told of a
shepherd-boy who long ago went down the opening, and was never seen

'Perhaps,' said I, 'we shall find his skeleton.' This observation
brought a peculiar expression to my companion's face, which meant that
he had no ambition whatever to share the surprise of such a discovery.
Although he had done his duty bravely in the war of 1870, he was by no
means free from the awe with which these _gouffres_ inspired the
country-people, and his soldiering had still left him a Cadurcian
Celt, with much of the superstition that he had drawn in with his
native air. One morning he found that his donkey had nearly strangled
himself over-night with the halter, and Decros could not shake off the
impression that this accident was an omen intended to convey some
message from the other world. He was ready to go with me into any
cavern; but I am sure he would have much preferred scaling dangerous
rocks in the broad sunlight, for there he would have felt at home.

There was not too much water to offer any danger, so we stooped down
and entered the low vault after lighting candles. The roof soon rose,
and we were in a spacious cavern, the sides of which had evidently
been washed and worn away into hollows by the sea that rolled here
long before the mysterious race raised its dolmens and tumuli upon the
surrounding knolls. The passage was wide enough for us to walk on the
margin of the stream, or where the water was very shallow; but had
much rain fallen, the expedition would have been perilous, for the
descending torrent would then have been strong enough to carry a man
off his legs.

Stalactites hung from the rocks overhead, and as we proceeded they
became more numerous, more fantastic, and more beautiful. They were
just as the dropping water had slowly fashioned them in the darkness
of ages, where day and night were the same, where nothing changed but
themselves, save the voice of the stream, which grew louder or softer
according to the play of winds and sunshine and clouds upon the upper
world. Some tapered to a fine point, others were like pendant bunches
of grapes; all were of the whiteness of loaf-sugar. No tourists
stricken with that deplorable mania for taking home souvenirs of
everything, and ready to spoil any beauty to gratify their vanity or
their acquisitiveness, had cast stones into the midst of the fairy
handicraft of the wizard water for the sake of a fragment; nor had the
village boys amused themselves here at the expense of the stalactites,
for happily they had been well trained in the horror of the
supernatural. The cavern ran for a certain distance south-west; then
the gallery turned at a sharp angle north-north-west, and continued in
this direction. We followed the stream some three or four hundred
yards, and then it entered a deep pool or lake under low rocks. We
tried a side-passage to see if it led round this obstacle, but it soon
came to an end. As I stood on the brink of the deep, black, silent
pool, I had a great longing to know what lay beyond; but I had to
content myself with imagining the unrevealed wonders of the cavern. It
would be just possible, by crouching down in a little boat, to pass
under the rock, which is probably no insuperable obstacle. The roof is
just as likely to form a high vault on one side of it as on the other.
The water is the serious obstacle; but it is safe to say, from the
character of the formation, that the deep pool does not extend very
far. A peculiarity of these underground streams of the _causses_ is
that they generally form a chain of pools.

If a shepherd-boy really lost his life in this cavern, he must have
done so by trying to pass the pool, unless he was washed into it by a
sudden rush of water after a heavy storm. It must be confessed that
the spot is calculated to fill one with superstitious dread. The calm
of the deep water into which the stream glides makes it quite easy to
imagine, with the help of the surroundings, that there is an evil
spirit lurking in it--perhaps that of the wicked Pehautier whom the
demons dragged down here. I had another grim thought: Supposing this
water, in obedience to some pressure elsewhere, should rise suddenly
and flood the lower part of the cavern! There is no knowing what
tricks water may play in this fantastic region, where the tendency of
rivers is to flow underground, and where one gallery may be connected
with a ramification of water-courses extending over many miles of
country, and with reservoirs which empty themselves periodically by
means of natural syphons. There is a world full of marvels under the
_causses_ of the Lot, the Aveyron, and the Lozere; but although much
more will be known about it, a vast deal will remain for ever hidden
from man.

I will now return to my wayfaring across the Causse de Gramat in the
early summer.

I had passed through the village of Alvignac--a little watering-place
that draws all the profit it can from a ferruginous spring which rises
at Miers hard by, but otherwise uninteresting, and had left on my
right the village of Thegra, where the troubadour Hugues de St. Cyr
was born, when suddenly the landscape struck me with the sentiment of
England. For some hours I had been walking chiefly over the stony
_causse_, searching for a so-called castle that was not worth the
trouble of finding. I had seen spurge and juniper, and ribs of rock
rising everywhere above the short turf, until I grew weary of the
sameness. Now, the sun, whose ardour was already melting into the
tenderness of evening, shone upon a broad valley, where the grass
stood high in rich meadows separated from other meadows and green
cornfields by hedges, from the midst of which rose many a tall tree.
The blackbird's low, flute-like note sounded above the shrilling of the

The little village of Padirac was entered at sundown. The small inn
where I chose my quarters for the night had a garden at the back,
where vines in new leaf were trained, over a trellis from end to end.
There were also broad beans in flower, peas on sticks, currant-bushes,
and pear-trees. It was a quiet, green spot, and as I strolled about it
in the twilight, vague recollections of other gardens chased one
another, but it would have been hard to say whether they were pleasant
or sad. My dinner or supper was of sorrel soup and part of a goose
that was killed the previous autumn, and, after being slightly salted,
was preserved in grease.

Lean tortoiseshell cats, with staring eyes and tails like strings,
kept near at hand, and seemed ready to commit any crime for the
smallest particle of goose. String-tailed, goggle-eyed, meagre cats
that seize your dinner if you do not keep watch over it, and when
caressed promptly respond by scratching and swearing, appear to be
held in high favour throughout this district. They are expected to
live upon rats, and it is this that makes them so disagreeable, for
although they kill rats for the pleasure of the chase, they do not
like the flavour of them. On this subject there is a standing quarrel
between them and society, which insists upon their eating the animals
that they kill. In order that the cats shall have every facility for
the chase, holes are often cut in the bottom of house-doors, so that
at night they may go in and come out as the quarry moves them. Should
any food have been left about, what with the rats and the cats, not a
trace of it will be seen in the morning. This I know from experience.

Being within a mile or so of the Puit de Padirac--that gloomy hole in
the earth which was supposed to be one of the devil's short-cuts
between this world and his own, until M. Martel proved almost
conclusively that it was not the way to the infernal city, but to a
subterranean river, and a chain of lakes that could be followed for
two miles--I set out the next morning to find it. I might have spent
hours in vain casting about, but for the help of a peasant, who
offered, quite disinterestedly, to be my guide. He was an old man,
with a very Irish face, and eyes that laughed at life. But for his
language he would have seemed a perfectly natural growth of Cork or

Here may be the place to remark that the stock of the ancient Cadurci
appears to have been much less impaired here in an ethnological sense
by the mingling of races than in the country round Cahors. The
peasants, generally, have nothing distinctively Southern in their
appearance, although they speak a dialect which is in the main a Latin
one, the Celtic words that have been retained being in a very small
proportion. Gray or blue eyes are almost as frequent among them as
they are with the English, and many of the village children have hair
the colour of ripening maize.

We left the fertile valley and rose upon the stone-scattered _causse_
where hellebore, spurges, and juniper were the only plants not cropped
close to the earth by the flocks of sheep which thrive upon these
wastes. All the sheep are belled, but the bells they wear are like big
iron pots hanging upon their breasts. Each pot has a bone that swings
inside of it and serves as a hammer. The chief use of these bells is
to prevent the animal from leaving its best wool, that of the breast,
upon the thorns of bushes.

We have now reached the brink of the pit, which is not bottomless, but
looks so until the eye faintly distinguishes something solid at a
depth that has been measured at 175 feet. The opening is almost
circular, with a diameter at the orifice of 116 feet. This prodigious
well, sunk in successive layers of secondary rock, looks as if it had
been regularly quarried; but men could never have had the motive for
giving themselves so much trouble. Did the rock fall in here? No
explanation is satisfactory. How it fills one with awe to look into
the depth while lying upon a slab of stone that stretches some
distance beyond the side of the pit! Bushes with twisted and fantastic
arms, growing, they or their ancestors, from time immemorial in the
clefts of the rock, reach towards the light, and the elfish
hart's-tongue fern, itself half in darkness, points down with frond
that never moves in that eternal stillness which all the winds of
heaven pass over, to a thicker darkness whence comes the everlasting
wail and groan of hidden water.

This horrid gulf being in the open plain, with not even a foot of
rough wall round it as a protection for the unwary, I asked the old
man if people had never fallen into it.

'Yes,' he answered, 'but only those who have been pushed by evil

He meant that only self-murderers had fallen into the Puit de Padirac.
'Pushed by evil spirits.' Perhaps this is the best of all explanations
of the suicidal impulse. Strong thoughts are sometimes hidden under
the simplicity of rustic expression. He told me the story of a man
who, having gone by night to throw himself into the Puit de Padirac,
came in contact with a tough old bush during his descent which held
him up. By this time the would-be suicide disliked the feeling of
falling so much that, so far from trying to free himself from the bush
and begin again, he held on to it with all his might and shrieked for
help. But as people who are not pushed by evil spirits give the Puit
de Padirac a wide berth after sundown, the wretched man's cries were
lost in the darkness. The next morning the shepherd children, as they
led their flocks over the plain, heard a strange noise coming from the
pit, but their horror was stronger than their curiosity, and they
showed their sheep how to run. They went home and told their fathers
what they had heard, and at length some persons were bold enough to
look down the hole, from which the dismal sound the children had
noticed continued to rise. Thus the cause of the mysterious noise was
discovered, and the man was hauled up with a rope. He never allowed
the evil spirits to push him into the Puit de Padirac again.

The people of these _causses_ have a supernatural explanation for
everything that they cannot account for by the light of reason and
observation. They have their legend with regard to the Puit de
Padirac, and it is as follows: St. Martin, before he became Bishop of
Tours, was crossing one day this stony region of the Dordogne to visit
a religious community on the banks of the Solane, whither he had been
despatched by St. Hilary. He was mounted on a mule, and was ambling
along over the desert plunged in pious contemplation, when he heard a
little noise behind, and, looking round, he was surprised to see a
gentleman close to him, who was also riding a mule. The stranger was
richly dressed, and was altogether a very distinguished-looking
person, but the excessive brilliancy of his eyes was a disfigurement.
They shone in his head like two bits of burning charcoal. 'What do you
want, cruel beast?' said St. Martin. This would scarcely have been
saintly language had he not known with whom he had to deal. The
gentleman thus impolitely addressed returned a soft answer, and forced
his company upon the saint, who wished him--at home. Presently
Lucifer, for it was he, began to 'dare' St. Martin, after the manner
of boys to-day. 'If I kick a hole in the ground I dare you to jump
over it,' was the sort of language employed by the gentleman with the
too-expressive eyes. 'Done!' said St. Martin, or something equivalent.
'Digging pits is quite in my line of business!' exclaimed the devil,
in so disagreeable a voice that the saint's mule would have bolted had
the holy rider not kept a tight rein upon her. At the same moment the
ground over which the infernal mule had just passed fell in with a
mighty rumble and crash, leaving a yawning gulf. 'Now,' said Lucifer,
'let me see you jump over that!' Whereupon, the bold St. Martin drove
his spurs into his mule and lightly leapt over the abyss. And this was
how the Puit de Padirac was made. The peasants believe that they can
still see on a stone the imprint left by the hoof of St. Martin's
mule. This adventure did not cause the saint and the devil to part
company. They rode on together as far as the valley of Medorium
(Miers). 'Now,' said St. Martin, 'you jump over that!' pointing to a
little stream that was seen to flow suddenly and miraculously out of
the earth. Before challenging the arch enemy he had, however, taken
the precaution to lay two small boughs in the form of a cross on the
brink of the water. In vain the devil spurred his mule and used the
worst language that he could think of to induce the beast to jump. The
animal would not; but, as the spurring and swearing were continued, it
at length went down on its knees before the cross. But this did not
suit the devil's turn. On the contrary, the proximity of that emblem
which St. Martin had placed unobserved on the ground made him writhe
as though he had fallen into a font. Then with the speed of a
lightning flash he returned to his own kingdom--possibly by the Puit
de Padirac. A church dedicated to the saint was afterwards built near
the scene of his triumph, and the healing spring where it comes out of
the earth is still known by the name of _Lou Fount Sen Morti_--St.
Martin's Fountain.

Having left the pit, we went in the direction of Loubressac, to which
village my companion belonged. While still upon the _causse_ a spot
was reached where a small iron cross had been raised. The stone
pedestal bore this inscription:


The old man knew Helene Bonbegre when he was young, and he told me the
tragic story of her death on this spot. She was going home in the
evening, and her sweetheart the blacksmith accompanied her a part of
the distance. They then separated, and she went on alone. They had
been watched by the jealous and unsuccessful lover, whose heart was on
fire. Where the cross stands the girl was found lying, a naked corpse.
The murderer was soon captured, and most of the people in the district
went to St. Cere to see him guillotined. It was a spectacle to be
talked over for half a century. The blacksmith never forgave himself
for having left the girl to go home alone, and it was he who forged
the cross that marks the scene of the crime and sets the wayfarer

The peasant changed his ideas by filling his pipe. He smoked tobacco
that he grew in a corner of his garden for his own use, and which he
enjoyed all the more because it was _tabac de contrebande_. He gave me
some, which I likewise smoked without any qualm of conscience, and
thought it decidedly better than some tobacco of the regie. He lit his
pipe with smuggled matches. Had I been an inspector in disguise, I
should never have made matters unpleasant for him; he was such a
cheery, good-natured companion. He had brought up his family, and had
now just enough land to keep him without breaking his back over it. He
was quite satisfied with things as they were. I did not ask him if he
was a poacher, but took it for granted that he was whenever he saw a
good chance. Almost every peasant in the Haut-Quercy who has something
of the spirit of Nimrod in him is more or less a poacher. Those who
like hare and partridge can eat it in all seasons by paying for it.
Occasionally the gendarmes capture a young and over-zealous offender,
but the old men, who have followed the business all their lives, are
too wary for them. They are also too respectable to be interfered

At Loubressac I took leave of my entertaining friend, but not before
we had emptied a bottle of white wine together. It was a _vin du
pays_, this district having been less tried by the phylloxera than
others farther south and west. I was surprised to find white wine
there, the purple grape having been almost exclusively cultivated for
centuries in what is now the department of the Lot.

In the room of the inn where I lunched there were four beds; two at
one end and two at the other. There was plenty of space left, however,
for the tables. The rafters were hidden by the heads of maize that
hung from them. The host sat down at the same table with me, and when
he had nearly finished his soup he poured wine into it, and, raising
the plate to his lips, drank off the mixture. Objectionable as this
manner of drinking wine seems to those who have not learnt to do it in
their youth, it is very general throughout Guyenne. Those who have
formed the habit would be most unhappy if they could not continue it.
_Faire chabron_ is the expression used to describe this sin against
good manners. The aubergiste was very friendly, and towards the close
of the meal he brought out a bottle of his old red wine that he had
treasured up 'behind the faggot.'

Before reaching this village I had heard of a retired captain who
lived here in a rather dilapidated chateau, and who was very affable
to visitors, whom he immediately invited to look through his
telescope, which, although not a very large one, had a local
celebrity, such instruments being about as rare as blue foxes in this
part of the world. Conducted by the innkeeper, I called upon this
gentleman. The house was one of those half-castellated manors which
became scattered over France after the Renaissance, and of which the
greater number were allowed to fall into complete or partial ruin when
the territorial families who were interested in them were extinguished
or impoverished by the Revolution. They are frequently to be found in
Guyenne, but they are generally occupied by peasants either as
tenant-farmers or proprietors; two or three of the better preserved
rooms being inhabited by the family, the others being haunted by bats
and swallows and used for the storage of farm produce. It suited the
captain's humour, however, to live in his old dilapidated mansion,
scarcely less cut off from the society that matched with his position
in life than if he had exiled himself to some rock in the ocean.

The ceremony of knocking or ringing was dispensed with for the
sufficient reason that there was neither bell nor knocker. We entered
by the open door and walked along a paved passage, which, was
evidently not held as sacred as it should have been by the roving
fowls; looked in at the great dark kitchen, where beside the Gothic
arch of the broad chimney was some ruinous clockwork mechanism for
turning the spit, which probably did turn to good purpose when
powdered wigs were worn; then ascended the stone staircase, where
there was room for four to walk abreast, but which had somewhat lost
its dignity by the balusters being used for hanging maize upon.
Presently we came to a door, which the aubergiste knocked sharply with
his knuckles.

There was a sound of footsteps within, and then the door opened. I was
standing before a rather florid man of about fifty, with close-cropped
hair, a brush moustache, and a chin that seemed undecided on the score
of shaving. He wore a flannel shirt open at the throat, and a knitted
worsted _tricot_. This was the captain. He evidently did not like
Sunday clothes. When he settled down here, it was to live at his ease,
like a bachelor who had finished with vanities. But although no one
would have supposed from his dress that he was superior to the people
around him, his manners were those of a gentleman and an officer who
had seen the world elsewhere than at Loubressac. The simple, easy
courtesy with which he showed me his rooms, and pointed his telescope
for me, was all that is worth attaining, as regards the outward polish
of a man. This was so fixed upon him that his long association with
peasants had taken none of it away. The few rooms that he inhabited
were plainly furnished; in others were heaps of wheat, maize and
beans. Passing along a passage I noticed a little altar in a recess,
with a statue of the Virgin decked with roses and wild flowers. '_C'est
le mois de Marie_,' said the captain. He lived with a sister, and she
took care that religion was kept up in the house.

It being the _Fete-Dieu_, preparations were being made in the village
for the procession that was to take place after vespers. Sheets were
spread along the fronts of the houses, with flowers pinned to them,
and _reposoirs_ had been raised in the open air. I did not wait for
the procession, as I expected to be in time for the one at the next
village, Autoire. I took a path that led me up to the barren _causse_,
from which the red roofs of Autoire soon became visible under an
amphitheatre of high wooded hills.

As I approached the little village, the gleam of white sheets mingled
with the picture of old houses huddled together, some half-timber,
some with turrets and encorbelments, nearly all of them with very
high-pitched roofs and small dormer windows. The procession was soon
to start. I waited for it at the door of the crowded church, baking in
the sun with others who could not get inside, one of whom was a woman
with a moustache and beard, black and curly, such as a promising young
man might be expected to have. The number of women in Southern France
who are bearded like men shocks the feelings of the Northern wanderer,
until he grows accustomed to the sight. The cure was preaching about
the black bread, and all the other miseries of this life that had to
be accepted with thankfulness. Presently the two bells in the tower
began to dance, and the rapid ding-dong announced that the procession
was forming. First appeared the beadle, extremely gaudy in scarlet and
gold, then the cross-bearer, young men as chanters, little boys, most
strangely attired in white satin knee-breeches and short lace skirts,
scattering rose-leaves from open baskets at their sides; the cure came
bearing the monstrance and Host, followed by Sisters with little girls
in their charge; lastly was a mixed throng of parishioners. Most of
the women held rosaries, and a few of them, bent with age, carried
upon their heads the very cap that old Mother Hubbard wore, if
tradition and English artists are to be trusted. As the last of the
long procession passed out of sight between the walls of white linen,
the wind brought the words clearly back:

'Genitori, Genitoque
Laus et jubilatio.'

Now I entered the little church that was quite empty, and where no
sound would have been heard if the two voices in the tower had not
continued to ring out over the dovecotes, where the white pigeons
rested and wondered, and over the broad fields where the bending
grasses and listening flowers stood in the afternoon sunshine, 'Laus
et jubilatio,' in the language of the bells.

The church was Romanesque, probably of the twelfth century. The nave
was flanked by narrow aisles. Upon the very tall bases of the columns
were carved, together with foliage, fantastic heads of demons, or
satyrs of such expressive ugliness that they held me fascinated. Some
were bearded, others were beardless, some were grinning and showing
frightful teeth, others had thick-lipped, pouting mouths hideously
debased. A few were really _bons diables_, who seemed determined to be
gay, and to joke under the most trying circumstances; but the greater
number had morose faces, puckered by the long agony of bearing up the
church. Such variety of expression in ugliness was a triumph of art in
the far-off age, when the chisel of an unremembered man with a teeming
imagination made these heads take life from the inanimate stone.

The road from Autoire to St. Cere soon led me into the valley of the
Bave, a beautiful trout-stream, galloping towards the Dordogne through
flowery meadows, on this last day of May, and under leaning trees,
whose imaged leaves danced upon the ripples in the green shade. As I
had no need to hurry, I loitered to pick ragged-robins upon the banks,
flowers dear to me from old associations. Very common in England, they
are comparatively rare in France.

New pleasures await the wayfarer every hour, almost every minute, in
the day, and however long he may continue to wander over this
wonderful world of inexhaustible variety, if he will only stop to look
at everything, and so learn to feel the charm of little things.

I met a beggar, and fell into conversation with him. He asked me for
nothing, and was surprised when I gave him two sous. He was a ragged
old man, with a canvas bag, half filled with crusts, slung upon his
side. I had already met many such beggars in this part of France. They
travel about from village to village, filling their bags with pieces
of bread that are given them, and selling afterwards what they cannot
eat as food for pigs. As they rarely receive charity in the form of
money, they do not expect it. This kind of mendicant is distinctly
rural, and belongs to old times.

The bold front of an early Renaissance castle, with round towers at
the angles, capped with pointed roofs, drew me from the highroad. It
was the Chateau de Montal, in connection with which I had already
heard the story of one Rose de Montal, a young lady of some three
centuries ago, who had given her heart to a nobleman of the country,
Roger de Castelnau. By-and-by the charms of another lady caused him to
neglect the fair Rose de Montal. She remained almost constantly at a
window of one of the towers, scanning the country, and longing to
catch sight of the faithless Roger. One day he came down the valley of
the Bave, and she sang from the height of her tower a plaintive
love-song, hoping that he would stop and make some sign; but he passed
on, unmoved by the tender appeal of the noble damsel. As he
disappeared, she cried, 'Rose, plus d'espoir!' and threw herself from
the window.

The _metayer_, now placed in charge of the castle, showed me over it.
It was a sad spectacle. The building, one of the best preserved and
most elaborately decorated works of the Renaissance in this part of
Guyenne until a few years ago, then fell into the hands of a vulgar
speculator, who detached all the carvings that could be removed
without difficulty, and sold them in Paris. The noble staircase and
all its delicate sculpture remain, but these only add to the regret
that one feels for what is no longer there. Had the Commission of
Historic Monuments placed the Chateau de Montal upon its list, it
would probably have escaped spoliation, although, in the case of
private property, the State has no power to prevent destruction,
however grievous the national loss.

I entered St. Cere at sundown. This bright little town lies in the
midst of fertility. It is on the banks of the Bave, and at the foot of
a hill that rises abruptly from the plain, and is capped by two towers
of a ruined feudal stronghold, which show against the horizon far into
the Quercy, the Correze, and the Cantal. Some of the old streets have
quite a mediaeval air, with their half-wood houses with stories
projecting upon the floor-joists, and others of a grander origin with
turrets resting on encorbelments. I had the luck to find a good
old-fashioned inn here, and to pass the evening in very pleasant

The next morning I climbed to the top of the neighbouring hill to have
a closer view of those towers which had been my landmarks on the
previous day, passing through the little village of St.
Laurent-les-Tours, which lies immediately under the old fortress after
the manner of so many others of feudal origin. The towers are
rectangular _donjons_ of the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, one
being nearly a hundred and fifty feet high. The castle was raised upon
a table of calcareous rock; but only the towers, a portion of the
outer wall built of enormous blocks of stone, and a ruined archway
marking the spot where the drawbridge once hung, remain to tell the
tale of the past.

That the Romans had fortified this height there is the strongest
evidence in the fact that the substructure of the rampart that once
surrounded the castle is of cubic stones laid together according to
the method so much practised by the Romans, and known as _opus
reticulatum_. Moreover, the coins, pottery, and arms found here seem
to afford conclusive proof that this remarkable hill was one of the
fortified positions of the Romans in Gaul.

The spot has its Christian legend, which is briefly this: In the

Book of the day: