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Wanderings by southern waters, eastern Aquitaine by Edward Harrison Barker

Part 2 out of 5

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castle that crowned the height in the time of the Visigoth kings was
born St. Esperie, daughter of a Duke of Aquitaine. Being pressed to
marry, notwithstanding the vow she had made to consecrate her life to
God, she hid herself in a neighbouring forest for three months. She
was at length discovered by her enraged brother and lover, who cut off
her head. Like St. Denis, St. Esperie picked up her head, to the
unspeakable astonishment and dismay of her persecutors. They fled from
her, but she followed them as far as a little stream that flows into
the Bave at St. Cere. Esperie is a saint much venerated in the
Haut-Quercy. The church of St. Cere is dedicated to her, and the name
given to the town is supposed to be a corruption of Esperie.

From St. Cere I took the road to Castelnau-de-Bretenoux, returning for
some distance by the way I came. Inns being now very scarce in the
district, I decided to take my chance of lunch in a small village
called St. Jean-Lespinasse. Another saint! The map of France is still
covered with the names of saints, in spite of all the efforts of
revolutionists and pagan reformers to make the people abandon their
'Christian superstitions.' Those who in the 'ages of faith' built up
this association of saints and places could have had no conception of
the power that these names would have in binding Christianity to the
soil in the faithless or doubting ages to come. The only inn at St.
Jean-Lespinasse was kept by a blacksmith, and the room where I had my
meal was over the forge. Bread and cheese and eggs were, as I
expected, the utmost that such a hostelry could offer in the way of
food for a wayfarer's entertainment. Before leaving the village I
found the church--a curious old structure of the Transition period,
with a large open porch covered with mossy tiles, held up by rough
pillars. There were stone benches inside, on which generations of
villagers had sat and gossiped in their turn. In the interior were
columns engaged in the wall of the nave, with the capitals elaborately
and heavily foliated with pendent bunches of flowers and fruit, much
more in accordance with English than French taste.

I crossed the Bave, and followed a road bordered with hedgerows of
quince that presently skirted sunny slopes covered with lately-planted
vines. Thunder was moaning and growling in the distance when I reached
the much-embowered village of Castelnau, upon a height immediately
under the reddish walls and towers of the immense feudal stronghold,
the fame of which went far and wide in the Middle Ages. Its name in
the Southern dialect means 'new castle,' but it dates from the
eleventh or twelfth century. Extensive additions were made in
subsequent ages, notably a wing in the Renaissance style, which was
inhabited until the middle of the present century, when all but the
walls was destroyed by fire.

The feudal castle was built upon the plan of a triangle, with a tower
at each angle, the one at the apex being the _donjon_. The form of
this lofty keep is rectangular, and the machicolations and
embattlements which were added in the fifteenth century are in a
perfect state of preservation. Upon the platform, which I was able to
reach by means of ladders and the half-ruinous spiral staircase,
viper's bugloss spread its brilliant blue flowers over the dark
stones, and enticed the high-soaring bees. The view of the wide and
beautiful Dordogne Valley from these old battlements was not less
grand because more than one-half of the sky was of a bluish-black--a
mysterious canopy that concealed the genius of the storm, but from the
turbulent folds of which there darted every minute a dazzling line of
light. The tower on which I stood, although the highest of the three,
had never been struck by lightning, but one of the others had been
repeatedly struck, and the ruined masonry showed abundant signs of the
scorching it had undergone in this way. Lightning is capricious and
incomprehensible in its preferences.

This castle was besieged by Henry Plantagenet in 1159, but without
success. Subsequently he made another effort, and then reduced it. His
son Henry made it his headquarters for some time after he had
revolted. In 1369 Thomas de Walkaffera the English seneschal who held
Realville on behalf of his sovereign, was besieged there by a Lord of
Castelnau, assisted by other barons. The garrison was overcome and
massacred. Another Lord of Castelnau, John, Bishop of Cahors, convened
a meeting of the States of the Quercy in his fortress, at which a
rising against the English was decided upon. It resulted in their
temporary expulsion from the Quercy.

Besides the towers and exterior walls, there are some chambers of the
old castle in good preservation. The chapel is still roofed, and the
altar-stone is in its place. In an elevated chamber at the lower end,
the dead were laid while awaiting burial.

Descending to the village, I entered the parish church--a Gothic
building of the fourteenth century, containing many interesting
details. The oak stalls, each with a quaint human figure carved upon
it, are exceedingly curious. Outside the church little girls were
playing, in the charge of a Sister who had a beautiful sweet face. She
showed me the way to the next village, where I hoped to find shelter
from the gathering storm. I have a pleasant picture in the mind of
Castelnau--a bowery, ancient, mossy place, with vines climbing about
the houses or on trellises in the little steep gardens, and a golden
bloom of stonecrop upon the rough walls.

I reached the village of Prudhomat just as the storm burst over it,
and took shelter in a small inn, which, like most of those in the
country, had its room for the public upstairs. Two women who were
there made the sign of the cross each time the lightning flashed--a
widespread custom of the French peasantry; but a couple of men who
were eating salad and bread paid no heed to the furious cannonade that
was kept up by the darkened heavens. It was four o'clock, and they
were having their _gouter_. The peasants of the Quercy do not live on
the fat of the land; but they generally have five meals a day, two
more than the middle-class French. They begin with soup at a very
early hour in the morning; then they have their dinner about ten,
which is chiefly soup; at three or four they have a _gouter_ of bread
and cheese, salad or fruit; and at six or seven they have their
supper, which is soup again.

The old woman who sat near the window worked diligently with her
distaff laden with hemp, except when the flashing lightning made her
stop to raise her thin hand to her forehead. She was twisting the
thread from which the sheets of the country are made. They are coarse,
but they last longer than the hands that work the hemp, and descend
from mother to daughter.

More than two hours I waited in this auberge while the rain fell in
torrents, the lightning blazed, and the thunder crashed. The whole sky
was the colour of slate. When at length a line of bright light
appeared in the western sky, I could curb my impatience no longer,
and, hoisting my pack, I was soon on the road to Carennac.

A little beyond the village I passed a gipsy encampment ranged along
the side of the highway on a strip of waste land. There were no tents;
but there were four or five miserable little caravans, roofed over
with tattered and dirty canvas. They were tents on wheels. Some thin
and ascetic-looking old mules and wizen donkeys had been taken out of
the shafts, and were now nibbling the short wayside grass, the young
burdocks and mulleins, which, but for the rain, would have filled
their mouths with dust. Small portable stoves--alas! not the
traditional fire with three stakes set in the ground and tied at the
top, with the pot swinging therefrom--had been lighted outside the
caravans, and gipsy women were making the evening soup. Bright-eyed,
shock-headed, uncombed, unwashed, but exceedingly happy gipsy children
were tumbling over one another on the wet turf, showing so much of
their brown skin between their rags that they would have been more
comfortable and quite as decent had they been naked. A hideous old
man, merely skin and bones, sitting nose and knees together upon a
sack, did not take my curiosity in good part, but glared at me
morosely. The younger men of this interesting community were
elsewhere--perhaps mending saucepans, or reassuring ducks alarmed by
the thunderstorm. A musician of the party must have been kept in by
the bad weather, for from one of the caravans came the diabolic
screech of a wheezing concertina that had got rid of all its ideals
and dreams of distinction.

The bright line in the west moved very slowly upwards, and the rain
continued to fall, although less drenchingly than before. The setting
sun strove with the cloud-rack and coloured the veil of vapour that
its rays could not pierce. The nightingales and thrushes in the
shrubs, and the finches amidst the later blossoms of the may, took
heart again, and the song rose from so many throats near and far that
the whole valley of the Dordogne was filled with warbling. As the
birds grew drowsy the frogs came out to spend a happy night on the
margins of the pools and the brooks, until their joyful screaming and
croaking was a universal chorus. I was by the side of the broad river
that flowed calmly through the fairest meadows. The face of the
stream, the pools in the road, the grass and the leaves, were
brightened with the orange glow of a veiled light as of some sacred
fire shining in the dusk through clouds of incense. It grew warmer and
warmer until it purpled and died away in grayness and mournful shadow.
The beauty of nature at such moments, when the colours brighten and
fade like the powers of the mind as the human day is closing, takes a
solemnity that is unearthly, and it is good to be alone with the

It was dark when I reached Carennac. I did not realize how wet I was
until I sat down in an auberge and tried to make myself comfortable
for the night. It is not easy, however, to be happy under such
circumstances. When the fire on the hearth was stirred up and fed with
fresh wood to cook my dinner of barbel that had just had time to die
after being pulled out of the Dordogne, I placed myself in the
chimney-corner to dry before the welcome blaze. How cheering is a
fire, even in June and in Southern France, on a rainy night, when the
sound of sighing trees comes down the chimney and the tired wayfarer's
clothes are sticking to his legs and back! How cheering, too, at such
a time is a dinner, however modest, in the light and warmth of the
fire. A humble barbel has then a more delicate flavour than a
salmon-trout cooked with consummate art for people who never know what
it is to be hungry.

The next morning I was in the cloisters belonging to the Benedictine
priory of Carennac, of which Fenelon was the titular prior. Hither he
came for quietude, and here he wrote his 'Telemaque,' a historical
trace of which is found in a little island of the Dordogne, which is
called 'L'Ile de Calypso.' It is recorded that the mother of the great
Churchman and writer, when she feared that she would be childless,
went on a pilgrimage to Roc-Amadour, and that Fenelon was the
consequence of that act of devotion.

The cloisters of Carennac, built from plans furnished by that fountain
of ecclesiastical art in the Middle Ages, the monastery of Cluny,
must, judging from the remnants of tracery in the arcades, and the
delicately carved bosses of the vaults, have been once a spot where
the spirit of Gothic architecture found delight. Now the spirit of
ruin dwells there, leading the bramble and the celandine to conquer,
year after year, some fresh territory upon the ancient quadrangle's
crumbling wall. Above, where the sunbeam strikes upon the wrinkled
stone, the lizard basks and the bee fresh from its hive hums as
blithely among the yellow flowers of the celandine as if the blocks
raised by men in their reaching towards Heaven were nothing more than
the rocks that cast their shadows upon the Dordogne. Upon the ground,
man, by using no rein of respect to curb the lower needs of life, has
desecrated the spot with pigsties! Some inhabitant of Carennac, into
whose hands the cloisters passed in recent times, thought that a place
which was good enough for Benedictine monks to walk in might, with a
little fresh masonry, be made fit for pigs to feed and sleep in. But
an end had come to this idyllic state of things. The cloisters of
Carennac had just been placed on the list of historic monuments. The
adjoining church had been 'classed' long before.

This church, a small Gothic edifice of the twelfth century, has a
far-projecting porch enriched with a specimen of mediaeval carving
which is a long delight to the few archaeologists who find their way
to the almost forgotten village of Carennac. The composition, which
fills the tympan of the scarcely-pointed arch, represents Christ
surrounded by the twelve Apostles. The influence of Byzantine art is
perceptible in the treatment. Very few such masterpieces of
twelfth-century carving have been so well preserved as this. The
seated figure of Christ in the act of blessing His Apostles, the right
hand upraised, the left resting upon a clasped book, impresses the
beholder by its majesty and serenity. Very different are the figures
of the Apostles: these are men, and of a very common type too, such as
the Benedictines were accustomed to see in their own cloisters, or
among their dependents at Carennac. But how animated are the forms,
and how expressive the faces! The mouldings which serve as a border to
the composition are much more Romanesque or Byzantine than Gothic, and
the columns that support it have capitals which are purely Romanesque.
In the interior of the church is a fifteenth-century group of seven
figures, representing the scene of the Holy Sepulchre; an admirable
composition, showing to what a high degree of excellence French
sculpture had attained even at the dawn of the Renaissance.


Upon the stony plateau above Roc-Amadour is a cavern well known in the
district as the Gouffre de Revaillon. It had for me a peculiar
attraction on account of the gloomy grandeur of the scene at the
entrance. When I saw it for the first time I understood at once the
supernatural horror in which the peasant has learnt to hold such
places. It responds to impressions left on the mind of the 'Stygian
cave forlorn,' the entrance to Dante's 'City of Sorrow,' and that
other cave where Aeneas witnessed in cold terror the prophetic fury of
the Sibyl.

This effect of gloom, horror and sublimity is the result of geological
conditions and the action of water, which together have produced many
similar phenomena in the region of the _causses_, but in no other
case, I believe, with such power in composing the picturesque. Imagine
an open plain which in the truly Dark Ages whereof man has had no
experience, but of whose convulsions he has learnt to read a little
from the book whose leaves are the rocks, cracked along a part of its
surface as a drying ball of clay might do, the fissure finishing
abruptly and where it is deepest in front of a mass of rock that
refused to split. This was apparently the beginning of the Gouffre de
Revaillon. Then came another submersion which greatly modified the
appearance of things. There was evidently a deluge here after the land
had dried and cracked, and it must have lasted a very long time for
the waves to have hollowed, smoothed and polished the rocks inside the
caverns and elsewhere as we now see them. Those who have observed with
a little attention a rugged coast will, without being geologists,
recognise the distinctly marine character of the greater number of
these orifices in the calcareous district of the _causses_. The
washing and smoothing action of the sea along the sides of the gorges
which cut up the surface of the country in such an astonishing manner
is not so easy to distinguish. But the reason is obvious. This
limestone rock is by its nature disintegrating wherever it is exposed
to the air and frost, and the foundations of the bastions which
support the _causses_ are being continually sapped by water which
carries away the lime in solution and deposits a part of it elsewhere
in the form of stalactite and stalagmite in the deep galleries where
subterranean rivers often run, and which probably descend to the
lowest part of the formation. Thus by the dislodgment of huge masses
of rock which have rolled down from their original positions, and the
breaking away of the surfaces of others, the most convincing traces of
the sea's action here have nearly disappeared. In the gorge of the
Alzou, however, near Roc-Amadour, about 100 feet above the channel of
the stream, there is a considerable reach of hard rock approaching
marble, the polished and undulating surface of which tells the story
of the ocean, just as the sides of the caverns in much more elevated
positions tell it.

In the rock where the fissure ends at Revaillon is an opening like a
vast yawning mouth, the roof of which forms an almost perfect dome.
Adown this a stream trickles towards the end of summer, but plunges
madly and with a frightful roar in winter and spring. The steep sides
of the narrow ravine are densely wooded, and the light is very dim at
the bottom when the sun is not overhead. I made my first attempt to
descend the dark passage in the early summer, but there was too much
water, and I was soon obliged to retreat. One afternoon in October I
returned with a companion, and we took with us a rope and plenty of
candles. We carried the rope in view of possible difficulties in the
shape of rocks inside the cavern, for it should be borne in mind that
in _gouffres_ of this character the stream frequently descends by a
series of cascades. The weather was very sultry, and the sky towards
the west was of a slaty blue. A fierce storm was threatening, but we
paid no attention to it--a mistake which others bent on exploring
caverns where streams still flow should be warned against. There is
probably no force in nature more terrible, or which makes a man's
helplessness more miserably felt, than water suddenly rushing towards
him when he is underground.

The sun was still shining, however, when we reached the Gouffre de
Revaillon and descended into the ravine over roots of trees coiling
upon the moss like snakes, some arching upward as if about to spring
at the throat of those who disturbed the elfish solitude. At our
coming there rose from the great rock such a multitude of jackdaws
that for some seconds they darkened the air. With harsh screams the
birds soared higher and higher above their fortress, which they had
possessed for ages in perfect security. We reached the bed of the
stream, where scattered threads of water tinkled as they fell over
huge blocks into little pools below, and then went whispering on their
way towards the darkness. At the botton of a long slant of greenish
slimy stone, patched here and there with moss, I stopped a few
minutes, feeling that I could not grasp without an effort the deep
gloom and grandeur of my surroundings. The jackdaws had all flown
away, and there was no sound now but the tinkle and gurgle of the
water. Great snails crawled upon the tufts of rank grass wet with the
autumnal dews that the sun had failed to dry, and upon the glistening
hart's-tongue ferns, and they looked just the kind of snails that
witches would collect to make a hell-broth. Dark ivy hung down from
the rocks, and under the vaulted entrance of the cavern was a clump of
elders, very sinister-looking, and giving forth when touched an evil
narcotic odour. Near these forlorn shrubs was a solitary plant of
angelica, now woebegone, its fringed leaves drooping, waiting for the
rising water to wash it into the darkness. There were willow-herbs
still in bloom, but the crane's-bill struggled with the gloom farther
than any other flowering plant, and its bright little purple lamps
shone in the very mouth of Night. Gnats there were too, spinning in
the semi-darkness, now sinking, now rising, keeping together, a merry
band of musicians, each with a small flute, piping perhaps to the
little goblins that swung on spiders' webs, and slept upon the fronds
of the ferns.

Candles were now lighted, and we left the glimmer of day behind us. A
little beyond the great dome the roof became so low that we had to
creep along almost on hands and knees, but it presently rose again,
and to a great height. The first obstacle--the one that sent me back a
few months before--was a steep rock down which the water then fell in
such a cascade that there was no getting a foothold upon it. Now the
water scarcely covered it, and there was no difficulty in reaching the
bottom. Here, however, was a pool through which we had to wade
knee-deep. The cavern continued, and the stalagmite became interesting
by its fantastic shapes. Here was a mass like an immense sponge, even
to the colour, and there, descending from the roof down the side of
the rock, was the waved hair of an undine that had been changed into
white and glistening stone. The stalactites were less remarkable. The
sound of dropping water told us that another cascade was near. This we
left behind by climbing along the side of the gallery, clinging to the
rock, and in the same way four more obstacles of precisely the same
character were overcome. All the distance the slope was rapid, but at
intervals there was a sudden fall of from ten to fifteen feet, with a
black-looking pool at the foot of the rock, hollowed out by the action
of the tumbling torrent. The last of these falls was the worst to
cross. To this point the cavern had been already explored, but no
farther apparently, the local impression being that it ended just
beyond. It was an ugly place. The rock over which the water fell was
almost perpendicular, and the pool at the bottom was larger and deeper
than the others. Seen by the light of day, any schoolboy might have
scoffed at the difficulty of getting beyond it, but when you are
descending into the bowels of the earth, where the light of two
candles can only dissolve the darkness a few yards around you, every
form becomes fantastic and awful, and the effect of water of unknown
depth upon the imagination is peculiarly disturbing. But we made up
our minds to go on if it were possible. The passage was very narrow,
and the sides offered few salient points to which one could cling. We
moved along a very narrow ledge in a sitting posture, and then, when
we had gone as far as we could in this way, and there was nothing
beyond to sit upon, we made a spring. My companion, being the more
agile, nearly cleared the pool, but I went in with a great splash, as
I expected, and thought myself lucky in being only wetted to the
waist. The water was not very cold, the temperature of the cavern
being much higher than that of the outer air.

We reckoned that we had by this time travelled underground about half
a mile, and as we had been descending rapidly all the way, the
distance beneath the surface must have been considerable. My theory
with regard to this stream was that it was a tributary of the
subterranean Ouysse; but the fact that the cavern ran north-west made
me change my opinion, and conclude that this water-course took an
independent line towards the Dordogne.

A little beyond the last pool the running water suddenly vanished. We
looked around to see if it had taken any side passage; but no: it
simply disappeared into the earth, although no hole was perceptible in
its stony channel. It passed by infiltration into some lower gallery,
where the light of a candle had never shone, and is never likely to
shine. But we had not reached the end of the cavern, although the
passage became so low that we had now really to go down on all-fours
in order to proceed. We had not to keep this posture long, for again
the roof rose, although to no great height. We walked on about fifty
yards or more, and then came to the end. There was no opening anywhere
except by the way we entered. We were like flies that had crawled into
a bottle, and a very unpleasant bottle it might have proved to us. We
noticed--at first with some surprise--that, although there was not a
drop of water now in this _cul-de-sac_, our feet sank into damp sand
that had evidently been carried there by water. Sticks were also lying
about, and the walls up to the roof were covered with a muddy slime.
It was evident that this hole had been filled with water, and not very
long ago; probably the last thunderstorm accounted for the signs of
recent moisture. While we were talking about this, a strange, muffled,
moaning sound reached our ears. We looked at one another over the tops
of two candles. 'Thunder,' said my companion. In a few minutes the
same dismal moan, long drawn out, came down the cavern, which acted
like a speaking-tube between us and the outer world, and conveyed a
timely warning. Was it in time? We were not quite sure of this, for as
we issued from the _cul-de-sac_ we heard the water coming down the
rocks with a very different voice from that which it had not many
minutes before. It was clear that the storm was beginning to tell upon
the stream, and if the rain had been falling for half an hour, as I
had already seen it fall in the Quercy, we might find the work of
recrossing those pools and climbing up the cascades anything but
cheerful. Already where we had been able to walk on dry stones the
water was now up to our ankles. The first cascade to surmount was the
worst. We decided to try it on the side opposite to the one by which
we descended, for we observed a jutting and highly-polished piece of
stalagmite, which promised to help the manoeuvre. One went first, and
the other waited, holding the candle. I was in the rear. When my
companion had reached the top of the cascade, I threw him the coil of
rope--a useless encumbrance, as it happened--and in so doing put out
the candle. Before I was sure that I had a dry match upon me, I failed
to seize the humour, although I felt the novelty of the situation.
During those seconds of uncertainty, the sound of the water--really
fast increasing--seemed to become a deafening roar. However, we both
had dry matches, and were able to relight our candles; but it might
have been otherwise, wet as we were. Without light we should have been
as helpless beneath those rocks as mice in a pitcher. The first
cascade conquered, we felt much more comfortable, for the picture of
being washed into that _cul-de-sac_ had flashed upon the mind of each.

As the next and the next cascade were passed, our spirits rose still
more; and when we saw the gray daylight in the distance, our gaiety
was quite genuine, and we no longer 'laughed yellow,' as the French
phrase it. The stream was rapidly becoming a frantic torrent, but we
were not afraid of it now. On reaching the dome, we saw the water
pouring over rocks that were dry when we entered, and the clouds
seemed to be emptying their rain in frenzy.

An hour later the stream that was lisping so innocently as it threaded
its way amongst the stones, and dropped from rock to rock before the
storm, sent up a wild roar from the bottom of the valley, and shrieked
like a tormented fiend, as it leaped into the black mouth of the
Gouffre de Revaillon. Tons of water had probably collected there at
the bottom of the gulf. And I, in my shortsightedness, had hoped that
the cavern was two or three miles long! I had great reason to be
thankful that it ended where it did, for the excitement of adventure
would have carried us on, and we might have gone too deep into the
earth to hear the thunder.

On emerging from the darkness, we made all the haste we could to reach
the nearest inn. The storm was still at its height; the thunder was an
almost continuous roar; and the quick lightning-flashes lit up the
streaming country. We were quite drenched on reaching a little wayside
auberge. Water was soon boiling upon the wood-fire, and having set
rheumatism at defiance with steaming glasses of grog, we left for
Roc-Amadour, where, on our arrival, we found our friends about to
start with lanterns to look for us in the Gouffre de Revaillon.

* * * * *

Noticing one day a low cavern in the rocks beside the Ouysse, I asked
if anyone had ever entered it, and was told that a man had done so;
that he had found a long, low gallery, which he followed for two or
three hundred yards, and then gave up the attempt to reach the end. It
was well known that the hole, being on a level with the water, was
much used by otters. The desire to explore this cavern becoming
strong, I spoke to Decros about the adventure. He was ready to go with
me; and so we started, taking with us enough candles to light a

On our way over the hills from Roc-Amadour, we passed two dolmens, one
of which was in good preservation. There are several hundred of them
in the Quercy; and the peasants, who call them _pierros levados_
(raised stones), also 'tombs of the giants' and _cairous_, in which
last name the Celtic word _cairn_ has been almost preserved, treat
them now with indifference, although it is recorded of one of the
early bishops of Cahors that he caused a menhir to be broken to pieces
because it was an object of idolatrous worship. Those who have been to
the trouble of excavating have almost invariably found in each dolmen
a _cella_ containing human bones. In some of them flint implements
have been discovered; in others iron implements and turquoise
ornaments, showing that the tombs, although all alike, belong to
different periods. Tumuli are also numerous, but only a few menhirs
and traces of cromlechs are to be seen.

Close to the Gouffre de Cabouy, whose outflow forms a tributary of the
Ouysse, is a cottage where a man lives whose destiny I have often
envied. When he is tired of fishing or shooting, he works in his
thriving little vineyard, which he increases every year. The river is
as much his own as if it belonged to him; he gets all he wants by
giving himself very little trouble, and has no cares. We needed this
man's boat for our expedition, and we found it drawn into a little
cove beside the ruined mill, long since abandoned. It was a somewhat
porous old punt, with small fish swimming about in the bottom; but it
was well enough for our purpose. In the warm sunshine of the October
afternoon we glided gently down the quiet stream, which is very deep,
but so clear that you can see all the water-plants which revel in it,
down to the sand and pebbles. Near the banks we passed over masses of
watercress, and what might be likened to floating fields of lilies and

It needed no little reflection and expenditure of art to insert the
prow of the boat into the mouth of the cavern. What an ugly and
uninteresting hole I then thought it! Having run the punt as far as we
could into the opening, there still remained about six feet of water
to cross before reaching the sandy mud beyond. A plank, however, that
we brought with us served as a bridge. The story of the otters was no
fable, for here were the footprints of the beasts all over the mud. We
lighted candles and looked into the hole. The ground rose and the roof
descended, so that to enter it was necessary to lie perfectly flat,
and to crawl along by a movement very like that of swimming; then the
passage became so small that there was only room for one to go at a
time. Neither of us was ambitious to go first, for there was just a
chance of an otter seizing the invader by the nose; but neither liked
to show the white feather. Each in turn went in a few yards, planted a
lighted candle in the mud, and then found some pretext for returning.
The hot air of the cavern was almost suffocating, and one felt so
helpless flattened against the earth, with the rock pressing so tight
upon the back that even to wriggle along was difficult. 'Decros is a
native,' thought I, 'and he ought to be used to this kind of work. I
will let him understand that he is expected now to do his duty.' In he
went again, and planted another candle about a yard in front of the
last one. Then he stopped and fired a shot from the revolver that we
carried in turn for the otters, and the sound of the detonation seemed
to echo in a muffled fashion from the bowels of the earth.

'How many otters have you killed?' I shouted.

'None,' he replied. 'I just fired to let them know that we are here.'

I then asked him if he was going on, and I fancied that he tried to
shrug his shoulders, but found the rock in the way. His practical
reply, however, was to slowly back out. When he was able to stand up
again, he said he believed he had seen the end of the cavern, and
would like me to take another look. I now realized that if the secrets
of the fantastic realm which my fancy had pictured were to be revealed
to me, there must be no more shirking. When I flattened myself out
again upon the mud, it was with the determination to go right through
the neck of the bottle, for such the passage figuratively was. At one
moment I felt tightly wedged, unable to move forward or backward, in a
hot steamy atmosphere that was not made any pleasanter by the smoke of
the burnt powder; but, the sight of the now rising roof encouraged me
to further efforts, and presently I was able to stand upright--in
fact, I was in a cavern where a giant of the first magnitude could
have walked about with ease, but where he might have been a prisoner
for life. I was resolved, however, that Decros should not escape his
share of the adventure, so I called to him to come on, and he quickly
joined me. To my great disappointment, the cavern soon came to an end.
Where, we asked, could the otters be hiding themselves? Examining the
place more carefully, we found a passage going under the rock at the
farther extremity, but nearly filled with sand which the river had
washed up in time of flood. Here, then, was the continuation of the
cavern. The passage had been made by water, for a subterranean stream
must at one time have found an exit here into the Ouysse, and now
water was reversing the process by filling up the ancient conduit. But
for the otters that kept it open, we should probably have seen no
trace of it; and it was for this that we had wriggled our way into the
hideous hole like serpents! I left with the impression that there was
much vanity in searching for the wonders of the subterranean world.

Having brought back the boat, we stopped at the cottage by the
vineyard and tried the juice of the grapes which three weeks before
were basking in the sun. It was now a fragrant wine of a rich purple,
with a certain flavour of the soil that made it the more agreeable.
The fisherman's wife also placed upon the table a loaf of home-made
bread, of an honest brown colour, some of the little Roc-Amadour
cheeses made from goat's milk, and a plate of walnuts. The window
looked out upon the sunny vines, whose leaves were now flaming gold or
ruddy brown; the blue river shone in the hollow below, and through the
open door there came the tinkling of bells from the rocky wastes where
the small long-tailed sheep were moving slowly homeward, nibbling the
stunted herbage as they went.

This sound reminded us that the sun would soon drop behind the hill,
and that the Pomoyssin, to which we intended to pay a visit on our way
home, was not a spot that gained attractiveness from the shades of
night. I had heard the country-people speak of it as a peculiarly
horrible and treacherous _gouffre_, and its name, which means
'unwholesome hole,' corresponds to the local opinion of it. The
shepherd children would suffer torture from thirst rather than descend
into the gloomy hollow and dip out a drop of the dark water which is
said to draw the gazer towards it, and then into its mysterious depths
under the rock, by the spell of some wicked power. Some years ago a
woman, supposed to have been drawn there by the evil spirit, was found
drowned, and since then the spot has been avoided even more than it
was before.

It was to this place, then, that we went when the sun was setting. The
way led up a deep little valley which was an absolute desert of
stones. A dead walnut-tree, struck apparently by lightning, with its
old and gnarled branches stretching out on one side like weird arms,
was just the object that the imagination would place in a valley
blighted by the influence of evil spirits, in proximity to a passage
communicating from their world to this one. Presently, as we drew near
some high rocks, Decros, pointing to a dark hollow in the shadow of
them said, 'There it is.' We went down into the basin to the edge of
the water that lay there, black and still, Decros showing evident
reluctance and restlessness the while, so strongly was his mind
affected by all the stories he had heard about the pool. Moreover, it
was rapidly growing dusk. In this half-light the funnel in which we
were standing certainly did look a very diabolic and sinister hole.
The fancy aiding, everything partook of the supernatural: the dark
masses of brambles hanging from the rocks, the wild vines clinging to
them with leaves like flakes of deep-glowing crimson fire, and
especially the intermittent sound of gurgling water.

I was glad to have seen the Pomoyssin under circumstances so
favourable, but it was with relief that I left it and began to climb
the side of the gorge from this valley of dreadful shadows towards the
pure sky that reddened as the brown dusk deepened below.


It was a burning afternoon of late summer when I walked across the
stony hills which separate the valley of the Lot from that of its
tributary the Cele, between Capdenac and Figeac. I did not take the
road, but climbed the cliffs, trusting myself to chance and the torrid
_causse_. I wished that I had not done so when it was too late to act
differently. There was nothing new for me upon the bare hills, where
all vegetation was parched up except the juniper bushes and the
spurge. At length I found the road that went down with many a flourish
into the valley of the Cele, and I reached Figeac in the evening,
covered with dust, and as thirsty as a hunted stag. Here I took up my
quarters for awhile.

Figeac is not a beautiful town from the Haussmannesque point of
view--the one that is destined to prevail in all municipal councils;
but it is full of charm to the archaeologist and the lover of the
picturesque. There are few places even in France which have undergone
so little change during the last five or six hundred years. Elsewhere,
thirteenth and fourteenth century houses are becoming rare; here they
are numerous. There are streets almost entirely composed of them.
These streets are in reality narrow crooked lanes paved with pebbles,
slanting towards the gutter in the centre. Some are only three or four
yards wide, and the walls half shut out the light of day. You look up
and see a mere strip of blue sky, but trailing plants reaching far
downward from window-sills, one above the other, light up the gloom
with many a patch of vivid green. You venture down some dim passage
and come suddenly upon a little court where an old Gothic portal with
quaint sculptures, or a Renaissance doorway with armorial bearings
carved over the lintel, bears testimony to the grandeur and wealth of
those who once lived in the now grimy, dilapidated, poverty-stricken
mansion. Pretentious dwellings of bygone days have long since been
abandoned to the humble.

Here is a typical house in the Rue Abel, which is scarcely wide enough
for two to walk abreast. The oak door is elaborately carved with heads
and leaves, flowers and line ornament, all in strong relief. One
grimacing puckered head has a movable tongue that once lifted a latch
on being touched. Near the ground the oak has been half devoured by
the damp. This door would have been sold long ago to antiquaries or
speculators if the house since the Revolution had not become the
property of several persons all equally suspicious of one another, and
with the Cadurcian bump of obstinacy equally developed. They had no
respect for the carving, and they were eager to 'touch' the money; but
their interests in the house not being the same, they could never come
to an understanding over the door; consequently, in spite of very
tempting offers, the piece of massive oak continues to hang upon its
rusty hinges. So much the better for the student of antiquities, for,
without denying that museums are eminently useful, it is certain that
they deprive objects of a great deal of their interest and their power
of suggesting ideas by detaching them from their surroundings.
Moreover, it is not at all sure that these things, when they have been
bought up and carried away, will ever be put in a place where anybody
can see them who may have the wish to do so. And then, when a thing
has been put into a museum, it becomes such labour and painfulness to
look for it; and most of us are so lazy by nature. I will make a frank
confession. For my own part, I should scarcely look at this old door
if it were in the Cluny or any other museum; but here, in ancient
Figeac, I see it where it was many lustres ago, and the pleasure of
finding it in the midst of the sordidness and squalor that follow upon
the decay of grandeur and the evaporation of human hopes makes me feel
much that I should not feel otherwise, and calls up ideas as a
February sunbeam calls gnats out of the dead earth and sets them

I venture up the stone staircase, although most of the finely carved
balusters are gone, and the arch-stones have so slipped out of place
that they seem to cling together by the will of Providence rather than
by any physical law. The stairs themselves, although of fine stone
that has almost the polish of marble, are cracked as if an earthquake
had tormented them, and worn by the tread of innumerable feet into
deep hollows. I reach a landing where a long corridor stretches away
into semi-darkness. The floor is black with dirt, and so are the doors
which once opened into rooms where luxury waited upon some who were
born, and upon others (perchance the same) who died. A sound reaches
me from the far-end of the corridor that makes me feel like a coward.
It is the raving of a madman. How he seems to be contending with all
the fiends of hell! Sometimes his voice is so low, and the words crowd
one upon another so fast, that the muttering is like the prolonged
growl of a wild beast; then the mood changes, and the unseen man seems
to be addressing an invisible audience in grand sonorous sentences as
though he were a Cicero; and perhaps he may be, but as he speaks in
_patois_ his eloquence is lost upon me. What a terrible excitement is
in his voice! How it thrills and horrifies! And he is alone, quite
alone in this dismal old house with the fiends who harass him. This I
learn from a young girl whom I meet at the bottom of the staircase.
She tells me that the man is only mad at the time of the new or the
full moon (I forget which), and that his raving lasts but two or three
days. Then nobody ventures near him; but at other times he is quite
rational and harmless. He has left, however, upon me an impression
more lasting perhaps than that of the old tottering staircase that
threatens to close up every moment like a toy snake that has been
stretched out.

Most of the old houses are entered by Gothic doorways, and the oak
doors are studded with large nail-heads. The locks and bolts are of
mediaeval workmanship. Sometimes you see an iron ring hanging to a
string that has been passed through a hole in the door. It is just
such a string as Little Red Riding-hood (an old French fable,
by-the-bye) pulled to lift the latch at the summons of the wicked
wolf. And what a variety of ancient knockers have we here! Many are
mere bars of iron hanging to a ring; but others are much more
artistic, showing heads coifed in the style of the fifteenth and
sixteenth centuries, serpents biting their own tails, and all manner
of fanciful ideas wrought into iron. In wandering about the dim old
streets, paved with cobble stones, architectural details of singular
interest strike one at every turn. Now it is the encorbelment of a
turret at the angle of a fifteenth or sixteenth century mansion that
has lost all its importance; now a dark archway with fantastic heads
grimacing from the wall; now an arcade of Gothic windows, with
graceful columns and delicate carvings--a beautiful fragment in the
midst of ruin.

What helps much to render these dingy streets, passages, and courts of
Figeac so delightfully picturesque is the vegetation which, growing
with southern luxuriance in places seemingly least favourable to it,
clings to the ancient masonry, or brightens it by the strong contrast
of its immediate neighbourhood in some little garden or balustraded
terrace. Wherever there are a few feet of ground some rough poles
support a luxuriant vine-trellis, and grapes ripen where one might
suppose scarcely a gleam of sunshine could fall. The vine clambers
over everything, and sometimes reaches to the top of a house two
stories high. The old walls of Figeac are likewise tapestried with
pellitory and ivy-linaria, with here and there a fern pushing its
deep-green frond farther into the shadow, or an orpine sedum lifting
its head of purple flowers into the sunshine that changes it to a

There is much in the life of this place that matches perfectly with
the surroundings. Enter by a Gothic doorway, and you will come upon a
nail-maker's forge, and see a dog turning the wheel that keeps the
bellows continually blowing. The wheel is about a foot broad, and
stands some three feet high. The dog jumps into it at a sign from his
master, and as the wheel turns the sparks from the forge fall about
the animal in showers. Each dog is expected to work five or six hours;
then, when his task is done, he is allowed to amuse himself as he
pleases, while a comrade takes his turn at the wheel. The nail-makers
discovered long ago that dog labour was cheaper than boy labour, and
not so troublesome. Nevertheless, these wheels belong to an order of
things that has nearly passed away.

The crier or _tambourineur_, as he is generally called, because he
carries a drum, which he beats most lustily to awaken the curiosity of
the inhabitants, is making the round of the town with an ox, which is
introduced to the public as 'le boeuf ici present.' The crier's
business is to announce to all whom it may concern that the animal is
to be killed this very evening, and that its flesh will be sold
to-morrow at 1 franc 25 centimes the kilo. It will all go at a uniform
price, for this is the local custom. Those who want the _aloyau_, or
sirloin, only have to be quick. The ox, notwithstanding that he has a
rope tied round his nose and horns, and is led by the butcher,
evidently thinks it a great distinction to be _tambourine_; his
expression indicating that this is the proudest day of his life. Every
time the drum begins to rattle he flourishes his tail, and when each
little ceremony is over he moves on to a fresh place with a jaunty
air, as if he were aware that all this drumming and fuss were
especially intended for his entertainment. No condemned wretch ever
made his last appearance in public with a better grace.

Another day I see this crier going round the town accompanied by a boy
every available part of whose person is decked with ribbons, and all
kinds of things ordinarily sold by drapers and haberdashers. Over each
shoulder is slung a pair of women's boots. The boy is a walking
advertisement of an exceptional sale, which a tradesman announces with
the help of the crier and his drum.

A band of women and girls come up from the riverside, walking in
Indian file, and each with a glittering copper water-pot on her head.
What beautiful water-pots these are! They have the antique curve that
has not changed in the course of ages. They swell out at the bottom
and the top, and fall gracefully in towards the middle. As the women
quit the sunshine and enter the deep shadow of the street the shine of
their water-pots is darkened suddenly, like the sparks of burnt paper
which follow one upon another and go out.

The sound of solemn music draws me into a church. A requiem Mass is
being chanted. In the middle of the nave, nearer the main door than
the altar, is a deal coffin with gable-shaped lid, barely covered by a
pall. A choir-boy comes out of the sacristy, carrying a pan of live
embers, which he places at the head of the coffin. Then he sprinkles
incense upon the fire, and immediately the smoke rises like a
snow-white cloud towards the vaulting; but, meeting the sunbeams on
its way, it moves up their sloping golden path, and seems to pass
through the clerestory window into the boundless blue.

Now the procession moves towards the cemetery. It is a boy's funeral,
and four youths of about the same age as the one who lies in darkness
hold the four corners of each pall, two of which are carried in front
of the coffin. After the hearse come members of the confraternity of
Blue Penitents, one of whom carries a great wooden cross upon his
shoulder. Others carry staves with small crosses at the top, or
emblems of the trades that they follow. The dead boy's father is a
Penitent, and this is why the confraternity has come out to-day. They
now wear their _cagoules_ raised; but on Good Friday, when they go in
procession to a high spot called the Calvary, the leader walking
barefoot and carrying the cross on his shoulder in imitation of
Christ, they wear these dreadful-looking flaps over their faces. Their
appearance then is terrible enough; but what must that of the Red
Penitents, who accompanied condemned wretches to execution, have been?
In a few years there will be no Blue Penitents at Figeac. As the old
members of the confraternity die, there are no postulants to fill
their places. Already they feel, when they put on their 'sacks', that
they are masquerading, and that the eye of ridicule is upon them. This
state of mind is fatal to the conservation of all old customs. The
political spirit of the times is, moreover, opposed to these religious
processions in France. That of the _fete-Dieu_ at Figeac would have
been suppressed some years ago by the Municipal Council had it not
been for the outcry of the tradespeople. All the new dresses, new
hats, and new boots that are bought for this occasion cause money to
be spent that might otherwise be saved, and those who are interested
in the sale of such things wish the procession through the streets to
be kept up, although in heart they may be among the scoffers at

The religious confraternities in Aquitaine date from the appearance of
the _routiers_ at the close of the twelfth century. These _routiers_
were then chiefly Brabancons, Aragonese, and Germans. According to an
ecclesiastical author and local historian, the Abbe Debon, the lawless
bands spread such terror through the country that they stopped the
pilgrims from going to Figeac, Conques, and other places that had
obtained a reputation for holiness. A canon of Le Puy in Auvergne,
much distressed by the desertion of the sanctuary of Notre Dame de
Puy, which rivals that of Roc-Amadour in antiquity, formed the design
of instituting a confraternity to wage war against the _routiers_ and
destroy them. A 'pious fraud' was adopted. A young man, having been
dressed so as to impersonate Notre Dame du Puy, appeared to a
carpenter who was in the habit of praying every night in the
cathedral, and gave him the mission of revealing that it was the will
of the Holy Virgin that a confraternity should be formed to put down
the brigands and establish peace in the country. Hundreds of men
enrolled themselves at once. The confreres, from the fact that they
wore hoods of white linen, obtained the name of Chaperons Blancs. Upon
their breasts hung a piece of lead with this inscription: 'Agnus Dei
qui tollis peccata mundi dona nobis pacem.' The confraternity spread
into Aquitaine, and the _routiers_ were defeated in pitched battles
with great slaughter; but the _chaperons_ in course of time became
lawless fanatics, and were almost as great a nuisance to society as
those whom they had undertaken to exterminate. They were nevertheless
the ancestors in a sense of the confraternities of penitents who, at a
later period, became so general in Europe.

The monthly fair at Figeac offers some curious pictures of rural life.
The peasants crowd in from the valleys and the surrounding _causses_.
Racial differences, or those produced by the influences of soil and
food--especially water--for a long series of generations, are very
strongly marked. There is the florid, robust, blue-eyed, sanguine
type, and there is the leaden-coloured, black-haired, lantern-jawed,
sloping-shouldered, and hollow-chested type. Then there are the
intermediates. Considered generally, these peasants of the Haut-Quercy
are not fine specimens of the human animal. They are dwarfed, and very
often deformed. Their almost exclusively vegetable diet, their
excessive toil, and the habit of drinking half-putrid rain-water from
cisterns which they very rarely clean, may possibly explain this
physical degeneration of the Cadurci. Their character is honest in the
main, but distrustful and superficially insincere by nature or the
force of circumstance. Their worst qualities are shown at a fair,
where they cheat as much as they can, and place no limit to lying.
Their canon of morality there is that everyone must look after
himself. I have been assured by a priest that they never think of
confessing the lies that they tell in bartering, because they maintain
that every man who buys ought to understand his business. I much
wondered why, at a Figeac fair, when there was a question of buying a
bullock, the animal's tail was pulled as though all his virtue were
concentrated in this appendage. I learnt that the reason of the
tugging was this: Cattle are liable to a disease that causes the tail
to drop off, but the people here have discovered a very artful trick
of fastening it on again, and it needs a vigorous pull to expose the
fraud. Among other tricks of the country is that of drenching an
ill-tempered and unmanageable horse with two _litres_ of wine before
taking him to the fair. He then becomes as quiet as a lamb. I heard
the story of a _cure_, who was thus imposed upon by one of his own
parishioners. He wanted a very quiet horse, and he found one at the
fair; but the next day, when he went near the animal, it appeared to
be possessed of the devil. All this is bad; but there is satisfaction
to the student of old manners in knowing that everything takes place
as it did centuries ago. The cattle-dealers and peasants here actually
transact their business in _pistoles_ and _ecus_. A _pistole_ now
represents 10 francs, and an _ecu_ 3 francs.

The summer is glorious here, and as the climate is influenced by that
of Auvergne, it is less enervating by the Cele than in the
neighbouring valley of the Lot. There, some twenty miles farther
south, the grapes ripen two or three weeks sooner than they do upon
these hillsides. But the _vent d'autan_--the wind from the
south-east--is now blowing, and, although there is too much air, one
gasps for breath. The brilliant blue fades out of the sky, and the sun
just glimmers through layers of dun-coloured vapour. It is a sky that
makes one ill-tempered and restless by its sameness and indecision.
But the wind is a worse trial. It blows hot, as if it issued from the
infernal cavern. It sets the nerves altogether wrong, and disposes one
to commit evil deeds from mere wantonness and the feeling that some
violent reaction from this influence is what nature insists upon. It
is a wind that does not blow a steady honest gale, but goes to work in
a treacherously intermittent fashion--now lulled to a complete calm,
now springing at you like a tiger from the jungle. Then your eyes are
filled with dust, unless you close them quickly, or turn your back to
the enemy in the nick of time. The night comes, and brings other
trouble. You try to sleep with closed windows, so that you may hear
less of the racket that the wind makes outside, but it is impossible:
you stifle. You get up and open a window--perhaps two windows. The
wind rushes in, but it is like the hot breath of a panting dog. The
noise of swinging _persiennes_ that have got loose, and are banged now
against the wall, now against the window-frame, mingles with a woful
confusion of sounds within, as though a most unruly troop of ghosts
were dancing the _farandole_ all through the house. If any door has
been left open, it worries you more by its banging at intervals of a
minute than if it went on without stopping to consider. Therefore you
are compelled to rise again, and go and look for it--anything but a
cheerful expedition if you cannot find the matches. When this south
wind falls, the rain generally comes, bringing great refreshment to
the parched earth, and all the animals that live upon it.

As I have referred to the house in which I live, I may as well say
something more with regard to it and the things which it contains. It
is not one of the ancient houses of Figeac, but it is old-fashioned
and provincial. The rooms are rather large, the floors are venerably
black, and the boarded ceilings supported by rafters have never had
their structural secrets or the grain of the timber concealed by a
layer of plaster. What you see over-head is simply the floor of the
room or the loft above. And yet this is not considered a poor-kind of
house; it is as good as most good people hereabouts live in. The
furniture is simple, but solid; it was made to last, and most of it
has long outlasted the first owners. In every room, the kitchen
excepted, there is a bed, according to the very general custom of the
country. The character of the people is distinctly utilitarian,
notwithstanding the blood of the troubadours. There is even a bed in
the _salle a manger_. A piece of furniture, however, from which my eye
takes more pleasure is one of those old clocks which reach from the
ceiling to the floor, and conceal all the mystery and solemnity of
pendulum and weights from the vulgar gaze. It has a very loud and
self-asserting tick, and a still more arrogant strike, for such an old
clock; but, then, everybody here has a voice that is much stronger
than is needed, and it is the habit to scream in ordinary
conversation. A clock, therefore, could not make itself heard by such
people as these Quercynois, unless it had a voice matching in some
sort with their own. Another piece of furniture that pleases me,
because it is of shining copper, which always throws a homely warmth
into a room, is a large basin fixed upon a stand against the wall,
with a little cistern above it, also of copper. It is intended for
washing the hands by means of a fillet of water that is set running by
turning the tap. In this dry part of the world water has to be used
sparingly, and, indeed, there is very little wasted upon the body.
Everybody who has travelled in Guyenne must be familiar with the
article of household furniture just described. Every young wife
piously provides herself with one, together with a warming-pan; for
the old domestic ideas are religiously handed down here from mother to
daughter. But I must shorten this 'journey round my room,' so little
in the manner of Le Maistre.

Most of the furniture was once the property of a priest, and would be
still if he were alive. The good man is gone where even the voices of
the Figeacois cannot reach him; but he has left abundant traces of his
piety behind him. The walls of these rooms are almost covered by them.
I cannot help being edified, for I am unable to look upon anything
that approaches the profane.

When I grow thoughtful over all these works of art and _objets de
piete_--engravings, lithographs, statuettes, crucifixes, crosses
worked in wool, stables of Bethlehem, little holy-water stoops, and
the faded photographs belonging to the early period of the art
(portraits, no doubt, of brothers, sisters, nephews, and nieces, all
revealing that air of rusticity in Sunday clothes which is not to be
mistaken)--I have before me the whole story of a simple life,
surrounding itself year after year with fresh emblems and tokens of
the hope that reaches beyond the grave, and the affections of nature
that become woven on this side of it, and which mingle joy and sorrow
even in the cup of a village priest.

It is in these quiet, provincial places, where existence goes on in
the old-fashioned, humdrum way, that people take care of their
household property, and respect the sentiment that years lay up in it:
they hand it down to the next generation as they received it. Little
objects of common ornament, of religious or intellectual pleasure,
thus preserved, throw in course of time a vivid light on human

And it is this vivid light that I am now feeling in these dim rooms. I
am aware that nearly everything here is the record of an epoch to
which I do not belong--that the world's mind has undergone a great
change even in the provinces since the influence that comes forth from
these silent traces of past thought were in harmony with it. What
interests me more than anything else here is an allegorical or
mystical map, designed, drawn, and coloured with all the patience and
much of the artistic skill of an illuminating monk of the thirteenth
century. I doubt if in any presbytery far out in the marshes or on the
mountains a priest could now be found with the motive to undertake
such a task. It belongs to the same order of ideas as the 'Pilgrim's
Progress.' In this map one sees the 'States of Charity,' the 'Province
of Fervour,' the 'Empire of Self-Contempt,' and other countries
belonging to a vast continent, of which the centre is the 'Kingdom of
the Love of God,' connected to a smaller continent--that of the
world--by a narrow neck of land called the 'Isthmus of Charity.' In
the continent of the world are shown the 'Mountain of Ingratitude,'
the 'Hills of Frivolity,' the territory of 'Ennui,' of 'Vanity,' of
'Melancholy,' and of all the evil moods and vices to which men are
liable. Separated from the mainland, and washed by the 'Torrent of
Bitterness,' are the 'Rocks of Remorse.' Among the allegorical emblems
in various parts of the chart is a very remarkable tree with blue
trunk and rose-coloured leaves called the 'Tree of Illusions.' Far
above it lies the 'Peninsula of Perfection,' and near to this, under a
mediaeval drum-tower, is the gateway of the 'City of Happiness.'

There is a little garden at the back of the house, where flowers and
vegetables are mixed up in the way I like. The jessamine has become a
thicket. Vines ramble over the trellis and the old wall, and from the
window I see many other vines showing their lustrous leaves against
tiled roofs of every shade, from bright-red to black. In the next
garden is my friend the _aumonier_, an octogenarian priest, who is
still nearly as sprightly of body as he is of mind. He lives alone,
surrounded by books, in the collection of which he has shown the broad
judgment, and impartiality of the genuine lover of literature. There
is a delicious disorder in his den, because there is no one to
interfere with him. He is now much excited against the birds because
they will not leave his figs alone, and someone has just lent him a
blunderbuss wherewith to slay them. Perhaps he will show them the
deadly weapon, and hope that they will take the hint; but there is too
much kindness underneath his wrath for him to be capable of murdering
even a thievish sparrow. He likes to make others believe, however,
that he is desperately in earnest. His keen sense of the comic and the
grotesque in human nature makes him one of the raciest of
story-tellers; but although he does not put his tongue in traces, he
is none the less a worthy priest. There are many such as he in
France--men who are really devout, but never sanctimonious, whose
candour is a cause of constant astonishment, who are good-natured to
excess, and who are more open-hearted than many children. Their
friendship goes out readily to meet the stranger, and, speaking from
my own experience, I can say that it wears well. In the street, on the
other side of the house, six women have perched themselves in a row.
They have come out to talk and enjoy the coolness of the evening, and,
in order that their tender consciences may not prick them for being
idle, they are paring potatoes, and getting ready other vegetables for
the morrow. They all scream together in Languedocian, which,
by-the-bye, is anything but melodious here when spoken by the common
people. It becomes much less twangy and harsh a little farther South.
How these six charmers on chairs can all listen and talk at the same
time is not easy to understand. The truth is, very little listening is
done in this part of the world. The saying _On se grise en parlant_ is
quite applicable here. People often get drunk on nothing stronger than
the flow of their own words.

All the women being now on their way to the land of dreams, and
consequently quiet for a few hours, and all the sounds of the earth
being hushed save the song of the crickets among the vine-leaves, and
in the fruit-trees of the moonlit garden, I will try to see Figeac up
the vista of the ages, and if I succeed, perhaps the reader may be
helped at the same time to gather interest in this queer old place,
whose name, having been made familiar to the English who followed
Henry II to France in the twelfth century, is perhaps a reason why
their descendants will not 'skip' at first sight these few pages of
local history.

The early history of Figeac, or what has long passed as such, is based
upon an ingenious stratification of fraud, arising out of a very old
quarrel between the monks of Figeac and the monks of Conques, and the
determination of the former to prove at all costs that their monastery
was the more ancient of the two. This would be a matter of
indifference to me had I not been myself entrapped by the snares laid
by certain abbots of Figeac for their contemporaries and posterity,
and been obliged to throw away much that I had written, and which was
far more interesting than the truth. If I had only suspected the
fraud, I might have been tempted to keep suspicion down in order to
spare the picture of the Carlovingian age which I had elaborated; but
it is known at the Ecole des Chartres, and the Abbe B. Massabie of
Figeac has, moreover, written a book that removes all doubt as to the
spuriousness of the charters upon which the abbots of Figeac, when
their jealousy of Conques reached its climax in the eleventh century,
based their pretensions to priority. The most important of these
charters, and the one that has sent various local historians on a
voyage into the airy realms of fiction, is attributed to Pepin le
Bref, and bears the date 755. Another is a Bull attributed to Pope
Stephanus II., also dated 755, in which is described the ceremony of
consecrating the church of St. Sauveur, attached to the abbey, which
in the first-mentioned document Pepin is said to have founded. Here it
is related that when the Pontiff approached the church strains of
mysterious music were heard issuing from the edifice, and such a cloud
stood before it that the procession waited for hours before entering.
Then, when the Pope walked up to the altar-stone, he found that it had
been miraculously consecrated, crosses being marked upon it in oil
still wet. Now, the charter attributed to Pepin contains many passages
copied verbatim from one preserved at Rodez, and signed by Pippinus,
or Pepin I., King of Aquitaine. Its date is 838, and it enriches the
monastery of Conques, already existing, with certain lands at Fiacus
(Figeac), which is thenceforward to be called New Conques; the motive
of this gift being to extend to the monks those material advantages
which a rich valley is able to afford, but which are not to be found
in a stony gorge surrounded by barren hills. There would have been
less scandal to Christianity if Pepin had put a curb on his pious
generosity, and had left the monks of Conques to contend with the
desert. The charter, moreover, sanctions the building of a monastery
at Figeac, which is to remain under the rule and governance of the
abbots of Conques. In the eleventh century, the discord between the
two monasteries had reached such a pass that popes and councils were
appealed to to settle the question of priority. In 1096 the Council of
Nimes laid down a _modus vivendi_ without pronouncing upon the
principle. It was decreed that the abbots of Figeac should thenceforth
be independent of the abbots of Conques.

The monks of Conques appear to have followed originally the rule of
St. Martin, and to have adopted that of St. Benedict soon after its
introduction into France. The abbey of Figeac was therefore always
Benedictine. About the year 900 the monks began to cultivate learning,
their labour having previously been devoted almost exclusively to the
soil. A certain Abbot Adhelard set them to copy manuscripts, and in
course of time Figeac possessed a valuable library, of which the
religious wars of the sixteenth century and the Revolution have left
very few traces.

The first half of the eleventh century was full of turmoil, trouble,
and torment. The 'blood-rain' that fell all over Aquitaine, and which
made people watch in terror for what might come next, was followed by
a three years' famine, which drove men in their hunger to prey upon
one another. The inns were man-traps; solitary travellers who ventured
inside of them were killed and devoured. Those were not good wayfaring
days. A man actually offered human flesh for sale in the market of
Tournus; but he was burnt alive. During this frightful period, the
Abbot of Figeac distinguished himself by his charity, and, in order to
find work for the unemployed, built a wall round the burg; but the
monastery was much impoverished in consequence.

Towards the close of the eleventh century four slender
obelisks--called 'needles' in the country--were set up on the hills
around Figeac apparently to mark the boundaries of the _sauvete_; for
the abbey enjoyed the right of sanctuary. Two of these needles still
exist. According to an absurd story, which has been repeated by
various writers, misled by the forgeries already mentioned, the monks,
when they came to this part of the valley of the Cele, found it an
uninhabited wilderness without a name, and somebody exclaimed, 'Fige
acus!' ('Set up needles!'), when the question of marking the boundary
was being discussed. This ingenious explanation of the word Figeac
will not bear examination.

Every traveller in Aquitaine must have been struck by the remarkable
number of places there whose names end in _ac_. It is commonly
supposed that the termination is derived from _aqua_, and refers to
the river or stream near which the town or village was built.

_Ac_, however, does not at all correspond to the well-known
corruptions of _aquae_ still found in the names of places in France
where the Romans constructed baths. We are on much surer ground in
assuming it to be of Celtic origin, and to have belonged in a special
manner to the dialect spoken by the Cadurci, Ruteni and other Southern
tribes. It nevertheless occurs at Carnac--that spot of Brittany where
is to be seen the most remarkable of all monuments, commonly
attributed to the Celts. The word probably meant town. It is
unreasonable to suppose that the monks found the valley of the Cele a
desert, considering how densely populated was the whole of this part
of Gaul at the time of Caesar's invasion. So inhabited was it that the
surplus population spread all over the known world, just as the
English do to-day. The popular notion with regard to the needles is
that they were intended to carry lanterns to guide the pilgrims by
night either to Figeac or to Roc-Amadour. Such lanterns were set up in
Aquitaine, and some examples may still be seen; but they are very
different in character from these obelisks, which in all probability
were used to mark the boundary of the _salvamentum_. It is true that
in the Middle Ages the right of asylum was, as a rule, confined to the
sanctuary itself or its immediate precincts; but there were
exceptions, especially in the South of France, where this sacred zone,
which in the Romance language was termed the _sauvetat_, often
extended a considerable distance beyond the walls of a monastic town.
Within these bounds persons fleeing from pursuers had the right of
asylum; but, on the other hand, there are documents to show that those
who committed crimes inside the limit were held guilty of sacrilege.

Early in the Middle Ages the town of Figeac enjoyed the privileges of
a royal borough under the protection of the kings of France, who in
course of time came to be represented there by their _viguier_
(vicar). The civic administration was in the hands of consuls as early
as the year 1001. They rendered justice and even passed sentence of
death. The burghers were exempt from all taxation and servitude. The
municipality had the right of coining money for the king, and the
ruined mint can still be seen. Such was the state of things down to
the time when the English appeared in the country. Henry II., having
taken Cahors in 1154, left his chancellor, Becket, there as governor.
The Figeacois, who at first looked upon Becket as an enemy, after he
was murdered at Canterbury, and when the fame of his saintliness began
to spread through France, dedicated a church to him. This edifice has
disappeared; but the part of the town where it was situated, or where,
to speak more correctly, it was afterwards rebuilt, is still called
the Quartier St. Thomas. So little were the English loved, however, as
a nation by the Quercynois, that, after St. Louis had been canonized,
they refused to observe his festival, because they found it impossible
to forgive him for having, by the treaty of Abbeville, passed them
over to England without their consent.

Figeac was less troubled than some other towns in the Quercy by the
English, because in different treaties the kings of France managed to
keep a grip upon it as a royal borough.

The gates of the town were, however, thrown open to the English
without a struggle about the middle of the fourteenth century, and to
punish the consuls, when they again became French, King John took away
their right to coin money; but the privilege was restored in
consideration of the ardour they had shown in freeing themselves from
the British yoke.

The victory of the Black Prince at Poitiers, followed by the treaty of
Bretigny, made the King of England absolute master of the Quercy. The
Prince of Wales came in person to take possession of Cahors in 1364,
and despatched his seneschal, Thomas de Walkaffara, to Figeac to
receive from the inhabitants the oath of fealty. They swore obedience,
but with much soreness of soul. They afterwards got released from
their oath by the Pope, and joined a fresh league formed against the
English. After enjoying the sweets of French nationality again for a
brief period, they were made English once more by the treaty of
Troyes. But the British domination in Guyenne was now approaching its
close. The maid of Domremy was about to change her distaff for an
oriflamme. The year 1453 saw the English power completely broken in
Aquitaine; a collapse which an old rhymer records with more relish
than inspiration:

'Par Charles Septieme a grande peine
Furent chasses en durs detroits
Les Anglais de toute Aquitaine,
Mil quatre cent cinquante trois.'

Figeac escaped the horrors which were spread through the South of
France by the religious wars of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries;
but it was not similarly spared by those of the sixteenth century. The
Huguenots laid siege to the town in 1576, and entered it by the
treasonable help of a woman--the wife of one of the consuls. There was
the usual massacre that followed victory, whether on the side of
Protestants or Catholics, and the people became Calvinists for the
same reason that they had centuries before become English. In less
than fifty years afterwards they were all Catholics again. During this
unsettled period, however, there was great domestic dissension in the
town, owing to the circumstance that many women belonging to the old
Catholic stock had married Protestants who had come into the place. As
they could not agree with their husbands, and as many of these refused
to be converted for their sake (they may have been thankful for an
opportunity of getting rid of them), a refuge called 'L'hospice des
mal-mariees' was built for the unhappy wives. When the need for this
very singular institution no longer existed it was pulled down.

The Church of St. Sauveur, as we see it to-day, is disappointing. It
has been so much rebuilt after different convulsions, and pulled about
when there has been less excuse, that many a church in an obscure
village gives more pleasure as a whole to the eye that seeks unity of
design and inspiration in a work of art. Nevertheless, there are
details here that no archaeologist will despise. In the nave are the
piers and Romanesque capitals of an early, but not the earliest,
church on the spot. They are certainly not later than the twelfth
century. Baptismal fonts, now used as holy-water stoups, are probably
of anterior workmanship. Cut out of solid blocks of stone, their
carving shows all the interlacing lines and exquisite finish of
detail, purely ornamental, that marks the pre-Gothic period in the
South of France, when the artistic spirit of Christianity was still
confined to the close imitation of Roman and Byzantine art.

The Church of Notre Dame du Puy, built upon a height, as the word
_puy_ implies, is likewise interesting only in respect of details,
such as the sculptured archivolts of the portal and the
fourteenth-century rose-window. It, however, contains a very
remarkable example of sixteenth-century wood-carving in its massive
and elaborate reredos, a portion of which, having been destroyed by
fire, has been repaired with plaster, but so skilfully that it is very
difficult to perceive where the artistic fraud begins and where it

The extraordinary interest of Figeac to the archaeologist lies,
however, in its civic and domestic architecture. This has been
preserved simply because the inhabitants have for centuries played no
part in the political history of the country, and their pursuits or
interests having remained constantly agricultural, they have been
equally cut off from the commercial movement. But every year will
diminish the charm of this dirty old town to the antiquary. It will be
observed that all the old streets are not accidentally crooked, but
that they have been carefully laid out on curved or zigzag lines,
which turn now in one direction and now in another. The motive was a
defensive one in view of street-fighting, which was often so terrible
and so prolonged in the Middle Ages. Each curve of a street formed an
obstacle to the onward rush of an enemy, and only allowed those
burghers who were actually engaged to be exposed to arrows and bolts.
The townsmen could dispute the ground inch by inch and for days, as
they did at Cahors when they were surprised by Henry of Navarre,
although firearms had then come into use.

Wine-growing, until some eight or ten years ago, was the chief source
of revenue to the people of Figeac, as well as to those in the
neighbouring valley of the Lot. Middle-aged people here can recollect
the days when wine was so cheap that the inn-keepers did not take the
trouble to measure it out to their customers, but charged them a
uniform price of two sous for stopping and drinking as much as they
pleased. But all this has been changed by the phylloxera. From being
exceptionally prosperous, the people of the district have become poor.
Very few have now any money to lay out in replanting their vineyards.
Land has so fallen in value that it can be bought at a price that
seems scarcely credible. With 100 one might become the proprietor of
a large vineyard. Higher up the hills, where the chestnut and juniper
thrive, half the money would buy quite a considerable estate. Here and
elsewhere in France thousands of acres lie uncultivated and
unproductive, except as regards that which nature unaided renders to
man. Not all, but a very large portion, of this waste-land would well
repay cultivation if the capital needed for clearing and working it
were obtainable. That the lands suitable for wine-growing could be
rendered remunerative is absolutely certain if those who undertook the
task had the money necessary for the first outlay of planting and
could afford to wait for the return.

The valley of the Cele between Figeac and the junction of the little
river with the Lot contains some of the most picturesque scenery to be
found in the Quercy. About ten miles below Figeac it becomes a gorge,
which until past the middle of the present century was almost cut off
from communication with neighbouring towns. All the carrying was done
on the backs of mules and donkeys; but since the road was made along
the right bank of the Cele, these animals have been used less and
less. It is no uncommon thing, however, to see now a heavily-laden
pack-mule coming up the valley to the Figeac fair. It was in their
rock-fortresses by the Cele that the English companies in Guyenne are
said to have made their final resistance. The long and sustained
efforts which were needed to dislodge them from their almost
inaccessible fastnesses will be understood by anyone who may go
wayfaring like myself along the banks of this tributary of the Lot.

For the first two hours the walk was unexciting, for the valley was
too wide and too cultivated to give much pleasure to the eye that
looks for character in nature. At the village of Corn there was a
decided change. Here lofty honeycombed rocks rose behind the houses
that were built not very far above the stream, whose swiftness is
supposed to have been the origin of its name. Not one of the several
caverns extends far into the cliff. Their chief interest lies in the
traditions with which they are associated. In one of them the
inhabitants of the little burg are said to have assembled in the
Middle Ages to elect their consuls freely, and to escape possible
annoyance from their lord, whose castle was on the opposite hill.
Another, still called the Citadel, was that in which they took refuge
from the enemy, especially from the roving bands of armed men who made
common cause with England. In 1380 Bertrand de Bassoran, captain of an
English company, captured Corn, and using this place as his _point
d'appui_, he placed garrisons in the neighbouring burgs of Brengues,
Sauliac, and Cabrerets. He also compelled the consuls of Cajarc to
treat with him.

After a hasty meal in a little inn where I had to be satisfied mainly
with good intentions, I called upon the schoolmaster. The poor man was
spending most of his dinner-hour on the threshold of his small
school-house amidst the rocks because some unruly or idle urchins were
'kept in.' How much pleasanter, I thought, it would have been for him
to have produced in their case a wholesome cutaneous irritation, and
set himself, as well as the young reprobates, free! But the French law
does not tolerate the corporal punishment of children nowadays,
although the exasperated pedagogue cannot always resist the temptation
of applying his ruler upon a bunch of grimy little knuckles. This
schoolmaster, although he was past the age of fifty and had grown
corpulent, was still tied fast to the village schoolroom that was much
too small to hold thirty children comfortably. By the aid of reading,
writing, and arithmetic, he had got into a little creek where he was
safe from the stormy seas of life, and he had never allowed his
ambition to draw him out into the ocean. Nevertheless, he nursed and
rocked his little vanity like the rest of mortals. He had written what
he termed a 'Monograph of Corn.' He brought out from his desk a
copybook wherein he had set it all down with the utmost attention to
upstrokes and downstrokes and punctuation. It was a pleasure to him to
find somebody to whom he could read what he had written, and he had in
me an attentive listener.

Wandering on by the winding Cele, the charm of the little river made
me sit down upon a bank to look at the pictures that were painted on
the water by the sunshine, the clouds, and the poplars. Then,
continuing my journey, I saw on the opposite side of the stream a
cluster of houses with an ancient church in their midst, and almost
detached from this church, and yet a part of it, a tower like a
campanile capped by a wooden belfry with pointed roof and far-reaching
eaves. A bridge led across the water. I found the village to be Sainte
Eulalie d'Espagnac. Here there existed from the early Middle Ages a
celebrated convent for women of the order of St. Augustine. The
founder, Aymeric d'Hebrard, was the Bishop of a see in Spain, and he
brought thence Moorish slaves to cultivate the land with which he had
endowed his community of a hundred nuns. Down to the Revolution most
of the daughters of the nobility in the Quercy were educated here.
Little is now left of the conventual building; but the church contains
architectural details of much interest, and the tombs of those
irreconcilable enemies of the English, Bertrand de Cardaillac, Bishop
of Cahors, and the Marquis de Cardaillac--the most famous warrior of
this bellicose and illustrious family.

Having reached the village of Brengues, I went immediately in search
of the English rock-fortress of which I had already heard. A path led
me up the steep hillside to the foot of a long line of high rocks of
yellowish limestone, so escarped and so forbidding to vegetable life
that I did not see even a wild fig-tree hanging from a crevice. A path
ran along at the base of this prodigious wall, from the top of which
stretched the arid _causse_. I had only gone a little way when I saw
before me a fortified Gothic gateway jutting out from the rock to
which it was attached, and extending across the path to where the hill
became so steep as to sufficiently protect from assault on that side
those who had a motive for defending the ledge under the high cliff. I
examined this old piece of masonry with much curiosity.

The pointed form of the arch disposes of the hypothesis which has been
put forward without much reflection, that this legacy of the old wars
in Guyenne is part of the defences raised in the country by the
unfortunate Waifre, Duke of Aquitaine, when he was being chased from
rock to rock by his relentless enemy. Here we have work that is
evidently not anterior to the English occupation, and which in all
probability belongs to the fourteenth or the early part of the
fifteenth century. Now, as Brengues was undoubtedly one of those
places where the English companies firmly established themselves, and
to which they clung with great tenacity, there is very small risk of
error is coming to the conclusion that it was they who built this
fortified gateway. The masonry, composed of carefully-shaped stones,
and laid together with an excellent mortar that has become as durable
as the rock itself, has been wonderfully preserved. Had it been placed
in the valley it would have been pulled down long ago, and the
materials would have been used for building houses or pigsties. The
upper part of the wall is dilapidated, so that it is impossible to say
whether it was originally embattled or not. There is no staircase, but
the defenders had doubtless a suspended plank or beam on which they
stood when they wished to shoot arrows or bolts over the top of the
wall. On the side nearest the rock is a splayed opening ending
outwardly in a crosslet large enough for three or four men to use at
the same time.

This gateway was only an outwork to defend the ledge of rock. About
two hundred yards farther is a cavern some twenty or thirty feet above
the path, and only accessible by means of a ladder. It has been walled
up, openings being left here and there for loopholes. Near the top is
a row of three windows without arches, and at the base an opening that
served for a door, and which could easily be closed up. Although the
stones were shaped for building, they were laid together without
mortar; but the wall is so thick, and so protected by its position,
that this rough fortification has remained almost unchanged from the
date of its construction. It is a much less finished piece of work
than the gateway, but there are other rock-fortresses in the district,
attributed by general consent to the English, so similar to it in
character that there is no reason for doubting that the companies
built this one also. It is probable, however, that the gateway already
mentioned, and the one that corresponded to it on the other side of
the cavern, but of which few vestiges can now be seen, were
constructed subsequently, when the science of fortification was better
understood by the _routiers_. Such a fortress could never have been
used in a military sense by a large number of men, but to a band of
brigands and cut-throats it was a stronghold of the first order. As
they doubtless laid up in their cavern a large store of the provisions
which they obtained by their continual forays in the surrounding
region, they were capable of withstanding a long siege even against an
enemy many times as numerous as themselves, for the reason that only a
few men could attack them at the same time, and the defenders had an
enormous advantage in the struggle. It is a very general belief in the
district that there was formerly a passage by which this cavern
communicated with the _causse_; no trace of it, however, has been

M. Delpon, author of a work published in 1831, and entitled
'Statistique du Departement du Lot,' mentions these fortified caverns
of the Quercy in the following passage, which gives a vivid picture of
the kind of life that the English companies led and made others lead
in the fourteenth century:

'They (the English) possessed in the Quercy the forts of Roc-Amadour,
Castelnau, Verdale, Vayrac, Lagarennie, Sabadel, Anglars, Frayssinet,
Boussac and Assier, and some other castles on escarped hills from
which it was difficult to expel them. They also seized upon caverns
formed by nature in the flanks of precipitous rocks, and fortified
them with walls in which all the character of English structures can
still be recognised. The garrisons that occupied these places
represented six thousand lances distributed over the Quercy, the
Rouergue, and High Auvergne. When they sallied forth, the earth, to
use an expression of one or their chiefs, Emerigot, surnamed Black
Head, trembled under their feet.[*] They robbed travellers, made
citizens prisoners--especially ecclesiastics--in order to extort
exorbitant ransoms, they took from the peasants their beasts and their
crops, and forced them to work in strengthening the dens of their
spoliators with new fortifications. In fine, the Quercy was
continually devastated, and the inhabitants only tilled the earth to
satisfy the avidity of the English companies. The population could
shield themselves from their violence only by concealing themselves in
subterranean retreats, where traces of their sojourn are still
observable. The English were continually recruited by all the depraved
men of the provinces which they laid under contribution.'

[*] The entire passage from which these words are taken is to be
found in Froissart's chronicles, and it runs as follows, the
spelling being modernized: 'Que nous etions rejouis quand nous
chevaussions a l'aventure et que nous pouvions trouver sur le
champ un riche prieur ou marchand ou des mulets de Montpellier,
de Narbonne, de Carcassone, de Limoux, de Beziers, de Toulouse,
charges de draps, de brunelles, de pelleterie, venant de la foire
de Landit, d'epiceries venant de Bruges, de draps de soie, de
Damas ou d'Alexandrie. Les vilains nous pourvoyaient et
apportaient dans nos chateaux le ble, la farine, le pain tout
cuit, l'avoine pour les chevaux, le bon vin, les boeufs, les
brebis, les moutons tous gras, la poulaille et la volataille.
Nous etions servis, gouvernes et etoffes comme rois et princes,
et quand nous chevaussions le pays tremblait devant nous.'

This last remark is only too well justified by the evidence which
those centuries have handed down. Indeed, to such an extent were these
companies composed of Aquitanians, that one may well ask if some of
them contained a single genuine Englishman. I have found no record in
the Quercy of the captain of a company of _routiers_ having borne an
Anglo-Saxon name. Two English captains who took Figeac by surprise (a
document relating to this event, written in Latin of the fourteenth
century, is to be found in the municipal archives) were named Bertrand
de Lebret and Bertrand de Lasale. Those who captured Martel had names
equally French. There is, of course, the hypothesis that these leaders
were Anglicised Normans, but the stronger probability is that they
were native adventurers of Aquitaine who found it to their interest to
place themselves under the protection of the King of England.

Towards the close of the fourteenth century, all those who wished to
drive the English out of Guyenne rallied round the chiefs of the house
of Armagnac. This great family of the Rouergue, which was ultimately
absorbed by the Royal House of France and became extinct, at one time
espoused the British cause; but it contributed more than any other to
the final dispersion of the English companies in Guyenne. In 1381 the
people of the Gevaudan, the Quercy, and High Auvergne, solicited the
help of the Count of Armagnac against the companies, and he accepted
the leadership of the coalition. He convened a meeting of delegates at
Rodez, to which the English chiefs were invited, and the decision that
was then come to did not say much for the sagacity or the valour of
those who represented the majority. It was agreed that the sum of
250,000 francs--equivalent to about 200,000 to-day--should be paid to
the English on condition of their surrendering the fortresses which
they occupied. This fact goes far to prove that the companies were
virtually independent, and that although all their outrages were
ostensibly committed in the British name, they were freebooters in the
fullest sense of the word. Of the sum that was to be paid to them, the
clergy were to contribute 25,000 francs, the nobles 16,660. The
inhabitants of the Quercy agreed to pay 50,833 francs. The captains of
the companies took oath that on receiving the money they would quit
Guyenne for ever. They may have kept their oath, but their followers
were not to be induced to change their habits so easily. The
_routiers_, still going by the name of the English companies,
continued to hold the least accessible places in Guyenne, fortified in
the main by nature, until long after the British sovereigns had
abandoned their ambitious designs in France.

In the fifteenth century so many of the inhabitants of the Quercy had
been killed or ruined by the companies that some districts were almost
depopulated. In the town of Gramat there were only seven inhabitants
left at the close of the Hundred Years' War. In order that the lands
should not remain uncultivated, the nobles enfeoffed them to strangers
from the Rouergue and other neighbouring provinces. This circumstance
is supposed to account in a large measure for the differences in
dialect which are to be observed in adjoining communes. There is no
evidence to-day, so far as I have been able to ascertain, of English
words having been introduced into the Languedocian of Guyenne. The
striking resemblance of many _patois_ words to those of the English
language bearing the same meaning--a resemblance that is helped by the
Southern pronunciation of vowels and diphthongs--must be referred to
linguistic influences far more remote and obscure than the political
fact that Guyenne was intimately connected with English history for
three hundred years. For example, that familiar animal the cat is
called in Guyenne _lou catou_ and even _lou cat_; but the word belongs
to the Romance language, and is the same all through Languedoc and
Provence. The fact that the English left no mark upon the language in
Guyenne is almost a conclusive proof that such of the Anglo-Saxon
stock as followed the Norman leaders into Aquitaine, and who remained
in the country any length of time, were not sufficiently numerous to
impose their idiom upon others. They probably did not preserve it long
themselves; but, like the English grooms who find occupation in France
today, they quickly adopted the language that was generally spoken
around them. Patient investigation might, nevertheless, show that the
English did leave some of their words, as well as their blood, in the
country. It would, indeed, be astonishing if this were not so. Even
the Greek colony at Marseilles and Aries, although far removed, must
have influenced the dialect of Guyenne; for the peasants of the Quercy
use the word _hermal_ to describe a piece of waste land bordering a
cultivated field, the origin of which expression was, doubtless,
Hermes, the god of boundaries. This is not the only Greek word that
has been corrupted, but nevertheless preserved, in the Quercy

Wherever the English were long established in their fastnesses amidst
the rocks which form the rugged sides of the deep-cut gorges of the
Quercy, many of the inhabitants have clung, century after century, to
the belief that the terrible freebooters buried a prodigious amount of
treasure with the intention of returning and fetching it on the first
opportunity. So persistently was this tradition handed down at
Brengues that many years ago a cavern, the entrance of which had been
covered over with stones and earth, having been accidentally
discovered on the plateau just above the Chateau des Anglais, it was
eagerly explored, as well as a similar cavern close by. The excitement
was increased by the circumstance that the discovery of these openings
appeared to coincide with the indications of a local witch. It was
evident that the caverns had at one time been used by men, for they
contained masonry put together with mortar. By dint of excavating,
hidden galleries were revealed; but although a human skeleton was
discovered, no treasure was found. The explorers, however, came upon a
vast collection of bones of extinct animals, and of others which,
although they are now to be found both in the Arctic and in the
tropical regions, have not existed in a state of nature in France
during the historic period. The bones of the reindeer, for instance,
were found lying with those of the hyena and the rhinoceros, many of
them embedded in the calcareous breccia so frequently seen in the
valley of the Cele. Here was evidence of a glacial and a torrid
period, separated by an aeonic gulf; but how the remains came to be
piled one upon another in this way is a secret of the ancient earth.
There are prodigious layers of these bones lying at a great depth in
the rock, where there is no cavern to suggest that the animals entered
by it, or that they were taken there by man. The beds of phosphate
which English enterprise has turned to so good an account in this part
of France, and which are followed in the earth just like a seam of
coal or a vein of metal, are merely layers of bones. While I was at
Brengues, the skeleton of a young rhinoceros was discovered in the
phosphate mine at Cajarc.

On the hill above the Cele, on the side opposite to that where the
Chateau des Anglais is to be seen, are the remains of an entrenched
camp, upon the origin of which it is almost idle to speculate. In the
same neighbourhood is a cavern situated high up in the face of a
perpendicular rock. It is inaccessible by ordinary means; but a beam
fixed at the entrance, and worn into a deep groove by a rope, shows
that it was used as a refuge. A tradition says that Waifre hid himself

I passed the night at Brengues, and was awakened in the early morning
by the jingle of bells just beneath my window, and a man's voice
repeating, 'Te, Te, Te!' A couple of bullocks were being yoked, and
presently they followed the man towards the fields of tobacco and
maize by the little river, already shining in the sun. Very soon
afterwards I, too, had begun my day's work.

In a little more than an hour I was at the next village--St. Sulpice.
Here above the houses, huddled together like sheep on the lower steep
of the right-hand hill, were the ruins of a castle, hanging to the
rock that dwarfed it even in the days of its pride. I climbed to it,
and found that it was built on terraces one above the other, formed by
the rocky shelves. A considerable portion of the strong wall at the
base of the structure remains, and on each terrace there is something
left of the feudal fortress. Ivy, with gnarled and fantastic stocks,
has so overspread the masonry in places that hardly a gray stone shows
through the dense matting of sombre leaves and hoary, wrinkled stems.
Multitudes of bats cling to the ruinous vaulting where the light is
very dim, and lurk in the hollows of the rock. A stone thrown up will
bring them fluttering down and whirling about the head of the
intruder, noiselessly as if they were the ghosts that haunt the spot,
but dare not reveal to the eye of man the human shape that they once
wore. This castle belonged, and still belongs, to the D'Hebrard
family, which was connected by marriage with the Cardaillacs and most
of the ancient aristocracy of the Quercy.

Leaving St. Sulpice, another hour's walk down the valley brought me to
Marcillac, which, after Figeac, was the most important place on the
Cele in the Middle Ages. It is now, however, a mere village. According
to local historians, it was here that Palladius, Bishop of Bourges,
retired in the fifth century to escape from the persecution of the
Arians. Nothing, however, that has been written of its history, prior
to the ninth or tenth century, can be accepted with any confidence.
What can be safely affirmed is, that here, between the rocky cliffs
that border the Cele, arose one of the earliest of the Benedictine
abbeys in France. The ruined cloisters of the monastery have all the
severe charm of the simple Romanesque style of the early period, but
there is no means of knowing whether they date from the tenth,
eleventh, or twelfth century. There are several beautiful capitals
elaborately embellished with intersecting line ornament still
preserved, although no value whatever is placed upon them by the
inhabitants. The cloisters are used for stables, and other common farm

The abbey church must have fallen into complete ruin, when a portion
of it was restored and rebuilt in the fifteenth century. Then about
half the nave--the western end--was cut off, and left open to the
weather. It is roofless, and the visitor walking, now in deep shadow,
now in brilliant light, as the fragments of masonry may hide or reveal
the sun, sees the blue sky through the arches and over the tops of the
ivy-covered walls. This part of the old church shows the transition
between the Romanesque and the Gothic styles.

It would have been a slight upon Marcillac had I left the place
without seeing the most famous of its caverns, which goes by the name
of the Grotte de Robinet. I might have looked for it in vain all day
had I not taken a guide.

First, the _causse_ had to be reached by ascending the cliffs on the
right bank of the Cele. Then I saw before me the stony undulating
land, with the sad sentiment of which I had already grown so familiar.
An old woman, nearly doubled up with age and field labour, but who
plied her distaff as she led her black goats to browse upon the waste,
made me understand that the solitude was not altogether bereft of
human life. After walking a mile or so, we descended into a deep
hollow wooded with those dwarf oaks which, together with the juniper,
hid at one time most of the nakedness of these calcareous tracts that
stretch from gorge to gorge. One might have supposed that such a dale
would have had a spring at the bottom; but no: everywhere it was
parched, arid, and rocky. The rain that falls all around goes to swell
some deep subterranean stream that issues no one knows where. This
peculiarity of the formation explains why nearly all the _caussenards_
have no water, either for themselves or their animals, except that
which they collect from the skies in tanks sunk in the earth. Since
the failure of the vines--which formerly flourished upon the _causses_
wherever there was a favourable slope--the peasants have learnt to
make a mildly alcoholic liquor by gathering and fermenting the juniper
berries, which previously they had never put to any use.

We had nearly ascended the opposite side of this wooded hollow, when
the guide, pointing through the sunlit trees to a very dark but narrow
opening in the rocks, said, 'There it is!' We had reached the cavern.
He went first, carrying aloft a wisp of burning straw, which he
renewed from time to time from the bundle that he carried under his

The practice of burning straw, so that people may have a good flare-up
for their money, has, together with the selfish custom of throwing
stones at the stalactites, gone far to spoil all the caverns of this
region, which have been much visited. The Grotte de Robinet must have
been dazzlingly beautiful at one time, but now most of the stalagmite
and stalactite has been completely blackened by smoke. Even the rocks,
over which one has to climb, and sometimes crawl, are covered with a
sooty slime, which gives one the appearance, when daylight returns, of
having been smeared with lamp-black. I put on a blouse before
entering, and had great reason to be glad that I did so. In spite of
all the mischief that has been done to it, the Grotte de Robinet is a
very remarkable cavern, and the time spent on the somewhat arduous and
slippery task of exploring its depths is not wasted. Its length is
about half a mile, and the descent, which is almost continuous, is at
times very rapid. The passage connects a succession of vast and lofty
spaces, which are not inappropriately termed _salles_. In some of
these, the dropping water has raised from the floor of the cavern
statuesque and awful forms of colossal grandeur. Some of these have
been little changed by the smoke, but stand like white figures of
fantastic giants. While looking at them, I thought how little I should
like to be in the position of a certain _cure_ of Marcillac, who spent
three days and three nights in this weird company. He frequently
entered the cavern alone, with a scientific object, and his
familiarity with it led him to despise ordinary precautions. One day
he was far underground, with only a single candle in his possession,
and no matches. A drop of water from the roof put the candle out, and
all his efforts to return by the way he came were futile. Meanwhile,
his parishioners, hunting high and low for their _cure_, chanced to
see his _soutane_, where he had left it, hanging to a bush at the
entrance of the Grotte de Robinet, and when they rescued him, there
was very little left of his passion for studying nature underground.

The most wonderful and the most beautiful object in the cavern is to
be seen in the vast hall, which is the last of the series. This hall
has a dome-shaped roof that rises to the height of about sixty feet,
and it is supported in the centre, with every appearance of an
architectural motive, by a single slender column that seems to have
been carved with consummate skill out of alabaster. No image that I
can think of conveys the picture of this exquisite stalagmite so
justly as that of a column formed of the blossoms of lilies, each cup
resting within another.

Having left Marcillac, I passed under the mediaeval village of
Sauliac, built high up on a shelf of naked rock, and then reached
Cabrerets, which lies two or three miles above the junction of the
Cele and the Lot. The village is at the foot of towering limestone
cliffs, and many of the houses are built against the gray and yellow
stone. The most interesting structure, however, is the castellated one
that clings to the face of the rock far above all inhabited dwellings.
It goes by the name of the Chateau du Diable, and it is the most
considerable of all the rock-fortresses in the valleys of the Cele and
the Lot which are attributed to the English companies. It possesses
towers and embattlements, and it was evidently intended to defend the
defile from any force advancing from the wider valley. Here,
doubtless, many a desperate struggle occurred before the companies
were dispersed and English influence was finally overcome in these
wilds of the Quercy. At a little distance from it, the long iron of a
mediaeval arrow, having fastened its head in a cleft of the rock,
remained sticking there for centuries, and was only recently removed.
The Prefect of the Department took a fancy to it, and had not the good
judgment to leave it where it had so long been an object of curiosity.
There, resting in the place where the arm of the archer had cast it,
it told a story of the old wars, and set the imagination working; but
in a collection of local antiquities it is as dumb and almost as
worthless as any other piece of old iron.


A long dull road or street, a statue of the navigator La Perouse, a
bandstand with a few trees about it, and plain, modern buildings
without character, some larger and more pretentious than others, but
all uninteresting. Is this Albi? No, but it is what appears to be so
to the stranger who enters the place from the railway-station. The
ugly sameness is what the improving spirit of our own times has done
to make the ancient town decent and fit to be inhabited by folk who
have seen something of the world north of Languedoc and who have
learnt to talk of _le comfortable_. The improvement is undoubted, but
so is the absolute lack of interest and charm; at least, to those who
are outside of the _persiennes_ so uniformly closed against the summer

Albi, the veritable historic Albi, lies almost hidden upon a slope
that leads down to the Tarn. Here is the marvellous cathedral built in
the thirteenth century, after the long wars with the Albigenses; here
is the Archbishop's fortified palace, still capable of withstanding a
siege if there were no artillery; here are the old houses, one of
pre-Gothic construction with very broad Romanesque window, slender
columns and storied capitals, billet and arabesque mouldings; another
of the sixteenth century quite encrusted with carved wood; and here
are the dirty little streets like crooked lanes, where old women, who
all through the summer months, Sundays excepted, give their feet an
air-bath, may be seen sitting on the doorsteps clutching with one bony
hand the distaff and drowsily turning the spindle with the other.

To live in one of these streets might disgust the unseasoned stranger
for ever with Southern life; but to roam through them in the early
twilight is the way to find the spirit of the past without searching.
Effort spoils the spell. Strange indeed must have been the procession
of races, parties and factions that passed along here between these
very houses, or others which stood before them. Romans, Romanised
Gauls, Visigoths, Saracens and English; the Raymonds with their
Albigenses, the Montforts with their Crusaders from the north, the
wild and sanguinary _pastoiureux_ and the lawless _routiers_, the
religious fanatics, Huguenots and Catholics of the sixteenth century,
and the revolutionists of the eighteenth. All passed on their way, and
the Tarn is no redder now for the torrents of blood that flowed into

Notwithstanding that the name Albigenses was given after the council
of Lombers to the new Manichaeans, Albi was less identified with the
great religious and political struggle of Southern Gaul in the twelfth
and thirteenth centuries than were Castres and other neighbouring
towns. If, however, it was comparatively fortunate as regards the
horrors of that ferocious war, it was severely scourged by the most
appalling epidemics of the Middle Ages. Leprosy and the pest had
terrors greater even than those of battle. The cruelty of those feudal
ages finds one of its innumerable records in the treatment of the
miserable lepers at Albi. Having taken the disease which the Crusaders
brought back from the East, they were favoured with a religious
ceremony distressingly similar to the office for the dead. A black
pall was thrown over them while they knelt at the altar steps. At the
close of the service a priest sprinkled some earth on the condemned
wretches, and then they were led to the leper-house, where each was
shut up in a cell from which he never came out alive. The black pall
and the sprinkled earth were symbols which every patient understood
but too well.


In nothing is the stern spirit of those ages expressed more forcibly
than in the religious buildings of Languedoc. The cathedral of St.
Cecilia at Albi is the grandest of all the fortified churches of
Southern France, although in many others the defensive purpose has
made less concession to beauty. Looking at it for the first time, the
eye is wonder-struck by its originality, the nobleness of its design,
and the grandeur of its mass. The plan being that of a vast vaulted
basilica without aisles, the walls of the nave, rise sheer from the
ground to above the roof, and are pierced at intervals with lofty but
very narrow windows, the arches slightly pointed and containing simple
tracery. The buttresses which help the walls to support the vaulting
of the nave and choir are the most remarkable feature of the design,
and, together with the tower, which rises in diminishing stages to the
height of 260 feet and there ends in an embattled platform, account
for the singularly feudal and fortress-like character of the building.
The outline of the buttresses being that of a semi-ellipse, they look
like turrets carried up the entire face of the wall. The floor of the
church is many feet above the ground, and the entrance was originally
protected by a drawbridge and portcullis; but these military works
were removed in the sixteenth century, and in their place was raised,
upon a _perron_ reached by a double flight of steps, a baldachino-like
porch as airily graceful and delicately florid as the body to which it
is so lightly attached is majestically stern and scornful of ornament.
The meeting here of those two great forces, the Renaissance and
feudalism, is like that of Psyche and Mars. But in expression the
porch is Gothic, for although the arches are round-headed, they are
surmounted by an embroidery of foliated gables and soaring pinnacles.
It can scarcely be said that the style has been broken, but the
contrast in feeling is strong.

Enter the church and observe the same contrast there. Gothic art
within the protecting walls and under the strong tower puts forth its
most delicate leaves and blossoms. Across the broad nave, nearly in
the centre, is drawn a rood-screen--a piece of stonework that has
often been compared to lace, but which gains nothing by the
comparison. The screen, together with the enclosure of the choir, with
which it is connected, is quite bewildering by the multiplicity of
arches, gables, tabernacles, pinnacles, statues, leaves, and flowers.
The tracery is flamboyant, and the work dates from the beginning of
the sixteenth century. The artificers are said to have been a company
of wandering masons from Strasburg.

Two vast drum-shaped piers, serving to support the tower, are exposed
to view at the west end of the nave; but, for the bad effect thus
produced, compensation is offered by the very curious paintings,
supposed to be of the fifteenth century, with which the surfaces of
these piers are covered. They represent the Last Judgment and the
torments of the damned. Each of the seven capital sins has its
compartment, wherein the kind of punishment reserved for sinners under
this head is set forth in a manner as quaint as are the inscriptions
in old French beneath. The compartment, illustrating the eternal
trouble of the envious has this inscription:

'_La peine des envieux et envieuses_. Les envieus et envieuses sont
en ung fleuve congele plonges jusques au nombril et par dessus les
frappe un vent moult froid et quant veulent icelluy vent eviter se
plongent dedans ladite glace.'

All the wall-surfaces, the vaulting included, are covered with
paintings. The effect clashes with Northern taste, but the absence of
a columnar system affords a plausible reason for relieving the
sameness of these large surfaces with colour. The Gothic style of the
North, holding in itself such decorative resources, gains nothing from
mural paintings, but always loses something of its true character when
they are added. Apart from such considerations, the wall-paintings in
the cathedral of Albi have accumulated such interest from time that no
reason would excuse their removal.

This unique church was mainly built at the close of the thirteenth
century, together with the Archbishop's palace, with which it was
connected in a military sense by outworks. These have disappeared, but
the fortress called a palace remains, and is still occupied by the
Archbishop. It is a gloomy rectangular mass of brick, absolutely
devoid of elegance, but one of the most precious legacies of the
Middle Ages in France. It is not so vast as the papal palace at
Avignon, but its feudal and defensive character has been better
preserved, for, unlike the fortress by the Rhone, it has not been
adapted to the requirements of soldiers' barracks. At each of the
angles is a round tower, pierced with loopholes, and upon the
intervening walls are far-descending machicolations. The building is
still defended on the side of the Tarn by a wall of great height and
strength, the base of which is washed by the river in time of flood.
This rampart, with its row of semi-elliptical buttresses corresponding
to those of the church and its pepper-box tower at one end, the
fortress a little above, and the cathedral on still higher ground, but
in immediate neighbourhood, make up an assemblage of mediaeval
structures that seems as strange in this nineteenth century as some
old dream rising in the midst of day-thoughts. And the rapid Tarn, an
image of perpetual youth, rushes on as it ever did since the face of
Europe took its present form.

As I write, other impressions come to mind of this ancient town on the
edge of the great plain of Languedoc. A little garden in the outskirts
became familiar to me by daily use, and I see it still with its almond
and pear trees, its trellised vines, the blue stars of its borage, and
the pure whiteness of its lilies. A bird seizes a noisy cicada from a
sunny leaf, and as it flies away the captive draws out one long scream
of despair. Then comes the golden evening, and its light stays long
upon the trailing vines, while the great lilies gleam whiter and their
breath floods the air with unearthly fragrance. A murmur from across
the plain is growing louder and louder as the trees lose their edges
in the dusk, for those noisy revellers of the midsummer night, the
jocund frogs, have roused themselves, and they welcome the darkness
with no less joy than the swallows some hours later will greet the
breaking dawn.

I left Albi to ascend the valley of the Tarn in the last week of June.
I started when the sun was only a little above the plain; but the line
of white rocks towards the north, from which Albi is supposed to take
its name, had caught the rays and were already burning. The straight
road, bordered with plane-trees, on which I was walking would have had
no charm but for certain wayside flowers. There was a strange-looking
plant with large heart-shaped leaves and curved yellow blossoms ending
in a long upper lip that puzzled me much, and it was afterwards that I
found its name to be _aristolochia clematitis_. It grows abundantly on
the banks of the Tarn. Another plant that I now noticed for the first
time was a galium with crimson flowers. I soon came to the cornfields
for which the Albigeois plain is noted. Here the poppy showed its
scarlet in the midst of the stalks of wheat still green, and along the
borders were purple patches of that sun-loving campanula, Venus's

Countrywomen passed me with baskets on their heads, all going into
Albi to sell their vegetables. Those who were young wore white caps
with frills, which, when there is nothing on the head to keep them
down, rise and fall like the crest of a cockatoo; but the old women
were steadfast in their attachment to the bag-like, close-fitting cap,
crossed with bands of black velvet, and having a lace front that
covers most of the forehead. When upon this coif is placed a great
straw hat with drooping brim, we have all that remains now of an
Albigeois costume. As these women passed me, I looked into their
baskets. Some carried strawberries, some cherries, others mushrooms
(_boleti_), or broad beans. The last-named vegetable is much
cultivated throughout this region, where it is largely used for making
soup. When very young, the beans are frequently eaten raw with salt.
Almost every taste is a matter of education.

The heat of the day had commenced when I reached the village of
Lescure. This place is of very ancient origin. Looking at it now, and
its agricultural population numbering little more than a thousand, it
is difficult to realize its importance in the Middle Ages. The castle
and the adjacent land were given in the year 1003 by King Robert to
his old preceptor, the learned Gerbert, who became known to posterity
as Pope Sylvester II. In the eleventh century, Lescure was, therefore,
a fief of the Holy See; and in the time of Simon de Montfort the
inhabitants were still vassals of the Pope. In the fourteenth century
they were frequently at war with the people of Albi, who eventually
got the upper hand. Then Sicard, the Baron of Lescure, was so
completely humiliated that he not only consented to pay eighty gold
_livres_ to the consuls of Albi, but went before them bareheaded to
ask pardon for himself and his vassals. Already the feudal system was
receiving hard blows in the South of France from the growth of the
communes and the authority vested in their consuls. What is left of
the feudal grandeur of Lescure? The castle was sold in the second year
of the Republic, and entirely demolished, with the exception of the
chapel, which is now the parish church. Of the outer fortifications
there remains a brick gateway, with Gothic arch carrying a high

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