Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Wanderings by southern waters, eastern Aquitaine by Edward Harrison Barker

Part 5 out of 5

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.6 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

honourable stamp of ravaging toil, was impressed on many a female
face. Even the children looked as degraded by the social atmosphere as
they were blackened by the smoke and ever-falling soot. Hastening
along the road towards Aubin, I soon found that the two places,
separated according to the map by a considerable distance, had grown
together. The long road powdered with coal-dust was now a street lined
on each side with houses and hovels. Wooden shanties with sooty,
bushes of juniper hanging over the door, and the word 'Buvette'
painted beneath, competed for the miner's money at distances of twenty
or fifty yards. One had a notice such as is rarely seen in France, and
which was significant here: 'Ready money for everything sold over the
counter.' Close by was the sign of a _sage-femme_, who, under the
picture of a woman holding aloft in triumph an unreasonably fat baby,
announced that she also bled and vaccinated. Grimy children and grimy
pigs that were intended to be white or pink sprawled upon the
thresholds or wallowed in the hot dust.

Having left the blissful coal basin, I met the Lot again near the
boundary-line of the Aveyron and entered the department named after
the river. Thence to Capdenac the valley was a curving line of
uninterrupted but ever-changing beauty.

The season was farther advanced when I continued the journey from this
point to Cahors.

A person who had contracted the 'morphia habit' would probably find
the most effectual cure for it by forced residence at Capdenac,
because the town does not boast the luxury of a chemist's shop.
Supposing the patient, however, to be a lady of worldly tastes, she
might die of _ennui_ in twenty-four hours. The Capdenac of which I am
speaking is not the utterly unpicturesque collection of houses that
has been formed about the well-known railway junction on the line to
Toulouse, but old romantic Capdenac, whose dilapidated ramparts,
dating from the early Middle Ages, crown the high rocky hill that
rises abruptly from the valley on the other side of the Lot, which
here separates the department named after it from, the Aveyron. The
situation of this town is one of the most remarkable. It is perched
upon a lofty table of reddish rock of the same calcareous composition
as that which prevails throughout the region of the _causses_. Its
walls are so escarped that the topmost crags in places overhang the
path that winds about their base far below. Only strategical
considerations could ever have induced men to build a town on such a
site. The Gauls set the example, and their _oppidum_ was long supposed
to have been Uxellodunum, but the controversy has been settled in
favour of the Puy d'Issolu.

I chose the hour of eight in the morning for climbing the rock of
Capdenac. The broad winding river was brilliantly blue, like the vault
overhead, and although the vine-clad hills, which shut in the valley,
and the bare rocks, whose outlines were sharply drawn against the sky,
were luminous, the light had the pure and clear sparkle of the
morning. Reaching the hill, I took a zigzag stony path that led
through terraced vineyards. The vintage had commenced, and men, women,
and children were busy picking the purple grapes still wet with dew.

The children only, however, showed any joy in the work, for the
bunches hung at such a distance from each other that a vine was very
quickly stripped. The _vigneron_, with his mind dwelling upon the
bygone fruitful years, when these arid steeps poured forth torrents of
wine as surely as October came round, wore an expression on his face
that was not one of thankfulness to Providence. They are a rather
surly people, moreover, the inhabitants of this district, and I do not
think at any time their hearts could have been very expansive. As I
approached a woman who had a great basket of grapes in front of her,
she hastily threw a bundle of leaves over them, casting a keenly
suspicious glance at me the while. If she meant me to understand that
the times were too bad for grapes to be given away, the movement was
unnecessary. Where now are the generous sentiments and the poetry
traditionally associated with the vintage? Not here, certainly. Men go
out into their vineyards by night armed with guns, and the depredators
whom they fear most are not dogs that have acquired a taste for
grapes. The stony path was bordered by brambles, overclimbed by
clematis, whose glistening awns were mingled with blackberries, which
not even a child troubled to pick. There was much fleabane--a plant
that deserves to be cherished in these parts, if it be really what its
name indicates, but it would have to be extensively cultivated to be a
match for the fleas. After the vineyards came the dry rock, that held,
however, sufficient moisture for the wild fig-tree, wherever it could
find a deep, crevice.

Passing underneath the perpendicular wall of rock, and the vine-clad
ramparts above it, built on the very edge of the precipice, the
winding path led me gradually up to the town. A little in front of an
arched gateway was a ruined barbican, the inner surface of the walls
being green with ferns and moss. Four loopholes were still intact. Had
it been night I might have seen ghostly men with crossbows issuing
from the gateway, but it being broad daylight, I was met by a troop of
young pigs followed by a little hump-backed woman who addressed her
youthful swine in the language of the troubadours.

In the narrow street beyond the arch a company of gigantic geese drew
themselves up in order of battle, and challenged me in chorus to come
on; but their courage was like that of Ancient Pistol. No other living
creature did I see until I had walked nearly half through the ancient
burg, between houses several centuries old, their stories projecting
over the rough pitching and the stunted fig-trees which grew there
unmolested. Some of these dwellings were in absolute ruin, with long
dry grasses waving on the roofless walls. Nobody seemed to think it
worth while to rebuild or repair anything. The town appeared to have
been left to itself and to time for at least two hundred years. And
yet there really were some inhabitants left. I found another gateway
and another ruined barbican, and near to these, on the verge of the
precipice, a high rectangular tower, which was the citadel and prison.
The lower part was occupied by the schoolmaster of the commune, and he
allowed me to ascend the winding staircase, which led to two horrible
dungeons, one above the other. Neither was lighted by window or
loophole, and but for the candle I should have been in utter darkness.
Great chains by which prisoners were fastened to the wall still lay
upon the ground, and as I raised them and felt their weight, I thought
of the human groans that only the darkness heard in the pitiless ages.
In another part of the building was a heavy iron collar that was
formerly attached to one of these chains. There were also several old
pikes in a corner.

A little beyond the citadel I found the church, a small Romanesque
building without character. An eighteenth-century doorway had been
added to it, and the tympan of the pediment was quite filled up with
hanging plants. Still more suggestive of abandonment was the little
cemetery behind, which was bordered by the ramparts. It was a small
wilderness. Just inside the entrance, a life-sized figure with
outstretched arms lay against a damp wall in a bed of nettles and
hemlock. It had become detached from the cross on which it once hung,
and had been left upon the ground to be overgrown by weeds. I have
seen many a neglected rural cemetery in France, but never one that
looked so sadly abandoned as this. It was like the 'sluggard's
garden,' where 'the thorn and the thistle grow higher and higher.'
Most of the gravestones and crosses were quite hidden by dwarf elder,
artemisia, wild carrot, and other plants all tangled together. A grave
had just been dug in this wilderness and it was about to have a
tenant, for the two bells in the open tower were sounding the _glas_,
and a distant murmur of chanting was growing clearer. The priest had
gone to 'fetch the body,' and the procession was now on its way. On
the top of the earth and stones thrown up on each' side of the new
grave were a broken skull, a jawbone, several portions of leg and arm
bones, besides many smaller fragments of the human framework. I
thought the gravedigger might at least have thrown a little earth over
these remains out of consideration for the feelings of those who were
about to stand around this grave, but concluded that he probably
understood the people with whom he had to deal. Presently this
functionary--a lantern-jawed, nimble old man, with a dirty nightcap on
his head--made his appearance to take a final look at his work. After
strutting round the very shallow hole he had dug, in an airy,
self-satisfied manner, he concluded that everything was as it should
be, and retired for the priest to perform his duty.

The great difficulty with the people of Capdenac in time of war must
have been the water supply. When their cisterns were empty, they had
the river at the bottom of the valley and a spring that flowed at
certain seasons, as it does now, at the foot of the rock on which they
had built their little town. When they were besieged, they could not
descend to the Lot to draw water; consequently they laid great store
by the stream at the base of the rock. A long zigzag flight of steps
down the side of the precipice was constructed, and it was covered by
a wall that protected those who fetched water from arrows and bolts.
Near the spring this wall was built very high and strong, and was
pierced with loopholes. It also served as an outwork. The steps and
much of the wall still exist. The spring in modern times came to be
called Caesar's Well, because the elder Champollion and others
endeavoured to prove that Capdenac was the site of Uxellodunum. The
fact, however, that the spring is dry for several months in the year,
and could never have been aught else but the drainage of the rock, is
in itself a sufficient refutation of the hypothesis; because,
according to Caesar, the fountain at Uxellodunum was so perennially
abundant that when he drew off the water by tunnelling, the Gauls
recognised in this disaster the intervention of the gods.

Capdenac appears to have given the English a great deal of trouble,
which the natural strength of the place fully explains. It must have
been a fortress of the first order in the Middle Ages, and would be so
to-day, if the French thought it worth while to use it in a military
sense; but, happily for the inhabitants of this part of France, their
territory now lies far from the theatre of any war that is likely to
occur. A charter by Philippe le Long, dated 1320, another by King
John, and a third by Charles VII., recognise the immunity of the
people of Capdenac from all public charges on account of the
resistance which they constantly opposed to the English. The rock
must, nevertheless, have fallen into the hands of a company attached
to the British cause, for the Count of Armagnac bought the place in
1381 of a band of so-called English _routiers_. Sully lived there
after the death of Henry IV., and the house that he occupied still

According to a local tradition, Capdenac was on the point of being
captured by the English, when it was saved from this fate by a
stratagem. The defenders were starving, and the besiegers were relying
upon famine to reduce them. In order to make the English believe that
the place was still well provisioned, a pig was given a very full meal
of all the corn that could be scraped together and then pushed over
the side of the rock in a cautious manner, so that the animal might
appear to be the victim of its own indiscretion. The pig fulfilled
expectations by splitting open when it struck the ground, and thus
revealed the corn that was in its body. When the English saw this,
they said: 'If the men of Capdenac can afford to feed their swine on
wheat, they must still have plenty for themselves.' Discouraged by
this reflection, they raised the siege. When they went away there was
not an ounce of bread left to divide amongst the garrison.

A market was being held at Capdenac--the lower town--as I left it.
Bunches of fowls tied together by the legs were dangling from the
hands of a score or so of peasant women standing in line. The wretched
birds had ceased to complain, and even to wriggle; but although, with
their toes upward and their beaks downward, life to them could not
have looked particularly rosy, they seemed to watch with keen interest
all that was going on. Only when they had their breasts well pinched
by critical fingers did they struggle against their fate. The legs of
these fowls are frequently broken, but the peasants only think of
their own possible loss; and women are every bit as indifferent to the
sufferings of the lower animals as men.

There was a sharp wrangle going on in the Languedocian dialect over a
coin--a Papal franc--that somebody to whom it had been offered angrily
rejected. Here I may say that one of the small troubles of my life in
this district came from accepting coins which I could not get rid of.
As a rule, the native here turns over a piece of money several times
before he satisfies himself that no objection can be brought against
it; but if, in the hurry of business, the darkness of night, or the
trustfulness inspired by a little extra worship of Bacchus, he should
happen to take a Papal, Spanish, Roumanian, or other coin that is
unpopular, he puts it on one side for the first simpleton or stranger
who may have dealings with him. Thus, without intending it, I came to
possess a very interesting numismatical collection, which I most
unconscientiously, but with little success, tried to scatter.

I made my way down the valley of the Lot, taking the work easily,
stopping at one place long enough to digest impressions before pushing
on towards a fresh point. This valley is so strangely picturesque, so
full of the curiosities of nature and bygone art, that if I had not
been a loiterer before, I should have learnt to loiter here.

Keeping on the Aveyron side of the river, I soon reached the village
of St. Julien d'Empare, where almost every house had somewhat of a
castellated appearance, owing to the dovecot tower which occupied one
angle and rose far above the roof. One of these houses had two rows of
dormer windows, covered by little gables with very long eaves in the
high-pitched roof, whose red tiles were well toned by time. The
tower-like pigeon-house, with extinguisher roof, stood at one end upon
projecting beams, and the pigeons kept going in and coming out of the
holes in their two-storied mansion. One sees dovecots everywhere in
this district, and most of them are two or three centuries old. Some
are attached to houses, and others are isolated on the hillsides
amongst the vines. When in the latter position, they are generally
round, and are built on such a scale that they really look like

There were grape-gatherers in the vineyards, but they had to search
for the fruit. The wine grown upon these hills by the Lot has been
famous from the days of the Romans; but there is very little of it
left. There is, however, a consoling side to every misfortune. A man
of Figeac told me that since the vines had failed in the district the
death-rate had diminished remarkably.

'Why?' I asked.

'Why?' replied he, with a sad smile, 'because in the happy times
everybody drank wine at all hours of the day; but now, in these
miserable times, nearly everybody drinks water.'

The new state of things would be still more satisfactory from a
teetotal point of view if Nature were less niggardly of water in these
parts. In some localities it has to be strictly economized, and this
is done in the case of streams by using it first for the exterior, and
afterwards for the interior needs of man. I, having still some English
prejudices, would rather run all the risks incurred by drinking wine,
than swallow any more than I am obliged of the rinsings of dirty

Having crossed the Lot by a suspension bridge, a roadside inn enticed
me with its little terrace, where there were many hanging plants and
flowers, and a wild fig-tree that had climbed up from the rock below,
so that it could look into people's glasses and listen to their talk
in that pleasant bower. I might have lingered here too long had it not
been for the wasps, which were even a greater nuisance than the flies.

To reach the village of Frontenac I took a little path leading through
maize-fields by the river's side. The maize was ready for the harvest,
and the long leaves had lost nearly all their greenness. The lightest
breath of air made each plant rustle like a paper scarecrow. The river
was fringed with low, triggy willows and a multitude of herbs, rich in
seeds, but poor in flowers. Among those still in bloom were the
evening primrose, soapwort, and marjoram. The river was as blue as the
heaven, and on each side rose steep hills, wooded or vine-clad, with
the yellow or reddish rock upon the ridges glowing against the hot
sky. As I was moving south-west I had the afternoon sun full in the
face. The lizards that darted across the path, raising little clouds
of dust in their hurry, found this glare quite to their taste, but it
was too much for me, and when at length I saw a leafy walnut tree I
lay down in the shade until the fiery sun began to touch the high
woods, the river, and the yellow maize-stalks with the milder tones of

A narrow grassy lane between tall hedgerows sprinkled over with
innumerable glistening blackberries led me to Frontenac, a village
upon the rocky hillside. Here is a little church partly raised upon
the site of a Roman or Gallo-Roman temple. A broken column left
standing was included in the wall of the Romanesque apse, upon the
lower masonry of which both pagan and Christian hands have worked. The
nave has been rebuilt in modern times, but in the open space before
the entrance Roman coffins crop up above the rough paving, separated
from each other only by a few feet. There is a stone coffin lying
right across the doorway, and the _cure_, whom I drew into
conversation, confided to me, with a comical smile upon his pale dark
face, that he had raised a fragment of the lid to see if anything more
enduring than man had been left there, but that he found nothing but
very fine dust. Every bone had become powder. This priest was a
companionable man, and he must have looked upon me with a less
suspicious eye than most people hereabouts, for he invited me into his
house to take a _petit verre_ with him. But the sun was getting near
the end of his journey, and I had to fare on foot to the next village;
so I thought it better to decline the offer.

The next village was St. Pierre-Toirac, also built upon the hillside
above the Lot. It is a larger place than Frontenac, and must have been
of considerable importance in the Middle Ages, to judge from its
fortified church, whose high gloomy walls give it the appearance of a
veritable stronghold. Some of the inhabitants say that it was built by
the English, but the architecture does not indicate that such was the
case. The interior is a beautiful example of the Romanesque style. The
capitals of the columns are fit to serve as models, so strongly
typical are the designs, and so exquisite is their workmanship. It is
probable that the walls of the church were raised, and that it was
turned into a fortress during the religious wars of the thirteenth
century between Catholics and Albigenses, which explain the existence
of so many fortified churches in Languedoc and Guyenne, as well as so
many ruins.

I had reached this church by an old archway, whose origin was
evidently defensive, and crossing the dim and silent square,
surrounded by mediaeval houses, some half ruinous, and all more or
less adorned with pellitory, ivy-linaria, and other wall-plants which
had fixed their roots between the gaping stones. I passed through
another archway, and stopped at a terrace belonging to a ruined
chateau or country-house. Here I was looking at the valley of the Lot
in the warm after-glow of sunset, when an elderly gentleman came up to
me and disturbed my contemplative mood by asking me not very
courteously if I wanted to see anybody. I was somewhat taken aback to
find such an important-looking person in such a dilapidated place. I
tried, however, not to appear too much overcome, and explained that it
was only with the intention of seeing the picturesque that I had found
my way to that ruinous spot. The agreeable person who had questioned
me now let me understand that it was his spot, and informed me that
nobody was allowed to see it 'sans etre presente.' Then, looking at me
very fiercely, he said:

'Are you an Englishman or a German?'

'An Englishman,' I replied, whereupon his ferocious expression relaxed
considerably, but he did not become genial.

I retired from his ruin considerably disgusted with its owner, who
contrasted badly with all Frenchmen in his social position whom I had
previously met. I asked a woman who he was, and she replied that all
she knew about him was that he was an 'espece de noble.' Her cruelty
was unintentional. The next morning I learnt from an old Crimean
soldier, who knew I was English because he had drained many a glass
with my fellow-countrymen, that the magnates of the village had held a
consultation overnight upon the advisability of coming down upon me in
a body and asking me for my papers. Nothing came of it, which was well
for me, for I had come away without my papers.

There was rain that night, and when morning came it had changed the
face of the world. The sun was shining again and warmly, but summer
had gone and autumn had come. Upon the rocky slopes the maples were on
fire; in the valley the large leaves of the walnut-trees mimicked the
sunshine, and by the river-side the tall poplars, as they bowed to the
water deities, cast upon the mirror of many tones the image of a
trembling golden leaf repeated beyond all power of numbering. A little
rain had been enough to produce this magical change. It had opened the
great feast of colour that brings the year to its gray, sad close.

But the sky was brilliantly blue when I left St. Pierre-Toirac. The
next village was Laroque-Toirac. The houses were clustered near the
foot of an escarped hill, where thinly-scattered pines relieved the
glare of the naked limestone. Upon a precipitous rock dominating the
village is a castle, the lower works of which belong to the Feudal
Ages, the upper to the Renaissance epoch--a combination very frequent
in this district. The mullioned windows and the graceful balustrade,
carried along a high archway, are in strong contrast to the stern and
dark masonry of the feudal stronghold. This picturesque incongruity
reaches its climax in the lofty round tower upon which a dovecot has
been grafted, whose extinguisher-roof, with long drooping eaves, is
quite out of keeping with the machicolations which remain a little
below the line of the embattled parapet that has disappeared. The
castle is now used for the schools of the commune, and a score or so
of little boys and girls whom I met on my way up the rough path stared
at me with much astonishment. I climbed to a bastion of the outer
works, where a fig-tree, growing from the old wall, and reaching above
it, softened the horror of the precipice; for such it really was. The
masonry was a continuation of one of those walls of rock which give
such a distinctive character: to the geological formation of this
region. The village lay far below--a broken surface of tiled roofs,
sloping rapidly towards the Lot, itself a broad ribbon of many blended
colours, winding through the sunlit plain. The castle of Laroque
belonged to the Cardaillac family. In 1342 it was stormed and taken by
Bertegot Lebret, captain of a strong company of English, who had
established their headquarters at Grealou.

As I approached Montbrun, the next village, the rocks which hemmed in
the valley became more boldly escarped. In their lower part the beds
of lias were shown with singular regularity. Box and pines and sumach
were the chief vegetation upon the stony slopes, where the scattered
masses of dark-green foliage gave by contrast a whiter glitter to the
stones. Montbrun, like so many of the little towns and villages
hereabouts, is built upon rocks immediately below a protecting
stronghold, or, rather, what was one centuries ago. The windows of
some of the dwellings look out upon the sheer precipice. The vine
clambers over ruined houses and old walls built on to the rock, and
seemingly a part of it. Of the mediaeval castle little is left besides
the keep. The Marquis de Cadaillac, to whom it belonged, strengthened
the fortifications with the hope that the stronghold would be able to
resist any attack by the English; but it was nevertheless captured by

After leaving Montbrun I saw nothing more of civilization until I came
near a woman seated on a doorstep, and engaged in the exciting
occupation of fleaing a cat. She held the animal upon its back between
her knees, and was so engrossed by the pleasures of the chase that she
scarcely looked up to answer a question I put to her. The word _cafe_
painted upon a piece of board hung over another door enticed me
inside, for it was now nearly midday, and I had been in search of the
picturesque since seven o'clock, sustained by nothing more substantial
than a bowl of black coffee and a piece of bread. This is the only
breakfast that one can expect in a rural auberge of Southern France.
If milk is wanted in the coffee it must be asked for over-night, and
even then it is very doubtful if the cow will be found in time. To ask
for butter with the bread would be looked upon as a sign of eccentric
gluttony, but to cap this request with a demand for bacon and eggs at
seven in the morning, as a man fresh from England might do with
complete unconsciousness of his depravity, would be to openly confess
one's self capable of any crime. People who travel should never be
slaves to any notions on eating and drinking, for such obstinacy
brings its own punishment.

A stout woman with a coloured silk kerchief on her head met me with a
good-tempered face, and, after considering what she could do for me in
the way of lunch, said, as though a bright idea had suddenly struck

'I have just killed some geese; would monsieur like me to cook him
some of the blood?'.

'Merci!' I replied. 'Please think of something else.'

An Englishman may possibly become reconciled to snails and frogs as
food, but never, I should say, to goose's blood. In about twenty
minutes a meal was ready for me, composed of soup containing great
pieces of bread, lumps of pumpkin and haricots; minced pork that had
been boiled with the soup in a goose's neck, then a veal cutlet,
covered with a thick layer of chopped garlic. Horace says that this
herb is only fit for the stomachs of reapers, but every man who loves
garlic in France is not a reaper. Strangers to this region had better
reconcile themselves both to its perfume and its flavour without loss
of time, for of all the seasoning essences provided by nature for the
delight of mankind garlic is most esteemed here. Those who have a
horror of it would fare very badly at a _table-d'hote_ at Cahors, for
its refined odour rises as soon as the soup is brought in, and does
not leave until after the salad. Even then the unconverted say that it
is still present. To cultivate a taste for garlic is, therefore,
essential to happiness here.

I crossed a toll-bridge over the river just below Cajarc, and again
entered the department of the Aveyron, my object being to ascend the
valley of a tributary of the Lot, to a spot where it flows out of a
pool of unknown depth, called the Gouffre de Lantouy. The road passed
under the village of Savagnac, built upon the hillside. A Renaissance
castle with sham machicolations, little chambers. with their
projecting floors resting on brackets turrets on _culs de lampe_ and
with extinguisher roofs, and a high terrace overgrown with vines and
fig-trees left to fight their own battle, lorded it over all the other
houses, like a sunflower in an onion-bed. But the castle, although it
gives itself such aristocratic airs, is, in these days, nothing but a
farmhouse, sacks of maize being now stored in rooms where ladies once
touched the lute with white fingers, and where gentlemen may have
crumpled their frills while swearing eternal love upon their knees.
The little cemetery adjoining the chateau has swallowed up the great
and the lowly century after century, and the rank grass, now sprinkled
with the lingering flowers of summer, barely covers their mingled
bones. The old gravestones, left undisturbed, have sunk into the soil
nearly out of sight. Such is the ending of all that is human.

A little beyond this village a peasant woman, whom I met picking up
walnuts from the road that was strewn with them, lifted her
wide-brimmed straw hat to me as I passed. This was indeed polite. I
now left the road, and followed a lane by the stream that flows out of
the _gouffre_. This valley is narrow enough to be called a gorge, and
the stony hills on either side presented a picture of utter barrenness
and desolation. But along the level of the stream the deep-green grass
shadowed by the hill was lighted up with the pale-purple death-torches
of the poisonous colchicum. After crossing a stubble-field, now
overgrown by the violet-coloured pimpernel, I reached the sinister
pool, fringed with the flag's sword-like leaves and shadowed by willows
and alders. I expected to find the water all in tumult; but no, it had
the dark, solemn stillness of the mountain tarn. The two streams that
poured out of it to meet a little lower down the valley hardly
murmured as they started upon their journey amidst the iris and sedge,
although the body of water was strong enough to turn a millwheel.

There is something that troubles the imagination in the appearance of
this lonely pool for ever silently overflowing, and so deep that
nobody as yet has been able to find the bottom. On the side of the
stony hill close by are some ruined walls of a church and convent,
said to have been built by St. Mamphaise. The peasants of the district
have an extraordinary story with regard to this convent, which is
either the cause or the consequence of the superstitious awe in which
they hold the Gouffre de Lantouy. This legend is to the effect that
the conventual building was once inhabited by women who ate children,
and that a certain mother, whose baby they had kidnapped and eaten,
cursed them so heartily and to such purpose that the _gouffre_ was
formed, and their convent, or the greater part of it, was
supernaturally carried down the hill and plunged into the bottomless
water. The legend also says that those who stand by the pool on St.
John's Eve will hear the convent bell ringing. It not being St. John's
Eve when I was there I was unable to test the truth of this part of
the legend. What I did hear was a raven croaking from the ruin, and
the sound harmonized well with the air of mystery and gloom hanging
over the spot.

There is some historic reason for believing that the convent at
Lantouy was founded by Charlemagne. Very near this spot are the
remains of some ancient fortified works, and the locality is known as
'La domaine de Waiffier.' This name is evidently the same as Waifre.
There is reason to believe that the last of the sovereign Dukes of
Aquitaine made a stand here when pursued by his implacable enemy Pepin
le Bref. The people pronounce the word 'Waiffier' as though it
commenced with a 'G.'

Towards evening I recrossed the Lot and entered Cajarc. Passing
through the little town, which is not in itself very interesting, I
took a path winding up the side of the hill, at the base of which lies
the burg. I wished to see a cascade that has a local reputation for
beauty. I reached the foot of a high, fantastic rock, from the ledges
of which masses of ivy hung woven together like a veritable tapestry
of nature. A small stream descended from the uppermost ridge upon a
rock covered with moss showing every hue of green, and then into a
dark pool below. The hillside above the cascade has been extensively
tunnelled for phosphate. An Englishman discovered the value of the
site, and dug a fortune out of it. There are several phosphate-mines
in this district, all more or less connected with British enterprise.
Phosphate inspires respect for Englishmen here, for it has been the
means of giving a great deal of employment and rendering petty
proprietors, who could barely get a living out of their thankless
soil, comparatively rich. The inhabitants, therefore, consider English
speculators in the light of public benefactors, and such they have
really proved, although the motive that brought them here was scarcely
a philanthropic one. Neither the French nor the British public has any
conception of the extent to which the mineral resources of France are
worked by the English.

Cajarc, although it looks like a village to-day, was once a fortified
town of considerable importance in the Quercy. Its inhabitants offered
an obstinate resistance to the English on several occasions. In 1290
they refused to swear fealty to the King of England until their lord,
the Bishop of Cahors, gave them the order to do so in the name of the
King of France. Subsequently in the same and the following century,
when the Ouercynois were again in arms against the English, various
attempts to take the town by surprise failed through the vigilance and
courage of the burghers. To punish them, the English, in 1368,
destroyed their bridge across the Lot, of which some remnants may
still be seen.

After leaving Cajarc in the morning I was soon alone with Nature on
the right bank of the river. Autumn was there in a gusty mood, blowing
yellow leaves down from the hills upon the water and driving them
towards the sea over the rippled, gray surface lit up with cold,
steel-like gleams of sunshine struggling through the vapour. The
wilderness of herbs and under-shrubs along the banks was no longer
aflame with flowers. Dead thistles, whose feathered seeds had drifted
far away upon the wind to found new colonies, and a multitude of
withered spikes and racemes, told the old story of the summer's life
passing into the death or sleep of winter. Yet the river-banks were
not without flowers. A rose, very like the 'monthly rose' of English
gardens, was still blooming there, together with hawkweed, wild
reseda, and a mint with lilac-coloured blossoms which one sees on
every bit of waste ground throughout this region.

A rock rising from the river's bank carried the ruin of an ancient
chapel. Only the apse was left. It contained one narrow deeply-splayed
Romanesque window, and a piscina where the priest washed his hands.
The altar-stone lay upon the ground where the altar must have stood,
and behind it a rough wooden cross had been piously raised to remind
the passer-by that the spot was hallowed.

The road now ran under high red rocks or steep stony slopes, where, on
neglected terraces overgrown with weeds, the dead or dying vines
repeated the monotonous tale of the phylloxera.

I passed through the village of Lannagol, mostly built upon rocks
overlooking the bed of its dried-up stream, and was soon again under
the desert hills, where the fiery maple flashed amid the sombre
foliage of the box. The next village or hamlet was a very curious one.
Rows of little houses, some of them mere huts, were built against the
side of the rock under the shelter of huge masses of oolite or lias
projecting like the stories of mediaeval dwellings. People climbed to
their habitations, like goats, up very steep paths winding amongst the
rocks. The overleaning walls were blackened to a great height by the
smoke from the chimneys.

It was dusk when I crossed a bridge leading to the village of
Cenevieres, where I intended to pass the night. There was a very fair
inn here, less picturesque than many of the auberges of the country,
but cleaner, perhaps, for this reason. The aubergiste was suspicious
of me at first, as he afterwards admitted, for like others he had
turned over in his mind the question, Is he a German spy? Judging from
my own experience in this part of France, I should say that a German
tourist would not spend a very happy holiday here. The sentiment of
the Parisians towards the Teuton is fraternal love compared to that of
the Southern French. These people proved themselves to be thorough
going haters in the religious wars, and the old character is still
strong in them.

Although the Germans in 1870-71 did not show themselves in Guyenne,
the resentment of the inhabitants towards them is intense, and it is
the vivacity of this feeling that renders them so suspicious of
foreigners. I noticed, however, that as I went farther down the Lot
the people became more genial, so that the long evenings in the rural
inns generally passed very pleasantly. Dinner over, I usually took
possession of a chimney-corner, the only place where one can be really
warm on autumnal nights, and while satisfying the curiosity of the
rustic intelligence concerning the English and their ways I gathered
much information that was useful to me respecting local customs and
the caverns, castles and legends of the district where I happened to
be. By nine o'clock everybody was yawning, and if the village
blacksmith, the postman, and the bell-ringer had not left by that
time, they were in an unusually dissipated frame of mind. By ten
o'clock the great kitchen was dark, and the mice were making up a
quadrille upon the hearth, supposing no cat to be looking on.

Early the next morning I was climbing the hill towards the Castle of
Cenevieres. This building is a most picturesque jumble of the
castellated styles of the thirteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth
centuries. The oldest part of the structure--and it is very
considerable--is that of a frowning feudal fortress of great strength,
built upon a rock, which on the side of the Lot is a perpendicular
wall some 200 feet high. The inhabitants agree in saying that the
feudal walls are the work of the English, but they are probably in
error. The original castle belonged to Waifre. It afterwards passed to
the Gourdon family, who doubtless rebuilt it upon the old foundations.
The last descendant of this family was one of the most ardent
Huguenots in the Quercy. The late Gothic superstructure, which is
still inhabited, has a very high-pitched roof, with dormer windows
covered by high gables with elaborate carvings. Very near this castle,
in the side of the cliff, is a fortified cavern, which for centuries
has gone by the name of La Grotte des Anglais. It must have been in
communication with the castle, of which it may have served as an
outwork or a place of refuge in the last extremity. I might have
passed the whole day trying to find it but for the help of a peasant,
who led the way down the rocks, hanging on to bushes of box. The
remains of a small tower, pierced with loopholes on one side of the
opening, and the other ruined masonry, leave no doubt as to the
defensive use to which this cavern was at one time put.

Having left Cenevieres, I recrossed the Lot and passed through
Saint-Martin, a village of little interest, but the point from which
it is most convenient to reach a certain cave where animals of the
prehistoric ages were obliging enough to die, so that their skeletons
might be preserved for the delight and instruction of the modern
scientific bone-hunter. This is not one of the celebrated caves in the
department, consequently the visitor with thoughts fixed on bones may
carry away a sackful if he has the patience to grub for them. If the
cavern were near Paris it would give rise to a fierce competition
between the palaeontologist and the _chiffonnier_, but placed where it
is the soil has not yet been much disturbed. I went in search of it up
a very steep, stony hill, and there had the good fortune to meet an
old woman who was coming down over the rocks with surprising
nimbleness. She knew at once what I wanted. Although she spoke French
with great difficulty, three words out of every five being _patois_,
she made me understand that her house was just in front of the cave,
and that it was not to be visited without her consent and guidance.
She therefore began to reascend the 'mountain,' as she called the
hill, making signs to me to follow. There was certainly nothing wrong
with the old woman's lungs, for it was as much as I could do to keep
pace with her, especially when she led the way up almost naked rock.
At length we reached the brow of the hill, where a cottage showed
itself in a desert of limestone, but where a little garden, by dint of
long labour, had been formed upon a natural terrace on which the sun's
rays fell warmly.

The woman left me in the cottage while she went to find her daughter.
It was composed of one small room, in which there were two beds, an
old worm-eaten walnut buffet, an eight-day clock after the pattern of
Sir Humphrey's, a hearth covered with white wood-ashes, a large
wheel-shaped loaf of black bread in a rack, onions, grapes, garlic,
and balls of twisted hemp hanging from the beams; baskets of maize and
chestnuts, and a great copper swing-pot, only a little less imposing
than the one out of which the scullion fished the fowls for Sancho
Panca. I afterwards learned that two couples slept in the two
beds--the old pair and the young pair.

Presently the old woman reappeared, followed by a much younger one,
carrying upon her head a copper water-pot, that glowed in the sun like
a wind-blown brand. Having set down her pot, the daughter, a rather
wild-looking person with sun-baked face and large gleaming eyes, took
an old-fashioned brass dish-lamp--a deformed and vulgar descendant of
the agate lamp held in the hand of the antique priestess--and, after
bringing the wick towards the lip, lighted it. I lit the candle I had
brought with me, and, followed by the old woman, we entered the
cavern, near the mouth of which was a fig-tree. The entrance was so
small that it was almost necessary to crawl for some distance; but it
must have been much larger at one time if the story that the younger
woman told me about the bones of a mastodon having been discovered
inside was well founded. As we proceeded, the roof rose rapidly, so
that the rocks overhead could not presently be seen by the light of
the candle and lamp. Farther in, the roof became lower, and it was
connected with the ground in places by natural columns of vast size,
formed in the course of ages by the calcareous deposit of the dropping
water. Near the end of the cavern, at about 100 yards from the
entrance, various holes dug in the yellow soil showed where the
bone-searchers had been at work. I had ample encouragement, for I had
only to stir the earth a little to find bones half turned to stone. I
selected two or three teeth with the hope that a scientific friend
would say they were a mastodon's or a mammoth's. If I had liked the
prospect of carrying a bag of bones on my back down the valley of the
Lot, I might have taken away many very large specimens. I called to
mind, however, an experience of early days which prevented me from
being again a martyr to science. I had found a quantity of bones in a
newly-dug gravel-pit, and fully believing that they belonged to some
animal that flourished before the flood, I carried them twelve miles
with infinite labour and suffering, and then learned that they were
part of the anatomy of a very modern cow. Since that adventure I have
left bones for those who understand them.

I had ample leisure for studying the river after leaving Saint-Martin,
for I stood upon the bank waiting for a ferryman until I lost all the
patience I had brought with me. He was taking a couple of oxen
harnessed to a cart across the stream, and the strong wind that was
blowing sent the great flat boat far out of its course.

Every day I noticed a larger fleet of floating leaves upon the water,
hurrying through the ever-curving valley, drifting over the golden
reflections of other leaves that waited for the gust to cast them too
upon the water; passing into the deep shadow of bridges whose arches
resounded with mournful murmurs, riding the white foam of the weirs,
whirling in the dark eddies beyond, gliding in the brown shade of
vine-clad hills and under the beetling brows of solemn rocks, now
mingling with the imaged dovecot with pigeons perched upon the
red-tiled roof, now with the tracery of Gothic gables or the grim
blackness of feudal walls splashed with fern and pellitory, now in a
warm glow of dying summer, and now in the melancholy gray of wintry
clouds heavy with rain. Away they went, the multitudinous
leaves--children of the poplar, the willow, the fig-tree, and vine;
some broad and clumsy like rafts or barges, others slender and
graceful like little skiffs; all stained with some brilliant colour of

I had reckoned upon getting a mid-day meal at a village called Cregols
on the opposite bank, but when I at length reached it I had another
trial. The only place of public entertainment was an exceedingly dirty
hovel that called itself a _cafe_, and the woman who kept it declared
that she had no victuals of any sort in the house. This, of course,
was not true, but it was a polite way of saying that she did not wish
to be bothered with me. The wayfarer in the little-travelled districts
of France must not expect to find in all his stopping-places a fowl
ready to be placed on the spit for him. Had I obtained a meal at
Cregols, I should have looked for some dolmens said to be in the
neighbourhood, but failure in one respect spoilt my zeal in the other.
I am afraid, moreover, that I only half appreciated the grandeur of
some prodigious walls of rock which I passed in my rapid walk to the
little town of Saint-Cirq-la-Popie. It is deplorable to think how much
the mind is influenced by internal circumstances which ought to have
nothing to do with the spirit.

After climbing a steep wood where there were unripe medlars, I came in
sight of a small burg, lying high above the Lot in a hollow of the
hill. A fortress-like church towered far above the closely-packed
red-tiled roofs sprinkled with dormer windows, and upon a still higher
rock were the ruined walls of a castle. This was Saint-Cirq-la-Popie,
a place no less quaint than its name. I was presently seated in a
dimly-lighted back-room of an auberge, whose walls--built apparently
for eternity--dated from the Middle Ages. The hostess, who, as I
entered, was gossiping with some cronies in the dark doorway, while
she pretended to twist the wool that she carried upon the most rustic
of distaffs--a common forked stick--laid this down, and, blowing up
the embers on the hearth, proceeded to cook some eggs _sur le plat_.
This with bread, goat-cheese and walnuts, and an excellent wine of the
district--the new vintage--made my lunch. The fact that there was no
meat in the auberge reminded me that it was Friday.

Speaking generally, the inhabitants of the Lot are practising
Catholics. The churches are well filled, and the clergy are as
comfortably off as French priests can expect to be in these days. It
is no uncommon thing for a _cure_ to keep his trap. I have several
times met priests on horseback in the Quercy, but never without
thinking that they would look better if they used side-saddles.

The early Gothic Church of Saint-Cirq-la-Popie, to judge by its high
massive walls and round tower, was raised more with the idea of
defence than ornament. In the interior there is still the feeling of
Romanesque repose; nothing of the animation of the Pointed style--no
vine-leaf or other foliage breaks the severity of the lines. I
ascended the tower with the bell-ringer's boy. In the bell-loft, with
other lumber, was an old 'stretcher,' very much less luxurious than
the _brancard_ that is used in Paris for carrying the sick and
wounded. It was composed of two poles, with cross-pieces and a railing
down the sides. I ascertained that this piece of village carpentry was
used within the memory of people still living for carrying the dead to
the cemetery merely wrapped in their shrouds. They were buried without
coffins, not because wood was difficult to obtain, but because the
four boards had not yet come into fashion at Saint-Cirq-la-Popie. To
bury a person in such a manner even there would nowadays cause great
scandal, but sixty or seventy years ago it was considered folly to put
good wood into a grave. A homespun sheet was thought to be all that
was needed to break the harshness of the falling clay. And there are
people who call this age that gives coffins even to the poorest dead

Among other curious things I saw in this ancient out-of-the-way burg
were two mediaeval corn-measures forming part of a heap of stones in a
street corner. They had much the appearance of very primitive
holy-water stoups, such as are to be seen in some rural churches, for
they were blocks of stone rounded and hollowed out with the chisel.
Each of these measures, however, had a hole in the side near the
bottom for the corn to run through, and irons to which a little
flap-door was once affixed in front of this hole. The commune treated
these stones as rubbish until some accidental visitor offered 500
francs for them; now it clings to them tightly, hoping, no doubt, that
the price will go up. Prowling curiosity-hunters are destined to
destroy much of the archaeological interest of these old towns. They
are doing to them what Lord Elgin did to the Parthenon. Fantastic
corbel-heads and other sculptured details disappear every year from
the Gothic houses, and find their way into private museums.

As I was taking leave of the bellringer's boy--a lad of about
fifteen--he put his hand under his blouse and, pulling out a
snuff-box, offered me a pinch. I had met plenty of boys who chewed
tobacco--they abound along the coast of Brittany--but never one who
carried a snuff-box before.

The castle whose ruins are to be seen on the bluff above the church
received Henry IV. as a guest after his memorable exploit at Cahors.

A man who was laying eel-lines across the Lot consented to take me to
the other side in his boat, and there I struck the road to Cahors,
which closely borders the river all along this valley. In several
places it is tunnelled through the rock, where the buttresses of the
cliffs could not be conveniently shattered with dynamite. All this has
been the work of late years. Previously the passage between the river
and the rocks was about as bad as it could be. The English fortified
several of the caverns in the cliffs commanding the passage, to which
the name of _Le Defile des Anglais_ was consequently given. Now the
term is applied by the country people to the caves themselves,
wherever these have been walled up for defence.

I soon reached one of these caverns, the embattled wall being a
conspicuous object from the road below. Having fallen into ruin, it
had lately been repaired at the expense of the commune. To an
Englishman the spot could not be otherwise than strangely interesting.
I imagined my own language being spoken there five or six centuries
ago, and speculated as to whether the accent was Cockney or
Lancashire, or West of England.

Several fig-trees grew beside the walled-up cavern, and I was picking
the ripest of the fruit when I heard a voice from the road below
calling upon me to come down. Peering through the boughs, I saw a man
seated in the smallest and most gimcrack of donkey-carts. It was
something like a grocer's box on wheels. The owner gave violent smacks
to the plank on which he was sitting, to let me understand that there
was room for another person. I did not think there could be, but I
left the figs and came down the rocks.

'If you are going to Saint-Gery,' said the man, 'I can take you about
five kilometres on the road.'

'But the donkey,' I urged, 'will lie down and roll.'

'What, the little beast! Not he! he will go along like an arrow.'

I accepted the invitation, and away went the donkey, making himself as
much like an arrow on the wing as any ass could. My companion, who was
a handsome fellow, with a moustache that one would expect to see upon
the face of a Sicilian brigand, was a cantonnier, and as he scraped
out the ditches and mended the roads, his donkey browsed upon what he
could find along the wayside. In summer and winter they were
inseparable companions, and had come to thoroughly understand one
another. The cantonnier confided to me that he was formerly employed
in the phosphate quarries, and that he had closed his experience in
this line by working three months without wages for an Englishman
whose speculation turned out a failure. Phosphate then lost its charm
upon the proprietor of the donkey-cart, for it had caused him to 'eat
all his economies,' and he resigned himself to the wages of a
road-mender, which were small but sure. It was getting dusk when we
parted. My next companion on the road was a poor bent-backed,
shambling, idiotic youth, who was driving home two long-tailed sheep
and a lamb, and who had just enough intelligence for this work. He
kept at my side for a mile or two, flourishing a long stick over the
backs of the sheep and uttering melancholy cries. His presence was not
cheering, but I had to put up with it, for when I walked fast he ran.
He likewise left me at length to continue my way alone, and his wild
cries became fainter and fainter. Then, in the deepening dusk, two
churches, one on each side of the river, began to sound the angelus. A
gleam of yellow light lingered in the western sky between two dark
hills, but the clouds above and the river below were of the colour of
slate. Suddenly a bright blaze flashed across the dim and misty valley
from a cottage hearth where a woman had just thrown on a faggot to
boil the evening soup, and the gloom of nature was at once filled with
the sentiment of home.

It was quite dark when I reached Saint-Gery. The narrow passage
leading to the best inn was illumined by the red glare of a forge, and
was rich in odours ancient and modern. Some twenty geese tightly
packed in a pen close to the hostelry door announced my arrival with
shrieks of derision. They said: 'It's Friday; no goose for you
to-night!' Those who suppose that geese cannot laugh have not studied
bucolic poetry from nature. The forge was attached to the inn, a very
common arrangement here, and one that enables the traveller who has
hope of sleep at daybreak--because the fleas are then thinking of rest
after labour--to enjoy the melody of the 'Harmonious Blacksmith'
without the help of Handel.

I was not cheered by the sight of goose or turkey turning on the spit
as I entered the vast smoke-begrimed kitchen, lighted chiefly by the
flame of the fire, but the great chain-pot sent forth a perfume that
was not offensive, although the soup was _maigre_. There was also fish
that had been freshly pulled out of the Lot. The cooking left
something to be desired, but the hostess, the wife of the Harmonious
Blacksmith, had thrown her best intentions into it. A rosy light wine
grown upon the side of a neighbouring hill compensated for the lack of
culinary art. It was a rather rough inn, but I had been in many worse.
Seated in the chimney-corner after dinner, and sending the smoke of my
pipe to join the sparks of the blazing wood up the yawning gulf where
the soot hung like stalactites below the calm sky and twinkling stars,
I had a long talk with the aubergiste, who told me that he had been
taken prisoner at Sedan, and had, in consequence, spent eight months
in Germany. He considered that he had been as well treated by the
Germans as a prisoner could expect to be. He had always enough to eat,
but there was no soup, and, lacking this, he thought it impossible for
any civilized stomach to be happy.

Rural inns have charms, especially when they are old and picturesque,
and smell of the Middle Ages; but to be kept a prisoner in one of them
by rainy weather is apt to plunge a restless wanderer into the Slough
of Despond. The chances are that the inn itself becomes at such times
a slough, so that Bunyan's expression is then applicable in a real as
well as in a figurative sense. There is a constant coming in and going
out of peasants with dripping sabots, of dogs with wet paws, and
draggle-tailed hens with miry feet; geese, and even pigs, not
unfrequently venture inside, and have a good walk round before their
presence is noticed and they are treated to quotations from Rabelais,
enforced with the broomstick. Then the rain beats in at the open door,
which nobody troubles to close. Under these circumstances, the rural
inn becomes detestable. So I found the auberge at Saint-Gery, where I
waited long hours for the weather to change, after having received a
soaking while climbing the escarped cliffs which rise so grandly on
one side of the little town.

A fortified cavern and a ruined castle tempted me up the rocks. On my
way I passed a small Gothic house, dating apparently from the
fourteenth or fifteenth century, with pointed arched doorway and
window lights separated by slender columns with foliated capitals
carved by no clumsy rustic workman. The boy who accompanied me had the
key. As I entered I was met on the threshold by the fragrant odour of
the tobacco-plant; I perceived that the mediaeval house was used for
drying tobacco-leaves--a purpose that could never have been in the
imagination of the original owner, for those stones were laid together
long before the herb, now so precious to the French Government, was
brought to Europe. The stalks with all the leaves attached were hung
to strings stretched from wall to wall. There is much tobacco grown
hereabouts in the valley of the Lot, but it is considered too strong
for smoking purposes, and is therefore made into snuff. When the
utmost care has been used in its cultivation and drying the price paid
by the Government to the grower does not exceed half a franc the
pound. Those who enjoy the privilege of raising it consider the money
very hardly earned.

I reached the ruined castle at the foot of the limestone buttresses
supporting the plateau above. Enough is left of the wall to show that
it must have been a strong place at one time. It is attributed by
common consent to the English. Protected on one side by the abrupt
rock, it overlooked the valley from a height that to an enemy must
have been very difficult of access. The fortified cavern is in the
escarped cliff above the castle, with which there was, perhaps, a
secret communication. The upper part of the wall is gone, but what
remains is about ten feet high and nine feet thick. Swallows build
their nests in the roof of the cavern, and the spot is noisy with the
harsh cries of countless jackdaws. These sagacious birds can doubtless
tell many stories of the English which they received from their

When I returned to the auberge wet and shivering, I found no sympathy,
the thoughts of the hostess being occupied by a matter that interested
her more deeply. The badgers had eaten her maize which she needed for
fattening the geese, and her tongue was busily employed in wishing
them every misfortune, both in time and eternity. Badgers are very
numerous in the district, and they continue to increase and multiply,
while the peasants jeopardise their immortal interests by cursing them
every time they see a spike of ripening maize pulled down and half
stripped of its corn. In the daytime these animals sleep comfortably,
digesting their ill-gotten meal in the holes of the rocks, which are
so honeycombed that dogs cannot easily get at the hermits. Moreover,
it is not every dog that likes the prospect of being bitten nearly in
half, the badger being much better known than trusted by the canine

Another animal that flourishes here, in spite of the hatred in which
it is held by the inhabitants, is the fox, which likewise finds the
valley an Elysium on account of the convenient neighbourhood of the
rocks pierced with multitudinous holes. Badgers and foxes, with all
their vices, are preferable to the hyenas which used to infest this
part of France, as is proved by the bones found in the larger caverns.
The present inhabitants ought to take comfort from this reflection,
but they do not.

While the aubergiste's wife, a little woman who carried about with her
the outline of a wine-cask, was breathing maledictions upon the
badgers, and venting her fury upon the little boy-of-all-work--who,
being used to such outbursts, ate his morning allowance of soup with
philosophic indifference--I took up my place again in the
chimney-corner, and endeavoured to dry myself on all sides by somewhat
imitating the movement of a fowl turning on the spit.

At length the heavy pall of cloud lifted, and when the first yellow
gleam of sunshine filtering through vapour was reflected by the
puddles and streaming roofs, I walked out of Saint-Gery. When the last
houses were out of sight, solitude added to the desolate grandeur of
the scenery. It was a relief to be alone with Nature, dripping as she
was with recent tears, after the depressing influences of the inn--the
dimness, dampness, and dirt, the unreasoning anger of ignorance, the
dull routine of human beings whose chief concern was to feed
themselves and the animals which helped them to live. As an alterative
to the mind, rural life is of real value in the case of those who have
been carried round and round in the whirlpool of a great city until
they have had more than enough of the sensation; but, like other
useful medicines, rusticity is best when taken in moderate doses, and
at judicious intervals. I had stayed at Saint-Gery long enough to feel
like a fish that in jumping out of water for the sake of variety had
fallen upon the mud.

The sun that changes the face of all things, and warms the ideas no
less than the earth, now shone out from a blue sky, spreading fire
over the ruddy tops of the chestnut woods, and flashing into the dark
caverns of the ancient crags, fringed with box, sumach and juniper. I
noticed that one of these caverns had been fortified, but my curiosity
was satisfied with the distant view. A yellow chicory, quite leafless,
was still blooming on the stony banks, and I also, found a white
scabious. Green hellebore and wild madder flourished amidst the broken
limestone. A forest of brown maize-stalks, from which the golden corn
had been gathered, followed the windings of the river, now turgid and
tumultuous, and dyed sienna-red by the washings from the hills. Every
day the increasing water as it descended the weirs made a wilder
tumult. These weirs are a great beauty to the Lot, for they generally
form an angle or the arc of a circle, and the river tumbles over the
rough blocks like a natural cascade. They are connected with a series
of locks, which render the stream navigable from the sea; but one
rarely sees a barge upon it now, the railway having completely ruined
the water traffic, and caused a most elaborate and costly piece of
engineering to be practically useless.

The valley now widened out, and a village came into view, together
with a ruined castle upon a mamelon, that rose like a volcanic cone
from the plain. On the castle wall an immense wooden cross had been
set, showing against the sky with an effect truly grand. The village
was Vers, and the castle, which was built by the English, is called
the Chateau de Bears.

At Vers I was met by an old man, who insisted upon showing me another
cave fortified by the English, after taking the precaution of telling
me that he would accept nothing for his trouble. He was long and lean
and brown, and had a 'glittering, eye' like the Ancient Mariner, but
his conversation was much more cheerful than that of the hero who shot
the albatross. He was a born actor, for he accompanied his talk with
magnificent dramatic gestures, and, after letting his voice drop
suddenly to a tragic whisper, he would raise it again to the most
gusty and blustering heights of sound. He was a strong type of the
Southerner, inasmuch as all this amazing vehemence and gesticulation
was quite uncalled for. It is remarkable, however, how much may be
done by mere action and intonation to impress the listener with the
idea that the speaker must be a person of uncommon intelligence. But
when half a dozen such talkers are engaged in discussion upon some
trivial topic, and each employs the same means to enforce his views
upon the rest (this occurs nightly in the _cafes_ at Cahors), the
Northerner is inclined to think that they are all mad. The wiry old
man explained to me, in order to account for the ease and agility with
which, notwithstanding his years and his awkward _sabots_, he stepped
from block to block in the ascent, that he had been all his life a
rock-blaster. At length we reached the cavern. The English, who used
it as a refuge, had shown much sagacity in its selection, for the
enemy that attacked them there would have been compelled to climb up
the face of the rock beneath by following zigzag ledges, while the
besieged behind their loopholed wall were raining arrows and bolts
upon them. The wall, as it exists, is twenty or thirty feet high.
There is a doorway protected by an inner wall. To reach the upper
loopholes and parapet the men mounted upon oak beams resting crosswise
between the masonry and the rock. One massive beam, crumbling and
worm-eaten, as may be supposed after the centuries that it has been
there, may still be seen serving as the lintel of a window.

I made a rather long stay at Vers, in order to visit the site of a
Celtic town on the _causse_; but I did not start upon this journey
until the next day. The inn where I put up was much more comfortable
than some others which I had chosen for night-quarters while wandering
down the valley. To anybody fresh from London it would have seemed
primitive indeed, with its broad hearth and massive iron dogs, its
enormous fire built with logs and the roots of trees, and its cosy
chimney-corners, where the sitters' heads were from time to time
enveloped with wreathing smoke; but I had grown so accustomed to such
sights that this hostelry seemed to contain all the blessings and
commodities of an advanced state of civilization.

The hostess was a good and sprightly cook, and I watched her
proceedings with a keen interest as I sat upon one of the seats in the
chimney. Having hitched the pot that contained the soup upon the hook
at the end of the sooty chain, she raked out embers from the centre of
the burning mass, and made separate fires with them upon the hearth.
Others she carried to a range of small charcoal fireplaces on one side
of the spacious kitchen, and very soon afterwards she had sauce-pans
and a frying-pan and a gridiron all murmuring or hissing together.
There was too much garlic in her cookery, but I had also grown used to
that. Although the phylloxera had blighted nearly all the vineyards in
this region, the landlord here was able to put upon the table some
wine, grown upon his own hillside, not unworthy of the ancient
reputation of the Cahors district for its vintage.

After dinner I returned to the chimney-corner which was decidedly the
most comfortable place in the inn, in spite of the smoke and the close
neighbourhood of soot, and set about obtaining information from the
aubergiste and his cronies who had dropped in concerning the exact
whereabouts of a Celtic town whose ruined fortifications, I knew, were
to be found somewhere among the barren hills to the west of Vers. It
was some time before I could make these men understand what I was
really in search of, and when they understood they seemed to think I
was a little mad, until the idea struck them that I might be a dealer
in antiquities, hoping to pick up certain odds and ends that would
repay me for the trouble of walking to such a desolate and
uninteresting spot.

At length I gathered that the site of the ancient _oppidum_ was at
Murcens, a hamlet upon a hill, half a day's walk away to the west, and
that the best way to reach it was to follow the valley of the Vers. At
about seven o'clock the next morning I started, and, having been
warned that I should find no inn where I could get a meal, I took with
me some provisions.

It was a gray, dreary morning, and at that hour the weather could not
have been more November-like had I been upon the banks of the Severn
or the Trent, instead of being by one of the rivers of our ancient
southern province of Guyenne.

As I turned westward up the valley of the Vers, I passed under
detached fragments of the aqueduct built by the Romans to carry water
to Cahors. By taking advantage of the rocks which hem in the narrow
valley, they saved themselves the trouble of raising arches to the
desired height to ensure the flow. The conduit is carried along upon a
ledge hewn out of the natural wall, projecting masses of rock being
cut through with the hammer and chisel. The masonry is of undressed
stone, but so firmly cemented that it is scarcely less solid than the
rock itself.

Where an inconvenient buttress projected, a narrow passage was cut
through it for the channel, and the marks of the chisel look as fresh
as if they had been lately made. Much of this aqueduct was destroyed
in quite recent days, when the rocks were blasted to make room for the
road to Cahors. The Romans may have thought of many destructive
agencies being employed upon their work, but dynamite was certainly
not one of them. Box and hellebore, bramble and dogwood, moss and
ferns, have been striving for centuries to conceal all trace of the
conduit, and those whose foreknowledge did not lead them to look for
it might easily pass by without observing it.

The road followed the stream, now a furious torrent that a man on
horseback could hardly ford without risk of being carried away. Two or
three weeks previously a mere thread of water wound its way amongst
the stones in the centre of the channel. It is one of the many streams
which in Guyenne gradually disappear in summer, but at the return of
winter fill the long-scorched and silent valleys with the sound of
roaring waters. On either side of the gorge rose abrupt stony hills
thinly wooded, chiefly with stunted oak, or escarped craggy cliffs
pierced with yawning caverns. There was no sunshine, but the multitude
of lingering leaves lit up all the desert hills with a quiet, solemn
flame. Here and there, amidst the pale gold of the maple or the
browner, ruddier gold of the oak, glowed darkly the deep crimson fire
of a solitary cornel. In steady, unchanging contrast with these
colours was the sombre green of the box.

The stream descends in a series of cascades, and there is a mighty
roar of waters. For many yards I have for a companion a little wren,
that flies from twig to twig through the well-nigh naked hedge along
the wayside, now hidden behind a bramble's crimson-spotted leaf, now
mingled with a tracery of twigs and thorns. I can almost believe it to
be the same wren that kept up with me years ago in English lanes, and
since then has travelled with me so many miles in France, vanishing
for long periods, but reappearing as if by enchantment in some
roadside hedge, its eyes bright with recognition, and every movement
friendly. Whimsical little bird, or gentle spirit in disguise, we may
travel many a mile together yet.

My thoughts were turned from the wren by a carrier's cart, which the
people of the country would term a _diligence_. It was like a great
oblong box with one end knocked out, set on wheels. The interior was a
black hole, crammed with people and bundles. When I looked for my
little feathered friend it was gone, but we shall meet again.

Two or three miles farther up the valley, near a small village or
hamlet, I crossed a low bridge over the Vers, and by following the
road on the other side, still ascending the course of the stream, I
came to a spot where a volume of water that would soon have filled a
large reservoir flowed quietly out of a little hollow at the foot of
great rocks. It was the Fountain of Polemie which, on account of its
abundant flow in all seasons, is supposed to have been the source from
which the Romans led their aqueduct to Divona--now called Cahors. The
water of this fountain, which derives its name from Polemius, a Roman
functionary, is of limpid purity, and its constancy proves that it
rises from a great depth. The Romans must have carried the water on
arches across the valley, and probably for a considerable distance
down it, before they made use of the natural wall of rock in the
manner described, but not a trace remains of the arches, or even of
the piers.

In order to reach the tableland of Murcens, it was necessary to cross
again the roaring torrent of the Vers, and after several vain attempts
to do so, by means of the rocks lying in its bed, I came to a bridge
which solved the difficulty. The scene was now sublimely rugged and
desolate. On each side the majestic rocks reared their ever-varying
fantastic shapes towards the sky.

I knew, from what I had been told, that Murcens lay somewhere above
the escarped cliff on my left, and at no great distance, but the
difficulty was to reach it. I had heard of a path, but I soon gave up
the attempt to find it. As there was not a human being to be seen who
could give me any counsel, I commenced climbing the hill in the
direction that I wished to take. It was anything but straightforward
walking. The lower part of the steep was strewn with loose stones like
shingle, that slipped under the feet, so that I had to proceed in
zigzag fashion, taking advantage of every bush of juniper and box and
root of hellebore as a foothold. But the vegetation grew denser as I
ascended, and I had soon plenty of box and dwarf oak to help me.

Before attempting to climb the upper wall of solid limestone, I sat in
the mouth of a small cavern to eat the frugal lunch I had brought with
me, and to contemplate at my leisure the wild grandeur of the valley.
I could not have chosen a better place for feeling in one sense
dwindled, in another expanded, by the majesty of the stony solitude.
Suddenly, while I gazed, the sun breaking through the clouds made
every yellow tree brighten like melting gold, and drew a voice of joy
from all the dumb and solemn rocks.

I leave the remnants of my feast for the foxes and magpies to quarrel
over, and feel prepared to put forth a vigorous effort to reach the
_causse_. I work my way up by the clefts of the rocks, hanging on to
the tough box, and getting thoroughly asperged by the dew that has not
yet dried upon it. I have not ascended fifty feet in this manner
before I am as wet as if I had been walking in a thunderstorm. I creep
along ledges, now to the right and now to the left, and presently I am
only about twenty-five feet from the top of the rock that prevents me
from attaining my object. It is pleasanter to look up than to look
down, for, being no climber of mountain peaks, I do not enjoy the
sensation of clinging to the side of a precipice like a caterpillar to
a leaf. Now comes the real trial. The rest of the rock above me is
quite bare of vegetation. By making four or five steps upwards to the
left, then to the right, a spot can be reached where the trouble will
be over; but some of these steps need a considerable stretch of leg,
and the eye cannot measure the distance with certainty. Time is on the
wing, and the days are short. I am strongly tempted to make the essay,
but doubt holds me back. What if I, were to get half-way, and were
unable to go on or to retreat? What if I were to slip and roll down
the rocks? If I were not killed outright, who would be likely to come
to my aid in such a solitude? The ravens would have ample time to pick
my bones before those interested in my existence would know what had
happened to me. I resolve that I will not give the birds of ill omen a
chance of so rare a meal. In descending, the cold showers from the box
bushes add to my humiliation and discomfiture.

Keeping on the side of the hill, I went farther up the valley, seeking
a place where I could with better chance of success make another
attack upon the difficulties of this rocky wall. I found what I wanted
at no great distance, the only objection to the spot being the dense
growth of shrubs laden with moisture. It was almost like wading
through a stream. At length the line of high rocks was passed, and I
was upon land that, notwithstanding its steepness and the multitude of
stones with which it was strewn, had undergone some cultivation. That
wine had not long since been grown here was evident from the numerous
stumps of vines which had been killed by the phylloxera. A few
lingering flowers of hawkweed relieved the monotony of the dreary
waste. But if, while looking before me, the scene was saddening, in
looking back there was a sublime and soul-lifting picture which the
forces of Nature had been painting unmolested for ages. I can do no
more than suggest to the imagination the combined effect of those
fantastic rocks rising from the foaming torrent to the drifting,
tinted clouds; buttresses and bastions of the ancient earth laid bare
in the mysterious night of the inconceivable past, some black and
gloomy as the walls of a feudal moat, others yellow like ochre;
others, again, sun-bleached almost to whiteness, yet streaked with
ruddy veins--all flashed here and there with burning oak and maple, or
sprinkled with the purple blood of the dogwood's dying leaves.

Half an hour later I reached Murcens, only inhabited nowadays by a few
peasants in two or three scattered hovels, which are nevertheless
called farms. I had no difficulty in finding the wall of the Gaulish
town. It is broken down completely in places, but the almost circular
line is plainly marked. The site of the _oppidum_ is a little
tableland raised above the surrounding soil by a natural embankment.

The circumvallation in its best preserved places is now from seven to
ten feet high. The materials used were such as Caesar mentions as
having been employed by the Gauls in the fortification of their
_oppida_, namely, timber and rough stone. I looked for some traces of
the wooden uprights, but although there is ample proof that they
existed there down to our own time, my search was vain. Many stones
measuring several feet in length were set in a perpendicular position
to give extra stability to the wall. The ancient rampart is in places
completely overgrown with juniper. Within the wall is nothing but
level field. No trace remains of any buildings that stood there in the
far-off days when the spot was the scene of all passions and vanities,
the tragedy and comedy of human life, even as we know it now. The
peasant as he ploughs or digs turns up from time to time a bit of
worked metal, such as a coin, or a ring, but the hands which held them
may or may not be mingled with the soil that supports the buckwheat
and enables the peasant to live. The Gaulish city has no history.

I had some talk with a peasant who had been watching my movements
wonderingly. He spoke French with difficulty, but his boy--a lad of
about twelve, who had been to school--could help him over the stiles.
I got the man to speak about the ancient wall, although it was
evidently not a subject that interested him so deeply as his pigsty.
He told me that all the beams of wood had now rotted (they may have
helped to warm him on winter evenings), but that nails a foot long
were often found amongst the stones of the wall or in the soil round
about it. He had picked up several, but had taken no care of them.
When I observed that I should much like to see one, he said he thought
there was one somewhere in his house, and, calling to his wife, he
asked her in Languedocian to look for it. While she was searching he
drew my attention to a circular stone lying upon the top of his rough
garden wall. It was about a foot in diameter, and concave on one
side. 'What is it?' I asked.

'A millstone,' he replied.

True enough, it was one of the stones of an ancient handmill, such as
was used in remote antiquity, chiefly by women, for grinding corn. It
must have been as nearly as possible after the pattern of the first
implement invented by man for this purpose. The peasant set no value
upon it; I could have had it for a trifle--even for nothing, had I
been so minded; but whatever liking I may have for antiquities, it did
not gird me up to the task of carrying a millstone back to Vers. The
nail could not be found, so I was obliged to leave without a souvenir
of the Celtic city. Not far from this spot I found another millstone
that would have fitted the one I had left and made a complete mill.
They are doubtless still lying upon the dreary height of Murcens; but
whether they are there or in a museum, they are as dumb as any other
stones, although, had they the power to repeat some of the gossip of
the women who once bent over them, they might tell us a good deal that
Caesar left out of his Commentaries because he thought it unimportant,
but which we should much like to know.

I did not return by the way I came, but kept upon the plateau, going
southward, then, dropping down into another valley at the bottom of
which ran a tributary of the Vers, I crossed the stream and rose upon
the opposite hill, making somewhat at random towards the village of
Cours. On my way I started numerous coveys of red partridges from
juniper and box and other low shrubs. Had I been a sportsman carrying
a gun I could have made a splendid 'bag,' but these chances generally
fall to those who cannot profit by them. I wondered, however, at the
lack of poaching enterprise in a district so near to Cahors. It is not
often that one meets even in the least populous parts of France so
many partridges in an absolutely wild state. Immense flocks of larks
were likewise feeding upon the moorland, and the beating of their
countless wings as they rose made a mighty sound when it suddenly
broke the silence of the hills. I met a small peasant girl with a face
as dark as a Moorish child's, and eyes wonderfully large and lustrous.
She was a beautiful little creature of a far Southern or Arabian type.
At Cours I talked to a woman who was a pure type of the red-haired
Celt. How strange it is that with all the intermixture of blood in the
course of many centuries the old racial characteristics return when
they are deeply ingrained in a people!

I took shelter at Cours from a sharp storm. It was a wretched little
village upon a dreary height, and the inhabitants, to whom French was
a foreign language, stared at me as if I had been a gorilla. An
overhanging 'bush' of juniper led me to a very small inn that bore the
familiar signs of antiquity, dirt and poverty. I knocked at the old
oak door studded with nail-heads, and it presently creaked upon its
rusty hinges. It was opened by a poor woman whose manners were wofully
uncouth; but this was no fault of hers. She was honest, as such rough
people generally are. Although she must have wanted money, it did not
occur to her to extract a sou from the stranger beyond the just price.
When I had had enough of her wine and bread and cheese, and asked her
to tell me what I owed her, she carefully measured with her eye how
much wine was left in the bottle, how much bread and cheese I had
taken, and when her severe calculation was finished she replied, in a
harsh, firm voice, which meant that the reckoning being made she
intended to stand by it: 'Eleven sous.'

When I met the valley of the Vers again the storm had passed far away;
the evening rose was in the calm heaven, and the topmost oaks along
the rocky ridge burnt like tapers upon a high altar of the vast temple
whose roof is the vaulted sky. Already the deep aisles were dim with
gathering shadows. When I reached the inn at Vers it was nearly dark,
and after my day's tramp I was very glad to exchange the outer gloom
for the brightness of the cheery fireside and the warmth of the
chimney-corner beside the redly glowing logs.

The next day brought me to the end of my long journey down the valley
of the Lot, for I had decided to leave the country below Cahors until
some future day. I reached the city of Divona when the yellow glow of
the autumnal rainy sunset was stealing up the ancient walls.

It is always with a certain dread that I say anything about history,
because when I am once upon such high stilts I do not know when I
shall be able to get down again. Moreover, when one is so mounted, one
has to step very judiciously, especially in a region like this, where
the roads to knowledge are so roughly paved. Nothing would be easier,
however, than to fill a book with the history of Cahors, for the
place, since the days of the Romans, has gone through such
vicissitudes, and witnessed such stirring events, that those who wish
to turn over the leaves of its past have abundant facilities for doing
so; but it will be better for me to speak rather of what I have seen
than what I have read. Nevertheless, my impressions of this old town
at the present day would be like salad without salt if no flavour of
the past were put into them.

When, a mud-bespattered tramp, I came down the road by the winding
Lot, and saw the pale golden light rising upon the walls of churches
and towers high above me, I could not but think of some of the
terrible scenes which, in the course of 2,000 years, were witnessed by
the inhabitants of Cahors. In the fast-falling twilight I saw the
ghosts of the Vandals and Visigoths who helped to destroy the works of
the Caesars, and passed onward to the unknown; of the Franks who burnt
Cahors in the sixth century; of the Arab hordes, dabbled with blood,
who afterwards came up from the South slaying, violating, plundering;
of the English troops under Henry II. besieging and taking the town,
accompanied by the Chancellor, Thomas-a-Becket; of the Albigenses and
Catholics, who cut one another's throats for the good of their souls;
of the Huguenots and Catholics, who repeated these horrors in the
sixteenth century for the same excellent reason; but of all these
shadows, the most interesting and the most dramatic was that of Henry
IV. He was then Henry of Navarre, and the hope of the Protestants in
the South, while Cahors was one of the strongholds of Catholicism.
What a feat of war was that capture of Cahors by Henry with only 1,400
men, after almost incessant fighting in the streets for five days and
nights! How red the paving-stones must have been on the sixth day,
when it was all over, and the surviving Navarrese, smarting from the
recollection of the tiles and stones that were hurled at them from the
roofs by women, children, and old men, had given the final draught of
blood to their vengeful swords! Never was so much courage so uselessly
squandered. After the lapse of three centuries Henry's figure is still
full of heroic life, as, with back set against a shop-window, and
sword in hand, he shouted to those who urged upon him the hopelessness
of his enterprise: 'My retreat from this town will be that of my soul
from my body!'

If is really wonderful how certain buildings at Cahors have been
preserved to the present day through all the storms of the tempestuous
Middle Ages, the furious hurricane of religious hatred that brought
those centuries to a close, and that other one, the Revolution, which
ushered in the new epoch of liberty and well-dressed poverty. Of these
buildings, the cathedral has the right to be named first. As a whole
it cannot be called a beautiful structure, for its form is graceless;
but what a charm there is in its details! Even its incongruity has a
singular fascination. This most evident incongruity arises from the
combination that it expresses of the Gothic and Byzantine styles. The
facade is very early Gothic (about the year 1200), still full of
Romanesque feeling, but the church having been much pulled about in
the thirteenth century, it came to have a semi-Byzantine choir and two
depressed domes, quite Byzantine, over the nave. The facade, with its
squat towers, exhibits no lofty aim, but when one looks at the
tabernacle-work in the tympan of the divided portal, the capitals in
the jambs and the mouldings of the archivolts, the elegant arcade
above and the tracery of the great rose window, one feels that
although the Pointed style could not yet embody its dream of beauty by
means of the tower and spire, it was moving towards it through a maze
of glorious ideas destined to become inseparable from the spirit of
the perfect whole. Still more interesting than this facade is that of
the north portal (twelfth century). It is Gothic, but the general
treatment has much of that Byzantine-Romanesque which produced some
very remarkable buildings in Southern France. The portal is very wide
and deeply recessed, and the tympan is crowded with bas-reliefs, the
sculpture of which, rude yet expressive, is of a striking originality.
There is a broad arabesque moulding in the doorway suggesting Eastern
influence, and the closed arcade of the facade, with corbel-table
above and its row of uncouth monstrous heads, presents a highly
curious effect of struggling motives in early Gothic art.

The nave is much below the level of the soil, and is reached by a
flight of steps from the main entrance. These steps at the Sunday
services are crowded by the poorer class of churchgoers, sitting,
kneeling, and standing, and, like the catechumens in the narthex of
the early Christian basilica, they look as if they were separated from
the rest of the faithful on account of their not being as yet
full-fledged members of the Church. It may well be that they are the
most faithful of the faithful, for stone is a hard thing to kneel
upon, and when it is used for this purpose without ostentation, it is
a pretty safe test of sincerity in religion. The grouping of the
people here would interest at once an artistic eye, the more so
because many of the women of Cahors wear upon their heads kerchiefs of
brilliant-coloured silk folded in a peculiarly graceful and
picturesque manner, resembling the Bordelaise coiffure, but yet

The nave of the cathedral is cold and tasteless, the whole effect
being centred upon the choir, the richness of which is quite dazzling.
The vault is a semi-dome, and the apse-like polygonal termination is
pierced with several lofty Gothic windows, so that the eye rests upon
the harmonious lines of the tracery and a subdued blaze of
many-coloured glass. Then the columns, walls and vaulting of the choir
are elaborately decorated in the Byzantine style, and, all the tones
being kept in aesthetic harmony, the result is a general effect more
beautiful than gorgeous. I observed it under most favoured
circumstances. I entered the church for the first time during the
pontifical High Mass. The vestments of the mitred bishop under his
canopy, of the officiating priest and deacons, of the canons in their
stalls, together with the white surplices and scarlet cassocks of the
many choir-boys distributed over the vast sanctuary, and the sunbeams
stained with the hues of purple, crimson, azure and green by the
windows that reached towards the sky, falling upon all these figures,
realized with a splendour more Oriental than Western a grand
conception of colour in relation to a religious ideal.

After leaving the cathedral I changed my ideas by looking for the
Gambetta grocery. It happened to be close by. The name is still over
the door, but the shop no longer looks democratic. Its plateglass, its
fresh paint and gilding, and the specimens of ceramic art which fill
the window, give it somewhat the air of one of those London shops kept
by ladies of title. Sugar, coffee, and candles now hide themselves in
the far background, as though they were ashamed of their own

Much more interesting than this shop is the old house where Gambetta
spent his childhood. His parents did not live on the premises where
they carried on their business. Therefore the odour of honey and
vinegar had not, after all, so much to do with the formation of the
clever boy's character. I found the house down a dark passage. The
rooms occupied by the Gambetta family are now those of a small
_restaurateur_ for the working class. After ascending some steps, I
entered a greasy, grimy, dimly-lighted room, the floor of which had
never felt water save what had been sprinkled upon it to lay the dust.
It had the old-fashioned hearth and fire-dogs and gaping sooty chimney,
a bare table or so for the customers, a shelf with bottles, and the
ordinary furniture and utensils of the provincial kitchen. Here I had
some white wine with the present occupier as a reason for being in a
place that must have often resounded with the infantile screams of
Leon Gambetta. I ascertained that he was not born in this house, but
that he was brought to it when about three months old, and that he
passed his childhood here. I was shown an adjoining room, darker,
dingier, less persecuted by soap, if possible, than the other. It was
here that Gambetta slept in those early years. Did he ever dream here
of a great room in a palace, draped with black and silver, of a
catafalque fit for a prince, of a coffin heaped with flowers?

Again I changed my ideas by crossing the Lot and searching for the
Fountain of Divona, now called the Fontaine des Chartreux. The old
name is Celtic, and as it charmed the Romans they preserved it.
Following the river downward, I came to a spot where a great stream
flowed silently and mysteriously out of a cavity at the foot of lofty
rocks overgrown by herbage and low shrubs that seemed to have been
left untouched by the hand of Autumn, that burns and beautifies. The
water came out of the hill like a broad sheet of green glass, giving
scarcely any sign of movement until it reached a low weir, where it
turned to the whiteness of snow. The Romans held this beautiful
fountain in high esteem, and if they had known how to raise the water
to the level of the town on the opposite bank of the river, they need
not have taken the trouble to carry an aqueduct some twenty miles from
the valley of the Vers. Nowadays it is the Fountain of Divona that
supplies Cahors with water.

Still following the river, I came to that famous bridge, the Pont
Valentre, which is one of the most interesting specimens of the
defensive architecture of the Middle Ages. It is probably the most
curious example of a fortified bridge in existence. In addition to its
embattled parapet, it is protected by three high slender towers,
machicolated, crenellated, and loopholed. The archway of each spans
the road over the bridge, so that an enemy who forced the portcullis
of the first, and ran the gauntlet of the hot lead from the
machicolations, would have to repeat the same performance twice before
reaching the bank on which the town is built. This bridge was raised
at the commencement of the fourteenth century. By what wonderful
chance was it preserved intact, together with its towers, after the
invention of gunpowder? The people of Cahors call it the Pont du
Diable. When a certain stone was placed in one of the towers, the
devil always pulled it out, or did so until lately.


Book of the day: