Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes
Robert Louis Stevenson,
My Dear Sidney Colvin,
The journey which this little book is to describe was very agreeable and
fortunate for me. After an uncouth beginning, I had the best of luck to
the end. But we are all travellers in what John Bunyan calls the
wilderness of this world--all, too, travellers with a donkey: and the
best that we find in our travels is an honest friend. He is a fortunate
voyager who finds many. We travel, indeed, to find them. They are the
end and the reward of life. They keep us worthy of ourselves; and when
we are alone, we are only nearer to the absent.
Every book is, in an intimate sense, a circular letter to the friends of
him who writes it. They alone take his meaning; they find private
messages, assurances of love, and expressions of gratitude, dropped for
them in every corner. The public is but a generous patron who defrays
the postage. Yet though the letter is directed to all, we have an old
and kindly custom of addressing it on the outside to one. Of what shall
a man be proud, if he is not proud of his friends? And so, my dear
Sidney Colvin, it is with pride that I sign myself affectionately yours,
R. L. S.
Many are the mighty things, and nought is more mighty than man. . . .
He masters by his devices the tenant of the fields.
Who hath loosed the bands of the wild ass?
THE DONKEY, THE PACK, AND THE PACK-SADDLE
In a little place called Le Monastier, in a pleasant highland valley
fifteen miles from Le Puy, I spent about a month of fine days. Monastier
is notable for the making of lace, for drunkenness, for freedom of
language, and for unparalleled political dissension. There are adherents
of each of the four French parties--Legitimists, Orleanists,
Imperialists, and Republicans--in this little mountain-town; and they all
hate, loathe, decry, and calumniate each other. Except for business
purposes, or to give each other the lie in a tavern brawl, they have laid
aside even the civility of speech. 'Tis a mere mountain Poland. In the
midst of this Babylon I found myself a rallying-point; every one was
anxious to be kind and helpful to the stranger. This was not merely from
the natural hospitality of mountain people, nor even from the surprise
with which I was regarded as a man living of his own free will in Le
Monastier, when he might just as well have lived anywhere else in this
big world; it arose a good deal from my projected excursion southward
through the Cevennes. A traveller of my sort was a thing hitherto
unheard of in that district. I was looked upon with contempt, like a man
who should project a journey to the moon, but yet with a respectful
interest, like one setting forth for the inclement Pole. All were ready
to help in my preparations; a crowd of sympathisers supported me at the
critical moment of a bargain; not a step was taken but was heralded by
glasses round and celebrated by a dinner or a breakfast.
It was already hard upon October before I was ready to set forth, and at
the high altitudes over which my road lay there was no Indian summer to
be looked for. I was determined, if not to camp out, at least to have
the means of camping out in my possession; for there is nothing more
harassing to an easy mind than the necessity of reaching shelter by dusk,
and the hospitality of a village inn is not always to be reckoned sure by
those who trudge on foot. A tent, above all for a solitary traveller, is
troublesome to pitch, and troublesome to strike again; and even on the
march it forms a conspicuous feature in your baggage. A sleeping-sack,
on the other hand, is always ready--you have only to get into it; it
serves a double purpose--a bed by night, a portmanteau by day; and it
does not advertise your intention of camping out to every curious passer-
by. This is a huge point. If a camp is not secret, it is but a troubled
resting-place; you become a public character; the convivial rustic visits
your bedside after an early supper; and you must sleep with one eye open,
and be up before the day. I decided on a sleeping-sack; and after
repeated visits to Le Puy, and a deal of high living for myself and my
advisers, a sleeping-sack was designed, constructed, and triumphantly
This child of my invention was nearly six feet square, exclusive of two
triangular flaps to serve as a pillow by night and as the top and bottom
of the sack by day. I call it 'the sack,' but it was never a sack by
more than courtesy: only a sort of long roll or sausage, green waterproof
cart-cloth without and blue sheep's fur within. It was commodious as a
valise, warm and dry for a bed. There was luxurious turning room for
one; and at a pinch the thing might serve for two. I could bury myself
in it up to the neck; for my head I trusted to a fur cap, with a hood to
fold down over my ears and a band to pass under my nose like a
respirator; and in case of heavy rain I proposed to make myself a little
tent, or tentlet, with my waterproof coat, three stones, and a bent
It will readily be conceived that I could not carry this huge package on
my own, merely human, shoulders. It remained to choose a beast of
burden. Now, a horse is a fine lady among animals, flighty, timid,
delicate in eating, of tender health; he is too valuable and too restive
to be left alone, so that you are chained to your brute as to a fellow
galley-slave; a dangerous road puts him out of his wits; in short, he's
an uncertain and exacting ally, and adds thirty-fold to the troubles of
the voyager. What I required was something cheap and small and hardy,
and of a stolid and peaceful temper; and all these requisites pointed to
There dwelt an old man in Monastier, of rather unsound intellect
according to some, much followed by street-boys, and known to fame as
Father Adam. Father Adam had a cart, and to draw the cart a diminutive
she-ass, not much bigger than a dog, the colour of a mouse, with a kindly
eye and a determined under-jaw. There was something neat and high-bred,
a quakerish elegance, about the rogue that hit my fancy on the spot. Our
first interview was in Monastier market-place. To prove her good temper,
one child after another was set upon her back to ride, and one after
another went head over heels into the air; until a want of confidence
began to reign in youthful bosoms, and the experiment was discontinued
from a dearth of subjects. I was already backed by a deputation of my
friends; but as if this were not enough, all the buyers and sellers came
round and helped me in the bargain; and the ass and I and Father Adam
were the centre of a hubbub for near half an hour. At length she passed
into my service for the consideration of sixty-five francs and a glass of
brandy. The sack had already cost eighty francs and two glasses of beer;
so that Modestine, as I instantly baptized her, was upon all accounts the
cheaper article. Indeed, that was as it should be; for she was only an
appurtenance of my mattress, or self-acting bedstead on four castors.
I had a last interview with Father Adam in a billiard-room at the
witching hour of dawn, when I administered the brandy. He professed
himself greatly touched by the separation, and declared he had often
bought white bread for the donkey when he had been content with black
bread for himself; but this, according to the best authorities, must have
been a flight of fancy. He had a name in the village for brutally
misusing the ass; yet it is certain that he shed a tear, and the tear
made a clean mark down one cheek.
By the advice of a fallacious local saddler, a leather pad was made for
me with rings to fasten on my bundle; and I thoughtfully completed my kit
and arranged my toilette. By way of armoury and utensils, I took a
revolver, a little spirit-lamp and pan, a lantern and some halfpenny
candles, a jack-knife and a large leather flask. The main cargo
consisted of two entire changes of warm clothing--besides my travelling
wear of country velveteen, pilot-coat, and knitted spencer--some books,
and my railway-rug, which, being also in the form of a bag, made me a
double castle for cold nights. The permanent larder was represented by
cakes of chocolate and tins of Bologna sausage. All this, except what I
carried about my person, was easily stowed into the sheepskin bag; and by
good fortune I threw in my empty knapsack, rather for convenience of
carriage than from any thought that I should want it on my journey. For
more immediate needs I took a leg of cold mutton, a bottle of Beaujolais,
an empty bottle to carry milk, an egg-beater, and a considerable quantity
of black bread and white, like Father Adam, for myself and donkey, only
in my scheme of things the destinations were reversed.
Monastrians, of all shades of thought in politics, had agreed in
threatening me with many ludicrous misadventures, and with sudden death
in many surprising forms. Cold, wolves, robbers, above all the nocturnal
practical joker, were daily and eloquently forced on my attention. Yet
in these vaticinations, the true, patent danger was left out. Like
Christian, it was from my pack I suffered by the way. Before telling my
own mishaps, let me in two words relate the lesson of my experience. If
the pack is well strapped at the ends, and hung at full length--not
doubled, for your life--across the pack-saddle, the traveller is safe.
The saddle will certainly not fit, such is the imperfection of our
transitory life; it will assuredly topple and tend to overset; but there
are stones on every roadside, and a man soon learns the art of correcting
any tendency to overbalance with a well-adjusted stone.
On the day of my departure I was up a little after five; by six, we began
to load the donkey; and ten minutes after, my hopes were in the dust. The
pad would not stay on Modestine's back for half a moment. I returned it
to its maker, with whom I had so contumelious a passage that the street
outside was crowded from wall to wall with gossips looking on and
listening. The pad changed hands with much vivacity; perhaps it would be
more descriptive to say that we threw it at each other's heads; and, at
any rate, we were very warm and unfriendly, and spoke with a deal of
I had a common donkey pack-saddle--a barde, as they call it--fitted upon
Modestine; and once more loaded her with my effects. The doubled sack,
my pilot-coat (for it was warm, and I was to walk in my waistcoat), a
great bar of black bread, and an open basket containing the white bread,
the mutton, and the bottles, were all corded together in a very elaborate
system of knots, and I looked on the result with fatuous content. In
such a monstrous deck-cargo, all poised above the donkey's shoulders,
with nothing below to balance, on a brand-new pack-saddle that had not
yet been worn to fit the animal, and fastened with brand-new girths that
might be expected to stretch and slacken by the way, even a very careless
traveller should have seen disaster brewing. That elaborate system of
knots, again, was the work of too many sympathisers to be very artfully
designed. It is true they tightened the cords with a will; as many as
three at a time would have a foot against Modestine's quarters, and be
hauling with clenched teeth; but I learned afterwards that one thoughtful
person, without any exercise of force, can make a more solid job than
half-a-dozen heated and enthusiastic grooms. I was then but a novice;
even after the misadventure of the pad nothing could disturb my security,
and I went forth from the stable door as an ox goeth to the slaughter.
THE GREEN DONKEY-DRIVER
The bell of Monastier was just striking nine as I got quit of these
preliminary troubles and descended the hill through the common. As long
as I was within sight of the windows, a secret shame and the fear of some
laughable defeat withheld me from tampering with Modestine. She tripped
along upon her four small hoofs with a sober daintiness of gait; from
time to time she shook her ears or her tail; and she looked so small
under the bundle that my mind misgave me. We got across the ford without
difficulty--there was no doubt about the matter, she was docility
itself--and once on the other bank, where the road begins to mount
through pine-woods, I took in my right hand the unhallowed staff, and
with a quaking spirit applied it to the donkey. Modestine brisked up her
pace for perhaps three steps, and then relapsed into her former minuet.
Another application had the same effect, and so with the third. I am
worthy the name of an Englishman, and it goes against my conscience to
lay my hand rudely on a female. I desisted, and looked her all over from
head to foot; the poor brute's knees were trembling and her breathing was
distressed; it was plain that she could go no faster on a hill. God
forbid, thought I, that I should brutalise this innocent creature; let
her go at her own pace, and let me patiently follow.
What that pace was, there is no word mean enough to describe; it was
something as much slower than a walk as a walk is slower than a run; it
kept me hanging on each foot for an incredible length of time; in five
minutes it exhausted the spirit and set up a fever in all the muscles of
the leg. And yet I had to keep close at hand and measure my advance
exactly upon hers; for if I dropped a few yards into the rear, or went on
a few yards ahead, Modestine came instantly to a halt and began to
browse. The thought that this was to last from here to Alais nearly
broke my heart. Of all conceivable journeys, this promised to be the
most tedious. I tried to tell myself it was a lovely day; I tried to
charm my foreboding spirit with tobacco; but I had a vision ever present
to me of the long, long roads, up hill and down dale, and a pair of
figures ever infinitesimally moving, foot by foot, a yard to the minute,
and, like things enchanted in a nightmare, approaching no nearer to the
In the meantime there came up behind us a tall peasant, perhaps forty
years of age, of an ironical snuffy countenance, and arrayed in the green
tail-coat of the country. He overtook us hand over hand, and stopped to
consider our pitiful advance.
'Your donkey,' says he, 'is very old?'
I told him, I believed not.
Then, he supposed, we had come far.
I told him, we had but newly left Monastier.
'Et vous marchez comme ca!' cried he; and, throwing back his head, he
laughed long and heartily. I watched him, half prepared to feel
offended, until he had satisfied his mirth; and then, 'You must have no
pity on these animals,' said he; and, plucking a switch out of a thicket,
he began to lace Modestine about the stern-works, uttering a cry. The
rogue pricked up her ears and broke into a good round pace, which she
kept up without flagging, and without exhibiting the least symptom of
distress, as long as the peasant kept beside us. Her former panting and
shaking had been, I regret to say, a piece of comedy.
My deus ex machina, before he left me, supplied some excellent, if
inhumane, advice; presented me with the switch, which he declared she
would feel more tenderly than my cane; and finally taught me the true cry
or masonic word of donkey-drivers, 'Proot!' All the time, he regarded me
with a comical, incredulous air, which was embarrassing to confront; and
smiled over my donkey-driving, as I might have smiled over his
orthography, or his green tail-coat. But it was not my turn for the
I was proud of my new lore, and thought I had learned the art to
perfection. And certainly Modestine did wonders for the rest of the fore-
noon, and I had a breathing space to look about me. It was Sabbath; the
mountain-fields were all vacant in the sunshine; and as we came down
through St. Martin de Frugeres, the church was crowded to the door, there
were people kneeling without upon the steps, and the sound of the
priest's chanting came forth out of the dim interior. It gave me a home
feeling on the spot; for I am a countryman of the Sabbath, so to speak,
and all Sabbath observances, like a Scottish accent, strike in me mixed
feelings, grateful and the reverse. It is only a traveller, hurrying by
like a person from another planet, who can rightly enjoy the peace and
beauty of the great ascetic feast. The sight of the resting country does
his spirit good. There is something better than music in the wide
unusual silence; and it disposes him to amiable thoughts, like the sound
of a little river or the warmth of sunlight.
In this pleasant humour I came down the hill to where Goudet stands in a
green end of a valley, with Chateau Beaufort opposite upon a rocky steep,
and the stream, as clear as crystal, lying in a deep pool between them.
Above and below, you may hear it wimpling over the stones, an amiable
stripling of a river, which it seems absurd to call the Loire. On all
sides, Goudet is shut in by mountains; rocky footpaths, practicable at
best for donkeys, join it to the outer world of France; and the men and
women drink and swear, in their green corner, or look up at the snow-clad
peaks in winter from the threshold of their homes, in an isolation, you
would think, like that of Homer's Cyclops. But it is not so; the postman
reaches Goudet with the letter-bag; the aspiring youth of Goudet are
within a day's walk of the railway at Le Puy; and here in the inn you may
find an engraved portrait of the host's nephew, Regis Senac, 'Professor
of Fencing and Champion of the two Americas,' a distinction gained by
him, along with the sum of five hundred dollars, at Tammany Hall, New
York, on the 10th April 1876.
I hurried over my midday meal, and was early forth again. But, alas, as
we climbed the interminable hill upon the other side, 'Proot!' seemed to
have lost its virtue. I prooted like a lion, I prooted mellifluously
like a sucking-dove; but Modestine would be neither softened nor
intimidated. She held doggedly to her pace; nothing but a blow would
move her, and that only for a second. I must follow at her heels,
incessantly belabouring. A moment's pause in this ignoble toil, and she
relapsed into her own private gait. I think I never heard of any one in
as mean a situation. I must reach the lake of Bouchet, where I meant to
camp, before sundown, and, to have even a hope of this, I must instantly
maltreat this uncomplaining animal. The sound of my own blows sickened
me. Once, when I looked at her, she had a faint resemblance to a lady of
my acquaintance who formerly loaded me with kindness; and this increased
my horror of my cruelty.
To make matters worse, we encountered another donkey, ranging at will
upon the roadside; and this other donkey chanced to be a gentleman. He
and Modestine met nickering for joy, and I had to separate the pair and
beat down their young romance with a renewed and feverish bastinado. If
the other donkey had had the heart of a male under his hide, he would
have fallen upon me tooth and hoof; and this was a kind of consolation--he
was plainly unworthy of Modestine's affection. But the incident saddened
me, as did everything that spoke of my donkey's sex.
It was blazing hot up the valley, windless, with vehement sun upon my
shoulders; and I had to labour so consistently with my stick that the
sweat ran into my eyes. Every five minutes, too, the pack, the basket,
and the pilot-coat would take an ugly slew to one side or the other; and
I had to stop Modestine, just when I had got her to a tolerable pace of
about two miles an hour, to tug, push, shoulder, and readjust the load.
And at last, in the village of Ussel, saddle and all, the whole hypothec
turned round and grovelled in the dust below the donkey's belly. She,
none better pleased, incontinently drew up and seemed to smile; and a
party of one man, two women, and two children came up, and, standing
round me in a half-circle, encouraged her by their example.
I had the devil's own trouble to get the thing righted; and the instant I
had done so, without hesitation, it toppled and fell down upon the other
side. Judge if I was hot! And yet not a hand was offered to assist me.
The man, indeed, told me I ought to have a package of a different shape.
I suggested, if he knew nothing better to the point in my predicament, he
might hold his tongue. And the good-natured dog agreed with me
smilingly. It was the most despicable fix. I must plainly content
myself with the pack for Modestine, and take the following items for my
own share of the portage: a cane, a quart-flask, a pilot-jacket heavily
weighted in the pockets, two pounds of black bread, and an open basket
full of meats and bottles. I believe I may say I am not devoid of
greatness of soul; for I did not recoil from this infamous burden. I
disposed it, Heaven knows how, so as to be mildly portable, and then
proceeded to steer Modestine through the village. She tried, as was
indeed her invariable habit, to enter every house and every courtyard in
the whole length; and, encumbered as I was, without a hand to help
myself, no words can render an idea of my difficulties. A priest, with
six or seven others, was examining a church in process of repair, and he
and his acolytes laughed loudly as they saw my plight.
I remembered having laughed myself when I had seen good men struggling
with adversity in the person of a jackass, and the recollection filled me
with penitence. That was in my old light days, before this trouble came
upon me. God knows at least that I shall never laugh again, thought I.
But oh, what a cruel thing is a farce to those engaged in it!
A little out of the village, Modestine, filled with the demon, set her
heart upon a by-road, and positively refused to leave it. I dropped all
my bundles, and, I am ashamed to say, struck the poor sinner twice across
the face. It was pitiful to see her lift her head with shut eyes, as if
waiting for another blow. I came very near crying; but I did a wiser
thing than that, and sat squarely down by the roadside to consider my
situation under the cheerful influence of tobacco and a nip of brandy.
Modestine, in the meanwhile, munched some black bread with a contrite
hypocritical air. It was plain that I must make a sacrifice to the gods
of shipwreck. I threw away the empty bottle destined to carry milk; I
threw away my own white bread, and, disdaining to act by general average,
kept the black bread for Modestine; lastly, I threw away the cold leg of
mutton and the egg-whisk, although this last was dear to my heart. Thus
I found room for everything in the basket, and even stowed the boating-
coat on the top. By means of an end of cord I slung it under one arm;
and although the cord cut my shoulder, and the jacket hung almost to the
ground, it was with a heart greatly lightened that I set forth again.
I had now an arm free to thrash Modestine, and cruelly I chastised her.
If I were to reach the lakeside before dark, she must bestir her little
shanks to some tune. Already the sun had gone down into a windy-looking
mist; and although there were still a few streaks of gold far off to the
east on the hills and the black fir-woods, all was cold and grey about
our onward path. An infinity of little country by-roads led hither and
thither among the fields. It was the most pointless labyrinth. I could
see my destination overhead, or rather the peak that dominates it; but
choose as I pleased, the roads always ended by turning away from it, and
sneaking back towards the valley, or northward along the margin of the
hills. The failing light, the waning colour, the naked, unhomely, stony
country through which I was travelling, threw me into some despondency. I
promise you, the stick was not idle; I think every decent step that
Modestine took must have cost me at least two emphatic blows. There was
not another sound in the neighbourhood but that of my unwearying
Suddenly, in the midst of my toils, the load once more bit the dust, and,
as by enchantment, all the cords were simultaneously loosened, and the
road scattered with my dear possessions. The packing was to begin again
from the beginning; and as I had to invent a new and better system, I do
not doubt but I lost half an hour. It began to be dusk in earnest as I
reached a wilderness of turf and stones. It had the air of being a road
which should lead everywhere at the same time; and I was falling into
something not unlike despair when I saw two figures stalking towards me
over the stones. They walked one behind the other like tramps, but their
pace was remarkable. The son led the way, a tall, ill-made, sombre,
Scottish-looking man; the mother followed, all in her Sunday's best, with
an elegantly embroidered ribbon to her cap, and a new felt hat atop, and
proffering, as she strode along with kilted petticoats, a string of
obscene and blasphemous oaths.
I hailed the son, and asked him my direction. He pointed loosely west
and north-west, muttered an inaudible comment, and, without slackening
his pace for an instant, stalked on, as he was going, right athwart my
path. The mother followed without so much as raising her head. I
shouted and shouted after them, but they continued to scale the hillside,
and turned a deaf ear to my outcries. At last, leaving Modestine by
herself, I was constrained to run after them, hailing the while. They
stopped as I drew near, the mother still cursing; and I could see she was
a handsome, motherly, respectable-looking woman. The son once more
answered me roughly and inaudibly, and was for setting out again. But
this time I simply collared the mother, who was nearest me, and,
apologising for my violence, declared that I could not let them go until
they had put me on my road. They were neither of them offended--rather
mollified than otherwise; told me I had only to follow them; and then the
mother asked me what I wanted by the lake at such an hour. I replied, in
the Scottish manner, by inquiring if she had far to go herself. She told
me, with another oath, that she had an hour and a half's road before her.
And then, without salutation, the pair strode forward again up the
hillside in the gathering dusk.
I returned for Modestine, pushed her briskly forward, and, after a sharp
ascent of twenty minutes, reached the edge of a plateau. The view,
looking back on my day's journey, was both wild and sad. Mount Mezenc
and the peaks beyond St. Julien stood out in trenchant gloom against a
cold glitter in the east; and the intervening field of hills had fallen
together into one broad wash of shadow, except here and there the outline
of a wooded sugar-loaf in black, here and there a white irregular patch
to represent a cultivated farm, and here and there a blot where the
Loire, the Gazeille, or the Laussonne wandered in a gorge.
Soon we were on a high-road, and surprise seized on my mind as I beheld a
village of some magnitude close at hand; for I had been told that the
neighbourhood of the lake was uninhabited except by trout. The road
smoked in the twilight with children driving home cattle from the fields;
and a pair of mounted stride-legged women, hat and cap and all, dashed
past me at a hammering trot from the canton where they had been to
and market. I asked one of the children where I was. At Bouchet St.
Nicolas, he told me. Thither, about a mile south of my destination, and
on the other side of a respectable summit, had these confused roads and
treacherous peasantry conducted me. My shoulder was cut, so that it hurt
sharply; my arm ached like toothache from perpetual beating; I gave up
the lake and my design to camp, and asked for the auberge.
I HAVE A GOAD
The auberge of Bouchet St. Nicolas was among the least pretentious I have
ever visited; but I saw many more of the like upon my journey. Indeed,
it was typical of these French highlands. Imagine a cottage of two
stories, with a bench before the door; the stable and kitchen in a suite,
so that Modestine and I could hear each other dining; furniture of the
plainest, earthern floors, a single bedchamber for travellers, and that
without any convenience but beds. In the kitchen cooking and eating go
forward side by side, and the family sleep at night. Any one who has a
fancy to wash must do so in public at the common table. The food is
sometimes spare; hard fish and omelette have been my portion more than
once; the wine is of the smallest, the brandy abominable to man; and the
visit of a fat sow, grouting under the table and rubbing against your
legs, is no impossible accompaniment to dinner.
But the people of the inn, in nine cases out of ten, show themselves
friendly and considerate. As soon as you cross the doors you cease to be
a stranger; and although these peasantry are rude and forbidding on the
highway, they show a tincture of kind breeding when you share their
hearth. At Bouchet, for instance, I uncorked my bottle of Beaujolais,
and asked the host to join me. He would take but little.
'I am an amateur of such wine, do you see?' he said, 'and I am capable of
leaving you not enough.'
In these hedge-inns the traveller is expected to eat with his own knife;
unless he ask, no other will be supplied: with a glass, a whang of bread,
and an iron fork, the table is completely laid. My knife was cordially
admired by the landlord of Bouchet, and the spring filled him with
'I should never have guessed that,' he said. 'I would bet,' he added,
weighing it in his hand, 'that this cost you not less than five francs.'
When I told him it had cost me twenty, his jaw dropped.
He was a mild, handsome, sensible, friendly old man, astonishingly
ignorant. His wife, who was not so pleasant in her manners, knew how to
read, although I do not suppose she ever did so. She had a share of
brains and spoke with a cutting emphasis, like one who ruled the roast.
'My man knows nothing,' she said, with an angry nod; 'he is like the
And the old gentleman signified acquiescence with his head. There was no
contempt on her part, and no shame on his; the facts were accepted
loyally, and no more about the matter.
I was tightly cross-examined about my journey; and the lady understood in
a moment, and sketched out what I should put into my book when I got
home. 'Whether people harvest or not in such or such a place; if there
were forests; studies of manners; what, for example, I and the master of
the house say to you; the beauties of Nature, and all that.' And she
interrogated me with a look.
'It is just that,' said I.
'You see,' she added to her husband, 'I understood that.'
They were both much interested by the story of my misadventures.
'In the morning,' said the husband, 'I will make you something better
than your cane. Such a beast as that feels nothing; it is in the
proverb--dur comme un ane; you might beat her insensible with a cudgel,
and yet you would arrive nowhere.'
Something better! I little knew what he was offering.
The sleeping-room was furnished with two beds. I had one; and I will own
I was a little abashed to find a young man and his wife and child in the
act of mounting into the other. This was my first experience of the
sort; and if I am always to feel equally silly and extraneous, I pray God
it be my last as well. I kept my eyes to myself, and know nothing of the
woman except that she had beautiful arms, and seemed no whit
embarrassed by my appearance. As a matter of fact, the situation was more
trying to me than to the pair. A pair keep each other in countenance; it is
the single gentleman who has to blush. But I could not help attributing my
sentiments to the husband, and sought to conciliate his tolerance with a
cup of brandy from my flask. He told me that he was a cooper of Alais
travelling to St. Etienne in search of work, and that in his spare
moments he followed the fatal calling of a maker of matches. Me he
readily enough divined to be a brandy merchant.
I was up first in the morning (Monday, September 23rd), and hastened my
toilette guiltily, so as to leave a clear field for madam, the cooper's
wife. I drank a bowl of milk, and set off to explore the neighbourhood
of Bouchet. It was perishing cold, a grey, windy, wintry morning; misty
clouds flew fast and low; the wind piped over the naked platform; and the
only speck of colour was away behind Mount Mezenc and the eastern hills,
where the sky still wore the orange of the dawn.
It was five in the morning, and four thousand feet above the sea; and I
had to bury my hands in my pockets and trot. People were trooping out to
the labours of the field by twos and threes, and all turned round to
stare upon the stranger. I had seen them coming back last night, I saw
them going afield again; and there was the life of Bouchet in a nutshell.
When I came back to the inn for a bit of breakfast, the landlady was in
the kitchen combing out her daughter's hair; and I made her my
compliments upon its beauty.
'Oh no,' said the mother; 'it is not so beautiful as it ought to be.
Look, it is too fine.'
Thus does a wise peasantry console itself under adverse physical
circumstances, and, by a startling democratic process, the defects of the
majority decide the type of beauty.
'And where,' said I, 'is monsieur?'
'The master of the house is upstairs,' she answered, 'making you a goad.'
Blessed be the man who invented goads! Blessed the innkeeper of Bouchet
St. Nicolas, who introduced me to their use! This plain wand, with an
eighth of an inch of pin, was indeed a sceptre when he put it in my
hands. Thenceforward Modestine was my slave. A prick, and she passed
the most inviting stable door. A prick, and she broke forth into a
gallant little trotlet that devoured the miles. It was not a remarkable
speed, when all was said; and we took four hours to cover ten miles at
the best of it. But what a heavenly change since yesterday! No more
wielding of the ugly cudgel; no more flailing with an aching arm; no more
broadsword exercise, but a discreet and gentlemanly fence. And what
although now and then a drop of blood should appear on Modestine's
coloured wedge-like rump? I should have preferred it otherwise, indeed;
but yesterday's exploits had purged my heart of all humanity. The
perverse little devil, since she would not be taken with kindness, must
even go with pricking.
It was bleak and bitter cold, and, except a cavalcade of stride-legged
ladies and a pair of post-runners, the road was dead solitary all the way
to Pradelles. I scarce remember an incident but one. A handsome foal
with a bell about his neck came charging up to us upon a stretch of
common, sniffed the air martially as one about to do great deeds, and
suddenly thinking otherwise in his green young heart, put about and
galloped off as he had come, the bell tinkling in the wind. For a long
while afterwards I saw his noble attitude as he drew up, and heard the
note of his bell; and when I struck the high-road, the song of the
telegraph-wires seemed to continue the same music.
Pradelles stands on a hillside, high above the Allier, surrounded by rich
meadows. They were cutting aftermath on all sides, which gave the
neighbourhood, this gusty autumn morning, an untimely smell of hay. On
the opposite bank of the Allier the land kept mounting for miles to the
horizon: a tanned and sallow autumn landscape, with black blots of fir-
wood and white roads wandering through the hills. Over all this the
clouds shed a uniform and purplish shadow, sad and somewhat menacing,
exaggerating height and distance, and throwing into still higher relief
the twisted ribbons of the highway. It was a cheerless prospect, but one
stimulating to a traveller. For I was now upon the limit of Velay, and
all that I beheld lay in another county--wild Gevaudan, mountainous,
uncultivated, and but recently disforested from terror of the wolves.
Wolves, alas, like bandits, seem to flee the traveller's advance; and you
may trudge through all our comfortable Europe, and not meet with an
adventure worth the name. But here, if anywhere, a man was on the
frontiers of hope. For this was the land of the ever-memorable BEAST,
the Napoleon Bonaparte of wolves. What a career was his! He lived ten
months at free quarters in Gevaudan and Vivarais; he ate women and
children and 'shepherdesses celebrated for their beauty'; he pursued
armed horsemen; he has been seen at broad noonday chasing a post-chaise
and outrider along the king's high-road, and chaise and outrider fleeing
before him at the gallop. He was placarded like a political offender,
and ten thousand francs were offered for his head. And yet, when he was
shot and sent to Versailles, behold! a common wolf, and even small for
that. 'Though I could reach from pole to pole,' sang Alexander Pope; the
Little Corporal shook Europe; and if all wolves had been as this wolf,
they would have changed the history of man. M. Elie Berthet has made him
the hero of a novel, which I have read, and do not wish to read again.
I hurried over my lunch, and was proof against the landlady's desire that
I should visit our Lady of Pradelles, 'who performed many miracles,
although she was of wood'; and before three-quarters of an hour I was
goading Modestine down the steep descent that leads to Langogne on the
Allier. On both sides of the road, in big dusty fields, farmers were
preparing for next spring. Every fifty yards a yoke of great-necked
stolid oxen were patiently haling at the plough. I saw one of these mild
formidable servants of the glebe, who took a sudden interest in Modestine
and me. The furrow down which he was journeying lay at an angle to the
road, and his head was solidly fixed to the yoke like those of caryatides
below a ponderous cornice; but he screwed round his big honest eyes and
followed us with a ruminating look, until his master bade him turn the
plough and proceed to reascend the field. From all these furrowing
ploughshares, from the feet of oxen, from a labourer here and there who
was breaking the dry clods with a hoe, the wind carried away a thin dust
like so much smoke. It was a fine, busy, breathing, rustic landscape;
and as I continued to descend, the highlands of Gevaudan kept mounting in
front of me against the sky.
I had crossed the Loire the day before; now I was to cross the Allier; so
near are these two confluents in their youth. Just at the bridge of
Langogne, as the long-promised rain was beginning to fall, a lassie of
some seven or eight addressed me in the sacramental phrase, 'D'ou'st-ce-
que vous venez?' She did it with so high an air that she set me
laughing; and this cut her to the quick. She was evidently one who
reckoned on respect, and stood looking after me in silent dudgeon, as I
crossed the bridge and entered the county of Gevaudan.
The way also here was very wearisome through dirt and slabbiness; nor
was there on all this ground so much as one inn or victualling-house
wherein to refresh the feebler sort.
A CAMP IN THE DARK
The next day (Tuesday, September 24th), it was two o'clock in the
afternoon before I got my journal written up and my knapsack repaired,
for I was determined to carry my knapsack in the future and have no more
ado with baskets; and half an hour afterwards I set out for Le Cheylard
l'Eveque, a place on the borders of the forest of Mercoire. A man, I was
told, should walk there in an hour and a half; and I thought it scarce
too ambitious to suppose that a man encumbered with a donkey might cover
the same distance in four hours.
All the way up the long hill from Langogne it rained and hailed
alternately; the wind kept freshening steadily, although slowly;
plentiful hurrying clouds--some dragging veils of straight rain-shower,
others massed and luminous as though promising snow--careered out of the
north and followed me along my way. I was soon out of the cultivated
basin of the Allier, and away from the ploughing oxen, and such-like
sights of the country. Moor, heathery marsh, tracts of rock and pines,
woods of birch all jewelled with the autumn yellow, here and there a few
naked cottages and bleak fields,--these were the characters of the
country. Hill and valley followed valley and hill; the little green and
stony cattle-tracks wandered in and out of one another, split into three
or four, died away in marshy hollows, and began again sporadically on
hillsides or at the borders of a wood.
There was no direct road to Cheylard, and it was no easy affair to make a
passage in this uneven country and through this intermittent labyrinth of
tracks. It must have been about four when I struck Sagnerousse, and went
on my way rejoicing in a sure point of departure. Two hours afterwards,
the dusk rapidly falling, in a lull of the wind, I issued from a fir-wood
where I had long been wandering, and found, not the looked-for village,
but another marish bottom among rough-and-tumble hills. For some time
past I had heard the ringing of cattle-bells ahead; and now, as I came
out of the skirts of the wood, I saw near upon a dozen cows and perhaps
as many more black figures, which I conjectured to be children, although
the mist had almost unrecognisably exaggerated their forms. These were
all silently following each other round and round in a circle, now taking
hands, now breaking up with chains and reverences. A dance of children
appeals to very innocent and lively thoughts; but, at nightfall on the
marshes, the thing was eerie and fantastic to behold. Even I, who am
well enough read in Herbert Spencer, felt a sort of silence fall for an
instant on my mind. The next, I was pricking Modestine forward, and
guiding her like an unruly ship through the open. In a path, she went
doggedly ahead of her own accord, as before a fair wind; but once on the
turf or among heather, and the brute became demented. The tendency of
lost travellers to go round in a circle was developed in her to the
degree of passion, and it took all the steering I had in me to keep even
a decently straight course through a single field.
While I was thus desperately tacking through the bog, children and cattle
began to disperse, until only a pair of girls remained behind. From
these I sought direction on my path. The peasantry in general were but
little disposed to counsel a wayfarer. One old devil simply retired into
his house, and barricaded the door on my approach; and I might beat and
shout myself hoarse, he turned a deaf ear. Another, having given me a
direction which, as I found afterwards, I had misunderstood, complacently
watched me going wrong without adding a sign. He did not care a stalk of
parsley if I wandered all night upon the hills! As for these two girls,
they were a pair of impudent sly sluts, with not a thought but mischief.
One put out her tongue at me, the other bade me follow the cows; and they
both giggled and jogged each other's elbows. The Beast of Gevaudan ate
about a hundred children of this district; I began to think of him with
Leaving the girls, I pushed on through the bog, and got into another wood
and upon a well-marked road. It grew darker and darker. Modestine,
suddenly beginning to smell mischief, bettered the pace of her own
accord, and from that time forward gave me no trouble. It was the first
sign of intelligence I had occasion to remark in her. At the same time,
the wind freshened into half a gale, and another heavy discharge of rain
came flying up out of the north. At the other side of the wood I sighted
some red windows in the dusk. This was the hamlet of Fouzilhic; three
houses on a hillside, near a wood of birches. Here I found a delightful
old man, who came a little way with me in the rain to put me safely on
the road for Cheylard. He would hear of no reward; but shook his hands
above his head almost as if in menace, and refused volubly and shrilly,
in unmitigated patois.
All seemed right at last. My thoughts began to turn upon dinner and a
fireside, and my heart was agreeably softened in my bosom. Alas, and I
was on the brink of new and greater miseries! Suddenly, at a single
swoop, the night fell. I have been abroad in many a black night, but
never in a blacker. A glimmer of rocks, a glimmer of the track where it
was well beaten, a certain fleecy density, or night within night, for a
tree,--this was all that I could discriminate. The sky was simply
darkness overhead; even the flying clouds pursued their way invisibly to
human eyesight. I could not distinguish my hand at arm's-length from the
track, nor my goad, at the same distance, from the meadows or the sky.
Soon the road that I was following split, after the fashion of the
country, into three or four in a piece of rocky meadow. Since Modestine
had shown such a fancy for beaten roads, I tried her instinct in this
predicament. But the instinct of an ass is what might be expected from
the name; in half a minute she was clambering round and round among
boulders, as lost a donkey as you would wish to see. I should have
camped long before had I been properly provided; but as this was to be so
short a stage, I had brought no wine, no bread for myself, and little
over a pound for my lady friend. Add to this, that I and Modestine were
both handsomely wetted by the showers. But now, if I could have found
some water, I should have camped at once in spite of all. Water,
however, being entirely absent, except in the form of rain, I determined
to return to Fouzilhic, and ask a guide a little farther on my way--'a
little farther lend thy guiding hand.'
The thing was easy to decide, hard to accomplish. In this sensible
roaring blackness I was sure of nothing but the direction of the wind. To
this I set my face; the road had disappeared, and I went across country,
now in marshy opens, now baffled by walls unscalable to Modestine, until
I came once more in sight of some red windows. This time they were
differently disposed. It was not Fouzilhic, but Fouzilhac, a hamlet
little distant from the other in space, but worlds away in the spirit of
its inhabitants. I tied Modestine to a gate, and groped forward,
stumbling among rocks, plunging mid-leg in bog, until I gained the
entrance of the village. In the first lighted house there was a woman
who would not open to me. She could do nothing, she cried to me through
the door, being alone and lame; but if I would apply at the next house,
there was a man who could help me if he had a mind.
They came to the next door in force, a man, two women, and a girl, and
brought a pair of lanterns to examine the wayfarer. The man was not ill-
looking, but had a shifty smile. He leaned against the doorpost, and
heard me state my case. All I asked was a guide as far as Cheylard.
'C'est que, voyez-vous, il fait noir,' said he.
I told him that was just my reason for requiring help.
'I understand that,' said he, looking uncomfortable; 'mais--c'est--de la
I was willing to pay, I said. He shook his head. I rose as high as ten
francs; but he continued to shake his head. 'Name your own price, then,'
'Ce n'est pas ca,' he said at length, and with evident difficulty; 'but I
am not going to cross the door--mais je ne sortirai pas de la porte.'
I grew a little warm, and asked him what he proposed that I should do.
'Where are you going beyond Cheylard?' he asked by way of answer.
'That is no affair of yours,' I returned, for I was not going to indulge
his bestial curiosity; 'it changes nothing in my present predicament.'
'C'est vrai, ca,' he acknowledged, with a laugh; 'oui, c'est vrai. Et
A better man than I might have felt nettled.
'Oh,' said I, 'I am not going to answer any of your questions, so you may
spare yourself the trouble of putting them. I am late enough already; I
want help. If you will not guide me yourself, at least help me to find
some one else who will.'
'Hold on,' he cried suddenly. 'Was it not you who passed in the meadow
while it was still day?'
'Yes, yes,' said the girl, whom I had not hitherto recognised; 'it was
monsieur; I told him to follow the cow.'
'As for you, mademoiselle,' said I, 'you are a farceuse.'
'And,' added the man, 'what the devil have you done to be still here?'
What the devil, indeed! But there I was.
'The great thing,' said I, 'is to make an end of it'; and once more
proposed that he should help me to find a guide.
'C'est que,' he said again, 'c'est que--il fait noir.'
'Very well,' said I; 'take one of your lanterns.'
'No,' he cried, drawing a thought backward, and again intrenching himself
behind one of his former phrases; 'I will not cross the door.'
I looked at him. I saw unaffected terror struggling on his face with
unaffected shame; he was smiling pitifully and wetting his lip with his
tongue, like a detected schoolboy. I drew a brief picture of my state,
and asked him what I was to do.
'I don't know,' he said; 'I will not cross the door.'
Here was the Beast of Gevaudan, and no mistake.
'Sir,' said I, with my most commanding manners, 'you are a coward.'
And with that I turned my back upon the family party, who hastened to
retire within their fortifications; and the famous door was closed again,
but not till I had overheard the sound of laughter. Filia barbara pater
barbarior. Let me say it in the plural: the Beasts of Gevaudan.
The lanterns had somewhat dazzled me, and I ploughed distressfully among
stones and rubbish-heaps. All the other houses in the village were both
dark and silent; and though I knocked at here and there a door, my
knocking was unanswered. It was a bad business; I gave up Fouzilhac with
my curses. The rain had stopped, and the wind, which still kept rising,
began to dry my coat and trousers. 'Very well,' thought I, 'water or no
water, I must camp.' But the first thing was to return to Modestine. I
am pretty sure I was twenty minutes groping for my lady in the dark; and
if it had not been for the unkindly services of the bog, into which I
once more stumbled, I might have still been groping for her at the dawn.
My next business was to gain the shelter of a wood, for the wind was cold
as well as boisterous. How, in this well-wooded district, I should have
been so long in finding one, is another of the insoluble mysteries of
this day's adventures; but I will take my oath that I put near an hour to
At last black trees began to show upon my left, and, suddenly crossing
the road, made a cave of unmitigated blackness right in front. I call it
a cave without exaggeration; to pass below that arch of leaves was like
entering a dungeon. I felt about until my hand encountered a stout
branch, and to this I tied Modestine, a haggard, drenched, desponding
donkey. Then I lowered my pack, laid it along the wall on the margin of
the road, and unbuckled the straps. I knew well enough where the lantern
was; but where were the candles? I groped and groped among the tumbled
articles, and, while I was thus groping, suddenly I touched the spirit-
lamp. Salvation! This would serve my turn as well. The wind roared
unwearyingly among the trees; I could hear the boughs tossing and the
leaves churning through half a mile of forest; yet the scene of my
encampment was not only as black as the pit, but admirably sheltered. At
the second match the wick caught flame. The light was both livid and
shifting; but it cut me off from the universe, and doubled the darkness
of the surrounding night.
I tied Modestine more conveniently for herself, and broke up half the
black bread for her supper, reserving the other half against the morning.
Then I gathered what I should want within reach, took off my wet boots
and gaiters, which I wrapped in my waterproof, arranged my knapsack for a
pillow under the flap of my sleeping-bag, insinuated my limbs into the
interior, and buckled myself in like a bambino. I opened a tin of
Bologna sausage and broke a cake of chocolate, and that was all I had to
eat. It may sound offensive, but I ate them together, bite by bite, by
way of bread and meat. All I had to wash down this revolting mixture was
neat brandy: a revolting beverage in itself. But I was rare and hungry;
ate well, and smoked one of the best cigarettes in my experience. Then I
put a stone in my straw hat, pulled the flap of my fur cap over my neck
and eyes, put my revolver ready to my hand, and snuggled well down among
I questioned at first if I were sleepy, for I felt my heart beating
faster than usual, as if with an agreeable excitement to which my mind
remained a stranger. But as soon as my eyelids touched, that subtle glue
leaped between them, and they would no more come separate. The wind
among the trees was my lullaby. Sometimes it sounded for minutes
together with a steady, even rush, not rising nor abating; and again it
would swell and burst like a great crashing breaker, and the trees would
patter me all over with big drops from the rain of the afternoon. Night
after night, in my own bedroom in the country, I have given ear to this
perturbing concert of the wind among the woods; but whether it was a
difference in the trees, or the lie of the ground, or because I was
myself outside and in the midst of it, the fact remains that the wind
sang to a different tune among these woods of Gevaudan. I hearkened and
hearkened; and meanwhile sleep took gradual possession of my body and
subdued my thoughts and senses; but still my last waking effort was to
listen and distinguish, and my last conscious state was one of wonder at
the foreign clamour in my ears.
Twice in the course of the dark hours--once when a stone galled me
underneath the sack, and again when the poor patient Modestine, growing
angry, pawed and stamped upon the road--I was recalled for a brief while
to consciousness, and saw a star or two overhead, and the lace-like edge
of the foliage against the sky. When I awoke for the third time
(Wednesday, September 25th), the world was flooded with a blue light, the
mother of the dawn. I saw the leaves labouring in the wind and the
ribbon of the road; and, on turning my head, there was Modestine tied to
a beech, and standing half across the path in an attitude of inimitable
patience. I closed my eyes again, and set to thinking over the
experience of the night. I was surprised to find how easy and pleasant
it had been, even in this tempestuous weather. The stone which annoyed
me would not have been there, had I not been forced to camp blindfold in
the opaque night; and I had felt no other inconvenience, except when my
feet encountered the lantern or the second volume of Peyrat's Pastors of
the Desert among the mixed contents of my sleeping-bag; nay, more, I had
felt not a touch of cold, and awakened with unusually lightsome and clear
With that, I shook myself, got once more into my boots and gaiters, and,
breaking up the rest of the bread for Modestine, strolled about to see in
what part of the world I had awakened. Ulysses, left on Ithaca, and with
a mind unsettled by the goddess, was not more pleasantly astray. I have
been after an adventure all my life, a pure dispassionate adventure, such
as befell early and heroic voyagers; and thus to be found by morning in a
random woodside nook in Gevaudan--not knowing north from south, as
strange to my surroundings as the first man upon the earth, an inland
castaway--was to find a fraction of my day-dreams realised. I was on the
skirts of a little wood of birch, sprinkled with a few beeches; behind,
it adjoined another wood of fir; and in front, it broke up and went down
in open order into a shallow and meadowy dale. All around there were
bare hilltops, some near, some far away, as the perspective closed or
opened, but none apparently much higher than the rest. The wind huddled
the trees. The golden specks of autumn in the birches tossed
shiveringly. Overhead the sky was full of strings and shreds of vapour,
flying, vanishing, reappearing, and turning about an axis like tumblers,
as the wind hounded them through heaven. It was wild weather and
famishing cold. I ate some chocolate, swallowed a mouthful of brandy,
and smoked a cigarette before the cold should have time to disable my
fingers. And by the time I had got all this done, and had made my pack
and bound it on the pack-saddle, the day was tiptoe on the threshold of
the east. We had not gone many steps along the lane, before the sun,
still invisible to me, sent a glow of gold over some cloud mountains that
lay ranged along the eastern sky.
The wind had us on the stern, and hurried us bitingly forward. I
buttoned myself into my coat, and walked on in a pleasant frame of mind
with all men, when suddenly, at a corner, there was Fouzilhic once more
in front of me. Nor only that, but there was the old gentleman who had
escorted me so far the night before, running out of his house at sight of
me, with hands upraised in horror.
'My poor boy!' he cried, 'what does this mean?'
I told him what had happened. He beat his old hands like clappers in a
mill, to think how lightly he had let me go; but when he heard of the man
of Fouzilhac, anger and depression seized upon his mind.
'This time, at least,' said he, 'there shall be no mistake.'
And he limped along, for he was very rheumatic, for about half a mile,
and until I was almost within sight of Cheylard, the destination I had
hunted for so long.
CHEYLARD AND LUC
Candidly, it seemed little worthy of all this searching. A few broken
ends of village, with no particular street, but a succession of open
places heaped with logs and fagots; a couple of tilted crosses, a shrine
to Our Lady of all Graces on the summit of a little hill; and all this,
upon a rattling highland river, in the corner of a naked valley. What
went ye out for to see? thought I to myself. But the place had a life of
its own. I found a board, commemorating the liberalities of Cheylard for
the past year, hung up, like a banner, in the diminutive and tottering
church. In 1877, it appeared, the inhabitants subscribed forty-eight
francs ten centimes for the 'Work of the Propagation of the Faith.' Some
of this, I could not help hoping, would be applied to my native land.
Cheylard scrapes together halfpence for the darkened souls in Edinburgh;
while Balquhidder and Dunrossness bemoan the ignorance of Rome. Thus,
the high entertainment of the angels, do we pelt each other with
evangelists, like schoolboys bickering in the snow.
The inn was again singularly unpretentious. The whole furniture of a not
ill-to-do family was in the kitchen: the beds, the cradle, the clothes,
the plate-rack, the meal-chest, and the photograph of the parish priest.
There were five children, one of whom was set to its morning prayers at
the stair-foot soon after my arrival, and a sixth would ere long be
forthcoming. I was kindly received by these good folk. They were much
interested in my misadventure. The wood in which I had slept belonged to
them; the man of Fouzilhac they thought a monster of iniquity, and
counselled me warmly to summon him at law--'because I might have died.'
The good wife was horror-stricken to see me drink over a pint of
'You will do yourself an evil,' she said. 'Permit me to boil it for
After I had begun the morning on this delightful liquor, she having an
infinity of things to arrange, I was permitted, nay requested, to make a
bowl of chocolate for myself. My boots and gaiters were hung up to dry,
and, seeing me trying to write my journal on my knee, the eldest daughter
let down a hinged table in the chimney-corner for my convenience. Here I
wrote, drank my chocolate, and finally ate an omelette before I left. The
table was thick with dust; for, as they explained, it was not used except
in winter weather. I had a clear look up the vent, through brown
agglomerations of soot and blue vapour, to the sky; and whenever a
handful of twigs was thrown on to the fire, my legs were scorched by the
The husband had begun life as a muleteer, and when I came to charge
Modestine showed himself full of the prudence of his art. 'You will have
to change this package,' said he; 'it ought to be in two parts, and then
you might have double the weight.'
I explained that I wanted no more weight; and for no donkey hitherto
created would I cut my sleeping-bag in two.
'It fatigues her, however,' said the innkeeper; 'it fatigues her greatly
on the march. Look.'
Alas, there were her two forelegs no better than raw beef on the inside,
and blood was running from under her tail. They told me when I started,
and I was ready to believe it, that before a few days I should come to
love Modestine like a dog. Three days had passed, we had shared some
misadventures, and my heart was still as cold as a potato towards my
beast of burden. She was pretty enough to look at; but then she had
given proof of dead stupidity, redeemed indeed by patience, but
aggravated by flashes of sorry and ill-judged light-heartedness. And I
own this new discovery seemed another point against her. What the devil
was the good of a she-ass if she could not carry a sleeping-bag and a few
necessaries? I saw the end of the fable rapidly approaching, when I
should have to carry Modestine. AEsop was the man to know the world! I
assure you I set out with heavy thoughts upon my short day's march.
It was not only heavy thoughts about Modestine that weighted me upon the
way; it was a leaden business altogether. For first, the wind blew so
rudely that I had to hold on the pack with one hand from Cheylard to Luc;
and second, my road lay through one of the most beggarly countries in the
world. It was like the worst of the Scottish Highlands, only worse;
cold, naked, and ignoble, scant of wood, scant of heather, scant of life.
A road and some fences broke the unvarying waste, and the line of the
road was marked by upright pillars, to serve in time of snow.
Why any one should desire to visit either Luc or Cheylard is more than my
much-inventing spirit can suppose. For my part, I travel not to go
anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to
move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down
off this feather-bed of civilisation, and find the globe granite
underfoot and strewn with cutting flints. Alas, as we get up in life,
and are more preoccupied with our affairs, even a holiday is a thing that
must be worked for. To hold a pack upon a pack-saddle against a gale out
of the freezing north is no high industry, but it is one that serves to
occupy and compose the mind. And when the present is so exacting, who
can annoy himself about the future?
I came out at length above the Allier. A more unsightly prospect at this
season of the year it would be hard to fancy. Shelving hills rose round
it on all sides, here dabbled with wood and fields, there rising to peaks
alternately naked and hairy with pines. The colour throughout was black
or ashen, and came to a point in the ruins of the castle of Luc, which
pricked up impudently from below my feet, carrying on a pinnacle a tall
white statue of Our Lady, which, I heard with interest, weighed fifty
quintals, and was to be dedicated on the 6th of October. Through this
sorry landscape trickled the Allier and a tributary of nearly equal size,
which came down to join it through a broad nude valley in Vivarais. The
weather had somewhat lightened, and the clouds massed in squadron; but
the fierce wind still hunted them through heaven, and cast great ungainly
splashes of shadow and sunlight over the scene.
Luc itself was a straggling double file of houses wedged between hill and
river. It had no beauty, nor was there any notable feature, save the old
castle overhead with its fifty quintals of brand-new Madonna. But the
inn was clean and large. The kitchen, with its two box-beds hung with
clean check curtains, with its wide stone chimney, its chimney-shelf four
yards long and garnished with lanterns and religious statuettes, its
array of chests and pair of ticking clocks, was the very model of what a
kitchen ought to be; a melodrama kitchen, suitable for bandits or
noblemen in disguise. Nor was the scene disgraced by the landlady, a
handsome, silent, dark old woman, clothed and hooded in black like a nun.
Even the public bedroom had a character of its own, with the long deal
tables and benches, where fifty might have dined, set out as for a
harvest-home, and the three box-beds along the wall. In one of these,
lying on straw and covered with a pair of table-napkins, did I do penance
all night long in goose-flesh and chattering teeth, and sigh, from time
to time as I awakened, for my sheepskin sack and the lee of some great
OUR LADY OF THE SNOWS
The House, the Brotherhood austere--
And what am I, that I am here?'
Next morning (Thursday, 26th September) I took the road in a new order.
The sack was no longer doubled, but hung at full length across the
saddle, a green sausage six feet long with a tuft of blue wool hanging
out of either end. It was more picturesque, it spared the donkey, and,
as I began to see, it would ensure stability, blow high, blow low. But
it was not without a pang that I had so decided. For although I had
purchased a new cord, and made all as fast as I was able, I was yet
jealously uneasy lest the flaps should tumble out and scatter my effects
along the line of march.
My way lay up the bald valley of the river, along the march of Vivarais
and Gevaudan. The hills of Gevaudan on the right were a little more
naked, if anything, than those of Vivarais upon the left, and the former
had a monopoly of a low dotty underwood that grew thickly in the gorges
and died out in solitary burrs upon the shoulders and the summits. Black
bricks of fir-wood were plastered here and there upon both sides, and
here and there were cultivated fields. A railway ran beside the river;
the only bit of railway in Gevaudan, although there are many proposals
afoot and surveys being made, and even, as they tell me, a station
standing ready built in Mende. A year or two hence and this may be
another world. The desert is beleaguered. Now may some Languedocian
Wordsworth turn the sonnet into patois: 'Mountains and vales and floods,
heard YE that whistle?'
At a place called La Bastide I was directed to leave the river, and
follow a road that mounted on the left among the hills of Vivarais, the
modern Ardeche; for I was now come within a little way of my strange
destination, the Trappist monastery of Our Lady of the Snows. The sun
came out as I left the shelter of a pine-wood, and I beheld suddenly a
fine wild landscape to the south. High rocky hills, as blue as sapphire,
closed the view, and between these lay ridge upon ridge, heathery,
craggy, the sun glittering on veins of rock, the underwood clambering in
the hollows, as rude as God made them at the first. There was not a sign
of man's hand in all the prospect; and indeed not a trace of his passage,
save where generation after generation had walked in twisted footpaths,
in and out among the beeches, and up and down upon the channelled
The mists, which had hitherto beset me, were now broken into clouds, and
fled swiftly and shone brightly in the sun. I drew a long breath. It
was grateful to come, after so long, upon a scene of some attraction for
the human heart. I own I like definite form in what my eyes are to rest
upon; and if landscapes were sold, like the sheets of characters of my
boyhood, one penny plain and twopence coloured, I should go the length of
twopence every day of my life.
But if things had grown better to the south, it was still desolate and
inclement near at hand. A spidery cross on every hill-top marked the
neighbourhood of a religious house; and a quarter of a mile beyond, the
outlook southward opening out and growing bolder with every step, a white
statue of the Virgin at the corner of a young plantation directed the
traveller to Our Lady of the Snows. Here, then, I struck leftward, and
pursued my way, driving my secular donkey before me, and creaking in my
secular boots and gaiters, towards the asylum of silence.
I had not gone very far ere the wind brought to me the clanging of a
bell, and somehow, I can scarce tell why, my heart sank within me at the
sound. I have rarely approached anything with more unaffected terror
than the monastery of Our Lady of the Snows. This it is to have had a
Protestant education. And suddenly, on turning a corner, fear took hold
on me from head to foot--slavish, superstitious fear; and though I did
not stop in my advance, yet I went on slowly, like a man who should have
passed a bourne unnoticed, and strayed into the country of the dead. For
there, upon the narrow new-made road, between the stripling pines, was a
mediaeval friar, fighting with a barrowful of turfs. Every Sunday of my
childhood I used to study the Hermits of Marco Sadeler--enchanting
prints, full of wood and field and mediaeval landscapes, as large as a
county, for the imagination to go a-travelling in; and here, sure enough,
was one of Marco Sadeler's heroes. He was robed in white like any
spectre, and the hood falling back, in the instancy of his contention
with the barrow, disclosed a pate as bald and yellow as a skull. He
might have been buried any time these thousand years, and all the lively
parts of him resolved into earth and broken up with the farmer's harrow.
I was troubled besides in my mind as to etiquette. Durst I address a
person who was under a vow of silence? Clearly not. But drawing near, I
doffed my cap to him with a far-away superstitious reverence. He nodded
back, and cheerfully addressed me. Was I going to the monastery? Who
was I? An Englishman? Ah, an Irishman, then?
'No,' I said, 'a Scotsman.'
A Scotsman? Ah, he had never seen a Scotsman before. And he looked me
all over, his good, honest, brawny countenance shining with interest, as
a boy might look upon a lion or an alligator. From him I learned with
disgust that I could not be received at Our Lady of the Snows; I might
get a meal, perhaps, but that was all. And then, as our talk ran on, and
it turned out that I was not a pedlar, but a literary man, who drew
landscapes and was going to write a book, he changed his manner of
thinking as to my reception (for I fear they respect persons even in a
Trappist monastery), and told me I must be sure to ask for the Father
Prior, and state my case to him in full. On second thoughts he
determined to go down with me himself; he thought he could manage for me
better. Might he say that I was a geographer?
No; I thought, in the interests of truth, he positively might not.
'Very well, then' (with disappointment), 'an author.'
It appeared he had been in a seminary with six young Irishmen, all
priests long since, who had received newspapers and kept him informed of
the state of ecclesiastical affairs in England. And he asked me eagerly
after Dr. Pusey, for whose conversion the good man had continued ever
since to pray night and morning.
'I thought he was very near the truth,' he said; 'and he will reach it
yet; there is so much virtue in prayer.'
He must be a stiff, ungodly Protestant who can take anything but pleasure
in this kind and hopeful story. While he was thus near the subject, the
good father asked me if I were a Christian; and when he found I was not,
or not after his way, he glossed it over with great good-will.
The road which we were following, and which this stalwart father had made
with his own two hands within the space of a year, came to a corner, and
showed us some white buildings a little farther on beyond the wood. At
the same time, the bell once more sounded abroad. We were hard upon the
monastery. Father Apollinaris (for that was my companion's name) stopped
'I must not speak to you down there,' he said. 'Ask for the Brother
Porter, and all will be well. But try to see me as you go out again
through the wood, where I may speak to you. I am charmed to have made
And then suddenly raising his arms, flapping his fingers, and crying out
twice, 'I must not speak, I must not speak!' he ran away in front of me,
and disappeared into the monastery door.
I own this somewhat ghastly eccentricity went a good way to revive my
terrors. But where one was so good and simple, why should not all be
alike? I took heart of grace, and went forward to the gate as fast as
Modestine, who seemed to have a disaffection for monasteries, would
permit. It was the first door, in my acquaintance of her, which she had
not shown an indecent haste to enter. I summoned the place in form,
though with a quaking heart. Father Michael, the Father Hospitaller, and
a pair of brown-robed brothers came to the gate and spoke with me a
while. I think my sack was the great attraction; it had already beguiled
the heart of poor Apollinaris, who had charged me on my life to show it
to the Father Prior. But whether it was my address, or the sack, or the
idea speedily published among that part of the brotherhood who attend on
strangers that I was not a pedlar after all, I found no difficulty as to
my reception. Modestine was led away by a layman to the stables, and I
and my pack were received into Our Lady of the Snows.
Father Michael, a pleasant, fresh-faced, smiling man, perhaps of thirty-
five, took me to the pantry, and gave me a glass of liqueur to stay me
until dinner. We had some talk, or rather I should say he listened to my
prattle indulgently enough, but with an abstracted air, like a spirit
with a thing of clay. And truly, when I remember that I descanted
principally on my appetite, and that it must have been by that time more
than eighteen hours since Father Michael had so much as broken bread, I
can well understand that he would find an earthly savour in my
conversation. But his manner, though superior, was exquisitely gracious;
and I find I have a lurking curiosity as to Father Michael's past.
The whet administered, I was left alone for a little in the monastery
garden. This is no more than the main court, laid out in sandy paths and
beds of parti-coloured dahlias, and with a fountain and a black statue of
the Virgin in the centre. The buildings stand around it four-square,
bleak, as yet unseasoned by the years and weather, and with no other
features than a belfry and a pair of slated gables. Brothers in white,
brothers in brown, passed silently along the sanded alleys; and when I
first came out, three hooded monks were kneeling on the terrace at their
prayers. A naked hill commands the monastery upon one side, and the
commands it on the other. It lies exposed to wind; the snow falls off
and on from October to May, and sometimes lies six weeks on end; but if
they stood in Eden, with a climate like heaven's, the buildings
themselves would offer the same wintry and cheerless aspect; and for my
part, on this wild September day, before I was called to dinner, I felt
chilly in and out.
When I had eaten well and heartily, Brother Ambrose, a hearty conversible
Frenchman (for all those who wait on strangers have the liberty to
speak), led me to a little room in that part of the building which is set
apart for MM. les retraitants. It was clean and whitewashed, and
furnished with strict necessaries, a crucifix, a bust of the late Pope,
the Imitation in French, a book of religious meditations, and the Life of
Elizabeth Seton, evangelist, it would appear, of North America and of New
England in particular. As far as my experience goes, there is a fair
field for some more evangelisation in these quarters; but think of Cotton
Mather! I should like to give him a reading of this little work in
heaven, where I hope he dwells; but perhaps he knows all that already,
and much more; and perhaps he and Mrs. Seton are the dearest friends,
gladly unite their voices in the everlasting psalm. Over the table, to
conclude the inventory of the room, hung a set of regulations for MM. les
retraitants: what services they should attend, when they were to tell
their beads or meditate, and when they were to rise and go to rest. At
the foot was a notable N.B.: 'Le temps libre est employe a l'examen de
conscience, a la confession, a faire de bonnes resolutions, etc.' To
make good resolutions, indeed! You might talk as fruitfully of making
the hair grow on your head.
I had scarce explored my niche when Brother Ambrose returned. An
boarder, it appeared, would like to speak with me. I professed my
willingness, and the friar ushered in a fresh, young, little Irishman of
fifty, a deacon of the Church, arrayed in strict canonicals, and wearing
on his head what, in default of knowledge, I can only call the
ecclesiastical shako. He had lived seven years in retreat at a convent
of nuns in Belgium, and now five at Our Lady of the Snows; he never saw
an English newspaper; he spoke French imperfectly, and had he spoken it
like a native, there was not much chance of conversation where he dwelt.
With this, he was a man eminently sociable, greedy of news, and simple-
minded like a child. If I was pleased to have a guide about the
monastery, he was no less delighted to see an English face and hear an
He showed me his own room, where he passed his time among breviaries,
Hebrew Bibles, and the Waverley Novels. Thence he led me to the
cloisters, into the chapter-house, through the vestry, where the
brothers' gowns and broad straw hats were hanging up, each with his
religious name upon a board--names full of legendary suavity and
interest, such as Basil, Hilarion, Raphael, or Pacifique; into the
library, where were all the works of Veuillot and Chateaubriand, and the
Odes et Ballades, if you please, and even Moliere, to say nothing of
innumerable fathers and a great variety of local and general historians.
Thence my good Irishman took me round the workshops, where brothers
bread, and make cartwheels, and take photographs; where one superintends
a collection of curiosities, and another a gallery of rabbits. For in a
Trappist monastery each monk has an occupation of his own choice, apart
from his religious duties and the general labours of the house. Each
must sing in the choir, if he has a voice and ear, and join in the
haymaking if he has a hand to stir; but in his private hours, although he
must be occupied, he may be occupied on what he likes. Thus I was told
that one brother was engaged with literature; while Father Apollinaris
busies himself in making roads, and the Abbot employs himself in binding
books. It is not so long since this Abbot was consecrated, by the way;
and on that occasion, by a special grace, his mother was permitted to
enter the chapel and witness the ceremony of consecration. A proud day
for her to have a son a mitred abbot; it makes you glad to think they let
In all these journeyings to and fro, many silent fathers and brethren
fell in our way. Usually they paid no more regard to our passage than if
we had been a cloud; but sometimes the good deacon had a permission to
ask of them, and it was granted by a peculiar movement of the hands,
almost like that of a dog's paws in swimming, or refused by the usual
negative signs, and in either case with lowered eyelids and a certain air
of contrition, as of a man who was steering very close to evil.
The monks, by special grace of their Abbot, were still taking two meals a
day; but it was already time for their grand fast, which begins somewhere
in September and lasts till Easter, and during which they eat but once in
the twenty-four hours, and that at two in the afternoon, twelve hours
after they have begun the toil and vigil of the day. Their meals are
scanty, but even of these they eat sparingly; and though each is allowed
a small carafe of wine, many refrain from this indulgence. Without
doubt, the most of mankind grossly overeat themselves; our meals serve
not only for support, but as a hearty and natural diversion from the
labour of life. Yet, though excess may be hurtful, I should have thought
this Trappist regimen defective. And I am astonished, as I look back, at
the freshness of face and cheerfulness of manner of all whom I beheld. A
happier nor a healthier company I should scarce suppose that I have ever
seen. As a matter of fact, on this bleak upland, and with the incessant
occupation of the monks, life is of an uncertain tenure, and death no
infrequent visitor, at Our Lady of the Snows. This, at least, was what
was told me. But if they die easily, they must live healthily in the
meantime, for they seemed all firm of flesh and high in colour; and the
only morbid sign that I could observe, an unusual brilliancy of eye, was
one that served rather to increase the general impression of vivacity and
Those with whom I spoke were singularly sweet-tempered, with what I can
only call a holy cheerfulness in air and conversation. There is a note,
in the direction to visitors, telling them not to be offended at the curt
speech of those who wait upon them, since it is proper to monks to speak
little. The note might have been spared; to a man the hospitallers were
all brimming with innocent talk, and, in my experience of the monastery,
it was easier to begin than to break off a conversation. With the
exception of Father Michael, who was a man of the world, they showed
themselves full of kind and healthy interest in all sorts of subjects--in
politics, in voyages, in my sleeping-sack--and not without a certain
pleasure in the sound of their own voices.
As for those who are restricted to silence, I can only wonder how they
bear their solemn and cheerless isolation. And yet, apart from any view
of mortification, I can see a certain policy, not only in the exclusion
of women, but in this vow of silence. I have had some experience of lay
phalansteries, of an artistic, not to say a bacchanalian character; and
seen more than one association easily formed and yet more easily
dispersed. With a Cistercian rule, perhaps they might have lasted
longer. In the neighbourhood of women it is but a touch-and-go
association that can be formed among defenceless men; the stronger
electricity is sure to triumph; the dreams of boyhood, the schemes of
youth, are abandoned after an interview of ten minutes, and the arts and
sciences, and professional male jollity, deserted at once for two sweet
eyes and a caressing accent. And next after this, the tongue is the
I am almost ashamed to pursue this worldly criticism of a religious rule;
but there is yet another point in which the Trappist order appeals to me
as a model of wisdom. By two in the morning the clapper goes upon the
bell, and so on, hour by hour, and sometimes quarter by quarter, till
eight, the hour of rest; so infinitesimally is the day divided among
different occupations. The man who keeps rabbits, for example, hurries
from his hutches to the chapel, the chapter-room, or the refectory, all
day long: every hour he has an office to sing, a duty to perform; from
two, when he rises in the dark, till eight, when he returns to receive
the comfortable gift of sleep, he is upon his feet and occupied with
manifold and changing business. I know many persons, worth several
thousands in the year, who are not so fortunate in the disposal of their
lives. Into how many houses would not the note of the monastery bell,
dividing the day into manageable portions, bring peace of mind and
healthful activity of body! We speak of hardships, but the true hardship
is to be a dull fool, and permitted to mismanage life in our own dull and
From this point of view, we may perhaps better understand the monk's
existence. A long novitiate and every proof of constancy of mind and
strength of body is required before admission to the order; but I could
not find that many were discouraged. In the photographer's studio, which
figures so strangely among the outbuildings, my eye was attracted by the
portrait of a young fellow in the uniform of a private of foot. This was
one of the novices, who came of the age for service, and marched and
drilled and mounted guard for the proper time among the garrison of
Algiers. Here was a man who had surely seen both sides of life before
deciding; yet as soon as he was set free from service he returned to
finish his novitiate.
This austere rule entitles a man to heaven as by right. When the
Trappist sickens, he quits not his habit; he lies in the bed of death as
he has prayed and laboured in his frugal and silent existence; and when
the Liberator comes, at the very moment, even before they have carried
him in his robe to lie his little last in the chapel among continual
chantings, joy-bells break forth, as if for a marriage, from the slated
belfry, and proclaim throughout the neighbourhood that another soul has
gone to God.
At night, under the conduct of my kind Irishman, I took my place in the
gallery to hear compline and Salve Regina, with which the Cistercians
bring every day to a conclusion. There were none of those circumstances
which strike the Protestant as childish or as tawdry in the public
offices of Rome. A stern simplicity, heightened by the romance of the
surroundings, spoke directly to the heart. I recall the whitewashed
chapel, the hooded figures in the choir, the lights alternately occluded
and revealed, the strong manly singing, the silence that ensued, the
sight of cowled heads bowed in prayer, and then the clear trenchant
beating of the bell, breaking in to show that the last office was over
and the hour of sleep had come; and when I remember, I am not surprised
that I made my escape into the court with somewhat whirling fancies, and
stood like a man bewildered in the windy starry night.
But I was weary; and when I had quieted my spirits with Elizabeth Seton's
memoirs--a dull work--the cold and the raving of the wind among the pines
(for my room was on that side of the monastery which adjoins the woods)
disposed me readily to slumber. I was wakened at black midnight, as it
seemed, though it was really two in the morning, by the first stroke upon
the bell. All the brothers were then hurrying to the chapel; the dead in
life, at this untimely hour, were already beginning the uncomforted
labours of their day. The dead in life--there was a chill reflection.
And the words of a French song came back into my memory, telling of the
best of our mixed existence:
'Que t'as de belles filles,
Que t'as de belles filles,
L'Amour let comptera!'
And I blessed God that I was free to wander, free to hope, and free to
But there was another side to my residence at Our Lady of the Snows. At
this late season there were not many boarders; and yet I was not alone in
the public part of the monastery. This itself is hard by the gate, with
a small dining-room on the ground-floor and a whole corridor of cells
similar to mine upstairs. I have stupidly forgotten the board for a
regular retraitant; but it was somewhere between three and five francs a
day, and I think most probably the first. Chance visitors like myself
might give what they chose as a free-will offering, but nothing was
demanded. I may mention that when I was going away, Father Michael
refused twenty francs as excessive. I explained the reasoning which led
me to offer him so much; but even then, from a curious point of honour,
he would not accept it with his own hand. 'I have no right to refuse for
the monastery,' he explained, 'but I should prefer if you would give it
to one of the brothers.'
I had dined alone, because I arrived late; but at supper I found two
other guests. One was a country parish priest, who had walked over that
morning from the seat of his cure near Mende to enjoy four days of
solitude and prayer. He was a grenadier in person, with the hale colour
and circular wrinkles of a peasant; and as he complained much of how he
had been impeded by his skirts upon the march, I have a vivid fancy
portrait of him, striding along, upright, big-boned, with kilted cassock,
through the bleak hills of Gevaudan. The other was a short, grizzling,
thick-set man, from forty-five to fifty, dressed in tweed with a knitted
spencer, and the red ribbon of a decoration in his button-hole. This
last was a hard person to classify. He was an old soldier, who had seen
service and risen to the rank of commandant; and he retained some of the
brisk decisive manners of the camp. On the other hand, as soon as his
resignation was accepted, he had come to Our Lady of the Snows as a
boarder, and, after a brief experience of its ways, had decided to remain
as a novice. Already the new life was beginning to modify his
appearance; already he had acquired somewhat of the quiet and smiling air
of the brethren; and he was as yet neither an officer nor a Trappist, but
partook of the character of each. And certainly here was a man in an
interesting nick of life. Out of the noise of cannon and trumpets, he
was in the act of passing into this still country bordering on the grave,
where men sleep nightly in their grave-clothes, and, like phantoms,
communicate by signs.
At supper we talked politics. I make it my business, when I am in
France, to preach political good-will and moderation, and to dwell on the
example of Poland, much as some alarmists in England dwell on the
of Carthage. The priest and the commandant assured me of their sympathy
with all I said, and made a heavy sighing over the bitterness of
'Why, you cannot say anything to a man with which he does not absolutely
agree,' said I, 'but he flies up at you in a temper.'
They both declared that such a state of things was antichristian.
While we were thus agreeing, what should my tongue stumble upon but a
word in praise of Gambetta's moderation. The old soldier's countenance
was instantly suffused with blood; with the palms of his hands he beat
the table like a naughty child.
'Comment, monsieur?' he shouted. 'Comment? Gambetta moderate? Will
dare to justify these words?'
But the priest had not forgotten the tenor of our talk. And suddenly, in
the height of his fury, the old soldier found a warning look directed on
his face; the absurdity of his behaviour was brought home to him in a
flash; and the storm came to an abrupt end, without another word.
It was only in the morning, over our coffee (Friday, September 27th),
that this couple found out I was a heretic. I suppose I had misled them
by some admiring expressions as to the monastic life around us; and it
was only by a point-blank question that the truth came out. I had been
tolerantly used both by simple Father Apollinaris and astute Father
Michael; and the good Irish deacon, when he heard of my religious
weakness, had only patted me upon the shoulder and said, 'You must be a
Catholic and come to heaven.' But I was now among a different sect of
orthodox. These two men were bitter and upright and narrow, like the
worst of Scotsmen, and indeed, upon my heart, I fancy they were worse.
The priest snorted aloud like a battle-horse.
'Et vous pretendez mourir dans cette espece de croyance?' he demanded;
and there is no type used by mortal printers large enough to qualify his
I humbly indicated that I had no design of changing.
But he could not away with such a monstrous attitude. 'No, no,' he
cried; 'you must change. You have come here, God has led you here, and
you must embrace the opportunity.'
I made a slip in policy; I appealed to the family affections, though I
was speaking to a priest and a soldier, two classes of men
circumstantially divorced from the kind and homely ties of life.
'Your father and mother?' cried the priest. 'Very well; you will convert
them in their turn when you go home.'
I think I see my father's face! I would rather tackle the Gaetulian lion
in his den than embark on such an enterprise against the family
But now the hunt was up; priest and soldier were in full cry for my
conversion; and the Work of the Propagation of the Faith, for which the
people of Cheylard subscribed forty-eight francs ten centimes during
1877, was being gallantly pursued against myself. It was an odd but most
effective proselytising. They never sought to convince me in argument,
where I might have attempted some defence; but took it for granted that I
was both ashamed and terrified at my position, and urged me solely on the
point of time. Now, they said, when God had led me to Our Lady of the
Snows, now was the appointed hour.
'Do not be withheld by false shame,' observed the priest, for my
For one who feels very similarly to all sects of religion, and who has
never been able, even for a moment, to weigh seriously the merit of this
or that creed on the eternal side of things, however much he may see to
praise or blame upon the secular and temporal side, the situation thus
created was both unfair and painful. I committed my second fault in
tact, and tried to plead that it was all the same thing in the end, and
we were all drawing near by different sides to the same kind and
undiscriminating Friend and Father. That, as it seems to lay spirits,
would be the only gospel worthy of the name. But different men think
differently; and this revolutionary aspiration brought down the priest
with all the terrors of the law. He launched into harrowing details of
hell. The damned, he said--on the authority of a little book which he
had read not a week before, and which, to add conviction to conviction,
he had fully intended to bring along with him in his pocket--were to
occupy the same attitude through all eternity in the midst of dismal
tortures. And as he thus expatiated, he grew in nobility of aspect with
As a result the pair concluded that I should seek out the Prior, since
the Abbot was from home, and lay my case immediately before him.
'C'est mon conseil comme ancien militaire,' observed the commandant; 'et
celui de monsieur comme pretre.'
'Oui,' added the cure, sententiously nodding; 'comme ancien militaire--et
At this moment, whilst I was somewhat embarrassed how to answer, in
one of the monks, a little brown fellow, as lively as a grig, and with an
Italian accent, who threw himself at once into the contention, but in a
milder and more persuasive vein, as befitted one of these pleasant
brethren. Look at him, he said. The rule was very hard; he would have
dearly liked to stay in his own country, Italy--it was well known how
beautiful it was, the beautiful Italy; but then there were no Trappists
in Italy; and he had a soul to save; and here he was.
I am afraid I must be at bottom, what a cheerful Indian critic has dubbed
me, 'a faddling hedonist,' for this description of the brother's motives
gave me somewhat of a shock. I should have preferred to think he had
chosen the life for its own sake, and not for ulterior purposes; and this
shows how profoundly I was out of sympathy with these good Trappists,
even when I was doing my best to sympathise. But to the cure the
argument seemed decisive.
'Hear that!' he cried. 'And I have seen a marquis here, a marquis, a
marquis'--he repeated the holy word three times over--'and other persons
high in society; and generals. And here, at your side, is this
gentleman, who has been so many years in armies--decorated, an old
warrior. And here he is, ready to dedicate himself to God.'
I was by this time so thoroughly embarrassed that I pled cold feet, and
made my escape from the apartment. It was a furious windy morning, with
a sky much cleared, and long and potent intervals of sunshine; and I
wandered until dinner in the wild country towards the east, sorely
staggered and beaten upon by the gale, but rewarded with some striking
At dinner the Work of the Propagation of the Faith was recommenced, and
on this occasion still more distastefully to me. The priest asked me
many questions as to the contemptible faith of my fathers, and received
my replies with a kind of ecclesiastical titter.
'Your sect,' he said once; 'for I think you will admit it would be doing
it too much honour to call it a religion.'
'As you please, monsieur,' said I. 'La parole est a vous.'
At length I grew annoyed beyond endurance; and although he was on his
ground and, what is more to the purpose, an old man, and so holding a
claim upon my toleration, I could not avoid a protest against this
uncivil usage. He was sadly discountenanced.
'I assure you,' he said, 'I have no inclination to laugh in my heart. I
have no other feeling but interest in your soul.'
And there ended my conversion. Honest man! he was no dangerous
but a country parson, full of zeal and faith. Long may he tread Gevaudan
with his kilted skirts--a man strong to walk and strong to comfort his
parishioners in death! I daresay he would beat bravely through a
snowstorm where his duty called him; and it is not always the most
faithful believer who makes the cunningest apostle.
UPPER GEVAUDAN (continued)
The bed was made, the room was fit,
By punctual eve the stars were lit;
The air was still, the water ran;
No need there was for maid or man,
When we put up, my ass and I,
At God's green caravanserai.
ACROSS THE GOULET
The wind fell during dinner, and the sky remained clear; so it was under
better auspices that I loaded Modestine before the monastery gate. My
Irish friend accompanied me so far on the way. As we came through the
wood, there was Pere Apollinaire hauling his barrow; and he too quitted
his labours to go with me for perhaps a hundred yards, holding my hand
between both of his in front of him. I parted first from one and then
from the other with unfeigned regret, but yet with the glee of the
traveller who shakes off the dust of one stage before hurrying forth upon
another. Then Modestine and I mounted the course of the Allier, which
here led us back into Gevaudan towards its sources in the forest of
Mercoire. It was but an inconsiderable burn before we left its guidance.
Thence, over a hill, our way lay through a naked plateau, until we
reached Chasserades at sundown.
The company in the inn kitchen that night were all men employed in survey
for one of the projected railways. They were intelligent and
conversible, and we decided the future of France over hot wine, until the
state of the clock frightened us to rest. There were four beds in the
little upstairs room; and we slept six. But I had a bed to myself, and
persuaded them to leave the window open.
'He, bourgeois; il est cinq heures!' was the cry that wakened me in the
morning (Saturday, September 28th). The room was full of a transparent
darkness, which dimly showed me the other three beds and the five
different nightcaps on the pillows. But out of the window the dawn was
growing ruddy in a long belt over the hill-tops, and day was about to
flood the plateau. The hour was inspiriting; and there seemed a promise
of calm weather, which was perfectly fulfilled. I was soon under way
with Modestine. The road lay for a while over the plateau, and then
descended through a precipitous village into the valley of the Chassezac.
This stream ran among green meadows, well hidden from the world by its
steep banks; the broom was in flower, and here and there was a hamlet
sending up its smoke.
At last the path crossed the Chassezac upon a bridge, and, forsaking this
deep hollow, set itself to cross the mountain of La Goulet. It wound up
through Lestampes by upland fields and woods of beech and birch, and with
every corner brought me into an acquaintance with some new interest.
in the gully of the Chassezac my ear had been struck by a noise like that
of a great bass bell ringing at the distance of many miles; but this, as
I continued to mount and draw nearer to it, seemed to change in
character, and I found at length that it came from some one leading
flocks afield to the note of a rural horn. The narrow street of
Lestampes stood full of sheep, from wall to wall--black sheep and white,
bleating with one accord like the birds in spring, and each one
accompanying himself upon the sheep-bell round his neck. It made a
pathetic concert, all in treble. A little higher, and I passed a pair of
men in a tree with pruning-hooks, and one of them was singing the music
of a bourree. Still further, and when I was already threading the
birches, the crowing of cocks came cheerfully up to my ears, and along
with that the voice of a flute discoursing a deliberate and plaintive air
from one of the upland villages. I pictured to myself some grizzled,
apple-cheeked, country schoolmaster fluting in his bit of a garden in the
clear autumn sunshine. All these beautiful and interesting sounds filled
my heart with an unwonted expectation; and it appeared to me that, once
past this range which I was mounting, I should descend into the garden of
the world. Nor was I deceived, for I was now done with rains and winds
and a bleak country. The first part of my journey ended here; and this
was like an induction of sweet sounds into the other and more beautiful.
There are other degrees of feyness, as of punishment, besides the
capital; and I was now led by my good spirits into an adventure which I
relate in the interest of future donkey-drivers. The road zigzagged so
widely on the hillside, that I chose a short cut by map and compass, and
struck through the dwarf woods to catch the road again upon a higher
level. It was my one serious conflict with Modestine. She would none of
my short cut; she turned in my face; she backed, she reared; she, whom I
had hitherto imagined to be dumb, actually brayed with a loud hoarse
flourish, like a cock crowing for the dawn. I plied the goad with one
hand; with the other, so steep was the ascent, I had to hold on the pack-
saddle. Half-a-dozen times she was nearly over backwards on the top of
me; half-a-dozen times, from sheer weariness of spirit, I was nearly
giving it up, and leading her down again to follow the road. But I took
the thing as a wager, and fought it through. I was surprised, as I went
on my way again, by what appeared to be chill rain-drops falling on my
hand, and more than once looked up in wonder at the cloudless sky. But
it was only sweat which came dropping from my brow.
Over the summit of the Goulet there was no marked road--only upright
stones posted from space to space to guide the drovers. The turf
underfoot was springy and well scented. I had no company but a lark or
two, and met but one bullock-cart between Lestampes and Bleymard. In
front of me I saw a shallow valley, and beyond that the range of the
Lozere, sparsely wooded and well enough modelled in the flanks, but
straight and dull in outline. There was scarce a sign of culture; only
about Bleymard, the white high-road from Villefort to Mende traversed a
range of meadows, set with spiry poplars, and sounding from side to side
with the bells of flocks and herds.
A NIGHT AMONG THE PINES
From Bleymard after dinner, although it was already late, I set out to
scale a portion of the Lozere. An ill-marked stony drove-road guided me
forward; and I met nearly half-a-dozen bullock-carts descending from the
woods, each laden with a whole pine-tree for the winter's firing. At the
top of the woods, which do not climb very high upon this cold ridge, I
struck leftward by a path among the pines, until I hit on a dell of green
turf, where a streamlet made a little spout over some stones to serve me
for a water-tap. 'In a more sacred or sequestered bower . . . nor nymph
nor faunus haunted.' The trees were not old, but they grew thickly round
the glade: there was no outlook, except north-eastward upon distant hill-
tops, or straight upward to the sky; and the encampment felt secure and
private like a room. By the time I had made my arrangements and fed
Modestine, the day was already beginning to decline. I buckled myself to
the knees into my sack and made a hearty meal; and as soon as the sun
went down, I pulled my cap over my eyes and fell asleep.
Night is a dead monotonous period under a roof; but in the open world it
passes lightly, with its stars and dews and perfumes, and the hours are
marked by changes in the face of Nature. What seems a kind of temporal
death to people choked between walls and curtains, is only a light and
living slumber to the man who sleeps afield. All night long he can hear
Nature breathing deeply and freely; even as she takes her rest, she turns
and smiles; and there is one stirring hour unknown to those who dwell in
houses, when a wakeful influence goes abroad over the sleeping
hemisphere, and all the outdoor world are on their feet. It is then that
the cock first crows, not this time to announce the dawn, but like a
cheerful watchman speeding the course of night. Cattle awake on the
meadows; sheep break their fast on dewy hillsides, and change to a new
lair among the ferns; and houseless men, who have lain down with the
fowls, open their dim eyes and behold the beauty of the night.
At what inaudible summons, at what gentle touch of Nature, are all these
sleepers thus recalled in the same hour to life? Do the stars rain down
an influence, or do we share some thrill of mother earth below our
resting bodies? Even shepherds and old country-folk, who are the deepest
read in these arcana, have not a guess as to the means or purpose of this
nightly resurrection. Towards two in the morning they declare the thing
takes place; and neither know nor inquire further. And at least it is a
pleasant incident. We are disturbed in our slumber only, like the
luxurious Montaigne, 'that we may the better and more sensibly relish
it.' We have a moment to look upon the stars. And there is a special
pleasure for some minds in the reflection that we share the impulse with
all outdoor creatures in our neighbourhood, that we have escaped out of
the Bastille of civilisation, and are become, for the time being, a mere
kindly animal and a sheep of Nature's flock.
When that hour came to me among the pines, I wakened thirsty. My tin was
standing by me half full of water. I emptied it at a draught; and
feeling broad awake after this internal cold aspersion, sat upright to
make a cigarette. The stars were clear, coloured, and jewel-like, but
not frosty. A faint silvery vapour stood for the Milky Way. All around
me the black fir-points stood upright and stock-still. By the whiteness
of the pack-saddle, I could see Modestine walking round and round at the
length of her tether; I could hear her steadily munching at the sward;
but there was not another sound, save the indescribable quiet talk of the
runnel over the stones. I lay lazily smoking and studying the colour of
the sky, as we call the void of space, from where it showed a reddish
grey behind the pines to where it showed a glossy blue-black between the
stars. As if to be more like a pedlar, I wear a silver ring. This I
could see faintly shining as I raised or lowered the cigarette; and at
each whiff the inside of my hand was illuminated, and became for a second
the highest light in the landscape.
A faint wind, more like a moving coolness than a stream of air, passed
down the glade from time to time; so that even in my great chamber the
air was being renewed all night long. I thought with horror of the inn
at Chasserades and the congregated nightcaps; with horror of the
nocturnal prowesses of clerks and students, of hot theatres and pass-keys
and close rooms. I have not often enjoyed a more serene possession of
myself, nor felt more independent of material aids. The outer world,
from which we cower into our houses, seemed after all a gentle habitable
place; and night after night a man's bed, it seemed, was laid and waiting
for him in the fields, where God keeps an open house. I thought I had
rediscovered one of those truths which are revealed to savages and hid
from political economists: at the least, I had discovered a new pleasure
for myself. And yet even while I was exulting in my solitude I became
aware of a strange lack. I wished a companion to lie near me in the
starlight, silent and not moving, but ever within touch. For there is a
fellowship more quiet even than solitude, and which, rightly understood,
is solitude made perfect. And to live out of doors with the woman a man
loves is of all lives the most complete and free.
As I thus lay, between content and longing, a faint noise stole towards
me through the pines. I thought, at first, it was the crowing of cocks
or the barking of dogs at some very distant farm; but steadily and
gradually it took articulate shape in my ears, until I became aware that
a passenger was going by upon the high-road in the valley, and singing
loudly as he went. There was more of good-will than grace in his
performance; but he trolled with ample lungs; and the sound of his voice
took hold upon the hillside and set the air shaking in the leafy glens. I
have heard people passing by night in sleeping cities; some of them sang;
one, I remember, played loudly on the bagpipes. I have heard the rattle
of a cart or carriage spring up suddenly after hours of stillness, and
pass, for some minutes, within the range of my hearing as I lay abed.
There is a romance about all who are abroad in the black hours, and with
something of a thrill we try to guess their business. But here the
romance was double: first, this glad passenger, lit internally with wine,
who sent up his voice in music through the night; and then I, on the
other hand, buckled into my sack, and smoking alone in the pine-woods
between four and five thousand feet towards the stars.
When I awoke again (Sunday, 29th September), many of the stars had
disappeared; only the stronger companions of the night still burned
visibly overhead; and away towards the east I saw a faint haze of light
upon the horizon, such as had been the Milky Way when I was last awake.
Day was at hand. I lit my lantern, and by its glow-worm light put on my
boots and gaiters; then I broke up some bread for Modestine, filled my
can at the water-tap, and lit my spirit-lamp to boil myself some
chocolate. The blue darkness lay long in the glade where I had so
sweetly slumbered; but soon there was a broad streak of orange melting
into gold along the mountain-tops of Vivarais. A solemn glee possessed
my mind at this gradual and lovely coming in of day. I heard the runnel
with delight; I looked round me for something beautiful and unexpected;
but the still black pine-trees, the hollow glade, the munching ass,
remained unchanged in figure. Nothing had altered but the light, and
that, indeed, shed over all a spirit of life and of breathing peace, and
moved me to a strange exhilaration.
I drank my water-chocolate, which was hot if it was not rich, and
strolled here and there, and up and down about the glade. While I was
thus delaying, a gush of steady wind, as long as a heavy sigh, poured
direct out of the quarter of the morning. It was cold, and set me
sneezing. The trees near at hand tossed their black plumes in its
passage; and I could see the thin distant spires of pine along the edge
of the hill rock slightly to and fro against the golden east. Ten
minutes after, the sunlight spread at a gallop along the hillside,
scattering shadows and sparkles, and the day had come completely.
I hastened to prepare my pack, and tackle the steep ascent that lay
before me; but I had something on my mind. It was only a fancy; yet a
fancy will sometimes be importunate. I had been most hospitably received
and punctually served in my green caravanserai. The room was airy, the
water excellent, and the dawn had called me to a moment. I say nothing
of the tapestries or the inimitable ceiling, nor yet of the view which I
commanded from the windows; but I felt I was in some one's debt for all
this liberal entertainment. And so it pleased me, in a half-laughing
way, to leave pieces of money on the turf as I went along, until I had
left enough for my night's lodging. I trust they did not fall to some
rich and churlish drover.
THE COUNTRY OF THE CAMISARDS
We travelled in the print of olden wars;
Yet all the land was green;
And love we found, and peace,
Where fire and war had been.
They pass and smile, the children of the sword--
No more the sword they wield;
And O, how deep the corn
Along the battlefield!
W. P. BANNATYNE.
ACROSS THE LOZERE
The track that I had followed in the evening soon died out, and I
continued to follow over a bald turf ascent a row of stone pillars, such
as had conducted me across the Goulet. It was already warm. I tied my
jacket on the pack, and walked in my knitted waistcoat. Modestine
herself was in high spirits, and broke of her own accord, for the first
time in my experience, into a jolting trot that set the oats swashing in
the pocket of my coat. The view, back upon the northern Gevaudan,
extended with every step; scarce a tree, scarce a house, appeared upon
the fields of wild hill that ran north, east, and west, all blue and gold
in the haze and sunlight of the morning. A multitude of little birds
kept sweeping and twittering about my path; they perched on the stone
pillars, they pecked and strutted on the turf, and I saw them circle in
volleys in the blue air, and show, from time to time, translucent
flickering wings between the sun and me.
Almost from the first moment of my march, a faint large noise, like a
distant surf, had filled my ears. Sometimes I was tempted to think it
the voice of a neighbouring waterfall, and sometimes a subjective result
of the utter stillness of the hill. But as I continued to advance, the
noise increased, and became like the hissing of an enormous tea-urn, and
at the same time breaths of cool air began to reach me from the direction
of the summit. At length I understood. It was blowing stiffly from the
south upon the other slope of the Lozere, and every step that I took I
was drawing nearer to the wind.
Although it had been long desired, it was quite unexpectedly at last that
my eyes rose above the summit. A step that seemed no way more decisive
than many other steps that had preceded it--and, 'like stout Cortez when,
with eagle eyes, he stared on the Pacific,' I took possession, in my own
name, of a new quarter of the world. For behold, instead of the gross
turf rampart I had been mounting for so long, a view into the hazy air of
heaven, and a land of intricate blue hills below my feet.
The Lozere lies nearly east and west, cutting Gevaudan into two unequal
parts; its highest point, this Pic de Finiels, on which I was then
standing, rises upwards of five thousand six hundred feet above the sea,
and in clear weather commands a view over all lower Languedoc to the
Mediterranean Sea. I have spoken with people who either pretended or
believed that they had seen, from the Pic de Finiels, white ships sailing
by Montpellier and Cette. Behind was the upland northern country through
which my way had lain, peopled by a dull race, without wood, without much
grandeur of hill-form, and famous in the past for little beside wolves.
But in front of me, half veiled in sunny haze, lay a new Gevaudan, rich,
picturesque, illustrious for stirring events. Speaking largely, I was in
the Cevennes at Monastier, and during all my journey; but there is a
strict and local sense in which only this confused and shaggy country at
my feet has any title to the name, and in this sense the peasantry employ
the word. These are the Cevennes with an emphasis: the Cevennes of the
Cevennes. In that undecipherable labyrinth of hills, a war of bandits, a
war of wild beasts, raged for two years between the Grand Monarch with
all his troops and marshals on the one hand, and a few thousand
Protestant mountaineers upon the other. A hundred and eighty years ago,
the Camisards held a station even on the Lozere, where I stood; they had
an organisation, arsenals, a military and religious hierarchy; their
affairs were 'the discourse of every coffee-house' in London; England
sent fleets in their support; their leaders prophesied and murdered; with
colours and drums, and the singing of old French psalms, their bands
sometimes affronted daylight, marched before walled cities, and dispersed
the generals of the king; and sometimes at night, or in masquerade,
possessed themselves of strong castles, and avenged treachery upon their
allies and cruelty upon their foes. There, a hundred and eighty years
ago, was the chivalrous Roland, 'Count and Lord Roland, generalissimo of
the Protestants in France,' grave, silent, imperious, pock-marked
ex-dragoon, whom a lady followed in his wanderings out of love. There
was Cavalier, a baker's apprentice with a genius for war, elected
brigadier of Camisards at seventeen, to die at fifty-five the English
governor of Jersey. There again was Castanet, a partisan leader in a
voluminous peruke and with a taste for controversial divinity. Strange
generals, who moved apart to take counsel with the God of Hosts, and fled
or offered battle, set sentinels or slept in an unguarded camp, as the
Spirit whispered to their hearts! And there, to follow these and other
leaders, was the rank and file of prophets and disciples, bold, patient,
indefatigable, hardy to run upon the mountains, cheering their rough life
with psalms, eager to fight, eager to pray, listening devoutly to the
oracles of brain-sick children, and mystically putting a grain of wheat
among the pewter balls with which they charged their muskets.
I had travelled hitherto through a dull district, and in the track of
nothing more notable than the child-eating beast of Gevaudan, the
Napoleon Bonaparte of wolves. But now I was to go down into the scene of
a romantic chapter--or, better, a romantic footnote in the history of the
world. What was left of all this bygone dust and heroism? I was told
that Protestantism still survived in this head seat of Protestant
resistance; so much the priest himself had told me in the monastery
parlour. But I had yet to learn if it were a bare survival, or a lively
and generous tradition. Again, if in the northern Cevennes the people
are narrow in religious judgments, and more filled with zeal than
charity, what was I to look for in this land of persecution and
reprisal--in a land where the tyranny of the Church produced the Camisard
rebellion, and the terror of the Camisards threw the Catholic peasantry
into legalised revolt upon the other side, so that Camisard and Florentin
skulked for each other's lives among the mountains?
Just on the brow of the hill, where I paused to look before me, the
series of stone pillars came abruptly to an end; and only a little below,
a sort of track appeared and began to go down a break-neck slope, turning
like a corkscrew as it went. It led into a valley between falling hills,
stubbly with rocks like a reaped field of corn, and floored farther down
with green meadows. I followed the track with precipitation; the
steepness of the slope, the continual agile turning of the line of the
descent, and the old unwearied hope of finding something new in a new
country, all conspired to lend me wings. Yet a little lower and a stream
began, collecting itself together out of many fountains, and soon making
a glad noise among the hills. Sometimes it would cross the track in a
bit of waterfall, with a pool, in which Modestine refreshed her feet.
The whole descent is like a dream to me, so rapidly was it accomplished.
I had scarcely left the summit ere the valley had closed round my path,
and the sun beat upon me, walking in a stagnant lowland atmosphere. The
track became a road, and went up and down in easy undulations. I passed
cabin after cabin, but all seemed deserted; and I saw not a human
creature, nor heard any sound except that of the stream. I was, however,
in a different country from the day before. The stony skeleton of the
world was here vigorously displayed to sun and air. The slopes were
steep and changeful. Oak-trees clung along the hills, well grown,
wealthy in leaf, and touched by the autumn with strong and luminous
colours. Here and there another stream would fall in from the right or
the left, down a gorge of snow-white and tumultuary boulders. The river
in the bottom (for it was rapidly growing a river, collecting on all
hands as it trotted on its way) here foamed a while in desperate rapids,
and there lay in pools of the most enchanting sea-green shot with watery
browns. As far as I have gone, I have never seen a river of so changeful
and delicate a hue; crystal was not more clear, the meadows were not by
half so green; and at every pool I saw I felt a thrill of longing to be
out of these hot, dusty, and material garments, and bathe my naked body
in the mountain air and water. All the time as I went on I never forgot
it was the Sabbath; the stillness was a perpetual reminder; and I heard
in spirit the church-bells clamouring all over Europe, and the psalms of
a thousand churches.
At length a human sound struck upon my ear--a cry strangely modulated
between pathos and derision; and looking across the valley, I saw a
little urchin sitting in a meadow, with his hands about his knees, and
dwarfed to almost comical smallness by the distance. But the rogue had
picked me out as I went down the road, from oak wood on to oak wood,
driving Modestine; and he made me the compliments of the new country in
this tremulous high-pitched salutation. And as all noises are lovely and
natural at a sufficient distance, this also, coming through so much clean
hill air and crossing all the green valley, sounded pleasant to my ear,
and seemed a thing rustic, like the oaks or the river.
A little after, the stream that I was following fell into the Tarn at
Pont de Montvert of bloody memory.
PONT DE MONTVERT
One of the first things I encountered in Pont de Montvert was, if I
remember rightly, the Protestant temple; but this was but the type of
other novelties. A subtle atmosphere distinguishes a town in England
from a town in France, or even in Scotland. At Carlisle you can see you
are in the one country; at Dumfries, thirty miles away, you are as sure
that you are in the other. I should find it difficult to tell in what
particulars Pont de Montvert differed from Monastier or Langogne, or even
Bleymard; but the difference existed, and spoke eloquently to the eyes.
The place, with its houses, its lanes, its glaring river-bed, wore an
indescribable air of the South.
All was Sunday bustle in the streets and in the public-house, as all had
been Sabbath peace among the mountains. There must have been near a
score of us at dinner by eleven before noon; and after I had eaten and
drunken, and sat writing up my journal, I suppose as many more came
dropping in one after another, or by twos and threes. In crossing the
Lozere I had not only come among new natural features, but moved into the
territory of a different race. These people, as they hurriedly
despatched their viands in an intricate sword-play of knives, questioned
and answered me with a degree of intelligence which excelled all that I
had met, except among the railway folk at Chasserades. They had open
telling faces, and were lively both in speech and manner. They not only
entered thoroughly into the spirit of my little trip, but more than one
declared, if he were rich enough, he would like to set forth on such
Even physically there was a pleasant change. I had not seen a pretty
woman since I left Monastier, and there but one. Now of the three who
sat down with me to dinner, one was certainly not beautiful--a poor timid
thing of forty, quite troubled at this roaring table d'hote, whom I
squired and helped to wine, and pledged and tried generally to encourage,
with quite a contrary effect; but the other two, both married, were both
more handsome than the average of women. And Clarisse? What shall I say
of Clarisse? She waited the table with a heavy placable nonchalance,
like a performing cow; her great grey eyes were steeped in amorous
languor; her features, although fleshy, were of an original and accurate
design; her mouth had a curl; her nostril spoke of dainty pride; her
cheek fell into strange and interesting lines. It was a face capable of
strong emotion, and, with training, it offered the promise of delicate
sentiment. It seemed pitiful to see so good a model left to country
admirers and a country way of thought. Beauty should at least have
touched society; then, in a moment, it throws off a weight that lay upon
it, it becomes conscious of itself, it puts on an elegance, learns a gait
and a carriage of the head, and, in a moment, patet dea. Before I left I
assured Clarisse of my hearty admiration. She took it like milk, without
embarrassment or wonder, merely looking at me steadily with her great
eyes; and I own the result upon myself was some confusion. If Clarisse
could read English, I should not dare to add that her figure was unworthy
of her face. Hers was a case for stays; but that may perhaps grow better
as she gets up in years.
Pont de Montvert, or Greenhill Bridge, as we might say at home, is a
place memorable in the story of the Camisards. It was here that the war
broke out; here that those southern Covenanters slew their Archbishop
Sharp. The persecution on the one hand, the febrile enthusiasm on the
other, are almost equally difficult to understand in these quiet modern
days, and with our easy modern beliefs and disbeliefs. The Protestants
were one and all beside their right minds with zeal and sorrow. They
were all prophets and prophetesses. Children at the breast would exhort
their parents to good works. 'A child of fifteen months at Quissac spoke
from its mother's arms, agitated and sobbing, distinctly and with a loud
voice.' Marshal Villars has seen a town where all the women 'seemed
possessed by the devil,' and had trembling fits, and uttered prophecies
publicly upon the streets. A prophetess of Vivarais was hanged at
Montpellier because blood flowed from her eyes and nose, and she declared
that she was weeping tears of blood for the misfortunes of the
Protestants. And it was not only women and children. Stalwart dangerous
fellows, used to swing the sickle or to wield the forest axe, were
likewise shaken with strange paroxysms, and spoke oracles with sobs and
streaming tears. A persecution unsurpassed in violence had lasted near a
score of years, and this was the result upon the persecuted; hanging,
burning, breaking on the wheel, had been in vain; the dragoons had left
their hoof-marks over all the countryside; there were men rowing in the
galleys, and women pining in the prisons of the Church; and not a thought
was changed in the heart of any upright Protestant.
Now the head and forefront of the persecution--after Lamoignon de
Bavile--Francois de Langlade du Chayla (pronounce Cheila), Archpriest of
the Cevennes and Inspector of Missions in the same country, had a house
in which he sometimes dwelt in the town of Pont de Montvert. He was a
conscientious person, who seems to have been intended by nature for a
pirate, and now fifty-five, an age by which a man has learned all the
moderation of which he is capable. A missionary in his youth in China,
he there suffered martyrdom, was left for dead, and only succoured and
brought back to life by the charity of a pariah. We must suppose the
pariah devoid of second-sight, and not purposely malicious in this act.
Such an experience, it might be thought, would have cured a man of the
desire to persecute; but the human spirit is a thing strangely put
together; and, having been a Christian martyr, Du Chayla became a
Christian persecutor. The Work of the Propagation of the Faith went
roundly forward in his hands. His house in Pont de Montvert served him
as a prison. There he closed the hands of his prisoners upon live coal,
and plucked out the hairs of their beards, to convince them that they
were deceived in their opinions. And yet had not he himself tried and
proved the inefficacy of these carnal arguments among the Buddhists in
Not only was life made intolerable in Languedoc, but flight was rigidly
forbidden. One Massip, a muleteer, and well acquainted with the mountain-
paths, had already guided several troops of fugitives in safety to
Geneva; and on him, with another convoy, consisting mostly of women
dressed as men, Du Chayla, in an evil hour for himself, laid his hands.
The Sunday following, there was a conventicle of Protestants in the woods
of Altefage upon Mount Bouges; where there stood up one Seguier--Spirit
Seguier, as his companions called him--a wool-carder, tall, black-faced,
and toothless, but a man full of prophecy. He declared, in the name of
God, that the time for submission had gone by, and they must betake
themselves to arms for the deliverance of their brethren and the
destruction of the priests.
The next night, 24th July 1702, a sound disturbed the Inspector of
Missions as he sat in his prison-house at Pont de Montvert: the voices of
many men upraised in psalmody drew nearer and nearer through the town.
was ten at night; he had his court about him, priests, soldiers, and
servants, to the number of twelve or fifteen; and now dreading the
insolence of a conventicle below his very windows, he ordered forth his
soldiers to report. But the psalm-singers were already at his door,
fifty strong, led by the inspired Seguier, and breathing death. To their
summons, the archpriest made answer like a stout old persecutor, and bade
his garrison fire upon the mob. One Camisard (for, according to some, it
was in this night's work that they came by the name) fell at this
discharge: his comrades burst in the door with hatchets and a beam of
wood, overran the lower story of the house, set free the prisoners, and
finding one of them in the vine, a sort of Scavenger's Daughter of the
place and period, redoubled in fury against Du Chayla, and sought by
repeated assaults to carry the upper floors. But he, on his side, had
given absolution to his men, and they bravely held the staircase.
'Children of God,' cried the prophet, 'hold your hands. Let us burn the
house, with the priest and the satellites of Baal.'
The fire caught readily. Out of an upper window Du Chayla and his men
lowered themselves into the garden by means of knotted sheets; some
escaped across the river under the bullets of the insurgents; but the
archpriest himself fell, broke his thigh, and could only crawl into the
hedge. What were his reflections as this second martyrdom drew near? A
poor, brave, besotted, hateful man, who had done his duty resolutely
according to his light both in the Cevennes and China. He found at least
one telling word to say in his defence; for when the roof fell in and the
upbursting flames discovered his retreat, and they came and dragged him
to the public place of the town, raging and calling him damned--'If I be
damned,' said he, 'why should you also damn yourselves?'
Here was a good reason for the last; but in the course of his
inspectorship he had given many stronger which all told in a contrary
direction; and these he was now to hear. One by one, Seguier first, the
Camisards drew near and stabbed him. 'This,' they said, 'is for my
father broken on the wheel. This for my brother in the galleys. That
for my mother or my sister imprisoned in your cursed convents.' Each
gave his blow and his reason; and then all kneeled and sang psalms around
the body till the dawn. With the dawn, still singing, they defiled away
towards Frugeres, farther up the Tarn, to pursue the work of vengeance,
leaving Du Chayla's prison-house in ruins, and his body pierced with two-
and-fifty wounds upon the public place.
'Tis a wild night's work, with its accompaniment of psalms; and it seems
as if a psalm must always have a sound of threatening in that town upon
the Tarn. But the story does not end, even so far as concerns Pont de
Montvert, with the departure of the Camisards. The career of Seguier was
brief and bloody. Two more priests and a whole family at Ladeveze, from
the father to the servants, fell by his hand or by his orders; and yet he
was but a day or two at large, and restrained all the time by the
presence of the soldiery. Taken at length by a famous soldier of
fortune, Captain Poul, he appeared unmoved before his judges.
'Your name?' they asked.
'Why are you called Spirit?'
'Because the Spirit of the Lord is with me.'
'Lately in the desert, and soon in heaven.'
'Have you no remorse for your crimes?'
'I have committed none. My soul is like a garden full of shelter and of
At Pont de Montvert, on the 12th of August, he had his right hand
stricken from his body, and was burned alive. And his soul was like a
garden? So perhaps was the soul of Du Chayla, the Christian martyr. And
perhaps if you could read in my soul, or I could read in yours, our own
composure might seem little less surprising.
Du Chayla's house still stands, with a new roof, beside one of the
bridges of the town; and if you are curious you may see the
terrace-garden into which he dropped.
IN THE VALLEY OF THE TARN
A new road leads from Pont de Montvert to Florac by the valley of the
Tarn; a smooth sandy ledge, it runs about half-way between the summit of
the cliffs and the river in the bottom of the valley; and I went in and
out, as I followed it, from bays of shadow into promontories of afternoon
sun. This was a pass like that of Killiecrankie; a deep turning gully in
the hills, with the Tarn making a wonderful hoarse uproar far below, and
craggy summits standing in the sunshine high above. A thin fringe of ash-
trees ran about the hill-tops, like ivy on a ruin; but on the lower
slopes, and far up every glen, the Spanish chestnut-trees stood each four-
square to heaven under its tented foliage. Some were planted, each on
its own terrace no larger than a bed; some, trusting in their roots,
found strength to grow and prosper and be straight and large upon the
rapid slopes of the valley; others, where there was a margin to the
river, stood marshalled in a line and mighty like cedars of Lebanon. Yet
even where they grew most thickly they were not to be thought of as a
wood, but as a herd of stalwart individuals; and the dome of each tree
stood forth separate and large, and as it were a little hill, from among
the domes of its companions. They gave forth a faint sweet perfume which
pervaded the air of the afternoon; autumn had put tints of gold and
tarnish in the green; and the sun so shone through and kindled the broad
foliage, that each chestnut was relieved against another, not in shadow,
but in light. A humble sketcher here laid down his pencil in despair.
I wish I could convey a notion of the growth of these noble trees; of how
they strike out boughs like the oak, and trail sprays of drooping foliage
like the willow; of how they stand on upright fluted columns like the
pillars of a church; or like the olive, from the most shattered bole can
put out smooth and youthful shoots, and begin a new life upon the ruins
of the old. Thus they partake of the nature of many different trees; and
even their prickly top-knots, seen near at hand against the sky, have a
certain palm-like air that impresses the imagination. But their
individuality, although compounded of so many elements, is but the richer
and the more original. And to look down upon a level filled with these
knolls of foliage, or to see a clan of old unconquerable chestnuts
cluster 'like herded elephants' upon the spur of a mountain, is to rise
to higher thoughts of the powers that are in Nature.
Between Modestine's laggard humour and the beauty of the scene, we made
little progress all that afternoon; and at last finding the sun, although
still far from setting, was already beginning to desert the narrow valley
of the Tarn, I began to cast about for a place to camp in. This was not
easy to find; the terraces were too narrow, and the ground, where it was
unterraced, was usually too steep for a man to lie upon. I should have
slipped all night, and awakened towards morning with my feet or my head
in the river.
After perhaps a mile, I saw, some sixty feet above the road, a little
plateau large enough to hold my sack, and securely parapeted by the trunk
of an aged and enormous chestnut. Thither, with infinite trouble, I
goaded and kicked the reluctant Modestine, and there I hastened to unload
her. There was only room for myself upon the plateau, and I had to go
nearly as high again before I found so much as standing-room for the ass.
It was on a heap of rolling stones, on an artificial terrace, certainly
not five feet square in all. Here I tied her to a chestnut, and having
given her corn and bread and made a pile of chestnut-leaves, of which I
found her greedy, I descended once more to my own encampment.
The position was unpleasantly exposed. One or two carts went by upon the
road; and as long as daylight lasted I concealed myself, for all the
world like a hunted Camisard, behind my fortification of vast chestnut
trunk; for I was passionately afraid of discovery and the visit of
jocular persons in the night. Moreover, I saw that I must be early
awake; for these chestnut gardens had been the scene of industry no
further gone than on the day before. The slope was strewn with lopped
branches, and here and there a great package of leaves was propped
against a trunk; for even the leaves are serviceable, and the peasants
use them in winter by way of fodder for their animals. I picked a meal
in fear and trembling, half lying down to hide myself from the road; and
I daresay I was as much concerned as if I had been a scout from Joani's
band above upon the Lozere, or from Salomon's across the Tarn, in the old
times of psalm-singing and blood. Or, indeed, perhaps more; for the
Camisards had a remarkable confidence in God; and a tale comes back into
my memory of how the Count of Gevaudan, riding with a party of dragoons
and a notary at his saddlebow to enforce the oath of fidelity in all the
country hamlets, entered a valley in the woods, and found Cavalier and
his men at dinner, gaily seated on the grass, and their hats crowned with
box-tree garlands, while fifteen women washed their linen in the stream.
Such was a field festival in 1703; at that date Antony Watteau would be
painting similar subjects.
This was a very different camp from that of the night before in the cool
and silent pine-woods. It was warm and even stifling in the valley. The
shrill song of frogs, like the tremolo note of a whistle with a pea in
it, rang up from the river-side before the sun was down. In the growing
dusk, faint rustlings began to run to and fro among the fallen leaves;
from time to time a faint chirping or cheeping noise would fall upon my
ear; and from time to time I thought I could see the movement of
something swift and indistinct between the chestnuts. A profusion of
large ants swarmed upon the ground; bats whisked by, and mosquitoes
droned overhead. The long boughs with their bunches of leaves hung
against the sky like garlands; and those immediately above and around me
had somewhat the air of a trellis which should have been wrecked and half
overthrown in a gale of wind.
Sleep for a long time fled my eyelids; and just as I was beginning to
feel quiet stealing over my limbs, and settling densely on my mind, a
noise at my head startled me broad awake again, and, I will frankly
confess it, brought my heart into my mouth.
It was such a noise as a person would make scratching loudly with a
finger-nail; it came from under the knapsack which served me for a
pillow, and it was thrice repeated before I had time to sit up and turn
about. Nothing was to be seen, nothing more was to be heard, but a few
of these mysterious rustlings far and near, and the ceaseless
accompaniment of the river and the frogs. I learned next day that the
chestnut gardens are infested by rats; rustling, chirping, and scraping
were probably all due to these; but the puzzle, for the moment, was
insoluble, and I had to compose myself for sleep, as best I could, in
wondering uncertainty about my neighbours.
I was wakened in the grey of the morning (Monday, 30th September) by the
sound of foot-steps not far off upon the stones, and opening my eyes, I
beheld a peasant going by among the chestnuts by a footpath that I had
not hitherto observed. He turned his head neither to the right nor to
the left, and disappeared in a few strides among the foliage. Here was
an escape! But it was plainly more than time to be moving. The
peasantry were abroad; scarce less terrible to me in my nondescript
position than the soldiers of Captain Poul to an undaunted Camisard. I
fed Modestine with what haste I could; but as I was returning to my sack,
I saw a man and a boy come down the hillside in a direction crossing
mine. They unintelligibly hailed me, and I replied with inarticulate but
cheerful sounds, and hurried forward to get into my gaiters.
The pair, who seemed to be father and son, came slowly up to the plateau,
and stood close beside me for some time in silence. The bed was open,
and I saw with regret my revolver lying patently disclosed on the blue
wool. At last, after they had looked me all over, and the silence had
grown laughably embarrassing, the man demanded in what seemed
'You have slept here?'
'Yes,' said I. 'As you see.'
'Why?' he asked.
'My faith,' I answered lightly, 'I was tired.'
He next inquired where I was going and what I had had for dinner; and
then, without the least transition, 'C'est bien,' he added, 'come along.'
And he and his son, without another word, turned off to the next chestnut-
tree but one, which they set to pruning. The thing had passed of more
simply than I hoped. He was a grave, respectable man; and his unfriendly
voice did not imply that he thought he was speaking to a criminal, but
merely to an inferior.
I was soon on the road, nibbling a cake of chocolate and seriously
occupied with a case of conscience. Was I to pay for my night's lodging?
I had slept ill, the bed was full of fleas in the shape of ants, there
was no water in the room, the very dawn had neglected to call me in the
morning. I might have missed a train, had there been any in the
neighbourhood to catch. Clearly, I was dissatisfied with my
entertainment; and I decided I should not pay unless I met a beggar.
The valley looked even lovelier by morning; and soon the road descended
to the level of the river. Here, in a place where many straight and
prosperous chestnuts stood together, making an aisle upon a swarded
terrace, I made my morning toilette in the water of the Tarn. It was
marvellously clear, thrillingly cool; the soap-suds disappeared as if by
magic in the swift current, and the white boulders gave one a model for
cleanliness. To wash in one of God's rivers in the open air seems to me
a sort of cheerful solemnity or semi-pagan act of worship. To dabble
among dishes in a bedroom may perhaps make clean the body; but the
imagination takes no share in such a cleansing. I went on with a light
and peaceful heart, and sang psalms to the spiritual ear as I advanced.
Suddenly up came an old woman, who point-blank demanded alms.
'Good,' thought I; 'here comes the waiter with the bill.'
And I paid for my night's lodging on the spot. Take it how you please,
but this was the first and the last beggar that I met with during all my
A step or two farther I was overtaken by an old man in a brown nightcap,
clear-eyed, weather-beaten, with a faint excited smile. A little girl
followed him, driving two sheep and a goat; but she kept in our wake,
while the old man walked beside me and talked about the morning and the
valley. It was not much past six; and for healthy people who have slept
enough, that is an hour of expansion and of open and trustful talk.
'Connaissez-vous le Seigneur?' he said at length.
I asked him what Seigneur he meant; but he only repeated the question
with more emphasis and a look in his eyes denoting hope and interest.
'Ah,' said I, pointing upwards, 'I understand you now. Yes, I know Him;
He is the best of acquaintances.'
The old man said he was delighted. 'Hold,' he added, striking his bosom;
'it makes me happy here.' There were a few who knew the Lord in these
valleys, he went on to tell me; not many, but a few. 'Many are called,'
he quoted, 'and few chosen.'
'My father,' said I, 'it is not easy to say who know the Lord; and it is
none of our business. Protestants and Catholics, and even those who
worship stones, may know Him and be known by Him; for He has made all.'
I did not know I was so good a preacher.
The old man assured me he thought as I did, and repeated his expressions
of pleasure at meeting me. 'We are so few,' he said. 'They call us
Moravians here; but down in the Department of Gard, where there are also
a good number, they are called Derbists, after an English pastor.'
I began to understand that I was figuring, in questionable taste, as a
member of some sect to me unknown; but I was more pleased with the
pleasure of my companion than embarrassed by my own equivocal position.
Indeed, I can see no dishonesty in not avowing a difference; and
especially in these high matters, where we have all a sufficient
assurance that, whoever may be in the wrong, we ourselves are not
completely in the right. The truth is much talked about; but this old
man in a brown nightcap showed himself so simple, sweet, and friendly,
that I am not unwilling to profess myself his convert. He was, as a
matter of fact, a Plymouth Brother. Of what that involves in the way of
doctrine I have no idea nor the time to inform myself; but I know right
well that we are all embarked upon a troublesome world, the children of
one Father, striving in many essential points to do and to become the
same. And although it was somewhat in a mistake that he shook hands
me so often and showed himself so ready to receive my words, that was a
mistake of the truth-finding sort. For charity begins blindfold; and
only through a series of similar misapprehensions rises at length into a
settled principle of love and patience, and a firm belief in all our
fellow-men. If I deceived this good old man, in the like manner I would
willingly go on to deceive others. And if ever at length, out of our
separate and sad ways, we should all come together into one common
I have a hope, to which I cling dearly, that my mountain Plymouth Brother
will hasten to shake hands with me again.
Thus, talking like Christian and Faithful by the way, he and I came down
upon a hamlet by the Tarn. It was but a humble place, called La Vernede,
with less than a dozen houses, and a Protestant chapel on a knoll. Here
he dwelt; and here, at the inn, I ordered my breakfast. The inn was kept
by an agreeable young man, a stone-breaker on the road, and his sister, a
pretty and engaging girl. The village schoolmaster dropped in to speak
with the stranger. And these were all Protestants--a fact which pleased
me more than I should have expected; and, what pleased me still more,
they seemed all upright and simple people. The Plymouth Brother hung
round me with a sort of yearning interest, and returned at least thrice
to make sure I was enjoying my meal. His behaviour touched me deeply at
the time, and even now moves me in recollection. He feared to intrude,
but he would not willingly forego one moment of my society; and he seemed
never weary of shaking me by the hand.
When all the rest had drifted off to their day's work, I sat for near
half an hour with the young mistress of the house, who talked pleasantly
over her seam of the chestnut harvest, and the beauties of the Tarn, and
old family affections, broken up when young folk go from home, yet still
subsisting. Hers, I am sure, was a sweet nature, with a country
plainness and much delicacy underneath; and he who takes her to his heart
will doubtless be a fortunate young man.
The valley below La Vernede pleased me more and more as I went forward.
Now the hills approached from either hand, naked and crumbling, and
walled in the river between cliffs; and now the valley widened and became
green. The road led me past the old castle of Miral on a steep; past a
battlemented monastery, long since broken up and turned into a church
parsonage; and past a cluster of black roofs, the village of Cocures,
sitting among vineyards, and meadows, and orchards thick with red apples,
and where, along the highway, they were knocking down walnuts from the
roadside trees, and gathering them in sacks and baskets. The hills,
however much the vale might open, were still tall and bare, with cliffy
battlements and here and there a pointed summit; and the Tarn still
rattled through the stones with a mountain noise. I had been led, by
bagmen of a picturesque turn of mind, to expect a horrific country after
the heart of Byron; but to my Scottish eyes it seemed smiling and
plentiful, as the weather still gave an impression of high summer to my
Scottish body; although the chestnuts were already picked out by the
autumn, and the poplars, that here began to mingle with them, had turned
into pale gold against the approach of winter.
There was something in this landscape, smiling although wild, that
explained to me the spirit of the Southern Covenanters. Those who took
to the hills for conscience' sake in Scotland had all gloomy and
bedevilled thoughts; for once that they received God's comfort they would
be twice engaged with Satan; but the Camisards had only bright and
supporting visions. They dealt much more in blood, both given and taken;
yet I find no obsession of the Evil One in their records. With a light
conscience, they pursued their life in these rough times and
circumstances. The soul of Seguier, let us not forget, was like a
garden. They knew they were on God's side, with a knowledge that has no
parallel among the Scots; for the Scots, although they might be certain
of the cause, could never rest confident of the person.
'We flew,' says one old Camisard, 'when we heard the sound of
psalm-singing, we flew as if with wings. We felt within us an animating
ardour, a transporting desire. The feeling cannot be expressed in words.
It is a thing that must have been experienced to be understood. However
weary we might be, we thought no more of our weariness, and grew light so
soon as the psalms fell upon our ears.'
The valley of the Tarn and the people whom I met at La Vernede not only
explain to me this passage, but the twenty years of suffering which
those, who were so stiff and so bloody when once they betook themselves
to war, endured with the meekness of children and the constancy of saints
On a branch of the Tarn stands Florac, the seat of a sub-prefecture, with
an old castle, an alley of planes, many quaint street-corners, and a live
fountain welling from the hill. It is notable, besides, for handsome
women, and as one of the two capitals, Alais being the other, of the
country of the Camisards.
The landlord of the inn took me, after I had eaten, to an adjoining cafe,
where I, or rather my journey, became the topic of the afternoon. Every
one had some suggestion for my guidance; and the sub-prefectorial map was
fetched from the sub-prefecture itself, and much thumbed among coffee-
cups and glasses of liqueur. Most of these kind advisers were
Protestant, though I observed that Protestant and Catholic intermingled
in a very easy manner; and it surprised me to see what a lively memory
still subsisted of the religious war. Among the hills of the south-west,
by Mauchline, Cumnock, or Carsphairn, in isolated farms or in the manse,
serious Presbyterian people still recall the days of the great
persecution, and the graves of local martyrs are still piously regarded.
But in towns and among the so-called better classes, I fear that these
old doings have become an idle tale. If you met a mixed company in the
King's Arms at Wigton, it is not likely that the talk would run on
Covenanters. Nay, at Muirkirk of Glenluce, I found the beadle's wife had
not so much as heard of Prophet Peden. But these Cevenols were proud of
their ancestors in quite another sense; the war was their chosen topic;
its exploits were their own patent of nobility; and where a man or a race
has had but one adventure, and that heroic, we must expect and pardon
some prolixity of reference. They told me the country was still full of
legends hitherto uncollected; I heard from them about Cavalier's
descendants--not direct descendants, be it understood, but only cousins
or nephews--who were still prosperous people in the scene of the
boy-general's exploits; and one farmer had seen the bones of old
combatants dug up into the air of an afternoon in the nineteenth century,
in a field where the ancestors had fought, and the great-grandchildren
were peaceably ditching.
Later in the day one of the Protestant pastors was so good as to visit
me: a young man, intelligent and polite, with whom I passed an hour or
two in talk. Florac, he told me, is part Protestant, part Catholic; and
the difference in religion is usually doubled by a difference in
politics. You may judge of my surprise, coming as I did from such a
babbling purgatorial Poland of a place as Monastier, when I learned that
the population lived together on very quiet terms; and there was even an
exchange of hospitalities between households thus doubly separated. Black
Camisard and White Camisard, militiaman and Miquelet and dragoon,
Protestant prophet and Catholic cadet of the White Cross, they had all
been sabring and shooting, burning, pillaging, and murdering, their
hearts hot with indignant passion; and here, after a hundred and seventy
years, Protestant is still Protestant, Catholic still Catholic, in mutual
toleration and mild amity of life. But the race of man, like that
indomitable nature whence it sprang, has medicating virtues of its own;
the years and seasons bring various harvests; the sun returns after the
rain; and mankind outlives secular animosities, as a single man awakens
from the passions of a day. We judge our ancestors from a more divine
position; and the dust being a little laid with several centuries, we can
see both sides adorned with human virtues and fighting with a show of
I have never thought it easy to be just, and find it daily even harder
than I thought. I own I met these Protestants with a delight and a sense
of coming home. I was accustomed to speak their language, in another and
deeper sense of the word than that which distinguishes between French and
English; for the true Babel is a divergence upon morals. And hence I
could hold more free communication with the Protestants, and judge them
more justly, than the Catholics. Father Apollinaris may pair off with my
mountain Plymouth Brother as two guileless and devout old men; yet I ask
myself if I had as ready a feeling for the virtues of the Trappist; or,
had I been a Catholic, if I should have felt so warmly to the dissenter
of La Vernede. With the first I was on terms of mere forbearance; but
with the other, although only on a misunderstanding and by keeping on
selected points, it was still possible to hold converse and exchange some
honest thoughts. In this world of imperfection we gladly welcome even
partial intimacies. And if we find but one to whom we can speak out of
our heart freely, with whom we can walk in love and simplicity without
dissimulation, we have no ground of quarrel with the world or God.
IN THE VALLEY OF THE MIMENTE
On Tuesday, 1st October, we left Florac late in the afternoon, a tired
donkey and tired donkey-driver. A little way up the Tarnon, a covered
bridge of wood introduced us into the valley of the Mimente. Steep rocky
red mountains overhung the stream; great oaks and chestnuts grew upon
slopes or in stony terraces; here and there was a red field of millet or
a few apple-trees studded with red apples; and the road passed hard by
two black hamlets, one with an old castle atop to please the heart of the
It was difficult here again to find a spot fit for my encampment. Even
under the oaks and chestnuts the ground had not only a very rapid slope,
but was heaped with loose stones; and where there was no timber the hills
descended to the stream in a red precipice tufted with heather. The sun
had left the highest peak in front of me, and the valley was full of the
lowing sound of herdsmen's horns as they recalled the flocks into the
stable, when I spied a bight of meadow some way below the roadway in an
angle of the river. Thither I descended, and, tying Modestine
provisionally to a tree, proceeded to investigate the neighbourhood. A
grey pearly evening shadow filled the glen; objects at a little distance
grew indistinct and melted bafflingly into each other; and the darkness
was rising steadily like an exhalation. I approached a great oak which
grew in the meadow, hard by the river's brink; when to my disgust the
voices of children fell upon my ear, and I beheld a house round the angle
on the other bank. I had half a mind to pack and be gone again, but the
growing darkness moved me to remain. I had only to make no noise until
the night was fairly come, and trust to the dawn to call me early in the
morning. But it was hard to be annoyed by neighbours in such a great
A hollow underneath the oak was my bed. Before I had fed Modestine and
arranged my sack, three stars were already brightly shining, and the
others were beginning dimly to appear. I slipped down to the river,
which looked very black among its rocks, to fill my can; and dined with a
good appetite in the dark, for I scrupled to light a lantern while so
near a house. The moon, which I had seen a pallid crescent all
afternoon, faintly illuminated the summit of the hills, but not a ray
fell into the bottom of the glen where I was lying. The oak rose before
me like a pillar of darkness; and overhead the heartsome stars were set
in the face of the night. No one knows the stars who has not slept, as
the French happily put it, a la belle etoile. He may know all their
names and distances and magnitudes, and yet be ignorant of what alone
concerns mankind,--their serene and gladsome influence on the mind. The
greater part of poetry is about the stars; and very justly, for they are
themselves the most classical of poets. These same far-away worlds,
sprinkled like tapers or shaken together like a diamond dust upon the
sky, had looked not otherwise to Roland or Cavalier, when, in the words
of the latter, they had 'no other tent but the sky, and no other bed than
my mother earth.'
All night a strong wind blew up the valley, and the acorns fell pattering
over me from the oak. Yet, on this first night of October, the air was
as mild as May, and I slept with the fur thrown back.
I was much disturbed by the barking of a dog, an animal that I fear more
than any wolf. A dog is vastly braver, and is besides supported by the
sense of duty. If you kill a wolf, you meet with encouragement and
praise; but if you kill a dog, the sacred rights of property and the
domestic affections come clamouring round you for redress. At the end of
a fagging day, the sharp cruel note of a dog's bark is in itself a keen
annoyance; and to a tramp like myself, he represents the sedentary and
respectable world in its most hostile form. There is something of the
clergyman or the lawyer about this engaging animal; and if he were not
amenable to stones, the boldest man would shrink from travelling afoot. I
respect dogs much in the domestic circle; but on the highway, or sleeping
afield, I both detest and fear them.
I was wakened next morning (Wednesday, October 2nd) by the same dog--for
I knew his bark--making a charge down the bank, and then, seeing me sit
up, retreating again with great alacrity. The stars were not yet quite
extinguished. The heaven was of that enchanting mild grey-blue of the
early morn. A still clear light began to fall, and the trees on the
hillside were outlined sharply against the sky. The wind had veered more
to the north, and no longer reached me in the glen; but as I was going on
with my preparations, it drove a white cloud very swiftly over the hill-
top; and looking up, I was surprised to see the cloud dyed with gold. In
these high regions of the air, the sun was already shining as at noon. If
only the clouds travelled high enough, we should see the same thing all
night long. For it is always daylight in the fields of space.
As I began to go up the valley, a draught of wind came down it out of the
seat of the sunrise, although the clouds continued to run overhead in an
almost contrary direction. A few steps farther, and I saw a whole
hillside gilded with the sun; and still a little beyond, between two
peaks, a centre of dazzling brilliancy appeared floating in the sky, and
I was once more face to face with the big bonfire that occupies the
kernel of our system.
I met but one human being that forenoon, a dark military-looking
wayfarer, who carried a game-bag on a baldric; but he made a remark that
seems worthy of record. For when I asked him if he were Protestant or
'Oh,' said he, 'I make no shame of my religion. I am a Catholic.'
He made no shame of it! The phrase is a piece of natural statistics; for
it is the language of one in a minority. I thought with a smile of
Bavile and his dragoons, and how you may ride rough-shod over a religion
for a century, and leave it only the more lively for the friction.
Ireland is still Catholic; the Cevennes still Protestant. It is not a
basketful of law-papers, nor the hoofs and pistol-butts of a regiment of
horse, that can change one tittle of a ploughman's thoughts. Outdoor
rustic people have not many ideas, but such as they have are hardy
plants, and thrive flourishingly in persecution. One who has grown a
long while in the sweat of laborious noons, and under the stars at night,
a frequenter of hills and forests, an old honest countryman, has, in the
end, a sense of communion with the powers of the universe, and amicable
relations towards his God. Like my mountain Plymouth Brother, he knows
the Lord. His religion does not repose upon a choice of logic; it is the
poetry of the man's experience, the philosophy of the history of his
life. God, like a great power, like a great shining sun, has appeared to
this simple fellow in the course of years, and become the ground and
essence of his least reflections; and you may change creeds and dogmas by
authority, or proclaim a new religion with the sound of trumpets, if you
will; but here is a man who has his own thoughts, and will stubbornly
adhere to them in good and evil. He is a Catholic, a Protestant, or a
Plymouth Brother, in the same indefeasible sense that a man is not a
woman, or a woman not a man. For he could not vary from his faith,
unless he could eradicate all memory of the past, and, in a strict and
not a conventional meaning, change his mind.
THE HEART OF THE COUNTRY
I was now drawing near to Cassagnas, a cluster of black roofs upon the
hillside, in this wild valley, among chestnut gardens, and looked upon in
the clear air by many rocky peaks. The road along the Mimente is yet
new, nor have the mountaineers recovered their surprise when the first
cart arrived at Cassagnas. But although it lay thus apart from the
current of men's business, this hamlet had already made a figure in the
history of France. Hard by, in caverns of the mountain, was one of the
five arsenals of the Camisards; where they laid up clothes and corn and
arms against necessity, forged bayonets and sabres, and made themselves
gunpowder with willow charcoal and saltpetre boiled in kettles. To the
same caves, amid this multifarious industry, the sick and wounded were
brought up to heal; and there they were visited by the two surgeons,
Chabrier and Tavan, and secretly nursed by women of the neighbourhood.
Of the five legions into which the Camisards were divided, it was the
oldest and the most obscure that had its magazines by Cassagnas. This
was the band of Spirit Seguier; men who had joined their voices with his
in the 68th Psalm as they marched down by night on the archpriest of the
Cevennes. Seguier, promoted to heaven, was succeeded by Salomon
whom Cavalier treats in his memoirs as chaplain-general to the whole army
of the Camisards. He was a prophet; a great reader of the heart, who
admitted people to the sacrament or refused them, by 'intensively viewing
every man' between the eyes; and had the most of the Scriptures off by
rote. And this was surely happy; since in a surprise in August 1703, he
lost his mule, his portfolios, and his Bible. It is only strange that
they were not surprised more often and more effectually; for this legion
of Cassagnas was truly patriarchal in its theory of war, and camped
without sentries, leaving that duty to the angels of the God for whom
they fought. This is a token, not only of their faith, but of the
trackless country where they harboured. M. de Caladon, taking a stroll
one fine day, walked without warning into their midst, as he might have
walked into 'a flock of sheep in a plain,' and found some asleep and some
awake and psalm-singing. A traitor had need of no recommendation to
insinuate himself among their ranks, beyond 'his faculty of singing
psalms'; and even the prophet Salomon 'took him into a particular
friendship.' Thus, among their intricate hills, the rustic troop
subsisted; and history can attribute few exploits to them but sacraments
People of this tough and simple stock will not, as I have just been
saying, prove variable in religion; nor will they get nearer to apostasy
than a mere external conformity like that of Naaman in the house of
Rimmon. When Louis XVI., in the words of the edict, 'convinced by the
uselessness of a century of persecutions, and rather from necessity than
sympathy,' granted at last a royal grace of toleration, Cassagnas was
still Protestant; and to a man, it is so to this day. There is, indeed,
one family that is not Protestant, but neither is it Catholic. It is
that of a Catholic cure in revolt, who has taken to his bosom a
schoolmistress. And his conduct, it is worth noting, is disapproved by
the Protestant villagers.
'It is a bad idea for a man,' said one, 'to go back from his
The villagers whom I saw seemed intelligent after a countrified fashion,
and were all plain and dignified in manner. As a Protestant myself, I
was well looked upon, and my acquaintance with history gained me further
respect. For we had something not unlike a religious controversy at
table, a gendarme and a merchant with whom I dined being both strangers
to the place, and Catholics. The young men of the house stood round and
supported me; and the whole discussion was tolerantly conducted, and
surprised a man brought up among the infinitesimal and contentious
differences of Scotland. The merchant, indeed, grew a little warm, and
was far less pleased than some others with my historical acquirements.
But the gendarme was mighty easy over it all.
'It's a bad idea for a man to change,' said he; and the remark was
That was not the opinion of the priest and soldier at Our Lady of the
Snows. But this is a different race; and perhaps the same
great-heartedness that upheld them to resist, now enables them to differ
in a kind spirit. For courage respects courage; but where a faith has
been trodden out, we may look for a mean and narrow population. The true
work of Bruce and Wallace was the union of the nations; not that they
should stand apart a while longer, skirmishing upon their borders; but
that, when the time came, they might unite with self-respect.
The merchant was much interested in my journey, and thought it dangerous
to sleep afield.
'There are the wolves,' said he; 'and then it is known you are an
Englishman. The English have always long purses, and it might very well
enter into some one's head to deal you an ill blow some night.'
I told him I was not much afraid of such accidents; and at any rate
judged it unwise to dwell upon alarms or consider small perils in the
arrangement of life. Life itself, I submitted, was a far too risky
business as a whole to make each additional particular of danger worth
regard. 'Something,' said I, 'might burst in your inside any day of the
week, and there would be an end of you, if you were locked into your room
with three turns of the key.'
'Cependant,' said he, 'coucher dehors!'
'God,' said I, 'is everywhere.'
'Cependant, coucher dehors!' he repeated, and his voice was eloquent of
He was the only person, in all my voyage, who saw anything hardy in so
simple a proceeding; although many considered it superfluous. Only one,
on the other hand, professed much delight in the idea; and that was my
Plymouth Brother, who cried out, when I told him I sometimes preferred
sleeping under the stars to a close and noisy ale-house, 'Now I see that
you know the Lord!'
The merchant asked me for one of my cards as I was leaving, for he said I
should be something to talk of in the future, and desired me to make a
note of his request and reason; a desire with which I have thus complied.
A little after two I struck across the Mimente, and took a rugged path
southward up a hillside covered with loose stones and tufts of heather.
At the top, as is the habit of the country, the path disappeared; and I
left my she-ass munching heather, and went forward alone to seek a road.
I was now on the separation of two vast water-sheds; behind me all the
streams were bound for the Garonne and the Western Ocean; before me was
the basin of the Rhone. Hence, as from the Lozere, you can see in clear
weather the shining of the Gulf of Lyons; and perhaps from here the
soldiers of Salomon may have watched for the topsails of Sir Cloudesley
Shovel, and the long-promised aid from England. You may take this ridge
as lying in the heart of the country of the Camisards; four of the five
legions camped all round it and almost within view--Salomon and Joani to
the north, Castanet and Roland to the south; and when Julien had finished
his famous work, the devastation of the High Cevennes, which lasted all
through October and November 1703, and during which four hundred and
sixty villages and hamlets were, with fire and pickaxe, utterly
subverted, a man standing on this eminence would have looked forth upon a
silent, smokeless, and dispeopled land. Time and man's activity have now
repaired these ruins; Cassagnas is once more roofed and sending up
domestic smoke; and in the chestnut gardens, in low and leafy corners,
many a prosperous farmer returns, when the day's work is done, to his
children and bright hearth. And still it was perhaps the wildest view of
all my journey. Peak upon peak, chain upon chain of hills ran surging
southward, channelled and sculptured by the winter streams, feathered
from head to foot with chestnuts, and here and there breaking out into a
coronal of cliffs. The sun, which was still far from setting, sent a
drift of misty gold across the hill-tops, but the valleys were already
plunged in a profound and quiet shadow.
A very old shepherd, hobbling on a pair of sticks, and wearing a black
cap of liberty, as if in honour of his nearness to the grave, directed me
to the road for St. Germain de Calberte. There was something solemn in
the isolation of this infirm and ancient creature. Where he dwelt, how
he got upon this high ridge, or how he proposed to get down again, were
more than I could fancy. Not far off upon my right was the famous Plan
de Font Morte, where Poul with his Armenian sabre slashed down the
Camisards of Seguier. This, methought, might be some Rip van Winkle of
the war, who had lost his comrades, fleeing before Poul, and wandered
ever since upon the mountains. It might be news to him that Cavalier had
surrendered, or Roland had fallen fighting with his back against an
olive. And while I was thus working on my fancy, I heard him hailing in
broken tones, and saw him waving me to come back with one of his two
sticks. I had already got some way past him; but, leaving Modestine once
more, retraced my steps.
Alas, it was a very commonplace affair. The old gentleman had forgot to
ask the pedlar what he sold, and wished to remedy this neglect.
I told him sternly, 'Nothing.'
'Nothing?' cried he.
I repeated 'Nothing,' and made off.
It's odd to think of, but perhaps I thus became as inexplicable to the
old man as he had been to me.
The road lay under chestnuts, and though I saw a hamlet or two below me
in the vale, and many lone houses of the chestnut farmers, it was a very
solitary march all afternoon; and the evening began early underneath the
trees. But I heard the voice of a woman singing some sad, old, endless
ballad not far off. It seemed to be about love and a bel amoureux, her
handsome sweetheart; and I wished I could have taken up the strain and
answered her, as I went on upon my invisible woodland way, weaving, like
Pippa in the poem, my own thoughts with hers. What could I have told
her? Little enough; and yet all the heart requires. How the world gives
and takes away, and brings sweethearts near only to separate them again
into distant and strange lands; but to love is the great amulet which
makes the world a garden; and 'hope, which comes to all,' outwears the
accidents of life, and reaches with tremulous hand beyond the grave and
death. Easy to say: yea, but also, by God's mercy, both easy and
grateful to believe!
We struck at last into a wide white high-road carpeted with noiseless
dust. The night had come; the moon had been shining for a long while
upon the opposite mountain; when on turning a corner my donkey and I
issued ourselves into her light. I had emptied out my brandy at Florac,
for I could bear the stuff no longer, and replaced it with some generous
and scented Volnay; and now I drank to the moon's sacred majesty upon the
road. It was but a couple of mouthfuls; yet I became thenceforth
unconscious of my limbs, and my blood flowed with luxury. Even Modestine
was inspired by this purified nocturnal sunshine, and bestirred her
little hoofs as to a livelier measure. The road wound and descended
swiftly among masses of chestnuts. Hot dust rose from our feet and
flowed away. Our two shadows--mine deformed with the knapsack, hers
comically bestridden by the pack--now lay before us clearly outlined on
the road, and now, as we turned a corner, went off into the ghostly
distance, and sailed along the mountain like clouds. From time to time a
warm wind rustled down the valley, and set all the chestnuts dangling
their bunches of foliage and fruit; the ear was filled with whispering
music, and the shadows danced in tune. And next moment the breeze had
gone by, and in all the valley nothing moved except our travelling feet.
On the opposite slope, the monstrous ribs and gullies of the mountain
were faintly designed in the moonshine; and high overhead, in some lone
house, there burned one lighted window, one square spark of red in the
huge field of sad nocturnal colouring.
At a certain point, as I went downward, turning many acute angles, the
moon disappeared behind the hill; and I pursued my way in great darkness,
until another turning shot me without preparation into St. Germain de
Calberte. The place was asleep and silent, and buried in opaque night.
Only from a single open door, some lamplight escaped upon the road to
show me that I was come among men's habitations. The two last gossips of
the evening, still talking by a garden wall, directed me to the inn. The
landlady was getting her chicks to bed; the fire was already out, and
had, not without grumbling, to be rekindled; half an hour later, and I
must have gone supperless to roost.
THE LAST DAY
When I awoke (Thursday, 2nd October), and, hearing a great flourishing of
cocks and chuckling of contented hens, betook me to the window of the
clean and comfortable room where I had slept the night, I looked forth on
a sunshiny morning in a deep vale of chestnut gardens. It was still
early, and the cockcrows, and the slanting lights, and the long shadows
encouraged me to be out and look round me.
St. Germain de Calberte is a great parish nine leagues round about. At
the period of the wars, and immediately before the devastation, it was
inhabited by two hundred and seventy-five families, of which only nine
were Catholic; and it took the cure seventeen September days to go from
house to house on horseback for a census. But the place itself, although
capital of a canton, is scarce larger than a hamlet. It lies terraced
across a steep slope in the midst of mighty chestnuts. The Protestant
chapel stands below upon a shoulder; in the midst of the town is the
quaint old Catholic church.
It was here that poor Du Chayla, the Christian martyr, kept his library
and held a court of missionaries; here he had built his tomb, thinking to
lie among a grateful population whom he had redeemed from error; and
hither on the morrow of his death they brought the body, pierced with two-
and-fifty wounds, to be interred. Clad in his priestly robes, he was
laid out in state in the church. The cure, taking his text from Second
Samuel, twentieth chapter and twelfth verse, 'And Amasa wallowed in his
blood in the highway,' preached a rousing sermon, and exhorted his
brethren to die each at his post, like their unhappy and illustrious
superior. In the midst of this eloquence there came a breeze that Spirit
Seguier was near at hand; and behold! all the assembly took to their
horses' heels, some east, some west, and the cure himself as far as
Strange was the position of this little Catholic metropolis, a thimbleful
of Rome, in such a wild and contrary neighbourhood. On the one hand, the
legion of Salomon overlooked it from Cassagnas; on the other, it was cut
off from assistance by the legion of Roland at Mialet. The cure,
Louvrelenil, although he took a panic at the arch-priest's funeral, and
so hurriedly decamped to Alais, stood well by his isolated pulpit, and
thence uttered fulminations against the crimes of the Protestants.
Salomon besieged the village for an hour and a half, but was beaten back.
The militiamen, on guard before the cure's door, could be heard, in the
black hours, singing Protestant psalms and holding friendly talk with the
insurgents. And in the morning, although not a shot had been fired,
there would not be a round of powder in their flasks. Where was it gone?
All handed over to the Camisards for a consideration. Untrusty guardians
for an isolated priest!
That these continual stirs were once busy in St. Germain de Calberte, the
imagination with difficulty receives; all is now so quiet, the pulse of
human life now beats so low and still in this hamlet of the mountains.
Boys followed me a great way off, like a timid sort of lion-hunters; and
people turned round to have a second look, or came out of their houses,
as I went by. My passage was the first event, you would have fancied,
since the Camisards. There was nothing rude or forward in this
observation; it was but a pleased and wondering scrutiny, like that of
oxen or the human infant; yet it wearied my spirits, and soon drove me
from the street.
I took refuge on the terraces, which are here greenly carpeted with
sward, and tried to imitate with a pencil the inimitable attitudes of the
chestnuts as they bear up their canopy of leaves. Ever and again a
little wind went by, and the nuts dropped all around me, with a light and
dull sound, upon the sward. The noise was as of a thin fall of great
hailstones; but there went with it a cheerful human sentiment of an
approaching harvest and farmers rejoicing in their gains. Looking up, I
could see the brown nut peering through the husk, which was already
gaping; and between the stems the eye embraced an amphitheatre of hill,
sunlit and green with leaves.
I have not often enjoyed a place more deeply. I moved in an atmosphere
of pleasure, and felt light and quiet and content. But perhaps it was
not the place alone that so disposed my spirit. Perhaps some one was
thinking of me in another country; or perhaps some thought of my own had
come and gone unnoticed, and yet done me good. For some thoughts, which
sure would be the most beautiful, vanish before we can rightly scan their
features; as though a god, travelling by our green highways, should but
ope the door, give one smiling look into the house, and go again for
ever. Was it Apollo, or Mercury, or Love with folded wings? Who shall
say? But we go the lighter about our business, and feel peace and
pleasure in our hearts.
I dined with a pair of Catholics. They agreed in the condemnation of a
young man, a Catholic, who had married a Protestant girl and gone over to
the religion of his wife. A Protestant born they could understand and
respect; indeed, they seemed to be of the mind of an old Catholic woman,
who told me that same day there was no difference between the two sects,
save that 'wrong was more wrong for the Catholic,' who had more light and
guidance; but this of a man's desertion filled them with contempt.
'It is a bad idea for a man to change,' said one.
It may have been accidental, but you see how this phrase pursued me; and
for myself, I believe it is the current philosophy in these parts. I
have some difficulty in imagining a better. It's not only a great flight
of confidence for a man to change his creed and go out of his family for
heaven's sake; but the odds are--nay, and the hope is--that, with all
this great transition in the eyes of man, he has not changed himself a
hairbreadth to the eyes of God. Honour to those who do so, for the
wrench is sore. But it argues something narrow, whether of strength or
weakness, whether of the prophet or the fool, in those who can take a
sufficient interest in such infinitesimal and human operations, or who
can quit a friendship for a doubtful process of the mind. And I think I
should not leave my old creed for another, changing only words for other
words; but by some brave reading, embrace it in spirit and truth, and
find wrong as wrong for me as for the best of other communions.
The phylloxera was in the neighbourhood; and instead of wine we drank at
dinner a more economical juice of the grape--La Parisienne, they call it.
It is made by putting the fruit whole into a cask with water; one by one
the berries ferment and burst; what is drunk during the day is supplied
at night in water: so, with ever another pitcher from the well, and ever
another grape exploding and giving out its strength, one cask of
Parisienne may last a family till spring. It is, as the reader will
anticipate, a feeble beverage, but very pleasant to the taste.
What with dinner and coffee, it was long past three before I left St.
Germain de Calberte. I went down beside the Gardon of Mialet, a great
glaring watercourse devoid of water, and through St. Etienne de Vallee
Francaise, or Val Francesque, as they used to call it; and towards
evening began to ascend the hill of St. Pierre. It was a long and steep
ascent. Behind me an empty carriage returning to St. Jean du Gard kept
hard upon my tracks, and near the summit overtook me. The driver, like
the rest of the world, was sure I was a pedlar; but, unlike others, he
was sure of what I had to sell. He had noticed the blue wool which hung
out of my pack at either end; and from this he had decided, beyond my
power to alter his decision, that I dealt in blue-wool collars, such as
decorate the neck of the French draught-horse.
I had hurried to the topmost powers of Modestine, for I dearly desired to
see the view upon the other side before the day had faded. But it was
night when I reached the summit; the moon was riding high and clear; and
only a few grey streaks of twilight lingered in the west. A yawning
valley, gulfed in blackness, lay like a hole in created nature at my
feet; but the outline of the hills was sharp against the sky. There was
Mount Aigoal, the stronghold of Castanet. And Castanet, not only as an
active undertaking leader, deserves some mention among Camisards; for
there is a spray of rose among his laurel; and he showed how, even in a
public tragedy, love will have its way. In the high tide of war he
married, in his mountain citadel, a young and pretty lass called
Mariette. There were great rejoicings; and the bridegroom released five-
and-twenty prisoners in honour of the glad event. Seven months
afterwards, Mariette, the Princess of the Cevennes, as they called her in
derision, fell into the hands of the authorities, where it was like to
have gone hard with her. But Castanet was a man of execution, and loved
his wife. He fell on Valleraugue, and got a lady there for a hostage;
and for the first and last time in that war there was an exchange of
prisoners. Their daughter, pledge of some starry night upon Mount
Aigoal, has left descendants to this day.
Modestine and I--it was our last meal together--had a snack upon the top
of St. Pierre, I on a heap of stones, she standing by me in the moonlight
and decorously eating bread out of my hand. The poor brute would eat
more heartily in this manner; for she had a sort of affection for me,
which I was soon to betray.
It was a long descent upon St. Jean du Gard, and we met no one but a
carter, visible afar off by the glint of the moon on his extinguished
Before ten o'clock we had got in and were at supper; fifteen miles and a
stiff hill in little beyond six hours!
On examination, on the morning of October 3rd, Modestine was pronounced
unfit for travel. She would need at least two days' repose, according to
the ostler; but I was now eager to reach Alais for my letters; and, being
in a civilised country of stage-coaches, I determined to sell my lady
friend and be off by the diligence that afternoon. Our yesterday's
march, with the testimony of the driver who had pursued us up the long
hill of St. Pierre, spread a favourable notion of my donkey's
capabilities. Intending purchasers were aware of an unrivalled
opportunity. Before ten I had an offer of twenty-five francs; and before
noon, after a desperate engagement, I sold her, saddle and all, for five-
and-thirty. The pecuniary gain is not obvious, but I had bought freedom
into the bargain.
St Jean du Gard is a large place, and largely Protestant. The maire, a
Protestant, asked me to help him in a small matter which is itself
characteristic of the country. The young women of the Cevennes profit by
the common religion and the difference of the language to go largely as
governesses into England; and here was one, a native of Mialet,
struggling with English circulars from two different agencies in London.
I gave what help I could; and volunteered some advice, which struck me as
One thing more I note. The phylloxera has ravaged the vineyards in this
neighbourhood; and in the early morning, under some chestnuts by the
river, I found a party of men working with a cider-press. I could not at
first make out what they were after, and asked one fellow to explain.
'Making cider,' he said. 'Oui, c'est comme ca. Comme dans le nord!'
There was a ring of sarcasm in his voice: the country was going to the
It was not until I was fairly seated by the driver, and rattling through
a rocky valley with dwarf olives, that I became aware of my bereavement.
I had lost Modestine. Up to that moment I had thought I hated her; but
now she was gone,
The difference to me!'
For twelve days we had been fast companions; we had travelled upwards of
a hundred and twenty miles, crossed several respectable ridges, and
jogged along with our six legs by many a rocky and many a boggy by-road.
After the first day, although sometimes I was hurt and distant in manner,
I still kept my patience; and as for her, poor soul! she had come to
regard me as a god. She loved to eat out of my hand. She was patient,
elegant in form, the colour of an ideal mouse, and inimitably small. Her
faults were those of her race and sex; her virtues were her own.
Farewell, and if for ever--
Father Adam wept when he sold her to me; after I had sold her in my turn,
I was tempted to follow his example; and being alone with a stage-driver
and four or five agreeable young men, I did not hesitate to yield to my