Travels with a Donkey in the Cevenne
Robert Louis Stevenson
Part 1 out of 2
Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Scanned and proofed by David Price,
Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes
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 through 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
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 brought home.
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 branch.
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 a donkey.
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
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 goal.
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 moment.
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
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 be-labouring. 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 bastinado.
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
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 church 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
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
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 wonder.
'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
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
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
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 mouse-
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, 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 sympathy.
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 some 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 PEINE.'
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,' said I.
'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
I grew a little warm, and asked him what he proposed that I should
'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
'C'EST VRAI, CA,' he acknowledged, with a laugh; 'OUI, C'EST VRAI.
ET D'OU VENEZ-VOUS?'
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
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
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 the discovery.
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 the sheepskins.
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 sensations.
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, to 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
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 blaze.
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 wood.
OUR LADY OF THE SNOWS
The House, the Brotherhood austere -
And what am I, that I am here?'
NEXT morning (Thursday, 20th 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
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
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 slopes.
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
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
'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 me.
'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 your acquaintance.'
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
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 wood
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,
and 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
English 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 English
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 bake 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 her in.
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
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 great
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 foolish manner.
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
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 example 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 contemporary feeling.
'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 you 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 accent.
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 theologian.
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
'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 his enthusiasm.
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
'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 COMME PRETRE.'
At this moment, whilst I was somewhat embarrassed how to answer, in
came 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 views.
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 own 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
deceiver; 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
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. Even 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
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
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