“O princesso di Baus! Ugueto,
Sibilo, Blanco-Flour, Bausseto,
Que trounavais amount sus li roucas aurin,
Cors subre-bèu, amo galoio,
Dounant l’amour, largant la joio
E la lumiero, li mount-joio
De Mount-Pavoun, de Crau li trescamp azurin
Encaro vuei dins soun mirage
Se representon voste oumbrage….
Li ferigoulo meme an counserva l’óudour
De vòsti piado; e m’es vejaire
Que vese encaro,–galejaire,
Gentiéu, courriòu e guerrejaire,–
Que vese à vòsti pèd canta li troubadour.”
“O princesses des Baux! Huguette,–Sibylle, Blanchefleur,
Baussette–vous qui là-haut pour trône aviez les rochers
d’or,–corps exquis en beauté, âmes allègres,–donnant l’amour,
versant la joie,–et la lumière, les monticules–de Mont-Pahon,
les landes azurées de la Crau,
“Dans leur mirage d’aujourd’hui–reproduisent encore votre
image….–Les thyms eux-mêmes ont conservé l’odeur–de
vos traces; et il me semble–que je vois encore,
guillerets,–courtois, coureurs et guerroyeurs,–que je vois
à vos pieds chanter les troubadours.”
After dinner–which by the way was of extraordinary excellence–we were
invited to the parlour of mine host, and felt like travellers in some
old romance on the eve of antique adventures. Nothing antique, however,
happened, except, indeed, the odd gathering of the family and the guests
of the hotel, and the talk that went circling cheerfully round the fire
in the little dull-tinted room. The dulness of colouring was the result
of long use; everything having faded into harmony and grown together
through long and affectionate association.
Besides Madame and a pretty niece who was staying with her, there were
two youths employed in the seed industry, who lived in the town and
came in every evening for their dinner. They were on terms of friendly
intimacy with the host and hostess who evidently regarded their office in
other lights than that of mere commercial enterprise. They looked upon
their guests as under their charge, and their desire was to minister to
their comfort and pleasure in every possible way. Monsieur and one of
the youths played draughts, Madame sewed and chatted, and Mademoiselle,
the niece, made herself generally agreeable. Between the two youths
was a mild rivalry for her smiles. We, as strangers, were treated with
Madame and her husband did the honours of their homely _salon_ most
gracefully. The conversation turned on the Monuments of St. Remy, its
objects of interest which strangers come to see, and its excursions:
Les Baux above all, on the other side of the Alpilles.
“Une ville très ancienne, sculptée dans les rochers, toute élevée au
dessus de la vallée–mais une cité vraiment remarquable, Mesdames. Vous
devez certainment y aller.”
And we decided at once to do so, arranging to have a trap to take us
across the mountains on the following morning.
Meanwhile we gathered further information about St. Remy itself. There
is _La Maison de la Reine Jeanne_, in which the family of the famous
Mistral has lived for generations. In the foundations were discovered
the bones of an elephant and various weapons, all supposed to be relics
of Hannibal’s passage through the country at the foot of the Alpilles.
The famous poet, however, does not live in this historical home at
St. Remy, but at Maillane, a little village of the plain about seven
kilometres distant. The house, to which many a pious pilgrimage has been
made, is square and white and stands in a little shady garden with a
high wall and iron gate facing the village street. Thanks to the poet
and his colleagues the ancient costume still lingers at Maillane and
at St. Remy, and on Sundays the women go to church in the soft, white
fichu and picturesque head-dress that one has learnt to associate with
the women of Arles. The Provençal type is characteristic; dark eyes and
hair, olive skin, and a singularly fine carriage of the figure and head.
[Illustration: GROVE AT ST. REMY.
_By E. M. Synge._]
Mistral and his fellow Félibres have much to do with the survival of
art and old customs. One of this little band of modern troubadours lives
still, as we learn, in the house of his family at St. Remy, and Mistral
(as we have seen) is not far away across the plain, faithful always to
the land that he loves so deeply and labours so hard to preserve in its
ancient beauty, ancient faiths and ancient language. I had afterwards
the privilege of visiting Mistral at Maillane and M. Girard and his
wife at St. Remy, and of hearing them speak with intense enthusiasm
and affection of the Provence that is passing away. M. Girard’s angry
melancholy at the erasure of all character and individuality from lands
and peoples was pathetic and impressive.
He exhibited his fine collection of ancient furniture, crockery, pewter,
and a thousand beautiful relics: among them a splendid example of the
“Crêche,” that quaint Provençal institution with which the children
are made happy every Christmas. It is a modelled representation of the
coming of the Magi, but on this root idea the artists of Provence have
grafted many additions. The Virgin, beautifully sculptured and coloured,
sits in a hilly landscape and holds a sort of grand reception: Magi and
other distinguished visitors surround her, while shepherds, merchants,
publicans and sinners, varied by ornate donkey-drivers and goatherds,
are perched on hill-tops among companionable windmills about their own
size; and peasants are lavishly distributed in very green meadows in the
vicinity; all congregated to offer homage to the Madonna and the haloed
Babe. The _crêche_ is reverently veiled with a curtain on ordinary days,
and its owner drew this aside and lighted the candles to illumine the
treasured heirloom which has delighted so many generations … and not
alone of children.
* * * * *
Our hostess of the Hôtel de Provence was learned about the seed industry
of St. Remy, and explained how ruthlessly every bloom is nipped off and
prevented from seeding if it does not answer truly to its type. That was
how the splendid flowers were achieved: viz., by a persistent interference
with the ordinary course of nature–a fact which gives food for thought.
Besides flowers, St. Remy has some fine vegetables to boast of. I had
often noticed strange, unknown, gourd-like things, bright red or yellow,
in the shop windows. The _cornichon serpent_, “ce légume extravagant,”
as somebody calls it, is said to measure nearly two metres! But that
immoderate object we never saw.
* * * * *
We were out betimes next morning, in the rose-garden which was glistening
with dew. The Garden of Pleasure truly, guarded by the mournful cypresses!
That seemed full of significance: the Roses of Pleasure sheltered by
those dark trees of Experience and Grief.
Burns sings that “pleasures are like poppies”; and so perhaps they are,
but there are some that are more like roses–Roses of Provence!
They are the sort of pleasures of which that strange _pot-pourri_ that we
call happiness is made. For surely there _is_ such a thing as happiness,
though the science of it is as hard to learn as any other; perhaps harder
than them all. Maybe it is necessary for us unteachable mortals to have
torn our way–bruised and bleeding–through that black line of cypresses
before we come in sight of it.
If happiness is a will-o’-the-wisp, is it so because of the eternal
nature of things, or because, as Carlyle frankly insists, men are mostly
fools? Would not every desired object assume an elusive character if as
soon as we came in touch with it, we flew off on the hunt for something
else? On this principle we must go through life unpossessed of our own
fortunes, strangers and pilgrims in our own kingdom. Barbara and I agreed
that we would not forget to gather the roses in our Provençal garden
for the illusive sake of other roses further afield.
* * * * *
In this little mediæval pleasure city it seemed natural to speculate about
the life of the Middle Ages, and we wondered if part of the sad secret of
those times lay in that inveterate habit of the human mind to look for
the Earthly Paradise round the next corner. For then, possibly, there
was only a sage here and there who had learnt the folly of it through
long and footsore wanderings in the desert which stretches unremittingly
between the traveller and his mirage Eden. The restless barbarous manners
of the age must have made the truth harder to understand than it need
be to us who have many centuries of growing experience behind us, both
as a hereditary influence and as an object-lesson in the conduct of life.
Incessant war and struggle, with no great results, but only further
struggle, further war as the fruit of the lifelong contest: such was the
mediæval life, and no one saw its absurdity. Not a trace of the old Greek
spirit remained; not a vestige of the philosophies of the East, except
perhaps in the cloister, and even here, at its best, the religion partook
of the objective character of the general life, and placed the site of
“heaven” for the saint, as the sinner placed his happiness,–round the
* * * * *
In those mad, picturesque, mediæval days St. Remy used to be the country
retreat of the Counts of Provence. They here retired from the excitements
of their capital at Aix, the learned little city a few leagues to the
northeast, beyond the Alpilles. We afterwards visited Aix, and found
another larger town of plane-avenues, more dignified, more important, but
almost as silent and forgotten as St. Remy itself. One could not but wonder
what the Counts had found of country joys at St. Remy that they could not
have commanded at the old city of Sextius with its shady ways and gardens.
[Illustration: ROMAN MONUMENTS, ST. REMY.
_By E. M. Synge._]
But, in fact, the human mind seeks not merely a change from excitement to
repose; it demands a change of scene and a change of thought-atmosphere
for its own sake.
During the whole of our stay at St. Remy we lived in an atmosphere of
roses. We could not gather enough of them to please our host; and we
used to have great bunches in our rooms placed on the window-sill, so
that the sunlight filtered through their petals; and over them we could
see the garden of their birth and the pale mountains beyond. Our very
dreams were of roses and rose-gardens!
One evening, inspired by their loveliness, I arranged a wreath of them
in Barbara’s hair, added a creamy shawl flowing to her feet, and stood
back to admire the result. It was something to be proud of! Our dull,
discreet _régime_ of ladylike nonentities had disappeared, and there
was the poetry, the unapologetic grace of the classic world.
Barbara rose to try to see herself in the minute mirror.
She gasped in dismay.
“No, no! you _dare_ to take it off! There are some more roses to come
yet.” (The victim made a comic face of resignation.) “I want _profusion_.”
“You _do_!” said Barbara, sitting down to laugh. “Am I to wear this
costume when we go to Les Baux to-morrow?” she asked.
“It depends on the weather.”
But, alas! as soon as active opposition was withdrawn, Barbara removed
the improvised costume, took the roses out of her hair and the vision
of the ancient world faded away. When we went down to dinner we both of
us had on our sombre prison garments.
And though Barbara laughed, I knew that the world was a sadder and a
drearier place because of it!
“C’est le Moyen-age tragique,–l’acropole de la Provence
In all Provence, perhaps in all Europe, there is no more astonishing relic
of mediæval life than that “crater of a feudal volcano” Les Baux,
a veritable eagle’s nest of a city in one of the wildest and highest
points of the Alpilles. It is a morning’s drive from St. Remy across
the little range to its steep southern side.
We plunge straight into their heart and begin to mount by gradual
windings through little valleys, arid and lonely. Dwarf oak, lavender and
rosemary make their only covering. But for their grey vesture one might
imagine oneself in some valley of the moon, wandering dream-bound in a
dead world. The limestone vales have something of the character of the
lunar landscape: a look of death succeeding violent and frenzied life,
which gives to the airless, riverless valleys of our satellite their
unbearable desolation. It might have been fancy, but it seemed that in
the Alpilles there was not a living thing; neither beast nor bird nor
As we ascended, the landscape grew stranger and more tragic. The walls of
rock closed in upon us, then fell back, breaking up into chasms, crags,
pinnacles. The lavender and aromatic plants no longer climbed the sides
of the defiles; they carpeted the ground and sent a sharp fragrance into
the air. The passes would widen again more liberally into battlemented
gorges from which great solitary boulders and peninsulas rose out of the
sea of lavender. Here and there this fragrant sea seemed to have splashed
up against the rock-face, for little grey bushes would cling for dear
life to some cleft or cranny far up the heights; sometimes on the very
summit. As one follows the road it seems as if the heavily overhanging
crags must come crashing down on one’s head. What prevents it, I fail
to this day to understand.
[Illustration: QUARRY IN VALLEY BELOW LES BAUX.
_By E. M. Synge._]
The whole place gives the impression of having been fashioned in some
Every turn brings new and monstrous forms into view; the fantastic
handiwork of earth’s inner fires, patient modellings of the sun and wind.
One thinks of the busy coming and going along these “footprints of the
earthquake” in troubadour days, when knights and nobles flocked to the
famous little court of the Alpilles, and the fame of the beautiful Passe
Rose (Cecilia des Baux) brought troops of admirers from the ends of the
earth–kings, princes, jongleurs, troubadours. Many a figure well known
to history–the exiled Dante among them–has passed along these gorges.
The Princes of Les Baux owned seventy-nine bourgs and had a finger in
half the intrigues of Europe; a barbaric race, probably descendants of
the ancient Ligurians, with wild mountain blood in their veins.
Further on, the valleys widen, and we see large oblong holes hollowed
out of the creamy limestone, sometimes at regular intervals, producing
an effect of arcades in the rock. Still further on we come upon majestic
Assyrian-like portals, narrowing to the top in true archaic fashion and
giving ingress to dark vestibules exciting to the fancy. They might well
have been the entry to some subterranean Aladdin’s palace whose gardens
and miraculous orchards grow emeralds and diamonds as cherries grow in
Kent. It was quite surprising to find that these grandiose excavations
were the work of mere modern quarrymen still engaged in the prehistoric
industry. Fine groups of horses and big carts and labourers before the
Assyrian entrances had an effect curiously ancient and majestic. There
was a time when the men of the Stone Age cut just such galleries and
holes far up in the rocks at Les Baux and dwelt there like a flock of
jackdaws, high above the hazard of attack.
It is asserted by the learned that the city, in fact, dates from the Stone
Age, being inhabited by generation after generation of wild peoples, till
gradually the dwellings were adapted to less uncivilised needs and added
to by further sculpturing and excavation and by masonry whose material
was hewn from the surrounding limestone.
In the city is a small museum containing many Stone Age implements.
It is indeed a place of strange memories.
In one of the tombs of the principal church was discovered the perfectly
preserved body of a young woman with a mass of golden hair. The body
crumbled to dust almost immediately, but the innkeeper took possession of
the beautiful tresses, and called his inn in its honour, _à la Chevelure
Poor golden hair, it has set many a poet singing and vielle twanging in
We have been wending our way steadily upward across a region that grows
wider and more sweeping in its contours. The road rounds a corner.
Suddenly we feel the wind in our faces and a blaze of light.
There is an exclamation, and then silence.
The carriage has stopped on the highest point of the pass just where
the road has been cut through the low rock, and the driver points with
his whip across a vast grey cauldron of a valley to a sort of shelving
plateau high up on the shoulder of the opposite cliffs.
“Voilà Les Baux!”
* * * * *
The stupendous scene is spread out before us, wild and silent. The wind
from the Crau to the south continues to blow through the cut in the
rock; the sun glares down full upon the mysterious rock-city and lays
bare the desolation of the valley.
Behind us a few sounds rise from the quarries, but there is otherwise
that perfect silence of high places which seems to brood and wait,
This is the spot which is said to have furnished Dante with the scenery
of his infernal regions, and the mind at once accepts the tradition, so
gloomily grand, so instinct with motionless despair is the scene.
Beyond measure extraordinary the aspect of that cluster of roofs and
walls scarcely to be distinguished from the crags and escarpments out
of which they grow–“window and vault and hall” fashioned in the living
rock. Truly, as Madame our hostess had said, “une ville remarquable”!
The eye slowly learns to recognise the masonry among the natural
architecture, to separate the fantastic limestone surfaces from broken
dwellings and fallen towers.
The city, once containing about eight thousand inhabitants, is now reduced
to about a dozen or so, and these all live at the entrance to the town
on the ascending road from the valley by which the traveller from the
mountains must approach this grim little court of mediæval princes. The
road is comparatively new, for it cuts through some of the great houses,
and high up above us as we pass, we see the columns and frieze of a fine
stone mantelpiece overhanging the road, evidently belonging to some
seigneurial dwelling. Perhaps it was here that the lady of the golden
hair passed her tumultuous life–it could scarcely have been peaceful
at that time, in that place–with that hair!
A few silent inhabitants watch us as we go by. A cat peers suspiciously
over a wall of which the roof has fallen in; a mongrel hunts for garbage
in a rubbish heap in a windowless mansion.
Before the _Chevelure d’Or_ there is a little group of men. Here
the trap is put up and we set forth on foot up the steep main street of
this “mediæval Pompeii.”
The whole place is built on the shelving shoulder of the cliff; a sloping
ledge whence one might expect the town to slip down at any moment into
the cauldron-valley; just as from time to time great fragments of rock
have evidently rolled down to eternal oblivion.
The impression of universal greyness strengthens as we move upwards
through the silent streets: grey walls, grey tiles, grey paving stones and
grey escarpments above, on whose highest summit stands the rock-excavated
castle, now apparently inaccessible except to adventurous birds–or,
perhaps, the ghosts of the Princes of Les Baux who for their crimes are
unable to rest in their graves.
We clamber up and down the ruinous higher part of the town, among those
pathetic rectangles of masonry open to the sky where human life throbbed
so eagerly a little while ago; we mount some perilous-looking steps on
the cliff-side, in hopes of reaching the castle, but find ourselves
emerging in mid-air upon the edge of the plateau overlooking from an
appalling height the windy spaces of the Crau.
The mountains run sheer to the plain. It is exciting to stand on that
great altitude which commands the stony desert towards Arles and the
mouths of the Rhone. It has something of the character of the scene from
the Appian Way looking towards Ostia and the mouths of the Tiber. The
approach to Les Baux from Arles is in some respects more impressive than
the route from St. Remy, for then the whole immense height of the cliffs
is visible from the level of the plain. On one of the little heights
that rise here and there on this plain stands the windmill of Daudet,
which gives the title to his famous _Lettres de Mon Moulin_.
If we stand on the highest point of the city, the eye can run along
the line of the Alpilles. Another little wave of hills sweeps forward
on to the plain precisely as the smaller ocean waves go curling in on
the shore, followed by the foaming line of breakers. The Alpilles seem,
indeed, to be breaking on the shore of the Crau like the billows of a
A pathway perilously near the edge of the cliff fails to help us to
approach that strange castle from which we are still separated by many
feet of sheer rock.
[Illustration: DAUDET’S WINDMILL.
_By Joseph Pennell._]
As we stand looking across the chasm at the stronghold, its position
seems to invest it with additional mystery and a solitude almost horrible.
An evil shadow hangs about it, and yet there is but little of the building
touched by visible shades at this magnificent moment of a Provençal
day. A shadow that no sunshine can dispel surely haunts the fortress of
Les Baux. For a second, in the hot glare, fancy plays one a trick, and
there seems to be floating from the summit the blood-red banner which
the princes used to unfurl on days of combat, when the air rang with
the strange battle-cry of the house: “Au hazard Balthazar!”
They claimed descent from Balthazar, one of the Magi who visited the
new-born Christ in the manger, and a six-rayed star was the device of
Their association with Christianity was certainly not of a very intimate
kind. They were a blind, blood-stained race, believing in violence and
retaliation as the one and only means of grace in this world and troubling
themselves, till the moment of death, very little about the next. They
generally reaped as they had sown; feared, hated, and often dying deaths
as terrible as those which they had inflicted on their victims.
It is thought probable that the Princes of Les Baux were descended from
the Visigoths who settled in Arles in the fifth century. There is a vast
and ancient work by “Le Sieur de Bouche, Docteur en Theologie,” printed
at Aix-en-Provence in the 17th century. In the section treating of the
Visigothic Kingdoms the author gives an account of their King Euric and
the events in Provence of the year 475.
“L’on croit communement,” he says, “que c’est en ce temps que le chateau
de la Ville de Baux en Provence a esté bâty et qu’il a tiré son nom
de quelque illustre et grand Seigneur Visigoth et Prince de la Maison
Royale, laquelle était de la famille des _Batthes_….”
From the fifth to the fifteenth century the line can be traced. At the
end of that era Charles III. of France died, and then the barony of
Les Baux with the whole county of Provence, was united to the crown of
France. Louis XIII. gave it to the Grimaldi who came in state each year
from Monaco, to take up their abode here; but they finally had to give
it back to the crown.
[Illustration: LES BAUX FROM THE ROAD TO ARLES.
_By E. M. Synge._]
It was surprising to find the remains of a hospital on the plateau
above the city, with the niches visible for the beds of the patients; so
surprising, indeed, that one is almost tempted to set learned authority
at defiance. Perhaps, however, with all the brawls and tournaments of
those amazing times, some such place was really necessary for repairing
As one looks downwards from this altitude, the city presents a strange
aspect indeed. The grey buildings are flung together among the boulders,
a tumultuous mass of human and natural handiwork. Truly
“The wind of ruin has passed this way.”
Under the castle rock are the remains of a magnificent banqueting-hall,
with caissoned vaulting like that of the Basilica of Constantine at Rome.
The Romans had been even at Les Baux, and it was they who built the
walls which still here and there cling giddily to the sheer edge of the
rock. But they had many successors. A Saracen tower stands shoulder to
shoulder with Christian churches, and everywhere are signs of the great
feudal era, with its religious enthusiasm, its din and its warfare.
Besides the Princes, who were Counts of Orange as well as Seigneurs of
this little kingdom in the sky, there were powerful families in Les Baux.
The house of the Porcelets, one of the greatest, not only of the city,
but of Provence, was nicknamed by King René, _Grandeur des Porcelets_.
The Princes he called _Inconstánce des Baux_.
Out of the stern soil blossomed many a beautiful and accomplished lady,
famed in troubadour song.
Berengaria des Baux was celebrated by the luckless Guilhelm de Cabestaing.
Ranebaude inspired the world-famous Sordel; the charms of Cecilia, the
beautiful Passe Rose, as we know, kept half the troubadours of France
busy with vielle and lute; and there were Étienette, Clairette, and a host
of others whose true history one would give much to know.
[Illustration: WINDOW IN RUINED HOUSE OF A SEIGNEUR OF LES BAUX.
_By E. M. Synge._]
But the scene of their lives is at once eloquent and reticent. Their
homes are stonily silent, and not even a wild bird makes its nest in
the tempting crannies of the great mantelpieces where the flames must
so often have leaped and roared.
It is the mistral that roars now on winter nights in the grass-grown
“De la solitaire demeure
Une ombre lourde d’heure en heure,
Se détache sur le gazon,
Et cet ombre, couchée et morte
Est la seule chose qui sorte
Tout le jour de cette maison.”
There is a particular stately house off the main street that suggested
itself as the house of the golden-haired lady of Les Baux. Her burial
place pointed to her having belonged to a family of importance. She was
probably the wife of some tempestuous seigneur, and her life, cut short
so early, had doubtless been one of storm and peril.
We were filled with an immense desire to know more of her, and as we
piled conjecture on conjecture, she gradually assumed a definite form
and personality, and we felt towards her a sort of baffled sympathy.
We called her Alazais, for that name had pursued us since we began to
interest ourselves in the annals of Provençal chivalry.
She was graceful, delicately fashioned, with a certain reserved strength
in the courtesy of her manner, and her eyes–Barbara and I were disposed
to part company about her eyes, one leaning to blue, the other to brown;
so we split the difference, and Alazais received large pathetic eyes of
* * * * *
We sit down on the parched hill-side by a heap of stones, and let the
genius of the place work its spells. And busily it begins to weave as
the afternoon light throws its glamour over the grey of rock and ruin,
while a little wind comes up from the Crau and plays across the grass.
Raimbaut de Vacqueiras–Guilhelm des Baux–the mere names of these two
strong personalities seem almost to summon them to their old haunts.
Fancy kindles with this glowing sun and this tremendous scene; the
forlorn city begins to stir and breathe, and then suddenly–some distant
sounds from below seem strangely like the clatter of horses’ hoofs–a
twelfth-century cavalcade on its way to the castle!
And there are voices. They come up faintly through the sunshine, the
voices of phantom riders who are hastening up the steep incline.
If at this precise moment Guilhelm des Baux and his troubadour friend with
their followers are not where they seem to be, that is a mere incident
of Time, and what is Time? An unreality, a mode of human thought. And
so the insistent sense of the gay procession is not entirely a dream!
Certainly it is insistent! The clatter stops half way at the little
_Place_ in front of the church of St. Vincent, and there some of the
company appear to go up the hill to the fortress.
One instinctively listens. Are they exchanging parting words or jests
with one of their number who stays behind? Perhaps Alazais herself is
leaving or entering her prison of a home and the gallant troubadour has
knelt to kiss her hand. It would be all in the day’s work of those times.
Possibly Raimbaut de Vacqueiras was seriously in love with her. One may
be allowed the supposition.
We half shrink from it, however, when it comes to the point, for it
would have meant so tragic a story.
If it was not one of the Princes of Les Baux who served up the heart
of her troubadour-lover, Guilhelm de Cabestaing, as a dish to his
wife, it was quite in their most approved manner.
The luckless wife having, all unconscious, tasted of the dish, her lord
informed her what it was and asked her how she liked it.
“I like it so well,” she replied, “that henceforth I will taste no
other,” and she flung herself headlong from the castle window.
The horror of the tale lingers in the thoughts even as they turn to
other things: to the figure of the lady herself leaning over the parapet
of the little platform that hangs over the valley; to the scene in the
castle after the tournament when the gay company has gathered in the
hall, and there is singing and playing of the vielle and verse-making and
dance; to the love-songs of Raimbaut, thrilling and sweet above those of
other troubadours. He was but too fitted to attract: handsome, courtly,
quick-witted, warm-hearted, a warrior poet, a knight and a singer.
Our poor heroine had no chance! One can see her in the splendid
barbaric hall, among the throng. White was her _bliaut_, or robe, finely
embroidered in gold, and her long mantle was fastened to the shoulder
with a clasp of sardonyx.
It was not merely the beautiful dress, but the noble manner of wearing it
that counted in those strange little courts of the Middle Ages. If the
life was wild and terrible, at least it had an exquisite and gracious
One can picture Raimbaut, too, as he hastens to greet Alazais; one can
see her smile of welcome, grave and gracious, half ceremonious, half
And then the scene grows clearer and more realistic, for we come upon
a piece of solid history.
Between Raimbaut and his famous patron, Guilhelm des Baux, many little
disagreements had disturbed of late the long friendship. Raimbaut,
accustomed to ride and fight and make verses by his friend’s side, had
perhaps presumed upon the intimacy, and once he went so far as to rally
the Prince upon a recent incident that had amused the district.
His Highness had been casually ravaging the estates of his neighbour,
Count Aimar de Valence, and one day when he was on the Rhone in a small
boat, some fishermen caught him and he had to pay a large ransom to Count
Aimar, and be ridiculed into the bargain by Gui di Cavaillon, whose tenso
on the subject was taken up and sung by all Provence. For notwithstanding
the new sentiment obligatory on all noble and knightly persons, the men
and women of the twelfth century had by no means escaped from the base
clutches of the ancient _régime_ whence they sprang, and to them the
misadventure and mortification of a neighbour seemed exquisitely funny.
Even Raimbaut’s sense of humour had not advanced beyond that primitive
His jests made the Prince very angry, and a quarrel arose between the
two which overthrew once and for all their affectionate relations.
Then Raimbaut knew that the end had come to this era of his life, and
that he must go forth to seek his fortunes anew.
And Alazais, in whose honour he had made such innumerable verses? He
must leave her too–love and friendship had come to naught at one blow.
How beautiful she had looked in her white robes–perhaps there
had been something in her glance that had made him forget
consequences–everything–except–what folly it was!
Quick, pen and paper! A _canson_ had darted into his head. Farewell to
joy and Alazais! Such a tribute was only expected and fitting whatever
might be his real sentiments.
Raimbaut had got well into the third stanza, and the lady’s hair had
been compared to six different resplendent objects, when he was summoned
to take part in the events of the evening.
“Holy Mary!” cries the poet, “can a man not be left in peace while he
writes a _canson_ to his lady?”
He goes muttering imprecations on idle folk who cannot even pursue their
idling without the help of busy people.
Les Baux is among the places to which is attributed one of the most
famous of the Courts of Love, and to this tribunal one may imagine
the troubadour wending his way through the crowds who are parading the
streets, singing and dancing the mouresca, their ancient Saracenic dance,
drifted westward from the mountains of the Moors.
Raimbaut is greeted with reproaches for his tardy arrival. The business
of the Court is in full swing: gracious ladies and courtly knights are
judging compositions according to the rules of minstrelsy, discussing
nice points of honour and conduct, burning questions concerning the
purity and preservation of the language, the rights and duties of the
“Is it better to have wisdom or to be irresistible with the ladies?” is
one of the recorded subjects.
“Who loves the more, he that is broken by his lady’s coldness, or he
that is stimulated thereby to distinguish himself the more?”
“Which is harder to bear, debt or love-sickness?”
The jury look in vain to Raimbaut for his usual brilliant judgments.
Alazais, we may imagine, had guessed the cause of his silence.
And she knows her own fate as she sits there, beautiful and calm; perhaps
accepting it as the will of heaven; perhaps struggling desperately
against the thought that the troubadour would go forth into the world
and quickly fill the place of love in his heart–perhaps with another
“Come, Raimbaut, what is your opinion?” cries one of the young men, “You
were not wont to be so moody.”
It had to be explained to him that they were discussing the pains and
penalties of love, and whether after all it did not offer too much
grief and longing and too little reward to make it worth the while of a
reasonable being; the proposition of a truly bold spirit in a mediæval
Court of Love!
Raimbaut’s reply is recorded in the history of his life: “A man forges
cold iron who thinks he can make a gain without a loss.”
Perhaps he looked back to the scene of his boyhood, the little town of
Vacqueiras across the mountains, and recognised how he had enlarged his
world by coming here and how he had so lost things dear to him, never
to be regained.
And now there was to be another gain–and another loss.
One seems to see him in close debate with himself as to what he should
do. From the little house at Vacqueiras he used to gaze on the grey
towers of Les Baux on the heights and dream of it as a goal beyond which
no sane hopes could wander.
Now, from the farthest point of the windy tableland above the Crau he
can see, or almost see, more than one famous city where he would be
welcome. Aix, the stately little home of learning with its hot springs
dear to the Romans, had still to wait for two centuries for its good
genius, King René, and suggested few possibilities to the troubadour.
To the south lay Arles and Marseilles. Count Barral of Marseilles would
make a merry and an easy-going patron; but there was an obstacle in that
direction…. Just a little this side of Arles, in the extreme corner of
the Camargue, he catches sight of a faint outline which he knows to be
the church of Our Lady of the Marsh, Ste. Maria de la Mar, “Les Saintes
Maries,” as it is now called throughout Provence, and down on his knees
goes the warrior poet and says a prayer to the Blessed Three, begging
that they may be favourable to him in the decisive step he is about to
take, and that they will direct his choice.
And now he has to wrench himself from the present scenes and to make
his many farewells, one among them hard indeed to face.
Yet perhaps it was best he should go. There had been gruesome tragedies
at Les Baux—-!
The day of departure could not be long delayed; the Prince was relentless.
Just one glimpse of a beautiful, haunting face as Raimbaut rides past
the sombre palace where the lady of his heart lives a life which a woman
of to-day would deem that of a condemned prisoner.
She stands at the open door among a lively group who have collected to
see him pass, as indeed all the people of Les Baux are waiting to bid
their beloved champion and singer God-speed.
He uncovers his head, and Alazais acknowledges his salute with the rest.
And suddenly Raimbaut’s heart gives a leap, for he knows what he did not
know before! But the cavalcade goes on down the street, and he rides on
to his fate.
* * * * *
Long, pensive shadows of the ruins are stealthily gaining upon the golden
light on the grass when we begin to descend to the lower town. The main
street, down which Raimbaut de Vacqueiras seems to have passed but a
moment ago, is horribly silent, and the city spreads its desolation
upwards to the sinister castle–where no blood-red banner is now flying.
We go on to the platform in front of the church of St. Vincent, and
stand looking over the parapet. The gloomy vale below is filled with
the mysteries of twilight.
From this point one could watch those who go and come to the city from
the side of the mountains, for they must emerge from or pass through
the Gate of the Rocks on whose threshold we ourselves had our first
sight of Les Baux that afternoon. Even as we look we can discern a small
speck against the limestone–exactly so must the figure of Raimbaut have
appeared to any eye that watched him from this balcony of rock. Did not
Alazais so watch? And did he not turn and take one last long look at the
city he was leaving? Presently, as she gazes (as we now gaze), there is
no longer a black speck against the white; the valley is empty–and a
faint breath of wind comes down it like a sigh.
And presently the sun begins to approach the edge of the cauldron, and
the taller buildings take on a tint of vivid rose colour. How that golden
hair must have flamed up into glory if its owner watched there on such
[Illustration: LES BAUX FROM THE ROAD TO ST. REMY, SHOWING PLATFORM IN
FRONT OF CHURCH OF ST. VINCENT.
_By E. M. Synge._]
We had visited her place of burial in the church behind us; a sad, silent
spot that might have supplied a text for many a solemn sermon.
Mouldering walls and an empty grave. But they breathed forth no
solemnities to us, or at least no gloomy ones. Rather they whispered of
the mystery and power of life and passion; of things potent, creative,
Nor could we believe that the vivid consciousness of self and soul in
that being to whom we sent our thoughts could be less enduring than the
mere echo of her words and deeds in a universe where not a breath in
the air or a tremor of the ether can ever be truly lost.
It was impossible not to speculate further regarding the real self of
the woman as distinct from the self which reflected the world of the
twelfth century. What that world expected of her we know, and so we know
a very large part of the reality, for the emotions of most of us are
the product of this eternal outside suggestion.
But there is sometimes–perhaps always–deep down in the being, a hidden
spot that acknowledges no such dictation; and here would spring up
yearnings and criticisms, revolts and despairs, while the wife of the
feudal seigneur punctually and uncomplainingly fulfilled the demands of
Did she ever, even for a moment, see the grim reality of that position,
or was it hidden from her eyes by tradition, habit, by the little
palliatives and privileges which her power as a woman and a beautiful
woman, would win for her at this auspicious moment of new-born homage
for her sex?
It is not at all unlikely that some inkling of the strange situation
would drift across the consciousness now and again, for it is just at the
moment when a burden grows a little less overwhelming that the bearer
begins to cry out against its oppression. Before then he has no breath
with which to cry!
Personal trouble and the sting of unhappy love might have stirred
momentary feelings that would link our heroine of the golden hair with
her sisters of future generations. It is unthinkable that such feelings
were never in the hearts of women, in some form or other, in the days
of their darkest captivity.
Perhaps, as she watched the troubadour riding forth into the world, she
rebelled against her task of eternal waiting and submitting; against the
all-extensive claims made upon her as part and parcel of her husband’s
estate and dignity: for her position in this respect was made clear
enough when he threateningly commended to her vigilance the duty of
safeguarding his name and the “honour” of his house on pain of punishment
such as only a mediæval seigneur could devise.
Called to account for every act and word, admonished like a child–and
often in the tone used to the hounds after a bad day’s sport–not the
most secret emotion of her heart legitimately her own–body and soul
the property of her lord and his all-important family: her life was one
long reminder of the humiliating facts. Was she tired of being warder
of her own prison? Even the hounds were not that! Was she sick of this
strange stewardship of herself as the property of another? Must she
remain for ever shut away from ambitions, passions, hopes? Was she never
to know what love and loyalty as between free human souls meant? Was
she never–fool, fool that she was—-?
* * * * *
Some interruption occurred here, and Alazais ceased to soliloquise.
Barbara said that there was really no need to address as “fool, fool”
the entirely sensible-looking nun who emerged from the church of St.
Vincent, with her Mass-book in her hand.
The apparition of a creature of flesh and blood in this strange place
was almost startling, and it brought back considerations of time and
place and other delusive modes of human thought. There was dinner to
be considered–delusive but necessary as delusions are;–in short, the
hour of departure had struck.
We turned slowly, reluctantly from the parapet, thinking of Raimbaut
de Vacqueiras as he rode away to his new destiny, his wanderings from
court to court, his ardent love-affairs at Montferrat, his joys and great
sorrows, till at last wearied with misunderstandings, disappointments,
and saddened with the restless trouble of his life, he joined the Crusades
and died fighting against the Saracens.
The home of Alazais looked more shadowy and mournful than ever as we
passed it on our downward way.
“De la solitaire demeure
Une ombre lourde d’heure en heure,
Se détache sur le gazon,
Et cet ombre, couchée et morte
Est la seule chose qui sorte
Tout le jour de cette maison.”