“Aigues Mortes is a dead town!
Maguelonne is the ghost of one.”
Maguelonne–the dwelling on the Pool.
The name has an aroma of romance, and a sort of tender melancholy which
penetrates to the imagination before one knows whether it is a city or
a mountain or some gloomy castle in an old fairy tale.
Once it was a splendid city spreading along the shores of the lagoon;
now there remains but a solitary church, one of the characteristic
fortress-churches of the Midi, a bare, primitive-looking building,
closely protected on three sides by a grove of dark trees, in the centre
of a little island formed by the sea and the lagoons which run, like an
enamelled chain, all along these mournful coasts.
One can reach the island by boat across the lagoons from the little
cardboard town of Palavas where the people of Montpellier go in summer
for sea-bathing. In very calm weather it is possible to approach the
isle by sea. The church is a most singular piece of early Christian
architecture, without a window in the white, thick walls; and above, one
sees the curved machicolations, as in a fortress, whence boiling lead
and oil could be poured down on the heads of Saracen assailants, those
terrible enemies of whom the ancient church builders stood in such dread.
Of the original Mother Church of St. Peter there has survived only the
principal nave, “flanked before the destruction of the city with several
It has “curved machicolations going from one buttress to the next,” and
is considered one of the most complete types of the fortified churches
of the Middle Ages, “which are ranged in a line along the coast.”
The church of Maguelonne has fine Romanesque windows, and arches of full
half-circle, and resembles a fortress almost more than a church.
The inside is very dark and solemn, stirring in the grave simplicity of
its style. True Provençal Romanesque in its structure of vast arches and
apses; the Roman idea but little modified except in the capitals of the
columns where the classic flow and grace yields to the naïveté of early
Christian sentiment. Indeed, that sentiment very seriously pervades the
whole building. There is none of the sumptuous triumphant spirit of a
grand classic edifice, although the general lines are the same in both
cases. A careful draughtsman, conscientiously rendering the church of
Maguelonne, might produce a portrait correct and unrecognisable, as many
portraits are; the bare lines without the meaning behind them, the matter
without the spirit; and a portrait of that sort might be indistinguishable
from that of some great Roman interior–palace, bath, hall of justice.
The painted hall of the Villa Madama on the hillside above the Milvian
bridge near Rome is constructed on the same broad scheme of arch and
apse, and above, on vault and spandril, garlanded, arabesqued, a riot of
rosy gods and goddesses–the exquisite work of Giulio Romano–voluptuous,
expansive, rich in beauty and power. Maguelonne with its classic
structure–a style which had been developed during centuries for stronger
and stronger expression of Pagan magnificence–nevertheless breathes
forth the sentiment of poverty and asceticism, the spirit that drove
men and women into the wilderness, that set them writhing under the
consciousness of sin, or exalted them to the state of emotion wherein
the pains of martyrdom were transfigured into ecstasy. Truly a thing of
potency the human spirit! How, by the same general means, it can express
emotions at once so strong and so completely opposed is one of the great
mysteries of art.
[Illustration: MAGUELONNE FROM THE LAGOON.
_By E. M. Synge._]
Maguelonne is the last relic of the splendid city of that name which
stood on the opposite shores of the lagoon, its towers mirrored in the
blue water. The island was first the site of a Greek settlement, then
of a Roman town–once attacked by Womba, King of the Visigoths; finally
the Saracens built a city there which Charles Martel destroyed when he
changed for good and all the fortunes of Europe by the great victories
which turned back those marauding people just at the critical moment
when they were on the point of becoming masters of Christendom. For
many years it was the site of a famous monastic establishment which has
earned a reputation for a mild and beneficent and altogether admirable
administration of great wealth and greater power.
Maguelonne is famous for its charming old story of “Pierre de Provence
et la belle Maguelonne,” known in most European countries among the
people, and sold at fairs and markets for a few pence. It was written
by a deacon of Maguelonne, Bernard of the Three Ways, about whom one
desires in vain to know more. The story is of lovers parted, wandering;
exchanging rings which are carried off by ravens and finally turn up
miraculously inside a tunny fish caught on the coast, and so lead to
the meeting and reunion of the despairing Pierre and Maguelonne.
[Illustration: CHURCH OF MAGUELONNE.
_By E. M. Synge._]
There are a few small buildings near the church, in one of which live
the woman and her family who look after it. They do not trouble the
visitor with gratuitous information, but hand him the key and leave him
severely alone, unless, indeed, he is adventurous and elects to go on
the roof. Then a boy unlocks the staircase door that gives access to
that windy spot, and amuses himself by sliding down the stone slabs of
the roof while the visitor turns to admire the view of sea, mountains
and lagoons spread forth in a brilliant circle round him. The remarkable
and characteristic roof, however, is what he comes officially to see. It
is formed of thick, overlapping slabs of stone laid at a gentle slope,
and is considered a marvel of architectural skill.
How the problem of weight distribution is solved is, indeed, difficult
to understand. The builders of these early churches perhaps knew some
of the secrets of the Roman architects who at Nimes, in the Temple of
the Nymphs, have erected a seemingly miraculous ceiling composed of
heavy square stones which are guilty of the misdemeanour of existing in
their places “without visible means of support.” The feat is accounted
for, though it is scarcely made clear, by the fact that on their upper
surfaces the stones are cut so that they are thicker and heavier on one
side than on the other, and thus the weight is thrown obliquely from
stone to stone across the roof, instead of downwards, a method involving
elaborate mathematical calculations and perfection of workmanship.
The twentieth century has no monopoly of ingenuity after all!
Maguelonne makes a beautiful, sad picture as one leaves it to pass
down to the sea. The blank walls with their arched machicolated
abutments–recalling the fortifications of the Papal Palace–look bare
and acquainted with adversity in the blinding sunshine. On the side of
the lagoons the protecting pines crowd round the building like a sacred
grove; and through their branches the sea-wind makes a low, ominous music.
“Sa desolation grandiose … immense et caillouteuse comme
une steppe d’Orient.”
Fanfarigoule in the Crau is the haunt of the ghouls.
Let any one wander alone in that extraordinary desert, and if he have
not nerves of steel or a cast-iron imagination he will understand how it
earns that reputation. As for disputing the existence of those ancient
beings, to what reasonable mind would it occur–especially at the hour
Immense silent world of stones–stones rounded by centuries of rolling
and wearing at the mercy of the Alpine torrents–a long range of far-away
mountains with Mont Ventoux as their highest point, an atmosphere thrilled
with the sunlight, with that strange purity that speaks of absolute
solitude–such is La Crau.
If one is disposed to imagine that Provence is a land all brilliancy
and gaiety, as first impressions would perhaps suggest, a sight of the
Crau and the Camargue is enough to correct the error.
When any place has gathered through long centuries a certain kind of
reputation, there will always be found particular potent influences that
hang about the spot. And sometimes these influences are very mysterious
and hard to account for.
This is the case with the Crau. The reflections of heat, and light from
the immense body of stones may produce peculiar conditions of atmosphere
and ether and so affect that delicately responsive instrument the human
In any case, in its power of stirring and impressing it is a place apart.
A strange story is told by Baring-Gould of his experience when a child,
of crossing the baking plain with his father, on a hot summer’s day. He
was on the box watching the post horses. As he looked, he “saw a number
of little men with peaked caps running about the horses and clambering
up them.” His father sent him inside the carriage out of the hot sun,
but for some time, he says, “I continued to see these dwarfs among the
pebbles of the Crau, jumping over the tufts of grass, or careering along
the road by the carriage side, making faces at me.”
However, one must not attribute a monopoly of the power of evolving such
visions to the Field of Pebbles, for the author goes on to relate how in
after years, one of his boys, while picking gooseberries, “saw a little
man of his own height with a peaked cap, red jacket, and green breeches.”
Moreover, strange to say, the same thing happened to his wife when a
girl of thirteen, so that one cannot account for the marvel by heredity,
that convenient explanation of mysteries. Sun on the head, the author
supposes, must have caused all these experiences.
“But why,” he adds, “should the sun on the head superinduce a vision of
Kobolds? Is it because other people have suffered from the sun that the
fables of little men, brownies, pixies, gnomes, fairies, is to be found
everywhere? Or–is it possible that there is such a little creature only
visible to man when he is subject to certain influences?”
[Illustration: ON THE VERGE OF LA CRAU.
_By E. M. Synge._]
We first approached this forsaken region in the train, when the sun was
beginning to get low, and wonderful tragic lights were showing along the
western horizon. The olives and the pleasant farmsteads had been left
behind, and we found ourselves rushing on through the evening glow into a
limitless desolation. And suddenly there flashed past close to the train
a tall, dark shadow and a little station, and then another shadow and
another, till presently the shadow grew continuous except for recurrent
flashes of light, pulsing steadily as the train raced on; and we found
that the line was bordered on one side with an immense wall of cypresses,
and between their trunks one caught glimpses of the white wilderness
beyond. For miles this sombre rampart runs on and on beside the line
protecting it from the mistral which sweeps with terrible violence across
these huge spaces. The stones are described by many writers as gigantic,
but they look not more than about a foot in diameter in this southern
part of the plain, and in the neighbourhood of St. Martin-en-Crau they
appear rather smaller and of extraordinary uniformity of size and shape.
But not only is the eye amazed by this tremendous extent of water-worn
stones (there are really two other lesser Craus beside the Crau d’Arles):
the imagination is startled by the extraordinary depth of this strange
deposit, an average of from ten to fifteen metres; that is at the lowest
estimate over thirty feet, and at the highest forty-five feet.
Imagine that depth of vast pebbles being poured down from the Alps over
miles and miles of plains! No wonder the ancient tribes called in the
aid of their gods in trying to account for the stupendous catastrophe.
Among the distant mountains–many miles away–in the strange landscape
of the Luberon range lies Varigoule, the scene of the Provençal Sabat.
Valmasque, the Witch’s Vale, was the home of the persecuted Vaudois.
Witches, wizards, dracs (or water spirits), and a hundred other uncanny
creatures have been associated by the people for unnumbered centuries with
these gloomier scenes: rivers springing out of unknown sources, black
cliffs, fantastic pinnacles whose names belong to forgotten tongues:
Ligurian, Gallic, Phœnician, one knows not what, bestowed one knows not
when; perhaps when Hercules fought the Ligurians on the Crau and his
father Jupiter came to his aid with a shower of enormous stones.
Æschylus makes Prometheus direct the footsteps of Hercules to the Crau,
where he tells him he will encounter the native Ligurians and be helpless
in their hands for want of a single stone, which the country cannot
supply. In this dilemma he will touch the pity of Jupiter who will cover
the sky with clouds and send down a hail of stones with which Hercules
can drive back the Ligurian hosts.
The ancient Ligurian race of which one hears so much, occupied the country
from the Pyrenees to the Arno in the seventh or eighth century B.C., and
were not subdued till the reign of Augustus, who raised the well-known
monument at La Turbie, near Monaco, to celebrate his victory. As one
of their great tribes, the Salyans, had for their cities Marseilles,
Tarascon, Arles, Glanum (St. Remy), it is not improbable that the
natives of this district, now growing so familiar, were the descendants
of the Ligurians or Ligyens, “ce peuple harmonieux,” as they have been
called. They are thought to be of Asiatic origin, and are described as
a small, dark-haired people, open to all the arts, particularly music,
and “sensitive to all the delicacies of life.” They gave a high place to
their women, who had the _rôle_ of arbitress in all large affairs and who
have left behind them many traditions of their “heroism and largeness of
soul.” Perhaps it is to this “harmonious people” that France and Italy
owe their brilliant artistic history.
If one may not regard the ordinary man and woman of the towns of Provence
as the direct representatives of this primitive people, they have surely
left living records in the peasants of the remoter nooks and corners of
In Languedoc, Provence, indeed everywhere in the great regions of the
Ligurians, notably on the hills of the Riviera, one comes upon a curious
brown-skinned, flat-featured type, not “plain,” as a modern face may
be plain from failure in harmonious development, but merely roughly
fashioned. It is a type not without a harsh comeliness, a wholesome
success in its own archaic fashion.
The faces seem scarcely European. There is in them a singular look
of antiquity; something unfinished, half animal (in the sense of
unreflecting), with steady, open gaze, not intent but unswerving,
revealing very little that we understand by “human nature.” One seems
to be looking at human nature in the making.
These people live in little vales by a mountain stream, in nooks in the
hills; fauns or satyrs one might fancy them in the twilight–cultivating
a few olives and keeping a few cocks and hens and perhaps a cow, and so
living as their ancestors must have lived for centuries while the great
tides of life and history were flowing and flowing past them.
Perhaps this was the dusky race that the Greeks and Romans actually took
for satyrs, or divinities of the woods, for the term “work like a satyr”
is the Provençal equivalent for “work like a nigger,” and it is thought
likely, by some authorities, that the term thus became embedded in the
There is a strange corroboration of the idea that in this rough-hewn type
we may really see the ancient inhabitants of Gaul, the predecessors of
the Gauls themselves, for near Aix was discovered among the remains of a
prehistoric village some primitive stone carving attributed to Ligurian
workmanship, and the features there so crudely wrought are practically
identical in type with those of the true _gens du pays_.
Any one who visits the little grey towns that cap so many mountain peaks
of the Maritime Alps, will encounter examples of this prehistoric face.
Without any reasonable doubt such people fought for their lives and
homes–probably caves and huts of mud and reeds in the fastnesses of
the hills–many and many a time, and the tradition of their combat with
Hercules is probably the echo of some monster battle between Greeks and
Ligurians on the plain of the Crau.
* * * * *
Why any one should desire to visit the Crau puzzles the gaiety-loving
Provençal not a little, and that a traveller should for that purpose
deliberately make a railway journey to a little, windy, solitary station
beyond Arles, where but few trains stop–that argued a form of madness
probably considered as peculiar to Britons.
At Arles unhesitating informants had insisted that from St. Martin-en-Crau
one could easily reach the Field of Pebbles, and on arrival there I
asked the porter in which direction it lay. He stared, and referred me
to the stationmaster, a majestic creature in blue and buttons.
“La Crau? les cailloux?” Ah! no, there was no one who could give me any
information about them here. “But at Miramas—-”
Miramas! But that was miles along the line!
Monsieur le Chef de Gare looked at me pityingly. True, but he understood
I was inquiring about the stones of La Crau.
So I was—-!
“Eh bien, il y a des entrepreneurs a Miramas—-”
Then I understood. He thought I wanted to enter into negotiations for
buying stones for building or other purposes.
When at last he took in the situation he shook his head and shrugged
his shoulders as a French official shrugs when he regards your case as
at once foolish and hopeless.
To arrive _en pleine Crau_ one must go at least five kilometres. It
did seem hopeless indeed, for even if disposed for the lonely walk,
there would not have been time to go and return in time to catch the
only reasonable train back to Arles. I had made many efforts already to
accomplish this project, and all had failed through inaccurate directions
of this nature. Naturally there were no excursion trains to the Crau.
Still I could not resign myself to failure. Was there no trap, no inn
where I could hire something to drive in? I didn’t care what it was.
This grand indifference seemed to strike an answering spark. Well, there
was a little _mas_ (farm) over the way. The farmer had an old dog-cart
that he drove in; perhaps I might make an arrangement with him.
Monsieur le Chef de Gare pointed to a barn opposite where I found an
old cart, the farmer, several labourers, and a lot of dogs.
They all looked on during the interview, which ended by the farmer’s
agreeing to drive me where I wanted to go–_après tout c’était mon
affaire_. So off we started, the farmer himself driving and two of the
dogs following joyously.
Very exhilarating was our somewhat jolty progress across the large
level sunny district. It seemed more hushed than any inhabited district
I had ever visited; as if it felt the presence of the great desert a
few miles off. There were none of the little events of the country; no
cattle looking over walls, no children along the roadside, no coming and
going about the farmsteads, of which there were very few and those few
singularly small and lifeless. The trundle of the wheels and the sound
of the horse’s hoofs on the road outlined themselves upon a blank sheet
of silence. It seemed unnatural; the more so as there was everywhere
such golden brightness.
The only scene of activity that we passed, soon after leaving the farm,
was a group of men cutting down some ancient olive trees, and the farmer
called out to them something in Provençal, to which there were some
shouted replies, and all caps went off in a friendly way to _le patron_.
He was a quiet, worthy sort of man, very little different from an English
farmer of the same condition. He was not unwilling to answer questions,
but it was curious how he contrived to reply without conveying the
slightest information, a peculiarity, be it remarked, of the type that
is called “worthy.”
If one asked, for instance, whether the land was owned by the peasantry
themselves in the district, or whether it was in the hands of wealthy
proprietors, he would flick the point off a branch of bramble in the
hedge, and say with a shrug, implying that the inquiry was somewhat
trivial: “Oui, il y en a.”
It was useless to press the matter further, for that merely produced a
still more effective barrier against the inquiring mind.
It is a fact, however, that in many districts of the South of France
(contrary to the usual belief) the land is by no means always held by
Again and again, in reply to inquiries, I have been informed that this
or that stretch of country belonged to Monsieur or le Baron So and So,
who was “enormement riche.”
Questions about ancient customs were almost always futile. No promptings
could produce a description or even a clear admission that such things
existed. The true native is most damping to archæological enthusiasm.
The one thing he warms up about is the new village pump, or the hideous
crucifix in cast iron which the municipality has just erected on some
ancient stone pedestal where for centuries the discarded, moss-stained,
prayer-assailed image used to stand, in all its pathetic significance.
My friend seemed to know little or nothing about his own surroundings,
or perhaps he knew them so well and so exclusively that he could not see
that there was anything to tell about them. Besides, he could not tell
it; that was the way _le bon Dieu_ had made him.
Whenever we came to a very stony bit of land–and there was plenty of
it–he at once pointed it out. He took it that my hobby was stones, and
very insatiable in that respect he must have thought me, for nothing
would satisfy my cravings in that direction short of the unnumbered
millions of the Crau!
He seemed a kind-hearted man, and fond of his dogs. The illness of one
poor beast through apparently incurable eczema much concerned him. He had
often been urged to destroy the dog, but he never could bring himself
to put an end to “un aimi fidèle.” The animal looked up and wagged his
tail, as if understanding he was being talked about.
My offer to write down the name of a remedy (Jeye’s fluid) that
had effected a cure in a similar case I knew called forth something
approaching animation in my conductor for the first time.
Almost the only man-made object in the whole journey was a dynamite
factory with white glass retorts full of the explosive, actually ranged
in long rows by the public roadside. It seemed a fitting industry for
this forlorn district.
Last winter snow had fallen on the retorts and broken them in, and the
dynamite had exploded. But still they rested by the roadside!
Suppose there came along a shying horse or an unmanageable motor? The
farmer shrugged his shoulders.
“That would be a bad business!”
In this much-managed Republic that was how they managed things!
* * * * *
As we drew near our journey’s end, the vegetation grew sparser till there
were only shrubs of diminishing size, growing in harder and harder soil.
Then the cart left the road–this strange “morose route”–and we began
to drive over grass: a rough sort of waste land with many pebbles; and
before us was a great light such as greets the traveller coming in sight
of the sea. It was the Crau!
“Nous y sommes,” said the farmer, pulling up his horse to allow me to
get down, “nous sommes maintenant en pleine Crau.”
* * * * *
I knew now for certain where the silence came from that had brooded over
the country all the way!
* * * * *
He thinks he knows what silence is who has lived in some remote spot
in the heart of the English country, who has stood, on some breezeless
evening, by the shores of an inland lake, or alone on far-away moorlands
when the birds have gone to their rest and the night is coming up over
But _that_ is not silence!
In the woodlands there is the tremor of a leaf, not perhaps quite heard,
but not unknown to the finer consciousness; by the lake-side the water
noiselessly stirs against the bank; on the moors the creatures are
breathing in their holes and hiding places, the tiny bells of the heather
ring an inaudible chime—-
But on the Crau—-
To say that there is not a sound is meaningless. There are strata upon
strata of silence, deep as the deep sea; one hesitates on the verge,
half dreading to advance.
Here at last is a realm untouched by human passion. It belongs utterly
to the kingdom of physical “Nature,” Nature in her heaviest mood, without
the smallest thrill of manifested life or emotion.
To understand this to the full one must tramp over its hard stones and
feel its lonely breath in one’s face.
* * * * *
Turning one’s steps humanwards again, one hastens with the eagerness
of an exile to claim as dear friend and brother the first, humblest
creature, animal or human, for sheer sympathy of the living with the
living, for sheer relief after the meeting face to face the cold white
Spirit of the Wilderness.
“Ai vist la roso adematin
Tout bello e fresco espandido….”
“I have seen the morning rose expanded all beautiful and
“Sweet month of May,
So fresh, so gay,
Hast come again?
Soon morning breaks
In hawthorn glen,
The birds’ refrain
Thrills forth its strain.”
FROM THE PROVENÇAL OF AUBANEL.
[Illustration: BASE OF MONUMENT OF MARIUS, ST. REMY.
_By Joseph Pennell._]
What is the mysterious force in life that always makes it impossible
to linger in any place where conditions are entirely congenial? We
can stay so easily and with so much general approval in odious spots,
among exasperating companions. But let a charm attach to any scene or
circumstance and straightway every factor of one’s destiny flies into
violent collision with every other factor, so that immediate flight
becomes necessary, to the farthest limits of the railway system.
Only “le violence de notre étoile,” or at any rate of Barbara’s “étoile,”
could drive us from these bright regions; but then her star _was_ very
violent. Our country clamoured for us. It would have seemed flattering
had we not known that it sprang chiefly from the desire that consumes
the majority of people to act as sheep-dog towards wandering members
of the community; an instinctive feeling that if they are “away” it is
high time that they should come back again.
Barbara announced that she must go in about a week or ten days; and all
that remained for us to do was to make the most of her remaining time.
Our strange little mountains, the Alpilles, still held our fancy. Why
not go to the little town at their foot, St. Remy, with its industry of
seed culture? We had read of its Roman monuments and of the cordon of
flowers which surround it in the blooming season.
“C’est le chevalier du guet,
Compagne de la majorlaine,
C’est le chevalier du guet,
Gai, gai, dessus le quai,”
runs the local rhyme.
It must be beautiful here in May when the vines are yellow-green to the
tips of their young fingers. But greater beauty than now, at this late
time, is scarcely possible to believe in.
The plain is gold and brown, with splashes of crimson where the sun shines
through some eccentric spray of vine-leaves passionately red beyond its
St. Remy is the ancient Glanum of the Romans, and has memories not
scholastic of Cæsar’s Gallic Wars. Along the passes of the Alpilles,
Marius moved with his army at that stirring moment which was to decide
whether the hordes of the Cimbri and the Teutons were to overrun all
Italy and take possession of the Eternal City itself. So near a thing
it was that the barbarians insolently asked the Roman soldiers if they
had any messages for their wives and sweethearts in Rome, as they would
soon be there.
Everything hung on the strategy of the Roman general, and it is only on
the scene of that great contest that one realises what a desperate and
universal moment it was.
Had the campaign of Marius ended otherwise than it did–had he yielded an
hour too soon to the impatience of his soldiers to begin the fight–the
whole course of history would have been different in all probability,
and perhaps not one of us would have been born!
* * * * *
The railway from Tarascon to our little City of Gardens brings one into
the very heart of the country. The carriages are so small–two-storied
though they are–that one feels as if one were taking a drive in a
donkey-cart or station fly, and more than once we were almost impelled
to call out to our driver to stop and let us gather wild-flowers by
the wayside. And the wayside is so absurdly near. There is none of the
dignified aloofness of the ordinary train journey.
[Illustration: ROMAN ARCH, ST. REMY.
_By Joseph Pennell._]
The same general features of the country are, of course, as before, but
now we are intimately among its details: the vines, the low olive-bushes,
the farmsteads, the cypresses, the patches of cultivation, the plantations
of yellow canes rustling and swaying. And ever we are nearing the
Alpilles. The train stops dutifully at a dozen little stations, where no
one gets in or out. They are scarcely more than sentry-boxes; sometimes
a mere frame filled in with the stalks of the reeds. Were it not that the
mistral can blow through them, it seems impossible that these trivialities
could withstand his lightest breath.
St. Remy, once the country seat of the Counts of Provence, has no walls
of stone, but four-square leafy ramparts of plane-trees. From the door
of the _Hôtel de Provence_ one may turn to the right or left and blindly
follow the avenues round the little town till one returns to one’s
starting-point, where probably a brown-eyed youth will still be grinding
coffee beside the footpath. There are almost no sounds in St. Remy, for
there are no vehicles except the hotel omnibus which trundles to and
from the station, marking the lapse of time.
The visitors all, or nearly all, come with the same intent: to negotiate
with the growers of seeds, and, at the proper season, they arrive
in great numbers from every part of the world, including America the
Pinks and carnations and lilies, and purple acres of pansies with their
texture of velvet; flowers and flowers in multitudes, blooming and budding
and blushing–this is the sweet merchandise of St. Remy en Provence.
The hotel has the homely, spacious character of old-established inns
in country towns. One feels a sense of comfort as one enters, and
the courteous greeting of the landlord and his wife confirms one’s
satisfaction. The long, dark-papered _salle-à-manger_ has a broad streak
of sunshine across the polished floor from an open window which gives
on to the regions at the back of the hotel. The waiter hastens to shut
this, but desists with a shrug and a smile at our remonstrance. If we
like to sit in draughts and endanger our lives, after all it is our own
affair. He feels with Madame de Sévigné, “Mais ce sont des Anglais!”
The window allows one to pass out into a nondescript territory where
boots are cleaned, firewood is stacked, and the omnibus is regularly
put to bed and tucked in after its day’s work.
To the left, a magnificent plane-tree spreads golden foliage far and
wide, brimming up to our bedroom windows just overhead. And a little
further from the house, on this side of a sombre row of cypresses, with
an ethereal view to the left of palest mountain peaks–a Provençal rose
“But gather, gather, Mesdames,” invites our kind host, “gather as many
as you will.” He smiles at our amazed delight, and waves a hospitable
hand towards the masses of blossom, radiantly fresh and fair.
Roses of Provence!
The sun draws out the fragrance and shines through the petals till they
gleam like gemmed enamel. We linger entranced.
In the narrow path we are elbow high in roses. And everything seems to
stand still and wait in the hot sun. Nothing moves on. There is only
a tiny floating back and forwards of a thread of cobweb between rose
and rose; and very slowly now and again a broad swathe of plane-foliage
heaves up and down on a little swell of air which the tree has all to
itself in the shade-dappled precincts that it rules.
Looking across the roses from this spot we can see the rich tapestry
of blossom against the cypresses, tall, grave warders of the Garden of
And still nothing moves forward. The flies come out and make drowsy,
foolish noises in the warmth. But they return upon their paths and make
buzzing circuits. A particular spasmodic burnished insect that darts
suddenly to a distance and then remains thunderstruck before the heart
of a flower, keeps on doing the same ridiculous thing all round the
garden, and only adds to the impression of changelessness. It is as if
the world had really come to a pause, and time and trouble had ceased
their eternal pulse-beat.
And we gather our roses–while we may.
“Mais Mesdames, vous n’avez choisi que les roses les plus communes;
tenez Mesdames.” And Monsieur the landlord plunges into the bushes and
cuts bloom after bloom of the most exquisite sorts: red and yellow and
creamy white, till his generous hand can grasp no more. He stands smiling
discreetly while we bury our faces in the flowers, and hold them at
arm’s length to admire them the more.
“Elles vous rendent heureuses, les roses, Mesdames,” he says, with a
little smile and a bow; “alors vous rendez heureuses les roses–et votre
We try to make a co-operative bow (bowing was not Barbara’s strong
point), and to indicate as well as we can that only in this delightful
country had we ever met with such lovely roses or such kind people.
* * * * *
The first part of the day was occupied in wandering over the open
country that surrounds this placid little town of the Romans. The plain
is wide–immense in its spaces, marked with the inevitable walls of
cypresses and dotted with shrubs and farms as far as the eye can follow.
The strange, almost grotesque outline of the Alpilles closes in this
view to the South, and between these mountains and the town there are
endless rough tracks and paths among the hollows and risings of the land,
quaint cuttings in the soil which lead the eye to the blue of the hills.
[Illustration: LA CROIX DE VERTU, ST. REMY.
_By E. M. Synge._]
Here and there would be a small dwelling, here and there a field enclosed
for pasture, but this was rare. The greater part was wild, rough country,
owing little to the care of man.
In one of the highest spots of this singular district stands a curious
stone cross, called by the people _La Croix de Vertu_, why it is
impossible to discover. It is a monolith supporting a small iron cross,
which is doubtless of much later date than its support.
It is approached from four sides and occupies the highest ground at
which the four paths meet.
A strange, little lonely mysterious monument, whereby, doubtless, hangs
many an ancient tale!
We spent the rest of the day in visiting the Roman remains–two
well-preserved relics of Imperial days–a triumphal arch and a tall
monument which is said to have been built to celebrate the great victory
of Marius over the Teutons.
They stand lonely and singularly unspoiled, at the foot of the Alpilles,
and before them stretches a wide plain over which the light is growing
soft and warm, the few shadows of olives and low bushes beginning to
And we sit down on the dry grass near the monuments and are silent.
The agitated figures on the bas-relief of the triumphal edifice stand
out well in the glowing light. They are fighting and struggling in some
unknown contest which they take, poor things, so very seriously, and
which really matters so very little after all! The broad, long lines of
the landscape speak eloquently of the folly of that old death-struggle.
It is strange to think of those stone warriors fighting on century after
century as the seasons go by, always there and always fighting when
the sun touches them in the morning, when the white moon peers over the
jagged outline of the little mountains just behind, and finds them at
it still! Do they not even rest when there is neither sun nor moon but
only a great wide darkness over the land and the mountains are blotted
It seems as if there were a waking up rather than a resting as the night
We linger till the air is dim and mysterious, and the exquisite wreath of
leaves on the archi-vault of the triumphal arch begins to get blurred,
clean-cut and fresh though it is. But something seems to creep up out
of the earth, to swarm round out of the mountains till there might be
seen or felt a shadowy throng–inchoate presences that stream through
the arch and crowd round the foot of the unresting monument.
Barbara judiciously looks at her watch. And we rise and walk slowly back
to our hotel along the white road, silent, and perhaps rather sad.