Зображення сторінки

well as of the historic duchy of Aquitaine, with which indeed Guienne itself was often wont to be included, although there were times when the two were swayed each by its own duke. In fact, Aquitaine covers as nearly as possible the same ground as the Aquitania of the Romans. Bounded by the ocean and stretching away southwards to the Pyrenees, and as far east as Toulouse, it took in the whole of what now forms the southwestern quarter of the French Republic,




The Return Journey. – Marcillac. — Plain of St.-Cyprien.- A rough

night in a Mountain Glen.

RODEZ was the furthermost point touched in the present tour through Guienne. It lies considerably to the south of Bordeaux and Périgueux, and even of Cahors, and occupies a commanding position, as has been seen, on a wind-swept hill, with the river at foot. Hence the homeward-bound traveller turned once more towards England, passing again through northern Rouergue, including the defiles of Conques, and thence, still wending northwards, across volcanic Auvergne; until, on nearing Berry, he diverged to the west with the express purpose of seeing one of the stateliest products of human gening—the Cathedral of Bourges, with its double transepts, double aisles, and double triforia. Of this, however, only by the way, as it lies outside the scope of the present volume.

A place had been bespoken in the afternoon

diligence, which, starting from neither inn nor coach office, yet made for itself a conspicuous advertisement by standing all day unhorsed, exposed to sun and rain, beside the lofty and traceried Belfry of the Cathedral. Within the Gothic walls of the great church the canons were singing vespers as the horses were being put to. The journey of ninety kilomètres—some fifty-eight English miles -between the Ruthenian capital and Aurillac in Auvergne was made by common road, two public carriages taking one successively to Marcillac and Conques, and a chaise hired for the occasion completing the distance. At Marcillac, where there is a tolerable inn, with a passable · Café de l'Europe' over the way, a halt for the night may be advantageously made, as was done by the present writer. That pleasant bourgadea cross 'twixt village and town, is overhung by vine-trailed hills, which proved well worth a morning given to a leisurely ascent of their calmly beautiful slopes, especially when the purple bloom of the ''whelmning vintage' (to use an epithet of Keats') invited the vintagers to their not unwelcome toil. Ensconced among tall hills, however, though this place is, it differs wholly in character from Conques. Indeed, the people of Marcillac speak of the latter much as writers of the .last century might have done, descanting on its solitary and rugged situation in a forbidding wilder

ness. Marcillac, on the other hand, though strictly hill bound, lies flat in the bed of a soft, smiling dale, and looks like a big thriving village incivilized parts- it may almost be said amid lowlands—when compared with the rough primitive little town a dozen miles away in the north that clings as best it may to the successive ledges of rock against which it is built.

The sun had already set ere Marcillac was left behind, together with its hills and vineyards, and the torrent rushing through its midst. As evening fell, and the mail carriage penetrated more and more within the mountainous labyrinth of northern Rouergue, the obscurity of a tempestuous autumn night caused the forms of impending mountains to stand out of the straitened valley of Conques with a sort of dark solemnity. Dense woods covered them as with a pall. The shade of the precipices on both sides grew blacker and blacker. Clouds gathered overhead. The road, hardly discernible in the gloom, ran close to the river's brink, as the open and placid vale of St.-Cyprien was succeeded by a more confined and rugged country. For the wider and fertile valley which takes its name from the village of St.-Cyprien terminates almost abruptly in a gorge flanked by a couple of granite boulders, like pillars of Hercules. Between these two rocky sentinels, keeping guard on either side, river and roadway barely manage to press through. The rush of many waters is heard amid the darkness; and, on emerging beyond this portal of Nature's making, one perceives that the mountains on each bank of the stream approach, and compress the intervening space into a narrow glen.

The close valley thus entered upon—which takes its name from Conques—is hemmed in, like its granite portal, by steep, almost perpendicular heights that leave but little beyond a bare passage between them for the river Dourdou and the highway that hugs its shore from end to end. Measured across from boulder to boulder the width of the entrance may perhaps be about sixty feet, expanding to twice or thrice as many in different parts of the long defile. During a course of some miles this mountain glen forms, in fact, a considerable pass, keeping even with the riverside between two lines of craggy hills, and constituting a natural channel of communication from Rouergue into southern Auvergne. It is sharply terminated, after two or three leagues, by the broad stream of the Lot, which with majestic sweep rolls finely by the head of the pass, barring further progress; and receiving at the same time and place into its bosom the noisy waters of the tributary Dourdou. Pushing then within this ‘vallis clausa,' and threading the sinuosities of the glen for more than half its length,

« НазадПродовжити »