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the traveller draws nigh to Conques, perched aloft on some terraces of rock to the right.
At the foot of the ascent the mail, according to its wont, came to a standstill, leaving its passengers to get on thence as they could in the pitchy blackness of a rainy night, made blacker still by high wooded banks that stood sheer and sombre on every side. Accordingly, up the rough, acutely inclined, tortuous mule-paths that form the thoroughfares of the hill town the wayfarer slowly and with difficulty toiled. Not a casement of the antiquated desolate-looking houses shed a gleam of light to speed him on his path. Whilst groping his way with the point of an umbrella (which, despite the weather, had to do duty for a walkingstick, to indicate the edge of the precipice) he could hear through wind, rain, and darkness, the convent bell above inviting the inmates to family prayer ; yet the sound, which a week's residence had rendered familiar, proved an insufficient guide in the impenetrable obscurity around. Still, the condition of the heavens and of the atmosphere differed wholly from what it was on that other day of the Mountain Storm. Then the tempest burst short, sharp, and angry: to-night, on the contrary, there is a continuous fall, unaccompanied by thunder, or blast extraordinary, with the black veil of Nature spreading itself over everything. Driven
to bay, the benighted traveller at last knocked lustily against the panel of a door which was rather felt than seen. A peasant from within answered the summons. Seated patriarchally among his family, at the extreme end of a long, bleak, almost empty chamber, dimly lit by a cotton wick, he rose, and after listening for a moment to the intruder's apology for the interruption, considerately undertook to guide him, by help of a lantern, to his quarters for the night beneath the shadowy mass of the towering minster, which after all was not far removed.
A DAY'S DRIVE INTO AUVERGNE.
A Mediæval Scene. — The Death-Mass.—Grandvabre.— The Chest
nut Harvest.–Mountain Pass above St.-Projet.- La Feuillade and the Wayside Inn.-King Robert the Pious.-Descent upon the plain of Aurillac.
ALL SOULS' had been a day of high celebration with the people of Conques and its abbey. The morrow_'cras animarum'-found the unwonted sojourner within its walls astir betimes, making ready for resuming his homeward journey. As the day's drive into Auvergne, beginning in Rouergue, gave the compiler of these notes his last experiences of Guienne, he proposes to conclude his narrative with some account of the route traversed, as well as of the ancient town of Upper Auvergne in which it terminated.
So much beforehand with the sun was he that chancing to pass across the refectory soon after four, a flickering light discovered, early though the hour was, several serving brothers seated at the board of the common Hall ; not, however, that they might break their fast, but rehearsing orisons aloud, even as their brethren of the choir were simultaneously reciting the long matin office in the Lady Chapel hard by. It was not unlike a rapid glance at a picture, or at a dissolving view in a diorama, when, crossing the hall before dawn, their visitor came thus unawares upon this handful of lay monks, mumbling with amazing volubility their paternosters and avemarias by the dozen, without book, if not without candle. Behind where they sat the bulky hangings of blue and yellow tapestry three centuries old—taking one back in imagination to the still chivalric days of Francis I. and the emperor Charles V.-made yet another element in the strange mediæval scene which, for a brief span, passed before one's eyes.
Day was scarce broke, an hour or so later, when the writer found himself once more within the same hall, now lone and silent. A breakfast more sumptuous than usual had been set before him. A bowl of chocolate, one or two boiled eggs (the only dish, by the way, the French seem unable to cook), a slice of Rochefort cheese, fresh butter, homegrown raisins, and a bottle of sound claret had been provided for his entertainment through the kind forethought of the cellarer or bursar, Père Bonaventure. But on rising from table to start on his journey, the traveller looked round in vain for the worthy bursar, or his aids among the servitors; nor was a soul to be met with in any part of the rambling house of cænobites. All was still and motionless. Presently thud, thud resounded on the outer portal. But no response came. Again was the knocking repeated, and still without effect, until, perceiving that he was sole tenant of the premises, the stranger took on himself to answer the summons. It proved to come from the landlord of a neighbouring hostelry and owner of the chaise bespoken to convey the English traveller to Aurillac. Clad in the short blue smock that is the national costume of the French working classes of every degree, whether rural or urban, he had come in person to take his fare's portmanteau to the carriage, which waited in an outlying quarter of the town, and one more accessible to wheels. Not till the latter had set out to meet the little vehicle, did the reason of the deserted condition of the House appear. The fraternity were one and all gathered in their stately church ; and in passing beneath its shadow the chanting of a Requiem was plainly audible