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Now it happens that just when King Robert put up, exactly 850 years ago, with the Benedictines of Conques, was a time big with the forecastings of an event which has had as much or more to do with the subsequent fortunes of the place than any other in the course of its history. This event was the building of the perfectly proportioned Norman minster destined to crown the heights of Conques during long ages, even down to our own day. And since the first stone appears to have been laid not much after 1030—certainly no later than 1035—the plans for its erection were without doubt taking form and substance in the capacious mind of its designer, Abbot Odolric, as early as 1029, when, likely enough, he may have talked over the project that must have lain so near his heart with his royal and pious guest.
After a long afternoon's drive at an ambling pace, we began to descend by easy gradients the windings of the way that led down from the higher level of the uplands; debouching on a broad, open valley or plain, upon whose farther side, under cover of the hills, lay Aurillac, conspicuous by the towers of Our Lady and St. Gerald of Aurillac, and even yet more so perhaps by the bold arches of the railway viaduct that spans the road as one approaches from the southeast.
Valley of the Jourdain.-St. Gerald's and Notre Dame. The
Grande Place.-Auvergnese mother wit.-A Carmelite Nunnery and The Poor Monk of Aurillac.'-Count Gerald of Aurillac.-An inn aux bourgeois.
AURILLAC, a place of some size and consequence as the biggest town of Upper Auvergne, stands on the north bank of the Jourdain, an inconsiderable streamlet flowing sluggishly through a wide, expanding valley fringed by green hills. It is made up of a network of narrow streets winding with all the sinuosities of the serpent, and terminating for the most part in the great Place, like tributary rivulets emptying themselves into a broad lake. This Place strikes one as of vast extent even for France, where the great central marketplaces are the leading characteristic of the urban architecture. An imposing Palace of Justice occupies one side of the spacious square. In the adjacent tortuous thoroughfares are the principal shops, many of these being of a superior kind, and indicating a centre of trade and supply for a large surrounding neighbourhood. The town, in a word, seems busy and thriving ; its prosperity no doubt taking an impetus, as usual, from the railway, which, coming up with a bold sweep from the south, is carried over a handsome curved viaduct of many arches, noticed a page or two back. This viaduct, made of red brick faced with stone, first spans the narrow stream of the Jourdain, and then crosses some low-lying land on the outskirts of the town. The train, as you watch its approach, describes a fine parabolic curve upon the long arched causeway, till pulling up, not without a certain majestic grace, it halts at the station. The huge engine, as it glides by the platform with smooth and mighty force, looks an embodiment of the idea of Power, and a proud outcome of human wit and industry.
Sauntering through the streets we come successively upon two parish churches, St.-Géraud and Notre Dame. Although the former appears to be often called 'la cathédrale,' it is neither an episcopal see, nor otherwise specially remarkable, unless perhaps for a certain amplitude of area. The latter is old, and well placed at an oblique angle
with the neighbouring piazza, thus presenting an artistic outline to the spectator who, on looking round, pauses to take in the various elements of the scene before him. There is, first, the roomy square flanked on one side by a handsome public edifice. In the midst of this wide expanse stand piles of grapes, vegetables and other marketable wares in charming confusion. Not far hence are a batch of covered stalls ; there, again, you see knots of buyers and sellers haggling over goods, intermixed with whom are not a few yokes of meek oxen, unharnessed from the long narrow carts of the country, and nibbling away at wisps of hay while their masters market or gossip close by. A little in the background, peering over the housetops, are descried the antiquated tower and apse of the Church of Notre Dame.
The Grande Place of Aurillac, as of most other towns in the South, is in fact the lounging place of the idle, and the market of the busy. It corresponds very much to what the forum was in Rome. It is the head-quarters of all news, a favourite promenade, and often the pleasantest part of the city. There is a motley crowd made up of every class-high and low, rich and poor, priest and layman, peasant and artisan on foot, with here and there a wealthy landowner or well-to-do ‘rentier' (fundholder) in a carriage which, though possibly well appointed, is thoroughly un-English, from the foreign shape of the vehicle itself, looking three parts glass, and the shaggy horses, to the liveried coachman with flat-crowned waterproof cap of shining leather.
The Gascon and the Auvergnat are to France what the Yankee is to the United States, and the Irishman to many a true Briton. He is apt to be the butt of every joke, the hero of every 'bull,' and the doer of every madcap prank. Still, like the proverbial Irishnian, the Auvergnat is credited with many a keen repartee, and with many a humorous device for gaining his ends. One of these latter, with a savour of Cervantes about it, may bear repetition. The Auvergnat, it should be premised, is wont to be regarded by certain of his countrymen as designed by nature to be the hewer of wood and drawer of water for the rest of the community, just as the Galician is so regarded in north-western Spain and Portugal. Now it happened that a man of Auvergne, having delivered many a bucket of water to an impecunious married couple at Paris, could never succeed in getting a settlement of accounts. The ever ready excuse with which the young wife put him off was that her lord was out. The Auvergnat (who, though a patient fellow, was